Excerpt – Exiled


As a rule, Glenn didn’t like surprises. Not one bit.

In his experience, surprises never meant anything good. He liked his routine, he liked plans, he liked to know, as much as possible, what every minute of his day would be like when he got up in the morning. He tolerated some degree of uncertainty in his work, because after all it wasn’t like ancient ships had had GPS on board to signal the precise place where they’d elected to sink, but long hours of research and his knowledge of the Great Lakes minimized surprises to an acceptable level.

Less surprises also meant that he was able to keep better control of himself—and of his inner beast.

So when he came in to work that morning and found a brunette behind Harvey’s desk, his first thought wasn’t that she was definitely better looking than his assistant or that her eyes were the exact color of the Lilies Pond where he’d learned to swim, a blue that tried to pretend it really was green.

He didn’t even blink at the streak of white that flowed through the left side of her hair, the thick bleached strand tucked neatly behind her ear. What he did think was that an interloper was about to ruin his morning. Maybe even his week.

Even worse, a spark of interest lit inside him, the sleepy creature he tried to silence the best he could rearing up to take a better look at this unexpected development.

Strong. Pretty. Interesting. She has potential.

He glowered at the woman, resentful both of her presence and of the awakening she inspired within him.

“Who are you?” he demanded, his voice close to a growl. “Where is Harvey?”

Unfazed by a look that could make grown men fidget like schoolboys caught doing something naughty, she looked back at him calmly. She didn’t call him rude but he could hear the rebuke in every one of her words when she answered.

“My name is Nadia. Harvey hired me to fill in for him while he takes care of a family emergency. He said he should be back in a week, possibly two.”

Glenn’s glower didn’t abate in the slightest.

“He hired you,” he repeated flatly. “Just like that. Without checking with me first. Without checking with the person that actually makes the hiring decisions by virtue of signing paychecks.”

The girl—no, not a girl, a full-grown woman who continued to hold his gaze as though she chatted with irritated six-foot-four, two-hundred pounds men every day—gave a one-shoulder shrug.

“He said you were about to start a salvage operation and needed someone here immediately. He stayed as long as he could this morning waiting for you, but his plane was leaving at ten so he had to go. He also said he tried to contact you multiple times since Friday but you wouldn’t answer your phone. And he said, I quote, ‘Just do the job and ignore him when he grunts at you like a caveman.’”

Silent laughter erupted inside his mind.

I like her.

Annoyed, Glenn grunted. And immediately regretted the instinctive reaction when a corner of Nadia’s mouth twitched up toward a smile.

As much as he would hate to admit it aloud, he did need someone in the office. The weather was warming up quickly, and in a few weeks he’d resume giving diving lessons for the season. Calls were already coming in, classes filling up quickly, and while Glenn could take in reservations as well as Harvey did—he’d done it for two years while building up his business and reputation—at the moment he was wading chest deep into preparing for a salvage operation he hoped to conduct before he was too busy with the lessons.

Between his continued research of the wreck, from the kind of boat it had been to the cargo it had held, and the paperwork he had to complete with the state authorities to obtain a permit to salvage the site, he didn’t have much free time. He’d spent his weekend planning his upcoming lessons and the chartered dives that kept his company afloat. Salvages were his passion, but they often yielded little more than personal satisfaction.

“And speaking of doing my job,” Nadia said, picking up a notepad from the desk and glancing at it, “I took a call from a journalist at the Clevelander a little while ago. Miss Oakley? She said you two were supposed to meet at noon but she has a conflict. She’d like to meet at one instead, at the same restaurant. I went ahead and changed your reservations. I trust that’s all right?”

She looked back up at him, the barest arching of an eyebrow daring him to criticize the work she’d accomplished so far. For a first day, and after Harvey had left her here alone, Glenn could begrudgingly concede that she was off to a good start. Harvey really had to trust her if he’d hired her and thrown her at the deep end of the pool like this.

If Glenn had known about it, he might not have stopped at the diving shop where he bought his supplies to place an order and drop off some flyers before coming in to the office. He doubted he’d have done anywhere near as well if he’d just walked into a completely new situation as she had. As a matter of fact, he knew he wouldn’t have done as well. After all, it had taken him three years to find his place in this world after he had left home. Still, praising her now when he’d just complained about the way she’d been hired would have felt silly.

“Mail usually comes in around eleven,” he muttered. “Bring it to me when it does.”

The internal laughter redoubled, now with a mocking edge directed toward Glenn. Ignoring it, he turned away from Nadia, entered his office and pointedly closed the door on her satisfied little smile.

Damn Harvey for going away without warning and knowing Glenn would be an ass to whoever filled in. Damn him for awakening now after years of general disinterest toward the world. And damn Glenn himself for being so predictable.

He shook his head when he looked at his desk and saw his cell phone there, peeking from under the edge of a map. He’d forgotten the stupid thing again when closing up on Friday night. He was ready to bet that if he checked he’d find both messages and texts from Harvey—not that anyone else had his number, really.

He still wasn’t convinced he needed a cell phone, but Harvey had insisted that the company needed matching phones and a shared plan. Seeing how Glenn hadn’t been able to offer him an actual raise at the time, he’d gone along and bought the phones. With a bit of luck, this new salvage might allow for a bonus. Harvey deserved at least that much.

Dropping his leather jacket on a chair, Glenn walked around the desk, battled with the Venetian blinds until they finally consented to remain up, and turned to the map of the lake he’d left there Friday night. When the depth lines and other markings had all started to blur like a giant tangle of algae, he’d had to admit it was useless to keep working.

