Home > Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(9)

Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven (Harley Merlin #1)(9)
Author: Bella Forrest

“Yeah.” I shrugged. “Honestly, I’m having a hard time finding my place in the world right now. I might take another gap year, but I’ll make up my mind. Eventually.”

“Well, you are ridiculously good at reading people,” she said. “Whatever you go for, just make sure you get to make use of that skill, and that it involves quality footwear.”

I burst into laughter; she reminded me of her mom. Mrs. Smith had this hilarious way of practical thinking where career choices were involved: don’t become a firefighter unless you’re used to forty pounds of equipment weighing you down at all times; don’t become a mail carrier if you don’t like dogs; don’t become a chef if you don’t like hair nets…

“I don’t know, I think I’d do all right in a uniform,” I replied.

“San Diego does welcome decent people on its force. I’m sure you’d make a great cop if you decide to go there,” Ryann said, filling me with her familiarly warm affection. Man, the faith this girl had in me was almost impossible to quantify. “I’m just happy you ended up with us when you did. I know the foster system doesn’t give you many chances, and that people somehow look down on kids like you. I plan to change that when I get into office.”

Leave it to Ryann Smith to try to change the world.

I’d considered multiple career choices over the past few months. My empathy skills were out of this world, so I knew I’d have a leg up in any fields related to law enforcement or psychology. Reading people was basically already paying for my rent and food—why not turn it into a bona fide career? I liked it enough, even when some emotions were too strong to handle. I did get a kick out of unmasking cheats and thieves at the casino, after all.

I wanted to ask her for advice about my encounter with Wade and his request for me to join the coven, but I couldn’t exactly tell her the whole truth. Some omissions were necessary.

“Ryann, I wanted to ask you something,” I said, and she raised her eyebrows in response, letting me know I had her full attention. “I’m just curious… I was watching this movie the other night, and it got me thinking. What would you do if, say, you had these… call them superpowers, and someone who also had superpowers came to you and told you to join their organization? Out of the blue. You don’t know them, you don’t know what they do, what they represent. But everything you know about these superpowers isn’t very positive, and people like you have gotten hurt in the past whenever they went out in public.”

Ryann blinked a couple of times, then giggled. “Have you been bingeing fantasy TV shows again? Lord, if there’s one way to keep you indoors for days on end, it’s to get you a streaming service.”

“Yeah, I know.” I chuckled. “But just… you know, just humor me. Would you?”

“Would I what?”

“Would you say yes? Would you join the organization?”

“Hm. Not without knowing what they do,” she replied, shaking her head slowly. “I mean, who are they? What does their logo look like? Honestly, if the logo has snakes or spiders on it, it’s a clear sign to just say no. Every comic book will tell you the same. And another thing that counts, at this point, is what kind of superpowers do you have, and what do you use them for? Are you a solo vigilante, or do you want to be part of a league of legends or… whatever?”

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at her, slightly amused. “Wow, and I’m the fantasy fanatic, huh?”

Ryann laughed, throwing her head back for extra flair, then took my hands in hers.

“I got it all from you! From the moment you walked into our home, Harley. Remember what was in your black bag?”

A lump formed in my throat as I remembered the look on her face when I first arrived at the Smiths. She was so eager to get to know me better. All I had were the clothes on my back, scars from my previous “families,” and a black bag with more clothes, shoes, and several comic books I’d been carrying for years.

How far I’d come, thanks to Ryann and her parents.

I nodded, finding it hard to reply as tears threatened to work their way to my eyes. It was always so good to see her. Whenever I felt lost, Ryann had this way of bringing me back, most of the time without even knowing what I was going through.

“In the end, Harley, I think you just do what feels right,” Ryann added. “Your instincts are never wrong, are they?”

I smiled. “No. No, they aren’t.”

She was right. My instincts were still in survival mode, and I had to pay attention to them.

As soon as I got back home and walked through the door, I felt as though I’d made the right decision by not following up with Wade Crowley. Besides, his air of superiority and arrogance kind of irked me. All the more reason not to—

“Weird…” I murmured as I reached the coffee table.

