Monday, December 29, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 5

Unfortunately, December got away from me. I guess that's what happens when you move closer to your family. I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season, and I'll see you next year!

* * *

The god who popped into existence in my living room after my brunch with Bill and Lily epitomized the word. Wavy black hair fell to Ares’ shoulders. His unadorned blood red t-shirt emphasized the sharp plains of his chest and the ripples of his abs. Black jeans hugged his lower body in all the right places. I gave him credit for trying to fit in with twenty-first century life, but he couldn’t be subtle no matter how hard he tried.

He was basically sex on a stick.

Framed by his neatly trimmed moustache and beard, his full lips quirked into a cocky grin. “So you decided to accept my offer, Samantha.”

Not even a fucking question. He really believed every female, no matter whether Normal or supernatural persuasion, should drop her panties at his request. He was that sure of himself.

“No.” I crossed my arms over my chest and gave my best evil eye. “Didn’t Phil tell you why I wanted to meet you?”

He chuckled. “Females often prevaricate in order to experience my particular skills.” With each word, he took a swaggering step toward me.

“I’m not lying,” I ground out between my clenched jaws. He was too damn close. Exuded too much sensuality. “I need answers to my questions.”

He reached behind my head for my ponytail and playfully yanked it. “What will you give me in return for your answers?”

Anxiety and lust shuddered through me. It was worse than I imagined a vampire’s mojo would feel like. Annoyance at being manipulated in such a manner cracked whatever spell or influence he aimed at me. My irritation welled, and I smacked him with a psychic bolt.

My combination telepathic/telekinetic stunt knocked him backwards. He landed on his well-formed ass. The floor shivered under my feet. Not sure if it was him or me that caused the vibration, I wondered if I had started something that I couldn’t finish.


“If all you’re going to do is play games, then leave.” I tried to keep my voice level, but I’m sure I wore my bitch scowl on my face.

Ares climbed to his feet, but didn’t look pissed as I expected. His steady gaze held me, but none of the earlier leering quality lay in his expression. “This is why you need a more suitable mate.” He gestured at the scuff on the carpet where he had landed. “You would have killed the vampire.”

I quelled my shiver of fear. No sense in giving Ares any more ammunition. “I’ve smacked Duncan with a psy-bolt before. Worst thing I did was give him a headache.”

“Your strength is growing, my lady.” Ares shoved his hands in his pockets. The non-threatening gesture didn’t make me any less worried about what he could do. “Yes, you knocked me down, but you would’ve sent the vampire through the glass.” He tilted his head toward the huge plate windows and sliding doors to the terrace behind him. The terrace filled with bright noon sunshine. “He wouldn’t survive Apollo’s rays, much less the impact on the concrete below us.”

Was that the real reason Duncan avoided our bed last night? Did he know how strong I was becoming? Did his Elizabethan sensibilities object to the reversal of our roles? He’d been the one watching my back since the day I died and became…

What? Every time I got a handle on the things happening to my mind and body, someone offered a new theory.

And I really hated the latest theory.

I cleared my throat. “Would you like something to drink?”

Ares’ smirk returned. “Wine.”

My irritation returned. “It’s too fucking early for wine. You’ll take a soda and love it.”

“Of course, my lady.”

His faux politeness stoked my temper while I stomped into the kitchen. I pulled two colas out of the fridge and managed to suppress the urge to shake his so it exploded in his face.

Except I was shaking it slightly, not on purpose, when I returned and handed it to him. The reality of the answers I’d been denying for the last four months prompted what could only be an anxiety attack. My breath came in short rapid pants. Sweat prickled along my neck. This wasn’t Ares’ doing. Why the hell weren’t the nanites compensating for my nerves?

“Would you like to sit down?” I waved toward the couch.

He sprawled across the upholstery as if he owned Las Vegas. I perched on the edge of the matching plush armchair and busied my fingers with opening my can. Carbon dioxide hissed as it escaped from its aluminum prison, but no foam overflowed.
From Ares’ disappointed expression, he’d expected me to sit next to him on the sofa. He took a drink from his can before he said, “I still expect payment for my assistance.”

The exasperated exhalation that escaped from me matched the sounds I often heard Duncan make when he was at his wits’ end with something idiotic I had done. “Sex is off the table.”

Ares’ smile shifted into another cocky grin. “Personally, I prefer a bed.”

“No sex at all.” I glared at him. Or tried to. His wicked humor and dark hair would be my undoing. They were the very same things that attracted me to my ex Jake and my current Duncan.

My mental state wasn’t helping my resistance to him. After spending years photographing, and resisting, the most gorgeous men on the planet while I worked for one of the top tabloids, I had thought I’d been picky. But since I’d died, I felt like a werewolf in heat. When I had asked Bebe about my revved-up libido, she admitted that it corresponded with my revved-up everything else thanks to the damn nanites. Deep down, I had believed I wouldn’t hurt Duncan by cheating on him, no matter how my hormones tried to convince me otherwise. But it was getting harder and harder to keep my impulses under control.

All of my impulses.

I focused on Phil’s threat to put my speed healing to the test by shoving a grenade down my throat for even thinking of doing her dad. She’d made that point perfectly clear on the phone, even if he was the one chasing me.

It wasn’t my fault if Ares mojo’d me, was it?

Aluminum crackled beneath my fingertips. Maybe I needed to focus on other things I really cared about. Like my unborn niece.

“I can be your personal shopper for Tiffany’s baby.”

Ares snorted in derision. “You believe I cannot provide for my foster granddaughter?”

“I think Cerberus is a totally inappropriate choice for a mortal child’s puppy,” I shot back.

Glass in the windows and pictures frames hummed in response to his laughter. “Not even I would be that foolish.”

“Then there’s my mother,” I added. “You want to have access to Tiffany and her baby? You’re going to need me to get through her. This is the woman who had no problem taking on the zombies that invaded my brother’s wedding. Not to mention, she bitched out three ancient vampire coven masters in the hospital afterward. Mom’s not going to cut you any slack because you’re a god.”

Ares’ right eyebrow lifted. “And if I simply remove her?”

“If you came to me with that proposal while I was still alive, you would have had a deal.” I shrugged. “Now that I’m dead, I found myself a little more forgiving when it comes to her behavior. So if you do anything to her, I’ll have to knock you on your ass again.” Somehow, I managed to keep “well-formed” out of that statement.

