I’ve got a little treat for you….
A sample chapter from Hoard It All Before!
Yep, just like one of those pesky peddlers lurking at the ends of Costco aisles, I’m handing out samples in an attempt to lure you in and get you hooked on my product.
Thankfully, my samples won’t leave you wandering around with a greasy napkin for the rest of your shopping trip. I hope.
But before I set you loose on your reading adventure, let’s just get this out of the way…
THE SALES-Y BIT
Hoard It All Before comes out 18 January.
Of course, you could wait to buy it then, but if you pre-order a copy today, the rest of Duncan’s tale will be hanging out waiting for you the moment you wake up on the 18th.
And really, who wouldn’t want a dragon eagerly waiting for them at the breakfast table?? (Since it’s Duncan, I do recommend you have omelets planned for that morning’s meal).
Okay, Onto the Sample…
Chapter 1 – Scaly Fishes
I love it when humans curse. There’s just something terribly charming about how they seem to imagine themselves spewing fire with their words. They remind me of baby dragons whose fireboxes haven’t developed yet. And, as I dotted a napkin over my chin to clean up a few misplaced bits of my morning omelet, Cordelia Quinn was doing a spot-on baby dragon impersonation.
“Duncan, you’re wanted in the Tent—” Following my gaze, the smoldering cigarette nearly fell from Fergus’s lips. “Well, hello. Who’s the new meat?”
I didn’t reply, and for a moment we both watched Cordelia do her new job.
Or, try to.
Wielding a push broom nearly as tall as herself, she stabbed it into the mop bucket beside her. She then jerked it out, the bristles flinging soapy water everywhere as she hurriedly scrubbed away at Benny’s flank. The instant she finished that spot, the beast rolled over, coating his sparkling clean hind end in a fresh layer of mud.
I grinned as foul words I’d never known existed erupted from Cordelia’s mouth.
“Zin seriously assigned her to Benny? She’s too small,” said Fergus as he spit out his cigarette butt and crushed it under his hoof. “Then again, if Benny rolls over on her, I could come to her rescue. Bet a firecracker like that would be pretty darn enthusiastic with her appreciation, if you know what I mean.”
“Fergus, please. That is entirely disrespectful.”
“I’m just saying, I wouldn’t mind resting my head in that lap for a spell.”
“Do you have to be such a horny rogue?”
“Well, I am a unicorn.” He shifted his eyes up and center as if I might have missed the silvery twist of horn in the middle of his head. “So what did she do to get stuck on behemoth duty?”
“Showed up on the wrong day.”
“Man, every day’s the wrong day for behemoth duty. The stink of them.”
Says the animal whose chain smoking has left him perpetually smelling like an overflowing ashtray. But he’s right. Behemoths reek. They can’t help it.
The thing with behemoths is that they’re really big. Yes, I know, genius statement, but we’re talking about big in a way that would make a walrus look like a half-starved kitten.
That said, for their size, behemoths are one of the sweetest-tempered beasts in any troupe. They cause no trouble and are perfectly content to hang out in their wallow and, well, wallow.
Problem is, their size also means behemoths have trouble executing the twists and turns to clean themselves properly. Take this lack of flexibility, mix in Benny spending his days and nights sprawled out in a mud pit, combined with his steady diet of this strange, green goop Flora brews up for him, and you’ve got a recipe for a beast with smelly, mucky sludge flowing around, in, and out of him on a regular basis.
To prevent the paying customers from gagging on their popcorn, a behemoth handler’s main, okay, only job is to scrub clean every last bit of their charges and keep them smelling fresh.
Work as a behemoth handler — or “Mop” as some people call them — is a never-ending chore that requires a strong stomach and quick work with the push broom-slash-scrub brush. For being the lowest of the low positions in a circus, it’s not a job for the faint of heart.
And Cordelia was proving not to be faint of heart.
“Turn over,” she grunted as she made the hand motion that should have told Benny to shift his weight to the left, which would then allow gravity to do the work of tipping him onto his side.
She was doing all the right things. The trouble was, Benny and I had had more than a few buckets of merlot the night before, so on this particular morning he likely would have preferred a lie-in and a few aspirin to a bath.
“Hey man, gimme a light.” Displaying a trick that never failed to impress, Fergus flicked his head. The cigarette that had been lodged behind his ear flipped up and he caught it in his teeth.
“You know I can’t,” I muttered.
Fergus made a scoffing sound. “We all know it’s more won’t than can’t. C’mon, just a little cough, just a tiny flame for your old pal.” I gave a firm shake of my head and refused to meet his eye. “Fine. I hope you know this isn’t easy without hands. Where’s a centaur when you need one?”
