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Preview of Nocturne by L.D. Harkrader

Posted on May 27, 2010 by Flames

A romantic tale of vampires and magic from award-winning author L.D. Harkrader

Flanders Lane is tired of being protected by her Uncle Anatole. After years of studying magic in the back of his bookshop, she’s ready for an adventure of her own. Then one day, strange things start happening. A burglar breaks into the butcher’s shop, stealing nothing, but leaving the floors sparkling clean. Soon the seamstress’s apprentice vanishes on her way home, leaving behind only a shoe still laced at the top. And then worst of all, Uncle Anatole disappears. That night, a young vampire hunter named Pascoe knocks urgently on the bookshop door. Pascoe insists there is a vampire lurking in nearby Blakely Hall. Flanders looks deep into Pascoe’s gorgeous eyes and finds herself agreeing to help him. As Flanders tracks the vampire, her feelings for Pascoe grow until she stumbles upon a secret that turns everything she thought she knew about Pascoe–and herself–upside down.

Flames Rising is pleased to present a preview of this new novel from Mirrorstone, which is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Nocturne by L.D. Harkrader

    Flannery turned the book’s thick, yellowed pages. A cloud of timeworn dust wafted up from the spine and she sneezed, rattling the amulets dangling from the peg beside her. She wiped her nose, then held out a hand to still the tinkling gems.

    Flan was tending her uncle’s shop—Monsieur Anatole’s Books, Wonders, and Charms. Although, in truth, she wasn’t tending the shop half as diligently as she was tending her own curiosity. She sat hunkered on a high rung of the rolling ladder Uncle Anatole had devised for reaching the tallest of the crowded shelves, feather duster forgotten on a stack of books below. Obsidian lay curled on the shelf beside her, purring.

    His inky black head rested on his paws, and to all appearances he was fast asleep but for the occasional twitch of a whisker or flick of his tail.

    Flan ran her finger down the page as she read, careful not to damage the crumbling edges of the paper. It was an ancient volume, bound in cracked black leather and secured with two small iron locks. She’d found it as she was dusting.

    Or rather, the book had found her. As Flan had poked her feather duster in and around the shelves in this long forgotten corner of the shop, the book had quivered under her hand, nudging her until she finally tugged it from the shelf and cast a small latchkey spell to crack the locks.

    The book was filled with handwritten notes, the ink faded by time. Flan ran her finger over the old-fashioned, hand-scribed text at the top of the page—The Transitory Enticement of Slumber. She drew in a quick breath. Transitory slumber.

    Could it be, could she have actually found—Obsidian let out a low, throaty mewl. Flan rested a hand on his back, absently scratching him behind the ear to calm him. But Obsidian would not be calmed. His feline body arched. His silky fur bristled beneath Flan’s hand. A shadow fell across the book, the pages fluttered, and a chill seemed to swallow the shop. Obsidian mewled again.

    Flan held her place with her finger and dragged her gaze from the page, hoping to find a bookshop patron—someone needing an amulet, Uncle Anatole’s advice, anything—standing in the open doorway.

    But the doorway was empty, the front door still shut tight. She sighed and turned back to the book. The cat hissed at the bookshop door.

    “Hush, Obsidian.” Flan stroked his head and focused her attention on the spell in front of her: The Transitory Enticement of Slumber. She read through it once quickly, then again more slowly, savoring each word. Yes, it was as she first suspected, as she had hardly allowed herself to believe—she had discovered a most powerful sleep spell.

    Slumber. To force sleep upon a powerful foe, let alone a group of foes, was a magic only the most skilled wizards ever attempted, a magic Uncle Anatole had warned her was too dangerous to try.

    Flan sighed. Uncle thought everything was too dangerous.

    Left to him, she would never cast even the most harmless of household spells. Nay, left to him, she would concoct nothing stronger than plain black tea.

    “It’s not as if I go looking for magic,” she muttered.

    Obsidian let out a low growl.

    “Fine. Perhaps I do go looking for it. But Uncle Anatole simply does not understand. Magic is beating in my heart, coursing through my veins. It is simply part of me.” She shook her head. “The part Uncle would have me ignore.”

    The part Flan was finding it ever more difficult to ignore.

    Flan had always known she was different. Different from her friends—what few she had left. Different even from Gwen, who had for so many years been so close as to almost be a sister. Different from anyone who lived on Wicker Street.

