However, I wanted to give you a taste of the first book. I actually started writing it fifteen years ago, and I got some bad advice about it, which is why I don't show my work-in-progress to other writers anymore. This person said it sucked.
When I was cleaning out some old files on my computers at the beginning of the pandemic, I started reading it again. It was pretty damn good considering my level of writing back then. Not to mention I was 41K words into it. So, I decided to finish it.
So, here's the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it!
P.S. The pic above is a magnet I designed from the cover artwork.
Our love was a story mortals never heard. – The Lost Books of Selket, Djehuti’s library at Akasha
Thirty years later…
Billie Edmunds, Wilhelmina only to her late grandmother and only when she was in deep trouble, blew out a deep breath. She was definitely in trouble now. Clinging to the last shreds of her patience, she faced her client. Former client, she reminded herself.
Outside her office window, the red neon of the Columbus Dispatch sign winked to life as the October twilight deepened. So much for getting home at a reasonable time on a Friday evening. She pushed the reminder today was also her birthday to a remote corner of her mind.
She should have left work early. A blanket, a novel, and a cup of hot tea would have been preferable to the earful she was currently getting.
“He’s cutting my wife from my estate. My pregnant wife!” Outrage filled Cyrus Johnson Senior’s transparent face.
You mean your knocked-up former secretary who’s the same age as two of your granddaughters, you old goat. She swallowed the insult before it popped out of her mouth. He’d be the type of ghost who’d would freeze her out of her bedroom after he made the walls drip with blood if she didn’t calm him down. “Mr. Johnson—”
“She won’t get a single penny by the time that bastard’s through. I paid you, paid you well, to make sure this wouldn’t happen!” The cup of pens on her desk jiggled in time to his words, and his stained-glass appearance turned milky.
Not good. Extreme emotion allowed a ghost to physically affect his surroundings. If Johnson put two and two together, he may start destroying her office out of spite.
She clamped a hand on the cup and dragged it away from the edge. “No, Mr. Johnson, you paid me to write your Last Will and Testament. I believe I counseled you not to make your oldest son your executor. Your business partner would have made a better—”
Her logic did nothing to appease his temper. “Looking out for my family isn’t Les Wyatt’s job. It was yours. What are you going to do to fix this?” Cyrus demanded, slamming his ectoplasmic hand down on her desk. He didn’t even notice that it passed through the fake maple veneer. Thankfully, he also didn’t notice the sheaf of documents his ghostly energy rustled, threatening to send the sheets flying through the room.
She leaned forward, resting her elbows on the paperwork she had been proofing when Johnson walked through her door. Literally.
“There’s nothing I can do, Mr. Johnson. Your wife and each of your three children hired their own attorneys. I don’t represent anyone currently involved in the estate.” She might as well have been whistling the Buckeye fight song for all the impact her reasoning had on her dead client.
“It’s my fucking property, little girl!”
“Mr. Johnson, under the laws of the state of Ohio, once you’re dead, you no longer own the property.”
Translucent arms waved in exasperation. “You’re a con artist just like every other lawyer in this town! And now, I got this-this thing following me around.” He jabbed a crooked finger toward the corner of her office where the tiny bird made of white light bobbed as it waited for its charge.
The odd bird looked like the other guides she spotted following a new ghost around. If the soul it was supposed to deliver to the afterlife got too stubborn, it would leave the ghost to his or her own devices.
If the ghosts only knew there were worse things waiting for them.
Pain spiked between her eyes. She could only hope the ache was a brain aneurysm instead of a stress headache. She returned her attention to Johnson and took a deep breath. “Has it occurred to you that haunting your son might be more effective in solving your problem than harassing me?”
Her sarcasm was totally lost on the ghost. “Except he can’t see me. You can, you traitorous—” The chiming music of the guide’s laughter rained out the rest of Johnson’s insults.
