Enchantress Underground, Arcane Artisans Book 3, is coming August 23rd!
In this teaser, Adrienne and her friends try to recruit an influential falcon shifter to help them fight the fleshwriter cult that has taken over San Francisco. Check it out, and pre-order the full book today.
Beware of spoilers below if you haven’t finished book two!
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“Look at that house!” Kendall exclaimed as we drove up to the gate in Pete’s convertible. The falcon shifter had purchased multiple lots of land and demolished the houses on either side to give himself more space. A black iron fence enclosed a sprawling lawn that had to cost thousands to keep such a verdant shade, especially in the California ever-drought. Inside the automated gate, a driveway lined with immaculate shrubs meandered to the front door of a tan mansion with navy blue trim and a column-lined porch wrapping the whole building. Furniture crowded the porch, but I couldn’t make out what kind from this distance. On either side of the palatial home, small groves of trees gave the illusion of a forest setting, though San Francisco’s traffic blare hadn’t yet disappeared.
Pete slowed the car as he approached the spike-topped gate. “Um … hello,” he said into an intercom mounted by the driveway. His voice cracked on the last syllable. “I’m, um, here to see Mister Taevas.”
“He’s got gargoyles on his roof. Who does that?” Kendall leaned forward to point between the front seats. “Is that a fountain in front? It’s the size of a swimming pool!”
A woman’s voice came through the speaker, smooth and undistorted. Expensive tech. “May I inform Mister Taevas who’s visiting?”
“It’s Pete. Peter Abercrombie. My mom is …”
“I’m familiar with your mother. Welcome, Mister Abercrombie. I’ll see if Mister Taevas has any room in his schedule.”
The speaker went silent.
Kendall quipped, “Ask if we can swim in his giant birdbath out front.”
“Excuse me?” came the voice through the speaker.
“Oh shit, you heard that?”
The woman cleared her throat, each articulation clearly heard through the fancy sound system. “Mister Abercrombie, Mister Taevas has a few minutes to spare, as he assumes your business must be urgent for you to approach this way. You and your … guests … may drive to the front.”
The giant metal gates began to open.
“Thank you, um, ma’am,” said Pete, pressing the gas.
We headed up the driveway. The gates slowly and silently swung shut behind us.
Pete parked between what was indeed an Olympic-sized fountain and the wide wraparound porch. The furniture I’d seen turned out to be various swings, of many designs and styles, suspended from the porch ceiling. There were wooden swings built for two hung on slender chains, and a big round swing that looked like a bed suspended by intricate ropes. Knit chairs hung like knotted ropes, waiting for someone to nestle inside.
Perches and varicolored birdhouses on stands scattered the spaces between the chairs. Feeders hung from the eaves. Birds of various breeds and sizes roosted on the perches and in the little wooden birdhouses. Dozens of beady black eyes watched us climb the three marble steps to the porch.
“Check out Mister Outdoorsy,” Kendall whispered. There was no railing; the entire porch felt like a seam between the house and the yard around it.
“Kendall, please don’t say anything stupid while we’re meeting with him,” I said.
She gave an offended sniff. “Please. I’m the epitome of tact.”
Pete made a strangled sound.
One side of the double front doors opened at our approach. A wide-hipped woman with an intricate braid wrapping her head and freckles speckling her face held out a hand to usher us inside. “Mister Taevas will see you in the sitting room.” The voice was the one from the speaker.
She escorted us across a parquet floor beneath skylights to a broad room that had more window than wall. Black leather furniture surrounded heavy oak tables on pristine white carpet. My feet sank down half an inch as I stepped in, and I had the sudden urge to remove my shoes. Both to keep dirt off the carpet, but also to savor the feel with bare skin. My artistic senses longed to create something lovely from such a plush material. A light breeze wafted through the open windows, carrying the scents of birdseed and freshly mown grass. Chirps and trills added music to the room as more birds fluttered onto the porch.
A painting taller than me adorned the inside wall, done in oils by a true professional. In it, forest trees grew thick around a rushing whitewater stream, with glimpses of wildlife peeking around trunks or poking from their burrows. Beside the painting hung a thick slice of the stump of an ancient oak, its bark untouched, its center carved into a three-dimensional eagle about to take flight. I turned in a slow circle, noting other pieces of art on the walls, sculptures tastefully arranged on tables. There was no period, no theme to the collection, but the pieces all drew from nature and held an organic, wholesome feel. Here was another wood carving, this one of a family of deer. There was a live orchid, carefully pruned and ready to bud. And beside that …
My heart stopped.
Hanging on the wall was a tapestry of intricate knots, woven of white rope and attached to a golden-brown length of wood. I hadn’t noticed it at first among the larger pieces, but the design stood out now. That was my art. I’d made and sold the piece a couple years ago. I couldn’t remember the buyer, but there was no mistaking my style.
I grabbed Kendall’s elbow. “We have to go.”
“It’s rude to rush away without even seeing your host.” A voice like melted butter echoed from the room’s other entrance.
I turned and took my first look at Ethan Taevas. The man had the distinguished grey flecked hair of comfortable middle age, with a lean, hard body and a nose like a spear. His skin was tanned, his eyes a rich amber. He smiled and gestured to a circle of four leather chairs. “Please, sit down.” A slight eastern European accent tinted his voice.
Pete perched on the edge of a seat. Kendall gave me a wary look, then adopted nonchalance and flung herself into another chair that nearly swallowed her. I stood where I was, staring across the room at Taevas.
“You know who I am,” I said, tilting my head toward my art.
