Not “Pierce Hardwick, c/o Jaycee Frost,” or “Hardwick Medical Research,” or the name of a department.
“Jaycee Frost” in calligraphic letters, inked so darkly that they were difficult to read against the black A3 vellum envelope.
I turned it over to search for a postmark, a return address, or any indication of who might have sent it to me. There was nothing beyond my name on the front and a crimson wax seal on the back. The seal was unbroken. Nothing entered my office unbroken—not since the anthrax scare.
What the letter was didn’t matter. It was most likely an invitation to some ridiculous charity event, simply misaddressed to me rather than my boss. The fact it had been delivered in such condition was of much greater concern.
I tossed it into the trashcan and pressed the button for the intercom.
“Felicity, please remind the mail boy that we need all mail screened,” I said. I released the button. On second thought, I pressed it again. “And then fire him.”
My heeled pumps clicked against polished tile as I paced to the espresso machine, flipping through the remainder of Pierce’s mail. There wasn’t much. We had gone digital for important communications, and only inter-departmental notices too private to entrust to even our encrypted servers stubbornly maintained a paper trail.
There were lab results, primarily, and other medical minutiae that Pierce found fascinating. He enjoyed digging into that kind of data even though it was hardly a profitable use of his time. I set them aside for his later analysis regardless.
Ordinarily, I would have taken those results to him directly, but Pierce was already in a meeting. His door was closed—a clear sign that he didn’t want me to intrude.
I could just barely make out the shape of his body moving on the other side of the frosted glass. Even when he was nothing more than a blurred silhouette, I could make out the trim lines of his tailored suit, the graceful motion of his arms as he gestured.
There was no early-morning meeting on his agenda. Pierce seldom came in before nine, and never before me. But there was definitely another man in there with him.
Their deep-voiced murmurs made the walls hum faintly.
I made myself an espresso first. If Pierce wasn’t going to allow me to help him with his morning meetings, then he would just have to wait for his coffee. I was an excellent assistant, but not a pushover.
I pulled a jar of blessed cinnamon and nutmeg out of the cabinet and sprinkled it atop my espresso. The jar’s lid had a pentagram on it, which funneled the full moon’s energy into my spices and gave me a little extra mental clarity through the day. The flavor was lovely, too.
Sipping the hot espresso, I gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Hardwick Medical Research building was taller than everything else for miles. It gave me an excellent view of the rising winter sun and cars inching over the ice-limned streets.
The day’s agenda buzzed through my mind as I surveyed the city—a place where Pierce and I had created thousands of jobs, and crafted medicines to benefit millions.
There were meetings to come, studies to conduct, pharmaceutical agents to brief. No time to linger over my espresso.
I tossed back the remnants and spun to return to my desk.
The toe of my shoe pushed an envelope across the tile.
That heavy parchment envelope was on the floor between my feet. I was certain that I had tossed it in the trash.
I picked it up. I had been too distracted the first time I touched it to recognize the buzz of magic when I traced the edge of the wax seal. That was why I could read the dark-red ink scrolling my name across black vellum, and that was why it had fished itself out of the trash to demand attention at my feet.
“Ah, I see.” I pressed the intercom again. “Have you fired the mail boy yet, Felicity?”
“I’m doing the paperwork and arranging a security detail to escort him out of the building first,” she said. She sounded nervous.
“Shred the paperwork and forget about it. He’s fine.” There was no point in firing the mail boy over a piece of mail that had been magicked to arrive in my mailbox, after all.
Correspondence from my old coven, perhaps?
I glanced at Pierce’s office door. He was still talking to his mysterious guest, and Goddess only knew how long that would take. Unscheduled meetings seemed to be the most time consuming. There would be no harm in reading personal mail while I waited for him.
My thumb slid under the wax seal, breaking it.
There were only two things inside the envelope: a short letter, and a large tarot card.
I read the letter aloud. “‘The wheel of life turns and the Forbidden yearn for a world that no longer exists. Solve the card and you’ll find you can leave this behind and join the rest of us in the mists…’ Hmm.” Forbidden? Mists? If those were magical terms, they weren’t ones that I was familiar with.
