Ah, the flavor of putting my foot in my mouth. So scrumptious. Not. One thing I love about being an indie author is being able to shift my schedule around because stuff happens. Stuff has happened. Mostly, the stuff that has happened is entirely my fault. Unless a bloody miracle happens, Silver Bullet isn't going to be ready for May–for reasons. Lots of reasons. Mostly, me reasons involving not having finished the book.
Hint: That means there are typos, spelling errors, dropped words, grammar errors, cussing, no fucks to give about them, and a promise these will actually be edited before their various books are on sale.
P.S.: There's a fuckton of first chapter samples in this post. I mean a fuckton. Enjoy it, beloved bitches!
Back on subject. Water Viper is getting closer to being ready for release. YIPPEE.
In other news, while Silver Bullet won't be ready, Hoofin' It, the second Magical Romantic Comedy, will be hot on the heels of Water Viper. My editor suggested I have it ready for her tender loving care sooner than later, which means she has plans to finish hammering out Water Viper and beating me with it.
I'm pretty excited.
Hoofin' It is easily one of my favorites. Easily. I love the main character, Shane. He was so much fun to write. Since I've been a big poopy head, I'm going to make amends by posting snippets and delicious tasty treats of the projects in the works. So, consider the rest of this post as one big taunt. Errr, tease.
Err… I mean motivation for you readers to wave sticks at me and ‘convince me nicely' I should hurry my ass up and finish more stuff.
Okay, being serious, I have a lot in the works, and my editor has been super busy. She's fantastic and I love her, so I totally don't mind. I feel bad making you all wait, but my books are so much better for her work, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Yeah, there are other editors in the world, but mine is mine and I wouldn't trade her in.
So, there we have it. I'm totally and lovingly blaming my editor for the delays, and if she sees this, she's going to ream me, and I'll smile and giggle through it all.
So, let's talk about this book cover a second, shall we? Isn't it gorgeous? I had to pay through the nose for this one, as it required a lot of extra work for my designer extraordinaire, Holly Heisey. When I contracted her to make this cover, I hadn't actually put much thought into what Shane looked like, except he had brown hair and a blue eye. Yes, one blue eye. The other is a glass bauble, because Shane starts his book already a hero.
And he paid the price for it.
And so begins Shane's adventure…
This sample is an unedited raw for your enjoyment.
The next time I took a vacation, I’d just stay home. While there were cozier places than my apartment in Chicago, it beat being covered head to toe in blood spatter on a busy sidewalk at Times Square. I’d seen a lot of crazy shit during my short stint as a cop, but I had never seen a body plummet from a skyscraper and crash through the windshield of a car struck in traffic before.
One body was bad enough, but the victim had landed on the driver and passenger. Maybe if they’d used a real windshield instead of a substitute, the glass wouldn’t have broken into razor-sharp chunks and killed them. I’d seen it in Chicago once, where an enterprising idiot had purchased window glass, ground it down, and forced it to fit in their vehicle.
He had died after rear-ending someone, breaking their makeshift windshield and puncturing his carotid artery.
What stopped me in my tracks, however, was the furry head sticking out of the back window, its white fur stained wth crimson and its long, fluffy ears turned back. My mouth dropped open, and I rubbed my eye, blinked, and looked again.
A rather angry looking alpaca glared at me as though I had somehow been responsible for the corpse falling through the windshield of its car, which by some miracle, hadn’t accelerated following the accident. First, I needed to make sure the car stayed put. Second, I needed to call the cops. Since I could do both at the same time, I grabbed my cell, dialed 911, and held it to my ear while I circled the vehicle.
Fortunately for me, the driver’s side window was down, which offered me a good look inside. Not only had the driver ended up with a face full of glass, the angle of his head suggested the corpse had broken his neck on impact.
“911, please state the nature of your emergency,” a woman answered.
“I’m on the corner of Broadway and West 42nd in Times Square. A body has fallen from a skyscraper and landed on a vehicle. There are two people inside, and I’m fairly certain they’re dead. The driver’s neck appears to be broken. The passenger has severe lacerations to the face and neck and is non-responsive.” I took a moment to draw a deep breath, then I explained the position of the bodies, the angle of the driver’s neck, and the corpse.
“I’m sending officers and EMT to your location, sir. Please stay on the line.”
I heard the tell-tale click of the operator putting me on hold, and since she’d try to stop me if I told her my intentions, I reached in, contorted around the tangle of bodies and steering wheel, and shifted the vehicle into park, grateful the car’s shifter wasn’t part of the center console.
“Officers are on their way, sir. Does it appear there are any survivors in the vehicle?”
“There’s an animal in the back.” With the car secure so it was in no danger of an uncontrolled rampage through Times Square, I focused my attention to the alpaca, which had swiveled its head around to glare at me. At first it snorted, then it spit in my face through the open back window. Green goo dripped from my face, with the majority smearing over my right eye.
For the first time since the accident that had sent me into early retirement, I was grateful for my glass eye, which a solid blue sphere since my insurance company had been far too cheap to dish out for a realistic one.
“An animal, sir?”
I could handle a body falling from the sky and killing two men in front of me. A miniature llama with an attitude, however, crossed every last one of my lines. Lifting my hand, I wiped the gunk off my face. “It just spit on me. It’s some sort of demented miniature llama, and the fucking thing just spit on me.”
“Please remain calm, sir. What’s your name? Do you know anyone involved in the accident?”
“My name’s Shane Gibson. I don’t know anyone involved in the accident, ma’am.” Sighing, I stepped out of the alpaca’s range, returning to the sidewalk to wait for the cavalry to arrive, bracing for the wave of questions the woman would ask in her effort to get a handle on the situation and keep me calm. I played along for her sake more than mine. I’d seen enough bodies during my three years on the force to last me a lifetime.
Three more and a pissed-off alpaca to round things out wasn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes I really hated people. Under normal circumstances, there’d be a lot of rubber necking going by those trying to get a closer look at the carnage. Whether to spite me or too busy to care, most decided they really wanted nothing to do with the trashed car and trio of bodies. Their unnatural lack of curiosity left me as the only viable witness, which I considered absolutely ludicrous. Mid-afternoon at Times Square was a bustle, and I was the one with the full attention of the six cops dispatched to the scene to deal with me and the angry alpaca.
The animal spit on three officers before the youngest one got tired of its existence. He drew his gun and pointed it at the animal’s head. There was only one thing stupider than shooting an animal for being an animal, and it was standing in the way of the gun to stop it from happening.
If he decided to pull the trigger, I deserved to get shot.
“Killing the alpaca isn’t necessary, sir. I’d be spitting angry, too, if someone hog tied my legs together with duct tape and dumped me in a car. It has no other way to defend itself.”
Did the young idiot, who couldn’t have been more than a few months over twenty-one, really think he could open fire on a busy street because an animal had spit on him?
The young cop spluttered but holstered his weapon. Once satisfied he wasn’t going to kill the alpaca, I turned my attention to one of the older cops, a man with gray-touched hair and steely eyes. “What’s the procedure for animals under these circumstances?”
In Chicago, I’d be drawn and quartered for even thinking hurting the damned thing, no matter how many times it spit on me. Unless it attacked someone with no doubt it could inflict fatal injury on a sentient, killing an animal without just cause would result in a suspense and potential loss of badge.
A glob of spit smacked into the back of my head, and I stuffed my hands into my pockets so I wouldn’t turn around and throttle the damned thing after standing in the line of fire to keep an idiot from killing it.
The older cop sighed. “Animal control will be by to pick it up and either dispose of it or take it to a shelter. We don’t have the facilities for animals like this unless they’re sentients or exotics, which this animal is not, so they’ll likely euthanize it.”
At least they weren’t going to treat it as evidence, which would send it to a lab after they finished killing it.
“All right. I’d rather not see it disposed of for circumstances outside of its control. I’d like to make arrangements to claim the animal if no other owners are located.”
One day I would learn to mind my own business. The cops stared at me, looked at each other, and the oldest of them stepped away, talking to someone on his radio. The remaining cops resumed questioning me, resulting in us repeating the same exact conversation five or six times before they came to the conclusion I really had no idea why a man’s body had fallen from a skyscraper and crashed through the windshield of a car stuck in traffic.
Or why they had an alpaca hog tied with duct tape in the back.
The oldest cop returned, shook his head, and sighed. “If you want that thing, it’s yours. Leave us your contact information should anyone with legal documentation proving ownership come forward. By law, you are required to keep the animal in your possession for a minimum of twenty business days. If these terms are acceptable to you, you will need to come to the station to sign some paperwork.”
What the hell was I going to do with an alpaca for twenty business days? I didn’t want to know, but I’d find out. Clenching my teeth, I regarded the surly animal still trapped in the back of the car. It glared at me, and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought the fires of hell burned in its dark eyes. “They’re acceptable.”
The third time was a charm. It spit, I dodged, and I went to work extricating the animal from its grisly prison.
My new pet alpaca weighed a hundred and ten pounds and hated everyone, especially men, with a vengeance. I spent almost two-hundred dollars for a traveling vet to tell me I had a female, she seemed to be young, and would need to be sheared within the next few weeks or her coat would become unwieldy and uncomfortable.
At least my two hundred bought her a round of vaccinations, which she protested with squeals and spits. My hold on her ratty halter kept her from biting anyone. Strips of duct tape still clung to her coat, but I would remove it with some patience and a pair of scissors later—after I convinced her I wasn’t actually the devil.
