Book cover of Wicked Dreams by MJ Scott. Shows a whoman's hace half turned on a dark background with yellow green glowing circuits

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the magical world, it’s that you never know what’s coming next. Monsters lurk in the dark, and even in the light, danger is never far away…

Maggie Lachlan has rolled with everything the magical world has thrown at her. She’s training with a Fae warrior, honing her witchy powers, and navigating life as the girlfriend of tech god billionaire Damon Riley. Until a witch from England arrives to meet with the local Fae and new trouble begins to stir, revealing that some of the Fae view Maggie as a threat to be eliminated rather than an ally in the fight against demons.

Which means the last place Maggie should go is into the Fae realm. But to try to stop a witch bent on bending technology to his own dark purposes, she’ll have to do just that. Worse, she’ll have to take Damon—who doesn’t have any magic to protect him—with her.

It’s a race against the clock through a land where the ancient magic is more complex than any code and there are no new lives or save points. To find her way safely home, Maggie will have to embrace every scrap of magic she’s learned and hope that it’s enough….


Chapter 1

When I was eight, I wanted a dog. Badly. But I never told anyone. Because I knew there was no chance in hell that my mom would agree. Sara Lachlan had no time for things that cost her money or time and served no purpose. I mean, I was her kid and she barely tolerated me.

Of course, at eight I didn’t know that she had a plan for me. To sell my magic to a demon and, well, I never knew her ultimate goal because she died a few months after she did exactly that the night I turned thirteen. I had no memory of the demon part, and I went to live with my grandparents in Berkeley after Sara died.

They had a cat, though, a big fluffy black guy who sort of liked me. I’m sure they would have tried to make a dog work for me—they were determined to give me some sort of normal life to make up for not having known that I existed—but after seeing my grandpa get hives from petting a neighbor’s chihuahua, I never asked them about a puppy.

I never asked for magic, either. But, apparently, even though the universe hadn’t delivered me a puppy back then, it had delivered magic. And ever since my magic had broken free of the demon and I’d discovered that I was a witch, it had a way of messing up my life. Nine months or so ago, the Fae had restored the door to their realm in Berkeley. The one they’d closed after the earthquake we called the Big One had leveled half of San Francisco.

Reopening the gate shouldn’t have impacted my life. After all, I wasn’t one of the tanai fol, the humans with Fae blood. But, because of my link to a demon, the Fae wanted to keep an eye on me. Which meant I’d started lessons with Cerridwen, one of the Fae elders charged with defending their realm against demons. Working with her had shown me some of the weird things that lurked in their world. And those that guarded the realm could be weird themselves.

Like the giant black wolf dog currently pacing beside me through a Dockside back alley. Not exactly the dog I’d always yearned for. His name was Callum. Most of the time he was a man. A s’ealg oiche. One of Cerridwen’s best demon hunters, along with being a shapeshifter.

Also a pain in my ass. He was cocky and, of course, being Fae, also far too handsome. And very good at what he did. Luckily for me, I already had my very own version of cocky—far too handsome, and very good at what he did—in my boyfriend, Damon Riley. Tech genius, billionaire, and, well, swoonworthy. Which meant there was no risk of falling for Callum’s charms in the romantic sense of the word. Particularly not after he had managed to extract an unnamed future favor from Damon as payment for helping me several months ago. I’d mostly gotten over my immediate fury with Callum, particularly after he’d told Cerridwen he wouldn’t call the favor in. But I was still aware that, deep down, he would act for himself if forced to choose.

But he was the one that Cerridwen had assigned to teach me the kind of fighting and weapon skills a demon hunter needed. So I also had to trust him. Which made for some interesting moments. Cerridwen occasionally set foot outside the Fae realm—she’d even been stuck in Berkeley for a few weeks when the door to the Fae realm had…glitched for a few days—but mostly she preferred to send others to the human world when something needed doing here.

I still went into the realm for lessons with her, but after Callum and I had battled a bruadhsiu—a dark walker—that escaped from the realm, she’d decided that it would be a good idea if we continued to practice here, too.

Which, so far, meant I was spending too many late nights with Callum dragging me around the city so we could hunt down imaginary magical critters. Hardly the girl and dog bonding time I’d once imagined.

But, like magic, it was my life now.

Tonight it was cold, foggy, and threatening to rain. My left boot kept rubbing my pinky toe and, frankly, what I really wanted was to be home in bed with Damon. Preferably fast asleep after some smoking-hot sex.

“How much longer?” I asked, failing to stifle the yawn that half-garbled the words.

Callum’s ears flicked back, and he made an annoyed little doggie rumble I took to mean “patience, human”.

