Today I get to participate in the blog tour for book 2 in Paula Millhouse’s urban fantasy series, Hunters’ Watch Brigade: THE GAME. Keep reading for an exciting excerpt and a Q&A with Paula! (Interested in starting with book 1? Check out my post: INITIATION)
Hunters’ Watch Brigade: The Game
Publication Date: June 15, 2018
A demigod’s work is never done…
All monster hunter Samantha Silverton wants is a little R&R. She and her sexy partner, cat shifter Max, have a week off in the city that never sleeps, and she intends to enjoy it. But before she can unpack her suitcase, she’s caught up in the middle of a wicked game—a smartphone app driven scavenger hunt that’s bringing all the big, bad Supernaturals to NYC to play. The bad part? The game was the brainchild of Alex Van Dam—Sam’s first love. What’s worse? She has to play alone.
Maximillion Ra hasn’t quite got a handle on his unique shifter magic yet. He’s in love with Sam, but if he’s ever going to be any good to her, he has to face his family’s curse. But how can he leave Sam now, especially with her old flame in the picture?
Alex Van Dam isn’t interested in who wins his game. He just wants to find the final prize—an ancient Greek relic. Once he has it, he’ll use the artifact’s magic to control all the Supernaturals in Manhattan, starting with the Hunters’ Watch Brigade.
Only Sam stands in his way. And without Max by her side, even the monster hunting daughter of Poseidon has to wonder if she stands a chance…
“Just, great, Shade.” The New York Museum of Natural History? I stared up into the violet eyes of my vampire handler, tapped the seven-inch raised scar on my left forearm, and drew out my blue-crystal trident, Atlantis. He had to be freaking kidding me. “And you want me to do what?”
Shade Vermillion had said something about a wizard and a giant rat, but after that, I hadn’t really heard anything else because a booming hammered in my ears. I hated rats.
He pointed at the front entrance door off Central Park West and 79th Street. The hours of operation were clearly posted. The museum had closed half an hour ago, so human casualties wouldn’t be an issue.
Shade showed me and my boyfriend Max a tablet with the details of the mission he was offering us. We’d just celebrated Max’s graduation from basic training for the Hunters’ Watch Brigade. We had a full two weeks of R&R planned in the city, and I wanted to show him everything I loved about Manhattan.
Our vacation had officially started an hour ago, but Shade had called us in to help out with one last mission. So much for time off. We should have gone to the British Virgin Islands, instead.
“Someone opened a portal around back of the campus near the planetarium. My team and I will head over there to make sure nothing gets in or out of that thing while you two check out the inside of the museum.”
I stared up at my boss who’d dressed in jeans, boots, and a black sweater. He didn’t need it to keep the crisp late-December weather at bay. I figured he styled himself like that so he fitted in with the rest of the humans. “You’re the best damn monster-hunter in the HWB. You can do this, Samantha.”
Shade always used my full name. The formality kept us at a professional distance, and I liked it that way. To everyone else, I was Sam. I didn’t need him blowing smoke up my ass. Besides, I loved to hunt monsters. No cause for the urging.
“Sure, she can do this,” Max said. He stood up to his full six-foot-seven height, ran one hand through his dark-brown hair, and stared Shade in the eye.
I glared up at my sexy guardian/boyfriend/cat shifter, whose native form was a thirty-five-pound Maine Coon housecat. While they were both right—I could do this—the real question was, did I want to?
The last rays of sunshine streaked pink and orange across the New York City sky. Sunlight didn’t bother Shade the way it did other vampires. My dad, the Greek god Poseidon, had given him a free pass to Daywalk for a year to follow up on some critical HWB business with some nasty vamps. I wondered how that was going for him, but now was not the time to ask.
“Rat Patrol. My favorite job.” Max smiled and cracked his knuckles with a loud resounding pop. Then he extended his three-inch-long, razor-sharp claws. “You ready, Sam? Piece of cake, right?”
I think I nodded my head.
