Read the first chapter of Celebromancy!

If you liked the meta-comic fantasy of Michael Underwood's novel Geekomancy, you'll adore the follow-up, Celebromancy. Our urban fantasy author/asskicker Ree is back — and she'll have to use every pop culture tool in her arsenal to defeat these Big Bads. We've got an excerpt!

The book comes out July 15. Learn more on the official book website.

Here's the synopsis:

Fame has a magic all its own in the no-gossip-barred follow-up to Geekomancy. Ree Reyes gets her big screenwriting break, only to discover just how broken Hollywood actually is.
Things are looking up for urban fantasista Ree Reyes. She’s using her love of pop culture to fight monsters and protect her hometown as a Geekomancer, and now a real-live production company is shooting her television pilot script.
But nothing is easy in show business. When an invisible figure attacks the leading lady of the show, former-child star-turned-current-hot-mess Jane Konrad, Ree begins a school-of-hard-knocks education in the power of Celebromancy.
Attempting to help Jane Geekomancy-style with Jedi mind tricks and X-Men infiltration techniques, Ree learns more about movie magic than she ever intended. She also learns that real life has the craziest plots: not only must she lift a Hollywood-strength curse, but she needs to save her pilot, negotiate a bizarre love rhombus, and fight monsters straight out of the silver screen. All this without anyone getting killed or, worse, banished to the D-List.

And here's the excerpt.

Chapter One

Confirm & Deny

Ree was late to her first public appearance as a screenwriter, and she couldn’t even blame it on a monster attack.

Ree Reyes (Strength 10, Dexterity 14, Stamina 12, Will 18, IQ 16, Charisma 15—Geek 7 / Barista 3 / Screenwriter 2 / Gamer Girl 2 / Geekomancer 2) was already on the bus talking with her father and one-man cheerleading section when she got the Where are you? text from the Yancy Williams, director, executive producer, and her new boss as a screenwriter.

“The fuck?” Ree said unconsciously as she read the text.

“What’s up, Ree-bee?” her dad asked.

“I’m late. I was supposed to be there half an hour ago.” Her pulse pole-vaulted straight past nervous all the way to freaked-the-hell-out.

“How far out are you?” her dad, asked, his voice level. Ree’s dad was an ex-marine and had all of the calm. She tried to borrow some, consciously slowing her breath.

It’s not like your writing career is hanging on this or anything.

“Five minutes,” Ree said. “But no one told me there was a makeup team!”

“It’ll be fine. You can’t make the bus get there any faster, so just remember why you were invited. Because you earned it. You’ll be great.”

“Gotta go. Time for a media power-up,” Ree said.

“Love you,” her dad answered.

A smile wiped away her worry for a moment. “Love you, too, daddy-o.”

Ree hung up, looked at the text message again, sent her ETA 5 min response, and then queued up one of her power-up videos. The bus would get there on its own time, so she did her best to concentrate on “The Late Shaft” from Castle.

For most new writers, watching a single scene of a TV show would be as useful as cramming French before a Medieval German exam. But Ree wasn’t just any writer.

When they arrived at her stop, Ree practically dove out of the bus, and rushed into the hotel, brushing past fancy people in furs and suits that cost as much as her entire DVD collection.

One of Yancy’s assistants, a young Chinese-American woman, was waiting in the lobby. Was her name Patricia or Vanessa? Ree wondered. She’d met most of the cast and crew all at once, and her brain’s capacity for new names was about four at a time, max.

Patrica/Vanessa has spotted her and said, “Thank God.” She grabbed Ree’s wrist and started off like a roadrunner. “Come with me, there’s no time.”

Ree imagined the woman speaking in the Terminator voice. Come with me if you want to live . . . or look good on camera.

They rushed to the bathroom that One Tough Mama had commandeered for their makeup prep. As Ree stepped inside, she saw a small handful of makeup artists clustered around Jane Konrad, the owner/executive producer of One Tough Mama and the star of Awakenings. The bathroom had been jury-rigged into a dressing room with extra lights, a clothing rack, and three Avon ladies’ worth of makeup. The room smelled of hairspray and BPAL. And in the hot seat was Jane Konrad, (in)famous actress and producer.

