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Wednesday, February 23, 2022
A Measure of Knowledge - Chapter 1
Which is what the whole side trip to Dine was all about in A Hand of Father.
Anyway, here's an rough taste of an unedited draft of the first chapter.
Chill rains had settled over the city of Orrin after the Winter Solstice, and everyone who didn’t have to be out in the drizzles and downpours stayed close to their fireplaces and braziers. Those same storms had halted ship traffic in and out of our harbor, and the fierce waves made it too dangerous for the fishers to launch their smaller boats. That left repairs and crafts to occupy idle hands until the weather broke.
I found myself with four justices in residence where there had only been me at Orrin’s Temple of Balance last winter. Justice Erato and Brother Wolf Run, who currently rode circuit in the east side of the Duchy of Orrin, had come to my Temple to resupply in the late fall, but early and deep snows in the foothills forced them to retreat and spend the season here rather than Mountain Gate as they’d planned.
However, our visitors were not bored. The bonding of the city’s clergy over the difficulties of the last year had led to spending our free time together on the long, dark nights. Each Temple took turns hosting games, story telling, and music except on Rest Day. We’d gather after First Evening, and a competition of a different sort had broken out among our head cooks and chefs over the quality and variety of dishes served.
On this Sixth Day, we were gathered in the sanctuary of the Temple of Thief for a Mill tournament. Quite simply, wagering on games of skill and chance was His domain. Therefore, there was never any question that a great deal of betting would occur any time we assembled at Thief.
The spiced roasts of beef and venison filled the air of the Temple with a hearty aroma. Dried cranberries imported from the eastern side of the Northern Long Continent flavored the extravagantly expensive wheat bread. Turnips and potatoes were boiled and mashed together before butter, milk, and black pepper were added. Instead of Pana Valley wine, Thief’s cook served Kemet-style beer from an inn in Nastine. The yeasty drink complimented the meat and vegetables’ savory taste.
Since the Temple of Thief did not have an eternal flame before the statue of the god they represented, the architects compensated by building two large fireplaces on the northern and southern walls of their main sanctuary. Oil lamps with reflectors hung from the ceiling. Unfortunately, they all made a vast amount of heat, which meant I spent most of the night squinting against their uncomfortable pink glares. Only the obsidian statue of Thief Himself remained cool enough not to bother my odd eyesight.
My head of household Sivan watched Baby Kosumi so my junior justice Yanaba could attend the festivities. I rather suspected it was my assistant’s way of suggesting she and my chief warden make their relationship more permanent with a babe of their own.
The pleasant thing about Mill was everyone from Balance could play, too. Talbert made a point of creating game pieces of two different types of material so my sister justices could study the board by touch.
I was the odd one, a justice who had vision, though my perception was different from other sighted humans. I perceived differences due to relative heat exuded by the things, people, and animals around me. Therefore, I could actually see the game set and the pieces clearly.
“Your move, Anthea.” Sister Cedar Grove smirked at me from across our table.
That was the other thing I loved about our gatherings. We agreed to drop all titles for the duration of our entertainments. It was freeing not to have to worry about etiquette and status for a few candlemarks.
It also helped that none of us wore Temple robes to these gatherings. Cedar Grove wore a skirt and a loose tunic to keep her growing belly warm. I wore a velvet dress, also for warmth and not fashion. The garment had been made by an Orrin seamstress named Jaci. She wanted to gift it to me for saving her family from being eaten by two wechuges. I insisted on paying for the dress. In the end, we agreed I would pay for the material and thread, and Jaci could spend her free time as she wished.
“I am aware, thank you, Cedar Grove.” I growled as I stared at the board. Mill was less complicated than chess, but it still required a certain amount of strategy. It didn’t help that this was the last game. As the two finalists, Cedar Grove and I were tied at two games apiece. The winner would take the tournament and the prize gold.
As I said before, no games could be played at Thief without some gambling involved.
The staff of Thief paused in their removal empty dishes from the serving table and watched the game. The crowd of clergy pressed closer and murmured among themselves. Secondary betting among the clergy, staff, and wardens impinged on my awareness. I saw the trap Cedar Grove was about to spring. The question was finding a way out.
Or maybe I was looking at the problem from the wrong perspective. Maybe I needed to go around. I slid the copper peg into the hole.
Cedar Grove’s breath came out in a whoosh.
“Are you all right, my love?” Garbhan’s hand was on her shoulder.
She frowned at the board trying to figure out my plan. Both of her palms rubbed her swollen belly. “I would be if our daughter would stop kicking my lungs.”
“Do you concede?” I smirked at her.
She snorted. “To you? Never!” Still, the Thief priestess took her time, which set off another round of wagering among our peers. She took the space I’d expected, and I made my next move.
Her face fell. She had only two moves left. One where she would lose the match and one where she would tie. Cedar Grove had too much pride to deliberately lose.
