The Library, the Witch and the Warder
A warder’s life is never easy!
Former warder David Montrose has a problem. Or two. Or three.
Fired from his job protecting the witches of Washington DC, David is now treading water at Hecate’s Court, trying to redeem his reputation and put his life back together.
His father says David has disgraced the family name. His new boss is a tyrant. And his best friend—instead of sympathizing—is dragging him onto the front lines of an all-out supernatural war.
Just when David thinks he’ll never catch a break, he’s summoned back to warder status, protecting an infuriating witch with the strongest powers he’s ever seen.
Can one man juggle work, warfare, and warding Jane Madison?
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His keyboard locked and ornate letters bloomed across the dark screen, swirling over an image of Hecate’s Torch: You’re doing an excellent job! Take five minutes to stretch!
It was bad to come into the office on a Sunday.
It was worse to find a foot-high stack of Request for Protection forms in his inbox, all labeled “Urgent.”
But it was worst of all to be snared by the computerized web of his employer’s latest ergonomic consultant. Whoever had convinced Hecate’s Court to implement the automatic lock-out should be shot. No—drawn and quartered. At dawn. After a night spent completing Requests for Protection until their eyes bled.
“Ah, ah, ah!”
The chiding sound came from directly behind him. This time, David managed to bite off the curses that flooded his tongue. It was one thing to swear at a computer. It was another to vent to the one man who could—and would—fire him in seven seconds flat if offered the slightest justification.
Norville Pitt had been applying the fine-toothed comb of over-zealous management for three years now—ever since David made the rookie mistake of pointing out an error in an invoice his boss had prepared for the court. It was such a minor thing, an accidental double billing for a centerstone purchased by the Atlanta Coven.
It wasn’t David’s fault that three senior judges of Hecate’s Court had been passing by Pitt’s office at the precise moment David pointed out the mistake. Or that one of those judges lived in Atlanta and paid particular attention when she heard the name of her home coven. Or that the resulting review of Pitt’s work held up the processing of an entire batch of invoices, disqualifying Pitt for a performance bonus at the end of the quarter.
Norville Pitt had despised David from that day forward.
David forced himself to meet his supervisor’s gaze above the locked computer screen.
“Slacking off?” Pitt asked, pushing his thoroughly smudged glasses back up the bridge of his nose and peering at his ever-present clipboard.
David bristled. “Just taking the court’s mandatory ergonomic break.”
Pitt sniffed, the sound reverberating in the back of his fat-padded throat. For just a heartbeat, David fantasized about closing his hands around the man’s neck, making those already bulging eyes pop like the rubber stress toys the court had distributed last week—another workplace satisfaction tool mandated by another clueless consultant.
But Pitt couldn’t be gotten rid of as easily as a latex squeeze toy, not without a banishing spell. And warders didn’t have that type of magical power. So David forced himself to ask, “What can I do for you, Norville?”
“I was monitoring your data entry upstairs.”
Yet another indignity David should be used to after three years of banishment to the records division. Every keystroke of his work could be viewed on his supervisor’s screen. He waited, knowing Pitt wouldn’t be able to resist citing mistakes—real, imagined, or trumped up on the spot.
As expected, Pitt caved first, licking his fleshy lips before he pounced. “On line 27a, you’re entering your own name.”
“I’m the primary monitor for each artifact,” David said with pretended patience.
He certainly didn’t want to be the primary monitor for the relics he recorded. Most clerks who completed a Request got the dubious satisfaction of seeing their name in the court’s records. As far as David could tell, he was unique for the way his warders’ powers registered a form. Every time he completed a document, he felt a distinct sensory jangle.
The magical athame he’d cataloged first thing that morning sounded like a burbling stream. The silver goblet on the second Request smelled like fresh-cut grass. The rowan wand he’d been cataloging when the computer froze him out tasted like spearmint. He had a headache from the jumble of sensory input.
But someone had to be responsible for arcane tools not under the direct control of a specific witch. And he was busted back to a file clerk until Hecate herself deemed him worthy of warding a witch directly.
As Pitt never tired of reminding him, David had graduated from the warders’ Academy first in his class. He even had the silver ring to show for that superior achievement, a plain band glinting on the middle finger of his left hand.
