As many of you know, I’ve enjoyed dipping my hands into the Lei Crime Kindle World by creating an alternative history for the series’ main character, Lei Texeira. In April I released the first part of my “mini series”, The Shell Keeper, which takes Lei on a magical journey in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. The response from fans has been heartening, and I was determined to release the second part of the story as quickly as possible.
This week, I released part two of Lei’s magical journey, The Shell Seeker. Like most of my releases, The Shell Seeker can be read as a stand-alone work. That said, I think readers will enjoy reading the two works sequentially.
An excerpt from The Shell Seeker:
Lei Texeira pushed away her drink. “Let me get this straight,” she said from between her teeth. “Last night you wowed me with a paranormal stunt on the beach. By means I’ll never understand, you transformed into an African wise woman because . . . you need my help?”
The petite and supernaturally gifted hostess of the Delacorte Bed & Breakfast twirled one of the rings on her manicured hands. Pixie Delacorte wasn’t easily toppled from her three-inch heels, and Lei suspected she was silently amused. They were seated on the back patio of the Bed & Breakfast, the Atlantic’s waves crashing behind them. With the approach of the noon hour, sunbathers were converging on the Isle of Palms Beach.
“I was going for ‘African shaman’ if you must know,” Pixie replied.
“How do you become someone else?”
“How does anyone change? With practice.” The hostess took a sip of her drink. “I assumed there was a better chance of grabbing your attention if I appeared old and wise. Be fair, sugar. If I’d appeared as my usual and admittedly perfect self, would you have stuck around long enough to learn a thing or two about Lowcountry magic?”
Lei grunted. The assumption was accurate. She would’ve walked away.
Nothing from last night made much sense, certainly not the handful of glowing shells that had revealed snatches of her future. In stunned silence, she’d watched Pixie—transformed into an old woman the color of ebony, with dozens of cowries woven through the braids spiraling from her scalp—bring the Atlantic under her command. Waves retreated from the seabed in a fabulous column. The waters whirling and dancing around them, Pixie had then revealed tempting flashes of the future Lei would hold once she joined the South Hilo PD in Hawaii.
Recently Lei had graduated from the Police Academy in California. No one finished those grueling months of training with an inclination to believe in magic, or the supernatural, or whatever strange gifts Pixie held at her command. Still, there was no refuting what Lei had seen with her own eyes. Delicate shells glowing with an unexplainable, inner light. Fleeting images of her future partner on the South Hilo PD, and a murder scene they’d encounter together. And finally the voice, humming through her ears, of the man she’d one day love.
Breaking into her musings, Pixie said, “Well? Will you?”
Lei brushed a frizzing curl from her eyes. “Will I what?”
“Solve a crime. You are a police officer. Now that I’m teaching you how to trust your instincts, you’re perfectly equipped to solve the case.”
“You showed me snatches of my future to hone my instincts?” A less than admirable motive, even though it was effective.
“I needed to demonstrate that you should trust them.” A hint of triumph flashed in Pixie’s expression. “I succeeded, yes?”
There was no glory in denying the facts. She was correct. With the full moon hovering overhead, she’d given Lei a mystical experience to inexplicably bolster her confidence in her ability to excel at police work. Soon Lei would put her talents to the test in the new job in Hawaii.
Despite her better judgment, she heard herself say, “What crime are you talking about?”
“Tuesday night, before you flew into Charleston? The Pirate Necklace was stolen from the Belvedere estate. Worth millions. The police don’t have a single lead.” Pixie studied her nails, found a chip in the red polish. “Or they have too many leads, which amounts to the same thing.”
“Hold on. Who names jewelry after pirates?”
The hostess toyed with the umbrella popping out of her drink. “Nathaniel Belvedere, that’s who,” she replied tartly, “in 1719. He stole the emeralds from Blackbeard’s ship during the blockade of Charleston. Nathaniel was only seventeen, but he was fearless. Already a capable mariner, working the docks and dreaming of becoming a landowner. He went on to build one of the biggest fortunes in South Carolina.” Pausing, she surveyed the Atlantic’s rippling waves. “Can you imagine? If I’d lived on the Charleston peninsula while pirates were sitting on ships in the harbor, I’d have been beside myself. They were awful men, utterly lawless.”
“Blackbeard—seriously? Aren’t pirates classic fare in storybooks?”
Pixie’s eyes blazed. “Edward Teach was very real, and people did call him Blackbeard. He marauded from the West Indies to the coast of our new country.”
Lei surveyed the colorful mansions and pretty hotels lining the beach. “Hard to imagine pirates in a place like this.”
“I assure you, they were here. Charleston is one of the oldest port cities in the U.S. Back then, the city was called Charles Towne. The colonists from England and France lived in fear of pirates capturing vessels coming and going from the harbor. Blackbeard was the worst of them all. Held the wealthy for ransom, robbed passengers, and stole whatever booty he found.”
