Murder at Banneker College of Magic!
If you read an ARC of Patron of Mercy, you missed out on a sneak peak at Wildfire, the first book in our upcoming Sons of Olympus series.
Our bad! We wanted to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the goods, so check out this excerpt from the first chapter!
The new professor was chirpy.
It was the only word he could think of to describe the way she fluttered around the office like a lost bird, pacing and reading at the same time, letting out little noises of surprise or happiness at random intervals. He couldn’t imagine what she found so fascinating in the term papers of freshman history of magic students, but lucky him, she occasionally decided they were worth sharing.
It wasn’t like he was also busy grading papers.
“Oh, isn’t this adorable?” she crooned, holding one up. “He wants to study the practical application of Spiritus magic in a medical setting. Isn’t that clever?”
Wilder quirked a brow at her. “Is he going to tell the patients their fortunes?”
Okay, fine, he knew that Spiritus did more than that. A little more, anyway. Enough for Dean Woods to give a Spiritus mage the full-time teaching position Wilder had wanted.
It wasn’t that Wilder disliked Theo Ward. He’d been a damn sight better as an office mate than chirpy Helen—that was for sure. They had mostly sat in silence, grading papers together. He hadn’t realized how nice it was until Ward had moved into a huge private office and been replaced by the bird woman who wouldn’t let him grade in peace.
Might as well go home and do his grading there. At least it was quiet at his place, since David had moved out. That was the benefit of one’s long-term boyfriend leaving, saying they had “grown apart.” Grown apart, meaning Wilder hadn’t gotten the promotion they had expected, and David wasn’t willing to date a failure.
Wilder didn’t blame him too much. He wasa failure. He was almost thirty years old, teaching classes part time, and sharing an office with a woman he was sure had been a sparrow in another life.
“Would you listen to this—”
He stood and dropped his pen onto his desk, and she startled, turning to stare at him. “I just remembered I have to feed my cat,” he told her. “She gets annoyed if I’m late.”
He shoved the papers into a loose pile and stuffed them into his satchel. It wasn’t as though the students put much effort into them; he didn’t see why he should either. Okay, fine, maybe one or two of them had actually put thought into their work.
He would give them the grades they deserved.
Chirpy Helen was staring at him like he’d grown another head. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
He blinked at her. “Oh?” He didn’t know what difference that made to her. It was the kind of thing Ward hadn’t bothered him about. The reason that, though he’d never admit it, he missed the tweedy stick-in-the-mud.
“What’s her name?”
Was this some kind of test? Did she doubt that he had a cat? “Melisandre.”
She tittered like a schoolchild. “That’s an odd name for a cat.”
First she didn’t believe he had a cat, and now she was making fun of her name. Incredible. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and counted to three. His therapist said it was always a good idea to do that before saying what he was thinking, on the presumption it gave him time to consider whether he should say it at all.
His therapist was right. Nothing good would come of telling Helen that Melisandre had a better name than she did, so she should learn to shut up before insulting the beloved pets of her peers. He’d chosen that name, dammit, and he liked it.
He snapped the latch on his satchel closed and turned to the door. Halfway there, he realized he’d left his jacket, but he didn’t go back. It was late April—plenty warm—and he’d be fine.
Hell, the cherry trees in DC were finally blossoming, almost a month late though it was. It had been a strange kind of spring: cold and wet, nothing growing anywhere until, suddenly, it was, almost overnight.
That had been the day David left: the day things had started to grow. And it didn’t even feel ironic, in the proper or improper usage of the term.
He felt a thousand times better out in the hall, away from Helen and her pacing and her constant chatter. He’d tried to ask her to stop once, when she’d first moved into the office. She’d given him a wounded look, like he’d questioned her cat’s name, and he’d never tried again.
He turned the corner into the main hall, only to find two men directly in his way.
Not only that, but one of them looked quite pale, lying on the floor on his back and not . . . breathing. He was one of the seniors, Wilder thought, about to graduate and leave Banneker College of Magic once and for all.
But maybe he wasn’t going to leave in the way anyone had expected.
The second man—a short, slight man with golden hair and features that could only be described as cute—was leaning over him, pulling one eyelid up and then the other. He shook his head sadly. “Doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.”
“Is . . . is he dead?” Wilder demanded, even though his breath was trying to freeze in his chest.
The man looked up at him. “What?” He glanced back down at the student and blinked like it was a surprise to find a corpse there. “Oh, you mean him. Wait, are you talking to me?” His eyes widened even more as he looked back up at Wilder, as if the body had been shock enough, but someone speaking to him was beyond comprehension.
Wilder glanced all around and back at the man, holding out his hands to indicate the empty hallway. “Who else would I be talking to?”
The guy gave a lazy shrug and grinned, far too casually to be keeping company with a dead body. “Dunno, you professorial types are always talking to yourselves, aren’t you? I think all those books make you funny in the head.”
“Maybe if you read a book of two, you would realize that ‘dunno’ isn’t a word,” Wilder pointed out. He didn’t have a problem with the slang, really, but he was surprised and bothered and feeling wrong-footed, and when he felt uncomfortable, he tended to ignore his therapist’s advice.
The man hopped up to his feet, grinning at Wilder like a man who belonged in a madhouse. “S’pose so, huh? Dunno what I’d do with all them fancy words, though. My head might explode if I filled it too full.”
Wilder opened his mouth and closed it once, and then twice. “Matthew,” he said, unintelligently.
“His name is Matthew. I just remembered. One of his term papers is in my bag.”
The man looked once again down at the body between them, then gave Matthew a little nudge with his toe. Matthew didn’t rouse. “I guess you don’t gotta worry about grading that one.”
Even for Wilder, that was a little flippant. He looked at the man, expecting to find the same inappropriate grin in place, even as he joked about the death of a student. He was frowning, though, looking at the body like a puzzle, and one he wasn’t enjoying.
“Disappointed?” Wilder asked.
He looked up at Wilder and shook his head. “No. Just can’t figure it out. He’s the second one like this. Can’t see what killed him—he’s just gone.” He looked around the hallway. He seemed to think he’d find the young man standing somewhere else and no longer lying on the floor. Then he shook his head. “Gone.”
He was right. There was no sign of what had killed Matthew. He was just pale and cold, eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling.
“Dad’s gonna be pissed,” the guy muttered. “Nothing to be done now, though. I gotta get back to work. Later, Prof!”
“Hey! You can’t just leave. We need to call—” Wilder’s head snapped up to stare at the man, but he found himself alone in the hallway with his student’s corpse.