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In Magc Series
Reading Book 2

Truth In Magic

She lives for the truth…

But he lies to stay alive.

 

Jo Williams is on a quest to find an ancient magic book that holds the key to saving her brother’s life. Only when the clues don’t add up and she uncovers a series of disturbing lies, she finds herself in a race against time to uncover the truth.

 

Simon Hughes has made a career out of lying. As an agent with the FBI’s magic task force, his latest assignment is to infiltrate an evil organization, and to do that, he must transform into someone else.

 

Given the same task by rival organizations for very different reasons, when Jo and Simon’s paths collide, they discover a forbidden attraction neither expected. But their lives are on opposing journeys and a web of lies and impossible obstacles stand between them.

 

With the book in sight, even if they admit to a love that exceeds all odds, only one of them can succeed. Which means one will lose everything…

 

** The In Magic Series is best read in order although each book features a different couple and has its own Happily Ever After. **

Truth In Magic by KJ Warawa, Paranormal Romance Author

Sneak Peak...

Chapter One

Twenty-Two Years Ago — Simon Age Twelve

 

Simon Hughes hugged his foster mother tightly, knowing he’d never see her again.

 

After a moment, his foster mother pulled back and cupped Simon’s cheeks. “We’re going to miss you, Simon. I know we said we talked about you joining our family—” Pulling away from Simon, she took a tissue from her pocket and wiped her eyes. “You know we would keep you if we could.”

 

Simon nodded and swallowed against the lump in his throat that threatened to strangle him. He waved his hand in front of his eyes to look like he was sweeping the bangs off his face. A move he’d mastered two years ago after his parents died. His non-magic foster mother would never know he was magically drying the tears that threatened to spill over. He wouldn’t cry because it never helped. His tears just made people feel guilty, but they didn’t change anything. He swallowed again and pushed his shoulders back.

 

“I know.” He told her what she wanted to hear, but it was a lie. He had no problem lying when it made someone else feel better.

 

Simon, please wait in the car while I speak with Mrs. Nelson.” The social worker’s voice was soft, the corners of her lips barely curving up in a sad attempt at a smile. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

           

His foster mother pulled him in for one last hug. Then Simon picked up his backpack loaded down with his comic books and walked out the door. He got into the backseat of the social worker’s car and watched the two non-magic women as they stood on the front porch and talked about him. Pulling in energy from around him, he sent some power to his hearing to temporarily enhanced it with magic. He listened to his foster mother and newest social worker.

           

We are so sorry to lose Simon.” His foster mother paused and used the crumpled tissue in her hand to wipe her eyes, already red and puffy from days of crying. “He has become a real part of our family, like he’s one of our own.” She paused, dabbing at her eyes before continuing. “I know this sounds strange, but I think he even looks like he could be our biological child. Sorry, I’m babbling. It’s been a tough time.”

 

“I understand,” the social worker said in an empathetic voice that was almost like a purr.

 

“He just seems so much like my husband, reading the same types of books, liking the same sports, and even learning about my husband’s hobby in antiquities.”

           

The social worker nodded as if she could fully comprehend what the other woman was saying. But she couldn’t, no one could.

 

“I’m new to Simon’s case but everything I’ve read in his file shows he truly did become a part of your family. I know it’s going to be a huge loss to your family to move him, and for him too, but you need to concentrate on your own family now. I understand that getting your husband the care he needs to beat this horrible disease should be your top priority.”

           

Simon turned his head, looking out the window at the kids playing down the street. He stopped listening. He had tried so hard to be what they wanted so he could fit in. He’d magically darkened his hair, a little bit at a time over the months so it would look more like his foster father’s. Every night for months, he’d spent hours in the back yard practicing his golf swing so he could keep up with his foster father. Simon swallowed again, and rubbed his chest as the feelings of loneliness overwhelmed him. Learning new hobbies and how to cook; being polite, never complaining — none of it had been enough.

 

Being a part of the family helping his foster father get well was something he yearned for and he didn’t understand why he couldn’t stay. He’d be one more person to help and he wouldn’t get in the way. He wanted to belong.

 

He’d been in several foster homes over the past two years, but this one felt different. He’d felt a connection to these people and even had inside jokes, like ask the kid on the bike. One day his foster dad got lost and a little kid on a bicycle had to give him directions. After that, when someone didn’t know something, a family member would yell out ask the kid on the bike. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone outside the family, but he understood.

 

They had trusted him to do was he said he was going to do, and they did the same, like he was a true part of the family. It didn’t matter that they were non-magic people; he’d felt like he belonged. Why hadn’t that been enough?

 

When his parents had died, he was tossed into the state’s foster system among non-magic people and he’d lost all connections to other magic people. There was no one to teach him about his magic. No one who was like him. He had been completely alone. Then he had joined the Nelson family and he didn’t think he’d ever be alone again.

 

His parents had told him all about magic people and that they were born with their magic essence inside of them. They’d explained that like all magic people, his powers would continue to grow and when he hit puberty, he’d come into his full power. Then he’d have to learn how to master using it.