Several repositionable stickers marked the recorded locations of known wrecks in blue—the same wrecks he’d visit with clients in a couple of months. Three red dots, farther out into the lake and much closer to the border line with Canada, were tentative markers where ships might have sunk; Glenn intended to visit each of them in time to ascertain whether anything was there or not, the first step toward a salvage operation.

The marker that held his attention when he sat down, however, was purple. It designated the Emelia Bride, a vessel from the late eighteen hundreds that had sunk, on what sailors on nearby vessels had described as a perfect day, for no reason anyone had ever understood. The lack of survivors had not helped on that front.

After tapping the map with an absent finger, he pulled a folder from a desk drawer that creaked before surrendering its contents. Half a dozen photocopied pages and twice as many grainy pictures were all Glenn had to show for more than a year of research into archives and old ledgers kept in the ‘rare documents’ section of the Cleveland Public Library. He doubted anyone had ever shown an interest in the dusty volumes except him.

He usually liked to have more information than this before he launched into a salvage operation; his time, money and safety demanded as much. The Emelia Bride felt different, however. He couldn’t have explained why, but from the moment he’d first come across the name, something had pulled him toward the vessel. Even the creature inside him had stirred when he’d done his first descent to the wreck—something unprecedented as he hated being underwater about as much as Glenn enjoyed it and usually retreated as far as he could during dives.

A hunch, and the interest from a being who didn’t care about such things… Glenn had made himself the promise long ago not to believe in any such thing as ‘fate,’ but there he was…

* * *

Half an hour trickled by as he reviewed once more every scrap of information, tried again to decipher the smudged entries of the cargo manifest, peered at the photographs he had taken on his reconnaissance dive a few months ago. He only looked up at a single knock on the door to watch Nadia walk in, a steaming mug in one hand and a small pile of envelopes in the other.

“I made coffee. I thought you might want some.”

When she started putting the mug down on the desk, he opened his mouth, ready to chastise her for risking staining his map, but she set the mug to the side, clear of any papers, and Glenn closed his mouth sullenly.

Why are you so determined to be upset with her? Because I find her interesting?

Glenn refused to respond. It had been months, maybe years since he had been as awake and aware as he was now, and encouraging him could only lead to trouble.

“Harvey didn’t tell me what I’m supposed to do with the mail,” Nadia said, handing it over. “Would you rather I open it and filter out junk mail or…”

She let the rest of the sentence hang between them, waiting for an answer, but Glenn wasn’t paying her any attention anymore. The topmost envelope, bright red and smooth under his fingers, was closed with a circle of black wax. He didn’t need to turn it over to know there wouldn’t be a return address or even stamps on the front. This might have been slipped in the mailbox, but it wasn’t a normal piece of mail.

Glenn should have seen it coming, he supposed. After all, he’d felt the heat of a firecall trying to reach him several times in the past week, and had refused to acknowledge it every time.

The creature rumbled, his growing agitation matching Glenn’s.

“Mr. Argonis?” Nadia asked. “Is everything all right?”

He nodded absently, still unable to look away from the envelope.

“Fine. Thanks for the coffee. Please close the door on your way out.”

Whatever she might have thought of the dismissal, Glenn couldn’t begin to care, not when the envelope was burning his mind to cinders. He set it down on the desk and made a point of going through every other piece of mail before he finally picked the red envelope up again.

Without thinking, he ran the pad of his thumb over the wax seal. The imprint was smudged, as though it had been done in a rush, but he’d have recognized the stylized dragon in a circle anywhere. It’d been all around him when he was growing up: painted, carved, molded. Marking everything in his father’s house as royal—including Glenn himself.

When he’d left, getting rid of every piece of embroidered clothing he owned had been liberating. Before a week had passed, he’d found himself absently doodling that same symbol on a napkin in a diner and wishing he could go home.

He turned the envelope between his fingers, reading his name on the front, delaying just a little longer. What was the point, though? He’d have to open it sooner or later.

Holding back a sigh, he finally broke the wax and pulled out a single sheet of paper folded in two. It bore only three words, and the signature wasn’t the one he expected, but with that seal, it was as strong a command as he could receive in writing.

Firecall me now.
M

Maikel might have penned that letter, but Glenn knew their father was behind it. He had to be if Maikel had been allowed to use the seal.

Unless Leto was in charge now. That prospect wasn’t any more appealing.

Dropping the envelope and letter on the desk, he stood abruptly and turned to the window. From seven floors up, all he could see outside was a building taller than this one on the other side of the street, cars moving at a snail’s pace down below, a bit of bright blue sky above, but no hint of the lake even though it was less than a mile away. He longed to be out there, on the water, or even under it, where no crimson envelope could have found him, where the creature receded so far it was as though he didn’t exist at all.

Tightening his fists briefly, he opened them to pull on the string and draw the blinds. They fell closed with a clatter, shutting out the spring sunlight.
He sat down again and picked up the coffee mug marked with his company’s logo: the outline of a ship’s bow in a circle. He’d hoped to make a seal out of it, someday. His own seal; his own life.

He brought the mug to his lips and drank deeply, barely aware that it was exactly sweet enough, with no cream—just as he liked it. Harvey, it seemed, had been more concerned in describing Glenn’s coffee preferences than the appropriate handling of mail. Or had Nadia specifically asked Harvey about it?

No matter, now.

He drank and drank until the mug was empty, then, folding the piece of paper back in two, he dropped it in the porcelain mug. He pivoted in his chair until his back was to the door, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, allowing the dragon within him that he’d caged for so long to rise a little toward the surface. When he opened his eyes again, he exhaled. A thin stream of fire passed his lips and ignited the paper.

 

continued in Exiled…

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