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Midnight Fire

Midnight Fire, White Haven Hunters #5

There might be a few typos. Final corrections are imminent. Enjoy xx

Chapter One

Harlan Beckett settled behind his desk with a cup of strong espresso and looked at the files that Eloise, Mason Jacobs’s new secretary, had placed on his desk.

He sighed, hoping there was something more interesting in them than the current jobs he was working on. Although, why was he complaining? The last few weeks had been a welcome respite from the earlier turmoil.

It was a Wednesday in late August, Black Cronos had vanished, and the information on their possible whereabouts had dried up. Jackson Strange was researching files diligently, while Harlan focussed on his job with The Orphic Guild. He hated to say this, but while the jobs had been easy—he had needed to find a few alchemical manuscripts, old maps, and an unusual mirror—they were also boring. Nahum and Ash, the Nephilim, had helped him out with a few cases, and Gabe and Shadow with another, but he hadn’t seen anything of them for a couple of weeks.

Restless, he headed to the window and looked down onto Eaton Place, which was lined with expensive and therefore exclusive properties, sipping his drink while he did so. He opened the window, and the sound of traffic carried inside on a wave of heat. London was hot, and it was making him claustrophobic. He had a sudden urge to get out of the city, and he returned to his desk, eager to see what new jobs he may have.

There were only a handful of files, all containing job requests from known clients, and he searched through them quickly, growing increasingly frustrated. More old documents to bid on in auctions, one grimoire to find for an out-of-town witch, and a charmed, bronze statue. He frowned at the last one. That sounded more interesting, but only just. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Dealing with Black Cronos seemed to have turned him into an adrenaline junkie.

While he was deciding on a plan of action for the day, his phone rang, the vibrations carrying it across the desk. The barking greeting of an old client made him wince.

“Morning, Theo. I’m not deaf.”

“Sorry, old boy, I’m excited. I have a job for you. It’s urgent.”

Harlan rolled his eyes. All of Theo’s jobs were urgent in his eyes. Theobald Henry James Carmichael was in his late seventies and rich, with a castle in Kent, a townhouse in London, a house in Provence, one in Madrid, and no doubt many others. He also had a very young wife, a few ex-wives, and half a dozen children. He had made his money by trading in stocks, and now was obsessed with antiques of an unusual provenance. He was The Orphic Guild’s dream client.

“All your jobs are urgent, Theo,” Harlan remonstrated with him gently.

“Ha! I know. The hazards of old age. I might die before you find my latest must-have.”

“You’re fitter than I am. You’ve got a good few years left in you yet. Go on, then. What do you need now?”

“You know, I don’t really want to talk about this over the phone. It’s sensitive.”

Immediately suspicious, Harlan asked, “Sensitive how? Does it involve stealing?”

Theo snorted. “Nothing so sordid. Any chance you can pop in for a chat?”

“Are you in London?”

“In this heat? Are you mad? No, I’m at my estate in Temple Moreton. Can you pop in?”

Harlan suppressed a laugh. You could hardly pop into Theo’s estate. It was nestled in the High Weald of Kent and a good two hours’ drive, but it did provide Harlan with an excuse to get out of London.

“No problem. I can be there late morning.”

“Perfect. You’re going to like this job, Harlan. I can feel it in my bones. This is going to be my greatest acquisition yet.”

Theo hung up abruptly, as usual, and Harlan pocketed his phone, musing on what Theo wanted him to find. Suddenly energised, he turned his attention to the files on his desk, noting down the objects he needed to locate and where he should start looking for them when he returned, and then decided to find Olivia before he left the office.

Knocking on her door down the corridor from his own, he stuck his head in. “Is this a good time?”

She looked up at him and smiled. “Always time for you.” Olivia James was sun-kissed, her hair gleaming gold in the light from the window, her strappy sundress revealing toned shoulders and arms.

“You’re chirpy,” he observed as he crossed the room and perched on her desk. “Good night last night?”

“Nice pay check this morning. Moorland paid, and I’ve got my commission.”

“Ah! I sense more Louboutins are on the way.”

She slapped his leg playfully. “Cheeky. No, actually. I’m going on holiday. I’ve booked a villa in Italy, and I can’t wait.”

He checked his watch. “It’s only half-past nine. That was quick.”

“Idiot. No, I did it yesterday, knowing my commission was imminent.”

“Is there room for two?” He gave her his most charming smile.

“No. I’m going with my best friend. No men allowed. Well, until, of course, we start meeting handsome Italian men.”

