Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Tag: Nocturnal Interlude (Page 1 of 2)

When a book becomes a series — Nocturnal Lives

Yesterday, I started a series of posts on how I wound up writing four different series at once. It wasn’t something I did by plan. It just happened. You see, my muse is an evil creature who likes to torment me by enticing me with one book and then, as that book nears its end, letting me know that it really is just the beginning. The first time it happened, I figured it was a fluke. Boy was I wrong.

The first time it happened was with Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1). That book was born out of the desire to write a police procedural/mystery but with a supernatural element to it. Unlike so many urban fantasies and paranormal romances, the existence of shapeshifters was not known to the public-at-large. The main character, Mackenzie Santos, thought they were nothing more than things of bad Hollywood movies. Even after she is attacked one night and “died”, only to wake up in the morgue several hours later — almost scaring the poor morgue attendant to death in the process — she didn’t think she was anything more than lucky. Then, when she started waking in locations different from where she went to sleep, and without any clothes on, she wondered if she was losing her mind. Even when she realizes that she is turning furry and there are others like her, she’s not completely sure it isn’t all some madness induce nightmare.

But through it all, she has a duty to perform. A serial killer is hunting on the streets of Dallas and it’s her job to find him before he can kill again. When that serial killer turns out to be another shapeshifter, well, life just go real.

When I first finished Origins, indie publishing hadn’t really taken off. So I went the way so many authors have over the years. I sent it off to agents and publishers. There were the usual rejections. They hurt. No one likes hearing their baby isn’t beloved by all. But there were others who were interested. However, they always had something they wanted done to the book, something I wasn’t willing to do. One wanted more sex. Even then, this particular editor felt that if you had a shapeshifter, sex had to play a prominent role in the book, whether it progressed the plot or not. It didn’t matter that Mac had more than enough on her plate just trying to come to terms with what she had become. The last thing she needed just then was to get involved with someone. Another editor wanted me to completely rewrite the book, going from third person limited to first person point of view. Everything else was just fine. All I had to do was make that one “minor” change. Not only no but hell no because there was no guarantee of a contract after making such a drastic change.

Long story short, I brought Origins out with a small press and later, when the rights reverted back to me, I re-released it. Not once have I regretted those decisions.

However, once Origins was finished and I started trying to shop it around, I realized that Mac’s story was far from over. All I had done woith Origins was bring her to the point where she was beginning to accept what she was. But there were a number of questions raised in it that still needed to be explored and answered. That’s how Nocturnal Serenade (Nocturnal Lives Book 2) was born.

Yes, it was still a police procedural. There were still crimes to be investigated and solved. But also introduced Mac’s mother and grandmother, both of whom have a great deal to explain — like why they never told Mac she came from a long line of shapeshifters. This book also gave more of an insight into pride dynamics. In other words, Mac’s world was expanding and that, in and of itself, needed to be told.

Along about this same time, I wrote a novella using Mac and company. While their shifter natures were mentioned and they were able to use some of their enhanced senses, the focus of the story was the crime and solving it. I wanted to see if I could write a police procedural without relying on Mac changing into a jaguar to take down the bad guy. Nocturnal Haunts (Nocturnal Lives) was that novella. It may, at some point in the future, be expanded into a full novel but I’m not sure.

Mac wasn’t done, not by a long shot. One of the main points Mac made in both Origins and Serenade was that their kind had to be more careful now than ever before. In this day and age of smartphones and Youtube and security cameras everywhere, one slip was all it would take for their secret to get out. Add to that the advances in forensics and, sooner rather than later, someone would realize shifters existed. That meant they had to be prepared. Would they allow themselves to become the victims of a modern day witch hunt or would they start preparing the way for them to reveal themselves under their own terms and in such a way a panic didn’t result?

Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives Book 3) begins to answer those questions. What neither she nor those closest to her know is that a group of shifters has already started making those inroads. Unfortunately, there is another group with another goal in mind. When their kind goes public, they want it to be in such a way that shifters become the predominate species. That puts the two groups on a crash course and Mac finds herself smack in the middle.

As with the other books in the series, there is a crime to solve. Only this one hits closer to home than ever. At a time when Mac should be celebrating one of the happiest times of her life, she returns home from a well-deserved vacation to discover that her partner and best friend has been abducted. Worse, Pat is only one of several, most of whom Mac knows, who have gone missing while she was gone. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then discovers that her own squad had been ordered not to tell her what happened. Needless to say, Mac is not happy and she is soon digging into what happened.

By the end of the book, she knows more about the two sides than she ever wanted. She also has to make a choice, one that will impact not only herself but those closest to her. She can choose to do what she has advocated all along, that the shifters find a way to ease their way into the public eye or she can sit back and go along with the powers that be. The former is, in her mind, not only the right thing to do but the smart thing. However, it also is a step that doesn’t just toe the line of shifter law but steps over it. But the other would seal the death warrants on an untold number of both shifters and normals. That’s something she can’t do.

Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4) is the latest book in the series. It continues the conflict set up in Interlude. Choices are made and there can be no going back. Even as she knows she is doing the only thing she can and still live with herself, Mac wishes things could go back to the way they were before that fateful night of her birthday celebration when she’d been attacked. A nice murder without any sort of supernatural element to it would be great. That’s especially true when it comes to the politics of the job. Screw up there and she could get fired. But screw up shifter politics and she could die.

If Interlude hit close to home, Challenge walks through the door and sets up house. Even as Mac and the others wait to see if Pat and the others who had been kidnapped will survive the injuries inflicted on them by their captors, Mac is faced with trying to keep her family safe. That includes her younger brother and sister. Like their mother, they have not shifted and they don’t really understand the danger they all face. Thinking she knows better than her older sister, mother and grandmother, Abby leaves the safe house and falls into the hands of the enemy. Let’s just say a pissed off big sister who also happens to shift into a jaguar isn’t someone to mess with.

There will be at least one more book in the series. The plot is already talking to me. It is my hope to have it out by the end of the year but it may be the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, the other books are available in digital format from Amazon, with no additional drm added, and can be ordered in print format from most booksellers (note: the last two titles will be available later this month in print format).

New Beginnings

coverThe blog was silent this weekend for a couple of reasons. The main one was the weather. DFW and the surrounding area had not only rain — lots and lots of rain — this weekend but high winds and, in some areas, tornadoes. My thoughts and prayers are will all those in Van Zandt County, Denton County and the other areas where so much damage was done. As for here, well, there is one bedroom and bathroom that flood when we get a large amount of rain at once. Add in the fact that we have had multiple hard rains over the last few days and we have flooded three times so far in the last four days. That means my wet-vac has been well used as have the fans and other equipment used to try to dry out carpet, concrete, sheetrock and baseboards. It also means my allergies and asthma have been kicking up. So, there was no blog and very little writing done this weekend.

Nocturnal Interlude2But, there is one thing physical labor does for me and that is it lets my mind wander while I am busy doing something else. That is a good thing because it means Myrtle the Muse has time to figure out what needs to happen with which project. The really good part of this is that I now have the opening — after three failed tries — to Daggar of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), It also means I know what needs to be done in Nocturnal Challenge, the follow-up to Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives Book 3). I have a feeling that by the time I start putting the room back together — painting and stuff like that will have to wait until the weekend — I will have the plot worked out for Honor from Ashes, the sequel to Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2). Those are all good things.

The bad thing is that I also know pretty much where Skeletons in the Close is going. The reason this is a bad thing is that I cannot, absolutely CANNOT, even think about that book while writing anything else. The main character’s voice is so strong and loud and Southern that, if I were to try working on it while doing another project, that other project would wind up sounding like it had come straight out of a haunted version of Gone With the Wind — modern day version, of course.

So that brings me back to beginnings. As I said earlier, I had started Dagger of Elanna. I even know the basic plot. I’ve talked a little of it out with one of my first readers. The problem was actually starting the book in the right place. With it being the second book in a series — and one which builds on what happened in Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), it is important that I set things up so that those who haven’t read the first book can still figure out what’s going on. On the other hand, I don’t want to bore those who have read Sword by rehashing the events of that first book. And, no, I don’t do prologues or introductions. My experience is that most readers at best skim them. so the trick is to start the story and carefully drop the background in without info dumping on a huge scale.

I think I have that figured out now and hope to see it start to flow when I start writing in a few minutes (more coffee will be needed as will stepping away from the computer for a few minutes to clear my head. This is my second blog post this morning.) So, fingers crossed that this takes off the way I think it will. If it does, then I should have the rough draft finished by the end of the month — knock on wood. The others should be done shortly after that. Knock on wood again.

In the meantime, I have blogged over at According to Hoyt this morning. I’ll post a link once the piece goes live there.
And, if you are of a mind to support the kibble fund to keep Demon Kat and his counterpart, Thena, Queen of the Universe, fed and happy — well, as happy as any cat can be when there is a dog in the house — check out Sword of Arelion and my other titles. You can find a list of all my books at my author page on Amazon.

Thanks!

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Setting Goals

One of the things I’ve noticed with a lot of writers, myself included, is that all too often we don’t set hard goals for ourselves. We have the best of intentions. We’re going to finish that book or story we’ve been working on. We’re going to submit to X-number of markets and to to Y-number of conventions. Some of us even set word count goals. We’re good about sticking to these for a bit and then, slowly but surely, those goals begin to slip and we fall back into the old habits.

Over the past nine months, I’ve been working hard to set and keep certain writing-related goals. As a result, my productivity has increased and, along with it, my sales. Both are very good things. But it has also been difficult, especially because there have been a number of external forces doing their best to keep me not only from meeting my writing goals but my work goals as well. So the goals sometimes get pushed back — but only temporarily. And, more importantly, now that life seems to finally be getting back to normal (knocks on wood), I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on work goals and that means the writing goals will be able to fall into place as well.

So, what are my writing goals?

I almost hate to put them down because, sure as I do, something is going to happen that will throw a wrench in the works. However, I’ve learned something else the last few months. If I share my goals and let other people help hold me accountable for them, I do tend to get back on track quicker than when it was just me. It’s not quite as easy to procrastinate when people are asking what the status is on a certain project.

My first goal is to finish Hunter’s Pride, the third book in the Hunter’s Moon series written under the Ellie Ferguson pen name. Pride is currently 3/4 finished and should be going out to beta readers and my editor in a week or so. This book is a bit different from the others in the series and that’s made it both more difficult and more fun to write.

After that is the sf/space opera I’ve been snippeting here. My best guess on it is that it is 2/3 finished. Yes, I’m working on them at the same time and, yes, there is some mental whiplash but so far it is working. This particular project is the one that has me scratching my head though. I’m torn between putting it out on my own or through NRP. Another part, the fangirl part, wants to submit it to Baen and take my chances there. So, I’m probably going to ask my mentor and a few others what they think when I finish the rough draft. There are pros and cons to both approaches but, as I’ve said here and on Mad Genius Club many times, Baen is the only traditional publisher I’d consider right now. The others I’m watching to see how they adapt to the change in market.

