Phoenix-Born Preview

Chapter 1

I approached the house silently, using magic to pull the shadows around me and cloak my figure. Anybody about would see only shadows where I stood. Magic was easy in urban areas, there were plenty of energy sources, plenty of places to draw power to convert into magic. Kagen Payne lived a little out of the way, but there were still plenty of energy sources. His own ridiculously large house provided me with plenty of resources to churn into spells. Spells which I would use against him. His huge house was about to become his tomb. 

He deserved it. Trust me. Contrary to popular belief, I did not kill anybody who didn’t deserve it. I was a hired killer but I was a hired killer with a code. It’s a strange concept I know. All jobs were vetted extensively before I agreed to take them. Only if the target deserved to die did I accept the contract. I’ve turned down plenty of jobs over the years. 

Kagen Payne was tonight’s target. His house being on the outskirts of Ashford was beneficial to me. It was isolated and secluded. I could make as much noise as I liked and nobody would come snooping around. Not that I intended to make much noise. That wasn’t my style. I dealt death swiftly and soundlessly. Unless the client requested otherwise. This one had not. The only request was that the victim knew who had come for him. 

The Wraith. 

That was the name I went by when I was killing. I was no longer Jacob Graves, the nightclub owner from Sangford. I was the cold, merciless killer that stalked the shadows and delivered inescapable death. Dramatic, I know, but in my line of work drama sells. I didn’t become the deadliest supernatural assassin on this side of the Atlantic by being modest. 

I moved across the driveway to where Kagen’s motorbike was standing; a red Victory Octane. I concentrated on the battery that I assumed was housed beneath the seat — not that it mattered. I called to the energy that coursed through it. Then I pulled every drop of power out of the battery and into myself where I converted it into magic. This served two purposes; it provided me with plenty of magic to get the job done, and more importantly, it stopped Kagen from making a getaway on his bike. Having drained his only escape route, I approached the house. 

Lights were on in one room at the front of the building. The rest of the house was dark. As I drew closer I heard the muffled sounds of a television. I crept up to the window and peeked through. Kagen was slumped on a white leather sofa, his dirty-soled feet were rested on a wooden coffee table. He was dressed only in an old pair of boxer shorts. I couldn’t really judge a man on how he chose to dress when in the privacy of his own home. 

I did find it curious that he was so underdressed. It wasn’t that hot. Although it was the middle of Summer it was actually quite a cool evening. Kagen was a pyromancer so maybe his ability to control fire made him excessively hot. 

I backed away carefully, any sudden movements might draw his attention. I stalked up to the front door and planted my palm on the wood. I closed my eyes and focused on the house. No trace of magic. It wasn’t protected with any spells or totems. Good. 

I heard the hum of an approaching car and waited for it draw closer. As the car passed the house I flicked my eyes to the lock and said, ‘Shkalt.’ The locked clicked and the door opened a crack the sound hidden by the passing car. I slipped inside quickly and pushed the door closed behind me, using the remnants of the sound from the passing car to mask my movements. 

I stood still on the inside of the house waiting to see if I’d alerted my mark in anyway. No sound of movement came from the living room. I was safe. 

The door to the living room was ajar, orange light was shining out across the laminate flooring. I would need to neutralise Kagen quickly. If I wasn’t fast then he’d start throwing fire around and then everything would be more difficult. The longer the fight went on for the more chance there was of drawing attention. I knew from the research files that Kagen was not subtle or restrained. In a fight he would throw everything he had at me without thinking about the consequences. He didn’t care about drawing attention or hurting innocent bystanders. He didn’t care who got hurt, or who died. Killing meant nothing to him. That was why I was here. 

It was showtime. 

I exerted my magic into the room and lowered the temperature. As the room grew colder the windows began to fog over. Kagen drew his arms closer to his body and when he opened his mouth a small cloud of mist emerged. His eyes narrowed in suspicion and then the brown irises glowed orange. He rose from the sofa slowly and looked about him curiously, looking for the source of the sudden coldness. 

‘Whoever you are, you’re making a stupid mistake,’ he said quietly.

I sent shadows crawling across the walls around him, dimming the light and inching the room into semi-darkness. Kagen now stood in the only lit up part of the room, everything around him was shrouded in shadow. He glanced around the room, his eyes narrowed in suspicion, but he didn’t seem frightened. Not yet. 

