Home > Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(10)

Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(10)
Author: Bella Forrest

I ordered a large pizza and was careful not to disrupt the salt line when the delivery boy brought it over. Armed with a can of chilled Coke and a gorgeous cheese pizza just for me and my ragged nerves, I switched to a romantic drama, putting my feet up on the coffee table.

I inhaled the first two slices as I absently watched the main character, a blonde-haired heroine with perfect natural makeup, awkwardly ask her love interest out on a date. Oh, the bravery—according to her goofy best friend. Ugh.

Something didn’t taste right where my third slice was concerned. The more I chewed, the worse the texture became. It tasted almost like… paper.

“What the…” I mumbled, then looked down and nearly choked.

I sat up straight and used both hands to tear the pizza slice in two. Right in the middle, nestled between melted strings of mozzarella cheese, was Wade Crowley’s business card. Well, half of it, anyway. I stared at it, unable to register the reality of what was going on.

“Seriously, this is some messed up—” I bit my tongue, then dumped the pizza pieces on top of the rest, before washing the taste of paper down with Coke.

I was equal parts angry and creeped out, wondering how much farther Wade would take things if I didn’t call him. I had no idea what to do. Move to another city, maybe? Los Angeles or San Francisco could work. I’d always wanted to see more of my country, anyway. Why not start now?

But maybe Wade wasn’t going to stop. Maybe the coven was going to come after me in the end.

“Jeez, listen to yourself!” I groaned, leaning back into my sofa, just as the guy on TV kissed the girl for the first time. I waited for my heart to flutter, as it usually did with kissing scenes, but nothing happened.

My mind was stuck on Wade and his stupid magic tricks.

Why was I letting him drive me out of town? I’d survived childhood in the foster care of some truly horrible people. There was no way I was letting that jerk scare me out of my own city. Hell, no.

On day three, I was still significantly on edge. I had a shift at the casino, which I hoped would help keep me focused on something other than that wretched business card.

The night started out smoothly, and I’d settled at a blackjack table, waiting to see if anyone was counting cards without the dealer noticing. The players were all excited, and my blood was pumping with the thrill of gamblers. Knowing the downfalls of such a road, I could only feel sorry for them. Chances were they’d be walking out poorer than they’d come in.

“Yeah, so I called him yesterday,” a young woman told her male friend at the table, laughing as they clinked glasses and the dealer flipped another card. “And he was like, ‘Who’s this?’”

“No. You’re serious?” The guy seemed shocked and amused at the same time.

Judging by the ache in the girl’s heart, though, the laughter was just for show.

“Yeah.” She giggled. “He’d deleted my number. What a jerk, right?”

“Absolutely! You’re much better off without him!”

“Right? That’s what I thought.” She nodded, as if feeding off her friend’s encouragement. I could feel the hope inside her, that maybe tomorrow would hurt less than today.

“Wade Crowley?” a waitress asked, as she stopped by our table.

“Wait, what?” I replied, not sure I’d registered the question.

“Wade Crowley. Five-five-five. Two-three-one-five. San Diego Coven,” the waitress said, eyebrows raised.

I blinked several times, then looked around and laughed nervously. “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said.”

“Wade Crowley,” the brokenhearted girl repeated, frowning at me.

“Five-five-five. Two-three-one-five,” the guy next to her added.

“Have you lost your minds?” I croaked, unsure of what was going on, since they were looking at me as if I were the crazy one.

“San Diego Coven,” added the dealer.

“This is freaking me out, man,” I managed, jumping to my feet and stepping away from the table, as all the players, the dealer, and the waitress gawked at me.

“Wade Crowley?” Malcolm came to my side, visibly concerned.

What is this?

Malcolm put his hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently, as if to calm me down. “Five-five-five. Two-three-one-five. San Diego Coven. Wade Crowley.”

But the words coming out of his mouth had nothing to do with my panic attack. I was close to hyperventilating at this point, wheezing and breathing heavily as my heart kicked around in my chest.

“Wade Crowley?” the waitress asked from behind.

“Oh, for crap’s sake!” I blurted out, and took several steps back, as more people turned their heads to look at me. “Can you not hear yourselves?”

“Wade Crowley. Five-five-five. Two-three-one-five. San Diego Coven. Wade Crowley,” Malcolm said gently, trying to come closer.

“No way! I’m out of here!” I growled, then ran out of the casino.