I estimate the space opera will be finished in another month to six weeks.

After that, I will probably go back to writing something under the pen name. There is a real mental switch I throw between writing as Ellie and writing as myself. (Hey, I’m a writer. I’m allowed to be a bit weird.) Besides, my editor — more precisely, the treasurer for NRP who also happens to be her husband — wants me to do a follow-up to Wedding Bell Blues. WBB was written basically on a dare and has been both the bane and the blessing of my writing life. It proved to me that I can write outside the sf/f genres I had been doing and tossing under my bed for years. It also proved that I could make good money as a writer. But romantic suspense with a touch of humor was a stretch for me when I first did it. However, I know I can do it now. It’s just putting butt in chair and doing it.

The problem comes in with deciding if I want this third book in the year’s goal to a true sequel to WBB or just a “related” book. My gut feeling right now is to make it a “related” book where the lead characters from WBB are walk-ons only and not the main characters in this new work. I even have the first 100 pages or so of something already written than could be adapted. Yes, one of those popcorn kittens might actually find a home with this.

The final book I’d like to finish before the end of the year is the follow-up to Nocturnal Interlude. For one thing, I have already been threatened with bodily harm if I don’t bring the next book out soon. For another, I want to write this book. This whole series has been a project of my heart. It is the one series that, while it sometimes throws me for a loop as I write the books, it isn’t a chore to write. That’s not to say I didn’t fight Interlude more than the other titles in the series. I did. But that was because I didn’t want to follow my gut on it and that is never smart. I’m starting to understand that there are times I just have to trust myself and my muse and quit second-guessing everything as I write.

I can hear some of you thinking I’ve lost my mind. After all, I’m proposing writing somewhere between 300k-400k words this year. When you put it that way, it does appear to be a daunting task. However, when I have a plan and I have a feel for a book, it is very doable. In the last two and a half weeks, I’ve written 57k words on Hunter’s Pride in only a few hours a day.  A lot of it has been written in waiting rooms and other places that aren’t my normal workspace. Then there’s the fact that I am 65k words into the space opera. Those are huge chunks out of my goal already.

More importantly, I’ve discovered that doing this blog daily has helped my word count as well. It is as though it has become the jump start to my day. I can do a 1k word post in half an hour or so — it depends on how many interruptions I have and how often I have to get up to let the dog in/out/in and get more coffee.

So, what is my standard day? I get up, pry the eyes open, check the news — after getting coffee — and then do my post. The next few hours are spent on work for NRP. Then I sit down to write. Around five (sometimes sooner depending on housework needed, errands to run, etc), I stop for the day and spend the evening with family. After everyone goes to bed, I write or edit for another hour or so. I haven’t changed my sleep patterns nor have I given anything up. In fact, I am doing more and getting more accomplished by setting goals and routines.

Here’s crossing my fingers to hope I can keep up with it.

 

Believability

No, I’m not getting into the debate about whether or not an author can create a believable character simply because the author isn’t female or gay or non-white or whatever. No, this is about making sure your characters and their motivations are believable in the world you create in your novel or short story. It started when I was reading a series of reviews on Goodreads about 50 Shades of Grey and it became fodder for the blog when I was reading a book description this morning.

At the risk of insulting a lot of folks out there, let me begin by saying I hated 5o Shades. I found the books poorly written and even more poorly edited. I couldn’t stand the main characters. Worse, I couldn’t believe in them. It wasn’t that Anastasia was still a virgin when she graduated college. No, it was that she could barely use a computer and iPod. She’s sheltered and sexually naive and yet she falls into a relationship with Grey that would have most women running for the hills. As for Grey, well, that man needed to be in intensive therapy for years. Beyond that, as much of an ass as he was portrayed to be, can you really tell me some gossip rag wouldn’t have outed him for what he was years before Ana came into the picture?

In other words, I couldn’t believe their characterizations or motivations.

Then there was the book description I read this morning. It was for an urban fantasy, maybe a paranormal romance. I’m not sure because I didn’t even finish reading the blurb. It was enough to know that the main character is a vampire who, for whatever reasons, is out there hunting down her own kind to protect humans. There’s nothing to allude to the possibility that she does so because she has some honor-bound duty to or even because if vampires are allowed to “breed” unchecked, the humans will soon become extinct and then what will the vamps do for food? No, all we’re told is that she does this and now the vamps and werewolves are looking at forming a truce of sorts and that mustn’t be allowed at all.

So right off the bat, I don’t know what the character’s motivation might be. Without even a hint of what it might be, I don’t want to read the book because it doesn’t make sense. Even in a blurb, there has to be that element of believability to pull your reader in. Just putting in conflict isn’t enough — at least not for me.

That’s an issue I faced when I started writing Nocturnal Origins (and the subsequent books in the series) and then again in Hunted and Hunter’s Duty . I had to figure out how to make the main characters seem like they could exist in our world and yet have these extraordinary things happen to them. With Origins (as well as Nocturnal Serenade and Nocturnal Interlude) it meant finding a way to have Mackenzie Santos realize that her life and her world have been turned upside down and will never be the same again. It isn’t an easy transition for her, especially since it means she finds herself having to find a way to reconcile the “monster” she’s become with her duties as a cop. She wrestles with the possibility that she’s simply losing her mind in the first book. After all, people don’t turn furry on nights of the full moon, at least not without donning a costume. Even after she begins to accept her shapeshifter nature, she has to deal with a sense of betrayal because her family hadn’t warned her. What she doesn’t do is automatically accept and revel in what she is becoming nor does she forsake the oaths she took and still holds dear. Instead, she does her best to find a way to hold true to those oaths without bringing danger to herself or the others like her.

The Hunter’s Moon series is a bit different, hence the pen name, in that it is closer to paranormal romance than straight urban fantasy. The characters in the first two books have been raised knowing they are shapeshifters. They know there are others like themselves. And, as with the Nocturnal Lives series, the world-at-large is unaware of the existence of shapeshifters and that is how the shifters would like it to stay, at least until they find a way to reveal their existence without sparking a war between shifters and normals.

In the Hunter’s Moon series, the challenge has been not to fall into the trap so many authors have when it comes to paranormal romance — my characters having sex just because it’s expected. The books are far from a series of sex scenes being tied together with a little bit of plot. I’ve worked hard to make the main male and female characters be complements of one another. Both are strong, in their own ways, but also have faults and weaknesses. More than that, they have motivations that most of us can understand — the need to keep your word after saying you’d do something, doing your job and duty, protecting those who aren’t able to protect themselves, family duty and honor.

If I can’t believe in a character or her motivation, I’m not going to enjoy the book. So, if you have a vampire out there killing her own kind, give me a reason. I know why Blade was out there hunting the vamps. It made sense. Don’t give me broken characters with broken motivations that could never exist more than a few days in this world without either breaking down completely or being splashed across the gossip columns for all to see.

Edited to add:

Many thanks to Jason Cordova and the rest of the Shiny Book Review folks for their review of Nocturnal Interlude today.

 

Monday Morning Links

I’m more than a bit under the weather this morning and I do NOT have time for it. I think it’s mainly allergies but right now I want to claw out my eyes, rip out my sinuses and freeze my scratching throat. The result is that I’m not functioning well enough to formulate a coherent post this morning. However, since this is a holiday for those of us in the U.S., I thought I’d post links to some books you might like.

Cedar Sanderson is one of my fellow bloggers at Mad Genius Club. She is also one of the best new voices in fiction that I know of right now.
Pixie Noir

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

Another member of the Mad Genius Club is Kate Paulk.


ConVent (The Vampire Con Series)

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

If you like historical fiction or if you are a fan of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, check out Sarah A. Hoyt’s No Will But His.

Kathryn Howard belongs to a wealthy and powerful family, the same family that Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s great love originated from. From a young age, her ambitious relatives maneuver to make her queen. Brought up in a careless manner, ignorant of the ways of the court, Kathryn falls victim to her kind heart, all the while wishing she could be the wife of Thomas Culpepper.

Dave Freer, another of the Mad Geniuses, is one of my favorite authors. He spins wonderful tales and I have never been disappointed by anything he’s written. If you like satire, urban fantasy and detective stories, check out Bolg, PI: The Vampire Bride.

A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.

Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: in this case tracing the Vampire bride’s absconded or kidnapped groom.

The groom should have been a troll by the name of Billy Gruff, the manager and owner of the Ricketty-Racketty Club – a topless bar and nightclub. Bolg finds himself, and his client embroiled in murder, extortion and a Celtic wizard. The latter is supposedly helping him, but wizard’s help is not always what it you think it will be.

Finally, there is the self-promo. You knew I couldn’t close without mentioning my own books.

Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives)
(Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Nocturnal Serenade (Nocturnal Lives) (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives) (Book 3)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos swears she will never take another vacation again as long as she lives. The moment she returns home, two federal agents are there to take her into custody. Then she finds out her partner, Sgt. Patricia Collins, as well as several others are missing. Several of the missing have connections to law enforcement. All are connected to Mac through one important and very secret fact — they are all shapechangers. Has someone finally discovered that the myths and bad Hollywood movies are actually based on fact or is there something else, something more insidious at work?

Mac finds herself in a race against time not only to save her partner and the others but to discover who was behind their disappearances. As she does, she finds herself dealing with Internal Affairs, dirty cops, the Feds and a possible conspiracy within the shapeshifter community that could not only bring their existence to light but cause a civil war between shifters.

Enjoy and I’ll be back tomorrow!

My muse is being evil

nocturnal interludenewThose of you who follow me here — and many thanks for doing so — or on Mad Genius Club know that my latest novel, Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives), came out last week as an e-book on Amazon and will soon be available in print. Some of you have been kind enough to buy it and leave reviews and others have promised reviews. A big thanks for that because the reviews do help, especially if you share them on social media or through word of mouth. I’m almost over checking my sales numbers on a much too regular basis. What I’m not over is that mental state of blah that seems to fall on me after finishing a project.

Actually, that’s not quite right. That blah feeling left about a week ago and the need to write once more settled into place. The problem is my muse. The next project I ought to be writing is something I’ll talk more about Tuesday. It’s not the novel I snippeted from Friday. Nor is it the sequel to Interlude. Unfortunately, every time I sit down to write the book I ought to be working on, another book pushes itself to the forefront and wants my attention NOW.

