Today, a special treat for you! I'm stoked to share the first two chapters of The Lightning Luminary with you!
The Lightning Luminary is a multiple POV urban paranormal romance. Each chapter is told in the perspective of a different character. These first two are about Talia and Mason. I hope you enjoy!
~The Lightning Luminary~
Talia arrived at the Financial Offices of Lawrence Jenkins still wondering why she’d been summoned a full two months early.
That wasn’t like him.
Jenkins had been her liaison as long as she’d been Talia Stanley, the twenty-two year old daughter of a wealthy petroleum businessman.
Before that, she’d been Abigail Hawthorne, a businesswoman in Charleston. The earlier ones, Priscilla Betancourt, Evangeline West, Helene Brauer. They ran together like watercolors. Each had their own meaning, their own purpose, but at the end, she couldn’t keep them from mixing. Too much time had passed. She’d been too many people.
Talia Stanley had been one of her longest identities. At least sixty years, maybe seventy.
And in all that time, Lawrence Jenkins had never asked her to his office. Other than their annual conference to discuss her affairs, they had no reason to meet.
Still, she considered him one of her oldest friends. He knew almost nothing about her, but no living person had known her longer.
The elevator released her to the wide open foyer on the top floor. Jenkins Financial was embossed in a delicate silver script across the doorway.
Talia approached the secretary’s desk. A petite woman with a short blonde bob and translucent white top looked up as she entered the high rise office. The secretary looked her up and down, from the toes of her brown leather boots to the ombré color in her hair.
Talia’s appearance was mid-twenties. Her skin was wrinkle free and her hair was still smooth and waved with youth. All too often, strangers thought little of her, assumed her harmless appearance matched her capabilities. This woman narrowed her eyes and prepared to say something rude. Then, as if snapped from a dream, she said, “Oh, good morning, Ms. Stanley.”
The woman bolted up from her seat and escorted Talia down the corridor with crimson carpet and painted seascapes hanging on the walls. “Mr. Jenkins asked that I take you directly to his office.”
The woman fidgeted with her fingers as they walked to the end of the hall. Talia couldn’t decide if she was nervous to be around Talia or Jenkins. When they reached the back corner office, the woman turned the brass knob and held the door open for Talia. “Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Stanley for you.”
Talia held back a gasp when she stepped into the office and caught sight of the man. Where once he’d been a youthful, ambitious man early in his corporate career, there was almost nothing left of that man now. He had lost at least thirty pounds since last she’d seen him, but he sat in his luxurious office chair as if he weighed a ton. The light grey pinstripe suit no longer fit him. Instead, it hung off his shoulders like a boy in his father’s clothes. His chocolate skin looked dull and his head was bald but for a few wiry, wisping grey hairs.
When had he gotten so old?
Jenkins offered her a tired smile. “Good morning, Ms. Stanley.” He waved off his secretary who closed the door and scurried down the hall.
Talia slid into one of the two seats, both fan-back armchairs in a champagne colored fabric with specks of charcoal grey. They’d been in his office for at least a decade though they looked brand new. The desk, too was the same, a mahogany behemoth as big as a mattress and devoid of anything but a sleek metal phone.
She set her scarlet handbag in her lap and waited for Jenkins to begin.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve asked you here.” He leaned back and clasped his hands in his lap. “I know and understand your wishes, but the fact of it is, I’ve decided to retire.”
Talia let out a silent sigh of relief. He could continue to handle her accounts from home. “I’m happy for you. You’ve earned it.” She didn’t mention how her own accounts had contributed to his considerable wealth.
Jenkins shook his head. “I don’t think you understand. I’m not working anymore. Not for you or anyone else.”
The reality crashed into her like a hammer on glass, shattering the world around her. Talia blinked and tried to catch her breath. She wasn’t ready for this. “But, that’s not our arrangement,” she stammered.
She needed more time.
Jenkins nodded. He winced as if it pained him. “I know, Ms. Stanley. You require a minimum of five years notice.”
“There you have it. Five years, then.” It was all settled.
“I tried to tell you. For ten years, I’ve been telling you. I’m getting old. I want to see my grandchildren. My great-grandchildren.”
Talia tightened her grip on her handbag. “You can do all that while you continue managing my accounts. I get five years, as agreed.”
Jenkins pursed his lips and sighed as if she were a petulant child. “I will do everything I can to help you transition to another agent, but as of today, I’m done. I have cancer, Ms. Stanley.”
