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.
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.
“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—”
“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.