Sneak Peek: Guardian of Magic

Sneak Peek: Guardian of Magic

Book 1: Noble As Hell

I don’t judge. I really don’t.

It’s just that when I see a dragon lurching down the streets of Boston on a lazy Saturday afternoon, clearly searching for something to set on fire, it’s kind of a no-brainer that bad things are imminent.

Especially when it’s not making even the smallest attempt to look fake.

I mean, everyone knows that humans can’t deal with the fact that things that go boo in the night (metaphorically speaking, of course) are actually real, right? So, all of us magics (which includes anyone with magical, unexplainable, or otherwise non-traditional tendencies like fur, fire, and abracadabra) lay low and keep our awesomeness on the hush. It’s not a rule. We just do it, because to reveal ourselves to humans would just be asinine.

So, when I see a dragon saunter along a city street, blowing puffs of smoke, snorting out sparks, roaring, and taking down street signs with its wings, it’s kind a big deal. I mean, planning to set fire to the city is bad enough on its own, but hey, dragons sometimes burn stuff up that they shouldn’t, so it’s not that unexpected. A problem that needs to be dealt with, yes, but unexpected? Not as much as you’d wish it was.

But the fact that the dragon wasn’t even trying to pretend it wasn’t real?

That beastie was going to expose all of us, and take down a bunch of innocents in the process.

And I couldn’t let that happen.

Immediately, I shoved my backpack and water bottle at Solange Storm, my business partner and friend-since-we-could-crawl. We’d been the Solange Storm/P.B. Noble duo since we were kids, and our almost-three-decades friendship was one of the only things in my life that I knew I could always count on, especially when it came to things like safeguarding my belongings while I battled dragons. “Here. Hold these. I need to handle this.” I tossed them at her and spun to run after the dragon.

Instead of catching my stuff, Solange folded her arms across her chest and let my precious babies drop. Boom. Right onto the sidewalk. The top of my super awesome self-birthday-gift water bottle cracked, and my ice-cold water began to ooze out onto the cobblestone sidewalk. I was so surprised that actually stopped to stare at her. “Really?”

She gave me a look of complete disdain, a look that was so much more potent because she looked so damned put together, as she always did. We’d been schlepping around the city all day, handing out fliers for tonight’s opening night of Club Demise, our brand-new night club for magics (which was her main gig, and would be my side hustle, once I got my dream career underway), and it was a sweaty, tiring job. Despite that fact, Solange’s jeans, high-heeled boots, and drapy white tank looked crisp and professional. Even her hair looked flawless in its cute, swishy ponytail.

In contrast, my vintage, knee-high boots were scuffed, my black leggings felt hot, sticky, and sweaty, and my bright red tank top had accumulated white fuzz balls that refused to brush off. The tight curls I’d meticulously styled this morning had completely frizzed out and would require heavy repairs before our big opening night tonight.

Not that our fashion stamina mattered at the moment. Right now, we had issues, like I’d needed Solange on sherpa duty so I could take on a fire-breathing lunatic, and she’d let me down. “What’s up with that?”

She raised her eyebrows at me unapologetically and made absolutely no attempt to retrieve my belongings. “You’re going after the dragon?”

“Of course I am—”

“Weren’t you told not to do that?”

I paused. “Maybe.”

Her eyebrows went higher. “Maybe?” she repeated. “Maybe?

I glared at her. “Fine. I was specifically, unequivocally, and permanently banned from getting involved in situations like this. What’s your point?”

Yes, I admit I had been forbidden to partake in things like saving the city from ill-behaved, scaly beasts, but I have a little problem with rules. Granted, I’m the pathetic kind of rule-breaker that self-flagellates until I mostly hate myself, but, if you’re the kind of person who needs to touch wet paint as soon as you see the “Wet Paint! Do Not Touch!” sign, then you gotta go with it. 

So, given my inability to be obedient when it comes to innocuous things like paint, take a wild guess what happens when there’s an actual, legit reason to sucker-punch the rules and race right past them? A reason, like, oh, how about a pyromaniacal dragon threatening the idyllic summer afternoon of the citizens of my beloved Boston? Yeah…there’s basically no chance I’m going to be able to be a good little girl and adhere to the edict to stay on the sidelines.

