Daniel Rose should be having a good night. He’s a bestselling author; he’s had film adaptations of his books; he’s met movie stars. And there’s a storm outside tonight, electric and wild. Dan’s always liked storms.
Tonight, though, he’s stuck staring at his computer and suffering from writer’s block, out of ideas and inspiration. But when an adorable young man knocks at his door, asks to borrow Dan’s kitchen spices, and announces witchcraft’s real and their apartment building needs an exorcism, Dan’s dark and stormy night takes a turn for the magical.
Sterling Friday’s among the youngest qualified practicing members of the coven, and this haunted building’s only his third assignment. He’s a very good clairvoyant but less good at proper spellwork, and he could use some help with both ingredients and psychic anchors.
He also happens to be a fan of those Daniel Rose novels, and he’s hoping Dan, as a writer, will believe his story and not turn him away. On a night drenched in magic and rain, as ghosts hover in the background, the attraction between them is immediate and elemental.
Dan sat down on the rug and peeked tentatively at his visitor from eye level. “Um ... are you okay? And also I’m, um, Dan.”
“Yeah,” Sterling said from the sofa, not bothering to move, but opening eyes again to grin at him, “I know. Daniel Rose. Famous. I’ve read all the Johnny Stone novels. Kind of ridiculous, but in a fun way. You had him win a fistfight with a henchman who had actual shark teeth. Which, I mean, I can see how someone could do that, not that I could, but someone else, that’s just partial animal transformation, but why?”
“Partial what? I know it was ridiculous! It’s not exactly realism! When did you even pick up my knife?”
“I’ve got talented hands.” They performed exaggerated finger-wiggling at him in illustration. “Your couch is nicer than mine. Your whole place is nicer than mine, I mean, wow, did you, like, hire a decorator or something? And it’s so clean. I’m feeling kind of intimidated here. Outclassed.”
“My sister’s a designer -- I like clean -- I don’t even know you. Why am I talking to you? You pillaged half my spice rack --”
“And your knife.”
“And my knife! Who are you?” He waved a hand around distractedly, realized he still had rosemary in it, shoved that onto the coffee table along with everything else. Wind billowed around corners and edges, racing like pulse-beats. “If you’re here to rob me -- or if this is some publicity stunt --”
“Oh, perfect, the hot famous author is yelling at me while my head explodes, I needed that.” Sterling draped an arm theatrically over his eyes. “Why me. Why this building with you in it. Why everything, seriously.”
“What,” Dan said levelly, sitting back on heels on his rug, knife next to his hand, “is going on.”
“About that. The what and why.” Sterling moved the arm. Batted eyelashes at him, self-aware and wryly playful, which despite the whole situation sent iridescent shivers right into Dan’s gut. Lower. “I’m a very good clairvoyant and kind of a demi-witch and your building really really needs therapy and it’s a half-moon and a conjunction night and I so did not bring enough supplies for this.”
“I can get more, but it’ll take a day or so, and I didn’t want to wait, because this hurts. And my intuition told me to come here. And I trust my intuition, usually. So I’m here.”
Dan remained very very still, and stared at him.
“I know you don’t believe me,” Sterling said. “It’s okay. I wouldn’t believe me either. I’ll get out of here and leave you alone, and you can never think about this again, I promise. Um. After I borrow your ingredients. Can I, still?”
“I don’t not believe you,” Dan said. Careful, careful: he was obviously talking to a delusional person, even if so far harmlessly so. Gentle responses. Caution. Compassion. “Is there someone I should call? To help you with ... with whatever you need? You said you had a headache. Do you have anything that you take for that?”
“Yes,” Sterling said, “protective spells and hand-holding for cranky spirits. I appreciate you being nice about it, it’s kind of sweet even if you’re thinking I’m delusional, and you’re sort of extra-hot when you’re being kind. Look, I can show you, if you want? I’m a pretty decent judge of character and you feel trustworthy.”
“Sorry,” Dan said, bewildered by charm and compliments and impossibilities, “you can what?”
“I told you I’m not a very gifted witch.” Sterling sat up, winced, pressed fingers between his eyes. “I’m psychic, not a sorcerer. But I can at least handle this --”
He held out a hand, palm up. Light bloomed into being.
Radiance shimmered and coiled and fluttered, a tiny marble of fire, of scarlet illumination. It hovered over his hand; it danced and ran out along fingertips and back, scampering and alive.
Dan forgot how to inhale. And then how to exhale.
The world -- his rug, his coffee table, the solidity of floorboards and apartment walls, the rain -- became newly present and redefined, limned in leaping light, reassuring and yet remade. Delight and daydreams whirled through his heart. If this were real, if those words were real -- if this all could be real --
It couldn’t be. Could it?
“Here,” Sterling said, and reached out and took his hand before he could think to protest. “You want to hold it?”