I stared up at the stone building and swallowed hard. I’d been on field trips to this museum as a child but had never set foot in the place on a mission. I mean, what kind of lunatic hits the most famous institution of learning in New York City?
“You got a tip from Chad?” I asked. “About the rat?”
Chad was one of our junior operatives. He was a seventeen-year-old wizard who also worked for the museum while he finished high school and transitioned to college. He was kinda like me—one of Shade’s kids—but I was nine years older than he was.
Shade tapped his index finger on the tablet’s screen. “Chad recognized a rogue HWB wizard, Dusty McLane, snooping around earlier. He’d asked to review some ancient manuscripts from Greece—he always did have a passion for all things Greek. But he’d hung around, long after he seemed to have been finished. Then, this afternoon, Chad noticed that one of the journals kept in the modern book collection in the research library had gone missing. He called us in on it.”
“And that’s when surveillance captured video footage of this wizard using his magic to revive one of the taxidermist’s mounts of a giant sewer rat?” Max asked, with a little too much glee in his voice.
Shade nodded. “It’s not unusual to catch wizards stealing. They take what they want when it suits them. Talismans. Treasure. Books with secrets.”
I grimaced. “I freaking hate rats. Any self-respecting New Yorker hates rats. They’re filthy, and they grow to the size of raccoons around here.”
Shade grasped my arm and stared at me with searching violet eyes. “I should pull someone else in on this one. Your vacation started an hour ago. I just thought, with your Greek heritage and all, you might have an edge.”
My trident Atlantis, a gift from my dad, generated a soft pulsing buzz in my hands, like a cellphone vibrating a new call. Whenever paranormal shit was about to hit the fan, I got advanced warnings from my weapon. “We’ve got this,” I said and searched Max’s handsome face. “You distract the rat, and I’ll find the wizard.”
Max honed his claws together until they sang a high-keening metal sound, like a warrior sharpening a sword. “Let’s do this.”
Shade motioned for Chad to unlock the doors, and we strode inside. “I think they’re upstairs, Sam.” The young wizard gestured to the marble stairs, an expression of terror etched across his face. “You think you can catch them?”
I grinned at Chad, who wore his straight blond hair short, and a little soul patch of a beard on his chin. “Yeah, I do. But you should go outside and help Shade with that portal. He might need you to use your magic to shut it down. Don’t let the wizard escape.”
Relief washed away his fear, and with a final, “Be careful,” he rushed out the door.
That’s what we do. We’re agents of the Hunters’ Watch Brigade, and when supernatural evil threatens people, we go in and stop it.
I turned and grinned up at Max. “Shall we?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” he replied. We hit the stairs running and raced up to the third floor. Once we got to the Hall of New York Mammals, the stench of sewers assaulted my nose. Glass displays lay in ruins. Taxidermist mounts of the museum’s collection were askew, and the one mount that was missing was the common brown rat. Great.
I headed upstairs for the fourth level. “I’m going up to the library.”
“Not without me, you’re not.” Max came up beside me, racing his way in front.
A chittering noise sounded off at the top of the stairs. As if Manhattan didn’t have enough of these bastards, now we had a mutant magic rat the size of a damn Great Dane running loose in the museum. I skidded to a stop when I saw the filthy creature, with dusty brown clumps of mangy fur hanging from its body. Plumes of dust puffed up into the air around it, and when it sneezed, long threads of gooey slime hung from its jowls. Holy shit. Make that the size of a damn grizzly bear. “Max! Watch out!”
He raced ahead of me, never hesitating. The rat leapt at him, baring wooden-colored teeth and whipping its scaly pink tail around. The tail tripped Max, and he went flying into a spin across the polished marble floors.
I aimed Atlantis, but I couldn’t find a clear shot because Max reared up and faced off with the rat. The vermin leapt at him, but he slashed at its hide, and buried his claws elbow deep in the mutant rodent. Something multicolored spilled out of the rat’s belly and spread out all around them.
