Twisted Princess Box Set
Genre: Dark fantasy
Date of Publication: April 1st 2017
Number of pages: 261
Word Count: 70,000
Cover Artist: SKGregory
The Beast Within
S. K. Gregory
For Izzy, working with supernatural beings is part of her job. When she is called to clean up the mess of a cursed werewolf, her life takes a dark turn as she faces the beast within.
Excerpt The Beast Within:
I scrubbed at the floor, arms aching, as I tried to remove the blood. The floor was covered in pink tainted water but I seemed to have gotten most of it off.
Tossing the cloth into the bucket, I stood up, wiping my hands on my t shirt. Judging from the stains on it, I was going to have to throw it out anyway. I really should have asked for a clothing budget when I took this gig.
I caught movement in the doorway. He was there, lurking in the shadows.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly.
It took all my self-control to say, “It’s fine.”
It wasn’t fine. He tore a man to shreds, mangled his corpse and he was sorry?
“I killed someone Izzy.”
Turning to face him, I said, “Well that will teach you to upgrade your security when I tell you to. You’re lucky he didn’t get out of here. According to his ID, he was a reporter.”
Adam bowed his head and sighed. I guess knowing who the guy was didn’t make it any easier, but it wasn’t my job to make him feel better, I was just here to clean up the mess. Well technically my job is security expert and advisor to the Alpha werewolf of the city. Cleaning up after his cursed son is just a bonus. One I didn’t ask for, but who else was he going to call?
“I’ll be sure to invoice your father,” I said.
It would be double time too considering it was 3am.
Adam moved aside as I stepped out of the room. His dark curly hair fell over his face as he kept his head bowed in shame. As a human he was quiet, apologetic and a pushover. Nothing like his father, Mr. CEO.
He was cursed when he was in his teens. I don’t know by who, but he was never in control of the beast within. All werewolves can control the change, shifting seamlessly from one form to the other. For Adam though, he had no control and the shift was agony. He was kept locked away in this huge mansion, making him the source of many rumors, which was probably what led the reporter here in the first place.
Bet he didn’t think he’d end up a stain on the floor, I thought.
“Goodnight Adam,” I said.
He muttered something in reply but I was already half way to the door. I stepped out into the frigid morning air. Maybe I could get a couple of hours sleep before my morning meetings.
“Werewolves,” I muttered.
Once behind the wheel I took another look at the reporter’s credentials which I found buried in guts. His name was Noah Baxter. I tossed the idea into the glovebox, I’d dispose of it later. For now, I just wanted to sleep and get the image of blood out of my mind.
I met with Adam’s father before lunch the next day. I was strictly off book so he didn’t like me hanging around his office. I didn’t like getting called out in the middle of the night, I guess we both had a reason to be annoyed. Knowing about the supernatural puts me in a unique position. I have the skills necessary to help various beings out, for the right price, and they know I won’t reveal their secret. I haven’t always known about them. A few years back when I was fresh out of college and desperate for work, I took a job as a PA to a man called Hank Fletcher. I thought he worked in home and private security, I had no idea he spent his days working with werewolves, demons and vampires. When he clued me in I was shocked to say the least, but I was smart enough to know what would happen if their existence became public knowledge. Hank was a good man, he taught me everything he knew although at the time I had no intention of using it. He died suddenly, three years in. His death left a hole and since I needed the money, I decided to fill it, temporarily at least. That was seven years ago, I guess it took over my life.
“Isabelle, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Mr. Foster said as I entered his office. The cold look in his eyes betrayed his real mood. I had no love for him either, but he was one of my top paying clients.
“It’s Izzy,” I said. I hated my full name. It made me sound like I was some dainty little girl, which I most definitely wasn’t. I’m a black belt and I can turn pretty much anything into a weapon if I need to. You have to be prepared in this game. Everything I was up against had fangs or claws or super strength, so I needed to be able to protect myself.
Unfolding an invoice from my pocket, I placed it on his desk. It was for my work last night, plus the late night call out fee which brought the total to 2k. “For last night.”
“Yes, I heard about the incident. Very unfortunate.”
That was all he had to say? His son massacred a man and it was unfortunate? Unfortunate was getting a parking ticket or losing out on a promotion, not cold blooded murder. I waited while he wrote me a check, biting my tongue.
