First Chapter of “Athena’s Promise” and a Cover Reveal!

Just for you, here is the print cover for “Athena’s Promise” and the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget, you can pre-order autographed copies here. The official launch of the e-version is scheduled for Friday, October 28th. Thanks for all your support! *MUAH*!

Chapter One

Hearing the phone ring a full hour before the start of my shift was usually a sure sign the day was going to go right down the toilet. Living on site in a hotel as the front desk manager has its perks, but being on call 24/7 sure wasn’t one of them. I guess I should have been used to it, but that didn’t mean I hated it any less.

Of course, since the accident at Atlantis some twenty years ago, opening the Portal and allowing just any creature to cross over, calls like this were all too common. What awaited me this morning? A pissed- off centaur, a drunk and disorderly minor league wizard, what? Working in a hotel located on the edge of Zombietown sure made for interesting guests. Not to mention the staff.

I rolled over in the king-sized bed, one of my favorite perks, and picked up the receiver. Before I even lifted it to my ear I heard Lilah, the pixie working two night shifts a week, screeching in her twangy voice. Oh lord, it’s gonna be a long day, I thought, and I don’t even have my eyes open yet.

“Miz Pallas! I swear to all the Gods, you gotta get down here. I can’t get this stupid horse – yes, I just called you a horse! – to understand if he checks in this early he has to pay for two nights. –Don’t you shit on this floor mister, you just better not!”

Well, that popped my eyes open in a hurry. I knew exactly the target of Lilah’s screeching .

I sat up in bed. “Lilah! Lilah, I know you’re upset but calm down. You can’t talk to a guest like that, not even Cedric. Tell him to hang on; I’ll be there in ten minutes. You’d better hope Medusa doesn’t hear you from the back. Go to the laundry room if you have to and cool off.” I loved Lilah, I really did. She was a cute little thing, brown and sparkly with eyes shaped like almonds, but those damned pixies were so high strung!

She finally started to settle down. “Oh, oh, oh! I’m sorry Miz Pallas, sorry. Sorry. You’re coming down, right?” I heard her say, “Oh, now you gonna deal with Miz Pallas! How you like that?” and I couldn’t quite suppress my grin. I hated it when Lilah got upset, although most of it was just pixie dramatics, but Cedric could be a handful. I knew from pulling too many double shifts the night shift around here could get really hairy. And of course, no one wanted to deal with a pissed-off Medusa. That was strictly my job.

“I can’t get dressed if you keep me on the phone. Just hang up and bug out. I’m on my way. Cedric can leave or wait till I get there; I don’t care what he does.” I hung up and contemplated for the thousandth time why I was still at this job after three years of dealing with “critters” – the crossovers from every fable, folklore tale, myth, and legend you can think of. I must be crazy.

I sighed and scrambled into my uniform of the day – a navy blue polo and a pair of khakis. Sneakers, my red hair pulled into a hasty ponytail, and I booked out the door. Hey, with the running around I did, it didn’t pay to be girly. I just usually ended up sweating off the makeup and perfume. Not to mention the days when I was so frazzled my hair resembled Medusa’s. I cleaned up pretty well, I’ve been told, but this job was not for sissies.

I headed for the elevator. My suite was on the third floor, at the far end of the hallway. When I first started working here at the Traveler’s Haven, I made the mistake of taking a room on the first floor as close to the lobby as I could get. Big mistake. On the first floor everyone thought nothing of just walking over and knocking on my door at all hours of the day and night. On the third floor I could take the back stairs and no one knew my business, even though living on property was like living in a fish bowl. Privacy could be a problem.

With Cedric kicking up a fuss, I couldn’t even stop off at the little breakfast café to grab my daily cup of coffee, and that pissed me off. The food served there was gross, but I guess three years of anything would seem gross. However, the coffee was excellent and sometimes it was the only thing to get me though the day. I nodded to Luke, the breakfast host, on my way by. He was a new employee, hired by Medusa, and I had yet to become well-acquainted with him, but he seemed like a nice enough guy. Still, I’d been around the block enough times to know looks can be deceiving.

Cedric didn’t see me at first. He was busy feeling up the blond (Skank Number One) while the brunette (Skank Number Two) swayed back and forth on her feet and tried to snatch at Cedric’s tail. I sniffed the air as I approached the front desk, and thankfully I didn’t smell anything other than the odor of horseflesh and the perfume of the two floozies twined around Cedric. I saw no sign of Lilah – a good thing.

I sure wasn’t happy to see this bunch in my lobby. The hotel was at the edge of Zombietown, it’s true, and we received a lot of business from the local strip clubs and bars. But Medusa and I worked really hard to cultivate a better clientele than inhabited the hotel here when we first took over. The owners, three gnome brothers, didn’t seem to care where the money came from as long as it kept coming, but in the meantime guests like Cedric gave the “normal” clientele the wrong impression of our place, an impression we were trying to change.

