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No Words: Chapter 23

Me?” I looked around, certain Garrett was pointing at someone else.

But no. The finger he’d jabbed in my direction was now crooked as he motioned for me to approach the stage.

“Yes, you.” Garrett grinned—a grin that made my blood run cold, despite the warm ocean breeze—because there was no denying it: I was the person he was talking to. “Come on, Jo, don’t be shy. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause to Ms. Jo Wright, author of the internationally bestselling Kitty Katz, Kitten Sitter series. She’s graciously agreed to be my assistant this evening.”

“What?” I glanced around, panic swelling inside me. “No, I didn’t.” I found myself looking desperately up at Will. “I didn’t!” Don’t ask me why it was so important to me that Will knew I had never agreed to be Garrett’s magician’s assistant. At that moment, it seemed vital. “I don’t even believe in magic,” I blathered. “Why would I agree to help with his trick?”

“Don’t believe in magic?” Of course Garrett had overheard me. Now he feigned outrage as he repeated my words to the crowd, who’d begun to murmur among themselves. “Well, we can’t have that, now, can we? Kids, what do you say we make a believer out of Ms. Wright?”

“Hocum-pocum,” the kids cried. This was apparently something from the books Garrett wrote. “Harry-scary!”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Kellyjean said, rolling her eyes. “That isn’t even an authentic incantation.”

Oh, God. This was a nightmare.

It wasn’t because I was shy, of course, or even that I didn’t believe in magic that I didn’t want to get up onstage.

It was because I didn’t want to have anything to do with Garrett, or the stupid trick he was performing to promote his brand.

But I could think of no gracious way to get out of the situation, especially when all of the little kids in front of the stage—and some not-so-little kids, too, like Jasmine and Cassidy—were yelling, “Come on, Ms. Wright! Do it!”

“Yes, do it, Ms. Wright,” Garrett said, egging them on. “Don’t be a party pooper!”

Ugh, those words. Those two little words. How could he possibly have known how much those two little words would get to me? Especially since they’d been flung at me so often, first in high school and then later, through college and even after, when friends (but not my real friends, because they had known me better) had nagged me to come out with them to have fun.

But I couldn’t, because I’d been too busy working my many side hustles in order to make ends meet, and then later, when I’d needed to meet my deadlines. If that made me a party pooper, so be it.

“Fine,” I grumbled, and started for the stage . . . until Will stopped me by laying a hand on my shoulder.

“It’s all right,” he said. He looked worried, like a host whose dinner party roast chicken was going up in flames. “You really don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“Thank you,” I said, smiling at his attempt at chivalry. “But I can handle it.”

Then I began making my way toward the stage to the sound of cheers and applause from the audience.

“Ah, there she is, ladies and gentlemen,” Garrett said as he offered me a hand to help me up the single step to the stage. “Isn’t she lovely? I think she’ll make a perfect assistant.”

I leaned close to Garrett’s face as if I was going to kiss his cheek, but instead, I grabbed a handful of his cape and, pulling hard on it, whispered into his ear, “If you do anything weird, I’m going to take this cape of yours and wrap it around your neck and pull until you’re dead. Understand?”

“Ah-ha!” Garrett let out a high-pitched giggle and jerked away from me, startled. “Let’s not waste any more time, shall we? The spirit world is crying out for release! And I have just the tools they need.”

From deep within a pocket of his pirate pants—or professor pants, I guess—Garrett withdrew a pair of handcuffs. The stage lights winked dramatically on the bright silver metal, causing the kids in the audience to gasp.

I, however, was not as impressed.

“If you think you’re putting those on me,” I whispered to him, “you have another—”

“I’ve brought you up here, Ms. Wright,” Garrett went on dramatically, speaking to his audience and not to me, “to examine these manacles and assure our audience that they are indeed genuine. I shall then have you secure my wrists with them and perform before your very eyes the same daring act that my well-known character Professor Eurynomos will famously perform in Dark Magic School number eleven—available everywhere books are sold on January the twenty-second: the feat of dematerialization.”

The kids in the audience went wild, screaming and kicking their feet while shouting, “Dematerialization! Dematerialization!”

I had to admit, Garrett’s shtick was pretty good. Even the adults in the audience were getting into it. Everyone was smiling and buzzing to one another, especially Saul, probably the toughest critic in the place, since he’d written numerous books featuring the occult (although they were all for adult readers). Over on the dock, people who weren’t attending the book festival, and so couldn’t get into Cracked, were jostling with one another for a better view.

Even Will, when I stole a glance at him, was grinning, enjoying the spectacle. Garrett may have been a writer, but he had a strong streak of showmanship in him. My dad would have been impressed.

I decided the wisest course of action was to play along so I didn’t look like a “party pooper,” even though I still didn’t trust—or like—Garrett.

“Okay,” I said. “Let me see them.”

“The manacles, madam.” Garrett slapped the cuffs into my hands. “And the only existing key.” He withdrew from the same pocket a tiny key on a long silver chain. “You will hold on to this until I return from the spiritual plane to which I shall travel while attempting to free myself. You and only you, Ms. Wright, shall have the means to free me. If I fail—though I pray to the gods of darkness I shall not—you must use this key to save me.”

He dropped the chain holding the key around my neck.

“Fine,” I said, playing along. “I accept the honor.”

