Monday, November 10, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 2

This is the unedited, rough draft of my current wip. Enjoy!

* * *
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. Mai had a faintly amused look on her face. Staci sniffed the pulsing heart.

Quinn raced around the desk, grabbed Staci’s trashcan and proceeded to vomit.

“It smells like some breed of deer,” Staci offered. “But it’s not one I’m familiar with.”

“At least, it’s not a human heart,” I said.

“Or brains.” Mai now wore a full-blown smirk.

I groaned. “I’m afraid that may be next. Was there a card?”

Staci handed me an ivory envelope. “I smelled the ozone when I took this off the box.”

I sniffed the envelope as well. No ozone indicating magick, but another scent lay under the paper. One that was all-too-familiar.

Best to get this over with. I slid a nail under the flap. The matching card had the expected cinnamon writing of dried blood. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the neat script. The first two suitors had the grace to write their notes in English.

I held up the card for Mai to see. “Got a clue?”

“It’s Hindi.” She reached for the radio hooked in her waistband. “I’ll get Kunal up here to translate.”

“You okay back there, Quinn?” I called. The sound of him puking had subsided, so my attention returned to the beating heart.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “Wanna tell me what’s going on?”

Unfortunately, my secretary opened her giant canine yap. “There are…entities that believe Ms. Ridgeway is marrying below her station.” She reached into one of her drawers and produced a canister. “Here.”

The witch stood and yanked a couple of anti-bacterial wipes from the dispenser. “Thanks.” He eyes met mine. “You’re the zombie, right?”

Not a zombie. The zombie. I wasn’t exactly the fresh-from-the-grave type. More like Frankenstein’s monster.

If Frankenstein had been the Borg Queen.

“What? The black aura wasn’t a dead giveaway?” I said sourly.

Of course, my stomach took that opportunity to growl, which meant all three of them stared at me.

Mai’s brow furrowed. “When was the last time you ate, Sam?”

Before she finished speaking, Staci was on the phone, calling the kitchen. “I need three T-bones, a pound of garlic mashed potatoes, a pint of peas and two loaves of oatmeal sourdough bread.”

I made my best pleading face. “Chocolate soufflés?”

She relayed my request.

I could hear the chef say he was out, but he still had caramel fudge brownies. “Yes! Feed me!” I yelled. My mouth watered at the thought.

Staci placed her hand over the receiver. “You two want anything?”

Mai shook her head. Quinn’s wide-eyed gaze shifted between me and Staci as she placed her own order.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Staci and I yelled at the same time.

As much as I wanted those brownies, I knew it couldn’t be the waitstaff yet. Kunal stepped into the room. The vampire bowed to me, then Mai. “You requested my assistance, Ms. Osaka?”

She handed him the card. “Can you translate this for me?”

His dark eyes flicked over the scrawl. Instantly, his eyes glowed neon yellow, and his fans extended. The ashy scent of fear radiated from him, and his face paled, which is no mean trick for a vampire originally from India. He threw the card away from him. “What is the meaning of this?” he hissed. “If this is a joke—”

“I’m not so insensitive that I’d open up the Karnak to a discrimination lawsuit.” I stooped to pick up the paper from the carpet and rose. “Someone else sent it to me. I need to know what it says.”

“It—” The vampire cleared his throat. His eyes had dimmed, but his wicked-looking canines still poked between his lips. “It asks for your hand in marriage.”

Shit, someone was upping the ante in this perverse game. “Who sent it?” I snapped.

“Y-y-yama,” Kunal managed to spit out.

“He’s the Hindu god of death, right?” I’d been studying up on religions since this whole madness started during the summer.

Kunal stiffened. “He is subordinate to Siva, but yes.” He hissed his “S”s like a pissed off cobra, but he didn’t coat my face in saliva like a certain human bitch had earlier. Which brought me back to my original foul mood.

I handed Staci the manila envelope I’d been holding the entire time. “I need you to call Colin for me. Scan and e-mail this to him.”

“What is that?” Of course, the hyper-alert Mai would butt in, but I wasn’t about to discuss this in front of vampires and witches I didn’t know very well, so I did my usual.

I ignored her.

I smiled at Quinn. “You sure we can’t offer you dinner for your assistance?”

“That’s all right.” He glanced at the styrofoam. Deep avocado tinted his dark coffee skin.

“Kunal, would you please escort Quinn to accounting?” Mai said. Leave it to her to clear the room. “They should have his check ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Another set of bows before the men departed. The whole deference thing really creeped me out. There was a certain amount of protocol since Duncan was the head vampire of Las Vegas now, but still…

I could see Mai mentally ticking off the time for Kunal to get out of hearing range before she turned and said, “What’s in that envelope?”

The barely audible squish and suck sounds of the deer heart trying to pump nonexistent blood was getting to me. I flipped the foam lid back into place. “Lily and I got sued tonight by her daughter.”

“Why? Parade of Stars is a tribute act.”

“No shit. They have Elvis impersonators, and you don’t see Lisa Marie flying off the handle.” I slumped into one of the visitor’s chairs.

“Didn’t you have an attorney check any potential problems?”

I folded my arms over my chest. The card with the blood ink still clutched in my hand crackled. “Yes.” I couldn’t just kill Duncan’s head of security. Well, actually, I could, but then he’d give me that perturbed look he gets when he thinks I’ve really fucked up. Besides, Mai was one of the few people, Normal or supernatural, who didn’t run screaming into the night over my…peculiarities.

“Then why—”

“Because she can. Because she misses her mommy. Because even though we’ll probably win this case, she can drag it out for years to make us miserable.” I rolled my head, trying to stretch out the kinks. For all the super-strength, super-speed and super-appetite, tension still sent shooting pains up my neck when I was upset.

