Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 5

This will be the last sample chapter of Resurrected since it comes out next week.

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Alex Stanton heard their expected guests in the hallway before they rang the doorbell to his and Phil’s condo. He yanked the door open before the sound died. “How’s my favorite granddaughter?” He swept Ellie into his arms and twirled her around. His Maltese Kiki danced around his bare feet and barked at the excitement.

Ellie giggled. “Grandpa Alex, you’re being silly. I’m your only granddaughter.”

“And if you make her puke, you’re cleaning up the mess,” Phil yelled from the kitchen.

Ellie leaned close to his ear. “Mommy’s upset. Uncle Jake’s in the hospital.”

“I know,” he whispered back. “Grandma Phil’s making cookies. Why don’t you give her a hand?”

“Yay!” Ellie shed her jacket and dropped it on the floor before she ran for the kitchen. Kiki yipped and raced after her.

“El—” Tiffany started.

“Let it go this once,” Alex murmured as he retrieved the bright pink garment with Hello Kitty embroidered on the pockets. “What happened?”

“W-we don’t know much yet. His mom just said there was an accident.” She looked on the verge of tears herself.

“I’m taking her there now,” Sam said, as if daring him to say something.

Things hadn’t been great between the two women since Max died two years ago. He hadn’t agreed with Duncan about getting in the middle of the mess between Sam and Tiffany, but maybe Duncan had been right to do so after all. “Go. I’ll meet you two there.”

“You don’t have to—” Tiffany started, but he held up a hand. The kid’s relief at having someone else there was obvious, even to Sam from the way her lips pinched together.

“He’s my employee, too. And I’m gonna make damn sure whatever happened was really an accident.” Things had been quiet for the last year, other than the misunderstanding with the ghouls six months ago. But the peace Tiffany brokered with them had been invaluable in taking down the Vampire Liberation Front, and the threat of rebellion for withholding the cure from her own coven had gotten Virginia Dare to back off her planned invasion of St. James Coven’s territory. However, there had been no signs of Marcus Giovanni, the Sunshine Believers, or any dino demon since the ghoul incident.

Alex’s gut said this was merely the proverbial lull before the storm. And it would be just like those assholes to target a Normal member of the coven. He glanced in the direction of the kitchen to make sure Ellie was still back there.

Give me a little credit, Phil’s voice whispered in his mind. Of course, she’d been listening to the conversation through him.

Tiffany’s eyes widened. “You don’t think—”

“Don’t worry about it right now. Get to the hospital. I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Thanks.” Tiffany’s voice trembled, but her back was ramrod straight. She and Sam winked out of sight.

He padded back to the kitchen where his wife and Ellie were enthusiastically licking chocolate chip cookie dough off the beaters. Poor Kiki looked mournfully up at them.

“That looks delicious,” he said brightly as he retrieved a doggie treat. He crouched down, and Kiki licked his fingers before she gingerly took the nugget from his hand.

Ellie paused. “Did you eat chocolate chip cookies before you got sick?”

“Nope. I don’t think they had been invented yet.” He winked, and she giggled. “I need to go run an errand.” He rose and grabbed his keys and wallet from the counter.

Ellie’s eyes narrowed. “You’re going to the hospital, too, aren’t you?”

He and Phil exchanged looks. Don’t lie to her, his wife said in his mind.

“Yeah, sweetie, I am.”

“Why can’t I go?” Ellie asked matter-of-factly.

He knelt beside her. “Because the doctors want Jake to rest so he can get better. They won’t let little girls into his room yet.”

“Would they let me in to see him if Jake and Mommy got married?” she asked. “He said he was hoping to be my daddy real soon.”

Alex swallowed his discomfort. Jake had mentioned he’d asked Ellie’s permission when he’d dragged Alex along to shop for an engagement ring last week.

He wrapped an arm around Ellie. “I know he wants to be your daddy, sweetie. But even if he were already, the doctors still wouldn’t let you in yet. You would need to stay with us, or Grandma and Grandpa Howell, or Uncle Duncan.”

“That’s not fair.” Ellie stuck out her bottom lip. “I’m better behaved than Grandma Howell.”

Alex couldn’t look at Phil because he was having trouble keeping his own laughter in check. “If it makes you feel better, the doctors wouldn’t let Grandma Howell see Jake right now either.”

“Okay.” That answer seemed to mollify Ellie. “I suppose you can go without me.”

He smiled. “Thank you.”

She threw her arms around his neck. “It’s okay if you have to bite him to make him better, too.”

He forced himself not to react. Concern rolled along Phil’s thoughts as well.

Maybe Bebe had been right all those years ago. When they had first met the doctor, Tiffany had been in high school. Bebe had gone ballistic about Tiffany being raised by vampires. But not even as a teenager had Tiffany taken the V-virus this lightly.

Or maybe Ellie wasn’t taking things lightly. Maybe she understood more than Sam and Tiffany had been willing to admit to themselves.

“Well, let’s see what Jake’s doctors says before we do anything.”

“Okay.” Ellie released him. “Can I watch some television, Grandma Phil?”

