It's Sneak Peek Week!
With less than 30 days, the countdown to the release of The Riding Hood Files has begun. Book 2 in the Twisted Files Series will be released on November 1st, and I’m super excited! The pre-sale link will be available soon.
For Sneak Peek Week, I’m giving you a glimpse into what started it all. The Snow White Files is available for free on Kindle Unlimited or for $3.99 on Amazon.
Brendan Hunter is a private investigator stuck on dead-end cases until seven dwarves show up in his office and offer him a King’s ransom to track down a missing girl. Their description of Lily Whitaker sparks his imagination, leading him into the dark world of twisted fairy tales, magical machinations, and political gambits... "It's Casablanca meets The Dresden Files with a fairy tale twist."
Outside my grimy window, several dwarves dressed in dusty work clothes dodge traffic. They ignore the blare of car horns as they cross the street against the light. One offers a rude hand gesture to a taxi driver, who hangs his head out of his window to yell his displeasure. The dwarves are probably headed to the claims office two doors down from mine.
The sight of the dwarves is more interesting than the pile of unsolved cases sitting in a heap on my desk. Garbage, nothing noteworthy. The same boring cases: locate a cheating spouse, dig up dirt on a rival, track down a long lost lover. The staple of my career. They pay the bills. Barely.
The unread newspaper on the edge of the desk catches my attention.
“Marcus Hunter supports Magnus Albright in his re-election bid!”
Underneath the headline, the picture shows my father with his perfect smile shaking hands with the most powerful dwarf in the city. I crumple the paper and toss it into the waste bin.
Angry voices and heavy footsteps from the reception area draw my attention.
“You can’t go in there. Mr. Hunter is a very busy man,” Stasia says. Her silhouette presses against the frosted glass of my door.
“If you’ll have a seat, I’ll see if he’s available—”
A gruff voice rides over her. “I don’t have time for this. Get out of the way so I don’t hurt you.”
Like that would ever happen. Stasia is quite capable of defending herself, but I don’t need the trouble caused by her attacking a potential client. She might be an office fashionista, but she’s also a kick-butt martial artist. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s tossed someone out.
Stasia stumbles into me when I yank the door open so I grab her to keep her from falling. She throws me a dirty look before straightening up and brushing a hand over her skirt.
Seven dwarves fill the tiny reception area, their beards bristling and their arms folded. Not potential clients.
“The claims office is two doors down,” I say.
“We aren’t here for the claims office. We’re here for you,” the oldest of the dwarves says.
A sneaking suspicion I’m about to step into a whole pile of trouble settles in my gut as recognition hits. The dwarf is Magnus Albright, head of the Dragon Conclave.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Albright.” I ignore Stasia’s sharp inhalation. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
He nods and motions to his companions. They take seats as I pull Stasia into my office and close the door. Leaning against the wall, I inhale deeply and cast a spell against eavesdropping.
“What’s the scoop?” I ask.
She sits on the edge of my desk, crossing her feet at the ankles. Sunlight streams through the window, catching the caramel highlights in her brown, wavy hair. It’s tucked up into a messy bun, held in place by chopsticks, which serve as both fashion accessory and weapon.
“Not sure. They barged in and started making demands.”
“What is my father getting me into?” I ask.
“What are you talking about?” She arches a perfect eyebrow.
I pull the crumpled newspaper from the waste basket and hand it to her. “I assumed you read the headlines when you bought the paper.”
“Of course.” She opens the paper up and stares at the picture on the front. “Oh.”
The most powerful dwarf in the Kingdom is waiting for us and I have no idea why he’s here.
“You’re going to send Magnus in,” I say. “While I’m talking to him, I want you to chat up the other six. Something hinky is going on.”
“Hinky? Seriously, Brendan?” She gives me a serene smile. “I’ll see what I can dig up. Be careful. Rule seven.”
“I know. The last guy that messed with them ended up at the bottom of a mine shaft.”
It’s bad business to piss off the Dragon Conclave and dwarves are nothing to sneeze at.
Sitting back at my desk, I wave her off. “Let’s get this over with.”
She winks at me before pulling the door open. “Mr. Albright? He’s ready for you.”
A moment later, the head of the Dragon Conclave enters my office. Power radiates from him, along with the steady thrum of magic. The scent of freshly tilled dirt and summer rain tickles my nose. He’s an earth mage and a strong one. This dwarf could tear down a mountain and put it back together without breaking a sweat.
I extend my hand across the desk to shake his. “Mr. Albright, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Ah, Mr. Hunter, I hear good things about you. And please, call me Magnus.”
“Brendan,” I reply.
He sits in the chair across from me; his feet dangle a foot from the floor. He’s polite for a dwarf which surprises me.
“What brings you to my office?” I ask, leaning back in my chair and steepling my fingers in front of my face.
He smiles, which pulls at the scar that runs from the corner of his eye and disappears under his full salt and pepper beard.
“I hear you’re the best private investigator money can buy.”
“Let me guess, my father told you that.” My foot taps underneath my desk. I force myself to be still. No need to show him how much my father’s interference bothers me.
“Yes. He said you could be discreet.”
“What do you need a P.I. for?” I ask.
He strokes a hand over his beard, eyes narrowed as he watches me. “We need you to find a girl.”
The sound of chatter from Stasia drifts in through the door followed by rumbling responses from the other dwarves. I wait. Magnus watches and continues stroking his beard.
