Lily Albright can see the future, and it looks like hell.
In an England on the brink of war, Lily is plagued by visions of the cataclysmic destruction of London. An ancient prophecy is coming to fruition, and it starts with the gruesome discovery of a corpse in the sewers.
To save her city, Lily must untangle a web of conspiracy and violence. She'll need the help of all of her fellow Charismatics—the men and women who know "the impossible things". That includes the enigmatic Lord Strangford, whose ability to see into the darkest corners of Lily's soul threatens to tear their relationship apart.
From the gutters of the Limehouse to the champagne-soaked ballrooms of St. John's Wood, Lily races to expose a plot that could bring the British empire to its knees. But changing fate and preventing an apocalypse will put Lily's charismatic powers to the ultimate test.
The London Charismatics continues with another historical fantasy full of deadly mystery and arcane powers. Pick up The Shadow of Water and return to the dark, mystical streets of Edwardian England.
"Another eloquently written, captivating book in the series."– Amazon Reviewer
"This was such an intense read! I'm hooked on this series."– Goodreads Reviewer
"The writing is evocative of the era, well written and sets a cracking pace."– Kobo Reviewer
"The writing is evocative of the era, well written and sets a cracking pace."a ONE
Tuesday, July 28, 1914
Outside Boughton-under-Blean, Kent
Crouched behind a hedge, Lily Albright tried to know when the most dangerous cargo in England would come rattling up the road.
The grass was long and dry, seed-heads tickling the back of her neck. Crickets buzzed, the only other sound besides the whisper of the field. The Kentish countryside sprawled around her, rolling pastures lined with hedgerows and dotted with gnarled oak trees. She could smell the sea, the briny scent of it carrying to her from the marshes a couple of miles away.
A gull wheeled lazily overhead.
Sweat beaded on her skin. She was dressed in twill trousers and a light wool jacket, the ensemble she wore when riding her Triumph motorbike. It was more practical for an ambush than a linen lawn dress but somewhat less comfortable in a summer heat wave.
The road was visible through a gap in the tangled hedge of wild plums and brambles. It was a country lane, barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other without pulling into the ditch. The dirt and gravel surface was dry and prone to dust. Clouds of it had drifted over her twice since she had hidden herself here earlier that morning.
Both times something had driven by, Lily had been twisted into knots of anxiety.
She knew she was only a failsafe. The more reliable source of warning that their target was approaching sat beside her in the form of a wooden box, a makeshift telephone wired to a watch post a half mile up the road.
In some ways, the box was a rebuke. It shouldn't have been necessary. Knowing the difference between the vehicle they waited for and some farmer on his tractor shouldn't have been a tall order for someone who could see the future.
Then again, Lily's powers had never been very reliable.
Her visions weren't obedient pets that came when she called them. They surfaced or not as they pleased. One might pop up during tea with the gory details of a shipwreck that would take place three weeks later. Another might wake her from sleep, drowning her in a sea of obscure symbols that only made sense months later when the disaster they represented came to pass.
Lily mostly foresaw disasters.
It was only over the last few months that she had started to seek her power out instead of desperately avoiding or ignoring it. Her mentor, Robert Ash, had warned her that her clairvoyance would never answer to her beck and call, but he believed she could learn to tune in to more information than the horrors that forced their way into her awareness. With training, practice and patience, she might routinely pick up on knowledge from a little further down the timeline—not just a parade of awfulness but information that could actually be helpful or useful.
Lily knew Ash wasn't promising the impossible. She had experienced that just-before awareness once. It had been exhilarating. Knowing the next move of an enemy—what step he would take, which way he would turn—had felt as natural in that moment as looking before crossing the street. Her body had sung with the awareness, resonating like it had been waiting for this all her life.
Then it was gone.
She hadn't come by it honestly. The moment was a stolen glimpse of what she might be able to do someday if she worked at it long and hard enough.
Since March, she had been practicing diligently, facing the early mornings, the tedious exercises, the piles of reading.
There had been glimpses of progress, little flashes of success, but they were rare enough to feel like chance.
Finally, even Ash had admitted that Lily was not progressing as well as he might have hoped.
"You have spent years building up your defenses," he said. "It should not surprise me that rote methods of study are incapable of breaking them down. I believe that for you to truly open to your own potential, we must raise the stakes."
After that, her regular exercises and practice were interspersed with wild challenges. Most of them ended in some combination of failure, physical discomfort and humiliation.
Lily rubbed at the flecks of paint stuck to her hand. Bruises dotted her back under her jacket. The marks were evidence of last evening's training session.
It had not gone particularly well.
The stakes today couldn't be higher. The cargo Lily was here to intercept had already caused untold suffering.
If it got past her, it might inflict a far more terrible damage.
The mission was too important to risk on the fickleness of her power.
A sheep pasture sprawled behind her, the summer grass chewed down to tufts. The flock was gathered in a woolly cluster by the gate that opened onto the lane. It was not an unusual sight in the late afternoon when a farmer might be arriving any minute to lead his livestock in for the night. At least, it seemed normal enough until one looked closer and noted that the gate was already swung wide open.
