The Magicsmith Book 3
by L.R. Braden
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
New world, new rules . . .
Alex is screwed. She’s due at the fae Court of Enchantment in less than twenty-four hours, but she’s not even close to being ready. Her job is hanging by a fraying thread. There’s a new vampire master in town. And several of her werewolf friends have been captured by the Paranatural Task Force.
She’s their best chance for release before the full moon reveals their secret, but the Lord of Enchantment is not someone you keep waiting—even when he happens to be your grandfather. All Alex can do is call in a favor, hope to hell she can survive the plots of the fae court, and hightail it home to salvage her life.
One mistake at court could change everything . . . .
“Original and riveting.”—Book Likes Blog on A Drop of Magic, Book One of The Magicsmith series
“Great plot. Lovable characters. Heart-pounding action.”—Lauren Davis, Netgalley Reviewer on A Drop of Magic
BRONZE DUST AND red buffing compound coated my work surface, my
jeans, and my hands. Pulling down my respirator mask so it hung over my
collarbone like a necklace, I set the Dremel aside and, fingers clasped,
pressed my palms toward the ceiling until my back popped. My stomach
growled, and I glanced longingly at the dregs of coffee staining my empty
mug. Breakfast had been a long time ago. The air in the studio smelled of
warm metal and sulfur patina, and my nose twitched with the warning of
an oncoming sneeze.
Sniffing, and brushing the back of my wrist over my upper lip, I
snatched up a polishing cloth to wipe out the residual red rouge caked in
the corners of the bronze queen chess piece. I was careful to keep my mind
clear as I worked, blocking off my emotions so they didn’t accidentally
spill over into Uncle Sol’s Christmas present due to my magical ability.
That would be a fine gift. Here’s a fun game full of anxiety and stress
that makes you sick to your stomach when you touch the pieces.
When the queen shone with a mirror finish, I set her besid e her king,
ready to lead her army across the cherrywood chess board.
On one side of the battlefield, fractal-pattern pawns guarded a court of
frozen snowflakes—all sharp angles and hard lines—their shapes as bright
and clear as their finish. Across the no man’s land of checkered space, a
second army sat, ready for war. These pieces were dark, stained to an oilslick
finish. In contrast to their counterparts, the patinaed court swooped
and curled with organic curves.
The set was done. One more item checked off my to-do list, and not a
moment too soon. I’d be on my way to the fae Winter Festival in less than
a day. My tutors, Kai and Hortense, had been cramming almost every
waking moment with fae etiquette lessons to help me survive my debut at
the Court of Enchantment. Most of the lessons boiled down to “Don’t be
Standing, I brushed what metal dust I could off my jeans, then
scrubbed my hands raw at the sink in the corner.
I had a box all prepared for Sol’s gift, kept safe from the studio’s mess
in a cabinet off to one side of my work space. The chess pieces each
slipped into individual pockets in two felt-lined drawers under the board.
Once the armies were laid to rest, I set the board on a bed of bubble wrap,
covered it, and tucked it in. I secured the box with packing tape and
scribbled the address for Uncle Sol’s New York apartment—the closest
thing he had to a home—across the top. Then I cleaned my Dremel, placed
it back on its peg on the wall, and swept up the evidence of my work.
Straightening, I turned a slow circle, making sure everything was tidy.
Thanks to the time-dilation between realms, this would be the last time I
set foot in my studio for at least a week. Assuming I came back at all.
A colorful sheet hung like a ghost in one corner of the room,
suspended on the copper sculpture it was keeping safe from my creation
process. All the tools were in their places, the kilns were off, the forge was
Grabbing Sol’s present, I turned out the lights and locked the studio
door. The mid-morning sky was clear but cold, tightening the skin across
my cheeks. Tendrils of mist still huddled in shadows, close to the ground
where the sun couldn’t find them. I breathed deep, and crossed the clearing
to my house.
I set Sol’s package on the breakfast bar that separated the kitchen
from the living room, and glanced at the clock on the wall.
Crap. I only had thirty minutes until my shift at the bookstore.
I FLEW THROUGH the back door to Magpie Books, purse dangling from
one hand, keys clenched in the other. I’d stripped off my dirty clothes,
wiped the worst smudges off my face with a damp rag, and pulled on a
clean outfit in two minutes flat. I’d also careened down the Boulder
Canyon like a maniac, so I was only five minutes late for my shift.
Shoving my belongings into a locker in the back room, I pushed
through the employee-only door to the store proper and jogged up an aisle
of bookcases toward the front.
Dozens of people were perusing the shelves, arms piled high with
popular titles, and the front door jingled constantly with the flow of
holiday traffic. The scent of pine and cinnamon mixed with the smell of
books and coffee. A row of over-stuffed stockings hung on one wall, each
embroidered with an employee’s name. Mine was third from the end.
