Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Almost There If I Can Breathe

Yesterday afternoon, I finished packing and labeling the last dozen Kickstarter boxes to be shipped. However, I didn't make it to the post office today.

Northwest Ohio is under an Orange-Level air quality alert from the wildfires in Ontario and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The photo above from the Australian wildfires a couple of years ago gives you an idea of what our supposedly clear blue sky looks like right now.

I've been dealing with itchy eyes and a stuffy nose since I ran a bunch of errands yesterday morning. I'll need to dig out my pandemic masks before I take the last boxes to the post office tomorrow morning.

I really, REALLY hope we get the rain forecasted for Sunday.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Still Shipping Boxes

I'm so glad the Death in Double Mocha paperbacks arrived a week early because shipping out boxes is taking a little longer than I anticipated. We're getting there though. The goal is to have the rest to the post office before the holiday weekend.

Running my first Kickstarter campaign was definitely a learning experience. I've got a whole list of things I plan to do differently next time. And I need to anticipate any unusual surge in pledging!

But the good news is the pile in front of the fireplace is steadily decreasing. And the first boxes have arrived at their backers' addresses.

I hope everyone is enjoying the contents of their backer boxes!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Still Packing Boxes

It's been a batcrap crazy week at Chez Harden.

Genius Kid and Grandpuppy arrived around 11 pm on Monday night. It's time for my spring doctors' appointments, so I had two this week. And I'm still trying to pack Kickstarter reward boxes.

Preferably without canine help despite Bella and Grandpuppy's gracious offers.

In the meantime, here's the revised schedule for the Flag City Phantoms!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

A Busy Weekend Ahead!

Three boxes filled with Death in Double Mocha arrived this afternoon. Yep, they arrived a week early to my shock and surprise.

That means between cleaning the house before GK arrives for leave late Monday/early Tuesday and spotting for the booth during the Flag City Phantoms Saturday night, I need to pack up 70 Kickstarter reward boxes.

I'm so not complaining! The movies I wanted to see in March and April are rolling into streaming so I'll be watching those while packing, taping, and slapping mailing labels on those boxes.

Yay! I can't wait!

P.S. If you backed the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse Kickstarter, and you need to change your mailling address, contact me through the Kickstarter Messenger or the Contact Form here on my website ASAP!

Friday, May 5, 2023

Quiet for a Reason

I've been a little busy. The Death in Double Mocha e-book went out to the backers of the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse Kickstarter campaign who ordered it.

Also, I'm finishing up Queer Eye for the Super Guy for release next week.

Once that's done, I desperately need to weed my flower beds. The dandelions are going boinkers this spring.

I will have some news next week. (I hope.)

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Are Things Finally Back to Normal?

With much relief, I sent Death in Double Mocha to my formatter around five a.m. this morning. Now that I'm awake and had some caffeine, I'll get some breakfast and turn back to Queer Eye for the Super Guy.

There's a sense of satisfaction in completing a project, which helps me mood. Plus, DH has two lacrosse games tonight (he is the timekeeper for the city's high school teams, so I have a few hours of quiet time. And I love writing Jeremy!

Plus, there's the stretch goal short stories to finish for the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse Kickstarter campaign.

But I'm definitely ready to move on to a project that's not related to the fucking pandemic or last year's familial loss. While the next one will be a Justice Thalia story, it's too short to publish a snippet on the blog.

So there's either something from the Books of Apep or the sooper sekrit project I've been doodling with as a palate cleanser to post here. (I never thought I'd write paranormal women's fiction, but there you go.)

Or I might set up a Patreon for the sooper sekrit project.

I do plan to set up an online store at some point this year. Elaina Lee designed some cute Soccer Moms t-shirts for me.

Yeah, I think things are finally getting back to normal at Angry Sheep Publishing. And for that, I'm very grateful.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Off Topic But...

Our tidbit of news--Angry Sheep Publishing is one of the sponsors for the Flag City Phantoms (Findlay, Ohio). The Phantoms are a semi-pro American football team. A bunch of enthusiastic guys playing their hearts out.

The Phantoms have a pre-season game in Flint, Michigan, on Saturday, April 22nd. Their last pre-season game is back in Findlay at Donnell Stadium on Saturday, April 29th. All games start at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 each for attendees 6 and up. 5 and under are free.

If you live in Ohio, check out your local team!

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Update on Releases

I tried to finish both Death in Double Mocha and Queer Eye for the Super Guy last month. Getting sick at the beginning of March set me back nearly 50K words for the year to date. In my attempts to catch up, my back started giving me fits.

Now before anyone starts on my case about exercise, I do get up frequently for breaks, and I take Princess Bella for may short walks during the day.

No, my problem is stress. And when I'm stressed, it settles in my hips and lower back. The teeny, tiny tendons and ligaments torque, the muscles spasm, and anything short of deep pressure point techniques doesn't relieve the pain. And there's no point of getting a pressure point massage if I don't deal with the source of the stress.

Therefore, I called Amazon on Monday and politely begged them to let me push back the release of Queer Eye for the Super Guy for a month, and Cecilia, the representative I spoke with graciously allowed me to do so.

Those of you who preordered Queer Eye should have received a notice from Amazon by now about the delay. The last thing I want to do is put out a half-assed product.

As of this writing, I have roughly three and a half chapters left to write on Death in Double Mocha. It will of course be sent to the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse Kickstarter campaign first, but it will be available to the general public in June.

Queer Eye for the Super Guy is a little over a third of the way finished, but the idea's have been in my head for so long that the writing is going fairly quickly. It will be released on May 12th.


Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 7

Here's your last taste of Queer Eye for the Super Guy! See y'all on the other side!


Jeremy relaxed against the back of the bench in his booth at La Churro’s and sipped his mango margarita. Today’s lunch with Elaine went far better than he expected. She already knew all his business procedures. Leonardo would spend the next two weeks walking through beginning and ending of the day routines with her.

Plus, she had no problem with a probationary period, though she negotiated Jeremy from his desired ninety days to sixty. If everything worked okay with Elaine, Leonardo would start cutting back on his time in the salon, and he’d share Jeremy’s chair for those clients they didn’t want to or couldn’t give up for various reasons. Leonardo could then focus on his design work.

Harri plopped down on the bench across from Jeremy, with her briefcase she used for court. Not a good sign. Without a word, she poured herself a margarita from the pitcher and downed half of it in two gulps before she scowled at him.

“Are you trying to punish me for ignoring your business interests over the past two years?” she said.

“Contract reviews aren’t anything new,” he protested.

“It is when Molly does a better job of pitching addendums than me.” Harri grabbed the pitcher and refilled her glass.

“You sound pissed,” Jeremy commented. “Is she insisting on only girl M&Ms in her dressing room for the show?”

“No, the kid should be going to law school, not screwing around with clothing design.” Harri took another gulp of margarita. “Please tell me you ordered queso and extra chips.”

The last time Harri plowed through alcohol and junk food like this was after she had fallen in love with Tim Canyon but didn’t want to admit it. She was worried about something more than Nix getting into some kind of trouble the TV people.

“Is you representing both me and the kid going to be an issue between us?” Jeremy grinned. “I can always go to Brick Montgomery at Bryson Gaither.”

At the mention of the attorney at a rival firm, Harri’s hand tightened on her glass. For a split second, it looked like she’d waste good tequila by tossing her drink in his face. Instead, she changed her mind and sipped her drink. At least, she’d stopped gulping it. Jeremy didn’t think he could handle a drunk Harri tonight. Neither Dopinder or any of his cousins would forgive her if she puked in one of their taxis.

“If it comes down to that, you’ll all need to alternate counsel.”

“I was joking about the kid.” Jeremy reached for the pitcher and topped off his own glass. “Does she really have a problem with me?”