The back of the tarot card was patterned with a twisted art deco design, a little too industrial to quite be pretty. The shapes seemed to shift when I turned the card in my fingers. The picture was elaborately drawn, but that didn’t account for the illusion of motion. It must have been more magic.
I turned the card over to examine it.
I knew The Chariot. It was part of the major arcana—the trump suit of the deck—and it was meant to indicate control in all its forms: being in control of one’s life, collapsing under the pressure of refusing to relinquish control, etcetera.
This was a strange version of the art, though. It wasn’t the Rider-Waite image I was familiar with from early readings with the coven.
There was a man sitting on a chariot, as always, but he was being led forward by only a single sphinx. There were always two creatures. Whoever had designed this card didn’t understand the symbolism well, though everything else was in place, including the square on the charioteer’s chest.
I gazed at his face, which was a hard-edged rectangle with intelligent eyes and sensitive lips.
The charioteer reminded me of Pierce.
And the sphinx—the lioness—she had hair like mine. She was naked, on all fours, fingernails digging into the earth. The entire design was much more sexual than usual.
I’d read tarot in the past, just for fun. There was little magic to it. The cards had been designed by a mundane man for gambling centuries earlier, and had since been reproduced by thousands of publishing companies and charlatans for fun. As a method of meditation, scrying, and focus, they were fine. Tarot was not inherently magical, though.
Even so, there was nothing mundane about the strange feeling that came over me when I looked at that picture.
When I shut my eyes, I could imagine kneeling in front of Pierce, harnessed to his Lamborghini as he flicked a whip at my flank.
A man shouted in Pierce’s office, loud enough that the tone penetrated the walls.
My head snapped up. My eyes narrowed.
I stuck the strange tarot card in my desk and was halfway to my boss’s door when it swung open.
Pierce Hardwick emerged.
Even now, after working with him for so long, the sight of him momentarily awed me.
He was a rare kind of man who was even greater than his reputation would suggest. People whispered about how he was as sexy as he was rich, but they were wrong: if raw magnetism could be given a dollar figure, Pierce would be worth far more than his billions. They also called his style “nerd chic” in the tabloids, chalking up his square-framed glasses to fashion, and utterly ignoring the athletic body that slid under the sheath of his perfectly tailored suits.
There was nothing nerdy about the man once he got naked.
The fact that I knew that from firsthand, intimate experience is something I’ve struggled to forget every time I see him, even now, years after that one ill-advised tryst we shared.
I should not have been Jaycee Frost, breathless schoolgirl who couldn’t remember her birthday when her eyes met those of Pierce Hardwick.
I was an executive assistant—the best possible executive assistant—and a consummate professional.
My knees were not shaking as Pierce strode across my office, storm clouds brewing in his wake. A river of fire was not coursing from between my legs to my pounding heart. And I didn’t have to grip the reports tightly in my fists to steady myself.
Pierce carved a path across the office to meet me.
My smile of greeting was practiced and professional. I had spent thousands of dollars to make my teeth as perfect as the rest of my appearance, ensuring that there wouldn’t be so much as a hair out of place. I looked good when photographed behind Pierce. And by looking beautiful, I made myself easily dismissed, forgettable to the powerful men that Pierce met with.
The way that Pierce looked at me, though—I was not invisible, easily dismissed, or forgettable to him.
That was part of the problem.
“Good morning, sir,” I said with chill calm. “I wish you had told me that you had an early meeting this morning. I would have come in earlier.”
“I didn’t tell you for a reason.” Pierce was always prickly in the mornings, and even more so when I didn’t arrive in time to meet him with a double shot of espresso. “I want you to meet an old friend of mine. His name is Rage.”
It was only then that I took a chance to study this “friend.”
I’d been anticipating Pierce to meet with an allied CEO, most of who were entirely interchangeable rich old men.
This man may have been rich, and he was certainly male, but there was nothing interchangeable about him.
