Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Category: Snippets (Page 2 of 8)

Publication notes and a snippet

As I noted in earlier posts, I got waylaid by my muse last month and wound up having to write an unscheduled book. It happens sometimes. I don’t like it when it does but I have learned not to fight the muse when she gets into that mood. Anyway, Witchfire Burning is finished, has been edited and proofed and is ready for publication. It will go live on Amazon Friday, assuming everything goes right, and the print version will be available in a couple of weeks.

Because of the Halloween season, and because Witchfire Burning is coming out this week, I’ll be releasing the novella Skeletons in the Closet on the 25th of this month. Skeletons shares a setting and some characters with Witchfire Burning. Skeletons is the first of what will probably be three novellas centering on Lexie Smithson and her rather unusual family, even by Mossy Creek standards.

Dagger of Elanna will be released on November 22nd, fingers crossed. The book is finished but needs some more work on the editing front before I send it off to beta readers and then my editor. I also need to talk with my cover designer to see if we are on the same page regarding the cover image and typography or if we need to do some reworking of it.

After that will come Victory from Ashes. I’d like to have it out before the end of the year but I’m not making any promises. At the same time, I need to be working on the next Nocturnal Lives book. I’ve been putting it off because it will probably be the last book in the series. No, I’m not leaving Mac and company behind but that particular story arc is coming to an end. There will be some short stories and novellas here and there until I figure out how to handle the next “chapter” in their lives.

Series and series ends have been in my mind of late. I think we have all read series that kept going long after the author should have ended them. The characters either quit growing or they turn into something that bears little resemblance to the character we first knew and loved. The author writes in a way that you wonder if they no longer like the series. I am seeing this happen now with several series I have enjoyed reading. One I have quit buying altogether. One is no longer on my buy it as soon as it comes out — of course, part of that is my refusal to pay $13.99 or more for an e-book. The third has just dropped from my buy the hardcover to wait for the e-book to go on sale. So I want to be able to wind up this current story arc in a satisfactory way for the readers and the characters and then start a new arc that will keep my attention as well as my readers.

So, that’s my schedule for the next six months or so. Well, almost my schedule. There will also be at least one more short story in the Honor and Ashes universe, probably coming out shortly before Victory from Ashes. Over the next few weeks, I’ll figure out my schedule for next year and post it. Of course, I’m afraid of doing that because Myrtle the evil muse seems to take that as a challenge to see how many times she can pull me out-of-schedule and force me to write something I hadn’t planned on.

And now for the snippet. This is the opening chapter from Witchfire Burning. A version of the first part appeared on this blog about a month and a half ago. Those of you who read Mad Genius Club will recognize most, if not all, of the snippet. However, since I hadn’t posted it all here, I thought I would today. As with everything here, all rights reside with me. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cellphone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Momma, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, recognizing the area code if not the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a woman asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. She might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about her voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, she had used my full name, something very few knew.

What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Carli Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Ms. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you, but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want to worry her.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there’s no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I’d moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mom belonged there and it would protect her.

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” I thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they’ve heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor, was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case which I locked and then dropped inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Momma, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

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Witchfire Burning

I’ve discussed before the novel that demanded it be written. Okay, I’ve had several like this but this particular one was very loud and would not sit on the back burner after I made enough notes that it should have been quiet. What made this particular novel interesting in that infuriating kind of way is that it didn’t have a title. Usually, I know the title of a book by the end of the first chapter. This one, nope. Myrtle the Muse used this particular book to torment me in a number of ways. The title, the fact she didn’t reveal who the bad guy was until I was more than halfway through, etc. What I hadn’t expected was that I would come to love the characters as much as I did or that it would wind up tying into a book I’d already written as a stand alone.

wf3withtagI guess this is all a roundabout way of saying the book has a title now, as well as a series title, and a cover. Witchfire Burning, as I said over on Mad Genius Club, is something of a mash-up of Slay Bells Ring (a romantic suspense) and Skeletons in the Closet (UF/modern fantasy and still unpublished). That’s mainly because it demanded it take place in the same setting as Slay Bells but it has elements of modern fantasy/UF. Oh, and it has a semi-sentient house. There are also character overlaps between the books. Below is an excerpt. There may be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cellphone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Momma, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, recognizing the area code if not the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a woman asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. She might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about her voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, she had used my full name, something very few knew.

What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Carli Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Ms. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you, but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want to worry her.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there’s no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I’d moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mom belonged there and it would protect her.

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” I thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they’ve heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor, was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case which I locked and then dropped inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Momma, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

It’s my day at MGC

If it’s Tuesday, it means I’m blogging at Mad Genius Club. I’m going to mirror that post here.

Here a book, there a book, oh my evil muse

Reading Dave’s post yesterday, I found myself wondering if Dr. Monkey and I had been sharing a brain. Mind you, Sarah and I often do — and I think she keeps it more often than she sends it back. What else, other than having an evil muse, would result in me trying to write three series, all very different, at the same time? Worse, since we have already established that Myrtle the Muse is an evil muse who takes extreme joy in tormenting me, why do I have friends like Pat Patterson who suggest that he’d like to see a standalone book turn into a series? That is all the encouragement Myrtle the Muse needs to go rogue yet again.

But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Don’t be surprised to see howls of outrage from the Amazon haters later today. In another shot across the bow of traditional publishing, Amazon has declared October to be “Powered by Indie” month. What I love is the sub-titled is “Celebrating great writing”. It even has the hashtag #poweredbyindie, so everyone can get in on the fun. Then there is the new “portal” leading to indie books.

As an indie author, I’m more than a little thrilled by this. At a time when traditional publishing continues to try to discount the impact indie authors and e-books have on the market, to see Amazon celebrating our work gives me the warm fuzzies. They can try to manipulate the data all they want, they can try to convince us that their numbers are the only numbers that matter, but I know what my monthly royalty checks look like and I hear what other indie authors are saying. The indie movement and e-books are here to stay and we are filling a need the trads aren’t, on the whole. As long as we continue to do so, we will continue to make a bigger and bigger impact on the industry.

With it being a month when Amazon celebrates indie authors, it is also a month when my muse is killing me. Last week, I posted a snippet of the book that had hijacked me. The book is finished. I’m trying to figure out a cover and, sigh, a title. For the first time ever, I have finished a book using only a placeholder title and have yet to figure out the final title. Or, bigger sigh, the series title. The working title has been “Coming home is hard to do”. Not bad but it most definitely doesn’t fit the book. It doesn’t signal the genre — or genres because this book is a mix and match of genres.

Worse, there is now a series title. And, yes, you read that right. A. Series. Title. Pardon me while I take a moment to glare at the aforementioned Pat Patterson as well as Uncle Lar, both of whom have condemned me to writing this particularly weird and warped and funny (and fun, at least for me) series. The series title — Trouble Knocks, Danger Follows — still isn’t what I’d like but it beats the working book title.

Now, it would be easy to simply title the series “Mossy Creek” since that is where the books take place. The problem is there is already a series, or two, with that name or a variation on it. So, nope. Not going to go that simple. The current series title works. It clues the reader to the fact there will be a mystery of some sort. It also reads as cozy, which most of the series is. However, it doesn’t clue to the sometimes paranormal/urban fantasy aspect the stories can take on. So it is really important that the actual book titles cue the readers to what sort of book they are getting. Skeletons in the Closet, the next in line, does that. Slay Bells Ring, coupled with the cover, did as well. The title indicated mystery and the cover the romance element. So why in the world can’t I figure out an appropriate title for the now finished novel?

Pardon me while I whine for a moment.

So today has to be spent figuring out the question of what to title the book and figuring out a cover. Oh, and writing. And editing. And doing the business stuff that goes along with being a writer. Yes, it is a never ending circle. But it is the profession I chose and one I love. And don’t tell Myrtle the Muse, but I love it even when she is being particularly evil. Or maybe I should say I love it despite her attempts to torture me. VBEG

This will be a busy month. I have to bring out the untitled work next week. If all goes as planned, Skeletons will come out the day before Halloween. Dagger of Elanna will be out middle of November to the beginning of December. After that, I have Victory from Ashes, the next Mac Santos book, and a return to the Huntedseries planned.

You would think that would be enough to keep Myrtle off my back for a bit. But noooooo. She ambushed me yesterday with another story set in Mossy Creek. This time, it’s not bad enough to have normals and Others. It’s not enough to have magic and the dead rising, but not as vampires or zombies. No, now I have a smart-mouthed reporter sent to town to do what she thinks is a poof piece — something she resents, especially since she really doesn’t believe all the stories. Sure, the Others have been “out” for years. But they are still like your Uncle Billy. You only admit their existence when you have to. Just because she decided to do a none too flattering piece on her boss’ cousin (or someone he cared for. Not sure who yet), she has been banished to Mossy Creek to do this piece. I have a feeling this one will be as much of a tongue planted firmly in cheek story as the first installment of Skeletons is. The only problem is it is almost as loud as the last book was and it is making it very difficult for me to work on anything else right now.

So if I seem more scattered than usual, that’s why. Myrtle the Muse is attacking with full force, cackling in my ear because she is distracting me and proving who really controls my writing. She’s evil, I tell you. Truly and completely evil. But then, I guess a writer’s muse needs to be, else we’d never get anything done.

Now, just to do a bit more push before the book comes out, here’s another snippet. You can find the first one here. This is the rough draft. There will be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.

***

Of course, the drawback to moving about as far away from home as possible without leaving the Continental United States was that even by air it took hours to return to Mossy Creek. It had seemed such a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. Between worry for my mother and a very cranky five-year-old, I wanted a drink, some answers, food and sleep and not necessarily in that order.

Having to wait for my bag at luggage claim – and then making sure neither the gun nor anything else had gone missing – had not helped my mood any either. Following that had been the wait for the bus that would take us to the car rental hub and another line as we waited for the rental. After everything else, it didn’t surprise me one bit to discover that the mid-sized car I had reserved was not available. Oh, they were so very sorry and they would do their best for me. In the end, Ali and I drove off in a mid-sized SUV after making sure her booster seat had been properly installed.

Despite all that, we still managed to beat most of rush hour, which appears to start around three in Dallas, and I guided the SUV down Main Street in Mossy Creek a little before five. Ali had fallen asleep almost as soon as we left the airport, leaving me too much time to think and worry. Even though I knew there was probably a perfectly good reason for why my mother was nowhere to be found, I also knew there were a number of other very bad reasons.

“We at Grandma’s?” Ali asked sleepily as I parked the SUV. She stretched and looked around, a frown darkening her little face as she did.

“Not yet, sweetie. Momma needs to talk to someone first.”

I switched off the engine and climbed out of the SUV, grabbing the leather messenger bag I used instead of a purse as I did. I hurried around to the passenger side and helped Ali out. She reached for my hand and followed, almost dragging her feet as she looked around. A car slowed and the driver honked in greeting as we waited to cross the street. Habit born when I still lived here had me waving back even though I had no idea who the driver had been. That was just Mossy Creek. Everyone knew everyone else or at least acted as if they did.