“I don’t know if Bernhardt is doing this on purpose, but three of the judges and one of the designer contestants are Winters and Franklin clients.”

Jeremy whistled under his breath. Damn, that really put his sisters and Susan in an awkward position. But he knew for Harri, it wasn’t about the money. It was about doing the right thing for her clients.

“So what’s the plan?” he asked.

“We’re going to have a meeting with all the clients involved Friday night.” She stopped at the sight of La Churro’s owner Mateo delivering their queso and chips. “Ese, why are you waiting tables again?”

“I’m only waiting on your table, Winters,” the big man said dryly. “And it’s only to keep you from poaching any more of my staff.”

“Whoa.” Harri held up her hands. “Janna’s still working here during the evenings.”

“But she’s not available for the lunch shift thanks to you.”

Jeremy wasn’t sure if Mateo was really angry or just giving Harri a hard time. But when she glared at Jeremy, he shrugged. “I told him you were joining me when he asked where Leonardo was.”

Mateo pulled out an order pad from his apron pocket. “What can I get you two? And by the way, Winters, you’d better give me the same tip you give my staff.”

“How long are you going to make me pay for hiring Janna?” Harri asked coolly.

“Until I can find a waitress as good as her or I can train one.” Mateo smiled politely at her.

“I’ll have the three enchilada plate,” Jeremy interjected before Harri did something stupid. Mateo wasn’t like his old man back when the girls were in law school. He had no trouble kicking out unruly customers.

“I’ll have the beef taco platter. Crunchy, please.” Harri handed her menu to Mateo as did Jeremy.

Once the owner strode back to the kitchen area, Jeremy eyed Harri over his margarita glass. “I swear you have a natural talent for creating problems where none exist.” “It’s not my fault people make the decisions they do,” she grumbled.

“Have you had Timmy and Arthur do a background check on this Dale Bernhardt?” Jeremy dipped a tortilla chip in the warm queso.

“Arthur’s working on it.” Harri paid too much attention selecting her own chip. “Did his paramour let something slip with you during their phone call?”

“I only get the impression he’s the latest boytoy.” Jeremy ate his chip while he reviewed his conversation with Mel this morning. “You think he may have seduced them on purpose?”

“You’re going to call me paranoid if I do.”

“Shit.” Jeremy leaned back against the back of the booth and regarded Harri. “I wish it was just you. But I suppose some idiot had to pick up where Trubble left off.”

“I almost wish the genetic testing came back negative.” Harri dunked another chip in the gooey cheese.

Jeremy blinked. There was only one reason Harri would be acting this squirrely. “You know, don’t you?”

“Know what?” She said around a mouthful of chip and queso.

He pulled out his phone and texted his question.

         You know who killed Trubble?

Her phone buzzed. She glanced at the message before she turned her phone face down.

“Yes.” She shoved another chip and queso into her mouth.

“And?” He stared at her incredulously.

She slowly chewed and swallowed before she said, “Remember ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’?”

“If Trubble knew about me, his killer sure as hell does,” Jeremy hissed.

“Which was why I was really hoping you and the kids would be going to Los Angeles to record the damn show when I first looked at the paperwork.” She sighed and took another sip of her margarita.

“Harri—” He couldn’t yell at her like when they were kids. They were in a public place. Lord only knew how many eyes were on Harri at any given moment.

“Fine,” she muttered. “Come back to the Lechuza Building with me. I’ll show you everything.”

Jeremy almost said no out of spite, but something said Harri would only make this offer once. Someone considered Byron Trubble, who had been dangerous in his own right, worth kidnapping and killing. If that person wouldn’t stop at using a disturbed local attorney to break Trubble out of a supermax prison and shooting in the back of the head, they wouldn’t hesitate to murder everyone Jeremy cared about.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Message from Your Sponsor

I interrupt the latest chapter of Queer Eye for the Super Guy to let readers know A Hint of Thief and Invasion! are now available on most retailers! I sincerely apologize for the lateness, but I am getting caught up on books that were supposed to be out last year. Thank you so much for your patience!


The Mars Tranquilus finally arrives in Jing, but Chief Justice Anthea and High Brother Luc find their problems are only beginning.

A handful of Crown Prince Bao Quan Po’s cousins each make their own play for the dragon throne. The former imperial consort plots revenge on his stepson from prison. And then there’s the odd Skoloti woman who shows up every time there’s an attempt on Quan’s life. Is she an ally? Or does she plan to collect the Assassins Guild’s bounties on Anthea and Shi Hua?

And what’s her connection to Reverend Father Chen and his missing army?

Magic and mayhem have never been this suspicious. Or this lethal.

Amazon, all countries
Barnes & Noble
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Demons trap three heroines from three different Earths in Otherwhere, a space between dimensions, and a newborn goddess of death acts as their mentor as she helps the ladies in their search for home.

Join four kickass ladies, Shan Wong-Washington (Seasons of Magick), Aisha Franklin-Garcia AKA the Ghost Owl (888-555-HERO), Chief Justice Anthea DiBalance (Justice), and Samantha “Sam” Ridgeway (Bloodlines), in a wild and crazy adventure across the multiverse where women are awesome and even the Fates are scared!

Amazon, all countries
Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Monday, March 27, 2023

Super Surprise!

Those of you on my mailing list should have received my March 2023 newsletter late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. The promised link for a free copy of Invasion! on BookFunnel was included.

If you can't find the email/newsletter, please check your spam folder. The offer is good until Saturday, April 1st. Make sure you download Invasion! before Saturday!

For everyone else, Invasion! will be available on retail sites later this week.

Thanks for your patience while I catch up on last year's books!

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 6

I'm feeling much better now. But I also discovered editing and brain fuzz doesn't mix. So I'm still making last passes through a couple of paperbacks before they are released.

But it's officially sprint and life is good! Here's the next unedited chapter of Queer Eye for the Supper Guy!


A knock on Harri’s office door interrupted her and Susan from ripping through the provisional contract Dale Bernhardt’s assistant had emailed.

Come in,” Harri yelled.

Molly poked her head around the edge of the door. “Oh, you guys are busy. I can come back.”

“What did your mother do this time?” Susan asked.

Molly paused. “It’s not her. This time.”

“Then come on in.” Harri waved the young super into the office. “We could use a break.”

“Well—” Molly stepped inside and closed the office door. A sheaf of papers were in her hand. “This is matter for my lawyers.”

She crossed the room and split her sheaf in two before she handed each portion to each attorney. “Before you start yelling at me, I haven’t signed anything. I’ve been invited to be a judge on a new reality series, but I told the producer I would have to have the offer reviewed by my attorney before I could give him an answer.”

The letterhead was Dale Burnhardt’s production company as Harri expected. The surprising part was Molly’s notes in the margins.

“When did you get this?” Susan asked.

“Yesterday.” Molly walked over to couch and perched on the edge. “I did as you guys and Aisha taught me. I listened to Dale’s pitch before I said he needed to send me a copy of the paperwork for you guys.”

Harri looked from the initial offer. “Why not have it sent directly to us?”

Molly winced. “Please don’t be mad. I’ve been helping Patty with LSAT flashcards while Arthur watches Grace.” Patty Ames, the firm’s paralegal, was scheduled to take the April test. She wasn’t happy with her October score on the law school entrance exam.

Panic flashed through Harri. “You’ve been leaving your mother alone?”

“Hell, no,” Molly bit out. “Patty comes up to Aisha’s loft. And Monica Reinhold is not my mom. She’s a supervillain witness to a murder who I’m guarding.” She slashed her hand through the air. “That’s the extent of our relationship.”

Harri leaned her elbow on her desk as she regarded the superhero. “Who’s with her right now?”