I touched my fingers to the door and creaked open with the slowness you only saw in horror movies. Then I entered the room. Kagen’s eyes found me standing in the darkness at the edge of the room. But he didn’t Jacob Graves, he saw the Wraith. I projected a magical facade for my victims. What he saw was a tall ganglia creature seemingly made of the shadows that clung to the room. My face was a twisted, sunken monstrosity, pale and lifeless. Razor teeth lined my lips and huge haunted eyes stared out at my victim. 

I didn’t put not his show for all my targets but the client had requested the full terrifying Wraith. He wanted Kagen to die filled with fear. 

‘Kagen Payne,’ I said. My voice was a screeching howl. 

He stared at me dumbly and then his lips stretched into an unbelievable smile. ‘Wow, talk about overkill!’ He said and then let out a high-pitched bellow of laughter.

I didn’t know how to respond to that. They never laughed at the Wraith. 

‘My evening just perked up,’ he said. He extended the fingers of his right hand and in his palm a burst of flame appeared. 

I cast my hand forwards. ‘Himas!’ I shouted in a rasping hiss and a stream of ice blue magic flew across the room at him. My spell fell over his fire like a blanket of snow and snuffed the life from his flames. Bizarrely that made him chuckle again as he brought up his other hand. 

Rabole!’ I shouted and he was blasted across the room. His back crashed into the wall that had the sixty-inch televisions fixed to it. Kagen thumped the floor and the television smashed down on top of him, cracking as the screen broke on his back. 

I stepped further into the room to look down on my fallen foe. 

He groaned and pushed the television off his back. He raised his unfrozen hand and I froze that one too, hoping that he needed his hands to summon fire. 

‘Your pyromancy won’t work on me. I’m not as feeble as your other victims,’ I said. I stood in the centre of the room and watched as he pulled himself into a sitting position. He slumped back against the wall, knowing that I had him beaten. I liked it when they were smart enough not to fight back. 

‘Pyromancy,’ he scoffed with a derisive laugh. He looked up at me, orange eyes gleaming with a smugness that I didn’t understand. ‘Who are you?’ 

I pulled out a small object and placed it on the coffee table where he had a clear view of it. It was a small pewter totem. A tombstone with a clawed angel crouched on its top. I left one at every job I completed, unless the client didn’t want people to know the mark had been assassinated. The smile fell from his face taking the smugness with it. 

‘The Wraith,’ he said in a whisper. Still there was no fear. He seemed awed by me but not afraid. Not everybody feared death. I encountered several targets in my career who hadn’t been scared of dying.

I nodded. 

He drew in a deep breath and then let it out heavily. ‘Do we need all the theatrics? I think you’ve made your point,’ he said. He was right. It wasn’t like he was going to be walking away now so there was no harm in dropping the illusion. I released the magic and Kagen gazed upon my true face. 

‘Who hired you?’ he asked.

‘Your father-in-law. He wasn’t too happy about you killing his daughter.’ 

‘I was not charged for that murder.’ 

‘Because there was no evidence the police could use. I’m not the police. There was more than enough evidence for me. And she wasn’t your first victim, was she? You’ve killed before. Many times. But your father-in-law doesn’t know about the others. He only cares about his daughter. You killed her for the money, correct?’ The client wanted a confession before I killed him. 

‘Well that was the only reason I married her,’ he said with a cruel sneer. 

‘You’re awfully smug for somebody who is about to die.’ 

‘Oh, please. You can’t kill me. You think you’re the first wizard I’ve taken on? Your ice can’t smother my fire.’ He held up his blue, frozen and hands and they ignited with rich glowing flames. 

My eyes widened with amazement at how effortlessly he overcame my spell. I’m not a weak wizard, he should not have been able to undo my spells so easily. Or at all for that matter. 

He began to rise. ’Well, Wraith, I’m going—‘

Morivar!’ I shouted hurriedly. Red light flashed across the room with the force of the spell that hurtled towards him. The magic made contact and his heart exploded in his chest. The fire in his hands vanished leaving only wisps of smoke behind. 

‘Oh…’ he said feebly as his face twisted in pain and then his body collapsed heavily to the ground. 

