EXCLUSIVE Excerpt of HEX ON THE BEACH by Gina LaManna
Bestselling author Gina LaManna is bringing her fans a new series, The Magic & Mixology Mystery Series! The debut novel, HEX ON THE BEACH, comes out April 29th.
Get it HERE.
I'm thrilled to be able to share an exclusive excerpt
from this fantastic new series--thanks, Gina!
Here's your sneak peek!
Lily Locke has never believed in witches and wizards, ghosts and magic, shifters and vampires—especially cute blond vamps with blood-intolerance issues. A rising star at a hotshot marketing agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota, all Lily knows is she’s a PowerPoint guru, an Excel ninja, and a coffee-maker extraordinaire. Not to mention she’s next in line for a huge promotion.
All that changes when Lily’s assistant delivers a strange quiz to her, one titled A Magical Assessment for Normal Folks. With it comes the promise of a land Lily’s never known existed. A land where Lily not only discovers her biological family for the first time, but a place where she can make a difference, change people’s lives, and step into the role she’s destined to fulfill.
But first, Lily must admit she’s a witch. Then, she has to acknowledge that the tall, dark, and mysterious man who offers his help is strictly focused on business...at least, for now. When a body turns up dead and the next target is Lily, she must trust her powers and accept the help of her newfound friends. Otherwise, she'll never survive the trials of the magical island tucked far, far away in the frigid waters of Lake Superior.
Welcome to The Isle.
“It’s been confirmed there has been another sighting of The Isle. Nestled against the shores of the frigid Lake Superior, right off the coast of Grand Marais, we have one man who claims he’s seen the mystical island just this past weekend. Still, we’ve no record of any human stepping foot on the—”
“What does she mean by ‘no human’?” I asked, interrupting the radio program. “As opposed to what, aliens?”
My assistant scowled. “Shhh. I’m listening.”
“The Isle is rumored to have all sorts of creatures wandering its lands, traipsing The Forests beside the volcano…”
I tuned out, giving said assistant, Ainsley, a few more minutes to listen before I broke up the party.
When I couldn’t ignore it any longer, I stood and forced myself to take charge. “Okay, can we please shut it off? I can’t listen to this drivel right now. You know I don’t like to be the big, bad boss, Ains, but… this presentation is a big deal. The big deal.”
“But this show is all true,” Ainsley said. “There is an island. You know it.”
“I don’t know it. And this reporter lady is a kook!”
“I want to hear the rest of the program.” Ainsley reached for the radio, gulping the last of her virgin piña colada, a drink she said “added to the ambiance” of her weekly listening session. “Let me keep it on until the ending. Pretty please? I’ll work twenty minutes late and come in twenty minutes early tomorrow.”
“But you know the end of the show. You listen to it every week.”
“I like it.”
“You’re really telling me you believe there’s an island with magical powers nobody has ever seen? You know all these people she interviews are lying, right?”
“Ana is not lying.”
Anastasia, the host of the show, reminded me of Luna Lovegood and her belief in all things Nargles. Long blond hair, hippie skirts, big round eyes, and a belief in the unusual.
“I’m not saying Ana is a liar. I’m just saying she’s—”
“Different? What’s wrong with different?” Ainsley sat back, displaying arms streaked with tattoos and a rainbow head of hair. “Huh?”
“Nothing.” I lifted my hand from the radio. “Fine. Twenty more minutes, but I’m going for a walk. I have to get in the right mindset for tomorrow. Then shut it off, please. You’re making my job difficult.”
“I try.” Ainsley smiled, giving me a wink as she held her pink piña colada straw between her teeth and turned up the volume.
As Ana’s voice filled the room with her theories on witches and wizards, trolls and fairies, and sorts of creatures that didn’t—and could never—exist, I took off down the hallway, taking long, deep breaths.
At Lions Marketing, Inc., my official title was Senior Director of Marketing, though I was only twenty-six years old. I’d been promoted four times in as many years and wore many hats: Excel ninja, spreadsheet guru, coffee-maker extraordinaire. But after four years of grueling labor with long hours and little pay, tomorrow was my time to do or die.
After a lengthy stroll around the office, I ended up back at my desk. Shutting down my computer, I twisted my necklace into knots before I hurried out to my car, distracted by thoughts of the looming presentation.
If I aced this presentation, Lions Marketing was looking at an additional five million dollars of revenue by the end of this year, with the potential for more to come. Not only would that put us in the black for the first time, but it would line me up for my next big promotion.
If it went terribly wrong…
I didn’t want to think about that.