Molly almost pouted over the question about her common sense, but she regained control of her emotions. “Steve’s watching her while I’m down here.”

Harri relaxed a little bit. “Thank you, Molly. I don’t like having Monica here any more than you do, but we don’t have any place more secure where we can keep her. I don’t want her to end up dead.”

“Are you ever going to tell me who shot her?” Molly asked.

“For your own safety, no.” Harri waited for an explosion from the younger woman.

“I figured out on my own it’s the same person that murdered Trubble.” Molly’s eyes glittered more than usual. She was pissed as hell about being kept in the dark.

Harri walked over the couch and sat next to the superhero. “Which is exactly why I’m not telling you. I couldn’t handle it if the killer came after you.”

“May I continue?” Molly’s frosty tone indicated she wasn’t going to accept Harri’s reasons.

“Please do,” Susan said as she took a seat on the second couch. From the mischievous expression on her face, Harri was going to get an earful when Molly left the office.

“I read the offer letter and the contract—” Molly held up the palm of her hand briefly. “Before you start chewing a new one, I highlighted the parts I didn’t understand. But I did some research on the numbers some of these other reality shows bring in. With certain supers and designers as judges, potential new supers looking to build their fan base, and Dale Bernhardt’s name on the project, he can do a lot better on the offer he sent me.”

Molly grinned and lowered her hand. “Plus, it broke on the tabloids this morning Dale and Ultramegaperson are an item.”

Harri flopped against the back of the couch and rubbed her temples. “How fucking convenient!”

“Harri!” Susan snapped. “We do not use that kind of language in regard to our clients.” From the hot pink flushing Susan’s face, Harri needed to do some backpedaling.

“I’m sorry to both of you.” Harri straightened. “I just though Ultra had more sense—”

“Than I do,” Molly retorted.

“Molly, Burnhardt’s pulled in three of Winters and Franklin’s clients into this program of his,” Susan said. “Representing you in this matter may be a moot point.”

The superhero turned to Harri. “You’d chose one of the other clients over me? I was one of the first—”

“Slow down.” Harri grabbed Molly’s closest flailing hand before she accidentally poked out Harri’s eye with her wicked, glittery nails. “We need to talk to the others.”

“But according to the Mojave Revised Civil Code, if we all agree to Winters and Franklin representing us, you can still do it,” Molly said with a hopeful expression on her face.

“But that means we can’t keep secrets,” Susan added. “You’re all going to know how much each of you makes plus any perks.”

Molly nodded. “I get it. To give you a heads-up, Dale got some tax breaks to film the show here in Canyon Pointe instead of Los Angeles. That way, he’s paying less for housing the out-of-town folks. I marked that on page twenty since I’m a local. And…” She paused for a dramatic effect.

After several seconds, Harri blurted, “Spit it out, girl!”

Molly clapped her hands. “He wants to film at Lady Jaye’s Review! So now, you’ll have four clients to juggle!”

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 5

Sorry I'm late posting the latest chapter of Queer Eye for the Super Guy. I'm still recovering from this dang cold, and the brain fuzz has been extreme. On the plus side, it is definitely not COVID-19 according to our doctor. Yay for small favors!


Jeremy whistled. “I take it the kid hasn’t said anything to you about the show.”

“She has the right to have additional representation.” But there was an edge to his foster sister’s tone.

“Or maybe she and Aisha are talking again?” Jeremy ventured. “That would be a plus.”

Molly had been rather put out Aisha and Rey hadn’t asked her to go to Paris with them as Mitch’s nanny. In fact, the Franklin-Garcias had tried to encourage Molly to go to school and do something with her life than just superheroing. Especially since her twin sister had moved out of their grandmother’s house and was attending classes at a local automotive servicing school.

“Aisha would have said something to me if that were the case,” Harri murmured.

“Oh, geez, woman! Are you still jealous Aisha has the people skills?” Jeremy complained. Harri was a brilliant attorney and a good person, but her E.Q. was practically nonexistent.

“No, it’s…” Slurping came over the receiver. “I trust Ultra to look out for themselves. Molly can be a little naïve.”

He knew exactly where Harri was going with this, and he didn’t like it. Not one bit.

“No, no, no. I revamped her costume and look. I am not going to babysit Nix for you.”

“She’s not going to listen to me if I try to talk her out of joining this reality show,” she said.

Jeremy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Her whole life has revolved around rebelling against female authority figures.”

“That’s because her mom abandoned her,” Harri snapped.

“Oh, and Rue Liberty’s overprotectiveness had nothing do with it?” Jeremy immediately regretted his mocking tone. At least, Rue fought for her granddaughters. None of his extended family would have anything to do with him after his parents kicked him out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But make sure she’s actually going to be a judge on this show before you freak out. Producers sometimes dangle big names to land other suckers, and Nix is a big name thanks to you and Aisha.”

“You’re not going to take any responsibility?” Harri mocked.

“I was trying to be a little gracious here,” he shot back.

“All right, all right.” Harri’s sigh whistled over the receiver. “Let me talk to Molly and have Susan and Aisha look over your contract.”

“And I want more money if I have to babysit Screaming Orgasm again.” Jeremy grinned at Harri’s groan of despair. She and Aisha worked hard to convince Molly the moniker she chose to piss off her grandmother wasn’t doing the kid any favors.

“Fine.” Harri chuckled. “Then I’m claiming one of the dinners at La Churro’s you owe me for tonight.”

“You have to pay for your own husband this time,” he shot back, though he knew he’d pay so Leonardo didn’t give him grief about being cheap. Besides, he rather liked lording it over Harri’s ex-billionaire husband.

“Fine. How’s seven sound?”

“Don’t let me forget some takeout for my own husband. He’s stuck at the salon until closing.”

“I’ll leave mine at home, and if I have news, I can pick up dinner as a business expense,” Harri said.

Jeremy laughed. “You’re incorrigible, sister of mine. I’ll see you at seven.” He pushed back from his desk, grabbed his coffee cup, and headed for the kitchen.

Leonardo sat on a stool, bent over the breakfast island and intent on something. The rough scratching of pencil on paper came from the same direction.

Jeremy brushed back his husband’s electric blue-highlighted hair and kissed his neck.

Leonardo jumped and slammed his notebook shut. “Quit trying to sneak a peek!”

“I wasn’t. I swear.” Jeremy circled the island and reached for the coffee pot. “What did Elaine say?”

“About freakin’ time.”

Jeremy paused in pouring his coffee and eyed Leonardo. “Excuse me?”

“That was a direct quote.” Leonardo grinned. “I told you she needed to be promoted.”

Jeremy leaned his elbows on the granite surface of the island. “Maybe I didn’t want to replace my one and only.”

Leonardo narrowed his eyes. “The only place I’d object to being replaced is in your bed, love boy.”

“I’d never dream of anyone else with me between the sheets.” Jeremy took Leonardo’s hand in his and kissed the back. “When I said forever, I meant it, baby doll. By the way, what do you want me to bring you from La Churro’s?”

Leonardo laughed. “Harri’s collecting again, isn’t she?”

“It depends on if she has news about the TV deal for me by seven.”

“I was teasing this morning,” Leonardo said. “Are you really going to do this? Months in California?”

“Bernhardt let a few things slip in his email to Harri.” Jeremy repeated the tidbits his sister found in the first two pages.

Leonardo whistled. “I admit I feel better about shooting the series here, but Burnhardt really has no idea that you and Lady Jaye are the same person?”

“Oh, he’s done his research, all right.” Jeremy shook his head. “He knows Jeremy Harkness is Lady Jaye, but he doesn’t know Jeremy Harkness is Mel’s designer.”

