Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What? 2013 Can't Be Over Already?

It's been an insane year in the Harden household with a 1200-mile move, Genius Kid returning to public school, and health issues with the in-laws. Unfortunately, it meant I only released one novel and two short stories.

I'm hoping 2014 goes a little more smoothly, but I'm not holding my breath. LOL

What I am planning on is getting the three novels in process finished. How far along am I?

Death Goddess Walking (Books of Apep #1) - 65%
Sword of Justice (Justice #1) - 70%
Zombie Goddess (Blood Lines #6) - 10%

Until the first drafts are finished, I can't give a release estimate. Also, I'm on a hunt for a cover artist for the two new series, plus upgrading the covers for Bloodlines. But I definitely hope to get all three finished and available in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sword of Justice - Chapter 2

I see y'all stopping by to read stuff, but if no one leaves a comment, I'll stop and make you watch kitty videos.

* * *
My breakfast twisted in my stomach and not from the gruesome discovery in Duke Marco’s wine cellar.

“She was dead before she was put in the barrel,” Luc said. He shifted closer. “There’s bruising along her neck.” He reached out, his hands matching to contusions I could not see, but the rest did. “She was strangled.”

Now that the dead priestess was out of the wine, slight temperature variances registered with my odd sight. My attention was drawn to the area between her legs.

Like all of the priestesses of Love, her body hair was shorn, but that wasn’t what concerned me. “Luc.”

He examined the slashes in the flesh. His voice was grim when he said, “That was not caused by rough loveplay.”

I inclined my head in the magistrate’s direction.

Luc rose to his feet. “Let’s get the official questioning of everyone present out of the way. If you don’t mind, Magistrate…”

“You can start with whoever on earth you wish,” DiCook snapped.

“I mean, I will question you first.” Luc grinned.

“Me? You have the audacity—”

“You were the one who said she was murdered, Magistrate.” I glared at the idiot. Part of me hoped he was involved. “In front of witnesses, I might add, before the brother and I pulled her body from the barrel. You have the right to decline questioning, but I suggest you allow Brother Luc to clear you now, if you are innocent.”

“How do I know you’re not incriminating me to remove me from my position?” A barely controlled tremor shook his voice.

I climbed to my feet. “I have no reason to, and in case your brilliant powers of deduction have missed the obvious, both the crown and the temples are keeping a very close eye on events in Orrin after last summer.”

“You should have been executed for what you did last summer,” he spat.

“Yes, I should have been,” I said dryly. “Again, if you have a dispute with the Reverend Mother of Balance, I suggest you take it up with her.”

His face turned a red so dark it bordered on purple. At least, he understood his position was as precarious as my own. He turned to Luc. “Very well. Ask your questions.”

“Thank you for your cooperation, Magistrate.” That was Luc, ever the epitome of tact. “Is there another room I may use, Your Grace?”

“The granary is on the other side of the ramp. It will be more comfortable than the cold rooms.” Marco’s voice as smooth, but I had a feeling he’d just as soon shove DiCook into one of the meat or vegetable lockers.

As Luc’s warden followed him and the magistrate, I turned to the female Balance warden who had accompanied us. One day I was going to get all their names straight.

“Go upstairs. Have Little Bear ride to the Temple of Balance. I’m going to need a clerk to record statements. Then have him collect the Master Healer. I want him here to examine the corpse.”

“Yes, m’lady.” The woman saluted before she pivoted smartly on her heels and marched out the door.

I faced the duke’s party for the next order of business. “Lady Alessa, may I impose on you for a bedsheet to cover our unfortunate sister?”

“Of course, Justice.” She curtsied before scurrying out the door.

The three city peacekeepers stared at me, unsure of what to do with their leader not so obliquely accused of knowledge of a murder and me issuing orders.

“Have any of you three dealt with Sister Gretchen?”

“No,” they chorused, but the one on my far right blushed bright orange.

I sighed. “You do realize that if you lie to me now, then admit to knowing her under Brother Luc’s truth spell, things will not go well with you.”
<> “I—I—” The peacekeeper sounded like he was choking on a harvest ham. “I have, m’lady. At the Spring Rituals three years ago.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and stared at him.

“And a few times since then,” he mumbled.

I sighed again. “Your wife doesn’t know about the other times.”

He bowed his head. “No, m’lady.”

The Spring Rituals were one of the many reasons I had preferred being a circuit justice as opposed to a permanent position in a temple. Not because the three-day orgy of food, drink and sex itself disgusted me.

Because I wanted to be a part of it.

And Justices weren’t allowed.

On the other hand, a priestess of Love was required to service any man or woman who came to their temple for succor. I wasn’t sure if my mother doomed me or saved me when she sold me to the Temple of Balance as a toddler.

But the unspoken rule was that the priestesses only provided sexual release for those who were not in committed relationships. The Spring Rituals were the one exception.

I crossed to the peacekeeper. He flinched and the other two eased away from him. It almost made me feel sorry for the man.

“When was the last time you visited Sister Gretchen?”

“I-I tried to four night ago, but I was told she was indisposed. Th-the head sister offered to entertain me herself, but I went home instead.” And Sister Gretchen had been dead since the barrel was unloaded in the cellar three days ago.

“So you didn’t see her at all when you went to the Temple of Love?”

“No.” He shook his head vehemently.

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

He bowed his head and played with the edges of his cloak, plucking at the embroidery. “Winter Solstice, m’lady,” he murmured.

“And?” I prompted.

“She was alive and asleep when I left her bedchambers.”

“Does your wife know about your other visits to the temple?”

“No—” He stopped himself. While I couldn’t truth-spell worth a copper, my unusual sight could detect the change in body heat when most people lied. The peacekeeper realized how much trouble he could be in after my little confrontation with his boss. “I don’t believe she does. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

If you didn’t want to hurt her feelings, you should have gone home and made love to her instead of going to the goddess-damned temple. But I didn’t give voice to that thought.

Instead, I said, “Thank you for your cooperation, Peacekeeper…”

“Dante, m’lady.”

“Thank you, Dante.” I glared at the other two. “Anything you gentlemen care to add?”

“No,” they chorused. Their skin remained yellow with flickers of orange. Nervous because of me, but not obviously hiding anything.

I circled around the body and approached the duke and his party. The acid of the wine had kept the smell and decay to a minimum. But now, the odor was starting to overpower the little room. The corpse would need to be disposed of very soon.

“How well did you know Sister Gretchen?” I said, focusing on Lady Katarina.

“We were fast friends until our thirteenth summer.” Wistfulness coated her voice. “She decided to formally join the temple.”

“While your mother encouraged you to find an apprenticeship,” I added. Katarina’s healing gift had saved my life. Part of me was grateful, but another part cursed her. I had prayed that death from my demon-inflicted injuries would free me from the Temple of Balance<.

But I never had such luck any other time I tried to escape. I don’t know why I thought the goddess would release me during that night when she kept her grip tight on me every other time.

Katarina rubbed her swollen belly. “Yes.”

“Did you ever hear of problems between her and any of the other priestesses?”

The noblewoman gave a sad laugh. “Only the usual manure. Backbiting and currying the head priestess’ favor.”

“What about supplicants?”

Katarina sighed. “Same thing. There were always fights between the sisters over the richer patrons, but I never heard of a problem between her and a patron.”

My muscles tightened. Once a priestess of Love lost her looks, she was demoted to handmaid. Oh, she could request a transfer to another temple, but few thought ahead enough to acquire skills that might be useful, and it still resulted in a demotion of sorts.

The smart priestesses enticed jewelry, gold and other material favors from their supplicants, hoarding their wealth so they may retire in the luxury to which they had become accustomed.

“And Gretchen?”

Katarina’s gaze flicked to the peacekeepers and back. “If you wish a formal statement, Lady Justice, may we please do this inside? Standing for such a long period is not good for the baby.”

“Of course.” I inclined my head. “Perhaps in your audience chamber, then? I do not wish to put any more strain on the duke’s heir than necessary.” I smiled at Marco. “If you will inform Brother Luc of my whereabouts?”

“I would be happy to, Justice Anthea.” He was having trouble containing his laughter at his wife’s subterfuge. “And my apologies for interrupting your morning meal.”

“Please try not to do it again, Your Grace.” The peacekeepers took my mocking for real anger from the way the three of them jumped.

I held out my elbow for Katarina. She seemed relieved as we left the wine cellar. At the top of the ramp, the female warden stood vigil with the warden from Truth. She fell in step with me, but I held up my free hand.

“Stay here.  No one is to leave without Bother Luc’s authorization. I’m escorting the lady to her audience chamber. Should the Master Healer arrive before I return, come fetch me.”

“Yes, Justice.” She saluted again.

I blew out an annoyed breath. “What’s your name again?”

“Tyra, my lady.” No need for an origin name. We all adopted DiBalance when we entered our goddess’ service.

“I’m sorry for forgetting again, Tyra.”

She shrugged. “Things have been rather chaotic since you arrived.”

I leaned close the warden. In a conspiratorial fake whisper, I said, “I blame Lady Katarina for everything.”

The warden froze until the noblewoman started laughing.

Katarina slapped my shoulder. “Really, Anthea. You are incorrigible.” Behind us the Truth warden snorted as he tried to stifle his own humor.

We left the startled Tyra behind and headed through the gray drizzle for the great house.

* * *

Once we shed our damp cloaks, our feet were propped in front of the fireplace, and we had been served hot tea and biscuits, Katarina dismissed the maid. She sipped her tea for a moment before she said, “Could you please ward the room?”

That simple request spoke volumes.

I set aside my cup and rose. The spell was basic enough. Every priest and priestess, no matter the temple, knew it.

Unlike Luc’s nearly impenetrable wall, mine was fluid, elastic. It wouldn’t stop the maid from barging into the room, but it would prevent her from hearing or harming us.

Which really made no sense, considering our personalities. A spell reflected the traits of the caster, and I would be the first to admit I was rather rigid when it came to certain matters.

I hummed under my breath as I shielded our conversation from the servants or anyone else. A silvery shimmer surrounded us for an instant before the spell settled into the walls, ceiling and floor of the reception room.

I sat back down, enjoyed the delicious heat on my toes, and waited for Katarina to begin.

“Gretchen began amassing a fortune as soon as she was confirmed by the Reverend Mother of Love.” She sipped her tea.

“She’s your age, correct?” At the noblewoman’s quiet affirmation, I added, “How much could she have amassed in only three years?”

“That’s what the chief priestess here in Orrin wanted to know.” Katarina blew out a sharp breath. “When I refused to spy on Gretchen, the bitch spread the word I had spied on Gretchen.”

