I thought this would be the last snippet, but you will get one more before the book is available for sale. For a sense of perspective, Pixie Noir is over 95K words long, and in the snippets total there will be about 24K words. You are only a quarter of the way through the story, and I hope your appetite is well whetted! I have proof copies of the beautiful trade paperback edition in hand, and aside from some minor tweaks to the layout on the cover, it is ready to go. If any of you opt for the paper copy, keep in mind that if you purchase through Amazon you wil receive a DRM-free ebook version for free with purchase. And if you email me a request, I’d be happy to send you a signed bookplate for the book. Shameless, I know.
Now Tex started laughing along with Bella. I climbed over the seat much more carefully, finding it far more awkward to manage than it had been going the other way. Adrenaline rushes made a lot of things possible that you wouldn’t even consider under other circumstances. I found that although I was warming up, I had the shakes. This was going to be a long trip.
We would be in Haines shortly, and I didn’t know where we would be going from there. Until I had her safely Underhill, we were subject to attack from any side. This midair encounter had shaken me, although I didn’t plan to let her know that. Something was changing. The accidents that had been happening had been subtle, up until now. This was not subtle at all. I didn’t know what I was going to tell Tex to keep him quiet once the plane ride was over.
All my training, my life’s work, had been to keep humans at large from knowing about Folke, and the magical world that had once been strong on Earth, but was now fading away into the shadows. Would it come back, like the Winter Court believed, if magic were allowed to reign again?
I doubted that. My thoughts were that it would lead to war, and death and destruction on both sides. Far better to stay in the shadows and play it conservative. But it was unlikely I would be consulted, by either side. I could just do my job. The more I found out about Bella and her family, the better I liked that job.
When we landed, I was warm again, and had my eyes tightly closed and Sight stretched to its fullest extent. Meeting the Roc had shaken me. I suspected the Tok Airport had been under surveillance, and they could not have known we were headed to Haines rather than one of the cities, but I wasn’t taking chances. I had also made a decision.
“Are we flying out of here, or what?” I asked Bella as we stopped in front of another tiny airport terminal. She shook her head as she climbed out.
“I don’t know. Aunt Min is supposed to meet us here.”
I led the way toward the building, letting Tex precede me into the warmth. His complexion was a little greenish, still, and I was guessing the gravity of our midair encounter was finally sinking in for him. A man with shoulder length grey hair and a face most charitably described as craggy met us just inside the door.
“Tex.” They clasped hands. “Min’s waiting for ya.”
He nodded at us, but didn’t seek an invitation.
“Thanks, Drake.” Tex waved us further into the building, and we passed through the mechanic’s shop, it looked like, before another doorway took us into the waiting room.
Min was the only person in the room, standing and looking out the window. Her dark brown braid surprised me, I had been thinking old lady when Bella said great-aunt. She turned to meet us, a broad smile on her face, and outstretched arms for Bella. I could see the small signs of age now, the shot silver in the hair at the temples, the laugh lines framing her eyes. Bella simply leaned into the older woman with a little hiccup that might have had tears behind it. I was struck by their beauty, and realized I was seeing what my girl would look like in forty years.
When had she become my girl? Dammit. I was being dangerously sentimental. She was my charge, sure, but not mine.
I walked around them and checked the rest of the room and the outside as seen from the windows. Then I closed my eyes and looked again. Min and Tex had no magic. Bella glowed a pretty periwinkle blue. A pair of normals in the hangar area. We were all clear, for the moment. I opened my eyes again. Bella and Min were looking at me with matching serenity.
“Aunt Min, this is Lom.” Bella introduced me formally. I held out my hand and Min took it gently in her warm one.
“Pleased to meet you, I think.” Min’s voice was a husky soprano.
“It could have been under better circumstances,” I admitted. She let go of my hand and I ran a hand through my hair, which was already on end. She smiled. I must look pretty funny, at that.
“What is the plan?” I looked at Tex, who’d sat in a chair and was quietly contemplating us. I was going to have to talk to him, but I didn’t need to make this op any messier than it already was. Min had no need to know we had been attacked by a Troll and a Roc in the last 24 hours.
“Uncle said that you two need to get to the Lower 48, and flying wasn’t an option. I have tickets for you to board the ferry in two hours, and I’m going to take you to breakfast before I put you on the ship to Seattle.” She finished by turning toward the door, and I understood there was no arguing with this woman.
“I’ll be right behind you two.” Sometimes you just can’t clear all of the Alaskan wilderness for your charge, and Min looked like she could hold her own, too. I needed to talk to Tex before we left.
He was looking a bit shocky. I stood in front of him, and he focused on me.
“You going to be all right?”
He nodded. I frowned at him. “You can’t talk about this, you know.”
“No one would believe me.” He buried his face in his hands. “I’m not sure I believe me.”
I sighed. An emotional Texan was not something I needed right now. I pulled out my wallet and fished a card out of it.
“Look, we will be out of communication for a while. There’s no cell towers where we are going. But I can check my voicemail from time to time. If you need me, give me a call. And when you get back to Tok,” I added on a whim, as it occurred to me. “Get in touch with Bella’s Uncle.”
He looked at me. We were eye to eye, him seated, me standing. “Her Uncle Ray?”
So that was what Raven went by in this modern world. I nodded. He reached out and took the card. “Thanks.”
He stood up, like a scarecrow unfolding, and offered me a massive hand. It swallowed mine when I shook it.
“Better hurry, Min’s a force of nature.” He smiled, a return to his normal self beginning already. The human mind is a resilient thing.
I took his advice and hurried. I could believe that about Bella’s aunt. I left the airport building wondering what Tex would do. I was trusting a man I barely knew with a lot of sensitive information, and that trust was largely based on her unblinking trust in him. Min’s truck was idling at the door, and I climbed into the back jumpseat before Bella took the passenger side.