Kayla stood by the register. Her platinum blond hair was pinned back
from her face with two tiny silver clips. She wore her usual high-collared,
ankle-length dress to hide the gossamer pixie wings she’d once shown me.
I licked my lips, recalling the heady sensation caused by the magical dust
that came off those wings.
“Hey, Kayla. Sorry I’m—” My apology stalled as my gaze shifted past
Kayla to the café area and a knot lodged in my throat.
Standing at the counter was an agent of the Paranatural Task Force—
PTF for short. He wore blue jeans, brown boots, and a button-up shirt with
a beige plaid pattern, nothing to mark him as a PTF agent, but I’d
recognize Benjamin O’Connell anywhere. Hard to forget a man who’d
sworn to ruin your life. Especially when he had the means and authority to
actually do it.
Clenching my fists, I continued past the register, ignoring Kayla’s
furrowed brow. I stepped up to O’Connell. “What are you doing here?”
O’Connell raised one eyebrow. “Getting a coffee.”
I crossed my arms. “Why here?”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
Emma, the barista, pulled a lever on the copper machine behind the
counter and a hiss of steam poured out. She jingled as she worked, her
many chains and piercings clicking with each motion, but her usual
perkiness was absent. Her shoulders sagged, and when she turned I saw
dark circles below her eyes.
Last month, Emma took, and passed, the test to become a practitioner
—a rare human who could use magic. She’d also convinced a local healer
named Luke to take her on as his apprentice, which would explain her
glazed expression. I knew from experience that using magic was
I inched closer to O’Connell and pitched my voice lower. “What do
“I was worried you might get lonely after I saw the list of potentials
brought in this morning.”
My heart stuttered, and my mouth went dry. Potentials were people
reported for exhibiting magical behavior. They were rounded up, dragged
to the nearest PTF facility, and tested for paranatural abilities. I’d seen
firsthand how brutal PTF tests could be, and the consequences of
failing . . . I was just lucky my ability to handle iron protected me from
suspicion, since that was the main way they tested for fae heritage. Not all
my friends were so lucky. If he’d gotten his hands on any of them. . . . I
swallowed the sour taste in my mouth.
“Gonna take all day to get them processed.” He sighed and rubbed the
back of his neck—the picture of an overworked employee just trying to get
through the day. “Then there’s the testing. Could be days. Weeks maybe,
backed up as we are.” He leaned toward me like a friend sharing a secret.
His nearness made my skin itch. “We’ve been up to our eyeballs in
suspicion reports since the election results came in.”
Colorado’s governor-to-be, Gary Anderson, had run a Purity
campaign, aligning himself with the extremist group that endorsed
wholesale slaughter of anyone with a drop of magic in their blood. I’d
already noticed several disturbing changes around town, like iron bead
curtains hanging in doorways, anti-fae stickers in storefronts, and a recent
call for magical-segregation in schools.
News that the number of reports had risen since the election wasn’t
surprising, but it was disturbing. The same thing happened right before the
Faerie Wars broke out, when tension between the humans and fae had been
at its highest. I shuddered to think how much worse the situation was
going to get come January, when Anderson was officially sworn in.
“I guess between the halfer,” O’Connell cut his eyes to Kayla, “and
the witch,” he nodded toward Emma, “you’ve got all the company you
need.” He smiled. “For now.”
Emma set a to-go cup on the counter and O’Connell stepped away
from me to grab it. He lifted the steaming container to his lips, hissing
when the hot liquid hit his tongue. Then he raised his drink in salute and
walked out the door.
“Hey, Alex.” Emma smiled. The steel ring in her lip glinted. “Want
I set my hands on the counter, leaving sweaty smudges on the glass.
“Was that guy bothering you?”
She frowned. “No. Why?”
I shook my head and walked back the way I’d come. Passing Kayla, I
said, “I need to make a phone call,” and hustled back through the
“employees only” door before either of my coworkers could do more than
Yanking open my locker, I grabbed my cell phone and stood with my
finger over the contacts icon. Did O’Connell really have one or more of
my friends? Or was he trying to trick me into giving someone away?
Could he have bugged my phone?
I frowned. The CSI shows on TV always talked about cloning cell
phones, but people had to steal the phones first. And even the PTF needed
a warrant for a legal phone tap . . .
I scrolled through entries, wondering who was most exposed.
My first thought when O’Connell hinted a friend had been taken was
of Kai. But O’Connell wouldn’t have called him a potential. Kai was a
fully registered fae, living at my house on a visa granted by the PTF. Plus,
O’Connell had already dragged Kai in for extensive testing.
I shivered, recalling the way Kai had screamed during those tests.
No. Kai was safe. As safe as a fae could be, considering the growing
influence of Purity.
