I’m thrilled to show off the cover of OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, the followup to one of my favorite reads from last year,
With a sword in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I can’t wait to see what Owl gets up to next!
The Rock Star of L.A.
8:00 p.m., Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles
As soon as I stepped out of the damn car, I knew I was in trouble. The heels Nadya had given me were higher than I was comfortable in, and the dress . . . well, the dress was very shiny . . . and short.
I’d asked her three times if this was my only option. Apparently I was dressed conservatively.
I swore as the back of my stiletto sunk in the grass. No grace, but enough balance that I didn’t fall on my ass. “Remind me again why I don’t just take these damn things off and walk barefoot?”
“Because they won’t let you through the front door. And you wouldn’t have near so much trouble if you didn’t keep cinching the dress down.”
I did my best to catch up to Rynn and not maim myself stabbing the grass. He waited for me and held out a hand. I took it. I didn’t have so much pride that I wouldn’t take the extra support.
“You try walking in these heels,” I said.
“Who says I can’t? Though those might be a bit small.”
I stumbled again at the image of Rynn in full drag back in Japan. Considering some of the theme parties Gaijin Cloud had thrown, it wasn’t that far-fetched.
“I feel ridiculous, and I’m dreading bending over,” I told him.
“You look beautiful. Try to enjoy it,” he said. I frowned, studying his face to see if he was making a joke. He wasn’t. Which surprised me, since he hadn’t said a damn thing when I’d stepped out of the bathroom back at the hotel.
“Easy for you to say—you’re not worried about flashing the world.”
Rynn snorted, but the tight set to his jaw softened, which was a minor win; something was bugging Rynn about visiting his cousin, but he’d been uncharacteristically tight-lipped about it.
“So, just so I completely understand here, your cousin is an incubus.”
He sighed. “That would make the most biological sense.”
All right, so I kept asking the same question, but this one damn well deserved re-clarification. “OK, but your cousin is him?”
Rynn stopped, looked up at the black sky drowned out by street and house lights, and swore under his breath. “Yes, he is my cousin. A damn lot of good that does me,” he said, adding the last bit under his breath as we continued towards the mansion.
Yeah, not likely. I stopped him. “Oh, you cannot leave it at that.”
He frowned and narrowed his eyes. Son of a bitch, the great Rynn, host extraordinaire, visibly uncomfortable . . .
“You can find most of what you want to know online,” he said.
“Those are called tabloids.”
“In my cousin’s case, the majority of it is accurate—probably on the tame side.”
I held up my hands in surrender. “I’m just trying to understand how you failed to mention your cousin is Artemis Bast, lead singer of Kaliope—just putting that out there— Hey!”
Rynn dodged around me before I could continue my interrogation, and then we were out of the dark and into the lawn floodlights near the entrance, where there were more statues and fountains than could possibly be in good taste.
Kaliope was a pop/rock band that rose to infamy in the mid-1980s. Fifty-fifty whether they were more famous for their music or antics—my money was on the antics. The ’80s were a brightly colored and debauched era. The band might have changed its roster over the years, but Artemis Bast had been a mainstay.
We’d barely reached the front door when Rynn glanced both ways, then pulled me behind a statue of a woman holding her breasts . . . no, wait, my bad. It was someone standing behind her holding her breasts.
“I haven’t bothered mentioning Artemis because we don’t get along.” He glanced at the door, as if listening for something. “Suffice it to say my cousin is not a spectacular example of my species. Just be direct; he won’t know what to make of you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because most of the time I don’t know what to make of you. Please stay close and watch yourself. Artemis isn’t dangerous, but he’s hard to predict at the best of times.”
Rynn steered me towards the two massive front doors complete with antique brass knockers.
“So let me get this straight. Supernaturals have just as much trouble getting along with their relatives as humans do?”
Rynn paused before knocking on the door with one of the ornate handles. “Artemis is a complex individual who likes to push his boundaries. Inevitably he causes some sort of trouble and I have to clean up his mess, hence the favor I’m calling in.”
That . . . surprised me. Everything Rynn had told me up until this point had painted succubi and incubi as more or less benign, preferring to tread the surface of human civilization and not draw attention to themselves. “Define ‘trouble’?”
Rynn gave me a pointed stare and banged the brass ring a second time. “Last time I had to drag him out of a Bangkok whorehouse.”
I frowned. “Isn’t that kind of par for the course with you guys though?”
