Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Matter of Death - Chapter 1

With May's middle of the month chaos, I'm behind on my writing schedule. Unfortunately, that means A Matter Death will not be out on June 15th as I'd planned. I'm making a serious push to write a sizable chunk this week. By the time I post Chapter 3, I should have a solid release date for you.

In the meantime, enjoy!

The queen’s army arrived in Orrin at First Morning on Fifth Day, exactly a week after the demons were discovered and destroyed inside the Temples of Balance and Death. Everyone at the Temple of Light, except the wardens on duty, were at morning prayers when the peacekeeper arrived with the news regarding their visitors from the capital.

Shi Hua watched as Magistrate DiCook’s messenger whispered to Brother Jeremy, the acting seat of the Temple. Chief Warden Nicholas rose and joined the two men, probably more out of worry a priest he was charged with protecting might be harmed rather than curiosity.

Once the peacekeeper scurried out of the main sanctuary, Jeremy bowed to the civilians attending the dawn services. “Forgive me for our abbreviated worship, but Sister Shi Hua and I have been called to other duties.”

She scrambled to her feet, sketched the requisite gesture of respect toward the statue of Light, and crossed the sanctuary to join Jeremy. Are you sure the queen requested my presence? she asked silently.

Amusement filled his eyes. The crown princess is leading the army, and yes, she specifically asked for you. She’s with Duke Marco and Prince Alika at the duke’s estate along with Reverend Father Farrell.

Of course. It would not do for the crown princess to ignore the local nobility. She would need their vassals to augment her forces. Nor could she meet with one Orrin Temple alone without arousing the ire of the other eleven, which was why Jeremy had been summoned though he’d be the last person to protest a snub. Unfortunately, the queen, the duke of Orrin and the chief justice of Balance were too entwined in both their personal and professional relationships to totally avoid all questions of impropriety.

To add to the political complications, half of the Sea Peoples fleet still anchored in Orrin’s harbor. Prince Alika and several of his captains refused to leave Issura after the discovery of the demons and their eggs in the city. While captains and sailors of the departing ships had been truthspelled, no one could guarantee the ships weren’t carrying demons or eggs without the odd sight of Orrin’s chief justice to search people, ships, and all property for demon contamination.

However, Prince Alika didn’t have a distance speaker with him, and it would be nigh impossible for Shi Hua to contact someone in the islands she didn’t know. So he sent half his fleet home on the chance they could successfully raise the alarm.

I still don’t know why the crown princess would want to speak to me, Shi Hua protested silently while she jogged alongside Jeremy to the stables, their wardens following as if they were second shadows. It didn’t help matters that she was not an Issuran citizen, though both her own Reverend Father of Light in Jing and the Reverend Father of Light here in Issura had agreed to the temporary transfer. With the spate of demon activity over the last month and a half, Shi Hua wondered if she’d ever see home again.

Because right now, you are our primary contact with Tandor, Jeremy chided. And our sister city is under a demon attack.

Shi Hua swallowed a groan. She’d only talked with High Brother Luc, Chief Justice Anthea, and Ambassador Quan twice, once before the demon army arrived at Tandor’s doorstep and once after. Since then, she hadn’t been able to penetrate the demon’s magic, not even with assistance from other priests and priestesses in Orrin. All she knew for sure was those loyal to the queendom of Issura still held the city of Tandor. Otherwise, the demons would already be hammering at Orrin’s gates.

This was not going to be an enjoyable meeting at the duke’s estate. And she hadn’t broken her fast yet.

Who else will be there? she asked silently as she and Jeremy saddled their mounts. Chief Warden Nicholas and Warden Mateqai did the same. There had been too many assassination attempts against clergy in Orrin over the last month and a half. And after last week, not one of the Temple wardens allowed any of the clergy to attend the privy without a guard. High Brother Han and High Sister Bertrice are already there. The other seats are on their way.

Of course. The seat of Conflict was responsible for organizing the city’s defenses with the local nobility and the magistrate in the case of an attack. And demons had managed to have themselves delivered to the Temple of Death by wearing the bodies of a murdered peacekeeper and his family.

“What about Justice Yanaba?” Shi Hua asked.

Jeremy looked down at her from atop his horse. “You’re the one visiting her every day. What do you think?”

