Death is a white rose. . . .
Dexter Rose, the world’s greatest assassin, has come to Alfar.
His mission: Topple the coalition government.
His plan: Three perfect murders, culminating with President Spellbinder herself.
His method: Magic – to disguise himself as anyone and to petrify the victim before the kill.
Only one man has all the right skills to go head to head with the infamous killer and defeat him before he can complete his gruesome assignment. In a land of elves and magic, it will take a human Shadow to stop Dexter Rose before it’s too late.
But Wolf Dasher is recalled to Urland, and his true love, May Honeyflower, isn’t convinced his replacement can prevent Rose from accomplishing his grisly goals. She’ll have to find a way to keep Wolf in Alfar for one more mission . . . and by her side forever.
As the killer closes in on his final quarry, is even Wolf Dasher good enough to stop an assassin who’s never failed? And if he can’t, what will be the cost?
ROSES ARE WHITE is the third book in the exciting Wolf Dasher series. Following the action of STATE OF GRACE and RED DRAGON FIVE, this fantasy-thriller mash-up blends super-spy action with magic and elves in an electric brew that will keep you turning pages. Love and bigotry, loss and redemption, sacrifice and savagery all collide in a pulse-pounding tale you won’t want to put down. Read it as a standalone novel or as the third installment in a series both fresh and familiar.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I liked the idea of pitting my hero against a ruthless killer who had never been stopped — an assassin who never fails. that raised the stakes for this particular adventure.
I also wanted to deal with racism. There elves in this world who don’t like humans, and some of them don’t even like other elves of a particular religious sect. That seemed like an excellent vehicle to explore issues of racism in the U.S. today.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Wolf is a James Bond type of character, who has been evolving into a more thoughtful person over the series. Love has changed him.
His nemesis in this novel is the ultimate assassin. He uses magic to disguise himself as anyone and to render his victims powerless. I really liked the idea of a killer who could be anyone, who was absolutely undetectable. How do you stop someone like that? He presents unique challenges for the heroes.
Dexter Rose strode confidently down one of the many curving halls of the palace in Al-Adan. They weren’t going to catch him. They thought they were, but they weren’t.
It was always the same. He sent a rose – not so much as a warning but as a promise. The victim took all sorts of elaborate measures to protect himself or herself, but it was all in vain. He easily penetrated their defenses and fulfilled his contract.
Alfar had proven more challenging than usual. For one, he was unfamiliar with the culture. This wasn’t like assassinating human dignitaries and leaders. Elves were an entirely different people. He had sorcery to understand and speak their language, but he had difficulty comprehending the things they did.
For instance, they were widely considered the foremost practitioners of magic in the world, but not one of them seemed to think they should cast a spell to try to trace him. He’d been afraid to send his usual greeting for just that reason, but his employer had insisted strongly he do so. And it had turned out to be fine. The coalition bickered instead of examining the problem closely. They argued about whose fault it was rather than what to do about it.
They had also thoughtfully warned him about the chinks in his armor. Captain Honeyflower discovered he could not disguise his eyes or his height. He understood the latter but was confused about the former. He’d never known his masquerade spells to be imperfect. He supposed it must be something about the mysterious corruption that gripped the fabled land of elves that was causing his charade to fall short.
It didn’t matter, though. Captain Honeyflower, in her quest to protect her bosses, told everyone about the shortcomings of the spell, hoping, he supposed, it would enable them to spot him. It wouldn’t. It only told him to put lifts in the boots he stole and to not make eye contact with anyone. She had warned him instead.
He was enjoying his time in Alfar. He hadn’t been this challenged in years. Yes, the elves still had obvious weaknesses that were exploitable, but, between the limitations of his disguises and the fear they would suddenly get wise enough to unmask him, this was his most difficult assignment in quite some time. He found it both engaging and exhilarating.
He turned down another corridor en route to the Minister of Finance’s offices. One of the challenges of any infiltration was finding one’s way around. It took some time to become familiar with the locale of one’s victim. Not only was it necessary to know how to get to the target, it was also imperative to know all the best ways away from the murder scene. One had to execute the job at the right location and have several escape routes in case something went wrong.
Alfar presented him with another challenge in this regard. The grand palace in Al-Adan was built a little differently than most of the castles with which he was familiar. The passageways curved and wound. They didn’t necessarily go straight to their destinations. It was easy to get lost if you didn’t know what you were doing. Dexter had spent several days just wandering the corridors to see where they went, to get to know the place. He still wasn’t sure he had it completely memorized.
