Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Book of the Month: Guardian Spirits by Jordan L Hawk

Psychic medium Vincent Night and his lover Henry Strauss have spent months striving to uncover the dark secret harbored by Vincent’s dead mentor, James Dunne. Their only clue comes from a journal: Dunne was seeking to restore the Grand Harmonium, an artifact meant to breach the walls between life and death.

Fate seems to intervene when Henry and Vincent are offered a job investigating the haunted orphanage where Dunne lived as a youth. But the ghosts of the orphanage don’t rest easily, and the lovers soon find themselves in a battle to locate the Grand Harmonium before it falls into the wrong hands—and unleashes evil upon the world.

After months of searching, Vincent and Lizzie are no closer to discovering what their mentor, James Dunne, was planning prior to his death.  With the aid of Henry and his cousin Jo, the only clue they have is a journal where Dunne mentions the Grand Harmonium but just what that is they have no idea.  When a job comes up, Henry is hoping to take their minds off the lack of progress but will this job be the distraction Henry hoped for or will it take the foursome into the lions den?  Will the love and family unit the four have become be enough to pull them out the other side unharmed or will it be the end?  And will they ever discover what the Grand Harmonium is or the true intentions of James Dunne before its too late?

Guardian Spirits is absolutely amazing!  Quite possibly the best of the trilogy and that's not something one often says.  Series very rarely get better with each entry, not saying they get worse but rarely better.  Spirits' main characters may be Vincent and Henry but Lizzie and Jo are not exactly what I would classify as "secondary", perhaps "main characters with less page time" but not "secondary".  I just love the dynamic between the four, they really have become a family.

As for the mystery well I think you know what I'm about to say: I don't do spoilers and so many small details really do play a part so I'll just say this: WOW and DOUBLE WOW!!!  We finally get to meet the man who set Henry on his path to put science into the worlds of mediums and clairvoyants.  We meet a few new characters, some are good, some are bad, some you just aren't sure of till the moment of pure terror hits but each one definitely has a place in the story.

I will say this: if you haven't read Restless Spirits or Dangerous Spirits then don't start with Guardian first.  In my honest opinion there is just too many tiny(and some not so tiny) details in each installment that plays a part in the journey.  Would you be lost if you started here? Probably not but it just will make more sense and help you understand character motivation to read from the beginning.  I'm sorry to see the end and wished there would be more to come but since this was a trilogy, I can't think of a better way to close it out.

Overall Series 1st Re-read Review June 2018:
Not much I can say in this overall series review that hasn't already been said but as it has been some time between Dangerous Spirits and Guardian Spirits, I decided to re-read books 1 & 2 before Guardian's release.  I won't lie, re-reading them made #3 even better but I hadn't forgotten a single thing of the first two like I thought I might have.  For me, having remembered everything in such detail only goes to speak that much more of the author's talent of storytelling and universe-building.  I loved the paranormal aspect of the series as well as the historical settings but its the diversity of the characters that really make Spirits great.  Such diversity isn't something we often see in this sub-genre of paranormal because Vincent, Henry, Lizzie, & Jo are all human and realistic.  Some might say that the foursome is far-fetched for the setting but the truth is just because they aren't often talked about doesn't mean they didn't exist, so kudos to Jordan L Hawk for creating a great blend of fiction, reality, history, paranormal, mystery, and wrapped it all together in a giant romantic bow.  This may not make my annual re-read list but I will certainly revisit the Spirits universe for years to come.


Chapter 1
The dead man refused to answer.

Vincent rose out of a trance with no foreign taste on his tongue. Only the lingering traces of the cinnamon cachous he used to cleanse his palate of more ghostly flavors. The air against his skin was merely cool, a crisp fall evening, rather than the icy cold indicative of a spirit drawing energy from the atmosphere. Hands gripped his from either side, both firm; if they had succeeded, he would have expected Lizzie’s to tremble.

“I failed,” he said, and opened his eyes.

He sat at the séance table in the upstairs parlor of their little shop. The curtains had been drawn against the gaslights illuminating the Baltimore street outside, leaving them in near-total darkness.

Even so, he felt the presence of the living in the room with him. Elizabeth Devereaux, his fellow medium, held his right hand. Jocelyn Strauss, seventeen years old and a genius when it came to machines and mathematics, sat directly across from him. And Henry Strauss, inventor—and Vincent’s lover—gripped Vincent’s left hand tightly.

“You didn’t fail,” Henry said. “He simply chose not to answer.”

“We could try again,” Lizzie suggested, though she didn’t sound at all pleased at the prospect.

