Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Some Questions for Readers

I'm currently planning out the 2021 schedule. Don't worry. There are definitely Justice and 888-555-HERO novels coming. I'll re-release the Millersburg Magic Mysteries once I rip all my COVID depression out. Elaina will be starting on the covers for the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse series next month. And I have a funky, funny  cross-universe tale coming for next Christmas.

(Blame Darling Husband for that last one. He asked what would happen if Sam and Anthea ever met. Never ask a writer "What if....")

What would you like to see more of for 2021 and 2022?

- Individual Short Stories?
- Short Story Collections?
- Screw the Shorts, I want Novels!
- Single Titles?
- More Justice Thalia?
- A HERO spin-off? If so, who?
- A totally new series?
- Occasional Freebies to download?
- What about collector's items like t-shirts or a limited edition Captain Justice comic?
- Why the hell aren't you on [favorite social media]?

These are the things running through my head as I enter the downward slide of 2020. As I used to tell clients, nothing's impossible. It's a question of time and money.

I know there's a few of you who check the Release and Series pages on a regular basis, so hit me with your thoughts in the comment section.

In fact, do it now before I turn into the crochety old lady who yells, "Get off my lawn!"

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Twist of Love - Chapter 6

This will be the last chapter I post for A Twist of Love. I really need to get the editing done!

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Thankfully, the message regarding tonight’s emergency convocation went out before Lady Katarina’s unplanned and unannounced arrival at the Temple of Balance. Her visit resulted in no work being done because every single priestess, warden, and staff member, including our underage squires, doted over Lord Kam.

Well, except me and the three wardens on guard duty. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the excuse of watching the Temple walls and entrances. Therefore, while everyone else ooo’d and ahh’d over the infant noble, Katarina dragged me to my office with the words, “We must talk.”

The last thing I needed right now was some idiotic problem with the nobility.

“What in the world is going on?” I asked. When she took a seat on one of the visitor’s chairs, I circled my desk and dropped into my own chair. “Is there an issue with Duchess Nadine?”

“Don’t play coy with me, Anthea.” Katarina leaned forward, a scowl accenting her bright pink visage. “I heard through the fishwives Gerd was seen in Orrin.”

So much for keeping that news quiet. If Katarina knew, then everyone else in Orrin had already heard about the incident at Love. Duke Marco was adamant about keeping his wife in the dark so as not upset her when her focus should be on their child.

However, Katarina and I shared an odd bond. Both of our mothers were priestesses of Love, and we were both products of the Spring Rituals. Which was why when she suspected her husband was in one of his protective moods, she came straight to me. I simply didn’t have the heart to lie to her.

I groaned and sagged in my chair. “Tell me what you know so I’m not repeating myself.”

Katarina repeated enough of a chunk of what happened at Love this morning that I suspected it was one of the sisters who’d passed the information. The question of whether it was directly or through pillow talk with Lady Alessa didn’t matter. But what the duke’s wife added to her tale aroused my interest.

“Do you know Alo, the innkeeper of the Green Lady?” Katarina asked.

“We’ve met a couple of time since I was assigned to Orrin.” That was an understatement of the generation.

“His daughter Chumana claims she saw a woman matching Gerd’s description try to access the tunnel system,” Katarina stated.

“And who is the source for this tale?” I said, my skepticism more than evident.

“Chumana herself.” Katarina slapped the surface of my desk with her palm. “I spoke with her during the midday meal. I cocked my head and grinned. “Marco let you off the ducal estate?”

“My old guild master at the Veterinarians Guild sent a message asking for assistance healing a cow herd suffering from udder infections.” She shrugged. “My dear husband could not deny assistance to one of his people.”

“Not without causing more hurt feelings.” I laughed at the fight I was sure the noble couple had before Katarina probably threatened his manhood. “I’m glad you’re using your healing skills for the good of our cattle population.”

“You’ll be glad when you’re plowing through a steak at my dining table.” She smiled briefly at her rejoinder before her visage turned grim once again. “Seriously though, Anthea. You do need to question Chumana under truthspell. She may be able to give you more details. Something that will lead you to Gerd. She’s destroyed enough lives in Orrin.”