His office was void of personal items, except for one photo of Adam. He looked about seventeen, leaning on a red corvette. He looked different, confident. Cocky even. Was that before the curse? I wondered. If his manners were anything like his father’s, then I’m not surprised he pissed someone off. It was one of the reasons I didn’t deal with witches, one cross word and you end up spending the rest of your life as a toad or worse.
“I will be going on a business trip in a few days. Given what happened, I hope you’ll make yourself available during that time to ensure nothing happens again,” Mr. Foster said.
Sure, it’s not like I have a life or other clients to deal with.
“I’ll keep my phone on,” I said. I wasn’t promising him anything, I had plans with Gavin this weekend. He has been away on business for weeks and I was looking forward to our reunion.
Once I had the check, I headed up town to meet with my next client, a woman called Dusty, who happened to be a vampire. She ran a tea shop, while trafficking blood through the city in her spare time. Vampires weren’t a huge problem, mostly due to Dusty’s efforts. By keeping them supplied with blood ‘acquired’ from the local hospital, it stopped them from snacking on humans. I acted as security to the transactions.
It’s amazing what goes on under regular people’s noses. How much they don’t ‘see.’ Ask someone on the street if they believe in werewolves or vampires and they’ll laugh in your face. Right after they bought a cup of coffee from one or sat next to one on the bus.
Dusty was carefully slicing a large chocolate cake when I entered her shop. There were a few customers, but otherwise it was quiet. Dusty was short with red hair and really pale skin. Most vampires covered that with fake tan, but Dusty went au naturale.
“Can I interest you in a slice?” she asked.
“I would, but I’m planning a romantic weekend, so better not.”
She tutted, “Please there isn’t an ounce of fat on you.”
My job did have some perks, always running around meant I rarely had to go to the gym.
“What time is the delivery?” I asked.
“Half eight. Dimitri will meet you in the usual spot.” Dimitri has a similar job to mine although he works primarily with the vampires.
“I’ll be there.”
My mouth was watering at the sight of the cake so I relented and took a slice to go. I didn’t have time for lunch anyway.
At eight fifteen, I parked my car a block away and walked to an alleyway near Dusty’s shop. I found a spot in the shadows and waited. At half eight, the truck backed into the alley and Dimitri hopped out.
He was a tall, hulking man who always wore a leather jacket, even in summer. He gave me a nod to let me know he had seen me.
A few minutes later a scared looking intern arrived carrying a cooler. He looked like he was going to piss himself. Dimitri took the cooler from him and looked inside.
“What's this?” he asked. “We need more than this.”
“I tried, man, but they're clamping down. I barely got out with this.” His voice was high and whiny.
Dimitri swore in Russian. I stepped forward, making the intern jump. He hadn't seen me.
“I swear it's all I could get,” he protested.
“You better make up for it next time,” I said.
He opened his mouth to argue but thought better of it and took off.
“The clients won't be happy,” Dimitri said.
“I know. Make sure the worst get their supply. Let the rest know what will happen if they break the rules,” I said.
Vampires could last a couple of months without blood, but it drove them crazy. The last thing I needed was more trouble. As much as I would have enjoyed pounding on that guy, we couldn’t afford to alienate him. Besides he was human, it wasn’t his fault he had gotten sucked into this mess. He didn’t even know what the blood was for. The only thing he knew was that we had incriminating evidence of him stealing painkillers from the hospital pharmacy.
The vamps would have to tough it out a while longer.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory was born in Northern Ireland in 1985. She is the author of several series of books including Daemon Persuasion, which was published by Mockingbird Lane Press.
She loves horror movies, reading and archery. In her spare time she runs a review blog for authors. All of her works are available to purchase through Amazon.
Jane knows the tale of Sleepless Beauty well, an urban legend in her home town which tells the story of a beautiful woman who enraptures her prey with a kiss and steals their sleep. Jane tries to convince herself that it's just a fairy tale, until Sleepless Beauty kisses her best friend Hayden.
Excerpt Sleepless Beauty:
The fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty used to terrify me as a child.