“No.” A weariness more spiritual than physical weighed on Vincent’s bones. “He isn’t going to answer us. Neither of them are.”

“Cowards,” Henry said staunchly. “Jo, could you open the curtains?”

The circle broke apart, and Jo tugged back the curtains while Henry lit the lamps. Warm gaslight soon filled every corner of the slightly shabby room, gleaming off the apparatus Henry insisted on setting up at every séance: Franklin Bells, which would ring when the presence of a spirit charged the air, thermometer, barometer, and even a copper grounding rod should the summoned spirit turn violent. Not to suggest they had expected the spirit they sought tonight to be dangerous, but Henry always insisted on being prepared.

Since Vincent had spent most of his life drifting along with the currents, Henry’s tendency to plan ahead came as an unexpected comfort.

Jo glanced from Vincent to Lizzie, her brown face drawn with worry. “I’m sorry you couldn’t contact your mentor.”

“The spirits are under no obligation to answer us,” Lizzie said. She ran a tired hand over her jaw, frowned slightly as her fingers encountered a trace of stubble. Her shaving and plucking regimen was immaculate, even when it was only the four of them, and her gesture now told Vincent how heavily the situation weighed on her.

“I’d say Dunne damned well owes you an explanation.” Henry folded his arms over his chest.

“Pardon my language, ladies,” he added when Lizzie cast him a stern look, “but it’s true.”

James Dunne hadn’t just been Lizzie and Vincent’s mentor—he’d plucked them from the streets as children and given them the first home in which they’d ever been welcome. Taught them not only how to be mediums, but how to be decent people. By the end of their apprenticeship, he and Lizzie would have done anything for him. Or for Sylvester Ortensi, who had been like a kindly uncle to them.

Bad enough a malevolent spirit had possessed Vincent and used his hands to kill Dunne. But then Ortensi revealed to them that he and Dunne had hidden things from them. They had been  searching for something, and were desperate enough to turn to necromancy to find it. Desperate enough to murder anyone in their way.

Ortensi died before he could give them any answers. Hence the séance to contact the one person who might: Dunne himself.

Henry held out the silver amulet Vincent had entrusted him with at the start of the séance. The amulet guarded against involuntary possession; after his encounter with the dark spirit which had killed Dunne, Vincent seldom went without it. Unfortunately, channeling spirits required temporarily lending them his voice and body, which meant he had to take the amulet off for séances.

“Thank you,” Vincent said, and fastened it around his neck again.

“Is there anything else we can do?” Jo asked. She perched on one of the chairs, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she pondered. “Perhaps if we used the Wimshurst Machine? Added more energy to the air?”

“I don’t think it’s lack of energy that’s the problem,” Lizzie said with a heavy sigh. “Dunne has surely passed on. If he lingered on this side of the veil, perhaps…but he didn’t. And we can’t compel him to come back and give us answers, no matter how badly we might want to.”

“As I said before, the man is a coward.” Henry gave a little sniff, even as he began to clear away his instrumentation from the table. “If he withheld things from you, he should put forth a little effort. Set the record straight, rather than leaving you with such uncertainty.”

“Dunne wasn’t a coward,” Vincent said, almost reflexively. Even knowing what he did, even suspecting what he did, the instinct to defend his mentor still remained.

Lizzie pressed a hand to her forehead. “I don’t know what to think. We’ve tried spirit writing, psychometry, and now channeling, all to no avail.”

“We have to keep looking.” Vincent rose and went to the writing desk against the wall. Pulling open a drawer, he removed the journal they’d found among Ortensi’s things at the hotel in Devil’s Walk, after he’d died. Unfortunately, it had been a relatively new journal, started just before he’d departed Europe for the final time. If they’d had more money in the bank, perhaps they could have traveled to France, where he’d spent the last several years. Maybe his earlier journals were still there and would have yielded answers.

Most of the journal offered nothing beyond the ordinary details of a medium’s life. It confirmed what Ortensi had already told them. The murderous spirit of Devil’s Walk had been summoned by a necromantic talisman. Rather than destroy such an abomination, Ortensi had hoped to take it for himself. The only real clues lay in his final entry, made the day they’d arrived to assist him.

It’s so good to see Lizzie and Vincent again. I still can’t believe James is gone. He understood the operation of the Grand Harmonium far better than I. Vincent’s account of the spirit that killed James troubles me. It wasn’t like James to be taken so unaware. Some spirits conceal their true nature, but those usually have a motive of some sort, even if only to spread chaos and fear. This one slew James and simply…left.