I ignored him, and soon there came a scratch and a hiss. From the corner of my eye, I caught the flare of a burning match. I cringed at the sight of it, and my nostrils trembled at the scent of sulfur. But just then, Cordelia swore again and a snorting laugh burst from my snout. Her head whipped around and I hastily diverted my attention to folding my napkin and placing it tidily on my empty plate. She turned her back to me and set to scrubbing again, cursing with every stroke of the brush.
The cloying stink of tobacco smoke filled the air around me. Before I could tell Fergus where he could stick his nickel-a-pack cigarettes and his comments, Ely Zinzendorf, known to most everyone as Zin, emerged from the Tent — what you’d probably call the Big Top.
His gaze went straight to the table I always ate at. At the sight of me, his face tightened like it did whenever I was late for practice, and he began marching straight across the expanse of dusty ground from the Tent to the Cantina.
Between which stood Benny’s enclosure.
Zin should have hustled his cloven-hoofed feet a bit faster. If he had, Cordelia might have been too engrossed in trying to get Benny to turn over to bother him. But Zin marched by just as she was taking a breather after having managed to wedge the massive beast into a new position.
Cordelia threw down her push broom and rushed over to Zin, blocking his path. He rolled his orange-brown eyes and even his horns seemed to give a weary sigh.
“Mr. Zinzendorf, come on, you can’t really mean to stick me on this job. It was just a test, right? To see if I was serious about working here?”
Even by human measurements, Cordelia Quinn was small. She wore a pale blue, button-down shirt and men’s trousers, both of which were two sizes too big for her. Standing next to Zin, she barely came to his chest. Although satyrs from Zin’s line do tend to run tall.
“I didn’t stick you on this job, Ms. Quinn. You could have left and sought employment elsewhere. But you chose to remain. Tending to Benny is the only job open, so if you’re going to complain about it—”
“Look,” she said firmly, her elbows jutting out as she slapped her hands onto her hips, “I travelled a long way to meet up with this circus and I’m more than qualified. You’d be crazy not to take me on as Brutus’s handler.”
“Ooh, she wants you,” Fergus said, nudging me. “Can I have her when you’re done? I’m not picky.”
“So I’ve heard. Unfortunately.”
By the way, Brutus is only my stage name. Brutus Fangwrath, Deadliest Dragon in the West, to be exact. Much more dramatic than Duncan, don’t you think?
Zin mocked Cordelia by standing with his goatish feet determinedly wide and his hands resting on his furry hips.
“Like I told you yesterday: He’s got a handler and since Porter’s one of the best in the region, I’ve got no plans to fire him. So if you really want to work for me, you’ll have to take what you can get.”
“No.” Zin tick-tocked his index finger at her admonishingly. “I wasn’t the one who told you to show up at my gates the very minute we got those gates set up. I wasn’t the one who told you to strut right past the no-entry signs. I wasn’t the one who demanded I give you a job.” Zin paused, knitting his heavy brow over this strange turn of phrase. “Anyway, you did all that on your own. You wanted a job. I gave you one. And you’re already making me regret that decision. You even got references? Experience?”
“Weren’t you listening yesterday? I’ve got plenty of dragon experience. I spent the past three years handling over at Costello’s show.”
At this, Zin stared down at her with new appreciation. His pointed ears twitched forward with interest. “Costello’s, you say? And before that?”
Cordelia let out an exasperated sigh. “I’ve been working shows more than half my life. I’m an experienced handler. You can’t waste me on this.” She gestured toward Benny, who drooped his head at her dismissive tone.
Cordelia caught the behemoth’s pitiful expression. In complete contrast to her fiery attitude toward Zin, she squatted down next to Benny, putting her at eye level with his sprawling bulk. She then patted him and whispered something to him. When she stood back up, Benny had on the broad smile he wore at the end of a day when visitors had been especially generous with the marshmallows.
It’s a big thrill for guests to feed Benny those puffy sweet treats. Trouble is, Benny has a sensitivity to them that only makes his digestive issues worse. But with visitors paying three cents a bag for a penny’s worth of marshmallows, it’s hard for Zin to resist an easy profit like that.
Especially since he’s not the one stuck doing the clean up.
“Let me handle Brutus,” Cordelia pleaded. “Just for one performance. Just to show you what I can do. Or, I don’t know, let me assist this Porter person.”