“And Gretchen refused to speak to you after that.”

“Yes.”

The sad part was I knew how ambitious my birth mother was. I may have only been three summers, but I understood the price she asked for me from the contingent of Balance when they came to claim me. Mother had gotten the power she wanted, but had she desired more than the temple seat here in Orrin?

And sadly, I understood why Katarina had stayed even though my mother was making her life miserable. It would have been around the time her mother contracted the wasting sickness.

“You had to have known that you couldn’t heal your mother,” I murmured.

She swiped at her cheek. “I had to try.”

I coughed to cover my own discomfiture. I was alive; her mother wasn’t. The failure must sting her soul. “Was there any significant patron in particular who she entertained?” I reached for my cup.

Katarina laughed, an ugly, bitter thing. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have believed the sweet woman could make such a sound. “Would you believe one of them was Samael DiRoy?”

I choked. My mouthful of tea sprayed over my shirt and leggings. Once I could catch my breath, I glared at her. “You did that on purpose.”

“Only to see the imperturbable Justice Anthea spit all over herself.” Her humor quickly faded. “If I had known then…”

Samael DiRoy. The great nephew of a cousin of our current queen, which made him thirty-sixth, or was that sixty-third, in line for the throne. Traitor. Demon summoner. The main reason I had been condemned to the Justice seat in Orrin.

As the Reverend Mother had surmised, being trapped in the city of my birth was a far worse punishment for illegally executing the idiot prince than having my own head chopped off.

Politics didn’t give a whit that I had stopped a demon invasion in the process.

I took another drink of tea that I actually managed to swallow. “Do you think she knew about Samael’s predilections?”

“I don’t know.” Katarina pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders. “It would explain where all of his money went.”

“Any interactions with Marco’s parents?”

“Not that I know of. Lady DiMara thought the Spring Rituals were beneath her. She was—”

“A controlling shrew with a thirst for power?” I offered.

Katarina smiled. “I keep forgetting that you met her.”

I snorted in disgust. “Yes, the day we were both tried.” I shoved the thoughts of that dark day aside. I had been sure I wouldn’t see the sunset. “Anyone else of rank that she entertained on a regular basis?”

“The ambassador of Jing. The crown prince of Cant. The youngest son of the king of the Sea Peoples. An admiral of the Fire Islands. The chief priest of Light from Tandor.”

I froze. “Please tell me you are joking.”

“You did not learn that last from me,” she countered.

The Temples of Balance and Truth were the only two orders that required chastity of their members. Luc and I would be executed in a heartbeat if anyone learned of our affair.

But for a chief priest of Truth to blatantly strut into any Temple of Love…

Potential suspects in Gretchen’s murder were piling up faster than fallen leaves in the winter storms.

“Do you know what she did with her tokens from these patrons?”

“The jewelry she had replicas made before she sold it. According to the gossip mill, she invested her gains. Mostly in trade ships. Some in the summer caravans heading east. She owns a few of the businesses here in the city. A couple of farms on the outskirts.”

I could feel my eyebrows climb toward my scalp at Katarina’s recitation. This was not a typical priestess planning for her retirement. Did my mother view her as political rival? Had she learned something she shouldn’t have from one of her patrons?

Yet, the method of Gretchen’s death and her horrible wounds, not to mention where she was found, indicated something else entirely.

“Who would receive her estate in the event of her death?”

Katarina shrugged. “I have no idea. If she named someone, it would be in the temple records.”

We both knew if Gretchen hadn’t, her possessions would go to her temple’s treasury. In other words, right into my mother’s lap.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Spreading the Bulldog Love!

I know I promised to have Love, War and a Bulldog (Bloodlines #5.5) up on other sites by December 1st.

Between the Thanksgiving holiday and NaNoWriMo kicking my ass the last weekend, I wanted to wait until Sunday to do the work because I was so damn tired I was afraid I'd screw something up. So of course, I woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday morning with a mild fever, hacking and unable to breath.

After a couple of days of rest, I feel much more coherent, and Love, War and a Bulldog (Bloodlines #5.5) has been uploaded to Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Unless you contact me because you buy from Apple and Kobo, I'm not going to load it onto those two retailers (for various reasons I won't get into here).

Blurb
Emerson O’Malley, a were-bulldog, has been trapped in his canine form since the day he was born. Even worse, the likelihood of him losing his virginity is zero. But when he rushes in to rescue three nymphs, he pisses off the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who curses him into human form. Does he take advantage of his one night with the woman he loves or does he save Los Angeles from the goddess’s wrath?

Short story, approx. 4500 words or 15 printed pages

Now available at these retailers
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords

Edit ti add: Barnes & Noble finally went live, so the link has been updated.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sword of Justice - Chapter 1

First off, this will NOT be the title I use when this book is published. Frankly, it sucks, but I need a title while I work to make it feel like a real story to me.

Also, what you're seeing is the raw first draft of my 2013 NaNoWriMo project. No doubt things will change as it goes through editing.

This novel picks up six months after the end of the short story "Justice" from Sword and Sorceress 28. It's essentially a S&S version of CSI.

I am rather curious to hear what y'all think. I hope you'll leave a comment or two.

***
I was still in my bedclothes and breaking my fast when Duke Marco’s messenger arrived. Setting aside the rich cinnamon bread, I glared at both the nervous young man and my personal assistant Sivan. “Tell me, is there a chance His Grace, his lady wife or his retainers might let me finish one morning meal in peace?”

“When the stars fall from the skies, Justice?” Humor edged Sivan’s response.

My displeasure settled on the messenger. His bright scarlet face and hands quivered.

I smiled sweetly, but the boy wasn’t comforted by my demeanor. My appearance discomfited nearly everyone the first time they saw me, my lover being the sole exception. “What is so important that your master could not wait for a reasonable hour?”

“He respectfully requests your presence, L-Lady Justice. A-a body was found in one of the keep’s wine barrels.” His voice cracked on the last syllable.

Orrin was the third largest city in Issura and had the largest seaport. While crime wasn’t rampant, the city’s largest problem was disorderly conduct from sailors on shore leave. Or it was until I was assigned as the resident justice last summer. Even then, it wasn’t normal offenses like theft or smuggling. It was things like this.

I shoved my plate away, wiped my mouth with my napkin and stood. “Thank you so very much for destroying my appetite.”

The boy whimpered. Surely from his voice and his manner, he was the highest ranking page available. No matter if he had heard the rumors many times over, my red eyes had made more than a few grown men wet their smallclothes.

“Run across the street, and request a truth-speller to accompany me.”

“Y-yes, ma’am.” He fled as if I’d summon demons to eat his scrawny hide.

Sivan didn’t bother to hide her laughter any longer.

“You did that on purpose,” I accused.

“He said he was instructed to only deliver the message to you, m’lady. Far be it for me to interfere with his duty.”

I stalked over to the wardrobe in the corner of my private chamber. Inside were several sets of formal cloaks. To any one else, they looked identical, the black of the Temple of Balance from hood to ankle. But for me, I could still see the blood stains on all of them.

The laundress’s best efforts not withstanding.

Out of some sense of perversity, I chose the set that still carried the mark of the sorcerer Samael, a distant member of the royal family whom I’d illegally executed to save Duke Marco.

And the world.
Once I’d donned leggings, boots and a silk undershirt, I added my sword to the ensemble. In the half year since Marco’s parents had been found guilty of treason, little incidents had been occurring. Small challenges to his authority. Carefully crafted insults.

So far, the young man had been holding his own. But a body found on his estate would only escalate the problems even if the young lord and his retinue were innocent. Nothing like a good scandal to stir the masses.

I reached the stables to find Brother Luc, head priest of Orrin’s Temple of Truth, already mounted, waiting for me with two of his wardens. Cold raindrops trickled dark purple tracks down his cloak.

I had to hide my delight that he came. “Brother, please don’t bother on such an ugly day. Either of your junior priests would do in this circumstance. Surely as the head of your temple, you have more important duties.”
“Considering where the body was found, it seemed that our best truth-speller should accompany you, Justice.” Amusement flavored his tone. Now that we were permanently assigned to Orrin, we went through this dance of words every time we met in public since we could not often meet privately without arousing suspicions.

By the Twelve, I missed sleeping with him.

I inclined my head. “Thank you for your assistance, Brother.”

Little Bear, one of my own wardens, moved to assist me on my horse. I glared at him, my foul mood spilling over once again. Luc muffled his laugh, and the warden had the grace to say sheepishly, “My apologies, Justice. I forgot.”

Reigning in my temper, I said, “I understand, but this behavior must stop.”

“Before she knocks someone’s teeth out,” Luc added. Like Sivan earlier, he didn’t bother hiding his laughter.

“Yes, m’lady.” Little Bear bowed and turned to his own horse. It was habit on the warden’s part, I knew. Every priestess in my order was blind.

Every single one except me.

The wardens and clerks acted as the justice’s eyes. None of the staff at Orrin knew what to do with a sighted justice. Not that I saw the world as they saw it, but enough that I wasn’t helpless by any means.

I climbed on my precious Nassa and patted her neck. “Shall we discover what’s troubling Duke DiMara today?”

Luc snorted. “I’d say it was his ruined wine.”

I couldn’t be angry with the page for spreading unnecessary gossip. Luc could charm the knowledge out of anyone without the need of a spell.

We guided our mounts through the postern gate, down the alley that separated my goddess’s temple from that of the Mother, and up the main thoroughfare of the city. The business district gave way to small shops and eateries. Orrin was rich enough that the streets were cobblestoned, but the winter rains kept most of the citizens indoors despite the absence of mud.

Small homes appeared between the merchant buildings. Gradually the shops disappeared, and the houses grew larger as we climbed the bluffs on the north side.

The DiMara estate overlooked the city and harbor, an imposing stone building that still bore signs of its originally purpose as a fortress. A guardsman swung open the ornate wrought iron gate, a show of the family’s wealth, as we approached. The duke controlled most of the harbor trade, and those ships they didn’t own out right, they had invested in over the years.

Two stableboys took our horses while the guardsman led us on foot to a warehouse on the left. The dry interior was welcome after our short, wet ride.

Magistrate Malven DiCook was not.

“‘Bout time his lordship’s pet priestess got here.” He coughed and spat on the floor, close enough to me to be thoroughly disgusting but intentionally missing my boot. Duke Marco wasn’t the only one dealing with insults, but the ones aimed at me weren’t so carefully crafted.

If I had the evidence that Malven was involved in the former lord and lady’s treason, I’d behead the bastard without blinking. But I didn’t, which meant I had to tread lightly around the duly elected city magistrate.

