Thursday, October 31, 2019

An Offer Reminder

Today's the last day for the Bloodlines sale! Both Blood Magick and Zombie Love are $0.99 each at most major e-book retailers.


BLOOD MAGICK
Amazon, all countries
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ZOMBIE LOVE
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A Very Hero Christmas is on pre-order at Amazon and will be released December 1st. If you like the 888-555-HERO series, let your friends know they can a copy of the first book, Hero De Facto, free December 1st through the 4th.

Sample chapters for A Very Hero Christmas will be posted here every Wednesday, starting November 6th!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Release Day - Resurrected

THIS IS THE END!

A necromancer awakes from his coma. A vampire owes a god of death a favor, and the deity demands his payment. A very dead ancient Egyptian prince finds himself back in the land of the living in another man’s body. And a single mother still blames her sister-in-law for the death of her husband.

Sam Ridgeway doesn’t know these four people are her personal Horsemen. The Harbingers of Armageddon. And they are more interested in their own agendas. Because if they can’t control Sam, they will have to kill her.

And if Sam dies, so does the world.

**Links will be updated as they go live.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bloodlines Books Discounted!

As part of the Resurrected promotion, the first and second books of the Bloodlines series are available for $0.99. Yep, that's right. Both Blood Magick and Zombie Love are $0.99 each from now until Halloween (October 31th) at most major e-book retailers.

If you haven't checked out this series, now's the time to get started!

BLOOD MAGICK
Amazon, all countries
Apple
Barnes & Noble
Google Play
Kobo
Smashwords

ZOMBIE LOVE
Amazon, all countries
Apple
Barnes & Noble
Google Play
Kobo
Smashwords

Resurrected hits the virtual shelves on October 25th!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 5

This will be the last sample chapter of Resurrected since it comes out next week.

=============

Alex Stanton heard their expected guests in the hallway before they rang the doorbell to his and Phil’s condo. He yanked the door open before the sound died. “How’s my favorite granddaughter?” He swept Ellie into his arms and twirled her around. His Maltese Kiki danced around his bare feet and barked at the excitement.

Ellie giggled. “Grandpa Alex, you’re being silly. I’m your only granddaughter.”

“And if you make her puke, you’re cleaning up the mess,” Phil yelled from the kitchen.

Ellie leaned close to his ear. “Mommy’s upset. Uncle Jake’s in the hospital.”

“I know,” he whispered back. “Grandma Phil’s making cookies. Why don’t you give her a hand?”

“Yay!” Ellie shed her jacket and dropped it on the floor before she ran for the kitchen. Kiki yipped and raced after her.

“El—” Tiffany started.

“Let it go this once,” Alex murmured as he retrieved the bright pink garment with Hello Kitty embroidered on the pockets. “What happened?”

“W-we don’t know much yet. His mom just said there was an accident.” She looked on the verge of tears herself.

“I’m taking her there now,” Sam said, as if daring him to say something.

Things hadn’t been great between the two women since Max died two years ago. He hadn’t agreed with Duncan about getting in the middle of the mess between Sam and Tiffany, but maybe Duncan had been right to do so after all. “Go. I’ll meet you two there.”

“You don’t have to—” Tiffany started, but he held up a hand. The kid’s relief at having someone else there was obvious, even to Sam from the way her lips pinched together.

“He’s my employee, too. And I’m gonna make damn sure whatever happened was really an accident.” Things had been quiet for the last year, other than the misunderstanding with the ghouls six months ago. But the peace Tiffany brokered with them had been invaluable in taking down the Vampire Liberation Front, and the threat of rebellion for withholding the cure from her own coven had gotten Virginia Dare to back off her planned invasion of St. James Coven’s territory. However, there had been no signs of Marcus Giovanni, the Sunshine Believers, or any dino demon since the ghoul incident.

Alex’s gut said this was merely the proverbial lull before the storm. And it would be just like those assholes to target a Normal member of the coven. He glanced in the direction of the kitchen to make sure Ellie was still back there.

Give me a little credit, Phil’s voice whispered in his mind. Of course, she’d been listening to the conversation through him.

Tiffany’s eyes widened. “You don’t think—”

“Don’t worry about it right now. Get to the hospital. I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Thanks.” Tiffany’s voice trembled, but her back was ramrod straight. She and Sam winked out of sight.

He padded back to the kitchen where his wife and Ellie were enthusiastically licking chocolate chip cookie dough off the beaters. Poor Kiki looked mournfully up at them.

