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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 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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