The thought of sleeping for a hundred years, only to be woken by true love’s first kiss—is it really true love when you’re kissed by someone you don’t know? I remember being scared of spindles. Why were they so pointy and made princesses sleep? And that was made worse by the fact that my eccentric mother kept an antique up in the attic among the many other weird things she keeps of our family history.
And she wonders why I moved in with Dad after the divorce.
But I think something else contributed to my terror of that one fairy tale. Growing up in Savannah, Georgia, I’d always hear about this ghost that floated around Colonial Park Cemetery. If you saw her, you’d fall in love with her and become so obsessed that you’d stop sleeping. And then you died.
And the ghost was called Sleepless Beauty.
For a young girl like me, an urban legend may as well be a fairy tale. In fact, I consider them to be worse because they don’t have that ‘once upon a time’ element. Urban legends happen in the now and in your corner of the world.
So while the stories Sleepless Beauty and Sleeping Beauty seemed to be the exact opposites of each other, my mind equated both Beauties to the same scary character that haunted my nightmares.
Did I believe in them? Oh yeah, even now that I’m sixteen. And I think Sleepless Beauty especially haunted everyone I know, because five of us are standing outside of the Colonial Park Cemetery at midnight while my friend Hayden scales the gates to go visit Sleepless Beauty.
On a dare.
Yeah, we’re not very smart, and I can see the tension on all our too-wide-eyed faces.
“Careful, Hayden!” my best friend Lizzie yells up at him as he swings one leg over the spiked, wrought iron fence.
“He’ll be fine,” Marcel tells her with a smirk. Of course he’d be smirking, this whole dare was his idea. I want to point out to him that since we’re stuck on this side of the fence, we have no way of knowing whether or not Hayden will be fine or not. There could be raccoons or coyotes or police over there.
Or even ghosts that kill you slowly.
I wince watching Hayden, my mind painting pictures of him slipping and impaling his leg on the vicious, ornate fence. Colonial Park Cemetery is a couple hundred years old. I wonder who the builders of it were trying to keep out. Or keep in.
Hayden finally pushes himself over and jumps down, landing on his feet on the other side. He gives a triumphant grin—one that I can’t help but roll my eyes at—as he salutes us.
“Totally easy,” he says, brushing off his letterman’s jacket.
“Just be careful,” I tell him.
He nods. “Start the clock. An hour, right?”
Marcel holds up his phone, the light emanating from it telling us that he has already started timing. “Time’s a-wastin.’”
“I’ll be back,” Hayden says in a bad imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He winks at me before taking off at a jog. I feel that familiar flutter in my heart as the shadows swallow him up. It’s a flutter that hasn’t been there for very long, but it gets stronger and stronger the more time we spend together.
“Why don’t they have street lights down there?” Lizzie mutters, rubbing the chill from her arms. Her breath comes out in little white clouds.
“It’s a historic landmark,” our friend Cole says. He’s been kind of quiet all night, underneath his beanie and his hoodie. But then again, Cole has always been quiet. “And there are so many unmarked graves there, they don’t want to disturb them by running electrical lines all over the place.”
Makes sense, but still, it’s too eerie, too dark for me to feel easy around here. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being watched.
Like something within those shadows wants to reach out and pull me into the depths of hell.
Okay, that may be a little dramatic, but it certainly feels that way.
“Hey,” Lizzie says, “he’ll be fine.”
“Oh,” I say, trying to shake it off. “Of course. I mean, who’s going to be at a cemetery at this time of night?”
“Sleepless Beauty,” Marcel says, and I clench my teeth with that. “So, what’s happening with you and Hayden anyways?”
And, just like that, my mind goes from being terrified to being absolutely mortified. It’s not the first time this topic has been brought up in my little group of friends. Sometimes just to either me or Hayden, but sometimes, it’s in front of everyone with a little bit of teasing.
It was just in good fun. I think.
“Leave Jane alone,” Lizzie says, giving Marcel a glare. “They’re working things out.”
I guess that’s what you could call it. If working it out meant chuckling about it later and me holding my breath for Hayden to say that we should try it. But, the last time we did talk about it, Hayden just smirked and gave me a hug.
“Wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship, Jane,” he told me that time. “We’ve been friends since we were two.”
But isn’t that how a good romance goes? People can have their fairy tales. What I think we had is something bound by fate. We know each other better than we know ourselves.
