It's Sneak Peek Week! Check out The Riding Hood Files, part 2.
This week, I'm featuring and another excerpt from The Riding Hood Files, Book 2 in my Twisted Files series. It will be released Fall 2017. In anticipation of its release, subscribe to my website and get a free e-book of The Snow White Files, Book 1 in the Twisted Files series.
Life has taken an unexpected turn for Stasia Weatherly. After solving the case of the missing Lily Whitaker, Stasia and Brendan have become full partners as private investigators and they’ve taken their relationship to a new level. But, things get complicated when Stasia’s bondmate, Red, hires the duo to find Stasia's missing grandmother and the shifter clan elders. Stasia and Brendan find themselves embroiled in a power struggle between the Kingdom and the Dragon Conclave as they seek the missing shifters and try to solve the case.
Rule seven: Don’t mess with dwarves. You’ll end up at the bottom of a mine shaft. Well, Brendan and I didn’t end up at the bottom of a mine shaft after we finished the case for Magnus Albright. But, it was a close call.
The phone jangles and our new receptionist, Jacquie answers it. “Weatherly and Hunter, Private Investigators, how may I direct your call?” The blonde elf rolls her eyes at me and holds her hand over the receiver. “It’s Mr. Grimm, Miss Weatherly,” she whispers.
“Put him through to my voice mail. We don’t have an update, yet.”
Jacquie nods, her attention going back to the phone call. “I understand your concern, Mr. Grimm. They aren’t in the office at this moment. Can I put you through to Miss Weatherly’s voice mail?”
Hearing my name as part of Weatherly & Hunter, Private Investigators brings a thrill. I’ve worked hard to get to this point.
After the payoff from the Albright case, Brendan moved our office from the seedier side of the city to a high-rise in the Magisters District. I stifle the urge to sharpen my claws on the furniture. My cat would love to mark its territory in this shiny, polished place, but Brendan wouldn’t approve.
Light pours through plate-glass windows and glints off metal and wood. It’s too new. Too clean. I miss the familiar scent of Brendan’s aftershave mixed with the must of old wood and the creaky floorboards that squealed when he paced in his office.
The painter is adding my name in gold paint to the front door. It’s a little thing, but very satisfying.
Jacquie motions me over to the desk. “Ms. Dickens wanted to reschedule her appointment to Friday.”
Jacquie is as prim and proper as any elf. I’ve never understood it. It must be something genetic. Not so much as a single blonde hair is out of place in the tight bun that rests on the top of her head.
“Jacquie, please call me Stasia,” I say for at least the hundredth time this morning. “And Mr. Hunter prefers Brendan.”
“Yes, Miss, er, I mean, Stasia.”
Brendan walks through the door and gives me his cocky grin. His dark, blue eyes sparkle with mischief. He’s gotten his dark curls cut short since yesterday. I like his hair a little longer and messy, but the new cut matches his usual white, button-down shirt, plaid tie, and khaki pants.
The painter catches my attention, and I let out a growl, ignoring Brendan for a moment. “That’s Weatherly with an L-Y. Not L-I-E.”
“Sorry, miss,” the painter says. His scent screams his frustration.
I finger the carved rose resting at my throat, willing myself to calm down, regain control. My cat prowls under my skin, restless and ready to spring out any chance she gets. Sprouting fur and claws in the middle of the office would be a bad idea. I grit my teeth and force the memory of torture and the Rod of Dominion into the back of my mind. Time for that later.
“How’s it going, Miss Weatherly?” Brendan asks. I roll my eyes at his wink and smug smile. He’s been insufferable lately.
I walk toward my office, and he follows. This change in our relationship is taking some getting used to. I prefer rules and boundaries, but Brendan likes to fly by the seat of his pants.
“What’s up?” he asks.
Breathing deeply, I inhale the complicated scent of my partner: deep woods and shadowy forests coupled with icy mountains and stiff winds. There are so many layers to Brendan, and I love every one of them.
“I got a call from an old … acquaintance.”
His eyebrows twitch upwards. “And …?”
“And he has a case for us.” I trace the wood grain of my desk, refusing to look Brendan in the eye. “He’s coming by in a few minutes to give us the details.”
“All right. Who’s the client?”
This is not going to be good. I close my eyes and take another deep breath to settle my nerves. “My bondmate.”
“What!?” The shock in Brendan’s voice tells me he’s not happy. Pair that with the sharp scent of worry, and I’m in for trouble.
“Connell O’Grady, my bondmate. He’s coming by.” The words are sour as I spit them out.
“Why?” His jaw tightens.
I warned him our relationship would be complicated. Being a shifter, I come with attachments that I can’t break. Namely, a heartbond formed at birth. Only death will break the stupid thing. My chest tightens at the hurt in Brendan’s eyes.
He reaches out and takes my hand, giving it a little tug. I resist. This isn’t a good idea. His arms wrap around me, and I can’t help myself. I settle into him, laying my face against his chest.
Brendan once told me that I’m his home. He’s not my home, he’s my rock. My safe harbor. And I don’t know what I’ll do when this falls apart. With my secrets, it’s a sure bet that it will.