But James—a vampire hiding in plain sight—was definitely not safe.
O’Connell knew we were friends, and potentially more. Our complicated
relationship status had come under close scrutiny when James was
investigated for murder. I’d since slammed the brakes on dating, but the
jolt of dopamine and the way my body tightened whenever he was around
made it painfully clear that my heart and my head weren’t on the same
I pressed the call button. As soon as the line connected I asked,
“Where are you?”
“The nest.” The sound of James’s voice loosened some of the ropes of
tension squeezing my chest.
I rubbed my forehead, fighting back a headache. James had spent the
better part of a week preparing for the arrival of a new master vampire—
some woman named Victoria—who’d claimed ownership of the Denver
area nearly as soon as we’d put the old master down. How she’d known
about the vacancy so fast was anybody’s guess, but she’d come to town
two nights ago.
“You’re all right?” I asked. “No . . . problems?”
“I’m fine.” Worry crept into his voice, stretching his syllables. “Has
“It’s nothing. I’ll see you at dinner tonight.” I disconnected before he
could press me for more information. If he wasn’t O’Connell’s prisoner I
didn’t have time to waste chatting with him, and the last thing he needed
while dealing with a new, powerful vampire was to be distracted.
I scanned through my remaining contacts. Some names were missing,
like Chase and Jynx, the shifter siblings crashing at my house, and
Hortense, the tutor sent by my grandfather to fill the gaps in Kai’s lessons.
They were all full fae, and I had no way to contact them except face-toface,
but Chase had been a snoring ball of gray fur at the end of my bed
when I left for work, and Jynx had been watching television. I bit my lip. I
couldn’t imagine Hortense being careless enough to get caught by the likes
That left the wolves. I knew several members of the local werewolf
pack, thanks to my recent exploits, but I didn’t have all their numbers. One
number I did have was Marc’s. As the leader of the pack, he was sure to
know if any of his members had been picked up by the PTF.
The line rang . . . and rang. No answer.
I took a deep breath. No reason to panic yet. Maybe he was just in the
shower. Scrolling further down the list, I clicked the entry for Oz, a pack
member I’d actually known before I discovered, rather violently, that
werewolves were real.
The line rang. I bit my lower lip, my heart rate starting to climb. No
answer there either.
I didn’t have a direct line to Sarah Nazari, a werewolf detective with
the Boulder police department. And Sophie—my human friend turned
werewolf the night we both learned they were more than just stories—had
her phone privileges revoked after sneaking out to go clubbing and nearly
shifting in a building packed tight with tasty mortals.
I thumped my cell phone against my forehead. A couple missed calls
was hardly conclusive, but my gut told me O’Connell had gotten his hands
on some or all of the werewolves. Waves of dread rolled through me. I had
to know for sure.
Lifting the phone one more time, I called Maggie. A month ago,
talking to Maggie would have been the most natural thing in the world.
Now, the prospect made my insides writhe. Maggie was one of my few
remaining human friends, and the only one I’d managed to keep
completely out of the craziness my life had become. But my secrets had
driven a wedge between us, and I wasn’t sure how to bridge that gap.
Before I’d walked into the near-certain death of Merak’s nest, I’d
written a letter to Maggie explaining everything and apologizing for
keeping her in the dark, just in case. I hadn’t died. I also hadn’t given her
the letter yet. I’d stuffed it in my nightstand drawer, too afraid to face the
fallout of laying my secrets bare, especially as the gulf between us grew
“Alex?” Maggie’s voice was sharp. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just—”
“Are you at the store?”
I looked at the employee door, then at the exit. “Yeah, but I need to
“Bloody hell, Alex. Your shift just started, and this is the last shift
you’ve got before the two weeks you requested off during the busiest
shopping season of the year.” Her voice rose as she spoke, her London
accent becoming more pronounced.
“I know, but something’s come up.”
A loud sigh came through the phone. “Something always comes up
with you these days, and you’ve told me bugger all about it.”
“I know. I—”
“How long do I need to cover? The morning? The whole day?
I shuffled my feet and looked up at the speckled ceiling tiles. “Better
not count on me today.”
“I can’t ever count on you anymore.”
Dead air filled the line as I struggled to find something to say,
something to make things right between us, but she was right.
“I can’t take this anymore, Alex. Not with . . .” A sharp exhale and a
shaky breath. “You’re sacked.”
The words dropped like a bomb in my head, splintering my thoughts
into a million shards of jagged shrapnel. I opened my mouth to argue, to
come clean about my heritage, to explain why I’d missed all those shifts,
but all that came out was a ringing silence.
“I’m sorry, Alex.”
The line went dead.
Pressure built behind my eyes.