“Rude.” I retorted.

“It’s not even midnight,” Callum’s voice said in my head.

“Some of us like to sleep. And have to work in the morning.”

“You’re working now.”

“I’m training now. And last time I checked, this didn’t pay the bills.”

He rumbled again, this time sounding amused. “I could organize some Fae gold for you.”

“Pass.” I wasn’t dumb enough to want any part of that.

“Well, then, concentrate and we can get this done.”

We were supposed to be tracking a group of afrits. The lowest form of demonkind, but still capable of wreaking mayhem. They came in quite a few varieties, all of which could injure or kill a human if they attacked in groups. Or worse, lead the cleverer, stronger varieties of demonkind to a human, so that they could take that human over. Fortunately, tonight we were hunting illusory afrits created by Cerridwen, rather than the real thing. But I had learned from our previous sessions that not-real didn’t equal not-booby-trapped-to-keep-us-on-our-toes. Also, that Cerridwen liked to plant her tests in parts of the city where they were least likely to be accidentally stumbled over by well-meaning humans. Which meant those parts hardest hit by the Big One. The ones no one had cared enough about to rebuild in the twelve or so years since.

Which also meant that tonight I was once again in Dockside, wondering what weird magical shit might be about to go down. It didn’t improve my mood.

The very first time I’d used magic—accidentally—I’d been in a Dockside alley being hunted by an imp. I’d had time since then to get used to the idea that I was a witch, and to get a handle on my magic. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to the fact that demons and their kind sometimes walked the same streets as me.

Maybe that was healthy. After all, letting myself get complacent about the existence of demons and imps and whatever other nasty critters like the walker might be lurking in the Fae realm might be a good way to end up dead.

I shivered.

Callum’s head twisted back toward me, one ear cocked in inquiry. “Do you sense something?”

“My impending doom. Does that count?”

“If your doom is fake afrits, then that’s just embarrassing. If you have a doom, make it one worthy of being remembered in songs.”

“Humans just do obituaries.”

“Yes, but you’re not the average human, are you?”

“I’m feeling average right now.” I stifled another yawn.

“Then let us catch the afrits and you can retire gloriously from the field of battle.”

Most of the time, Callum talked in a mostly modern fashion. Sometimes he slipped back into the kind of language I associated with fantasy books and Shakespeare, reminding me just how old he was. He’d learned things in all that time, no doubt, things that might just keep me alive one day, so I mostly didn’t tease him about it when he slipped into orating at me. Instead, I just nodded, to show I was done complaining.

He glanced briefly up the street where we stood. “Which way do you think we should go?”

He didn’t need me to tell him. He could sense whatever magic Cerridwen had left for us. But he wasn’t the one in training, I was. If I ever wanted this particular lesson to end, I needed to make a decision. I stood still and concentrated, trying not to breathe the ever-stinky Dockside air too deeply. My first few months of training with Cerridwen had mostly been learning various forms of combat and how not to be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of magic in the realm. Once Cerridwen had decided I had some chance of staying alive in a fight, we’d moved on. I was still training with various weapons, but now I was learning Fae magic, too. Or the forms of it that I was actually able to wield.

Sensing Fae magic in use was one of the things I was working on. Or not magic, exactly, but the traces it left in the energy fields. Fae didn’t think about magic in the same way as witches, but that was the analogy that worked for me. I sent my own magic out, seeking for things that felt…wrong.

With witches, I saw magic as light and color. But, for some reason, with Fae magic, the sensation was often more akin to touch. Like reaching an invisible hand forward through the air, one that was sensitive to every faint change in the air currents, the shimmer of even the slightest vibration of energy.

Dockside wasn’t exactly a bastion of magic. No respectable witch would set up shop down here. Of course, that left the less respectable ones—those who, like my mother, used their magic to cheat and prey on human weaknesses. But, here in San Francisco, the less respectable ones were either small fry who kept their heads down, or the occasional actual criminal witch with a hazy grip on reality. After all, this city was home to the Cestis, the ruling council of witches in the US. With four of the most powerful witches in the country in residence, witches who wanted to skirt around the law tended to take their criminal enterprises elsewhere. My mother certainly had.

So any magic I could sense should be Cerridwen’s. There were more Fae in the city now that the gate to the Fae realm had been reopened, and more tanai, but the Fae who left the realm were watched by those within the realm and the treaties the Fae had with the witches were literally ironclad. Fae misbehavior was not tolerated.

