Nine Lives (Book Three in the Bad Tom Series), continues to push itself out from my fintertips in good time. I have set the launch date for April. It may happen before that. In any case, I expect to have the preorder option up within the next few weeks.
To celebrate, here is the first chapter of the book, to give you an idea of what’s to come. I know a lot of you will be pleased to have Cassie back in action again, so I started this one in her voice instead of Tom’s. Bear in mind that this chapter hasn’t been through copyediting or proofreading yet, so there may be changes before publication and/or mistakes that haven’t been corrected yet.
“Dash?” I call out, as I unlock the front door to the gallery. But my elegant, elderly boss doesn’t appear. I’d decided to show up a little early today since Tom’s goodbye kisses have a bad habit of making me late most days. Although, obviously, I didn’t skip the kisses. That would be no fun. I just started them early.
I want to let Dash get out of here for an extra long lunch with Jon. It’s about time he gets a chance to linger with his partner like he tolerates me lingering with mine. But he’s not here. That’s weird.
The gallery is never locked at this time of day. We’ll miss the lunch crowd, although you’d really have to call it more of a lunch trickle. But still, even a trickle can produce possible buyers. We like buyers: now that Dash has the gallery back in his name free and clear, he’s really excited about it again. It’s fun to work for someone who’s so enthusiastic about what he does.
“Dash?” I call again, and there’s the tiniest sound of a shuffle in the back room. I push aside the colorful patterned silk curtain that separates the gallery from the employee room and storage areas.
Okay, there’s something I’ve never seen before. A trap door in the floor? The oriental rug that covers it must be doing its job. I never realized there was anything beneath it.
Wait…I remember. Tom told me there’s a hidden storage room below the gallery for a very special object. Dash helped Tom and the others hide Anat’s evil boxes there when they were trying to figure out how to get her spirit out of my body. Which is a something I really don’t want to think about. But hidden treasures in the basement, though—that might be interesting. Do I go down?
Sure, why not? It’s open, and he knew I’d be in for work any minute. I mean, I’m not usually that late. And Tom said he couldn’t tell me what was stored down there because he promised Dash he wouldn’t. Now’s my chance to find out what the big secret is.
The stairs are steep and the risers are narrow. Not much light, either. The only slit of it comes from around an almost closed door at the bottom of the stairs.
I hold the handrail as I cautiously make my way downward step by step. “Dash? Are you down here?”
The only answer is a long, low, quiet growl.
I stop with one foot frozen in the air, unable to finish my next step.
Just as I unfreeze and start to back up the stairs, my chest tight and adrenalin coursing through my body, spurred on by all the things I’m imagining could be down there, Dash’s head and shoulder appears, peeking out around the half-closed door.
“Cass?” he asks. “Oh my, you gave us quite a turn.”
He looks disheveled—even his dyed-black mustache isn’t perfectly pomaded up at the ends in homage to Salvador Dali like it usually is. It droops above his upper lip.
Then Jon pops his head out above Dash’s shoulder, smoothing down his normally perfectly-coiffed white hair. “Hello, Cass. You’ve come across us unawares, I’m afraid. Can we have a moment, do you think?”
Oh great—I’ve interrupted the boss’s freak time. That growl? Wow. A little role play? I try not to think about it. Despite that, I’m imagining the guys dressed up in something furry. Ew.
This coming from a woman whose boyfriend is a werecat and gets furry as a way of life. I mean, really—who am I to judge? I turn and make my way back up the stairs with a little smirk on my face. Good for them. I hope Tom and I are still as much in love when we’re that age.
I busy myself with the dusting, making sure I get the backs of the frames the way Dash likes. I’d like to go into the back room to grab the step stool and really get into it, but I don’t want to leave the gallery unattended with Dash still not appearing.
When he does appear, he looks a little out of it, still not quite himself. Not nervous like he usually is, just…I don’t know. Absent? Jon follows him and has pretty much the same expression.
“So, sorry about that guys,” I say. “I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”
Dash says, “Never enter the downstairs again unless I tell you to. There will be consequences if you do. Grave consequences.” He’s like Mr. Serious all of a sudden. So not like Dash.
“Really, I’m sorry. I promise I won’t do it again. I just…well, I got here early so you guys could have a longer lunch than usual. A special treat, you know?”
His tight expression loosens a little, and then Jon puts a hand on his shoulder and gives it a squeeze, and they’re all back to normal. Dash gives me a smile. “That’s thoughtful of you, Cass. Of course we’d love to spend some extra time together. It may be one of the last warmish days to take a walk around town.”
He looks back at Jon, who adds, “True, and we wouldn’t want to waste it.” They exit the shop, Jon’s hand still on Dash’s shoulder.
Thank goodness that storm didn’t last long. And no way am I ever going near that hatch again. I don’t care what’s down there, I love this job. I’d rather deal with a zombie apocalypse than Dash’s mustache-quivering anger. But I bet Tom gets a good laugh out of the story!
© 2015 by Jill Nojack