Nocturnal Lives

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

Tag: snippet (Page 2 of 4)

Dagger of Elanna – Snippet 3

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Skeletons in the Closet – Snippet 5

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

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

*   *   *

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

 

“Amy, I’m all right. Really.”

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

That was the last thing I wanted or needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And did I really want to know?

“So who did you call?”

“My grandmother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn it.

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

Out of the ordinary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh God, Amy. What now?”

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

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

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

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

“So where are we going?”

And did I really want to know?

“I’m taking you home with me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I so didn’t want to know.

Skeletons in the Closet – snippet 4

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

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

*   *   *

“Amy, I swear my mama’s finally lost her mind.” I slid onto the chair opposite my oldest and dearest friend, glad she had been able to join me for lunch.

“Lexie, you know I’ve always felt your mama’s been walking that tightrope between sanity and stark raving loony and that after your grandma and the others returned, her balance has been precarious at best. So what’s happened to finally push her over the edge?”

I didn’t answer right away. Instead, I studied my best friend, the only person I felt comfortable discussing my home life with. For one thing, Amy and I had known each other since the first day of kindergarten. We’d made common cause against my sister and hers. She had seen and condemned the way Mama favored both Perfect Patty and Bubba over me. And she had told me in no uncertain terms that the day would come when Mama would pay for it.

Well, when Amy’s right, she’s right. Although I don’t think this was quite what she had in mind.

“Would you believe me if I told you she brought in a Catholic priest to exorcise Granny and the others?”

If the table had been any taller, Amy’s jaw would have hit it. For a moment, she looked an awful lot like a wide-mouthed bass just dropped into the boat. Her eyes bulged, her mouth opened and closed but no sound escaped. Not that I could blame her. No siree. I probably looked pretty much the same last night when I realized what Mama had been up to.

I swear, Amy must have sat there a good minute or more, staring at me in disbelief. Then she reached up to close her mouth. Which was probably a good thing. We had enough folks already staring at us in unbridled curiosity. It’s not often any of us see Amy Duchamp speechless.

That’s right. Duchamp. As in Old Serena Duchamp. Now you see why Mama has done her best to keep us apart. That’s been especially true since that fateful encounter with Old Serena so long ago. Not that I paid Mama any mind. Amy and I had been best friends too long to let her come between us.

“Lexie!”

Well, Amy finally found her voice. Unfortunately, it was loud enough to have everyone staring at us again. She colored slightly and leaned forward, her expression intent. “Lexie, you’re not saying she managed to convince Father Timothy to do an exorcism, are you?”

I shook my head. Father Timothy Stinson led Mossy Creek’s only Catholic church. Mama had tried – more than once, truth be told – to convince him to perform an exorcism to rid the household of Granny and the others. She had begged and pleaded, screamed and yelled. She had even tried to bribe him with the offer of a large donation to the parish. In return, he had been far more patient than I would have, explaining that it was his opinion God had some plan for Granny and the others. Besides, he had been told by Brother Bill how Granny and the others still went to services at the Baptist church on a regular basis. As far as Father Timothy was concerned, they were simply a different kind of worshipper.

Mama had not been pleased.

“No, not Father Timothy. She found herself a priest from Arlington who promised to help her get ‘rid of those abominations’. I don’t need to tell you that Granny wasn’t one bit pleased.” And that was putting it mildly.

“Oh – my.” Amy covered her mouth with her right hand. Her green eyes danced with wicked glee. Sure, she could laugh. She hadn’t been caught in the cross-fire. “I take it your granny had something to say about it.”

“You think?” I snorted. “Let’s put it this way. She sent that poor excuse of a priest running for the hills. Not because she’s still holding court over the kitchen instead of being in her grave but because she gave him a lecture that had his ears burning. It included things like pointing out she was no ghost. Then she pointed out it was downright ridiculous to think she was possessed. After all, what self-respecting demon or evil spirit would want to possess the body of an old woman and then move back in with the daughter-in-law who detested her? I thought the priest was going to choke on that. Afterwards, she treated him to a lecture on the Bible I doubt any of his instructors at the seminary could have given. Then Aunt Pearl came in and if there’s anyone less threatening than that dear old lady, I don’t know who.” I paused, shaking my head.

“But it gets worse. About that time, Uncle Kenny arrived. He strolled into the kitchen were everything was going on, sized up the situation and started undressing right then and there. Mama screeched. Granny ordered him outside if he was going to shift. He just grinned and did his thing. One moment he was standing there in the clothes he was born in and a few moments later, he was his own furry self. That’s when he walked over to Mama and hiked his leg.

“Mama sputtered and then ranted and then demanded this Father Christoff do something. And he did. At least he did after he quit laughing because Papa and Uncle Kenny were acting like a man and his dog by then. Papa in his chair and Uncle Kenny on his back so Papa could rub his stomach. Once he had himself under control again, Father Christoff apologized to Granny. Then I swear he ran for the door. He did stop long enough to tell Papa to come see him if he ever needed to talk.”

That did it. Amy threw her head back and laughed. No, guffawed. Big, braying peals of laughter that had everyone looking at us. I groaned and buried my face in my hands. Wasn’t it bad enough that everyone in Mossy Creek knew my family was a bit odd? And that’s truly unsettling when you consider how odd every family in town is. But did Amy have to call attention to us here, just across the street from the TCU campus? Didn’t she realize what would happen if the administration ever began to suspect what went on at home? I’d lose my scholarship and be booted off campus so fast my head would spin – literally.

“Amy!” I hissed as I dropped my head into my hands.

It’s been years since the world-at-large learned that there were some folks who were different. I wasn’t born when it happened. In fact, Papa hadn’t been born yet. From what Granny told me, there was a lot of fear at first. Neighbors not trusting neighbors. Calls for the government to do something to protect the “real” humans. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and some of the more drastic solutions were quickly tossed aside. I’m not so naïve as to think it was out of the goodness of the hearts of the politicians of the time. Nope. Not at all. It was that a lot of them started looking at their own families and learned there was more than a witch or two, or a shifter or two, in their family tree. So, as long as the Others, as the government calls them, obey the laws and don’t become a danger to anyone, it’s sort of live and let live.

No, that’s not quite right. It’s one of those well-known secrets you just don’t talk about. You really don’t talk about it if you attend a conservative religious college.

“C’mon, Lexie. You have to admit it’s funny. Especially the part about your Uncle Kenny. I can just imagine the look on your mother’s face.” She grinned impishly. Then she sobered. “I imagine things went downhill fast once the priest left.”

“Oh yeah.” Downhill, into a pit and well on the way to the Earth’s core. “Mama demanded Granny and the others leave. She told Papa if he loved her, he’d take Uncle Kenny out and shoot him like the rabid dog he is. That’s when Granny countered that it had been their home much longer than it had been Mama’s and if anyone was to be shot for anything it would be Mama for being a damned fool. That’s when Mama told Papa that if he didn’t do something, she would just pack her bags and leave.” I leaned back, blew out a breath and looked around the coffeeshop. No one seemed to be paying us any attention, thankfully.

“Oh no. Your poor dad.”

“Yeah. Mama demanded he do his duty and make Granny and the others leave. I swear, Amy, I thought Mama was going to have a heart attack right there. Her face was fire engine red. She was panting and gasping for air. I think she was even frothing at the mouth just a little.” Or maybe a lot.

“Oh my.” Sympathy replaced humor. “What did your dad do?”

“He basically told Mama she had made this bed and she’d best accept it or move on. If he could learn to put up with her holier-than-thou attitude, she sure as hell could learn to cope with his family wanting to hang around the home they loved. If she couldn’t find it in herself to do so, he would gladly help her pack. He’d even book her a room somewhere far away.”

“Damn.”

Amy couldn’t quite hide her smile or her admiration for Papa. Not that I blamed her. I’d been waiting a long time for him to finally stand up to Mama. Unfortunately for Mama, she hadn’t stopped to consider the possibility that he wouldn’t do as she wanted. She had figured he would cave as he had in the past just to keep peace in the family. Well, Papa may have been forced to sleep on the sofa but, for one, was glad he’d finally put his foot down. As soon as I got home, I’d make up the guest room for him. He didn’t need to suffer just because Mama was having one of her fits.

