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.”


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—”


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.”