Welcome to our fifth day of the Kiss and Tell Tour!
Today we will be taking a trip with Karen McCullough as we hear about her book Magic, Murder and Microcircuits.
A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past invents a shield to ensure he'll never again be tortured almost to death…
The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve the device or destroy it…
When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own ends.
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Karen McCullough is the author of ten published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. Her most recent releases are MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale Group Mysteries, and the re-released ebook of A QUESTION OF FIRE. She invites visitors to check out her home on the web at http://www.kmccullough.com and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series, http://www.marketcentermysteries.com
Ilene smelled magic as she drove onto the bridge—a combination that included scents of sandalwood and nutmeg plus a sharper tinge of ozone. Michael’s magic. The aroma roused a trail of memories and evoked the same visceral reaction now that it had twelve years ago. Her pulse sped up and her stomach twisted with longing. Stupid, stupid. She was over him. Had been for years.
She sniffed again, more deeply, as a subtle wrong note in the smell penetrated her awareness. A fainter aroma of burnt coffee grounds mingled in. That wasn’t Michael’s magic, but there shouldn’t be another wizard on the island.
She glanced up through the windshield. Hazy, yellow-orange streaks of warding floated above. Michael’s scrying system. Could it identify her specifically or did it just warn him that someone with power approached? How would he react if he did know it was her? Throw her off the island, most likely, and tell her not to come back.
She planned to stay only long enough to deliver the letter from her father and get the information the Council needed, anyway.
A group of cyclists peddled ahead of her on the bridge, dragging her attention back to the road while she negotiated around them. The bikers all had packs hooked to their bikes and strapped on their backs. They spread out across more than half of the two-lane width. They had to be sweltering in the August North Carolina heat, but they waved cheerfully as she passed them in the left lane.
At the crest of the bridge she caught a glimpse of her destination.
She’d been told Michael Morgan’s home was the largest house on the island and sat on the only piece of high ground. The hulking Victorian-style mansion fit the bill on both counts. No light-colored paint or gingerbread trim softened its stolid proportions, harsh angles, and weathered-dark cedar siding. The place would make a perfect setting for one of those old-fashioned Gothic romances she occasionally picked up in a used bookstore.
Of course, no one but another wizard would see the colorful swirls of magic drifting around it. She could only spare time for a quick glance around, but it was enough to find the signs of a different power in the shading of green to the south.
She lost sight of both house and olive streaks as she headed down toward land. Enormous, twisted live oaks, bearded with Spanish Moss, lined the road, interspersed with the occasional Palmetto palm. Modest, low houses stood well back from the pavement behind the trees. They lazed indifferently in the sweltering heat and humidity, not feeling the prickle of the warding magic that sensed her.
Seconds later a different wave of magic hit her.
More accurately, it slammed into her Toyota as a gale-force wind, sending it veering off to the left, almost into the front yard of the closest house. Fortunately her reflexes clicked in before her brain could recover from the shock. She twisted the wheel and barely missed a Palmetto palm whose leaves sat still and calm except where the breeze of the car’s passing made them flap. Just when she thought she’d regained control, the wind struck again, from the opposite side, and she struggled to keep the car from rolling off the other way.
Turbulent air changed direction from moment to moment, pushing the car one way and then another in an erratic pattern. For some moments Ilene could only clutch the steering wheel, fingers digging into the leather surface, holding on tightly to keep it steady. The tires lost traction and started to skid. She turned into it, allowing her to regain control just before she hit the nearest live oak. Her door scraped against a low branch as she swerved back onto the pavement. The force continued to batter at the car, however, pushing it to the left even as she fought to keep it in the right lane.
This was some kind of welcome to the island. Maybe Michael did recognize her. This magic didn’t smell like his, but it had been twelve years…
With hands locked tightly on the steering wheel, she tried to get a feel for the power assaulting her, seeking a way to block it or turn it aside. She gathered her own power to answer until she realized she dared not pull enough of her concentration away from controlling the car.
The vehicle veered into the other lane and began to fishtail.
