Black Magic Woman
Daphanie Carter is thrilled that her sister Danice finally found her Prince Charming—even though he's not quite, well, human. Daphanie is trying to keep an open mind. Which is why she jumps at the chance to enter the hidden world of The Others when a friendly imp invites her to a non-human nightclub. Daphanie’s curious to see how the Other half lives—and parties—but soon, one handsome stranger has her bewitched, bothered, and beside herself…
Enter Asher Grayson. As a Guardian, it's his job to protect humans who get mixed up in the affairs of Others. When he spots Daphanie in a club, going head to head with a notorious witch doctor, he steps in to cool things off. Now the heat is on. Daphanie becomes the target of strange magical attacks, and Asher's got to undo the voodoo before it's too, too late. But soon he starts to wonder if this beautiful, beguiling mortal has put a spell on him—because every little thing she does is magic…
+ “Excitement, passion, mystery, characters who thoroughly captivate, and a satisfying romance make Black Magic Woman a must read.”
— Lori Ann, Romance Reviews Today
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+ “This novel of the Others has all the hallmarks of an excellent Christine Warren novel: humor, great characters, and steamy romance.”
— Vicky Gilpin, Fresh Fiction
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+ “What started out as an idea for a single e-book by Warren has now turned into quite the series… [it] will definitely steam up your reading glasses.”
— Terri Dukes, RT BOOKReviews
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+ “Black Magic Woman will capture your senses and ensnare your imagination. Another great novel from Christine Warren.”
— Single Titles awarding Black Magic Woman 4.5 Stars!
Read the whole review.
+ “Black Magic Woman is a sexy action-packed romance!” — Joyfully Reviewed. Read the whole review.
“You presume to lay a hand on me?! Filthy little whore! A curse on you!”
The deep-throated fury of the words reverberated through the room, echoing off the walls and ceiling as if they had been designed especially for their properties of acoustical amplification. Even the floor seemed to tremble slightly beneath Daphanie’s feet. A tiny little corner of her mind wondered idly if the glass in the entry doors had shattered from the vibration, but she couldn’t look to check. It would have been impossible to see through the thick, red fog clouding her vision.
What did he call her?
WHAT did he call her?
Daphanie watched, with curious detachment, as her left arm snaked out of its own volition. She never commanded it to move. She never intended for it to shift from its position at her waist, elbow bent and wrist relaxed. And she certainly never meant for the glass of red wine dangling from her hand to arc upward in slow motion, or for its contents to splash vividly and wetly direct into the big man’s face.
Nope, that had not been part of her plan.
But neither did she have any control over the warm surge of triumphant satisfaction that flowed within her as she watched the cabernet impact its target’s puffed up cheeks, pretentious goatee, and bulbous nose. Even if she’d wanted to, she couldn’t have repressed the happy glow her independently minded arm and an indifferent vintage had caused.
Not that she wanted to.
And now there was nothing left to say.
Calmly, Daphanie set her wine glass down beside the abandoned dregs of the root beer and turned to go.
If the last bellow had caused the floor to vibrate, this one should have buckled the structure’s support beams. It probably registered somewhere on the Ricter scale, yet Daphanie didn’t care. She set her sights on the exit across the room, intent on leaving with whatever calm she still possessed.
“SOSA! Get her!”
A rush of movement behind her caused Daphanie to snap her head around just in time to see one of her enemy’s minions reaching for her with grasping hands and blank eyes that flared just briefly with malicious excitement. She lifted an arm to ward him off and opened her mouth to yell…something, but his hand snaked out beneath her guard, surprisingly swift and accurate, to grab the hem of her top.
Daphanie jerked away, hearing the sound of fabric ripping. Cursing, she looked down, expecting to see herself nude from the waist up, but luck was still with her. The flunky called Sosa had managed to tear a strip of fabric off the bottom of her shirt, but she remained decently covered.
Apparently unsatisfied, the man darted toward her again, but this time he never made contact. Instead, a large figure seemed to swoop in out of nowhere and plant itself between Daphanie and her attacker. From around the interloper, she could just make out the expression of surprise and irritation on the face of the man who had insulted her.