He shook his head. “Trust me, he figured out a way to make it a problem. We didn’t part on good terms, and I didn’t bother telling him we were coming either, so we’re going to make this quick—”
“Whoa, wait a minute—we’re crashing his party?”
“Artemis is more amenable when he’s off his game.”
The massive doors swung open. I stumbled back a step, not because of the massive bald bodyguard who stepped outside but because of the sheer volume of noise— music and otherwise—that crashed over me, along with a cloud of incense reminiscent of amber and burnt sandalwood. The massive doors and walls had to have been reinforced, because standing outside, I hadn’t heard a damned thing. I caught a glimpse of people piled into the main hall just past the entrance—flashes of bright colors and metallics that all seemed to meld into one giant kaleidoscope.
I shook my head. Too much sensory overload. I had the urge to get the hell away. I would have tripped back down the front steps if Rynn hadn’t caught me. He swore, but it was barely audible over the noise. Whereas before he’d looked apprehensive, now he just looked pissed. “I don’t believe it—I don’t know how many times I’ve told him—stay still, Alix, it will pass.”
Yeah, right, sure it would. “Forgive me if I’m not fucking convinced.”
The man at the front door was watching us, his face impassive at the attempts to collect myself. He was a little over six feet tall and dressed in a dark suit that contrasted with his dark olive skin color, which hinted at Middle Eastern descent. Even under the suit I could tell he was large enough to moonlight as a boxer. He gave each of us a once-over, his eyes dismissing me immediately but lingering on Rynn.
Without a word he opened the door and stepped aside. Rynn nodded and stepped in. I followed—or tried to.
The bodyguard gently, but in a way that made no mistake about his intention, blocked my way.
“Hey, come on—look at me! Would I be dressed like this if I wasn’t with him?”
The bodyguard ignored me and turned to Rynn. “Seereet?” There was that goddamn word again . . .
Rynn didn’t look particularly happy about being asked. He glanced from me to the guard and nodded, repeating the only snippet of supernatural dialect I could actually replicate with any chance of accuracy . . . What am I talking about? I barely reproduce any language with any form of accuracy.
I didn’t have time to ponder it though. The guard stepped out of the way and let me through.
Inside the entrance, the smell and noise were even more overpowering. I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. I’d never experienced anything quite like it. I checked to see if the guard had followed us in, but he’d taken his post back by the door, reminding me of a statue. He didn’t even look like he was breathing.
I pulled Rynn closer so I could whisper . . . well, loudly whisper. “I’m guessing he’s not human.”
Rynn snorted. “If you think for a second he’s human, I’ve got a bridge for sale.”
“Stealing my lines now, Rynn—you’ve got to be nervous,” but I said it with a confidence I didn’t feel.
He didn’t answer that one, and I didn’t expect him to. We stepped out of the entrance and into the main hall. I froze in my tracks.
Opulence. I don’t know bout you, but to me the word conjures up images of Louis XIV palaces and ballrooms filled with antiques covered in more gold leaf than sense dictates. Hell, the word itself means “excess” . . .
But this ballroom crammed full with people? Well, let’s say it had the Louis XIV thing going on . . . and Roman statues, and a staircase that looked like it belonged in Gone with the Wind, and 1960s glam decor—hell, there was even some Goth rock art thrown in.
The only right way to describe it was an explosion of eclecticism . . . with a paintball gun . . . and paint balloons, lots and lots of paint balloons.
The scent of amber and burnt sandalwood intensified. I realized the sandalwood reminded me of Rynn’s cologne, though the burnt tone was a distinct departure.
“Opulence took one hell of an acid trip,” I said.
Rynn was as immobilized as I was, but whereas I was shocked by the sheer . . . well . . . this made Cirque de Soleil look tame . . . Rynn just looked more pissed.
“Son of a bitch—is that guy wearing anything but body paint?”
Rynn swore. Loud. “I don’t believe it—”
“No, seriously, I can’t tell, I mean if it is, they’ve done one hell of a—”
“I didn’t believe Artemis would pull this off in public.” I noticed Rynn’s hand had moved from the small of my back to my arm, and his grip had tightened.
“Alix, I’m serious this time, don’t leave my side and don’t take any food or drink,” Rynn said and began scanning the room. “Come on, I want to get this over with as soon as possible.”
And with that, we entered the den of Artemis Bast, rock star extraordinaire.
The place was packed to the brim with young, beautiful people—men and women—dancing, drinking, laughing. There was a surrealism to it; even though I was standing there, it was as if I was caught up in a whirlwind of noise and color. And there was something disturbing as hell . . . I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was—or why my head was getting light.