“Lexie, your mama has had this coming for years.” Amy reached across the table to give my hand a squeeze. “And I recommend she does as your daddy said, not that I think she will.”

Neither did I, at least not yet.

“Why don’t you stay with me tonight? It will keep you out of the line of fire. Besides, my grandma wants to see you.”

“What?” My voice cracked.

Oh great. The last thing I needed or wanted was for word to get back to Mama that I’d seen Old Serena. Still, staying with Amy would get me out of the house. Even better, there was no way Mama would show up on the doorstep at the Duchamps’ place.

But why in world did Old Serena want to see me?

“Sure. Thanks.” I finished my coffee and stood, checking my watch. “I’ve got to get to class. Meet you here later?”

“Sounds good.” Amy stood and carefully shouldered her backpack. “I need to hit the library for a bit.”

Together, we left the coffeeshop. At least it had quit raining. All I had to do was get through the next few hours. Then I would follow Amy to her apartment over the garage at her grandmother’s. Who knew what would happen then. At least I wouldn’t be in the middle of whatever was brewing between Granny and Mama.

The light changed and I stepped off the curb. Like most of those who attended TCU, whenever I stepped onto University Drive, I expected traffic to yield. And it usually did. Usually being the operative word.

“Lexie!” Amy screamed

Ah hell. Unlike Mossy Creek, they have buses, lots of them in all sorts of shapes and sizes, in Fort Worth and I was about to have a close encounter of the painful kind with one of them.

At least I had on clean underwear.

Blogging, Writing and Maybe a Snippet

Let’s get the housekeeping out of the way first. As I noted in yesterday’s post, real life always seems to laugh and throw obstacles in my path when I come up with a new blogging schedule. Usually, it isn’t anything major — thankfully — but just those normal real life matters that have to be taken care of. Fortunately, this past week or two has been filled with just the normal little things that can get a day off on not necessarily the wrong foot but the unplanned one. So, the plan for the blog went by the wayside because it is the easiest thing to let slip.

However, I know I have to buckle down. Not only because I have this blog to take care of but because I have my weekly (Tuesday) posts for Mad Genius Club as well as Wednesday posts for According to Hoyt. That means I have to be more disciplined about blogging. So here’s how it is going to happen. This blog will become more active, partially because I will be echoing my posts at the other locations here and partially because I am going to use this blog as my writing prompt of sorts. I’ll be doing snippets for upcoming work as well as blogging about current events and what is happening in the writing world. My goal is to have something up every day. That is workable if, as I am doing now, I do the blog as I have my morning coffee. By doing it that way, I don’t impact my writing schedule and that, as I’m sure you understand, has to take priority over blogging.

Now, on to writing. Right now there is a split in the writing community. Oh hell, who am I kidding? There is a chasm that is widening to epic proportions. Between calls to only buy books written by people of color for a year to the battle over whether message should take precedence over story to name the issue, the battle lines have been drawn. Now, science fiction has always been a fractious community but it is getting to the point where it is almost funny in a sad sort of way.

The latest bit that leaves me scratching my head involves a character’s sexuality in literature. According to some, a writer should pretty much always include in the story their characters’ sexual preferences because it will tell the reader that that particular type of story can be about that sort of character. It doesn’t matter that the sexuality of the character has nothing to do with the story. It is all about making sure a section of the reading public can “identify” with the character.

Now, I’m all for letting readers identify with your characters. But I like the subtle approach unless actually telling the reader a character is of such and such political background or sexual preference or religious ilk. Why? Because it allows more readers to see themselves in the character than just a section of readers. You see, I trust my readers to have imaginations. I hope they like my characters enough to see the similarities between the character and themselves without me having to throw extraneous information at them that doesn’t advance the plot.

That said, if it moves the plot forward to say this character is gay or another is bi or yet another is celibate, then the author should — in fact, must — put it in. But if all the author is doing is ticking off another entry in the current checklist of how to be politically correct then don’t. Trust your readers to recognize the signals you give in your writing without beating them over the head with it.

A perfect example of this, in my mind, is J. K. Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books. I can’t think of a single time in the books where she mentioned the headmaster’s sexual identity. Why did she not do it? It wasn’t pertinent to the books. However, I wasn’t surprised one bit when she came out not so long ago and said that Dumbledore was gay. I had assumed it from the context of the scenes he was in. Nor did it matter one way or the other because, again, his sexuality did not move the story forward.

As an author, that is what I always look at. Does something move the plot forward? Does it help explain why a character acts the way he or she does? If not, then it doesn’t have to be there. If, as an author, you feel it is important to let your readers know more about that character, then write something where their sexuality or religion or political leanings or whatever is important to the plot.

I guess it all comes down to trusting your readers, something I fear too many authors don’t do. They don’t trust their readers to be able to see a message that is subtly worked into the plot. Instead, they opt for the “hit them over the head” approach. They don’t trust their readers to have enough imagination to see themselves in a character unless they, the author, tells the reader “this character is like you because. . . “. Then these same authors bitch and moan when their work doesn’t sell as well as Author-X who writes a rollicking fun book with lots of action, lots of characters from different backgrounds and who look at life differently from one another. Sure, Author-X might not use the checklist to make sure they have all the politically correct items checked off, but that same author has subtly woven the gay character and the various political beliefs with different religious beliefs in such a way their readers not only see themselves but they see others they know in the book.

All this is a long about way of say we need to trust our readers and put away the bat.

Finally, here is a short(ish) snippet from Skeletons in the Closet. You can find snippet one here and snippet two here.

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

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Despite all the weirdness in Mossy Creek, and most especially in our house – or maybe because of it – the sun does still rise in the east and there are still bills to pay. That means, no matter how badly I might want to stay in bed, pillows over my head to block out the world, I can’t. So, I had to get out of bed and out of the house. Not that I really minded. The last few days had been stranger than usual, so weird that just the thought of going to class and yet another boring lecture was more appealing than the prospect of staying home.

I didn’t need the sounds of a skillet banging on the stove downstairs in the kitchen, echoed almost immediately by drawers slamming in Mama’s room, to know the battle still raged. Believe me, raged is much too mild a word for what has been going on. And, not being a fool – at least not too much of one – I knew the best thing for me to do was to get out of there as quickly as possible. Otherwise, I’d be caught in the middle again and, when my mama and my granny are going after one another, that is a dangerous place indeed.

Hell’s bells, I’d forgo my shower if it meant avoiding the next barrage between Granny and Mama. I could always grab one at the university after my morning run.

Ten minutes later, dressed in running shorts, sports bra and a tank top, my running shoes dangling from my right hand, I carefully crept down the hall, past my parents’ bedroom. So far, so food. All those years of sneaking in after curfew – more like trying to sneak in. Mama almost always managed to catch me – finally seemed to be paying off. I knew exactly where to step, and where not to, in order to avoid that one board near their room that always creaked like a door hinge badly in need of an oiling.

Just a little bit further and I’d be at the stairs and safe – almost.

It’s not that I really expected Mama to burst out of her room and catch me. After all, where’s the fun in that? I wasn’t exactly breaking curfew and, yes, even though I’m an adult now, Mama still acts like I’m not. Nor was I sneaking out to meet some boy she didn’t approve of. For one thing, I lost interest in boys a long time ago. Men are so much more fun. For another, if Mama thought I was even remotely interested in someone – man or Martian – she would probably lock me out of the house in an attempt to throw us together.

As I said, Mama’s not one to let reality interfere with her desires and, believe you me, there is nothing she desires more than to get away from this house once and for all. In her mind, there’s only one way that is going to happen and that’s for Patty or me to get married. It still surprises me she hadn’t tried to move in with Bubba. Of course, the fact he lived in the smallest, single room apartment in town might have something to do with it. Bubba might be a coward but he wasn’t dumb. He knew Mama would be there in the blink of an eye were there room for her.

