May 4, 2018

Suped Up: Owl and the Tiger Thieves by Kristi Charish

Series: Adventures of Owl 4
Format: eGalley
Release Date: May 7, 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Genre: Urban Fantasy

In this fourth Owl novel, Kristi Charish (The Voodoo Killings) melds sparkling fantasy with the grit of urban underbelly—with a detour through the world’s most spectacular cities. This is perfect for fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and fantasy lovers everywhere.

Through no fault of her own, Alix has found herself essential to the fate of the world as we know it. She didn’t mean for this to happen—she was quite happy being merely the notorious antiquities thief, and ex-archeologist, known as Owl.

However, years ago, Owl reluctantly entered the secret world of the supernatural. Her goals: complete one job, escape one bounty on her head, continue her thieving in peace.

Fast forward to today. Now, she has become a key player in a brutal paranormal civil war that is rapidly getting out of hand. The leader of one of these factions—a lethal opponent called the Electric Samurai—grows more powerful by the second. To stop him, Owl sets out to find the long-lost, legendary group known as the Tiger Thieves.

But will it be too little too late? One thing Owl misses about “normal” archaeology: there are few emergencies with thousand-year-old relics.

Reviewing a series installment is always tricky for me. It’s so easy to fall into “series speak”, you know when a reviewer starts rambling about what happened in the book but completely isolating everyone who is not aware said series exists let alone what it’s about.

So if this is the first time you’ve come across Kristi Charish’s The Adventures is Owl, it’s about a human antiquities thief and her very awesome cat, Captain, who got tangled up with the wrong kind of supernaturals. Every book is a heist, an adventure to get/steal some magical artifact in some exotic place we only see in NatGeo or read in other books. And every installment has Owl in grave danger and possibly borrowing a life or two from Captain because I don't know how the hell she's still alive after four books what with a dragon for a boss and his scary naga as Owl's immediate supervisor. So if you’re a fan of RPG, Lara Croft, Indiana Jones and/or quest-type stories, then I’m sure you’ll easily fall into the series without a problem.

Now if you know Owl, then let me tell you OWL AND THE TIGER THIEVES is a fucking trip! Owl will once again, take you for an eventful joyride which will have you meet all sorts of creature from vampires to elves, an unstable genius in some musty basement in Italy, a clowder of badass kitties in Thailand, and one scary ass mofo troll reminiscent of GoT's, The Mountain. Yikes! But what tugged at my heart is Owl's complete devotion to Rynn.  I wouldn’t peg Owl as a romantic, but the trouble she’s gone through to save her boyfriend is utterly syrupy by her standards.

“Forgive me, but you (Owl) epitomize a victim. The only thing I see in front of me is someone who needs to be saved from herself.”

To close, THANK YOU KCharish for grounding your heroine, I particularly like the part where Owl got called out for playing the victim rather than a valiant hero. For three books now Owl regaled and awed us with her acts of cunning and heroism, but her greatest flaw is acting like every mishap is some coincidence versus a thoughtless act on her part which led to at times disastrous consequence. I also love the “new chapter” of Owl’s adventure, way to keep the series from stagnating with an interesting twist in the end too! I'm very excited to see where you’re taking us.

