Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sneak Peek - Amish, Vamps & Thieves

I don't have the cover yet, but I can give you a peek at the first chapter of Anne and Sam's adventure in Amish, Vamps & Thieves, the fourth book in the Bloodlines Series. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Nerves tingled along the back of Anne Levy’s neck as she strode across her brother’s hay field under the ripe moon. A deep breath tested the scent in the humid Ohio night air. The spicy apple of a Normal human mixed with the sweet clover and summer maple, confirming the watcher’s presence. She glanced to her right. A shadow shifted within the woods bordering the east side of the field.

Her watcher was unimaginative at best, using the same cover as last night. Enforcer training jumped into play despite Anne being home for the first time in decades. A telepathic check found her partner. Sam? My friend’s back.

The black diamond tickle of Samantha Ridgeway’s humor rippled through Anne’s mind. You’re sure he’s not one of us?

Yes. Anne let the crimson wash of her irritation filter through the link. Like she couldn’t tell the difference between a supernatural and a Normal after sixty years.

Amish or English?

The tips of Anne’s fangs pricked her bottom lip as she smiled at Sam’s use of the Amish term for an outsider, but her humor was short-lived. She’d already lost everything she cared about in her life. Her home. Her chance for children. Jacob. And Thomas had given up everything he desired to keep the old ways for the sake of their parents. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t let his sacrifice be in vain.

But if the church elders learned Thomas had contacted her for help, her brother would be shunned. He was in enough trouble for pushing the leadership of the Amish community into hiring an attorney to fight the developers and the state. If the elders found out exactly what she and Sam were…

Yo, Anne? You still there?

She shoved away the disconcerting thoughts and drew another deep breath. The various scents were too mixed in the still, thick air to tell if the whiff of plastic came from something the man carried or trash floating down the Killbuck River. I can’t tell from this distance, but he’s definitely the same man who observed me from the woods last night while I patrolled.

The other woman’s annoyance swept back in a salmon orange wave. Then maybe you should have questioned him last night.

Based on what? Anne flung the thought back. He’s made no action against me or the livestock. And there hadn’t been an animal attack since she and Sam had arrived in Millersburg. That fact lent credence to Thomas’s theory that the culprit behind the livestock mutilations was indeed a supernatural. It also bolstered Sam’s opinion they were dealing with a rogue. Anne had learned decades ago not to make assumptions despite the evidence. She needed proof the killings weren’t linked to Birkenwald’s attempts to force her brother and the other farmers out of their homes.

Sam’s mental sigh whispered through her mind. Doesn’t mean he’s not a look-out. I’d feel better if you had taken a gun with you. Or at least, your sai.

It was bad enough Anne’s supervisor had insisted she bring the armaments with her, even if they were locked in the SUV. The sheer thought of carrying a weapon on her family’s land was more than sufficient to make Anne break out in hives. If vampires could, that is. You’re not armed either.

I’m not an enforcer, and we both know I couldn’t hit the broad side of Thomas’s barn. Are you sure your stalker is a Normal?

Irritation threatened to become downright anger. Sam…

Then it’s time we had a talk with your ‘friend.’ I’m at the north fence line of Jacob Miller’s property. I’ll swing around.

Anne’s annoyance turned to discomfort at the mention of Jacob. No sense giving Sam’s tongue any more ammunition. Are you sure trapping him is a wise course of action? He may be a distraction from the real culprits.

Oh puh-leease! If a vamp and a zombie can’t handle one measly human… Sam’s mental voice dissolved into peals of laughter. Besides, the boys would never forgive me if I let you get slimed because the asshole’s carrying one of those reaper thingies.

It’s called a scythe. Anne didn’t bother to correct her on the other point. Technically, Sam wasn’t a zombie, but no one knew what else to call a walking, talking dead woman. At least, she hadn’t stooped to eating human brains.


Anne shoved a lock of hair behind her ear. The short strands irritated her as well, but not nearly as much as Sam’s laughter, her poor estimate of Anne’s abilities, or the offer of hair accessories earlier. Not that she didn’t appreciate Sam’s kindness, but the clips weren’t--they just weren’t…


The prohibition against adornment stuck to her soul even after all these decades away from Holmes County. Assuming vampires still had souls. She hoped the fact that she still cared about her brother meant she did.

