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Black Market Chapter One

Black Market Chapter One

black-market-3b1Black Market

Chapter 1

From the point of view of FBI Special Agent Jack Ramsey, demons and vampires walked the streets, hid at crime scenes, and stared at him wherever he went. Or so he thought. He paid special attention to cases that seemed odd and possibly magical, and he had spent his own time investigating them, until he eventually realized that he knew too much about the magical world and really needed a vacation.

Since the conclusion of the Princess Amelie murder case, ending in the trial of Wolfgange Rathbone, Jack hadn’t called Annie Pearce. He still got indigestion when he remembered the special problems that came with magical cases. Instead, he’d decided to move on and work the heavy case load of investigations that came across his own desk—and to hope those other cases worked themselves out.

The farther from the magical case he was, the more he fell back into his normal schedule. He learned how to relax and eventually opened himself up and met someone—a nice lawyer who worked in the building across from his office. It started with coffee, moved to lunch, which became dinner, and finally Jack Ramsey asked Amanda McCoy to join him for a little time away.

The overworked FBI agent booked a trip to Hawaii for the two of them, where he now found himself on a lounge chair in the sand with a beer in one hand and a book in the other, his pasty white skin glowing in the bright sun.

Beside him, Amanda positioned herself lazily across her lounger, crossing her long legs that shimmered with a thick layer of sunscreen. The Type A lawyer had just started on the first of a large pile of magazines—some trashy, some newsworthy—tossed in the sand between them. Pouting her perfect lips, she reached for Jack’s beer, drinking half before handing it back to him.

Happily distracted, Jack found it difficult to return to the biography purchased at the airport.

           This book seemed like a good idea at the time.

Instead, he watched Amanda, her hand resting comfortably on her leg, her fingers drawing circles against her skin. His eyes trailed from her feet to her hips to the magazine in her hands. His thoughts took a turn to the mundane as he glanced at the pile of papers in the sand, and reached for the Chicago paper at the bottom of the pile.

“No papers,” she chided.

“Then why did you buy them?”

“To keep up with the news.” Amanda smiled coyly as if tempting him. “You promised. No papers, no phones, no internet.” She uncrossed her legs and changed sides.

“Just a peek. That is, unless we’re going back to the room,” Jack suggested hopefully.

“At dinner.” With a grin on her lips, she returned to her magazine.

Throwing his book in the sand Jack exchanged it for the paper. As promised, he refrained from reading the news, opting instead for the sports section where he caught up on the basketball, hockey, and early spring training reports. After reading every line, every score, every opinion piece, and all the sports news that held no interest for him, a bored Jack rifled through the lifestyle section. Uninterested in the latest fashion or the best sellers list, he tossed the used section on the sand.

Jack grimaced at the editorials, thoughtfully read the food section, and made mental notes on the movie and theater reviews. After reading each section, the FBI agent threw it on the growing pile.

With the final newspaper section left in his lap, he remembered this was vacation and leaned back, breathed in hot, salty air, and stared at the ocean. The waves rolled in, washing away footprints collected during the morning rush of tourists. The water, a clear crystal blue, should have invited him in. Instead, Jack wiped away sweat from his brow with a towel and realized disappointedly that relaxing was hard work and a little boring.

“Go take a dip,” Amanda suggested as she reached for her own book, leaving the magazine on the top of the pile.

“No. I’m good. Just finishing the paper.”

“News?”

“I promise, I won’t do anything with it,”

“You wouldn’t be you if you let it sit.” She smiled at him, and her white teeth sparkled against the tan she was cultivating. Jack’s stomach flipped and flopped in that happy way.

Finally giving in to the tug of the news, Jack opened the front page: murder, a teacher’s strike, city hall, gang warfare. Nothing peculiar or odd. Since he was currently in paradise, the news made no difference to his mood. He chose to be happy and worked on relaxing. Accepting his good fortune, Jack thought of taking a nap before lunch and washing his hands of the outside world.

While others played in the warm water and paddled on large boards, Jack returned to the paper, which was nearly finished. He almost escaped thoughts of work, but of course he pushed it and trouble fell in his lap: a story just enough to raise the hairs on the back of his neck.