It is as if I am suffering an advanced case of “ooooh, shiny” or popcorn kitten complex. It also doesn’t help that Interlude begs for a sequel to be done quickly. As a result, I have maybe 7k words done on the project I ought to be working on. Of that, maybe 2k will actually be used. Oh, I have most of the book plotted out, including about 15k of plot notes. But actually getting the book down on paper in anything close to readable form, well, that’s not happening yet.

Instead, I have space marines vying for attention against a main character who gives new meaning to the term “skeletons in the closet” (her relatives have a nasty habit of returning home after they die and not leaving. Worse, they want to continue on with their lives even though the rest of the town attended their funerals. Fortunately, the local undertaker doesn’t mind coming by to give them their “treatments” so there are no repeats of the uncle’s nose falling into the soup at Sunday dinner or the aunt’s need to overdo with the lilac water to cover the, er, aroma.Not zombies — at least not the brain eating, mindless kind — and not ghosts but enough to be a pain for the m/c). Shapeshifters are baring their teeth against an attorney, who actually scares me more than they do.

You’d think that with all those characters and plots, and the others I didn’t list, fighting for attention, I could find one that would let me write it. But nooooo. My muse is an evil bitch and right now she’s having a good laugh torturing me. The moment I sit down to write, having finally settled on one project, it goes quiet and another pops in.

Like I said, popcorn kittens. Shiny!

Normally, when this happens, I simply tell my muse to shut up and let me work. I think one of the problems this time is that I’ve been distracted by real life issues. I won’t bore you with them. I’ll simply say there have been more than enough of them and I hope they are the last vestiges of 2013’s year from hell. Since I think I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, that’s the explanation I’m holding onto.

So, this next week I’m going to sit down and force myself to work on the project that needs to be done. I’ll probably work on the sf novel as well since it is basically done. The last third needs major work, but I know what and where so that shouldn’t be too difficult. My goal this year is to put out a novel every two months and short stories when I can force myself to sit down and write them (short fiction isn’t my normal mode of writing so I don’t do them easily). I don’t know if I’ll be able to meet this goal, but I’m going to try.

Anyone else out there fighting their muse or trying to increase their writing output this year?

Friday Snippet

nocturnal interludenewAs I announced Wednesday, Nocturnal Interlude is now available on Amazon as an e-book and will be available in print in a couple of weeks. (YAY!) The book was both a joy and a pain to write. I love the characters, even when I want to hit them over the head, but the plot of this book in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Yes, I did have a general plot in mind when I started it. But that plot quickly went out the window, down the street and over the hill as I began writing.

Fortunately for my continued sanity, Sarah A. Hoyt and Kate Paulk held my hand — metaphorically speaking — and listened as I plotted at them. They have been there throughout the series, helping when needed and more often kicking me when I’d doubt myself too much. So, for their continued support, I offer a huge “thank you” because without them, I’m not sure this book would ever have been finished.

Below is a widget that will take you to the product page for Interlude and, at the bottom of the page, is another widget that you can use to check out all the titles in the Nocturnal Lives series. I’d appreciate it if you’d click on the widgets — and I’d really appreciate it if you’d buy the book. The dog needs kibble and the cat needs more kitty litter — because I do get a bit more that way.

But this is Friday and that means I owe you a snippet. Because Interlude is out, I’m going to start snippeting something I’ve been working on off-and-on for some time and have decided I’m going to go ahead and finish. It’s my first attempt at space opera and this is a very rough draft. For those of you who followed the blog earlier, you may recognize the snippet — I think I’ve posted it before.

***

Chapter One

“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 just done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years of 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. But they had come close to it. 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.

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 happened.

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 in quick pain as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved and 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 tripping 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 that doesn’t mean the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those 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 that she could do anything about it, at least 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 going to happen?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and 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 hadn’t taken long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood might have 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 muffled 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 be stupid, he’d 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, two days 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 that 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 company, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into Hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right next to 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 on 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’d 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, but nothing about the guards indicated she was about to be freed either. That had been the closest she’d come to breaking her own rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to”.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back 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 back 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 they were afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation, not that she’d asked. She’d learned very quickly after her conviction not to ask about anything. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that often resulted in punishment, usually of the painful kind. Not that that sort of thing was officially sanctioned. But that didn’t stop it. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. That had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Still, 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 to keep her mouth shut. That wasn’t to say there weren’t times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore scars as a result. All she wanted now was to get 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.

Now, freed of her restraints and alone in her new cell, 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. 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 that. At least not anymore. No, there were others that 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 they 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. Of course, this wasn’t the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, she continued to stand there. She listened, counting as his footsteps slowly faded. 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 little and her thoughts once more drifted back to the events leading up to her transfer

Once convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking down the corridor, 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. More importantly, she wouldn’t let them see her planning. 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.

*     *     *

The two followed the guard down the long corridor. Bare white walls intersected by six reinforced doors on each side marked their path. Silence, broken only by the sounds of their steps, enveloped them. This wing of the security complex felt deserted — which it was with one exception. There hadn’t been a need to use the high security cells for a long while.

As far as the tall redhead was concerned, there was still no need to — even considering just how special this particular prisoner happened to be.

Admiral Miranda Tremayne (ret.)  and Admiral Richard Collins were there with one purpose. They had to find a way to convince Ashlyn Shaw to trust them enough to listen. That was their first hurdle. The second would be harder. Somehow, they had to persuade her to work with them again. If she agreed, they’d secure her immediate release. It was a long shot, Tremayne knew, but they had to try. Not only for the prisoner’s sake but for the sake of so many more.

Their escort stopped before the last cell and nodded. Like every other cell along the corridor, this was a high security cell. Thick, reinforced walls with only a small opening, just wide enough for a single person to step through. That opening could be secured with a reinforced door that slid firmly into place when activated. But for now that door was open, the security field active.

Directly across from the door was a single cot. On it lay the prisoner. Her back was to them and nothing about her revealed whether she realized she was being watched or not. But Tremayne knew better. She’d known the prisoner for years, most of the younger woman’s life in fact. She had no doubt Ashlyn Shaw, decorated Marine captain and now convicted war criminal, was well aware of the fact someone was there, even if she might not know who.

“On your feet, prisoner!” the guard barked. “I said, on your feet!”

Tremayne watched Shaw as the guard pounded his stun baton on the side of the cell once and then again. Nothing seemed to phase the young woman. Only the slight tensing of her muscles, so slight Tremayne almost missed it, betrayed the fact that Shaw even heard the guard. Interesting. The young woman had always possessed great self-control. Clearly she’d honed it to a new level during her incarceration.

“Damn it, Shaw, on your feet. Don’t make me come in there,” the guard all but growled.

Tremayne frowned. The last thing they needed was to further antagonize the young woman. Besides, were their roles reversed, she’d probably be doing her best to show as much indifference as was the young woman. Even so, she could understand the guard’s frustration. He was under enough pressure just escorting the two of them through the security wing. Collins was First Fleet’s commanding officer. Then there was Tremayne herself. So-called war hero, not that she thought of herself as such, and now a member of the Senate. To have a mere prisoner ignore his order in front of such “luminaries” had to be not only frustrating but humiliating as well.

Of course, there was nothing “mere” about Ashlyn Shaw and there never had been.

“Ma’am, I can go inside.”

The guard sounded unsure, not that Tremayne blamed him. She doubted there was anyone on the planet who didn’t know who Ashlyn Shaw was as well as her war record. Whether they believed the charges that had been leveled against her or not, they’d know she wasn’t someone you wanted to cross.

Tremayne frowned and shook her head. This wasn’t the way to proceed. If the prisoner wouldn’t respond to the guard, it was time to try something else.

Carefully judging the distance, Tremayne stepped forward, coming so close to the barrier that she could feel the energy dancing across her skin.

“Out of that rack, marine, and on your feet!” she snapped in her best command voice.

Her order met with a more pronounced physical reaction from Shaw. This time there was no mistaking the way the young woman’s muscles tensed, as if preparing to sit up. Holding her breath, Tremayne waited. Would Shaw respond or would she force herself to return to her relaxed pose on the bunk?

Several long seconds passed as they waited, but to no avail. The prisoner continued to ignore them.

Damn it.

“Admiral, let me call for backup and then we can go in.” Before the guard could reach for his com, Tremayne’s hand closed over his arm.

“No.” Most definitely not. But they had to get through to her somehow. Maybe it was time to put aside rank and go to the personal. “I know you can hear me, Shaw, so I’m just going to talk. I hope you’ll listen.”

God how I wish the last two years had never happened. Everything would be so much easier.

“Things have changed since you were brought up on charges. Those responsible are no longer in power, either in the government or in the military chain of command.” She paused, watching, hoping for some reaction. Was there a hint of tension easing in the prisoner’s body? She wasn’t sure. All she could do was continue and hope for the best. “Some things haven’t changed however. We’re still at war. It doesn’t matter that we’ve technically been sharing a truce with the enemy. All it did was slow hostilities. The fact is things are about to get bad again and you know what that means.”

Surely that would get through to the young woman. In all the years she’d known Ashlyn Shaw, there’d been one thing she could rely upon — Shaw’s sense of duty. She just hoped the last two years hadn’t destroyed it.

“Shaw — Ashlyn.” She reached out, the palm of her right hand almost touching the security field separating them. As she did, she sensed the guard tensing, ready to pull her back before she made contact with the field. “We need you. Please.”

Finally, a reaction. A slight tremor ran down the prisoner’s back. Then a bitter laugh filled the cell. Tremayne bit her lower lip to hear it.

“You seem to forget that I still have three years to serve on my sentence, Admiral. Not much I can do for you while I’m a prisoner. So, unless you’ve brought a pardon — for not only me, but for my people as well — you can go to Hell.”

“That’s enough, Shaw!” Collins snapped. “You may be a prisoner, but you’re still a Marine and you’ll respect the rank, if nothing else, and listen to what we have to say.”

“Respect the rank!” Fury filled the young woman’s voice as she rolled over and surged to her feet.

Tremayne gasped in shock. Gone was the promising young officer she’d known. In her place was a hard, scarred woman, a veteran of battles that had killed so many. But there was more. Her face showed scars that hadn’t been there when she’d been sentenced to the Tarsus military prison. What in the hell had happened to her in the last two years to bring her to this?

And would it prevent her from helping them, even if they managed to arrange for everyone to be pardoned?

“Ashlyn, please, just listen,” Tremayne said softly.

“I listened once before, Admiral, and it cost most of my people their lives. Those that survived found themselves brought up on charges, just like me, and sent to that hellhole of a military prison. But maybe you’ve forgotten that.”

Tremayne closed her eyes and breathed deeply, struggling for calm. She hadn’t forgotten. She’d kept the memory of that betrayal close to her. It had been why she’d retired from the military and had run for office. She’d known she needed to work the system to get those brave souls freed and their names cleared, not that she’d expected it to take this long.

