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Chapter One: Darjeeling—In the Hoosegow

I pawed at the cage latch with irritation. I couldn’t reach the bolt, because they had a metal plate surrounding the back of the mechanism, keeping it safe from miscreants like me. Worse, the steel of the whole thing had too high an iron content for my magick to easily affect it. Instead, it reflected my best spells back on me, just as the wrought iron Visiting Table in our back yard amplified our work. It was like skating on a mirror of ice.

“Kitty, give it a rest. You’re lucky we picked you up. Halloween isn’t safe for black cats,” the attendant chided as she wheeled the little cart up to my stack of cages. I was on the highest level, third up from the bottom. She did something that was easy for somebody with opposable thumbs, and the door sprang open so she could top off my food and clean out my so-far pristine litter pan.

I saw my chance. I charged her, fast. I slipped between her head and the doorway, using her shoulder for extra leverage as I leapt to the floor and dashed for the main door. If I timed my slip-through just right, she’d think she had left the door open a crack: People see what they expect to see, which is how the worlds of magick, sorcery, and their peoples survive in the 21st century.

My head hit the door with a resounding thwack that sat me back, shaking my ears, to the great amusement of the attendant and the other twelve cats in the room—in fact, it was almost worth it to see some of those long faces perk up. Great, oh just . . . great. The bottom of the door was covered with a sheet of steel, probably because the wood had gotten too frayed by decades of prior hopeful escapees. I felt myself scooped up, and the attendant put me back in my prison. She was brave, handling eighteen pounds of tomcat muscle, but she must have noticed that I hadn’t let my claws touch her as I’d passed: I was a good kitty, sigh. She even rumpled my ears before she closed the blasted door to my cell.

“Alex!” I hollered in my head again. No response. Last I knew, I could have been in a submarine exploring the Marianas Trench, and she could have been climbing K2 or Everest, and she would have heard me. I was beginning to get worried. The link between mage and familiar was one of the strongest magicks we had. Could something have gone awry at home?

I had just popped out two hours ago to enjoy the crisp Brooklyn air, especially the air in the back alley where an attractive queen lived, independent and people-free. It wasn’t much of a courting call; I’d been fixed a month after I’d been turned into a cat in the 1950s; but a fella still likes to look, and maybe do some mutual grooming. True, I got enough of the platonic sort from my housemate Bast, but she was like my little sister. It was different with Ahrula.

Her name meant Danger in Cat, common enough in the feral population, but exotic to me. Or it had been. She had kept me so besotted with her charms that I had tuned out a lot of background noise. The noise that meant the local do-gooders were sweeping through the alley. The vibes that meant I was about to get a needle jabbed in my flank. In fact, the last sound I recalled was her derisive laugh: “Goodbye, twoleg pet!”

So much for that budding relationship. Women, feh! I curled myself onto the shelf with the bedding and tried to go to sleep. I ignored what can only be termed catcalls from my peers; all things considered, it wasn’t as bad as it might be, institutional smells notwithstanding. The towel on my shelf was clean, and I’d been put in with the long-timers because they’d seen I had no fleas, so I wouldn’t get a bumper crop of them, at least. All in all, call it Sing Sing Lite.

This thought tickled me, and I thought of singing a few choruses of “Home on the Range,” seeing as I had no harmonica, but that just wouldn’t do—smart-aleck mage cats had had some very close calls for that sort of nonsense. At the very least, my melodious yowling would alert my fellow inmates that I was a freak and not just a head-banging klutz, and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. I put my head on my paws like a dog and considered my near future.

It was getting on for eleven o’clock, and I hoped nobody at home was worried. Heck with that—I hoped they were worried out of their skins. I tried to tell myself that a night in the pound wouldn’t kill me; even the most draconian kill shelters gave housepets like me a few days to be claimed.

Unless they were full. I asked the room, not hoping for a response, “Hey, how long have you guys been in here?”