“Yes, you may, but—” Phil turned and pulled a clean bowl from the dish rack. “Take this to put your beater in.”

Ellie accepted the bowl and took off for the living room. Kiki glanced at Alex before she trotted after Ellie. A few seconds later the overly sweet lyrics of a popular children’s show echoed through the condo.

Alex rose and kissed Phil briefly on the lips. “I’ll call you once I know something.” He turned to leave, but she grabbed his arm.

“Wait.”

“What’s wrong?”

She laughed and forced him to pivot away from her. “Hold still. You have a blob of cookie dough in your hair.”

Water ran in the sink behind him before the fresh scent of his wife mixed with the sweet smell of raw dough. He held still while she gently wiped the dough off the back of his head.

“There you go,” she said. “But you might want to wash your hair when you get home.”

He turned and pulled her close. “I will.” She tasted like semi-sweet chocolate and brown sugar when he gave her a much deeper kiss this time.

Phil pulled away and swatted him on the ass. “You’d better get going. If Jake’s all right, the hospital’s going to need you to referee the girls.”

Alex hoped she was wrong about Sam and Tiffany. But he still said a silent little prayer for Jake while he pulled on his boots. His goodbye didn’t even register with Ellie who was engrossed in her program, but Kiki looked at him briefly before she curled up against Ellie on the couch.

Sometimes it felt as if that dog understood far more than any normal canine. According to Phil, the Maltese breed were descended from pets created by a Phoenician god. Hell, for all he knew, Kiki might really be a were-Maltese. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d run into such a creature.

Five minutes later, he guided his pick-up through early evening Los Angeles traffic.

Or tried to. Rush hour was in full swing. Wilshire was already a mess. Santa Monica Boulevard wouldn’t be much better. Time to take the back streets. He turned right toward Olympic.

Buenos tardas, viejo amigo.” The voice came an instant before the smell.

“Shit!”

His truck swerved. Horns blared. Alex yanked the wheel back, somehow missing any of the vehicles around him.

He shot an ugly look at the Uku Pacha monkey demon now sitting in the pick-up’s passenger seat. “What the fuck, Francisco? Are you trying to get me killed?”

“Boss wouldn’t be too happy with me if I did,” the demon replied in English. The former vampire, now minion of Supay the Incan god of Death, still had the same charming voice he’d had while alive.

Alex guided his truck into the left turn lane for Olympic Boulevard and braked behind a minivan with a stick figure family in the rear window. Another glance at his visitor showed rotten teeth in Francisco’s broad smile. “You couldn’t have dropped the glamour five minutes earlier when I wasn’t driving in heavy traffic? Better yet, knock on my door like a civilized person?”

The demon shook his head. The motions sent dead skin and disintegrating hair flying through the cab of the truck. “Not with the little senorita visiting you. I did not wish to frighten her.”

“What are you doing in the States? Shouldn’t you be back in Peru, kissing your new boss’s ass?” The light changed, and Alex pressed the accelerator.

“Aren’t we in a piss-poor mood today?” The chittering sound Francisco made was the demon equivalent of laughter. “Did the lovely Phillippa kick you out of her bed for acting like an idiot?”

Alex’s grip tightened on the steering wheel. Francisco was right. He was taking his worry out on the demon. “Sorry, my friend. I’m on the way to the hospital. One of my enforcers was in an accident. He’s a Normal, and I don’t know how bad his condition is yet.”

Francisco grunted. “A Normal injured is never a good thing. They are so…fragile.” Of course, he understood. He had been the chief enforcer for the Lima vampire coven before he died. For some reason, Lord Supay had taken a shine to Francisco and offered him a place in his court at Uku Pacha after the dino demons and their followers had killed the vampire.

“You still haven’t told me why you’re here?” Alex murmured.

“My Master wishes to collect on the remainder of your debt.”

A chill ran through Alex. Owing a god, especially the Incan god of death, was not a healthy position for anyone, much less a vampire. “I got him his tumi back. You delivered it to him, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did!” Francisco huffed. “Do you truly believe I’d be that stupid and not return it?”

“Then our debt is done,” Alex declared. From the corner of his eye, he could see Francisco shaking his head sadly.

“In addition to His tumi, you promised to deliver those who took it.”

“All three of the Old Ones’ minions are dead. You helped Phil and me kill the two in Peru, and we took out the third one twice.” Even though the third dinosaur demon had managed to breed a couple hundred demon babies, surely Supay couldn’t count them as part of the debt.

“My Master had us hunt down the Normals and vampires who worked for the Old Ones’ minions at the time his tumi was stolen, but we were never able to catch one,” Francisco replied.

“Marcus Giovanni,” Alex growled as he braked at the next red light. Olympic was just as bad as Wilshire traffic-wise.

“Yes.”

The bastard had been Selene’s lieutenant when she made her repeated bids to kill Caesar and take over the Augustine, now St. James, vampire coven. After their third failure and Selene’s death, Giovanni had allied himself with the dinosaur demons and the human worshippers of their ancient gods.