As I drove home, I told myself I’d practiced so many times, nothing could go wrong.
But somehow, I wasn’t convinced.
I clicked my pencil once.
Standing with a sigh, I stretched my neck in a slow roll, cracked my knuckles for good measure, then strolled around the conference room and tried not to look nervous.
Where is everyone?
Stopping in front of the floor-to-ceiling window, I pretended to stare at the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis. But instead of seeing the buildings, I double-checked my hair, which I’d done up in a tight bun for today’s special occasion. My makeup, though minimal, remained intact, and there were no coffee stains on my white shirt. Overall, a success.
Except for one thing.
I shuffled, for the zillionth time, through my sheaf of papers and flicked through one slide after the next. I’d thought of nothing except this presentation for the last three weeks, and frankly, I wondered if I might be going a bit crazy. These slides appeared in my dreams. They haunted my shower thoughts. The grocery clerk had heard at least six percent of my presentation while I checked out last night.
My mind drifted as I scanned the surrounding tall buildings, the mini concrete jungle of the downtown Twin Cities. I loved the hustle and bustle through the skyways, the whoosh of city bus exhaust pipes, the meetings of strangers day in and day out.
Then all of a sudden, a flash in the distance caught my eye. At first glance, it looked as if a bolt of lightning had struck ground just outside the city limits. Leaning closer to the window, my nose nearly touching the glass, I squinted, trying to see if, in fact, a storm was a-brewing.
“Uh, boss?” Ainsley knocked on the door and poked her head in the room as I jumped backward, self-consciously brushing off my fanciest pencil skirt. I wore one white blouse and had brought another to the office today, just in case. She raised her eyebrows, her messy bun bobbing along with her head. A tattoo peeked out on her shoulder. “Everything okay? You know, if you’re considering jumping from the building instead of giving your presentation, there’s an easier way. The roof doesn’t have windows.”
I scrunched my nose. “That’s enough. Not now, Ainsley. The clients will be here any minute.”
“Loosen up.” Ainsley took a few steps into the room, adjusting her stylish leather jacket. “You’re way too uptight. I’ve never seen anyone prepare more for anything. You’ve got this presentation down. Remember last week when I caught you sleeping at your desk?”
I nodded. I’d worked into the wee hours of the morning making sure the graphics of my PowerPoint were spot on. Around three or four, I must have nodded off, because the next thing I knew, Ainsley was making fun of an odd glob of drool on my desk while handing me a cup of coffee.
“Yeah, well, you were reciting it in your sleep.” She handed me a slip of paper. “So relax, okay, boss? You got this.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Ains, I appreciate it.”
“Whatever.” She turned and left without a glance back.
Ainsley, a whirlwind of tattoos, piercings, and colorful hair, had stumbled into the position of my secretary years before. I’d originally hired her as a favor to my own boss, but when she proved to be whip smart and insanely creative, I not only kept her on, I promoted her and did everything in my power to keep her around.
We were polar opposites. My hair was jet black and fastened in a tight chignon, and I wore black and gray and white almost exclusively. I had not a tattoo in sight, and I’d never even considered highlighting my hair. But I liked her because she wasn’t afraid to tell me when I was being crazy.
Except—I wasn’t crazy.
Where were they?
Remembering the slip of paper in my hand, I glanced down, expecting it to be a memo that the group was running late. Rush-hour traffic had held up more than one client meeting, so I wouldn’t be surprised, except… it wasn’t a note from Ainsley.
It was a quiz. Some sort of strange, bizarro magic test.
“What in the world?” I read the note once, twice, three times. I walked across the room and opened the door then shouted down the hall, “Ainsley? What is this?”
Ainsley, however, was long gone—probably out for a smoke break.
One more glance around the lobby told me the client hadn’t yet arrived. I reread my presentation one more time, but even in my head I was beginning to sound like a cardboard cutout. I turned my attention to Ainsley’s note and found myself shaking my head.
This must be her idea of a joke, something to get me to loosen up so I’d be more go with the flow for the meeting. It was sweet, in Ainsley’s unique style.
I clicked my pencil once more and doodled in the corner while I read the quiz.
Magic Assessment for Normal Folks
Have you ever found yourself wondering if you are a witch? If so, now is your chance to find out in ten easy questions!
Have you experienced one (or more) strange happenings that are impossible to explain with science?
*No, I’m a completely boring fuddy-duddy, and nothing interesting happens
*Yes, but I pretend it didn’t happen
What color are your knickers?
*Get out of town, they’re called underwear.
*Why wear underwear, anyway?