It wasn’t odd to find a murdered John Doe; that wasn’t what caught Jack’s attention. It was the picture of the victim. It was his riding cloak.

He reread the article from the very first word. John Doe, found dead in the middle of Busse Woods, a large park just outside Chicago. The police had been unable to identify the victim and requested the help of the community to identify him.

When Jack gleaned nothing more from the story content, he returned his attention to the computer-generated picture beside the article. Long hair tied in a ribbon, a riding cloak loosely draped over the victim’s shoulders.

             I’ve seen this before.

Jack remembered well his first and only foray into the world of magic. The cloak on the John Doe pictured in the paper was similar to the one worn by Wolfgange Rathbone the night Jack arrested him for the murder of Princess Amelie of Amborix eight months ago. It was a fashion choice Jack was unfamiliar with, but as he worked with Annie Pearce and her team and had the opportunity to meet several others wizards, he realized that some wizard traditions survived in the modern world, but the riding cloak was common in the magical community.

An overwhelming feeling churned in the pit of his stomach. It gnawed at him in a way he couldn’t ignore.

            A covert meeting gone wrong? A body dump? That damn riding cloak!

Few details were released to the press and Jack hunched over the paper, rereading the article for a third time, gleaning the words for anything that might be relevant.

He noticed the sidebar’s short notes related to the main story. At first, Jack didn’t notice a connection between the weather service’s claim there had been no lightning strikes in the area the day the victim died, until he read the cause of death . . . Electrocution?

“Can a spell do that?” he murmured.

“What, sweetie?” Amanda asked, turning the page of her book.

“Nothing . . . just normal weirdness,” he responded. He continued to read the sidebar’s debate about whether the victim been electrocuted or struck by lightning. After considering the weather at the time of death, authorities had concluded the victim was murdered by electrocution.

After so many months of believing he saw magic all around him, Jack had finally found something. Something weird and worrisome. His left eye twitched.

“Damn,” he said under his breath.

“Everything okay?” Amanda rolled over to face him, concern on her drawn lips. Her finger grazed his knee.

Leave it alone! the voice in his head pleaded.

But Jack couldn’t leave it alone, not when the feeling overpowered him so strongly. This was the case his mind had thought he was seeing all along. “Yeah. I just need to make a phone call.”

“But Jack, you promised.” Amanda grimaced.

Jack kissed her, enjoying the taste of pineapple and rum on her lips. A groan of pleasure escaped his lips as he pulled away and stared into her bright green eyes.

“Just one call and then I’m done.”

“One.” She reached around his neck and held him close, her tongue parting his lips.

            Annie who?

A strong sense of duty and his desire to do the right thing bore down on him until the part of his rational brain that saw monsters around every corner made him pull away reluctantly. “Five minutes.”

Amanda held up five fingers and frowned at him.

Hopping across the increasingly hot sand, Jack found an empty corner of the beach beside a rock and dialed Annie’s number, secretly hoping it would ring to voice mail.

“Hello?”

“It’s Jack Ramsey.” Apprehension took over his voice. He regretted the phone call immediately.

             I’ll just tell her I got the wrong number.

“Hey Jack. It’s been a while. Four months since the trial, I think. How are you?”

I’m on vacation calling you. How do you think?

It had been a while since he had even talked to Annie. After turning a blind eye to the manufactured evidence and enduring the demanding trial, Jack had avoided Annie. He hadn’t seen or heard from her since Rathbone was convicted of Princess Amelie’s murder. Both needed time to put the case in the past.

Though Jack regretted this call, it was time to face the facts. Magic existed, and this victim had most likely died due to a spell, jinx, or hex. Jack really didn’t know the difference. Unfortunately, hearing Annie’s voice caused that old familiar stress to settle in his chest.

“I’m on vacation.”

             Why didn’t I tell her I butt dialed?

Annie chuckled. “Really? And you’re calling me. That’s not vacation.”

“Yeah. Amanda doesn’t think so either.” Jack glanced at Amanda. Turning in her lounge chair, she met his gaze and smiled as she re-crossed her legs.

“A girlfriend? Nice. Go back to her. Whatever it is can wait.”