Jane Konrad (Strength 8, Dexterity 13, Stamina 12, IQ 16, Will 15, Charisma 17—Performer 5 / Child Star 3 / Producer 2 / Philanthropist 2 / Party Girl 1 / Geek 1) was about Ree’s height, had a currently-limp mane of chestnut-red-brown hair, and had starred in many happy dreams of Ree’s over the years. She wore simple sweats, which hung loose on her diminished frame.

Just two years ago, Jane had been a world-class superstar, but her career had recently gone the same way as a famous young redhead’s. The Jane of now was much skinnier than when she’d last been in a movie, which the tabloids blamed on drugs but Yancy denied fervently. She’d also collected more than a few citations and DUIs, and starred on the gossip sites ONTD and WTF on a regular basis.

Ree didn’t know how long Jane had been in the chair, but she still looked pretty terrible. Makeup failed to cover huge bags under her eyes, her hair was thin and lifeless, and her skin was wan. And then there were the things makeup couldn’t touch. She looked 40 not 32, and was least ten pounds underweight, far more emaciated than her normal curvy vivacity. She was operating far below her normal +3 Charisma bonus.

Skinny could be sexy, but on Jane, it just didn’t work. The actress looked empty, used up, like she’d gone nine rounds with a wight.

One of the makeup artists ushered Ree to a fold-out chair in front of a sink and mirror, then started working.

“Glad you could make it,” Jane said. Even her voice was hollow. Are we in trouble with this show? If her first pilot bombed, getting another job would be all that much harder.

Ree tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, still a little gun-shy around the star. “Sorry, I missed the call-time message.”

Jane managed a weak smile. “It’ll be fine. There’s no need for writers to be glamorous. They’ll want it anyway, since you’re a woman, but you’ll be fine. Just let Brendan do his magic.”

Ree’s nostrils flared at the comment. She knew it was true, and the double standard of it all stuck in her craw like a jagged chunk of popcorn.

Brendan was the man with at least four hands starting her makeup, if Ree had to judge just by the speed of his work.

“Can you see without these?” Brendan asked, indicating her thick-lensed glasses. If the money from selling the script hadn’t all gone to overdue bills, credit cards, and paying back her roommate, she might have been able to replace the specs she’d worn since college, or afford new contacts. But that would have to wait for a series pickup.

“Not in any useful fashion,” she said.

He tutted disapprovingly and said, “Then we’ll work around them. Go ahead and take them off for now.”

Ree obeyed and Brendan set to work, first removing the meager makeup she’d put on herself, then starting to rebuild her look from the base up. Thanks to an Irish-American mother and a Puerto Rican–American father, Ree had the “ethnically indeterminate” look, which had gotten more en vogue, to a point. Hollywood had still convinced Jessica Alba to go blonde after praising her “exotic” look in Dark Angel, after all.

Brendan highlighted the Puerto Rican part of her complexion, but also drew attention to her eyes. While he did that, Jane’s hairdresser did a drive-by, untying Ree’s functional shoulder-length braid and giving her a quick comb and treatment with some hairspray that nearly made Ree choke in her seat.

The door to the bathroom opened, and Yancy poked his head in. “Looking good, folks. Jane, how are you feeling today?”

Jane sat up, looking at Yancy in the mirror. “I’ve got this. You keep them on topic, draw attention to our new star writer, and it’ll be great.” Jane turned and smiled to Ree, who tried to restrain a blush. Her reflection told her she’d failed, even with the makeup.

“All right. We’re on in ten,” Yancy said, then disappeared behind the closing door.

Ree caught Brendan’s eyes in the mirror, then waggled her phone as she asked, “Do you mind if I zone out with a show while you work? It helps me calm down.”

Brendan shrugged. “Just listen for my instructions when I need you to move your head.”

“Got it,” she said, and restarted the scene.

Since becoming a Geekomancer, a magician drawing power from her love for science-fiction/fantasy/horror/etc. media, Ree had made the executive decision to become more organized.

Her part of the apartment was still a pigsty, but she had gotten her shit together for her new Urban Fantasy life. Over the last few months, she’d made playlists of videos to watch for short hits of genre emulation and had tagged her video collection by gleanable skills.

The short clips, she’d found, were only good for ten, maybe fifteen seconds of magic, usually just one trick. But the right trick at the right time could be a lifesaver. And with the screen only ten inches away, she wasn’t quite blind.

Genre emulation was the most powerful (and rare) form of Geekomancy, and it was her best chance to not freak out and wretch during her first ever press panel.

