She hid the letter in her thick sock and through the evening, when she moved her leg, the paper’s edge would scratch her leg. Annie hadn’t shared what she discovered with Cham yet, there were still too many questions. In her silence, he knew something was bothering her; it made him overly attentive, and patient as he held up the conversation, and in that, she felt guilty and anxious. All Annie wanted to do was pull out the folder and dig into its secrets.
Even her exhaustion couldn’t contain her thoughts and let her sleep. She sat on the window seat beside the bed and watched the moon travel across the sky. It didn’t calm her or help her quiet the thoughts; instead she broke down and snuck through the dark house retrieving the folder from her locked cabinet. She held her breath; it burned in her lungs as she opened the folder. Well organized, the folder was broken into sections, separated by a sheet of colored construction paper. Each section contained a different aspect of the case; a stack of photos in one section, case notes in another. She slowly let out the air from her lungs and took a deep breath as she peered into one more section. Stapled to the folder was a plastic bag containing a small cassette tape.
What the hell?
She forced herself to breathe, in and out, in and out as she unclipped the binder clip that held a large stack of photos together. Her jaw dropped violently, her heart hammered; the pictures slipped to the table.
“No. No. No. That…” her voice cracked.
“Annie what’s wrong?” she had been so lost in the first picture, she hadn’t heard Cham entered the kitchen.
“It can’t be,” she murmured.
“Annie?” she hadn’t acknowledged him; he sat beside her and grabbed the first picture. His jaw went slack. “This is… ”
What did Annie find in her father's last case file? Read the Wizard Hall Chronicles on Amazon today.Continue reading
Since returning from France, Annie couldn’t help but think if Sturtagaard hadn’t let her know that Amelie was a vampire, she would have spent the week deliriously recovering from her recent injuries, watching television, baking, or enjoying some other mindless activity rather than chasing and killing the vampire. She shuddered at the thought.
She had little time in France to dwell on the loss of the black market or of its connection to her father’s eight-year-old murder investigation. But in the end, the journey across Europe left her exhausted. She moved the heating pad to a new location and snuggled in to the corner of her sectional sofa, wrapping herself in a thick, warm blanket. It didn’t take long for sleep to overtake her; leaving her blissfully unaware for the entire afternoon.
When she woke, she was enveloped in Cham’s arms as he himself slept soundly. Wide awake, Annie grimaced.
Of course, and I’m not anymore.
Annie slid out of his embrace, pulled the blanket to his chin and left him sleeping in the corner. The house was dark, she switched on the kitchen light blinding her momentarily. When she gained her bearings she was immediately drawn to the dusty box that had been sitting on her kitchen table since before she left for France. After searching her house and garage, she finally found the box in the crawl space in the basement, where her father hid it eight years prior. But the newspaper from Sturtagaard, letting her know Princess Amelie was still alive and living as a vampire, put the box on hold; and though Cham was curious, he left the box alone. Now feeling better and rested, her curiosity was overwhelming.
Maybe it’s nothing.
Annie was fairly certain it would be his missing case file for the case he was investigating when he died. She sighed, glanced at a sleeping Cham; his chest rose and fell peacefully.
She lifted the lid and peered inside where she found a case file, and pulled it from the box. His handwriting was slanted and square, scrawled across the spaces for Guard Name, case name and number. She could still feel the grooves of the ink as he pressed the pen into the folder. Her stomach roiled with relief and uncertainty.
Is this still important?
With a tentative sigh, Annie opened the folder that had been partitioned into several sections; the first item she saw was a note addressed to her in the same familiar writing.
“What the hell?” she asked no one as she unclipped a note.
My dearest Annie,
If you are reading this, I am dead. And as I write this, that realization hits me hard with the things I will miss or have already missed. For that, my angel, I am so very sorry.
But sometimes as a wizard guard, there are cases so challenging that you are forced to do things that you otherwise would not do. Sometimes the rules can no longer apply. There is too much at stake to risk our way of life and the lives of our family.
I have to make a choice. I have to choose being with you and Samantha for as long as I can, or I can save the world from ourselves. It’s a choice that I deeply regret that I have to make. Sometimes our choices lead us to this very place and time.
I came across Wolfgange Rathbone in the course of this case. The Chintamani Stones that once belonged to King Solomon have been stolen and are sold in the Black Market. They are a danger to our people, and to the nonmagicals that we share this world with.
So sorry my love, but they asked me to stop. They asked me to hand over the stones that I was able to retrieve. They belonged to the Wizard Guard, to the Wizard Council but I did as they requested because they threatened my child. They threatened you, Annie.
My dear, sweet Annie. It wasn’t the first time that your very existence has been threatened. I regret that I will not physically be there for you at any time to protect you. But there is a reason why I so diligently trained you, my dear. Because there will be a time in your future when you need to know what to do, how to keep yourself alive. I gave you all that I could in the short time that I had with you.
I promise you, Annie, that I gave them back all of the stones I had in my possession. But when you deal with secret societies such as the Fraternitatem of Solomon, which hide themselves away and don’t participate in the world as it is, you find that you can’t trust them. They are paranoid, distrustful, and have many secrets I wish I could have shared with you.
