Category Archives: Writing stuff

The Innocents – Out Now

After many months, and loads of unexpected drama, The Innocents is at last available on Amazon and Smashwords. You can find it through the links below.

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Smashwords

The novel is a stand-alone, but is also part of the Faith & Fury collection. Along with The Innocents, the Faith & Fury collection will include several upcoming series and novels that all share a common canon.

The Innocents – Chapter Two

I will upload The Innocents on January 15th. I apologize immensely for another delay, but I don’t want to put it up until I am confident it’s ready.

Here’s a bonus preview chapter of apology.

The Innocents – Chapter Two

Twenty years of mass, and still Chelsea fidgeted. Even as an adult there of her own accord. Even wanting to believe there was something beyond uncertainty and a worldly life that was frequently less than satisfying. Intention, it seemed, was little defense against a sermon that went on too long, and no one could drag out a short point like the church’s second-rung priest Father Dave.

Watching the two boys in front of her knuckle-punch back and forth until their father at last noticed they were beating on each other in church, Chelsea shifted her gaze to the stained glass rendering of the crucifixion as they settled into relative obedience. Transfixed, for a moment, by the sleet that pelted Jesus on the cross, she forced her eyes to the resurrection instead.

Not everything had to be so hopeless.

So, she had made a few mistakes that added up to a big one, and her means of escape were few. Things could always turn around. More miraculous things had happened.

Staring past the rolled away stone, into the depths of Jesus’ empty tomb, Chelsea saw the shadows shift, like something lurked deep within, and, with an uncertain swallow, she tried to remember if she had taken her meds. She had been pretty good about it lately, keeping herself on an even keel. Responsible, her mother even called her. The changes in her hormones had her brain in an almost permanent fog, though, and, these days, she found herself forgetting more than she remembered.

Shadows moving again, Chelsea looked harder, wondering if Jesus’ impending return was closer than any of them could have anticipated when yellow eyes flashed suddenly her way and she flinched back into the woman beside her.

“I’m sorry.” Reaching out, she found the woman sturdy and real.

“Are you all right?” the woman asked, and Chelsea’s gaze went back to the window. Dark figure darting across the gray cave, she watched as it fell past the browns and greens at the bottom of the stained glass and out of sight.

“I’m fine,” she said.

Heart pounding, her stomach squirmed in response, and Chelsea put her hand over it, comforting or protecting, she wasn’t entirely sure, though it was instinct to do both.

 *****

Spilling through the church doors a few minutes later with those members of the congregation devout enough, or in need of guidance enough, to be dragged out in the painful weather, Chelsea shoved her hands into the pockets of her old wool coat, scolding herself for neglecting her gloves again. Not just unusual, the cold was downright unreasonable, making it a challenge to leave her flat for anything and simply refusing to release its grip on the city. Slipping in at both hem and collar, it put haste in Chelsea’s steps as she headed toward home.

As did the lack of fellow pedestrians. Normally, when she left church, be it day or night, there were plenty of others headed the same way. Cold and Christmas preparations keeping them indoors, her footsteps fell louder in their absence.

It was a block from St. Anthony’s, beyond the distance a cry for help might be heard, that Chelsea noticed they didn’t fall alone. Just out of time with her own, a second set of footsteps marched a divergent beat through the gray fog, growing quicker as they grew closer, but Chelsea resisted the urge to look over her shoulder until she felt them right at her back.

Breath stuck in her chest as the man continued past, as anxious to get out of the cold as her, Chelsea let it out in a sputtering laugh as she followed his procession to the door of an old building. Trying to shake free of her overactive imagination as he slipped inside, she started once more down the street, making it only a step before a violent embrace lunged from a dark lane.

First of her scream lost to the unrelenting wind as she was dragged between buildings, the rest was knocked from Chelsea as her back came into painful contact with the brick wall.

“Shu’ up.” Rancid breath pouring from the mouth of her attacker, the hand that curled brown fingernails into Chelsea’s cheek reeked of something equally indescribable, until the man’s face drifted closer and she could see the source of the smell. Flaps of rotting skin hanging from his cheeks and forehead, the man’s eyes floated in murky yellow. It was a level of decomposed Chelsea had been forced to look at in biology class once and never needed to see again.

God, she had forgotten to medicate.

The rotting man growling with something like anticipation, Chelsea knew the danger, at least, was real, could feel it in the punishing grip that held her chin in place. Though, it was danger that was difficult to believe. More like something out of a nightmare than something that just pulled her off the street.

When the man’s mouth yawned wide, baring fangs that were not the sharp points Chelsea would have expected, but a few jagged edges that looked as if they had broken down over time, or from overenthusiastic gnawing, Chelsea’s own mouth opened on a scream, but she only choked on a mouthful of putrid hand.

“Well now, what do we have here?” The voice that poured through the darkness brought instant reprieve. Eyes snapping open, Chelsea tried to follow the sound to its source, but could see no further than a body width in the thick haze.

“Looks like a rodent at a feast,” a deeper voice responded.

“That never ends well for the rodent,” the original speaker declared, and, at last coming into view, the woman who possessed the voice proved every bit as hypnotic as her tone. Adorned in black from neck to toe, hair and eyes a near match, they served as marked contrast to her skin, which was almost ethereal in its porcelain glow. Aside from the dark brows and lashes that cloaked her gaze, soft pink lips were the only color on her face, and they turned upward with some amusement, as if the entire situation was a novelty for her.

“Fuckah, Der’ph.” The rotted man’s grip on Chelsea only grew tighter, and Chelsea groaned at the bruises being pressed into her cheeks.

“The dross speaks.”

Pain still present as the woman in black’s eyes met hers, the corresponding fear released its grip on Chelsea.

“So, it does,” her female companion said.

Slightly shorter than the other woman, the blonde’s skin was several shades darker. Golden hair falling just past her shoulders, her deep blue eyes cut to the mocha man with the close-cropped hair and dark brown gaze who stood on the woman in black’s other side.

“It’s almost a working vocabulary.” Dimples pushed into his cheeks as he looked back to the blonde.

Though the woman in black smiled along, her eyes never strayed. Nor blinked. Nor did they, for even an instant, lose the feral glint that did nothing to alter Chelsea’s tangled feelings. Knowing somehow that the woman, and her equally alluring companions, was every bit as dangerous as the man holding her against the wall, Chelsea was still soothed at their presence, though her position had little changed.

“Impressive,” the woman in black uttered. “But now it’s time for you to slink back through the cracks in the wall where you belong.”

“Go ‘way,” the rotted man cursed. “Let me eat.”

“The world is full of leftovers, Rat,” the woman said. “This feast is not for you.”

Producing a decidedly rodent-like twitch at the statement, the rotted man stared for a prolonged beat, as if he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Then, with a swiftness that took her by surprise, he turned on Chelsea, decayed mouth flapping wide, and Chelsea rediscovered her fear as the jagged edge of a tooth scratched her skin.