Re-upping her connection to the feel of Castle could give her the cocksure charm of author Richard Castle and help her waltz through her first press conference. She got through the scene three times, trying to talk along with Richard Castle as he charmed the reporter with his spiel about Dead Heat, the first novel based on Lieutenant Kate Beckett.

During her fourth watch-through, Brendan said, “That should do it,” handing back her glasses.

Ree put her specs back on and looked up to see herself in the mirror.

She blinked and felt her jaw drop. Who’s the hottie?

The woman in the mirror wasn’t supermodel-level gorgeous, but she was far more put-together and glamorous than Ree had felt in years. Her hair had shape that wasn’t braided, and, dare she say it, volume. She had blush, eye shadow, and lashes long enough to use the D&D natural attack rules, and generally looked entirely unlike herself. It was a total violation of her residual self-image in the most flattering kind of way. She beamed, her pride boosted by the Castle energy buzzing in her mind.

“Wow” was all she could manage. “Wow.”

Brendan’s smile was as wide as the room. “Not bad, eh? You better get used to it. This is Hollywood standard.”

Jane leaned over to her. The star looked better herself, her fatigue concealed behind masterfully done makeup, her hair voluminous and healthy. She still looked under the weather, but the hollow look was gone, leaving the star undeniably beautiful. Changing into a skirt and gauzy top helped as well, focusing attention on her (diminished) curves.

Ree stood and cracked her neck, happy to not have to hold her good posture anymore. She resisted the urge to reach up and fiddle with her face. Stay cool, said a Nathan Fillion–esque voice in her head.

“Do we wait in here or beside the stage?” Ree asked.

“Out there.” Jane stood and hugged Brendan. “Great job, hon.” She turned to Ree. “Now it’s our turn.”

The two joined Yancy outside. Yancy Williams (Strength 13, Dexterity 10, Stamina 14, IQ 16, Will 16, Charisma 14—Scholar 2 / Director 5 / Producer 4 / Kingmaker 3 / Dad 3) was an impish kind of fiftysomething, with well-earned laugh lines, a full head of white hair, and a whiskey-barrel chest. Yancy lead the group down a short hall to the entrance of the Washington ballroom.

Yancy ducked his head into the ballroom for a second, then said, “They’re almost ready for us.”

Jane took Ree’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Talk slowly, and give short answers when you can. Let them ask the follow-ups. Don’t answer anything you don’t want to. Except the basic stuff. If you don’t answer the basic stuff, we look dumb.” Jane gave a lopsided smile that made her look like a normal person, not one burdened with fame or plagued by her recent past. Just one woman giving advice to another.

All right, Ree. Don’t fuck this up. It’s just another kind of performance, like talking to customers, pitching a script, or a first date.

Set mode to Ree Reyes, Screenwriter.

Another minute later, a young man with a headset opened the door and waved them in.

Read the first chapter of Celebromancy!S

Yancy went first, then Ree. Jane would go last. Ree followed Yancy up the three steps to the stage and tried to pretend there weren’t fifty reporters standing in the front rows, that there weren’t another couple of hundred people behind them clapping and cheering.

Stay cool.

Ree put on her best smile and tried to look confident as she took long steps, stopping at the seat next to Yancy. There were a water bottle, microphone, and a name card, which announced her as Rhiannon Reyes, at the space.

As she turned to take her seat, the room exploded. Ree saw Jane step up onto the stage, waving to the crowd. Whatever last-second touch-ups and costuming tricks Brendan had done in the hall made a world of difference.

Jane was stunning, a L’Oreal commercial cross-bred with a red carpet parade and unleashed on the room. Her hair flowed like a waterfall as she worked the stage like a runway.

She practically glowed from within; the star looked like she’d had a month’s worth of yoga and good diet. Her famous curves were back, filling out her clothes and accentuating the confident sway of her hips.

Di-damn. Whatever Brendan made, he deserved a raise.

The flash of cameras was nearly blinding, and the roar of the crowd was primal, enthralled.

Jane reached her seat, gave another big smile, and took her seat. Ree remembered that she was still standing and was probably staring. She took her own seat and grasped for her water bottle with a smile, eager for a chance to clear her head as a storm of thoughts bounced around her mind like a game of Arkanoid.

