A knight of the church & a heretical forger must put aside past enmity to steal the Church's holiest relic & save the last city. #pitprom
For centuries, the Lily of Graces has protected Brighton from an unnatural wilderness bent on the city’s destruction, only now, the Perimeter is failing. Devout Church Knight, Eli St. John, is certain that the only way to regain precious ground is to bring the artifact closer to the frontlines, but the Church isn’t exactly going to hand the Lily over. If he’s to pull off the heist of the century, he’s going to need one hell of a magical counterfeit to fool them. That means calling on the Forger, an unsanctioned enchanter in a city where Church officials persecute rogue magic.
When Eli knocks on Cole Danziger’s door one stormy winter night, she knows he’s trouble, even before he gives her a bad fake name and asks her to commit high treason. He may not know who she is—yet—but Cole hasn’t forgotten the last man to see her sister alive. If he wants her help, he’s going to pay dearly for it: with answers or his life.
To save the last city in the world, Cole and Eli must confront their pasts, expose a centuries old political conspiracy, and contend with a magical artifact who just might have a mind of her own.
Set in a post-apocalyptic, post-restoration secondary world, THE LILY OF GRACES is a character, relationship, and suspense driven work that tackles the complexities of place, memory, family, and home. With retro world-building and a well-balanced cast of characters including underrepresented identities and own voices, LILY explores difficult themes such as trauma, grief, and broken family dynamics with humor and hope.
Complete at 122,239 words, THE LILY OF GRACES is a standalone novel with series potential, and the first book in a proposed seven book series Forgeries of Grace. Three books have been completed.
The full manuscript and a brief synopsis are available at your request. Thank you for your consideration.
Cristal G. Thompson
First Ten Pages:
History was liar, and so was Eli.
The small brass tile beneath his foot read Brighton Historical Landmark, or it would have, if not for a century's worth of sea green tarnish. He didn’t know when the last time anyone from the Historical Society had been on this side of the city, but he was willing to bet it hadn’t been in his life time, or that of his parents. History had never been en vogue, not even with the bicentennial closing in. No, in Brighton, history rotted like a two day old corpse before it was forgotten.
Too much had been forgotten here. Or maybe not enough. The overhead lights shone dimly through hobnail glass. The fixtures had been white once, but not for a century. Maybe more. They cast the hall into shades of sepia, just another unkindness heaped atop the worn-down brownstone to which Eli had been directed. The carpet was threadbare and musty, pattern and color as faded as Dockside, and in as much need of demolition as the rest if anyone had asked him.
Not that anyone would.
Eli counted doors as he passed, listening beneath the roar of winter storm for sounds of occupancy, sounds of trouble. The late evening news crackled with static behind the first, fading to silence halfway down the hall, but the next three held back only echoes of emptiness. It was hard to feel alone in a city of a million lost souls, but by the time he reached the half-glass door at the end, he felt as abandoned as whatever good sense he might have once claimed.
The door was freshly painted—a crisp practical navy—and the air was sharp with resin and solvent, the scents stronger than the rain or the rot. Ripple glass gleamed, not a smudge or fingerprint to be found on its cold surface. Nothing in this part of Brighton was clean anymore and Eli had to pull his fingers back from the single word etched faintly in the center.
Eli stared down at the heavy slip of vellum in his hand. The business card was embossed with an address and no more. He glanced at the iron number and letter above the door. 3D. He was in the right place. If such a place could ever be the right one. He slipped the card into the inner breast pocket of his coat and wondered for the hundredth time what he was doing here.
A foghorn shattered the still night. The plaintive sound was much too close and Eli startled, feet planting from long habit as he reached for his gun. On hot days when the wind hit just wrong, he had smelled the dank sea rot, heard the distant noise of that same horn, but that was as close as he had ever come to Dockside. This was not the part of town a respectable person found himself in under any circumstances.
But then, Eli wasn’t respectable anymore, and his circumstances had spun far beyond any that he might once have imagined.