She still remembered all too clearly the events that had led up to Shaw’s court martial. Shaw had done nothing wrong. She’d done her duty. She’d followed orders, despite her misgivings — misgivings she’d voiced not only to her immediate commanding officer but to the sector commander and to Tremayne as well. And what had it gotten her? Her company decimated in an ambush and the rest of them, Shaw included, court martialed and imprisoned and all in the name of face-saving by some damn-fool politicians and senior officers.

Worse, Shaw’s family – and the families of the other survivors – had also paid the price. Those in government service who hadn’t been willing to condemn their relatives had seen their jobs disappear. There had been other pressures brought to bear on those in the private sector. That could no more be forgiven than what happened to Shaw and her people, as the next round of elections had proven.

“Ashlyn, I can’t undo what happened. I wish to God I could.” Tremayne waved Collins back as he stepped forward. The last thing they needed was him losing his temper, not that she blamed him. It was his fleet about to head to the front lines, his people who would be the first to die. More would die if they couldn’t convince Shaw to work with them. “All I can tell you is that things have changed since then. Fleet leadership has undergone a turnover the likes of which you wouldn’t believe. What happened to you and your company became a rallying cry at the last elections and those politicians responsible were voted out of office. There is no chance of a repeat of what you went through ever happening again.”

“At least until the next election.” Shaw shook her head and ran a hand through her short cropped, dark hair. “Sorry, Admiral, unless and until you can tell me my people have been pardoned and are safely away from Tarsus, I’ve got nothing more to say to you.”

“Ashlyn, at least listen. Please.”

“Not until I know my people are free.”

With that, she returned to her bunk and once more turned her back to them. There’d be no getting through to her. Between past betrayals and whatever Hell she’d been forced to endure the last two years, she’d changed. But she’d given them a lever they could use, one Tremayne had already considered.

“Ashlyn–”

“Admiral, all I want is to finish serving my sentence. Then, maybe, I can finally bury my dead.”

“Please, just think about it.”

Tremayne turned and retraced her steps down the corridor. She’d realized it would be difficult to convince the young woman to trust them. As far as Shaw knew, they’d accepted the way she and her people were offered up as political sacrifices just as most of the military leadership had. She didn’t know all Tremayne and so many others done to fight to gain not only their freedom, but to also clear their names.

What she hadn’t anticipated was the change in Shaw. Something had happened to her during her incarceration. The physical scars were proof of that. But what had happened and how badly had they damaged the young woman? Obviously, she had her homework to do before she next tried to talk to Ashlyn Shaw.

“Miranda,” Collins began, his frustration clear.

“Later.” She needed to think before discussing what happened even with him.

*      *     *

The sounds of footsteps grew fainter. Part of her wanted to call Tremayne and Collins back, to ask all the questions she’d had no answers to for so long. But the other part, the part that had learned how to survive in the military prison, held her back. She’d trusted them once and that trust had cost her and her command dearly. It would take more than their assurances that things had changed for her to trust them again.

It was difficult to stay where she was, to stay quiet. Swallowing hard, she squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself not to react. Just because the admirals were gone didn’t mean she wasn’t being watched. She was damned if she’d let anyone see how badly this had shaken her. She hadn’t known what to expect when she’d been brought back to the capital, but this certainly wasn’t it.

A moment later she drew a shaky breath and held it. When she slowly exhaled, she forced herself to relax. So many emotions raged within her, too many. Among them was hope, something she hadn’t felt in a very long while. But she couldn’t allow herself the luxury of experiencing any of them and especially not the latter. Emotions were a weakness to be exploited. She might not be at the penal colony any longer, but she was still a prisoner. She’d give her jailers nothing they could use against her. Indifference was her only defense just then.

But it was hard, so very hard. Dear God, when she’d heard Admiral Tremayne’s voice, she’d thought for one moment she’d finally lost her mind. Tremayne had been the one person in the military she’d always been able to count on. She knew Tremayne had tried to speak on her behalf at that farce of a trial but the military judges hadn’t let her. Tremayne had been on her side then, just as she’d always been.

But now the admiral was asking her to help them despite how she and the remainder of her company had been betrayed. Had she been wrong all this time in believing in Tremayne? Or had the admiral really been telling her the truth when she’d said things had changed?

She couldn’t think about that, couldn’t hold out hope. Not when her people were still on Tarsus. At least she’d been able to warn the admirals — if they understood. They had to understand. Or they had to at least wonder enough about what she’d said to start digging.

Dear God, let me be careful though.

Otherwise, she’d be joining those dead she’d talked about and, despite everything, she wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. She still had vengeance to mete out first.

***

 

 

Formatting issues and concerns

While talking with Cedar Sanderson yesterday, the conversation turned to e-book formatting. Her comment was that she has noticed how e-book formatting has evolved over the last few years. For a moment, I wasn’t sure what she meant. Then I realized she was right. Formatting for e-books has come a long way over the last few years. Part of the reason is because e-books are being read on more advanced and powerful e-readers, tablets and smartphones. Another part of the reason is because we are no longer limited to uploading our e-books to sales sites in HTML format (Let’s face it. Too many of us either don’t know or don’t want to know how to code in HTML and it does take time to do it, time we’d rather spend writing.)

But this change in formatting has brought up a new worry for indie authors and small presses. How do you find the right template to use for you e-books? (There’s another associated question: should your e-books look like your print books?)

What really drove the issue home with me was opening my email this morning and finding a LinkedIn conversation about templates. The initial commenter linked to a site that sells interior templates for Word for a mere $87 (yes, my snark is on with the “mere”). Then he asked if anyone else had any other links to templates. From his comment, it is unclear if he is doing anything but e-books.

There are five answers to his question and, yes, five different pieces of advice. One basically says to run out and buy Adobe PageMaker because they think it is easy to learn and is perfect for the job. Another notes that she uses InDesign (but she also says there is a learning curve and that there are issues with it, as there are with almost any other program, when you upload a non-MOBI file to Amazon). Then there’s the commenter who recommends the templates from Createspace.

All of those recommendations are valid and based on personal experience. Two require major monies be laid out for the programs. But at least they addressed the original poster’s question. The other two comments don’t. At least not directly.

One says that all new authors should spend at least three months learning the ropes of self-publishing and then, if it is too much, they should consider hiring someone to do the layout work for them. Then there is the “vague questions like this produce vague answers” comment that had my hackles rising. The question — where do you find your templates — was not vague.

But it was the remaining comment that had me absolutely seething. According to this person, you MUST hire someone to do your layouts to avoid your book looking like it was self-published. There is no way a mere writer can learn how to put out a quality looking project is basically what he says. What he doesn’t say is that he works for a site/company that does conversions and printing.

So, here’s my take on it. If you are preparing your book only for digital release, it doesn’t matter what program you use. Most sites that allow you to upload an e-book for sale (ie Amazon, B&N, etc) accept Word files, HTML, etc. Experience has taught me that if you upload their native format (EPUB for Apple and B&N, among others and MOBI for Amazon) you have fewer conversion problems. The key is making sure you actually check the file after you’ve uploaded it to insure nothing odd happened.

There are free — and easy to learn — programs available to do the conversions from your original working file to EPUB or MOBI formats. Sigil and Calibre are two examples. Atlantis is a relatively inexpensive word processing program that actually cleans up a lot of the junk code in a Word file and will convert to EPUB. There is also a free plug-in that allows it to convert to MOBI. I’ve found the MOBI conversion a bit lacking but I know others who are happy with it.

As for your interior formatting for e-books, the first thing to decide is if you are also putting your work out in print. If you are, I recommend you use the same basic formatting for chapter headings, first lines of each chapter, etc., in your e-book that you do with your print version. In other words, make them look as much alike as you can. This is something we are now doing with NRP and we will be going back to all our novels and updating the digital files as we bring out the print files.

So, here are some basics I suggest:

1. Use a font that is easily read. The most common are Georgia, Garamond, Times New Roman.

2. Don’t use fancy fonts or symbols that will have to be embedded in your document. The reason for this is because not all e-book readers/programs will recognize them and that will result is odd characters showing up in the e-book and upsetting your reader.

3. Line spacing should be set at 1 or 1.5. Do not use double spacing.

4. Do not add space between paragraphs (either by having an extra return or by using paragraph formatting to do so.)

5. Insert a section break at the end of your chapter. This will cause the next chapter to open on a new screen for your e-book (by using section break instead of page break, you are also setting up your working file for easier conversion for print. You can program the break so that the new section begins on an odd page — which is what you want for print.)

6. Chapter Titles should be set as “heading 1” — which you can modify so that they are centered, black or auto color, etc. By doing this, you are putting in the necessary code for your active table of contents to be built and you don’t have to go in and do it by hand (building in hyperlinks and bookmarks).

7. Paragraphs should have first line indent active in the paragraph formatting options. My recommendation is not to set it at anything higher than 0.33. The default is usually 0.5 and that is too much for an e-book.

8. If you choose to follow standard print formatting, the first line of the first paragraph of every chapter will not be indented and the first few words or first clause of the sentence will be capped. You can remove the first line indent by simply highlighting and going into your paragraph options and unclicking first line indent. The caps can be done either by manually doing it or by highlighting the appropriate section of the first sentence, going into your font options and clicking “All Caps”.

Along this line, the fancy first letter of a chapter/superscript letter/etc., doesn’t translate well into digital format so avoid it.

9. Be sure if you have scene breaks in your novel or short story that you remove the first line indent at the *  *  *  or whatever you use to denote a scene change.

10. If you are writing a novel, you don’t have to have a table of contents in the beginning of the book. By using Heading 1 etc., your ToC will be built during conversion and added either in the drop down menu or at the end of the book depending on what store and e-reader/e-reader program you are talking about.

11. Be sure to include a list of your other works available for download and, if you have something coming out soon, note that. Also include an author bio and an excerpt of your upcoming work or another of your titles that might relate to the book you are publishing.

12. Finally, look at print books and see how they set up the front matter. Have a title page, a legal page, a dedication and/or acknowledgement page. If you want, put in a second title page and then start with Chapter One.

I really do recommend you convert your titles to MOBI for Amazon upload and EPUB for B&N, Kobo, and Apple. For one thing, you get to embed the meta tags you want associated with your titles this way. For another, you can look at your files in a native e-reader program or on your e-reader/tablet/smartphone before you upload to the site and see if there are any problems that need to be fixed. Always convert to EPUB first and from the EPUB convert to MOBI and not the other way around.