He was certain he was going in the right direction now, though. Knowing Minister Waterdown would be his first victim, Dexter had given special attention to following him and learning his haunts.
Among the things he’d learned in his research was that soldiers seemed to have the greatest access to the palace. This wasn’t terribly surprising, but Alfar’s principal security force, the Elite Guard, counted patrolling and guarding the palace among its duties. Consequently, they could go anywhere. Dexter recognized masquerading as a Guardsman would be far more effective than as a servant or other functionary.
Of course, that brought its own set of challenges with it. The Elite Guard was properly named. Its members were the very best soldiers elves had. It wasn’t easy to infiltrate their organization or to pass himself off as one of their number.
Dexter had spent hours sizing them up until he located a soldier who was only a little taller than he. This elf, Yeoman Silverstar, quite fortuitously had regular duty shifts that brought him near the Minister of Finance during Waterdown’s regular business hours.
Silverstar was three inches taller than Dexter. That was easy enough to overcome.
Dexter waited for the elf in his quarters last night. Once there, he cast a sleep spell on him. He had no desire to murder him. He wasn’t, after all, on the victim list his employer had given him. Dexter had no problem killing anyone who got in his way, but he wasn’t going to murder indiscriminately. He was a professional and a civilized man.
With Silverstar unable to awaken, Dexter stole his uniform. He altered it as best he could to make it fit right, and he transformed the boots to feature three-inch lifts. Now, he would be the right height, even if his eyes were still blue instead of Silverstar’s natural brown. Finally, he cast a spell that made him look like Silverstar except for the eyes.
Dexter rounded the final corner on his journey to Waterdown’s office. Fifty feet away, at the end of the hall, two Guardsmen stood sentry outside a pair of ornately carved doors. Minister of Finance was one of the most powerful positions in Alfar’s coalition government. It commanded a large suite and staff.
Dexter breathed in once through his nose and calmed the beating of his heart. This was a precision exercise. It required him to be clearheaded. He set his shoulders and approached the doors.
“Silverstar,” one of the guards, a woman, said to him. “What are you doing here?”
He dropped his eyes to the floor, so she couldn’t see them. He also didn’t want to look at her. Elves, he’d discovered, were frighteningly beautiful. It was hard to look on them for long and keep one’s thoughts organized. Their comeliness was mesmerizing. Dexter may have been a professional killer, but he was neither soulless nor sociopathic. He liked sex as much as the next man. He didn’t need this soldier’s looks messing with his concentration.
“I’ve a message from Captain Honeyflower,” he answered, reaching into his sleeve and continuing to move forward.
“What is it,” she asked. “And what’s the matter with your voice? You don’t sound like yourself.”
In answer to her questions, he pulled his wand from his sleeve, waved it, and said,
Pink sparkles issued from the end of the wand, forming a small cloud that drifted forward. The guards’ eyes popped wide in surprise. Both of them attempted to draw their swords, but they didn’t get very far. The cloud enveloped their heads, and the blades never made it out of their scabbards. Their faces lost all trace of comprehension, and, seconds later, they both slumped to the ground completely asleep.
Dexter moved to the doors quickly. Now that the operation was in motion, he needed to act swiftly. The one variable he couldn’t control was someone else coming along. He needed to be inside and about his bloody business before anyone happened by and noticed the guards lying unconscious outside.
He pushed through the doors, shut them again, and locked them. When he turned around to face the room, a secretary stared at him curiously.
“Can I help you, Yeoman?” she said.
“Where is Minister Waterdown,” he asked.
“In his office,” she replied, still sounding confused. “Shall I call him for you?”
“No, thank you,” he replied. “Quiesco.”
A second cloud of pink sparkles had her out and snoring in seconds. He scanned her anteroom to make certain there was no one else he needed to worry about. The coast was clear.
He went to Waterdown’s office door and paused briefly to listen. He could hear voices within. Waterdown was talking to someone. Dexter was slightly disappointed. If Waterdown had been alone, it would have been much easier. Still, nothing about this assignment had been easy yet, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t anticipated finding Waterdown with company.
Dexter threw open the door of the office. Waterdown and another elf turned and looked at him in surprise.
“Torpesco!” Dexter said, waving the wand and pointing it at Waterdown.
