Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Touch of Mother - Chapter 2

As usual, this is an unedited draft of my current wip.

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Of course, Little Bear demanded a group meal at midday with our counterparts from the Temple of Light to discuss the situation. I thanked Balance our cook Deborah put up with our shenanigans. My predecessor Chief Justice Penelope didn’t entertain visitors often, if at all. I wasn’t sure if it was due to the senility that gradually destroyed her mind or her generally disagreeable nature. However, my Temple had become the meeting place for the clergy, the local nobility, the Guilds, and the citizen officials. Mainly, because I didn’t tolerate petty politics.

Not when we’d been dealing with the Assassins Guild, demons and renegade humans for the last year.

My staff rather enjoyed the reaction of the Light personnel when I announced the news from Love. They would have been less surprised if I’d tossed a Jing flashbang with a lit fuse in the middle of the dining table.

After the initial shock and disbelief, the four members of Light surreptitiously peeked at High Brother Luc. As the seat of Light order in Orrin, he had a particular cause to dislike my birth mother. Of course, she had her renegade allies actually cut off Luc’s left foot and deliver it to me in their attempt to force me to turn over a demon grimoire Gerd had obtained.

I spent a great deal of my nights since midwinter, lying awake in my bed and wondering if I made the correct decision.

“Why foster her escape?” Luc said.

“What do you mean, sir?” Garbhan said. As the newest priest of Orrin’s Temple of Light, he was often reluctant to speak up during our meetings.

I leaned my elbows on the polished surface of our dining table. “He means why isn’t she dead. She lost a demon grimoire the renegades wanted. She accidentally exposed the Assassins Guild’s alliance with the renegades, and by that, ruined the plot to quietly takeover Orrin as they had Tandor—”

“You’re forgetting your own contribution,” Elizabeth teased. “You’re the one who uncovered Samael DiRoy’s conspiracy with the previous duke and duchess of Orrin.”

The former chief justice of Tandor had remained in Orrin for her recovery from the year of torture the renegades had inflicted on her. Despite her emotional troubles, I was grateful for her presence. My junior justice Yanaba had been suffering from excessive morning sickness. I wished I could say my gratitude was due to the easing of our workload, but I would be lying to myself.

When Gerd tried to illegally end her pregnancy, she left me blind and unable to bear children. Elizabeth had been granted an exception to the recent change in Temple policy, which allowed, well reluctantly encouraged, the orders of Balance and Light to pursue carnal relations. With the increase of demon activity, we needed as many clergy with our particular talents as we could conceive.

But between my inability to have children and the terrible things the renegades did to Elizabeth, we often retreated to my office and commiserated over a bottle of red wine from the Pana Valley. Even now, Elizabeth sat between me and Sister Shi Hua of Light at the table because she couldn’t barely tolerate being in the presence of any priest of Light. I cleared my throat. “That was totally by accident. We’ve been lucky—”

“You call losing the city of Tandor lucky?” Luc exclaimed.

“Considering we save a majority of the civilians in the midst of a demon siege and invasion,” I snapped back. “Yes, I do.” Regret immediately flooded me. “I apologize for taking my anger out on you.” I blew out a deep breath. “All of you. I’m worried. Worried Gerd and her Assassins Guild cronies will attack the people I care about while the renegades carry out some other scheme.”

“We’ve been warned she’s loose, which is a point in our favor.” Little Bear ran his index finger around the rim of his ceramic cup. I didn’t need to sniff his cup to know it contained water. He would have a tankard of ale on his day off, and I’d never observed him drink more than a sip or two of wine at a meal out of etiquette.

“However, I agree with the high brother.” Little Bear’s gaze fixed on me. “The Assassins Guild doesn’t suffer failure. Especially not failure of Gerd’s magnitude. If she didn’t commit suicide out of loyalty to them, and they didn’t silence her, then they need her for another purpose.”

“But what purpose?” Yanaba asked to my right. She reached unerringly for the pitcher of milk in front of her and pour some into her bowl of oat porridge. Deborah made sure to serve my junior justice something that would agree with her delicate stomach.

Shi Hua sighed. “We could speculate on that subject until the stars fall from the sky.” She jabbed her table knife into the slice of roasted duck on her plate and sawed furiously even the bird was far more tender than the dried venison and beef we’d relied on through the winter.

