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Thursday, December 29, 2022
Hopefully, the weather stays above 20F for the next few days. My office is our Florida room. While I have a portable heater in there for winter, it doesn't make much of a dent when the temps are in the single digits or below like they were over Christmas. And it's a little hard to write in the main house with Genius Kid and the Grandpuppy here on leave for a month.
Anyway, here's another sample of A Hint of Thief.
Despite never wanting this moment to end, I switched back to the trade tongue. “Please, everyone, we are being incredible impolite to the Reverend Mother. This is her Temple after all.”
“It is quite all right, Chief Justice.” A broad smile lit her wrinkled face. “We all need to enjoy good fortune when Thief grants it.”
She ordered her staff to bring us more tea and some light fare, and she asked for one of her clerks to attend us. No one else ate more than a few bites, but I was extremely hungry. In between morsels, I told the tale of my strange adventures after I fell through the skinwalker’s portal.
Everyone was astounded by some of the things I described. In fact, the clerk asked me to stop and repeat some things because she was so entranced by my peculiar tale at times she forgot to take notes.
“I’m not sure if that’s a total wagonload of horseshit, or if this really happened to you,” Reverend Father Biming proclaimed when I was finished.
I shrugged. “One of you could truthspell me, and the Reverend Mother or Chief Justice Fumiko could perform a formal interrogation.”
Reverend Father Biming flushed a brilliant orange as he realized his insult.
“Really, Reverend Father?” Shi Hua clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth three times. “You dare to call the Queen of Issura’s ambassador a liar?”
“I beg your forgiveness, Lady Justice.” Biming bowed his head. “My ill-chosen words are inexcusable.”
“After the last three winters as a chief justice, I have neither the energy nor the desire to call you out, Reverend Father.” I returned his bow. “All is forgiven.”
“Now that is settled, do you have any objections to my clerks disseminating this information to the other nations’ Reverend Mothers of Balance?” The Ryukyuan Reverend Mother appeared gravely concerned about my tale.
“I have no objections, Reverend Mother,” I said. “However, I’d like the opportunity to review your clerk’s transcript prior to it being sent out to clarify or add information I may have forgotten in my exhaustion.”
“I think we could all use a good night’s sleep after all the excitement over the past two days.” As she spoke, I noticed her coloring had faded from a medium yellow to a pale yellow. Fumiko had stated the Reverend Mother wasn’t well. Between the demon attack and being roused from her sleep at my return, we were wearing out the poor woman.
I rose and my friends followed. “May I be allowed to call on you after the midday meal, Reverend Mother?”
“We were—” Reverend Father Biming started, but with sharp glances from both Quan and Shi Hua, he cleared his throat and began again. “We would be honored to have you and Chief Justice Fumiko as our guests for the midday meal on board the Unbridled.”
The Reverend Mother chuckled. “Ah, Thief Biming, you are as much as a scamp as your father was when we were novices.”
The Reverend Father couldn’t have looked more shocked if someone had tossed their cup of tea in his face. “Y-you knew my father?”
“It was a long, long time ago.” Her wide smile showed some missing teeth. “I’m too old to be running around Naha. Come to Balance for the midday meal with Anthea. While she and Fumiko review her testimony, I can tell you some tales of your father.”
Her expression turned sad. “We used to talk much more between our nations when I was younger. The failure to continue has hurt us all in the short term, which means we need to resurrect those older traditions. The Revelation of Balance says we still have twenty-one years of demon incursions to suffer through.”
I glanced at Shi Hua, who nodded her agreement. After the last two years of working closely together, she knew my question without the need for silent speech.
“May Lady Shi Hua accompany the Reverend Father and me to your Temple tomorrow?” I requested. “As part of her instruction in diplomacy, of course.”
Once again, the Reverend Mother laughed. “To make sure a Light accompanies you, or so Biming has eyes and ears everywhere?”
“Actually, I have found the lady’s counsel to be a great asset in my own duties, Reverend Mother.” I chuckled. “And between her and my wardens, I shouldn’t fall into any more holes.”
Everyone in the room, including the Ryukyuan wardens, deemed my comment highly amusing.
“As long as her husband has no objections,” the Reverend Mother said. “I would not wish to start a diplomatic incident with the new ruler of a regional neighbor.”
“As Chief Justice Anthea pointed out, I trust my wife to keep her out of trouble,” Quan replied. “Given the recent demon attacks in both Jing and Ryukyu, we need to support and defend each other.”
Amazement filled me. Whatever worries I had about Quan ascending to the Jing throne disappeared with his answer to the Reverend Mother. And it reminded me Shi Hua was not Temple anymore. I could no longer rely on her assistance in certain matters. Or for much longer.
“Thank you, Your Highness, for this small kindness.” I inclined my head to him. “I apologize for my presumption regarding your lady wife.”
“No insult was taken, Chief Justice.” His smile was gracious. “The two of you have become great friends, and I owe you her life. I would not to presume to interfere in your relationship in the short time you have left.”
“Not to interrupt your mutual admiration society, but it is late, and this old woman needs her sleep,” the Reverend Mother said. “Until our visit tomorrow, my friends, may the Twelve bless your paths.”
The Issuran and Jing contingents hastily rose at the Reverend Mother’s dismissal. I offered a quick thanks to her before Chief Justice Fumiko and their Balance wardens escorted us from her presence.
How much longer? I asked Fumiko silently as the Balance escort walked us to the Naha docks.
Every day she remains with us is a blessing from the Twelve. The Ryukyuan justice’s unease permeated our private link. If she lives through the Spring Rituals, our Master Healer will be shocked.
You will make a fine Reverend Mother when the time comes, I assured her.
Fumiko’s self-deprecating laugh felt like glass beads clinking together. She says the same thing, but I fear I will not live up to her excellence.
No, you will have to do better. I sent a thread of empathy for her position. Yesterday’s demon incursion is the first one in Ryukyu during her tenure, isn’t it?
And you led the Balance forces in the battle against the demons?
Naha and the Kingdom of Ryukyu still exist to fight another day. I would call your first combat experience a rousing success, and you will do just fine leading your Temple as a whole.
Fumiko laughed her glass-bead laugh. I can see why the Jing crown prince trusts you. Such logic can uplift while being practical.
The real practicality facing me was completing my mission and seeing Quan take the Jing throne without enduring anymore losses. And I still didn’t know the fate of all who fought in front of the gates of the Crimson Palace what was for me nearly a fortnight ago.
Thursday, December 22, 2022
And yes, my eye is much better! Thank you!
Instead of being dragged to a goal cell as I half-expected, High Brother Gajoko bade his wardens to guide me to a bench in the Temple of Balance’s main courtroom. I sat with a contingent of wardens and clergy watching me while the Balance staff scurried off to wake whomever they needed to.
To my surprise, Chief Justice Fumiko entered the room on the arm of the Temple’s chief warden a few moments later. I stood out of respect, which caused the warden to shove me back down to the bench.
“You do have a reputation for causing a commotion, Chief Justice Anthea,” she said in Issuran.
“Surely, I would have thought my terrible reputation had circled the world a number of times before now, Chief Justice Fumiko. Forgive me for not greeting you as an equal, but your wardens seem terribly concerned for your safety.”
“Like your wardens would not have done the same if our positions were reversed?”
We both laughed. Switching to the Peaceful Sea trade tongue, she bade the wardens to remove my shackles, much to High Brother Gojoko’s consternation.
“Thank you,” I said while I rubbed my wrists. “Come with me, Chief Justice,” she said. “My Reverend Mother wishes to meet you while we wait for your compatriots.”
“You mean she doesn’t want a diplomatic incident with Issura.”
She laughed again. “Nor with the Jing Empire. I fear the Crown Prince and his lady wife were as distraught by you disappearance as your own people.”
I had brought Wardens Jonata and Long Feather from my own Temple of Balance in Orrin on this expedition because I trusted them to keep their heads in any occasion whether it be diplomatic or a battle. Which meant Luc had raised a terrible fuss when I disappeared through the portal.
“My acquaintance with Crown Prince began years ago when he was merely the Jing ambassador to Issura.” I shrugged. “I did not know of his regard for me until he asked Queen Teodora to allow me to accompany him to Jing for his coronation as the official Issuran representative. I sincerely apologize for any problems he or High Brother Luc may have caused in my absence.”
Chief Justice Fumiko bade High Brother Gojoko to return my blades to me. He reluctantly did so. His suspicions grated against my psyche, but no emotion showed on his visage.