I released a massive sigh of relief and sunk down onto the sofa. Adrenaline was already flooding through me from that brief moment of panic when he’d overcome my spells. He was a lot stronger than I’d anticipated. If I hadn’t been as quick then I would have probably been cooked. I really needed to brush up on my pyromancy knowledge. I gave myself a minute to recuperate and then I got back to work. 

I pulled my phone out and took a picture of Kagen’s corpse. His wide open eyes had reverted to being brown and despite being dead he still looked pained. The worst part of the job was having to look at the expressions on their faces. Whatever they’d been feeling, fear, pain, sadness, it was always left on their face like a photograph plastered there forever. And I actually had to take a photograph to prove I’d completed the job and receive the rest of my payment. The client only ever paid half upfront. 

I slid my phone back into my pocket and turned away from my handiwork. The job was done. 

Chapter 2

I drove to the other side of Ashford and there I found Drew, my uncle, waiting for me in a car park outside some public toilets. He was waiting with my Maserati Quattroporte Gransport which he was shamelessly leaning against. It was like he had no idea how much it had cost me. 

‘Job done?’ he asked as I emerged from the Audi I’d used for the job. I always used an Audio Q5 when I was the Wraith. 

‘Don’t lean on my car,’ I scolded.

‘Is it?’ he repeated, not moving off of my car. 

‘Would I be here if it wasn’t?’  I snatched the duffel bag that he was holding and strode towards the toilets. ‘Get off my car!’ I shouted over my shoulder. 

A bit of magic unlocked the toilets. Once inside, I stripped away the black jumper and trousers I’d used for the job. I hadn’t got any blood on them but you never knew what you might have picked up or left behind on a job. It paid to be cautious. I pulled on the clothes Drew had brought for me. A pair of tailored trousers, white shirt, waistcoat, and custom-designed tie. I liked to dress with a little class. 

I stuffed the kill clothes into the duffel and zipped it closed. The Wraith was done with for now. I was Jacob Graves once more. 

I strolled out of the toilets and shook my head when I saw that Drew was still leaning my car. In fact, he’d moved his backside right up the bonnet so he was practically sitting on it now. ‘One of these days…’ I warned him. 

‘Get on with it,’ he growled, nodding at the bag in my hand. 

Sinair,’ I muttered and flames began licking away at the bag. The heat rose up warming my fingers. I pulled open the door of the Audi and tossed the fiery bag inside, slamming the door shut behind it. 

No evidence. No risks. 

The two of us went for the Maserati and Drew foolishly tried to get in the driver’s side. 

‘Uh-uh,’ I said plucking the keys from his grip. ‘You only get to drive this baby when I’m not in it.’ 

He shot me a sour look and then shrugged before climbing into the passenger’s side. I slipped into the drivers side, relishing in the luxurious feel of the cream leather seat against my back. What was the point in earning so much money if I couldn’t splash out on fancy things. Drew did not share my love of material objects. He preferred the simple life and couldn’t understand where I got my love for the lavish style. 

Drew had raised me. My father had done a runner the moment he found out my mum was pregnant. Apparently he’d decided I wasn’t good enough to be in his life before he’d even met me. My mother did her best but when I was six she’d decided she didn’t like me that much either and she killed herself. Drew said she’d done it because she was depressed. The love of her life had abandoned her and she was tired of struggling to make ends meet week after week. That made it worse in my eyes. The pain of abandonment had started off the slippery slope that was her life and she’d decided to inflict that same pain upon me when I was only six-years-old. I suppose I should be grateful really, my parents had taught me a valuable lesson early on: nobody sticks around. Everybody leaves in the end. 

Except for Uncle Drew. He had stuck around. Even after his own son had run away and got himself killed because of me. Drew was the only person to have stuck with me through everything. He was the exception to the rule. Although, the cynical part of my brain likes to remind me that he still has time to abandon me yet. 

Drew hadn’t had a lot of money and he lived in the Dregs, the poorest part of Sangford, the city we called home. I’d hated growing up there. It was only a few steps away from being a shanty town. Okay, that’s not true. But still, the place is awful. It’s like somebody gathered up all the poor people and all the criminals and dumped them in one grotty place together. I still hate the place now. I only go there if I absolutely have to, which luckily isn’t often. I started earning good money from the contracts I was hired to complete, but unlike me, Drew didn’t change much about his life. 