“That looks delicious,” he said brightly as he retrieved a doggie treat. He crouched down, and Kiki licked his fingers before she gingerly took the nugget from his hand.

Ellie paused. “Did you eat chocolate chip cookies before you got sick?”

“Nope. I don’t think they had been invented yet.” He winked, and she giggled. “I need to go run an errand.” He rose and grabbed his keys and wallet from the counter.

Ellie’s eyes narrowed. “You’re going to the hospital, too, aren’t you?”

He and Phil exchanged looks. Don’t lie to her, his wife said in his mind.

“Yeah, sweetie, I am.”

“Why can’t I go?” Ellie asked matter-of-factly.

He knelt beside her. “Because the doctors want Jake to rest so he can get better. They won’t let little girls into his room yet.”

“Would they let me in to see him if Jake and Mommy got married?” she asked. “He said he was hoping to be my daddy real soon.”

Alex swallowed his discomfort. Jake had mentioned he’d asked Ellie’s permission when he’d dragged Alex along to shop for an engagement ring last week.

He wrapped an arm around Ellie. “I know he wants to be your daddy, sweetie. But even if he were already, the doctors still wouldn’t let you in yet. You would need to stay with us, or Grandma and Grandpa Howell, or Uncle Duncan.”

“That’s not fair.” Ellie stuck out her bottom lip. “I’m better behaved than Grandma Howell.”

Alex couldn’t look at Phil because he was having trouble keeping his own laughter in check. “If it makes you feel better, the doctors wouldn’t let Grandma Howell see Jake right now either.”

“Okay.” That answer seemed to mollify Ellie. “I suppose you can go without me.”

He smiled. “Thank you.”

She threw her arms around his neck. “It’s okay if you have to bite him to make him better, too.”

He forced himself not to react. Concern rolled along Phil’s thoughts as well.

Maybe Bebe had been right all those years ago. When they had first met the doctor, Tiffany had been in high school. Bebe had gone ballistic about Tiffany being raised by vampires. But not even as a teenager had Tiffany taken the V-virus this lightly.

Or maybe Ellie wasn’t taking things lightly. Maybe she understood more than Sam and Tiffany had been willing to admit to themselves.

“Well, let’s see what Jake’s doctors says before we do anything.”

“Okay.” Ellie released him. “Can I watch some television, Grandma Phil?”

“Yes, you may, but—” Phil turned and pulled a clean bowl from the dish rack. “Take this to put your beater in.”

Ellie accepted the bowl and took off for the living room. Kiki glanced at Alex before she trotted after Ellie. A few seconds later the overly sweet lyrics of a popular children’s show echoed through the condo.

Alex rose and kissed Phil briefly on the lips. “I’ll call you once I know something.” He turned to leave, but she grabbed his arm.

“Wait.”

“What’s wrong?”

She laughed and forced him to pivot away from her. “Hold still. You have a blob of cookie dough in your hair.”

Water ran in the sink behind him before the fresh scent of his wife mixed with the sweet smell of raw dough. He held still while she gently wiped the dough off the back of his head.

“There you go,” she said. “But you might want to wash your hair when you get home.”

He turned and pulled her close. “I will.” She tasted like semi-sweet chocolate and brown sugar when he gave her a much deeper kiss this time.

Phil pulled away and swatted him on the ass. “You’d better get going. If Jake’s all right, the hospital’s going to need you to referee the girls.”

Alex hoped she was wrong about Sam and Tiffany. But he still said a silent little prayer for Jake while he pulled on his boots. His goodbye didn’t even register with Ellie who was engrossed in her program, but Kiki looked at him briefly before she curled up against Ellie on the couch.

Sometimes it felt as if that dog understood far more than any normal canine. According to Phil, the Maltese breed were descended from pets created by a Phoenician god. Hell, for all he knew, Kiki might really be a were-Maltese. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d run into such a creature.

Five minutes later, he guided his pick-up through early evening Los Angeles traffic.

Or tried to. Rush hour was in full swing. Wilshire was already a mess. Santa Monica Boulevard wouldn’t be much better. Time to take the back streets. He turned right toward Olympic.

Buenos tardas, viejo amigo.” The voice came an instant before the smell.

“Shit!”

His truck swerved. Horns blared. Alex yanked the wheel back, somehow missing any of the vehicles around him.

