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Copyright © AJ Tipton 2017 The right of AJ Tipton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (or other similar law, depending on your country). All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author, except in cases of brief quotations embodied in reviews or articles. It may not be edited, amended, lent, resold, hired out, distributed or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s written permission. Permission can be obtained from email@example.com
This book is for sale to adult audiences only. It contains substantial sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which may be considered offensive by some readers.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and incidents appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is purely coincidental.
All sexually active characters in this work are 18 years of age or older.
Cover art photos provided by BigStock.com, Morgue Files, Flickr.com, and Upsplash.com.
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Ty Collins gripped the steering wheel of his classic El Camino as a sign welcoming him to Singer Valley flashedpast.
Brad Huntington is going to pay. His knuckles turned white.
Trees in their full autumn glory lined either side of the winding two-lane highway, blocking Ty’s sight past the next turn of the road. His tires skidded for purchase as he took a particularly tight turn too fast. Ty longed to take his frustrations out on the accelerator, to channel his hatred into pure speed.
Brad Huntington's last known address was less than fifteen minutes away, but Ty feared the man would disappear if he couldn't find himnow.
Unlike some of the other scumbags Ty had tracked over the years, Brad vanishing into thin air was a real possibility.
Damned magic users. Ty ran his fingers through his shoulder-length hair. Half his family were witches, but Ty had been born with a penchant for logic and reason, and no interest in magic's mercurial world. He'd tried telling his grandmother, Stella Mills, that he didn't want anything to do with her rowena cube when she'd given it to him for safekeeping last month, but she'd just shaken herhead.
There's a rogue werewolf obsessed with this thing, so I'm trusting you with its care. Gran had looked Ty in the eyes, and pushed her most prized possession into his hand, closing his fingers around its protective casing before he could resist.
A rowena cube was one of the most dangerous and rare objects in the universe. It was a massive dose of pure magic, like a magical battery, stored in a cube roughly the size of a dice. Ty's ancestors had created it to recharge witches when they'd become depleted of magical energy, and only ever used it in cases of dire need. No one was even meant to touch it directly, it was so dangerous. Stella was powerful enough to wear it around her neck for years, but for anyone less skilled, making direct contact with a rowena cube had serious consequences.
"And she chooses the only one without magic in the whole damn family to keep it safe," Ty muttered under his breath, readjusting his grip on the steering wheel. Gran had said she chose a non-magic user on purpose, pointing out that leaving a dangerous object with a cop was uncharacteristically law-abiding ofher.
Ex-cop, he'd reminded her, but she'd just tsked at him, insisted that it was safer with him than anywhere else, and disappeared in the space of one blink. She had a point. Ty had been a private investigator for two years now; he was experienced, observant, and untrusting.
Brad had conned him anyway.
A country music song about setting a rotten man’s trailer on fire blared through the speakers, and Ty changed the station. He didn't need any ideas for what to do to Brad once he foundhim.
Ty rounded a curve in the road, and the view opened up into a wide vista of a silver lake surrounded by trees, with the setting sun glistening off the water's surface like shining dancers. For the length of one breath, Ty forgot about Brad. About the rowena stone. About how he was going to have to tell his grandmother that it was gone, and about how he’d been duped.
The lake was beautiful, still, timeless. The sky above it was the brightest blue he'd ever seen, clouds crisscrossing above hills so perfect and so green they looked painted onto the skyline. Birds chirped and spun above his head and there, in the center of the lake, Ty could have sworn he saw a man's head cresting the surface of the water. His hair was black and dripping. Then, he disappeared back under the waves.
The lake was totally still.
"What the hell was that?" Ty slowed the car, keeping one eye on the road while also waiting for the possible mirage to reemerge.
The car made a groaning wheeze.
"That can't begood."
His beloved El Camino shuddered, jostling him like a paint shaker. A grinding sound filled the car's cabin and black smoke billowed from underneath the hood. Fuck, don’t let it be the transmission. He coasted the car to a jerking stop into a cluster of weeds along the side of theroad.
"Damn it to all the fucks in the world!" Ty yelled up at the blue sky. He tried the ignition again, but all he got was a half-hearted wheeze. "Fuckety fuck fuck." Ty grabbed his phone, wallet, and keys and jumped out of the car, walking a safe distance away toward the lake, away from the black smoke seeping out from his car's hood. It wouldn't be out of character for his temperamental El Camino to punish him for ignoring the well-lit “check engine” light for the past month.
After a few minutes of internet searching--and some thanks to the gods of satellites that there was cell phone reception out in the middle of nowhere--Ty got in touch with a local tow service who could haul him and his busted car to the closest repair shop in a town called Singer Valley.
The service's name was HuntingtonAuto.
As in Brad Huntington? Ty hadn't asked the nice-sounding man over the phone, but the question buggedhim.
Singer Valley was a small town, only about 700 or so people according to the one website he'd found when he was researching Brad. It could be one of those places where everybody was related, however distantly. Ty eyed the red tow truck as it pulled up in front of hiscar.
Is there a connection between the owner of the tow company and the asshole who broke into my house?
Ty sincerely hoped not.The man who stepped out of the side of the truck was breathtaking. Blond, tall, with the muscles of a man who could probably lift a car without breaking a sweat. Ty had been expecting a stained white tank top and flannel this far out in the mountains, but Morgan Huntington--if the name on the side of the truck was his--was wearing a clean blue t-shirt the color of his eyes that read, "Engineers Do It With Precision".
The man approached Ty with a friendly smile, holding out a hand which Ty noticed was covered in calluses.
What would these hands feel like on me? The thought popped across Ty's mind, and he suppressed it before he could get lost in the pleasant thought.
You're on ajob.
"Hi there, sorry to hear about your car trouble. I'm Morgan Huntington, I own the local shop. Hope the kraken hasn't been giving you any trouble while you've been waiting."