And tolerate the scent of the damn licorice-scented dye he used to disguise the effects of age in his hair and beard.

He hooked his thumbs in his belt and rocked back on his heels. “His lordship wouldn’t let me examine the body until you arrived.”

I brushed back the hood of my cloak and stepped closer. Being a tall woman was handy at times. I met the magistrate’s glare before he turned his attention toward the floor. Sometimes, my idiotic attempt to give myself sight came in handy for unnerving my antagonist.

He muttered the Cantish word for “freak.”

“No,” I answered in the same language. “I was chosen by the Goddess. If you have an issue with her selection, I’m sure the Reverend Mother could arrange an audience for you.” I didn’t add my personal opinion of his hygiene habits.

He jerked and shuffled a step backward. I didn’t know whether it was due to my knowledge of Cantish or my not-so-subtle threat. Nor did I wish to probe his thoughts to find out. Mucking out Duke Marco’s horse stalls would be a far more pleasant task.

Luc’s amusement at the magistrate’s reaction tickled my mind, but he said nothing.

“This way m’lady.” The guardsman beckoned us to follow. He marched for the opening that yawned in the floor of the storage room. Luc faced our wardens. “Two up. Two down with us.” Without a word, one of his and one of mine moved to a position where they could watch both the main door and the passage to the underground storage rooms.

Marco’s guardsman lit an oil lamp and led our retinue and the magistrate down a wide wooden ramp. The air was terribly dry for such a miserable, wet day. Small bowls sat in alcoves along the wall. The calcium in them absorbed the moisture in the air to prevent mold and rot.

At the bottom of the ramp, my desiccated airways itched from the sawdust coating the floor. Despite the sweet scent of mountain pine, another sickly smell met me. The guardsman gestured to the wide double doorway to our right.

I strode past the guardsmen to find Duke Marco, his wife and sister, his steward and another household servant on one side. Facing them were three of the city’s peacekeepers. A wine barrel stood upright between the two sets of observers. The tension in the wine room was more suffocating than the odor of death.

“You and your household seem rather intent on disturbing my morning meals, Your Grace.” I nodded to the women. “Lady Katarina, Lady Alessa.”

“Truly, I would prefer not to.” Marco’s grim humor matched mine. “However, the circumstances warranted your curious mind.”

“Would it make you more comfortable if I provided you a knife to threaten someone with, Justice Anthea?” Lady Katarina offered with the same amusement as her husband. She rested a bright red hand over her prominent stomach.

Sometimes, the odd eyesight I’d given myself let me see things that others couldn’t. Like the rise in the lady’s body temperature. Knowing she was with child before she did had been entertaining.

An odd sort of friendship had sprung between the noblewoman and myself over the last six months. Probably because we were both products of the Temple of Love’s Spring Rituals. Definitely because I had saved her and her husband’s lives from his deranged mother and the demons her pet sorcerer had summoned.

“That will be unnecessary, m’lady,” I replied and brushed the pommel of my sword at my shoulder. “I’ve learned to carry bigger weapons when you two are involved.”

“If you’re going to do nothing but joke with His Grace, maybe you should leave.” The magistrate’s irritation felt like steel scraped across slate.

I turned my gaze on DiCook. “I didn’t realize you had been named the Reverend Mother of Balance.”

“Your predecessor had a sense of decorum in these matters,” he shot back.

Sometimes, I wondered of the elderly sister who held the temple seat here was willfully, as well as literally blind. But that wasn’t fair of me. None of the priest or priestesses of the eleven other temples detected so much as a whiff of trouble with Marco’s parents before it was too late.

I had gotten lucky, and I knew it. Otherwise, we’d be neck-deep in another demon war now.

“Really, Sir Magistrate? In reviewing her records, I did not come across any accounts of bodies in wine barrels. Care to enlighten me?”

He muttered another obscenity under his breath, but otherwise remained silent.

The duke and his party wisely said nothing as well while I crossed to the source of the odor and peered inside. I couldn’t distinguish much in the deep green mass because the body had cooled to the same temperature as liquid she floated in, so I inhaled deeply.

I looked up at Luc who had joined me. “He or she didn’t loose their bowels in there.”

“She,” he corrected. At my quizzical expression, he added, “Too much hair floating at the top of the barrel.”

“Could be Pagonian.” I shrugged. Both men and women of Issura’s neighbor to the north only cut their locks during a period of family grieving.

“Hair’s too pale even soaked in dark red wine.”

I sighed. “I suppose I should examine the timeline before we pull whoever it is out of the barrel.”

Luc grunted and looked over his shoulder. “Duke Marco, when was this barrel brought onto your estate?”

The nobleman’s sister Alessa was the one who answered. “Three days ago, Brother.”

Luc turned back to me. “If she was dead when she was brought into the estate, I won’t be able to track her.”

I grinned at him. “Afraid the Wilding priest will show you up?”

DiCook stomped over to the barrel. “If you two are finished making light of someone’s murder, maybe you’ll get around to finding the culprit.”

“Murder? Who said anything about murder?” I couldn’t resist needling the magistrate.

“So this poor woman decided to take a swim in a barrel of his lordship’s wine?” His face turned a brilliant scarlet.

“We cannot assume anything at this point.” My Luc, ever the voice of reason. “What do you need, Anthea?” His question was for the benefit of everyone else in the room.

“Just some quiet,” I murmured. I pulled off my gloves and settled cross-legged on the cold flagstone floor. With one hand on the barrel and one on a shard of decorative onyx embedded next to the slate, I concentrated.

The stone quivered beneath my palm, eager to tell its story. It paid more attention to the vagaries of the mobile beings than its slate brothers.

I tugged the strings of time with the stone’s assistance, unwinding back to four days ago. Luc and the rest would see transparent figures moving faster than usual. I could only see gray ghosts drifting around and through the colored figures of the living in the storage room. Two men rolled a barrel out of the room.

“Hold.” Luc’s bass rumbled through the air.

I paused the release of the time thread.

“Names,” he demanded.

“That’s William and me,” squeaked the retainer standing with the steward.

“Name,” Luc snapped.

“Bartholomew, m’lord,” the retainer squeaked again.

“I told them to bring up a barrel of the local rose for dinner the night before the delivery,” the steward offered.

“Luc,” I said through gritted teeth.

“My apologies. Continue.” At least he actually sounded sorry, but I don’t think he truly understood the strain of what I was doing. I let the string of time the onyx showed me slide forward. Several men rolled barrels down the ramp.

Luc folded his arms. “Where did the shipment come from?”

“The Pana Valley,” Lady Alessa and the steward answered at the same time.
“Lord Aleister DiVinter’s estate,” the lady added.

Luc’s concern matched my own. If this turned out to be a power play within the nobility, things could turn very ugly very fast. I let the rest of the timeline slid through my grip. But once the barrel in question was stored, it remained in place until Bartholomew and the man he named as William tapped it this morning.

“Well, that wasn’t a damn bit helpful,” Luc murmured.

I thanked the onyx before I shook the feeling back into my fingers and rose to my feet. “Let’s drain the barrel and get her out.”

“Shame about the wine.” Luc stepped out of the way.

I could hear DiCook’s teeth grind, but he kept silent.

The steward and Bartholomew set buckets under the tap to drain the ruined red while the guardsman went off to fetch an old blanket. Once a sufficient amount had been removed that we wouldn’t flood the cellar, Luc and I peered in the barrel once more.

I pulled on my gloves. “Ready?”

“We can do it if her ladyship can’t.”

I didn’t have to look at DiCook to hear the sneer in his voice. “My thanks, Magistrate, but I can’t have you or your men vomit on the body and contaminate it.” I hooked my arm under the corpse’s shoulder. “Ready”

Together, Luc and I lifted the deceased out of the barrel. She was heavier than she should have been, having absorbed a great deal of wine. We carefully settled the nude body on the blanket.

I brushed the soaked locks away from the face. A sharp gasp came from Lady Katarina. I looked at noblewoman. “You recognize her?”

She gave a sharp nod. “Sister Gretchen from the Temple of Love. She was my playmate when we were children.”

I could feel Luc watching me, which was understandable. For the six months since my assignment to Orrin, I’d managed to avoid the chief priestess of the Temple of Love, but I couldn’t any longer. With one of her people dead, I was going to have to face my mother.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sword and Sorceress 28 Is Now Available!

I'm officially a hybrid author! On Saturday, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress 28 was released into the wilds, and my story "Justice" is included in the anthology.

This is the major squee moment for me. I've been reading MZB's S&S since Volume 3, and I quickly scrounged the library and used book stores in order to devour the first two volumes. A lot of my favorite fantasy writers either got their start in S&S or contributed over the last thirty years, including Laurell K Hamilton, Mercedes Lackey, Diana Paxson, and Carrie Vaughn. I'm so proud to be a member of this august assembly!

Blurb
Justice Anthea should have tossed the apprentice veterinarian out on her ear when she came to Anthea with a cock-and-bull story that she's engaged to a local lordling and he's been kidnapped. But something doesn't smell right, and it's not the scent of livestock on the girl's clothes.

When Anthea and her partner Luc investigate, they discover a bigger conspiracy than a noble couple pissed off about their son wedding below his station. One that threatens the queen herself!

Amazon
Barnes & Noble


P.S. For my NaNoWriMo project, I'm drafting a full-length novel about Anthea and Luc. I'll start posting chapters next Monday!

And after NaNoWriMo, I'll return to Zombie Goddess.

Monday, October 28, 2013

FINALLY! Blood Sacrifice is out!

I stayed up last night until effing four in the morning, but dammit, this book was getting uploaded! (Many thanks to Pepsi, Inc. LOL)

It seems appropriate that Alex and Phil's book comes out Halloween week since they literally go to Uku Pacha, the Incan Underworld.

I'll be posting sales links as they go live during the next couple of days (yes, I'm talking to you, Barnes & Noble). I want to thank all of my readers for your incredible patience!

Blurb
Alex Stanton is done being Phillippa Mann’s whipping boy. She made it perfectly clear she preferred him only when his body temperature was human. And he would keep his distance from the Amazon if his vampire master didn’t value Phil’s business relationship.

But when someone breaks into Phil’s antique shop and steals a replica of an Incan artifact called a tumi, Alex discovers she’s in deep trouble. The tumi isn’t a fake after all, and the original owner wants it back. Can he and Phil mollify a ticked off god of death long enough to find the thief and retrieve the god’s property, or will the Incan deity decide he’ll take their souls in exchange for his lost weapon?