Then again, once I stuffed her in the back of a rental van and carted her halfway across the country, the poor thing would probably hate me for the rest of her life. Since my hotel wouldn’t allow an alpaca to stay in my room, I convinced one of the cops to write me a little note suggesting management release me from my reservation without penalty.
Freeing her from her duct tape bindings had earned me a few points, because the she-devil stopped spitting on me and didn’t try to bite me once.
The rental company, however, charged me an extra three hundred to account for transporting an alpaca in one of their vehicles. To add insult to injury, they doubled my deposit due to my vision impairment, making it rather clear I was lucky half-blind men were allowed to drive in the first place. By ten at night, I was ready to hit the road, and I looked forward to at least three days of traveling with an animal in dire need of a bath.
At least the back of the van came equipped with mounting brackets, which made a perfect place to tether my alpaca so she wouldn’t be able to climb over the seats and assault me while I was driving. Once she was secured, I slid behind the driver’s wheel and made the one phone call certain to add a little bit more suck to an already shitty day.
My mother answered on the third ring. “Hello?”
“The last time you called, you’d just had your eye scooped out. You refused to bring it home in a jar for me.”
At least my glass replacement made it possible for me to blink—and close my eyes so I could enjoy the illusion of normality. “That’s disgusting.”
“That’s what your father said. How could you resist the chance to keep an actual human eye on your desk? It’s a trophy. Sure, you lost your eye, but you saved three lives. That’s something to be proud of. Come on, Shane. I raised you better than that.”
Given five minutes, my mother could always find a silver lining in any cloud. “Why aren’t you in an institution yet, Mom?”
“You’d get bored if you sent me away.”
“First, I haven’t needed to call you because you call me every morning at exactly two minutes after eight. This couldn’t wait until tomorrow morning.”
“You mean you actually need something?”
I bumped my head against the steering wheel. “Yes, I do.”
“Is it my birthday?”
“No. It’s not your birthday.” Once I popped my question, she’d consider it to Christmas in April. “Can you take this seriously for a change?”
“I always take coercion and blackmail seriously, Shane. I thought you knew this by now. If you’re asking me for help, I’ll get something really good out of it.”
To the rest of the world, my mother was an upright citizen, a police officer, and model for the rest of society. To me, she was everything wrong and right with my life and half the reason I’d become a cop in the first place. Dad was the other half of the reason, and since I couldn’t hear him howling in the background, I assumed he was on duty. “I can’t believe you have everyone fooled into thinking you’re actually a good cop, Mom.”
“Now you’re just being snide. Aren’t you the one about to ask me for a favor? I could just wax poetic about how I have such a wonderful son who is a capable, independent adult, who comes home for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter and doesn’t bother anyone, not even when he’s recovering from losing his eye in a different state.”
Unless I got to the point and quick, she’d serenade me with every single one of my achievements before circling around to the fact she didn’t have my eye in a jar on her desk. If I got lucky, she’d call my grandmother and bring her into the discussion. The only thing worse than my mother on a warpath was when my mother’s mother joined in.
I couldn’t tell if I loved or hated the woman sometimes. “A man fell from a skyscraper, busted through a windshield, and killed the passengers inside while I was touring Times Square today. As a result, I am now the guardian of an alpaca for the next twenty business days. I thought I’d come visit you, with my new pet alpaca, for the next twenty business days. Then, because you’re such a wonderful mother, you’ll help me find a good home for the alpaca I’m legally required to keep for the next twenty business days.”
I loved the sound of silence. It meant my mother had short circuited and her brain was in process of rebooting. Smiling at having dumbfounded her for a rare change, I buckled up and started the van, fiddling with the temperature controls until it was cooler than I liked but tolerable for my new companion.
“You have an alpaca.”
“It’s like a demonic miniature spitting llama. The vet told me she’s a female, she needs to be sheared soon, and that he gave her all of her important vaccinations. We’re both in dire need of a bath, too. By the time I reach the house, I’m sure we’ll be ripe for your enjoyment.”
“I have raised a terrible child. What did I do to deserve you?”
“But they were going to euthanize her. I couldn’t let that happen, Mom. When she isn’t trying to spit on me or kill me, she’s kinda cute. She’s white and fluffy, and she has these adorable little fluffy ears. If she’ll let you pet her, she’s really soft. I’m thinking I’ll teach her to sleep in bed with me. It is possible to housebreak an alpaca, right?”
My mother choked. “You will do no such thing, Shane Gibson!”
“But you’re always saying how you want me to come home and visit you. Does this mean you don’t want me? I even found a cute little lady to keep my bed warm at night. Isn’t that what you wanted for me?”
“A human lady, not a sheep on stilts!”
“Does that mean I have to try to convince my landlord to let me keep an alpaca in my teeny tiny apartment rather than at your nice big farmhouse? You even have a paddock she can run around and play in.”
“That paddock is for my horses, young man.”
“Mom, your horses are almost thirty years old. I’m sure they can share with a hundred and ten pound alpaca.”
“I don’t have a spare stall.”
“They had her hog tied with duct tape on the back seat of their car. And the one cop was going to shoot her for spitting on him.”
There was a long moment of silence. “You manipulative brat. Fine. You will clean up after her without complaint, and you will be in charge of my horses for the next twenty business days as payment for your room and board. Her fleece is also mine. You can’t have any of it. I will expect you to clean and take care of her so I have the most spectacular fleece. Am I understood?”
Knitters. I could talk them into just about anything with a bribe of soft yarn. I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. “Yes, Mom.”
Since I'm really sorry I'm delaying Silver Bullet again, here's another unedited raw sampler. This is from No Kitten Around, the third Magical Romantic Comedy.
Had been a wiser man, I would have just gone home after work instead of greeting the weekend in a bar. Had I been a better man, I wouldn’t have played the game, looking women in the eyes until I found one shallower than the average mud puddle. Had I been a someone worth taking home, I wouldn’t have introduced myself to the blonde, a girl who’d never be pretty in the conventional sense. I had what she wanted, however. Her heart desired pleasure without permanency.
That I could do.
A twenty bought us drinks and her an opportunity to take me home with her. A few hours in her bed offered me what most couldn’t, a chance to look another person in the eyes without their heart’s deepest desire coming between us. Her contentment made it worth my while—almost.
I didn’t know the woman’s name, nor did I care to learn it. In light of a false dawn, as soon as I was certain she slept, I crept out of her bed. As I always did when I stole away like a thief in the night, albeit an invited one, I tucked her in, kissed her cheek, and hoped she’d one day find something to give her heart more life, more spark, and the happiness she’d never find flitting from man to man because she feared the pain of failed commitment.
That, too, I had glimpsed when I’d first looked into her eyes. It rarely came across so clear; desires showed through the strongest for me. Locked deep in her heart, hidden behind a shield of pleasure, her fears festered. I wondered if she’d find someone who could heal that wound.
I wasn’t that someone. I had too many wounds of my own eating away at me from the inside and always would.
It took me almost an hour to walk back to the bar where I’d left my car, my hands shoved in my pants, the image of a businessman who’d escaped the hardships of an office job like so many others. I’d left my hair disheveled on purpose, to feed the impression I’d spent all my time drinking rather than pretending I enjoyed my night with a woman I could never love.
Everything went right to plan, up until I reached my car to discover a tiny tabby kitten had taken up residence on the hood. I supposed it’d had jumped from the low wall onto my vehicle, an old family car I’d bought from a destitute single mother because her heart had desired some way to provide for the children who’d never know their father.
I had paid twice as much as I should have for the piece of shit because she needed the money, spent a small fortune repairing it, giving it a paint job, and pretending I liked the damned thing.
The kitten stared me in the eyes and challenged me with a pleading meow.
Crossing my fingers, I took a defensive stance against the evils such a thing would bring into my life. I could barely take care of myself, the emotional equivalent of a train wreck.
A kitten was out of the question.
The kitten hadn’t gotten the memo I wasn’t interested in or prepared to take it home with me. It mewed at me again, its cry more insistent. I didn’t need my sight, cursed magic that it was, to tell me what the little beast wanted. It wanted milk.
Then it wanted to destroy the world, for that was what cats did when they weren’t sleeping. They plotted to take over the world before they destroyed it, crushing it in their little paws.
My cursed eyes didn’t tell me that was the kitten’s heart’s desire; animals didn’t triggered my magic, for which I was grateful. Making assumptions about the tiny animal’s intentions put me firmly in the ‘monster’ category, but I didn’t care. Something that small and fluffy had to be the purest of evils, plotting the demise of anyone who crossed its path.
It’d probably settle for enslaving me and forcing me to do its bidding if I gave it even half a chance.
The kitten rolled onto its back and stretched out its paws, its little eyes wide open, staring at me imploring me, ignoring my ward, mewling all the while. The evil little shit saw my weakness and latched on, securing its victory with its pleading cries. I scooped it up, and it barely fit in my hand, which proved the fatal blow.
I couldn’t just leave the damned thing to starve.
Cursing myself, I unlocked my car and slid behind the wheel, wondering what I would do with a kitten. As though sensing it had subdued me and made me its bitch, it quieted, further entrenching itself by nuzzling my hand, mouthing at me in search of the milk I couldn’t give it—not yet, at least.
