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Under Wraps : The Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles
Call the Underworld Detection Agency.
As a human immune to magic, Sophie Lawson can help everyone from banshee to zombie transition into normal, everyday San Francisco life. With a handsome werewolf as her UDA boss and a fashionista vampire for a roommate, Sophie knows everything there is to know about the undead, the unseen, and the uncanny. . .
Until a rash of gruesome murders has demons and mortals running for cover, and Sophie finds herself playing sidekick to detective Parker Hayes. Dodging raging bloodsuckers, bad-tempered fairies, and love-struck trolls is one thing. But when Sophie discovers Parker isn't what he seems, she's got only one chance to figure out whom to trust. Because an evil hiding in plain sight is closing in. . .and about to make one wisecracking human its means to ultimate power. . .
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March 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Under Wraps by Hannah Jayne
This was why I didn't do magic. Well, this and the fact that incidents like this wreaked havoc on my organic cotton-blend wardrobe.
I stood by while Nina perched on her desktop, hands on hips, teeth bared, dodging the singed-hair smelling puffs of smoke that shot from Mrs. Henderson's scaled, flared nostrils.
Lorraine, the Gestalt witch and resident UDA Accounts Payable shark, was hopping from foot to foot, muttering a calming spell that made flowers bloom on the desk and then wilt under Mrs. Henderson's dragon-fire heat.
"Mrs. Henderson," I said, reaching out to soothe the eight-foot dragon. "I'm sure Nina didn't mean anything by her comment. If you would just let me help--"
Mrs. Henderson angled a surprisingly well manicured claw at Nina and jabbed at the air in front of her. "That woman should not be allowed to deal with the public!" she spat, blowing a fireball from between pursed, candy-pink lips.
"Oy!" Lorraine yelped and scampered out the door, patting her smoking scalp while I watched Nina's small hands ball into fists, her dark eyes agape, glaring at the bowling-ball-sized hole burned into her hand-smocked blouse.
"This was an original!" Nina shrieked.
"Mrs. Henderson," I tried again.
Mrs. Henderson clapped a claw over her mouth, but I could still see the snaking smile on her thin dragon lips. "Sorry," she said. "That one really got away from me."
"If you think that I am going to change my mind, or wear"--Nina wrinkled her nose in disgust--"fire retardant fabrics to deal with this, this--"
"Client," I offered.
"Lizard," Nina spat, "who can't hold her fire breath . . ."
I cringed as Mrs. Henderson's eyes bulged. "Who are you calling a lizard, Nosferatu?"
I ducked just in time to miss a spout of fire that engulfed Nina and fizzled on her cold, marble skin. She sniffed, the charred remains of her singed dress falling off and crackling to the desk, leaving her stark naked, stiletto heeled, and completely bald.
I watched Nina rise up on her toes, her sharp fangs pressed against her Resolutely Red MAC lip stain.
"Nina!" I stepped in front of her just in time to catch a blast of Mrs. Henderson's fire. It balled around me, the orange-yellow flames held an inch from my skin. They crackled, white hot, then fizzled out.
Mrs. Henderson frowned, her tail flopping on the floor and upturning my potted spider plant. "I'm sorry about that, Ms. Lawson." She shrugged, her slick gray-green shoulders hugging her ears. "I guess it's a good thing you're immune."
So, not only do I not do magic, magic can't really be done to me. So, exit zombie love-slave spells, demonic possession, and Disney princess movies; enter standing in between a stark-naked vampire and an eight-foot dragon on a Tuesday afternoon.
"Mrs. Henderson," I said, using my most calming tone. "How about if I personally handle all your paperwork from now on?"
Mrs. Henderson eyed Nina and then pinned me with a yellow-eyed glare. "All of it?"
I nodded, holding out my hand. "Every last form. I'm sure we can get this all worked out for you"-- I smiled beguilingly at Nina--"with no further problems."
Mrs. Henderson slapped her paperwork into my open palm. "Okay," she said, the heat still in her breath. "But expect me to file a formal complaint with Mr. Sampson about her!"
She turned around, sashaying her large, scaled behind out the door, her tail slithering on the floor behind her.
Nina jumped off her desk and shimmied into a lemon yellow sheath dress she yanked out of her handbag. "I swear, that woman!" she muttered. "Nina--"
Nina raised what remained of her left eyebrow and then rubbed it vigorously until the hair started to grow back. "This is not my fault," she said. "That woman was smoking. Smoking in my office!"
I sighed. "Mrs. Henderson is a dragon. She can't really help it."
"Oh. So I'm just supposed to sit here, breathing all that smoke for minimum wage? Oh, no." Nina crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Not in this lifetime."