As I sheathed my weapons once again, one of the Balance wardens stepped forward and bowed to me. “I am Warden Miyagi. It would be my privilege to act as your escort until your own wardens arrive, Chief Justice.”
My impulsiveness had already cause a bit of a diplomatic mess. I couldn’t chide the man for performing a traditional duty. Every other priestess of Balance, from the youngest novice to the Reverend Mother, depended on the wardens to act as their eyes. I was the only justice who could see.
After a fashion, that was.
“Your offer of service honors me.” I held out my left hand. He gently grasped my fingers and wrapped them around his elbow. I stood, and this time, the Death and Vintner wardens didn’t restrain me.
We followed Chief Justice Fumiko and her chief warden through the stone hallways of the first story of the Temple. Unlike the granite and marble used in Issura, they constructed their first floors with limestone. The upper floors were made of wood and paper. It sounded ridiculous at first until Sister Jasmine of Thief explained the prevalence of typhoons and ground quakes in in the Ryukuan islands.
The Ryukyuans also relied on Knowledge magic to light their buildings and streets. Given the construction materials and the nature of the islands, using such lamps reduced the incidence of fire when a fierce storm or a quake occurred as the lightweight materials prevented severe injury if they collapsed.
Not that I needed conventional light any more than I needed a warden to guide me. Well, that wasn’t totally true. The fogs along the western Issuran coast inhibited my sight as much as they did conventional human sight.
Two wardens stood guard in front of the door at the end of the last hallway. As in my own Temple, no signs marked any of the doorways to the private quarters. I had kept count of the steps and turns in case I was forced to escape. I prayed I didn’t need to do so.
On one side of Balance’s scales, I hadn’t spotted a demon or a skinwalker. But even my peculiar sight couldn’t penetrate the spells that allowed a demon to wear a human skin. I could be surrounded and not even know it.
One of the wardens on duty opened the doors to the Reverend Mother’s chambers and announced our presence. I think. He spoke in Ryukyuan so I couldn’t be sure, though he definitely said my name.
We entered a sitting room that was modest, but the few furnishings and decorations were made of the finest quality. An elderly woman reclined on a chaise of mahogany and silk. Several pillows propped her to a sitting position, and blankets covered her legs. Her hood was pushed back, and her scalp held only a sparse selection of white hairs. She had more strands on her wrinkled chin than the rest of her head.
I bowed along with Chief Justice Fumiko and the wardens who escorted us.
“Reverend Mother, the reports are accurate,” Fumiko said. “The Issuran chief justice has returned to Naha.”
Another’s mind touched mine. Not intruding past my outer thoughts, just enough to see my talents.
The Reverend Mother chuckled and spoke in the trade tongue. “I am impressed you not only survived the demon realm, but they did not corrupt you.”
For the first time, I truly believed High Sister Mya’s analysis of my emotional and mental health. Orrin’s seat of Child had spent two months caring for me after a demon grimoire impaled my psyche with its malevolent influence. I had been lucky Yanaba’s squire Ming Wei’s own empathic talents had ignited and saved my spirit.
“Forgive my correction, Reverend Mother, but I never reached the demons’ realm despite their intentions,” I said. “Brother Jin of Light killed the skinwalker who cast the portal spell. I believe a combination of his spell, the skinwalker’s, and my time spell at the same moment to kill the demon I chased disrupted the portal.”
The people in the room were totally silent for a very long moment.
“Where did you go, child?” the Reverend Mother finally asked.
“It’s very complicated, Reverend Mother,” I murmured. “May I beg your indulgence to wait until my associates have been notified of my whereabouts? It’s late, and I would much like to only tell this tale once.”
She said something to her aide, who bowed and exited the sitting room. “Shall we speak of more pleasant topics while we wait for our tea, Chief Justice?”
I inclined my head. “That would be more than acceptable, Reverend Mother.”
She asked me questions about my travel outside of Orrin. I did my best to give her pleasant descriptions, such as the sea wolves playing alongside our ship during our voyages, the stark and wild beauty of Diné, and the change of seasons during my circuits in the Gray Mountains.
The door opened, and the same warden who announced me only said a few words before the new guests rushed past him. I rose at the commotion and was immediately enveloped in hugs.
Luc. Jonata. Long Feather. Quan. Shi Hua. Even Reverend Father Biming, the head of Jing’s Temple of Thief. They embraced me, all talking at the same time, both out loud and silently.
And swimming in their love was the happiest moment of my life.
Friday, December 16, 2022
I breathed in the air of my home world through the wave of vertigo caused by the Grey Ladies’ portal. The sweet scent of cherry blossoms and other spring flowers brought tears to my eyes. Not from the pollen or the fading dizziness, but from the release of my emotions. Deep down, I had feared I would never be able to return.
The Grey Ladies deposited me where I had left my world, at the edge of the royal gardens near the square in front of the Crimson Palace in the capital of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. However, I was still thousands of leagues from Issura. I prayed to the Twelve I wasn’t alone in the island nation.
As usual, none of our deities bothered to answer me.
The lack of sound in the royal square of the Ryukyuan capital of Naha unnerved me. Blood still stained the pavers of the square, and the gates of the Crimson Palace itself were closed. How long had it been since I fell through the portal the skinwalker had opened to allow one of the demons to escape?
Or perhaps the skinwalker’s real goal had been to summon reinforcements from the demon realm. Either way, neither the demon nor I ended up in the demons’ home dimension. What had happened while I was gone? How long had I been gone?
Time ran differently in different universes. I needed to remember to relay that information to my fellow justices Elizabeth, Yanaba, and Erato back at the Temple of Balance in Orrin. That was assuming I had access to Lady Shi Hua or another distance speaker. And that was assuming I’d arrived within a few hours of my unfortunate departure as the Grey Ladies had promised.
I took another deep breath, mainly to calm myself, and looked up at the sky. It was blank, a plain dark blue. No clouds impeded my vision. Definitely no bloody orbs floating above me. I released the air in my lungs. It was night. The next question was which night.
The best course action would be to go back to the harbor. Surely, Captain Titus wouldn’t have left Ryukyu without me. Luc wouldn’t have let the Mars Tranquilus leave if I weren’t onboard.
Except once again, I assumed both my love and the captain were still alive.
I considered calling out in silent speech, but I could end up attracting demons if the Ryukyuan Temples didn’t vanquish the demon army that had attacked us in the square. I examined the walls of the Crimson Palace once again. No sentries. No lights.
Had Naha become like the handful of island villages of the western Peaceful Sea? The citizens had disappeared without a trace, taken by either skinwalkers or demons. Or maybe something worse.
My best chance was to return to the harbor where the Mars Tranquilus had been berthed. I started walking down the main boulevard. The Ryukyuan Government House was actually divided into six different one-story buildings, three on each side of the street. There was no evidence of any humans, but of course, the bureaucratic offices would be closed after First Evening regardless of any demon attack.
The Ryukyuan government district bled into their Temple District, which again was oddly quiet. Night was the high time for worship at the Temple of Love. The paper sculptures the Ryukyuans used to light their streets were gone from their poles in this part of the city.
However, the wardens guarding the entrances to Vintner and Death raised the alarm the moment they spotted me walking down the thoroughfare. I stood still and clenched my fists to keep myself from reaching for my sword or knives as they converged on me. Unfortunately, my skill with the Ryukyuan language was far worse than my skill with Jing, so I remained silent at the shouted questions I couldn’t comprehend.
As much as I wanted to resist the wardens’ manhandling, I allowed myself to be shackled. Someone yanked back my hood, and a torch was thrust near my face. Squinting against the obscene brightness was totally involuntary on my part. A warden wrapped their arm around my throat, and another warden roughly forced my right eye open.
The wardens muttered amongst themselves, and then they reported their findings to the clergy who poured out of the nearby Temples. I blinked away the yellow afterimages of the damn torch. However, the yelling in the Ryukyuan language stopped.
“What day is it?” I asked in the Peaceful Sea trade tongue.
“You are breaking the island-wide curfew. Identify yourself,” one of the Death priests demanded.
“I am Chief Justice Anthea DiBalance of Orrin from the Queendom of Issura. Which your wardens confirmed by poking me in the eye to make sure it was red,” I added dryly.
Instead of introducing himself as etiquette demanded, he glared at me. “The Issuran chief justice fell into a demon summoning portal yesterday evening. For all I know, you are a demon wearing her skin.”