My arms dropped to my lap, and I leaned forward. “I’m more worried about what this will do to Lily. I think tonight is the first time I really understood why there are the rules about not mixing with your Normal family.” My parents and older brother were rare exceptions to the rule, but unlike Lilianne who actually buried her mother, my family hadn’t known I had died until after I’d been resurrected.

“Do you think she might try to tell her daughter the truth?” Mai was back in enforcer mode. Considering she was one of the very few Normal enforcers in the Augustine coven, she was totally capable of putting down Lily permanently if she believed my zombie spawn was a threat to the vampires. Nor would she hesitate to do so.

Despite my concern about Lily, I said, “I don’t know. I honestly do not know.”

* * *
After all of the night’s bullshit, I had the kitchen send my dinner up to the penthouse. I pulled on an ancient Spice Girls t-shirt and some sweats before I settled into the evening’s meal. I was licking the last of the dozen caramel fudge brownies off my fingers when our private elevator dinged.

The doors slid open, and the familiar scent of sandalwood enveloped me. As usual since his master assigned us to Vegas, Duncan dressed impeccably. Today was a charcoal suit and an emerald tie that matched his eyes. The green silk was loose instead of its proper Windsor knot.

That should have been my first clue that something wasn’t right.

But it had been such a bad day that all I wanted was to cuddle. I scooted over on the couch to make room for him.

He actually looked tired as he sat down next to me. Faint lines fanned from his gorgeous eyes. Additional lines dragged his mouth into a frown. I paused the episode of Buddies I had been watching while I ate and snuggled against his chest. His arms wrapped around me.

I listened to his ultra-slow heartbeat for a while before I said, “I think this job is getting to you.”

“It is not my current position that troubles me.”

The weariness in his voice sank through my ugly mood. “Mai blabbed.”

“She did not blab. She did her duty as head of security.”

“It was nothing.” I dared a peek at his face.

That scowled down at me. “Nothing?” The neon green glow of his eyes brightened the dim room. “Someone sent you an animated animal heart.”

“The latest stupid-ass rumor is getting out of hand.” And it was royally pissing me off. “As if I didn’t have enough problems.”

“It is not a rumor, and you know it,” he said softly. Ash and rotten oranges overrode his sandalwood. This thing was bothering him a lot more than he wanted to admit.

“Bebe’s wrong,” I said.

“What if she is not? Are you saying Phillippa’s father is lying? That the Incan god of death also lied to her and Alex?”

I sat up and glared at him. “I admit I’m a fucked up science project, but humans can’t just create a god. It’s not possible.”

He matched my glare. “And you know this how? What makes you an expert in what is possible?”

It would have helped my cause if my eyes glowed too. But that was one little thing missing from my growing arsenal of powers. The wonky ones I still fought to control.

And I could feel that tenuous control slipping.

I jumped up from the couch. I couldn’t be this close him. With my sketchy telepathic control, I’d accidentally transmit some thought I’d regret. And I hadn’t told him about the visit I received the day his niece Tiffany had married my brother Max. So I did what I usually do when I was scared.

I went on the attack.

“You’re supposed to be on my side!”

“I am on your side, darling.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “That does not mean I will ignore obvious truths because I am uncomfortable with them.”

I threw up my hands. “Who shoved this stupid idea into everyone’s head? A couple of gods who are known to get their jollies from fucking with humans.”

“You’re not human, Samantha. Not anymore.”

He couldn’t have hurt me any worse if he’s punched me in the gut. I swiped the tears I couldn’t stop. “You’re a dick, St. James.”

“I’m not trying—” He closed his eyes, a pained expression on his face. Whatever else he was going to say he swallowed and rose. “Maybe it’s best if I return to my duties.” He didn’t bother to use the elevator.

Once the stairwell door slammed shut, I walked over to the balcony. A push on the sliding glass doors let in the desert night. Cool, dry air brushed my skin, and I stepped outside.

The neon lights or the black shadows didn’t draw my attention. Instead the ugly stain on the pristine tile consumed me. It matched another stain on the street in front of Caesar’s Brentwood mansion. Stains on the very fabric of the universe that I discovered only Phil’s dad, the Greek god of war, and I could see.

Bebe said that crimson teeth had come through both places. That those teeth had shredded and consumed the souls of the men who had died on those spots. But she didn’t see the residual scars.

I was too damn scared to fly to Peru to see if there were similar stains on the Nazca plain where Phil and Alex had fought some weird extra-dimensional demon. Because it meant Ares and my other suitor, Supay aka the Incan god of death, were right about what the nanites were turning me into. Yama’s proposal didn’t help my state of denial whatsoever.

While the desert breeze felt good on my bare arms, the stain only agitated my thoughts more. I walked back inside and closed both the glass doors and the heavy drapes. Curling up on the couch, I hugged myself and ran through my options.

I needed help. Neither Supay or Yama had a reason to be straight with me.

But maybe, just maybe, Ares would respect my friendship with his daughter enough that I could get some real answers. I reached for my smartphone and pulled up Phil’s home number.

I prayed I wasn’t making a big mistake.

Then a worse thought occurred. Was I even allowed to pray to a god if I was becoming one?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 1

For those of you new to my blog, this is the first, unedited draft of the novel I'm currently working on. Typos are a given. The final product may differ from what you're reading here.

FYI - Zombie Goddess takes place in late October, four months after the events chronicled in Amish, Vamps & Thieves and Blood Sacrifice.