“How does my treating your mother with deference correlate to a favor given by you?”

“I’m smoothing the path, remember? If you want to do something stupid, oh, like give the baby a present that will cause her harm, let’s say a Golden Apple from the garden of the Hesperides, that’s your fault, and Mom will find a way to take you out.”

I took a sip of my soda, watching for his reaction. For all the stories about him not being the brightest of the Olympians, I got the impression his moronic playboy behavior was mainly an act.

“I’ll accept your offer with one condition—”

The carbonation in my stomach cavorted with my stomach acid to produce an uncomfortable sensation. “Yes?”

“I accompany you on this shopping trip.”

The vision of the Greek god of war holding my purse while I looked for onesies triggered an unfortunate response. I started laughing hysterically. Somehow, I managed to set my cola on the coffee table before I dropped it, but despite my best efforts, I could only tamper the sounds down to random guffaws.

Ares scowled. “And why do you find the thought of my company so amusing?”

“Because I can’t imagine you doing the things for me that Duncan would do on a shopping trip,” I said between snorts.

“And what do you think a vampire could accomplish at a market that I could not?” From the sparks in Ares’ eyes and the red flush creeping up his neck, I’d pushed him too far.

With a strength of will I didn’t think I had, I managed to sober myself. “First of all, he carries my bags.”


“He pays for everything.”

“Of course.” The wicked smirk was back.

“And he does it without complaining or whining.”

A scowl chased the smirk off Ares’ face. “Are you calling me a sniveler with no backbone?”

“Are you saying a vampire can do something you can’t?”

“No.” His tone was the same as a pissed-off werewolf. I should know. I’ve done my share of pissing off weres.

“Do we have an agreement?”


“Swear by the River Styx.”

That jolted him out of his anger. “You cannot be serious! You want me to swear our most sacred oath over a shopping expedition for baby gifts?”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “It’s not just the shopping and you know it. I help you with handling Mom and selecting the baby presents. In return, you answer my questions.” I sucked in a deep breath. “Fully and truthfully,” I added. Maybe Colin’s negotiation lessons were sinking into my robot-laden brain. “And absolutely no sexual innuendos, suggestions or touching of any kind whatsoever.”

Ares was silent for so long I thought he would disagree and leave. “Did you destroy the roses I sent?”

His question was so unexpected, his voice so quiet, I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. The potted rose bush with twelve perfect, ebony blooms had been my first gift. The Normal girl from housekeeping who’d brought it to my office was still on personal leave, but at least she was out of the hospital. I was the only person the plant wouldn’t attempt stab with its thorns.


“Where are they?”

“In my safe where they won’t try to drink anyone else’s blood.” I tried not to think about the special vault in the basement. When the city had been first built, it had been a safe house for vampires immigrating to Las Vegas. Later, it became a prison for rogues. I hated going into that vault. The stench of death and despair smelled better to me than the Karnak chef’s molten lava cake.

And that scared the piss out of me.

Concern creased Ares’ forehead. “Aren’t you feeding them?”

“That thing drinks blood!”

“Of course.” He actually looked confused at my revulsion. “Can you not conceive of a better gift from a god of war to a goddess of death?”

“I’m not—”

He looked at me askance.

The denial died on my lips, but I still wasn’t ready to say the truth aloud. I sucked in a deep breath. “I’m not in the market for a boyfriend, Ares, and I already have one fiancé, which is plenty. This is why I want you to swear on the River Styx concerning our deal.”

The sorrow in his expression made me want to cry. Somehow, I knew his emotion had nothing to do with me turning him down or my insistence on his oath concerning our deal. “Ox blood. If you are unwilling to feed my gift human blood, then feed it ox blood.”

Would the damned plant even leave if I gave the potted roses back to him? I’d read enough Greek mythology to know that gifts, or curses, from the gods couldn’t be returned. Only amended.

With the supernatural races, I was learning there was always a grain of truth within their stories. I nodded once. “Thanks for the info. Now about our deal—”

He blew out a deep breath, and I suppressed a smile. It seemed I exasperated every male I encountered.

“How do I know you will keep you side of the bargain?”

I shrugged. “You can always ask Phil to be your enforcer. She’s already threatened to use a grenade to disembowel me if I sleep with you.”

“Is that why you won’t—”

“No!” The walls of the penthouse shivered in response to my shout, and a hairline crack appeared above the kitchenette. Great. Now I needed to call maintenance, and they would tell Duncan, and he’d ask what happened, and…

I cleared my throat. “Do I need to repeat my terms?”

“When?” Ares looked too damn amused by my discomfiture.

I ran my tongue over my suddenly dry lips. Best to get this over with. “I’ve got time tomorrow afternoon to shop.”

He leaned forward, not predatory, but pretty damn close. “Then I get to choose the place.” He surprised me by naming the department store at the Beverly Center where Max and Tiffany had registered, though the registry itself was probably my mom’s idea.
As much as I dreaded spending any more time alone with him than necessary, maybe a trip to Los Angeles would sooth my fractured emotional state. I nodded. “As long as you answer my questions here and now.”

“Agreed.” He leaned back against the couch.

I cough not so discreetly, and he rolled his eyes.

“I swear by the River Styx that I will answer all your questions for the next three hours, fully and truthfully in exchange for you spending an equal three hours in my company tomorrow where we will partake of the midafternoon meal and purchase appropriate gifts for my foster granddaughter. I also swear I will carry all packages, as well as Lady Samantha’s purse with no complaints. Satisfied?” His expression dared me to disagree.

“Yes. Thank you,” I added. “Shall we begin?”

* * *
Max’s right toe tapped a nervous rhythm against the kitchen tile of Caesar’s mansion while Bebe perched on a chair next to him and examined the new adornment on his wrist. “Well?”

“I think you’re picking up some of Tiffany’s less endearing habits.” She glanced up at him. “Do I need to give you a sedative, or will a kick in the shins suffice?”

With monumental effort, he stilled his foot. “Can you get it off?”

She shook her head, brunette curls swaying. “No.” She leaned back, but kept her hand over his. “Describe this person again.”

He repeated his impressions of his visitor. “He’s the same guy that appeared in one of the candid shots at the zombie-interrupted ceremony, minus the tissue stuffed up his nose while at my office, but no one remembers him being there. Do you have any idea of who it is?”