The Temple bells started tolling. Not a demon alarm, but the time. First Night. If the Death priest spoke truly, I’d been gone for a little over a day in my world’s time.
Despite the urge to argue with a priest simply performing his duties, I took another calming breath. “Before you toss me in whatever gaol cell you plan to use, would you please send a message to the Mars Tranquilus to let my associates know I’m alive?”
The Death priest barked an order in Ryukyuan, and two of his wardens took off in the direction of Naha’s harbor. “I am High Brother Gajoko. We will escort you to the Temple of Balance for additional questioning.”
“That is satisfactory, High Brother.” I couldn’t bow with the chokehold around my neck. I hoped the priest didn’t take offense to my failure to be polite. I’d encountered such illogical behavior before in Issura.
The forearm across my throat was removed, the warden divested me of most of my weapons, and I shuffled from the weight of the shackles on my wrists and ankles down the street in the grip of two wardens. I merely hoped my friends were still alive and would arrive at the Temple of Balance before the Ryukyuan Reverend Mother decided it was better to behead me rather than take the chance I was under demon influence.
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Also, I finally posted November's free short story, "A Place at the Table". It takes place in the Solar System Services, Inc. universe, a few centuries after "Alone Is Not Lonely".
In the meantime, here's Chapter 4 from Invasion!
Otherwhere, Time - Irrelevant
Samantha Marie “Sam” Ridgeway St. James, the vampires’ goddess of Death, locked the gate to her afterlife and trudged through the black sand of Otherwhere, a region between places no one but the gods traversed. Even then, none of the deities she personally knew took Otherwhere, or the things that hunted here, lightly.
She wasn’t sure she liked being so busy lately. Even worse, she wasn’t sure she liked being worshipped. It gave her a weird feeling. She’d never been the center of attention when she’d been alive. Now, it was just plain uncomfortable. But when the dying called for her, she had to respond.
And very few of the dead were people she personally knew. Ares and Morrigan had ripped her new assholes for turning Duncan, Alex, and Connie into gods like her when the stupid, fucking dino demons had killed the three of them. But according to Sam’s deity pals, the other pantheons would regard Sam making gods out of more of her dead loved ones as an act of war.
Ares and Morrigan would know as the patrons of War in each of their pantheons.
The warning came because Alex’s death was technically the Incan god of Death Supay’s fault. Alex made the mistake of promising Sam’s Incan counterpart he’d hunt down the assholes who stole Supay’s tumi, the symbol of his power. Which Alex accomplished, a few seconds before Sam engaged the dinosaur god trying to break into her home dimension, causing Mount Rainier to erupt.
Come to think of it, Puget Sound didn’t look much better than Otherwhere these days.
The sepia sky in the between space looked bleaker than normal, and a sharp, arid breeze snapped her long black coat against her legs. In the distance, something howled. Something she didn’t recognize as a denizen of Otherwhere. A chorus of familiar shrieks and screams answered the initial howl.
The birdcats hunted something, which wasn’t a good sign.
She stopped and sniffed the air. The odor of something living penetrated the acrid scent of Otherwhere. Ginger mixed with something else. The second scent was vaguely familiar. She sniffed again. Not quite the smell of a dinosaur demon, but still slightly reptilian. But the ginger scent she definitely knew.
Now, why the hell would any witch be stupid enough to enter Otherwhere? Not even a god in their right mind would come here unless they were desperate. Only death resided here. A living soul would attract the undead predators who prowled this place, which explains the familiar shrieks and screams. And there were worse things than the birdcats in Otherwhere.
Sam took another deep breath. Along with the ginger came the smells of rotting jungle vegetation and—
She sniffed again. Chinese food? But underneath them all was the odor of fresh apples.
Humans. More than one.
Sam ran in the direction of the living. Behind her came the skittering of chitonous feet on the diamond-sharp sand. She glanced behind her. Eyes glowed blue and orange amongst the ever changing shadows. Another pride of birdcats followed her.
Fuckity-fuck. If she didn’t reach the humans first—
Well, watching someone’s soul being eaten wasn’t a pretty sight.
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
This happened to me with A Twist of Love a few years ago. According to Amazon, I didn't upload the book file in time, and the preorder is cancelled. The poor customer service peeps cannot reinstate the preorder.
I'm frustrated and pissed and a bunch of other things. So I'm taking a step back. Taking a deep breath. And since this is the holiday season, I'm going to embrace that spirit.
I already promised a free copy to my mailing list. If you preordered Invasion!, contact me. I'll send you a link for a free copy for any e-reader, tablet, etc.
Or you can sign up for my newsletter before Saturday, December 3.
Will Invasion! be released on Amazon? Yes, it will, and all the other retailers, but I need a week to work off the accumulative stress of this year. And it's going to start with a hot cup of coffee and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this evening.
I'm sorry for this, but I'll make the best of things and get the last two books for 2022 out to you come hell or high water!
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Veteran’s Memorial Park, Canyon Pointe, State of Mojave, The week before Christmas
Aisha Franklin-Garcia, the superhero known publicly as the Ghost Owl, winced as the talons of the creature she fought tore through her uniform, and worse into the skin of her thigh. Her hero togs were made out of material stronger and suppler than Kevlar, and her skin was damn near invulnerable. It meant the thing was as strong as her. Not to mention, the cuts burned like hell.
She punched at what appeared to be the creature’s head. Her fist went through the head as if it had phased its molecules like fellow superhero Shadowstar. But when she tried to pull back, her arm was stuck inside the creature.
Fine. Let’s see how it handles supersonic speed. She flew straight up, dragging the creature with her. Her predecessor as the Ghost Owl had literally designed a variation of her suit for NASA. The repair systems had already ejected sealant along the rips, so she wouldn’t have any issues as the atmosphere thinned. For all her powers, she still needed to breathe. The heads up display inside her helmet ticked off the altitude.
Something squeezed her chest. She looked down to find the creature’s talons had disappeared. Tentacles had wrapped themselves around her body. Okay, maybe she did need to worry about breathing.
She flew even faster. This dang thing clinging to her body had to have some kind of oxygen or temperature limit. Above her, the sky darkened to deep blue as the atmosphere thinned.
At twenty miles above the earth’s surface, the creature’s tentacles loosened. Its entire body phased, and her arm slipped free of its head. The thing may be able to change its density, but gravity was still queen. It plummeted. Aisha dove after it.
Plasma flickered around the creature’s body and Aisha’s visor. The creature fell towards a thunderstorm developing east of Canyon Pointe. While Aisha’s foe probably wouldn’t hit anybody in the state park on the other side of Lake Del Oro from the city, she couldn’t take the chance. Once again, she poured on speed. Static built along her suit in the unstable atmosphere.
Lightning erupted between her and the clouds below. Her suit was insulated from the electrical surge, but the bolt of lightning nailed the falling creature.
Aisha grinned to herself as the thing disintegrated in the one-point-twenty-one gigawatts of Mother Nature’s power. One down. She needed to get back to Canyon Pointe. She headed west and flew as fast as she could. No doubt complaints would be filed with the city, county, and state governments for the sonic booms in her wake.
In Veterans’ Memorial Park, the Canyon Park police were trying to clear the area of civilians who were still on their feet. EMTs attempted to treat and evacuate the people who had been mauled by these things. It was up to Aisha to keep these creatures occupied and away from the population of the city until backup came.
Relief spread through her when Sparx’s voice crackled through the speakers in Aisha’s helmet. “What the hell are these things?”
“You got me,” Aisha replied. “Don’t let them get near you. I just got raked by their claws. But the one I dealt with didn’t like lightning much.” She grabbed a couple of kids hiding behind a tree and delivered them to waiting officers without a word.
“Roger that.” Sparx’s crisp answer was almost drowned out by Nix’s sonic shriek.
“Think Doctor Triassic has been experimenting?” Aisha asked. “These things have a reptilian look, but they definitely aren’t cold-blooded.”
“Don’t know, but whatever they are, they smell worse than the snake exhibit at the zoo,” Sparx said.
Aisha’s Ghost Owl suit had been designed by her predecessor to filter out toxins when she breathing in normal earth atmosphere, so she didn’t get a hint of whatever odor Sparx picked up.
“Guys, they don’t like water either,” Nix said. “I knocked one into the fountain, and I think it died.”
Aisha’s visor darkened as Sparx cut loose on a third creature now that the park was clear of civilians.
“How many are left?” Sparx asked.
Aisha rose a few feet above the grass and spun to scan the area. “I see two more by the pin oak grove.” She flew in that direction.
