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Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Famine in French Vanilla - Chapter 3
“Justine, what does Wila need?” Francine asked.
Instead of answering, the girl threw herself into Laura’s arms, regardless of the grave dirt covering her grandmother.
“Penny!” Edward bellowed.
Francine jumped to her feet. “I’ll deal with him and Wila while you take care of Justine and Laura.”
The last thing they needed was Edward to have a heart attack or stroke from having his dead wife in the house. Francine strode out of the living room’s second entrance and shut the door behind her. She was supremely happy her parents and Neal’s were all alive and living happily in Florida. She couldn’t imagine how she would deal with a dead parent showing up on her front porch.
Francine charged into the Hudson’s kitchen to find Edward on his cell phone. “Give it to me.” She held out her hand.
Surprisingly, he complied without complaining. When she lifted the phone to her ear, it sounded like Wila was in a vehicle.
“It’s Francine,” she said. “What’s going?”
“I think the Fifth Seal broke,” Wila snapped. “I’m on a call—”
Francine rubbed her forehead. “Please tell me you’re not calling and driving your rig at the same time.”
“It’s on speaker, bitch.” Wila was silent for a moment before she said, “I’m sorry. I’m freaking out here.”
“Just tell me what happened.” Francine looked up. Edward was paying close attention to her conversation. Too close. She needed to be careful of how she worded things with Wila.
“Brian and I were sent on a 9-1-1 call this morning,” she said. “The husband called it in. The wife fainted and hit her head. They’re both in the back right now with Brian.”
“And?” Francine prompted.
“We had a call to the same address last year,” Wila bit out. “The husband had a cardiac event. He was DOA.”
Francine shuddered. “Didn’t Brian notice it was the same person?”
“He’s talked himself into thinking this guy is the deceased’s brother,” Wila said. “For now anyway. Is Penny okay?”
“No, she’s not.” Francine sighed. “The last three weeks have cracked her mental health, too, not just Gene’s.”
A concerned look crossed Edward’s face.
“I’m dealing with a similar situation here,” Francine continued. “Can you call Dani for backup? I don’t know how long Penny will need me to stay here.”
Edward shuffled to the coffee pot and refilled his cup before he tottered out of the kitchen. Francine sagged in relief. At least, he wasn’t staring at her anymore.
“I’m finally alone, so listen fast,” Francine murmured. “Penny’s mother-in-law showed up here first thing this morning.”
“What?” Wila shouted. “She—we were at the damn funeral!”
Francine winced and held the receiver away from her ear. “I know. That’s why I have my hands full here.”
“Grandpa, no!” Justine shrieked. It was followed by a female scream that was abruptly cut off.
“I gotta go,” Francine said. “Call you when I can.” She ended the call, set Edward’s phone on the table, and raced for the living room.
Only to find Penny and Justine desperately trying to pull Edward off Laura. He wasn’t someone Francine thought of as a violent person, but the revelation he used to be a demon hunter for the Vatican showed how little she knew about Penny’s father-in-law, much less anyone else.
“Let her go, Edward!” Francine snapped.
When he didn’t, she stopped keeping Famine in check. Her jeans and favorite Halloween sweater melded into her black robes. The odd feeling of her skin tightening flowed over her body.
Penny and Justine backed out of the way as Francine strode over to the couch. She grabbed hold of his collar and belt and yanked him off Laura. Edward flailed. His kick sent the box of Long Johns flying through the air. The box hit the top shelf of the bookcase where Gene kept his collection of antique volumes. The white cardboard tumbled down, depositing frosting, crème, and pastry bits on the contents of the every single shelf until the last of the doughnuts splatted all over Penny’s brand new cream-colored plush carpet.
A weird gurgling sound came from Laura.
Justine rushed over to the couch. “Are you okay, Grandma?”
“Goddammit, Francine!” Edward shouted. “Put me down! We have to kill it!”
“Listen to me, Edward Hudson,” Francine growled. “Think about it. Demons can’t possess the dead. That is not a demon!”
His struggles slowed. “But-but—”
“She’s right, Edward,” Penny said. “If the first four Seals have broken, it makes sense the Fifth Seal would break.” She looked at Laura. “It seems sooner rather than later.”
