Smoke and Flame Sample

Chapter 1 

I’d been trapped. They’d caught me slipping. As a private detective, I aimed to give my clients one hundred percent, always.  

When Melinda Handler had come into my office and told me she suspected her husband Brad of cheating on her, I’d vowed to find out the truth.

I cussed myself when I thought about it. I’d been stupid and naïve. The whole thing had been a setup. Something she and her husband had concocted so they could escape our world.

Me and my boyfriend Reid had chased after them. We’d hopped universes to find them. But we'd run into others from their world.

They were called the Yangos. They pillaged other worlds, killing, and taking everything they could get their hands on. Yangos were bloodthirsty and ruthless. They killed anyone who disobeyed them.

I let out a breath and looked around my brother Todd’s kitchen. His kitchen was as big as my whole house. Everything was stainless steel, from the refrigerator to the counter tops.

He had three kitchen islands with stainless steel pots and pans hanging above them. He also had two large double sinks, with dishes above them.

My brother was a clean freak. If I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn the kitchen and everything in it was just purchased today.

The counters stretched the length of the kitchen and probably had every appliance known to man packed neatly on them.

Large double-hung windows were placed a few inches apart in the kitchen. They allowed for an optimum amount of sunlight to shine through.

All the windows in Todd’s home had the same forest green curtains on them. My brother kept them open and pulled back.

Todd wasn’t here now, but his house was packed. Reid and I had new friends. We’d met Iago, Trout, and Coen on a world called Litvan. One of the worlds the Yangos had overrun.

We’d saved them from the Yangos and brought them back to our world. Why? Because they’d agreed to help us.

See, before meeting Brad and Melinda, Reid and I hadn’t known other worlds existed, much less how to get to them.

Brad and Melinda had left behind a device called a porter. It allowed us to open portals to other worlds. Only… The first time we used it we acquired strange powers. Dangerous powers. Dragon powers.

We'd since learned that no one had seen the dragons in thousands of years. Most of the time, when people saw us using dragon powers, they took off running.

We had no clue how these powers worked and since the porter was a Yango porter, we hoped Brad and Melinda could help us before we accidentally set our loved ones on fire.

Iago, one of our new friends, wanted to find his sister Lantana. She’d been taken hostage for defying the Yangos. She was on one of three worlds. We needed to find out which one.

Lantana had the power to summon. If we found her, she could summon Brad and Melinda to us.

After we’d saved them, Trout, Iago, and Coen, had decided to train us. That way, if we ran into any problems, we could defend ourselves.

Having powers, and hopping worlds was new to Reid and myself. We’d gladly accept any help offered.

Reid and I had worked on our fighting technique with Iago and Coen for a few weeks. In my opinion, we’d both improved significantly.

Since we’d gained a little more knowledge about our powers. It was time to go. We needed to rescue Lantana and find Brad and Melinda.

I didn’t trust these dragon abilities. For all I knew, they could kill us. Brad and Melinda had given me the porter. They should be able to tell me something about the side effects from using it.

I hoped we found Lantana too. I wanted to save her, but also, she could bring Brad and Melinda to us in the blink of an eye.  

Tanko, a friend of Iago’s, said Lantana had been taken to either Graven, Emor, or Loden.

I let out a breath, pushing hair from my face. Brad and Melinda had left me everything they owned before hopping worlds. Hmm. I wasn’t impressed by this one act of kindness. They probably felt guilty for using me as a human shield.

Iago and Trout lived in their house now. Coen had refused to live in anything once owned by a Yango. He lived with my brother Todd.

My brother was moody as hell. He didn’t like anyone invading his space. Yet, he’d apparently found common ground with Coen. They worked together, lived together, and still seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

I thought about the light that now shined in my brother’s eyes. I pondered how easy and familiar Todd and Coen were with each other. The two had formed some kind of simpatico that worked well for them. 

I flexed my hand. It was a little sore from practicing with Iago earlier. “Does it still hurt?” my sister Vonda asked. She was with us at my brother’s house.

She’d been to all my training sessions. Except for the ones that occurred during her work hours. I smiled at her and shook my head. I didn’t want her to worry. She’d been a big help lately.

 She seemed happy to bounce her time between my place and Todd’s, doing whatever she could to make things run smoothly. It made me realize something I hadn’t before.