Where the hell was I going to find milk suitable for a kitten? Setting the hell spawn on the passenger seat, I dug my phone out of my jacket and searched for a local vet. I found the number of an emergency clinic, sighing before giving them a call.
“ACC, Felicia speaking. How may I help you?”
“I found a young kitten. Any chance I can bring it in for an exam? It was alone.”
“The mother is probably nearby,” Felicia replied. “Have you checked for her or any other kittens?”
I took a long, careful look around. The bar skirted an industrial zone, and given an hour, the street would become a death trap for the tiny animal. “I found it in the parking lot near a bunch of warehouses and factories near a busy street. Haven’t seen any sign of a mother cat. It’s crying and seems hungry.”
“Only the concrete variety,” I muttered. “Can I bring it in or not?”
“It’s a hundred and fifty dollars for the vet to see the animal.”
Great. Not only was my newfound kitten out to destroy the world, it was out to murder my wallet, too. I could afford a hundred and fifty for the exam, but I wouldn’t like paying for a kitten I didn’t want to keep in the first place. “All right. That’s not a problem.”
The woman gave me directions to the clinic, which would add an extra thirty minutes to my drive home. I glared at the animal. Once certain I’d disconnected the call, I waggled my finger at the feline. “You are an asshole.”
The kitten slept, everything right in its furry little world.
I was the only person in the emergency vet clinic, a mercy all things considered. Felicity proved to be the receptionist, and she regarded the kitten cradled in my crook of my arm with an arched brow while I was careful to avoid meeting her gaze. The little shit had started trying to eat my suit the instant I’d picked it up. It had ignored my efforts to convince it suckling on my jacket would do it no good.
“That is a rather young kitten,” the woman conceded, reaching over to a stack of papers to grab a few sheets. “I will need to make a file for you, sir. What is the kitten’s name?”
All naming it would do was make it harder to let the damned thing go, and judging from the woman’s smirk, she knew it. Maybe if I gave it an awful name, it’d rethink its decision to force me into adopting it until I could find a better home for it. “Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds.” There. No one could be mistaken about what I thought about felines and their innate desire to rule—or wreck—the world. “Give it the last name of Overlord, if this is that sort of place. I’m pretty sure it’s going to stage a takeover very soon.”
She snorted her laughter. “You’re not a cat person, are you, sir?”
“It had somehow gotten onto the hood of my car.” I set the kitten on the sill. “I couldn’t just leave it there.”
The kitten tried to suckle from one of my knuckles. I upgraded its lethality rating to a prime evil, possibly on par with the devil himself. Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds had sharp, pointy teeth, and I smiled so I wouldn’t grimace.
“Your name, sir?”
I gave her the PO box I used in lieu of my residence, since no one believed I lived in an abandoned town an hour outside of civilization. The rare times someone insisted on me giving them the address to an actual building, I directed them to a tiny little mobile home I’d picked up a lot like my car, although I didn’t live in it.
A formerly homeless couple did, and in exchange for paying for what they couldn’t afford, they pretended I lived with them, too.
It worked well for all three of us. I didn’t miss the five hundred a month it cost me to pay the property taxes, their utilities, and the little things they couldn’t afford even if they wanted to. In exchange, I maintained the privacy I craved, hiding where no one could find me, not without a lot of work. They had a place to stay, since neither ever managed to make more than minimum wage, and instead of rent, they paid for school.
They couldn’t do both.
Damn it, I truly was a sucker. I really needed to stop looking people in the eyes. It was always the ones who wanted something so simple and sincere that got to me. The heart didn’t lie. I’d learned that bitter lesson long ago.
The Olivers both wanted to make a life for themselves, to be independent, and break out of the vicious cycle of poverty that haunted them. They tried so hard and got nowhere fast, and that sort of strain left marks on their hearts, marks I could see and feel whenever I made the mistake of meeting their gaze.
Week by week, they healed as they got closer to their hearts’ contentment.
It took Felicity ten minutes to open the file while Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds played on her desk, hunting a pen cap on wobbly paws.
“Dr. Elmond will be with you soon, sir. Please take a seat.”
The kitten took advantage of the fifteen minute wait to play with my fingers and hook her claws deeper into my soul. What was I supposed to do with a kitten? I was mulling over that all-important question when the vet showed up. The older man offered a smile in greeting, his hands tucked into the pocket of his doctor’s coat. “Good morning, Mr. Matthews. If you’d please come with me, I’ll give your kitten a checkup and examination. I’ve been told you found it abandoned in the industrial quarter?”
For a city of less than fifty thousand people, Greenwood, Indiana did have a thriving industrial market, part of which made it the ideal place for me to spend my weekends. “Yes. I think it fell from one of the half walls onto my car. I found it on the hood.”
Taking the kitten from me, Dr. Elmond held it up, making thoughtful noises in his throat while the animal cried its complaints for the world to here. “All right. Come with me, please.”
The examination took about thirty minutes, in which I learned I had six to eight week old kitten weighing in at a big bad two pounds. Despite having named Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds an overlord, I had an overlady, and she was not happy with Dr. Elmond for inflicting several needles on her. She really did not like when he shoved a thermometer up her ass, either, not that I blamed her one bit.
The vet thought her green eyes were odd, as at her age, they should have been blue, but when he claimed it wouldn’t affect her health, I decided I didn’t care as long as she could see and do whatever it was healthy kittens did.
With a declaration of good health in hand, I also inherited a bill for three hundred to go with my new kitten, a tiny little harness and leash, a stick with feathers attached to a string, a case of wet food, several containers of milk, and a small bag of kibble. I was pretty sure the vet and his receptionist laughed at me the instant I hauled Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds and the starts of her kingdom to my car.
To make matters worse, I needed to go to a pet store for even more things, including a proper cat carrier, a litter box, and all the other things a kitten needed to be happy and healthy. They’d given me a long list to point me in the right direction, right towards bankruptcy.
In reality, I wouldn’t really notice the lost money. Most of what I earned ended up stuffed in a savings account, and the rest went to my efforts to convince myself and society I wasn’t nearly as awful of a person as I believed.
The weight of another man’s death did things like that to a soul, and the two years I’d spent in solitary confinement as punishment hadn’t done a whole lot to rid me of the guilt. If anything, being left alone in silence for so long only made it worse.
My sight couldn’t hurt anyone, but I’d been treated just like they would a gorgon or some other monster capable of harming someone with their gaze. Had I been given another chance to redo my life, I would have never told anyone what I saw whenever I had the misfortune of looking someone in the eyes.
Still, my victim had deserved to die, although his death had been accidental enough. If he hadn’t of tried to rape a girl, I wouldn’t have gotten involved, and if I hadn’t gotten involved, I wouldn’t have introduced his head into a brick wall getting him off of her. The blow had killed him. I’d meant to stun him long enough his victim could get away.
After, I couldn’t bring myself to confess the full truth, so I’d lost two years of my life. It should have been five years in, but someone had pulled some strings and forced an evaluation of my situation, declaring the punishment hadn’t fit the crime. I’d never learned who. It didn’t matter then, and I tried not to think too hard on it now.
I’d been too busy avoiding people, flinching from their touch, and otherwise doing my best to escape a different sort of prison, one of my own making. I’d lost another six to eight months in an odd sort of rehabilitation, the sort meant to give me a chance at having a life. The instant the judiciary system had let me go, I’d run halfway across the country, put on a suit, and dove headlong into the business world.
At least there, my cursed eyes were actually good for something. My sight came in handy when my job was to figure out what made people tick so my boss could get the upper hand in negotiations.
As always, despite my best efforts to turn my thought away, my memories fixated on the man I’d killed—and his victims. They had been burdened enough with his crimes and didn’t need to be judged and socially crucified by a jury of their peers. I’d seen it too many times before. Man and woman alike brought the same tired, disgusting arguments to the table. The girls had suffered enough.
When I had looked him in the eyes, I had seen the desire of his heart, and he loved it best when they screamed beneath him.
I rested my forehead against my steering wheel while Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds played with her leash, tugging at it in her effort to free herself from her harness. Several deep breaths later, I forced my thoughts away from the past to my more immediate concerns.
For the first time in my life, I had a second mouth to feed, one entirely reliant on me, incapable of taking care of herself. That much Dr. Elmond had told me. She needed someone who’d feed her, give her a place to sleep, and take care of her, and while she’d probably be adopted fast enough, she’d spend at least a few days in a cage waiting for a home.
I’d lost the war at the word cage, for I’d been in one for too long myself.
Kitten, Destroyer of Worlds would not sit in a cage and wait for a chance at a new life. Just like that, I ended up going home with an overlady who would inevitably rule over my life with an iron paw, for that was the nature of cats and the unfortunate men who served them.
There is a theme going on here. My guilt is overwhelming. Here's another unedited raw sample from the fourth Magical Romantic Comedy. This one doesn't have a title yet, but I fondly think of it as “The Serial Killer Princess Book.”
What the hell did a girl need to do to catch a break? I had spent the six worst months of my entire fucking life hunting a limp dick with a complex so I could finally wring the life out of his wretched little body only to discover someone had gotten to him first. To add insult to injury, I could have done a better—and far more interesting—job with a rusty spoon. Forget a rusty spoon, I could do things with a toothpick capable of making detectives weep.
Where was the art in a slit throat? Malcolm Henders hadn’t slit the throat of any of his victims. He was the take them home, lock them in his basement, and rape them kind, and he didn’t really give a shit what species or gender his victims were. I would have done such a better job of murdering him, and I resented the piss-poor albeit effective technique.