A few moments later, I pushed open the door to the law offices of Metzger and Grissom. A slight smile touched my lips as I did. Julianna “Annie” Grissom and I met the first day of kindergarten and had become fast friends. Her grandfather, a great old man who had passed away a few years ago, was the Metzger on the sign. Annie and I had both fled Mossy Creek right after high school even if for different reasons. When she called almost a year ago and told me she had returned, I couldn’t believe it. But this was proof. She had hung out her shingle and, judging from the number of people still in the waiting room even though it was almost five, her practice was thriving.

“May I help you?” a blonde in her early twenties asked. Her desk sat next to the door leading to the rear of the office.

“Please. Moira Quinn O’Donnell to see Ms. Grissom.”

The moment the words were out of my mouth, I heard the whispering begin. That was the Mossy Creek grapevine at work. I had no doubt were I to turn to face those sitting and waiting to see Annie or Sanderson, I’d discover at least half of them with their phones out and fingers rapidly moving as they texted the news that yet another wayward daughter had returned to the fold.

Except I hadn’t returned, at least not permanently.

Nor did I plan to.

“Quinn?”

I closed my eyes and braced myself. I knew the moment I turned around, I’d be enveloped in a hug and then given a lecture for being gone so long. Standing there, looking not that different from when I’d left home was Peggy Russell, owner of Peggy’s Café. Located next door to the courthouse, the café had been the center of town gossip for longer than I’d been alive. Miss Peggy was also the town’s conscience and a key link in the grapevine. What she happened to be doing at the law office just then I didn’t know but I wouldn’t put it past her to be there simply because I was.

I plastered on a smile and turned. As I did, the color drained from my face as I recognized even more of those sitting nearby.  “Miss Peggy, it’s good to see you.”

She cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. As she did, Ali tugged at my hand, reminding me she was there. “Momma, who’s she?”

I bent and lifted Ali, settling her on my hip. “Ali, this is Miss Peggy. If you’re real good, I’ll take you to her café for an ice cream tomorrow.” Miss Peggy’s brown eyes narrowed even more and I had no doubt what she was about to say. “Miss Peggy, this is my daughter, Ali.”

For a moment, she said nothing. Then she smiled and extended her hand to Ali. Gone was the intimidating woman and, in her place, was the short, grey haired grandmotherly figure I I remembered from my childhood. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Ali. You make sure your Momma brings you to the café for ice cream.”

“I will,” my daughter said just as seriously.

“Ms. O’Donnell, Ms. Grissom will see you now,” the receptionist said.

I nodded and chewed my lower lip. Before I could say anything, Miss Peggy reached out and gently touched my arm. When I looked at her, worry and something else filled her eyes. She suddenly looked older and more worn than I’d ever seen her. “Quinn, why don’t you leave her with me? I’ll take her to the café and you can join us there when you’re done.”

For a moment, I hesitated. Then I nodded. The last thing I wanted was for Ali to listen as Annie and I talked about what might have happened to my mother. “Thank you, Miss Peggy.” I shifted Ali slightly on my hip so I could look her in the eye. “Sweetie, Miss Peggy is a really good friend of mine. You go with her and I’ll come just as soon as I can.” Then I looked back to Miss Peggy. “If you don’t mind getting her some dinner, I’d appreciate it.”

“And ice cream?” Ali asked hopefully.

“Only if you eat everything else Miss Peggy serves you first.” I tried to look stern but failed. Unless Miss Peggy had changed a great deal in the time I’d been gone from Mossy Creek, she would make sure my daughter had all her favorites for dinner, including ice cream. Then I swung Ali to the floor and knelt in front of her. “Ali, you mind Miss Peggy and no–” I held my hands in front of me and wiggled my fingers. I would not, could not say it out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t need to. Ali nodded seriously and then crossed her heart. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Miss Peggy,” I added and handed her Ali’s backpack.

“You do what you need to and don’t worry about this little one. We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we, Ali?” She grinned down at my little girl and, seeing Ali smile back up at her, I relaxed a little. Ali normally did not respond well to strangers but Miss Peggy had always been good with kids, often to the chagrin of their parents.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ali said.

I gave Ali a quick kiss on the cheek and watched as she and Miss Peggy walked across the reception area hand-in-hand and out the door. Then I turned and hurried to where the receptionist waited for me.

“Quinn, it’s so good to see you!”

The moment the door closed behind me, Annie pulled me close in a rib-cracking hug. Then she held me away from her, her blue eyes looking me up and down. As she did, I felt every hour of travel and every mile we had covered. My jeans and tee shirt were rumpled. I had a feeling my short black hair was mussed and not in that sexy, just had sex sort of way. Compared to her black silk blouse and grey slacks, not to mention her red hair in its French twist, I had no doubts who looked like she belonged on the cover of a fashion magazine and who did not.

“Sit.”

I did as she said and watched as she moved to the antique hutch across the office. A moment later she turned, holding a glass of what was unmistakably whiskey She handed it to me and then moved to sit behind her desk. I waited, watching as she pulled a thick file from a drawer and placed it on the desktop.

“Quinn, I know you must have a million questions about why I had Carli call this morning.”

All I could do was nod. As I did, my stomach did a slow roll. I already didn’t like how this was starting.

“I’ll tell you what I can but, before I do, I need to ask a few questions.”

Another nod and I leaned back, breathing deeply. Then I took a sip of the whiskey, waiting for her to continue.

“To say I know little to nothing is putting it mildly.” I frowned. Of all the things she could have said or asked, that was the last thing I had expected. “Why?”

“After we left for college, she had my grandfather draw up a number of legal documents. When I checked her file this morning after learning she was missing, I was surprised by what I found.” She paused and opened the file, pulling out several documents. “Not only was there a will as well as living will and DNR, all things I’d have expected, but there was also a series of documents giving you complete control of all her assets, including the house, at any time when she is unable to deal with her own affairs or when she is unreachable. I think this situation more than satisfies the last requirement.”

She slid the first document across the desk to me. “This is her power of attorney. It gives you full access and control of her finances. You are to do whatever you think necessary for the upkeep of the house and her other holdings. It also gives you the power to liquidate any assets you feel necessary. It includes her bank accounts, credit cards, creditors. Well, you get the gist.”

I nodded. What else could I do?

Over the next half hour, and two whiskeys, Annie explained how Mom had made sure I had complete control of her assets should she be unable to handle her affairs for herself. The documents had been very carefully drawn up so that only Mom appearing and taking control back would void them. As I looked at them, noting several had been executed the day after I left for college, I was surprised and touched and more than a little suspicious. Mom had certain gifts, or talents as she called them, but precognition wasn’t one of them, at least not as far as I knew. Had she seen the need for such legal steps or had she simply been covering all her bases? Whatever the answer, once she was home, the two of us were going to have a very long talk.

“Because I know what it’s like to come back here and have little surprises sprung every time I turned around,” Annie continued, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I won’t do that to you. I know this is more than you can take in right now. So I want you to call or come see me when you start figuring out what questions you need to ask.”

“Thank you.” I remembered her calls to Montana last year, telling me how her grandfather had seemed to be reaching out from beyond the grave to surprise her and tie her to Mossy Creek. The fact she had not run for the hills spoke volumes about – well, I’m not sure what it spoke volumes about since she had not only stayed in Mossy Creek but had gotten married and opened her law practice here.

“The documents in the file are yours. They’re certified copies and they should be more than enough to satisfy the bank and anyone else you might need to deal with until your mother takes over again.”

I nodded, glad she still seemed to hope Mom would be found alive.

“Here are keys to the house.” Now she did grin and I blew out a breath. She knew my issues with the house. Growing up, she had seen the gate refuse to let me in or, worse in some ways, slam shut as soon as I stepped through, catching my coat or some other article of clothing in it. “I also have keys to her Cadillac as well as several other vehicles, including a new Ford F150. A copy of her safe deposit box key and several others I have no idea what they are for are on the key ring as well. I checked my grandfather’s notes from when he first met with your mother and then when they later spoke about all this and the only thing I found was that your mother said you would know what the various keys were for.” She handed me the keys and then the file folder.

“Thanks.” There was no sense telling her I had no idea what the keys were for. Hell, I hadn’t known Mom had any vehicles besides her Cadillac. She always had a Cadillac. No matter how many miles she had on it, every three years she traded the current Caddy in on a new one. But to find out she had a pickup and more, that did surprise me. “Annie.” I shook my head, smiling slightly. It felt strange calling her that. Growing up, she and her brother had done their best to be called anything but the common nicknames associated with their given names. Not that I could blame them. When you are redheads and twins named Julianna and Andrew, the temptation to call them Anne and Andy – as in Raggedy Anne and Andy – you found other names to go by. “Have you heard anything else about my mom?”

“No. I’m sorry. Until they can get inside to check the house, there isn’t much the Sheriff’s Department can do except keep an eye out for her.” She shook her head, her expression worried. Then she smiled and moved around the desk to sit in the chair next to mine. “I had hoped you’d have Ali with you.”

Now I grinned. “I did.” When I told her how Miss Peggy had offered to take Ali to the café, Annie nodded, unsurprised. “Tell you what. Let me see what I can find out about Mom – and see if that damned house will let me in – and then we’ll set something up. I’d like you to get to know Ali.”

“Sounds good.” She glanced at her watch. “If you hurry, you should be able to catch the sheriff before he leaves for the day.” She paused again and I could tell she was trying to figure how to say something. “Quinn, I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not but Sheriff Glasser didn’t run for re-election. The new sheriff is Lucas Moore.”

Lucas Moore.

I smiled slightly. I knew that name. The image of a tall, gangly teen who the kids today would term a geek or a nerd came to mind. He’d been a couple of years ahead of us in school. My brother Ciaran had adopted him and, as a result, Lucas had spent a lot of time at the house. Even though he’d never noticed me, I’d had a crush on him for the longest time. The last I heard, he had gotten a scholarship to some school back east. Surely that wasn’t who Annie meant.

I guess I would find out for sure sooner or later.

“He came in and did some housecleaning after the election. Glasser had run a pretty tight ship but after what happened with my mother, everyone knew he had been letting things slip. So, apparently, did he. He retired and Lucas won easily. The SD under Lucas is about the best in this part of the state. You can trust them to do everything possible to find out what’s going on.”

I hoped so. Otherwise, Mossy Creek was going to be reminded what happens when I refuse to let something drop.

“You’d best get on your way, Quinn. Lucas told me when he called that he would wait for you as long as he could. The sooner you get home and see what’s there, the better. Assuming the house – and I still say it is a great house even if it has a weird sense of humor – lets you in, you need to let the deputies take a look around.”

“I will – after I rescue Ali from Miss Peggy. Otherwise, I have a feeling my little girl will be so hyped on sugar I’ll never get her to bed.”

Annie’s grin did nothing to reassure me. “How about breakfast in the morning?”

“Sounds good but let me get back with you. I need to see what I find at the house first.”

Annie nodded, her expression serious. “Do you want me to come with you?”

It was tempting but this was something I needed to do on my own. Well, not quite on my own. Ali would be with me. “No. You get home to Sam and Robbie.”

For a moment, it looked like she might argue but then she nodded, a loving smile touching her lips. Seeing it, I reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. I’d been more than happy to learn she had married Sam Caldwell and adopted his son. Then, as she placed a gentle hand against her abdomen, I looked at her, arching one brow in question. Seeing the blush color her cheeks, I had my answer and leaned over to hug her.

“Don’t say anything. We haven’t told anyone yet.”

