Dark Heart of Magic - Jennifer Estep

CHAPTER ONE

Working for the mob isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Oh, sure. It always looks all glitzy and glamorous on TV and in the movies: folks wearing snazzy suits, eating in fancy restaurants, and talking about how to best deal with their enemies over coffee and cannolis. And maybe I’d actually done some of those things, during the few weeks I’d been working for the Sinclair Family. But most of the time, taking care of Family business was a boring, tedious job, just like any other—

“Watch out, Lila!” Devon Sinclair shouted.

I ducked just in time to keep from getting pelted in the face by a blood persimmon. The ripe, apple-size fruit sailed over my head and splattered against the ground. The skin exploded on impact, painting red pulp and seeds all over the cobblestones and filling the summer air with a sweet, sticky scent.

Sadly, the cobblestones weren’t the only things covered in fruit—so was I. Red pulp had soaked into my blue T-shirt and gray cargo pants, while seeds and bits of skin clung to my gray sneakers.

An angry, high-pitched cheep-cheep-cheep sounded, the noise somewhere between a crow’s cawing and a chipmunk’s chirping. I glared up at the tree where the persimmon had come from. A creature with charcoal-gray fur and emerald-green eyes jumped up and down on its hind legs on a branch about ten feet above my head. The creature’s jumps were so hard and powerful that more ripe blood persimmons dropped from their branches and hit the ground, bursting open and adding to the oozing mess. Oh, yeah. The tree troll was definitely upset that it had missed me with its latest fruit bomb.

Tree trolls were among the many monsters that made their home in and around Cloudburst Falls, West Virginia, along with mortals and magicks, like me. I’d always thought of the trolls as sort of a cross between an oversize squirrel and the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. Oh, tree trolls couldn’t actually fly, but the black webbing under their arms helped them catch wind currents as they hopped from one branch to the next, while their long, bushy tails let them dangle upside down. The trolls were only about a foot tall, so they weren’t nearly as dangerous as copper crushers or many of the other monsters that inhabited the town. Most of the time, they were pretty harmless, unless you got them riled up. And this one was certainly riled up.

Careful of the falling persimmons, Devon Sinclair stepped up beside me and craned his neck back. His black T-shirt and khaki cargo pants were splattered with even more persimmon pulp than mine, making it look as though he’d been caught in a red rainstorm. Just about the only part of him that wasn’t covered in fruit was the silver cuff that glimmered on his right wrist, one stamped with the Sinclair Family crest—a hand holding a sword aloft.

“He’s not a very happy fellow, is he?” Devon murmured in his deep, rumbling voice. “No wonder the tourists are complaining.”

Cloudburst Falls was known far and wide as “the most magical place in America,” a town where “fairy tales are real,” so tourism was the name of the game around here. People came from all over the country and the world to see the magnificent views from Cloudburst Mountain, the rugged, fog-covered peak that loomed over the city, as well as spend their money in all the shops, casinos, restaurants, hotels, and other attractions that ringed the Midway, the main drag in the center of town.

But monsters were also drawn to the area