Really, who slit a serial killer’s throat and left his body just lying around on the doorstep for anyone to find? What ever happened to the artistry of a good premeditated murder?
I’d spent months planning his death, right down to the day and time—exactly ten years after his first killing, to the minute—to discover someone had sucked the joy right out of my life. I scowled at the body, which was sprawled on his front step, and heaved a sigh. Twice. One sigh simply wasn’t sufficient. It had to be two. Three was a bit too dramatic, even for me.
Since finding his body in his open door wasn’t part of my plans at all, I did the only sensible thing a girl posing as a delivery girl did. I screamed, I flailed, I flung his package up and over my head in the general direction of the street, and screamed some more. Maybe instead of wasting half a year hunting asshole serial killers, I should have gone to Hollywood and made some money screaming for pay.
I could teach sirens a thing or two about a good, shrill scream, and if those bitches tried to tell me otherwise, I’d break their teeth before taking my time finding an appropriate gruesome way to kill them. Sirens counted as serial killers. Sailors around the world would thank me for thinning their population.
And since my day wasn’t sucking enough already, the damned box exploded.
Why did I always get the mail bombs? Oh, right. I liked posing as a delivery girl when hunting down serial killers. I really needed a new life—or a better gig. Instead of a mail courier, I’d switch to pizza. At least pizzas smelled a lot better and didn’t have a tendency to blow up in my face.
As far as bombs went, I’d gotten a small one. I could deal with small ones. I could even deal with them while flat on my back on my target’s sidewalk, little bright bubbles of light swirling prettily in front of my eyes, the shit stunned out of me. At least it wasn’t literal shit.
It was in the Modern Guide to Being a Princess handbook. Under no circumstances did a princess have the shit startled out of her. A feminine scream, even a piercing one, was totally permitted, but there was a solid line at brown trousers time. The handbook’s authors also had opinions about princesses who had the piss scared out of her, too.
In a word, no.
I really hated that book. It sucked the joy out of life.
At least it didn’t have anything against lying prone on the ground in a dead man’s blood. My blood was a different matter.
According to the Modern Guide to Being a Princess, princesses farted floral-scented rainbows, always found someone to bleed for her, and cared more about her nails than life itself. I had three words to say to the author of the book the next time I saw the bitch: fuck that shit.
Unfortunately for me, that bitch was my mother.
One day I’d take my mother to task for her stupid idea of a joke. Really, what sort of mermaid queen wrote a handbook about being a land-locked princess? Her stupid little handbook, a mocking Christmas present to remind me she hadn’t forgotten about me, made the rounds, polluting the bookshelves of royal families around the world. I bet my father and his hive of gorgon ladies had a copy just to spite me. I’d never even met the man, not that I wanted to.
All of life’s problems began and ended with mermaids and gorgons, and I did my best to avoid both sides of the fence.
Sirens wailed in the distance. With the pretty lights still bubbling through my vision, something smoking nearby, probably my damned delivery truck, and the starts of a whopper of a headache, playing victim seemed like the best idea. I even liked ambulance rides. They amused the hell out of me, especially with a concussion, where I could get away with breaking even more of my mother’s rules.
Princesses didn’t whine, so I’d practice my best pout while I kept my eyes open long enough to make them water and blur. Princesses didn’t cry, the one rule I totally agreed with, so while I’d play the dewy-eyed maiden in distress for shits and giggles, not a single damned one would fall. I’d totally angle for a lollypop from the triage nurse, though.
They laced the damned things with pixie dust, and riding on a cloud-nine high might dull the edge of my disgust over having been robbed of my kill. Who the hell wasted a serial killer’s death slitting their throat? I needed to find the murderer and show him a thing or two about how to kill somebody.
I considered getting up. Lying in a pool of blood wasn’t exactly comfortable, especially when I had no idea what sort of nasty contagions my dead mark had contracted over the years. With my luck, he probably had lycanthropy, then the damned doctors would start poking me to find out if I had contracted the infection. Trying to tell a doctor to fucking go back to medical school because neither gorgons nor mermaids could contract lycanthropy wouldn’t do me a whole lot of good. What looked like a human, walked like a human, and talked like a human was obviously human, and humans contracted lycanthropy.
Stupid doctors liked poking holes in my arguments. If I was a gorgon’s whelp, why didn’t I have snakes for hair? If I was a mermaid, why didn’t I grow fins when I got wet?
Of course, the real idiot was me for not even bothering trying to get up, waiting with princess-perfect patience for my lovely ride in a ambulance so I could get a pixie dust lollypop. When else was I going to get my damned lollypop?
Princesses did not, under any circumstance, resort to recreational drugs to turn a bad day around.
The instant my mother found out I was in the United States working as a mail courier again, she take her royal scepter and shove it up my ass. The first four or five times had been bad enough. I could already hear her questioning what sort of princess worked as a mail courier.
From past experience, ‘the best kind’ was not the answer she wanted.
One day I would learn. When I did, I would suggest my mother should add a chapter to her precious little handbook. It would be very short. It would instruct the hopeful princess there was nothing dumber in life than pissing off Queen Mother, AKA Megabitch Supreme.
I’d need two lollypops to get through the rest of my day, because there was no way in hell I was picking myself off the sidewalk and making my grand escape before the cops showed up. Considering the sirens blared at ear-throbbing volume, they’d already arrived. The slap of shoes on concrete drew close, and I squinted in my effort to make my eyes cooperate with me.
Two men in the dark blue uniforms of American police officers leaned over me. The old bald one, a black dude with more dark splotches on his cheeks than the average ladybug, looked rather concerned. The other one, a nice little chestnut number with wide blue eyes and the kind of tan I dreamed about having, looked like he needed me to rip him out of his uniform and show him a good time.
Fortunately for me, there was nothing in the Modern Guide to Being a Princess banning the admiration of a fine law enforcement officer. There was lots about not touching them for some reason, though.
Stupid rules. I needed to burn that handbook the next time my mother gave me a copy, which I expected to be by tomorrow morning, in person.
Joyous day. Absolutely stupendous.
“I think the guy I was delivering a package to died, and then his package blew up,” I slurred.
Huh. Maybe the bomb had packed a bit more punch than I thought—or my head wasn’t nearly as hard as my mother made it out to be. Either way, slurring was firmly in the ‘not good’ column. Then again, there were pretty lights still dancing around my vision, the pesky things. Ah, concussions. I gave it an hour before my brain tried to dribble out of my ears.
The hot cop frowned, stepped around me, and gave me a good look at his back. Nice. America truly did have some lovely scenery. He unhooked some doohickey from his vest and talked to someone on it before turning to face me. “An ambulance has been dispatched, ma’am.”
I admired how he gave a statement and asked a question at the same time, subtle enough I could ignore his request for me to relinquish my name if I wanted. In all honesty, I wanted to do a legal name change, but if I did, my mother would hunt me down and make me wish she would actually murder me.
All delaying would do was lengthen my suffering. The sooner I said it, the sooner they’d quit laughing. “Tulip Flandersmythe.”
One day I would get my mother to explain why she insisted on naming me after a bunch of flowers. Tulip was bad enough, but if they found out my middle name was Daisy Lilac Petunia, I’d never live it down. Why had she given me three middle names, anyway? I bet it was because she hated me from the moment of my birth and wanted me to know it. Then, because expressing eternal hatred wasn’t sufficient, she insisted on doting on me whenever absolutely possible. If she couldn’t get rid of me through giving me the worst name on the planet, she’d love me to death.
My queen mother needed her scepter shoved up her ass for a change for inflicting such a horrible name on me. I was no wilting lily. I killed serial killers because I could, and I got away with it because I was good at it.
Killing people was definitely not allowed according to the Modern Guide to Being a Princess. Absolutely not allowed. Princesses had servants and bodyguards for that.
The old cop’s eyes widened, a huffy little snort bursting out of him.
“Go ahead and laugh. Wouldn’t want to give you a stroke or something. The rest of my name’s even worse.”
“I’m not sure how that’s even possible,” Mr. Dreamy muttered and crouched beside me, careful to keep his shiny shoes out of Malcolm Henders’s blood. He held up a single finger. “Miss Flandersmythe, can you please tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”
I showed him my middle finger, a rather accurate portrayal of what I thought of his tone. “I’m aware I hit my head, you’re holding one finger, yes, my vision is blurry, I realize I’m slurring, and even a dainty mail carrier like me can identify a concussion. Really. Also, my mail blew up. I also think I’m lying in some dead guy’s blood.”
Ignoring my rude gesture, Mr. Dreamy grabbed hold of my arm and pressed his fingertips to my wrist, his gaze shifting away from me to his watch. With a frown, he released my hand, leaned forward, and touched my throat.
Not only was he handsome, he was hot, too—uncomfortably so. I sighed.
Of course I suffered from shock. I just couldn’t catch a break could I? Then again, I hadn’t actually broken anything. Concussions and shock I could deal with. Broken bones sucked. Shock was a step up from breaking something. Resigned to the inevitable, I moved my arm enough to dig out my wallet from my pocket and offered it to the cop. “ID and health insurance card are in front lower slot.”
Mr. Dreamy took my wallet, opened it, and pulled out the two cards. “Thank you. This will simplify things. While we wait for the ambulance to arrive, why don’t you tell me about your day?”