“We’ll have a hearty meal at the Fireweed Restaurant, then I’ll get you on the boat.” Min reminded me cheerfully while we pulled onto the road. I was looking out the window. There was a lot more snow here, close to the ocean, than there had been in the interior. As we got into town, I could see the ocean, the small chop sparkling in the morning sun like a field full of moving jewels. The beauty was lost on me, I was wondering how I was going to keep us safe on a ferry.
“How long will it take us to get to Seattle?” I asked.
Min answered without taking her eyes off the road. “About three days, and it’s Bellingham, just north of Seattle.”
“Slow boat ride.” I frowned at the pretty scenery outside.
“Well, if you can’t fly…” She responded tartly.
Bella spoke up. “Aunt Min, enough. It’s not his fault. We can’t talk about it, so can you just trust me? We can’t risk going out of, or flying into, any big airports right now.”
I could see Min’s frown as she looked at Bella. Bella went on, “Lom will take good care of me. He’s stronger than he looks.”
I was fighting to keep my face straight, but neither of them looked back at me.
Min sighed. “All right. I know you’d tell me if you could. Just know, all you have to do is call.” I couldn’t see what she did, but I think she reached her hand out to Bella and Bella took it, as she answered.
We were all silent until we walked into the kitschy restaurant. My stomach growled at the smell. Min chuckled, “Never send a man off to face the unknown on an empty stomach.”
A man came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a cloth. His clean white apron strained over his belly.
“Min! Who’d you drag in with you?” He seized her in a bear hug that had her inches off the floor.
“Oof! Gary, put me down!”
When he did, she shrugged out of her jacket, and we followed her lead. “Gary, this is my niece Bella, and her friend Lom. They need breakfast before they catch the ferry.”
“Ah! We haven’t much time, then.” He gave us a mock bow and vanished back into the kitchen.
“Booth, or table?” Min asked, indicating the dining room.
“Bathroom?” Bella responded and Min laughed, pointed the way, and both Bella and I made haste for the necessary room.
When we came out, Min was seated at a table reading a newspaper.
“I ordered for you, I’m afraid.” She didn’t sound sorry, but I found myself smiling at her. She was impossible to hold a grudge against.
“What are we having, then?” I sat facing the entrance.
“Crab omelettes. Fresh king crab, and Gary does a fabulous omelette. I’d put him up against the best chefs in the Lower 48.”
A waitress, young, pretty, and obviously Aleut, brought us coffee with a broad smile. She wasn’t much taller than I.
“Leave the pot, please?” I asked her.
She wrinkled her nose in thought, and I guessed she was about sixteen. I beseeched her, playfully.
“I need the black ichor of the gods to sustain me before I brave the Old Ones of the Deep.” I pressed one hand to my heart.
She responded to my sally with a laugh. “Cthulhu’d freeze in the Gulf.”
She took me by surprise, and Min must have caught that, because as the girl disappeared back into the kitchen, the pot safely in my possession, she told me, “It’s a long winter. Everyone reads a lot.”
I nodded, “I approve of that.” We smiled at one another, and I went on, “Lovecraft doesn’t do it for me, but some of the modern re-interpretations, like Correia, are fun to read.” She could have no idea of why I enjoyed reading about monster hunters, of course. She shook her head.
“Never heard of him. I prefer mystery, myself.”
Bella rolled her eyes at us, but I ignored her, and talked authors with Min until Gary appeared with two plates, his pert waitress on his heels with the third. He served us with a flourish, and stood back with a beaming smile.
“Gary, it smells wonderful.” Bella told him.
I took a bite. “Tastes as good as it smells. Asparagus?”
“Works well with the crab.” Satisfied at the praise, he left us to it. None of us talked much until we had finished.
“Ah…” I leaned back with a sigh. “Min, you can order for me anytime.”
“I’ll remember that,” she laughed. “Ready?”
“Not really, but we had better go, I suppose.” Bella answered her quietly.
Gary came back out for a hug from Min, and handshakes from Bella and I, along with promises to return. As we walked to the ferry terminal, the ocean breeze nipping at my cheeks, I wondered about that. Bella was special. Once Underhill, that certain something might lead to her stay becoming permanent. She didn’t understand that, and I was coming to understand that she had a family who would come looking for her.
Of course, before that danger, I had to keep her alive and whole until the coronation. Something that did not look like an easy task.
The ferry was a very big boat. Cruise ship sized. I sighed, remembering a certain Brownie family and a cruise ship. All had been well until the first mate had put a stop to the housekeepers leaving little plates of food out for them…
Min stopped. “Either of you need dramamine?” She pointed to a little shop that obviously catered to ferry passengers. I shook my head and looked at Bella.
“I’m fine. I spent some time in Japan counting seals during college, remember?”
“That’s right.” Her aunt frowned, “I guess this is goodbye, then.”
Bella hugged her. “Goodbye, I love you.”
Min sounded choked up as she told the younger woman,”love you too, Bell.”
Min turned to me, her eyes very bright. “You take care of her.”
“I promise. Dan scares me.” I was serious.
That made her laugh, and we shook hands. Bella waved me onward, impatient, and I understood that she hated goodbyes. Once aboard, I was surprised to learn we were sharing a small stateroom.
“Sorry,” Bella looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “I guess Aunt Min misinterpreted ‘friend.’”
“I suspect Raven had a wingfeather in this, actually.”
“Because I can best protect you if we are always together.” And I was rather flattered that he saw me as capable of that, and not harming her.
“What if I don’t want you around all the time?” she protested. “I need my privacy.”
“Tough, princess.” I told her bluntly.
She looked disgusted at that.
I soothed her a little by offering her a treat. “Besides, this means I can begin teaching you.”
She brightened. “Magic?”