Home > Harley Merlin and the Stolen Magicals (Harley Merlin #3)

Harley Merlin and the Stolen Magicals (Harley Merlin #3)
Author: Bella Forrest



Fear seized me like a boa constrictor, wrapping tight around my chest. I sank back against the wall of the coven’s elegant hallway and hoped nobody would see me. The shadow of a majestic dragon hid me from sight. To be honest, I’d never paid particularly close attention to them before, despite the statues being absolutely everywhere. Talk about theming. No one could ever be in any doubt about what the San Diego Coven’s mascot was.

I smirked. Wade would’ve killed me for calling them mascots.

“They’re emblems of our strength and fortitude,” he’d have said, no doubt flashing me a withering look for good measure.

Down the hallway, classical music rang out, and my stomach twisted in knots.

Get your ass in gear. You’re a Merlin—stop being a coward. I’d been giving myself the same pep talk all the way down from the living quarters. At the magnolia trees, it had taken every ounce of willpower I had not to turn around and run back up the stairs. In ten whole minutes, I’d moved ten yards down the hall. A yard a minute… way to go.

A few minutes more, and I’d be late.

Then again, what had they expected, leaving me alone in my room to go out-of-my-mind crazy all morning? Whoever thought noon was a good time for a ceremony was evidently out of their mind, too. I’d have preferred dawn, since I hadn’t slept last night anyway. Hell, why hadn’t we gotten it out of the way as soon as I’d said I’d pledge?

I wasn’t really the nervous type, but this felt different somehow. I’d have to stand in front of a crowd of hundreds, with everyone staring at me, silently judging my worthiness. Having never really been part of anything for longer than a couple of years, the prospect of being a true member of the coven was as frightening as it was exciting. This was a lifetime deal, and I kept wondering when the devil was going to pop up and reveal himself. It was the foster kid in me, always expecting the good to be ripped away at the last second. Aside from the Smiths, the San Diego Coven was the best thing to ever happen to me. Here, for the very first time, I felt as though I belonged. I wasn’t an addition to something… I was integral to the whole thing. A cog, instead of a spare bolt left behind in the box.

Not to mention that during the night my mind still raced with thoughts of everything that had happened in the last few weeks. I’d been at the coven for just over a month, but it felt like a lifetime. Katherine Shipton was out there, somewhere, and it was only a matter of time before she made her next move. She had the kids—I knew she did—but we had no way of knowing what she was going to do with them. Plus, she had to be pretty pissed by now. We’d knocked down three of her pawns, stalling her way to checkmate.

Emmett Ryder was dead and buried, with a simple marker above his tomb that detailed his crimes. The coven had put his body in the Crypt, deep below ground in the SDC in a restricted zone that only Alton and the Mage Council had access to. Meanwhile, Emily Ryder was stuck in Purgatory and had yet to breathe a word of Katherine’s plan—or “Katie,” as they’d so sickeningly called her. No person that evil could have such an ordinary name. Stalin, Vader, or Hitler, maybe, but not friggin’ Katie. Finch was the same, stewing in staunch silence. Although, cracks had started to appear in his frosty façade, like the initial split of a heavy boot on solid ice. A bit more pressure, and he might be the first to break.

“Harley?” a voice echoed down the corridor, snapping me out of my gloomy reverie. Wade.

Maybe, if I just stay super quiet, he’ll walk right by me. I sensed irritation emanating from him in spiky waves. He was not in the mood for my tardy antics today. Not that he ever was. Still, it didn’t stop me from winding him up on every possible occasion. It was probably the most beautiful part of our friendship: the endless, sarcastic banter.

I slipped out of the dragon’s shadows. Wade’s deep green eyes widened for a moment. The prickling pulse of his annoyance softened into something warmer, a sudden rush of admiration, mingling with a less tangible feeling that rippled beneath the surface—something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“I’ve been looking all over the place for you, Merlin! And you’ve been ignoring my texts,” he snapped, though a note of wonder still lingered. It brought a smile to my face. “What were you doing behind that statue? Wait… you weren’t hiding, were you?”

He looked undeniably handsome in his dark blue uniform, which shimmered strangely in the dim lighting of the hallway. The high collar was also odd—a magical stylistic choice, no doubt. Most of it ran around his neck in a band of gold. It reminded me of a chef’s jacket, only way cooler. Gold buttons ran up the front, each embellished with the Latin names of the elements that gave us our magical strength—Terra, Aqua, Aer, Ignis. At the top, I noticed the name Gaia taking prime position just below the hollow at the bottom of his throat. Mother Earth, the one holding all of this together. Beside it, on the folded triangle of his golden lapel, he wore a single red gem. Fire, I supposed. It was a surprisingly militant look for the SDC, but it suited Wade to a T.