“I suggest you tell your grandmother and Sam’s folks before they figure it out.”

She blushed even more and grinned. Then she stood and pulled me to my feet. “I’m glad you’re home, Quinn, even if your mom’s pulled a disappearing act. Look at it this way, she could have copied my mother and been caught standing over the dead body of the man everyone thought was her worst enemy and who it turned out she had been having an affair with.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Annie’s mother had been the bane of her existence most of our lives. Annie returned to Mossy Creek after her mother’s arrest. Annie had almost lost her life proving her mother’s innocence. That she was now happily married and expecting her first child meant more to me than she’d ever know.

“You get yourself home, Annie. I’ll go see what the sheriff has to say.”

Instead of agreeing, she chewed her lower lip. A moment later, she pulled her cellphone from her pocket and placed a quick call. I listened, wondering what she was up to, as she asked to be connected with the sheriff. She waited, shaking her head before I could ask what she was up to. A few minutes and another phone call later, she slid the phone back into her pocket.

“Miss Peggy will have Ali and a to-go bag ready for you at the back door of the café in five minutes. That way you don’t have to run the gauntlet tonight.”

“Thanks.” I gave her another hug. It wouldn’t stop the grapevine but at least it would save what was left of my patience and probably my sanity. I had a feeling I’d need both before the evening was done. “I’ll call later to let you know what I find at the house.”

Five minutes later, I watched as Miss Peggy escorted Ali out the back door of the café. A few minutes after that, I parked in one of the half dozen spaces in front of the Sheriff’s Department. Before getting out, I looked at the building and a wave of memories washed over me. Growing up, I had paid more than one visit there, often in the back of a squad car. I hadn’t been special like my sister and brother. So, because I hated how they were always getting our mother’s attention, I had “acted out”, as they called it now. I knew better. I had been very close to being a juvenile delinquent. At least I’d managed to make very good grades at school. That got me into college with a full ride – even if my advisor and dean had warned me to keep my nose clean – and that had been when I left home.

With Ali’s hand firmly grasped in mine, I walked up the steps to the front door and stepped inside. Not much had changed in the years I’d been away. The metal detectors in front of the elevators were new but not much else. Then, as I tried to decide whether I should wait to see if the deputy manning the front desk greeted me or if I should call the sheriff, the elevator dinged and the doors slid open and the world seemed to come to a screeching stop.

Of everything I’d expected, this had to be the last thing, or close to it. It certainly was the last thing I needed just then. Of all the people in Mossy Creek, he had to be the one to step off the elevator. We’d often been at odds when we were in school. Then, in high school, we finally gave into the attraction we both felt and I lost my virginity to him. What should have been a time to remember fondly turned into a nightmare when, only a day or two later, I discovered that he’d been bragging about how he had bagged one of the O’Donnell girls. I wish I could say I wasn’t proud to admit I’d broken his nose and probably a couple of ribs when I jumped him after school and beat the hell out of him but I couldn’t. To be completely honest, he’d been lucky I wasn’t like the rest of my family. Otherwise, he’d have been turned into a toad – or worse.

Now he stood before me, big and tall and muscular, his nose slightly crooked from the damage I had done to it. At least he looked no more pleased to see me than I did him. God above, was this an indication of what this trip home was going to be like?

“Moira,” he all but growled and I had no doubt he used my first name because he knew I hated it. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hello, Andy.”

He growled again as I returned the favor, using his hated nickname. Too bad. He ought to have better manners around my daughter.

Ali gave my hand a tug and I looked down at her.

“Mommy, why he mad at you?” She moved closer to me as Drew Grissom, Annie’s twin brother, looked down at her.

“He’s not mad at me, sweetie. Deputy Grissom is just having a bad day.” I looked at Drew, wondering if he understood what I wasn’t saying. If not, I hoped he remembered the consequences of opening his mouth when he should have kept it shut.

“That’s right.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes.

Ally hugged my leg and looked up at him. I could tell from the way she tried to almost melt into me she was upset. That, in turn, only served to send my temper higher. But I couldn’t lose it now, not with her there. So, hoping to reassure her, I gently lifted her and settled her at my hip, smiling slightly as she wrapped her legs around my waist.

“Deputy, perhaps you can help us,” I said, doing my best not to let how I felt to see him show either in my voice or on my expression. “I’m supposed to meet the sheriff.”

Before he could answer, the elevator dinged and the doors once again slid open. Sheriff Lucas Moore stepped out. No doubt about it. It was the same Lucas Moore I remembered. He might have added a good four inches in height and a good fifty pounds, all of it muscles, but there was no mistaking him. For a big man – he had to stand at least six-four and weigh over two hundred pounds, he moved with a silent grace as he approached. Even though he said nothing, I knew he had instantly sized up the situation. To my surprise, however, instead of saying anything, he simply stepped forward and, with a jerk of his head, motioned Drew back. The look on Drew’s face spoke volumes and I had no doubt the two of us would be talking soon, whether I wanted to or not. But, for now at least, he would step back and follow the sheriff’s lead.

“It’s been a long time, ma’am. Don’t know if you remember me–”

“I do remember you, Lucas. It’s good to see you.” I smiled. I’m not ashamed to say it was more to irk Drew than anything else. “And it’s Quinn. Whenever someone says ma’am, I start looking for my mother.”

“I hear you there.”

He grinned and his face lit up. Damn, if he had looked like this in high school, every girl within twenty miles would have been after him. Drew’s growl – and what was it with him and growling? – brought our attention back to the matter at hand.

“Have you been to your mother’s house yet?” Lucas asked as he escorted Ali and me across the lobby toward the main doors.

“No,” I answered and went on to explain how I had stopped by Annie’s office first.

“Then why don’t we meet you there?” he suggested.

“Sounds good.”

We shook hands and, as Ali and I left the building, I heard him tell Drew to go get the car. Knowing this was my chance for a few minutes alone, I didn’t hesitate. With a firm grip on Ali, I jogged down the steps and to the SUV. Like it or not, it was time to go home.

Home.

Mossy Creek hadn’t been home for a long time. The only reason I’d come back was Ali. God, it had been hard enough to call my mother and tell her I needed help with her. My wonderful, perfectly mundane daughter had suddenly been anything but mundane. She had made the wind dance – fortunately, she had done some when we were alone. If that hadn’t been enough, she had then called fire. That had put the fear of God into both of us. If I hadn’t been there when she did it, or if the wrong people had seen. . . I didn’t want to think about the possibilities.

And that was only part of why I’d finally come home, the part Mom knew about. I’d waited to tell her the rest of it until we were here. Now it might be too late.

And this – Mom’s disappearance – was beyond the pale. How was I supposed to deal with whatever the hell my mother had gotten involved in this time with my little girl here? Having to deal with the Drew as well simple rubbed salt in the wound.

Ten minutes later, I pulled in front of the house I had grown up in, the house generations of my family had lived in. I parked on the street almost directly in front of the main gate. For a minute, I sat there, studying the house. The eight-foot tall stone fence with wrought iron toppers was designed for privacy and ran along three sides of the house. The front of the fence was wrought iron. Welded finials topped the fence; I knew from personal experience the finials were as effective at deterring someone from trying to climb the fence as they were decorative. Then there was the iron gate. It was closed, as it always was unless guests were expected. I didn’t need to get out of the car to know it was also firmly locked. Getting through the gate would be the first hurdle.

The house itself was one of the oldest homes in town. It also looked almost new. People for years had wanted to know how my family managed to keep in such good shape. No one saw workmen, not very often at any rate, doing any maintenance. When asked, each generation’s matriarch would simply smile and say it was an old family secret.

And man was it some secret.

Three stories, sprawling, balconies on the top floors for the bedrooms, it had been both a joy and a prison growing up. Not that any of my friends had understood. Well, a few had but their families had their own weirdness. That was the only thing that had kept me sane all those years. Mossy Creek isn’t your normal town and if you lived on this side of the tracks, weird was the norm of the day.

Wanting to get this part over before the cops arrived, I climbed out of the SUV. Part of me wished I’d dared leave Ali with Miss Peggy. She did not know about this part of my life and I couldn’t help wondering how I was going to explain to her that the house hated me and wouldn’t let me inside. But I hadn’t left her with Miss Peggy and I had to find out if the house was going to cooperate and let me in before the sheriff arrived.

“This where Grandma lives?” Ali asked as she craned her neck to look around.

Guilt washed over me at the question. In spite of my issues with the town and my family, I’d been wrong not to bring Ali here before now. At least Mom seemed to understand. Not once in the more than a dozen times she had come to Montana after Ali’s birth had she said anything about us not coming to visit. I knew she wanted us to but somewhere over the last eleven or twelve years she had come to understand that I would come back in my own time. I just hoped it wasn’t too late now.

“Yes, sweetie. This is where Grandma lives and it’s I grew up.” I drew a deep breath and said a quick prayer that the house wouldn’t do something I’d regret. “It’s a very special house. Did you know the gate only lets people your grandma wants inside?”

Please let it let me inside.

I could count on one hand the number of times the gate had not played its games with me. It let me know in a number of different ways that it did not approve of me. I was a disappointment. I wasn’t like the rest of the family. Because of that, I had little faith that it would let me in now. But maybe it would let Ali in. After all, she was special, just like my mother and my siblings.

Almost without realizing what I was doing, I started talking, partly to Ali and partly to the gate. I needed to get inside, not for myself but for my mother, for Ali and for the rest of the family. The gate knew I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important. Please, let me in. I would do only what was necessary and then leave. But I needed to find out what happened to my mother. Was Mom even inside?

The gate swung open slowly, soundlessly. Knowing better than to hesitate, I slipped inside as quickly as I could, not trusting that it wouldn’t try to slam shut on me. It didn’t surprise me when the gate swung shut behind me. That’s what it always did. Family was allowed inside – usually. But no one else, not without family approval and, until I knew Ali and I could get inside, I wasn’t going to leave the gate open.

“That was neat, Momma.” Ali grinned gaily as she looked over my shoulder at the gate. “Can you make it do it again?”

I smiled and rubbed my cheek against hers. “Maybe later. Let’s see if we can get the house to let us in now.”

I put Ali down and took her hand. Together, we approached the three steps leading up to the porch that ran the length of the front of the house. I slowed and Ali matched her pace to mine. Then I once again began talking, this time to the house, reminding it I was family. I had grown up there. Yes, I had been gone a long time but it knew the blood and, despite everything, I was of the blood. I needed to get inside. I had the key – and I held it before me in my left hand. But I knew that would not work if the house wanted to keep me out. Please, I needed to get in because I was worried about my mother.

Swallowing hard, I reached out, key in hand. Just before I slid the key into the lock, the knob turned and the door swung open. Ali giggled happily and pulled at my hand, wanting to go inside. This was it. Like it or not, I was home and the house had recognized me. Now I needed to do a quick sweep of the house before the sheriff arrived. After all, who knew what my mother might have been doing and whether it was something normals – well, as normal as anyone in Mossy Creek could ever be – needed to know about.

