We’re only two weeks away from the release of The Angel Who Wasn’t. As usual, I’m providing the first chapter of the book…and this week, I really can provide the first full chapter!
1: A Visit from Dr. Michael Jones
The tall man in the front passenger seat of the black Ford Explorer hadn’t spoken since they had left the outskirts of Calgary behind. Not that he had been super chatty before then, either. But he was not asleep, for Harley could see his head swiveling, as he took in the mountains ahead of them, and the heavy growth of jack pines, wolf willow, tamaracks and black spruce that lined both sides of the narrow Highway 40 they were on. To anyone but Falconer residents, Highway 40’s other name was Forestry Trunk Road. Once the road reached Falconer, though, it became Mountain Avenue.
It was possible Dr. Jones was struck speechless by the Canadian Rockies soaring over them. Many people were, the first time they saw them. But Harley got the impression he was absorbing a lot more than picturesque views as they got closer to Falconer.
The Explorer belonged to Akicita Frazer, Falconer’s mayor. It was the only vehicle in town with rear bucket seats, which were the only car seats Harley could use. A bench seat gave Harley nowhere to put her wings. With the bucket seat, she could tuck the ends of her wings down either side of the seat.
As Harley could not legally drive, for she had no official driver’s license, and as she had refused to make Michael Jones sit in the back seat on the ninety-minute journey from Calgary International Airport to Falconer, Akicita had loaned Falconer’s miniscule police department her new car.
Bohdan and Harley had arrived at the airport just as the flight from Madrid landed, so their wait for the doctor had been minimal. It had been a strategic decision to arrive so late, for in the few short minutes they’d stood watching the international arrival doors opening to spill passengers onto the public concourse, Harley’s wings had attracted attention. Plus, in here, she couldn’t wear her sunglasses, which meant the fiery red dots of horny skin over her brows—the markers all Old Ones of the Fire element shared—were highly visible, too.
There were no other Old Ones anywhere in the concourse, so Harley’s presence drew the gaze of everyone waiting for new arrivals. People did classic double-takes, or murmured behind their hands, or tried hard to look like they were doing anything but stare at her. Children tugged on parents’ sleeves and pointed.
As the arrival doors opened once more, Bohdan swayed toward her and murmured, “At least they’re not asking you to leave.” For the airport’s internal security staff were hovering, also carefully not staring at her.
Harley grimaced. “The uniforms are probably making them hesitate.” For they both wore the simple black uniform of the Falconer police department—plain black button-through shirts with the town’s emblem hand embroidered by one of the nimble-fingered folk of Falconer over the breast. Black cargo pants and black steel-toed boots with high-grip rubber soles, and a thick black belt with a utility pouch where Harley kept the current burner phone, and loops that normally held blackjacks and other items they’d left in the car.
Harley’s shirt had two splits up the back, so she could thread it over her wings. Velcro held the splits together under her wings, so the shirt looked perfectly normal. Harley’s friend, Noel ap Tailor, had figured out how to adapt human clothes for Old Ones, and earned herself the gratitude of the entire town, including Harley.
The uniforms were simple enough, but they declared Bohdan and Harley to be law enforcement officers, even without stripes and metal badges and peaked hats. Their appearance would be giving the airport security guards pause.
“That has to be him,” Bohdan said, nodding with his head and drawing Harley’s attention to the arrival doors.
The man moving through them was tall and might have been called slender, except his shoulders were wide. Short black hair lay in loose curls, over pale features and very black eyes, which scanned the hall. Then his gaze found Harley. He smiled and lifted his hand, and changed directions to head toward them. He carried only a single duffel bag.
His smile widened as he reached them. “The wings work even better than a name card, don’t they? Prynhawn da, Harley von Canmore.” His Welsh accent was not nearly as strong as it was on their Zoom calls, but his precise pronunciation and lovely tenor remained.
She found herself grinning back. “You finally made it to my place. It’s great to meet you in person, Michael.” She waved toward Bohdan. “This is Bohdan Kask, one of my two deputies.”
“And your driver,” Bohdan added. He nodded at Michael Jones. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Doc.”
Michael Jones’ smile was easy. “And I look forward to hearing a lot about you and Falconer, Officer Kask.”
“I’m just Bohdan. We don’t stand on ceremony much in Falconer.” He stirred. “Can I take the bag for you?” He glanced at Harley. “If we drive out in the next ten minutes, we’ll duck another hour’s parking charge.”
“I need a fast walk to stretch out,” Michael said, hanging onto the bag. “Commercial plane seats aren’t designed for someone my height.”
