|The Wizard's Shield|
The Wizard’s Shield by Karen McCullough
Originally Published As: Magic, Murder, and Microcircuits
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Length: Novel (90,000 words; 234 pages)
Tagline: To solve a murder and retrieve a stolen magical shield, a pair of wizards journey into a dangerous, magical underworld, where the weapons of choice might be guns... or lightning bolts.
A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past invents a shield to ensure he'll never again be tortured almost to death.
The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve the device or destroy it.
When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own ends.
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The rush of a sudden, fierce wind outside drew her to a window to watch the shrubs and palm trees flapping wildly. Sand blew over the pavement and splattered against walls and trees. Dead leaves, loose papers, and other debris danced in the air. A livid, purple-tinged darkness turned the day grotesque. Tendrils of indigo-shaded power floated along with the dark storm clouds.
A flash of lightning seared its way from sky to ground just beyond a row of houses across the street, followed closely by a crack of thunder that rattled the windows.
A man and woman hurried three small children along the boardwalk that led over the dune from the beach to the street. They toted coolers, bags, boogie boards, and buckets. The youngest trailed a towel flapping behind him in the wind. More lightning zig-zagged from sky to ground, not far away. Ilene sucked in a sharp breath.
The father looked up and flinched. Fear tightened his muscles as he dropped a cooler and turned around to snatch up the straggling toddler. His voice carried over the rushing wind. "Get to the van. Quick!"
He nodded toward a vehicle parked down the street. His wife and two older children raced on ahead.
Ilene’s hands clenched into fists. Too much energy crackled in the air. It wasn’t directed at the family, but that didn’t guarantee they wouldn’t get hurt by it. Collateral damage. Some of the more ruthless mages cared little for who else was affected by their activities.
Two flashes hit nearby, one right after the other. The child let out a frightened wail as his father, bent low over him, dashed off the wooden walkway and down the street. Even they could sense the danger building.
Ilene couldn’t trust their fate to chance. She roused her own power, feeling for charged particles in the area. Gathering them in, she rolled and pushed them into position, building a lattice of force around the family. It wouldn’t keep out the wind or the rain--she could have done that with air, too, if she’d had time--but it should keep the lightning from reaching them. For the moment, that mattered most.
Even at a distance, the rush of oppositely charged particles prickled in her brain. The growing polarization signaled an impending strike.
What formed out there made her gut clench in fear. It was so close to the father and child the hair on their bodies must have been standing on end. The man looked around wildly, searching for shelter. The panic in his eyes radiated across the fifty feet or so that separated them.
Would her barrier be enough to protect them? The ground charge was forming so close it could jump right through it if she’d left even a small opening. Ilene reached out toward the building charge differential. Playing with lightning was tricky business. Choosing her positions carefully, she pushed in various weak spots to move the polarizing field.
It sucked a lot of energy out of her to divert its course. Her ribs and head ached as she herded protons in a subatomic cattle drive to get the charge well away from the family. Those minuscule bits of potential energy were every bit as ornery and uncooperative as cows were reputed to be.
Even as the bolt formed, she didn’t know if she’d succeeded. Her breath stopped in her throat for a long, long moment as she waited.
The streak of lightning followed the diverted path to the beach, a safe distance away.
The man ran to the van, getting there just moments behind his wife and older children. He pushed the toddler into the back seat and ran around to the other side, while his wife slammed the rear door and got into the front. Ilene didn’t let out the breath she held until they were all safely inside the vehicle. She released the protective field. The van’s headlights flicked on and moments later it chugged off down the street.
More lightning singed the sky. An inflatable ring rolled down the street like a runaway tire. Ilene shuddered, though it wasn’t entirely the weather that set it off. The storm was a natural thing, but someone--a powerful wizard--was using it.
Using it to attack. The island or the house or its occupants. Brilliant, livid streaks of orange and red mixed with violet and deep blue swirls riding with the clouds. The smells of ammonia and ozone and peppers burned her nostrils.
Lightning flashed brighter and closer. Dangerously closer.
The grumble of thunder grew almost constant. The rushing downpour of rain added to the chaos and noise. Driven by the wind to blow almost horizontally, it splattered against the window in big drops that spread out, then slid down the glass like groping hands trying to claw their way in.
Something was out there. The swirls of lividly hued power grew deeper and more intense. It rode on the storm in frightening concentrations. Why here, though?
Additional Excerpt: http://kmccullough.com/Shield.php
About the Author
Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, three grandchildren, and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
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