Saturday, January 30, 2021

The First 2021 "I Need Something to Cope" Sale!

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since I released my first three novels. I still love these stories, and I'd like to spread the urban fantasy love.

From now until the end of February, Bloodlines: The First Boxed Set will be on sale for $0.99! Retail links will be posted as they go live.

Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Virtue of Child - Chapter 2

I cursed and leaned back in my chair. The demon voices whispered excitedly in the back of my head. However, I ignored them and focused on the magistrate. “How many and how long have they been there?”

“Three to four days,” he said. “I’ve already sent for Master Healer Bly.”

I didn’t have to ask why he needed me. I rose, donned my formal robes and buckled on my sword harness.

“Have you sent a messenger to Light?” I asked.

“Jaime will meet us on the street with a priest.”

I didn’t want to ask, but I did anyway. “He’s been drinking again?”

DiCook sighed. He didn’t ask who I meant. “According to Brother Garbhan, the high brother stops long enough to piss and pass out.”

I frowned. “What do you mean ‘according to Brother Garbhan’?”

“I’ve been added to the list of people banned from the Temple of Light.” The magistrate shrugged. Unfortunately, it was within Luc’s purview at the head of Orrin’s Temple of Light to ban anyone who disrupted the Temple’s daily business.

“What about Jeremy and Shi Hua?” I asked. “What do they say?”

“Jeremy says nothing to me. His loyalty to Luc is absolute.” DiCook followed me out of my office. “And I can’t speak to Shi Hua. Chief Healer Aaron has put her on bedrest, so she hasn’t left the Temple lately.”

I jerked to halt. “Bed rest? Is there something wrong—”

DiCook raised his right palm. “It’s a precaution. Mistress Yin Li mentioned some issues Shi Hua’s mother had experienced in her pregnancies. When Shi Hua exhibited similar symptoms, Aaron erred on the side of caution since she’s definitely carrying a Light child.”

I continued walking toward the courtroom. “He’s certain her babe is Light?”

“Says so.” DiCook chuckled. “It’s not like I have any blessed talent to confirm a Twelve-damned thing.”

We entered the sanctuary/courtroom of Balance as he finished his comment. Two of my wardens waited with a peacekeeper.

Warden Noko scowled at DiCook. “Language, Magistrate. Just because the chief justice has no sense of decorum, it doesn’t mean you should follow in her footsteps.”

I glared at the normally quiet woman. However, Warden Gina and the peacekeeper snickered. As usual, the basalt statue of Balance said nothing.

“Forgive me, Lady Warden.” DiCook bowed to Noko. “I shall endeavor to keep the chief justice’s poor manners from influencing my own. In the meantime, can we deal with the possible crimes discovered by a poor shopkeeper this morning?”

The magistrate, myself, and our bodyguards exited the Temple of Balance. It was a shame DiCook and I as city leaders could no longer walk through the streets of Orrin without an escort. Between demon attacks and human renegades, no one took chances this days.

I could no longer even walk to Bakers Street on the days we didn’t have court. It was the people watching I missed as much as the delicious puff pastries. Now, I had to look at nearly every citizen as a potential assassin.

Brother Garbhan and Warden Yar waited for us at the bottom of the steps leading up to my Temple. They both nodded politely and greeted us, but as I got closer to the men, the acidic smell of vomit met my nose. I looked up at Yar. He merely gave a slight shake of his head, his expression begging me not to say anything.

Truly, there was nothing to say. Luc was by no means a short man, but Yar was a giant by comparison. And if my love was a dead weight from passing out drunk, it would take someone of the warden’s size to wrestle him into bed.

Nor was this the first time the staff of Light had to deal with a drink-addicted chief priest.

Were Luc and I doomed to repeat my maternal grandparents’ mistakes?

Luckily, the deceased seamstress’s shop was a short walk from the Temple District. Along with two peacekeepers securing the building, several women were gathered around the entrance to the storefront. One in particular leaned against the stone wall of the first story. Her eyes were closed, and a pained expression etched lines across her delicate features.

The women’s murmuring stop as we walked up to the shop. One of them leaned close to the leaning woman and said, “The chief justice is here, Jaci.”

Her eyes popped open, and she straightened and bowed. “Chief Justice, Brother. Thank you for coming.”

She spoke with a bit of an accent that I couldn’t quite place.

“When did you get possession of the keys to this shop, Mistress Jaci?” I asked.