“Now I do.” She pursed her lips, rose from the kitchen chair, and strode through the swinging door.

Max jumped to his feet and raced after her. She’d already disappeared from the foyer, but from the sharp clicks of her heels, Bebe was headed down the hall toward her, well, magick lab was the only thing he could think of to call Caesar’s former conservatory.

The heavy drapes were pulled back from the huge windows when he walked into the room. A scarlet Persian carpet highlighted with gold threads covered the black, white and gray marble floor. Antique birch chairs and tables sat on the thick wool. Bebe examined the contents of the floor-to-ceiling shelves along the back wall.

When Max crossed over the gigantic silver pentacle underneath the carpet, tingles radiated from the strange watch along his skin. Most people didn’t know about the metal embedded into the marble and hidden by the carpet. Knowing the ring was there and actually feeling the power added to his fear.

Bebe glanced up from the tome she’d pulled off the shelf. Her lips tilted down as her gaze traveled from the floor to him and back. “Well, that’s interesting.”

“‘Interesting’ is not the word I’d chose.” The instant he stepped out of the silver circle the electric sensation along his arm disappeared.

She turned the book so he could see the page she was looking at. “Is this him?"

The woodcut had to have been close to two centuries old, but the resemblance was uncanny. Max nodded. “Who is it?”

“Baron Samedi. One of Voudon loas of death.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 4

“Lawyers in Love” interrupted the bad dream I was having. The same one I was having more and more frequently. Something that looked like a velociraptor with tentacles tearing me apart faster than the nanites could put me back together.

Grateful for the sort-of rescue, I reached for my phone and thumbed the answer button. “Hey, Colin. What do you have for me?”

“Did I wake you?”

I sighed. “It doesn’t matter.” I started to fling back the covers, but Duncan wasn’t in bed with me, so I settled back under them. “Is there any way Lilianne can shut our act down permanently?”

“It’s always a possibility, Sam. I stand by the legal team’s original analysis, but that doesn’t mean she won’t get a sympathetic judge or jury who will do something stupid. In the meantime, Marshall received a cease and desist order from Lilianne’s attorney. His people e-mailed a copy to you, me, and Lily this morning.”

The urge to cry hit me hard. This was going to devastate Lily, And I couldn’t blame the show’s producer, Marshall Wagoner. He had to look out for his own interests.

“What can we do to fight this?” I leaned over and sniffed Duncan’s pillow. His scent wasn’t fresh. He hadn’t come to bed last night.

Great. On top of everything else, I had a pouty fiancé to deal with.

“Given Lilianne’s accusation that her mother’s reputation and memory are being desecrated, we need evidence that Lily is being faithful to her original act since this is a tribute show.”

“But I thought we didn’t want to violate copyright?”

Colin’s exhale whistled through the receiver. “That’s the reason you’re not using her original material, but Lilianne’s accusing Lily of perverting the act by using off-color jokes and obscenities. We need something, a recording, a newsclip, anything that shows Lily is sticking to her old style without reusing the same material.”

I swallowed the hard lump at the back of my throat, unsure if the emotional crap was mine or empathy for my baby zombie. “I’ll see what I can find.” I really needed to change the subject before I lost it. “How’s the vampire thing going?”

Colin chuckled. “I’m getting used to it. Caesar let me go back to Philly to see my family. It’s unbelievable being able to talk to my nephew Evan again.”

I smiled at Colin’s excitement. The lawyer was adapting to vampire life far better than any of us expected. “Caesar must really have taken a shine to you to bend the rules.”

“No, he’s over-aware of the implications in the sudden disappearance of a scion of the famed political Fitzgerald family.”

Envy stuck a needle in my heart. Colin had a good relationship with his parents. I had to die before my mother and I developed an uneasy truce. “At least, you had a choice.”

After an eternity of silence, he said, “Did anyone in the coven besides me choose?”

My laugh was rather weak. “Alex, but technically he was dying from a dozen bullet holes when Duncan offered to Turn him.”

Colin’s chuckle was equally uncomfortable. “Yeah, I noticed pretty quick not to ask certain questions. Thanks for being straight with me.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, keep Lily away from the showroom while I work on your case. Hopefully, Lilianne will agree to settle before this gets too far.”

“Thanks, Colin.” I clicked off the phone and ran my hand over Duncan’s side of the bed. Compared to some of our epic battles, last night’s tiff hardly registered on the Richter scale. But ever since Alex and Phil’s little trip to Peru, things between Duncan and me had gotten very weird.

But I needed to deal with Lily’s issue first. I owed her that much.

I wasn’t the one who resurrected the corpses of her, Bill and Morty. No, that was pro basketball player and necromancer extraordinaire David Head. All because that asswipe, now comatose bed warmer, had a major league crush on Duncan.

But thanks to him, I learned two very important lessons six months ago. My blood killed the living, and it restored dead things to life. It made me super-cautious about as small of thing as a paper cut.

I dressed and raided the suite’s refrigerator. The staff kept it stocked with hard-boiled eggs, cheese and pre-cut veggies for emergencies. The contents of the fridge and half dozen bagels I pulled from the pantry would tide me over. I definitely needed to break the news to Lily before I hit one of the casino restaurants for breakfast.

Fifteen minutes later, I knocked on her door. It swung open with a vision I didn’t need to see—Bill Faith in Lily’s pink fuzzy bathrobe.

He turned beet red, from his bare toes to his prominent nose. “Uh, I, uh, was expecting room service.”

I crossed my arms and tried to hide my delight that he and Lily had moved to the next step in their relationship. “And I thought drag was part of your act, not a lifestyle choice.”

Apparently, there was a color more red than beet because Bill’s skin turned that shade. “Our private life is none of your concern.”

I shoved past him. “I don’t care if you lick honey off her ass—” I squelched the urge to wince when he went from red to an interesting shade of purple. “I’m here on business and I need to talk to Lily.”

She appeared in the doorway to her bedroom, wearing a retro sweater and skirt set. “What did the lawyers say?”

I sucked in a deep breath and released it. “You’re going to have to take a break from the show for a few days. Just until Colin and his team can get this straightened out.”

Her stricken expression yanked at my heart as she sank down on the couch.