It was the same, life after life, year after year. Talia had never known the pull of time, had never felt her life draw to a close.
But she knew time was a thief. It snuck up and stole from her. Countless people gone, lifetimes passed by while she remained. In the years of their arrangement, Talia’s money had grown to endless wealth. For the first time in a very long time, she’d been able to stay in one place, been one person for consecutive decades.
Now it was all over.
Talia didn’t know if she was ready to start over. Not again. She didn’t think she had it in her.
The imminent loss of Lawrence Jenkins only made it that much worse.
She choked back her emotion and said, “I’m very sorry to hear that.”
Jenkins seemed calmed by her reaction, as if he expected her to lash out in some way. He settled against the back of his chair and sat with hands clasped for several moments. Then, as if he’d struggled to keep it in, Jenkins blurted out, “You know, Ms. Stanley, I said I wouldn’t ask questions or interfere, but I would like to tell you that you have had a great impact on my life, and for that, I am grateful.” He pulled a small white envelope from the inner pocket of his suit jacket and slid it across the desk. “For when you get home.”
Then, Jenkins reached to the phone and pressed a button. A young, upstart man pushed into the office not ten seconds later. In his black slacks and pressed white shirt rolled to the elbow, he looked like he was born in a corporate office. “Yes, Mr. Jenkins?” He tossed his head to the side to rearrange the walnut locks that threatened to dip into his eyes.
“Please come in, Michael.” He motioned to the other fan-back chair. “Ms. Stanley, this is Michael Higby. He is one of our youngest and one of our best. I could think of no one more suitable to inherit your accounts. Michael, this is Miss Talia Stanley.”
Michael’s dark eyes glimmered as he neared and extended a hand. An affable smile crawled across his cheeks. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Ms. Stanley. I have some exciting ideas about how to move forward with your finances.” His skin was warm and pleasant as she shook his hand.
Talia liked him immediately.
That wasn’t like her at all. Afraid of her own reaction, Talia snapped back her hand.
Michael didn’t seem to notice. “If you would follow me back to my office, we have a few things to go over.”
Talia nodded. She didn’t like it, but what choice did she have? Before she left, she walked around the massive desk and knelt beside Jenkins. On her boots, she wobbled enough that she had to hold herself up with a hand against the desk front. “You’ve been very kind to me all these years. If there is anything I can do for you, please be sure to let me know.” Talia clasped his hand in hers and pressed her lips to his skin as worn as old paper.
Then she stood and walked out the door. She would never see Lawrence Jenkins again. As much as she liked him, he wasn’t the first to be lost and undoubtedly would not be the last. He was another crumpling leaf fallen from her tree. Talia wondered how many more leaves she had left to lose.
Michael Higby either didn’t notice her sorrow or talked to cover it up. On and on he went, though she didn’t pay attention until they arrived at his office. “Mr. Jenkins has done an amazing job with your accounts. The growth percentages are absolutely incredible.”
Talia nodded as reality sank into her once more. “Yes, he was very talented.”
He motioned to a black metal chair positioned across from this matching desk. “You can have a seat if you like, but I won’t keep you long.”
Behind her, he closed the glass door. A silence filled the room. Talia could hear her own pulse in her ears, though she didn’t know why it would be racing. It wasn’t as if she were in danger here. In fact, she hadn’t been in danger in at least three or four centuries.
That didn’t calm the pounding in her hands as she gripped her handbag tighter.
Michael leaned his hip on the edge of his desk and crossed his arms. His casual posture oozed a relaxation she couldn’t make herself feel. “I just wanted to tell you that I understand your requirements. I will only contact you once a year, on March the first. I will not maintain any records of your accounts or identity electronically. Your files will be completely on paper and held in my personal safe. I will always maintain complete confidentiality, even within this office. I will never ask any questions.”
“Thank you, Mr. Higby.” She nodded and tried to quiet the feeling something wasn’t right. Everything was fine. This was a change she hadn’t expected, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t handle it.
She could still run.
Did she have it in her to run again? Who was she running from? Were any of them still left?
And then, like the drop of a hammer, Michael uttered the words she’d dreaded for centuries. “My price is slightly different than Jenkins’s.”
Talia scowled at him. “And why would that be?”
“Because I know certain things.” He paused for a brief moment before leaning toward her and whispering, “Callidora.”
As was her practice, she kept her features neutral, refusing to admit to anything, but if he had somehow learned her name, there was little she could do to deny it. He had her accounts. He knew she’d lived in New York for more than sixty years and yet she looked in her mid-twenties. No amount of modern surgical procedures could account for such a discrepancy.
