I’ve been madly editing Stone Chameleon over the last few months so I can re-release this bad boy under my own banner. While the story at its heart remains the same, this second edition is cleaner, meatier, and the story world is far richer than the original.
I’ve learned much since the first edition released, and I’m thrilled to have this one back in my hands.
Check out this new cover. Love it.
Stone Chameleon (Ironhill Jinn #1)
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy
Release date: June 6th, 2016
When a series of unusual murders point to Lou Hudson, Ironhill’s monster whisperer, as the primary suspect, she has but one choice: find the real perpetrator before her trial begins or face execution.
Lou, the last of the jinn, survives by hiding her abilities after the rest of the elementals fell victim to genocide. As a preternatural pest control expert and self-proclaimed guardian of the innocent, she’s accustomed to trudging through the dregs of society. Hunting down a pesky murderer should be easy, especially with help from a dashing local media darling and a tantalizing Scottish vampire whose motives are a mystery.
For Lou, though, nothing is ever simple. When she discovers the killer’s identity, to reveal it would unearth her secret and go against her strict moral code, resulting in a deadly catch twenty-two.
There was something peaceful about working in the sewer, despite the rotting toilet stench. Surrounded by stone, I could commune with my element without fear of exposing my heritage to ever-watching eyes. Jinn were subject to a kill-on-site law, and I was the last one, an earth elemental, hiding in the one locale that made survival possible. After all, there was no better place for the boogieman of all races to hide out than Monster City. One ill-informed news caster had coined the catch phrase on air fifteen years ago, and Ironhill suddenly had a nickname that wouldn’t die.
I peered around the corner of the sewer tunnel from the catwalk. The dim lighting didn’t illuminate anything identifiable. Certainly nothing that moved enough to disturb the channel of water running the length of the corridor, other than the trickles of liquid running down the slime-coated stone walls.
A small adjustment of my earpiece reduced the hum of static. “Harper,” I said over the comm, “are you in place at the other end of this tunnel?”
“Locked and loaded in crap shoot number six, Lou. Any sign of this nasty critter yet, oh great and powerful monster whisperer?”
I winced as she knew bloody well I would. “You know I hate that term.”
“Aww, but that cute guy on channel eleven adores calling you that. Like, every night. I think he’s in lurve with you and your badass self.”
Were all TV personalities idiots by nature? I was beginning to think so. “The media is in love with the danger of this job, and it has little to do with me.” I cursed my boss, Blake, for bringing our pest control business into the limelight through a reality TV series, whose camera crew and host had followed me around for a week last year.
The host and two of his staff had been maimed and nearly eaten by a rogue naiad we were hunting in the Kimble River after which I’d put an end to that nonsense. It was the most excruciating and terrifying seven days of my life so far. Given my line of work, dealing with preternatural creatures who were misbehaving in the city, and the constant threat of exposure, that was saying something.
“Can we focus, please?” I glanced back and forth, my spine itching. “Our mark has already killed one and terrified half of the municipal workers who were down here earlier.” They described it as something bluish that moved like water, but also like a person. “Eyes in the water,” one of them had said.
The men had been pale and glassy-eyed after their encounter, but their descriptions had matched when Blake questioned the four of them separately. We’d had them drug tested and found them all to be free of hallucinogens, a practice we’d adopted to sort out the nutters from those with real cases.
Their story was enough for the case to land on my desk and not on Rudy’s, the gatekeeper of the mundane division of Ironhill Pest Control, or IPC as the media referred to us. I was eternally grateful they hadn’t dubbed us something ridiculous as they had Ironhill, like Monsters “R” Us.
The water swelled as if something large had risen from the bottom, but not far enough to break the surface. The long, winding bulge moved down the channel faster than anything should have been able to swim.
I tightened my wrist sheaths, hoping I wasn’t destined for a dip in the sewage. “Look lively, Harper,” I said through the comm, “it’s coming toward you. It’s gigantic and shaped like a serpent.” I took off after it, my black boots pounding against the grungy cement.
“If it slithers, then it bleeds.”
Clicks sounded in my earpiece, most likely from her guns coming out of safety mode. “Only as a last resort, Harper. We capture if we can—don’t make me remind you again.”
“Yeah, yeah. Nag me later.” Elf females were notoriously feisty, perhaps to compensate for their small stature. I was lucky she was only half elf, or she’d have been completely unmanageable.
I couldn’t see a bloody thing. Every fifty feet, a small cone of brightness shone down from the ceiling, but every other one seemed to be broken. Bringing my own lighting would have painted a target on my head.
“Dom.” I looked up as if I could see where he watched us through surveillance equipment in the van. “Do you see it on the infrared?” My voice jerked in staccato bursts with my footfalls.
“Got nothin’ here, Lou, but that’s not surprising if it’s cold-blooded and under water,” he said around crunches of what I assumed to be his beloved Doritos.
“Then forget the monitors. Gear up because I think we’re going to need—”
Harper’s distant battle cry echoed through the chamber, stealing the rest of my air. Gun shots rang out too close together to be from a single weapon. She never emptied both pistols unless it was a Hail Mary for survival. She’d never leave herself with two empty weapons.
Mercy mother of hellfire.
I ran faster. “Get down here Dominic. Now! Harper, what’s going on over there? Respond.”
Static filled my ear piece. She screamed again, but this one held hints of anger and pain.
A dull thud sounded ahead, and silence fell.
“Harper!” I stopped and listened. She’d been my friend since junior year of high school. If something had happened to her…no, she might have been short and appeared delicate, but she was stronger than anyone I knew, and she’d be fine, as always. I wouldn’t consider the alternative.
A strand of my ebony hair came loose from the bundle at the top of my head as I broke into a run again, flying up with my heavy exhalations. “Harper, talk to me.”
