Sneak Peek Saturday

02/09/13 Sneak Peek Saturday , Writing # ,

Sneak Peek Saturday – Adult Fantasy WIP

Sneak Peek Saturday – Adult Fantasy WIP

This book has been an obsession since I started it last year. Unfortunately, I’ve had to set it aside several times for pressing deadlines, leaving it as about 35,000 words, which is where it still stands. One of my goals this year is to finish it.

This is the first chapter, which doesn’t really hint at the fantasy element in the rest of the book. But this is me we’re talking about, so trust me; it’s there. You can get another hint about the book from the picture.

😉

 

Hope you enjoy it!

<3

I tried not to look suspicious as I sat across the street from the school, waiting for the kids to stream out the back door.

I shouldn’t have been worried. I’d been careful to dress like the moms I saw in the grocery store, the ones wearing faded jeans and stretched out t-shirts, their hair usually in a ponytail or cut short for minimal styling.

I’d forgone my usual skinny jeans and black t-shirt, digging a cardigan out of my bottom drawer to wear in place of my leather jacket. I hadn’t worn the sweater since Abby’s last birthday, and I’d lifted it to my nose when I pulled it from the drawer, inhaling deeply. It was stupid. It wouldn’t smell like her, and I wouldn’t know if it did. Like so many things about Abby, I could only imagine what she smelled like.

I’d finally put the sweater on, getting a whiff of wool and old wood as I tugged it up over my shoulders. I’d pulled my long brown hair into a ponytail and slipped on some tennis shoes before getting in the car and driving across town to Verrazano Elementary School. I knew it was Abby’s school both because I’d used the Moser’s address to look it up on the district map and because Grace Moser had mentioned it in her yearly letter, something that made me squirm a little in the car, guilt worming its way through my veins.

Grace wouldn’t like the idea of me sitting across from the school, watching Abby. It’s not that she would be angry. She’d just wonder why, if I was starved for a glimpse of my daughter, I didn’t take her and Dan up on their offer to have me over. And that was something I’d never be able to explain. I couldn’t even think about it long enough to explain it to myself.

A breeze, the perfect mix of late summer warmth chased by the slightest chill, drifted through the open car window as a bell cut through the air. I sat up straighter, eyes trained on the school. Ten seconds later the side doors opened with a clang, and a stream of small bodies emerged, some bounding down the steps, others showing more caution.

Abby was one of the first ones out. She hit the blacktop behind the school with so much speed the momentum seemed to carry her forward, her blond hair streaming out behind her like a handful of yellow ribbons. My hands rose from my lap, reaching for the window, as if I could catch her from where I sat in the car.

But she didn’t fall. She just kept running, her pale legs bare under a green dress.

My breath caught in my throat. She was bigger than she’d been last year, just like she’d been bigger last year than the year before that. For a minute, I saw it; the years and years ahead when I would only bear silent witness to Abby’s growth. Years when the loss of her would etch itself deeper into my bones until they were worn as smooth as a river stone.

I shut the thought down before it could cripple me.

I lifted the picture in my hand, comparing it to the little girl running back and forth across the playground, playing tag with some of the other kids.

Abby’s hair was longer now. Ditto her legs. Her face was slightly less round, and every now and then, I thought I caught a glimpse of the girl she would be in a few years. I tried to project myself forward five, six, seven Septembers into the future, to see her sitting with other girls at recess, their heads bowed as they shared secrets and talked about classmates.

Then again, that was just the way I imagined it would be. The way I hoped it would be for Abby. The truth was, I didn’t have a clue. My own childhood had been about as far from normal as you could get. But normal was what I was hoping for for Abby. What it had been all about.

I watched her run, her laugh falling through the air like glitter. I wondered if her happiness was a product of her environment or if it was some kind of throwback gene, some long-lost chromosome that allowed her to play and smile and be carefree without worrying and wondering and being afraid. She definitely didn’t get it from me.

I took one last look, committing every detail to memory even though I knew Grace would send me a picture taken on this very day. She always sent me a birthday picture.

Still, this was the last time I’d see Abby in person until next year. I would need to call up the image of her countless times to make the journey from now to then, and I drank her in until my heart was so full of her it felt like it would explode.

