Legends of Fire
School's out for summer and all Saxony wants is a few weeks at home to recuperate from the roller-coaster ride of her first year at Arcturus Academy. Apparently, that is too much to ask as a promise she made to protect the innocent comes back to haunt her. Venetian crime boss Enzo Barberini has called in his chit.
Saxony finds herself on a chase through (and beneath) the gritty, ancient streets of Naples, hunting for not one but two men she hoped never to meet again. Her only back-up? A couple of fellow students.
As Arcturus Agency falls apart and her species is threatened with extinction, can Saxony save friends, repay a debt and solve the mystery of fires going out before there are no magi left?
Two out of three ain't bad.
Which two? Read Legends of Fire, the penultimate book in the series, to find out.
Arcturus Academy is an action-adventure series of five books by a USA Today and Amazon best-selling author. Saxony is a strong female heroine swept into a world of dizzying plot twists, sweet romance and intriguing mythology, all woven against a backdrop of elemental magic. Perfect for fans of Kelley Armstrong, Maria V Snyder, and Shannon Mayer.
Release date: February 28, 2021
Publisher: Intellectually Promiscuous Press
Print pages: 278
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Legends of Fire
SPOILER ALERT: Sample may contain spoilers if you have not read Firecracker, Fire Trap, and/or Fire Games.
Part One: A Pattern Established
Chapter One: Saxony the Spoon
Elda had been right. Whatever was happening in Enzo’s life, it was stressing him out. Fear leached from him, and the cold tentacles of his anxiety seemed to crawl across the floor toward me, making my skin want to creep off my body.
The old boss fixed me with a smile, but it had none of his former confidence or superiority. He’d aged a decade in the year that had passed since I’d last seen him. His skin, formerly lined but plump and dewy, was dry and flaky. A net of wrinkles had closed in on his over-large brown eyes, and the skin under his chin sagged. He looked like a caricature of his former self, one drawn by a malicious cartoonist.
With his hands stacked over the top of his cane, Enzo tilted its silver handle in the direction of Basil’s largest sofa. An invitation to sit down, or maybe a silent command. In spite of his elderly appearance and fearful energy, he maintained the physical bearing and habitual gestures of someone used to being in control.
With a glance at Basil, who only raised an eyebrow in curiosity, I headed for the sofa and sat down, heart drumming a steady rhythm against my breastbone. There was only one reason Enzo would leave his Venetian palace to come and see me in person. It was time to pay off the debt I owed. My palms felt clammy and my stomach tightened. I pressed my hands between my knees to keep from fidgeting.
“Grazie for the use of your office,” Enzo said to Basil with a voice full of gravel, thick fingers gripping the head of his cane tight enough to bleed the knuckles white. Maybe he was just as nervous as I was. I wondered if he was implying Basil should leave. The idea doubled my anxiety.
“Prego,” replied Basil, not making any move to vacate his chair. He did glance my way again, the question in his gaze as clear as if he’d spoken it: Did I want him to go?
Gratefully, I gave him the smallest shake of my head. I never wanted to be alone with any Barberini again, if it could possibly be helped.
Enzo lifted his shoulders in a shrug, the classic Italian ‘whatever’ gesture. He swung his chair to face me more directly. “I hope my visit finds you well, Ms Cagney, and that you’ve enjoyed your time so far here at Arcturus.”
I forced a smile as a lonely thought rattled in response: and I hope you choke.
“You know why I am here,” he said without waiting for a reply.
I held eye contact with the don. “You’re cashing in your chit.”
He paused. “I don’t know this saying, but I understand its meaning well enough. Yes. It is time for you to repay.”
“What do you want?”
I didn’t miss Basil’s surprised glance at my abrupt tone, but Enzo didn’t even blink. Perhaps he appreciated the opportunity to get to the point.
“Let me tell you una piccola storia to begin,” he replied.
Okay, so maybe he was going to take his time getting to the point. I let out a sigh and waited.
Enzo dropped one hand from his cane, curled his fingers and gave a few dry coughs into his pudgy fist. Thumping himself on the chest, he looked to Basil and began to ask something but struggled to get it out.