Alex tapped the steering wheel with his thumbs as he waited for the light to change. It had been wishful thinking on his part that sad excuse for a vampire might have died when he’d been dragged to Otherwhere. It wasn’t like Sam hadn’t been hunting the bastard for the last two years in that alien dimension after he had tried to Turn Ellie when she was still in preschool.

“So he’s still alive. Do you know where he is?” Alex asked.

“He was last seen near the U.S. western coast. In the Cascade range outside of Portland, moving north with two Normals.” The light flipped to green, and Alex press the accelerator as he considered the situation. Now, why would Marcus come back to the U.S., much less hang out in the Oregon back country? Unless he didn’t consider Duncan a threat as the new coven master.

But Giovanni being back in the States and Jake’s accident was too much of a coincidence. And why the hell would the rogue vampire be traveling with Normals?

“Is your source reliable?”

Francisco chittered again. “As reliable as Coyote has ever been.” He sobered. “But he has no wish for the Old Ones’ return either. My Lord considers the information valid.”

“And Coyote is absolutely sure the pair with Giovanni were Normal?” Not that Alex questioned any deity given that his father-in-law was Ares of Olympus, but the Native American Coyote had a reputation as a trickster.

More skin flaked from Francisco’s forehead at his frown. “You believe them to be demon spawn?”

“It’s possible.” When Francisco remained quiet, Alex continued. “Portland, huh? Could he be heading back to Seattle? The last dino demon had a nest there a few years ago.”

“A possibility,” Francisco admitted. “I have been making the rounds on our end to alert other deities and their entourages in this area.”

“All right.” Alex pulled into the parking garage closest to the ER. “I’ll send out word to our enforcers.” He guided the truck into the first available parking spot he found. “Is there anything else?”

The demon sighed. “Unfortunately, there is.” Silvery white light filled the truck’s cab. “My Master needs something delivered.”

The little carved figure he held resembled something out of a Lovecraft story. It was made of the same space-age ceramic, titanium, and unknown metal as Supay’s tumi.

Francisco’s orange eyes held a terrible sadness. “I beg your forgiveness, my friend.”

Vampiric speed meant nothing. The demon slapped his right hand over Alex’s heart. The light from the strange object blinded him.

Alex couldn’t scream if he wanted to. Something else owned his vocal cords.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 4

Ptolemy

For the first time since arriving on the shores of the Styx, Ptolemy was glad of his ectoplasmic state. He’d be exhausted by now even with his old vampiric stamina.

He had followed Hermes along the shore until they were well away from the other shades. When the river dumped into a dark, bottomless chasm, they turned to the right, and toward what Ptolemy thought was the land of the living. Even the god’s snakes appeared bored. They had slithered from Hermes’s caduceus and draped themselves over his shoulders, hissing softly to each other.

The path widened until only the occasional boulder marked the way. Ptolemy couldn’t see the stone ceiling anymore. The gravel beneath their feet turned to sand. The grains felt odd under his soles.

He halted. I’m feeling again. The sand was warm, yet there was no sun. He kicked at a small mound. Bits flew into the air.

Hermes glanced over his shoulder. “Keep up. If I lose you here, I’ll never find you again.”

Ptolemy didn’t question the statement. “Is there a reason we cannot fly?” he asked as he hurried to match the god’s strides.

“Other than advertising your presence here and attracting every nearby predator, no,” the god replied sourly. Ptolemy extinguished a flicker of amusement. The Olympian didn’t relish walking like a Normal. But the last thing Ptolemy wanted to do was irritate Hermes. He’d end up back at on the shores of the River Styx.

Or worse.

“What is this place?” he asked. He kept his voice as quiet as the snakes’. Only the gods knew what prowled this place, and he really didn’t want to find out first hand.

“The common mortal name these days is Otherwhere. It is the space between realms.”

A shudder racked Ptolemy. The edges of his ectoplasmic body blurred and shredded. He heard enough from the witches over the millennia to know living things rarely survived long in this place. Even the fae trod lightly through Otherwhere. But the dead…

The dead were mere snacks for the things that roamed here.

Something far behind them howled. He automatically reached for his waist, but none of the weapon he wore when he was alive hung there. He looked wildly around and spotted a figure crouched on a boulder to their right. Gold eyes stared at him. Then they blinked.

“Lord Hermes?”

The Olympian said nothing, but he quickened his pace toward the boulder. Ptolemy had no choice but to keep up. The dark form leapt to the sand. As they drew closer, the figure’s head resolved into that of a jackal. The rest of his body was human-shaped, but blacker than their surroundings.

“Hermes.” The god inclined his long snout.

The Olympian gave a curt nod. “Anpu,” he said using the ancient Egyptian version of Anubis. “Any trouble?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary.” The Egyptian god twirled the long staff he carried. “Don’t worry, youngling. I won’t let the monsters eat you.” His lower jaw hung open and his tongue lolled out in a canine grin.

Ptolemy definitely got the impression Anubis found Hermes wanting. From the tight press of the Olympian’s lips, he knew it as well. Nor did he appreciate the comment.

“May I ask where we are going?” Ptolemy said.