An ice-blue ray emitted from its end and struck Waterdown full in the chest. He stiffened instantly, petrified completely as if he’d been turned to stone.
“Dexter Rose!” the other elf shouted in alarm.
He turned and tried to run for a side door to the office. He made it two steps before Dexter whirled to face him.
“Torpesco!” he said again.
A second wave of his wand produced another ice-blue beam that struck the fleeing elf between the shoulder blades. He froze where he was in mid-stride.
Dexter didn’t waste any time celebrating. He couldn’t be certain how many people were in the suite or who, if anyone, had heard the shout. He stepped fully into Minister Waterdown’s office and pulled the door shut behind him. He locked it quickly.
Now he had a chance to slow down a bit. He couldn’t afford to dally, but this part of the job required a certain deliberateness. He stowed his wand in his sleeve and walked over to the elf who’d tried to flee.
“Since you’re here,” he said to him, “you may as well bear witness.”
Dexter turned him carefully around, making sure not to topple him. He just wanted him to have a clear view of the action. Tears of fear leaked from the elf’s eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Dexter said. “You’re not going to die today.”
He turned away and went back to Waterdown. He carefully extracted a white rose and a note from his other sleeve.
“However, Minister Waterdown, I regret to inform you your service to Alfar is at an end,” Dexter said. “The Sons of Frey have targeted you for death due to your liberal views and your continued support of Urlanders raping Alfheim in pursuit of magic. You sell out your own people and destroy your homeland for the simple expedience of funding this illegal government. That ends today.”
Dexter turned away from him for a moment. He looked into the eyes of the other elf.
“Make sure you’re paying attention,” he said. “I want the coalition to know everything that happened here. Make sure you tell them this will happen again if President Spellbinder doesn’t dissolve the coalition and abdicate.”
He went to the desk and cleared a space. Then he set the note down and placed the rose artfully over it. He smiled grimly. He’d chosen white roses as his calling card years ago, because he’d read white was the color of death in Elfin culture. He’d liked that symbolism. Now, actually assassinating an elf seemed to bring the whole thing full circle.
He turned back to Minister Waterdown. Then he approached him and looked into his eyes. Cold horror banged at his victim’s brown irises, seeking some way to escape, to express itself.
“Goodbye, Minister Waterdown,” Dexter said. “The Sons of Frey pray God has mercy on your soul.”
He drew Silverstar’s sword and whipped it through the air, beheading Seneca Waterdown with a single stroke. Blood geysered up from his neck like a grisly fountain as the Minister of Finance’s head sailed across the room and landed with a thud a short distance away. Dexter nodded with satisfaction. You could always count on a soldier to have a sharp sword.
Waterdown’s body remained standing, held fast by Dexter’s magic. It looked like some sort of macabre statue. Dexter tossed Silverstar’s sword to the floor. He stepped away from the body, so there was no chance any of its blood could get on him.
Then he quickly stripped out of Silverstar’s uniform. Beneath it, he wore the simple tunic and leggings of a janitor. He withdrew his wand once again.
“Adieu,” he said to the witness.
Then he unlocked the door to the minister’s office. His eyes darted back and forth. Aside from the unconscious secretary, the outer office was empty. He slipped quietly outside Waterdown’s office and shut the door behind him.
“Concelo,” he said, waving his wand.
A green mist popped over his head and drifted down over him. A moment later, he had an entirely different appearance. He replaced the wand in his sleeve.
He exited the suite quickly, past the snoring secretary, past the sleeping guards. He hurried to the end of the corridor. Then he slowed to a regular pace, turned and left that part of the palace.
Dexter Rose smiled. Once again, he’d succeeded. The first part of the mission was accomplished.
John R. Phythyon, Jr. wishes he were a superhero or a magician, but, since he has not yet been bitten by a radioactive spider or received his letter from Hogwarts, he writes adventure stories instead. He is the author of the Wolf Dasher series of fantasy-thriller mash-up novels, two modern fairy tales, a two-act comedy, and the full-length fantasy novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer. Prior to becoming a novelist, he was an award-winning game designer.
He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife, their children, two dogs, and a cat. It is rarely quiet, but it’s often entertaining. His current projects include the next book in the Wolf Dasher series, world peace, and desperately wishing for the Cincinnati Bengals to win a Super Bowl in his lifetime.
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