Chapter 1: We Get What We Deserve
St Albinus of Angers Prison, Peru.
Time? Beats me. I haven’t seen the sun in a week.
I swore—loudly—and sat up with a start as ice water drenched me, shocking me out of whatever semblance of sleep my brain had managed to achieve huddling against the stone wall in the corner I’d eked out to the left of the cell door. I’d reasoned the guards would be less likely to single me out if I was absent from their line of site.
So much for that idea.
I bit down on the sides of my mouth to hold back the tirade of curses threatening to unleash at the guard standing over me, his features vague in the dim torchlight. Still, I caught the flash of gold teeth. I’d wondered more than once whether they were trophies from inmates—the mismatched sizes indicated as much.
He hissed and I cast my eyes down, focusing on the flashlight glow reflecting off his black boots. Fear. That was something they expected from us—and if you didn’t deliver . . .
Besides, this wasn’t the first or last time a guard would drench me with a bucket of frozen water. That was one of the first things I’d learned in this Peruvian hellhole. The second? Keep your mouth shut. Letting the guards see you sweat is like tossing a bucket of entrails at a pack of jackals. They don’t care if you’re already dead; they still move in for the kill.
I blinked as he passed the flashlight over me, willing my eyes to ad- just to the light faster as I kept them on the dirt floor. For the most part we were left in darkness, no lamps, no candles—no electricity either. Didn’t want anyone with an engineering bent getting any ideas.
Levántate. Ahora!” the guard barked in Spanish, adding a hard kick to my leg just to be clear the message carried across the language barrier. Get up. Now!
Again I bit my tongue as I used the wall to balance, pushing myself to stand on underused leg muscles as quickly as possible, the memories of the last few weeks coming back in an unwelcome rush.
How long had it been since one of them had stopped by? A day? Two? I guessed it had been almost a full day since we’d seen the light pass by underneath the door—the anonymous deaf and mute Peruvian woman who walked the halls with her cart, sliding something reminiscent of food under the bolted and iron-reinforced door.
Another brand of torture they’d cooked up—not the food but the latch: large enough to fit your arm through, small enough that your shoulder inevitably got caught. I should know—I’d gotten stuck twice, each time earning me a kick from the guard who’d found me.
“Ahora!” Now!
“Yeah, yeah, Kujo.” My nickname for our gold-toothed guard since he seemed to be more interested in using them to growl than speak. “Getting up.” Not wanting to elicit another kick, I pushed myself off the wall wincing at the resulting aches and pains. The guards didn’t strike me as particularly concerned with whether or not we were dead or maimed, and Albinus hadn’t been designed with long-term inmate survival in mind. More along the lines of “We stuck you here to rot away and die a horrible death, so get on with it already.”
The prison I was in wasn’t Virgen de Fátima, the notorious women’s Peruvian prison, nor was I stuck in the desert in Ancón. No, this place was much worse. No virgins or scavengers circling overhead with a per- manent offer of relief.
This was the Albino’s prison—St. Albinus of Angers, to be precise. The patron saint against pirates. The prison had been built in the 1600s to house the pirates that preyed upon the Spanish along the Peruvian coast. It was repurposed in the early 1900s by the International Archaeology Association and promptly scrubbed from the history books. Ancient pirate jail? What pirate jail? They used it to get rid of the odd thief who was stupid enough or unlucky enough to get caught pilfering goods out of the more . . . exotic South American sites, shall we say—the ones where the supernaturals hang out. Occasionally they just wanted their goods back, but mostly they just wanted us forgotten.
Which begged the question, to what did I owe today’s honor? I tried again to calculate in my head how long I’d been down here. Without the sun or anything resembling a routine, day and night melded together, taking all sense of time with them. A week? Maybe.
I stumbled as Kujo shoved me towards the door, my aching back protesting. That was another thing about the Albino, after a day or so you drifted off into a state between waking and sleep. It was a dark place, the one that waited in the back of your mind, a low pit of despair and boredom where the only things that seemed to play out were all the wrong choices that had landed you here.
And if your mistakes were the sound track, your regrets were the script playing out in Technicolor, burning a permanent hole in your retinas.
I wondered if that was on purpose—part of the Albino’s plan to keep the pirates imprisoned by stone and deep despair.
Despite the iron shackles around my ankles and my wrists I straightened and did my best to walk upright, back straight. I still had some standards to maintain.
Funny thing was, irrespective of the prison, the questionable company, and the even more questionable guards. I didn’t need St. Al- bino’s help to wallow in the deep dark pit I’d sunken into of late—I’d found that place all on my own.
“Pssst.” The sound, little more than a high-pitched, forceful hiss, came from the corner nearest the door.
Kujo barked a command in Spanish—something in the local dialect that I didn’t quite catch—and kicked the lavatory bucket towards the disturbance.
The cell I’d been locked up in was nine by nine feet, carved out of the cliffs with no seams to speak of; I’d checked every inch of it. Four of us shared it at the moment—and usually we had the sense to keep to ourselves.
Out of the corner of my eye I glanced at the woman who’d risked drawing the ire of Kujo. It was Mathilda, a French archaeology graduate student who’d been on an IAA excavation of Písac—Incan ruins that weren’t Machu Picchu. She’d been caught lifting diagrams from one of the burial chambers, using rice paper and charcoal, and selling them online to discerning collectors.
The youngest and most inexperienced of the four of us when it came to IAA’s extreme crackdowns. She I actually felt bad for. She really didn’t deserve to be here.
The rest of us? Grave robbers of some stripe, every last one of us.
The light from Kujo’s flashlight barely reached her, still I could make out her face and the direction in which she jerked her chin—the slightest nod. Towards the cell door, now open.
But it wasn’t escape she was hinting at. Faint footsteps echoed down the hall. Uneven, one long, the second short, jarring, and uneven—as if one leg were shorter than the other or, as in this case, the knee were unable to bend.
Shit. Miguelito.
I hazarded a second sideways glance at my other two cellmates, Cora and Lucinda, but they kept their heads down, not wanting to have any- thing to do with whatever was about to come. I offered Mathilda a silent nod of thanks as Kujo shoved me out of the cell onto the jail’s slippery stone hallway just as our warden extraordinaire turned the corner.