* * *
I stood in the back of the dark Las Vegas showroom. On stage, Lily Bell ripped through her updated stand-up act, and she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand.

Thankfully, she wasn’t eating the audience. None of my baby zombies, as I’d come to call the people I’d accidentally returned to life after a necromancer pulled them out of their coffins, showed any signs of my insatiable hunger.

“So the first customer asked to see their biggest vibrator…”

I winced even as a chuckle bubble out of my throat. I wasn’t a prude by any stretch, but Lily was old enough to be my great-something-grandmother. The squeaky-clean reruns of her hit show, “Lily Loves Ari,” had been my after-school TV staple. But a scan of the audience showed everyone having a great time.

It helped that she looked exactly as she did at the height of her popularity. Since the Parade of Stars shows consisted of the celebrity impersonators, the crowd wouldn’t have believed she was the real Lily Bell, even if I showed them her empty grave back in Los Angeles. Hell, I still had problems believing she was back from the dead.

“…and then the manager asked, ‘Where’s my thermos?’” Raucous laughter filled the theater at Lily’s punchline.

Her grin at the audience’s response was brighter than the spotlight shining on her.

Another of my baby zombies stood next to me and clapped as hard as the rest of the crowd while Lily took her bows. “Damn, she’s still got it.” Bill Faith grinned at her success. Like Lily, he had started his entertainment career in the dying days of vaudeville. Like Lily, this show gave him a second chance. Like Lily, Bill was less than happy about their resurrection.

The third member of my zombie trio bounced onto the stage as Lily exited. “Let’s give her another big round of applause!”

Mortimer Stern, “Uncle Morty” to generations of fans, looked like he was in his mid-forties, the same age he’d been when he jumped into that entertainment upstart known as television. We still hadn’t figured out why my blood had reverted all three of my baby zombies to look and feel as they had in their prime, not the elderly legends they had been when they’d passed away. Out of the three, Morty was the only one who enjoyed his resurrection and took full advantage of his restored vigor.

As he launched into the introduction of the next act, I gestured to Bill. He followed me out of the showroom.

Flashes popped in our eyeballs when we stepped into the lobby. Fans screamed, waving both paper and electronic pads in Bill’s face as they begged for autographs. In the insanity of the modern world, the Parade of Stars retro act had become the hottest ticket in Vegas. Bill scribbled a few signatures before following me to the side door leading to the backstage. The security guard nodded to us as he lifted the velvet rope to let us through.

We found Lily next to one of the make-up tables, literally jumping up and down, her scarlet curls flying.

“Did you hear them?” She grabbed Bill in a bear hug.

Bill may not have been the lech Morty had been in their previous lives, but he was known to dabble on the side. Something about the beautiful redhead though turned him into a blushing teen. “Yeah, doll. I heard. You kicked ass out there.”

She turned and flung her arms around me. The rib-cracking embrace reminded me all-to-well that, like me, these three would never be Normal again.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sam!”

I gasped for enough air to get out, “You’re welcome.” If someone would have told me last year that I’d be the successful agent for three dead entertainment legends, I would have asked for a hit of whatever they were smoking.

“Samantha Ridgeway?”

Lily let go of me, and we both turned to find a cute little brunette standing next to us. “Yes?” I said.

“Your company manages the Lily Bell retro act that was just on, right?”

I took a deep breath. The scent of Fiji apples confirmed this girl was a Normal human. No honey. I’d learned to be a little paranoid since my own death in January. The fairies’ contract on my head had only encouraged that paranoia. The actual assassination attempt in June meant it was no longer paranoia.

“Yes.” I plastered a polite smile on my face. “Is there something I can help you with?”

She smiled and held out a large envelope to me in one hand and another to Lily in the other. “I represent someone who’s interested in your act.”

The second both Lily and I took the paperwork, the mysterious woman’s smile transformed into a toothy grin. “You’ve been served, bitches.”

“Goddamn, mother-fucking, son-of-a—” I muttered. I wanted to kick myself. I should have known better than to take those damn papers. I’d been a tabloid reporter long enough to sniff out a process server.

For a brief instant, I considered altering her memories, but my control of my mental mojo was sketchy at the best of times. I’d accidentally left the necromancer who’d resurrected my baby zombies in a coma.

I ripped open the envelope and skimmed the contents. A cease-and-desist order along with a lawsuit claiming trademark infringement by Lily and me. The worst part was the name of the plaintiff.

“How dare you!”

I looked up from the complaint. An older woman stalked toward us. Why the hell did The Vegas Grand security let all the crazies back here? This would never have happened at the Karnak, the hotel and casino my vampire hunk Duncan ran. But then, most of the security there weren’t Normals either.

Recognition clicked. Lilianne Costas had finally given up on dying her hair black. Her hawk-like nose had been inherited from her crooner father Aristotle, but the dimples and eyes were pure Lily.

“How dare you profane my mother’s career.” She literally spat the words. I could feel the fine spray cover my face. “My mother never cursed during her act.”

“I—I—” Lily spluttered. I didn’t have to imagine how she felt. Her shock at seeing her daughter grated along my nerves.

I stepped between the women. “Your lawsuit’s been served Ms. Costas. I’m sure your attorney wouldn’t be happy about you confronting us directly. I know my attorney won’t be.”

“I want that bitch to know exactly what I think. She’s a fake, and a terrible fake at that. I won’t stand for her desecration of my mother’s memory!” Another spray of saliva hit my face. Lillianne stabbed a finger in Lily’s direction.

The process server soaked in the entire scene. An icy ball of rage froze my gut. This mess would be all over the internet gossip sites five minutes after the bitch left.

