I’m counting down to the May 19th release of Investigation, Mediation, Vindication by sharing sample chapters, advance reviews, content warnings, and whatever else seems fun. In the previous four chapters, John nearly died at the pincers of two attacking crab cosplayers, learned that supernatural creatures were a thing, and that San Diego’s fate rests on his ability to mediate between two opposing forces. Despite the fact that he’s not actually a mediator. In the last of our sample chapters, the relatively short Chapter 5, we meet Anastasia’s employer and fellow vampire, Queen Lucia Borghesi, and set the stage for everything that comes next.
IN WHICH RESPECT IS NEITHER GIVEN NOR EARNED
The first thing I saw was the table. Long enough to accommodate a dozen people, its top appeared to have been made from a single piece of wood. Mahogany, declared a voice in my mind, blithely ignoring that I had only the faintest awareness of different wood species.
Like the house’s enormous front doors, the table’s surface had been carved within an inch of its life, over a dozen different scenes forming a tapestry that I couldn’t even begin to decipher. The table was pristine but something told me that it and the matching doors were far older than the house itself.
The people around the table, on the other hand, looked my age or even younger.
Ahead of me, two men wore the sort of suits only CEOs and movie stars could afford, one in navy and the other in charcoal gray. The conference table kept me from peeking at their shoes, but I’d have bet my last dollar—which was unfortunately not just a saying, given the state of my bank account—that they were designer and from Italy. Both men could have stepped off the cover of GQ; dark and handsome, with strong jaws, piercing eyes, and carefully trimmed stubble. The one to the left kept his hair fashionably short, while the other’s was long and slightly curly, pulled back into a ponytail that somehow didn’t make him look any less overwhelmingly masculine.
I sucked in my beer gut and did my best to emulate Anastasia’s flawless posture. I’m not sure I succeeded on either front.
Next to the two men was a woman in her late teens, lean and sharp as a knife, with cheekbones to match, and short, dark hair that she’d styled into spikes. Like the men, she wore a dark suit, but I was betting that her shoes were stilettos, heels high and sharp enough to stab a man in the heart. She looked me over, head-to-toe, and smirked, only then revealing an impressive set of fangs.
I suppressed a shiver. I’d been out of high school for seven years, but teenagers were still terrifying.
Anastasia dropped to a knee in front of the room’s final occupant, a woman seated at the head of the long table. I hadn’t seen an ugly vampire yet—which was honestly kind of irritating—but this woman took things to an extreme, a voluptuous vision in white with her platinum blonde hair cut into an A-line bob. The only spots of color in her entire ensemble were her golden tan and two eyes as blue and cold as an Alaskan glacier. Even discounting her obvious beauty, she had a presence that filled the room. I was still coming to grips with the whole vampire thing, but I had no trouble believing she was royalty.
Those chilly blue eyes pinned me to the wall, dismissed me with casual swiftness, and returned to Anastasia. She motioned to my companion with a ring-laden hand.
“Secundus.” Her voice rang like crystal; clear, vaguely musical, and utterly cold. “Who is this that you have brought before us?”
She’d actually used the royal we. Or at least the royal us. That was kind of off-putting, actually. Nobody likes a snob.
“Your Majesty, this is John Smith, San Diego’s last mediator.” Anastasia rose and turned to me. “Mr. Smith, you stand in the presence of Queen Lucia Borghesi, Lady of Winter, first-born daughter of Aurelius the First, and true heir to the throne of the Italian Courts.”
Part of me wondered what the heir to a throne in Italy was doing all the way over in San Diego, but I figured we’d have time for backstory later. Hopefully over lunch.
“How’s it going?” I said instead. And then, finally remembering Anastasia’s instructions, I folded over at the waist. I’d never bowed to royalty before, but I was pretty sure I’d made it look good.
A snicker from the spiky-haired brunette told me otherwise.
The queen didn’t acknowledge my words. Or my bow. Or me, to be honest, which was both hurtful and kind of attractive. Instead, her cold eyes remained fixed upon Anastasia.
“A purge occurred this morning at the hands of the karkino.”
“And the Rook?” If anything, Lucia’s voice had grown even colder. Less crystal, more ice. I was guessing that whole Lady of Winter title had to do with her personality.
“He was the first to be slain.”
“Surely not by the karkino.”
“Given his own abilities, it seems unlikely. Captain Xavier and several of the Watch are at the scene now. He will have a report for us shortly.”
“Excuse me?” I waved a hand in the air, like a student desperately wanting to answer whatever question the teacher had just posed. “Could someone fill me in on what’s going on? I’m guessing the Rook was your usual mediator? Why wouldn’t he have been killed by the crab people?”
“The Rook was not human, Mr. Smith,” said Anastasia, speaking before anyone else could. Judging by the expressions on the two men’s faces, they’d had a less friendly response in mind. “He would have presented a formidable challenge to their consortium.”
“Got it. So who—”
A sound like a gunshot went off. I was diving for cover before I realized it had been the queen’s hand striking the antique table. She rose to her feet. For the first time, I realized she too had a ring of gold around her pupils.
“Human.” She let the word drop like it was a crystal glass, tossed to the floor. “Your betters are speaking. You will sit and you will be silent until we have given you permission to speak.”
I felt a sudden sense of kinship with the revolutionaries who’d won our country’s freedom, centuries earlier. Royalty kind of sucked.
I gave the queen my best insincere smile, the one I normally reserved for angry spouses and my office landlord. “No problem. I’m just saying if this lowly human is going to mediate between you and Lord Beer Can, it would be helpful to know what was going on. But what do I know, right? I’m only the last mediator in the city.”
There was a moment of silence. Apparently, I’d impressed everyone with my logic.
Except… they didn’t seem impressed. More like shocked. Even Anastasia had gone absolutely still.
I had a moment to wonder what had just happened, and then everything went to hell.
Next week, I’ll share some stats behind the book and celebrate the release of Investigation, Mediation, Vindication with some advance reviews, content warnings, and whatever else I can come up with. See you then!