Here we are, a sneak peek at The Duality Paradigm‘s sequel. Here is the first chapter of The Convergence Theory!
Full story available on Amazon!
A wizard is a self-contained unit. These pagans will try to fill your head full of balance and nature and threads. They’ll try to tie you down with their tree-hugging morality. Don’t let them. Your magic is here, between your eyes, and in the strength in your hands and under your tongue. It is inside you, not in anyone else.
~ Alexandre Pelletier to his son Ethan, age 5
Branches snapped, bones crunched and then were ground underfoot. Blood, which is a very precise science, sprayed out like water from a garden hose. And it was difficult to tell, as the mud churned beneath their feet, where one furry body turned into another. Where he should grip and aim and kill. He was terrified to get it wrong.
Panic: a helium-filled balloon that rose up in his throat and choked him.
Yelps, barks, and snarls rang out but he was frozen in indecision.
Power surged through him and fizzled when he cut it off, held it back. He screamed in his head at his own indecision, but he didn’t act.
He didn’t act.
And the wolf’s back broke.
But that’s not how it happened.
The phone calls started in May.
Ethan startled and he came back to the present, seated at his desk, tucked away in the darkest corner of the warren. There were low bookcases around him stacked with reference texts and filing cabinets full of old reports no one had ever bothered to digitize. They created a physical barrier between him and every other detective and officer on the ground floor. Insulation between the norms and the magical freak.
“Dispatch has been trying to get a hold of you—did you turn off your phone?” the desk sergeant glared at him over his wireframe glasses and shoved a handwritten memo in Ethan’s face. He took it gingerly.
“What? No.” But when he checked his pocket, his cell was dead. He ignored the officer’s annoyed snort and everything else until he was alone again. The memo, plain yellow paper and crumpled, had an address, an illegible phone number and a single line of text:
Basically, fuck all to go on.
He squinted but the phone number was a lost cause. So Ethan grabbed his gun and his badge out of his desk and locked everything up.
Officer Rosse was at her desk eating lunch. She wouldn’t be happy if he interrupted, but his phone was dead and he didn’t have a computer. Ethan pasted a smile onto his mouth.
“Irene? Could you Google this for me?” he held out the memo.
Irene Rosse slurped her disgusting staff room drip coffee and ignored him.
“Please,” he tried.
She snapped the paper out of his hands.
“Step back before you short circuit something.”
So he stepped back and waited while she poked at her keyboard and scratched out a couple directions on the back of the memo.
He took her advice.
Outside, Seattle gleamed grey and green under an unseasonably warm sun. His Audi twinkled like a star next to the fleet of mundane sedans and Crown Vics in the employee parking lot. A hundred feet away, a vintage Camaro sat with its top off. Ethan could almost feel the heat from the leather and chrome interior, the way it would burn to the touch. The way it would burn him if he got too close.
At 11 AM it took him less than a quarter of an hour to drive over to Seward Park. The complaint had been called in from a two-story house on the corner. The architecture suggested it had been built in the fifties, wood siding and square shaped with a huge yard and overgrown trees.
Ethan parked on the curb and got out of his vehicle. The property sat at the corner junction of two otherwise quiet streets. He made a cursory glance around, but there was no sign of anyone and only the distant roar of a passing car.
As he walked up the drive, the front door swung open and an elderly gentleman stepped out in suit pants and a dark blue dressing gown.
“Well? Who are you?” the man demanded.
Ethan pulled his badge out of his suit jacket and held it aloft. The standard SPD shield, with a ribbon of blue hammered into the raised border to denote his magical status, glinted in the bright sunlight.
“Detective Ethan Ellison. What seems to be the problem, Mr—?”
The old man grabbed his wrist to hold the badge steady and studied it for a long minute.
“Detective, huh?” He let go and gestured Ethan inside the house.
It was cool and dark with an open floor plan. From the front door they walked down a very short hallway into the living room. The patio door was open to let in fresh air, and in the kitchen a fan had been put in the window above the sink. There were plants growing out of pots in stands and on the wood floors along the window sills. It was like stepping into a suburban jungle.
“Detective—that’s good, good. Only took four tries to get you,” the older man said this like an accusation.
“I’m sorry, Mr—?” Ethan said.
“Jansson. Erik Jansson.” Jansson shoved his hands into the pockets of his robe and hummed to himself, looking around the living room. There was a watering can left abandoned on the hard wood chow table in front of the sofa.
Ethan waited for him to go on, to explain why exactly he’d called the police department four times to get someone out here. Nothing looked broken, and there were no fires or neighbors screaming. In fact, the house was quiet except for birds cheeping in the backyard.
