Exclusive Excerpt: Reliquary by Sarah Fine (Series Starter)
Get an exclusive look into Sarah Fine's series starter, Reliquary.
Mattie Carver’s engagement party should have marked the start of her own personal fairy tale. But when her fiancé, Ben, is violently abducted the next morning, her desperate quest to find him rips her away from small-town life and reveals a shattering truth: magic is real—and Ben is hooked. It’s not the stuff of storybooks. It’s wildly addictive, capable of producing everything from hellish anguish to sensual ecstasy almost beyond human endurance.
Determined to find out who took Ben and why, Mattie immerses herself in a shadowy underworld and comes face-to-face with the darkly alluring Asa Ward, a rogue magic dealer, infamous hustler…and her missing fiancé’s estranged brother. Asa has the power to sense magic, and he realizes Mattie is a reliquary, someone with the rare ability to carry magic within her own body, undetected. Asa agrees to help find Ben on one condition: Mattie must use her uncommon talent to assist his smuggling operations. Now, from magic-laced Vegas casinos to the netherworld clubs of Bangkok, Mattie is on a rescue mission. With Asa by her side, she’ll face not only the supernatural forces arrayed against her but the all-too-human temptation that she fears she can’t resist.
I pushed through a revolving door and got my first glimpse inside of the Phan Club. It didn’t look so different from the clubs I’d been to in college. A bar occupied one side of the room, but drinks weren’t the only thing for sale. Instead of chipped mugs and spoons, there were rows of glowing sticks and necklaces laid out on the counter. On the packed dance floor, people writhed to the pounding music. Some were wearing the necklaces, others simply clutching them with their hands. A few people were teasing their partners, running the sticks along their bodies. It reminded me of the magic den the night before, only for the younger crowd.
I scanned the room and was relieved that the jerk was nowhere in sight.
I moved along the wall, narrowly avoiding a few grasping dancers trying to pull me into their clothed orgy. My body trembling with the temptation even as I stared in shock at some of the stuff taking place in plain view, I managed to reach the bar without losing myself again. To one side, people were stumbling along and ducking into different rooms down a long hallway. They seemed more stoned than the people on the dance floor.
“What can I get you?” asked the bartender, an Asian woman with short, spiky hair and intricately patterned tattoos down the sides of her neck.
I pulled out the card Bart had given me. “I was hoping I could talk to Nestor. I have a referral from Sandro.”
She glanced down at the card and nodded. I wanted to lean over the bar and kiss her, simply for being the first person who didn’t tell me I wasn’t the right type or that I was in over my head. “I think he’s in the back. I’ll let him know he’s got a customer.”
She headed toward the hallway, but stopped as another guy walked out carrying a box of glow sticks. “Is Nestor back there?” she hollered over the music.
“Yeah,” the guy said in a loud voice. “He’s helping Asa get settled with his clients. He’ll be out in a minute.”
Asa? My stomach dropped as the bartender came back over to deliver the good news. “Oh hey,” I chirped. “I went to school with a guy named Asa!”
Her eyebrow arched. “Probably not this guy.”
“It’s a pretty unusual name.” I took a step back when her eyes narrowed. “But you’re right. That Asa was very straitlaced. Very conservative, that one! Not the kind of person to hang out in a place like this. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong. With this place, I mean.”
I was babbling, and I knew it. “Never mind. I’ll have a glass of merl—I mean, a Bud Light. Can I have a Bud Light?”
She nodded slowly. “Coming right up.”
Good lord, I was not a subtle beast. I’d managed to get myself in the door, but I was my own worst enemy. I sat there with my beer and slowly churned through everything I’d learned. People were buying and selling objects imbued with magic, this drug that could induce phenomenal pleasure with a single touch. But there was more to it than that—the bouncer outside seemed to be able to sense stuff from people, like Bart had done to me the night before, and the stamp lady had a weird ability to influence others, which maybe I’d been able to do with the detective when I’d been holding Ben’s anchor pendant. Grandpa had hinted that some people produced magic naturally, while others used artificial forms… I laid my head down on the bar and closed my eyes, unable to get traction.
And then there was the Asa issue. Ben’s older brother, a known drug dealer even as a teen, this unfindable guy who had threatened to kill Ben the last time they were together. And now someone named Asa was right down the hall, and I was betting he had honey-brown eyes and a sneer that made people feel two feet tall. He was dealing magic now, and I wondered if it hadn’t been as long since the brothers had seen each other as Ben had led me to believe. I sat up straight, downed the rest of my beer, and hopped off my stool, feeling a little queasy. I needed to get Asa to spill.
I melted into the crowd near the bar and cautiously danced my way to the entrance of the hallway, where I slipped in behind a couple that was headed for a room.
“You sure you want to do this?” the woman asked her companion.
“Yeah,” said the guy. “They’ll never trace it back to me. I’ll just put it in the office where he’ll find it and pick it up, and wham—” He glanced over his shoulder, saw me, and clamped his mouth shut.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I don’t judge.” I smiled. There you go. Subtle.
Each door along the hallway had a symbol on it and a number, and the couple peeled off to go into room six, which had a rough cross carved into the door. I wondered what it meant—that guy sure wasn’t here to say his prayers. All alone now, I walked slowly, leaning in to listen for murmured conversations behind the doors. I was mostly met with silence. Some moaning, but I was familiar with that now. And then… I paused in front of room thirteen, which had a hexagon with three parallel horizontal lines through it. Was that the jerk’s voice?
“Everyone ready?” he asked. Then someone else said something, too muffled for me to hear. I leaned closer, straining to catch any hint of what was going on inside, what the jerk might be doing and who he was with, anything that would hint at his true identity or give me a clue I could use to find Ben. “This is going to take a few minutes.”
More muffled words. I leaned closer and pressed my ear to the door.
… Which wasn’t actually fully closed. The moment I put my weight on it, the thing swung open and I stumbled forward, off-balance in my strappy heels. I had the impression of shocked faces in the candlelight as my arms flailed. Then my toed caught and I went down, landing directly on top of an immense shirtless man. Panicked, I slapped my hands down to push myself up, my palms coming into contact with his bare, hairy flesh. And as soon as they did, a rush of intense sensation shot up my arms and into my chest, like my veins had been injected with liquid lightning. My mouth dropped open, but I couldn’t get my lungs to draw air. My eyes were wide, but all I could see were sparks and flashing colors. My thoughts were like the Niagara Falls, roaring and rushing with unstoppable speed straight over the edge, crashing onto rocks, white mist filling the space within my skull.
My head bounced off the floor as I hit the ground. Blinking and gasping, I looked up to see three faces gazing down at me.
Three very angry faces.
“What just happened?” asked the man I’d landed on. His flabby middle was sagging over his belt, and a gold chain held a pendant nestled into his abundant chest hair. “She stole it before I got to feel a thing.”
“Hey, I didn’t steal anything.” I said.
“Shut the fuck up,” a woman snapped. She had garish auburn hair that was clearly dyed and the face of a woman in her late fifties. She was looking at me as if I were a cockroach she’d love to stomp on. “Asa, I demand an explanation. Who is this? Is she a conduit?”
Asa Ward looked down at me with his deep-set honey-brown eyes. “No,” he said, his voice flat. “She’s a goddamn reliquary.”
Sarah Fine is a clinical psychologist and the author of the Servants of Fate and Guards of the Shadowlands series. She was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast. Her latest novel, Reliquary, is available now.