To my surprise, there was a chorus of four or five replies: “Two days.” “Three moons.” “Six weeks,” etc. This was relieving, until one gravelly-voiced old-timer groused, “But not for you. Nobody adopts blackies like you, with not even a tuxedo to your name, so they’ll ship you over to the Black Cat Rescue Program in the morning. Unless they’re full. Then they’ll take you to the Bast Room pretty much straight away.” The Bast Room, I knew, was where we got sent back to Bast to be reborn into our next lives. “Seen it happen a pawful of times now.”

I froze. It was called Black Cat Syndrome, and the irony was that mages often went out of their way to adopt us because we were a drug on the market due to our reputation. Of course, I could always walk into my man skin next time I got out of the cage—especially for that final short trip—but that would go against everything I’d sworn to. Nope, worst came to worst, it would be a brief period of disorientation, then back to kittenhood for me. Maybe then Alex would answer my Familiar’s Call and come get me. I was getting a bad feeling about my unanswered call. What was up with that?

I fell into a doze that was more fitful than usual, then comforted myself with a few nibbles of the high-quality cat chow they’d left in the bowl. The sky was beginning to lighten through the high, narrow window—painted shut and too small for my man form even could I get out of the cage. I was worried and frustrated beyond bearing; maybe this Sing Sing wasn’t so “Lite” after all.

Cats sleep (more or less) for eighteen hours a day, and the stress of the night had exhausted me, so despite all, I was out like a light soon after that, sleep being a temporary remedy for despair. I came awake with a start when I got hit by something spiking at my outer soul in a familiar way. It was called a y’lai, and was only sparked out with that particular flavor by the vampire people, the Th’nashi. Could it be . . .? I pushed back in its general direction, forcing down hope and trying to calm my heart. Even if it weren’t “my” Th’nashi, I’d have a decent chance of communicating with one, seeing as they already knew that magickal and non-human peoples existed.

But it was my Th’nashi, it was, it was! I could hear his voice in the hall. Imago--Lord Tutankhamun Quartermain--was the son of the Duke of Menzies, a title so venerable that the “z” had evolved from some other letter and it was pronounced “Mingus.” He was putting on every inch of aristocrat, and Americans pay attention to that accent.

“I’m terribly sorry to have made such a row, madam, and I appreciate your letting us in early, but my cousin’s recovery may well depend on our locating her cat, and that in swift order.” He was only 16, but I could hear the echo of his late grandfather’s harrumphing walrus mustaches in his voice. Meanwhile, a lanky girl with wispy hair-colored hair and heterochromic eyes (right blue, left gray) had poked her face up against the glass of the door.

“Miranda!” I screamed. “Get me out of here!” All our magemeet understands Cat, and I flopped over in relief when she put up a hand with the “OK” sign. There was a rustle in the room. Just as well that my fellow inmates couldn’t tell tales.

Then the door opened, with the attendant from the night before looking tired and rumpled. “But you’re not quite 18 yet, miss. We can’t release—”

“My good woman, as long as we’re assured of our cat’s identity and that you won’t do anything rash with him, I can promise you a consenting adult will be here as soon as I make a call.”

“We no leavee till get here Auntie,” meowed Miranda. I was impressed; I knew she was picking some up, and I’d have to work on her syntax a bit, but it sounded like any human trying to give a cat encouragement; the attendant rolled her eyes, not caring if she were seen. I felt a little bad for her. Bast only knew the sort of precious guff she had to see on this job. I stuck a paw as far through the bars as I could; now that salvation was close at hand, I felt a lump in my throat and was beginning to quiver. The night of feeling abandoned had beaten my emotions out into a ribbon; I hoped that when I walked into my man skin next I wouldn’t cry like a wussy-baby.

The attendant warned that I was a runner, to which Imago turned down the corner of his mouth and raised his eyebrows, looking as if she had accused his sister of being “no better than she should be.” He took out his phone and pressed a speed-dial number.

“Yes, we’ve found him. We need a grown-up,” Imago said into the speaker, sarcasm oozing. Like any teenager, he found the concept ridiculous. “Shelter #8 on the list, thank heaven. . . . Yes . . . How’s—” He broke off, and once again I felt the whisper of a y’lai running through my fur; felt it as he changed his mind. I grew suspicious. It wasn’t as if my birthday were coming soon, so what did he feel he couldn’t say? He ended the call and looked grave underneath his satisfied smile.

