It’s launch day for NIGHT LATCH, a new adult urban fantasy full of dangerous quests, supernatural dangers, and loads of good-natured snark. I had loads of fun writing this one and can’t wait to share it with you!
Sam Alvarez doesn’t just open locks. He’s the key.
Living in Bellemer, Iowa, Sam leads a typical small-town life. When he’s not looking after his Nana or dealing with his mother’s expectations, he runs a one-man locksmith company. Unlike regular locksmiths, he can open anything with a touch and a wish, but Sam keeps that secret to himself. No reason to alarm the neighbors, after all. And if he sometimes feels an indefinable pull to do more with his life, well, that’s probably just indigestion.
Then one day, an unsettlingly beautiful out-of-towner asks for Sam’s help to open a door. Only one problem: The job’s in a graveyard. And the client? Turns out she’s Death.
Maybe that’s two problems.
When Sam unlocks more than he intended and demons come out to play, he discovers he’s far more than a locksmith with a hidden quirk. Now, he needs to figure out who he is and what he’s been called to do before darker forces close the door on him for good.
IT WOULD happen any minute now.
The clock on my phone wouldn’t rewind or fast forward no matter how much I stared at it. I would just have to endure what came next.
The walls of Clover Mall echoed with its standard orchestra of early evening shoppers and the intermittent screech of hungry toddler. Almost five-o’clock on a Friday afternoon and time, once again, to steel myself for the inevitable encounter. There was always a chance I’d get lucky this go around. Maybe a massive sink hole would suddenly swallow the town of Bellemer, Iowa and spare me from this weekly ritual. Was it selfish to wish myself and 2,500 innocent bystanders out of existence to avoid an awkward situation?
I shook my head at myself, slouching a bit on the stool propping me up behind the counters of the kiosk. My contract with Clover Mall stipulated someone had to man the center lane space I rented for at least ten hours during the business week. A chronic procrastinator, I wound up doing all of them on the last possible day. Which Mr. Upland knew. Ah, the land mines of owning a small business no one tells you about.
And there he was now. Right on schedule and headed this way. The man had punctuality even German transit operators would admire. He waved cheerfully to shoppers and store owners, exchanging pleasantries with a few. A man in his late-fifties, he became the town celebrity when he won the national lottery jackpot five years ago. Two hundred million. He spent some time in New York but came back home and poured money into Bellemer’s failing economy. He fixed up the schools, the roads, built a museum, a new movie theater with awesome stadium seating, and yes, constructed this fabulous strip mall just off the main highway. He was a great guy. We all loved him.
And he wanted me to date his daughter.
I slouched a bit more and tried to appear engrossed in the ninety-nine-cent comic book I’d rummaged out of the bins at the dollar store. There was no escaping this though.
“Sam, my boy!” Mr. Upland boomed as he leaned his forearms against the counter and gave me an earnest smile. “Big plans for the weekend?”
I lowered the comic and smiled back. “Not really. Work, the usual. What about you?”
Mr. Upland shook his head in exasperation. “You work too much, kid. Business going okay? I could make some inquiries for you with a few companies.”
With a town our size, hardly anyone locked their doors even at night, but there were only three certified locksmiths in operation within thirty miles. Supply and demand, baby. Sam Alvarez, Locksmith Co., LLC was doing fine. Or fine enough for my ambitions.
Better to not say that out loud. He’d only insist on helping me then—which was kind, but wrong knowing the motivation. Not to mention, I didn’t like drawing too much attention to myself. Most locksmiths needed their tools to open locks. Unlike me.
“I appreciate that, sir, but I prefer to make my own way.”
“You’re a stand-up guy, Sam. Hard worker.” His gaze took on a proud twinkle and I tried to avoid direct eye contact. Here it came. “Why don’t you come have dinner with Anna and me at the house tomorrow night? Heidi’s home from college.”
Heidi was a great girl. We went to high school together. She was fun, kind, and had a pair of brown eyes that warmed your soul like hot cocoa in December. She was also a lot smarter than me and her vision for the future after Cornell University didn’t include living out her life in Bellemer, no matter how many improvements her dad made to it. I had no plans to go anywhere. Mr. Upland’s strategy to dangle me as a love interest who’d convince her to move back home for good—probably within a few miles of her parents—wasn’t going to work out.
But she was their only daughter and try as I might each week, I just couldn’t bring myself to fully crush the man’s dream.
“Maybe next week, Mr. Upland. I’m pretty busy this weekend.”
Disappointment dimmed the smile in his eyes. He tapped the counter top and shrugged good naturedly. “All right then. Have a good weekend, Sam. Don’t overwork yourself, hear?”
“You too, sir.”
He turned away, which would’ve been a great moment to shove my face back into the comic book and keep my mouth shut. He moved off, a slight slump to his shoulders.
And it got to me.
“Tell Heidi I said hello, will you?”
He looked back, the twinkle returning. “Absolutely, Sam. Hey, you know she has the Skype on her laptop. Maybe you two could catch up on there.”
“Uh, definitely. Next time I’m online, I’ll send her a message.”
“Good man.” He shot a pair of finger-pistols at me and sauntered off with a lighter step.
I was almost never online. Heidi knew that and would get the message. Besides, from what I’d heard, she was dating a guy on the university football team, a Rhodes scholar and a native New Yorker.
Me? Well, I was hardly the stuff of romance novels. Thanks to my free weights and my evening runs I hadn’t gone into complete Cheeto decline in the three years since graduation. The combined heritage of my parents had given me the height of a Scandinavian with the dark hair and burnished skin of a Colombian mestizo. But girls were looking for someone with ambition, someone who wanted to get out of this town and make something of themselves. One look and it was obvious that wasn’t me.
I lacked inspiration and they all knew it.
Staring blankly at my comic book and mulling over this cheerful thought, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I glanced up to find a young woman standing at the counter. Watching me.
I didn’t hear or see her walk up. She’d simply materialized.
“Sorry, I hadn’t, uh—” I bent down to pick up my fallen book and convince my fists to unclench. Jeez, it was just a customer. Pull it together. I stood and made another try for professionalism. “How can I…?”
Of course, professionalism became more difficult when I focused enough to look at her. Long hair fell in a sheet of black silk down her shoulders with eyes like blue ice set into pale gold skin. She was not from Bellemer. I’d have remembered her. She was beautiful and unsettling at the same time, like watching the skies go dark as a storm rolled in from the east.
I cleared my throat. “How can I help you?”
“You open doors.”
As was my custom around stunning women, my fumbled response was peppered with undeserving bravado.
“Mm-hmm, that’s me. Sam the door opening man.” Dear God, no wonder I hadn’t been on a date in months.
She did not react with the typical pity laugh to which I’d grown unwillingly accustomed. In fact, she didn’t react at all. She did not blink, lean, tap, or shuffle her feet. She didn’t even lay her hands on the counter the way everyone did.
She was just…still.
“I need you to open a door,” she said finally.
“Definitely. Sure. I can do that. I’m available.” Ugh, no. Somebody hit me.
“Not now. Tonight.”
“Okay.” No, it wasn’t. I didn’t do calls at night. “What time?”
“When the moon is high.”
“So, what is that, like, eight o’clock?”
She gave a nod. “That is acceptable. You will find me again at Sunny Oak Hills.”
I turned to my pad and pencil at the register behind me to jot down the information.
“Sunny Oak. That sounds familiar but I don’t think I know it. I’ll need your name and the address.”
But when I turned back, she was gone.
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