Dagger of Elanna — snippet 4

As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here , Snippet 2 here and Snippet 3 here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

***

The glass flew across the room, shattering against the far wall. He was surrounded by fools, nothing but incompetent fools. That thrice-damned Wolf had failed him time and again. His death at the hands of the Order had been the only thing that saved him from being sacrificed upon the altar to Balaar. The skinwalker had lied to him. To him! He had assured him the girl had died in the ambush. Then, when finally forced to reveal the truth, Wolf had promised on penalty of death to hunt her down and kill her. Even then Wolf had failed him. Instead of being the hunter, Wolf had become the hunted.

Wolf’s death may have denied him one victim but the man’s family would replace him. They would serve as a reminder to anyone foolish enough to consider betraying him what the penalty for such foolishness would be. It did not matter who they were or what their personal connection to Wolf. They would die, screaming Balaar’s name and begging for mercy, and all because the head of their family had failed in one simple task.

Their deaths would not enough to make up for the Order now knowing the girl – no, the young woman – was in danger. It had taken steps after Wolf’s death, steps that had driven his contacts within the walls of the Citadel out lest they be discovered. Now security within the Citadel was so tight few could come and go without first being vetted by the Knights Council. That meant the likelihood of getting any of his people in place any time soon was negligible. Something else the skinwalker’s family and friends would pay dearly for.

Damn Wolf!

And damn his successor. The magicker had assured him nothing would go wrong. If he could not be physically near the Citadel, watching and reporting, his constructs would be. At first, everything had gone as Gareth promised. For more than a month, daily reports came in. They might have reassured him the target had not managed to slip her watchers again. But the magicker had been no more successful at arranging her death than had Wolf. Still, the daily reports had at least proven the magicker had not betrayed the mission.

Until that morning. The expected report had not come. Nor had Gareth responded when his pet magicker at the keep tried to contact him. Mykel had stammered, his fear a stink that filled the room. He knew not why Gareth failed to respond. Nothing he tried brought a response from Gareth or the construct. All but pissing himself, Mykel had begged not to be killed for the failure of another.

Gods above and below, what did it take to kill one woman?

He turned to the guard standing near the door to his rooms. “Have the prisoners been secured?”

“Aye, m’lord.” The guard never looked at him, his expression never wavered. But there could be no mistaking the fear in his voice.

“Bring mother and son to me. Now!” Before the guard slipped out of the room, he changed his mind. “No, bring them to the dining hall. Send word to my family and advisors to make their way there at once. Any who tarry very well may join the prisoners.”

“Aye, m’lord.” The guard saluted and hurried off down the corridor.

Ten minutes later, he made his entrance into the dining hall. He nodded once to see all he had sent for gathered at the far end of the room. As one, they turned and bowed. Without breaking stride, he motioned them forward. He wanted them to see what he had planned. The lesson would be clear. Fail him and all they cared for would be destroyed. More importantly, they would see to it that word of what happened was spread. No one would dare fail him again.

Without a word, he approached the two figures in the center of the room. Long tables formed a “U” around them. At other times, this area would be filled with musicians or dancers. But now, it served a different purpose. The entertainment would be his alone.

“Your husband and father failed me. He knew the price and now you and the rest of your family will pay it.”

He stood before a woman in her middle years and a young man who had just seen his twentieth summer. They had been stripped by his guards. Filthy rags gagged them. Their arms were chained over their heads and their ankles secured to bolts in the floor. They were not the first to entertain him here and they would not be the last.

He reached out, one hand running from the young man’s chest to his abdomen and below. As he did, the woman jerked against her bonds, her cries of protest muffled by her gag. She was protective of her cub, that much was sure. But how would the young man react when the tables were turned.

“Such a pretty boy,” he purred as he continued his exploration. “But your mother has her own enchantments. Perhaps I should sample her charms before playing with you. What say you?”

The young man did not disappoint. He flung himself against his bonds, anger and fear at war with one another. Good, so very good. Breaking the mother and son might at least partially make up for Wolf’s failure. Then he would let them live long enough to see the rest of their family executed before he slid his own knife into their hearts.

“I think I will start with the boy. Move him to the table.” An almost feral smile touched his lips. “Uziel.” He turned his attention to his youngest son who stepped forward

“Yes, m’lord?”

“Get the woman ready for me. Use her as you will. Hurt her. But do not kill her. Do not let her lose consciousness. I want her aware of everything I am doing to her son even as she knows all you are doing to her. Fail me in any way on this and you will take her place.”

“As you wish, m’lord.”

Uziel studied the woman, a thoughtful expression on his face. Then he instructed the guards to move her to the same table where her son was being secured. As he did, Gavril Dalasqua nodded in approval. The baron knew his youngest son took after him in ways his eldest son, Laion, never would. This day, Uziel’s actions would be a lesson for Laion. Only those strong enough to do that which was difficult survived and flourished. If Laion failed to learn the lesson, Dalasqua would shed no tears in naming Uziel his heir.

Soon, mother and son were bound to the table, head to head. What happened to one would be felt and heard by the other. The fact they could not actually see what happened would only make it worse for them. Their imaginations would work against them. Good. Their terror would translate to the other and, in turn, to those looking on.

“This is your only warning,” Gavril said as he turned to those gathered to witness his punishment of Wolf’s family members. “Failure will not be tolerated. These two will begin paying the debt owed by the head of their family. The rest of their relations will pay the balance on the executioner’s block. Guards, remove the prisoners’ gags. I want to hear their cries and hear them beg. For the rest of you, the guards will tell me if any turns away. You will watch everything that happens here or you will join these two.” He waited, watching as one after another of those gathered slowly nodded. Their fear, almost as strong as that of the prisoners, filled the air. Good. Let them remember who held the power and who had been chosen by Balaar as his human hand. “Uziel, you may begin.”

“As you command, m’lord.”

The sound of the young man’s fist striking the woman and her cry of pain was soon echoed by that of her son as Gavril went to work. Unlike Uziel, he used a blade, leaving a shallow but painful cut across the prisoner’s chest. Perhaps this was the day to teach his youngest just what could be done with a blade without actually killing the prisoner. It wasn’t as if they did not have enough volunteers to practice on. Wolf had been prolific as a sire if nothing else.

Dagger of Elanna – Snippet 3

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here and Snippet 2 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

*   *   *

The howling of the wind outside her small cottage greeted Cait as she emerged from the sleeping chamber. She carried her mug of hot tea to the window and looked outside.  The light snowfall of the night before had turned into a blanket that coated the ground. Large, heavy flakes continued to fall and she shivered slightly.

The early morning sun reflected brightly off the snow. Cait hissed in a breath as the glare triggered a new round of pounding in her head. She should never had stayed as late as she had at the tavern. The fact she had drunk more than normal did not help either. But it had been worth it to spend the time with Fallon. Hopefully, he would not have to leave the Citadel any time soon. There was so much she wanted to tell him, not to mention everything she wanted to ask him.

Days like this she wished she could stay inside. But that wasn’t to be, not today at least.

More than a month and a half had passed since she stood for Confirmation. There were still times when she had to look at her forearms and see the markings the Lord and Lady had blessed her with to believe everything that had happened. Less than two years ago, she had been nothing more than a slave to Giaros, his to use and abuse as he saw fit. She had prayed for death during those long, dark times. Then Fallon had entered the tavern and her life had been forever changed. He had brought her to the Citadel where she had worked hard to join the Order. But never had she expected what happened when she stood for Confirmation.

No longer a student, a journeywoman in the Order, she now held a seat on the Knights Council. She did her best not to think about the fact she was technically the third highest ranking member of the Order. She had enough on her plate with the classes she now taught as well as her own continuing studies. Then there were her duties as assistant to both the Weaponsmaster and the Tacticsmaster. There were times when she longed for the days when she had been a journeywoman. At least then she had the occasional day off when she could rest or spend time with her friends.

In some ways, she was more tired than she had ever been during those dark days in Lineaus. Nightmares of her time there still plagued her, although not as badly as when she first arrived at the Citadel. Keeping busy helped. But she knew the best medicine had been finding her place in the Order. She might not yet know what the Lord and Lady had in store for her, but that mattered not. She had willingly given herself as Their weapon to wield against the evil of Balaar and his followers.

Still, hearing the wind howling outside and seeing snow swirling in the air, she shivered and wished she could stay inside, warm and dry. It would be easy enough to change the location of her morning class from one of the outdoor training rings to the salle near the stables. Temping as it might be, she would not. She had not moved the yeoman’s class the day before. They had managed to not only survive the lesson but some had thrived with it. If they could do so, then so could the journeymen.  Their survival, not to mention the survival of those they were sworn to protect, might one day depend on it. Hopefully, she would not have to teach the class without the protection from the elements her cloak provided.

She finished her tea and returned her mug to the small kitchen. A few moments later, she shrugged into the padded jacket she often wore for weapons practice and reached for her fur lined cloak. As she settled it around her shoulders, a knock sounded at the door. Wondering who could be out so early on such a nasty morning, she crossed to the door and opened it.

“Your pardon, Lady Cait,” the journeyman standing before her said.

As he spoke, he lifted his hands and pushed back the hood of his cloak so she could see his face. When he did, the corners of her mouth turned down. That one act was yet another reminder of the troubles that had come to the Citadel before her Confirmation.

Recognizing the journeyman as one of those currently assigned to the Knight-Commandant’s office, she stepped back and motioned him inside. For one brief moment, it looked as if he might agree. Then he shook his head and her frown deepened.

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

“M’lady, the Knight-Commandant sends his greetings and requests your presence in the council chamber at once.”

Her frown deepened. She could count on one hand the number of times the Knights Council had been called to emergency session since her arrival at the Citadel. In the time since her Confirmation, such a session had not been held. That Knight-Commandant Kirris had seen fit to call on that morning worried her, not that she would let the journeyman know.

“Thank you, Journeyman.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Please find Lady Kala and ask her to take my morning class. Tell her I will relieve her as soon as I possibly can.”

“I will do so as soon as I finish delivering the Knight-Commandant’s messages, Lady Cait.” With that, he turned and took off at a run.

She closed the door and lightly beat her head against it. Much as she had not looked forward to working out in the snow, at least that was something she understood. More importantly, she was comfortable teaching weapons to the yeomen and journeymen. Being part of the Knights Council was new and not something she felt at ease with yet.

Wanted or not, she had a duty and the sooner she performed it, the sooner she could get back to her classes. With that thought in mind, she glanced around her cottage. Something was afoot, elsewise Kirris would not have called the meeting. Never one to take chances, she shrugged out of her cloak and hurried to her sleeping chamber. She might not have time to change clothes, but there was time enough to make a few adjustments to her wardrobe.

Five minutes later, she checked her appearance one last time. Her hair, still in the braid she wore when teaching weapons, had been twisted into a tight bun at the base of her skull. She now wore a white silken blouse under the black leather jerkin. Hidden under the sleeves of the blouse were her quick release sheaths and her throwing knives. For a moment, she considered her sword and sheath where they lay on the foot of her bed. Her hand closed over the sheathed blade and she made quick work of securing it in place across her back. Being so heavily armed might not be necessary, certainly not within the safe confines of the Citadel, but it also made a statement. Fallon had not given many details about his mission over dinner and drinks the night before but he had said enough to let her know he had found serious trouble. She had no doubt that was at least part of the reason for this unscheduled council meeting. So she would go in, reminding the other members that they were a warrior order, sworn to protect those who looked to them.

Nothing else mattered, not in the grand scheme of things.

