My Wicked Enemy - Chapter 1

Second Edition

Chapter 1

Someone was following her. Her heart beat so hard and so fast she had to breathe through her mouth. The same man had been at the coffee shop south of Market Street and in the crowd emerging from the BART station. Now he was here at this Chinatown intersection waiting for the walk signal to change color.

Panic unfurled from the knot in her stomach then slithered along her spine and up through the top of her head. At the coffee shop, he'd been wearing a black turtleneck and jeans. Earlier, he’d blended into the financial district crowd in a dark suit and tie. Now, he wore a delivery company uniform and gripped a dolly loaded with boxes. There was no question in her mind that it was the same person.

His gaze swept across her, and she looked away quickly. Streaks of color flashed at the edges of her vision, a sure precursor total debilitation.

If Magellan had sent him, she was as good as dead. If he was what she suspected—hoped—she might still be as good as dead.

Her coffee was long gone, though she still clutched her empty cardboard cup. Her splitting headache pounded harder. In an hour, maybe less, she’d be prostrate, unable to do anything but lie in a darkened room and wait for her episode to fade. The clamor of outdoors wasn’t helping. She was unused to the noise or the sheer number of people around her.

She crumpled her coffee cup and tossed it in the trash. Please, please let her stay on her feet and remain clear-headed enough to figure out whether she could safely make contact. Too late now to long for the familiarity of home. As of yesterday, she was officially homeless.

Her first night in San Francisco had been spent in a doorway. She’d be thrilled if she did the same for a second night because it would mean she’d survived another twenty-four hours knowing things she wished she didn’t.

Would the light please change already? Yesterday home had been a Tiburon mansion with the staff of fifteen it took to look after Álvaro Magellan. Today she was across the Bay in San Francisco with a hundred dollars and clothes that used to belong to someone else.

At last, the light went from red to green. For half a breath, no one moved. Two cars and a bike messenger zoomed through the intersection on their red. Normal, everyday people surged forward, and Carson went with them. The delivery man crossed to the opposite side of the street, same side as her. Halfway down the block, the crowd thinned.

Carson stopped to look at a jewelry store window, angling herself until she spotted him again. No more delivery man outfit. He wore cowboy boots and jeans pale along his thighs and white at the knees. A two-day growth of beard shadowed his cheeks. His dark hair probably lightened several shades someplace with a real summer. A haircut would not be amiss.

Only a few feet from her, he slouched against a wall, and she had to wonder if he really did work for Magellan. Álvaro Magellan only hired the yes, sir type, and she couldn’t imagine the words yes, sir passing this guy’s lips. Not to mention Magellan required that his staff wear a full suit and tie and maintain buzzcut hair, and so far he’d been in a suit only once that she’d seen. Assuming she could trust anything she’d seen so far.

Her pulse slowed enough for her to breathe through her nose again, but her headache worsened. She took a few steps along the display window, grip tight on the scuffed purse she’d pulled out of a thrift store bin. She’d left with nothing but the cash she’d taken from the drawer, and all of it was in that purse.

Her skin prickled in a wave from the top of her head to the backs of her legs and stayed that way along the back of her neck. She moved to the next store, pretending interest in a series of porcelain cats. The proprietor of a shop with a sidewalk display of Long-Life Happy Balls held out a hand and circled the chiming metal balls around his palm. She acknowledged him, but his face vanished behind streaks of orange.

Cantonese pitched and rolled in her ears, and, for an instant, she understood the words. Then the meaning flashed out of her head, and all she heard was the impenetrable rhythm of a language born on the Asian subcontinent. Cantonese was dying out in China, displaced by Mandarin. But here, in cities like San Francisco, with Asian populations that had immigrated during the gold rush and after, Chinese meant Cantonese.

Traffic sounds whirred in the background, horns blared, wheels rolled over asphalt, engines accelerated. Carbon particulates gave the air a sharp scent. Pigeons cooed from eaves, and she heard the Doppler shift of conversation and tinny vocals from other people’s earbuds as the crowd flowed around her. Music from one of the open shop doors floated over the noise. She concentrated on breathing, but her headache refused to recede.

“Well, well, well,” said a voice directly behind her. The soft and mellow words chilled her to the bone. “If it isn’t Magellan’s witch.”

Her symptoms vanished. The streaking colors, the distorted sounds, the chill in the pit of her stomach blinked out of existence. Her thoughts cleared. She was miles from home. In San Francisco. In Chinatown. Half a block past the intersection of California and Grant streets and more than a mile from the doorway where she’d spent last night. If she were to keep walking, she’d end up in the bay.

Her stomach clenched, and she turned. Whoever he was, he knew Álvaro Magellan’s name. His eyes were gray with a hint of blue. His jeans fit tight around lean hips and thighs. He smiled with a friendly, open grin.