Anubis cocked his head and stared at his counterpart. “You haven’t told him?”

Hermes waved a hand. “I gave him the gist.”

Another howl sounded from the direction they had walked. The Egyptian god snorted. “Too much risk staying here. I’ll explain as we go.” He set off at a brisk pace.

They had walked quite a distance, and Ptolemy wondered if he would have to ask again when Anubis spoke. “There’s a waiting area for the dead. A place for them to reside unmolested when there are…questions concerning their final disposition.” The god’s golden eyes flicked in Ptolemy’s direction before resuming their watchful examination the terrain ahead. “You almost ended up there.”

There was no need to ask why. Remembering his many sins while he waited on the shores of the Styx had been a more appropriate punishment than anything Hades or the Furies could devise in Tartarus.

“Why are you taking me there? Lord Hermes said I was to live another man’s life,” Ptolemy said.

Behind him, the Olympian muttered, “Dumbass. I explained it was a second chance.”

Anubis glanced at Ptolemy again. “You know what happens when a shade possesses a living body for too long.”

Another shudder rippled through his ectoplasm. He knew all too well. A possession gone wrong was the reason Caesar refused to hire any eclectic witch since the late 1600s. “So I only have a few days to accomplish this mission of yours.” “No. We’re unsure of how long you may need or what difficulties you will encounter. That’s why we’re meeting others at the waiting area. There is a way to extend your time on the mortal plane.”

“Why do I have the feeling I’m not going to like this?” Ptolemy muttered.

“You won’t.” Anubis stopped and stared at him. “However, you do have a choice in the matter. You can fulfill the task we give you and possibly redeem yourself, or Hermes can take you back to the shores of the Styx where you will eventually go mad like your sister.”

Ptolemy crossed his arms, or tried to emulate the gesture. “Lord Hermes said the catch was I had to trap a goddess. Why? And what goddess?”

Anubis was silent for a moment, as if searching for the correct words. “Why? To save the universe. As for the goddess, well, she is quite new. The first of what will be a new pantheon. An infant really.”

“Are you asking me to harm a baby?”

“Not harm. Restrain. So she doesn’t starts eating mortals before her transformation is complete.”

“What is she the patroness of that she would consume people?”

Anubis’s tongue hung out of his snout again, definitely the canine equivalent of a grin. “Death always comes first. And she is always hungry.”

Friday, October 4, 2019

BOOK SALE!!

There's good news and bad news.

BAD NEWS
As of October 31st, Amazon is discontinuing its Matchbook program. For those who don't know what that this, some publishers have deals set up where if you buy the paperback novel you can get the e-book of that same novel for a deep discount or free.

GOOD NEWS
Angry Sheep Publishing has most of my e-book novels and anthologies set to free in this program.

Even better, Amazon has been marking down a lot of my paperbacks. Some really good discounts too, like 25-66%. With the holidays coming up, you could buy the paperback and keep the e-book for yourself.

For example, the paperback of Hero Ad Hoc is $4.57 in the US store as of this posting, so you could buy it and the e-book version for $4.57 plus tax. Check it out if you're interested!


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 3

Tiffany

I braced myself before I opened my own front door, regretting once again that I had allowed Uncle Duncan talk me into letting her babysit my daughter. “Ellie! I’m home!”

“We’re in the kitchen, Mommy!” my baby’s sweet voice answered. She claimed she was a big girl now she was in first grade. I told her she’d always be my tiny, red, squirmy worm who peed all over the doctors and nurses the night she was born.

I dropped my bag and books in the new mauve armchair in the living room. Hardwood covered the floor now. I couldn’t handle keeping the carpet that had been soaked with my dead husband’s blood. That had been the first thing to go. Once Jake and I decided to live together, the rest of the old furniture had to go, too.

I could have simply sold the house. It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford something better, but the Tarzana ranch-style place was the closest I ever felt to “home” my entire life. This is where I started my own family.

From the kitchen came Ellie’s voice, then hers, then someone I didn’t recognize. Rage burned my blood. Of course, she would flaunt my rules about no visitors while sitting for my child after school. She didn’t think rules applied to her anymore.

The bitch needed to die, but how can you kill someone who’s already dead? Even worse, how do you kill Death personified? I eased my gun out of my waist holster anyway. The silver-and-garlic-laced steel bullets were specially designed by my boss to handle just about anything in the supernatural range. No one outside of me and a couple of other St. James Coven enforcers knew the real special ingredient was Maltese dog fur.

And if anyone had ever told me years ago, Alex Stanton would have a tiny fluff-mop for a pet, I would have laughed my ass off. In fact, most vampires didn’t have pets. Something about competing predator instinct.

But no, my manly man boss had a girly dog. I kind of wished she was here now.

I eased around the wall between the living room and the extra-large kitchen, gun raised. Five strangers sat with Ellie and her at my table.

“Mommy, put your gun down. That’s rude.” My daughter’s expression was the same cross one she had when someone farted in her presence. Who would have thought I’d be raising a princess? “Aunt Sam and I are teaching her friends how to play poker.”