***

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow By  Fxquadro

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow
By Fxquadro

I am back to work on this and it feels good to get back to Cait’s story. The very rough draft is done but there is a lot of work let to make it publish-ready. Part of that is finding the right cover. I really loved the image used for Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) and am seriously considering using another image from the same set it came from. Here is one of the images I’m considering.

Dagger of Elanna — Snippet 2

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

***

Fallon neared the Citadel’s main gates and slowed his mount. Eyes narrowed, he watched as two guards stepped forward. As his horse paced forward, the knight glanced at the walls. The sight of several archers taking aim on him both reassured and worried him. His concern deepened as he realized the main gate had yet to be opened for the day’s business. Was that an indication the Order’s leadership knew of the watcher in the trees or was there more going on than he knew?

Important as that was, he had other things on his mind as well. Knowing he would soon be able to have a hot bath, hot food and a bed with clean sheets had pushed him to ride throughout the night. He did not mind roughing it on the trail but he had spent most of the last year and a half doing just that. If he did not have to leave the Citadel for a while, he would not argue. Besides, he had ridden hard the last week, stopping only when his mount needed rest. Something had driven him back to the Citadel, a sense of urgency he still felt.

Almost as important as that sense of urgency was the knowledge he would soon be reunited with Cait. How hard it had been to leave her so soon after rescuing her from that thrice-damned tavern master in Lineaus. He had known she would be safe at the Citadel just as he knew the Adept would look after her. But he had wanted to be there as she began her studies. Now he looked forward to learning how she had fared during his absence.

The thought of the young woman brought with it the memory of her letters and he relaxed slightly. Throughout all those long months away from the Citadel, he had worried Cait would resent him for leaving her. He was supposed to be her mentor and yet he had not been there for her. Yet none of the resentment he feared had been present in her letters. Instead, they had been filled with details about her new life at the Citadel, her excitement about her studies and a sense of wonder as she made friends. Through the letters, Fallon saw how Cait had grown, how she became more settled with her new life. The scared, suspicious girl she had been had grown into a young woman dedicated to the Order and her friends, someone who obviously thirsted for knowledge. He reveled in knowing that all had gone well for her even as he wished he had been there to see it all unfold.

“Welcome home, Sir Fallon,” one of the guards said as Fallon stopped his horse in front of the gate.

For a moment, Fallon studied the young man. There was something familiar about him but he could not quite place it. Then he smiled. The months had added height and muscle to journeyman. Damon no longer looked the almost frail youngster he had been when Fallon left.

“It is good to be back, Damon.” Fallon swung his leg over the saddle and slid to the ground. As he did, he winced slightly. He was getting too old to ride day after day, not to mention a few nights, to get home as quickly as possible. Almost as soon as his boots hit the ground, a yeoman approached and reached for the horse’s reins. “How fares everyone?”

“Just fine, sir. We are trying to adjust to a few changes since you were last home is all.” Damon turned and motioned for the gate to be opened. Before Fallon could ask him to explain, Damon motioned to a tall figure moving in their direction from inside the compound. “I shall leave it to Sir Stefan to explain.”

Sir Stefan?”

Things most definitely had changed. At least this was one change he could heartedly agree with. But how many other surprises awaited him?

“Fallon, it is good to see you!” Stefan pulled him into a friendly embrace and thumped his back in greeting.

“And it is good to see you, lad. But you’re not lad any longer, are you? When were you Confirmed?” He started to follow Stefan inside the gate and paused, looking back to the yeoman holding his horse. The girl quickly assured him she would have his belongings taken to his quarters and that she would personally see to the horse. He nodded and then turned his attention back to Stefan. “And who else was Confirmed with you?”

“At (XXX). Ric and Kala were also Confirmed as were several new clerics.” The young man smiled devilishly and Fallon narrowed his eyes. Stefan was hiding something. But what?

“Your assignment?”

Two could play that game. Fallon had no doubt Stefan wanted him to ask what else had happened at the holy day ceremonies. Not that he would. He would wait and sooner or later Stefan would tell him. If not, he had other ways of finding out, something the young knight would do well to remember.

“I’m assigned as Kiernan’s assistant until I am Called elsewhere.”

Fallon nodded. It was a good assignment for the young man. Stefan had learned to ride almost before he had learned to walk. Pairing him with the riding master made sense. Add to that Stefan’s natural ability to teach youngsters who had never sat astride a mount of any sort before and it made even more sense.

“I’m proud of you, Stefan.” He smiled and then paused as the sounds of a yeomen’s class drilling nearby reached him. Their practice was punctuated with exclamations of relief and frustration as someone put them through their paces. Then, much to his surprise, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hold!” a woman ordered, her frustration clear. “If you lot don’t start paying attention to what you are doing, we will be here all day. I know it’s cold but that is no excuse. Ask any knight or cleric. You will spend many a night in cold camps and the enemy will not attack only when the weather is fair. So quit worrying about the fact there is a little snow falling from the sky and focus on making sure your partner doesn’t score a killing blow.”

Fallon would have bet his life that the woman speaking had been Cait. But that made no sense. She had been at the Citadel less than two years. He had seen first-hand her ability with a blade but that did not explain why she would be teaching a weapons class, even one for yeomen. Good as she might be, there was no way the weaponsmaster would put a journeywoman in as an instructor.

Turning, Fallon looked at Stefan in open question. The young man simply smiled. There could be no doubting he was enjoying himself. His eyes danced with mischief and Fallon ground his teeth in frustration before giving the young man a look that promised they would soon discuss how Stefan had held back this information. then Fallon hurried off in the direction of Cait’s voice. If no one would explain what was going on, he would find out for himself.

His report to the Knight-Commandant and the Adept would just have to wait.

A few moments later, Fallon slid to a halt outside the training arena. He stared in surprise at the sight that greeted him. Cait stood in the center of the packed dirt arena, a look of frustration on her face. In her right hand, she held a training sword. She wore black leather trousers, and a matching leather jerkin that left her arms bare. Intricately woven wide leather bands were in place on each wrist. Her heavy boots moved silently across the ground. Despite the way her breath fogged before her and snow fell, she seemed oblivious to the cold.

That much registered even as Fallon’s eyes were drawn to her forearms. Never before had he seen anything like the markings she bore and the implications rocked him. then, just as he thought he was beyond surprise, he felt the power surrounding her and he blew out a breath in surprise. He had known she was special from the moment he first saw her in that thrice-damned tavern but he had never expected this.

Before he could recover his wits, Cait turned and saw him. The frustration left her expression and she smiled gaily. Then she called for one of the senior journeymen working out in the next ring to take over for a moment. Before they could respond, she sprinted toward Fallon and Stefan. Fallon recovered enough to smile in approval as she agilely vaulted the three bar fence surrounding the training ring before she all but leapt at him in greeting.

“Fallon!” She grinned gaily before throwing her arms around him. “It’s so good to see you. When did you get back?”

“Just now.” He looked her up and down, amazed by the changes in her. She seemed so confident, so settled. Gone was the doubt and fear that had lingered in her eyes the last time they had been together. “And I can see we have a great deal to discuss.” He lightly touched her forearm where the Lady’s dolphin rose from the water. “But I must report to Kirris and Berral, so I can’t tarry any longer. Just answer me one question. When did this happen and what does our Knight-Commandant think about it?”

“That’s two questions, Fallon.” She laughed gaily and he shook his head. “And it will take more time to answer than you have right now. The very short answer is it happened at (XXX) when I stood for Confirmation and it surprised everyone, most of all me.” She smiled a little self-consciously and then shook her head. As she did, he realized she had had a difficult time accepting what happened. “Kirris and Berral will tell you more when you see them but, so you aren’t taken completely by surprise, I am the first Knight-Adept of the Order. I will explain more tonight over dinner if you’ll join me.”

“Of course, I’ll join you.” He smiled and gave her another hug before stepping back. “I’d best find Kirris and Berral before they send someone looking for me.”

“And I had best get back to my students.” With that, she turned and once more vaulted the fence.

Fallon shook his head, feeling more than a little bemused and confused, before making his way toward the administration building. As he did, he heard Cait once more calling for the yeoman to pay attention to what they were doing. This was a class, not a game. They needed to learn the basics or they would never be able to defend themselves in the field. Good advice but not what he expected to hear from here that morning.

Ten minutes later, entered the Knight-Commandant’s office. As he stepped inside, he nodded in greeting to both Kirris and Berral. The Adept smiled briefly in response from where she stood next to Kirris behind his desk, a distracted smile, before turning her attention to the dispatch she and Kirris had been obviously been studying before Fallon’s entrance. As for the Knight-Commandant, he simply motioned for Fallon to have a seat, not once taking his eyes from the dispatch on his desk.

Impatient though he might be, Fallon waited in silence. He knew them both well enough to know only something of grave import would cause them to keep him waiting to give his report. He also had no doubt they knew he would have questions about Cait. After all, every dispatch he had sent them had been filled with questions about the young woman he had taken as his ward. Those questions would be asked and answered but in due time. Business first.

“Welcome home, Fallon, and my pardon for keeping you waiting,” Kirris said a few minutes later. Despite his smile, Fallon saw the strain reflected on his expression and that only served to increase his own sense of foreboding.

“It is good to finally be back.” He stretched his long legs out before him, crossing his ankles. “And I have to admit to having a great number of questions for the two of you.”

“I take it you ran into Cait.” Berral’s expression no longer seemed distracted. In fact, there could be no mistaking her humor and pride as she waited for his answer.

“I did. I also ran into Stefan, who refused to explain what happened.”

“We shall do all we can to answer your questions after you make your report,” Kirris assured him.

Frustration filled Fallon despite the fact he knew the Knight-Commandant was right. His questions would have to wait, for a few minutes at least. However, no matter what the others thought, he would not leave the office until he had at least some sort of explanation for what he had seen.

“As agreed, I returned to the Arteris compound.”

For more than an hour, he discussed all he had done during his absence from the Citadel. While stationed at the compound, he, along with the others stationed there, had gone on the offensive against the raiders that had been plaguing the region. It had taken several months but he had finally identified their local contact. The new of who the traitor had been had rocked the region.

“That contact turned out to be a member of the local militia. His position in the militia make him privy to such information as what merchant trains carried the best goods or the most important passengers, not to mention what routes they would be taking.

“When we finally cornered him, he turned out to be a skinwalker. From what little we learned before he died, it appears someone is trying to unite the bandit leaders out of the Wastelands. Those who have joined the cause have pledged to follow Balaar and report to his human representative.” His distaste at such a notion roughened his voice. “Whoever this representative is, the skinwalker said he was not from the Wastelands. He also said other skinwalkers have been sent into the Imperium with orders to cause as much trouble as possible. They are, apparently, the first wave of a systematic attack against the Imperium and the Order.”

He leaned back and waited. He had seen the look that passed between Kirris and Berral when he mentioned the skinwalker. The fact they did not seem surprised worried him as did the possible explanations for their reactions. With each moment that passed, he became more convinced he had been gone too long from the Citadel.