On the other hand, Laura stared at Francine, shock muting her despite Justine’s repeated question about her status.
Edward stopped struggling. “Put your hair back on, Francine. I won’t fight you anymore.”
She set the elderly man upright. Obviously, he still wasn’t sure about having his late wife sitting on the living room couch, but he didn’t make a move towards Laura.
Francine took a deep breath and shoved her obscene hunger back into its hole. Her black robes faded into her jeans and black sweater with the Jack o’lantern family.
“What are you?” Laura stammered.
“I wasn’t joking when I said the Four Horsemen manifested three weeks ago,” Francine said. “As you could probably tell from my appearance, I’m Famine.”
She reached into her right jeans pocket and dug out her keys. “Justine, since your grandfather ruined this box of doughnuts with his homicidal tendencies, would you please grab the extra box sitting in my front seat?”
“Absolutely!” The girl grinned.
Francine tossed her keys to Justine, and the girl ran out of the living room.
“Edward, you are going to clean up the mess you made.” Francine waited for him to argue. He did shoot a pleading expression at Penny.
“Uh-uh.” His daughter-in-law shook her head. “You made the mess. You clean it up. And you can explain the damage to Gene’s books.”
“Francine’s the one who threw a demon through your front door!” he protested. “And I paid for that.”
“The girls are right. Clean it up, Edward,” Laura snapped.
“All right,” he grumbled before he shuffled out of the living room.
“I’m sorry for the way I acted toward you, Francine,” Laura said. “Or should I call you Famine?”
“Francine is fine.” She smiled.
Laura turned to her daughter-in-law. “Penny would you mind if I use your shower and borrow something to wear?” She brushed at the dirt on her left sleeve. “It seems digging my way out of the grave left my clothing rather disheveled.”
“Of course.” Penny started to leave but stopped and looked over her shoulder at Francine. “Is Wila okay?”
“For now.” Francine shooed Penny toward the door closest to their staircase. “Go take care of Laura and I’ll tell you the rest when you come back down.”
“I got the doughnuts,” Justine warbled from the front door.
“To the kitchen with those before there’s more chocolate stains on my new carpet,” Penny ordered from the landing.
Francine chuckled to herself as she headed to the kitchen, too. All her friends claimed she was the stuck-up one when it came to how her house looked. But she wasn’t cutting her chairs in half with a flaming sword or smearing Long Johns all over a priceless book collection and brand-new wall-to-wall Berber.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Famine in French Vanilla - Chapter 2
Francine set the box of crème-filled doughnuts and napkins on the coffee table, stripped off her coat, and tossed it on one of the blue-upholstered Queen Anne chairs opposite of the couch before she carefully sat on the other chair.
“How are you keeping Edward and Justine out?” she asked.
“I told them you were already here, and we needed some privacy to talk about Soccer Mom stuff,” Penny said.
“Are Justine and Brittany still playing soccer?” Laura brightened. “That’s cool. There were so many stupid restrictions on girls in sports when I was their age.”
“Yes, they are, and they’re loving it.” Francine opened the box. “I hope you don’t mind, but I haven’t had breakfast yet.” She reached for a doughnut. “And I’m starving.”
“Crap,” Penny murmured. “You should have taken the time to eat.” She jumped up from the couch. “I can warm up last night’s chicken and rice casserole. Or would you prefer scrambled eggs and bacon?”
Francine held up a hand. “I’m good. I’ve got an extra box of Long Johns in my minivan. Just in case.”
Penny slowly sat back down.
Francine held out the box to Laura. “Want one?”
“Those look so good.” Laura reached out, then jerked back her hand. “Oh, my god. My hands are filthy. I should wash up—”
“No need to leave.” Francine set the box back on the coffee table and fished the canister of wet wipes out of her tote. “Clean your hands and face. These are organic with all natural cleansers.” When Laura took the canister, Francine pulled out a plastic shopping bag from her tote’s side pocket.
“Are you sure you’re not one of Ed’s kids from another woman?” Laura said.
Francine shot a look at Penny.
“She’s joking,” Penny said. “I think.”
“Of course, I’m joking.” Laura looked at Penny like she’d grown a second head.