“You haven’t seen him yet; how do you know he’s your cat?” the attendant asked. Uh-oh.

Miranda answered, her voice smooth if a little husky. Miranda? Crying? “Your people were seen in the alley he plays in. Did you take in any other coal black cats last night at about nine?” My whiskers went forward. I recognized the voice from our role-playing games. She was being a Vulcan explaining something to a rather childish human.

Beaten, the attendant heaved a sigh and closed the door behind them, in case I would entertain them all with another bonk on the head. Instead, as soon as the cage was open I let Imago pick me up and cuddle me on his shoulder. I did what seemed natural and started to purr, going so far as to headbutt his sparsely shaven face. I tried to find something to mutter along the lines of “Don’t get any ideas from this,” but all that came out was thankBast thankBast thankBast.

Imago scratched my ears with true tenderness while Miranda ran her fingers through my coat. It was a family moment; our magemeet was closer than most.

“I hope your cousin pulls through,” said the attendant, weary but sincere. “I had an aunt once who was like that. We used to talk to her all the time, just in case. So you go tell her Kitty is all right.”

“We will,” came the sad chorus. I thought they were overdoing it a little--their outer souls were torn open—and then I put it all together.

I put just the tips of my claws into Imago’s shoulder. The magemeet could manage telepathy when we were close together, to facilitate communication for those non-fluent in Cat. “Where’s Alex?” I demanded, trying not to break character by snarling. The boy froze for a moment, but was saved from an immediate response by the arrival of the grownup.

Aunt Daisy McPherson was a Master Herbalist teaching at the New World Academy in lower Manhattan. My apprentice, Lizzie Morrows, was her only niece, but all of us called her Aunt Daisy, even Alex—and Alex had 300 or so years on her. She too looked tired and worried, her dreadlocks tied back with the tatty bandanna she used for painting, as if it had been the first thing to hand to get them out of her face in some emergency. Aunt Daisy filled out paperwork while she loudtalked me about what she thought about menfolks who couldn’t keep it zipped. I had no answer—I was a dark-skinned human, but I know I would have blushed.

The attendant was happy to get rid of me, even happy for me. She petted me and mispronounced my name (the “j” is a “zh” sound), and was at her happiest when she put Aunt Daisy’s credit card in her machine, which spat out a three figure receipt of my redemption. She walked us out to the car, because she technically wasn’t allowed to let me leave without a carrier, but when she saw that mine was already strapped in on the Jeep’s floor, she decided we were okay, and we were finally off.

“Alex?” I yowled.

“She’s under heavy sedation in the Sisters of Mercy hospital in the city,” Aunt Daisy nearly snapped. “She fell off a ladder while she was fiddling with the Halloween lights on the porch. Her neck is broken.”

My world froze solid.

Chapter Two: Bast—In the Hospital

I’d never been in a human hospital before, for the doubly good reasons that nobody I cared about had ever been in one overnight, and they wouldn’t have allowed me anyway. But this was a Th’nashi hospital, and ever since we helped out—and were related to—one of the Heads of a Th’nashi House, we got perks. A very nice Lion of Mercy tucked me up in a visitor’s chair, got me a bowl of water and even some tuna from the kitchen, and told me I would be “running Cohort” for Alex as people came and went, meaning I was the person who would always know what was going on. He wrote, “Tell the cat!” on the back of a sheet of stickers with Alex’s name and info on them, and used the stickers to affix it to the wall over my head. I found myself feeling important.

To my surprise, the medical team must have been briefed, because they all did indeed tell the cat, although most of them were uncomfortable about it. One young nurse’s aide blurted out, “Can you really understand what I’m saying? Raise your right paw.” I did, and gave my most solemn mew. The poor kid went pale under her freckles and fled the room. I needed the comic relief. To be a Lion of Mercy, you have to be six feet tall, unless you have certain mad skills the Order needs. So their hospital beds were huge in comparison to the ones I’d seen on TV, and poor Alex looked like the little 15-year-old her body was, lost in the sheets and tubes and wires, her eyes already a little sunken into bluish gray pits.