We didn’t have close friends, my siblings and I. We never had. Maybe it was because of the strict way our parents had raised us.

I mean, I had Reid, but Reid was Reid. I looked at Vonda and smiled. This whole hopping universe thing was exciting for her and Todd.  

Before this, we’d just been humming along. We’d gone to work and went home. We’d also meet every couple of weeks to have lunch and catch up.

Other than that, my siblings and I had led solitary lives. Then, here came three beings from another universe to shake things up. Both Todd and Vonda seemed to like the change. They liked being included in something that was bigger than any of us.

My heart softened. For some reason, that sent a warm feeling fluttering through my chest.   

I’d seen a different side of my brother and sister, lately. Vonda, in a quiet and reserved kind of way always made sure we had enough water during training. She also kept us supplied with fresh towels to wipe down the sweat.

Todd, who was a chef, kept us in delicious foods. He didn’t seem to mind when we came to his house. He’d throw out a few rude comments every now and then, but other than that, he was the perfect host. And he always fed us.

Since Todd was absent today, Coen had taken over that role. He fixed a tray of my brother’s gourmet ham and cheese sandwiches and put them on a platter in the middle of the kitchen table.

He also made a pitcher of lemonade. I sipped from my glass, marveling at how good it tasted. I’d never seen Coen drink the stuff. How did he make it so good? 

Iago popped a finger-sized sandwich into his mouth. He paused a second to appreciate the taste. “We need to find Lantana,” he said after swallowing. “The first world we should try is Graven. I’ve never heard of the other two worlds Tanko mentioned.”

Apprehension made my palms wet. My eyes went from Coen to Trout. Both men wore blank expressions. “None of you have heard of the other two worlds?” That didn’t bode well because we had no idea what we were walking into.

I didn’t like going into a world without some knowledge of how it worked. It was risky. We didn’t know what we’d run into. Still, we needed to get Lantana back.

We needed her on our team. I was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.

Coen opened the fridge and grabbed a soda. Grape. He really seemed to enjoy that flavor. He hadn’t drunk anything else in the past two weeks. Not that I’d seen, anyway. Todd’s refrigerator now had two cases of the stuff.

Coen leaned against the counter where the sink was, drink in hand. “Nope! Never heard of those two worlds, but it’s Graven that’s the problem.”

Reid’s brows furrowed. “Why’s that?”

Trout popped a cherry tomato into his mouth, a nonchalant look on his face. “We’ll probably die the moment we step onto Graven.”

Iago chuckled fondly. “Stop scaring them. This is serious.”

“I know,” Trout said. “But I had to warn them.”

Reid leaned back in his chair. “Tell us about it.”

My sister sat at a kitchen island. She typed fiercely, taking notes on everything we said. I watched her closely. “What are you doing, Vonda?”

 She looked up, brown eyes staring directly into mine. “I’m cataloging.”

 “Cataloging what?” I asked. Was she keeping notes for my parents? Frustration made my breath tight. I really hoped she wasn’t reporting everything back to my mom and dad.

She swiveled her chair around, a small bit of black hair falling into her face. “You need order,” she said matter-of-factly.

Coen tapped his temple. “Everything’s kept up here.”

I dropped the sandwich I’d been holding and looked at him. Did Coen have an eidetic memory? How cool was that?

My sister kept typing. “You have your treasure chest.” She pointed to her laptop. “And I have mine.”

“Bottom line,” Iago said, bringing all eyes around to him. “Even the Yangos fear Graven. We have no guarantee of coming back alive if we go there.”

My stomach dropped. Even more so when I saw the grim expressions on Iago, Trout, and Coen’s faces. I swallowed hard. Could Graven really be that bad?

Iago’s eyes turned serious. “We shouldn’t use our powers while there.”

My head snapped up. “What?” I needed to know why he’d come to that conclusion.

Reid ran a hand under his chin. “What do you have in mind?” he asked Iago.

I wanted to know too. If Iago’s answer made sense, I’d go along with it. Iago had more experience than me, so I did value his opinion. If it didn’t sound right, I wouldn’t participate. No matter what he said.

Tap, tap, tap. I looked up to see Vonda still taking notes. Coen eyed her warily. I got the sense he wanted to say something really inappropriate to her but kept biting his tongue at the last second.

