Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hero De Facto - Chapter 3

“Make me what?” the kid asked.

“Rich,” Harri said.

She glanced down at her assistant, who sat open-mouthed and stared back at Harri. “I’ll call you later, Patty. Come on.” She gestured at El Pájaro. “Let’s get out of here.” She stomped away from the mayor. Once they were away from Samuels, and the police didn’t follow them. El Pájaro grabbed Harri’s arm, gently but with a firm grasp. “Where are we going?”

“My car. We need to get out of here. Fast.”

He slipped his arm around her waist. “Okay. Hang on.”

“Not like that,” she hissed. “You’re in enough trouble as it is.”

“So are you,” he said. “The guy who started the fire is still out there as well as the one who tried to strangle you.”

“Another reason I want to go. But I’m more concerned about you dodging the feds. And the news ghouls, so we need to leave quietly. Lose the mask.”


Harri grabbed his arm and pulled him behind a fire truck, narrowly avoiding Ted Meadowfield and a cameraperson from Action 12 News!

The jerk only descended from the anchor chair for big splashy stories that didn’t require actual journalistic skill to report. City hall being destroyed yet again, in “an epic battle between good and evil” as Ted would call it, was a ratings goldmine, and he wouldn’t miss it for anything.

“It makes you conspicuous as hell,” Harri hissed as he let her drag him into the narrow alley behind the truck. “We need to blend in.” She released him.

With a sigh, he pushed back his hood and stripped off the mask. “Better?”

“Um . . .” For a moment Harri could only stare. She knew he’d be a looker, but . . . damn. Thick black hair, tawny skin, high cheekbones, a strong chin and nose—all good, but it was his eyes that elevated him from ridiculously handsome to achingly beautiful. They were large, almond shaped, and that curious tawny hazel she had noted before, almost golden. “Yeah, but I’m not sure it makes you any less conspicuous. Pull your hood back up.”

“Where’s your car?”

“Parking garage. Next door.”

He shook his head. “Not a chance. There’s cops everywhere. The whole complex is locked down.”

“How do you know that?”

He pointed upward with his thumb. “Got an aerial view.”

“Let me think.” The adrenaline rush was starting to wear off, and all she could think about was how badly she wanted a shower, a stiff drink, and some ibuprofen. “What’s your name, by the way?”

“El Pájaro.”

“No. Your real name.” When he hesitated, she gave him the most sympathetic look she could muster. “I’ve already seen your face, and if I’m going to represent you, I need to know your secret identity.”

The internal struggle still played on his face.

“I’m your lawyer. You’re my client. I’m ethically obligated to keep your secrets.” She laid a hand on his bicep. His incredibly solid bicep.

“I don’t have money for a lawyer,” he said, a panicked look on his beautiful face.

“Kid, you saved my life. Twice. I’ll waive the fee for now. What’s your name?”

He considered this for a moment, then said, “Reyes.”


“Reyes García,” he finished reluctantly. “Rey is what I usually go by. Only my mom—” His voice choked slightly. “—only she called me Reyes.”

Harri nodded, deciding to wait until another time to ask about his mother, but she suspected Mom hadn’t been in the picture for a long time. She patted his very solid bicep and smiled. “Thank you, Rey.”

He smiled back, his teeth dazzling and perfect.

Harri heard a loud growl. Then another. Both seemed to come from the kid. “Is that your stomach?” “Yeah,” he said, looking embarrassed. Her estimate of his situation only made her angrier at Samuels’s treatment of him.

“Where do you live? Near here?”

He nodded. “In the old hotel next door to the Canyon Building.”

“That whole block is condemned.”

Rey shrugged. “I’m not the only one there.” His stomach growled again.

Tattered clothes, no family, squatting in an abandoned building—Harri was getting a picture, and it was breaking her heart. “Okay. We swing by your place, you pick up your stuff, we get you something to eat, and then we come back for my car. If we still can’t get to it, once the sun goes down, you fly us to my house. No more condemned hotels. You’re staying in my guest room for now.”

“I don’t need any help.” His tone was defensive, but under it Harri could hear the need. And loneliness. “I can’t pay you back for any of this.”

“Yeah, sweetie, you do need help. I think you’ve needed it for awhile. And I owe you for my life. Twice. There’s no comparison.” She peeked around the corner of the building. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before the police change their mind and decide to follow the mayor’s order to arrest you.”

“But I didn’t—”

“I know you didn’t do anything wrong,” she muttered. “And we’re going to keep it that way.”

Trying to look casual, they slipped back into the crowd. In their torn, dirty, and acid-burned clothing, they fit right in to the parade of fleeing downtown workers. Harri patted her handbag, thankful for her coffee craving. At least she still had her wallet and keys. And her parking garage ID. With City Hall a smoking ruin—again—it would take that idiot Quentin Samuels at least a couple of days to process her termination. A few blocks past the chaos, as they crossed River Street, Rey took her hand and said, “Stick close. It’s not a great neighborhood.”

“No kidding,” Harri said.

He led her through blocks that became more decrepit as they walked. The area on the eastern fringe of the central business district next to the river was slated for redevelopment if city leaders could ever agree on what they wanted it to be. While the politicians and planners battled, a few developers, including Quentin Samuels’ brother Reginald, quietly bought up everything they could.

A few businesses hung on, a few property owners tried to keep up appearances, a few shabby apartment buildings still housed the working poor, but a cloud of decay and inevitable gentrification hung over the narrow streets. Many of the condemned properties like the Canyon Building, former headquarters of Canyon Industries, had historic significance. Much lip service was paid to preservation as the neglected buildings continued to fall apart. The developers claimed they were diligently boarding up windows and removing squatters, but what they were really doing was waiting for an untended campfire or dropped cigarette to do their site clearing for them.

The entire block where the Canyon Building sat was boarded up and surrounded by chain link fencing covered in ominous signage about trespassers being prosecuted. But the street people knew as long as they stayed clear of the occasional city inspector, nobody cared if they stayed there.

Harri hated to admit it, but she agreed with the condemnation order. The Canyon block was an eyesore. “I don’t know why you super guys can’t fight in this neighborhood instead of always smashing up the high rent area.”

Rey smiled, but it was a sad smile. “Because nobody but Jatz’om Kuh cares about this place. At least, not the way it is now. Nobody wants to come here. Not even the villains.”


“Jatz’om Kuh. You know, the Ghost Owl?”

“Yeah, him I’ve heard of. But I’ve never heard the other name.”

Ray shrugged. “A king from Mayan folklore. His name translates as something like ‘owl who strikes’. Some of the older folks in the neighborhood call him that.”

“You ever seen him?” Harri couldn’t help being intrigued. The myth of the Ghost Owl was what a super should be—assisting those who couldn’t get justice any other way.

“Once,” Rey said. “When I was little. I told him I could help him. He smiled and said ‘maybe someday, kid, but not now’.”

“And then what? He vanished?”

“No.” Rey grinned at his memory. “He opened a man hole cover and said ‘Lesson One—always know your exits. Lesson Two—never let anyone see you use them’. And then he dropped into the sewer.”

Harri laughed. “I thought he was supposed to be able to dematerialize at will.”

Rey shook his head, still smiling. “No, he looked pretty solid. Hasn’t been around as much lately, though. And the rest of the supers never cross River Street if they can help it.”

“Yeah,” Harri sighed. “Until this area finally gentries, and then I’ll have to find money to help rebuild it every time some super villain has a hissy fit.”

