In Shining Armor


By Elliott James

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This fairy godmother’s got claws.

When someone kidnaps the last surviving descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, it’s bad news. When the baby is the key to the tenuous alliance between a large werewolf pack and the knights, it’s even worse news. They’re at each other’s throats before they’ve even begun to look for baby Constance.

But whoever kidnapped Constance didn’t count on one thing: she’s also the goddaughter of John Charming. Modern-day descendant of a long line of famous dragon slayers, witch finders, and wrong righters. John may not have any experience being a parent, but someone is about to find out that he can be one mean mother. . .

In <Shining Armor is the fourth novel in a series which gives a new twist to the Prince Charming tale.


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Baby Come Back



Once Upon a Time, I was too happy. I know that's not rational, but there's still a part of me that blames everything that happened afterward on that one simple fact. Something bad had to happen. I was having one of the most perfect days of my life, and I allowed myself to be too happy.

It had snowed while Sig Norresdotter and I were camping in the Cascades, one of those early April snows that have been becoming more common in southwest Virginia in recent years. Our heaviest snows have begun in February, and from March onward, the mountain weather seems to fluctuate forty degrees every three days, going from snow to T-shirt weather back to snow again, as if the weather were bipolar.

In any case, there's something about getting naked and keeping warm in an insulated tent while the world around you is frozen that adds a layer of intensity to the experience. Sig had kept up a running joke about how the weekend wasn't exactly the kind of date with Prince Charming that most women pictured—she would make proclamations about needing the Royal Roll of Toilet Paper before going off into the woods, or start yelling for footmen to come make us s'mores while we were entangled in our sleeping bag—but she was cracking jokes because she doesn't like getting mushy, not because she was being passive-aggressive.

I suppose I could have found the Prince Charming references slightly annoying—my name may be John Charming, but I'm not royalty, and nobody in my family ever was—but Sig and I were in that physical-intoxication phase of a new relationship where every word, gesture, and glance is saturated in a hormonal nimbus. I wanted to fill my hands and mouth and heart with her. Her skin felt like it should be glowing, and she smelled like home. Honestly, she could have belched loudly and called my mother a whore, and I would have had to struggle not to view it as some kind of delightful postmodern irony.

The hike back down the mountains had been magical too, like traveling through a series of paintings. The Freezing-Your-Ass-Off collection, maybe, but still beautiful. Then we'd decided to bypass the interstate and wound up getting lost in a little nowhere Appalachian town called Eccleston about twenty minutes outside Blacksburg, Virginia. We stopped at this brick building that looked like an old-fashioned general store, and discovered that it was a restaurant called the Palisades. It was like finding a diamond in a plug of tobacco.

Warm air gusted through antique grates in the wooden floor while we drank hot cider and thawed out. I was trying not to release obscene-sounding sighs when the waitress brought out some of the best focaccia I'd ever had in my life. The outer crust of the bread was lightly dusted with spices, and when my teeth broke through that crisp surface, they sank into soft warmth lightly infused with cheese.

"Sweet mother of all that's good and crunchy," I said reverently. "Forget the pizza. I just want six more of these appetizers."

"I can't believe you ordered pizza anyway." Sig had refused to give up the menu even after she ordered, and she was still studying it intently as if trying to make sure that it wasn't some kind of trick. "You can get a pizza anywhere. How many places around here have food like this?" Sig had ordered quail that was stuffed with chestnuts and Italian sausage and then covered with some kind of cranberry glaze, and I could see her point.

"I ordered before I tasted this appetizer," I said. "This place doesn't look all that swanky, and it's hard for anybody to screw up a pizza so badly that I can't get behind it."

"It's not like we look all that fancy ourselves," Sig observed. "I haven't showered in two days."

"Don't worry." I reached over and got her to put her menu down by taking her hand and planting a lingering kiss on the back of her wrist while I lightly stroked her pulse. We made eye contact, and I promised, "When I get you into a shower, I'll clean you thoroughly."

Sig cleared her throat. Her voice was a little huskier than usual. "You do realize that thoroughly means focusing on more than two places, right?"

"Those areas behind the elbows and knees are very important," I said virtuously.