Rage was tall, muscular, longhaired. He wore leather as though he was taking a break from a BDSM dungeon to have breakfast with my boss. His chest and stomach were covered in tattoos, though I could only see some of the ink sticking out of his sleeves and the neck of his shirt. I had seen the man naked on several album covers, so I could easily summon the memory of his tattoos no matter how clothed he was.
Rage was the lead singer of a band called the Forbidden. He had been big for decades, ever since his teenage years, and produced so many award-winning albums that he likely picked spinach out of his teeth with a Grammy.
He was well known among witch circles for being one of us: a skilled practitioner of the craft.
His appearance settled one mystery of the morning. He must have left the tarot card and poem for me. I should have realized he’d be involved as soon as I’d read that line about the “Forbidden.”
“An honor to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Pleasure is all mine,” Rage said. He tried to let his grip linger, which I’m sure he thought would be seductive. To be fair, it probably was seductive to many women. I didn’t allow it.
“How do you prefer your coffee?” My smile remained fixed and professional. Whatever game he was attempting to play with that tarot card, I wouldn’t engage. I was better than that.
“Irish,” he said. “But I don’t have time for that today. I was just…leaving.”
Rage gave a significant look to Pierce.
Wordless communication passed between them.
“I’ll see you soon,” Pierce said.
I held the office door open. Rage slunk outside. Felicity was waiting to take him downstairs, her cheeks a brilliant shade of pink, hands fluttering over the buttons on her blouse’s collar, as though she were considering flinging off her clothes so she could jump on him.
Rage’s gaze skimmed over me one last time, from head to toe.
And then his eyes flicked to the desk drawer where I had hidden the tarot card, though there was no way he could have known where I had hidden it.
The door swung shut, and he was gone.
It had never been my job to know everything that Pierce was doing. There were happenings at Hardwick Medical Research too classified for even me to know about, such as military contracts or even business with foreign governments. Typically I had no trouble shutting those things out of my mind.
Whatever had gotten Rage worked up in Pierce’s office was too interesting for me to pretend I hadn’t heard it. Too interesting, and too personal, since it had resulted in that magical tarot card tucked in my drawer.
My curiosity warred with my urge to respect Pierce’s privacy.
I brought his double shot of espresso to his desk. He watched me cross the office, eyes narrowed, hands steepled in front of his chiseled features.
The mail that had been delivered that morning was spread across his desk. All of it except the tarot card. He’d moved one lab result to the center of the blotter and been drawing on it in red.
“Problem with the results, sir?” I asked, handing him the cup of espresso.
His right eye twitched when I called him “sir.” Pierce had made it clear a thousand times that he’d prefer less formality between us. “It’s fine. Everything here looks fine.” He shoved the papers into a pile. “What do you know about lycanthropy, Jaycee?”
I concealed my surprise by tidying his papers.
Pierce knew that I was a witch. I had never attempted to make a secret of it, and I had even consulted on establishing the wards that protected the corporation from magical onslaught. But he had made it clear that he preferred all things preternatural and medicine not to intersect. The pharmaceuticals we developed were purely science.
“It’s regarded as a curse,” I said. “The people who are bitten change twice a month, on the new moons and the full. They turn into killer monsters that can only be stopped with silver bullets. Or so I’ve heard. Werewolves are a dying species. Few remain. I’ve never encountered one.”
“I’ve been working on a cure for those who are still around,” he said. “On the side. Not officially.”
Now my curiosity was too strong. Pierce had started out in biosciences, but he didn’t do much hands-on research anymore, despite his insistence on getting elbow-deep in reports for his favorite project of the month. “Is your friend Rage a werewolf?”
“No, but he’s got friends who are. He’s got a personal interest in curing lycanthropy, and whatever Rage has a personal interest in, I do too.” Pierce sat back in the chair with a sigh, ripping the thick-framed glasses off his face. “Rage is the reason I have all of this.” He waved the arm of his glasses at the office. “We went to college together. He was my first and only angel investor.”