I moved to a fancy apartment in the North End of the city, the posh part. The general rule is the farther North you go the posher the city gets. Drew didn’t stay in the Dregs, but he didn’t move far away. His flat was so small that it was roughly the size of my living room. He didn’t change his style of dress, he stuck with the cheap jeans and chequered shirts. He even drove a Golf. He could easily afford a car like mine. I couldn’t get my head around it. 

‘Phone?’ he said, holding his hand out. I passed him the phone I’d used on the job, the only thing I hadn’t burned. I used a new phone for each job and after job was done Drew would deliver it to the client as proof of completion. What they did with it was up to them. Drew made sure there was no way it could be linked back to us. 

Drew was the organiser and the brains behind all the jobs. He met the clients and he decided which jobs we took. He had a knack for knowing when people were being dishonest. It made him perfect for vetting potential clients. He then did all the research on the mark and handed it over to me. He spent weeks doing all the prep work. He purchased the cars, the clothes, the phone. All I had to do was kill people. 

I told him everything that had happened from beginning to end as I drove us back to Sangford. This was how it went every time. He insisted on knowing every detail. There was always something to be learned and he liked to make sure I hadn’t done anything to jeopardise us. In the early days I’d left my own blood at the scene and it had taken him weeks to clean up my mess. He’d never trusted me not to fuck up since. 

‘Pyromancers aren’t powerful enough to overcome spells. Not ones cast by a wizard as strong as you,’ he said, his brow furrowed ponderously. 

‘Thanks,’ I said, smiling smugly at the compliment. 

‘Don’t be cocky,’ he growled. ‘Cockiness…’

‘Will get me killed,’ I finished for him. He was a bit of a stickler.

‘Exactly. I’ve lost enough to cockiness.’ He was talking about his son. My cousin, Samuel Graves. Sam had always been too cocky for his own good, especially since he wasn’t that good a wizard. He’d walked into a duel with a much stronger wizard. Drew had brought him home in a box. 

‘Kagen’s dead. It doesn’t matter how he overcame my spell,’ I said as I pulled up near Drew’s flat. I wrinkled my nose at the grottiness of the shabby old building. It looked like it was ready to collapse. 

‘Everything matters,’ he said. He swung open the car door. ‘I’ll get this to the client,’ he said, waving the phone at me. And then he was gone. 

I sped off towards the good end of town as fast as was legal. I didn’t head home. I went to Alibi, my nightclub. It was one of the best clubs in the city. I’d only opened it to launder my money. I’d had no idea at the time that it would end up becoming so popular. I had Leah to thank for that. She was my business manager. I had no idea how to run a club so frankly, she was a godsend. 

I swung my car into my reserved parking space and jumped out. This is a strange thing to admit, but after completing a job I always get a little horny. I used to have a friend-with-benefits who helped me out but that situation went pair-shaped, so I was just going to have to pick up a girl in the club. It meant a little more effort but it would be worth it. After-killing sex is the best. You’ll just have to trust me on that. 

I entered the club through the back door but didn’t make it far before Leah found me. I have three nightclubs in the city and she manages all of them. She used to work for the City Hall revenue department. She came out to audit my books and apparently it was blindingly obvious that I was laundering money through my clubs. I remember the pit of despair filling my stomach as I realised I was going to have find a way to shut her up. Several ideas came to mind; bribery, some kind of spell to make her forget, murder… Luckily, she suggested a much better one. Working for City Hall was boring, so for a generous salary she would come to work for me and she’d hide the laundered money so that the next auditor didn’t find it as soon as they opened the books. I accepted. Obviously. 

I never told Leah where the dirty money came from and she had the good sense never to ask. She didn’t need to know that I killed people for a living. If she ever found out she’d probably pack up and bolt. That would be bad for me because she was a fantastic business manager. She’s the best investment I ever made. 

She came strolling down the corridor, her perfectly curved hips swaying with each step. Leah was without a doubt the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She wasn’t very tall, but she was shapely. Slim, with curves in all the right places. Her angelic face was framed by rich, flowing, dark locks that hung over her shoulders. Her eyes were sparkling blue, like sapphires that had captured the colour of the sea. Her face was her best feature. It was the sort of face that no camera, nor even the best artists the world has ever seen, would ever be able to capture. It was a beauty you could only experience in person. She was beauty personified. 

