Tag Archives: writing

The Wolf Witch– a Snippet

WolfWitch_v1

Hi, peeps! I’ve been hard at work rewriting the entirety of The Wolf Witch. I’ve been posting bits and behind the scenes goodies to my Patreon lately, but I wanted to share with you a preview of chapter 1. I’m hoping to have The Wolf Witch out by the fall, so let me know what you think of the first half of chapter 1.


The fact that three seemingly connected murders had gone unreported in a city like London was the first clue that something was amiss. The second was that they appeared to have been caused by a wolf, and to Wesley Bisclavret’s knowledge, he was the only werewolf in all of Britain. It didn’t take a Pinkerton to realize that someone—probably someone important—had something to hide.

Snuffling along the cobbles, the wolf lifted his head at the sound of a steamer chugging down the lane. His ears flattened in annoyance as he pushed into the hedges again. This is why he never took city assignments. Too many cabs, too many people, too many confusing smells and noises. The stench of that much garbage on top of thousands of bodies made it nearly impossible to track anyone and the racket of banging and thrumming from streets over gave him a headache. He should have told Les Meutes and the Smithsonian to shove their assignments, but he needed to prove himself if he wanted to make it on his own. The moment the cab passed, Wesley slunk out and shook the grime from his back. At least England didn’t have so many horses. The damn things seemed to know a werewolf from a dog and made a god awful racket even if they only sensed them nearby. Most of his work took him to the West or up the Mississippi. At least there, he could blend into the shadows even if wolves had long since abandoned those grounds for fear of running into humans. In Louisiana, he had grown up stalking bandits with his father and the other rougarou, moving silently through the trees on silent paws as one. Wolves lived in those parts, bobcats too, but here… Here, there was nothing but the occasional scroungy stray dog and rock as far as the eye could see. Even their parks were barely more than manicured lawns.

When the streets fell silent, Wesley padded down the street and sniffed the air. Cologne. Expensive cologne and fancy food. French, if he wasn’t mistaken. His mouth watered at the heady perfume of beef hanging in the air, but with a shake of his head, he continued on, following the smell lurking beneath it. His tail flicked as his lips curled into a semblance of a smile. He had him now. Shifting his eyes between the pavement and the road ahead, Wesley followed the smell through the city, ducking into parks or behind iron fences and trees like some feral creature whenever a human shape cut through the nighttime fog.  Padding across the road to a row of neat red brick houses with fronts choked ivy and fences sharp as iron pikes, he could taste the slick of paint on his tongue and the stench of flowers that had no business being concentrated into perfume. Dandies, he huffed, curling his lip and sneezing out the irritating odor.

Wesley darted past a house alight with the clamor of a party in full swing, hoping no one spotted him through the window as he picked up the scent in the next shadow. Trailing down the alley between the two houses, Wesley lifted his head. The other wolf was here or had been recently. He was certain of it. Lifting his leg on the corner of the house, he pondered his next move. Even in his human form, he could smell his way back to the house and confront the man. His client hadn’t even demanded he hand the thief over to Scotland Yard; all he wanted was the stolen artifact. At least that would make the job easier. Hell, he could steal the thing and catch the next transatlantic dirigible to New York before dawn. Squeezing past the garbage littering the back alley, Wesley froze. His mouth watered at the scent, and he instinctively licked his teeth as if he could taste it.

The wolf stirred within. Blood, and where there’s blood, there’s flesh.

Shit, Wesley thought as he pushed past the mottled brown and black wolf.

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Reading Rec: Unfit to Print

June is LGBT+ Pride Month, so I decided to review LGBT+ books for the month. I’m hoping to write 10 reviews this month, so here is number 5: Unfit to Print by K. J. Charles. I received this novella as an ARC, and Unfit to Print will be out July 10th.

unfit to print

Vikram Pandey’s job as a lawyer crusading to better the lives of Indian immigrants living in London brings a case of a missing youth. The only clues are a photograph of the young man in question and that he has been spending time with gentleman, in a manner of speaking. Going door to door on Holywell Street, Vik runs into his best friend from school, Gil Lawless, who now happens to be the proprietor of an illicit bookshop. Together they search for the lost boy and find they share more than memories.

I am a sucker for grumpy, uptight characters. Perhaps it’s because I feel a kinship with them, being an over-wound person myself. Either way, Vikram is one of my favorite characters thus far in K. J. Charles’ world. He is confident, well-versed in the law, a hard-ass of the highest order, and a soft heart. In the other corner, we have salt of the earth, Gil Lawless, seller and writer of unlawful smut who lives in the moment and lives with (note: I didn’t say owned) a cat named Satan. They go together like grape jelly and chili sauce (don’t look at me like that, it makes good sweet and sour sauce). Their dynamic is fabulous, but in the story, I wish there was a little more of them as a couple outside of the missing person search. Unfit to Print is a novella, so there is only a certain amount of space.

The mystery itself is well-written with enough intrigue and violence to keep you turning the page without being convoluted. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the Victorian pornography angle. Nothing in the story is described in a way to make it overt erotica, which it isn’t, but it’s an interesting topic in that the Victorians had A LOT of porn floating around for such a seemingly morally uptight society. The story touches upon the various avenues through which the Victorians met their sexual needs and the hypocrisy surrounding the industry as well as how vulnerable people fall victim to it.