Being the ungrateful daughter that I am, I was merely going out for a run and then to class. I wasn’t going to meet a man who would sweep me off my feet and finally get Mama out of her version of Hell on Earth. Far from it, in fact. I was simply once more escaping the strangeness that had been home for the last ten years.

Besides, after what happened last night, Mama would have other things on her mind besides why I might be leaving without saying goodbye. Truth be told, it wouldn’t surprise me one little bit if we didn’t see Mama anytime soon. The last time she and Granny went at it like they had yesterday, we didn’t see Mama for a week. While Granny ruled over the downstairs, Mama stayed locked in her room, making poor Papa sleep on the sofa. The only one she would let in was Perfect Patty. For that week, Mama sulked and whined and told Patty who she was the only one who understood what she had to put up with. Which, if I’m to be honest – and Mama always told me I should be, no matter how painful. “Lexie,” she’d said more times than I could count, “the truth hurts sometimes. But it’s better to tell the truth and hurt someone’s feeling than to burn in the hellfire of damnation.” – is true. None of the rest of us understood why mama didn’t just accept Granny and the others and try to make the best of a very strange situation.

Far as I’m concerned, Mama crossed the line last night and there would be no going back. For ten years, Mama’s done her best to ignore, insult, bully and force Granny and the others out of the house. She doesn’t care that this is their home just as much as it is hers. Okay, so it is a bit strange having family you have seen buried sitting across from you at the breakfast table. But they aren’t causing any trouble. In fact, I have a feeling they would leave if they could. Well, all of them except Granny. After last night, there is no way she’s going to leave of her own accord, at least not unless Mama leaves the house first.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Granny didn’t tell Old Serena what happened. If Mama thought last night was bad, just wait until Serena Duchamp learned what she had done. Damnation, you’d think Mama would have learned by now that she needs to think before doing something so exceedingly stupid. The last time she angered Old Serena, our dearly departed started taking up residence in the homestead. I really didn’t want to think about what might happen next.

With my luck, I’d start turning furry on nights of the full moon – just like Uncle Kenny – or something equally off-putting to any sane guy who might, at some point, become interested in me. It was going to be hard enough trying to explain away the dearly departed who continued to hang around. Telling him he would need to play fetch with me every few weeks might just kill any romantic feelings that survived meeting the family.

Maybe it was time to move out and move away – far, far away. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone where I was going. Nor could I leave a forwarding address. Otherwise, no doubt about it, Mama would track me down and I would find her waiting on my doorstep, bags in hand, one day. And, the way my luck runs, Granny and the others would be close behind.

“Lexie Marie Smithson, just where do you think you’re sneaking off to so early this morning?”

I paused at the foot of the stairs and blew out a breath. I’d been so close. Less than a dozen feet stood between me and freedom. The front door was so near. But not near enough. Not with Granny standing in the doorway to the kitchen, hands on her hips, eyeing me suspiciously.

Why hadn’t I climbed out my window and shimmied down the tree like I used to when I was a kid? It would have saved me so much trouble.

“I’m waiting.” Her hands remained fisted at her waist and I swear she tapped one foot impatiently. At least I think she did. I didn’t dare look down to check.

“I’m not sneaking off anywhere, Granny.” Well, not really. “I’m just going to grab a run before class.”

“And I’m fresh as a daisy.”

I couldn’t help it. The laugh was out before I could stop it. One thing about my granny, dead or alive, she did have a sense of humor. When she wanted to at least.

“Course, if I was you, I’d be sneaking out rather than risk getting caught up between me and your mama.” The humor was gone just as quickly as it had come. “But you ought to know better. Your mama’s not likely to show her face today. So get yourself into the kitchen and eat some of the eggs and bacon I’ve made.”

Knowing better than to argue – besides, Granny made the best eggs around – I nodded and followed her into the kitchen. Besides, she was right about one thing – unless Mama had taken complete leave of her senses, she would lay low until Granny had time to cool down. The only problem with that was we didn’t have any idea how long that would be. Alive, Granny held onto her grudges, savoring them until they fossilized. What would she do dead?


For those of you who enjoy a little bit of romance with your suspense, or a little bit of suspense with your romance, check out Slay Bells Ring.

Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.

Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.

Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.


For those who have been waiting for the next installment in the Honor and Duty series, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is available for pre-order.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

 

 

Skeletons in the Closet – snippet 2

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

For those looking for snippets from Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) , those will begin in two weeks.

*   *   *

“Mama, I swear to you. I didn’t do anything,” Patty whined. Of course Patty always whined. Except when she tried to sound sultry for whoever was the boyfriend of the day. Then she kind of wheezed. “I was coming out of Paulson’s Drugstore and that old woman almost ran into me. All I said was ‘excuse me’ and she stared at me, Mama. I know she was putting a curse on me. You know how she is.”

That was all Mama needed to forget Patty was more than an hour late coming home from school. Nor did she notice the makeup Patty wore, makeup she had not been wearing when she left for school that morning. Makeup she wasn’t even supposed to own, let alone wear. I would have bet almost anything Patty was making it all up just so she wouldn’t get in trouble.

Without a word, Mama threw on her white sweater with its fake pearls running down the front, grabbed her handbag and marched out of the house, determined to find the town’s resident witch and have it out with her once and for all.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely sure Old Serena’s a real witch. At least not the sort you see on TV or in the movies. She doesn’t ride a broom, at least not that I know of, and she doesn’t have a big wart on the end of her nose. But that doesn’t mean she might not be a voodoo priestess or a well-disguised BEM (that’s a bug-eyed monster for those of you who didn’t grow up on the old sci-fi movies like I did). All I know for certain is that my mama made the mistake of getting in Serena Duchamp’s face that day and life hasn’t been the same since.

Of course, Mama hadn’t left Perfect Patty and me at home when she went on her quest to defend her eldest daughter. Oh no, she piled us in her old sedan and off we’d gone, driving the streets of Mossy Creek – not nearly as daunting as it sounds. It isn’t that big of a town – until we found Old Serena.

The moment Mama saw her coming out of the market, she’d slammed on the brakes and parked the car right there in the middle of the street. Before Patty or I knew what was happening, she had dragged us out after her, marching us down the street toward Old Serena as surely as she had marched us down the aisle at church at Easter in our Sunday finest.

“Serena Duchamp, I have a bone to pick with you!” Mama called. “What’s this I hear about you giving my Patty the evil eye? I’ll have the law on you if you don’t take it back.”

“Becca Smithson,” Old Serena began, her dark eyes narrowed to slits and a bony finger pointing at Mama’s nose. “You ought to know better than to go threatening Old Serena. Haven’t I been keeping your secrets safe all these many years?”

Mama sputtered and drew herself up to all of her five feet, two inches. Her thin body shook and her head stuck out forward on her neck and I suddenly realized just how much like a barnyard chicken she looked. Nervous, clucking and trying to bully everyone around her. . . .

Well, Old Serena was having none of it. Instead of cowering like most folks would, she turned to Patty, jabbing a finger in her direction. Patty might be many things, but brave she’s not. Her blue eyes went wide and she quickly hid behind our mother’s skirts, just like she was three years old, not fifteen.

“Mama, see! She’s trying to put the evil eye on me again!”

I’ll admit, the look in Old Serena’s eye was anything but kind. But I didn’t think she would try the evil eye here, in the middle of Main Street.

Or would she?

“Becca Smithson, you and that chit of a daughter of yours have done gone and insulted Old Serena. You’d best be apologizing before I decide to take offense.”

Most folks living in Mossy Creek know better than to upset Old Serena. Word around town was that she’d been there almost as long as the town itself. Now, even at eleven, I knew that probably wasn’t true. No one, no matter how mean they might be, lived to be nearly two hundred even if, like Serena, they looked that old to my young eyes. Still, it never hurt to be careful.

Unfortunately, my mama wasn’t “most folks”. No indeed. In fact, faced with Old Serena’s anger, Mama proceeded to act all high and mighty – which was more than a bit funny considering we most definitely did not life on the right side of the tracks. Never had and probably never would. Not that it had ever stopped Mama from putting on airs.