“What are you doing here, Guardian?” the large, sticky man demanded. “Don’t try to tell me this piece of trash is one of your precious pets.”
“I don’t keep pets, D’Abo.” The “Guardian” folded his arms over his chest so that the fabric of his coat stretched across broad shoulders and sharply defined shoulder blades. Only a pair of long top-to–bottom pleats seemed to keep it from splitting open. “And I would be careful about that sort of accusation, if I were you.”
Even from her compromised viewing place, by craning her head, Daphanie was able to make out the meaningful glance her protector shot in the direction of D’Abo’s entourage. It actually surprised her how much meaning could be packed into a face that could have been carved from stone. Or marble. By some kind of Renaissance master.
He had clean-cut, masculine features saved from outright beauty by the presence of enough crags and lines to show a wealth of experience behind the vaguely stubbled skin. Daphanie found herself itching to ask him to turn around and face her. She wanted the chance to see him full on. The glimpses she got from behind him and to the side only piqued her interest. It had been a long time since she’d been piqued by a man.
He didn’t seem to share her curiosity, though. Instead, his gaze remained fixed on D’abo and the followers he’d called the other man’s “pets.” Daphanie had to admit it, the accusation had merit. She hadn’t looked closely enough at the crowd of flunkies before to distinguish that the group was made up of two distinct types of follower: one type watched their leader with eager, worshipful attention, hanging on his every word and tripping all over themselves to agree with each pronouncement as if it had just fallen from the lips of God; the second type marched in an odd sort of formation in the man’s wake, eyes straight ahead, faces blank, stopping whenever their leader stopped but never appearing engaged in either the group around them or their wider surroundings. It was like watching a troop of toy soldiers, mindless automatons without any sort of independent spirit.
It kinda creeped Daphanie out.
Of course, the lack of self-determination hadn’t stopped the one called Sosa from coming after her the minute D’Abo had issued the instruction. The minion might not think for himself, but he didn’t hesitate to obey commands. It must feel good to be the king of your own little universe. Daphanie, however, preferred to live in the real world.
“If the girl is not under your protection, then you have no place in this,” D’Abo dismissed, waving his hand and puffing out his chest. “Step aside. It is my right to deal with the creature that has insulted me.”
“The only right you have here is the right to back off and go somewhere else before you do something I won’t be able to ignore.” The man standing in front of Daphanie never raised his voice above a low murmur, but the tone of command was unmistakable. Even she felt tempted to take a step back, but she’d be damned if she let D’Abo see her do it.
“I won’t be ordered about by you, Guardian. You have no authority over me.”
“I am called Asher Grayson, D’Abo, and I am merely one of my kind. Harm the human, and you’ll have the entire Council down on your head. Not to mention the possibility that my boss wouldn’t be pleased if he were to hear of it. Especially when you have no authority over a human woman who did nothing to you that a little soap and water won’t fix. Do you honestly expect me to stand aside and watch you take your wounded pride out on her? You know the laws, D’Abo.”
It was like sitting in her senior year Spanish class and watching a Pedro Almodovar movie without the benefit of subtitles—she understood about one word out of every three. It might be enough to get the gist of things, but it hardly proved illuminating.
As far as she could tell, the “Council” her protector—Asher, D’Abo had called him—referred to was probably the Council of Others. Danice had told her about them. They were like the senate of the Other community, although to Daphanie they sounded a lot more like the ancient Roman senate than the modern American one. Apparently, the Council didn’t so much represent the population of non-human New Yorkers as it ruled them. The Council of Others made the rules and it enforced the rules, and all due sympathy to anyone who decided to break the rules, because it didn’t sound as if the Council as a whole possessed much of a sense of humor. Daphanie didn’t want to piss them off, and she wasn’t even part of their community. They had no authority over her, but she wasn’t inclined to take chances.
Of course, she also wasn’t generally inclined to let other people fight her battles for her.
She stepped to the side, just far enough to get a clear view of the situation, but not far enough to give the enranged D’Abo a clear shot at her. She was independent, not stupid.