In terms of representation, this is a win, especially if you have been following the ridiculous comments romance publishers have made about PoC being main characters. Both characters in Unfit to Print are PoC, and the theme of identity and what it means to be a first-generation immigrant are discussed in the story.

If this review tickles your fancy, you can pre-order Unfit to Print now.

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Reading Rec: It Takes Two to Tumble

June is LGBT+ Pride Month! That means LGBT+ book reviews, which means books I probably would have read on my own, but now, I’m making myself review them consistently. *drops voice* You don’t know how little follow-through I have while my house is a construction zone.

Anywho, I am a LGBT+ romance fan, so today’s recommendation is a historical-romance by Cat Sebastian entitled It Takes Two to Tumble.

it takes two

I’m pretty sure my first reaction upon finishing on of Cat Sebastian’s books is “That was so cute! I need more!” Her series are often the kind that follows families, such as in this series where we will follow the Sedgwick family (brothers mostly, it seems), and we begin this series with Benedict Sedgwick, unlikely vicar and free spirit, alongside the solemn, stern Captain Dacre as he comes home from two years at sea.

The Dacre children are hell-spawn. Left to their own devices after the death of their mother, they turn to terrorizing the town while their father is at sea. As a good natured vicar who devotes his energy to bettering his parishioners’ lives, Ben is called upon to wrangle the children into behaving until their father returns. Capt. Dacre reluctantly arrives home, not looking forward to facing the family he feels he abandoned and the house where his father made life miserable. He expects to see his children waiting by the front door as they did when his wife was alive only to find chaos and the vicar at the center of it.

I love the dynamic between Dacre and Ben in It Takes Two to Tumble. They are able to balance each other out without being polarizing. What I mean by that is that both characters have quirks and shortcomings that prevent them from being one-note. They come off as real people with idiosyncrasies, histories, and complications that muddy the waters of their relationships and their abilities to function apart.

On top of this, we have characters who are seemingly dyslexic. I say seemingly because it’s the early 1800s, so it doesn’t have a name, but it’s refreshing to have neuro-divergent characters who are able to work around their struggles without it becoming the core of who the character is. So far, this has been one of my favorite romances this year. Eventually, I will write a post about the importance of romance, and this book will be a core piece of that.

If you like romances where seemingly opposites attract, wayward children run amuck, and not-so-holy vicars come to terms with who they are, then you should check out It Takes Two to Tumble before book two comes out.

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Patrons of the Arts

You may have noticed a new button on the right sidebar of my website that looks a bit like this:

patreon

I have decided (after much deliberation) to make a Patreon and actually use it. I made a Patreon account several months ago but didn’t do anything with it. Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and actually create the account.

“What is Patreon? And how does it work?” you may ask.

Patreon is a website that allows you to help crowd-fund authors and creators by becoming their patrons. Much like how the Medici family was the patron for numerous Renaissance artists,  you can be a patron for writers, artists, and creators you love. In return, you get exclusive content and perks for supporting them.

You find an artist whose work you enjoy and pick a tier of support. Each month, you give the artist that amount (like a small stipend), and in return, you get rewards. I decided to make reward tiers at $1, $5, $7, $10, and $20 per month. Each tier is Victorian themed.

  • Pennylicks- $1 per month. You receive Patreon exclusive blogs, recordings, and various other posts.
  • Gentlefolk- $5 per month. You will receive all of the above along with some delectable bits from my current projects, including snippets, sneak peeks, and blurbs ahead of everyone else.
  • Natural Philosophers- $7 per month. In addition to everything from the previous tiers, you will receive a short essay each month on a historical or scientific topic I have delved into during my current project. This can range from the plague to Victorian footwear. You never know what you’re going to get.
  • Well-to-do Relations- $10 per month. In addition to all previous rewards, you will receive MOBI (Kindle) or PDF versions of every short story, novella, and novel that I publish. The best part is that you will receive them a few weeks before their official release date.
  • The Gentry- $20 per month. Besides receiving all the previous rewards, you will also receive a signed paperback copy of every novel I publish. These will be sent as soon as I am able to gather copies, and I will open this to international shipping as well (as long as you can receive packages from the US).

I hope to be able to add more goodies down the line, but for now, I’m hoping to fund my writing enough to not have to take editing jobs or random side-gigs in order to make ends meet. Instead, I can focus on writing faster and publishing more often. Also, everyone who is a patron will receive a thank you at the end of my forthcoming works.

For most of us, writing is not our full-time job, and for some of us, writing is one job of many. Over time, art has become devalued and seen as something that should be given away (if you don’t believe me, check out Maggie Stiefvater’s post about her books and the effects of piracy). Artists and creators are now moving back to a system that puts a monetary value on their work, and I think that is incredibly important. The work of a creator should be just as important as a STEM career. You wouldn’t ask a scientist or businessman to work for free, so why should a writer or graphic artist?

I will still be posting occasional updates about my writing on my blog and social media, but I will be moving the majority of my previews and book extras to my Patreon. If you would like to contribute to funding my art, please join me on Patreon. Posts will be added regularly, and if I’m able to hit a substantial number, I will up my rewards and the amount of content I post there.

My future goals regarding Patreon are to a) write and publish more b) create a podcast/recordings c) write a Patreon exclusive serial story (to be published to the general public after my patrons have receive it in its entirety).