Jerked back before the bite could sink deeper, the rotted man howled at the mocha man’s grip on his hair, and the woman in black bent, coming up with a shard of split wood that she sank into the rotted man’s chest. The action having little apparent effect, when the woman in black gave the makeshift weapon an upward twist, the rotted man’s eyes rolled back and he dropped to his knees. Tottering there for a moment, he at last keeled forward, and Chelsea could see the orange glow in his eyes as he stared out at the light from the street, spasms moving through him like a fish tossed to a boat’s floor.

Placing a heavy boot on his head, the mocha man held the rotted man down as the blonde pulled a small packet from inside her coat. Ripping it open, she tossed it on the rotted man, and he screamed as flames erupted down his back. Completely engulfed in the time it took the mocha man to pull his leg out of harm’s way, an instant later the only thing left of Chelsea’s assailant was an outline of ash on the ice-covered ground.

“Don’t be afraid.” Chelsea’s instinct for self-preservation raging back up at the sight, it warped again as the woman in black came closer, and, though she knew it was exactly what she should be, the request stole the desire to run from Chelsea’s body, making way for it to long for other things.

Unable to move as the woman untied the scarf from her neck, Chelsea felt no cold when the wind slid down her collar, but only warmth, a warmth that wanted something from the woman, from all of them, she couldn’t entirely define. Burning low and irrepressible in her belly, it woke the sleeping thing within that kicked in equal anticipation.

Hands moving to the top button of her coat, Chelsea watched the dark gaze intent upon the task, red tongue slipping out to wet pink lips, and she realized how much she wanted that which she feared only moments before, to be taken by a stranger in a dark alley. Three strangers, in whatever manner they so desired.

Yearning forward in submission, she moaned as the woman in black’s nose and lips brushed her neck.

“It only hurts for a second, I promise.” Fingers trailing the column of her throat, Chelsea clutched the leather of the woman’s jacket, staring into eyes tinted deepest red, like garnet, as the woman pulled back, wanting nothing more than to believe whatever she said.

Hand on the side of her neck, Chelsea’s eyes drifted shut as supple lips slid against her throat, sob escaping and fingernails etching into leather at the burning stab through skin and vein. It did hurt, more than she was expecting, but, as promised, only for the briefest of moments. Discomfort rapidly pushed out, the recesses left behind were filled with something utterly alien and undeniably euphoric. Blood rushing through her, it converged at the spot where the woman in black sucked at her flesh, as a reciprocal, penetrating sensation tightened her lower abdomen.

Every cell in her body seeming to produce pure, potent pleasure, the climax came so fast and hard, Chelsea couldn’t stay on her feet. With a shout of all but pain, she gripped more tightly to the woman’s jacket until she could no longer think, no longer feel, no longer hold on.

*****

Body going limp against her, Haydn pressed the woman back against the wall to help support her weight, nursing at the spot until she got every last delectable drop. Or until she thought she did. Well run dry, she could still smell a small reservoir as she pulled away, and, when she listened for it, she detected the trace of a heartbeat making a last, valiant effort at survival. Hand pressing to the woman’s stomach, Haydn could feel it there too, weak and fluttering, before the new life came to a sudden, inevitable end beneath her palm.

Realization dawning too late, she lowered the woman to the ground as the sleet turned to snow around them. Eyes rising to the sky with some wonder, she watched it fall in huge, magnificent flakes. The sleet all too frequent, she couldn’t remember the last time she was actually in the city for a snowfall. 1795, was it? No, it had to have been 1847, during the famine, when the food supply had withered for them all.

At the snap of a flash fire capsule, she took a step back, feeling something curious, almost melancholy, as the body – both bodies – went up in flame, leaving ashen angel within ashen angel in the lightly falling snow. Hard edges softened by the two distinct outlines, she didn’t perceive a threat until she turned and felt the sinew jerk inside her chest. Blood spattering Gijon’s white scarf, it took a moment for Haydn to recognize it came from her, and, pain setting in with a vengeance when she did, she cast her eyes to the steel bolt embedded beneath her sternum.

Spinning head tearing her muscle into pieces, Haydn yanked the bolt free, turning her head too late to prevent the sting of shrapnel against her cheek as the triangular head detonated.

Hearing the latch of the crossbow release again, she spun out of the way, glancing toward the adjacent roof to see a glint of platinum before Slade’s satisfied grin retreated from the edge.

Bounding onto the nearest balcony, Haydn scaled the five stories, hearing Gijon and Auris at her back as she vaulted the roof’s edge. The sound of a hammer dropping, she rolled to avoid the bullet Sean fired to cover Slade’s escape, and looked up from a crouch as Gijon and Auris rushed past in pursuit.

Watching Slade and Sean drop over the far edge, she pushed up to follow, making it as far as standing before weakness overtook her. Hand pressing to her chest, the blood surged between her fingers, like water springing through the weak spots in a dam. Just making it to the other side, she dropped onto the roof’s ledge. Below, she could see Slade and Sean jump into their flashy jeep, as their minions fired silent rounds from the back seat, forcing Gijon and Auris to take to higher ground as the jeep peeled away.

Kneecap striking stone, Haydn twisted around to fall back against the ledge as her legs gave out, staring across the rooftop at the trail of blood she’d left behind, none of it hers, but still all she had to give.

She should have heard them coming, but the sleet and snow whisked the hunters’ footsteps away in a flurry. She should have smelled them, but the stench of the scorched dross and the savory flavor of the woman’s blood filled her senses. She should have detected their presence. Instead, she detected the tiniest of heartbeats.

It was distraction for which she would pay.

Relinquishing to her frailty, the only frailty she still possessed, Haydn closed her eyes, seeing darkness, not all that different than the darkness that had been her domain for a thousand years.

The Innocents – Chapter One

Following my grand announcement that I was giving myself more time to polish my next novel to my liking, life decided to intervene in a rather cruel way. I won’t go into the gory details. Let’s just say most of the extra time I allotted myself was lost to being physically incapable of getting out of bed, let alone working. I haven’t been that kind of sick for nearly a decade, so it was quite irritating to discover it could still happen.

Unfortunately, this does mean an additional delay in the release of The Innocents. Come hell or high water, though, I will have this book out by January 13th. I hope to get it out slightly before, but let’s just say January 13th for all our sanity.

For those of you who have not yet given up on this novel, bless your patient souls, and here is a sneak peek of the first chapter.

 The Innocents – Chapter One

Bitter, unapologetic cold rolled heavy across the hills, clashing at ankle level with the warm air ghosting in off the Atlantic in a fog that cloaked the Irish Isle in a suspended state of dread.

Stealing vision beyond a few meters, it was the kind of cover in which a farmer could keep watch over only the nearest members of his flock, in which a pedestrian traveling alone on the city streets heard footsteps behind him when no one was there. An advantageous fog for predators.

Steel walls locking in the chill gave the abandoned fallout shelter the feel of an icebox, but it was the humidity on the sea air that brought wisps of breaths and goose bumps, and Garcia shivered as his skin grew increasingly clammy inside the heavy layer of his coat.

Repetitive thwack… thwack… thwack… bounding about the small space set his nerves on edge. Normally, the sound, each throw a perfect bull’s eye, reminded Garcia his crew was well-trained and provided some comfort before heading off into battle. There was no overcoming limited human strength and speed. Unfailing aim was the greatest compensation, which was why Jim always spent those moments between meet-up and deployment tossing his saw-tooth at the target - thwack… thwack… thwack… – with rhythmic accuracy.