Yo. Get a grip, she told herself. Remember the you-have-to-talk-to-people part? The screenwriter thing?

She answered the voice in her head. But . . . pretty!

Ree took a long swig of water and turned to the press, which had sat down as the roar of the crowd faded. She tapped into the Castle mojo, thinking What Would Rick Castle Do? and her shoulders relaxed, her smile brightened. Her connection to the power wouldn’t last, thanks to the radioactive butterflies in her stomach burning away her concentration, but she’d milk it for all it was worth.

Yancy held his hands up, and the room settled. A few moments later, he leaned in and started talking.

“Good afternoon. I’m Yancy Williams, executive producer and director of Awakenings. I’m honored to be joined by the one, the only, Jane Konrad.” He paused for applause. Facing the audience, Ree saw the enraptured look on many of the audience’s faces. The press seemed less enraptured, but they were still fascinated, attentive, and sitting on the edge of their seats.

Jane smiled and nodded to the crowd for a few seconds, then raised a hand herself. The cheering died out like an orchestra, with Jane as the conductor.

Yancy started up again. “And I’m especially pleased to introduce to you the creator of Awakenings, the woman behind the next big television hit, Ree Reyes!”

The applause for Ree was a fraction of what Jane had gotten.

But it’s for me. Not anyone else.

Ree beamed, waving to the crowd.

Oh, yeah. Who’s the shit?

A few moments later, Yancy spoke again.

“We’re very happy to speak with you about Awakenings. We’re starting the second week of principal photography, and things are going splendidly. I’m sure there are many questions, so let’s launch right in.”

A young Latina with long silky hair wearing a West African shawl as a scarf stood, raising her hand. Vanessa/Patricia rushed over to hand her a microphone. She waved the woman off and projected, filling the room.

“Kelly Dominguez, Pearson Patriot. Ms. Konrad, what attracted you to this project and the choice of an unknown screenwriter for your return to the screen?” Kelly was a local video-blogger who had parlayed her positive but probing video reportage into a full-time gig. Ree’d been a fan for years, and it was fun to see her in the flesh.

Jane pulled her mike in, nodding to Kelly. She spoke with warmth and poise wrapped together in a perfect braid. “Hello, Kelly. That’s a lovely shawl. I told Yancy that I was looking for fresh blood on the project, a new voice that I could introduce to the world, the way that he helped me break in to the industry.

“I started with a stack of manuscripts selected by our interns, which must have been three feet tall.” Jane paused to laugh, drawing the audience in even more.

“There was a lot of good material, but when I came to Awakenings, I knew this was it. Ree has a crisp, humorous voice, and the script is one of the best pilots I’ve read. Television is the perfect medium for combining entertainment and social commentary, and Awakenings is the right show for the right time. There are a lot of shows that entertain, but precious few that go deeper, tackling real issues, and none that do it the way Ree has in Awakenings.”

Several reporters nodded like bobblehead dolls, hanging on to Jane’s every word. The star gestured to Ree, shifting the spotlight of attention. “But let’s hear from the genius herself. I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you more about the show.”

That’s me. She felt a hundred eyes lock on to her movements, their attention as intense as a spotlight. Ree was used to performing in small crowds—stores, parties, and the Midnight Market. This was a whole different world.

Ree cleared her throat and pulled in her own mike, calling forward the Castle energy again.

Keep it cool.

“Thanks, Jane. I wrote Awakenings for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that ever since Battlestar Galactica went off the air, there hasn’t been another show, for me, that tackled social issues in the way I wanted to see. So I had to write it myself.

“I grew up reading Ursula LeGuin, Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler, and New Wave SF. It’s hard to do social science fiction on TV, because many viewers are expecting the eyeball kicks, explosions, and constant jokes. But I wanted to take a risk, trust that an audience would go with me on something that took the time to dig into issues between fight scenes.”

Another reporter took up the mike, a thirtysomething white guy with a shaved head and big plastic glasses. He was dressed in the traditional garb of his people, the black turtleneck, as well as a finely-crafted air of self-importance.

“Alex Walters, WTF. Given the crash-and-burn failure of shows like The Event, Rubicon, Alcatraz, Flash-Forward, and others, what makes you think that a show that seems to boil down to a mashup of No Ordinary Family and The 4400 can succeed in today’s television market, especially with a washed-out flight risk as the star?”