Finally, I neared the end of the tunnel which came to a “T” a short distance ahead. Groaning came from beyond the weak cone of light I approached. I slowed my pace, stalking along in a crouch. “Say something, my friend.”
“Did someone get the license plate of that big-ass bus?” Harper’s words mixed with moans, muffled as if she spoke with something over her mouth. Thank the stars. If she was joking, she wasn’t badly injured.
“What happened?” I approached the form bobbing in the water below with caution. Once upon a time I’d been inhabited by a haven—a species most people mistakenly called demons—when Harper found me in similar circumstances. If she hadn’t shot me in the shoulder to knock me away, I would have slit her throat with my own knife.
“Dunno,” she slurred. “There were butterflies. Butterflies in the water.”
What? “I think you’re confused, Harper. Did you see dead butterflies?”
“No, no. Not dead. Flying. They cut me up, and bullets didn’t touch them. After that, something came out of the water and pulled me into the cesspool, and then launched me against the wall like a freakin’ rocket. Took all three of my babies, too. Bastard.”
By babies, she meant her guns. Two Berettas and a Sig she had elaborate acquisition stories for as if they were pets. Although I found it curious, I didn’t joke about her affection for them unless I wanted a good jab in the ribs for my trouble.
I listened to the cadence of her voice and decided she remained my Harper. To be sure, I asked, “Are you yourself?”
“Think so. No extra voices in my head, just a lot of ringing. Ribs are broken and possibly some fingers. Figures it’s my right hand. Lots of cuts from those razor-winged butterfly things. Won’t know more until my skull stops pounding so I can think.”
“We’ll get you to Dr. Courian.” A few strides took me to where Harper hung from a groove in the channel wall where she’d wedged the fingers of her left hand into the concrete. I bent down at the edge of the waterway and looked her over. Her pale forehead pressed against her crooked elbow as she hung there.
Her long, straight hair flowed behind her, what wasn’t covered in muck shining with the kind of red you’d see on a Christmas bauble, streaked with black—she’d inherited that from her elven grandfather. A dark patch covered what little of her temple I could see around her shoulder. Blood from a blow to the head. Several lacerations crisscrossed her face, and sludge covered her from the neck down.
My gaze remained vigilant for our creature as Dom’s footfalls came from the direction I’d run from, but I found nothing but dirt and stone.
“Tell me again what you saw after the butterflies.” They had to be a figment of her imagination, occurring after her head injury.
“Nothing.” Her head tilted back into the muck.
I reached down and cupped a hand behind her slender neck, searching her feisty winter green eyes for a difference in pupil dilation. “You may have a concussion.” I noted a slight variance in the size of her pupils. “Keep talking to me.”
“Heard water moving and then blam! Lights out. Started to drown and woke up. I really need a toothbrush and a stomach pump. Good thing I’m immune to disease. Thank you, Grandpa.”
I laughed, but it died away under the worry prickling my skin. “What did you hear, then?”
“Oy, um…” She grunted, jerking her eyelids up in an apparent fight for consciousness. “Sort of a whisper, but it didn’t speak any language I know.” She knew many, so that would narrow it down at least. “Then a splash before my face got up close and personal with the wall.”
“Did you hear breathing?”
She remained silent for a moment before answering. “No. Other than you shouting, I heard nothing but the whispers that sounded far away, and then the splash. That’s it.”
“Did hands grab you beneath the surface? Tentacles? Claws?” The more I had her remember while it remained fresh in her mind, the better.
A pause. “Uh…would you think I’m crazy if I said the water kind of wrapped around me like a monkey’s prehensile tail? There was nothing solid. Just the water. My fingers went right through when I went to pry it off. I tried to shoot it, which is when it took my babies.” She snorted and then groaned. “Guess I’m going to have to carry a few extras from now on, huh?”
I smiled and peeled some hairs from her forehead. “I don’t know that your little elf body is big enough to hold any more without you toppling over with the weight of them.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about me, chica. I’ll find a way.”
Of that, I had little doubt.
Dom appeared on the catwalk across the channel, his young clean-shaven face pale, making his blue eyes seem brighter than usual. He’d only been with us for a week so far. This would be his first time participating in the actual hunt, as his primary job was to keep communications open and to be our eyes with the aid of a complex monitoring system.
His jeans had holes large enough to expose his knees, and his black Star Wars T-shirt had orange stains where he’d wiped Dorito cheese from his hands. I’d have to have a word with his grandmother about the contents of his closet, and how did a strapping young man stay so thin when he never stopped eating? Between Harper and her obsession with Pixy Stix and Dom’s chip fetish, I didn’t know which was worse.
“She okay?” He crouched, his gaze bouncing around the corridor and to the ceiling before returning to me. Good, he’d been paying attention. Danger in this city could come from any direction, even from the stone beneath our feet—if the danger happened to be me.
“She’ll live,” I said, “but we need to get her out of here in case the creature comes back. Come on, lift her gently so I can pull her up on the catwalk.”
“What? But where’s the water beast thingy?” Dom’s focus settled on me. “Wait, tell me you’re not telling me to get into that liquid shit.”
“Mouth, Dom. And yes, hurry up.”
“But I paid two hundred bucks for these sneaks in anticipation of my first paycheck, and I am not going in there barefoot. Christ, is that a condom?” He gagged. “You don’t pay me enough to swim in condom and dead rat stew, Lou. No way, forget it.”
“We’ll discuss your salary later.”
A spine curling scream reverberated from farther down the tunnel. It sounded male.
Dom and I stared at each other from across the river of sludge, his eyes as wide as I imagined mine were.
Dun, dun, dun! Stay tuned for the rest of the story, coming soon to virtual bookstores near you.