“Like I said, he has a case for us,” I mutter into his chest.
Brendan tips my chin up so that I have to look at him. His blue eyes sparkle with mischief. I’m in so much trouble.
“Are you okay with this?” he asks.
“Not really,” I say, “but we’ll have to face him sometime.”
Brendan kisses my forehead. I savor the feather light touch, and my cat purrs with contentment. She’s never been like this with anyone else. She curls up in my chest, warm and happy.
“True,” Brendan says. “I had hoped it would be later.”
“Me, too.” Much later. Like never.
“Any idea what it’s about?”
I shake my head. “He said that it’s urgent and has to do with the clans.”
Brendan stiffens, and his arms tighten around me. “Do you want me to talk to him?”
“No, and he said I needed to be here.” I’m perfectly capable of handling Red O’Grady myself.
“Fine, but—” A knock interrupts Brendan.
Jacquie pokes her head around the door. “There’s a gentleman here to see you.”
My hands ball up at my sides. Red is hardly a gentleman. Calling him that is an insult to every man that carries even the smallest shred of dignity and honor.
“Send him in,” Brendan says. He steps away from me, crosses his arms, and leans against the wall. He reminds me of a wolf, rangy and dangerous.
Red swaggers by Jacquie. A flutter in my gut is followed closely by hot anger. Red’s a handsome man, and he knows it. Those auburn curls, bright green eyes, and that wicked smile have set many women’s hearts on fire. Not mine. Not anymore.
“O’Grady.” I pour as much ice into my voice as I can manage.
My claws slip free of my restraint and dig into my palms. It’s all I can do not to launch myself at Red. I scent him. He still smells like the ocean on a summer’s day, but there’s something new. Something underneath his complex scent that I can’t make sense of. My nose wrinkles at it.
“Hello, love. You look ravishing.” Red offers one of his charming smiles.
“Can it, Red. You said you had a case.”
He ignores me and turns to Brendan, offering a hand to shake. “Connell O’Grady. My friends call me Red. And you must be Brendan Hunter. I’ve heard all about you.”
The handshake practically turns into a wrestling match as the two men try to establish dominance. Ugh. Men.
“Let me guess, you’re a shifter,” Brendan says.
The air tingles with magic, the scent of pine and snow washes into the room. I press my lips together to keep from grinning.
Red jerks his hand back and rubs at it. “Nice grip.”
I love it when Brendan plays the magic card. He must have zapped Red good.
“Play nice, boys.” I try to keep the smile out of my voice. “Why are you here?”
“Nana’s gone missing.” Red points a finger at me and pins me in place with his stare. “And you’re next in line for leading the Riding Clan.”
The world slips out from underneath me. Quicksand threatens to close over my head. I grip the edge of my desk to hold myself up. My grandmother is the world’s toughest, most resourceful woman.
“Missing?” I ask, still not believing what Red said.
“Yep. Gone. Along with every other elder in the seven clans.”
“Every one of them?” My vision narrows to Red’s face as I try to read him. Nothing. The walls I’ve put in place go both ways now. “Why not get the Constables involved?”
Red gives me a pointed look. “They are involved, but they can’t go everywhere. I know you have connections Underground. I’m betting you can find information the Constables can’t.”
“Why would someone kidnap all the clan elders?” Brendan asks.
Long-suppressed memories threaten to choke me. “The clan elders control the packs. Without them ….” I swallow the rest of my words. Too many secrets. Too many things that I can’t share with Brendan because he’s a mage and I’m a shifter. “We’ll take the case.”
“I never had any doubts, love.” Red winks at me, and I hold back a challenging growl. The last thing I need is a fight with a client, even if the client is Red.
Red’s eyes sparkle with the knowledge that he’s got me right where he wants me. “You may have left the clans, but the clans haven’t left you. Come by my place this afternoon. I’ll fill you in on all the details.”
“Fine.” I try to keep my tone neutral. “We’ll be by later.”
“Not your boy toy, love. Just you.”
“Fine,” I spit. “But, Brendan and I are partners. I’ll meet with you this once. We do have some things to … discuss.”
Red shrugs, looking smug. “Whatever you wish.”
He closes the door, and I grip my desk hard to keep from launching myself after him. The shift threatens to break loose, my cat bristles, ready to pounce.
“Whatever you wish,” I snarl. “I hate him.”
“Then why did you take the case?” Brendan asks.
I close my eyes and take a deep, calming breath. “Because Nana is my grandmother, and if I can’t find her, then I have to lead the Riding Clan.” I step into his arms and wrap mine around his waist, breathing in his calming scent. “I was hoping things would stay quiet for a while.”
Laughter rumbles in his chest. “You hate quiet.”
“This could get ugly, Brendan.”
“It could, but we’ve faced off with a psychotic witch hell-bent on revenge. I think we can handle this.”
“You died, Brendan. Don’t forget that.” I squeeze him tight. “This’ll be dangerous, but you’re right. We can handle it.”
“Ha! You said I’m right.”
I punch him in the shoulder. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
“Fine.” He grins at me. “Let’s get to work.”