Novel, approximately 76,000 words or 277 printed pages

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interview!

Fantasy writer Jonathan Moeller has been interviewing contributors to Sword and Sorceress 28. Today, he posted my interview. Show Jonathan some love! Stop by and leave a comment!

P.S. There's a snippet of "Justice" for you to check out. Sword and Sorceress 28 will be available on November 2nd.

Um, excuse us, Suzan, but where's that novel you promised us?

I'm on the last forty pages of edits for Blood Sacrifice, which I plan to have wrapped up before The Big Bang Theory tonight. Then I'll do one last read-thru using text-to-speech because TTS catches so much that me reading aloud does not.

Since this is the Houston Texans bye week, I won't be distracted by football (too much). Assuming everything goes as planned (*knocks wood*), uploading the novel to various retailers should commence late Saturday/early Sunday. Which means you'll have a new Bloodlines novel in time for Halloween.

Kind of appropriate since Alex and Phil literally go to Hell.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Blood Sacrifice Status Update

I was planning on announcing that Blood Sacrifice was available today.

Last Monday, I got the editing notes back from my editor and started working.

Thursday night, the memory card, in the ancient laptop I've been limping by with, died. And I do mean the Blue Screen of Death died.

I replaced the card, but in its death throes, it corrupted the registry. DH and I spent Friday and Saturday restoring programs that I needed to get Blood Sacrifice out.

But...

I have a choice--let y'all know the status and plunge back into getting this thing done, or post another chapter.

I think my time is better spent getting the book you've been so patiently waiting for done. I'm hoping to have better news for you later this week.

Thanks for your understanding.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 14 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 13 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 12 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Gentle Reminder

Just a little reminder (in case you didn't see Friday's post) that Love, War and a Bulldog is FREE today and tomorrow on Amazon.

Chapter 12 of Blood Sacrifice will be posted on Wednesday.

Friday, August 30, 2013

J.A. Konrath's 8 Hour Challenge (and a Free Book)

As some of you may know, I broke down and tackled Joe Konrath's short story challenge a week ago Thursday. Joe's kind enough to promote our books this weekend. He also encouraged us to try out KDP Select, which I planned to do later, but what the hey?

For those of you awaiting patiently for Blood Sacrifice, this challenge really helped spur me into getting the damn novel done. As in 10,000 words written since I completed the challenge. And I'm literally writing the story backwards, but I'm not going to question this method since the book is getting finished.

Love, War and a Bulldog takes place once everyone returns to Los Angeles after the events of Amish, Vamps & Thieves and Blood Sacrifice. There's no major spoilers.

Okay, maybe a minor one. But seriously, folks, if you haven't figured out who Phil's dad is by now, look up "Amazons" on Wikipedia.

So here's the deal--

1) Love, War and a Bulldog is free now through Tuesday, September 3, on Amazon US only. Click here to download.

[Edit: Amazon has made it free on other country sites as well. It already has downloads from UK and Germany. I've changed the link so it will take you to the appropriate store. Please let me know if you have a problem.]

2) If you're a pure-ist, download it BUT don't read it until after you've read Blood Sacrifice.

3) Love, War and a Bulldog won't be available at other online stores until December 1.

4) I'll try to do a free period at the other sites, but the best I can guarantee is a Smashwords coupon. (I know. You'd think Apple, B&N, etc. would get a clue about these types of temporary sales.)

5) If you absolutely want it now, but you don't have a Kindle or you absolutely refuse to get a Kindle app, my books are DRM-free, You can always convert the Amazon file through Calibre or any other conversion software.

So what the hell is this story about?

Emerson O’Malley, a were-bulldog, has been trapped in his canine form since the day he was born. Even worse, the likelihood of him losing his virginity is zero. But when he rushes in to rescue three nymphs, he pisses off the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who curses him into human form. Does he take advantage of his one night with the woman he loves or does he save Los Angeles from the goddess’s wrath?

P.S. Emerson and his ladylove Agnes made their first appearance in Zombie Love.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 11 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 10 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why! Why! For the Love of All That's Holy, WHY!

Isabella, my beloved work laptop, passed from this world at 5:34 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. I'm heartbroken. She was a good laptop. A gentle laptop. But old age caught up with her. She was seven years and five months, positively ancient for a computer, but she was my constant companion and she will be missed.

While I have full backups, and my second stringer, Ivan, has jumped into the game, I've lost two days of productivity for both writing and packing. So no writing, no editing, no blogging because I still have a hell of a lot to do before the moving truck arrives on Monday.

My sincere apologies to all of you waiting for the next chapter of Blood Sacrifice. I'll post it as soon as I can.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 9 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Blood Sacrifice - Chapter 8 (Bloodlines #5)

This post has been removed in accordance to distributors' contracts since it displays more of the book than the sample limit.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 7

Well, we are now at that magic twenty percent sample size (assuming my final word count comes out where I think it should. I'm going to continue to post chapters because it's keeping me on track, and from the blog hits, ya'll are enjoying it. The writing  and editing are just going slower than I'd like because we are packing to move. So the actual novel won't be released until some time after August 5th (i.e. Moving Day). But once the novel goes on sale, count on all chapters after this one disappearing from the blog due to contractual obligations with Amazon, Apple, etc.

P.S. Any feedback is appreciated!

***
Too many question tumbled through Alex’s mind as he drove back to Phil’s store. The top of the list—what the hell was the item Beatrice Madison tried to sell, and why was it worth killing for?

“We need to check your files.”

“My files?” Oncoming headlights flashed across her face. “Jane said she’d get them for you, didn’t she?”

Alex chuckled. “It’s not her fault she forgot. She was a little thrown off when she realized I was a vampire.”

Phillippa sighed. “She probably planned to make copies for you in the morning.”

Out cold, Kiki didn’t budge when he pulled into the parking lot and braked to a stop behind the shop. Phil reached for the dog, and Alex laid a hand over hers. Electricity sparked, not her powers but the old-fashioned attraction between a man and a woman. She licked her upper lip.

As much as he wanted to accept the invitation, he didn’t dare. “Let her sleep. I doubt if she has for the last couple of days.” Reluctantly, he slid his hand from hers at her acknowledgement.

They climbed out of the truck and gently shut their respective doors. He followed Phil to the back door and helped her push the steel frame they’d bent to secure the building out of the way.

She flipped on the backroom lights and headed for her office. He walked behind, doing his best not to watch the sway of her hips. It didn’t matter what she wore. Phil made anything look good.

He leaned against the doorway while she slid onto her leather desk chair and started rifling through her files. “Since you’ll be busy with the insurance company this morning, why don’t I take Kiki back to my place for the day?”

Phil glanced up with a wry smile on her face. “And how are you going to walk her?” He shrugged. “She can use newspapers on my patio.”

She laughed, a low melodious sound he remembered far too well. “Newspapers? Really, Mr. Computers-Are-The-Wave-Of-The-Future?”

He grinned back. “They come in handy. Like for when I need to baby-sit a Phoenician divine dog.”

Instead of laughing some more or shooting a quip, she frowned. Her finger flew over the folders in the drawer a second time. Then she rose and shuffled through an entire five-drawer cabinet.

Alex straightened. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not here.” Phil turned and started going through the plastic paperwork trays on her desk.

“Mrs. Madison’s file?”

“No! Your brains, cowboy!” She slammed down the files she held. Loose sheets flew into the air and fluttered to the carpet. “Beatrice’s file is gone.”

The overhead lights flickered.

“You need to calm down right now.”

If Phillippa were her cousin Medusa, he’d be stone right now from the look she gave him. But the lights steadied and brightened.

Tell her to take off her t-shirt, his second brain whispered.

Instead, Alex said, “But you have the main inventory that lists the items, right?”

“Yeah.” She swiveled around and hit the power switch on her computer. “I scanned in the paper work as well. And Duncan set up the backup program that dumps everything into an Augustine server.”

“You’re welcome,” he drawled.
She looked up at him. “What?”

“He made me set up your system because I let Tiffany drink too much soda pop one night when she was eight.”

Phil covered her mouth, but he could see the light dancing in her eyes. “That was twelve years ago.”

“Yeah, and my boss, being a stereotypical Scorpio, carries grudges for a lifetime. And since he’s a vampire…”

She gave up trying to hide her humor and laughed outright. “Considering I had to take a grumpy, sleep-deprived third grader to school the next day, you’re not getting any sympathy from me.”

As much as he wanted to stay with Phil, a familiar tightening of his skin told him it was time to go home. Dawn came too damn early in June. “You going to be okay here?”

That question earned him a reproving look. “I think I can manage.”

“Then I’ll go home and see what Tiffany’s come up with.” Except his feet didn’t want to take that first step out of Phil’s office.

She deliberately stared at her computer screen while she clicked on the necessary documents. “Alex, you’ve got forty-five minutes to beat the sun home. I really don’t want to explain to Caesar why he lost another enforcer.”

“Give me a call if something else happens.”

This time she turned to face him. “I will. Now, go.”

Alex pivoted on his boot heels and head out the back door. For only the second time in one hundred-twenty-five years, he regretted his Turn.

* * *
Phil made a couple of calls. The nymphs spread the message, and within an hour, all ten of them were at the store, shoveling debris and evaluating the damage to the merchandise. The only person not answering her phone was Jane. Both her home phone and her cell kept rolling over to voice mail.

Surprisingly, Sifuentes sent a deputy out with the official report and copies of the photos his team had taken. Both the insurance adjustor and her contractor arrived by nine a.m. Phil tried to stay out of the way as the two of them did their jobs. She gratefully accepted the large cup of coffee Melissa handed her.

“Should I try Jane again?” Worry lay in the nymph’s amber eyes.

Phil shook her head. “No, she was here late last night dealing with the police and this mess. She probably turned off her phones and forgot to set her alarm clock.” Except she couldn’t shake her own concern. One person had already died over a fake artifact.

Was the tumi a fake? Alex seemed sure there was more to the object than what the assayer reported.

“Humans,” Melissa murmured, disapproval in her tone. “They would be so much healthier if they simply followed Apollo’s chariot.”

The adjustor walked over to them, and the nymph darted away to distribute tea and juice to her compatriots. He rubbed the bald spot at the back of his head. “I’ve got good news and bad news, Ms. Mann.”

She gave him a rueful smile. “You’ll pay the claim, but you’re dropping my policy.”

He laid his clipboard on the solid mahogany counter, one of the few pieces in the store that was intact. “Your agent already spoke with you.”

She nodded.

“You’ve got to admit that two incidences of vandalism in less than six months is an issue. Especially when we’re dealing with some high dollar items.”