“Uh . . . no, you won’t. You quit, remember?”

“Shit. I did, didn’t I?”

Rey nodded. “But in case you change your mind, they fired you first.”

Harri glared at him. “Well, aren’t you just a little ray of sunshine?”

His smile grew sadder. “That’s what my mom used to call me.”

Before Harri could pull her foot out of her mouth, he pointed at a hole in the fence. “Here. We go in here and then down the alley and a quick flight up.”

Harri had assumed he meant stairs, but he meant the other kind of flight. He grabbed her by the waist and zoomed up to the fourth floor before she could object.

“That’s a handy little shortcut,” she said as she peered around the gloomy space. “Warn me next time, okay?”

“Sorry. There’s no other way in. The staircase collapsed. It’s why I picked it. So nobody can steal my stuff.”

“People steal from you? Seriously? I assumed you had super-strength along with the flight abilities.” Especially the way he’d been hauling her around all day.

He shrugged again. “Yeah, but addicts steal from everybody and they’re way more scared of withdrawal than they are of me. It wouldn’t be right for me to pound them. Life’s already doing a pretty good job beating them up. They don’t need me piling on. This is the better way. Hang on, let me get the lights on.” He fumbled with something, she heard a whining sound like a swarm of bees, and then a soft white light filled the small space.

“What was that noise?”

“It’s an emergency lamp. It’s got a wind up thing to charge it if the regular batteries run down. I can’t afford batteries, but I can wind it a lot faster than most people.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Harri looked around the room. She had expected it to be a mess, but it looked like an army barrack. Or a monk’s cell. A narrow iron bed, neatly made, including hospital corners, sat against one wall. A plastic laundry basket sat next to it holding a small pile of clean but tattered clothing, carefully folded. There was a small desk and a plastic chair. The floor was clean, thanks to the broom hanging in the corner

But all this was merely a backdrop to the books. Rey had built a bookshelf with bricks and boards that covered an entire wall. Several hundred worn books, paperback and hardback, sat on the shelves.

He saw Harri staring at the books. “I’ll need to come back for my collection. I can fly those out at night.” He paused a moment. “If it’s okay to bring them with me.”

“Of course, it is,” Harri said. “Where did you get them all?”

“Around. You’d be amazed what people throw out. And the library sale is always good. The final day, they practically give books away. And the librarians all know me so they hold back the novels they think I’ll like.”

“They know you?” A superhero who collected books and hung out with librarians? Most of them just liked to hit things and get their pictures taken.

“I used to spend a lot of time there. When I was younger. I didn’t have anywhere else to go during the day. It was kind of home and school at the same time. The librarians used to bring me sandwiches and stuff.” His stomach growled again. “Sorry.”

“Not a problem. Get what you need, and then let’s go eat.” She couldn’t tear her attention away from his collection. It had a little bit of everything, and a quarter of the volumes were in Spanish. Classics like Dickens, Cervantes, and Homer. Religious texts. Sci-fi. Mysteries. Hell, he even had the latest Nora Roberts. He pulled off the acid-burned hoodie and t-shirt. “I need to change. These clothes are trashed.”

Harri glanced at him, then tried not to gasp at the sight of his chest, bare except for a small stone pendant hanging on a leather cord. She whirled around to give him some privacy. He’s perfect. He’s the most perfect, beautiful man I’ve ever seen. Wait until Aisha sees him.

Thinking about Aisha—instead of about how much she wanted to peek behind her and see if Rey’s bottom half looked as good as the top—gave her something to talk about. “I have a friend who does entertainment and intellectual property law. Her firm represents supers. With merchandise licensing deals, publishing contracts, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of money to be made if you’re registered and working in the system.”

“Uh . . . that’s gonna be a problem,” he said. “I don’t have a birth certificate. Which means I can’t prove my immigration status or get a driver’s license or do anything. I can’t even get a job. I’d work if I could.”

“And saving lives isn’t working?” she asked.

“Not if you don’t register with the government.” He paused a moment. “If you don’t register, then you’re just a vigilante.”

Harri felt her stomach drop. She’d been quoted saying that exact thing on the evening news and in the paper. “You know who I am?”

“Sure. Everyone does. You’re the lady who sues superheroes.”

“And you still rescued me?”

Rey laughed out loud. It was the first time Harri had heard him laugh. Even his laugh is beautiful. “You never sued me. That’s one advantage of being poor. You can turn around now.”

Harri turned, relieved that he was clothed again. She wouldn’t have been able to take her eyes off his chest if he hadn’t covered it.

“Seriously though,” he said. “I would have rescued you even if you had sued me.”


A shocked expression covered his face. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Harri laughed. “Rey, honey, you are too good to be true. Most supers around here would have cheered when I hit the pavement.”

His expression transformed from shock to anger faster than he flew. “I’m not like those guys.”

“No kidding,” Harri said. “Come on. Let’s go eat.”

* * *

Rey packed a small duffel bag with his remaining clothing and a couple of books before he took Harri to a little Mexican place down the street. At least, she assumed it was Mexican until she scanned the menu. The restaurant featured food from throughout Central America. This place served the real stuff, not the molten cheese-covered platters and watered down Tex-Mex that Americans generally thought of as south-of-the-border food.

It wasn’t quite dinnertime and the place was empty. When they walked in, the older woman behind the counter smiled at him and started chattering away in Spanish, gesturing for him to sit. Rey was clearly a regular. A couple of younger, dark-haired women peered out of the kitchen and started giggling when they saw him. “What’s good?” Harri asked.

The young waitress who’d brought them water and chips stared longingly at Rey. She looked about sixteen and obviously had a big crush on him.

“All of it,” Rey said. “Marta’s the best cook in town. I usually just let her pick.”

“Sounds good.” Harri scanned the menu for alcohol. “They got a liquor license?”

Rey shook his head. “Can’t afford it and don’t want it. This way they keep the drunks out.”

“It can wait.” Harri looked up at the waitress. “Load us up. I’m buying.”

The girl still stared at Rey, oblivious to Harri.

He smiled at the waitress, a gentle big-brotherly smile. “Anna, tell Marta to send out some plates. Whatever she wants.”

The girl giggled, nodded, and scurried back to the kitchen.

“She likes you.” Harri said. “A lot.”

Rey shook his head, as his face flushed. “No. Anna’s just a friend.”

Harri smiled. Beautiful, well-read, and bashful? Aisha would go nuts for this guy. Nabbing him as a client might finally get her that partnership. Maybe the old farts who ran her firm would finally be convinced Aisha deserved to be more than a token minority hire.

Before Harri had time to comment, the food began arriving. Plate after plate of the freshest, most wonderful Latin American cuisine Harri had ever eaten—ceviche, followed by thick pupusas stuffed with cheese and meat and vegetables, with the main course consisting of a perfectly roasted chicken, fried plantains, and rice and black beans.

Harri managed a few small platefuls before she was full. But Rey? The kid could eat, that was for sure. Whenever she saw him hesitate about eating a more expensive dish, like the ceviche, she reminded him she was paying and urged him on. After packing away enough food to last Harri a week, he sat back with a groan. “I kind of got carried away there. It’s so good. Usually I put the brakes on so I don’t bankrupt Marta, but you wouldn’t let me.”

“Marta lets you eat for free?”