They had Rathbone in their employ, and it’s him I fear the most. Not because I can’t defend myself against his weaknesses, but because I have you in my head, and your safety blinds me. I will die before I let them get to you. Because there is a prophecy my love. You are at the center, and I will do whatever I can in life and death to ensure that the prophecy doesn’t come true.
This might seem to be the ramblings of a man who knows his death is eminent, but I assure you this is real. If I am dead, it was at the hands of Rathbone on the orders of the Fraternitatem of Solomon. They will still be after the stones that I promise I no longer have.
Please believe me that I will do everything in my power to keep myself safe, to keep my friends and my children away from this difficult case. I do this for all of you because it was I who dug myself into this mess.
You deserved so much better than what I gave you. I wish that I could have raised you more like I did Samantha, but I couldn’t. I had to protect you.
Rathbone knows this prophecy, and he is using it against me to get what he wants. Be wary of him.
I didn’t die in vain. I died to protect you and the powers you will someday have.
You are so very special, my love, so strong, so beautiful. I wish you happiness, security, and safety. May you remember all that I taught you. Be safe, my darling. I love you always.
Shaking, Annie placed the folder inside her blood-lock cabinet and slammed the door shut. As she reread the letter from her father, she slid herself to the floor, lowered her head, and cried. Read The Wizard Hall Chronicles on Amazon.com.Continue reading
I'm very proud to announce my third book in The Wizard Hall Chronicles series, Wizard War.
After spending the last year deep in edits, working with beta readers, and sending out books to ARC readers, I'm so excited to share this new adventure with Annie Pearce, Cham Chamsky and the rest of the Wizard Guards as they traipse through Europe in search of a vampire on a murderous streak.
Eight months ago, Annie Pearce, closed the murder investigation of Princess Amelie of Amborix and put her killer in prison. So receiving a newspaper article with a picture of the princess alive and well, walking the streets of Paris, left Annie shocked and confused.
Who sent the picture?
With the threat of exposure hanging over her, Annie and her wizard guard partner, Spencer Ray chase the wily, young, vampire across Europe attempting to stop her murderous streak. When finding the vampire seems nearly impossible, Annie seeks out an old nemesis, Sturtagaard the vampire, to help them kill the demon princess.
But all is not as it seems. As Annie traipses across the jurisdiction of other wizard guard units, who blame her for the situation, tensions rise. A vulnerable Annie, must push aside her self-doubt and focus her energy on stopping the vampire. If she’s not careful, all her plans can lead to a wizard war, one that only she can stop.
Jack Ramsey is just an ordinary guy. Well, he is as ordinary as a guy can be who is a high-ranking member of the FBI. Jack has seen things – things that most of us will never see. Murder, mayhem, a dark and dangerous world. Jack joined the FBI to make the world a better place, a role he takes very seriously. And he believes he has seen it all. Until he meets Annie Pearce.
Death in a back alley is just a day in the office for Jack. But this time, something is different. This time, he comes face-to-face with a woman who would rock the very foundation beneath his feet.
“Meet me at the morgue at midnight,” she says to him. And before he knows it, he is watching Annie stake vampires and seeing bodies bursting into flames.
Thus begins a unique relationship between the magical and non-magical in The Day of the First Sun. Annie realizes that she needs an individual on the inside of law enforcement to help her with her magical cases. Taking a calculated risk, she brings Jack in on her biggest secret – the existence of magic. As for Jack, he takes in this new information with a great deal of shock but yet composed. He believes her or so he tries. And, because it is part of his nature, he ultimately jumps in and fights alongside of Annie and her colleagues.
You are used to people who are evil. You are used to those for whom taking a life means nothing. But there is nothing to prepare you for the things that go bump in the night. Yet here you are, after an unimaginable night of killing vampires, knowing things that you cannot un-know, seeing things that you cannot un-see.
Would you have the ability to set aside the reality you have always known? Do you believe in fairy-tales? And, after finding out that everything you knew is shattered, would you have the strength to jump in and fight monsters?
Here is what I wonder – how do we know that this world doesn’t actually exist now? Jack was blind to it for most of his life. Could we also be blind? Is it happening before our eyes and we don’t see it? And if we came face-to-face with mind-boggling, unthinkable truths — could we immediately accept them and shift our reality to include them?
That is what I love about writing paranormal stories. It’s about making the unimaginable a little closer to reality. And maybe it encourages us to look beyond the obvious, to try to break the seal between our perceptions and potential realities. At the very least, these stories help us to open up our minds and dream big.Continue reading
The thing about writing urban fantasy stories, you get to make shit up. I like to base stories on traditional folk tales, stories that are familiar. I enjoy resonating with our collective past. Really, some of these tales are just too fascinating to pass up.