Sig laughed and released my hand. "Oh, please. Whoever said cleanliness is next to godliness never showered with you."

That made me smile. "You know, you're joking around a lot more these days."

"I'm happy." She confessed this as if it were a character flaw. After a moment's reflection, she added, "You're joking around less. Or at least not in the same way."

"I'm happy too," I told her, meaning it.

That's when her cell phone rang. See what I mean? It was like the universe was speaking.

We both froze. We'd had a no-cell-phone agreement for the weekend.

"Shit," Sig swore as the phone rang a second time, then confessed. "I checked my messages while you were in the restroom. I forgot to turn it back off."

I nodded. "You'd better answer it." It might not be logical, but if something bad occurred while Sig and I had our cell phones turned off for the weekend, that's just the way it was. But if we ignored an active cell phone ringing and later found out that something bad had happened…

Sig answered the cell phone. My hearing is sharper than a normal human's, so I didn't have to wonder why her face went blank. The voice on the other end was Ben Lafontaine, and he sounded urgent and grim. "Hey, Sig, this is Ben. Is John with you?"

Ben Lafontaine is in charge of the somewhat whimsically named Round Table, the alliance of werewolf packs who have made a treaty with the Knights Templar. Ben is also technically my leader, a fact that we both skirt around because of my authority issues and the fact that neither of us is sure who would win in a fight. I'm pretty sure Ben would gladly let me lead the Round Table if I wanted the job and wouldn't be a complete disaster at it. In practice, Ben is somewhere between a mentor and a qualified ally and a friend, and I would pretty much do anything he asked me to do anyhow as long as he was asking. I owe Ben a lot. Sig handed the phone over to me wordlessly.

I didn't waste any time. "What is it?"

"It's Constance," he said. "Our goddaughter has been kidnapped."



As soon as Sig and I got off the commuter plane, we were greeted by Ben and an impossibly handsome blond-haired man. The private airstrip was disguised as a straight patch of road between two vast stretches of cornfields in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. It was dark and bitterly cold, but I already said it was Massachusetts, so at least one of those three facts is probably redundant.

"This is Simon Travers," Ben said, handing me a large white paper bag full of thick, greasy hamburgers. I was carrying a guitar case that had a couple of interesting items beneath the false bottom and wearing the backpack from my hiking trip, so I had to make some minor adjustments. "He's your Grandmaster's fixer."

My Grandmaster?

Ben was a large Chippewa slab of craggy, big-boned muscle, and the scowl on his face was fairly ominous. Ben smelled bad too, and I don't mean he stank in any conventional sense; Ben was dumping rage pheromones into the air like toxic waste. Constance wasn't even a year old, and I don't think Ben had spent much more face-to-face time with her than I had, but our goddaughter's abduction was still hitting him on some primal level. Ben had lost a child at some point way back in his long life, maybe a century ago, maybe more, and that's all I knew about it. Maybe that's all I'll ever know about it. But I occasionally catch glimpses of how that loss has defined him.

And that wasn't even taking his wolf instincts into account.

"I won't say it's a pleasure, Mr. Charming, but I've heard a lot about you." The blond man offered me a brief handshake and a tight smile. He was so good-looking that he was almost pretty, but if he was Emil Lamplighter's number one fixer, this Simon was a dangerous man. He turned his attention to Sig, and his smile became less perfunctory. He took her hand and held it rather than shook it. "And I've heard about you as well, Miss Norresdotter. I've never met a Valkyrie before."

Something about the way he said it made it clear that he meant he'd never slept with a Valkyrie before. This Simon was a charming fuck, dressed in some vaguely European-looking black outdoor jacket that was thin but well insulated. His teeth were white and straight but not too perfect. His eyes were green and bright and clever and cold. The two weapons that I could spot barely made bulges.

"Let go of my hand," Sig said pleasantly.

"Oh, right." Simon smiled a smile that somehow managed to be both sheepish and dazzling, and released her hand as if suddenly realizing that he had become entranced. Which was bullshit. This guy didn't do anything by accident. "I'm sorry."

"That's not what your mom says," Sig said.

He looked at her puzzled. "Is that some kind of yo mama joke?"