“Why?” Bill waved a hand in Lily’s direction. “Red hasn’t done anything wrong!"

“No, she hasn’t.” I crossed the room and sat next to Lily. “Colin says it would help if we could find some recordings of your old stand-up act. To show that you’re being authentic to the original Lily Bell.”

“I am the original Lily Bell,” she wailed.

I took her fisted hands in mine. “We can’t tell anyone that. Not unless you want to end up as a lab experiment.”

“You were one,” Bill mumbled.

“And that’s what got all four of us into this mess,” I shot back before I turned to Lily once more. “We need to give the lawyers everything we can in order to fight this.”

Wetness shimmered in her eyes. “I don’t want to fight my own daughter, Sam. We did far too much of that the first time around. Can’t I just go and tell her—”

I squeezed her hands. “No, Lily. We’ve been over this before. Your children attended the funeral for their elderly mother. If you show up on Lilianne’s front door like you are now, she will never believe you. She wouldn’t have believed you last night.”

The look she gave me turned downright ugly. “It’s not fair. You get to see your family.”

“Because my brother and I are members of the Augustine coven, and because my parents will keep their traps shut in order to see their grandchildren.” Also because my Normal mother was the one person in the universe that scared a vampire as ancient as Caesar. I wasn’t quite sure why.

Lily switched tactics. More tears trickled down her cheeks. “If we can convince Lilianne of the truth, she’ll keep our secret.”

“Do you have any idea what will happen to her if she doesn’t?”

“Duncan can erase her memory.”

I shook my head. “And sometimes, the vampires can’t. Anne couldn’t erase my brother’s memory when he found out the truth about her years ago. If Max hadn’t kept his trap shut, she would have had to kill him.” Colin’s wife Anne had been Amish before she was Turned. Despite her attempts to stick with pacifism, she was the most dangerous of the vampires. I’d seen first hand how efficient she could be at killing.

Lily grabbed my shoulders. “If they kill her, you could bring her back.”

I stared at her. “No.”

“But you did it with us.” She waved her hand between herself and Bill.

“Are you honestly suggesting a horde of zombies invading you daughter’s backyard is a brilliant idea? Because that’s exactly how you ended up here. You were trying to eat my brother’s wedding guests.”

I instantly regretted the words at the pained look on her face. The antsy prickle of my conscience drove me to my feet, and I started to pace. I shouldn’t have thrown the wedding in her face.

Their memories of the event were hazy; mine crystal clear. Morty had literally ripped out my throat, and they licked my arterial spray off of everything. Next thing any of us knew, the three comedians were alive and healthy.

“B-but we’re human. Dr. Zachary said so.” This time the tears in her eyes weren’t an acting job. “And there’s none of your robots in us.”

“This is the same witch who has no fucking clue what these nanites are doing to me.” My lie triggered a nasty ache grew in my frontal lobes, and I rubbed my forehead. Bebe agreed with Alex. Phil’s dad had even offered a sample of his own DNA for Bebe to compare mine with. Just because I didn’t like Bebe’s conclusions, I couldn’t take my personal frustrations out on my baby zombies.

And Lily needed to know the truth about their status within the coven. “I’m sorry, but you can’t contact any of your family, much less Lilianne. You saw how she freaked out last night. We can’t take that chance. I can’t take that chance.”


“You’re my responsibility. That means if you tell her and she can’t handle it, I’m the one who has to put her down. And if I don’t, that means Caesar will kill all of us—Lilianne, you, me, Bill and Morty."

Her eyes grew into large, blue marbles of shock. Bill’s mouth tightened into a straight line. He’d obviously suspected the stakes from the beginning.

I sat next to her on the couch again. “I don’t want that on my conscience, and I don’t think you do either. Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

She slowly nodded. “I promise. I-I didn’t realize…"

I patted her hands. “I’m sorry for not being totally straight with you. I didn’t want to scare you.” My stomach growled. “Feel up to joining me for breakfast downstairs?”

She slowly nodded again.

I turned to Bill. “I’ll cancel room service. You need to put on a day dress. I’m not taking you anywhere in a bathrobe.”

* * *
Mortimer Stern pulled into a parking spot five cars down from the dark green convertible he had followed. For decades, he would never have gotten away with tailing the attractive brunette. Now, no one recognized him. He’d gotten his long-time wish of anonymity, but he wasn’t sure if it was good thing or not.
He sipped the expensive shit kids today called coffee. Couldn’t get just a plain cup of joe anymore. No, it had to creamed, steamed and sweetened until you couldn’t taste the beans.

But he needed the cover. The Karnak’s head of security was a smart cookie for a broad. He claimed he needed to get out of the damn hotel-casino to think. As long as he came back with a receipt for the coffee and some notes for the Vegas show, she and Sam didn’t question his whereabouts for a few measly hours.

Molly climbed out of her convertible and headed into the grocery store. She still had a set of legs and an ass any woman half her age would envy. Those nice, tight pants broads wore to yoga classes showed off her assets nicely. He recited baseball statistics in his head to get his dick under control. Damn, getting an erection the last couple of years had been next to impossible with the damn catheter.

And that memory took care of the problem. He climbed out of the SUV he’d borrowed from the Karnak’s vehicle pool and arrowed for grocery’s main doors.

Learning his second wife now lived in Vegas had been the only reason he’d agreed to Sam’s cockamamie plan to have him, Bill and Lily join that stupid showcase. Now his new job would come in handy when Molly recognized him.

She would recognize him, wouldn’t she?

Squelching the fear, he yanked a cart out of the rows and guided it toward the produce section. Molly was still a vegetarian, or that’s what it looked like the last time he’d followed her through the store. Regret tugged his heart. Why the hell hadn’t he treated her better? He even missed her eggplant lasagna.

Accidentally running into her cart might work, but it was too obvious. Ask her advice on melons? No, too desperate. But then she stopped in front of the bananas.

“Why did the banana go out with the prune?” He reached for the bunch next to the one she was reaching for.

She turned and stared at him. Her face paled the moment the recognition hit her. “I beg your pardon?”

He smiled. “It’s a joke. Why did the banana go out with the prune?”

“Because he couldn’t find a date,” she answered weakly.

“Ouch. My best material, and you’ve already heard it.”

“Who-who are you?”