The night was chilly as I rushed straight across the parking lot to my car.

“Wade Crowley?” a young man asked, as he passed by me and gave me a seductive wink.

“Go to hell!” I shot back, and darted to my Daisy, my heels clicking frantically across the asphalt. I got in my car and turned the key in the ignition, my fingers trembling and slick with sweat.

“This is too much,” I murmured, my eyes stinging with tears.

The Mustang grumbled as its engine set it into motion, and I drove out into the main street, leaving skid marks behind. I flipped the radio switch on and turned the volume up, drowning in guitar riffs of alternative rock music. I needed all the noise I could get to drown out the echoes of what had just happened.

My favorite song came on, but it sounded weird.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I breathed, as I realized that the lyrics were also reciting Wade Crowley’s name, phone number, and organization. “You son of a… That’s my favorite song, and you freakin’ ruined it!” I shouted, then turned the radio off.

I ran a red light but didn’t get stopped by any traffic cops on my way home. Like I even care, at this point.

What were my options? Clearly, Wade’s reach was far wider than I’d initially thought. His powers were… fearsome, to say the least. I mean, if he could do all that with just a business card, what were the odds that I could keep living in San Diego, undisturbed?

Judging by the last few days, obviously zero. I had two choices, from what I could tell. Call Wade, or get out of San Diego.

When I got home, I threw all my stuff on the floor and took out my phone, jabbing my finger at the screen. With all the times I’d seen the business card, I’d memorized his number already. The line rang, and I did my best to keep a calm and composed voice. I couldn’t let Wade know he’d reached the edge of my patience. My honor demanded that I keep my cool.

“Took you a while,” Wade said from the other end of the phone, his voice smooth and low.

“What the hell are you trying to do?” I shouted.

There goes my self-control…

“I take it you got my message?” he replied dryly.

I will kick him in the nuts, I swear.

I took a deep breath, then closed my eyes for a couple of seconds. “More than once. You’re quite persistent,” I retorted.

“Well, you’re stubborn,” he shot back. “Be here at noon, tomorrow.”

“Wait, be where at—”

He hung up on me. I exhaled, lingering somewhere between a fit of rage and a bout of hysterical laughter. He was deliberately messing with me, and I’d already given him too much satisfaction.

“Fine.” I shook my head slowly. “I’ll come see you, then. But where?”

The guy was so arrogant and self-assured, he’d forgotten to give me an address. It wasn’t as if one could simply find the San Diego Coven on an online map. I’d already tried that.

I tossed and turned throughout the night, barely catching a couple of hours’ worth of sleep, and as soon as I woke up, reality came back to smack me over the head.

I sighed, then got out of bed, eager to hit the shower. Hopefully, Wade was going to call back with an address. Otherwise, I’d have to do the most unpleasant thing I could think of at the moment—call him again.

Shivers rushed through me, and I shuddered as I walked toward the bathroom. I glanced down and yelped, jumping back a couple of feet.

“You crazy… crazy… crazy jerk.”

On the floor, at the foot of my bed, were spilled coffee beans, carefully arranged into a string of letters, big enough for me not to miss them. My shoulders dropped as I reached a rather unpleasant conclusion.

There was no way out until I went to see Wade Crowley.

The letters on the floor were clear, as far as my destination was concerned: Fleet Science Center.

At least he gave me an address…

Chapter Six

A few hours later, still hopped up on caffeine and plenty of frustration, I drove up Park Boulevard to Fleet Science Center. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there just yet, but I figured I’d meet Wade somewhere inside, so I parked my Daisy out front, then went around the building.

Balboa Park wasn’t all that busy at noon, with only a few parents and their kids out and about. It was a school day, after all. The circular fountain caught my eye, as water gushed out, its murmurs soothing my nerves.

I walked through the main entrance and stopped by the reception desk, where two young ladies flashed me bright smiles, their name tags telling me everything I needed to know. Several school groups were touring the Center, the noise of children squealing and laughing prompting me to raise my voice to make sure Ellen and Jane could hear me behind their desks.

“Hi. I’m here to see Wade Crowley,” I said, mirroring their sunny dispositions.

Ellen nodded, then checked her computer screen, typing in Wade’s name. She frowned slightly, then looked up at me.

“I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that name,” Ellen replied. “Are you here for the archive and library job openings?”

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