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Reading Rec: The Henchmen of Zenda

FYI: I received an ARC of The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles in exchange for an honest review.

henchmen of zenda

I absolutely loved The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles. If you’re into 1940s swashbuckling films or Victorian pulp fiction, this is for you.

If the title sounds familiar, you may have heard of Anthony Hope’s Victorian novel The Prisoner of Zenda. K. J. Charles originally wrote this story as part of Riptide’s Classics Queered series before Riptide’s ugly racist/prejudiced underbelly was revealed. Now, it is being independently published.

Before I talk more about the story, I need to say that I have never read The Prisoner of Zenda, and I purpose didn’t read it before reading The Henchmen of Zenda. I wanted the book to stand on its own without having my opinion (or mind) polluted by the original. It isn’t necessary to read Hope’s novel in order to understand the story line as Charles masterfully fills in any gaps while poking fun at the original narrator.

What I loved about The Henchmen of Zenda was our narrator, Jasper Detchard, swordsman for hire, Englishman, and a minor villain in the original tale. He tells the tale of how he ends up being roped into Michael’s (the Duke and brother of the legitimate heir) service and became entangled in a power struggle between Michael, Randolph, and Flavia (the princess and cousin of the two brothers). Detchard is utterly unflappable, in control, and sardonic. He’s basically Basil Rathbone in every swashbuckling movie he ever filmed, and he adds a grounding force when set against his foil, Rupert Hentzau.

Ah, Rupert. A young noble looking for adventure, a rogue with a good heart (who would most certainly be played by Errol Flynn), and a thorn in Detchard’s side who eventually grows on him to become something more. Their chemistry grows from sword fighting to sword fighting (*eyebrow waggle*). He’s witty, lively, and more complex than he is given credit for. Together with their ally, Toni (a courtesan turned mistress turned spy turned bad ass), they manage to turn the tides of battle and have a happier ending than would have been possible in a Victorian pulp tale.

The best part of The Henchmen of Zenda is how K. J. Charles was able to turn the original story on its head by turning heroes into villains, villains into heroes, weak women into the power behind the thrown, and yet, it all makes sense! I give her kudos for her ability to engineer a completely new (and better) version of a century old tale. Her take adds a new level of complexity to a pretty problematic story (by modern standards) and giving it a queer and feminist spin.

The Henchmen of Zenda will be out May 15th, so if this review piqued your interest, you can grab a copy here.

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Shifting Focus

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You may have noticed that recently I have written more about reading or the book community rather than writing, and while that wasn’t on purpose, I have found that I have had an easier time writing those blog posts and enjoyed doing so. Because of that, I have decided that the focus of this blog will shift more to reading than writing. Obviously, there will still be posts about my books (it is my author website and I do have to do promo) and the occasional post where I talk about anxiety or whatever is on my mind. What I won’t be doing more than likely is discussing how one should write, writing techniques, or writing in certain genres.

That might seem odd considering I’m a writer and an adjunct professor who mainly teaches writing classes (academic and creative). But I think that is part of the reason why. I spend my days teaching my students how to write more effectively, so when I come home and settled down at my keyboard, I don’t want to talk about writing techniques. What I found each time I set out to write about writing was that I felt someone else could have written the post.

It’s strange. In my classroom, working one on one with my students during workshop, I feel like we can work out nearly any issue and figure out how to make a scene better. I can teach them techniques, speak for two hours on fight scenes and blood loss and how to create emotional impact, but online the things I love talking about in the classroom lose their appeal. Perhaps it’s because I can’t speak to you or ask you probing questions and actually receive answers. Or maybe it’s because I can’t pack these posts full of visuals like I do with my lessons or because a two hour lecture would be torturous to read online and brevity has never been my strong suit.

As a writer, I felt pressured to write about writing, and I ended up walking away from my blog for a while except to post book promo and the occasional Kara-is-having-a-meltdown-and-hates-feeling-human post. Then, I wrote a few posts about reading and the words seemed to flow more freely than they had in months. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Reading is one of my favorite activities, and in real life, I don’t have a consistent outlet for discussing what I read. It makes sense that my blog could serve as that outlet, especially since people who read might read my books and vice versa.

So in the future, expect to see more posts about reading, books of nearly every genre, perhaps something about whatever drama is rocking the publishing industry (like the shit show that just went down at Riptide), and a monthly wrap-up of what I’ve read each month. I don’t like to write reviews as I hate the trend of panning books for attention, so instead, these posts will act as recommendations or commentaries rather than good/bad reviews.

In the future, I might compose more posts about writing now that I’m giving myself the space to not write about it. I hope that makes sense.

So for now, I will follow my fancy and write about reading.

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Cover Reveal: The Wolf Witch (IMD #6)

Can I get a drum roll, please? May I present the cover of book six of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, The Wolf Witch.