Billie rubbed her temples. “I see dead people” was a great punch line unless you really could see them. If they knew you could see them, they wouldn’t leave you alone. Why, oh why hadn’t she ignored Johnson when he showed up in her office last week? His wrinkled ass hanging out of the hospital gown should have been her first clue he’d died. The fact that she could see the spine of her Ohio Probate Code through his wrinkled ass should have been the second. At least, now he wore the phantom equivalent of the suit in which the gold-digging son had buried him.
Ectoplasmic spittle sprayed from Johnson’s lips as he continued his rant. “I’m telling ya both, I ain’t leaving ‘til you fix this, young lady!”
Frustration forced out whatever empathy she had for her former client. She lurched to her feet to her feet. Planting her hands on the desktop, she leaned forward until her nose nearly touched the mist that formed Johnson’s. “Are you saying you’re my responsibility, Mr. Johnson?” Venom and steel filled her voice.
He eased back from her, his eyes wide, fear oozing from him in waves.
Even the spirit guide sparked at her question. The white light flared to a brilliant crimson.
No. She closed her eyes to hide her own fear and confusion. She was just a human. She couldn’t possibly be a threat to Johnson or his guide.
Resolve filled Billie, enabling her to cling to her sanity. When she opened her eyes, a freaked-out Calvin Johnson hovered under the outstretched wings of the guide. “You-you can’t do anything to me.” Except if was very obvious under his bluster that’s exactly what he was afraid of.
Even if Vanna White spotted her twenty-one consonants and five vowels, she wouldn’t have a fucking hint about why she triggered Johnson’s panic. It didn’t mean she wouldn’t take advantage of it. “Then, Mr. Johnson, I suggest you leave with your friend.” When Johnson hesitated, she yelled, “Now!”
Not bothering with the door, Johnson dived through her office wall into the reception area.
The guide’s light shifted back to its normal white. Humor tinkled like a Mozart sonata, a song only she could hear. It bobbed once before it floated after Johnson.
Take a soul? The last thing she wanted was cranky Calvin Johnson calling her every name in the book for the rest of her life, even if she knew how to keep him. Besides, things worked the other way around. She usually couldn’t get rid of the suckers until she figured out how to help the ghosts with their problems.
Assuming they came to her in time.
For crying out loud, she was only human. Albeit a human with one funky talent. Weariness rushed through her as she dropped into her second-hand office chair. She blinked, willing her eyes to adjust to plain old incandescent lamps after the near-blinding brilliance of the spirit guide. How the hell was she supposed to fix this one? It was almost as frustrating as the dead children in the cemetery near Nettie’s place.
And Billie damn well couldn’t tell Nettie about tonight’s incident. Her landlady definitely would not let this one go. Especially since it involved Calvin Johnson’s unborn child.
Billie’s head fell forward and landed with a muffled thump on the trust papers she’d been reviewing when her guests had appeared. Why, oh why, was this happening to her? Maybe she should check herself into Ohio State University Hospital’s psych ward. Maybe she should ask Nettie the name of her therapist. Maybe she should hit the state store for a bottle of tequila on the way home.
“You okay, Ms. Edmunds?”
Billie’s head jerked up at the sound of Maggie Shaw’s voice. From the look on the receptionist’s face, there was a distinct possibility the guys with the special white jackets were already on their way.
“I thought I heard you shouting,” Maggie added.
Maggie’s wary look made Billie drag in a shaky breath and smile. “I guess I’m a little frustrated with myself for taking the Johnson case. It’s turned into a will contest, and whoever loses will probably file a malpractice claim against me.” She tapped the two subpoenas lying on the corner of her desk. The eldest son had filed the will contest before Johnson’s body was even cold. Cyrus’s daughter had the grace to wait until after the funeral. “Sorry if I disturbed you.”
Sympathetic understanding filled Maggie’s hazel eyes. “Unfortunately, evaluating potential clients is one of those things young attorneys have to learn the hard way.” And Maggie would know after working as a legal assistant for the last forty years. She waved a hand toward the kitchenette. “Do you want another pot of coffee before I leave?”
Billie shook her head. “I’m going home, too.” She stood and started gathering the files she’d need to review over the weekend. “I think I need something stronger than coffee.”
