For ages, fans of Kim Harrison's urban fantasy have been grappling with two questions: What happened to Trent and Jenks when they went to San Francisco? And how on Earth did Trent end up with that baby that he has in her novel Pale Demon? At last, Harrison answers both questions, with a brand new novella called "Million Dollar Baby," in her new story collection Into the Woods, coming out October 9.
And we've got an exclusive excerpt from "Million Dollar Baby," right here. You can get a signed and personalized copy of Into the Woods on the on-sale date, via Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, MI.
Top image via The Reader's Edge.
I like to tell people that I wrote Pale Demon to answer the question about whether anything was possible between Rachel and Trent, but when I got done with it, I found a new question had popped up. What happened between Trent and Jenks when they went off on their elf quest? It seemed the readers wanted to know as well, so here's the answer, the fallout from which has peppered the last few Hollows novels.
Vertigo threatened, not at the sensation of disconnection spilling down through his core, but from the abrupt feel of stone under his soft-soled shoes after the nothingness of line travel. Tightening his gut muscles, Trent caught his balance as the organized chaos of the King Street train station materialized around him as if, well... like magic, not the well-balanced act of scientific shifting of realities that it was. Calling it magic was convenient.
The twangy echo of announced departures mixed with a myriad of conversations and one child demanding that he wanted his book no-o-o-ow! Even at five thirty in the morning, it was busy. And somewhat... smelly, he thought, shivering at the final ribbons of power sliding off him to vanish like water into sand, or in this case, creation energy slipping through the molecule-thin cracks in the colorful mosaic now under him. The station had the distinctive tang of old mold growing on marble as a faint backdrop. Seattle never seemed to dry out. He didn't know how Ellasbeth tolerated it. Perhaps her nose was stuck so far up in the air that she didn't notice.
"Hey, you moss wipe! We haven't said good-bye yet!" A high voice shrilled inches from his ear. Wincing, Trent glanced past the pixy's fitfully moving wings to the attractive shadow of five-foot-eight inches of bothersome redhead vanishing from his elbow. Rachel Morgan was gone — never having fully materialized. Just as well. Her surreptitious ogling made him self-conscious. Then again, she'd never seen him in skintight spandex before.
"Seems she has pressing business elsewhere." Smiling faintly, Trent looked down at the elaborate compass rose the demon Algaliarept had dropped them on, then squinted up to the marvelously tooled ceiling. He would sooner suffer great loss than owe a demon a favor, but since Rachel was paying for the jump, he'd take it: eight hundred miles between San Francisco to Seattle in a blink of an eye. Technically speaking, owing Rachel a favor was the same thing as owing a demon, not that she truly understood that — yet.
Head coming down in a flash of guilt, Trent moved off the compass rose and into the flow of people. Rachel would never understand there was only one way to save her life and keep her out of the ever-after. But what did it matter, really? She didn't have to like him. He didn't like the decisions he made, either.
"I'm becoming my father," he whispered, an unexpected flash of anger coloring his thoughts. Just how much was he going to be asked to sacrifice for his people? His morals? His integrity? Even so, he was ready to give it, and watching Ellasbeth selfishly walk away from her responsibility had more than angered him. It wasn't her selfishness that kept him awake at night, though — it was his undeniable envy of her cowardly decision to walk. He did not like the person he needed to be to pull his people back from the brink of extinction.
The faint hum of Jenks's wings faded as the pixy came to an unfelt landing on his shoulder. Rachel's business partner and backup was on loan to him for the duration. "Dude, look at those ceilings," the pixy said, then snickered. "Hey, I, ah, get the whole thief outfit thing you were going for, but you'd be more inconspicuous in a suit. I'll be right back. The Withons would be more stupid than a winter-born pixy to not have a man here. I'll ferret him out."
Trent took a breath to tell him not to bother, but the pixy was gone, his dragonfly-like wings glinting in the faint light coming in the high round windows. "A man in a suit is exactly who they're looking for," he muttered. Pace stiff, he angled to a billboard advertising the latest computer system where his black tights and shirt would be less conspicuous. The specially tailored guise was perfect. In the right setting, he would look like a cyclist, a diver, or a thief, though what he was after was worth far more than a bauble or money.