However, sometimes there just isn't an appropriate existing story that fits well with my plot and that's when I make shit up. Unfortunately or fortunately for me depending on how you look at it, I'm a pantser, meaning I write my stories with a rough idea of what the story is about, sometimes I have the beginning and the ending, oftentimes they don't present themselves until a later point in time. What's great about that is, I get surprised much like my readers would be surprised by plot twists. The downside, I come up with the idea and have to back track, research while in the grips of a great writing session. And that's where making up stuff comes in really handy. If you think it's a bad way to write, read Stephen King. He's one of us too.
I find that with enough careful editing, my stories tend to fall in to place better than if I could actually plot them out. I've tried, I just can't stick to the plan and for those of you who could, you're known as a plotter, much like JK Rowling. The point though that I'm trying to make is, regardless of your personal style, we get to make stuff up to fit our story the best way we can, whether it's beforehand or while writing. And in that process, the magical holiday of The Day of First Sun was born.
Excerpt from The Day of First Sun
Magic came to the world with the birth of the first magical child in a mystical clearing of land around 3500 BCE. To this day, that clearing was considered holy land for all magicals born thereafter, both good and evil. Over a millennium later, a battle was fought on the sacred land with devastating consequences.
A portal between Earth and other realms opened, giving vampires, werewolves, and other demons access to Earth. Myths told of a time when the sun did not come out and the beasts freely roamed the planet.
Centuries later, a brave witch fought a second battle on the sacred land, closing the portal forever. The battle, which took place on the first of September, became known as the Day of First Sun. Once the threshold closed, the sun emerged again, but it was too late. The Earth was overrun with supernatural evil.
Curious how the Day of First Sun affects the modern-day witch? Join the celebration. To order The Day of First Sun
Annie didn’t want to go to family day at Wizard Hall. It was the place where dad worked and he would want to visit with his co-workers. She rolled her eyes when he said they had to go. But mostly she didn’t want to hear her older sister Samantha sing at the concert. All she really wanted to do was ride the broomsticks they always had at family day.
Because her father Jason Pearce worked at Wizard Hall as a Wizard Guard, a member of the magical police department, she spent her time either in the daycare facility and as she got older, the wizarding school. It earned her and her friends the nickname Hall Brats. She found the other hall brats after she and her father teleported into the courtyard at the center of the Hall. Excited to see her friends she began to run toward them until her father held her back and led her in the opposite direction.
With her face in a scowl, she stomped off behind dad, finding it difficult to maneuver in the thick crowd. Her small frame was jostled between adults as she lost her father in the people. Jumping up and down, she looked for his feathery brown hair and glasses.
“Lose something?” John Gibbs asked. He worked with her father, was one of the other Wizard Guards. Annie was one of the few children unafraid by his appearance, by the long scar across his cheek, his face marked with scars and bumps from years of fighting demons and vampires. Annie found him fascinating.
“Hi Mr. Gibbs. I can’t find dad.”
He knelt down beside her and said, “Jump on.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waste and he lifted her up. Deftly, he maneuvered the crowd delivering Annie to father, who had stopped to talk to another Wizard Guard.
“I found someone for you,” Gibbs said as Annie slid down his back, landing on the ground.
“I wondered where you went,” Jason Pearce said as he smiled at his daughter. He held out his hand and drew her closer. “Thanks Gibbs.” John Gibbs nodded once and headed back into the crowd. “Remember Milo Rawley, Annie? Say hi.” She merely nodded as she glanced around the courtyard, taking in the faces and the people, some of which she knew, most she did not.
Bored and hot, she kicked loose dirt at her feet, drew pictures with the toe of her shoe.
“Mom, make him stop,” cried a boy behind her. Annie glanced up, caught the eye of a blond haired boy as he swatted sprites away from his head. He dropped his eyes, his cheeks red from embarrassment.
Several of the four inch high, blue creatures with wings, finally flew away all except one apparently tangled in a massive head of curly hair.
“Bobby stop, it’s getting stuck,” said his mother. He ignored her plea instead, yanking on the creature. It kicked and screeched trying to untangle itself. Feeling sorry for the boy named Bobby, Annie skipped over and reached up. Grabbing hold of the tiny creature, she reached around its middle and plucked a stunned sprite from his hair. The creature squealed, squirmed and kicked its feet as it flew from Annie’s grasp. Finally free, it scolded her, wagged the tiniest finger in her face. Curious, Annie stepped closer to get a better look at it, but it would have nothing else to do with her. Swirling in the air, it flew off and dive bombed Bobby’s older brother, smacking the boy on the head. Its piercing shriek drew the attention of everyone near them; they began to laugh and point.
“Mom! Make it go away!” the boy screamed.
“That’s what you get for setting it on your brother.” She smirked and returned to her conversation with an adult Annie didn’t recognize. When the sprite was finally finished with its tirade, it flew off, hiding inside the bushes behind them.
Annie glanced at Bobby, her eyes returning to the massive curls that stood straight above his head. They had become tangled and frizzed after the sprite attack. He turned away, his freckled face still red from embarrassment. He was her height; she thought he might be her age and wondered why she hadn’t seen him at school before.