A sad laugh trilled in her throat. Maybe this was the Moirai’s hint for her to leave Los Angeles sooner rather than later. “I’m all too aware of the issue. I thought moving outside of the city proper would alleviate your company’s concerns.”

She scanned the room. In a corner, Melissa flirted with the contractor as she handed him a steaming cup. “And provide less of a target.”

The adjustor leaned against the counter. “These girls will be out of a job if you shut down your business, won’t they?”

“Yes.” The problem was more than the employment. It was giving the nymphs a sense of purpose in the twenty-first century, in a world that no longer believed in them, much less honored them. Like Duncan asking her to help raise Tiffany had given her a sense of purpose.

“Damn,” the adjustor muttered. “It’ll be next to impossible for them to find something in this economy. My son lost his job two years ago, and still can’t find anything above minimum wage. The bank foreclosed on the house just after my daughter-in-law had my grandson.” Determination filled the man’s face. “Let me talk to my regional director.” He held up a hand. “I can’t guarantee anything, Ms. Mann. If I get her to agree and there’s another claim…”

“I understand.” Phillippa stuck out her hand. “I’d appreciate whatever you can do.” She glanced over at the nymphs. “For their sakes.”

Once the contractor delivered his estimate and paperwork was signed, copied and traded between him, the adjustor and Phillippa, both men left. But not before the contractor promised to return at seven a.m. tomorrow with a team to install the new doors and windows.

All ten of the nymphs volunteered to come to the store at dawn to meet the contractor, though Melissa looked more peeved at the extra volunteers than excited. Phillippa distracted the potential nymph fight over the attention of mortal men by promising the girls they could decide on the new colors for the interior once they removed the last of the debris.

She handed the swatch book to Melissa. “Can you keep everyone on track? I’m going to run over to Jane’s to check on her.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Melissa saluted her. If it were anyone else, Phillippa would have smacked them for mocking her. From the nymph, the gesture was sincere.

The drive to Jane’s apartment drew Phil’s nerves taunt. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. This wasn’t like Jane. The girl was so damn efficient and punctual.

Phillippa parked her Mustang and jogged up the flight of stairs. She hammered on the door. No one answered. She scanned the area.

Jane didn’t live in the best of neighborhoods, but the people seemed to be good folks the couple of times Phillippa had visited here. A few children played in the pool under the watchful eye of two older women.

“Yo, gringa, whachoo want?” A middle-aged man approached along the open walkway. His mustache was thick and full, but carried the same salt-and-pepper as his hair. His light blue workshirt was embroidered with “P. Rodriguez, Manager.”

Phillippa switched to Spanish. “I’m Phillippa Mann, Jane Chevrette’s employer. She didn’t come to work today and isn’t answering her phone. I came to check on her.”

“Miss Jane?” Rodriguez shook his head. “Miss Jane hasn’t been around in two weeks.”

“What are you talking about?” It would be understandable if Jane had met somebody, but she hadn’t mentioned dating anyone.

“No one’s seen Miss Jane in a couple of weeks. In fact, the postman asked me yesterday if I had a forwarding address for her because her box was full.” He shrugged. “But she hasn’t turned in her notice and her rent’s paid through the month.”

The little worm of worry became a full-blown leviathan. Jane had been at the shop last night. She would have been the first one at the store this morning. “Would you please unlock her door for me?”

The manager gave her a measured look. “Maybe we should call the police.”

Phillippa smiled. “If she’s in there and okay, then you can blame everything on me. But if she’s sick…”

Rodriguez pulled the key ring from his belt. “You’re right. Miss Jane doesn’t cause any trouble.” He slid what looked like a master key into the lock and twisted.

The stench of rotten meat hit Phillippa as soon as Rodriguez popped open the door. She entered, the manager right behind her. “Jane?”

“Mother in heaven, what is that smell?” Rodriguez muttered.

Silence. Nothing was out of place in the tiny living room, but the odor. Phillippa arrowed for the kitchenette, the source of the Gaea-awful smell, and yanked open the refrigerator door.

Rodriguez whirled away at the sight that greeted them and heaved the contents of his stomach across the living room carpet.

“Oh, Jane,” Phillippa whispered. She closed the door, pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and punched a number she really shouldn’t have memorized.

Alex answered on the first ring. “What’s up, Phil?”

She swallowed the bile at the back of her throat. “I need a daytime enforcer at Jane’s apartment.” She could hear the scratch of a pencil on paper as she gave him the address. “And I need you to contact Sifuentes.”

“Sweet, Jesus,” he muttered. “Is Jane…?”

Phillippa’s fingers squeezed the case of her smart phone until the plastic squealed. “Somebody cut her up and shoved the parts into her refrigerator at least a week ago. Whoever was at my store last night was not Jane Chevrette.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines Series #5) - Chapter 6

A profound apology to my readers! I've been so busy, trying to get this story finished that I forgot to post on Monday!

Phillippa rose from her chair and stepped over Kiki to look at the scanned form on Alex’s computer screen. Impossible. The paper Beatrice had given her couldn’t possibly be…

The computer screen flickered. One of the bulbs in the lamp hanging over the table popped.

“Phil, you blow up my computers and the wiring in the house, I swear I will shoot you through the heart with my crossbow.” Tiffany glared at her.

“Sorry, sweetie,” she murmured. She yanked the threads of her anger back under control before she read the form again. “Why would Beatrice counterfeit the customs paperwork for a fake? That makes absolutely no sense.”

Footsteps shuffled in the hallway. Phillippa looked up from the computer to find Tiffany’s husband, his hair ruffled and glasses askew.

“Honey, it’s two-thirty in the morning. Why is my alarm clock going off?” Max blinked rapidly under the bright kitchen lighting.

Tiffany winced. “Sorry about that.” She shot an evil look at Phillippa. “It won’t happen again. Why don’t you go back to bed?”

Max’s groggy brain finally seemed to register Phillippa and Alex’s presence. “What’s going on?” Alarm flashed across his face. “Sam hasn’t done something stupid again, has she?”

Phillippa crossed over to Max and laid a hand on his shoulder. “This has nothing to do with your sister. Tiffany’s helping us with some research.”

“Why?” Suspicion glinted behind the wire-rim glasses. He turned to Tiffany. “You’re supposed to be on maternity leave.” His head swiveled to face Alex. “She’s supposed to be on maternity leave.” Max twisted to face Phillippa. “Tiffany is supposed to be on maternity leave.”

“She is.” Phillippa squeezed his shoulder. “We won’t let anything happen to her and the baby.”

Max’s blue eyes narrowed. “You mean like at our wedding?”

“Which one?” Alex muttered. “Ouch!” He glared at Tiffany. “My feet are bare.”

Tiffany shook another pencil in his direction. “Don’t make me use this on you.”

Phillippa closed her eyes. Gaea help her, those two were worse than her sisters. She opened her eyes and met Max’s concerned look. “I swear all she is doing helping us with background research on a murder case.”

“Murder?” Max was decidedly awake now. “A supernatural?” Slippers slapped the linoleum as he crossed the kitchen and pulled the fourth chair closer to his wife’s.

“No,” Alex said. “A Normal, but it’s related to a break-in tonight at Phil’s shop.”

In the minute it took Tiffany to fill Max in on the situation, Phil returned to her former position at Alex’s shoulder.

Alex folded his arms over his chest. Sandalwood and his own distinctive evergreen scent teased her. He looked up at her, blue eyes glowing slightly. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one irritated by tonight’s puzzles.

“I’m beginning to think this tumi is not a fake. Did you pick up anything from it while it was in your store?”

She shook her head, damp hair heavy against her neck. “No.”

“No unusual energy? No magick?”

“No,” she repeated. “I…” She rifled her memory of the day she and Jane went to Beatrice’s house to review the items the widow wanted to sell. “Actually, I never touched it. I looked at it, but Jane handled it. In fact, Jane handled everything. Packing the merchandise. Logging it in. Unpacking.”

Phillippa leaned on Alex’s chair to read the customs declaration one more time. Her motion only drove his scent further into her brain, prompting scenarios of everything she’d planned to do to him when he came back to San Antonio all those decades ago.

Except he never returned.

“And you didn’t supervise?” he prompted.

She straightened abruptly. “This was Jane’s first estate sale. I wanted her to have the experience if she’s going to take over for me. The only thing I did was tell her to send the tumi to the assayer when she said she thought the metal was titanium.”

“But you never touched it?” Alex prompted.

Phillippa shook her head again.

Alex wiped a palm over his face. “If we didn’t have to meet Jorge and Siobhan soon, I’d say let’s question Jane a little more.”

Phillippa glared at him. “Are you accusing one of my employers of theft?”

“No, Phil, I’m not.” His voice sounded weary. “But she might have noticed something at the Madisons’ house or the assayer’s that was out of the normal. Maybe a customer at your store who acted or said something about the tumi that might give us a clue of what the hell is going on. We’ve got someone willing to kill for what’s supposed to be a fake Incan artifact.”

“You’re right.”

He raised an eyebrow, but otherwise let her acknowledgment pass. No pleased look. No teasing. Nothing emotional whatsoever. Something tugged at her that had nothing to do with her oath. Was he really over her?

She should be gratified that his infatuation was done. So why did it feel like someone had hit her in the gut?

Alex hit a few keystrokes, and a printer whirred to life in another room. “Get some sleep, Tiffany.”

“What about the rest of the research?” she countered.

“Work on it during the day, and e-mail it to me.”

Max looked from Tiffany to Alex and back. “You’re supposed to be on maternity leave.”

She fixed her husband with a nasty look. “Shut up, or this will be the only child you ever conceive.”

Kiki started barking from the tension in the kitchen.

Phillippa bit her tongue to keep from smiling. “She’s not going to be on street duty, Max.”

Tiffany glared at Phillippa. “That’s not your decision.”

“No, but if your uncle Duncan asks me, I will enforce his will. Understand me, little girl?”

A pout appeared on Tiffany’s elfin features, and she crossed her arms over her belly. “I thought Amazons didn’t do what men told them.”

For the first time in Tiffany’s short life, anger rose from deep in Phillippa. “You’re being a selfish brat. Duncan’s order has nothing to do with your competency. That baby is dependent on you. Honor the life you created.”

Tiffany’s jaw dropped. Crimson spread across her pale face. “Yes, ma’am.”

The men exchanged surprised looks at the girl’s capitulation, but thankfully, they kept their mouths shut.

“Jorge’s about to call. I’ll go get my shoes.” Phillippa pivoted and headed for the front porch.

