Unboxed is a gay romance with a magical realism twist. Immerse yourself in a whole new world with two kinds of magic: the box and key system that matches up soulmates, and the single, small magical talent that every person’s born with. The shenanigans involve both kinds of magic and our previously boring heroes being dragged into the plot quite without their consent.
I designed an elegantly simple cover this time around with subtle woodgrain to gorgeous golden filigree. You know I love the spirals.
The Official Description
It’s a world of small, personal magics. Noah is a Finder of lost items, a very minor talent that he mostly uses to make a bit of cash during the slow months in his jewellery shop. Brandon is a Fixer, making broken or worn-out objects whole again. Eaton, as a Lie Detector, has the perfect talent for his career with the police.
Every person is born with either a key or a locked box. Each box has one key, and every key can unlock one box. How can these three friends hope to stay close and still find their soulmates? Especially with someone stealing keys and replacing them with well-crafted, soulless counterfeits.
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People aren’t born with them, precisely — and wouldn’t that be uncomfortable for mothers — but at the same time they will have always had them. Each person on the planet has a small key that appears largely decorative, though some are more utilitarian than others, or a wooden box with a metal lock. The wood of the box matches the person’s hair, and many boxes develop silver as they age, like driftwood left in the sun. There’s always at least one gem and sometimes an elaborate design of them in the colour of the person’s eyes. And then there’s the metal of the lock and key, silver or gold, brass or copper, platinum or titanium or steel, in a design that matches only one other in the world, key to lock.
Only one key opens each box, only one lock is a fit to each key. When the world was younger, most people found their matches, when it was only a matter of villages and festivals, because most of the time a matched pair were born near enough that they might, someday, meet.
But now there’s cities like Lowden, holding millions of souls in close proximity and any one of them could hold the key to a lock; could be keeping their happiness locked up in a box, hidden in a safe place, shown only to those lucky few they hoped might be just the right fit. Relationships and even marriages between mismatches became common, and the idea of finding one’s key was as much of a fairytale to some as the origin of the keys and boxes themselves.
The gem in Noah’s palm was chocolate brown; its facets gave it amber sparks of life. It was the perfect reflection of the brown eyes of the man across from him, warm and lively. “Where did you find this?” asked the customer. “No one else could match the colour for me.”
“It’s what I do,” said Noah, carefully tipping it back into the paper envelope with the rest of them. “Brown’s still not a very popular colour in fine jewellery, but it’s very common for eyes.”
The man’s cheeks reddened slightly, and he glanced around the shop before pulling on the chain around his neck to show Noah the key suspended from it. There were four of the gems embedded in the bow, all of them the same rich, sparkling brown as the man’s eyes. The key itself wasn’t particularly ornate, a sturdy brass with very simple key wards in the bit and some subtle etching on the bow, which was shaped like a soft cloud. “So, you think you can do it?”
“Of course I can, may I take a few photographs for accuracy?” Noah saw the man’s face and added, “Strictly confidential, of course.”
The man laughed. “Of course, it’s silly of me to be acting all shy about it. It’s not as if I don’t want to find my box, I’m sure you understand.”
“I do, yes,” said Noah. He got out a file folder and clipped the pouch of gems to one side, then pulled a few forms for the man to fill out, taking a yellow highlighter to the bits he needed today. “Here you are, if you’ll just fill those out.”
“Oh! Yes, of course, I’m sorry, I didn’t even introduce myself,” he said, holding his hand out, key half lost in the folds of his shirt. “I’m Dave Vries.”
“Noah Fields,” he replied, shaking the man’s hand. He’d printed the forms this morning, and tested out his heavy pen to make sure the ink was flowing smoothly, so he handed both to Dave with confidence. “I’ll grab my camera while you fill those out.”
Noah moved over to a small cabinet, keeping half an eye on Dave, though he was pretty sure the gems were safe. He pulled down a small velvet-covered board and an instant camera and brought them over, shifting his task light with a practiced motion so everything was set up when Dave finished writing. “If you’ll just hold this under your key, one photo front and back and I’ll be set.”
Dave had relaxed considerably, and he let Noah position him in front of the lamp, key bright against the black velvet backing. Noah took two pictures, one of each side, and added them to newly-created file.
“So, what sort of token were you were hoping for?” asked Noah conversationally. He used the same pen Dave had to fill out more of the form, noting the specific gems and metal, and then paused expectantly.
“Oh, um. What’s the usual?” asked Dave, looking sheepish again. “I thought at first a ring or something, but I don’t know if that’s really, um, right for my key.” He fingered the small thing self-consciously, then tucked it back away.
“I would suggest a tie pin, a key fob, or a bracelet,” said Noah, pointing to examples of each in the display between them. “Whatever you think you’ll wear more.”
“Oh, the tie pin will be perfect,” said Dave, sounding relieved. “So it’ll just be the bow, I guess?”
“That’s right, your box will best recognise the design of your bow. That’s how their lock will look, like this part,” Noah used the capped pen as a pointer on the now-developed photo, tracing the cloud shape topping the shaft, “with a keyhole in the middle, and gems that match their own eyes, obviously.”
“Obviously,” said Dave, a small, hopeful smile lighting up his face. “I’ve thought about these before, you know, tokens to find your box or key, but when I was younger I always thought I’d find my box without it.”
“Even 200 years ago when my several-greats grandfather opened up this shop, cities like Lowden were crowded enough that a token could be the difference between finding your soulmate or giving up,” said Noah, sounding soft. He had several tokens of his own, of course, but he hardly ever wore them anymore. At 33, he didn’t feel like his own key was even looking for him anymore. “I hope this one brings you luck.”
