With Silver and Gold coming out at the end of the month, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to release a sample chapter. It’s from the perspective of a new character for the series, and one that I really enjoyed getting to explore in the novel.
I hope you’ll consider checking it out. And you can preorder the book today!
Alan Takahashi liked to spend his spare time helping the less fortunate. At least that’s what most people thought. Who else would spend their Friday nights helping a struggling church?
The text message from Brock Dalton, a coworker from Jefferson Financial, appeared on Alan’s smartphone: Come on, man! My grandmother didn’t spend her Friday nights at church, and I’m pretty sure that she’s next in line to be canonized by the Pope.
“Is everything all right?”
Alan looked up from his position at the desk at “Maevis, Maevis Winters.” This was exactly how the thirty-something white woman had introduced herself when she had opened the door for him that evening. She had strawberry-blond hair and was dressed in a floral top with dangling earrings that she kept on touching, like she wasn’t used to the sensation.
“Yes, of course,” Alan replied.
His voice came out flat, almost annoyed, which wasn’t surprising given that the church deacon and head of St. Augustine’s small, in-house food pantry, had been breathing down his neck, literally, for the last fifteen minutes.
Alan wasn’t Catholic. If pressed, he identified as an atheist, but he wasn’t particularly attached to the term. Perhaps it was a result of being raised in a household without a designated faith, or his own aggressively practical nature, but Alan had never seen the appeal of belief in a higher power. And while it may have surprised his coworkers, his reasons for helping St. Augustine’s had nothing to do with a spiritual calling or even a desire to do good. Instead, it was due to a small voice in his head, the voice of his father from more than a decade ago.
“You know you have to consider others besides yourself from time to time.”
Of course, there were times when he found himself wishing that he had listened to his father’s voice a little less often.
Today was one of those times.
“You know, Alan…is it okay if I call you Alan?” Maevis asked.
“That’s perfectly fine, Ms. Winters,” Alan replied, rifling through a pile of receipts.
You’re almost a full decade older than I am, after all…
“Oh, call me Maevis. There’s no need to be so formal.”
“If you say so, Maevis.”
“It’s just…I’ve never been much good with numbers. But I couldn’t just see the food bank die after Eva passed. Seemed a sin to do so.”
As she spoke, she leaned forward. Alan paused, and for a second closed his eyes to compose himself, hoping deeply that Maevis Winters was just socially unaware. That she wasn’t intentionally pressing her breasts toward his face. It was just something that happened when one was busty and happened to be standing—hovering—next to someone at just the right height.
Alan wasn’t the traditionally attractive alpha male. Not like the tall, broad-shouldered Brock Dalton with his chiseled jaw and muscular frame. No, Alan was slight of build and on the short side, something that had caused him much consternation growing up. As someone who had graduated from high school at fifteen, he’d always been the youngest person in the room, and his small stature and delicate features made him look even more so.
But once he had matured, Alan had found himself the subject of a lot of female attention. Alan, being of Japanese descent, had dark brown, slightly wavy hair, and almond-shaped eyes. This, combined with his tendencies to dress very nicely, pulled in women like Maevis Winters like moths to a flame.
And while Alan was open to relationships with women, he was picky about whom he chose to spend his time with. And the types of people that tended to be drawn to him rarely matched up with that.
“So, uh…Alan, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the cafe next door—”
“Are you sure these are the only receipts?” Alan raised one from a local grocery store in his left hand. “The numbers don’t add up.”
“That’s what I said! We’re short by…what is it? Three…three…”
“Yes! And no matter how much I try, I can’t figure out where that—”
“Is it the exact amount of change that one would have had for this bill, which was paid with a twenty? Is it possible the last person who went to Market Basket accidentally pocketed the change instead of bringing it back?”
“Of course! Oooh, I bet it was Andrea. Stuck-up bitch is always trying to tell me what to do. Thinks that she knows everything because she’s in school now—”
Maevis’s voice trailed off as Alan passed her the receipt. And whether it was the date, or list of items that did it, Alan could pinpoint her moment of realization.
“Well,” she said with a sniff. “It was likely an honest mistake…Andrea’s honest mistake.”
“Of course it was,” Alan replied, proud that he managed to keep the disbelief from completely bleeding into his voice.
“That does it, then!” Maevis said. “And it only took you a few minutes! No wonder they say you’re so smart.”
And most of that time was spent locating the receipts.
“I guess that leaves us with some time—” she began.
“You might find it easier to prevent such confusion if you had a more organized system,” Alan said. “Perhaps a spreadsheet where people can record expenses? A pen-and-paper system would also be sufficient.”
Or at the very least a designated place for people to leave receipts.
“I think that’s a great idea!” Maevis replied. “Why don’t we discuss it over coffee, at that cafe.”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“Oh, right, you look like more of a tea drinker to me.”
Do I now?
“It’s better if we stay here, especially if you would like me to create a system for you,” Alan began.
“Oh, come on, live a little,” Maevis said with an awkward laugh. “You need to let your hair down every now and then. I mean…I’m the Catholic—”
“I hope you’re not thinking that I’m here for anything other than helping you with your finances.” Alan’s voice was suddenly sharp.
Maevis’s mouth snapped shut.
“I have no interest in coffee or tea, regardless of what it looks like I enjoy. I’m just here to help the St. Augustine food bank. Would you like me to continue?”