But to do those things, I need your support. If you would like to contribute and become a patron, click on the icon below. I look forward to seeing you there.

patreon

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Shifting Focus

pexels-photo-287336.jpeg

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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Mindless Book Consumption

There is a trend on Goodreads and other sites for book lovers that I’ve noticed lately and bothers me as a reader, an author, and an English professor: mindless book consumption.

What the hell are you talking about? you might ask. To me, mindless book consumption is reading hundreds of books a year (or a month– yeah, I saw someone supposedly read 120 books in February), but the books you’re reading a) aren’t given time to be digested or be enjoyed b) chosen for the most part just because they’re easily accessible c) many of those books are not actually finished but are considered “read” and rated on sites like Goodreads.

I have LOTS of problems with this gluttonous treatment of reading material. First off, let me say that I am all for reading tons of books. Last year, I read 120 books, and I totally get how people can read 300 books in year. I wish I could read that fast, but I know, I’m a comparatively slow reader. If you’re a voracious reader who likes romances, I can understand how someone could consume that many books in a year. Many romances are short and fairly straightforward, so if you enjoy them, it’s easy to burn through book after book in a genre you like.

On the other hand, what I’ve witnessed on Goodreads is very different. Goodreads attracts a lot of reviewers or those who are famous on Booktube or Bookstagram, and often that fame is tied to how many books they read in a year. If you’re a reviewer, the more books you read, the more posts you have, the more people read your posts, and the more followers you have. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint, but what has happened on this site is the idolization of gluttonous readers, especially those who pan books. I would like to challenge this ideal because what I’ve seen has been nothing more than binging books with little regard for enjoyment or synthesis of the products consumed.

My concern is the mentality of quantity over quality in the book community. What is the point of reading 300 books if you can’t discern one book from another or you DNF (did not finish) more books than you finished? DNF-ing in and of itself is problematic in the context of the mindless consumption mentality because many readers count them as “read” on Goodreads and rate them despite not reading the entirety of the work. From an author’s standpoint, I wouldn’t want someone to read half of my book and pass judgment without receiving the complete picture, especially if a perceived flaw in the narrative turns out to later play a part in the plot. As a reader, there are plenty of books I didn’t love at page thirty that I adored by the end. Perhaps my stick-to-it-ness comes from being an English major and being forced early on to read outside my comfort zone. By being made to read books I didn’t think I’d like, I ended up branching out to new genres, and I know that if I had given up on Jane Eyre or The Canterbury Tales early on, I would have missed out on stories I now love.

Besides missing out on some great books by DNF-ing, there is the matter of ethics. Is it ethical to mark a book you didn’t read in its entirety as “read”? Even worse in my mind, is it ethical to rate a book you didn’t finish?

The former issue is at the heart of the problem. It’s very easy to inflate the amount of books you’ve read if you didn’t actually read the entirety of the book. Of course, people stopping by your profile on Goodreads wouldn’t know that unless they looked more closely at your reviews and reading history. Others see the inflated number, they feel the need to compete with it, and they might attempt to fudge their numbers and perpetuate the cycle.

The greater problem is how society seems to adore cynical, jaded reviewers. This is a centuries old issue that spans every artistic medium imaginable, but with the internet and social media, you no longer have to be a reviewer for the New York Times to disseminate your views to a large audience. Unfortunately, good reviews garner little attention. Bad reviews, especially those of popular media, stick out. It’s one thing to genuinely not enjoy a work, but in a time where social media users regularly try to gain likes and followers, I have to wonder if some people are more likely to read in order to find fault with a book rather than read to enjoy it. If you combine the fact that people feel special when they go against the grain with the need to meet a very high reading quota, you end up with reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon who specialize in panning and DNF-ing books, which of course they stopped reading because they didn’t enjoy them and then rate them poorly.

The question is, how do we combat this and should we combat it? Of course it is within your right to not finish any book you start and then rate them, but you don’t have to read those reviews or follow accounts that exhibit suspect behavior. Much like avoiding brands that have questionable policies or practices, we can abstain from giving those bloggers attention whether it’s liking their posts, following their accounts, or leaving disparaging comments.

Conversely, if you’re a reader, perhaps seeing this behavior will make you more mindful of how you consume books. Being mindful has become a buzzword lately, but when it comes to consumption, I think it’s necessary to reflect on why you do what you do. If you’re reading to fill a vacuum or to meet a numerical goal, it may be worth wondering why you feel the need to do so. Are you reading because you want to be entertained or learn something or is it because you are in competition with someone or to live up to a perceived standard?


Stay tuned for another post about mindfulness and reading soon.

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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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An 8.5

Today, I had an awesome day. Today, I worked at the Career Carnival at one of the universities I teach at, representing the creative writing side of our English program and as an author. I loved every minute of talking to students about something we both love. What surprised me were how many non-English majors came to me and said that they love to write and are interested in taking a creative writing class. Writing helps them decompress, especially since most of the majors were STEM related. I completely understood, coming from a biology background initially.

Today, I had an anxiety attack that had nothing to do with my old fear of public speaking and crowds. The Career Carnival went great and I even got to chat with one of my favorite professors afterwards, but everything went to hell at home over something really stupid.

My dog had loose poop.

Yup, that’s it. That’s the thing that sent me careening over the edge into a 8.5 out of 10 panic attack.

From the moment I realized I would have to hose him down and that his could happen again, my body has been on high alert. My heartbeat is so obvious that I’m trying hard not to fixate on it which only causes more palpitations and more panic because it feels like it could stop at any moment. I’ve been still the whole evening, but no one seems to notice. I have my laptop open next to me with Scrivener open to the story I’m working on and Facebook, but I can’t bear to put it in my lap.