As for James…I try not to mourn him. The impulse is foolish—death is but sleep, and as easy to wake from. I just need a little more time, and I’m sure I’ll be able to recreate the Astral Key. Then the Grand Harmonium will be restored, and James returned to my side. But it is hard not to miss him.

What might our lives have been, if Arabella hadn’t betrayed us? Damn her! We would have made the world a paradise, instead of the mire it is.

No matter. My youth might be gone, but once the Harmonium is restored, surely such things will be of no consequence. James might be temporarily beyond my reach, but at least I still have Vincent and Lizzie. They’re strong.

They passed every test.

They won’t fail the way Arabella failed.

I must separate Vincent from Mr. Strauss. Strauss represents the worst impulses, is possessed of the lowest of natures. He is filled with ambition and greed. If Strauss learned of the Grand Harmonium, he’d wish to take it apart and sell off the pieces for profit. He sees only the parts of a thing, not the wonder of the whole. Vincent’s tendency toward loyalty may prove inconvenient in this instance. I’ll observe them both closely tomorrow, and think on how best to drive a wedge in between.

The entry ended there. Vincent shut the journal with a snap. “What the blazes is the Grand Harmonium?” he asked aloud, just as he had again and again since first reading the words on the train back from Devil’s Walk. “What is the Astral Key he meant to recreate? And who is—or was— Arabella?”

“As for the Grand Harmonium, presumably Ortensi didn’t travel the world in search of the means to perfect a musical instrument.” Henry took off his spectacles and began to clean them with a handkerchief. “I still maintain it sounds like some sort of machine.”

“Ortensi didn’t seem very pleased with our machines,” Jo pointed out. “Or you, Henry.”

“I’m heartbroken to have garnered his disapproval,” Henry said dryly.

“He said it would return Dunne to his side.” The corners of Lizzie’s mouth turned down into a tight frown. “That sounds like necromancy.”

Vincent shook his head. Necromancy—the forced summoning of the unwilling dead—might be wrong, but that hadn’t stopped people from studying it thoroughly. “‘Death is but sleep, and as easy to wake from.’” He’d stared at the journal entry so often he had memorized the phrase. “That doesn’t sound like any necromancy I’ve ever heard of.”

“Besides,” Jo added, “If he meant to simply compel Dunne’s ghost, he could have just used the necromantic talisman he took from Mr. Fitzwilliam in Devil’s Walk.”

“Precisely.” Vincent ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Some other means of contacting the dead, perhaps? A more reliable means than a séance, but without the compulsion of necromancy?”

“We could speculate endlessly,” Henry said. “At least it doesn’t sound like the Grand Harmonium is in a state to be used. Not without this Astral Key, whatever it might be.”

“There must be answers, somewhere,” Lizzie said. “If only Dunne had kept a journal. If we still had his house, or the shop in New York…”

“Well, we don’t,” Vincent said. “And honestly, I doubt it would help even if we did. We lived and worked with him for years and never suspected him of keeping secrets. He wouldn’t have left anything where we had a hope of finding it.”

“There must be something.” Lizzie stared out the window, as though the answers might appear on the glass. “We just have to keep searching.”

Henry frowned at her words. But he only said, “It’s late. We should get some sleep. Take my bed, Lizzie, so you don’t have to walk back to your apartment.”

“The sheets might be a little dusty,” Jo added with a sly grin.

Henry shot her a quelling look. Not that she was wrong. Ever since Vincent had moved into the little room above the workshop out back, he and Henry had shared its bed every night. Henry kept a few things in what had previously been his bedroom, for the sake of space, but for all practicalities he and Vincent lived together.

Which wasn’t something Vincent had ever envisioned for himself. But then, he’d never envisioned meeting someone like Henry, either.

Lizzie hesitated visibly, her gaze going again to the darkness outside the window. It was too late to find a cab, even if they’d had the money to spare, which meant either Vincent or Henry would have to walk her home. “Very well,” she said at last. “I’ll leave at first light, then return for Mrs. Burwell’s spirit writing session tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully her departed mother will be more amenable to contact than Dunne.”

~ * ~ 

Henry followed Vincent across the darkened yard to the workshop. He’d originally used the small building to conduct experiments which needed more space than was available in the store’s back room, or which produced smells that might drive away customers. And he still did; the downstairs was a single open space packed with tables and equipment. He and Vincent had converted the upper floor, however, into a cozy apartment.

