EXPECTED IN 2023
Weeks after its Main Street was damaged in a failed revenge attempt, the town of Granite Springs is in the midst of reconstruction—and some of its citizens are taking advantage: Some to expand their own holdings; others to exert their influence on the very nature of the town itself.
Thia McDaniel, the target of that attempted revenge, is looking forward to getting her life back on track, or at least moving forward on whatever track is now available. She’s learning how to use, if not quite control, the mysterious powers she has inherited. Her newfound friends are giving her a crash course in magic and self-defense. And, while she might not know where she stands with Cormac (who does?) or what to do about the Brigantium’s offer to join their secret ranks, her new life has finally taken on a comfortable rhythm.
She has no idea how drastically that is about to change.
Where to Buy
**Not yet. Expected in 2023 **
Since this will be set up as a “Print on Demand” book, the chances of it being found in a physical store will be slim to none—but your local store should be able to order it for you, either through their usual supply system or (if they are an independent retailer) through IndieBound.
**Links will be provided when the book has made its way along the chain of distribution (expected in 2021)
- Barnes and Noble
- Espresso Book Machine (watch it being printed in-store!)
- Barnes and Noble (NOOK)
- Amazon (Kindle)
Dense cloud, heavy with the threat of more snow, hung low overhead, misting into the tops of the pines and firs that stood solemn witness around the long meadow. Their needled branches bowed, already burdened by the late season storm. Thia felt a sympathetic ache in her shoulders. She knew what it meant to carry such a cold, relentless weight, to have more and more piled on until one either bent with it or broke.
Taking a slow, difficult breath, she stepped from the shelter of trees to move toward the group assembled in the meadow’s center. She could not yet look at what had been constructed there at the heart of the group’s circle, so she kept her eyes downcast, watching her booted feet take her down the path. Mason jars had been placed along both sides. Flames of the candles within them danced, reflecting on the clear glass and sparkling on snow. There was no wind, no sound other than the soft, frozen crunch of Thia’s steps.
Heavy with sorrow, raw with grief. Descriptions commonly used for a reason. To her, that’s how the aftermath of loss felt, as if whatever ordinarily protected her from the full impact of the world—of human experience, of the fragile beauty of life—had been torn away. It left her exposed to a pressure so immense that simply putting one foot in front of the other felt like an almost impossible slog.
At her approach, the circle shifted, opening a place between Abby and a man Thia recognized as a security guard from the Landmark Hotel. More people were in attendance than she had thought at first glance, yet not everyone whom she might have expected.
One in particular, but it wasn’t too late.
Without looking away from the center of the circle, Abby reached out her hand. Mittened though it was, this was still a speaking gesture for someone who, as a rule, avoided contact.
Thia clasped it. Instead of the withdrawal she had expected, her friend kept hold. At a loss for words, she gave a gentle tug.
Abby looked over. Her eyes, red-rimmed and haunted, were dry. That kind of dryness took effort. Thia knew it well.
Shared sorrow reached out, performed a kind of hand-clasp of its own.
“This is so hard,” Abby said. A kind of plea, although there was nothing anyone could do.
“It is,” Thia said, but could only imagine how much worse it was for Abby, whose friendship with Kendra had begun long before her own. Its roots extended far deeper.
Because it was time, they turned to face forward, into the circle. Thia could no longer avoid what had brought her here. What had brought them all here: The timber and brushwood pyre and what had been laid upon it. Even now, confronted with the reality of it, her mind balked. This was impossible. Unacceptable. Yet it was undeniable.
The body had been wrapped in undyed silk and laid upon cedar branches. Thia’s gaze went unerringly to the top, where the familiar face would be…but nothing was visible beneath the shroud.
She knew it was irrational, but she couldn’t help worrying that not enough air could pass through the cloth, or that the artfully bound strips were too tight. Stifling. Restrictive. But of course none of that mattered.
What lay there so impossibly still did not breathe, did not feel. It was merely what remained.
As the lone occupant of the front corner table, Cormac had a wall at his back and unobstructed views of the door and, through the windows, the street outside. This was that sort of pub. And because his was that sort of life, he had scoped out potential exit routes before he had first stepped up to the glossy oak of the bar—and had used the time waiting for his pint to assess them in terms of convenience and likelihood of success. Ranked thusly, they sat in the back of his mind much in the way he sat now, waiting for the action to start.
Patience had been a hard lesson of his youth. Well over two centuries later, it remained more a matter of choice than of inclination. An inherently impatient man playing a role.
He allowed himself an inward smile; technically he played the role of a man too, since his blood and talents contained an inheritance from his mother. Man and leanan sidhe, he was. Both yet neither. He had become adept at pretense—and at identifying the like in others.
Good thing, considering why he had come all this way.
Rain had been his welcome to County Kerry. Three hours into his task, it continued to batter the region. A slow moving system covered the whole of Ireland, with the western coast taking the vicious brunt.
Across the street and car park to Cormac’s distant right, the harbor was crowded with trawlers of all sizes and conditions, all bobbing wildly on the bay’s dark, choppy water. Even the most intrepid fishermen had been forced ashore, for which the pub could credit the brisk mid-afternoon business along with the pervading odor.