“Happy birthday, Abby,” I said softly.

I put the picture back in my purse and started the car.

* * *

It had been an open adoption. Not because that’s how I wanted it, but because Daniel and Grace Moser didn’t believe in keeping secrets. And I had my heart set on Daniel and Grace Moser.

I’d looked through hundreds of profiles before I’d chosen them. Daniel was a Senior Vice President for a computer consulting company. Grace was an artist who liked to cook and wanted to stay home with their adopted child. They made a good living, but not enough to make them a member of the financially elite. I liked that. I wanted Abby to have a happy, stable home. I wanted her to have a normal life. Extremes went both ways, and while I didn’t want her to worry about where her next meal was coming from, I didn’t want her to become some stuck-up little bitch who thought she was better than everyone else, either.

The Mosers were perfect. Sweet and sincere, Grace had the kind of inherent warmth that made me wish she was my mother. Daniel was a big, solid man with intelligent eyes. I liked the way he put his hand on Grace’s back when they’d entered the room at the adoption agency, the way he seemed to watch over her even when we were just talking. They talked about how they liked classical music but listened to Otis Redding when they cooked dinner, and I had a flash of my child, dancing around a homey kitchen to Sitting on the Dock of the Bay or doing homework with Brahms playing the background.

Choosing them had felt right, inevitable. They’d supported me through my pregnancy without being obnoxious, giving me small gifts to make me more comfortable and covering all of my medical expenses. But they never intruded. Never asked questions about what I was eating or whether I was taking the prenatal vitamins or getting enough rest.

Maybe they just knew they didn’t need to worry. For once, it had been easy to be good to myself because everything I did for myself was really for Abby.

After Abby was born and they’d taken her home, Grace and Dan had offered to have me over. It was a standing invitation, they’d said when I declined. As Abby got older, they even offered to tell her I was a family friend, if it would make me more comfortable.

But I just couldn’t. I felt like if I saw her up close, the scream that had been building inside me since the night I’d let her go might finally wrench itself free, and I’d never be able to stop. I’d consigned my memories of her birth to the shadowy place in my heart, the place where I swept all the things I couldn’t bear to think about. I allowed myself one day a year — this day — to see her. To think about her. I was already shuffling through life. Already trying to find a way forward, a way to navigate the world and the people around me the way everyone else seemed to do so easily, so effortlessly.

It was all I could do. I’d already learned that spending too much time in the past would undo me completely.

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02/02/13 Reading , Sneak Peek Saturday , This Wicked Game , Writing # , , ,

Sneak Peek Saturday – This Wicked Game

Sneak Peek Saturday – This Wicked Game

This week I’m giving you the first chapter of THIS WICKED GAME, in honor of the gorgeous cover, revealed just yesterday.

I’m super excited about this book, which features a moody setting (New Orleans), creepy subject matter (voodoo!), and an awesome, multicultural cast. It’ll be out this November form Penguin/Dial.

Stay tuned for more details!

 

Claire was at the front of the store, uploading a new batch of photographs while a pot of wax melted behind her, when the woman entered through the unmarked door.

Claire pulled her eyes away from the pictures flashing across the computer screen. It wasn’t unusual for customers to use the private entrance. Other than the staircase leading to the house, the door was the only way in, and there were plenty of people in New Orleans who had a key.

But Claire had never seen the woman before, and that was unusual, especially since she had been working in the store since before she was tall enough to see over the counter without a step stool.

Still, rules were rules. The fact that the woman had a key meant she was authorized to make purchases, no questions asked.

Claire turned down the temperature on the wax and closed her laptop as the woman approached the counter. She was startlingly beautiful, her milky skin contrasting with the red lipstick that shaped her full mouth. Her clothes were expertly tailored, the white button down nipped in at the waist, the hem of her navy trousers just grazing the floor as she walked.

Claire wiped her hands on a towel as the woman stopped at the counter. “Hello. What can I do for you?”

“Good afternoon.” The woman’s voice was low and gravelly. Claire figured her for a heavy smoker. Either that or a time-traveling 1940s film star. “I have some things I’d like to purchase.”

“Sure.” Claire pulled out the yellow notepad they used for orders.

The woman opened her slim black handbag, pulling from it a folded piece paper. She pushed it across the counter with her neatly manicured hands.

