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Courting Darkness Tour and Giveaway!

Courting Darkness
The Magicsmith Book 2
by L.R. Braden
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance

“A great story of murder, mystery . . . and well-developed characters.”—Margie Hager, Netgalley Reviewer on A Drop of Magic

A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” —Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series

Deeper into the shadows. . .

The paranatural community isn’t done with Alex. She’s been summoned to the fae court, and she’s got her hands full trying to prepare.  But her date with the fae will have to wait. There’s been a death at the gallery, and the man she hoped would be a part of her future is the prime suspect.

Bitter enemies pull her into the middle of a paranatural war for territory that has her dodging police, swords, teeth, and claws—not to mention the truth. The deeper she digs, the more secrets she uncovers, and the less certain she is about the innocence of the one man she wanted to trust.

She thought she was done with murder and monsters, but she’ll have to enter the belly of the beast if she hopes to save her friend.

MY BREATH PUFFED out in angry little clouds as I shivered under the star-streaked sky that stretched above my patch of frozen mountain. Jaw clenched, I shoved a key into the lock on my front door with enough force to jerk the purse off my shoulder. It slid down, snagging at my elbow, and the shift in weight jostled the dome-covered cake balanced in my other hand.

I couldn’t believe James had stood me up again. After all his promises. Twenty minutes standing outside his house. Then a quick call about unavoidable business at the gallery. Sure he’d apologized, given me his

usual line about making it up to me “another time.” But another time never seemed to come for James and me.

I twisted the keys. Those not in the lock dug into my palm.

Another time. If he said those words again, I was going to run him over with my Jeep.

The door stuck, swollen by moisture. I growled and pushed harder, hissing when my weight settled onto the freshly re-knit muscles of my right leg. I gave the door another shove, and it finally gave way, slamming

into the adjoining wall with a bang, my keys still dangling from the lock.

I froze in the doorway. My living room was occupied.

I’d been looking forward to curling up with my cake and my anger. Habits formed through years of solitude were hard to break, and I still wasn’t used to having roommates. Company was going to put a serious crimp in my plans.

Kai and Chase were sitting across from each other on my faded furniture, cards and poker chips on the coffee table between them. Neither seemed surprised by my dramatic entrance.

“You’re home early.” Kai glanced in my direction, and his eyes were swirling galaxies of color rather than the deep brown of his glamour—the human disguise he wore less and less these days. He was a fae knight from the Realm of Enchantment who’d been living in my guest room for about a month, most of which was spent saving the world from a murderer with a magic, world-eating box. He cradled a hand of cards to his chest so his opponent couldn’t cheat. “Didn’t think we’d see you till much later.”

“Or tomorrow,” added Chase without looking up.

I’d let Chase into my home when I thought he was just a cat, before I knew he was actually a fae who could change form at will. I let him stay because he saved my life. Of course, when I made that deal, the understanding was that he’d remain the gray tabby I’d taken in last summer, but he’d been spending more time with fingers than fur lately.

“Call.” He dumped a handful of colorful plastic chips onto the pile already on the table.

“Yeah well . . .” I pulled my key out of the door and kicked it closed behind me. “Plans change.”

Chase glanced up and raised a silver eyebrow over one luminous green eye. “You’ve replaced James with a cake?”

The plastic dome I hugged gave a clear view of the decadent chocolate cake I’d picked up on my way home.

“This is my consolation prize.” I lifted my chin and carried the calorie-laden confection to the high counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. “Don’t judge me.”

“Let me guess.” Chase tossed his long silver braid behind his shoulder, making his pointed, slightly furry ears twitch. “Something came up.”

“Again,” Kai added. He spread his cards on the table. “Two pair.”

“Full house,” Chase said with a grin. He scooped up his winnings.

Kai looked over at me. “It’s important to know when to fold.”

I’d been thinking the same thing all the long drive home. I’d done my best with James. I’d really put myself out there. But after all the excuses, and conflicting schedules, and missed dates. . . . I’d been down this road enough to know where it ended. I’d had my fill of waiting for men who never showed up. Still, I wasn’t about to give Kai the satisfaction of an “I told you so.”

I crossed my arms and dropped onto the couch next to Kai. “That little tip just lost you a piece of cake.”

His smile went slack. Kai had the biggest sweet tooth I’d ever seen.

“You’ll get fat if you eat it all on your own.”

I gestured to Chase, who was stacking his winnings into neat little piles. “Chase can help me.”

Chase shook his head. “Cats don’t eat chocolate.”

“They don’t normally eat pizza either, but that’s never stopped you.” I “accidentally” nudged the coffee table with my knee, sending Chase’s carefully stacked poker chips cascading across the surface.

