I’m so very pleased to announce that Midnight Labyrinth is available to preorder at all retailers now! It releases on November 7th. Here are your links:
FAQ for new and old readers
Do I have to have read the Elemental Legacy novellas or any of your other books before I read these?
Nope! This is a stand alone book. Which means that even if you’ve never read any of my other Elemental universe books, you’ll be able to pick this one up and enjoy. This is an entirely new series set in an existing world, but you won’t be lost. I’ve even had beta readers who aren’t familiar with my other books read this one to be sure. So far, they’ve loved it.
Is this a paranormal romance?
Though there are some romantic subplots throughout the series, this definitely leans more into the paranormal mystery/urban fantasy genre. The focus is on Ben and Tenzin’s adventures, not on romance. (Though fans of Gavin Wallace will probably get a nice surprise.)
Will all my favorite characters from your other Elemental series be here?
I don’t know about ALL of them, but main characters like Giovanni and Beatrice, Carwyn and Brigid, Cheng (the pirate), Baojia, etc. will likely be popping up as supporting characters in these books. Ben and Tenzin have been an integral part of the Elemental universe, so you’ll see many familiar characters, though the focus will stay on them.
Will Midnight Labyrinth be available in paperback?
Absolutely! I might even be able to work out a preorder for paperback. I’ll let you know if I do.
Will the Elemental Legacy books be available in audio?
Yes! I’m working with a fantastic narrator for this series and he’s been working hard on the prequel novellas to be ready before November. The first, Shadows and Gold, is already finished and going through quality control over at Audible. I’ll post the sales links as soon as I have them. The second is going through proofing right now, and we’ll be starting on the third this month. Midnight Labyrinth audio will probably not be available on the same day as the paperback and e-book, but it should be available soon after.
Is Ben going to turn into a vampire?
Dude. You didn’t really think I was going to answer that one, did you?
Had to try…
And for those of you who are not signed up for my newsletter, here is a preview of Chapter One:
An Elemental Legacy Novel
He chased his quarry up the ladder, launching himself onto the gravel-strewn roof in Hell’s Kitchen. Ducking under a broken scaffold, he followed the dark figure who threatened to elude him. She was half his size, dressed in a black hoodie and leggings. She moved like a cat in the dim, pre-dawn light.
She was getting away.
He ran left, skimming the side of a cinderblock building before he leapt across a narrow vent, using longer legs to his advantage. He landed hard, rolled in a single somersault, then took to his feet in one smooth movement. He could feel gravel in the small of his back, and his arm was bleeding from the bite of a rusted ladder, but he kept running.
He was gaining on her. He scanned the landscape as he’d been taught, mentally calculating the most efficient way to get from his position to hers.
His lungs pumped in steady rhythm. In-in-out. He pulled in the humid air and tried not to choke. He’d been running at seven thousand feet the week before. His thin black shirt stuck to his skin. Grey light filtered over a city that still clung to the memory of the previous day’s heat. New York City in July. Another day; another sauna.
The small figure scrambled up the side of a building—sticking to the stained brick like a spider—then she disappeared over the edge and into nothing.
He wasn’t concerned for her safety.
He found the lips of the bricks she’d used to climb. He wasn’t as fast as she was. He was forced to take his time crawling up the side of the building, finding each finger hold and jutting brick to move his body up the wall. From a distance, he’d appear to be sticking too. He felt a fingernail tear, but he didn’t pause.
Hoisting his body over the edge of the wall, he kept himself low and scanned the urban landscape. Water towers and rusted fire-escapes mixed with recently gentrified gardens and sleek patio furniture.
She was barely visible in the distance, leaping from the top of one building to the next.
He ran after her, but he knew it was futile. She’d gained too much ground during his careful climb. She disappeared over the side of another building and Ben knew he’d lost her.
Panting, he followed her tracks, not allowing himself to slow down. He leapt over the edge of a familiar building and jumped fire-escape railings five stories down until he hung on the last rung of the old ironwork.
Ben Vecchio closed his eyes and did three rapid pull-ups, pushing his muscles right to the edge of exhaustion before he gave them a break. He had a runner’s build, but he was six feet tall. Moving a large frame quickly would always be a challenge. He dropped to the ground and jogged down West 47th Street to the deserted playground. The gate was locked, but he easily jumped over.
She’d taught him that trick early.
