I see Glendower Castle looming at the end of the drive, and I almost turn my car around. Even from the front gates, I can feel the warding magic dragging at me. It’s old, bloodthirsty in a way the newer stuff isn’t; like claws down my spine and gravel under my skin.
I usually don’t take castle jobs. They’re too big, too flashy, too front page. In my line of work, you want folks to say, “Nate Parker, who the devil is that?” rather than, “Oh, Nate Parker? Lovely warlock. Heard about his Rembrandt heist.”
Yet here I am, with old magic already desperate to melt my face off.
I’m here because of Third – Digby Algernon Archibald Willoughby the Third – heir to the Willoughby fortune and all the political sway that comes with it. He’s a private school prodigy, freshly eighteen, used to rubbing elbows (maybe more) with Royals and movie stars.
He also wants to be a thief. Maybe. Or, maybe he just wants me to rip Mummy and Daddy off for a laugh. Never can tell, with these trust fund lads.
Third is waiting for me at the front doors. Shorter than he looks on TV, but with that self-assured boarding school smile, a snake deciding if it needs to unbutton its chinos to swallow you whole.
I don’t shake his hand. “Hello, love,” I say. His eyebrows knit momentarily, and I breeze past him into Glendower’s front hall. “Show me the goods. What am I here for?”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Parker,” he offers, accent impossibly polished, good manners and fine breeding oozing from every pore. “It may be more…difficult than anticipated. The Lady Galloway has insisted on strengthening the wards while her collection is in residence. Some of the pieces are tagged with tracking magic…”
I can feel the wards, thick and cloying, burning against my skin. I breathe in slowly, letting my own wards pulse around me, tendrils slithering out and around Glendower’s defences.
“Mr. Parker? The tags?” Third is still looking at me. “Do you need schematics?”
“No, pet.” His mouth twitches. Maybe there’s a personality beneath those ghastly chinos after all. “Once I’ve been in a place, I know it.”
“Which is why you met me here,” Third muses. “Terribly useful. Will it help with the tags?”
“I can undo tracking spells, even old ones with extra teeth,” I promise, absently running a hand over the bannister, letting my magic seep into the polished wood. “I’m after the Degas, east wing?”
“Yes,” Third confirms. “…Would you care for tea, Mr. Parker?”
“Not this time, love,” I say, heading back towards the door. “You have my number.”
Third watches as I drive away, standing there until I clear the gate.
Old magic, no matter how bloodthirsty, is useless once I’ve been inside it. Glendower opens for me, and the Degas comes off the wall without any alarms.
I’m in bed before anyone even notices it’s gone.
Third invites me to brunch at The Club. I go, because I’ve never been to The Club, and because Third texts with perfect grammar. Like a heathen.
He’s there when I arrive, eating an egg-white omelette and drinking coffee. Perfect hair, perfect jawline, hideous pastel shirt.
“I got you one with mushrooms,” he says.
“Why am I here?” I ask, taking a cautious bite. It’s good.
“Nate,” I correct.
“…Nate.” He says it like he’s testing the weight of it on his tongue, like he’s tasting each letter. I swallow, and he keeps talking. “I have another job.”
“Ming Dynasty vase.”
“Ballroom, second floor,” I say, magic already humming through Glendower’s walls.
“It’s tagged,” he starts.
“Don’t worry, pet,” I interrupt. “I’ve got it covered”
He sits with me until I finish eating, then pays the whole cheque. Private school manners, I suppose.
I nearly drop the fucking vase. There’s an unexpected dog, then an unexpected rug. The wards beg for blood, but they can’t touch me.
Third texts again the next week, perfect grammar and all. Not a brunch, but a meeting at Glendower again. Midnight sharp. Smarmy little git.
He’s waiting in a bedroom. His bedroom, I think. Third is polite enough to look surprised, sitting in a winged armchair with a book on his lap. He’s facing the door – clearly wasn’t expecting me to come through the window.
“What’s the gig, love?” I ask, taking in the immaculate bedspread and the hideous loafers on his feet.
He closes the book. “This is an… unusual job.”
“Go on.” I sit on his bed. “Tell me about it, pet.”
“Kidnapping,” he blurts.
“No fucking way,” I snap. “You’re a peach, Third, but I don’t fucking steal children.”
“Me!” he interrupts, coming to his feet. “I want you to steal me.”
Third nods, a sharp movement, colour high on his cheeks.
“Okay,” I sigh. “Darling, I steal art, not people.”
“Think of me as artwork,” he suggests.
“Oh, I do.”
Third’s eyebrows knit, my favourite expression. I shrug. “Why?”
“…I don’t want to be…this.” He gestures at the room. “I just want to be me.”
“Run away?” I suggest.
“Old blood magic,” he says, like it tastes bad; like it hurts, and I understand.
“You’re tagged,” I breathe. “Like the art. You’re fucking tagged.”
“They’ll find me anywhere,” he mutters. “Anywhere. Unless someone like you hides me. The wards can’t see you, they can’t find you.”
“…Okay.” I glance around the room, feeling old magic tugging at my skin. He must be able to feel it with him everywhere he goes. An invisible leash. “Okay.”
Third curls up in my passenger seat, tweed jacket bunched beneath his head, eyes closed.
“Still not sure what I’m technically stealing on this job,” I murmur, driving out through Glendower’s gates.
“An heir,” Third suggests, voice muffled. There’s a pause. “A heart?”
“Stole that weeks ago, love,” I tell him, but I’m smiling when I say it.
EJ Sidle is originally from Australia. She studied at The University of Melbourne, earning a Bachelor of Science and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. EJ currently practices as a mixed animal veterinarian in Scotland, where she lives with her Staffordshire terrier, Bullet. Alongside her passion for animals and fiction, EJ enjoys traveling, playing video games, and drinking ludicrous volumes of coffee.
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