WolfWitch_v1

After three months abroad, Emmeline Jardine has returned to England ready to start her life anew as a free woman. That is, until a suitor from her mother’s past arrives looking for her help, but the gentleman is more than he seems. He’s Emmeline’s father.

There’s one person Emmeline can turn to: Nadir Talbot. A writer, unrepentant decadent, and all around busybody, Nadir is everything Emmeline has been taught to avoid. But when she needs to escape her family’s past, she convinces Nadir to follow her to an estate deep in the wild of the woods.

When guests go missing and turn up savagely murdered, Emmeline, her new found family, and Nadir must join forces to stop an awakening evil with not only the power to destroy their lives but bring the empire to its knees.

I can’t wait to share this book with you. Emmeline is a… unique individual, and in The Wolf Witch, we come to know a different side of her as she discovers has family’s past and moved toward finding who she is. The question is how does Nadir Talbot factor into this? Why are they on their way to an estate in the woods? What does Emmeline’s father want? And of course, who is he?

The current estimate for The Wolf Witch’s release date is May if all goes well. I will keep you updated, and stay tuned for more tidbits and teasers in the coming months.

If you would like to add The Wolf Witch to your Goodreads to-read list, you can find it here.

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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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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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Dead Magic Comes Out Today!

Dead Magic Cover by Kara Jorgensen

It’s here! It’s finally here! I feel like I have been waiting forever for Dead Magic to finally be out, and now that it’s out in the world, I don’t know what to do with myself. It took about nine months to produce from start to finish, and it’s beyond rewarding to know it’s in my readers’ hands. It’s out for Kindle and in paperback.

Because release days are a special occasion, I’ve marked the rest of the series down, so if you haven’t read the Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Now is the time to catch up.

The Earl of Brass is FREE.

The Winter Garden is 99c

The Earl and the Artificer is 99c

and you can get Dead Magic here.


Around release dates, I get a lot of questions about how to help an author out. Here’s how:

  • Share this post on social media
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  • If you’ve read my books, leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads or where ever.

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Chapter Six of Dead Magic

dm-preorder

Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a fortnight, 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, chapter three, chapter four, and chapter five.

Chapter Six
The Reading

Emmeline wasn’t certain what happened the night before with the book, but she didn’t like its aftereffects. Dressing that morning, she pulled aside the curtain and was pleased to find the road below free of spirits. At breakfast, she quietly picked at her eggs, listening to the sound of her uncle’s newspaper rustle while hoping her tea would begin working on her foggy mind after a restless night. She released a tense breath and tried to think about something other than how much she wanted to close her eyes. To sleep in meant she had to be ill and submit to her aunt’s examination, and that wasn’t something she could stand.

“What are your plans for the day, Emmeline?” Aunt Eliza asked casually, but Emmeline knew it was the beginning of an interrogation if she didn’t approve of the answer.
Pursing her lips, Emmeline fought the urge to spit back an answer that would only cause her allowance to be cut until she was sufficiently miserable. “I’m going to the Spiritualist Society and maybe have lunch or tea with Cassandra if I feel like it. What do you think I’m going to do? She’s the only one I’m allowed with.”
Eliza Hawthorne’s jaw dropped before snapping shut. As she began her usual diatribe on respecting elders, Emmeline’s eyes traveled to the door behind her. The door to her uncle’s laboratory had been constructed to blend into the wainscoting and the damask wallpaper with only the undersized doorknob to betray its camouflage. Normally, she scarcely noticed it, but now it was calling to her. Her aunt’s words died away as she watched the knob, waiting for it to turn. The room grew heavy as if a storm would burst at any moment, and amidst the faint rumblings, it felt as if someone waited on the other side. Her heart pounded in her throat as a voice rose from the threshold. It came as a gravelly whisper, barely audible, but with each hissing syllable, it became clear that it came for her.
I am strong. I decide who I read. No one can harm or speak to me unless I allow it. I am in control, she repeated to herself, walling up her mind against the invader as her mother taught her over a decade ago. When she looked up, the air had cleared and the figure had gone.
Emmeline shook off the energy humming through her. That hadn’t happened since she was a child. She had been so careful to keep her guard up in her uncle’s house. With the basement being used for autopsies and the occasional procedure, it could be a place where spirits who died violently might linger. Rubbing her eyes with her knuckles, Emmeline released a tired sigh. If only her mother was still here, she would know what to do.
“Emmeline, did you hear what I said?”
Looking up, she expected to find her aunt angry, but instead, she found her green eyes softened with concern. “Yes, Aunt Eliza. I’m sorry for being cross with you. I didn’t get much sleep.”
“Why don’t you stay home and rest?”
“No!” she cried a little quicker than she meant to. “No, I’m quite all right. I’m only going to listen to a lecture, nothing taxing.”
Eliza nodded, probing her niece with her doctor’s eye. “If you’re certain, but I will walk you there. Just in case.”
***