"Valkyrie talk to the dead," Sig reminded him. "Your mother says you're not sorry. In fact, she says you're a complete shit toward women. I don't think her spirit is going to find peace until you grow up, settle down, and stay faithful to one woman."

Simon Travers paled. He somehow managed to physically recoil from Sig without taking a step backward.

"Let's fucking get on with this." Ben rarely cusses, and I checked off a mental box that said uh-oh.

"Right, I'll get the car." Simon hightailed it for a nearby barn before we could offer to walk with him.

"Did you really see his mother's ghost?" I asked Sig conversationally.

"No." Her tone was matter-of-fact. "But I can tell that he doesn't have any living family. Some people carry that around with them. And men like him always have mommy issues."

Ben didn't give a shit. "The knights think Constance's abduction is an inside job, John. They think there's a werewolf traitor."

I doubled down on that uh-oh. "They would."

"Here's what I don't understand." Sig hadn't been thrilled to discover that I had a goddaughter I'd never told her about, and her voice was taut. In my defense, I had been trying to honor a promise. Constance Lamplighter is the last surviving family member of the Templar's Grandmaster; she's got knight's blood and a werewolf strain just like me, and Ben and I had agreed to become her secret godfathers as part of the treaty between the werewolves and the knights. "If you have a goddaughter, why haven't you been a more active part of her life?"

"Believe it or not, some people think I'm better at finding trouble than preventing it," I said dryly. Sig made a sound that was half a sigh and half a snort.

"Exactly," I agreed. "Ben and I decided that it would be safer if I kept my distance while so many knights and werewolves still blame me for upsetting the old status quo. He's Constance's protector. I'm her insurance policy."

"And I did a great job," Ben said stonily.

Sig reached over and put an arm on his shoulder. "We'll find her, Ben."

Valkyries have ways of finding out things that nobody has any business finding out, and I have a knight's training and a werewolf's innate tracking abilities. Modesty has its place, but if Sig and I couldn't find Constance… no, screw that. We were going to find Constance. But I have a hard time making promises I can't really guarantee, so I said, "Whoever did this did it to make trouble, Ben. They want us to lose hope or control."

Ben took a deep breath, and when he let it back out, his shoulders shifted as if adjusting to weight. "Yeah, I know." And then he walked off a few steps and stared in the direction Simon had gone. The gesture was purely symbolic. We would be able to hear anything the other said for a lot farther off than that, but I respected his request for a little space.

There was a brief lull. I heard a car door open and close, but the vehicle must have been soundproof, because it didn't move and I didn't hear any sounds coming from inside it. Simon was probably taking the opportunity to have a few last-minute words with whatever knights he'd brought along, I decided, or making the last private phone call he would have for a while. Sig decided to take the opportunity to start another conversation. "I'm not happy that you've been keeping secrets from me, John."

"I know," I admitted. "I don't blame you."

"And I'm not happy that we don't have time to really talk about it either," Sig said.

We'd had a few hours in the plane, and Sig had barely said anything except to intermittently ask me questions about Constance. But I didn't bring that up. I actually appreciated that Sig hadn't said much while I was struggling with some serious rage and she was primed to say the wrong thing. So, I kept it simple. "Thanks for coming anyway."

She smiled faintly for the first time since we'd left Virginia. "Thanks for not trying to stop me."

I grimaced, and after a moment, Sig bumped her shoulder against mine. "You know I've got your back, right?"

I had difficulty swallowing for a moment. It had been a long time since I'd had someone who really knew me and who I could still count on. "Yeah."

"That doesn't mean I'm not going to make you pay for this later," she clarified.

Ben turned slightly and started to smile, but the expression turned into a spasm and twitched out. "We've got to get to later first."

Some kind of Nissan family vehicle began pulling up. At a guess, the SUV would blend in better wherever we were going than an Aston Martin. Simon was in the shotgun seat, and the big man driving was broad-shouldered and flat-skulled, his hair shaved down to stubble. Two empty seats were by windows in the middle of the vehicle, and the space between them led to a back row where a thin older man and a young woman somewhere in her late twenties were sitting. The silver-haired man seemed like the kind of person you would call a gentleman, wearing an expensive beige suit, a grey overcoat, a maroon scarf, and a faint smile that just barely peeked out of his neatly trimmed beard. The woman had her pink hair done up in a ponytail and was wearing a Blink 182 T-shirt beneath an open blue parka. Her skin was pale and her makeup was vivid to accentuate that fact. She was a solidly built, fit woman with bright, curious eyes and strong cheekbones.