“Now, wait here just a minute, young lady.” Bill stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me. “Lillianne, you can’t insult your mother—”

Shut up, Bill. My telepathic warning came too late.

Lillianne’s anger went supernova. “How dare you!” She exploded with enough profanity in English and Greek to seed a couple galaxies. Finally, security noticed there was a problem. Two burly men escorted her and the process server from the backstage area. Her invectives died when the huge door slammed shut.

I turned back to Lily.

She shook her head, a defeated expression on her beautiful face. “I’m ashamed to say I taught her most of those words.” Then she burst into tears.

* * *
I kept my temper under control while we took Lily back to the Karnak. Once we got the weeping comedian into her suite, Bill promised to stay with her. I knew he’d keep Lily from doing anything stupid. The budding relationship between the two old friends was the one small favor the universe deigned to grant me lately.

Instead of taking the elevator, I jogged down the stairs to the management section of the hotel where I’d claimed an office. No one argued with the boss’s fiancée about the appropriation, especially those who knew I was a zombie.

The exercise blew off some of my fury. No sense in scaring the piss out of my secretary. Not that much scared any canine were.

I burst into my office. “Staci, I need you to get Colin—”

“Shhh.” Staci Warner glared at me from across her desk and held an index finger over her lips. I swear since the werecoyote had gotten married and had her pup, she’d become more of a bitch that her mother-in-law.

She stood, watching the witch in front of her desk. If his ginger scent hadn’t given him away, the scarlet tendrils of energy streaming from his fingertips were confirmation. He was magickally examining a white box sitting on Staci’s desk. His shoulder-wide stance gave no indication that he was aware of my presence.

I stepped inside and quietly closed the door. Mai Osaka, the head of Karnak security, watched the proceedings, and I sidled over to her.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

“You received another package.” Her words were as sharp as the black suit she wore. Her almond eyes remained locked on the witch.

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” I wished I believed my own words.

She shot me a dirty look. “When you’re head of security, you may make that decision.”

“Shhhh!” Staci hissed again.

The energy tendrils sank back into the witch’s dark skin. His eyes blinked and he shook out the tension from his hands. “You’re right. There’s a spell on the contents.”

Staci looked pleased with herself.

“What kind of spell?” Mai asked.

The silver hoop in his left ear winked at the golden eagle in the piercing above it when he shrugged. “That’s just it. It’s a simple motion spell. The kind you put on a toy for kids.” He ran a hand over his close-cropped black curls. “There’s no blood magick or ill intent I can detect.”

“I owe you one, Quinn,” Mai murmured.

“Any time, pretty lady. It’s been boring over at the Scheherazade.” Ah, the casino owned by the Las Vegas witch coven. He reached out, and Mai fistbumped him.

Fistbumped.

Mai.

Who was so rigid and uptight, she made my sixteenth-century-born fiancé look like Charlie Sheen on a bender.

Staci held up a box cutter. “Let’s find out what it is.”

I held out a hand. “Maybe you should let me.”

The werecoyote shook her head fiercely. “I’m not going to explain to Mr. St. James why you got hurt.”

I scowled at the stubborn bitch. “I’m damn near indestructible. You’re not.” I tried not to think about Alex and Bebe’s half-baked theory of what the nanites were actually turning me into. Unfortunately, other people were latching on that self-same idiotic idea, which led to the crazy gifts landing on my plate. “Besides, it can’t be worse than the black roses or the skull jewelry.” Especially considering the jewelry had been made from actual human skulls.

“Maybe I should stick around,” Quinn murmured.

“That would be best,” Mai said. “I may need you to separate these two.”

Staci and I turned to glare at two security chiefs before returning to our stand-off. Finally, my secretary handed over the box cutter. “Fine.” She practically growled the word.

“You’re sounding more and more like Leslie everyday.” I grinned.

This time, Staci really did growl at the mention of her mother-in-law.

I held my breath and sliced across the tape. Inside the cardboard box was a styrofoam container, a smaller version of the type vampires used to transport blood.

Very carefully, I eased the insulated package up. Staci yanked the cardboard box out of the way, and I set the styrofoam on her desk.

My lungs reminded me I need to breathe, and I took a huge gulp of air. Ozone leaked from the package. Steeling myself, I cut the tape holding the styrofoam lid in place and flipped it up.

Dry ice vapor clouded my vision for an instant. Thank god, the little mass of red inside the container didn’t jump out. The other three crowded closer to take a peek.

“Well, it kind of makes sense,” Staci said.

“If you’re a psychopath,” Mai added dryly.

“Holy shit! That’s a beating heart!”

Leave to the only man in the room to state the obvious.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Where Are the #(%*@ Books!

The last eighteen months haven't been the greatest for me and my family. We had plans. Plans that would be best for each of us to fulfill our personal goals. And the great god Murphy laughed maniacally and did everything he could to fuck those plans up.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a hotel room hundreds of miles from our new home, waiting for my car to be repaired. Yep, Murphy has been so good to me lately. (If you couldn't tell by the dripping sarcasm.)

But all the problems doesn't mean I haven't been writing! However, it does mean that the 2014 production schedule has been officially shredded into more pieces than Iran-Contra documents.

So here's the 2015 plan:

The Bloodlines Series
I'm writing the last four books as we speak. In edition, I've re-proofed the first three books, and I'm half-way through re-proofing #4. I've already talked with someone about contracting her to format the entire series for both e-book and print starting in January. I'm also on the search for a new cover artist so there's a unified theme and style for the covers. The plan is to re-launch the entire series late winter/early spring.