“You have to give me more than that,” I say. “I can find whole rooms full of girls. But to find a particular girl, I need specific details.”
More silence. I open my mouth to dig for information, but he stops me.
“What do you know about the upcoming election?”
This is not the direction I expected this conversation to take. I should have considering who is sitting in my office. Politics are a messy business, and I like to stay as far away from them as possible.
“You’re in the lead,” I say, “but your rival is putting up a good fight. I don’t know much about her. She’s new to the political scene.”
“Your father recommended you because he’s one of my biggest supporters and he’s invested in helping me find this girl.”
He blinks. “What do you mean?”
“My father wouldn’t be helping you unless there’s something in it for him. What is it?”
“Does it really matter?”
I snort. “Yes. I haven’t decided if I’m going to take this case. Knowing that my father is involved means that politics and magic are in the mix. I don’t do politics and have my reservations about magic. I want to know what I’m getting myself into before I agree to anything.”
“He said you would need convincing.” He runs a hand over his bald head. “I’d better start at the beginning.”
His eyes travel the room, never resting in one place. “We found the girl in the woods near the mine. We brought her home and gave her a somewhere to stay. Her witch of a stepmother threw her out.” His face is somber, full of suppressed emotions.
Something about the way he tells the story sends up red flags, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. He’s lying or at least not telling the whole truth.
“I came home from the mines not long ago to find her asleep. She wouldn’t wake up. Someone cast a sleeping death curse.”
“Let me guess, her stepmother?”
He nods. “I can’t prove it, but we traced the spell back to the city. To her stepmother’s residence. We cast a preserving spell on a crystal coffin to keep the girl alive until we can wake her up.”
The glisten of unshed tears in his eyes surprises me. Perhaps the story isn’t a complete lie.
“How do you plan on waking her up? The only way to break a sleeping death curse is True Love’s Kiss.”
He shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. She’s missing.”
“How can she be missing? You said she’s locked in a crystal coffin.”
“We were searching for a way to prove her stepmother cast the spell. One day the girl was there and the next the coffin was gone. I’ve tried scrying, but she’s disappeared without a trace.”
“A crystal coffin with the girl inside disappeared without a trace?”
“And the stepmother is a witch?”
He nods again.
Lovely. Witches like to deal in curses, death magic, and the darker spells. They’re hard to track and even harder to stop. Nothing like a witch to complicate matters.
I rub a hand over my chin, catching at stubble. “This sounds dangerous. I’m not sure I can take this case.”
He takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. I tense, waiting for the anti-social behavior dwarves are known for. He reaches into his overall pocket, pulls out a leather pouch the size of my fist, and tosses it to me. On instinct, I catch it, feeling sharp edges through the thick leather.
I dump the contents onto my desk. Diamonds the size of my thumbnail spill out. I pick one up and hold it to the light, letting out a low whistle at the blue fire that burns in the depths of the gem. Mage diamonds. Used to augment spells and protect mages from magic addiction. It pays to be the head of the Dragon Conclave.
“Do I have your attention? This pouch is a down payment. Find the girl and we will give you six more like it.”
My eyebrows climb to my hairline and I let out a little cough. This girl is worth a lot.
“Who is she?” I ask.
“Nobody important.” He looks away.
“I’m not stupid, Magnus. You don’t offer a payment like this for nobody.”
“This case will be dangerous. You’ll earn every one of those diamonds.”
I set the gem back on my desk. “Any case involving a witch is dangerous, which is why I’m reluctant to take this one, even if you’re offering a king’s ransom. How does my father fit into all of this?”
“Your fathers were friends.” He shrugs. “I thought your father might know of a way to wake her up.”
“And he informed you that the only way is True Love’s Kiss.”
“Yes.” His hands tighten on the arms of the chair. “I know you aren’t on the best of terms with your father.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
“But, he said you could help me.”
Magnus pulls a crumpled photograph from his pocket. He stares at it for a moment before handing it to me. A young woman smiles at me, her eyes full of joy. Something about her pulls at me.
“I traced the casket to the city but lost the trail when it went Underground,” he says.
“There’s more to this than you’re telling me.” I rub the edge of my desk with a finger. “What else do I need to know?”
He stares at me. Minutes pass in silence.
“There is a lot more to this,” he says, “but I can’t risk telling you. Not right now.”
I point at the diamonds that glitter on my desk. “You’re offering me an enormous sum of money, Magnus, which means there’s more to this than finding the girl. Tell me or you can find yourself another private investigator.”
Magnus pulls at his beard. “Her stepmother is Melania Hughes.”
“And your real connections to this girl?”
His jaw clenches before he responds. “She’s my goddaughter.”
Looking out the window, I debate the wisdom of getting involved in this case. A case that involves magic is risky. Unpredictable. I spent two days as a frog after a client had decided she didn’t like the information I brought to her about her cheating husband. But this goes much deeper. Family connections that are tangled in a web that could strangle me.
“What’s her name?” I ask.
“Lily Whitaker,” he replies.
This case could be my last, sending me into early retirement or straight to the grave if things go wrong.
Sunlight sparkles on the mage diamonds, making them glitter and wink at me like a dozen glorious eyes. They sit next to the pile of predictable cases, reminding me of what waits if I turn down this offer.
I stretch my hand across the desk, offering it to the dwarf. “You have yourself a deal.”