“A question for you first, m’lady.” I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my desk. “Why were you at the Green Lady?” “I used to take an occasional meal there with my mother,” she said wistfully. “Mother would disguise herself as a man, just to get away from the Temple once in a while. I was feeling a bit nostalgic after helping my old guild master.”

My heart sank. For Katarina’s mother to sneak away for a little peace and quiet said how truly bad things were underneath Gerd’s management. And that was long before the demons came to Orrin. And I could understand Katarina wanting to relive one of her few happy memories.

“Very well then.” I nodded. “Thank you for the information. I will follow up on it.”

“Don’t placate me, Chief Justice,” Katarina said as she rose. “I grew up at Love. Gerd’s intent was to kill High Sister Dragonfly this morning. If she finds a way into Balance, she slit your throat and enjoy every drop of blood draining from your body.”

“I’m not placating you, m’lady.” I pushed to my feet. “And I’m under no illusion she would kill me immediately. She’ll torture me because she can no longer do so to her parents, and she blames us all for her misfortunes.”

Katarina made an unladylike snort. “She had everything a person could possibly want. Wealth, power, status. None of it was enough, and that lies solely on her. Not you. Not your grandparents.”

I shook my head. “The problem is she doesn’t care how many people get in her way on her quest for retribution.”

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Next "I Need Something to Cope" Sale!

From now until August 31st, A Question of Balance (Justice #1) is on sale for $0.99. Start the Justice series now before A Twist of Love (Book #5) is released in a couple of weeks!

Amazon, all countries
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Smashword

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Twist of Love - Chapter 5

First of all, I want to thank everyone who picked up a copy of Snowfall last week. Given the number of preorders for Murder Most Fowl, I have to assume you guys enjoyed it.😁

Here's the next chapter in Anthea's  next tale!

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Gina returned from her errand while I nibbled on the unleavened bread and sipped the milk in Dragonfly’s sitting room. High Brother Jax of Wildling and High Brother Talbert of Thief accompanied her. Both priests’ expressions were as grim as Gina’s.

Luc groaned. “How many did we lose?”

“The two wardens and the pair of peacekeepers at the Duke’s entrance,” Gina reported. “I’ve informed the magistrate, who in turn will inform Duke Marco. Magistrate DiCook has requested a meeting as soon as you are done with High Brother Xander and the Healers Guild.”

“Damn, we are too predictable,” I muttered.

“Sister Farrah and Sister Cedar Grove along with our chief wardens are leading the search for Gerd,” Jax said.

“High Brother Han and the magistrate are doubling the guards at all the exits,” Talbert added.

“How did Gerd overcome all four guards?” Xander said.

“Demon magick,” Jax spat.

The unleavened bread and milk churned in my stomach. For a moment, I feared I would ruin Dragonfly’s carpets. She began rubbing my back while I struggled to get my emotions in check. Now, I understood Luc’s odd comment. I was too close to this situation. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Yet, I was the perfect bait.

“She planned to use that grimoire herself.” I looked at Luc.

His skin turned a brilliant pink. He began cursing. In Issuran. In Cantan. Even a few words of Diné and Comanche we’d learned during the siege of Tandor. Once he ran out of breath, Talbert asked, “Has the grimoire been destroyed?”

I inhaled to answer and paused. The Reverend Mother and Yanaba said it had been destroyed, but what if it hadn’t been? What if someone pulled the same trick I had by substituting a demon-contaminated tome?

“I don’t know for sure,” I admitted.

This time, Dragonfly cursed fluently in several languages, including a few I didn’t recognize. She finished with, “Has your Reverend Mother become completely daft in her age!”

I described my actions to fool the renegades who had abducted Luc last winter. “It’s entirely possible the Reverend Mother thought she had destroyed the grimoire.”

Talbert rubbed his chin as he considered my words. “And whoever made the exchange would still be at the home Temple to aid Gerd in her escape.” He shook his head. “This doesn’t bode well at all.”