Glancing toward him as Jim whipped the knife free, Garcia watched the glint of the blade against the low lights of the lanterns.

“Give it a rest,” he ordered, and, pausing in his sizing up of the target for another throw, Jim apparently decided it not worth discussing. Silver spinning in his hand, he sheathed the blade in the leather pouch that hung beneath his arm as the door opened the last expected time.

“Glad you could finally make it.” Garcia turned as Fiona made her less-than-enthusiastic entrance, bearing not an ounce of repentance.

“I’m right on time.” Shoulder-length brown hair swung into her face as Fiona dropped her gaze to the chunky watch that would undoubtedly reveal she had two minutes to spare.

“I wanted to be on the way out now.” It sounded petty even to Garcia.

“Then let’s go.” Fiona was unfazed. Hand sweeping dramatically toward the door, she bid them take their leave, and Garcia’s frustration grew as he heard Armand rise from his spot in the corner, where he had been sitting in silence since his arrival. Praying, Garcia was certain.

“I wanted to say something,” Garcia said.

“All right.” Fiona fell back against the rickety table with a screech. “Next time you intend to give a speech, set the time up ten minutes, will you?”

Casual reply a stark reminder that she was far more accustomed to this kind of work than the rest of them, Garcia fought to maintain some measure of calm, acknowledging the tension that held his spine so rigid it felt as if it might snap in two was only one percent Fiona’s lack of true commitment and ninety-nine percent his own apprehension. Not about the deed. If there was one thing in which Garcia was truly confident, it was that the deed needed done. A hundred things could go wrong, though, and if they messed up the first time, they would get no further chances.

“Everything has changed.”

Wind howling through the cracks in the door, it sounded like a condemned man screaming inside his tomb. It was a terrible night for such a chore, and no more perfect of one. The hazy shroud that camouflaged the city would keep the majority of the populace indoors with windows drawn, and fewer people on the streets meant fewer witnesses.

“And nothing has changed.”

Eyes trailing to the wooden benches along the wall, Garcia missed the weight of the weaponry they held in his hands and strapped against his body. Tonight, such firepower would be burdensome and overkill. A small pistol and a three-inch knife would do damage enough, and they were only in case something went wrong.

Nothing could go wrong.

“Our mission remains the same. We’ve been given a chance no hunters before us have had, the means to unequivocally alter the world in our favor. It may not be an easy task, but it is our responsibility, our duty, to do what we can with the knowledge we have.”

Searching past pre-hunt sermons for rousing nuggets to try to end on a high note, he found none that could be reused. Normally, this would be where he’d remind his crew of the evil nature of those they sought to eliminate. Tonight, though, that would be only a third-party truth. Inspiration felt hollow. Less pep talk, and more haunting prelude to certain success.

“Is that all?” Fiona made her displeasure with his non-rousing oratory known.

“That’s all.” Garcia was equally frustrated at having nothing worthwhile to say.

Checking the same barrel he’d checked countless times since descending into the steel box, he guided unnecessary bullets back into the chamber and secured the gun in his belt, feeling like a thug teenager with no access to the tools of the trade.

“Would it be all right if I…?” The dangling question interrupted the checking and relocating of small weapons into hidden recesses of clothes. “Could I say a prayer?” Armand finished to exactly no one’s surprise.

Sigh escaping at the request, Garcia didn’t know if he was irritated more by the further delay or the fact that, for the first time in his life, he felt he might actually need one. Reminding himself of the number of times Armand had saved his life, on one type of battlefield or another, he relented with a half nod, hoping not to prove too encouraging. “If you must.”

Head bowing instantly in response, it was clear Armand must. “Dear Lord,” he began, and, glancing to the other members of his team, Garcia watched Jim come to a polite, but unenthusiastic, standstill as Fiona rolled her eyes and turned for the door. “We ask that You guide our thoughts and our actions. The waters of evil grow stronger. They threaten Your shores. All we do, we do to fight the rising tide. And I do it in Your name.”

At least he hadn’t pulled them into that bit.

“Amen.”

“Amen.” Garcia was just glad the moment was over.

“Advent,” he heard Armand whisper against the cold air that blasted into the shelter when Fiona threw the door wide and Jim followed her into the night. “We call for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to liberate the righteous and eliminate evil. Please, Lord, absolve our sins.”

Watching him in his personal appeal, Garcia wondered, for a moment, if Armand would be best left behind. As he lifted his head and grabbed his coat, though, pulling it over his shoulders with unflinching determination, Armand appeared as sturdy and ready as he always did when it was time to go and meet an enemy, and Garcia had faith he would do the right thing, regardless of what that enemy looked like.

*****

Hands locked on the wheel of the battered black SUV, Fiona breathed relief as they made it through even blacker night and onto the lighted streets of Belfast. The handful of cars they passed sending blinding flashes off the sleet, she tapped the brakes, feeling the slide in her attempt to ease some exotic sports car off their bumper.

Inside, the SUV was silent, but for the sound of the wiper blades scraping against the layer of ice that had formed on the windscreen and sleet bouncing off rusted metal. Eyes returning to the rearview to ensure her lesson took, Fiona was glad to see the sports car’s driver realize he was going to ruin his pretty front end if he didn’t keep a more assured distance, before her gaze caught on Armand. Though she couldn’t see what it was clutched so tightly in the hand he held against his lips, she would wager a fair guess.

Gaze flicking to the largely empty street ahead, she risked another glance to Garcia, waiting for him to look her way, before tipping her head toward the backseat. Not exactly her style to tattle on members of her crew for praying, this crew was still too new to her not to be prudent. She had no intention of going to prison over someone else’s guilty conscience.

Turning his head at the urging, Garcia studied Armand for a moment, at last positioning himself sideways in his seat to fully take in the silent lament, and Fiona knew her concern was at least shared.

“Are you going to be able to do this?” The question Garcia should have asked long before finally made it to his lips, and Fiona looked to the rearview again, watching Armand’s eyes blink open as the rosary beads dropped from his clenched fist to dangle on his hand.

“The work of virtue must be done regardless of the price,” he responded, and Fiona scarcely contained a heartfelt scoff as the traffic light turned the sleet to sparkling gems of amber.

Eyes on the sports car as the light turned red, she tensed at the sound of a souped-up engine cutting through the night, rivaled in volume only by the long blare of a customized horn. Through sleet and glass, she watched as the red jeep, with its top open wide, came into view, weaving around the slow-moving cars into the intersection, and turned her head from its occupants as if she could keep the entire SUV from being seen.

Her wishful thinking as pointless as Armand’s prayer, it came as little surprise when the jeep took a sudden, careening turn, forcing two cars into fishtails, and barreled straight for them like the weather was ideal for such games of chicken. When the lunatic behind the wheel at last decided to hit the brakes, the jeep’s tires spun on black ice, sending it into a rather dramatic pirouette, and a massive jolt through the passengers of the SUV as its back bumper planted firmly in their headlight.