Someone really didn't want her on the island. The Toyota did a one-eighty, ending up moving in the opposite direction, back toward the inlet and the bridge. Seconds later, the span loomed ahead. The pack of cyclists was just rolling off it, coming toward her, spread out across the road.
A driveway ahead offered a place to turn around, but as she braked to swing into it, another blast of force jolted the car, and the tires lost traction again. The Toyota began to slide along the pavement at an angle. Panic sucked all the air from her lungs when she realized the cyclists were dead ahead.
Ilene glanced around wildly, fighting to stay calm. She had only an instant to make a choice.
She swung the wheel to right. It took an agonizing moment before the tires gripped and held. The Toyota jounced off the road, across a shallow ditch. She braked as hard as she dared, leaning into the steering. A sharper turn and she might just get past the huge live oak looming too close ahead.
“Oh, damn, damn, damn. God help me,” she muttered as the car headed for the tree. She stood on the brake and rolled the wheel as far as it would go to the right. Not enough room.
The next few minutes blurred. A jarring thud accompanied a series of bangs and scrapes as the car’s front left corner hit an enormous limb of the tree. Ilene snapped against the seat belt. The air bag smacked her in the face. Metal groaned, bent, and shrieked as it scraped other pieces. Parts crunched and banged against each other. Glass and plastic shattered, spraying shards that clattered to the ground.
And then it was quiet. Too shocked to move, she lay against the wheel and the deflating air bag. Her heart pounded furiously, but she couldn’t seem to draw any oxygen into her tight chest. It took a few panicky moments to fill her lungs again.
Ilene lifted her head gingerly. That seemed to work, so she tried fingers and toes. All wiggled on demand, although the effort brought a sharp pain in her ribs. She hoped they were just bruised and not cracked or broken. An experimental deep breath made her gasp and hold herself very still against the knifing pain.
Noises outside the car distracted her. A group of helmeted cyclists tugged at the driver's side door. The crumpled front must have messed up the frame, though. They couldn't get it to budge.
Someone yanked open the passenger side door and leaned in. Ilene twisted her head to look at the man. Not one of the cyclists. He wore a short-sleeved blue work shirt and no helmet. Forcing her neck to bend a bit more, she met the gaze of the most beautiful eyes she'd ever seen. Thready spokes of blue, in shades varying from deep navy to almost silver, wove together and meshed as they radiated from dark pupils. Another sort of shock jolted through her. They were familiar eyes, though it had been twelve years since she'd last seen them. "Michael!" It came out as half gasp, half exclamation.
"Are you all right?" he asked. His voice rasped along her nerves, just the way it used to when she was fifteen and he seventeen. There was a harder edge there now.
"I think so."
"Can you move your legs?" he asked.
"Yes." She shifted her left leg. “Damn, it hurts. Not broken, though.”
One of the cyclists interrupted. "I'm a paramedic. Let me check her out. Has anyone called 911?”
"Don't bother," Michael said while yielding his place on the passenger seat to the cyclist. "The only ambulance headed up to Danboro fifteen minutes ago. It’ll take it an hour or so to get back here. If we can move her, I'll take her to the hospital. I'll call someone to take care of the car also."
The paramedic asked her a bunch of questions and ran his hands over her legs and arms, along her neck, and down her sides. Ilene felt strange, almost distant from the scene, reluctant to move and indifferent to everything but the fact that Michael was there.
His rapid arrival surprised and worried her. Had he been responsible for the wind that caused the accident? She'd known he wouldn't be happy to have her on the island. But he'd responded to her arrival even faster than she'd anticipated. Why was he being helpful now? Because there were witnesses?
The paramedic finished looking her over and checking for damage. "I don't think anything's broken. Do you want to try to get out?"
Ilene nodded, but her aching ribs made it difficult to slide across the seat. The young cyclist assisted her until she could swing her legs down to the ground.
Michael waited nearby as she tried to stand.
"You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome," she told him, though the effect was ruined when she gulped on the last word. Her stomach lurched. Darkness gathered at the periphery of her vision, expanding rapidly.
Arms went around her shoulders and hips. Before the darkness claimed her completely, she felt herself being lifted and pressed against a masculine chest.