A small hooded figure perched on the top of a red and green play structure. Still breathing deeply, Ben jumped to the first platform and squatted in front of her.
“Believe it or not, you are getting faster,” Zoots said.
“That wall nearly killed me.” With the adrenaline waning, Ben was starting to feel his hands.
“But you made it up. That’s a ten foot brick wall and you climbed it.”
“But you climbed it,” Zoots said. “Remember, I grew up here. I know every inch of those roofs. I have the advantage.”
He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I have to be faster.”
It had to be more instinctive. He wouldn’t have the luxury of running in familiar places.
Zoots rolled her eyes and pulled out a cigarette. “Whatever, man.”
When he’d first moved to New York, he’d watched. There were parkour and free-running groups, but they were cliquish and Ben was a beginner. Though he’d been drilled in martial arts and weapons training since he was twelve-years-old, parkour was new to him. It was only the lightning-quick reflexes of a girl he’d met a few years ago that had attracted him to the practice. She’d moved inhumanly fast.
Of course, she hadn’t been strictly human.
Ben was. The sweat dripping into his eyes proved it. He wiped it away and sat next to Zoots.
He’d found her by watching. She wasn’t part of the group, but they knew her. She was the one they wandered over to talk to when they were practicing. Zoots was tiny—barely five feet tall—with a slight figure. Her skin was pale under her hood. Her short hair and her eyes were dark. She came out in the early morning and at night. He’d never seen her in the middle of the day.
It had taken Ben weeks to figure out who she was and what she was to the runners in Central Park. If the young traceurs in the park had a guru, it was Zoots. She claimed to be self-taught from YouTube videos, but Ben suspected that Zoots was like him. He’d been running since he could remember, mostly to get away from trouble. She was just better at it.
Zoots ran everywhere, and she was a loner. She ignored Ben for weeks, until her curiosity got the better of her. She’d talked to him, and he’d eventually hired her. He wanted to learn parkour, but he wasn’t interested in joining any group. Zoots nodded and told Ben to meet her at Hell’s Kitchen Playground and to bring two hundred bucks cash.
So he did.
She finished her cigarette, flicked off the cherry, and carefully tucked the butt into a tin she kept in her pocket. “Same time next week?”
“You’ve been doing this for six months now. You know the basics. You sure you want to keep paying me for lessons?”
Ben raised an eyebrow. “You trying to get rid of me, Zoots?”
“It’s your money, man.” She smiled. “I just spend it.”
“I need to be faster.”
She eyed him. “That’s practice. You’re twice my size; you gotta figure out your own style. Tall means longer legs and longer arms, but it also means more meat to move.”
“I’ll keep paying you if you keep teaching me.”
“Like said, it’s your money.” Zoots narrowed her eyes. “You told me once you needed to learn this for work.”
“I do.” His fingers itched for a cigarette. He’d stopped smoking when he was fourteen—his uncle could smell the slightest trace of cigarette smoke—but he still wanted one occasionally. Especially when people started asking personal questions.
“But one of the guys in the park said you were in antiquities or something.”
Damn, nosy kids. “Yeah.”
Zoots frowned. “You jumping roofs at the museum or something?”
Ben couldn’t stop the smile. “I work for private clients.”
“Huh.” She nodded. “So… you’re into some serious Indiana Jones-kinda-shit, huh?”
Ben rose and raked a hand through his hair. “Don’t be ridiculous, Zoots. You think I’d look good in a hat?”
He caught the quick flush on her cheeks before he jumped off the play structure and walked toward the gate. “See you next week, Zoots.”
* * *
Ben caught the train to Spring Street station, walking toward Broadway and his favorite cafe. He sat at the picnic tables outside Cafe Lilo and watched the growing rush of pedestrians filling the sidewalk. He read a newspaper someone had left behind while he drank coffee and devoured a bagel.
There was no typical crowd at Cafe Lilo, which was one of the reasons Ben liked it. Stock brokers, dog walkers, young parents and college kids all frequented the family-owned cafe. A few tourists came in, but it wasn’t a flashy place. That morning delivery and sanitation trucks competed in the narrow streets while a growing crowd of taxis and hired cars dodged between them, heading toward Lower Manhattan.
He flipped to the Arts section of the paper and made a few notes about gallery openings. An auction announcement. A charity gala sponsored by some outfit called Historic New York. A new surrealist exhibit opening at the Museum of Modern Art.