“Walter Kinney.” At least, that’s what the fake ID the vampires had given him said. He held out his hand, but she still stared at him, shock imprinted on her patrician features. She made no move to take the proffered palm.

He lowered his arm. “Oka-a-ay, that wasn’t my best pick-up line. I’ll give you that. But why are you staring at me like you’ve seen a ghost?”<

“Y-you look like Mortimer Stern.”

He rubbed his chin. “Ah, I take it you caught my revival act.”

“No.” The color flowed back into her cheeks. Her hair was still pinned up from her yoga class, and it was all he could do not to pull out the clip and bury his face in the mass. Did she still use that honeysuckle shampoo she had loved when they were together?

He grinned. “You can’t tell me you knew the real Mortimer Stern.”

She blinked. “Yes. I did. He was my ex-husband.”

“Really?” He hoped his pretend surprise looked real enough. “And you are?”

“I’m sorry. You really threw me off.” Her gorgeous lips curved into a polite smile, and she held out her hand. “Molly Weiss.”

He shook it, and her touch made his cock twitch. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Weiss. Aren’t you a little young to have been married to him?”

She released his hand before he was ready. Her accompanying chuckle was tinged with bitterness. “That’s how Morty liked his women, the younger the better.”

God, he’d been such an insecure asshole. “Oh.” He ran his hand over his hair. Since his resurrection, it surprised him to find some still attached to his scalp. “Finally get up the nerve to talk to you, and finding out I resemble your ex makes asking you out incredibly awkward.”

“Asking me out?” She turned and dropped the bananas into her cart. The same duck-and-occupy-herself maneuver she used to do when she was uncomfortable.

“Yeah. I’ve seen you in here a couple of times. And—” He shrugged. Approaching Molly like this really was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. She wasn’t the easily impressed girl fresh out of high school he’d first met, but a middle-aged career woman who knew all the tricks he could pull.

And he didn’t want to use those tricks on her either.

“Sorry to bother you, Miz Weiss.” Yep, definitely a stupid idea. He shoved the shopping cart toward the dairy section, disappointment thick in his mouth. Sam had warned them. He couldn’t recapture his past. Couldn’t rectify all the things he’d done to hurt Molly.

“Walter?” A soft touch brushed his arm.

He stopped and turned toward her, praying he didn’t look too eager. “Yeah?”

“Would you like to get some coffee? Maybe? Some time?”

Paralysis gripped him. She was asking him out. He hadn’t expected the switch in roles.

She withdrew her hand. “I’m sorry. I guess the whole thing about you looking like my ex really is awkward as hell.”

“No,” he blurted. “That’s not, uh, I mean—” Dammit! He was making a mess of things. “I’d love to.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out a card. “Here’s my number.”

Mortimer took the proffered card. A wild idea popped in his head. “Why don’t you come to the show tonight? I can leave a ticket for you at will call and—”

Molly shook her head, and a tendril slipped from the tortoise shell clip. It took all of his willpower not to smooth the wayward lock from her face.

“That’s not a good idea. Let’s stick with coffee.”

The pain in her expression tore at him. “Look, if my resemblance is hurting you—”

Her smile was wan, a shadow of its normal brilliance. “I want to get to know Walter Kinney, not the ghost of someone I used to love.”

Used to love. Her remark couldn’t have hurt worse if she’d plunge a real knife into his heart. But if that was all he could have of her, then he’d take it. “Coffee, then. I’ll…text you.”

Her smile brightened a notch. “Coffee, then.” She turned and pushed her cart toward the pile of avocados.

Mortimer pivoted and shoved his own cart toward the grocery’s main doors. The only reason he didn’t text her right then and there was he needed someone to show him how.

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.”


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.


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.



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.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Series
I'm collaborating with another ex-attorney/fantasy writer, Xxxxx Yyyyyyy. (P.S. I highly recommend her book, Iiiiiiiiii!) 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 Xxxxx:

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!

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Real Life Gets in the Way

I hear a lot of writers bemoaning their lack of writing time. The ones I feel sympathy for are the ones dealing with some serious life issues. Chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia or MS which limit writers' mobility and energy. Providing care for special needs children or parents nearing the end of their lives. Or maybe they're working two or three jobs in order to put food on the table.

I haven't published anything under my name since last November. It doesn't mean I haven't been writing. Time is grabbed here and there. Standing in line at the post office. Waiting for my take-out order. The last few minutes before bedtime.

Why? Life's been crazy trying to get our house on the market. Then trying to get moved into our new apartment. A lot of things went wrong. A lot of things didn't. But through it all, I kept plugging away. And I honestly can't complain. DH and I made some hard decisions of what would be best for the family.

Sure, it's been slow on the publishing front. But things are looking up. I met with a graphic artist over breakfast this morning about the new logo for Angry Sheep Publishing. I've got a tentative agreement with a formatter for updating the Bloodlines novels and issuing print versions. I've narrowed down my prospective list of artists whose work I like for the new covers.

Now, I have to finish reviewing Zombie Wedding and Blood Sacrifice for typos because I found a couple in Blood Magick, and I need to finish the last four books of the series. Then it's on to the Justice series, and a couple of special projects that I'll tell you more about soon.

You should have a lot of new things to read from me in 2015.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Home Office

I thought it would only take me three days to finish cleaning out my office. Boy, was I wrong!

There were still a dozen boxes from our last three moves sitting in the corner. Both DH and I had forgotten what was in them, but I didn't want to drag them back to Ohio (AGAIN). So I went through them. From Friday the 5th through Tuesday the 9th, I went through them.

I really don't want to end up on an episode of Hoarders, so I threw out quite a bit, but I still had four packed boxes that needed to go to the garage and another five that were half packed. On Wednesday, I had to take a break and deal with yard work.

So of course yesterday morning, I got the text that someone wanted to see the house.


I ran through the house and tossed boxes into closets, hid dirty dishes in the broken dishwasher, and took the fastest shower in my life because I was too exhausted to take one the night before. But here's how my home office looks with everything hidden in the closet.

This room started as GK's nursery. Since I had such a difficult pregnancy, I hired a lovely woman named Mona to paint the room for me. She took my Egyptian theme and ran with it. Instead of mint green walls, she plastered and painted them to resemble antique plaster. Then she carefully hand-painted the figures.and hieroglyphs along the ceiling. Frankly, these pictures don't do the paintings justice.

