Brin Kelly has recovered memories that were taken from her twenty years earlier to insure her safety in a normal world. Now, with full knowledge of her abilities, and awareness of the legacy of the world she was born into, she finds herself spanning both in an effort to bring dangerous rogues to justice. When her hands aren’t full of weapons or crackling energy, you’ll find her hanging tulle at her wedding venue in a tiny Michigan village or whipping up a four star meal for her new friends and the man who has her back whether he is standing on two legs or four.
Adept: Book Three of the Leelanau Chronicles
Chapter One- Northport
When I woke up this morning and pulled the brush across the tender bruise on my head it was a cruel reminder of my other job. The one where I now spend the better part of my time up to my ears in rogue a-holes that the council sends me out in the field to track down. The bruise was compliments of a recovery job on a hulking waste of space that sized me up and figured he’d have his cake and eat it too. I would have gone easier on him if he hadn’t called me “little lady” and described exactly what he thought he’d be doing to my “fine ass” before licking his lips. Why do men feel so comfortable saying demeaning shit like that to women? That did it. I reached out with the power in my hands and lifted all of his six foot whatever right off the ground. “So, little man, got any other wise ass comments for me or are you going to come along quietly?”
He’d called me another super-fun name so I gathered the energy that was roiling in a blue ball of light on my palm and used it to flick him back hard against a brick wall like a piece of spent gum. As I was hauling his unconscious mass out of the alley way my attention was on the cross- traffic and curious onlookers and I didn’t see the post sticking out when I pulled him back into an alley to go find the others on the recovery team. Damn, that hurt. I had the whole Tweety-bird around the skull experience. I don’t mind when I catch an injury in a fight, but this was just plain stupid and self-inflicted.
So that was going through my head as I was getting ready to work my “normal world” job facilitating the wedding here at River House with my business partner and best friend, Molly. This makes wedding number thirty four since I’d bought the building almost two years ago. Molly bought in last year so now we own it together.
Back then, I really didn’t have a clue what I was, or why I had this ability to sense things through my hands. And if you’d told me then that I would be adding a whole list of dangerous skills to my event planner resume, I’d have laughed. Or probably cried. I was a mess when I bought this place. Newly widowed. Newly wealthy; a surprise that came when my late husband’s hidden accounts were discovered, along with his string of female cling-ons. Yeah. Nothing boosts a gal’s self-esteem like finding out she wasn’t enough for her husband so he was getting second and third helpings at a shifter bar outside of Grand Rapids. Not my best year, to be sure. And the irony of having such a bitter taste in my mouth about romance and being a wedding planner didn’t go un-noticed for me.
Today though, I was actually looking forward to this particular wedding. The couple were just a few years younger than me and they spent yesterday laughing like kids as they put their decorations out around the building for their reception. The bride is a graphic designer and had done spectacular calligraphy on the seating charts, the table markers and even did a custom drink menu for the bar over in the screened porch. The overall look of the wedding reception was classy and cool but it was the vibe from this couple that had me uncharacteristically swooning. They were not just in love with each other. They were in perpetual like.
She was hanging sage green ribbon on a banquet table with her mom and I caught a glimpse of the groom watching her from the ladder he was on hanging icicle lights from the rafters. It was a look of joy and pride and wonder at all that she was. And when she felt him looking, the smile she gave him made me blush. Me. Blush. A person who could make a pirate blush and can kick your ass while I’m doing it. Yet when I stand in the presence of pure love, I am transformed into an emotional vessel of gelatinous candy, like Gummy worms. Yes. That’s it. Gummy worm syndrome.
“What are you thinking about, you weirdo?” Molly came to sit next to me on the bench outside of Barb’s Bakery. We can see the building from here and right now, the DJ was playing Etta James. We’d made it a ritual to stand on the bridge to the ballroom and watch the start of the first dance for each wedding, placing bets on which song it would be. “At Last. I win. You owe me nine million bucks.”, Molly said.
By this point in a wedding reception, our work was mostly done as venue owners and we could sit back for an hour or two until the guests cleared out and we had to start scraping cake from the oak floor. Then we sit over here on the other side of the street and stretch our legs out and just soak in the happy vibes floating over from River House.
I wound my arm through Molly’s. “Do you take Disney Dollars? I was thinking about Luke & Bridget and how great they are as a couple. A lot like you and John. It’s the same mutual respect society. You get to have a life with your one and only. No secrets. No hold backs. And none of you have the sword of Damocles hanging over your heads”.
Molly snorted a laugh. “Drama Queen.”
I picked up my cell phone from the bench seat and held it over my head. “Every time it rings, Babe. Every time it rings.”