They ascended the outside staircase to the apartment’s door. Once inside, Vincent didn’t bother to light the sitting room’s lamp, instead walking straight through to the darkened bedroom. Henry winced—this wasn’t like him. Ordinarily, Vincent would stay up to absurd hours, reading poetry or novels while he lounged on the couch in his oriental robe. Then he’d sleep until noon, before spending another hour choosing his clothing and pomading his hair. For him to retire to bed at such a relatively early time didn’t bode well.

While Henry lit the night candle, Vincent began to disrobe, his movements quick and efficient.

A flash of anger coursed through Henry, directed not at Vincent, but at the accursed Dunne.

When he’d first met Vincent and Lizzie, they’d been desperately trying to save the occult shop that had belonged to their dead mentor. They always spoke of the man in tones not just of affection, but awe. As though he were somehow more—better—than human. Flawless as an angel.

No doubt all of his treatment of them hadn’t been a self-serving lie. But their stint in Devil’s Walk made it clear the man had concealed a great deal. Lied to them about fundamental things.

No wonder they’d both been adrift ever since. Desperate to reconcile the things Ortensi had told them, with the idealized memory of their mentor. They were haunted…though not literally, in this case.

Henry would have some strong words for Dunne, should they ever manage to contact the scoundrel. How dare he put Vincent and Lizzie through such pain? If he had truly cared for them, he should have included them in whatever grand scheme he and Ortensi had worked toward.

But anger wouldn’t help Vincent. Henry pushed it down and stepped behind Vincent, putting his hands lightly at Vincent’s waist. “I’m sorry,” he said. “What can I do?”

For a moment, Vincent held himself stiffly. Then he sagged back, letting Henry take some of his weight. He was the taller of the two, so Henry pressed his cheek into Vincent’s shoulder. The citrus and musk scent of Vincent’s cologne filled his nose, and the warmth and heft of his body quickened Henry’s blood.

“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Vincent said. “You must think us fools, to let ourselves be so obsessed by this.”

“Not at all.” Henry slid his arms around Vincent’s slender waist, pulling him closer. “He was like a father to you. I know how badly losing him hurt.” Henry’s own father had died when he was but a youth, and God knew he still missed the man. At least his memories hadn’t been tainted by post-mortem revelations. “I can only imagine how you must feel now. Afraid you’re being disrespectful of his memory by doubting him, but worried your doubt is justified.”

“Exactly.” Vincent turned to face him, then bent for a kiss. “I’m sick of thinking about it.”

“Shall I give you something else to think about for a while?”

“Yes,” Vincent said fervently, and wound his arms around Henry’s shoulders, hauling him close.

Their kiss began leisurely, before deepening. Vincent’s warm mouth tasted of cinnamon. He’d already removed coat, tie, and vest, so Henry set about unbuttoning his shirt an inch at a time, slowly exposing the sienna skin beneath. Henry paused to make sure he paid Vincent’s dark brown nipples proper attention with his lips and teeth, and was rewarded with a soft groan.

Henry shoved down Vincent’s bracers, then peeled off his shirt, pausing just long enough to carefully hang it up. He’d learned early on that Vincent’s clothing was an armor of sorts. Whites expected an Indian to look a certain way; when confronted with the impeccably dressed Vincent,  they tended to offer more respect than they would have otherwise. It was a bit of stupid thinking Henry had fallen into himself, when they’d first met.

Henry made sure to brush his hand against Vincent’s erection more than strictly necessary as he unbuttoned Vincent’s trousers. Drawers came next, and Henry sank to his knees to take Vincent’s cock in his mouth. His taste, the heavy feel of him against Henry’s tongue, sent a rush of blood to Henry’s own prick, and he moaned as he took his lover to the root.

Vincent’s hands tangled in Henry’s hair, tightened—then pushed at him. “Not like this. I want you to come in my mouth at the same time.”

Henry slid off reluctantly, giving a last lap at the slit as he did so. “Get on the bed.”

Henry undressed quickly, but when he turned back to the bed, he stopped just to admire the sight. Vincent sprawled against the pale sheets, his cock dark with desire, his black eyes shining with lust. God, he was beautiful, all long legs and shapely muscles. He wore his thick black hair cut long, in imitation of the style Oscar Wilde had set on his American tour, and it spread across the pillow in a halo.

Henry in no way deserved him, but was grateful every day to have him anyway.

“I love you,” Henry said.

Vincent’s expression softened. “I love you, too. Now come here and let me show you how much.”

The sensation of Vincent’s bare skin against his never ceased to send a thrill through Henry.