Miguelito was a small man, and not just in stature; he was the kind of small man who is so threatened by his size that he hones himself into a particular kind of bully, one that’s driven solely by his need to make everyone around him feel inferior. His features were pinched, as if he were permanently angry, and there was an involuntary twitch to his lip that reached all the way to his nose. His features were otherwise unremarkable: dark hair shaved to cover a receding hairline and failing, a rounded face, long ears and disproportionally long front teeth—a mangy, lop eared rabbit comes to mind, though the comparison was unkind to sick bunnies.
As for the leg? According to Miguelito, his right knee had picked up shrapnel during a local eruption of Peru’s ongoing civil war. He struck me as too much of a coward, and my cellmates agreed. Mathilda figured he’d fallen drunk down a flight of stairs, and the two other women, Cora and Lucinda, guessed he’d been caught sleeping with someone’s wife and subsequently been beaten with a baseball bat.
My money was on a disgruntled partner shooting it off in a dispute.
As Kujo shoved me into the light, I noted that Miguelito’s nose was red and swollen and set off at a slight angle. I’d slammed him in the face with an old wood beam on my last escape attempt.
He hadn’t liked that.
“Miguelito,” I said, wary. Our warden had a couple of faces—or, well, two: volatile and semireasonable. The second only occasionally reared its head.
“Charity,” he said.
I flinched at the spittle that landed on my face but didn’t dare wipe it off. Miguelito offered me a forced smile that would have been right at home on a loan shark or pimp. “We have much to discuss today.”
I returned the forced smile, showing my own teeth. “As long as it doesn’t involve any misplaced treasure. I’ve really bought into the IAA rehabilitation program, hook line and sink—oomph!” I doubled over with the shot to my kidneys, then glared over my shoulder at Kujo, who was grinning and hitting the palm of his hand with the billy stick.
I did my best not to puke or pass out. “I guess that’s a no for talking to my IAA student representative?” I managed.
Miguelito snickered.
Now . . . that was out of the norm. Miguelito didn’t have much pa- tience for my particular brand of contempt. Normally I’d be thrown back in the cell by now.
Vamos!” Miguelito barked, clapping his hands and set off at a clipped pace down the corridor. Like a good guard dog, Kujo shoved me in the back with his stick, sending me stumbling over the slick stones after the warden.
Did I mention these assholes were corrupt? A jail for thieves and pirates who are a thorn in the IAA’s side was a great idea on paper, but in practice, sticking the best—or worst—archaeology thieves on the South American continent into a single jail and paying the staff a minimum wage breeds an entirely different relationship. One that most definitely didn’t involve containing the problem.
Being the entrepreneurial sort, Miguelito had figured out that right here, under his dictatorial thumb, were the locations to restricted digs, little known tombs, secret temples—a gold mine of treasure all over South America and the channels to off-load it. The kind of information network that takes a lot of time, sweat, blood, and tears to build. Only Miguelito hadn’t been the one doing the shedding.
Oh, mark my words, Miguelito would get his reckoning from the IAA one of these days. When they caught him. Despite being a greedy waste of otherwise vacant human space, he had a talent for institutional thieving and a good system—a rat warren of a system, but a good one.
Why was it that the IAA always left the fat sewer rats in charge?
 A question for another day—once I got the hell out of here. Speaking of warrens . . . I counted the stones off silently as I followed Miguelito ever-branching cell-lined corridors. I had it memorized now: ten unevenly sized stones to the left, then a right turn, then another twenty stones until we reached his office door. Kujo’s breath was warm and rancid on my neck as he followed close behind, ready to prod me with the end of his baton should I slow. He’d learned to stay close right after escape attempt number two.
Para,” Kujo hissed. Stop. The command was followed by a sharp jab in the small of my back that had me stumbling in my shackles.
Eyes still down, I heard Miguelito’s iron keys jingling against their key chain before the correct one was inserted into the old door lock. Again, electric and computer-derived locking systems might look high- tech and work in a regular prison system, but not when you were housing world-class thieves—and I wasn’t including myself in that estimation. I barely rated a petty thug.
The door creaked open, the hinges shrieking, protesting the sorely lacking oil. Another shove in the center of my back sent me into the office. I swore as my bare feet scraped into the wood floor, picking up a splinter or two. Out of all the Albino’s cold stone interior, this was the one room where wood floors had been laid. I’d wondered at that—why bother when the stone served so well?—but then I had seen the blood and various other bodily fluids that had seeped into the cracks, years’ worth of stains concentrated around the plain wooden chair placed in the center of the room, a few feet away from an oak desk—an assortment of books and papers scattered across its surface in a haphazard order—or lack thereof.
“Póngala en la silla,” Miguelito said, nodding at me as he maneuvered himself into his own comfortable seat. Get her in the chair.
Did I mention Miguelito’s office smelled? Of people—the kind of lingering scent beaten into the very wood itself. Cramming a few cen- turies’ worth of human misery into a confined space. Not unlike when I had taken Captain to the vets and the very scent of the room had warned him that other cats had not had a good time there.
Kujo shoved me again and another guard, taller than Kujo and leaner, stepped out of a darkened corner. He jammed the butt of his gun into my chest and pushed me towards the chair, just in case I hadn’t understood. I did what any self-respecting thief would do in the same situation: I sat, doing my best to not stare at the bloodstains on the floor.
“Tell me, Charity, how are you enjoying your stay at the Albino?” I lifted my head to stare at Miguelito, who was smiling and regarding me like the rat he was from behind his large desk.
Shit. He knew—or knew something. I decided to gamble and see just how much. “I’m disappointed in the room service,” I said.
Miguelito chuckled before repeating what I had said in Spanish, eliciting snickers from Kujo and the new guard. “Room service,” he said to me, still smiling amiably. “Funny. What was it last time? You wanted cable TV, no? And before that you asked to see a lawyer, yes?” He dropped the feigned smile. “You think you are a comedian, Charity?”
I jerked my chin at his chuckling goons. “Not really, but from the sounds of it, those two do,” I said.
Miguelito barked a command in Spanish I didn’t quite catch. Crack.
 “Ow!” I shouted as a blinding pain spread across the back of my head. I was rewarded with a sharp kick to my calf. I glared at Miguelito, but kept silent.
