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The Late Great Wizard

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The Late Great Wizard

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Author: Sara Hanover
Publisher: DAW Books, 2018
Series: Wayward Mages: Book 1

1. The Late Great Wizard
2. The New Improved Sorceress

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Contemporary Fantasy
Urban Fantasy
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Synopsis

A young woman must work with a magician who is not what he seems to find her father in this new contemporary portal fantasy series.

With her father vanished under suspicious circumstances and her old life destroyed, Tessa Andrews is determined to pick up the pieces and forge ahead. If only their borrowed house didn't shake and rumble as if haunted. But at least she and her mom have a roof over their heads, so her luck couldn't be all bad, could it?

As if to prove her wrong, Tessa gets an urgent call for help one night from crusty old Professor Brandard, one of the people on her charity meals route. She dashes over, only to find the house in flames and the professor gone. A handsome young man steps out of the ashes to request her assistance, claiming to be the professor and a Phoenix wizard. She not only has to believe in him, but in magic, for an ancient evil is awakening and it will take the two of them, plus a few shady friends, to stand against it.

Because the rejuvenation ritual has gone horribly wrong. The late, great wizard desperately needs to get his mojo back, for only if Brandard regains all his magic do they stand any chance of defeating this deadliest of perils.


Excerpt

Chapter One

Not a day went by that I didn't wonder if my father was dead or alive.

I tried not to think about it, but the gray day brought the memories back, and I waited for the low roll of thunder as I stood on the sidewalk outside campus (go Skyhawk CC!), my field hockey gear over one shoulder and my backpack dangling from my hand. Summer had nearly finished up and I was well into the fall semester. It wasn't bad at the community college. It just was not what I had planned. Still, with the next hockey season amping up to start in August, I felt like I finally had a handle on things. I had old friends and new, just no father.

I never told my mother exactly what had happened because I'm the reason he went missing.

It started as I sat at the kitchen table, finishing up my college applications to four different campuses, each one part of my dreams, and had all the paperwork, even the essays, in a nice pile. I opened the checkbook for my college fund and got ready to fill in the last step. He stopped by, smelling of cigarette smoke and stale sweat, courtesy of yet another casino. He hadn't been around much lately.

"What're you up to?"

"Getting ready to mail my applications."

He eyed the stacks, put his hand out and gently closed the checkbook. "Not yet."

"I have deadlines, Dad. These need to get in the mail, with money."

Family members had always told me I was a female copy of him: tall and slender, with soft brown hair and a sprinkling of freckles across my face. I added narrowed eyes as I looked at him. "What do you mean, not yet?"

His eyes, not like mine--I share my mother's snapping blue eyes--had shuttered a little as he hesitated. Then he said slowly, "The account is closed."

"What?!"

"Closed. Empty. Kaput."

I remember jumping to my feet. "What did you do?" My chair slammed to the floor, and the neighbors would have heard it and the shouting that followed, but the storm had closed in, a storm reported to be historic with its downfall of rain and curtains of lightning, thunder with booms of its own. It had shaken the house, but frankly, our home was already falling down.

"I borrowed it. Just for a few days. Until I get even."

I could still hear a hopeful echo to his words but he hadn't gotten it, clearly. Gambling is great when you win. When you don't, you double down out of desperation to catch up, and that's when you lose even more. And he had. "You borrowed enough to close the account? You'll never get even. Grandpa left that money for me, and I've put every cent I've earned into it. You stole it from me!"

"You'll get it back, and more."

"Does Mom know?"

Another house-shaking crash had sounded just overhead. I heard a tree topple in response. I remember thinking there would be branches down in our driveway or backyard, or maybe next door.

He had opened his mouth but I'd known then just like I'd know if he said it now--it would be another lie. A meaningless promise given.

I had lurched to my feet, overturning the table, letters and applications falling everywhere, and screamed, "You ruin everything. Get away from me! Get out of here!"

My father had taken a step back. His gaze ran over my face and stopped at my fisted hands. Barney, our dog, rushed at him, hackles up and barking loudly but barely audible over the crash and fury of the storm.

I had hardly breathed for the anger running through me. "Mom can't pay the bills. We're behind on everything. What happened to you? Why are you doing this to us? You have to stop. Just stop."

His face had crumpled, barely resembling the father I knew. "I can't stop. Not yet."

"Then leave. We're better off without you."