His eye twitched, and Trent rubbed his chin. There was a high probability that thieving from the Withons' family estate would cost him his life, but his people wouldn't listen to him if he didn't. Trent's eyes closed in a long, soul-searching blink. If he survived, his species would survive — but he might damn his soul in the process. Perhaps it would be better to die.
High above him, the clock tower chimed the half hour. It had begun. Trent stifled a pang of angst, scanning the station as he walked. Reaching the wall, he leaned back calmly against the billboard. His stomach began to knot. Before him, people in suits with briefcases and families in jeans with pull-behind suitcases crisscrossed in tired distraction. Attendants with little hats instead of winged pins directed people, and they seemed to smile more than their airplane counterparts. Jenks was right. He didn't fit in. Where the hell was his contact? His window was small, his timetable tight. The stress of hitting the mark on a short-note was not unfamiliar, but this was the first time his life depended upon it.
But then a slim man in tight-fitting racing spandex came in the King Street entrance, a biking helmet under one arm, a package under the other — right on time. Exhaling, Trent pushed off from the billboard, taking a longer, circular route that would keep him out of the main floor space. True, he was wearing black tights while surrounded by suits and casual clothes, but in a moment, no one would see him at all.
He heard Jenks before he saw him. "We got trouble," the pixy said, hovering backward as Trent continued forward. "Sniper on the balcony. Don't look up!" he shouted when Trent's head shifted. "He spotted you already. You keep going on this line, and he'll have a good shot in about twenty paces. I told you you were a sore thumb."
"Thank you." The words came out of his mouth with a terse quickness, and he made a quick right through an open archway and into the men's room. Tall ceilings and inlaid floors did little to disguise the room's purpose even if the doors on the stalls were mahogany. The attendant with his jar of breath mints, cologne, and wolfsbane never looked up as Trent washed his hands as he thought. Most of his thief tools were in the package with the man in the bike suit.
Looking up, he was startled by the sight of Jenks sitting on his shoulder. If I have a pixy, I should use him. "My contact is in the bike suit at the west entrance," he said, his lips barely moving as his eyes met Jenks's through the mirror.
Immediately the pixy brightened, a bright silver dust slipping from him to pool in the sink to look like mercury floating on the running water. "The biker? What are we doing, anyway? Stealing your grandma's wedding ring back?"
Trent stifled a surge of pique. He wasn't used to being questioned, especially by someone who was four inches tall. "I can't move forward until that sniper is gone." He turned the water off and shook his hands. "Is he coming in or waiting for me to come out?"
The attendant, an older man with a mustache and a uniform that looked vaguely like a train conductor's, watched Jenks fly out, his eyes widening. Coming closer, Trent wrangled his belt pack open. Most of what he needed was in that package under the courier's arm, but money went a long way. Giving the man a twenty, he said, "Can I borrow this?" as he pointed at the glass jar of packaged mints. It looked like an old-fashioned caboose lantern and was heavy enough to do some damage.
"Sure, governor." The man fingered the bill as Jenks darted back in, the green dust sifting from him telling Trent all he needed to know.
"He's coming," the pixy said breathlessly. Trent, his heart pounding, hefted the glass container and moved to stand right beside the archway. "What can I do?" Jenks asked.
"Stay out of the way." Trent took a breath, reaching out to tap a line in case he needed it. Energy tasting of fish and cracked rock seeped into him, making the tips of his hair float. The Goddess help him, but the lines were awful in the earthquake-prone West Coast. No wonder his parents had never returned.
Teeth clenched at the uncomfortable sensation, Trent lifted the jar high, listening to the soft scuff of fine leather on stone, hardly audible over the calling of another train's numbers. The attendant's eyes widened.
"No, wait!" Jenks shouted, but Trent was already swinging at the brown shadow passing through the marble archway.
The impact reverberated up Trent's arms. His hands went numb, and the jar of mints hit the tile floor, shattering. Panic shocked through him as the round-faced man in a suit turned to look at him, his eyes rolling up into the back of his head as he collapsed.
Damn it, it is the wrong man!