Anne shook her head as she walked, dislodging her hair again. She shouldn’t have come home. Crickets chirped in counterpoint to the frogs along the banks, their summer song a reminder she’d never belong here again. Maybe the “boys,” as Sam referred to the older vampires of the Augustine coven, were right. Maybe she should join the twenty-first century. But in the sixty-plus years since rogue vampires had forced her into this existence, her faith had brought her comfort—still brought her comfort, even in her darkest times. Wearing her hair and clothes in the old style was part of that comfort as well.

And Jacob had always told her how much he loved her hair. But he wouldn’t have loved it quite so much if he knew the monster she’d become.

She suppressed a shudder at the mix of old and new anxieties, and she continued stalking through the clover. She couldn’t blame Sam for cutting off her waist-length locks. The zombie had done what was necessary to the ruined tresses. Her hair had become tangled beyond any hope of redemption during her month of captivity at the hands of Sam’s creators.

No, she was angry with Master Augustine. She couldn’t fault his generosity in giving Sam a place in the coven, considering some of the other supernaturals’ attitude toward the zombie. But when he charged Sam with the responsibility of being Anne’s daytime guard for this trip, neither woman had been fooled about who was supposed to watch whom. Maybe the confrontation with the Normal would cleanse Anne of the aggravation of having to babysit.

Anne let the mix of irritation and humor slide from her consciousness. From the corner of her eye, she gauged the man’s progress as he drifted from tree to tree, matching her pace. He had to be one of the local English boys, his shirt too bright of a blue to be Amish. Maybe a youth hoping to claim glory or notoriety by discovering what the Millersburg Monster really was. It wouldn’t go well if a Normal discovered the perpetrator first and Thomas’s suspicion of a supernatural culprit was correct.

No, it would not go well at all.

She sampled the night air again. Her watcher’s scent was too rich, too spicy, too heady, for a child. A trickle of warmth seeped through her belly. He was definitely an adult male. Vampire instincts rose, only to be quelled by her will. Her blood need had been well satiated before she and Sam set out tonight, but the desire to hunt her hunter filled her. Angling her course toward the trees, she closed the distance between them.


Colin Fitzgerald let the night goggles he’d bought at the army surplus store drop from his eyes. The silhouette of the girl headed for the edge of the woods lining the river. For a split second, he would have sworn her eyes glowed, but it had to be a trick of light from the goggles. He shook his head and rolled his shoulders to ease the chafing of the backpack straps. Keeping to the shelter of the trees, he paralleled her course. A stroll through the woods in the middle of the night was never a bright idea under the best of circumstances. He crossed his fingers he wouldn’t break an ankle in a groundhog hole. The damn pests were more of a threat than the wisp of a girl traipsing through Thomas’s hay field.

This whole situation was growing weirder by the minute. She couldn’t possibly be the person killing and mutilating his clients’ livestock. He didn’t believe someone that slight could have the strength to drag a full-grown bull around a pasture.

Not by herself anyway. Even after removing the internal organs.

But she’d been by herself the last couple of nights, just as she was tonight.

Hitching his thumbs under the backpack straps, he dodged around a tree dressed in ivy. Under the full moon, the shadow in the hay field continued toward the fence line separating Thomas Levy’s property from the Millers’. Dark clothes cloaked her. A long sleeve oversized shirt and a calf-length skirt. He didn’t have a good look at her lower legs in the foot high clover, but he’d lay odds she wore plain black stockings and shoes. If it weren’t for her uncovered, chin-length locks, she could be any other Amish or Mennonite girl in the area. But something wasn’t quite right in her posture as she stalked through the clover. Definitely not one of the demure, humble women he’d come to know since leaving the Philadelphia D.A.’s office and moving to remote, out-of-the-way Millersburg, Ohio.

A quick peek through the goggles showed her continuing on the same course. She might know who was behind the livestock loss. Why else would she be sneaking around his clients’ farms this time of night?

Except he couldn’t quite call her confident stride sneaking.