Talia was found. Somehow. She didn’t even want to know how.
“What do you want?” She shot him eyes like daggers knowing he probably didn’t care.
“Ten million dollars. That’s not too high a price for my silence, is it?”
His smirk made her want to retch but nonetheless, she didn’t have a choice. She could kill him outright in this office, suck his last breath from his lungs and explain it all away as some terrible accident. No one would believe what she could do.
But she would still have to worry. Still have to run, unknowing who or what might be looking for her, though of course it would always lead back to Hadrian.
She had but one option. So Talia agreed. “Done.” Talia stood to leave, but offered him one last remark.
“If I should find out you betrayed me, I will kill you. Not quietly, not in your sleep. From a thousand miles away, I will make sure you suffer a pain-filled death. You have my word.”
Talia’s threats were enough to break his mask of confidence for a few short seconds before he regained his crooked smile. “Then we have ourselves a deal, Ms. Stanley.”
Michael walked her to the office doors and pressed the elevator button for her. He pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to her. “If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me.” To anyone else, he sounded like a warm financial planner seeing off one of his many wealthy clients.
Talia was tempted to roll up the card in her hand and throw it on the floor in front of him, just to spite him, but she didn’t. Someday, she might need him. Michael Higby wasn’t the worst of her enemies. He could be bought and paid for, and Talia had no attachment to money. If she thought it would mean living her life in peace, she would give him every last cent.
But she knew, sooner or later, Michael would come back to her for more money. And again, she’d pay him. Again and again, as long as it took before he decided he would sell her secrets anyway.
Talia had no choice but to leave New York. To start over and find somewhere else to hide. To find a new narrow network of trusted humans. The mere thought of it made her blood boil with anger and her fingers tingle with energy eager to be expelled. Talia would have to release some of it before it got the better of her.
With one hand on the cool metal wall of the elevator box, Talia released just enough energy to override the control panel. The elevator plummeted to the ground floor, missing each and every level despite how the other two passengers pounded on the buttons. She crossed the lobby, her high-heeled boots stomping on the large marble tiles.
Outside, the chill stung her face, but it didn’t quell the fire.
Static sparks jumped between her fingertips.
Talia stomped toward the subway train. It would be the fastest way home. She couldn’t wait. If she didn’t expel it soon, it would explode out of her. It would expose her. It would ruin everything.
The nineteenth of January. Mason couldn’t help but think about his mother.
His arms pulled through the water. His feet kicked and propelled him forward. He turned his head enough to take in one last desperate gasp. His muscles burned with lack of oxygen as he asked them to do more than they could.
In his chest, starved lungs burned and begged him to surface, to draw in a breath before it was too late. He needed air, but he was so close.
Then, his fingers felt the cool smoothness of ceramic.
The pool’s edge.
Mason grasped the ledge and pulled himself up onto his elbows. Ragged, heated breaths flew into his lungs. His chest heaved in the water.
He was getting old.
No, he was only twenty-two.
Then again, that was pretty old for a Rathbone.
“Looking a little rough there, Mace.” Quinn sat on the ledge in the next lane over in nothing but the tight trunks they both wore to their daily swim practice. Trickles of water ran from his dark hair down his chiseled, Native American features.
Quinn’s breaths were quick, too, but there was no sign of struggle. While Mason had pushed hard—maybe too hard—to finish his laps, Quinn smiled with the ease of it.
“That was—a little rough.” There was no denying it. His uneven breaths were all the evidence needed. He would have to work a little harder to get back into his peak shape. Or take a step back from swimming.
“So you’re buying tonight. Where we headed?” Quinn rubbed his palms together in anticipation for his well-earned round of drinks. For as long as he’d lived in Manhattan, Mason and Quinn had gone to the Y to shred some laps before work, frequently betting his bar tab. Mason was a natural born swimmer, a fish.
He should have known better than to bet today. He was really off kilter.
Then he remembered the date. Mason shook his head. “Rain check.”
“No way. Your turn. You lost.”
Quinn pressed his lips together and nodded. “Sorry, man. I forgot. It’s already the nineteenth? Damn. Feels like New Year’s was yesterday. What happened with that girl?”
Mason pulled himself onto the ledge and wiped some of the water from his face. “What girl?”
“The one from Lance’s party. Red head. She had some silver thing in her hair. Megan or something.”
