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The Fool: New Beginnings

The Fool appears as the first card in the major arcana of the tarot, and I’ve used it as the inspiration for the first novel in a new urban fantasy series. Each novel in the series will be based on a different card in the tarot’s major arcana, which will make twenty-two stories in all if I don’t die first. The series is calld Tales from the Unmasqued World.

The Fool: New Beginnings is now available for preorder at an introductory price of $2.99. After its June 1, 2021, release, the price will increase to $3.99, but it’ll be available in Kindle Unlimited to borrow for free if you have a KU subscription.

The Fool: New Beginnings

My aweseom designer, Patti Roberts of Paradox, has created a stunning cover for the book.

This installment follows newly divorced Kelsey Davis as she helps in the hunt for a missing half-vampire girl.

Here’s the first chapter of the story for your reading pleasure:

Chapter One

The lycanthrope, recognizable by the brown wolf pin on her lapel, browsed among the bookshelves at the back of Crossroads Books & Café. She selected a book from the self-help section and, after reading the back cover, flipped through the pages. The rest of the shop was empty of customers, so Kelsey Davis, who stood behind the food counter, glanced often at the young wolf woman.

She wasn’t nervous alone in here with a lycan, Kelsey assured herself. She’d naturally monitor any customer browsing through the store. What if the woman needed help? Anyone on staff must remain vigilant, especially when it was quiet.

Wolf Woman raised her head and locked gazes with Kelsey. “I can smell your fear.”

Living in denial was so much more difficult when others pointed out the obvious.

“I’m sorry.” Kelsey didn’t know what else to say. After a moment, she added, “I don’t get many lycans in here. At least, I think I don’t.”

“You’re the new owner, I take it?” Wolf Woman replied.

“As of two months ago.” Kelsey picked up a spray bottle and a clean rag and moved from behind the counter to wipe down tables—tables that didn’t need it, but she had to keep busy to tamp down her fear. Cleaning always worked to distract her and calm her nerves.

“Never met a lycan before?” The woman, who Kelsey decided didn’t look so intimidating after all in her pale-green blouse and jeans, returned the book to the shelf and approached the food counter. Her black hair was tied, sleek and smooth, into a bun. If the wolf insignia hadn’t signaled her lycan heritage, her aquiline nose, square jaw, and tall, muscular build would’ve hinted at it. Her flawless skin held a tinge of brown. She prowled rather than walked, but with a model’s grace.

The sudden move in Kelsey’s direction flipped the fear switch on again, and she took an inadvertent step backward.

“Relax. I just want to introduce myself.” Wolf Woman stopped a safe distance away. “I’m Laura Growley.”

Deadpan, Kelsey said, “A lycan named Growley.”

Laura chuckled. “No weirder than a human named Smith or Miller.”

Laura spoke correctly—family names for humans typically reflected what their ancestors did. Perhaps when lycans shifted to the earth plane, they were assigned similarly descriptive names. That was probably the case for all hypernaturals who’d joined the physical plane during the unmasquing.

“Kelsey Davis. You know, I never thought about naming conventions much before.” Something occurred to her then, and any residual fear vanished, replaced by curiosity. “Did you know Mr. Dobbs? The previous owner? Are you a regular here?” If so, it wouldn’t hurt to act polite. The effort didn’t even feel forced. Laura seemed nice, and if Dobbs had welcomed her into the store, then odds were good it was safe for Kelsey to do the same.

“Yes. I enjoy reading. You have an excellent selection of lycan-centered fiction and non-fiction.” She grinned, revealing straight, even teeth.

What did you expect? Fangs? No, the fangs would only appear when she changed to wolf form, something Kelsey would happily skip witnessing.

“I’ll have a latte, if you don’t mind.”

The request brought Kelsey back to the real world, one of customer service and business. Her nerves settled, and after asking Laura what size she wanted, Kelsey hurried behind the counter to fill the order.

As she steamed the milk, the bell on the door jingled, signaling another customer’s arrival. Voices chattering told her a group had entered, and they were young. Kelsey threw a glance their way and verified it was the teens who visited the café two or three times a week. They hadn’t been in for four days, and she beamed a smile at them the instant she recognized them.

Chairs scraped against the floor as the kids settled into their usual table with their usual exuberant bustle. As Kelsey handed Laura the latte, their gazes locked, and Kelsey noticed the tiny lines around Laura’s eyes and lips. Lycans rarely suffered from dry skin, making their ages difficult to gauge, so this one had to be close to Kelsey in age—early forties at least—even though she looked no older than thirty.

“Thanks.” Laura accepted the large takeout cup. She found an empty table near the counter and pulled a book from the oversized purse she carried, while the group of teens crowded up to the cash register.

The group’s orders distracted Kelsey at first, but as she put together a cappuccino for the last teen, she did a quick head count and came up short. The guy before her had waited patiently while the other three members of his group, two girls and another boy, had received their orders. An additional member of their group, a pretty girl with pale skin and golden hair, was absent.