Four hours later, Billie winced at the bass thump that rattled her toes from two blocks away and hesitated. Why had she let the twins talk her into going out for her birthday? She and her housemates hadn’t even entered the club yet, and she could feel the music pounding in time with her headache. “I don’t know about this.”
The twins each latched onto an arm and dragged her forward.
“You need a break,” Reyna said.
“We all need a break.” Kyra nodded. “Especially Professor Tightass.”
“Calling her names won’t get Nettie out of the house,” Reyna chided her twin.
Kyra rolled her eyes. Her talent for sarcasm and the difference in eye color were the only ways Billie could tell them apart. That and Kyra’s penchant for Goth wear. Maybe it was a side effect from working in the morgue.
“Yeah, well, she’s about to turn as moldy as her history books. Geez, she’s only forty-three, and she acts like our great-grandmother.” Kyra released Billie’s left elbow to clutch her leather jacket at her throat. She shuffled along the sidewalk like an elderly woman and started whining in a high, quivery voice. “I’m telling you children, you must take your responsibilities seriously in order to save mankind.”
Billie laughed despite her foul mood, the same way the twins had laughed at Nettie the first time the professor, their mutual landlady, had brought up her “belief” to them. Billie had a couple of years of living with the eccentric woman and was used to Netanya Soren’s peculiarities. She was on anti-anxiety meds thanks to her post-traumatic stress disorder from her military service in Afghanistan. Billie made a point of picking up the refills herself every month. Nettie off her meds wasn’t pretty.
But Billie couldn’t live in a world where her crazy landlady’s insane ramblings were true, even if the OSU history professor had been the first person to accept Billie’s own peculiarities. So, despite her own reservations, she felt compelled to defend Nettie to the twins. “She’s had a rough time the last few years.”
Kyra snorted. “Assaulting a fellow professor falls under the heading of creating her own damn problems.”
“Professor Hildebrand snuck up on her from behind in a dark parking lot. He deserved getting his nose broke,” Billie protested.
“She should have been fired,” Kyra shot back.
” Like they fired Woody Hayes after he smacked around a player in the middle of a football game?” Billie said.
“Maybe Nettie’s incident was an innocent mistake.” Reyna’s soft voice entered the conversation. “But she can’t keep hiding in her house, any more than you can.”
“Or maybe not everyone are the party animals you two are,” Billie grumbled.
The twin’s unsettling green eyes bore into Billie’s soul. The last thing she wanted to admit was the twins were right. Her earlier encounter with Mr. Johnson still bothered her. Maybe she needed to learn how to deal with the living before the dead drove her as bonkers as Nettie.
Latching on to a quick change of subject, she nodded toward the red brick structure ahead. “Have either of you been here before?” The parking lot was already packed, and twenty-somethings swarmed toward the door. A handful matched Reyna’s fashionista garb from what Billie could see below coat hems, but most wore the standard grad student uniform of jeans and tennies.
Kyra shook her head. “It just opened. Porter recommended it.”
“Porter? The hot body mover?” Reyna waggled her eyebrows.
“Yeah, he’s working here part-time now.”
Billie swallowed a groan. She might have known the twins were on a beefcake hunt. If it weren’t for her crankiness, their behavior would be a lot more amusing. Her heels dragged of their own accord. “Why don’t you girls go on? I’m not sure I’m feeling up to this. I have a headache—”
“What? It’s your birthday. You can’t go home and bury your nose in your briefs,” Kyra mocked.
“Yeah, we’ll find you something much more fun to bury in your briefs,” Reyna said as Kyra grabbed Billie’s elbow again. They continued dragging her toward the front door of the club. “Besides it’s too damn cold to stand outside and debate your lack of partying skills.” A razor-sharp October gust emphasized Reyna’s point.
Some battles just weren’t worth the fight, but Billie couldn’t help her worry. The nagging sense that something was about to happen gnawed on her nerves while the twins hauled her the last few feet. She shook her head. Maybe it was leftover discomfort from the ghost materializing into her office earlier. Kyra yanked the door open, and together, the twins shoved her inside. Moist, hot air enveloped her, making it hard to breath.