Hopping from the driver’s seat with a satisfied grin, six-and-a-half foot of scum stretched into view, and, as much as Fiona hated to give him any power over her, she couldn’t suppress the shudder as Sean’s empty blue eyes found her in the front seat. Even the frozen shower pouring through the open jeep top couldn’t rinse away the greasy, used-up look of someone who lived hard and never bothered to bathe afterwards.

It was only by comparison that the man who emerged from the passenger’s side looked well-groomed and diminutive. Standing over six-feet himself, Slade’s torso was roughly the width of one of Sean’s thighs, but the look of crazed enthusiasm on his face left it up in the air as to which of the two men was more dangerous. Only Fiona knew which she would never turn her back on again, and her knuckles locked more firmly on the wheel as Sean stepped up outside her window.

Nowhere to go with the jeep planted so firmly in their path, she kept her eyes on its remaining two occupants, cursed with the good sense to look miserable as the sleet pelted them through the open top.

How Slade ever managed to convince Amber and Katlego to join their less than reputable team was still a mystery. In Fiona’s experience, brains and brawn mixed only in theory. Amber and Katlego could never possess Sean’s brute strength, or Slade’s level of crazy. When an angel investor laid out the money for advanced technology, though, someone who could actually make sense of it became essential to operations, and Fiona guessed there was plenty of incentive in that many zeros on a paycheck, wherever one’s natural talents lie.

“What the fuck do you want?” Garcia’s feelings about being so aggressively delayed seethed in his tone as he put the window down.

“You’re not going to let Sean in?” Slade leaned against the door, his broad smile putting the solid platinum tooth to which he’d treated himself after a mission cost him the original and left them standing over a $1.2 million dollar stash on display.

Those were the old days, before Sean and Slade hooked back up in Lisbon, Slade imbedded Sean in their new crew, everything went to hell, and Fiona adopted a life of piety with Garcia largely to get back at Slade.

No intention of letting Sean in anywhere, the question alone was enough to make Fiona lower the window and simultaneously reach into her jacket. Hand jutting into the cold night, she felt a measure of satisfaction at the shock on Sean’s ape face as the metal barrel came to rest against the fly of his jeans.

“And here I thought our muzzles were never going to meet,” he managed after a few tense seconds. “You should know, I consider this foreplay.”

“Me too.” Fiona raised her eyes to his, refusing to be intimidated by a caveman. “Just wait and see what happens when I’m all played out.”

Slade’s small laugh at the exchange more wounding than she expected, or liked, Fiona kept her gaze on Sean’s face, her finger tight on the trigger, both just waiting for the slightest reason.

“What do you want?” Garcia was rapidly losing patience, and, when Sean shifted, Fiona fought the itchy desire to make herself feel just a little better.

“Just to chat,” Slade returned. “It’s been a while. You stop at red lights now? That’s cute.”

“Women drivers,” Sean uttered, and, arm quickly retreating, Fiona put the window up before the urge to blow his dick off became too powerful to resist.

“So, where you headed?” Slade glanced to the dead street ahead.

“None of your damn business,” Garcia replied.

“Hey, I’m just trying to help out.” Slade endeavored to sell his bullshit with another glinting grin. “You do have my ex-girl after all. And we’re all on the same side here.”

“We are not on the same side,” Garcia declared. “And whatever Fiona once saw in you, she’s over it.”

Sparkling grin widening at the response, Slade cast his eyes once again to Fiona. “How much time you been spendin’ in his lap?”

More upset by the questioning of his character than of hers, Fiona was certain, Garcia’s temper visibly flared. Grabbing a handful of shoulder-length blonde hair, he slammed Slade’s head into the frame above the door. Knife instantly in Slade’s hand, it came to Garcia’s throat, as Garcia’s knuckles poised to strike a deadly blow against Slade’s windpipe.

The sound of breaking glass adding to the outburst of violence, Fiona raised her gun from her lap, aiming it through the fractured window, and Sean froze in his attempt to provide Slade back-up.

“You want to get this over with now?” Slade’s voice trembled with what could easily be passed off as rage, though Fiona could hear the fear in it, slight, but genuine. Fairly confident she had the advantage over Sean, despite the close range and his five-inch blade, she was less assured in who would die first on the other side of the car, and was just glad Jim and Armand seemed to recognize any efforts to intervene would only exacerbate an already very bad situation.

“You’re not worth the time we’ve wasted on you.” Garcia released Slade with a hiss, though it was hard to say if he truly determined the fight futile or could hear the sirens from a distance. Waiting for the sound of Slade’s retreat from the car, Fiona didn’t lower her weapon until Sean sheathed his knife and backed away from her door.

“Just stay out of our way,” Garcia said.

“No problem. We all know whichever way you’re headed is the wrong way anyway,” Slade took one final blow to Garcia’s ego as he pushed off the SUV.

Back in the jeep, it took a relentless spin of tires to send Slade and Sean on their way – more attention – and Fiona’s fingers tapped an impatient cadence on the steering wheel as Garcia ordered Armand and Jim out.

“Did you get it all?” Garcia questioned as they climbed back in a few seconds later, tossing the crystals of glass they could clear off the street over the seat, and Fiona started through the intersection at a fast crawl, her eyes on the rearview. When police lights flickered into the reflection, she turned down a dark street, knowing she would have to circle back to more well-trod routes if she wanted to prevent a trail that could be easily followed.

“As much as we could,” Armand returned, and it was hardly a comfort.

Pulling along the curb five cars down from a similar-model SUV a few turns later, the sparse streetlights felt like the first stroke of luck they’d had all night. Under the glow of a pen light held by Armand, it took Jim less than two minutes to lift the bulb and headlight cover to replace the one Slade’s jeep had damaged. Fiona knew with absolute certainty, because, eyes shifting between the road and her watch, she was ultra-aware of each second as it passed.

The window a far trickier issue, they made do with two pieces of cardboard and duct tape. Throughout the quick patch job, Fiona watched the crossroads, waiting for Garcia to come to his senses and realize they had drawn far too many eyes. If they were going to act without consequence, they would have to wait it out a few days, let events cool and see if anybody could potentially recognize them. At the very least, they needed transport that didn’t bear obvious signs of having just been involved in an accident.

That was how the job was done. Risk everything for the reward, except yourself. There was no prize higher than freedom, no dollar amount that could buy one’s way out of the path of an enemy bullet. Whatever the job, it was never worth risking prison or your own life.

“Let’s get this done.”

Those were the old days, Fiona reminded herself, watching Garcia swing back into the passenger’s seat, and Garcia wasn’t that guy. He was the guy who thought it worth the risk, idiotic as it may be, and she was the one who’d teamed up with him by choice, which clearly made her an idiot too.

Brushing the remnants of glass in her seat onto the floor, Fiona settled back behind the wheel, and the window crunched as the door slammed shut.

Though seeing Slade and Sean was pretty much last on the list of things she wanted to do that night, or any night, she could say one thing about their run-in with her old crew. When witnesses started chattering, and they would, she imagined not too many of them would remember a boring black SUV, or anyone inside it, when there was a red jeep spinning through the intersection, horns blaring, a towering brute and a man with a glittering grin.

