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 fiancĂ©e 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.



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.

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