Miguelito casually pulled a folder he’d been worrying out of the pile and flipped the cover open before sliding it my way.
It was a collection of photos. Of me, but not just from my stint in Peru as Charity. Shit. Still, I stayed silent and gave Miguelito a blank stare.
The first chinks in Miguelito’s pleasant facade showed. “Míralo!” Look at it! he bellowed, in Spanish, then English.
My chair was dragged to the desk, and Kujo “helped me” look, forc- ing my face down until my nose was pressed against the cheaply printed matte photos. I flinched, though it wasn’t as though I had much to worry from paper—except maybe death by gangrened paper cuts . . .
“And here I thought we were coming to an understanding about the business I am running in this prison, Charity—or should I say Owl?” One of his sparse eyebrows shot up. “Oh, yes, I know who you are. I am not the idiot you have mistaken me for. How did the notorious Owl end up in my prison?”
That was the first intelligent question I’d heard Miguelito ask. My stomach churned. Well, this certainly changed things—and bumped up my timeline—
I screamed as Kujo’s club met my shoulder blade in just the wrong spot.
Miguelito smiled viciously down at me. “We continue in English, no?” he said.
I hazarded a glance over my shoulder at Kujo and his shadow of a book- end. They both wore slightly confused expressions now, and even exchanged a glance. Not wanting the muscle listening in was never a good sign.
Goddamn it, I hate it when my plans get rushed.
Some might say that if there is golden rule for thieves it’s “Don’t get caught,” Close second might be “Know where the treasure is before breaking in,” and a third would be “Have an escape route planned out before you start.”
As I’d had none of those when I’d set out three weeks ago, I’d decided to challenge accepted wisdom and wing it. I mean, I sort of had the second one . . . The treasure was in here somewhere, I didn’t know exactly where, but still . . .
And as for the other two? I was working on them—hello.
Sitting on the edge of Miguelito’s desk, peeking out from underneath a pile of papers, was another set of keys. This one heavier, antique, old. This trip to the warden’s office was already looking up.
“Well?” Miguelito prompted, voice rising as he leaned his small frame across the desk, using it to make himself appear bigger and meaner, wearing his insecure Napoleon complex for the world to see, let alone his prisoner. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Well, the gig was at least partly up. And this was going to get messy real fast if I couldn’t manage some damage control. I set my jaw, pulled my backbone out of hiding, and stared right back. “What do you really want, Miguelito?”
That caught him off guard. “It’s the logical question,” I continued. “I mean, we’re left in here to rot. Who cares who I am? Well, the IAA does but you haven’t handed me over to them, so I’ll ask you again.” I nodded at the pictures scattered across the desk. “What is it you want?”.
He narrowed his eyes and watched me for a long moment before producing a squat, coffee-cup-sized gold idol inlaid with lines of red and blue dyed stones from his pocket. “What is it and how much is it worth?”
It was an Incan artifact, a relic from a long dead religion reminiscent of a female fertility idol; I’d located it at an IAA dig site as part of my mas- ter plan to buy myself a ticket through the Albino’s front door and into the warden’s office, as Miguelito’s coveting of rare artifacts was famed in the antiquities community. I suppose it had worked . . . in a round about way. The intricacy, the color . . . Not even an idiot like Miguelito would miss that it was magic.
The rusty wheels in my head churned as Miguelito and his guards watched me. Miguelito had asked me about the idol a few times now. It was supposed to imbue weapons with poison—the magic kind that could down anything, including the supernatural. Mr. Kurosawa had wanted it for his armory, part of his arms race with the other side of the supernatural war. Like hell was I telling the warden that thought.
Miguelito could simply call his IAA bosses and ask them what the idol was, but he didn’t want to; they’d take it away. He’d rather sell it on the black market. Meaning if he was desperate enough to confront me about my alias he probably had a buyer. He needed the details and a price tag, and he needed it now. That’s what this visit was about.
I licked my lips, the dry cracks distracting my sluggish brain. It was still bad but not quite the clusterfuck I’d feared. Miguelito was so dis- tracted by the idol that he hadn’t bothered to wonder how someone good enough to sneak into an IAA dig and find it had managed to get caught. Greed did that to people, made them miss what was right un- derneath their noses. As Mr. Kurosawa had once said to me, greed was something I could work with. If Miguelito had any inkling of what I was really in here for I’d be talking to black-suited IAA, not a corrupt prison warden.
I shrugged as cavalierly as I could manage. “Beats me. I’m a thief, I just find things. I don’t bother asking questions—oomph!” The punch was to my arm this time—enough to smart but not hard enough to cause any damage. Still I glared at Kujo. No need to advertise that they really did need to hit harder if the goal was to put the fear of St. Albinus into me . . .
“Now let’s try that again,” Miguelito said, holding up the idol with his fingers. I couldn’t help wincing—the acid on his fingers was destined to damage the inlaid dyes. Idiot . . . “What is it?
I knew there was a smart answer and a dumb answer to Miguelito’s question . . . “For sacrificing the blood of puppies and kittens to long lost Incan gods—ow!” Another smack, this time to the back of my head.
“St. Albinus can be a dangerous place,” Miguelito said mildly, and I saw where his eyes darted: to the small table Peruvian thug number two was hovering over.
On it was laid out a variety of barbaric-looking instruments that didn’t belong in the most sadistic dentist’s office. He smiled and fondled one of the sharper-looking instruments, it edge rusted. Like Kujo, Miguelito’s second man-at-arms was a local who had no interest in going about his prison duties in a genial manner, but unlike Kujo, who struck me as taking some form of pride in his work, Bookend wasn’t the type who looked like he was interested in results. He looked like the type who got off being mean.
I glared back at Miguelito. The last smack to my head had set my ears ringing. His upper lip twitched in amusement. “I am being a reasonable man. This is your last chance. Tell me what this artifact does, or you will shortly find out just how dangerous this prison can be.”
There’s a line somewhere about never believing a man who starts negotiations off by telling you that he’s the reasonable one . . . And the novelty of my prison detour had worn off.
“If I tell you the truth and you hit me for it, then really, all I have left are the lies you might believe. You realize that’s why intimidation and torture are so fucking inefficient?”