“Hey! Don’t get pissy at me just because your old stiff couldn’t follow through.”

“James is not an old stiff,” I said. “He’s refined. Something you wouldn’t understand.”

He snorted. “Whatever you say.”

I turned to Kai. “Back me up here.”

“Will it earn me some cake?”

“Ha,” roared Chase. “Spineless elf.”

“Mangy stray,” Kai shot back.

Chase took a bow and began to melt, shrinking and shifting until a gray tabby sat on the faded beige  cushion of Chase’s chair.

Sighing, I lifted a blue poker chip and rolled it over my knuckles.

“What were you betting?”

Kai tipped his head to one side and frowned. “Little bits of colored plastic, obviously.”

I rolled my eyes and tossed the chip back on the pile. “The chips are usually backed by money, but I guess you and Chase aren’t exactly rolling in human cash.”

“Actually, I received my first paycheck last week.”

When Kai made the decision to stick around the mortal realm to instruct me in all things fae, he also started working part-time at a convenience store owned by a registered halfer who owed him a favor.

The job was dull, but necessary to get a work visa from the PTF—the Paranatural Task Force that policed interactions between humans and fae—which was the only way a full-blooded fae could legally stay in the

human realm.

“Congratulations.”

“I’ve been thinking about what to do with it, though I hadn’t considered rolling in it. I believe humans have a custom of paying a portion of the expense of shared living space, so I thought I might do that.”

“You mean rent?”

He thrust a finger at me. “Exactly. What do I owe you?”

I lifted one shoulder. “On the house.”

“Yes. What do I owe on the house?”

I rolled my eyes. “It means forget about it. I don’t need your money.”

“Are we not roommates?”

“Sure, but it’s not like this is a permanent arrangement. We haven’t even talked about what happens after my trip to court.” My breath hitched, as it often did when anyone mentioned my summons to the fae

Court of Enchantment. Kai had convinced the powers-that-be— namely my long-lost great-grandfather—that I wasn’t ready, hence his new job as my personal tutor. But we had no idea how long the arrangement

would last. Maybe I’d never be ready for life among the fae.

He frowned. “I still feel I should contribute.”

“How about groceries? Between you and Chase, the fridge is almost always empty.”

“Deal.” He thrust out his hand, and I shook it, trying not to laugh at his triumphant expression.

Chase, who’d been watching our exchange, perked up at the word “groceries.” Once the deal was struck, he sprang into my lap and nuzzled his head against my chin.

Without thinking, I stroked his back and scratched around his ears.

“You know that’s still Chase, right?” Kai watched us with a mixture of amusement and frustration. “You shouldn’t treat him differently just because he looks like a cat.”

I shrugged. “I can’t help it.”

Kai made a disgusted noise and scooped the cat out of my lap, dropping him unceremoniously to the floor. Chase gave an indignant hiss and sauntered off.

“If you can’t even deal with that riffraff, how do you expect to get by at court?”

I nibbled a piece of loose cuticle and hunched deeper into the sagging couch cushion, wishing for the millionth time that life could go back to the way it was before Kai showed up at my door. Back when I

thought I was human.

Most halfers—fae-human hybrids—returned to their regular lives after registering with the PTF, but that wasn’t an option for me. Unlike the vast majority of fae offspring, I wasn’t allergic to metal. Hell, it was

how I made my living. And according to Kai, there was only one bloodline capable of producing fae that could handle iron. That was why Kai was still there, why I had to take faerie protocol lessons, and why

Uncle Sol, the man who’d raised me since a car crash killed my mom, was doing his best to keep my name off the PTF registry.

I rubbed the intricate tattoo that wound its way up my right arm.

Learning I was the by-blow of a fae-human love affair untold generations ago had been a hard pill to swallow. Finding out I was royal had been a kick in the head.

“I still don’t see why I have to go. Your mission was a success, the killer was brought to justice, and gramps got back his magic death-box.

Why can’t we just leave it at that and all go our merry ways?”

Kai pinched the bridge of his nose. “We’ve gone over this. There is no going back. The gift my lord gave you to boost your powers also marked you as his blood-kin. There’s no hiding who you are now.”

“I could hide just fine if I stayed here,” I argued. “But parading around a fae court with the Lord of Enchantment is going to make me pretty damn conspicuous.”

There was a time I would have been happy to have a long-lost relative come and claim me, as any orphan would, but I held no delusion that he’d found me out of kinship or caring. I was one of only three

living imbuers—a rare gift. No fae would pass up his claim to an imbuer, regardless of how tenuous the connection or how weak the blood of the halfer.