Claire opened it, glancing at the long list of items. It was a big order, and Claire immediately started transferring the woman’s list to the notepad.

“This is your family’s establishment?” The woman asked the question with the certainty of someone who already knew the answer.

“Uh-huh.” Claire had to resist the urge to add “unfortunately” at the end of the sentence.

Frankincense, black cat oil, anise seed, aloeswood powder…

“It’s quite a store. It seems you have everything.”

“Just about,” Claire said. A strand of her long blond hair fell forward. She tucked it behind one ear and continued transcribing the woman’s list to the notepad.

“And how long does it usually take to fill an order?” the woman asked.

“It depends on what you need. Let’s see…” Claire scanned the list. Everything on the front page was in stock. She turned the paper over to the back. “We should be able to do this while you…”

The words stopped coming out of Claire’s mouth as she came to the last item on the list.

Two (2) vials Black Panthera Pardus Plasma.

She felt her face flush as she searched her memory, wanting to be sure.

“Is there a problem?” the woman asked.

Claire didn’t know if it was paranoia or something else, but she thought there was something new in the woman’s voice. An undercurrent of acceptance, as if she’d known the Kincaid’s wouldn’t have the plasma all along.

Claire shook her head, resisting the urge to call out for her mother. Pilar Kincaid had little patience for Claire’s “lack of commitment” to the family business. Calling her would only highlight Claire’s inability to handle the store on her own. Besides, her knowledge of the craft wasn’t exactly encyclopedic. Maybe she was wrong.

“Um… not a problem. But one of these items might take us a while to get in. I think it’s a special order.”

“And which item would that be?” the woman asked, her voice frosty.

“The black panther plasma. We don’t keep it in stock.”

No one keeps it, Claire thought. As far as the Guild was concerned, there were some things you just didn’t mess around with, even if you were an experienced practitioner.

The woman tapped her manicured nails on the wood counter. “How long do you expect it will take to get it?”

“I’m not sure.” Claire didn’t have time to really think about it. “Maybe a week?”

The woman didn’t hesitate. “Fine. I’ll take the rest of the items now.”

Claire nodded, turning to fill the order. Everything else on the list was in stock, and Claire busied herself filling vials with the powder and herbs and wrapping roots in brown paper. She could feel the woman’s eyes on her back while she worked. It made the tiny hairs at the back of her neck stand on end and caused a prickling sensation behind her eyes. She felt vulnerable, exposed.

Once the order was filled, she turned around, half expecting the woman to have transformed into some kind of monster.

But she was just the same, her gaze unflinching, her eyes so dark they were almost black.

“Here you go,” Claire said, pushing the package toward the woman and turning to the calculator. She consulted the notepad, her fingers flying over the keys. “That’ll be $357. 42, without the panther plasma.”

She had a hard time even saying it. Questions were drumming through her mind. She needed to get upstairs to her mother. She would know what to do.

The woman nodded slowly, pulling a wallet from her handbag and removing four hundred dollar bills.

Claire took the money and made change from the lockbox they kept under the counter. “Would you like us to call you when we find out about the special order?”

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll see you one week from today.” She took her change and picked up the package, her unsettling gaze resting on Claire. “Goodbye, Claire.”

She turned and left through the private entrance. Claire watched the door shut behind her, listening for the click of the automatic lock. For a minute, she was rooted to the floor, wondering if she’d imagined the whole thing. Then she looked down at the list of items.

Two (2) vials Black Panthera Pardus Plasma.

She took the stairs two at a time.

* * *

The Kincaid’s living quarters were separated from the store by one floor and a two level staircase. Just a few months ago, the door between the two spaces hadn’t even had a lock, but after a rash of break-ins, the Guild families who had stores on-site had taken measures to protect their private quarters from the customers who had access to the supply houses.

The world was changing, Claire’s mother had said as the locksmith installed a heavy deadbolt on the door that separated the store from the two floors above it. Once a secret society of old-school voodoo suppliers and their clients, the Guild of High Priests and Priestesses had become too large to allow for intimate knowledge of each and every member. Now, it was up to the regional leaders to vet and approve new members based on lineage and practice.