Her skin glowed dark pink, far hotter than the effort she expended on the slice of breast on her plate. The fact I knew she was with child was driving me mad. It was really none of my business, given the uncomfortableness regarding the lifting of the chastity restriction on our orders. It was merely a reminder another priestess could do something I couldn’t.

“It would be nice if we were ahead of whatever the renegades planned for once,” Jeremy growled.

“It would help if we had a true oracle at our disposal,” Nicholas said quietly.

All of us paused eating and stared at Light’s chief warden. Even my blind sisters turned their heads in the direction of his voice.

“Why, Chief Warden, did you just make a joke?” I grinned at him. The quiet man rarely offered his opinion unless he was asked directly, though he’d become more vocal over the last six months.

The corners of Nicholas’s lips twitched beneath his turquoise facial hair. “It’s been known to happen occasionally. However, I’m not jesting at the moment. Brother Jeremy is right. We can’t keep chasing the renegades. It’s as productive as a hound chasing its tail.”

“So, what do you suggest?” Luc asked.

Nicholas shrugged. “We infiltrate them.”

“Thief has tried,” Shi Hua said.

“They know Thief’s practices to well,” Nicholas murmured. “It would have to be someone they’d normally be interested in turning to their cause.”

“Then who? And how?” I waved my hand to indicate everyone at the table. “Anyone we truly trust is too well known to the renegades.”

“We have two possibilities,” Nicholas said. “Chief Justice Elizabeth or Brother Garbhan.”

“Me?” he squeaked. The newest brother of Light was barely a year younger than Jeremy. On the surface, he seemed terribly shy and unsure of himself. However, he’d been one of Reverend Father Farrell’s primary aides. And after a couple of incidents Shi Hua and Jeremy mentioned, Luc and I rather suspected everything we said in front of Garbhan was reported back to the Issuran home Temple of Light.

“Of course.” Elizabeth leaned forward as if trying to peer into Nicholas’s soul. “Garbhan could be extremely dissatisfied with his new posting since he’s no longer directly advising the Reverend Father. In my case, we use the story the renegades in Tandor succeeded in converting me.”

“High Brother, I assure you I have no complaints about being assigned to your Temple,” Garbhan protested with a wild look in Luc’s direction.

However, Luc was staring at me. From the tight rein on his thoughts, he didn’t like his chief warden’s idea, but he wouldn’t undermine the man in front of his peers. No doubt we would be discussing this matter later in private. Luc turned to Garbhan.

“Your loyalty isn’t the issue, Brother.” He grinned at the young priest. “However, most priests in your position would consider such a transfer an insult.”

“B-but with Tandor gone, and the loss of most of your staff—” Garbhan blinked. “Oh!” His face shifted from orange-yellow to a red-orange. Maybe the na├»ve persona the young priest displayed was his true face. Few people could control their body heat to such a level.

“Can High Sister Mya or someone from her order create a sub-personality for us?” Elizabeth asked.

“You mean like what your seat of Child did with High Brother Aduba to gain the confidence of the renegades?” I asked.

She nodded.

“I’ll make the inquiry, but between her and Talbert, I believe it’s possible.” I pushed back my own plate, my appetite gone despite the excellent roast duck. “I’m not sure putting you in that position is such a good idea.”

“Nicholas is right.” Elizabeth gestured in the general direction of Light’s chief warden. “I wouldn’t take much to make it appear as if the renegades broke me. Garbhan is too valuable to risk since we have so few Light talents in Orrin. I’ll just need a little extra help to make the deception work.”

I opened my mouth for my retort on the matter when someone knocked on the door of Balance’s new dining room. “Come!” Warden Gina pushed the door open, her skin orange-red and worry rolling off her psyche. “I beg your pardon for the interruption, Chief Justice, but Peacekeeper Jaime is here. There’s been an incident involving your squire.”

Alarm jerked my body. “Nathan?”

She nodded. “Magistrate DiCook requests your presence along with a member of Light.”

My heart sank. There was only on reason Malven DiCook would want me and one of the clergy from Light.

There had been a murder.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Touch of Mother - Chapter 1

This is the unedited version of January's release A Touch of Mother.

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The soft knock on my door couldn’t be my head of household and personal assistant Sivan with my second pot of tea. She would have simply barged into my office. The jingle of bells as the door opened immediately set my teeth on edge. I wish I could blame my reaction on my visitor. However, my past wasn’t Dragonfly’s fault.

