The Masked Arcana #2
by Alana Delacroix
Genre: Paranormal Romance
As security chief of the supernaturals’ ruling council, Michaela Chui has seen more than her fair share of disaster. For centuries, she’s survived through caution and strategy. But when the only human councilor is viciously murdered, Michaela knows the coincidences that keep blocking her investigation are a sure sign of bad things to come. She needs answers fast. And her only ally is Cormac Redoak: wild, unpredictable, unreliable—and worse, distractingly attractive.
A Hidden Truth
An exile from the court of the Fairy Queen, Cormac has all the experience with careful strategy and veiled intentions he can stand. But he also has the fey talent for getting his way, and he’s sure his way lies with Michaela’s. No matter that she can change her lovely face at will; there’s a clarity to her being that he’d know anywhere. Working with her will be temptation and frustration bound together. Somehow, though, he must convince her to trust him—without revealing the secrets he dares never share . . .
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“Councilor. You’re here early.”
Not now. It was too early in the morning. She steeled herself to face Cormac Redoak, exiled fey, special ambassador to the Pharos Council, and world-class pain. “Ambassador,” she said briskly, heaving her bag over her shoulder.
“May I take that for you?” Even after centuries away from the fey homeland, he still had a bit of an accent, almost but not quite Irish.
“No.” She walked towards the door. Although they had known each other for decades, she’d had few conversations with him, and in fact tended to avoid him. Not because of the wild rumors that surrounded his exile from the fey court or because she’d been on the receiving end of more than one of his inquisitions when she’d objected to his schemes. He was too erratic for her. Wild. Unstable. Even his eyes refused to stay a single color. Right now they were a light jade but could easily change to gray or brown depending on his mood.
This criticism was grossly hypocritical coming from a masquerada and she knew it. Her eyes, like the rest of her, could be transformed in a breath to become part of any masque she chose. That was the point, though. While Cormac was at the mercy of his emotions, she needed to keep perfect control at all times. Failure—if her masque slipped and humans witnessed a shift—would result in a breach of the Law. Worse, she could lose her natural self in a sea of other personalities: the dreaded convergence. Cormac said what he wanted, did what he wanted, and damned the consequences. The ambassador was not a man who accepted limits to his desires and it made her wary.
“I want to speak about our discussion the other day,” he said. She didn’t bother to look at him. “By discussion you mean when you attempted, and failed, to humiliate me in front of half the Council?”
He made an airy details, details gesture. “I asked for a simple clarification.”
“About a subject you had no business with and at a meeting to which you were not invited.” She reached out to pull the door open but he moved in front of her with the fluid grace typical of the fey. For a moment she breathed in his unique pine scent—the one thing she enjoyed about him. Then she silently brushed by with a nod of thanks, mind already on the day’s agenda. She had about ten minutes before she was due to meet Madden, enough time for a few emails and to re-check her calendar.
“I assumed my invitation was lost. Luckily Hiro told me about it.”
She kept walking. “Which he also had no business doing. We have meeting procedures for a reason.”
“Procedures are for the masses.” He paused when they reached her office door. “Look, Michaela, my point remains valid.”
Michaela opened the door. “As I said before—” Her voice trailed off as she flicked on the light. “Good God.”
Cormac peered in, then tried to block the door. “You don’t want to see this.”
Did the man not remember she was the Pharos security chief? She shoved him aside. “That’s Hiro. In my office.”
Cormac stood beside her, his cool skin brushing her hand. “It was Hiro,” he corrected. “It’s not anymore.”
The Masked Arcana #1
Caro Yeats doesn’t run from much. As a former investigative reporter now working PR for Toronto’s supernaturals, what she hasn’t seen mostly isn’t worth seeing. But the assignment to “rebrand” Eric Kelton’s out-of-control alter egos has her on edge from the start. Kelton is the heirarch of the Masquerada, beings able to change their face—their entire persona—on a whim. Eric’s charisma muddles her instincts. How can she trust a man who can become anybody?
A Woman Without A Past
Eric has never met anyone like Caro, with her lightning wit and uncanny insight. But desirable as she is, he’d be a fool to let her near. Struggling to hide the sudden loss of his powers, Eric can’t risk becoming entangled with a woman who scorns her supernatural side and claims not to play politics. The enemies on her trail are strong, clever, and vicious. And when they force Eric and Caro together, the fallout could shatter far more than two hearts . . .
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Estelle, receptionist at Julien D’Aurant Public Relations, gave a low whistle as Caro strutted past her desk. The strutting wasn’t deliberate; it was impossible to walk any other way in the damn shoes. “What’s the occasion? Hot date tonight? It’s sure not for any of us here.”