Jeremy’s gentle question was an answer in itself. Shi Hua climbed onto her own mount. The junior justice had nearly killed herself defending the city from the demons who’d snuck into Orrin wearing human skins. She shuddered. They’d come so close to losing the city, and its defense had been costly.

“You know High Mother Bianca will find a way to insert herself into this meeting,” Mateqai said.

Nicholas shot his junior warden a dirty look, but Jeremy merely nodded.

“If she is there, fine.” Jeremy sounded far older than his twenty-one winters. “All of the Temples need to let go of our petty differences. We have demons on our border, and we must work together.”

“Yes, sir.” Mateqai nodded.

Nothing more was said on the ride to the duke’s estate.

* * *

Loud voices and tension thickened the air in Duke Marco’s great hall when Shi Hua and the rest of the party from Light arrived. A huge map of Issura covered most of a large table. Whatever argument had been happening died as the duke’s steward announced their presence.

At the sight of High Mother Bianca seated next to Duke Marco, Shi Hua glanced at Mateqai. The corner of her warden’s mouth quirked, but otherwise, he kept the solemn mien the situation warranted.

However, High Mother Bianca sat on the duke’s left. His sister, Lady Alessa, sat on his right. Shi Hua wondered if she’d be allowed to extended felicitations to Lady Katarina before they left. The duke’s wife was Temple-born herself and had made a point of welcoming Shi Hua to Orrin. But she was also very aware of the politics between the orders. If Lady Katarina weren’t so close to her delivery, she would no doubt make sure Bianca wasn’t anywhere near her husband. On the other hand, Bianca may have inserted herself between the duke and Prince Alika on purpose so she wasn’t sitting next to her fellow clergy. There was still a quiet debate about whether she had been used by the traitor Gerd to remove Chief Justice Anthea by way of false accusation or whether Bianca was smarter about covering up her illicit activities than Gerd had been.

It was a bit of a relief when Reverend Father Farrell’s face lit up with a huge grin. “Just the people we need to speak with!”

The head of the Issuran order of Light sat at the opposite end of the table to the left of an imposing woman. Shi Hua sucked in her breath when Crown Princess Chiara turned to appraise the newcomers.

Not even Emperor Bao Chengwu of Jing gave off such an intimidating air. The crown princess’s long, sharp face was almost masculine in appearance. She didn’t bother with any accoutrements or insignia of her rank, other than her own gray-streaked blue-black braids wrapped and pinned in the shape of a coronet on her head. She dressed in plain black leather and steel chainmail. Her dark eyes were piercing, and Shi Hua had no doubt the crown princess missed little of what happened around her.

Following Jeremy’s lead, Shi Hua bowed.

“We come to serve, Your Highness,” Jeremy murmured.

A wry smile lightened the crown princess’s face. “From what your colleagues have said, it sounds to me like you and your Temple have been doing more than your fair share of service, Brother Jeremy.” She gestured at the two people on the other side of the Reverend Father.

To his left was High Brother Han of Conflict. The normally jovial priest was especially somber behind his bushy red beard.

Beside Han sat High Sister Bertrice of Death. Her cropped hair gleamed silver in the morning light from the manse’s high windows. She didn’t look any happier than Han.

“Please take a seat, Brother Jeremy. I’d like to ask both you and Sister Shi Hua some questions about the events in Orrin over the last two months.” The crown princess pointed at two empty chairs between another man on her right dressed in the same military garb as the crown princess and Orrin’s magistrate Malven DiCook.

Worry wormed its way through Shi Hua, and not just because the heir to the throne of Issura knew her name. She’d never feared the people here before, but Ambassador Quan had always been with her at these types of meetings. As his bodyguard, her attention had been consumed with watching for dangers to him.

But then came the discovery of renegades infiltrating Issura’s Temple of Light and her temporary transfer to Orrin. High Brother Luc’s irritation with her performance as a priestess would be a mosquito bite compared to the displeasure and consequences should she incur Crown Princess Chiara’s wrath.

For the next candlemark, Shi Hua and Jeremy were questioned. About their first encounter with a demon egg last autumn. The abduction and recovery of High Brother Luc. The more recent discovery of demons wearing human skins. Justice Yanaba’s spell to freeze and destroy the demons, the one that nearly killed her. The demon eggs hidden in the corpses of Peacekeeper Dante and his family.