“First Day of last week. I paid the magistrate’s clerk after the auction, and she gave me the keys.”

I turned to DiCook.

“I already confirmed the account with my clerk, Chief Justice.” DiCook scowled, but I had the impression he was more disturbed by his memories of Dante and what we’d found here last winter. “She’s available for whenever you need to truthspell her.”

“Truthspell?” The woman who brought Jaci’s attention to my presence shook, but from the red of her exposed skin, it was anger, not fear that provoked her. She also had the same unrecognizable accent. “We’re the aggrieved parties!”

“Calm, Maiara,” Jaci said sternly. “The chief justice is the reason you and my nieces are alive.”

“You don’t have a Tandoran or Cantan accent.” I cocked my head. “Were you in Tandor during the demon siege?”

“I wasn’t, Lady Justice.” A wan smile crossed Jaci’s face. “My sister Maiara and her family were. Her husband and her eldest daughter’s wife were lost during the defense of the city. As for our accents, our parents were part of the Tupi Forest Guardians. They immigrated to Issura based on their High Sister of Vintner’s recommendation to assist the Duke of Tandor with his medicinal garden.”

“The Valley of the Lost is very different from the Southern Long Continent’s Great Forest,” I said.

“Mother said that stark contrast is one of the reasons they stayed in Tandor. However—” Jaci gestured at the door. “We hoped to reopen the seamstress shop to give Maiara and her daughters an occupation and an income. Our youngest sister Moema and her daughters came down from Redwood Grove to help us clean, organize, and inventory the shop.”

“Inventory?” I asked.

“The duke ordered me to include all of Barbora’s fabrics, thread tools, and so on,” DiCook offered. “Part of the sale money will go back to Mistress Jaci and her family to complete the orders Barbora never finished.”

Of course, Duke Marco would. He had been trying very hard to be equitable to his people since he inherited the duchy. The sudden influx of refugees from our sister city of Tandor had made his position a delicate balancing act.

One that hadn’t been helped by the year’s spate of murders.

“Has there been any reports of missing people in the city?” I asked.

“No.” DiCook grinned. “After your little tantrum a few months ago, even the folks in the South Side are talking to a few of the peacekeepers. Closest we came was a young couple who tried to talk High Mother Leocadia into marrying them.”

I tried not to think about that day. Tensions had spilled over between the unusual heat and the massive number of Tandoran refugees. Somehow, I produced lightning. It was not a typical Balance talent, and I hadn’t been able to replicate it, but maybe that was a good thing.

“Underage?” I asked.

“Underage,” DiCook said amically.

“Magistrate, when was the last time any of your people entered the shop?” I couldn’t bring myself to say Dante or Barbora’s names. It was bad enough the voices in my head crooned over the loss of the eggs implanted in theirs and their children’s bodies.

He stroked his beard. “Peacekeeper Jaime and his team did the official inventory for the magistrate’s sale a week and a half ago.”

“I’m assuming they made no mention of any bodies.”

“No, Chief Justice.”

Brother Garbhan hadn’t said a word so far. Times like these were when I missed Luc the most. I’d come to depend on his calm demeanor and his strength. “I’ll need to question them as well.”

“Of course, Chief Justice.”

“And if you would be so kind, collect the names of all of Mistress Jaci’s family members present and where they are staying.” I turned my attention to the group of women and pushed back my hood. Their shudders and gestures to ward bad luck meant my red eyes had their desired effect. “I don’t think I need to say you are not to leave Orrin until I speak to you. As the magistrate and Brother Garbhan can attest, I am rarely in a generous mood, and I am even less so when I don’t have the chance to drink my morning tea.”

All of the women murmured their agreement, except Jaci who smiled and nodded.

I turned to the door. The key was still sitting in the locking mechanism. I drew one of my smaller knives and slid the steel between the door and the jamb. The door was still unlocked, which attested to the women’s haste in leaving the shop.

Under different circumstances, I could retrieve residual skin or hair from the door latch. It may be a moot point with Jaci and her family touching the metal, but I would stick to my established procedures.

With my elbow, I pushed the wood as I used my knife to raise the lever. The door creaked open. The smell slapped me so hard I gagged. Behind me Brother Garbhan coughed and choked. Then came the splash of his first meal of the day on the cobblestones.

“You might want to let the building air out, Lady Justice,” one of the peacekeepers volunteered.