At about midnight, they took her into surgery, and her color was a little better when she was returned to the room at 3:30 a.m., wearing a daunting-looking head and neck brace. I had been catching a nap, and the surgeon (clearly a cat person) stroked my head until I was alert, then briefed me: They had relieved some intercranial pressure which had been worrying them, and stabilized the region with a SOMI.

I gave my most interrogative-sounding chirp, and put out a paw at that point. She guessed what I meant—definitely a cat person.

“It stands for Sterno-Occipital Mandibular Immobilization Device. It’ll keep her from moving her head. She’ll be getting her meals through a straw for a week or so while things heal enough for her to be stepped down to something less restrictive.” That didn’t sound too bad. I did wish I could ask questions.

Then I sat up, putting my ears and whiskers forward, and cried out, “Max! What are you doing down here?” The jade-eyed Eurasian man who had entered was another Lion of Mercy, but he was the sorcerer in charge of the northern Eastern Seaboard, and was headquartered in Boston. He grinned at the surgeon and scooped me up for a cuddle.

“Bast and I are relatively fluent with each other,” he understated to the doctor, who had taken the opportunity to scritch my ears. “My nephew is part of this magemeet and called me in to give assistance. All hell is breaking loose in Firenzi right now,” he added. Firenzi was the ethnic House our friend Sean McPherson headed up. “Else the Prince himself would have come down.”

“But why? Is Alex really in danger?” I asked. Max read my language, despite having been gifted with the Meaning Cantrip that would let us have the same telepathic congress I would have with a master mage. He sighed.

“Darjeeling is missing,” he said gently. “He never came in from that Halloween jaunt. That’s where all the humans are—rather, Imago and Miranda are checking shelters, while Lizzie stays home with Whomp and Tex acting as a communication center.” Whomp and Tex were junior familiars, bound to Miranda and Imago. Their magelink would be as good as radio contact. “Aunt Daisy has the car, so she’s where she’s needed. She wouldn’t have left Alex if it weren’t important.”

“How are they checking shelters now? It’s the middle of the night.”

He chuckled, in part at the surgeon’s expression at watching his face twitch and one graceful hand cocked at the side of his head for ear movement. “It would have been easier and faster if mischief-makers hadn’t knocked out the Internet in your area, but then they realized I could get the shelter list for them, and I came myself to pitch in. As for how, you never did return that DNA tracker the Crucio loaned you lot last year. They were able to get a good sample from his favorite windowseat spot. Aunt Daisy’s been using a very complex spell to do the same thing. Among them, they’ve carpeted Brooklyn and Queens. Last I heard, they were closing in.”

I sighed. So much for that—toms and their ways, whether born in a manskin or not! I had a more important question. “Will Alex be all right?”

He repeated my question to the doctor. She nodded and smiled, giving out a vibe of high confidence.

“If you can think of it that way, her neck’s just a little broken. Snapped off a facet, which I glued back—that should heal quickly—and just the tiniest torque to her spinal column, which of course was the real danger. Luckily, her housemate’s, uh, magick worked as well as a sorcerer’s spell to immobilize the injury immediately—no sharp edges of bone sawing anything, no connections being pulled loose. She’s a lucky little girl.”

Max said, “This little girl was born—into another body—some three centuries ago. I find it daunting such an ordinary thing could have almost killed her.” If he expected the surgeon to raise an eyebrow at this, he was disappointed—Aunt Daisy had given them an excellent history for Alex Harbor, world’s oldest mage. I shivered at the thought and curled closer to Max. He began to massage my back.

“If you don’t mind me saying so,” the surgeon murmured, “that poor cat is worn out. She kept awake more than any normal cat would, all night. Unless she’s magickal too?”

“Nope, just your common or garden tabby, oomphed up a little to be a mage’s familiar, but frightened out of her wits. Say, Bast, I see they’ve hooked you up with hospital chow, but do you need a pan? I can—”

“It’s all right,” I interrupted. “I know how to use a human toilet in emergencies, and I did. Uncomfortable, but at least I haven’t embarrassed the magemeet.”

