Feel like an excerpt break? Us too! Today we’re taking a peek at Jayne Castle’s RT Top Pick! Illusion Town. The book has an irresistible set up: Hannah West wakes up in Illusion Town, married to a man she hardly knows. If you need to know more ASAP like us, let’s check out the excerpt!
They walked out into a mostly empty parking lot illuminated in the dull light of a fog-bound dawn. The weather was hardly a surprise. The Shadow Zone was always locked in psi-infused fog.
The fog was something of a mystery. After all, Illusion Town was a vast, sprawling city in the middle of a desert. Theoretically, it shouldn’t experience a lot of fog. But the normal meteorological rules didn’t apply whenever there were a lot of Alien ruins in the vicinity. And in the case of Illusion Town, the ruins were underground as well as on the surface. And those ruins were weird, even by Harmony standards.
The city consisted of eight zones, each corresponding with one side of the vast octagon-shaped wall that enclosed the aboveground ruins. Each zone had its own unique characteristics. Two of the zones—the Storm Zone and the Fire Zone—were considered virtually uninhabitable due to the intense paranormal radiation that infused those regions.
Most of the upscale, opulent casinos and nightclubs were located in two of the so-called gem zones: the Amber Zone and the Sapphire Zone. The lower-rent gambling establishments and the racier shows and entertainments were found in the other gem zones—Amethyst and Emerald.
The Dark Zone, where Hannah had been raised, was more of a neighborhood community. There were plenty of small gaming establishments and a smattering of clubs, but it was where many of the people who worked in the big gem-zone casinos, hotels, and clubs made their homes.
The Shadow Zone, however, was the least prosperous side of a generally prosperous town. Whatever glamour it aspired to project was only evident after dark. By day it looked almost deserted. The casinos and clubs were dingy and unwelcoming. Most were actually closed during the daylight hours. A closed casino was unheard of in the gem zones.
The oppressive, paranormal fog of the Shadow Zone gave people a significant buzz, especially after dark, but few visitors hung around after sunrise, not if they could afford to take their business into the brightly lit gem zones.
“According to the desk clerk, the Enchanted Night Wedding Chapel is just a block away,” Elias said. “He said to turn left when we got to the corner. Can’t miss it, he said.”
“Slow down, I’m carrying Virgil, remember? He’s heavier than he looks. All muscle.”
Virgil chuffed at the sound of his name.
“Here, give him to me.” Elias plucked Virgil from Hannah’s arms and plopped him down on his shoulder.
Virgil was thrilled with the higher perch.
“How did you and the dust bunny find each other?” Elias asked.
“He just showed up at my back door one evening.” Hannah smiled at the memory. “I thought maybe he was hungry so I put some of the quiche I had made on a plate and set it on the step. He ate the quiche and disappeared. The next morning I found a lovely little piece of green amber on the step. He came back the following evening and I fed him again. Things went on like that for a few days and before I knew it, he had moved in with me.”
“My brother’s wife, Ella, has a dust bunny companion. Her name is Lorelei. No question but that they’ve got some kind of psychic bond.”
“I think that’s what happened with Virgil and me. I admit I felt a certain connection with him right from the start.”
“We had something in common. He showed up on my doorstep pretty much the same way I showed up on my aunts’ doorstep. Well, technically, they aren’t my aunts, and he wasn’t wrapped in a blanket and he wasn’t in a basket, but you get the picture.”
Elias looked at her, evidently fascinated. “Someone left you on a doorstep?”
“My mother. She was a friend of my aunts. They were all working in a show in the Emerald Zone. My mom was in love with a magician. They were in an MC. Anyhow, shortly after I was born, Mom left me on Clara and Bernice’s doorstep with a note saying she and my father had to take care of some important business. The note said that they would come back for me. Only they never did.”
“Do you know what happened to them?”
“They were found shot to death in a cheap hotel room. The police declared it a drug deal gone bad.”
“Did your aunts try to find any of your blood relatives?”
“Yes, but they gave up after a while. Mom and Dad were alone in the world. So Clara and Bernice made a pact to raise me themselves. It was either that or put me into the foster care system.”
“That is an amazing story,” Elias said softly. “No wonder you’re worried about losing that necklace.”
“It’s all I’ve got left from my mother. In her note to my aunts she said that it was important and that they should hide it until I was old enough to understand that it was my inheritance.”
Elias nodded but he didn’t say anything.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “You’re thinking it was just a cheap crystal necklace. But you’re wrong.”
“It turned out to be exactly what my mother wrote in her note—the key to my inheritance. The problem was that it was missing a single crystal. Two weeks ago I finally found that stone. A week later it led me to my inheritance.”
He gave her a considering look. “Something in the Underworld?”
“Yes. Naturally, I kept quiet about it until I could file a claim on the sector where it’s located. But the paperwork was completed a few days ago.” She smiled with satisfaction. “My inheritance is safe. I plan to sell it to the highest bidder.”
Elias startled her by coming to a sudden halt. He turned to face her, eyes narrowed. “How many people know about this discovery of yours?”
“Just Aunt Clara and Aunt Bernice.” Belatedly she started to wonder if she had made a serious mistake—make that another serious mistake. “And now you, of course. But you’re a Coppersmith. My inheritance is penny-ante stuff compared to your family’s mining empire.”
“You’re sure you’ve only told three people?”
“Positive. Why do you ask? You’re starting to make me nervous.”
“Good. Because if you’re nervous, you’ll be careful. Take some advice from a man who grew up in the mining business. Don’t tell anyone else about your claim until you’ve figured out exactly how you’re going to sell it. And then move very, very fast to close the deal.”
“I told you, I filed a claim. It’s all signed, sealed, and legal.”
“In the Underworld, a claim is only as strong as the person who files it. Why do you think they invented the term claim jumping? And why do you think Coppersmith employs a very large and very well-equipped security team? There will always be claim jumpers and pirates, so keep your secrets close.”
A chill of dread whispered through her. Elias sounded unnervingly knowledgeable about the security issues.
“Okay,” she said. She took a breath. “I’ll be careful.”
“Good. When this is over, I’ll check out your claim if you’d like. Set up some good security for you.”
She chuckled. “Don’t worry. For now, it’s safe enough. Locked up nice and tight and I’ve got the only key.”
“The necklace? But you lost it.”
“No. The necklace was a map. It led me to my inheritance. Technically, I no longer need it, but it has sentimental value.”
Elias glanced at his ring. “I understand.”
“Enough about my inheritance. It’s safe for the time being. We’ve got more immediate problems. Like why did we get married last night?”
Posted by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Jayne Castle, 2016.