Not a single hoof crossed the line from the field to the road. The sheep waited on the verge with uncanny patience.
Knowing why the animals remained in place didn't stop the goosebumps from racing over her arms. No matter how many times she witnessed it, Sam Wu's power still unsettled her.
Sam looked suspiciously like he was napping. The tall, dark-haired young man slouched against the tumbled remnants of a stone wall, his flat cap pulled down to shade his face. Lily was tempted to give his lanky form a prod with her walking stick. Doing so would unleash a stream of East End invective that reflected nothing of his Chinese heritage, but at least Lily would be far enough away to avoid Sam knocking her with a stray fist.
Sam Wu's social status was almost as ambiguous as Lily's. Was he Robert Ash's chauffeur or another of his students? Servant or pupil? She had been around for months now and she still wasn't sure she knew how to answer that question.
Lily had made up her mind about Sam's role in her own life early on.
"I ain't sleeping," her friend muttered lowly, arms crossed comfortably over his chest.
"I didn't say you were," Lily countered in a low whisper.
"I could feel them daggers you were looking. Just making myself comfortable. You might try it yourself."
Lily didn't respond. She returned her attention to the road, forcefully ignoring the ache in her legs. She didn't want to make herself comfortable. She needed to be ready to leap into action. There was no telling how much warning they would have before they had to act.
Probably very little.
The hum of insects was joined by a low, distant rumble. Lily zeroed in on the sound. It drew closer and distinguished itself as the noise of an engine.
Her heart began to hammer. She looked to the makeshift telephone in the wooden box that sat between her and Sam.
A whiz with all things mechanical, Sam had rigged it up in the garage the day before, demonstrating how the bell inside could be rung by spinning a winder in its sister contraption up the road.
"The winder takes an extra few seconds to charge the magneto, but it'll be more reliable than a battery," Sam had said. "The last three I bought could barely hold a charge."
Even a battery was more reliable than Lily's knowledge of the future.
The rumble of the engine came closer. The wooden box remained silent.
However much Lily doubted her effectiveness, she would try to play her role in this. She took a deep breath and recalled her training.
Stop thinking. Ignore your mind's attempts to analyze. Focus inward. Listen to what lies inside the silence. Accept knowledge instead of grasping for facts.
The vehicle was getting closer.
She listened to the silence. It distinctly lacked any ringing telephone bells.
Her concentration shattered as a mud-splattered diesel tractor rumbled into view. It rolled slowly past her, towing a cart full of baled hay.
She sat back in the grass, ignoring the way it itched at her exposed skin.
"You can keep your block on," Sam said. "They ain't going to be here for at least another hour."
"You don't know that."
"Lambeth to Kent's a sixty mile run, and what proper courier ain't going to pop off for a bit of nosh along the way?"
"This is a military transport," Lily countered.
Still sprawled comfortably on the grass, Sam shrugged.
"Bloke still needs to eat."
Lily couldn't share Sam's complacency. She comforted herself with the thought of their friend Dr. Gardner crouched somewhere up the road, his hand on the crank of Sam's telephone. Gardner was big, solid, and steady. He would fulfill his part of their plan. Their success wouldn't depend on Lily.
She went back to her training, ignoring the pang of the bruises she'd earned with her failure the night before.
Feel, don't think.
She cycled it through her mind like a mantra until she became one with the whisper of the grass against her hands, the heat of the sun beating down on her through her coat.
Insects chirped. A blackbird fluttered onto the branch of the plum tree woven into the hedge in front of her.
Feel don't think.
Deep inside of her something started to resonate like the hollow tone after a bell had already rung.
"It's coming," she said evenly, feeling the truth of the words vibrate through to her fingertips.
She wanted to take it back as soon as the words had left her mouth. No sound broke the quiet of the pasture, not so much as the clod of a pair of hooves. The makeshift telephone beside her was silent. Sam was likely right about the drive taking longer. He was a chauffeur. He would know the timing better than anyone.
The outburst was the whim of a moment. It would ruin everything.
Sam peered at her from beneath the brim of his cap. Then he flipped to his feet with cat-like grace.
"The bell hasn't rung," Lily whispered urgently, doubt twisting her into knots.
Sam looked down, his lean frame silhouetted by the glare of the midday sun.
"Machines break. Wires can be cut. Is it coming or not?"
The knowing pulsed through her, bone-deep, urgent with need.
"Yes," she hissed, forcing out the word.
Sam adjusted his cap. He strode over to where the flock of sheep lingered by the open pasture gate.
The animals circled around him, nudging soft pink noses into his hands, shaking their fleecy tails. Sam bent down, whispering into their ears, scratching and stroking their wool.
The flock trotted out into the lane. They turned there in eddies and little collisions, the smallest ones running in circles and letting out an occasional cry of excitement.
The chaos resolved itself into a barrier of sheep six rows deep, facing uniformly east, at which point the animals went still.
Their eyes were on the road. Waiting.
Sam plopped back down beside her.
"What if I'm wrong?" she asked quietly.
"Then we're about to bowl over some clodhopper," Sam replied.
An engine coughed in the distance.