21 Weeks Now on Amazon

21 Weeks: Week 1 is now available on Amazon. All books in the series will sell for 99¢, with the first book available for free as often as possible. If you’d like to see the full release schedule, you’ll find it here –

21 Weeks

If you sign up for either of my mailing lists, you’ll receive Week 2 and Week 3 for free as soon as they’re available. Here’s a link for the 21 Weeks list.

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Upcoming Release – The Island Getaway

‘Sup, Friends? It’s been a while. The time, though, has not gone idly by. This is my very late pop-in to let you know the third and final book in The Meddling Friends: Kelsie series, The Island Getaway, will be released by April 14th. This book follows up The Wish List and The Four Proposals.

I will also be updating my blog with more regularity over the coming months, including catching up on my recent travels. If you’re into that kind of thing.

For now, here’s a cover preview and the first chapter (Needless to say, spoiler alert if you haven’t read the first two) –

 photo The Island Getaway.jpg


Chapter 1
Late-Night Interruptions
12-1/2 Days ‘Til the Best-Dressed Evening Surf Session Ever

Kelsie always wondered the color of Laken’s eyes when they were closed. As susceptible to her moods as to her surroundings, they were a constant showcase of her emotions. Blue when she was happy or humored, they turned green when Laken was feeling mischievous or curious or, oddly enough, hungry. When she was upset, Laken’s eyes were most frequently gray, their hue changing with the depth of the emotion. Though, true sadness sometimes shown in deeper blues, flecked brown.

Together like this, with no one else around and all focus on each other, Laken’s eyes could be a dozen different colors within a span of seconds. Midnight. Violet. Chocolate. Onyx. Every beat they would change, like fireworks bursting against a night sky.

At the moment that mattered most, though, when sensation overtook conscious will and Laken’s eyes fell closed because she could no longer hold them open, there was no way of knowing what went on underneath. It was one of those things that, no matter how much she learned about Laken, Kelsie would simply never know – destined to remain forever a mystery to her.

“Kelsie.” Head tipped back, Laken’s neck arched in unobstructed display. Tongue running from the hollow of her throat to the tip of her chin, Kelsie indulged in the salty sheen that mixed with the incomparable flavor of Laken’s skin.

Far from her teen years, and all the insecurities that went with them, Laken knew she was a beautiful, brilliant woman. She knew how kind and funny and worthy she was of every ounce of admiration given her. Like this, though, she had no idea just how incredible she became. Surrendered to the moment – eyes closed, lips slightly parted, breaths leaving her in slow, near-soundless sighs – she would be too distracted to care even if she could see herself, but Kelsie could see her, and every response she drew from Laken was like a work of living art.

“Oh God.” Laken reached for her. She always reached for her. Whenever Laken thought she might lose all control, go hurtling off the Earth, she never went for the headboard or the sheet or the pillow. There was one time she gripped the handle of the car door, but it was more out of concern it was about to swing open and reveal them in flagrante at the drive-in than by choice.

“Oh my… Oh God.” This time, as all other times, Laken found her solidity in Kelsie. One hand on her shoulder, the other curled around the back of her neck, desperate fingers gave a tug on Kelsie’s hair that sent shivers up the back of her head.

It wasn’t always the same. Sometimes Laken’s arms wound completely around her, inhibiting freedom of movement and forcing Kelsie to make creative adjustments, or both Laken’s hands tangled in her hair. Occasionally, it hurt. Often, Laken’s hands left marks behind, branding Kelsie in ways that felt less like ownership than as if she owned the world. In those moments, when Laken couldn’t hold tightly enough to her, Kelsie was a goddess or a superhero, some transcendental woman with a gilded touch. Every time she made Laken reach for her, it felt like the most right thing she could ever do.

“Wait. Don’t…” Hands clenching, Laken’s eyes pressed more tightly shut, and Kelsie inhaled the whimper from the lips a fraction of an inch below hers as if it was a tonic on the air.

“Don’t… Just… God, hold on.” That made Kelsie feel powerful too, every time the articulate doctor with her usual calm composure turned into a babbling mess of fragments and mono-syllabic words. “Keep… Don’t… Hold… Just…”

Unable to cobble the scraps into a coherent declaration, Kelsie was fairly certain, as Laken’s hand slid from her shoulder to clutch at her bicep, none of the words desired her to stop. Though, she wasn’t sure why, or where exactly, Laken thought she would go. That she had the capacity to go. Leaving Laken hanging anywhere, in anything, would only set them both adrift. Save a natural disaster sweeping through the bedroom or a Laken clone appearing equally naked at the door, there was nothing compelling enough to distract Kelsie from the noble pursuit of Laken’s ultimate pleasure.

She could, however, be forced away, she discovered an instant later when Laken’s body jolted up and a narrow shoulder butted against her jaw, causing Kelsie to moan in something that could never quite be pain as long as Laken was holding that tightly to her.