He smoothed a hand across the bulge where he wore his badge clipped to his hip and adjusted the fall of his grey linen suit over his shoulder holster. He only just restrained from fiddling with his tie, a nervous habit he couldn’t remember picking up.
Jansson huffed and and threw up one of his hands. Walked past Ethan into the kitchen and started banging around with a blue enamel kettle.
“No, thank you.”
The old man gave him a long look over his shoulder.
“You don’t drink tea?”
“Then I’ll make tea.” He slammed the kettle down on the stove and turned on the gas flame. Ethan could feel it when the match lit, struck a fire and burned. All the fine hairs on his arm stood on end and he shivered. Jansson stared at his reaction.
“Of course,” he gestured at Ethan’s person with a knobby finger, “magician.” He took down a pristine white teapot, the fat round belly painted with a thick blue stripe around the middle, and matching teacups. A metal bell and a tin of actual loose leaf tea. Then a creamer out of the fridge and a bowl of sugar out of another cabinet.
Ethan watched the man’s sure hands as he did all of this. Real tea was a comfort he didn’t have at home. No time, between running around on calls and filing paper through his typewriter at work.
He didn’t like to admit it, even to himself, but Ethan had been avoiding his apartment the last week or two. It was still a mess from being ransacked by his ex and too quiet on top of that.He could still smell Christophe’s cigarette smoke in the kitchen and it made his stomach churn. The door on his bedroom had been closed since their last altercation, and he hadn’t worked up the nerve to crack that seal yet.
So he spent long hours at his desk at the South Seattle Precinct and only went home long enough to catch a couple hours of sleep on his couch, change his clothes and go back in to work.
It wasn’t healthy, but he was coping with the betrayal. And sometimes that’s the best you could manage in the moment.
Then Jansson shoved a warm cup into his hands and nudged the cream and sugar across the counter to him.
“A distracted Detective, wonderful.” He sipped his own cup, full to the brim with white, milky tea and handed Ethan a spoon for the sugar.
“Thanks. Sorry.” When his cup was sweet and creamy he took a sip and sighed. He could feel Jansson watching him with the man’s sharp grey eyes and maybe he’d feel embarrassed by his obvious pleasure later.
“Do not apologize. You looked like you needed that, yes?”
“Definitely.” Ethan set his cup back in its saucer and pulled the memo out of his back pocket. “Care to elaborate?”
Jansson ran his finger over the wrinkled slip of paper, tapped it against the tiled countertop and hummed to himself again.
“It’s kids,” he said. Left his tea there and walked across the room to the sliding door. “Come.”
Ethan gulped down half of his cup and jogged after the older man. Outside, the yard had a perfectly trimmed trail, lined with trees and shrubs on either side, flowering beds, and neatly groomed grassy knolls. Birds flitted through the arching branches. A red-breasted robin splashed in a mossy birdbath; it took to the air at their approach.
Jansson lead him to the back edge of the property where there was a wood-slatted fence, seven feet tall and overgrown with shrub and ivy.
He shook his head.
Jansson huffed, kneeled and bent the plants back away from the fence.
“See?” he demanded.
Mindful of his suit, Ethan squatted down. A couple of slats along the very bottom of the fence were cracked and forced inwards.
Ethan made to run his hand over the damage when a spark skittered across his skin. He jerked back and to his feet. It wouldn’t help if he set the man’s entire backyard on fire with a bit of stray magic.
“Christ,” Jansson muttered and watched him, laid the ivy back over the wood and dusted off his knees. “Four phone calls and this is all I get.” He stomped back into the house.
Ethan could feel the blush in his cheeks and hated it. He was twelve years old again, scolded and left with his shame. He curled his hands in his pockets and waited until he didn’t feel like he’d shake apart from a stiff gust of wind. Then he followed Jansson.
The tea things had been cleaned up and put out of sight.
There was no answer, so Ethan took a casual inventory of the house. Did a walk through, but everything was neat and looked in its proper place. He found the old man in a study down a side hall. Instead of plants there were bookcases from floor to ceiling and a ponderous oak desk under the window.
“Get out, Detective.”
“I need to get an actual statement before I leave. So I can look—”
“I said, get out. Nothing you can do.” And he never looked up, just spit out the dismissal and stuck his nose in a cloth-bound book, hands splayed across the cracked spine to keep the pages from falling out.
Ethan hesitated. He set one of his business cards down on the edge of the desk.
“If anything else happens, don’t hesitate to call.”
Patrick Clanahan dared anyone to call him Homicide’s “pet wolf.” It didn’t look like this particular asshole had gotten the message.