"The two in the back are Nathan Weber and Dawn Jenkins," Ben grunted. "They're merlins."

"Merlins?" Sig asked.

"The knights' magical researchers and psychics," I explained. "Knights don't like to call them cunning folk. When I was a knight, they were sort of a dirty little secret that wasn't really a secret. Like America's electoral college."

Ben still wasn't inclined to chat. "Times are changing. The driver's name is Tom something. He doesn't talk much."

Simon stepped out of the car and opened the trunk, a hatchback. Sig and I threw our stuff in the back while Ben went ahead and got in.

"That was a cute stunt, bringing up my mother." Simon spoke to me, completely ignoring Sig. She loves that. "But let's make sure we understand each other. This alliance between the Order and the werewolves is a fragile thing. If we screw this up, you could wind up being hunted again."

I slapped the SUV. "This SUV is red."

Simon waited for me to expand on that point.

"It's cold outside," I said.

Simon still stared at me.

"You're kind of acting like a dick," I tried.

"What are you doing?" Simon demanded.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought we were playing some weird game where we made completely obvious statements," I explained.

"According to your file, you're almost a century old," Simon turned and went back to the front seat. "Maybe it's time you grew up."

He probably had a point. On the other hand, I am pretty old, and one thing that's a constant is that when people tell you to grow up, what they usually mean is that you should do what's expected of you. If I was any good at that, I'd have died a long time ago.

Ben had already sat between the two merlins by the time Sig and I piled in, so we took the middle seats. You can often tell a lot about a person by the inside of their vehicle, but the SUV we were in was so clean and impersonal that I wondered if our hosts had left any fingerprints on it. It smelled like gun oil and dark chocolate.

Sig tensed and stared at the woman, Dawn. "You smell like death."

Dawn stared back. "Umm… I use deodorant?"

Sig didn't laugh. "I don't mean a literal smell. Death is clinging to you like an odor. It's weird."

The woman's expression cleared, but it was the older merlin who spoke up. "Dawn has been walking in the shadows of the dead."

"What does that mean, exactly?" Sig asked. Her stillness was kind of like a dog's when it's heard something it can't quite identify.

"I've been psychically retracing people's last moments, trying to figure out why they got killed," Dawn explained. "I can't read knights when they're alive, but once they're dead, I can pick up some of the psychic impressions they left behind. It's kind of like being a medium, I guess. I'm echoing the thoughts of people who aren't alive any longer. But they are just echoes, not active presences."

Sig nodded slowly, so I picked up the slack. "Why are there dead knights? Somebody tell me about Constance's kidnapping." I went ahead and took a burger out of the bag Ben had given me. It was cold, but werewolves burn a lot of calories. I offered one to Sig, but she made a face and declined.

"There's not much to tell yet," Simon said. "Constance lived with four people: two retired knights pretending to be her grandparents, a werewolf pretending to be her mother, and an active knight pretending to be her father—"

"Wait a minute," Sig interrupted. "Why was a werewolf with the knights?"

"Mr. Lafontaine insisted that there be a werewolf involved in protecting Constance too," Simon explained, his face and tone still expressionless. "She's been acting as Constance's nanny."

"It's Tula," Ben told Sig.

"Tula," Sig repeated blankly. Tula had been one of my claw back when I was doing my own version of Dances with Wolves back in Wisconsin, and that had been my first reaction too. Tula was a natural killer long before she became a werewolf. She likes to fight, and Tula had come to America specifically because there was a war going on between werewolves and the Knights Templar at the time. In fact, the only reason Tula left the Finnish military was because they wouldn't let her into sniper school.

"I thought it would be good for her," Ben explained.

