"There are things that go bump in the night, Mr. MacMillian. It's my job to bump back."
Private investigator Jesper MacMillian was sure he'd seen it all. After all, in a city like San Francisco, strange is what's for breakfast. Following a long recovery after a horrific accident, his life is finally the way he wants it- or at least, close enough. The only monsters on his radar are the ones that keep him awake at night.
All that changes the day he meets Lena Alan.
Before MacMillian has a chance to brace for impact, Lena drags him into a world where monsters aren't just real, they're hiding in plain sight. Suddenly, everything he knows is suspect, starting with his current case. For Lena, a medium since childhood, it's just another day at the office.
For MacMillian, it's the beginning of the end of everything he thinks he knows.
The King was dead.
Jesper MacMillian stood over the ornate mahogany coffin, and stared down at the man inside. Seeing him like this, it was harder to hate him than it should be. A slip of paper with Orthodox liturgy scrawled over it rested on his forehead. Beneath it, the man's white hair was combed painstakingly back from his leathered temples. His eyes were closed, his mouth relaxed. He almost looked gentle.
MacMillian peered closer. No, sure enough, there it was: the faint remnants of a predatory smirk. The tightness around the eyes, the hollowness in the cheeks. Hawk-like nose and rigid brow. This was the grandfather he remembered.
This was the man who'd ruined his life.
A strong, bony hand clasped his arm. MacMillian swallowed his feelings and smiled down at the tiny wrinkled woman beside him. The crowds of mourners had already filed out of the little chapel. Now, it was just the two of them. "How are you, Mamío?"
His grandmother shrugged and gave him a watery smile. "Alive." She released MacMillian's arm and leaned down, placed a shaky kiss first on the Christ icon in the man's hand, then on his cheek. "Ah, ves'tacha." Her voice wavered. "Now I am alone."
MacMillian shifted his weight against his cane and didn't speak.
The woman rested her forehead against the rim of the coffin, then straightened and turned. She held out her hand. MacMillian obediently took it and twined it around his arm. She nodded her approval. "It is good to see you, Pusomori. It isn't right, you staying away from us for so long."
MacMillian didn't answer.
His grandmother glanced down. "You don't limp at all. Your recovery is going well."
"Yes." Though whether someone ever fully recovered from losing a limb, he didn't know. He sure as hell hadn't. It had been five years, and still there were days when the pain in his nonexistent leg was enough to drive him out of his mind.
Insanity wasn't an option, however. Mostly he just drank instead.
"And how is your work?"
His lips twitched. "Steady." He lowered his voice and leaned down conspiratorially. "I just finished a case involving a tech magnate's missing wife. Turns out she wasn't missing at all, just on an unannounced, week-long getaway in Aspen... with her personal trainer. My employer was quite generous with my compensation, if not exactly pleased with my results."
His grandmother cackled, earning her a glare from the priest attending the altar. "I bet he wasn't. But it serves him right, shoving a handsome young man under his wife's nose."
MacMillian grinned. "The trainer was a woman."
His grandmother gaped up at him. A slow, answering grin spread across her face.
"What are you telling your grandmother now?" A harsh voice sounded behind him. "More stories about the degenerate gaje you associate with? For shame, Jesper. She is in mourning, and this is a church."
MacMillian stiffened, and his grandmother tightened her hold on his arm. He grimaced. If she thought she could prevent him from running, she was mistaken. But it was just as well he deal with this here.
If he didn't, his mother would only follow him home.
He wiped his face clean of any telling expression and turned slowly. "Hello, mámo."
Rose MacMillian adjusted the scarf covering her head. She had been beautiful once, with her pale caramel skin, her burnished copper hair, the exotic eyes that he'd inherited. She still was, but it was a harsher beauty, whatever softness she'd once possessed long since whittled away.
She looked him up and down. "You seem well."
She fidgeted with the vibrant patchwork handbag under her arm. "Of course you will be moving back home now. Mamío will take your old room. I've cleaned out the master suite, and your grandfather's office has all his files. You can take over immediately."
MacMillian took a deep breath. It was now or never. "No."
His mother stilled. "No?" The word seemed to bewilder her. She shook her head and tried again. "You can keep your current job as well, I suppose. You can move what you need to Papío's office. It can't have been pleasant for you, working in the gaji-kanó all this time..."