Once Laura cleaned her hands and face, she looked…alive, and much younger than Francine remembered from the funeral. She held open the plastic bag for Laura to deposit the used wipes. Her skin felt warm when their fingers brushed.
“I don’t understand why I can’t see my own husband.” Laura selected a chocolate Long John and took a bite. She chewed normally and swallowed her mouthful.
Once again, Francine exchanged a look with Penny. “We have to tell her the truth.”
“Oh, my god.” Penny’s head dropped into her palms. “Edward, Gene, and Theo are going to freak. And Justine’s been through enough.”
Laura finished her Long John, took a napkin, and dabbed the chocolate frosting and crème filling from the corners of her mouth. She gave Penny a measured look. “I already know someone else is living in my house. You’d better start from the top and explain everything, young lady, before I make a scene. Then everybody will know I’m here.”
Penny seemed frozen in place. The last thing they needed was for her mother-in-law to make good on her threat.
Francine cleared her throat. “What’s the last thing you remember, Laura?”
She blinked, then frowned. “That’s odd. I-I was in a hospital I think.” She looked at Penny again. “Did I have a stroke?”
Penny shook her head. “Do you remember being diagnosed with cancer?”
“I was?” Laura’s eyes widened. “I remember Justine having leukemia in first grade, but I don’t…” Worry creased her forehead.
“You had ovarian cancer,” Francine said gently.
“B-but I always had my check-ups,” Laura protested.
Francine glanced at Penny, but after the last three weeks, her practical friend had hit the proverbial wall. Francine cleared her throat.
“You had a very aggressive form,” she said gently. “The hospital you remember is probably the hospice you had to go to when the tumors in your brain made you unable to perform basic tasks.”
“We kept you at home as long as possible, Laura,” Penny blurted. “But you needed around the clock care. It was killing Edward. I’m the one who pressed the hospice issue, so please don’t blame Edward, Gene, or Theo.”
“I died, didn’t I?” Laura said. Penny couldn’t look at her mother-in-law.
“Yes,” Francine answered.
“I don’t understand.” Laura frowned. “I mean I believe in God…”
“The Four Horsemen manifested on Earth three weeks ago.” Francine sympathized with Laura. Wila, Dani, Penny, and she had nearly a month to get used to the idea. They were dumping a hell of a lot on Laura in only five minutes. “We think the fifth seal of the Apocalypse has been broken, and the dead are rising.”
“I need another Long John to deal with this.” Laura selected a maple one this time.
“Where’s Gene if only Edward and Justine are here?” Francine asked.
“He’s at Saint Michael’s talking with Deke, ur, I mean, Father McAvoy.” Tears welled in Penny’s eyes. She was trying so hard to be the strong one. It was going to break her if she didn’t let herself process all the stuff that had happened to them.
Laura swallowed her bite of doughnut. “Are you talking about Father Deacon McAvoy?”
“Yes,” Francine said.
“Edward and I used to know him years ago. Last I heard, he was…” Laura exhaled gustily. “How long ago did I pass away?”
“It was two years in June,” Penny said.
“What year is it?” Laura asked.
Francine told her, and Laura nodded.
“All right, so Deacon was supposed to be transferred to Saint James in Chicago four years ago.” Laura pursed her lips. “I don’t like the fact the last year and half of my life memories were taken from me.”
“It may be that Heaven excised those memories to make it easier on you,” Francine suggested. “You were in a terrible amount of pain during that period.”
“That makes sense.” Laura sagged against the back of the couch. “Has Edward, um, found someone else since I, ur…”
Once again, Penny couldn’t meet her mother-in-law’s eyes.
“He just started seeing a lady name Marian about a month ago,” Francine said softly. “It took him a long time to get over losing you.”
“And now, I’m back from the dead.” Laura shook her head. “I can’t even imagine how this will affect him and the boys.”
The door between Penny’s living room and her family room burst open. “Mom! Wila says you’re not answering your cell phone. She’s calling—” Justine stared at Laura.
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Famine in French Vanilla - Chapter 1
In the meantime, here's your first tast of the next Soccer Moms novel!