“Cedric, what’s going on?” I pasted the “Guest Service” smile on my face, hiding my irritation at being called out early for this. I leaned against the front desk and crossed my arms. Oh, he appeared in fine form. From what I understood, centaurs were usually not so ostentatious, but Cedric seemed to be an exception to the rule. His light brown hair and mane were plaited with ribbons of all colors; sparkling bling around his neck, on his fingers, around his wrists. I knew his stuff wasn’t genuine, or he’d be staying at a much nicer place than this. The ice in his ears might have been real, but the rest of it was strictly for show. His clear blue hooves, probably the only thing I found attractive on the douchebag, were drilled out and embedded with more fake bling, ruining, in my opinion, his best feature.

A handsome critter, Cedric, but a player all the way. Actually, I was surprised he only had two females with him. Those girls just can’t seem to resist Cedric’s uh…other assets. I’m sure I don’t have to draw a picture.

“Ah, Miss Pallas! Finally some competence here.” Cedric’s deep voice rumbled as he untangled himself from Skank Number One to reach for my hand, dropping what I’m sure he thought of as a charming kiss on the back of it. To me, it was disgusting. His tail switched back and forth in agitation.

“Cedric, that’s not fair and you know it. How many times have you stayed with us?” I surreptitiously wiped the back of my hand on the side of my pants. See? That’s why I didn’t dress up. “You know the policy. Check-in is at three o’clock. You check in this early, you have to pay for two nights; check-out is tomorrow at eleven. I’ve explained this to you before.”

Cedric stomped a hoof, barely missing Skank Number Two. “Come on, Pallas, it’s not fair. You mean to tell me if I check in right now I have to check out at eleven or pay for two nights?” His tail switching stepped up a notch. I noticed he dropped the “Miss”. He stomped his hoof again, and I started to do a slow burn. “That sucks. I probably won’t even stay until tomorrow. ” He snorted and pushed away the loving arms of Skank Number One, who pouted and promptly sat down on the tile floor and thanks to her short skirt, I saw everything but Jesus. This was getting out of hand, and in a hurry.

“Cedric, it’s the policy and you know it. I can check you in right now, but if you pay for one night you’re checking out at eleven. Period.” My patience ran out. “It’s not my policy, it’s hotel policy, and I’m not jeopardizing my job for you. Pay or go. I don’t care which, just make up your mind.” I had to get this asshole and his two uh…companions out of the lobby before respectable people started showing up.

I walked right up to him and put my hands on my hips. I might have been a foot and a half shorter than this critter, but you bet I had a bigger attitude. “You can quit switching your tail, because I swear to the Gods if you shit on my lobby floor you’re banned for life. Now, do you want the room or not? Because I’m not in the mood to stand here and argue with you one more minute.” I stared him straight in the eyes, and he backed down, just like I knew he would.

He reached for Skank Number Two, and almost stepped on Skank Number One. “All right, all right. Gimme the room until tomorrow.” I heard him complaining and mumbling as I made my way around the long desk to the computer terminal to check him in, but that was okay. I loved it when they called me a bitch behind my back. Didn’t bother me in the least.

I checked him in and charged him top dollar, oh yes I did.
As soon as Cedric and his lovlies cleared the lobby, Lilah came flitting out of her hidey-hole.

“Miz Pallas, I’m sorry I called you early, I truly am.” She giggled into her tiny hands. “You sure gave him what for, and he sure had it coming.”

I stapled the paperwork together and threw it in the “in” basket. “Lilah, you can’t talk to guests that way and you know it. I know Cedric is an asswipe, but he’s a guest. Sometimes, you just have to grin and take it.” I sighed, because six in the morning was too early to lecture, and I needed some caffeine. Like, right now.

Lilah nodded as if she actually cared, and I said, “I’m getting some coffee. Might as well finish up your shift paperwork, girl, and you can leave early.” She brightened and glittered. I loved it when pixies did that, you know, got all glittery-like? It happened when they’re happy, and it was really cool to watch. This makes pixies dangerous to most people, because humans will go above and beyond to make a pixie happy just for the sparkle. This, in turn, makes pixies the most spoiled bunch of brats you’ll ever meet, but I didn’t take any shit from them. Lilah knew it and was smart enough not to push me past my limit. That would be a very bad thing for all involved. Good thing I had such a sweet temperament.

I made straight for the breakfast café. It wasn’t much, really – basic stuff like fruit juice, pastries, cereal and the like. The food sucked to me, but the coffee was fabulous. Critters could request special items, like roe eggs for the merepeople (mermaids were popular at the strip joints nearby and stayed here often) or protein shakes for the undead. I tried not to think about those items.

Luke came out of the kitchen with a load of cinnamon rolls. When I nodded, he smiled. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. He seemed charming enough; he showed up every day on time; he did his job well. Cute, I guess. Tall, shaggy brown hair he kept in a neat pony tail, brown eyes. Medusa hired him as Breakfast Host without any input from me, not our standard operating procedure. But, whatever.