The south wall depicts Horus and Thoth, the east Isis, and the west Hathor. There are statues of Anubis and Bast on my desk and one of Thoth (the patron of writers) on my bookcase.

I'm really going to miss this room!

(P.S. If you're reading this on my website's home page, my apologies for the block text and missing pictures. My webmistress and I are still trying to track down the problem with the new RSS feed. Click on 'BLOG' to your left to go the main blog page.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why I Haven't Been Writing Lately

The sign is finally up.

Yesterday was insane, and my muscles ache in a good way. I had to get the house cleaned and boxes hidden because the realtor was coming by to take pictures.

I've barely been writing for the last thirteen months since I've been trying to get this damn house on the market. However, as Tiffany says in Blood Magick, Murphy is the one true god. So many things went wrong that my friend Ro calls the last thirteen months a "comedy of catastrophes."

Even yesterday, I got the yard spruced and the driveway and patio cleaned off in preparation for the photo shoot. Only to have a thunderstorm whip through and deposit more leaves and debris on the drive. *sigh*

Oh, and the dishwasher decided to spring a leak on Wednesday. I'm going to head over to Home Depot and beg for credit. If that doesn't work, we'll have to wait until DH gets paid on the 15th.

But my new stove is very pretty and bakes a mean lasagna!

And that tile? Yep, I did it all by myself! In the back hall, utility room and half bath, too!

In the half bath, I tried my hand at sponge painting. The picture doesn't do it justice. The base coat is the same Precious Peach that covers the kitchen walls. Then Shamrock Green and Doric White were sponged over it.

P.S. There's a brand new American Standard toilet in there as well.

I can't take all the credit for the hardwood in the family room. Genius Kid did the majority of the work. I measured and DH cut, but GK busted butt on laying down the wood.

The fireplace normally doesn't have my plants on it. It has gas logs, and does a nice job of heating up the family room on those rare cold days in Houston.

(Poor empty bookshelf though! Harry Potter has been packed!)

We have a living room/dining room combo area with cathedral ceilings. I had to hire someone to paint this room and the master bath. I don't do heights. LOL

The carpet's fairly new (we bought it in 2008). Like the rainbow afghan I crocheted? I had to cover the couch and loveseat. I bought them new in 1989, but they were showing the love from the multitude of dogs and kids that have used them.

The hardwood flows from the family room, next to the staircase, and to the entryway.

At the head of the stairs is a loft that overlooks the LR/DR.

Originally, the loft was originally my office when I was in law school and first started practicing, so of course, DH decided he HAD to have it when he switched to working from home.

He also decided his desk needed to be bigger, too.

And he absconded with and ruined my good leather office chair in the process.

(No, I don't hold grudges. *wink*)

GK's room started out as the guest bedroom, but he outgrew his toddler bed before he was four so we moved him in here.

I originally had painted the room Twilight Blue (long before I got pregnant) with Viking Blue trim and doors because I loved the colors. Cool, soothing colors.

Our realtor Norberto suggested (rather strongly) that it needed to be repainted to something neutral, aka Doric White.

Have I said how much I've come to despise Doric White?

Okay, maybe not so much. It looks better than the crappy blue-flowered wall paper the builders originally put in GK's bathroom. And look at that beautiful tile!

I refused to compromise on the master bedroom (my bedroom!). No, Doric White here!

The walls are Inspired Lilac with Bright White trim. Matching vertical blinds replaced the godawful Laura Ashley curtain.

Lovely French doors guard the entrance. The reason our waterbed looks funky is we drained it in anticipation of the carpet being stretched and cleaned. It wasn't worth the water bill to refill it since we probably won't be here much longer.

The painter fought with me over the master bathroom. Can you believe he wanted to paint it *gasp* Doric White?

But I won (since I paid for the paint), and the walls and trim match the master bedroom. Unfortunately, you don't get a good view of the lovely tile.

Plus, there's a garden tub, which is excellent for those insane days when you just need to relax with a glass of wine and a good book.

What's not display are my collection of essential oils and candles. (And no, those won't be sold with the house.)

The only room that wasn't photographed was my office (originally the nursery). I still have a a dozen half-packed boxes sitting it there. Today's project is to finish cleaning out that room. I'll post pics of it on Monday.

Next week, fingers-crossed, I may actually be writing again! Yay!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 8

I know it's been a while since I posted anything. I haven't gotten much writing done so far this year. Murphy's Law has been in full effect. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the drama will end soon!

* * *

I threw up an arm to block the blow. Fire sliced my skin as the steel pierced my glove. Far better then the main artery in my neck. If I stayed on the ground though, I was definitely dead.

My boot shot toward his crotch. He shifted to block the blow, and the momentum allowed me to shove him while I rolled the other way.

Directly into the path of the oncoming horses.

I curled into a tight ball, arms over my head to protect me from the multitude of sharp hooves. My head rang from the vibrations and pain of my injuries.

As suddenly as they appeared the multitude of riders and steeds were gone. I leapt to my feet, right hand already drawing the sword at my back.

I whirled around to find wardens pouring from both the temples of Light and Balance. Little Bear must have standing at the doors, watching for my return. My attacker, though, was gone.

“Anthea!” Luc’s familiar scent washed over me. He beat the wardens to me by a couple of paces.

He caught himself. “Are you all right, Lady Justice?” He reached for the blood on my face, but I shoved his hand away.

“No. Don’t.” A vicious smile twisted my lips. “We spilt each other’s blood.”

Luc’s answer was just as feral. “We have him.”

* * *
Or so we thought. But like everything else in this damnable day, the gods seemed to be laughing at our efforts including the two we were personally sworn to.

We left our team of wardens to watch the possible exits at a decrepit inn near the docks. The tracking spell failed as we reached the door it indicated. Inside was my attacker’s still warm body, bloody nose and all, in a tiny, third-story room. The scent of bitter almonds told us what type of poison he used. A quick search gave no clue of his identity, which in itself spoke of his origins.

Luc raked his hands through his hair. “There hasn’t been an attempt in Issura by the Assassins Guild since—”

“The reign of the Twin Queens before the last demon war.” I blew out an exasperated breath. “The question becomes why me?”

“Because you would administer Gretchen’s estate?”