I did, although I wisely left out the part about having come to Malcolm Henders’s house to kill him. That would have put a damper in our relationship.
Instead of a lollypop, I got an MRI and a hard time from a cute doctor. He wasn’t quite up to the standards of Mr. Dreamy, but he put up a good fight. I wanted a damned lollypop, he refused to give me one, and apparently since he was a damned doctor, he won by default.
“What do you have against lollypops?” I complained, swinging my legs while sitting on the examination table. “Come on, doc. Just one.”
“Only good patients or children get lollypops, and you are neither.” The doc stared at his clipboard, clicking his pen.
“What’s got your panties in a bunch, doc? Is my brain going to take a hike or not?”
“Your skull isn’t cracked, swelling appears minimal, but there’s minor bleeding.” The doc approached me and touched my neck near the base of my skull. “Here. I suspect it happened when you fell. I doubt there is reason for concern, but observation for the next twenty-four hours will be mandatory. I will have another MRI done in twelve hours to confirm your condition. While your slurring has improved, it isa potential cause for concern.”
Why did American hospitals take so many unnecessary precautions? While I scowled, I waved my hand in acceptance of his decree. “Fine. Twenty-four hours. I think it’s unnecessary, but you’re the doc.”
“There’s just an issue of your room assignment.”
“Whoever is stuck with me should probably get two lollypops.”
“So you can steal one?”
“That’s fortunate, since this hospital doesn’t have many private rooms.” The doc slipped a sheet of paper from the bottom of the stack and waved it around in my face. “Nor do we use titles.”
If I pretended the problem of my birth didn’t exist, maybe no one would attempt to saddle me with a title. Who needed a damned title, anyway? No me. I averted my gaze, lifted my chin, and gave a dainty sniff. “What title?”
“Your Highness,” a man’s pleasant tenor announced from the door. I recognized the voice, and despite the pounding in my head, I comprehended two things at once.
Wherever Terrance the Grumpy went, my mother was never far behind. By not far behind, she was usually within twenty feet, which gave me less than a minute to jump out the nearest window. I scrambled off the examination table and darted for freedom, only to make it four whole steps before my mother’s bodyguard clotheslined me.
For a merman at least five times my age, the bastard packed a punch. Instead of smacking into the floor like I deserved, my back slammed into his chest. Terrance even managed to pin both my elbows to my side with one arm. “Have I told you how much you suck, Terrance?”
“My life wouldn’t be complete without being graced with the showering of your affections, Your Highness.”
“You don’t have to sound so grumpy about it.” Actually, Terrance sounded far more amused than grumpy, and I wasn’t sure what I thought about that.
“Do be careful with my patient, sir. If you’d like to restrain her, please do so on the examination table.”
Instead of letting me walk like the capable woman I was, he tightened his hold on me, straightened, and carried me to the table as though I weighed nothing. He released me long enough to set his hands on him waist, lift me up, and set me exactly where I’d been the instant he’d come into the room. To add insult to injury, he patted me on the head like he’d done when I’d been barely old enough to walk.
Death was too good of a fate for Terrance the Grumpy. “Terrance,” I grumbled.
“Yes, Your Highness?”
I pointed at the cute doctor. “No titles are permitted at this hospital.”
“There will be no bodyguards terrorizing my other patients,” he helpfully contributed.
Despite his refusal to give me a lollypop, I decided I liked the American. “You should listen to him, Terrance.” Preparing myself for the inevitable, I shot a glare at the door. “Is she here?”
Shifting my glare to the head of my mother’s security, I crossed my arms over my chest, the hospital gown rustling, proving it wasn’t actually made of fabric despite its best efforts to disguise itself. “What do you mean she isn’t here?”
“Her Royal Majesty is at home discussing with His Royal Majesty about securing a less troublesome replacement.”
Okay, I had missed a very important memo. “His Royal Majesty?”
It drove the entire mer kingdoms to utter distraction my mother didn’t have a His Royal Majesty.
“His Royal Majesty, your father, of course. Much to the eternal disappointment of princes around the world, I’m sure.” Terrance dipped a bow to me, smirked, and turned to the doctor. “My apologies, sir. I’m Terrance Marianas. Her Royal Majesty sent me to deal with any matters regarding her daughter.” With a flick of his wrist, Terrance produced a small envelope sealed with the Flandersmythe royal seal, an albatross battling an osprey.
Most in the family favored the osprey for its tendency to crack open bones to get to the tasty marrow within, where I much preferred the albatross and its ability to fly long and far. Then again, I was probably the only one in my family who longed to grow wings and fly.
Instead, I donned scales and slithered, not that my queen mother—or anyone—knew my little secret. There was an entire ten-page chapter in the Modern Guide to Being a Princess discussing why members of a royal family did not indulge in weird magic. Destructive magic was one thing. A princess was rather encouraged to destroy invading armies with a sweep of her perfect, manicured hand.
Transforming into a serpent crossed a line, rather like the one firmly wedged between shrieking and pants pissing.
“Dr. Hausten.” The doctor took the note, cracked the seal, and clucked his tongue a few times. “Very well, Mr. Marianas. These arrangements can be made. I can give you this room in the meantime. I will ask one of the nurses to see to Miss Flandersmythe’s clothing. While I’m afraid they’ll be quite stained, they’ll at least be clean.”
Oh, nice. I marked the Minnesota hospital as my favorite of the American hospitals I’d been to. None of the other ones had bothered with cleaning the blood out of my clothes.
“Just give her a lollypop,” Terrance replied, a smile ghosting across his lips. “That should keep her occupied for at least ten minutes. Should the lollypop be, ah, tainted per the American way, accidents do happen. I’m a very understanding gentleman.”
Terrance? Understanding? A gentleman?
The head of my mother’s security had been the first to show me how men died, although it’d been an accidental lesson thanks to the scheming of a greedy human hoping to capitalize on my existence. As my mother’s sole child—at least in the traditional sense—she wasn’t the only one who saw some odd value to my existence.
Damned royal blood, always complicating matters for me.
“Didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to lie, Terrance?” I smacked my palms to the paper-covered examination table and drummed my fingers. “Apparently, the doc here only gives lollypops to good patients and children.”
“Of which you’re neither. I suppose you’ll just have to suffer without your American lollypop, then.”
“Heartless, that’s what you are.”
Dr. Hausten didn’t seem amused. “Should I be concerned about addiction, Mr. Marianas?”
My mother’s head of security frowned, glancing in the doctor’s direction. “Oh, no. Of course not. There are no pixies where we’re from, so Her Highness finds their dust and America’s reliance on it fascinating, doctor.”
“I apologize for the inconvenience, but until the investigation is completed, I insist either myself or someone from my team remain with Her Highness.”
My day went from bad to worse. While I longed to indulge in several good sighs, I kept quiet. All sighing would do is ensure Grumpy Head of Security stuck around even longer. At least I wouldn’t have to try to hide a murder. Hiding a murder with Terrance around ranked as my least favorite activity ever.
Was there anything worse than a merman, always getting underfoot and making nuisances of themselves? No wonder my mother hadn’t married despite her obligations to my father under some contract or another being completed. I frowned, and comprehension struck me like a hammer right between the eyes. “Terrance? Did you say my queen mother was talking to my father?”
Since when did my parents speak? I didn’t even know my father’s name. My mother refused to speak of him, so I’d always assumed he was a rat bastard—or, well, a gorgon.
I’d never actually met a gorgon before.
Terrance checked his watch. “Indeed. The last I heard, she had offered him an American dollar if he’d take you off her hands. I think he was in progress of paying for you. When I was evicted and ordered to come to America, she had moved on to negotiating for a replacement heir, one who won’t continually insist on giving her gray hairs.”
While my mother, Her Most Royal Majesty, had threatened to sell me to a circus a few times, I hadn’t believed she’d actually do it. “Seriously? One dollar? That’s it?”
“Her starting offer was a penny.”
Maybe my name was Tulip Daisy Lilac Petunia Flandersmythe, but even I had some pride. Okay, I had a lot of pride, and I teetered on the edge of murderous fury and despair. “A penny!”
“She also thanks you for investing in your own medical insurance so she won’t have to pay even more for you,” Terrance the Grumpy announced.
The first thing I’d do the instant I got out of the hospital would be find a copy of the Modern Guide to Being a Princess and burn the damned thing. In the next ten minutes, I planned on breaking every rule in the fucking handbook, and I’d start right from page one. A princess didn’t run from her security or put her life at unnecessary risk. Making a break for the door at a sprint counted, especially since every slap of my bare feet on the shiny white tiles drove spikes through my head.
I ran for the hills.
Have I made amends yet? No? Okay, well, I guess it's time to pull out all the stops.
Oh, look! Silver Bullet has an awesome cover! I really love this cover, and I've actually had a chance to talk with the model of it–she's really sweet. This was the first book she was picked for doing a cover for, and she's such a good match for Vicky.
I'm super, super pleased with how this one turned out. I could gush all day. I won't. Instead, I'll give you the first (unedited raw) chapter of Silver Bullet.
Because I'm really sorry.
I missed Samantha. Samantha would have known what to do, what was going on, and why I was stuck up in a tree.
She also would’ve known why I was a squirrel.
She had known a lot of things. There were only four things I knew for certain: my name was Vicky, I missed Samantha, I was supposed to be in Georgia, and I wasn’t supposed to be a squirrel.