But when Crown Princess Chiara questioned the wisdom of Chief Justice Anthea and High Brother Luc’s absence at such a crucial time, everyone from Orrin erupted in protest.

Everyone except High Mother Bianca.

“Enough.” The crown princess slapped the table hard enough that goblets, wine decanters, and even the parchment map jumped and shivered.

Everyone went silent until Reverend Father Farrell cleared his throat. “It was mine and Reverend Mother Alara’s decision to send the two of them to Tandor—”

The crown princess held up her forefinger.

His face flushed. “I will not be silent when you question—”

“I will not tell you again, Reverend Father,” she said coldly before she turned her intimidating gaze on Shi Hua. “Why aren’t you defending them, Sister?”

Shi Hua swallowed hard. “It’s not my place—”

“No, your place is in a Temple in Jing.” The crown princess’s eyes narrowed. “But you’re here, and I’ll use whatever resources are at hand. Now, why aren’t you defending them?”

Shi Hua dug her nails into her palms to keep from retorting in kind. Quan had never been this rude, even for the short time he had been the crown prince of the empire. She lifted her chin. “Because Chief Justice Anthea and High Brother Luc don’t need to be defended. They know their duty, and they have served to the best of their abilities.”

Something thawed in the crown princess’s icy demeanor. “Even if such service means the ultimate sacrifice?”

Shi Hua worked to keep her face impassive, but her gut clenched. Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t broken her fast after all. “Yes, Your Highness.”

Crown Princess Chiara faced High Mother Bianca. “You were the only one from Orrin who didn’t take umbrage at my words. Why?”

The priestess cast a sly look in Reverend Father Farrell’s direction. “It’s not my place to question the instructions from the heads of other orders.” She turned to the crown princess. “But as Sister Shi Hua has stated, our seats of Balance and Light will defend the queendom from demons with their very lives if need be.”

The crown princess blew out a deep breath. “Since we’ve lost contact with our clergy in Tandor, we must assume the worst.” Her gaze bore into Bertrice. “High Sister, can you activate the defense spells at your sister Temple in Tandor from here?”

Bertrice’s face paled to nearly the color of her hair. “Your Highness, you cannot be serious!”

Crown Princess Chiara leaned her elbows on the scarred wood, her palms pressed together, and her chin resting on her fingertips. “I fear High Mother Bianca is right, albeit indirectly. Destroying the Duchy of Tandor may be the only way to stop the demon army.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hero De Novo Is Out!

Hero De Novo (888-555-HERO #3) went live this morning on Amazon! If you pre-ordered this book, it should be on your Kindle now. Otherwise, it's available for purchase, or you can read it for free through Kindle Unlimited!

With Captain Justice presumed dead, Aisha faces raising her super baby as a single mother. A message from Asia gives her a glimmer of hope. But is it Rey, or a Corvus trap to take her son?

In the meantime, Patty’s baby daddy, the super assassin Black Death, comes out of the woodwork, filing for custody of Grace. Harri will do anything to keep her goddaughter out of Black Death’s clutches, but will she step across her personal legal and ethical lines to save Grace?

Can both attorneys win the day with their team split up and on different continents?

Call us at 888-555-HERO. The Law Offices of Winters & Franklin, where the only thing more dangerous than a superhero is his attorney.

If you missed last month's release, Hero Ad Hoc (888-555-HERO #2) is still available for purchase or to read through Kindle Unlimited.

If you're enjoying the adventures of Harri, Aisha, and their gang and want to see more, please drop me a line!
And if you haven't picked up the first book in the series, Hero De Facto, it's currently still available for purchase on Amazon or to borrow through Kindle Unlimited.

If you're enjoying these books, I'd appreciate it if you would drop a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Thank you so much for reading!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Not Again...

I got three books finished and pre-published before this year's personal life explosion.

My father passed away. It's not something I can talk about yet. So things will be quiet on the blog front except for some pre-planned posts about Hero De Novo for tomorrow.

I apologize for not getting one last chapter from the book posted. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Hero De Novo - Chapter 2

Aisha Franklin stared at her to-do list on her computer screen. So much for any relaxation over the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Tim was still insisting on getting the patent filed on the new exoskeleton suit he’d built with Miguel and Francisco. Harri had pretty much destroyed the original in her battle with the man pretending to be Captain Justice. Tim wanted to do a presentation on the suit to NASA in two months, which Aisha personally considered a little too ambitious, considering he just got out of rehab after the imposter Captain Justice tried to kill him.