Alex’s phone beeped behind her. She smiled to herself as Max marveled over her psychic abilities and Alex confirmed to Jorge they were on their way back to the Madison’s house.

* * *

Alex tried to keep his eyes on the road. Honestly, he did, but Phil’s breasts subtly swayed with the motion of the truck. Irritation jangled his nerves.

Irritation that Kiki was curled up on Phil’s lap instead of him. Irritation that the two of them were tagging along on this investigation. Irritation with his inability to control himself.

“You enjoy messing with people, don’t you?”

From the corner of his eye, he could see her turn toward him. Her rich chestnut hair had dried into a glorious mass of curls that framed her oval face. Over one hundred and twenty years later, he remembered how it looked spread out over her pillow.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth.

“That thing with pretending to predict when a phone’s going to ring.” He shouldn’t be taking his pissy mood out on her. It wasn’t fair.

Like she hasn’t been taking hers out on you for the last century? a little voice said in the back of his mind.

“Is that what crawled up your ass tonight? That I know when a phone’s going to ring?”

“Answer my question.” He glanced at her. An odd look crossed her face. The oath. She was actually trying to fight the oath.

Finally, she muttered, “Yes.” She crossed her arms over those heavenly breasts. “But I didn’t make it to my fifty-third-hundredth birthday by not using every talent I have to my advantage.”

The cab remained silent for another mile before she said softly, “Aren’t even going to ask how I know?”

Alex spared another glance at Phil. Her lips were parted, anticipation on her beautiful face. Her expression only spiked his irritation. “I already know how.”

“Y-you—”

The moist sound of her tongue on her lips sent signals to his groin he should damn well be ignoring.

“How?” she whispered.

“Since you’ve got your granddaddy Zeus’s talent for throwing lightning bolts, I figured you can pick up other electrical signals as well. Like between a cell tower and a phone. I’ve just been trying to figure out the why-I-pretend-I’m-precognitive part. What does it have to do with survival?”

“Seriously? You don’t read any of the Greek classics?” Sarcasm dripped from her voice.

“Yes, I have. What’s that got to do—”

“Everything!”

The truck’s running lights brightened, then dimmed.

Phil stared out the window. Her chest heaved, which certainly did not help his libido. “Everything,” she whispered. “All of my sisters, every single one, died because some dickwad had to prove himself.”

With no siblings, Alex could hardly put himself in Phil’s position and claimed he understood. But something else made sense with her confession. “How’d you manage to erase yourself from history?”

Her head whipped back to face him. “What?”

“Look, I’m not disputing your view that guys like Heracles, Theseus and Achilles were assholes. Let’s face it—Homer and the other poets and historians don’t exactly paint these guys as Boy Scouts and they were on the heroes’ side. But you’re never mentioned in any legends or stories like your sisters. How’d you manage to disappear?” A quick look at Phil revealed her shocked expression.

“How-how did you know?” she choked out.

“Like I said, I read the classics.” He couldn’t help a smile. “Otrera, the daughter of Eurus the East Wind and the first queen of the Amazons, had a long-term relationship with Ares, the god of war. They had several children, all girls. Your sisters. But there’s no mention of a Phillippa as one of the daughters. So how’d you manage to disappear from all the stories?”

“You wouldn’t understand.” She stared out the passenger window again.

“Why wouldn’t I?” His grip tightened on the steering wheel. “Because I’m just a tiny name on a wall in Austin. Because there isn’t statues and coins and shit thousands of years after I supposedly died, like there is for Caesar or your sisters.”

Kiki crawled from Phil’s lap to rest her head on his thigh. He reached down with one hand and scratched behind her ears.

Phil turned to face him. “Name on a wall?”

He should’ve dropped the subject when she gave him the chance. Old bitterness welled. Not over his Turning. God knew that Duncan had saved his life in more ways than one.

It didn’t make the survivor’s guilt any less difficult to handle at times.

He kept his eyes on the traffic. “There’s a wall at the Texas Rangers Museum in Austin. It lists all the men who died in the line of duty.”

“Why would you even go?”

He could feel her watching him, and he shrugged. “Part of it was morbid curiosity.”

“And the other part?” Her voice was gentle as they turned down the Madisons’ street.

He didn’t want to answer, but if anyone would understand, it would be Phil. “I couldn’t remember the names of everyone in my old battalion anymore.”

* * *
Phillippa cracked the window for Kiki before she climbed from the truck cab. This time she made sure the door was securely shut.

With all the bickering between her and Alex, she’d forgotten how young he really was. What would he do when he woke up one night centuries from now and had trouble remembering his own name, much less his family.

The changing of identities, creating false histories, had become so ingrained she barely remembered her mother and sisters. Images of Hippolyta in the comic books seemed far more real than the eldest sister she’d loved and admired.

And then there was the matter of Father…

Shoving the thought aside, Phil stalked after Alex.

Jorge Sifuentes waited for them on the front step, clothing in his hands. The front door stood open, and the scent of wolf permeated the yard.

The detective nodded. “Siobhan decided to get started.”

Phil smirked. “Just like her father.”

Alex looked at her. “Behave.”

She opened her mouth for a snide remark, but the compulsion yanked on her jaw. Instead, she said, “Is it okay if we do another search through the house?”

Sifuentes shot her an odd look before he said, “Go ahead.”

Old blood and death filled her head when the three of them stepped inside the foyer.

“By the way,” Alex said. “We caught the demon inside Phil’s store a few hours ago.”

“And?” Sifuentes propped his hands on his hips, curiosity on his face.

A bitter laugh erupted from her throat. “It committed suicide rather than talk to us.”

The detective’s expression turned incredulous. “How the hell does a demon commit suicide?”

Alex grinned. “Apparently by touching a Maltese dog. Another interesting tidbit is that Dennis Madison brought the tumi into the U.S. two months ago. Three days before he died.”

Sifuentes’s head swiveled to stare at her. “You told me it was a fake.”

Phil folded her arms over her chest. Alex quickly found interest in a painting that decorated the stairwell. Maybe he wasn’t as over her as he pretended.

“Beatrice gave me fake a customs declaration, so I’m guessing the bill of sale is also a forgery. The demon was rummaging through the merchandise, probably looking for the tumi. I want to go through her paperwork.”

Jorge gestured toward the stairs. “Have at it.”

She jogged up the steps, Alex on her heels. It took them minutes to sort through the chaos of what had been Dennis and Beatrice Madison’s office.

“Notice anything strange?” she asked as they surveyed the neat piles.

“Yeah.” Alex wiped a hand over his face. “Anything regarding the tumi is missing.”

Phillippa propped her fists on her hips. “Well, a demon sure as Hades wouldn’t have bothered taking paperwork.”

A whisper of movement came from the hallway. Siobhan Lannigan Sifuentes appeared in the doorway. “My guess is it was the Normals.”

The Los Angeles pack’s beta was naked. A tiny thrill spiked in Phillippa that Alex didn’t seem remotely interested in the attractive redhead. Of course, his refusal to peruse her nude body might have more to do with the fact that she’d gut him in an instant if he showed the were any disrespect.

Phillippa tapped her finger on her cheek. “Could you tell who killed Beatrice?”

“My money’s on the Normals. Steel was used. Also, no ozone. The whole purpose of a sacrifice is to raise power.” Siobhan shrugged. “I’d double-check with someone from Silver Bear though if I were you. Demons aren’t my forté.”

Wonderful. The last thing she wanted was to involve the Los Angeles witch coven.

Sifuentes appeared behind his wife. “Thanks for dumping the problem back in my lap, honey.”

Siobhan grunted.

Phillippa looked at Alex. “If Normals killed Beatrice, then why cut out the heart? And why break into my shop?”

Alex stared back. His eyes brightened. Not a full-blown vamp-out, but enough to show he was disturbed. “The bigger question is why a demon is trying to recover a Incan artifact.”

“You don’t think it’s a fake?”

“Not anymore, darling.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 5

Phillippa tucked Alex’s spare gun in her jeans before she snatched up Kiki. Thick gray ash covered her shorn coat. The dog sneezed twice and squirmed as Phillippa checked every inch of the Maltese. Not so much as a scratch.

“Is she okay?” Alex asked. He brushed ash off his shoulders and jeans.

Phillippa nodded. She set down Kiki, who shook her little body with fervor, Another cloud rose into the air and set both Phillippa and Alex coughing and sneezing.

“What the hell was that thing?” Alex asked once he wiped the pink-tinged tears from his eyes.

“A demon,” she answered. “The same demon that was in Beatrice’s house.” A shudder rippled through Phillippa. “The one that killed her.”

“Wait a minute.” Alex laid a hand on her shoulder. “Think about this. It was in your store, looking for something. Probably your missing tumi.”
Red-hot anger settled in her bones, and she shrug off his touch. “After it tortured and murdered Beatrice to find out where it was.”

“Then why didn’t Kiki destroy it while it was at Madison’s house? The dog’s been running loose inside for the last few of days, remember?” Alex’s fingers ruffled through his thick, blond hair to shake out the ash.

She raked her fingers through his long hair as he slowly entered…

Phillippa crossed her arms and pinched the tender underskin to interrupt the memory. It irked her that she still thought about their night together a century after the fact. It irked her even more to admit he may be right about the demon. She looked down at Kiki, who sat primly next to her.

Alex cocked his head. “Speaking of which, exactly how does a Maltese blow up a demon?”

“They’re divine,” Phillippa said.

“Come again?” Alex shot her a look that clearly said she was crazy.

She smirked. “That’s the problem with men. Short–term memories.”

Alex sighed. “Phillippa, tell me what you know about Maltese dogs.”

The compulsion tugged along her nerves. What in Hades’s name had possessed her to swear an oath of obedience to Alexander Stanton? Much less on the River Styx?

Because you wanted revenge to Beatrice’s death, you stupid bitch.

“When the Phoenician goddess Astarte married the Egyptian god Set, the sky god Haddad created the original pair of Maltese from two small white clouds. They were her companions while she was away from the Phoenician pantheon.”

Alex looked at the tiny canine. “Might be worth getting one myself. She came in handy in a fight.”

The image of Stanton with a fluff-mop of a dog was too much. Phillippa roared hysterically. Alex glared at her while she leaned against the dumpster to catch her breath.

“If you’re done laughing at my expense—” His phone beeped.

With a final dirty look, he pulled out his phone and thumbed the ‘Answer’ icon. “What have you got for me, Tiffany?”

He was silent for a second, then he said, “She’s right here. Let me put you on speaker.”

