Tag Archives: fantasy

Selkie Cove: Chapter Four

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


Chapter Four

Postmortem Examinations

The house stood dark when Immanuel arrived home. The only sounds were his grunts and strained breath as he struggled to push the creature in its glass coffin over the threshold. Kicking the door shut behind him, he straightened and wiped the hair and sweat from his forehead. For a moment, he merely listened for any sign of Adam, but all he could hear was the sound of blood rushing through his ears.

“Adam! Adam, if you’re home, I could really use your help for a minute.”

When no answer came, Immanuel sighed and pushed the veiled crate onto the carpet runner and shoved it with all of his strength. His ribs and back cried in protest while the box barely budged apart from the slosh of liquid within. It had been surprisingly easy to get Sir William to consent to letting him study it in the seclusion of his home, but it had taken several men and a cart to get it out of his office and into the backseat of a steamer cab. The driver had looked at him like he was a madman and nearly pulled away from the pavement upon seeing his cargo. It was only at the promise of a generous tip that the driver hopped out to help him. Immanuel hoped the specimen was a fake just so he wouldn’t have to take it back again; he didn’t know how many more times he could afford to pay for an expensive cab ride.

Once they hit the bare wood floor of the hallway, the coffin picked up speed and Immanuel pushed it the rest of the way to the workroom. Even though Hadley had been married months ago, remnants of her life at Baker Street remained in disarticulated automatons and boxes of spare parts stashed in the corner behind her battered work table and stool. Adam had told him to throw it all away, but having remnants of someone else’s life in the room made it feel less vacuous when he was still tentatively curating his new life. Immanuel shoved the creature all the way to the cast iron slop sink on the far wall. Leaning against the sink to catch his breath, Immanuel’s eyes trailed to the cloaked specimen.

What was he going to tell Sir William? If he told him that the beast was closer to human than he cared to admit, he would be laughed out of the zoology department even with the body as evidence. Pulling the gloves from his pocket, Immanuel carefully removed the box’s fragile lid and averted his gaze from the seal-like creature’s vacant eyes. At Oxford, he had been forced to debone a walrus and a Caspian seal for the university’s museum, and even when he was in better health and shape, the corpses had been impossibly heavy. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would be now with his misshapen ribs and miserable constitution. Immanuel reached into the shallow layer of alcohol and was about to slip his arms beneath her neck and tailfin when a shadow fell across the doorway.

The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat as he stood. Adam leaned against the door with his shirt open far enough to expose the henna hair dusting the firm planes of his torso. His carefully pomaded coiffure hung askew in a wayward wave that made him look like some debouched Brontëan rogue. Immanuel would have abandoned the creature in an instant if it hadn’t been for the glazed look in his lover’s eyes and the red flush that hid his faint freckles. It was only then that he spotted the glass in his hand and the clear liquid within.

“Bringing your work home with you again?” Adam asked, his voice uncharacteristically languid as he drew closer. Leaning in with his drink clutched close to his chest, he wrinkled his nose and tapped the box with the end of his boot. “What is that thing?”

“I’m not certain yet.”

Before Adam could straighten, Immanuel snatched the glass from his hand and dashed it into the sink. The sweet, acidic tang of gin burned his nose as it splashed up.

“Hey! Why did you do that?”

Immanuel’s body shook against his will. “Because you don’t need it. How much have you had?”

“What do you care?” Adam cried as he pulled the glass from Immanuel’s hand but refused to meet his gaze.

“Adam, just tell me.”

“I don’t need your permission to have a drink. I’m bloody old enough to make my own decisions. I did so for quite some time before you got here.”

As Adam turned to leave, Immanuel whipped off his gloves and cut in front of him. He blocked the door with his body, knowing his thin form would do nothing to stop Adam if he wanted to leave. “Is this what you have been doing all day? Drinking yourself into a stupor? I thought you were going to look for employment.”

For a long moment, Adam merely stared at him. His lips nearly disappeared into a tight line as he glowered at Immanuel with an intensity he had never seen. His blue eyes flared with fury, and for an instant, Immanuel feared Adam would shove him or strike him. His hands twitched at his side, but he quickly folded his arms over his chest and rested on his heels, waiting. Immanuel stepped out of the way to let Adam storm past him. The redhead clomped up the stairs with Immanuel a step behind him. When Adam reached their bedroom, Immanuel expected him to slam the door in his face, but instead, he walked over to his desk near the window and grabbed his journal. Flipping through the pages, he turned to the last one and shoved the it at Immanuel’s face. The page had begun with a list of law offices, accounting firms, and various banks before becoming jumbled with row upon row of numbers.

“This is what I’ve been doing all day,” Adam spat, shoving the book into Immanuel’s hand. “I have been all over town speaking to anyone I thought could help me. I went to a dozen places, and you know what I found? One position. One! And it was for a clerk, a clerk. I have been an accountant for four years. I can’t be a clerk again. I can’t afford to be a clerk.”

“But at least it would be money. We wouldn’t have to—”

“No.” Grabbing the open bottle of gin from his desk, Adam poured another glass to the brim. “Let me have some semblance of pride, Immanuel. I have worked far too hard to settle for a position I had when I was seventeen, but you wouldn’t understand, would you? Uncle Elijah handed you a lovely position at the museum the moment you were out of Oxford. Well, some of us aren’t Oxford boys with connections and cushy lives.”

Adam’s mouth hung open, as his hand came to his lips. Slowly, he raised his gaze to Immanuel’s face, which had blanched apart from his reddening eyes.

“Oh, Immanuel, I didn’t mean it. I…”

“You have had enough,” Immanuel rasped, his voice tight. Without waiting for a response, he took the glass and bottle from Adam’s hands and set them down on the dresser. “You’re done.”

Blinking, Adam stared at his feet and rubbed his wrist. He winced as his nail dug into the leaking wound that had grown to the size of a coat toggle. “It used to help. Before you— before Hadley found out, it worked.” He wanted to say something. Words should have been easier, as they had been a moment before, but they never were when he needed them. “Sorry.”

Secrets stayed secret when they could be drowned, but much like Immanuel, they always managed to rise and beg for life.

***

Hunched at the window, Adam seemed so small. Usually, he was larger than life, a handsome face in a suit made to draw the eye to the beauty of the fabric and flesh beneath, but as he stood staring ahead with his blue eyes dark, it dawned on Immanuel just how young they both were. After all they had been through, it felt as if years had passed, and while they had been together less than a year, Adam had been there for the entirety of his new life. Immanuel drew closer, gently stroking Adam’s flushed cheeks until the redheaded man slowly met his gaze.

“I love you, but gin won’t helping anything,” Immanuel whispered.

“It might make me forget. I don’t know what else to do to make it easier.”

The words died in Adam’s throat. He wanted to snatch the gin and down it until the tears looming behind his lids dried. Alcohol fed the fire, and as long as he kept it stoked, it was impossible to feel anything more. That was one of the things he admired about Immanuel, he faced his problems. He wasn’t a coward, like him.

“Let me make you some tea, and we can talk about it,” Immanuel said with a faint smile as he brushed the hair from Adam’s face. “How does that sound?”

 Crossing his arms, he nodded, refusing to meet his love’s gaze

Gently kissing Adam’s forehead, Immanuel snatched the leftover glass and gin. Halfway down the hall, he ducked into the bathroom and dumped the remaining liquor down the drain. In the kitchen, after setting up the kettle on the stove, he rooted through the cabinets until he found every bottle of champagne, sherry, and cognac he could lay his hands on. One by one he emptied them into the sink, listening for the satisfying glug as the last of it swept away. He loved Adam, but he didn’t need this. If Adam wanted to drink himself to death, he would have to leave the house to do so. Sinking into one of the kitchen chairs, Immanuel’s eyes trailed down the hall to where the light from the workroom spilled into the hall in a golden pool. As the kettle whistled and his mind trailed back to the creature in the tank, Immanuel wished he could hop into the nearest steamer and drive to Greenwich or Folkesbury or even back to his office at the museum. He would go anywhere if he thought he could have some semblance of peace for a while. After everything that had happened with Lady Rose and the late Lord Hale, getting entangled with the Interceptors once again, and Sir William had running him ragged, this was the last thing he needed.

With a pit growing in his gut, he loaded a tray with biscuits and tea and mounted the steps, but when he reached their room, his frustration quickly sank to guilt. Adam sat upright in bed with his head resting against the headboard and his face lax. Leaving the tray on the nightstand, Immanuel perched on the edge of the mattress and watched Adam’s chest rise and fall in a sleepy rhythm. He planted a kiss on his gin-tainted lips, but he never stirred. Careful not to disturb him, Immanuel padded across the room and shut off the light. Lingering at the threshold, he waited a moment to see if Adam would call out to him. When he didn’t stir, Immanuel snuck downstairs.

***

Dragging the stool to the workroom sink, Immanuel stared down at the creature—the woman—lying prone before him. Even though the visions had never occurred twice, Immanuel kept his gloves on as he hesitantly reached for the scalpel in his dissection kit. No matter how many times he had participated in autopsies and dissections, it never got easier. People like Dr. Hawthorne or his mentor at Oxford, Dr. Martin, were able to separate the body from the person, but once Immanuel saw their last moments, that became nearly impossible. As he pulled the stool closer with his foot, he heard the gentle tap of cat claws.

Percy bounded in, his bone tail swishing as he surveyed the room until his eyeless sockets fell upon Immanuel. A small smile crossed the scientist’s lips as the cat rubbed his nose and back against the hem of his trousers. With a twitch of his hips, he was in Immanuel’s lap with his feet resting on the lip of the sink.

“No. Not for you, you greedy bugger,” Immanuel said, watching Percy sniff the air. Holding him to his chest, Immanuel scratched Percy’s neck and gave him a kiss on the head before putting him outside the workroom door. “Go find Adam, Percy. Go ask him for pets.”

Shutting the door, Immanuel returned to the creature. How could he pretend she wasn’t a person? Perhaps he shouldn’t. “My apologies, he doesn’t know better. You aren’t food, and you certainly didn’t deserve this.” Immanuel paused, his chest tightening at the phantom sensation of drowning. “I don’t know what you are, but you didn’t deserve the agony you suffered.”

As expected, the woman never stirred.

“Unfortunately, I need to do worse than he did. Perhaps not worse, but I don’t like doing it.”

Immanuel carefully parted the fur near the creature’s armpit, and after a moment, he found what he was looking for: a gash that went down to the muscle and bone beneath. The wound was an inch long, and as expected, there was no healing or indication that she had been given aid. Immanuel drew back, biting his lip as he stared down at the lethal blow. It had taken so little to end her life. Raising the scalpel, Immanuel murmured an oath under his breath as he did before every dissection and carefully cut from neck to tail. He winced as the reek of alcohol, fish, and the coppery stench of cadaver wafted out with each inch he cut through her thick, blubbery hide. Immanuel glanced over his shoulder at the door and hoped Adam wouldn’t come down. There was nothing he wanted to do less than clean up gin-laced vomit. Making a cut across the midline, Immanuel grabbed a handful of pins to hold back the creature’s flesh and expose the organs.

The moment he pulled back the skin, the breath hitched in his throat. Shaking his head, he counted her limbs before turning his gaze back to the thoracic cavity where two elbows rested on either side of her ribcage. Immanuel grabbed the scissors from his kit and cut along the creature’s arms until he reached her shoulders. It was as if the outer seal-like hide had grown over a set of gracile human arms. Peeling back the skin of her tail, he found a pair of human legs, folded under her as if she had been kneeling in prayer.

Immanuel’s heart pounded in his throat as he pulled off his gloves and grabbed his sketchpad from the work table. With an artist’s skill and a scientist’s eye, Immanuel sketched every detail of her form, carefully labeling each bone and ligament he could identify. Most were clearly human and instantly recognizable, but as he delved into the layers of organs, it was clear the evolution had taken a strange turn back to the sea.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove on Amazon.

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Filed under selkie cove, Writing

Selkie Cove: Chapter Three

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


 

Chapter Three

The Curiosity

On the walk back to the museum, Immanuel replayed what had happened at Benekey’s over and over, looking for a way he could have made Adam stay. He had been looking forward to his lunch date with Adam all week, so why wouldn’t it somehow end badly? Reaching the museum’s familiar Gothic façade, Immanuel stared at the masses of people tittering within. He swallowed against the tightness working its way from his throat to his chest and ducked around the side to take the servants’ entrance in. As he climbed the back stairs up to his office, he dreaded running into another curator as much as what awaited him at home. Adam was angry, and rightly so, yet the thought of wrangling with Adam’s vile stubbornness was more than Immanuel could bear. Whatever the solution, it would have to be Adam’s idea.

At the top of the stairs, Immanuel froze with his hand on the worn door. Someone was in his office. A shadow passed behind the mottled glass, disappearing near his desk. Immanuel’s heart pounded in his temples as the urge to run overtook his muscles and set every hair on end. Drawing in a steadying breath, he tried to banish all thoughts of Lord Rose. It had been months since he was attacked and Lord Rose’s soul was sealed in a lead tomb in the bowels of Interceptor Headquarters. Lady Rose supposedly shared a similar fate, but as the shadow paced past the glass again, Immanuel caught the unmistakable shape of a corseted waist. Could she have gotten free and come after him?