His parents had also told him that some magic people had special gifts, just like some people were talented at playing sports or music. Knowing all this didn’t help because now that his abilities were growing there was no one to teach him. He’d have to figure it all out on his own.

 

His dad told him that specialties were passed down like other types of genetics. Just like families with mostly brunettes could have a blond or red-headed child, magic families could have a child with a specialty not seen in generations or even no specialties at all.

 

Thinking of his parents and wishing they were there, not just to help him but so he’d still have a place he belonged, he closed his eyes and pictured them in his mind. It’d been two years since the accident that took their lives. The pain was still a constant, living presence in his soul. Some days he looked down at his chest and expected to see scars, big and ugly, marring his body. The ache was a continual reminder of what he’d lost.

 

When he used his special power, he could pretend he was someone else and sometimes even go a day or two without thinking of them. Just like belonging to a new family might ease some of the ache. It was enough to keep him going. He never wanted to forget his parents, but he’d do anything to lessen the pain.

 

He expected he’d hit puberty any day now and come into his full magic. But until then he practiced with what magic he did have every chance he got, and it was paying off. He could now do things he couldn’t do even a month before. Somehow, he knew these new skills were the key to his future because he would be able to pretend he wasn’t the lonely boy that no one wanted.

           

With his next family, he would use his powers more and try even harder to fit in, make himself into a boy that they wouldn’t want to throw away.

 

************

Twenty-One Years Ago — Jo Age Six

           

“Jo, sweetheart, you need to listen to me.” Jo’s mother crouched to her eye level. “I’ve already told you that Daddy and Dylan, are dead. They died in the fire and no matter how much you want them to, they are not coming back.” Her mother’s voice cracked as she said the final words and she briefly closed her eyes before looking back at Jo.

           

Jo, dry-eyed, patted her mother’s cheek like she’d seen her mother do to her and wiped away her mother’s tears. Everyone had been sad and crying for days. Half the family was gone, dead in a fire. At six, Jo understood fire. Had stood with her mom, aunts, brother, and cousins and watched the huge cabin burn with some of her family trapped inside. But her family were magic people, and her father was extra special. “Mommy, you don’t have to be sad. Daddy will come back when he’s ready, and he’ll bring everyone else back too. He promised.”

           

“No, Jo, he’s not coming back. No one is coming back. They’re all…” Her mother didn’t finish the sentence as she let out a sob, but Jo knew what she wanted to say. Dead. Her dad, her brother, her two uncles, and her three cousins were all dead. But they couldn’t be.

 

After getting into a car accident on the way to the family’s cabin, she was afraid her father was hurt because he’d said he bumped his head. He had picked her up and looked her straight in the eye and told her he was okay. He promised he’d live a long life and watch her grow up and get married and have her own children. Her dad never lied to her.

 

She knew the cabin had gone up in flames. She’d stood beside her mother and her brother, Reece, and her aunts and cousins as everyone watched in horror as the flames engulfed the huge structure. The heat was so intense it forced them back, closer to the lake. They watched as the smoke grew thicker, like a cloud fallen to the ground, choking out the sun.  The roar of the fire deafening as the crackle and popping of the flames consumed the log cabin in minutes. She saw the fire, but her dad never broke a promise. He’d come back.

           

At the funeral, three large coffins and four smaller ones were buried in the ground. Reece stood on one side of her with his arm wrapped around her, snugging her into his side, her protector. Her two remaining cousins, Meredith and Rowena, stood on her other side, their faces awash with tears. Everyone cried except Jo. Her mother and aunts huddled together, and the minister’s words echoed throughout the grounds, drowning out the three women’s sobs.

           

After that, life went on. She started first grade and found a new best friend, Jessica, and Jo continued to wait. Days turned into weeks and every morning she wondered if it would be the day her father came back.         

           

Three months and six days later it was Jo’s birthday and she stopped waiting.

 

“What’s wrong, Jo?” Jessica asked, blue icing smeared around her mouth.

 

Jo hadn’t touched her birthday cake. “My dad has never missed my birthday. He’s not coming back.” Her father had lied to her.

 

************

Eighteen Years Ago — Simon Age Sixteen

           

Simon had moved so many times, he had a routine — efficient and always the same. He put his stuff away in his latest bedroom’s the age-worn dresser. Besides his prized comic books, there were only a few pictures and some clothes, so it didn’t take long.

 

He would share the room in the group home for the next two years, until he aged out of the system. If they let him stay that long…

 

He put everything away neatly, folded in a drawer or hung up in the small closet. Afterwards, he sat on the bed and looked down at his hands as if they would have the answers for where he had gone wrong. Four foster homes in six years and they all said he was part of the family. That he belonged. Until he didn’t.

           

He’d made subtle changes to fit into each of the families, but it was never enough. Not even after he had come into his full magic. He knew from his father that his magic would continue to mature as he did, but so far nothing was ever enough.

 

Glancing around the room, his eyes focused on the cheap, plastic picture frame he’d placed on the nightstand by the bed. Holding out his hand, he used his magic to float the frame over to him, landing it softly on his open palm.