“I’m Bobby.” He looked at her and patted down his hair. It didn’t help. “And thanks for the help.” He looked back down and played with his hand, scratching the skin as he looked at something interesting on his palm.
“He's your brother?”
“Yeah.” Bobby dug his foot in the dirt, before finally looking up. He glanced up to see his older brothers speaking to a girl who looked a lot like Annie. Pointing he asked, “What about her?”
Annie sighed, always compared to the perfect sister, she resorted to fighting billdads—a strong foe—in the garden for attention. She was still bruised from the animal’s kangaroo-shaped body and otter tail, which swiped at her when she battled it in the garden that morning. “That’s Samantha. She's okay.”
“Jimmy’s always picking on me.” His eyes averted again, embarrassed by his admission. Annie decided she didn’t like Jimmy as she watched him tease another boy, younger than her. He was throwing magical sparks at the young boy’s feet.
“What’s he doing now?” Annie asked.
“He’s teasing Danny. He’s my younger brother.” Bobby replied as Danny jumped each time Jimmy threw a spark. Their mother, finally annoyed at Jimmy’s behavior, intervened by pulling Jimmy away.
“Leave him be,” she scolded and she returned to Danny for comfort. Their mother coddled her youngest son, kissing him on the cheeks. He grimaced as he pulled away from her attention. Annie sighed and wished she had a mother to annoy her like that.
“So is that boy talking to Samantha another brother?” Annie was surprised by the large family. She only had Dad, Samantha and her Aloja Fairy, Zola, the protector of children and pregnant women.
“That’s John. He and Jimmy are twins. One’s evil and one’s good.” Bobby added.
There was a comfortable pause between Annie and Bobby as she wondered what her house would be like with two more kids running through it. Their silence was soon filled with the booming sound of Jason Pearce as he laughed. Warm and friendly, she watched her father for a moment before turning back to Bobby, who shifted uncomfortably, lacking something to say. Annie wasn’t sure why, but she liked him and searched for something to say, finally finding the racing pits.
“Do you like broomstick races?” She pointed, hoping her dad would finally let her head over to her friends.
“Yeah. I love them!” He turned to the races and smiled.
She didn’t hesitate as she bounced toward her father. “Daddy, can I?” She was still bouncing excitedly. He looked at the racing pits and back to his daughter before winking and nodding.
“But mom,” Bobby whined and stomped his foot; glowering across the grounds as the other kids, free from their parents, partook in the racing pits. With a gentle hand on his wife’s arm, Mr. Chamsky nodded to his son.
“Just be careful, Bobby, okay?”
He nodded his head quickly as Annie pulled a slightly mortified Bobby along to join other children at the racing pit on the edge of the courtyard.
His eyes lit up as they waited for a turn. “Have you ridden much?” he asked while playing with the collar of his shirt, and when she turned toward him, he stopped and smiled nervously.
“We live in the city, so I can’t fly that much. But I love it! What about you?”
“We live in the country and there are a lot of cool places to fly. I wanna join the racing team at Windmere someday.”
“You’re going to Windmere? That’s where I’ll go too!” Windmere High School of Wizardry was one of four wizard high schools that educated the children of witches and wizards in America. Which school you went to was determined by your hometown location. “I’m trying out too, when I get there.” Annie added.
The line was moving slowly and time dragged as they waited behind other anxious children. And when Annie didn’t think she could wait any longer, their turn finally came to board their broomsticks.
Annie mounted first, followed by Bobby, who climbed aboard his broom with practiced grace. He nodded, acknowledging that the first one to the end of the field and back would win. At the sound of the whistle, Annie took off, higher and faster than him, blasting away from the starting line.
Wind whipped at her hair, clothing rippled around her, freedom greeted her, and she almost forgot that Bobby chased her. He matched her speed and bumped the tail of her broom, pushing her to the side. She flew toward him, returning the bump. A whistle blew from behind, reminding her that bumping was illegal. With a laugh, she dashed ahead, forcing him to speed up. He remained behind her, giving her enough room to veer in front of him and cut him off. He was quick and swerved to his right, narrowly missing her broom, and pressed on until he had the lead. They were almost to the large poles at the end of the course, where they would turn for home. Annie hated to lose, especially to boys, and she kicked her feet, gaining speed until she was even with him.
“You're good for not racing much!” he yelled, keeping the same speed as they neared the posts.
She hurtled to the right of the pole, flying the broomstick around it, almost losing her balance. After pulling to her left, she righted herself, and Bobby did the same, though he was more graceful as he straightened.
They were on the final leg of the race, their broomsticks even, and she kicked again, pulling ahead of him, but he easily caught up to her. Within feet from the finish line, his broomstick was just inches behind hers. Feeling how close he was she slid of course, giving him an unintentional chance, and in a burst of speed he passed her.
Inches separated them as his broomstick touched hers throwing them both from their brooms; they flew across the finish line and into the bushes at the end of the pit.