Shrugging off her aunt’s arm, Emmeline slipped into the Spiritualist Society, her mind far away as she unpinned her hat and handed it to the maid along with her parasol. She released a huffed breath and smoothed her dark curls in the mirror, which had become frayed in the humidity and were expanding at an alarming rate. She should have brought the book with her. Since leaving the house, its absence nagged at her mind like a bad itch. She couldn’t shake the image of masked bandits tearing her room apart and making off with the book before she could even properly look at it. Part of her wanted nothing more than to return home and make certain it was safe, but that was foolish. It would be fine as long as no one knew about it except her and Cassandra.
“Just the woman I was looking for,” Cassandra called with a smile as she emerged from the hall. “You have a reading to do in ten minutes.”
Emmeline bristled. “Are you joking? I didn’t have anyone scheduled today. Did Nostra do this? I was supposed to be attending Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lecture. She knew that, and if I miss it, I—”
Grabbing her arm, Cassandra dragged her into the empty front parlor. “Just be quiet and listen. I did it.”
“But why? You knew I wanted to go.”
“Yes, but I think you will like this much better than a lecture on faeries,” she replied with a playful grin as her friend cocked a contrary brow. “It’s your Mr. Talbot.”
“Are you serious? Are you certain it’s him?”
“As certain as I can be. The appointment was made for Nadir and Leona Talbot. That’s his cousin, isn’t it?”
“So she’s taken her maiden name? Hmm. I guess the divorce is finalized.”
“You really need to stop reading the gossip pages.”
“Ugh! And today my hair decides to look dreadful,” Emmeline cried as she broke from her friend, and pawed at her hair in the hearth mirror. “Is he as handsome as the drawings in the papers?”
“Even better. Well, go on. They’re waiting for you upstairs in the Blue Room.” She waited for her friend to move or at least look pleased. “What’s wrong?”
Emmeline stared at her feet before meeting her friend’s tawny eyes. “What if I make a fool of myself?”
“I highly doubt you will ever play the fool.”
At the sound of Cecil Hale’s smooth voice, Emmeline whipped around to find him standing in the doorway watching them with an amused glint in his eyes. Her face and breast flushed at the skim of his gaze over her dark red dress.
“I’ve seen your abilities, Miss Jardine, and you have nothing to worry about.”
“That’s very kind of you, Lord Hale. Will you be going to the lecture?” Emmeline asked, shifting to put her best features in view.
Tilting his head back to reveal his long, graceful neck, he studied the ceiling’s tin tiles. “Actually, I was hoping to sit in on your reading if you don’t mind an audience.”
“I would like that,” she replied, ignoring Cassandra as she rolled her eyes.
With a smile, Emmeline kicked herself for agreeing to do the reading. She hurried up the steps to the Blue Room with Lord Hale at her heels, her heart racing at the thought of having her favorite author and Lord Hale in the same room. It was a dream she didn’t know she wanted to have until now, two men she admired, both watching her, maybe even wanting her. It was like a plot from one of her hidden books.
With a slow breath, she prayed to her mother to help her and opened the door. The room was as hideous as she remembered it with every surface, including the carpet and wallpaper covered in a blue paisley that had faded to periwinkle in the sun. Despite its hideous upholstery, it was her favorite room to work in. There were no tables or cabinets for a medium to hide behind in the Blue Room, and it was there that her powers shined.
Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Nadir Talbot sitting on the sofa. She had seen etchings from the court case in the newspaper, but somehow, she had never pictured him as a living being. As the door creaked, Nadir rose and turned toward her, revealing a strong nose to match his expressive byzantine eyes and sensual lips. Waves of unfashionably long black hair dusted the shoulders of his fern-green suit, which had been expertly tailored to accentuate his gracile frame. He was as handsome as she had imagined, but as she approached her seat at the head of the circle, she tried to remember to breathe and not look too interested with Lord Hale hanging about. Sitting beside him was his cousin. While she shared his complexion and eyes, Leona Talbot’s expression was somber, dour even, as she stared into her lap. Like a Renaissance Madonna, her features were in the constant war between softness and severity. Upon seeing Emmeline, Leona’s reddened eyes ran appraisingly over her form before returning to her hands with a frown.