"It's the wrong man, cookie farts!" Jenks exclaimed, his wings clattering. "Did I say now? Did I! Tink's little pink dildo, save me from amateurs!"
Trent stared at the man on the floor, his legs twisted under his briefcase. Now what?
"Behind you!" Jenks shrilled, and he spun, heart pounding as a man in jeans and a too-large coat came in. His eyes flicked to the man on the floor, then Trent. In a smooth, unhurried motion, he reached behind the fold of his coat.
Adrenaline was a slap. Grabbing the attendant's metal chair, Trent swung it around and up, knocking the man's arm aside. Snarling, the assassin watched his pistol arc through the air to clatter into a distant corner, but Trent was still moving, dancing forward over the fallen businessman. The chair landed squarely on four feet, and Trent used it to lever himself up, teeth clenched as he smashed his feet into the assassin's chest.
Arms flailing, the man fell back, grunting as he hit the hard marble wall, his head meeting it with a dull thwap.
Trent followed the man down, hand aching with power and ready to stun him into submission with a blast of ley line energy.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mr. Kung Fu!" Jenks shouted, silver sparkles dusting. "I think you got him!"
His fisted hands sprang open, and Trent let go of the line. Shaky, he pulled himself to his full height, staring down at the assassin as the twin feelings of elation and revulsion flowed through him. I am not my father, he thought as he lifted the man's eyelids to see that they both dilated properly. But it was hard to argue with the thrill coursing through him as the man slumped at his feet, bleeding from his nose.
Jenks whistled long and loudly, as Trent, his hands shaking, moved the chair back where it belonged. The attendant was wide-eyed, his mints scattered and the two men at his feet. The distinctive odor of sea and rock that all West Coast elves had was growing stronger. Sort of surfer meets sandbar, with a bit of red wine thrown in to keep it happy.
"What the hell did you do that for?" the attendant mumbled, edging back as Trent searched the downed man's pockets. "Is he a mugger?" he added as Trent tossed the cartridge of bullets into the trash and slid the two-way radio into his belt pack. "You want me to get security?"
Shaking his head, Trent stood, and dipping into his belt pack, he handed the man five one-hundred-dollar bills. "The first man fell into your table, breaking the jar, and the second tripped on him," Trent said, and the shaken man took them. "What a shame."
The man's alarm evolved into pleasure as he turned the bills over as if never having seen one before. "Yes, sir, they did," he said loudly, pulling his arthritic back more erect. "You have a nice day, now. Mind your step. Those mints are slippery!"
Relieved, Trent gave him a sharp nod and sidestepped the next man coming in. Ignoring the cry of "What happened?," Trent exited, breathing in the cooler air of the huge lobby. One down, a hundred to go. From behind him, the attendant was already deep into his story, enthusiastically explaining what had happened and telling the man to watch his step until he got the mints swept.
The clatter of pixy wings brought Trent's hand up, and he almost smacked Jenks, mistaking the sound of pixy wings as an attack.
"It's only me, moss wipe," Jenks grumbled, easily evading him and coming to a halt on his shoulder. "You're kind of jumpy, you know that? Nice going. You could have avoided most of it if you would've listened to me."
"I'll do better next time," Trent grumped, relieved when he saw that his contact was still waiting.
"If you don't, you're going to be dead," Jenks grumbled back. "And another thing," he started as he preceded to run down a list of do's and don'ts.
Ignoring him, Trent started for his contact, his feet finding a familiar, confident pace. He wove gracefully around the people who dismissed him, noting the ones who made eye contact and slid out of his way. His stomach was knotted, and he had to work hard for a casual expression. It was an odd feeling, being on his own after a lifetime spent with someone generally within earshot. His billions would be of little help today. If he failed, the Withons would kill him and stuff him in a sea grotto, but what had him worried was what would happen if he succeeded.
"Are you even listening to me?" Jenks said, tugging at the hair behind Trent's ear, and Trent frowned.
"Yes, of course. I appreciate you being here, and I'll let you know when I need your help," he said, nodding to the bike courier as he closed the gap.
"Tink's panties, I don't know why I'm helping you. You are such a snot."