To give you readers a taste, I'll post a chapter of each of the new books once a week, starting with Zombie Goddess on Monday. I'm thinking to post the first six chapters of each book.

The Justice Series
I've thought long and hard about how I want to launch this series. There's a particular artist I want to hire for Justice Anthea's stories, but he's expensive which means I need to save my pennies. Also, I don't want leave you all hanging between books, so I plan to release the first three books, A Question of Balance, A Modicum of Truth, and A Matter of Death, hopefully around next Halloween.

888-555-HERO Series
I'm collaborating with another ex-attorney/fantasy writer, Laura Kirwan. (P.S. I highly recommend her book, Impervious!) This is my first time working with someone, and I'm really enjoying it! It's about a couple of attorneys who handle the legal problems of superheroes. Our projected release date for the first book is May 1st.

All the credit for the series tagline goes to Laura:

Franklin & Winters, Attorneys at Law — You saved the world. Let us handle the cleanup. For a free consultation, call 888-555-HERO.

Seasons of Magick Series
If I have any spare time next year, I plan to do a collected edition of the Seasons of Magick series.

That's all the news I have. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Real Life Gets in the Way

I hear a lot of writers bemoaning their lack of writing time. The ones I feel sympathy for are the ones dealing with some serious life issues. Chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia or MS which limit writers' mobility and energy. Providing care for special needs children or parents nearing the end of their lives. Or maybe they're working two or three jobs in order to put food on the table.

I haven't published anything under my name since last November. It doesn't mean I haven't been writing. Time is grabbed here and there. Standing in line at the post office. Waiting for my take-out order. The last few minutes before bedtime.

Why? Life's been crazy trying to get our house on the market. Then trying to get moved into our new apartment. A lot of things went wrong. A lot of things didn't. But through it all, I kept plugging away. And I honestly can't complain. DH and I made some hard decisions of what would be best for the family.

Sure, it's been slow on the publishing front. But things are looking up. I met with a graphic artist over breakfast this morning about the new logo for Angry Sheep Publishing. I've got a tentative agreement with a formatter for updating the Bloodlines novels and issuing print versions. I've narrowed down my prospective list of artists whose work I like for the new covers.

Now, I have to finish reviewing Zombie Wedding and Blood Sacrifice for typos because I found a couple in Blood Magick, and I need to finish the last four books of the series. Then it's on to the Justice series, and a couple of special projects that I'll tell you more about soon.

You should have a lot of new things to read from me in 2015.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Home Office

I thought it would only take me three days to finish cleaning out my office. Boy, was I wrong!

There were still a dozen boxes from our last three moves sitting in the corner. Both DH and I had forgotten what was in them, but I didn't want to drag them back to Ohio (AGAIN). So I went through them. From Friday the 5th through Tuesday the 9th, I went through them.

I really don't want to end up on an episode of Hoarders, so I threw out quite a bit, but I still had four packed boxes that needed to go to the garage and another five that were half packed. On Wednesday, I had to take a break and deal with yard work.

So of course yesterday morning, I got the text that someone wanted to see the house.

PANIC!!

I ran through the house and tossed boxes into closets, hid dirty dishes in the broken dishwasher, and took the fastest shower in my life because I was too exhausted to take one the night before. But here's how my home office looks with everything hidden in the closet.






This room started as GK's nursery. Since I had such a difficult pregnancy, I hired a lovely woman named Mona to paint the room for me. She took my Egyptian theme and ran with it. Instead of mint green walls, she plastered and painted them to resemble antique plaster. Then she carefully hand-painted the figures.and hieroglyphs along the ceiling. Frankly, these pictures don't do the paintings justice.

The south wall depicts Horus and Thoth, the east Isis, and the west Hathor. There are statues of Anubis and Bast on my desk and one of Thoth (the patron of writers) on my bookcase.

I'm really going to miss this room!

(P.S. If you're reading this on my website's home page, my apologies for the block text and missing pictures. My webmistress and I are still trying to track down the problem with the new RSS feed. Click on 'BLOG' to your left to go the main blog page.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why I Haven't Been Writing Lately

The sign is finally up.

Yesterday was insane, and my muscles ache in a good way. I had to get the house cleaned and boxes hidden because the realtor was coming by to take pictures.

I've barely been writing for the last thirteen months since I've been trying to get this damn house on the market. However, as Tiffany says in Blood Magick, Murphy is the one true god. So many things went wrong that my friend Ro calls the last thirteen months a "comedy of catastrophes."

Even yesterday, I got the yard spruced and the driveway and patio cleaned off in preparation for the photo shoot. Only to have a thunderstorm whip through and deposit more leaves and debris on the drive. *sigh*

Oh, and the dishwasher decided to spring a leak on Wednesday. I'm going to head over to Home Depot and beg for credit. If that doesn't work, we'll have to wait until DH gets paid on the 15th.

But my new stove is very pretty and bakes a mean lasagna!

And that tile? Yep, I did it all by myself! In the back hall, utility room and half bath, too!

In the half bath, I tried my hand at sponge painting. The picture doesn't do it justice. The base coat is the same Precious Peach that covers the kitchen walls. Then Shamrock Green and Doric White were sponged over it.

P.S. There's a brand new American Standard toilet in there as well.

I can't take all the credit for the hardwood in the family room. Genius Kid did the majority of the work. I measured and DH cut, but GK busted butt on laying down the wood.

The fireplace normally doesn't have my plants on it. It has gas logs, and does a nice job of heating up the family room on those rare cold days in Houston.

(Poor empty bookshelf though! Harry Potter has been packed!)