This is how I do it today. How I do it six months down the road will probably change. Why? Because tech changes and along with it the programs we use. So the best advice is to do it the way you think it looks best and keep your eye on what everyone else is doing. No, you don’t have to pay someone to format your e-book for you. If you take a little time — and it doesn’t take three months — to learn the process, it is worth the effort.

I’ll look at print formatting later. That is  bit trickier and will take a bit more thought to put together.

In the meantime, check out Kate Paulk’s post on Mad Genius Club about advice on story telling and Sarah A. Hoyt’s post on Talent and Other Fairy Tales.

In other news, Nocturnal Interlude is now available on Amazon for download. The print version will be available for purchase in a couple of weeks.

Snippet 4

(I know it’s not Friday, but my brain is mush this morning. So, instead of not blogging, I’m going to post the next snippet. This will probably be either the next to the last or the last snippet since Nocturnal Interlude will be coming out today or tomorrow, depending on whether the conversion process borks or not.)

***

Chapter Four

“Listen up,” Mac said the moment she stepped into the squad room.

Instantly all conversations stopped and all eyes were on her. Good. She wasn’t in the mood to put up with any more foolishness. She’d had enough of that to last the rest of her life. Now she studied at her detectives and the uniformed officers assigned to her command. As she did, she saw the looks of concern and disbelief and even anger reflected in some of their faces. She could understand the first two but not the third – until she glanced to the door leading to the break room and saw Sears standing there.

“I know you have questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. However, I have one question for you. Why didn’t a single one of you pick up the phone and call to tell me my partner had disappeared?” Voice hard, she looked each of them in the eye before letting her gaze rest on Sears.

For a moment, no one said anything. They didn’t have to, not when their eyes went from her to Sears and stayed there. Not when she heard a couple of them curse angrily. Then Timothy Nguyen, one of the newest members of the squad and Sears’ partner, got to his feet and moved forward.

“LT – or should I call you captain?” He nodded to her MCCUUs.

“When I’m in uniform, Captain or Cap is fine. Otherwise, it’s LT. If you want, you can simply call me Santos. The only thing that’s changed is the uniform I’m currently wearing.” She didn’t like it, but she did have an image she had to live up to as long as she was working with Flynn and the others.

“Cap, what do you mean you weren’t notified?” Nguyen’s voice was as cold as her own had been when she’d asked Sears why no one had notified her.

“I’m saying exactly that, detective. I didn’t know what happened until I arrived home this morning and then I didn’t hear it from any of you. I learned about it when I was informed that I’d been reactivated and put on detached duty to Homeland Security. Now answer my question. Why did none of you let me know what was happening?”

“We were told you had been contacted, ma’am, but that you were having difficulties getting a flight back home,” Norwood said, his voice tight. The way he glanced at Sears confirmed Mac’s suspicions.

“All right.” Much as she wanted to have it out with the woman she’d thought was her friend, she didn’t have time to. “I will deal with this matter but after we discover what happened to Pat and the others who have disappeared.”

“Others?” Detective Banner repeated.

Before answering, Mac took another look around the bullpen. No wonder it seemed more crowded than usual. Not only was the day shift present but so was most of the night shift. Word of her return and more had obviously spread quickly.

“Yes, others. We know of six who have disappeared, including Pat. But this isn’t an isolated case. It’s happened at least four other times in other cities around the country. Each time, between six and ten people have disappeared never to be found again. Many of them have ties to law enforcement. . . .”

Mac briefed her squad on what she could, promising more information as she got it. She also informed them that she would not tolerate any dissension in the squad until after the case was closed. Then they’d have to trust her to deal with the person or persons responsible for keeping her in the dark. She could tell most of the squad, those who had been with her the longest, didn’t like it and she understood. Hell, she wanted to deal with it right now but she couldn’t. She had to stay focused on finding out what happened to Pat and the others.

And she prayed to God none of them were harmed because then she wouldn’t be responsible for what happened to Sears.

“Ma’am, I’ve got to ask. What’s with the MCCUUs?” Norwood said as her briefing wound down.

“As I said, I’ve been put on active duty until we figure out what’s going on. Because of the fact this has happened in other cities before Dallas and that law enforcement personnel or their families have been involved, Homeland is worried we are looking at domestic terrorism of some sort, possibly from one of the drug cartels. I’m still your lieutenant but I’m also a Marine Corps captain and that persona is now the official liaison between DPD and DHS.

“What that means is that I will be directing the investigation but reporting to both Captain King and to Homeland. Now, I am only going to say this once. If there is anyone here who has a problem with this to the extent that it will affect your work investigating what happened to my partner, then I’ll approve your transfer, effective immediately.” She paused, waiting as everyone looked to where Sears stood. Mac was a little surprised when she simply shook her head. Well, she’d be keeping a close eye on the woman until this was cleared up.

“Now, hit the streets. Work your CIs and see what you can find out. I’m going to check out Pat’s apartment as well as where the other victims were taken from. Unless you are following a hot lead, I want you back here at five for a briefing.” It wasn’t long, but it would give them a chance to get started. “Norwood, my office.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Santos?” Nguyen still stood looking between her and his partner and back again.

“Tim.” Her voice was soft and she moved to stand next to him and put a hand on his arm. “I know you weren’t responsible for not contacting me. I will deal with your partner later. But right now, I need you out on the streets and working. If you can’t work with her, let me know and I’ll find a uniform to go with you. Otherwise, what did or did not happen regarding contacting me is off-limits. We have to focus on finding the missing.”

“Understood, ma’am, and you can count on me.” The unspoken implication being he wasn’t sure she could count on his partner.

“Get to work and let me know if you find anything.” She didn’t wait for him to reply. Instead, she turned and walked to where Norwood waited for her at the door to her office.

“Norwood,” she began as she closed the door to give them some privacy. “I know you are part of my cousin’s unit. You will shortly receive word that I have been added to that unit. So you and I are going to be working closely together on this. The first thing you need to know is that, unless I have completely misread things, Sears has been working for IAB. I don’t know for how long but I plan to find out. The second is that we should be receiving some files from IAB in a few minutes. They’ll be from a Detective Deeks. He was supposedly looking into what happened to Pat. I want you to take possession of the files, review them and then compare what’s in them with the information we will be getting about the disappearances from the other cities.”

“Understood, ma’am.”

“If anything jumps out at you, let me know. I’ll be in the field.”

“Ma’am, not alone. Your cousin would have my head and other parts of my anatomy that I’m very fond of if anything happened to you.”

Mac couldn’t help smiling because she could picture Mateo telling the younger man exactly what would happen if Mac was hurt. “I won’t be alone,” she assured him. “But where I’m going, I need someone specific to go with me.”

“Keep in touch then, ma’am. You scare me, that’s the truth, but your cousin scares me more.”

“I’ll be good,” she promised. “Now get out there and wait for the files from IAB. If they don’t get here in the next–” She checked her watch – “hour, contact Captain King and him them know.”

“Understood.”

“And let me know if there are problems in the bullpen, even if I’m in the field. It’s obvious I’m not the only one Sears fooled.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mac sent him off and reached for her phone. Time to get to work. But before she could, she needed to get out of the MCCUUs and into something else. For this first stop, she didn’t want her quarry knowing she was working with the government.

 *   *   *

“Are you sure about this?” Jackson asked as Mac parked her car in front of the three story brick office building.

“I am.” She slide the transmission into park and switched off the engine. Then she turned in her seat to look at him. “The first thing we have to do is confirm that Ferguson really is one of the missing. The best way to do that is to confront Branson. You’re here as our pride’s second to his pack’s second. I’m the muscle.” She smiled to see the automatic protest that formed on his lips only to die away as quick as it formed. She knew he was male enough, in both forms, not to like being the one to act as protector. “If he is missing, I need a feel for Branson to help determine if his disappearance really is involved with what’s happened to Pat or if it is some sort of pack politics.”

“All right.” He looked at the building and she could see him preparing for what was about to come. “I’ll follow your lead.”

“Sweetheart, I’m going to do whatever is necessary to find out people.”

“I know, babe, and I will be right there helping you.” Anger laced his voice and she nodded in satisfaction. Good. He’d made the mental shift from banker to predator.

Satisfied, Mac gave his hand a quick squeeze before climbing out of the car. As she did, she reached for her cellphone and activated the record function. Then she dropped it back into her jacket pocket. She wanted a record of what Branson said. Now, if only luck was with them and the man was actually in his office.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here,” Jacob Branson, second to pack leader Connor Ferguson, said as the door to his office closed behind Mac and Jackson a few minutes later.

Mac fought the urge to step between Jackson and the three weres at the opposite end of the office. She’d know Branson hadn’t been alone even before they’d been shown into his office. She’d scented the other two weres. Whether they were there trying to figure out what had happened to their pack leader or they were discussing what to do now that he was gone and Branson could take over the pack, she didn’t know. Frankly, she didn’t care as long as they had nothing to do with what happened to Pat and the others.

Standing a step behind and on either side of Branson were a man and woman. Mac recognized them from when the pack and pride had appeared before the Conclave. Sizing them up, she felt confident she could handle the two of them. Branson was a different matter. If it were just the two of them, she’d feel better about her chances. But with his two companions, she knew if it came to blows, her first duty was to get Jackson out of there. He’d be able to hold his own if shifted, but fighting in human form was not his forte.

“Three of our own are missing. From what we’ve heard, so is your pack leader and at least one other member of your pack,” Jackson began.

The man standing to Branson’s left inhaled quickly at Jackson’s words. That was enough for Mac to know their information had been right. Now all they had to do was get Branson to cooperate and share information. Of course, parting the Nile might be easier.

For a moment, Branson didn’t say anything. In fact, other than the quick look of warning he shot at the man to his left, there was nothing to betray that he’d even heard what Jackson said. Then he stepped forward, closing the distance between them. That was Mac’s cue to move. She stepped around Jackson, putting herself between him and the were.

“Santos,” Branson sneered. “As I said, you’ve got your nerve coming here.”

“I take it by your oh-so-cordial greeting that our information is correct.” She matched him sneer for sneer.

“As if you didn’t know. Your people took them,” the taller of the two weres flanking Branson said.

“If we had, we wouldn’t be here.” Jackson moved to Mac’s side, motioning with a nod of his head for her to step back. “What’s happened to our people, yours and mine, has happened to at least four other packs and prides across the country. Those are the ones we know about. Our people disappear and are never found, not even their bodies. I don’t plan on letting that happen this time.”

“You don’t plan on letting it happen?” Branson gave a bark of laughter. “You can do nothing. You are only that bastard King’s second. If your kind were going to do anything, he’d be here.”