Ree knew this guy. He was hipster royalty online, and prided himself on eviscerating everything in the world as soon as it started to smell of success, predicting failure everywhere he went. And since he had a million Twitter followers and headed one of the biggest gossip sites this side of TMZ, when he did his doom-saying, a whole lot of people listened.

Yancy looked to Ree, and she nodded, trying to indicate, I got this. Thought she had to restrain her first instinct, which was to pull the lightsaber out of her purse and take a Dark Side point.

Ree adjusted the mike and said, “The fact that companies keep putting on shows like the ones you mentioned means that the execs and others believe that there’s something to it. And concept isn’t destiny. You can walk into a bookstore and find a hundred YA novels on the shelves.” Look at me being diplomatic, she thought, when all she wanted to do was drop-kick the smarmy bastard out of the zip code.

“Only a handful of them have hit it big, but does that mean the others are doomed to fail, or that just because a couple of them aren’t great means the others are crap? Of course not. Each show deserves to be judged on its own merits, don’t you think?”

Do not engage, she told herself. That way lies madness.

Alex shifted his weight, eyes narrowed. “That’s easy to say, but if we’re supposed to judge your show on its merits, will Awakenings actually have any?”

Because you’re the God-given arbiter of taste, right? Ree thought, restraining the growing urge to jump the table and strangle the bastard.

No one will care if I clobber him, right? The media ecosystem will survive with one less parasite.

Yancy leaned in to answer. “Ree has a wry, crisp voice, and she’s given us a great world to bring to life for audiences. Our special-effects team is going to deliver amazing visuals, and Jane is putting in some of the best performances I’ve seen in the fifteen years I’ve worked with her.”

Ree gave Yancy a smile, waited for him to continue or Jane to hop in. After a beat, Ree spoke again. “I can give you the basic concept, just to put everything on the table.

“In the might-as-well-be-now future, magic returns to the earth, and people around the world awaken with magic powers. People freak out, and all of a sudden, there’s a brand-new way to be stigmatized. Awakenings takes the one-family lens approach to tackling social issues, while always staying personal.”

Ree stopped there, remembering Jane’s suggestion to keep it brief, or at least brief-ish. Plus, she felt the Castle energy starting to run low, and wanted to keep some mojo back for other questions.

Her hands were shaking, and she took a long swig from her glass as she calmed herself down, mentally grasping onto the magical energy.

She looked to Alex, bracing for another gotcha or snide remark. But either he was satisfied or he was going to save the rest of the bile for his article. A half-dozen other hands stood in the air, and Ree looked to Yancy, who nodded.

The next reporter was a shorter, curvy woman with tightly curled black hair. “Vlada Janczuk, StraightDope.com. One Tough Mama has had a difficult few years. How important is it that this pilot succeed, and why shoot a pilot on spec instead of pitching to studios right away?”

Yancy’s response was a guarded grin. “Every project is important, and right now money is tight for everyone.”

Ree had asked this question when the production company made their offer to buy the pilot. So she knew that Yancy’s answer read as This is the last of Jane’s money, and if the pilot bombs, the production company will go belly-up.

Announcing, Hey, we’re screwed if this fails, so please watch us! wasn’t exactly a way to get people to tune in, not for a brand-new show. Some shows needed “Save Show X” campaigns before they hit the air, but no one wanted to be that show. And the show would have to be picked up to series first.

Yancy continued, “As for why to dive right into shooting a pilot, Jane has always tried to innovate with our efforts at One Tough Mama. After the success of independent productions like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, The Guild, and Husbands, Jane wanted to get the pilot in the can before making presentations, which will give us more flexibility. If the networks pass for whatever reason, we still have a product, and we can go direct to the fans and use Kickstarter to raise funds for a full season.”

Yancy’d said part of why they were doing the press conference this early was to help drum up interest, as well as to dispel the myths that Jane was too far gone to get through a production. From where Ree sat, they were doing all of that and more, thanks to Jane’s charm and Yancy’s tact, and maybe even her own fu.

The press worked through a few more questions, getting into details about the production schedule and their hopes for the series’ home (any major network, plus Syfy, TNT, AMC, HBO, etc.). Ree let Yancy take the lead, and Jane answered the softball personal questions with grace and waved off the inflammatory ones from Alex and others. Eventually, the PAs got the message and stopped giving the mike to the muckraker. After the third time he was ignored, he got up and made a big production of storming off.