And was horrified to see a civilian lying on the ground between the pair of creatures.
“Right behind you. You kick them away from the guy, and I’ll blast them.”
Aisha was fast enough the creatures didn’t have a chance to phase. She literally kicked the one on the right straight up into the air, tearing out a great deal of green foliage as it arrowed skyward. Lightning flashed behind her. She reached for the other one, but it sliced its talons across the throat of the unconscious young man laying beneath the tree. A weird chittering cough sound erupted from the creature as she grabbed what appeared to be its throat.
Her suit’s radiation alarms blared for a second before all the suit systems died. Aisha squinted at the blinding surge of blue and white light. The only thing she knew for sure was that she and the creature were falling, tumbling through empty space with no idea of which way was up.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
And don't forget Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice is free on Amazon until Friday, November 18th!
Link to Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice on Amazon
Greenwich Village, The Island of Manhattan, New York, The night before Samhain
Shan Wong-Washington jerked awake at Cu Chulainn’s low growl. The Irish foxhound lay at the foot of the brown comforter on hers and Jamal’s wrought iron bed. Ambient light of New York City filtered past the closed blinds of the bedroom’s only window and displayed the dog’s alert posture.
“What’s wrong, boy?” she whispered. Cu Chulainn jumped down from the bed.
Or rather stepped down. The dog was so huge her sister-in-law Tanja and cousin Livvy rode him when they were toddlers. He padded down the short hallway between the bedroom and the living room of the loft.
Shan slid out from under the covers. The hardwood floor was oddly cold against her bare soles, considering the building’s cranky furnace had been blasting so much heat before bedtime she’d resorted to a sleep t-shirt and shorts instead of her sweats. She listened carefully, but there was only silence from the loft’s living room. Were the girls up to something? Was that what riled Cu Chulainn?
The wolfhound wouldn’t have growled if it were something minor. He would have trotted out to the living room and stopped whatever mischief the girls were up to.
Shan followed the dog out to the living room. The night light in the kitchen gleamed yellow, softening the harsher glow of Manhattan from the skylight.
No shenanigans here. Both girls were out cold. Tanja was curled in a tight ball, sound asleep. Only a few of her dark braids poked out from under her blanket. Livvy lay beside her, blond hair and limbs sprawled across the couch and chair cushions the girls has placed on the living room rug to form their bed. They had convinced their respective parents Shan needed the company while her husband Jamal trained at the Johnson Space Center. It definitely wasn’t the two nine-year-olds who woke Cu Chulainn.
The wolfhound stood at the top of the narrow steps leading from the second-floor loft down to the store. Another low growl rumbled deep in his chest. Something was definitely wrong in the shop.
Shan had double-checked all the doors and windows of Morrigan’s Cauldron, the store Jamal’s mother co-owned. Everything had been locked, and the steel gates pulled into place and secured. As much as she loved Manhattan, and Greenwich Village especially, she wasn’t stupid about safety. Especially not with two little girls under her care. The wolfhound place a paw on the first step, his hackles raised.
“No,” Shan commanded in a whisper. “Stay.”
Cu Chulainn gave her a look that obviously said he disagreed with her, but he did as she ordered.
Shan went back to the bedroom to slip on her canvas shoes. A slight hum came from the closet. Crap. If Lexi was indicating danger, things were worse than Shan feared. She carefully slid open the closet door. The scabbard hung from its peg, and Lexi’s hum became even more urgent.
Shan drew her husband’s sword from its scabbard. The steel gave off a slight golden glow in the dim room. The blade had gone through many titles over the millennia. The Sword of Lugh. The Spear of Destiny. Excalibur. Now, the family simply referred to it as Jamal’s crazy singing sword. Or Lexi.
And she was a much better weapon than Shan’s aluminum baseball bat.
“Tone it down, girl,” Shan whispered. “You’re going to give us away to whatever is downstairs.
The sword’s glow dimmed, and she stopped the eerie humming.
“Thank you.” Shan retrieved her charmed copper knife and crept back out to the living room. The girls hadn’t moved at all. Cu Chulainn remained on guard at the top of the stairwell.
Maybe she should call her mother-in-law Phylicia. As a witch, she could handle whatever was down there.
No, there was no sense waking up the in-laws if she was blowing something out of proportion.
A bang came from downstairs. Cu Chulainn growled low in his chest.
“What was that?” Livvy whispered.
Crap. Both girls sat on their makeshift bed, wide awake and staring at Shan.
Another crash resounded through the building.
“Lock yourselves in the bathroom, and call 9-1-1,” Shan whispered. “Cu Chulainn, guard the girls.”
The wolfhound still didn’t look happy, but he padded over to Tanja and Livvy. He let the girls grab their phones before he herded them toward the bathroom.
Shan crept down the narrow steps, Lexi providing her only light. While some of the objects Morrigan’s Cauldron carried were expensive, a thief couldn’t easily fence a one hundred-pound block of purple quartz. Phylicia took the receipts for the day for deposit on her way home. So, why the hell would anyone break into the store? Everyone in this neighborhood knew better than to mess with Phylicia. Or Grandmother Wong.
So it had to be someone desperate. Or whacked out on drugs. Or both.
Shan opened the door at the foot of the stairs and froze when the hinges creaked. She held her breath and listened. Someone shuffled around in the storefront. Whoever it was hadn’t heard her. Thank goodness for old creaky buildings in the village.
She carefully locked the door to the stairs and crept through the storeroom. The beaded curtain hung between her and the invader. Odd chittering came from the dark figure standing behind the cashwrap. The light from the street showed the gates over the door and windows closed. Had her potential thief jimmied the front door and its gate and closed them so the NYPD didn’t get suspicious? Or had he come in through the back door? Were there others with him?
None of her conjectures made sense. Phylicia’s wards would have deterred someone trying to come into the building after hours and much as the locks and gates.
The rustle of parchment came from the top of the cashwrap. For a split second, the figure’s mumbled words that sounded like the similar language spouted by the woman who had brought in a strange grimoire.
The customer claimed she found the volume in a dead aunt’s attic and had wanted an appraisal. Of course, the woman came in after Phylicia had left for the day. Was someone trying to steal the grimoire?
Or worse, had the woman cast a spell inside the store without Shan realizing it to get the intruder past the after hours wards?
The more she watched, the less the thing flipping through the grimoire resembled a human being. Its moves were jerky, and its joints seemed to move in unnatural direction. The smart thing would be to retreat to the loft stairwell, lock the door behind her, and wait for the cops. But between the locked gates and the warding, the thing was trapped inside the building with Shan, Cu Chulainn, and the girls.
And unless Shan unlocked the gates, there was no way for the police to enter Morrigan’s Cauldron and apprehend the intruder.
Which still left the question of how the intruder got into the building in the first place.
None of her conjecture mattered. An unannounced night visit wasn’t good, and surprise was still on her side. She eased her left hand past the strands of bead and nudged the light switch.
The antique fixtures flared to life. The thing messing with the grimoire jerked. It was definitely not human. It was covered in greyish—well, the dermis wasn’t exactly scales, but it wasn’t skin either. And its limbs were tentacles tipped with wicked-looking talons.
One of the tentacles shot toward Shan, ripping off several strand from the bead curtain is the process as it tried to grab her. She deflected the appendage with Lexi. Both the sword and the intruder screeched. A thin trail of smoke curled from the blade. Even more smoke poured from the lengthy cut on the now-drooping tentacle.
Whatever the thing was, it was vulnerable to magic. Too bad she didn’t have her grandmother’s talents.
The intruder backed away from the cashwrap and began chirping and chittering, the noises reminiscent of locusts. The sounds were rhythmic. The damn thing was casting a spell.
Anger and protectiveness of her family fed Shan’s strength, and she charged the creature. It dodged both the Tuathan blade and her blessed copper knife while dragging its disabled tentacle.
A swirling vortex of white and blue lights appeared behind the intruder. The tone of its speech changed. A fifth tentacle shot from its body and wrapped around her right ankle. Nausea raked her at the alien feeling of its epidermis.
Before she could bring Lexi down on the tentacle, the intruder yanked her off balance. Her hip landed hard on the polished wooden floorboards, but she managed to keep her hold on both the sword and knife.
The sounds changed again to chittering broken by huffs. Laughter. The damn thing was laughing at her. She knew it in her bones as the damn creature dragged her into the vortex with it.