Taking a deep breath, she tried to roll back the fury and grief flooding her. Not an imposter. A brain-washed evil twin. How the hell did her life get this screwed up?

Her only consolation in the mess their lives had become was Black Death hadn’t been sitting outside their office building for the last two months. The last thing their assistant Patty needed was her super ex-boyfriend stalking her. Sometimes though, Aisha wondered if Harri had made a mistake by siccing Black Death’s boss from Corvus on him. If the super was still sitting on their street in his old Honda, they knew where he was.

Aisha tapped the key to bring up Tim’s application. If either NASA or the ESA picked up the exoskeleton for use on the space station, the licensing fees would cover Francisco’s education, room and board through a couple of doctorates. She smiled to herself. That’s assuming their building manager Miguel could come to terms with the idea of his soon-to-be eight-year-old son going off to college, even though his oldest son Domingo would accompany his baby brother next fall. Rey had already set aside some of his money for Dom to pursue his business degree. It only made sense for him to attend college at the same time as his baby brother.

Harri managed to pit the federal and the state governments against each other over the damage caused by the fake Captain Justice, which meant Rey’s estate was intact. And Aisha had negotiated more licenses for memorial memorabilia once the FBI had declared Captain Justice dead. All the proceeds went into a trust governed by Miguel, Tim, and Harri along with Aisha. For once, she was thankful for her law partner’s insight. Harri had insisted Rey include a clause providing for any of his children in his will long before Aisha herself knew she was pregnant.

The expected tsunami of agony at missing him rolled over her again, and she blinked away the tears as she rubbed her abdomen. Her baby bump was starting to show. And Rey would never have the chance to see his son.

She touched the jade amulet at her throat that hung from a titanium chain.

Miguel had brought it to her loft the other night when he came up to talk about Francisco’s education. He’d found the amulet in a box of his late wife Beatrice’s belongings. It was the original one Rey had taken off in a child’s fit of pique over bath time. The jade piece’s original leather thong was too short for an adult.

She and Miguel had talked for a long time that night. Jokingly, he said if she could be a surrogate mom for Francisco and thirteen-year-old Javier, he’d act as her baby’s surrogate dad.

Then they both had a good cry.

The man they knew and loved was gone.

Rey was gone.

Byron Trubble, head of the black ops group known as Corvus, claimed Rey had been kidnapped without his authorization. Aisha didn’t believe him.

Trubble had also told Harri everyone at the facility where Rey had been held was dead.

That part Aisha did believe. She had no doubt Trubble had killed everyone to cover up his mess. Or he had Professor Paranoia, the supervillain Trubble had hired to run the lab, murder them.

Her office phone buzzed, interrupting her maudlin thoughts. She sniffed back the tears before she answered.

“Aisha, your sister’s on line one,” their assistant Patty announced. “Do you want me to put her through?”

“Yes.” She had a pretty good idea what the call was about. Maybe dealing with family issues would get her mind off her own problems.

The receiver buzzed and clicked. “Hey, LaShun, what’s up?”

“Oh, so I’m finally good enough to talk to?”

Aisha rolled her eyes even though LaShun couldn’t see her and leaned back in her office chair. “I’ve texted you when I can. It’s been a little busy around here.”

“So we’ve seen on the news.” LaShun laughed. “How’s living the high life with all the studly superheroes around?” Fresh grief brought a lump to Aisha’s throat.

“Ah, crap,” LaShun muttered. “I stepped into it, didn’t I? I take it you knew Captain Justice pretty well?”

Damn. Leave it to her big sister to stumble over the truth in the dark.

Aisha forced a laugh. “More like Harri wanted to adopt him.”

LaShun snorted. “Like she has a maternal bone in her body.”

Time to change the subject. “I’m assuming you’re calling about Mom and Dad’s upcoming anniversary. Did you need more money?”

“Yeah, it’s about their anniversary, and no on the money.” There was a sucking sound on the other end of the line. LaShun must be baking and licking the batter off a spoon. Or her finger. She did that whenever she was nervous or upset. “Did you know they were seeing a marriage counselor?”