“You still haven’t learned anything, have you, Branson?” Mac let just a hint of contempt creep into her voice. She was bad cop to Jackson’s good cop. “Our pride leader isn’t here because people would wonder why he wasn’t personally supervising the investigation into the disappearance of one of his detectives and a member of the District Attorney’s Office. But if you want to confirm he knows we’re here and that he did, in fact, give us instructions to come, take my cellphone and call him.”

Branson just looked at her. She knew he was weighing his options. For the first time since arriving, she scented the fear and worry of his two companions. It had been there all along but she’d been so focused on watching for Branson’s reactions that she’d missed it. That was the final confirmation she needed to know Ferguson and the others were also missing. But it also meant they had to tread carefully or there might be real trouble before she managed to get Jackson out of the office.

“All right.” Branson turned and motioned for the two lycans to move back to where they’d been sitting when Mac and Jackson arrived. Then he returned to his chair behind his desk. “Our pack leader and two others are missing. One, Claire Hughes, is a member of the pack. The other, a Jay Hanks, was here visiting from another pack. They went missing over the last two days. We’ve been waiting for some contact from them or from whoever took them but there’s been nothing.”

“It’s been the same with our people,” Jackson said as Mac made a mental note to expand their search. If Branson had told them the truth, there was one more lycan missing than they’d known about.

“You said this has happened before.” It wasn’t so much of a question as it was a prompt for Jackson to continue.

Mac closely watched the lycans as Jackson told Branson about the other cases they knew about. As he did, there could be no mistaking Branson’s surprise, a surprise quickly replaced by anger. At least that was something she could understand since she felt the same way.

“Then why in hell hasn’t the Conclave given warnings about this?” the man demanded as he pushed to his feet and began to pace.

“That I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” Jackson replied honestly. “Now, will you work with us to find out what’s happened to our people or are you going to be an obstacle?” Now his voice turned as hard as Mac had ever heard it.

“Well, well, well, the pure has some fight in him after all,” Branson chuckled.

“You have no idea,” Jackson said with a sneer. “Now answer my question before I decide to do as Mac suggested and call her grandmother.”

Mac almost laughed as Branson blanched at the mere mention of her grandmother. He clearly hadn’t forgotten his one meeting with Ellen. Good. Maybe that was something she could play on now.

“I’ve been wanting to work with her again, Jackson. Perhaps I should go ahead and call her.” She made a production out of reaching into her pocket and producing her cellphone.

“No need.” Branson sounded like a sulky boy. “What do you want?”

“I want to know everything you and your people know about what happened. I also know you aren’t just sitting here doing nothing – at least not unless you’re planning on taking over pack leadership.” Jackson spoke almost casually but Mac noticed how he shifted slightly so he could see all three lycans in case one of them decided to attack.

“As long as you share your information, Caine.”

“Agreed.”

“Then sit and let’s see if we can figure this out.” Branson motioned to the two chairs before his desk. Then he reached for his phone and instructed his secretary to cancel the rest of his appointments for the day.

*   *   *

There was a slight change in air pressure in the small room and Pat lifted her head. She’d quickly learned that meant the door had opened. Waiting, heart beating faster, she listened. Not being able to see who, or what, was approaching made everything so much worse. Fear spiked and she swallowed hard. Why wouldn’t they say something, anything?

Why wouldn’t they tell her why they’d taken her?

She started nervously as a hand cupped her right cheek. Before she could jerk away, fingers twined in her hair and held her head still. The hand against her cheek moved and she felt it checking the band around her waist. Then the hands were gone and she sensed rather than heard the man step back.

“Are you listening?” the same rough voice she’d heard when she’d first regained consciousness asked.

A nod. Then, when he didn’t say anything, she licked her lips and spoke. “Yes.”

“I’m only going to say this once. I am going to free you from chair. If you do anything to try to escape or to piss me off, I will strap you back in it and leave you here. You will die slowly and painfully from dehydration. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

He didn’t say anything else. A moment later, she felt him working at the chains securing her arms behind the chair. When her left arm was free, it flopped forward, numb from being in one position for so long. Before she could react, he’d grabbed that wrist and brought it up behind her head. By the time he was done, he had her wrists secured to the collar she wore. She ground her teeth in frustration. This was even worse.

“You are doing very well. Keep it up and you’ll live a little longer.”

Then he was at her feet, freeing them from the chair. Again, he worked quickly and she guessed he was linking a chain between the bands about her ankles. A quick tug confirmed it. She could pull her feet maybe ten inches apart but that was all. Even if she could see where she was going, she wouldn’t get far. Not secured like that.

Finally, the strap around her waist was removed and then the chain running from her collar to the chair. When the man pulled her to her feet, she groaned softly. She’d been in the same position for so long, her muscles screamed in protest at the sudden movement. Then he was leading her away from the chair, to where, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“You’ve done very well so far,” the man purred later as he returned her to the chair and once more secured her to it. “As a reward, I’m going to remove your blindfold. I think it’s time you start learning what is going on.”

When he’d taken her to the bathroom, Pat had been just as surprised as she had been the first time he’d done it. But now, hearing he was going to remove her blindfold, her fear spiked. That wasn’t good. Not good at all. No kidnapper with the slightest sense of self-preservation would let his victim see his face. Of course, maybe he was wearing a mask. Then she’d not be able to identify him.

And maybe she’d be able to slip out of her chains and find a way out before being caught.

Fingers fumbled at the back of her head and light suddenly blinded her. Blinking, her eyes watering, Pat looked down at her lap. If the man wasn’t masked, she didn’t want to see his face. She needed to be able to hope that she’d manage to get out of there alive somehow.

Then her head was jerked up, her scalp screaming in pain. She couldn’t hold back her gasp at the sight before her. Connor Ferguson stood across the room. His ankles were chained to bolts in the concrete floor and his arms were chained over his head in a spread-eagle. There was a metal collar around his throat. A chain ran from it to the ceiling. It was pulled tight and Pat knew if the pack leader attempted to shift, he’d hang himself.

But he wasn’t the only one there. Secured in an identical manner across from Ferguson was Zee. The coyote shifter and Assistant DA looked from Ferguson to where Pat sat, his eyes widening in a shock Pat felt. Then the pain in her scalp eased as the hand holding her head up let go.

“Very good, little cougar,” the man’s voice purred in her ear. “I see you recognize the lycan and the coyote. They aren’t our only guests. We’ll let you see the others later, after we play a game.”

“What do you want?” Fury and frustration filled her as she once more struggled against her bonds.

“Oh, it’s very simple as you will see in a few minutes.”

As he spoke, the door opened and another man entered, pushing a cart in front of him. He looked at their prisoners and smiled. After positioning the cart between Ferguson and Zee, he whipped off the cloth covering the cart’s contents with a flourish. Pat’s eyes grew wide and her stomach rolled to see the various surgical instruments and other, more frightening implements that glistened in the light.

“No!”

***

Nocturnal Interlude is the third book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

 nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

nocturnal SerenadealternatenewNocturnal Serenade (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Haunts (novella)

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

(As always, the snippet is from the pre-final edited version and all copyright protections and restrictions apply.)

If it’s Friday, it’s snippet day

nocturnal interludenewWell, I’ve made it a week with a blog of some sort up each day. Considering how sick I’ve been most of the week, that’s doing pretty good. I promise not to do as many reposts/snippets next week. Well, I promise to try to not do as many 😉

I did get one piece of news this week. Nocturnal Interlude will be available next week in digital format with the print version available in the next two weeks or so. When the print version comes out, it will be joining a new print edition of Nocturnal Origins and the first print edition of Nocturnal Serenade. As soon as they are available, I’ll be posting links here and on Facebook.

So, to prepare for its release, here’s the next snippet from Nocturnal Interlude. (FYI, the snippets are from the pre-final edit version. So you may find a few misspelled words, etc.)

(Edited to add: Thanks to Cedar Sanderson for the wonderful review of Nocturnal Origins. You can find her review here. Thanks again, Cedar!)

***

Chapter Three

The elevator doors slid shut and the car started up with a slight lurch. At it did, Mac studied her reflection in the mirror lining the back wall of the car. She felt like a kid playing dress up for Halloween. When she’d agreed to join Flynn’s team, she hadn’t really thought about all it meant. Nothing really mattered beyond having the authority and resources she needed to find her partner and the others. She hadn’t even bothered reading the different papers he’d handed her, relying on her mother to tell her if there was anything wrong with them. Instead of doing that, Elizabeth had assured her everything was in order. So she’d scrawled her signature at the bottom of the different pages and handed them back to Flynn.

And suddenly found herself attached to the federal government. If anyone were to search her records, they’d discover nothing out of the ordinary. The reactivation clause of her resignation allowed the Corps to call her back to active duty. Now she was on detached duty to Homeland Security, specifically to act as liaison between the Homeland investigators and DPD. What the search wouldn’t show was her true assignment. At least she hoped it wouldn’t.

Mateo disappeared then into one of the bedrooms. When he returned, he carried a combat utility uniform and boots for her, complete with rank markings and a name tape. That’s when she learned she was once more a member of the USMC, at least on paper. The only problem was that it had been a long time since she’d been in the Reserves. She’d joined when she’d been in college, another attempt to goad her mother. She’d stayed in during college and the first few years after she’d graduated from the police academy. Then she’d resigned from the Reserves to focus on being a cop. Not that it seemed to bother Flynn any. He told her that everything was official and she was now a captain with all the pay and privileges that entailed.

As soon as she’d changed, she and Mateo had left the warehouse, four members of Mateo’s squad acting as their escort. She might feel like she was playing dress-up after so long but at least she was finally getting to do something. Hopefully, it wasn’t too late to find Pat and the others.

When she pushed open the glass doors leading into her squad room, Mac nodded. The sights and sounds – and even smells – she’d come to associate with work surrounded her. A quick headcount was all she needed to know three of her team weren’t present. Her heart skipped a beat until she saw the entry on the assignment board showing that two of the three were in court that day. That meant only Pat was missing.

“Ma’am?”

The sound of Detective Nathan Norwood’s chair sliding across the floor as he quickly climbed to his feet cut through the other sounds of the bullpen. Mac fought back her laugh as he all but braced to attention. He was one of the newest member of the squad and had come to them from the Marines. What Mac didn’t know until that morning was that he was still a part of her cousin’s unit and assigned to be a part of Mac’s squad just in case more trouble like that with Novacek happened. Trouble like what they now faced.

“Take it down a notch, Nate.” She motioned for him to be seated, not comfortable with his reaction.

“What the hell?” Detective Jennifer Sears paused in the doorway from the break room and stared at Mac in surprise. “LT?”

“Briefing in five,” Mac said as she moved across the bullpen in the direction of her office. “Sears, my office.”