“We’re going to need a wind talent with more power than a Peaceful Sea fall storm to clear out this smell,” I muttered. The voices in the back of my mind relished the odor of death, which only made my stomach roil more. It was a good thing I’d eaten earlier than normal. Otherwise, I’d be joining Garbhan by expelling Deborah’s excellent bread onto the street.

There was nothing but materials and forms in the front of the shop. I touched the corner of a work counter. Everything was as it had been since the last time I was in here, other than a thick layer of dust, which tickled the inside of my nose.

I followed the Balance-awful scent to the back the living quarters. Hot yellow maggots slithered through the body parts piled on what had been Barbora’s dining table. Flies and other scavenging insect took flight at our entrance, causing streaks of red light in my odd vision, before quickly settling down to their feast.

“What in Light’s infinite names—” Garbhan’s voice was muffled. I peered over my right shoulder. He had place a fold of his cloak over his mouth and nose. I couldn’t blame him. This was far beyond his usual duties as an aide to the Reverend Father of Light in Standora.

“Is it just my peculiar sight, or is that a pile of limbs with no torsos or heads?” I asked.

“It’s not you—” The poor priest twisted to his right and proceeded to lose whatever was left in his stomach onto the dusty wooden floorboards.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Virtue of Child - Chapter 1

Yes, it's sample time of the work-in-progress, aka next month's release. Please note that this is an unedited chapter.


I jerked out of a sound sleep, a scream at the back of my throat. There was no one and nothing in my bedchambers that shouldn’t be. My legs were tangled in the single sheet of cotton I used. Part of me wished Luc was here to hold me, reassure me even though we both knew it was a lie.

He hadn’t slept in my bed since his child died. Since the night my birth mother plunged her knife into Sister Claudia’s womb to use the babe’s death to fuel an obscene spell to rip open a gateway for the demons to enter our realm. I didn’t blame Luc. I’d horribly underestimated my mother, and he couldn’t look at me without seeing her.

Claudia had visited once. She was now as barren as I was. Master Aaron couldn’t heal or replace what the demon magic my mother wielded had corrupted. My meeting with Claudia was awkward. She claimed she didn’t blame me. However I blamed myself enough for the three of us.

I unwrapped the sheet from my limbs. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep. A few candlemarks a night was all the rest I could manage over the last two months before nightmares of my headless mother and Luc and Claudia’s bloody babe intruded.

From the silence in the corridor outside my chamber door, we were nowhere near First Morning. Whispers came from the new passage I’d created to the tunnel system, but I ignored them as I climbed out of bed and searched for a loose shirt and pants to wear.

Once dressed and my hair tied back out of the way, I padded through the silent Temple. Warden Ahiga nodded as we passed on his patrol, but otherwise, we said nothing. All of the Balance wardens took my idiosyncrasies in stride, just as they did with my fellow justices, Yanaba and Elizabeth.

I passed through the Temple kitchen to the back porch. Our cook Deborah and her kitchen staff weren’t even awake yet. The hearth and the brick oven glowed a dark pink, their fires stoked for the night.

In the exercise yard, I went through warm-ups and stretches before I started on the Jing unarmed combat forms Sister Shi Hua of Light had started to teach me before she also became pregnant.

I went through the first set and started on the second when I felt someone’s attention on me. The yellow tomato vines climbing the wooden lattice work of the garden couldn’t hide the small figure with the bright orange face and hands. I frowned.

“Ming Wei, what are you doing up this late?”

Yanaba’s squire cautiously peered around the corner of the wood frame. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Nightmares?” I asked.

She nodded. The girl had more of a right to bad dreams than any of us. Her parents had sold her to a Jing noble located here in Issura. The noble ill-used her before he burned his manse with himself and his child slaves inside. Ming Wei had been the only survivor.

With my strange eyesight, I couldn’t see the awful scars and distorted flesh on the left side of her face and body, so I didn’t stare at her. It was one of things that made her semi-comfortable around me. It also said something about her strength that she survived the horrible damage.

“May I say something?” she asked shyly.

“Of course.”

“You need to keep your back foot pointed forward,” she whispered. It was the same weakness She Hua had noticed and commented on.

I cocked my head. “You know these forms?”

“Yes, m’lady.”

Now, I was thoroughly confused. “Where did you learn them?”

“Mistress Yin Li has been teaching me along with her son.”

“During your language lessons?” I gaped at the child.

Ming Wei nodded. “Are you angry, m’lady? Justice Yanaba said it was all right for me to learn and share my knowledge with Nathan.”