His sunlight quota met, he headed back to the building on Mercer he was still renovating. He’d called the massive, unfinished penthouse home for two years. Both stories had finished floors and the semblance of rooms. The roof garden was a work in progress.
He nodded at the silent doorman, who was known for discretion more than amiability, and took the elevator to the top floor. He had two full floors of the building. He pushed the button for the living area on the top floor, bypassing his office on the floor below.
The loft was home. It was office.
Finely honed reflexes were the only thing that saved him from the three inch thick book that dropped from the loft overhead.
The loft could also be a death trap.
He glared up. “What are you doing?” There were books—his books—scattered on the floor under her loft. “Tenzin, what the hell?”
Another book fell flat on the floor to his left.
“Stop throwing my books!”
A dark head poked out, cloaked in carefully placed shadows that protected her from sunlight. “Did you move my swords?” She held out another book, narrowed her eyes, and dropped it.
“Cut it out!” Ben shouted. “And no, I did not move your swords. I swear, Tenzin—”
“Are you sure?” A small figure floated out of the loft like the proverbial angel of book death, arms stretched out with two of his massive art books in her hands. “Are you sure you didn’t move my swords?”
Damn, pain-in-the-ass stubborn air vampire.
Ben glared at her. “I did not…”
Oh shit. He had.
“I told you,” she said.
“One sword, Tenzin! One. Sword.” He held his hands out, ready to rescue his books. “Do not drop those books.”
Tenzin hovered over him, a pissed-off, flying demon with a pretty, round face and a sheet of black hair falling around her. She looked young, but she wasn’t. She was one of the most ancient elemental vampires on the planet, born on the northern steppes of Asia thousands of years before. She was also Ben’s partner.
And a book abuser.
She wouldn’t have tried it when she’d been working with his uncle, Giovanni Vecchio. Of course, Giovanni was a rare book collector and a fire vampire who would have seriously wounded her if she tried.
Tenzin narrowed her eyes. “It’s not nice when someone messes with your stuff, is it?”
“I didn’t damage your damn rapier! The way you had it placed, it almost took out my eye every time I left the downstairs bathroom. So I moved it. I didn’t drop it on its hilt from a height of twelve feet!”
“It wouldn’t have taken out your eye if you weren’t looking at your phone all the time. You should watch where you’re going.”
“You’re making me mental.” His hardbacks were still suspended in the air. “Please put my books down. I will tell Giovanni you’re abusing them if you don’t.”
Tenzin had been friends with his uncle hundreds of years before Ben had been born, and they’d worked as assassins for a time. Tenzin wasn’t afraid of his uncle, but she found Giovanni’s disapproval annoying.
She floated to the ground, still staying in the shadows, and handed him the books. “There. Don’t move my stuff again.”
“Then don’t put it where I could do myself permanent bodily injury, Tiny. Not all of us can regrow body parts if we lose them.”
She cocked her head and looked at him. “That is a very slow and painful process, even for vampires.”
“And since I’m human, not an option for me. Please don’t put your swords in places that will gouge out my eyes.”
“Fine.” She bent down and picked up a single book. “Here.”
He took the book and ignored the dozen on the ground. “Thanks.”
Tenzin smiled, all ire forgotten. “You’re welcome.”
Then Tenzin flew back up to her loft and disappeared.
Ben looked at all the books on the floor. “Do you have any more up there?”
“Yes. Do you want me to—”
“Don’t toss them down.” He took a deep breath. “Hand them down please. After I put these away.” He picked up two more books. “Any calls or emails while I was out?”
“But did you check your email?”
“No.” She sighed. “I wish you’d never made me an email account. It’s not the same as letters.”
“I know that, Tenzin, but it’s how the modern world communicates. And if you don’t check it every day, your inbox will take over the world.”
“Is that why you take your phone to the toilet?”
“Yes,” he said. “Now check your messages.”
Tenzin flew down and picked up a magazine from the coffee table. “Cara, check my email.”
A polite artificial voice filled the living area. “Checking electronic messages for Tenzin.” There was a soft hum before Cara said, “You have six new messages.”
“Read subject lines.”
She complained about it, but Ben was continually amazed by how quick Tenzin was with technology. She’d had limited access to the electronic revolution until an immortal tech company in Ireland came out with the Noct voice recognition program. Vampire touch wreaked havoc on any electronic gadget because of their amnis, the electrical current that ran under their skin and connected them to their elemental ability.