I’d thought about quitting the bookstore dozens of times—usually
when I was fighting to get out of my nice warm bed before the sun came
up—but I’d never really considered it. Magpie Books had been Maggie’s
dream, but we’d built it together. I’d been there from the start, and I’d
always assumed I’d be there till the end. Magpie was supposed to be a
place I would always belong.
Dropping the phone in my purse, I blinked until my tears were no
longer in danger of falling. Somehow, I had to repair my friendship with
Maggie. I couldn’t afford to burn any more bridges. But first, I needed to
find out what, if anything, had happened to the werewolves.
The Magicsmith Book 2
“A great story of murder, mystery . . . and well-developed characters.”—Margie Hager, Netgalley Reviewer on A Drop of Magic
“A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” —Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series
Deeper into the shadows. . .
The paranatural community isn’t done with Alex. She’s been summoned to the fae court, and she’s got her hands full trying to prepare. But her date with the fae will have to wait. There’s been a death at the gallery, and the man she hoped would be a part of her future is the prime suspect.
Bitter enemies pull her into the middle of a paranatural war for territory that has her dodging police, swords, teeth, and claws—not to mention the truth. The deeper she digs, the more secrets she uncovers, and the less certain she is about the innocence of the one man she wanted to trust.
She thought she was done with murder and monsters, but she’ll have to enter the belly of the beast if she hopes to save her friend.
MY BREATH PUFFED out in angry little clouds as I shivered under the star-streaked sky that stretched above my patch of frozen mountain. Jaw clenched, I shoved a key into the lock on my front door with enough force to jerk the purse off my shoulder. It slid down, snagging at my elbow, and the shift in weight jostled the dome-covered cake balanced in my other hand.
I couldn’t believe James had stood me up again. After all his promises. Twenty minutes standing outside his house. Then a quick call about unavoidable business at the gallery. Sure he’d apologized, given me his
usual line about making it up to me “another time.” But another time never seemed to come for James and me.
I twisted the keys. Those not in the lock dug into my palm.
Another time. If he said those words again, I was going to run him over with my Jeep.
The door stuck, swollen by moisture. I growled and pushed harder, hissing when my weight settled onto the freshly re-knit muscles of my right leg. I gave the door another shove, and it finally gave way, slamming
into the adjoining wall with a bang, my keys still dangling from the lock.
I froze in the doorway. My living room was occupied.
I’d been looking forward to curling up with my cake and my anger. Habits formed through years of solitude were hard to break, and I still wasn’t used to having roommates. Company was going to put a serious crimp in my plans.
Kai and Chase were sitting across from each other on my faded furniture, cards and poker chips on the coffee table between them. Neither seemed surprised by my dramatic entrance.
“You’re home early.” Kai glanced in my direction, and his eyes were swirling galaxies of color rather than the deep brown of his glamour—the human disguise he wore less and less these days. He was a fae knight from the Realm of Enchantment who’d been living in my guest room for about a month, most of which was spent saving the world from a murderer with a magic, world-eating box. He cradled a hand of cards to his chest so his opponent couldn’t cheat. “Didn’t think we’d see you till much later.”
“Or tomorrow,” added Chase without looking up.
I’d let Chase into my home when I thought he was just a cat, before I knew he was actually a fae who could change form at will. I let him stay because he saved my life. Of course, when I made that deal, the understanding was that he’d remain the gray tabby I’d taken in last summer, but he’d been spending more time with fingers than fur lately.
“Call.” He dumped a handful of colorful plastic chips onto the pile already on the table.
“Yeah well . . .” I pulled my key out of the door and kicked it closed behind me. “Plans change.”
Chase glanced up and raised a silver eyebrow over one luminous green eye. “You’ve replaced James with a cake?”
The plastic dome I hugged gave a clear view of the decadent chocolate cake I’d picked up on my way home.
“This is my consolation prize.” I lifted my chin and carried the calorie-laden confection to the high counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. “Don’t judge me.”
“Let me guess.” Chase tossed his long silver braid behind his shoulder, making his pointed, slightly furry ears twitch. “Something came up.”
“Again,” Kai added. He spread his cards on the table. “Two pair.”
“Full house,” Chase said with a grin. He scooped up his winnings.
Kai looked over at me. “It’s important to know when to fold.”
I’d been thinking the same thing all the long drive home. I’d done my best with James. I’d really put myself out there. But after all the excuses, and conflicting schedules, and missed dates. . . . I’d been down this road enough to know where it ended. I’d had my fill of waiting for men who never showed up. Still, I wasn’t about to give Kai the satisfaction of an “I told you so.”
I crossed my arms and dropped onto the couch next to Kai. “That little tip just lost you a piece of cake.”
His smile went slack. Kai had the biggest sweet tooth I’d ever seen.
“You’ll get fat if you eat it all on your own.”
I gestured to Chase, who was stacking his winnings into neat little piles. “Chase can help me.”