What if he has to go outside and in the time it takes to set it aside, he has an accident?

So I sit there playing on my phone when I could be reading The House of Many Ways, which I want to finish by tomorrow night. I text my boyfriend about my anxiety level. Somehow seeing it in numbers and words makes it easier to set aside for a moment.

8.5

An hour and a half later, it’s a 7.5. At least it’s an improvement.

It’s finally settling in at a solid 6 where it now sits like a lump in my throat. Even as I write, I can feel it ebbing and flowing like breath, a heavy helter skelter shroud engulfing me until I fear I will suffocate. As I sit staring at my phone, I picture myself hiccup sobbing. That’s where I’d be if it hit a 10/10, and I’m scared of sliding past the point of reason.

Mostly, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that dog shit is what has sent me over the edge after a really good day. I’m frustrated that I will be on the edge of sleep all night for fear that he will need to go out. I’m frustrated that people in my house tell me not to obsess or fixate as if I can shut it off or that I voluntarily surrender myself to sudden panic.

More than anything, I want to feel like this evening wasn’t a total waste, so I’m writing this post in hopes that someone might read it and understand that all-consuming visceral panic. Or maybe someone who has been in the grips of it will feel a little less alone.

Writing about panic and anxiety can be cathartic in my fiction, but not today, not in this. Today it just feels like I’m trying to swim to the surface on a dwindling breath.

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Books and Birthdays

Selkie Cove, book five of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, is officially out! So if you pre-ordered it, check your Kindles, and if it isn’t there, remember to hit the sync button to update your files. If you haven’t seen my previous posts about Selkie Cove, the story revolves around Adam and Immanuel, a murdered selkie, some poor choices, ever evolving magic, and of course, a little romance.

If you didn’t pre-order Selkie Cove, you can always buy it on Amazon. The paperback is not ready yet, but it will be by the end of the week. I’m just waiting for the proof to come, so I can approve it. My apologies to anyone who is looking forward to getting a paperback, but the fault falls squarely on my shoulders. I was sick and took too long with my final edits and read through to get it formatted in a timely manner. I promise they will be available by the end of the week.

SelkieCoveLH

In other news, part of the reason I have been so quiet this week is that I have been celebrating my birthday and getting the house in some semblance of shape before my family came over for a party. On my actual birthday, I was able to make it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City without hitting any crazy traffic or commuter back-ups due to the trains being worked on… AGAIN.

I love going to the Met because there’s always something that inspires me. I didn’t take many pictures this time because I wanted to actually experience it in real life rather than through my camera/phone. The only downside was that the Japanese exhibit was rather limited as it was taken over by a traveling exhibition, which was interesting but not what I needed for my research. Oh well. At least the Met has a fabulous online database. Mainly, I took pictures of the Temple of Dendur, which I think is the most peaceful place in the museum. It’s amazing how the moment you step into that room, the ceiling seems to fall away and the smell of water drifts in. No matter how many people are there, it feels serene.

Anyway, I will let everyone know what my next project is soon, so for now, I hope you will read Selkie Cove and leave an honest review. Honest reviews convince others to give authors like me a chance, so I hope you’ll leave one on Amazon or where ever you review books.

 

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Selkie Cove: Chapter Five

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. My apologies for not posting another chapter earlier in the week, but it was my birthday and I was spending it at my favorite place on earth, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you haven’t pre-ordered Selkie Cove, you can here.

Just as a heads-up, if you’re a paperback fan, they will be out by the end of the month, but they will not be available on the 25th (due to my own incompetence). I will let everyone know when they are ready to order.

Catch up on:


Chapter Five

Evolution

When Immanuel surfaced from the creature’s corpse, the blackbirds and robins outside the alley window had begun their morning trills despite the brumous day. Squirming on the narrow stool, Immanuel cracked his back and neck as he leaned back to examine the creature, which now lay in pieces. She was real. At lunch the day before, he never would have thought it possible. Even after seeing her final moments, he was hesitant to believe it hadn’t been a hallucination, but after working on the dissection all night and carefully documenting the anatomy of her organs, he knew he had found a human-pinniped hybrid. If only he had a microscope and supplies at home, then he could prepare slides and study the creature’s microanatomy. He had only studied human tissue under a microscope, but if he could get his hands on some seal samples, then he could—

“There you are!” Adam called as he threw open the workroom door but immediately brought his hand to his eyes. “Dear Lord, it’s bright in here.”

A weary smile spread across Immanuel’s features as he watched his companion grimace and squint. Serves him right, he thought, eyeing him warily for any sign of drink. Beneath Adam’s blue silk robe, he still wore his shirt from the previous night, but now, it had been buttoned to his collar. His hair had been brushed down, and without pomade to keep it in place, it stood out in floppy waves around his bloodshot eyes. As Adam took a step forward, he yelped a curse as Percy darted in, nearly knocking him over as he flew past. At the edge of the worktable, the cat wiggled his hips and flipped his tail. Adam reached for him as the cat dove for the liver sitting in the nearest metal tray.

“No! Don’t you dare!” Immanuel cried as he swatted at the skeleton cat.

The cat’s eyes locked on the liver as he took a slow step back. His tail wiggled and snapped, but when he pounced, Immanuel caught him, the scalpel clattering to the floor. Grimacing at the cat’s claws sinking into his wrists, Immanuel shoved him into Adam’s waiting arms.

