A World Apart
Genre: Urban fantasy
“There are things that go bump in the night, Mr. MacMillian. It’s my job to bump back.”
Private investigator Jesper MacMillian was sure he’d seen it all. After all, in a city like San Francisco, strange is what’s for breakfast. Following a long recovery after a horrific accident, his life is finally the way he wants it- or at least, close enough. The only monsters on his radar are the ones that keep him awake at night.
All that changes the day he meets Lena Alan.
Before MacMillian has a chance to brace for impact, Lena drags him into a world where monsters aren’t just real, they’re hiding in plain sight. Suddenly, everything he knows is suspect, starting with his current case. For Lena, a medium since childhood, it’s just another day at the office.
For MacMillian, it’s the beginning of the end of everything he thinks he knows.
“I should hex the IRS.”
Lena set down the receipt she was scrutinizing, and stared at the woman across the table from her. “You’re not serious.”
The woman blew a wisp of dark brown hair out of her face, tugged off her plastic-frame reading glasses, and stretched. The movement made her deep violet lowlights shimmer. “Why not? It might distract them for a while, and we could take a break from sifting through all this bullshit.”
Lena snorted. “Hey, I said you didn’t have to help me. My business, my-“
“Responsibility. Whatever.” The woman rolled her eyes. “We both know you’re shit with numbers. Hand me that calculator.”
Lena bit back a grin, and obediently passed it over. “Have I ever told you you’re like some kind of occult superhero? Georgia Clare: bookkeeper by day, badass biker witch by night. Seriously, you should put that on your business cards.”
Georgia scowled, but her sharp green eyes twinkled. “Well, as your bookkeeper, I’m hereby suggesting you set up a network for this place. Are you kidding me with all this paper? If I didn’t know your family, I’d swear you were Amish.”
Lena shrugged. “I’ll get to it.”
The bell above the door jingled, and a small posse of women trekked inside. Lena flashed them a smile. “Welcome! Take a seat anywhere. I’ll have someone right with you.” She set down the receipt she was holding and stood. “I need to go find Connie. Thanks again, Georgia.”
Georgia was already tapping away at the calculator. She waved without looking up.
Lena left their table in the corner, wove around the other tables and scooted behind the counter. The women were ogling the scones and tiny cakes in the pastry case. Lena nodded to them, pride warm in her chest. She pushed open the swinging doors and stuck her head into the
kitchen. “Hey, Tiburcio! You seen Connie back here?”
Her head chef popped up from behind one of the stainless steel counters. “No, señora, not yet. Do you know when Jimmy is coming in? He was supposed to take a look at the stand mixer.”
Lena’s good mood immediately deflated. “I’m afraid we won’t be seeing Jimmy around anymore.”
Tiburcio’s eyebrows went up, and she prayed he wouldn’t press her for answers. Mercifully, he merely gave a single, short nod. “Qué pena. Nice guy.”
She swallowed hard. “Yeah. Yeah, he was.”
With Connie nowhere in sight, Lena backed out of the kitchen again, and turned to the group at the counter. This time, her smile felt tight. “Sorry about the wait, guys. Just pastries today?”
She forced herself through the motions, and heaved a sigh of relief when they finally headed out the door, already picking bits of scone from their crisp white paper bags. Lena allowed her gaze to wander to the park across the street. Maybe she’d head over there for lunch. For some reason, the shop felt smaller than usual. Some fresh air would be nice.
Maybe it would help dislodge the painful knot from her throat.
She was still staring into the park when a dark green, classic-looking car rolled up to the curb. The throaty engine rattled the shop’s windows, then shut off. A tall, dark-haired man climbed out. He paused, turned, and looked directly at her. The bottom plummeted out of her stomach. Lena shook herself. Of course he wasn’t looking at her.
He was looking at the shop.
Sure enough, he squinted at the sign, slammed the car door and started across the street. He walked with a barely noticeable swagger, his well-built body encased in a dark gray suit. She looked closer. No, not quite a suit: instead of a blazer, he wore some sort of belted military jacket.
She braced herself. The bell above the door chafed her already strained nerves. The man filled the narrow doorway. Lena swallowed hard.
She knew a wolf when she saw one, and this man was definitely a wolf. He stayed in the doorway for a moment, then started towards the counter. His gait swayed, and she realized what she’d thought was a swagger was actually an injury. An old injury, judging by the practiced grace with which he wielded his curved black cane.
Lena relaxed slightly. A wolf was bad news, but a wounded wolf? That, maybe, she could deal with.
He reached the counter, and leaned against the glass. Lena frowned. “Can I help you?”
His eyes took a quick tour of her body, then he straightened. “Maybe. I’m looking for the owner of this place.”
“You found her. I’m Powonia Alan.” Lena crossed her arms. “If you’re looking for a job, I’m afraid we’re not hiring at the moment.”
The man blinked. “I’m not here for a job. I’m looking for a friend of mine. His parents told me he’d been working here.”
Something started to ache in the pit of her stomach. “Is that so?”
The man arched an eyebrow. “Jimmy Vaspurkan. You know him?”
She didn’t know what made her open her mouth. Maybe it was the man’s eyes, too heavy on her face. Maybe it was the way his voice reached deep into her gut and made her insides quake. Maybe she just needed to talk to someone.
Whatever the reason, she was answering before she could stop herself. “You’re a little late. He’s dead.”
L.J.K Oliva is the devil-may-care alter-ego of noir romance novelist Laura Oliva. She likes her whiskey strong, her chocolate dark, and her steak bloody. L.J.K. likes monsters… and knows the darkest ones don’t live in closets.