To my horror, a pack of at least a hundred smaller rats emerged, scampering throughout the room.
I focused my trident’s tines toward them and blasted a surge of power into the mass of rodents. The smell of singed fur hit my nose, and I gagged.
The grizzly-bear-sized mama rat scurried away toward the stairs, its herd of offspring racing after her. They bounded down the stairwell, Max hot on their trail. “Go find the wizard. I’ve got this,” he yelled.
I hesitated for a second, wondering if I should follow them. Would Max be okay by himself? Yes, he was now a full-fledged HWB agent, but I still felt that he was my responsibility. But so was capturing Dusty McLane.
I turned and raced to the research library. It was quiet and empty. Of course, he wouldn’t be hiding in here.
I reversed my direction and ran back down one flight of stairs, to where we’d seen all the destruction.
I found the wizard in one of the dioramas of Native American Peoples. His fiery-red hair stood out like beacon, and he was covered in freckles. Dressed in jeans and an NYU hoodie, he held the stolen journal, a little red book, in his left hand close to his heart. I aimed Atlantis at his head. “You know I can’t let you take that book out of here, Dusty.”
He stepped behind the display of Indians, counting on my desire to not destroy the museum’s precious artifacts. “What, this? It’s no big deal—just a compilation of notes put together by some old history professor. Nothing important.”
What was he hiding? I moved, trying to find a clear path, an open shot. He countered, and we entered into a dance. “If it’s in the museum, it’s important. Hand it over.”
“That rat’s gonna kill your partner.” He taunted me with the information about the spell he’d used to bring the rat to life. “I gave it venom. He’ll die if he gets bitten. And when those younglings get out of the building, the whole city will be in jeopardy.”
I narrowed my eyes. Was Max at risk? What would happen if the little monsters escaped from the museum? Could he stop them all?
What a creep. This was exactly why I enjoyed monster-hunting so much. Stopping someone like Dusty from hurting people really did it for me. “So, what? If I let you take the little red book, you’ll call it off? Put the rat back up on the wall where it’s supposed to be?”
He smiled, and it made him look like a naughty little boy. “Maybe.”
Why the heck was he hanging around? He’d obviously opened the portal outside so he could escape. Why hadn’t he hightailed it out of there once he got his hands on the book?
The problem with rogue wizards was that you never could trust them. “You’re former HWB, I understand. Come in with me now, and I’ll see if Shade will take it easy on you.”
He snorted. “Not likely. We have plans for this little book.”
“We? Who’s we, Dusty?” He didn’t answer me. Definitely a bad sign. I moved closer when he leaned down, taking his attention off me.
“Take this to Alex,” he said in a voice so low, I almost didn’t hear him. He handed the journal to a knee-high-sized creature with a pointed face who chittered at him, grasped it in its back claws, then flapped wide, leathery, bat-like wings. Rising above us, it had the damn nerve to hiss at me while it took flight.
I jabbed at it with my trident, hoping to skewer it before it got away, but I missed. It squawked, then spat at me, and I had to dodge right to avoid acidy venom. It flew so close to me on its way out of the diorama, I felt the breeze on my face.
“What the hell . . .?” So much for recovering the little book of secrets. I wheeled around on Dusty, ready for anything. “You’re coming with me,” I said. “We’ll go retrieve the damn thing together.”
“I don’t think so. A friend of mine warned me the HWB might intervene. Taking a couple of you assholes out is my initiation fee into the game. Recovering that journal means bonus points for me.”
Dusty twirled three square rune stones between his fingers while he whispered a few choice words and got them glowing red-hot. The bastard reared his hand back in a pitcher’s stance, ready to hurl his magic rocks my way.
Game? What kind of messed up game was he talking about? I shrugged. “Works either way for me, buddy.”
He threw the rocks at me. I blasted a bolt of pure electrical energy from Atlantis to deflect them. The rune stones disintegrated into sparking flecks of ash. Dusty lunged at me, wielding a curved silver blade. I had no choice, so I skewered him with the business end of my trident.
