I am thrilled to be able to bring you another peek inside Beneath the Crimson Willow by, Martin Niewood. This is the second book in The Garden of Elsyn Series which begins with the book The Wilted Flower District.
If you missed the first excerpt, check it out here! Then read a few more pages and get excited for the book’s release this Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
Beneath the Crimson Willow jumps into the fantasy world of 17-year-old Violet Noone, as she and her family continue with their life on the run, fleeing from The Marked, a secret organization focused on revenge. One day Violet is approached by a mysterious stranger, and is blackmailed into trying to solve a brutal murder of a woman in the poisonous compound, Unelse. Violet discovers that there are religious, political, and corporate forces who might be at play — or maybe it was just the person everyone always suspects: the woman’s husband, who was no stranger to the criminal scene. Pursuing each lead, Violet slips deeper into a world of conspiracy and lies, and learns she can trust no one. Beset by their own demons, her family is unable to support her, forcing Violet to accept unwelcome truths about herself and face challenges well beyond her years. Now, Violet is completely on her own. With her enemies closing in, she must unravel the mystery, retrieve the intelligence, and solve the murder. But can she do it before The Marked find her?
Beneath the Crimson Willow weaves together a fascinating fantasy world, a protagonist you can’t help but cheer for and a dark, fast-paced mystery to bring readers on yet another whirlwind into a land where nothing is ever quite as it seems.
It had rained during the night, but by the time Leonard arrived at 7:30, the clouds had vanished. After hearing his car on the wet gravel outside the kitchen window, Mom stopped pacing and shot me one last worried look. Even after multiple conversations, she was less than thrilled about me going off with Leonard, but at some level she realized we didn’t have a choice. I understood that she wanted to protect me; she wanted to keep all her children safe. It made no difference that, unlike Ophelia and Weylin, I was adopted, nor did it matter that none of us were still children.
Closing the car door behind me, I saw Leonard program the next location into the self-driving vehicle. It looked to be about thirty minutes from my house. He slid back in his seat as the car took over and we pulled out of the driveway. Looking back, I saw Mom watching from the opened kitchen window. The curtains were moving, but not because they were rustling in the cool morning breeze. Rather, they were being drawn into the room. I realized that Mom was upset enough to trigger her preter ability, a power to suck all the air out of a space. Mom was being supportive, but it was obvious she didn’t trust Leonard.
He turned in his seat to face me. “I thought we could use this opportunity to catch you up …”
“Where are we headed?”
He smiled, avoiding eye contact, clearly annoyed that I had cut him off. “We’re going to Willow Grove, a suburb of Foxglove. That’s where this whole mess started.”
Foxglove was the closest metropolitan city for miles, but my family and I generally avoided it, afraid that if we were there too long, we might get picked up on facial recognition cameras. The Marked had many spies, and both Mom and Penny figured it was safer to hide from them in more rural locations like Tearmann Point where there were fewer prying eyes. “Okay, anywhere specific in Willow Grove?”
“Actually, yes. We are going to the place where Georgina was killed.” Leonard put his hand to his face attempting to conceal a tear by rubbing his eyes to remove an imaginary cinder.
“Georgina, that’s a lovely name,” I said, trying to be respectful.
“Yes, a beautiful name for a beautiful woman.” Leonard cleared his throat. “I won’t lie to you, this is incredibly personal, and I don’t know what I’ll do when I find the person responsible for her death. I fear it will be ugly.”
“Killing is never the answer.”
“Violet, you’re here to solve a murder, so keep your armchair psychology and philosophical beliefs to yourself. We are not friends. Do what you are told, and you and your family might find a happy life again somewhere else.” Leonard sat up straighter, pushing back his shoulders. “Do you understand?”
Shaking my head, “Yes.”
“All right, now that we have that straight, let’s go over the details of Georgina’s death. As you probably have guessed, we were involved in a few questionable deals. Georgina and I, we grew up hard, and over the years, we did what it took to get by.”