Leonardo frowned. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“I don’t like the idea of a supervillain finding out who I am.” Jeremy tapped his fingers on the countertop. “If one of those bozos decides I’m worth kidnapping, or worse goes after you or the sibs, to try to force me to give up my client list—”

Leonardo exhaled gustily. “But Harri wants you to keep an eye on Molly if she really is a judge, doesn’t she?”

“The kid is sweet, but there’s a reason the other Canyon Pointe supers make sure she’s teamed up with one of them when stuff happens in the city.” Jeremy rolled his eyes.

“I’m sorry about the money crack I made earlier,” Leonardo said. “I know you wouldn’t risk me or your foster family.”

“It’s okay.” Jeremy leaned across the island and kissed his husband. Maybe they were still in the throes of being newlyweds, but he was so damn lucky to have Leonardo in his life. “You’re right. I have been obsessed with money the last twenty years. I need to get over myself.”

“But you’re still going to do this reality show to make sure Molly doesn’t get in trouble, aren’t you?” Leonardo asked.

“I won’t if you tell me no, darling,” Jeremy replied.

Leonardo shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you what to do.”

“But—” Jeremy drawled.

“I know you’ll do the right thing.” Leonardo made shooing motions with both hands. “Now, go change so we can have lunch with Elaine.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jeremy winked before he strolled to their bedroom. Leonardo was right. He would do the right thing, and the right thing was to keep the naïve Nix from getting herself into big trouble.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 4

Hey, Peeps!

Things at Casa Harden have slowed down quite a bit. While I was writing in the wee hours of Friday morning, I got that lovely little tickle at the back of my throat indicating I caught DH's nasty cold, despite our best efforts to prevent cross-contamination. I actually managed to pull a chest muscle during a coughing fit yesterday. LOL

So here's another sample chapter of the next 888-555-Hero novel. Or you could curl up on the couch with some hot tea and watch the Star Trek:TOS episode "Arena."

"No, Gorn, no. That's my spot!"


Harri sipped her cinnamon coffee and stared at the e-mail she just received from Dale Bernhardt’s assistant Janna. She’d heard of Hollywood’s latest “it” producer, but the email made no sense. Janna referred to Ultramegaperson’s supersuit designer, but she didn’t mention the person by name. Harri couldn’t imagine Jeremy breaking his silence over that particular side hustle.

Was this Janna really Bernhardt’s assistant? If she was, how did Bernhardt know Harri had been representing Jeremy’s business interests? Surely, Ultramegaperson hadn’t outed Jeremy.

Had they?

Harri reached for the intercom to get her IT guru Arthur Drallhickey to trace the email when the device buzzed. She punched the button. “Yes?”

“You busy?” Patty Ames asked. The firm’s receptionist and all-around Girl Friday was pretty good about screening calls when Harri was neck deep in work.

As she usually was these days with Aisha living in Paris for the rest of the year.

“It’s Jeremy about some contract that was supposed to be forwarded to you,” Patty added.

“Put him through.” Harri picked up the handset before the first ring completed. “Hey, sister dearest. Give some warning before you have someone send me attachments to emails. That’s a good way to infect the firm’s computers.”

“Dale already sent you the paperwork?” Jeremy sounded surprised. “I didn’t expect him to move that fast. Ultramegaperson called me a half hour ago while I was making breakfast.”

Harri leaned back in her office chair. “Ultra called you? Jaye, why don’t you start from the beginning?”

He filled her in on his conversation with Ultramegaperson this morning, including his agreement to let Bernhardt send the initial paperwork to Harri.

“A reality show?” She reached for her coffee. “Are you sure this is worth outing yourself over?”

“No, but I trust you to make sure this deal is worth outing myself over.”

“Has Bernhardt sent you copies of this deal?” she asked.

“I trust Mel not to name me,” Jeremy said. “All Bernhardt knows is Ultramegaperson uses the same law firm as the person who designs their supersuits.”

“Okay, let’s open up this puppy and see what Mr. Hollywood is offering my favorite sister.”

Jeremy snorted. “I’m only your favorite right now because Aisha’s in Paris.”

“Is it okay if I run this past her tomorrow morning?” Harri asked.

“What about Susan? You know, your other partner?” Jeremy sniped. “Or are you still holding a grudge?”

Harri clenched her teeth. Of course he’d bring up the fight she had with Susan a couple of weeks ago. She’d apologized to her partner, but things were still a little tense in the firm.

Especially after she found out the rest of the staff, including her own damn husband, sided with the newest partner.

“I was planning to have her look over the offer this afternoon,” Harri shot back. “If that’s okay, Your Majesty.”

“The more the merrier,” he said.

Harri opened the attachment. The cover letter laid out the basic offer, which made her whistle.

“Don’t leave me hanging, Harri!”

“Bernhardt wants you as the main judge of the show.” She named the number of zeroes after the first number.”

Jeremy whooped. “Are you shitting me?”

“Nope. He’s also already lined up the tax credits to film the series here in Canyon Pointe.”

“What do you mean film in Canyon Pointe?” Suspicion dripped from Jeremy’s voice.

She couldn’t blame him. Between normal everyday bigots and the illegal black-op organization known as Corvus, there were many reasons for his insane desire for personal privacy.

“According to this, he wants to complete the line up judges and contestants before he approaches famous Canyon Pointe drag queen Lady Jaye about using her nightclub for filming.” Harri laughed. “This is too funny to be true. You might want to do this whole thing as Lady Jaye.”

“It’s not funny,” Jeremy snapped.

“Actually, it might work better,” she said. “Few people outside of your lost boys and the family know Lady Jaye’s real identity. And you know the staff at the club will make sure no one finds out.”

“And you know Coco will go absolutely Miss Perfection if I agree to the show filming at the club?” Jeremy protested. “Not to mention security issues if Bernhardt is crazy enough to really have a supervillain as a contestant. Or have you not read that far yet?”

Harri ignored Jeremy while she scanned the second page of the proposal, and when she reached the list of pending judges, her blood ran cold. “Oh, shit.”

“What’s wrong, hun?”

“One of the pending judges is Nix.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 3

Here's the next unedited chapter of the upcoming 888-555-Hero novel!


“Are you friggin’ kidding me?” Jeremy shouted. “I will not have a supervillian wearing one of my creations!”

Leonardo frowned and laid aside the knife. Well out of Jeremy’s reach.

“No, no, no,” Mel replied. “He wants you to be one of the judges.”

If they weren’t totally immune to the effects of any and all drugs, Jeremy would suspect they were high on something.

“This Dale better be worth it in bed,” Jeremy grumbled.

“Oh, he is.” Mel laughed. “Why do you think I’m just getting home?”

“Let me talk it over with Leonardo and call you back.”

“Can I have Dale’s assistant send the contracts to Winters and Franklin for their review?”

“That’s awfully presumptuous of you,” Jeremy retorted.

“Puh-leease. We both know you won’t sign a damn thing without your foster sisters’ input.”

Jeremy looked at Leonardo who wore a shit-eating grin. Oh, he was definitely going to hear about this over breakfast. “All right, e-mail the contracts to Harri. But this is not a yes by any means, Mel.”

“Of course. Talk to you later.” Mel made kissy noises before they ended the call.

Jeremy at Leonardo. “What are you laughing about?”

“We both know if the money’s right, you’re going to do it.”

“Did you know about this?” Jeremy laid his phone on the counter before he pulled out the carton of eggs from the refrigerator.

“There’s been rumors in the gossip rags that TV wunderkind Dale Bernhardt has signed a producing deal with the ABS network.” Leonardo shrugged and popped a mushroom slice in his mouth. “The execs want a show to compete with the reality series on their rivals. Between cable and streaming, they are hemorrhaging money like crazy.”