The buzzing of her phone drew Francine Coy-Astin out of a deep sleep. The barest light passed through the sheer white drapes of her bedroom. God help her, she hated autumn. The shorter days meant she wasn’t getting enough sunlight, which in turn meant a lack of vitamin D and a corresponding lack of energy.
Whoever it was calling her would leave a message. She snuggled deeper into the lavender-scented pillows and reached for Neal, but her body only met cooler sheets. That’s right. Her husband left early this morning for his monthly meeting with the sales team. Bless him, he’d managed to get dressed and leave without waking her.
Nor did their daughter Brittany have school today. Francine made a point of setting up all her appointments with Brittany’s teachers on Thursday so they could have this one Friday to sleep in a little.
The buzzing of the phone stopped, only to start again. Francine groaned and rolled over to reach for the device. If it was Mom calling to complain about the “hooligans” next door at their Florida condominium again, Francine would turn off the damn phone.
Instead, the caller ID said “Penny”.
That jerked Francine out of her semi-conscious state. Penny knew better than to call this early in the morning, which meant it was something she couldn’t handle as Pestilence. Francine sat up and tapped the answer icon. “What’s wrong?”
“My mother-in-law just showed up on my doorstep.” Penny sounded like she was about to hyperventilate.
“Girl, you had a nightmare,” Francine said soothingly. When the hell had she switched roles with Penny? She was Miz Practical, not Francine. “Your mother-in-law passed away. She’s in her grave in Oakfield Cemetery—”
“No, she’s not,” Penny hissed. “She’s sitting in my living room. Edward and Justine are eating breakfast in the kitchen, and they’re going to discover Laura any moment.”
“That can’t be.” Despite all the weirdness with demons over the last couple of weeks, this went one step too far. “She died. We went to her funeral—”
“Francine, what’s the fifth seal of Revelations?” Penny’s voice had an edge of hysteria.
The rising of the dead from their graves. That rhetorical question swept away the last sleep cobwebs. “Shit,” Francine muttered. “Let me get dressed, and I’ll be right over.”
After warning Brittany to stay inside and keep the doors locked until Francine returned, she pulled into the Hudson’s driveway fifteen minutes later. She wasn’t about to put her own daughter in danger if Penny’s zombie mother-in-law was actually inside the Hudson’s house.
Stopped at a traffic light, Francine’s favorite local radio station broke for news. She didn’t pay attention until the announcer chuckled. “On a local note, police arrested a man at the Oakfield court house. He claimed he was one of our city’s founders, Jebediah Hauser, and demanded that people get off his property. My assistant Kat did a little digging on this one, and Hauser did in fact own the land where the courthouse sits. His widow sold the property to Ebenezer Dorchester in 1799.”
Francine bit her lower lip. She didn’t find mental illness funny at all. She hoped the man got the care he needed. But what if Penny was right and the Fifth Seal had broken? What if the man the police arrested was the real Jebediah Hauser risen from the dead?
The light turned green, and Francine pressed the accelerator. Her skin tingled, an indication her Horseman Famine wanted to rear her ugly head. She tried to focus on the two boxes of crème-filled Long Johns sitting in the passenger seat to keep her alter ego in check. The other girls had to concentrate to bring forth their Four Horsemen personas, or rather their Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse as Wila liked to call them. Francine had the opposite problem. She had to concentrate to keep hers in check. As she found out the hard way when she accidentally started a riot at the Oakfield Buffet one afternoon with her supernatural hunger.
Francine pulled next to the curb in front of Penny’s house. The construction workers who replaced the splintered front door and its frame had done an excellent job. They just needed to be painted to match the shutters and trim, and no one would know anything had happened.
Except she did. She’d smacked Penny’s husband Gene with her scales right through the old door. The only reason he was still alive was thanks to the bastard demon who had possessed him.
Francine cut off the engine of her minivan, grabbed one box of the pastries, and a wad of napkins. Her seat vibrated, an indication Sable sensed something out of the ordinary. If Penny really did have her mother-in-law inside, Sable undoubtedly picked up on the dead woman’s presence.
“You need to stay here and behave yourself.” Francine patted the dashboard. “Penny would know if it was a demon.”
She exited her vehicle/horse and jogged up the couple of steps to Penny’s front porch. The wind carried that first sharp hint of winter and seemed determined to pull off the remaining red leaves from the oak trees along the street. Not bothering to ring the doorbell, she pressed the latch of the new front door and shoved it open.