“Once the skinwalker and those working with him had been dealt with, I left the compound and began the next par tof my mission. I traveled throughout the Imperium as well as the surrounding realms on this side of the Great and Black rivers. Unfortunately, I was unable to learn anything about Cait’s history. However, I did run across several more cases of slavery. Each was much like Cait’s story. They woke in a slaver’s tent, only to find themselves being sold to someone else. That person took them to farms or into villages where they worked.” He almost choked on the word. “Until I discovered them and freed them. Unlike Cait, however, they did remember who they were and I was able to return them to their families.”

“Did you learn nothing that might not help us?” Berral asked, disappointment clear in her voice.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “The one common thread these cases had was that their families were completely stunned to learn their loved one lived. Each had disappeared under circumstances that led the families to believe they had been killed.”

For a moment, no one said anything. Then Berral frowned, her expression hard. “That could be why no outcry was made when Cait went missing. Her family could believe she had been killed. While they mourned her death, she was fighting to survive her enslavement.”

“That could be what happened,” Kirris said. “And those responsible for taking the others as well as those enslaving them?”

“Turned over to the local authorities for punishment. The local compounds have made it clear that the Codes must be upheld and I made sure the locals understood my report would not only reach the Citadel but would be forwarded to the Imperium’s council as well.”

“Your report tends to confirm some of the rumors that have reached us as well as certain happenings near here.” Kirris leaned back and Fallon looked at him in concern. In that moment, the Knight-Commandant looked as if he had aged decades in the months Fallon had been gone. “The council needs to hear your full report. You have until morning to prepare. Once the council has met, I shall send word to the capital. In the meantime, I shall issue orders to have squads readied to leave. I fear we need to tighten our border patrols.”

“No worries, Kirris. I’ll be ready.” Truth be told, he could give the report then. But the need for food and rest might cause him to miss something. “Before we get to anything else, can you explain what you meant when you said tis explains what has been happening near here?” He would not push if the Knight-Commandant did not respond. There were other ways of finding out.

“Let me,” Berral said. Then, instead of continuing, she took time to refill Fallon’s mug as well as her own. “You saw Cait, so you saw her markings.”

Fallon nodded.

“Very simply put, she was one of a dozen to stand for Confirmation at the holy day. As always, some stood for the knightly discipline and some for the priestly. Then there was Cait.

“You know from our letters as well as from hers that we had been cross-training her. We did it because she showed no distinct Calling for either discipline. Because of that, when it came time for her to stand for Confirmation, she was tested in both disciplines. The council chose to do it that way in the hope the Lord and Lady would reveal what They planned for her. We weren’t prepared for what happened.”

For the next half hour, Fallon listened closely as Berral and Kirris took turns describing the Confirmation trials. With each passing moment, his disbelief grew. He could not remember a time when someone had been allowed to stand for Confirmation with less than two years’ study having been undertaken. Nor could he remember anyone ever having stood for Confirmation in both disciplines. He had recognized Cait was special the first time he saw her. Hidden beneath the dirt and grime, cloaked by the filthy hair she let fall over her face like a mask, had been a power unlike any he had ever felt. Even now, almost two years later, he wondered at it. He held close his promise to find out what happened to bring her into the hands of slavers and he swore to do whatever it took to make sure no one else suffered as she had. But to hear how she had stood against all on the Confirmation field was much more than he expected.

“Fallon, if you had seen her, you would understand everything she did that day made it clear she is something special to the Order. She truly is a combination of both disciplines. More than that, she performed at a level that, had she been Confirmed into the knightly discipline, it would have been difficult not to name her a knight-commander. From what I saw and from what Berral has said, it is the same had she been Confirmed into the priestly discipline,” Kirris said.

Feeling as though he had to be dreaming, Fallon stood and, with his mug in hand, walked across the office to stare out the window. Cait had managed to out-fight Alicia, Kirris and others before finally facing off against Kirris. She had managed to turn aside the Knight-Commandant’s magical attacks with her own. Clearly, she had come a very long way in his absence. But that much?

“So,” Berral said when Fallon returned to his chair. “We created the new rank for her. She is now the Knight-Adept and third in command of the Order behind Kirris and myself. She works with both of us on a daily basis so we can discvoer the full extent of her powers as well as give her the experience she needs in case she has to step in for one or the other of us.”

“And the other members of the council?”

Kirris chuckled then and there was a touch of self-deprication in it Fallon recognized. “None dared object. How could they when the Lord and Lady made their favor of Cait so evident? None of the rest of us have been blessed with Their markings in the way she has. Each of those who have examined the markings have said the same thing. They resonate with the power of the Lord and Lady. While it would be nice to know what They have in mind for Cait and for the rest of us, we will do as we always have. We will accept Their challenges and Their blessings and continue to do Their bidding.”

“As is our duty and our honor,” Fallon said and the others nodded in agreement. “But there is more.”

“There is.” Kirris once more looked serious enough to cause Fallon concern. “But that can wait. Know that Cait did much as she did on the trail with you when you were bringing her here. Her actions helped save the squad she was out with and let us know Balaar had his skinwalkers, at least one of them, in this region.”

Fallon blew out a breath and shook his head. It seemed there was much they still had to discuss.

“Go rest for a few hours, my friend. Then join us for the noon meal. We will continue our discussion then,” Berral said as she gently drew him to his feet. “But know you have served the Order and the Lord and Lady well, not only with the information you gathered during this last mission but in bringing Cait to us.”

“I have a feeling I will have many more questions by then.”

“So will we, I’m sure.” Berral smiled and led him to the door. “Rest now. We will see you soon.”

Dagger of Elanna — Snippet One

Each Wednesday for the next month or so, I’ll be snippeting from Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up  Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  By the time it goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Chapter One

Out of the early morning mist, looking like something out of the tales from his childhood, rose the stone walls of the Citadel. Frost and the remnants of the last snow dotted the fields and training areas that lined the road leading to the fortified entrance. From where he sat astride his horse, the lone rider looked nodded once. The location was almost perfect from a strategic standpoint.

Almost being the operative word.

The Citadel, home of the Order of Arelion, rested atop the highest hill, one that ended in a cliff overlooking rapids that prevented a water approach. An approach from the front meant either crossing the fields or coming via the road, both of which were easily visible from the watchtowers inside the double walls of the compound. For more years than any of the current residents had been alive, that had been enough to keep the Citadel safe from attack.

But there were weaknesses to the location. His very presence proved it. There he sat, half an hour outside of the main gates, watching and judging. For all those inside the walls knew, he could be a scout looking for weaknesses and finding them. There were no guards in the trees to watch him, no one to challenge him. At least no one who might take action should he prove to have ill-intent against the Order or any of its members.

The Citadel and all it stood for called to him now just as strongly as it had when he was younger. He remembered his first sight of the compound as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Fear and anticipation had filled him them. He knew his life had been about to change and he had been determined to do everything possible to join the Order. The Lord and Lady had blessed him then as They did now. He was back, despite all odds, and he hoped he would not have to leave for a while.

As he sat there, studying his home and feeling that all too familiar pull, he frowned slightly. The call to bring an end to his journey was tempered by something else. Something that held him in place, senses alert.

Instinct warned of potential danger. Not from the community within the fortified walls. No, this was closer. But what? More importantly, was it aimed at him or with the Order in general? Gods above and below knew he carried information some would prefer the Order not learn. Others had tried to stop him already. Had they determined to end his mission and his life here, so close to the one place he felt safe, or was something else at play? He had to find the answer, or at least try to, before continuing on his way.

He lifted his head and inhaled deeply. The crisp morning air burned his lungs. But it did not hide the smells around him. Animals, some alive and even more dead. Smoke from fires at the Citadel. The distant aroma of something cooking. Under it, so faint he almost missed it in the smell of his horse, was the stench of unwashed flesh. Someone else was there and not far away.

Frowning, Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, dismounted. Once he had, he turned to his horse and checked saddle and girth, using his body to shield what he was doing from anyone who might be watching. The fingers of his right hand closed over the long knife in its specially designed sheath hanging from his saddle. The blade slid soundlessly from the sheath and disappeared beneath his cloak.

He turned and glanced around. Nothing looked out of place. More telling was the fact the birds and small animals he knew to inhabit the grove took no notice of whoever else might be there. That meant the person had either been there long enough for them to get used to his presence or he had somehow magicked himself so they overlooked him. Neither option reassured him.

His boots moved silently against the snow covered ground. Senses alert, he slowly walked toward the tree line on the east side of the road. As he did, he shook his head and muttered softly to himself. Then he reached up and rubbed his chin and yawned. Anyone looking on would see what he wanted them to: a weary traveler in need of a break before continuing on his way.

He paused next to a tree and made a production out of relieving himself. Sometimes, the need to answer the call of nature served more than one purpose. Now it gave him an excuse to leave the trail and that, in turn, gave him the opportunity to try to locate whoever had been watching the Citadel.

The wind shifted and he caught the scent again. Not as close but still near. Watching and waiting. That was enough, for the moment at least. Fallon returned to his horse and mounted. As tempting as it was to continue searching for the watcher, he needed to move on. He should have returned to the Citadel weeks, if not months, earlier. What none of them had anticipated was that his mission would take him so far from the capital region of the Imperium. Besides, for all he knew, the Order already knew of the intruder and had been keeping an eye on him. Somehow he doubted it but, if that were the case, it would be best not to interfere.

***

The watcher slipped deeper in the shadows, fear warring with frustration. For more than a month he had been camped in the trees, if you could call it a camp. His master demanded it and he had learned long ago to never risk angering the man. Balaar’s earthly arm was every bit as dangerous as the god and he had no desire to meet his death yet.

For all that time, he had been unable to do the one thing his master most wanted. He had been unable to discover a way to end one woman’s life. It should have been so easy, especially with Balaar on their side. But the gods continued to conspire against them. The gods and this thrice-damned weather that seemed to grow colder with each day that passed.

The cold seeped ever deeper into his bones. He did not dare build a fire. Not until he moved his camp again, this time further from the road and out of sight of the Citadel. His master might not agree but he knew he had been lucky the Order had yet to discover his presence. Now, however, his luck might have finally run out.

He watched as the lone rider dismounted. The man did not look like a member of the Order but he knew looks could be deceiving. Something about the way the newcomer held himself reminded the watcher of their knights. As the rider looked around and then walked toward the tree edge, the watcher moved deeper into the shadows. Nothing about the newcomer indicated he was aware of the watcher’s presence but instinct said differently. Had his presence finally been discovered?

Whether his master liked it or not, they needed to reevaluate their tactics. With winter upon them, the chances of their target leaving the Citadel slimmed to almost nothing. Was this not the time to regroup and plan their next line of attack, one that would be more successful?

Not waiting to see what the rider did, the man moved quickly, silently deeper into the trees. A few minutes later, he paused and lifted his left arm. He did not have long to wait. A slight smile touched his lips as a large bird winged down from the early morning sky to land on his wrist. His fingers gently rubbed the construct’s head as he shifted positions so he looked the bird in the eye.

“Keep watch, my pretty. You know the target. Come for me if she leaves the walls.”

With that, he lifted his arm high and the construct took flight. Hopefully that would be enough to satisfy his master, at least long enough for him to explain why he had left his post. If not, he would not be long for this world.

Summer is over, so it is time to snippet

This week, I am getting back to my normal blogging schedule — if my schedule has ever been normal. I’ve worked this summer but took a step back from much of the blogging for a number of reasons. Mainly, I just needed to recharge the batteries some. But, if the kids have to go back to work, I guess I can get back to blogging.