Her movement caught her champion’s attention. He shifted his gaze from the other man to frown down at her. It wasn’t like Daphanie had never been looked down at before. At five-six she wasn’t exactly short, but most men still stood at least a couple of inches taller. This guy, though, towered over her. He had to top six-three, and all of it looked long, lean, and potentially lethal—the kind of man who made a woman’s senses go on high alert. And in Daphanie’s case, sound the alarm.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt the zing of an instant attraction, but there it was, shivering up and down her spine, pulling her shoulder blades together and her tummy in tight. Something about him just sparked it for her, a reaction more powerful than any she remembered from her high school chemistry classes.
He had dark, ash blond hair cropped ruthlessly short and the sort of weathered face that she had always thought separated the men from the boys. His face looked lived in, as if he’d been through a few bumps in the road and actually bothered to learn from them. His eyes only confirmed that, a striking hazel grey shot through with sparks of gold and backed by the kind of knowledge that said he’d faced tougher situations than this in his sleep.
Something about that both reassured and unnerved Daphanie. It was nice to know when a man could handle himself, but that ability could cost a man a lot. She couldn’t help wondering at the price this one had paid.
“You should stay behind me,” he rumbled.
Daphanie snapped back to attention, tearing her gaze from his and training it instead on a spot between them, just for the sake of concentration. Staring at him was turning out to be bad for her ability to focus. “Thanks, but I’m not the type to hide behind a big strong man. In fact, I’m not really the type to hide.”
The man frowned. “Stay behind me,” he repeated.
Okay, he was hot, but a titch single-minded.
Daphanie ignored the order and turned back to D’Abo. She met his enraged scowl squarely and straightened her shoulders. “Look, Mr. D’Abo, we both know that the insulted party here is me. I’m the one whose been called names and condescended to; you’re just the one who turned an honest mistake into a federal case.
“Now, I don’t know what your childhood trauma is or why you felt the need to blow this whole thing out of proportion, but I can promise you that nothing is going to be made better by encouraging a friend of yours to ‘get me.’ Partly because I’m not an easy girl to get, but mostly because I will have no hesitation in reporting your stupid ass to the police, the Council of Others, the US Army, and the guy in the alley out back with the knife and the .38 in his pants. So let’s just let bygones be bygones, all right?”
Rage stiffened the older man’s form until he trembled like the earth around an impending volcanic explosion. Daphanie almost expected to see his hair rise up off his head like a steam cloud.
Beside her, Asher shifted, bending his head to hers. “You’re not helping.”
“You will pay, girl! I will call Kalfou down on you and let his power deal with your impertinence!”
D’Abo grabbed the arm of his nearest servant and dragged the man forward. Yanking a knife from his belt he slashed the man across the palm, an action that made Daphanie gasp, Asher swear, and no one else so much as blink. If she’d seen a little dog anywhere nearby at that point, Daphanie would have made sure to tell it she didn’t think they were in Kansas anymore.
With rough hands, D’Abo wrenched the man’s hand to the side and let the blood drip to the club’s concrete floor. Dozens of eyes watched the tiny trickle slide over skin and through air. Daphanie felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up and fought down the urge to take a step back.
“Kalfou, come to the crossroads! Dance in the moonlight! O great Carrefour, sh—”
“Shut. The hell. Up.”
Daphanie shot a quick glance at Asher, which was all she had time for before he reached out an arm and physically pushed her back behind him. In her mind, he seemed to grow in size, muscles rippling and easing until she could have sworn he stood at least three inches taller and broader than he had a minute ago. Then the pleats in his coat stretched again, this time actually splitting to accommodate the emergence of a set of beautifully feathered, enormous white wings.
The wings easily matched her self-appointed bodyguard in height, the folded joints rising over his shoulders to the top of his head and the tapered tips brushing the middle of his calves. When spread, she imagined they would span well over twenty-five feet. How the hell had he kept something like that hidden?