“What’s my point?” Solange repeated, not quite able to keep the incredulousness out of her voice. “If you go after that dragon, that’s the end of your dream to be Boston Sentinel. You’re already on probation from that screw up at the waterfall in Maine during the training. If you get caught interfering in Sentinel duties, you’re done. Forever. End of story.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “Unless you’ve changed your mind and you don’t want to be the one in charge of protecting the city of Boston from magical bad guys?” She gestured toward the dragon. “If that’s the case, have at it.”

I glared at her. “You know I haven’t changed my mind.” As if there was a chance that was even possible. My soul burned to be Boston Sentinel, and I’d been training relentlessly for years to earn the mantel. Being in charge of protecting the city of Boston was my legacy, my birthright, and kinda the entire reason I even exist. All Boston Sentinels in history had been from the Artemisian tribe of female warriors, and guess what I am? Yep. Artemisian. It should be automatic that I’d be next in line, right?

Except that my mom had screwed up when she was the Boston Sentinel. Not just a little mistake. The kind of mistake that had resulted in her being permanently stripped of her Sentinel title, exiled from Boston, and generally scorned by the entire magical community. She’d wound up moving to Alaska, raising her awesome kid (me!) far away from the life I was born for.

But being the Boston Sentinel had been calling to me since I can remember. Boston was my birthplace, the home of my heart, and I needed to be the one responsible for protecting it. After a circuitous path (aka a poor relationship choice that had involved six years of my life, a too-handsome celebrity, several countries, and lots of paparazzi), Solange and I had finally moved to Boston a year ago so I could start fighting for that job that I was meant to do. As it turns out, as my mom’s daughter, I’d been short-listed on the “don’t ever hire her” list, but you know how I feel about rules, right?

So, I shrugged. “I know what they said, but there’s a dragon—”

Solange stepped in front of me and blocked me. “Don’t.”

“Hey!” I tried to step around her, but she moved with me. “Solange, get out of my way!”

“No.” She set her hands on her hips and glared at me. “You’ll regret it.”

“I won’t. They’ll be fine with it. It’s an emergency situation!” In case you were wondering who “they” are, we were referencing the head honchos of the Sentinel program. They hire, they fire, they monitor performance. One Sentinel per qualifying city, worldwide, plus an ongoing selection process to line up successor Sentinels in case one gets knocked off in the line of duty (which honestly doesn’t happen hardly ever). In order to justify the top dog’s frequent travels to highly magical areas, their cover was a pop band called the Humperdinck Lecters (surely you can get those two movie references, right? Best movie ever, and creepiest move ever). The Dincks actually performed live shows, which was a little weird given that they were the governing board for the Sentinels, but whatever.

The point was that they were the ones who would have to name me Sentinel, and they were also the ones who had specifically forbidden me to do anything that could be related to Sentinel work, all because I’d had a little mishap in one of the training protocols. But my city was at risk, and I wasn’t going to sit around and let it happen.

Solange, however, didn’t agree. “First of all, it’s not an emergency. The dragon is strolling, not attacking, and no one thinks he’s real.”

I glanced at the dragon, who was indeed still strolling, as if he didn’t have increasingly nefarious plans, but anyone who knew anything about dragons would know that there was way too much smoke coming out his nose right now. “This is the kind of situation that can escalate a little fast,” I pointed out. “I’m the only one here qualified to handle it.”

“You’re not qualified!” Solange said. “For heaven’s sake, you lost your certification as a Sentinel-in-training after that screw-up at the waterfall in Maine. I’m pretty sure that the part of your suspension that said ‘Don’t get involved in Sentinel duties’ means that you’re not supposed to get involved in Sentinel duties. Even you can’t manage not to understand that.”

Gah. Sometimes I hated logic. “You’re right. I know you’re right.” And she was. I couldn’t afford to screw up. It had taken so much work to get the training gig (I had been too old by more than a decade, and related to my mom, which had been two major strikes), and I’d blown that big time. I needed to rebuild the goodwill, not tear down what little bit remained.

With a sigh, I watched the dragon continue along its merry way. It hadn’t set fire to anything yet, but the sparks were getting more frequent. “But—”

“It’s not your job, babe.” Solange gave me a sympathetic smile. “Zora’s the Boston Sentinel. She’s the one who handles this kind of thing. She’s got it.”

“Well, she’s not here, is she?” I looked around, actually surprised now that I thought about it. Zora was a fantastic sentinel, and she was always on it when trouble started. So, where was she?