Slowly ducking back into the stairway, Immanuel fumbled through his leather satchel for his vivalabe. The moment his fingers brushed its cool, brassy surface, a wave of calm passed over him. The brass ball was the size of a compass and weighed twice as much. If he took it out at night, he could hear the steady cadence of its clockwork heart, ticking in time with his own. With two clicks of a hidden button, the ball’s lid fell back to reveal an etched face lined with minute chips of colored stone. In an instant, the marbles scattered like billiard balls, leaving only three clustered together: a white, a green, and an amber. Immanuel released a tense breath, letting his head fall back against the cold stone in relief that Lady Rose’s red stone was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the amber stone and bit his lip. Why would Judith Elliott come to see him at work?

Stuffing the vivalabe back into his bag, Immanuel smoothed his heavy wool coat and pushed a wet blonde curl from his forehead. Even if Judith would ultimately discern something was amiss, he didn’t want her to read it on his face. If she wanted to know, she would have to work for it. In three long strides with his eyes cast to the floor, Immanuel reached his office and slipped inside. Judith looked up from behind his desk, her hazel eyes meeting his without hesitation. With a knowing smile, she studied his latest sigils with a gold magnifying glass hanging from a chain around her neck. No matter where he saw her, Judith Elliott was unmistakably American. Where the British embraced etiquette to the point of meekness or passive aggression, her intentions were always as straight and loud as a gunshot. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have assumed it was her office by the glint her eye and the self-assured way she stayed rooted in his seat even as he hung up his bag and coat.

“Your sigils are quite interesting, Winter. Very complex for someone who has only begun. Did you know that no two sigils are exactly the same? Every practioner leaves their mark, their own mental baggage. Did the books I lent you help at all?” Judith asked, her blonde hair glinting in the electric lamps as Immanuel switched them on.

“Somewhat,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably beside the veiled specimen. “I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge outside of life and death magic, and it’s given me plenty of ideas. Some… some I can barely read. It doesn’t seem to click no matter how hard I try.”

“Too many archaic rules?” A smile quirked across her lips as she looked from the water-stained paper to Immanuel’s downcast brows. “Don’t be sheepish. It happens more often than most of us would care to admit, especially in the beginning. Some things won’t work for you. You’ll find magic is more of an art than a science.”

“The strange thing is, the techniques… It felt like a lot didn’t apply.”

“You’re an evolutionist, so it stands to reason that magic has also evolved over the centuries with human need and understanding. It morphs with geography, time, beliefs, and of course, the practioner. What worked then, doesn’t necessarily work now, and plenty of practioners made rules to prevent novices from getting any farther than the basics. I know some of the writings are dense, but I thought they might, inspire your work rather than act as a guide. Stop by Interceptor headquarters, and I’ll have the librarians give you some texts more suited to your interests.”

Immanuel stood at the end of his desk, watching Judith study his work. “I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Elliott, but what are you doing in my office? Does the director know you’re here?”

“Sir William was more than willing to let me speak to the curator who will be handling my prized specimen,” she replied with a flourish toward the creature.

His eyes widened. “That was you?”

“Technically yes, though it really belongs to the Interceptors. We heard from our sources off the coast of an interesting specimen that was to be sent to the Royal Zoological Society. The box mysterious disappeared and ended up at the museum with special instructions to have their resident seal expert examine it.”

“Fantastic.”

Judith chuckled at Immanuel’s grimace. “Finding a scientist who has a foot in both worlds is incredibly difficult. You should be flattered that we chose you, especially when you don’t officially work for us. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork to get an exception to involve you.”

“You believe the thing is real?”

“Despite what Sir William told you, there is more in this world than what your books lead you to believe. You of all people should understand that. What we need you to do is study the specimen, analyze it, dissect it, and tell us how it died. The latter may require you to use unconventional means. Before I leave you to it, I need you to sign the paperwork promising that you will not divulge what you find to anyone outside of the Interceptors, including Sir William.”

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him any more than I have to.” Being the laughing stock of the department was the last thing he wanted to be if the thing turned out to be genuine.

Reaching into her reticule, Judith retrieved a folded wad of paper and smoothed it across the desk. She handed the pen from Immanuel’s blotter and pointed to each place he should sign. Immanuel released a soundless sigh at the magazine-sized stack. He should have read it, but he had neither the time nor the patience on a good day. Near the bottom of the fifth page, Immanuel paused. Any party involved may be recalled to carrying out a further investigation on behalf of Her Majesty’s Interceptors if Her Majesty sees fit. As he reread the minute type, Immanuel felt the nudge of Judith’s energy caressing the edge of his mind like the invisible arm of a jellyfish. If he let her, she would slip into his mind, probing through his thoughts until she found what she sought.

“You could have asked first,” he replied, ripping his mind away from her grasp with a turn of his head. Hastily signing the last of the documents, Immanuel pushed them back to her and dropped his pen into his breast pocket. “Will that be all?”

“My apologies, Winter,” she said, her eyes traveling over his scar before lingering on his crooked frown and faraway gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but you don’t seem yourself. Is everything all right or have I come at a bad time?”

“I received some bad news at lunch, but I will have my report to you about,” he paused, trying to picture the creature trapped within the glass coffin, “whatever that is, by the weekend.”

With a nod, Judith tucked the contract into her bag and slipped past him. At the door, she stopped to watch Immanuel collapse into his chair. “There’s one thing I have been meaning to ask since we last spoke. Have you given any thought to becoming an Interceptor? You never gave me an answer.”

Immanuel stared at the pages of sigils littering his desk alongside his acceptance letter into the Royal Zoological Society. His nights were spent trying to manipulate cups of tea when he should have been knee-deep in research. He had a career now, one that he was actually decent at, and yet— He frowned, averting his eyes from Judith’s. Yet he still felt out of place at the museum. Every day he feared that at any moment he would be unmasked for the imposter he was. Something was missing. At times he wondered if it was the absence of fear now that Lord and Lady Rose were gone, but there was a bigger void that research and recitation, or even Adam, couldn’t hope to fill. And that terrified him.

“I fear I still don’t have an answer for you, Miss Elliott. I haven’t ruled it out, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that step.”

“Fair enough. If you should change your mind, you know where you and Mr. Fenice can find me.”

Immanuel licked his lips and hesitantly asked, “Your… Your offer is still open to both of us?”

“Of course. Your earnest relationship makes you stronger than the sum of your parts.” She flashed a good-natured smile even as her power nudged at his mind. “Good day, Mr. Winter, and give Mr. Fenice my regards.”

With a final nod, Judith slipped into the hall and disappeared. Immanuel melted deeper into his chair, letting his head fall over the low wooden back. As his chair lazily spun, his eyes fell upon the dirty sheet covering the crate. Peace had sounded like a wonderful thing to have, but with most of his life, peace was fleeting. It had been foolish of him to expect that Judith Elliott wouldn’t come barging back into his life after all that happened. But did peace even matter now that Adam lost his job? Equilibrium had been destroyed by the time the creature reached his office.

Tucking the sigils back into his desk drawer, Immanuel withdrew the pair of gloves he kept tucked beside his sigil journal. He slipped on the elbow-length leather gloves and stood beside the crate. Immanuel drew in a long breath, steeling himself against whatever nightmare he was about to uncover. In one swift motion, he ripped off the canvas and tossed it aside.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a human’s face. For a moment he merely stared at it, his mind unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly was the creature’s eyes. They were wide and round like the seals he had studied the past few years, yet they retained the colored rim of a human. Hers were the steely blue of tossing waves, now unnerving in their stillness. Immanuel lowered his gaze, following the curve of the creature’s body until he reached its hands. Hands. Where there should have been bow-legged fins, there were fine fingers jutting from a meaty furred palm. Backing up, Immanuel looked at her feet to find only a tail and nothing more.

Carefully opening the lid of the steel and glass box, Immanuel leaned closer until the embalming fluid bit at his eyes and left the unforgettable tang of death and alcohol on his tongue. With his nose scarcely a breath above the surface, Immanuel’s gaze probed the monster’s fur for any sign of stitches or manipulation from a charlatan. The Fiji Mermaid had been the talk of the scientific community until they realized Barnum had sewn a fish to a monkey in an attempt to dupe the public and scientists alike, but this was different. This wasn’t some poorly crafted hybrid freak, no matter what Sir William thought. Gathering his tools, Immanuel threaded tubes through the glass case, letting the preservative fluid drain into a large bucket until the creature beneath was laid bare. He locked eyes with the creature as he hesitantly squatted at its side. At any moment, he feared it would turn toward him with its sightless eyes and release some ungodly sound he only knew in nightmares. Carefully removing his gloves, Immanuel let his hand hover over the beast’s brow. He bit his lip, knowing that in a moment, he would see the last moments of a seal or a human or some strange life form in between. Drawing in a constrained breath, skin and fur met.

Water flooded every orifice, filling them with the cold salty murk of the sea as he hung weightless. His mind fought the unnatural sensation, but the body whose eyes he saw through merely twisted toward a dull hum thrumming somewhere nearby. He and the creature glided effortlessly toward the vibration. In the distance five massive  brown contraptions rose through the silt. He thought it could have been a sunken ship or the remains of some ill-fated dirigible from its steel frame and wire umbilical cords running up to the surface. As they grew closer, fear bubbled in her breast. Someone was supposed to be there. She had sworn she heard the call crying out to her beneath the waves with its hypnotic resonance. Watching the swirls of silt, a soft note wrapped around their mind. It spoke to a part of her so deep she felt it in her core and drew her closer to the forest of metal.

Immanuel felt it before they saw it: the thrust of water crashing into them followed by the sudden blossom of pain that started at their armpit and spread to every cell in their body. They thrashed, catching sight of a long pole and the faceless brown beast at the end of it, its face caked with mud and weeds. An indescribable feeling pass through their body. Something beneath the surface peeled away as pain tore through their arms and crept into every bone until their body screamed once more. In an instant, where there had been grey flippers upon the pole, now there were hands, but before Immanuel could stop them, they tore it out. Blood dribbled out, flooding their vision as a weight fell over them. Their mind reeled at the disorienting constriction of the net as their body seized with the current and they sank beneath the mass of their misshapen body. Their heart sputtered and their vision spotted. He was coming. The brown beast was coming for them, looming over them with its hooded, faceless head and hook at the ready. They drew in a breath, lungs convulsing against the alien burning of salt water. The others, she thought as the world darkened to a pinpoint of dim light.

Immanuel fell back, landing hard on his side as he gagged and wheezed. His lungs tightened as he released another dry heave despite tasting the brine of the ocean on his lips and deep in his throat. His stomach and lungs spasmed while his mind sought to save him from drowning on land. Resting his head against the cold planks of his office floor, Immanuel swallowed and fought to slow his breathing until the urge to vomit passed and all that was left was fatigue. The strength had been sapped from his body as if he had spent the entire day fighting the tide. Raising his gaze to the door, he made certain no one was coming before closing his eyes. His hands shook as he rubbed his forearms to silence the burning that had flooded his body accompanied with the deep cracks of tissue restructuring. He was fine, he reminded himself over and over until his body quieted enough that his mind could believe that what he had seen had happened to someone—something—far from himself. It had seemed so human. The thoughts felt more like his own than any cattle or chicken’s ever did.

Immanuel slowly climbed to his knees, fighting his trembling limbs as he used the desk for support. Squeezing his eyes shut, Immanuel wished Adam was there to anchor him to reality, to rub his back and make him tea to help the shakes subside, but then he heard the chatter of the curators outside his door and remembered there were hours to go before he could see Adam again. He staggered forward and knocked the lid of the glass coffin closed with the back of his hand before tossing the sheet over it to hide the creature’s lifeless features and half-human form. Sinking into his chair, Immanuel grabbed his pen and quickly scribbled out the details of the vision.

If he waited too long, there would be no proof of the beast who killed her, and Immanuel wasn’t going to let that happen.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

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Filed under selkie cove, Writing

Selkie Cove: Chapter Two

SelkieCoveLH

As you have probably seen in early posts, Selkie Cove (IMD #5) will be out July 25th. I’m super excited for you to read it, and if you would like, you can pre-order it here. Paperbacks will be available before the release date.

If you missed chapter one, you can read it here.


 

Chapter Two

Sigils and Seals

Immanuel closed his eyes, drinking in the crisp autumnal air as it blew in from his window and ruffled the page that contained a sigil he had been working on to conjure wind. For most of the morning, he had barely gotten a stir of air. It wasn’t until he stopped picturing hurricane-force winds and replaced them with birds soaring and the smell of rain that he felt the kiss of Hyde Park’s earthen perfume brush his cheek. Opening his eyes, Immanuel found a loose Celtic knot beneath the nib of his pen. A smile flashed across his lips as he quickly jotted down his thoughts and results beside the sigil before they could sink beneath the sea of the research he was doing. For hours he had been gathering information on Arctic mammals from half a dozen books from the museum’s library, and he desperately needed a break from penguins and whales. Immanuel shuddered at the thought of having to dissect the latter beast and studied the new sigil’s form. While magic had only been part of his life a short while, it was proving to be as interesting a discipline as science.