Kai rolled his eyes—an expression I was pretty sure he’d picked up from me. “You’re a member of the court now, like it or not. If you don’t go to them they will eventually come to you, and I guarantee you would not enjoy that experience. In either case, learning our customs and traditions is the best way to protect yourself. Besides, there’s no one in this world or any other who can instruct you in the art of imbuing as well as my lord.”

I crossed my arms, frowning. “My abilities are fine the way they are.”

Truth be told, there was a lot I still had to learn about my powers, and magic in general, but that was the one subject Kai had steadfastly refused to cover. Mostly our sessions consisted of mind-numbing etiquette

and history lessons, although he’d recently begun teaching me how to fight with a sword.

“It’s important for you to understand how the fae world works before you take your place in it. To that end . . .” He picked up an old leather-bound book from a pile on the floor and held it out. “A little light

reading before bed.”

“Haven’t I suffered enough tonight?”

“It’s the chronicle of your family tree. I thought you might be interested to see where you came from.”

“I know where I come from,” I snapped, but I took the proffered tome just the same.

“You know less about yourself than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind.” He waved his hand as if wiping the words away.

“I’m turning in. I have an early shift at the store tomorrow.”

“How’s that going, by the way?”

He shrugged. “I play tricks on the customers to entertain myself when it’s slow.”

My jaw dropped. “If someone reports you, your visa will be revoked.

You’ll be deported back to the reservation.”

“Don’t worry.” He grinned. “Humans haven’t got a clue.”

I scowled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

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A Drop of Magic
The Magicsmith Book 1

 

The war isn’t over . . .

With the world clinging to a fragile peace forced on the Fae by humanity after the Faerie Wars, metalsmith Alex Blackwood is plunged into the world of the half-fae who traffick in illegal magical artifacts. Her best friend’s murder and his cryptic last message place her in the crosshairs of a scheme to reignite the decade-old war between humans and fae.

Worse, violent attacks against her and the arrival of a fae knight on a mission force Alex to face a devastating revelation of who and what she is. To catch a killer, retrieve a dangerous artifact, and stop a war, Alex will have to accept that she’s an unregistered fae “halfer” with a unique magical talent—a talent that would change everything she believes about her past, her art, and her future.

Her world is crumbling around her, and Alex will have to decide who to trust if she and the world are going to survive.

A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” —Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series

METAL DUST CLUNG to the sweat on my arms, glittering like shining scales. Even with the studio door propped open behind me, the uncommonly warm October air did little to temper the heat of the forge. A shower of sparks erupted as I plunged the carbon steel rod back into the annealing embers and dragged an arm across my forehead, taking care to avoid the bulky, blackened welding glove. I’d probably still end up with sooty streaks decorating my otherwise pale face. I always did.

Lost in the beat of my old MP3 player, I started belting out the lyrics of Robert DeLong’s Don’t Wait Up as I prepared the next rod. Then a touch settled—light and tentative—on my arm, and the bottom fell out of my stomach.

Tongs clutched in one hand, hammer in the other, I spun.

“Whoa, whoa.” His lips formed the words, though I couldn’t hear them over the music blaring through my headphones.

An inch shorter than I was, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, I had no reason to think the man was anything but human. But then, who could tell these days? He took a step back, hands raised, either to show he meant no harm or to ward off the blow he thought was coming.

Behind him, near the open door, stood a second man. He wore a rumpled brown suit that matched his hair and eyes. Average height, average build, average looks. Nothing remarkable about him.

Moving to put the anvil between us, I set the hammer down and pulled off my headphones, but kept a white-knuckled grip on the tongs. The higher-than-average number of violent crimes this summer had me on edge—along with everyone else—though none of the violence had come so far as my neck of the woods. It seemed unlikely a murderer would get my attention before attacking, but my heart raced a mile a minute as I faced the strangers. “Who are you?”

The man nearest me lowered his arms. “We announced ourselves, but it seems you didn’t hear.”

I scowled at his attempt to put the blame back on me. This was my studio, and they were uninvited guests.

“My apologies.” This came from Mr. Unremarkable. The monotone of his voice matched his appearance, revealing nothing. “You may call me Smith. My associate is Neil. Am I addressing Alyssandra Blackwood?”

A muscle under my right eye twitched. Most people only knew me as Alex. Alyssandra hadn’t existed anywhere but legal documents since I was twelve and traded the name in for something stronger, more

practical.

“We’ve come to purchase an item from you, an engraved silver box.”

My shoulders dropped as the tension in them eased a little. Customers didn’t often stop by the studio unannounced, but it wasn’t unheard of. People sometimes got my address from the Souled Art Gallery

in Boulder where I showed my work, or from previous customers, and came to commission pieces. Most were courteous enough to call ahead.