           

Everyone in the photo was laughing and leaning over to one side. Simon smiled as he remembered his dad setting up the camera and tripod, then flashing into the picture before the timer went off. His dad had flashed too close to his mom, shoving her to the right, and they’d all started to topple over like dominoes. They’d taken it a few months before his parents died. He ran his finger over the glass, tracing the shapes of first his mother and then his father. A yearning welled up and threatened to consume him from the inside out. He took a deep breath and swallowed. He often wondered what they’d think of him if they could see him now.

           

Would they think he hadn’t tried hard enough to fit in? Or maybe too hard? Would they think the families hadn’t been polite or kind enough and that’s why they didn’t want him? His parents had always said how important manners were and his parents had been the nicest people he knew. Maybe he wasn’t nice enough or he’d focused on changing the wrong parts of himself.

             

His parents had been only children. They’d had a huge circle of magic friends. His dad had even been a member of the magic council, but at home, it had just been the three of them. They’d spent every free moment together. He had been so loved he couldn’t have imagined how it could have all changed in an instant. After their deaths, he lost all touch with magic people when he was swallowed up into the social system.

 

His parents always told him to be true to himself. Be the best he could be. And he had tried. He tried in each foster home, but it was never enough.

 

But, for the first time in his life, he began to think his parents had been wrong. Maybe even the best Simon wasn’t enough. No matter how good he tried to be, no one loved him enough to keep him. He was lacking something and didn’t know what it was. Being the best Simon was never enough going to be enough. So maybe he shouldn’t be the best Simon he could be. Maybe he should be the best someone else.

 

He cocked his head to the side and listened, making sure no one was around, before he put the picture frame back in the drawer. Magic people were forbidden from telling non-magic people about magic and he never wanted to get caught doing something he shouldn’t. It was even physically difficult to mention it around non-magics. Probably another design by Mother Nature.

 

Since Simon had never been in a foster home with another magic kid, he only practiced his magic when alone, like now. He held his hand out in front of him, palm down, and pulled his magic from within. Using the energy in the room he focused it onto his hand, he stared at a poster on the wall above the twin bed opposite his.

 

Ever since he’d figured out he could magically change his hair color, he knew changing his appearance was going to be his magic speciality. He’d been honing it since he’d come into his full power.

 

He listened for movement in the hall again, and when he heard nothing, he decided it was time to see what he could really do.

 

The musician in the photo had a tattoo of an electric guitar covering the top of his hand from his knuckles, up past his wrist. Simon focused all his attention on the image, guiding his power.

 

He first fixated on the bridge and saddles of the guitar, the dark shadows covering the man’s knuckles where the tattoo gradually faded out. Then the pickups and strings. No detail was too small for Simon as he continued to draw in energy and use it to work his magic. His eyes never wavered from the poster as he concentrated on each section of the photo before moving his focus onto the next.

 

As his focus on the details intensified, he continued to guide the energy and magic into his hand.

 

Then it happened.

 

A strange sensation raced through him, like a caffeine buzz, but not a normal one. An all-encompassing buzz that he felt throughout his entire body. One like he’d been mainlining caffeine right into his veins.

 

As the sensation continued, his hand transformed into the guitarist’s hand and the tattoo appeared.

 

He giggled like a small child and sat up straighter, glancing around the room again to make sure he was still alone. Then he let loose and laughed like he hadn’t since his parents had been alive.

 

He stood and paced the small room, walking back and forth between the two twin beds. A rush of adrenaline coursed through him as he stared down at his hand.

 

Transformation. His speciality was transformation. Years earlier, at his first foster home, he’d had his first hint that was his specialty when he’d been able to change his eye color and lighten his hair to match his foster father’s, but now he knew for sure.

 

He sat back down on the bed and concentrated on the poster again, but this time he intensified his gaze to take in the entire man, not just his hand. Simon pulled in more energy and focused his magic throughout his entire body. He would become the best someone else — someone who would finally belong.

 

************

Nine Years Ago — Jo Age 17   

           

Jo stared at her best friend, Jessica. They sat together at a picnic table on the school’s lawn, facing the street. “Really?”

           

“Uh, yeah, I told you I was going to the library last night.”

           

“Alone?”

           

“Yeah.” Jessica twisted a strand of her long blond hair around her finger. Since Jo had been friends with Jessica since first grade, she knew her tells. And right now, she was lying.

           

“I went by the library last night. I thought I’d study with you.”

           

Jessica’s eyes widened. “I must have missed you.”

           

“I was there from five until it closed at nine thirty.”

           

Jessica stood. “Okay, so I wasn’t there. What do you want to know, Jo?”

           

“I want to know if you were with Travis last night.”

           

“Travis?”

           

“Yes, Travis, my boyfriend.” Jessica was lying and now Jo wanted her to confirm it.

           

“No, I went home after the library.”

           

“Really, Jess?”

 

“Yes, I went home and was by myself all night. What’s with all the questions, Jo?”

