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.