Silence filled the line. Jack thought maybe Annie had hung up on him, but then he heard a male voice speaking to her in the background, which pulled Jack back to the gnawing feeling in his chest. “I need you to look at one tiny little thing,” Jack said. “If it’s nothing, great. If it’s something . . . but it’s probably nothing.”

Jack watched Amanda, who looked incredibly sexy in her string bikini, a golden tan developing on her skin. It didn’t surprise him when a lean, muscular, deeply tanned man sat beside her on the lounger and attempted to engage her in conversation. Gracefully, Amanda waved the stranger away. Jack’s heart sped up.

“Okay,” Annie said on the other end of the line. “If it’s something, we’ll look into it. If not, you wasted ten minutes of vacation. So what do you have?”

            Why did I call again?

Amanda caught Jack’s gaze as the man slunk away. She waved him toward her with a wide smile. Jack returned the smile and held up a finger signaling one more minute.

“Okay. It’s stupid. But a guy dressed in a riding cloak was found dead in Busse Woods. The cause of death, get this, electrocution. Does that mean anything to you?” The FBI agent had solved hundreds of cases in his career. As he explained this one to Annie, the story sounded just as bizarre as when he had originally read it.

“Are you sure that’s where the body was found?”

Annie’s request for clarification bothered Jack but at the same time offered him validation. His initial instinct must have been correct. “Yeah. Why?”

“If it was just the riding cloak, I’d think costume, but the portal to the black market is in Busse Woods. It’s very possible the victim is a wizard.”

“You can check on it?” he asked as Amanda waved to him again, pointing up toward the hotel less than a hundred yards from where they sat. Anxiously, Jack tapped his hand against his thigh, desperate to return to return to his vacation and to Amanda.

“Yeah. We’ll look into it. Go vacate.”

“Thanks, Annie. I think I owe you again.”

“No doubt, Jack. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Really not necessary,” he said before hanging up. Feeling ridiculous for even calling, he sauntered back to Amanda and took Annie’s advice to vacate.

Coming January 2017

Annie Pearce

Annie Pearce

The Day of First Sun

Steam wafted from the cauldron as bubbles popped and pinged against the iron sides. The boiling potion gave off a pungent vapor that moistened Annie Pearce’s face and frizzed her massive wave of curls. She wiped away the sweat with her sleeve and checked the heat beneath the oversized cauldron, reducing the blue and orange flames. Though the heat was lower, the flames still danced and pulsed as they cooked the holy water.

Stirring the potion calmed her apprehension and siphoned some excess adrenaline she always felt before facing a vampire. But then, this wasn’t an average vampire.

The timer beeped and, standing on bare toes, Annie peeked inside the pot. The clear liquid bubbled softly, so she shut off the fire before dumping a bucket of ice into the mixture. As cold met hot, the potion hissed like an angry snake, sending more steam in the air. Unfazed, Annie sang along with P!nk’s “Who Knew” as it blared from the small radio near the stove.

As the potion cooled, Annie loaded supplies into a field pack. First came an abridged version of her Book of Shadows. The tome contained potions, spells, and notes—an accumulation of Annie’s life experiences with magic. The book had grown exponentially over her five years with the Wizard Guard; thumbing through the book, she was amazed and maybe a little proud by its thickness.

The book fit nicely beside several ash stakes, each whittled to the sharpest point, good for piercing the skin and the breast bone of a vampire. On top of those lay a rolled map of Chicago tied with a scrying crystal necklace.

Three songs played on the radio by the time Annie finished gathering and packing her supplies. After closing up the pack, she poked her head into the cauldron and immersed a pinky finger in the potion.

Perfect!

Rummaging through the kitchen cabinets belonging to her best friend and Wizard Guard partner Bobby “Cham” Chamsky, she found a stash of small glass vials, grabbed a handful and placed them in a haphazard cluster on the counter. Filling twelve—more than enough to take down the vampire—she tucked half of the bottles deep inside her field pack to prevent shifting during teleportation. The rest she left for Cham.

“Isn’t the potion done yet? It smells like it’s burnt,” he complained from the dining room.

Rolling her eyes and arching her back Annie glared at him. His scrying crystal glowed bright white, and he marked another location on the map next to the several already drawn that night.

