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.