Today’s snippet is from the book that took charge of my muse and my life about a week or so ago. Starting Wednesday, I’ll be snippeting Dagger of Elanna, the follow up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), once a week. I will probably snippet this currently untitled book as well once a week, at least until I figure out what to do about it.

So, with that said, here’s the snippet. I’ll warn you now, it is weird. It has mystery, magic and a house that might be sentient and that might possibly eat people it doesn’t like. And no, it’s not horror. Heaven help me, I have a feeling there might even be a romance in it before all is said and done. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  By the time it goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Anyway, here you go. This is the first scene.

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Three months earlier, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. With our bags packed, Ali and I were about to walk out the front door when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cell phone in my pocket but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning hand my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Mama, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, not recognizing the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a man asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. He might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about his voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, he had used my full name, something very few had access to.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Peter Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Mr. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone starts a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually means there is something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have bene from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I swallowed hard and looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want her involved.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there is no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. The explanation was just one of the reasons why I had moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Beauchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mama belonged there and it would protect her. At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” She thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they have heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I did not wait for him to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns and my badge and ID. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case and then dropped it inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Mama, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles with you?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally loved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

***

As I have said before, my muse is an evil creature. Trust me. Thinks get strange from this point on.

 

One month to go

In one month, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) will go live. I am almost done with the final edits. This book has been a blast to write. While it doesn’t finish the story arc started in Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) and continued in Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2), the end is near. One more book and this particular arc will be done. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be returning to the universe. I already have an idea of a new story arc for a future series.

To kick off the final month before Honor comes out, I thought I would revisit the first two books. Today’s snippet will be from Vengeance.

*     *     *

“Prisoner Four One Niner Baker One-A, prepare for transfer,” a disembodied voice said from the overhead speaker.

Lips pulled back, teeth bared in an animalistic sneer, the prisoner sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. As she stood, she turned away from the cell door. Her hands automatically went behind her head, fingers lacing. Almost without thought, she sank to her knees, legs spread, ankles crossed. Then, realizing what she had done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years in Hell had taught her how to act. Her body responded automatically to the commands barked at her. Only when she allowed her mind to surface, to let herself fully experience what was going on around her, did she hesitate. But not this time. There was no reason to disobey, no threat yet to meet.

Those years may have taught her all too painfully how to act, but they hadn’t broken her. Not yet at any rate. Still they had come close. Two years cut off from those she cared for, from almost all human contact. Stripped of even the most basic of human rights and dignity, she knew she was little more than an animal to break and tame to those in charge. She knew it just as she knew she could do nothing about it.

Just as she knew she’d been betrayed by the government she’d served and had been ready to die for.

What she didn’t know was why. Why had she been betrayed? Worse, why had those who’d served loyally at her side been targeted?

The soft swoosh of the heavily armored door sliding open broke the silence a few moments later. With her back to the door, she couldn’t see who entered, not that she wanted to. One of the first lessons she’d learned after arriving at the Tarsus military penal colony was not to look. That had been a very painful lesson, one that had landed her in the prison’s infirmary for several days. It was also a mistake she’d never repeated.

That had been one of many lessons she’d been forced to endure since arriving there. With the commandant’s tacit – hell, as far as she knew it was his overt – approval, the guards could be as sadistic as they wanted. Correction for even the most insignificant infraction might take the form of a rifle butt to the ribs or kidney, and that was if she was lucky. If not, the beating that followed would leave her hurting so badly she could barely move. Even then, the guards wouldn’t send her to the infirmary. After all, it was so much more fun to watch her suffer, reminding her that she alone was responsible for what had happened.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. Even though she hadn’t been ready to believe them, they had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Even so, it had been a shock the first time one of the guards beat her down for asking what would have been a simple question on the outside. That had been enough to convince her that the best course of action was to remain silent unless it was imperative that she speak. That wasn’t to say there hadn’t been times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore the scars to prove it. All she wanted now was to live through her prison term. Survival was the first goal. Vengeance would come later. Not for her, but for those who’d followed her despite her protests and who had paid the ultimate price as a result.

She swallowed hard, forcing her mind away from past horrors, as boots clomped across the small cell in her direction. A rough hand grabbed her right arm, twisting it painfully behind her back. She flinched as a security cuff was locked tightly around that wrist. Her breath hissed out as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved hand closed around her left arm and jerked her to her feet.

Guard Captain Gavin Haritos spun her to face him, grinning sadistically. His fist caught her with a vicious backhand. With a sharp cry of pain, she staggered back. The short chain connecting her ankles tripped her. Only the man’s quick grab at the front of her jumpsuit kept her from falling. He pulled her forward and, with the ease of much practice, draped a heavy hood over her head before she could react.

Haritos’ cruel grip on her arm kept her on her feet as he hauled her out of her cell and down the long corridor. Blood pounded in her ears, almost deafening her. Fear and hatred raced through her, sparking every fiber of her survival instincts. She knew this was going to be bad, very bad. It always was when the guard captain came for her. But she could do nothing to stop him, at least not yet.

“This is your lucky day, bitch.” Haritos shoved her into one of the three lifts at the end of the corridor and she heard him slam his fist against the control panel. A moment later, the lift gave a slight lurch and she felt the car start downward. “You’re being transferred, Shaw. But don’t get your hopes up that it means the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those poor bastards sentenced here with you. Everything you say and do from now on impacts them.”

A soft moan escaped her lips before she could stop it and fear raced like an open current through her. No matter how many times she’d been in this position before, she couldn’t help it. A transfer could mean almost anything, none of it good. Not as long as the survivors of her unit were still on Tarsus.

To her surprise, Haritos said nothing more. That was unusual for him. Whenever he’d come for her before, he’d taken perverse pleasure in detailing what horrors awaited her. The fact he’d gone silent worried her. Could he finally be leading her to her death, despite the fact her sentence was for only five years?

Dear God, what was happening?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and then closed behind them. She didn’t know how to react when, for the first time in months, she felt the sun beating down on her. They were outside. Where were they going?

It didn’t take long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood obscured her sight, but she could hear the muffled sounds of a crew working to prepare a shuttle, maybe even a courier ship, for launch. Haritos pulled her to a halt and told her to stand still. Then he released his hold on her arm and she sensed that he had moved a short distance away. There were soft voices. Straining to hear, she only caught a few words. Transfer. . . prisoner. . . dangerous. . . .

Dear God, was she actually being transferred out of the Tarsus penal colony?

Hope flared only to die as quickly as it had been born. She had a feeling she was the only prisoner in the staging area. That meant her people, those few who had survived the ambush only to be betrayed by those who should have stood for them, were being left behind. Was that what Haritos meant when he told her to remember them?

No!

Before she could do anything – not that there was much she could do, bound and hooded as she was – Haritos was once more at her side. She stumbled forward as he grabbed her and led her further up the ramp. With one last warning not to do anything foolish, he turned her over to someone else. Flanked on both sides by unseen guards, she was led into another lift. A few minutes later, her restraints were removed and then her hood and she found herself standing in the center of a small cell. She didn’t need to hear the announcement for all hands to prepare for departure to know she was on a ship. But a ship to where?

And what about those who’d been sent to the penal colony with her? Where were they?

Now, almost a week later, she stood in yet another cell, this one planetside, and fear warred with anger. She’d overheard enough from the guards on the transport to know her fears were true – the others had been left behind on the penal colony.

That’s when an anger so great it overrode the fear of the unknown had flowed through her. For the first time in two years, she’d been separated from the survivors of her unit, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right along with her. It didn’t matter that the commandant of the penal colony hadn’t let her see her people. She’d managed to get word of them from time to time and that had been enough to let her know they were all right – or at least as all right as anyone could be after being sentenced to the Tarsus penal colony.

It really was amazing how the prison grapevine managed to keep tabs on everyone and pass along information. It might be inconsistent, but it was there and it had been all that kept her sane. She’d never thought herself a social animal, but two years of rarely seeing anyone but her jailers had been almost more than she could handle. Thank God for the grapevine and the bits of information it brought her.

During transport from the penal colony, no one had told her anything. She’d been held in the transport ship’s brig. A guard brought her food and drink at regular intervals but he never said anything that wasn’t necessary. He certainly hadn’t volunteered any information. Still, she’d managed to work out that she was alone in the brig by the way his steps never stopped before he appeared at her cell door and she never heard anyone else trying to make contact.

She had just noticed the slightest change in the rhythm of the ship’s engines, indicating it had assumed orbit somewhere, when another guard arrived with a change of clothes for her. She’d looked at the plain black jumpsuit with suspicious eyes. Nothing about it marked her as a prisoner. It could have been something worn by any worker on the docks or in a warehouse. That should have reassured her but for one thing. There was nothing about the guard’s manner to indicate she was about to be freed. In that moment, she’d come the closest to breaking her rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to” than she had been since her first few days on Tarsus.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back before locking her safety harness in place but they hadn’t hooded her. They obviously weren’t worried about her recognizing where she was. Of course, the only way she could do that was if she could actually see something of the lay of the land. So she’d craned her neck in an effort to see into the shuttle’s cockpit. One corner of her mouth lifted ever so slightly at the sight of the high rises ahead of them. Her heart beat a bit faster as she recognized the skyline of Fuercon’s capital city. New Kilrain. She was home. But why?

Now, after being processed into the same military brig where she’d been held during her trial, she still didn’t know why she’d been brought back home. It couldn’t be good. They may have taken away her prison issued jumpsuit, but she’d still been brought there shackled and had been processed into the brig as quickly as humanly possible. It had almost been as if FleetCom was afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation. Nor had she asked for one. It would be a long time before she forgot that lesson. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that almost always resulted in painful punishment. She might not be on Tarsus any longer but that didn’t mean things would be any different here. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus and she wasn’t willing to risk it now that she was home.

Freed of her restraints and alone, she looked around. One cell was pretty much like any other. Across from the door was a narrow bunk. Hygiene facilities were at the foot of the bunk. Almost exactly like her cell back on Tarsus. Nothing she could use to escape and nothing she could use to kill herself, not that she planned on taking that route out. At least not anymore. No, there were others who needed to die before she did.

“Prisoner is secured,” the guard who’d brought her to the cell radioed as he stepped back.

Ashlyn Shaw, former Marine captain, didn’t move. Instead, she stood in the center of the small cell, her brown eyes focused on some point beyond the guard, her hands behind her back even though the restraints had been removed. As the security field across the cell door activated, she gave no sign of realizing it even though the faint, high pitched hum was something she’d learned to listen for over the last two years. That sound, like a distant bunch of angry bees, meant she’d fry her nervous system long before pushing through the field. Freedom might look close, but she’d be dead – or worse – before she actually found it.

At least the guard didn’t close the physical door. For the first time in what had to be months, she could look beyond the confines of her cell. It might not be the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet. That didn’t matter. All that did was the fact that the open cell door gave her at least some semblance of not being completely cut off from all other life on the planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, Ashlyn remained where she was, motionless except for the rise and fall of her chest and the slow blinking of her eyes. She listened, counting his footsteps as they slowly faded away. When she’d been escorted to the cell, she had focused on what was directly in front of her. She had not wanted to give the guards on duty the satisfaction of seeing her look around in curiosity. Now, with only silence filling the air, she allowed herself to relax a just a little.