“You mean reality shows are cheap.” Jeremy cracked two eggs into his mixing bowl, added two tablespoons of water, and whisked everything until it was evenly smooth and yellow. Did he really want to out himself? Mel didn’t care if they were outed or not. Very little could hurt them. Plus, they always kept their relationships casual. Jeremy, on the other hand, had Leonardo and his foster sibs and foster parents to worry about being used against him.

Jeremy cut a pat of butter into the small non-stick skillet and turned on the heat. He had some issues with two villains when he first started designing for supers. If it weren’t for Mel, he’d be dead. But the odd thing is Mel never it over his head when they asked for a favor.

“It would mean living out on the West Coast for a few months,” Jeremy murmured.

“What’s the point of having your clients train the local Alphabets to take care of themselves if you can’t stop being a mother hen?” Leonardo asked while he diced the onions.

“Your parents accepted you for what you are, babykins.”

“Being gay, yes. Marrying you, yes, though Mom sides with Betty about us eloping. But my parents didn’t agree with a lot of other stuff in my life.”

“That’s because you can freaking do calculus in your head. You should be teaching at MIT.” Jeremy sobered and swirled the melting butter around in the pan. “You have no idea what it’s like to live on the streets.”

“The only reason you do is because you let your pride get in the way,” Leonardo responded gently. “I know damn well once Harri and Aisha found out what had happened to you, they talked Betty and Marvin into helping you.”

Jeremy shuddered. If it weren’t for Aisha’s parents taking him in along with Harri—well, he’d come pretty damn close to prostitution in order to eat. On the other hand, Leonardo was right. He’d lived on the streets out of a misplaced sense of pride.

“A couple of months in California would be a perfect opportunity to see how Elaine can handle the salon,” Leonardo continued. “We get a furnished apartment. I can take my laptop and work on my designs while you’re at the studio.”

“You’re jumping way ahead here.” Jeremy poured the eggs into the bubbling butter. “I haven’t agreed to a damn thing yet. But you’re right about giving Elaine a probationary period as manager.” He added the onions, garlic, mushrooms, and shredded Swiss cheese.

“You want me to talk to her.” Leonardo rose to refill his coffee cup.

Jeremy considered the matter. “When is your first appointment today?”

“I’m booked from one to nine.” Leonardo set his filled cup on the breakfast bar and reached for Jeremy’s mug.

“Let’s go in early and take her out to lunch,” he suggested.

Leonardo paused and looked at Jeremy. “Mabel Longwood is my first client.”

“She can handle it if you’re late.” He shook his head. “You can’t let people like Mabel run roughshod over you.”

“Oh, please, darling.” Leonardo glared at him. “You let her run over you when she was your client, too.”

“And then, I did the smart thing and dumped her on the cute, naïve, new stylist who joined my salon.” Jeremy smirked while he flipped the omelet over in the pan.

“You are evil.” Leonardo laughed and shook his head. “It’s a wonder you didn’t become a supervillain.”

“And have a certain foster sister beat the crap out of me if I did?” Jeremy slid the finished omelet onto one of the waiting plates and handed it to his husband. “No, thank you.”

“I admit Harri’s a lot of bark—” Leonardo said.

“Harri would only yell at me. I wasn’t referring to her.” Jeremy dropped another pat of butter in the omelet pan and cracked two more eggs in the mixing bowl.

“Aisha would only resort to fisticuffs—”

“Not her either. She’d give me the same disappointed parent look Marvin would have.” Jeremy whipped the eggs with two tablespoons of water.

“LaShun?” Leonardo wore a confused expression. “Wouldn’t she break a nail?”

“Do not underestimate her, darling.” Jeremy poured the egg mixture into the bubbling butter. The liquid hissed and steamed. “When we were kids, she towed Mama Betty’s line, and she made sure the rest of us did, too. And that was long before Betty and Marvin let Harri and me move in with the Franklin clan.”

Leonardo giggled. “What would LaShun do?”

“Pull my hair.” Jeremy ran a hand over his locks. “Sit on me, or dig those damn claws of hers into very sensitive flesh as a last resort.”

Leonardo winced in sympathetic pain. “What did you do for LaShun to resort to the third option?”

“I used her makeup without permission.” Jeremy smiled at the memory while he added fillings to his omelet. “But the next day she took me to Arrow’s and helped me select my own makeup while she lectured on not sharing products because of germs. She even pitched in her own allowance to pay for everything and gave me my first lesson on proper application.”

“And here, I thought she had no heart.” Leonardo chuckled.

“She and Betty are a lot alike.” Jeremy flipped his omelet in half. “In a way, they care too much. Then, there’s the perfectionistic streak. Eat your omelet before it gets cold. And please call Elaine after breakfast so she doesn’t have lunch without us.”

“And what will you be doing?”

Jeremy slid his omelet onto his own plate. “I need to call my attorney to draw up Elaine’s paperwork and consult with her about the contracts Mel’s boyfriend will be sending to her.”

As he dug into his breakfast, he wondered if would really be worth his time to participate in Dale Bernhardt’s reality show. Because the idea of an unknown supervillain involved worried him to no end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 2

While I'm still working on taxes, here's the next unedited chapter of Queer Eye for the Super Guy!


Harri knocked on the door of Aisha’s loft. When no one answered, she punched in the keycode. The pad flashed green, and she rolled back the door. To her left, Aisha’s dining table had been commandeered by a sewing machine and loads of fabric. A dressmaker’s dummy stood guard over the organized chaos. To her right came Molly and Monica Reinhold’s voices. It sounded like another mother/daughter squabble. Harri locked the door and headed down the hall.

“Mom, you’ve got to eat something.” Molly wasn’t whining, but there was a subsonic burr in her voice that grated on Harri’s nerves. It also meant the superhero known as Nix was about to lose her temper.

“I didn’t ask for you to babysit me,” Monica snarled.

“Would you like to stay at Grandma’s?” Molly shot back.

Whatever Monica was about to say to her daughter was silenced with the snap of her teeth at Harri’s appearance in the doorway to Aisha’s spare bedroom. The normally immaculate supervillain Miss Purrception lay limply in the twin bed like a rag doll that had been run over a few times by Julio and his garbage truck.

“How are you feeling today?” Harri asked.

“I’m just peachy, counselor,” Monica sneered.

“That’s good because I have a headache.” Molly stormed past Harri and out of the bedroom.

“What do you want?” Monica pushed her dark, dirty locks out of her face. Flecks of silver and white shone along her scalp. The vain supervillian had been on the run at least a month if she hadn’t bothered touching up her roots. She hadn’t given anyone much more information other than her own mother Margaret Reinhold, AKA Rue Liberty, had shot Monica after Rue had killed Byron Trubble, the former head of the black ops organization known as Corvus.

Harri leaned against the doorjamb, crossed her arms, and watched her former client. Her own emerging gray hadn’t bothered her. She let Jeremy or Leo color her damn hair every six weeks just to get them to shut up about it.

“Molly’s right,” she said. “You need to eat.”

“So you can send me back to Mauvaises?” Monica mocked.

“We both know you’ll be dead within a week if I do that.” Harri sighed. “But if you don’t eat and do your physical therapy, you’ll never be able to escape the Lechuza Building and rub it in Tim’s face.”

“Sometimes, I don’t know whose side you’re on,” Monica spat.

“That makes us even since I’m never sure which way you’ll jump in a given situation,” Harri responded.

“Then what do you want?” Monica leaned back wearily on her pillows.

“Would you happen to have any more bullets like the ones you were shot with?”

“Just the ones Serena pulled out of my chest and gut.” Monica’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“They were designed to fragment upon impact—”

“And tear up the target.” Monica sighed. “Those things are available at any ammo store in the U.S.”