“God…” The spasm that rocked Laken bordering on violent, Kelsie monitored the situation as best she could in their extremely close quarters. Ten months of coaxing reaction out of Laken, she couldn’t say she had ever earned that particular response. “I’m not…” Words falling hot and breathless against her ear, she wasn’t sure which of them was melting faster. “Entirely sure… if it’s… is it… over? Wait. God.”

When Laken went suddenly slack against the hand supporting her clammy back, Kelsie lowered her to the mattress, feeling somewhat like a magician, and even more like an adolescent, as the fingers still cocooned in Laken’s warmth struggled to behave.

“Sorry.” Small breath huffing past her lips, Laken’s eyes cracked open – midnight blue, for a split second, lightening to navy. “Are you okay?”

Fingers brushing her chin, Kelsie discovered it tenderer than expected as she turned her head to press a kiss against the probing fingertips.

“Oh, I’m fine.” Own fingers no longer able to resist temptation, they coaxed another small moan out of Laken before Laken’s hand traveled down her arm to close around her wrist.

“I can’t.” She made a weak attempt at restraint.

“Are you sure?”

Eyes fluttering closed, Laken seemed to be weighing the pros and cons of letting Kelsie have her way with her spent body before she jerked again.

“I can’t.” She pulled the hand away, holding it captive, far too learned in Kelsie’s ways to trust it wouldn’t return to naughty play if allowed to slip free. “That was…”

Kelsie gave herself minor whiplash with her inability to decide where she wanted to focus, on Laken’s slightly flushed face or her aggressively heaving chest.

“Quite possibly… very possibly… the greatest orgasm ever produced.”

“You mean, since the last time you said that?” The smirk came automatic to Kelsie’s face.

“This was like twenty percent above your best work.” Declaration doing no terrible things for her ego, Kelsie tried to suppress the chuckle of satisfaction as Laken’s eyes eked open once more. “Oh, don’t get cocky.”

“You said it.”

“Yeah,” Laken conceded. “It just means you’ve been waiting until now to bring your best stuff.”

“You think that was my best stuff?” The dumbstruck fascination on Laken’s face was well worth the haughty lie and severe wrist strain. Until about five minutes ago, Kelsie didn’t even know her hand could bend that way. “I’m working the long game here. I’ve got to hold a few things back.”

“No.” Fingers kneading into her shoulders – part massage, part demand – Laken pulled her down. “You really don’t.”

“You say that now. What happens in twenty, thirty years when you’re long since tired of all I’ve got, and some limber twenty-five-year-old who majors in stripper studies starts looking really good to you?”

“You show me all your best stuff now,” Laken said. “And I promise not to have a mid-life-crisis affair with a twenty-five-year-old.”

“All right,” Kelsie accepted those terms. “But if you get thrown from the bed or pass out, I’ll have to take you to the hospital, and I will explain to them exactly how the incident occurred.”

“With a victorious smile, no doubt.” Laken pulled Kelsie’s lips to hers, and Kelsie’s grin gave way to the driving need of everything that was always there between them, and that, once in a while, when she least expected it, still felt like a freefall without a parachute.

Growling, and not in a good way, at the interruption of her phone playing an all-too-familiar tune, she tried to recollect how she’d neglected to banish it from the bedroom the night before. Oh, that was right. She dropped it on the dresser with everything else after work, Laken started tearing her clothes off at the dinner table, and it hadn’t really occurred to either of them to check the environment before tumbling into their bed.

Kelsie did hope the shirt she’d been wearing hadn’t ended up in a plate of marinara.

“Sorry.” Sending ocular daggers toward the ringing intruder, she attempted to channel her superhero-goddess telekinesis and heave the offending device from the room.

“If I’m not used to it by now…” Laken wasted no more breath on the matter, investing it instead in suckling Kelsie’s lower lip as Melissa’s ringtone at last faded back into oblivion.

Sinking into the deepest depths of Laken’s kiss for a minute, possibly two – Laken did have a way of altering time – when the phone rang again, tone different, it was with a lust-blurred gaze and a frisson of worry that Kelsie glanced over her shoulder.

“Get it.” Laken urged her with a small push. “It’s obviously important.”

Nothing more important than the woman lying willing and expectant beneath her, Kelsie couldn’t entirely disregard the statement either. Nearly a decade out of college, her friends had yet to reach a stage of acceptance that there were times too late to call, but it was rare to get more than one after-ten-p.m. interruption in the same night. The last time she received such back-to-back communications – when the boys whisked Walt away for a night of manly bonding and bad decisions – fresh in her mind, Kelsie blew out a breath and slid from the comforts of the blankets and Laken’s body, trying not to let thoughts of serious tragedy enter her head.

“Yes, Doug?” Withholding her irritation in case it was something truly terrible, Kelsie didn’t let it go completely in case there was good reason to be irritated as she carried the phone back to the bed.

“Hey, where are you?”

“It’s two-thirty in the morning.” Sliding beneath the covers with a shiver, she wondered about the temperature in the room as Laken melded back to her side. “Where do you think we are?”

“You don’t sound like you just woke up.”

