Damon was looking at her in exasperation, waiting for her to say something. His dark eyes drilled into her. She wasn’t sure if he had asked a question or told a story that demanded some kind of polite social response. She searched his face for some clue. His dark eyes drilled into her. The reddening aura around his head told her that he was angry. Damon was usually laid back. It took a lot of provocation—or Corvin—to get him angry.
“I’m sorry,” she said, hoping that an apology would get her out of this. “I got distracted. You were talking about the Spring Games…?”
What else would he have been talking about?
“Yes, I was,” he agreed. “But I guess you’re not interested.”
“I’m interested,” Reg objected immediately. “I was just thinking about something else. A client,” she bluffed. “This one has me a little puzzled.”
He gazed at her for another moment. Being a diviner, he would know she was lying, even though Reg was a good liar with plenty of practice. Her face warmed and she wished she could stop the blush.
“So, you are interested?”
Interested in what? In the Spring Games?
“Of course. Just tell me that last little bit again.”
Damon scratched the stubbly whiskers of his goatee. He was handsome. Dark hair and eyes. Like Corvin, and yet nothing like Corvin. She couldn’t compare her magnetic attraction to Corvin to her friendship with Damon. Damon’s physical appearance couldn’t compete with Corvin’s magical charms.
“There are some indications that he could be in the Everglades,” Damon told her.
“In the Everglades.” Reg repeated this part of the statement, rather than asking, Who? She was clearly supposed to know who he was talking about.
“That’s right. So I figured that you could help me find him with your psychic abilities, and I would split the reward with you. It would be a real coup to get him to the Games.”
Reg’s head spun. She had no clue who he was talking about or what it had to do with the Spring Games. She shook her head, her red box-braids swishing around her face. “You want me to go to the Everglades to find this guy?”
“Well, unless you can look in your crystal ball here and just tell me where he is. Yes. I want you to go with me to the Everglades to find the missing wizard.”
Reg rubbed her temples. She looked over to her crystal ball on the shelf, considering. She could try seeking whoever this missing wizard was in her crystal ball. It was possible she would be successful. But if she did something as simple as that, would Damon still feel like she had earned half of the reward? He made it sound like he was expecting it to be quite a bit of money.
Reg had the money she needed. In fact, she hadn’t shared the gems that she had received from Calliopia Papillon’s parents with those who had helped her on her quest to save Calliopia. She hadn’t even told the others in her company about the gift. Reg had learned the value of money during the lean years, when she had struggled to keep a roof over her head and food in her belly. She didn’t like to think of herself as a selfish person, but she couldn’t think of any other way to spin the fact that she had decided to keep all of the reward for herself.
Of course, the more people who knew about the gems, the higher the chances that someone would break into her cottage or attack her in order to get them. Valuable, easily transportable goods that could not be traced were a burglar’s dream. Reg really should get a safety deposit box in a bank rather than leave them in the little wooden box under her bed.
But the crystal ball might be a way for her to find out more about the missing wizard Damon was talking about without letting on that she had been ignoring him. She stretched her stiff limbs. She had been sitting in the wicker chair listening to Damon go on about the Spring Games for too long. She made her way across the room to get her crystal ball from the shelf. She put it on the coffee table as she sat back down.
Damon watched her, looking slightly amused. Did he sense that this was just a ploy? She had to assume that he was taking her at face value and couldn’t know what she was thinking. He could put visions into her head, but he couldn’t read what she was thinking independently of him. Reg rubbed her hands together as if trying to warm them up.
“Starlight?” she called. “Do you want to join me?”
She heard her familiar jump down from the window in the bedroom, and the black and white tuxedo cat came padding out to see her. He blinked at her, first his blue eye and then his green one. He looked at Damon and rotated his ears around so they were facing backward. He didn’t usually object to Damon, so Starlight either didn’t appreciate her waking him up to participate in the impromptu reading—which, admittedly, Reg did not need her familiar for—or he could read the room and knew that Reg was anxious and Damon angry.
“Come on, Starlight,” she invited. “Help me focus on the crystal.”
He sat and washed. Reg waited. Rushing him or picking him up would not help. If he had decided he needed to wash before the reading, then he needed to wash before the reading. She had to respect his process. There was no way he was getting around it anyway.
Damon rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you just go ahead?”
“No. I’ll wait until he’s ready.”
They both watched Starlight, who gave no indication that he was going to be finished any time soon.