He shot an ugly look at the Uku Pacha monkey demon now sitting in the pick-up’s passenger seat. “What the fuck, Francisco? Are you trying to get me killed?”

“Boss wouldn’t be too happy with me if I did,” the demon replied in English. The former vampire, now minion of Supay the Incan god of Death, still had the same charming voice he’d had while alive.

Alex guided his truck into the left turn lane for Olympic Boulevard and braked behind a minivan with a stick figure family in the rear window. Another glance at his visitor showed rotten teeth in Francisco’s broad smile. “You couldn’t have dropped the glamour five minutes earlier when I wasn’t driving in heavy traffic? Better yet, knock on my door like a civilized person?”

The demon shook his head. The motions sent dead skin and disintegrating hair flying through the cab of the truck. “Not with the little senorita visiting you. I did not wish to frighten her.”

“What are you doing in the States? Shouldn’t you be back in Peru, kissing your new boss’s ass?” The light changed, and Alex pressed the accelerator.

“Aren’t we in a piss-poor mood today?” The chittering sound Francisco made was the demon equivalent of laughter. “Did the lovely Phillippa kick you out of her bed for acting like an idiot?”

Alex’s grip tightened on the steering wheel. Francisco was right. He was taking his worry out on the demon. “Sorry, my friend. I’m on the way to the hospital. One of my enforcers was in an accident. He’s a Normal, and I don’t know how bad his condition is yet.”

Francisco grunted. “A Normal injured is never a good thing. They are so…fragile.” Of course, he understood. He had been the chief enforcer for the Lima vampire coven before he died. For some reason, Lord Supay had taken a shine to Francisco and offered him a place in his court at Uku Pacha after the dino demons and their followers had killed the vampire.

“You still haven’t told me why you’re here?” Alex murmured.

“My Master wishes to collect on the remainder of your debt.”

A chill ran through Alex. Owing a god, especially the Incan god of death, was not a healthy position for anyone, much less a vampire. “I got him his tumi back. You delivered it to him, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did!” Francisco huffed. “Do you truly believe I’d be that stupid and not return it?”

“Then our debt is done,” Alex declared. From the corner of his eye, he could see Francisco shaking his head sadly.

“In addition to His tumi, you promised to deliver those who took it.”

“All three of the Old Ones’ minions are dead. You helped Phil and me kill the two in Peru, and we took out the third one twice.” Even though the third dinosaur demon had managed to breed a couple hundred demon babies, surely Supay couldn’t count them as part of the debt.

“My Master had us hunt down the Normals and vampires who worked for the Old Ones’ minions at the time his tumi was stolen, but we were never able to catch one,” Francisco replied.

“Marcus Giovanni,” Alex growled as he braked at the next red light. Olympic was just as bad as Wilshire traffic-wise.

“Yes.”

The bastard had been Selene’s lieutenant when she made her repeated bids to kill Caesar and take over the Augustine, now St. James, vampire coven. After their third failure and Selene’s death, Giovanni had allied himself with the dinosaur demons and the human worshippers of their ancient gods.

Alex tapped the steering wheel with his thumbs as he waited for the light to change. It had been wishful thinking on his part that sad excuse for a vampire might have died when he’d been dragged to Otherwhere. It wasn’t like Sam hadn’t been hunting the bastard for the last two years in that alien dimension after he had tried to Turn Ellie when she was still in preschool.

“So he’s still alive. Do you know where he is?” Alex asked.

“He was last seen near the U.S. western coast. In the Cascade range outside of Portland, moving north with two Normals.” The light flipped to green, and Alex press the accelerator as he considered the situation. Now, why would Marcus come back to the U.S., much less hang out in the Oregon back country? Unless he didn’t consider Duncan a threat as the new coven master.

But Giovanni being back in the States and Jake’s accident was too much of a coincidence. And why the hell would the rogue vampire be traveling with Normals?

“Is your source reliable?”

Francisco chittered again. “As reliable as Coyote has ever been.” He sobered. “But he has no wish for the Old Ones’ return either. My Lord considers the information valid.”

“And Coyote is absolutely sure the pair with Giovanni were Normal?” Not that Alex questioned any deity given that his father-in-law was Ares of Olympus, but the Native American Coyote had a reputation as a trickster.

More skin flaked from Francisco’s forehead at his frown. “You believe them to be demon spawn?”

“It’s possible.” When Francisco remained quiet, Alex continued. “Portland, huh? Could he be heading back to Seattle? The last dino demon had a nest there a few years ago.”