“Are they? Good. I suggested it to Dad after their blow-up here back in May.”

LaShun’s sigh sounded relieved. “I told Mom the same thing when she showed up in Portland without him. The kids were bummed Dad wasn’t with her.”

“Really? You suggested they see someone?”

“Why does that sound so strange to you?”

Aisha laughed. “Because you always take Mom’s side!”

“And you always take Dad’s,” LaShun shot back. “Martin was the swing vote. He told them they weren’t invited to his wedding if they were going to act like spoiled, nasty children.”

“I doubt Renata would have let him disinvite his own parents.”

LaShun snickered. “Or maybe he realized she’d force him to go to Vegas if he did.”

“That’s because our baby brother is more invested in having the fairytale wedding than our future sister-in-law,” Aisha added.

“Anyway,” LaShun continued. “Back to Mom and Dad. She called this morning. The therapy must have worked because they want to renew their vows for their forty-fifth anniversary, instead of just doing a family dinner. Since their anniversary is on a Thursday this year, she wants to throw an engagement party for Martin and Renata the following Saturday, so we all aren’t making two trips down to Atlanta.”

Wow. Not only Mom, but LaShun thinking ahead? Maybe some of that therapy was wearing off on her big sister.

Aisha pulled her planner up on her computer monitor. “Okay, marking those dates on the calendar.”

“Also, I haven’t gotten an RSVP from Harri. She’s not pissed at Mom and Dad, is she? They’re both pretty embarrassed they blew her off when they were in Canyon Pointe.”

“No, she’s not. The invite’s probably in the mess of paperwork on her desk. I’ll nag her about it.” Aisha hesitated a second before she asked, “What about Jeremy and Leo?”

“I already talked to Leo, and he can’t get Jeremy to come. I don’t know why he thinks Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve of their marriage. They were pretty hurt Jeremy didn’t invite them.”

“Whoa! Roll that back. Leo and Jeremy got married? When the hell did this happen?”

“I know something you don’t know?” LaShun cackled.

“Quit dancing around your kitchen, bitch, and answer the question.” With everything that had been happening in hers and Harri’s lives, Jeremy must have been scared to share his little bit of good news.

“I think they both realized they’ve got a good thing. They were looking for a house together, and a week ago Saturday, they decided to make it official down at Judge Inunza’s office.”

“Thanks for making me feel like a total shit.” New tears formed in Aisha’s eyes. She’d been so consumed with her own petty problems she hadn’t paid any attention to the life of one of her best friends. “I’ll talk to Jeremy, too.”

“Or you could sic Harri on him.”

Aisha laughed. “I thought you wanted him to come.”

At the knock on her office door, she looked up. Harri Winters, her law partner, stood in the doorway with a large file and a serious expression.

“Speak of the devil. Harri’s in my office with her ‘we need to attorney’ look. I’ll call you later tonight.”

“You’d better, then you can tell me about her new boyfriend. Leo was pretty coy about it. Love you.”

“Love you, too.” Aisha set the receiver back in its cradle and held up a finger when Harri opened her mouth. “Before you get started, Mom and Dad’s forty-fifth anniversary is Thursday, September 6th, you’re invited for their vow renewal along with Martin’s engagement party the following Saturday, and LaShun’s ticked you didn’t RSVP for the original dinner.”

Harri’s jaw snapped shut. She closed the office door quietly behind her before she plopped in one of the visitor chairs. “That’s only a week away. Have you told them about the bun yet?”

Her ponytail swung as she inclined her chin toward Aisha’s abdomen. Her new chunky highlights shone bright against her dark hair. Harri had finally given in about letting Jeremy color her hair after the receptionist at Tim’s physical therapist’s office had asked if Harri were Tim’s mother.

Aisha rubbed her bump. “What do I tell them? That my son’s dad is already dead?”

“Sweetie, that baby is their grandson.” Harri set the file on the chair beside her and leaned her elbows on Aisha’s new desk. “You’re past your first trimester. It’s time to tell your family.”

“I just turned forty-one, and I’m not married.” Aisha shook her head. “If I wear some baggy clothes—”

“Then they’re definitely going to know something’s wrong. Baggy’s not your style.” Harri shook her head again. “And I may have to bow out. We don’t have your maternity leave replacement set up yet—”

“Wait!” Aisha sat up straight. “What happened to Susan Kennedy?”

