Hello everybody! I have great news! The release date for my new book has been moved to August 30. It will be available from changeling press on Friday
Excerpt: Technical Difficulties
The dragon had been brutalized. As Medical Technician Johnson worked over the corpse, she couldn’t miss the signs. The poor dragon-in-human-guise was female. She hadn’t been raped; at least there were no signs of trauma to the uterus, nor fluids. But she’d been ripped apart, flesh from bone. There were tears in the muscle that bespoke deep and terrible injuries.
Sonya Johnson whispered, “I think you were dead when most of these were inflicted.” She’d quickly discovered the cause of death: a crushed skull that had occurred while the dragon was in human form. Now all she wanted was to be done chronicling the post mortem atrocities and see to it that the poor soul had a decent burial.
Sonya smiled just a little. Thinking of any dragon as a “poor soul” was a little like calling a lion a kitty cat. Dragons, like werewolves, she thought with a shudder, were known for taking care of themselves. Both Apex predators of the magical world, for slightly different reasons, they were treated with respect and almost obsessive politeness by other magical beings and the few humans unlucky enough to know about their existence.
“Humans like me.” Her smile was gone as she finished cataloging the last injury. Shaking her head, Sonya covered the body with a sheet and left the autopsy room. She locked the door before heading into her office.
All right, so it wasn’t technically “her” office any more than the autopsy room belonged to her. But she thought of both as her property because she spent more time in them than anyone else. That was thanks to the doctoral-level degree she was seeking from SearchLight Academy in Reptilian Magical Creatures: Treatment and Dissection. Unlike those who studied humans, magical creature experts were expected to have a wider knowledge base. The closest comparison Sonya could make was a general practice physician. And even they weren’t responsible for both the living and the dead.
She had just finished her second year of postgraduate work. It was May. She had a blissful ten weeks off for the summer. Of course, she was still expected to work on her dissertation, so “rest” wasn’t in her vocabulary. But she wouldn’t be attending biweekly meetings with this or that professor to discuss her research. She might even have considered a week away from the City of Tampa, where she worked, and its lesser cousin, the City of St. Petersburg, where she lived. But she hadn’t scheduled any time off because she’d been too fixated on her dissertation to think beyond the next few days.
Someone knocked on the office door. Not closed completely and made of a light pressboard, the door opened a little more.
Sonya caught sight of a skirt in a bold print and a tapered shoe. She called, “Come in.”
A woman stepped in. But then she spoke. “Sorry to disturb you.” And Sonya’s mind went sideways. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with the voice. It was just that she wasn’t used to hearing a slightly male voice coming out of a woman’s body.
Transgender. That’s what they call themselves. And, on the heels of that, I hate it when someone says “they” about my people so I will not start out by thinking of this person as a part of “they.” She’s dressed as a woman. I’ll call her “her.”
“Um,” she said uncomfortably, “you’re not. Please sit down.”
The transgender person… The woman, Sonya scolded herself…didn’t sit. Neither did she shut the door. “Thanks, but…” She looked briefly discomfited. “I’m Agent Brown. Maxine.”
$That surely wasn’t the name you were born with. Oh, shut the fuck up! She doesn’t want you staring, and you will get over yourself.
Sonya realized Maxine was waiting for a response. Her small, delicate and frankly slightly attractive nose was turning slightly red, just like Sonya’s did when she was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, rising and extending her hand. “I’m Sonya Johnson, one of the medical techs.”
The moment their hands touched, the hair on the back of Sonya’s neck stood up. She pulled back rather quickly. “Um…um…” She looked away from the hand she’d shaken and into eyes that were startling in their beauty. Honey-brown and shadowed by lashes as thick and long as any ever seen in a boys’ band, they took Sonya’s breath away. She forgot for a moment that her neck was prickling and smiled. “How may I help you?”
Maxine, who had taken a step forward to grip Sonya’s hand, retreated at least that far. “Agent Wellington wants to see you when it’s convenient.” She hesitated before adding, “He’s the head of Werewolf Watch.”
Sonya shivered. She couldn’t help herself. She hated werewolves. They were the craziest, most terrifying— $Oh, get ahold of yourself. If you’re being called, you specifically… She met Maxine’s eyes. “You $are looking for me specifically, right? Because Jenny Davis could—”
“I’m sorry. He wants you personally.” She really did look empathetic. “If it helps, it will just be him, you, and me in a large conference room.”
Sonya’s particular skills were needed. She specialized in dragons and basilisks. What could she possibly do for a werewolf? Because Wellington had to be a werewolf. Unlike in the Department of Dragons, with which Sonya worked on a regular basis, Werewolf Watch was stuffed to capacity with its namesakes.
$Shit. That probably means this woman is a werewolf. She looked directly into Maxine’s eyes, needing to know. “You’re a werewolf too?”
Maxine nodded. “Agent Wellington said to tell you he understands your circumstances, whatever those are, and that he wouldn’t call for you unless it was absolutely necessary.”
$Whatever those are. She doesn’t know. Sonya felt a little better. “Can he give me fifteen minutes to…to…” She glanced down at her report. $To finish my work flashed across her mind, but it would take at least two hours to do that.