When Tula had first become a werewolf, she had left a human child behind in her old life because she thought it was safer for the child that way. That decision still haunted her. Ben was doing his subtle-leader thing—providing one of his most competent and trustworthy wolves for security and helping her deal with some of her issues at the same time.

"The werewolf claims that Constance was up all night the night before, and that might be why the werewolf fell asleep on the couch downstairs," Simon informed me. "She woke up because the lights were flickering, and then they went out. The werewolf says she heard a bedroom door open upstairs, and then there was a strange sound. She described it as a noise like you'd hear sitting next to a window on an airplane. Then the door closed and the sound stopped. The werewolf says she ran upstairs and pounded on Constance's door. No one answered. She says she couldn't hear anyone moving in the house, and there was a funny smell in the air—"

"Marshlike, I believe she said," Nathan interjected.

Simon frowned impatiently at the interruption. "—so she kicked down the door. And the room was empty. She searched the rest of the house, and she found the bodies of the knights pretending to be Constance's grandparents. They had been poisoned. The knight, Austin, and Constance were gone."

I didn't like the way Simon kept saying she says, with a subtle emphasis on the says. I didn't like the way he wouldn't use Tula's name either. But I understood his suspicions. "So, you or somebody like you showed up," I said. "And Tula is saying that maybe this Austin kidnapped Constance and killed two other knights and disappeared down a magic rabbit hole. And she has no proof. Is that about it?"

"No," Simon said. "Tula wasn't alone. Somebody like me showed up, and Constance was missing and there were a bunch of werewolves in the house."

"Tula called me first," Ben said. Well, yeah. Of course she did. And of course Ben took steps to make sure she didn't wind up getting disappeared. But what a hot mess. The knights blaming the werewolves. The werewolves blaming the knights.

"Dogs and cats, living together," I commented. "Mass hysteria!" Nobody laughed. Well, it was a lot funnier when Bill Murray said it.

"Do you realize what this means, John?" Sig asked.

"I think that's pretty obvious," I said cautiously. "Constance is missing, and we need to figure out who did it."

"It means the werewolves and the knights have a difference of opinion they can't resolve," Sig said gently. "And they want you to be the diplomatic mediator."

Oh my God.

"Look, help walk me through this a little slower," I said to the car in general. "Does the house have a security camera setup?"

"It does, but it's not internet-accessible," Simon said. "That would be as big a security weakness as it would be a defense. The cameras show the grandparents going to their room and falling asleep. They show the werewolf lying down on the couch. Austin picked Constance up in his arms and walked her around in circles in front of the stairwell. And then the cameras stopped functioning."

Magic will do that. "Was Austin walking Constance around in circles like he was trying to put her to sleep, or like he was doing some kind of ritual?" I asked.

"And I would know that how?" Simon asked.

Okay. "Were there any other signs of magic?"

"Constance and Austin's scent trail ends at the bedroom," Ben said grimly. "But I don't pick up any other funny smells around it."

"And I didn't pick up any signs of runes or sigils etched into the door," Nathan added. "No traces of smoke, powder, paint, or chalk. No scratched engravings."

"I didn't get any weird psychic impressions off the door either," Dawn added. "As far as I can tell, it's just an ordinary door."

"We all know how to confuse scents," I said. "This Austin could have backtracked."

"We've been over every inch of that house. There aren't any secret doors that we don't know about," Simon said. "I didn't just check the surfaces; I measured the dimensions of every room, hallway, and ceiling, and checked them against the rest of the house."

Yeah, well, there are dimensions and there are dimensions.

"I'm guessing the place is warded to keep outside magic from getting in," I said dryly.

"I did the defenses myself." Dawn had an accent straight from South Boston. "That place is sealed up tighter than a nun's butt."

At a guess, Dawn hadn't enjoyed being a female with magical proclivities raised in a Catholic order.

"So, how did magic get in?" Sig somehow made the question sound idle.

"If there was magic, it would have had to be initiated by someone inside the house." Nathan sounded like he regretted that fact, speaking softly and calmly.

"Tula doesn't know magic," I pointed out.

"Neither does Austin," Simon replied tightly. "I went to the same training center that he did. We became knights together."

Great. So, it was personal for everybody.