Then I made a great show of inspecting the handcuffs, holding them up to the stage lights and squinting at them while locking the clasps and then unlocking them with the key, much to the squealing delight of the children.

“Well?” Garrett asked me. “Does everything seem to be in order?”

“It does.”

They really did appear to be an ordinary pair of handcuffs, not the trick kind my mother gave me when I was little—a pair that broke after approximately five uses—back when I still believed in magic.

I returned the cuffs to him, conscious of the cold metal of the key resting against the skin of my chest. “Regulation handcuffs.”

“Thank you, madam. And now, if you will do me the great honor—” He held his arms out to his sides. “Please search my pockets to ensure I have no other key in my possession and am not cheating this fine audience gathered here tonight.”

I took a quick step backward. “Uh, no. I’m not searching your pockets.” The jerk.

“Ms. Wright.” Garrett wore a look of mock dismay. I knew his feelings weren’t really hurt. But he was good at pretending they were. “You were doing so well until now. Why won’t you reach into my pockets and make sure I don’t have a spare key? Surely you aren’t frightened of the power of my magic, are you?”

Ugh, he was disgusting. I knew he thought he was being funny—a number of people in the audience were laughing, even if the “joke” went straight over the heads of the kids, though they laughed as well, since they could hear some of the adults laughing.

But Garrett’s joke wasn’t funny to me. It was gross and inappropriate, especially in light of the rumors I’d heard about him.

Of course, they were only rumors, and it was wrong to judge people based on gossip . . . something I probably should have kept in mind where Will Price was concerned.

But there was no way I was playing along with his little game. I was inhaling to tell him so when a deep voice rang out from the crowd.

“I’ll do it.”

I hardly had time to register who the deep voice belonged to before its owner stepped up onto the stage.

It was Will, of course.

“Uh.” The smile disappearing from Garrett’s face, he lowered his arms. “No, that’s okay. I’ll just—”

“Turn your pockets inside out?” Will asked coldly, reaching over to do exactly that. He thrust both hands inside the pockets of Garrett’s trousers and wrenched them outward. “There. Look, folks. Nothing to see here. Nothing at all.”

Garrett’s cheeks were turning pink under the bright glare of the stage lights, but he managed to keep it together, even as I’d begun grinning like a maniac because Will Price had come to my rescue.

Not that I’d needed Will to come to my rescue, of course. I had been one hundred percent purr-fectly capable of handling the situation of Garrett Newcombe and his inappropriate suggestion that I put my hands down his pants.

But the idea that Will had thought he’d needed to come rushing up onto the stage and protect me from Garrett’s disgusting pants proposal?

So sweet!

Until I realized that I wasn’t the only person who’d noticed. Both Jasmine and Cassidy had lifted their phones to start filming, and so had a few total strangers in the audience. I had the sense that we were mere seconds away from the incident being submitted to BuzzFeed as more evidence that Will and I were an item.

Worse, I was beginning to think this wouldn’t be the worst thing . . . especially as I took Will by the arm and attempted to push him off the stage, and I felt the hardness of his bicep beneath the soft material of his linen jacket.

“Thanks so much, Will,” I said. “But if you could just go back to your seat, I can take it from here—”

“Are you sure?” He looked—well, furious was the only word to describe it.

Furious on my account. This was a first. I couldn’t remember a man ever being furious on my account, except possibly my dad when he read what Will had said about me in the Times.

I was going to have to remember what this felt like so I could slip it into Kitty Katz #27.

“I’m sure,” I said, steering Will back to his seat. Fortunately he let me. “It’s all good.”

It wasn’t all good, especially with Bernadette winking knowingly at me over the rim of her martini glass. But I just had to get through the next five minutes—or however long it took for Garrett to finish his trick—and then I could return to my seat and continue flirting with Will—I mean, enjoying my evening.

I hurried back up to the stage and found Garrett standing there, his hands stretched out in front of him. “Ms. Wright. If you will.”

“Of course.” I snapped the cuffs into place—extra tightly, since Garrett wasn’t my favorite person at the moment.

He didn’t flinch, however.

“And now,” he said, raising his chin. “If you will do me the honor of untying my cape and using it as a curtain to cover me while I dematerialize.”

I stared at him. “What?”

He rolled his eyes at my ineptness. “Untie my cape and use it as a curtain to cover me while I—what, children?”

“Dematerialize!” roared the kids in the audience.

“Honestly, Ms. Wright,” Garrett said, in mock indignation. “It’s almost as if you had no knowledge whatsoever of the spirit world.”

Realizing this was evidently a well-known part of Garrett’s act, I untied the strings that held Garrett’s cape secure beneath his chin and then, when the garment fell from his shoulders and into my hands, held the heavy purple velvet to my side, high enough so that the audience couldn’t see what he was doing behind it.

“Professor Eurynomos will see all of you soon,” Garrett called to his audience as he pressed an emergency release button on the side of the handcuffs and slipped them back into his pocket, “when he returns from the other side of the spirit world!”

“Really?” I whispered to him from behind the cape. “This is your big magic trick? I was expecting something a little more dramatic.”

“No, Jo,” Garrett said to me with a pitying smile. “That isn’t the magic trick. This is.”

And then, still hidden behind the cape I was holding before him, Garrett walked to the deck railing behind him, swung his legs over it, and dropped into the sea.


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