Launching a new book, or in this case a novella, is only one of many steps in the process of bringing a book to readers, however, it is one of the most exciting ones. After months (sometimes years) of work, pressing the button that sends your work out into the big wide web, is a hopeful, exhilarating moment.
The other half of the writing equation is reciprocation with readers. When someone lets you know they've enjoyed your story, I know I get a delicious thrill, and these are the moments that keep me going during the leaner times.
I wrote this novella while my WIP (the final book in the Samsara Trilogy) is resting, and crime fiction, albeit in an urban fantasy setting (of course), is a new arena for me. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy reading the first chapter of this tale as I had a lot of fun writing this story. Read on...
A stolen artifact. An imminent deadline. A tenacious investigator.
JB runs a private detective agency for the magickally challenged, but if business doesn’t pick up soon, he’ll have to close the doors for good. When someone steals Hekate’s chalice, JB and his maverick team jump at the chance to track down the supernatural object. They’re resourceful and determined, but is it enough to outsmart wizards, witches, and daemons before the client’s deadline expires?
JB lit another stick of incense, as heavy rain drummed a counterpoint on the windowpane to Nikki’s furious typing.
“Don’t lie, Zhanna! I know you’ve cracked my password. And you’ve been sneaking into my files. That makes it the second time today.” Nikki kept her eyes fixed on the screen and her black curls quivered as she shook with suppressed anger.
Zhanna, a six-inch faerie of the Irayisi race, smoothed the sides of her pink and black spiked Mohawk hairdo with her matching striped fingernails. She fluttered her wings, and sparks of iridescent color refracted like stars exploding into the air. “I haven’t been near that antiquated piece of junk you call a–”
“Look at her!” Nikki demanded of her boss. “Was she watching me dress this morning?” Other than the additional pink, and the Mohican hairstyle, their Goth outfits were identical, right down to the brass studded black leather boots.
JB rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders as he placed the incense in its holder on his desk. A thin line of smoke rose, and the scent of sandalwood purified the atmosphere. “Coffee, soda, anyone?” It wasn’t much of an attempt to keep the peace, but it might stave off a full blown hissy fit from either of them. He stood and stretched his tall lean frame. His mixed daemon, elf, and human ancestry gave him a dark brooding quality.
“As if I haven’t got enough on my plate with Juan moving in, and putting his boxes all over the place. And keep those nasty fingers of yours to yourself.” Nikki hissed at Zhanna, revealing her unnervingly pointed canine teeth.
Zhanna’s gold tinted eyes flashed, and pouting, she tossed her sparkly star-topped wand on the desk and flew over to the window. “Nobody here understands me.” She landed on the windowsill and leaned forward, her tiny nose touching the glass. “I don’t deserve to be sentenced to this place. Ebay scams should be classed as misdemeanors. It’s not as if we intended to hurt anyone. And what’s with this wet stuff pouring out of the sky at all times of the day and night?” Her finger followed a raindrop as it ran down the glass. “In Faerie Land–”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before. In Faerie Land, everything is hunky dory.”
“Oh, come here JB. There’s a little lost child standing outside our door.”
JB crossed the room and peered down at the street. The weather was too miserable for all but the most enthusiastic of shoppers, and as five thirty approached, the sidewalk filled with office workers scurrying along with their collars turned up and diamond raindrops glistening on their umbrellas as they headed home. Mellie’s Café on the ground floor was closing, and even though it was late afternoon, the low-hanging leaden-bellied rain clouds made it almost as dark as night.
Zhanna perched on JB’s shoulder and stroked his earlobe with a striped fingernail. “Stop that,” he said twitching as he studied the disheveled, rain soaked young girl peering anxiously at the door.
“There are quite a few shades following her. I’ll get rid of them.” Nikki’s gaze raked the darkened doorways on the opposite side of the street.
“Yeah, some always overstay their welcome and take their own sweet time to return to the other side. But what do you expect the day after Halloween? There’s a bunch over there,” JB pointed to an entrance a short distance away.
