Plagued by a war between magic and technology, Atlanta has never been so deadly. Good thing Kate Daniels is on the job.
Kate Daniels may have quit the Order of Merciful Aid, but she’s still knee-deep in paranormal problems. Or she would be if she could get someone to hire her. Starting her own business has been more challenging than she thought it would be now that the Order is disparaging her good name, and many potential clients are afraid of getting on the bad side of the Beast Lord, who just happens to be Kate’s mate.
So when Atlanta’s premier Master of the Dead calls to ask for help with a vampire on the loose, Kate leaps at the chance of some paying work. Turns out this is not an isolated incident, and Kate needs to get to the bottom of it fast, or the city and everyone dear to her might pay the ultimate price.
Welcome to the Reader’s Court of Literary Grievances
The courtroom was alive with the buzz of conversation. Today’s case had drawn so many spectators that it was standing room only. Behind the judge’s bench, high on the wall, hung an unimposing, standard-issue clock. As its hands ticked down the minutes, the excitement in the room rose and the buzz of the crowd slowly turned into a low level roar.
Fifteen minutes before start-time it was so loud that people had to raise their voices when speaking to their neighbors or risk losing their words to the cacophony that reverberated around them. Every now and then shouting could be heard ringing out over the din, another die-hard fangirl losing their temper in one of the many heated debates that were taking place.
“How can you even say that?!” one woman screamed. “Anita Blake could wipe the floor with Mercy Thompson.”
“Oh yeah?” another chorused. “Well Rachel Morgan is ademon. She could drag Anita into the ever after and leave her there to rot!”
“She’d just screw her way out!” yet another joined in.
And so it continued. At one point a scuffle even broke out near the rear doors but luckily it was quickly broken up before it could escalate into a full blown brawl. With the energy level of the room hovering around frenetic, all it would take was one stray punch for the crowd to implode.
At precisely three o’clock, a door on the empty side of the bar swung open and those assembled began to fall silent. The first person to appear was the bailiff, a towering man with cold, dark eyes that scanned the crowd as he moved towards his post. Following him were the court clerk, the court reporter and finally, swathed in billowing black robes, the judge. He was not what most of the spectators expected. He was…young. He was handsome too, with broad shoulders, dark hair cut close to his head and gray eyes that seemed to glow with some sort of inner power. Those eyes swept the crowd much as the bailiff’s had and the individuals they fell upon seemed to cower beneath his gaze.
Once he was fully ensconced behind the bench, more people filed in through the side door. These were dressed in expensive looking suits and seemed to wear similar expressions on their faces; a mix of supreme confidence and utter boredom. Only the thin bands of sweat on their upper lips or the nervous twitching of a hand gave away their true feelings. As much as they’d like to pretend otherwise, this was not just another court case.
These new arrivals took their seats behind the two desks that faced the judge and began to open briefcases and shuffle through papers as they talked amongst themselves. Behind them, the crowd was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It was as though the collective was holding its breath for something.
The last person to enter the room was a woman of medium height and medium build with light brown hair pulled back off her face. This was clearly what the crowd had been waiting for. As soon as they caught sight of her, they erupted, some hurling angry words and threats and others rising up to shout them down in between cheering her as she sauntered over to her seat, a smirk splitting her face.
“Order! Order!” the judge roared, his deep voice echoing throughout the marble and stone room so that it seemed he’d spoken the words three times. Something in his tone brooked no argument and the crowd fell into a low level grumbling and then finally back into silence. Those who snuck glances at him quickly looked away, unnerved by the way his eyes seemed to flash under the electric lights.
Taking advantage of the moment, the bailiff stepped forward and spoke into the hush. “Today we’re here to rule on The People versus Cory in the Case of the Most Badass Heroine.”
And so it began. It was the trial they’d been waiting for, the one that would decide it all. Cory’s case was a good one and her lawyers well versed in both Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. They knew the standards, knew the tropes and the themes and they’d spent months preparing for this. Preparing to prove, once and for all, that Kate Daniels was the most badass main character to ever grace the pages of a book.
The prosecution was equally stacked. Among their papers were innumerable quotes spoken by the many heroines that made up their client list. They had weapon inventories, outfit inventories and even in one case…a boyfriend inventory. They had pages and pages of descriptive paragraphs detailing fight scenes, magical badassery, heartbreak and heroism. It would be a tough trial.
“Will the prosecution please begin its opening statement,” the bailiff ordered.
