Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Very Hero Christmas - Chapter 1

Two months later…


“The Crimson Commando?” Harri said. She’d lost track of how many suggestions she’d thrown out during this latest brainstorming session. She was also ready to throw a kolache at her law partner when Aisha shook her head.

Again.

And they’d been in the law office conference room for less than ten minutes.

“Too militaristic. Rey wants more of a pacifistic name,” Aisha said around a mouthful of breakfast burrito. “Something that won’t make the parents afraid. He’d like to do volunteer work like Cobblestone.”

“Pacifistic?” Harri threw up her hands. “He’s a freakin’ demigod!”

“Scream that a little louder the next time,” Susan Kennedy said. Their law school classmate, now new associate, deliberately slurped her tea before she added, “Only those with superhearing on this block heard you.”

Harri clenched her fists on her lap to keep from pulling out Susan’s ponytail by the roots. Or Aisha’s henna’d dreds. “Then why isn’t he in here giving us some suggestions?”

Aisha chewed and swallowed her eggs and tortilla. “Who are you really pissed at, Harri?”

She propped her elbows on the maple veneer conference table. It was bad enough they’d had to go to a used office furniture warehouse. She always thought if she’s opened her own firm, it would be classy. But no, Daddy Dearest managed to blow through the entire Winters fortune.

Or rather snort it.

Harri took a cleansing breath. The firm couldn’t continue riding the fumes of Rey’s licensing deals. “You came up with Captain Justice on the fly after I was arrested earlier this year. Why can’t we go back to that if you’re going to negate every name I propose?”

“Because you had to bury him along with the Ghost Owl after the Professor Paranoia fiasco this summer.” Susan picked at her banana muffin.

“Jatz’om Kuh was never registered,” Aisha muttered.

Harri sat back in her chair. Aisha using the Ghost Owl’s Mayan name meant something deeper was going on in her brain. “Is this about Tim? Is he pressuring Rey to take his place? I’ll talk with Tim is that’s what he’s doing.”

“No, this isn’t about Tim.” Aisha laid down her breakfast burrito and shrugged. “Since we learned about Steve, Rey’s been…adamant about establishing his own identity.”

“What do you mean his own identity?” Harri leaned back in her chair and glared at her partner. “Steve doesn’t even want to be a superhero.”

“Is that the real reason why Rey’s been hiding down at Marta’s restaurant the last two months?” Susan asked. “He’s avoiding Steve?”

“No, Rueben’s showing Rey the ropes so he can cover the kitchen while Rueben’s in Paris.” Aisha took a sip of her pixie barf. Harri didn’t understand how anyone could handle that much sugar in their coffee.

“Being a short order cook isn’t conducive to being a superhero,” she blurted. For a split second, it looked like Aisha would throw the rest of her burrito at Harri.

“Rey’s sticking with his original plan,” Aisha growled. “He’s investing in this neighborhood. Getting people working again. Providing them a chance to build real homes for their children rather than squatting in the old Canyon Hotel. I thought you of all people would get behind giving the poor folks a hand-out.”

Fury rushed through Harri at the words her father often threw in her grandmother’s face. She stood and slammed her palms on the tabletop. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Okay, ladies.” Susan raised her hands. “Let’s calm down here. We’re all looking out for our client.” She eyed Aisha before she turned to Harri. “Right?”

Harri slowly sat down, but she waited for Aisha to make the first move.

Her partner cleared her throat. “Maybe we should table this discussion until Rey, Steve, and I get back from Atlanta.”

“After Christmas?” Harri tilted her head. “Why?”

“Because I have a meeting about the new Blue Racer shoe line, and I need to get ready for it.” Aisha rose and tossed the rest of her breakfast in the trash before she stomped out of the conference room. At least, she’d stopped wearing her damn stilettos now she was in her seventh month of her pregnancy. The office carpet was the smoothest it had ever been.

Susan exhaled gustily. “For being one of the smartest people in our law school class, you can sure be a dumbass at times.”

Harri glared at her. “Excuse me?”

“Has it occurred to you the reason Aisha’s shooting down every moniker is because she’s scared of losing Rey again?” Susan tucked an errant auburn lock behind her ear.

Harri opened her mouth for a retort, then closed it. She sagged in her chair. “Crap. I hate it when someone else is more right than me.”

“She’s leaving for her parents’ place tomorrow,” Susan pointed out. “You and I can work on some names while she’s gone. And it’ll be a lot harder to shoot down every single one if the client is in here the next time we meet.”

“You are truly evil, Susan Kennedy.” Harri laughed. “You keep this up, and you may make partner.”

Susan pushed to her feet. “How about I survive my first year here before we talk permanent?” She gathered breakfast trash scattered across the conference table and dumped it in the waste receptacle before she turned back to Harri. “One more thing. You and I made the choice not to have kids, but even I can see Aisha’s scared something could go wrong with this pregnancy. Especially, since she developed HRSP. Try to take it a little easier on her.”

Harri nodded. “I will.”

Once Susan left, Harri stared through the window at the massive gray stone blocks that formed the wall of the building next door to theirs. Aisha wasn’t the only one scared something could go wrong with this pregnancy. She sighed. Tim was right. She needed to pull up her big girl panties and quit taking her fear out on everyone else around her.

Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t going down to Atlanta this Christmas. If Aisha was a pain now, she’d be even worse when her family fussed over her and the new additions to the family.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Very Hero Christmas - Prologue

Rey Garcia stared at his bride as she lay next to him on the blanket they’d spread on the black sand beach on the island of Kauai. The sun shone against a brilliant blue sky. Ocean waves lapped softly against the hardened basalt rocks that framed the secluded cove. Aisha looked so damn beautiful and vulnerable at the same time. But she couldn’t possibly be serious.

“You can’t be the Ghost Owl!” he blurted.

“So you’re saying you want the moniker?”

“You’re pregnant!” The instant the words left his mouth, he knew he was in deep trouble. And not just from ruining the blissful mood of their honeymoon.

Aisha’s dark brown eyes narrowed, and she pushed herself upright. “Excuse me?”

He sat up, too. “I’m sorry. That really came out wrong.”

“I seem to recall beating the crap out of both you and Steve when you were under Professor Paranoia’s control.” Her voice was calm. Too calm. It meant she was on the verge of a serious explosion. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have thrown his newly discovered twin brother in his face.

Rey sucked in a deep breath and released it in an attempt to organize his concerns. Aisha would respond better to a logical argument. “I meant we’re not sure if you’ll keep your powers after the baby’s born.”

“You were the one with the theory about your mom’s kiss protecting me,” Aisha pointed out.

“Yes, to protect you and the baby, primarily from my uncles.” He tried not to think about how Black Death tried to zap her with his powers at their wedding reception. He was pretty sure saving Aisha from little Grace’s father was an unintended side effect of his mother Xquic’s kiss. “That doesn’t mean it’ll extend past your delivery. And you had HRSP before you met my biological mother.”

The condition known hormone-related superpowers or HRSP often affected women carrying babies with the genes related to superpowers. Usually, the condition went away after delivery, but he wondered if his mother had done something else besides protecting Aisha with that kiss.

“If I didn’t know better, I say it was your ego getting in the way,” Aisha said. However, the crease between her eyebrows eased.

“If you want in the supers business, I’d be the last one to tell you no.” He smiled at her.

Aisha laughed. “Yeah, I’ve already considered how Harri will react.”

“But will you do me a favor?”

“Depends.”

“At least ask Tim before you steal his name.”

She laughed again. “Definitely.”

“Are you going to officially register with the NSB?”

Aisha hesitated before she said, “If I keep my powers, then yes. It may be the only way to flush out whoever was feeding Corvus information within the bureau.”

Of course. This was more about taking out anyone related to Corvus, especially after Corvus’s former leader, Byron S. Trubble admitted on a FBI wire he wanted Rey and Aisha’s son.

Her law partner Harri Winters may have a horrible temper, but it was there and gone in a flash. Aisha had a slower burn, but her grudges lasted a hell of a lot longer. And the fact that Trubble and his people threatened the child Aisha had longed for most of her adult life only made that inner rage burn hotter.

“I’m just worried that the NSB will drag you in for questioning about Tim,” Rey murmured. He reached over and stroked her cheek.

Aisha leaned her forehead against his and cover his hand with her palm. “Harri’s cover story is holding, and my power set, assuming I keep it, is nothing like the Ghost Owl’s supposed abilities.”

She gave Rey a quick peck before she pulled away. “Besides, we need to come up with your new moniker and costume if you want to re-register. But as your attorney, I suggest you forget about everything while you’re on your honeymoon. And your new bride is in need of a swim.”

Together, they climbed to their feet and raced for the waves lapping the black sand.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

An Offer Reminder

Today's the last day for the Bloodlines sale! Both Blood Magick and Zombie Love are $0.99 each at most major e-book retailers.


BLOOD MAGICK
Amazon, all countries
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ZOMBIE LOVE
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A Very Hero Christmas is on pre-order at Amazon and will be released December 1st. If you like the 888-555-HERO series, let your friends know they can a copy of the first book, Hero De Facto, free December 1st through the 4th.

Sample chapters for A Very Hero Christmas will be posted here every Wednesday, starting November 6th!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Release Day - Resurrected

THIS IS THE END!

A necromancer awakes from his coma. A vampire owes a god of death a favor, and the deity demands his payment. A very dead ancient Egyptian prince finds himself back in the land of the living in another man’s body. And a single mother still blames her sister-in-law for the death of her husband.

Sam Ridgeway doesn’t know these four people are her personal Horsemen. The Harbingers of Armageddon. And they are more interested in their own agendas. Because if they can’t control Sam, they will have to kill her.

And if Sam dies, so does the world.

**Links will be updated as they go live.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bloodlines Books Discounted!

As part of the Resurrected promotion, the first and second books of the Bloodlines series are available for $0.99. Yep, that's right. Both Blood Magick and Zombie Love are $0.99 each from now until Halloween (October 31th) at most major e-book retailers.

If you haven't checked out this series, now's the time to get started!

BLOOD MAGICK
Amazon, all countries
Apple
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ZOMBIE LOVE
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Apple
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Resurrected hits the virtual shelves on October 25th!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 5

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

=============

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

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

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

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

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

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

“El—” Tiffany started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, sweetie, I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled. “Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait.”

“What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Is your source reliable?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 4

Ptolemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or worse.

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord Hermes?”

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

“Hermes.” The god inclined his long snout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you asking me to harm a baby?”

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

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

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