It’s time to go back to Blackhurst and solve a mystery.

If you’ve been following along, you’re probably about out of patience and ready for answers. The wait is just about over my loves. All Is Bright will be available November 10th. Here’s the first chapter to tidy up that cliffhanger from the last book. Pre-Order now and make your holiday just a little brighter!

Chapter 1

“This better be important,” Denver grumbled and scrubbed his face before pulling his hair into a ponytail. “You know how much I need my beauty sleep,” he said then offered Toly and Wilder a wave when they appeared on the screen. They were bleary-eyed on their sofa, across the street, and Denver was in an armchair by the fire in a t-shirt and flannel pajama pants.

“Not important enough to warrant a dress code,” Lavender scolded but Denver made a pffft! sound.

“You couldn’t pay me enough to put on something like that in the middle of the night for no fucking reason. Not that I’m getting paid. I don’t know why I’m even in on this call,” he replied. Lavender made a thoughtful sound as he checked his watch.

“Blink says someone tried to assassinate him while he was taking a bath tonight. He should be here any moment now…”

“That doesn’t explain why we’re here,” Wilder said and Toly nodded along but he was busy hunting and squinting through the lenses of his glasses.

“Couldn’t we just get a memo in the morning?” Paul asked as he trudged into the living room.

“Where’s Reginald?” Lavender asked and his neck stretched toward the hall and the guest room. Another window appeared on the screen and Cyril glared back at them from his study at Blackhurst.

“Thank you for joining us, Lord Marston,” Cyril said dryly when Reginald hurried in.

“Right here,” he said with a harassed wave. There was none of his usual effervescence or mirth as Reginald hugged one of his laptops against his chest and dropped onto the sofa. “Sorry, I’m a newlywed,” Reginald added. 

“At least he didn’t order you to attend in-person,” Casper said from somewhere behind Cyril.

“We’ll get to that shortly,” Cyril said as he paced. “You’ve all been briefed on the earlier events. Have any of you found anything that might shed some light on who’s targeting us?” He growled at them. Lavender’s head cocked and he gave Cyril a stern look.

“We’ve shared the little we’ve learned. We agreed we’d share whatever we found,” he reminded him pointedly and there was a terrifying wildness to Cyril’s eyes as they swept across the screen.

“That was an impossible shot!” Cyril accused as he pointed at them. “I don’t know of many people who could have made it.”

“Is that why you assembled us? To make sure we were accounted for?” Denver asked and clearly shared Lavender’s amusement at Cyril’s horror. Cyril hated the idea that there was someone dangerous out there who wasn’t on his payroll.

“Excuse me,” Reginald said as he pointed at his camera. “Could you ask him to come in,” he said and Lavender noticed Professor Elliot. He was peeking into the study and Cyril was startled and furious as he spun.

“You weren’t to be disturbed,” he said tightly and Elliot nodded as he edged into the study and waved at the screen. 

“I wasn’t until I tried to go to my room and change,” he replied sheepishly. “I mean, I was obviously disturbed when that bullet almost killed me but I was fine until your pet robots tried to keep me prisoner,”

“Hold on…” Lavender felt a tickle of a glee. Cyril was obviously smitten with his art expert, judging by the nonverbal battle happening in his study. How delicious… “Didn’t you say someone tried to kill you in your bathtub, Cyril?” Lavender asked and it was one of those moments of karmic ascension. He finally had proof that Cyril Blink was human and just as weak as the rest of them.

“Watch yourself,” Cyril growled and Lavender hummed happily as he studied Professor Elliot. He was delicious as well. He reminded Lavender of Sage, actually… He glanced at Sage and hoped Cyril wouldn’t keep them too much longer.

“What was that you said about my husband?” Lavender asked then looked to Reginald. He had been snooping about that evening at Blackhurst and had overheard their conversation. Reginald smirked like a shit from the sofa.

“I believe it was something about him being a pretty fucktoy, if I recall correctly,” he murmured.

“He did indeed call him a ‘pretty fucktoy,’” Toly confirmed as he searched for something through the lenses of his glasses. Elliot laughed sarcastically at them and Lavender’s brow cocked. Hot under the collar. Delicious, indeed.

“First of all, kiss my pretty ass. I do my best to make sure he has as little fun as possible,” he replied as he sat on the arm of the sofa. Cyril was livid and Lavender was ecstatic. Oh, well done, Cyril, he snorted inwardly. “Sorry for the interruption. Pretend I’m not here,” Elliot added as he crossed his arms and Lavender almost clapped in delight. Do begin as you mean to go on or you’ll just be another gem in that dragon’s vault.