Okay, maybe a princess who can wipe the floor of any casino in Vegas.

I lowered my weapon only because Ellie was sitting between her and Morrigan. And I’d dealt enough with the sidhe over the years that I actually respected the Celtic goddess.

Nor did it take a rocket scientist to figure out who the rest of the players were considering the predominance of black, red and white clothing. Ellie’s pink princess dress and tiara stood out among the assembly.

I blinked and looked again. That wasn’t the toy tiara Jake had bought for her. The way it sparkled under the sunlight coming through the huge picture window overlooking the backyard, my daughter wore a fortune in diamonds on her head. Shit. I didn’t need three guesses to know who the tiara came from.

I holstered my gun. It wouldn’t do a damn thing against this group. “That’s nice, babycakes, but please, go to your room. The grown-ups need to talk.”

Blue eyes wide, Ellie climbed down from her chair and scampered down the hall, pink taffeta fluttering behind her. She’d learned not to talk back when Mommy used her growly voice.

I was definitely growling when I whirled toward Sam. “What the fuck makes you think you can flaunt my rules? No guests while babysitting!” My hand slashed in the direction of the other goddesses. “I don’t care who they are.”

My sister-in-law had the grace to look embarrassed. “You’re home early,” she muttered.

“And that makes it okay?” My voice rose to a shriek.

“Our deepest apologies, Ms. Stephens.” The woman in the black kimono rose and bowed. The red and white flowers on the fabric shivered if I looked at them to closely and became maggots wiggling through droplets of blood. “We didn’t know our presence was banned by you. We would not have come if we were aware of the restriction.”

I reined in my fury at my sister-in-law. It wouldn’t be healthy to offend her guests no matter how pissed I was.

I bowed in return, an equal tilt of my body. Grandpa Kensai had taught me enough Japanese culture to understand the significance of a bow. “Your presence in and of itself is not the problem, Lady Izanami. Nor do I fault you in this matter.” I glared at Sam. “The issue is Lady Samantha agreeing to my terms in return for visiting my daughter without supervision, and then breaking her word.”

Three of the seated goddesses turned to Sam with a collective, “Ooooooooo!”

The fourth rose to her feet as well. She wore a black t-shirt with blood red leather pants, her hair braided and tied on top of her head with a thong that matched her lower half. The arc of her nose and darker skin said Native American. Her ear plugs and nose ring indicated south of the U.S. border. Her piercing black eyes arrowed on Sam. “Is this true?” Pink flushed Sam’s cheeks. “I thought Ellie should get to know you guys, Miki.”

Miki. Mictecacihuatl. My stupid ex-sister-in-law brought the Aztec goddess of death into my home. From the pounding in my ears, my blood pressure had to be well over anything remotely in the healthy range.

“You definitely scrooched the pooch, baby girl.” Kali shook her head. Maybe if Sam didn’t listen to me, she’d listen to the Hindu goddess’s disapproving mom voice. “Folks like us can’t go back on our word. It can break things.” She leaned closer and fake-whispered, “Like the universe.”

“All right.” Morrigan slapped the table with her palms and stood. “Ladies, we’re outta here while somebody—” She also glared at Sam. “—kisses some ass if she ever wants to see her niece again.” She turned back to me. “Again, we’re sorry, Tiffany.”

The other goddesses followed Morrigan to the front door.

The blonde with the pale skin and ice blue eyes, who hadn’t said a word, was the last. She inclined her head in my direction. “God middag, Ms. Stephens.”

Something moved under her black broomstick-style skirt. Something I didn’t want to see, much less let my daughter see it. I forced myself to face her and inclined my head as well. “Good afternoon, Lady Hela.”

She glided out of the kitchen. Only when I heard the front door close did I whirl to face her.

“How could you, you fucking bitch?” Part of me was thankful I wasn’t screaming hysterically. “I didn’t ask a lot, except for you to obey the same rules as all the other babysitters.”

She raised her hands in a defensive gesture. “Kali asked what I was doing, and I texted her a picture of Ellie in her princess dress. Next thing I know, they’re all in the living room.”

“Oh my god, Sam! This isn’t a kegger!” So much for keeping my voice down. “You let five goddesses of DEATH play with my DAUGHTER!”

She stared at the chips in front of her. “I didn’t want to be alone in case Jake got here before you,” she mumbled.

My brain took a couple of seconds to translate her mumbles. “What?”

“I didn’t want to be alone with Jake, okay?” She looked up at me. “Things have been going pretty good with Duncan, and I…”

I pulled out one of the vacated chairs and sat down. “Is this about your marriage, or is this about my relationship with your ex-fiancĂ©?”

She sucked in a deep breath. “Both.”

“Are you that pissed Jake moved in with me?”

“No.” She reached for a napkin next to the nearly empty box of Oreos and dabbed her eyes.

I would have to address the sweets issue, but one crisis at a time.

“I think you two are good for each other, and he adores Ellie,” she continued. “It’s…”

“It’s what?” I was trying very hard not to lose what little patience I’d regained.

“You guys are the family I couldn’t give him.”