Billie jumped at the voice. The city and university kept the street lights in good working order, which only made the dark foyer even more oppressive. Her eyes adjusted to find a man towering over her. Black t-shirt and black jeans encased his body, the clothing leaving nothing to the imagination. Shaggy blue-black hair framed dark skin and high cheekbones. But it was the eyes that drew the most attention. Hazel eyes so pale they could qualify as liquid gold.
Ice white teeth gleamed in the black light. “Your ID?” He held out a large hand.
She gulped at the massive paw. No wonder Kyra was obsessed with the correlation of men’s sizes.
The twin in question elbowed past Billie. “Oh puh-leeze! You know me, Porter.”
His grin widened. “Yeah, I do, which is why I wouldn’t put it past you to drag some overimpressed and underaged college student in here.” His fingers waved. “ID?”
Billie had to give him credit. He’d nailed Kyra’s tendency to flaunt her family’s money and power, sometimes to the younger students’ detriment. Reyna was slightly more circumspect, but she had the same tendency to push to get her way. Billie still hadn’t figured out why the twins roomed with Nettie rather than renting some luxury condo off campus. And neither her landlady or the girls were forthcoming with the information. They couldn’t possibly be drowning in student loan debt like she was.
Kyra sniffed and handed over her driver’s license along with the cover charge. Porter flicked a glance at it before returning the card. He reached for the proffered I. D. and money in Billie’s hand.
Electricity shot up her arm at his warm touch and closed around her heart, her lungs, her mind. She knew him. The illogical feeling grew stronger. She didn’t know how or why, but she felt him deep in her soul.
She shook her head, wishing she could as easily shake the odd feeling. Impossible. They’d never met until a minute ago.
He gave a far closer examination of her license, as if he were memorizing every detail and comparing the information to who stood before him. Those golden eyes focused on her midsection. No, they bore through to her backbone. Could he really know she kept a knife sheathed against the base of her spine? Her cousin Mitch’s gift had been the one thing that kept her foster father’s perverted advances at bay. The steel hunting blade was more precious than any security blanket.
But if she were caught carrying the illegal concealed weapon, the conservative Franklin County judges wouldn’t just throw the book at her. They’d make an example of how an officer of the courts could not flaunt the law in their jurisdiction.
She wished she could make her own example on some annoying ghosts. Too bad the knife wouldn’t work on them.
The mysterious Porter said nothing and handed her card back with an odd, secretive smile. Another electric touch flooded her nerves endings, this one setting off such intimate sensations heat spilled across her cheeks.
He gave a quick look at Reyna’s ID before he stamped the backs of each of their right hands and waved them into the club. “Have a good time, ladies.”
Dryness filled her mouth at the wink he gave her. Billie turned and stumbled after the twins. A peek over her shoulder showed him still watching them. No, not the twins. Just her.
The heavy beat resumed its throb in her eardrums. Only then did she notice the sounds of the club had been missing in the foyer. If it hadn’t been for the encounter with Cyrus Johnson earlier, the situation wouldn’t have garnered any more of her attention. Why on earth were her nerves on overdrive tonight? She shot another glance over her shoulder, but the man had melded into the shadows of the entrance. Only the golden eyes and white teeth showed through the gloom.
A high-pitched whistle broke the spell. She turned her head to find a smirking Kyra.
“Told ya we’d find someone to get into your briefs.”
Heat flared again, and not just in her cheeks this time. “He was only being polite.”
Reyna snickered. “And you were politely undressing him with your eyes.”
Billie shook her head, as much to clear her own wayward thoughts as to negate the twins’ salacious remarks. “Go find us a table. I’ll put in our order.”
Squeezing through the press of male bodies lining the dance floor, she approached the main bar. The crowd would only grow as the night slid into the wee hours. She surveyed the crowd as she waited for the drafts she ordered. The young men hadn’t consumed enough alcohol yet to approach the girls gyrating on the dance floor. Swallowing her smile, she paid the bartender, grabbed the three mugs, and headed for the table the twins had claimed.