The headmaster was already out of his seat and moving toward the table with the carafe of water and the stack of glasses. He poured two cups full and delivered one to Enzo and one to me.
Thanking him, I took the glass and took a sip before setting it on the coaster nearest my knee, using the moment to settle myself emotionally. My heart was beating madly. Just seeing Enzo again had resurrected the unpleasant memories of what his son had done to me. Dante did not share many of his dad’s features, he must have taken his good looks from his mother, but it was enough to know that this man had fathered the person who’d tortured me for a number of hours I’d never be able to tally accurately. But more than the desire to get as far away from Enzo as I could, I wanted him not to see any fear as a result of his presence. That would only make him happy.
Enzo thanked Basil and sipped the water. Appearing to be to his taste, he took two larger gulps before setting the glass on Basil’s wooden desktop, either not seeing or simply ignoring the coaster Basil had pushed across the desk.
“I know many people in Napoli,” the don began, scratching at two day’s worth of salt-and-pepper beard growth. “I have business interests in all of our largest cities. More than this you do not need to know, but it is important for you to know that six days ago, I sent my son to negotiate a contract in Napoli. Did you ever visit?” He slanted a sly look in my direction, taking me off guard with his question.
“Naples? No. I’ve only ever been to Venice.”
He waved a hand and pulled on the end of his nose, a nervous gesture perhaps. “Just curious. It would have been helpful if you knew the style of the city, but no matter.”
I blinked. Enzo’s funny way of talking might have been charming under other circumstances. I assumed by ‘style’, he’d meant layout.
“There is a beautiful piazza called Vittoria in front of the Baia that is very popular with tourists,” he went on, wiping the sides of his mouth with a thumb and forefinger. “My son’s favorite bakery is there. The Neapolitan are famous for their baba.”
I arched a brow. Dante had never struck me as much of a pastry lover. Then again, such a leaning went well with his penchant for pastel colored clothing. But what did baked goods have to do with me?
“I know, I know. Dante is very fussy.” Enzo chuckled affectionately, but he was chuckling by himself as Basil and I stared at him. I had forgotten how meandering Enzo was in conversation. He acted like we were old friends catching up. It was the kind of artificial warmth that left one feeling more chilly than before the encounter.
“I hope when you are there you take the opportunity to sample the baba yourself,” he said with that same foxlike glance, making sure I hadn’t missed the smoke signal he’d sent up between the words. I would soon find myself visiting Naples.
I felt like wilting but I forced my shoulders back and my expression into neutral. I really didn’t need this right now. What I needed was to get on a plane and go home to Canada. I needed to sleep beneath my childhood duvet, play cards with Jack and RJ, and razz my mom about her latest self-inflicted dye-job. I needed to meet Gage at Flagg’s, if only just to have him smile at me. I needed to fill the cracks in our relationship with mortar, even if it was friendship mortar.
“My son has disappointed me,” the old man went on, putting counterfeit sadness over genuine fear. The effect was grisly. “Dante has not put aside his foolish ambition, as I had hoped he would, after the... adventure with you last summer. If he had been moved away from his goal, he would have made me happy, but... what do they say in the English stories? Alas. He has not.”
The only ambition I’d ever known Dante to have was that of becoming a fire mage. I bristled but waited out the silence for Enzo to get to the point. I didn’t like the direction this was headed, but what Enzo wanted from me, I had to do my best to give him.
In a way, now that the shock of Enzo’s appearance (softened thanks to Elda’s warning) had worn off, I was surprised to feel an eagerness I had not expected. Perhaps getting Enzo’s debt paid off sooner rather than later would be better than having it hanging over my head for years.
“Having grown up with a magus”—Enzo paused and looked at Basil, meandering around the point the way satellites orbit earth—“Nicodemo.” He swung back to me. “Dante can easily spot the small, hardly noticing details that mark your kind.”
Enzo had been doing quite well with his English up until this point. “Hardly noticeable?” I supplied.
“Si, si. Hardly noticeable. As you say.” Enzo chuckled. “Dante prouds himself to recognize a fire magus at forty meters. I agree with such claims. What Dante believes to be unpayable, I would pay to eliminate.”