“And there. And there,” squeaked Zhanna, grabbing a hold of JB’s hair, and digging her fingernails into his scalp. She stared in horror as more shades gathered.
The girl pressed the buzzer, and JB went over to the intercom and pushed the button. The unexpected caller disappeared inside the building.
Nikki opened a window. “Mind your ears,” she warned as she held the large pale coral pink conch to her pursed mouth. Sucking in a lungful of air, she blew hard and sent a long, deep mournful sound out into the city. Drawing in another breath, she blew the conch two more times.
The shades shredded and melted into the darkness as several windows opened from nearby apartments. Some were more polite than others as they shouted at her to quit making that racket.
“Slaret ua!” Nikki cursed as she banged the window shut. “Stupid ungrateful humans! Would they prefer to live in a shade infested neighborhood? Do they want nightmares or sweet dreams? They should be showering me with gifts in thanks for the service I performed!”
“Shh,” JB said as he opened the top drawer in his desk and deftly laid the sleeping faerie on a pile of silk cushions. He closed the drawer, leaving a gap big enough for her to exit when she woke.
Like all fairies, Zhanna needed regular naps to replenish the high amount of energy she continuously expended. Sodas and other sugary drinks kept her awake for a certain length of time, but only for so long. Then she’d crash anywhere–on the keyboard of her laptop, on top of the microwave, even once in the sink–until someone laid her in her bed.
“Well, more than one good result then,” Nikki smiled as she rinsed and dried the conch before returning it to its place on the shelf, next to a white oak stake, a solid gold crucifix, a pair of silver handcuffs, and several jars of dubious looking substances.
JB and Nikki turned as their visitor knocked timidly on the office door.
The girl was young, around fourteen or fifteen years old. Her pale blonde hair hung in rat’s tails around her shoulders, water dripped down her forehead, and her clothes were soaking wet. Her large brown eyes regarded them with trepidation.
“Come in, come in. Nikki, find a towel and bring our guest a hot drink, will you? Come and sit down.” JB’s serious, almost grim expression softened as he pulled out a chair for her.
The girl’s shoulders relaxed a fraction at his reassuring words, though she regarded him warily as she sat.
Nikki produced a hand towel and bustled back to the area designated as the kitchen, although it only contained a sink, a hot drinks machine, and a microwave oven. The aroma of cinnamon and hot chocolate circulated through the room as she placed the steaming cup in front of their unexpected visitor, who’d already dried the worst of the damp out of her hair.
Nikki perched on the edge of JB’s desk, and they waited while their guest sipped her hot drink. “Thank you,” she said. “This is delicious.”
Nikki smiled at the compliment, revealing her sharp incisors. She was only half imp, on her father’s side, so hadn’t inherited the full complement of pointed teeth, which made it possible for her to pass at a quick glance for a human, though any serious consideration of her narrow build, slanted silver-gray eyes, and wild mass of black curls would reveal her heritage.
“So, how may we help you?” JB asked, keeping his voice gentle.
I’m Maya, and my aunt is Hekate, the leader of the Lielit coven. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them–they’re quite famous–anyway, she sent me here. I’m looking for Jean Baptiste?”
“Well, you’ve found one of them. My father, Jean Baptiste Senior, is the other. I’m Jean Baptiste Junior.”
“Aunt Hekate insisted it had to be the older man.” She looked from JB to Nikki and back to JB.
“My father is unavailable, but if you’ll tell us why you’re here, we’ll see what we can do.” He added a little glamour to his voice. They needed the job.
A year ago JB Sr., a lifelong voodoo practitioner held in great esteem by his community had wanted to sell the business and devote himself to his houngan congregation. His son had argued passionately and persuasively to let him take over the agency. After all, hadn’t he been training since he was fourteen with the aim of eventually taking over the family business? He’d only started studying architecture because his father insisted he try something else before committing to a career as a private detective. In the end, they arrived at an understanding. JB Jr. would run the agency for a year, and if after that time the business wasn’t financially solvent, he’d agree to his father selling and return to the architectural course.
