I've got a story excerpt for you today because, w/a holiday this week and no kidlet care, I've had zero extra time to write. ZERO. My child is the bees knees', but dang. People with more than one kid, I salute you. So, have the beginning of Treasured, one of my first M/M urban fantasy stories, which I'm going to be re-releasing soon with NEW COVERS and new content! Because I can, gosh darn it. I'm posting a teaser for the cover below... ;)
The first time I met Reese Daveth, he startled the ever living hell out of me.
My only excuse for not knowing he was a foot behind me and trying to get my attention was total, complete preoccupation with my work. That’s good, right? That’s admirable. Okay, so staring like a besotted lover at the collection of enchanted amulets on loan from a larger exhibit wasn’t exactly my job, but it was related. In a way. Kind of.
I was a grad student at the University of Arcane Studies, getting my doctorate in the history of magic, and working in the university’s small museum. I didn’t have nearly the power required to adopt one of the more strenuous majors, like Magical Defense or Rites and Laws, but I had the bare minimum of talent required for admission. Those of us who couldn’t make our abilities directly useful to society by being healers, telepaths or mages studied softer magical disciplines. History fit right in there. It hardly made my mother happy, but her reluctance to help out was what student loans were for.
I was in the process of attaching the nameplate for the exhibit to its enchanted glass case when I got distracted. The curator was supposed to identify exhibits, but she'd been working nonstop at the other museum since the artifacts had arrived. That left me to finish arranging things here, since I was the only other person keyed to the wards on the cases so I could touch them without setting off alarms. My hands were poised to attach the nameplate, but the compellingly bright blues and whites and golds beneath the glass had stopped me short.
I don’t know how long I stood in a stupor in front of the case, but I definitely remember coming out my reverie. A sudden sharp tap on my shoulder followed by a loud, “A-hem,” shocked my body back into motion. I proceeded to jerk away, the nameplate falling from my hands to the floor as I spun around with a shout.
“Steady on there,” a warm voice laughed. I stared at the cause of my distress, my breath catching in my throat. I'd just flipped out in front of a shifter. A hot, gorgeous, probably licensed to kill shifter of some sort, and that wasn’t the kind of thing you wanted to do with a group that reacted poorly to jumpiness.
Shifting demanded such an incredibly high metabolism that it was impossible for them to be anything other than muscled and wiry, every edge sharply defined. Easy to identify. This guy had that kind of a build, long and lean like a runner, but he wore a very nice, tailored to fit suit, much nicer than he’d be wearing if he worked for the government. His hair was long too, free flowing like a black waterfall across his shoulders. His eyes were dark brown and his skin tan, his accent sounding British.
“Sorry,” the man continued, sounding anything but sorry. “If I’d known I was going to frighten you like that I’d have been a bit more restrained.”
“I wasn’t frightened,” I said automatically, resenting the fact that I'd actually been. Things very rarely took me by surprise, and when they did I tended to be a little over the top. I lowered my hands back down to my sides and tried to relax. “Can I help you?”
“Perhaps,” he replied with a small smile. “But don’t let me interrupt your work, mate. Got things to do here, I see.”
“Right.” I glanced around the floor until I saw the nameplate, a few feet away. I bent over to pick it up, trying not to move like I was nervous. When I stood back up again and saw the smirk on his face, I figured I'd failed miserably with that. “This will just take a second.” I turned back to the display case and centered the plaque on the top front edge of the glass, then spoke the attaching charm. The small surge of power flowing through me left me feeling both energized and weak at the same time, like I wanted to bounce off the walls but couldn’t because my legs would fall out from under me. Charms weren’t my strong suit. I wavered.
“Easy, mate.” In an instant the man’s arm was around my waist, holding me firmly. He was taller than me by a few inches, but far wirier, and he didn’t seem even seem to register my weight as I sagged a little against him. Shifters tended to be stronger than they looked. “All right, then?”
“I’m fine,” I said, swallowing heavily before I moved away from him. Coming into close contact with a shifter wasn’t exactly relaxing, especially not one as good-looking as he was, but it did motivate me to stand on my own two feet. “Thanks. What can I help you with?”
“I was more curious than anything else,” the man replied easily. “I’m in town for the week, was looking for things to do, came by here.” He gestured towards the case. “I haven’t seen pieces like those since Istanbul.”