“Shit. Right. I keep forgetting about what you’re really doing when you grab your go bag and head to Woolsey Airfield. You’re all stealthy and cool with a pack of weapons and a passport and I’m over here like, ‘Stay safe, Sweetie! I’ll just wait here with the tulle and dirty table linens and the little mason jars with baby’s breath and burlap that the bride saw on Pinterest and thought that would be SO cute for the centerpieces.’” Molly stuck out her bottom lip in a pout.
I laughed and squeezed the arm that was still wound through mine. “Fucking baby’s breath. It’s not a flower. It’s a filler! It’s like handing someone a shopping bag with a crap load of tissue and no present. There are moments when I wish we could decline décor on the basis of it being an affront to our esthetic sensibilities. One day, I’ll fill a hundred little square vases with long grass clippings standing up just to show that even that looks better than a sickly little weed.”
“Agreed. But they’re not our weddings. They are theirs. And whatever the customer wants…” Molly gave her best Mom scolding voice.
‘Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m just venting. Anyway, what I was thinking about besides Luke and Bridget all perfect together is that now that John is pack leader he will never have a challenge again like he did last year. Hopefully…never. You’ve got a sweet life waiting for you. So do those two.” I gestured with my free hand across the street to where we could see Bridget throwing her head back and laughing as the DJ cranked up a song and Luke made a fool of himself on the dance floor just to entertain her.
“Don’t count yourself out, Brin. There might be a day when your life isn’t as crazy as it is right now. You and Gabe might find a way to settle down and raise a litter of witch cubs together.” She laughed out loud at her own joke as I elbowed her in the ribs.
Yeah. So that’s a situation that is coming to the forefront of my life with the council at the present time. When I’m not here in Northport having a *normal* life co-hosting events at this beautiful old building, I’m somewhere else in the world on a job for the Council; a newly formed cooperative of representatives from the shifter and witch communities.
For a very long time there has been a hard line dividing the two worlds from each other and from the human world as well. Recently, and only because my own life straddled the two so thoroughly, did they come together to help deal with a murderous shifter hell bent on ridding the world of anyone that inconvenienced him.
Those of us who had worked together last year in Ireland decided it was high time to end whatever stupid Hatfield & McCoy feud that had been in play for decades and start cooperating so all of our lives would have a better chance at happy endings.
In the thick of all the research I’d done in Ireland to track this jerk’s movements, I made a startling discovery about my own family. I had found out only weeks earlier that the weird energy in my hands was inherited through my father’s side of the family because the Kelly bloodline was Tuatha de’ Danaan- the ancestors of ancient Druids; wizards as they had once been known. And their magic wasn’t some fictional thing created to enhance stories for children.
That was a game changer for me and it led to many months of rigorous training with some of the most talented of our kind; learning to hone my newly discovered skills. I reciprocated by training them in weapons and hand to hand techniques that I’d studied since I was a kid. A kid who spent her teenage weekends at Molly’s father’s place where he’d teach, correct and coach me into competitions to try my skills with opponents of all shapes and sizes. He was the person who put the first blade in my hand and he made certain I was adept at using it.
I had no clue back then that Molly, her father, her brother Nathan and the others at their compound were shifters. Shapeshifters to be specific. These human/wolves had quietly folded me into their pack as a friendly and felt I may one day need to know how to defend myself if I ever got into a sticky situation without the claws and teeth they could use. They saw me as weak as a kitten when Molly first brought me over for a pizza night when we were ten years old. Sensing that she and I were going to be permanent buddies, they knew that one day I’d have to be told exactly who and what they were and that knowledge alone could mean a death sentence for a human. The surprise was on them (and me), when my own ancestry turned out to be something more than human. And now, we are all shaking our heads to hear that my mother, who walked away from my family just a few months before I met Molly, wasn’t exactly human either.
So, double whammy. I’ve got witch blood on one side and a custom crafted cocktail of what may be witch and shifter; hybrid blood from dear-old mom’s side. It would explain why my eyes change color whenever I engage the energy that now freely courses through me allowing this *kitten* to haul a beefy guy half way up a wall from ten feet away.
So, witches and shifters doing the horizontal mambo… I guess it’s happened more often then we all knew. My late husband was, apparently, shooting blanks when we tried for a baby after five years of marriage. The whole time we were married, I never knew he was a fox shifter. A sneaky, two-timing, alley skank of a fox. Molly knew. She tried to steer me away from him when that started but I was a dumbass in love. She decided to just protect me from the sidelines. This was the stuff of paranormal fiction to me then. I didn’t know even after all those times he’d clear out of the room when she’d come over to visit; making some lame excuse about having work to do and excusing himself. I even saw her lift the side of her lip at him in a sneer once and he’d hurried out of the room. She’d shown him her incisor. Now that I know what she’d been doing, I have even more love for this woman. My protector. And with the work I’m doing with the council and the skill set I’ve acquired, I can protect her right back.