My stomach churned at the sight of Wade’s business card, which was back on top of my magazine stack. I checked the trash can, then stared at the card for a long moment. Wade’s name glimmered gold, along with his phone number and “San Diego Coven,” making me retrace my steps prior to leaving the house.

“I swear I threw this out…”

I turned the card over and noticed the symbol on the back. With all the madness from last night, I hadn’t even properly checked for other details. The coven’s logo was interesting, to say the least. It was a stylized Ouroboros, the ancient image of a snake eating its tail. Needless to say, that amped up the creepy factor to eleven.

Muttering to myself, I ripped the card up and tossed it back in the bin. The more I looked at it, the more annoyed I got. I really didn’t like being told what to do.

Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for me, as it so eloquently convinced me over what quickly became the three weirdest days of my life.

I tried to get on with things. My mornings were usually reserved for long walks with a home-brewed coffee, or a hazelnut latte if I was craving a special treat. The day after my meeting with Ryann, I went out for my aforementioned morning routine, after taking out the trash, Wade’s shredded card included.

In need of a clear head, I took the long route around the neighborhood, gazing at the new spring/summer collections on display in fashion stores. A gorgeous leather jacket caught my eye, so I stepped closer to the window to see the stitching details on the sleeves.

I didn’t spot it, initially, but there was a card in the window glass, just to the right of where I was facing it. Leaning over, I noticed the details, and froze. It was Wade’s business card, with the same embossed gold lettering, his number and organization name just below.

“What in the world?” I muttered, then touched the glass.

It was in there. In the freaking window. It wasn’t glued or taped to it. It was in the glass!

I gasped, then glanced around, as if expecting to see Wade somewhere nearby.

“Excuse me,” I said to a lady passing by. She stopped to look at me, and I pointed at the window. “Can you see that?”

“See what?” she asked.

“The… The card in the window.”

“What card?”

I looked at the window again, and the card was still very much there. Something clicked in my head, and I instantly understood that it was just for me to see, and no one else. The dude’s a warlock, after all. And he’s basically trolling me!

“N-Never mind.” I shook my head as the lady walked away. “Sorry.”

I stared at the card for a while, trying to figure out how Wade had pulled this off. Did he know I’d be walking past that specific store, at that specific time? How did he… Had he followed me?

After a couple of deep breaths, I decided not to let him get to me. If this was his way of trying to capture my attention, I was sure as hell not going to give him the satisfaction of knowing it had worked.

I resumed my walk past other stores, but my temperature spiked as I spotted the card again, in other windows. It was everywhere, its golden letters quietly glimmering in the morning sunlight. I walked faster, heart thudding as I turned the corner and came to a sudden halt.

Every single window down the block had one of Wade’s cards in it. And I was the only one who could see them.

“That just makes me want to get as far away from you creeps as possible,” I breathed, ignoring the shop windows entirely.

I resisted the urge to call Ryann just so I could get my fix of tranquility. She was probably busy making her way back to UCLA, anyway. Instead, I went home and enjoyed the rest of my day off with a solid TV binge about teenage vampires in Pennsylvania.

On day two, I didn’t even leave the house. After a full breakfast and two coffees, I settled on the sofa and turned on my TV, hoping I’d get my mind off things. The more creeped out I got, the more determined I was not to give in. Who the hell was Wade Crowley to tell me what I should do with my life, anyway?

After just twenty minutes of pretending to watch a vampire flick, I flipped open my laptop and started searching the internet for anything related to witches, warlocks, and covens. Nothing popped up for the San Diego Coven, of course, other than a message board for Wiccan practitioners, but they were completely harmless fifteen-year-olds with way too much free time on their hands. They riddled their posts with winking and heart-shaped emojis and lots of Xs and Os.

I’d gone through the motions before, as far as internet research into witchcraft was concerned. But I didn’t have as much information then as I did now—though the difference wasn’t exactly staggering. The Wade Crowley I’d met wasn’t on any of the social networks, nor did I find any of his pictures online.

But when I started looking for ways to ward off magic, the search engine was overloaded with all kinds of websites. After some light browsing, I noticed some recurring patterns in the recommendations—lining the doors and windows with salt to ward off evil spirits and dark magic.

“Might as well,” I muttered, then grabbed the salt shaker from the kitchen and lined the door and windows, as per online instructions.

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