 

Jessica had lied to her and betrayed her. No matter how you looked at it, lying was wrong — it hurt people. And now she knew it could also ruin friendships. It hurt even more when the lie came from someone you trusted. Maybe if Jessica understood how much the lie had hurt, they could salvage their friendship. “After I left the library, I stopped by Travis’s house and you were on the front porch with him.”

           

“Well, I got bored at home and decided to stop by Travis’s. He was helping me study.”
          

The more Jessica talked, the more she lied, but Jo couldn’t let it drop. “Anatomy?”

           

“Huh?”

           

“Jess, I saw you! You were sucking face with Travis on his porch!”

 

Jessica dropped all pretense of innocence. She placed her hands on her hips, and thrust out her ample chest. “Well, he likes me better than you. He was only waiting until you gave it up to him, and now he’s mine, like he always should have been.” She stormed off like a woman scorned, instead of the one doing the deed.

 

Jo sat at the picnic table, dry eyed, and wondered where she’d gone wrong. They were best friends — they’d even bonded over their grief. Jessica had lost her own dad to a heart attack. Now in their senior year, they had already applied to the same colleges like they’d planned. Had their friendship all been a lie?

 

“Jo, come on.” Jo looked up to see Meredith and Rowena in their car at the curb. Jo had forgotten her cousins were picking her up after school today.

 

Once Jo was in the back seat, Meredith turned around, not taking the car out of park. “What happened?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Rowena turned to face her as well, and Jo knew Meredith wouldn’t drive until she’d gotten the truth out of Jo. The truth was supposed to set you free. Yet Jess’s truth felt like it had ripped a hole in Jo. “Travis and I broke up.”

 

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” Rowena asked.

 

“Yeah. Travis and Jess are a thing now.”

 

“Travis and Jess!” Meredith’s voice came out as a screech, and Jo winced. “Yeah, they lied to me.”

 

Rowena and Meredith glanced at each other. They both knew how much Jo hated lies.

 

Jo eyes tingled with the threat of tears, but she didn’t cry or show how she was feeling on the outside. But inside, she seethed with anger at the betrayal and the damage lies continued to bring to her life. They also took away those closest to her. Lies had no place in the world and Jo wouldn’t tolerate anyone who told them. There had to be someone out there, besides her family, who wouldn’t lie and cause her more pain.

CHAPTER 2

Nine Years Ago — Simon Age Twenty-Five

 

Simon looked at the man sitting across from him and waited. Ben Davis, head of a special FBI task force, hadn’t mentioned what the task force covered when he’d introduced himself a few minutes ago. The soundproof room he’d led them to gave Simon an idea though.

 

After graduating Quantico, Simon was assigned to the Denver satellite office and it was working out okay, but he wanted more. He had a driving force inside him to be indispensable and in turn that would make him part of a team and give him a place where he belonged once and for all.

 

He’d made a few friends, and his supervisor seemed pleased with his work, but this meeting came out of the blue. Yesterday, his boss told him to be at the headquarters in Blue Mountain, Colorado, for a meeting at oh nine hundred this morning. There was an excitement humming through him. This could be what he was waiting for — a place to belong in the organization.

 

“Thanks for coming, Simon. Please have a seat. I’ve just got to finish up this report.”

 

Ben gestured for Simon to take a seat and turned back to his computer. He’d heard Ben’s name bantered around, but that’s all he knew about him. Discovering he was a magic person had been a surprise.

 

The older man was probably in his mid-fifties and looked like a friendly professor. The serious but kind type, non-threatening and approachable. Someone who could blend into a crowd.

 

He could blend in too, but for a completely different reason.

 

Ben turned away from his computer and focused his gaze back on Simon while he took a sip from his coffee. Simon fisted his hands on his knees and forced himself not to fidget or move his gaze away from Ben’s.

 

He wasn’t easily intimidated, but the silence was becoming awkward.

Simon’s patience wouldn’t be considered extraordinary, but he had persistence, and the FBI had honed that skill over the past year.

 

As the silence drew on, he knew it was a test, but of what he had no clue. He stayed silent and studied the other man. Ben’s eyes were hazel in color, and as the clock ticked on, the effort to resist seeing if he could match Ben’s eye color became harder.

 

Another minute went by and Ben glanced at the computer. With the older man looking away, Simon took the momentary reprieve from the silent staring and pushed magic to his eyes to change their color. Without a mirror, he couldn’t tell if the match was exact, but it felt right.

 

“I knew it.” Ben whipped back to Simon and a smile curved his lips.

 

Shit. He turned his eyes back to green, but feared it was too late. He’d always been so careful to hide his skill, but his magic had spurred him on this time. Like its essence was to preen like a peacock and let Ben know what it could do.

 

“Simon, do you know why I called this meeting?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“The task force I’m in charge of is called missing persons, but it’s a cover. It’s made up of magic agents like yourself and we investigate cases involving magic people.”

 

Ben paused. Was he waiting for a response?

 

Simon nodded, not sure what to say. Perhaps Ben hadn’t seen him change his eye color and his earlier comment was in response to something on the computer.