He almost wished the girl was a party to one of Matt Jessup’s practical jokes. No, not even Matt would sink to that level. He may have a quirky sense of humor—Colin had been the butt of several of the other attorney’s stunts—but Matt wasn’t vicious. Not like the bastard who was destroying people’s livelihoods.

His fingers tightened around the goggles. He knew what it’d cost the Amish farmers to come to him for help. To them, approaching an outsider for aid was unheard of. And an attorney?

The church elders had pitched a fit when they found out Thomas Levy and Jacob Miller visited Colin’s office. An ironic smile twisted his mouth. Well, as much of a fit as an Amish would allow himself. Simon Yoder’s face had been beet red, though he never raised his voice, when Colin met with the men of the Millersburg Amish community at Thomas’s house. In the end, Simon had been outvoted, the majority agreeing Colin was best suited to fight Birkenwald Group’s attempt to buy out their farms.

At least until Birkenwald decided to play dirty.

Their attempts to pressure state officials into seizing the land through eminent domain was bad enough. The memory of Thomas’s prize bull flashed through his head. Or what had been left of the poor animal. Colin swallowed the bile at the back of his throat. Torturing the farmers’ livestock to death to drive the Amish out constituted raw evil in his book.

He swung the backpack off one shoulder to trade the goggles for a bottle of water.

“What are you doing here?”

He jerked to a halt. A darker shadow separated itself from a maple trunk and glided into a patch of silvery moonlight in front of him. The girl from the hayfield. A sharp gasp escaped his throat. Even though she wore the dark, simple clothing of an Amish, plain was hardly the word he’d use to describe her. Silvery light worshipped her pale face. Dark eyes peered at him through equally dark locks. Elfin features twisted into a frown as she regarded him.

And how had she managed to overtake him? Two seconds ago, she’d been a hundred yards away in the middle of the freakin’ clover.

“You’re on private property.” A challenging step forward, such an assertive move for the slight wisp of a girl. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

His dry tongue rasped the roof of his mouth. A fairy queen. That’s what she reminded him of, the poster of an Unseelie temptress tacked on his nephew Evan’s bedroom wall. And that brief memory cracked the wall he’d carefully built over the last year. Maybe he was going insane from guilt if he was imagining fairy queens.

An amused snort silenced the soft rustling of birds and other animals settling in the trees for the night. “If you think I’m a fairy, you really need to get out more.”

Oh, shit. I said that aloud? Colin winced. He hadn’t made such a fool of himself with a girl since Missy Johnson in sixth grade. Old habits reasserted themselves, and he matched her aggressive body language. “I could ask you the same thing. This is my client’s land, and I know for a fact you’re not one of his granddaughters.”
She blinked, eyes luminous in the moonlight. “You’re Thomas’s attorney?”

“Yeah. And you haven’t answered my question.”

Her confused expression melted into one of acid fury. “What are you doing out here? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

It was his turn to snort in humor. “Last time I checked I don’t moo and I don’t chew cud.”

“That’s no guarantee…” Her head tilted, and she—

He shook his own in disbelief. No, she really was sniffing the air like one of Matt’s coonhounds.

Her pale face turned back to him. “You need to leave. Now.”

He took a step back, not that he took her warning seriously, but something sent a cold shiver across his skin and raised gooseflesh. It was more than her voice. Her eyes glowed, a warm gold that had nothing to do with moonlight or fairy queens. Human eyes didn’t reflect light like that, and there was little light besides the moon. No, not a reflection. Her eyes emitted the glow, a glow growing stronger and brighter.

Colin took another cautious step back. “What are you?”

Hot breath on his neck was the only warning he had before something shoved him face first into dirt and dead leaves. Something heavy landed hard on his back, slamming his temple back into the musty soil. Something that stank the putrid, coppery stink of old blood as well as its own godawful body odor.

Then the smothering weight was gone. High-pitched yips and a higher-pitched battle cry brought his head out of the loam. And into a nightmare.

Air petrified in Colin’s lungs. His mind refused to wrap itself around the furry thing that clawed and bit at the girl. The beast hunched on its rear limbs, neither totally upright nor on all fours. Colin’s eyes refused to focus, as if the shape of the thing declined to stabilize into one form or another.