“Well?” Lieutenant Danvers demanded and waved the evidence bag under Pat’s nose. “Can you smell anything?”
Pat dug his fingers into his jeans and held back from snarling in the man’s face.
Danvers frowned and shook the baggie like—Pat didn’t know what the guy was trying to accomplish, actually. It wasn’t enticing though.
“Do I look like a forensics lab to you?” he asked between gritted teeth.
“Whatever,” Danvers huffed. Pat’s werewolf hearing could pick up every word as the other man stalked away, muttering about useless stuck-up animals.
“You look like someone pissed in your coffee.”
Pat uncurled his hands and made his body relax. His new partner, Detective Sabira Mallory, recently promoted to Homicide after a two-year stint in Patrol, arched a dark, manicured brow at him.
“Yes, it was supposed to be,” she said and flicked her hair, plaited into a smooth braid, over her shoulder and looked after Danvers’s retreating back. “Trouble?”
“If you say so.” She sat down at her desk, flush and mirror-opposite his own on the Major Crimes floor. She pulled up the corner of her draped sweater jacket and swiped it cursorily across her computer monitor. Pat still wasn’t sure if the action was more ritual than practical or if Mallory just had a vendetta against fingerprints. Probably a combination of both.
“We have a case.”
“No,” he said.
“I wasn’t asking, was telling. Jonathan in Dispatch said he sent something down for us.”
Pat scrubbed his hair back out of his eyes and sighed.
“Well, I don’t have—”
Mallory plucked a handful of messages out of his in-tray without asking permission and held one up. She didn’t smile with her mouth but he could hear the hitch in her heartbeat that gave away her amusement.
“Not very exciting,” she mused. “Grave desecrations at Saint Mark’s diocese. Actually, let me rephrase that, single grave desecration.”
“Give it to me.”
She let him snap the post-it out of her hands, but there wasn’t anything else to learn from it except an address for the rectory.
“Should we go? Not so glamorous as you’re used to, maybe, but it might be nice to get out of here.” She cast a quick eye across the bustling squad room. “—for an hour or two.”
“What’s wrong with here?” He knew he sounded petulant but he’d found Mallory almost impossible to provoke since they started working together.
Now she just looked at him with a blank face and waited.
“I’m not everyone’s sniffer—I’m not a dog.”
“Okay,” she said.
Fed up with himself, Pat holstered his gun and badge and grabbed his keys.
Mallory followed on his heels.
As they drove northeast to the diocese, Pat tried to shake his irritable mood and relax. Mallory had been nothing but professional and he didn’t need to take out his issues on her. He put Danvers out of his mind and told himself there was nothing else to be upset over.
May had been quiet in Major Crimes. The lull before the summer storm no doubt. Hot weather always brought with it an uptick in violent crime.
Saint Mark’s chapel was tiny and on the very edge of their jurisdiction. Pat parked the Camaro in the gravel parking lot in front of the white–washed building. A man in dog collar came around the side to greet them.
“Jim Galloway, I’m the local vicar. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” He shook their hands and led them away from the main building. “Our cemetery here is small and dates back to the turn of the last century. No one new has been buried though in over fifty years. We just try to keep it maintained as a kind of historical preservation.”
About a half mile away from the chapel a low stone wall marked the western edge of the cemetery. The vicar led them through a gate and over a low hill. Like he’d said, the lawn was green and clipped. The headstones were old and worn but clean from regular care. There was a small mausoleum at roughly the center of the graves. They stopped two rows over from it.
Here Pat could see the signs of digging and feet trampling the grass. A small rose bush had been uprooted and as they got closer he realized that one of the graves had been opened up. The hole wasn’t very large, maybe a foot and a half across, but it went all the way down to the coffin below.
“One of the deacons who does the mowing discovered it this morning.”
“Any others like this?” Mallory asked.
Galloway shook his head no.
Pat knelt and peered into the hole; he dilated his pupils so he could see to the bottom. The foot of the coffin had been caved in. He couldn’t fit his shoulders into the space but when he lay down on his stomach and stuck his arm down, he could just feel the edges of the broken wood. They were ragged and crunched, like they’d been subjected to a blunt force.
He knocked dirt off his clothes and prowled around the edges of the grave while Mallory and Galloway watched him.
“We’ll want to exhume the site, to better assess the damage. See if anything was taken,” Mallory said.
“Of course.” Galloway straightened his collar and leaned in closer to her. “What’s he doing?”
“His job.” She pulled a business card out of her wallet and handed it to him. “If anything comes up, call. We’ll take it from here.” And turned her back on the vicar.