 

“We are looking for magic agents with different specialities and powerful bloodlines. I believe you have a gift that we can use.”

 

“What is that?” Shit. He’d never revealed his unique specialty to anyone and didn’t know how Ben had even suspected. Had he given himself away before? Had someone seen him use his gift?

 

Ben’s expression was serious but not unkind when he answered. “We’ve met before, you know. I used to be friends with your father when he was a council member, and I knew your mother.”

 

Simon schooled his features to avoid showing his shock.

 

“After your parents died, I thought you’d gone to live with relatives. You were already in college by the time I discovered you had gone into the foster care system.”

 

“That was several years ago.”

 

“Yes, and when you graduated, an FBI recruiter came to see you.”

 

“And I told her I wasn’t interested.”

 

“I know, she told me. I sent two more recruiters before you finally said yes.”

 

Simon wasn’t sure what to think of Ben’s involvement in his life without him knowing. “Why didn’t you approach me yourself?”

 

“I almost did at one point, but you seemed like you were doing alright and I didn’t know if you’d remember me.”

 

“No disrespect, sir, but that’s a cop-out.”

 

Ben chuckled. “I suppose it is. I also felt guilty when I found out you hadn’t been taken in by relatives. I should have checked in on you after your parents died. I was close with your parents and their deaths hit me hard. I couldn’t wrap my head around their accident, but again, that’s no excuse.”

           

Simon had felt so alone for years and would have given anything for someone like Ben to have found him. But wishing wouldn’t change the past and Simon had been through too much to feel the need to assuage Ben’s guilt. “It’s done.”

 

“Yes, it is, and it’s not why I brought you here. I believe you can change your appearance to match that of someone else. Am I right?”

 

“Yes, sir.” His neck heated and his back became sticky with sweat but he didn't hesitate to answer. Ben could be what Simon was looking for, giving him a place to use his specialty and fit in.

 

Ben smiled. “Can you change into anyone?”

 

“No, sir. Only men and there are limits.” He had come this far and Ben clearly knew and there was no point in hiding it. If Ben was going to reveal his secret, it wouldn’t matter if Simon transformed or not so he may as well show him. He stood in front of the desk and reached out his hand to touch Ben’s. “May I?”

 

Ben nodded and watched him intently.

 

Since that day in his bedroom at sixteen, Simon had been honing his skill. He could transform after only looking at a person, as he did with Ben’s eyes, but there was an easier and faster way. He laid his hand on top of Ben’s and closed his eyes, gathering in energy and pushing his magic throughout his body while absorbing all the details that made up Ben’s appearance.

 

The first time Simon had completely transformed into someone else, it took several minutes, but over time it became easier and easier, and he no longer had to touch the person or look at a picture, but it was faster if he did.

 

He kept his eyes closed but heard Ben sharply inhale as he imagined Ben feeling like he was looking in a mirror.

 

“Remarkable,” Ben said with awe in his voice.

 

Simon could feel the successful transformation and opened his eyes to look into ones that he knew were now identical to his.

 

Ben stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of Simon, looking him up and down.

 

“I can only transform my body within reason. The most I’m able to change my mass is about three inches in either direction. I can make myself narrower in build, but I can’t hold it for more than a couple of hours at a time.”

 

“Wonderful,” Ben said as he walked around Simon, taking him in.

 

“Simon, I have a special place for you in my task force,” Ben said, and held out his hand to shake one that looked just like his own. “Welcome aboard.”

             

Things were finally falling into place. Simon would finally be the best someone else he could be.

 

************

Nine Months Ago — Jo Age Twenty-Six

“You lied. You all lied!” Jo threw out the accusation from the doorway. “How could you do that? For twenty years you lied. You hid everything from us.” Her voice rose with each subsequent accusation but she was too upset to care.

            Her aunt stayed where she was at her desk, looking Jo straight in the eyes. Sadness and grief overwhelmed the older woman’s expression, but Jo wasn’t backing down. Nothing could excuse the lies she had been told for most of her life.

            Elise put down what she’d been working on and took a long, slow breath before fully facing her niece. “We lost our husbands and our children. What else would you have had us do? Wait for our surviving children to be harmed or possibly killed?”

              A part of her wished she could take comfort from the words, knowing that her mom and aunts had been protecting them, but her anger burned too deep. She wasn’t ready to let it go. It was like a festering scab eating at the best parts of her, leaving only ugly and infectious remnants.

              She had lost her mother less than a month ago and just yesterday Jo learned she had been lied to for twenty years. A lie that had caused her mother’s death. It seemed so unreal to think she wasn’t just a normal human. That there was something special about her. The news hadn’t fully registered yet.

              Giving her head an internal shake, Jo concentrated on the present. “We’re magic, and you actually thought it was okay to keep it from us all this time? You thought it was okay to take away what is innate to us?” Her words were quieter this time, but she couldn’t hold back the anger. She was losing control over herself, the anger taking over, and her need to inflict the pain she felt on to someone else was a driving force within her.