“Or someone with my wings,” Harley added. “Let’s go before security gets up the guts to ask us to leave.”
It had been just after three p.m. when Bohdan eased the Explorer out onto the Calgary freeway system that would deliver them onto the Queen Elizabeth II highway and, after that, a series of minor highways to Falconer.
It was close to four-thirty as Bohdan steered the Explorer into the long slow curve to the northwest that came just before the near-hairpin turn the road took to run across the Red Deer River and into town.
“We’re supposed to stop at Moira’s, remember, boss?” Bohdan said quietly.
“Then we’d better stop,” Harley said lightly.
“Moira…Falconer?” Michael said, clearly dredging the full name from their conversations over the last few months. “The Grand Dame of Falconer?” He bent around the seat to look at Harley. “I’m to be presented?”
“She’s not like that,” Harley assured him.
Bohdan snorted. “Yeah, she is.”
Harley wrinkled her nose at Bohdan, which he would see in the rear view mirror. “Not since she emerged.”
Michael glanced at her once more. “A dryad, right? Not the fae she insisted she would be?”
Bohdan slowed the Explorer and turned into the long driveway that led to Moira Falconer’s ancestral home.
Harley smiled. She couldn’t help it. “Moira is more than happy to be a dryad.”
Michael raised a brow and turned back to look through the windscreen. “I see.”
To the right of the graveled driveway were the formal gardens that had been made decades ago, and lovingly maintained by Moira and her staff. It was June and the gardens were coming to their peak for the summer. The shrubs and plants were green and fresh, with glorious profusions of blooms—white, blue, red, pink, yellow and all shades in between. Harley spotted butterflies and bees and other pollinators, including a rare hummingbird, all flitting busily between blooms. Birds chittered, crickets buzzed, their sounds filtering through the windows of the Explorer.
Michael opened the window on his side, and the sounds jumped in volume. “This reminds me of the La Mancha Forest, back home. Only, the trees are different, here.”
“That’s new,” Bohdan said, pointing through the screen. He was indicating a massive tree in the middle of the formal garden.
Harley stared at it, startled, for it was new. Yet it was huge. It looked as though it had been there for centuries. The branches at the bottom of the tree stretched out for meters on either side, while the canopy of broad green leaves rose in a graduating crown, twenty meters or more above the ground.
Its aerial roots sprawled right across what had been Moira’s beloved rose garden beds, as if the tree had been plunked down in the middle of them, with a complete lack of concern for what it would stand upon.
“That’s…weird,” Harley murmured. “I have no idea what type of tree it is. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That,” Michael Jones said, with a note of authority, “is a white oak, the tallest of the oak trees. It’s got a few feet left to grow, I suspect.”
“You’ve seen them before?” Bohdan asked.
“Thousands of them. Most of the Old Ones’ forest outside Toledo is made up of oaks. This is the first sign of the Old Ones I’ve seen since I landed. If Harley hadn’t been waiting in the airport, I wouldn’t have known Canada had any Old Ones until this moment.” He sounded very satisfied.
“And they just…explode out of nowhere like this?” Harley asked.
“I’ve never seen them grow,” Michael said. “But they do seem to just appear between one day and the next. We have one in our back yard that belongs to Delta. I never actually saw it grow despite watching it for hours, once. Yet every day it was meters taller and wider.”
“Delta is a dryad, yes?” Harley said.
“Yes. The tree was gifted to her as an acorn, by the fae who runs the Forest.” Michael glanced at the oak tree, which was nearly behind them now. “I’m guessing this oak is Moira’s.”
Bohdan steered the car around the formal drive that encircled a birdbath, in front of the large stone house, over to the strip of gravel that served as a parking lot for visitors. Three other cars were already there. Bohdan pulled up next to them and turned off the engine.
They got out and all three of them stretched hard. Michael stared up at the house, his hands digging into the small of his back.
“We’re going straight around to the back,” Harley told him. “That’s where everyone will be.”
Michael stepped out of the way and waved her onward.
The path around the house was concrete, with pretty shrubs and plants crowding the edges. As they progressed around to the back, though, the plants changed from purely decorative to more useful—from nodding flowers to aromatic herbs and grasses.
Harley paused where the path bent to run up to the high verandah at the back of the house, for a new path verged off to the right, its concrete an unstained, smooth grey.
“My good lord…” Michael murmured, examining the land spread before them.
The market garden that Moira Falconer had begun in March, with the determination to feed as many Falconer folk as possible, had gone ahead even while she had transformed and adjusted to her new identity as a dryad. Now the hectares of old farmers’ fields were well tended rows of vegetables, fruit and nut trees.