“Like I told Alex, I pulled Beatrice Madison’s home phone records first.” Tiffany’s voice had a tinny quality coming through the phone. “The two-day thing stuck in my head. There’s a call from her house to Seven Wonders at one-twenty-seven p.m. on Saturday. It lasted for five minutes and thirty-three seconds.”

Phillippa frowned. “I wasn’t here.”

“Yeah, I kno-o-ow. You were at lunch with me and Bebe.” Tiffany’s ‘duh’ wasn’t implied. It was forcefully clubbed over Phillippa’s head. “What did the staff say when you got back?”

Concern wiggled up her spine. Beatrice’s call could have been something simple. Checking if any sales of her consignment had been made. Or finding something else she wanted to sell.

Except with everything between the break-in and the demon, Phillippa wasn’t about to assume anything anymore. “No one said anything to me. Let me check into it.”

“In the meantime, can we use your shower?” Alex asked.

“Sure,” Tiffany said. “I should have more for you by the time you get here.”

When he ended the call, Phillippa asked, “Why Tiffany’s?”

“Tarzana is closer to the Madison house than either of our places.” He scratched his scalp. “And frankly, that demon dust is making me itch.”

* * *
Despite Tiffany and Max’s sprawling three-bedroom ranch, Alex was very aware when Phillippa stepped out of the bathroom on the opposite side of the house. The scent of sea and grass and wind filled the air.

Tiffany looked up from her notebook computer and rolled her eyes. “You really need to get laid.”

“Seriously?” Irritation made him itch almost as much as the demon ash had. He leaned back in his chair. “This coming from the knocked-up nineteen-year-old?”

She bounced a yellow number two pencil off his head. “I’m twenty.”

“You weren’t when you got pregnant.”

She snorted. “It’s not my fault the condom broke. Besides, you don’t have to worry about getting someone pregnant.”

No, just infecting them with a deadly disease. He tried to ignore Tiffany and typed another search criteria into her old laptop. He would have preferred his state-of-the-art desktop, but beggars, blah, blah, blah…

“What about Rhoda, the Karnak casino manager?”

Nope, the kid definitely wasn’t going to drop the subject. And it wasn’t like Rhoda hadn’t made her interest known over the last fifty years. The problem quite simply was the lady vamp wasn’t Phil.

He blew out an exasperated breath. “Just because you got hitched, does not mean everyone else around you has to get married or otherwise coupled.”

“That’s not what I mean. I’m just tired of you mooning over Phil. And I’ve only had to deal with it for the last twenty years. I can only imagine what the rest of the coven thinks.”

“I am not mooning,” he ground out between clenched teeth.

“Ri-i-ight.” She stood and stretched. On her petite frame, her belly already bulged even though she was barely half-way through her term.

An image of Phil, heavy with his child, rose in his mind. He brutally shoved it away. As a demi-goddess, she may be immune to the V-virus, but the disease still left him sterile.

“Alex?”

He shook his head to clear his mind. “What?”

A smirk twisted Tiffany’s lips, one that said she knew exactly where his thoughts were without any telepathy. “I said, do want some more blood or coffee?”

“Coffee, please.” He pushed the super-size mug, with the word “Bazinga!” stenciled in bright primary colors, across the table.

A whine came from the floor, and a dainty paw brushed his bare big toe.

Alex reached down and picked up Kiki. The dog was slightly damp from her own bath. She licked his nose and whined again.

“Tiffany, you got any meat?”

She waddled to the table and set down his coffee. “I’ve got some leftover roast beef.”

“Can we have a few small chunks?” he asked. Kiki panted and gave Tiffany a doggie smile for good measure.

She laughed. “I don’t need both of you making puppy dog eyes at me. She can have some.”

Kiki jumped from his lap and raced for the refrigerator.

Tiffany crossed the kitchen at a more sedate pace and pulled out a large baking dish. She brought it back to the table along with a knife. Once she settled back in her chair, she sliced off teeny bits of roast. Somehow she managed to feed the Maltese with one hand and type with the other.

A few minutes later, she said, “Bingo.”

Alex looked up from his own search through the Customs database. “Whatcha got?”

Tiffany’s eyes darted back and forth as she read her screen. “Dennis Madison’s SUV blew a tire on the freeway. He lost control of the vehicle, slammed into the concrete barrier and flipped. He died at the scene. Witnesses reported that he and another vehicle, a black Suburban, seemed to be racing him, but CHP never found the other driver. Apparently, the license plate was obscured by dirt.”

“What time?”

“The accident was reported to 9-1-1 at three-oh-two a.m.”

It could have been an accident. Or maybe was someone chasing Dennis Madison? If so, why?

Tiffany shook her head. “Reconstruction found a puncture in the tire that blew. No definitive cause though.”

Alex’s finger tapped a restless rhythm on the tabletop. “Could have been an accident. Picked up a nail.”

“Or someone in the other vehicle could have tossed a spike.”

“Or shot out the tire,” he added.

Alex and Tiffany stared at each other over the screens of their respective computers.

“I don’t believe on coincidences,” he said.

“Highly overrated,” she added.

Phil sauntered into the kitchen. While most of the Augustine enforcers kept extra clothing at each other’s residences for emergencies, she had to borrow a t-shirt and a pair of knit athletic shorts from Tiffany’s husband Max.

Her perfectly shaped breasts stretched the cotton shirt and made it definitely clear that she wasn’t wearing a bra. The curves of her hips pulled the seams of shorts taut.

Alex quickly sat straight. His cock showed its enthusiasm for Phil’s display a little too much. Would she take off her clothes if he ordered her to? Did her oath stretch that far?

Stanton, you are one sick bastard. Maybe he needed another shower. A very cold one. He took a gulp of coffee instead.

Phil sat on the chair between them and reached for the knife. “I spoke with everyone that worked in the store on Saturday. No one talked to Beatrice on the phone, and she didn’t come into the store while I was at lunch.”

Alex watched her hand a pebble-sized morsel of beef to Kiki. “How can you be sure they were telling you the truth?”

Phil ignored his gaze while she sliced off a larger hunk of meat. “Because everyone who works there is a nymph except Jane. And even a Normal isn’t stupid enough to lie to me when she knows what I am.” She popped the beef into her mouth.

“Why did you tell her?”

She chewed on the beef for a full minute before she swallowed. “Because I’m looking for someone to take over the business.”

“Why?” he pressed.

Another long pause as she fed Kiki and sliced herself more meat. “Because this is the longest I’ve ever stayed in one place. I’m getting restless.”

Tiffany stared at Phil, her dark eyes wide with pain. “You stayed because of me, didn’t you?”

Wetness shimmered in Phil’s blue-green eyes, and she lowered them. “I’m sorry, sweetie. This isn’t how I meant to tell you. I’m staying until the baby is born.” She laid a hand over Tiffany’s. “And I’ll keep in touch.”

A rock settled in the pit of Alex’s stomach. Phil was leaving. Anything he said right now would only drive her faster and further away from Los Angeles.

He stared at the computer screen. It took a minute for him to realize he was looking at the information he’d been searching for the last hour.

“Phil, when did Mrs. Madison say her husband bought the fake tumi into the country?”

She handed another bite to Kiki. “The sale paperwork she gave me was dated three years ago. Why?”

“Because according to this customs declaration, Dennis Madison brought a ceramic and titanium replica into the United States three days before he died.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 4

When Alex pulled into the parking lot for Phil’s store, the front windows were boarded up and Jane’s little Paseo was gone. He popped open the driver’s door as Phil climbed out. “Why don’t I follow you back to your condo? We can take my truck back to Madison’s house—”

Crash!

He whirled toward the store and drew his gun at the same time. His mind extended, identifying everything in the surrounding area. Phil, Kiki, drivers in the street, a Normal next-door working late in his office.

There was something inside Phil’s store he didn’t recognize. Something that didn’t feel remotely human-related or even fae.

Alex glanced at Phil. She set Kiki on the seat with a whispered, “Stay.” For the second time that night, she reached beneath the passenger chair for his spare gun. With the front of the store boarded, there was only one way in or out of the building.

Another bang came from inside. Alex motioned for her to follow him. He eased around the corner of the stucco exterior.

He tried to quell his surprise that she obeyed. The idea of her swearing on the Styx had been grabbing at straws on his part. Of course, she could simply consider him cannon fodder.

The back door stood open, the steel frame gouged in order to pry the two deadbolts free. No light were on inside. More clattering confirmed that whatever was inside the store was near the smashed front doors.

Alex leaned toward Phil. Communication would be so much easier with telepathy, but if she was honoring her promise, the least he could do was respect her space. “Where’s the switch for showroom?”

“On the inside wall to the right at the entrance.”

He crept through the storage and office area. Whoever was in the shop muttered to himself. An odd sing-song language like nothing Alex had heard before.

Clang!

He motioned to Phil, and with the palm of her hand, she flipped the row of switches. Light flooded the room.

Jane and the contractor had obviously cleaned up as best as they could. Merchandise had been neatly stacked on one side of the room. Debris had been swept to the other side.

A creature the size of a large chimpanzee or a small gorilla, Alex couldn’t decide, sat near the piled merchandise. It resembled a taxidermy project of a capuchin monkey, with orange LED lights instead of glass eyeballs, that had been partially devoured by a swarm of moths. And its scent made the zombies that had attacked during Tiffany’s wedding smell like the finest French perfume.

What was equally obvious was that it had been rummaging through the antique pieces and tossing them aside.

“Demon!” At Phil’s shout, she fired. One of the LED eyes disintegrated into a mass of orange goo.

The thing shrieked. It jumped straight into the air, claws scrabbling for purchase on the acoustic tile ceiling.

The same talons that had cut through the steel back door shredded the tiles as well as the aluminum framework. Foam and fiber floating through the air. Metal ricocheted off the walls before hitting the floor in rapid-fire pings. For a split second, the demon imitated a hellish version of Wile E. Coyote running in mid-air. Gravity had other ideas, and the creature crashed to the floor.

For something that looked like a giant dead monkey, it was fast. It leapt, and Alex ducked and rolled to avoid its claws. No doubt it could take off his head with one swipe.

It headed straight for Phil and knocked the semi-automatic from her grip. Alex raised his own gun and fired.

The thing shrieked again when part of its head disintegrated. It shoved Phil into the wall before it turned and glared at Alex with its one good eye. Before he could squeeze the trigger again, it dived through the doorway to the back room.

Alex jumped to his feet and ran after it, Phil hot on his heels.

A series of sharp high-pitched yips preceded another shriek from the creature. Alex raced out the back door to find the thing perched on top of the dumpster. It cringed while Kiki danced around the base, barking for all she was worth.