As she landed on top of Bobby, heard a crack, and burst into tears as pain radiated through her arm. Gingerly she rolled off of him as she held her arm out, it hung in the wrong direction. Curling herself in a ball, she gazed at the bright blue sky and watched as the white puffy clouds floated above her. It occurred to her that he hadn’t let her win, and that thought made her smile through the tears. A sudden rush of people headed for them when she sat up, and Bobby was already standing, clutching his bloodied and bruised knee.
“Nice race!” he shouted over the noise.
Their parents hurried through the crowd, Marina Chamsky, frantic as she deftly cared for Bobby, a pang of jealousy overcoming Annie, until her father's hands cradled her arm, repairing the break.
“Next year I'll beat you!” Bobby yelled.
“No, you won't!” she teased. She meant it, too.
Want to know more about Annie and her lifelong friendship with Cham read The Day of First Sun on Amazon.com.Continue reading
Steam wafted from the cauldron as bubbles popped and pinged against the iron sides. The boiling potion gave off a pungent vapor that moistened Annie Pearce’s face and frizzed her massive wave of curls. She wiped away the sweat with her sleeve and checked the heat beneath the oversized cauldron, reducing the blue and orange flames. Though the heat was lower, the flames still danced and pulsed as they cooked the holy water.
Stirring the potion calmed her apprehension and siphoned some excess adrenaline she always felt before facing a vampire. But then, this wasn’t an average vampire.
The timer beeped and, standing on bare toes, Annie glanced inside the pot. The clear liquid bubbled softly, so she shut off the fire before dumping a bucket of ice into the mixture. As cold met hot, the potion hissed like an angry snake, sending more steam in the air. Unfazed, Annie sang along with P!nk’s “Who Knew” as it blared from the small radio near the stove.
As the potion cooled, Annie loaded supplies into a field pack. First came an abridged version of her Book of Shadows. The tome contained potions, spells, and notes—an accumulation of Annie’s life experiences with magic. The book had grown exponentially over her five years with the Wizard Guard; thumbing through the book, she was amazed and maybe a little proud by its thickness.
The book fit nicely beside several ash stakes, each whittled to the sharpest point, good for piercing the skin and the breast bone of a vampire. On top of those lay a rolled map of Chicago tied with a scrying crystal necklace.
Three songs played on the radio by the time Annie finished gathering and packing her supplies. After closing up the pack, she poked her head into the cauldron and immersed a pinky finger in the potion.
Rummaging through the kitchen cabinets belonging to her best friend and Wizard Guard partner Bobby “Cham” Chamsky, she found a stash of small glass vials, grabbed a handful and placed them in a haphazard cluster on the counter. Filling twelve—more than enough to take down the vampire—she tucked half of the bottles deep inside her field pack to prevent shifting during teleportation. The rest she left for Cham.
“Isn’t the potion done yet? It smells like it’s burnt,” he complained from the dining room.
Rolling her eyes and arching her back Annie glared at him. His scrying crystal glowed bright white, and he marked another location on the map next to the several already drawn that night.
“I’m a potion master. It’s not burnt. Haven’t you found him yet?” she asked defensively.
Cham glanced up and offered a grimace. “Yeesh. He’s never in one place long enough to confirm his location.”
Burn my potion, right.
“So where would you hide a zombie army?” Cham asked, still pushing the crystal across the map.
“Someplace large and discreet, I would think. Any location fit that so far?”
After weeks of rumors flying around the wizard community, the magical police department known as the Wizard Guard could no longer ignore the vampire’s zombie army, no matter how useful the snitch was. As a result, the vampire, a creature that’s a subset of the larger demon world, became Annie’s and Cham’s problem.
“Nothing that accommodates that many bodies.” Cham’s curly blond hair sat high and wild above his head from running a hand through it. He glanced up again; Annie was still watching him. He offered an exhausted grin. “Need something?”
Annie started, caught like a child with hands in the cookie jar. Her cheeks burned red.
“I didn’t burn the potion. Your apartment smells like boy,” protested Annie.
“Okay,” he replied awkwardly before resuming his search.
What the hell? Embarrassed by the hot blush in her neck and cheeks Annie hid herself in the kitchen, cleaning up spillage, storing excess holy water, and straightening up the herb cabinet. Cham after all was her best friend and her competition in grades, broomstick racing and the Wizard Guard. There was no reason for her to disrupt their easy friendship with strange comments. Still, her busy work did little to assuage the unfamiliar exchange with her partner.
Not wanting to engage in conversation, Annie turned her attention to the only item left— the cauldron.
I hate cleaning these. But the repetitive nature of scrubbing, the backdrop of running water, and the dumping of the grayish sludge gave her time to ponder and collect her thoughts.
Cham’s voice released her from the contemplation and confusion. Curious, she joined him in the next room and found him on the floor administering a sticking spell to keep the table leg from collapsing. As with all the other spells they tried in the past it didn’t work, and the table continued to sway precariously.
“Where can I find a screw?” he asked, his freckles hidden under deep scarlet.
“A nonmagical solution?” An amused smile broke across her face as she put a finger on the swaying table to stop its motion.