“Oh. I see. He’s a funny arsehole. Excellent choice, sir,” Reginald muttered. “If I’d known you were into that I… Ouch!” He gasped after Paul elbowed him and Lavender nodded in approval. “I’m just saying, if that’s all he was looking for,” Reginald whispered loudly and Cyril turned to Casper thoughtfully. Lavender’s hackles went up as Cyril’s smile tightened.

“Just as a fun thinking exercise, how would you kill Lord Marston?” He asked and Casper was ecstatic as he considered.

“Well…!” He smothered a hissing giggle as he mentally picked through the poisons and weapons in his arsenal at Blackhurst. His hand swept through the air and trembled as he reached for something only he could see. “O’Malley was on the right track when he meddled with Marston’s drugs but I would have fiddled with his party drugs, not his work drugs. We all know how much our dirty little lord loves his chem sex. I’d have him shitting blood and introduce him to a very different kind of dragon,” he mused and Paul was ready to throw Reginald’s laptop but only pointed at the screen. His eyes were hard with rage and fear but it spread around the room and Lavender stretched his neck. He tightened his fists behind his back, keeping a firm grip on his emotions. Casper wouldn’t do it but Cyril…?

“I don’t know how you know about that but I’m coming for you if he gets a runny nose,” Paul vowed and Casper laughed.

“Relax, agent. It was just a thinking exercise.”

“And a good reminder, I’m hoping,” Cyril added and they all became alert. Lavender was tired of Cyril’s meddling and ready to know what this was about. “As no one’s been able to find anything and the attacks appear to be escalating, I think it’s time for me to call all my generals to Blackhurst,” he announced. Lavender nodded and Reginald seemed inclined to agree that it was probably best to keep matters as far away from Lake Cliff as possible. 

“Sounds like a good plan… I don’t understand why you needed all of us for this Zoom meeting,” Wilder said tactfully. Cyril smiled and winked at Wilder, ruffling Lavender’s feathers again. It was calculating and Lavender hated that Cyril was always ten steps ahead of him.

“You’ll understand soon enough. Please pack your things, Messieurs Lavender and Marston, the younger Mr. Martinez and Captain Walsh. A jet is being prepared as we speak,” he commanded. “We also have questions for the elder Mr. Martinez, Dr. Sharp and Mr. West and are extending the invitation to stay as well.” Cyril watched Lavender closely so he remained still and unblinking but he didn’t like the idea of taking Toly to Blackhurst and would prefer to keep Lane and Aiden in Lake Cliff.

“I’m going too,” Paul stated firmly and Lavender held his breath. He didn’t want to get in a fight with Cyril over Paul. He’d have no choice but Lavender silently prayed that Cyril wasn’t in the mood to pick a fight with a hard-headed federal agent.

“Of course, Agent Sloan,” Cyril said tightly. I didn’t think so. Must be serious, indeed.

“There you are.” Hawk was exasperated as he walked into Cyril’s study and waved at Elliot. “I was told to check on you but you vanished.”

“Hey, Hawk. How’s it going?” Wilder said dismissively but he pointed at Cyril. “Toly doesn’t work for you and it isn’t safe for him to travel,” he argued but Cyril grinned as his eyes slid to Reginald. Lavender hated the cold chill that crawled up his spine.

“Bugger it all!” Reginald slouched and hid behind his laptop as he scrubbed his face with his hands.

“I think it’s time to let them in on your brilliant little plan,” Cyril murmured but Reginald shook his head. Paul pushed out a hard breath as he sat forward and nudged Reginald.

“He’s right. Time’s up,” he urged gently. “Don’t worry, I’ll go down with you if they take it badly.”

“What the hell is he talking about?” Denver demanded from his box on the screen.

“What have you done, Marston?” Toly whispered. Cyril sighed wearily and held up a hand.

“I gave Marston an extremely important task several months ago. I asked him to put together a team to design a new physical security plan for Blackhurst and upgrade the house’s entire security system,” he said and reports, blueprints, threat assessments and diagrams appeared on the screen as Reginald’s fingers hurried across the keys of his laptop.

“Jesus fucking…” Denver whispered as he quickly processed everything he was seeing until the diagrams and assessments began to disappear.

“What in the hell is…?” Reginald complained as he worked faster. “What the…!” His brow furrowed in confusion and Lavender tensed and looked toward Toly and Wilder’s house as his nerves fluttered. “Fuck!” Reginald cried when his laptop went dark and he disappeared from the screen on the wall. “That fucking…” Reginald jumped to his feet and raised his laptop to hurl it. “This is why I keep backups,” he stated and Lavender grabbed the gun in his coat as the door burst open. It was Toly so Lavender froze. His instincts told him that death was imminent but it was Toly.

“Marston!” Toly was pure fury as he raised his hands and Lavender covered his head and ducked as sparks rained from the lights, and screens and speakers around the room keened. The wires in the walls smoked and there was a loud hum as Toly overloaded the voltage coming into the house. Lavender was scared but his only thought was that he couldn’t get Sage out in time.