What the hell? The creature tore through a vampire and a demi-goddess like they were nothing, and it was frightened of a shaved Maltese?

From the ashy scent penetrating the thing’s body odor, there was no doubt. It was scared shitless of Kiki. More of its strange, chittering language issued from its mouth.

It looked at Alex and Phil approaching and back down at the tiny white dog. Resignation appeared on its mottled face. It reached for Kiki.

No!” Phil’s scream was telepathic as well as auditory.

Horror seized Alex’s heart. He brought his gun up and squeezed the trigger the same moment the demon touched the hyper canine.

The monkey demon exploded into a cloud of ash before the silver bullet hit it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 3

[Note: Despite my best efforts, I've only been managing to post chapters every other week. It seems to be working so I'm going to stick to that schedule until I get this f***ing book done.]

Alex’s stomach lurched. Most of the members were supposed to be locked up in the state psychiatric facility. The handful who were declared sane enough to stand trial had been sentenced last month and had just been transported to the state pen.

Phil looked at him “The Sunshine Believers? Aren’t they—”

Phil! Shut up!

The witch deputy wince in pain at his psychic shout. Obviously, it got through Phil’s shields from the ugly look she shot Alex.

He could see in her eyes when she realized what she almost said in front of the Normal member of the sheriff’s department.

“—disbanded?” she finished.

Even Jorge had a pissed look on his sharp face. “You two are done here. Why don’t I walk you to your truck?”

Alex shoved the dog into Phil’s arms and latched onto her elbow. For a second, the look on her face said she’d deck him. Instead, she jerked free from his grasp and marched for the gate.

The sway of her hips sent a jolt straight to his groin. Dammit, what the hell was wrong with him? A woman had been brutally murdered, and his dick wanted to do all the thinking.

He stalked after her, Sifuentes puffing behind him as he tried to keep up with the supernaturals.

Phil was already in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead when Alex reached his truck.

“Stanton, wait!”

He paused, his hand on the door handle.

Jorge wheezed for a couple of seconds before he said, “We need to work together on this.”

“And why is that?” Alex snapped. He closed his eyes. His own bad mood wasn’t Jorge’s fault. “Sorry, amigo.”

De nada.” Sifuentes glanced at the house, then back at Alex. “It’s gonna take both sides to figure out what happened to the vic. There’s a good chance that whoever murdered Madison was the same person or persons who trashed Mann’s place.”

Alex could see his own suspicions mirrored in Sifuentes’s eyes. Phil or Jane or any of the other employees could be lying on the debris of the antiques store, her chest sliced open and her heart missing. “What are you proposing?”

“My people can deal with the Sunshine Believers. But I need your help with the demon equation. They could have been the ones who summoned Mann’s unknown player.”

Alex couldn’t help smiling. He’d never known Sifuentes to ask for any kind of supernatural assistance before now. And if the detective needed it, he would go to his father-in-law first. “Then we share all information. No holding back. Otherwise, someone else may die.”

Sifuentes dipped his head. “Agreed.”

Alex yanked the truck door open. “Did you recognize the scent of the demon?” For a long moment, he didn’t think Phil would answer him. She sure as hell wouldn’t look at him.

Finally, she sighed. “No. All I can tell you is what it wasn’t. It’s not European, North African, Middle Eastern or North American.”

“That only leaves the rest of the world.” He couldn’t stop the sarcasm that leached into his voice.

Her eyes met his. “And all the other dimensions.”

“Other…dimensions?” Sifuentes’s voice rose an octave.

Alex bit his tongue to keep from laughing out loud. Leave it to Phil to play her god card. Good to know she didn’t consider him her only verbal punching bag if she was messing with Sifuentes. Alex returned his attention to the detective. “I’ll eliminate the local demon species before I start checking outside of Earth.” He inclined his head toward the house. “The deputy who’s a witch…”

Sifuentes gave a rueful chuckle. “Goldblum’s got potential. He’s excellent at pulling answers out of ghosts at crime scenes, which is why I recruited him for homicide, but he’s a baby by witch standards.”

“I’ll call Ziva and see if she has a demonology expert.” Alex eyed Sifuentes. “I don’t suppose you could put in a word with the in-laws…”

“Do you have a problem with my wife?”

This time Alex let his laughter loose. “Not one damn bit. She’s got the best nose in the pack.”

Sifuentes rubbed his jaw. “I’ll have her meet you here once the crime scene unit’s done.”

“See you in a few hours.” Alex climbed into the truck and started it. Once he was out of the driveway, Sifuentes waved the arriving CSU van into the spot.

Phil still wasn’t talking, which Alex had to admit to himself was just fine with him. Concentrating on his job kept him from thinking about how her body had felt under his. How much he wanted to feel her again after all these decades.

He punched Tiffany Stephen’s number into the truck’s built-in phone.

“What the fuck do you want, Alex?” So much for pregnancy mellowing her attitude.

“I need some research.”

“I can’t. I’m on goddamn maternity leave until December 31st. Remember?”

Figured that she’d still be pouting about Duncan’s orders. The girl was damn lucky she hadn’t lost her baby after zombies pummeled her during her aborted wedding two and a half months ago.

He sucked in a deep breath and dropped his tone. “And I’m acting Chief Enforcer while he and Caesar are out of town. Do you want to work on a murder investigation or not?”

Silence crackled through the speaker for a moment before she said, “Go.”

“The victim is Beatrice Madison. A Normal whose heart was cut out of her chest. We can place a demon and possibly the Sunshine Believers at the scene around the time of death.”

Tiffany’s sharp intake of breath whistled through the phone. “Those bastards are all locked away after Jessie’s kidnapping last winter.”

Alex couldn’t help smiling. Only Tiffany would be more concerned about a Normal cult than a demon. “Double-check for me. And I need everything you can find on Madison. Focus on phone calls, incoming and outgoing, over the past four days. Also, she had a boarding pass for a flight to Peru. Find out what flight and when she bought the ticket.”

“Anything else?”

He glanced at Phil. “What’s her husband’s name?”

“Dennis Madison.” She focused on stroking the dog, which had gone to sleep in her lap.

“Hey, Phil!”

“Hello, sweetie.” Phil’s voice noticeably softened toward her former ward.

Alex prayed Tiffany wouldn’t say anything about Phil being in his truck. Some angel must have heard his silent prayer because Tiffany said, “Is he a suspect?”

“No.” Phil cleared her throat. “He died in an automobile accident two months ago.”

“Did you get that, Tiffany?” Alex said.

“Yeah. You’ll want his background info and the accident report. Anything else, Alex?”

“One more thing. He brought items into the U.S. from Peru for several years before his death. See if you can get a listing from the Customs database.”

“How soon do you need this?”

The waste over such a senseless, obscene death hit him in the gut. “We needed it two days ago, kid.”

* * *
Phillippa winced. Alex’s words felt like a slap across her face. If he hadn’t insisted on visiting Beatrice, Gaea only knew when her body would have been discovered. And devoted little Kiki would have starved to death before she would’ve left her former mistress.

The tiny body in her lap shook and whined. Phillippa stroked the dog’s fine fur, and she calmed, still asleep.

Phillippa wished she could find comfort in a simple touch. What she really craved was a target and a weapon. Electricity rippled along her skin, making the hairs on her arms stand straight up.

If she didn’t get her agitation under control, she’d fry the truck’s electrical system. And she’d be damn to Tartarus before she’d give Alex the satisfaction of watching her lose it again tonight. “What should we do while we wait for the CSU to finish and Tiffany to pull the Madison’s information?”

“‘We?’” Alex glanced at her before returning his attention to the road. “There’s no ‘we,’ Phil. I’m taking you back to your shop so you can get your car.”

Like Hades. “No. I’m your shadow until we find Beatrice’s killers.”

He glanced at her. “And as you’ve repeatedly said, you won’t get mixed up in other supernaturals’ internal matters.”

“And as you’ve repeatedly said, Augustine coven is short-handed these days between Selene’s betrayal and Tiffany’s wedding.”

Wood smoke overlayed Alex’s normal sandalwood scent. Phillippa suppressed a smile. Good to know she was getting under his skin too. Not that she would have thrown Selene’s bullshit in Caesar or Duncan’s face.

“Besides, these bastards hit my place, too,” she added. “And Beatrice is, was, my client, not the coven’s or the pack’s.”

A wry smile spread across Alex’s face. “You really cannot handle the fact that I was right about checking out the Madison house tonight, can you?”

“Men are never right.” She stared out the window.

Of course, Alex couldn’t drop the subject. “Really? I’ve noticed you don’t get this snippy with Caesar or Duncan.”

“They are…reasonable.”

“In other words, you haven’t screwed either of them.”

There it was. The thing that always lay between them. All because she made the mistake of falling for a Texas Ranger in San Antonio over one hundred-twenty years ago. A Normal she thought was dead.

Ugly truths danced to close to the surface of her emotions. Except this time, it wasn’t anger that consumed her, but immense sorrow. “Beatrice died because of something none of us understand yet. Can you please leave yours and everyone else’s penises out of the equation? Even I understand how short-staffed you are when it comes to daytime personnel if Sam Ridgeway is your only choice to accompany Anne to Ohio.”

Alex’s attention flicked to her, then back to the road. “How did you know—?” Understanding washed over his features. “Tiffany bitched.”

“Don’t worry. She only spoke with me.” Phillip smiled. “She’s not happy about the forced maternity leave.”

He sighed. “I can’t blame her. But you know how Duncan gets any time one of his nieces gets pregnant.”

She laughed. “Yes, I do. And I’ve seen a few more centuries of his macho act than you.”

Alex grinned for a moment, then abruptly sobered. “If I accept your offer of help on this case, that means you’ll have to follow my…instructions.”

He’d been about to say, “Orders.” She’d lay a month’s income on it. His acknowledgement of her feelings without his usual pathetic ass-kissing thawed a tiny bit of her reserve.

“Fine.”

He shot her an odd look. “I mean it, Phil. I can’t have you going off half-cocked until we know for sure who tossed your store and killed Mrs. Madison.”

“I swear I won’t do anything stupid.”

“On the River Styx, Phil.” Alex made a point of saying it Ancient Greek, not English.

Okay, now she was pissed. The world righted since they were back to their usual acrimonious relationship.

She sighed, a perturbed sound. “I swear by the River Styx that I will obey your directions during the course of the investigation of the break-in of Seven Wonders Antiquities and Beatrice Madison’s murder,” she answered in Greek. She switched to English. “Happy?”

“Deliriously.”

She leaned her head against the passenger door window. There was only one little problem with assisting Alex during the next few days.

How was she going to keep her hands off him?