Chapter Two

This is . . . not what I expected.

Those words keep cycling through my head that afternoon as I sit in the reception area of Connolly’s office. I did my research on the guy. As I guessed, he comes from old money, a family who arrived in America even before mine. Connolly himself runs one of those vaguely named companies whose actual line of business remained unclear no matter how hard I searched. Something about securities. Stocks maybe? 

From that, I thought I knew exactly what to expect from his place of business. It’d be old-school Boston. Dimly lit hallways, tiny nooks for offices, no amount of cleaning chemicals masking the odor of age. That fit with someone looking to redecorate with antiques and recreate the kind of office his great-grandfather would have had. Massive carved-oak pedestal desk. Swivel desk chair with buttoned red leather. Bookcases full of first editions that will languish, unopened, for the rest of their lives. An antique globe for the corner. Maybe a few mismatched Tiffany lamps. Aiden Connolly will sit in that leather chair, loafers perched on a desk worth more than I make in a good year, as he sips single-malt from a cut-glass tumbler.

That is what I expect. Instead, his offices are in a modern skyscraper, the rooms all steel and marble and glass. I have no idea where I could even put an antique without it seeming as out of place as a wet dog in a formal parlor.

I’m in the reception area, perched on a sleek glass chair that, with each fidget, threatens to send me sliding to the floor like a penguin on a ski slope. Speaking of penguins, I wish I’d worn the black pencil skirt and white Oxford shirt I’d contemplated. So far, I’ve seen three people, all of them dressed in shades of black and white. The Nordic blond behind the desk wears a pearl-gray dress that I keep expecting to tinkle like crackling ice when she moves.

Forget antiques. What this place needs is a splash of color. Technically, my red dress provides it, but I feel like an open wound ready to ooze onto the white marble tiles. 

“Ms. Bennett?” 

I jump and see Connolly waiting at an open door. His fingers tap the doorframe, impatient at this two-second delay. I leap up . . . and my heels promptly slide across the marble. Connolly’s PA shakes her head. Her boss, fortunately, has already retreated into his office. I find my footing and follow him with as much dignity as I can muster.

When I step into Connolly’s office, he’s at his desk, leaning over it to rustle through papers. Earlier, I’d squashed Connolly into the narrative I created for this job—and into the wood-paneled office I imagined—but seeing him here, I realize I’d been deluding myself. I cannot actually imagine him lounging with his shoes on a big antique desk. His surroundings here suit him perfectly. Chilly, austere, stylish and haughty. His personal office is no different. I’m sure it’s gorgeous, in a Scandinavian way. It just makes me long for a warm, woolly sweater and a crackling fire.

There’s been a mistake.

“Mr. Connolly?” I say as he bends over his desk to rustle through papers

Green eyes lift to mine as one sandy brow arches. He does not say “Call me Aiden, please.” He could be talking to someone ten years his senior, and he’d still insist on the formality. Old money, old ways.

“I . . . think there might be a misunderstanding,” I say. “This doesn’t seem like the . . . environment for antiques.”

“No, it’s not, is it?” he says. “Which is precisely the problem.”

I stiffen, ready to defend myself if he dares blame me for the mix-up. Instead, he opens a side door and strides through. The door half shuts behind him, before he grabs it and gives me a sharp wave, lips tightening in annoyance that I didn’t just follow.

I walk in and—

“Oh,” I say, my breath catching.

We’re on the fourteenth floor, and until now, I haven’t glanced out a window. I can’t avoid that here—one entire wall is glass, jutting out to form the curving nook of a solarium. Sunlight streams through, bedazzling a view that overlooks the Common. 

“This is the room I want to redecorate,” he says. “The sunlight made it too warm most of the year, but thankfully, the air conditioning has been upgraded.”

Upgraded is definitely the right word. The room is about sixty-five degrees, AC pumping an arctic jet stream. I inch closer to the sunny windows.

“I wish to repurpose it as a staff area,” Connolly says.

“A lounge?”

That lip press again, as if the word is too informal, conjuring images of employees actually relaxing, possibly in real chairs.