“What does the idol do? And don’t try telling me it’s not magic. You wouldn’t be after it otherwise. I will not ask you again.”
But he would. Only under the prompting of Kujo and Bookend’s ungentle hands . . .
I chewed my lip as I forced my grey matter out of its self-imposed sabbatical.
Come on, brain, don’t fail me now . . . The seconds ticked by—one, two, three, four, five—Metal sang as Bookend began sharpening two of the more conspicuous table knives.
“What do I get out of it?” I blurted out—unintentionally. A little less warning than I would have liked there, brain, but at least you’re back on the job.
To judge from the confused glances I earned, it had worked—at least to derail the conversation on torture. Miguelito seemed to think about that. “Cooperate, and we don’t torture you for hours. I thought the implication was very clear.”
I shrugged as much as I dared under Kujo’s watchful eye. “Say I co- operate and tell you what the idol does. Then what? You let me go? Give me an outstanding inmate door prize?”
Miguelito gave me a terse smile. “I’m afraid the IAA frowns on that sort of thing. But there are things we could do to make your stay more— accommodating.”
I snorted. “In the form of a pine box or just dropping me into a deeper, darker pit headfirst?” I shook my head. “Here’s the thing, Mi- guelito, if I knew what that idol did—which I’m not saying I do—I have no confidence that you plan on doing anything but kill me. Now, a smart interrogator might say that there’s the chance you might not kill me versus the certainty; the more pessimistic might say that at the very least I’ll be dead faster.” I tsked. “Either way I see it, I end up dead. Only one way ends up with everyone pissed off about it, including you.”
I must have come across as sincere, because Miguelito didn’t immediately yell for Kujo and Bookend to beat me. “What do you want?” he finally spat out.
The keys to the cordoned-off lower levels, idiot. “A bed?” I asked. “The floor doesn’t exactly lend itself to restful sleep. Neither does the lack of a lavatory.”
Miguelito leaned across the table. “You can have all of that and more. All you need to do is tell me what the idol does and what it’s worth. The great Owl does not chase after trinkets, no?”
A fourth golden rule for thieves? No one ever believes you, so don’t bother telling the truth. Lie, and lie well. I shrugged again. “Something really valuable to a buyer interested in South American relics and ancient art. They approached me—oomph!” I was interrupted in midsentence by a heavy jab to the back of my rib cage. I doubled over onto the table, my face planted into the matte photo of myself.
I winced. That felt like it would leave a mark . . .
“We do not tolerate liars in St. Albino. I will not warn you again.”
“Really? That’s what we’ve already reduced ourselves to? What kind of a lousy deal is—son of a bitch!” I arched my back as it reeled in pain. It took a moment for the muscles to stop spasming enough for me to sit straight.
Miguelito shrugged, unfazed. “If you give me an answer I like, maybe he won’t hit you again. There is the possibility you won’t be permanently disfigured.” He nodded at Bookend. “If I like what I hear, maybe we don’t give you to Jesús. People he works with often find religion.”
I snorted as I pushed the pain smarting along my spine out of my mind. Jesús was watching me now like a predator waits for prey to stop moving—so it can start eating it alive.
Time to switch my tactics. “Ever heard the phrase ‘Don’t gut the golden goose?’ ” That made Miguelito pause. I licked my lips. “Tu piensas que solo conozco una cámara del tesoros,” I said as clearly as I could. “You think I only know about one treasure chamber.”
It had the effect I wanted: Despite my poor Spanish Jesús and Kujo exchanged a glance.
Miguelito was unfazed, though. He kept his smile and waved at the room. “Take a good look at your surroundings, minha. This entire prison is a golden goose. Maybe we can afford to let the odd one go. Verdad?” True? Miguelito asked the other two. Jesús and Kujo exchanged a wary glance before nodding.
While the three of them faced off uncomfortably, I scanned the room, searching for something I could use as a distraction—anything to get those keys.
By accident my eyes fell back on Jesus’s eclectic dental implements. Miguelito saw where my eyes fell as well and smiled. He flicked his wrist, and I felt Kujo’s callused hands close around my face, prying my neck back. I couldn’t see but heard the clink of metal utensils.
I gagged as gloved fingers were jammed into my mouth, prying my teeth apart and something cold and metal traced along my jaw before I felt the retractors jammed inside. The smell of rancid sweat was strong now, and I caught a glimpse of a rusted dental pick that looked like an antique for excavating cavities from the 1930s.
Jesús spoke, though I didn’t catch all the words. Miguelito filled me in.
“Jesús says people tend to scream his name when he works on their smiles—he says to try not to, the tongue tends to get in the way and there is a shake in his right hand.”
The retractors were opened wider.
I’d made a mistake. I’d tried to take away Miguelito’s muscle. And now it just might cost me. I didn’t have to pretend I was desperate. I was.
“Wait! Espera!” I shouted—or tried to shout, though it came out muffled and garbled. Another piece of wisdom? Don’t wait until the damage starts to beg—seems counterintuitive, but people are funny. Add in the right mix of adrenaline, and the rush that comes from screams of pain that aren’t your own—
The rusted dental pick halted centimeters from my mouth, and a satisfied smile parted Miguelito’s thin lips, making his features look even more rabbitlike. “See? I knew we would come to an understanding.” The metal was removed from my mouth.
Greed and ego. Men like Miguelito were servants to it.
“Look, I have no idea what the idol does—seriously!” I added as Jesús turned back to the dental implements. “But there’s more back in the temple—a lot more. Caches of it.”
Miguelito leaned back in the chair, steepling his fingers over the idol. “Tell me about these caches. More magical trinkets? Like this?”
I nodded—slowly. Fun fact; I had no idea if there were any more caches of magic treasure. There couldn’t be many—not after a few hundred years of conquest. But what I believed didn’t matter, because the three of them certainly did. More important if Jesús got a chance to start in on me, I’d tell them everything I didn’t want them to know—and then some.
“Even the IAA can’t uncover every nook and cranny,” I continued. “Grave robbing isn’t exactly a new pastime—the Incans hid their burial valuables well.”
Miguelito eyed me. He wasn’t an idiot, and he probably knew that if it sounded too good to be true, it probably was. But even as the skep- ticism wove its way through his mind, his greed took over. “Where are these caches? Exactly?”
Lying, don’t betray me now . . . There were no maps—I’d had one, the one Mr. Kurosawa had given me to find the idol but I hadn’t brought it here. I shrugged. “There isn’t one book of maps. Random notes from various grave robbers and archaeologists over the years—mostly, left for themselves to find the caches once again. You need to know what to look for.”