“Good show!” he exclaimed. “Could you get it through to Tuck?” Tuck was his springer spaniel, whom I had never met due to his apparent habit of attempting to bathe cats. I laughed and brushed his chin with my upper canines, making him laugh too.

“Hey! Mine are bigger!” He fanged himself, the beautiful House Knightsblood fangs from the Dracula posters—those of most other Houses were smaller or looked either more like ordinary teeth or like a reptile’s set. I batted at them with a velveted paw, making sure to miss, and he retracted them with a snick, back above and behind his ordinary so-called “false” canines.

Alex whimpered, and the three of us became all business for a second. She opened her huge gray eyes and squinted at the light. The doctor turned it off; Max set me with care on the edge of the bed, and the two Th’nashi and I inventoried her outer soul. She seemed to be coming to, all right, albeit being understandably disoriented.

The surgeon cautioned her not to try to talk, and Alex glared at her. She groped for her telepathy—I could feel her rushing and receding in my head like an ocean wave—but gave up. She raised her hands, motioning as if to write. Max gave her the pad that lay ready on the bedside stand, but lay a gentle finger on her lips.

“Alexandra, let us give you a situation report first.” She subsided, and as she listened I could feel little tingles that to Darjeeling would have been outright fur-raising zaps: Alex was taking inventory of her powers, as best she could.

“And don’t try to use your magick,” Max ended. “The surgeons here are used to non-standard brains, and you won’t be good for much until all the drugs are out of your system. That’ll be in a couple of hours.”

“Darjeeling,” Alex muttered without using her jaw.

Max coughed. “He’ll be right here as soon as the shelters open.” I could tell he was hoping he wasn’t lying.

But then his phone buzzed, and in a moment his outer soul lit up like a rocket. Alex looked up and over at me as far as her eyes could reach, and we both smiled in relief: The old reprobate was safe.

I felt weariness overtake me. I would have suspected somebody of “sleeping” me, but I knew it was just relief. Alex showing she was still in there, and now Darjeeling . . . I knew Alex hated sleeping on her back and would thrash about, so after an affectionate nuzzle, I went back to my chair and slumped into paw-twitching oblivion.

I awoke to the familiar smells of Miranda, Alex’s apprentice, and Darjeeling himself. Alex was dozing, there being little else she could do considering the anesthetic working through her system, and I was quick to tell Miranda that our boss was essentially all right.

“Doctor said a healer team will be here as soon as they work out the interface between magick and sorcery. Said something about a high-level kidnapping a group of mages solved last year that impressed the heck out of the sorcerers, and that the Crucio himself put this group together,” I laughed. That case had been ours; at the time we didn’t know we would be forging such a firm relationship with the Th’nashi sorcerers. It sure as Bast’s right paw was convenient right now—I didn’t like to think about Alex ending up in an ordinary human hospital.

Miranda let out a sigh of relief and her shoulders sagged, making her look five years older for a moment. She put down the carrying case that held Darjeeling, and shook out her hand. The handle was padded, but he was still an uncomfortable weight.

Speaking of . . . “Where’s Imago? His uncle said he was with you.”

“In the boys’ room. Where for that matter is Max, anyway?” Miranda yawned. She went over to the sink and looked at herself in the mirror and groaned. Max had given out sorcerer pockets in nonspace to those of us who could use them, meaning everyone in the magemeet except Lizzie and Alex herself, and Miranda went through hers now, crying “Aha!” when she found a clean washcloth. She wet it at the sink and began scrubbing at the tearstains and general dirt on her face—but, being Miranda, mostly the tearstains.

“Max is right here,” said Max, entering with an arm around his nephew’s shoulders. “I stepped out to talk to the healers, which is where Aunt Daisy is now. Hello!” He went over to the carrying case where Darjeeling crouched, silent as an onyx statue. “Why haven’t they let you out yet, friend?” He undid the latch while Miranda sunk into a visitor’s chair and stared heavy-eyed but content at her mentor, who was emitting a faint snore.

Darjeeling almost crept out, his ears back, and something in me snapped. I leapt across the room and attacked him, claws out, aiming for his ears.

