Excerpt: Community Service

So I’m still trying to come up with my next JMED essay, but in the meantime, I figure I can whet your appetite for the next book in the Broken Mirrors series with this small section from Community Service. The only introduction it needs is that Community Service will be switching POVs between James and Spencer, and this section is from Spencer’s POV.

Note: Excerpt may differ slightly from the final product.

Community Service will be released on May 7th, and is available for pre-order.

“What’s going on, Spencer?” There are bags under his green eyes, his red hair mussed just on the right side of attractive, save the white streak that’s plastered to his forehead. He also sounds annoyed, but sorcerers always sound like that at four thirty in the morning, for some reason. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Time for breakfast? And some coffee? God, I need coffee. Could you let me in, I’ll even get it started.” I don’t give him a chance to refuse. It’s not like Coyotes need an invitation, so I slide past him and head out into the diner proper, getting the coffee pots ready while James follows me. “Don’t suppose you can conjure a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster?”

He gives me a blank look.

“Jesus, James. Hitchhiker’s. I cannot believe you’ve never read it.”

“I’m just not into satire, okay? Now what’s going on?” He sits at the counter, oblivious to Bank and Thornton who are outside.

I glance back at him. “Regular for you, right?” I pour in the water, set the machine to percolating.

“Spence, just spill it so I can get around to talking to you about something?”

I peer at him. “Wait, you’re giving me the ‘we need to talk’? Don’t we need to have sex at least once before you break up with me?”

He grumbles. “We’re not—” The sorcerer takes a deep breath. “I’m happy alone, okay? I don’t have the best track record and I don’t want to inflict it on someone else.”

I turn, leaning against the counter. “What are the odds you’ll go out with another guy who gets…” I don’t finish the sentence. No one wants to be reminded that both serious relationships in their life ended with a scissor blade through their lover’s heart. “You need time, I get it. In the meantime, could you get the grill going?” I motion to the front doors. “My buddies are hungry.”

James looks back through the window at Bank and Thornton, who wave and smile genially. He rolls his eyes. “What, recharging before you get back to the threesome?”

What is it with people thinking I’d want to sleep with my brother? I blame the Internet. “Dude. Sick.”

“The guy with the extra arms is okay, I guess, but Dave has a strict No Coyotes policy, remember?”

Right. I guess a Coyote swindled the dragon out of his hoard, and he’s a tad bitter about it. Dragons love their money, which is why they’re such tempting (and easy) targets for us. Even if we don’t make a dime, it’s worth boo coo goodie points with Fate. “Fine, I’ll use the rest of my free meals to cover him.”

He exhales hard, but nods. “Go let them in, I’ll tell Dave to stay upstairs.”

James heads into the back while I go to the door and unlock it. I point them toward a booth, which my brother lugs his duffel bag toward. “I can get us coffee, food’s going to be a while. And, Thornton?”

The Coyote looks at me. “Yeah?”

“Is this diner familiar at all to you?”

He takes in the surroundings. “No idea, I’ve eaten at a lot of diners. I think Dad took you here, right?” Yeah, and Dad skipped out on the check. Thornton suddenly grins. “Wait, is this the place the dragon owns? Wow, I took so much money off that moron.”

Why am I not surprised that it was him?

“Yeah, I don’t want the owner recognizing you just in case, okay? Just…cloak up or something.”

He shrugs and closes his eyes, concentrating, his appearance shimmering before me, the Coyote features vanishing, taking on a human appearance. Gentle green eyes with a hint of mischief, medium-length brown hair in a mussed-up curtain style, light beard and goatee, casual attire, all attractive, of course. It’s a handy trick we Coyotes can pull off. To most humans and mythics we can look however we want so long as we’ve seen the clothing or hairstyle or whatever. It’s because of this I can wear tailored Armani suits whenever I want. Really, there’s only one kind of person who can see through it.

“So, what do you three want? It’s going to be a long while because the grill’s heating up.” James glances at Thornton. “By the way, that’s the most obvious cloak I’ve ever seen. No one’s going to believe that a Hollywood actor’s eating at a diner in Beckettsville.”

Sorcerers. It’s because of James that I don’t just put on a cloak over my boxers and shoes and head out for the day. I sit next to Bank, since the other side has Thornton and his duffel bag.