Immanuel eyed the tea cup resting at the edge of his blotter and chewed his lip in thought. He had at least fifteen minutes before Sir William Henry Flower finished his weekly meeting with the heads of the museum’s departments. Anyone with any authority would be in the Shaw Room, which meant there would be time to try a trick he had been working on. Placing the cup before him, Immanuel drew in a slow, steady breath. With his eyes locked on the cold tea, his finger traced a whirl that grew into a deformed star on the tabletop. For a moment, nothing happened. He pictured water rolling over his back, the sensation of water dripping across his skin, the call of the ocean lapping against the shore. A ripple passed from his mind to the tea’s surface. The harder he stared, the rougher the waves became until the tea nearly sloshed over the edge of the china. When it reached a peak in the center, Immanuel’s mind snagged it. The sigil evolved beneath his hand, twisting into a lattice of peaks and valleys as the surface rose high above the cup until—

“What the devil do you think you’re doing!”

Immanuel jumped and the peak of liquid plummeted into the cup, shooting tea across his blotter and papers. Scrambling to keep the ink from bleeding into an indecipherable blur, Immanuel looked up to find Peregrine Nichols glaring back at him from the doorway. The junior botany curator’s sharp brown brows furrowed as he slammed the door shut with his foot and stood at the end of Immanuel’s desk. Despite being over a head shorter than Immanuel, the Peregrine had a commanding air he couldn’t hope to emulate. He had seen Peregrine take down a revenant with a pry bar and an incantation when he could scarcely will his body to move. Carefully, mopping his notes with a handkerchief, Immanuel avoided Peregrine’s gaze.

“Are you out of your bloody mind, Winter?” Peregrine hissed. “What if someone saw you? How would you have explained your levitating tea to them?”

“It wasn’t levitating, I was merely experimenting with— I didn’t think anyone would barge in.” Immanuel’s face reddened against his will as he held the handkerchief over his paper and hoped he hadn’t ruined the wind sigil. “Sir William always knocks.”

“But not everyone does. That’s the point. If you’re looking for a way to get on Elliot’s bad side, provoking a modern Inquisition by being careless is a good way to start.”

“I didn’t mean any harm.”

“It doesn’t matter. One slip up and we’re all pyre fodder. So, have you come to an answer yet? She’s even started nagging me to find out.”

A wave of guilt rippled through Immanuel’s gut as he broke from Peregrine’s hard gaze to shut the window and put the wet pages on the radiator to dry. He still didn’t have an answer. After discovering he had extranormal abilities and helping to foil a witch hell-bent on bringing an otherworldly creature to London, he had been offered the chance to join Her Majesty’s Interceptors, a sort of Home Office to deal with England’s overlooked world of magic. It had been tempting, but— Immanuel wasn’t certain what the “but” was. With all that transpired since he had been given a second chance at life, he was tired, and he savored the peace that had finally fallen over his life. His job as a junior curator and his relationship with Adam were all he could have wanted. Becoming an Interceptor would change all of that.

“I will get back to her soon. What is it you need?”

“For you to not do magic at work,” Peregrine snapped, keeping his voice low. Releasing a sigh, the impish curator stepped around Immanuel’s desk to inspect the drowsy pink orchid blooming on his shelf between an ammonite and a sea urchin’s shell. “This is Hexalectris colemanii. Where did you get it? They’re exceptionally rare. I tried to get one, but it arrived dead.”

Immanuel met Peregrine’s umber eyes before quickly averting his gaze back to his papers. “I— I didn’t think you wanted it anymore.”

“So you fished it out of my rubbish bin?”

“I… Well, yes. I thought it might be pretty, and I wanted to see if I could revive it. It was an experiment, really. You can have it back if you want.”

“Thanks,” he replied tartly as he stood on tiptoe to pull the plant down. Hugging the orchid to his chest, he turned on heel to make for the door. “Oh, Sir William wants to see you in the loading dock, and may I suggest you put your papers away before you go.”

The moment Peregrine shut the door behind him, Immanuel released a slow breath. Carefully moving the drying pages behind his desk, he blocked them from sight with a stack of books. He rushed down the hall and hoped to god Sir William hadn’t been waiting long. The last time he did, he became the liaison between his boss and the British Museum, which really meant a month of being a glorified errand boy. Darting down the back steps, Immanuel nodded to the archivists at the front desk before slipping into the storeroom’s maze of dusty wooden shelves. His heart thundered in his throat as he crossed the boards, focusing his attention on the shelves of specimens and bones. It had been months since he was attacked between the stacks by Lord Rose, but each time he ventured into the vast storeroom without a companion, he found his mind grasping to relive those dark moments. More than anything, he wished he knew how to make it stop.

As he grew closer to the loading docks, an unintelligible mix of men’s voices rose through the stillness. Ahead, a crane swung, dangling a long box the size of a coffin. Sir William stood near the controls, watching the crate with an eagle eye as he fed the crane-operator directions. Spotting Immanuel step from the shadows, Sir William stared down his patrician nose at the lanky young man, his gaze lingering on Immanuel’s scar and blotted eye. Immanuel shifted beneath his gaze before clasping his hands behind his back to stop his fidgeting form.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up helping Peregrine.”

Ignoring him, Sir William turned and gestured for Immanuel to follow him the way came. “A specimen has arrived that I need you to examine. I know it to be a the work of a mountebank, but it came from a well-respected benefactor who claims it to be genuine. We obviously cannot have forgeries in the collection, which is why I would like you to give it the time and attention it deserves. Very little. But make the report detailed, so I can present it to them with little conflict. Do you understand what I’m asking of you, Winter?”

“Yes, sir. I believe so, but what is it?”

“A charlatan’s creation.” Stopping beside man-sized crate covered with a canvas sheet, Sir William released a huff. “Here it is. Put the report on my desk when you’re finished, so I can review it. No matter how foolish this is, we must take care not offend our donors.”

The breath hitched in Immanuel’s throat as the director tossed back the sheet and his eyes fell upon the creature. Floating within the glass-walled case was a seal-like beast. While the skin retained the smooth, grey speckled fur of a harbor seal, the face and body had the unmistakable profile of the human form. Its arms were short, as if stunted, and ended in a webbed hand tipped with sharp claws. Spotted hooded lids covered the creature’s large eyes, which peaked out beneath long lashes, but the longer Immanuel stared at it, the more he feared it would turn its gaze to him. A twang of recognition rang through him, touching the deepest parts of his mind. All thoughts escaped him as he took in the creature’s bisected tail and elongated human torso. With a tut, Sir William tossed the sheet back over the glass coffin, hiding the creature from view as a dockhand passed.

“Take this up to Mr. Winter’s office and let no one else see it.”

Before Immanuel could speak, the direct snapped his fingers for one of the dockhands to fetch a cart. Whatever the creature was, Immanuel had the sinking feeling it wasn’t as unbelievable as Sir William thought. The director turned and headed back to the dock, leaving Immanuel standing mute as two rough dockhands swept in. The wooden dolly yawned beneath the weight of the beast and the gallons of fluid surrounding it. Immanuel flinched as the gruff men rammed in the cart into the doorframe on their way to the upper floor before shoving the corner further into the elevator with their scuffed boots. Following close behind them, Immanuel stood silently in front of the elevator doors, staring down at the shoes Adam had polished for him the previous night. The men beside him spoke of a new freak show opening in Piccadilly one of the other men had seen. Immanuel’s scarred eye burned as he clasped his nervous hands behind his back. Would they call him a freak if they knew what he truly was? That with a touch of his hand, he could see the last moments of the creature at their feet’s life, if it really was a creature at all and not some amalgamation of body parts, or that he taught himself to manipulate water. Would they call for his demise if they knew all the ways he went against nature?

With a ding, the elevator doors creaked open, and the men rolled the box down the hall to Immanuel’s office. Immanuel inwardly sighed, standing out of the way until, with a few more bangs, they left him alone with the veiled creature. Ignoring the glass box taking up most of the space between his desk and door, Immanuel shimmied behind his desk to gather up the papers and fallen books the men had scattered in their wake. His eyes roamed over the sigils and notes. The ink had bled in a few places, but overall, his work appeared to be legible. He carefully tucked his the papers into his notebook and turned his attention to the pile of letters sitting on his blotter. As he turned over the first envelope, his eyes lit up; the seal was from the Royal Zoological Society. Immanuel’s hands shook as he ripped open the seal and pulled out the letter.

 

***

 

Adam watched from the threshold as Immanuel scanned the letter in his hands. His bichrome eyes widened, and a wide smile brightened his features. Immanuel bit his lip and reread the letter again, the look of glee refusing to leave his face. Swallowing hard, Adam lightly wrapped on the door with his knuckles. Immanuel jumped, but upon seeing Adam, relief spread washed across his face only to be replaced with the previous unbridled happiness.

“Adam, I got in,” Immanuel said, beaming. Standing, he held the letter out for Adam to take, but his companion didn’t move from his place near the door. “Look! I got into the Zoological Society. Read it. Tell me I’m not imaging this.”

“Congratulations. I’m very proud of you,” Adam replied, his voice tight.

“Thank you. I can’t believe it. I was certain my paper wasn’t good enough. Walrus evolution isn’t exactly interesting, but—” Glancing at the clock above his door, Immanuel paused as he stuffed the letter back into the envelope with trembling hands. “You got here quickly. I wasn’t expecting you for another few minutes.”

“Mr. Bodkin let me out early.”

Immanuel gaze drifted to the letter again but caught himself. “That was very nice of him.”

Stepping out the way of the coat rack by the door, Adam kept his eyes locked on the knotty floorboards. How could Immanuel not notice the strain in his voice or the tightness in his features? Immanuel walked toward the door but returned to grab the letter of his desk. Adam drew in a breath and steeled himself. Happiness could blind as much as anger, and it wasn’t his place to ruin Immanuel’s day. It wasn’t his place to ruin anything for anyone. Clearing his throat, Adam turned to the cloaked crate inches from his ankle.

“What’s this?” he asked, nudging the box with his foot.

Immanuel glanced toward the window for any sign of rain before grabbing his top hat. “A specimen Sir William wants me to take a look at after lunch. A seal of some sort.”

“Great. The flat will stink like dead fish.”

Adam turned at a gentle squeeze of his arm. Immanuel let his hand linger as he met Adam’s gaze, a fleeting embrace before they had to pretend they were nothing more than friends. Most days he would have relished such an allowance in public, but today he wanted nothing more than to peel his lover’s fingers off. His coat.

Staring into Adam’s eyes, Immanuel whispered, “It’s nothing a bath for two can’t fix.”

He should have smiled, he should have done something, but all Adam felt was the gnaw of dread hallowing his chest.

 

***

 

Immanuel wouldn’t stop rambling. It was a habit Adam normally found endearing, that his happiness could send his mouth and mind spinning out of control, but after the day he had, Adam wished he would shut up.  Sitting in a leather-backed booth at Benekey’s, Adam rubbed his brow as Immanuel prattled on about walrus anatomy between bites of fried fish. His head pounded with clank of glasses and silverware, the din of voices all around them, and the haze of cigarette smoke drifting in despite the high walls of the booth. A plate of roast beef sat untouched beside a glass of wine he hadn’t intended to order. It would turn his face red, if it wasn’t already, but perhaps it would make denial that much easier.

Adam snapped out of his thoughts as Immanuel’s hand brushed against his under the guise of chasing a loose chip.

“What’s wrong? You’re very quiet today,” Immanuel said softly, his mismatched eyes wide with concern. “Tell me about your office. Any interesting clients?”

Resisting the urge to scratch his wrist, Adam tapped his nail on the base of the glass and kept his gaze on the merlot within. Ruin it, his mind whispered. “I was fired today.”

“You were wha—?” Immanuel’s mouth wordlessly opened twice before he shook his head and put his hand over Adam’s. “Mein Gott, why didn’t you say anything? I’m so sorry, Adam. If I had known, I wouldn’t have—”

Adam ripped his hand away and picked up his knife. “It’s fine. I don’t want to make a thing of it.”

“Can you fix it? Can you prove to Mr. Bodkin that whatever it was, was an accident? You always seemed to get on so well, so maybe he would listen after given the chance to rethink his decision.”

He swallowed against the knot in his throat and tried to keep his voice level. “It wasn’t due to a mistake. They needed to make room for the boss’s son, so they gave me the ax.”

“Oh.” Immanuel’s expression lightened as he leaned back in his seat. “Then, it shouldn’t be too hard to find new employment. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. There must be other offices looking for accountants.”

“Yes, but Ellis… Ellis owns half of them. The others are either friends of his or they wouldn’t hire me because I don’t think he will give me a reference. Bodkin never mentioned it and I forgot to ask. That’s what happened when Reynolds was fired last year. He was blackballed. Last I heard, he had to take a position in Edinburgh,” Adam replied, his voice alien, tighter but calmer than he anticipated.

“But— but why wouldn’t they give you a reference if you were let go due to nepotism?”

“Because I don’t fit their aesthetic,” he spat as he turned to watch his reflection in the smoked glass mirror beside them.

“What do you mean by ‘aesthetic’?”

His henna-red hair and blue eyes flared, taking on an unworldly hue under the dim electric lights. “I think you know what I mean.”

Dropping his voice, Immanuel pushed aside his plate and leaned closer. “That you’re— you’re,” the word escaped him, “schwul? There’s no way for them to know that for certain. You’re so careful.”

Ignoring Immanuel’s doe eyes upon him, Adam ground his jaw and began hacking his roast into cubes. “Apparently, they suspect it. It seems no matter what I do, people still see through me.”