“She claims she doesn’t, but I know she’d give me way more if I asked. I pay her when I can. The rest of the time I wash dishes, do odd jobs. She likes having me around. Keeps the thieves away, she says.”

The dinner crowd was starting to file in. All the women ogled Rey, while the men stared, obviously not happy having to compete with him for attention. It was time to leave. Harri forced several bills on Marta despite her protests. In a high-end cafe in the nicer end of downtown that meal would have cost at least twice what Harri paid, and she left a decent tip for their love-struck waitress.

Despite Harri’s crappy day, the excellent meal and good company made for a pleasant walk. By the time they were within a couple of blocks of city hall, it was dark enough for Rey to do a quick reconnaissance flight. He was shaking his head as he landed. “Cops everywhere and the garage is blocked. Nobody’s getting their car out of there tonight.”

Harri’s shoulders sagged. She’d wanted to get her Honda before Samuels realized it was still in the employee section of the city garage. She didn’t put it past the asshole to have her vehicle towed. “Then we fly. Let’s get a little further away from all the action before we take off.”

After ten minutes of walking, she gave Rey directions, and they flew the rest of the way. For the additional five minutes it took to get home, Harri clung to Rey, her eyes shut, willing herself not to vomit her wonderful dinner all over him.

They landed in the park across the street from the town home complex she lived in, acutely aware, in a way she hadn’t been that morning, how much nicer it was than downtown. We work down there and debate its future, but none of us actually live there. What’s that say about our commitment to this city?

She didn’t have time to wonder any further. Rey pulled her behind a tree and pointed toward her tiny front porch, which was shrouded in shadow. She hadn’t bothered turning on the porch light since she was usually home well before sunset this time of year.

“Somebody’s there,” he whispered.

“You can see someone? I can’t see anything.”

“Enhanced eye sight,” he whispered. “I’ve got great night vision.”

“Can you see who it is?” She tried to push her fear back down. Not here and not now. Please let me get a glass of wine and a shower before anybody else tries to kill me.

“Stay here.” He crept toward the house, staying in the shadows. After a moment, Harri couldn’t see him at all. She heard a feminine yelp of fear, then Rey’s voice. “It’s okay, Harri. You got another house guest.”

Harri jogged across the pavement, each step reminding her of the burns on her legs. On the porch, Patty sat in the single wicker chair, munching on a fast food burger from the streetlight’s reflection on the waxy paper in her lap.

“I lost my keys in the fire and I can’t get into my apartment.” she said. “Can I stay here tonight?”

“Of course you can,” Harri said, crouching next to her. “Did you have the ER doctor check out your burns?”

“Yeah, but that’s not the worst part.” Patty sounded as if she were on the verge of crying. “I got fired. Quentin fired me after you stomped off. He said I helped you and Professor Venom burn down City Hall.”

“He can’t do that!” Harri shook with the force of her rage. Her keys slipped from her nerveless fingers and landed with a clatter on the porch. “You’re a civil servant. There’re procedures.”

“He did it anyway.” Patty focused on her burger. “And Aisha said to call her when you get a chance.”

“Aisha?” Harri snatched her keys off the concrete, the wound on her calf protesting as she stretched the damaged skin. “When did you talk to her?”

“After you left, I realized I’d lost my purse in the fire.” Patty shrugged. “Not that I could have gotten my car out of the garage with the lockdown. I tried to call you first, but I kept getting your voice-mail, so I called Aisha, but she hadn’t heard from you either. She offered to pay for a hotel, but I figured you’d be home soon.”

“What about your car keys?”

A sad laugh burbled out of Patty. “My spares are sitting in the apartment I can’t get into. All I need is a night on a couch until I can get my new apartment keys from my landlady tomorrow morning. Aisha and I only know each other through you, so I understand why she didn’t want me at her place. And I didn’t feel right about her paying for a hotel room.”

Harri snorted. “Trust me, the hotel offer is Aisha being kind. Her parents are in town for the week. You don’t want to be at her place right now.”

With the city hall disaster all over the news, Aisha must have been frantic. Harri fished her phone out of its side pocket on her purse. She’d been so focused on Rey, she completely forgot to call. Yep, three missed calls on her crappy burner phone that she hadn’t heard ring. The phone rang only about half the time and had a tone quality similar to shouting from the bottom of a well. But she wasn’t wasting money on another smart phone after losing the last one to a purse snatcher.

“Wait a minute,” Harri said. “If you don’t have your purse, how’d you call anybody?” She jabbed a finger at the Burger Chateau atrocity Patty nibbled on. “And how’d you buy that?”

Patty swallowed her bite. “Well, um…” Embarrassment vibrated in her voice. “Please don’t be mad until you hear his side of the story.”

“Who’s story?”

Patty turned toward the evergreen hedges that separated Harri’s entrance from her neighbor’s. “Arthur, it’s okay to come out.”

No. Harri groaned. It couldn’t be.

The acne-scarred face with its accompanying huge nose poked around the end of the needle-sharp leaves. Professor Venom himself, hiding in her hedge and wearing a sheepish look. Arthur Drallhickey waved lamely at her. “Hey, Ms. Winters.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hero De Facto - Chapter 2

Shouts mixed with sirens, but the sounds echoed weirdly. Someone tugged at Harri’s clothing. Her skin and throat burned.

Harri tried to force her eyes open, but something covered her face. Panic flared. Someone was trying to choke her. She slapped at the offending material. Plastic and cloth. The guy pretending to be Professor Venom? Crazy Bob?.

“Calm down, honey. You’re safe.” A woman’s voice.

Harri fought harder. Someone was trying to kill her, and dammit, she was not going down quietly.

“Hold her.” The female voice again, but no one she recognized.

Hands grabbed her wrists, and she bucked against the restraint. Some two-bit supervillain wannabe was not going to—

“It’s all right. I have you. You’re safe.” The male voice crooned the words over and over.

Her panic melted when his mellow tone penetrated her foggy brain. The super who’d rescued her. “Patty? Is Patty okay?” Her own voice was rough, gravelly, and echoed slightly against plastic.

“She’s your assistant, right?” the super asked.

Harri nodded.

“Another paramedic is checking her and the baby.”

She sagged against his hold. God, please let Patty and the baby be okay.

“If you can behave yourself, I’ll take the gauze off your eyes. Give me any crap and it goes right back on,” the female voice warned.

Harri nodded again. When the weight lifted, she blinked. Her lids felt like sandpaper across her corneas. She was in an ambulance. An oxygen mask covered her mouth and nose.

The woman sitting next to her wore the navy uniform of Canyon Pointe’s paramedic squad. Her short, dark dreads were held back by the strap of her clear goggles. She waved a penlight in her glove-covered hand and frowned at Harri. “You gonna give me any more trouble while I examine you?”

“She won’t.” The super who had saved Harri’s life sat on the opposite side of the gurney.

She would have flipped him off if he didn’t have her pinned to the thin white sheet covering the even thinner pad. Instead, she shot him a dirty look. “Smart ass.”

He grinned back.

The paramedic grabbed Harri’s chin and turned her head back toward the flashlight. Harri winced as the brilliant whiteness forced her irises to contract and dilate. Spots danced in her vision by the time the woman was done.

“The good news is you didn’t get any acid in your eyes, but there’s irritation from the smoke. The ER will prescribe you something.” The paramedic’s nametag read “Jones” or “Jonas.” Between the spots and her watery eyes, Harri couldn’t tell.

“You can let her go,” Jones or Jonas announced.

