Storm Born, the first book in my new Witches of Wheeler Park series, releases tomorrow (gulp!), so I wanted to do something a little different and give you the entire prologue as a teaser this time, rather than a small snippet. For reference, this new series starts up approximately three years after the end of Darktide, the final book in the Witches of Cleopatra Hill series, so there are some spoilers for the Cleopatra Hill novels. However, this series stands on its own and has a new cast of characters, although a few favorites from the Cleopatra Hill books do make cameos from time to time. I’m going to put the buy links directly below, since this is a long entry, but they’ll be repeated at the end of the prologue.
Get Storm Born at these stores:
Jake Wilcox pulled out his phone to check the time again. Five minutes after two. In the grand scheme of things, being five minutes late wasn’t that big a deal, but he wanted this meeting over with so he could roll up his sleeves and get to work. True, Connor Wilcox, the leader — primus — of the Wilcox witch clan in Flagstaff had already signed off on the project, but Jake wanted Connor to see what had been accomplished since the primus had given the go-ahead some six months earlier.
From the outside, the place looked like an ordinary two-story house, built in the Craftsman style of the turn of the last century. The neighborhood around Wheeler Park was filled with those types of homes, some of which had been converted to office space, just as this house had been. However, Jake very much doubted that the graphic design companies and nurse-practitioners and contractors who’d taken up space in similar venues nearby had any idea what was actually hidden inside the white house with the green trim and the modest “Trident Enterprises” nameplate next to the door.
If asked, he would have told any of those neighbors that Trident Enterprises was an information technology company that specialized in various low-cost computing solutions for small businesses. However, although he’d exchanged greetings with a few of the people who occupied homes in the area, no one had ever asked him for that information. No, they just seemed happy that the formerly rundown property had been painted and spruced up in general, thus improving the overall look of the neighborhood.
On the house’s second story, not all that much had been changed — there were still three bedrooms and a bathroom, although everything had been updated and redone. Jake figured it couldn’t hurt to keep the bedrooms furnished for the time being, since he didn’t know whether there might be occasions where he or one of the other Wilcox witches or warlocks working for Trident Enterprises might not need to crash there. If any outsiders had peeked into those rooms, they would have seen beds and nightstands and dressers, carefully framed prints on the walls. Jake’s cousin Laurel had made the design decisions, clearly all too happy to be set loose on the local furniture stores with Trident’s generous budget funding her purchases.
Downstairs, however…the contents of the downstairs rooms probably would have shocked their neighbors, while the spaces themselves would have been well-nigh unrecognizable to the home’s original owners.
The living room was split into three workstations, each outfitted with a Mac Pro computer and a pair of large cinema displays. The dining room had four more workstations equipped with the best PCs money could buy. A dedicated high-speed line had been run to the property, and a host of anti-surveillance equipment installed — all under the supervision of Jake’s younger brother Jeremy, who was a genius with computers and electronics. Actually, computers were his magical “gift,” a talent that no one in the Wilcox clan had ever heard of before. No one among the McAllisters or the de la Paz clan had ever encountered it, either, making Jeremy unique even among their already rarefied population.
In a way, it was Jeremy’s talent with computers and code that had first prompted the germ of the idea that became Trident Enterprises.
“Hello!” came Connor’s voice from the living room. Jake immediately left the dining room, where he’d been hooking up the new color laser printer that had just been delivered a few hours earlier, and went out to meet the primus. The front door had been locked, since there was so much valuable equipment stored in the house, but locked doors weren’t much of a barrier for witch-kind.
“Hi, Connor,” Jake said. “Glad you could make it.”
“Oh, I didn’t want to miss this,” Connor replied, looking around with approval in his greenish-gray eyes. “Sorry I’m a little late — I was working at the vineyard this morning.”
Connor was a silent partner in Angel Hill Cellars, a vineyard down in Page Springs run by Anthony Rocha, the husband of Connor’s wife Angela’s best friend. As far as he could tell, Jake guessed that Connor let Anthony do most of the heavy lifting, since he was the one with an enology degree, but even so, Angel Hill seemed to occupy a good deal of the primus’s time. Even though it was early June, and Connor and Angela would normally have relocated their family to their home in Flagstaff by that point, they were still down in the large Victorian house in Jerome that Angela had inherited when she became prima of the McAllister clan.