Claire reached the top of the stairs and fumbled through her keys for the one that fit the new lock. When she found it, silver and strangely shiny compared to the old ones that went to the house and store, she unlocked the door and spilled out into the main hall of the house. She locked the door behind her and moved down the first floor hall.

“Mom? Where are you?”

She checked the drawing room first. The floor to ceiling windows were open to the terrace, the sheer draperies moving slightly in the barely-there July breeze. But her mother wasn’t there.

There was only one other place her mother would be if she wasn’t in the drawing room going over the accounts for the store or writing notecards to Guild members who lived outside the city, and that was upstairs. Claire headed for the main staircase.

When she reached the second-floor landing, she continued down the hall past her bedroom, her parent’s room, two guest rooms, and an extra bathroom.

She stopped at a closed door at the end of the hall and listened.

She heard the gentle murmur of her mother’s voice a second later, smelled the incense she burned when practicing the craft.

Claire hesitated. It wasn’t that she was afraid to interrupt her mother. She just didn’t like the ritual room. She never had.

She’d been about four-years-old when she’d first come upon her mother in the room. She had been wearing a white floor-length garment that Claire would later learn was standard ritual garb. The simple cotton tunic made her mother look taller and younger than she did in her everyday clothes. Her hair was long and loose around her shoulders as she kneeled in front of the alter, covered with burning white candles, wax figures, and dried herbs.

Her mother hadn’t looked like herself at all. Not to Claire.

She had waved Claire forward without speaking, silently inviting her to join in the ritual.

Claire had been afraid. The strange words that came from her mother’s mouth frightened her, however softly they were spoken, and the flickering candles cast unfamiliar shadows.

Claire had shaken her head and retreated. She’d avoided the room ever since.

But she couldn’t avoid it now, and she wrapped softly on the door, turning the knob without waiting for an answer and pushing the door open quietly, so as not to disturb her mother.

She was there, in the same position Claire had found her all those years ago, kneeling in front of the tea table that served as an alter. This time she was in her regular clothes. The alter was alight with purple candles that meant her mother was either working a spirituality rite or trying to channel her power more effectively. Two sticks of incense burned on either side of a bible, their smoke rising into the air in abstract swirls.

Her mother didn’t look up or in any way acknowledge Claire’s presence. Claire waited for a few seconds before she finally gave up and started talking.

“Mom, I-”

“You know I won’t speak to you until you come in properly, Claire.” Her mother didn’t look away from the alter. Her hair, still long and black as a raven’s wing, tumbled down over one of her shoulders. “Besides, aren’t you supposed to be working the counter?”

Claire stepped into the room, but just barely. “I am working the counter, but-”

Now her mother looked over at her. “Then what are you doing up here, for heaven’s sake? You know you’re not supposed to leave the store unattended.”

Claire crossed the room, her throat closing against the heavy scent of sandalwood. She held out the piece of paper with the list of ingredients the woman had ordered.

Turning toward her with a sigh, her mother took it, her gray eyes traveling the front page.

“These are all basic ingredients, Claire.” She turned it over. “Surely you know how to…” Her voice trailed off. She shook her head, her face two shades paler than it had been when Claire entered the room. “Where did you get this?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Claire said. “A woman just came in. She gave me this order to fill.”

Her mother rose to her feet, pacing to the fireplace. “Which client was it?”

“That’s the thing,” Claire said. “I’ve never seen her before.”

Her mother turned to face her. “Then how did she get in?”

“She had a key,” Claire said simply.

“Are you sure the door was latching? That it was locked when she came in?”

Claire sighed. She didn’t blame her mother for doubting her. She wasn’t exactly attentive on the job. But still.

“Yes, Miss Julie was the last person to place an order, and the door locked behind her, just like always.”

“Did this woman give you a name?”

No, Claire almost said, but she knew mine.

She didn’t say it. The woman had probably been told about the Kincaid’s by whoever referred her to the store.

Claire shook her head. “And I didn’t ask. You’ve always told me not to. That if they have a key, I honor the policy, fill the orders, and that’s it.”

Her mother consulted the list again before looking up to meet Claire’s eyes. “But this is… this is impossible. We’ll have to call a meeting.”

She was still standing there, a look of shock on her face, when the phone rang from the hall.

