I spent a lot of time, under the advice of a lot of different people, revising the opening chapter of my November release, Under the Moon. This scene doesn’t even come close to resembling what’s in the book, but I still like it because it shows what Quinn is capable of. I hope you enjoy this introduction to my main character!
Quinn Caldwell’s power was waning.
She felt it ebbing as the moon set, late morning on a perfect October day. She was exhausted after seven all-nighters in a row, and the source of her power would be out of her reach in just a few minutes.
But she couldn’t turn away the child in front of her. Bedraggled, tiny, the little girl held out her to Quinn, and she dredged up the energy to rise.
“What’s your name, sweetie?”
Quinn took her hand and followed her out of her office into the main area of Under the Moon, the roadhouse that filled her time between cycles and fronted her main business. Petunia led her to a corner of the empty main room, where she’d parked a beat-up stroller.
At first, Quinn thought the stroller contained a doll. Then the baby inside kicked its feet, knocking a soft blue blanket to the floor, and she could hear its whimpers. She crouched in front of the stroller. Petunia hunkered down beside her, even though the move put her eyes roughly at tire level.
Quinn hid her smile. “What do you need, hon?”
Petunia didn’t look at her. “My brudder. He cries all de time.”
“Babies do that,” Quinn told her gently. “It’s how they communicate with us.”
Petunia shook her head. “My mom says somefin’s wrong.”
Quinn didn’t need power to know her mother was right. The baby’s whimpers were becoming fretful cries, though not very loud ones. More like the sound of someone in long-term suffering than acute pain.
“Where is your mother?”
“Who’s taking care of you while she works?”
Petunia shrugged. The baby boy, who was now staring intently at Quinn with huge blue eyes, stuck his fist in his mouth.
“Do you know your phone number?”
Petunia shook her head. Quinn sighed and rubbed her temple. She wasn’t sure she had enough in her to try to diagnose the boy, never mind fix him. Assuming there was anything wrong in the first place, and that it wasn’t major. It would definitely be wrong to do it without the mother’s knowledge and permission.
Quinn was about to tell the girl so, when she held up a grimy piece of paper.
“I forgot. Mama sent dis.”
The note was short.
Dear Mz. Kwinn. You fixed my naybor’s crop last year. I hear tell lots of storys that you are magic. Please to fix my boy. Doc says nuthins wrong. I can’t pay you now but Pettey is a hard worker. Thank you. Dolly Watkins
A solid, warm hand landed on her shoulder.
Sam’s voice said it all. He knew the money didn’t matter to her, and he also knew how hard it was for her to say no. But it was his job to care about risk, legality, and her well-being. Under the warning in his tone, however, was also understanding. He knew he didn’t have a chance of swaying her.
She rested her hand on his for a second, then gave him the note to keep in the files. Just in case.
“What’s your brother’s name?” she asked Petunia.
“Hello, there, Johnny.” She undid the strap holding him in the stroller and lifted him into her arms. He was a hefty baby with pink skin and silky blond hair, about four months old, she guessed. He still sucked his fist and studied her face, looking as confident as his sister in her ability to help him, despite his ongoing fretfulness.
She sat in the captain’s chair at a nearby table and settled him on her lap. Then, supporting his back and head with her left hand, she laid her right on his belly and closed her eyes. Drawing on the little power there was left, she focused on Johnny.
Sam had once tried to get her to describe what she did, but it wasn’t possible to. She didn’t use any normal human senses. He wanted colors, paths, feelings. But she just knew. That was all.
And what she knew about Johnny made her smile. She wished all of her jobs were so easy. She unsnapped his sleeper and leaned him forward, her hand under his jaw. As his head tilted forward the rolls of his neck spread out, exposing a flaming red spot.
“What is it?” Sam asked.
“Simple irritation.” She fingered the tag in the back of the sleeper. It was stiff, the corners sharp. “Can you get me a pair of scissors, please?” She closed her eyes again and pressed her fingers to the redness on the back of the baby’s neck. She just needed a tiny snap of power. For several minutes she felt nothing. Then there was a spark inside her. She quickly flicked her fingers. When she opened her eyes the redness was fading. Johnny’s whole body relaxed, and he cooed.
“He all better?” Petunia asked her.
“Yep.” Quinn held the baby as Sam carefully and thoroughly cut the tag out of the sleeper. Then she let him take the baby from her and put him back in the stroller.
“Does Johnny wear sleepers like this all the time?” she asked Petunia.
The little girl nodded. “He has a yellow one, a blue one, and a green one.”
Quinn showed her the tag. “Tell your mom to cut these out, and Johnny will be fine, okay?”
“I haffta work first.”
She suppressed sorrow at the girl’s earnestness. She couldn’t have been more than five years old.
“You don’t have to work, honey. This was an easy job. No charge.” She looked up at Sam, who already stood behind the stroller, ready to push it out of the bar. “You’ll take them home?”
He nodded. “I’ll make sure there’s a responsible adult there, and if not, I’ll wait until her mother comes home.” His brow furrowed. “Will you need me?”
“No, I’m fine.” She stroked her hand down Petunia’s hair. “Can you tell Sam how to get to your home?” The girl nodded. “Okay, you all get along now.”
“Thank you, Mizz Quinn.”
“You’re welcome, honey.” She stood and watched them leave, Sam maneuvering the stroller with one hand, holding Petunia’s with the other, and deftly opening the front door with his back. She heard the dead bolt click a moment later and smiled. He was trying to save her the dozen extra steps to the door. She was grateful. If she didn’t lie down immediately, he’d return to find her flat on the floor.
She made it back to the office and collapsed on the cot behind her desk. Another cycle done. Only twenty-five-and-a-half days until the next one.
She could hardly wait.
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