“Serena Duchamp, not only will my Patty Ann not apologize to you, but you will apologize to her or I swear I’ll talk to Sheriff Metzinger. You can’t be going around town, threatening our youngsters just because it suits you.”

I swear, in that moment, the world stood still. The birds stopped singing. Traffic, what little there was in Mossy Creek, came to a standstill. The few folks on the street seemed to magically disappear, only to reappear not only far down the street but on the opposite side as well. They knew, as my mama should have, that you just don’t threaten Old Serena. Not if you want to continue living a peaceful life.

Old Serena, her features granite hard, pointed the first two fingers of her right hand at my mama, almost as if each was aiming at one of Mama’s eyes. Her lips moved and soft words emerged. I couldn’t hear them, not really. But I swear I saw a black cloud settle over both Mama and Perfect Patty. Now, all these years later, I try to convince myself I imagined it. But then those skeletons in the closet started raising such a ruckus and I have to wonder.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mama, pale as ice, her hands so cold you would have thought she must be suffering from frostbite, grabbed Patty and me by our arms and dragged us off. The moment we were in the car, the doors safely shut and locked behind us, she made the sign of the cross. This always struck me as strange since Mama is a dyed in the wool Southern Baptist. Just then, however, it seemed like a pretty good idea and both Patty and I did the same.

By the time we got home, Mama had gotten over her fear and was in a fine temper. She railed on at poor Papa, demanding he do something. After all, if he loved her and Patty, he would stand up for them and make that old witch pay. Nothing Papa said made any difference. The only way there would be peace in the house would be if he had it out with Old Serena and the sooner, the better.

So, promising Mama he would take care of it, Papa told me to get into the pickup. Why I had to go, I didn’t know. Frankly, I didn’t care. The last thing I wanted was to see Old Serena again so soon. But I could tell this wasn’t the time to say anything. Besides, with Mama in one of her moods, it was probably safer to face Old Serena than to stay home.

Papa surprised me that afternoon. Instead of going to confront Old Serena and demand not only an apology but a jar of her finest honey – she did have a way with the bees no one else in town could duplicate – he took me to the Custer farm. There he bought two of their finest hens. We made another stop at Crandall’s Smokehouse. Soon we were on our way to Old Serena’s, the hens and a large smoked ham in the bed of the pickup. We were, according to my papa, going to make amends.

Mind you, Old Serena never was and never will be that mad old woman you see in the movies. Unless you upset her, she looked like your favorite aunt or teacher – your very old favorite aunt or teacher. Nor did she live in some tumbled down shack at the back of a swamp. For one thing, there aren’t any swamps nears Mossy Creek. For another, Old Serena comes from even older money. Her house sat at the edge of town and consisted of several thousand acres of pasture land. As for those hens in the back of our truck, they weren’t going to be sacrificed in some black rite, at least not unless you call frying them up for dinner black magic.

Papa drove our battered truck down the tree-lined lane and parked. Before he switched off the engine, the double white doors of the plantation-style house opened and there stood Old Serena, a welcoming smile on her face.

“Welcome, Jacob, and you too, young Lexie.” She took Papa’s hands in hers and stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.

“Thank you, ma’am.” My papa’s always been a man of few words. That’s especially true when dealing with trouble Mama’s caused. “Lexie and I brought you some nice hens and a real fine smoked ham, Miss Serena. We hope you’ll accept them and our apologies for the unpleasantness of this afternoon.”

“Why thank you, Jacob.” She peered into the bed of the truck and smiled even wider. “You and Lexie have always been so good to me, just like your dear mama. The two of you have nothing to apologize for.”

“My mama remembers all you and yours have done for us, ma’am, unlike some other members of my family. I truly am sorry for how they’ve behaved.”

“Your mama’s a good woman, Jacob, and she raised you right.” She looked at me, her head cocked to one side, her expression thoughtful. I fought the urge to fidget under that intense gaze. “And you, young miss, you remind me very much of your grandma.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” I beamed. As far as I was concerned, there was no higher praise than being like my granny, the woman whose name I bore.

“Lexie, you be sure to tell her not to worry. I know she’s been doing poorly. But she will be around for a long time, making sure certain members of your family don’t cause too much trouble.” Now Old Serena smiled and a cold shill ran through me. “In fact, I’d say certain members of your family will be hanging around much longer than expected just to be sure Becca and those two brats of hers –” Another smile and I knew she didn’t mean me – “don’t cause you and your papa here any trouble.”

Papa thanked Old Serena – what else could he do? – unloaded the chickens and ham and off we went. Mama’s anger was terrible that night as she called him all kinds of names for not being a man and doing as he was told. He’d simply sat there. I’d be tempted to say he ignored her except there had been a strange little smile on his lips. It was as if he knew something was going to happen and he couldn’t wait to see it.

Old Serena had been right about one thing. My granny was “doing poorly”. She had been for a long time and nothing the doctors did seemed to help. We all knew it was only a matter of time before Granny passed. I had hoped Old Serena was right when she said Granny would be around for a long time but I didn’t believe it. Young as I was, I knew Death would soon come for her.

Two weeks later, Granny passed. Mama didn’t even try to hide how glad she was that Granny was finally gone but I knew. She had never liked Granny. She was always saying how Granny never thought she was good enough for my papa and how Granny was always trying to run their lives. It wasn’t true, but it had been Mama’s mantra for so many years, she actually believed it.

My mama might not have liked my granny but the church ladies sure did and they came out in force to make sure everything was perfect for the funeral and the gathering afterwards. More food than I had ever seen filled the tables of the church’s meeting hall and practically the whole town turned out for the service. After we watched Granny’s coffin being lowered into the ground, Brother Billy invited everyone back to the church for lunch. For a few hours, at least, I was able to listen to those who had known my granny best talk about her and share their memories of their old friend.

That night, missing Granny more and more with each passing minute, I did my best to ignore Bubba’s teasing and Perfect Patty’s demands for more of the chocolate cake Mama had brought home from the church. My feet felt like they weighed a million pounds as I slowly climbed the narrow stairs to my bedroom. The house seemed so empty without Granny and I knew nothing would ever be the same. Gone was my protector and the one person besides Papa I knew I could always rely upon, no matter what.

With Barney Bear in my arms, I cried myself to sleep.

And woke early the next morning to the sounds of someone moving around in the kitchen below my bedroom. For a moment, it was as though the clock had been rolled back more than a year. Until Granny’s stroke, every morning started with her in the kitchen, busy cooking our breakfasts and getting bread ready to bake. Mama used to complain about it, saying how it was just another way Granny kept her from being the “woman of the house”. Of course, she really complained once Granny got sick and couldn’t do it any longer. Mama cooking breakfast lasted all of a week before she decided it was time of us kids to learn to feed ourselves.

A smile touched my lips as the good memories temporarily kept the sadness at bay. I lay there, listening to the clank of the iron skillet as it was placed on the stove. The sounds of a spoon striking the sides of a mixing bowl as eggs were beaten followed. Soon, the tantalizing smell of bacon frying made its way upstairs. A door opened. Impatient steps, the unmistakable clip-clop of my mother’s mules, on the staircase. A scream!

Mama’s scream!

The wooden floor was cold under my bare feet. Somehow, I’d gotten out of bed and stood in the hallway outside my room. Bubba and Patty stood in their doorways, looking like scared little mice. Papa raced downstairs, his old plaid robe flapping, his feet bare.

Mama screeched again and I rushed downstairs, just ahead of Bubba and Patty. Papa stood in the doorway, shaking his head, an expression on his face I couldn’t identify.

Mama stood a few feet away, hands over her face and shaking like a leaf. And there, at the stove just as she had been almost every day of my life, stood my granny. She wore her best dress, the one we’d buried her in. Her snow white hair was mussed a bit. For once, she was barefoot and I wondered if they’d buried her that way. That was just wrong. Why bury someone in their best Sunday-go-to-church outfit but not their shoes?

“Becca Smithson, you quit your caterwauling,” Granny scolded, waving her wooden spoon before her like a wand. “You’d think you’d never seen me in this kitchen before.”