“Anything’s better than this.” Cham found his way back to the seat and steadied the table with one arm while grabbing the scrying crystal. Familiar with the feel of his rock, he rolled it easily through his busy fingers.
“I don't own one to conjure.”
Annie shrugged as Cham returned to scrying. “Maybe we should give it a rest for tonight. It’s getting late.”
“I almost have him,” he said, irritably. But the crystal remained still without having confirmed a location more than once. Finally, Cham yawned, “Maybe I should,” and moved to put away the scrying crystal.
Just as Annie opened her mouth to agree to call it quits for the night, a phone rang, cutting through the early morning silence. They glanced at each other, and Annie tugged her cell free from her back pocket.
“This can’t be good,” she said into the phone. Milo Rawley, the Wizard Guard department manager, never personally called, not even in the event of an emergency. Annie’s stomach lurched.
“You with Cham?”
“Yeah. We’re tracking Sturtagaard.”
Cham’s face contorted in a mock scowl, causing Annie to stifle a laugh.
“Stop searching for that shithead. I need you out in the field.”
“I gathered that, Milo. What’s up?”
“Smartass. The Vampire Attack Unit arrived at a scene, but the FBI’s there.” Annie’s adrenaline replaced her weariness as her fingers gripped the phone so tightly it might crack.
“Why? How did that happen?” No longer holding her breath, Annie blew out the stale air that burned her lungs. The Vampire Attack Unit never missed their window in which to clean a scene of all evidence.
“That’s why I’m calling you.”
“Why would I know?” Annie asked, but she already knew his answer. Spending her childhood living amongst non-magicals apparently qualified her more than the others in the Wizard Guard—or so thought Milo. Though most of her colleagues now lived in non-magical communities and could easily work any investigation, all cases involving the Chicago Police Department came to her.
This is federal, not local.
Annie felt a gnawing in her stomach at the realization of what the wizard secrecy laws would require of them on a federal case. Her heart pounded in anticipation.
“You know the reason, Annie. Just do it,” Milo ordered with finality.
Through the phone, a keyboard clicked as Milo typed. She sighed loudly for his benefit and glanced at Cham with worry lines deeply entrenched into her forehead.
“Fine, we’ll check it out,” she said.
“You’re a pig, Milo.”
“I sent you the coordinates.” He was ignoring her insubordination. This left Annie wondering if he respected her for the ability to hold her own in a mostly male profession or if he ignored her on purpose because he lacked respect. In the end it didn’t really matter. They had a new job to do.
Ending the call and turning to Cham, she said, “We’re on. The FBI beat us to a crime scene.”
“Has that ever happened?” Cham casually tossed the crystal; it rolled several times before landing on the edge of the table.
As he stood, his knee crashed into the table apron, and the weakened leg buckled. The table collapsed, and Cham’s scrying crystal flew through the air, crashed against the wall, and split in two.
“I’ll fix that later,” he muttered.
Annie thought of her location, and within seconds her body became weightless and detached from earth, drifting through space and landing on the edge of a wooden palette. Her arms flayed wildly, reached into the semi-darkness of the alley and caught a sleeve on a rusty metal dumpster. With a quick spell, she stopped falling and hung in midair over a pile of garbage.
“Need help?” Cham chuckled, unscathed by his own landing.
“No, I’m good.” With a flick of her wrist, Annie removed the spell and stood upright.
Damn, my favorite jacket. Annie tugged on the rip, which was long and deep enough to reveal her blue shirt sleeve. Waving a palm across the tear, she repaired the rip, leaving no visible mark.
“You need to see this,” Cham said.
Jumping over garbage and avoiding boxes of assorted junk, she peered around him. Hundreds of people mulled through the vicinity, investigating the scene, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses or patrolling the area.
“Wow,” Cham responded. He seemed just as bewildered as Annie felt.
“Where do we even begin?”
Where do we begin? The sheer enormity of the scene left Annie with an overwhelming sense of dread. It outsized anything they had ever investigated in the magical world.
They were separated from the crime scene by an east-west thoroughfare, a well-travelled road at any time during the day. However, this morning, police cruisers cordoned off the road at both ends of the block while traffic barricades created a perimeter keeping the general public from interfering, though the patrol officer was keeping busy warning nosy outsiders away.
And rush hour’s in a few hours—will they be done? Thought Annie.
“I’m not sure how we’re gonna pass through the barrier. It’s pretty tight.” As an excuse to stave off growing unease, Annie fiddled with the lenses on her binoculars and scanned the crowd for the Vampire Attack Unit. Either they hid themselves well or they were waiting at Wizard Hall.
“Do you know what types of cases the FBI works? I mean, besides the federal cases?” Cham asked.
Annie lowered the binoculars. A police officer forcibly removed an observer from near the traffic barrier. The man, boisterous and drunk, was escorted to a police car and locked inside.
“As far as I understand it, they work national security, cyber crimes, civil rights, and public corruption–type cases. Not sure how this relates to their jurisdiction.”
“Personally, I think they’re on a stake-out, tailing someone at the bar, and it’s a coincidence.” Cham reached for the binoculars, tugging them from her tight grasp.
