Friday, September 29, 2023

It's Officially Live!

I hit the publish button last night. The Millersburg Magick Mysteries Kickstarter campaign is officially up and running!

I really hope everyone will check out the campaign. It was nice to delve back into a world that's a lot of fun. Plus, I've got the covers for the next three books, so I'll have some fun over next summer! 

The campaign will run until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 17th.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Pre-Launch Page for Kickstarter Is Live

It's happening! My campaign was approved earlier than I thought it would. I now have an active pre-launch page! Hopefully, my pink hair in the video isn't too shocking. LOL

Yes, I'm giggling gleefully! I can't wait!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Death Goddess Walking - Chapter 6

Here's the unedited chapter 6 from the first book of my latest series The Books of Apep.


The home was the center of Egyptian life. That’s not to say the ancients didn’t have their share of normal family problems. – Introduction to Egyptology, George E. Herbert

Clenching her fist to keep from decking her housemate, Billie brushed past Kyra. No doubt from the heat in her cheeks, her lily-white skin flamed in embarrassment, but the manners drilled into her by her grandmother dropped into place. “Would you like to come inside, Porter?”

His masculine chuckle filled her ears. “Why thank you, Billie. I’d appreciate warming up before I head home.”

“The kitchen’s this way, I’ll make us some coffee.” Ignoring Kyra’s astonished look, Billie marched past the stairs. The swish of denim said he was right behind her. She’d be polite, serve him some coffee, and send the gentleman on his way before she took her car back out to the cemetery to check on Marcus. Yeah, that was a good plan.

Except she didn’t want to rush Porter out the door.

Geez, Cyrus Johnson was right. She was letting her hormones make her decisions.

Nettie looked up from the paper at their entrance, the comics section now spread on the table. “Did you find—” Brown eyes peered over the tops of her reading glasses as Billie snatched a couple of mugs from the cupboard. “I see you—”

Billie caught the sharp, short shake of Porter’s head from the corner of her eye.

“—you, um, didn’t find the dog.” Nettie grabbed her own mug and took a quick gulp of coffee.

Now what the hell was that all about? In the past, she’d seen the professor agitated, paranoid, even on the edge of violence, especially when she was off her meds. But nervous?


And taking cues from a man, any man? Oh, hell no.

Porter crossed the kitchen, handed extended. “Porter Gates.”

Nettie regained her composure and clasped his proffered hand. “Netanya Soren. A pleasure to meet you.”

Billie handed the mug of steaming coffee to Porter. His smile nearly sent her melting into the kitchen floorboards. He slid into the chair next to Nettie as if he’d done it a million times before, like he belonged there. A twinge of jealousy whispered through her.

The twins choose that moment to troop through the kitchen door and claim the remaining chairs before she could sit in the one next to Porter. No doubt Kyra had run upstairs to wake Reyna and dish about Billie showing up at the front door with the bouncer.

An evil smirk filled Kyra’s face while her sister disarmed the man with deceptive small talk. Billie leaned against the sink and sipped her coffee, part of her content to simply watch the play of the overhead light in his hair. The other part fretted over how to keep the goth quiet when the inevitable rude question was asked.

“So, Porter, our Billie, she’s do-able—” Kyra’s query ended in a squeal of pain.

Billie swallowed her own gasp of surprise. It wasn’t Reyna’s heel digging into Kyra’s instep. Nettie shot the girl an ugly look before easing the pressure.

Porter stood. From his grin, Billie was sure he was very aware of the byplay happening under the kitchen table. “It’s been a pleasure, ladies, but I must be going.” That smile turned on her. “If you would be kind enough to escort me out, Billie?”

Trying to ignore the other three sets of eyes boring into her skull, she nodded and set her mug on the counter. Leading the way to the front door, her body tingled, conscious of his presence no matter how her mind wanted to deny the attraction.

He paused, concern replacing the humor in his eyes. “Are you okay?”

Blinking in surprise, she said, “I’m fine. Why?”

His gaze swept down her body before his eyes met hers again. “You’re still limping.”