Did you wash your socks this week?
*I’m a barefoot beauty
Do you believe in magic?
*Duh, I’m a witch
*Magic is nonsense
The questions continued, all just as silly as the first few. Ainsley had succeeded in getting a smile out of me, I thought as I skimmed the rest of the article. But she’d forgotten a key, or a point system, or some way to tally my answers.
I circled random responses, as outrageous as I could get, planning to tuck it under Ainsley’s keyboard to show her that I had a sense of humor, and I wasn’t a total fuddy-duddy.
But when I got to the bottom, one of the lines caught me off guard.
** ** Surprise** **
If you can read this quiz, you are a witch. To everyone else, this piece of paper looks like a picture of David Hasselhoff in a polka-dot bikini.
So congratulations! You have magic in your blood. We’ll be in touch soon!
** ** Sincerely, Members of The Isle ** **
My pencil hovered over the page.
“Clever girl,” I muttered. Even Ainsley’s jokes were witty, not the average “tape-the-bottom-of-your-mouse” prank. I’d have to get her back good for this one…
My blood froze as someone cleared their throat behind me and an unfamiliar voice said, “Ms. Locke?”
I turned to see a dapper gentleman looking uber-professional in an expensive suit, tie, and polished shoes extend his hand. His eyes glanced toward the witchy quiz on the table before sliding back to mine.
“Hello, Mr. Davenport, it’s good to finally meet you in person. I’m Lily, Lily Locke.” I gestured toward the table where the paper sat in clear view, my cheeks warm with a furious blush. “My assistant thought she’d play a cute joke on me.”
“Cute?” A woman appeared next to Mr. Davenport. She too wore an expensive, form-fitting business suit and high heels that stated elegant. “I consider that rude. David Hasselhoff, didn’t he go to rehab? And why on earth is he wearing that bathing suit? He must be drunk again.”
My mind went blank. “Excuse me? David…”
“Your photo.” The woman sniffed. “I’d have my secretary fired if she considered something like that humorous.”
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled at her stuffy tone. Whether or not Ainsley should have tried to lighten the mood, the woman didn’t need such an attitude. Ains hadn’t meant any harm.
“She was just trying to make me smile,” I said. “It’s a joke quiz.”
“Quiz?” The woman furrowed her brow. “That’s not a quiz. It’s a raunchy photo. I’m all for a joke, but this…”
Mr. Davenport glanced at the photo, but he looked away just as fast. The tinge of red in his ears told me he was embarrassed by whatever he’d seen. He ran a hand through his gray hair. “Well, should we begin?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” I said, relieved.
I flipped the quiz over, still wondering how on earth Ainsley had pulled off that trick. I’d really need to have a word with her. A pretend quiz was one thing, but a rude photo that offended our potential clients was another entirely.
I focused on the presentation, pushing the odd events out of my mind. Grabbing water and coffee for everyone, I waited as another six or seven people filtered into the conference room. Eventually, my boss arrived as well and gave me a curt nod, his face stern as usual.
I nodded back, my nerves ramping up. Taking a couple deep breaths, I paused before holding up the clicker for the presentation.
“Welcome, and thank you for coming this morning.” I remembered to smile at the last minute, forcing myself to remain loose as Ainsley had cautioned. My fingers trembled slightly as I depressed the button to begin the first slide.
“Here at Lions Marketing, we provide the best, the most thorough, the most effective strategies in the industry. As our name suggests, we are the king of the marketing jungle, and…” My voice faltered as I glanced from one face to the next.
Not a single person was paying attention to me.
My first slide didn’t contain anything interesting on it, nothing at all except for our company name and logo—a roaring lion. Yet everyone was staring with rapt attention at the screen. As if it were David Hasselhoff in a polka-dot bikini.
My boss’s mouth hung open in an unflattering manner, which most certainly meant bad news. He looked surprised. And shocked. My boss was never surprised. I’d once told him a tornado had touched down five minutes away, and he hadn’t flinched.
Sensing something had gone terribly, terribly wrong, I made a slow turn until I faced the screen. Then my face fell slack. I dropped the clicker. And I squinted.
“What is that?” I asked in a hushed tone.
On the screen, what should have been our logo had completely disappeared. Er, sort of disappeared. The lion from our logo looked as if it’d come to life in a 2-D image, prancing around the screen, opening its mouth in silent roars, swishing its tail.
“Is this another joke?” The stuffy woman crossed her arms, but I didn’t sense as much hostility. More curiosity than anything else.
Join the club. I had no idea what was happening on the slide, and curiosity didn’t begin to explain it.