Jumping as a teasing touch moved across her skin, Kelsie glanced to find eyes dipping light brown to match the accents in the comforter, a scarcely-suppressed smirk on Laken’s lips that made her all the more a priority.

“That’s because I didn’t,” she said, thought occurring to her in the next moment that, if her night was already interrupted, she may as well take the opportunity to brag about it. “I was too busy giving Laken the best orgasm of her life. So far.” Ensuing roll of Laken’s eyes warping them bluish-green, she was so utterly perfect in her exasperation, Kelsie fought the urge to ditch the call before she knew what it was about. “Do you need something?” she tried to hurry the conversation along instead.

“Melissa just called me,” Doug responded, and the irritation Kelsie was clamping down on burst wide as she realized she did, in fact, know what the call was about. Just as she had known what it was about when it originated from Melissa’s phone. “She said she tried to call you, but you didn’t answer.”

“Laken,” Kelsie declared. “Orgasms. Why in the hell would I answer?”

“You answered my call.”

Because she’d been duped. Unable to get at her directly, Melissa engaged a go-between, an intermediary to lure Kelsie into a feeling of sincerest concern, only to whammy her with the reality the only concern was for Melissa’s lack of rational thought.

“And I’m not happy about it,” she warned him.

“She is really freaking out, Kels,” Doug said, but it was with some distraction Kelsie heard. Fingers inching slowly down her abdomen, she watched Laken’s teeth work a supple bottom lip, as if contemplating how merciless she wanted to be. “She is convinced you’re going to get married in Hawaii.”

“I know.” Kelsie broke off in a ragged breath as Laken decided, if she was going to be bad, she may as well go all the way with it. “And I still don’t know why. When did I ever give any of you the impression I would get married without telling you?”

“June, two years ago.” It was a miracle Doug was too distracted to notice her state of pleasant distress. “You said weddings were overblown, and if you ever got married, you were going to City Hall. September that year, you said you were eloping with your then nonexistent fiancée. October, you said, when you did get married, none of us would be invited. November…”

“Jesus.” Comprehension slightly delayed, Kelsie wasn’t sure if she was responding to Doug’s thorough record-keeping or Laken’s thorough touch. “Did Melissa document this?”

“That’s from memory,” Doug answered. “My memory. So, it’s probably paraphrasing. I’m sure she could quote you verbatim if you ask her.”

“I’m sure she could.” Kelsie bit back a moan. “But I was only saying that. You had to know it was a joke.”

“Would you please just call her?” Doug didn’t sound entirely convinced. “She said she won’t be able to sleep until you promise.”


“Yes, again.”

“Was she drinking?” Kelsie found the question after several seconds of utter disconnection from her brain.

“I don’t know. Probably. She and Jay went out to dinner.”

“So, she had half a bottle of wi…” Eyes rolling back, she buried the mouthpiece against her cheek, fingers of her free hand moving through the thick fall of hair at Laken’s neck. “Wine. Was she weepy?”

“She was definitely a little sniffly,” Doug answered.

“Then, she’s already asleep.”

“I don’t know,” Doug uttered. “She said -”

“How many nights have you taken Melissa home after a night of drinking?” Kelsie asked.


“Compared to me?” His silence served as answer. “This is her pattern. Melissa gets tipsy, she gets sad, she goes to sleep, she wakes up, and she feels better. She’s fine.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.” Eyes flickering as she stared into Laken’s emerald green gaze, Kelsie struggled to keep her voice from doing the same. “If I call her now, I will only wake her up, remind her she’s ludicrous, and we’ll end up having a three-hour conversation we can just as easily have tomorrow.”

She would also have to put Laken on hold, and that wasn’t about to happen a second time that night.

“All right,” Doug relented, and brain increasingly pulled between the processing of speech and the processing of Laken’s touch, Kelsie slid her hand between her chin and the speaker, not entirely sure she would be able to withhold the next moan that tried to get free. “So, this best orgasm thing? Oral? Or like finger-fu…”

“Goodnight, Doug.” She found the mind to end the call and keep him from indulging his auditory voyeurism, before dropping the phone in the direction of the bedside table, drumming up not a single fuck when it hit the corner and clattered to the floor. “You are bad.” Fingers sliding onto Laken’s cheeks, Kelsie tugged her down, but Laken offered sufficient resistance, content, it seemed, to tease her with her ridiculously perfect lips and scolding expression.

“And you’re a braggart.”

“That’s right.” Kelsie had zero compunction about it. “I do intend to brag about you until the day I die.”

Gaze softening, Laken’s eyes showed a myriad of colors at once, creating a kaleidoscope through which Kelsie swore she could see the entirety of the universe.

“You’d better.”

Soft fingers running across her lips, Kelsie knew the next words that escaped them would roughly resemble a power ballad, and decided it best to say nothing. Coaxing Laken down, she sighed at the silky tongue winding around her own, as impossibly gifted fingers beckoned her toward Heaven.


NOTE: Given the route I took with the cover, I am also replacing The Four Proposals cover to create a more uniform look throughout the series.

 photo The Four Proposals.jpg

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.” 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.