A shrug lifted her shoulders. Having someone to confide in was a nice little fairy tale. Just like Cinderella. She’d learned a long time ago it didn’t work that way in real life. “Nasty bruise. It’ll heal.”

He hesitated. For an instant, it seemed like he’d try to kiss her, but then that wicked grin of his returned. “Take care of yourself, Billie. Call me if you decide on another night walk through the graveyard.”

She stood at the door, watching him, until he crossed the street at the corner and disappeared from view. Then his words hit her.

Still limping.

Another night walk.

He had seen her in the cemetery last night.


Hours later, Billie sat at a corner table on the second floor of a nearby fast food joint. The image of Porter Gates’ cocky grin still floated through her brain. She stared at her laptop screen. The words composing the motion for a case made no sense. Had he watched her battle the monsters? If so, why hadn’t he helped her and the children? Unless he couldn’t see the ghosts.

Except she’d found him at Marcus’s grave this morning.

Her fingernails tapped on the formica tabletop as questions bounced around her skull. Or had he unleashed those creatures? Resting her chin on her fists and watching the occasional customer sweep in and out of the restaurant’s main doors didn’t bring her any answers.

She had ignored Kyra’s jibes about the bouncer after he left and gathered her computer bag and files. A quick stop at the cemetery to check on Marcus left her reassured, at least in regard to the ghost boy. Even though she had trouble seeing him clearly, his right side showed no signs of the black nothingness that poisoned him last night. Both Sarah Jane and Tommy verified Marcus had regained his normal color though the boy was rather upset his ectoplasmic version of his turtleneck was still ripped. While she was in the cemetery, fresh flurries swirled through the air. A quick circuit around the salted graveyard road produced no sign of the black dog, though the children promised to keep watch for him.

Billie had told Nettie she was heading for OSU’s law library, but at the last second, she drove to the hamburger joint a few blocks from the house instead. The nasty weather kept most of the undergrad students in their dorms, so the place was fairly quiet.

From her seat on the balcony, she stared down into the main seating area. It gave her a perfect view of Nettie shoving open the glass door. Billie started to raise her hand in a wave when a dark figure silhouetted against the deepening twilight followed the professor into the restaurant. Nettie turned at Porter’s greeting.

Billie’s stomach lurched at the quick, friendly hug the two shared, and pressed against the back wall, wanting desperately to melt through the vinyl. Their voices faded and the pair disappeared from view as they headed toward the serving counter. Why the dissembling in the kitchen this morning if they knew each other?

Given the teasing Kyra had launched at her, Billie could understand why Nettie might want to keep a relationship under wraps, especially with a younger man. That comprehension didn’t stop the stab of disappointment in her gut.

Nettie’s distinctive tone drifted up from underneath the balcony. Oh crap! they coming up the stairs?

“Are you sure she doesn’t know?” The scrap of chair legs on tile meant the pair had grabbed a table right underneath Billie’s perch. Not good when her stomach threatened to heave the cheese fries and coffee she’d consumed.

Porter’s deeper voice held a touch of concern. “No, she’s not conscious of her true nature. She was operating totally on instinct last night.”

“But the dead boy who was poisoned?”

“Healed but by instinct,” Porter repeated. “I’m more concerned about the sek. She killed one last night, but its compatriots now know she and I are here in the city. The others will hunt. For her. For the rest of us. For the children.”

A shiver rippled up Billie’s spine, even as her gut cramped in fear. He had been in the cemetery last night! And he knew a lot more about those monsters than she did. She closed her laptop and shoved the file back in her tote before she eased closer to the ornamental metal railing protecting the edge of the balcony, praying the vinyl on the closer chair wouldn’t creak and alert them to her presence.

“We need to tell her—” Nettie started.

Porter must have made some gesture to stop the professor from finishing the thought. His voice dropped, and Billie strained to hear his words. “Neit, we have to be careful. She was worried about something going wrong before we came here, and I don’t believe it was her usual anal-retentive paranoia. None of you ladies remembered our mission.”

What the hell did he call Nettie? And what exactly was a sek? Her fingers itched to open her laptop and use the restaurant’s wi-fi, but the clack of keys might alert the two.