“Tim thinks there was something inside the ones you were shot with,” Harri said. “Something that’s impeding your super healing ability. You should have been up and around—”

“And escaping?” The smile on Monica’s face was only a whisper of her usual sly smirk.

“At least five days ago,” Harri finished. “That’s accounting for both the damage and Serena’s initial attempt to heal you.”

The physician’s assistant at the end of the block had nearly burned out her superpower in trying to help Monica. Harri wondered if the supervillain even appreciated what Serena had done for her.

“All I wanted from the kid was a patch job and enough painkillers to get me down to Mexico.” Monica wouldn’t look at Harri anymore. Instead, she stared at the steel rafters overhead. “I didn’t ask her to heal me. Or to call O’Brien.”

Doctor Hannah O’Brien ran the neighborhood clinic where Serena worked. Both Harri and Rey made regular donations to keep the clinic open since most of the folks in the Canyon Block didn’t have health insurance. If they could only get a dentist on this side of town…

“I’m the one who called O’Brien if you want to get pissy,” Harri said dryly. “And if Rue wanted you dead, she would’ve shot you in the head, then decapitated you.”

“She tried the head shot.” Monica lifted a section of lank hair by her left temple. What looked like a fresh burn scarred her scalp. “I got lucky, or she’s getting old. Either way, she missed.”

Barely, but Harri kept that opinion to herself. “If Rue has developed bullets that can hurt supers like you—”

“Of course, she has.” Monica squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s always been about power for her. She’s got to be top dog.”

Her act almost made Harri feel sorry for the woman. Unfortunately, Monica had lied too many times for Harri to ever trust her again.

“I’ll say it again,” Harri said. “Cut a deal with the FBI. Consuelo has cleaned up her office—”

A sharp bark of laughter erupted from Monica that led to a coughing fit. Harri didn’t try to assist the supervillain. Not that she didn’t have any compassion for the injured woman, but she knew Monica would respect her attempt if she did.

When Monica’s fit died and she collapsed back on her pillows, Harri said, “So you’d rather cough out a lung, then to help us stop your mother?”

“Tell Tim, there’s modified bullets in one of my old safe houses.” Monica smirked. “The first one I let him see.”

Harri wanted to beat the smirk of the supervillain’s mug. She didn’t have to ask why Monica left the bullets in that particular place. It was her little dig that she had her claws in Harri’s husband long before they got married.

“Thank you for your assistance,” Harri said. “Are there any new booby-traps he doesn’t know about?”

“No,” Monica said. “But he might want to take Steve with him. Tim’s getting a little slow in his old age.”

“So are you if a senior citizen got the drop on you, Miss Purrception.” Harri pivoted and strode out of Aisha’s spare bedroom before she said or did something she’d regret.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Queer Eye for the Super Guy (888-555-HERO #11) - Chapter 1

Here's the first unedited chapter of the next 888-555-HERO book!


Jeremy Harkness examined the business plan his husband Leonardo had set on the counter while he chopped mushrooms for their breakfast omelets. The idea was sound, but… He set aside the knife and looked up at Leo who perched on a stool on the opposite side of their kitchen island. “But why, darling?”

“Why, what?” Leonardo frowned.

“I don’t understand why you’d want to design for the hoi polloi, baby doll,” Jeremy answered.

“The general public is not the hoi polloi, and no offense—” Leonardo hesitated a moment before he blurted, “I want a little something to call my own. I hate feeling like I’m riding on your dress train.”

“You’re not—” Jeremy started to protest.

“If we don’t promote Elaine, she’s going to leave to start her own salon.” Leonardo pantomimed trading one thing for another. “Besides Rey already set aside space for us in the new Canyon Block shopping complex.”

Rey Garcia, aka the superhero Black Falcon, was generous to a fault. He, or rather his attorneys, finally managed to close on the city block that had housed Canyon Industries, Canyon Pointe’s largest employer until the company collapsed nearly three decades ago. Rey was making sure the homeless folks he knew had jobs and places to live since he had been one of them not so long ago.

Not to mention Rey made Jeremy’s foster sister Aisha so damn happy. It was hard to hate the man for being good-looking and a total sweetheart, too.

Jeremy nodded. “All right. We can withdraw the money from one of our money market funds—”

“No.” Leonardo held up his right palm. “I’ve already set aside the capital I will need.”

“Leonardo Chen Harkness!” Jeremy laid his palm on his chest. “You have secret money I don’t know about?”

“Quit being a drama queen.” Leonardo scowled. “I’ve been squirreling away money in my fun account for years.”

Jeremy sighed and bit his lower lip. He’d been the one to insist they have separate accounts for their own personal use so neither of them had to justify such spending to the other spouse. His bio parents had some rather nasty fights over Dad’s race track betting and Mom’s shoe shopping before they tossed Jeremy out of the house. He sighed. The ’rents probably still had those same fights.

Assuming they were still together. Jeremy hadn’t bothered checking up on them.

“Don’t give me the sigh of disbelief,” Leonardo said crossly.

Jeremy leaned his elbows on the counter and took Leonardo’s hands in his. “It was the sigh of self-disgust that I was on the verge of acting like my bio ’rents. And for that, I sincerely apologize, my love.”

Leonardo flashed a sweet smile. “All’s forgiven.” He leaned closer and pecked Jeremy on the lips.

“Can I see some of your designs?” Jeremy asked when they parted.

“Not yet,” Leonardo said.

A little twinge of anxiety raced along Jeremy’s nerves. He knew it was a stupid reaction to what Ryan had done to him fifteen years ago. And it definitely wasn’t fair to compare that asshole to Leonardo.

“I’m actually working with Susan Kennedy,” Leonardo continued. “She’s been designing jewelry on the side.”

“She is?” Jeremy blinked, but he didn’t know why he was surprised. His foster sisters’ law partner was a fountain of odd talents. “Wait a minute! Was she where you came up with the idea for the earring comms for the supers who wear jewelry?”

Leonardo nodded. “I said one set she showed me was big enough to hide Timmy’s equipment, and we got to talking.”

Jeremy was a big enough queen to admit his feelings were hurt, but he also wanted his husband to be happy. “Just make sure you have someone look over any partnership papers before you sign anything.”

Leonardo’s eyes widened. “Do you really think Susan would screw me over?”

Jeremy chuckled. “Only if she really wants Harri and Aisha to pound the crap out of her. But this is your baby, and I’ll stay out of your way, muffin.”

His phone chose that moment to dance along the surface of the island’s granite countertop to the tune of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.” Even odder was the caller ID showed Melanie’s personal number, not their alter ego, Ultramegaperson.

He tapped the answer icon. “What’s up, doll?”

“I have a personal question for you and a request,” the throaty voice of the world’s most powerful super said. “Remember that producer Dale I’ve been dating?”

“You’ve mentioned him.” Jeremy grabbed his phone and stepped back to lean against the sink counter. Leonardo pulled the cutting board towards himself and started mincing the garlic.

“He wants to know if my designer would like to be involved in a nationally televised reality show where eight designers for superheroes would compete to dress twelve brand-new supers.”

“Mel, you know I like my privacy when it comes to designing supersuits,” Jeremy said.

“Which is the reason I’m calling you instead of my boyfriend Dale calling you.” Mel gave an exaggerated sigh. “You know I’d be the last person on the planet to out your secret designing skills, but since you design for a large number of other heroes, he really wants you to participate in his show.”

“What’s the catch?” Jeremy said.

“One of the twelve people the contestants will be designing for is a supervillain.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

February 2023 Update

This is just a quick note. I'm working on taxes this week, so if you don't see much progress in word count, that's why. Uncle Sam and his IRS can do worse things to me than a reader can.

Also, I hate to say this, but I'm glad Invasion! didn't go live when it was supposed to. I finished it shortly after my mom's funeral, and...