            Her aunt’s eyes were shrouded in grief and rimmed with tears, but her shoulders were rigid with steely determination. “Don’t you dare judge me, Josephine! You have no idea what we were going through!”

               Aunt Elise’s voice was harsh, but Jo didn’t flinch. She refused to give in, clinging to her anger at the lies. Deep down she could only imagine the sorrow her mother and aunts had felt. They had each lost their husband and at least one child.

              But that didn’t make lying to their surviving children right. They had spellbound them, denying them the truth of what they were. Wouldn’t life have been easier if she’d known about her magic? At least she would have been saved from all the hurt caused by those lies.

               If no one had ever lied she wouldn’t have had to endure the teenage heartbreak inflicted by Jessica and Travis. Without lies, her ability to trust others wouldn’t have been destroyed. Nor would her ability to have strong relationships been affected. And because of her mother’s lies, she was now even questioning her own memories.

              “No, I don’t know. I can only imagine, but you didn’t give us that chance. And even worse, your lies killed Aunt Lillian and my mom! Lies hide the truth and hurt the people you’re closet to!” She felt a rawness inside from her grief and anger, but she wouldn’t let it go.

              Aunt Elise got up from the chair and came to stand in front of Jo. Her eyes burned with fire as she tilted Jo’s chin up with her fingers. It was a move Aunt Elise had done since Jo was a little girl when she wanted to make sure Jo was listening. “You think we wanted to bind you? Take away your magic and lie to our children? We had just buried our husbands and some of our children and feared for your lives. It was the only way we knew of to keep you safe.”

              Jo whipped her face out of her aunt’s grasp and straightened her shoulders as her aunt continued. Aunt Elise lowered her voice, like a hissed whisper, an edge to it that Jo hadn’t heard before. “Don’t you question what we did; you don’t know what it was like. We had no choice but to keep you safe. If getting rid of all traces of your magic and ensuring no one hurt you to get to it kept you safe, then we were willing to do it.

              “Jo, I know how you feel about lying, but sometimes there are no other options. Life isn’t a black-and-white, always-tell-the truth type of place like you want it to be.” Aunt Elise’s voice was back to her usual calm, with no censure in her words.

            Elise grasped Jo’s hand and pulled her over to the small loveseat in the office. Jo sat stiffly and looked down at their joined hands and the truth of the moment hit her like a truck hitting a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour. She would never again have a conversation like this with her mother.

            The full force of the realization enflamed Jo’s anger, creating a seething resentment for the times she’d lost and would never get back. For the lies she’d been forced to believe.

            She had twenty years of lies to look back on and would never be able to question her mother again. She’d never be able to talk to her mom about magic and have her explain why they did what they did. Never have her mom’s guidance to help her adapt to her new reality.

            Her aunt turned toward her, their knees bumping, and their hands still clasped.  “I’ve had to live with this lie for twenty years and not only was the guilt heavier than I thought I could bear at times, it killed my two sisters.” Bringing one hand up, Elise waved it softly in front of herself and her tears disappeared. Like magic.

            It pulled at Jo’s heart, the anger bubbling up even more from knowing that the magic her aunt just performed without thought was one more thing Jo’s mom would never be able to teach her. Twenty years of opportunity gone. Her mother could have taught her how to do it and so much more, but instead their time together had been bathed in lies that ended up taking her mother from her years before her time. Her mom had lied every time she’d used her magic and hid it from her children. Every time she could have made Jo and Reece’s lives easier with magic, he had denied them that. Were they the only lies they had been told or had there been more?

            “Jo, hopefully you will never know what it is like to watch your children die.  Spell binding you lessened some of the pain you and your cousins felt from losing your siblings and fathers because it got rid of so many of the memories you had with them. It allowed us all to keep you safe so we could move on with our lives. If I had to do it again, I would, and I know your mother and your aunt Lillian would too. We always did whatever we could to keep you all safe.”

            “I love you, Aunt Elise, but I don’t know if I can ever forgive you, my mom, and Aunt Lillian for denying us our magic and hiding the truth for so long.”

            “You may think that now, Jo, but one day you’ll realize there is a place for lies. Sometimes we have to lie to protect those we love, and it’s always worth it.” Aunt Elise’s voice trailed off and she gave Jo’s fingers a final reassuring squeeze before dropping her hand. “It was worth it to keep you all safe and for that I have no regrets.”

            “I did it because I love you and Reese more than anything else in the entire world,” Jo said softly.

            “Did what?” Aunt Elise’s eyes narrowed.

            Jo’s eyes were dry, but she squeezed them tight for a moment, willing the familiar tingling sensation away. “Those were the last words Mom ever said to me. I didn’t understand what she meant and thought maybe it was the pain speaking.” Jo stopped and took in a deep breath. “She didn’t regret the spellbinding, even when she was dying because of it.” Jo squeezed her eyes shut again and then looked at her aunt.