Curtsying to the Talbots, Emmeline bit back a smile at Mr. Talbot’s smoldering gaze. She had never expected to be so close to one of her idols. She had followed him through the murder trial, and even if his character was still seen as dubious in many circles, she didn’t take the lack of a conviction in the case to mean he was guilty. As Emmeline took her seat, she noticed how Cecil kept his distance, barely suppressing a sneer at her clients.
“Welcome to the London Spiritualist Society, Mr. Talbot, Ms. Talbot. This is Lord Hale, my associate. And my name is Emmeline Jardine. I’m a spiritualist medium.” At the word medium, Nadir Talbot’s lips twitched into a bemused grin. She knew that smile well; he was a skeptic. Locking eyes with him, she added flatly, “As you can see, my séances don’t involve a table or spirit cabinet. They distract from the experience and are the hallmark of a fraud. So if you’re expecting theatrics, I would suggest you find another medium. Now, who is the reading for or is it a shared relative?”
At her question, Mr. Talbot turned to his cousin. She released a tight sigh and reached into her reticule to retrieve a stack of letters tied in twine, their dark brown seals had cracked and their edges had been worn soft by many hands.
“He wrote these. Is that enough to—?”
“It will do,” Emmeline replied with a smile, but when she reached for the letters, Ms. Talbot hesitated before placing them slowly in her palm. “What is it you want to know?”
Leona Talbot stared past Emmeline as she drew in a long, slow breath. “I’m not certain. I guess I want to know if he’s all right… wherever he is.”
Emmeline nodded. “Now, let’s move closer and hold hands to keep our energy bound within the circle. Mr. Talbot, Lord Hale, please rest your hands on top of mine.”
Emmeline didn’t always tell her clients to join hands, but when it gave her the opportunity to be in contact with two handsome men, she would milk her gifts for all they were worth. Loosely holding the stack of letters she began to clear her mind until she felt the gentle pressure of a hand closing over hers. Nadir Talbot’s fingers were warm against her hand, and if she focused her mind, she could feel the scrape of callouses where he held his pen. Another hand clasped hers. Emmeline shivered at the hum passing beneath Lord Hale’s fingertips.
Closing her eyes, she fought to ignore the gazes of the men beside her and slowed her breathing. The sound of steamer cabs clattering a floor below disappeared and was replaced by the babble of water gurgling somewhere nearby. Emmeline’s nose flooded with the damp of earth and the fragrance of greenery. Opening her mind’s eye, she found massive palm trees rising all around her, turning the sun into panels of stained glass as it shown through their leafy boughs. For a moment, Emmeline thought she had been sent to a tropical forest or an uncivilized island, but as she pushed aside the branches before her, she found that she was encapsulated within a great steel and glass dome. Where had the letters taken her? A few feet ahead, the path curved out of sight into a patch of vines and low, scruffy plants. It was strange not to see the spirit standing before her. Usually, they were ready and waiting for her, but in this spirit’s world, she had no choice but to follow the dirt-dusted bricks into the mist.
As she came around the bend, the foliage peeled back to reveal a square pool framed by soaring white columns and mosaics of nymphs. Sitting at the water’s edge in a burgundy wingback chair was a man with a book. His aquiline nose and sharp grey eyes gave him the quiet ferocity of an eagle, which honed in on Emmeline the moment she stepped into view. Lowering her eyes to his chest, she could make out the faint outline of a ragged hole in his shirt and waistcoat, and as she locked onto his face, the image faltered. The stripes of grey in his hair overtook what was left of the brown, and for a moment, his face appeared wrinkled and pinched.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, shutting the book and rising from his chair to loom over her.
His eyes sliced into her, lingering on her wild curls before running down her body in a languid line. Emmeline swallowed hard and steeled herself against his intrusive gaze.
“I was sent here to speak to you.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to the likes of you, so get out.”
Emmeline rolled her eyes. So he was going to be one of those. Most dead were very happy to have a human ear to gab in, but those who tended to be hostile in life continued to hold to old grievances and bad behavior even in the afterlife. People never changed.