The super’s warm grasp on Harri’s wrists disappeared. The human contact was more comforting amid the chaos than she wanted to admit.

Jones or Jonas frowned again. She traced a finger horizontally across Harri’s throat. “That isn’t a burn.” She shivered. The knife of the man claiming to be Professor Venom could have just as easily followed the same line and left her to bleed out in her office. Why throw it at her? He could have easily tackled her.

“Someone tried to strangle her while I helped the other victims of the fire,” the super volunteered.

Jones or Jonas’ frown was going to leave deep, permanent marks if she didn’t change her expression. She scribbled something on a clipboard. “You’re a lucky woman. You’ve got some superficial chemical burns and a little blistering, but nothing you can’t take care of at home. The ER docs will do a more thorough once over at the hospital to make sure there hasn’t been more damage to your throat than smoke inhalation.”

She stood abruptly. “I’ll grab an officer to get your statement.” The woman jumped out of the ambulance and disappeared into the people mulling outside.

“You shouldn’t have told her.” God, her voice sounded as bad as her eyes and skin felt.

The super genuinely appeared perplexed. “But that man in the park assaulted you.”

He couldn’t be that naïve, could he?

“Did you turn him over to the police?”

He shook his head. “After I dropped you off here, I went back to the park. He was gone, so I came here again to check on you.”

That didn’t make sense. From the damage to the car, Crazy Bob should have been in too much pain to get far. And why the hell had he attacked her? He had sounded more lucid than he ever did while on his meds. Maybe the alarms from the fire had set off a hallucination.

“Did everybody get out of City Hall?”

He nodded. “I only needed to rescue the people trapped on the fifth floor.”

He sounded terribly young. She took a closer look at him.

Acid holes covered his hoodie and jeans, yet the warm brown skin beneath appeared undamaged. The nasty smell of melted plastic accompanied his ruined shoes. She’d wager his feet were as uninjured as the rest of him. None of his clothing was new. In fact, it appeared to be second or third hand prior to the recent damage. Her gaze drifted back to his face. She recognized the design of the neon yellow and lime green spandex he wore as a mask. It was the same pattern as the outfits Aisha’s law firm had provided at the city’s annual bicycle event for charity last year. Her best friend had claimed it was a good way for both of them to meet men after their respective divorces. Harri had never quite forgiven Aisha for making her look like an unripe citrus fruit in front of the most prominent members of their profession.

The tight-fitting bicycle tops and pants would have looked damn good on her super from the lines of muscle that peeked through the tears of his clothing. Even with the mask, she could tell he was young. Too young. Twenty-two at the most, and she sincerely doubted that. She stared at his face.

“Who are you?” she finally asked. “Really?”

The sudden fear in his eyes cut her to the core. His irises were pale hazel, nearly gold. Beautiful eyes, but cautious. They were eyes that had seen too much suffering.

Harri’s normal irritation with superheroes evaporated at his vulnerability. “Are you legal?”

“Uh…” His tongue swiped across his top lip, and he glanced at the open doors of the ambulance bay. She recognized his behavior all too well. She’d seen it too many times in the runaways and foster kids she’d encountered when she’d interned with the city’s juvenile court judge one year while in law school. He was about to bolt.

“I won’t tell anybody.” Harri reached over and grasped his hand. “Are you registered? As a super?”

His entire body twitched.

“I want to help you,” she whispered hoarsely.

“No.” His words were even softer than hers. “No, I’m not registered.”

“Are you eighteen?”

“I don’t know for sure.” His fingers trembled in her hold. “I think I’m older than that.”

How could anyone not know his own age? She squeezed his fingers gently. “What about your family?”

He refused to meet her eyes, giving her only a sharp shake of his head.

Nothing intrigued Harri like an enigma, and this kid had puzzle written all over him. No birth certificate explained why he hadn’t registered with the federal government. If he had collared Crazy Bob, she could have cut him a deal. Especially since his first concern was the safety of the civilians.

“Do you want to be a registered superhero? I can help you with that.” She squeezed his fingers gently.

He shrugged, and his body tensed.

She needed to change the subject before he flew off in a panic. “When you were inside city hall, did you see a big guy dressed in black and wearing a mask wandering around?”

“Is he the guy the cops are saying did this? Professor Venom?”

Harri shook her head. “The guy who did this claimed he was Professor Venom, but he wasn’t. I know Venom. Did you see anybody matching my description?”

The super thought for a moment. “I saw a guy with a mask on in the alley behind City Hall when I was flying someone across to the police building. He was moving fast. I only got a glimpse, but he definitely wasn’t short and skinny. I was more worried about getting everyone out on the fifth floor.”

Harri felt a tickle in her throat that quickly developed into a coughing fit. She’d been right. This afternoon’s generic promise-of-destruction letter aside, the man who had attacked her couldn’t have possibly been Arthur Drallhickey. Too tall. Too muscular. Too effective. And Arthur wasn’t fast. An elderly woman with a walker had been the one to capture him after the park bench incident.

Arthur may have been totally incompetent as a super villain, but he was consistent. Which meant polite threatening letters and the occasional mishap with his acid powers. So why the hell would someone impersonate him to do this?

If it hadn’t been for this threadbare superhero sitting next to her, she would have died in today’s fiasco. Patty and her baby could have died, which only added to the sick feeling in her gut. Quite simply, she owed the kid. Twice. Four times if she counted Patty and the baby.

Harri’s coughing eased. She yanked off the oxygen mask. “I need to find my assistant first, then we need to get you out of here. Stick with me. No matter what.” He’d been seen by too many people, not to mention the news crew filming from their helicopter. She had to get him away from City Hall before the feds showed up. There’s no way in hell he could pay the fines for unlicensed superhero acts. If she was going to cut him a deal, she needed to be the one to bring him in.

“I don’t think you should be getting up, ma’am. The paramedic said you needed to see the ER doctors to check your throat.” But the super made no move to stop her as she climbed off the gurney.

“It’s Harri. Harri Winters.” She shook her index finger in front of his nose. “If you ever call me ma’am again, I’ll sue those jeans off your ass. Got me?”

“Yes, m—” White teeth shone against his tan skin. “Harri, I’m El Pájaro.”

“‘The Bird’?” She shook her head. “Kid, we have got to get you a better name.”

* * *

True to his words, El Pájaro stuck by Harri’s side as she searched among the emergency vehicles and evacuated staff for Patty.

A loud crash shook the street as the fifth story collapsed onto the fourth, sending up a gigantic plume of smoke, dust, and ash. The various fire squads continue to pump special oxygen-robbing foam onto the inferno from ladder trucks. Her nails dug into her palms. So much for the restoration work on the courthouse.

She didn’t know who she could sue on this one. Even if Arthur had been responsible, he didn’t have any money either. This was a first—a broke hero and a broke villain. That left FEMA and the state emergency fund, which meant sticking it to the taxpayers yet again.

They finally found Patty sitting on the curb a block away, another emergency tech tending her. Second-degree burns covered her right forearm.

Harri dropped to the concrete next to her assistant while El Pájaro stood guard over them. “Is the baby okay?”

Patty gave her a weak smile. “Yeah, she’s kicking up a storm right now.” She hissed as the tech prodded her damaged skin. “I’m fine too.

Thanks for asking.”

“She was very concerned about you,” El Pájaro interjected. “She fled her own treatment to search for you.”