“I’m a potion master. It’s not burnt. Haven’t you found him yet?” she asked defensively.

Cham glanced up and offered a grimace. “Yeesh. He’s never in one place long enough to confirm his location.”

Burn my potion, right.

 

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When Jack Meets a Vampire – All Hell Breaks Loose

When Jack Meets a Vampire – All Hell Breaks Loose

 

Paralyzed, Jack continued to stare at the cooler door. “One of the victims witnessed a murder I’m investigating. I think the suspect killed them.” He fondled the handle of his gun again, clearly debating whether to remove it from its holster. He pulled it out briefly and placed it back.

“The gun won’t help.” Annie advised. She summoned a glass vial. “This will, though.” She tossed the small glass bottle to him.

“What . . .” Jack caught it and examined the clear liquid inside.

 “Throw that close to the ground beside whoever might be in here.”

Annie strolled to the cooler. Her hand grazed the cool handle, and her gut screamed out a warning. “It’s not your suspect who killed them.” She pulled on the handle. A rush of cold air blew out as the door swung open.

With shaky hands, Jack drew his gun, she heard a click.

“I told you a gun won’t help.”

“Who the hell are you?”

In her own adrenaline rush, that high just before a vampire fight, Annie summoned an ash stake; her hand wrapped around it tightly and held it out in front of her.

“Uh, what the hell is that? A stake. Is this holy water? Vampires?” his voice raised a few octaves, in realization and fear. Annie recognized his fear.

The vampire is going to kill him. “Stay behind me and run like hell if something comes at you.”

Annie entered the cooler, her flashlight rolling over the walls and shelves. There were five industrial-sized storage units stacked inside the cooler two bodies deep; each contained four shelves. The overflow bodies lay on gurneys pushed up against the wall. There was very little room to maneuver in the small space.

The bodies lay in plastic body bags, some of which were neatly zippered while others were open, appendages hanging over the sides.

Annie chose to start with the gurneys, assuming the newest bodies resided there. She checked the first toe tag. Jack cocked his gun.

“Put it away,” she said. “It’s not going to help. The holy water will.”

The first toe tag belonged to Jeffrey Marcus, dead as of two weeks prior and not a victim. Replacing the tag, Annie zippered up the bag and moved to the next body. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not from the CPD. I’m part of the Wizard Guard, an organization of magical police officers.” Checking the next toe tag, Annie highlighted the name, dropped the tag and moved on to the next body.

“Is this a joke? I should arrest you for tampering with evidence.”

“Why would I make this up? I’m a witch. I do magic.”

Scratch . . . scratch . . . Annie swung around and scanned the room with her flashlight, examining the body bags for movement. There’s so many here, she thought. It was quiet except for the freezer’s compressor. Annie returned to her search, seeing nothing move.

Worried there was a third vampire with them, Annie glanced back again after a moment, surveying the room. She could sense time ticking away as clearly as if there were a clock in her head. “Take this,” she said, floating a second vial to Jack. His eyes widened, his jaw clenched again, and he cocked the gun and aimed it at Annie.

“Help me find our victims,” Annie cried. The vial spun in the air before them. The FBI agent’s eyes darted from the Wizard Guard to the vial; sensing her tension, he grabbed the small glass container with shaking hands and held it tightly, nearly cracking the thin glass.

Scratch . . . scratch . . .

Annie took a breath and whispered, “There’s something in here with us.”

“What does that mean?” Jack glanced around the room, pointing his gun haphazardly.

“Put the gun away. Just uncork the vials and throw them on the vampire. It’s strong enough to slow them down until I stake it.”

“What the hell is going on?”

Scratch . . . scratch . . . scratch.

Annie twirled and inched her way toward the scratching while Jack, white as a ghost, hung back at the door.

“What’s in here with us?”

“A vampire.”

Jack blanched. He held the vial in one hand, the gun in the other. Both hands shook violently. “This doesn’t make sense.”

“For now, it doesn’t have to.” Annie reached for another name tag.

“Laurie Lispin and Marcus Johansson,” Jack called to her.

“Thanks.” Annie continued down the line, verifying each tag and moving more quickly now through the bodies. After checking the first two rows, Annie called out, “I got Laurie.”