Bank orders—coffee, black, keep it coming, a generally simple meal of scrambled eggs and toast—and thanks James sincerely for opening early after giving him a five-dollar tip. If there’s one thing Bank knows how to do, it’s treat people in the service industry like people. No one wants to make anything complicated coming on five in the morning.

Thornton chews his lower lip. “Uh, I need a minute, but coffee would be great to start me out.” James nods, writing it down. Thornton tics his head toward him while looking at me. “So, you hitting that?”

“What, James? God no.”

He tilts his head. “Wait, what? But, he’s a sorcerer, so he’s the hero, you’re obviously the sidekick. I mean, the unresolved sexual tension alone…”

Finally someone says it. “I know, right? After six months I should’ve been living a ‘True Confessions’ letter to SlashFan International.

He shrugs with a grin. “Well, maybe you’re just not what he goes for. He could be looking for someone charismatic, more mature, a bit dangerous, can affect a decent London accent.” Thornton reaches over the table and pats my cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how he was.”

I stare daggers at him. “Not if I do him first, you won’t.”

An aggravated sigh comes from our right. “I’m standing right here, you know.” James then glances at Thornton, his voice slipping into a natural British accent, Oxford, as he puts it. “And I don’t go for Londoners.” He looks to me. “Or tricksters. I want to be left alone.” He storms off, and we both watch him leave, Bank suddenly finding the street outside very interesting.

Thornton mutters. “Damn it.”

Bank chuckles. “Got you pegged, sounds like.”

Thornton shakes his head. “No, it’s not that.”

I nod in assent to my brother, half-chiding myself for slipping back into the rhythm we had before. “He had to go and say it, didn’t he?”

Bank looks between the two of us. “What are you two talking about?”

Thornton, like me, is a Bard, which is the reason he’s as smooth as he is and understands television tropes almost as well as I do. Turn on any TV show or watch any movie, and if someone says that they only want to be left alone, it can only mean one thing…

The Coyote grits his teeth. “Twenty bucks says he falls for our mark, and Spencer here has to make a decision between money and friendship.”

“My twenty says he meets the love of his life in the next forty-eight hours and following a whirlwind romance and a hair-raising adventure, they move in together after say…a week.” I snort derisively. “So much for crashing on his couch.”

Bank blinks, looking between the two of us. “Or…he just wants to be alone.” He watches James pour the coffee. “And is spitting in your joe as we speak.”

I get up. “He wanted to talk to me about something, anyway. A sidekick’s work is never done.”

James is behind the counter, turned away from me. I clear my throat.

“So, I’m sorry to put you out like this. I wasn’t expecting either of them to show up, especially the Coyote. Figured that part of my life was over. This is probably a bad time to ask if I can crash on your futon…” James still isn’t looking at me. “You’re mad. I can see that. So just get it off your chest and we’ll all feel better.”

“He didn’t want to see me.”

Okay, a little cognitive dissonance there. “Huh?”

He turns to face me. “Cale.” His eyes are a bit red. “Cale didn’t want to see me.”

Cale is the last guy James dated, also the last Ra’keth who had a reign lasting longer than six hours. According to James, he died in his arms, but since sorcerers are sorcerers and glibly flip off the laws of reality, he gets a “conjugal visit” in Hades four times a year.

Because yeah, that’s healthy.

But he’s my friend.

I move around the counter and hug him, keep it outside of embrace territory, he doesn’t fight it. “Jesus, I’m sorry, man. But, it has been over a year since… Standard mourning period’s a year and a day, right? We’re, like, way past that.”

He pulls away, lower lip trembling. I raise my hands in surrender.

“I don’t want to upset you. How about we change the subject, huh? Like…what you wanted to talk to me about in the first place, unless it was to tell me about Cale.”

He shakes his head. “No, I might need your help. I still need to do my research, figure out everything. Finally got my first assignment from Hades, so I can work off some of my sentence.”

This would be an excellent means of getting out of dealing with Thornton, but I don’t want to consider the consequences of leaving Bank alone with him. Then again, it’s the job of the sidekick to overextend. “Sure, James, anything you need, just give me a call.” I lean in, interested, hushing my voice. “So, what’s the score? Who’re you after?”

He manages a chuckle. “You’re not going to believe this, but some guy who’s been hopping bodies to get out of dying? He hopped into a vampire.”

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