Home > Taken (Alex Verus #3)

Taken (Alex Verus #3)
Benedict Jacka

Chapter 1

The Starbucks in Angel is on the corner of the busy intersection of Pentonville Road and Upper Street, set deep into the offices around it with a glass front that lets in the light. The counter’s at ground level, but climbing to the second floor gives a view down onto the high street and the crowds streaming in and out of Angel station. Opposite the Starbucks is Angel Square, a huge, sprawling, weirdly designed building checkered in orange and yellow and topped with a clock tower. The clock tower looks down onto City Road, a long downhill highway linking Kings Cross and the City. It was eleven A.M. and the morning rush was long past, but the roads and sidewalks were still crowded, the steady growl of engines muffled through the glass.

Inside, the shop was peaceful. Two women in work clothes chatted over their lattes and muffins, while a stolid-looking man with greying hair hid behind his Times. A student sat absorbed in his laptop while three men in business suits were bent over a table full of spreadsheets, their drinks forgotten. Music played quietly over the speakers, and the clatter of cups and coffee machines drifted up from the floor below. And near the window, chair turned to watch both the street and anyone coming in, was me.

I like the Angel Starbucks for meetings. It’s easy to reach, there’s a nice view, and it’s just the right balance between public and private. Usually it’s quiet—most of the trendy people prefer the cafés north along Upper Street—but not so quiet as to give anyone ideas. I’d probably like it even more if I drank coffee. Then again, given how much people like to complain about Starbucks, maybe I wouldn’t.

I’d already checked out the surroundings and the other customers, so when the woman walked into the shop downstairs I was free to focus on her. There are two ways of getting a look at someone with divination magic: You can look into the futures of you approaching them, or you can look into the futures of them approaching you. The first is better if you want to study them; the second is better if you want advance warning of what they’re planning. I chose the first, and by the time the woman stepped onto the second floor I’d been watching her for nearly a minute.

She was good-looking—really good-looking, with gold hair and sculpted features that made me think of old English aristocracy. She wore a cream-coloured suit that probably cost more than my entire wardrobe, and everyone in the room turned to look as she passed. The three men forgot about their spreadsheets, and the two women put their chatter on hold, watching her with narrowed eyes. Her heels clicked to a stop as she looked down at me. “Alex Verus?”

“That’s me,” I said.

She sat opposite me, legs together. I felt the eyes of everyone in the room comparing the woman’s outfit with my rumpled trousers and sweater. Now that she was on the same level I could see that it wasn’t just the heels, she really was tall, almost as tall as me. She carried nothing but a small handbag. “Coffee?” I said.

She glanced at a slim gold watch. “I only have half an hour.”

“Suits me.” I leant back on the chair. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re after?”

“I need—”

I held up my hand. “I was hoping you might introduce yourself first.”

There was a brief flash of irritation in her eyes, but it vanished quickly. “I’m Crystal.”

I already knew her name. In fact, I’d gone out of my way to find out quite a bit about Crystal in the two days since she’d contacted me requesting a meeting. I knew she was a Light mage, one of the “nobility” with lots of connections. I knew she wasn’t a player in Council politics, although she had friends there. I knew the type of magic she could use, where in England she was based, and even how old she was. What I didn’t know was what she wanted me for, and that was what I’d come here to find out. “So what can I do for you?”

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