“Even so, I’m sure you’ll get a new position before you know it. You’re pretty perfect to me.”

“Unfortunately your opinion matters very little.”

Adam looked up from his now blood-ringed plate to find Immanuel glaring at him. His blotted blue eye glistened with moisture while his lips sealed in a hard line. On the table beside his fork, Immanuel’s finger itched with the urge to draw a sigil. For a moment they merely stared at each other as Adam waited for something on his side of the table to go flying with a twist of his lover’s finger. Let him, he thought bitterly.

“I understand that you have had a very trying day, but could you please not take it out on me. I have done nothing to you, Adam.”

“My apologies. It’s just that while I was on the train, I realized I can only be without work for two months before we’re in the red. My sister’s toy business has been slow since she married, and I only have a little over a month’s worth of pay in reserve.”

When Adam’s gaze returned to his plate, Immanuel asked, “Have you spoken to Lord or Lady Dorset? I’m certain they—”

“I’m certain they would too, but I’m not going to sponge off my brother-in-law for the rest of my life,” he snapped.

“It would only be for a little while.”

“I said, no.”

“Then, what do you plan to do? You act like you won’t be able to find work as an accountant, but you couldn’t possibly ask your sister for help when you need it. If your fears are correct, you may not have an income.  Then what will we do? My wages at the museum…” Immanuel drew in a tremulous breath. He liked living on Baker Street in their own flat where they could do as they please without fear. “I suppose I could ask Sir William for a raise… or an advance. If I tell him the circumstances, then—”

“Don’t you dare. I don’t need everyone knowing my business.” No one would discuss how far the countess’s brother has fallen behind his back.

“Adam,” Immanuel pleaded, shaking his head, “what do you expect me to do? You act like you won’t be able to get work, but you act like we should do nothing to stay afloat. I’m certain Hadley—”

“Don’t bring up my sister. I don’t need help.”

Immanuel sat back, watching Adam stab a piece of beef and twirl it on the tip of his fork without bringing it to his lips. “Are you really going to let your pride sink us? This doesn’t only affect you, Adam.”

For a moment, Adam merely scowled at him, but in an instant, his hand was on his coat and his hat was on his head. Immanuel scooted out of the booth after him, calling his name as Adam cast a burning glance over his shoulder. Standing next to their table, Immanuel watched Adam cut through the crowded restaurant and disappear onto the street. Tears burned the backs of Immanuel’s eyes at the sudden sensation of falling. He blinked until his clouded eye cleared, stuffing his hand into his pocket for coins. The cool metal with its familiar striations and reliefs brought his mind back to the smoke-hazed room clattering with men. Drawing in a long slow breath, Immanuel released it as the panic momentarily receded.

Paying their bill, Immanuel slipped onto the street hoping to see Adam leaning against the brick façade waiting for him, but when he reached the corner, he knew for certain he had gone. Fear welled in his breast, compelling him to run home to make certain his lover was all right. Immanuel stood very still until with each breath and droplet of rain pattering against his face, the feeling finally relinquished its hold. Adam would be fine. He was a reasonable man, who had shown no sign of wanting to hurt himself. He would be fine. Pulling out his pocket watch, Immanuel clicked open the cold brass face. Even if wanted to, there was no way he could make it to the house and return to the museum without arousing suspicion at his tardiness. There was only one thing he could do: go back to the museum and carry on as if Adam Fenice’s troubles weren’t his own.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

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Chapter Four of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to whet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one, chapter two, and chapter three.

Chapter Four

 A Blood Bond

 

Carefully pulling the door shut behind her, Emmeline listened in the stillness for any sign of her aunt or uncle, but the house remained quiet. Emmeline tucked the half-wrapped book under arm, keeping it away from her damp cloak as she tiptoed up the steps. The moment she hit the first landing, she darted up the next set of stairs and hurried into her room. As she reached the door, a familiar red head peeked out from a room down the hall.

“Emmeline, is everything all right?”

She quickly shut the door, biting down the urge to be snappish. Go away! she mouthed before replying sweetly, “Yes, Aunt Eliza. I’m just getting changed. Cassandra and I walked home, and I’m soaked.”

“Be sure to dry your hair, so you don’t catch a chill. Dinner should be ready in half an hour.”

When she heard her aunt retreat, she exhaled, threw the lock, and turned on the gas lamps. Laying the book on the bed beside her reticule, she pulled off her soggy cloak and draped it across the hearth screen. By the time Emmeline had slipped off her muddy boots, the paper wrapper had fallen away to reveal the infinite series of floral swirls and symbols etched into the book’s leather cover. The pink wallpaper and the sounds of Wimpole Street below died away as she drew closer until her gloved fingers brushed the tome’s edge. A hum buzzed through her fingertips, and before she realized what she was doing, she had pulled off her gloves and pressed the flats of her palms to it. Warmth radiated beneath her clammy hands. She pursed her lips, debating if she should reread the letter again, but she knew what it would tell her. Pass the book on. Find someone else who can keep it safe. She should go down to her uncle’s office, wrap it in clean paper, and send it off to someone in the Oxford Spiritualist Society. But who? Her mother had been the head of it until— Emmeline sighed. There was no one. Maybe if she read the book, then she would know who could help.

As if hearing her thoughts, the silver latch clicked open. Gently lifting the cover, Emmeline’s eyes widened as they ran over a series of arcane rings drawn within. They looped and overlapped, catching and holding onto the next design’s orbit like celestial bodies. She ran her finger across the ancient ink, energy rippling with each stroke.

“Ow!” Emmeline cried, dropping the book. A bead of blood formed at the end of her finger, but as she looked up, she caught a pulse of light. Emmeline blinked. No, it had to have reflected off the latch, she told herself as she sucked the blood from her finger and picked up the book with her other hand. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she cradled the unwieldy tome in her lap. Somehow it hadn’t seemed so clunky when it was closed, but open, it covered the width of her thighs.

The title page was nearly blank apart from the words Fiat experimentum in corpore vili origin and an etching of a corpse and a man embracing. The man was dressed in the stockings and doublet of the Renaissance, his classical physique muscular and sinuous. He reached out, his hand caressing the corpse’s skinless cheek. A dark robe hung loose from the corpse’s form, revealing the bundles of muscle and the white of tendons beneath. If it was a medical book, why would anyone want it so badly?

Any thoughts of her uncle’s copy of Grey’s Anatomy died away when she turned the page. Both sides of the parchment contained saucer-sized circles filled with minute symbols that she swore she had seen before on old monuments or the altars her mother had built to Hecate and the Great Goddess. Others were alien, no more decipherable than scribbles, but there was something beautiful about the circles. Her eyes trailed along the curves of the lines before darting along the triangles and irregular shapes that connected the dissonant symbols. As she took them in, a wave reverberated through her mind like the silent twang of a tuning fork.

Amid the perfect hoops and lines was a red blotch. Raising the book nearly to her nose, she watched as the bubble of blood imploded into the crevice. It slid along the channel, forming a tiny river that flowed across the parchment. A little voice in the back of Emmeline’s mind told her to drop the book, that it wasn’t normal. She needed to wrap it up and pretend she never saw it, but her hands stayed locked on each cover until the blood hit the edge of the first sigil. The moment it entered the circle, it sluiced counter-clockwise around the ink, zipping across the straight tangents and shadowing the arcane letters in a halo of red. As the last line filled, a rumble passed through Emmeline’s hands. The book shook until she could scarcely hold it and her bed’s iron frame bounced against the wall. The red shadow of her blood burned black before flashing white-hot and finally fading to a burnished gold. Light gathered in the center of the sigil, casting a hot glow against her cheeks as it grew to the size of a grapefruit. The saliva evaporated from her mouth as the ball of light lifted from the page and hovered only inches before her nose.

The pop of shattering glass resounded from the sconce near the door. She wanted to scream as the lights on either side of the fireplace blew out in a hail of glass, but the ball of light held her wholly. The world slowed to nearly a halt as glass hurtled past her and scattered across the coverlet, the book and its ball of energy deflecting the blows. Gas hissed in the empty sconces but was overtaken by the sound of faint whispers. Words rose and fell from the orb, all incomprehensible, but in her mind, she knew it was speaking about her.

She stared into its depths. A maelstrom of faces and voices rose to the surface. A woman’s face with familiar dark, strong brows and full lips held her gaze before dissolving into flames. Emmeline bit her lip against the sudden pain squeezing her heart, but before it could fully bloom, her mother’s face fell away to reveal the kind, open features of a young man. He stared down at her with his mismatched eyes wide with fear. A ripple of energy shot through her hands as the sphere faltered. The images spun away as the whispers evolved into a droning chant. Its rhythm rang through her chest and the bones of her arms. It spoke to something deep within her, something she only rarely became aware of. She had felt it stir months ago when she had spoken to the Prince Consort’s soul, but since then, it had remained dormant. With a final pulse, the wick lit and a glow filled her. Her head spun as the power infiltrated her form with a sickening heat. Her body tensed, jerking against invisible binds as the feeling ebbed. When Emmeline closed her eyes, a web slowly pulled away from her skin before flying toward the empty hearth.

Opening her eyes, she found the orb gone and the room slipping into darkness. She stared down at the book. Where her blood had once been, it now faded to a dull golden-brown. Behind her the globe-less gas lamps hissed. Closing the tome, she carefully stepped over the broken glass littering the rug and flipped off the lights. Glassy grit crunched beneath her feet as she walked to the window. As she forced it open, a balmy breeze caressed her cheek and blew away the lingering heat in her face and hands.

Below her on Wimpole Street, men and women pushed past in a crush of grey and black umbrellas and coats. Through the dull, beating rain, shadowed faces stared up at her. A man stood in the middle of the road his gold eyes locked on the upper window, heedless of the steamers and carriages rolling by. She averted her gaze as one barreled toward him, but when she looked again, he was still there. Two women darted across the road in front of him. When they reached him, she expected to see them separate and walk around him. Instead, they passed through him. The man’s face rippled and condensed, yet his gaze never left her. Something about him was faintly familiar. He was too far for her to make out the details in his face, but there was a sheen of light hair and the power in his shoulders. Emmeline’s heart pounded in her throat as she backed up and yanked the curtains shut. Even with them tightly closed, she swore she could feel his eyes boring into her through the veil of velvet.

She had to get rid of it. Grabbing the book, she spun, desperately searching for a place to hide it. If people were after it, it had to be bad, especially if it made her see things against her will again. From the force of the blast, perfume bottles and pots of lotion had blown across her dressing table along with her box of hair ribbons, which had spilled its contents in a jumbled rainbow across the floor. She ripped open the drawer and tried to stuff the book in, but it was too wide. Footsteps echoed up the hall from the stairs. Her eyes flickered over her dresser and trunk before coming to rest on her bed. Getting down on all fours, Emmeline slipped under the wooden frame. Bits of glass pressed into her back and knees as she stuffed the book between the slats that supported her mattress.

“Emmeline, what are you doing in there? I thought I heard glass break.”

Emmeline slid out, grimacing at the sound of her dress tearing against a shard.

The doorknob rattled. “Emmeline, open the door.”

What could she say to her aunt to explain the broken glass? A hairline crack had formed across the mirror as well as in the top of the window. Her aunt would surely think she had done it on purpose, a tantrum for something that had happened earlier. Looking down at her leg, she watched as a line of blood trickled a fresh scratch. She touched it to her cheek and applied a little under her chin. As she took a deep breath, Emmeline blinked until tears, half real from fear, formed at the edge of her eyes. Opening the door, she threw herself into her aunt’s arms.

“Aunt Eliza, it was terrible! The lamps exploded! I don’t know what happened, but they popped,” she cried as she buried her face in her aunt’s shoulder.

“Dear lord.”

Closing her eyes, Emmeline felt Eliza’s long hands running over her back and into her hair as she shushed her. She released a tight breath as her aunt pulled her back to inspect her reddened eyes and the blood smeared on her cheeks.

Eliza Hawthorne rubbed her niece’s trembling shoulders and whispered, “Now, now, you’re all right.”

Her quick green eyes ran over the glass littering the fabric vines of the rug to the crack in the window. “How did this happen?”

“I don’t know.”

Eliza cocked a thin, red brow and sighed. “Let me fetch the dust bin.”

As Eliza disappeared into the hall, Emmeline pulled back the curtain and shuddered. Standing on the street below, staring up at the window, was the same man as before, but now, he had company.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Chapter Three of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little over a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to wet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one and chapter two.

Chapter Three

 The Junior Curator

 Looking up from his research notes, Immanuel Winter bit down a grin. Everything was falling into place. After only eight days in London, he found that he suddenly had everything he always wanted. He had moved in with Adam Fenice, he had a job as a junior curator at the Natural History Museum, and he never had to set foot on Oxford University’s grounds ever again. Immanuel leaned back in his chair, arching his back as he ran his hands through his hair and stretched. Wayward blonde curls sprang to life at his touch. The best part of this transition from student to professional was the privacy. No longer did he have to contend with constant rabblerousing from other students or having to find a secluded spot in order to work. Now, he had an office with a door he could close and like-minded employees who were, for the most part, peaceful.