“Toly, stop!” Lavender begged.

“How could you?!” Toly screamed at Reginald as  his finger pointed and twisted. Reginald yelled as he pulled out his earbud and the hum grew louder and the walls shook.

“I only did it to protect us! I was trying to help you!” Reginald cried as he held up his hands but Toly’s eyes were huge with indignant rage and they all swore and covered their heads as a small drone swooped in through the open door. It cut through the room and Reginald dove as it buzzed him. “Listen to me!” Reginald begged.

“No!” Toly shook his head and pushed back his sleeves. “I didn’t need any protection! I was free and you sold me to Blink!” He pulled back his fist as the drone circled around to take another pass. He was about to hurl it at Reginald but Wilder slipped through the door and grabbed his wrist.

“No!” Wilder yelled. “Calm down for a moment, güero!”

He’s ruined everything! They thought I was dead but now they know and we’ll never be safe!” Toly’s nostrils flared and his hands snatched, poked and swept through the air and the drone whipped through the room.

“Please!” Lavender yelled over the loud hum and drone’s propellers as he edged a little closer but Toly shook his head stubbornly.

“I risked everything so I could start over and be free and he ruined it!

“I wouldn’t do that to you!” Reginald promised quickly as he stepped around the coffee table then yelped and shielded his head when the drone sped past his shoulder. “For the love of… Toly! Let me explain!” 

“I’m not a fucking child, Marston! You didn’t ask me if I wanted to build that for him! I’m not a toy you can amuse yourself with!” He demanded and Reginald nodded quickly.

“Yes! I know! But who’s going to touch you if it hurts Blink? Who’s going to risk his wrath if something happens to one of his hackers?” He asked suggestively. Lavender groaned as he rubbed his temple.

“I know what you were thinking but your plan’s clearly got a big weakness. What happens when someone wants to hurt Blink?”

“We were attacked because we know his secrets,” Denver said from one of the phones in the room.

“See!” Toly howled. “He sold us all to Blink and none of us are safe now!”

“Wait!” Lavender barked and pointed hard. “No one in this room belongs to Blink. Especially you. I’ll clear that up with him myself, if he’s confused,” he swore and Toly stepped back and lowered his arms. “You’re free, Toly. I won’t let anyone take that from you again.”

“You’ll protect me from Mr. Blink?” Toly asked and it was trembling and unsure. Lavender silently cursed Reginald for shaking Toly’s faith.

“With my life, if I have to,” Lavender said sincerely and the humming and keening stopped. Paul sensed that Toly was listening and it was safe so he took a few cautious steps closer and held up his hands.

“There’s a good chance the attacks against Reginald, Toly and Denver were someone tripping Blink’s security protocols to see how Lake Cliff and Blackhurst would react in the event of an attack or a distraction in order to pull off a Trojan horse maneuver,” Paul explained carefully as he stepped around Reginald so he was between him and Toly. The drone swooped and Paul swung and slapped it at the wall. There was a pop! and a spark as it burned the wallpaper then crashed to the floor.

“No!” Lavender cried then threw up his hands. “Whatever.”

“Reginald’s paying for every bit of this,” Sage promised as his finger circled overhead. “And you better believe he’s fucking grounded.” He glared at Reginald but he made a pfffft sound.

“I’ll pay for it but I don’t work for you and you’re not my father.”

“No. But you work for me. You’re under house arrest—if we survive this—and your husband’s going to be personally responsible for your every keystroke,” Lavender said and Paul nodded.

“His internet is going to be severely limited. Like, he can order sushi and text me. That’s it until Toly figures out how to build a pen for him,” Paul decided. Reginald gasped as he pushed Paul out of the way.

“You’re all taking this to such a ridiculous extreme!” He begged as he raised his hands pleadingly.

“Extreme?” Toly held up his right hand. The skin was still pink and looked tender from the wires in his hand melting after he was shocked. Lavender shook his head.

“You’re under house arrest until Toly’s forgiven you and feels confident that he can keep you corralled,” he said as Paul nodded in agreement and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I’m sorry but we’re going to have to earn their trust back and make it up to them,” he said.

“This is…bloody wonderful,” Reginald said as he sank onto the couch and his arms hung limply between his knees. “I got us all the best insurance policy in the business and this is the thanks I get. And I can’t do anything to fix it,” he added and his lip pushed out as he wilted. Lavender felt a whiff of pity then snorted.

“You’re lucky we didn’t let Toly light you up. I’ve got to go wake Lane so he can break it to Aiden. Get packed everyone, we leave for Blackhurst in an hour,” he said then swept from the living room so he could call Lane.

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It’s time to go back to Blackhurst and solve a mystery.

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