“Take him, please. I’m not finished yet.”

“Fine, fine. Just stop yelling. My head is killing me,” Adam grumbled as he held Percy at arm’s length. “Ugh, he smells like a corpse.”

“I’ll bathe him later. Just put him in the kitchen.”

Tossing the cat into the other room, Adam shut the door and stood at Immanuel’s shoulder as he settled back into his work. Adam’s eyes flitted over organs he vaguely recognized before landing on the nearly empty cadaver. He had hoped that what he had seen the day before had been a nightmare from far too much gin, but even disarticulated, he recognized its mermaid-like form. While its hands still reached for something unseen, Immanuel had cut along its forehead and peeled the skin back to reveal a nearly empty human skull, its sightless eyes hidden beneath the flap. Adam shuddered at the thought that this nightmarish being lived inside of him, and one day, it would live on without him. Averting his gaze, he meandered around the room, looking through Hadley’s remaining tools and bobbles before turning to the gleaming wall of windows.

When his eyes started to burn and his head pulsed in time with his heart, he sat at the work table and began picking through the pages littering the table. Immanuel’s notes ranged from drawings as detailed as Da Vinci’s notebooks to page upon page of observations written in tight lines of German and English. Pushing through his hazy mind, Adam calculated the time he thought he fell asleep to when he came downstairs and divided it by the speed of dissection with pauses for reflection and study.

“Have you been at this all night?”

Immanuel continued working with his head down.

Adam frowned. “Why didn’t you go to bed? You have to go to work soon, don’t you?”

“I told Sir William I would be working from home today,” Immanuel replied, his accent formal and clipped. “He agreed, so long as I have a report on the deceased by this afternoon. If you don’t mind, I must get back to work.”

“I see.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Adam tried to remember what had happened the night before, but it only came in smatterings and blurs. He remembered the creature, he couldn’t forget that even if he wanted to, but what had happened to make Immanuel cross with him? It wasn’t like him to be so curt. He had awoken with the taste of stale gin on his lips, a splitting headache, and the only body in his bed an undead cat nestled on Immanuel’s pillow. As he stared at Immanuel’s notes, a pit formed in his stomach at a vision of Immanuel’s face breaking with hurt. Adam tried to remember what exactly he said, yet all he could see was Immanuel. What had he done?

“I made an ass of myself last night, didn’t I?”

“You could say that.”

Adam drew in a slow breath and winced as he scratched his wrist. Blood coated his nails, but he tucked his injured arm out of sight before Immanuel could notice. “I don’t remember what I did or said, but I am sorry I took it out on you, Immanuel. You must believe me. I would never try to wound you.”

Immanuel paused, his pencil hovering above a sketch of the creature’s lungs. “I know, but you did.”

Putting his work aside, he swiveled to face Adam. Their gazes locked, and the silent regrets snapped between them like a tether. In that moment, Immanuel wanted nothing more than to take Adam into his arms and kiss him until they both forgot the previous day’s trials, but he couldn’t do it. There had been a moment of alcohol-induced abandon when Immanuel felt the threat of impending violence. He swore Adam might hit him, and he couldn’t live with that fear. He refused to.

“Promise you will never do that to me again,” Immanuel said, keeping his damaged eye locked on Adam’s face even as it clouded. “I have to be able to trust you, Adam. I have been able to count on you thus far, but I can’t live with uncertainty when it comes to you. If you’re going to drink like that…” He shook his head. “I’m not trying to be dramatic. I just can’t do it after all that’s happened.”

Even if it means losing you. The words hung in his throat, but Adam knew they were there. He lowered his eyes to the floor and fingered the loosened scab on his wrist.

“I don’t know what to say, except that I will try not to do it again. I didn’t think it would upset you so. I thought it would take the edge off. It’s what I’ve always done.” He closed his eyes as Immanuel stroked his cheek. A little voice told him to tear his face away. He didn’t deserve it. “Anyway, after I get cleaned up, I’m planning to visit Hadley. I don’t want a position out of pity or loyalty, but the earl has connections and it would be foolish not to use them.”

Immanuel nodded, but as he turned back to his work, Adam put his hand on his arm and carefully turned him until they were face-to-face again.

“Immanuel, please trust me. I’m going to try to make things right. I promise I’m not going to let us sink.”

Drawing closer, Adam gently pressed his lips to Immanuel’s, his fingers sweeping his lover’s hair from his brow. Adam pulled him in deeper with the touch of his tongue upon his lips and a hand on his back. Entering his mouth, Immanuel could taste the tang of last night’s gin, and he wondered if Adam noticed the salt of the sea clinging to his teeth, a remnant of the dead woman’s final moments. Adam leaned between Immanuel’s legs, brushing his thighs as they parted. Heat sparked in Immanuel’s core as he rose upon feeling his lover’s hands squeeze his shoulders and slip along his side in time with their lips. He wanted to hate him, he wanted to be angry, but it seemed impossible to sustain.

“Am I forgiven?” Adam asked between kisses.

“We’ll see.”