Chase shook his head. “Cats don’t eat chocolate.”
“They don’t normally eat pizza either, but that’s never stopped you.” I “accidentally” nudged the coffee table with my knee, sending Chase’s carefully stacked poker chips cascading across the surface.
“Hey! Don’t get pissy at me just because your old stiff couldn’t follow through.”
“James is not an old stiff,” I said. “He’s refined. Something you wouldn’t understand.”
He snorted. “Whatever you say.”
I turned to Kai. “Back me up here.”
“Will it earn me some cake?”
“Ha,” roared Chase. “Spineless elf.”
“Mangy stray,” Kai shot back.
Chase took a bow and began to melt, shrinking and shifting until a gray tabby sat on the faded beige cushion of Chase’s chair.
Sighing, I lifted a blue poker chip and rolled it over my knuckles.
“What were you betting?”
Kai tipped his head to one side and frowned. “Little bits of colored plastic, obviously.”
I rolled my eyes and tossed the chip back on the pile. “The chips are usually backed by money, but I guess you and Chase aren’t exactly rolling in human cash.”
“Actually, I received my first paycheck last week.”
When Kai made the decision to stick around the mortal realm to instruct me in all things fae, he also started working part-time at a convenience store owned by a registered halfer who owed him a favor.
The job was dull, but necessary to get a work visa from the PTF—the Paranatural Task Force that policed interactions between humans and fae—which was the only way a full-blooded fae could legally stay in the
“I’ve been thinking about what to do with it, though I hadn’t considered rolling in it. I believe humans have a custom of paying a portion of the expense of shared living space, so I thought I might do that.”
“You mean rent?”
He thrust a finger at me. “Exactly. What do I owe you?”
I lifted one shoulder. “On the house.”
“Yes. What do I owe on the house?”
I rolled my eyes. “It means forget about it. I don’t need your money.”
“Are we not roommates?”
“Sure, but it’s not like this is a permanent arrangement. We haven’t even talked about what happens after my trip to court.” My breath hitched, as it often did when anyone mentioned my summons to the fae
Court of Enchantment. Kai had convinced the powers-that-be— namely my long-lost great-grandfather—that I wasn’t ready, hence his new job as my personal tutor. But we had no idea how long the arrangement
would last. Maybe I’d never be ready for life among the fae.
He frowned. “I still feel I should contribute.”
“How about groceries? Between you and Chase, the fridge is almost always empty.”
“Deal.” He thrust out his hand, and I shook it, trying not to laugh at his triumphant expression.
Chase, who’d been watching our exchange, perked up at the word “groceries.” Once the deal was struck, he sprang into my lap and nuzzled his head against my chin.
Without thinking, I stroked his back and scratched around his ears.
“You know that’s still Chase, right?” Kai watched us with a mixture of amusement and frustration. “You shouldn’t treat him differently just because he looks like a cat.”
I shrugged. “I can’t help it.”
Kai made a disgusted noise and scooped the cat out of my lap, dropping him unceremoniously to the floor. Chase gave an indignant hiss and sauntered off.
“If you can’t even deal with that riffraff, how do you expect to get by at court?”
I nibbled a piece of loose cuticle and hunched deeper into the sagging couch cushion, wishing for the millionth time that life could go back to the way it was before Kai showed up at my door. Back when I
thought I was human.
Most halfers—fae-human hybrids—returned to their regular lives after registering with the PTF, but that wasn’t an option for me. Unlike the vast majority of fae offspring, I wasn’t allergic to metal. Hell, it was
how I made my living. And according to Kai, there was only one bloodline capable of producing fae that could handle iron. That was why Kai was still there, why I had to take faerie protocol lessons, and why
Uncle Sol, the man who’d raised me since a car crash killed my mom, was doing his best to keep my name off the PTF registry.
I rubbed the intricate tattoo that wound its way up my right arm.
Learning I was the by-blow of a fae-human love affair untold generations ago had been a hard pill to swallow. Finding out I was royal had been a kick in the head.
“I still don’t see why I have to go. Your mission was a success, the killer was brought to justice, and gramps got back his magic death-box.
Why can’t we just leave it at that and all go our merry ways?”
Kai pinched the bridge of his nose. “We’ve gone over this. There is no going back. The gift my lord gave you to boost your powers also marked you as his blood-kin. There’s no hiding who you are now.”
“I could hide just fine if I stayed here,” I argued. “But parading around a fae court with the Lord of Enchantment is going to make me pretty damn conspicuous.”
There was a time I would have been happy to have a long-lost relative come and claim me, as any orphan would, but I held no delusion that he’d found me out of kinship or caring. I was one of only three
living imbuers—a rare gift. No fae would pass up his claim to an imbuer, regardless of how tenuous the connection or how weak the blood of the halfer.