Miguelito’s lips curled up. I could practically taste the greed ebbing off of him. Incan gold: the downfall of many a man. “Which I suppose is where you come in? Is that it?”
I shook my head. “That’s the thing about trust, Miguelito. It goes both ways.” I thought about giving him a freebie, telling him where one of the other caches I knew about was located, one I’d come across. But I decided against it. Despite his protests to the contrary, he really did strike me as the type to gut the golden goose to see what was inside.
“We could torture it out of you,” he said with the kind of offhand casualness that could only come from a sickening level of familiarity.
I licked my lips and gambled. “You could. But do you really want to bet a few millions of Incan gold caches that I won’t be able to hold out and lie? Trust me, I’m petty enough to do just that.”
I glanced at the other two, who were exchanging looks. Incan gold was a universally understandable term—and they were as greed driven as Miguelito—more so, maybe, considering their casual and curious dis- position towards torture.
Miguelito weighed his options. He wanted to know what the idol’s significance was, but the treasure was a tempting consolation prize. “Where?” he finally demanded, tapping the map of the ruins. There was a fingerprint stain on the page the color of iodine. “A location, Charity,” he added, emphasizing my alias in a warning that promised violence.
I tried to not think about where the stain had come from.
What to give them? Not an actual cache—a clue then? Which one? I stared at the map. There were a number of side tunnels leading off the main excavation site. Most of them had been thoroughly mapped. If they knew much about the site, they’d know those were empty—or had been emptied over the past fifty years. The lower levels? As tempting as it was, I didn’t think they’d fall for the traps that lined the old sacrificial chambers . . .
A shove from behind, followed by “Rápido” and something less than complimentary in the local dialogue, I imagined.
Come on, Owl, fast. I spotted the side tunnel off the main chute, near the bottom. It was in a section of the temple that had been used to house slaves—not the ones destined for hard labor but the ones destined for sacrifice. The historical records were vague on the details, but during the heyday of the temple’s reign, the popular thought had been that if you managed to sacrifice enough people to the temple and gods, you’d earn yourself the Incan version of a sainthood . . . brings new meaning to the idea “We only ask for your heart” . . . no wonder the culture had been on its way out a hundred years before the conquistadors showed up.
It was also one of the least excavated sections of the ruins. I mean, even the IAA figured the slaves didn’t know anything useful, particularly the ones who were destined to end up living sacrifices. Ironic, considering that was about how the IAA treated its army of graduate students and postdocs . . .
The point was, what better place to hide clues to treasure?
I heard the scrape of metal on stone and hazarded a glance to where it was coming from—Jesús was sharpening one of the utensils on the table, a different one this time, bigger, pointier . . . He wore a smile, a gold tooth glinting back in the lantern light as he caught where I was looking.
“Marco and Jesús are impatient men, particularly when it comes to the gold of their forbearers—and with foreigner women who lie,” Miguelito offered.
Hunh, Kujo was Marco. Wouldn’t have guessed that one. And if Marco and Jesús were Incan descendants, I’d eat my cat. My eyes found a plausible place, and my fingers followed.
“There,” I said, pointing at a series of passages that wove around the burial chamber. If memory served, the entire wing of the temple had been written off as looted by early conquistadors.
“The slave quarters?” Miguelito said, sounding surprised—which was better than accusatory.
“Empty!” came the angry reply from Kujo, who was staring at the map from behind me.
No.” I tapped the spot again. “Hidden. Probably another compart- ment the Incans hid behind the wall.” They’d had a talent for that—hiding entire wings of temples from everyone, from kings to archaeologists.
“A passage the IAA has yet to uncover?” Miguelito asked, arching a thin eyebrow at me. The skepticism was still there, but under it I could hear he was willing to buy the lie. So was Kujo.
Jesús, however, proved to be not so gullible. Torture implement in hand, he checked the map and the location the other two were now dis- cussing in low Spanish, before leveling a skeptical stare at me.
“And we’re supposed to believe that it’s a simple matter of opening the door?” he asked, in surprisingly passable English. “The Incans didn’t suffer thieves.”
Point to him for intelligence.
But here’s the thing—thieves don’t trust one another. Even if they figured I was bluffing, they’d still chase after it.
I leveled a stare at Miguelito, not the hired help. Always go up the chain of command. “No. You’re supposed to believe that you need me alive and cooperative,” I said, and held Miguelito’s gaze as I waited for him to make his call.
He stared greedily back down at the map while Jesus and Marco argued quietly amongst themselves. Seeing my chance, and not daring to breathe, I slipped the black ring of keys off the desk and tucked them under the sleeve of my shirt.
Miguelito turned his eyes back on me. “How do we get inside?”
Greed. It brings people together and keeps the world turning around, and around, and around . . .
“Let me go, and I’ll make sure you get out alive. I’ll even walk you through the tunnel myself.”
Miguelito’s mouth twitched. “You’ll do it from the cell.”
“No faith in the word of thieves?”
Miguelito leaned across the table. “No faith you won’t try to kill me the first chance you get.”
I reached for the map and just as quickly retracted my hands.
“Hey, hey, now!” I said, arms raised in surrender as Kujo’s knife came down on the parchment. “Remember what I said about trust being a two-way street, Miguelito.”
“And you’ll be begging Jesús for a new religious experience if you don’t tell me.” I waited until they’d relaxed their various sharp instruments before taking the map and sinking back into the chair. “Ah—pen? Pencil?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Miguelito rolled me a pencil. Freshly sharpened. I quieted my mind as to what I could do with it, Miguelito sitting just across from me. I had a much, much better way . . .
“Here,” I said, making an X with the pencil on one of the temple holding cells, paying particular attention to Jesús’s ominous-looking nail spear.
Miguelito and Jesús studied the map while Kujo intimidated me.
It was Jesús who snorted. “Press the patterns in the right order, and a door opens?” he said to me. “Miguelito, she’s lying. I can smell it on her.” More arguing in Spanish. Jesús was skeptical, I could see that clearly as he glanced back at me. “Why are you so certain we won’t go back on our word?” Jesús asked me, his lip curling into a sneer. “Send you back to your cell beaten and bloody.” 