“The joke is on you because I can’t leave until you talk with me.” Defiantly meeting her gaze, he turned and headed for his chair, so Emmeline added, “It was Leona Talbot who wanted me to speak to you.”
He stopped mid-step, his eyes losing their edge for a brief moment. “Why?”
“She cares about you and wants to know you’re all right. I don’t know why she would care about a rude old man like you. If you don’t want to talk, I guess I will be going, then. You seem fine to me.”
Emmeline was about to leave the way she came when he called out, his voice less harsh than a moment before, “Leona asked you to check on me? Did she say anything?”
“No. I don’t think she knows what she wants to say. You’re Randall Nash, aren’t you? Her life is quite unsettled right now because of you. Is there anything you want to say to her that would make things better?”
“Tread carefully, little girl, you aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are. Leona was like you once.” Turning his attention to the temple behind him, his eyes locked on a bald spot in the garden. “You can tell her that my plant is in jeopardy, and I want it to be safe again. It’s the earl’s fault. If he hadn’t stuck his—”
Nash’s voice trailed off as he and Emmeline froze at a reverberation traveling through the earth. The water in the pool rippled and danced with a roll of thunder in the distance. The air in the greenhouse grew still, thickening with the taste of rain tainted with the scorch of burnt wood. Emmeline’s heart thundered up her throat as she met Nash’s light grey eyes.
“If you’re doing that, stop. You aren’t going to scare me off.”
Nash raised his gaze to the grey sky that had once been blocked by the greenhouse’s metal beams. Cocking his head, he seemed to listen to something beyond Emmeline’s senses. “They’re coming for you.”
Her pulse throbbed in her neck as another echo of energy passed through the garden and climbed her legs. It was like something out of a nightmare from her childhood. The giant’s heavy footsteps chasing her in his garden. Closing her eyes, Emmeline tried to wrench her mind out of the vision, but every time she opened her eyes, she was still in the spirit world. Oh, god. I’m trapped, she thought.
Emmeline opened her mouth to speak and found herself alone. Nash had disappeared along with the artificial forest. All that remained was hulking and ancient. Before her stood a gravel lane lined with towering yews. They had grown unnaturally tall, twisting in on themselves like a bonsai and contorting into the vague suggestion of faces or beasts. Emmeline’s breath came in icy puffs, roiling through the air before disappearing into the blackness pressing in around her. Something paced at the end of the path, and with each movement, the smell of water and fire grew stronger. The air suffocated her, burning her nose and throat. The thing was drawing closer. Emmeline willed her legs to move, but she stayed rooted in place. Where could she run to? When she had been in the greenhouse, everything had seemed so solid, so real, but now, the ground beneath her seemed only inches thick and would collapse under her at any moment, as tenuous as a puff of squid ink.
A face emerged from the shadows at the end of the lane. Emmeline’s heart pounded in time with the pulse of energy emanating from the creature’s body. It was barely more than the shades it hid within, but as it swept close, searching for her with wide, sightless eyes, she could make out the long face and branched horns of a stag. Where a body and limbs should have been, the darkness churned without forming anything that remotely resembled a body. A dozen skinny tentacles whipped toward Emmeline before sinking into its back, flicking out for a taste of her energy. They’re coming for you.
“What are you?” she yelled, her voice cracking with fear and her body trembling. “Tell me. Tell me what you are!”
Raising her gaze to the hollow points where the creature’s eyes should have been, the breath seeped from her body. There was no humanity in it. The cephalopodic monster had no life in it. Never had it been of her world, and as it fixed its gaze upon her, she could taste its hunger for flesh. Looming over her, it seemed limitless, the energy radiating from its wraith-like body overwhelming. Bile rose in Emmeline’s throat as she turned her head and closed her eyes at the creature’s tentacle skimming along the delicate aperture of her neck. It wanted her.
Emmeline felt the ground beneath her feet. She focused on the softness of it, the vision of it being no more than a shoe-sole thick. As the creature rose to swoop upon her, the ground gave way and she was falling.