Old rage boiled to the surface of my thoughts. “So, are you going to take him from me, too?”

“What?” She tried to look surprised, but I didn’t buy it.

“You heard me.” “I don’t want to argue about Max. Not today.” She covered her face with her hands.

“Then you shouldn’t have used the past as an excuse to break my rules,” I snapped. I pushed away from the table, jumped up and charged for the fridge. I needed to do something, anything, before I started blowing holes in my sister-in-law. Not that it would do any good.

I grabbed one of Jake’s orange-flavored beers and twisted off the cap. It was petty of me, but I didn’t offer her one. After two years, I still couldn’t forgive her for letting my husband, her own damn brother, die.

Even Grandpa Ares was on her side. Telling me she didn’t have a choice. That she had to obey the rules.

Was that the real reason I agreed to Jake moving in with Ellie and me? A little perverted payback since he was her ex-fiancé?

No, I told myself firmly. Jake was funny and sweet, and he could deal with the insanity of my family. Honestly, he was the first Normal guy I’d ever dated. Max and I…

I took a swig from the bottle. My husband and I never really dated. We went straight from sex to pregnancy to marriage. Hell, it was a wonder we lasted as a couple as long as we did.

Sam stood. “If you don’t want me around, I understand.” And I finally realized she wasn’t wearing her normal t-shirt and jeans. Instead, she was cloaked in a high-collared black coat straight out of the Matrix with matching slacks and boots.

Either the garb truly reflected her new duties, or Uncle Duncan’s lack of fashion sense was rubbing off on her. I slammed the fridge door shut and tossed the cap in the trash. “That’s not the point.” I jabbed a finger in the general direction of my front door. “Everyone else who was here apologized, except the one person who should have. You.” She stiffened. “I—”

The ringing of my cell phone cut her off. I held up an index finger to tell her to shut it. I expected Jake to call. Things on the set had been running behind for the last week and a half.

I pulled the phone from my jeans pocket, but it wasn’t his ID on my display. It was his mother’s. “Hey, Audra. What’s up?”

“T-t-tiffany, there’s been an accident.” She was crying. Audra Wong was not a crier.

My entire body went numb. “What hospital?”

“Cedar Sinai.”

“I’ll be there in twenty.” I thumbed off the phone. Please let him be okay. I can’t go through this again. Not for the third time.

“Mommy?” Ellie peered wide-eyed around the corner of the hall.

I forced a smile. At least, I think I did. I couldn’t feel anything. “Babycakes, I need you to go pack a bag real quick. You’re going to stay with Grandma Phil tonight.” My thumb was already punching the number. Except the phone and the beer bottle were sliding from my hands.

Sam caught them both. “Go do as your mom asked Ellie.” She set down the bottle on the table and guided me to the chair. A voice came through the speaker, and she raised it to her ear.

“No, Phil. It’s Sam. Can Ellie stay with you tonight?”

I made a half-hearted grab for my phone, but Sam danced out of reach.

“There was an accident at the movie set. Jake’s been taken to Cedars.” Pause. “No, we don’t know how bad it is yet.” Pause. “I’m taking her.”

That statement reminded me I was still pissed at Sam. “No, you’re not.”She glared at me. “You’re in no shape to drive.” Her attention returned to the phone conversation. “We’ll be at your door in five minutes.” She thumbed off the call.

“I hate teleporting,” I grumbled.

“You were right about what I did,” she said.

“Well, halle-fucking-lujah,” I muttered.

“I’m sorry for disobeying your rules. Let me make this up to you and help.”

I glared at her. “If you let him die, I will fucking stab you through the heart, bitch.”

She nodded. “Understood. Get your bag, and I’ll make sure Ellie has her toothbrush.” For the first time in years, she sounded like the old Sam.

And that scared me more than anything.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 2

While a good chunk of this novel wraps up Sam and Tiffany's story arcs, there's some other character threads that need to be finished. And then there's some returns as well...

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Ptolemy

The moaning of the damned never stopped on the shores of the Styx. If Ptolemy Antonius had one regret about the afterlife, it was the lack of his digital music player. That and a pair of earbuds could do so much to bring joy back to his life.

Or actually his death.

But then, the lack of comfort was the entire point of damnation, wasn’t it?

He perched on a boulder and watched the shades drift back and forth along the gravel-strewn banks. Some had been there so long they were nothing more than amorphous gray blobs. Most had gone insane millennia ago. Only a handful of souls had come to the dock since Hermes had deposited him here…

It could have been hours. Years. Centuries ago.

There wasn’t any way to know in the unrelenting grayness. No sun. No moon. No sleep. No waking. No eating. Nothing to mark the time.

And no way out. Not without a coin for Charon.

At first, he had been thankful it had been Hermes who collected his soul. If it had been Anubis, he would have been brought before Osiris and the forty judges, instead of being stranded on the shores of the Styx.

He would have been condemned for betraying his brother. His soul consumed by Ammut. His existence erased from reality for his sins. Even Hermes had stated he wasn’t sure which underworld was the worse punishment when he left Ptolemy here.