Adam’s arms closed around him, hugging him closer until their bodies were flush. Stumbling back, Immanuel braced himself against the workbench as Adam’s lips skimmed the delicate flesh of his neck, sending a shudder through his form. As his palm brushed a metal dissecting tray, Immanuel stepped away and carefully guided Adam back toward the empty wall where crates of finished automatons had once sat. His lover’s hands kneaded Immanuel’s sides and back, cupping his buttock as his back collided with the wall. Immanuel lightly ran his tongue along Adam’s lip, eliciting a rough laugh from his companion as he tugged Immanuel’s shirt from his trousers. Before he could reach for his belt, Immanuel gripped Adam’s arm and slowly pulled it away. He stared at him through hooded eyes, his breath coming in heavy puffs as he steadied himself.

“We can’t,” Immanuel said, his voice hoarse with desire. “After, we will, but I need to finish this first.”

Disappointment flashed across Adam’s features, disappearing as quickly as it materialized beneath a concessionary nod.

“And I stink like a fishmonger. Please, Adam, I promise we can, but later.” Immanuel kissed him again until the tension released from Adam’s arms. “Later.”

Clearing his throat, Adam looked around the workroom as if seeing it for the first time. “I guess I’ll leave you to it, then. I’m going to take the train to Greenwich. Hopefully I can catch Hadley before she goes out for the day. Would you like to come? I could wait for you to clean up.”

“I would love to, but…,” he gestured to the glistening organs littering the table. “Send Hadley and Lord Dorset my love.”

Wiping his lips and straightening his clothing, Adam slipped out of the room. As the door shut behind him, a knot twisted in Immanuel’s stomach. Even if Adam had kept his head out of his cups long enough to think straight, there was something Immanuel still had to do. Reaching into a cabinet, he hefted a typewriter onto the only clean corner left on the workbench, a gift from Adam’s cousin and her husband upon his graduation. Carefully arranging his notes, he pecked out a report that would hopefully satisfy Sir William Henry Flower. He stared down at the page, rereading his half-truths and outright lies until he steeled himself against the knot in his stomach. If this plan was to work, he would need enough room to weave his story. There was only one missing component.

Reloading the typewriter with paper, Immanuel pulled his notes closer and hammered them out word-for-word. Judith Elliott asked for a comprehensive report, and he wasn’t going to fail his first mission as one of Her Majesty’s Interceptors.

***

Standing outside Miss Elliott’s door, Immanuel’s hand hovered, poised to knock. For a long moment, he merely stood in the hall, trying desperately to remember if he had brought everything he might need. During the entire journey to the Inner Temple Gardens, Immanuel had rehearsed all that he wanted to say, but the moment he reached the main hall with its sundial floor and practioners rushing between destinations like a swarm, his mind seized. What was he doing here?

After being attacked by Lord Rose in its courtyard and returning after the disastrous affair involving Lord Hale, he told himself that he never wanted to step foot there again, yet every few weeks he managed to slip in during his lunch break to exchange books with Judith Elliott. As he wove between Interceptors and made his way up the iron steps, he felt the deep resonance of magic reverberate through his bones like the hum of a hundred tuning forks. There was a whole building of people who in some way were just like him. He bit his lip to suppress a smile at the thought. Even after working at the museum for months, he still felt the distance of being an outsider. He was younger, quieter, less charismatic, less sure of his convictions, less accomplished, and certainly less English than any of the other curators. From what he had seen of the Interceptor Headquarters, there were plenty of young people and even those with darker complexions and accents that betrayed their origins. When he left Germany, a little part of him thought it would be a grand adventure. Maybe he needed to listen to that voice more. Immanuel tugged at his collar and straightened the strap of his leather satchel before knocking.

“Come in, Mr. Winter.”

Immanuel froze with a frown. Pushing open the door, he found Judith with her head bowed and her eyes on the paper in front of her. “How did you know it was me?”

“I could see you through the glass. Besides, no one who works here waits or even knocks. If you don’t barge right in, you aren’t an Interceptor.”

Barely raising her gaze, she motioned to the seat in front of her. Immanuel sank into the chair, clutching his bag as his eyes ran over the whitewashed cabinets lining the walls. Judith Elliott always seemed at odds with her surroundings. Her dark blonde hair had been expertly pinned and tightly bound in an elaborate chignon that hovered above the mandarin collar of her military-style jacket. Lining the perimeter of her office were display cases and art nouveau wallpaper that led the eye from shelf to shelf. Sunlight from the tall window behind her desk glinted off the crystals and artifacts locked within the cases. He wished he could borrow her powers just for a moment to understand how such a martial woman could own such a feminine space.

Finally surfacing from her work, Judith gave him a slight smile. “So how may I help you, Mr. Winter? Come to trade books?”

“No, I— I finished the report you wanted.” Immanuel reached into his bag and pulled out his sketch pad along with the packet of typed pages. “I tried to be very thorough, as you asked.”

“I can see that.”

Taking the papers from his outstretched hand, Judith flipped through them. Immanuel watched, holding his breath as her eyes skimmed over his notes before traveling to the black sketchpad between them. She returned back to the page, but every so often her gaze flickered from the rickety type to Immanuel’s face. After a moment, she cleared her throat and set the papers aside.

Folding her hands on the desk, she said, “This is all rather technical for me. Tell me, what did you find regarding our dead selkie?”

“Selkie?”