The door to the formal living room was closed. Penny only closed off the living room when Gene had his medical colleagues over for one of their get-togethers. Muddy footprints caked the entryway mat, and more dirt was scattered on the hardwood flooring in a direct path to living room.
Francine closed the front door, unsure of how to proceed. If she knocked, she’d alert Edward and Justine something was going on. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, turned off the sound on the device, and texted Penny.
I’m right outside the living room door. Safe to come in?
A second later, Francine’s phone vibrated with Penny’s reply.
Francine sucked in a deep breath, pushed down in the latch, and opened the door. A woman with disheveled brunette hair and wearing a very filthy pale blue linen spring suit sat on the couch next to Penny. She resembled Penny’s mother-in-law if you erased twenty or thirty years and the ravages of her ovarian cancer. Both women clutched mugs of coffee, Penny’s favorite pumpkin spice and peppermint for the other woman from the odors.
Penny’s shoulders relaxed a bit at Francine’s entrance. “Thank you for coming over.”
The other woman looked at Francine and smiled. “Hello, Francine.” She may have needed a shower and clean clothes, but with that pleasant expression, she definitely looked just like Penny’s late mother-in-law Laura Hudson.
Francine held up her box. “Anyone want a Long John?”
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Hero Ad Litem - Chapter 4
Aisha tapped her free fingers on the antique secretary desk in the tiny room serving as her office in the flat she and Rey had rented in Paris. Calling it a room was generous. She had a suspicion the previous tenants used it as a closet.
But for a closet, she couldn’t fault the view. The Eiffel Tower rose over the City of Lights less than three miles away. It made for a lovely evening walk with her husband and son. This was so much better than accompanying her dad on his digs in Mexico and Central America.
She smiled to herself. Definitely far less mosquitoes.
“How’s the jetsetting?” Harri chirruped over the phone receiver. Marriage was obviously agreeing with her, but Aisha didn’t dare say that thought out loud.
She laughed. “I wish I was actually jetsetting. This apartment may have been furnished, but there was still a lot of stuff we needed. I think we’re finally situated.”
“Hey, girl!” Susan called out. “Eat a few real croissants for me!”
“I will.” Aisha glanced at her notes before she launched into the status of her ongoing cases.
When she finished, Harri blurted, “How’d you get all that work done?”
“We found an au pair. And before you start bitching, she’s a super herself. I’ve already vetted her, and she’s awesome, so don’t ruin this for me.”
“All right,” Harri drawled, “What’s the catch?”
“Her parents are Lightstreak and Raindrop. The parents want me to meet with their attorneys in London about doing some licensing in the U.S. for them. They were highly impressed with my Captain Justice and Sparx campaigns.” Aisha couldn’t keep the sour note out of her voice. Nearly two years after Captain Justice’s “death”, her husband’s first alter ego was still haunting her career.
“Who?” Harri demanded.
“And what kind of split are we talking about?” Susan asked.
“Amblehurst, Mintegue, and Trott in London, and the split is part of what we need to negotiate. The partners want a face-to-face meeting with me tomorrow depending on how you two feel about this.”
“It doesn’t hurt to talk to them,” Susan said.
Harri remained ominously silent.
“Harri, talk to me.”
“What if they are trying to poach you?”
Crap, her best friend’s insecurities were back. “Harri, I am not leaving Winters and Franklin. We all have worked too hard. And you know damn well Rey’s not going to throw away his plan to revitalize the Canyon Block. Either we cut ourselves a decent deal or we walk.”
“It sounds like we may need another associate before you get back,” Susan said.
Harri snorted. “That’s assuming this thing in London goes through.”
“Girl, expanding the firm into the international market is not a bad thing,” Aisha said gently.
“I don’t want us to get overwhelmed,” Harri said. “I’ve been assigned my first ad litem case in the family courts.”
“That’s great!” Aisha exclaimed at the same time as Susan.
“We’ll see. He’s a kid with powers, and I’ll meet him for the first time this afternoon.”