“Where’s Dakota?” Kelsey asked, more to make conversation than out of any serious interest. She assumed the girl was busy with a part-time job, family, school—anything at all, really.

“Don’t know.” His serious tone made her pause and meet his gaze. He frowned, his eyes pinched with worry.

She set his muffin and coffee on the counter. “Everything okay with her?”

He shrugged and averted his gaze, reddening slightly, as if embarrassed at exposing his concern.

“It’s all right. If something’s wrong, you can tell me.”

He threw a glance over his shoulder at the group around the table. “Not sure. Last time we spoke, she sounded kinda worried about her mom.”

“Is her mother ill?” Kelsey could relate to that. Her own mother had recently battled cancer. They’d ended up calling in a hedge witch to help her heal completely. Having magickals in the vicinity had its advantages. If Dakota’s mother was ill, perhaps Kelsey could refer the witch she and her mother used.

“No.” He glanced again at the others, who chatted away, oblivious to the serious conversation taking place at the food counter. “She thought her mother might …” He drifted off, unable or unwilling to give voice to his friend’s troubles.

“I know it’s not my business, Troy,” Kelsey said. “But you’re regulars here. I’ve gotten to know all of you since I took over this place.” Or as much as a shopkeeper could get to know her regular customers. She didn’t categorize any of the patrons who visited the store as friends. “If something happened to Dakota, maybe I can help.” Kelsey’s son hung out with that group. She’d ask him later if he knew anything, but for now, she’d try to get information from this boy. She was sure he was on the verge of sharing.

The bell jingled again as the door opened. Chase, the young man Kelsey had hired to work evenings and weekends in the café, rushed inside.

“Sorry, just made it. I’ll drop my gear and be right over.” He raced through the store and into the staff room at the back.

If Troy had been ready to divulge Dakota’s personal problems, Chase’s entrance had changed his mind.

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” He picked up his coffee and muffin. “Thanks.” With a nod, he retreated to the safety of the group.

Frustrated at the interruption, but unable to do anything about it, Kelsey returned to wiping surfaces that didn’t need cleaning. When Chase appeared behind the counter, she smiled and welcomed him with an upbeat greeting. “How was your day?”

“Good. Busy. Exams soon.”

Chase was in college, studying to be a mage. She’d never understood why someone with natural-born magickal ability had to study it in school, but he’d explained that innate talent was only the beginning. Magick had levels of complexity it would take him years of study to master.

“I see the gang’s all here.” He did a double-take then and said, “I stand corrected. The dhampir girl’s missing.”

“What?” Dhampir. She should know what that meant.

Chase raised his brows and angled his head at her. “Dakota. She never displayed the insignia prominently, but she kept it with her. Even so, her pedigree is unmistakable. She’s a human-vampire mixed breed.”

“I didn’t know that. I didn’t see it.” Should she have noticed? All this time, the girl had seemed so normal. “I never saw fangs.”

Chase patted her arm. “Don’t worry about it. Humans have trouble recognizing them—until the fangs appear or they notice the lack of an image in a reflective surface. They’re nothing to be afraid of, you know.”

“I’m not afraid of them.” But she averted her eyes as she said it, and inside, she had the uneasy feeling she lied to herself as much as to Chase.

The bell on the door tinkled again. Two men strolled in. She’d been expecting them, since they showed up at this time each month. They weren’t here to buy coffee, though they expected her to serve them. She pressed a button that popped open her till. After lifting the tray inside, she retrieved an envelope containing five-hundred dollars and handed it to the taller of the two men. He was always the one who took the money while the other man remained standing by the door.

The tall man shoved the envelope into the inside pocket of his trench coat and waited while she fixed two cappuccinos to go. When she handed those over, the men strolled out without having exchanged a word with her. She preferred it that way, and they didn’t seem to care as long as she paid them when they showed up.

A craving for a hit of caffeine assaulted her, and she poured herself a large coffee. She might regret it when she wanted to sleep later, but right now, she needed the comforting warmth of hot liquid and the reassuring caffeine buzz. She glanced over at Laura, who appeared to be snout deep in her book. Ashamed she’d referred to the lycan’s nose as a snout even though she was in human form, Kelsey shifted her gaze to Chase.

He’d busied himself with sweeping behind the counter while the goons were in the store, but now he paused to look her in the eyes. “Someone should do something about those guys.”

She shook her head, afraid he considered playing hero. “No. Stay out of it.” She kept her voice low, and verified that Laura continued reading and the group of kids remained oblivious to what had transpired.

Before Chase could reply, the bells jangled and clashed as the door burst open, and a man wearing the vampire insignia on his lapel stepped inside. Time to prove to Chase, and to herself, that supernatural creatures, in particular vampires, didn’t terrify her. The problem was, this one looked furious.

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