We have a living room/dining room combo area with cathedral ceilings. I had to hire someone to paint this room and the master bath. I don't do heights. LOL

The carpet's fairly new (we bought it in 2008). Like the rainbow afghan I crocheted? I had to cover the couch and loveseat. I bought them new in 1989, but they were showing the love from the multitude of dogs and kids that have used them.

The hardwood flows from the family room, next to the staircase, and to the entryway.

At the head of the stairs is a loft that overlooks the LR/DR.

Originally, the loft was originally my office when I was in law school and first started practicing, so of course, DH decided he HAD to have it when he switched to working from home.

He also decided his desk needed to be bigger, too.

And he absconded with and ruined my good leather office chair in the process.

(No, I don't hold grudges. *wink*)

GK's room started out as the guest bedroom, but he outgrew his toddler bed before he was four so we moved him in here.

I originally had painted the room Twilight Blue (long before I got pregnant) with Viking Blue trim and doors because I loved the colors. Cool, soothing colors.

Our realtor Norberto suggested (rather strongly) that it needed to be repainted to something neutral, aka Doric White.

Have I said how much I've come to despise Doric White?

Okay, maybe not so much. It looks better than the crappy blue-flowered wall paper the builders originally put in GK's bathroom. And look at that beautiful tile!

I refused to compromise on the master bedroom (my bedroom!). No, Doric White here!

The walls are Inspired Lilac with Bright White trim. Matching vertical blinds replaced the godawful Laura Ashley curtain.

Lovely French doors guard the entrance. The reason our waterbed looks funky is we drained it in anticipation of the carpet being stretched and cleaned. It wasn't worth the water bill to refill it since we probably won't be here much longer.

The painter fought with me over the master bathroom. Can you believe he wanted to paint it *gasp* Doric White?

But I won (since I paid for the paint), and the walls and trim match the master bedroom. Unfortunately, you don't get a good view of the lovely tile.

Plus, there's a garden tub, which is excellent for those insane days when you just need to relax with a glass of wine and a good book.

What's not display are my collection of essential oils and candles. (And no, those won't be sold with the house.)

The only room that wasn't photographed was my office (originally the nursery). I still have a a dozen half-packed boxes sitting it there. Today's project is to finish cleaning out that room. I'll post pics of it on Monday.

Next week, fingers-crossed, I may actually be writing again! Yay!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 8

I know it's been a while since I posted anything. I haven't gotten much writing done so far this year. Murphy's Law has been in full effect. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the drama will end soon!

* * *

I threw up an arm to block the blow. Fire sliced my skin as the steel pierced my glove. Far better then the main artery in my neck. If I stayed on the ground though, I was definitely dead.

My boot shot toward his crotch. He shifted to block the blow, and the momentum allowed me to shove him while I rolled the other way.

Directly into the path of the oncoming horses.

I curled into a tight ball, arms over my head to protect me from the multitude of sharp hooves. My head rang from the vibrations and pain of my injuries.

As suddenly as they appeared the multitude of riders and steeds were gone. I leapt to my feet, right hand already drawing the sword at my back.

I whirled around to find wardens pouring from both the temples of Light and Balance. Little Bear must have standing at the doors, watching for my return. My attacker, though, was gone.

“Anthea!” Luc’s familiar scent washed over me. He beat the wardens to me by a couple of paces.

He caught himself. “Are you all right, Lady Justice?” He reached for the blood on my face, but I shoved his hand away.

“No. Don’t.” A vicious smile twisted my lips. “We spilt each other’s blood.”

Luc’s answer was just as feral. “We have him.”

* * *
Or so we thought. But like everything else in this damnable day, the gods seemed to be laughing at our efforts including the two we were personally sworn to.

We left our team of wardens to watch the possible exits at a decrepit inn near the docks. The tracking spell failed as we reached the door it indicated. Inside was my attacker’s still warm body, bloody nose and all, in a tiny, third-story room. The scent of bitter almonds told us what type of poison he used. A quick search gave no clue of his identity, which in itself spoke of his origins.

Luc raked his hands through his hair. “There hasn’t been an attempt in Issura by the Assassins Guild since—”

“The reign of the Twin Queens before the last demon war.” I blew out an exasperated breath. “The question becomes why me?”

“Because you would administer Gretchen’s estate?”

“That makes no sense. We have no reason to believe my attempted assassination is connected with Sister Gretchen’s death.”

Luc snorted, his disgust evident. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

I sheathed my sword. “Whichever priest of Light witnessed the opening would know her last wishes also.”

“Which is why I assigned a warden to watch Kam.”

I stared at Luc. “Let’s assume for a moment you are correct, and there’s connection. Who knew the contents of Gretchen’s declaration? She deliberately filed it with the Temple of Death so Gerd wouldn’t know.”

Luc shrugged. “Everyone at Death?”

“If one of their members is involved, why not switch scrolls? For that matter, why not lose it?”

Luc grunted. “Too many safeguards. The entire temple would have to be involved in the conspiracy.” He crouched next to the body and lifted its hand. “What did Master Devin say about a man with small hands?”

I knelt and held my gloved hand against the corpse’s. “I suppose it’s possible, but no assassin is going to waste precious escape time to mutilate their target.”

“Unless whoever hired him gave him specific instructions.”

I climbed to my feet. “Now we’ve officially jumped into wild hare territory.”

Luc rose as well. “I haven’t had a chance to research a separation and tracking spell for the scrapings Master Devin provided you. Do you want me to do that while you have a talk with Lady Alessa?”

I shook my head. “No, I want her truthspelled during this little interview, and longer we wait, the more likely something else will go wrong in this investigation. The tracking spell can wait.” I stared at the rapidly cooling body. “If this is Gretchen’s killer, your spell won’t work anyway, and we’re no closer to understanding why.”