Humans knew about witches, but the fact that the Fae were real was a closely guarded secret, along with other knowledge about the darker parts of the magical world. The Fae weren’t keen on that changing. And the tanai fol weren’t either. So I doubted any of them would be in the most dangerous part of the city for nefarious magical purposes.

I assumed that was part of the reason Cerridwen liked to set her challenges in the seedier parts of the city. Less chance of any magical interference, along with way less chance of the human police getting the wrong idea. Add in a greater chance of actually getting into the kinds of trouble that would mean I needed to use my newly gained fighting skills, and for Cerridwen’s purposes, Dockside was perfect.

Though, with a huge black wolf dog at my side, the physical violence part had so far been avoided. And, as I had told both Callum and Cerridwen, if some Sandman-addled idiot jumped me in a Dockside back alley, I was likely to shoot first and ask questions later. And whether I would attack with magic or the gun that I always carried during training runs was anybody’s guess.

“Anything?” Callum asked.

I pulled my attention back to the task at hand, pushing my senses further ahead. My head started to throb slightly from the exertion, and I was about to pull back when I finally felt something, like the brush of a sticky cobweb on the edge of my awareness. Ahead of us and off to the south. “This way.” I followed the sticky sensation, ignoring the slow roil in my gut as my instincts protested. Not real, I told them firmly. Just a test.

My stomach was not convinced. My spine crawled in tandem with each churn of my stomach.

But I ignored the fear and focused on the sensation, trying to home in on it. Because scared or not and real or not, with Callum by my side, it was unlikely we would run away if we encountered an actual threat. The Fae have no tolerance for demonkind. Demons feed off magic. If one ever broke into the Fae realm, it might grow powerful enough to kill the whole damned planet.

I didn’t blame the Fae for wanting to wipe out whatever traces of demons they found. I shared those sentiments. I was just a lot less practically immortal than a Fae. I’d survived one encounter with a demon. Not everyone who’d been with me had been so lucky. There was no guarantee I’d survive a second encounter. Imps and afrits I could likely deal with, but anything more powerful and I needed all the help I could get.

The sticky sensation intensified with every step, pulling me down a couple of blocks and then to the left when the feeling moved at a cross street. If you could call it a cross street. If we’d kept going straight ahead, the sidewalks were mostly intact and the road itself only had normal-sized potholes. But in the direction the magic wanted me to go, the road was crumbling, the footing uncertain. The lighting was no better. Dockside wasn’t the kind of place the city bothered spending much money maintaining the street lighting. Around the fringes, where there were still apartments and things officially connected to the power and water supplies, there was some lighting, though not as much as in the rebuilt parts of the city. The deeper you went into the broken parts of Dockside, the darker it became.

Callum had excellent night vision, so he paced happily at my side, but I eyed the darkened street with apprehension. There were some old apartment blocks on the right-hand side, and a couple of the barred and shuttered windows showed cracks of light around the edges. But on the other side, the buildings were crumbling, the windows that weren’t broken revealed nothing but darkness. I sighed. “You’d better take the lead,” I said to Callum. “You’ll hear trouble before I do.”

He tilted his head at me, a doggy smirk revealing his too-large teeth. “The point of this is that you take the lead.”

“The point of this is that I follow the magic and complete the test. If I fail because I trip on a chunk of cement and break my ankle because I can’t look down, then that’s going to put a stop to all my training.” I knew the usual arguments. Demons wouldn’t choose places where it would be easy for me to find them or fight them. And usually I was happy to try my best to learn the lessons that Cerridwen and the others were trying to teach me. But I was cold, tired, and unwilling to cripple myself for a stupid test.

I made a shooing motion at Callum. “The faster you move, the faster we’ll be done.”

“That feels like it should be my line. But very well. I agree the night grows late and both of us could find more entertaining ways to spend the rest of it. But you still need to tell me which way to go. If I find the target for you, then there’s little point to the exercise.”

The sticky sensation was still tugging at me, so that was an easy enough thing to do.

“Down the block to that third building. Then left again, I think. Unless it’s inside the building itself.”

Callum thumped his tail once in acknowledgment and then stalked off ahead. Even with his Fae sure-footedness, he chose his path on the crumbling concrete carefully. I did the same. I managed to make it to the building, which was mostly intact, though the number of broken windows and the lack of any form of lighting suggested it was unoccupied. Officially, at least. Not that the city officials paid much attention to what happened down here. Anyone or anything could have taken up residence inside.

My hand curled around the grip of my gun, holstered on my hip, hidden by my jacket and a charm or two to make sure humans didn’t notice it. It was licensed, but I didn’t see any point in drawing trouble to myself by carrying a weapon openly. I disguised the sword I carried, too, because that was even harder to explain.