"Pleasant enough." The thought of leaving his office in The Procyon Building made his stomach curdle. MacMillian kept his expression blank. "Anyway, it was my choice."
"Yes." His mother tried and failed to keep the look of naked distaste off her face. "But it was a struggle, I'm sure. It will be good for you to rejoin the tsera again."
MacMillian crossed his arms. "No."
He rocked back on his heels and waited. Sure enough, Rose's face reddened. She opened her mouth, closed it. Finally, she found her voice. "But you must! It was your papío's last act on this earth. He named you king!"
MacMillian shrugged. "And I told him I didn't want it. I begged him to choose someone else." To choose a better Gypsy. "He may have refused, but that isn't my concern. The kris will just have to name someone in my stead."
"That is not the role of the kris, and you know it." Rose spoke through clenched teeth. "There are those in the community who are in need of the king's services. You cannot leave us without one. You cannot abandon us. Not again."
MacMillian pressed his lips together. Fury rose in his chest. Of course she would try to manipulate him with that. He dug deep for control. "I didn't abandon you. I moved on with my life."
"Is that what you call it? Where were you after the accident?" Her accusing eyes sliced at his restraint. "Wasn't it enough I lost one son?"
"You forget I also lost a brother." Not to mention a leg, and what little self-respect he'd ever had. "Don't talk to me about loss. Or family, or loyalty, for that matter. Where were you after the accident? How is it I never saw you when I was lying broken in that hospital bed?"
His mother looked away. MacMillian leaned forward. "Where were you when they were peeling the flesh off my back and piecing my bones back together, dai? Did you only come when I was unconscious? Maybe you just weren't there at all." He firmed his hand over his grandmother's. "The only member of our family I ever saw was Mamío. She's the only one of you who has the right to expect my loyalty."
Rose looked back at him, her dark eyes fierce, her lips thin and white around the corners. "How much longer do you think you can keep ignoring our laws? Sooner or later, your actions will have consequences." She lifted her chin. "Besides, you have responsibilities now."
MacMillian growled low in his throat. Before he could answer, his grandmother laid her other hand over his. "Actually, Pusomori and I were just speaking about that. He's agreed to look into something for me."
MacMillian's eyebrows went up. Rose's eyes narrowed. "Has he, now?"
"Yes, he has." His grandmother shot him a pointed look. "Istvan and Sonya Vaspurkan. Their eldest boy has turned up missing."
"Right." He forced the word through clenched teeth. "The Vaspurkans."
Rose's gaze shifted back and forth between them. "How have I not heard of this?"
The older woman lifted her shoulder, and let it drop again. "Istvan's mother and I crossed over together from the old country. We speak quite often."
Rose hesitated. The obstinate expression on her face wavered. "If that's true, it is something the king should look into."
His grandmother let out a frustrated noise. "Of course it's true! As if Viona would lie about such a thing. Jesper will look into it." She firmed her hand over his. Her eyes grew hard. "As he said: I have the right to expect his loyalty."
MacMillian bit back a groan. She knew she had him. He could have tried to refuse her, but they both knew he wouldn't.
All he wanted -the only thing he'd wanted since the accident- was to live his life in peace. Come and go as he pleased. Leave his shoes on in his apartment. Drink when he felt like it, and fuck when the urge struck him. He'd almost managed it. He'd almost escaped.
But now his grandfather was dead, and he was king.
The church bells began to toll, slow, steady intonations, and the small choir started in on the requiem. MacMillian pinched the sore spot between his eyes. "Fine. Yes. Have them stop by my office. I'll look into it."
Want to stay informed about A World Apart and the Shades Below series? Sign up for my email newsletter! No spam, and I promise never to share or sell your information. See you in your inbox! Newsletter Signup Form
This is a blog train, and there are more excerpts to read!
1st Stop: L.J.K. Oliva Books
2nd Stop: Madhuri Blaylock Writes
3rd Stop: Home of A.L. Kessler
4th Stop: In A Pursuit of Publishness
5th Stop: Mia Bishop- Author, Artist, Dreamer
6th Stop: The Self-Publishing Experiment
7th Stop: The Darker Side
8th Stop: Write Bitches
Hit all the stops to read A World Apart up through Chapter 2!