“So, you stole stuff and did other things that might make people angry?”
Leonard laughed half-heartedly. “We did a lot of stuff and pissed off a bunch of people but nothing bad enough to get killed over. Our most recent job was different though, in a lot of ways, even from the get-go.”
Leonard twisted his hands. “For starters, the client was super weird, but they were willing to pay top-dollar for a seemingly inauspicious item.”
“I’m going to need more than that,” I said, smiling nervously.
“The client was this churchy kind of cult that call themselves the Petra Foundation. They’re a group of well-financed crazies that left their jobs and families to come here and join the Petra cause.”
“That sounds insane. What’s their cause?”
“I don’t understand it myself, but it seemed like twisted stuff. The person who contacted us kept going on about finding the Promised Land and other weird things like that.”
“The Promised Land?” I asked, unsure if I had heard him correctly.
“Yeah. You know like utopia, nirvana, utter perfection. Anyway, Georgina said that some file on a flash drive would help Petra find the Promised Land. So, they hired us to steal a PEN-220 flash drive from one of the offices at Cerpen Pharmaceuticals.”
“So, a pharmaceutical company had a file that a religious cult needed to find the Promised Land?” Saying it aloud made the idea seem even more preposterous.
“That makes no sense. What file did they want?”
“The file didn’t have a name. At the time, all they told us was the location of the PEN-220 drive we were to steal. It didn’t seem that important, and considering it was at one of Cerpen’s off-campus sites, Georgina figured it was easy money. How could we resist?”
Leonard punched the seat beneath him. “I should’ve known; it was too good to be true. I had a strange feeling that I couldn’t explain. I considered backing out of it, but Georgina wouldn’t have it. They were paying a boat load of money and she liked money. Georgina and I argued about it, but she said that everything would be fine. As it turned out, it wasn’t.”
“I’m assuming you were successful in stealing it.”
“Yeah, Georgina constructed a plan that was perfect, well nearly. It wasn’t that difficult of a job.”
“So, what was on the PEN-220 drive?”
“And after you stole it, you brought the drive back here?”
“Georgina did. This was her deal.”
“And the robbery went off without a hitch?”
“Yeah. The trouble didn’t start until the morning after the robbery. I don’t know how they found us, but somebody must have followed us back here. Naturally, we had safeguards around our home because of our line of work. The person who went after her must have really wanted that PEN-220 drive because, despite injuring himself, he still got in. There was a lot of blood on one of the snares, but he managed to kill my Georgina. When I got home, she was dead. And the stolen PEN-220 drive was gone.”
Raising my eyebrows, “Are you certain that the file was their main target?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is it possible that this didn’t have anything to do with the robbery? Perhaps it was some personal vendetta.”
Leonard stared at me.
“My point is that most thieves probably would have run off after getting injured, but this person doubled down. Had the thought crossed your mind that personal revenge could have been the motive? Maybe they knew about the file and took it, thinking it might throw you off their scent.”
“That’s an interesting perspective. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Revenge against Georgina and myself, plus a bonus payday from one of the interested parties involved.”
I peered out the window, wondering what Leonard was not telling me. “You don’t think that Cerpen Pharmaceuticals had anything to do with this, do you?”
“They’re a big company. Isn’t it possible that they sent someone after you guys, but things got out of hand, and the person killed Georgina?”
“Possible, sure,” he responded. “But how likely is it that Cerpen would hire a hitman to come after us for a file? I’m sure that they had another copy of whatever we took. It seems a bit far-fetched. But I’m keeping an open mind, so who knows?”
“And, just to clarify, you have no idea what was on the PEN-220 drive?”
Leonard rubbed the back of his neck. “No. I never even saw it. Georgina had it. As you can see, I don’t have a lot of answers, but there’s something not right about the entire situation.”
“This is a bit delicate, but how exactly was Georgina killed?”
“We are almost at the place where she died, so you can see for yourself.”