“A possibility,” Francisco admitted. “I have been making the rounds on our end to alert other deities and their entourages in this area.”

“All right.” Alex pulled into the parking garage closest to the ER. “I’ll send out word to our enforcers.” He guided the truck into the first available parking spot he found. “Is there anything else?”

The demon sighed. “Unfortunately, there is.” Silvery white light filled the truck’s cab. “My Master needs something delivered.”

The little carved figure he held resembled something out of a Lovecraft story. It was made of the same space-age ceramic, titanium, and unknown metal as Supay’s tumi.

Francisco’s orange eyes held a terrible sadness. “I beg your forgiveness, my friend.”

Vampiric speed meant nothing. The demon slapped his right hand over Alex’s heart. The light from the strange object blinded him.

Alex couldn’t scream if he wanted to. Something else owned his vocal cords.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 4

Ptolemy

For the first time since arriving on the shores of the Styx, Ptolemy was glad of his ectoplasmic state. He’d be exhausted by now even with his old vampiric stamina.

He had followed Hermes along the shore until they were well away from the other shades. When the river dumped into a dark, bottomless chasm, they turned to the right, and toward what Ptolemy thought was the land of the living. Even the god’s snakes appeared bored. They had slithered from Hermes’s caduceus and draped themselves over his shoulders, hissing softly to each other.

The path widened until only the occasional boulder marked the way. Ptolemy couldn’t see the stone ceiling anymore. The gravel beneath their feet turned to sand. The grains felt odd under his soles.

He halted. I’m feeling again. The sand was warm, yet there was no sun. He kicked at a small mound. Bits flew into the air.

Hermes glanced over his shoulder. “Keep up. If I lose you here, I’ll never find you again.”

Ptolemy didn’t question the statement. “Is there a reason we cannot fly?” he asked as he hurried to match the god’s strides.

“Other than advertising your presence here and attracting every nearby predator, no,” the god replied sourly. Ptolemy extinguished a flicker of amusement. The Olympian didn’t relish walking like a Normal. But the last thing Ptolemy wanted to do was irritate Hermes. He’d end up back at on the shores of the River Styx.

Or worse.

“What is this place?” he asked. He kept his voice as quiet as the snakes’. Only the gods knew what prowled this place, and he really didn’t want to find out first hand.

“The common mortal name these days is Otherwhere. It is the space between realms.”

A shudder racked Ptolemy. The edges of his ectoplasmic body blurred and shredded. He heard enough from the witches over the millennia to know living things rarely survived long in this place. Even the fae trod lightly through Otherwhere. But the dead…

The dead were mere snacks for the things that roamed here.

Something far behind them howled. He automatically reached for his waist, but none of the weapon he wore when he was alive hung there. He looked wildly around and spotted a figure crouched on a boulder to their right. Gold eyes stared at him. Then they blinked.

“Lord Hermes?”

The Olympian said nothing, but he quickened his pace toward the boulder. Ptolemy had no choice but to keep up. The dark form leapt to the sand. As they drew closer, the figure’s head resolved into that of a jackal. The rest of his body was human-shaped, but blacker than their surroundings.

“Hermes.” The god inclined his long snout.

The Olympian gave a curt nod. “Anpu,” he said using the ancient Egyptian version of Anubis. “Any trouble?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary.” The Egyptian god twirled the long staff he carried. “Don’t worry, youngling. I won’t let the monsters eat you.” His lower jaw hung open and his tongue lolled out in a canine grin.

Ptolemy definitely got the impression Anubis found Hermes wanting. From the tight press of the Olympian’s lips, he knew it as well. Nor did he appreciate the comment.

“May I ask where we are going?” Ptolemy said.

Anubis cocked his head and stared at his counterpart. “You haven’t told him?”

Hermes waved a hand. “I gave him the gist.”

Another howl sounded from the direction they had walked. The Egyptian god snorted. “Too much risk staying here. I’ll explain as we go.” He set off at a brisk pace.

They had walked quite a distance, and Ptolemy wondered if he would have to ask again when Anubis spoke. “There’s a waiting area for the dead. A place for them to reside unmolested when there are…questions concerning their final disposition.” The god’s golden eyes flicked in Ptolemy’s direction before resuming their watchful examination the terrain ahead. “You almost ended up there.”