“You will cease this aggression against the human,” the Guardian intoned, his voice resonating at a pitch Daphanie hadn’t noticed earlier. It seemed to well from not just his body but from the very air and walls around them. It made the bottoms of her feet tingle and she had to fight to keep her gaze from dropping to the floor. That voice had power, even she recognized that and it wasn’t directed at her. She wondered how D’Abo felt. “She has been taken under Guard, and by the laws of the Others you are forbidden from harming her, Charles D’Abo. Leave this place and this girl and abandon all contact with her. This is commanded to you.”
For the first time, Daphanie saw the edges of fear crowding into D’Abo’s eyes. Caution warred with fury in his expression for several moments, only to be replaced by hatred as he looked away from Asher and focused on Daphanie instead.
“I will raise no hand or loa against her,” D’Abo spat, not daring to look again at Asher. He directed all his impotent anger instead at Daphanie. She couldn’t seem to help the shiver he sent chasing down her spine. “But she will come to what she deserves. Mark my words.”
With an impatient gesture to his companions, the affronted man turned and stalked out the club’s door. The crowd parted to let him pass.
Daphanie blew out her tension in a long breath. “Well, that was fun. Not exactly what I had planned for the evening, but…” Shaking her head, she offered Asher a small smile. “Thanks for stepping in. As scenes go, that wasn’t a pleasant one, but I suppose it could have gotten worse. I’m Daphanie, by the way.” She held out a hand. “Daphanie Carter.”
The man just stared at her, still scowling.
“Right.” She dropped her hand and wiped her palm on her jeans. “Well, it was nice meeting you. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
So much for that. The big guy didn’t seem interested in small talk. Which was a pity, since if small talk led to a little flirtation in this case, Daph couldn’t say she would have objected. This Asher guy might be a little intimidating, but he was also smokin’ hot.
She turned to pick up the empty glasses she’d set aside during the confrontation. A hand clamped around her wrist to stop her, sending a deliciously rough shiver from her belly to her knees. She glanced up at her rescuer.
“Come with me.”
Daphanie frowned. Something was different about him, and it wasn’t just that his voice had returned to normal. His expression certainly hadn’t softened. And then she realized it was the wings. Or rather, the lack of them. They had disappeared as unexpectedly as they had been revealed, leaving her with the uneasy feeling of wondering if she’d been the only one who saw them to begin with. Maybe she wasn’t quite as ready to dive into the world of the Others as she had thought.
When she didn’t immediately move to follow Asher, he tugged, gently but firmly, to guide her toward the door. Daphanie shook her head. “Sorry, but I came here with someone. I can’t leave without him. That would be rude.”
Asher snorted. “If you’re referring to the imp, don’t worry. Now come with me.”
Daphanie dug in her heels and returned his scowl with one of her own. She had to clench her teeth to remind herself that sexual attraction was insufficient reason to overlook boorishness.
“Look, I said thank you for sticking up for me with that bully, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you do a little bullying of your own. In case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t like being told what to do. So why don’t you let go of my arm and let me go find my friend.”
He ignored her and simply began towing her toward the exit. “Your ‘friend’ is long gone. He skittered away as soon as he saw the first sign of trouble.”
That made Daphanie blink. Quigley had just left her? What if that D’Abo guy had really tried to hurt her? What if Asher hadn’t stepped in? Who knows what might have happened to her.
“Why that little… imp.”
“Exactly.” Reaching the club’s exit, he pushed her outside and quickly followed, crowding her up against the cement wall at the entrance to the adjoining alley. “So why don’t you tell me what you were thinking coming here with him. Are you crazy? Stupid? What.”
Daphanie stiffened. In addition to the conversational skills of a baboon, he apparently had the manners of one, too. Too bad the way he smelled, all warm and rich and elementally male, made her mouth water every time she drew breath. “At the moment, I’m mostly insulted.”
“Pardon me. I didn’t realize I’d be offending your delicate sensibilities by pointing out the obvious.” He glared down at her, his large frame blocking both her view of the street and most of the light from the nearby street lamps and illuminated signage. “Do you have any idea the kind of danger you were just in?”