            Tears fell freely down Aunt Elise’s cheeks. Her aunt seldom cried. “No, your mom had no regrets. Neither did Lillian, not even during her final days. We made a pact twenty years ago that we would protect all of you, no matter what it cost us. Now, were there times over those years when we questioned whether we had done the right thing? Yes, absolutely, but then we would see how carefree you were all able to live, not worrying that someone would try to harm you because you came from a powerful bloodline and you had magic they could take. We always came back to the conclusion that we made the right decision.”

            Jo stood and turned, looking down at her aunt as she shook her head. “Aunt Elise, you lied and took decisions away from us that were rightfully ours to make and I’m having a hard time forgiving that right now.”

            Aunt Elise stood as well, but walked by Jo and returned to her desk. She sat down and turned her chair so she could look at her niece. “What more do you want me to say? That I regret what I did? That your mother regretted it? Well, we didn’t and you’re not a child anymore, so you just have to accept that we lied because we loved you.”

            Jo left the room, her heart heavy. Once more a lie had changed her entire life.      

 

************

Nine Months Ago — Simon Age Thirty-Three

“It’s go time,” Ben said without preamble when he flashed into the office where Simon was studying some video footage. “Lucas Jenkins is dead.”.

            Ben took the seat across from Simon and opened his laptop. The office was pretty sparse, a rent by the month place in a large building complex. They brought their laptops with them, never leaving behind any identifying information when they left.

             Simon had been to the FBI offices in the last ten years, but not often. When he wasn’t working on a case, he’d come to this rented office. Ben kept him informed of everything that was happening with regards to the other agents and magic business in general, but Simon didn’t have anything to do with them. Even though they may know his name, no one had ever met Simon, not even Jack.

             When Simon first started working for Ben, he’d explained it was for Simon’s protection more than anyone else’s. If it got out what Simon could do, he would be a hunted man and it could blow his cover. Even worse, if every magic person knew that someone could take on another’s form, trust would be lost between magic people.

            Ben looked at something on his computer before glancing back at Simon. “A unit was following Lucas’s car when it hydroplaned in a storm and went off the road. Our agents were able to keep his body alive and mask the incident from non-magics. He’s in the local hospital with magic ER staff protecting him from view. You’ll go in as planned, copy his appearance, and it will look like Lucas was able to walk away from the incident unharmed. After that, our people will deal with his body.”

            Ben continued to go over a few details that Simon already knew by heart. There was no need for him to respond as he started to mentally prepare himself to become Lucas. This was what he lived for, what he knew best. He would become someone else for as long as needed.

            The task force had continued to grow in the years since Ben had recruited Simon, but some things hadn’t changed. There was still no North American council after it had fallen apart not long after his parents died. No council meant Ben and his brother Frank, the director of the FBI, had to make decisions without guidance and hope they wouldn’t come back and bite them in the ass. Simon had heard rumors that it wouldn’t be long before a new council was started. He’d believe it when he saw it.

            The task force had identified Lucas a couple of months ago and had been watching him. They knew he was spoiled and selfish, from a wealthy family, and had a penchant for power. He’d worked his way into an organization Ben and Frank believed was responsible for the deaths of many council members and their families years ago. The task force hoped Lucas would be the key to identifying the organization’s leaders.

            Simon had worked with Ben for months to come up with a plan. When the time was right, they’d offer Lucas immunity for his crimes in exchange for what he knew and put him in protection, allowing Simon to take his place. They hadn’t expected Lucas to die, but there was a contingency plan in place in case he did.

             Simon had been studying Lucas for several months, learning his habits, his mannerisms, and as much as he could about his past. He’d studied everything the FBI could find on the man, including video footage, in the hopes Simon could easily pass himself off as Lucas when the opportunity arose.

            Just over a month ago, Simon went to Lucas’s gym to bump into him. Literally bump into him, allowing skin-to-skin contact. With that brief contact, Simon was able to perfect his transformation into Lucas in seconds, instead of minutes.

             To test his transformation, Simon did a trial run by meeting up with Lucas’s college friends for a drink. It went off without a hitch. The only person still an unknown was Lucas’s mother, Catherine.

            “I assume you’ve got his ID, wallet, and personal items to give me, but what about his car?” Simon asked.

            Ben passed over the items in a clear plastic bag. “You can claim the car was written off and that you were damn lucky to walk away from the accident. You’ll call for your family’s driver to pick you up from the hospital.”

       He knew everything there was to know about Lucas Jenkins, and now he would assume his identity. Everything from his home, his over-privileged life, to his friends and mother would be his. Simon Hughes would cease to exist for now. This was everything Simon had worked for.

 

************

Two Months Ago — Jo Age Twenty-Seven

“You don’t have to stay, you know,” Reece said as he settled himself onto the other end of the couch. “I’m just going to read for awhile and then go to bed.”        

        “I know. It’s just comfy here on the couch and I’m not ready to go up to my apartment yet.”      

         Reece let out a huff. “Pinkie, I’m okay.”

