Shifter In The Swamp, book 1 of Academy of Necessary Magic, releases Jan. 24! Read the sneak peek below then look for it on Amazon tomorrow!
I’m never gonna be able to sleep like this.
Amanda Coulier lay in her twin-sized bed in room 228C and stared at the plain white ceiling panels above her. In the low light of her dorm room, those ceiling panels looked more gray than white, studded with rows of tiny black holes. And now her racing mind was forming shapes in all those rows.
A hunting knife.
A flat-bottom airboat that disappeared as soon as she made it out.
That last one made her snort.
Makes it seem like I wanna be back at that cabin with them. Guess that’s all I know about actual combat. Hunting with a bounty hunter.
The twelve-year-old shifter took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh before a slow, eager smile spread across her face. And tomorrow, I get to learn more. In an actual class.
The only thing she knew about the upcoming combat training class was that it started bright and early the next morning. The teachers wouldn’t say anything more than that, and Amanda didn’t think they’d answer her even if she’d bombarded them with all her burning questions.
But it has to be about actual fighting, right? And weapons. What the heck else could it be? This is a dang bounty-hunter school.
That was still what Amanda liked to call it in her mind, though the teachers preferred to refer to this place as The Academy of Necessary Magic. Sometimes just the Academy. They preferred to call stuff around here all kinds of weird names, like they were trying to pretend this place wasn’t exactly what it was. But Amanda knew. She also knew the guy who’d started the school in the first place, with two other bounty hunters who were apparently top-level just like Johnny Walker.
And she was Johnny’s ward, after all. Practically his kid.
Rolling over on her side, she glanced at the digital alarm clock resting on the built-in desk across the room.
After midnight? She puffed out a sigh and flipped onto her back again before rubbing her hands down both cheeks. Jeeze, I should’ve just gone out for a run if I’d known I’d be lying in bed like this for two whole—
A door opened and shut silently.
Amanda sat up and blinked in the darkness. On the second and third floors of the girl’s dorm building—and yeah, Johnny had called these the barracks once or twice—all the other girls were asleep in their beds. Lights Out was at 10:00 p.m., and most of the students at the Academy had figured out just how strictly that rule was enforced. For the most part.
But none of the other girls were shifters like Amanda. None of the boys were, either. So Amanda was the only student in the building who could hear that door open and shut in the middle of the night. Against the rules. When everyone was supposed to be asleep or at least still in their rooms.
She bolted out of bed and walked swiftly and silently on her bare feet to the door. Footsteps echoed up the enclosed staircase at the front of the building—a little louder than the sound of the dorm’s front door but still muffled through at least three walls and two stories.
Not just one pair, either. With wide eyes, Amanda turned her head and pressed her ear against the door of her room. Two people coming up the stairs. Who the heck would try to sneak into the dorms?
Then the muffled timbre of a female voice reached her ears. She rolled her eyes. Great. Principal Glasket. Must be super important if it got her out of her sleep mask.
Smirking, the girl set both hands on the door to steady herself and pressed her ear a little closer.
The squeak of the door to the staircase at the front of the building came through loud and clear. Oddly enough, there were plenty of creaking doors and squeaky hinges and handles or windows that stuck. Which always made Amanda chuckle, because the Academy’s campus was only six weeks old, built brand-new from the bottom up.
I bet Johnny told the builders to do that on purpose. Just to be funny.
The staircase door thumped against the wall of the third-floor hallway, followed quickly by the click of Principal Glasket’s two-inch pumps on the tile floor. “Here we are. Third floor.”
Amanda frowned. Nobody gives a tour at midnight. We don’t even have tours.
A heavy sigh joined Principal Glasket’s steady breathing. “Don’t you guys have elevators here or something?”
Glasket let out an attempt at an empathetic hum. “No, those were left out of the building plans, I’m afraid.”
“But you could just, like, make a magical elevator or something instead.”
“And give every student at this school open access to an elevation charm from the very start? I don’t think so.”
“These stairs are brutal.”
Glasket’s hardly amused chuckled filled the hallway. “If I can walk up and down a few flights of stairs without getting winded, Miss Flannerty, I’m sure you and your much younger body will quickly grow used to it. Come on. Your room’s just down the hall.”