“I’ll get it.” Claire left the room and picked up the phone that sat on a table in the hall. “Kincaid residence. How may I help you?”

“Hello, Claire.” She immediately recognized the voice on the other end of the line. “May I speak to your mother or father, please? It’s urgent.”

“One moment.” Claire covered the mouthpiece and went back to the ritual room, holding out the phone to her mother. “It’s Aunt Estelle,” she said quietly. “She says it’s urgent.”

Estelle Toussaint wasn’t a blood relative to the Kincaid’s, but all the women in the Guild were Claire’s “aunts” just as her mother was “Aunt Pilar” to the other Guild members’ children.

Pilar smoothed her skirt, as though Estelle could see her through the phone. “Hello, Estelle.” Her mother paused, turning her back on Claire. “Well, I… When?” Another long pause. “Today?”

She didn’t say anything else for a couple of minutes. Claire was beginning to wonder if her mother was still on the phone when she murmured a few quiet words. Then she turned around, avoiding Claire’s eyes as she finished the call.

“Yes, I understand. We’ll see you then.” She hung up the phone, staring at it like it was something she’d never seen before.

“Mom?” Claire finally said. “What’s going on?”

Her mother looked up like she’d just realized Claire was still there. “We weren’t the only ones who received an order for black panther plasma today.”

“What do you mean?” Claire asked.

But Pilar was already rushing from the room. “An emergency meeting has been called. Be ready to leave at six.”

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01/26/13 Sneak Peek Saturday #

Sneak Peak Saturday – Untitled WIP

This week’s sneak peek is from an as-yet-unsold WIP.

And that’s all I can tell you.
😉

 

They made their way to the bunker in an unmarked SUV. Another agent drove wordlessly, a unidentifiable tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve, while Audrey sat in the back next to the agent who’d come to retrieve her.

She thought about texting Lucas to let him know she might not make her shift tomorrow. But what could she say? There were too many things he didn’t know.

Too many things he could never know.

She turned her attention to the window instead, watching pieces of her life pass by — the bakery on the corner where she went for croissants on Sunday morning, the diner where she and Lucas sometimes had coffee after work, Lenny’s. She tried to let go of the feeling that it was all moving away from her, that she was being sucked back into the world that cost her so much and would still cost her more.

She tried to soothe herself. Her return to the bunker was temporary. A necessary part of her role as architect, of the Shepherds commitment — her commitment — to keeping mankind on plan. They would fix the problem with the map, and a few hours from now, she would be back in her bed, the moonlight streaming in through the old factory windows. Tomorrow, she would go to Lenny’s and work her shift with Lucas. She would look into his blue eyes and laugh when he was silly. Maybe she would even say thank you for the friend he’d been when being her friend was no easy task.

The continued through Manhattan toward the Henry Hudson Parkway. Things were rougher than she remembered in this part of the city. A couple of buildings close to the water were charred, victims of a recent fire. The FDNY was already cleaning it up, despite the smoke still rising from its ruins. A bunch of people were protesting noisily near 11th Street, the police out in riot gear, herding the group toward the water, away from the center of the city. It all made the city feel ominous, as if a storm cloud were moving overhead, blocking out the light and vibrancy Audrey loved about Manhattan.

She shouldn’t have been surprised by the changes. It’s not like she bothered to look around very often. She liked her little corner of the city, took comfort in frequenting the same places in and around the loft apartment rather than venturing out into other neighborhoods.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what she was doing.

All the Shepherds were trained in the psychology of their genetic disorder. The psychology of living forever. They were taught to accept the death of people they grew to love, to seek out new experiences to avoid becoming bored, to rely on the extended family of Shepherds for lasting companionship. And yes, to avoid clinging too desperately to people and places in a misguided attempt to create what would only be a false sense of permanence.

They were also taught that all of those things were completely counter to human nature, which is why she’d been immersing herself in the funky little vibe of her loft apartment and her job at Lenny’s, enjoying her attachment to Lucas even as she feared it, trying to pretend she was just like everybody else.

She pushed the thought away. She didn’t want to think about Lucas while she was on her way to the bunker. One had nothing to do with the other.

And that’s how she wanted it to stay.