Except Kyra sat by herself. It only took a second to spot Reyna swaying on the main floor, a jeweled peacock among barnyard chickens. Her dance partner definitely had the fresh-off-the-farm look, signifying an Ag College teaching assistant.
“Didn’t take her long.” She passed a mug to the glowering gothette.
“Never does.” Kyra gulped down half of her beer. Her actions didn’t disguise the bitter jealousy. “She usually does better than a TA though.”
Billie couldn’t identify with the sisters’ love-hate relationship. Maybe if she had siblings, she’d have a hint. She dropped into the chair next to Kyra and sipped her own beer. “If you toned down the attitude—”
Kyra shot her a look that should have incinerated her gray matter and boiled her eyeballs.
Despite the warning bells in her own brain, Billie pressed on. “—and the make-up, you wouldn’t scare off all the Mr. Greenjeans here.”
“Do I detect a little self-hatred, Counselor?”
Leave it to Kyra to stab the most vulnerable parts of her psyche. Billie had done her damnedest to ditch the Appalachian accent along with her entire past. “Touché, Doctor.” She held up her mug. “Truce?”
Kyra smirked before she clinked her heavy glass against Billie’s. “Truce.”
Two hours and another beer later, Billie’s head pounded worse than it had at the office. None of the men who’d approached her for a dance remotely appealed to her. The unnerving sensation that the doorman still watched her from the foyer didn’t help.
And maybe that was the problem. No man had ever ignited such a sense of desire. Desire was something she avoided. The couple of times she’d given in, the chaotic emotion had screwed up her ordered life.
She rose and tossed some bills on the table. “I’m heading home.”
Both Kyra and the gentleman she’d been kissing looked up at Billie. Kyra reached for her leather jacket draped across the back of her chair. “I’ll get Reyna.”
The third-year pharmacy student who’d been examining Kyra’s tonsils laid a possessive hand on her wrist. “My roommate will be here any minute. He’d be happy to walk your friend home.” He wore what he probably thought was a charming smile.
The gothette jerked her arm from the idiot’s grip. Billie bit back her own smirk despite her headache. He’d lost any chance at nookie tonight with that caveman act.
Billie shook her head. “You guys stay and have fun. It’s only a few blocks, and both the city and campus police are out in force this close to Halloween.” Pulling on her wool coat over her cardigan, she eyed Kyra. “See you in the morning.”
Kyra nodded back. “Be careful. And tell Nettie not to wait up for us.” She turned and glared at Mr. Caveman. “We’ll be home early.” The idiot pharmacy student’s face fell.
A genuine grin stretched Billie’s lips. “Like that’ll do any good.” She waggled her fingers and headed for the main entrance.
Disappointment pitted her stomach when a different bouncer stood guard at the door. She paused, the question of where Porter was on the tip of her tongue. Instead, she returned the new guy’s friendly nod and braced herself for the change in temperature. Plunging into the bitter night air, she chided herself. Someone as good-looking as Kyra’s acquaintance from the morgue probably had lots of girls after him.
She searched her memory of what else Kyra had said about the guy. Besides that his body was made for sin. Oh yeah. He was working his way through mortuary school.
All the more reason not to think about him. The shiver that rippled across her skin had nothing to do with icy wind forcing its way down her collar. Only the stars above knew what may follow this Porter home from school. She didn’t need anymore ghosts in her life.
Another gust brought a sharper tang to her nose. Snow.
The wind ripped away the wispy white cloud of her sigh. What had possessed her to turn down the offer from the law firm in Phoenix? She could have been a damn sight warmer right now.
She paused at the intersection and stared at the dark cemetery across the street. Could she take her shortcut without the residents wanting her company all night? She didn’t blame the children. Eternity must be pretty damn lonely.
Another gust of wind brought a couple of flakes swirling in the passing headlights. Swallowing her aggravation, she crossed the street and headed for the gate to the Hess Cemetery. The distinct click of the bolt sounded over the traffic on Olentangy River Road and her own bootsteps as she approached the graveyard. After a quick glance around for police, she slipped through the gate.