 


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 Five of Dead Magic

dm-preorder

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, chapter three, and chapter four.

Chapter Five

Empty

Adam Fenice paused at the stove, listening as the grandfather clock in the hall struck six. A small grin crossed his lips. Immanuel would be home any minute, and Adam hoped to god he had a good day at work. They had only been living together eight days, but it was beginning to feel as if he had always been there. He had expected it to be harder to integrate their dissonant lives under one roof, especially when he had spent his life fighting to be seen as a separate person from George and Hadley and their businesses. With Hadley married and gone, Adam suddenly found himself alone, staring at gaps in shelves and empty rooms where she had once been. A quiet fell over the house that couldn’t be silenced. Something was missing, something he couldn’t fill alone.
When Immanuel appeared at the train station with only one trunk, Adam feared there would still be an emptiness, but soon science books appeared where ones on mechanics had once been and a sweet, soft voice singing in German chased away the morning silence. Suddenly it was as if he had always been there. No longer did his parents’ marriage bed feel too large or the house too empty for a bachelor. Hadley’s old room was stocked with Immanuel’s somber wardrobe and soon her old workroom would smell like bleaching bones and varnish. What Adam loved most was seeing two dressing gowns hanging in their room and the shallow indent in the pillow where Immanuel’s head had been.
With a groan, the front door opened. Glancing around the doorway, Adam could only catch a glimpse of Immanuel’s blonde hair and the swing of his leather satchel as he pulled it over his head. Adam turned his attention back to the stew and waited. Quiet footsteps padded into the kitchen, and within seconds, Immanuel’s hands were snaked around his stomach and his head was nestled against his shoulder. Adam drew in a long breath, inhaling the familiar soapy scent of Immanuel’s skin. His lips brushed Adam’s neck and cheek before returning to his shoulder.
“Have a good day at work?”
“Better than I expected,” Immanuel purred, giving Adam a squeeze. “I got you invited to the museum’s gala.”
“Oh really? And how did you manage that?”
“I threw your sister and brother-in-law’s names around. Once they realized we were all related and we shared a flat,” he paused as Adam turned toward him with a questioning henna brow, “they wanted to extend an invitation to the Countess’s brother, lest he feel slighted.”
“I’m sure you were put out that you had to invite me. I’m but a lowly money-counter.”
A grin spread across Immanuel’s lips as Adam wrapped his arms around his. “Well, I see you every day, so why would I want to spend an entire night with you drinking champagne and waltzing?”
Adam turned, catching Immanuel’s hands and pulling him closer until their hips were flush and their gazes met. Keeping their joined hands up, he tightened his grip around Immanuel’s back and took the first step of a sweeping waltz. Immanuel stumbled after him, half a beat behind as he was twirled backwards.
“Waltzes aren’t your strong suit anyway,” Adam replied with a toothy grin, his pencil mustache curling in agreement.
“Thankfully, I would rather not be asked to join when I can’t dance with my partner.”
Slowing to a stop, Adam turned, his blue eyes softened with thought. Immanuel’s grip tightened as he pulled him in for a kiss. Adam sighed, his eyes closing at the gentle push of Immanuel’s tongue against his lips. Arching back, he wrapped his arms around the taller man’s neck and his hand sliding into the curls of his hair. A chill washed over him at the skimming of fingertips over his spine. Immanuel’s hand dipped under his jacket and made its way toward the top of his trousers.
“We should wait until after dinner,” Adam whispered, licking his lips and resting his forehead against Immanuel’s.
Adam wanted to say more. He wanted to bang his fist on the table and cry that it wasn’t fair. That none of this was fair. At Hadley’s wedding, he and Immanuel had sat at the same table for hours, watching other couples dance with arms and eyes locked. He caught their knowing smiles when bodies brushed while he and Immanuel had to pretend they barely knew each other. Staring into his glass, he had wished he could take Immanuel by the hand and dance alongside the other couples, but as he tightened his grip on the stem of his glass, a gentle hand squeezed his arm. When he lifted his eyes, he had expected to find Immanuel giving him a reproachful look. Instead, he found Hadley staring down at him, her eyes heavy with guilt. Did she regret inviting them both to the wedding when she saw the misery etched into her brother’s features? That night when they returned to the house on Baker Street, anger had deteriorated into melancholy. Stripped of their finery, they had lain in each other’s arms until daybreak, a tangle of limbs and lips making up for lost time. Would they always be making up for those impossible moments?