To say that I fancied her would be an understatement. But I have rules. You don’t dip your pen in the company ink. It’s a crude saying but it’s apt. Leah was off limits. Relationships are complications. Life is easier without them. That was why I found friends-with-benefits. In fact, they weren’t even friends. They were just people I knew. Acquaintances -with-benefits doesn’t have the same ring to it though. 

I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have any attachments at all. Apart from Drew, but I’d known him my whole life. He was the only family I had. When he was gone I’d have nobody. And that was how I liked it. Attachments were liabilities. Better to find happiness in things than in people. My Maserati would never get fed up and leave me. 

‘Jacob,’ she said, her irresistible face wrought with concern. That was unusual, Leah was the sort of person who could handle anything. Worry was not a word she was familiar with and yet she had it all over her face. 

‘What’s up?’ I asked, a little of her worry rubbing off on me. 

‘The police are here. They want to ask you some questions.’ 

Chapter 3

Leah led me to her office where two plain clothes police officers were waiting and then she left the three of us to it. 

‘Mr. Graves, I’m Detective Constable Decker, and this is Detective Constable Mitchell,’ he said and thrust his hand out at me. I shook it as I appraised the two coppers. Decker was a squat bald bloke, and Mitchell was pretty much the same only with hair. From what I could gather they were both nocults — that’s the term for a non-magical person. Magical police officers usually had a purple star on their uniform to distinguish them from nocult coppers. 

‘What can I help you with?’ I said, flashing my most charming smile. When the police came knocking smile and oblige them. The second they start accusing you of anything clamp your trap shut and wait for a lawyer. Those were the rules taught to me by Drew and those were the rules I stuck to. Despite the amount of people I’ve killed I’ve never actually caught the attention of the police. Drew taught me well. I was hoping that tonight was not going to be the night the law finally caught up with me. 

‘We were hoping you could tell us the last time you saw Ruby Hassell?’ Decker asked. There was nothing accusing about his tone, simply inquisitive. 

‘Ruby Hassell?’ I said in surprise and relief. She had absolutely nothing to do with my work. She was a former fuck buddy, but as I said before, things had gone south. I suddenly had a good idea what this was about. 

‘Yes. The last time you saw her,’ Decker promoted.  

I walked around the desk and lowered myself gracefully into Leah’s chair indicating that the officers take a seat too. 

The last time I’d seen Ruby had been about three weeks ago. I’d just completed a job and was feeling the hormonal pull in my loins so I headed to her flat in the South End of town. It wasn’t the nicest of areas but I wasn’t planning on moving in. I’d met Ruby at a bar about a month before that. We’d got talking, one drink led to another, and… You know how these things go. We’d ended up back at hers and after half an hour of strenuous exercise, mainly on my part, we were both rather relieved. Since then she’d alway been available when I’d been in need. It was an arrangement we’d both liked. No strings, just sex. 

Three weeks ago I’d given her a call after I’d finished a job. She was available so I headed straight there. I was out of town so it took me an hour to get there but she was eagerly waiting when I arrived. 

She buzzed me in and I headed up straight up to her flat. She was waiting in the doorway, dressed in nothing but a Lacey red pair of bra and knickers, a playful smile on her face. Scarlett hair was curled over her shoulders and expensive makeup had been applied to her face expertly. Ruby had average looks which had never bothered me but she had a bit of a complex about it. She never let anyone see her without her makeup on. It was a bit sad really that she felt that way. I wanted to tell her she was pretty enough without it but once you start giving out compliments like that you’re on a slippery slope to something more than just physical. Besides, I’d never actually seen her without it so it might not be true. The truth was she could’ve been standing with her hair in a mess and dressed in a bin bag and I’d still have taken her to the bedroom. 

‘Evening, Mr. Graves,’ she said in a sultry tone.

‘Evening, Ruby.’ I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her in for a deep, hungry kiss. She returned the gesture with force. I could taste the strawberry lip balm she was wearing. She pushed her groin against mine voraciously and plunged her tongue into my mouth like she was hunting for treasure. She wasn’t the best kisser but I wasn’t there for the kissing. Using my foot I kicked the door closed and continued the kiss, pushing her up against the wall with my body, pushing myself into her. She responded with a small moan. 

We made our way to the bedroom, stripping off each other’s clothing along the way. Mine took considerably longer than hers since I was wearing so much more of it. 