“Nothing.” Harri used her fake soothing voice that drove Aisha insane. “She had to delay joining us for a week.” She waved at the stack of paperwork on Aisha’s desk. “But word’s getting out about us, and we’ve received a dozen requests for legal services this morning alone.”

“So, what you are doing a horrible job of saying is it’s not smart for both of us to be out of town right now.” Aisha eyed her partner. “How about you go to Atlanta instead and I mind the law firm?”

“Oh, no, no, no!” Harri sat up straight and waggled an index finger at Aisha. “You are not using me as an excuse to avoid your family. Besides, isn’t Jeremy invited?”

“He is, but—” Aisha hesitated. She hated spilling, but if Harri already knew. “Did you know he and Leonardo tied the knot?”

“I…yes,” Harri murmured. “If it makes you feel better, I wasn’t invited either.”

“But they told you. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Aisha threw up her hands. Her eyes burned. Dammit, she was getting emotional over something so ridiculous. Stupid hormones. She reached for a tissue. “Why am I the last to know?” “Because…” Whatever Harri was about to say changed into a supercilious smile. The one she’d been wearing since the federal government presumed Rey was dead. The one that needed to be smacked off her face.

Aisha clenched her fists in her lap. She’d worked too hard to get her powers under control. At least she didn’t float to the ceiling every time she got upset any more.

“Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight?” Harri said with her fake brightness. “I’ll call Jeremy and tell him to bring Leo.”

“I don’t know what’s worse—being the fifth wheel at your dinner or the fact that you can’t cook.”

Harri looked down for a moment, but when her gaze returned to Aisha, some of the old Harri shone through. “You can’t spend every night moping in your loft.”

The intercom buzzed before Aisha could think of an appropriate rejoinder. Patty wouldn’t interrupt unless it was important.

“Guys, Tim needs you two in the basement. Like now. There’s a big problem with Qiang. Arthur is already on his way down.” The word “problem” probably didn’t cover whatever was happening downstairs. Qiang Reilly, AKA the superhero known as Sparx and one of their firm’s clients, was usually too proud to ask for help. And for her to go to their security chief, who was the former vigilante known as the Ghost Owl, much less accept assistance from their IT manager Arthur, who was the former supervillain Professor Venom, meant things were very, very bad.

“On our way.” Aisha stood. “C’mon. I’ll fly us down.”

“No, you are not,” Harri growled. She was up and out the door pretty fast for someone with no powers.

Aisha followed her into the reception area. “Aw, come on! I need to practice. What if I only have them another five months?”

Patty grinned as they approached her desk. “Still won’t let you fly her around, huh?”

“Shut up, or you’re fired,” Harri snapped as she raced past.

“Don’t worry,” Aisha added as she strode by their assistant. “I’ll rehire you.”

Patty chuckled behind them while Harri punched in the security code for the basement entrance.

Aisha closed the door behind them, vaulted over the railing, and floated down to the concrete floor twelve feet below. She had the code punched in and the second security door open by the time her partner jogged down the stairs.

“After you, madam.” Aisha gestured inside the old fallout shelter with a flourish.

“Show off,” Harri muttered.

Once through, Aisha resealed the door and reset the basement level security alarm. Angry voices echoed down one of the side hallways.

“That doesn’t sound good,” she murmured.

“What doesn’t sound good?” A perplexed expression twisted Harri’s face.

“Tim and Arthur arguing.” Aisha strode in the direction of the fight.

“Wait! Slow down!” Harri jogged up beside her. “Tim and Arthur are arguing?”

“Yeah.” Aisha slowed her pace. It had nothing to do with superpowers. Her legs were simply longer than Harri’s. “You can’t hear them?”

“Damn you and your super hearing,” Harri growled.

They reached the next security door. Harri made a point of pushing in front of Aisha to enter the code.

Her unplanned pregnancy had been a sore point with Harri, but the unexpected triggering of superpowers by Aisha’s hormones seemed to send her best friend over the edge. Not for the first time, she wondered why Harri had wanted to open their boutique law firm specializing in the representation of supers when she had resented them long before the asshole pretending to be Rey had pounded her boyfriend to a bloody pulp.