Mama moved her fingers apart just a fraction. She opened her eyes an even smaller fraction. Then she let out another screech and hit the floor with a resounding thud.

Granny stood at the stove and shook her head. No doubt about it, she sure didn’t approve of Mama fainting. Dead or alive, Granny expected you to behave and dropping to the floor like a felled tree just wasn’t done in her books.

“Jacob, you’d best be picking her up,” Granny said as she turned back to the stove long enough to move the frying pan off the burner. “And you, Patty Ann.” A glance over her shoulder had Perfect Patty trying to hide behind Bubba, which was pretty funny considering how he was doing his best to disappear into the far wall. “You can quit that sniveling and set the table.”

“B-b-but you’re dead!” Patty stammered, ignoring Bubba as he tried to free himself from her death grip around his neck. I guess Patty figured if she couldn’t hide behind him, she would just try to be as close to a second skin on him as she could. Not a bad idea really, considering he would do just about anything to save his skin, especially from one of Granny’s thrashings.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t sit down to eat like civilized folk.” Granny flipped the crisp strips of bacon onto a paper towel on the countertop next to the stove. “And didn’t Miss Serena tell you all that I’d be around for a long time?” She pinned each of us with a look we knew meant we’d best be agreeing and nothing else.

That was just the beginning. No matter what Mama did, Granny was there. Now I’ll admit, we’ve used more than our fair share of candles and Granny didn’t quite keep her looks. Fortunately, Mr. Perez knew a few renewal tricks. Once a month or so he’d come out to the house to give Granny her treatments. After a while, we sort of got used to having her around. Although Mama never stayed for long in the same room with her, which meant Granny once more reigned supreme over the kitchen.

Now, don’t go thinking things got any easier for Mama. Since Granny’s return, four more family members have passed on – and come back home to stay. The first was Uncle Matt, my papa’s older brother. Uncle Matt had gone out hunting one day with his favorite hound and his favorite beer and, well, he’d enjoyed his beer a little too much. Mr. Perez did his best, but Uncle Matt will never look the same after taking that shotgun blast to his face. When he showed up in the kitchen the morning after his funeral, coffee sort of dribbling from what had been his lower lip, Mama had repeated her performance from the morning of Granny’s return and had hit the kitchen floor with a thud.

For a while, the town did look at us kind of strangely. After all, not everyone has their relatives rising from their graves and taking up residence back at the old homestead. Oh, there are the odd ghosts and other spirits here and there, not to mention a few other things you don’t discuss in polite society, but our family was different. However, no one had any cattle mutilated and no small children disappeared. There weren’t even any corpses found with their brains missing. So our friends and neighbors slowly started coming around again, especially once they realized Old Serena was a regular visitor.

This past year, Granny and Uncle Matt have been joined by Aunt Minnie, my second cousin Annabelle and my Great-Uncle Homer. When Annabelle, who before she died at the ripe old age of ninety two insisted on wearing pink dresses with lots of lace and bows and wearing enough lilac water you smelled her five minutes before she arrived, appeared at the breakfast table the morning after her funeral, Bubba simply walked out the door. He hasn’t been back home since. Not that it is any great loss, although Mama laments his going. She is convinced Patty will be next and that she will never see her babies again.

You notice she has no such concerns about me nor does she seem to remember when she starts crying about her sad lot in life that she sees Bubba almost daily in town and he still shows up at the edge of our property once a week where Mama meets him. He then hands over any laundry he has to be done. You see, I still take too much after Papa’s side of the family, all of whom seem to be taking up residence with us after they pass.

“You’re looking mighty thoughtful, Lexie,” Granny commented as she poured me a cup of coffee. “Is something eating at you?”

I smiled, doing my best to ignore the fact it was past time for Mr. Perez to come give her another treatment. Come to think of it, Uncle Matt’s nose was more crooked than usual and the lilac water wasn’t quite covering the aroma that was Cousin Annabelle. There were definite downsides to having walking corpses living – er, residing – with you. The smell is just one of them.

“Sorry, Granny, just thinking.”

And thinking hard. Old Serena was due in less than an hour for her weekly game of dominos with Granny. Great-Uncle Homer joined them sometimes, if they could convince Papa to sit and play. I think Papa did it just to get back at Mama. She’d never liked Homer and now that he lived in our front closet and refused Mr. Perez’s treatments unless Granny made him, Mama absolutely detested him. Of course, the fact his nose had fallen right off and into the gravy boat during Sunday dinner hadn’t helped. Now Mama mainly took her meals in her room, refusing to eat with the rest of the family except when absolutely necessary.

Not that Granny and the others really ate. Oh, they went through the motions, but it was more habit than anything else I think. They’re dead, after all, so they don’t need sustenance. Still, it is mighty disconcerting sitting at the kitchen table with folks who ought to be six feet under.

They had passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet — snippet 1

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

For those looking for snippets from Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) , those will begin in two weeks.

In the Beginning. . . .

 

All my life, my mama’s tried to raise me to be a proper lady. No, that’s not quite right. She has tried to raise me to be a proper Southern lady, full of refinement and grace, dressed in lace and delicate pastels. To hear her talk, it’s been a futile effort that has caused her more than her fair share of gray hair. Where the lace and pastels are concerned, she’s right. I’m more of a jeans and tee shirt sort of gal. I’ll choose a pair of running shoes or boots any day over heels designed solely as torture devices for the women who wear them. Even so, she has managed to get me to say “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir”. For the most part, I’m respectful of my elders, even when they don’t deserve it. I even wear clean underwear when I leave the house – usually without any extraneous holes in them – because Mama is convinced some rampaging bus will find me and strike me down, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

I swear, I think it is her life’s dream that will actually happen. You see, in her world, a trip to the ER has only one possible ending. The handsome, rich and oh-so-conveniently single doctor who saves my life will fall madly in love with me and immediately propose marriage. What Mama seems to forget is that in a bus vs. me battle, the bus will always win. So, unless the doctor is also a re-animator, he would be falling for a corpse and, well, ewwww!

Besides, having somehow managed to survive a close encounter of the nearly fatal kind, the last thing I’d be interested in is finding a man to settle down and raise a passel of kids with. Not that it would deter Mama one little bit. Heck, she would probably arrive at the ER with her minister firmly in tow and a marriage license burning a hole in her hand bag, all ready to fill in the blanks to make me a married woman before I could back out – or run to the hills.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my mama rarely lets reality interfere with her plans.

Don’t get me wrong. I can usually deal with Mama’s plans and manipulations. I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out how. All I have to do is make sure I look both ways before crossing the street. Of course, the odds of a bus hitting me here in Mossy Creek are about as good as the odds of Hell freezing over. So I figure I’m safe – at least for the time being.

Knock on wood.

Because sure as my name’s Lexie Smithson, the minute I get married and move out, Mama will be packing her bags to join me. It won’t matter if I want her to or not. It wouldn’t even matter if I was moving across the country, or across the ocean. All she would care about is finally being able to get away from Papa, the rest of the family and, most of all, Mossy Creek. It wouldn’t even matter that I’m the least favorite of her kids.

Like I said, reality rarely interferes with my mama’s plans.

Of course, being the ungrateful and unobliging child that I am, I have no more found a bus to hit me than I’ve been able to keep the family skeletons in the closet. The former I have no control over. Well, I do but it’s not something I have any intention of trying. I’m not as optimistic as Mama about what the outcome of bus vs. me would be. As for the latter, I swear I don’t mean to let the family skeletons out. At least not usually. It’s just that they make so much noise, what with all their moaning and the rattling of their bones, that sometimes I just can’t help it.

Of course, it doesn’t help Mama’s disposition that it always seems to happen at the worst possible time. Like when her women’s group was meeting in our parlor last Sunday after church. Mama had just served the iced tea and lemon pound cake. She had even managed to make the house smell more like a garden than a funeral parlor. Everything had been as close to perfect as was ever possible at our place.

Then Aunt Minnie decided she just had to join in on the fun.