“Not true,” Caro said. “I wore my mouthwatering baggy jeans and stained sweatshirt ensemble to impress you last week.”
Estelle winced. “Forgot about that. Anyway, you clean up nice. The boss will be impressed.”
Caro rolled her eyes. Julien D’Aurant was so stereotypically French that she suspected it had to be an act. “Why do you not dress plus comme une femme?” was a question she’d had to dodge on multiple occasions. Her usual wardrobe of jeans and ballet flats seemed to cause him real anguish.
“Speak of the devil,” Estelle muttered.
Julien strolled into the lobby, his crisp, pressed, blue button-down tucked into his perfectly creased gray dress pants. The caramel-brown belt was the exact shade of his casual summer loafers, which he naturally wore without socks. In his hand—Estelle had told Caro that he went for weekly manicures and she’d never been able to look at his buffed and shiny nails again—he held his phone, regarding it as warily as he would a snake coiled to strike.
He glanced up, then back at the phone. After a moment, his head flew up in such a comical double take that Estelle burst out laughing and Caro felt a bit insulted.
“Mon ange. This is what I mean by dressing like a woman.” He strode over and grasped Caro by the shoulders, giving her a lingering kiss on both cheeks before stepping back and looking her over in admiration. “Quelle différence. Dress like this every day. You must.” His expensive Hermès cologne wafted over her.
Although it was nice to have her efforts appreciated, Caro suddenly had the impression that her black pencil skirt was a little too tight and definitely too short. Time to deflect his attention. “Good morning, Julien. What were you frowning about?”
“Ah. Yes, that.” He waved the phone at her. “Emergency meeting in the boardroom in an hour. New client.”
“Who?” She didn’t particularly care, but knew enough to feign enthusiasm once in a while. Or at least interest.
The phone rang out with the opening bars of Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You.” Instead of answering, Julien pointed a single, pampered finger at her before murmuring “Allô?” and breaking into rapid French.
Caro raised an eyebrow and looked over at Estelle, who shrugged and shook her short, black, Louise Brooks bob into place. Caro caught a quick glimpse of Estelle’s wickedly pointed fangs. How the vampire avoided slicing up her own lip was something Caro always wondered but was afraid to ask. Friendly as she was, Estelle could bring on the predator when she wanted. She called it her resting-death bitch face and Caro had seen it reduce grown men to inarticulate lumps.
When Caro first started working at JDPR, she’d been surprised that a vampire could be out during the day—Estelle was the first one she’d ever met. Estelle had laughed and said silly rumors made for amazing camouflage. “You can see us in mirrors and I put garlic in everything,” she had said. “We’re like humans. Except for being almost immortal and drinking blood. Minor differences.”
Now Estelle said, “It’s a masquerada. That’s all I know.” “Masquerada?” A fine tension weighed down Caro’s shoulders--
her usual reaction to masquerada, the powerful shapeshifters who took on human forms.
“We don’t usually get many but why are you complaining? You were the one who pulled the ghoul client last month. This should be a cakewalk.” Caro could not deny the sewer-dwelling ghoul had been a nasty piece of work. The office had to be professionally cleaned after his visit to dispose of the residue he’d left behind, and the meeting room had both looked and
smelled like a post-plague charnel house.
She shuddered and slowly teetered her way to her office, where she kicked off the shoes with a sigh of relief. Taking one poor foot in her hand, she gently rubbed the feeling back into her toes as she waited for her computer to boot up.
A light-brown ring showed where her coffee cup should be—and wasn’t. One of the misfortunes of working for a fey man was that items constantly went missing. Apparently minor theft was a fey thing. Last week Julien had pilfered her lipstick. When she first started, Caro had thought he did it as some sort of hazing prank, a test for how much the newbie could take. Now, many discussions with Estelle later, she realized that Julien often didn’t even notice his thieving.
Not for the first time, she wondered if she’d made the right decision by taking this job. The supernatural arcane world was one that she had avoided for years. Now she had deliberately placed herself in the direct heart of it. Inside the drawer of her minimalist white acrylic desk lay evidence of her past life—a battered envelope containing a single Washington Post newspaper clipping, the pages still crisp. Lynn Butler’s first A1, over-the- fold story was an exclusive scoop tracing criminal kingpin Franz Iverson to a string of illegal activities that reached right to the Mayor’s Office and
even to the Senate.
Every time she looked at it, she felt a thrill that was immediately followed by deep aches in the year-old scars that traced pale, jagged paths along her abdomen, chest and back. The doctor had said the pain might never completely subside. It was a miracle she wasn’t dead from the attack, he’d added. “I don’t understand how you didn’t bleed out from those wounds. You’re one lucky woman.”