“I am…surprised.” And I was. Ambassador Quan and his alleged mistress had been going to the Temple of Light the last few months. Since Shi Hua was a distance speaker, it was easier for them to go there to communicate with the emperor in Jing due to the sister being past the middle of her pregnancy. Few outside of the ambassador’s small circle knew his alleged mistress was in fact the ambassador’s bodyguard and Shi Hua’s maternal aunt. Yanaba had encouraged her squire to relearn the Jing language, something the child refused to speak since the night she was rescued. Plus, Ming Wei’s presence would give Yin Li’s son someone to socialize with.

“Do you think Mistress Yin Li would allow Nathan to join you for your lessons?” I asked.

“If you asked, I’m sure she would.” The girl nodded solemnly.

“Do you think you could assist me with my second level forms?”

Her color brightened, and waves of anxiety rolled off her. “You want me to teach you?”

I shrugged. “Sister Shi Hua started teaching me, but she cannot continue until after her baby is born. I don’t want forget everything she has taught me so far, so I’d great appreciate you assistance.”

Ming Wei bowed. “I would be honored m’lady.”

* * *

Ming Wei and I stopped our practice when the kitchen girls arrived to begin their work. While they proceeded to collect eggs from our henhouse, Deborah stepped out onto the porch and gave Ming Wei a honeyed treat before I sent the child off to the communal bathing room the female wardens used. When I followed my cook and Yanaba’s squire into the kitchen, Deborah waited until the child raced down the hallway before she turned, scowled at me, and shook her spoon.

“What are you thinking, Chief Justice?” Deborah waved the wooden utensil dramatically. I was rather thankful she was not waving around a knife. “Keeping that poor girl up half the night! Justice Yanaba actually depends on her squire, even if you don’t need young Nathan to the same level.”

“I didn’t keep her up,” I snapped. “I couldn’t sleep so I went into the practice yard. She was in the garden watching me, so I invited her to help me work on the Jing fighting forms.”

As I talked, Deborah strode over to the cupboard, placed her spoon on her work table, and pulled out leftover sourdough bread and hard cheese. She retrieved a knife and sliced both and placed them on a plate.

“Ming Wei said she is still having nightmares,” I finished softly. “That’s why she was awake and sitting in the garden.”

“We know, m’lady.” Deborah wiped her hands on her apron before she brought the plate over and gently pushed me toward the table in the little nook her assistants used for prep work.

“Hasn’t Yanaba been sending her to Brother Turtle?” I asked. The priest qualified as a miracle worker to me after he saved my junior justice’s life when she over-extended her spirit in her efforts to save the city from a demon attack last spring.

“Sort of…” Deborah shook her head. “The child has had so much trauma inflicted on her in her short life. She fears Brother Turtle after—” She sighed. “High Sister Mya has taken over Ming Wei’s care, but not even she can heal such emotional wounds in half a year.”

I nodded and began to eat the bread and cheese. Deborah was right. And I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what had been done to Ming Wei, much less how she had the strength to survive it. When I finished, I placed my plate in the tub for used kitchenware.

“I don’t know what we’d do without you, Deborah.” I hugged the older woman. For the first time, it truly registered how frail she was. She’d been the cook here when my grandmother Thalia was chief justice of Orrin. And I was hardly a child at thirty-one winters.

Deborah patted my hand. “No offense meant, but you need a bath yourself, Chief Justice.”

I laughed and headed for my quarters.

* * *

After bathing and changing, I strode down to my office, took a seat in my chair, and started reviewing the pile of cases I’d failed to deal with in a timely manner. My junior justice had been handling court cases, but Yanaba was more than halfway through her pregnancy. We’d already lost one potential Light child. Everyone was doting on Yanaba, including me. And it was well past time I began performing my own duties again.

No sooner than that thought had passed through my head when someone pounded on my door. “Chief Justice?”

Warden Mylon’s voice. I rarely saw the man. He preferred the night shift.

“Come in,” I called out.

He opened the door and peered around the edge. “The magistrate wishes to see you.”

Orrin’s magistrate Malven DiCook pushed past the warden. Rather than taking DiCook’s brusqueness in stride as most of Balance’s guards would have, Mylon grabbed DiCook’s arm and swung him until he was pinned against the wall with Mylon’s knife at his throat.

Let’s just say there was a reason my chief warden acceded to Mylon’s wish for the night shift.