They drove for about ten more minutes before the driver pulled the car to the side of the road. Audrey knew what was next, and she turned her face to the agent next to her.

“Sorry,” he said as he wrapped a length of black cloth around her eyes.

“It’s okay.”

Everything went dark. His hands were gentle as he knotted the fabric at the back of her head.

She wasn’t offended. She hadn’t been privy to the location of the map since she’d moved out of the bunker. It was standard operating procedure, a security precaution in the event she was taken by the Apostles and interrogated for information about the bunker’s whereabouts.

All of the Shepherds who lived outside the bunker were subject to the same rules, though Audrey was forced to adhere to them more rigorously than most. If the breach was as serious as it sounded, they would eventually have to clue her in to the bunker’s location so she could come and go more freely. But for now, the blindfold brought with it a sense of relief. Proof that she would soon return to her normal life.

She took deep breaths as the car hurtled forward, the darkness behind her closed eyes disorienting. They seemed to be going fast, probably still on the Parkway, though she had no way of knowing for sure. There were several turns, a swift acceleration that might mean they were getting on the highway, and then a deceleration that probably meant they were leaving it.

Some time later the car stopped. She heard one of the windows roll down, followed by an electronic hum that could have been a gate or garage door opening.

“I’m going to remove the blindfold now.” The agent’s voice was very near her face as he untied the knot. The scent of mint hit her nostrils.

Weak blue light assaulted Audrey’s eyes. “Thank you.”

She looked out the window. They were in some kind of parking garage, the kind that could have served any mall or office building in any of the city’s surrounding suburbs. The car pulled into a small room. Doors closed behind them, and Audrey felt a jolt as they were lowered — vehicle and all — on some kind of elevator mechanism.

They continued their descent for almost five minutes. Wherever they were, it was a long way down.

Finally, the doors opened. The driver put the car into gear and pulled into another garage. He parked the SUV next to one just like it and got out, opening the door for Audrey. They made their way to a pair of massive steel doors set into a concrete wall.

There were several layers of security. It wasn’t unexpected, though the protocols changed as new technology became available. To hear her father tell it, there had once been threatening guards, passwords, and cryptic puzzles where now there were palm and iris scans, voice recognition, signature matching. And Audrey wasn’t fooled by the lack of physical security, either.

Someone, somewhere, was watching their every move via hidden camera.

With every step, Audrey grew more nervous. She told herself it was stupid. These were her people. The ones who had trained her and protected her. The ones who looked out for her from afar and who would continue doing so in the decades ahead.

They were the only family she had.

Still, it had been a year since she’d seen them, and that somehow made it seem like starting all over again.

“Step inside.” The agent who had come to her apartment indicated a large cylinder in front of them.

She walked into it. A red light came on above her head, and she stood still while the machine scanned her body. When the light turned green, she stepped out of it.

The agent hadn’t followed her through.

“Aren’t you coming?”

He shook his head. “This is the end of the line for me.”

“Security clearance?” she asked.

“Level 4,” he said.

She nodded her understanding.

“They’re waiting for you in the last conference room.” He gestured to a marble hallway to her right.

“Thank you,” she said, lifting her hand in a gesture of goodbye.

She swallowed her nervousness as she made her way down the hall. There were doors on either side, but she had no idea where she was or what took place in this part of the compound. Even as she put a hand on the door knob and pulled, she couldn’t hear a sound from within. The bunkers were always designed to be soundproof.

She stepped inside, coming to a stop when she spotted the two men at the back of the room. The large, imposing one turned, revealing a shaved head and goatee, his flinty eyes meeting hers as the smaller man stood with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Well, well, well,” the big man said said. “Look what the cat dragged in.”

Audrey let out a squeal and flew into the big man’s arms. “Danny? Sam? Is it really you?”

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01/19/13 Shadowguard Series , Sneak Peek Saturday # ,

Sneak Peek Saturday – Temptation’s Fire

So here’s the deal; every Saturday, I’m going to give you guys a sneak peek of something I’m working on. This week, I’m sharing an excerpt from Temptation’s Fire, the third book in the Shadowguard series, slated for release in February.

And to kick it off, I’m sharing the cover, featuring Ivan Montgomery, the third book’s all-too-hot hero.