“Do you believe in coincidence?”
“Not usually, but you didn’t mention occult crimes. So why do you think they’re here?”
“Okay, fine. This time I’ll buy the coincidence theory. I know we would’ve gotten here before the Chicago police.”
“Annie. Look at that over there.” Several men and women with cameras and gloves snapped pictures and collected evidence. “The ones in the ERT shirts. They’re looking for evidence. And that guy all the way on the far end found something. I just . . . can’t make out what it is.”
When Annie smacked him for the binoculars, Cham pulled away from her, twisting to get a look at the object. The item, too small for a clear look, was bagged and taken away. “I don’t like it. They’re messing with our case,” Cham said, annoyed. He passed her the binoculars.
“You don’t have a choice.”
In the alley between the night club and the tire store, the medical examiner, a woman in her late forties wearing scrubs and boots, scribbled in a notebook while an FBI agent in khakis and ERT across the back of his shirt, snapped pictures of a body tossed carelessly in the garbage. “One body over there,” Annie said.
“A vampire victim?”
A man in a suit with salt and pepper hair wrote copious notes while interviewing an animated witness who motioned wildly with his hands. Unable to read lips, Annie moved on to view a nearby woman framed in a business suit, hair in a tight bun, and slim kitten heels on petite feet.
Annie grimaced, thinking of her own outfit. It was neither polished nor clean, and her hair was still frizzy from preparing the potion earlier that night. Absently, she smoothed her hair to no effect and offered Cham the binoculars.
The first of the SUVs pulled away from the curb and headed east to the labs. Police escorted witnesses from the crime scene to their cars.
“The medical examiner!” Cham’s voice rose, nearly drawing the attention of the nearby crowd. If the street hadn’t been packed with noisy onlookers, they would’ve heard him call out.
Annie turned her attention to the medical examiner, who was unfurling a plastic blanket. It blew uncontrollably in a gust of wind. A cameraman ran over to help, placing the blanket over the victim. But the doctor noticed something requiring a second look and removed a long strand of brown hair, revealing an unobstructed view of the neck.
Now how do we get the bodies?
“Did you bring your badge?” Annie summoned her Chicago Police Department identification, glanced at the picture taken five years ago, when she started with the Wizard Guard at eighteen years old. She snapped it shut, placing it in her pocket.
“Really? You had to ask that?” His brows furrowed.
“Sorry. I’m wondering if we should track the bodies to the morgue and break in—not even engage now.”
Surprised, his face softened. “Are you scared?”
“Not scared . . . just apprehensive.”
Cham squeezed her shoulder before leaving. He headed east, following the perimeter of the crime scene. Once he disappeared into the shadows, Annie left the hiding spot and ducked under the crime scene tape. She entered to the west, avoiding a male agent who was still interviewing a witness, and pretended to search for evidence.
“Man, it was a big fight. The big guy looked mean and happy like all at the same time. Oh, and his teeth came out like this.” The witness wiggled two fingers, one on each side of his mouth.
“Do you know what they were fighting about? What did you see or hear?” The agent appeared bored or disinterested in the witness, shifting weight between feet while taking notes.
“All I know: the big dude with the teeth hit on the other guy’s girl. Tried really hard to get in her pants.” The witness grinned, exposing a large gap in his front teeth.
The vampire wanted to suck her dry, not have sex with her, Annie thought dryly and continued towards the medical examiner and the first victim.
The body, already loaded into the ambulance, parked halfway on the sidewalk. The back hatch stood open while the doctor read through her notes.
“Any thoughts on how the victim died?” Annie asked.
Startled by the intrusion, the woman jumped and frowned at Annie suspiciously. “Who are you?”
Annie produced her identification, which the medical examiner took and examined thoroughly, even comparing the picture to the real Annie before handing it back.
“It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” she finally said. “Look at this.”
They hopped in the back of the ambulance; the doctor donned a pair of gloves and unzipped the body bag, carefully exposing the victim’s neck.
“Have you ever seen anything like that before?”
They’re vampire tracks! Annie bit her tongue, but the thought screamed inside her head. The vampire’s canine teeth left two holes three inches apart. Raised and raw, drops of blood pooled around the edges. Through a gloved hand, Annie felt swollen wounds, red and raw, marking otherwise perfectly smooth skin.
“It’s weird, but it looks like a barbecue fork poked her.” Annie bit her tongue to keep from laughing, her thoughts jumping ahead to the autopsy.
The lack of blood will make this seem even weirder.
“How in the world did that get inside the bar?” the doctor asked as though it were even plausible. The medical examiner secured the victim inside the body bag.
“I guess that’s the question.”
“If there’s nothing else, I have another body to attend to.”
Annie loitered beside the ambulance, waiting until the medical examiner became entrenched in the crowd and grabbed the notes, which were clearly written in a doctor’s handwriting.
