Anyone ready to revisit Harper Hall and her band of semi-magical misfits? Well, believe it or not, it's time to do just that! The book, which is a cross over novel to a brand new series (yay!) will be live on 12/20. You can pre-order right here. But while you wait, why not read the first chapter? Here it is, y'all:
Harper Hall was not a “forgive and forget” kind of gal. She was more the “smite your enemies in a blaze of hellfire” type.
So, Harper felt she was owed some karmic brownie points for sitting calmly across from Cecelia Reeves instead of leaping over the desk, pinning her down, and shoving a pencil up the big-boobed, Barbie-doll-looking bitch’s nose. Sideways.
Cecelia licked her glossy, Angelina Jolie lips and cast a nervous glance around Harper’s office. “Is Riddick here?”
Oh, you won’t be getting off that easy, sister.
Harper leaned forward, resting her elbows on her desk, and leveled Cecelia with what Riddick called her serial killer smile. Cecelia flinched appropriately and squirmed in her seat.
Harper Hall: one. Cecelia Reeves: zero.
“Riddick is out of town on a skip trace. He won’t be back until tomorrow,” Harper said.
Translation: you’ll be dealing with me today, you hag, not Riddick. Sorry about your luck.
Cecelia looked down at her clasped hands and nodded. “That’s probably best. I needed to talk to you, anyway.”
Now, Harper was pretty hard to surprise. As a paranormal PI who was also a psychic, weird stuff that would shock normal people was pretty much just…Tuesday for Harper. But the fact that Cecelia wanted to talk to her? That was truly surprising.
Harper was instantly suspicious. “What do you want, Cecelia?”
“I need your help.”
Harper couldn’t contain a snort/laugh combo. “You’re kidding, right? After everything you’ve put Riddick through, you want my help.”
Cecelia at least had the grace to look a tiny bit remorseful. It didn’t make Harper want to hurt her any less.
“It’s not for me,” she whispered. “Not directly, anyway. It’s for Adrianne.”
And with that one name, a good bit of Harper’s righteous indignation vanished. Son of a bitch.
Adrianne was Riddick’s daughter. Years before Harper met Riddick, he’d had a one-night stand with Cecelia that resulted in Adrianne. At the time, Cecelia convinced Riddick that because he was a dhampyre, being around him was dangerous, so he kept his distance while Adrianne was little.
It wasn’t until years later, when Harper helped him realize Cecelia was full of crap, and that he was an amazing father to their little girl, Haven, that Riddick approached Cecelia about having a relationship with Adrianne.
To say Cecelia was opposed would be an understatement.
She fought Riddick every step of the way for years, going so far as to threaten legal action (Riddick’s past was anything but squeaky clean, so he most likely wouldn’t fare well in the legal system) and skipping town to keep him away from their daughter. To this day, Cecelia hadn’t let him anywhere near Adrianne, who was now thirteen, even though he’d made numerous attempts and even said he’d be OK with supervised visitation.
But as much as Harper would love to send Cecelia packing with a firm “fuck off,” (and with a pencil shoved up her nose) she couldn’t do it if Adrianne was in need. Riddick would want her to help in any way she could.
And it must be bad if Cecelia was here, talking to her.
Harper let out a disgusted sigh. “What’s going on?”
“Earlier today, some men—military—came to our house to talk about Adrianne. They said they were looking to recruit exceptional,” she paused to make little finger quotes around the word exceptional, “children.”
Harper frowned. “I’m guessing they weren’t talking about high-IQ kids,” she murmured. “That all sounds vaguely familiar.”
And by vaguely, Harper meant totally. It sounded just like what Sentry had told her mother when they’d recruited Harper as a psychic all those years ago. Cecelia was a psychic, too, so she would’ve been just as familiar with the Sentry sales pitch as Harper was.
Before vampires came out of the coffin, all paranormal threats to humans were policed by Sentry. And, of course, policed was just a gentle euphemism for eliminated without prejudice.