Mason shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t want to admit he’d forgotten about her, that he had trouble telling one old hook-up from another.
“Kicked her out?” Quinn laughed.
“Yeah. I don’t like them staying the night. No thanks.”
“How are you ever going to get a good girl if you kick them out?”
“I don’t need a good girl.”
“Just a girl for the night?” Quinn socked him in the shoulder.
Mason teetered and laughed. “That’s the idea.”
“Shit, it’s already eight. I gotta head to work. Tell Sam I said hi. And for god’s sake, ask that girl on a proper date.” Quinn clapped him on the back and jogged to the locker room.
Mason sat on the pool edge and sulked. The nineteenth of January. His mother’s day, the day that fucking cancer left her sick and frail, vomiting and pale before it stole her from his life. The last person he had left.
It wasn’t fair. He would never think it was fair.
By the time he scraped himself from the tile and trudged to the locker room, there was no sign of Quinn. Mason threw himself in for a cool shower, toweled off, and slid into the sleek suit required at work. Charcoal grey slacks and jacket, crisp white shirt, royal blue tie. The works.
On his phone, a text from Samantha: Still on for dinner, asshat?
Mason chuckled. Hell yeah. Stanley’s at 9. Hooker.
Then, it was time for reality. Mason pulled on his khaki trench and checked his reflection in the locker room mirror. His suit was on point, his blonde hair was slicked back. Swimming offered him broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Mason looked like he had his shit together.
Too bad he didn’t feel that way. He slung his bag over his shoulder and started the trek to work.
Outside, the harsh winter wind sucked at his suit. It was warmer than most mornings, a few degrees over freezing, but the wind cut through him like a blade. He held his coat shut as he navigated the busy streets.
From the Y, he had six long blocks in the frigid air, two trains, and another two blocks to his office at Newcastle Pub. Snow clung to the edges of buildings and sat piled at the curbs. A plume of breath trailed after him as he hurried between lamp posts and homeless guys curled against trashcans.
Mason passed dozens of people, maybe hundreds, but as always, he was alone. Men clutched their briefcases. Women clacked along in heels that were all wrong for the cold. Each and every one held their phones like a lifeline.
What was it with this city? People acted like it was a crime to say ‘good morning’ or something. It would never makes sense to him. Then again, he was a backwoods country boy from Pennsylvania. He was the foreigner here.
Maybe it wasn’t them. Maybe it was him.
Maybe the date was messing with him. January nineteenth. Three years gone. Maybe Quinn was right. Maybe it was time to get serious about Samantha.
He would see her for dinner tonight, as he did every year on the anniversary of his mom’s death. It would be the perfect opportunity to start things up again. If that’s what he wanted.
Mason could feel his still-wet hair start to freeze up as he walked into the subway terminal. The surfaces were so embedded with century old dirt, he kept his hands in his pockets, afraid to catch some life-threatening illness.
The F train platform was full of people but empty of trains. Too-yellow lights cast the space in a squat, spoiled glow. From the tunnel, he could hear the hum of other trains further down, whirring along the tracks.
To Mason, it was Antarctica. Cold as fuck. Filled with penguins, dressed in the same suit, waddling around, always the same, day in and day out. At least the penguins had an egg. He had nothing. Nothing important, anyway.
Propped against an old subway pillar, a kid played the violin. He was sixteen, maybe seventeen. His hair was braided in rows that dripped down over his shoulders and his hands worked the bow like he’d been playing for centuries. He wore an oversized hoodie and baggy pants, like all the punk kids on the streets. Poor kid probably had everything he owned in that ratty old duffel bag he sat on.
In the eternity between trains, Mason let the music lull him. He couldn’t keep his eyes off the kid, the way his hands moved, the way his fingers knew right where to press. His mother had always loved that sort of thing. A true fan of the orchestra, she would tell everyone.
The date was making him sentimental.
Still, he watched, mesmerized. The kid played with his eyes closed, he shoulders swaying with the motion of the bow and the rhythm of the song.
Mason didn’t realize he’d drifted away from reality until a woman crossed in front of him. She dropped a hundred dollar bill into the kid’s violin case.
But that was hardly what made him notice her.
She had chocolate brown hair that cascaded down her shoulders, wavy without curls. Her hands were elegant and had warm olive skin. When she turned around, she was a stunning beauty. Wide almond eyes, full pink lips. The kind of girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day.