His office was just how he had pictured it when Professor Martin told him that he had called in a favor with Sir William Henry Flower at the museum and secured a position for him in the zoology department. Most of the room was taken up by his desk, which was already covered with stacks of paper after only four days of work. Behind him and in the space between the door and the windowed wall were shelves and drawers for taxidermy creatures, fossils, and jarred specimens. The office’s previous occupant had been with the museum for years before it moved to South Kensington and had accumulated a veritable cabinet of curiosities and a small library of texts. At times, Immanuel felt as if he was merely borrowing the old curator’s office, but he was glad he hadn’t moved into an empty room, knowing he would have had very little to add besides a handful of textbooks from his time at Oxford. Even if the office didn’t have any personal touches yet, it was bright and clean and his.

Something shifted in the damaged side of Immanuel’s vision. He turned in time to watch a three foot swath of pale green wallpaper flop off the plaster. Immanuel sighed. That was the third time that had happened since he moved in. He opened the drawers of his desk one at a time, searching for anything he could use to secure it. Pins. He had seen dissection pins the other day, but where? As he yanked the bottom drawer, he heard the familiar tinkle of dozens of small things sliding together. Inside, surrounded by hand-written research notes and correspondence was a wooden box no bigger than a tea chest. Pulling off the lid, he snatched his hand away. Where he had expected to find a jumble of loose metal pins, he found a pile of bleached bones. Immanuel carefully lifted the box onto his desk, tipping it sideways to coax the bones to slide away from the skull. A blank-eyed face stared back at him with fangs bared. From the size and shape, he knew it had once belonged to a decently large housecat.

Immanuel stared down at the disarticulated creature. Its vertebrae lay scattered across the bottom of the box alongside ribs and leg bones, which had separated long ago. Why had the previous curator kept a cat skeleton in his desk? It wasn’t as if they were rare or that the museum didn’t already have a specimen on display. He chewed on his lip with his eyetooth, his eyes locked on the cat’s empty sockets. The longer he stared, the more clearly he could imagine its pointy ears and the curve of its tail. Since he gained a hint of Emmeline Jardine’s power, he had touched far too many corpses not to expect the cat’s death to be gruesome. When he touched the dead, he witnessed their final moments, and most specimens’ lives ended with the distant retort of a gun, the beast blissfully unaware while Immanuel screamed in his mind for them to run. Now that he was preparing his own lunch and helping with dinner, he often found his latent talents showed him the moment of squirming agitation before a chicken’s head was lobbed off or a cow’s throat was cut. It was enough to make him consider becoming a vegetarian.

He sighed. He had to know if the cat had met an unseemly end. If that was the case, at least he could bring it back to Baker Street and give it a proper burial. Adam wouldn’t mind, and if he did, he would simply wait for him to go to work and bury it anyway. Drawing in a deep breath, he braced himself for whatever godawful fate the cat could have suffered. Immanuel reached into the box and gently stroked the smooth spot between the cat’s ears. The bright office dimmed into a darkened bedroom. The moon peeked through the bed curtains and a fire crackled somewhere nearby, but the sound was drowned out by the rhythmic gurgle of purring. Ahead of him, he could make out a pair of fuzzy legs with the ink-dipped markings of a Siamese. A wizened hand lifted the sheets and pulled them up to the cat’s chin.

Immanuel released a breath as his lips curled into a relieved smile, but it quickly faded as a wave of grief washed over him that he hadn’t anticipated. The skeleton cat had been a beloved pet, one the previous curator had apparently kept until his own death. Maybe he should bury him after all. As he closed the box and carefully placed it back in the bottom drawer, he made a note to ask someone about the old curator. Opening the cabinet behind his desk, he found the jar of t-shaped pins he had been searching for. Immanuel dragged his chair over to the wall with the fallen paper. Taking a pin, he twisted it through the thick wallpaper and into the plaster, but when he tried to secure the other corner, the pin refused to sink in. With the heel of his hand, he hammered it home.

“Mr. Winter!”

Immanuel whipped around in time to meet the penetrating gaze of Sir William Henry Flower. The swivel chair spun beneath him as he tried to step down. Stumbling forward, the museum director caught his arm. Immanuel’s face reddened, turning a deep shade of scarlet at the sound of pins tinkling behind him followed by the flop of paper. Sir William Henry Flower stared down his patrician nose at the young curator. He stood only an inch taller than Immanuel, yet his air of authority gave him a presence that made Immanuel wish he could disappear into the wallpaper.

“Is everything all right in here?”

Swallowing hard, Immanuel straightened and nodded quickly. “Yes, sir. I— I was just trying to secure the paper.”

“We could hear you trying in the hall. Have Miss Nelson contact the maintenance staff to fix it.” The museum director’s light eyes roamed over the shelves before coming to rest on the jumble of books and papers across the desk. “How is the research coming? Have you found everything you needed?”

Immanuel pushed his chair back to the desk, suddenly aware of the chaos in which he had been working. Every inch of the six foot long tabletop was used to hold an open book or allow him to see multiple pages of notes. If he had another two feet of space, he knew he would have filled that, too. He hadn’t even worked there a week, yet he was already making a mess. Drawing in a long, silent breath, he banished all thoughts of being fired. At least one of his colleagues had to be worse.

“Yes, sir. I’m still getting the lay of the land, but the librarians have been very helpful.”

“Very good. It may be a good idea to check the specimen room in the storage cellars and take some measurements and notes yourself.”

“I will, sir. I didn’t know if I was allowed to do that. Touch the specimens, that is.” He swallowed hard, hoping he could hold off visiting the basements until he could bring a pair of gloves from home.

“Museum staff can borrow whatever is needed to further their research. If you have any questions about protocol, Mr. Winter, just ask one of the other curators or librarians. As you may be aware, there is a staff meeting today at one in the Shaw Room. You haven’t been with us long, but I think you should be present to see how things operate. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes, sir.”

Giving Immanuel a firm nod, Sir William turned to leave but stopped on the threshold. A wave of nausea rippled through Immanuel’s gut as he realized the older gentleman’s gaze was resting on his brown-blotted eye.

“I have been meaning to ask, but have you had your eye examined by a physician?”

The urge to run his fingers over the bump of raised skin that bisected his right brow was nearly irresistible. Immanuel’s hands twitched at his sides, but he quickly clasped them behind his back.

“Yes, sir. I was under a doctor’s care after the—,” he paused. What could he call it? Even after six months, he didn’t know what to say when asked about how he received the scar that clouded one blue eye with a half-moon of blood-brown. Immanuel’s jaw tightened and his eye burned. He wished he could pretend it never happened. “After the incident.”

“Was it treated?”

“Sort of. At the time, there were more pressing injuries to treat. The doctor couldn’t completely restore my sight in that eye, but it doesn’t trouble me much. I have grown accustomed to it,” he replied, his voice tightening.

“Very well. Remember the staff meeting is at one in the Shaw Room.”

Holding his breath, Immanuel watched Sir William leave, shutting the door behind him. At the sound of the glass rattling in its frame, Immanuel darted to the window. He wrenched open the pane and leaned out on his elbows. Summer air flooded his lungs as he exhaled the vision of Lord Rose looming over him and breathed in London’s unique perfume to keep his mind from conjuring the demon’s smoky breath. The earthy fragrance of Hyde Park down the road brought him back to the reassuring pressure of his office’s wooden floorboards beneath his feet and the paper on seal physiological evolution flapping against his desk behind him. Immanuel raked a rain-spattered hand through his hair. If Sir William had continued to question him, how long he could have lasted before the memories tore him from reality? Lord Rose is gone, he reminded himself as he did nearly every day. Lord Rose is dead and gone.

 

***

 

Walking down the wood-lined hall, Immanuel’s gaze traveled over the engraved brass signs beside each door. The Shaw Room, he repeated to himself as he made it to the end of the hall in less than a dozen long strides. It had to be there somewhere. He should have asked Sir William where it was. He thought he had known, but there were so many rooms named for founders, and after a while, they became as tangled as the streets he tried to memorize on his way to work. Rounding the corner, he resisted the urge to check the time. He didn’t want to know how late he was. Immanuel’s pulse fluttered at the thought of being dismissed in front of the senior and junior staff. It would take all his strength not to walk off London Bridge— if he could find it.

Why had they even hired him? It was something he had wondered since he received the news that the famed museum director had agreed to take him on as a junior curator sight-unseen. He had a hard time believing that Sir William had taken Professor Martin’s word about his student’s intellect and ability to articulate a skeleton as if by instinct. Perhaps it wasn’t often that Elijah Martin called in favors, and it made him wonder what Martin had done for the director.

Upon meeting him on the day Sir William had agreed upon for him to start his duties, the only thing the director had asked was his position on evolution. Satisfied with his belief in Darwin’s theories, he passed him off to the nearest curator, who happened to be Peregrine Nichols. At least it had been Nichols and not one of the museum gentry who were as white-haired and stoic as Sir William himself. Nichols was a junior curator, too, but had been hired a few years earlier in the botany department. He stood over a head shorter than Immanuel with boyish brown hair and long, dark eyelashes. Even if he was half a decade older, he had the fragile, delicate features of a child and the rapid-fire speech of a sideshow barker. As Mr. Nichols led him past cases of specimens, pointing out the ones he worked on along with those Immanuel would have to update soon, he caught him up on museum politics.

“You’re lucky you weren’t here for it. It was chaos, utter chaos for months when they left. Most were junior curators and assistants complaining that they couldn’t pay for their wives. Pfft, a crock. You know how people are, they always want more money than they could hope to get. We get paid well for what we do. By the by, do you have a wife?”

“No,” Immanuel answered a little too quickly as they skirted a mass of schoolchildren who stared up at the stuffed elephants in awe.

“Well, then I guess I don’t have to worry about you running before you even get settled. It would be nice to have someone to talk to who didn’t live with one of these,” Peregrine said with a chuckle, hooking a thumb toward the mastodon skeleton. “Your predecessor, Mr. Masters, was nice enough, a bit eccentric. You will have to get accustomed to that. There isn’t much that’s normal in a museum. Anyway, just stay out of Sir William’s way and do as he says. He’s been eagerly awaiting your arrival.”

When Immanuel’s eyes lit up, Peregrine continued, “Albert Günther, the old Keeper of Zoology, retired early after a fight with Sir William over the theory of evolution being forced upon the new exhibits. If you can’t tell, old Günther was more than a little agnostic when it came to evolution, and Sir William can’t stand that. It’s black or white with him. Anyway, he’s been forced to manage zoology along with his duties as the director, but now, you’re here to help bear most of the burden without the higher title.”

“Do you have any advice? Is there anything I should know?”

Peregrine tilted his head in thought, his pink lips pursed. “You went to Oxford or Cambridge, right? Well, then you know it’s all politics. It isn’t just what you know but who you know. The good thing is you seem quiet, trainable, and you’re replacing another German, so you should fit right in.”

More than anything, Immanuel hoped he was right.

Immanuel froze at the brass plate marked, The Shaw Room. Taking a calming breath, he adjusted his notepad and smoothed a wayward curl over his scarred eye. As he scooted inside, a dozen grey heads turned toward him, murmuring half-hearted greetings before returning to their conversations. It was like being back at Oxford. The entire room was lined in richly polished woods from the far-reaches of the empire and smelled faintly of leather and brandy. An oil painting of the museum’s founder, Sir Hans Sloane, hung over the hearth. The man’s curly powdered wig hung down in long heavy locks like a spaniel, his eyes staring ahead impassively as his hand rested on a book of botanical prints.

Before Immanuel could locate a free seat around the long, mahogany table, Nichols caught his eye and pointed to the chair beside him. Immanuel didn’t know how he missed Peregrine. His blue suit shone against a sea of somber blacks and greys, reminding him of Adam’s penchant for flashy fabric. Adam. He suppressed a smile at the thought of what waited at home and shimmied behind the senior staff to the empty seat. The moment he sat and tried to steady his breath, Sir William called the meeting to order with a rap against the table.

“I’m certain you all know why I have called a meeting today. The gala is in less than a fortnight, and we have plenty of work to do. The invitations, food and other sundry have been taken care of, but all of the specimen tags in the museum must be up to date, especially in the great hall and the ancient botanicals exhibit.”

A silent groan passed through the room while Immanuel and Peregrine stayed silent.

“Everything must be in top shape. You never know who will show up. We must present ourselves as if we know Her Majesty will be there. Mr. Glenmont, are the preserved plant specimens ready?”

A middle-aged man with gold-rimmed spectacles lurched awake. “Huh? Uh, yes, sir. The live specimens from the horticultural society are also ready to be picked up.”

“Very good.” Sir William raised a white brow at the little man nearly bouncing beside Immanuel. “Mr. Nichols, do you have everything under control with the specimen cards?”

“Yes, sir, completely done. Well, except for the silphium, but I’m nearly done. The Earl of Dorset sent me his notes, but they are rather hard to read.”

Immanuel’s ears perked at the familiar name.

“Mr. Winter, do you have something you would like to add?”

At the sight of everyone staring at him expectantly, he opened his mouth, then closed it before uttering softly, “I— I would like to help if I could. I particularly liked botany and did well in it.” He licked his lips. Should he say it? “The Earl of Dorset is my flat-mate’s brother-in-law, so I could possibly speak to him and clarify any questions we have.”

Immanuel paused as a murmur passed through the room.

“You know him?” Sir William said.

“The earl wrote his own notes?” one of the curators asked over him, his hoary beard in stark contrast to his lilting voice.