Some time later I rolled off her and fell in a sweaty mess onto the mattress. We both lay panting next to each other. I wasn’t entirely sure why she was panting so much, I’d done the main bulk of the work. 

‘Wow,’ she said breathlessly. ‘If only I knew how to put all men in that mood.’ 

I chuckled. If only she knew what put me in that mood. Maybe she’d be less eager to take me to bed. She’d want nothing to do with me. 

Ruby grabbed a hairband from the bedside table and pulled her now disheveled hair into a sloppy ponytail. She rolled onto her front and pushed her petite breasts against my stomach. Her fingers eased into my chest hair as she gently massaged me. I didn’t like this side of things. Won’t the main act was done there was no need for any more touching but it seemed a bit of a dick move to take only want I wanted and deprive her of… whatever this was. So I closed my eyes and let her massage my chest. It wasn’t a bad feeling after all. 

‘So, I was thinking,’ she said. There was a familiar and unsettling characteristic to her tone. It was the kind of tone somebody took when they were going to ask something that made them nervous. Like when you have to ask for a raise. Not that I’ve ever had to ask for a raise, but you know what I mean. 

My eyes flicked open and I glanced down at her. She could see the apprehension in my expression and her own green eyes shifted to the side. I didn’t think her eyes were really green. The colour was too vibrant. Just like her hair wasn’t really red. It was all fake. I had no idea what she really looked like, without the contact lenses, the hair dye, and the layers upon layers of expensive makeup. She was a product tailored to what she thought men wanted to see. It was sad that she felt like she needed to do that. Anybody worth her attention would accept her for whatever she looked like underneath all the glamour. My hand moved instinctively to brush her hair from her face and I stopped myself just before I made contact. That was a gesture of intimacy and bonding. This was just a sexual thing. 

She watched my hand withdraw and I saw the disappointment as clear as day. And that’s when I knew things had gone too far. She’d grown feelings for me. I closed my eyes again and exhaled in frustration. 

‘Jake…’

‘Jacob,’ I corrected. Nobody called me Jake. 

‘Jacob,’ she said, the cheer now gone from her voice. ‘I’ve been thinking.’ 

I groaned. Those three words never led to anything good. 

She chewed on her lower lip. It was obvious that she now knew this conversation was not going to go in her favour but shed started it now and she was determined to finish it. ‘I’ve been thinking. We get on well enough. Maybe we could give things a go properly?’ She hurried the words out, eager to get over and done with. 

‘Ruby…’ I started not exactly sure how I was going to shut her down. 

We both tensed at the sound of the front door opening. Neither of us moved immediately. Both of us were waiting for a followup noise. As far I was aware Ruby lived alone. Nobody had ever been here on my previous visits. I was pretty certain it was a one bedroom flat. 

‘Fuck,’ Ruby said in terror as she flew to her feet. ‘Babe?’ She called out. 

Babe. Who the fuck was babe? As far as I’d known she was single. 

I leapt up and she mouthed for me to hide. That was not going to happen. It was pointless anyway. My clothes were strewn across her hallway. Babe would definitely see them on his way to the bedroom. 

‘What. The. Fuck?’ An angry male voice asked from the hallway. I was thinking the same thing. 

‘I can explain,’ Ruby said shrilly. She ran or the door but the other man was already in the bedroom before she made it. He was stocky, a little shorter than me but a lot broader. He wasn’t exactly muscular, just broad. 

He froze when he saw me and stared lividly from the doorway, his brain stuck trying to find an appropriate reaction to seeing a naked man in his bedroom with his... girlfriend? I didn’t move. I stared back at him showing no emotion whatsoever. Honestly, I didn’t know how to feel. Confused was the winning emotion. I’d been in this flat several times over the last month and not once had I ever seen a scrap of evidence that a man was living here. My hands crept to cover my meat and two veg. 

‘Who the fuck are you?’ he asked at last. 

‘He’s my friend,’ Ruby answered before I could even open my mouth. The other man and I both looked at her incredulously. It was hands down the stupidest answer she could’ve given. She might as well have just told him I was the plumber. 

‘Why is your friend naked in our bedroom? Why are you naked?’ he shouted, pointing furiously at her nudity. 

‘To be fair, you’re the only one not naked so you’re kind of the oddity in this scenario,’ I said. I don’t know why I said it. Every now and then my mouth says something stupid before my brain can stop it. His head turned slowly my way, his eyes widened incredulously. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,’ I admitted. 