For so long, his only encounters had been of the sort done in back alleys, quick and furtive, removing only as much clothing as necessary. The luxury of having a lover and a bed still felt new and exciting. Vincent’s arms snaked around Henry’s chest, pulling him tight, their thighs and cocks pressed together. Henry kissed Vincent thoroughly, moving his hips in a slow grind, sending slow shocks of pleasure through them both.

Vincent drew back just a bit. “I want you in my mouth.”

“Mmm.” Henry grinned and nuzzled what he knew to be a sensitive spot on Vincent’s neck, drawing a gasp from him. “I’m not going to refuse such an offer.”

He reversed his position on the bed, and they lay on their sides. Henry kissed Vincent’s strong thighs, then caught his cock between his lips once again. The slow, teasing lick of Vincent’s tongue along his own prick made Henry whimper.

“Impatient,” Vincent said, his lips moving against the very tip of Henry’s erection. Then he slid down, engulfing him in wet heat.

They clung to each other, hands roaming across whatever skin they could reach, mouths fastened on one another. Vincent’s tongue was clever with more than words, and soon Henry found himself fighting to hold back. He tried focusing on the prick filling his own mouth, but Vincent’s taste and feel, his little moans, only added to Henry’s arousal. He let out a muffled sound of warning, balls tightening, and Vincent groaned around him as he came.

He tried to keep sucking as he spent, rhythm lost, until Vincent’s thighs trembled and bitterness flooded Henry’s throat in return.

They lay silent for a moment, breath coming in short gasps. Despite the cool night, a light film of sweat slicked their skin. Henry pressed his lips to Vincent’s thigh.

“Come here, Henry,” Vincent murmured sleepily.

Henry didn’t want to move, but he clambered around until he was facing the right way in the bed again. Vincent had rolled onto his back, eyelids already drooping shut. The tension had eased from his handsome features, at least for the moment, and a rush of emotion shook Henry, so strong it threatened to cut off his breath.

“I’d do anything for you,” he whispered.

Vincent’s generous mouth turned up into a smile. “Then salt the door.”

“You just don’t want to get up,” Henry teased. But he rolled out of bed and did as asked.

Vincent hadn’t always slept with a line of salt across the windows and door. But after the malevolent spirit had possessed him and killed Dunne, Vincent feared it was still out there, somewhere. That it might return, despite the passage of time and distance.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most logical of fears, but if pouring salt across the doors and windows each night made Vincent feel safer, that was what Henry would do.

Once finished, Henry blew out the candle, then pillowed his head on Vincent’s chest. Within moments, Vincent had slipped away into sleep. Henry listened to the beat of his lover’s heart beneath his ear. The edge of the silver amulet pressed against his forehead, a silent reminder, along with the salt, of the lingering damage the spirit had done to Vincent’s soul.

Had Dunne known there was something unusual about the poltergeist he’d taken Vincent to confront? Vincent insisted there had been no warning, but Henry was less certain of Dunne’s honesty in the matter.

The man’s other apprentices had died somehow, after all. The ones Dunne had never seen fit to mention to Vincent and Lizzie. They would never have known, if Ortensi hadn’t told them.

They weren’t the first. They were just the ones who had survived.

Assuming Ortensi hadn’t lied to further his own ends. At least they could take the writing in the journal, intended for no one else’s eyes, as honest.

Perhaps it was just as well they’d failed to raise Dunne’s spirit tonight. The idea of never learning the truth irked Henry…but maybe it was time to put all of this behind them. To let go of the fear and guilt and doubt chaining them to the past. To focus instead on the future of their business, of their family.

Vincent and Lizzie needed something to distract them. The only clientele they’d had as of late had been the ordinary sort: weekly séances, some spirit writing, a few people who wanted them to come investigate odd sounds or cold spots in their houses, none of which had turned out to be due to ghosts. There had been nothing to demand their attention for more than an hour or two at a stretch, leaving them with far too much time to brood.

Well, then. Henry would simply have to find something for them. What, he didn’t know, but if he put his mind to it, surely he could come up with some project to allow them to focus their minds and energy, and let go of Dunne once and for all.
Author Bio:
Jordan L. Hawk grew up in the wilds of North Carolina, where she was raised on stories of haints and mountain magic by her bootlegging granny and single mother. After using a silver knife in the light of a full moon to summon her true love, she turned her talents to spinning tales. She weaves together couples who need to fall in love, then throws in some evil sorcerers and undead just to make sure they want it bad enough. In Jordan’s world, love might conquer all, but it just as easily could end up in the grave.


Guardian Spirits #3

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