“In other words, I need to call a convocation,” I muttered. “I really miss being on a circuit. Being a city seat has become a pain in my buttocks.” No one laughed at my sarcastic comment. Not even Luc.

* * *

Technically, I had broken my fast at Love with the unleavened bread and sweetened milk. It did eventually settle my stomach as Claudia had promised. However, it wasn’t the heartier meal Deborah usually served me. My stomach growled obnoxiously through the healers’ examination of Gregorios’s corpse.

To the point, Master Healer Bly asked if I needed something to settle my digestive system.

The healers’ examination of Gregorios’s body provided no more information. It merely showed Gerd’s knife penetrated the head of household’s lung. The pain and inability to take a full breath stunned Gregorios, allowing Gerd to slit his throat which was the killing strike. And then there was the cracked skull where she stomped on Gregorios’s head. Their murder was so simple, so straight forward.

And so unlike Gerd’s normal style.

Which was exactly what Magistrate DiCook said when we met at the Temple of Light.

By then, it was First Afternoon. Thank the Twelve, Luc had inherited High Brother Kam’s chef. The man had adapted to Luc’s simpler tastes instead of producing the delicacies my maternal grandfather preferred. But Light’s chef still had a way with herbs and spices that made even a simple soup taste like a meal fit for the Twelve Themselves.

The magistrate wasn’t one to turn down an offer of hospitality from either Light or Balance. DiCook feared offending his wife by honestly telling how bad her kitchen skills were, but as Deborah, my own Temple cook, pointed out, Madame DiCook’s talents would not improve if he wasn’t truthful.

Once our clergy, chief wardens, and the magistrate gathered in the high brother’s dining room and food had been served, Brother Jeremy rose and cast wards so we could have a private conversation.

DiCook turned to me as Jeremy resumed his seat. “Speaking of which, why on earth are you putting so much responsibility on Warden Gina’s shoulders? She should have a promotion for all the extra work she’s doing.”

“She’s been offered a chief warden position. Three times.” I held up the requisite number of fingers. “She turned down Dragonfly. Yanaba and Elizabeth both believe if they stay at my Temple long enough, they will seduced Gina into accepting an offer when they are assigned a seat.”

“The queen isn’t thinking of rebuilding Tandor, is she?” DiCook looked aghast.

“She can’t,” Luc said around a mouthful of yeast roll and butter. “Not without killing anyone who steps inside the walls. According to the ancient histories, Death’s final defense spells render a space uninhabitable for a thousand generations.”

“And?” DiCook prompted.

“Your ancestors were from the isles of Britannia.” Luc shrugged. “If you want to put the spells to the test, be my guest.”

“Last that the Reverend Mother said was the queen is considering moving the citizens of Tandor to the Anacapa Islands,” Elizabeth said before DiCook could spit out an impolite rejoinder. “If she does, Yanaba and I will be assigned there, and a new junior justice will be assigned to Orrin.”

“Won’t they be subject to pirate attacks?” Luc’s chief warden Nicholas asked.

“Not if Duchess Nadine succeeds in her efforts to build solids fortresses on all the island,” Jeremy said. “She’s already approached several foreign ambassadors about trade agreements. If they stop at one of the island wharves, it would lessen their travel a half day each way.”

I sipped my wine to keep from laughing. There was no doubt he’d gotten that information through Sister Shi Hua from the way her skin shifted from orange to red.

Brother Garbhan, Luc’s newest priest at Light, whistled. “Does Duke Marco know about this?”

“Yes, he does.” I set my goblet down. “Lady Alessa has been assisting Duchess Nadine with his blessing.”

“And acting as a chaperone for the poor widow?” DiCook raised his right eyebrow.

I snorted. “Some of Marco’s idiot cousins foolishly think the duchess has more than her title. I don’t blame her for wanting a bodyguard.”

“And we are deliberately avoiding the real subject of this meeting.” Yanaba unerringly spooned the mixture of berries, milk, and sweet bread from her bowl to her mouth. The poor justice was keeping down food now, but only certain things. She avoided most of the Cantan dishes Luc’s chef prepared, but he always made her something special that wouldn’t upset her delicate stomach.