I smiled. “Call it remedial faith in humanity. The way I see it, you have two choices: send me back to my cell beaten and bloody or worse and hope I’ve told you where the traps are, or play ball.” I made a show of thinking about it. “Or I suppose there’s a third option: the three of you could forget the whole thing, stick me in some forgotten pit here, and subsist on whatever the IAA pays you. Now, how about that soft bed and three square meals?”
Often the truth is a lie’s best alibi. I saw Jesús’s resolve waver.
For a moment, as the three eyed one another, I worried that I’d over- estimated their greed. That they’d cave to my demands. I needn’t have concerned myself. Miguelito laughed, and the other three followed.
The last rule you should always remember about thieves is that the really good ones like their honor. Once their word is given they go out of their way to keep it. After all, a deal with a thief is only as good as their word. And these three didn’t even merit an entry level card.
“We give the orders here, not little girls with delusions of thievery.”
As expected there was my double cross me. Couldn’t say I was surprised. And I definitely wasn’t going to be treating any of them with something even resembling honor. “There are two types of people who become prison guards, Miguelito. The ones who genuinely want to usher criminals towards a better life and the ones who enjoy having unlimited power over other humans and the chance to exploit them. I’m guessing you’re not here because you wish you could have helped your sister avoid that prostitution charge.”
Miguelito’s self-satisfied expression faded to something more sinister, violent. Oh, he fumed, but as I’d expected, he didn’t hit me. He wasn’t in a rush to give me an excuse to usher him towards his own mortality.
“I’m the one holding all the cards,” Miguelito growled. He was trying to convince me less than himself and his two goons. If trust among thieves is gold, then respect is platinum. And Miguelito was a broke amateur.
“Just remember that when you’re deciding which tiles to step on.”
Miguelito and I stared at each other for the count of four. Then, without any warning, he reached out and slapped my face. Kujo grabbed the back of my neck, and once again my face was driven down onto the table.
Maybe I shouldn’t have added that comment about his sister . . .
Miguelito leaned in until he was eye level with me, his face a twisted mix of anger. “Where are the traps?”
“Beats me, Miguelito,” I managed. “I was too busy running from the IAA.”
“The traps!”
I noticed something silver reflecting the light over my eyes. Jesús’s sharpened spatula.
“Tell me, or it’s your eye.”
“That thing so much as scratches my eye, mark my words, I’ll make sure you fall down the first trap I can find—and I’ll make certain it’s a doozy.”
I held his gaze. Every ounce of feigned civility was gone. It reminded me of an expression someone else had looked at me with recently. I pushed that unwelcome memory aside. I did not need to be thinking about Rynn—not now, not while I was in here.
Come on. Do it.
 I don’t know where the voice that wanted me to goad Miguelito came from, but some part of me, wedged in the back of my mind, begged him to let Jesús do it—dole out some kind of permanent pain that I wouldn’t be able to brush off or forget. The part of me that knew I de- served worse than the deck I’d stumbled out of Shangri-la with.
It still counts as bad luck when you don’t want the good, right?
For a second I thought Miguelito would do it, tell Jesús to take my eye out. It’d be so easy, so simple.
Maybe I’d feel something besides the numbness that had followed me down here and bred.
But he didn’t. Self-preservation and something resembling logic came back into play. Or he realized he was losing it in front of his two goons. Didn’t know, didn’t care.
Miguelito tsked, and the sharpened spatula disappeared out of my limited line of sight.
He sat back down in his chair, and the grip on my neck loosened. Slowly I lifted my head.
“Here is what you will do, minha. You will tell us exactly where the traps are from the corner of your cell, and if you do anything we do not like or Jesús or Marco thinks you are lying”—a smile spread slowly across his lips—“well, Jesús is not the only name you’ll be calling.”
Now to barter for that phone call . . . Lady Siyu would be pissed I hadn’t checked in, but if I timed things right, I’d be out of the lower dungeons and boarding a plane before they realized the traps started fifty meters before they ever reached the puzzle.
But then I noticed something: the draft that constantly wound its way through the old fortress from the ocean and cliffs outside had stopped. It was quiet in here, except for our own breathing.
There was only one supernatural I knew of who could do that. Must have gotten wind I’d ended up in here—not the best timing, but then again I hadn’t exactly discussed my tentative plan with the Onorio— when your plan consists of getting thrown into prison and figuring the rest out as you go—well, Oricho likely would have had some issues . . .
The real question was, what would Oricho want me to do?
Stall for time. And for the love of God, not to let my big, fat mouth pick a fight.
“Fine.” I spat the word out through clenched teeth, earning a smile from Miguelito.
“Take her back to her cell,” Miguelito said in Spanish, tossing the ring of cell keys to Kujo, who caught them easily. Kujo then kicked the back of my chair, knocking me to the floor. Jesús came up beside me and hoisted me up by my shackled arm none too gently. Kujo in the lead and Jesús beside me, I was led out of Miguelito’s office and back towards my cell.
I kept my eyes and ears peeled as Kujo and Jesús spoke in low voices. I’d done my part, I’d stalled. Now, where the hell was Oricho?
“You hold up your end of the bargain, we’ll try to make Miguelito hold up his,” Jesús said.
Yeah, I wasn’t about to hold my breath for that one. I nodded absently and meekly, keeping my head down so I could count the stone slabs. Ten, eleven, twelve . . .
We turned the corner. I counted another ten stone slabs, all the way back to my cell.
Still no Oricho. A brief panic coursed through me as the iron ring of keys jingled against the lock; a moment later the door swung open. Was it possible that my own desperate imagination had concocted Oricho? Shit.
I heard the first body drop to the stone floor, bringing to mind a sack of potatoes. Kujo and I both turned to see Jesús crumpled against the stone wall, his large physique looking oddly like a discarded rag doll, the way his limbs were angled in odd directions. Kujo swore and went for his knife—but there was no one there besides the unconscious Jesús. No sound, no breathing, no scrapes, no Pacific Ocean draft running through the hall; even the lamps seemed to dim in the darkness.
Still he brandished his knife, as if it might chase off a ghost. I stepped out of the way, towards my open cell door. He didn’t notice, sweat collecting on his face as he scanned the darkened hall. “Muéstrate!” Show yourself.
There was no response. Instead he gasped, clutching at his throat. I know it was a cowardly thing to do—but I’d seen enough violence over the past year. I flinched and turned my face away. I heard Kujo choke and drop to the cold stones but was spared having to watch. Not that I felt bad for him. Of late I had just preferred to avoid being a spectator.
“Just had to wait until I was right outside my goddamned cell, didn’t you?” I said as I wiped off my hands and stood. “And by the way, I had everything perfectly under control.” I hadn’t expected Oricho to know I was in the Albino, let alone lift a hair to help me, but I wasn’t looking this gift horse in the mouth. Now all I needed to do was convince Oricho that we should hang around for another hour or so—I mean, since the guards were unconscious . . .
Oh God, I hoped he’d only knocked them unconscious. Not that they didn’t deserve it, just the idea of letting a supernatural with dubious morals loose in here to kill even evil guards at will left a bad taste in my mouth.
I supposed I could always tell Oricho the truth. Hey Oricho, I know we agreed I wouldn’t do anything brash without conferring with you, but I came across a story that referenced the Tiger Thieves in some old Peruvian church archives and figured I’d check it out. How about we take a quick tour of the dungeons downstairs, won’t take more than an hour, promise.
Dangerous? Oh . . . a couple stories about cursed pirates, but I’m sure it’s nothing I can’t handle. Probably not even real.
I turned around—slowly—Oricho was still a supernatural after all. “You know they were probably a few seconds away from beating me up? Would have been a lot harder to drag me out of here uncon—”
My voice caught in my throat.
I’d expected to turn around and see a tall Japanese man dressed in an expensive suit with a dragon tattoo winding around his neck looming menacingly over the guards’ bodies. Instead, a blond man stood in the hallway—tall, lean, his features obscured by the shadows but still familiar.
I couldn’t speak, though I wanted to. It couldn’t be, there was no way . . . yet I wasn’t imagining him standing there, watching me . . .
Unless I was dreaming.
“Rynn?” I whispered, letting more hope scratch my voice than I had any right to.
But the optimism was short lived as the man angled his flashlight beam into his face. Even if the features were similar, the sardonic smirk he gave me shattered what little illusion there’d been.
My own temper and months of pent-up anger boiled right up to replace it. Of all the lousy, no-good—it wasn’t Rynn—or Oricho, not even close. I balled my hands into fists.
You?” I managed, hearing cruel disdain dripping from my voice. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Artemis, Rynn’s cousin, washed-up musician from the eighties and all-around low-life incubus, was the blond man standing before me. Blocking my exit.
Not Rynn. Not Oricho. Him. If the guards hadn’t cleaned out the lavatory buckets, I’d have thrown one at him. And I wouldn’t have missed. As it was, all I could do was glare as he tsked and stepped over the downed Kujo. “Apparently we have a great deal of catching up to do,” he said, the eastern tinged accent reminding me even more of Rynn though the attitude did not. He stuck the flashlight into my cell, looking more curious than anything else.
What was that saying? Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I might as well be dead. Because if Artemis was any sign, that’s where this was heading.