I crossed my arms. “I was just on my way to the ceremony.”

“The great Harley Merlin, afraid of public speaking?” He sounded annoyingly gleeful. “Is that it?”

“Please. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than reciting some spiel. I was the one who talked to the Mage Council after the gargoyle incident, remember?”

Wade’s expression suddenly became more serious. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”

“I’m fine! I just wanted to take my time on the walk over. Stop making it sound like we’re about to get hitched or something.”

Wade’s eyebrows shot up, and my face heated as the words echoed down the hall. My throat constricted, making it hard to swallow. I had no idea whether the feelings were mine or his. He had this way of muddling me, churning my mind upside down until I couldn’t tell where the trail of his emotions ended and mine began.

“Come on. It’s rude to keep everyone waiting,” he urged, turning on his heel. His voice caught for a split second. “You look good, by the way. That shade of green suits you. Brings out the red in your hair.”

“You mean I look like a Christmas ornament?”

He flashed a grin over his shoulder. “No, you look good. I’d forgotten you had arms, since I’m so used to seeing you with that leather jacket slung over your shoulders.”

I shot him a look as I followed him down the hall. How I love our little tête-à-têtes.

My formal gown had been Tatyana and Santana’s suggestion, but I was deeply regretting letting them run wild with my wardrobe. And, presumably, Wade’s credit card. The emerald silk of the flowing skirt trailed behind me like liquid, while the structured bodice held me in like I was some medieval princess. Tiny embroidered flowers and vines curled across the waist and up to the bust, which showed a modest amount of flesh. After all, I wasn’t out to shock my new “family.” I knew I looked fierce, and it was a good feeling. Plus, no one could see my heavy-duty boots beneath the skirt, which seemed like another win to me.

“Hurry up. Everyone’s waiting for you,” Wade said, pausing for me to catch up. “Don’t make me carry you in there, Merlin, because I will. And you won’t like it.”

“Yeah, yeah. The sooner this is over, the sooner we can celebrate.”

The moment I stepped through the arched main doors, everyone fell silent. I could’ve heard a gnat fart. Already, the emotions of the gathered group were creeping toward me, threatening to overwhelm my senses. I focused on Wade standing by the door, letting everyone else and their cacophony of feelings fade into the background. He seemed proud and guarded, as though he knew what I was up to but didn’t have the heart to refuse me my security blanket.

I’d forgotten how massive the Hall was, with more of the coven’s scaly, bronzed mascots arching between the polished marble floor and the vertigo-inducing heights of the ceiling above me. The flickering lights of the chandeliers cast shards of radiance across the gathered audience.

My heart thundered in my chest as Wade offered me his arm and led me toward the wide, circular podium that stood nearby. I’d used the hidden back entrance, reserved for guests and, apparently, pledgers.

We made our way past the seven mirrors, their bronze edges reflecting the rusty glow of the torches along the wall. To take my mind off the swollen crowd before me, I wondered just how far these mirrors could reach and how fast one could get to a new destination through them. Could I get to Hawai’i if I leapt through one right this second, to avoid all of this entirely?

“Don’t even think about it,” Wade whispered, giving me a hard stare.

“What? I wasn’t thinking anything.”

All eyes were on me, and not for the first time. This place gave me an eerie sense of déjà vu. I hardly dared to look out at the sea of people, fearing it might unleash the floodgates of my Empath abilities. The last thing I needed was hundreds of feelings chipping away at my self-control, like my last big entrance here. Sure, I’d gotten a better handle on crowds, but that level of judgment, wariness, and suspicion was hard to ignore. Even so, the atmosphere was infinitely less hostile than before. There were even some smiles, if I looked hard enough.

Most of the coven seemed to be here, and they were all wearing uniforms like Wade’s. The Rag Team were on the sidelines, plus Garrett, with his former investigative squad lined up sheepishly beside him—minus Finch, of course. On the podium itself, Tobe, the Beast Master, stood at the farthest edge, while the preceptors took up the chairs that had been laid out for the occasion. All six were there: Jacintha Parks, Hiro Nomura, Sloane Bellmore, Oswald Redmont, Lasher Ickes, and Marianne Gracelyn. O’Halloran stood behind them with his arms folded, looking sharp in his black uniform, while Wolfgang Krieger had taken a seat to the side, closer to Alton. Krieger seemed oddly distracted, his chair slightly turned and his clinical blue gaze fixed on one of the mirrors, as though he were hypnotized. He snapped out of it as Alton nudged him and stood for my arrival.

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