A snort came from Nettie. “I remember now.”

“Yeah.” Humor laced Porter’s voice. “But you did it in the middle of a battlefield.” Liquid slurped. “You’re damn lucky you’re not locked in a psych ward.”

Tapping sounds came from below. “Not taking the human medication forced on me has helped with my clarity.”

Masculine laughter followed Nettie’s irritated words. “Good to hear you dropped the anti-anxiety meds. They were dulling your reaction time.”

Billie swallowed a groan. Now she had confirmation of why Nettie had been acting so strangely lately. What the hell possessed this guy to go along with her disregard of doctor’s orders? Did he like his women crazy?

Another disgusted snort from Nettie. “What are you suggesting we do?”

“Stay as close to her as possible. Apep will send his minions after her since she’s the greatest single danger to his plans next to Set.” Another long pause. “By the way, what do you know about a ghost harassing her concerning his unborn child?”

Mother of pearl! Billie dug into own nails into her palms to keep from slapping something, anything, in frustration. The bastard had seen Cyrus and didn’t say a freaking word about it. She sucked in a deep breath as her conscience reminded her she hadn’t told anyone about Cyrus either.

The tapping below halted. “A client of hers died recently. His children are squabbling with the trophy wife over the estate. Billie said something about the widow popping any time.”

Satisfaction filled Porter’s next words. “I think we have a winner in the prophesy sweepstakes, folks.”

Enough crazy talk. Billie shoved back her chair, jumped to her feet, and charged down the stairs. The surprise on their faces at her appearance only pissed her off more. “If you’ve got something to say about me, then say it to my face.”

Wariness replaced Nettie’s startled look. “Maybe you shouldn’t eavesdrop. You may not get the whole story.” Anger clipped her words.

Fine. The professor could be mad all she wanted. “Get your coat. I’m taking you home.”

Porter raised a placating hand. “Billie, wait—”

She raised an index finger and shook it under his nose. “Shut up. Now. She’s got PTSD, and you know it. Telling her it’s okay to drop her drugs is fucking irresponsible. But going along with her fantasy world shit—”

No words could express the disgust filling Billie’s gut. “Get out of here, and don’t come near me or Nettie again. Or I’ll drop a restraining order on your ass. Got it?”

He opened his mouth, but he must have thought better of whatever he was about to say. His jaw snapped shut with an audible click of teeth. Slinging on his black leather jacket, he started for the door, but he stopped halfway to the exit and turned toward her. “If you see Cyrus Johnson again, let me know. I know you don’t like accepting help, but you’re going to need mine before this is over.” Unnatural calmness filled his words. He pivoted and strode out of the restaurant.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Death Goddess Walking - Chapter 5

Here's another unedited snippet from my upcoming series!


Lord Anubis, sweep the demons that plague me from my path that I may attain my place among the dead. – Partial inscription from tomb wall at KV60, Luxor, Egypt

Wind swept the scarf from Billie’s head, whipping strands of hair in her eyes, nose, and mouth as she made her way toward the cemetery. She snatched the plaid wool before it flew into the street and tied it more securely around her neck. Residual flakes scattered in the freezing onslaught, and it took all her muscle control to keep her balance on the icy sidewalk.

Canvassing the immediate block produced no black mutt. He must have headed back to his old haunt when Nettie let him out the front door. What the hell had the nutty professor been thinking? That she could talk to animals? Billie wanted to roll her eyes. She prayed she found her canine savior before Animal Control did.

The adrenaline rush faded with her anger. By the time she reached the wide-open back gates of the cemetery, every fiber of her body ached with pain and cold. Now, how does someone find a dog she doesn’t really own?

Billie peeled off her single glove and raised two fingers to her lips. Her usual blasting whistle raced away with the wind, leaving a faint echo behind.

“If you’re trying to wake the dead, that’ll do it.”

The sudden appearance of Cyrus Johnson’s voice nearly dropped her on her butt again. She caught her balance on the glazed blacktop and glared at the vague outline standing next to her. Even the guide’s brilliance appeared milky under the overcast sky.