Owl here *waves* Alright, fellow tomb raiders! Here is today's pop quiz - bonus points for creativity. You are told to enter a tomb the IAA insists is completely devoid of any nasty supernaturals. You need what's inside to finish your thesis and survive yet another punishing day of grad school. You:

  1. Head right in whistling a happy tune! Hey! The IAA has never lied to you before!
  2. Assume the IAA is lying and has no idea what's inside. You are guinea pig #1. At the very least wait until the supervisor produces a case of good beer before risking your life.
  3. Send the cat first. If there are vampires or other assorted supernaturals you'll know fast. 
  4. Refuse the case of beer and open World Quest to see what's actually supposed to be living inside. Depending on what's inside accept or refuse said choice. Then hope to hell Texas and Michigan don't get their panties in a bunch for yet again breaking their tentative and poorly enforced game rules.
  5. Tomb raider's choice. Fill in the blank.

Talk Supe


  1. *high fives you* I really liked this as well, in fact it might be my favorite of the series yet and with the ending, has me super curious where it will go from here.

    1. I love it when an author decides to take a risk and complete shakes up the entire series. Kristi said she was scared because Owl might not connect with the readers after this, but IMHO, it totally paid off! The series is far from stagnating at this point

    2. OH! Missed that cos it says US and Can in the box ;)

  2. Sounds like you really loved and enjoyed this one Beautiful Braine! Hugs...RO

    1. i really did & it's nice to be back in the saddle, reading and enjoying fantasy again :)

      *hugs back*

  3. Ahh sadness, I can not enter :/

    Awesome series btw, go enter everyone!

    1. You can! It's open to everyone on Earth!

  4. I will definitely be hitting this series at some point. Each time I see the next release, I say that. :) I like that you're seeing growth in Owl and getting a great adventure for her.

  5. I love this series and her Voodoo series. So glad this rocked for you. I cannot wait for the next one.

    1. I can't wait for Kincaid Strange too! It's been a long wait for that second book

  6. I can't wait to finally read this series. I'm trying to catch up on other series before I start new ones, though.

    1. I feel you, my list of series I need to finish or pick up again is longer than my arm

  7. I feel the same way about reviewing later books in a series. I feel like I have to spend a lot of time explaining the series, but avoiding spoilers. Great job.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Books of My Heart

    1. Right?! Especially when you're really into it, you want everyoen else to love it too!

  8. Book 1 is still...on my Kindle. At least I'll be able to binge read a couple of books once I get started, lol. Glad this series is still delivering for you!

  9. I love this series :) I'm hoping to finish this bad boy up today for tomorrow's post but we'll see lol!

  10. It's difficult to review a series sometimes, but great job. I haven't read these but I've heard awesome things. Glad to hear you loved this one!


  11. I know what you mean about falling into the series speak. It's great when you can share more and something new with each book.

  12. I've read the first book in this series, but I didn't continue the series after that. It sounds like it's still going strong. That sounds interesting in how a new chapter in the adventure gets introduced and a twist that keeps you curious for more. Great review!

  13. I gotta check out this series, Braine! I keep meaning to but...well, you know how it goes. ;) I'm thrilled you had such a good time with it!

  14. Glad you loved this one! I actually hadn't heard of this author before (I don't think!) Great review girl, sounds like quite the adventure!

  15. In this book, Owl seeks to undo a mistake from the last book that sent her life, and others', on some serious skids. Her efforts send her all around the world with an unlikely partner in the search of the Tiger Thieves. Her friends are concerned she's bent on self-destruction, a ghost from the past may be back in play, and her boss, as usual, my want her dead. Familiar series monsters and new ones and a storyline with lots of twists and turns. Great stuff as always, Kristin Charish!

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