“Oh, I’m well aware she uses her grumpy behavior to hide her marshmallow interior.” Patty beamed at him. “Thank you for saving us.”

“De nada.”

Patty leaned closer to Harri. “Did I hear the guy in your office right? Was that really Professor Venom?”

Harri snorted. “If it was, then I’m a Victoria’s Secret model.”

“There he is!”

Every muscle in Harri’s body tightened at the all-too-familiar shout. Shouting she was often on the receiving end of. “Shit,” she muttered.

Mayor Quentin Samuels bounded out of the crowd, two police officers at his heels. “Arrest him!” He jabbed the blade of his hand in the direction of El Pájaro.

Harri forced herself to her feet. “What are you blathering about?”

“Him!” Samuels always compensated for his lack of height by doubling the decibel-level of his voice. Another sharp hand motion in the direction of the kid. “Eye witnesses place him here when the fire started.”

“But I—” the kid started.

Harri held up her own hand to silence her super. He’d say something stupid and ruin his chances of getting registered properly.

“The perpetrator was in my office, and it wasn’t him.” Her smoke-damaged voice added a certain gravitas to her statement.

“Really?” Samuels crossed his arms. His smug expression set off warning claxons in her aching head. “So who started the fire?”

Dammit. If she said it was Professor Venom, Arthur would get charged for the arson. And even if he was annoying, he was also innocent this time. God only knew who else on the fifth floor had heard the imposter’s claim besides Patty, who was smart enough to keep her mouth shut now.

Harri matched Samuels’ stance. “I’m not sure. He was dressed in black with a mask. All I can tell you is he was a big guy with a deep voice. Will security be able to retrieve the camera footage?”

“Possibly,” one of the officers offered. He glanced over his shoulder. “They’re not using water, but that foam can still short out the DVRs if they’re hit directly.”

From the glare Samuels shot the officer, his assistance wasn’t appreciated. The mayor turned back to El Pájaro. “I want to see your hero license.”

Harri inserted herself between them. “He’s just a kid trying to help, and I already lectured him on the need to get a city license.” She wasn’t going to mention his lack of federal registration unless Quentin brought it up. “I’ve granted him immunity on the license violation in return for his assistance and cooperation.” She crossed her fingers behind her back and prayed the kid had taken her previous hint to stay quiet.

“You can’t do that!” Samuels spluttered.

“I can negotiate any settlement that will benefit the taxpayers.” She pointed at what was left of the City Hall. “We’ve got a hell of a mess. I want the asshole who did this to pay for it.”

“Maybe it should come out of your salary,” he sneered. “For not reporting the intruder. Or a legitimate threat. I already know you received one from Professor Venom in this morning’s mail.”

Samuels could be a sniveling weasel, but snooping through her office correspondence? “You’re reading my mail? That’s bullshit,” she said quietly. “And you know it.”

“Why didn’t you buzz security when Venom showed up in your office?”

Anger overran her fear and worry. “First, I don’t know who the guy was. I didn’t see his face. Second, I didn’t call security because my office was on fire, and I was busy trying not to die. Third, what exactly are you insinuating, Mayor Samuels?”

“You’re either incompetent or in league with Venom.”

Harri straightened her back and deliberately violated Samuels’ personal space, forcing him to step back. “If you knew about his attempted extortion, why didn’t you notify the police?”

Scarlet flooded his face as he spluttered for a full thirty seconds. He could look down at her, but only barely. He wasn’t much taller than she was. Finally, he shouted, “You’re fired, Winters!”

Harri ignored the fine spray that covered her face and stepped closer until she was nose-to-nose with the mayor. Something about her tight grin must have scared him because he leaned as far away as he could without actually moving his feet.

“Sorry, but I already quit.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Come on, El Pájaro. Let’s make you rich.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sacrificed Is ALIVE!

Sacrificed is officially out today!

Per usual, links will be updated as they go live.

(My usual Wednesday sample chapter will be posted tomorrow!)

Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Friday, March 9, 2018

Sacrificed Pre-Order Is Live!

Between taxes, reviewing the paperback of A Modicum of Truth, and illness, I'm a little late out of the gate.

However, Sacrificed, Book 8 of the Bloodlines series, is up for pre-order on Amazon!

What does that mean? It means if you order it now, it will show up on your Kindle or Kindle app on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

This is my first time trying the pre-order function on Amazon, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed things go smoothly after some of the glitches that occurred during A Modicum of Truth's e-book release last month.

If you prefer a different retailer, Sacrificed will be available on Smashwords and Google Play on the 14th. I'll try my best, but I can't guarantee when it will be available on iTunes or Kobo. Unfortunately, the e-book won't be available at Barnes & Noble until the print book is.

If the pre-order works well on Amazon, I'll try it on the other retailers where pre-orders are available.

Pre-order Sacrificed! Click Here Now!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hero De Facto - Chapter 1

Just a reminder that this is an unedited chapter from an upcoming work in progress.

Harri Winters skimmed over the letter in her hand. “Give me a break. Professor Venom. Seriously?” She tossed the letter into her inbox. “The guy is a joke.” And the last thing she needed today.

“He’s not dangerous?” Patty, Harri’s assistant, plopped into the chair in front of Harri’s desk. “Is he a wannabe?”

“He’s a wannabe wannabe.” Harri shook her head. “He’s not dangerous. He’s just annoying.”

“What’s he want?” Patty settled back into her chair with groan. “Sorry. My feet are killing me.”

“If you need to go on maternity leave early—”

Patty shook her head. “Nah. It’s just been a busy day.” She rubbed her belly and smiled. “Not long now.”

Harri smiled back. Patty was a good kid and a great assistant, but Harri dreaded six weeks with a temp trying to take Patty’s place. Too many cases and not enough help.

“So, what’s the deal with this Professor Venom guy?” Patty said. Her blond curls bobbed in the direction of the inbox. “He says he’s going to melt city hall and everybody will die—”

“Unless we give him a couple million dollars. Yeah, yeah. Don’t start running yet.” Harri spun her desk chair and dug into the file cabinet behind her. “Hang on a sec. I have a picture. You gotta see this guy. He’s a total loser.” She pulled out the “Professor Venom” folder and spun around to face Patty again.

“Wow, you usually show at least some grudging respect for supervillains.” Patty leaned forward with a small frown and straightened the name plate on Harri’s desk. “He didn’t call you Harriet at some point, did he?”

“Uh-uh,” Harri said. “He doesn’t have the balls. And I don’t respect the villains. I respect their assets. The forfeiture on Doctor Malevolent’s evil lair gave us enough money to rebuild the Commerce Avenue light rail station and replace twenty smashed police cars. Say what you want about his motives, but the guy owned some nice stuff. Try getting that kind of bank from a superhero. Cheap bastards.” She opened the folder and handed it to Patty. “Professor Venom.”

Patty looked at the picture and giggled. “Arthur…Doohickey? No wonder he calls himself Professor Venom. He’s so skinny. And that nose is…unfortunate.”

“Drallhickey,” Harri said. “Lots of desire for elaborate mayhem, but no actual ability. Biggest thing he’s managed to do is melt the paint off a couple of benches in City Hall Park. Which were scheduled for repainting anyway. He saved the public works guys from an afternoon of sanding and scraping. They want the city to give him a vendor contract so they can buy his acid formula.”

Patty flipped through the pages. “I don’t see his superhero nemesis in the file.”

“He doesn’t have one.” Harri rolled her eyes.

