My name, if you’re interested in my story, is Moss O’Malley. I’m a twenty-five-year-old professional thief. I’m also a shifter. I turn into a big fluffy Ragdoll with bright green eyes. Yeah, I’m genuinely cute and cuddly. But also devious.
Or at least I used to be.
You see, a while back, I put together a crime circle. My friends and I used our shifting and glamour abilities to rob local. And for almost a full year, it worked. We successfully evaded detection, all while lining our pockets.
It wasn’t like we were really hurting anyone. We always chose businesses with insurance. They got paid back. The worst thing that happened for them was a bit of inconvenience.
It was the best setup, and my friends and I were all on cloud nine.
That is, until we got caught.
Well, I say we got caught, but that’s not exactly accurate. We were squealed on, by a member of our team who turned out to be the world’s biggest narc. So, it’s less that we were caught and more that we were given up.
Some human named Angie Russo and her cat caught on to Peter and ambushed our carefully planned heist. From what I understand, she was electrocuted by an old coffeemaker and--boom—suddenly she could talk to her cat. It all snowballed from there, culminating in Peter squealing on me to shorten his sentence.
Anyway, that’s all ancient history. What’s past is past, and what I really want to know about is my future. Mainly, whether or not I’m going to spend the rest of my life in the slammer, or if the judge and jury will see this all as one big misunderstanding and set me loose on the streets again… where I can get back to thieving straight away. What? You expect me to give up on a good gig just like that?
Dark eyes bore into me, like they wanted to dig into my brain and set up a vacation home there. “Moss O’Malley, I hereby sentence you to three years in the magical corrections system,” the mouth that went with those eyes announced.
My stomach dropped, nearly taking me down with it. What was I going to do with myself for three years in jail? I looked to my lawyer to gauge his response. His client had just been convicted, and yet there he stood grinning like an idiot.
He told me earlier that he’d been hoping for less than five years. I, on the other hand, had been hoping for a miracle.
Glancing around the small courtroom, I swallowed, finding it more and more difficult to maintain my stoic persona.
“You will be eligible for parole in one year,” the judge continued, and I had to work really hard not to roll my eyes.
He paused for a moment as if inviting me to say something. When I failed to meet his expectations, he cleared his throat and added, “That is, if you exhibit behavior to indicate you’ve learned the importance of keeping a balance in magic.”
What in the tail fuzz did that mean? I had been keeping the balance. I’d been making sure there was enough dark to counter the light. Stealing was dark, right?
Seemed dark to me. And it had built me up quite the little nest egg, too. Fat load of good that would do me in prison.
I turned my attention back to the judge. He wore the traditional wizard clothes, all black with a small, round hat. His enormous desk, completely ostentatious, hid the lower part of his body from me—not that it mattered. I already hated every part of him I could see and was pretty sure I’d feel the same way about the parts I couldn’t.
My gaze strayed to the right, to the jury of seven magic users. They stared at Judge Neeley with rapt attention, nodding along to the older wizard’s proclamations. Well, at least they seemed happy with his words. I just wanted to disappear in a puff of smoke.
Unfortunately, my magic was blocked, had been ever since my arrest. I couldn’t so much as glamour Judge N’s clothes into a different color.
“Good behavior will be rewarded, O’Malley,” Judge Neeley continued, quirking one eyebrow as if offering me a dare.
More good news. Maybe if I volunteered for janitor duty here in the magical jail, I’d be able to convince them I was redeemed, turning over a new leaf.
Then, when I got out of there for good, I’d make sure to not get caught again. Well, I’d make sure my friends weren’t the type to rat me out in exchange for a plea deal.
Okay, okay. I’d had my day in court—and it sucked big, giant hairballs. Now I just wanted to get out of there, to get on with it, but the judge just droned on and on…
“As with all shapeshifters, you will spend your time at the cat-shifter prison in Georgia.”
I blinked hard at that one.
What? No way. I was definitely not okay with this.
All my attempts to remain passive flew out the window as I looked to my lawyer, panic flying through my veins.
He gripped my wrist, a silent attempt to keep me quiet.
“You said they might not make me go there,” I whispered urgently. “You said I’d probably get to stay right here.”
The small courtroom was in a giant building on Maine’s Carraway Island. I’d been kept in a cell on the top floor thus far. It was pretty much the top security prison for the magical world. We didn’t get a large number of wizards and shifters in jail, so we’d hoped I’d be able to stay right where I was.
For the most part, this New England prison was run like the human ones. Guards oversaw the prisoners’ day-to-day lives. Meanwhile, the convicted were allowed small entertainments, like an hour outside every day. Well, sort of outside. Someone like me
created an illusion for an hour each day within the individual cells to make the prisoner feel as though they were outside, at the venue of their choice.
It really helped with prisoner morale to spend an hour on the beach each day. Or playing in the snow. Or floating in a mountain lake. We had far fewer suicides than the humans, a fact they had proudly told me as they’d closed my cell door behind me the first time.
Great, I’d thought then. I’m in prison, but at least I’ll be able to semi-visit the beach.
Now I cursed myself for not appreciating it while it had lasted.
Because the cat-shifter prison in Georgia was the stuff of legends. I knew a few guys who’d done time there, and they hated talking about it. When pressed about it, all they ever said was that they’d never go back. And the ones on my crew had always requested background work. They never wanted to go out into the field. Instead, they planned, helped run our club, and watched our backs...