“Ptolemy, darling, why aren’t you hunting with Jubba, Alexander and the others?” Selene drifted closer. This time, his sister wore an ephemeral version of a Roman matron’s stolla and spoke Latin, which explained her question. Selene was reliving the past again.

“Too busy debating the merits of the Ars Amoratia.” He smiled.

She settled next to him on the boulder and clucked her tongue. “Which girl is it this time?”

“A Ptolemy doesn’t kiss and tell.” They’d have the very same conversation over two thousand years ago, and twice since Hermes brought her to the edge of the realm of Hades.

She’d been insane with fury when she arrived. What little he’d been able to glean from her was that her spawn, Duncan St. James, had tried to kill her lover before killing Selene herself and that two years had passed between Ptolemy’s death and his sister’s. He was a little surprised Caesar managed to hold St. James back for those two years. Or maybe he should be more surprised she evaded the Briton’s vengeance for that long. He’d told her more than once when they were both still alive that killing St. James’s Normal kin was unwise, but she took any rejection so personally.

Over time, Selene’s initial outrage sank into ancient memories as the mind-numbing drift along the Styx ate what little was left of her sanity.

“Come on. You can tell me.” Selene nudged his shoulder with hers. Or tried to. She didn’t seem to notice what passed for their bodies merged and parted, wisps of mist in the constant chill of the Underworld.

Grief as cold and gray as their surroundings filled him. Maybe her madness was a blessing. But how long would it be before he followed her? Before they both became as incoherent as the older shades drifting along the shore.

“Phillippa,” he lied.

Selene leaned back to examine him. “You can’t—”

He held up his hand to stop her usual lecture regarding the Amazon. “Like I could touch her even if I wanted her. She wields thunderbolts with the precision of Lord Zeus himself. The discussion was purely intellectual.” No one outside him and his siblings had known the truth about Phillippa at the time.

His sister’s ectoplasm morphed into something more recent. The suit she wore was from the middle of the twentieth century, her hair matching the style. “We need to kill her,” she whispered in English.

“How do you propose we do that?”

“We drink her blood while she sleeps.” Somehow, Selene’s dull ectoplasm managed to convey a maniacal gleam in her eyes. “If we don’t, she’ll burn us all.”

He would have sighed if he still could. This was a new take on Selene’s paranoia.

Before he think of an answer that wouldn’t set off her temper, her ectoplasm shifted again. This time, she wore jeans and a turtleneck sweater. “You’re in love with St. James’s brat!”

“What?” If he still had blood, it would have chilled in his veins. Had she guessed the truth, or was this part of her paranoid ramblings?

“You’re as bad as Alexander! Both of you let your dicks do all your thinking!”

“Selene—”

“I’ll kill you for betraying me!” The edges of her ectoplasm blurred as her rage escalated. Her mouth opened, far wider and with far more teeth than her physical form had. She lunged for his throat only to pass through him. The rough gray blob, all that was left of sister in her mad fit, charged along the shore, shrieking incoherently.

“Well, that was an interesting performance.”

Ptolemy turned to find Lord Hermes floating a sword-length above the gravel. The wings of his sandals lowered him gently to the ground. He took the seat Selene had vacated.

“So how’s it going?” The Olympian looked distinctly uncomfortable.

A ripple of unease fluttered through Ptolemy. The gods were never uncomfortable around mortals, regardless of whether the mortal in question was Normal or supernatural. The dead were even less of a threat to them.

“May I help you, my Lord?” Hermes’s nearness made him acutely aware of his sister’s furious screeching along the banks of the Styx. Maybe there were worse things than going mad.

“I’m here to ask a favor.” The god twirled his caduceus in his hands. His two snakes hung onto the wooden staff literally for their dear lives. One glared at Hermes through slitted eyes, but she didn’t dare utter a word.

“While I am pleased and honored to assist you, my Lord, my skills are quite limited at the moment.” Ptolemy held up his gray misty hands.

The god stopped playing with his staff. His snakes looked relived, or at least Ptolemy thought they did. Hermes stared at him with an intense expression. “How would you like a second chance at life?”

The unease turned to full-blown panic. There was a reason the Mafia dons were referred to as “godfathers.” Like the Olympians, one simply didn’t say no. Not without severe repercussions. And saying yes often meant an even worse fate.

“What service must I perform in return for this…favor?”

Hermes’s face split into a wide grin. “I love a clever man.”

Ptolemy waited. Patience had been something he sorely lacked when he’d been alive.

And a hard-earned lesson on the shores of the Styx.

“You will need to acquire an object.”

Ptolemy waited and let idle thoughts drift through his mind. Was it summer or winter? On this side of the river, one never knew if the Queen of Hades was in residence.

“It’s a magickal object.”

Ptolemy waited. Another year could be passing on Earth. Had Tiffany gone to college and met a boy there? Maybe it was a good thing he had died. She was safe from his attraction to her. She had been coming into her own womanhood, oh, so beautiful, when Selene had shot him in the heart.

Finally, Hermes said, “You will deliver it to you by someone you know. Alexander Stanton.”