As we exited the room, we found Magistrate DiCook and a handful of peacekeepers pounding up the staircase of the inn.

“What the names of the Twelve is going on here?” When I didn’t answer, his attention switched to Luc. “One of you had better answer me!”

“A member of the Assassins Guild tried to murder me,” I said.

“On the steps of the Lord of Light’s home,” Luc added.

“When?” the magistrate demanded.

“Less than a candlemark ago.” I pushed past him, and he grabbed my left arm. I couldn’t stop the hiss of pain. When I refused to waste time waiting for a healer, Little Bear and Tyra had threatened to hold me down while one of the brothers bandaged the ugly cut from the assassin’s knife.

“Why wasn’t I notified?” DiCook’s lip curled into his familiar sneer.

I yanked my arm out of his grasp. “Because we were trying to catch him before he escaped.”

“You let him get away?”

I wasn’t sure if DiCook was more pleased that the assassin escaped or that I failed. If I gambled, I would have bet on the latter. “You could say that.” I gestured toward the wide open door. “If you can get more out of his belongings than I, let me know.”

I continued painfully down the stairs, Luc right behind me. My hip would stiffen from the bruising if I rested now, not that I could afford the time.

The exclamations from the peacekeepers and DiCook’s curse when they discovered the body beat us to the first floor.

“You really need to stop antagonizing the man, Anthea.”

I smiled up at him. “When the Lord of Light’s domain freezes over.”

* * *
Duke Marco’s face froze, the air of disappointment and despair obvious when Luc and I showed up at his gate and asked to speak with his sister. Lady Katarina graciously allowed us to use her reception room, but the fire couldn’t warm me as it did yesterday.

Lady Alessa held her composure until her brother and sister-in-law left the room. Hot shame tinted her cheeks. “You know.”

“Know what?” I said.

She sank into a chair. “Don’t play with me, Justice. Please, don’t. You have no idea how h-hard…” Pale blue tears ran down her cheeks.

Luc cursed under his breath. I knew at once he hadn’t asked the right questions during his originally interview of her. He hadn’t conceived of the two women having a secret affair.

“You could have pulled one of us aside yesterday,” I said gently. “We would have listened.”

She stared at the painfully bright grate. “I couldn’t. Things have been so difficult for my brother. There’s been so much scandal. He tried, he really did, to find me an appropriate match. I thought if he did, I could suppress my desires…”

“Alessa, I need Luc to truthspell you.”

She nodded though her attention never wavered from the fire.

The moment the pale nimbus of magic surround her, I said, “Tell me about the counterspell Gretchen taught you.”

Her head jerked, and she stared at me, eyes wide as she realized her mistake. She reached for her neck, and I seized her arms. It wasn’t much of a physical struggle despite my injuries.

But around us, objects shivered. I knew damn well it wasn’t Luc or me losing control of our power.

Luc removed the chain hidden beneath the collar of her dress. Dangling from the links was a carved ruby heart. A thin line of energy surrounded the jewel. A talisman.

Alessa’s face crumpled and her sobs came loud and fierce. Her terrible grief overrode the agony of the truthspell. For once, I was the one patiently stroking the distraught witness’s hair while Luc paced behind her chair.

Underneath the noblewoman’s emotion, I could feel the stones of the keep moan in sympathetic agony.

When she weeping faded to hiccups, I released her. “Don’t make me ask you again, Alessa. Otherwise, the truthspell will force you to answer me, and it will be painful.”

She nodded. “Gretchen gave me the heart a year ago. When we first started…” Her blood pulsed as she acknowledged their affair. “She laid the spell and taught me the words and gestures to activate and deactivate the magic.”

Alessa’s pulse slowed, her voice turned numb, as she stared at me. “She didn’t mean any harm. She was protecting me as best she could when…when Mother would have one of her hired sorcerers truthspell us.”

My own blood ran cold. I didn’t want to know the answer to the next question, but duty forced me to ask anyway. “Us? You mean you, Marco and Isabella?”

Behind Alessa, Luc froze. “That’s how your mother found out Marco was courting Katarina, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Her head bowed once more. “Ironically, Mother sending our baby sister to the capital protected her from the worst of her predations. Isabella loves the university, and now she can focus on her studies without Mother breathing down her neck about seducing some lordling.”

Time to get the questioning back on track. “Alessa, did you kill Sister Gretchen of the Temple of Love?”

“No.” Anger threaded through her single word. There was a hint of power behind it.

“Do you know who killed Sister Gretchen?”

“No.” The fire flared, and I couldn’t stop my wince at the brilliant heat. Thankfully, Alessa couldn’t see my reaction with my hood in place.

“Do you know who put Sister Gretchen’s body into the barrel she was found in?”

“No.”

“When was the last time you saw her alive?”

“Five mornings ago. I had snuck out of the manor and met her at a hunting cabin on our lands about an hour's ride north. We spent the night together.” Once again, her pulse jumped at revealing such intimate secrets. “We parted two candlemarks before dawn in order to return to our beds without arousing suspicion.”

I glanced at Luc, his frown matching my own. Alessa’s testimony narrowed the window for Gretchen’s murder.

Turning my attention back to the noblewoman, I asked, “Why didn’t your parents have you tested for magical talent?”

Her gaze met mine again. “They did. The priest of Light who supervised said I was a passive.”

A passive talent could activate a spell created by an active talent, but they couldn’t cast one on their own. Therefore, they weren’t required to register with the temples.

