HIDDEN LEGACY #6
AVAILABLE ON AUGUST 23, 2022
#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews is back with the newest book in the exciting Hidden Legacy series—the thrilling conclusion to her trilogy featuring fierce and beautiful Prime magic user Catalina Baylor.
An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss… And it’s only Monday.
Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose.
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This excerpt is from an advanced copy and may contain typos and other mistakes.
Monday morning started badly and only got worse.
On my computer screen, Ruben Hale attempted to glower at me. I gave him my patented Tremaine stare. Sadly, it worked much better in person. Hard to radiate deadly intent over a video chat.
“We will not proceed until the retainer is wired into our account.”
Ruben was in his late fifties, with a bronze complexion, a stocky build, and a heavy jaw. He was also a Significant. In a lot of ways, the Significants were harder to deal with than Primes. Primes were like tigers, potentially deadly but conflict averse, because when Primes fought, entire city blocks ended up incinerated. Most Primes considered it beneath them to bully lesser ranked magic users. They took for granted that they would be respected, and they had a reputation to uphold.
The Significants wanted to be Primes. Their abilities placed them above the majority of magic users, but still below that coveted top layer of power. A lot of them felt compelled to throw their weight around to ensure their special status was acknowledged, and they resented Primes, so when an opportunity to safely irritate a Prime presented itself, they pounced on it.
The look in Ruben’s eyes told me he was used to bulldozing over people to get his way. I knew he was trouble the moment we met, which was why I held off on doing any actual work until his deposit cleared. As of today, it was six days past due.
“You listen to me.” Ruben leaned closer to the screen, giving me a stunning view of his nose hair. “I went with you for one reason only. You were cheaper than Montgomery.”
“Cheaper, Mr. Hale. Not free.”
Raised voices filtered through the glass door and walls into my office. Someone, or probably several someones, were shouting in the conference room. Odd. I couldn’t recall any large problematic meetings scheduled for today.
“Do you know who you’re talking to?”
Apparently, we reached the “how dare you” stage of negotiations. “You signed a contract, Mr. Hale. According to the terms…”
“Not after you sign them. Perhaps you should look up the definition of a contract.”
Matilda ran past my door, her long dark hair flying, her skinny ten-year-old legs flashing, as she darted by.
“You are lucky to get my business. Apparently, you don’t really want it.”
“Business involves compensation. What you’re asking for is charity.”
Ruben’s eyes went wide. His nostrils flared.
Ragnar sprinted past my office. First Cornelius’ daughter, now Runa’s brother was involved. What in the world was going on out there?
“Who do you think you are?” Ruben thundered.
“Significant Hale!” I snapped into my Tremaine voice. “Who I am is not in question. My identity as a Prime and Head of my House is a matter of public record. The only thing in doubt is your ability to pay. You have wasted enough of my time. Consider our agreement void.”
“Take a moment to think and choose your next words very carefully. I have had enough of your posturing. Do not make yourself and your family the focus of my undivided attention.”
His mouth clicked shut. He sat up straighter. “Miss Baylor…”
I picked up his contract and tore it in two. “Our discussion is concluded.”
He stared at me, shocked.
I ended the call, went to the door, and swung it open. A wave of noise hit me. Several people screamed at once, the chorus of anger and sadness punctuated by a woman sobbing.
I marched down the hall and threw the conference door open. Eight people, four of them middle-aged, sat and crawled on the floor. Matilda and Ragnar stood to the side, looking shellshocked.
“What’s going on here?”
“She’s gone!” A white man in his sixties moaned at the table, his hand over his eyes. A white woman a few years younger in a white Channel suit protectively draped her arms over his shoulders.
“Who is gone?” I demanded.
“Jadwiga,” Matilda volunteered.
“The two of you, out into the hallway.”
I ushered the kids into the hallway and shut the door behind us. “What does the first queen of Poland have to do with whatever this is?”
Ragnar stared at me in awe. “How do you even know that?”
I had no idea how I knew the name of the first Polish queen. It was just one of the random facts that occasionally got stuck in my brain.
“Jadwiga is a spider,” Matilda explained. “A very special spider.”
“Is that the Dabrowski family?”
Jadwiga was a very special spider. About the size of a pumpkin patch dwarf tarantula, she was glossy, like polished mahogany. Unlike the abdomen of a typical spider, Jadwiga’s rear segment ended abruptly, as if cut in half, terminating in a hardened disk with a pattern that looked like some ancient mask. It gave her a unique hourglass shape.
