Sample Sunday – Defender

Defender will be out on Thursday, May 4th, so it’s time for a teaser! This book’s leads are Kate Campbell, the younger sister of Colin Campbell from Impractical Magic, and Jack Sandoval, a member of the de la Paz witch clan who had small roles in both Protector and Strange Magic.

~~~

Kate tilted her head upward. A huge misty arch seemed to cover half the enormous vault of the heavens, glowing in the darkness. “That’s the Milky Way?”

“Yes. You need to be someplace like this, with hardly any light pollution, to be able to really see it. Tucson is lucky — they’re a designated Dark Sky city, so even in the city limits, you can still see a lot.”

She’d heard the term before, knew that it meant a town or city where the local ordinances ensured that businesses and homeowners followed strict guidelines so the lights on their buildings were directed downward rather than pointing up at the sky.

Never in a million years would Phoenix follow those rules, so she hadn’t needed to adhere to them in her city planning work, but it was still nice to see the practice being followed here in the Tucson area. All right, Jack’s house was actually fifty miles outside Tucson, but she’d visited Colin in Jerome and was still able to see the lights of Phoenix from almost a hundred miles away, so distance didn’t always help.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. And it was. Smudges of light that could be stars, or galaxies, or nebulae. Hundreds of millions of them crowding into an area she could cover with the palm of her hand. And yet…watching them didn’t make her feel any better about her current situation. Wasn’t looking up at the stars supposed to provide you with a sense of proportion, to make it seem as if your own petty problems weren’t that big a deal? Problem was, she didn’t think the problems she was facing — or that the Arizona witches had to deal with — were petty at all. She didn’t exactly sigh, but she did let out a breath before she went on, “I guess this is where I’m supposed to say that they all make me feel small or something.”

Jack chuckled, then bent over the telescope and made a few minute adjustments, as though he had a specific target in mind as he focused it. “Don’t feel bad. I never really bought into that idea, either. It’s not like looking at the stars is magically going to make your own problems go away.”

“Oh, good. I was worried that I had a raging ego issue or something, since I didn’t really see the attraction in being insignificant.”

He straightened then and looked over at her. Even in the darkness she could feel the impact of that gaze, the way his eyes seemed to focus on her and nothing else.

“I don’t think you’re insignificant.”

A tremor went through her. It had to be the night breeze, growing colder now that the sun was gone and the dry air released the heat it had held during the daytime. Somehow she managed to give a small laugh, albeit not a very convincing one. “Well, that’s good to know. So what are we looking at tonight?”

“Saturn,” he replied, in quite a different tone of voice. “It’s very clear, so you should be able to make out its rings without too much trouble. Come take a look.”

With an odd reluctance, she moved toward him. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be near Jack, more that she was a little afraid she wouldn’t be able to conceal her reactions to him if they were in close proximity. But to hang back would be even more obvious, so she walked over to the telescope. “Do I need to do anything in particular?”

“No,” he replied. “Just be prepared for the image to be a little shaky. Atmospheric interference. It’s something people usually aren’t prepared for when they look through an actual telescope for the first time. Look in here,” he added, tapping the eyepiece, which jutted out from the main body of the instrument.

Bending down, she did as he asked, bringing her face close to the eyepiece. Although Jack stood off to one side, he was still very close — less than a foot away — and she was acutely aware of him, the faintest scent of cologne on the cool night air, the slight crunch of the hard-packed sand under his feet. She almost fancied she could feel the warmth coming from his body, although she knew that had to be her imagination. He certainly wasn’t standing close enough for her to sense something like that.

She wrenched her mind away and made herself concentrate on the image inside the eyepiece. Yes, there it was — a small planet, faintly peach in color, its disk partially eclipsed by the rings that encircled it. She thought she could even see the shadow of those rings on the planet’s surface. So small, and yet she knew it was hundreds of times the size of Earth. As Jack had said, the image did seem to jump around slightly, and she had to work to keep it in focus. It wasn’t like looking at a still photograph at all. And yet…it seemed so much more real.

“It’s beautiful.” Yes, she’d just said the same thing a moment earlier, but she didn’t know if she possessed the words to express what she thought of what she was seeing, a world so many millions of miles away from where she stood.

“Yes.”

When she looked up from the telescope, she realized Jack wasn’t gazing up at the heavens, however. No, he was staring right at her. For the longest moment they stood that way, both of them frozen, as though they knew that whatever either of them did next would change both their futures forever.

~~~

Defender releases on May 4th. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss it!

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