Wind and water vampires had bad reactions to electronics. Earth vampires could handle some gadgets a little better than others. Rare fire vampires like his uncle could short out the computer in a modern car just by sitting in the front seat.
No computers. No mobile phones. No iPods or tablets or new appliances.
But then came Noct.
“Reading subject lines,” Cara said. “From Beatrice De Novo, ‘I need a recipe, don’t ignore me.’”
“Delete,” Tenzin said.
“You should at least write her back,” Ben said.
“I don’t cook from recipes, so that would be useless.” Tenzin turned a page. “Next message.”
Cara read, “From Blumenthal Blades. ‘Desirable saber for your Eastern European collection.’”
“Save,” Tenzin said. “That sounds promising.”
Ben shelved three more books. “Because you definitely need more swords.”
“I always need more swords.”
“From Viva Industries,” Cara read. “‘All natural male enhancement from Asia.’”
Tenzin laughed. “That’s what he said.”
It took Ben a second to realize Tenzin had actually made a joke, then he grimaced. “Delete!”
“I do not recognize voice signature for the current account,” Cara said. “Shall I log out Tenzin?”
“No,” Tenzin said. “Delete ‘All Natural Male Enhancement,’ Cara. Next message.”
“From Jonathan Rothwell. ‘Confirming details for upcoming travel.’”
“Save,” Tenzin said quickly, glancing at Ben. “I’ll read that later.”
He kept his eyes on his bookshelves. “You going to Shanghai?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
Ben tried not to react. Jonathan Rothwell was the personal secretary for Cheng, an honest-to-goodness vampire pirate who ruled Shanghai. He was also Tenzin’s ex… something. Former lover? Current lover? Ben had met Cheng on the very first job he and Tenzin had done together four years before, but he still didn’t have an answer.
It’s none of your business. Ben said, “We don’t have anything on the schedule, so whatever you want to do.”
Ben decided to reorganize the art section of his bookshelves. He’d had the hardbacks arranged by color, but Tenzin had screwed it all up. He might as well reorganize according to style and period.
Tenzin called, “Cara, next message.”
“From Rene DuPont. ‘Think about it.’”
Ben’s head popped up and his eyes went wide. “What?”
“Cara,” Tenzin called. “Move that one to the folder labeled, ‘Rene.’”
“You have a folder labeled ‘Rene?’” Ben asked. “A folder?”
Tenzin shrugged. “Know your enemies and know yourself.”
“He tried to kill me last summer in Scotland. Several times.”
Tenzin squinted. “Did he really try to kill you, though? I mean, you did steal a sword from him,” she pointed out. “A really valuable legendary one.”
“One,” Ben said, “I didn’t steal it from him. He stole it from me after I found it. I just took it back. And two, he wanted that old vampire to drain me, so yes he tried to kill me.”
“Your points are valid.” She flipped through the magazine.
“Thank you. What does he want?”
“I don’t know. Do you want his email address?” Tenzin looked up. “He often sends me funny jokes. You might find them amusing.”
Ben blinked. “Rene DuPont, thief for hire and the vampire who tried to kill your partner, sends you spam emails and you don’t mind?”
“You know, I don’t think he was serious about killing you,” Tenzin said. “That’s just his sense of humor.”
Ben was half tempted to ask her to forward Rene’s “funny jokes” just to find out what a sociopathic immortal thief found funny.
Then he remembered he lived with Tenzin.
Rene DuPont was a part of a clan his uncle had strong ties with, so Ben didn’t want to pick a fight unless he had no other choice. He and Tenzin had come off of their last confrontation with Rene looking like the winners and the reasonable party.
Ben smiled. Rene probably loathed that as much as he loathed Ben.
Or as much as he wanted Tenzin. Rene hadn’t been shy about expressing his admiration in that direction.
“You know what?” he said. “Never mind. Seeing that name in my inbox would just make my head explode. Tell me if you think he’s going to be in the US or if our paths are going to cross. That’s all I ask.”
“Okay. Cara, next message!” Tenzin yelled.
“From Novia O’Brien. Copied to Ben Vecchio. ‘Monthly meeting at Bat and Barrel?’”
Ben looked up. “Better read the whole thing. She’s been trying to pay off that favor for six months. She and Cormac are getting annoyed.”