“This has been the worst night of our lives. Your mage needed you, and what were you doing? Chasing an alley cat’s mangy tail. You want Ahrula? I’ll give you all the Ahrula you can handle!” Danger, indeed! If that queen were human with that name, she’d probably be a stripper.

None of this was very loud—much of Cat is non-verbal—so I had no compunction over cussing him out while Alex slept. He turned over onto his back and gave me a few feeble defending kicks, but his heart wasn’t in it. Usually in our play squabbles, I could connect with only a few stray wisps of black fur, but to my own horror, I felt the velvet of his left ear tear open under my claws. I stopped. The big mook was letting me beat him up because he felt guilty.

“Ah, Master Darjeeling!” Imago cried. “Let me get the med staff to put some gauze on that!”

“No need,” croaked Darjeeling, beginning to wash. “I had it coming.”

“Yes, you did,” said Max. “And a little nick to remind you of it is all very well, but this one is bad. Stop being an ass; you’ve used up your quota for the week.” Darjeeling winced; I was pretty sure Max was his main human male friend, and his words stung.

The nice doctor came back and swabbed his ear with something that smelled nasty and made him say something he shouldn’t have.

She chuckled. “I may not know Cat, but I live with them, and I know what that word means. Simmer down, buddy. It might upset your friend if she thinks you’ve been hurt.” This clever bit of psychology made him subside for just the tiniest bit of a dressing. I felt abashed—but also satisfied. Nobody had said boo to me about doing it.

When done, he leapt upon the bed and curled himself within reach of Alex’s wandering right hand, which caught in his fur. She sighed and smiled in her sleep. We all watched as he conjured up a purr, then at a whisper from the doctor, all the rest of us left, feeling drained. It had been quite the Halloween.

Chapter Three: Darjeeling—Magemeet Minus One

It wasn’t my bed, and I rarely slept with Alex at home, because as Bast said, she’s a thrasher at the best of times. So after I’d say about a half-hour, I was awake again, and cruelly abandoned my mistress’ side for more creature comforts. Then I realized there wasn’t a pan.

Back in the middle of the summer we had a minor incident. After a couple of cans of off-brand cat food, which sent the magemeet’s four cats into the backyard to eat grass, Lizzie had an unbecoming fit at the state of the litter pans. My human apprentice had swapped that duty in some arrangement with Imago, Aunt Daisy’s apprentice and junior to Lizzie, and was cursing her bad timing.

Bast had taken offense, and with great dignity had proven she could use the human facilities, four paws notwithstanding, and the rest of us took notes in fascination. We could all do it; it’s not as if we were your average pack of housepets; it’s just that, well, there wasn’t any satisfying scratching involved, and the job felt half done. Sorta the way a human would feel sans paper. So I checked to ensure there was indeed paper, and walked into my human suit now to use Alex’s bathroom.

It was the morning of the full moon, and that meant the spell that governed my skinwalking would allow me to stay human for a full day, instead of a measly hour. I rarely used it, having now been a cat for far more of my life than I’d been human, and my minutes didn’t roll over anyway (as the girls put it). But it would be handy now that I had a medical team to interrogate. Even had I given them the Meaning Cantrip, the novelty of talking to a cat—of telepathy at all—would mean they wouldn’t pay good attention at first. I washed my hands and inspected the mirror, looking first at my undamaged left ear. That injury was left in my cat body; I must say I didn’t miss the sting and the continual earflirt the hunk of tape encouraged as my outraged ear kept trying to flick it off.

I saw a decent-looking brown-skinned man of about forty-something, hair about as long as my feline coat, meaning it was just starting to curl. (I have two Native American grandparents, and came out with what to my humiliation was called “good hair” by the older members of the community.) I was still wearing my black suit and tie, with a lilac shirt with French cuffs, links supplied by Alex herself, collected at some point of her long life. I swore, having forgotten that I’d last been a man for a funeral—I’d been asked to be a pallbearer. Luckily for me, the other five bearers were also on the shortish side. (I suspected that was why I’d been tapped, not having been what you’d call close to the deceased, who was an old friend of Alex’s.) But the suit looked impressive. Now, I sharpened up my Windsor knot, observed that my shoes were still shiny, and went looking for the doctor.