I couldn’t remember the details, but with sickening certainty, I understood Samantha was gone and wouldn’t be coming back. The brand of her loss cut deep and left scars time hadn’t healed.
Digging my tiny little claws into the tree branch for a better hold, I chittered curses at the world.
A squirrel—a real one—stared at me before scampering down the tree and taking off through the forest. I found its fear of me amusing. Shaking my head, I struggled to focus my attention on the facts.
My name was Vicky, and I wasn’t supposed to be a squirrel.
Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was supposed to be, but a squirrel wasn’t it. I chittered my annoyance. The sound was wrong. I didn’t even know what was wrong about it, just that it wasn’t what was supposed to be coming out of my throat.
Neither my name nor the knowledge I wasn’t supposed to be a squirrel did me any good, which left me with Georgia. I groped for scraps of memory. At first, I remembered nothing. I paced, twitching my bushy tail, regarding the world around me with disdain.
Snow dusted the forest, and a cold wind rustled through my fur. I wrapped my bushy tail around myself and shivered.
A single fact asserted itself: a chill wind blew in Georgia during the winter, but it didn’t often snow. Had I lived there once? The details slipped away. I clung to the bark, eyeing the ground far below.
The real squirrel had made it look so easy. Another flurry of chitters burst out of me, a curse at myself for having gotten stuck in a tree and another one for having forgotten everything of use—assuming I had known anything of use. Had I?
I really missed Samantha. The certainty she wouldn’t return hurt, and I wished I remembered why. She had been important to me, and the wrongness of not knowing spurred me into skittering towards the tree trunk. A brisk, metallic scent filled the air, and my nose twitched. More snow drifted through the bare branches, blanketing my fur.
I shook it off, chattering complaints at the cold and the wet. The first squirrel had the right idea. When in doubt, dive down along the tree trunk and stop before smacking face first into the ground seemed like a plan.
I mastered the dive down part with flying colors. The stopping part gave me problems. I hooked my front claws into the tree bark and they stuck far better than I expected. Failing to find purchase with my back paws, I flipped and smacked against the ground on my back.
The air whooshed out of me, and I twitched from the impact with the frosted ground. Claw by claw, I freed myself from the tree trunk. I rolled over with a low groan, shaking my head. I staggered to my paws.
The other squirrel mocked me with its chittering cries. I bristled, turning my ears back.
My ears weren’t as mobile as I thought they should be. I wanted to pin them back, but they didn’t swivel much, which angered a wave of squeaks out of me. My tail didn’t do what I wanted either. The fact it was so large and bushy pleased me, but I couldn’t figure out how to lash it from side to side, forcing me to settle with unsatisfying twitches.
Maybe my tail didn’t impress me all that much, but the other squirrel turned and ran up a nearby tree, cursing at me before it dived into a hole far above. For a moment, I was tempted to chase after it and test out my teeth on its scrawny neck.
Instead, I turned and scurried away in search of Georgia.
With no idea how to get to Georgia, I wandered, hoping for some clue to help me reach my destination. My scattered memories gave me the impression Georgia lacked snow, and if I headed south, I’d escape from the cold.
I didn’t like the cold. Something about the snow, the frigid bite in the air, and the wind saddened me, filled me with longing and loneliness, and made me miss Samantha even more. No matter how long I thought about her, I couldn’t remember what had taken her from me.
Something—someone—else was missing from my memories, too, but like Samantha, I couldn’t remember why. Unlike her, I couldn’t remember anything substantial, like a name, although I got the impression he was a male—no, not just a male, but a man.
I understood the uses of a male, but the distinction between a male and a man puzzled me. I certainly didn’t want a male squirrel. I wasn’t supposed to be a squirrel, and I certainly wasn’t going to lower myself to bearing squirrel young. I shuddered at the thought.
Was a man the male of the appropriate species for me? If I discovered what a man was, would I learn more about myself? Was I searching for any man, or a specific one?
I didn’t know, and it frustrated another storm of chitters out of me.
As though winter’s ire was stirred by my souring mood, the cold intensified, the skies darkened, and the snow fell harder. The wind whipped it into white clouds. Dismayed, I took shelter near the trunk of a tree. I clutched my tail in my paws and held it close, relying on it to keep the worst of the snow and the wind off me.
Maybe I couldn’t remember the reasons I didn’t like the cold, but the storm gave me plenty. Snow froze to my fur in clumps, and while hiding my face in my tail helped, the wind nipped my nose and bit at my lungs when I breathed.
By the time the snow eased to swirling flurries, the accumulation had deepened enough I had to hop to make my way through it. While I didn’t know what or where Georgia was, it had to be better than the wintry forest.
Maybe I’d find a man in Georgia. Maybe he would know what I couldn’t remember.
Where the forest met dark ground dusted with snow and slicked with ice, the world became a busy, noisy place. I took shelter beneath the bared branches of a bush, staring at the obstacle blocking my path.
I recognized the death traps speeding by as cars, and I associated the memory of vehicles with countless animal carcasses left rotting along the roadside. How did I know? Had I once driven one of them?
It didn’t matter; if I got hit, I would be flattened.
Why couldn’t I remember anything more useful? Who I was and why I needed to go to Georgia would be a good start. Knowing what—and where—Georgia was would’ve helped. Knowing how to get there would’ve been of use, too. Chittering my annoyance, I watched the road and waited until I couldn’t spot any cars before darting across. I made it across and sighed my relief.
The other side of the road lacked forests; snow-encrusted grass crackled in the wind, gleaming in the fading sunlight. I flicked my tail, considering my options. Roads led somewhere, but I couldn’t remember how to make the pathways cutting across the land reveal their destinations.
While the fields and forests were safer, the road and its many cars would take me somewhere. They triggered memories unlike the grasses, which decided me.
Where the road went, I would follow.
It didn’t take long for me to discover the road was far longer than I had though possible. The sun dipped to the horizon, night fell, and the asphalt continued with no end in sight.
I spent the night huddled in a ditch where the wind couldn’t reach me, curling in a tight ball so my tail could protect me. Hunger cramped my stomach, and while I slept, it came in fits and bursts, and I awoke every time a car passed. I chittered at the noisy vehicles, clambered up the slope, and chittered insults at the departing taillights.
I disliked cars almost as much as the cold. Hunger drove me on, and my fragmented memories failed me once again.
I had no idea what squirrels ate.
Standing on my hind legs, I regarded my paws, chuffing. While I had claws, they didn’t seem right for hunting, and the knowledge angered me even more.
Why did I know my tree-climbing claws weren’t suitable for hunting, yet I didn’t know what to eat? A frustrated scream burst out of my throat. With every piece of memory I managed to snag, I faced more questions I couldn’t answer. What drove the cars? Were they my species? In the darkness, I could barely make out the flat streak that marked the road’s presence. I kept to the shoulder, taking advantage of the lights of passing vehicles to guide my path.
When the night brightened to day, the road left the forest and fields and entered a noisy, smelly hell. Snow drifted across the asphalt, and the cars crammed together, parked in long, snaking lines. Horns blared, and the sound hurt my ears. Instead of trees in the distance, buildings stretched towards the sky.
I eased away from the road to keep a safe distance from the trapped cars while I studied the skyline.
Recognition hit me hard.
I approached a city, and the cars were stuck in traffic. Excitement coursed through me. Who—or what—lived in the city remained a blank in my memories, but if I got closer, maybe I’d remember more.
The snow brought traffic to a halt and crippled the city and its two-legged occupants. I scampered along a path safe from the reach of the cars. Other squirrels lived in the city, too, and they chittered their anger when I infringed on their territory.
Their aggression made me want to bite. My hunger gnawed at me, fraying my worn temper thin. Most of the squirrels who showed aggression towards me were male, and they were smaller than me, their fur a dull gray compared to mine. My fur was red, except for my paws, which were black.
I had no idea how far I had ventured into the city, but there were no forests, and the trees lining the streets didn’t provide enough shelter to ease my discomfort from the loud noises and choking fumes.
A squirrel lunged out of one of the snow-ladened trees and charged me, squealing its fury. I ached, I hungered, and a small, gray squirrel dared to interfere with me?
I took out my frustrations on the male, tearing at his fur with my impotent claws. He snapped his teeth at me.
I closed mine around his throat and bit down as hard as I could before shaking my head. When he ceased fighting me, I dropped his body into the snow drifting at the base of the tree rising from the middle of the sidewalk.
While I found the taste of blood intriguing, my squirrel body hated it, and I dipped my paws in the snow and used it to clean the mess out of my fur. Squeaking my annoyance at the waste, I regarded the squirrel’s tree.
Maybe he had food I could actually eat. He didn’t need it, not any longer. I skittered up, spiraling my way up the trunk in search of what the other squirrel had been guarding. Near the top, I found a knotted hole in the trunk where a branch had broken. Bits of fluff, twigs, and scraps of cloth were stuffed inside.
It stank of male squirrel, and sneezing my disgust at the smell, I wormed my way into the den. I barely fit, and I tore apart the nest searching for food. Buried at the bottom, I discovered a stash of nuts and seeds. I grasped an acorn, glaring at it for a long morning before putting my teeth to good work breaking into it.
Maybe my squirrel body liked what I choked down, but I didn’t. I ate until I couldn’t handle the thought of another swallow. The overwhelming smell of male squirrel drove me out of the nest. When I slept, it would be somewhere warmer, safer, and a lot less offensive to my nose.