“And some kid got aboard his ship?” Lei tamped down her disbelief to give the story a fair hearing. “How did he pull off the stunt?”
“Late one night, Nathaniel Belvedere crept aboard from a rowboat. Sheer luck he wasn’t killed on sight. According to Charleston lore, the crew was sleeping off a rum binge. The lookout was a kid Nathaniel’s age, forced into service by Blackbeard on a recent foray in the West Indies. Nathaniel helped the boy escape. The boy was so grateful, he told Nathaniel about the emeralds. The pirate had taken the gems from a Spanish nobleman. A whole sack of emeralds, and the largest was the size of a robin’s egg. Young Nathaniel couldn’t resist the temptation, and he asked the boy to show him the way to Blackbeard’s cabin.”
“They got past a notorious pirate to steal the gems?” The story was becoming more implausible by the second.
Pixie sent an impatient glance. “Pirate or not, a bottle of rum will put anyone in a drunken stupor. Blackbeard never heard a thing.”
Fair enough, and Lei said, “Okay, assuming I believe the gems’ provenance, why should I care? If someone lifted the necklace, your local PD will handle the case. You don’t need me.”
“But we do!” Pixie scooted her chair closer. “Sydney Belvedere is my oldest and dearest friend. We must help her. The Pirate Necklace belongs to her stepmother—it’s the most cherished heirloom she owns.”
“Your friend is helping her stepmother recover the necklace?”
“More like hoping to avoid her wrath if the necklace isn’t recovered.”
The comment didn’t make sense. Why would the stepmother hold Sydney responsible?
Lei was prevented from pressing for a better explanation when the hostess added, “Yes, the police are looking for the thief. The Belvederes have also hired a private detective to make inquiries, a man by the name of Meeks. Neither the police nor Meeks will solve the case. We need a woman’s intuition to get to the bottom of this. Your intuition.”
“The local PD will have women on the beat. If you’re looking for the feminine touch, start there.”
“They won’t have your tenacity, sugar. Or your ability to follow a hunch.”
Resisting, she pointed out, “You’re psychic. Look what you did last night. You showed me snatches of my future. Why not get a handful of shells, and do your thing? Have a vision of the thief, or something else to help local law enforcement crack the case?”
The volley of questions sent worry scuttling across Pixie’s face. Or fear—there was no telling which. There was more to this story than she’d revealed, although no reason came to mind why she’d hide relevant facts. If she wanted help, giving a thorough accounting of the crime was the first order of business.
“Pixie, what aren’t you telling me?”
When no reply was forthcoming, Lei absently regarded the tourists filling the beach. Already colorful groups of towels were scattered across the sands, and children splashed in the surf. Two men, bronzed from the sun, waded through the waves with their surfboards. Several women stood a few feet from shore, waist-deep in blue waters, sipping beers and sharing conversation. Licking her lips, Lei wondered if she should slip inside the B&B and hunt down a brew. She was supposed to be on vacation. Besides, at this rate Pixie would never come clean.
Finally the hostess broke her silence. “Yesterday, before you arrived at the B&B? Sydney asked me to use my powers to locate the necklace,” she began. “We’ve been close since we were kids. She’s one of the few people who know about my talents, which, if you’re wondering, run in my family.”
Lei chuckled. “Let me guess. You come from a long and respected line of witches.”
“I come from a long line of extraordinarily talented people,” Pixie corrected with mild offense. “We’re not witches.” She gave a look of disgust. “Mixing all those smelly potions with roots and chicken bones—how do you ever get the stink out of your carpets?”
Meaning witches did exist? Lei decided not to ask. Pixie was liable to wander from topic to topic without remembering to explain about the robbery.
Still, Lei’s curiosity urged her to ask, “Everyone in your family can transform into other people, stuff like that?”
“I’m the only one capable of transformation. Took years of practice to learn the trick.” Pixie took a sip of her drink. “Where was I? Oh, right. Like I was saying, I tried to have a vision of the thief, and the most awful thing happened. I couldn’t see anything. Nothing at all. I was overcome with a terrible sense of loss, something my sweet friend Sydney will endure if the jewels aren’t recovered.”
“Your emotional attachment to a close friend got in the way of your psychic powers?”
“Exactly. If the necklace isn’t found, Sydney will pay the price through a dreadful personal loss. As if she needs the trouble. Her life is a study in despair. I can’t stand the thought she might be in for more heartache. If the necklace isn’t found, she will be.” Pixie sent a hopeful glance. “Then you arrived at the B&B. Right away, I knew you’d help if I used my powers to reveal just how talented you are at solving crimes. I knew you weren’t the type of woman who’s easily persuaded. That’s why I showed you a glimpse of your own future for proof.”
Taking this in, Lei studied her hands. Thanks to her Aunty Rosario in California, she had five days in Charleston to lounge on the beach, take in a massage . . . or solve a crime in the Deep South. Was getting involved an incredibly stupid move?