“I— I would assume so, sir,” Immanuel replied, his eyes sweeping from face-to-face before returning to his lap. “From what my flat-mate has said, Eilian Sorrell is a well-respected mechano-archaeologist and researcher. He found the silphium at his estate in Dorset.”

“Well, I’ll be. Never thought you would know an earl,” Mr. Nichols added with a shake of his head. “I would greatly appreciate Winter’s help if you can spare him, Sir William.”

Sir William thought for a long moment, his eyes flickering between the two young men. Immanuel resisted the urge to shrink beneath his hard gaze. Had he overstepped his bounds?

“It’s a bit irregular, but I don’t believe the zoological specimens are too out of sorts. Be sure to read and alter the cards for the pinnipeds. You are our resident seal expert, Mr. Winter.”

Immanuel inwardly sighed at the title. That probably meant more nights coming home smelling like decomposing walrus. Poor Adam. Perhaps a trip to the arctic would be his punishment for not knowing his place or for ruining the gala with poorly written cards. As Sir William moved on to other topics of greater interest to the rest of the curators, Immanuel replayed the conversation over in his mind. His heart thundered in his ears, blocking the men’s urbane, muted voices. It was like being before the dons and professors at Oxford. Every word had to be scrutinized to decode layers of forethought, alliances, lies, and useless politics. That wasn’t his way. It was hard enough to remember to refer to Adam as his flat-mate after months of waiting to share a bed, but that was a matter of life and death.

“Meeting adjourned. Mr. Winter, please stay behind. I would like to speak to you for a moment.”

Immanuel’s eyes widened, but as he looked up, Peregrine caught his gaze.

As Peregrine pushed away from the table, he gave Immanuel a half smile. “I wouldn’t be too worried,” he whispered. “If he was going to sack you, he would do it in his office.”

Swallowing hard, Immanuel clutched his notepad to his chest, waiting for Sir William to approach. When the last man filed out, the museum director turned to him, his face unreadable.

“You said your roommate is the Earl of Dorset’s brother-in-law?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are they close?”

“Yes, but—” It dawned on Immanuel where this line of questioning was going. “Yes, sir, he is the only family the countess has left. Adam Fenice and I spent Christmas with the earl and countess in Greenwich last year, and I believe they have gone shooting together as well.”

Sir William nodded, running a hand over his bearded chin thoughtfully. “I will have to extend an invitation to Mr. Fenice. If you and the countess are going, he may feel slighted if he is overlooked.”

“His cousin and her husband are going as well,” Immanuel added, staring at his feet.

“Who?”

“The Hawthornes, sir. Dr. Hawthorne is the Coroner to the Queen.”

“Very well. The earl made a sizeable donation along with the silphium, and I won’t lose their patronage over a slighted relative. Give my secretary his name, and I will make certain to personally invite him.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m certain he will appreciate it.”

When Sir William turned his attention to the snifter on the sideboard, Immanuel slipped out. A wry smile crossed his lips as he passed the men who had just been in the meeting. Their gazes fell upon him with a newfound respect. No longer was he some no-name German boy. He knew nobility and that would establish him better than age or experience ever could.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Chapter Two of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little over a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to wet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here’s chapter one.

Chapter Two
A New Regime

In Emmeline Jardine’s eighteen years, she had learned two things for certain: people are nearly always dumber than they appear and nothing lasts forever. It was with this in mind that Emmeline told herself that Madame Nostra’s reign at the London Spiritualist Society would be short. She loathed everything about the woman, from her over-sized hats and too orange hair to her rib-splittingly tiny waist and the wild patterns of her gowns. Standing with her back to the wainscoting and paisley wallpaper, Emmeline watched with an incredulous black brow as the other spiritualists swarmed the fake medium, listening eagerly to her recitation of her two month long European tour.
Madame Nostra let out a throaty chuckle and patted the massive ribbon affixed to her hat. “Oh yes, the King of Italy was a joy to read. I didn’t want to say anything, but I did tell him about the death of a son he didn’t know he had. His Majesty was deeply affected by the news.”
Emmeline rolled her eyes as the others tittered for her to tell them more. One day back on English soil and they were already falling over themselves to be in Madame Nostra’s good graces. Did they not realize she couldn’t actually communicate with spirits? All it took was one reading with her for Emmeline to discover that Madame Nostra’s spirits spoke in knocks that came from her left foot. It didn’t seem right for her of all people to rise to the top, but with Lord Rose dead, Madame Nostra had the biggest name and the loudest mouth. If Emmeline had remained in Oxford, maybe things would have been different.
Someone bumped against Emmeline’s arm, breaking her train of thought. She turned with a scowl at the ready only to find Cassandra Ashwood at her elbow, giving her a knowing smile. Against her will, Emmeline felt a grin cross her features. Ever since Cassandra arrived at the Spiritualist Society in March, they had been as inseparable as—and often mistaken for—sisters. Besides having the same brown eyes, round faces and short stature, they also shared the same opinion of the illustrious Madame Nostra.
“And I thought you would be thrilled to see the old girl back,” Cassandra whispered, keeping her eyes on the middle-aged women hanging on the Madam Nostra’s every word.
Emmeline snorted. “Can’t you tell I’m overjoyed at being ignored again?”
“I guess that’s the end of our coregency,” she replied, a faint smile crossing her lips. “It was fun while it lasted.”
“Our holiday won’t be long if I have any say in the matter.”
Cassandra shook her head, a curl of mahogany hair dancing against her cheek. “It isn’t worth staging a coup. The woman’s harmless.”
“Cass, you know stupid people are never harmless.”
Locking eyes, Emmeline held Cassandra’s gaze until finally her best friend relented with a shrug and a sigh. “Your aunt is rubbing off on you. Still though, aren’t you happy that you don’t have to manage everything now? You can be a medium again.”
Words gathered on Emmeline’s tongue, but she swallowed them down in a bitter gulp. Even to Cassandra, she couldn’t admit that she had enjoyed every moment she ran the Spiritualist Society. For most of her life, she had watched her mother manage the Oxford Spiritualist Society, so taking up the reins in London felt as natural as throwing a party. She had been fortunate that no one older or better known stepped up after Madam Nostra went on tour because she would have surely been usurped, but she might have allowed it, if it had been the right person. With Cassandra’s help and calming words, they had managed the servants, tended to the account books, kept track of everyone’s appointments to ensure there was always a parlor available for a séance, and had even organized a small dinner party for the benefactors of the society. It had all gone swimmingly, especially after the first week when the older members of the society finally realized she wasn’t going to stop and acquiesced to her temporary rule.
“They may soon find that they miss my managerial style.”
“I know I will.”
Emmeline whipped around to find Lord Hale staring down at her with a cheeky grin. Her eyes ran appraisingly over his pomaded auburn hair and emerald waistcoat. He was the sort of man every woman imagined as her prince. She should have veiled her feelings for him as propriety dictated, but with a gentleman who was not only handsome but could dance and speak as well as Cecil Hale, it was nearly impossible.
“Lord Hale, what brings you here? Have you come to hear Madam Nostra’s tall-tales?”
“No, much like you, I’m merely making a show of it.” His gaze ran over her, lingering a moment too long before he caught himself and added with a cough, “Has the post come yet? I’m expecting a package. For the life of me, I can’t remember if I addressed it for here or my flat.”
“Why would you send it here?” Cassandra asked.
“At the time, I think I was between flats and wasn’t sure if I would be settled yet. The parcel ended up being delayed, and well—” He shrugged. “Would you keep an eye out for it, Miss Jardine?”
Heat flooded he chest and cheeks as he flashed a vibrant smile. “Of course, I will let you know if I see it.”
“Well, I guess I should pay Madam Nostra a visit. Good day, Miss Jardine, Miss Ashwood.”
As Emmeline watched Lord Hale cut through the circle of women in the parlor, unabashedly tracing the curvature of his back and buttock with her eyes, she felt Cassandra’s cold gaze upon her. “Don’t give me that look, Cass.”
“You’re much too obvious, and he’s a flirt.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Anyway, I’m feeling peckish, would you like to come to the Dorothy with me? If we leave now, we can still get an eightpenny dinner.”
Emmeline frowned. Even if she didn’t love going to the women-only restaurant, it guaranteed that Madam Nostra and her entourage wouldn’t be there. “Fine.”
With a nod of satisfaction, Cassandra disappeared down the hall to retrieve their cloaks. Behind them in the hall, the mail hit the rug with a dull thump and a crinkle of paper. Emmeline sighed and scooped up the massive jumble of letters and parcels. If she didn’t do it, she knew the others would let them sit there until they were trampled into the carpet. Emmeline flipped through the stack of letters with little interest. Most were advertisements for fake mediums with even worse acts than Madam Nostra or letters from clients hoping for a séance, but at the bottom of the pile was a package. The brown wrapping had been creased and torn at the edges in transit. Between smudges of dirt, Emmeline could make out the remnants of stamps and words written in half a dozen languages. The package had gone far in its time abroad, yet no return address appeared on the front or back.
Holding it in her palm, she judged its weight and smiled to herself. It had to be a book and a fancy, well-bound one at that. Her eyes flickered to Lord Hale, but as she took a step forward, she caught the words scrawled in tight script across the paper wrapping: To the Head of the Spiritualist Society. Lord Hale certainly was not it. It could have been Madam Nostra’s as she technically had assumed the role as head of the society, but if it had been something she ordered, certainly she would have given the shopkeeper her name. If it wasn’t hers, then… Emmeline’s throat tightened at the thought of Lord Rose snarling down at her, his golden eyes alight like the end of his cigarette. He died by his own hand nearly six months earlier, but from the journey in faded stamps of ink, the book easily could have been ordered right before he died.
“What’s that?” Cassandra asked as she handed Emmeline her cloak.
Emmeline opened her mouth to speak, the words tangling in her throat as she held the book tightly to her breast.
“It’s nothing. I—” Dropping her voice, she said, “If you must know, I ordered a book that I don’t want my aunt to see.”
Cassandra’s chestnut brows arched. “Another one? If that one is anything like the last, you had best hide it well.”
“I’m lucky she hasn’t found my cache yet.”
Cassandra chuckled and slipped on her mackintosh. Releasing a silent breath, Emmeline slipped on her cloak and followed Cassandra out the door toward Mortimer Street. She bit her lip, glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone had seen her take it, but all eyes were on Madam Nostra. As Emmeline stepped outside, she kept the package under her arm and her hand tightly over row of script written across its face.