That distinctive disk was found in exactly one species: the Giant Hourglass spider. It was exceedingly rare – only seven specimens had been found so far – and hideously expensive. Trefon Dabrowski, the Head of House Dabrowski, had purchased Jadwiga for the cool sum of $250,000 from a Chinese orange farmer who found it, somehow got it through customs, and installed it in a luxurious terrarium at House Dabrowski’s mansion to be the star of his dazzling arachnid collection, only to have it stolen one week later.
Thanks to Cornelius, our firm earned a reputation for resolving difficult animal cases, so when House Dabrowski misplaced their spider, we seemed like a natural choice. They practically threw money at us.
“Last I checked, we declined to take this case. Matilda, your father explicitly said that spiders required a specific arachnid mage, and both you and he specialize in birds and mammals.”
Matilda raised her chin. I knew that look. I was about to be hit with a long logical argument. If I let her get going, we would be here all day.
“Not only that, but this spider was smuggled into US. Matilda, what is the definition of smuggled?”
“Illegally brought into or taken out of a country,” she said.
“Illegally being the key word. Neither House Baylor,” I looked at Matilda, “nor House Harrison,” I looked at Ragnar, “nor House Etterson can be complicit in the smuggling of rare, endangered species.”
“Technically…” Matilda started.
“I felt the spider. She was scared and stressed out.”
I looked at Ragnar. “Explain quickly.”
“Matilda wanted to find the spider to see if she could connect with it.”
“Her,” Matilda said.
“Bazyli Dabrowski stole the spider from his brother. We found it and we tried to give it – her – back. They had a fight in the conference room. Trefon told Bazyli he would never see Jadwiga again and then Bazyli attacked him and tried to pry the terrarium out of his brother’s hands. It fell and Jadwiga ran away into the vent.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Matilda is ten. She is allowed to be irrational and to not think through the possible consequences of her actions.”
Matilda looked as if she had been slapped.
“You are sixteen years old. You’re less than two years away from legally being an adult.”
“We’ll find it,” Ragnar promised.
“How did you even get involved in this? Both of you are contractors, so neither of you have the authority to accept cases. Who signed off on this contract? Whose name is on the paperwork?”
The kids clamed up.
It couldn’t have been Cornelius. He had been very uncomfortable with the entire affair. Who in the world would give a ten year old animal Prime and a sixteen-year-old poison Prime free rein on an illegal spider kidnapping…
Of course. He would be the only one who’d do it.
My phone vibrated on my desk. An unfamiliar number. I took the call.
“Deputy Baylor,” a deep voice said.
In the entire state of Texas, only a handful of people knew I was the Deputy Warden. I pointed at Ragnar and Matilda and pointed to the floor to indicate I wanted them to stay there. Right there. Then I slipped into my office and shut the door
“My name is Stéphane Gregoire. I am the maître d’ of the Respite.”
The Respite was a French themed restaurant, very tasteful, very exclusive, catering to an elite clientele. When the movers and shakers of Houston wanted to have a private lunch to discreetly discuss business, they went to Respite. None of them knew Linus secretly owned it.
“We’ve met,” I reminded him. “What can I do for you?”
“There has been a murder,” Mr. Gregoire said. “I’ve attempted to reach Prime Duncan, but he is not answering.”
“Who was murdered?”
“Who else knows?”
“You are the second person I called. I was instructed to reach out to you if the Warden was unavailable.”
“Sit tight. Close the restaurant. I’ll be right there.”
I hung up and dialed Linus. One ring, two, three…
Linus always took my calls. Night or day, anytime, he picked up on the second ring.
He always warned me if he expected to be unavailable. Alessandro and I had a meeting scheduled with him tonight. I hung up and opened the door.
Matilda and Ragnar blinked at me.
“Get the Dabrowski family out of here and find that expensive, stressed out, scared spider before she bites someone or lays eggs.”
I took off down the hallway toward the exit, dialing Alessandro. He’d left this morning to hunt down Dag Gunderson. He answered instantly.
“Where are you?”
“Pulling up to the gates.”
“I have an emergency,” I told him.
“We’ll take my car.”
I cleared the building and ran out into the sunshine, dialing Leon as I walked to the gates.
“If this is about the spider…” Leon started.
“Spider later. Linus isn’t answering his phone. I need you to drive out to his place.”
“Call me when you get there.”
Alessandro’s silver Alfa Romeo streaked through the gates and slid to a stop in front of me. I got in and we U-turned and sped down the driveway.
“Where to?” Alessandro asked.
“The Respite. The Speaker of the Texas State Assembly has been murdered.”