Hi peeps! We have T.J. Nichols stopping by today with his upcoming release Lucifer’s Litigator, we have a brilliant guest post and a great excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! ❤️ ~Pixie~
To save his soul, he’ll have to fix his one regret—the love that got away.
The summer between the end of school and the start of what came next was full of sun, surf, and sex. For Will McLeod, that meant Tom, his first male lover. He knew the romance had an expiration date and would end when Tom joined the Army, but that didn’t stop Will from falling in love.
Tired of being looked down upon for being poor, Will became a lawyer—but not just any lawyer. He litigates for the gods as they gamble with the lives of those desperate enough to make deals. His job is to make sure they don’t slip free. He has more money than he knows what to do with, but he’s fast running out of soul.
Twenty-five years haven’t dimmed the candle Will holds for Tom, and when they meet again, he has a chance to put things right. Back then, Tom wasn’t ready to fight for them. Now the decorated soldier is willing to get his hands dirty, but will he be a match for the forces trying to keep them apart?
.•.•.**❣️ Dreamspinner | Amazon US | Amazon UK | iBooks | B&N | Google Play | Kobo ❣️**.•.•.
Setting is important as it places the characters somewhere, it can help or hinder them (like the desert in Rogue in the Making). Many of my books are fantasy so I make everything up. In the case of the Mytho series is set in San Francisco with lots of mythological creatures.
Lucifer’s Litigator was different because it’s set in our world with just a touch of magic. Whet I first had the idea I knew I wanted to set it in Perth, Australia, where I live. Perth isn’t one of those cities that people living in outside of Australia can easily place. The name doesn’t conjure much (except for maybe the quokkas of Rottenest Island).
I could’ve set the story anywhere; Tom and William could’ve gone to any beach for their week away over the school holidays. Tom could have gone away to any military college. But once a location has been decided, it adds flavor to the story and helps shape it. The setting becomes a silent character. As the characters and story grew, I couldn’t imagine setting it anywhere else.
As a writer I then had to give readers enough detail that they got a feel for the city without giving them a travel brochure, but also to make it seem familiar. Street names mean nothing, but a leafy suburb full of massive houses…people know those kinds of places. Elizabeth Quay luxury apartments can be searched up and the beaches of Rottenest can be viewed online. Or readers can just take my word for it and enjoy the story.
THE COURTROOM was preternaturally quiet. William McLeod had grown used it over the years, but today it bothered him. Prickles traced up his spine as though all eyes were on him. They weren’t. No one cared about him except his client, Sekhmet, and thankfully, like most gods, Sekhmet hadn’t bothered to show up. There was nothing worse than having a god watch every move he made. Then they’d want to talk about it later, when all he wanted was to forget. His life was simpler when he could make the case and do his job without their influence.
The judges appeared in the room as little more than ghostly forms. They were actual judges—sleeping humans who were borrowed to preside over cases. Did they ever wake and wonder what they had eaten to cause such dreams, or did they just not remember?
William glanced at his papers.
It was a straightforward case, or it should be. He’d done this a thousand times, but today was different. Because he’d made the decision to break his contract? Or because he knew he’d win and he didn’t want to?
William closed his eyes, not because he was nervous and gathering his thoughts, but because it wasn’t a game and it wasn’t fun. Every case was taking a little of his soul, and soon there’d be nothing left. Soon he’d become staff and there’d be no escape.
A whisper rustled through the courtroom, and William opened his eyes.
A middle-aged man, not that different from him, was being brought toward the witness box. The chain between his ankles dragged on the floor. Zane Rugger had made a deal he hadn’t been able to keep.
There was no swearing in. The truth would be told, regardless of whether it wanted to be spoken. The man’s lawyer glanced at William, and they nodded their greeting but didn’t speak. There would be no offer of a lighter sentence.
Lighter sentences didn’t exist here.
Once a human made a deal with the gods, the gods would uphold their end as long as the human upheld theirs. William’s palms started to sweat, and his throat dried.
William had followed his own contract explicitly, but now he wanted to exploit the out clause. He swallowed and scanned the courtroom. That no one knew what he was thinking was a small mercy.
Zane hadn’t used his out clause, which was understandable, given it required his daughter to die. Instead he’d broken the attached NDA.
Every contract came with a Nondisclosure Agreement, even William’s. The signer was forbidden to reveal the details of their contract or the name of the god they’d received their favor from.
Zane’s was an open-and-shut case.
He clanked around wildly, trying to get free, his eyes wide with terror. If he’d been expecting a more human court, something familiar from numerous TV shows, he was no doubt confused.
There was no wooden bar, no place for an audience. It was a small room with three judges on one side and the lawyers on the other. The accused stood to the left. If the god was going to show, they’d be on the right. In the middle was the fire of truth. If it burned any other color than white, the speaker was lying. Lying here was more of a sin than it was in human court, for the simple reason it was easy to prove.