***

The Dorothy Restaurant hummed with chatter only broken by the occasional sharp laugh. Emmeline resisted the urge to shift in her seat. She had been to the Dorothy several times with Cassandra Ashwood, but she never failed to feel out of place there. She had never been in a public place where men were not allowed. The room was overly bright even in the dreary weather with its red walls and gaudy array of colorful Japanese fans and parasols artfully tacked to the plaster. Around them all manner of women ate the same meal on identical white tablecloths with vases of flowers. During previous visits, they had spotted Constance Wilde and the Countess of Dorset not far from a table of shop girls. In a space free of men, the women seemed to transform before her eyes into some strange perversion of the womanhood she knew. Cigarettes were lit and overheard table conversation often involved politics, women’s rights, and even colonialism. Of course, there was gossip, but mixed in were stories of tête–à–têtes that bordered on elicit. At the Dorothy, they all seemed so free, yet surrounded by a complete lack of restriction, Emmeline felt stunted.
“You’re very quiet today, Em,” Cassandra said, looking up from her roast chicken and potatoes. “Anything the matter?”
Emmeline’s eyes flickered over the window where rain pattered against the pane and through the drizzle, she inadvertently caught the gaze of a man peeking inside. What he expected them to be doing, she couldn’t imagine, but gawkers, as she was quickly learning, were common at the Dorothy.
“Ignore him.”
“Why are they always staring in? It’s rude. It’s a restaurant, not a sideshow.”
“They don’t like that we finally have some privacy. You know, you could have left your book in the coatroom. I’m pretty sure no one would steal it, especially when Miss Barker knows us.”
“That’s not what I was worried about.” She paused. What was she worried about? “I didn’t want anyone to see the title.”
Cassandra shook her head. “Maybe I don’t want to borrow it if you’re that nervous about other people seeing it.”
Emmeline gave her a weak smile. Her eyes traced the outline of the book beneath the crinkled paper. She had placed it on the table facedown with her reticule and gloves on top of it to keep Cassandra from turning it over. Her heart pulsed in her throat, ruining the taste of the meat in her mouth. She was itching to open it. Every time she looked away, she felt its gaze upon her, as if the book was watching her—beckoning to her—the moment she let her mind wander. For a moment, she wondered if she should just confess to Cassandra what she had done and open the bloody book.
Before she could act on her thought, Cassandra straightened with an excited squeak. She wiped her mouth and took a sip of tea before she asked, “Did I tell you about the gala?”
“What gala? The season is over.”
“Well, it isn’t a society party. It’s a gala to celebrate a new ancient botanical collection at the Natural History Museum. I’m sure you heard.”
When Emmeline raised a dark brow, Cassandra continued, “Your aunt’s cousin, the Countess of Dorset, and her husband donated the main specimen, a silphium plant. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. I’m sure your aunt mentioned it.”
Thinking back to dinner conversations, she could vaguely recall some mention of a party at the museum. She hadn’t paid much attention. “I don’t think I was invited, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to go.”
Cassandra’s chestnut eyes widened and sagged.
“You actually want to go? But why? It will be so boring. All those old stuffy scholars and their pinch-faced wives.”
“My friends will be there. I don’t think you have met her, but Judith Elliott is my best friend—”
Emmeline stiffened.
One of my best friends, and I’m certain you will love her as much as I do.”
“Of course,” Emmeline replied tartly as she stabbed a piece of boiled potato and brought it to her lips.
She could feel Cassandra’s gaze upon her, eyes torn between annoyance and guilt. Somehow, Emmeline had never imagined that Cassandra could have friends besides her, that she had a life outside the Spiritualist Society. She only ever saw her at the Dorothy and the society, and she didn’t appear to have a beau or that she was even looking for one. Modern woman, Emmeline scoffed. No wonder Aunt Eliza loved it when Miss Ashwood came for tea. Watching Cassandra go back to her meal, Emmeline’s stomach knotted. How did she know so little about her even though they spent nearly every weekend and most evenings together at the Spiritualist Society? She knew Cassandra worked as a secretary somewhere, though Emmeline couldn’t remember where, and that she lived in a flat not far from the society along with another woman.
From the edge of her vision, Emmeline studied Cassandra’s features. She envied her prominent cheekbones and her expressive lips. When she smiled, it made Emmeline’s face join in her joy, but it was her bearing that caught her attention when they first met. She had thought of quitting the Spiritualist Society for good until she spotted Cassandra waiting at the front door. She stood tall despite her short stature with her walking suit smartly cut to accentuate her curves and the color rich enough to bring out the flecks of gold and green in her eyes. There was a demure self-assuredness about her that didn’t require words to enforce. Emmeline wondered if that was what five years of relative independence did to a woman. Still, it was troubling to know she had no suitors to fall back on or tear her attention away from the gloom and tedium of the Spiritualist Society.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this since you have decided to be peevish, but Mr. Talbot’s cousin just walked in,” Cassandra whispered, her eyes darting toward the front door as a rush of swampy air washed in.
“How do you know it’s her?”
“Because I just saw him drop her off.”
Whipping around, Emmeline turned in time to see a dark-haired woman enter and a charcoal grey steamer pull away from the curb. “I can’t believe I missed—”
The words died in her throat. Cassandra was holding the book, her book, regarding her with pursed lips. Emmeline reached to snatch it from her grasp, but Cassandra pulled it back. It wouldn’t do to make a scene. Shaking her head, Cassandra handed the paper-wrapped book back to her.
“I knew something was wrong when you wouldn’t give it up. You never wait to open a book. You can’t steal her property, Emmeline,” she replied in a harsh whisper. “Nostra is a fool, but this is hers.”
Groaning, Emmeline placed the package in her lap and covered it with her napkin. “But she isn’t even the head of the society, not yet anyway. Besides, it probably isn’t even hers.”
“If it isn’t hers, then whose is it?”
Emmeline opened her mouth, but his name refused to leave her throat.
Sensing what she wouldn’t say, Cassandra frowned. “But it’s been over five months. Do you really suspect it was meant for him?”
“I don’t know. I know taking it was wrong, but you didn’t know him, Cass. He was evil.”
“You think it’s something malicious?”
She shrugged. “It could be. Would you want Nostra getting a book on soul-stealing or god knows what?”
Cassandra sighed, her gaze traveling to the book in Emmeline’s lap before coming to rest on her concerned eyes and drawn mouth. “Maybe you should open it and see what it is. If it’s just a book, we could rewrap it and bring it back tomorrow, and if it’s something bad—”
“We can get figure out what to do once we know what it is. Good idea.”
Using her untouched bread knife, Emmeline carefully slipped it between the strings and paper. With a crack, the must of centuries old paper and ink rushed out. Emmeline locked eyes with Cassandra as she tipped the package and let the book slide into her hand. Lying across the front cover was a letter. Setting the book and torn wrapper on the table, she turned her attention to the missive. The sole page was stained with ink and flecks of brown, but the lines of the long, looped writing had been written with such force that it had been incised into the page. As Emmeline lifted it closer, minute beams of light broke through the parchment.

September 14th, 1892
To the person the grimoire chooses,
I hope whoever reads this letter can forgive that I do not know your name. I don’t have much time left. The duke is ailing and has entrusted the book to my care, but I fear my time will be as short as his. The grimoire is no longer safe. By the time you read this, the grimoire will have passed through many hands to keep it away from those who would pervert the knowledge within it. If you are reading this note, you may be the end of the line. It is my hope that the book has fallen into worthy hands.
Dark forces are in Berlin, and they are moving north to London. Those who would seek to keep the balance of death and life are being cut down by practioners wanting to tip the scale. They need what the grimoire possesses.
Protect it or send it to someone who can.

There was no signature. Flipping the paper over, she found the same note written in Latin. Emmeline’s heart thundered in her throat. Dark forces were coming to London. What had she taken?
“What is it?” her friend asked, noticing her sudden pallor.
“I don’t think the book was meant for Lord Rose, but I don’t think it was meant for Nostra either. Here, read it for yourself.”
Handing over the letter, Emmeline turned her attention to the heavy tome; she couldn’t stand to watch Cassandra’s reactions. Maybe she was right. She should have just left it alone. Running her fingers over the soft leather cover, Emmeline closed her eyes. Where there weren’t deeply hewn arabesques or veins are fine as capillaries, it was as smooth as skin. She followed the lines as they hypnotically wove through one another to form not only a picture of a stylized garden but an intricate knot. Her fingertips hummed the moment the entire circuit had been traced, and in her mind’s eye, she could make out the loops and whirls, seen and unseen, lying in her hands. Open it. Her freehand crept toward the latch.
“It has to be a joke of some kind. Something to scare off Madam Nostra. It has to be, doesn’t it?”
Emmeline opened her eyes, her breath coming heavy as if she had just awoken. What could she say? She believed every word. In the past year, she had seen and experienced things no one would believe. Cassandra watched mediums like Emmeline tap into a different plane of vision to speak to the dead, but it was nothing compared to what she had dealt with. She had been resurrected and felt her own heart stop in turn to revive another.
She stroked the ridges of the book’s spine. “I’m not so sure. What if it is true? I can’t just put the book back now. What if it falls into the wrong hands?”
“You need to give it to someone else. The letter said to pass it on if you couldn’t protect it,” Cassandra replied, her eyes wide with fear. “I could probably find someone.”
She eyed the women sitting around them suspiciously before turning her gaze back to Emmeline, who clutched the book close as if it was a cherished storybook.
Cassandra rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you. You’re going to keep it, aren’t you?” She dropped her voice. “Em, if you believe what it says, people will come after you. Bad people. They could hurt you. We need to figure out who to give this to. Did your mother know anyone that you can trust?”
“Perhaps. I could look into it, but for now…” Keep it. “For now, I can keep it in Uncle James’s safe. No one would bother it there.”
Emmeline’s eyes traced the unending pattern carved into the supple leather. It felt warm in her hand, and if she let the world around her fade, she swore she could feel its steady pulse. It had a life within it, and it was hers to protect.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Chapter One of Dead Magic

dead-magic-ebook-cover

Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little over a month, I thought I would share the first chapter here to wet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter One

 Flesh and Bone

On balmy summer nights, Highgate Cemetery lay as still and silent as its residents, but not on this night. Footfalls echoed through the rows of vine-covered graves, their names impossible to read in the scant moonlight. Crickets fell silent and the grasses on either side of the well-worn path rustled with life just beneath the surface as Cecil Hale passed. Reaching for the shuttered lantern at his side, the young man stopped and listened for any sign of his compatriots. He had been instructed not to open the lantern until he reached the Egyptian Avenue, but the graveyard was harder to navigate in the dark than he had imagined. The dizzying rows of cockeyed graves seemed to go on forever, all nearly identical to the next.

Closing his eyes, Cecil drew in a long breath and released a wave of energy that began at his russet hair and passed through his feet. In the darkness beyond the curve of trees, he felt a flash of power pulse back. So they had ventured into the vault without him after all. As he rounded the bend, his heart quickened at the sight of the obelisk and lotus-columned entrance to the Egyptian Avenue. Leafy boughs and Jurassic ferns spilled over the top of the mausoleum’s entrance, drowning out the tang of death with the scents of summer. He paused as the iron gate whined beneath his hand, waiting for the light of the night watchman he knew would not appear. A smirk crossed his lips. No one thought to worry about the dead.

Cecil’s gaze swept over the faceless row of doors on either side of him until it came to rest on the wavering radiance of an oil lamp shining from beneath the threshold. Pulling open the door, he shut his eyes against the harsh light of the lanterns within.

“Did they not teach you how to tell time at boarding school, Lord Hale?”

Cecil Hale stiffened. If it had been anyone else, he would have cut them down to size for not only insulting a viscount but for daring to question the standing of the youngest practioner initiated into the Eidolon Club, but when his hazel eyes adjusted, he found Lady Rose glaring at him.

“Do forgive my tardiness, Lady Rose, but it wasn’t easy to find my way here in the dark. Not all of us frequent graveyards,” he replied before he could stop himself.

A low chuckle emanated from where she stood, but Cecil swore he hadn’t seen her lips or chest move. Among the shadows of the mausoleum, her polished bronze hair and pale green eyes took on such an unnatural hue that he dared not question what he had heard. Of all the practitioners he knew, she was the only one he feared. If he stared too long, he could see the energy writhing and slithering around her, pulling at the flames positioned in a circle around the coffin at her feet. It was her power he felt when he cleared his mind’s eye.

As Cecil pulled the crypt door shut, a lanky, white-haired figure emerged from the neighboring chamber. Cecil was accustomed to seeing Lord Sumner in the Eidolon Club’s vast study, but seeing him standing in the mausoleum didn’t sit well. It felt wrong, like seeing one’s grandfather walk out of a Piccadilly brothel. He couldn’t imagine him with his carefully trimmed beard and Savile Row suit anywhere near a charnel house. The man had a lineage as distinguished as any king on the continent, so what could be so important that he would risk being found prowling around a graveyard with the likes of Lady Rose? Perhaps Cecil wasn’t the only one who didn’t trust her.

“Will it be only us this evening?” Cecil asked, his voice reverberating against the vaulted stone as he stared into the darkened chamber.

Without looking up from the coffin edge, Lady Rose replied, “If you’re worried about discovery, I hired a man to keep watch outside, but the ritual only needs one. His lordship is merely here to supervise.”

“Let’s hope the ritual won’t be necessary,” the elder noble murmured, averting his gaze from Lady Rose’s makeshift evocation circle.

“Oh? Are you having second thoughts, Lord Sumner?”

“I think all of us would prefer to avoid such vulgarity. We can only hope his family thought it best to bury the damned book with him.”

“So resurrectionists like us could find it? I doubt it,” she said, running her bare fingers over the lid as if feeling for something.

“Did anyone check his estate and town home?” Cecil asked.

Lady Rose and Lord Sumner exchanged an incredulous look before turning their attention back to the casket. Her fingers slid over the decorative molding and around the brass bars affixed to either side, probing every cranny for hidden springs.

Resting back on her heels, she motioned for Cecil to come to her side with a curl of her finger. “Cecil, would you do the honors?”

For a moment, he wished they had left the door open to the crypt. The stale air pressed in as he drew in a breath and held it. Cecil steeled himself, ready to avert his gaze when the lid cracked opened, but as he tried to yank it loose, a bolt of pain shot into his wrists and up his arms. Howling, he staggered back, nearly kicking over Sumner’s lamp.

“The bloody thing’s hexed!” he cried, rubbing his burning, twitching hands.

“The duke’s underlings were smarter than I thought,” Lord Sumner said under his breath.

Grabbing a handful of dust from the floor, Lady Rose cast it across the casket top. A series of rings, lines, and scribbles appeared through the detritus. Cecil leaned in to get a closer look. He had never seen a sigil that actually worked. The Eidolon Club didn’t endorse the use of such an out of fashion technique, so there had been no reason for him to bother learning about them. At the pulsing throb in his hand, he wished he had. Before he could finish tracing the twisting line with his gaze, Lady Rose pulled out a handkerchief from her Gladstone bag and scrubbed at the sigil. Cecil watched with wide eyes as she gritted her teeth and continued even as the arcane symbols crackled and arced with electricity beneath her palm.

She released a labored breath and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “Open it.”

Cautiously, Cecil reached for the lid, expecting to feel the bite of electricity once more. The lid groaned under his hand, but as he raised it, the bile crawled up his throat at the overwhelming stench of putrefaction. The smell of rotting meat mixed with the bite of acid and the coppery sweetness of blood was so strong that he dared not look down. He had hoped that in the few months since his death, the Duke of Dover’s body would have been reduced to nothing more than a skeleton in a suit. From the corner of his eye, he could make out an unnaturally blackened and melted face and a hint of bone peaking from the top of what he could only imagine had once been the duke’s hand. As he returned to his station near the door, Cecil covered his mouth with his handkerchief, hoping Lady Rose and Lord Sumner wouldn’t notice his sudden pallor, but she was already leaning into the coffin, her hands probing the body for the missing grimoire.

“Just as I suspected, it isn’t here,” she said, turning to Sumner.

“Then, what do you propose to do now?” he replied sharply, knowing the answer.

“The ritual. Unless you no longer want to acquire the book, but I highly doubt the Pinkertons or your investigators will be able to find it without hearing what the duke has to say.”