Pat circled back to her. Mallory was texting someone on her cell and she didn’t look up until he cleared his throat.
“Forensics.” She gestured with her phone. “Unless you want to dig it up ourselves.”
“God, no,” he said.
“Think it was a robbery?”
“Maybe. Hard to get anything out that way though.” He nudged the edge of the hole and watched sod and dirt come loose and fall away.
Mallory stood next to him so that they were shoulder–to–shoulder staring into the dark.
“I’ll go get the tape,” she said.
When he couldn’t stand the sight of his desk anymore, Ethan packed it in. He stopped at a Chinese place around the corner, bought a couple dozen pot stickers and foam containers full of hot and sour soup. Comfort food. He took all of it over to The Three Sisters’ Magic Shoppe where Lailana answered his insistent knocking, slid the deadbolt back behind him and breathed in the sweet and salty foods smells with a smile on her face.
“Sweet boy,” she murmured and ran a cool hand across the back of his neck. “I’ll get a bottle of wine. White?”
He set out the cartons of food on the counter next to the register. There were a couple of stools there and a roll of paper towels under the shelf, good enough for napkins.
“I like heartbreak on you.” Lailana’s youngest sister Edie climbed down from the overhead loft, where they kept their extensive collection of magic books, originals and reprints. She smiled at him and took one of the bowls of soup. She opened the cash drawer and pulled out three white porcelain spoons shaped like little ladles.
“Thanks.” He traded her a pack of chopsticks for a spoon.
Lailana came back out with a bottle of wine under each arm, a handful of glasses and a corkscrew. Edie dished up food for herself and her sister while Lailana poured them all drinks.
“I’m not heartbroken,” he said, too late. Edie smirked at him and slurped her soup. He buried his face in his glass of wine to get away from their knowing looks. He wasn’t. Lailana raised his chin and popped a warm dumpling into his mouth.
“Of course not.”
“Christophe was an asshole ten years ago and he’s a traitorous one now.”
Lailana frowned and exchanged a quick look with her sister who sniffed and slurped, and then stole Ethan’s wine rather than drink her own.
“Who said anything about that wanker?” the older sister said.
“Please,” Edie cut him off. “No one is talking about Chris-who?”
Lailana ran both her hands down his shoulders and squeezed.
“You’re my…well, not my best customer.” She laughed. “But you’re my friend, Ethan. You’re not going to fool us with any Christophe nonsense.”
“Not that that Detective Clanahan was any better. What a prick.”
Ethan laughed and spilled soup on the counter which made him laugh harder.
“You’re such a mess.” Edie grinned and unrolled the paper towels and patted him dry.
“He really was, wasn’t he? A prick. I mean, you don’t really know how big of one.”
“You don’t say.”
“I didn’t mean—well, actually, that too.”
“I cannot believe he fucked you. Such an odd wolf—”
Lailana choked on a pot sticker and glared at her sister. Edie pursed her lips and shot a look at Ethan from the corner of her eye.
“It’s not that odd,” he said. But neither of the witches looked like they agreed. “What?”
Lailana shrugged, set her elbow on the counter top and considered him.
“It’s a little odd,” she said. “I never knew a wolf interested in casual sex. They aren’t built for it.”
“Sounds like this one was more than built for it.”
“Really?” Lailana judged her sister with a look. It washed off Edie like water over a duck’s back.
Ethan stole his glass back and filled it up, drank deep of the pinot gris and let their familiar banter wash over him. He tried not to dwell on Patrick Clanahan: werewolf, homicide detective, six feet of supernatural muscle, dark hair and grace. They’d been temporarily assigned to the same case together back in April and yes, Ethan had totally hit that. Just the memory of Clanahan’s cock was enough to get him going, sitting here in the evening shop lights.
He jerked when Edie slid her tiny, slippered foot between his knees.
“You were saying?”
“About not being heartbroken?”
He grabbed her foot and held it stationary against his thigh.
“That’s not my heart.”
Edie’s small red mouth curled up at the edges, her eyes squeezed into calculating slits.
He squeezed her foot and went back to eating.
“No.” And he didn’t know why she looked so pleased by his answer. He let her tap the toes of her feet against him and listened to Lailana complain about their amphibian parts supplier until the lanterns in the shop glowed gold in the dark and they kicked him out.
At the door, Edie touched the dip at the base of his throat, where he’d loosened his tie. Trailed her fingers down the soft silk and said,
“Lies are interesting. Like seeds, give them a little soil and they’ll germinate.”
She patted his chest and straightened his hem and shooed him off the threshold. The lock in the door echoed on the quiet street.