Let's just the last four chapters made no flipping sense. There were sentences where I didn't have a clue of what I was trying to say. So I've been fixing the ending of the damn book, and hopefully, I'll finish before the Super Bowl on Sunday. That's assuming I get taxes done by Saturday night.

I'm still plugging away on Death in Double Mocha, but that had to get kicked to the side when I realized my Amazon links were no longer working last Thursday. The third party I used to connect to ALL the Amazon stores shut down without warning on either January 31st or February 1st. So I need to go through all my books and websites to fix links. It's not hard, just time-consuming.

Also, I need to get my ass moving on Queer Eye for the Super Guy. So much for taking March slow.

Next week, I'll start posting chapters for Queer Eye, so y'all have something to look forward to. Until then, stay warm, hug your family, kiss you pets, and dream of an early spring!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

A Tidbit for Your Appetite

Yes, I'm still working to getting Invasion! out, but in the meantime, here's a fun and free little story I wrote last year. I hope you enjoy Snipe Hunt!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Getting Things Done

For those who desperately want Invasion!, give me until next week. I've got to redo links because I dropped all the balls for anything that was supposed to be released in the last quarter of 2022. I'm just now uploading the print files for Hero Ad Litem. That's why I'm not releasing a lot for the first half of 2023.

In the meantime, I'm working on Death in Double Mocha, and I need to continue on Queer Eye for the Super Guy.

There's a lot to do in the next few months because I really want to go visit friends in other states. People I love and haven't seen in years.

I would have spaced out my journeys if not for the pandemic. And after four deaths in the family last year, I realize how short time really is for both me and my loved ones.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Winter 2023 Update

A Hint of Thief dropped on Amazon on Monday. I'm still working on getting files uploaded to the other retailers It's the first time I've met a deadline since August of 2022. And It was definitely a relief. As always, I'll update the Justice series page when the other retail links go live.

I'm working on Death in Double Mocha. This one is more than a relief. January is only a little over half over, and I've written nearly 30K words. For a slow writer like me, this is marvelous.

If you haven't read "A Place at the Table" under the Free Short Story tab, you have until January 31st to do so. I will be putting up a new free story on February 1st.

When I'm caught up on the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse campaign rewards, I'll finish the re-writes of the first three books of the Millersburg Magick Mysteries and re-release them.

In between all of this, I'll be working on Queer Eye for the Super Guy.

It feels good getting back to normal around Casa Harden!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A Hint of Thief - Chapter 5

Here's your last little sneaky peek of A Hint of Thief before Monday!

With any luck, Invasion! will be live on the same day!


Knocking on our cabin door woke the five of us who were sleeping. Long Feather rose from the table where he had been writing in a small book. I reached out with my senses before he answered the door. Captain Titus stood outside. Long Feather stepped out on the deck. Male voices hummed, and Long Feather stepped back inside.

Luc sat upright next to me. “We’re all awake. What does the captain need?”

“Sisters Jade and Jasmine have arrived with a message. Lady Shi Hua’s trousseau is ready, and since the chief justice paid for everything, she needs to inspect the dresses and sign for them.”

I groaned. “What is the hour, Warden?”

“Approximately a half candlemark past Second Morning, m’lady.”

“Three periods of sleep is better than nothing.” I rubbed my eyes. “Has he informed Lady Shi Hua yet?”

“I don’t know, m’lady.”

I concentrated. Shi Hua?

I’m on the pier. Sisters Jade and Jasmine are here. They said they are delivering a message from the dressmaker to you—

Captain Titus delivered their message. Give me and the wardens a chance to dress and we’ll meet you on the pier.

Shi Hua’s laughter tinkled like the bells on a Love priestess’s veil. I will tell Reverend Father Biming to meet us at the Temple of Balance a few moments before First Afternoon.

She definitely gave the impression she wanted to speak with Biming privately as she withdrew from my thoughts. Things had definitely changed between them. She was no longer the bodyguard of the third in line to Jing’s Dragon Throne or a sister of Light. I doubted Biming expected his prized pupil to outrank him at such a tender age. The former sister would soon be the Empress Consort.

The first and most prominent spouse.

A title Quan’s mother hadn’t granted to her one legitimate husband.

It made me wonder if that was the real reason her husband joined the renegades. Had he or his family hoped to take over Jing through his marriage? Such a desire made the nobles’ resentment of Quan as the eldest child logical.

Jonata and I quickly dressed while Long Feather fetched Mateqai. Long Feather had been acting as Yin Li’s warden for the duration of our voyage as Mateqai had been acting as Shi Hua’s. Even though she had been granted dispensation to leave Light in order to marry Quan, Mateqai had stayed by her side. He almost seemed relieved he was coming with me to the market district of Naha instead of remaining onboard the Mars Tranquilus.

In addition, Captain Titus assigned two of his sailors to accompany us. “Just in case,” he said. I’d become well acquainted with Sea Wolf and Little Squirrel during the course of our voyage across the Peaceful Sea, and I welcomed their presence on our jaunt across the city.

There was a definite sense of unease in the air as we walked down the gangplank. Jade and Jasmine’s muscles tensed beneath their exposed skin, the rush of blood through their vessels obvious to my queer sight. Even my non-talented wardens and sailors shot furtive glances left and right in their attempts to suss out a potential threat.

The two Ryukyuan Thief priestesses brought their own wardens with them this time, though the sisters dressed as wealthy merchants and the wardens as their mercenary guards.

“I hear everyone in the city is concerned about another demon attack,” I said, foregoing any formal greeting.

“There is also much concern over your return from the demon realm,” Jade spat.

“What do you wish to know?” I said as evenly as possibly.

Jade stepped closer to me, an ugly expression on her face and her hand on what appeared to be a ceremonial knife. I doubted the knife was merely decorative. I also doubted it was the only weapon on hers and Jasmine’s persons.

“How did you survive? No human who entered one of their portals has ever come back.”

“I survived because I never made to the demon domain.” After all my fear and anxiety I would never make it back to my home world, to have everyone question my integrity was irritating. But I would act with similar suspicion for the same reason if a different priestess returned with the same bizarre story. “Somehow, my magic interacted with demon magic. It resulted in us landing near Death’s domain. She took me and the other women trapped in the between place she called Otherwhere to Balance who returned me to Naha.”

It would only make things more confusing if I tried to explain that the Grey Ladies were another aspect of Balance. They said they would have to place me a few hours after I left so I wouldn’t step into the middle of the battle in front of the Crimson Palace. They wanted me alive. I still didn’t understand why, nor did they care to inform me of their reasoning.

I prayed my new friends were also back at their homes. Both women had spouses and children they’d left behind. While I technically had neither, I would have been devastated never to see Luc or my squire Nathan again.

“You may have convinced the Reverend Mother of Balance of your innocence,” Jade hissed. “But Thief is not so easily fooled.”

I glanced at Sister Jasmine. Her expression was as placid as a cow’s. So, her partner initiated the personal attack while she watched for weaknesses. Fine. I could play such games, too.

“Obviously, the Ryukyuan Temple of Thief can be fooled,” I said dryly. “Or were you instructed to keep me occupied with Lady Shi Hua’s trousseau so I didn’t accidentally see the skinwalkers prior to the attack at the Crimson Palace?”

Sister Jasmine suddenly appeared nervous. “Are you accusing our Temple of assisting the renegades?”

“No, I’m accusing members of your Temple of being renegades.” I sighed with an exaggerated air. “Your clergy wouldn’t be the first to be seduced by their promise of power, but I also know what happens to their allies. My birth mother, who was a High Sister of Love in Issura, turned herself into a skinwalker in quest for power.”

