Home > Ruby Fever (Hidden Legacy #6)

Ruby Fever (Hidden Legacy #6)
Author: Ilona Andrews

 

Prologue

 


“Is it haunted?”

Oh, for the love of . . . “No, Arabella.”

My sister squinted at the monstrosity of an estate growing closer as the SUV sped up the gently climbing driveway. “Look at all the towers. It looks haunted.”

“It’s not,” Bern said.

“How do you know it’s not haunted?” Leon asked from the back.

Because ghosts didn’t exist. “Because Trudy is a nice person, I like her, and she wouldn’t let us buy a haunted house.”

“Yes,” Arabella said, “but did you ask if it was?”

“I did, and Trudy said no.” Our poor, long-suffering Realtor had answered more bizarre questions in the last couple of months than she had during her whole career.

My little sister whipped out her phone and bent her blond head over it.

The entire Baylor family was in the car with the exception of Grandma Frida and my older sister and brother-in-law. We were going to buy a house.

When I was very young, we lived in a typical suburban home. It was just the five of us: my dad, my mom, my older sister Nevada, me, and my younger sister Arabella. Then our two cousins, Bern and Leon, came to live with us because their mother wasn’t worth two cents and nobody knew who their fathers were. Then Dad got sick. We sold the house to pay for his treatment and moved into a warehouse with Grandma Frida, my mother’s mom. Dad died. Nevada, who was seventeen at the time, took over Baylor Investigative Agency, our family business, and she and Grandma Frida, who worked on tanks and mobile artillery for the Texas magical elite, put food on our table and clothes on our backs.

Eventually Nevada came into her magic, and we became House Baylor, one of the prominent families that boasted more than two living Primes, the highest ranked mages. Nevada fell in love and moved out, I ended up as the Head of the House, and one of my first achievements was to blow up the warehouse all of us called home. The fact that said blowing up was completely accidental did nothing to put a roof back over our heads or to decrease my guilt.

For a while we made do with an old industrial building we sort of converted into a habitable home, but all of us hated it. And our needs had changed. All of us, including my little sister, were now adults. We wanted to stay together, both because we loved each other and because House Baylor was a new House and every time we left our building, we sported lovely targets on our backs. Safety in numbers was very much true in our case. But we also desperately needed privacy.

We wanted to live together. Just not together-together.

Finding the right house in our price range had taken forever, but I had my hopes pinned on this one. I really liked it.

“I heard Realtors have to disclose if the house is haunted,” Leon said.

I looked at Mom in the driver’s seat. She gave me an amused smile. No help there.

“Apparently only four states require you to disclose paranormal activity,” Arabella reported. “Nine states require you to notify the buyer if a death occurred on the premises. And Texas does neither.”

“There were no deaths on the premises. Nobody died in the house, so it can’t possibly be haunted,” I told them.

“How do you know nobody died?” Leon asked.

“Because I checked the records,” Bern rumbled.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Arabella said.

Clearly, there were two teams in this vehicle: Team Facts and Team Facts Be Damned.

“What if they hid it?” Leon asked.

Bern gave his younger brother a look. When it came to uncovering facts, Bern had no equal. If there was a record of something and that record was at any point entered into a computer connected to the Internet, he would find it.

We had run out of driveway and came to a stop atop a low hill. Mom eyed the ten-foot wall that wrapped around the estate. Directly in front of us a short, arched tunnel cut through it, allowing entry to the inner grounds. Normally the entrance was blocked by a heavy metal gate, which right now was retracted into the wall on the left side. On the right side, enclosed within the wall’s thickness, was a guardhouse.

“That’s a lot of security,” Mom said.

“I like it,” Leon said. “If the infidels choose to storm the walls, we can unleash a rain of arrows and boiling pitch.”

Ha. Ha.

Mom maneuvered our armored Chevy Tahoe through the entrance and into the front parking lot on the right side. Alessandro’s silver Alfa Romeo already waited in one of the parking spots.

Everyone piled out of the car. The inner driveway, a wide paved road flanked by thick, mature oaks, unrolled straight ahead, leading south to the main house. To the right of us was a large stone-and-timber pavilion with huge windows.

Mom nodded at it. “What’s that?”

“That’s a wedding pavilion. The beam work inside is really pretty. I thought that if we insulated it properly, we could use it as our office building.”

Leon frowned. “You mean like a separate office building? One where we could conduct business and then leave and not be at work? People have such things?”

I sighed.

“Leon,” Mom said. “She and Alessandro spent the last two weeks trying to get this place inspected. She barely slept and barely ate. As I recall, none of you helped except for Bern. How about you holster that razor-sharp wit and try to be less you for the next hour?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Leon stood up straight and appeared to look serious. It wouldn’t last, but it was a good try. My younger cousin was twenty years old, and he showed zero interest in changing his ways. And that was fine with me. I liked Leon just the way he was.

Mom squinted at the two-story rectangular building on the other side of the main driveway. “And this?”

“‘Cuartel,’” I said. “According to the listing documents.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Barracks?”

“Yes. The lower level has a kitchen, a mess hall, and an armory. The upper level has room for ten beds and a bathroom with four toilet stalls and three showers.”

“Hmmm.”

Normally interpreting Mom’s “hmmms” wasn’t a problem, but right now I had no idea what she was thinking.

We strolled down the driveway. The dense wall of ornamental shrubs framed the oaks on both sides, hiding the rest of the grounds. The tree limbs reached to each other above our heads and walking down the driveway was like heading into a green tunnel.

“Nice driveway,” Leon said.

“Enjoy it while you can,” I told him. “It’s the only straight road in the place.”

“How many acres did you say this was?” Mom asked.

“Twenty-three point four,” Bern said ahead of us. “Sixteen are walled in, the rest is deer-fenced.”

“We’ll need to continue the wall,” Mom said. “Deer fence won’t cut it.”

“Question!” Arabella raised her hand. “If we buy this, can I get a golf cart?”

“You can buy a golf cart with your own money,” Mom said.

The driveway brought us to a large forecourt in front of a two-story Mediterranean mansion.

“The main house is five thousand square feet,” I said. “The bottom floor is split into two wings. Each wing has a master. Four bedrooms upstairs, all en suite.”

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