“Go away, Cyrus.” She scanned the area, searching for black fur among the gray stones and white ground.

“My baby’s gonna have no means of support if you don’t do something about my case.” Even though she couldn’t clearly see his eyes, she would have sworn she could feel the heat of his wrathful stare.

“You’re dead, Cyrus. It’s not your case. Have you seen the dog that was with me last night?” The snow-covered grass would give her better footing than the ice-slicked asphalt. The frozen crust crunched beneath her boots as she stalked further into the cemetery.

A snort of disgust filled her ear. “Why did I even expect you would help me? You can’t even take care of your own pet.” Of course, Cyrus followed and harassed her.

“He’s not mine, but he saved my life. I need to return him to his owner.” She left out the fear the two monsters that had attacked her and the children would find the dog alone and tear the poor thing to bits.

As she cut across the lawn, a hint of movement drew her toward Marcus’s grave. She rounded a tall monument to find a man crouched next to the headstone, his bare right palm flat against the frozen ground where the snow had been brushed away. Her own hand automatically reached for the small of her back. Shit! She’d left her knife under her pillow in her panic over the missing dog.

Worry over Marcus overrode her common sense. “What are you doing?” The words came out harsher than she intended.

The man stood, leather shifting across broad shoulders, and turned. Porter. The bouncer, not the dog.

She couldn’t stifle her gasp and took an involuntary step back.

Hazel eyes lit up, and a slow smile spread across his features. “I could ask the same of you. Billie, isn’t it? Kyra’s friend?” When her tongue remained firmly glued to the roof of her mouth, he added, “Or would you prefer I call you Wilhelmina?”

“No!” Her tongue couldn’t form the proper sounds after the initial rush of anger at someone using her hated full name. “I-I-I mean, Billie’s fine.”

His gaze swept the length of her body. Heat followed the path of his eyes to the point she began to sweat despite the freezing temperatures. The odd sense of déjà vu didn’t help her discomfiture around this man.

She swallowed hard, determined to regain some sense of control over her own reactions and the situation. If she couldn’t get rid of him, she would have come back and rouse Tommy or Sarah Jane and have them check on Marcus for her. “What are you doing here?”

Something harder, dangerous even, replaced the glimmer of humor in his eyes. She didn’t feel threatened though, more like protected. Like she had last night when the black dog came to her rescue. His gaze flicked to her left before his attention returned to her. To her left. Where Cyrus and the guide floated. Damn, could he see or sense them? “I heard something in the cemetery last night.” He shrugged. “Thought I’d check it out.”

Fear prickled her spine. Had he witnessed her fight? “W-what did you hear?”

His eyes narrowed. The examination he gave her felt nothing like his earlier semi-erotic perusal. In fact, it reminded her of her own behavior when she had a witness on the stand, her sixth sense ferreting out the truth.

Instead of answering, he threw out his own question. “What are you doing in the middle of a cemetery on a freezing Saturday morning?”

His question brought to mind her original mission. And it seemed a much safer topic of conversation. “I’m looking for my dog. My crazy landlady let him out the front door instead of into the back yard to do his business.”

A dark eyebrow rose on Porter the man’s handsome face. “Really?”

Heat flooded her cheeks despite the icy wind. “Okay, he’s not really mine. He’s a stray I found, but he’s smart and trained. Someone must be looking for him. I was going to put up flyers today.” A grimace tugged her lips. “Except my landlady let him out this morning, and he took off. I’ve got to find him before Animal Control takes him away. He doesn't have any collar or tags.”

“Well, I haven’t seen your dog.” He drew out the last two words as if questioning her story. “But I did find this.” He held up her missing left glove.

She reached for the bright red accessory, not intending to touch him again, but his fingers curled around hers anyway. Breath caught in her lungs. That weird sense of knowing, of familiarity, sent a rush of heat through her body.

Cyrus Johnson’s raspy voice ruined any budding rapport with the sexy bouncer. “Jesus Christ, woman! Can’t you get your hormones under control long enough to help me?” A cocky grin filled Porter’s face, but he couldn’t have possibly heard Cyrus. Could he?