Despite the odd topic of conversation, Amanda’s smile grew even wider.
Her room? Didn’t know this place was taking new students the second official week of classes. Cool.
The two sets of footsteps grew louder as Principal Glasket and this new girl, whoever she was, moved down the hall toward Amanda’s room. Glasket’s sharp clip with her pumps, and the girl’s slow, hesitant shuffle. Probably due to a suitcase or whatever kind of luggage she’d brought with her to her temporary home for the next four and a half months.
Or she’s just slow…
“All right. Here we are.” Glasket stopped across the hall two rooms down from Amanda’s room and drummed her fingers on the door. “233C. This is you.”
“Great…” There was no enthusiasm whatsoever in the one-word statement.
The hallway fell silent, then Glasket smacked her lips. “Well, I gave you the key at the station, so now would be the time to use it. I imagine you could use a good rest after ordeal…today.”
“You don’t have a key?” the girl asked.
“Of course not. This is a magic school, Miss Flannerty. Not prison. Every key on this campus is charmed to work only when the owner is in possession of it. So no swapping or trading or stealing of keys.”
“And you can’t break into my room.”
“Well, I don’t have a key to it. But any of the faculty here could most certainly force entry if there was a good enough reason. I hope you don’t plan on giving us a reason to break down the door of your bedroom.”
“Depends on your definition,” the girl muttered.
Principal Glasket cleared her throat. “What was that?”
But Amanda had heard it. She leaned slightly away from the door and frowned. Whoever she is, it doesn’t sound like she wants to be here. Who wouldn’t want to be here?
The rustling of a hand through a nylon jacket pocket filled the hall, then a key scraped against the lock of the dorm room, and the handle turned.
“There.” Glasket didn’t sound any more amused now that they both knew the new student’s key worked. “Now, let me see. Bathrooms are at the end of the hall here. The first floor is a common area, open for use until Lights Out at ten o’clock. Personal items have a tendency to grow legs and walk off if they’re left in common areas, so if that’s a concern of yours, I recommend keeping all your belongings in your room. Other students are welcome to gather in the common area of either dorm, but the second and third floors of each are not co-ed, so no sneaking boys up into your room and vice versa.”
The new girl snorted. “Yeah, ’cause that’s something I’d actually want.”
“Meals in the outdoor refectory three times a day, as long as the weather permits. The kitchens are off-limits at all hours. So is the faculty building and the west wing of the main building. Classes start at seven-thirty in the morning. You’ll be given your textbooks and whatever required materials in your classes tomorrow. There’s no uniform or official dress code, but we expect all our students to dress appropriately for the weather and their various classes. I gave you your schedule, didn’t I?”
“Good.” Glasket let out a heavy sigh. “Any questions for me now before we turn in?”
“Yeah, just one.” There was a long pause, then the thump of the new girl slinging a duffel bag or a backpack off her shoulder and through the doorway into her new room. “You guys have a three-strike policy too?”
Amanda stepped away from her bedroom door and wrinkled her nose. Going right for the worst-case scenario, huh?
“You know, like detention or being expelled or whatever.”
The principal cleared her throat. “Well I’d like to think you’re coming into this with a little more optimism and would actively try to stay away from racking up any strikes at all, no matter what our policy is.”
“I’m just trying to figure it out.” The new girl must have leaned up against the wall beside her room; the swish of nylon and the soft thump of weight rose all too clearly through Amanda’s door.
“Figure what out, Miss Flannerty?” Now Glasket sounded like she’d rather be anywhere else but right here introducing a new student to the Academy.
Like snuggled up in her bed. I thought she went to sleep at like nine or something.
“Well…” The hint of amusement in the new girl’s voice was all too clear, and Amanda forced herself not to open the door just to see whether the girl smirked like she imagined. “I mean, I hit my limit at the last place, so I got shipped off and sent here. So if anyone strikes out here, do they get shipped off to like a workcamp or something? Or is this the last stop?”
“By last stop, you’re referring to…”
“Like Juvie without the classes or something. I don’t know. But I guess that’s pretty much what this place is anyway, right?”