“My apologies, I meant to tell you, but I didn’t want to influence your findings. Selkie is the common name for what she was. Sometimes the Scottish call them maighdeann-mhara. I did some research on our friend after she arrived. According to several legends, selkies are creatures with the ability to take on two forms: one human and the other seal. I’m sure you’ve heard of sirens or mermaids in fairytales. Much like them, selkies are often described as beautiful women who lure men to their deaths or fall in love with humans and shun their true, animal form. Some folklore talks about how their magic resides in their pelts, which allow them to slip between forms or, like werewolves, they may be merely shapeshifters. It’s still unknown.”

“Did— did you say werewolves? Are they real, too?”

“Don’t fret about them, Mr. Winter. They are of little consequence at the moment.” Leaning forward, she tented her fingers and focused on Immanuel’s bisected eye, her mind’s probing tentacle nudging at Immanuel’s thoughts. “So how did the selkie die?”

“She was murdered.” Immanuel fought his mind as it threatened to travel back to that awful moment under the silty green water. “She saw something. I’m not certain what it was, a sunken ship or a foundation, but as she approached it, she was attacked by someone.”

“Was it another selkie?”

“No, I’m certain it was a human or at least close to it. I didn’t feel the same sensation I felt when I saw her for the first time.”

“A sensation?”

Immanuel chewed on his lip and watched Judith warily. Something about her made him nervous. Even if he was telling the truth, he still felt as if she might uncover a secret he never intended to hide. It made it harder to think, to find the words he needed to make sense.

“It’s like what Nichols described to me when he talked about meeting another person with magical abilities. It’s like an itch or a frequency resonating in my bones. I felt it at the museum when Sir William showed her to me.”

“Interesting. Tell me more about the murder and the murderer. Thus far, we know the perpetrator isn’t a selkie nor a practioner. Even so, we could still have an incident on our hands that could result in an uprising. These situations are touchy. Go on.”

Immanuel swallowed hard. He rested his hands on the cool wood of the chair, fighting back the sensation of water burning his throat. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his brow as pain constricted his temples. “She was stabbed, but when she tried to fight back, I think— I think she began to transform into a human. Then, she pulled the blade out. I don’t know what kind of blade it was, but it was long and thin, on a handle. It only took a few seconds for her to begin to bleed out. When I examined her, I found a tear in her heart and a matching wound on her chest. I couldn’t tell whether she bled out or drowned first due to the preservation fluid.” As he released a tremulous breath, he bit down on his lip until the pain blossomed anew. “Her thoughts… They were so human. She was scared in her last moments for the others. Does that mean there are others of her kind?”

“Oh certainly,” Judith responded as she flipped through the collection of sketches. Her mouth parted in surprise as she turned to the two page sketch of the selkie’s body exposed for examination. “She was mid transformation. Do you realize how rare this is, Winter? To see a selkie transform is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They don’t change in front of humans, that’s why there’s pelt versus shapeshifter confusion. A selkie mid transformation,” she repeated, turning the page to study her organs and bone structure, “what luck. The cryptozoologists will be beside themselves at the news.”

A pang of guilt rang through Immanuel’s gut. “Is this really something to celebrate? She’s dead, and it felt like my body was ripping in half when she transformed. Changing like that—“

Immanuel rubbed his arm where pain had radiated from the marrow as every bone broke and regrew in an instant.

“You felt it?” she asked, the joy sapped from her voice.

He released a tremulous breath and squeezed his arm to remind his mind that the visions of her underwater tomb were only a memory. “I feel and see everything they do as if I were in their bodies. It was excruciating. Her transformation, her fear, her death. Please understand that seeing their last moments is rarely a cause for celebration.”

“My apologies if I sounded insensitive, Winter. You must understand that we are an agency that studies these creatures, and selkies have been rather uncooperative and elusive despite living right off our shores. Don’t think this creature’s death was in vain. We can learn a lot from it. We already have. Your dissection findings and her remains will be preserved for future study, and who knows what we may learn from them given weeks or months to do so.”

Was she merely a specimen to them? Immanuel licked his lips before slowly meeting Judith’s eager gaze. “Miss Elliott, I’m not certain how to phrase this, but do you—and the Interceptors—view selkies as human?”

For a long moment, Judith merely studied him, her brassy curls blazing gold in the afternoon sun. The tendrils of her mind fell away as she said, “Cryptids, creatures of that nature, are not my area of expertise, so I claim no intimate knowledge of selkies. The Interceptors are divided on what constitutes a human being or, for lack of a better word, personhood.”

“I see.”

Clearing her throat, Judith rose. “Well, Mr. Winter, if that will be all, we greatly appreciate your time and help in this matter. We will send someone to investigate the case, but if we need any more information, we will contact you. May I borrow your sketches to have photographs taken? It will only take a few moments.”

“Yes, but—” As she reached for the doorknob, Immanuel opened his mouth twice, the words refusing to issue from his lips. He had to say something, for the selkie’s sake if not his own. Finally he called, “Miss Elliott, I would like to continue investigating this case.”

Judith stopped, her back ramrod straight as she looked back at the young man hunched before her desk. Despite her hard hazel gaze, Immanuel never wavered. She motioned for him to wait. Calling down the hall, Cassandra Ashwood appeared at the door. The dark-haired woman in her smart gown looked over Judith’s shoulder and spotted Immanuel as she gave her instructions. With a wave and a wide grin to Immanuel, she took the sketchpad from Judith’s hands and disappeared down the hall. When Judith turned back to Immanuel, her features were caught between annoyance and amity. Perching on the corner of the desk closest to him, Judith folded her arms across her chest and searched his face.