Kai rolled his eyes—an expression I was pretty sure he’d picked up from me. “You’re a member of the court now, like it or not. If you don’t go to them they will eventually come to you, and I guarantee you would not enjoy that experience. In either case, learning our customs and traditions is the best way to protect yourself. Besides, there’s no one in this world or any other who can instruct you in the art of imbuing as well as my lord.”
I crossed my arms, frowning. “My abilities are fine the way they are.”
Truth be told, there was a lot I still had to learn about my powers, and magic in general, but that was the one subject Kai had steadfastly refused to cover. Mostly our sessions consisted of mind-numbing etiquette
and history lessons, although he’d recently begun teaching me how to fight with a sword.
“It’s important for you to understand how the fae world works before you take your place in it. To that end . . .” He picked up an old leather-bound book from a pile on the floor and held it out. “A little light
reading before bed.”
“Haven’t I suffered enough tonight?”
“It’s the chronicle of your family tree. I thought you might be interested to see where you came from.”
“I know where I come from,” I snapped, but I took the proffered tome just the same.
“You know less about yourself than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Never mind.” He waved his hand as if wiping the words away.
“I’m turning in. I have an early shift at the store tomorrow.”
“How’s that going, by the way?”
He shrugged. “I play tricks on the customers to entertain myself when it’s slow.”
My jaw dropped. “If someone reports you, your visa will be revoked.
You’ll be deported back to the reservation.”
“Don’t worry.” He grinned. “Humans haven’t got a clue.”
I scowled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
A Drop of Magic
The Magicsmith Book 1
The war isn’t over . . .
With the world clinging to a fragile peace forced on the Fae by humanity after the Faerie Wars, metalsmith Alex Blackwood is plunged into the world of the half-fae who traffick in illegal magical artifacts. Her best friend’s murder and his cryptic last message place her in the crosshairs of a scheme to reignite the decade-old war between humans and fae.
Worse, violent attacks against her and the arrival of a fae knight on a mission force Alex to face a devastating revelation of who and what she is. To catch a killer, retrieve a dangerous artifact, and stop a war, Alex will have to accept that she’s an unregistered fae “halfer” with a unique magical talent—a talent that would change everything she believes about her past, her art, and her future.
Her world is crumbling around her, and Alex will have to decide who to trust if she and the world are going to survive.
“A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” —Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series
METAL DUST CLUNG to the sweat on my arms, glittering like shining scales. Even with the studio door propped open behind me, the uncommonly warm October air did little to temper the heat of the forge. A shower of sparks erupted as I plunged the carbon steel rod back into the annealing embers and dragged an arm across my forehead, taking care to avoid the bulky, blackened welding glove. I’d probably still end up with sooty streaks decorating my otherwise pale face. I always did.
Lost in the beat of my old MP3 player, I started belting out the lyrics of Robert DeLong’s Don’t Wait Up as I prepared the next rod. Then a touch settled—light and tentative—on my arm, and the bottom fell out of my stomach.
Tongs clutched in one hand, hammer in the other, I spun.
“Whoa, whoa.” His lips formed the words, though I couldn’t hear them over the music blaring through my headphones.
An inch shorter than I was, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, I had no reason to think the man was anything but human. But then, who could tell these days? He took a step back, hands raised, either to show he meant no harm or to ward off the blow he thought was coming.
Behind him, near the open door, stood a second man. He wore a rumpled brown suit that matched his hair and eyes. Average height, average build, average looks. Nothing remarkable about him.
Moving to put the anvil between us, I set the hammer down and pulled off my headphones, but kept a white-knuckled grip on the tongs. The higher-than-average number of violent crimes this summer had me on edge—along with everyone else—though none of the violence had come so far as my neck of the woods. It seemed unlikely a murderer would get my attention before attacking, but my heart raced a mile a minute as I faced the strangers. “Who are you?”
The man nearest me lowered his arms. “We announced ourselves, but it seems you didn’t hear.”
I scowled at his attempt to put the blame back on me. This was my studio, and they were uninvited guests.
“My apologies.” This came from Mr. Unremarkable. The monotone of his voice matched his appearance, revealing nothing. “You may call me Smith. My associate is Neil. Am I addressing Alyssandra Blackwood?”
A muscle under my right eye twitched. Most people only knew me as Alex. Alyssandra hadn’t existed anywhere but legal documents since I was twelve and traded the name in for something stronger, more
“We’ve come to purchase an item from you, an engraved silver box.”
My shoulders dropped as the tension in them eased a little. Customers didn’t often stop by the studio unannounced, but it wasn’t unheard of. People sometimes got my address from the Souled Art Gallery
in Boulder where I showed my work, or from previous customers, and came to commission pieces. Most were courteous enough to call ahead.
“I’m booked on orders right now. I could maybe get to it next month.”