“And I’ll be stuck here, coping with Mason, alone.”

Olivia sniggered. “You’re hardly alone. I think Eloise seems to have mastered his moods.” Her expression softened. “He seems a changed man the last couple of weeks. I think he’s finally put his grief over Smythe aside.”

Harlan nodded. “You’re right, which is good. He’s also stopped harassing me about Black Cronos.” He eased off the desk and into a seat. “I’m sure it won’t last, but it’s a welcome respite.”

“And JD?”

“Suspiciously quiet. Holed up in his dungeon, I think, experimenting.”

“Don’t you mean his lab?”

“It feels and looks like a dungeon! You’d think the same if you saw it.”

Olivia leaned forward, eyes sharp. “Has he made progress with the whole enhanced-humans thing?”

“I’m not sure.” Harlan thought about their last phone call and how cagey JD had been. “I don’t think so, which is why he’s quiet. I think he’d be broadcasting any success. He’s finding it hard.”

“Not surprising. What about his work on making weapons disappear?”

He’d told Olivia about JD’s alchemical wheel and its correspondences, and how he’d made Shadow’s knife resonate with her energy, and then one that worked with him. Harlan shrugged. “No word on that, either. I must admit, I didn’t like the way that made me feel. If I’m honest, I’ve kept away, and fortunately, JD hasn’t demanded my presence.”

“That’s fair enough.” Olivia rested her chin on her long, elegant fingers. “With Black Cronos quiet, it gives him time to work, anyway.”

“But it’s unnerving. Where have they gone?”

“I’d like to say they’re licking their wounds, but I doubt it.”

“I doubt it, too,” Harlan said with a sigh as he rose to his feet. “Anyway, I must go. I’m heading to Kent to see Theo. I’m hoping he has a juicy job. What have you got going on?”

“I’m tracking down a very tricky, supposedly magical reliquary. The search is becoming more convoluted by the day.” Her eyes narrowed. “I was debating whether to involve Shadow and the Nephilim.”

“I’m sure they’ll be happy to help, although I know Barak is assisting Jackson with Black Cronos. I have no idea what the rest of them are up to. I’m sure at least one of them could help you, though.”

She nodded, clearly already distracted by the idea. “Okay. I’ll see how it goes.”

Harlan left her to her thoughts, called Eloise to tell her where he was going, not wanting to talk to Mason, and headed out into the sunshine. Time to see Theo and give his car a spin.

***

Shadow pulled her bow string back, feeling the power and strength in it, before releasing the arrow. She watched it thump into the distant target at the edge of the field, and smiled with satisfaction as she hit the bullseye.

“Perfect,” she declared. In seconds, she had shot a flurry of arrows at the target, all finding their mark, and she lowered the bow before turning to Gabe. “It’s better than I hoped.”

“Better than your fey-made one?”

She snorted. “Don’t be an idiot! Of course not.”

Gabe laughed, his teeth flashing white against his dark tan. “You are so easy to wind up.” His skin was darker than normal, a result of the good weather they’d been having throughout August. His jaw was skimmed with stubble, but his warm brown eyes were hidden by his sunglasses.

She narrowed her eyes as she gave him a sidelong glance. “I am not. I am merely correcting you. Nothing made here will ever beat a fey-made weapon.” She ran her hand across the carved wooden bow that was almost as tall as she was. “However, I will concede, this is excellent. It will be even better when El has strengthened it with magic.”

Ever since her bow had broken when she fought against Black Cronos in France, she’d felt its loss. Her bow was an extension of her, even more than her sword. She had taken her time finding someone to make her a new one. It had to be right, and this was. She had found a craftsman in Devon to make it for her, and had chosen yew, a common wood for a long bow because of its high-tensile strength. However, the other advantage of yew was its magical properties. The tree symbolized immortality, rebirth, and protection, its connected elements were earth and water, and it was considered a guardian of the Otherworld. It was also strongly connected with the Goddess. As an added enhancement, protection runes had been carved into it.

“What material did you choose for the bowstring?” Gabe asked, taking it from her hands to examine it.

“I bowed to modernity and used Dacron. It seemed sensible. It will last longer, and it’s lightweight.” She shrugged. “I wanted the best bow possible. He made me some arrows, too. They’re good, but I prefer my own.” She sometimes spent hours making them herself, but she found it satisfying, and with her earth magic, it made it easier. “I’m going hunting tonight, when it’s cooler.” She lowered her sunglasses over her eyes to block out the glare of the mid-morning sun. “It’s too hot now. I’ll see El instead.”