Standing over the body, Annie examined the bag for movement and listened for growling, even though she knew it was too early for Laurie to turn. Carefully unzipping the body bag, she released the victim’s hair; it cascaded out and landed against the side of the shelf. Annie lifted the hair, focused her flashlight on the neck, and examined the two puncture wounds. They were not as dark as they had been twenty hours earlier. Annie put her flashlight in her mouth, popped the cork of the holy water, and dribbled a small amount on the victim’s leg. The liquid bubbled and blistered the skin of the vampire.

Grabbing the stake, Annie thrust it into the vampire’s chest. The demon’s eyes burst open, filled with both surprise and confusion. As the stake punctured the heart, the body burst into flame. A primal scream, raw and angry, escaped the vampire’s lips as the fire consumed her. Her shriek of terror reverberated in the room, bounding off the walls. It lingered even after the body was nothing more than a pile of ash.

“How . . . what . . . how did that happen?” Jack asked, finally entering the cooler.

“We need . . . to find Marcus,” Annie managed to grunt through rapid breaths.

“Are they always . . . made into vampires?” Apprehensively, he joined Annie’s search for Marcus, checking toe tags on the opposite aisle.

“No. Vampires are kinda picky. They don’t let everyone in. There must’ve been something about Laurie and probably Marcus that appealed to the vampire.”

“It’s kind of like a club.” Jack choked on a nervous laugh. He coughed.

“Not so organized, actually. It’s more like a gang. If you turn a victim, they’re indebted to you forever.”

Annie placed a foot on the lowest shelf and reached above, pulling herself up to check the tag. “Were they both brought here?”

“Yes. They’d want to keep the victims together to look for evidence and compare.”

“Where is he then?” Annie jumped down.

Scratch . . . scratch . . . scratch.

Jack jumped. “Did you hear that?”

“Yeah. We need to find Marcus before that one escapes his bag.”

“How is that possible? We only had two victims.” Jack checked another tag before moving on to the next body.

“You know how many vampires we collect from your morgues?”

Annie felt like time was speeding up and getting away from her right when she least wanted it. She trained her light in the direction of the scratching, looking for movement.

“Do I really want to know?” The body four down from Laurie lay in an open bag, two small puncture wounds across the neck. “I found Marcus.” He hastily stepped away from the body.

After verifying the toe tag, Annie examined Marcus’s neck for the telltale wound.

“You don’t believe me?”

“Habit.” The holy water splashed on a very hairy arm and bubbled like a pot of boiling water, leaving blisters and waking the vampire.

The body that once belonged to Marcus stared at Annie with eyes like black pools, devoid of anything human. The new demon let out an angry growl. Annie lunged at the vampire, pushing the stake into its heart. Much like Laurie, Marcus Johansson exploded into flames and let out a piercing scream. Annie felt the vibration through her body.

Ash floated in the air, filling the body bag and covering several surrounding bodies, the cement floor, and Annie’s hair. A stray ember whizzed by, and she patted it out. Stepping away from the vampire, Annie stood guard until the last of the embers burnt out.

“So now what?” Jack asked, wiping ash from his suit pants.

The Day of First Sun - Copy to Use

 

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When Annie Met Bobby

When Annie Met Bobby

Annie didn’t want to go to family day at Wizard Hall. It was the place where dad worked and he would want to visit with his co-workers. She rolled her eyes when he said they had to go. But mostly she didn’t want to hear her older sister Samantha sing at the concert. All she really wanted to do was ride the broomsticks they always had at family day.

Because her father Jason Pearce worked at Wizard Hall as a Wizard Guard, a member of the magical police department, she spent her time either in the daycare facility and as she got older, the wizarding school. It earned her and her friends the nickname Hall Brats. She found the other hall brats after she and her father teleported into the courtyard at the center of the Hall. Excited to see her friends she began to run toward them until her father held her back and led her in the opposite direction.

With her face in a scowl, she stomped off behind dad, finding it difficult to maneuver in the thick crowd. Her small frame was jostled between adults as she lost her father in the people. Jumping up and down, she looked for his feathery brown hair and glasses.

