My first novel, “Nature & Nurture,” is not available yet. It was a lot of hard, rewarding work and will be available for consumption in the future. I am currently editing my second novel and am excited to have a draft finished. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter of “Nature & Nurture” below!

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Chapter 1

As a young girl, Madeline Brisbois learned from her mother how to remove blood from her clothing. She was a rambunctious child with a penchant for scraped knees and nicked fingertips. One day, she’d stained one too many articles of clothing, prompting her mother to give her a lesson on garment care. Her mother had told her that when removing blood stains from clothing, it’s important to act quickly. The sooner the affected garment is treated, the more likely it will be that the stain will be successfully lifted with no residue.

Her mother had made her repeat the instructions when Maddy was younger, so as to not ruin clothing, which could get expensive, quickly. She drilled the instructions into young Maddy’s head: Keep the stain wet. Never use hot water. Then, treat the area with soap, either a detergent or hand soap. Gently work the soap into the stain and rinse away. Repeat until the blood is gone. The garment may then be washed like normal.

Madeline Brisbois followed these instructions dutifully her entire childhood and continued the practice when she was older and in a messier line of work. However, even though she memorized the steps and followed them carefully, she learned a harsh lesson the first time she tried to put them into action as a grown woman.

This treatment will not work on elven blood. Nor, in fact, will it work on any magical’s blood. Against that, she found the practice to be all but worthless. The blood of magicals was apparently immune to Dove and SoftSoap. It had ruined her favorite pairs of jeans forever, but she couldn’t help but feel that it was appropriate when she discarded them in a dumpster. Just like those expensive designer pants, Maddy had thrown her old life away, and there was no going back.

That was years ago, now. These days, Maddy lived much more practically, as her life demanded. She kept her straight brown hair cut short and wore her jacket zipped tight. A pistol was strapped snug against her thigh, over her cheap jeans. Her boots were steel-toed and her arms were strong. The muscles flexed as she turned the steering wheel of her car, a small but fast and reliable sedan. Headlights splashed over a brick building as she drove her vehicle into the parking lot.

The building was a bar that looked as though it was once a respectable establishment but had long since fallen into disrepair. A faded sign hung above the front entrance that declared “Magic Jack’s.” The parking lot was behind the building, and was completely empty save for one very old Cadillac, which belonged to Jack himself.

Maddy had known Jack for years and knew that he could be counted on in times of need, and this was certainly one of those. She had been driving for the better part of an hour to reach him before it was too late, and was grateful that she had been successful.

Maddy pulled her small green sedan into the spot closest to the rear entrance and got out. The sky was full of stars and the air was cool. She breathed deeply, taking a brief moment to herself before the madness began again. It had been a hell of a night already and, as she thought about who she had in the car with her, a feeling crept in that the evening was just beginning. She exhaled, then made her way to the passenger door and opened it.

“Come on,” she instructed the seat’s occupant. He groaned as he undid his buckle and scooted over. He swung his good leg out the door, then gingerly lifted his injured one to follow suit. Maddy gave him her hand and helped him out. He grumbled loudly as he stood. “Yeah, yeah, keep complaining,” Maddy said, dismissively.

“Why would I complain?” he griped in an angry, gravely voice. “You only shot me.” He leaned on her for support as they walked to the entrance. His leg wouldn’t hold weight, but fortunately his small stature made it easy for Maddy to carry him.

“Do not even start down that road with me,” replied Maddy. “You brought that on yourself, didn’t you?”

“Crazy human has a gun on me, what do you expect me to do?”

“I have my reasons,” Maddy answered, a determined look upon her face. They reached the back entrance and Maddy shook the door handle. It didn’t give. Maddy sighed and started banging her fist on the large metal barrier. It was very late at night and Jack hadn’t answered any of her calls, so Maddy figured he was fast asleep, but she couldn’t wait for the morning on this. Her chest and neck were badly burned, and even though her passenger seemed to be doing ok, he was still bleeding and she needed him to not be dead. They both needed treatment, and Jack was the only one she knew who could handle it.

After knocking on the door for several minutes, Maddy finally heard yelling coming from upstairs and knew that Jack was up. Maddy smiled, relieved. Soon there was noise on the other side of the door, the clicking of heavy locks being undone, and it swung open.

Jack stood in the opening, a silk robe tied around his body, gray chest fuzz peeking from underneath. His face was unshaven, but his salt and pepper hair was impeccably coiffed. His blue eyes still had sleep in them, yet were somehow bright and shining nonetheless.

“Wow,” Jack said, taking in the sight before him, “I really should have stayed in bed.”