    It wasn’t simply that she’d been found in a basket. She rather liked that bit of her history. It lent a measure of adventure to her otherwise tame life, made her feel a little like one of the heroines in the adventure books she was always pulling from Uncle’s bookshop shelves, gave her a certain glamour.

    And it wasn’t that she’d been named for a scrap of packing paper. She could have done worse. The innkeeper had named his daughter after his most beloved aunt—Ermintrude.

    And it most assuredly wasn’t that she’d grown up unloved.

    If anything, she’d grown up too loved. Uncle had cared for her, protected her, seen to her every need—including needs Flan was not convinced she truly needed at all. Twice-weekly boiled brussel sprouts sprang to mind.

    No, it was none of those things . . . and all of them.

    Anyone on Wicker Street could say who their parents were. They could identify their grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents and uncles and cousins and cousins thrice removed. They could tell you which aunt they were named after, what side of the family their green eyes came from, who they got their great skill at horsemanship from. When they passed down their family stories, the stories became part of them, for their family’s history was their history too.

    But Flan’s history only started the moment she’d been found at the bookshop door.

    And fifteen years later, she found herself with a wild tangle of copper hair and a fiercely mulish streak. With magic tingling through every fiber of her being, more powerful than any on Wicker Street, perhaps even more powerful than Uncle’s, if she were ever given free rein to hone her skills.

    And with this longing to know why, how, where it had come from and no way to answer because Uncle refused to hear of it.

    For most of her life Flan had tried to fit in, tried to be as normal as Gwen and the other girls on Wicker Street, tried to please her uncle and quash the magic that, despite her best efforts, refused to be quashed.

    But she didn’t fit in. She wasn’t normal. She did possess magic—powerful magic—and pretending she didn’t only made her feel even more of an outsider. As if she were an outsider even to herself.

    Flan turned back to the crumbling page before her.

    She read through the spell again, studying each line, each instruction, each word. “This makes much sense,” she whispered to Obsidian, who had once again settled into a wary catnap. “I think it just might work.”

    For despite Uncle Anatole’s warnings, Flan had secretly been trying out sleep spells for months. She would never hurt Uncle. Not purposely. But if she could send him into a slumber at will, she could do the things she needed to do, find things she needed to find, things that could, perhaps, lead her to the truth about her parents, her magic, herself, things Uncle never need know about.

    “I would be doing him a favor,” she told Obsidian.

    “Truly. With a sleep spell at my fingertips, I need never worry that someone may do me harm. I could simply send my foes into a restful slumber. It would harm no one, and would save Uncle the trouble of fretting over me.”

    The cat raised an eyelid and gave her a doubtful gaze.

    Flan ignored him. “And save me the trouble of relying on another living soul. I could rely on myself alone, which is the smarter route to begin with.”

    Despite her best efforts, she had thus far met with little success. Oh, yes, there was the time she had managed to turn the feather duster a bit limp for the better part of an afternoon. And another when her spell had backfired and she’d dragged her own spell-numbed foot around the shop for a day. She wriggled her toes. On rainy days her foot still tingled from that small mishap. But most of her attempts were utter failures, resulting in nothing at all.

    And suddenly, in front of her, was a long-forgotten sleep spell, a spell that had most likely not been attempted in decades, perhaps centuries, a spell that seemed, to Flan, to be both practical and logical.

    “And safe,” she told Obsidian. “Employing none of the volatile components that can turn a spell dangerous. No foxglove. No dragon’s breath. No . . . black powder.”

    She no more than whispered that last part. Uncle had so vehemently banished black powder from his shop and his magic that she scarcely dared think the words. “If anything, Uncle should approve.”

    Obsidian lifted an eyelid.

    “Very well,” said Flan. “Have it your way. Uncle would not approve. But you must allow, it is the sort of spell Uncle himself would craft. If, that is, he were still crafting spells.”

    She read the steps aloud, committing them to memory:

    “Mingle the essences of lavender for tranquility, caraway for mental vigor, and holly for safekeeping, preparing a tincture to fortify the spellcaster. Select four small mirrors. (The oval shape is the most reliable, as the circular shape may create excessive energy that can become burdensome to the spellcaster, while a shape with corners or angles can send the energy streaking off into unpredictable directions.) Place one mirror in the palm of each hand and in the bottom of each shoe, reflective side out . . .”