“You all know Gerd, the former high sister of Love, entered the Temple in the predawn hour and murdered Love’s head of household Gregorios,” Luc began.

“Are we sure it was Gerd?” Yanaba asked.

Elizabeth frowned. “Are you saying Anthea performed the rewind incorrectly?”

“No.” Yanaba set her spoon in her bowl. “A rewind only allows us to replay events as they happened within that space. What if it were a skinwalker or a demon wearing Gerd? It would explain her unusual behavior.”

Luc and I exchanged looks. We were both slipping in objectiveness.

“Or Gerd’s change in behavior could be the result of having nothing to lose,” Nicholas murmured. “She has a death sentence over her head regardless of what she does now.”

“Yanaba may be right.” I pushed my plate back, no longer having an appetite for the fresh roasted fish. “Demon magic was used to kill the guards at the duke’s entrance to the tunnel system.”

“Maybe it would be best to bring down the three remaining exits,” Little Bear said. “This isn’t the first time the damn renegades and demons have used them against us.”

“We’ve already doubled the people watching the tunnels, including adding a member of the clergy at each of them,” DiCook protested. “If Gerd tries again—” “Do you really want to sacrifice your peacekeepers, Malven?” I said. “If Yanaba is right, the demon or skinwalker is using those guards’ death to power itself. If I’m right and it is really Gerd, she’s no longer a priestess. She had been studying the demon grimoire formerly in her possession, or she’s found another one. If that’s the case, she’s in the process of becoming a skinwalker herself.”

Red drained from DiCook’s face, leaving it an ugly yellow color. “So, you’re saying Orrin is screwed no matter what we do?”

“No,” Luc said firmly. “I’m betting the person who entered Love is Gerd. Otherwise, a demon would have targeted Balance and Death first, especially after those Temples managed to destroy an entire demon army in Tandor.”

“What happens if Jax and Talbert’s people lose the trail?” Shi Hua said softly. Like me, she’d pushed back her plate with the food barely touched. “Or worse, the murder at Love was bait for a trap? The renegades led us on a merry little trip when they abducted you, High Brother.”

Luc stared across the table at me. His worry prickled against my psyche.

I shrugged. “Xander is right. I’ll call for an emergency convocation for tonight.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

New Release!

"Snowfall" started life as my 2018 submission to Sword & Sorceress. I'd just found out I had breast cancer, and I really couldn't think of anything . So I went back to the Justice universe and wrote a little story about Thalia, Anthea's maternal grandmother.

The editor Elisabeth Waters ultimately rejected it. There were a lot of good stories submitted that year. I highly recommend you read Sword & Sorceress 33.

So I planned to publish the story here on my website in November of 2018. Except Ms. Waters e-mailed me and asked if the story was still available. She wanted to reconsider it for Sword & Sorceress 34, which would be the last volume in the long running series. Ultimately, she rejected it again.

I'm finally to the place where I can officially publish this story. It's live on Amazon, and I'll post links on The Justice Thalia Stories tab when they're active.

It'll remain at $0.99 until August 15th.

I hope you all like this little look at a character who has influenced quite a bit of the plot of the Justice series. The next Justice book A Twist of Love will be coming to you next month. And one last sample chapter will be posted here next week.


Amazon, all countries

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Twist of Love - Chapter 4

I have to give credit to my cover artist Elaina Lee of For the Muse Design. She inspired the ending of the novel with her gorgeous cover design.

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Luc held a cup of wine to my lips. I couldn’t stop my hands from trembling to take the cup from him. We were back in Dragonfly’s sitting room. Luc sat on one side of me. Dragonfly fretted on the other.

I drank a few sips of the wine before I said, “Wh-what happened?”

“There was enough psychic residue—” he started.

“I’m so sorry, Anthea.” Dragonfly grabbed my left hand.

“You were in shock when you found Gregorios.” I squeezed her hand. “Not your fault. I’ve never had something like that happen during a rewind.”

“You usually aren’t sitting right on top of the spot where someone was murdered or discovered the corpse,” Luc bit out. “Nor have you tried two enclosed places at once.”