Nor was my present her fault. Dragonfly wasn’t sleeping with my lover. The sad part was I liked and respected Sister Claudia, but I could no longer stand to be around her, which was the reason Dragonfly came here.

“Good morningtide, High Sister.” I set aside the latest dispatches from the Issuran home Temple of Balance. Whatever else my own Reverend Mother prattled about could wait. “Ready for our next round of examinations?”

High Sister Dragonfly’s veil fluttered with her sigh. “I hope you’ve had your first cup of tea, Chief Justice.” Her hands clutching the mound of scrolls and parchment were bright orange. Whatever currently bothered her must be worse than the audit of Orrin’s Temple of Love.

The poor priestess had inherited a royal mess when her predecessor, my birth mother, had been caught in a number of criminal acts, not the least of which were embezzling from her own order, demon dealing, and high treason.

“Yes, but Sivan should be here any moment with a fresh pot.” I cleared my desk of research grimoires from Light and Knowledge. “What has happened?”

Dragonfly flipped back her veil. Her shorn cheeks were as bright orange as her hands. The silk covered her face as required by all the priestesses of the Temple of Love when in public. Here in my office, neither of us stood on ceremony. The times we had met privately at her office, she would switch between male and female civilian clothing. I could never decide if she made a more handsome woman or a prettier man, but such was the lot of a berda in the service of Love.

Neither of which mattered with the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I feared she would announce Claudia was with child.

Dragonfly shook her head, and the bells lining her robes jingled. “You are not going to be pleased with this news, Anthea.”

I turned to the open doorway where my squire Nathan stood. Beyond in the hallway, Balance Warden Jonata and one of the new Love wardens stood guard, a leftover from the demon attack inside Orrin right before the Spring Rituals. No warden would let their priest or priestess go anywhere unescorted.

It had become damn annoying when I had to attend a privy other than the one in my personal quarters.

“Nathan, would you please tell Sivan my morning visitor has arrived early?”

“Yes, m’lady.” He bobbed his head and took off in the direction of the kitchen.

Dragonfly closed the door Nathan had forgotten and dropped heavily into the chair on the other side of my desk. “Gerd has escaped. The Reverend Mother of Love believes she may be headed south.”

“What?” It was worse than Claudia carrying my Luc’s child. My right hand automatically reached for my sword, but my scabbard and harness hung from their peg behind me. I forced myself to relax and lowered my hand. “How? What happened?”

“No one seems to be sure on the details, according to my Reverend Mother.” Dragonfly handed me the top parchment on her pile before she leaned forward and rested her elbows on the scarred oak of my desk.

I ran my fingers over the parchment. There were none of the raised marks used by my Temple for records. Though I wasn’t blind like the rest of my order, even my odd sight couldn’t quite discern between the ink and the skin. Which meant I couldn’t read the demon-blasted original.

I rerolled the message. “May I have Donella make a copy of this?”

“That’s the reason I brought it,” Dragonfly answered sourly. “I rather suspected you didn’t know about Gerd’s escape yet.”

There had been nothing of that sort in the dispatches from the home Temple of Balance in Standora. Why hadn’t an alert gone out?

Unless the Reverend Mother’s pride had gotten in the way. Losing a traitor of this magnitude would have our entire order questioning her competence.

I sucked in a deep breath and released it. “Tell me.”

“The warden who delivered her evening meal was found in her cell beneath her blankets. Dead. He wasn’t discovered until the next morning.”

“What about the second warden? No one opens a cell door without a reinforcement.” I couldn’t see any warden much less any assigned to Balance breaking protocol, especially not with a treason case.

“They haven’t found him.”

“Balance help us.” I wiped my hands down my face. “This is not good.” I pushed to my feet. I needed to move.

My birth mother on the loose meant the Reverend Mother of Balance was right. There was a traitor within her own Temple in the capital. Goddess, no wonder she wanted to keep this quiet. The dread in my stomach shifted to fury.

“Why does your Reverend Mother believe Gerd is fleeing south?” I asked as I paced in the small confines of my office. “According to the Reverend Father of Child, Gerd’s overriding desire is to kill you and torture me.”

I stopped abruptly. My robes swirled around my ankles. “You say that very calmly.”

Dragonfly shrugged. “It’s not the first time Gerd has threatened me.”