“The kind I would have been happy to handle on my own.” She reached up to push him back a step or two and reclaim her personal space, but something inside stopped her. Somehow she imagined touching this man might be a bad thing for her equilibrium. Instead she folded her arms across her chest and contented herself with shooting him a dirty look.
“On your own?” He barked out a dark laugh, one with little connection to humor. “Sweetheart, you were about as far from handling that on your own as it’s possible to be and still remain standing. Do you even know what that was you were doing such a great job of pissing off?”
“Apparently his name is D’Abo and he’s some kind of roaming asshole who doesn’t know an apology from his own fat ass,” she shot back, beginning to resent this conversation. As attractive as she might find this man, she’d pretty much reached her nightly limit for being condescended to. “In fact, the two of you bear a remarkable resemblance. You related?”
“Charles D’Abo,” he informed her with exaggerated patience, “is a witch doctor. He reeks of voodoo, hoodoo, and black magic. I could smell it on him. He was certainly more than you could handle. You’d be better off if you tried a little harder not to make a man like that hate you.”
“I don’t care how that idiot feels about me one way or the other. I make it a practice not to spend time worrying about men with more arrogance than brainpower.”
“Then you might want to change your practices. Men like D’Abo, men like any of those you would find her tonight, any Other you might ever find, are not the sorts you want as your enemies.”
“Why? Because he might make a little doll in my image and stick pins in it? Let him. I’m not afraid of that megalomaniac.”
He leaned in closer. “You should be.”
The warm puff of his breath against her skin sent a jolt of electricity through her spine. Daphanie jerked her head back before she could stop herself. Damn him.
“Why?” she demanded, forcing her chin higher.”What’s so dangerous about a charlatan with a god complex?”
“What gave you the idea that he’s a charlatan?”
She raised her eyebrows. “You mean he’s actually a witch doctor? Grass skirt, bone through the nose, boil the white man in a big black cauldron witch doctor?”
“Just how often do you spend your time watching late night B-movies on television?”
More often than she cared to admit. Especially to him.
“So he really is a witch doctor?”
Asher shook his head. “Did you think I was making this whole thing up? That I had nothing better to do with my night than save the neck of an ignorant human who was too blind to notice when she’d gotten in over her head? Because I assure you that’s not the case.”
Okay, that stung. Daphanie knew perfectly well that she was ignorant when it came to the Others, but that was why she’d asked Quigley to bring her here—so she could learn. Having someone throw her lack of knowledge up in her face didn’t accomplish anything other than making her feel bad. Frankly, it pushed her right to her limit.
Seeing him open his mouth to continue berating her pushed her over.
Boosting herself onto her tiptoes, Daphanie raised her hand and clapped it over his mouth, ignoring the way her palm tingled where it touched his skin.
She leaned in until their faces almost touched and spoke to him very softly. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, sweetheart, but I’ve had a bitch of a night so far. I ducked out of my sister’s wedding reception, I trusted an imp to introduce me to the wider Others community, I was verbally and very nearly physically assaulted by a jerk with magical powers, and now I’m being lectured by another jerk who apparently gets his kicks by taking a baseball bat to the carcasses of deceased equines.”
Asher watched her through narrowed eyes of silver and gold, but he made no move to tug her hand away from his mouth. He simply stood, still and quiet before her, his chest rising and falling with every breath. She had to devote a considerable amount of her concentration to ignoring the feel of that breath tickling the skin of her hand with humid warmth.
“How about this?” she hurried to continue. “What if I admit that it’s true I don’t know very much about the Others, you admit that lecturing me is not going to change that, and we both agree to go our separate ways? Does that work for you?”
Since it was a yes or no question, she didn’t bother to remove her hand. It had nothing to do with the fact that the idea of ceasing to touch him made her stomach clench in protest.
To her surprise, Asher shook his head.
Daphanie frowned. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
He reached up and took her hand in his, carefully pulling it away from his mouth. But he didn’t drop it. His fingers remained curled around hers and sped her heart up by at least twenty beats per minute.
“I mean that’s not the way this works,” he explained, his voice soft but implacable. “Weren’t you listening inside? You’ve been taken under guard. You’re my responsibility now. Where you go, I go.”