The observations scrawled haphazardly across the paper illustrated a disconnect between the evidence and a plausible explanation. The doctor’s guesses wound around in circles never becoming clear or correct which Annie didn’t blame on the doctor. She wouldn’t know. The preliminary comments revealed nothing to Annie except the estimated time of death. She expected nothing less. Suddenly, she heard hard-soled shoes clicking against the cement. Great. She was caught in the act.
“Excuse me. What are you doing?” a man asked. Annie’s adrenaline pumped; her heart beat in her ears. Dropping the folder, she turned to see the interviewer with salt-and-pepper hair and the dark suit.
“I’m just reviewing the medical examiner’s notes.” The suit looked at her dubiously and eyed her up and down, leaving Annie feeling exposed.
“Who are you? We didn’t ask for additional backup.”
Annie’s identification was still warm from her exchange with the medical examiner, but she pulled it out. He doesn’t believe me. She tapped her foot anxiously while the agent examined the picture encased in plastic.
“Okay, Detective Anne Elizabeth Pearce. Again, what are you doing here?”
“Annie, please. And now that you know my name, mind telling me yours?” Even though she made her smile warm and welcoming, it did little to unclench his square jaw. Even when speaking, his jaw appeared tight. It must hurt, she thought.
“Special Agent Jack Ramsey. Now tell me what you’re doing here.”
I wish I could.
Instantly, Annie regretted her decision to enter the crime scene; she was no longer inconspicuous, making her vulnerable to her secret getting out.
“I believe we’re after the same murderer.”
The agent attempted to hide his surprise. “So who killed them?”
It’s a vampire, you moron! “It’s not that simple.”
“Either you know or you don’t. Either way you’re tampering with my evidence. I should arrest you.”
Annie had worked with the Chicago Police Department in the past and often used the connection to walk in and out of questionable crime scenes without being noticed as anything other than a police officer. Being threatened with arrest was a first.
“You won’t. Because I know what killed them. You and your team have no idea what you just walked into.”
“And you do? Why . . . what do you mean what killed them?”
His suspicion was growing, drawing his already deep frown deeper. He fondled the handle of his gun.
Annie tensed. If he pulls it out I’ll summon it from him. If . . . Annie clamped her fists in resolve as Special Agent Jack Ramsey confidently unlatched his holster. She reevaluated her situation. Getting into the morgue was her most important goal.
“Let me into the morgue at midnight, alone with the bodies, and I promise I’ll tell you everything.”
Dropping his hand from his gun, Jack laughed a hardy, almost hysterical laugh at her request. Finally, he controlled his outburst. “Why would I do that?”
“Because we’re tracking the same killer, but only I can find it.”
“Why don’t you just tell me who killed them?”
“Just get me into the morgue at midnight, and I’ll explain everything.”
Rebekah Stoner, television journalist from Channel 5 news, finished the FBI briefing and returned to her television crew that had set up their workspace in the permitted area across the street. They, like the other crews, were corralled a safe distance away from the crime scene and busied themselves reading email, texting, or checking their equipment.
With an hour to go, her excitement grew. This time, her story would be the lead and not a crappy one buried between weather and sports. Rebekah reached into a cooler for a can of pop and her morning dose of caffeine.
The morning events seemed nothing more than normal. That said, the intense exchange between the FBI agent and the police officer appeared odd; Rebekah wondered if anyone else noticed it. It intrigued her so much that she jumped up and followed the officer leaving the crime scene.
“Excuse me,” Rebekah called out. The officer faced her. Not overly made up, with frizzy hair and wearing T-shirt and jeans, the police woman was still lovely. A gust of wind blew toward them from the lake.
“Hi. Did you need something?”
“I’m Rebekah Stoner with Channel 5 News. I saw you working in the crime scene. Is there any new information we should know about?”
“Sorry. There’s nothing new.”
As the cop turned away, Rebekah grabbed her wrist. The officer glared at the journalist before pulling her arm away.
“Listen. I’m a detective. I make observations. There’s nothing new. Besides, it’s only been a few hours.”
“I saw you with the special agent. What did you argue about?”
“Ms. Stoner, you know I can’t answer that. It’s not my case. I’m sorry.” The cop walked confidently down the street and turned the corner.
Rebekah returned to her seat twenty minutes before her report. Adrenaline pumped as her team prepped her for the air, fixing her hair and lipstick, wiping the moisture from her eyes.
The final ambulance pulled away from the scene, and the traffic barricades were removed just in time for the start of rush hour traffic. “Ten minutes, Rebekah.”
To order The Day of First Sun
Do you have a bucket list? Have you ever taken the time to write it down? Well Sheryl Steines has and writing her first novel, The Day of First Sun, was when she crossed off number seven. After that first foray into the recesses of vast creative mind, she couldn’t stop and works on her art daily. With a degree in English from Wright University, she finds herself to be an fixated editor and world builder. Paying special attention to details in her novels is just a small example of her passionate and driven nature. Sheryl lives in Deer Park, Illinois, with her husband and two children.
In her spare time, she enjoys character-driven novels of every genre, television shows, and spends all summer behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible.
Sheryl is all about connecting with readers and fellow authors and can be found on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog at sherylsteines.comContinue reading