***

Immanuel looked up from his empty bowl at Adam. He had been abnormally quiet during dinner. Swallowing hard, he said, “I’m working with Peregrine Nichols this week, helping out with the exhibits.”
“Who?” Adam asked, snapping back to reality as he grabbed his bowl and stacked it on top of Immanuel’s.
“Peregrine Nichols. I’m certain I told you about him. He’s the one who reminds me of an imp. He’s always smiling and prattling. If he wasn’t charming, it would be maddening. It might still be when we work together. You might like him, though. I’m sure you will meet him at the gala.”
“Why are you working with him? I thought he worked with insects or something.”
As Adam put the dishes in the sink, Immanuel took up the hissing tea kettle and poured them each a cup. “Plants, but he’s behind on his work. With the gala coming up, it’s all hands on deck, and having a hand in the preparations really isn’t a bad thing for me. It will look like I have initiative.”
“I guess so. Though, it might be better if you stayed out of it and kept to your work.”
Immanuel frowned. “I know, but I can’t stand to look at another seal or walrus. Somehow my reputation as the seal expert has followed me here. I don’t want to smell like— like rotting blubber.”
Adam froze at the way Immanuel spat the word blubber. When he looked up, Immanuel’s face remained impassive as he doctored their tea and refilled the kettle, but he knew the old wounds were still raw. It was during a visit to Oxford that he heard of Immanuel’s nickname for the first time. The name Blubber had originated from his preparation of pinniped skeleton’s for the university’s museum and the malice threading through it came from the nightmares that followed his captivity and abuse at Lord Rose’s hands. Even now he wouldn’t speak of it except in the vaguest terms, but his university roommates couldn’t forgive him for crying out for mercy in his sleep.
“Immanuel, I can do that. Just sit down and enjoy your tea.”
“I will in a minute,” he replied with a weak smile.
Immanuel looked over his shoulder and spotted a vase sitting in the center of the kitchen table overflowing with fern fronds, forget-me-notes, and periwinkle traveler’s joy. Adam had given them to him when he arrived, but now their edges were curled and turning brown while their heads dolefully flopped over the side. Immanuel set down his tea and took up the vase. As he made for the sink, he turned, expecting to find Adam behind him but found nothing. He went to take a step forward and was knocked off kilter by something hitting his chest. Heat seared through his veins, snaking through his core until it hit his heart and shot through his body one beat at a time. Swallowing hard, he leaned against the counter, busying himself with the flowers to keep Adam from seeing the fear in his eyes. This time it wasn’t death gripping his heart. It was something that wanted in. He took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes, hoping the stutter in his heart would stop.
“Immanuel? Immanuel, are you all right?”
Immanuel jerked back as water overflowed from the crystal vase and ran over his sleeves. The creeping heat abated at the water’s touch until it only lingered as a tight ball lodged near his heart. Releasing a pained breath, he swallowed hard and carried the flowers back to the table without a word. As he raised his gaze to the dying flowers, a gasp escaped his lips. Before his eyes, the flowers’ heads uncurled and the bits of brown he had seen a moment earlier eating away at the edges of the petals disappeared. Across the table, Adam absently poked at a sugar cube bobbing in his cup, unaware of his partner’s sudden urge to pitch the plants out the backdoor. Immanuel averted his gaze, but when he looked back, the blues and purples of the forget-me-nots were more vibrant than the day he arrived.
Something was wrong with him. Something was very wrong.
“I— I think I’m going to lie down for a little while.”
Adam’s arm wrapped around his shoulders, pressing Immanuel’s back into his chest. “You look flushed. Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped but caught himself. “I’m just tired.”
“Well, I will come up with you.”
Immanuel crossed his arms. “I can get up the stairs by myself. I’m not feeble anymore.”
“I think you misunderstood me.” Adam slowly raised his gaze to Immanuel’s, locking eyes as he held his arms. “I want to come up with you.”
Immanuel’s mouth formed a soundless O, and before he could think about what Adam said, they were checking the locks on the doors and covering the windows. Darting up the stairs, Immanuel slipped off his jacket and tie and tossed them into his undisturbed bedroom as he passed. He waited at the threshold of Adam’s door, watching his companion carefully close the curtains to ensure no one could see inside. It had become a nightly ritual that Adam had begun months before Immanuel moved in to avoid suspicion from their neighbors. When the room was dark, Adam took his hand and led him to the bed. His hand slid under Immanuel’s shirt and ran along the flesh of his back. Even after a week together, Immanuel still hesitated, expecting someone to be just beyond the door. It seemed too good to be true to have such freedom.
“Mr. Winter,” Adam whispered into Immanuel’s skin as he planted a trail of hot, moist kisses down his neck, “I have been waiting for this all day.”
But why? Immanuel suppressed the question that would only elicit a strange look from Adam and an equally awkward reply.
Before Immanuel could stop him, Adam’s fingers were flying over the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt. He resisted the urge to stiffen and cover his deformed chest with his arms, and instead he followed Adam’s lead. Beneath his bright dandy’s clothes, Adam was as solid and strong as Immanuel felt frail. Adam pushed Immanuel against the bedpost, catching his mouth. His pencil mustache prickled Immanuel’s lip as the redhead’s tongue plunged and grazed against his. The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat. Closing his eyes, he let his companion explore his mouth and his ever-changing body. Adam’s hands worked along his sides before sliding over the firm flesh of his buttock, eliciting a soft groan from his companion. Heat crept up Immanuel’s form, tensing every muscle in his abdomen and sending his heart out of rhythm. Immanuel blindingly unbuckled Adam’s belt and felt his fine wool trousers slip down his legs. Reaching for his own, Immanuel kicked them off and pulled Adam toward the mattress.
The bed sighed under their weight as Adam climbed on top of him. His eyes drank in Immanuel’s form while his hands rested on his ribs. Adam caressed the dents where his ribs hadn’t properly knit together. Immanuel swallowed hard at the thought of being prone and unable to hide from Adam’s mental dissection. He hoped it was too dark for Adam to see him, but his mind was silenced by a shiver rippling from his scalp to his curled toes. Immanuel raised his eyes to meet Adam’s gaze. A wordless conversation passed between them, and Adam’s lips curled into a knowing grin. Immanuel stiffened, his hips twitching, as Adam nipped at his collarbones and ran his tongue along his sternum and down the scant trail of hair leading to his flannel drawers. His fingers twisted into Adam’s henna hair as a gasp escaped his lips at the rush of air and the goosebumps rising on the tops of his thighs as his drawers were pulled away.
“I want to make you feel better,” Adam murmured, his voice husky and his breath hot against his stomach.
Immanuel closed his eyes, fisting the sheets as Adam drew him in. He needed him. He needed this. He needed to be reminded that even after all that happened, there was still love in the world. More than anything, he needed Adam to make him forget.