    Flan was so lost in her magical world that she didn’t notice the shadow, faint and fluttery, fall across the shop.

    “Hallo?” A voice floated toward her.

    Flan blinked, startled to find herself transported suddenly back to the world of bookshelves and feather dusters. She looked down to see the Wicker Street butcher standing in the open bookshop door, nervously kneading the cap in his hands.

    “Master MacDougal. I didn’t hear you come in.” She scrambled from the ladder, eager to assist the butcher before he changed his mind and decided another wizard’s shop might be more to his liking. “May I help you?”

    A crisp breeze rippled in from the street beyond, swirling the butcher’s feathery hair around his balding head as he nervously glanced around the shop.

    “These are Monsieur Anatole’s, aren’t they?” He pulled out a pair of spectacles. “I found them outside the door, on the window ledge. He must have misplaced them again.”

    Flan took the spectacles. One earpiece was bent from when he’d left them behind on the counter at the fishmonger’s and an edge of the glass was singed and darkened from when he’d forgotten them on the cook stove.

    Flan sighed. “Yes. They’re his. I’ll be sure he gets them. Thank you.” Flan slipped the spectacles into the pocket of her frock and turned back to her spellbook.

    The butcher cleared his throat.

    Flan looked up. “Was there something else?”

    Master MacDougal nervously glanced toward the door. “I didn’t want to come here, but me wife, she insisted.” He lowered his voice. “You see, something—or someone—has been sneaking into my shop at night.”

    Into his shop? Then he had come for magic, after all.

    Only the slightest bit of magic, most likely. Still, magic was magic. Flan’s mind raced. Uncle was busy upstairs in his workshop, deep in his calculations. Perhaps she could help him herself. Uncle need never know.

    She stole a glance at the jangle of amulets hanging from a peg by the counter. An amulet, yes. And a small warding spell. It would be good practice. She slid the spellbook under the counter.

    “I wouldn’t mind so much,” the butcher was saying, “since this . . . this person, this creature, whatever it may be, this—this—”

    “This intruder?” said Flan.

    “Yes. This intruder.” The butcher gave a grateful nod. “This intruder, he doesn’t seem to be dangerous. Truth be known, he’s more a help than a hindrance, swabbing up me butcher table, cleaning me knives, setting things to rights, cleaning up in general.”

    Flan frowned. Perhaps he wasn’t in need of magic after all. She’d been to the butcher’s shop. She’d wager that the butcher’s burglar was most likely a housewife tired of brushing away flies when she stopped to buy a sausage, or a neighboring shopkeeper weary of the stench. But she wasn’t about to turn away the first customer they’d had in well over three months. She could ward off a nettled housewife as well as any other creature.

    “The only thing that’s missing is me wife’s old fiddle,” the butcher was saying, “and with the way she plays it, I’m glad it’s gone. Still it does set me teeth on edge, knowing someone’s lurking around the shop. For well on a week now, me wife has tried all the small warding spells and herbal protections she knows. Failure, every one. Pure waste of the coin she spent buying the dragon’s breath and salt. We’re at our wits’ end.” He twisted the brim of his hat as he worked out the next bit in his head before he spoke.

    “I just want to be sure, I mean, seeing how things haven’t always worked out with Monsieur Anatole, well”—he looked up—“I don’t want to waste more of me hard-earned coin, if you take my meaning.”

    Flan sighed. She did take his meaning. She could not risk the butcher’s hard-earned coin, nor his trust—nor the gossip that would race up and down Wicker Street if she made a mistake—on an untested spell of her own.

    She gathered Obsidian into her arms. “I assure you your coin is safe,” she told the butcher. “You were right to come to Uncle Anatole. You and your wife have suffered enough.”

    She subtly pointed a finger toward a velvet cord beside the shop’s counter. The cord swished, ringing a bell upstairs in Anatole’s workshop.

    “Uncle will have your shop back to normal with so little fuss,” she said, “you’ll slap yourself for not coming sooner.”

    She gave the butcher a smile and led him to the narrow staircase to the rooms above.

    * * *

    This preview for was provided by and published with express permission from Mirrorstone.

    Nocturne is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

    Also look for other Mirrorstone titles that are currently available at DriveThruFantasy.com.

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