Patty laughed and handed back the folder. “Oh, that’s just sad.”

Harri nodded. “It’s all kinds of sad. Nobody takes him seriously. Poor shmuck. He doesn’t have the skills to be a regular criminal, let alone a supervillain.” She stretched her arms over her head and yawned. “I think I need some coffee. I’m buying. You want some hot chocolate?”

“Ooh, yes. Thank you. With extra whipped cream.” Patty pulled herself to her feet. “God, this kid’s like a bowling ball sitting on my bladder. They say I’ve got another month to go, but I already feel like I’m carrying a toddler around in here.”

“Hey, you wanted to experience motherhood,” Harri said, and immediately regretted it. She wasn’t sure Patty had wanted to experience motherhood. At least not yet. Patty Ames was twenty-three and all alone. She had no family Harri knew of, and the baby’s father was long gone. Harri had tried to convince Patty the sperm donor needed to step up—at least financially. But Patty shook her head, her eyes shiny with tears, and said that he was gone, he wasn’t coming back, and she didn’t want to talk about it.

Harri yawned again and realized she needed more than coffee to stay awake. She decided to take a walk around the park first. She didn’t have anything on her calendar for the afternoon because she’d planned to be in a deposition all day with Seismic Shift, beloved local hero and—in Harri’s mind at least—menace to society. But his attorney called at the last minute and said Shift had an emergency and they’d have to reschedule.

Seismic Shift had the ability to create pinpoint earthquakes. But not pinpoint enough to keep from making a mess, Harri often grumbled to anyone willing to listen. The last one had taken out the Lake County Retirement Home. Yes, he did stop bad guys, but he also made a ton of money off endorsements and licensing deals and those ridiculous comic books. If he was so damn civic-minded, why did she have to fight him all the time to get him to pick up some of the tab?

She’d spent a solid week reviewing the thousands of pages of financial and tax documents Shift’s attorney had dumped on her in response to her discovery request. With the deposition now put off for another week, she wondered if she should go back through the pile to see if she’d missed something, but why bother. Federal law gave registered supers broad latitude to protect their secret identities. Without knowing who he really was, she couldn’t get near most of his assets. Harri knew he had to be making more money than he claimed, but she had no way to prove it. She liked the villains more because it was a lot easier to pry money out of them. The feds didn’t care about maintaining villains’ secret identities.

Harri couldn’t figure out why people thought Seismic Shift was so damn wonderful. It’s not like he was the Ghost Owl. Even Harri respected the Ghost Owl despite her utter contempt for supers. The Ghost Owl was surgical, tidy even, and did minimal damage to public property. And he actually helped people. Regular people. The city’s street criminals might not fear the police, but they were terrified of the Ghost Owl.

He was so mysterious he bordered on urban legend. He was like the Bigfoot of superheroes. Lots of sightings, lots of stories, but only a few blurry photos. He’d never been spotted in daylight, and cameras and sound equipment were rumored to malfunction in his presence. He could vanish into thin air, people said. Allegedly, he could see beyond this world into the next, and he attacked in utter silence.

Unlike most supers, the Ghost Owl hadn’t turned his nocturnal activities into performance art. No endorsement deals, no merchandise, no comic books. Hell, he wasn’t even registered. And although she paid lip service to the need for hero registration, she had to admit she respected him more for refusing to color within the lines.

But Shift? Not only was he a media whore, he was a complete phony. Yeah, he technically had a super power, but the rest was all marketing. She knew for a fact from his financial records the shock of thick blond hair that stuck out above his cowl was fake. Not to mention, he was starting to get a gut. Not quite the sleek, chiseled demigod his publicist made him out to be. He looked about fifteen years younger and twenty pounds lighter in the comic books. Harri kicked off her pumps—early meeting with the mayor, otherwise it would have been loafers—and laced up her sneakers. She pulled her dark shoulder length hair into a ponytail, checked her teeth for lettuce in the small mirror she kept in her handbag, and frowned at the gray hairs along her hairline—there was a new one every day it seemed.

Both her best friends Aisha and Jeremy had tried to set Harri up with the colorist Aisha used at Jeremy’s salon. But she couldn’t afford that kind of money, not on a city salary. There were a few times when she envied Aisha’s position at one of the top firms in the state, but Grandma Harri had drummed public service and standing up for the little guy into her head from the moment she could walk. Besides, she would have ended up like Aisha with all her money going to her ex in the divorce settlement.

And she sure as hell wasn’t taking charity from Jeremy.

With a sigh, Harri dropped the mirror into her bag and slung the strap across her body. The city’s superhero infestation hadn’t done a thing to deter the city’s purse snatcher community. Hell, one of the assholes had nearly strangled when he grabbed her bag in the grocery store parking lot last month.

“I’m going to do a lap or two around the park before I go to the coffee shop,” she called to Patty as she walked out the office.

“Forward your phone,” Patty called over her shoulder.

“Forwarding my phone.” Harri pivoted, marched back into her office, and punched in Patty’s extension on her desk set. Once outside of City Hall, the bright spring sunshine lifted her mood a bit. The park contained its usual assortment of transients, drug addicts, and the mentally ill, but they generally left her alone. Harri was petite, but managed to convey a sense of height. Her ex-husband used to describe her as five feet of rage topped by two inches of woman.

It wasn’t rage. It was . . . Harri didn’t know what it was. Righteous anger, she supposed. She hated bullies. She hated injustice. And in her experience, superheroes were bullies with commercial endorsements. People needed something to believe in. Instead, they got merchandise to buy.

She passed the playground. Two women held their babies while their older children played in the sandbox. It was exactly the domestic scene Eddie had described during their last fight. The one before he moved out and served her with the divorce papers.

Harri snorted and walked faster, annoyed at the thought of her ex. Stupid Eddie, with his new perky young wife and squalling baby and another kid on the way. He’d wanted a domestic family scene she had ultimately been unwilling to give him. She had nothing against babies in general, but did they have to be so stinky? And so loud?

Harri told herself that she simply wasn’t cut out for motherhood. An essential mommy-ness had been left out of her character and she was being sensible by acknowledging it. But…but…

“Stupid hormones,” she grumbled out loud.

Crazy Bob approached with a hopeful smile. “Miz Winters, how are you this fine day?”

Harri sighed. Crazy Bob was as sad as they came. When he stayed on his meds, he could function. Barely. That he had to do so living on a park bench, while schmucks like Seismic Shift lived like kings, broke her heart. Breathing through her mouth to reduce the smell, Harri said, “I’m fine, Bob. How are you?” She dug in her purse for some money. “When did you eat last?”

“Yesterday, Miz Winters. Yesterday.”

“Bob, you could eat every day if you went to the shelter.” At least until they closed it. The stated plan was to relocate it, but Harri knew better. The mayor had plans for the shelter site in East Downtown, and somehow, a new shelter would never appear. And everybody would be so bamboozled by the super show, they’d never notice the bait and switch. The mechanics of local government were dull enough without having to compete with a grandiose parade of heroes and villains creating crisis after crisis.

“Can’t,” he muttered. “Too many crazy people there.”

She couldn’t argue that point and handed Bob a couple of bills. Enough for a fast food burger and a cup of coffee. From experience she knew if she gave any of the homeless more they’d forego the food and buy a six-pack instead. She wished she could do more, but what Bob really needed, she couldn’t give him.

He thanked her and went on his way.