“They’re originally from Istanbul,” I replied, relaxing a little. Talking about work was something I could do much more comfortably than standing around fumbling nameplates. “They came in with the Karun Collection.”
The man tilted his head slightly as he looked between me and the case. “I thought that was being held in the Museum of Art and Science.”
“It is. They loaned us some of the lesser pieces.”
“Smaller, maybe,” he said as he stepped closer to the case, eyeing the amulets speculatively. “But hardly lesser. A God’s eye is a powerful amulet of protection, and there are some very fine examples here. Some of them even have secondary enchantments on them, I see.”
“You can see that?”
The man grinned again. “Read it on the plaque.”
I felt myself blush. “Fast reader.”
“I’ve developed certain little skills,” he said modestly, but his eyes were sparkling. “Which is the one that opens the wearer to new influences?”
“The far right,” I said, turning back to the case to look at the treasures inside of it. “The gold and lapis lazuli.” It was an incredibly fine example, about the size of a silver dollar and beautifully restored by the museum staff in Instanbul.
“Lovely,” the shifter said as he stepped closer. A warning ripple flashed across the display, and he smiled and held up his hands. “I know better than to touch. Glass would let my hands through and then hold me if I tried it, right?”
“Right,” I said. The glass case was magically enhanced to withstand fracture, even from gunshots or molten-hot energy bolts. Anyone who touched the glass without being keyed to the glyph triggered an alarm, and anyone who tried to force the glass, even if you were keyed, would be held fast by it. It was a beautifully constructed spell, and a lot of museums were using it for security these days.
“It reminds me a bit of Shoshenq the Second’s Eye of Horus,” he mused. “Just needs carnelian and a bit of faience.” He shrugged then. “And it would have to be a bracelet, not an amulet, but the look’s right.”
That took me by surprise. “You’ve seen his funerary collection?”
“In Cairo, back in January,” he said. “That was right before the break-in, of course.”
“Wow.” A group of thieves had managed to break into one of the most heavily-guarded museums in the world and get out with millions of dollars worth of artifacts, almost all of it jewelry. “That was so sad. You’re lucky you got to see it.”
“Sad?” The shifter raised one slender, dark eyebrow. “Pathetic, maybe. It’s incredible that the museum wasn’t able to safeguard its own artifacts.”
“Not that aspect of it. It’s too bad the museum got robbed, but the sad thing is that the artifacts are lost to the public now. Thousands of people visit the Cairo Museum every year, and they’ll never be able to see the pieces that were stolen.” I could see the bracelet in my mind’s eye, the stylized Eye of Horus pieced out in gold and gems. “I’ve always wanted to visit Cairo. I bet the display was exquisite.”
“It certainly was,” he agreed, then held out his hand. “Rhys Daveth.”
I took his hand automatically, wincing in anticipation of his squeeze, but it didn’t come. “Reese?”
“Yes, mangle it as you Americans are wont to do, mate,” he replied, but he smiled. “And you are?”
“You the curator here?”
“No,” I said with a small laugh, “just a grad student. I work here part-time.”
“What do you study?”
“The history of magic. Magical artifacts, actually.”
“What about your ability?”
I shrugged. “Nothing fancy. Just enough to get through the doors.” Having futuresight was nice, but it only really counted for something when it lasted longer than a second.
“Uh-huh.” Reese looked at me speculatively for a long moment. “I’m new to this city. Never had much reason to spend time in the states before, and never this far south. Where’s a decent restaurant?”
Well, that wasn’t really a surprise, given the suit. “Um, you should try the Falcon. It’s attached to the Marquis Hotel. It’s supposed to be excellent.”
“If it’s as good as the company, I’m sure to enjoy it.”
“Who are you meeting?”
“Just met him, mate.” Reese clapped me on the shoulder. “When are you off?”
I glanced at my watch. “Another fifteen minutes. I’m closing things up now.” My latent confusion caught up to the rest of me. “Why do you want to take me to dinner? We just met.”
“Don’t know anyone else in this bloody swamp of yours, mate, and at least you’re pretty and can talk art. I’ll wait out front.” He smiled at me, turned and walked casually out of the hall, leaving me gaping. Gaping, flustered and incredibly turned on all in under five seconds. This guy was good. What a great impression I was making, too, very suave acting like a fucking virgin on a first date. I didn’t have to question how he knew I was gay. Shifters had instincts that went way beyond normal.
Not that any amount of embarrassment would have made me change my mind about going out with him.