Now I ask you, was it my fault she wanted to be part of the meeting? She had been a member of that women’s group since the very first meeting more than twenty years ago. Everyone there knew her. Then there’s the fact Mama knew shew as there – how could she forget? Besides, all Aunt Minnie had wanted was to find out what the no-account scoundrel of an ex-husband of hers had been doing with the new church secretary. Really.

I swear, those women sure did overreact when Aunt Minnie rattled in and sat down on the settee t to Miss Pearl. You would have thought Miss Pearl had seen a ghost the way she shrieked and then fainted dead away Okay, maybe Aunt Minnie smelled a bit. But we had buried her in her best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress and it was just as pretty that afternoon as it had been at her funeral six months ago. Mr. Perez, the local undertaker, had been by just the day before to give Aunt Minnie one of her treatments. So she looked pretty much like she had before she passed. Sure, her skin sagged a bit more than it used to and she had a slightly yellow tinge to her, but that was all, really.

Besides, old Missus McIntyre was wearing enough lilac scent to cover the smell. Not to mention I know for a fact that Miss Pearl’s house is haunted and she often has afternoon tea with the ghost of her great-great granddaddy. So why she had to overreact so to Aunt Minnie, I’ll never know.

Those old biddies scattered like dandelion parachutes in a strong wind the moment Miss Pearl hit the floor. It took me more than an hour to calm poor Aunt Minnie and coax her back into her closet. I don’t know if she will ever come out again and that’s a darned shame. She was always the best at gossiping and, honestly, there’s not much else to do in this backwater town on a cold Sunday afternoon – or just about any other time, come to think of it.

Now Mama, well, she was beside herself with frustration, indignation and mortification. Even as she swept up the last of the lemon pound cake from the carpet where Mary Beth Tully dropped it on her mad dash for freedom, Mama blamed me. She swears I do things like this solely to embarrass her. I’m the ungrateful child, you see, not perfect like my sister Patty and certainly not important like my brother Brett, also known as Bubba – which he just happens to be.

No, I’m too much like my granny, the bane of Mama’s existence even now, ten years after Granny drew her last breath. Mind you, Granny might have passed, but like Aunt Minnie, she didn’t pass on.

Maybe I ought to explain. My family has never been what you might call “normal”. We have had more than our fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek do, especially when, like us, they live on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Perfect Patty came home complaining about how Old Lady Serena had given her the evil eye.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been the same since.

Nocturnal Challenge – Snippet 2

Attraktives Prchen ber den Dchern von Tokyo(This snippet is from my upcoming novel, Nocturnal Challenge. This is the fourth book, and the fifth entry, in the Nocturnal Lives series. This snippet is not the final edited version of what will appear in the novel. that means there very well will be changes between now and final publication. This work is copyright 2015 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing.)

Click here for Snippet 1.

***

“Hello, Mackenzie. I think it’s time we talk.”

Time stopped and the world narrowed to the slim blonde with the icy blue eyes standing just a few feet away. After more than ten years on the job with the Dallas Police Department, most of them as a murder cop, Lt. Mackenzie Santos had seen just about everything. She knew the depravity man could do to his fellow man. She knew the lengths a mother would go to protect her child. After the last six months, she even knew monsters really did exist outside the bad B-movies from Hollywood. But this was her worst nightmare come to life.

Instinct kicked in. She shifted position slightly so her injured shoulder was away from the woman. The fingers of her left hand closed around the grip of the Sig Sauer nestled at the small of her back. If she could have easily freed her right arm from the immobilizer securing that arm against her side and across her abdomen, she would have. Instead, she cast a quick look right and then left. There were too many people around, civilian and cop alike. Too many people who could get hurt and too many who could overhear something that could turn the world on its ear and result in a panic that would make the Salem witch hunt look tame by comparison. But she wasn’t alone. She had to remember that. Standing on either side of her were two people who would willingly die to protect her and her secret, whether she wanted them to or not.

“Cassandra.” It wasn’t much but it was better than the string of curses she wanted to let loose.

This had to be a bad dream. There was no other explanation for why Cassandra Wilkinson would be standing just a few feet away. If the blonde had business in town, Mac would have known about it. Her position as the local pride leader’s enforcer insured that. So the fact the Speaker of the Council, and the woman Mac believed responsible for so much of the trouble her pride had suffered recently, now stood before her was most definitely not a good thing.

Worse, Mac had no doubt that when Cassandra said it was time for them to talk, she’d meant talk alone, far away from prying eyes and curious ears. More than that, it would be far from anyone who might be able to help should Cassandra decide she didn’t like what Mac had to say. So not only “no” but “hell no”, not that she could come right out and tell Cassandra that. Knowing what she did about the Speaker and suspecting even more, Mac wasn’t about to go anywhere with the woman and especially not while injured.

She had to be very careful about what she said and did. They stood on the sidewalk outside the Dallas Justice Center where, only a few minutes earlier, Mac had finished giving her report to the Chief of Detectives and the District Attorney about the kidnapping and assault on her partner as well as an assistant district attorney and several others. Needless to say, it had been a partial report. She could no more tell the Chief of Ds and the DA the entire truth about what had happened than she could fly. If she did, they might think she had finally cracked under the pressure of the job. Worse, they might believe her and lock her up as a danger to society before going on hunt down all those like her.

Not that she would blame them if they did. Six months ago, she would have done the same thing. But that was before she discovered she turned furry on nights of the full moon and pretty much any other time she wanted. Now she had to make sure that secret didn’t come out, not only for her sake but for the sake of all those like her, at least not until the time was right. She would not be responsible for a modern version of the Boston witch hunts.

Unfortunately, she no longer believed Cassandra shared that concern. Even though they had met only a few times, Mac had never completely trusted the woman who was charged with enforcing shapeshifter law and making sure their existence was not discovered by the normals. Now, after the events of the last several weeks, she wasn’t sure Cassandra had ever really cared if their secret came out. Because of that, she had to be cautious about what she said and did next.

Most of all, she prayed she and her companions made it away from there alive so they could warn the others.

“LT?” Detective Nate Norwood, her temporary partner and a coyote shifter, asked in concern.

Instead of answering, Mac lifted her head slightly. As she did, she eased her hold on her jaguar. The jungle cat, so much a part of her now, pushed against her control, fighting for release. A growl sounded deep in Mac’s throat as the jaguar let her displeasure be known. She did not like Cassandra intruding on their territory. More than that, she did not appreciate the woman trying to tell them—them! – what to do. Well, that made two of them but there was little Mac could do about it, at least for the moment.

Caution won out over pride, training over ego. Mac sniffed the air and then relaxed slightly. All the smells she had come to associate with downtown were there: the cars, the exhaust, so many people pressing against one another as they made their way to their destinations. Hot dogs and condiments from the vendor at the corner. Coffee, rich and enticing, as someone walked past with a tall to-go cup. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But beneath all that were the scents she sought, the scents of shapeshifters. One was Cassandra. There could be no mistaking the dry grass scent Mac had come to associate with the woman. It reminded her of how a hayfield smelled several days after it had been cut. The second scent was the deeper, musky scent of Norwood. So far, so good.

Another sniff and Mac allowed herself to relax a little as she scented no other shapeshifters in the area. Cassandra had either come on her own or whomever she had brought with her was far enough away that Mac’s heightened senses couldn’t pick them up. That was fine by her. That meant they were too far away to interfere if a hasty retreat was called for. Maybe this little encounter would end peacefully after all.

At least she hoped so.

But she still needed to figure out how to respond to the woman who had led the Council for the last decade, without giving enough offense that Cassandra could legitimately take action against her. Damn but dealing with the politics of her new people was even more complicated, and certainly more fatal if you made a misstep, than dealing with the politics of the police department and justice system.

“Come. Walk with me, Mackenzie,” Cassandra said firmly.

The power behind those simple words washed over Mac and, for one brief moment, she felt the urge to step away from Jael and Norwood. Intellectually, she knew what was happening. Cassandra was trying to force her to do as she said by sheer will. It was something Mac had seen – and felt – her grandmother, as well as her own pride leader, do. Alphas had the ability to roll those who were weaker, leaving them no choice but to do as they were bid. Those times, Mac had responded instantly, not only because they were alphas but because she respected them enough not to even consider disobeying. But this was different.