Gabe nodded. “Why I don’t I come with you? We can have a pub lunch in The Wayward Son. There’s not much else to do around here.”

“That’s a great idea.”

They strolled across the field next to the farmhouse above White Haven, heading through the side door and into the cool kitchen, where Niel was already prepping meat for the barbeque that evening.

Niel looked up as they entered, his hands covered in some kind of sauce. “Jackson has phoned Barak. He’s talking to him now.”

Shadow rested her bow against the wall as Gabe asked, “Black Cronos?”

“I reckon.”

Barak, like Niel, was no longer working for Caspian Faversham, and he’d been eager to pick up more responsibility with their own business. Gabe had nominated him as Jackson’s contact in the hunt for the shadowy organisation and their mysterious leader, who they suspected to be the immortal Comte de Saint-Germain. A few weeks previously, Barak and Estelle Faversham had visited The Retreat, the Paranormal Division’s new headquarters, and now he and Jackson kept in regular contact. Shadow had long resigned herself to Estelle’s constant presence. She would have to later, too, when she came to their barbeque. Her relationship with Barak was growing stronger every day, which was great for Barak, but painful for everyone else. At least Estelle was softening, slightly. She was like a rusty knife now, rather than a sharp one.

Before they could question Niel further, Barak bounded in, a satisfied smile on his face. “We think we have a lead!”

“Really?” Shadow asked, heading to the fridge and grabbing some beers for all of them. “You said that last time, and it went nowhere.”

“And the time before that,” Gabe added.

Barak shrugged, his huge shoulders rising and his chest muscles rippling beneath his t-shirt. “They’re good at hiding. I suspected it would take a while. I’m actually enjoying the hunt. Besides, I’m getting to see new places with the beautiful Estelle. That’s even better than finding them.” He winked at Shadow, knowing it made her cranky. “Estelle is a woman with hidden depths.”

“Like Loch Ness. We all know what’s down there.”

Barak’s enthusiasm would not be subdued, and he blew her a kiss. “Tetchy madam.”

“Piss off.”

Gabe intervened, shooting Shadow a warning glance that she ignored. “Where are you heading?”

“Avignon. Apparently, there’s another old château there that the Comte once stayed in.”

“Who owns it now?” Shadow asked.

“The same people who built it centuries ago—the du Guade family. Jackson wonders if they have affiliations to Black Cronos.”

Shadow leaned against the counter. “Why? Is there something suspicious about them?”

“They own a couple of businesses that Jackson thinks are dodgy. He’s leaving no stone unturned.”

“That’s part of the problem,” Gabe said, sitting at the kitchen table and raking his hand through his hair. “I think he’s spreading his net too wide.”

“But with no clues at all,” Barak argued, “what’s the alternative? We have to chase down every possible lead in the hope of a breakthrough.”

Niel washed his hands, his food preparation finished, as he said, “At least Jackson is paying.”

“Exactly!” Barak grinned. “And I get to see the world.”

 “When do you leave?” Shadow asked.

“In a couple of hours. I’ll be there for three or four days, probably. It depends on what we find.” He looked at the stack of meat that Niel was marinating, lips twisting with disappointment. “Unfortunately, I’ll miss the barbeque.”

Gabe studied him. “Don’t hesitate to call for backup if you think you’ve found something.”

Barak nodded as he put a number into his phone and headed out of the room. “Sure thing. I’ll let Estelle know our plans.”

Shadow patted Gabe’s hand. “He’ll be fine. It’s like you said—they’re chasing everything right now.”

“But at some point they’ll get lucky, and there’s only two of them.”

“At which time he’ll call us.” Shadow inwardly sighed. Gabe always worried about the others. He couldn’t help it. It was even worse when he hadn’t got anything else to worry about, which they hadn’t right now. “Come on. Time to see El, and then pub.” She turned to Niel. “Want to join us?”

“Nah. I’m going to the barn to spar with Nahum. He’s already warming up.” He flexed his arms and rolled his shoulders as he gave them a wicked grin. “I’m already feeling victorious.”

Shadow tutted. “Overconfidence will cost you.”

“Says the woman who is constantly overconfident!”

“It’s justified. I am fey!” she proclaimed, wide-eyed, and then dodged out of the kitchen before he could retaliate, giggling as Niel swore behind her. “Come on, Gabe. Places to be!”

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