- Publisher: Soul Mate
- Series: The Folk, Book 2
- Release Date: October 31, 2018
- Genre: Paranormal
- Available Formats: eBook
Teran Richter is in Animas, Colorado, to find members of the Folk, a simple task. But the annual Animas Fall Festival brings hordes of tourists and daily celebrations that make it frustrating. Things begin to look up when Teran meets Marika Sager. Marika’s business partner Eva seems to be a member of the Folk, only it’s Marika Teran’s attracted to, particularly after a local witch’s brew sends the two into a memorable night of passion. But there are sinister forces at work in Animas. Teran’s attacked and his assistant is kidnapped. When Marika also disappears, Teran’s forced to confront the truth: someone is out to sabotage his mission and destroy anyone who tries to help. With an eccentric team of magical allies, Teran must rescue Marika and fight off those who want to destroy both him and the Folk. But can he find a way to confront the shadowy forces while keeping himself and his lover safe from harm?
Halfway through the parade opening the annual Animas Colorado Fall Festival, one of the eight-foot-tall stilt walkers began to list sideways in Teran’s direction.
He checked the crowd around him, but there was no way he could escape. They were packed in too tightly. He watched the stilt walker wobble precariously toward him for a few seconds. Her white trousers flapped in the breeze and her arms began to windmill as she tried to right herself before she collapsed entirely.
Around him the crowd began to murmur uneasily as more of them noticed the stilt walker’s frantic efforts to pull herself back up. Teran considered using a minor power blast, enough to send her upright.
Bad idea. You’d probably throw her across the street.
True enough. His power blasts weren’t exactly reliable, considering he still didn’t have them entirely under control. He’d been trying to practice, but he hadn’t perfected the technique. Teran took a breath, bracing himself to catch the stilt walker if she fell on top of him. He’d inherited enough of the Seelie crisis strength to do that.
After another moment, the stilt walker was able to right herself on her own and wobbled down the street. Teran swore he could hear sighs of relief from everyone around him, which he absolutely shared.
“What the hell is she supposed to be?” Reynard muttered at his side.
Teran studied the stilt walker’s back as she swayed down Main. She wore a loose white cotton tunic and long cotton pants extending almost to the ground, covering her stilts. He wondered if she ever trod on the cuffs, another thing that could send her plummeting into the spectators. She also wore a wreath of daisies in her long brown hair. “No idea what she represents. Spring?”
Except it was currently August. But then most of the costumes he’d seen at the parade seemed unrelated to the Fall Festival theme.
A group of men and women dressed in swaths of green fabric and wearing complicated headdresses made of sticks and bark followed the stilt walkers. Some of them had wrapped something like moss around their bare feet. Several of them wore fringed capes made out of burlap. They were doing what appeared to be stealth moves, lifting their hands slowly in front of their faces, then peeking out as they crept back and forth across the street, sort of like third graders pretending to be pirates.
“What the fuck?” Reynard snorted.
Teran folded his arms. “Woodland sprites?”
Reynard made a rude noise. The woman standing next to him glared.
“Keep it down,” Teran muttered.
“Sorry.” Reynard smirked, clearly not sorry at all.
Teran decided to ignore him. He wished he could say he didn’t know him.
Drums sounded from farther along the street and another group approached. The older woman in the lead wore sort of Hollywood-style peasant garb, a loose white smock with a dirt brown overdress laced up the front. Her wreath was a crown of bronze flowers and autumn leaves. The two younger women behind her were going more for a tavern wench ambiance with fitted bodices and full skirts that were considerably shorter. They reminded him of the St. Pauli Girl label.
Reynard broke into a grin. “Now that’s more like it.”
Teran continued to ignore him, although Reynard didn’t seem to notice. The women moved on, followed by another group announced by pan pipers and drummers, obviously the stars of the show.
Teran blinked. Three barefoot women strolled along the middle of the street, surrounded by drummers pounding on bongos. All three were extremely pregnant, enveloped in white draperies covering everything except their extended bellies. Someone had adorned those bellies with elaborate henna designs.
Reynard’s eyes widened. “You have got to be shitting me. Fertility goddesses? Freakin’ fertility goddesses?”
The people around them leaned away. Lord grant me the strength not to strangle him.
“Shut. Up.” Terran ground the words out.
The procession wound its way to the speakers’ platform at the end of the street, carefully placed to showcase Mt. Leaphorn directly behind them. There would be lots of Instagram posts of this particular view, no doubt. The older woman with the flower wreath flipped on the microphone as the stilt walkers lined themselves along the back.
The microphone produced a blast of feedback noise, making everyone jump. Reynard snickered again.
Teran sighed. “Did you hex the microphone?”
Reynard’s a wide-eyed stare was nowhere close to convincing. “Moi?“
“Stop it.” Teran’s stare was menacing.
Reynard grumbled, turning toward the speakers’ platform.
The older women raised her hands. “Welcome all, to our celebration of the harvest and our reverence to our Great Mother. May she bless all who gather here.”
The woodland sprites and their fellow paraders raised their hands and provided some credible ululations. Teran figured they must have practiced. He didn’t think he could ululate no matter how hard he tried.
The older woman continued with a complicated invocation to the Great Goddess, gesturing toward the pregnant women to her left. They were apparently the Goddess’s BFFs. As far as Teran knew, Anu, the only Great Goddess he was familiar with, had never expressed any particular interest in pregnant females. But what did he know about Mother Goddesses anyway?
Reynard ignored the mistress of ceremonies altogether, studying the St. Pauli Girls with a lecherous grin.