“A staff area,” he repeats. “I understand that my choice of decor may invoke . . . ”

“Antarctica without the penguins?”

The faintest narrowing of his eyes. “I was going to say it invokes a sense of asceticism that some find off-putting.”

“Asceticism is great,” I murmur. “If you’re a monk.”

He continues as if he hasn’t heard me. “Personally, I like clean lines and simplicity. Clutter in one’s environment produces clutter in one’s mind. However, I am aware that employee productivity may suffer in a setting that is not comfortable. So I wish to remodel this room in a more traditional style.”

He walks to a built-in bookcase of glass shelves. That’s when I notice the antiques. Three pieces small enough to fit on those shelves: a snuff box, a cigarette case and a mahogany triptych mirror.

I’m drawn to the cigarette case first. It’s art-deco, the silver lid inlaid with jade showing a twenties-style flapper smoking oh-so-elegantly. 

“This is beautiful,” I say, curling my fingers against the urge to touch it.

“Yes, I won it in a card game.”

I must glance over sharper than I intended, thinking he’s joking, though I’m not sure which is harder to picture—Connolly playing cards or Connolly telling a joke.

“I have an excellent poker face,” he says.

He points at the snuff box. “I won that on the same night. I have a bit of luck now and then.” His lips twitch, as if this is indeed a joke, albeit a personal one I am neither supposed to understand nor pursue.

“And this—” I stop short, fingers extended toward the mirror. I wasn’t going to touch it. I know better. I was just gesturing. Still, the moment I do, I yank back.

Curse.

I hesitate and then give myself a mental shake. Obviously, my brain is misfiring, because the irony there would just be too rich. This morning Connolly dismissed the guy with the cursed tea caddy . . . only to have a cursed object himself.

I glance at the mirror again and those tendrils of magic snake out, whispering . . . 

Nope, definitely cursed.

Damn.

I inch closer and let the first notes of that hex wash over me. A lover’s lament. Better known as an ex-hex. Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned. And from the vibes rising from this mirror, someone felt very scorned.

“Did you win this one?” I ask hopefully.

“No, that was a gift from a woman I was seeing. Quite surprising, actually. I’d long admired it. When we had a falling out, she gave it to me. A peace offering, to show there were no hard feelings.”

 He waves away his words. “Which is more than you care—or need—to know. But of the three, it is my personal favorite, and whatever you suggest for this room, that one piece must stay.”

Of course it must. Because this couldn’t be easy. He couldn’t say, Oh, I don’t really care for that particular piece, perhaps you’d like to buy it from me?

Connolly clearly doesn’t realize it’s cursed—it takes an psychically attuned person to pick up even just “bad vibes.” I can see why he likes it. Of the three, it’s the simplest piece. Edwardian. Gleaming red mahogany. The original mirrors, only faintly warped. The center mirror is oval with brass fittings that allow it to tilt. 

I will admit I have a predilection for more ornate items—gaudy, Ani would say—and the cigarette box is more my style, but I must appreciate the sheer craftsmanship and elegance of the mirror. A truly perfect piece . . . flawed by a nasty little curse.

Two hexed items in one day? Is that even possible?

The last time I stumbled over a cursed object “in the wild” was a year ago. And yet, technically, I’ve only stumbled over one today. The tea caddy was brought to me after my sisters sent the owner my way, which they do with irritating regularity. 

Also, let’s be blunt, I am not the least bit surprised that Aiden Connolly has earned himself an ex-hex. Something tells me, if you scroll through his romantic history, it’d be a Christmas light string blinking red with angry exes. He’s young, attractive, successful and single. He’ll have no problem finding companionship, and I suspect he’d have no problem moving on a month later, probably via breakup text. He’s also exactly the sort of guy who’d see nothing suspicious about an ex offering a lovely parting gift. It would only prove that he’d done nothing untoward and the breakup was mutually acceptable.

“Ideally, I’d want a dual-purpose area,” Connolly says, and I tear my gaze from the mirror to find him across the room. “A place for staff to decompress, but also a place to entertain some of our older clientele. A more traditional meeting room.”

“Got it. Now, I must admit I wasn’t able to find a lot about your company online. What, uh, exactly do you do?”