        “You just seem like you’ve changed. I worry about you, Reeces Pieces.” Jo grinned, knowing how Reece felt about the nickname she and her cousins had come up with years ago. She didn’t need to mention how weak he’d gotten or how he seemed quieter ever since a spell had been cast on him at the ceremony to remove the spell cast on them by their mother and aunts. Life could be ironic.

        Reece chuckled. “Oh, I see, I use your nickname and you have to dredge up that horrible name. Beware, Pinkie Pie.” Reece wiggled his eyebrows at her and relief flooded through her. Her brother was still somewhere inside this new, somber guy he’d morphed into since the unbinding spell.

       He’d started calling her Pinkie right before her high school graduation when she’d cut her hair into a short pixie cut and dyed it purple. Reece didn’t care that the My Little Pony character was really pink, hence the name Pinkie Pie, and not purple. He’d said it worked and it stuck.

         Reece sobered, his expression becoming serious again. “Look, Pinkie, I know you’re worried. I am too. But there’s nothing we can do about it. It is what it is.”

       Reece shook his head and Jo’s heart broke at the look of defeat on her brother’s face. “We’ll find a way.”

       “Pinkie, I know you want to believe that, but the Emissary and the other council leaders have already tried.”

       Jo wouldn’t accept defeat. There’d already been too much loss and suffering in their lives. They’d lost their mother in the last year and losing Aunt Elise recently had been the latest blow. Jo was determined their aunt would be the last person they lost to spells and people using magic for evil. She would find a way to save her brother.

      “Jo?”

      “Hmm?”

       “You seem lost in thought. What are you up to?”

       “Jack asked me to do something.”

        Reece reached forward and took her small hand in his far larger one. She squeezed his hand and forced herself not to comment on the loss of strength in her brother’s grip.

       “Jo, tell me.”

        “Jack asked me to look for an ancient book that he believes is hidden in the downtown library. He says they need it for the new council.”

        “Jack and Meredith don’t even have the new council set up yet. What is this book supposed to do and why do they need it now?”

       Jo shrugged. “I think it’s supposed to help them find the magic box that Copeland was looking for before Jack killed him. They need to find it before his people do…”

       “You hesitated. There’s more, isn’t there, Pinkie?”

        “The book is hidden, because duh, magic.” She winked at Reece and he chuckled. The sound helped to heal the cracks in her heart just a tiny bit.

        “Being a historian, no one will think anything of me researching in a large library, so I’ll be able to look for the book without it looking suspicious. Like I said, Jack needs it for the council, but there’s something else in the book….” Jo took a deep breath and looked her brother in the eyes. “The Emissary and other council leaders believe that the book contains a spell that will heal you.”

         “No!” Reece dropped Jo’s hands and sat back. “That’s the real reason you’re looking for it, isn’t it? And you said others are looking for it too? What if you get in their way? It’s bad enough you could be putting yourself in danger to help the council, not that I like it. But I know you — you’ll take bigger risks because you think it will help me. You can’t put yourself in danger because of me.”

         “Reece, it’s not just you. Before Copeland died, he said he wasn’t alone and that there are more people looking for that magic box. If it’s opened, it could release all kinds of bad shit.”

         “First, it’s never been proven the magic box is even real. It could be just a myth. And secondly, there are lots of other people who could look for the book.” Reece leaned forward again and put his hand on Jo’s leg. “Pinkie, what happens if you end up in the same boat as me? What if the magic book has a spell on it and you get hurt too? I couldn’t stand for anything to happen to you.”

         “That’s just it. Don’t you get it? I feel the same way. You’re already hurt and if there’s anything I can do to heal you, I will.”

          “Come here.” Reece pulled Jo into a hug. It felt like it’d been eons since she’d felt his brotherly embrace. She got up on her knees and scootched forward, sinking into his arms. “You’re determined to do this, aren’t you?” he asked softly.

          Jo looked at her brother, his face leaner than it had been just a few months ago. He’d always been bigger than life and since he loved to weight lift, he’d been big too. Now his shoulders didn’t seem as broad, and his face looked gaunt. Even his biceps and thighs didn’t have the muscular girth she was used to seeing on him.

          She’d do anything to fix that. “I don’t know if Jack asked anyone else, but it makes sense for me to look for the book. Besides, I’ll just be in a library and nothing will happen there.”

          Reece started to speak and Jo held up her hand. “Please, let me finish. I’ll be careful, I promise. Plus, there’s an elder magic person who will help me, Viktor Szabo. He’s a legend at the university. Although I’ve never met him and didn’t know he was a magic person.” She snorted. “Hell, that would have been funny if I had, considering five months ago I didn’t even know magic people existed.”

         Reece grasped Jo’s arms and looked her in the eyes. “I need you to promise me that if you ever think you’re in danger, or something doesn’t seem right, that you’ll stop. Let Jack and the FBI take over. It’s what Jack does.”

         “I promise, I’ll do my best.”

         “Pinkie.” Reece enunciated each syllable in her nickname. “That’s not what I meant.”

          “Reece, I won’t lie to you and say I’ll stop looking for the book when I don’t know if I can. But I promise I’ll be careful.” She was just going to be in a library, what could possibly happen?

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