Lord Sumner’s lip curled in disgust as he locked eyes with the witch perched beside the coffin. She held his gaze, her green eyes at ease while the noblemen squinted at the pungency of the rotting corpse. With a final look at the duke’s bloated form, Lord Sumner retrieved his cloak and hat from an empty niche.

“Do what you will, but I will not be a part of it. Leave a message for me at the club if you find anything, but don’t taint me with your bone-conjuring.”

Storming out of the crypt, Lord Sumner slammed the door, leaving Cecil and Lady Rose in silence. She stared ahead, her face betraying nothing even as she sat back on the dusty floor. Cecil dared not ask if she was all right.

After a moment, she licked her lips and swept a stray bronze curl from her forehead. “Cecil, if you ever want to succeed, never let theory trump practical knowledge. Despite your position, you’re never too good to use what you have learned.”

“I don’t plan to rely on theory, Aunt Claudia.”

Satisfied with his answer, she asked flatly, “Did you make the tincture I asked for?”

Cecil nodded, reaching into his breast pocket for the flask. It had taken him most of the day to prepare it from the notes she had given him, but it was perfect. It had to be. He had been so careful to check the thermometer and even test some of the precipitate to ensure he had created the intended compound. What it did, he had no idea. Plucking it from his hand, she sniffed and swirled it before setting it aside.

“Very good. Do you intend to stay for the ritual or would you prefer to wait outside, Lord Hale?”

“If you would permit it, I should like to stay.”

“I see. Then, you must remain quiet and out of the way. You may be disturbed by what you see, but you must remain silent. Can you manage that?”

For a brief moment, Cecil considered slipping out the door of the crypt and getting into the first cab that would take him back to his flat, but he was an alchemist and to be taken seriously, he had to stay even when Lord Sumner would not. Sealing off his energy with a slow exhalation, Cecil stepped further into the shadows until his back rested against the damp stone. He watched as Lady Rose reached into the Gladstone bag at her side, pulling out a large, squat bowl, a bottle of what appeared to be water, a handful of narrow vials, and a rough obsidian blade. She emptied the bottle of water and three of the vials into the bowl. Placing it before her, she wafted the faint trail of smoke that rose from the liquid toward her. As she closed her eyes, her body rocked in time with the languid curve of her hand and a low chant resonated in her throat. Her free-hand skated through the dust at her side, scrawling tiny shapes he couldn’t make out before darting for another vial to add to the bowl.

The air grew thick with the stench of sulphurous smoke until Cecil feared he would be ill. Lady Rose’s lithe body writhed and snapped as her chant grew louder and more insistent. Sounds morphed into words he nearly recognized but were lost before his mind could retrieve their meaning. Drawing in a loud breath, the words ceased.

The obsidian knife flashed in the wavering candlelight. In one swift motion, Lady Rose ran it across the duke’s hand. A few drops of a thick black liquid seeped from the wound and across her open palm where a bloated finger lay neatly severed from its mooring. Cecil silenced a gag with a tight swallow as the stench of offal overpowered his senses. Whispers raced across Lady Rose’s lips as she raised the finger high before dropping it into the bowl. The smoke writhed and condensed, combining with the shadows lingering at the edge of the circle of candles. Monstrous faces flickered. They rose in open-mouthed grotesques only to be swallowed by another until finally the vague outline of a man solidified. His stern eyes and hollowed cheeks locked onto Cecil’s hazel gaze before turning to Lady Rose.

“Duke Dover, we—the blind living—humbly ask for your assistance. Your divine sight sees all: past, present, and future. Tell us, sir. Tell us where the Corpus Grimoire lies at this moment,” she pleaded, her voice level but tinged with yearning.

The duke’s face dissolved, drifting and roiling until a new scene appeared in the smoke. A paper package sat among stacks of crates and bags of letters stamped London, England. The faint hum of a dirigible reverberated through the tomb. It was on a mail ship.

Lady Rose’s eyes widened. “Duke Dover, who will receive the package? To whom is it going?”

Smoke twisted into a column before chipping away to reveal the soft curves of a woman. Her hair was fashionably curled into black coils that trailed down her neck and across the shoulders of her violet gown. Cecil leaned closer. Her rounded cheeks, the wide byzantine eyes, the tight set of her jaw in concentration. He knew her. During the season, he had sought her out at each dance, entranced by her wit and the warmth hidden behind her knowing looks and pointed remarks. Her figure fell in on itself before stretching higher into the form of a wiry young man. He would have been unremarkable, except for the long scar that cut through his left eye. How could they both have the grimoire?

A shadow stirred in the corner of the mausoleum. It climbed along the stone, straining and expanding until it nearly engulfed the entire wall. Cecil’s heart raced as the shade solidified into the shape of a man. It lashed out with an arm and wiped the flames from the tops of the candles. The tomb plunged into darkness, the only sound the swoosh of the shadow and the clatter of the bowl as it tipped. Groping for the lantern at his feet, Cecil felt for its radiant warmth and quickly opened the shutter.

Even before he was able to see, he knew the spirits had left the crypt. Despite the godawful smell of the corpse, he no longer felt as if he would smother. Stepping closer, he could make out a spreading stain where the bowl had fallen over and spilled the brew. Lady Rose stood behind it. She glared down at her ruined ritual before turning her hardened gaze to Lord Hale. He swallowed against the flare of power emanating from her body. Questions hung on his lips as she snatched the empty vials from the floor and threw them into her Gladstone.

“You aren’t going to try again?”

“There’s no point. The duke didn’t have much steam to begin with. He wouldn’t have lasted through another question, let alone being resummoned. We have enough information. The book is in transit, and it will fall to one of them.”

His mind trailed to the vision of the young woman with the dark hair and owl eyes. “How will you find them?”

“I have my ways,” she replied, pausing to lock eyes with something in the darkness. “If it’s in the city, one of us will feel it and find it.”

“The girl, I think I know her,” he said, not wanting to imagine what would happen if his aunt got to her first.

Lady Rose looked up from her bag, her eyes softened with interest. For the first time, her gaze was free of scorn as she searched his face. “Really? Can I trust you to keep an eye on her and report back to me? If she has the grimoire, it will be your responsibility to retrieve it.”

“But what if she won’t give it up?” Emmeline Jardine wasn’t a stupid girl who could be easily swayed with his noble charms and a bit of flattery. “She’s a true medium. I can sense her power at the Spiritualist Society. What if she wants to keep the book for herself?”

With a faint smile, she ran her handkerchief down the length of the obsidian knife. “Then, we will simply change our tactic.”

He swallowed hard. “And the other man?”

“Leave him to me.”


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Series Mega Sale

To celebrate Dead Magic coming out soon, I decided to put all three of the other books in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series on sale from Friday through Sunday!

Get The Earl of Brass for free, The Winter Garden for 99 cents, The Earl and the Artificer for 99 cents. You can also pre-order Dead Magic, which will be out November 10th!

earl of brass

Get the Earl of Brass for FREE.

Lord Sorrell wants freedom. With the responsibilities of an earldom and a domineering father awaiting him in London, he escapes to the East, but he fears he will be grounded forever when a freak accident results in the loss of his arm. Depressed and facing a restrictive life, Lord Sorrell seeks what will make him whole again: a new limb.
Fenice Brothers Prosthetics is in jeopardy. Hadley’s brother is dead, and the business has fallen on her shoulders. Clients begin to turn her away and she soon fears the business will fail until she disguises herself as a man. But one person sees through her. In exchange for a new arm, Lord Sorrell offers her a chance at independence in the deserts of Palestine.
What they uncover is more precious than potsherds or bones. The desert hides secrets worth their weight in gold. Will Hadley and Lord Sorrell make it out alive or will they, too, be entombed beneath the sands?

wintergarden

Get the Winter Garden for 99 cents.

Can death be conquered?
When Immanuel Winter set off to the banks of the Thames, he never thought his life would be changed forever. Emmeline Jardine, a young Spiritualist medium, drowns, but the potion given to Immanuel by his mother brings her back from the dead and irrevocably intertwines their souls.
But Emmeline and Immanuel aren’t the only ones aware of his ancestors’ legacy. Understanding the potential of such an elixir, the ruthlessly ambitious Alastair Rose knows securing the mysteries of death will get him everything he desires: power, a title, but more importantly, dominion over the dead and the living.
Unaware of what the dashing madman is capable of, Emmeline follows him deeper into a world of corrupt mediums, unscrupulous scientists, and murder. All that stands between Lord Rose and his prize is the boy who refuses to die, but both men know the key to stopping him lies within the girl who shares Immanuel’s soul.

eata-final-cover

Get The Earl and the Artificer for 99 cents.

What mysteries lay buried beneath weeds and dust?
Following their wedding, Eilian and Hadley Sorrell journey to Brasshurst Hall, his family’s abandoned ancestral home. As Eilian struggles to reconcile his new roles as husband and earl, he finds the house and the surrounding town of Folkesbury are not as they first appear.
Behind a mask of good manners and gentle breeding lurks a darker side of Folkesbury. As the Sorrells struggle to fit in with the village’s genteel society, they find their new friends are at the mercy of Randall Nash, a man who collects secrets.
Soon, Eilian and Hadley become entangled in a web of murder, theft, and intrigue that they may never escape, with the manor at the heart of it all. Something long thought lost and buried within Brasshurst’s history has been found—something worth killing for.

dead-magic-ebook-cover

Pre-order Dead Magic here.

Immanuel wants nothing more than a peaceful life as a scientist, but his happiness is short-lived when his past demons refuse to go quietly. As body-snatching spirits attack and creatures rise from the dead, he fears his sanity is slipping. Burdened with strange new powers, he struggles to hide them from his lover for fear of losing the only person he trusts.
But the woman who shares his soul has a secret of her own. Disillusioned with her life, Emmeline turns to a handsome suitor who offers her a world of limitless possibilities at an exclusive club. Rumors swirl of occult rituals and magic, and Emmeline soon fears he wants more than just her love.
Something wicked is heading for London that threatens to destroy everything Emmeline and Immanuel hold dear. And it wants more than secrets.

 

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Dead Magic Cover Reveal and Pre-Order!

dead-magic-ebook-cover

Ta-da! Dead Magic‘s cover has been revealed! I have been chomping at the bit to show you the cover for Dead Magic (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #4). I think this my favorite cover yet.

So what is Dead Magic about? Well, it stars our young, scarred scientist, Immanuel Winter, along with his dashing boyfriend and of course, his unwilling soulmate, Emmeline Jardine, as they face the forces of darkness once again.

Immanuel wants nothing more than a peaceful life as a scientist, but his happiness is short-lived when his past demons refuse to go quietly. As body-snatching spirits attack and creatures rise from the dead, he fears his sanity is slipping. Burdened with strange new powers, he struggles to hide them from his lover for fear of losing the only person he trusts.
But the woman who shares his soul has a secret of her own. Disillusioned with her life, Emmeline turns to a handsome suitor who offers her a world of limitless possibilities at an exclusive club. Rumors swirl of occult rituals and magic, and Emmeline soon fears he desires more than just her love.
Something wicked is heading for London that threatens to destroy everything Emmeline and Immanuel hold dear. And it wants more than secrets.

Add it to your Goodreads to-be-read list here.

And I set up a pre-order for Dead Magic. It’s official release day is November 10th, 2016! You can pre-order it here. You can read the unedited first chapter here.

Spread the word and tell your friends Dead Magic will be arriving, and its an entrance you won’t soon forget.

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Book Review: Corpus

corpus

Title: Corpus by K. M. Claude

Genre: Gothic fantasy/Graphic novel

Rating: 4 stars

TL;DR: Corpus is a short comic loaded with deliciously dark and sensuous imagery that explores one of the most memorable characters from Ninety Nine Righteous Men.


It’s really hard to review a short episodic comic that acts as a companion to a larger work, so this will probably be a fairly short review (also because I don’t want to spoil Ninety Nine Righteous Men)

Corpus tells the story of Caleb, the young man in Ninety Nine Righteous Men who becomes possessed by a demon in exchange for the love of a certain priest. In this companion comic, we become more acquainted with the demon who lives in Caleb’s skin and how he ended up turning to darker forces.

The art style is absolutely gorgeous. As with Claude’s previous work, every panel is rich with detail. While the Catholic imagery isn’t as strong in Corpus as it was in Ninety Nine Righteous Men, the contrast is just as apparent between the sensuous demon and his naive victim. Throughout the story, there are details that pay homage to Eastern art. The styling of the demon reminded me greatly of Japanese horror and erotic scenes from 17th and 18th century paintings. This can be seen in the repetitive organic patterns surrounding erotic moments and even with the shape of the demons features, which reminded me greatly of the facial features seen in Edo Period figures.

What took a star off for Corpus is that I wanted more. Claude teases the reader with a little background info on the demon’s previous incarnation as a boy in the sultan’s harem but goes no further, which is maddening because it feels like that boy’s life could have been like Caleb’s and I think it could have made an interesting story. Besides that, I would have maybe like to have seen a little more of Caleb’s backstory. Just a little bit because even after Corpus, it still feels like a lot has gone unsaid.

Overall, Corpus is a fantastic addition to the story of Ninety Nine Righteous Men with imagery as rich and luscious as the origin story, and I look forward to reading more by K. M. Claude in the future.

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