But he’d been bonded to the Washington Coven’s young phenom of a witch, Haylee James. And after more rocky years than he ever should have wasted, she’d come to despise his brand of rules-following protection. She’d cut him loose, making up enough stories that no sane witch would touch him, not with a six-foot wand.
The court had restricted him to file clerk duties, insisting that was the only way they could keep an eye on him, make sure he didn’t ruin another witch’s career. And now, Norville Pitt wanted to take that from him too.
Pitt’s oily smile grew wider as he proclaimed, “According to the September 1 update to section nine-slash-J of Filing Manual 706X, we’re taking a different approach to line 27a for all files going forward.”
I don’t have access to the September 1 update. The changes had become effective almost three weeks ago, but the court would never trust a mere clerk with an actual manual. David wasn’t expected to think, to study, to actually read the rules. He only did what Hecate commanded, through the dubious medium of the court’s bureaucracy.
And the court would tell him about the September 1 update some time in the new year. It took that long to have training materials drafted and revised and certified by the Central Bureau Administration’s Task Force Training Committee. Which Norville Pitt certainly knew. Because he would be the last person to sign off on the materials in question.
David bit back a sigh and managed to keep his voice even. “What’s the different approach?”
“Line 27a should now list the direct supervisor of the clerk completing the data entry. Upon review, the supervisor will allocate clerk responsibility for each file going forward. The assigned clerk will then update each individual file.”
“But I’m the only clerk in your line of command.”
Pitt’s frog-like eyes gleamed as he rubbed his hands together. “Yes.”
“Then you’re going to assign the files to me.”
The overhead light gleamed off Pitt’s sweating pate as he nodded. “Yes.”
David knew there was nothing to gain by complaining. Hecate had set him this test, and he must calmly accept her will. But he couldn’t keep from saying, “Then it’s an absolute waste of your time and mine, for me to follow the new rule.”
Pitt set his hands on his hips, using the motion to hulk over David. For the first time since his enforced break, David wished he’d stood for his mandatory ergonomic adjustment. He would have towered over Pitt by nearly a foot—much-needed distance from the fetid body odor emanating from the yellow-stained underarms of the man’s short-sleeve dress shirt.
Pitt grinned. “I took the liberty of zeroing out all the forms you entered today. In fact, all the forms dating back to the first of the month.”
Zeroing out. David said hotly, “I could have changed the one field.”
“Oops.” Pitt eyed him levelly.
David’s fingers folded into a fist, but the bell on his computer chimed before he could take any irrevocable action. He glanced at the screen to see the court’s decorative script once again rippling over its streamlined image of a torch. Thank you for taking a break! Now you can return to excellence!
“David!” A bright voice cut through the crimson fog in his brain. “I’m so glad I caught you here. Norville, I don’t think you realize what a treasure you have in this one!”
David stood in automatic deference to the witch who’d entered the room. At the same time, Pitt oiled up his most ingratiating smile. “Linda!” he oozed. “What brings you to the processing center? And on a Sunday night, no less?”
As always, Linda Hudson held herself with the easy grace of a retired ballerina. Raindrops only enhanced her appearance, shimmering on her silver hair and the shoulders of her blazer.
The long-threatened autumn storm must have finally started outside. Not that anyone could tell inside this tomb of an office.
The witch answered Pitt’s question, but she kept her eyes on David. “I’m trying to locate an illustrated copy of Rocher’s Scrying with Still Water, one with the original watercolors tipped in. The Imperial Library has a notation that it’s under the control of Hecate’s Court.”
The instant Linda named the book, David felt a scrape against his consciousness, the prickle of a sycamore burr rasping against his palm. The Rocher book was part of the Adams collection, a carefully compiled set of books that covered all aspects of the Guardians of Water.
The twitch in his arcane memory meant he’d cataloged the volume some time during his tenure as a clerk. He tugged on the bond, and the date rang clear: He’d added it to the court’s records almost three years earlier. Two years, eleven months, and four days ago, to be precise.
The first time Linda had visited him in this hellhole of an office.
Then, she’d brought the Rocher as an excuse, as a ruse for getting past Pitt’s watchful eyes. She owned the Rocher herself. She owned the entire Adams collection. It wasn’t actually an orphaned artifact at all.
By asking for it now, she was sending him a secret message.
David’s heart rate rocketed as he realized the witch was conspiring against his most unwelcome boss. Linda Hudson needed to talk to David now. And she didn’t want Norville Pitt knowing what she had to say.