“And it is a privilege to have such an acclaimed individual drop by my home. Your name is making waves in the city.”
“For my art,” I said drily.
He smirked. “Of course. Please, sit down.”
“Am I allowed to leave if I want to?”
He settled himself on the armchair facing me and leaned comfortably back, hands folded at his waist. “That depends on how this conversation goes. I’m a fan of politeness, Miss. You would be wise to make a good impression.”
Slowly I sat on the edge of the fourth chair. I didn’t set down my purse, and I kept it slightly open so I could see the enchanted jewelry inside. “Geralt got to you.”
“He contacted every noteworthy paranormal in the city within days of overthrowing the Voids. Laid out his expectations and the consequences for failing to meet them. In less than a week things were operating according to his vision. It was a very efficient takeover. He would have done well in the business world.” He eyed me. “One of those expectations was that if we caught sight of a certain young enchantress or one of her friends …” briefly his gaze rested on Kendall, who stared defiantly back at him, “we would hold them and contact him immediately.”
Pete startled. “Hey, so I’m not …”
“You weren’t mentioned, Mister Abercrombie,” said Taevas, glancing at Pete. “I assume Mister Sauvage is unaware of you, or considers you unimportant.”
Pete’s expression sagged with relief, then suddenly flushed with indignation. Before he could say something stupid, I cut in. “If you intended to hand me over, you wouldn’t have given me warning like this. If you try to capture me now, it’s going to be a fight. But I don’t see your assistant anywhere, so either she’s calling Geralt, or you want me to think she is. You’re testing me, Mister Taevas. What is it you want to know?”
His eyebrows rose. “Perceptive, for a young person. I expected you to be more hotheaded. It would have made my decision easier if you’d come into my home and then attacked me.”
“We don’t hit first,” Kendall said. “Unless someone’s really being a dick. Don’t be a dick, okay?”
Taevas studied her. “You must be the shifter friend.”
“Squirrel Chick, in the flesh. Born with powers.”
“Some of my counterparts think those born under enchantment are more important paranormally than those of us enchanted by choice. I am not one of them.” Taevas turned his hawkish gaze on me. “We’re both posturing, Enchantress. But you’ve entered my home, putting yourself at risk, which means you’re the one who needs more out of this meeting. What is it you want?”
“Aw, crap,” said Kendall. “I should have said Squirrel Girl. I’d like a do-over on that joke, everybody.”
Taevas’ mouth twitched in a smile.
That reaction convinced me that he was being genuine. He definitely wasn’t telling me everything, and he still might decide to turn me over to Geralt, but he was giving me a fair shot to convince him to side with me instead.
I leaned forward, resting my bag on the floor. “I need to know who enchanted you.”
“Do you know what Geralt is planning?”
“Something to do with Voids and enchanters and magic. Nothing to do with me.”
“The world’s magic is destabilizing. Geralt believes Voids are holes in the magical field, and enchanters like me are hotspots. He wants to kill us all to smooth out those imbalances.”
“Is he right?”
“I think so.”
Intensity burned in those dark eyes. I felt like a mouse being sized up by a hawk. “Then you want me to help you avoid that fate. Prioritizing your life over the entire world’s magic.”
“No. I believe there has to be another solution. I’m searching for strong enchanters and Voids. I want to study them–us–to try to understand what made us the way we are.”
“Why come to me?”
“You’re prominent among the San Francisco shifters.”
“Avian shifters, yes.”
“Then you must know of other enchanters in the area.”
“Every enchanter and enchantress who was legally registered with the Void Union has been found by Sauvage’s cult by now. They serve him. Or they’re dead.”
I smiled thinly. “We both know the Voids didn’t find every enchanter. When someone wanted to join your flock, you certainly didn’t go to the Voids and ask permission to get them enchanted, knowing you would be denied. You went around the rules. And because you weren’t locked up in a Void Union cell, you did it without getting caught. So I need to know, who did you use? Who did you hire to put enchantments on your people? And where can I find them now?”
Taevas studied me for a long moment. “You won’t find the enchanter who made me a shifter. He’s long dead. So are most of the others I’ve used over the years. The Voids got to them.”
Desperation flooded me. “You have to know something that can help me.”
“I have not yet decided to do that. Sauvage wants you badly. The punishment for resisting his rule is having your magic stripped. All enchantments, pulled right out of you. I’ve lost four people to that fate, people who resisted Sauvage’s enforcers. Only one kept her sanity once they yanked her enchantment out. His subordinates have visited my offices, asking questions. His eye is on me.”
“You think handing me over to him will make him leave you alone? Maybe it will, for a while, but the next time one of your business enterprises encroaches on his plans, or you refuse to pay the protection fees he demands, or you start to look like you’re gathering too much power of your own, you’ll be right back here.”
“How do you know his tactics?”
“I was a member of his cult for a long time, Taevas. I saw how he treated the paranormals in his territory. Most of them fled, when they had the chance. But if you give me to him, if you let him use me to wipe out the Voids, there won’t be anyone left to stop him. There won’t be anywhere left to flee.”
Taevas gripped the arms of his chair. He glanced toward the windows, watching the growing flock of birds visiting his feeders. “You realize the risk you’re asking me to take.”
“You realize the risk if you don’t.”
My eyes locked on his golden hawk’s gaze, willing him to do the right thing. I begged him with that contact not to fight me, not to let Geralt claim power as easily as plucking a ripe fruit.
For a moment, I had him. Tension flickered on his jaw, and he swallowed. He was about to break.
Then his eyes hardened, and I knew I’d lost him.