Why had William taken this job? He wanted to go back and slap his younger, dumber self.
If an offer looked too good there was always a catch, but William had been young and hungry and eager to carve out his place. Plutus had exploited William’s desire, and he’d happily signed his soul away.
The bell chimed, and a shiver ran down his spine. William had never seen the bell or the bell ringer. No matter how many times he heard the ancient chime, it was still unsettling, as though no human should hear the sound. He shook off the chill and focused. The trial was now in progress, and he had to argue that Sekhmet deserved compensation because the agreement had been broken. That was technically true, but it didn’t sit well.
Zane’s three-year-old daughter had a terminal brain tumor, and one night he got drunk and pleaded, prayed to anyone who’d listen. His wife had a thing for lions, and Sekhmet, feeling flattered and generous, had offered a miracle. Zane had agreed, but he hadn’t managed to keep his mouth shut for even two weeks. Had he even tried?
William had been doing it for eighteen years—eighteen years of never revealing who his employer was. Contract law was never bloodless.
Zane muttered it wasn’t fair. His wife should know about the miracle so they could both praise Sekhmet. But the flame was now a pale gold, and William hadn’t even spoken yet.
Zane’s lawyer shook his head, knowing it was over before it had begun. He leaned toward William. “You might as well say your piece. It won’t matter what I say now.”
William sighed. “Did you warn him not to speak unless asked a question?” Too many damned themselves with a careless word.
“Yeah… I don’t think he was ever going to listen.”
“Did you think you had a chance?”
The man smiled. “I always think I have a chance to save them. Do you always think you’re going to win?”
In cases like this, William wished he could have said no. Instead of answering, he read out his statement. There wasn’t much to it. Telling his wife about his drunken prayer and Sekhmet was a clear violation of Zane’s agreement. If he hadn’t used the goddess’s name, there might have been wiggle room. A human could say they’d prayed for a miracle and received one, as long as they didn’t speak the god’s name or the details of the miracle.
Zane kept babbling about how it wasn’t fair. His words were twisted by his forked tongue—a clear sign he’d broken his NDA.
Life wasn’t fair.
As the judges huddled to talk, William became aware of a man watching the trial. He stood at the back where the shadows almost claimed him. But there were no sentient shadows here. The room was a gap in time—a space carved out of the gods’ realm that humans could step into and where justice could be determined.
This wasn’t the door to the afterlife. There was no judging of souls. Those decisions were all done long before death, as the gods traded souls the way kids traded baseball cards. Amassing worshippers was nothing more than a game—a quest for power—and humans were pieces on the board.
The judges turned.
“Guilty,” they said with one voice.
William suppressed a shudder. There was no rush of satisfaction for a job well done.
“We ask for leniency. In return, Sekhmet would have the chance to gain the wife’s soul,” Zane’s lawyer said.
“She already has the wife’s soul,” William said softly. He wished there were more he could do.
Zane’s lawyer slumped. “What do you offer?”
William stared at his papers, not seeing the words. He wanted a different outcome, but he had his role to play and he spoke for Sekhmet. “The same as usual. The miracle gets taken back or he does penance.” The punishments were made clear at the time of signing. There was no leeway. The gods got what they wanted.
“How do you sleep at night?”
He didn’t. Not well. Hadn’t for a few years. The job was destroying him. Some days he wanted to yell out the truth, but he didn’t want to be where Zane was, listening to lawyers argue his fate. “The same as you.”
What agreement had Zane’s lawyer signed to end up here?
Client and lawyer conferred. It was never easy to hear a client crying, realizing it was all over. Plenty of people signed deals and lived long, happy lives, but plenty fucked up.
William was going to fall into the latter category, because he couldn’t do this any longer. He’d rather die than lose his soul completely and become staff.
The lawyer walked back. “My client will do penance. He wants his little girl to live. Does his selflessness not count for something?”
It had once, but the precedent had been overturned. That was his fault. William had argued so well that compassion no longer mattered in these cases. “I’m sorry.”
He was. Zane was already paying the price for his daughter’s miracle, but now the gods wanted more. Was it never enough for them?
“A weekend to say goodbye?”
William shook his head. It wasn’t in his power to grant the request. If Sekhmet had been there, she could’ve shown some compassion, but she was a god of war as well as healing. She’d killed many humans for her glory. One little girl’s life was nothing. Zane’s soul would be forever hers unless she chose to trade it away. “The sentence is effective immediately.”
Zane’s skin began to blacken, and his body caved in. In seconds he’d gone from human to shadow—a servant of the gods.
His wail cut off as he was ejected from the room.
The judges remained, ready for the next case.