Still, Jake wouldn’t comment on the tardiness of the Wilcox/McAllister household’s return to Flagstaff. The biannual move was Connor and Angela’s business, and not the sort of thing that a peripheral third cousin should be commenting on. Or at least, Jake viewed the situation that way, even though he knew Connor tended to be pretty easygoing about those sorts of things, and was far less bound up in formalities and tradition than his older brother Damon, who’d been the previous primus. Not that Jake had had many dealings with Damon; he’d been in high school when Damon passed away, and there had never been any real reason for the two of them to interact beyond an exchange of greetings at the Wilcox holiday potluck, that sort of thing.
“No worries,” Jake said in response to his cousin’s apology. “I was just getting the last of the equipment set up.”
Connor raised an eyebrow. He was tall and dark-haired like most of the Wilcox men, with high cheekbones and a long nose that betrayed the Navajo heritage of his line, even though the Native American witch who’d been his ancestor was now seven generations back or so. “I thought Jeremy was handling that stuff.”
“Oh, he did most of it,” Jake said, not at all offended by his cousin’s assumption that he might not be up to a lot of technical tasks. “But while I’m not exactly a computer genius like he is, I can handle hooking up a printer. He had to go over to Lowe’s — he needed some fasteners to finish installing the radio equipment in the next room.”
The primus absorbed this explanation without comment. He silently surveyed the room, taking in the sleek wood and glass desks that held the Mac Pros, the large whiteboard that covered most of one wall. The modern furniture was a direct contrast to the house that contained it, and yet it somehow seemed to work together harmoniously enough, probably because Jake and his cousin Laurel had done their best to choose office furniture that spoke of this century while still allowing a nod to the hundred-year-old house.
“How many people do you have on board right now?” Connor asked at last.
“Just me and Jeremy and Laurel,” Jake said. “Since she just wrapped up getting her degree in computer science at NAU, we figured she’d be a good person to help us compile data. And because her talent is healing, she could be a handy person to have around…just in case.”
This comment elicited another raised eyebrow. “I’m surprised Eleanor was willing to let Laurel go that easily.”
While Jake was doing his best to seem professional and on top of everything — even though this was his first try at being a manager and he realized he honestly didn’t know what the hell he was doing — he couldn’t help grinning at Connor’s remark…mostly because it had taken a lot of persuading to convince the clan’s healer that Laurel’s talents couldn’t be put to better use elsewhere. “Who said it was easy?”
“Well, I kind of have to side with Eleanor on this one,” Connor said, his expression now completely serious. “Healers are always desperately needed.”
“True,” Jake allowed, “but Laurel promised Eleanor that if anything happened that required all hands on deck, then of course, she would help out. But really, Eleanor isn’t swamped. We all have our own doctors — she’s even admitted that she advises people to see a specialist for a lot of things.”
The primus didn’t argue with that statement, probably because he knew it was the simple truth. In fact, he and his wife had gone to a civilian — nonmagical — doctor for Angela’s pregnancies. Eleanor was a very good healer, but even she couldn’t handle all eventualities.
“So, you’re going to ‘flip the switch’ — so to speak — tomorrow?” Connor asked next, apparently deciding that he wasn’t going to argue the point as to whether babysitting Trident Enterprises’ data flow was really what Laurel should be doing with her gifts.
“That’s the plan,” Jake replied. Although he tried to sound casual, he couldn’t help but feel a stir of anticipation — well mixed with anxiety — somewhere deep inside. After all, the idea of this project had consumed him for far longer than the six months that they’d been actively working on making Trident a reality.
No, if he wanted to admit it to himself, the thought had taken on a life of its own almost three years ago now. Three years since he’d lost Sarah, and had desperately started searching for something to consume his empty days, some sort of project that would maybe help him forget — if only for an hour here and there — the gaping hole she’d left in his life.