Harri continued, her stroll turning into a march. So many things were wrong in the city, things on a human scale that could be fixed with money and political will, but there was no money for people like Crazy Bob. He wasn’t super enough.

She stomped across the street into the coffee shop and got a large hot chocolate for Patty and a plain coffee for herself. She couldn’t walk past Crazy Bob and his lost companions with a cup of coffee that cost her as much as the meal she’d bought him.

Back at city hall, she gave Patty the hot chocolate, and headed into her office. Harri took a sip of her coffee and set the cup on her desk. Before she had time to sit down or even take her bag off her shoulder, somebody out in the hallway screamed. She took two steps toward the door before an enormous wall of hot air pushed her backwards against her desk. Stunned, she saw a masked figure in black step into the doorway.

“I warned you,” it said, in a gruff male voice. “Now, I’ll take my revenge for you ignoring me.” Something green dripped from a tube connected to his outfit. The substance hit the restored wood of the doorframe and sizzled. “Who are you?”

“Professor Venom,” the figure said.

That’s not Arthur. “Like hell you are,” Harri said. She should be afraid. This was a wannabe who meant business. “You’re way too big.”

More people screamed in the hallway and Harri became aware of an acrid smell. Smoke, but with a metallic, chemical undertone. The figure lifted its arm to throw something at her. She ducked, and a knife bounced off her file cabinet.

What the hell? Why would any supervillain start throwing knives in the middle of an acid attack? She crawled under her desk. Liquid splashed with a sizzle against her filing cabinet and the wall. “You’re done, bitch.” More splashing. Noxious fumes rose.

Whoever that was, he definitely was not Arthur Drallhickey. The real Professor Venom’s extortion letters were exceedingly polite.

Harri peered around the edge. From her vantage point near the floor, Harri could see the carpet in front of the desk bubbling before it burst into flames. A lake of chemical fire, too wide to jump, simmered between her and the office door. She heard something liquid drop onto the carpet with a sizzle and turned to look. The wall beside her was foaming and steaming. Whatever her attacker had sprayed, it appeared to be eating the plaster.

The steaming foam spread to the ceiling and a moment later something dripped onto her shoulder. It hissed on the fabric of her blouse, and pain seared her skin. The glass top would buy her a little time, but she had to get out of her office, and she wasn’t getting out through the door.

That left the window.

City Hall had been carefully restored, in meticulous historic detail, five years earlier, after a superhero with lightning powers had started a fire that gutted the interior of the building. It was that case where Harri began to develop a national reputation among municipal attorneys as an expert in filing supervillain forfeiture actions and winning superhero compensation lawsuits.

As part of the restoration, the building’s seventies-era sealed windows were replaced with historically-accurate oak double-hung sashes. Harri’s office was on the fifth floor. High enough to be terrifying, but low enough that she might survive, but with horrible life-ruining injuries. There was a narrow ledge she could crawl out on and from there maybe she could find an open window. She felt her stomach knot at the thought.

A drop of the stuff falling from the ceiling splashed against the edge of the desk and hit her hand with a sizzle. She yelped in pain and made her decision. Better a fall than being burnt to death. She rolled out from under the desk, sprinted to the nearest window, and threw open the sash. Taking a deep breath, she pulled herself through the window as more drops of acid splashed on her legs and melted her pantyhose.

Of all the days to wear the damn things. At least, she still had her athletic shoes on.

She glanced back, but the fake Professor Venom was gone. More acid dripped on her desk, setting her paperwork on fire. Including the Professor Venom extortion letter in her inbox.

She clung to the frame a moment, fighting off the dizziness. “Don’t look down, Harriet,” she said out loud. “Don’t you dare look down.”

Instead Harri looked up. A helicopter hovered overhead, a cameraman hanging out the door. He saw her and waved. She let go of the window frame long enough to flash her middle finger at him, then resumed her grip. “Gotta move, girl,” she told herself as a gust of hot air blew outward from her burning, dissolving office. “Can’t stay here.” Harri took a few more deep breaths, forced herself to let go of the window frame, and eased along the narrow ledge toward the next window, which opened into Patty’s cubicle. Before she got there, flames billowed from Patty’s window.

Feeling sick with fear, Harri scuttled backward. She was trying to turn around when the ledge, weakened by the acid, broke away from the building. Harri didn’t have time to scream before she was falling through the air. Eyes shut, she felt something hard hit her.

This is it. Funny, I thought it would hurt more.

Except she was still moving, but now she was going sideways. She felt arms around her, and she opened her eyes. A man was holding her. A man who was flying.

A super.

God, I hope I haven’t sued him.

A brightly colored spandex mask covered most of his face under a sweatshirt hood. She had time to register a rock hard chest and arms, and the smell of sweat, before he landed and set her gently on her feet on the grass of City Hall Park.

“Who else is in there?” he asked.

“My assistant,” Harri said. “Blond, really pregnant.”

He nodded and took off again. He flew, sleek as an arrow, into her open office window. A moment later, he soared out a different window with Patty in his arms. He dropped her off on the roof of police headquarters, across the street, and headed back into city hall. Harri watched him rescue five more people. “There you are, bitch,” she heard a familiar voice behind her. “Not getting away this time.”

She felt a cord drop around her throat, but got her fingers underneath it before her attacker could tighten the garrote. But she didn’t have the strength to push him off her.

The masked man flew toward her in a blur. The garrote loosened, and she heard a cry behind her. She turned and saw—

No, it couldn’t be. Crazy Bob sprawled on his back on top of a crushed car. Blood was gushing from his nose, and he was moaning.

“We need to go,” she heard the masked man say. Before she could answer, he’d scooped her up with one muscular arm and soared upwards. When they flew over police headquarters, she heard the people on the roof clapping and cheering.

I never got to drink my coffee. It was her last thought before she passed out.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sacrificed - Chapter 5

Sorry I'm a little late posting. Despite my concerted efforts to stay healthy the last two months, I managed to wake up sick as a dog this morning.

This will be the last chapter posted for Sacrificed before it's release next month. Watch this space for the pre-order notice!

In March, I'll start posting chapters for my next release, Hero De Facto.


I chased everyone out of Max and Tiffany’s house. For the first time, I truly understood why Duncan, and now Alex, got cranked about crime scene contamination. I was going to have to sort out everyone’s DNA to find what I needed for this tracking spell.

I ignored the huge scarlet stain that was my brother’s blood. I had to trust Bebe would find a way to save him. For all my new powers, I couldn’t. At least, not without killing him first. And then, there was no guarantee I could resurrect him like I accidentally did with my three baby zombies.

I’d been practicing my powers, but animals and demons were one thing. I wasn’t about to try with another human being. Especially not my big brother.

Even with my new abilities, separating DNA took time, and I wasn’t the most patient person before the damn nanites rewrote my genetic code. These days, I made Ares of the Short Fuse look like a Normal on a weed binge.

The soft gray, amorphous head of Flopsy poked out from under my long, black coat. She wheaked a question in rabbit language.

“No, I’ve got this,” I said. “I just need you two to stay out of the way for a bit.” I could feel the ghost bunny curled up with her partner in my pocket again.

I’d been training my ghosts on intelligence gathering. We’d started by playing hide-and-seek with Ellie and progressed from there. However, I wasn’t about to put Flopsy and Peter’s little bunny souls at risk with a demon in play.