Sarah Jane’s translucent face smiled up at Billie. The little girl’s hand pushed inside the lock to slide the bolt back into place. She then curtsied, her dress and pinafore shining under the reflected glow of streetlights on the lowering clouds.
“Good evenin’, Miss Billie. Have you come to play with us?”
Pale heads peeked from behind or through various stones, markers, and trees. Apparently, the pint-sized residents had already started a round of hide-and-seek.
Billie shook her head and returned the girl’s smile. “Not tonight, I’m afraid. I need to get home before the weather gets too bad.” A splash of icy wetness hit her cheek. Great. Freezing rain before the actual snow.
Tommy walked through the wall of the mausoleum where he’d apparently been hiding for the game. He tugged his suspenders as he contemplated the growing wetness on the cemetery’s concrete driveway. “We’ll walk you home then, Miss Billie.”
The boy’s polite concern widened her smile. “That would be very gracious of you.” She strode forward, and within a few yards, a dozen of the ghost children escorted her down the single-lane road snaking between the memorials.
Tommy trudged on her left. More icy rain passing through his bare feet before splatting on the asphalt. “You really shouldn’t be out this close to the Devil’s Night.” On her right, Sarah Jane nodded agreement to Tommy’s solemn proclamation.
“Halloween’s got nuthin’ to do with any old devil.” Little Marcus shoved his round wire-rimmed glasses further up his sharp nose. “It’s the ancient Celts’ last harvest celebration.”
Billie choked back her laughter as the two boys launched into a debate over the holiday. The argument was more reflective of the one hundred-fifty-year difference in their respective times than their actual knowledge. Traffic sounds faded as she passed further into the graveyard.
The wind and slushy rain picked up, slickening the asphalt. She pulled her scarf from her pocket and wrapped it over hair and ears. The weather folks had definitely called this front wrong. Even the boys’ debate faltered and died as the sleet-rain mix turned to real flakes of snow.
A frown tugged the corners of Billie’s mouth. The silence of the storm felt wrong. There should be the faint clacking of branches. The hushed whisper of falling snow. Even the faint sloshing laugh of the nearby Olentangy River.
A slithery wailing shredded the quiet and stopped her in her tracks. The wish she’s been imagining the sound died when the children froze as well, peering in all directions.
“I tain’t never heard anything like that.” Sarah Jane’s voice quivered, and she stepped closer to Billie. Ice seeped through her gloves as the ghost clutched her hand.
Tommy eased forward, his head cocked. “Almost sounded like a bobcat. Or a panther.”
“There aren’t any wild cats left in Ohio.” Marcus tugged on the waist of his bell bottoms, but even he cast nervous glances at the surrounding gloom.
The peculiar cry tore through the night from Billie’s right, closer this time, and deeper. Two of them? Some instinct told her whatever made the sounds was far from friendly. She opened her mouth to tell the children to go back to their graves, then snapped her jaw shut. Whatever was out there hunted, and her gut said it wouldn’t be too picky if its meal was living or dead. It wasn’t logical, but she couldn’t break the certainty inside her.
“Stay with me, kids.” Now why the hell did she say that? If the things in the cemetery hunted ghosts, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to stop them. And if they hunted the living…
Curling her fingers around the frozen hand embedded in hers, she broke from the lane and jogged as fast as she dared across the dying grass glazed with ice.
The ghosts raced with her through the graveyard. Nothing penetrated the eerie silence, not even the honking horns from Olentangy. Nothing but her own jagged breaths as she ran for the back gate.
The nails-on-blackboard wail warned her a split second before something crawled from behind the mausoleum ahead. She skidded to a halt as did the children. The nightmare rose on its hind legs, black eyes glittering. Scales covered a reptilian body and tail.
Logic said the weather was far too cold for such a thing to be prowling around the cemetery.
It took another step forward and raised its head, its mouth open in another eerie cry.
An answering keen came from behind Billie, and she whirled to find another creature perched on the stone angel marking one of the Hess family. A third slunk from the shadow of a nearby tree. Billie and the children were surrounded.