She rubbed her stomach with a shaking hand. The police had never caught the men who left her for dead and she didn’t expect them to. There was no need. She knew exactly who had ordered the hit.
Not even incarceration had limited Franz Iverson’s reach, or his need for revenge.
Those knife thrusts had ended her career in journalism and her life as Lynn Butler. When she finally got enough courage to walk back into the Post’s newsroom after her recovery, she barely managed to smile through her colleagues’ standing ovation before limping to the bathroom and collapsing in a shaking heap. The thought of writing another story made her hands shake uncontrollably and she had known, suddenly and without a doubt, that the life she loved as a reporter was done. Over. That had been a year ago. The sea of multi-colored project folders that sat in neat layers on her desk made a knot twist in her stomach. Caro twirled her chair away to cast her eyes over the gray accent wall in her office. A single print hung there,
a huge close-up of Banksy’s iconic protestor throwing his bouquet. Trendy and ironic, exactly the image that Julien worked hard to maintain in an industry where perception was everything. Caro rubbed her eyes. The job at JDPR was as far away from investigative reporting as she could get while still staying, however peripherally, in media. She’d left Washington in a panic to create a new life for herself in Toronto at JDPR. She was lucky the city was big enough to hide under a new name and new job, but with neighborhoods that gave her the homey feel she craved. It had turned out as best it could, but sometimes she regretted the move from hack to flack so much she felt numb.
Quit this, she told herself sternly. Enough. You’re alive, you’re working. Just because you’re not a reporter, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad life. It’s different. You chose different, remember? It’s what you wanted. It’s what you needed. JDPR was definitely not a typical PR agency. It represented only arcane clients. Humans who stumbled across it were given such an outlandish rate list and cold welcome from Estelle that they didn’t return. For the most part, the company dealt in the delicate art of keeping humans unaware of the fantastic beings who shared the world with them. Most arcana could either pass as human, pass as odd humans, or lived as isolated as possible from populated areas. Regardless, there were enough incidents to make for
some interesting days. She was grateful for that busyness at least.
Caro tapped her fingers on the table. Julien had made it clear that she had gotten the job at JDPR because she was part masquerada, although a latent and an extraordinarily and determinedly ignorant one at that. Before her death, her mother had tried to train Caro in the basics of taking on a masque, but Caro had stubbornly opposed any arcane education. Nor was there anybody else to learn from, even if she changed her mind. Besides her mother, she’d never knowingly met another masquerada and she often wondered if this avoidance was as deliberate on their side as it was on hers. Her mother had made it crystal clear that being a half-blood was nothing to be proud about, so she wasn’t surprised if none of them wanted to make themselves known to a pariah. One of the things Caro did know about masquerada culture was that it was unusually hierarchical and status-driven, like some time-traveling medieval court.
Not that any of this mattered to Caro, who had always despised the fundamental trickiness of masquerada and had done her best to ignore that entire part of her heritage. Her mother had changed masques the same way other women changed clothes. As a child Caro would often kiss one woman good night and wake to an unfamiliar one in the morning. It was years before Caro even knew what her mother truly looked like and that
was only because she had found an old photo in a shoebox.
“Oh, her?” Her mother had shrugged dismissively when Caro showed her the photo of the dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who looked like Caro herself. “That’s my natural self. A bit of a wet blanket. I much prefer this one.” At the time she was a curvy platinum blonde with Asian eyes and features, and so stunning that people stopped on the street to watch her walk by.
“Can’t you at least look like this when you’re with me?” Caro had asked, shaking the photo. She’d been nine or ten. Her mother had glanced at Caro’s reflection in the mirror with an unreadable expression, mascara wand steady in her hand.
That was the day Caro decided she would never take on a masque. She would never give in to that pathological need to be someone else—she was going to be good enough as she was.
However, Caro’s boo-hoo, sad-face childhood issues turned out to be an advantage in her new job. Although she’d rejected her arcane heritage, it meant JDPR’s clients would trust her, Julien had explained when he’d hired her. “You have an insider’s knowledge of the human world, without the taint of humanity,” he had said. “Our clients don’t trust humans. Et bien sûr, protecting our clients’ confidentiality and interests requires more layered complexity than it does for humans working with some vulgar reality star from Atlantic City.”
She had nodded, but wondered how on earth it was possible to keep decrepit ghouls and pale creatures with fangs hidden from the public eye. Julien had stressed that upholding the Law—the ancient agreement made by all arcana to stay secret from humanity—was their primary task, but surely at least one damning image would go viral. Then one did and Caro watched as it was ripped apart, ridiculed as fake, and sent to join the ranks of fringe theories about the Bermuda Triangle and the Illuminati. It wasn’t that hard to keep the arcane world a secret after all, Caro reflected. What normal person would admit to believing it?
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