And having two dead souls in our penthouse was just one more issue between me and my husband, even if they were rabbits. I was still learning my skills and my limits, so I hadn’t yet built the paradise I’d promised Flopsy and Peter in return for their sacrifice in dealing with the dino demons in Montana.

But one problem at a time. First, I needed to find my niece before Marcus Giovanni and his demon friends did anything stupid. Or permanent. Because I wasn’t going to practice my death powers on my niece.

Not unless I absolutely had to.

Standing in the middle of the living room, I sucked in a deep breath. I tasted the sweet familiarity of Max, Tiffany, and Ellie in the dust. My efforts focused on them first.

Ebony energy swirled through the ranch house, drawing a cloud of debris to the living room. It surrounded me, a mini gray tornado. I never realized how much crap humans sloughed off in their lives. Skin flakes, strands of hair, dried saliva, fingernail and toenail chips.

Max and Ellie’s fragments were easy since we shared the same base code. I was a little surprised how much of my own modified DNA remained in the Howell-Stephens dwelling. From examining Ellie’s DNA, I could separate out Tiffany and Duncan’s genetic material. Five piles collected on the floor.

As my sister-in-law pointed out, Ares’s snowflakes glowed, little red beacons of power compared to my black diamond ones. Phil’s weren’t quite as bright since her mom was an air nymph, but still an obvious neon compared to the other samples.

I shoved Siobhan and the rest of the were-stamped DNA into another pile. There was more than I would have thought until I remembered Tiffany and Siobhan were instrumental in hammering out the truce between the fae and the vampires. Their own homes would have been preferable for the two moms’ meetings since both of their houses were already childproofed. Business had turned into friendship since their kids were close in age, and voila! A hell of a lot of wolf hair.

Also, were kind hadn’t been involved in any of the dino demon business over the last four years unless I counted the poor, unwilling females kidnapped, raped, and impregnated by the demons. I’d give the weres a pass for now and ignored that pile of detritus.

That left Normals, non-Duncan vamps, and—BINGO! I grinned. The dino demons really shouldn’t have interbred with us. The mixture of saurian and homo sapien stood out among the rest. Just microscopic fragments of scales and claws, not enough to fill the hand of the proverbial angel dancing on the head of a pin, but I had the little bastard. Dropping out the remaining DNA, I built a tracking spell around Tiffany’s little visitor and launched it. Unlike the fae and the witches, I could track someone even if they were dead. One second went by. Two.

A black sparkling ribbon flared to life. Shit. I was too late. I’d have to resurrect the little bastard to question it. That was going to be fun.


I frowned and double-checked the termination point. La Brea Tar Pits.

The location’s counterpart in Otherwhere had been the site of my initiation as a death deity, though Baron Samedi had tried to turn it into a trial. Here in mortal reality, the park surrounding the prehistoric animal grave had been the meeting site for the were-brokered truce between the vampires and the fae. Morrigan had promised me she’d keep her people in check as long as I did the same with the vampires.

The difference was the fae were her people’s descendants, and their courts regarded her as the goddess she was. The Vampire Nation tolerated me as a necessary evil.

And they feared rather than respected me.

So why was the demon’s body at La Brea? A twisted message from Giovanni since his grandmother’s hand in the creation of nanites ignited the cold war between the fae and the vampires into a hot mess?

“Sam? You done?” Alex called from the front door.

“Not yet,” I yelled. “Give me a couple of minutes.”

I wanted to know how stupid Giovanni decided to be. Rebelling against his uncle Caesar was one thing. Selling out the entire planet was another.

It took me a few seconds to filter the Normal/vampire pile. Longer to separate out the three particles of Giovanni’s bio material. The bastard had been careful, but not careful enough for someone like me. I cast the tracking spell.

A blood red energy ribbon snapped into place. It also terminated at La Brea. I wasn’t cocky enough to ignore the obvious trap.

I strode out of Max and Tiffany’s house. “The lizard’s dead.” I grinned at Alex. “But Giovanni’s alive, and both are waiting for us at La Brea. Wanna spring his trap?”

The chief enforcer’s return grin was absolutely feral. He liked Giovanni even less than I did and had for a hell of a lot longer. “Try and stop me.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sacrificied - Chapter 4


“That doesn’t make sense,” Alex said once I laid out my reasoning.

I jammed my hands on my hips. “Why?”.

“Ellie is nearly four years old. Not an innocent fetus in utero. All the other women they’ve abducted were pregnant, or they were impregnated by a full dino demon. And she’s definitely not a god.”

“You’re right. She’s not any of those things.” Sam actually looked worried, which fed the fear in my gut. “What she has is my DNA.”

Phil stepped closer to me and wrapped an arm around my shoulders even as she stared at my sister-in-law. “But Bebe said the nanites were rewriting your DNA.”

“No.” I shook my head. “It’s more like expanding it.” Everyone stared at me. For all their various talents, no one, not even Alex, who had a year of medical school back in the 1800’s, really understood Bebe’s explanation of non-human genetics.

I rolled my eyes. “You all understand the basic double-helix, right?”

Everyone gave me dirty looks, except Siobhan who laughed and said, “The twisted ladder, right? It’s the same regardless of whether we’re Norm, were or witch.”

“Yeah.” I didn’t want to admit how reassuring Phil’s hug was. “Vamps, too. In their case, the V-virus replaces sections of the ladder. It doesn’t change the basic shape. Because of the changes the nanites are making, Sam’s DNA resembles a snowflake just like Grandpa Ares’s.”

My sister-in-law scowled and crossed her arms. “My precious little snowflakes don’t change the fact that Ellie’s my blood relative.”

“No, it doesn’t.” The hard lump in my belly grew. “Like I said, it’s also the fact that she’s an innocent.” Alex snorted. “Innocent my ass. Not the way she took me in poker tonight—”

“Poker?” I glared at him. My fingers twitched next to the pocket where I kept sharpened number two pencils. Dammit, I told Max dinner only. The guys’ poker nights often went into the wee hours, far too late for my daughter to be staying up. Ellie would be cranky and impossible in the morning—

The tightening of my throat threatened to choke me as I realized I may never see her again.

“Tiffany’s right. They need a virgin,” Siobhan said. “And Ellie would be the only one within Sam’s lineage.”

“Why would a dinosaur god get hung up on virginity? Wouldn’t her relationship to me be enough?” Sam interrupted. She saved Alex from a staking and Siobhan from a shooting. And me from charging off half-cocked.

“Because our society is hung up on a woman’s lack of sexual experience.” I hugged myself again. “The dino demon has to play by our rules, magickally speaking.”

Phil leaned back to face me. “Are you trying to replace Bebe as our resident magick expert?”

I knew she was trying to lighten the mood by teasing, but I was too worried for it to do any good. “I’ve been studying everything I could get my hands on since we found out what Sam was becoming.”

“So what do you expect me to do?” My sister-in-law didn’t look very happy. “I can’t conjure Ellie out of thin air if I can’t find her.”

“Odds are they’re only hiding Ellie from you and Grandpa Ares,” I pointed out.

“That doesn’t help us...” Ares’s expression shifted from irritation to confusion as Sam’s shit-ass grin grew to match mine.

“Marcus is one stupid son of a bitch,” she said.

“You can do it, right?” I didn’t like doubting Sam. It had nothing to do with her smiting me, and everything to do with my fear I was grasping at straws.

Her smile darkened. “Oh, I can do the tracking spell. I just can’t guarantee the results.”