Monday, November 14, 2022
So if you need something fun and crazy to read while your uncles argue whether sasquatches and yetis are the same thing over the remnants of the turkey carcass, pick up your copy now!
The sale ends on Friday, November 18th!
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
I played with the idea, devised a way that would be consistent with their universes, and borrowed a bit of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Parallels".
Here's the first, unedited chapter of Invasion!: A Crossover Worlds Novel.
The Crimson Palace, Naha, the Kingdom of Ryukyu, Year of the Twelve 1979
Anthea, Chief Justice of the city of Orrin in the Queendom of Issura, ducked the slashing black talons of the demon who rushed her. Sweat stung her eyes as she whispered words of her spell, charging her sword with Balance magic. Her backswing sliced into the demon’s neck.
Its screech of fury and pain blended with the shouts and screams of the soldiers, wardens, and clergy around her as they engaged the demon army. Issuran, Jing, and Ryukyu languages mixed in a cacophony punctuated by the chittering tongue of the invaders. The alien scent of their foes mixed with the coppery odor of human blood and the stink of the loosened bowels of the dead.
An arrow charged with Light magic whizzed by her head. The second demon wailed, a sound reminiscent of fingernails on slate. Both the demon and the arrow collapsed into a pile of ash.
Despite the first demon’s efforts to increase its body density to trap her weapon, Anthea wrenched her sword free from its neck. From his perch on a street lantern, Brother Jian of the Jing Empire’s Temple of Light launched another arrow into the third demon. Anthea charged her sword with magic once again as she danced backward from her own foe.
The demon’s swing to disembowel her was slow and clumsy from the effects of her first spell. Since all demons were the darkest shade of black to her, its loss of coordination and lack of its normal speed was the only indication the demon was aging faster than normal.
Anthea thrust her sword into what passed for the demon’s chest. Her foe crumpled to dust as her spell discharged through it. Despite their much longer lifespans, not even the demons could escape the ravages of time. And time was the domain of the Temple of Balance.
She panted and looked around her. Her heart tried to force its way up her throat. Ambassador Quan of Jing along with his wife Shi Hua and Sister Yin Li of the Temple of Love, had been backed against the abutment of the first bridge into the Crimson Palace.
Not Ambassador Quan any longer. With the assassination of his brother and nephews, he was now Crown Prince Bao Quan Po of the Jing Empire. If the Issuran and Jing escorts didn’t keep him alive and get him home to be crowned emperor, Jing would fall into a civil war.
Then the demons would eat the leftovers.
The Ryukyu guards didn’t dare open the gates to the palace. Not even to save their own forces. Despite the palace’s multiple gates and intricate moat system, the demons would overrun the palace guards in a matter of heartbeats. It rested on the clergy and their wardens to reinforce the soldiers and keep the demons’ attention away from the civilians evacuating the rest of the city of Naha.
Her warden lit the flashbang in her hand and tossed it in the middle of a group of demons harassing High Brother Luc of Light and Yin Li’s young son Yin Shang where they perched on the outer moat wall. The flashbang exploded. Luc used the demons’ disorientation to fire Light-charged arrows at them. Within three heartbeats, the demons crumbled into dust.
“With me!” Anthea shouted. Her other warden Long Father defended another Light priest who launched his own arrows from a seat in cherry blossom tree. But where in Light was Warden Mateqai? He wouldn’t have left Lady Shi Hua’s side unless—
She shove the ugly thought away. Now was not the time. Not when they needed to deal with the demons first, else more people would die.
Jonata drew her sword and the long knife she used for defense and raced after Anthea. Together, they killed two of the demons at the back of the pack threatening Quan, Shi Hua, and Yin Li.
The pack split, and the back half whirled and charged the two Issuran women. Anthea threw up a quick ward. She rocked back on her heels from the increased mass of the half dozen of their enemies slamming into her magical shield.
“Drop your ward, Justice!” Brother Jin yelled from behind her.
Anthea released her ward while she and Jonata backpedaled. More arrows charged with Light magic flew between them. Four of the demons crumbled into dust. Brother Fa of Wildling, in his second form of a gigantic feline called a tiger, ripped off the head of the fifth demon.
The sixth demon galloped on all fours toward the City of Naha’s public gardens. Anthea raced after it. More sweat dripped into her eyes. She needed to kill it. Sundown was moments away, and then her fellow clergy would be at a huge disadvantage. She’d be the only one who could see in their darkness, and there was no possibility of defending the future emperor’s entire party and the Ryukyuan company escorting them to the palace.
Ahead, a figure stepped from behind a blooming cherry blossom tree. The greenish-gray skin gave away its identity as much as the demon magic it wielded.
Skinwalker. A human sorcerer who studied and apprenticed to the enemies of the human race. Using demon magic corrupted the person until they were no longer human.
It flung a spell at Anthea. She threw up a ward, but the impact knocked her on her buttocks. Jonata yanked Anthea to her feet, and the pair raced after the demon.
The skinwalker cast a second spell. Anthea gasped at the explosion of colors. It was quite literally a rip in reality. Bile surged up her throat. The demon raced for the tear.
“What in Balance—” However Jonata perceived the damage caused her to slow a heartbeat.
“Jian! Take out the skinwalker!” she ordered as she raced past Jonata. She had to catch the demon before it reached the portal.
Light magic surged behind her. A shrill scream filled the air.
The rip flickered. Anthea lunged for the demon.
And found herself flailing in midair. No demon. No ground. No sky.
Then she fell.
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Here's the last sample chapter for Death in Double Mocha! I had just finished this chapter and written the first couple of paragraphs for Chapter 6 the night before my own mother passed. Finishing Chapter 6 was incredibly difficult, but I did. I'm working hard to finish this book and get it out to y'all!
Next week, I'll start posting samples from Invasion!
And for those of you in the U.S, don't forget to VOTE! Election Day is November 8th!
Dani looked over her shoulder. Mark had given Heath his extra water soaker. While her son had relaxed at the sight of Wila, suspicion marred Heath’s face.
The ding of the toaster oven interrupted Dani’s introductions. After locking the front door, Wila followed the rest of the Elante clan into the kitchen. Since she wore her paramedic uniform, she must have been on the way to work when either Penny or Francine called her.
“You didn’t have to come over,” Dani said while Heath pulled their treats out of the toaster oven.
Wila shrugged. “After the meltdowns Penny and I had when our relatives showed up on our doorsteps, Francine was a little worried about you. Especially since you got a two-fer tonight.”
Dani crossed her arms. “You mean you guys were worried I couldn’t tell the difference between my husband and the Prince of Hell.”
“Have you checked him?”
“Checked me for what?” Heath said.
Dani glared at Wila.
“Checked me for what?” Heath repeated.
“Checked to make sure you had your soul,” Mark offered. “Mom and Wila already know you’re not possessed because they can see the demon under the human, but they don’t like looking for someone’s soul because that person can see theirs, too.”
Heath set the plate of cinnamon toast slices on the table. “Why wouldn’t I have my soul?”
“So far, all the resurrected have them, but with Satan running around Oakfield, we’re extra cautious,” Wila said.
“Would you like some cocoa, too, Wila?” Mark asked. “And we have plenty of bread to make more cinnamon toast.”
“No, thank you, but I’ll take you up on it the next time you and Derek have a sleepover.” Wila smiled gently at the pre-teen. She’d mellowed quite a bit since Crucifer’s death. Dani knew her sister Horseman would never admit she developed feelings for the fallen angel, but it was very obvious his loss had affected her.
“Maybe cinnamon toast is what we should make for my party instead of cake,” Mark suggested.
Dani’s heart lurched. Mark’s birthday was next month. He’d officially be a teenager. Maybe Heath came home to them just in time for Mark to become a man.
Wila leaned close to Dani’s ear. “I’ll examine Heath if you don’t feel comfortable.”
“No. You’re right.” Dani sighed. There was a time when she hadn’t been so easily distracted. “We have to know for sure, but I’ll do it.” She rounded the table and looked up at Heath. “I’m sorry.”
“You had my heart and soul from the first day I saw you.” He took her hand and smiled.
She twisted her focus.
And relief flooded her. His soul glowed with the same intense blue as his eyes. Energy threads of the same color connected his soul to his body. He was her Heath.
She blinked the tears from her eyes, and her vision returned to normal.
He tightly hugged her. “I knew your soul was beautiful. I never dreamed it would look like what I imagined.”
Mark joined them in a group hug.
Wila chuckled. “Thank you for making sure, Dani. I’ll leave you folks to your night.”