When all the normal humans found out about it, the organization hadn’t fared too well in the court of public opinion and Sentry was shut down. But, as Harper only recently found out, someone was trying to recruit—or genetically modify—an army to pick up where Sentry had left off.
And that someone just happened to be her father.
Harper hadn’t seen her father since he went out for a pack of smokes when she was six and never came back. But even before that, he’d been a shitty excuse for a parent. She’d always assumed—or maybe hoped—he was dead.
She found out the hard way he was alive and well and still a total asshole when he tried to blackmail her into securing the release of a former Sentry biochemist from Midvale, the supernatural prison. His method of blackmail? Threatening her sister Marina’s life.
His plans had been easily squashed, though. Going up against Harper and her team of dhampyres and vampires had been a losing proposition for him from the start. He’d just been too arrogant to realize it at the time, she supposed.
That’d been months ago. No one had seen or heard from him since. But she had it on good authority that her old man planned to use the biochemist to build him an army of dhampyres—half- human, half-vampire hybrids like Riddick. What he needed them for…well, that was anyone’s guess. Knowing her dad, though, Harper imagined it was Machiavellian.
“What did you tell them?” Harper asked.
Cecelia smoothed her hair behind her ears. A nervous tic, Harper realized. The woman was genuinely frightened. And Harper couldn’t even bring herself to delight in Cecelia’s discomfort, which was just annoying. Of all the ways she’d expected this meeting to go, empathizing with the woman who’d done her best to make Riddick feel like a crappy, unfit father had never crossed her mind.
“I asked them if their operation was sanctioned by the US Government and Vampire Council,” Cecelia said. “And they got really cagey at that point. Gave me a lot of half-answers. I got a bad feeling and basically shooed them out the door with a don’t-call-me-I’ll-call-you. But I got the idea they wouldn’t accept that answer for long. I promised them a final decision by tomorrow.”
A cold shiver raced down Harper’s spine. The men at her door had given Cecelia a bad feeling.
It was scary enough when normal people got bad feelings about stuff. But when a psychic like Cecelia—and Harper—got a bad feeling? Well, that shit was downright petrifying.
“What do you want me to do?” Harper asked, trying to keep any traces of unease out of her tone. Cecelia was panicked enough. It certainly wouldn’t do any good for Harper to start biting her nails and muttering, “Oh, shit! This is really bad.”
Cecelia licked her lips and leaned forward in her chair, her eyes pleading. “I need you to figure out what’s going on—what they want with her. I need you to keep her safe. If she’s with you, Riddick, and…everyone here, I know she’ll be safe.”
She hated the mere thought of Harper and Riddick and everyone here, Harper realized. She could hear it in the woman’s tone. She’d probably rather send her kid to a leper colony than leave her at Harper Hall Investigations. If she wasn’t desperate and completely without other options, Cecelia wouldn’t be here. That much was clear.
Harper was offended on behalf of Riddick and everyone here, but couldn’t bring herself to care what Cecelia thought of her. Frankly, having someone like Cecelia, someone who was as boring as a beige wall, dislike her was a point of pride as far as Harper was concerned.
“Look, I’m just going to be honest because, shit, that’s kind of all I ever am,” Harper began. “But what happens when I figure out what’s going on and what they want with Adrianne—because I will figure it out—and you don’t need us anymore? Will you go back to doing everything in your uppity, bitchy, WASP-Y power to keep Riddick away from his kid? Because if that’s the case, I’ll probably still help you…but you might leave here with a limp.”
At least a limp. And most likely with a pencil shoved up her nose, because hey, honesty.
Cecelia, who already had skin the color of skim milk, went even whiter. Harper didn’t know if it was her tone or her words that the other woman found so upsetting, but she supposed it didn’t really matter. Her point was made, and that’s what was important.
But Cecelia surprised her by clearing her throat and saying, “I regret keeping Adrianne away from her father. It’s become clear in recent years that maybe…she needs him. He can probably understand her, what she’s going through, better than I ever could. I won’t keep them apart again.”
Well, hell. There went the rest of her indignation. She’d really been clinging to that and now Cecelia had the nerve to be all reasonable and shit, making Harper empathize with her and everything. The bitch.