Which was true. Even though Dragonfly had been Gerd’s second, she had never trusted the berda and often threatened her with castration if she didn’t obey Gerd’s every whim and command.

“If it make you sleep better, Gerd allegedly hasn’t decided exactly what retribution to inflict on High Mother Bianca.” Dragonfly chuckled.

I shook my head as I rolled possibilities and probabilities through my mind. I still wasn’t sure how involved Orrin’s seat of Mother had been in Gerd’s illegal activities. There were a lot of rumors, but no actual evidence. Gerd could simply be enraged Bianca failed to convince the other Temple seats regarding the false charges my birth mother had brought against me. However, I sincerely doubted the matter was that straightforward.

“Would any of the other Love priestesses here in Orrin help her?”

Dragonfly cocked her head and simply stared at me.

“That was an idiotic notion.” I bowed. “My apologies to your sisters for even allowing the thought to enter my head.” Gerd and her renegade allies had done worse things in order to keep the city’s Love clergy under control.

Dragonfly inclined her head in return.

I resumed pacing and tapped my index finger against my chin. “So who else in Orrin is mad enough to possibly help her?”

Dragonfly laughed. “Why do you make light of such serious matters?”

“Would you prefer I soil myself?” I grinned at her. “I’m assuming you have some proof of Gerd’s additional misdeeds in those ledgers you carried here.”

“That’s what you and I have been verifying.” She patted the topmost binding.

Sivan chose that moment to burst into my office with tea and cups.

“Find Chief Warden Little Bear for me,” I ordered as she set down the tray on my desk.

Sivan frowned at my rudeness.

“Please,” I amended. “It’s a matter of Temple security.”

Alarm filled her expression. “What happened?”

“Our dear Reverend Mother managed to lose the Mad Whore.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Latest News

I'm finally getting the 888-555-HERO series out into the wide world. Hero De Facto has slid out of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, and I started loading it onto the other retailers last night. Over the next three months, the other three novels of 888-555-HERO will go wide as well. Buy links on the series page will be updated as they go live.

I've also been working on the publishing schedule for 2020. The first six books have pre-orders on Amazon. Once again, I'll update them here and on the main series pages as they go live:

January 15th - A Touch of Mother (Justice #4)

February 14th - Seasons of Magick Anthology (Entire Seasons of Magick series)

March 15th - Spells and Sleuths (Millersburg Magick Mysteries #1)

April 15th - Fae and Felonies (Millersburg Magick Mysteries #2)

May 15th - Magick and Murder (Millersburg Magick Mysteries #3)

June 15th - Hero De Jure (888-555-HERO #5)


The Millersburg Magick Mysteries will be initially exclusively on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited. They're paranormal mysteries set in the Bloodlines World. Kaley and Kirsten's mom Rachel and aunt Jo should be familiar to anyone who's read Amish, Vamps & Thieves.

My other goal is to get my ebooks on the Ohio Public Library system for those of you who rely on libraries for your reading material. If you don't live in Ohio, you can always request my books through your own library!

If anyone has questions or comments and doesn't want to leave them on the blog, you can always contact me through the "Contact Me" tab at the top of the page!

Monday, December 2, 2019

New Release!

A Very Hero Christmas, the fourth book in the 888-555-HERO, is out! And it's Cyber Monday! And there's sales!

This tale started in my brain as a short story. Then it became a novella. Then it turned into a full-length novel. But it's tons of family fun!

Blurb
Everyone at The Law Offices of Winters & Franklin is safe during the holidays. Or are they?

Aisha spends Christmas with her family in Atlanta, only to have a new supervillain take the mall patrons hostage while Aisha’s doing some last minute shopping with her niece and nephew.

Meanwhile, Harri’s attempts at making a perfect Christmas for her goddaughter get out of hand as the guest list keeps growing. Just one little problem—Harri can’t cook.

Can Aisha save the citizens of Atlanta without revealing she’s a super? Better yet, can anyone save Harri’s guests from food poisoning?

Call The Law Offices of Winters & Franklin at 888-555-HERO where the only thing more dangerous than a superhero is his attorney.

Amazon

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To celebrate the release of A Very Hero Christmas, and because it's Cyber Monday, Hero De Facto, the first book in the series is FREE until Wednesday, December 4th!

Amazon


And starting next week, I'll be posting sample chapters from the next Justice novel, A Touch of Mother!


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!