The voice that called through the door was rich and sultry and tactile. A most treacherous brand of female. That low mezzo traveled through the thin glass, revealed cracks in the seal around the door. Eli stood, one hand inside his jacket, fingers brushing the composite grip of his favorite gun.
Creator’s light, he needed to get himself together.
Eli dropped his hand as the door knob began to turn. He took a step back and to one side as the door opened. There was no point in giving anyone a bigger target than he already was.
“Are you coming in, sugar?”
She was tall. Eli saw her eyes first, great pools of limpid near-violet framed with sweeping lines of black and expertly thickened lashes. She must collect secrets, he thought, with a quick frown at the sudden fancy. Her eyes were crowded with the shadows of them and they were too numerous to have been all her own.
“Or are you going to stand out there all night waiting for the trash collectors?” she continued in a slow drawl that touched places in him long quiescent. She dropped her g’s, but the coarse accent didn’t quite match the rest of her. He wondered how often she used it, what it would take to have her speak to him in her own voice.
Eli mumbled an apology as she stepped back in invitation. She had the face of a painted Canova, cool marbled perfection, gentle serenity ruined with the application of ruthless color. Her hair fell softly to her shoulders, loose waves too rich to be what so often passed for strawberry blonde. Eli thought the sharpness of her makeup a blasphemy, but it was her face, she could do as she wished. She was not for his gaze for all that she hung in the doorway framed by the colors of stained parchment and night sky. The exaggerated curves of fine crimson wool turned the lines of her suit into something almost obscene. He found himself staring inanely at her feet. The sensible black pumps were of quality leather, but the nearly transparent wash of silk that shimmered down her calves turned them into something deadly.
“Benedict sent me,” he managed to mutter as he followed her into the room.
The office was small, nearly barren, and fastidiously clean. The walls were the same whitewash as the hallway, but fresher. A steel desk dominated the center of the room, battleship grey paint mostly worn through.
“Not me.” The woman nodded toward another half-glass door on the adjacent wall. “You want Cole. I’m just the secretary. Can I take your coat and hat?”
Some secretary, Eli thought, ashamed of his appreciation. He handed her his hat, shrugged out of his wet trench and passed that over with care for the water dripping all over the floor.
“’Just the secretary’ my ass.”
The door swung open and a woman stomped out, a dervish of agitation and impatience in every step. She wore grey slacks with brown suspenders and a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up strong, tanned arms. Beneath a scattering of freckles, she had the most honest scowl Eli had ever seen.
“You are killing me with that draft, Tandy,” she complained. She brushed between them, tread heavy, and closed the main door to the office with mostly restrained ire. “Killing. Me.”
“Sorry, Cole.” Tandy smiled, sounding anything but. She crossed the small office in long, rolling strides, sat with effortless grace on the edge of the small ladder-back chair behind the desk. The antique was as unexpected here as she was. In Brighton wood was for the wealthy and the Church. Tandy inclined her head slowly in Eli’s direction. “You have a visitor.”
Cole deigned to notice him then. Eli wondered how many men came to the office so late at night that she could afford to overlook one. When she snapped her gaze to him, it was all he could do not to flinch at the demand.
“Benedict sent you?”
She wasn’t quite hostile, but he was definitely under the impression she wasn’t glad for the possible work.
Her brown hair was longer than was fashionable; she gathered the waving locks into a merciless twist while he tried not to gape down at her. Benedict had led him to believe he would be welcome.
“Go on then.” Cole shoved a pen from Tandy’s desk through the knot at the nape of her neck and nodded toward the partially ajar door she had just come through. “I’ll be along.”
A gust of wind pushed the storm in through the open windows behind Tandy, rattling horizontal blinds and casting glittering raindrops against the warm light of the office. Eli didn’t believe himself to be a superstitious man, but he was having a hard time not seeing the weather as a portent.
“Don’t touch anything,” Cole added in clear dismissal.
Eli obliged reluctantly, offering Tandy a polite smile and nod of farewell as he stepped into the other room. It was easily three times the size of the outer office, and not so much an office itself as a live-in library, with floor to ceiling bookshelves taking up most of the walls, and a large window seat that pulled obvious double duty as a bed. The light was dimmer here than in the reception area. There was but a single weak bulb in the fixture overhead and the ceiling tiles were the same navy as the front door, cluttering the room with secrets and shadows.