Zin sneered. “You call yourself an experienced handler? If you knew anything about dragons, as you claim you do, you’d know they only respond to one handler. Unlike certain people, dragons are loyal,” he said meaningfully. “They don’t go flitting off to new prospects on a whim.” That’s mostly because circus owners clip our wings. Not that we can’t walk, but it’s not the most efficient mode of escape. “So, unless Porter retires, quits, or his wife finally kills him, there’s no handling jobs available here except for Benny.”
“But a Mop? Really? That’s rookie stuff.”
“If you want to work here, it’s either being a Mop or putting on a skimpy costume and joining an act.” Cordelia wrinkled her sharply pointed nose at this. Zin leaned in close, a challenging glint in his eyes. “If neither of those options appeals to you, why not go back to Costello’s? You claim you were a handler there. If that’s the job you want so badly, then why did you leave?”
Cordelia bit her lower lip and looked away from Zin’s gaze. “Because I want to handle Brutus,” she finally said in a quiet voice. “It’s what I’ve been working toward with all these other circuses.”
She said this with such sincerity that even Zin’s normally gruff demeanor softened. His face wore an expression of such admiration that, for a moment, I thought he might indeed fire Porter in exchange for this feisty, passionate little human. Then Zin raised his shaggy eyebrows and a smirk crept across his lips.
“Well, my dear, if wishes were fishes we’d all be scaly.”
Confusion dug a furrow between Cordelia’s auburn eyebrows.
“What does that even mean?” she asked at the exact moment I whispered the same question under my own breath.
“It means you asked for a handling job and now you have a handling job.” Zin tilted his chin in the direction of Benny’s wallow to drive home his point.
“You’re telling me that my experience counts for nothing?”
“No, it most certainly does.” Zin gave her a taunting grin. “After all, behemoths require a special touch. Now, back to it, this circus opens tomorrow and we can’t have the paying public put off by a stinking behemoth.”
Cordelia looked about to argue. Instead, she turned on her heel, snatched up her broom again, and Benny purred under the force of her scrubbing.
Zin, smugly pleased at having won an argument at such an early hour of the day, resumed his march toward me and Fergus.
Still five paces from us, Zin’s broad nose crinkled with disgust.
“Fergus, put out that damn coffin nail. You know no one likes a stinking unicorn. You’re supposed to be magically pure, not a chain-smoking Lothario.”
“Zin, I ain’t been pure since I was a foal. Why do you think I work for you?” Fergus sucked harder on his cigarette, trying to get as much out of it as possible before Zin snatched it from his lips and crushed it into the ground. “I was just admiring your new hire. Nice choice. Very nice.”
“Fergus,” Zin snapped. “Cold shower with plenty of fruity soaps. Duncan, you’re late for practice, and it better not be because of another hangover.”
“No,” I said, pointing to my empty plate, “because of an omelet.”
“The Tent,” Zin seethed. “Now.”
I shifted my folded napkin so it was squarely centered on my plate, then stood. It was time to start another day at Zinzendorf’s Circus of Unusual Creatures.
Or is it?
Actually, it’s not. I’ll have another sample for you next week, and possibly some other treats in the meantime.
Have a great one, everyone, and I hoped you enjoyed the sample!!
You can find Hoard It All Before in ebook and paperback at your favorite retailer.
ABOUT THE BOOK….
It’s not every day you meet an amateur sleuth with fangs.
Like any traveling circus, Zin’s has hair-raising acts and fried food on sticks. But it’s also got an aura-spotting centaur, a chain-smoking unicorn, and an omelet-addicted dragon.
Oh, and a body in the center ring.
Duncan — aka “Brutus Fangwrath, Deadliest Dragon in the West” — wakes one morning to find his best friend isn’t just sleeping off a hangover. He’s been murdered.
Suspicion for the crime quickly turns to the circus’s new hire, Cordelia Quinn. After all, she’s got motive, she got means, and she’s got loads of circumstantial evidence stacked against her.
When it looks like no one else is going to step in to help Cordelia, it’s up to Duncan to unravel the case, prove Cordelia’s innocence, and uncover a troubling secret along the way.
As soon as he’s done with his omelet, that is.
Set in a 1930s that’s just a tad different than what you’re used to, Hoard it all Before is the start of a delightfully humorous mystery series with plenty of tantalizing twists, a troupe of quirky characters, and death-defying feats both in and beyond the big top.
If you like paranormal mysteries that mix laughs in with the murderous mayhem, you’ll love Hoard it all Before.
Hoard it All Before comes out 18 January.
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**Full disclosure so no one gets mad at me: Hoard It All Before is being released at its full retail price of $3.99 (USD). When further books in the series come out later in 2022, I will be running some 99c sales on Hoard. If your budget is tight and you want to wait until then to get your copy, I completely understand (my book budget is very tiny as well.)