Good riddance.

“That’s all the time we have for today,” Yancy said finally, an hour into the press conference. “Thank you for your time, and I hope you’ll continue following our progress with Awakenings!”

They stood to another round of applause. Jane played to the crowd on the way out, and Ree heard the roar continue even through the door and down the hall as they left.

“We’ve got a car in back,” Yancy said.

Jane shook her head, grinning wide. “No, we’re going out the front. Give them a minute to gather.” She looked like the cat who’d caught the canary.

A shadow passed over Yancy’s face. “Careful, Jane.”

Jane stretched, cracking her back. “I’ll be fine. And we need every bit of press we can get.”

Yancy took a halting step toward Jane, a worried, paternal look on his face. Jane raised a hand, and he stopped.

“It’s going to be a hit, Yanc. And then we’ll be back on top.”

They waited for a minute.

Why am I getting a foreboding vibe off of this? It isn’t just the worry of maybe people will throw fruit instead of cheering, it wassomething bigger.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Ree said without getting the chance to censor herself.

Jane looked to Ree and smiled big.

Why worry? Ree asked herself. It’ll be fine.

“Follow me and stay close. This is going to be a great ride.” Jane nodded to her bodyguard Danny, who had appeared from nowhere to take the lead, engaging his not-to-be-fucked-with look.

Danny Park (Strength 15, Dexterity 16, Stamina 14, Will 15, IQ 13, Charisma 10—Laborer 2 / Security 3 / Martial Artist 5 / Bodyguard 4) stood only five feet and change, but he was ripped, the muscle shirt he wore under his jacket showing enough skin to make that fact abundantly clear. He wore a short ponytail tied back, and his jeans were well worn without being patchy.

Ree followed, and as they walked through the hotel, Ree couldn’t help but envision the group in their very own Badass Walk: the last or next-to-last shot of a TV credits sequence or film trailer where the main characters stride with purpose down a hallway, alley, or battlefield. Bonus points if something explodes in the background.

Her mind played a made-up theme song in the style of Nerf Herder as they walked. Danny reached the front of the hotel, and two men in suits opened the doors for them.

The crowd outside was even bigger than it had been in the ballroom by at least 50 percent. Where are all these people coming from? Ree wondered.

Jane sauntered through the crowd wearing a modest smile. The air was tight with excitement and the flow of energy as the star held court, soaking it all in like an emotional vampire. I sure hope Dresden’s White Court doesn’t really exist. If they do, we’re all fucked. According to the model that Eastwood gave Ree during her brief stint as a snarky apprentice, there might be individual vampires that followed the model from Butcher’s novels, feeding on emotion instead of blood, but probably not enough to be their own society. If they did, Ree had no doubt that they’d have Hollywood wrapped around their sexy alabaster fingers.

Some heroines got simple universes, with monsters and magic that followed consistent rules. As far as she could tell, magic in her world was as inconsistent and dynamic as real life, so just when she thought she understood what was going on, something would change for no discernible reason, like fashion, pop music, or Facebook.

Ree headed straight for the waiting town car, sliding in beside Yancy. Jane took several minutes to sign, schmooze, and soak up the love.

Yancy kept an eye on his star, and Ree watched out of the corner of her eye.

Jane waved goodbye to the crowd and slinked into the car with deliberate grace, proving Ree’s point. She beckoned Ree in next, and Yancy took shotgun as Danny closed the door to the cab, interposing himself to keep the crowds away.

Jane leaned in to speak to both of them.

“See, wasn’t that fun?” Her eyes were wide, like she’d just taken a hit of something high-grade.

Yancy harrumphed. “Back to the set, please.” The driver, an older Middle Eastern man in an aviator cap, nodded, and the car pulled out into the street.

“Actually, can you drop me somewhere?” Ree asked. “I’ve got a lunch.”

Yancy nodded. Jane frowned. “I thought you were going to be on-set this afternoon?”

“I will,” Ree said. “When I say ‘I have a lunch,’ what I really mean is ‘I have work.’ My boss has been good about being flexible and giving my work here priority, but I do have to help out for a few hours this afternoon.” That and take a meeting that could really go well, or really really not.

“Just tell the driver,” Yancy said, the car already in motion.

Ree gave directions to an office building across town.

Of course, that wasn’t where she was actually going.