She wagged her head, enviable locks of glossy black hair sprouting from her scalp, growing until she had a full head of waist-length hair.
I nonchalantly patted my Brillo Pad curls and lowered my voice, trying my best to offer a calming vibe.
"Nina, you haven't breathed in one hundred and sixteen years. You're a vampire. And we don't make minimum wage."
Nina was unmoved. "You breathers are all so literal. Is it lunchtime yet?" She rose up on her toes and peeked over the counter that separated us--no minimum- wage-making UDA staff--from them--the general demonic public.
"There's hardly anyone here," Nina said. "Let's take a long lunch. Abercrombie is having a sale. And all their male models are topless." She grinned. "And yummy."
I looked over the counter and did a sweep of the UDA waiting room. It was crowded, shin to shoulder, with the usual eleven o'clock crowd of minotaurs, gargoyles, Kholog demons, and trolls. I rolled my eyes at Nina, stepped up to the counter, and yelled "Next!"
"Ugh," Nina said, hopping up onto her stool. "You are no fun."
By 4 P.M. I had authorized the existence of two immortals, rubbed enough slobber off a hobgoblin's file to okay his power addition, and de-magicked a Salite witch who was caught trying to torpedo a Carnival cruise after she got salmonella at the captain's dinner. I glanced at the dwindling line of clients in the waiting room and then out the window, watching the gray of dusk replacing the gray of fall in San Francisco.
"Nina," I said, leaning over my station. "You're going to have to grab the rest." I nodded toward the window. "It's time to go up."
Nina blew out a sigh. "Kiss Sampson for me." I slid a THIS LANE CLOSED sign across my desk, rummaged through my shoulder bag, and unwrapped a Fruit Roll-Up before heading down the hall toward my boss's office.
"Just another day in the life," I muttered under my breath as I skirted the microwave-sized hole in the linoleum where a wizard exploded six weeks ago. Really, could operations be that busy?
Like I said, I don't do magic. Hell, I don't even know how to program the DVR. I can't toss lightning bolts (so very witchy) and my flesh-eating abilities are limited to Popeyes Chicken and the occasional veggie burger. I don't have superhuman strength or immortality or X-ray vision or even a body that looks all that good in a leather bustier (a requirement for the vampire chicks). I have a goldfish named Tipsy (well, had--there was a run-in with a Llhor demon, but that's a different story) and an old Honda with a dent in the front. I can type eighty words a minute, make a mean pot of coffee, and chain up a full-grown man in thirty-four seconds flat.
That last one is important, since my boss is a werewolf. I know what you're going to say: that werewolves don't exist. Only, they do. Werewolves, vampires, witches, trolls--pretty much everything you ever feared was under your bed? Yeah, they're real. But they're not under your bed. Generally, they're here: at the Underworld Detection Agency. We're kind of like the DMV for the demon world--long lines, lots of windows, forms up the wazoo. It's our job to get all the demons registered, documented, and legal and take care of any Underworld disputes. UDA is pretty forward thinking when it comes to demon life. We've got job counseling for the demon who has decided to leave the Underworld careers of terrorizing children and hiding under beds and move to something more permanent and substantial--like working the register at the Pottery Barn on Chestnut Street. We even offer a cutting-edge demon-human immersion program. It usually culminates with an exorcism on the part of the human, but still, it's a start.
What? You thought that demons were an unorganized bunch? Common mistake. Vampires are obsessive compulsive. Witches are scatterbrained. Trolls are short tempered (and reek of mold); zombies can't be trusted for anything and are always losing their forms. Werewolves are organized--which probably explains why my boss, Pete Sampson, is not only the most respected man in the Underworld, but also one of the most respected men up there (that would be the so-called normal world). It also doesn't hurt that when he's human he's got warm, chocolate-brown eyes that crinkle when he smiles, a head full of lush, sandy blond, run-your-fingers-through hair, and a body that holds his Armani suits exceptionally well.
But, I digress.
The Underworld Detection Agency is located thirty-seven floors below the San Francisco Police Department--although most of the SFPD has no idea we're here. Though the regular world is pretty widely populated by members of the Underworld community, it's not something either world advertises all that much, lest Hollywood lose its stronghold on the demon-as-horrible-murderous-monster thing. And, there are a whole lot of Underworld inhabitants that solidly frown on dead-undead/human-nonhuman fraternizing. Something about warm blood and mortality weakening the demon gene pool.
Those are the demons that spend most of their time in UDA lines, trying to force legislation that limits crossbreed marriage and touting the benefits of total world demon domination. They're really pushy.
Demon or not, every morning I pop into the elevator, and when the heavy metal doors open, it's just another day at the office of the undead.