‘Ethan no!’ Ruby screamed as he strode forward and swung his fist in a mean looking right hook. His fist connected with my cheek with more force than I’d expected and I staggered to the side, grabbing hold of the dresser to stop myself from falling down. The whole thing was made more awkward by the fact that I was naked. Trust me, getting punched is awkward enough but getting punched when your Crown Jewels are out on display was about a million times more awkward. You were stuck between trying to defend yourself from attack and trying to defend your modesty by covering up.   

‘I deserved that. I think,’ I said. I still wasn’t quite sure what was happening. I really just wanted to put my boxers on. 

‘You think? I find you in bed with my fiancée and only think you deserve a punch,’ he snarled. 

‘Fiancée?’ I repeated stupidly. She’d been hiding a fiancé from me all this time. 

Ruby just stared at me in utter horror. Her brain seemed to have shut down, unable to comprehend the situation the three of us were now in. 

‘Ethan—’ I started but his fist hit me in the face again, this time knocking me down back onto the bed. Pain radiated through my face. There was going to be a nasty bruise there in a few hours. 

Ethan was already drawing his fist back for another shot at me. Two seemed enough to me. After all, I hadn’t intentionally wronged him, I hadn’t even known he existed. 

Rabole,’ I said quickly, drawing power from the electricity around me. In my haste to pull power I pulled too much and the bedside lamp fizzled angrily and exploded in a puff of smoke. My spell hit Ethan far harder than I’d intended and he was sent crashing into the wardrobe. The wooden doors cracked open as his bulky form went barrelling through them. One of the sides crashed down to the floor and the rest of the wardrobe landed on top of him. He didn’t deserve that but I’d acted instinctively. 

‘Ethan!’ Ruby screamed and ran to him. She tried to help him up but he pushed her aside and she fell onto her bare backside with all the dignity of a three-wheeled car falling on its side.

‘Bloody wizard,’ Ethan muttered as he ambled to his feet, brushing splinters of wood off his sleeves. I climbed to my own feet and held my palm out to him in a placating gesture. 

‘Listen, I didn’t know about you. I thought she was single. She never mentioned you,’ I explained. He stood snarling at me like a rabid dog but made no move to come towards me. He didn’t like his chances against a wizard. ’I’m sorry. If I’d known I wouldn’t have done this,’ I said truthfully. I never got involved in complicated situations like this. Single ladies only. 

‘Drop the magic. Let’s have this out. Man to man,’ he said. 

‘That’s not going to happen.’ I turned to Ruby. ‘You’ve got a lot of explaining to do. But not to me. You make sure you delete my number.’ 

‘Jacob,’ she said sadly, as if she was hoping there was something I could do to smooth this situation over. 

I moved slowly towards the door, ready to defend myself again if I needed to. 

‘This isn’t over,’ said Ethan. 

‘Yes. It is,’ I answered. I closed the door behind me and then fled down the hallway, gathering my clothes as I went. 

I relayed all of this to the officers, missing out any mention of what I’d been doing prior to meeting Ruby. I really emphasised the part about me not knowing she was engaged. I didn’t want them to think I was a sleaze who bedded other men’s girlfriends.

I’d had a few threatening phone calls from Ethan over the following week. He’d promised to ruin my life no matter what it took. Childish really. He’d obviously got my number from Ruby. True to his word he did make several attempts to try and cause me trouble but none of them panned out for him. I’d had several text messages from her too. She begged me to give me and her a go. I assumed that she’d come to the conclusion that her relationship with Ethan was irreparable. 

‘Look, I don’t know what Ethan’s up to this time. He already called you guys and made a false report that I was dealing drugs from this club. He also said I was letting kids on the premises. He’s just a pathetic man with a vendetta. Whatever he’s said this time I guarantee he’s lying,’ I told them.  I thought Ethan had finally moved on. Apparently not. 

Decker and Mitchell exchanged a look before turning back to me. ‘He’s saying you killed his fiancée,’ Decker told me flatly. 

‘What?’ I said, too stunned to say anything else. My brain had frozen like an overheated computer. If I was a cartoon my jaw would’ve been on the floor. ‘Ruby’s…’ 

‘Ruby Hassell is dead, Mr. Graves. She was murdered.’