Trent came to a halt, silently shrugging into the dull green zip-up jacket the man was handing him, then taking the bike helmet, and finally the package. A knot of tension eased as he slipped the small one-by-two-by-four box under his arm. Maybe he could do this.
"You're not listening to me," Jenks complained as he darted from Trent's shoulder, his hands on his hips and his disgust obvious. The irate but tiny man took a breath, then hesitated. "Hey, you guys look a lot alike," he said, and the bike courier smiled silently as he gave Trent a pair of sunglasses and, without a word, tossed his short, almost white hair back and strode for the doors leading out to the loading area.
"Pretty close." The soft sound of feet sliding pulled Trent's eyes back to the bathroom, and he stiffened, turning halfway around as the would-be sniper staggered out, a hand holding a wad of brown paper to his nose. From the loudspeaker came a final boarding call. The assassin spotted the slim shape of a man in black spandex slip through the doors to the platform, and he staggered into a run, his hand slapping his coat where his two-way had been.
"Pretty slick, you mean," Jenks added, seeming to have forgiven Trent as he put the sunglasses on his nose and headed out the King Street entrance. "That's good planning right there."
"I have the luxury of time." The temperature shifted, becoming warmer, damper as Trent went through the first set of twin doors. Traffic passed, and people intent on getting where they wanted to be. Just as expected, no one noticed him in his courier uniform, and he zipped his dull green jacket up against the possible rain. Risking a look back through the milky windows, he saw the sniper just make the train. Another knot eased, and then he tensed right back up again. He had hardly started. A sleek bike leaned against a nearby rack, chained with a familiar lock, and he strode to it.
"But you're as sloppy as Rachel," Jenks said loudly, his dust blown away by a traffic-born gust. "Money will get you only so far, and then I'm going to have to work my wings off keeping you alive. Especially if you don't unplug your sphincters and tell me what you're doing."
Setting down the box, Trent crouched beside the bike and looked up at Jenks perched on the bike's rearview mirror. "Unplug my... Excuse me?"
Hands on his hips, Jenks lifted his wings in a pixy's version of a shrug. "Keep thinking I'm fluff, and I'll kill you myself. I work best when I know what the general theme is." He tracked a passing man. "Quen at least took me seriously. Let me do my job."
The lock clicked open, and Trent stood, tossing it to the side, unneeded. It would be better if the rain would hold off for an hour or so, but what were the chances of that?
"I can do more than look pretty here!" Jenks shouted, darting back off the bike as Trent fit the package in the saddlebag and swung his leg over.
"I could have made sure that you beaned the right guy," Jenks continued as Trent took his round fabric cap from his belt pack and lined his bike helmet with it. "Saved you five minutes right there. Did you know the camera sweeps are only once every three minutes? You could have been invisible, but nooooo! Ignore the pixy! No dust off my ass, but if you aren't alive to help Rachel tomorrow, I'll be pissed."
"It was a negligible risk." Trent fastened his helmet under his chin, not needing to adjust the straps. "By the time someone looks at the tapes, it will be too late."
"You were lucky!" Jenks shouted, loud enough to make a passerby glance up, mildly curious at seeing a pixy arguing with a courier. "You could be dead on the tile right now, leaving Rachel up crap creek without her Kalamack life preserver." The pixy darted close, and Trent pressed his lips together, refusing to back up as a silver dust tickled his nose. "We need to get one thing straight, cookie fart," Jenks said, poking his nose with the tip of his sword. "Either you include me, or you don't. Tell me now so I can catch the next train south and maybe get there in time to save her ass. I'm not here for you, not here for your elf quest, and not for whatever bauble we're stealing back from your old girlfriend. I'm here to keep you alive so you can help Rachel."
Squinting at the pixy, Trent sat where he was, wanting to move but forced to deal with this first. Having to explain himself was almost as bad as someone telling him no without options. But he'd been accused of being too hard to work with before, and learning the knack of seeming to include others in his decision making even when he wasn't would be good in the long run. Or so Quen said.
"Well?" the pixy snarled, and Trent quashed a sudden feeling of angst.
"It's not a ring we are stealing. It's my child."