The sense of rightness about the city started as a warmth deep within and strengthened each hopping step I took. When I strayed, the warmth cooled, rekindling when I changed directions and moved on. I had no idea what was happening or why, but it was the most substantial lead I had.
The warmth kept the winter chill at bay, and as the snow continued to fall, the life in the city ebbed. The two-leggers hid in their buildings of stone, brick, and glass. While I heard squirrels chittering and screaming their anger at my presence, they remained high up in their trees.
If any of them bothered me, I’d kill them like I had the other squirrel. I should’ve felt some guilt over killing another of my kind, but I didn’t.
I wasn’t a squirrel, not really.
The two-leggers intrigued me. While I had been able to identify things about them, the most important details slipped away. I remembered specifics. Some two-leggers carried bags they called purses. The jangly bits some held while shuffling through the snow to their parked cars were keys. The buildings of glass, steel, and stone weren’t homes, dens, or nests, but places two-leggers gathered in big colonies to do things they thought were important before returning to their nests.
Their nests interested me far more than their bigger gathering places. Would I find a man in such a nest? Was a man a pet of the two-leggers? Could he be a two-legger?
I stopped long enough to observe the two-leggers who braved the snow. They bundled up in thick fake furs, and in their voices, I heard their complaints. I recognized the words they spoke, but none of them evoked a sense of the man I needed.
Chittering at the two-leggers got me nowhere; either they didn’t understand me or they didn’t care about a squirrel, not that I blamed them for that.
Squirrels annoyed me, and I likely annoyed the two-leggers, too.
I stopped making noises and scurried on my way, navigating my way through the city with the warmth in my chest as a guide. I understood what the lights where streets meant, and I bided my time, waiting for two-leggers to cross so I wouldn’t end up flattened by one of their cars.
Two-leggers puzzled me. They packed everything so close to together, pretending scant trees planted in the middle of their walking paths somehow brought them closer to nature. Then, rejecting their glass, steel, and stone gathering places, their nests were skirted in lawns with proper trees, but they insisted on keeping their noisy, smelly cars close to where they nested.
The deeper I ventured into where the two-leggers lived, the more I liked the area. Snow covered the grass, and the nests were often separated by tracks of forest. The road I followed ended, with a smaller asphalt trail disappearing into the trees. I sniffed, pleased over how little of the city stench I could detect.
With no other options, I followed the smaller trail, leaving prints in the untouched snow. It led to the largest nest I had seen, surrounded by a white fence. Curiosity drove me into climbing up on top to peer into what the nest’s owner wanted to hide.
The snow fell harder, but instead of sticking to the ground, it melted into a large pond surrounded by flat stones. I tilted my head and chittered my puzzlement. Why would a two-legger hide a pond?
A memory surfaced, and the nuance between a pond and a pool flustered a chitter out of me. Both had water, so what did it matter if it was a pool or a pond? I scampered my way down, twitching my tail as I crept closer.
The presence of water lured me into scampering down the fence. I couldn’t remember the last time I had had anything to drink. Water was water, and I wasted no time hopping my way to where the flat stones met the pool’s edge.
I dug my tiny claws into the concrete and stretched out as far as I could in my effort to reach the surface. I lost my hold, squawked my dismay, and plunged in head first.
Yep, still sorry.
In past, I've mentioned that the main Witch & Wolf series will have four books, ending with Silver Bullet. That's true. There will be a sequel series focusing on the adventures of one character. It takes place a while after Silver Bullet, and begins exposing changes to the Witch & Wolf world, consequences of the events in Silver Bullet. (Don't worry, there aren't any spoilers in the first chapter of Wolf Hunt.)
The series is called Wolf Hunt, and you can consider it to be Witch & Wolf #5. So far, I've planned out three books, and the first one is completed, just waiting for Silver Bullet to release and editorial love from my editor.
Yes, that is a scarab theme you see in the background. Yeeeeeessss, there is a very legitimate reason why there is so much pink on this cover. Yes! Yes! Yes! (You may imagine me squealing happily now.)
I had sold my dignity for half a million dollars, and I regretted it.
At least I had been smart enough to insist my client pay—in advance—for the preparations required to storm the castle, including the arrangements for the yacht and its captain, although I had a sneaking suspicion the yacht and its captain had secondary motives involving my mark.
Benjamin Scully had, multiple times, made offers to handle all of my transportation to and from his property, which stirred my suspicions for no good reason. Unfortunately, old habits died hard, and I never could quite force myself to get over the worry everyone was out to backstab me.
Scully’s castle perched on a cliff somewhere along the coast of France but belonged in Transylvania. All I needed to creep me right out of my skin was a good shake of thunder and a flash of lightning.
Fortunately for me, the skies were clear, the day was young, and the ocean was calm.
Swimming back to America was sounding like a better and better idea. But no, instead of turning around and heading home like a smart man, I straightened my back, lifted my chin, and stepped over the ledge of the yacht, lifting my skirts and showing off my ankles and three inch heels so I wouldn’t trip over the hem.
“Mademoiselle,” The man wearing a black suit at the end of the dock greeted me with a smile and held out his arm for me.
I had a mile long list of things a lady didn’t do, which was partnered with the list of things ladies did do, which in turn was substantially shorter and a lot less entertaining. Going over my mental checklist, I flashed the man a smile, accepted his help, and stepped with care so I wouldn’t end up in the ocean.
“Thank you,” I murmured. I’d rather have called him a cantankerous spotted liver, but cursing at the servant of the obnoxiously wealthy American playing a French lord was on the list of things a lady didn’t do.
If I wanted my half a million, I had to play my role perfectly, and that meant no one could learn who I really was or why I was scoping out a French castle.
“His Lordship is waiting for you, Mademoiselle Lenore. I trust you had a pleasant journey?”
Engaging in polite conversation was on the list of things a lady did do and sighing wasn’t, which left me with the option to smile until my jaw ached. I’d spent a month practicing pitching my voice and sounding as feminine as possible.
It was a good thing I was naturally a tenor.
“It was lovely, thank you, sir.”
Pleasant or lovely wasn’t the word I’d use for the transatlantic cruise from New York City to Hamburg, Germany. Who knew a late-season hurricane could cause so much trouble for such a large ship?
Reenacting the sinking of the Titanic was at the top of my list of things never to do again. At least the cruise ship had waited until after the storm had blown over to give up the ghost and sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Instead of having a week to prepare, I had had a day to perform and execute a modern-day blitzkrieg through Hamburg and transform into Cinderella. At least my heels weren’t glass, though I would have given anything to have a pair of my preferred boots instead.
What had I been thinking when I had accepted the job to gain access to a French castle and take notes and pictures on the owner’s collection? Why had I thought it was a good idea to do it in a dress?
Why hadn’t I talked myself out of the plan in the two months it had taken me to work my way into my mark’s good graces?
I had sold my dignity for far too cheap, and if I wasn’t careful, I’d sacrifice my reputation right along with the remnants of my morals. It’d been difficult enough to smile while other men were trying to take me to bed. If I never heard another catcall in my direction ever again, I’d be content. As it was, the leering stares of the marina workers were permanently seared into my memories.
I really needed a new plan. I needed a new life, too. Half a million dollars would go a long way to securing a new life, at least. I had five hundred thousand reasons to smile, pretend my name was Lenore Faraday instead of Declan McGrady, and act like I admired and respected Lord Benjamin Scully, businessman and collector of unusual art.
“Please call me Barnet, mademoiselle.” The man’s soft voice dragged me back to my miserable reality. I’d somehow navigated over the dock on autopilot without tripping over the uneven planks or breaking an ankle.
One thing was certain; I had a whole new appreciation for the effort a woman went through to dress up. It took me an hour to prepare for a black tie event, but it had taken me almost five hours to become Lenore—five hours I never wanted to repeat.
“Of course, Barnet. I’m quite grateful Lord Scully had the time to see me.”
“He is always eager to meet another lover of the arts. Please, come this way. The lift is waiting.”
The lift was the sort of thing I expected to crumble into the sea right along with the rest of the cliff and the castle. If I had the option of steps, I would have taken them in a heartbeat. At least if I fell to my death, I’d have myself to blame.
“Do not worry. The lift is quite safe.”
Barnet’s scent soured from his lie, but I didn’t call him on it. I had bigger problems to worry about, including my first face-to-face meeting with Benjamin Scully.
The game was on, and it had been far too long since my last hunt.
Lord Benjamin Scully met me at the top of the lift, opening the curved door of the lift, and gestured for me to step out onto the deck stretching out over the cliff. “Miss Lenore, it’s a pleasure to meet you at long last.”
“The pleasure is mine,” I assured him, hoping my perfume was strong enough to mask the annoyance in my scent. I had the urge to bare my teeth, growl, and ram my fist into the earth-vexing coxcomb’s face.
Instead, I smiled and met his gaze. The photographs I had been given of my mark matched the man, right down to the streaks of gray in his hair, his black suit with white shirt and black tie, and his frown. He looked me over head to toe; his gaze settled on my fake breasts and stayed there.
Was I the only one who noticed the uncomfortable silence? Benjamin seemed enthralled by my breasts, blissfully unaware I was a hundred percent man underneath my sky blue, puffy, and frilly dress.
I had to admit the breasts were a work of art; the artificial silicon insets were attached to the bra digging into my shoulders, which pushed them up and gave them the right amount of jiggle to look and feel real enough to give me a solid case of the creeps.