There was no need to ask why. Remembering his many sins while he waited on the shores of the Styx had been a more appropriate punishment than anything Hades or the Furies could devise in Tartarus.

“Why are you taking me there? Lord Hermes said I was to live another man’s life,” Ptolemy said.

Behind him, the Olympian muttered, “Dumbass. I explained it was a second chance.”

Anubis glanced at Ptolemy again. “You know what happens when a shade possesses a living body for too long.”

Another shudder rippled through his ectoplasm. He knew all too well. A possession gone wrong was the reason Caesar refused to hire any eclectic witch since the late 1600s. “So I only have a few days to accomplish this mission of yours.” “No. We’re unsure of how long you may need or what difficulties you will encounter. That’s why we’re meeting others at the waiting area. There is a way to extend your time on the mortal plane.”

“Why do I have the feeling I’m not going to like this?” Ptolemy muttered.

“You won’t.” Anubis stopped and stared at him. “However, you do have a choice in the matter. You can fulfill the task we give you and possibly redeem yourself, or Hermes can take you back to the shores of the Styx where you will eventually go mad like your sister.”

Ptolemy crossed his arms, or tried to emulate the gesture. “Lord Hermes said the catch was I had to trap a goddess. Why? And what goddess?”

Anubis was silent for a moment, as if searching for the correct words. “Why? To save the universe. As for the goddess, well, she is quite new. The first of what will be a new pantheon. An infant really.”

“Are you asking me to harm a baby?”

“Not harm. Restrain. So she doesn’t starts eating mortals before her transformation is complete.”

“What is she the patroness of that she would consume people?”

Anubis’s tongue hung out of his snout again, definitely the canine equivalent of a grin. “Death always comes first. And she is always hungry.”

Friday, October 4, 2019

BOOK SALE!!

There's good news and bad news.

BAD NEWS
As of October 31st, Amazon is discontinuing its Matchbook program. For those who don't know what that this, some publishers have deals set up where if you buy the paperback novel you can get the e-book of that same novel for a deep discount or free.

GOOD NEWS
Angry Sheep Publishing has most of my e-book novels and anthologies set to free in this program.

Even better, Amazon has been marking down a lot of my paperbacks. Some really good discounts too, like 25-66%. With the holidays coming up, you could buy the paperback and keep the e-book for yourself.

For example, the paperback of Hero Ad Hoc is $4.57 in the US store as of this posting, so you could buy it and the e-book version for $4.57 plus tax. Check it out if you're interested!


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 3

Tiffany

I braced myself before I opened my own front door, regretting once again that I had allowed Uncle Duncan talk me into letting her babysit my daughter. “Ellie! I’m home!”

“We’re in the kitchen, Mommy!” my baby’s sweet voice answered. She claimed she was a big girl now she was in first grade. I told her she’d always be my tiny, red, squirmy worm who peed all over the doctors and nurses the night she was born.

I dropped my bag and books in the new mauve armchair in the living room. Hardwood covered the floor now. I couldn’t handle keeping the carpet that had been soaked with my dead husband’s blood. That had been the first thing to go. Once Jake and I decided to live together, the rest of the old furniture had to go, too.

I could have simply sold the house. It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford something better, but the Tarzana ranch-style place was the closest I ever felt to “home” my entire life. This is where I started my own family.

From the kitchen came Ellie’s voice, then hers, then someone I didn’t recognize. Rage burned my blood. Of course, she would flaunt my rules about no visitors while sitting for my child after school. She didn’t think rules applied to her anymore.

The bitch needed to die, but how can you kill someone who’s already dead? Even worse, how do you kill Death personified? I eased my gun out of my waist holster anyway. The silver-and-garlic-laced steel bullets were specially designed by my boss to handle just about anything in the supernatural range. No one outside of me and a couple of other St. James Coven enforcers knew the real special ingredient was Maltese dog fur.

And if anyone had ever told me years ago, Alex Stanton would have a tiny fluff-mop for a pet, I would have laughed my ass off. In fact, most vampires didn’t have pets. Something about competing predator instinct.

But no, my manly man boss had a girly dog. I kind of wished she was here now.

I eased around the wall between the living room and the extra-large kitchen, gun raised. Five strangers sat with Ellie and her at my table.

“Mommy, put your gun down. That’s rude.” My daughter’s expression was the same cross one she had when someone farted in her presence. Who would have thought I’d be raising a princess? “Aunt Sam and I are teaching her friends how to play poker.”