So did I.
Pandemonium exploded as we inserted our last pegs into their squares. No one was expecting us to tie. The brothers and sisters of Thief were laughing as they took the gambling proceeds to dais at the foot of the statue of Thief in order to count them.
Cedar Grove and I stood and bowed to each other. I stretched my arms over my head, and arched my back to pull out the knots. Garbhan guided her over to the food table. He’d become rather overprotective of the priestess since he’d seeded her womb. I’m sure it was difficult not to form an attachment when bringing a new life into the world.
My thoughts dragged my attention to Luc, the High Brother of Light. He stood next to the seat of Thief Talbert, and they both grinned like fools. I realized why. After the Temple of Thief took its cut and the prize gold was split between Cedar Grove and me, the remaining coins were being divided between the two high brothers.
I stalked over to them. “What is going on here?”
“Collecting on our bets,” Luc said innocently.
“Y-you bet I would lose?” I’d never thought of myself as being that egotistic, but his judgement of my skill hurt.
He leaned on his left crutch and cupped my cheek. “I know you. And I knew you wouldn’t lose.”
Confusion rippled through me. “B-but—”
“Balance in all things, Anthea,” Talbert teased. “You of all people should know that.”
“You bet that we would tie?” I shook my head at their foolishness. Or wisdom, depending out one’s point of view. “You two are—”
“Brilliant?” Luc offered.
“Ingenious?” Talbert said.
“Pains in my backside,” I retorted.
Shi Hua’s screams interrupted our byplay. Jeremy cradled the Light priestess as she collapsed to the marble floor of the sanctuary.
I raced over, knelt next to Shi Hua, and tried to absorb her pain. Fire ripped through my belly as if sharp claws had gutted me. Breathe with me, Shi Hua. What’s wrong?
It took several moments for the young woman’s agony to recede. At first, I feared a complication from childbirth though she’d delivered little Chao nearly four weeks ago. But it wasn’t her pain I was feeling. It was someone else’s. Someone who couldn’t see her attacker. Someone who had either passed out or died from her injuries. But before she did, I felt the distinctive rasp of demon magic.
“Mei Wen!” Shi Hua gasped between her words and tears. “She tried to—tried to warn me. A demon army has invaded Chengzhou.”
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
New Release - Chocolate for Dinner
CHOCOLATE FOR DINNER
Beth Goodman lost the love of her life on Valentine’s Day to a drunk driver. To drown her own sorrow a year and a day later, she decides to buy lonely bags of holiday chocolate. But an enigmatic, handsome stranger shares more with her than a taste for half-price candy. And maybe, just maybe, the pair can find the courage to live, and love, again.
Amazon, all countries
Barnes & Noble
Thursday, February 10, 2022
Apocalypse? Not Now! - Chapter 3
However, DH and I are playing it safe, as in he's not going to see his dad for the rest of this week. I'm home curled up on the couch with my protective princess pup in my lap and alternating between writing and watching the winter Olympics.
So while I finish up some things, here's another raw chapter to tide you over...
Ed spent the next week physically training with Father Lambert’s team along with a couple of the taskforce personnel who were in residence during the mornings. Afternoons were reserved for researching the Vatican side of the accounting issues with Mbaye and Lambert. Ed wondered what Deacon and Laura did during the afternoons. The Scottish priest was about Ed’s age.
The Vatican’s gymnasium was the only normal thing about the teeny, tiny country. Utilitarian yellow block walls. Polished hardwood floors. Padded gray mats neatly stacked against one walls. Basketball hoops and punching bags hung from the ceiling. And like every other gym Ed had ever been to, the place stunk with body odor no matter how clean everyone tried to keep it.
The place would have reminded him of high school or the army if Father Lambert hadn’t stuck him with the ladies. Unfortunately, he found out every morning just how talented in various martial arts Laura and a couple of the nuns really were.
Seven days into training, Ed slapped the mat to indicate his surrender after Laura wrenched his right arm into painful hold. Thankfully, she wasn’t vindictive. She immediately release him, and he rubbed his right shoulder.
“Just remember, child,” their primary trainer Sister Joan chided. “A demon allows the possessed person to resist pain more so than a non-possessed person.” Like everyone else in the gym, the nun was dressed in a gray t-shirt and black athletic shorts, and her feet were bare. However, unlike Laura’s long braid, her medium brown hair was cut chin length and held out of her eyes by a headband.
“Yes, ma’am,” Laura answered. “But I don’t think it’s wise to severely injure a teammate right before we go on a mission.”
Sister Joan chuckled. “True, but there’s another hold I would suggest in the same situation.” She motioned for Ed to stand.
He stifled a groan. There were few things more demeaning than being used as a fight dummy by a bunch of nuns, but he couldn’t think of any at the moment. And the older the sisters were, the nastier they fought. He pushed to his feet.
“Grab me like you did Laura,” Sister Joan ordered.