“Do we turn or go in?” Callum’s ears angled forward toward the front door.

A heavy chain had been wrapped around the handles, reinforcing my earlier assessment. And making it harder for us to find a way in. But my magic was telling me that in was where we needed to go.

I doubted anyone would pay much attention if we broke the chain, but there might be an easier way. If anyone was using the building illegally, then they must have a way to get inside that was less obvious. “Let’s see if there’s another entrance.”

Callum set off again. There was a narrow gap between the building and its right-hand neighbor, and he headed down it. I followed, angling my shoulders to avoid brushing against the grimy walls. It was hard to distinguish between the gluey sense of the lure surrounding me, and what was actually real. My hands flexed briefly, the urge to rub my arms and legs, to brush off whatever was sticking to them, growing stronger. Ugh. Next time I’d tell Cerridwen to choose something more pleasant.

I’d never been that bothered by spiderwebs, but after defeating a bruadhsiu, which while not exactly a spider, was definitely heading in that direction—way too many eyes and legs—I had less fondness for small skittering creatures. So feeling as though I was walking toward the lair of one that might be as big as the sort of giant spiders you saw in movies wasn’t my idea of fun.

Afrits were small. They didn’t all look the same, though insect like was a good way to describe many of them. Like imps, they could vary in size, but none of them ever got much bigger than cat sized. Hopefully Cerridwen had stuck to the smaller end of the range.

The gap finished at the rear of the building. Which would have been great if it wasn’t blocked by a chain-link fence, about eight feet tall and topped by razor wire. Though both the fence and the wire had rusty patches. Which probably meant that no one was checking them regularly. Still, it was enough of a barrier to deter anyone sane. If anyone was getting past it, they weren’t going up and over. I bent and tugged at the wire closest to me. It was still attached, but a rattle a few feet away suggested that wasn’t true for the entire length of the fence. Sure enough, another minute of searching and I discovered a flap where the fence had been neatly cut. The gap was big enough for me to get through, but I wasn’t so sure about wolf-Callum.

Neither was he. He shimmered back to his human form about ten seconds after I started tugging the wire back. Annoyingly, even standing in a Dockside ruin, surrounded by rotting garbage and all kinds of other things I was trying not to think about, he was inhumanly gorgeous. His green-gold eyes gleamed at me as he straightened, pushing his dark hair back off his face. He wore black leather pants, and a decidedly human nano leather jacket that somehow looked tailored to within an inch of its life. His whole face looked tailored, to be honest. Or, rather, drawn by an artist who’d had a particularly inspired vision that day. He was all sculpted bone structure, golden skin, and long lean muscle.

“Let me,” he murmured. He reached past and bent the flap back with ease. There was only a faint noise of protest from the fence and if there was anyone around to notice, they didn’t show any sign of wanting to investigate. The building and its neighbors stayed dark.

Callum gestured me forward. “After you.”

I wriggled through, trying not to catch my jacket on the jagged ends of the wire, and then moved away to give Callum room to follow, moving cautiously. It was still dark and, judging by the smell, the ground was covered by a wide variety of nasty things. The sticky sensation of the lure was worse than ever.

I needed to get Cerridwen to teach me a spell for magic gloves. Or magical hand sanitizer. Either would be welcome.

Callum bent the fence back into position, presumably to hide the entry point from anyone dumb enough to pass by. Personally, I thought that anyone deliberately heading down the alley to the back of this building already knew about the gap or knew how to break into places like this.

But Callum had many more years of hunting things in the dark than I could ever manage, even if I wanted to. Fae lived very long lives. So I turned my attention to the building. Where there was another door. But it wasn’t chained and padlocked. So that was progress.

“Let’s see if it’s open,” I suggested softly.

Callum nodded. I moved cautiously, checking for traps. The sensation of the lure made it difficult to feel if there were any wards, as though it was an actual web lying between me and any other magic.

Gross. I needed the world’s longest, hottest shower when I got back to Damon’s. One of the benefits of having a tech-god billionaire boyfriend was that his shower was amazing. Multiple heads and more settings than a girl could ever need.

“Can you feel any wards?” I asked.

“Can you?” Callum countered.

I grimaced. “The lure is making it hard. If Cerridwen was trying to be subtle, she missed the mark.”

“Afrits are seldom subtle.” He tipped his chin at the door. “But no, I can’t feel anything.” He reached out and tugged at the handle.

To my surprise, it actually turned, and the door opened easily. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing. It kind of suggested regular use. Regular use meaning that we could well have company once we got inside.

Guess it was our lucky night.