And the girl wasn’t a girl. She was the angel of death. Or a demon. This was the dark queen incarnate, dancing and dodging the monster’s blows. Her eyes glowed neon yellow under the shade of a massive maple. Fangs extended past lips twisted in a feral snarl. This time Beauty was a beast too, and she charged the furry version.

The two figures tumbled across the branches and decay littering the floor of the woods. Their thrashing threw detritus in the air as each struggled to subdue the other. The thing tossed the girl away. She rolled, coming up in a crouch. When she leapt, the thing landed a solid kick in her gut. The girl slammed headfirst into a trunk, the crack still echoing through the trees when she crumpled into a heap at the roots.

The furry thing limped into the small pool of moonlight. Dark liquid oozed from its left shoulder. It gave Colin a dismissive glance and turned its attention back to the girl, a jagged piece of deadwood clutched in its upraised right claw. There was no mistaking its intention in its awkward steps as it staggered toward the unconscious girl.

Colin fumbled with the backpack lying next to him before he yanked out the flare gun. With a quick prayer, he aimed at the thing and pulled the trigger. A nova burst to life in the clearing, followed by a scream of pain. The nasty odor of burnt fur confirmed he hit his target. From the scuffling against the brush, the thing beat a fast retreat toward the river.

Blinking white spots out of his vision, Colin crawled in the direction of the fallen girl. Guilt dug its way out of the hole where he’d buried it. Once again, his decision made him responsible. Please let her be okay. Please. He dropped the flare gun and reached for the dark form. Fingers automatically went to her neck. No pulse. New fear joined old guilt in his intestines. Dammit! Calm down so you can help her. This is not like Patrick and Evan.

There! He breathed a sigh at the faint thrum under his touch. The beat was way too slow but steady. He checked for other injuries, trying not to jostle her too much. And trying not to think about the fact they were in the middle of the woods and over two miles from the nearest telephone. He pulled out his cell phone from his jeans pocket, but as expected, the words “No Service” flashed on the screen. Heat surged through his face and hands. He shoved the useless piece of crap back in his pocket.

With tender strokes, he brushed her hair out of the way. Shaking fingers probed her skull, and his heart convulsed at the mushy feeling in the base. Sticky wetness coated his hands. The guilt and fear curdled into a fetid mass.

Something grabbed his shirt collar and yanked him backward, adrenaline overloading his nerves. He twisted to punch at the monster when a feminine voice said, “Just what the fuck are you doing to her?”

Monday, February 13, 2012

What I'm Currently Reading

Don't worry folks! This doesn't mean I'm not writing!

But I don't like bring my laptop or my Kindle to the Day Job since we've caught a couple of people in the employee area. (Yeah, right, sure you were looking for the bathroom.) So I only bring paperbacks for my breaks since people are less likely to steal them.

I finished L.A. Banks' Conquer the Dark over New Year's. You can tell Ms. Banks rushed to finish this before she became too sick to write. Still, the story has the depth, humor, and passion that all her books have. It saddens me that this is the last new books of hers that I'll ever read.

I also finally had time to read Stephanie Bond's last book in her Southern Roads series, Baby, Don't Go. The beginning of the book with its militant feminism was a little too '70's for me, but once you're past the first five chapters, the story rolls with Ms. Bond's usual humor and charm.

I'm still working my way through Jim Butcher's Side Jobs, an anthology of his Harry Dresden short stories, most of which I've read before. The story The Warrior has my all-time favorite quote: "Harry Dresden. Saving the world through one random act of destruction at a time."

I finally pulled Urban Legend by Erica Orloff from the TBR pile. This one was published in 2004 as part of Silhouette's Bombshell line, and yes, I'd bought it new. Shows you the size of my TBR pile. LOL I'll report on this one once I get into it.

Have a great Valentine's Day, my readers! I wish you lots of chocolate and love!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Don't You Just Hate It When...

When they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, they weren't joking.

The plan was to release Amish, Vamps & Thieves this week.

But as I was doing the final read-thru, I realized something. There was a plot hole. A big plot hole. One that escaped the four crit partners, two beta readers, my editor, my proofreader and me through the zillion rounds of drafts.


So, my sincere apologies to all my readers for the delay, but I'm not about to put out a substandard product. I owe you more than that. I promise I WILL make this delay up to you!