A few moments later, Mac closed the door behind Sears and motioned for her to be seated. As she took her place behind her desk, Mac reached for the stack of mail that had collected during her absence. She had absolutely no interest in it, at least not if it didn’t hold some clue about where Pat and the others were, but looking through it gave Sears time to figure out which question she wanted to ask first.

“Mac, what’s going on?”

Well, that wasn’t quite as specific as she’d expected. Of course, Mac wasn’t sure she’d know what to ask if their roles were reversed.

“I’ll explain everything in the briefing, Jen, but the short version is that I’ve been recalled to active duty and will be liaising between DPD and Homeland.”

“Recalled? You’ve never been in the military.”

“I’ve been in the Reserves, Jen. It’s been awhile though. What I didn’t realize was there’s an obscure provision that allowed them to recall me in certain emergencies.”

For a moment, Sears said nothing. Mac could see her mental wheels turning. It wasn’t hard to guess her friend was thinking all the way back to their time in the Academy, trying to remember if there had ever been a time when Mac had talked about the military. That was why she’d wanted to talk to Sears alone. If she could somehow convince her friend this wasn’t an act, she’d be able to convince anyone.

She hoped.

“Mac, I swear I’ve never heard you talk about being in the Marines. At least I don’t remember you talking about it.” Sears shook her head, her head brushing her shoulders as she did. “So what’s going on?”

“Let me ask you this in return, Jen. Where’s Pat?”

The moment the question was out, Mac realized just how angry – and worried – she was. The fact no one had contacted her about what happened had bothered her from the moment she learned Pat was missing. At first, she’d assumed either King or perhaps her grandmother had said not to tell her. But both Ellen and Jackson, who had talked with King, assured her that wasn’t the case. That meant her own squad, including the woman not seated before her, someone Mac thought of as one of her best friends, had kept the news from her.

But why?

Now, seeing how Sears paled, Mac knew she was right to be worried.

“God, Mac, how long have you known?”

“That she’s missing?”

Sears nodded, her expression worried.

“Not long. I found out as soon as I got in.” She paused, her expression serious. “And I’d like to know why no one tried to contact me. Not only did Lt. Travis have my number and the number of the hotel where I was staying but so did you.”

Sears’ expression was miserable as she looked anywhere but at Mac.

“So, why the hell didn’t you contact me as soon as you realized something had happened to Pat?” Now Mac didn’t try to keep the bite from her voice. She’d thought the problems between Sears and Pat were behind them. Either she’d been mistaken or there was even more to what was going on than they anticipated. Neither possibility was good.

“I wanted to, Mac, but was told not to.”

Mac’s hands fisted under her desk, out of sight of her friend. But she knew Sears wouldn’t miss the flash of anger in her eyes and she didn’t care. If someone had actually issued orders not to contact her, they might be involved in what happened. “Who?”

“Mac, this is one boat you don’t want to rock. Trust me on this.”

“Damn it, Jenny, Pat’s my partner and my friend.” She got to her feet and moved around her desk so she stared down at the woman. “She’s a cop, one of us. We don’t turn our backs on our own. So answer my question. Who told you not to contact me?”

“Deeks from IAB.”

Mac felt her upper lip curl back. It took all her self-control not to throw something – or hit something. She’d been prepared for just about anything but this. The fact that IAB had already been nosing around the investigation – worse, that it was interfering in the investigation. What else could Deeks’ action in telling Sears not to contact her be called? – was just about the worst thing that could happen. Deeks being in charge of the investigation made it even worse. Mac didn’t know him but she knew his reputation. He didn’t care if he tarnished the reputation of good, honest cops as long as he managed to further his career. Well, he was about to find out what a very big mistake he’d made by trying to keep her in the dark.

“I never thought you’d let some IAB rat tell you to keep me, your friend and your supervisor, in the dark, especially when the life of one of our own is probably on the line.” Mac shook her head when Sears opened her mouth to say something. The last thing she wanted just then were excuses. “Run the morning briefing. I have work to do.”

Furious, ignoring the worried looks of the other detectives assigned to the squad, she left her office and stalked across the bullpen. Just then, she didn’t trust herself to stay in the same room with Sears. Worse, after today she didn’t know if their friendship could ever recover. By doing as Deeks said, Sears had left Mac wondering if she’d been working with the IAB detective before now and, if so, for how long.

And, more importantly, why?

Damn it, things just kept getting worse and worse.

“It’s me. I’m on my way to the captain’s office. Are you there yet?” she said over her cellphone as she waited for the elevator. “All right. Make sure he’s sent for Sergeant Deeks as well as the CO for IAB. Deeks, at least, may be involved.”

 ***

Pat waited until the sound of the door closing filled the room. Then she drew a deep breath, held it and then let it go. She had to think but it was hard when her head pounded so badly. The rancid taste in her mouth from being sick didn’t help either. At least her captor – no, she corrected, captors – had removed the ring gag. The fact she hadn’t been re-gagged lent credence to the claim no one would hear her. She assumed the first man meant no one outside wherever she was being held because she could hear the cries and curses of others. Muffled, yes, but enough to let her know she wasn’t the only one being held.

At least her stomach no longer pitched like a small boat in a hurricane. Better, she could think more clearly. Of course, that wasn’t saying much nor did it really help – yet.  She still had no idea where she was, how long she’d been there or what her captors wanted. All she knew for certain was that at least one of the men who had come into the room at different times was a shapeshifter, a were unless she missed her guess.

God, what was going on?

She pulled at the chain securing her hands behind the chair. Nothing. Her arms were pulled tight and it felt like the chain might be anchored to the chair somehow. It was definitely secured to the collar around her neck. Nothing happened when she tried to move her feet. It felt like her ankles were welded to the chair. Between the way her arms were twisted painfully behind her and the way her torso was secured, not to mention the collar around her neck, she couldn’t shift without seriously injuring herself – or worse.

Think. She had to think. She had to try to figure out what happened. That might give her a clue about how to get free.

She’d stayed late finishing up some reports. The weekend was almost there and she didn’t want anything interfering with her plans to spend some much needed time with Mike. So, much as she hated paperwork, she’d slogged through it, knowing it was one less thing to worry about the next day. Finally, feeling a sense of accomplishment, she’d left the station, looking forward to relaxing.

Half an hour later, she’d parked in her assigned space and hurried across the lot toward the entrance to her apartment building. Her keys were in her right hand and her purse slung over her left shoulder. That left her left hand free to go for her gun if necessary. That was habit now, something she’d developed during her undercover days with the Narcotics Division.

She’d just started to slide the key into the lock when she heard something behind her. Before she could turn, there’d been pain. One distant part of her brain recognized it as what it felt like to be hit by a Taser. She’d had that unfortunate experience while in the Academy as part of her training and she’d have been more than happy never to experience it again. Then, as she fell, hands caught her and she felt herself being dragged back toward the parking lot. But she couldn’t do anything, couldn’t say anything. A few moments later, there’d been a prick in her neck and all went dark.

Not that things were any different now. Things were still dark. The blindfold made it worse. Every noise seemed amplified. Not being able to see her surroundings played on her. She knew that was what her captors wanted. The fear and uncertainty would help break down her resistance. It would make her more willing to do what they said. At least that’s what she planned to let them think. She could hold out – she would hold out. She had to. Mike would know she was missing and he’d have the entirety of the DPD looking for her. Add in the members of the pride and she had to believe they’d find her soon.

God, please let them find her soon.

***

Five minutes later, Mac was shown into the office of Captain Michael King by King’s administrative assistant. Without a word, she stepped briskly across the thick carpet before coming to a stop before General Flynn and her cousin and braced to attention. The only thing that kept her from saluting was the fact she wasn’t wearing her cover. Instead, she waited until the general nodded and put her at her ease. Then she turned her attention to King, praying they’d at least had a chance to warn him what had happened where she was concerned.

The moment she saw her captain, her pride leader, her jaw. She could see the fear and worry reflected in his eyes and in the lines etched in his face. She prayed that didn’t mean he had news about Pat, bad news. Before she could ask, a sharp knock sounded at the door. King nodded and motioned for them to take their places. Then, as he called out for the newcomer to enter, his expression changed and gone was all the fear Mac had seen just a moment ago. No one who didn’t know him very well would be able to guess just how worried he was.

“You wanted to see us, Captain King?”

Mac turned her attention to the small woman who entered the office first. Dressed in what could only be called a red power suit with high heels that ought to be impossible to walk in, Captain Julia Wysocki stepped closer to the desk. As she did, her gaze slid over Mateo and then General Flynn. When she came to Mac, one auburn eyebrow arched in question. As it did, Mac knew the IAB commander was trying to bring up everything she knew about Mac to try to make the scene before her match with what she remembered.

A few steps behind Wysocki was the man Mac wanted a few minutes alone with. Detective Christopher Deeks looked more like a stereotypical used car salesman than a detective with his expensive suit and shoes that probably cost more than Mac made in a year, his slicked back streaked blond hair and expensive sunglasses perched on his nose. How Wysocki put up with his obvious disrespect, Mac would never understand. If one of her detectives dared show up for a meeting with her, much less with the captain, with such an insolent attitude and wearing sunglasses, she’d boot them out of the squad so fast they wouldn’t know what happened.

Still, she might be able to use that attitude to her advantage. At least she hoped so.

“I appreciate you and your detective –“ King’s opinion of Deeks was clear as he drawled out the word – “and I hope we can handle this matter without having to call in the Chief of Detectives.”

“I’m not sure I like the implication, Captain King, nor do I understand why these others are here.” Now it was Wysocki’s turn to draw herself up to her full height of maybe five feet five inches. Mac didn’t blame her for being a bit defensive. King had already thrown down the gauntlet without telling her why.

“They are here because we have a serious situation on our hands and the Chief of D’s as well as the Chief Culver have asked me to cooperate with them. However, I’m having an extremely difficult time doing so because of the actions of your Sergeant Deeks.” Now there was no mistaking the derision in King’s voice as he nodded to where Deeks leaned against the wall near the door.

“I—” Deeks began, pushing away from the wall only to fall silent when his captain cut him off with a simple look.

“Perhaps you’d best explain,” Wysocki said, crossing her arms under her breasts.

“Sir?” Mac knew it was her turn and she prayed King took the hint. When he nodded for her to proceed, she relaxed a little. The sooner they hit Deeks with the fact they knew he’d told her squad not to inform her or to talk to anyone else for that matter about Pat’s disappearance, the better. But she had one thing to do first.

She moved quickly across the office to where Deeks had resumed his position against the wall. Before he could react, she reached out and pulled the sunglasses from his face. As she did, she simply shook her head when he reached up to grab the glasses back from her. “Detective, I don’t know how your captain runs things but it borders on insubordination to stand here in Captain King’s office with these on. You’re a cop, not an actor hiding from the press.” With that, she returned to where she’d been standing before King’s desk.