Okay, maybe a princess who can wipe the floor of any casino in Vegas.

I lowered my weapon only because Ellie was sitting between her and Morrigan. And I’d dealt enough with the sidhe over the years that I actually respected the Celtic goddess.

Nor did it take a rocket scientist to figure out who the rest of the players were considering the predominance of black, red and white clothing. Ellie’s pink princess dress and tiara stood out among the assembly.

I blinked and looked again. That wasn’t the toy tiara Jake had bought for her. The way it sparkled under the sunlight coming through the huge picture window overlooking the backyard, my daughter wore a fortune in diamonds on her head. Shit. I didn’t need three guesses to know who the tiara came from.

I holstered my gun. It wouldn’t do a damn thing against this group. “That’s nice, babycakes, but please, go to your room. The grown-ups need to talk.”

Blue eyes wide, Ellie climbed down from her chair and scampered down the hall, pink taffeta fluttering behind her. She’d learned not to talk back when Mommy used her growly voice.

I was definitely growling when I whirled toward Sam. “What the fuck makes you think you can flaunt my rules? No guests while babysitting!” My hand slashed in the direction of the other goddesses. “I don’t care who they are.”

My sister-in-law had the grace to look embarrassed. “You’re home early,” she muttered.

“And that makes it okay?” My voice rose to a shriek.

“Our deepest apologies, Ms. Stephens.” The woman in the black kimono rose and bowed. The red and white flowers on the fabric shivered if I looked at them to closely and became maggots wiggling through droplets of blood. “We didn’t know our presence was banned by you. We would not have come if we were aware of the restriction.”

I reined in my fury at my sister-in-law. It wouldn’t be healthy to offend her guests no matter how pissed I was.

I bowed in return, an equal tilt of my body. Grandpa Kensai had taught me enough Japanese culture to understand the significance of a bow. “Your presence in and of itself is not the problem, Lady Izanami. Nor do I fault you in this matter.” I glared at Sam. “The issue is Lady Samantha agreeing to my terms in return for visiting my daughter without supervision, and then breaking her word.”

Three of the seated goddesses turned to Sam with a collective, “Ooooooooo!”

The fourth rose to her feet as well. She wore a black t-shirt with blood red leather pants, her hair braided and tied on top of her head with a thong that matched her lower half. The arc of her nose and darker skin said Native American. Her ear plugs and nose ring indicated south of the U.S. border. Her piercing black eyes arrowed on Sam. “Is this true?” Pink flushed Sam’s cheeks. “I thought Ellie should get to know you guys, Miki.”

Miki. Mictecacihuatl. My stupid ex-sister-in-law brought the Aztec goddess of death into my home. From the pounding in my ears, my blood pressure had to be well over anything remotely in the healthy range.

“You definitely scrooched the pooch, baby girl.” Kali shook her head. Maybe if Sam didn’t listen to me, she’d listen to the Hindu goddess’s disapproving mom voice. “Folks like us can’t go back on our word. It can break things.” She leaned closer and fake-whispered, “Like the universe.”

“All right.” Morrigan slapped the table with her palms and stood. “Ladies, we’re outta here while somebody—” She also glared at Sam. “—kisses some ass if she ever wants to see her niece again.” She turned back to me. “Again, we’re sorry, Tiffany.”

The other goddesses followed Morrigan to the front door.

The blonde with the pale skin and ice blue eyes, who hadn’t said a word, was the last. She inclined her head in my direction. “God middag, Ms. Stephens.”

Something moved under her black broomstick-style skirt. Something I didn’t want to see, much less let my daughter see it. I forced myself to face her and inclined my head as well. “Good afternoon, Lady Hela.”

She glided out of the kitchen. Only when I heard the front door close did I whirl to face her.

“How could you, you fucking bitch?” Part of me was thankful I wasn’t screaming hysterically. “I didn’t ask a lot, except for you to obey the same rules as all the other babysitters.”

She raised her hands in a defensive gesture. “Kali asked what I was doing, and I texted her a picture of Ellie in her princess dress. Next thing I know, they’re all in the living room.”

“Oh my god, Sam! This isn’t a kegger!” So much for keeping my voice down. “You let five goddesses of DEATH play with my DAUGHTER!”

She stared at the chips in front of her. “I didn’t want to be alone in case Jake got here before you,” she mumbled.

My brain took a couple of seconds to translate her mumbles. “What?”

