Monday, November 24, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 3

Oops! I didn't post a chapter last Monday like I promised, but I didn't blog anywhere last week. When you haven't moved to a different state in eighteen years, you forget how much freaking paperwork must be filled out and delivered.

* * *
Max Howell deleted the three sentences he’d spent the last half-hour typing. Normally, he could whip out a juicy story like this by now. White slavery in the heart of Beverly Hills? The damn thing should be able to write itself.

But after talking to one of the victim’s fathers, all he could think about was his own daughter. His wife may be two weeks from her due date, but how the hell would he ever be able to protect his little girl?

There were things running around Los Angeles far worse than a pair of sick-ass rapist brothers.

A knock on his door brought a welcome distraction. “Yeah.”

Amy, one of the staff photographers, poked her head in. “I know you’ve got your phone on Do-Not-Disturb, but reception says you’ve got a visitor.”

“Who?”

She shrugged. “Wouldn’t give his name, but he looks like a Flavor Flav wannabe.”

“Flavor Flav?”

Amy grinned. “Yeah, white tails, top hat, and big-ass clock on his chest. Except a lot younger and without the crack teeth.”

“Aren’t you a little young to be listening to Flavor Flav?”br
“So are you,” she shot back. “Reception tried to get rid of him, but he said he was a friend of your sister’s, and it was imperative he speak with you.”

The proverbial chill raced up Max’s spine and back down again. A friend of Sam’s meant only one thing.

Supernatural.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t known about the secret side of the world, but since Sam died, the uneasy truce between the fae and the vampires had been shot to hell and back. He wasn’t stupid. With his sister under the protection of Caesar Augustine, the Western U.S. vampire master, and his wife being one of said master’s enforcers, Max was an auxiliary target.

“Thanks, Amy.”

She nodded and strode toward her cubicle.

Since the Unseelie had tried to assassinate Sam last summer, he kept a chain of steel paper clips nearby. He opened his top desk drawer, grabbed his makeshift weapon, and shoved it into his right pocket. It would hold a fae long enough for the paper’s armed security to arrive.

His wedding ring and the silver wrist band Tiffany had bought him for their six-month anniversary would serve as a delaying tactic if his visitor was one of the rebel vampires who had tried to oust Caesar at the end of January.

The walk to the reception desk took forever. As Amy said, the man pacing the area dressed like the old school rapper. What she didn’t mention was the cotton wadding stuffed up both of the man’s nostrils or the odd black cane he carried.

“Can I help you?”

“Ah, Monsieur Howell!” The visitor’s accent wasn’t true French. It sound like a cross between Cajun and French Caribbean. He swept off his top hat and bowed. “A pleasure to see you again.”

“I’m sorry. Have we met?”

The stranger replaced his hat. “Your wedding.” His voice had a nasal quality thanks to the packing in his nose. It ruined the charm of his accent. “Or I should say your first ceremony.” His jovial smile faded. “Alas, I did not come to reminisce.”

The reminder of the zombie attack did nothing to stop the unease crawling back up Max’s spine. “So why are you here?”

The visitor glanced at the receptionist, who did her best not to appear as if she were eavesdropping. “I apologize, Monsieur Howell, but given the delicacy of the matter, may we speak in private?”

Max turned to the receptionist. “Is anyone in Conference Two?”

She did a slow blink. “Conference One is open.”

“Is anyone in Conference Two?” he repeated.

Another slow blink. “No.”

He understood her confusion. Two faced south, and there was no UV film on the windows. No one ever wanted to use it. Even this late in the year, the room became a furnace.< br/>
Max gestured for the visitor to follow him. When they entered the stifling conference room and Max closed the door, the visitor broke into a broad grin.

“Are you satisfied that I’m not a vampire, Monsieur?”

Max’s own stiff smile tightened the corners of his mouth. “That’s not my only concern.” His smile fell. “Did my sister break your nose?”

The visitor started and ran fingers over the packing in his nostrils. “No.” He dropped into a chair. “Actually, I am here on behalf of my father. Your sister has something that belongs to my father. I have asked her to return it, but she has refused.”