“I’m sorry Francine and Penny made you come over.” Dani released her husband and son. “But you’re right. I needed a bit of a reality check.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
“As long as my mother doesn’t knock out any more demon hunters, I’ll count my blessings.” Dani smiled.
She walked Wila to the front door, hugged her friend, and locked up before she returned to the kitchen. Her family sat at the table and munched on cinnamon toast.
Her family. Another wave of joy rippled through her. Her family was together again.
Heath eyed her. “So, Mark tells me that’s War. I was picturing her in armor, not an Oakfield paramedic uniform.”
“That’s her day job. The only thing worse would be me all boney while I’m trying to sell a life insurance policy.”
Mark chortled, but Heath obviously didn’t find her joke funny. She wouldn’t have either if she just crawled out of her grave.
She slid into the chair next to Heath’s. The mini marshmallows had congealed into a gooey layer from the heat of her hot chocolate. She took a sip from her mug and licked the sweet fluff from her upper lip.
“When did you meet her and the other Soccer Moms?”
Of course, he was curious. She had a totally different set of friends when he was alive. None of whom knew how to deal with a twenty-eight-year-old widow.
“The day Mark returned to school, I went to Java’s Palace after I dropped him off.” She tore off part of the crust from one of her slices. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t know how I would finish my degree—”
Heath’s eyes widened. “What about the life insurance? Or the Victorian we were restoring?”
“I wasn’t thinking straight at the time, honey,” she said gently. “Penny owns Java’s Palace. She noticed me and sat down at my table. We started talking. She and Francine helped me get our finances in order.”
Dani swallowed the growing lump in her throat. “I’m sorry, but I had to sell the Victorian. I used the excuse it was the money, but I couldn’t bear walking inside that house without you. Wila’s son Derek is the same age as Mark, so she watched him a lot while the other two helped me deal with all the paperwork. You have no idea how much paperwork is generated when someone dies.
“I started working at the insurance agency. It was supposed to be a temporary thing while Marty took over the day-to-day operations so Dad could retire. But almost seven years later, I’m still there.”
Heath whistled. “Chuck was okay with you working for him? No offense, honey, but Chuck can be a, um…” Apparently, Mark’s presence sunk through Heath’s fresh-from-the-grave brain, so he aborted whatever not-so-nice thing he was about to say.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Mark said. “Mom knows Papa is old-fashioned like Justine’s Grandpa Edward.”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Heath protested.
“Yes, it was. And Mark’s right. Dad wouldn’t have let me work at the insurance agency if you were still around.” She sipped her hot chocolate.
“But Uncle Marty can’t handle everything without Mom,” Mark stated.
“That’s not true.” Even as she said it, she wondered if that was the real reason Marty kept giving her raises so she wouldn’t quit and go back to school. Granted, numbers weren’t his strong suit. He was a lot like Francine’s husband Neal. Sales were both men’s superpower. And she had learned a ton about money matters from Penny and Francine.
“I’ll explain it to you later,” Mark pseudo-whispered to Heath.
“Mark!” she snapped.
“Mom, when you had the flu last year, Uncle Marty called every ten minutes, and that was after I got home from school.”
She lowered face into her hands. It had been a very long day before Heath showed up. Wila’s technique of counting to ten in a foreign language. Chinese through a phone app helped. Once she was a hair calmer, she looked up at her son.
“Mark, whatever happens between me and my brother—”
There was a sharp, rapid knock on the front door.
She pushed to her feet. Wila probably left something here.
Dani marched into the living room and checked the peephole.
In time for Penny to beat on the door again.
Dani jerked it open. Mom rushed into her arms and grabbed her tight. “Daniella! Your father needs to burn in Hell!”
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
To celebrate the little, but very important, victories, here's the next unedited sample chapter of Death in Double Mocha.
“Mom?” Dani couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t deal with both her husband and her mother coming back from the dead on the same night. At least, Penny’s mother-in-law Laura had the grace to climb out of her grave and arrive at the Hudsons’ home during daylight hours.
“Hijo de puta!” Yep, that was definitely Mom screaming the background.
“Dad! Tell Mom I want to talk to her!”
Mark dropped the saucepan he’d retrieved from the dishwasher and stared at her.
“Dani, you need to come get me.” Mom sobbed through the receiver. “Please, I beg of you. I cannot believe your father brought a whore into our wedding bed.”
“Mami, listen to me,” Dani said. “I need you to walk away from Dad. Go to the living room and sit down.”
“Dani, please come get me.” More sobbing. “He tried to kill me.”
“Was he the one throwing things at you?”
“He left me in a grave!” Mom wailed.
Could this night possible get any worse?
“Mom, I can’t leave Mark alone at home.” Dani sucked in a deep breath. “I’m going to call my friends Penny and Francine. Do you remember them?”
“Y-yes,” Mom said between hiccupping sobs.
“Hold onto the phone. I will call you right back. I promise.”
Dani clicked off the call and took another deep breath.
Mark picked up the saucepan. “Is that really Abuelita?”
“I’m afraid so.” Dani released the air from her aching chest. “However, I can only deal with one dead family member at a time, kiddo.”
She punched the speed dial icon for Francine’s number. After four rings, the signal rolled over to voicemail. Nope, she couldn’t let this one go. Mark had done the right thing by sending Penny over to Dad’s, but both Penny and Wila were already overloaded with their own dead family members at their houses. She tapped Francine’s phone number again.
This time, Francine picked up on the second ring. “I was asleep. The Devil himself better be on your doorstep.”
“It’s almost as bad,” Dani said. “Heath showed up at my house tonight.”
Francine muttered an obscenity. That girl had developed a potty mouth over the last two months, but becoming the Four Horsemen was bound to drive the sanest person crazy.
“That’s not the big problem,” Dani added. “Mom showed up at Dad’s tonight, and she’s trying to kill him.”
“As bad as Penny’s in-laws and the girlfriend?”
“Worse. Mom knocked out Pierre. Mark texted Penny, but—”
“Gotcha,” Francine said through a yawn. “You need a place to stash Olivia since Heath’s already at your house. Let me get dressed and grab a spare demon hunter from Saint Michael’s if Pierre’s down for the count.”
“Thank you, Francine.”
She laughed. “You owe me a couple of boxes of Long John’s for this, girl.”
Dani ended the call and collapsed on the closest kitchen chair. She couldn’t deal with any more insanity.
“Is everything okay?”
Dani looked up. Heath stood in the doorway to the living room. His short blond hair was damp from the shower and curled around his ears. He wore his old sweatpants and his favorite UC-Oakfield jersey.
Dani’s heart threatened to quit beating. She wanted to seize this moment and not let go. Heath standing there was like the last six years had never happened.
“I dropped the pot, Dad.” Mark carefully scooped Dani’s homemade cocoa mix with the measuring cup and dumped it into the saucepan. “Mom, maybe you should call Uncle Marty. Francine can turn a little scary if Abuelita loses it with Papa again.”
Heath frowned. “What’s going on with your parents?”
“Mom went to their house tonight.” Dani blinked rapidly to keep the tears from falling. “Just like you came here.”
“Olivia…died, too?” Disbelief darkened his blue eyes.
Dani swallowed hard and nodded. “Last January. She had a heart attack.”
“Do we need to go over to their place?” Heath asked.
“Penny and Francine can handle Mom, but Mark’s right about Marty helping them.” Dani picked up her phone and tapped the icon for her brother’s home number.
“Hey, little sis! What’s up?” came Marty’s cheerful voice over the receiver.
“Can you go over to Dad’s?”
“Now? It’s almost eleven.”
“Mom showed up at the house tonight.”
There was a long pause before Marty said, “She came back?”
“Yeah. Unfortunately, Carmen is there, and Mom went ballistic. She knocked out Pierre with a frying pan.”
A suspicious snort came through the receiver that sounded more like her brother stifling a chuckle. “No offense, but wouldn’t this be a Soccer Mom matter?”
“Penny and Francine are on their way, but Mom could use a friendly face.”
“Dani, what’s going on? This isn’t like you to avoid—”
“Heath’s here,” she blurted.
“Yeah.” She looked at her husband. She wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, but she couldn’t. Not in front of Mark. Her son need her to keep her own shit together.
“Is Wila on her way to your house?”
“No. I’ve got this. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’ll always worry about my baby sister.”
“I need you to worry about our parents, Marty. Call me when things are settled over there.”
“No, I’ll call you in the morning. And you’re taking tomorrow off.”