“I didn’t want to be alone with Jake, okay?” She looked up at me. “Things have been going pretty good with Duncan, and I…”

I pulled out one of the vacated chairs and sat down. “Is this about your marriage, or is this about my relationship with your ex-fiancĂ©?”

She sucked in a deep breath. “Both.”

“Are you that pissed Jake moved in with me?”

“No.” She reached for a napkin next to the nearly empty box of Oreos and dabbed her eyes.

I would have to address the sweets issue, but one crisis at a time.

“I think you two are good for each other, and he adores Ellie,” she continued. “It’s…”

“It’s what?” I was trying very hard not to lose what little patience I’d regained.

“You guys are the family I couldn’t give him.”

Old rage boiled to the surface of my thoughts. “So, are you going to take him from me, too?”

“What?” She tried to look surprised, but I didn’t buy it.

“You heard me.” “I don’t want to argue about Max. Not today.” She covered her face with her hands.

“Then you shouldn’t have used the past as an excuse to break my rules,” I snapped. I pushed away from the table, jumped up and charged for the fridge. I needed to do something, anything, before I started blowing holes in my sister-in-law. Not that it would do any good.

I grabbed one of Jake’s orange-flavored beers and twisted off the cap. It was petty of me, but I didn’t offer her one. After two years, I still couldn’t forgive her for letting my husband, her own damn brother, die.

Even Grandpa Ares was on her side. Telling me she didn’t have a choice. That she had to obey the rules.

Was that the real reason I agreed to Jake moving in with Ellie and me? A little perverted payback since he was her ex-fiancé?

No, I told myself firmly. Jake was funny and sweet, and he could deal with the insanity of my family. Honestly, he was the first Normal guy I’d ever dated. Max and I…

I took a swig from the bottle. My husband and I never really dated. We went straight from sex to pregnancy to marriage. Hell, it was a wonder we lasted as a couple as long as we did.

Sam stood. “If you don’t want me around, I understand.” And I finally realized she wasn’t wearing her normal t-shirt and jeans. Instead, she was cloaked in a high-collared black coat straight out of the Matrix with matching slacks and boots.

Either the garb truly reflected her new duties, or Uncle Duncan’s lack of fashion sense was rubbing off on her. I slammed the fridge door shut and tossed the cap in the trash. “That’s not the point.” I jabbed a finger in the general direction of my front door. “Everyone else who was here apologized, except the one person who should have. You.” She stiffened. “I—”

The ringing of my cell phone cut her off. I held up an index finger to tell her to shut it. I expected Jake to call. Things on the set had been running behind for the last week and a half.

I pulled the phone from my jeans pocket, but it wasn’t his ID on my display. It was his mother’s. “Hey, Audra. What’s up?”

“T-t-tiffany, there’s been an accident.” She was crying. Audra Wong was not a crier.

My entire body went numb. “What hospital?”

“Cedar Sinai.”

“I’ll be there in twenty.” I thumbed off the phone. Please let him be okay. I can’t go through this again. Not for the third time.

“Mommy?” Ellie peered wide-eyed around the corner of the hall.

I forced a smile. At least, I think I did. I couldn’t feel anything. “Babycakes, I need you to go pack a bag real quick. You’re going to stay with Grandma Phil tonight.” My thumb was already punching the number. Except the phone and the beer bottle were sliding from my hands.

Sam caught them both. “Go do as your mom asked Ellie.” She set down the bottle on the table and guided me to the chair. A voice came through the speaker, and she raised it to her ear.

“No, Phil. It’s Sam. Can Ellie stay with you tonight?”

I made a half-hearted grab for my phone, but Sam danced out of reach.

“There was an accident at the movie set. Jake’s been taken to Cedars.” Pause. “No, we don’t know how bad it is yet.” Pause. “I’m taking her.”

That statement reminded me I was still pissed at Sam. “No, you’re not.”She glared at me. “You’re in no shape to drive.” Her attention returned to the phone conversation. “We’ll be at your door in five minutes.” She thumbed off the call.

“I hate teleporting,” I grumbled.

“You were right about what I did,” she said.

“Well, halle-fucking-lujah,” I muttered.

“I’m sorry for disobeying your rules. Let me make this up to you and help.”

I glared at her. “If you let him die, I will fucking stab you through the heart, bitch.”

She nodded. “Understood. Get your bag, and I’ll make sure Ellie has her toothbrush.” For the first time in years, she sounded like the old Sam.

And that scared me more than anything.