Very different.

Even as Sergeant Jael Lindsay, her mentor and former training officer, reached out to stop her, Mac gave a quick shake of her head. Her jaguar pushed once more against her control, furious that the Speaker had tried to intimidate them – THEM – into obeying. Her jaguar wasn’t just furious, she was contemptuous. The Speaker had not earned their obedience, much less their respect, and she certainly did not deserve it. This was their territory and Cassandra was there uninvited. More important than that, she was the enemy.

Drawing strength from her jaguar, Mac glanced at Norwood to see if he had reacted to Cassandra’s order. Relief washed over her to see him still standing at her side, his hand near the gun under his jacket. Then, seeing the concern reflected in the younger man’s eyes, she gave him a quick wink. She might be battered and bruised, but she was still in control. He didn’t have to worry.

Yet.

Hoping she wasn’t about to make a bad situation worse, Mac took a single step forward. As she did, she fixed a slight smile on her lips. If anyone should happen to look their way, she didn’t want them thinking there was a problem. The last thing she needed was some well-intentioned soul interfering. She had a feeling things would go south in a hurry if that were to happen.

“Cassandra.” She fought the urge to grin as the blonde’s blue eyes flashed. Maybe it had finally dawned on her that Mac wasn’t going to blindly obey her. “It is always a pleasure to see you.” A lie but hopefully Cassandra would think it one of those little social lies almost everyone tells at some point in their lives. “Are you here to see Michael?”

Of course she wasn’t. The answer was written on Cassandra’s face from the way she clenched her teeth to the angry flush that rose on her cheeks. Then the anger disappeared almost as quickly as it had come. Mac had to give it to her. The woman knew how to roll with the punches. Hopefully that meant she also realized how precarious their position happened to be. Cops and civilians alike moved past them as they came and went from the Justice Center. Surely the blonde wouldn’t risk doing or saying something that might reveal their secret.

“As I said, Mackenzie, it is time the two of us talked. Join me for a coffee.”

Once again her power rolled over Mac. Prepared for it this time, Mac didn’t falter. Nor did she miss the surprise and something else, uncertainty perhaps, that crossed Cassandra’s expression. Not that Mac had time to think about it or about what her failure to comply with the Speaker’s order might mean. Instead, she needed to find out why the blonde had shown up without warning. But she’d be damned if she went anywhere with the woman, much less alone.

“I’m sorry, Cassandra, but I am on my way to a crime scene.” A lie but what other choice did she have? All she could do was pray she played the next bit right. “I’m sure if you contact Michael, he’d be glad to arrange for a time and place where we can meet without fear of interruption.”

At least that latter was technically true. As Speaker, Cassandra had the right to talk to any member of a pack, pride or pard that had sworn allegiance to the Council. Tradition, however, held that the Council, or its representative, would first approach the local alpha and ask permission to meet with whomever they wished to speak with. Mac hoped Cassandra would assume she was falling back on tradition because she was so new to her shifter abilities and still learning the ins and outs of shifter society. If she didn’t, they were all in trouble.

God, don’t let her push this any further.

“Mackenzie.” There could be no mistaking the warning, or the anger, in the blonde’s voice. “We will speak now.”

“I mean no disrespect, Cassandra, and I will be glad to speak with you. All I ask is that you talk with Michael first. I’m sure he will approve of our meeting. Besides, as I told you, I am on my way to a crime scene.”

Mac waited, wondering how the Speaker would react. She sensed Cassandra’s cheetah pushing against the blonde’s control. At the same time, Mac’s jaguar coiled beneath the surface, ready to spring and force a shift should Cassandra attack. Pushing the jungle cat down, Mac once again reached to the small of her back and the Sig Sauer nestled there. As she did, she gave a slight nod. She trusted Norwood to look after himself. She would make sure nothing happened to Jael

“Very well, Mackenzie. But this isn’t over. We will speak and soon.” The blonde’s words were clipped, her tone leaving no doubt about how she felt. When her eyes locked with Mac’s, Mac refused to look away. She would not show fear or submission to this woman or to her cheetah. Even so, she prayed she was making the right decision.

“I look forward to it.”

Mac inclined her head. As she did, Cassandra turned and strode off, the high heels of her designer boots clicking loudly against the sidewalk. Anger radiated off of her as she pushed her way past several women coming down the street. A few moments later, a dark sedan’s security system disengaged with a beep. With Norwood and Jael flanking her, Mac watched as Cassandra climbed in behind the steering wheel. The engine roared to life and the sedan pulled into traffic with a screech of tires that could have earned her a traffic ticket.

Mac looked on as the sedan turned at the corner and disappear from sight. Only then did she release her grip on her gun. Her heart rate slowed and her breathing returned to normal. But her mind raced. One thing was certain. They couldn’t stand there, waiting to see what happened next. She needed to let King know Cassandra was in town and she needed to warn those at the safe house. Like it or not, the battle – maybe even the war – had just come to them.

“LT?” Jael spoke softly, her concern obvious.

“Get in the SUV, both of you.” Mac glanced up and then down the street to make sure Cassandra had not circled back. “Nate, I want you to drive around for a few minutes. Let’s make sure we haven’t picked up a tail. Once you’re confident we’re in the clear, I want you to drop Jael and me back at the office.”

“No way, LT,” he said firmly. “I’m taking you straight to the safe house.” He spoke softly enough that he wouldn’t be overheard but there could be no mistaking his conviction.

“Nate, think for a moment. The SUV was unattended while we were inside making our report. That means Cassandra, or one of her people, could have tagged it. There’s no way we’re going anywhere near the safe house until we know it’s clean. That’s your job. Come back with either this one after it’s been swept or with a new vehicle. Then I will gladly let you take me to the others. Until then, we’re going to play this smart and not run the risk of leading that bitch back to our people.”

For a moment it looked like he would argue. Then he nodded. “You don’t let her out of your sight, Sarge,” he told Jael.

“Don’t worry. I won’t leave her side.” With that, Mac’s former training officer motioned for them all to climb into the SUV. “I take it we’re going to see the captain.”

“If at all possible. He needs to know what happened.” Mac slid into the front passenger seat and leaned back, carefully shifting positions until she found one that didn’t hurt her injured shoulder.

“Are you sure that’s the best course of action?” Jael asked as she slid into the backseat.

Mac started to answer and then stopped. She recognized Jael’s tone of voice. It was the same tone the woman had used when they were partnered together a lifetime ago. Mac had quickly learned it meant she needed to think about what she had said or had done. In almost every situation, Jael had been right. Could she be so now?

“Drive. I need to think for a minute,” she said as Norwood started the engine.

Trusting her companions to make sure they weren’t being followed, Mac leaned her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. She had no doubt that she needed to let King know what had just happened. But was it wise to go back to the office to do so? There was always the chance they would be overheard there. Damn, life had been so much less complicated before she started turning furry.

Unfortunately, this was something she needed to tell him face-to-face. Jael was right, though. Doing it at the office would not work. There were too many distractions there and too great a risk they might be overheard. With a sigh, she reached for her cellphone.

“King,” her pride leader and commanding officer said a few moments later.

“It’s Santos, sir.” Might as well play it safe in case he was not alone. “Something’s come up on one of my current cases that I need to brief you on.” Hopefully, he would understand what she was not saying.

“Lieutenant, I assume you’ve finished briefing the Chief of Ds and are on your way home now. I’d hate to find out you are working when you are supposed to be on medical leave.”

It wasn’t quite a question and it was enough to let her know that he wasn’t alone. Thank goodness she hadn’t said what was on her mind.

“That’s correct, sir. You made it quite clear that I need to do as the doctors say or you won’t let me return to duty any time soon.” She did her best to put a hint of pained humor in her voice.

“Good.” No one overhearing King could doubt his satisfaction that she was following orders. “I assume you want to give your report in person, Lieutenant.”