“I don’t care,” Tenzin said. She dropped the magazine and flew back up to her loft. “It was a pair of opera glasses, but it wasn’t an easy retrieval. I’m not willing to waste a favor so they can mark it off their ledger. Let them be annoyed. Cara, read message.”
Cara read, “Good evening. Would love to meet and touch base with the two of you when you have a free night. Gavin’s new pub is getting good buzz. Saturday night at eleven work for you two?’”
Ben waited for Tenzin to look at him. “We need to throw them a bone.”
“I don’t understand the idiom,” Tenzin said. She turned her eyes and stared at the opposite wall, swinging one leg back and forth on the edge of her room.
“Yes, you do,” Ben said. “Don’t play dumb. Throw them a bone. Let them pay us back.”
She shrugged. “I don’t need anything from them right now.”
“It was two days work at the most—”
“And I refused to let them pay us for that reason,” she said.
“The O’Briens are a huge clan,” Ben said. “They’re independent, and they don’t like owing people.”
She smiled. “Well, they owe us now.”
“I know you live for racking up favors,” Ben said, “but we live here at their pleasure.”
The vampires in charge of the great city of New York were the O’Briens, a clan of earth vampires who’d taken over the city in a violent coup and held it for a century through numbers, wise bribery, and clever manipulation.
Ben and Tenzin had moved to New York with the understanding that Tenzin—a highly powerful and connected vampire—would demonstrate no ambition that would challenge the current vampires in charge. She would also use her influence and connections in Asia to increase foreign trade.
“All I’m saying,” Ben said, “is that unless you want cause an intercity incident, piss off a powerful earth vampire clan, kill a bunch of people, and take control of the city—which obviously you could do if you really wanted to—we should probably just meet with Novia and let her do something nice for us so her sire feels better.”
Tenzin dropped from her room and hung upside down, her face level with Ben’s. Talking to her like that was always disorienting.
That was, of course, why she did it.
“Is there something you need?” Ben asked.
“Doubtful.” He’d seen her drink a tall glass of blood three days ago while she was binge-watching a British reality show. At Tenzin’s age, she didn’t need much blood to survive.
Nevertheless, she glanced down at his neck and licked her lower lip.
“Don’t piss me off, Tenzin.” That was not their agreement. They were partners. He wasn’t food.
“Novia said she wants to meet at Gavin’s? Why Gavin’s? There are too many humans there.”
And Tenzin couldn’t be around humans too often. Unlike most vampires, her fangs never retracted, which could lead to some awkward staring in the wrong places.
“Gavin pays the extra tribute to have neutral pubs in every city,” Ben said quietly. “Novia is leveling the playing field, making the effort to accommodate your status. We should meet her.”
Tenzin narrowed her eyes. “You meet her first. Tonight.”
“Fine.” Massaging egos was all part of the vampire package.
Tenzin flew back to her room and Ben continued organizing his books, mentally composing the email he’d send to Novia.
Ben Vecchio may have been born in the Bowery to good-for-nothing human parents, but he’d been raised and mentored from the age of twelve by his adoptive uncle, a fire vampire of fierce reputation and a deep desire to be left alone. Ben knew more about immortal politics than most vampires. Their world operated on a carefully balanced network of allegiances, loyalties, family ties, and favors. It was feudal, but it worked.
Most of the time.
* * *
Tenzin watched him as he slept that afternoon.
The lines around Ben’s mouth and eyes had deepened. Not much. But he’d grown from the young man she had known and into the man he would become.
Even so, he was her shining boy, eager to fix problems, fight battles, and seek treasure. He’d dragged her to this metal city and made her a nest in the sky, quick to reassure her of his plans.
It will be brilliant. It will be fun. We’ll get rich. Well, I’ll get rich and you’ll get richer.
Ben would go to the meeting with the young vampire and charm her into a solution both Tenzin and the New York hierarchy could live with. He’d negotiate with smiles and debate with quips. Ben was both her partner and her better half. He was one of the few humans who’d ever understood her, and possibly the only one who’d never feared her. Even her own sire feared her.
He picked and poked at her as a hobby. He antagonized her and did it with a smile. She pushed him just far enough to drive him crazy. Why?
It was fun.
Their partnership was good. He was finding his way and meeting his people. Making connections and learning the ways of their world. He had time as long as she was with him. As long as she watched. His human experience would only add to the being he would become.
Of course, he did have that white knight tendency.
She’d have to fix that.
White knights had a tendency to get their armor bloody, and that could not happen.
Not until it was time.