“Let’s take everything one step at a time.” Aisha picked up her pencil. “Now, about the split between firms…”
It was another hour before Aisha could finally hang up the phone. Despite Harri’s fear of abandonment rearing its ugly head, she’d actually come up with some excellent points that needed to be broached with the partners at Amblehurst, Mintegue, and Trott.
She exited her tiny office to find Mitch in his high chair in the kitchenette, munching on cut banana pieces while Rey cooked.
“Mamamama!” her son shrieked when saw her. Mitch waved his arms, forgetting he had fruit chunks in his hands. The banana nuggets sailed into the air.
With the application of a little superspeed, Aisha caught the flying fruit before they landed and placed them back on the high chair tray. She bent and kissed his forehead. “Sometimes, I think you do that on purpose, babycakes.”
Mitch grabbed one the saved banana pieces and shoved it into his mouth.
She walked over and kissed her husband. “How was you first day of school?”
“Not too bad.” He grinned as he reached around her to grab a cup of shredded carrots and dumped them into the sauté pan with the cut up chicken. “How’re Harri and Susan surviving without you?”
“Harri got her first ad litem case in the family court today.”
“Good. She’s needs something to focus on besides missing you.” Rey kissed Aisha while he reached for something else behind her.
She laughed. “You know you could simply tell me I’m in your way.”
“But if you move, I can’t kiss you every time I need something.” He poured a dollop of soy sauce in the pan and stirred. “So Harri didn’t freak out about the meeting in London tomorrow?”
“A little. But it was a perfectly valid worry about us overextending the firm again.” Aisha walked over to sit next to Mitch at their little table. He proceeded to feed a banana bit to her. After she chewed and swallowed, she smiled at him. “Thank you, kind sir.”
“And you’re comfortable with Delphine being here alone with Mitch all day?”
She made a face at her husband. “Are you trying to make me paranoid?”
“I’m just thinking maybe we should have asked Molly to come with us.” Rey pulled the kitchen towel from his shoulder and wiped his hands. “She’s been Mitch’s nanny since you ended your maternity leave.”
“I’m very aware of that,” Aisha said dryly. “But you’re moving on with your education. It’s time she does the same. And I do trust Delphine.”
“Good.” Rey turned and gave the chicken and carrots another stir before he added the cup of peas. He faced Aisha again. “I don’t think I could handle both you and Harri freaking out over our au pair at the same time, even if one of you is half a world away.”
“I didn’t freak out,” she protested.
“Speaking about not freaking, why don’t you take the train to London tonight after dinner?”
“Baby, we both know you’re not a morning person.” Rey grinned. “Staying in a hotel tonight will give some sleep-in time tomorrow. And if you get done early, you can do a little sight-seeing.”
“I think I can handle our son by myself for one night.” Rey walked over to the table. “Besides, I think you could use the break. We both know you’ve been doing legal stuff despite allegedly taking two weeks off to get us settled in the city.”
She grinned up at him. “You are the best husband ever.”
“I know,” he said before he leaned over and kissed her while Mitch clapped his hands.
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
A Measure of Knowledge Update
Before anyone gets too excited--
Please check the "Look Inside" feature! If the Table of Contents do not have ALL the chapters linked, it's the old version! It can take Amazon a couple of hours to three days to load the new version.
THE CORRECT VERSION IS LIVE ON AMAZON!
2) If you already purchased the ebook on Amazon, I've still got to send them the request to push the new version through to you. Even after I send the e-mail to Amazon (I have to go through the incorrect version to flag every issue for them), it can be a week or so before I hear from them.
If you plan on purchasing A Measure of Knowledge from a store other than Amazon, rest assured that they do have the correct version. As always, I will update links on the series page as I get word from each retail site that the book is live.
Once again I apologize for my screw up. I shall endeavor not to upload files the week of a family funeral in the future. In my effort not to disappoint you all, I still managed to do so.
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Hero Ad Litem - Chapter 3
Monday morning, Harri Winters’ eyelids popped open, and she rolled over on her back. Some wrongness had infiltrated her sleep. No, it was the absence of something.
It was still dark outside. She was in her own bed in her own bedroom in her loft from the greenish glow of her alarm clock. Her husband Tim lay beside her, snoring slightly. She inhaled deeply.