“That makes no sense. We have no reason to believe my attempted assassination is connected with Sister Gretchen’s death.”

Luc snorted, his disgust evident. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

I sheathed my sword. “Whichever priest of Light witnessed the opening would know her last wishes also.”

“Which is why I assigned a warden to watch Kam.”

I stared at Luc. “Let’s assume for a moment you are correct, and there’s connection. Who knew the contents of Gretchen’s declaration? She deliberately filed it with the Temple of Death so Gerd wouldn’t know.”

Luc shrugged. “Everyone at Death?”

“If one of their members is involved, why not switch scrolls? For that matter, why not lose it?”

Luc grunted. “Too many safeguards. The entire temple would have to be involved in the conspiracy.” He crouched next to the body and lifted its hand. “What did Master Devin say about a man with small hands?”

I knelt and held my gloved hand against the corpse’s. “I suppose it’s possible, but no assassin is going to waste precious escape time to mutilate their target.”

“Unless whoever hired him gave him specific instructions.”

I climbed to my feet. “Now we’ve officially jumped into wild hare territory.”

Luc rose as well. “I haven’t had a chance to research a separation and tracking spell for the scrapings Master Devin provided you. Do you want me to do that while you have a talk with Lady Alessa?”

I shook my head. “No, I want her truthspelled during this little interview, and longer we wait, the more likely something else will go wrong in this investigation. The tracking spell can wait.” I stared at the rapidly cooling body. “If this is Gretchen’s killer, your spell won’t work anyway, and we’re no closer to understanding why.”

As we exited the room, we found Magistrate DiCook and a handful of peacekeepers pounding up the staircase of the inn.

“What the names of the Twelve is going on here?” When I didn’t answer, his attention switched to Luc. “One of you had better answer me!”

“A member of the Assassins Guild tried to murder me,” I said.

“On the steps of the Lord of Light’s home,” Luc added.

“When?” the magistrate demanded.

“Less than a candlemark ago.” I pushed past him, and he grabbed my left arm. I couldn’t stop the hiss of pain. When I refused to waste time waiting for a healer, Little Bear and Tyra had threatened to hold me down while one of the brothers bandaged the ugly cut from the assassin’s knife.

“Why wasn’t I notified?” DiCook’s lip curled into his familiar sneer.

I yanked my arm out of his grasp. “Because we were trying to catch him before he escaped.”

“You let him get away?”

I wasn’t sure if DiCook was more pleased that the assassin escaped or that I failed. If I gambled, I would have bet on the latter. “You could say that.” I gestured toward the wide open door. “If you can get more out of his belongings than I, let me know.”

I continued painfully down the stairs, Luc right behind me. My hip would stiffen from the bruising if I rested now, not that I could afford the time.

The exclamations from the peacekeepers and DiCook’s curse when they discovered the body beat us to the first floor.

“You really need to stop antagonizing the man, Anthea.”

I smiled up at him. “When the Lord of Light’s domain freezes over.”

* * *
Duke Marco’s face froze, the air of disappointment and despair obvious when Luc and I showed up at his gate and asked to speak with his sister. Lady Katarina graciously allowed us to use her reception room, but the fire couldn’t warm me as it did yesterday.

Lady Alessa held her composure until her brother and sister-in-law left the room. Hot shame tinted her cheeks. “You know.”

“Know what?” I said.

She sank into a chair. “Don’t play with me, Justice. Please, don’t. You have no idea how h-hard…” Pale blue tears ran down her cheeks.

Luc cursed under his breath. I knew at once he hadn’t asked the right questions during his originally interview of her. He hadn’t conceived of the two women having a secret affair.

“You could have pulled one of us aside yesterday,” I said gently. “We would have listened.”

She stared at the painfully bright grate. “I couldn’t. Things have been so difficult for my brother. There’s been so much scandal. He tried, he really did, to find me an appropriate match. I thought if he did, I could suppress my desires…”

“Alessa, I need Luc to truthspell you.”

She nodded though her attention never wavered from the fire.

The moment the pale nimbus of magic surround her, I said, “Tell me about the counterspell Gretchen taught you.”

Her head jerked, and she stared at me, eyes wide as she realized her mistake. She reached for her neck, and I seized her arms. It wasn’t much of a physical struggle despite my injuries.

But around us, objects shivered. I knew damn well it wasn’t Luc or me losing control of our power.

Luc removed the chain hidden beneath the collar of her dress. Dangling from the links was a carved ruby heart. A thin line of energy surrounded the jewel. A talisman.

Alessa’s face crumpled and her sobs came loud and fierce. Her terrible grief overrode the agony of the truthspell. For once, I was the one patiently stroking the distraught witness’s hair while Luc paced behind her chair.

Underneath the noblewoman’s emotion, I could feel the stones of the keep moan in sympathetic agony.

When she weeping faded to hiccups, I released her. “Don’t make me ask you again, Alessa. Otherwise, the truthspell will force you to answer me, and it will be painful.”

She nodded. “Gretchen gave me the heart a year ago. When we first started…” Her blood pulsed as she acknowledged their affair. “She laid the spell and taught me the words and gestures to activate and deactivate the magic.”

Alessa’s pulse slowed, her voice turned numb, as she stared at me. “She didn’t mean any harm. She was protecting me as best she could when…when Mother would have one of her hired sorcerers truthspell us.”

My own blood ran cold. I didn’t want to know the answer to the next question, but duty forced me to ask anyway. “Us? You mean you, Marco and Isabella?”

Behind Alessa, Luc froze. “That’s how your mother found out Marco was courting Katarina, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Her head bowed once more. “Ironically, Mother sending our baby sister to the capital protected her from the worst of her predations. Isabella loves the university, and now she can focus on her studies without Mother breathing down her neck about seducing some lordling.”

Time to get the questioning back on track. “Alessa, did you kill Sister Gretchen of the Temple of Love?”

“No.” Anger threaded through her single word. There was a hint of power behind it.

“Do you know who killed Sister Gretchen?”

“No.” The fire flared, and I couldn’t stop my wince at the brilliant heat. Thankfully, Alessa couldn’t see my reaction with my hood in place.

“Do you know who put Sister Gretchen’s body into the barrel she was found in?”


“When was the last time you saw her alive?”