“So you want to join the Interceptors now. Why the sudden change in heart?”

Clasping his shaking hands in his lap, Immanuel fought to keep his eyes on hers. “I thought I could join unofficially for now. I would like to see if this is what I’m looking for before I agree to anything permanent.”

“You cannot possibly think you can join un—”

“It was in the contract. Read it for yourself, and you’ll see that I can be called upon to continue an investigation.”

“At our discretion.”

“At your discretion. You said it yourself that a scientist who is also a practioner isn’t easy to come by.”

“Yes, but we have everything we need from you. You finished the autopsy.”

Immanuel’s throat tightened. “I don’t know why the Interceptors want me and Adam to join together, except that you said we were more powerful together. It sounds like we would be an asset to the organization, and if they want us as badly as you make it seem they do, I’m hoping they might be willing to work with my terms.”

A faint laugh escaped Judith’s rouged lips. “Does Mr. Fenice know about your proposition? I seem to recall he was a tad skeptical of magic.”

“He has come around, but no, I haven’t told him yet.”

“That could backfire on you.”

“I know.” But both of them had so little to lose now.

“I’ll tell you what, I will plead your case to my superiors and get a file together for you. They may not agree, but there have been several discussions about how to bring you around,” she replied with a knife-sharp smile. “Now, you must know that a practioner doesn’t simply join the Interceptors like one joins a club. There are certain protocols that must be followed, especially regarding your and Mr. Fenice’s connection.”

“But I thought you said the Interceptors were tolerant of…”

“Not an emotional connection, a magical one. We can discuss that later. In the meantime, I would suggest you start figuring out what you will say to Mr. Fenice should they agree to your proposal. While you have your strengths and unique abilities, they want you and Mr. Fenice. You won’t get in by yourself.”

“I don’t mean to be forward, but why? What makes us so special together? Adam…” He paused for a moment, struggling with how to phrase it without coming off as insulting. “Adam isn’t a practioner.”

“Yes, but every practioner is better with their amplifier. Let me explain. You know that Cassandra is my partner in multiple ways, much like your Mr. Fenice, and she is a normal person. The reason why an Interceptor really needs a non-practioner partner is to ground us. They will see things we miss because we are too wrapped up in using our extranormal abilities. In your case and in mine, your partner is an amplifier, which means, as you have probably guessed, they can elevate your abilities by simply being in your presence. After the ceremony I mentioned before, Adam’s connection to you will be even stronger.”

“But what makes him an amplifier? Is it merely because we’re companions?”

“Well, a bond is necessary, but his alignments are the opposite of yours. You know about batteries and magnets, Mr. Winter?”

“Yes.”

“Then, you understand the power of opposite poles. What happens with extranormal abilities is that we tend to align with a specific element or pair of elements. In my case, mind-reading aligns with air while Cassandra’s personality is very much grounded in earth. Therefore, we are opposites.”

Immanuel fingered the stitching on his satchel thoughtfully. His mind reeled at the thought of the four ancient elements having any sway beside the growing periodic table. He wanted to reject the notion as superstition, but he had seen so much those past few months that sent his mind spinning yet it all proved true.

“What element is my ability? Air as well?”

“You,” she paused, “you are a strange breed, Mr. Winter. You have two elements. Which two do you think are most needed for life?”

He blinked, hoping the answer on his lips wouldn’t prove him to be a fool. “Water and air.”

“Precisely. My theory is you were born with the ability to manipulate water since you mentioned your alchemical heritage, but after suffering through a series of traumas, your body took on air as a way to adapt to your needs. It’s your wyrd.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your wyrd. Your fate. Your trauma shaped your abilities. It’s fascinating really. There are several known cases in ancient writings.”

For a long moment, Immanuel merely glared at her through his clotted eye. He had never found his traumas to be fascinating. Did they see him as another exotic specimen like the selkie? Swallowing down the thought, he added, “So that would make Adam fire and earth?”

“Perhaps. Though, he only needs one opposite element to boost your abilities. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it?” she said with a smirk. When he didn’t respond, she continued, “Adam, the Biblical figure was born of clay, and the name itself has its origin in the color red, which is your Adam’s most prominent feature.” With a dismissive wave of her hand, she added, “The point is by having Mr. Fenice with you, he will amplify your already unusual abilities, and the Interceptors won’t need to find you a partner. Trust me, Mr. Winter, you don’t want to have to tell your partner that they have been replaced by your lover. Peregrine can attest to that.”

Peregrine. Immanuel snapped open his pocket watch and nearly propelled out of his chair. “My apologies, Miss Elliott, but I have to go. I have an appointment with the director at the museum, and I didn’t realize I had been here for so long. If I don’t go—”

“Go on, then. We will be in touch about when the handfasting will be held, and I will have your sketchbook delivered to your address.”

As Immanuel reached the threshold, he felt the familiar touch of Judith’s powers knocking at the back of his skull. “Did I forget something? I really must go.”

“No. I was merely wondering what you’re planning to tell Sir William about the sideshow spectacle I brought him.”

“That it isn’t real, but the skin is. There’s a seal somewhere missing a pelt, and it’s possibly a breed I’ve never seen,” he replied slowly as her hold nudged deeper despite his futile efforts to keep her out. “That way I can keep the body a while more.”

“Very smart. You may want to start thinking of excuses for missing work.”

Immanuel cocked his head.

“You’ll need it if they agree to your terms, won’t you?”


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

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