“No, uh, we here at Lions Marketing are all about new, out-of-the-box, forward-thinking marketing.” My boss stood, giving me a quick glare before putting on his “business hat” and facing the clients.
How he remained so calm, so collected, I had no idea. I was quivering in my knock-off boots.
“Do tell,” the woman said. “I don’t understand.”
“It captured your attention, did it not?” My boss gestured to the screen where, at the moment, the lion had apparently decided to take a leak on the company name.
I winced. Poor time for a bathroom break.
“We will catch your consumer’s eye like nobody before. I can guarantee that our tactics are on the cutting edge of the industry. Studies in China right now are proving that this sort of viral marketing is what’s new and hot.” My boss gave me another quick glare.
Lucky thing he was there, because I’d never have come up with that fake China study. That was probably the same reason he was my boss, and I was one of many minions below him.
“Interesting,” Mr. Davenport said, taking over for his female counterpart. “And how do you see this helping us?”
“Well, I will let Lily move on with her presentation. I know she has a wonderful explanation ready for you with plenty of numbers and graphs. Right?” My boss turned to me. “Lily?”
“Right.” I jumped to attention. “Next.”
I clicked the clicker but immediately regretted the move. Instead of advancing the slide, the click seemed to only anger the cartoonish lion. Lions Marketing’s logo turned toward us with an all-too-realistic expression and roared at the crowd.
Except this time, the animal wasn’t silent.
I felt the breeze, smelled the breath from the lion as the roar nearly deafened the room.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said, clicking the clicker once more.
This time, the click enlarged the lion’s figure. He grew to half the size of the screen, his roars growing louder and louder.
“Lily, what is this?” My boss’s tone was furious. In his defense, he had a pretty good reason to be upset.
“I don’t know! This isn’t my PowerPoint. I’ve gone through this a million times, you’ve seen me,” I said with a horrified glance at my boss. “I don’t know what’s happening or how to get rid of it.”
“Shut it off.” My boss’s tone was clipped, and I was sure that neither he nor I missed the raised eyebrows of Ms. Stuffy Bottoms in the corner.
“I’m trying!” But every time I clicked the power button, the lion grew larger, roared louder, and altogether became more animated.
“I’m leaving.” Ms. Stuffy Bottoms stood, nodding at Mr. Davenport. “I do not enjoy the idea of threatening my target audience with our marketing.”
“It’s not what you think, it’s…” I raised and lowered my shoulders, unable to explain it.
“A joke?” The woman raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure if that’s better or worse, but either way, I won’t tolerate it. I’m sorry, but I have a lot of money at stake, and with this sort of showing, I can’t possibly put my money in your hands.”
Mr. Davenport followed the woman without question. On the way out, his eyes met my boss’s gaze, and he murmured, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Fred. Maybe next time.”
The rest of the crew filtered out, none of them making eye contact with me, most of them nodding sadly at my boss. When it was just him and me left, I limply raised one hand.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened.” I looked at the floor. “Er… are you going to say something?”
My boss’s silence bordered on murderous.
I cleared my throat. “You know, I never knew your name was Fred, Mr. Roberts.”
I had no idea where that observation had come from, or why it’d just popped out of my mouth. My legs trembled, my fingers shook, tears pricked my eyes—all signs my nerves were shot. Apparently that toyed with my ability to say appropriate things.
“Get your things.” Mr. Roberts’s voice rumbled throughout the room with a menacing tone I hadn’t known he possessed. “You’re fired.”
I hung my head. Ainsley would’ve fought back, argued that it wasn’t her fault. Part of me wanted to lash out at Fred, tell him this wasn’t my PowerPoint, that someone had screwed with me, played an unfair joke that had gone sour. Maybe it was Leslie from down the hall—she’d been angling for my job for a while. Or Sarah from one floor up—she’d been hankering for a promotion for months.
But I couldn’t find it in myself to blame anyone else. I’d put my blood, sweat, and tears into this presentation, and it couldn’t have gone worse. I could barely process what had happened, let alone form cohesive thoughts or argue my point. No, for now, I needed to lick my wounds and figure out what to do next.
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Gina LaManna is the bestselling author of the Lacey Luzzi Mafia Mysteries, The Little Things romantic suspense series, and the Misty Newman Mystery Series. Stop on by and say hello on Facebook! We've got lots of giveaways and an author takeover - coming soon!
Fun facts about Gina: I love cappuccino foam and whipped cream. I would live off sprinkles if possible. I have one imaginary dog. Laughing is my favorite :)