“Oh,” Maevis said, looking down. “I thought…” Her face reddened. “Yes, that’s fine. Let me grab you a file folder or…something.”
As the woman left the room, Alan felt something inside him relax. How was that considered flirting?
Then he heard a loud sniff from next door and closed his eyes in frustration.
Alan Takahashi wasn’t blind to social conventions. It was why he usually spent nights with Brock Dalton or other coworkers, grabbing drinks. It was why he had tried to nudge Maevis away from the concept of romantic entanglement before rejecting her outright. Networking. Being conscious of other people’s feelings. They might not be concepts that came easily to him, but he could see their purpose. Although there were times when a strict adherence to such standards pushed his patience too far.
In all honesty, though, being subtle around that woman wasn’t working.
He heard Maevis’s voice pipe up, just as sharply as his had been, from the kitchen. “Hey, what are you doing here? You can’t be—”
Her voice cut off. Alan heard a muffled thump.
Almost like a body falling to the floor.
He sat up straight in his chair. Remaining quiet, he heard what sounded like footsteps, multiple footsteps, heading down the hallway from the kitchen.
A hallway that eventually ended up at this office.
Thinking quickly, Alan reached out and unplugged the lamp on the desk. He backed up into the shadows and crouched. Once he had nestled into the corner between the bookcase and the wall, he paused and breathed once, twice…
On his third breath, two figures entered the room.
And each of them held a gun.
One of them, a woman with short blond hair, flicked on a flashlight, held level with her gun. She swept both across the room at eye level. She then nodded to her partner, who stepped forward and tried to flick on the desk lamp.
The light from the hallway cast a silhouette, making her partner’s headshake clear. The woman dipped her head to indicate that he should look under the desk. The man nodded and circled back around. He crouched quickly, sweeping his flashlight beneath the desk, and paused. After a second, he stood up again, shaking his head. The flashlight swept dangerously close to Alan’s hiding spot.
“The brother’s not here,” the man said, voice low and raspy.
“Bad intel,” the woman responded, just as quietly. “Move out.”
With a sharp nod, the man followed the woman out of the room. Staying completely still, Alan listened to the sound of their retreating footsteps as they made their way to the exit. He held his breath as the kitchen’s outer door clicked shut.
And then he stood, letting that breath out in one long exhale. As he did, his body transformed back from a pure, almost smoke-like shadow to a well-dressed twenty-five-year-old man, a look of concern on his face.
Alan took a step forward, and almost tripped over his own two feet. He paused, leaning on the desk chair. The lightheadedness would last only a couple of seconds. It happened pretty much every time he used his powers. Alan had learned all about their limitations in his teenage years.
Of course, as a teenager, he had also found plenty of uses for his abilities, collecting information, keeping an eye on people. Unlike his sister, he had never intended to use his powers to save a life, not even his own.
Alan shook his head. Dawn. Those two were connected to Dawn somehow. Did that mean she was in trouble? He felt a tightening in his chest at the thought.
Which quickly went away, as logic prevailed. Dawn was perfectly capable of taking care of herself when it came to two individuals with guns. It was why they were here that was the problem.
Alan straightened up, knowing what he needed to do.
Lingering over the desk, he swept up the many receipts and placed them in the cardboard box filled with petty cash that Maevis had shown him. He didn’t need to turn the light on to find his way to the bookshelf, where he placed the box. An added benefit of his powers was excellent night vision. He reached to the hook on the wall where his suit jacket hung, and headed down the poorly lit hallway, through the kitchen, and toward the exit. He placed his hand on the doorknob, then paused.
Alan turned his head to the left, where Maevis Winters lay. From his angle he could see that she was alive. The rise and fall of her chest were evidence enough.
You know you have to consider others besides yourself from time to time.
The voice of Alan’s father echoed in his mind, and for a moment, he was sitting across the table from him. At the same café they had gone to when Alan was having problems with school (never academically, of course. It had always been an issue with peers, or a teacher). And as always, Alan found the words, said with his father’s infinite patience, to be soothing enough.
But they were also troubling.
Unlike the rest of his family, compassion was not something that came easily to Alan. His late father had been a caring man, prone to self-sacrifice, a trend that his sister, who moonlighted as the Actual superhero Hikari, seemed to follow. And while his mother shared his more reserved nature, whether it was with her writing, or in her former profession as a doctor, he knew she cared about using her skills to help others. Alan cared about his small circle of family and trusted friends, but that was pretty much it. So instead, he found himself falling back on his own strength, his intelligence. Alan didn’t know how the two infiltrators had chosen to knock out Maevis Winters. There could be serious consequences if she weren’t attended to in a timely manner.
With a sigh, he walked over to the woman who had managed to waste his precious patience in such a short block of time. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. As he turned it on, the text from Brock Dalton was still visible on his screen.
He ignored it, dialing 911.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?” a crisp voice replied.
“I would like to report a break-in at St. Augustine’s church,” Alan said.
He kept his words precise and to the point, already thinking ahead to what he would do after dealing with the police. He would have to call work and let them know that he was going to need to take a few days off. They would be upset, but not able to do much about it. Alan only took time off for family emergencies, and if Jefferson Financial pushed him on it, it would be all too easy for someone with his skillset to find another well-paying job. JF hadn’t been the only firm who had tried to hire him after he had finished up with school.
After that, his thoughts ran toward home, to Bailey City. To his mother and his sister, Dawn.
Yes. He and Dawn had much to talk about.