Had to be the nerves . . . or the noise . . . or lights . . .
Wait a minute—was that Corona on a platter? My eyes followed a plate filled with bottles, each and every single one stuffed with a bright green lime.
The waiter caught me looking and brought over the plate. He was another man with a shaved head and beautiful dark skin, the color of coffee. He reminded me of the guard at the door but so much more beautiful . . . and that smile. He offered me the tray . . . who the hell was I to refuse? This was a party after all . . . the lights danced across the tray . . . purples and neon pink . . . I reached out.
Someone stopped me before my hand brushed the glass bottle. They grabbed my shoulders and began to shake me.
“Alix?” Rynn said.
I blinked. His eyes were bright blue . . . There was something important about that . . . Why though?
His eyes brightened, and my eyes focused. A warm wave washed over me, pushing back the psychedelic fog.
Shit, I snapped out of it and shook my head.
He was still staring at me, his eyes still a bright blue. “Rynn, what the hell is going on in here?” Something wasn’t right, and not just the party aspect; it was wrong on so many other levels. “And what’s wrong with these people? Are they even human?”
Rynn’s mouth curled up in a snarl. “Oh, most of them are human. My cousin likes to make a spectacle of himself—and surround himself in one. I didn’t think he’d go this far—”
OK, yeah, not at all cryptic, I thought as another person wearing paint in lieu of clothes walked by, taking one of the drinks from a platter . . . which weren’t Coronas at all but champagne flutes filled with an amber liquid. “Well, what the hell is it? Is it an incubus thing?” That thought didn’t sit well with me; incubi and succubi were supposed to be benign on the supernatural sliding scale of dangerous. This sure as hell didn’t qualify as benign in my books.
More people filled in around us, all human if Rynn was to be believed. I wasn’t seeing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to a good party, but this . . .
Rynn swore as another person just about slammed into him and brushed up against me. Another wave of euphoria hit me in a manic rush . . .
“It’s passed along by contact?”
Rynn pulled me out of the way into a corner. Now he was looking worried. “It’s an incense of sorts,” he said. “Incubi and succubi are fond of it, though it only has this euphoric effect on humans. It permeates food and water. My idiot cousin saw fit to douse an entire room with it. That’s what you see in the glasses and smell in the air . . .” He swore and tried to block someone from crashing into me, but the dress made it a losing battle.
“And you brought me here dressed like this? And you think I’m reckless!?” Another rush hit me, and I balanced on Rynn.
“I swear, if I had known Artemis had gone this far—”
A pair of girls riveted their eyes towards Rynn as the name Artemis left his lips. They giggled . . . and began to whisper . . . creepy, like epic creepy . . . except it might be kind of cool to meet Artemis . . . wasn’t that Rynn’s cousin?
I pressed my hand against my forehead. OK, Owl, get control over it, anything stupid you start to think is probably that drug . . .
Two servers walked by holding a plate of the long-stemmed glasses. They exchanged a glance as they passed by Rynn and me, setting off towards a side hallway I hadn’t noticed before. They didn’t seem to be affected by the incense. Had to be supernaturals . . . not nymphs or incubi . . . something worse? I shivered—I’d have to describe them to Nadya later and see what she thought.
“Here there be monsters,” I whispered.
Rynn glanced down at me—he actually looked worried now. “Alix—I’m sorry, this was a bad call. I didn’t think Artemis would be this idiotic—” He touched the side of my face and made me look at him again. My head started to clear . . .
A woman, maybe a year or two younger than me, with cascading, brown highlighted hair and even worse balance in stilettos, fell towards me.
Rynn caught her instead, though he didn’t look happy about it. He searched around the room again, more intensely scanning the upper floor as he tried to stand the woman up.
The girl smiled at Rynn. “You kind of look like him,” the woman said in a breathy bedroom voice that even through my haze sounded overboard.
For his part, Rynn tried to push the girl back up, but with a laugh she leaned in. “I’m Violet,” she said, and ran her finger along Rynn’s arm, shifting her expression from intoxicated to alert and coy. “Have you seen him yet? I’ve been trying to find him all night,” she said, her fingernails, fake and painted a shade of purple that had to be after her namesake, dug into Rynn’s sleeve.
There was something wrong with this picture . . . I just couldn’t remember what . . .
The girl glanced over and reached for me.
I tried jumping back out of range, but all my motor skills weren’t at my disposal . . . well, that, and let’s face it, heels are death for running.