“Lose something?” John Gibbs asked. He worked with her father, was one of the other Wizard Guards. Annie was one of the few children unafraid by his appearance, by the long scar across his cheek, his face marked with scars and bumps from years of fighting demons and vampires. Annie found him fascinating.

“Hi Mr. Gibbs. I can’t find dad.”

He knelt down beside her and said, “Jump on.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waste and he lifted her up. Deftly, he maneuvered the crowd delivering Annie to father, who had stopped to talk to another Wizard Guard.

“I found someone for you,” Gibbs said as Annie slid down his back, landing on the ground.

“I wondered where you went,” Jason Pearce said as he smiled at his daughter. He held out his hand and drew her closer. “Thanks Gibbs.” John Gibbs nodded once and headed back into the crowd. “Remember Milo Rawley, Annie? Say hi.” She merely nodded as she glanced around the courtyard, taking in the faces and the people, some of which she knew, most she did not.

Bored and hot, she kicked loose dirt at her feet, drew pictures with the toe of her shoe.

“Mom, make him stop,” cried a boy behind her. Annie glanced up, caught the eye of a blond haired boy as he swatted sprites away from his head. He dropped his eyes, his cheeks red from embarrassment.

Several of the four inch high, blue creatures with wings, finally flew away all except one apparently tangled in a massive head of curly hair.

“Bobby stop, it’s getting stuck,” said his mother. He ignored her plea instead, yanking on the creature. It kicked and screeched trying to untangle itself. Feeling sorry for the boy named Bobby, Annie skipped over and reached up. Grabbing hold of the tiny creature, she reached around its middle and plucked a stunned sprite from his hair. The creature squealed, squirmed and kicked its feet as it flew from Annie’s grasp. Finally free, it scolded her, wagged the tiniest finger in her face. Curious, Annie stepped closer to get a better look at it, but it would have nothing else to do with her. Swirling in the air, it flew off and dive bombed Bobby’s older brother, smacking the boy on the head. Its piercing shriek drew the attention of everyone near them; they began to laugh and point.

“Mom! Make it go away!” the boy screamed.

“That’s what you get for setting it on your brother.” She smirked and returned to her conversation with an adult Annie didn’t recognize. When the sprite was finally finished with its tirade, it flew off, hiding inside the bushes behind them.

Annie glanced at Bobby, her eyes returning to the massive curls that stood straight above his head. They had become tangled and frizzed after the sprite attack. He turned away, his freckled face still red from embarrassment. He was her height; she thought he might be her age and wondered why she hadn’t seen him at school before.

“I’m Annie.”

“I’m Bobby.” He looked at her and patted down his hair. It didn’t help. “And thanks for the help.” He looked back down and played with his hand, scratching the skin as he looked at something interesting on his palm.

“He’s your brother?”

“Yeah.” Bobby dug his foot in the dirt, before finally looking up. He glanced up to see his older brothers speaking to a girl who looked a lot like Annie. Pointing he asked, “What about her?”

Annie sighed, always compared to the perfect sister, she resorted to fighting billdads—a strong foe—in the garden for attention. She was still bruised from the animal’s kangaroo-shaped body and otter tail, which swiped at her when she battled it in the garden that morning. “That’s Samantha. She’s okay.”

“Jimmy’s always picking on me.” His eyes averted again, embarrassed by his admission. Annie decided she didn’t like Jimmy as she watched him tease another boy, younger than her. He was throwing magical sparks at the young boy’s feet.

“What’s he doing now?” Annie asked.

“He’s teasing Danny. He’s my younger brother.” Bobby replied as Danny jumped each time Jimmy threw a spark. Their mother, finally annoyed at Jimmy’s behavior, intervened by pulling Jimmy away.

“Leave him be,” she scolded and she returned to Danny for comfort. Their mother coddled her youngest son, kissing him on the cheeks. He grimaced as he pulled away from her attention. Annie sighed and wished she had a mother to annoy her like that.

“So is that boy talking to Samantha another brother?” Annie was surprised by the large family. She only had Dad, Samantha and her Aloja Fairy, Zola, the protector of children and pregnant women.

“That’s John. He and Jimmy are twins. One’s evil and one’s good.” Bobby added.