“I owe him big time, but my cures keep failing,” Pierce said. “Nothing is working. Now Rage tells me we’re out of time. A friend of his, Graham—he’s an aging werewolf, and the transformation is killing him. Rage has worked up some magical ways to delay it, but those are failing, too.”
“I could inspect the spells Rage has put into place,” I said. “I may be able to help.”
“It’s still only a delay. We need to be able to cure werewolves.” He glanced at his watch, pushed his chair back. “Cancel everything on my agenda for the day. Everything tomorrow, too. And call the chopper.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “Where should I tell the pilot to take you?”
“Rage’s mansion, up on the coast.”
My lips thinned. I was a witch, so of course I knew that tonight would be the new moon. It was no coincidence that Pierce was rushing to Rage’s house—and all his werewolf friends—on a night like this. “You’re going to attempt to administer a new cure yourself.”
“I owe him everything, Jaycee.” Pierce moved toward his coat rack.
I stepped in his path. “I’m coming.”
“Jaycee,” he said. His hand rested on my wrist.
My heart skipped a beat.
I gazed at the place that our skin touched, and those memories I did my best to push into the back of my mind came raging to the forefront.
The way that he had ripped my blazer open, buttons pinging against the wall.
Pierce’s hot mouth sucking my nipples into peaks.
His fingers scraping up my thighs, seeking the band of my underwear.
I hadn’t been working for him when we’d had that encounter. I had been executive assistant at another company, which Hardwick Medical Research had been in the process of buying. Pierce hadn’t had a clue who I was or that he would inherit me during the transition. And I hadn’t recognized him without the glasses, especially since I’d been at least two bottles deep into my wine drinking for the night.
Pierce was used to being treated reverently, like corporate royalty, so he must have been confused when I’d pushed him into the closet at the office Christmas party. Confused or not, he hadn’t protested when I’d forced him to sit against the shelf while I stroked him to hardness through his slacks.
And then he’d probably been even more confused when I showed up to the official meet-and-greet the next day, perfectly coiffed and hiding my hangover behind a pair of sunglasses.
One night. One intense, smoking night together before we’d ever worked together.
Biggest mistake of my life.
As I’ve said, I was a consummate professional. I didn’t sleep with coworkers. I certainly didn’t sleep with my bosses.
Of course, as Pierce had later pointed out, we hadn’t done any sleeping at all on that night.
He had a good sense of humor about it. But I always steered the conversation away from that night whenever he brought it up, just to be safe, just as I always called him “sir” or “Mr. Hardwick” to properly distance myself from him.
We’d had a fantastic working relationship for the last four years. We were a team. The best damn team.
Even so, when he touched me, it was hard not to think about how he had felt moving inside of me. Even drunk on wine, I had committed rolling that condom over him and guiding Pierce’s cock into my body to permanent memory. I remembered the taste of cognac on his lips and the scrape of his stubble against my chin.
I especially remembered the low groan he’d given when he’d spent himself—easily the most delicious sound I’d ever heard.
Pierce’s fingers were still on my wrist.
I drew my hand back.
“You need me,” I said.
His eyebrow arched.
I cleared my throat. “You need help if you’re going to administer experimental treatment to werewolves. Lycanthropy is likely to be as magical as it is physical. It’s not as though we’re trying to annihilate cancer. You need a witch. I’m the best witch at the company.”
A smile slanted across his mouth. “You’re probably the only witch.”
His fingers slipped across my inner wrist, as though feeling for a pulse. Or else I was the one drifting toward him, and he was just responding.
Either way, it wasn’t professional.
“Dennis, the mail boy,” I said. “He’s a witch.”
Pierce’s smile faded a fraction. Fierceness sparked in the warm brown pools of his eyes. “Dennis? You know Dennis very well?”
“I know everyone in this building well.” It helped ensure Pierce didn’t need to know them. “Dennis wouldn’t be able to help you on the trip. I would. I’m coming to help you test the cure on the werewolves.”
“Okay,” Pierce said. He whipped his jacket off of the hook. “Get in the helicopter.”