So there’s news afoot. I got Pursuit back from the beta reader, and not to put words in her mouth, but she said that it is easily the best Lillim book so far.
The formatter also let me know that I will have Hatter back today. In honor of that, I’ve decided to post the first chapter here.
Chapter 1 – Hatter is Mad
I fell forward, arms flailing wildly as I tried to right myself before face-planting into the cement. I jerked to a stop mere inches from the ground and let out a short cry of pain.
“You should have been watching that last step. That one’s a doozy.” Melanie Stone grinned, holding me with both hands by the scruff of my overcoat as she stood just outside my door.
I grunted as she helped me regain my balance. I wriggled my toes in the pink footpads of my pajamas and sighed. I thought about changing, but I didn’t have time if I wanted to answer the door in any respectable amount of time. So there I was, standing there in my navy blue overcoat and a pink onesie with sparkly ponies on it. I’d probably looked more ridiculous at some point in time, but I had a hard time remembering when.
Why did I grab my overcoat instead of a bathrobe? It was enchanted with spells that made it bullet proof, stab proof, and fire proof. Besides, there was near limitless space inside to hide my own personal armory. However, none of that helps when you trip and fall through your own doorway as you scramble to open the door.
Stupid jacket on the floor! The fairy cleaning-service was really slacking lately. If this kept up, I might actually have to start cleaning up after myself. I shook my head in disgust. That was so not happening. If there’s one thing Lillim Callina does not do, it’s clean.
I glanced at Melanie Stone and smirked. She stood even shorter than my five foot nothing with curly, golden locks that made her face look pixie-like. It also made her black combat boots and matching trench coat and hat look almost cute, like a five year old who had gotten into her father’s clothes.
She tipped her hat toward me, took the cigar from her lips, and blew a small cloud of smoke from the corner of her mouth. Behind her I could see her latest fling, Antonio. He was over six feet tall and wore on each pinky finger a diamond ring that looked more like some lucky girl’s engagement ring than something a man would wear. Hey, I wasn’t judging. It was just that where I came from men dressed like men. My father wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing a dainty band like that on his pinkie. He could also chew coal and spit out diamonds, so there was that.
Antonio stood motionless between the open door of his Beamer and the car itself. Apparently he was in some kind of major hurry, which begged the question of why he came along at all. He looked like he was probably up to no good, and not because most people dressed in custom suits gave me that vibe. No, it was because he was tagging along with Melanie Stone, the resident trouble causing private detective in these parts. Then again, I guess a good fit for her would be an eccentric millionaire who liked to ‘play detective’ from time to time.
“My dearest Melanie, to what do I owe this lovely visit?” I asked as I stepped back to shut the door in her face as kindly as possible.
“I’m well. Thanks for asking,” she replied, leaning against the door frame so I couldn’t close it without hitting her. “How are you? Still posing as vamp bait?”
I glared at her as the heat rose on my cheeks. “No. I’m over it,” I growled.
“So Caleb finally called you back?” she asked in that annoying way she did when she already knew the answer.
We’d met six months ago while I was posing as a teenage runaway at a vampire owned half-way house. Why was I doing that? Because Caleb left me in the middle of the night without so much as a goodbye, and I was angry. I bounced around supernatural feeding grounds busting heads for a while after that.
If Melanie didn’t find me, ignore the fact that I was only seventeen, and teach me some tricks of the trade, I’d probably still be luring vampire johns to their doom.
“No. I still haven’t heard a word from him.” I sighed and stared at my feet. “Why do you ask?”
“Lillim, I do actually care about you. You’re like the little sister I never wanted,” Melanie said and harrumphed. “And there have been some weird occurrences over the last few days. If I trust my gut at all, it tells me your ‘things’ have something to do with it.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “As far as I know, there’s nothing abnormal going on in the supernatural world.”
She put her hand against her face and rubbed her temples before letting out a long sigh. It was her dealing with me gesture. I saw it nearly every time I irritated her. Melanie blew out a slow breath that reeked of tobacco, and my stomach tried to crawl out my throat.
“I was never really good at asking for help. You know that.” She stopped talking and stared at the floor as if looking for the right words. “I know you’re good at finding things, specifically strange things.” She waggled her fingers for emphasis. “Things others aren’t so good at finding, if ya catch my drift. Antonio might have found something, and I want you to look into it.”
“I have been known to find a bauble or two upon occasion. What do you need found?” I smiled and leaned against the door. As much as I disliked Antonio without actually meeting him in person, I was sure he was a millionaire and could totally pay me. I liked that a lot. In fact, it moved him to nearly the top of my list of my people to not hate without a good reason.
She pulled a sealed envelope from her coat and thrust it into my hands. “Let me know when you find out what’s going on. Your usual rate is in there with a little bonus. You know, for ice cream.”
Melanie was one of the few people who knew I could be bought. Especially if I was being paid to do something I was already interested in. This though, this seemed a bit off. She referred jobs to me before but…
“Trust me. This is right up your alley.” She turned and moved down my walk toward Antonio and the Beamer. He seemed even more agitated. Briefly, I wondered why he was in such a rush. “And next time, try not to answer the door in your pajamas. It’s really unprofessional, though the ponies are cute.”
I fought the urge to yell at her as I shut the door. Instead, I leaned my back against the doorframe and tore the top off the manila envelope. A smile crossed my face as I dropped its remains to the floor. A while back Melanie told me how she liked to save manila envelopes for use at a later time, to save both money and hassle. I smirked as a glossy photo slid out of the mangled envelope and into my hand.
If Melanie hadn’t given it to me, I wouldn’t have spared it a second glance. It was of the most completely average looking man I’ve ever seen walking down a street carrying a briefcase. He was wearing a royal blue suit with a navy fedora. Even his shoes were blue. On his wrist was an oversized watch that seemed blurry in the otherwise clear photo. It was circled in red marker with There it is written next to it.
I turned the picture over. Written on the back were several completely incomprehensible symbols. I set it on the pile of candy wrappers covering every square inch of my desk, and I looked inside the envelope. There was a neon blue post-it note that said, “He’s murdering the time.”