“Captain Wysocki,” she continued as she placed Deeks’ glasses on the corner of King’s desk, “perhaps you would be so kind as to answer a question for me. Why did Detective Deeks tell the members of my squad not to inform me that my partner had disappeared?”

Wysocki was good but she wasn’t good enough to stop the quick flash of surprise from flickering across her expression. Nor could she stop herself from glancing at her detective before returning her attention to Mac.

“I assure you, Lieutenant Santos, that you must be mistaken. I gave no such orders and know of no reason for Detective Deeks to do so.”

Mac was inclined to believe her, but she wasn’t ready to fully accept the proposition that Wysocki had been unaware of Deeks’ actions just yet.

“Captain Wysocki, the lieutenant filling in for me, as well as others in my squad, had my cellphone number and the name and number of the hotel where I was staying while on vacation. Yet none of them contacted me to let me know that my partner has been missing for what is now almost three days. I didn’t find out until I returned home this morning. Believe me, it didn’t take long to discover that your detective –” A nod in Deeks’ direction –“had told my people not to contact me. I can only assume he issued the same orders to Lieutenant Travis. So, I repeat. Why did he tell them to keep me out of the loop?”

“That’s a question I’d like an answer to as well,” General Flynn said as he pulled himself up to his full height. Gone was the relaxed bearing. In its place was a man who commanded respect and heaven help anyone who failed to give it.

“This is bullshit, Captain!” Deeks pushed away from the wall and stalked across the office, all righteous indignation.

“Do I need to send for each of my detectives, every member of the support staff as well as the uniforms assigned to the squad and parade them in here one after the other to confirm what I just said?” Mac heard the disgust in her voice and didn’t care. Every moment they stood there debating the issue was a moment longer Pat and the others were in danger.

“Or do we simply take your detective into custody as a person of interest in an investigation into domestic terrorism and question him ourselves?” Flynn asked.

Even though Flynn’s tone was no more provocative than had he been discussing the weather, Deeks paled. More importantly, at least as far as Mac was concerned, Wysocki looked as if she finally realized just how serious the situation was. Mac could see she wanted answers but she also wasn’t asking any of the questions they all wanted answered. Instead, she turned to face Deeks, her expression hard.

“Answer them, detective. Did you tell the lieutenant’s squad not to inform her of Sergeant Collins’ disappearance?” Wysocki ordered.

Deeks didn’t respond right away. Watching, waiting, Mac kept her attention focused on the man’s face. As she did, she was glad she’d removed his sunglasses. Now she could see the way he looked almost frantically around the office. Whether it was for something he could use as a weapon or for something that might trigger his brain into giving him some sort of an excuse or misdirection, she didn’t know. All she knew for sure was that she wasn’t letting him out of the office until he’d answered her questions.

At least one of her concerns had already been answered. He wasn’t one of them. He was no more a shapeshifter than she was a beauty queen. But that didn’t mean he was unaware of their existence and actively working against them.

“Your captain asked you a question,” King prompted.

“I did tell them not to inform Santos about what happened and I’d do it again. Not only does Collins’ so-called disappearance fall under IAB’s jurisdiction, but I know her reputation all too well.” He nodded in Mac’s direction, a sneer on his lips. “My sources warned me about her. They told me if she knew what was going on, she’d do exactly this – interfere with my investigation.”

“And the basis of your investigation?” King all but ground out the words and Mac looked at him in concern. He couldn’t lose control now and give the IAB rats a reason to keep control of the investigation.

“And what source warned you about me?” Mac stepped between King and Deeks, forcing the IAB  detective to focus on her and not her captain.

“Collins is dirty. No cop works as long as she did undercover in Narco without it happening. Besides, there’s been no ransom demand. She’s taken a hike and I plan to find out why. As for my source, you’re such a hotshot detective, figure it out for yourself.”

Mac’s anger almost boiled over. The pain in the heels of her palms told her she’d been clinching her fists so tightly her nails were close to breaking the skin. Well, that was better than smashing a fist into Deeks’ face. Not as satisfying, but it would keep him from pressing charges against her, effectively keeping her from investigating what happened.

“Your detective is a fool, Captain Wysocki.” Derision fairly dripped from General Flynn’s words. “Sergeant Collis is no more dirty than any of the other dozen cops and at least that many other people associated in one way or another with law enforcement that have disappeared over the last four months.”

“What?”

Mac fought the urge to laugh. Wysocki looked like she’d just been hit by a two-by-four. Then the IAB captain shook herself, literally shook herself, before turning her attention to the general.

“Perhaps you’d be kind enough to introduce yourself and explain why you’re here, sir. Then maybe you’d tell me about these disappearances you mentioned. I assure you, if that many members of the force had gone missing, I’d have heard about it.”

Oh, she was angry and Mac really couldn’t blame her. She’d probably have been unhappy about being summoned to King’s office and being told to bring one of her detectives with her. Then to walk in and find not only King waiting for them but Mac and the others, well, Wysocki had to have been off-balance. She’d hidden it well, but Mac knew she’d been blindsided and now she couldn’t blame the woman for trying to regroup and figure out what was going on.

“Curtis Flynn, Homeland Security, and my aide, Captain Mateo Santos. I believe you already recognize Captain Mackenzie Santos.” He nodded to Mac and only the sparkle in his eyes betrayed the fact he was enjoying this.

“I recognize her as Lieutenant Santos from Homicide and I don’t remember hearing that she’d been in the Corps.” And, judging from the tone of her voice, Mac had a feeling Wysocki would be pulling her record just as soon as she left King’s office.

“I was in the Reserves,” Mac supplied. “As for why we’re here today, I found out what happened to my partner when General Flynn told me earlier this morning, the same time he informed me I’d been reactivated.”

“And what does the Sergeant Collins’ disappearance have to do with the Marine Corps?”

“No one said it has anything to do with the Corps, Captain Wysocki.” There could be no mistaking the derision in Flynn’s voice now. “What it has to do with is Homeland Security. Both of the captains are currently detached to work with Homeland investigating what we feel is a possible case of domestic terrorism. What I want to know now is if your detective is just a fool or if he happens to be involved in what’s been going on.”

The moment the general mentioned Homeland Security, Deeks stood a little straighter. Mac didn’t need to call on her enhanced senses as a shapeshifter to smell his fear. But that didn’t mean he was involved. It simply meant he knew what they could do to get him to answer their questions. Good. His fear might work to their benefit.

But first they had to get through Wysocki.

“And you still haven’t identified the missing officers. I hate to doubt your claims, sir, but I guarantee I’d know if any other officers were missing.” Wysocki’s voice had a bite to it now and Mac almost sympathized. After all, Wysocki had been effectively backed into a corner.

“And I never said they were all from here,” Flynn replied. “There have been similar cases in Chicago, New York City, Atlanta and Wichita. And those are the ones we know about. Cops, prosecutors and even judges have gone missing along with civilians. It’s always in groups of six to ten. None of the missing have been found and there’s never been a demand made to insure their release. It’s enough to get the interest of my department at Homeland. So, we are taking over this investigation.”

He turned his attention to King. “Captain King, do you have any objections to your people working with mine on this?”

“Not at all, General. Any help you can give us to find not only my detective but the others who have gone missing would be appreciated.”

“Captain Wysocki, you can’t—“

Deeks moved forward, hands outstretched. A trickle of sweat ran down his right cheek. There could be no mistaking the fact that the last thing he wanted was for someone else to take over the investigation. But why?

“Captain Wyscoki, I expect all information gathered by your detective – and I use that term loosely – to be turned over to Captain Santos immediately,” General Flynn continued. “Santos, I leave it to you to work out the details of the investigation with Captain King.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. I expect your report by end of day.”

Flynn gave her a nod and fell silent. For several moments, no one said anything. Then, realizing the ball was back in her court, Mac drew a deep breath. She didn’t like what she was about to do but it had to be done. Steeling herself, she looked at Wysocki, her expression hard.

“Captain, I have another question for you. How long have you had someone in my squad?”

King sat up, almost coming out of his chair. “What?”

“I have reason to believe she has someone in my squad and I want to know how long it’s been going on,” Mac said coldly. “And don’t bother denying it. I have a pretty good idea who it is. I just want to know how long it’s been going on and why.” Even as she said it, her stomach lurched, especially when Wysocki wasn’t quick to deny it.

“Captain Wysocki.”

King’s voice wasn’t much more than a growl and Mac looked at him quickly. Damn it! She should have thought before saying anything. The last thing she needed to do was add to her captain’s stress level. She’d seen the worry and fear reflected in his eyes the moment she entered his office. She’d also seen his fury when he’d learned how her squad had been ordered not to contact her about Pat’s disappearance. Now she’d added to it and it really was something that could have waited. But she’d been so angry – no, not just angry. She’d been sick to her stomach to think that someone she’d worked with, trusted to go through a door with her and to have her back, someone she’d counted as a friend, might have been working against her all this time – that she hadn’t thought.

“Captain King, I swear to you I don’t know what – ”

King waved for her to be silent, his expression brooking no disobedience. “You have an investigation to run, Santos. I already have the Chief’s approval of your appointment as the official liaison between the DPD and DHS. You will report directly to me, as per usual. Also, we have now put a full lock on media coverage. Anyone contacts you, you are to let me know. No statements are to be released about the investigation. This is your investigation now, Santos, and the entire resources of the DPD are at your disposal. Find our detective and the others who have gone missing. Lock it down quickly.” His eyes flashed and she nodded. “I assume you have no problems with any of this, General?”

“None at all, Captain King. I appreciate your cooperation and understanding of why I co-opted your lieutenant.” Flynn seemed to relax then and he took a seat in one of the leather chairs before King’s desk. “Now, I suggest we let Captain Santos get to work. Santos, I leave it up to you to determine the best persona to use for this investigation. Report to me by end of day on your progress.”

“Yes, sir.” She recognized the dismissal and braced to attention and then looked to her captain, her pride leader. Much as she wanted to get to work finding out what happened to Pat and the others, she did need to know the answer to her question to Wysocki. “Captain King?”

“I believe General Flynn and I have more than a few questions for Captain Wysocki and her detective. You can leave it to us now. You have more important things to be worried about.”

The implied Leave it to us to find out what’s going on was clear.

“Yes, sir.” She started to leave but stopped, her eyes pinning Deeks where he stood near the door, looking like he’d give just about anything to disappear. “I expect your files and notes in my office within the hour.” With that, she nodded to King and Flynn and left the office. It was time to get to work.

***

Nocturnal Interlude is the third book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

 nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

nocturnal SerenadealternatenewNocturnal Serenade (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Haunts (novella)

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon

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