“Five mornings ago. I had snuck out of the manor and met her at a hunting cabin on our lands about an hour's ride north. We spent the night together.” Once again, her pulse jumped at revealing such intimate secrets. “We parted two candlemarks before dawn in order to return to our beds without arousing suspicion.”

I glanced at Luc, his frown matching my own. Alessa’s testimony narrowed the window for Gretchen’s murder.

Turning my attention back to the noblewoman, I asked, “Why didn’t your parents have you tested for magical talent?”

Her gaze met mine again. “They did. The priest of Light who supervised said I was a passive.”

A passive talent could activate a spell created by an active talent, but they couldn’t cast one on their own. Therefore, they weren’t required to register with the temples.

Luc finally stopped pacing. He crossed to the chair on the other side of Alessa and sat. “I know you are still dealing with your lover’s death, m’lady, but I would like you to come see me, in say, two weeks from today for retesting.” So I wasn’t the only one who sensed her flashes of power.

I could feel her mounting panic. “You are not in trouble, Alessa. Either you were too young to fully manifest your talent yet, or the brother was incompetent.”

“Excuse me?” Luc exclaimed in mock outrage.

Our teasing lightened Alessa’s mood, and she made a burbling half giggle-half hiccup sound.

Luc held up the necklace. “I am going to take this for now. We need to figure out how to deal with this counter spell in order to discover Gretchen’s murderer. I’ll return it when you come to see me in two weeks.”

“You’ll remove the spell from the jewel, won’t you?” she whispered.

“We have to,” I said. “Technically, it’s illegal.” I held up my hands when the chair I sat on trembled. “I’m not charging you. You received it in good faith from another priestess.” I cleared my throat. “I do need to ask you a few more questions.”

She sagged in her own seat and nodded.

“Did anyone know that you and Gretchen were having an affair?”

“Not that I know of. As I said, we were very careful because of my mother.”

“Did you receive any notes or messages that insinuated a person knew about your affair?”


“Any oblique reference about you personally involved in a sapphic affair?”

“Not to me.” She paused for a moment, but she wasn’t fighting the spell. “Some lords have made derogatory comments about me to Marco, but as far as I know it was for the purpose of insult, not because they truly believed I prefer the bed of a woman.”

“Do you know who Gretchen named as her heir in her declaration of last wishes?”



“Me. She told me our last night together. That she wanted to make sure I had resources if something happen to her, and my family discovered our relationship.” Alessa’s smile was small and sad. “She kept trying to talk me into running away with her. Cant, or the Mecas, or even the Sea Peoples’ islands. I just couldn’t leave Marco and especially Isabella without any explanation.”

“Did she ever indicate there was another reason she wanted to escape from Orrin?”

“I’d like to believe it was only our love, but I know there were problems between her and Sister Gerd and Sister Dragonfly.”

“What kind of problems?”

Alessa took a deep breath and released it. “Gerd was always accusing her of trying to usurp her authority. Dragonfly was simply jealous when Gretchen stopped sleeping with her.”

I exchange looks with Luc. Now we were getting somewhere, but neither of us said anything.

Instead, I took her hands in mine. “Your pain is mine.”

Her face scrunched again at the ritual words of sympathy for the death of a loved one, but she forced back her tears. “Thank you,” she whispered.

At my signal, Luc murmured the words to release his truthspell.

I squeezed Alessa’s hands. “Gretchen was also Katarina’s friend. She would share your grief.”

“A-are you going to tell them? Marco and Katarina?”

“No,” I said softly. “Sharing that knowledge is not my right, but I think you are underestimating your family. About Gretchen’s declaration…” I sucked in a deep breath. “Brother Kam and I have opened and confirmed it—”

I held up one hand at her little gasp. “I don’t want to cause you any embarrassment, but I have the duty to insure Gretchen’s wishes are followed. Sister Gerd believes that no declaration exists. I’m going to have to make the public post soon to prevent her from illegally seizing your property.”

“I-I don’t know if I want it,” Alessa murmured.

I clasped her hands again. “You have the right of refusal, of course, but right now, your grief is overriding your common sense. I would suggest confiding to your brother. Get his counsel before you make any decision.”

“But the public post will cause even more scandal.”

“Considering the gold equivalent of Gretchen’s holdings, it will garner more noble suitors than you know what to do with,” Luc said, dryly.

“Not to mention, Marco has already broken with tradition. There’s no reason you cannot follow in his footsteps,” I added.

Alessa nodded. “I will take your wisdom into consideration, Justice, Brother.”

“If you remember anything else, come straight to us,” I said. “No pages or other messengers if you want to avoid the gossip.”

She nodded, but tears had started trickling down her cheeks again. Luc deactivated his wards, and we left the reception room.

Marco stood in the hallway, by his expression obviously expecting the worst.

I stopped before him. “Your sister isn’t involved in the murder.”

He sagged against the stone wall. “Thank the Twelve.”

I laid right hand on his shoulder and squeezed in support. After all the struggle and tension with Alessa, the slice on my left was throbbing.

As I continued past him, he called, “Lady Justice—”

“I can’t say anything more, Your Grace.” Before I spilled all of his sister’s secrets, I turned and marched down the hallway.

Luc and I were nearly to the entryway when a figure stepped from behind a statue. “She didn’t do it.”

I remembered the voice from yesterday. “You are Bartholomew, correct?”

“Yes, m’lady.” He bobbed his head. “Lady Alessa, she didn’t kill that priestess.”

Behind me, Luc’s irritation rippled through my psyche. “Yesterday, you told me you didn’t know who killed Sister Gretchen.”

“Ah don’t!” Between Bartholomew and Luc’s emotional turmoil, I felt as if my eyes would erupt from my head.

“Do you have an additional statement you wish to make, Bartholomew?” I said, trying to inject some calm into the situation.

“Ah just told ya. Lady Alessa didn’t kill that priestess.”

I wanted to believe he was a loyal DiMara retainer, but maybe he was too loyal. “And how do you know this?” I asked.

If the heat of his face hadn’t given him away, the shuffling of his feet did. “Ah-ah just know, that’s all.”

“If you still want a place in this household, you’d better answer the justice’s question.” Lady Katarina’s cold steel voice came from behind Luc and me.

Unfortunately, the moment we glanced at her was the same moment Bartholomew decided to run.