There was the usual huddle at the nurse’s station, and I blinked for a moment—almost all the men were what the Th’nashi call Lion-type, meaning they were husky bruisers at least six feet tall. I reminded my male ego that chances were slim any of these mortal vampires could turn into a panther, and cleared my throat.

“I’m with Alex Harbor. Any news on her condition?”

Our doctor separated herself from the herd, extending her hand. “I’m Dr. Strauss. And you are?”

“Darjeeling,” I purred. “We’ve already met. Thank you for saving my ear.”

Poor Dr. Strauss. Her eyes became saucers and her eyebrows tried to hide in her hair. Then she smacked herself on the cheek. “C’mon, Debbie, snap out of it,” she muttered, endearing herself to me forever.

She walked with me back to Alex’s room, talking neurogibberish which I was too tired to make her explain, but which I gathered meant a quick and full recovery. She kept stressing how lucky Alex had been: young, flexible, fallen just right—and with New York’s Th’nashi hospital within Aunt Daisy’s panicked whistle. Heck, I thought, having the Prince of Firenzi’s cousins as housemates just added to the stack there.

Aloud, I said, “We mages have more than our share of luck. Comes with the territory. Our guardian angels work overtime.” I wasn’t kidding. The last time I went back to Bast I was reborn with a hazy memory of talking to mine and promising not to be such a pain in the butt this time around. (Angels are probability science geeks, and consider themselves entitled to lecture, even knowing our conscious minds will repel the entire conversation as soon as possible.) I saw that Strauss realized I wasn’t kidding, and headed her off before we got sidetracked by theology.

“How long will she have to be in the brace?”

“That will depend on the healer team, but I’d say no more than a week. More luck. But she’ll be in a less-restrictive one for a while, and I might have to keep her here for observation. We’re used to Lions going back out before they’re ready and doing dumb stuff that lands them back here, and something tells me Miss Harbor is cut from the same cloth.”

I couldn’t argue.

Alex woke up, and the long-suffering Strauss repeated everything she had just said to me in response to the teenaged imperious eyebrows, which were about all Alex had left. The phrases “a week” and “keep you for observation” weren’t popular.

“Look, kiddo.” I perched on the end of the huge bed, then got up when I saw her wince. I chose the chair instead. “I’m betting you were cutting a few safety and common-sense corners on that ladder to begin with, so this is what you get. Now, eat your pudding like a good girl and you’ll be out of here soon enough. Consider it a vacation. I’ll bring you in the top of your meaning-to-read stack.”

Alex heaved as huge a sigh as possible and her muscles relaxed in acquiescence. Knitting, she requested in my head.

“Will do,” I said. I asked Strauss, “Level with me, doctor—can a black man catch a cab back to Brooklyn from here?” This was another reason for staying in my mansuit. I didn’t want to do the literal song and dance that would let me Visit (as we called it) to our backyard.

“Maybe.” She made a face. Racism was what it was. “I have a better idea.”


About me

Being cursed with merely average looks and low athletic prowess, I read a lot of books and went for smart and funny. It’s gotten me through some tight spaces, not least of all motherhood of my own burgeoning adults. Brought up in New York, I’m currently in Cambridge, MA, after finishing my PhD here. Long chats with cats brought me to the magemeet while I was writing something else. Max has his own books, and right now I’m tightening the screws on his second.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
Lizzie and Miranda are teens with tough lives who discover a mage in their neighborhood. Alex and her huge black cat Darjeeling help the girls discover their own magery--making Lizzie's cat Bast her familiar. The story is narrated by Bast and Darjeeling.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
I am blessed with the friendship of the talented Annaliese Tassano, who helps me on covers! The base art is a painting I did with Japanese watercolor and a gold leaf sun, main inspirations being "cat," "bright colors" and "deadline."
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The ending! Although I qualified for winning WriMo in word count, I still wasn't done with the story. Slacker that I be, it was much harder to keep pounding it out after November, and then there were the holidays, and then I decided I hated the story . . . You get the picture!