The sky had clashed, gigantic cymbals, and then everything went quiet for a few seconds. I remember raising my fist again.

He left. Hustled out the door with Barney yapping meanly at his heels, and we never saw him again. Stocks, gone. The mortgage, leveraged and foreclosed. We lost everything.

I was the last person who saw my father alive. And he took my dog and dreams with him.

I eventually got used to people watching us suspiciously as if we'd done away with him, friends and reputation falling away. The world turned, and brought new scandals to draw attention, and I graduated high school early, in hopes of starting over. And I had.

* * * * *

This has been a good week. We haven't discovered anything new, but the consequences just keep coming. Mom still half expects someone named Bruno to show up, threatening to kneecap us if we don't make good on what Dad owes the mob. His disappearance is still under investigation, or we are anyway, and the police always tell us, after a significant pause, "There's been no activity on his credit cards or cell phone. John Graham Andrews is off the grid." As if they expect us to confess we buried him in the backyard.

Now we rent from Great-Aunt April. It's a long way from our old neighborhood, but we pay what both my mom and Great-Aunt April call a pittance. Aunt April is so old she remembers when gasoline was ten cents a gallon, so the current price is like heart attack city to her. Still, she helped. That's what family is for, evidently, renting you rundown houses cheaply. Never mind that it's a house where doors open and shut unexpectedly, where the keys on the rack by the kitchen jiggle and ring whenever I come into the house, and where books pop off shelves as if trying to get your attention. I think it's because the foundation of the place has slipped a little.

People helped, a little, at first, but Mom and I didn't want pity, and that's what we mostly got. School was worse. Whispers in the hallway and classroom. Sidelong looks. Popular girls pretended to warm up to me because their parents told them they had to, before giving up. I am not easy to make or keep friends with because I always try to figure out the angle. Everyone has one, right? With the guys, it became obvious they thought a pity date ought to put out. I corrected that notion right away.

We kept wondering then who knew what was going on and why they didn't warn us about it. Tired of the stares, I had quit the JV field hockey team. Grades dropped for a quarter until Mom and I had a heart-to-heart about giving up. Rejoined the hockey team and studied even harder. Walked from the school early. I couldn't imagine what my mother went through, but she put her dissertation on hold for nearly two years, which had to hurt her chances of getting the tenure track job she wanted to land. I know the faculty pressure got even stiffer. So I grabbed the community college partial scholarship when offered and here I stood, remembering what I didn't want to, and trying to appreciate what I could.

"What's up, girl?" Jheri pounded a fist on my shoulder and stopped to grin at me when I swung around. I nearly clocked her with my backpack.

"I'm just deciding how fast I want to run to catch the bus." I smiled back at her. Her expression is absolutely infectious, and one I hardly see because she's usually hidden behind a ton of protective goalie gear. Not to mention her curls, always pulled back with a headband.

"You either need a car or a boyfriend with wheels."

I shrugged. "Neither right now."

She pointed a finger at me--"See you next week"--and she hustled off, the fastest moving person I know. The only reason she's the goalie and I'm the striker is because she has the most incredible eyesight and anticipation. If we go to statewide championships next season, it'll be because of Jheri Browning, near impossible to score against. I watched her dark curls bounce off the back of her neck as she disappeared across the campus parking lot.

A small crowd milled about, students here because they can't afford to be anywhere else or don't need a four-year degree. But most of us have plans, so that's a plus. Skyhawk CC is not an extended high school, contrary to some opinions.

Joanna Hashimoto darted past me, her silky black hair tied back in a ponytail. She was also an early grad, and a mystery. Her father owned one of the country-club-and-golf-courses outside town, and she could afford to go anywhere. But Skyhawk has a rep for computer science, and that's her thing, so I guess she's learning what she can on the cheap. I watched her step into a limo steered by a young and handsome driver, and the car glided away.

A boy brushed past, shoulder contact probably not accidental. I didn't turn to look at him, though. A few of those focused brains seemed to be on vacation as a banner fluttered nearby. The topic was the annual Bachelors and Bachelorettes bash for charity, a good thing to be involved in, I guess, but I wasn't interested. The Andrews family is still better left on the sidelines. Half of Richmond can't decide whether we still need sympathy or we're ax murderers, and the other half just doesn't care. The prettier girls in school wheeled about to look at the auction poster and nudged their friends, laughing, while some of the boys strutted to be noticed as potential dates. Seriously? Leave the action to the runway when the bidders are dying to spend money. I peeled my gaze away, waiting for the bus. Evelyn Statler sneaked in from the side and nudged me in the ribs.