He wasn’t one to mince words, so whatever he wanted to say was probably a doozy and better kept under wraps. 

Coen popped one of the last of the sandwiches into his mouth and washed it down with a little soda. He turned narrowed eyes on Iago. “Why can’t we protect ourselves on a dangerous world like Graven?” 

A vein popped on Iago’s temple. He was losing patience. Angry telekinesis energy swirled around him, blowing his hair back. “How will we find my sister if we go in there powers blazing, Coen? Tell me that.”

Trout kissed Iago on the cheek. Probably to calm him down. “What do you have in mind,” he said softly.

Iago took a breath, and the telekinesis energy left him. “Graven operates on a power hierarchy. Those with the most power rule. We’ll ask the ones in charge if a Litvan woman was brought their recently.”

Coen made a slashing motion through the air. “That’s stupid. They’ll attack us the moment we enter their world. Not fighting will get us killed. You have to see that.”  

Trout’s brown eyes flashed with angry silver energy, making goose pimples break out on my arm. What the? In the few weeks I’d known him, I’d never seen him this pissed. “We’ll do it like Iago said.” He looked straight at Coen, a clear challenge on his face.

Coen’s jaw tightened. “Who put Iago in charge? You? We’re allowed to disagree, you know?”

Iago didn’t look mad, just anxious. My eyes turned to Vonda. She was typing nonstop. Was this fun for her?

I watched her closely, letting out an understanding sigh. She was my big sister. I’d known her since the day I was born. I’d loved her that long too. If she went missing, I’d do everything in my power to find her.

Lantana was Iago’s sister. If he thought this was the best way to get her back, that’s all I needed to know. We’d do it his way for now. He was the one with the most to lose.

Coen was still leaning against the sink. Trout went to stand in front of him, silver energy swirling around him. “We’re doing this Iago’s way.”

Coen snorted. “Why because you—”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Trout warned before Coen could say more.

Coen stepped closer to Trout. The room became thick with tension. I held my breath, not sure how this would play out. “Why should I follow Iago without question? Give me a reason,” Coen said.

Iago groaned and came to his feet. “Because it’s my sister that’s in danger. Come on, Coen. Stop acting up.”

Iago placed himself between Trout and Coen. He turned to Coen, faces inches apart. “Move back.”

Coen didn’t budge, but the gulp was visible in his throat. 

Iago stepped closer to Coen. My pulse quickened. I didn’t know whether I should interject or not. The air had turned dangerous. “You want to challenge me on what’s best for my sister, Coen? Say we go with your plan, and it doesn’t work. What do you think I’ll do to you after?” He stepped even closer. “I said move.”

The front door opened, and I let out the breath I’d been holding. Todd walked in, two grocery bags in his hands. His eyes quickly assessed the situation. “Is this a schoolyard rumble?” he asked, voice chastising. He walked to the counter and set his bags down.  

Neither man looked his way, but Coen regarded Iago with hard eyes. “You’re thinking with your heart instead of your head! If this doesn’t work… If we get caught by the Gravens, I’ll kill you.”

Iago pursed his lips together. Coen paled, eyes wide. He stepped back a few paces, probably without realizing it.

Huh? Did Iago’s lips hold power? Why was Coen so scared now?

“Oh for—” Todd grabbed Coen by the arm, pulling the other man away. Coen jerked out of Todd’s grip, but nevertheless followed him down the hall.

Reid looked annoyed. I didn’t blame him. We had better shit to do. “Done yet?” he asked them.

Trout laughed, pushing hair from his face. “Every now and then, it gets heated. That’s just the way we are.”

The tension left Iago’s shoulders. He sat down, no longer looking like he was ready to explode. Okay, then. Maybe that’s how they rolled on Litvan.

Reid pinched the bridge of his nose, a defeated look on his face. “The sooner this is over, the better.” I couldn’t agree more. Time was in short supply here.

Reid and I needed to learn more about these powers before they consumed us, and Iago needed to get his sister back.

Since Lantana was also the key to finding Brad and Melinda, getting to her was doubly important in my book.

 “I agree with Iago,” I said. “We’ll do things his way.” He’d do anything to get his sister back. If he thought this would work, it probably would.

At least I hoped so, anyway. If not, we’d all be up shit creek.

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