There was a comfortable pause between Annie and Bobby as she wondered what her house would be like with two more kids running through it. Their silence was soon filled with the booming sound of Jason Pearce as he laughed. Warm and friendly, she watched her father for a moment before turning back to Bobby, who shifted uncomfortably, lacking something to say. Annie wasn’t sure why, but she liked him and searched for something to say, finally finding the racing pits.

“Do you like broomstick races?” She pointed, hoping her dad would finally let her head over to her friends.

“Yeah. I love them!” He turned to the races and smiled.

She didn’t hesitate as she bounced toward her father. “Daddy, can I?” She was still bouncing excitedly. He looked at the racing pits and back to his daughter before winking and nodding.

“But mom,” Bobby whined and stomped his foot; glowering across the grounds as the other kids, free from their parents, partook in the racing pits. With a gentle hand on his wife’s arm, Mr. Chamsky nodded to his son.

“Just be careful, Bobby, okay?”

He nodded his head quickly as Annie pulled a slightly mortified Bobby along to join other children at the racing pit on the edge of the courtyard.

His eyes lit up as they waited for a turn. “Have you ridden much?” he asked while playing with the collar of his shirt, and when she turned toward him, he stopped and smiled nervously.

“We live in the city, so I can’t fly that much. But I love it! What about you?”

“We live in the country and there are a lot of cool places to fly. I wanna join the racing team at Windmere someday.”

“You’re going to Windmere? That’s where I’ll go too!” Windmere High School of Wizardry was one of four wizard high schools that educated the children of witches and wizards in America. Which school you went to was determined by your hometown location. “I’m trying out too, when I get there.” Annie added.

The line was moving slowly and time dragged as they waited behind other anxious children. And when Annie didn’t think she could wait any longer, their turn finally came to board their broomsticks.

Annie mounted first, followed by Bobby, who climbed aboard his broom with practiced grace. He nodded, acknowledging that the first one to the end of the field and back would win. At the sound of the whistle, Annie took off, higher and faster than him, blasting away from the starting line.

Wind whipped at her hair, clothing rippled around her, freedom greeted her, and she almost forgot that Bobby chased her. He matched her speed and bumped the tail of her broom, pushing her to the side. She flew toward him, returning the bump. A whistle blew from behind, reminding her that bumping was illegal. With a laugh, she dashed ahead, forcing him to speed up. He remained behind her, giving her enough room to veer in front of him and cut him off. He was quick and swerved to his right, narrowly missing her broom, and pressed on until he had the lead. They were almost to the large poles at the end of the course, where they would turn for home. Annie hated to lose, especially to boys, and she kicked her feet, gaining speed until she was even with him.

“You’re good for not racing much!” he yelled, keeping the same speed as they neared the posts.

She hurtled to the right of the pole, flying the broomstick around it, almost losing her balance. After pulling to her left, she righted herself, and Bobby did the same, though he was more graceful as he straightened.

“Just wait!”

They were on the final leg of the race, their broomsticks even, and she kicked again, pulling ahead of him, but he easily caught up to her. Within feet from the finish line, his broomstick was just inches behind hers. Feeling how close he was she slid of course, giving him an unintentional chance, and in a burst of speed he passed her.

Inches separated them as his broomstick touched hers throwing them both from their brooms; they flew across the finish line and into the bushes at the end of the pit.

As she landed on top of Bobby, heard a crack, and burst into tears as pain radiated through her arm. Gingerly she rolled off of him as she held her arm out, it hung in the wrong direction. Curling herself in a ball, she gazed at the bright blue sky and watched as the white puffy clouds floated above her. It occurred to her that he hadn’t let her win, and that thought made her smile through the tears. A sudden rush of people headed for them when she sat up, and Bobby was already standing, clutching his bloodied and bruised knee.

“Nice race!” he shouted over the noise.

Their parents hurried through the crowd, Marina Chamsky, frantic as she deftly cared for Bobby, a pang of jealousy overcoming Annie, until her father’s hands cradled her arm, repairing the break.

“Next year I’ll beat you!” Bobby yelled.

“No, you won’t!” she teased. She meant it, too.

Want to know more about Annie and her lifelong friendship with Cham read The Day of First Sun on Amazon.com.

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