Santeria & Sorcery is the first book in The Tithe Collector series. The whole series is a little dark, hidden inside lighter material. In each book, the Special Collections Team will investigate a magical crime…yes, the crimes they investigate are the ‘light’ stuff.
Oh, but the series has deeper undertones. There is a larger plot afoot, one that will change every member of the team, but especially the tithe collector, Zahra.
Zahra is a genie who committed the capital crime of consorting with humans. The most sacred law of the Djinn Nation forbids any relationship between the two, because humans and djinn can so easily become addicted to one another.
Zahra is addicted to human magic, the most potent force on earth—but she had help getting there. Her boyfriend knowing, and repeatedly, brought humans to their bed, and Zahra pays the price for their pleasure.
There are three other members of the Special Collections Team:
Niccolo is a vampire who has been handfasted to a hyena shape-shifter, Chimbwe, after having an affair with him—when Niccolo was supposed to be in his goddess’ bed exclusively. He struggles with issues of fidelity, because if he cheats in his new relationship, more time is tacked onto the handfasting, and Chimbwe will never be free. Unfortunately, vampires aren’t known for monogamy.
Beryl is—was—a fae assassin, one of the most feared assassins of all time. Now she’s been demoted and banished from the fairy courts because she had an affair with the new Summer King, which displeased the new Queen. Beryl has deeper secrets though, which will be unveiled in upcoming books. Her most immediate problem, however, is a sexy Fallen Angel that turns her world upside down.
Wade is the only human, an injured vet recently returned from the Middle East. He should have died in the war, but El, the king of gods, saved his life. Wade has a hard time finding his footing among the paranormal creatures he’s suddenly surrounded by, and he clings to his faith to the point that he is blinded to El’s manipulations. He’s also suffering from an odd manifestation of PTSD, and an unwanted attraction to Zahra.
In Santeria & Sorcery, the team is assembled, and they’re not happy about it. They’re paying penance for their sins, but the danger is more than they ever expected. The team isn’t just investigating any old crime, but those committed by humans—and theirs is a job typically reserved for elite law enforcement.
The Special Collections Team is anything but elite, but they’ll have to hit the ground running and learn on the fly. In Miami, a sorcerer is taking refuge in the Santeria community, and turning the religion’s traditions on its head as he amasses enough magical power to take on the king of gods, himself.
Manipulative boyfriends, deadly Fallen Angels, the kings of gods, a sorcerer, and—on top of all that—the team members’ individual emotional distress create a pretty hostile working environment. But there is too much on the line for failure to be an option. The Special Collections Team must learn to work together and to trust each other, but that’s an uphill battle for all of them.
I tried to keep my words level. “I’m real damn sick of y’all trying to make me question my faith.”
“I’m not!” Chimbwe looked surprised, even sad in a way. He turned in his chair, leaning back as he studied the window over the sink. “El has Blessed you, and you must follow his rules. But his rules are not what you’ve always believed them to be.”
“Well, since no one wants to explain it to me in a way that even remotely makes sense, I’ll just have to follow my own conscience, won’t I?”
“We are at war.” Now Chimbwe looked fierce, as he turned back to me. He drilled a finger into the tabletop, rocking the whole thing until the dregs of my coffee splashed up to the rim of my mug. The man had some strength. “It is a very silent war. A war humans don’t know about, and couldn’t understand if they did.”
“The girls explained that to me already.” I slid forward in my seat, mimicking the bouda’s posture and not giving a fuck if he saw it as a challenge. “Lucifer’s Fallen provides the balance so the Five Nations don’t duke it out with each other.”
“But they still do,” he told me. “They are always trying to gain the advantage. Maybe not the angels, they have a strong alliance with El, but the djinn, especially, are slobbering for revolution.”
I shrugged and sat back, unconcerned. “El will win.”
“He must.” Chimbwe nodded. “He’s the only one who is able to keep everyone else in their place. No one else is as strong. I don’t wish to break your faith, I only hope you widen it to include what is truth, rather than focus on what you wish to be truth.”
To hide my surprise and gain a little time to think of something to say, I drained the rest of my coffee. There wasn’t much more than stray grounds left. “I deserve a little time to come to terms with all this. Your world is new to me.”
“This world is new to me, too,” he argued. “I have been forced to hide everything I am for my whole life. I could not be a bouda in a village of humans, I could not love a man in a country where it means death.”
That quick, the need to wriggle my shoulders and run from the room took hold of me. “Mmm, sorry to hear that.”
The corner of his mouth tipped up. “Niccolo used to be an investigator. Gaea sent him to my village after it seemed some people were killed by a bouda. All the signs were there, but it wasn’t true. Niccolo saved me and I saved him. Gaea was not pleased with the way we did that, so she handfasted us.”
“Congratulations. That means you’re married, right?”
“Not exactly. It was meant to be a punishment. I am sure Gaea would not like to hear you wish us well.”
I got up and poured more coffee without a word.
Chimbwe laughed, a deep sound coming straight from his belly. “I know you don’t care, Wade, but I need you to understand. We are together because my goddess says it must be so, but he is a man I would have chosen for myself anyway.”
My fingers tightened around my mug. The man was as intent on discussing his relationship as I was on avoiding the subject altogether. I glared at him, noting the stubborn glint in his eye as I surrendered. “Why do you need me to understand?”
“I think this team has been assembled as more than punishment. I know Niccolo is well placed in vampire society, for all he believes he is not. From what he’s said, I think Zahra also has some importance she is not telling. Beryl has served her goddess for a thousand years, and people say simply speaking the assassin’s name is enough to make Lucifer’s Fallen cower in fear.”
The bouda shook his head. “And you are Blessed. I think the team is being used for a bigger purpose than what we’ve been led to believe.”
“Sure, Chimbwe, that’s possible.” But that’s all I was prepared to say on the matter, at that moment with his words of war mocking my memories. I was half-believing, and half-resistant to the idea. On one hand, it was excellent strategy to take the wind from the enemies’ sails, on the other, it was hard to imagine God being so manipulative.
“I don’t know what is going on yet,” Chimbwe whispered. “But the team needs to learn to trust each other. I am afraid of what may happen in the future, and I do not want Niccolo caught in something that may lead to his death.”
I waved my mug because it seemed a better option than putting it down to cross my arms over my chest. “So you and I need to be all buddy-buddy to get the job done. Is that it?”
Chimbwe grimaced. “Even if my suspicions are not correct, this team must meet the expectations of the Council in order to be released from their punishments. I want Niccolo to be free, so you four will need to work as one.”
I weighed his words carefully. I was used to being a part of a team that shared the same training, values and goals. This team, though, was all over the map. They only spoke to each other when they had to, came from different Nations, definitely had different training because I couldn’t imagine Zahra or Niccolo handling a weapon like Beryl, and they all reported in to different leaders.
Hell of a team. Four of us were moving in four different directions, and it seemed Chimbwe wanted to be our wise guide, leading us all into a cohesive whole. A wise guide might be just what we all needed.
That realization had me sitting back down at the table. “I would like this team to work together,” I told him. “Considering the monsters we might run up against, our lives might depend on it.”