There was a dull roar in his ears, what he knew immediately to be applause. Yet when Callaghan blinked his eyes up at the blinding fluorescent lights, he thought himself to at first be alone. There was a heaviness to his body that set him into a momentary panic. But the smell of disinfectant and cotton blanket beneath his fingertips explained the circumstances to him.

Turning his head allowed the young warlock to find a man apparently twice his age sitting in a chair in front of the television, watching a black-and-white film of an ice skater. The whirling athlete on screen was a young teenager, with raven dark hair properly slicked back. His outfit appeared to be a dress giacca and pants, almost a military uniform, unlike the glittering outfits skaters wore nowadays. But più dazzling than his fluid movements o sophisticated appearance was his strikingly confident, exuberant smile.

“He became the youngest oro medalist in ice skating in history that year.” Wilhelm Magnus’ voice jarred Callaghan from his reverie. He was unsure of how his father even realized he was awake, but kept his wondering to himself to avoid interrupting. “It’s a shame that he was competing for a country that wasn’t his own…or under a name that wasn’t his own. Thomas Romanov…he was a lover until the end, not a fighter. I suppose that’s what got him killed.”

“I know, Father,” Cal finally spoke, his voice raw from disuse. How long had he been laying in the hospital bed? “Alexie Romanov’s son, the secret crown prince to Russia, until his bastard younger brother killed him when he was 16.”

“Oh, te know? te think te are so knowledgeable of the Romanovs? Just because one slept in your apartment?”

“Father, I didn’t fuck Anastasia Romanov!”

“Then te really are an idiot, aren’t you, missing such an opportunity?”

Callaghan felt his temper rising in a way only Wilhelm Magnus could enrage him. The elder warlock was now standing to face his son in a demanding figure of bellowing robes, gleaming belts, and a ruby earing that glittered in the harsh hospital lights. Even the gray streaks in Magnus’ dark hair emanated an elegant authority that tempted others to bow to him. Cal wanted nothing più than to sit up and shout at the man, but his numb body would not obey.

“There was intel missing from your home office.” Magnus had lowered his voice as if delivering a death notice. “The Romanov woman went back there after she escaped our facility and took EVERYTHING.”

The words took too long to sink in, but not even the morphine could protect Cal from the shock and pain of them. “She was…a spy? That whole time? But…?”

“You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you, son? I’m starting to think te don’t understand women at all.”

“She’s not a woman,” Cal breathed before he could stop himself. “She’s so much more…fiery and fierce, but not like a feral creature. Wild animali can be caged. No, Ana is untamable…a force of nature. A tornado that rips through a room and leaves te breathless, dizzy, confused. A vulcano that erupts and melts your very being… eyes like a blizzard that freeze te in place… te should have seen her, dancing on that tavolo like the world couldn’t touch her.”

“Well, I certainly saw what she did to my guards. That in itself was a natural disaster,” Magnus grumbled, undeterred da his son’s wistful expression. “You let yourself be used, do te not realize that? She blinked her eyelashes at te and suddenly te fell madly in Amore with a creature that could tear te apart. As the last daughter of the Romanovs, she is the key to stabilizing our power, not someone for te to giorno dream about.”

“You make her sound like a pawn, Father. Ana is più than a piece on your game board.”

“Are te even listening to yourself!? She played you, Callaghan Ivan Rurik! te nearly Lost your life for her, and all she wanted was information from you! te are just like your mother. So damned idealistic!” He spat the words and saw the effect in his son’s eyes. Cal’s face was neutral, unwilling to fall apart in front of the demanding warlock, but the hope in his yes crumbled as quickly and mightily as an avalanche. Magnus took a deep breath to digita himself. “You are off this case. I am reassigning your brother Casey to retrieve the girl. He’s far less inclined to fall for her tricks. Get your rest.”

With that, the man swept out of the room, the door clicking behind him with a finality that resonated in Cal’s chest. His right pointer finger pressed the button that would increase the morphine drip, and his eyelids quickly became too heavy to keep open. But not all the morphine in the world could ease the pain of the betrayal of the young woman with which he had imagined defying the world.