It took me a minute to discern that one. “Priceless, you mean? What Dante believes to be priceless?”
“As you say.” Enzo nodded, the chair’s leather squeaking beneath him. “When he phoned me to relay that he had spotted two of you, I understood he was not lying.”
The small hairs at the nape of my neck raised themselves. It was only with great effort that I didn’t gape at Basil in rising alarm. Dante had spotted two fire magi in Naples? What were the odds? If Basil knew the magi population of Naples, he could make a deduction, but he obviously wasn’t going to say anything in front of Enzo. The headmaster’s gaze merely twitched in my direction briefly.
“I commanded Dante to leave them alone and come home directly after the negotiation.” Enzo shook his head.
I crossed my arms over my chest and hooked one knee over the other, sitting back against the sofa in a movement that clearly relayed my cynicism. “Let me guess, he defied your orders.”
“No. He did come home, but only to fetch something and leave again.”
“Back to Napoli?”
The don nodded as he fished a small pocket handkerchief from an inside pocket and mopped his brow. “My son is not normally so disrespectful, but I fear he is starting to see me as...” he paused. A flash of the same kind of panic that consumed someone lost in miles of wilderness flashed across his face, then it was gone.
“In the way?” I guessed.
“Perhaps. Time, it seems, takes everything from us. Little by little. Including the respect of our children.” He returned the handkerchief to his pocket.
I didn’t agree with his assessment, but wasn’t interested in launching a philosophical debate. If Enzo was losing Dante’s respect it was because Enzo had raised an inconsiderate brat and also hadn’t done much worthy of respect. “What did he come home to fetch?”
“Strangely, I can’t tell you what it was, only that he took it from Nico’s things—items left in our private safe before his death.” The don paused to take another sip of water after this enigmatic announcement.
I narrowed my eyes. Nicodemo had gone to a lot of trouble to record videos for Isaia. He’d wanted to teach his son how to live with his fire, tell him things that any normal father would want his son to know. It was highly likely that the things Nico had left in the safe had been set aside for Isaia as part of his inheritance. I didn’t doubt that the Barberinis would never honor their dead employee’s wishes, especially if the items were valuable. What Isaia didn’t know about, he would never miss.
“You have no idea at all what it was Dante came to get?” My tone was flat and disbelieving. I wanted Enzo to know I didn’t trust for one second that Nico had left property to the insanely wealthy crime family.
Outside Basil’s window, the thin sunlight dimmed further as clouds moved in front of the sun. Enzo pulled out a small leather spectacle case. Unsnapping it, he pulled out a set of thin glasses, unfolded them and put them on, taking care to tuck the wire behind his ears and fix them well. His breathing seemed to be heavier than it had been when I’d first sat down. There was a whistle in his lungs that didn’t sound friendly.
“I had Karim look through the items to see what was missing,” he continued. “A bit of parchment is all, very fragile, rolled and held in a cardboard tube.”
“Parchment,” I repeated. “And you want it back? Is that why you’re here?”
Enzo peered at me through his glasses, his already big eyes doubled in size. He was still for a while, as though absorbing my English words and slowly translating them into Italian inside his antique but still-sharp mind.
“No.” He shook his head but didn’t take his gaze from mine. “I don’t want you to bring back the parchment. I want you to bring back my son.”
It was harder to contain my surprise this time, and my dismay. So much for never seeing Dante again. “Are we talking about a rescue, or the art of persuasion here?”
“Perhaps a bit of both. My boy is in need of saving from himself, and I am hoping you can achieve this with simple persuasion. However, it may come that you are required to use force. If you are, you have my blessing, just do your best not to hurt him.”
“Why can’t you send Karim or a couple of your other”—I wanted to say ‘goons’, but Enzo didn’t appreciate implications that he was mafia—“hired hands?”
Enzo shifted in his seat, rocking back and forth as he settled his bulk anew. “It is not my practice to use a fork where a spoon is needed.”
I pointed at my breastbone. “And, I’m the spoon?”
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