QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM paranormal mystery out: Five Dead Herrings.
Something’s definitely fishy about this case…
On my last stakeout for Quest Investigations, I nearly got clotheslined by a grove of angry dryads. I expected my bosses to reprimand me, but instead they handed me my first solo assignment. Me! Matt Steinitz, the only human on the Quest roster!
Okay, so the mission isn’t exactly demanding. Obviously, the bosses wanted to give me something they think I can’t screw up. I’m determined to show them what I can do, however, so I dive right in with no complaints.
At first glance, it looks as simple as baiting a hook: A selkie’s almost-ex-husband is vandalizing his boat with unwanted deliveries of deceased sea life. All I have to do is document the scene, tell the ex to cease and desist, and present the bill for property damages. Boom. Mission accomplished, another Quest success, and as a bonus, I get to keep my job.
But then things get…complicated. Suspicious undercurrents muddy up my oh-so-easy case. Nothing is as clear as it should be. And the biggest complication? My inappropriate attraction to the client, who may not be as blameless as he claims.
Turns out those dead herrings aren’t the only things that stink about this situation.
Five Dead Herrings is the first in the Quest Investigations M/M paranormal mystery series, a spinoff of E.J. Russell’s Mythmatched paranormal rom-com story world. It contains no on-page sex or violence, and although there is a romantic subplot, it is not a romance.
Jordan handed me the bag. “I stopped by your office to pick up the pastry trays from that big meeting yesterday. Zeke was busy, so I offered to do the delivery.” His brown eyes sparkled. “Your job must be so exciting. Who are we spying on?” He bounced a little on his haunches. “Oooh! Oooh! Is it Sasquatch?”
“Not this time.” I smiled wryly. Ted used to imitate Sasquatch by partially shifting and lurking in the woods near his place. He was lonely back then and trying to attract someone to talk to. It certainly worked on me. He hooked me like a lovesick trout. “A tree.”
Jordan’s face fell. “A tree?”
“Yup.” I pointed to the tree of my-own-personal-purgatory. “That one right there.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Ugh. Those are so stinky.”
“You can smell it?”
Ah. Right. Werewolves had a heightened sense of smell. “No.” I shifted uncomfortably, my bladder reminding me of my earlier coffee intake. I eyed Jordan, who was frowning at the tree. Since he was here, I might as well take advantage of it. “Say, Jordan, can you do me a favor?”
Immediately, he brightened. “Sure! Just name it.”
I handed him the camera. “Keep this focused on the tree and if the dryad emerges”—I pointed to the shutter release button—”press this and hold it.”
“Wow.” His expression was almost reverent as he took the camera. “I’ve never been an assistant spy before.”
I buried a snort. Jordan was even less unobtrusive than trows and duergar. “I won’t be a minute. Just gotta duck behind a bush for a bit, if you know what I mean.”
He nodded sagely, but I’m not sure he really got it. “Sure thing, Hugh.”
Nevertheless, I checked to make sure his fingers weren’t blocking the lens before I crept away, keeping low and moving as silently as possible in the underbrush.
I took care of business, which lasted a little longer than I anticipated—hey, I drank a lot of coffee, okay?—and slunk back toward my stakeout blind, keeping my head down. But when I got to the thimbleberry, Jordan wasn’t there. I would have thought that I’d mistaken the spot, except the falafel bag was there, as was my camera bag.
But not Jordan. And not my camera.
I peered through the screen of leaves. The tree of heaven looked just as boring and just as dryad-free as it had all day.
“Jordan,” I muttered, “where the heck are you and where’s my camera?”
I spotted a flash of white about thirty yards to my right, completely out of sight of the target, and controlled my urge to roll my eyes. “Seriously, Jordan?” I murmured. The white wasn’t his Wonderful Mug T-shirt. No, that would be his bare chest. I couldn’t see below his waist, thank goodness, but I expected his pants were gone too.
“Get back here!” I hissed, but he was either too far away to hear or he was deliberately ignoring me. He brandished the camera and then beckoned and pointed in some kind of weird and totally unintelligible sign language.
I held up my hands, palms up, in a helpless shrug. He scrunched up his face and then made an exaggerated point of setting my camera down carefully.
“Don’t do it. Don’t do it!” I muttered.
But we were talking about Jordan so of course he did it. He shifted, and suddenly there was a lean gray wolf with a white blaze on his flank slinking through the underbrush.
“Goddamnit.” I took off in a low crouch toward my camera and reached it just as Jordan paused by the tree of heaven. And lifted his leg.
“Are you kidding me?”
But after a morning of no action whatsoever, I couldn’t risk missing an opportunity. If I were a dryad and a werewolf peed on my shoes…roots…whatever, it would probably provoke a reaction. I raised my camera to catch the fallout.
But nothing happened.
Jordan cast a glance over his shoulder, and even though he was a wolf, that expression was nothing short of cheeky. He continued past the now-watered tree of heaven toward a massive Pacific madrone about a dozen yards further on. He sniffed around the base, then raised his head and caught my gaze, holding it long enough that I got the message.
I pointed the camera at the same time he lifted his leg and—
A dryad burst out of the madrone, knocking Jordan head over tail. Jordan’s yip and sharp whine almost made me miss the shot. But then another dryad charged out, and another, and another.
“It’s like some freaking woodland clown car,” I muttered as I rushed toward where Jordan had landed against the base of a maple.
By this time, there were about a dozen dryads dressed in Robin Hood grunge, milling around, shouting, and waving their arms like trees in a windstorm. Then they all spotted me and froze.
“Human,” one of them choked out.
“Jordan,” I called, “run!”
E.J. Russell–grace, mother of three, recovering actor–writes romance in a rainbow of flavors. Count on high snark, low angst and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.