“Insurance.”

My soul drops, just a little. I’ll admit, I’d held out hope for something a little more interesting, a little sexier. But no, this fits. Sadly, this fits.

“What sort of insurance?” I ask, struggling to sound intrigued.

A wave of his hand. “This and that. Now, I only have a few more minutes before my next appointment. Do you have any questions, Ms. Bennett?”

Any chance you’ll let me take that mirror home? Fix it up for you? 

Remove that ex-hex before I’m forced to work in the same room as it?

That is a problem to consider later. For now, I ask if I may take photographs of the room. I’m hoping to get a little more face-time with the mirror, but Connolly stays right where he is, watching. I snap my shots and leave with a promise to call later this week.

55 thoughts on “Chapter Two”

  1. Finally beginning to read, so far absolutely love it … can’t wait to see where it goes. Thank you!!!!

  2. He deserves an ex-hex. I don’t like him.

  3. Mary Koebelin says:

    Love the start of this book.

  4. Im an avid fan. Read most of your series, so this is feedback as you requested, not criticism…. Had to look up asceticism. Maybe you did that in purpose, if so totally worked. I wondered if you might want to add some context if you plan to release in paper format also that give ascepticism context as it really fits with Connolly and the rooms. Things like; Lack of sensual, Greek connection, monastic abstinence…

    1. Kelley Armstrong says:

      I definitely take that as feedback not criticism. Thank you!

  5. I am intrigued with all of the things that are adding up. I know it takes time to get to the climax but it seems anti climatic at times. However, I am getting more and more interested as it goes on

    1. Kelley Armstrong says:

      Thank you for you comment. And because I also teach writing, I’m going to give a few tips on offering feedback–I can’t help myself 🙂 Constructive criticism needs specificity. Telling a writer that “it seems anticlimatic at times” doesn’t help. Saying “when you did x, it seemed anticlimatic” is MUCH better. Otherwise, writers need to guess at what you mean and may change the wrong thing. General works well in reviews, which are meant for other readers (“I found many parts of this book anticlimatic”) Specific is what’s needed for editorial comments aimed at authors (“I found x part anticlimatic”)
      If I was to guess, I’d say several parts could be seen as anti-climatic in this scene–the fact we don’t know more about Connolly’s job and fact we don’t get a resolution on the tea caddy or the sisters’ claim they didn’t send the guy. All 3 “should” be left open-ended because they’re building toward things. In other words, they aren’t anticlimatic resolved plot threads but the first step on very high ladders. However, you might very well mean something else that *does* need fixing, and if so, that’s what I want to hear 🙂
      And I’ve probably put WAY more thought into this than you intended. That’s what happens when criticism is open-ended. We want to fix the problem, but need more data to find it.

  6. This was a great chapter. Leave the word ascepticism in – it is the exact right word. I’m not sure why anyone would think the chapter is anti-climactic at times – it’s building the story and it’s only chapter two. I’m hooked, so it’s doing it’s job 🙂

    1. Kelley Armstrong says:

      Oh, I’ll leave the word in–I just need to find a way to make its meaning clearer in context 🙂

      1. Mary Carter says:

        When I don’t know what a word means, I google it and appreciate the fact that the author thinks I’m smart enough to know the meaning or interested enough to look it up! Keep it up! Too many urban fantasy books are painfully sophomoric and I really, really love it when they’re well written. I’ve stopped reading so many series because of the writing when the characters, world building and story arc are good, but the writing is fingernails on a chalkboard. (I just binge read Cainsville for the first time and Absolutely. Loved. It.)

        1. The Cainsville series is one of my favorites. And this one has me hooked already. Thanks.

      2. Stephanie Butland says:

        I love words I am unsure about or don’t know in a story. It means you get to learn something new and interesting. Please use more words like this. I am a big fan of them.

  7. I understand (basically) what a triptych mirror is. This one is said to be on a built in bookcase with glass shelves. How big is the mirror? Is it teeny-tiny?

  8. Definitely enjoyed this chapter – felt the pick up. I want to assume that Connolly is the one who sent the tea box guy and that he knows about the hex, it seems fitting. Dundundun – excited to find out! Also want to know what this hex does instead of just making people feel uncomfortable.