“Thanks for not,” said Maddy, dragging her injured guest through the doorway as Jack moved aside. “You know you’re glad to see me.”

“You? Always. The trouble you bring me? That I could do without. And who’s your little green friend?”

“Tralm,” croaked the goblin, his pointed ears sagging.

“That’s your name?” asked Maddy. “Tralm?”

Jack raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know your comrade’s name?”

“He’s not my comrade,” Maddy replied as she heaved Tralm onto one of Jack’s tables, “he’s my…prisoner, I guess.”

Maddy had met Tralm earlier in the evening, having tracked him to an abandoned house. The plan was to question him about someone she needed to find, but she had allowed the small goblin to sidetrack her. Ultimately, he had tricked her into putting on a cursed necklace, resulting in her harsh burns. Unable to remove it herself, Maddy had to “coax” Tralm into removing it for her, using her shotgun. It burned his fingers badly as he did so, but he removed it successfully. Maddy had promised that she wouldn’t let him bleed to death, and Jack had the best healing magics she knew of, so here Tralm was, ruining his table.

The interior of Magic Jack’s was in line with the exterior. It had very fine furniture that was entirely too old to be considered nice anymore. Plush seats and deep booths, lights on every table. But all the patterns were faded, the chairs were out of date, and everything seemed to have a musty smell about it. Maddy had always wondered whether Jack loved the out-of-date decor or was simply too cheap to update everything. Probably the former.

“Your prisoner?” asked Jack with a sharp look. “I’m so glad I left that beautiful divorcée upstairs in order to come help you with your captive.”

“There’s someone here, Jack?” asked Maddy, alarmed.

“Yes, but as long as you don’t make too much noise, she should remain blissfully asleep. She’s certainly exhausted after our evening. She slept right through you making all that racket at the back. Besides, Tralm here will look very human to her.”

“And she definitely won’t notice all his blood everywhere,” Maddy stated, drolly, observing how much of Tralm was already getting on Jack’s floor and table.

“His green blood?” Jack waved his hand in the air, dismissively. “It won’t matter, because, as I said, she should remain fast asleep. Now, let’s get your horrendous wrap job off his knee and have a look.”

Maddy glared at Jack, but complied, helping him unbandage Tralm’s knee. The goblin groaned as the gauze was pulled from his wound, which began bleeding anew.

“You and your shotgun,” Jack admonished. Maddy shrugged and flashed her most charming smile. “Did you at least disinfect the wound before wrapping him up?” he asked, unfazed. Maddy shot Jack a sideways glance, and Jack threw up his arms. “No, of course you didn’t.” He then made his way to the bar.

“The cops were coming, I didn’t have time,” explained Maddy.

“It only takes a moment and sometimes means the difference between life and death,” Jack scolded as he pulled a first aid kit from behind the counter and returned to his patient.

“She does not care,” hissed Tralm, his eyes squinting and teeth clenched.

“Shut it,” snapped Maddy.

“But he has a point,” said Jack as he pulled antiseptic from the kit. “Do you care at all about his life?”

“Of course I do,” protested Maddy. “He has valuable information.”

“I am more useful alive,” grumbled Tralm.

“Not wrong about that,” said Maddy as she observed Jack work.

Jack looked at her out of the corner of his eye as he poured the solution on Tralm’s wound. The goblin sucked in air through his teeth as the liquid washed over his knee. Jack then handed Maddy some more gauze.

“Put pressure on it,” he instructed, and stepped away.

Maddy pressed the gauze on Tralm’s knee, who once again groaned in pain. Jack exited the room, and Maddy knew he was heading to where he kept his more exotic items; The ones that would get this goblin on his feet in a matter of hours and her burns healed even quicker. Jack’s special stash had kept her going when she should have been down for the count, and that’s why she had come here tonight. Jack returned carrying several bottles and shooed her hands away from Tralm’s knee.

“Let me see that, now,” Jack said. He then poured a milky white solution on his hands, which he proceeded to rub above and below the wound, encircling Tralm’s entire leg at two points. He worked the liquid in until it had been absorbed by the goblin’s skin, then opened another, smaller, bottle. He looked at Tralm with hard eyes.

“Do you want something to bite down on?” he asked. Tralm looked at him back with some trepidation before shaking his head no. “Your call,” Jack said as he stuck his thumb in the bottle and swiveled it around. He withdrew it and looked Tralm in the eye. “Do. Not. Scream.”