In response, a tall man with thinning grey hair moved sinuously up out of his seat and strode towards the center of the room, placing himself in full view of both the judge and the crowd. He turned towards his audience with a smile that could have sold souls to the devil himself.
“My job is not to disprove Kate Daniels being a badass,” he began.
From her seat behind the defense table, Cory watched him like a hawk. As he continued to speak, his low, soothing voice ringing out through the room, she realized he was good. He was really good. Listening to him wax poetic about the preponderance of evidence and the impossibility of decisively placing a single character above all others would have made almost anyone nervous.
Not her. You see, she knew every single one of his clients. Had known them for years in fact. She knew their dirty little secrets, their hidden agendas and most importantly, their weaknesses. And she and her lawyers were prepared to use it all against them.
When the prosecutor was done with his statement, the head of her defense stood and strode to the same spot that her enemy had just occupied. Cory knew the speech she was about to deliver by heart, she’d helped write it.
“Kate Daniels, is a badass. This is irrefutable,” her lawyer began. For the next three minutes she laid out their case in broad terms, citing numerous sources to include sales statistics, critical reviews and ratings on book related websites. It was a good speech and the crowd, which had started whispering almost the moment she opened her mouth, slowly fell silent over the course of it. By the end more than a few were nodding along in agreement.
The trial lasted three days. Evidence was submitted and poured over in excruciating detail, experts were brought in followed by critics. At the end of the second day a psychologist even spoke, and he seemed to think everyone involved in the trial was in dire need of his services. On the final day, it was the witnesses’ turns. It was these men and women that made the case electric, emotional and absolutely unpredictable. One woman, called to the stand for the prosecution, broke down in tears halfway through questioning by the defense.
“I just don’t understand why she had to sleep with so many men the way she did. I would have been fine if she had just owned up to her behavior but nooooo, she blamed it on the Ardeur. I hate her now!” she sobbed.
“I understand,” Cory’s lawyer smiled kindly, barely masking the predatory gleam in her eye. And therein lay the genius of their defense. For who hadn’t been irritated at one point or another while reading about their favorite heroines? Who hadn’t thought they’d acted too-stupid-to-live? Who wasn’t still angry about it on some level? What Cory knew was that the number of times she’d felt this way about Kate Daniels was a fraction of a fraction of the number she had for the prosecution’s clients. She knew that the amount of other readers that felt this same way might very well win them this case and so her lawyers were vicious in their cross examination of the witnesses.
Closing arguments took place at the end of the third day. The same snake of a man that gave the opening statement for the prosecution spoke again, addressing the judge this time, instead of the crowd. There was no jury here today; the decision would come down to the imposing man that had ruled over the past days of proceedings with a solemn face and a quiet dignity.
“Your honor,” he began. “Has the defense proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Kate Daniels is the most badass of the badass?”
Cory had to stifle her urge to snort. She listened along with the crowd as this man rehashed all the evidence that supported not that one of his clients was more badass than Kate but that the defense had failed to prove that Kate was the most badass.
When he was finished a few people in the crowd even clapped and for the first time Cory felt a stab of worry. But then her lawyer was standing from her chair, striding confidently to the center of the room. She turned not to face the judge, but the crowd.
“We’ve all been together in this room the last three days. We know what’s taken place. We know that there is one character that reigns supreme over all others and we know that her name is Kate Daniels so in closing I’d like to site just one more quote and it’s the quote heard round the paranormal world. The one that made us arch an eyebrow, crack a smile. It’s the one that alluded to there being a new badass in town and that she was everything we’d been wishing for.” Here she paused for dramatic effect and Cory’s eyes swept out over the crowd. They were on the edge of their seats, their faces rapt as they waited for her lawyer to speak again. Finally she did, whispering in a low, sing song voice “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”
No sooner had she taken her seat than the javelin dropped. “The court rules in favor of the defendant,” the judge spoke in the same monotone he’d been using the past three days. The courtroom erupted in reaction, the prosecution shooting to their feet to protest, the crowd behind them mostly cheering but with pockets contention erupting here and there.
As her lawyers shook hands and patted each other on the back, Cory turned away and pretended to pack up some papers, her eyes straying to the judge as he gathered himself to leave. Beneath her breath, so quiet that someone standing next to her wouldn’t even be able to hear the words, she whispered “Nice dye job, Your Majesty.” The judge turned to go as though he had all the time in the world but Cory could have sworn she caught the hint of a smile playing upon his lips.