“Every girl just loves to be called a witch,” she said with bravado she didn’t remotely feel. Close up, he was even better-looking than she’d thought.

“Sweetheart, no compliment intended.”

All right then. She might feel like last week’s leftovers, but she was not going to let this man set the tone for this encounter, not with her life at stake. “Why are you following me?”

His eyelids lowered halfway, but his gaze moved from her head to her feet and then back, at last, to her face. She’d been around men enough to know that, among other things, his perusal was a sexual assessment. Asshole. “Why the fuck you think, witch?”

“If Magellan didn’t send you, I have no idea.”

He snorted.

“Who are you?” Friend, foe, or something in-between? One of them?

He cocked his head. His lashes were thick and dark. “Nikodemus.”

He knew about Magellan. He knew enough to offer that name out of all the names he could have given. Definitely one of them. “No last name, Nikodemus?”


Whatever his real name was, he was dangerous. That much she knew about the people who inhabited the world she’d uncovered. She pushed past him, heart pounding. Pain streaked through her head, and she would have sworn her hair was electrified. Her knees shook. Her body might just float away. Another shiver streaked through her.

“Was it something I said?” he called after her.

Definitely an asshole. She took maybe three steps, and there he was, walking backward on the sidewalk in front of her so she had to look at him and everyone else had to get out of his way. Her breath caught in her lungs, and the deficit quickly made her light-headed.

“Sweetheart,” he said, extending his arms wide. His voice invited her attention, begged for it in a beguiling tenor. “Why are you walking away?”

Without breaking stride she dug in her purse for a dollar. A shock ran up her arm when she brushed the object nestled at the bottom. She flinched because the figurine burned her fingers. “Whoever you are, go away.” Her voice trembled, too. She found a bill and stopped to extend it to him. The paper quivered in the air. “If you’re a friend of Álvaro Magellan, I don’t want anything to do with you.”

He clutched his chest with both hands and pretended to stumble. “A friend?”

“Take it.” She glanced around like she was looking for a police officer. She’d grabbed a twenty. More than she could afford but worth it if he left her alone. “Go away. Please.”

He smiled. Despite the scruffy appearance and too-long hair, his teeth were white and even. “Thanks.” He took the bill. “Carson.”

When he moved his head, a star ruby cabochon winked from his ear. She froze. Magellan wore rubies all the time. A different one of them then? “Who are you?”

“I told you.”

“No you didn’t.”

He sighed. “How about we discuss what you’re doing here? All by yourself. With that in your purse.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He had to be six-three at least, which made him a foot taller than her. Considering her headache was shifting toward the debilitating, she wasn’t going to outrun him, and she definitely would lose a physical struggle.

He leaned toward her. “Magellan is number one on my hate list, Carson.” His gorgeous smile reappeared. Was he even human? “If he’s on yours, too, we need to talk.”

Her knuckles hurt from squeezing the strap of her purse. She stared up and into his face, a lot farther up than was comfortable. “No.”

“Carson. Carson. While we stand here chatting about Álvaro Magellan, anyone could recognize you. Anyone. He’s looking for you right now, guaranteed.”

Her heart sank miles deep. “Did he send you?”


“Like I should believe that.”

“Look,” he said gently. “Let’s get something to eat. My treat. You pick the place. Money or reservation needed no object. I’ll get us in, and I’ll keep you out of trouble. That’s a promise.” He touched his chest. “Solemn oath.”

“Why? I mean why a restaurant?”

“You look hungry. And it’s an opportunity for a mutual exchange of information between two people with reason to hate Magellan.” He tipped his chin at her. “Come on. What am I going to do, murder you in broad daylight?”

He had a point. She looked around. “That one. There. Across the street.”

“Excellent choice.”

Heads turned when they walked in, male and female heads, because this was San Francisco, and he had a thoroughly disconcerting presence. Five minutes later, she was perched sideways on her chair because she wasn’t stupid enough to put her unprotected back to a door she couldn’t see. The dim light eased her headache a depressingly small amount. She accepted a menu from the waitress, but the words refused to make sense. She placed her menu on the table.

Nikodemus slouched on the chair against the wall and grinned at her. He hadn’t consulted his menu yet. “Carson Philips, as I live and breathe.”

She gazed at him, at a loss for words. He absolutely looked human.

“What are you having?”

“Chicken.” If her head wasn’t pounding so hard, she might already have figured out why he was calling himself Nikodemus. With no last name.

“Ask me anything. I’ll tell you the truth if I can.”

“Are you from Harvard or Yale?”

He huffed out a breath. “Neither.”