“I’ll tell him you’ll be up in thirty,” Maxine said gently. Still a little more comforted, Sonya said, “Thank you. I’ll be up soon.”
Maxine left, closing the door behind her.
$Black, like me. But transgender and werewolf. The three modifiers to the name Agent Maxine Brown hit one right after the other. Sonya sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. If she was going to have a prayer of working with werewolves…
Her mind insisted on calling them monsters.
If she was going to have any hope in Hell of working with those…people…she needed to calm down. So, instead of focusing on her report, she began the deep breathing exercises a SearchLight therapist had taught her shortly after a werewolf nearly ripped her arm off.
* * * *
Maxine was just leaving the frightened human’s office when she heard the distant ching close of the elevator doors. She ignored it and started, slowly, away from the site of confrontation. It wasn’t that she hated near-arguments, but the stench of MedTech Johnson’s fear had shortened Maxine’s breath and made her heart speed up.
The only things that had saved the encounter from becoming a meltdown were Sonya Johnson’s refusal to dwell in terror and the woman’s distraction (bordering on obsession) about Maxine being trans.
Mild telepathy could be more than mildly helpful.
The sound of rubber wheels on tile caught Maxine’s attention. Putting her thoughts about Sonya Johnson aside, she walked around a corner—and saw a genie approaching.
To be fair, he wasn’t dressed like a cartoon genie and, so far as she knew, there wasn’t a stereotypical way for a wish-giver to walk or talk. In this case, Maxine wasn’t even relying on her telepathy. Her nose told her what kind of magical creature was pushing the sheeted gurney. “Agent Morrison.”
Blond haired and blue-eyed, he flashed a stellar smile. “Luke, please. You have me at a disadvantage.”
“Maxine Brown, field agent in Werewolf Watch.”
The genie nodded. “Mark, er, Agent Tavery, found another pair. A dragon and a werewolf. They were discovered in Ybor City about an hour ago. I’m taking the dragon half to Sonya.”
Obviously, Luke had worked with Sonya before, to call her by her first name, and with such respect in his voice. “She’s been summoned up to WW. Do my bosses know about the latest bodies?”
“Absolutely.” Luke frowned. “Does Sonya know she’s expected to go into the wolf’s den, if you’ll excuse the expression?”
“She does. I promised her a large conference room so she’ll have distance from Agent Wellington and me.”
Luke nodded and his frown smoothed out. “Well, I’ll just leave this in the autopsy room.”
Maxine looked down at the sheet-covered form and felt her gut tighten. If this turned out to be murder, as the first two killings had been… Well, no one, not even a dragon, deserved to die before his or her time.
Luke said, “The werewolf half isn’t a member of the Fehrna pack.”
Not from Maxine’s pack. Fehrna Susan, the only alpha in Tampa, had come here from Montana after the slaughter of ’78.
“Like the other werewolf from the first murdered pair, he’s from far away based on his clothes and…” He laughed. “And other tells I don’t understand.”
“What’s the dragon’s gender?”
Like the first pair. A female dragon and a male werewolf.
Luke shook his head. “I don’t understand why they’re being killed in twos.”
“Probably they killed each other. Either out of self-defense or hatred.” And it was the slaughter of ’78 she was thinking of.
“They came all the way to Florida to do that?”
“Maybe they were both here for separate reasons and met by chance.” Maxine frowned. “Although finding a second similar pair, female dragon, male werewolf, makes that less likely.” She started to walk past Luke. She was heading for the stairs since traveling in an elevator was too confining.
But she stopped and turned. A question appeared like a floating neon sign in her head. “Agent Morrison, Luke, aren’t you in the MMCD? Why are you delivering dead bodies?”
Luke chuckled. “The head of Miscellaneous Magical Creatures let me run this errand since he had nothing else for me to do.”
This thought flitted from Luke’s mind to hers. She didn’t often get complete sentences. He must have been feeling his gratitude, or his love for his husband, intensely. $I’d do anything for my Mark but getting out of that cramped office…he was doing me a favor.
Maxine felt a pang of sorrow. She missed having a mate who filled her with a sense of strong devotion.
Luke had reached one of the autopsy rooms. He raised his hand and waved it in front of the door. There was the sound of an invisible hand knocking and then the door opened even though the room, Maxine saw, was empty.
“MedTech Johnson is in her office,” she told Luke.
He glanced over his shoulder. “I guessed as much.” He touched his ear. “I can hear her breathing. Have a good day.” He wheeled the gurney in.
As Maxine opened the door to the stairwell, her thoughts went back to Sonya Johnson and the fear rolling off her in waves. $Except for one instant. When our eyes met. Then she seemed…interested? Aroused? Maxine shook her head. $I can’t read humans very well. Just werewolves or half-wolves. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t scared for a moment. Did that mean Sonya Johnson had hope to be not afraid some day?
Maxine wished it so. Both for Sonya’s sake and because, under the fear, the woman was attractive. $And probably straight. And at least somewhat intimidated by trans people.
She reached the first landing. $In other words, she’s not attainable.