Wouldn’t we be the perfect match? And then I can justify these strange feelings that I’ve been having for the past two years. And it didn’t used to be like that—hell, Hayden and I grew up together, as neighbors. I saw him naked when I was three years old. We were best friends, shared birthday parties and toys. When his mother went to the grocery store, my mom would watch after us. When my parents argued before they got divorced, I’d sneak over to his room and stay there until morning.
But then, when high school started, something changed. He started looking less like the Hayden that peed himself in the pool when we were five and more like…well, Hayden the heartthrob. His arms filled out from playing football and his acne, bad in middle school, finally stopped being a problem, leaving smooth, tanned skin.
All the girls loved him. And I found that I’m one of them.
“Hey.” I jump and blink at Lizzie who had spoken. She looks at me, concern etched into her face. “You okay?”
I shrug, trying to play it cool. Not like I was just trying to figure out my love life. “Yeah. Totally fine.”
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I give a hollow laugh. “Well, isn’t that why we’re here? To see a ghost?”
“That’s why Hayden’s here,” Marcel says, breaking into the conversation. “I’m here for my twenty bucks when he pisses himself and has to come crawling back.”
“You really think he’ll come running back?” Cole asks dazedly.
“Yeah,” Marcel says. “Didn’t you see how scared he looked?”
Actually, Hayden didn’t look very scared at all. Marcel’s uneasy chuckling makes him look like he’s terrified out of his mind.
“Well, I’m scared, and I’m not even on the other side,” Lizzie says, straightening up. “Ghost or no ghost.”
“Do you really think he’ll see her?” I ask.
“Something would have to be real for you to see it,” Marcel says cockily. At my narrowed eyes, he belts out a laugh. “What, do you believe in Sleepless Beauty, Jane? C’mon, I’ll give you forty bucks to go join your lover boy.”
“He’s not my lover boy,” I say, too defensively.
“Leave her alone,” Cole sighs.
I can’t help but feel like I should be on the other side of that fence though. Like this is all my doing. After all, I was the one who brought up Sleepless Beauty. We were over at Lizzie’s having some drinks and just, you know, talking when we played a game of Truth or Dare to spice things up a little bit. I chose Truth and that was where I admitted that I’d been terrified of Sleepless beauty since before I could remember. Hayden backed up my story, which turned into this dare/bet from Marcel.
And here we are.
Time seems to go by so slowly here. I talk with Lizzie, discuss boys and the squad. Marcel and Cole do their own thing, but we’re sure to be quiet, since the cops could show up at any point.
Cole kicks a rock, sending it off into the darkness. I watch as he paces, his hands in his hoodie’s front pocket. Such a quiet guy.
Meanwhile, Marcel is playing on his phone, the screen lighting up his face in sinister blues and whites. Marcel’s the loud one, with a wide grin and the wit of someone who’d grow up to be Seth Rogan. He fits in any group at school, and for some reason, chooses to hang out with us.
“I’ve got such a bad feeling about this,” Lizzie murmurs, her frown mirroring my own.
I hope she’s not right. Lizzie replaced Hayden as my best friend when we went through a period of boys have cooties. With her darker hair and bright blue eyes, she’s gorgeous. And I know she’d do anything for me.
Then there’s Hayden, the jock and the brains all rolled into one. Like Marcel, he fits into any group on campus, and I think that’s why they’re best friends.
And last, but not least, there’s me. Jane Dyer, the popular girl because she can do a double handspring for the cheerleading squad. I’m smart too, and with my dad’s lawyer connections, I’ll probably get into an Ivy League college after high school. From there, I don’t know what else to expect out of life.
But I expect Hayden to be a part of it.
“Been in there for a bit, hasn’t he?” Cole murmurs suddenly.
As if on cue, Marcel’s alarm goes off. The loud noise in the otherwise quiet cemetery makes both Lizzie and me shriek in unison.
“Jesus, Marcel, do you have to have the Self Destruct Alarm on your phone?” Lizzie gasps.
Marcel snickers as he takes out his phone and turns it off. “Keeping you on your toes, ladies.”
Lizzie scoffs, but not before I see movement on the other side of the fence.