Max sat as well. He pulled the steel links from his pocket, laid them on the table, and started straightening the first paperclip. “How do I know you’re telling the truth, Monsieur…?”

“You may call me Baron.” The visitor inclined his head.

“Baron of which court?”

The visitor chuckled. “Not one you have visited yet. I am not of the Tuatha de Danann either.”

Max could hear Tiffany now. This is so not good. “Have you tried going to her boss? Sam’s going to listen to him before she’ll listen to me.”

“Oh, I think she’ll listen to you.” Baron removed his top hat, then lifted the chain to the antique-looking clock over his head. Both pieces had the reddish hue of pure gold. “Show her this.”

“No.” Max tried to rise from the chair, but the aluminum and plastic flowed and trapped his forearms and ankles. He tempered the panic threatening to engulf him. Whatever this guy was, he wasn’t the least bit human. Putting the rest of the Times staff in danger wouldn’t help. He forced out a sigh. “Isn’t the poor-mortal-family-member-as-hostage routine a little old?”

“But the classics always work, Monsieur.” Baron grinned.

The clock crawled from the supernatural’s hands and across the wood veneer of the table, a gigantic gold inchworm. It also changed shape, growing smaller, longer. By the time it reached Max, the clock looked like a very expensive Rolex. The cool metal oozed across the back of his left hand and strapped itself to his wrist.

Baron replaced his top hat once again and stood. “Tell your sister she has until midnight on the third day to return my father’s property. Or approximately sixty hours. Thank you for your time, Monsieur Howell.” White teeth flashed against his espresso skin at his lame joke. “I’ll see myself out.”

The minute he departed, the chair reformed to its normal state. Max clawed at the strange watch, but the thing melded to his skin. All he succeeded in doing was dig bloody furrows in his flesh.

Dammit, he couldn’t call Tiffany. Not this close to her due date. She wasn’t the epitome of calm, rational thinking when she wasn’t pregnant. Her idea of fixing the problem would be grabbing an RPG to go after this Baron character.

He should call Sam to warn her, but she hadn’t taken Alex’s theory about the nanites turning her into a god very well. What he needed was a solution before raising the alarm.

He was going to do the next best thing by following his own advice. He pulled his phone out of his left pocket and thumbed the icon for Tiffany’s doctor. “Hi, this is Max Howell, Tiffany Stephens’ husband.”

“Oh, Mr. Howell!” the receptionist gushed. “Has your wife gone into labor?”

“No, but I need to talk to Dr. Zachary now.”

“She’s with a patient. Can I take a message?”

Max rubbed his temple at the growing headache. “Tell her it’s a zombie emergency, and I really need to talk to her now.”

“A zombie—oh, a zombie emergency! One moment, Mr. Howell.”

In less than a minute, Bebe picked up the receiver. “What did Sam do this time, Max?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ve got a wristwatch magickally super-glued to my wrist unless Sam coughs up something that belongs to a guy named Baron. He’s given me sixty hours, and I’ve got a very bad feeling if he doesn’t get his shit back, he’s going to take my soul as compensation.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Frankenstein had been the Borg Queen.

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

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

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

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

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

She relayed my request.

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

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

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

Someone knocked on the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ignored her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bebe’s wrong,” I said.

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

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

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

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

And I could feel that tenuous control slipping.

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

I went on the attack.

“You’re supposed to be on my side!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I prayed I wasn’t making a big mistake.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Samantha Ridgeway?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How dare you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I turned back to Lily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

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

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

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

“Shhhh!” Staci hissed again.

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

Staci looked pleased with herself.

“What kind of spell?” Mai asked.

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

“I owe you one, Quinn,” Mai murmured.

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

Fistbumped.

Mai.

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe I should stick around,” Quinn murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Holy shit! That’s a beating heart!”

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Where Are the #(%*@ Books!

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

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

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

So here's the 2015 plan:

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

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

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

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

All the credit for the series tagline goes to Laura:

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

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

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