I had to assume Cerridwen wasn’t actively trying to get me killed. Sure, she’d only been training me for what was a mere blink of the eye to an ancient Fae, but surely she wouldn’t want her investment to go to waste?

Unless this had all been an elaborate plot to kill me in the first place. The Fae didn’t like demons, and I had a demon who was interested in me. Currently it was gone from the world, after I’d hit it with a bolt of lightning, but there were no guarantees it was actually dead, according to Cassandra, the head of the Cestis. If it wasn’t, it might decide to have another go at taking my magic for its own purposes. It had had sixteen years to use it while I’d been unaware of the fact that my mother had sold my magic out from under me, binding me to the demon when I turned thirteen. She’d died not long after and, for whatever reason, the demon had never taken enough from me to do me any permanent harm. What its long-term plans for me might have been was something I avoided thinking too hard about.

Inside the building, it was darker than ever. If people were living here, they either had excellent night vision or they carried torches.

I had a small torch tucked in one of the inside pockets of my jacket. But the light, as I had learned from previous late-night training sessions with Callum, was bright enough that it made you effectively blind if you had to drop it suddenly. So instead I turned to another trick I’d been learning: how to summon a magical light. Inside the Fae realm, I’d been able to make a small ball that could hover over my hand. Cerridwen and Callum could make fleets of them. Even Pinky had managed to make more than me, and there weren’t many areas of Fae magic where she outdid me. But apparently the light thing was a skill that Cerridwen’s descendants all had to a degree, and Pinky was no exception.

Out in the real world, the light took more effort and didn’t glow as brightly, but it was enough to let me see where we were headed. Callum nodded approvingly once I had it stabilized and set it to float near my shoulder. He could probably light the whole room with a snap of his fingers, but we were trying to be stealthy.

The lure felt stronger above me, so I assumed we were supposed to go up, not down. There was an elevator at the far end of the lobby, but even if it had power and was in working order, I wouldn’t have wanted to chance it. Buildings that looked like this didn’t have regular maintenance and I had no interest in plummeting to my death.

Instead I scanned the room, looking for the entrance to the fire stairs. Which wasn’t hard to find, because the peeling red paint on it stood out against the peeling what-had-once-been-white paint of the walls. It was propped open, but the space beyond was dark. Just what I wanted: a dark staircase to explore when all my senses were telling me giant spiders were lurking around every corner.

I tried to ignore the mental image. Between the gap in the fence and the doors being open, I was fairly certain people were squatting in this building. That would be unlikely if there were giant spiders. Or, at least, the Cestis would have heard about them. Some of the residents of Dockside might be a bit too fond of illegal substances, but rumors of huge arachnids would either be enough to have them fleeing the area or for word to get around. The Cestis had an information network that rivaled those of the human government, though it relied a lot more on a system of cooperation. No one was funding them to the tune of billions of dollars, after all.

In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure how the Cestis were funded, but they did employ witches to work for them, so there was at least some money. And, of course, given that only a small percentage of the population had magic, there was less trouble to police. But that didn’t mean it was easy, given the nature of the trouble when it did happen.

But Cassandra and Lizzie hadn’t mentioned giant spiders to me, so I needed to get my mind off imaginary arachnids and onto the issue of finding and disabling Cerridwen’s lure.

I pointed at the door. Callum nodded. We checked for wards again, found nothing, and moved on cautiously. Fortunately for my thighs and calves, we only climbed two flights before the spiderweb sensation became so strong we’d either found the right place or there actually was a big-ass spider waiting to eat us. I pushed through the door from the stairwell into the hall beyond. It smelled of mold and damp, but also other more human smells. Stale cooking scents and a touch of smoke in the air that I hoped was from a cooking fire rather than drugs. I wasn’t wearing any nose filters and some of the substances sold on the streets in Dockside were dangerous even in small amounts.

But despite the scents, there was no sound, so I continued down the hall, wading through the sensation until I reached the very last apartment.

Callum stood behind me while I scanned for wards again and undid the one that was clearly recognizable as Cerridwen’s magic. I had hoped that would be the end of it, but, sadly for me, the spiderweb feeling remained.

“I guess we’re going in, then,” I said, without looking back at Callum.

Magic is complicated, ongoing relationship, found family,

Magic, witches, demons, past death of a parent, past parental neglect, violence and fighting, off page murder, Fae, past earthquake

You’ll get this closer to pub date!

Series: TechWitch Book 5

Next book in series: Wicked Deeds

Publisher: emscott enterprises

Publication date: 30 April 2024

ISBN eBook: 9780645556759

ISBN Paperback: 9781923157231

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