The front door opened on a rush of sound, letting in such a force of cold, briney air that empty packets of crisps blew off the nearest tables. Three more fishermen stomped inside. Large ones. Water cascaded down their yellow slickers as if they had come from the sea itself.
They fought the wind to get the door closed again. It took all of them together and much profane bickering in Croatian. Afterwards they laughed, wide smiles splitting the wet shag of their beards. The brawniest took a good-natured punch to the shoulder before they began wending their way between overfilled tables to the bar. The noise level, having dropped when wary interest shifted to their arrival, rose again.
The tension level stayed high as ever.
With deliberate unconcern, Cormac returned his outward gaze to the newspaper on his table and penned an answer to the crossword. His inward gaze—his Sight—stayed directed at his surroundings. It was, as he’d said, that kind of pub.
Where the winter storm took away opportunity in the form of fishing, it put in place another that was potentially more lucrative: Smuggling.
He’d spent countless hours in places nearly identical to this. He knew there were three types of players present. The first and largest in number were fishermen who could be had if the money was right—and it almost always was. With the future proving to be inescapably volatile for north Atlantic fisheries and Brexit looking to be an unmitigated disaster, the ranks of the have-ship-what-do-you-need had swelled exponentially.
Next in number were thrill seekers. Those who thrived on a bit of danger. Maybe they’d started out with good intentions; maybe they’d had a criminal record already and couldn’t find more legally acceptable work. Maybe they’d learned the trade when The Troubles were at their peak and this was how they kept their glory days alive.
Cormac knew how potent a drug danger could be. Hadn’t he been on it all his Otherworldly-long life? His father had brought him up to be of use, and much of that had involved “acquisitions.” Objects, information—people, on occasion—and all of it by any means necessary. Thus Cormac had spent the greater part of his years being both thief and confidence artist, in and out of some level of danger on the regular.
It was who and what he was.
He had, in the shock of his father’s death and all that had come after, lost sight of that. He was returned to it now, like slipping back into a favorite autumn coat after a long, bewildering summer.
The third type, present here as surely as one or two of their ilk had been present in places he’d visited up and down the seacoast this week, were not like him. They were worse.
He lifted the pint glass to his lips, used a long draught as an opportunity to scan the room. The local stout—this was his third—was surprisingly pleasant. Smooth with a complex finish.
The back of his neck prickled.
Idly, he set down the glass and, angling his head, met the dark-eyed stare of the bartender. The burly man merely wiped hands the size of hams on the apron tied around his barrel of a middle and turned away to pull more ales for the Croatians at the bar. But Cormac didn’t miss the look—and subtle tip of the chin—the man gave to another dark-eyed watcher across the room. This one was seated much as Cormac was: back to the wall; half-finished glass and newspaper set on the small table before him.
The prickling of Cormac’s neck became a buzz. Full alert. He eased his grip on his glass and, with deceptive calm, took up his pen to resume working the crossword. The man across the room took out a mobile phone. One touch of the screen and a call was placed.
It didn’t last long. A few words said with lips too immobile to be read. Another touch of the screen, and the phone was set down beside the folded paper. The bulge there could have been anything: a pack of cigarettes; a weapon.
Because Cormac was not using a glamour or other means of disguise, he looked entirely like himself. Dark brown, short cropped hair (scruffier than usual, from the storm); moderate height with a trim, lightly athletic build; balanced and rather innocuous facial features, although his nose often proved too prominent in a fight. Ordinary, he thought, even if experience assured him he was handsome enough. But once his identity became known, so was his reputation.
Not at all ordinary, that.
He had no doubt that he had been identified. He lifted his head, met the other man’s stare full on. Amber flickered in it, a show of power too quick to be a warning. More like an acknowledgement. Cormac didn’t bother with a show of his own. The man was a gatekeeper only. Outside, as framed by the front window, a sleek luxury sedan pulled to a halt.
The arrival did not go unnoticed throughout the pub. Talk dropped to a low, nervous hush or ceased altogether. No one looked directly at the door, yet they all waited for it to open.
And open it did, easily despite the storm, and was just as easily closed. The small man it had admitted wore no raincoat but he hadn’t needed one; his green pinstriped suit was not the least bit wet.
His diminutive stature and bright red hair in combination with the large gold buckles on his heeled, green leather shoes left no question as to his identity. More gold gleamed on the buttons of his suit coat and, given how it acted in the light, in the fabric itself.
Cormac felt a spike of adrenaline. He’d expected someone higher up would be called, but not this high.
The room was stillness itself while The O’Shannon made his leisurely, short-stepped way to the bar. When there, he greeted the bartender with a simple, “Rory.” His voice’s treble pitch fit his size—five feet at the most—but was discordant nevertheless given the amount of power he carried.
“O’Shannon,” the bartender returned, and from a little shelf behind him, took down a bottle of whiskey and a cut crystal tumbler. He set them on the bar, pushed them to the front edge. The O’Shannon took both—the gold of multiple rings glinting on his blunt-tipped fingers—and with a quick pivot, headed directly for Cormac.
Bright green eyes sparkled beneath bushy, ginger brows as, above the Donegal-style beard, a smile began to creep its way into being.
“My, my,” came that high, sing-song voice, and a chill raced down Cormac’s spine.
© R. A. Finley — All Rights Reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced or used without permission.