Mason could only watch as she adjusted her designer bag on her arm and moved off to the side. Elegant sweater the color of cream. Tight-fitted black pants tucked into her knee-high leather boots.
Confident as he was, Mason didn’t even try. Why bother? Sure, he had a swimmer’s physique, a steady job as a book cover designer with a prominent publishing house, a decent apartment he shared with a roommate. But women like her would never have interest in him.
Mason focused on the music until it was drowned out by train wheels. The silver body of the F train shot out from the tunnel and screeched to a stop, right on schedule. Flimsy metal doors released an exodus of New Yorkers onto the platform. A woman in a fur lined coat. A man in a fedora. A guy in some sort of industrial coveralls. On and on they came.
As soon as the coast was clear, Mason stepped onto the train. To his right, the woman with the handbag found a spot by the rail.
Not a moment later, the doors slammed shut and the train took off. Through the windows, Mason watched as dozens of angry people stood on the platform and watched the train go by. They had every reason to be pissed. They’d been robbed of thirty vital seconds to board. It would be another fifteen minutes for the next train.
Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad day after all.
He shared the subway car with the violin kid, his instrument cased and stowed between his legs. A woman who could have been alive in the time of Jesus. A man read an actual, authentic newspaper like it was the nineties. Then, the woman with the handbag. Her hand was wrapped around the handrail and her arm hung at the angle perfected by Beverly Hills housewives.
Damn she was gorgeous.
When the woman looked over at him, he noticed the pissed off tension in her jaw. He’d been caught staring. Mason looked away as if that would change it.
Oh well, only two stops until he changed trains.
But the train didn’t stop. It flew past the 96th street station as if it had never been there. Again, Mason watched perplexed commuters stare at the train that passed them by.
A pinch of pain appeared behind his eyes. White spots hovered on the edge of his vision. Too much movement. Mason moved his gaze from the windows to his fellow passengers.
The violin kid looked up at him with interest.
“How long have you been playing?” Mason motioned to the instrument.
The kid shrugged. “A couple years.”
“That’s pretty impressive. Do you have a tutor or anything?”
He pulled his lips into a sly smile and shook his head. “Nah. Just gotta feel it.”
Mason looked up in time to see his stop sail past. The pain intensified as he watched the people stare, their faces a blur as the train sped along.
“How old are you?”
“Sixteen. How old are you?” The kid shot him a pointed look.
Mason smiled despite the pain in his head, growing larger with each passing minute. “Uh, twenty-two.” He winced against the pressure behind his right eye.
“You don’t look so hot, old man.” He half-smiled at his own barb.
Mason shook his head in denial. “I’m fine. Just missed my stop. What’s your name?”
“Elijah Walker, the third.”
Mason smiled and held out his hand. They shook hands as he said, “Mason Rathbone, the first. Nice to meet you. You always play subway platforms?”
Elijah scoffed. “Hell no. Outside concert halls and sports arenas mostly. I’m playing at the City Center on Friday. They got a show. Some kind of piper.”
“The Pied Piper?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mason chuckled and watched the third station go by. The pain in his head sharpened, like someone inserting a sliver of glass into his eye. He couldn’t keep his discomfort from his face.
“You look like the Hudson.”
“Like a steaming river of shit.”
Mason tried to laugh. It was actually pretty funny. But he could think of only the pain. Was he having some sort of breakdown? Maybe a stroke?
Or maybe he had cancer like his mom. Those things ran in families, right?
He swallowed back the pain and pretended it was stress. Mason had every reason to be stressed. He’d outlived his entire family. He had dinner with Samantha tonight. That could be enough to make his brain explode, couldn’t it?
If only he could get off the damn train. He needed his feet back on solid ground. Some sort of adult-onset motion sickness, maybe.
But of course, he had no such luck. The train sailed past yet another crowded station.
Mason sank to his knees. He squeezed his head between his hands and tried to keep from screaming.
He pressed his palms to his temples, afraid his brain might be physically leaking out of his head.
Then it happened. A pop. Inside his head, something let loose. Like a pin pulled from a grenade, searing pain filled every cavity in his skull, seeped into every seam.
Mason knew he was going to die.
Somewhere in the distance, metal screeched. The train lurched and threw Mason to the floor. The impact registered, but barely, a whisper of pain in the hurricane of screaming in his mind. Only when he saw his own blood pool before him did he relax.
This was it.
He was dying.
In a matter of seconds, the black smothered him. Everything was gone. Everything except that prick of pain behind his right eye.