“Could you please restrain your annoyance with me?” I massaged my temples. The pain seemed like a solid rod had been inserted through them with a detour into my eyeballs. “My head already aches, and your leaking emotions are not helping.”

“That rewind was not worth your life,” Dragonfly snapped at me.

“You are not helping the pain either,” I muttered.

“And the rewind was necessary to confirm Gerd was the culprit behind Gregorios’s murder,” Chief Warden Citana said.

“She wanted us to know,” I said. “Specifically, she wanted to make sure I knew.” I stood and took one step before my balance wavered. Dezba jumped to my side and steadied me before I toppled to the carpets. I pretended I didn’t almost fall and said, “Luc, let’s double-check Gregorios before we haul him out of Dragonfly’s bath, but I have a feeling there’s no trap spell on his corpse.”

“You should rest, Anthea.” Dragonfly rose to her full height. The berda was a good head taller than me, and I was tall for a woman.

“If you seek to intimidate me by towering over me—” I started.

“Enough, you two!” Claudia’s bells jungled as she laborious climbed to her feet. She had gone to her chambers to dress before coming back to Dragonfly’s quarters. While she’d not bothered with her public veil, the bells on her robes chimed discordantly at her vexation with us. “We have enough problems with sniping at each other.”

Luc stood as well. “She’s right. Gerd wanted to prove she could get to any of us. She could just as easily have slit Dragonfly’s throat if she’d been in bed instead of attending to Claudia. I’m surprised she didn’t slash mine or Anthea’s this morning.”

A wave of dizziness swept through me that had nothing to do with empathetic reaction to Dragonfly’s emotion or fear of my birth mother, and everything to do with the wine in my empty stomach.

“Anthea?” Concern flowed from Luc.

“I’m fine.” I shot him a smile. “It has more to do with unwatered wine before breaking my fast.”

“Then I’ll fetch you some unleavened bread and milk with a bit of honey,” Claudia declared. “It did wonder for my morning sickness.” She left the sitting room with Warden Jocasta on her heels.

“I really wish she wouldn’t do that,” I murmured.

“What?” Dragonfly cocked her head. “Be kind to you?”

“Yes.” I sighed. “It makes me feel guilty.”

Luc said nothing, and I immediately regretted my words. The edict wasn’t his or Claudia’s fault. I simply didn’t know how to deal with my anger and frustration over the whole situation. Maybe I was the one who needed to seek High Sister Mya’s care after all.

* * *

As I suspected, there was no additional spell on the dead person in the bathing room. If Gerd wanted me dead, that would have been the fastest, smartest way to kill me.

Unless she knew about Bianca’s attempt a few weeks ago.

High Brother Xander of Death and Master Healer Devin arrived a few moments after Dezba and I fished the corpse from Dragonfly’s bath with Chief Warden Nicholas’s aid. Even I could discern the body was Gregorios.

Devin crouched in the tiles next to the dead man. “Are you sure you want a full examination of the corpse, Chief Justice? The wounds match your rewind.” “I don’t want to leave anything to chance, Master Devin,” I said. “Not when it comes to Gerd.”

The healer looked up at Xander standing next to him. “Do you concur, High Brother?”

The poor priest was barely four years older than my junior justice Yanaba. He didn’t deserve have the weight of the strife between the Temple of Death and the Healers Guild on his young shoulders. Luckily, he’d learned quite a bit from Bertrice prior to her passing, including the dance between the two factions. I often found I needed both sides’ assistance in learning the truth of a case.

“I have a few more years experience with the former high sister than you do, Master Devin.” A wry smile tilted Xander’s mouth. “Therefore, I concur with the chief justice. We all need to thorough in our duties. The fact Gerd has resorted to active violence bothers me more than I care to admit.”

“She was rather active in her previous murder attempts,” I pointed out. “Especially Sister Gretchen’s.”

“Prior to Gregorios, she manipulated other people to perform her unethical or illegal actions,” Xander said. “For example, hiring the Assassins Guild’s attempt to stab you on the steps of Light or bespelling Magistrate DiCook to bear false witness against you during the winter convocation.” Xander shook his head. “I would suggest consulting with Child, but the change in Gerd’s behavior means some other factor has shifted. People simply don’t alter their demeanor randomly. Any information at this point would assist us in finding her.”