“I’m booked on orders right now. I could maybe get to it next month.”

“You misunderstand. We are looking for an object already in your possession.”

“Oh. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have an item like that in stock.”

“We know the box came your way. If you hand it over, we can make it worth your while.” Neil had the slick, sleazy tone of a used car salesman. Curious though I was about this box, and why they thought I had it, I’d had enough of the conversation. Even if they weren’t killers, they gave me the creeps. I shook my head. “You were misinformed.”

“Ms. Blackwood,” Smith said. “Be reasonable. We’re willing to pay handsomely, and considering the other parties involved, you’re not likely to get a better offer. Surely it isn’t worth the risk?”

My breath caught as the thinly veiled threat hit me like a punch in the gut.

“You need to leave, now.” My voice trembled slightly. The studio only had one door, and they were between it and me. I was trapped. Shifting my stance, I tightened my grip on the tongs, willing them not to shake.

Smith raised his hands in a placating manner. “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. You might not even realize you have the item we seek. It would look quite common, like a jewelry box.”

“I told you, I haven’t got anything like that. Now get out of here before I call the cops.” It was a bluff, of course, I’d left my cell phone in the house. Even if I could call, the police would never arrive in time to help. That was the downside of living so far from town. I was on my own.

“Enough of this.” Neil stepped around the anvil and reached for my arm.

Time slowed.

I didn’t like to fight, I avoided confrontations when I could, but if he thought I was going to roll over, he was wrong. With a guttural howl, I twisted my wrist out of Neil’s grip and swung the tongs into his face. His skin split apart like newspaper peeling back from a fire, scorched black and crinkled around the edges. An unearthly shriek filled the studio, and I stumbled back, shocked at the damage I’d done.

Neil shimmered and seemed to melt. His skin became transparent, and a network of blue veins crawled beneath its surface. His nose spread and sank into his face, leaving two flared slits. Below that, the mouth emitting that horrible sound elongated until the gaping, needle-lined hole grew so large I could have put my whole fist in without scraping my knuckles. When he reached up to cover his face, his fingers had nearly doubled in length, the webbing between them connecting all the way to the tips. His fingernails stretched and thickened to claws. The creature before me was straight out of a horror movie, and I added my own scream to the cacophony.

Wielding my tongs like a baseball bat, I backed away from the writhing shape which had been the man Neil seconds before. Even at the best of times, my stomach cramped when someone mentioned the

fae. Seeing one in the flesh was like having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. I shivered from head to toe, and fought the urge to throw up.

Smith crossed the space between himself and Neil in two steps and pulled Neil’s arms down to expose the hideous gash burned across his cheek. My stomach lurched at what I’d done. White glinted where bone showed beneath charred flesh. The eye above had swelled shut and was rapidly turning a sickly greenish color. Smith placed one palm against Neil’s forehead, and the horrible wail abruptly cut off as Neil sagged in Smith’s arms.

“It seems we were mistaken.” Smith spoke as he had before, without inflection or emotion. Nothing to show surprise or concern that he was holding an unconscious, injured faerie in his arms. “Good day, Ms. Blackwood.”

My mind went blank as I fumbled for words.

Smith took my stupefied silence in stride. Hefting Neil without visible effort, he gave a small parting nod and carried his companion out of the studio.

I remained where I was until the sound of car doors closing and the crunch of gravel told me I was alone. Then, still clutching my tongs, I inched to the door and took a deep breath of the outside air. The

driveway was empty, no cars in sight. No faerie goons either. My knees gave out under the weight of the panic I’d been keeping in check, and I sank to the ground, tongs still clutched in my shaking hands. The tea I’d had for breakfast felt like acid in my stomach, threatening to come back up.

A gray tabby with yellow-green eyes peeked around the corner of the shed with a questioning, “Meow?” Cat had appeared on my doorstep a few months back, begging for scraps, and I’d made the mistake of giving him some. He’d come around every day since. Despite the fact he’d already stuck around longer than most of the guys in my life, I’d steadfastly refused to name him.

“Fat lot of good you were.”

Lifting his nose, Cat swished his tail and stalked away.

It was silly to take my anxiety out on Cat, but it was easier than dealing with the panic and adrenaline threatening to overwhelm me. Anything to distract from the flesh seared to the tongs in my shaking

hands.

I couldn’t imagine forging more, so with a wary eye on the door I dampened the coals and stored my tools, each in its marked place on my pegboard. The gooey tongs went on a shelf, I’d throw them in an acid bath later.

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Born and raised in Colorado, L. R. BRADEN makes her home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her wonderful husband, precocious daughter, and psychotic cat. With degrees in both English literature and metalsmithing, she splits her time between writing and art.

 

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