"We'll take you home."

I looked at her over my backpack before hanging it off my shoulder. "You driving?"

"Moron," she said affectionately. "No, I'm not driving. Dad says I can't drive anymore until after the election. He doesn't want anything I do to 'impact the voters.' " She shook her head, blond hair swinging.

"Nice." Knowing Evelyn's impulsive nature, I couldn't blame Mr. Statler for blocking her until he made mayor, but I sounded sympathetic. She was more than a frenemy, but not quite a bestie. She's one of the ones who stayed friends, but I couldn't quite decide why. Maybe it's because she doesn't have an agenda. We've known each other forever, though, and still talk to each other, so that's a plus. I thought I'd left her behind, only to find that she was already at Skyhawk CC, doing both high school and college courses concurrently. She challenged her graduation requirements, spending most of her time at Skyhawk now, as ambitious as Joanna but much more subtle about it. Me? I just want to get educated and get out of here.

We waited for their town car to ease up in the circle coming into the parking lot. "You going to the Spring Charity?"

I gave a negative. "Not interested."

"It's a chance to dress up and be normal for a while."

"Trust me, my dressing up is not normal. Besides, it's an auction." I didn't look at her. She'd draw bids. I didn't think I would, and who needed to be humiliated further?

"It's not just an auction. Everyone that gets bid on carries a pouch with a secret number of tokens that can be used at the Monte Carlo tables. It'll be fun! You might be worth a fortune and not know it! And it's for homeless kids."

I rolled my eyes.

"You can go with me," Evelyn offered.

"You're going to have a date."

"True. Do me a solid and weed through the invites, will you?" She changed tactics.

I raised an eyebrow. "You're in college and you're asking me to do your homework?"

"I," Evelyn said firmly, "am making them put their plans for the evening in writing."

"Wow."

"I know. Sort through 'em for me? You have a better sense of character than I do."

"Said the innocent young blonde to the ax murderer."

Evelyn gave a little snort. I knew her type, though. She liked the bad boys. Well, almost bad. She wasn't really into shocking her parents or doing anything that would jeopardize her father's business and political ambitions. She just liked the dangerous look. I scouted the area, looking for my own bad boy.

I spotted the car just around the corner, almost too far away to keep an eye on us. My bad boy is a good guy, a hometown hero, and we don't talk. He's a war hero and returned home to become a cop, one of the youngest ever, and even though strings were probably pulled to get him his new career, he's worked hard at it. I'm nineteen and he's twenty-three, but there's a whole world of experience between us, and his only interest is in the missing person file. Carter Phillips, veteran, policeman, crush, at your service. He has these winsome eyes to die for. I would give anything if he'd just look at me longingly instead of with an earnest expression which normally read case file blah, blah, blah, missing person number blah.

She socked me in the arm again just as her mom pulled up and the town car doors unlocked. "Attention! Ride's here."

"Right."

We piled in.

Mrs. Statler smiled over her shoulder at me. "Tessa! The two of you making plans for the big night?"

"Not exactly," I told her, but I had the feeling she didn't hear me because she responded, "That's nice. It's good to stay engaged in the community."

Evelyn's dad owned two of the big new car dealerships in town, so she always had a nice ride, conventional, hybrid, or all electric. I settled back into the cushions and watched the outskirts of town as we passed by.

Mom stood waiting for me in the driveway with a bicycle and a toddler chariot attached to it, one of those three-wheeled canvas goodies.

Evelyn peered around me. "What in god's name is that?"

"I have no idea." I sidled out of the car while Mrs. Statler said sympathetically, "Tessa, your mother looks good, with your father lost and all. Bless her heart."

In Virginia, that's often said with as much irony as good intentions. She could have gone on, and would have, but I blurted out, "Yeah, thanks," and shut the car door quickly, trying to block Evelyn from getting a clearer view of whatever my mother had planned. She leaned out the window, perfect hair bouncing, and made hand signs of "call me" as I waited on the sidewalk to make sure they pulled away. Aunt April's car sat at the curb next door, and I pondered the many reasons why it might be. Had something finally broken that Mom couldn't repair?

Copyright © 2018 by Sara Hanover


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