“No arguments,” Marty bit out. “I’m the boss.” His voice gentled. “Let me do this for you, Dani. You’ve got enough on your shoulders.”
She sniffed. “All right. Thanks.” After she ended the call, she reached for another tissue.
“I’ll do the cinnamon toast.” Heath sauntered across the kitchen to the counter where Mark had already laid out plates, and he picked up a knife.
For a spit second, Dani had the urge to grab Mark, carry him out to the garage, and toss him into Verde. She sucked in a deep breath. It’s just a table knife.
Maybe she should ask Wila about accompanying her to the Buddhist meditation classes she took.
Heath eyed her as he spread butter over a slice of bread. “So, who are Carmen and Pierre?”
“Pierre’s a demon hunter,” Mark said enthusiastically. “He’s awesome!”
“Demon hunter?” Heath’s right eyebrow rose as he looked at Mark, then Dani, and back to Mark.
“He’s a risen dead like you.” Mark set the burner on low and stirred the milk and cocoa mix. “He was part of the Vatican taskforce in the eighteen-hundreds. He died during the Franco-Prussian War. Now, he’s Papa’s bodyguard.”
“All of the immediate family members of the Soccer Moms have one.” Mark shrugged. “Father Rodriguez is mine. He picks me up after school and stays here until Mom gets home from work. Besides, having a bodyguard is way cooler than having a babysitter.”
“I take it the father isn’t as cool as Pierre?” Heath asked.
“He’s…depressed is the best thing to call it.” Mark stared at the contents of the saucepan. “Father Rodriguez would never admit it to me, but Father McAvoy said he was tortured and executed during the Spanish Inquisition.”
Dani frowned. This was the first time she’d heard Mark say anything remotely derogatory about Father Rodriguez. And why hadn’t Father McAvoy mentioned Father Rodriguez’s past to her before assigning him to Mark? She need to look into the matter tomorrow since she had the day off.
Heath glanced at Dani before he said, “If you’re uncomfortable with Father Rodriguez, I’m sure your mom would make arrangements for a different bodyguard.”
“Father Rodriguez isn’t bad.” Mark waved the spoon for emphasis, and Dani winced at the chocolate milk splattering all over her clean backsplash and countertop. “If I had a choice, I’d want Justine’s grandparents, but she needs them way worse than I need a different bodyguard.”
“Who’s Justine?” Heath asked.
“She plays on the Tiger Sharks with me.” Mark continued stirring the hot chocolate. “Her mom is Pestilence. Her dad’s parents were demon hunters before they had kids.”
“Wow.” Heath automatically reached in the same place in the cupboard she’d kept the sugar and cinnamon shaker since they moved into this place. There were a few times in those early years cinnamon toast was all they could afford for breakfast besides eggs.
“They sound like pretty cool grandparents,” Heath continued.
“Oh, they definitely are.” Mark nodded emphatically. “They’ve been teaching us all kinds of stuff about how to hurt and kill demons.”
“Let me guess,” Heath said. “Your water soaker is filled with holy water?”
“Yep.” Mark laid the spoon on the spoon rest, turned off the burner, and set aside the pan of hot chocolate. “And I’m learning the exorcism prayer. Grandpa Ed says I’ve got the best Latin pronunciation.”
Dani clenched her teeth to keep from saying anything. She didn’t like the fact Mark and the other kids had to learn this stuff. Edward Hudson was adamant the kids not take on a demon themselves. In fact, he told them bluntly to run and call their moms when they found a safe haven if they spotted someone they suspected was possessed.
The guys chatted while Mark carefully poured the hot chocolate into three mugs and added mini marshmallows and Heath stuck the bread slices in the toaster oven.
At a knock on the front door, Heath frowned. It was terribly late for anyone to drop by unannounced, but their house was warded against demons. Dani manifested her scythe and charged into the living room.
After a quick check through the peephole, she put away her scythe and jerked open the door. “What are you doing here?” White teeth flashed against Wila’s dark skin. “I got tagged for babysitting duties. And if Mark and the guy behind you sprays me with holy water, I will shish kebab the both with my flaming sword.”
Monday, October 17, 2022
My cover artist came up with three versions of the cover for Queer Eye for the Super Guy. So I need a little help in picking one.
Tell me what you think in the comments below, or you can send me a private message through the CONTACT ME! tab above.
Thanks for your help!
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Amazon allows indie authors to only postpone a pre-order once a year. I'd already had to postpone one of my spring books when my father-in-law fell and broke his hip. I never dreamed both he and my mother would pass within a few months of each other. Between being sick and traveling back to my hometown for the funeral, I lost over two weeks of productive time, and I knew I wasn't finishing Death in Double Mocha in time for its pre-order's release date.
I spoke with an Amazon rep yesterday and explained my situation. She allowed an exception considering my situation, but I had to cancel the Death in Double Mocha pre-order and re-enter it in order to keep the other pre-orders alive. (Yes, it's weird, but the rep could have easily told me to go screw myself, so I'm counting my lucky stars she didn't.)
However, I'm not going to re-enter the pre-order until I finish the first draft of the book. I admit I've opened the file a few times since I got the text from my brother. Sometimes, the words come in little fits and spurts. Sometimes, I stare at the screen, and the black marks make no sense.
When this happens, I usually jump to another project to loosen the stranglehold my critical brain has on Subconscious. That's what I'll do today.
Because the last scene I wrote before I got that text was the one where Dani's mom comes back from the dead.
Yeah, I may have some issues. LOL
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
I'm not asking for sympathy. In fact, I owe my readers a HUGE apology for being so behind. Especially the backers of the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse Kickstarter. I'm busting my ass to get the War in White Chocolate paperbacks formated and ordered before I leave for the hometown this weekend. I owe my brother and sister-in-law a ton for dealing with the funeral arrangements.
So while I deal with all the family stuff, here's another chapter tidbit to tide you over!
Dani wasn’t sure whether to be ecstatic or frightened. Mark devolved into a weeping mess. Heath held their son tight. Maybe it was finally sinking in he had been gone from hers and Mark’s lives for six years because he kept murmuring, “I’m sorry, Mark. I’m so, so sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Dad.” Mark pulled away from Heath and looked up at him. “It was never your fault. You wouldn’t have left us on purpose. I know you wouldn’t. But you’re back now.” Mark looked at Dani. “Dad’s back like Justine and Derek’s abuelas, right?”
Dani didn’t want to break Mark’s heart or her own. “For now.”
“What do you mean for now?” He glared at her. “You’re Death. Aren’t you supposed to know these things?”
Dani crossed her arms and glared back. “God forgot to send us the instruction books when He made me and your friends’ mothers the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse.”
“Uh, Dani, are your eye sockets supposed to glow green?” Heath murmured.
Crap. She closed her eyes and concentrated on rainbows over Lake Michigan. The power flowed back into its hiding place in her heart. When she opened her eyes, she was back in her jeans and sweatshirt.
“Can Dad come to my game on Saturday?” Mark abruptly changed the subject. “It’s our last game of the fall season.”
“If you go back to bed—”
“But this is the first chance I’ve had to speak with Dad since I was in first grade,” Mark protested.
“I know, sweetheart, but—” she started.
“Can’t you call me in sick for just tomorrow?” Mark’s tone switched to begging. “Justine got to stay home after she got kidnapped, and this is way bigger.” He flung his arms wide to indicate how much of a deal this was to him.
“Mark—” Dani growled.
“But—” Her son’s voice cracked. For the first time, Dani realized exactly how much Heath’s death affected Mark.
“Mark,” Heath said. “Listen to your mom. She and I need to talk, and I will be here in the morning.”
“This is no different that Justine’s or Derek’s grandmothers, honey,” Dani said. “Your dad’s not going anywhere, and I will call you in sick tomorrow so you can spend some time with him.”
Mark’s shoulders slumped. “How do you expect me to sleep after this?”
He had a point. She knew she definitely wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. Not with her dead husband in the house.
She faced Heath again. “Why don’t you take a shower, honey? Mark and I will make us some cinnamon toast and hot cocoa. We can cuddle on the couch like we used to and talk.”
Heath’s pale cheeks flushed red. “Um, do you have anything I can wear?”
“Your clothes are still in your dresser and in the closet,” she said. “Towels are in the same place.”
He blinked, but he didn’t question why she’d kept his clothes. “Okay. I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”
Dani watched him stride out of the kitchen. Part of her wanted to chase after him and kiss him senseless. The rest of her wanted to scream in agony. And he had the same weird vibration that all the risen dead in Oakfield had. Why the hell did God rip him away from her and then bring him back? What had she done to deserve this special kind of torture?