“If it does, it’ll be worth any price,” said Dave.
Noah took a moment to admire how attractive he was when he relaxed, and then let the conversation take a natural turn to his fee for the custom work. The chocolate diamonds weren’t expensive right now, and the brass even less so — it was really Noah’s artistry that his customers paid for. Though it wasn’t related to his talent, Noah had worked hard for the skills to carefully reproduce the designs they were all born with. He believed in his family’s tradition of giving the heart an extra chance, especially in today’s society when people hardly even spoke of boxes and keys, let alone compared with strangers.
They shook on the price, and Dave left him with a deposit cheque to clip into the folder with the rest. It was a good enough day’s work that Noah was tempted to close up early and see about treating himself to dinner at the pub, but his father and grandfather had kept the full posted hours, and never once regretted it.
Noah got the file squared away and the cheque stamped and in the day’s deposit envelope, then busied himself with small tasks in the shop. The storefront was only open in the afternoons these days; he spent his mornings working in his studio, or taking Finding clients when there was no jewellery to be made.
The bell above the door rang, pulling Noah out of his thoughts. “Eaton, to what do I owe this honour?” he asked, seeing the familiar fine-boned features and shoving away a misplaced surge of attraction. Detective Inspector Eaton Matthews was a good friend and a gorgeous man, but since they were both boxes Noah tried to keep himself from thinking about him as anything other than an occasional client and frequent pain in the arse.
“Do I need a reason to visit a friend?” said Eaton in fake wounded tones. A small woman followed him in, eyes red-rimmed and expression harried.
“Usually,” said Noah. “What can I help you Find, ma’am?”
She looked around the beautifully maintained antiques that adorned the jewellery shop and her step faltered. “O-oh, I’m not sure I can afford…”
“Nonsense,” said Noah, coming out from behind the counter and leading her to the sitting area to the left of the door. The circular nook had velvet banquette seating around a small table, surrounded by window displays that looked out into the courtyard through the leaded glass windows. It seated up to four comfortably when Noah had longer client consultations and still let him keep one eye on the shop. “Eaton, make yourself useful and get tea, will you?”
“Yeah, all right,” said Eaton, looking annoyingly triumphant. Noah didn’t take all the clients Eaton brought for Finding, but he did what he could. His magical talent was a very minor one, too specific to be anything other than a side business — he could Find lost things, but only objects, and only things that agreed with the erstwhile owner that they belonged back in that person’s hands.
Noah introduced himself while he got her settled with a box of tissues near to hand, and learned that her name was Dahlia Conteh, and she lived not too far from the shop, in the next neighbourhood over.
“Why don’t you tell me about what item you’ve lost?” asked Noah.
“It, it’s not lost, it was stolen, my grandmother’s ring,” she said, fingers going to where she obviously wore it normally. “I was m-mugged, and they took grandmother’s token ring.”
“I take it you’ve found your soulmate?” asked Noah with a soft, encouraging smile, trying to be kind even while stating the obvious, given the soulmate ring she still had on her other hand.
Her face softened as well, and she nodded, sniffling slightly. “Yes, my husband Leo. He encouraged me to wear her ring since it brought her the luck of her own love, he says it brings us luck in ours.”
“That sounds like an item that would want to be back with you,” said Noah warmly. “Why don’t you give me your hand and I’ll see if it agrees?”
Dahlia wiped her hand self-consciously on her dress and held it out. Noah took it and sent that magical sense of his out into the world, looking for things of hers that were lost and wanted Finding.
“They recovered your empty wallet, it’s at the police station, I’ll tell Eaton where to find it,” said Noah distractedly, dismissing that little itch from his mind. “One of the street vendors on Blythe has your phone, though it’s already starting to lose interest in you, you must have remote wiped it?”
She nodded, surprised, and he continued.
“The ring is with something else of yours, a watch? No, earrings, the watch belongs to someone else, they’re at the pawn shop. Grover’s, which Eaton is extremely familiar with.”
Eaton walked up and set the tea tray on the table between them, grinning. “That I am. Has he got it out yet, or in the sneaky cupboard he’s always surprised we know about?”
“In the cupboard,” said Noah, adding a splash of milk to his cup. “There’s a watch there that misses its owner terribly, too, if you can find the report.”
“Oh, you’re a wonder, what do I owe you?” asked Dahlia, clearly steeling herself to be gouged now that the Finding had already happened.
“Tell you what,” said Noah with a smile, “You bring that ring by for me to appraise and photograph, and I’ll call it even.”
“He’s trying to find as many pieces by his various predecessors as possible,” said Eaton cheerfully. “This little shop has been making tokens for two centuries, all in the family.” He sounded very proud, despite having done nothing to help that aspect of Noah’s business, and often distracting him from it with people like this.
“Oh, that’s lovely,” said Dahlia, looking relieved enough that Noah was worried she’d start crying again. “I’ll be sure to bring it by, I’d like to know more about it.”
“If you’ll give me your grandmother’s name, I can look her up in my archives, too,” said Noah, pulling a notebook and pen out of his jacket pocket. He might chafe at wearing the suit and tie appropriate to his professional image, but the jackets were convenient for having things to hand.
She told him a few stories about her grandmother while they finished up their tea, and this time when Noah escorted his erstwhile clients to the door, he could flip the closed sign guiltlessly. It was a matter of minutes to get the trays put in the safe, the deposit slip filled out, and everything neatened up for closing. He set the alarm, locked the door, and pulled down the beautifully ornate wrought-iron grille that guarded the shop at night.
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