*****

There was no sound, not a blip from a machine or a moan in the night. Margie woke on instinct, a sixth sense developed over thirty years of caring for those in no condition to care for themselves.

Arms sinking into the pink and blue polka dot robe she kept at the foot of the bed, feet into her slippers, she moved into the dim hallway. Before she even reached his room, she could tell Mr. Winters was awake, and that it wasn’t pain or thirst that had him staring into the night as she walked in, but a worry he shouldn’t have cause to feel.

“Trouble sleeping, Mr. Winters?” she softly asked, and, though the old man’s eyes turned to her, Margie didn’t need him to answer. “I’m sure her flight is just delayed.”

Walking to the bed, she wished she could believe it herself. Nothing bad had happened to Mr. Winters’ daughter, she was certain of that. It was far more likely Becky had simply decided not to come and hadn’t bothered to tell anyone about it. Margie didn’t know if the young woman was unable to recognize how ill her father was, or if she couldn’t cope with the reality. Either way, every time she failed to show, she was cutting into the precious little time she had left with him. And even if that meant little to Becky, it mattered a great deal to Mr. Winters.

Glancing to the window as sleet tapped against the panes, Margie picked up the water cup on the bedside table, putting the straw to Mr. Winters’ chapped lips. “Let me get some balm,” she said once he had his fill, but before she could make it around the foot of the bed, the anticipated knock came.

Mr. Winters’ face lighting instantly at the sound, Margie forced a smile for his sake, hoping Jesus couldn’t read her thoughts as she told Mr. Winters she’d be right back and went out the door to fetch his truant daughter. Aggravated as she was at Becky’s late arrival, though, she wouldn’t say anything. She never did.

Robe clutched tight in anticipation of the cold about to blow in, Margie glanced through the spyhole, frowning at the unfamiliar face in the oval frame.

“Can I help you?” she asked, and, through the eyepiece, the man gave a shiver against the wind.

“Uh…” He blinked in the direction of the door, and Margie’s gaze fell to his ripped coat, before the stranger leaned in so close, the spyhole filled with the top of his face. “I hope so, Ma’am.” Words slow and slurred, he sounded drunk. “I had some trouble in my car. It slipped in a ditch. I had a phone. I’m not sure what happened to it.”

Hands moving down the front of his coat as he leaned back again, as if in search of the elusive phone, the man’s face caught the porch light. Blood trailing from his hairline onto his cheek, he seemed unaware it was there, and, realizing those signs of perceived drunkenness might be actual symptoms of shock, the nurse in Margie opened the door to him at once.

“You’re hurt,” she said, but, when the man looked her way again, the confusion dissipated from his gaze, replaced by something solemn and unnerving.

“Are you Margie Jackson?”

Biting wind no match for the cold that gripped her insides at the question, Margie’s legs froze in place.

“I’m sorry,” the man uttered. “I wish you could understand this.”

“Understand what?” Margie whispered. It only occurred to her she should have used the chance to scream when the man’s hand pressed against her mouth.

Carried back into the living room by unrelenting pressure, Margie’s gaze widened as three more strangers streamed in, their wet boots trampling Mr. Winters’ clean carpet.

Mr. Winters, Margie remembered the old man helpless in his bed. Who would take care of Mr. Winters?

Fighting her hardest, she found the grip of the man who held her so firm she could scarcely bend within it, and when the woman with him punched a hole through the ceiling, peeling pieces of plaster away until she could loop a rope over a beam, Margie thought to scream again, but it was wasted effort behind the heavy glove.

One last opportunity coming as the noose passed over her neck, Margie seized it, but the tightening of the rope cut off the call for help almost at once, leaving her capable of producing no more than gasping sobs, until she was yanked suddenly off the floor and couldn’t cry at all.

Hands going to the rope, she tried to claw free, but her fingers felt weak, her heart aching as it tried desperately to keep beating. Spinning around, the blurry faces of the strangers appeared at every turn, until they blended into one, a single monster she’d let in from the night.

“Margie,” Mr. Winters cried out for her, but she had no voice left to answer.

Awareness blinking slowly away, a sense at a time, Margie had nothing left at all.

*****

“Margie,” the old man called again, and something innate and frantic galloped in Armand’s chest as he stared down the gray hallway.

The name punctuated by haggard breaths, it clearly took the man a great deal of effort to produce it, and Armand couldn’t help but wonder if, left alone, he too would perish.

“Let’s go,” Garcia ordered, and, though Jim and Fiona filed instantly toward the door, Armand knew the command was meant mostly for him.

Pausing just one moment more, to whisper a prayer – that someone would find them soon, that the old man would live – he at last turned away, wiping the fake blood from his temple, and haunted by the parting image of the woman’s feet – one clad in fuzzy pink, one bare from her struggle – dangling two feet off the floor.

Books on Sale and Some (Mostly) Kind Words About Club Storyville

I walked into a bathroom door yesterday morning. Hard too. It was one of those doors designed to close by itself (in a hotel bathroom… no clue why), and I pulled it open, looked away for a second, then walked right into the side of it.

It’s not the first time I’ve done something like this. Not by a long shot. It did, however, mark only the second time I have walked into a door or wall hard enough to bleed. Apparently, when walking, I lead with my head. This was the first double-bleed, though. My glasses cut me twice, right at each spring, but, amazingly enough, didn’t break, so might I recommend DKNY glasses to anyone in the market. Though, they are flaking paint, so it’s a soft recommend.

I’m telling you this because this event perfectly illustrates the dangers of me frequently changing venues while in last-minute-crazy writing mode. When in this mode, I’m never actually where I physically am, so minor accidents are a regular thing even when I’m in a familiar space. When the space is unfamiliar, it’s a real bettin’ man’s game as to how, and how badly, I am going to get hurt.

This incident is also illustrative of the ways in which I sometimes overestimate my own capabilities. Like, you know, my ability to walk through a door without personal injury. When we struck out in early June, I was working with two schedules – my loose itinerary and my release dates. No problem, said my confident self. That is five months between releases at the end of the year. Plenty of time.

Plenty of time. Nurp. Famous last words.

It was almost plenty of time. It could be plenty of time if I forced it. The nice thing about publishing on my own is that I never have to force it. I never have to submit a book that isn’t quite ready, and I wanted a little more time with this one. Which is why I pushed the Innocents release date back by three weeks to December 30th.

When it goes live, it will be on sale at $3.99 for the first two days, along with all my other books. Which, by the by, are already on sale. All books are only $2.99 or $3.99 through the end of the year.

This includes my historical new adult novel Club Storyville, which just received four honorable mentions in the Rainbow Awards finals to go along with the two it received in the first round of judging. Here they be –

“Other than the occasional structural glitch where I had to go back and re-read a sentence to make sense of it, this story is one of those wonderful experiences that remind me why I do this.”

“Good fun, good reading & entertaining plus a happily ever after. A compelling coming of age love story.”

“Couldn’t put it down, I wanted more! Extremely well written in all areas. Especially loved the characters and their relationship with each other.”

“Gosh, this was lovely – the writing is a bit ropey sometimes (nothing major) but it’s a very beautiful, languorously told story, with a deep sense of time and place. Loved it.”