Once convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking to her left, she couldn’t tell how far away he might be. All she knew for certain was that her cell was located at the end of the corridor, the door situated so she couldn’t see much beyond the far edge of the cell. So there might be any number of other prisoners close by but, for all intents and purposes, she was alone – again.

That was fine. Alone meant fewer chances for anyone to figure out what she planned. But it also meant she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let them guess what she had in mind. So she lay on her bunk, her back to the doorway. She wouldn’t let those she knew were watching over security monitors see her curiosity or her concern.

This was as close to home as she was likely to get in a very long while. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she’d take it and be damned with waiting on the military courts to finally get it right. Once free, she’d deal those who’d betrayed her and then she’d find a way to free those who had been sent to the penal colony with her. After that, she really didn’t give a damn about what happened.

Skeletons in the Closet – Snippet 5

This is a work in progress. Some of you may have read an earlier version. There may, and very probably will, be changes made before the final work is published. That includes the title. Skeletons in the Closet is a working title. Other than that, all the standard disclaimers apply. This work is © Amanda S. Green 2016.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, leave a comment in the comments section with contact information. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.

You can find snippet one here , snippet two here, snippet three here and snippet four here.

*   *   *

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

 

“Amy, I’m all right. Really.”

When she didn’t do anything more than look at me doubtfully, I slid off the examining table, biting off a gasp of pain as I did. Okay, maybe I really wasn’t all right. I ached in more places than I cared to count and my right knee throbbed painfully. But there was no way I would tell Amy. Not when she still looked like she would drag me, by the hair if necessary, off to the nearest hospital.

That was the last thing I wanted or needed.

Well, maybe not the last thing. That would be her telling Mama what happened. Hopefully, Amy wasn’t that mad at me.

For a moment, I contemplated simply walking out of the small examining room. Then, a cold draft up there reminded me I wasn’t exactly dressed to be out in public. Not when the only thing I wore was one of those ill-fitting, let-your-butt (or something else)-hang-out disposable gowns every doctor’s office and emergency clinic insists you put on the moment you finish filling out the paperwork and your insurance is verified. As far as I’m concerned, these so-called pieces of clothing exist for one purpose only – to keep the patients form walking out without paying their bill. After all, what sane person would dare leave the privacy of the examining room to parade around with the back door open and their privates hanging out?

I might be many things, but insane I wasn’t, at least not yet.

Be that as it may, I was about to do just that. I had to get out of there before Mama found out I had finally fulfilled the first part of what, until now, had been her improbable plan for escaping the house. I’d finally had that close encounter with a bus she’d been hoping for. And, thanks to my now used-to-be best friend, I was stuck in the small confines of an examining room at a local doc-in-the-box. At least I’d managed to convince the paramedics who responded to Amy’s 911 call that I didn’t need to go to the emergency room. It wasn’t as if the bus had really hit me. I had been the one doing the hitting – of the car parked at the curb, the curb as I rolled off the car and then the sidewalk.

But the bus never touched me. That had to be a good thing. Right?

Unfortunately, Amy hadn’t been convinced I was all right. Which was why I now waited impatiently – no, irritably – for the doctor to finally give us her diagnosis.

“Lexie, don’t give me that,” she snapped as she slid her cellphone into her hip pocket.

My eyes went wide and my stomach lurched. Surely she hadn’t called my folks to tell them what happened. I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out. How could it when coherent thought was no longer possible? Finally, after years of predicting I’d one day be struck dumb for my lack of respect and for how I had refused to appreciate all she had done for me, my mother was finally right. Only it hadn’t been at her hands that this calamity had occurred but at the hands of my used-to-be best friend.

“Oh quit looking like I just wrapped you up in a fancy wedding dress and handed you over to your mama with my blessing to marry you off to Bucky Vincent.” Exasperation and – damn her – amusement filled Amy’s voice. “I didn’t call your folks, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”

Relief washed over me. Then, realizing there was also an air of satisfaction about her that hadn’t been there earlier, I narrowed my eyes. She was up to something. But what?

And did I really want to know?

“So who did you call?”

“My grandmother.”

This time I did groan. If calling Mama would have been bad, calling Serena Duchamp was even worse. Oh, she wasn’t trying to marry me off just so she could move in with me when I left the family home. At least I didn’t think she was. But I had no doubt she would soon be telling Granny what happened and that would only add fuel to the fire that currently burned between her and Mama. It was a no-win situation for me. I hadn’t called either of them but Granny’s best friend knew and had let her know before Mama did. Damn, there wasn’t a hole deep enough to hide in now.

Maybe I ought to look on the bright side. It was possible I wasn’t sitting in an urgent care clinic just down the road from the university. Maybe I had hit my head hard enough that I was still unconscious and this was all some sort of really bad hallucination. Soon I’d wake up and find a nice paramedic, preferably one who was very happily married, leaning over me. Heck, at this point, a long stay in the hospital, preferably in isolation, looked pretty darned good.

Heck, even a stay – preferably a long one if it meant not having to deal with Mama – in Purgatory looked good right now.

Before I could ask Amy why she had called her grandmother – and what Miss Serena planned to do about what Amy had told her – a soft knock sounded at the door. It opened a moment later. Laughter bubbled up inside me as a small woman with gray hair and a stern expression entered the room. She most certainly was not marriage material. In fact, she reminded me of Miss Bateman, my fourth grade Sunday school teacher who had quickly proven that Catholic nuns had nothing on her when it came to the swift application of a ruler across the knuckles. There was not one bit of humor to the doctor’s expression as she paused just inside the door and looked at me. Without a word, she jabbed a finger at the examining table and waited until I slid onto it and lay back.

The next few minutes went by mostly in a silence occasionally punctuated by a moan of pain as the doctor probed a sore muscle or twisted a tender joint. By the time she finished, I was beginning to think maybe I should have gone to the hospital. Surely the doctors there would have had a better bedside manner. It didn’t help any to have Amy standing there, watching in growing concern with just a hint of “I told you so” reflected on her expression.

“All right, Miss Smithson,” the doctor said as she moved to the sink and washed her hands. “You got off pretty lucky. Next time, think before trying to do battle with a bus. The bus always wins.”

Only because her back was to me, I rolled my eyes. Even as I did, I expected her to tell me not to be impertinent. Instead, she turned and handed me several slips of paper.

“You need to see your primary care physician in the next few days. I don’t think you’ve done anything more than badly sprain your knee, but I recommend having a scan done. In the meantime, stay off of it. When you have to be up, I want you on crutches.”

Great. No way I’d be able to hide those from Mama – or Granny.

Damn it.

“You have care instructions for both the knee and the abrasions. The front desk will give you some samples of an ointment to use until you can get to the pharmacy. If you begin to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach or if you experience anything out of the ordinary, call your doctor. If it’s after hours, get to the nearest ER.”

Out of the ordinary?

I almost laughed. My entire life was out of the ordinary. Not that I could tell her. At least Amy no longer looked quite so amused by the situation. Of course, that could be because the doctor was now outlining what sort of care I needed over the next few days. It’s probably a good thing Amy was paying attention because I no longer was.

“Don’t worry, doctor. I’ll make sure she does as you say,” Amy promised as she took the care instructions and prescriptions from her.

Another laugh bubbled up. Sure Amy would. And my name was Scarlett O’Hara. No, what would happen was simple. As soon as I got home, Miss Serena would appear to take a look at me, and I do mean take a look. She would see everything the doctor with her tests had and more. Then, if she wasn’t satisfied with what the doctor had done, Miss Serena would do her own form of healing and that was most definitely something I didn’t want to think about any more than I wanted to think about what would happen when Mama found her doing it in the middle of our front room.

Half an hour later, I was finally allowed to make my escape, if you could call it that. My right knee was encased in a hinged brace. I’d tried refusing it but the doctor had been adamant once she heard – thanks to Amy –how I’d messed the knee up in high school on a ski trip. Of course, my used-to-be best friend hadn’t told her that Miss Serena had worked her magic on the knee and it had soon been as good as new. So, instead of getting away with a simple Ace bandage, I had what looked to be a state of the art knee brace, something I just knew my insurance wouldn’t pay for.

But at least I was getting out of there before Mama descended. That had to be good, right?

“I’ll stop by the pharmacy and get your prescriptions filled and then I’m taking you home,” Amy said as she helped me into her car. A moment later, she stowed my crutches in the back.

Home. Not exactly where I wanted to be just then.

“Think we could stop somewhere and get something to eat?” Maybe we could go to Austin or even Houston. There had to be good restaurants there. Anything to delay the inevitable explosion that would happen the moment I walked through the front door.

When Amy climbed in behind the steering wheel and looked at me, I knew she understood. How could she not after knowing my family as long as she had?

“Lexie, relax. I’m not about to take you to your place tonight.” She slid the keys into the ignition and started the engine. “The last thing you need right now is more drama and that is exactly what you’d get there.”

“Oh God, Amy. What now?”

I didn’t need to ask how she might know what was going on when I didn’t. Her grandmother and mine were best friends. That hadn’t changed with Granny’s death. I had no doubts Miss Serena had been given a blow-by-blow description of yesterday’s encounter with the priest. I just didn’t want to know what Miss Serena would do about it. That had to be worse than Mama simply insulting her, something that resulted in our dearly departed returning home. I swear, if I hadn’t been wearing my seat belt, I’d have pounded my head against the dashboard in frustration.

“Let’s just say the battle lines have been drawn and all that’s left is for someone to take a can of paint and split the house in two.”

Now that was an idea. Maybe if they had their own territories, Papa and I could have a little peace. But no, Mama would never agree. Not unless she found a way to get Gran and the others to accept either the basement or one of the closets as their territory, some place that Mama would never, ever go. The likelihood of that happening was about as high as me winning all the lotteries in the world on the same day. Gran wasn’t about to let Mama have the upper hand and the others would do whatever Gran said.

I wonder if I could still transfer to some university far, far away without losing too many credits.

“So where are we going?”

And did I really want to know?

“I’m taking you home with me.”

No big surprise, although it would piss Mama off once she found out. But that was too bad. I wasn’t up to dealing with her and Granny going after one another.

“I want my grandmother to have a look at you and, just so you know, she said she wanted to talk to you about something.”

My breath caught and I stared at Amy in surprise. Oh, it didn’t surprise me that she wanted Miss Serena to take a look at me. Heck, I wanted her to take a look at me. If she could help me heal even a little faster, I was all for it. As for the rest of it, a very large spark of concern flared in the pit of my stomach.

“Did she say why she wanted to talk to me?” I tried to keep the nerves out of my voice but I knew I failed. The slight lifting of the corner of Amy’s mouth was enough to tell me that.

“No. She just said it was important and it was a conversation she’d put off much too long.”

Oh dear sweet Lord. If the car hadn’t been going at least sixty miles an hour, I’d have opened the door and jumped out. When Miss Serena said she had something important to discuss, she did. The thing is, her definition of important is magnitudes beyond that of most other people, me included. We’re talking potentially earth shattering important. The fact that she said it was something she’d put off much too long only made me worry more.

The last time Miss Serena said there was something important she needed to discuss with anyone in our family, our dead started showing back up. What could be more important than that?

I so didn’t want to know.

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