Luc finally stopped pacing. He crossed to the chair on the other side of Alessa and sat. “I know you are still dealing with your lover’s death, m’lady, but I would like you to come see me, in say, two weeks from today for retesting.” So I wasn’t the only one who sensed her flashes of power.

I could feel her mounting panic. “You are not in trouble, Alessa. Either you were too young to fully manifest your talent yet, or the brother was incompetent.”

“Excuse me?” Luc exclaimed in mock outrage.

Our teasing lightened Alessa’s mood, and she made a burbling half giggle-half hiccup sound.

Luc held up the necklace. “I am going to take this for now. We need to figure out how to deal with this counter spell in order to discover Gretchen’s murderer. I’ll return it when you come to see me in two weeks.”

“You’ll remove the spell from the jewel, won’t you?” she whispered.

“We have to,” I said. “Technically, it’s illegal.” I held up my hands when the chair I sat on trembled. “I’m not charging you. You received it in good faith from another priestess.” I cleared my throat. “I do need to ask you a few more questions.”

She sagged in her own seat and nodded.

“Did anyone know that you and Gretchen were having an affair?”

“Not that I know of. As I said, we were very careful because of my mother.”

“Did you receive any notes or messages that insinuated a person knew about your affair?”

“No.”

“Any oblique reference about you personally involved in a sapphic affair?”

“Not to me.” She paused for a moment, but she wasn’t fighting the spell. “Some lords have made derogatory comments about me to Marco, but as far as I know it was for the purpose of insult, not because they truly believed I prefer the bed of a woman.”

“Do you know who Gretchen named as her heir in her declaration of last wishes?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Me. She told me our last night together. That she wanted to make sure I had resources if something happen to her, and my family discovered our relationship.” Alessa’s smile was small and sad. “She kept trying to talk me into running away with her. Cant, or the Mecas, or even the Sea Peoples’ islands. I just couldn’t leave Marco and especially Isabella without any explanation.”

“Did she ever indicate there was another reason she wanted to escape from Orrin?”

“I’d like to believe it was only our love, but I know there were problems between her and Sister Gerd and Sister Dragonfly.”

“What kind of problems?”

Alessa took a deep breath and released it. “Gerd was always accusing her of trying to usurp her authority. Dragonfly was simply jealous when Gretchen stopped sleeping with her.”

I exchange looks with Luc. Now we were getting somewhere, but neither of us said anything.

Instead, I took her hands in mine. “Your pain is mine.”

Her face scrunched again at the ritual words of sympathy for the death of a loved one, but she forced back her tears. “Thank you,” she whispered.

At my signal, Luc murmured the words to release his truthspell.

I squeezed Alessa’s hands. “Gretchen was also Katarina’s friend. She would share your grief.”

“A-are you going to tell them? Marco and Katarina?”

“No,” I said softly. “Sharing that knowledge is not my right, but I think you are underestimating your family. About Gretchen’s declaration…” I sucked in a deep breath. “Brother Kam and I have opened and confirmed it—”

I held up one hand at her little gasp. “I don’t want to cause you any embarrassment, but I have the duty to insure Gretchen’s wishes are followed. Sister Gerd believes that no declaration exists. I’m going to have to make the public post soon to prevent her from illegally seizing your property.”

“I-I don’t know if I want it,” Alessa murmured.

I clasped her hands again. “You have the right of refusal, of course, but right now, your grief is overriding your common sense. I would suggest confiding to your brother. Get his counsel before you make any decision.”

“But the public post will cause even more scandal.”

“Considering the gold equivalent of Gretchen’s holdings, it will garner more noble suitors than you know what to do with,” Luc said, dryly.

“Not to mention, Marco has already broken with tradition. There’s no reason you cannot follow in his footsteps,” I added.

Alessa nodded. “I will take your wisdom into consideration, Justice, Brother.”

“If you remember anything else, come straight to us,” I said. “No pages or other messengers if you want to avoid the gossip.”

She nodded, but tears had started trickling down her cheeks again. Luc deactivated his wards, and we left the reception room.

Marco stood in the hallway, by his expression obviously expecting the worst.

I stopped before him. “Your sister isn’t involved in the murder.”

He sagged against the stone wall. “Thank the Twelve.”

I laid right hand on his shoulder and squeezed in support. After all the struggle and tension with Alessa, the slice on my left was throbbing.

As I continued past him, he called, “Lady Justice—”

“I can’t say anything more, Your Grace.” Before I spilled all of his sister’s secrets, I turned and marched down the hallway.

Luc and I were nearly to the entryway when a figure stepped from behind a statue. “She didn’t do it.”

I remembered the voice from yesterday. “You are Bartholomew, correct?”

“Yes, m’lady.” He bobbed his head. “Lady Alessa, she didn’t kill that priestess.”

Behind me, Luc’s irritation rippled through my psyche. “Yesterday, you told me you didn’t know who killed Sister Gretchen.”

“Ah don’t!” Between Bartholomew and Luc’s emotional turmoil, I felt as if my eyes would erupt from my head.

“Do you have an additional statement you wish to make, Bartholomew?” I said, trying to inject some calm into the situation.

“Ah just told ya. Lady Alessa didn’t kill that priestess.”

I wanted to believe he was a loyal DiMara retainer, but maybe he was too loyal. “And how do you know this?” I asked.

If the heat of his face hadn’t given him away, the shuffling of his feet did. “Ah-ah just know, that’s all.”

“If you still want a place in this household, you’d better answer the justice’s question.” Lady Katarina’s cold steel voice came from behind Luc and me.

Unfortunately, the moment we glanced at her was the same moment Bartholomew decided to run.