On the surface, the idea was simple enough. It had floated into his mind one day as he listened to his mother talking to another Wilcox cousin on the phone, discussing how the cousin’s oldest child had just turned eleven, and how her magical talents had begun to manifest. The conversation had been cheerful enough — the little girl’s ability was working with plants, helping them grow — and almost matter-of-fact. After all, that was just how it happened in a witch clan. Around the age of ten or eleven, or possibly a little younger if a child was precocious, like Connor and Angela’s oldest daughter Emily, those magical gifts began to manifest, and others in the clan encouraged them and helped them along, assisting the child with learning all the facets of their gift and how best to use it without hurting themselves or anyone around them.
Only…what would happen if a witch or warlock was born outside a clan? At first, when Jake had broached the idea to his mother, she’d frowned and said that magical talent was hereditary, and so there weren’t any rogue witches or warlocks suddenly appearing amongst the civilian population, since all of witch-kind was bound by the clans that people were born into. Which all seemed pretty neat and tidy, but didn’t really cover any witch or warlock hook-ups with civilians. It would be nice to pretend that such things didn’t happen — and they were probably pretty rare, just because the tendency among witches and warlocks was to find your match fairly early on, and to get married and start a family right away. After all, he’d known with Sarah from the time they were both barely twenty-one that they were meant to be together. They’d decided to wait, though, just because she wanted to get her master’s degree in education and thought it was better to focus on school rather than get married immediately and set up a household.
They shouldn’t have waited. They should have gotten married as soon as they both earned their undergraduate degrees. But Jake had agreed, figuring another two years wouldn’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things. They were already together, and waiting for a little piece of paper wasn’t such a big deal.
Except it was a big deal, because she’d been a year away from getting her master’s when she went on the camping trip that changed everything.
At any rate, Jake speculated that there must be children out in the world who had no idea one of their parents was a witch or warlock. Most likely warlock, just because the sad truth was that women were generally the ones who got left with any unplanned children, and even if a witch had an affair with a civilian and had a child by him, she’d know what to do once that child got old enough to start showing signs of magical ability.
What would it be like, though, to have no idea who your father was, to start to manifest those powers and not know what in the world to do about them? Jake guessed it would have to be frightening as hell, especially with no one to guide you along and explain that it was all perfectly normal…for someone born to witch-kind, anyway.
And that was when he resolved to figure out a way how to track down those lost witches and warlocks, to do his best to discover who their parents actually were so they could be reunited with the clans where they belonged. He’d brought up the idea to Jeremy, figuring if his computer-genius brother couldn’t figure out the logistics of such a project, then it was basically impossible and would be dead in the water before he even got started. But Jeremy had seized on the notion immediately, and said it actually wouldn’t be that hard, that he’d write algorithms to analyze news from all over the world, to scan through Facebook and Twitter feeds, through police and emergency scanners and any other sources of information available, and so track down the bits and pieces that sounded like magical powers showing up out of the blue. One belief all of witch-kind shared was the need to keep their existence a secret, and so no one who’d been raised in a clan would ever do anything to jeopardize that secrecy.
But a witch or warlock who didn’t even know what they were…well, obviously, that kind of person might not be quite so careful.
Once they had a working business plan — and Jeremy had specified the kind of equipment and resources they’d need — Jake had brought the project to Connor. Honestly, he hadn’t been sure whether the primus would really be on board or not. It was going to be an expensive proposition…not that the Wilcoxes ever needed to worry about money.
But Connor had given his approval, and now here they were. Just finishing up the last odds and ends, and then the next morning, Jake and Jeremy and Laurel would start looking for those proverbial needles in the haystack.
“Well, good luck with it,” the primus said, and gave another look around the place. “But have you really thought about what you’re going to say to these people if you do manage to track them down?”
“Yes,” Jake said without hesitation, knowing he’d mentally rehearsed that speech more than a hundred times. Maybe he was being over-confident, since, as the saying went, no plan ever survived the battlefield. He knew better than to mention such doubts to Connor, however.
Voice firm, he added, “First, we have to find them.”
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