Technically, Teran knew he should probably try to keep Reynard under control since the man was supposed to be his assistant. However, during the two days since they’d arrived in Animas he’d discovered keeping Reynard under control was close to impossible. As far as he could tell, Reynard didn’t understand the meaning of control. In fact, he didn’t acknowledge its existence.
Now his lips were edging up as the mistress of ceremonies waved both hands, her voice echoing through the PA system. “What do you think she’d do if she ever encountered a few actual woodland spirits? Say a couple of Silvani in full undress.” Reynard gave him a faintly mocking grin.
The full skirt of one of the St. Pauli girls began to twitch as if it had been caught in a stiff breeze. A stiff breeze nobody else in the group was experiencing. The girl grimaced, hanging on to the edge of her skirt as the breeze increased.
Teran’s jaw clenched in irritation. “Stop it, I said. Now.”
Reynard’s lips spread in another fake-innocent grin. Screw it. “Come with me.” Teran turned on his heel, stalking through the closely packed crowd toward the wooden sidewalk running along the false-fronted stores. After a moment, he heard Reynard’s footsteps behind him.
“It was no big thing,” Reynard muttered. “A minor perturbation of the air.”
Teran rounded a corner, checking for spectators. Everyone else was on Main Street viewing the show. The side streets were deserted. He turned, grabbing hold of the front of Reynard’s shirt and yanking him upward. It helped that Teran himself was six-three, while Reynard was a few inches shorter. “What part of staying under the radar and not screwing around with mortals here in town do you not understand?”
Reynard’s face flushed dark. His complexion was pale for a Kobold, but then he wasn’t a pure blood any more than Teran was a pure blood Seelie—and the Kobolds who lived in the Rockies no longer had the greenish skin of their ancestors. His blue-black hair and heavy brows outed him, though, along with the size of his feet.
“It was nothing.” He struggled against Teran’s grip. “Nothing to get this upset about, damn it.”
Teran considered reminding Reynard he was there on sufferance. He’d been sent along on this mission to Animas at the request of Grim Morrigan, the new chief of the Ward, the Folk’s police force. Morrigan had said Reynard had potential, or at least he was salvageable. Right now Morrigan was scrambling for personnel, having cleared out most of his officers after he and Prince Bertilak, regent of the Folk, had discovered an insurrection among their security forces. Teran’s taking Reynard on as an assistant had been a sort of favor to a friend.
And right now Teran needed all the friends he could get. Suspended Jefferson County Deputy Sheriffs weren’t necessarily a hot commodity around Colorado.
He tightened his grip on Reynard’s shirt. “No magic, no matter how minor. I’ve told you before. If you screw this up, I’ll send you back to the palace and they’ll probably truck you back to Nederland Sand and Gravel with the other Kobolds. Take your choice, Reynard. You can move sacks of rocks or trace half-bloods. It’s up to you.”
Reynard grimaced. “No magic. Got it, deputy.”
Teran bit back a snarl. Technically, he was still a deputy. In reality, he was something less. Reynard was probably poking him about his status, but Teran wasn’t about to prolong this discussion. “Keep your focus on the job. We’re here to identify any half-bloods living in the town of Animas and the rest of the Lost Valley. According to the records at the palace complex there should be a few.”
Officially, they were on a scouting mission for the palace. Unofficially, they were Prince Bertie’s eyes and ears in an area rumored to have more than a few descendants of the Folk. Descendants who might not know who their ancestors were, exactly.
Bertie’s directions had been both vague and pointed. Be on the lookout for anybody unusual. We’ve no idea how long ago the Folk were in the Lost Valley. We don’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily. But we do want to find anyone who might be one of ours, no matter how remotely.
Reynard snorted. “And how are we supposed to identify these half-bloods, always assuming the records from the palace aren’t a complete pile of bullshit?”
Teran didn’t bother to correct him. They both knew the Folk didn’t excel at organization. “We search for them. Watch for the unusual. Check the crowds. You know what the clan members look like. Check out anybody who seems to have an extra dose of something.”
“You mean like us?” Reynard raised a sardonic eyebrow.
Teran nodded slowly. “Yeah. I mean exactly like us. We are what we are. And we’ve got a chance to find more of us.”
And maybe do a better job with helping them than the palace did with us.
Which would be easy enough to do, since the palace had completely screwed over the generation of half-bloods living in the foothill suburbs of the Front Range.
“What does the palace want with these cousins anyway?”
“At the very least, they deserve some reparations. At most, Bertie might want to enlarge the numbers of those known to be part of the Mountain Folk. If there really is a rebellion, and if it really has spread beyond the handful of Folk the palace already knows about, we could be searching out all the allies we can find.”
“And if they don’t want to be found?” Reynard looked perplexed.
Teran checked for sarcasm, but for once Reynard seemed absolutely serious. “If they don’t want to be found, we leave them be. It’s their choice.” Like it should have been his and Reynard’s choice.
But it hadn’t been, not for them. The Folk had encouraged their fathers to screw mortal women, then the Folk had tried to figure out what to do with the inevitable half-blood offspring. They were still trying to figure it out when they’d been hit by a half-baked rebellion led by a group of renegades.
The official line was the rebellion had been suppressed. The unofficial line was nobody knew for sure how far the rebellion had spread and whether it had been stopped or merely driven underground.
Reynard nodded once, sharply. “Good enough. Back to the festival.”
“Right.” Teran turned back toward Main Street, then paused. “And leave the St. Pauli girls alone, Reynard.”
“Does that include all contact, or can I make a pass if it isn’t magical?”
“My orders don’t include your sex life. As long as any connection is strictly run of the mill.”
Reynard’s lips moved into a sly grin. “Sounds boring, but I guess I can live with it.”