I know. A list of complimentary quotes that starts right in with a critique kind of feels like a run-down of my (I hope) decent character that starts with “Remember when you used to be a turd?”, but the rest (well, most, at least) is pretty nice to read. Especially the “deep sense of time and place” bit. I love that part.

The Innocents – Coming January 13th

I have a book coming out in a month. Guess it’s high time I get a blurb up about it. You can find it here, or, you know, just move your eyes down the page a smidgen. Possibly scroll a bit. It’s down there, though, I promise.

 photo TheInnocents.jpg
 

For thousands of years, they have roamed the darkness, subsisting on the blood of men – the deraphs – though most people would only know them as vampires.

For thousands of years, they have been hunted, pursued in secret by scores of men who tried and failed to exterminate them.

For thousands of years, the fight has been fair.

Now, a group of North Atlantic hunters have discovered a weakness – the synjuments – a subspecies of humans with whom the deraphs share a mortal link. Far more vulnerable to attack, these innocents pose an imminent threat to the clan of Haydn, a thousand-year-old deraph whose unsettled history with Lilith poses its own pressing complications.

To prevent their extinction, Haydn and her clan are forced to take on a paradoxical assignment, as guardians of those they are inclined by their very natures to seduce and consume.

Club Storyville is a Finalist in the Rainbow Awards

Club Storyville

Just wanted to share the news that Club Storyville has been named a finalist in the Rainbow Awards.

The book also received a couple of lovely honorable mentions that I took the liberty of copying below. If you prefer to see them amongst their honorable mention cohorts, you can find the original posting here – http://reviews-and-ramblings.dreamwidth.org/4448412.html.

“This is an absolutely stunning historical piece set mostly in the shadow of World War II in which every action, every turn of phrase is believable for the time. The portrayal of both visible and invisible lines of segregation are depicted with anguished realism and the parallel, invisible struggles of LGBT people handled with painful accuracy. And while it’s a well-told story about these artificial social and legal lines between people, it’s also a very touching story about a young woman’s self-discovery and her slow realization that she’s much stronger than she’s been lead to believe.”

Club Storyille is a very well written book. This author is very good at character development and I loved how she fleshed out the supporting characters. Wonderful job. The book started out a bit slow but when I got into it, I loved it and couldn’t put it down till I knew how it would end. I think that’s a great recommendation, don’t you? “

Now, if anyone’s in the mood for a little blog participation, tell me something cool that has happened to you lately. I think we’re all reading enough awful news these days. Let’s talk some happy stuff.

I am officially on sale.

I told you I would be on sale today. Now I am.

All my books are $3.50 (USD), or the rough equivalent in other currencies, on Amazon and direct through Smashwords. Sorry, quick price changes don’t go into effect fast enough on affiliates like B&N and Apple, so if you need a format other than Kindle, you’ll have to buy through Smashwords.

I will stop the sale whenever I get up on July 27th, but you can count on these prices until at least 11:59 pm Pacific Time.

Here are the links with all my books listed:

Amazon

Smashwords

Also, don’t forget you can find me on Goodreads —> right here <— where you can read some reviews and stuff.

Godspeed.

Black Forest: Magicks Rise – Excerpt

Black Forest: Magicks Rise comes out on July 22nd. It begins like this.

Be warned, if you have not read Black Forest: Kingdoms Fall, much will be spoiled by this excerpt.

Chapter One
The World Left Behind

Once upon a time, a brother and sister were rushing through the forest. Thoroughly engaged in the children’s trade of play, they had lost track of the sun’s path over the treetops. It was only as the brother fell in surrender to his sister’s imitation bow and arrow that he noticed the bright blues of day fading to the purple hues of evening, and realized they must make haste for home.

Desperate to flee the night forest, and the dangers that live within, their anxious feet slapped the earth, and, joined at their fearfully perspiring hands, the brother and sister darted straight into the web of a hunter. Like the petals of a pimpernel, the net closed up around them, leaving them dangling two times their height from the forest floor. Though the children tried with all their might to break free, the netting, meant for much larger beasts than them, held fast.

Sun abandoning the sky, night fell fully upon them. Huddling close, the brother and sister listened to the cries of what they imagined to be very large and carnivorous beasts echo through the trees. When a thump came very nearby, they gave a synchronized jolt of panic, and, at the sound of soft footfalls just beneath them, the boy whirled his head, keen to protect his sister whatever he had to face. On her side of the net, the sister did the same, for she was secretly the braver of the two.

What both children discovered was no more than a raccoon, sat back on its haunches, looking up at them with mild dark eyes. In the time it took for the brother and sister to let out a joint breath of relief, the raccoon recognized the children’s need, for it had been trapped in the nets of hunters before. Clambering swiftly up the nearest tree, the raccoon leapt to the netting above their heads, digging determined teeth into the sturdy material. In no time at all, the net fell free, crashing to the forest floor, releasing the brother and sister from their captivity.

Standing on their own feet a moment later, dazed, but liberated, the brother and sister looked to the raccoon and saw the most beautiful creature they had ever laid eyes on. His soft fur shining like silk in the moonlight, his black eyes put on a clever masquerade as they regarded the children with utmost kindness. All their lives, the brother and sister had longed and begged for a pet, but their mother and father were unwaveringly against another mouth to feed on their already meager means. The children were certain, though, when their parents learned of the raccoon’s heroic feat, they would care for and love him as much as the brother and sister already did.

The raccoon’s night-eyes leading the way, the journey homeward was not nearly as treacherous, and the brother and sister followed behind, far less afraid of the howls and shadows that lived in the night.

They had not been going on long when the brother noticed the raccoon’s unusual walk. The raccoon would take two steps and limp, take two steps and limp. Pulling the creature to a stop, the brother dropped down to inspect him, finding one of the raccoon’s legs terribly mangled from a run-in with some forest foe. With a small frown toward his sister, he put the raccoon back on the ground, and again they walked behind.

It was a ways on in the wood, for the brother and sister had truly wandered far, that the raccoon led the children to a stream to drink away their thirst. Each time the raccoon put his lips to the water, to take in even the smallest of sips, he would choke and sputter, and the sister looked to her brother, certain a parasite must live in the raccoon’s throat or belly to make him drink so poorly.

Thirst satisfied, they started for home once more, and the children looked on the raccoon with more honest eyes. Each time moonlight would cut through thin branches, they would see something new. A balding patch. A missing chunk of paw. A mite carving a path through the raccoon’s fur, as it feasted upon the animal’s unclean flesh.

Sharing their findings in secretive whispers, by the time their cottage came into view, with its light and warmth glowing from the windows and their parents worrying inside, the brother and sister did not see the raccoon as beautiful. His fur did not appear at all soft or shiny in true moonlight, and he did not seem the least bit strong when he was not freeing them of their binds.

In fact, the creature had a distinct air of contamination about him, and was downright unlovable, so the brother and sister bid their rescuer goodbye at the forest’s edge, rushing across the yard to the cottage and its protection, leaving the raccoon out in the cold.

*****

At the moment, Cinderella was feeling an incredible kinship with the raccoon protagonist.