He may not be Catholic, but he was raised not to beat up on women. Much less ladies old enough to be his mother. It didn’t help Sister Joan was a very good-looking woman and she had a delightful English accent that reminded him of Emma Peel of The Avengers. All she needed was a leather cat suit.
“Come along, Mr. Hudson,” the nun demanded.
He stepped behind her and wrapped his right hand around her throat and his left arm about her waist. Next thing he knew, he was face down on the mat, and Sister Joan twisted his right thumb behind him to the point where his entire arm had gone numb. “The nerve is now pinched, which makes it hard for any person, possessed or not, to regain control of their limb.”
“I’ve never seen that hold before,” Laura said. The ladies continued their spirited conversation concerning their different martial arts styles until he cleared his throat.
“May I please have my arm back before I’m permanently disabled?”
“Oh, sorry, dear.” Sister Joan released him.
“I think I can vouch for the sister’s analysis.” Pins and needles rippled down his nerves as he climbed to his feet. His fingers tingled, burned, and twitched while the individual neurons tried to analyze what had been done to them. He shook his hand to get some feeling back into his hand.
“Father McAvoy?” Sister Joan called. “Can I borrow you for a moment?”
He jogged over from another set of mats where he’d been sparing with Mbaye with staffs. “Yes, Sister?”
“I want both Mr. Hudson and Ms. Campbell to learn the thumblock.” The nun eyed Ed and raised her left eyebrow. “Assuming your right hand nerves are cooperating again, Edward.”
He wiggled his fingers. “I believe I can continue, ma’am.”
She walked through the maneuver a couple of times with Father McAvoy before she had Laura try. Once she got the hang of the thumb lock, it was Ed’s turn. For the life of him, the moves seemed ridiculously simple and terribly complex at the same time.
“C’mon, ya dobber,” McAvoy mocked after Ed’s third attempt, his accent thickening with each insult. “Ma wee sistah mastered this move before she started school.”
“Not everyone jumps on the chopsocky bandwagon,” Ed retorted.
“Gentlemen! Mind your manners!” Sister Joan reached up and whacked them both in the back of the head. “Don’t make me fetch my ruler.”
Maybe it was the priest’s insults or the nun’s threat, but Ed managed to get McAvoy down flat on the mat with his fourth try. Whatever good feeling he had were quickly abolished when Sister Joan wrenched his thumb around again. He found himself face down next to McAvoy.
“Pride’s a sin,” she lectured. “And it’s a good way for a demon to get inside you.” She released Ed. “Now, go clean up before the noon prayers.”
As Ed and Laura walked to the dorms, she glanced up at him. “I hope I didn’t bruise your ego too much this morning.”
He laughed. “Not half as much as Sister Joan.”
“She’s right though,” Laura said softly. “If you let male chauvinism get the better of you, a demon can take advantage before you realize what is happening.”
He groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re a bra burner.”
“I’m serious,” she bit out.
“I don’t think male chauvinism is how one got into your grandmother.” Ed didn’t realize how bad he screwed up with Laura until her face went blank. He grabbed her elbow and pulled her to a stop. “I’m sorry. That was really out of line.”
“Yeah, it was.” She looked up at him with shimmering liquid in her eyes. “Her arthritis was bad. The pain got to her. Bad enough a demon took advantage of her wish the constant agony would go away.”
“It doesn’t take much,” he said softly. Hell, he still had nightmares of those three days in a village so remote it didn’t have a real name. Of his own sergeant pointing his pistol at Ed’s face when he refused to rape a little girl. “What happened after your grandmother stabbed you?”
“The demon—” Laura emphasized the word. “—pinned me to the ground. I grabbed a trowel to keep her away from me, and—” She stared a nearby flower bed for a long moment before her attention returned to him. “The demon deliberately threw Grandma on the trowel to kill her, and it kept telling me it was my fault she died.”
A lot of words backed up in Ed’s throat, none of them fit for polite company. He let go of her arm. “That’s…I’m sorry, Laura. I won’t bring it up again.”
“You need to know what you’re really up against,” she murmured. “They will use any trick, any threat, any technique to get you to sin. That’s their way into you. And once they have you, it’s next to impossible to get them out.”
“But an exorcism—” he began.
“You’ve got to catch the demon by surprise,” she said while she continued walking. He jogged a couple of steps to catch up with her. “If you don’t, well, there won’t be much of the person’s mind left to save.”
Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Brand New Cover
Apocalypse? Not Now! is a limited edition, only available through the Kickstarter I'll be running later this month for the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse series. I am close to finishing the prequel and the first book, Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice.
However, I won't launch the Kickstarter until the prequel and Book 1 are edited and formatted. And I have to get taxes done this week so they're out of the way.
February may be a short month, but it's jam-packed. Luckily, the days are getting longer, and I'm already responding to the extra sunlight.
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