“Why don’t you tell me a little more about this wizard while we’re waiting?”
She mentally patted herself on the back for this stroke of brilliance. He would give her more detail, and she would be able to fill in the parts of the conversation she had missed and decide whether she were going to do anything more for him than just look in the crystal.
Damon stared up at the ceiling. “I’m not sure how much I can tell you or how useful it will be. I know his name, like I said, Jeffrey Wilson. He’s a brilliant wizard, but he just dropped out of sight. No one knows where he went. But there is a reward for finding him and getting him to attend at the Spring Games and I thought… why not? I’ll bet that you could find him, and it would be great publicity for both of us, me with my security business and you with your psychic stuff. And it pays well. I might not be able to pay you an hourly rate, but if you take it on contingency, I’ll give you half of what I get. And I’ll fund the travel for us to go to the Everglades and rent an airboat and a guide, all that stuff.”
It sounded a lot more complicated than Reg had imagined.
“The Everglades is just a little way away from here, right? I think I was in part of it when I went out to see Letticia before Corvin’s hearing?” They wouldn’t need to book a bus or plane to get there. Reg had just driven in her car.
“Yes, you can get to the edge of it from here. But it’s a very big area—a million and a half acres. And a lot of it you can’t get to by car. You need a boat.”
“Oh.” Reg nodded. She watched Starlight, who eventually came over to sit at her feet. He gazed up at her. “Hey, Star.” Reg didn’t criticize him for taking so long to get ready. She knew better than anyone else how hard he could be to deal with if he were grumpy or someone insulted him. “I’m going to gaze into the crystal and it might work better if I had your help. I’m trying to find a lost wizard.”
Damon watched with some amusement. He shouldn’t have thought that there was anything funny about it. He had seen Starlight in action before. He had seen what Reg could do. It wasn’t like it was an act just for his entertainment.
Except that it kind of was.
Reg patted her lap and Starlight jumped up. He turned around a few times, looking for a comfortable position, and then started kneading her with his paws, his claws pricking her through her dress. She petted him and pushed him gently down. “Okay, enough. Just relax now.”
He settled in. Reg rubbed her leg where he had needled it.
“Now, we’ll start.”
Wizard Jeffrey Wilson.
She thought his name. It was strange that it should be such a commonplace sounding name. Almost as if he had picked it to be anonymous. But he was a wizard. Not just a mediocre wizard, but according to what Damon had said, he was pretty powerful. There couldn’t be that many really powerful wizards named Jeffrey Wilson. She let her eyes defocus and waited, feeling Starlight’s warmth on her lap and his comfortable aura enveloping her. Damon shifted restlessly. Reg tried to tune him out.
Where is Wizard Jeffrey Wilson?
Is he in the Everglades?
She remembered the trip to Letticia’s house. The area she had traveled through had been very wild. Untamed. Everything was lush green. But she hadn’t been to the swampy areas that one could only reach by boat. She had just driven to Letticia’s. On increasingly ungroomed roads, but there had been roads of a sort all the way there.
She imagined herself going farther into the Everglades. Where there were no roads, but only boats. She had seen episodes on TV of some of her favorite crime shows that had investigators skimming over the surface of the water and long grass to find a body or some other clue that had been nearly swallowed up by the swamp. Was that what it was like? She couldn’t imagine anyone staying lost in those kinds of conditions for very long.
She didn’t imagine them surviving for very long, anyway.
A picture started to form in her head. She could see a shape pushing its way through long grasses and weirdly-shaped trees dripping with green moss. It was a tall, cloaked man. Reg focused on the vision, trying to sharpen the details. She could see his face under the folds of the hood. A craggy, lined face. Frightened. Looking for a way out.
Maybe he should have just stayed in one place rather than continuing to wander through the emerald jungle. Stayed still so that someone could find him. But he kept going, trying to get out. How could an old man like that be expected to walk out of a one-and-a-half million acre maze?
How had he gotten there? She hadn’t thought to ask Damon when he was telling her the few details that he knew. Did Wilson drive in? Take a boat? Was he on his own when he disappeared or was he with a tour group? Had he crashed there in a plane? Was he searching for some rare plant or animal? Sight-seeing?
She felt moved to help him. It was a very strong pull. Reg’s instincts were usually for herself over anyone else, so the feeling that she needed to help him was surprising. Without regard for her own needs or how much the payout Damon had been talking about was, she wanted to drop everything and rescue the wizard.