EXPECTED IN EARLY 2020
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 early 2020 **
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 early 2020)
- 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, pushing into the tops of the pines and firs that stood solemn witness to what would soon take place within the long meadow they ringed. Their needled branches were bowed, thick with the cold burden dropped by last night’s late-season storm, and Thia McDaniel felt a sympathetic ache in her shoulders. She knew what it was to carry such a relentless weight, to have more and more piled on until one either bent with it or broke.
She took a slow, difficult breath and stepped from the shelter of trees to move toward the already assembled group at the meadow’s center. She couldn’t yet look at what had been constructed there, the focus of attention within the group’s circle, and so she watched her booted feet as they took her along the candle-lined path. The flames stretched high, reaching for the top of the mason jars that held them, to cast a gentle, almost inappropriately lovely glow into the deepening twilight. There was no wind, no sound other than the soft, frozen crunch of her steps on packed-down snow.
Heavy with sorrow, raw with grief—two commonly used descriptions and for good reason. The aftermath of loss felt exactly so, as if whatever ordinarily existed to buffer the full feeling of the world had been pared away to expose a person to a pressure so immense that simply putting one foot in front of the other felt like an almost impossible slog.
At Thia’s approach, the circle shifted, opening a place for her between Abby and a man she recognized as a security guard from the Landmark. More people were in attendance than she had first thought, but not everyone whom she might have expected.
One in particular, although there was time yet for him to arrive.
Abby held out a mittened hand—a speaking gesture for someone who, as a rule, avoided contact.
“Abby,” Thia said, at a loss as they clasped hands. Instead of the expected withdrawal, her friend kept tight hold, and Thia turned in fresh concern.
Her friend’s eyes—red-rimmed and haunted—were dry, but it was the kind of dryness, Thia knew, that took great effort.
In the meeting of their gazes, shared sorrow reached out, performed a kind of hand-clasp of its own. “Oh, Thia,” Abby said. A kind of plea.
“I know,” Thia said, although she couldn’t. Not really. Abby’s friendship with Kendra had begun long before her own had; its roots extended far deeper.
Because it was time, they turned to face forward, Thia at last looking to the heart of the gathering: the timber and brushwood pyre and what had been laid upon it. Even now, her mind balked, fighting the impossible, the unthinkable reality.
The body had been wrapped in white 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.
Irrational as it was, 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.
The lone occupant of the front corner table, Cormac had the wall at his back and an unobstructed view both of the door and through the windows leading up to it. This was that sort of pub. And, because his was that sort of life, he’d scoped out potential exit routes before he’d first stepped up to the glossy oak of the bar—and then he had used the time waiting while his pint had been pulled 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 acting than of being. An inherently impatient man playing a role.
He allowed himself an inward smile, for technically he played the role of a man too, since his blood and talents also held what he’d inherited from his mother. Man and leanan sidhe, he was. Both and yet neither. He had become adept at all forms of pretense—and at identifying the like in others.
Good thing, considering why he’d come all this way.
Rain had been his welcome and now, a full two hours into his task here in County Kerry, the rain continued to pound. A slow moving system covered the whole of Ireland, with the western coast taking the extremely vicious brunt. To Cormac’s right, the mullioned windows afforded a rain-blurred view of the marina where trawlers of all sizes and conditions crowded together, bobbing wildly on the bay’s dark, choppy water. Even the most intrepid fishermen had been forced ashore, and for which the pub could credit the brisk mid-afternoon business along with the pervading odor.
On a rush of sound, the front door opened, letting in such a force of cold, salty air that empty bags of crisps were blown from the nearest tables. The three large men Cormac had observed on their way from the harbor stomped inside. Water cascaded down their yellow slickers as if they’d come from the sea itself.
They then had to fight the wind to get the door closed behind them. It took all three together and much bickering in profanity-laced Croatian to get the job done. Afterward they laughed, wide smiles splitting the wet shag of their beards. The largest of them took a good-natured punch to the shoulder as they made their way past overfilled tables to the bar. The noise level, having dropped when wary interest shifted to their entrance, rose again.
The tension level stayed high as ever.
With deliberate unconcern, Cormac returned his outward gaze to the folded newspaper on his table to pen an answer into the crossword. He kept his inward gaze—his Sight—directed at his surroundings. It was, as he’d said, that kind of place.
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 pubs 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. Since the European economy had tanked and the future proved to be inescapably volatile for north Atlantic fisheries, the ranks of the have-ship-what-do-you-need had swelled exponentially.
Next in number were the thrill seekers, the ones who thrived on a bit of danger. Maybe they’d started out with good intentions, maybe they’d had a 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 well how potent a drug danger could be. Hadn’t he been on it all his Otherworldly-long life? He had been brought up to be of use to his father and much of that had involved “acquisitions.” Objects, information—people on rare occasion—and all of it by whatever means necessary. And so Cormac had spent the greater part of his years being a thief and confidence artist, in and out of some level of danger on a regular basis.
It was who and what he was.
He had, in the shock of Idris Cathmor’s death and all that had come before and after, lost sight of that. He was back in it now, and it felt like slipping back into a favorite coat after a long, bewildering summer.
The third type, present here as surely as one or two of their number had been present in the places he’d visited up and down the seacoast, were not like him. They were worse.
Cormac lifted the pint glass to his lips, used a long draught as an opportunity to let his gaze move across the room. The local stout—this was his third—was surprisingly pleasant. Smooth with a complex, sweet finish.
The back of his neck prickled. Idly, he set down the glass, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand as he angled his head to meet the dark-eyed stare of the bartender. The burly man tipped his chin, wiped hands the size of hams on the apron tied around his barrel of a middle before he turned away to pull more ales for the Croatians at the bar.
As he did so, he looked—and made another, more subtle tip of his chin—to another dark-eyed watcher across the room and seated much as Cormac was: back to the wall; half-finished glass and newspaper taking up the small table before him.
The prickle at Cormac’s neck became a tingle. Full alert. He eased his grip on his glass and, with deceptive calm, took up his pen to resume working the crossword. Out of the top corner of his eye, he watched the man across the room pull out a mobile phone. One touch of the screen and a call was placed.
It didn’t last long. A few short 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.
Since Cormac wasn’t using a glamour or other means of disguise, he looked entirely like himself. Brown, short-cropped hair (a bit scruffier than usual, thanks to the storm); moderate height with a trim build; balanced facial features, although his nose often proved too prominent in a fight. Ordinary, he would’ve said, even if experience assured that he was handsome enough. But once his identity was known, than 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 the irises, 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 of the third type, but not the one Cormac had come to see.
That one was stepping out of the sleek luxury sedan that had just pulled to a halt in the street outside, as framed by the pub’s front window.
The arrival did not go unnoticed. Talk dropped to a low, nervous hush or ceased altogether. No one looked directly at the door, but everyone waited for it to open.
And open it did, easily despite the storm, and was just as easily closed. The diminutive man that it had admitted wore no raincoat but he hadn’t needed one; his green pinstriped suit was not in the least bit wet.
There was no question of his identity, either, not with that curly red hair and the gold buckles on his heeled, green leather shoes. 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 man made his leisurely, short-stepped way to the bar. Arriving, he greeted the bartender with a simple, “Rory.”
The high pitch of his voice suited his small stature—five feet at the most—but was disconcerting nevertheless, given the amount of power he carried.
“O’Shannon,” the bartender returned, and from a high 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 man—O’Shannon—grabbed both and with a quick pivot, headed directly for Cormac. The gold of multiple rings glinted on his plump, blunt-tipped fingers. 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 Cormac felt a chill race down his spine.
© R. A. Finley — All Rights Reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced or used without permission.