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait and have me walk you home?” Cole asked from the other room.
“Oh, darling,” Tandy demurred, a smile in the words, “you know I’m the most dangerous thing out there.”
Cole laughed. The sound was low and smoky and Eli suddenly felt that he was intruding even though there was no way the conversation was intended to be private. He stepped farther away from the open door, squeezing past a large desk of ancient carved wood, conspicuously clear in a room of almost pleasant clutter. There were scars across the leather top, stains of ink and paint? They could have been blood, he supposed. She was the Forger.
“I’ll see you for breakfast, wench,” Cole said. There was a rustle of movement, then another refrain of Cole’s dark laughter. “Was that for me or for him?”
“Whichever one of you needs it,” Tandy retorted pertly. “Be careful.”
“I always am.”
“Liar.” The accusation was fond and then Tandy’s heels clicked across the hardwood floor.
Eli heard the door open and close behind her and quickly finished his circuit of the room, narrowly missing, in his unease, the pot-bellied stove in the corner. There was a large sack of peat on the floor beside it. The scent of scorched earth mingled with notes of lemon and sage as they wafted from the copper pot atop the stove. A kettle simmered beside it, over-filled to a faint, watery whistle.
“Careful,” Cole said from the doorway. Beside her mouth was a perfect print of Tandy’s red lips. “It’s hotter than it feels on a night like this.”
Eli jolted and spun fully toward her, nearly falling over the back of an overstuffed velvet armchair.
“You could move something out there, you know,” he groused, sidestepping to the narrow perimeter of the room and glaring at the bookshelf closest to him rather than at her.
“I could,” Cole replied. “But then I would have only myself to complain to for the constant interruptions.” When she spoke again she was closer, and Eli had to fight every instinct not to reach for his gun again. “If Benedict sent you, you didn’t come to borrow a book, so what do you want, Mr…?”
He turned to face her, giving the name so easily that anyone else would have believed him. It was common enough, but certainly nothing so trite as Smith or Doe. Cole’s eyes narrowed, something dark shifting in the muddy, mossy green and despite having her by at least six inches and fifty pounds, Eli nearly took a step back.
Two centuries ago, there had been forests around Brighton. Great towering hardwoods with deadly shadows. The early city had been built from those trees, and the Church had beaten back those shadows with the ordinance of their Creator. Eli’s great-grandfather had been one of the first lumber barons, and in his parents’ salon hung landscapes from those early years, vast, moody forests of emerald and ochre. The kind of mysteries that even the young knew killed. Eli had nearly forgotten those paintings, and the accompanying wash of cold shame that had always followed that first fearful leap of his heart.
That is until he met Cole’s suspicious stare.
“You might want to try something less obvious.” She rolled those green eyes heavenward as she turned away, and they were no more dangerous than his, if more mocking in her irritation. “Mr. Williams.”
If Cole was betting, and she did so on occasion, she would put money on Mr. “Williams’s” name being something proper and stalwart, something old and blue from the lost continents, maybe a forgotten king or a revered saint. The hat and jacket Tandy had taken from him were cheap, but the quality of his shoes put him from Old Towne—how the hells had he made it to her door without trouble, Cole very much wanted to know—and if he couldn’t trace his lineage right back to the Arks she would eat one of hers.
“So what are you?” Cole asked, pulling her handkerchief from her pocket and scrubbing Tandy’s lipstick from her cheek.
She turned back to him, took a step into his space to see if he would give ground and how easily. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a powerful build that his nondescript, but still too expensive, suit did little to hide. Another man might have been clumsy with the bulk or arrogant, but despite his difficulty navigating her cramped office, Cole could see that he was neither.
“What am I?”
He might have seemed a bit too fascinated by Tandy, too uncertain in his interactions with the beautiful singer, but he wasn’t nearly so uncomfortable with his body. He had settled somewhat now that they were alone.
