To celebrate our upcoming release of Shards, coming out of December 1st, we thought we’d give you a peek at the story! This section is from the middle of chapter 3. The story itself is urban fantasy. If you want more, the very beginning of the book is included in the Best of Turtleduck Press, Volume I collection.
A bit of background: Eva has literally run into Michael at college and has felt some sort of odd connection with him. Gabe and Rafe are her bosses, who run an eccentric bookstore just off campus.
It had started drizzling and Eva pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up. Hopefully the rain wouldn’t get any heavier before she made it to work.
“Which way are you heading?” Michael asked, digging an umbrella out of his bag. His was blue with butterflies on it. Eva stared. “It’s my roommate’s,” he explained with a shrug of his shoulders. “Man loves an oddly colored umbrella, and I couldn’t find mine this morning so I just grabbed one of his.” He put it in his pocket. “No sense using it quite yet, but it helps to have it handy, just in case.”
Eva pointed in the general direction of the bookstore.
“I’m going that way too.” Michael offered Eva his arm and she took it, curling her fingers around his warmth. It was oddly comforting.
Campus was relatively empty, it being Friday afternoon. What few students that were left walked leisurely between the buildings, the light rain not being enough to worry about. It was the end of the week after all, and even though many people would have to spend a significant amount of their weekend on homework, it was still a cause for celebration and relaxing.
“Just let me know when we need to part ways,” said Michael. He patted her hand on his arm and gave her a smile. Her heart missed a beat.
Don’t get so excited, she chastised herself as they started up the street the bookstore was on, the same street he’d saved her on a few nights previously. She wondered where he lived, to have been out in this area as late as she had been. It couldn’t be too far from her apartment.
She almost missed the bookstore, being so caught up in her own thoughts. “Oh!” she said. “This is it.”
Michael blinked at her. “Really? You work here?”
Eva nodded, ducking her head a little. “I know, nerdy isn’t it? But I really enjoy it.” She pulled her arm out of Michael’s, a little disappointed at the sudden chill of the air. “Thank you again for everything.” She reached for the handle of the door at the same moment Michael did. Their fingers touched and Eva felt a little shock. She pulled her hand back reflexively, only half-noticing Michael do the same.
He was staring at her, his green eyes incomprehensible, but Eva thought perhaps he looked slightly confused.
“Sorry,” she said. She felt her cheeks burning, though she wasn’t quite sure why, so she reached for the door again and pulled it open.
To her very great surprise, Michael followed her inside. The bell chimed but there was no sign of either Rafe or Gabe, the register left unmanned. Unsure what to do about Michael, she automatically went behind the counter, dropping her bag next the stool. Michael stayed just inside the door, hands in his pockets, brow furrowed.
“Hey, darling!” came Rafe’s voice from somewhere in the vicinity of the history textbooks.
That seemed to wake Michael up. A slow smile spread across his face. “I hope you’re not talking to me,” he said.
Rafe let out a loud laugh. After a moment he emerged from the shelves, a large amount of dust spotting his t-shirt, which only got worse as he wiped his hands on it. “Well, bless my soul, if it isn’t my wayward roommate.” He clapped Michael on the back. “Well, no, I was referring to the pretty lady by the register, but I suppose you can be a darling too if you really want.”
“I think I’ll pass,” said Michael. “Where’s Gabe at?”
“No doubt in the office playing solitaire,” replied Rafe. He shook his head. “You’d think by now he would have gotten sick of that silly game.”
“Gabe is a man who can really get behind something,” said Michael. “I’ll just let myself in then?”
“Let me introduce you to our lovely employee on the way,” said Rafe. “Eva’s been with us for a few months now, which you’d know if you ever bothered to come by. Physics cannot possibly that interesting.”
Michael colored slightly. “I actually already know Eva. We walked here together. And physics can be that interesting, thank you very much. There are new developments all the time, and it’s nice to be exposed to something new.”
Rafe looked from Michael to Eva. “Hmmm, really. Forget the physics, how long have you known Eva? Lovely girl, needs to get out more.” He waggled his eyebrows.
“Rafe!” protested Eva.
Michael turned a brighter shade of pink and punched Rafe in the shoulder. “God! I forgot why I don’t hang out with you.”
Eva took a moment to glance between the two men. Gabe and Rafe had always seemed oddly timeless to her, but she’d place them in their early 30s if asked. Michael seemed younger, somehow—she’d thought he was only a few years older than herself—but if they were all roommates, he probably wasn’t.
“You need to get out more, too,” said Rafe, placing his hands on his hips. “Seriously, do you ever do anything other than study? The world is passing you by.”
Michael groaned, clenching and unclenching his fists. “We’re not going to fight about this again, Rafe. Especially not right now. Listen, I’m just going to go talk to Gabe, okay?”
“Suit yourself,” said Rafe. He watched Michael as the latter pushed through the office door and disappeared. Then, shaking his head, he joined Eva behind the counter. “Sooooo,” he said.
Eva sighed. “Maybe you’re the one who needs to get out more, Rafe, so you stop living vicariously through other people.”
Rafe grinned. “This is why I keep you around. The witty banter. Plus you add a nice, feminine touch to the shop.”
Eva looked around. She couldn’t see it. “Uh-huh,” she said.
“Anyway, spill it. If I’m going to live vicariously through other people, I need details.” Rafe pulled up another stool and stared intently at Eva, opening his eyes wide in an exaggerated manner.
His eyes were green too, she realized in surprise. Surely she should have noticed that before, since that wasn’t common in people of his race, but she admittedly wasn’t in the habit of gazing into her boss’s eyes. What were the odds of all three roommates having green—and what looked suspiciously like the same shade of green—eyes?