“If this dog is as smart as you say, I’m sure he can dodge the authorities. I wouldn’t worry about him. I’m sure he’ll show up. Maybe I should walk you home.”

Panic ran through her. She just wasn’t sure whether it was worry over Porter the dog or anxiety about Porter the man. “Thanks, but—”

His large hand grabbed her elbow, not hard enough to hurt but firm enough to guide her in the direction of the back gate. “It’s too damn cold to be arguing about this.” More warmth seeped through her coat and sweater and sent another flurry of desire through her. As they walked, he mumbled something under his breath.

As they crossed the graveyard, the transparent figure of Cyrus Johnson stepped in front of her. “Hey, what about me?”

She gritted her teeth and accepted the shock of cold when she passed through him. Her determination didn’t stop the shiver that passed through her body.

“Bitch!” But the insult didn’t hold much bite since Cyrus was too busy keeping his essence intact. The guide bleeped in protest.

Billie swallowed her own smile. Most ghosts learned not to repeat that little trick. Something about her disrupted their cohesiveness. But Cyrus would be back. She was sure of that one fact.

A warm, masculine chuckle tickled her ears. “Next time wear your long johns.”

She didn’t correct Porter’s assumption about the cause of her shivers. Nor did she protest when his arm encircled her shoulders, his body heat, and his presence, far more comforting than she’d admit out loud.

They were silent for the walk back to Nettie’s house. As much as Billie wanted to blame the lack of conversation on the noise of the occasional city truck spreading salt on the ice, she had no frickin’ clue on how to talk to this guy. Okay, most guys.

She chewed on her tongue trying to find a decent topic to start. “So, how’s the funeral business” didn’t sound like a polite opening line, but nothing else sounded right either. Besides, why would he possibly be interested in anything she had to say? Before she could come up with a reasonable topic that didn’t involve the weather, they were standing on Nettie’s front porch.

Porter slid his arm from her shoulders and held out his hand her key. Before she could decide whether to be pissed at his chauvinism or touched by his manners, the door flew open.

Kyra stood in the frame, a smirk on her face.” I thought you said you were coming home last night.”

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Death Goddess Walking - Chapter 4

Here's a another little taste of Death Goddess Walking (The Books of Apep #1). While I have been working on this series, I'm pushing the Kickstarter campaign to early 2024 in order to make sure all four books are completed prior to launch. I don't need a campaign to be interrupted by major life rolls like the Soccer Moms campaign was.


Mother Neit, forgive us our offences. Grant us your mercy that we may see the fires of the afterlife and your wisdom that we know the truth that drips from your lips. – Prayer to Neit, The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt

A different kind of fear forced bile up the back of Billie’s throat. She raised her left hand to shield her eyes from the cruiser’s spotlight, but the snow collecting on the sidewalk reflected the white beam across her retinas. Reasons for being out in this weather raced through her brain, but none of them were remotely plausible enough to satisfy the cops.

The high-pitched yip made her jump. The police officer jerked, too. Snowfall muffled the chung of the second door opening on the SUV. “Keep your hands where we can see them, ma’am,” a male voice said.

Raising both hands, she glanced down at the dog and said, “Thanks a lot, buster.” He had the nerve to wag his tail like their situation was some big joke. Snow floated into the gaping neckline of her coat, sending another round of shivers through her body. Facing the shadowy figures, she said, “I’m sorry, officers. My dog got loose.”

The first officer lowered the spotlight enough the animal was now caught in its beam. “What the hell kind of dog is that?”

“A mutt.” She shot her companion a nasty look. “A pain-in-the-ass mutt.” His tongue hung out in a canine grin as he looked up at her. “One who should have stayed where he was.” But no, she had to feel sorry for the creature.

“He’s a damn ugly mutt.” The male cop started to lower his weapon, but the dog growled and the officer flashed the weapon back up in the canine’s direction.

Billie lowered a hand and flicked the closest pointed ear. “Hush. You’ve gotten us in enough trouble.” He sat, but not before he gave her a glare that promised payback. She raised her hand back up when the male cop’s aim shifted from the dog to her.