“Warden?” she asked, more to rattle him than in any true guess.
He stepped back against the armchair he had nearly fallen over, sank his fingers into the faded green velvet as Cole slipped past him to turn on one of the lamps.
Cole jerked her chin up, snapped her eyes to his like a punch as he blinked in the sudden illumination. Dirty marshal maybe, but he didn’t have the look of corrupt law enforcement. His stare was at once too direct and too fluid. He didn’t think he had anything to prove so he didn’t bludgeon her with his gaze.
He stared blankly over her shoulder and she brushed by him again, crowding to test. He was graceful and cool. Blonde and blue like a warrior angel, jaw chiseled just so. His skin was light, dusted faintly with sun and five o’clock shadow. She might not have noticed the tension beneath it if she hadn’t been looking for it, but he smelled of blood and death and she knew he wasn’t clergy—at least not one of the sanctimonious bureaucrats most common to the Church nowadays—and he wasn’t smooth enough to be a politician.
The last was thrown half in jest but his glance shifted almost imperceptibly as he turned again to face her. Cole smiled; Williams didn’t. His stare shifted from summer to winter, suddenly cruel and empty. Oh, he was a knight, alright. She knew that look far too well.
Cole hopped up onto her desk, pushed back to center and folded her legs tailor fashion before her. “You…” She paused to let him wonder. “...have just become my most interesting client, Mr. Williams.”
He smiled then and she wasn’t expecting it, not with such brittleness in his eyes, but his lips curved almost against his will, something rueful, as bitter as the night outside.
“And here we haven’t even gotten started,” he replied.
Cole nodded toward the chair before him, reached behind her for one of the desk drawers. “Drink?”
“Perhaps,” he considered, blue eyes warming to cool distance as he stepped around the chair and sat. He settled back against the velvet, dark suit adding shadows where Cole preferred light. He studied her at least as hard as she was studying him, but she had the advantage. She knew what he saw.
“Yes.” He nodded politely. “I believe I will. Thank you.”
The mannerisms were definitely Old Towne. Benedict always did send her the most interesting work, but she could have done without the hassle tonight. Cole pulled a bottle of bourbon from the drawer, top shelf stuff, a gift from Zeke that had been more for him than her. She set it on the desk before her, reached back for two mismatched glasses.
“The bourbon will have to do,” she said, deliberately seeming to misinterpret Mr. Williams’s look of surprise as disapproval. “I save the whiskey for second dates and real names.”
She poured them each two fingers of liquor, slid his glass toward him so that he would have to reach to retrieve it from the edge of the desk. Cole watched his hands. He hadn’t offered his when Tandy introduced them, nor she hers. There was a lot to be learned from a person’s hands. Hers told the story of her entire life, but only one or two could read it. Mr. Williams’s were steady, his fingers calloused with too familiar wear. She waited until he had the glass in his grip, waited another breath for him to lift the edge to his lips.
“So, what’s an axeman doing on this side of town?”
To his credit, he didn’t flinch, and he didn’t deny her deduction, which meant he wasn’t a fool. He met her carefully bored stare with something like challenge as he savored his first swallow of bourbon.
“I need a forgery.”
The words echoed deep against the bottom of his glass and he took a second sip as if he were waiting for the sarcastic quip that teased her tongue. Of course, he needed a forgery. Cole raised a brow, but not her glass. He scowled when she didn’t ask again, but Cole had learned long ago not to beg anyone for their secrets. Like as not, they would heap them at her feet in their own time. She waited while Williams finished his bourbon in one elegant gulp. He set the glass back on the edge of her desk without a sound.
“The Lily of Graces,” he said, not quite meeting her eyes through the harsh light of the reading lamp. “I need an exact copy.”
He wasn’t the first to want a copy of the holy relic, but he was certainly the first affiliated with the Church, and there was something dangerous in his addendum. An exact copy, as if he knew what that meant.
“Why?” Cole smirked. “Someone steal it?”
“Yes.” He took her untouched glass from the desk, knocked the contents back without asking. “I did.”
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,