"Tula's not in a good place now," Ben added, as if I'd made that last observation out loud. "And these people are acting like she's a traitor."

"Where is she?" I tried not to growl it.

"She's not being tortured," Simon didn't say that like the possibility was absurd. He said it like he regretted the fact. "She's in lockdown."

"I seem to recall the Knights Templar having a sword that can compel people to tell the truth," I said tartly. I'd held the sword myself, and it wasn't one of my fondest memories. Grasping that hilt was like giving your soul an enema. "It should be pretty easy to clear her."

"I don't think you understand how tight the security is around the Sword of Truth. Claimh Solais is one of the four great treasures of the Tuatha De Danaan." Simon's voice was equally tense. "We can't just check it out of its location like a library book, not if we don't want to draw attention to it. Constance's existence is a secret."

"Apparently it isn't," I snapped, but then I tried to tone it down a little. Thinking about my own issues with the Knights Templar and interrogations and captivity wasn't good for my cool. "I see what you're saying, though." I saw what he wasn't saying too. If the sword was that important, somebody might have even kidnapped Constance because they wanted the sword, and this might be a ploy to draw the sword out of its safe place. We would get all the facts we could through traditional methods first.

Nathan seemed to pick up on something in my body language or my silence. His voice was soothing. "No one is chained up in a dungeon. There's a secret basement level beneath the house, but it was made to provide extra living quarters."

I struggled to refocus. "What about toxicology? Somebody said the two grandparent stand-ins were poisoned. Did anybody work up a lab on Tula? If she was poisoned, it might explain why she fell asleep. Most poisons wouldn't kill a werewolf, but they might knock them out."

"We're still working on that," Nathan replied. "This all happened relatively recently. Mr. Lafontaine brought along a lot of werewolves who were good at fighting, but he didn't bring a mobile lab."

The driver spoke for the first time. He had a soft voice for such a big man, but every word still sounded like an accusation. "If Austin had poisoned the bitch, he would have used wolfsbane."


  • "With each new chapter in his outstanding Pax Arcana series, James ups his game in both excellent character development and world expansion. If you love wisecracks in the face of ultimate danger, then John Charming is definitely your man!"—RT Book Reviews on In Shining Armor (Top Pick! 4.5 stars)
  • "The Pax Arcana books are seriously good reads. Action, humor, and heart with unexpected twists and turns. If you are (like me) waiting for the next Butcher or Hearne -- pick up Elliot James. Then you can bite your nails waiting for the next James, too."—Patricia Briggs, New York Times #1 bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson series
  • "Loved it! Charming is a giant gift basket of mythology and lore delivered by a brilliant new voice in urban fantasy. Elliott James tells stories that are action-packed, often amusing, and always entertaining."—Kevin Hearne, New York Times bestselling author of Hounded on Charming
  • "I loved this book from start to finish. Exciting and innovative, Charming is a great introduction to a world I look forward to spending a lot more time in."—New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire on Charming
  • "James's world is rich and complex and well worth diving into."—Richard Kadrey, New York Times bestselling author on Charming
  • "In a saturated literary realm, James's tale stands out for the gritty, believable world he builds...This is masculine urban fantasy in the vein of Jim Butcher and Mark del Franco."—Booklist on Charming
  • "This debut introduces a self-deprecating, wisecracking, and honorable-to-a-fault hero who can stand up to such established protagonists as Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden and Seanan McGuire's October Daye. Combining action and romance -- with an emphasis on action -- this is a top-notch new series opener for lovers of urban fantasy."—Library Journal (Starred review) on Charming
  • "Grab some snacks and settle back as splendid debut author James serves up a Prince Charming tale yanked sideways...James's reluctant hero faces threats and danger with a smart-ass attitude that keeps the narrative fast-paced, edgy and amusing. Mark this name down -- you will undoubtedly be seeing more from James!"—RT Book Reviews on Charming

On Sale
Apr 26, 2016
Page Count
464 pages

Elliott James

About the Author

An army brat and gypsy scholar, Elliott James is currently living in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia. An avid reader since the age of three (or that’s what his family swears anyhow), he has an abiding interest in mythology, martial arts, live music, hiking, and used bookstores.

Learn more about this author