“Stanton?” He hated the enforcer with a passion. Stanton was blond, blue-eyed, and handsome with charm oozing from his every pore. He could attract any woman with a smile and a wink.

And worst of all, Tiffany adored him. They shared a passion for the idiotic sport of surfing. If one could call balancing on a wooden board among the ocean waves a sport.

“And how am I supposed to acquire this object of yours?” Ptolemy punched the boulder on which he perched. His fist passed into the rock. He yanked and gray ectoplasm rushed from the stone and reformed into his hand.

Hermes’s nostrils flared before he said, “You’ll have a body to use. The catch you’re looking for in our offer is that you’ll be living another man’s life.”

“Normal or supernatural?”

“Does it matter?”

Ptolemy waited some more.

Hermes sighed. “Normal, but he’s a part-time day enforcer with your old coven if that helps.”

The god’s lack of specificity worried Ptolemy even more. “Augustine Coven?”

“Um, it’s, um, no longer Augustine’s.” Hermes kicked at the gravel beneath his sandals.

“My brother’s dead?”

Hermes started twirling his staff again. “No. He’s very much alive.”

Ptolemy narrowed his eyes. “Then why isn’t he the coven master?”

The god finally met his gaze. “Because his wife found the cure to the V-virus.”

“Bebe found the cure?” If he had still been alive and actually had a body, he was sure it would have gone into shock. “How many years has it been since—”

“You died?” Hermes stopped spinning his staff. The snake that had been giving the god dirty looks stretch out and bit his thumb. “Ow! Stop that!”

“Then quit spinning us,” the snake hissed. Her partner nodded.

Hermes ignored the irritated reptiles, but he laid his staff aside. “It’s been almost nine years since your sister shot you.”

“But I’ll be living another man’s life?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Hermes exhaled heavily. “Because the only way to return you to the land of the living is to put you in a vacated body.”

“A ghost can’t possess a body for long.”

“We would give you help to last long enough to accomplish your task.”

Ptolemy had to admit the idea was tempting. A short time to breathe again. Walk. Feel the sun on his face. Ghosts couldn’t last a week in a body. The gods wouldn’t break the rules of life and death. They may bend them, which meant he might have a few extra days before he died again.

Would it truly be worth it? Oh, Hades, he already knew his decision, but he needed more information.

Ptolemy snorted. “What’s the other catch?” He held up his left hand when Hermes opened his mouth. “Let me guess. I can’t tell my brother I’m back.”

Hermes waved his right hand nonchalantly. “Go right ahead. You may need his help.”

“With acquiring this object of yours?”

The smile Hermes gave Ptolemy renewed the chill of his ectoplasm. “No. With capturing a goddess.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 1

This is it! The end of the line for my first series I started writing, but not the first series published. I admit it makes me a little sad, but I've known for over a decade exactly how the story would end. Just remember--this is the raw, unedited manuscript.

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Angela

Angela Penrose fingered her tarot cards. Last night’s nightmare had been unsettling at best. She would have blamed it on the latest Godzilla movie if it hadn’t been three months since she and her husband had watched it on Netflix. It also didn’t explain the recent spate of other weird dreams she'd experienced. Or the odd behavior of the animals at his job.

“Honey, I’m heading out to the aquarium!” her husband called. “You need anything from the store on the way home?”

“No, thanks! Love you!”

“Love you, too!”

The front door slammed shut. Now why didn’t she want him to see the spread when she hadn’t even shuffled the cards yet? She’d told him she was a witch on their third date, and that had been three decades ago.

She quickly rifled the cards, cut the deck, and laid out five cards. The same five cards she’d drawn for the last three days no matter which deck she used or how many times she shuffled the deck.

The Wheel of Fortune reversed. The Seven of Swords. Judgment. The Tower. Death.

Bad times. Betrayal. Incorrect decision. Destruction. The end of something, or someone.

The nightmares and repeated tarot readings said the same thing. Something awful was about to happen. Something big. And she’d give just about anything if the impending disaster didn’t happen in her own backyard.

Angela glanced out her office window. It was an unusually bright morning for the Seattle rainy season. The icy top of Mount Rainier gleamed under the sun's rays. She examined the cards again.

Only one suit card. The Seven of Swords could be the seventh week of autumn or seven days from now. She checked and double-checked her calendar. Either way of calculation placed the event three days after Samhain. Halloween. A shiver ran through her.

Too soon...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Release Day!

Need something to do besides watching football on a Sunday? Ghouls in the Grocery Store is out! The penultimate chapter of the Bloodlines saga focuses on Tiffany Stephens and her daughter Ellie after the tragic events of Sacrificed.

GHOULS IN THE GROCERY STORE

After the murder of her husband by enemies of her uncle’s coven, Tiffany Stephens wants a normal life for her five-year-old daughter. But little Ellie’s blood hold the key to the vampires’ salvation or their destruction, and there are those who will stop at nothing to obtain the child.

Jake Wong will do anything to protect his best friend’s daughter, but can he convince Max’s widow second chances are the best thing for both of them as well as Ellie?

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