The moral of the story, the only one of her mother’s she could fully remember, was No one is perfect, and expecting perfection will leave you isolated and without aid when you need it. For, at story’s end, when the brother and sister find themselves caught in the same net again, the raccoon, weakened with illness and infestation, can offer no assistance, and the children end up being served to the hunter’s family as any other captured game.

Had she grown up under her mother’s tender influence, perhaps Cinderella would have been able to embrace the story’s true moral. Growing up as she had, with her stepmother’s and stepsisters’ hatred and her father’s utter indifference, she had developed a far different take on the narrative. She now saw it as a cautionary tale, the moral being If you let anyone see who you truly are, with all your flaws and weaknesses, it will be impossible for them to love you.

Ten cycles of the moon had passed since last she slept on the fractured bricks by the hearth in her father’s home, and she left her life in Troyale as sparkling as a princess. When too many eyes were upon her, though, Cinderella could still feel the soot and grime like a fine sheen upon her skin. The more attention given her, the less worthy she felt to receive it, and the more everyone looked at her, she knew, the sooner they would discover all her imperfections and determine her unlovable.

“Will they have to call you Sir?” The amused and muffled question drew Cinderella’s attention from the new knots in the wood ceiling, put there by the harsh winter the forest had just endured. Weather, it seemed, was its own event, requiring no man with a quill to inflict.

Glancing down at Rapunzel’s piercing blue eyes radiating amusement, the hair that hung low on her back once more shimmering gold in the light of the moon that came through the window to contrast against midnight blue sheets, Cinderella realized her gloomy thoughts had no place in the current moment.

“Sir Cinderella,” Rapunzel announced mock earnestly, before laughter poured across Cinderella’s bare chest.

Cocking her head to the side, Cinderella wondered if Rapunzel would continue to grow more beautiful each time she looked at her, or if there was a limit as to how much of her breath Rapunzel could steal. For at times, when she gazed at Rapunzel in such state of undress, Cinderella did worry about the lack of air she could take in.

“What would you propose they call me?” Her hand slid through silken hair to Rapunzel’s shoulder. She had given as little thought as possible to the coming ceremony, and none at all to the title.

A kiss dropped to her wrist where it hovered next to Rapunzel’s chin, waves of new longing rushed through Cinderella as Rapunzel considered the question, before at last Rapunzel lifted her head with a look of purest mischief.

“Redeemer… Savior… Goddess.” The term purred from full, bruised lips, Rapunzel’s long eyelashes cloaked eyes that darkened from sky to near navy, and Cinderella considered the title may be of little consequence, because she may never make it to the honor.

“Just what kind of remarkable being do you take me for?” she tried to find her breath.

“The most.” The response instantaneous and sincere, Cinderella tried not to blanch beneath Rapunzel’s unflinching gaze. If the raccoon had possessed a voice to pose such a question, she wondered if the brother and sister would have answered the same way once. It was easy to be impressed by a feat, much harder to stay amazed with its doer.

Though, for her part, Cinderella still did not know what they all thought she had done.

*****

When the courier arrived some weeks before, it had been an event in its own right.

Lounging in utter idleness before the fire with Rapunzel when Caratasa led him in, Cinderella glanced up as the courier fell instantly to one knee, head bowed, his hand steady as he held the letter out before him. Fearing a lingering proposal from somewhere in Grimm’s grand design, Cinderella looked to the courier and letter with trepidation, refusing to accept it.

“For the one who led us,” the courier stated, pausing just long enough that Cinderella thought to tell him he had come to the wrong place, before his next words quashed the hopeful notion. “Cinderella of Troyale.”

Standing with a soft smile at the courier’s back, Caratasa appeared frustratingly serene about the entire event as Cinderella and Rapunzel rose to meet the boy. For he could not have been more than twelve years.

Not knowing the customary response to being called upon by a royal courier, Cinderella thanked him as she slid the letter from his hand, and, had she started her life an arrogant individual, the look of gratitude in the boy’s eyes as he looked up would have humbled Cinderella for the years that remained in it.

“It is my honor, My Lady,” he declared, and Cinderella’s hands trembled on the scroll as they broke the wax seal.

It was one she had seen many times before when King Kardon sent news of Snow White, but never in circumstances so formal. The letter inside brief and to the point, it informed her of the joint decision of three kings – Snow White’s father King Kardon, Ruth’s husband King Balten and King Drest of Ceres, husband of Rhian, brother-in-law of Sawyer – to bestow upon Cinderella the honor of a knighthood, and requested a date of preference for the ceremony, as if she was so important she should not be expected to work around the schedules of three kings.

Even with Rapunzel quietly reciting the contents of the letter over her shoulder, knowing how she would struggle with many of the words, Cinderella was certain she misunderstood its message. She stared at the scroll in her hands for uncounted minutes until the courier hesitantly broke the silence to ask for a date he could take back with him. The simple question unleashing a torrent of words from her, they commenced with an appeal for the courier to get up off his knee and ended with Cinderella suggesting, in vain, that her contribution, and the fact that all turned out well, was reward in itself.

The courier had smiled then, even as he rose to his feet as requested. “That is one decision that is not yours to make, My Lady,” he declared. “Courageous actions, such as yours, they are not commonplace. They will not let it go without a fete.”

Staring into the boy’s pleased expression, Cinderella wished she could share in the sentiment. “Well, I suppose, should a fete be at hand,” her words weighted with worry instead, “I will be in attendance. I do not desire to disappoint them.” Nor did she desire to offend them. For, though she had built something of a relationship with all three, as a tributary of her relationships with those close to them, they were still kings, and, as she was reminded each time Rapunzel looked at her or she laid her head down in their soft bed in Caratasa’s home at night, she was nothing but an extraordinarily blessed peasant.

“If you were to decline the honor, they would not be the only ones disappointed, My Lady,” the courier said with a gentle smile. “What date can I tell them?”

Trying to think of a date somewhere between getting it over with as quickly as possible and putting it off indefinitely, Cinderella sent the boy back with her answer. At the time, it seemed distant enough. Two full turns of the moon later, that date was imminent.

Soon the eyes of every kingdom would be upon on her. Someone was bound to find a flaw.

*****

Tracing the line of freckles down Rapunzel’s right shoulder, Cinderella marveled at how things could change. In the confines of her tower, Rapunzel never saw sun enough to develop marks on her skin, and, as they came in greater and greater supply, each individual spot was of more infinite interest to Cinderella.

“I do not know the title for a female knight,” Cinderella responded to Rapunzel’s question thoughtfully. “You did not find such a word in those many stories you have read?” When Rapunzel shook her head, Cinderella wondered if there had ever been need for such a title. “Lady, perhaps?” She considered the most natural equivalent to the male title of ‘Sir.’ “Madam?”

“Madam?” The way Rapunzel’s nose turned in response, Cinderella wondered if her words had an actual odor to them. “Certainly not! It sounds so old, like a mother or a midwife or a queen.”

Smile faltering before she made it through the word, Rapunzel swallowed an audible obstruction in her throat and looked to the window, her gaze locking on the ghastly darkness beyond. For, though Grimm had gone, his world remained, with all its ghouls and demons.