Flashes of color streaked through her peripheral vision. “A collector? Someone who lost out to Magellan at an auction?”

He shook his head.

“Someone who acquires artifacts?”

He grinned. “No, no, and sometimes.”

Their waitress returned. He handed over his menu and addressed the woman in Chinese. She didn’t understand a word. When it was her turn to order, she pointed to the first item under the chicken section. After that there wasn’t anything to do except look in the teapot to check the color of the water, even though it was too soon for it to be drinkable.

Nikodemus, or whoever he was, watched her with a smile that set off a roiling anxiety in her stomach. Her aching head made her feel stupid and slow. “Are you going to tell me why were you following me?”

He cocked his head and after a lengthy silence, he shrugged. “You’re Magellan’s witch.”

Carson leaned against her chair and wished she hadn’t. The sudden movement made her brain hurt. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call me that.”

“You know what I mean.”

She rubbed her temples. “Imagine for a moment that I do know. Then I don’t like being called that.”

“Let me clarify.” He pretended to think. “Carson Philips, you’re a witch.”

He sounded like he meant something more than name-calling, but his exact meaning refused to come to her overstimulated brain. Obviously, though, he'd read Magellan’s writings on Nikodemus. “Right,” she said with a shot of bravery that came from desperation. “I’m a witch about like you’re a demon thought to have first manifested five thousand years ago.”

He didn’t crack a smile. “I like the weather here better.”

“Hardy har har.” He was about thirty, maybe younger. “How did you find me?”

“Why are you running from Magellan?”

“Who said I was?” Her fingers trembled, so she pressed her palms to the white tablecloth and stared at the backs of her hands. “Can’t a girl go shopping if she wants?” She sounded light-hearted, but her tendons and veins stood out. She forced her fingers to relax. He knew she was running from Magellan. How? How did he know anything about her, a stranger, when she barely knew the people who lived in the same house with her?

“If you need to get away from him maybe I can help.”

She looked up from her hands and couldn’t stop the absurd hope that maybe he could. “Why would you?”

“I’m a nice guy.” He leaned in. “If you want my help, tell me about Magellan.”

She couldn’t feel the right side of her head anymore. For some reason, staring at the star ruby in his ear helped her focus. The throbbing pain dampened enough for her to find words. “My parents died when I was eight.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“I’ve lived with him since then.” Lived with him was about all it had been, too. “My parents named him my guardian.”

“Hard life living up there in that mansion on the hill.”

“Sure.” God forbid Magellan ever found her in one of the many off limits areas of house. She glanced away. “To be honest, I spent more time around the staff and his bodyguards than around him.”

He pulled the wrapper off a pair of wooden chopsticks and broke them apart. “Bet he had you homeschooled.”

“I couldn’t go to a regular school.”

“No letting the likes of you run free in the world.”

The likes of you. “You sound just like him.”

“Then I apologize. Truly.”

“Normal school would have been too stressful for me.”

“Right.” He didn’t sound like he agreed with her.

“It’s true.” She’d spent her childhood and most of her young adulthood going to specialists who did tests, and poked and prodded her, and handed out pills in a rainbow of colors that did nothing to stop her headaches. They got worse and their sequelae longer-lasting and more severe. “Idiopathic migraine with accompanying fatigue.”


“Magellan doesn’t care for children, but he did spend a lot of money on specialists.”

“Yeah, a real stand-up guy.” He examined his chopsticks. Gray eyes with a hint of blue. Like the sky before morning had completely arrived. Really pretty eyes, she thought. “Upstanding citizen. The fucker.”

Carson breathed in slowly. With zero reasons to protect Magellan, what did she have to lose? Nothing, she figured. But she also didn’t want to give away any advantage she might have. Start with the little stuff and see how things went. “He made it perfectly clear his work comes first.”

“His work.” Nikodemus dropped his chopsticks on the table. His T-shirt, imprinted with the text “Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary,” fit snug against his torso. Whenever he moved, muscles flexed somewhere. “You help him with his work, do you?”

She winced because his voice hurt her ears. “He’s a busy man.”

“I’m sure he is.”

“Well, Nikodemus, people write to him constantly, asking for his opinion on some artifact or about the myths he studies.”


“Yes. Myths. They want reprints of his papers or an appointment to view his collection. Someone has to answer the phone, reply to emails and keep things organized. That was me. A live-in executive assistant, you might say.”

Nikodemus stared at her too long with eyes that held more than icy anger. His eyes were a fortress. He could look out, but she’d never get in. She checked the tea again. It was still too pale to drink.

“You think he studies myths about demons?” she heard him say.

She abandoned her inspection of the tea and locked gazes with him again. He didn’t seem so affable now. “That’s what I believed until yesterday.”


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