Silence. The rest of my friends follow my gaze towards the space where I’m squinting at, and come up behind me. There’s some movement there, so there is definitely something on the other side.
I lean forward, threading my hands through the bars to get a better look.
“I saw her!”
I scream and stumble backwards, away from the fence. Hayden stands in the space where my face had been. He’s grinning widely at us from the other side of the fence, his smile contagious. My scream, however, sets Marcel rolling with laughter.
“Dammit, Hayden!” I say. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Hayden at least has the decency to look apologetic as he scales the fence. He climbs it faster this time, his movements more sure than they were when he climbed over an hour ago. He drops to the ground and dusts off his pants.
“Gah, I guess I owe you twenty bucks,” Marcel mutters, taking out his wallet.
“What do you mean, you saw her?” Cole asks, frowning. “Who’s her?”
“Who do you think?” Hayden asks as he takes the bill from Marcel. “I saw Sleepless Beauty.”
The floor seems to tilt underneath me and I force myself to stay upright. “You saw her? Did she?”
Hayden beams at me. “I saw her. She kissed me. Told me she loved me. And…”
“And?” I ask.
Hayden just smiles. But there’s something different about him, something that I can’t quite place. Because he looks joyful at the moment. Glowing, like he’s found true happiness.
“You’re so full of crap,” Marcel mutters.
“Am I?” Hayden asks, sounding genuinely offended.
“Remind me never to bet with you again,” Marcel counters. “And how do I know that you were actually at her grave?”
“Oh, I was,” Hayden promises. “And she’s beautiful.”
Marcel makes a disgusted noise as he turns away, grumbling about Hayden cheating and being a dipshit. I want to ask Hayden more, but from the roll of Lizzie’s eyes, she doesn’t believe him either.
“Let’s get going, Jane,” Lizzie says, as she’s joined by Cole.
Hayden gives me a playful shrug as he follows them, leaving me to frown in his wake. Did he or did he not see Sleepless Beauty? He seems all right, not scared out of his wits like I would have been in his shoes. Then again, Hayden was always the stronger one, so he could spend an hour in a graveyard by himself, just to make a point.
I sigh and start walking after them. But a few steps from the fence, I turn back, feeling the eyes of something on me as I walk away. The cemetery is still silent, still dark.
I can’t help but feel like something very wrong had happened out here tonight.
About the Author:
Sci-fi junkie, video game nerd, and wannabe manga artist Erin Hayes writes a lot of things. Sometimes she writes books.
She works as an advertising copywriter by day, and she's an award-winning New York Times Bestselling Author by night. She has lived in New Zealand, Hawaii, Texas, Alabama, and now San Francisco with her husband, cat, and a growing collection of geek paraphernalia.
You can reach her at email@example.com and she’ll be happy to chat. Especially if you want to debate Star Wars.
Margo Bond Collins
Aboard the Rapunzel-320, Cybele helps a plague ridden planet with medical supplies. Her budding romance with Finlay is both forbidden and risky. Can she figure out a way for them to be together or is she doomed to a life of solitude?
Excerpt Spectral Velocity:
“Rapunzel-320, do you copy?” The slightly mechanized voice buzzed through Cybele’s helmet—an utterly unnecessary piece of equipment in her opinion, but one that she donned every time she took the pilot’s seat, exactly as protocol required.
“Copy, ground control. I’m ready to drop the line whenever you say the word. Over.”
“Hold that, Rapunzel-320. Maintain altitude.”
“Copy that.” Cybele tapped her forefinger against the control panel impatiently, waiting for the moment she could dip down into the atmosphere and ride the currents. That was really the only reason she looked forward to these trips down-planet.
At least, that’s what she told herself.
It has nothing to do with a chance to speak to another person.
And one person in particular?
Absolutely not the reason to look forward to this day.
The biggest lie of all.
She was almost at the end of her tour of duty here at the ass-end of the galaxy, doing what she’d initially considered playing nanny to a planet full of plague-ridden colonists.
That’s how long would’ve passed by the time she got home, back to Earth, most of it spent in cryo—humanity’s faster-than-light drives still weren’t quite able to cut out all the travel time, despite what the R&D guys had been promising for a generation.