“You misunderstand. We are looking for an object already in your possession.”
“Oh. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have an item like that in stock.”
“We know the box came your way. If you hand it over, we can make it worth your while.” Neil had the slick, sleazy tone of a used car salesman. Curious though I was about this box, and why they thought I had it, I’d had enough of the conversation. Even if they weren’t killers, they gave me the creeps. I shook my head. “You were misinformed.”
“Ms. Blackwood,” Smith said. “Be reasonable. We’re willing to pay handsomely, and considering the other parties involved, you’re not likely to get a better offer. Surely it isn’t worth the risk?”
My breath caught as the thinly veiled threat hit me like a punch in the gut.
“You need to leave, now.” My voice trembled slightly. The studio only had one door, and they were between it and me. I was trapped. Shifting my stance, I tightened my grip on the tongs, willing them not to shake.
Smith raised his hands in a placating manner. “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. You might not even realize you have the item we seek. It would look quite common, like a jewelry box.”
“I told you, I haven’t got anything like that. Now get out of here before I call the cops.” It was a bluff, of course, I’d left my cell phone in the house. Even if I could call, the police would never arrive in time to help. That was the downside of living so far from town. I was on my own.
“Enough of this.” Neil stepped around the anvil and reached for my arm.
I didn’t like to fight, I avoided confrontations when I could, but if he thought I was going to roll over, he was wrong. With a guttural howl, I twisted my wrist out of Neil’s grip and swung the tongs into his face. His skin split apart like newspaper peeling back from a fire, scorched black and crinkled around the edges. An unearthly shriek filled the studio, and I stumbled back, shocked at the damage I’d done.
Neil shimmered and seemed to melt. His skin became transparent, and a network of blue veins crawled beneath its surface. His nose spread and sank into his face, leaving two flared slits. Below that, the mouth emitting that horrible sound elongated until the gaping, needle-lined hole grew so large I could have put my whole fist in without scraping my knuckles. When he reached up to cover his face, his fingers had nearly doubled in length, the webbing between them connecting all the way to the tips. His fingernails stretched and thickened to claws. The creature before me was straight out of a horror movie, and I added my own scream to the cacophony.
Wielding my tongs like a baseball bat, I backed away from the writhing shape which had been the man Neil seconds before. Even at the best of times, my stomach cramped when someone mentioned the
fae. Seeing one in the flesh was like having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. I shivered from head to toe, and fought the urge to throw up.
Smith crossed the space between himself and Neil in two steps and pulled Neil’s arms down to expose the hideous gash burned across his cheek. My stomach lurched at what I’d done. White glinted where bone showed beneath charred flesh. The eye above had swelled shut and was rapidly turning a sickly greenish color. Smith placed one palm against Neil’s forehead, and the horrible wail abruptly cut off as Neil sagged in Smith’s arms.
“It seems we were mistaken.” Smith spoke as he had before, without inflection or emotion. Nothing to show surprise or concern that he was holding an unconscious, injured faerie in his arms. “Good day, Ms. Blackwood.”
My mind went blank as I fumbled for words.
Smith took my stupefied silence in stride. Hefting Neil without visible effort, he gave a small parting nod and carried his companion out of the studio.
I remained where I was until the sound of car doors closing and the crunch of gravel told me I was alone. Then, still clutching my tongs, I inched to the door and took a deep breath of the outside air. The
driveway was empty, no cars in sight. No faerie goons either. My knees gave out under the weight of the panic I’d been keeping in check, and I sank to the ground, tongs still clutched in my shaking hands. The tea I’d had for breakfast felt like acid in my stomach, threatening to come back up.
A gray tabby with yellow-green eyes peeked around the corner of the shed with a questioning, “Meow?” Cat had appeared on my doorstep a few months back, begging for scraps, and I’d made the mistake of giving him some. He’d come around every day since. Despite the fact he’d already stuck around longer than most of the guys in my life, I’d steadfastly refused to name him.
“Fat lot of good you were.”
Lifting his nose, Cat swished his tail and stalked away.
It was silly to take my anxiety out on Cat, but it was easier than dealing with the panic and adrenaline threatening to overwhelm me. Anything to distract from the flesh seared to the tongs in my shaking
I couldn’t imagine forging more, so with a wary eye on the door I dampened the coals and stored my tools, each in its marked place on my pegboard. The gooey tongs went on a shelf, I’d throw them in an acid bath later.
Born and raised in Colorado, L. R. BRADEN makes her home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her wonderful husband, precocious daughter, and psychotic cat. With degrees in both English literature and metalsmithing, she splits her time between writing and art.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Off the top of my head…
What book do you think everyone should read?
People are too different. A book that strikes a chord with one person and really makes them think might seem trite and uninspired to another. Don’t believe me? Just look at all the reviews of your favorite book. I guarantee someone hated it.