Harper let out a disgruntled sigh. “Fine. But I think she should stay with me and Riddick full-time until this is sorted out and avoid a lot of contact with you. When those guys come back to see you, I don’t want her anywhere near them. Because, no offense, you and your CPA husband, you’re just not equipped to protect her if anything goes sideways.”
Cecelia nodded so hard and so fast Harper wouldn’t be surprised if she’d pulled a neck muscle. “I totally agree,” she said. “I appreciate your help and your understanding, and Brecken and I will gladly pay whatever rate you think is fair for the job.”
Brecken. Because of course her husband’s name was Brecken. How pretentious was that? “I don’t consider this a job,” Harper said. “This is family.”
Harper knew a moment of panic when it looked like Cecelia might cry or jump out of her chair and hug her. Empathizing with the woman was bad enough. She sure as hell wasn’t about to hug her. Pushing her chair back, Harper crossed her arms over her chest in the universal stay-away-from-me gesture and asked, “So, where is Adrianne? Do I need to pick her up from school or something?”
Cecelia practically jumped out of her chair, grabbed her purse, and started backing towards the door. “Oh, no. She’s home schooled these days. And I worried about leaving her there, so she’s here. In your lobby.”
Oh. Well, alrighty then. Though she did wonder what Cecelia planned to do if Harper turned her down and refused to help. Was she just going to leave the kid in her lobby? Like dumping a stray puppy at the pound?
“Does Adrianne know why she’s here?” Harper asked.
“Yes, I’ve explained everything.”
She’d explained everything and seemed to be ready to run for the door. Harper narrowed her eyes. “What aren’t you telling me? You seem awfully anxious to dump your daughter and bail.”
Cecelia opened her mouth to lie. Harper could feel it. She didn’t have her mother’s empathic gift, but she could always tell when someone was about to lie to her, and Cecelia looked like she was about to tell her a doozy.
“Don’t even try it,” Harper warned her. “I eat liars for breakfast. Just tell me the truth.”
She let out a very un-Cecelia-like ugh, dropped the perfect suburban housewife façade, and said, “Fine. You want the truth? I’ll give it to you. I’ve been fighting with Adrianne non-stop for the past two years and I can’t take it anymore. I love her and want her safe, so there’s no way I’m letting Sentry 2.0 anywhere near her…but I won’t be sorry to see her go with you for a while. She’s moody and angry and emotional all the time. She’s nothing like me or anyone in my family. I have no idea where she’s getting this behavior from. She’s a—”
“Teenager,” Harper supplied. “She’s a teenager.”
“Yes,” Cecelia said, dragging the word out for several extra syllables.
Harper somehow managed to swallow her grin. If she could kiss karma on the mouth right now, she would. Sticking Little-Miss-Perfect Cecelia with a grumpy, moody, sullen, half-dhampyre teenager was positively poetic.
Putting on her best responsible-adult voice, Harper said, “Well, Riddick has been waiting for the opportunity to be a father to her for the past, oh, thirteen years. And I’ve always got his back. So I’m sure we can handle it. You don’t have to worry. She couldn’t possibly be in better hands.”
Because I’m a great mother who isn’t afraid of one little teenage dhampyre, she thought smugly.
When they got to the lobby, Harper found Benny, one of her skip-tracers (who also just happened to be a half-vampire/half- wererat shifter with dubious morals and an impressive criminal record), teaching Adrianne how to run a three-card-monte scam.
“See, the thing is, there’s really only two moves you gotta know to run a monte,” Benny said as
Adrianne leaned forward, intently watching Benny’s hands move expertly over two black fours and a red ace, “and that’s the throw, and the bent-corner move.”
Benny flinched and shoved the cards into his jacket pocket so fast his hands blurred. “Hey there, gorgeous, I was just keeping the kid entertained.”
Cecelia looked over at Harper with the pinched expression of someone who’d just sniffed a fresh pile of dog crap. Harper sighed, rubbing her suddenly aching temples.
So much for her plan to convince the child’s mother she was a good role model.
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