“Anthea?” DiCook squeaked.

“Warden, please release the magistrate,” I said. “The duke would be most vexed with me if you slit the magistrate’s throat, even by accident.”

“Yes, Lady Justice.” Mylon released DiCook with a scowl. “Next time, wait until you’re invited inside.” He stalked out of my office and pulled the door quietly shut behind him.

“You’re letting your wardens get away with too much,” DiCook grumbled as he straightened his jacket. His extra clothing was necessary. The nights were finally becoming cooler as we approached the Vintner’s Festival.

“And you presume too much, so the contest is even,” I shot back. “I suggest not trying Warden Mylon’s patience again.” I gentled me tone. “What are you doing here at this hour? Surely you aren’t that desperate for a decent meal.”

The fact that the magistrate often showed up at meal times had become something of a running joke among my staff. But after tasting his wife’s culinary skills myself, I totally understood why.

“Remember Dante and Barbora’s shop?”

A chill ran through me. Dante was one of DiCook’s top peacekeepers. Or was until he and his family were murdered to feed the demon eggs planted in their bodies. Dante’s wife Barbora ran a seamstress shop, and the family lived in the apartment on the second floor. We tried to locate any family members, but we came up empty-handed, so I signed off on the duchy taking possession of the property.

“I thought it was sold at the monthly magistrate’s sale.”

“It was.” DiCook hooked his thumbs in his belt and rocked on his heels. My gut clenched at the sign that I wasn’t going to like what I heard.

“The new owner opened up the storefront this morning for the first time.” DiCook shrugged. “What she thought was a dead animal inside turned out to be human corpses.”

Friday, January 15, 2021

Release Day!

Despite her exuberant nature and outgoing personality, Justice Thalia is still a bit of a mystery to me. Unlike her granddaughter, she doles out her background in tiny chunks.

The latest bite-size fun bar is available today. The Sweetest Poison dropped at Amazon in the wee hours of the morning for $0.99. I'll post links to the other retailers as they go live.


Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Monday, January 4, 2021

Time to Get Back to Business

Even though there are some additional winter celebrations to be had, the holidays are done for our family. Genius Kid left in the wee hours of the morning to spend the rest of his leave with his girlfriend. Darling Husband and I are facing a tower of boxes in the newly acquired house. And yet, we both need to get back to work today.

For me, that means setting up spreadsheets and attempting to plan out the year. I've got things I need to finish from last year, including paperbacks that didn't get released. I'm excited about the new Soccer Moms series, and I think I might write all the books before releasing any of them. I bought a few pre-made covers for an idea that got placed to the wayside years ago and is now resurrected by the pretties.

But most of all, I need to take a step back and breath instead of spinning around on the hamster wheel and not doing anything to my satisfaction.

Because if I'm not happy, the readers are generally not happy either!

Next week, I'll start posting sample chapters for A Virtue of Child. 'Til then, stay warm and stay safe!

Friday, January 1, 2021

A Brand New Start

Last night was quietest New Year's Eve we spent in a long time. No parties. No fancy foods. DH, GK, and I spent the day cleaning out the apartment. It's hard to believe we spent six years there.

So we picked up fast food on the way home. Arby's classic cheddar and beef with Horsey sauce and an Andes mint chocolate milkshake for me if you're curious. I was exhausted and planted my ass on my recliner and tried to write. Despite doing a couple of sprints with some friends also trying to get words in, I gave up and watched TBBT reruns until the news and Stephen Colbert came on. DH and I toasted with diet soda and water at midnight. He limped back to his office to place computer games while I did some formatting during the rest of Colbert and James Corden.

So yeah. It was fairly uneventful.

I'd gone into 2020 with so much excitement. I was writing on a regular basis again. I was healthy enough to travel. I had a couple of writing workshops lined up to attend.

I had a lovely time at the first workshop in February. I planned to take my best friend to a Cher concert in Vegas, only to have it cancelled at the last minute because Cher got sick. We made up for it with an awesome Drag Brunch at Senor Frog's.

But during my layover in St. Louis on the way home, the newscast said COVID-19 was devastating Seattle and New York. The first known death from the disease was announced. I self-quarantined when I got home.

Just in case.

But I'm entering 2021 cautiously optimistic. Vaccines are being produced. A stand-alone Starbucks is about to open in town. I surprisingly made a few more bucks than last year. And I can't wait to get started on a new series.

I hope all of you have a peaceful and healthy new year!