“Eva?” asked Rafe, forehead furrowing.
“Your eyes are green,” she said.
Rafe grinned again. “A true statement. Eyes are the gateway to the soul, you know.” He accompanied this statement with a flutter of his eyelashes. The action looked very strange on him, and Eva couldn’t help laughing. “Now, anyway, talk.”
“There’s not really that much to tell,” she said, looking away. “I met him at school, and then I ran into him the other night and we had dinner and,” she paused, “oh, I forgot about Gabe’s umbrella.”
“What?” Rafe blinked.
Eva unzipped her bag and pulled out the mangled umbrella. “Some car tried to run me over but luckily it only got the umbrella.”
Rafe poked at the umbrella. “Wow, that’s pretty bad. Gabe will get over it, though; it’s not like he doesn’t own a couple dozen of the things. I think he likes the sound the rain makes on them, or something. He also has a thing about galoshes.”
“Are they bright green?” asked Eva. “So, Michael’s your roommate, huh? I thought it was just you and Gabe.”
“No, it’s all three of us,” said Rafe, leaning against the counter. “We offered to have Michael come into the business with us but he loves school. He gets bored pretty easily, and he’d probably have set the store on fire by now if he was trapped here day in and day out. Which would be pretty funny, actually.” Rafe tapped a finger on his cheek. “I’ll have to remember that one. There’s not enough pyrotechnics in life these days.”
Eva raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
Rafe patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, hon. I think the dust gets into my brain sometimes. Anyway, yes. The three of us have been together for a long time.”
“How long?” Eva tried to imagine the three of them as children, playing in a sandbox. Rafe would probably be trying to get everyone else to eat sand.
“Long as I can remember,” replied Rafe. “Though Michael moving in with us is a more recent development, but he’s always been nearby.”
The office door opened and Michael stepped out, followed by Gabe. The latter caught sight of the umbrella and let out a cry.
“I’m really sorry, Gabe,” Eva said as the tall redhead gingerly took the bright green mangled monstrosity.
“It’s not her fault,” said Michael. “I’m afraid it’s mine.”
“Anyway, I’ll pay for it,” said Eva.
“No,” said Rafe and Michael in unison. They looked at each other, and then Michael continued. “It’s not your fault, Eva. Anyway, I think we’ll all agree that we’d rather that the car got the umbrella instead than you.”
“Still, I feel responsible,” replied Eva. “Isn’t there something I could do?”
“No, no, don’t worry about it,” said Gabe, though he looked miserable. “Maybe I could have Sam look at it? He’s good with metal, isn’t he?”
Rafe wrinkled his nose. “Ugh.”
“I don’t think he’s as good with the alloys,” replied Michael, sounding faintly disapproving. “Plus really, I wouldn’t trust him. Not after that last bit.”
“The last bit?” echoed Eva, wondering if it was the same Sam she knew. After a second, she dismissed the thought. Her Sam seemed like a perfectly nice person, and it was a fairly common name. “What did he do that was so bad?” She was vaguely aware that perhaps she should keep her mouth shut—after all, this was none of her business, and she would prefer to keep these people as friends, but curiosity got the better of her.
The three men blinked at her then looked at each other. Michael stuck his hands back into his pockets and kicked one foot at the floor while Gabe unconsciously clasped his umbrella tighter. Rafe glanced at his roommates, then crossed his arms across his chest. “He stole Michael’s girlfriend,” he said.
Michael’s mouth dropped open. “Rafe!”
“And,” continued Rafe, “then he tried to steal his friends too, but luckily Gabe and I are not susceptible to such crap. Well, I am not susceptible to such crap, and Gabe is too distracted to focus on such things.”
Michael groaned and hid his face in his hands.
Rafe laid a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “I know you didn’t want her to know, but it’s better this way, I promise.”
“I’m going home,” said Michael. “Let me know if you need any more help, Eva, and I’ll see you around.” Without another word, he disappeared out the door into the rain beyond.
“Help?” said Rafe, rubbing the back of his bald head.
“He was helping me with my homework,” replied Eva, leaning on one hand.
“Not dating, then?”
“Not at the moment, no,” said Eva. “Perhaps never, if you’re going to traumatize him. He’ll probably just sit in his room and read about physics.”
“Bugger,” said Rafe, tapping a finger against his temple. “Well, I guess I’ll apologize later tonight when I get home. Or tomorrow. Not sure how late we’re staying open yet tonight, and, contrary to popular belief, I have a date myself tonight.” He accompanied this last statement with an eyebrow waggle at Gabe, who rolled his eyes.
Eva tapped her fingers on the counter. “Stole his girlfriend, you said?”
“Dreadfully tragic affair,” said Rafe. “Michael really had a thing for her. Though we were never really sure if she went of her own accord, if you know what I mean. No one’s seen her for years at this point, and we try not to be too friendly with Sam. The guy’s kind of a loose cannon, has an odd idea of what is acceptable.”
“Now, now,” said Gabe, waving his umbrella at Rafe, “no reason to talk behind his back. After all, maybe he’s changed.”
Rafe snorted. “I don’t believe that, and neither do you.”
Gabe shrugged. “Anyway, can we all get back to work now?”
“I don’t call solitaire work,” said Rafe, grinning.
Gabe bristled. “I am doing things other than that too.” He scowled at Rafe and returned to the office, slamming the door behind him. A couple books on the shelves behind the counter toppled over.
Rafe shook his head. “Now I have angered both roommates. I’m having a fine day. At least you’re still with me, hon.” He patted Eva on the shoulder and headed back towards the books.