“We got reports of animals fighting in the cemetery.” The female cop’s voice carried a friendlier edge.

Billie forced an exaggerated sigh. “That’s because my dumbass dog slipped his collar and chased a tomcat into the graveyard. I’m really sorry about all this, officers.” Her shivers became downright quaking, and her bruised hip threatened to give out from under her.

“You on something?” the male cop asked.

“No, sir.” She shook her head. “I’m cold, and I slipped on the ice and fell on the road in the cemetery.”

The male cop holstered his gun. “Let’s see some I. D.” Apparently, he wasn’t willing to forgive and forget the dog’s challenge to his authority.

Her heart lurched. The hunting knife was still sheathed at her back. If the cops decided to frisk her—

She forced logic through panicked brain cells. Right now, the officers had no probable cause for a search. “It’s in my back pocket.” When neither officer commented, she slowly lowered her right hand again to the back of her jeans and plucked out the plastic card.

He walked over, took the proffered driver license, and trudged back to the cruiser. “I’m calling this in.” Billie closed her eyes and tried to control her shakes. This whole thing was getting ridiculous. She’s just fought monsters to protect some dead children, sucked venom out of a ghost, and now she would freeze to death because some cop had a burr up his butt over a dog that wasn’t even hers.

Her eyes popped open at the female cop’s next words. “Geez, Burns, it’s freezing out here.”

“And?” He paused climbing back in the driver seat of the patrol SUV and glared at his partner.

“Let her get in the car and warm up.”

He shot Billie a ticked-off look. “Fine, but you’re cleaning up any mess that dog makes.”


Twenty minutes later, Billie stood huddled on the front porch of the ancient Victorian while the female officer rapped on the door. Her partner had insisted on checking out the graveyard. Thankfully, the snow had fallen fast enough to obliterate any evidence of the battle with the three monsters. The storm wasn’t letting up either. The wind had picked up again. Heavy flakes swirled underneath the security light and skittered past the swing to collect in the corners of the porch.

Warmth spilled from the house when Nettie jerked open the heavy oak door. She blinked, taking in the two officers, Billie, and finally the almost-but-not-quite-normal dog. Heat flooded Billie’s cheeks, the only part of her body remotely warm, despite the fact the female cop had cranked up the cruiser’s thermostat on the ride home. Somehow this was worse than the deputy who’d dragged her home to her foster parents after her runaway attempt, though she wasn’t entirely sure how.

“What’s going on, Billie?” Nettie turned to the female cop. “Officer Houlihan?”

“How’s it going, Professor?” She nodded in Billie’s direction. “This one of your girls?”

“Yes.” Nettie’s deep brown eyes narrowed. “What happened?”

Thank goodness, she’d worked out her story with the police. Billie swallowed hard, hoping the professor would go along with it in front of them. Unfortunately, there was only one male name that popped in her mind. “When I took Porter for his walk, he slipped his collar and took off after a tomcat inside the old Hess cemetery.” She affected a grimace that wasn’t hard to fake. “I fell twice on the ice trying to catch him, and I lost one of my gloves. The officers saw us squeezing through the back gate after I corralled him. I know they were doing their job, but I’m tired and I’d really like a hot bath right now.”

After a slow nod, the professor stepped out of the doorway. “Of course.” Billie slid past Nettie’s rail thin form and headed for the main stair case. The click of nails on the hardwood said the dog followed her.

“And Billie?”

She paused by the thick post that anchored the hand-carved railing. The weird look in Nettie’s eyes sent a shiver up her spine.

“There’s extra towels and some sweats on the second shelf in my bathroom closet.” The professor’s husky voice held an odd note.

“Thanks.” Billie turned and climbed the stairs, her hip protesting every step. Why would Nettie offer her clothes? At six foot even, she towered over Billie and the twins. Though Billie was hardly petite, Nettie’s sweats would bag around her ankles, assuming she could get the damn elastic and cotton over her hips. She shook her head. Another surreal conversation on a night of surreal events. But at least, her landlady seemed to pick up her hints about the dog.