And if you haven’t checked out the series yet, what are you waiting for?! Temptation’s Heat and Temptation’s Kiss are already out!

Maggie O’ Reilly sat back in her chair, the images on her computer screen blurring as she rubbed her tired eyes. She’d been paging through the digital archives of the Clifton Record for hours.

And that was just today.

Really, she hadn’t stopped looking since Kane Dawson and Ivan Montgomery had given her the photograph last week.

She picked it up from her desk, looking at it for the hundredth time. The man could have been anyone. He was just an average guy, his dark hair a little long and curling around the hood of a sweatshirt that hung out the back of his leather jacket. His eyes were watchful, ironic since he’d obviously missed whoever had been aiming a camera his way as he headed into the old welding shop at the edge of town.

Except Maggie had a feeling he wasn’t just guy. Had a feeling this wasn’t just a story.

She reached up and released her hair from its messy bun. It cascaded around her shoulders in a tangle of copper waves, and she sighed as she put her bare feet up on the desk. This time of night, the office was blissfully quiet, the phones silent, nobody tapping on a keyboard except her.

Plus, she could put her feet up without worrying about that leach, Truman, looking up her skirt.

She looked at the picture again, wondering why the guy looked familiar. Shadowguard Security had run the guy through the criminal databases to no avail. Kane and Ivan had given her the photograph hoping she could tie him to previous story or an undercover source, but so far, she’d turned up nothing.

And the guy in the photograph wasn’t the only thing bothering her. The whole thing felt off, starting with Shadowguard Security itself.

She’d been trying to get into the private firm for almost a year, hoping to crack one of its employees, get a source on the inside. She knew their party line; that they were a security firm specializing in physical and digital security, counter-measures, and surveillance.

But she had a feeling there was more to Shadowguard than met the eye. Whatever they did, it was important enough to keep quiet and lucrative enough to insure Shadowguard headquarters was understatedly posh. Plus, they must be compensating their employees well, because Maggie hadn’t gotten a single one to crack in all the time she’d been trying to get in.

That kind of loyalty was bred only through mutual respect. Or family.

She turned her thoughts to Ivan Montgomery, son of Ambrose Montgomery, head of Shadowguard. She had no explanation for the flutter than started in her stomach at the thought of Ivan. They’d met twice since Maggie began working on the identity of the man in the photograph. The first time, Ivan had dropped off some more pictures. None of them had been very different from the one she had, and she’d found herself wondering if she was imagining the warmth in his eyes, the way he’d looked at her a little longer than necessary.

She’d been surprised a couple of days later when Ashley, the receptionist, told her she had a visitor. She was even more surprised to realize it was Ivan. Maggie had given him a brief update on her progress — very brief, since she hadn’t made any — and he’d asked her out to lunch.

She’d told herself it was business. Ivan was just the ticket she needed into Shadowguard Security. And she needed a ticket. Needed a big story and the promotion and raise that would come with it.

But a funny thing had happened over lunch. She found that she liked Ivan. More than that, she felt something deeper than an attraction to his piercing green eyes, the dirty-blond hair that was long enough to fall over his collar. More even than the muscular chest filling out his t-shirt, the broad shoulders straining the leather jacket.

There was something vulnerable behind his swagger, something gentle in the way he pulled her chair out for her, the careful way he moved around her, like she was a skittish animal that might make a run for it if he made any sudden moves.

They’d talked about work — his and hers, although he was careful not to say anything too revealing — and by the time he’d walked her back to the office, she’d found herself wondering if he would ask her out.

He hadn’t, and she’d had to stifle a pang of disappointment.

She put the photograph on the desk and refocused on the computer. Visiting hours at Clifton Meadows ended at nine. She could work for another two hours and still make it in time.

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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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Acclaim

"This arresting story takes readers to other planes of existence…"
- Booklist (starred review)


“An intense and captivating story…”
- VOYA (starred review)


“A fresh and engaging cast of characters, a page-turning plot and lyrical prose add up to an accomplished feat of storytelling…”
- The Guardian


“A captivating tragedy…"
- Publishers Weekly


“Zink’s methodical unfolding of events will draw readers in…”
- Kirkus


“Tingly suspense is craftily managed…”
- The Bulletin

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