At their far edge, the Red Deer river twinkled in the late afternoon sun.
“This place was bare ground, last I saw it,” Bohdan murmured. “Not even my babusya got her potatoes that tall by June.”
“The touch of a dryad, perhaps,” Michael said softly.
Moving among the rows, weeding, watering and tending the plants, were dozens of Falconer people. None of them were human. As they watched, a water leaper flapped up into the air and hovered over a row of bush beans and sprayed it with water from his mouth.
An orc strode up to them, carrying a weeding tool that had been adapted with a larger handle, so his clawed hands could hold it. “Chief Canmore,” he said gruffly.
“Giusto,” Harley returned.
“They don’t have you fixing the soil, then?” Michael asked, his tone curious.
The orc glanced at him. “I do, when there’s need to loosen up the soil, but all that was done weeks ago.”
“It’s a very short growing season here,” Bohdan added. “You gotta get stuff in the ground as soon as its safe, or you won’t get a harvest.”
Michael scratched the back of his head. “I’m not a gardener at all,” he confessed. “But no one talks about growing seasons and safe weather in Toledo. They plant and harvest all the time.”
Giusto tilted his head. “I’d feel spoiled, growing things all year round.”
“This is Giusto of Napoli,” Harley told Michael. “Moira’s gardening director. He’s responsible for the market garden and the people that work in it.”
“Giusto,” Michael said, with a nod. “Does working during the day mess with your sleep cycle?”
“I just started for the day,” Giusto said. “These long days, I can work from sunrise to around eight. Then from about four to sunset. Moira takes over when I clock off for the day’s sleep. She dug up the concrete in one of her cellars, so I’ve got an apartment right here. It’s good work.” He lifted his clawed, bare feet. “I get to stand in dirt all day.”
“It is good work,” Michael said, his tone one of agreement. “You were a gardener before?”
Giusto grinned, making his tusks lift and spread. “Market gardener. I had a spread outside Airdrie, growing tomatoes mostly. But this…” He waved toward the rows of vegetables. “…is a lot different from the commercial methods we had to use. No chemicals, no single row of one kind of veggie…they’re all mixed in. Companion planting, they call it.” He scratched delicately under his black chin with the tip of one claw. “By the time Moira was done with her compost and vermicompost and dropping veggie scraps and grass clippings over everything, there wasn’t much I had to do to the soil at all, except loosen up clods here and there. And now she’s talking about berms and water catchment…I can’t keep up.” He grinned, not upset by his failure.
“There’s a big permaculture community in the province,” Bohdan said. “Couple of farms that have been rebuilt using Permaculture principals that are changing the land.” At Harley’s startled look, he said sheepishly, “My babusya…my grandmother. She didn’t tell me to go outside to play, because we were already out there. I leaned a lot while my mom worked.”
Giusto grinned. “My grandmama taught me the secrets of the world’s greatest spaghetti sauce. Anyway, Chief Canmore, Moira’s in the back sitting room. She asked me to make sure you guys knew where to find her.”
“Thanks, Giusto,” Harley said, and followed the path around the house to the tall steps up to the verandah. She had visited Moira’s house enough times to know the back sitting room was at this end of the house, looking out over the market garden. She moved along to the sliding door and tapped on the glass, while Michael and Bohdan stepped up behind her.
Harley learns that everyone hides something, even the Old Races…
It’s summer and Falconer is exploding with tourists who want to spot the Old Races in their native habitat. Harley and her police officers find keeping the peace a challenge. Then a dear friend of Harley’s is found murdered and Harley must face a raw truth: That she didn’t know her friend very well at all.
Investigating the murder pulls Harley into dark, unexpected pockets of life in Falconer that threaten her town and the people she thought were friends….
The Angel Who Wasn’t is part of the Harley Firebird urban fantasy series, which is set in the same fantasy world as Taylen Carver’s Magorian & Jones series.
The Harley Firebird series:
1.0: The Dragon of Falconer
2.0: The Orc Who Cried
3.0: The Shepherd of Fire
4.0: The Mad Folk of Falconer
5.0: The Badge of Our Tribe
5.5: Harley Firebird Files
6.0: The Firebird’s Regret
7.0: The Angel Who Wasn’t
…and more to come.
Urban Fantasy Novelette’s & Novel’s
Don’t forget that if you pre-order from me, you get your copy next week, not on September 8. Or you can wait until September 1 and still buy it from me, and still get your copy a week early (and earn reward points toward your next purchase).
The Angel Who Wasn’t will be released everywhere else on September 8th.