Four years out here, four years home—all gone in cryo-induced dreams. It was the two long years spent on weekly milk-runs to the colonists that ate away at her soul. Or it had, until she met Finlay.
“Rapunzel-320. Position and hold.”
“Copy, ground control. Positioning.” She smiled as she recognized the voice. “Finlay, that you?”
“Hi, Cybele. Glad to have you back.”
“What’s the hold up down there?”
She could almost feel the hesitation coming up through the airwaves as Finlay tried to decide how much to tell her.
“Nothing unusual,” he finally said, his nonchalant tone too studied to be believable.
Cybele allowed her own skepticism to come through. “Want to try again?”
“Just a placement issue. And it’s fixed. Send down the hair, Rapunzel-320.”
“Dropping line.” With one hand on the controls, Cybele carefully lowered the telescoping pipeline toward the water facility on the ground. Getting it just right was like threading the eye of a needle with a single hair, even though Cybele knew that both the line and the target would seem enormous if she were to stand next to them.
Of course, standing next to them would mean standing on the ground, and that would mean exposing herself to the Gotha Plague—the entire reason she was here, piloting the medical supply ship that provided relief to the colonists.
Most of the pipeline had unfolded on its way to the ground, and Cybele flipped her goggles over to VR to finish the process, standing and stretching her arms over her head before making her way into the more immersive experience. Inside the virtual reality, Finlay was waiting for her.
“Hey,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you would make it in time.”
“Wasn’t sure I’d need to come,” she said, a smile quirking up one side of her face, even here in the interface.
Finlay rolled his eyes, but he was smiling, as well. There must’ve been someone monitoring the communication system, or he would have said something more openly flirtatious. As it was, Cybele didn’t need him to say the words. He knew she would be here to see him, whether or not she needed to manage the threading process herself.
They worked together mostly in silence, their physical movements in VR translating to commands that guided the giant line into the planetary water filtration system. After a while, once they were truly alone, Finlay called up an image to float in the air in front of her—a silly pictogram taken from a civilization long dead, a two-dimensional representation of a perfectly round, smiling face in an improbable color, with a matching hand waving next to it. It was one of hundreds of such images she had found in a database of old Earth languages.
Cybele had shared it with Finlay early on, and in the last two years, it had become their private language, only partially decipherable by anyone who saw it.
“Hi,” she said, carefully neutral. Finlay replied with a stylized image of a heart, his usual signal that he was free to communicate without any outside interference.
“How was your day?” she asked, now that she was certain they were alone in their VR environment.
He returned an image of fireworks glittering across the sky.
“Work or home?” Cybele already knew the answer, but asking was part of their ritual.
“Work, always.” He didn’t say any more, making sure the conversation wasn’t anything his superiors would be likely to discipline him for.
Not this time, anyway.
Mostly, they discussed the work at hand, the things they needed to do to make sure the Rapunzel-320’s transmissions kept the population of Finlay’s planet safe and alive.
That wasn’t always the case.
Inside the VR unit, their lives outside faded away. They were no longer Terran and Germanian, but merely Finlay and Cybele. Two humans.
A man and a woman.
It was those final categories that could get them in trouble.
As often as they could manage it these days, the drop and transfer schedule brought Cybele and her ship around to Finlay’s station during the late-night shift.
Their respective loneliness had gotten the better of them, so they spent every possible moment together in the VR environment.
These days, virtual reality felt more real than Cybele could’ve imagined before this posting.
About the Author:
NYT bestselling author Margo Bond Collins is a former college English professor who, tired of explaining the difference between "hanged" and "hung," turned to writing romance novels instead. (Sometimes her heroines kill monsters, too.)
You can learn more about her at www.MargoBondCollins.net
The Origin of Snow
M. L. Sparrow
A king searches for a wife and turns to a mysterious witch for help. Will the girl she produces be his true love or his downfall?
About the Author:
M L Sparrow is currently the author of four full length novels, a novella and a slew of short stories published in various anthologies. She will write pretty much anything that pops into her head, no matter the genre, and enjoys keeping her readers guessing as to what she will write next, though you can pretty much guarantee that there will be some degree of romance!
