Rose opened the door a crack and timidly peered at the two men outside in the grubby yard. “Hello.”
“Good evening,” the dark haired man said. He was impossibly handsome and his hard muscles showed under the thin, well-washed shirt. The air of dangerous focus that hung around him was at variance with his clerical dog collar. “My name is Darren King, and this is my associate, Flynn.”
“I preferred being called Vertiver,” his associate grumbled. He was just as tall and muscled but more casual in t-shirt and jeans. A shock of thick red hair hung to his shoulders. He noticed Rose’s appraising gaze and smiled like the devil. “I didn’t realise that you were so young and beautiful. We should have been here sooner.”
Rose found herself blushing and tried to claw back some control. At 24 she was no longer used to being thought young, and she hardly thought she was pretty. “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested.”
“In what?” Flyn leant against the door frame, at least six inches taller than her and full of flirtatious intention. “You don’t know why we called.”
“The Church fund?” Rose guessed. It had to be some sort of scam.
“May we come in?” Darren asked, glaring at Flynn.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Rose said. “I mean, as a woman living on my own, I have to be careful. I’m sure that you are both perfect gentlemen, but I don’t want the neighbours to talk.”
“But you don’t live on your own, do you?” Flynn leant in a little closer.
Rose stepped back involuntarily. “I want you to leave,” she forced out, “Or I’ll call the police.”
“You can call the police if you like,” Flynn said. “He’s with them, sort of.”
“I’m not police,” Darren snapped. “Flynn stop intimidating this woman.” He turned to Rose and tried a professional smile. “We have reason to believe that you have a haunted mirror.”
Rose stared at him as all colour drained from her face.
A deep voice behind her spoke. “It’s okay. We knew that this day would come.”
Rose shook her head. “I can’t lose you.”
Darren and Flynn exchanged glances as Flynn pushed past Rose and into the tiny hall with Darren following close behind.
The hall was a marked contrast to the grubby yard and grubby street outside. Inside was completely different. Pale walls and clever lighting gave an illusion of airy space in the narrow entrance. The wooden floor was polished and a subtle hint of lavender hung in the air. The men followed Rose as she retreated to the living room. Darren shut the front door firmly behind them.
The living room was a similar revelation. Outside there was a dirty street, cluttered with rubbish. Inside was a cool, understated minimalism centred around an unexpectedly ornate mirror. It had a flat copper sheen, picked up by the few decorating accents, and it only showed the magical inscription to the knowledgeable.
In front of the mirror was a transparent, ghost-like figure, an older man, with streaks of grey in his dark hair, lithe and slim in a grey, three piece suit. Magical energy whirled between the pale hands. Rose grabbed the iron poker and whirled to face them. “I don’t know how you found us, but I won’t pay you and you can’t take him. Leave us alone.”
Darren raised a sceptical eyebrow then, with snakelike speed, caught Rose’s arm, lifted, turned and pulled. The poker clattered onto the floor leaving Rose trapped in an impersonal, iron grip. Flynn moved with equal speed. His hands darted out, tangling his own magical energy into the glow in front of the ghost and unravelling it, reeling it in and catching it in a spinning, glowing sphere above Flynn’s left shoulder. Colour drained from the apparition and it faded into a translucent shadow. There had been barely enough time to breathe and suddenly Rose and the spirit were completely at the men’s mercy.
“I wish people would not jump to conclusions,” Darren said. “You have a haunted mirror, obviously. We are here to release the spirit. If there is any threat, we would deal with it, but it appears that there is an amicable arrangement here. I can’t see any reason for us to be involved any further once the spirit is released.” He grinned. “If the spirit behaves, that is.”
Flynn was staring at the apparition. “Lucius? Is that you?”
“Vertiver, what are you doing here? I was searching for you but got trapped.” Lucius managed a roguish grin. “I wasa at least aware enough that they couldn’t control me. They gave up trying to make me haunt properly, but they still sold on the mirror. I laid low, until I was lucky enough to meet Rose.” He paused and looked at Rose with love in his eyes. “Unfortunately they were still tracking me. We’ve been trying to hide from them.”
“You did a good job,” Flynn said. “I would never have thought to find you in a dump like this.” He smiled at Rose. “But the decorating is as excellent as ever.”
“You know who is tracking you?” Darren asked. “I’m trying to catch up with them. Flynn isn’t the only spirit we’ve managed to release over the last few months. Someone or something, somewhere, is making a fortune from fear, while trapping non-normals and effectively torturing them into slavery.” He released Rose and stepped back warily.
Rose stared at him. “You’re not going to try and take Lucius away.”
Darren shook his head. “Flynn should be able to release him. But we should step out of the room while it happens. Perhaps the kitchen?”
The kitchen was as minimalist and airy as the rest of the house. Darren leant against the counter. “How do you feel about Lucius?”
Rose blushed. “It’s complicated.”
“Do you love him,” Darren asked.
“Like I said, it’s complicated,” Rose said. “I think so. And I think he loves me.”
“Has he said so?” Darren said.
Rose felt her face glowing with embarrassment. “He said that he gave his word it was love and not lust that he felt,” she said. “He promised.”
“That sounds like love.” Darren said. “I’ll have a proper talk later, but you know that your life is about to get…” Darren searched for the right words. “Fairytale romances can be difficult. But they can work.”
“They can?” Rose asked cautiously.
Darren nodded. “I’ll have a proper talk later. For now, do you have records of any contact with the people looking for Lucius? Someone called Mercury?”
Rose nodded. “I kept everything.” She pulled out her phone. “I’ve saved everything, taken photos of the letters, made notes of conversations, times and dates – the whole lot. And I’ve saved it in plenty of places as well.” She jumped as a sudden crack rang through the room next door.
Darren ignored the noise. “Here are some places to send copies,” he said, pulling a small notebook from his jeans pocket and scribbling some notes. “Once you have sent them, change passwords and find another safe place to copy them. There shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s best to stay safe.” He tore out the page and handed it to Rose. “We’ll take it from there.”
Rose shook her head. “I’m sure that Lucius will want to be involved,” she said. “I don’t think you could stop him.”
The sound of Flynn swearing and the smell of brimstone seeped into the kitchen. Darren took no notice. “It may take some time for Lucius to regain his strength. Besides, he needs to look after you. Mercury doesn’t like being thwarted. We’ve heard enough to ask you and Lucius to move to a safe house.”
“A safe house?” Rose stared. “But I thought you weren’t police.”
“Other people than police have safe houses,” Darren said. “And you and Lucius have a lot of catching up to do.”