Her fingers brushed the skin on my arm before she leaned herself back into Rynn, where she focused her attention. Well, as focused as she could be through half-lidded eyes.
The euphoria pushed its way through my defenses, flooding all my senses.
Come on, Owl, get a grip . . .
I closed my eyes and tried to force out the noise, but there was no escape. When I opened my eyes, the deluge sent a rush of pleasure down my spine.
I looked back to where Rynn should be. He was gone. “Rynn?” I yelled, and had to grab the wall to steady myself as another rush hit me.
OK, this train was derailing fast . . .
“Alix!” I heard him scream. I found him a few feet away, trying to peel off Violet. He screamed for me again . . . there were too many people to reach him in time . . . I thought I saw his eyes turn blue, but that had to be a mistake. Rynn’s eyes were gray—
I shook my head as my brain fought for control. Rynn, I had to get back to Rynn . . . I took a step towards him but stumbled. It was as if the floor reached out and pulled me down. I fell on my knees—hard. I knew it, my brain knew it—I just didn’t feel it.
More people moved around me. I stared at my hands . . . were they . . . gold? No, it was something reflecting off the ceiling. I glanced up at the gold bowl hanging above me, a sacrificial bowl, circa Alexander the Great. Son of a bitch . . . one just went up for auction a few months ago, was that it? I tried to focus in on it better, but it kept rippling in and out of detail. Had to be the lights . . . it couldn’t hurt to check out the place though. Rynn’s cousin might even have a decent art collection; he was an incubus, after all. Must have collected something good over the past couple hundred years—or however long incubi lived . . .
Rynn’s voice cut through the fog and euphoria this time. I blinked, trying to clear my eyes, and looked up. There was no ancient gold dish, only a beaten-up chandelier. Jesus Christ, I needed to get the hell out of here before I did something stupid.
“Don’t move. Stay there,” Rynn yelled, but he was no longer trying to just untangle himself from Violet. More people had closed in around him. He wouldn’t make it through in time.
Every ounce of my brain not high on the damn incense was desperate to escape while it still could.
“Sorry, but I need to get the hell out of here,” I said, though I wasn’t sure if I said it loud enough for Rynn to hear me.
I pushed myself back up to standing. Now where the hell was that exit?
My eyes landed on a hallway not too far away from me. Had it been there before? I steadied myself against the wall, the textured wallpaper prickling against my hand like pins, repulsing me back towards the room.
I frowned. To hell with that. Ignoring the sensation, I made my way towards the empty hall.
“Alix!” Rynn yelled. I didn’t even look over my shoulder. I’d worry about Rynn once I was out of this room—once my head was clear . . .
I made it to the hallway and reached my hand out towards the arch. Something like a pool rippled underneath my fingers—not entirely real. I faltered, and the last bit of my thoughts not wrapped up in the incense reared its head. You need out.
I took a deep breath and stepped through.
Silence flooded over me.
Oh my God . . . I could breathe again. I closed my eyes and leaned against the wall as the sensation left me. I’d just catch my breath, then find Rynn . . .
“I’m surprised you made it past the wallpaper. Most people can’t stand the texture. Feels sharp against the fingers, or so I’ve been told,” a man said beside me, his voice carrying an accent I recognized—like Rynn’s, though this voice was deeper and rougher. I opened my eyes and spun around as fast as my body was willing.
Artemis Bast leaned against the wall beside me. The resemblance to Rynn was uncanny, as far as facial features went—even the same cropped blond hair, but the comparison ended there. The leather pants, tattoos, gold-paint-splattered burnout T-shirt, a single gold stud earring, not to mention his expression and the way he stood—everything would have been foreign on Rynn. And green eyes. Artemis had green eyes instead of Rynn’s gray/blue.
He didn’t smile or come any closer, just watched me as he took a swig from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The way he watched me—it was almost cruel. Attractive—I’d be an idiot and a liar if I said he wasn’t something to look at—but make no mistake about it, underneath the surface was thinly masked cruelty.
I had to admit though, if someone asked me what an incubus looked like, I’d point out this guy over Rynn any day of the week.
Here there be monsters.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://rabidreads.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Kristi-Charish.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]
Kristi is the author of a forthcoming urban fantasy series OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016.
Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.
I have not one, but TWO books up for grabs: a physical ARC of OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS (of which there are only three currently in existence) and signed copy of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS. Once again, I’m a lazy bum and rafflecopter is not in the cards. BUT.
is! Yaaaaaay! US and Canada only. You have one week to leave a comment and be eligible for both giveaways. May the odds be ever in your favor.