***

Adam stirred. Something nagged at his sleep-drunk mind, but when he finally cracked open one eye, he found the bedroom dark and the street outside the window quiet. The bed shifted beneath him, followed by another quick jolt. Turning his head, he found Immanuel still beside him with the covers drawn up to his chin and his body curled into a ball. As he watched him, Immanuel’s body trembled and a muffled squeak escaped his lips. Before he could stop himself, he released a series of soft sobs. A pale hand shot from beneath the blanket and pulled his pillow down. Hugging it close, he hid his face, reducing his cries to twitches and faint hiccups. Fear sucked the air from Adam’s lungs as he watched Immanuel, keeping his eyes nearly closed in case he turned over.
The covers slid off Immanuel’s back, revealing a cluster of shiny circular scars inscribed into his shoulder blade. Adam swallowed hard. He had never heard Immanuel’s nocturnal cries. He knew about them from Immanuel’s stories from Oxford, but as he listened to each pained sob and choked half-word, his stomach knotted. The idea that someone had used this against his partner sent rage climbing up his throat. But what could he say to make it better? Offering words of comfort wasn’t his strong suit. He didn’t even know why he was crying, so how could he help him? Maybe it would be best to close his eyes and pretend that he had never heard him.
Immanuel buried his face in the pillow as another hiccup escaped his lips. Adam resisted the urge to scratch at his wrist. Inching closer, Adam slipped his arm beneath Immanuel’s side and rested his forehead against his neck. His partner stiffened in his grasp and drew in a crackling, drowning breath. He hesitated before slowly turning over to meet Adam’s gaze. In the scant moonlight, Adam could make out Immanuel’s glossy, red eyes. Immanuel blinked to squeeze away the burning ache behind his lids, but as he opened his mouth to apologize, Adam pressed his lips to his. Immanuel’s body quavered beneath his grasp as he held him close. Heat radiated from his thin form, soaking the sheets and catching his hair in a sheen of cold sweat. As they parted, Adam caught his partner’s bichrome gaze. Silent phrases passed between them, revealing months of pain and longing. There wasn’t anything left to say.
Wrapping his arms around him, Adam pulled him closer until Immanuel’s clammy forehead rested against his collarbone. Immanuel latched onto him, concealing his face and holding onto him as if he feared he would be set adrift. There was still nothing Adam could think of to comfort him, but hands and eyes could articulate what lips could not. As he rubbed Immanuel’s back and gently hushed him, Adam watched him chew on his lip. There was something he wanted to say, something threatening to bubble out. What if he wanted to talk about Lord Rose or the terrible place where he was held captive? Adam wanted to move on. They were together now and life was good. That was what mattered.
Finally, Immanuel drew in a deep breath and met Adam’s gaze. “I— I think something’s wrong with me, Adam. I really do. Something has to be.”
Adam wiped away the moisture clinging to the dark circles under his companion’s eyes. “Why would you think that? You may have a bad eye, but like I told you months ago, spectacles might help.”
Immanuel shook his head and shut his eyes, pressing them against Adam’s chest. “No, that’s not it.”
“Are you in pain?” Adam asked, his voice tightening. “We could stop by James and Eliza’s tomorrow. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind taking a look at you.”
“It isn’t physical. Maybe it is, but sometimes—” The words hung in Immanuel’s throat as he inhaled Adam’s familiar lavender cologne in hopes it would steady him. “Sometimes I see things.”
Immanuel hesitated. Should he talk about the cat skeleton hidden in his drawer? That he knew the cat had once been a beloved pet and because of that, he didn’t know what to do with it. How could he explain to Adam that when he touched something dead, he saw what happened right before it died and that’s why he couldn’t handle raw meat? It was embarrassing. It was more than embarrassing; it made him question his sanity, which was already precarious at best. What would he think if Adam told him he watched a vase of plants revitalize before his very eyes? He would think he was losing his grip on reality, and perhaps he was.
“They’re just nightmares, Immanuel,” Adam whispered, pressing his lips to Immanuel’s forehead, “and nothing more.”
“Just—” A loose laugh escaped his lips. Immanuel shook his head. He had it all wrong. “They’re not…”
“I know you still think you see Lord Rose, but it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. You can’t give into it. We know he’s dead and can’t hurt you now. If you keep telling yourself that, then all of this will stop.”
It had all been said so sweetly, so innocently, and with such a gentle kiss on his brow that Immanuel didn’t dare say a word.
His eyes burned with tears as he whispered, “Right. You’re right. Good night, Adam.”
Rolling onto his side, he felt Adam’s arms wrap around his bare torso and the hot flesh of his stomach press against his back. As Adam settled into slow, steady breaths, Immanuel’s eyes trailed to the narrow space between the curtains. Moonlight streamed into the room, illuminating the pile of clothes strewn across the floor. Biting back the urge to snatch them off the rug and fold them, Immanuel stared at the winking stars. Adam didn’t mean it that way, he reminded himself. How could he know that putting his kidnapper and abuser out of his mind was hard on a good day and nearly impossible on a bad one? No amount of love or good fortune would dispel the damage Lord Rose had done. His ribs still ached on humid days from where they had been broken and the cigarette burns on his back seared anew the moment his mind lapsed into daydreams. But how could Adam know the pain the past still caused?
Immanuel drew in a wet breath and squeezed his eyes shut. Against his will, a tear bubbled out and slid down his cheek. Pressing his face into the pillow, he tried to push away the disappointment and fear pooling in his sockets. Adam had been there since the beginning. He had seen his body shattered, a hollow skeleton of its former incarnation, and he had watched him carve out a new form meant to resemble what he had lost, yet he still didn’t understand.
For months Immanuel had counted down the days until he left Oxford and could finally be able to live without a mask, yet it wasn’t to be. How could he tell Adam about the strange sensations and the visions if it meant losing the one anchor of stability he had? He sniffed and shifted until Adam’s loose grip fell away.
Even with everything he could have wanted, there was no way to forget.


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 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.

2 Comments

Filed under dead magic, Writing

Chapter Three of Dead Magic

dm-preorder

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.


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