Muted voices trailed after her as Nettie spoke with the police. At the top of the stairs, she turned into the professor’s room and flipped on the light. She looked down at the dog, who paused at her side. “I suppose I owe you a warm place to sleep for your help with those creatures in the cemetery.”

He answered with a wide doggy yawn. Billie snorted. She knew better, but the appearance of his understanding of perfectly good English was downright eerie. Maybe the monster she’d killed had clocked her harder than she thought.

The dog stayed by the door as she crossed to the bathroom and found the requisite items within the closet. Deciding it would be best to deal with everything in her own room, Billie flicked off the light and headed down the hall.

Once inside, she dropped the mass of towels and sweats on the bed and began peeling off her outwear. Boots were thrown in the corner and the coat and scarf lay over the back of the dressing chair to air dry. The knife went under her pillow. Almost everything else was tossed in the hamper. The dog whined when she stopped at the ribbed cotton tank and panties.

“Sorry, boy. You’re as cold and wet as I am, aren’t you?” Billie grabbed a towel and knelt next to him. The motion was an exercise in pain. She yanked the elastic waistband of her panties aside to check her hip. The first hint of purple marred a huge dark pink stain on her skin. From the aches in the rest of her body, she’d have matching bruises in other places in the morning. Her lips twisted in a grimace. What a wonderful way to mark her thirtieth birthday.

She slid the elastic back in place and began rubbing down the dog’s fur. The texture was so silky she stopped to run her fingers through the damp strands. He leaned into her touch with a whimper of pleasure. His pelt didn’t have the coarse feel of a German shepherd. Nor did it resemble the down of a collie. In fact, the closest thing his fur reminded her of was human hair.

She jerked her fingers away and sucked in a shallow breath. Where had that thought come from? Maybe her sanity had finally left the planet. Schizophrenia. Yeah. Maybe she was just as crazy as her mom had been. Or Nettie. Maybe she’d imagined everything in the cemetery.

The dog whined again and pressed a cold, wet nose against her palm, wanting attention. No, the dog was real. The police had seen him. Nettie, too. And the bruises from the fight were definitely real.

Which meant the monsters hunting the ghost children were real.


“What’s wrong?”

She jumped at the sound of Nettie’s words. No mean feat when Billie was already on her knees and her entire body felt like one gigantic sore.

“Twitchy tonight, aren’t we?” A slim black eyebrow rose toward Nettie’s tight, graying curls. “What really happened, Billie?”

Her mouth clamped shut of its own accord. She’d always been honest with the professor, but this story was too bizarre to relate even by her standards of weirdness.

Nettie’s eyes narrowed once again. “I covered for you with the police officers. I think I deserve an explanation of what you two were really doing in the cemetery.”

Billie swallowed. Hard. Guilt hung like a cloud. But she hadn’t done anything, dammit! The last thing she wanted was to lie to Nettie, but she didn’t need any of the professor’s nutty lectures either.

“Billie—” Nettie had softened her tone. “Does this have anything to do with the dead children?”

Sucking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly before she whispered, “Yes.”

Nettie’s mouth opened, but Billie held up a hand. “Before you say anything, I need you to promise to just listen. And please don’t start any of your destiny bullshit.”

The professor’s jaw snapped shut and she nodded.

Billie waited until Nettie took a seat on her bed before she sat cross-legged on her bedroom rug and spilled the details. Drying the dog let her eyes focus on something else besides the professor’s face. She kept her story to the events in the cemetery. Despite only a fifteen-year age difference between her and Nettie, she wasn’t about to relate the emotions Kyra’s mysterious bouncer friend aroused in her.

Nettie was silent for a long time after she finished.

Billie continued rubbing down the dog. “Well?”

“It’s started already,” Nettie whispered. She stared at the dog, who made a soft woof. The professor cleared her throat before she added in a louder voice. “Maybe he should sleep downstairs.”

With a quick shake of his head and one of his odd high-pitched barks, the dog leapt into Billie’s bed and promptly sprawled across the foot.

Billie laughed at his territorial claim. “Guess he’s staying here. And, um, I appreciate the thought, but the sweats, um…” She climbed to her feet and yanked the clothing out from under the damp dog.