When people realized JB Sr. wasn’t available anymore, business slumped, and he let go the few long-term employees who’d remained. On top of which, JB Sr. now lay in the hospital in a coma after a hit-and-run accident, and the police were having no success in locating either the driver or the car that struck him. “I’m as good a detective as my father. Possibly better,” JB said with a smile.
“Okay.” The glamour seemed to have done the trick, and Maya straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. She spoke rapidly, running all her sentences together as the story flooded out of her. “My aunt has a chalice which she uses for predicting the future, and it’s made the coven powerful because she’s Mayor Bradley’s psychic advisor, and he comes every Sunday after church for a consultation. He listens to her advice about all sorts of things, but the chalice has been stolen, and she won’t be able to help him anymore without it. She wants you to find it by this Saturday.” Having repeated her speech, Maya sank back into the chair. Picking up the cup, she finished her drink.
“Would you like another?” Nikki reached for the empty cup.
“Please.” Maya looked at her gratefully.
“Why didn’t Hekate come herself? Why did she send you?” JB asked. “If you don’t mind me saying, you are quite young.”
“I’m family and she trusts me, though I’m not an actual coven member yet. But I’m in training and I’ll be initiated next year. She hasn’t told anyone because she doesn’t want it to get out the chalice is missing.”
Nikki returned and placed a second cup on the table next to Maya. “Careful it’s hot.”
“Is she suspicious of anyone in the coven?” JB asked.
“She didn’t say.”
“Were there any signs of a break-in?”
“Not that she told me.”
“Okay.” Not much to go on so far, JB thought. “Is Hekate available now?”
Maya shook her head. “She’s giving Tarot card readings at a conference for Tropolis’s business leaders, but she’ll be back early tomorrow morning.”
JB’s forehead furrowed for a moment. “I’ll meet with Hekate tomorrow, say ten o’clock. If any other witches are around, tell Hekate to say I’m a reporter wanting an interview for an article I’m doing on witchcraft. After I speak with her, she can decide if she wants me to take the case. And if she does, I’ll check out the place and see if I’m able to pick up anything. Does that sound good?”
Maya’s face lit up. “Oh, yes, and I’m sure she’ll want you.” She ended the sentence by burying her head in her cup and finishing her drink.
Evidently, Maya hadn’t needed the glamour to be impressed by JB’s dark good looks. “Right, if you’re ready, I’ll give you a lift home. Your aunt won’t be happy if you catch pneumonia.” He shrugged into his black leather jacket, and glanced at the window where runnels of raindrops chased each other down waterfalls. “Nikki, make sure the twins are on time for tomorrow’s morning meeting. I want to start early.”
Nikki nodded. “Sure, I’m on it as soon as you’re away.” They both knew what she meant was she’d deal with it once she’d seen him drive away and checked he wasn’t being followed.
The almost silent buzz of Zhanna’s wings next to her ear startled Nikki, as she stood by the window. “I’m sorry, I upset you,” the faerie said as she settled on Nikki’s shoulder. She stretched and released one of Nikki’s curls.
“Sure, you are,” Nikki muttered, her attention on JB as he climbed into his second hand black Chevrolet and leaned across the front seat clearing it of whatever junk he’d thrown there so Maya had somewhere to sit. “We might actually have a proper serious case,” she told the faerie, now busy winding the thick curl around her waist.
“Perhaps we’ll see some action.”
“Not for you. You know the conditions of your sentence.”
“I can always hope. Look that car’s pulling out too. Do you think he’s following them?”
Nikki lifted her phone and snapped a quick picture as the car passed the building, and a couple more shots before both cars were hidden by the dank curtain of miserable weather. “Maybe. Maybe not.” She swiped the phone screen. “Losing them isn’t a problem for JB, but I’m not taking any chances.” She held a finger up to silence Zhanna while she called JB. “Be careful. You might have a tail.”
If you like gripping mysteries interwoven with generous doses of magic and humor, then you’re going to love Hekate’s Chalice, the first volume of the Adept Solutions series.
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