    Suggestion: I’d remove “follow him with as much dignity as I can muster” this phrase is overly used in writing. I’m the anti-cliche type.

    Onward to the next chapter!

  9. Please keep this chapter the way it is, I am hooked and understood all, loving the build up to the answers

  10. Brianna Arias says:

    So this chapter didn’t feel like a continuation of the first. It felt like a next day kind of chapter when reading it. I was somewhat taken aback when I realized it was in fact the same day.

    1. Kelley Armstrong says:

      Kennedy does say at the start of scene 2 that she’s visiting Connolly’s office that afternoon. It’s an easy fix, but I hate to repeat info one scene later. Did others have this problem, too? If so, I’ll take a closer look.

      1. I read it like it was still the same day as Kennedy says I will come after lunch and the chapter starts with her talking about words going through her head that afternoon. But then Kennedy was saying she wished she wore the black pencil skirt and white oxford shirt she contemplated. This made it feel like she planned her outfit for the meeting which for me did break up the continuation giving it a different day feel.

        1. Kelley Armstrong says:

          Tweaked! Thanks!

  11. Thank you very much for sharing. Throughout the years,I have spent many hours in your different worlds, none have disappointed me.
    I am not sure why but Connelly reminds me of Gabriel Walsh.
    Looking forward to seeing how incorrect I am!

  12. I am loving how you have been building up this chapter, creating just enough questions to pique my curiosity. Not knowing who sent the tea caddy (and creating the impression that it wasn’t her sisters), not having discovered more detail about his job and discovering the mirror has an “ex hex” placed on it has me “turning pages” faster in anticipation. I love a good build up and having the opportunity to try and figure things out before the answers are revealed. If all my questions were answered from the beginning there would be no reason for me to keep reading.

  13. Lisa Menery says:

    Good continuation of the story. My comment is: a little more visual description of the mirror, since it is a focal point of the chapter. Also, an idea of what “lover’s lament” curse does. Can she see it’s affects on him? on the room? Will it affect his staff some way? A hint that this will be addressed later?

    1. Kelley Armstrong says:

      The curse explanation will come later, but yes, a little more here would help. I’ll note that for edits. Thanks!

  14. Cherie Gladstone says:

    I enjoy very much the voice of the main character and her response to the office. Especially like her visual analogy of her colourful dress in this sleek cool marble as an open wound hinting at damage and vulnerability but also messy humanity.

  15. I can’t get enough of Connolly’s expressive lip twitches/presses. Wonder what he’s holding back.

    “I have a bit of luck now and then.” + lip twist. Delicious! This makes me think that Connolly may know more about luck than he lets on. Could this have anything to do with the ambiguous family business? I also love the irony that joker’s jinxes are Kennedy’s specialty, yet she can’t tell if Connolly is joking or not 😛 In her defense, he’s a hard man to read.

    I can’t wait to learn more about who can curse objects. Just special people like Kennedy? Or can they be inadvertently cast?

    Another great installment. Thank you!

  16. Charlene La Rue says:

    I am so in love with this book and it is only chapter 2.

    Please release in print.

  17. Jen Wheeler says:

    Only chapter 2, and I’ve been drawn right in. Although I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, because I’ve been a long time fan of your writing style. I’m so excited to be able to have these “sneak peaks” before editing/publishing. I can guarantee that this one will be added to my “Armstrong” shelf when it hits print.

  18. Shelley Sannuto says:

    Definitely heading on an interesting path, different from a lot of your work which I actually like. I have read almost everything you’ve written so far

  19. 2 chapters in and I’m already attached to this character! I love how you are able to just give us enough to keep us intrigued!!! Love it so far, love you!!

  20. Shannon White says:

    As a lover of your books I can already feel the angle you are aiming for. The man with the tea caddy being sent to Kennedy, all the sisters denying it. Connelly approaching her out of the blue.. it all screams there is a force at work behind the scenes and I personally cannot wait to find out who it is and why it is happening. 2 chapters in and I’m loving it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.