Harri wrenched the door open and winced at the obvious shouting, except Qiang had joined in the fray with the mix of English and Vietnamese obscenities. It was the fourth super who drew Aisha’s attention.

The one who wore her beloved Rey’s face.

She flew across the room and grabbed the man by the throat. His eyes widened, and his hands locked on her wrist. When she slammed him into the thick concrete wall, a puff of gray powder rose. She cocked her right fist back.

“No!” Harri inserted herself between Aisha and the imposter and tried to shove her back. “Aisha! You’re not a killer!”

“Get out of my way, Harri!” Aisha glared at the man who probably had murdered Rey and nearly succeeded with Tim.

“He was under a supervillain’s influence, and you know it,” Harri snapped. “It wasn’t his fault!”

“Look, I don’t blame you.” The man she only knew as Hunahpu released her wrist, and his hands dropped to his sides. “I deserve whatever punishment you want to dish out, but help me find my brother before you kill me.” “What?” Aisha said at the same time as Harri, who turned to face him.

“You heard Xquic when she took me.” Disbelief and worry crossed his face. Maybe he was concerned they would commit him to a psychiatric facility for talking about a Mayan goddess like she was real.

Except Aisha and Harri had an extended conversation with the woman claiming to be Xquic.

“Sh-she is certain Xbalanque, er, Reyes is still alive,” Hunaphu finished nervously. “She detected his…essence or whatever you want to call it.”

“Then tell me where he is,” Aisha hissed.

“I don’t know. Xquic doesn’t know either. She couldn’t pinpoint his location, and she wants him back alive as much as you do.”

“Why couldn’t she locate him? She’s supposed to be a goddess.”

He fumbled under the collar of his cream-colored polo shirt and produced a leather thong. At the end hung a piece of jade, green with a curved white streak. The Mayan symbols for love and protection were carved into the stone. The same symbols that had been carved into Rey’s amulet. Only his had a straight blue streak through the stone. “The protection spells she placed on our talismans hide us from everyone’s sight, mortal and immortal. She sensed him for a day, but before she could triangulate his position, she lost him. She believes he’s regained possession of his amulet.”

Aisha’s heart jumped. No. She slammed the door on that glimmer of hope. She couldn’t bear dealing with the loss of Rey again. And for all she knew the man in front of her lied, playing some game with her head. But damn, how she wanted his words to be true.

Slowly, she released Hunahpu and took a step back. “Or he’s already dead.”

“Don’t say that.” Harri’s shoulders sagged. “Tell her she’s wrong.”

Hunahpu shook his head, his attention focused on Aisha. “No, he isn’t dead. Our grandfather is the Mayan lord of the Underworld. If Reyes were dead, he’d be holding it over our mother’s head.”

“He’s lying!” Arthur’s anguished cry sent an answering tremor through Aisha.

She turned toward him. Sparx held him back as best she could on one leg. From the size of the gash on her thigh and the amount of blood dripping down her costume, she couldn’t put any weight on the other leg. Arthur trembled so bad Aisha doubted he noticed the superhero’s grip on his arms.


She faced Tim. The former vigilante superhero everyone else knew as Jatz’om Kuh, the Ghost Owl, sat in his wheelchair. The wheelchair Hunahpu had put him in. Tim was still facing another surgery on his left leg. The one Hunahpu had practically crushed while he pretended to be Captain Justice.

“Let’s hear him out.” Tim gazed thoughtfully at Qiang before his attention returned to Aisha. “Sparx wouldn’t have brought him down here if she weren’t convinced of his sincerity.” A wry smile quirked his lips. “The only one harder to convince than Sparx is Harri.”

Harri stepped from between Aisha and Hunahpu and gave him a vicious grin. “And if I don’t like what I hear, I won’t stop Aisha from killing you. Got me, jerkwad?”

“Yes, ma’am.” No mocking in his expression. If he were faking the total sincerity on his face, he was one hell of an actor.

Aisha glared at the super. It was their grade school playground all over again when she had been the new student, and the other girls had been picking on a much smaller one named Harri. This time though the stakes were a hell of a lot higher than bloody noses and scraped knees.

“I hope you really do understand my partner,” she said softly. “Because there won’t be enough of you for your people, whoever they really are, to fill a copper pot when I’m done if you’re lying about this.”