At my words, Sister Jade stopped her verbal attack. “What?”

“My birth mother has been trying to kill me since I was in her womb.” I stepped closer to Jade. “I excel in survival. I’ve been lucky to evade numerous plots to kill or convert me. And for whatever Their reasons, two of the Twelve want me alive and helping the Temples. And so far, that service has involved rooting out renegade sympathizers within the clergy.”

“And given that I’m on the top of the renegades’ list in the contract they have with Assassins Guild, my guess is Light wants the chief justice to keep me alive.” Shi Hua’s baleful glare was enough for Jade to step back from me.

“We are here to serve, Lady Shi Hua, Chief Justice Anthea,” Jasmine murmured with a bow. “We did not lie. The trousseau is ready.”

“I, however, don’t appreciate being tested in this manner,” I snarled.

“We’ll explain things at the dress shop, Chief Justice,” Jasmine said in Issuran.

The Ryukyuan clergy were full of surprises.

I just hoped I could keep up without landing myself in yet another trap.

Friday, January 6, 2023

A HInt of Thief - Chapter 4

For those still waiting on Death in Double Mocha and Invasion!, I hit the ground running on January 1st, but I am very, VERY behind. January and February will be spent catching up on the fustercluck that was 2022. In the meantime, here's another tidbit from the next Justice Anthea adventure.


Reverend Father Biming parted from us to clamber aboard the Unbridled. To my surprise, Quan and Shi Hua followed Luc, my wardens, and me onboard the Mars Tranquilus. Completely out of character and violating a number of etiquette rules, the captain, officers, and crew of the Issuran ship embraced me before I could take more than two steps onto the main deck. Several of them requested my tale of how I survived the demon realm before Captain Titus proclaimed it was late, and I needed rest. I promised to regale the crew with my story once we settled matters in Naha and continued on to Jing.

Jonata guided me to our cabin. The interior was crammed with the rest of the ship’s passengers, including little Yin Shang. The child threw his pudgy arms about my waist and clung to me like a leech. Most of what he said was in Jing and mangled by his sobs. His fear and relief mirrored my own emotions, and I found myself weeping while I hugged the members of our party who could not go to the Temple of Balance.

Mateqai was alive, but nasty scars marred his handsome face and his right forearm. Balance only knew how bad his injuries were under his clothing.

“I feared we lost you when you were separated from Shi Hua during the battle,” I said.

“I shared the same fear.” His smile was crooked with the scarring, but the expression held the same warmth. “I was knocked unconscious by the flashbang that killed the demon attacking me. I awoke beneath a pile of bodies, both human and demon. Thankfully, the Ryukyuan Temple of Death were efficient and found me when I started shouting, but not so efficient I was laid on the funeral pyres before I regained my senses.”

Jonata led me to the bed I shared with Luc during our voyage. Luc sat beside me and laid his crutches in the bottom storage drawer under the bed. He clasped my right hand in his left so tightly I feared our flesh would meld together, but I welcomed the pain.

Yin Shang climbed upon the bed on my left. His mother Sister Yin Li of Love was about to chide him, but I caught her attention and shook my head. She pursed her lips and relented. We were all too emotional to start any arguments at the moment, even over something like a mother attempting to instill etiquette and manners in her offspring.

I told my companions who hadn’t been at the Temple of Balance an abbreviated version of my misadventures and how I returned to Naha. I said I would tell the remainder in the morning if they wished to join the officers and crew for our morning meal.

“Is there anything you left out during your recitation to the Reverend Mother?” Quan asked. In other words, had I withheld information for a reason from the Ryukyuan Temples?

“Nothing intentional,” I assured him. “However, I am thoroughly exhausted. That’s why I wanted to review the dispatch before she sends it to the other Temples of Balance on the morrow.”

I narrowed my eyes. “My question is why aren’t you, Lady Shi Hua, and the rest of your party taking up quarters on the Unbridled. That was the plan so you would arrive in Jing in a style befitting an emperor.”

It was nothing personal against the Mars Tranquilus. However, its design was over a generation old. The brand new carrack design of the Unbridled was half again the size of the caravels comprising most of Issura’s trading fleets. I understood Biming’s desire to move Quan and Shi Hua to the grander ship. Jing was no different than Issura. Appearances were everything among the noble class.

“Because the safest place to keep my prince alive is by your side,” Shi Hua said with a wicked grin.

“You didn’t know if I would come back,” I said sternly.

Everyone remained silent for a long time. I picked up anger and embarrassment from all of them.

Surprisingly, it was Warden Yar who broke the silence. “Captain Titus refused to leave without you, m’lady. Reverend Father Biming tried to convince the crown prince and his party to board the Unbridled and head for Jing. As Lady Shi Hua pointed out at the time, such an argument should not have taken place in front of the citizens of Ryukyu.”

For the gentle giant to explain, there had been more than a simple difference of opinion between the Reverend Father of Thief and the soon-to-be emperor of Jing. The pair may have been lovers before Balance had separated them into their more profound roles in life, but I was fairly certain Biming’s attitude had more to do with his fear that Quan’s enemies would have more time to plan Quan’s demise than any jealousy over Quan’s marriage to Shi Hua. The fact the two self-assured and circumspect men lost their tempers in public was even more astounding.

I eyed Quan. “Should I assume the Reverend Father wished to sail with the first high tide on the morrow?”

“Actually, he wanted to leave on this evening’s high tide. There is no reason we cannot stay an extra day for you to consult with the Ryukyuan Reverend Mother of Balance,” he said dryly. “If demons are invading other worlds, not just our own, shared knowledge becomes an imperative. And the crew of the Mars Tranquilus can use the extra rest after our battle-laden voyage across the Peaceful Sea.”

“Thank you for allowing your common sense and compassion to rule your decisions, Your Highness.” I inclined my head.

“Let us hope my fellow citizens feel the same way you do, m’lady,” he replied.

Shi Hua patted his arm. “Po, we all need some rest. Dawn will be here all too soon.”

As if to confirm her evaluation, the Temple bells rang Third Night. I yawned.

“We’ll discuss things in the morning,” Luc promised Quan.

Once the Jing contingent of our expedition returned to their cabin. It was all I could do to remove my gear and clothing. Thankfully, no one treated me as an invalid. Instead Luc and the wardens made their own preparations for sleep. I yanked on my sleep shift and crawled onto the bed.

“Shi Hua’s trousseau wouldn’t be ready until midday tomorrow.” I yawned. “Was Reverend Father Biming planning to leave without it?”

“I don’t think her dresses were on top of his priority list at the time, m’love.” Luc extinguished his spells on the alabaster globes that provided conventional light for the rest of my cabin mates.

I curled in the crook of his shoulder. You haven’t said much since I returned.

I haven’t had much of an opportunity. He kissed my temple. I feared I’d never see you again when you ran straight into that rip in reality. I feared you had suffered a terrible fate in the demon realm. I didn’t share Shi Hua’s faith you would find a way home. I hope you can forgive me.

I feared the same things you did, I said. You’ve had so many terrible losses over the last two years. I can understand your despair, and I am so sorry I caused you to feel that way.

He hugged me tightly. I’m simply glad you are back with us. I love you.

I love you, too.

Beneath my ear, his heartbeat slowed and his breathing deepened. However, sleep eluded me despite the fatigue dragging my limbs and mind.

We couldn’t afford Quan and Biming fighting, whether it be in public or in private. We already knew the Jing nobility had never been happy with the idea of an emperor with Thief talent, much less one who had a common-born parent. Quan needed the support of the Temples and Guilds, but I wouldn’t put it past the renegade Assassins Guild to recruit some nobles to their cause.

If only the idiots knew they would be killed and eaten by the Assassins Guild’s true allies once they murdered Quan.