The question that no one asks is what do you get when you cross a witch with a shifter? I asked it out loud as we sat on the bench seat watching the wedding guests dance.
“A swifter? You know. Like those cleaning things…” Molly cocked an eyebrow and her long copper hair bobbed when she started laughing again.
“You’re such a jackass and that’s so not helpful. What if I decide to settle down in a little house with a white picket fence and have a bunch of babies and bake cherry brownies for the school carnival? Will I have to worry that one of them will wolf-out if some little rug rat takes their toy away or will there even be any babies at all?” I could tell her anything and she would just take it in stride, even if her heart broke a little to hear it.
“Chill, Brin. You don’t know that you can’t have kids. But before you go naming them, maybe you need to figure out if you want to keep doing your assassin work on the weekends, cuz that shit don’t mix with diaper duty. You know what I mean?”
I laughed at the assassin reference, but in some instances, that moniker was accurate. What else would you call what I had to do to the serial killer last year? Dead is dead. She had a point. When I look forward in time to see if I can suss out a direction my life might be taking, it never feels like a primrose path. I can see battles and dangerous situations. I can see myself fighting side by side with Gabe; the other wolf shifter in my life. And side by side with Sean; the boy-now-man who was my first love. I can see the shared bed with Gabe because it’s a regular thing when I’m near him. I can imagine the same with Sean, though it’s never been. But mostly, I can see myself alone with a weapon in one hand and crackling energy in the other. In that foresight, I’m standing on a bridge between humans who exist- clueless about the real world around them and the rest of the communities that have populated this planet since the beginning of time.
They are coming together now in a way they have not for centuries With my odd mix of skills; maybe due to my DNA mix, I’m the playground safety patrol with my orange belt slung across my chest trying to keep some peace and order on an as-needed basis while they are still coming at each other in ones and twos. If they ever organized into larger factions then this wouldn’t be a great time in history to bring any kind of babies, hairy or not, into a budding warzone.
I touched the achy bump on the side of my head; maybe to remind myself how real the struggle was between the worlds and I let out a breath and stilled when Molly raised her beautiful voice and started to sing along with the Lonestar song floating over from the ballroom.
“Every time our eyes meet, this feeling inside me is almost more than I can take…”
The florists were here at River House early this July morning to retrieve the large arrangements from yesterday’s wedding reception. All the lush coral, deep pink to creamy white peonies, hydrangeas and roses made for a fairytale setting. Like all good stories, there is always a little something that remains visible for passersby to discover for a while. Today it’s a thick coating of rose petals of every color that had been tossed here on the wrap around deck at the front entrance. The occasional breeze from the bay lifts some of the petals and floats them in the air making the tourists stop as they walk by on their way to breakfast. Ok, so I did give a few petals a boost with my *woo-woo juice* when a little girl stopped with wide eyed wonder at all the color. And I may have floated a few right into her hands as she held them outstretched. Her face lit up when they landed on her palms and I told her they wanted to go home with her.
I kicked off my sandals and dug my toes into the soft pile while I closed my eyes for a moment to breathe in the warm summer smells. I caught the green of plant life, the water of the bay and a distinct sugar scent that permeates Mill Street every morning when Barb starts baking across the road. It’s kind of funny how many people wouldn’t know Barb if they saw her but they’ve had her cinnamon twists religiously for all the years they’ve been making this journey up to the top of the Leelanau Peninsula. We laugh about her being the vampire resident as she gets to work just before midnight. She heads home for sleep as the worker’s trucks start arriving to get their white paper bags filled with pastry and the old guys gather on the benches outside her shop to solve the problems of the world over coffee and sweets every single morning.
I could sense him before he crashed onto me and I’d braced for the impact. “Buddha. You big mook. Your paws are all dirty!”
“Sorry! He jumped out the truck window as soon as I stopped.” John was making his way to the front of the building and his Native American dog decided to get here first.
I grabbed Buddha’s big hairy face and gave him a good rub while I watched Molly and John coming up the walk from the side driveway. Buddha got busy smashing his face down in the rose petals strewn all over the deck and had a perfect coral petal stuck on a nostril where he’d inhaled it. He looked very confused about the intruder and was shaking his head to dislodge it.
“What’s up, people?” I got up from the wicker chair and met them at the front door that I’d painted metallic gold. It’s to remind me that there are golden opportunities through every doorway. You just have to open them and step through. Corny. I know. But I like corn.
**MORE as it happens