Watching worry shadow Rapunzel’s features, Cinderella pushed to her elbows, the simple proximity to the softest of skin and cascade of blonde tresses offering a measure of comfort to her own anxieties. “Are you all right?” she questioned softly.

“I am not the one you need worry about,” Rapunzel responded, melancholy strangling each word. “Do you think Snow White is truly ready for this?”

“I do not know,” Cinderella answered honestly.

Snow White’s stepmother, Queen Ino, former queen of Aulis, would not only be overlooked at the coming ceremony, she was not even to be mentioned. If honors for the overthrow of Grimm were to be properly bestowed, no one was more deserving. After learning of the queen’s part in Snow White’s disappearance, though, of how she had ordered Snow White slain, even with the knowledge it was part of a grander plan not of the queen’s own making, King Kardon could find no love left for his former wife.

As understandable as his anger was, the king neglected to see how his own feelings negated those of his daughter. For the king thought there was no cause to mourn someone who had proven herself so vile and cruel, but Snow White, like all those who had witnessed the change in Queen Ino firsthand, did mourn.

“She would want to see you knighted,” Rapunzel declared, and, with an uneasy nod, Cinderella accepted the truth in the statement.

“But there is still a question as to if it is too soon,” she returned. “Snow White’s emotional state is… precarious, at best.” With good reason, she thought to herself. The sorceress’ spell that Snow White alone saw strike the queen, the agonized howl of the queen’s death, the feel of the woman dying in her arms, those were things not easily gotten over.

Hand rising to her chest, it gave Cinderella a gentle push that returned her to the pillow, and she watched a feather float into the air as Rapunzel settled her head against one shoulder.
With no answers to any of the questions between them, silence settled over the room as Rapunzel’s breath blew its hypnotic rhythm against Cinderella’s throat and Rapunzel’s body pressed warm against her, a marked contrast to the agitation Cinderella felt within. This instant – the tranquil, genuine moment – was everything for which they had fought. It was why Grimm had to be met head on, why he could not be allowed to go on dictating their futures, using them at his will.

Like the moment the uprising began, when Cinderella threw her shoe at Prince Friedrich, the seemingly innocuous moment carried awesome significance. True happiness – pure, unpolluted truth – did not exist under Grimm’s dominion. It would be a long time before anyone would take such a moment for granted.

“How are you feeling?” Rapunzel’s question was scarcely more than a breath against Cinderella’s skin.

“Do you prefer the innocent or the lascivious answer?” Cinderella returned, a small smile tugging her lips as Rapunzel shifted against her.

“I mean about the ceremony,” Rapunzel specified, lifting her head, and, realizing Rapunzel knew her fears beyond her sharing of them, Cinderella tried not to hide from the knowing gaze that looked down upon her as she opened her eyes. “And I prefer the truth.”

“It is not a comfortable sensation,” Cinderella admitted, and Rapunzel’s eyes locking intently upon hers, they seemed to search for Cinderella’s very soul inside and locate it with ease.

“You are courageous, clever, and exceedingly beautiful,” Rapunzel quietly stated. “I will never understand why drawing attention to all of that makes you so uncomfortable.”

Laughing helplessly at the assessment, Cinderella glanced to the night, wishing the moon would dim and provide her more cover. “Character flaw,” she uttered, and could feel Rapunzel’s heavy sigh upon her cheek.

“You do not have all the flaws you see,” Rapunzel whispered, seeking Cinderella’s gaze once more. “They love you,” she uttered. “As you love them. No one is going to abandon you, Cin.”

She never should have told Rapunzel that story, Cinderella realized. Rapunzel needed no help seeing beyond her moods and fears and defenses.

It was not that she did not want to believe what Rapunzel was saying, or that, when surrounded by her friends, Cinderella did not feel it. All the years spent in the company of people who hated her, though, it was difficult, at times, to accept that she could have a family free of enemies.

“And I love you,” Rapunzel’s eyes softened upon her, and thoughts of all other allies dissipated from Cinderella’s mind.

“I love you too,” Cinderella felt the words through her entire being, before Rapunzel’s lips covered her own with gentle insistence, chasing the last plaguing worry to another day.

Writing Outside the Comfort Zone

We humans are a fickle sort, aren’t we? I, for instance, am a creature of utmost spontaneity, and also one of routine.

Tell me I’m going on a trip tomorrow, and I’ll pack a bag. Move me in the middle of a writing project, and I will stare hopelessly at the computer screen for hours at a time, wondering if I accidentally boxed up my muse and left it behind in a closet in Tennessee.

Upon our arrival in Spain, we found our 2 1/2-month accommodation less than stellar. To some extent, it was our fault, because when we planned this experience, we hoped to save money, so we opted for a basic, functional rental. A no-frills place where we could simply be immersed in the reality of Spanish living.

As it turned out, such functionality was a bit too suburban for our purposes, and the no-frills place was actually a place of other people’s smells getting in through the cracks in the doors, the worst mattress ever dropped onto a bed frame, a terrible Internet connection, and non-stop noise, where we were woken repeatedly the first few nights, then wore earplugs for two and still woke several times.

Don’t get me wrong, we have endured worse conditions. Having disrupted sleep and consistent noise while trying to finish a book, though, is a mentally disastrous combination. So, that first week in Seville was rough.

Solution? Book a luxury rental in a resort area for a week, away from the noise, but near enough to the amenities to be able to walk to them. And, voila, presto, goooooaaaaaallllll!, I discover I am not so much a creature of habit as one of comfort, and I just need reasonably decent space in which to work.

So, at week’s end we will be making a more permanent move out of Seville and into better accommodations. We have also already secured a rental just outside Edinburgh for August so we can ease the process of getting to Bergen to see the fjords and of soaking up Fringe and the book festival.

In my experience, I have found successful travel is highly dependent upon one’s ability to adapt to their environment, but, as soon as you realize you cannot adapt, that you are simply not happy in your surroundings, it is always worth the expense to keep moving.

For a second there, as I sat exhausted in Seville, I wasn’t sure if I would have a book coming out next month after all. After three days of good Internet, good soundproofing and some seriously soft bedding, though, things are looking considerably more promising.

Club Storyville, The Playlist

I realized I forgot to post my playlist for Club Storyville, and such an enjoyable playlist it is, ‘twould be a shame not to share it.

Lots of blending of new and old.

1 – Stormy Weather, Lena Horne
2 – You, Jennifer Love Hewitt
3 – Fever – Peggy Lee
4 – Someone Like You, Linda Eder
5 – Blues in the Night, Woody Herman
6 – Today I Sing the Blues, Aretha Franklin
7 – Body and Soul, Billie Holiday
8 – Insensitive, Jann Arden
9 – Crazy for You, Madonna
10 – You Always Hurt the One You Love, Connie Francis
11 – The Glory of Love, Bette Midler
12 – Say Something, A Great Big World w/ Christina Aguilera
13 – Thinking Over, Dana Glover
14 – Come Down to Me, Saving Jane
15 – La Vie En Rose, Cyndi Lauper
16 – You Are Not Alone, Mavis Staples
17 – Lullaby, Dixie Chicks