“Morning, Pallas. Coffee’s fresh. Want a roll?” He breezed over to the warming station and started filling it up with cinnamon rolls. After smelling them every single day for the last three years, the aroma made me want to barf. Copiously.
“Uh, no. Thanks anyway. I just need caffeine.” I walked back to the small kitchen to grab my oversized caffeinator – I didn’t mess around. It held about a half a pot of coffee. No matter how quiet the day began, the joint started jumping around check-out time and I never knew what was going to happen.

Perky was not my thing in the morning, especially when I had to come on an hour early. The staff knew it, and they walked careful. Even Luke, new to this gig, knew that much and kept his mouth shut, which told me he might be smarter than he looks.

After filling up my tank of coffee, I walked around to the back of the front desk to my tiny corner of heaven. Medusa occupied the back office, and rarely came out front. There’s a reason. She had this unfortunate handicap, you see. When riled, she had a tendency to turn people to stone. Therefore, the bulk of the front desk duties fell to me. We got along fine – I didn’t have a problem with her, I was still standing, and I ran interference. The Gnome Brothers had a love/hate relationship with her, and with me…well, I despised the little fuckers and if it wasn’t so illegal I’d love to see her turn them into nothing more than a lump of rocks. But, I digress.

I sat down at my corner, just a space carved out big enough to do a little paperwork but not much more. The security monitor, mounted over my head, and the monstrosity of a copy machine constructed sometime around when dinosaurs roamed the earth made for a tight space. A night window, seldom used, helped me keep an eye on everything. Or try to, anyway.

Looking over the schedule for the housekeeping staff, I saw Miss Esther, the head housekeeper, had four zombies on for today. That’ll work, I mused – it’s a slow day and they should be done by one o’clock, saving on payroll. Those little gnome brothers were always carping about payroll, but they carped all the time. They had more money than King Midas, and yet they screamed poverty constantly. Typical.

Oh, the zombie thing. Look, I knew most people wouldn’t have anything to do with zombies, and I understood. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about them, but living and working on the edge of Zombietown gave me a different perspective. Zombies aren’t quite what they’re made out to be by Hollywood. Their condition is not their fault. They weren’t contagious until the Turn, and zombies could be quite lively for a long time – sometimes as long as a decade until the Turn happens. That was when they became feral and a danger. It meant they had to be put down. Usually, families took care of their own, but there was a unit which specifically took care of feral zombies when they Turned. They were called the Z-Squad. Original name, right?

Until then, zombies were perfectly nice people. We employed about eight as housekeepers. Yes, there was the stench, but commercial deodorants usually masked the worst of it. Our zombies were certified as required by law, meaning their “birthdate” was confirmed so we could anticipate the approximate date of their Turn, but most of them didn’t last that long. As they got up in age, certain body parts fell off and they couldn’t do the job.

It was a sad thing, to be a zombie, but the ones I met were some of the best peeps I’ve known. I took care of them, they took care of me. In the hotel business, loyalty counted for a lot.

I sighed and sifted through group booking requests, supply forms, invoices and a slew of other stuff I had no interest in dealing with. I heard Lilah counting her drawer, humming to herself and sparkling. I loved it when she sparkled, have I mentioned it? Otherwise, I expected another quiet morning at the ranch.

Lilah finished up and bounced over to me, singing in her pixie way, “All set, Miss Pallas.”

“Go ahead, punch out. See you in a couple of days. Stay out of trouble, will you?”

She giggled. “Oh, Miss Pallas. You know I stay out of trouble. I’ll be back for the second shift on Thursday, right?” Damned pixies never kept track of their shifts, but at least Lilah knew enough to confirm every time she left property.

“Yes, dearie, and you’ll be relieving me, so don’t be late.” She giggled again, and I had to grit my teeth. Sometimes, her chipper attitude in the morning was a lot for me to take, so it was. She flitted off, and I heard her punch the time clock on her way out.

I gathered my paperwork and moved to the front desk, where I had more room to sort out the stuff I needed to speak to Medusa about and the stuff that could wait. I liked having everything organized. It kept her happy and it was a good thing to be on her best side.

I flipped through the group requests and bird-dogged one from a band traveling through here on a regular circuit. They wanted to book two weekends in July; a nice piece of business, but I happened to know their manager served Lucifer himself, and they could be trouble. Not only the band, but the groupies following them. Another group request on the list, a tour bus from Pennsylvania; a group of vampires coming for a convention. I liked this, because they slept all day and were gone all night, which meant no service from housekeeping.

I shuffled papers and started making notes; grateful today seemed low-key and calm. Boy, seldom have I ever been so wrong. When things blew up, they really blew. I had no idea then how bad it would get.

Cedric was the least of my problems.

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