He put his other hand on Tralm’s leg, gripping it firmly, and jammed his thumb roughly into Tralm’s wound. Tralm’s mouth opened wide, and Maddy quickly clamped her hand down on it. It was unnecessary, though, because the goblin did not make a sound. However, he did squeeze Maddy’s arm tighter than she thought he should be able in his weakened state. It felt like Jack was working his thumb in Tralm’s wound for a long time, but Maddy knew it couldn’t have been more than ten seconds or so. She imagined that for Tralm it probably felt like an eternity. Finally, he removed it and Tralm let go of Maddy’s arm and collapsed on the table, completely unconscious.

“Is he going to be all right?” Maddy asked, rubbing her arm where Tralm had been crushing it.

“He’ll be fine,” answered Jack. “Had to get the potion in deep to be truly effective. He shouldn’t even have a limp. Might swell up when it rains, though.” He then finished up by re-applying the gauze. Maddy noted that the bleeding was already just a slow seep, Jack’s magics doing their work.

“Thanks, Jack,” Maddy said as the greying-haired man wrapped the goblin’s knee.

“Mm,” Jack replied, curtly. Maddy knew that he wasn’t happy to be doing this for her once again, but she didn’t have anyone else she could turn to. And she was grateful, truly.

“Yeah,” she said, looking away at nothing in particular.

Jack secured the bandage then turned to her. “Now, let’s deal with you.” Jack pointed to Maddy’s burnt chest.

“Probably just need a balm,” said Maddy, dismissively.

“But you want the good stuff, don’t you? The ‘won’t even hurt tomorrow’ stuff.”

“I mean, if you insist,” Maddy smiled. Jack did not seem amused as he twisted open a jar filled with an orange substance.

“Quite a collection of scars you’re acquiring,” Jack said. “You’ve been lucky so far.”

“I was stupid.”

“You are currently stupid. You have been stupid, and all indicators point to you continuing to be stupid. And it’s going to get you killed.” Jack took some of the thick orange substance on his hand and began rubbing it on Maddy’s burns, which almost instantaneously stopped hurting.

“I’m getting better,” Maddy said, defensively. “And I’m getting closer, too.”

“Why, because you found a goblin and roughed him up?” mocked Jack, chuckling. “You’re no closer than you were months ago. And you’re certainly not getting better. This seems to have gone worse than most.”

“He knows something,” Maddy said, ignoring Jack’s critique, “and he’s going to tell me what he knows.” In truth, Maddy felt that Jack was probably right, but she wasn’t going to admit that to him.

“Really, he knows something?” asked Jack, sarcastically, as he moved to the back of her neck. “And what makes you say that? Goblins keep to themselves, mostly. They’re not gossips like fairies nor are they seers, they’re craftsmen. Not generally pleasant craftsmen, but how would he know anything?”

“He’s been sneaking around human neighborhoods, up to no good,” answered Maddy.

“Ah, so you got word that a non-human was doing something a little shady, and you thought you’d go and bully him just in case he knew something,” Jack said, moving around to her front again. His expression had changed to disappointment. “You are better than this. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I got the drop on him,” Maddy explained. “Had him under boot, in fact. But then I made a mistake and got tricked into putting on a necklace.”

“Got tricked, huh?” asked Jack. “Couldn’t resist the shiny thing?”

“Shut up,” Maddy shot back. “It was supposed to turn me invisible. It was a damn rookie mistake. It started burning. Badly.”

“I can see that,” Jack said, as he finished applying the cream.

“But he said only goblins can work the latch after it was put on. So…”

“You convinced him to help with your gun. Violence on top of violence on top of violence…”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“Only because I can help you clean up your mess. And now you have a goblin who may or may not know anything about anything but is definitely severely injured.”

“If he’s a spy then he knows more than he’s letting on,” countered Maddy.

“And is he a spy?”

Maddy hesitated. “He says he’s a scientist.”

Jack inhaled deeply and let his head slump forward. He then walked over to Tralm and applied some of the orange cream to Tralm’s hands.

“I think he’s lying,” Maddy continued. “Why would they send one scientist out this far into human territory alone? I think he’s a spy.”

“You need to get this under control,” said Jack, putting the lid back on the jar and wiping his hands on a napkin. “Randomly attacking non-humans is not how you want to be conducting your investigation.”

“You know what I’m trying to do here. Do you think that ‘getting it under control’ is really going to help me?”

“I’m not sure what else could.”

Maddy glared at Jack, fired up. Jack knew exactly what she was trying to do, and just how important it was, but yet here he was, still trying to slow her down. She’d come too far to be stopped now, crossed too many lines, and there was still so much to accomplish.

“Jack, there’s one thing in this world that’s going to help me,” she told him. “One thing that will make me feel better, that will ease this pain that your magic potions simply can’t. One thing.” She raised a single digit in front of her face. “Killing Mother Nature.”

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