As well as writing, she enjoys travelling and has been to some amazing countries, where she never fails to gather inspiration and has an endless supply of ideas for future novels…
A detective searches for a missing woman called Alyce in the infamous Wonderland Casino. As he joins a game of high stakes he soon realizes that there is more than money on the line.
Excerpt Wonderland Casino:
Wonderland Casino. Many rumors circulated about this joint, but few did it justice. The main room was smoky and dark. I maneuvered my way through the clusters of tables and stopped at the bar where I ordered a scotch on the rocks.
The table closest to me contained eight men seated in a circle, playing cards. In the dark corner at the back, sat a lone figure. The face was hidden, but I wondered if it was the elusive Red Queen. She owned this town and no one crossed her and lived. Only the very wealthy and the elite got in here. It took calling in a lot of favors for me to get in and I couldn’t waste this opportunity.
I pulled the photograph from my pocket, the one I’d been carrying for three months, ever since Mr. and Mrs. Liddell came in asking for my help in locating their missing daughter Alyce.
Alyce had been missing for nearly two years and in that time the police had found nothing. Now her parents were coming to me as their last hope.
Alyce had been seeing an older man when she vanished. A man who turned up in the river a little over a year ago. Whether it had anything to do with Alyce was still unknown, but it didn’t bode well for her, especially since it looked like he had died shortly after she went missing. Word on the street was that he was last seen here and if he was here, then there was a chance that Alyce was too. I knew it was a long shot to find any evidence after so long, but I also wanted the chance to snoop around.
Alyce was 22, with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She was quite a looker.
“Another?” the bartender asked.
I nodded and he refilled my glass.
“Haven’t seen you here before,” he said.
“I’m new. An acquaintance recommended the place to me. So far I’m impressed. Good liquor. Pretty dames. What’s not to love?”
“Well you can’t sit drinking all night. If you want to stay, you have to play.”
“Of course, I’m just waiting for a game to open up.”
“Cigarettes?” a voice said in my ear.
“No thanks, I don’t sm…” I stopped talking when I got a good look at the cigarette girl.
She looked surprised but quickly covered it with a smile.
“Sorry, wrong girl.”
I held the photograph up for her to see. “Your parents sent me to find you.”
She glanced around then leaned in close.
“Alyce Liddell is dead. Stay away from me.”
Perhaps not as easy as I thought. Perhaps she suffered from Stockholm Syndrome or was being threatened. Why else would she want to stay here? I stood up to follow her but was interrupted by a large man in a suit.
“A spot has opened up at one of our tables.”
“Oh, great,” I said. Alyce would have to wait.
As I approached a table in the back, a man was practically carried away from it. Was he unconscious? How much money did he lose?
Reluctantly I took a seat at the table with five other men.
“A new guy. Good,” one of them said as he dealt me in.
“I’m Luke,” I said.
“Eli,” the dealer grunted but the others didn’t offer their names.
Cards weren’t my specialty but I knew enough to play the game. The buy in was $1000. It was all the money I had, but I had no choice.
The game began. I scanned the room, looking for Alyce. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of her, but she kept her distance from my table. I realized that the other men were staring at me, waiting for me to make my move.
“Uh, call,” I said. Shockingly my hand won, my three of a kind beating the other hands. A pile of chips were pushed toward me. I was up $3000. Maybe this wasn’t as hard as I thought.
A few hands later and I was up $6000. I almost forgot about Alyce as the money flowed in. This was more than I made in the past year!
“It’s a trap,” Alyce whispered in my ear.
“Cigarettes, sir?” she said.
“Um, no,” I said.
One of the men waved her over to buy some. I wanted to ask her what she meant but I doubted she wanted anyone to hear her. A trap? Did they plan to beat me up and take my winnings when the game was done? I couldn’t imagine that the Red Queen liked newcomers taking her money. I folded in the next few hands, trying to lose some of the money.
Alyce lingered near the table, watching me.
“I think I need another drink,” I said, hoping to steal a moment with her.
“No one leaves the table once the game is in progress,” Eli said. He waved the bartender over to us.
“Of course,” I said. I ordered another drink and carried on playing.
About the Author:
Kat Gracey was born in the UK and her books focus on her two favorite supernatural creatures - witches and werewolves.
She enjoys reading, Netflix and helping out her fellow authors with reviews.