William walked out before the other lawyer could tell him he was an arsehole. He knew. He needed a drink, but one drink might lead to two, and then he’d be spilling his guts and forking his tongue to the first person to listen.
When he stepped through the door, he expected to arrive in his office, as usual. Instead he was on a beach. A beach he hadn’t visited in twenty-five years. A beach he tried to forget about, even though he lived less than an hour away by boat. Seagulls squawked, and the sun glinted off the water. If it was an illusion, it was very convincing.
“I thought you’d like to come here. Good place for a chat?” a man asked.
William turned. The man who’d been watching the proceedings was on the beach with him. His heart sank. Great. Chatting with a god was never a good thing. There were so many ways to accidentally get into trouble—from causing offense to agreeing to a contract or a miracle that would later cause nothing but grief. Would Zane’s wife know that Sekhmet had taken her husband? Would she turn her back on the goddess or demand a new contract? William had seen whole families destroyed because a god wouldn’t show mercy.
The man smiled. “You don’t know who I am.”
“I’m sorry… I don’t know all of the gods.” There were far too many to keep up with, and some went by several names, thus picking up extra souls.
He laughed. “I’m not a god.”
Though clearly he had the power of one or he wouldn’t have been in the judgment room. “What are you?”
The man considered him for a moment. “You would know me best as Lucifer.”
“If it’s about today—”
Lucifer held up his hand. “That was a clear case. I’m here to talk about you.”
“Me? I work for the other side.” William worked for the gods. He never expected to admire the work of the devil, but he did. Lucifer did his best to defend humans, but he didn’t have the resources the gods had. He refused to play their games and elevate himself to full god status, even though he had worshippers.
“I know. I also know you’re deeply unhappy. I advocate for humanity. It would be remiss of me not to notice your plight.” He grinned. “I won’t hold your current employment against you.”
Two dolphins played in the shallows. He breathed in the salt air and shifted his feet in the sand, shells crunching beneath his handmade leather shoes. Too many happy memories had been made here. It hurt to remember. It was a perfect summer day like last time, but he didn’t feel the heat of the sun at all. If Lucifer had noticed he wanted out, who else had? William didn’t want to be a shadow. “I shouldn’t be here.”
“Relax. They don’t know or care. The only time they pay attention is when they make a deal or mete out punishment, and even then, only if it’s different and exciting. Today was dull for them.”
“But not for you.”
“I’ve been watching you. You’re a good lawyer.”
“With a contract.” And he couldn’t resign, no matter how much he wanted to.
Lucifer shrugged. “All contracts can be broken. Yours isn’t as binding as you think it is. Why don’t you go to your reunion and have some fun? Meet some old friends.”
“I didn’t RSVP.” What was the point? The one person he needed to see wouldn’t be there. He hadn’t been there for the previous two, and William didn’t want to spend an evening listening to his former classmates fluff their feathers.
“I can fix that.”
“Why?” There were hundreds of other lawyers just like him—lawyers who’d taken a deal that was too good to be true.
“Your case is interesting.”
“I don’t have a case.” His contract was clear, and the only way out was to fix his one big regret. For that he needed to see Tom, and he hadn’t been able to track him down, not without burning his fingers, anyway. Hiding blistered fingertips in the office wasn’t fun.
He would not be returning his miracle. He’d earned every cent.
“I hope we can talk later, about your case.” Lucifer offered his hand.
As soon as their palms connected, William was in his own office. A shadow slithered over the floor, spying on him and reporting back to its boss. How much time had he lost talking to Lucifer?
His heart pounded as though he’d swum all the way back from Rottnest Island.
He needed a moment of privacy, so he put Zane’s file on his desk and then went to the bathroom. He locked the stall, leaned against the door, and checked that no shadows lurked in the corners.
Lucifer knew he was seeking to break his contract.
He’d thought about going to the reunion—he’d been to the previous two—but he had nothing in common with those people. Though it was statistically possible at least one of his former classmates had signed their own contract with a god. Would they be enjoying their miracle or looking for a way out? If Lucifer could get Tom to the reunion, it would be worth going. The devil’s interest in him made his blood cold. No amount of summer sun could bring the warmth back.
Yours isn’t as binding as you think it is. What the hell did that mean? He’d read his contract numerous times, and his NDA.
But listening to the devil could be dangerous. He told humans the truth.
TJ Nichols is an avid runner and martial arts enthusiast who first started writing as child. Many years later while working as a civil designer, TJ decided to pick up a pen and start writing again. Having grown up reading thrillers and fantasy novels, it’s no surprise that mixing danger and magic comes so easily. Writing urban fantasy allows TJ to bring magic to the every day.
With two cats acting as supervisors, TJ has gone from designing roads to building worlds and wouldn’t have it any other way. After traveling all over the world and Australia, TJ now lives in Perth, Western Australia.