Zora, my mom’s replacement, had been the one to bring my mom to me when she was dying, so, she was the one I’d first looked up when I’d moved to Boston. She’d remembered me, was one of the few magics I’d met who had nice things to say about my mom, and had offered to give me a few training sessions when her schedule lightened up, which I appreciated. Badass and nice.

I admired the hell out of Zora…which made it even weirder that she wasn’t here. I shot her a quick text. Hey, Z. Dragon AWOL in the Back Bay. Looks dicey.

I waited, but there were no dots indicating that she’d gotten it and was about to thank me for the heads up.

So…yeah. I raised my brows at Solange, who had the grace to shrug unhelpfully.

Together, we turned around to watch the dragon. The thirteen-foot glittery green beast was lurching past Chez Amore French bistro, smoke pouring out of his nose. A few little kids were laughing and pointing, and most adults weren’t even paying attention, which was good, right? No one thought he could possibly be real. Unfortunately, I knew that wasn’t going to last forever.

People could delude themselves as to the truth for only so long.

I saw a woman walk out of a coffee shop, the cute one that we’d been in about twenty minutes earlier. She was wearing more bling than a hotel chain heiress, which was not a good thing when a dragon was around, ’cause, you know, they have a slightly uncontrollable obsession with shiny treasury kinds of things.

The moment she saw the dragon, her eyes widened, and her jaw dropped open. Alarm raced through me, and I pointed, my heart sinking. “She knows it’s real.”

Solange grimaced. “Yeah. This isn’t good.” She looked around for Zora, but clearly came to the same conclusion that I’d had, mainly that Zora wasn’t showing up. “I’d tell you to go save the day, regardless of the rules,” she finally admitted, “but you’ll get yourself killed.”

“What?” I glanced at her, surprised by her lack of faith in me. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. It’s super inspiring.”

She looked at me. “I love you, but we both know that you don’t have the magical firepower that most Sentinels have. All your training has been on your own, not in real life situations. You’ve never dealt with anything like this. You don’t even have your weapons with you. It’s a bad idea.”

“I can handle it.” But I knew that there was a slight chance she had a valid point. I didn’t have my backpack of weaponry with me, which meant it was minimal-firepower-me against full-dragon-badness. Yo’, insider tip: if cash-flow is an issue for you, now might be a good time to throw down some cash on the dragon. Much better odds. “I’ll try Zora again.” Sadly, that felt like the smartest plan.

But as I was about to start typing, I saw the dragon pause mid-lurch.

I froze, my heart starting to pound as his gaze locked with Bling Lady. “He has a target,” I whispered.

“Damn,” Solange said. “This is really bad.”

Then I heard a sound like a locomotive bearing down, and I knew that the dragon summoning its fire for a massive assault. The bling lady was about to be toast.

Shit. “I’m going!” I ducked under Solange’s arm as she tried to stop me, and I took off in a frantic sprint down the middle of the street, shouting and waving my arms, yelling every single dragon insult I could think of.

The dragon whirled around when I called him a skinny toothpick who couldn’t light a trick candle, and the moment he did, I realized I was screwed.

I wasn’t close enough to touch him, and he was about to unleash his firestorm right onto me, instead of Bling Lady. “I’m a Sentinel,” I yelled (a total lie, because we all know I wasn’t one, but God, it felt good to shout it!), “and I command you to stop!” I dove at him, trying to beat the heat…and I failed.

He hit me with a full force blast of fire when I was only three feet away. My hair caught fire, my clothes went inferno, and my skin hurt more than I’d ever hurt anything in my life. I had a brief notion of collapsing into the fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably, and then I heard people screaming.

Innocent people. Screaming! Screw that! “This is my city!” Scrunching my eyes shut against the flames pretty much melting the skin from my body, I charged forward blindly, hoping I was going straight into the dragon’s mouth (and sadly, no, that wasn’t a metaphor). In a noteworthy navigational victory, my palms slammed into the dragon’s chest (yay!). The moment my hands hit his scales, I unleashed every last bit of my power, as fast and hard as I could.

I sucked that dragon’s fire out of him and into my own body instantly…and, as it turned out, doing it as hard and fast as I could, was way too fast and way too hard.

I knew instantly that I’d totally overdone it.

I had a split second to look into his startled blue eyes, and then I exploded.

Not the fun kind of detonation.

It was the super painful kind where every particle of your body detaches from every other part, and you shoot into air like volcanic ash, and then float down, strewing your now-I’m-dust self all over the oh-so-clean city streets.

I really hate it when I do that.

Like, really.

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