“Or did you guys build a brand-new prison for underage magicals somewhere in this dump too?”
Amanda’s eyes widened, and she stifled a surprised laugh.
Holy crap. She’s really pushing it.
When the hallway fell tensely silent one more time, she leaned toward the door again and listened intently.
Principal Glasket sighed, and the click of one footstep followed. “I realize this is a big change for you. I do. And the circumstances of you coming to this school were less than ideal.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“I’m not going to answer that question, Miss Flannerty, because it just doesn’t warrant one. If you do the work, focus on your classes and on learning what you’re here to learn instead of looking for shortcuts—”
“Oh, that’s what they’re calling it, huh?”
“—then you’ll do just fine,” Glasket continued, ignoring the sarcastic interruption. “We wouldn’t have accepted you into this school if we didn’t believe you have the potential to be more than what you’ve shown so far. There’s really no point in trying to prove us wrong.”
The girl scoffed but didn’t have any new comeback for that.
“I’m going to go to bed now,” the principal added. “And you should do the same. Get as much sleep in as you can before wakeup at five forty-five—”
“Are you freaking kidding me?”
“There are other students sleeping on this floor, Miss Flannerty. Please keep your voice down.”
“What kind of insane person wakes up before six in the morning? Ever?”
Two quick clicking footsteps, then Principal Glasket lowered her voice into a warning sternness. “Let me make this perfectly clear to you right now. This is a school for magicals just like you who are here to learn and hone their talents in any variety of magical disciplines, whatever they happen to be. Just like the other schools around this world—”
“Not just like the other schools.”
“Whatever you might have heard, Miss Flannerty, I suggest you put your preconceived judgments of this place aside and focus on learning.”
Another long pause followed.
When Principal Glasket spoke again, Amanda could practically see the witch’s tight grimace of a smile as clearly as she heard it in the woman’s voice. “You spent a year at the School of Necessary Magic. You’re used to their rules and regulations, their teaching methods, and the way they discipline their students. Maybe you’re even a little too familiar with that last one. But believe me when I say we run things differently here at the Academy. So if you’re already intent on pushing the envelope here too, go right ahead. In my opinion, that’s taking what seems like the easy way out just to learn the same lessons the hard way. But if you have to answer your own questions through personal experience, then that’s your prerogative. Good night.”
Without waiting for a reply, Glasket headed back down the hallway toward the closed staircase, her pumps clicking harshly across the tyle floor. The squeaky door opened, then closed again, and the principal’s echoing footsteps faded down to the first floor of the dorm.
Blinking quickly, Amanda stepped away from her own door and huffed out a quiet, disbelieving chuckle.
And I thought Glasket was done showing her angry side after the first month at this place.
Out in the hall, the new girl sighed in disgust, walked into her room, and shut the door. Not quite a slam but not exactly quite, either.
Amanda waited and listened, but everything was quiet again.
Someone from the School of Necessary Magic got sent here? Before the second week of school? Jeeze. She must’ve screwed up pretty badly.
Turning slowly around to face her bed, she chewed on the inside of her bottom lip. It was after midnight. She was used to waking up early. Even before everything that had happened that spring, before meeting Johnny and going to stay with him and the hounds, she’d been waking up before six on a regular basis because that was what her parents did too.
A hard lump formed in her throat, and she swallowed.
Waking up early for a hunt in the swamp is a heck of a lot better than waking up early just to read the paper.
The girl glanced at her alarm clock again—12:24 a.m.
Definitely time to sleep.
With a determined nod, she approached the side of her bed, turned around, and sat.
The second her backside touched the mattress and she looked up at the door, the energy that had kept her up this late thinking about Combat Training in the morning flared through her again. Only now, she’d be wide-awake even longer just thinking about this new student across the hall who’d gotten kicked out of magic school.
Closing her eyes, Amanda took a deep breath and counted to ten, her fingers absently drumming along on her thighs.
Time to chill out and go to sleep. Relax. Chill…
Her eyes flew open, and she popped up off the bed to her feet.
Screw it. If I’m gonna be awake, might as well go see who the heck this new girl is.