“It’s going to be okay, Mom.” Mark hugged her.
She couldn’t remember the last time her son had hugged her. But she remembered the last time she hugged Heath before tonight.
It was the morning before the day he died. He had to spend a couple of days at a client located on the north side of Chicago. She suggested rather than wasting the time on the four-hour round-trip commute, he should stay at a hotel for the night near the client’s office. She’d hugged Heath that morning and told him to be careful of the crazy Chicago drivers.
Little did she know it would be an Oakfield resident driving drunk on the freeway, and Heath would die only a couple of miles from their home.
Mark released her. “I’ll make the cinnamon toast while you make the cocoa.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Dani sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“Geez, Mom.” Mark rolled his eyes. “Use a tissue like a real person. You want to impress Dad, don’t you?”
“Since when did you start worrying about appearances?” she teased as she reached for the box of tissues sitting on the table. The box that never made it upstairs to be put away in the linen closet. She had been a better housekeeper when Heath was still alive.
“I don’t,” he grumbled. But the deep rose blush on his cheeks said just the opposite. He glanced at the kitchen doorway and lowered his voice. “Maybe you should call one of the other Soccer Moms and let them know what’s going on. You know, just in case.”
Mark was only making sense. Like the other demon hunters assigned to protect the Soccer Moms’ immediate family members, Father Rodriguez only stayed at the Elante home when Dani was out. He’d gone back to the rectory hours ago.
Dani nodded. “You’re right. If I put the ingredients in the pan, could you—”
“Mom, I’m almost thirteen.” He scowled at her. “I think I can handle a pan of cocoa, especially since you premix the cocoa and sugar in a jar.”
She held up her hands. “I didn’t want you to think I’m dumping chores on you.”
“I’ll take the garbage and recycling bins out first—”
“Already done.” Dani tried very hard not to smirk at the guilty expression on her son’s face. She reached into her jeans for her phone, but it was already ringing when she pulled out the device. Dad.
Why on earth would he be calling this late?
She thumbed the icon to answer. “Hey, Dad! What’s up?”
“I need a Soccer Mom over here right now!” In the background, there came a sound of glass shattering. “She’s already whacked Pierre with a frying pan and knocked him out!”
If the demon hunter guarding her father was already down, he was in deep, deep trouble. “Dad! Grab a cross and get into the bathroom!”
“Carmen’s already locked herself in there!” The way Dad huffed and puffed, he was running. “I need help now!”
Across the kitchen, Mark had pulled out his phone and texted to someone. He looked up at Dani. “Penny’s on her way to Grandpa’s house.”
“Dad, Penny’s on her way to your house.” Dani’s heart thudded in her chest. “Can you get to the basement? Lock yourself in that bathroom.”
“Penny’s coming? I need you here, Daniella!”
“Daddy, listen to me. Are you wearing your cross? The demon can’t possess you if you’re wearing your cross.”
“Demon? What demon?” There was another crash of breaking glass, followed by some Spanish invectives. “It’s your mother who’s trying to kill me!”
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
“An accident?” Dani tried to catch her breath and calm her heart. Thank goodness, Mark was already ensconced in his bedroom, and Thanksgiving break had started. He would stay in his room until noon tomorrow. “Are you hurt? I’ll take you to the ER. Let me grab my coat.”
What the hell was she thinking? She couldn’t take Heath to the hospital. They’d call the police as soon as the admitting staff put his name in their computer system. Heath had coded in the Oakfield ER after the accident.
“I’m not hurt.” Heath’s frown deepened. “I’m just really confused.”
“Honey, come inside. Let’s get you cleaned up.” She held out her hand. “We’ll double-check to make sure you’re okay. If you’re still dazed, it may be a concussion. I’ll call Wila—”
Crap, she’d forgotten she didn’t meet Penny, Wila, and Francine until after Heath’s death.
“Her son Derek is friends with Mark, and she’s an EMT.” She shivered. “Honey, it’s dang cold out here. Let’s go inside, and we’ll figure things out.”
“I-I woke up in the dirt,” Heath said. “I couldn’t find the car so I walked home.”
“I’m so sorry, honey.” Dani stepped closer, but he ignored her outstretched palm. “That must have been really scary. Come inside with me, and we’ll deal with it.”
He cocked his head and stared at something behind her. She glanced over her shoulder. The minivan. She had sworn up and down they were not going to be one of those couples when she was pregnant with Mark.
“Why is there a minivan in our garage?” Heath asked.
“I had a problem with my truck,” she said. “Please come inside, honey. It’s freezing out here.”
He continued staring at the minivan. “Neal Astin couldn’t give you a different colored loaner. Mark’s going to be teased by the other first graders.”
The scars on Dani’s heart ripped. “Heath, Mark is twelve now.”
That drew Heath’s attention away from the damn minivan. “What?”
“Honey, you couldn’t find your car tonight because you died in an accident six years ago.”
The truth stunned Heath long enough for Dani to guide him into the house. Part of her was glad she hadn’t moved though she’d thought about it after his funeral.
She grabbed a clean washcloth out of the utility room, filled a bowl with hot water, and sat next to Heath at the kitchen table.
“I-I’m dead?” he asked while she washed the dirt from his face.
“Not anymore,” she said as she rinsed the washcloth. “It’s a rather long story, but the dead are rising from their graves because the Apocalypse has begun.”
“What?” Heath stared at her. “If that’s supposed to be a joke, it’s not funny.”
“I’m not joking,” she murmured while she worked on his hands. “Are you hungry?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “But can we start this discussion over? I did have an accident, didn’t I?”
“Yes.” She focused on the dirt between his fingers. Heath’s fingers. The last time she touched him was when she placed his wedding band back on his finger before his funeral. It was still there. “Dani, look at me.” He tilted her chin up until her eyes met his. “Please tell me what happened.”
She swallowed the huge lump threatening to choke her. “You-you were hit head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the interstate.” Admitting the facts brought all the old pain back. Tears spilled over her eyelids and rolled down her cheeks. She’d been frightened of Heath coming back since that day almost a month ago when Penny’s dead mother-in-law showed up on the Hudson’s doorstep.
“Oh, baby.” He reached up and brushed away the wetness with the backs of his fingers. “I’m so sorry I left you and Mark alone. I never would have done that on purpose.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“And the Apocalypse stuff?” He cocked his head as he cupped her face.
She laid her hands on his and gently pulled them away. “There’s no way for you to believe me without seeing for yourself. But promise me, you’ll be quiet because Mark is asleep upstairs.” At least, she prayed he’d fallen asleep while listening to his music.
He frowned. “Show me what?”
“What I’ve become.” She slowly rose from her chair. “What I am.”
Those big blue eyes remained locked on her. She released a deep breath, bowed her head, and let the power wash over her.
“What the—” Heath scrambled off the kitchen chair, knocking it over in the process. The wood clatter loudly against the ceramic tile floor. “Dani?”
“It’s still me, honey.” She hated the way her voice rattled when she was Death, but it couldn’t be helped. “I’m one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
“But you’re not a man,” he protested.
“That’s why we all ourselves the Four Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse.”
“The Four Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse?” He didn’t look too sure, but he no longer wore the expression of insane panic.
“It’s a long story, honey.” She shrugged. “How about I make us some tea while I tell you about it?”
He cocked his head in the same adorable way he had when she told him she was pregnant, trying hard to reconcile reality with his preconceived notions. “Does this mean you raised me from my grave?”
“No,” she said. “The Fifth Seal broke as foretold in the Book of Revelations.”
“The Fifth Seal?”
“The Four Horsemen, or Soccer Moms in our case, are the first four Seals. The Fifth Seal is the dead believers rising from their graves.”
“Aw, crap! Are demons running around town again?”
Dani whirled to find Mark standing in the doorway. She spread her arms in a desperate attempt to distract her son.
“What are you doing up?” she snapped. “It’s a school night.”
Mark crossed his arms. “I’m not the one banging around furniture. You woke me up. And you don’t run around with all skeleton-y if demons aren’t causing problems again.”
“Go to bed, young man,” she ordered.
Instead, he marched over to the utility closet and pulled out his bright yellow and orange Super Soaker. “I can cover the demon while you interrogate him.”
“Mark?” Heath stepped around Dani’s left side. “Is that really you?”
“Dad?” Mark dropped his water blaster and ran straight into Heath’s arms.