A frown twisted both Nettie’s brow and lips. She looked from the lounging black canine to the proffered gray fleece. She shook her head and took them. “Sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.” Another strange look was aimed at the animal.

If her hip wasn’t so sore, Billie could have kicked herself. The professor must never have had indoor pets before. “I promise I’ll take care of him. Messes, food, everything. I’ll put signs up around the area in the morning. He’s pretty well trained so he must belong to someone.”

Of course, the damn mutt chose that moment to turn his head and growl at her.

“Hush.” She wagged a finger at the dog, but a quick glance showed no change in Nettie’s expression.

“Well, I’ll say good night then.” Nettie reached for the doorknob, but looked back at Billie. “Did the twins say when they’d be home?”

“No.” Billie’s stomach lurched. “You think those things could—” She couldn’t finish the horrendous thought.

Nettie shook her head. “I’m sure as long as they don’t cut through the graveyard and stay together, they’ll be fine.” She held up her handful of fleece, but her gaze was solely on the dog. “I’ll just put these on my bed. Good night.” The door closed behind her and her sweats.

Could this night get any weirder?

The ancient radiator rattled as the equally ancient steam furnace kicked to life. Billie pulled flannel pajamas and socks over her goosebumps. After swallowing a couple of ibuprofen pills and hitting the light switch, she climbed under the comforter and curled on her side. The knife hilt under the pillow added a measure of reassurance as wind and snowflakes whipped against the windows.

Her stray crawled across the covers until his back was firmly lodged against hers. They both sighed at the same instant. A certainty that the strange canine belonged at her back, that he’d protect her no matter what, sent a rush of security through her overwrought nerves.

And the warmth of a friendly body kept the nightmares at bay.


Billie’s eyes blinked open to wet, gray light. A roll and a stretch brought the awareness of her sore muscles. The motion also brought the realization something was missing. She jerked upright. The dog was nowhere in her room, and the bedroom door stood ajar.

Crap. She scrambled out of bed and grabbed her robe before sliding her stocking feet into her wool-lined slippers. If he made a mess on Nettie’s polished floors, the professor would have a royal conniption fit.

Both twins’ doors remained firmly shut. A quick peek in the shared bathroom showed nothing. Moving down the hall, she saw Nettie’s door open. Great, just great. But neither the professor or the dog were in the bedroom or the master bath.

Leather slapped on hardwood as she jogged down the stairs. The living room, formal parlor, and dining room were empty, which left the brightly lit kitchen. Double crap.

Nettie sat at the kitchen table, the Saturday morning Dispatch spread in front of her, a mug at her elbow, coffee from the tantalizing odor, as she scanned Section A. She glanced up at Billie’s presence in the doorway and nodded toward the steaming pot on the counter.

Billie took a deep breath and released it. “Have you seen Porter this morning?” She didn’t know what else to call the mutt. It fit though. The dog was even more of a mystery than the Kyra’s friend.

A thin black eyebrow rose as Nettie took a sip from her mug. “He had some business to attend to this morning.”

Heart racing, Billie crossed to the back door and yanked it open. Shivering under the assault of wind and cold while standing on the back porch, she searched the yard. White blanketed the dead grass and Nettie’s prized rose bushes. No footprints, canine or otherwise, marred the pristine crystals.

She slammed the door shut. “He’s not in the back yard.”

A bemused look covered Nettie’s face. “Of course not. He went out the front.”

Triple crap. “You let an untagged, collarless dog out the front door?”

The professor shrugged. “He asked.”

Planting fists on hips, Billie glared at Nettie. Had she forgotten her medication? Again? “So now you can talk to animals?”

“You talk to dead people.”

Since nothing she could say could top Nettie’s statement, she whirled and headed back upstairs. She mumbled curses under her breath as she pulled on jeans, a turtleneck sweater, and boots. What the hell had the professor been thinking? She grabbed her coat, scarf, and keys before she raced down the steps.

“Where are you going?” Nettie called from the kitchen.

“To find my dog!” The front door made a satisfying exclamation when she slammed it behind her.