It was a good thing my dubious non-quite-human heritage had put me on the lean and almost feminine side. Lazying about had trimmed my muscle to something a little closer to a lady’s build, although my two months of planning hadn’t been enough.
Puffy sleeves on the gown, a monstrosity straight out of the Elizabethan era, hid the evidence of my masculinity well enough while offering a certain measure of protection from the fall chill.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. A French Castle with an American pretending at being nobility called for appropriate attire. I wanted to blame alcohol for my poor decision, but I didn’t drink.
Alcohol made me do really stupid things. I did enough stupid things without any help.
Two months of planning had led to meeting the businessman and collector in his castle where he kept his prized collection. I shifted the straps of my purse on my shoulder, wondering how women dealt with the annoyance of carrying one day in and day out.
I was never going to take a woman’s preparations for granted ever again. I definitely wasn’t going to dress up as a woman ever again, especially not after experiencing the horrors of having my beard and mustache waxed off to make certain they didn’t make an untimely appearance at five o’clock.
While my mark’s quiet scrutiny should have bothered me, I took in the yard in front of the castle; a hundred yards separated the structure from the cliff. The main structure was seven stories, although the spires on each corner were easily twice as high.
“Like what you see?” Lord Scully linked his elbow with mine and gave a gentle pull in the direction of the castle. “Please, let me give you a tour. You have no idea how honored I am that you would travel all of this way to see my art collection.”
“No, Lord Scully, I’m the one honored.” It took all of my will to keep my voice as high pitched and feminine as possible. “Yours is a collection any true lover of the arts would wish to see in their lifetime. Thank you so much for your invitation.”
I smiled. Under the guise of slipping his hand to my back, Lord Benjamin Scully copped a feel of my ass, and it took every bit of my willpower to keep my wolf in check. I’d make the human pay for it, somehow.
My client never said I couldn’t pocket something from the slug’s collection. They’d get their half a million worth of photographs. If I took a little extra on the side that didn’t show up in the pictures, well, what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.
The Monet painting hanging in the foyer drew my eye, and I stared at it, my mouth gaping open as I took in every inch of its splendor. The vivid colors and distinctive strokes drew me to it, and Lord Benjamin Scully made a pleased noise in his throat when I stepped to it, my heels clicking on the marble floors.
I knew every public Monet like I did the back of my hand; rare pieces of art made me forget myself, filling me with a fidgeting excitement and desire to possess one of my own.
The style was distinctly Monet, and I got as close to the painting as I could without breathing on the canvas and risking ruining it. I narrowed my eyes, drew in a deep breath, and focused my attention on the scents in my nose.
Scully had an unpleasant heat to him; lust and arousal coming from him was the last thing I wanted to face, ever. I had a feeling the man-harpy was scoping out my ass since my breasts were no longer available for his enjoyment.
My wolf whined in my head, voicing his desire to come out and rip the human’s face off for daring to admire my human body in such a way. He wanted to find us a proper mate, a woman who would remain with us for the rest of our days.
The businessman wasn’t even on my wolf’s radar, for which I was eternally grateful.
I filtered out the man’s scent and focused on the painting, searching for the non-visual cues the painting was a fake, and I found it in the fresh bite of oil paints. Over time, the scent of the paints changed as time did its work. Sometimes paintings were restored, brought back to their original beauty, but the thought of anyone diluting the splendor of an original Monet made me shiver.
I examined the brush strokes, appreciating the care the impersonator had taken mimicking Monet’s style. Close, but not quite his. Drawing closer, I took another sniff.
New paint and thinner taunted my nose, further adding to my disappointment.
I stepped back, narrowed my eyes, and wondered at forest and stream scene, the vivid colors, and the wistfulness I always associated with a real Monet. Sighing my regret, I canted my head in Lord Benjamin Scully’s direction and said, “Someone studied Monet’s style and created a piece worthy of him. It is such a shame it is not a true Monet.”
Instead of the anger I expected from the man, he laughed long and deep. “I remembered how you had written about your love of Monet. Forgive an old man’s testing. It is rare to find a true collector of the arts.”
“You’re hardly old.”
He chuckled again. “You are charming, my dear, but I am fifty to your twenty-three.”
I had my werewolf heritage to thank for being able to trick people into believing I was so young. I clasped my hands in front of me, fiddling with the band circling my right ring finger. Six different cameras were sewn into my gown to allow the most coverage. Another one was located embedded in a hair clip near my ear. The ring also had one, and I aimed it in the direction of the fake Monet before tapping the sensor at the bottom of the band.
“It’s a really good fake, I’ll give you that, Lord Scully.”
“Please, call me Benjamin, Lenore. You do not mind me calling you Lenore, do you?”
I minded in more ways than one, but I smiled so I wouldn’t growl at the man. “I don’t mind.”
It was a damned good thing my perfume was so strong and that Lord Benjamin Scully smelled like a regular human, else he might have caught the sourness of my lies in the air.
I would have to give myself a few more squirts of the wretched perfume in my purse to get through the day at the rate things were going. The last thing I needed was another werewolf coming along and figuring out I was poking my nose in places it didn’t belong.
Lesson learned: half a million dollars was not worth the job I had to do at the French version of Castle Dracula. I turned in a slow circle to take in the rest of the art hanging from the wood-paneled walls. Most of the pieces seemed modern with a focus on spring landscapes. Each painting had a bronze placard.
Once again, I was left to my devices while the castle’s owner watched me with an unnerving amount of lust stinking up the air. I hadn’t even made it out of the castle’s foyer, and I was already ready to listen to my wolf’s instincts to run for another country.
I didn’t recognize any of the artists in the foyer, although I liked a few of them. I took a picture of every one, careful to make sure my ring’s gem would capture painting and placard.
Hopefully the lit chandeliers would offer enough light for the paintings to show in the digital images.
“What do you think of them, Lenore?”
“The spring theme is welcoming; cool yet warm. These are modern pieces. A choice to showcase the blend of antiquity and modern interests?”
With half a million dollars, I could retire and become an interior decorator. Interior decorating could be lucrative, couldn’t it? It sounded substantially safer than being stalked around a castle by a perverted marmot.
Killing my mark wasn’t an option. My wolf wasn’t too happy with me over that, but he didn’t fight me, either. We’d come to a few agreements on things over the years, including who—and what—we hunted. Humans weren’t on the allowed list of edibles.
He wasn’t too happy with me about that, either, and his growls filled my head.
Lord Benjamin Scully sighed, came to my side, and placed his hand on the middle of my back. “I have more exotic tastes, but such things are expected of a man of my position.”
I wondered if a high heel could pierce through a man’s dress shoe if I stomped hard enough. “Of course. There are always expectations. Perhaps they do not have the exotic allure of a Monet, but they are still lovely pieces.”
“Paris is full of amateurs capable of decent pieces. I am looking for something more.”
“Like an original Monet?”
“Exactly. I intend to fill these halls with an original of all of the masters.”
The man had expensive tastes, I had to give him that. “An ambitious goal, and a very expensive one. Have you had any success yet?”
“I’ve acquired a few pieces,” he evaded, and the lust in his scent faded under new odors.
Wariness. Anxiety. Something else lingered in the air, too, something my wolf couldn’t identify.
The foyer opened to a large room featuring two staircases sweeping up to the next floor. Statues lined the walls, and my eyes widened. To my left and right, the busts and full-figured women were ancient and pitted, Roman or Greek in nature. The pieces became more modern, right up until the staircase landings, which showcased metal abstract art.
Iron ore littered the floor, forming a mountain at the base of a eruption of steel and other pale metals.
A shudder ran through me. Pure, unrefined iron never failed to chill me to the bone, the scent of it singeing my nose and deadening my senses. My wolf whined. With so much of the metal in close proximity, I had no hope of transforming into my wolf even if I wanted to.
Silver was worse, but even the presence of pure iron in the same room with me sapped me of strength, leaving me shaking as its influence reached across the marble floors and seeped into my skin.
“Vesuvius,” Scully murmured, gesturing to the sculpture at the base of the staircase. “I have always been intrigued by the fall of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The rusting iron represents the fires of the eruption.”
Someone had put a lot of thought into the piece; the red of iron oxidation would streak the ore in time, turning the clean and new piece into true art as it decayed. “Its true beauty will be exposed over the years.”
It was brilliant, and art I could truly appreciate. I regretted the iron, its size, and the fact it wouldn’t fit under my skirts, because I had the urge to steal the entire sculpture and watch it decay over the years, the decades, and the centuries until the iron bled away to dust.
“You like it?” Surprise in the man’s voice drew my attention back to him.
For the first time since my arrival, my smile was more of a grin, and genuine in every way. “I appreciate history as well as art, and this is both.”
I wanted to steal it so bad my fingers itched. Instead, I spun to face the first of the ancient statues. “Is everything in this room of Roman origin, then?”
“I had no idea you were so interested in the origin of things, Lenore.”
Snorting wasn’t on my allowed list, and neither was snapping my teeth, growling, or punching. I sighed. “I enjoy reading.”
“An appropriate pursuit for a lady.”
“I’m a traditional lady in a modern world,” I murmured, turning my back to him so I could restrain my wolf’s growing desire for bloodshed. Taking my time, I captured pictures of every statue, although I didn’t linger long in front of any of them.
I gave Vesuvius a wide berth. All it would do was burn me.
Okay, I'm done being sorry. Back to work. Hope you liked the samples, folks!