“Us?”

“Since the renegades and the Assassins Guild appear to have some sort of alliance with the demons and skinwalkers, then every member of the twelve temples is threatened.” He frowned. “Including myself and my children.”

I looked at Luc, guilt weighing on my heart. “What say you, High Brother?”

“I would agree with our brother of Death.” He glanced at the corpse before looking at me again. “Honestly, I wondered if Gerd had dumped poison in the bath water. I worried I had missed something during the rewind. I feared for you, Dezba and Citana when you pulled Gregorios from the bath water.” He shook his head. “I don’t know if any of us at Light will be of use to you, except maybe Garbhan.”

Now, what had happened among the members of Light that he would say such a thing in front of a peer from another Temple?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Twist of Love - Chapter 3

Here's another unedited chapter from the upcoming August release A Twist of Love.

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Despite my suspicions, the reality unnerved me. The shock nearly made me release the time lines, but I squeezed my fingers tightly. The very faint ghostly image of Gerd froze in place. Thankfully, neither Luc or Dezba said a word while I gathered my composure.

Or what little was left of it.

I swallowed my heart and let the events unfold. However, I winced as the memory of Gerd passed through me.

“It’s Gerd,” Luc said, his voice bitter. “She is armed, and she positions herself behind the bathing room door.”

The very same door I had the two wardens remove.

“Gregorios is coming into the bedchamber through the sitting room door,” Dezba said. She’s still on this side of Dragonfly’s sleeping quarters. “They pause to lay out sleepwear and collect towels from the second wardrobe. Now, they enter the bathing room.”

Once again, Luc picked up the recitation. “They enter the bathing room. They stop the drain and turn on the spigot to fill the pool. Gregorios selects oils from the shelves in here, kneels by the pool, and adds them to the bath. They stand and return the bottles. They reach down to turn off the spigot. Gerd slips from behind the door and raises her arm holding the knife. They are unaware of her presence until they start to rise. She stabs Gregorios in the back.”

Luc’s fury at watching Gerd destroy someone else beat against my psyche. My fingers and lungs burned while I tried to maintain control of the spell.

“Get yourself under control, High Brother.” I spat the word as if they were a poison I attempted to expel before it killed me. His rage receded enough I could breathe again.

“Gregorios starts to topple into the pool,” Luc said. “But she wrenches out the blade, grabs their ear, and slits their throat. Gerd manages to knock them over to the far side of the room.”

Luc’s crutches thump against the marble and his voice hardens as he forces himself to continue witnessing. “The blood collects on the marble tiles. Gerd wipes her knife on Gregorios’s trousers and sheathes it. She dips her right fingers into the blood and starts writing on the wall. Gregorios is trying to get up. She stomps on his left temple with her boot heel. They are lying on the floor, no longer moving.”

He tried to contain his rage, but it bubbled up again. I didn’t have the heart to say anything. Not when he was relieving his own pain as well as Gregorios’s.

“She finishes writing the message,” Luc continued. “She washes her hands in the pool and dries them on Gregorios’s tunic before she shoves him into the water. She walks out of the bathing room.”

“Gerd comes into the bedroom,” Dezba continued. “She stares at the high sister’s bed. She partially draws her knife.” There’s a long pause in her recitation. “After six breaths, she rams her knife back into the sheath. She sharply turns to the tunnel entrance. The stone folds open, and she slips through the exit. The stone folds back into place.”

We were close to the end of the rewind. I let the threads of time speed just a bit through my fingers.

“The high sister enters her bedchamber again,” Dezba said. “She removes her veil and calls out. She cocks her head as if waiting for an answer. She calls out again before she strides towards the bathing room.”

I couldn’t breath. Shock and grief rip through me at the sight in the pool, but I’m seeing the body in red clothing floating in red water through someone else’s eyes. Someone with normal vision, not my odd sight. I start screaming. And time snapped back into place.