How long have you been writing?
I scribbled out stories as a child and teenager, but I never finished any of them. It wasn’t until 2012 that I actually sat down with the intention of writing a complete novel. Since then I’ve taken classes, read books, and submitted to contests to get better. To date, I’ve written six novels and seven short stories, and I have outlines for many many more that are just waiting for me to get around to them.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I start with a set of essential characters, but new characters are popping up all the time. Sometimes they come completely out of the blue, filling some hole I hadn’t even noticed in my story, and sometimes I create a small character for a single roll, but that character morphs into someone who gets fleshed out and integrated into the larger story.
Do you see writing as a career?
More and more as time goes on. When I first started writing it was just a hobby, and in some regards a test to see if I could do it. I never wrote with the intention of becoming rich and famous (not that I’d complain if that happened). Now that I’ve got contracts, deadlines, and people asking me, “When will the next book be out?” writing feels much more like a job. It’s a job I love, which is awesome, but I have to approach it with a different attitude than I did in the beginning. I can’t just write “when I feel like it.”
Do you read yourself, and if so what is your favorite genre?
Absolutely! I’ve had to slow down now that so much of my time is taken up with reading and revising my own work, but I still manage a few books a month. I mostly read fantasy in all its sub-genres. I also like science fiction and young adult, and I read lots and lots of children’s books with my daughter. I’ll read any book so long as the story or topic holds my interest.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Silence, definitely. I’ve tried writing with music, but I always end up singing along to the lyrics instead of focusing on my story. And trying to write while people are talking is just impossible.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I’ve usually got one book in revision and editing at the same time I’m writing the early drafts of another. I also work on the pre-writing for future stories almost constantly, so even when I’m writing one story I’ll be making notes for several others. I try never to work on more than one first draft at a time.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
I work on my laptop. I like the ease of moving whole chunks of my story around, and having versioned drafts that I can pull up and look at if I change my mind about major changes. Sometimes I also jot notes or phrases on my phone when they come to me, which I can then easily paste into my story files.
Advice you would give new authors?
Becoming an author is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pace yourself and remember to take breaks when you need them, otherwise you won’t reach the finish line.
Describe your writing style.
I generally have an idea of what scene or scenes I hope to write when I sit down at my computer. Then I just start typing and see where I end up. Sometimes everything goes smoothly and I hammer out scene after scene and I love them all. Sometimes I agonize over a single scene for hours and never seem to make any progress. Either way, I let the story shift and change as I write because sometimes things don’t come together until I’m mucking about in the details.
What makes a good story?
There are hundreds of books and courses trying to answer this question, but in a nutshell I’d say: Compelling and believable characters faced with interesting challenges, both inside and out.
What are you currently reading?
I just got “Queen of Nothing” by Holly Black for Christmas and I’m very excited to read it.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
Once I come up with the idea for a story, I spend some time rolling it around in my head. If it sticks around, I jot down notes of important factors, characters, plot events, etc. Since I’m usually in the middle of another project, those notes often sit around for a long time before I can get back to them. (For example: I’ve got lots of notes on a story I want to write that I thought up about three years ago.)
When I’m ready to start working on the project, I make an outline of where I think the story will go and major landmarks along the way. Sometimes I mark where I think chapter or section breaks will be, but those often move around after I’ve finished the first draft. Then I flesh out the main characters and figure out how they fit together and interact. I usually make files for each including backstory, physical appearance, personality traits, etc.
By the time I actually start writing, I’ve got many pages of notes. Then I sit down and write the first draft, beginning to end. I can’t say I never go back and edit a previous section, but I try not to. If I find something that needs to be changed, I make a note about it and move on.
After the first draft is done, I go back and address any major overhauls I made note of. Then I set it aside for a bit so I can come at it again with fresh eyes (assuming I don’t have a deadline looming over me). After that it’s all about revision and fine-tuning.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Family time. I will pretty much always choose doing something with my family over sitting alone in my office, so I have to exercise a great deal of self-control when my husband or daughter asks me to join them.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try my best to deliver a story readers will enjoy. If people like a certain kind of story, they will read others like it, and every story will have original aspects just because every writer is different.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“Don’t obsess.” But I wouldn’t listen.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
To actually “write” the book? About three months. But then I have to revise the book. And edit the book. And then do it all over again. I will say that from start to finish, my work time is getting shorter because I’m making fewer mistakes in the early drafts. I’d say my current turnaround time for a book is about six months of actual work (which doesn’t include taking breaks to work on other projects or waiting for my editors and beta readers to get back to me.)
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, but sometimes I don’t feel like doing anything. That’s just a natural part of being human. If I take a day off to relax, sometimes a couple, I can get back to work once I feel better. I’ve never not been able to come up with things to write.
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