His last words were a warning. “You’re never gonna win the game.” Then he fell and crumbled into a pile of ash. I reared back. My weapon transmitted a surge of magic through me, cataloging images from Dusty’s mind. I shook my head, stunned for a moment. Whoever had hired Dusty must be a very powerful wizard.
“Son of a bitch!” The diorama burst into flames. I doused the display with water from my trident, snuffing out the fire. There was no sense in causing any more damage in the museum than necessary.
I turned around and ran to the stairs, looking for Dusty’s familiar and his prize.
Maybe Shade and the guys had already caught the little rat-dragon and recovered the book. I had to find Max and help him with those damn rats. Furious that I’d let the wizard’s familiar escape, I raced down the stairs.
If this little leather-bound diary was important enough to summon a mage with dark magic, maybe I’d go after it later, see what all the fuss was about.
Right now I had to help Max round up all those poisonous rats. What a disaster. If even one of them got out, the city would be at significant risk.
Shade was gonna be pissed I’d killed the wizard before he could interrogate him. Yeah, it was sort of a sticking point with us.
There was nothing worse than a furious vampire.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to write?
A: I was in my first critique group at age 13. We’d pass our notebooks to each other during class changes, critique them, then give feedback. No wonder my grades suffered! All I wanted to do was read and write stories.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: From conception to first draft, which is always messy, I can put in anywhere from two weeks to six months. I’m a fan of NaNoWriMo where you write a rough draft in thirty days.
Getting it into shape for publication is my favorite part. Developmental edits looks at the whole story picture. Line edits cuts out all the unnecessary fluff, and hones in on the simplicity of the story. Copy edits make my sentences sparkle. Then, page proofs is one final look at all the details. When you’re working with a busy editor this process can take six months.
Q: Do you have a writing routine?
A: Yes. I write at home in my studio, and I find I get the most work done if I set a timer and do sprints. I think about my scenes beforehand, and go so far as to write them out longhand in my journal. Then during writing time, I set the timer and let my fingers fly. My creativity is at its sharpest early in the morning after a good night’s rest.
Q: Do you write to music?
A: Yes. I like instrumental movie scores. I’ve also just discovered brainwave music on You Tube, and Spa music on Sirius XM. The soothing tones open my mind and put me in a flow state so I can release my creativity on the page.
Q: Is there a theme that runs through your stories?
A: Yes. Justice is worth fighting for, true love always wins, and happily ever afters are expected. Oh, and adventures where strong women win the hearts of the men who love them.
Q: Do you plot everything out, or do you just let the story happen?
A: Ahh, well, a little of both, actually. I flesh out an idea in my writer’s journal, just broad strokes at first. I usually know the ending, or a point I want to work toward. Then I draft scenes while sprinting. Once I get to the end of the first draft, I put my story on an outline to ensure the structure is sound. We need structure as readers, I’m convinced of it. Then, I fill in any gaps I see, and send it off to my editor.
Q: Who has influenced your writing the most?
A: My Mama always had fiction around our home. She instilled a love of language in me at an early age, and I think that’s because she was so well-read. She signed me up for my first library card.
Q: Tell us about your latest project.
A: I’m writing an urban fantasy series with strong paranormal romance elements about a supernatural police force named the Hunters’ Watch Brigade. The first novel is titled Initiation released on March 19, 2018. The second novel in the series is The Game, which is scheduled to release June 15, 2018, from my publisher, ImaJinn Books, an imprint of Bell Bridge Books.
Paula Millhouse was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, where Spanish moss whispers tales in breezes from the Atlantic Ocean to her soul. As a child, she soaked in the sunshine and heritage of cobblestones, pirate lore, and stories steeped in savory mysteries of the South.
She lives in the mountains now, but honors her Southern heritage as a story teller by sharing high-heat adventures with her readers. Escape your daily routine with books where justice does exist, true love is worth fighting for, and happily ever afters are expected.