That was it. A lack of coffee aroma from the loft across the hall. Even though Rey didn’t drink the beverage himself, he always got up early to make Aisha a pot of coffee.
Tim jerked upright. “What’s wrong?”
Harri chuckled. “I never realized how much we depended on Rey to start our own days.”
Tim groaned and flopped down on the mattress. “This is why we should get a coffee pot with a timer.”
She cuddled against his side and pulled the covers over them both. “Can’t you install a timer on our current coffee maker?”
“I could.” He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. “But it’s kind of a waste of my talents considering coffee pots with timers are already on the market.” He yawned.
“It’s too quiet with them gone,” she murmured. “I kind of wished Molly would have taken the Garcias’ offer to loft-sit while they’re in France just for the noise.”
Tim laughed. “You want her throwing parties across the hall?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“When does Aisha start back to work?”
“Today,” Harri said. “I don’t think it’s her being gone that bothers me as much as missing some of our godson’s milestones. Mitch will be walking by the time they return to the states.”
“Let’s just pray he’s not flying yet when they get back,” Tim said. “Regular parents do not realize how fast toddlers can be. If Mitch ends up with Rey and Aisha’s power set, he’ll be hell to deal with.”
“Locks on the cookie jar?”
“I was thinking more of a titanium-reinforced safe for all the junk food.”
Harri giggled at the idea. “You could probably sell that to a ton of parents.”
“Heck, I could use one to keep you from eating all my Girl Scout cookies next month.”
“I said I was sorry!”
She rolled on top of him and launched her very thorough apology.
Later that morning, Harri took her first sip from her second cup of coffee when the intercom buzzed. She glanced at the two clocks displayed on the corner of her laptop’s monitor. Nine a.m. in Canyon Pointe equated to five p.m. in Paris. Aisha was right on time.
Harri jabbed the intercom button. “Yes?”
“Cathy Blanchett from the 126th Family Court is on line 1 for you,” Patty Ames chirped. Their paralegal, receptionist and all around Girl Friday was the only person at the firm who was more of a morning person than Harri.
“Thanks. If Aisha calls while I’m on the phone with the court, tell her I’ll call her back in a few minutes.”
“Sure thing,” Patty said.
Harri picked up the receiver and punched the flashing button. “Hey, Cathy, what can I do for you?”
“It’s your turn to play ad litem,” the court clerk replied.
“Already?” Harri sat back in her chair. “I just signed up in December.” In fact, her husband, her foster siblings, and all her staff insisted she volunteer as an ad litem in the family courts. Apparently, everyone was fed up with her mothering them.
“The judge needs someone with supers experience, Harri.” Cathy sighed. “The parents are in the middle of an ugly divorce, and she wants someone who will actually look out for the kid.”
“Are the parents supers?” Harri straightened in her chair and flipped her legal pad to a clean page.
“Nope, but they’re both looking at the kid as a meal ticket, which is why there’s a huge battle for custody.” Cathy paused a second before she added, “Harri, if you don’t take custody of him, you know the NSB will. Special Agent Nesmith said they’d back off if you are assigned as ad litem. He was adamant no one else would do.”
Special Agent Wilbur Nesmith had become a particular thorn in Harri’s backside. He was doing his damnedest to earn the firm’s trust. But someone within the National Superhero Bureau had set up Rey to be abducted and experimented on by Professor Paranoia, so trust of the NSB didn’t come easy to anyone at Winters and Franklin.
And Harri knew she’d be lying to herself if she thought Rey, Aisha, and Mitch were totally safe from the U.S. government while they were in France.
“All right.” She sighed. “I’m assuming you already made arrangements for me to meet with the kid?”
“The next hearing is scheduled for two this afternoon to decide who gets temporary custody,” Cathy said. “Can you be here?”
“Nothing like waiting until the last minute,” Harri grumbled. “Yes, I’ll be there. How old is he?”
Line 2 started blinking on Harri’s phone set.
“Cathy, can you shoot me a copy of the file by e-mail? I’ve got an international call scheduled for now.”
“Sure thing,” the court clerk chirped. “See you at two.”
Harri clenched her teeth. If this kid’s case didn’t keep her mind off her godson, nothing else on earth would.