New at Changeling Press: Cunning Man by Lena Austin #urbanfantasy #PNR #gay @Lena_Austin @changelingpress

St. John Everett ekes out a living as a bartender in New Orleans. Then the pandemic strikes and things begin to shut down — including the bar where he works. Things start looking up when Jin is notified that he’s inherited a cottage in England from a great-uncle he knew nothing about. Out of a job, with no employment opportunities on the horizon, Jin boards a plane to London.

He falls immediately in love with the small cottage and the tiny village of Manuden, and in lust with his new solicitor, Rick Harrow. But Rick isn’t just his solicitor. He’s descended from a long line of Guardians of the local Cunning Man — the title and powers Jin inherited along with the cottage. No longer just a bartender, Jin is now a legendary male witch who uses prophecy, herbalism, and witch bottles to protect the local community.

With his three magical white mice, his Guardian/lover, and the Witches of Essex, Jin must use his new powers as The Cunning Man to save the village, his lover, and his new friends from a pandemic gone wild. And who knows? If his talent making witch bottles is as good as it is with juggling booze bottles, he might even save the world.

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Jin sat in stunned silence with the rest of the employees of the Last Call Bar, just off Bourbon Street. The smell of the recently departed customers — a combination of sweat, smoke, booze, and musk — still clung to the air. No one moved or spoke until Jenny rasped out one short sob. Then all hell broke loose.

“What do you mean, we’re closing?”

“How long, Barry? How long will this fucking pandemic lockdown last? I got bills to pay!”

Barry looked ready to cry. He was a dead ringer for Santa despite the aloha shirt he wore year-round. Jin knew why and jumped up and put his thin arms around the big man for a sideways hug. Barry’s whole body shook with a sigh.

Jin turned to his coworkers and gave them his best Calm Down look. Every bartender had one. Even while Jin quite literally juggled bottles, he usually could quell all but the rowdiest with his. He waited until they all subsided. “We all know Barry’s brother just died up in New York because of this. Even if the pandemic seems isolated to New York and Washington right now, none of us are stupid enough to think it’s going to stay there. Barry’s just being preemptive. You all know it’s coming, and we work in a place where everyone is spreading their germs all over each other and us.” He grinned wryly at them all. “Booze isn’t anything folks need to live. Time for us to think ahead. What do folks need when they’re trapped in their houses and afraid to come out? Food? Like, delivery? Everyone, get your butts out there and hire yourself to all the food delivery places. Pizza, grocery delivery, whatever. Your side hustles just became your main income. Barry can call us when he reopens. Right?”

This was his one secret gift, in action. He’d always had the ability to read a situation, organize it, and usually could find a solution to the chaos out of the millions of weird facts he locked in storage in his brain. He hated it, most of the time. It felt Machiavellian, like playing chess with real people. This time, it felt right to use it.

There were mumbles, but almost everyone had their thinking caps on instead of panicking. That was the main thing. Barry generously handed out a split of the night’s money, giving everyone a chance to ramp up their side hustle or go find other work. He got hugs and murmured words of reassurance in return. By 3 AM, most had cleaned up and departed.

Jin helped Barry lock up the bar and took home the celery and food in the bar fridge. He would enjoy the garnishes as a meal before bed. He didn’t like admitting it to his now-former coworkers, but he knew he’d have the hardest time finding a delivery job. He didn’t own a car. He rode a bike, walked, or took public transportation. He’d never learned to drive. Orphans who aged out of the foster system didn’t have the advantage of parents to teach them. He didn’t know how to do anything but serve in restaurants and tend the bar. Well, that and peddle his assets. That’s what he’d done as a hungry, lonely teenager, and if necessary, he’d sell blowjobs again. But that was the last resort. Well, not quite the last resort. He could use his degree for once. He’d bet even his bachelor’s in medical plant chemistry would be needed. He gave one bark of derisive laughter. Who would have guessed his useless degree might come in handy? In the meantime, he’d need an income. He had to pay rent. Student loans were the bulk of his budget but rent made sure you didn’t sleep in the rain. Therefore, rent money was a top priority.

Well, he’d have to look around at the local food joints to see who might need… shit. What? New Orleans wasn’t closing down yet, but it would. And Bourbon Street would become a ghost town. Jin rode his bike down the dark streets of early morning New Orleans and pedaled home. He reminded himself he had time. A few weeks, probably. Then every major city would shut down. Louisiana would be one of the last because New Orleans depended on the tourist industry. That was just an economic reality. Jin shuddered, knowing he was living in a giant Petri dish. Masks. He’d need masks. Maybe that was a side hustle he could do. He could sew. He just didn’t have a sewing machine. Maybe he could borrow one or find one in a thrift store. Okay, option one. Sew masks. That was a start.

The gates to his apartment were wide open, and Jin turned into the driveway and sped to the back of the large house and right up to the side of the former carriage house. He locked his bike to the stair as an improvised gate and made his way up to the little studio apartment he called home. His mail was tucked into the basket by the door as usual, but this time a large manilla envelope bulged out above the junk mail. Curious, Jin grabbed it all and got inside. His top hat and purple coat were hot in the humid early spring air, and he was happy to get out of the steampunk outfit he wore as a sort of trademark. In a matter of minutes, he had a mug of tea and the curious envelope in his hand. Barefoot and in loose cotton pants, he blinked at the address.

“To Mr. St. John Everett…”


Someone cursed Lena Austin with “may you have a life so full you’ll have many tales to tell your grandchildren.” Lena’s a “fallen” society wench with a checkered past. She’s been a licensed minister, hairdresser, Realtor, radio DJ, exotic dancer, telephone service tech, live-steel medievalist swordswoman, BDSM Mistress, and investment property manager. Not necessarily in that order. She never finished that degree in marine archaeology, but did learn to scuba — she’s got a lifetime of “Research material!”

Hey, why waste these stories on kids who won’t listen anyway? Writing them down is a nice way to spend her retirement. What? You expected an ex-BDSM Mistress to take up crocheting or something?