“I think it would be best, sir. This is information that was passed on to me while I was at the Justice Center.”

“Very well, I have a few things to take care of here. I will swing by your place on my way home tonight. Until then, get some rest. I need you back at your desk and on the streets as soon as possible.”

“Understood, sir, and thank you.” She ended the call, knowing he would be at the safe house as soon as possible without raising suspicions.  “All right, Nate. Let’s go switch out vehicles. I want this one checked before it goes anywhere near our people.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He turned right and checked the rearview mirror. “So far, no sign of a tail.”

“Keep an eye out but go on and head to the garage.” Or wherever he needed to go in order to pick up another SUV.

Satisfied, Mac turned her thoughts back to the encounter with Cassandra. The encounter had been enlightening on several levels. First, the Speaker had been rattled, something Mac figured didn’t happen very often. If they were lucky, it would make the Speaker careless. Mac hoped so because they needed more than a little luck right now. Too much hung in the balance for them to make any mistakes.

Second, Cassandra had come alone. Mac had no doubt about it after seeing her drive off. She knew enough about the blonde to realize Cassandra would not be driving if she had brought another of their kind with her. Could it be that she did not have anyone she trusted enough to take Yazhari’s place? God, she hoped so. The longer Cassandra was deprived of someone to carry out her dirty work, the better it would be for their side.

Finally, it was obvious Cassandra had not told King of her arrival in town. Not that it surprised Mac. Still, it was a breach of protocol on the Speaker’s part and, as far as Mac was concerned, a sign of how worried Cassandra was about what the local pride might know.

“When did life get so complicated?” She hadn’t meant to say it aloud.

“About the time you followed your family’s tradition and started turning furry.”

Jael actually chuckled and Mac shook her head, a smile playing at her lips. Jael was right. Before then, the worst thing Mac had to deal with were drive-by shootings, drug deals gone bad and the occasional jealous husband or wife killing their partner or lover. Now she had to deal with all that and do everything she could to keep the world-at-large from discovering that shapeshifters really did exist and weren’t just something out of bad Hollywood movies.

Some days, it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.

An update, a thought or two and a snippet

I’m sitting at my desk, watching it rain. While I love the rain and would prefer to be outside walking in it, I have to work. Of course, rain also means it is dark outside so, as I try to focus on editing, I want to go back to bed and nap. The fact the idiot dog and demon cat decided it would be sooooo much fun to get me up at 0330 — the 0400 and 0430 and, well, you get the message — a nap sounds really good right now. But I will remain strong and keep drinking coffee and try to get back to editing.

So, here’s the update. The edits on Sword of Arelion, the first book in a planned three book fantasy arc, are progressing. Fingers crossed, they should be done some time over the weekend, if not sooner. Both Honor from Ashes, the third book in the Honor and Duty series, and Nocturnal Challenge, book four in the Nocturnal Lives series, are talking to me again. I have a feeling that I may wind up writing them pretty much simultaneously.

Once those two are done, I will finish up Skeletons in the Closet. Then it will be time to do the sequel to Sword. The good thing is, Skeletons is plotted and the voice in that one is strong, very strong. That’s why I can’t work on it when I’m working on anything else. There are other books in the pipeline and a couple of novellas. Let’s just say, I don’t see any real down time in the future.

Now for the Hugos. Sigh. I am going to try not to spend much more time discussing the contretemps but I make no promises. I can’t and won’t sit still when I see good men and women attacked without cause, often maliciously, simply because they don’t toe the party line. But the truth of the matter is, nothing I say, nothing any of us say, will change the minds of those so ingrained in the status quo that they are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the outsiders from coming in.

Frankly, I am more than disappointed with how a number of them have reacted to the current situation. Here are authors who ought to know better trying to get their peers and fans to vote No Award ahead of nominated works simply because they don’t like they think something made it onto the ballot. They don’t give a damn about the author or the work. They are making a “statement” — well, I hate to tell them this but it is a chickenshit statement and one that shows just how petty they are. I have looked at the ballot and there are works on it that I have a pretty good idea I won’t like — and yes, they come from one of the so-called slates. But I am not going to vote No Award because of the slate it was on. Nor am I going to vote No Award because I think I won’t like it. What I will do is read it, as well as the other entries. Then and only then will I cast my ballot. The only way I will vote No Award is if I think a work — after reading or watching it — is not worthy of being awarded the Hugo. Too bad others can’t do the same.

Now for the snippet.

Portrai of mystic  elf woman with sword, armor and tattoo on her hand.Sword of Arelion is a fantasy novel I originally wrote more than 10 years ago. I have now completely rewritten it to what is, at best, rough draft status. It’s been an interesting project because I haven’t written anything like this in quite awhile. Please keep in mind that this is a very rough draft. That means there will be spelling and grammar errors, and probably more as well. These will be corrected during edits. As with anything posted here, the copyright is mine so all the standard disclaimers apply. Now, here is the opening section from Sword of Arelion, a fantasy novel that may or may not see the full light of day.

The image I’ve attached to this post is a mock-up of what I think will be the cover. Yes, I know the typesetting sucks. I was more interested in finding an image that “fit” and then in getting something that would keep reminding me that I am serious about trying to complete this novel, even if only as an exercise in what can be done.

Click here for Snippet 1 and here for Snippet 2 and here for Snippet 3.

One last note, you will notice some of the names have been changed or altered since the earlier snippets. That happened during the first editing pass after talking with my Alpha Reader. I think, for the purposes of this snippet, we are only taking about the tavern-master, but there could be one or two other minor changes.

***

She swallowed hard. The last thing she wanted to think about were those first days after waking. To give herself time, she once again lifted the mug to her lips and sipped. As she did, she knew she should have no more. With no food in her stomach, it would not take much for the wine to affect her and one lesson she had learned early on was never to lose control. It was a hard-learned lesson and one she wasn’t about to forget just because it appeared her situation was changing.

“I was nothing to him, less than an animal,” she began only to be cut off by an angry denial from the tavern-master.

Instinctively, she hunched her shoulders and looked for someplace to hide. She knew that tone of voice, just as she knew what would happen should he get his hands on her any time soon. She would be lucky to survive the beating. He had been so angry before the knight had interfered. Now his rage was deadly and she would be the one to pay the price if he managed to get free.

“Quiet!” Commander Darrias ordered.

Cait flinched as the commander followed up his order with a savage blog to the tavern-master’s midsection. Even as Giaros gasped for breath, a sense of satisfaction filled Cait. Too many times had she been on the receiving end of such blows. Now, to see the man treated in much the same manner, she could feel that faint glimmer of hope in the pit of her stomach building. Maybe this was real and her nightmare was about to end.

Not that she would let her guard down. There were still too many unknowns and too much that could go wrong. So she focused on the commander, watching as Darrias extended his right hand. A moment later, one of his troopers handed him a leather thong. Without a word, the commander nodded and stepped forward. Cait swallowed hard as memories threatened to overwhelm her as Darrias quickly bound Giaros’ hands behind his back. Much as she had suffered at the tavern-master’s hands, this was too close to what he had done to her.

“My apologies, Cait. I promise he won’t interrupt again.” The soft statement drew her attention back to the duke.  “I only have a few more questions. Did you ever try to leave Giaros or tell someone what had happened? Also, did he force you to lie with him after that day in the camp?”

Cait once again looked down at her hands. They were wrapped around the mug where it rested on the table before her. She hated remembering. It brought back all the pain and fear and threatened to overwhelm her. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? Then a gentle hand closed over her shoulder. Looking up, she found Fallon watching her, compassion and understanding reflected in his eyes. Seeing it, she smiled slightly. She could do this. She had to. Otherwise, they might make her return to the tavern-master and she would not survive that. If he didn’t kill her, she would kill herself. She would not give him power over her ever again.

“I did try to escape, milord, several times. The first was on the trail. The next was not long after our arrival.” She closed her eyes and the memories came flooding back. “Two days after we left the camp, I managed to slip my bonds before we broke camp. It was early, not quite dawn, and he didn’t seem to be paying that much attention.  I ran but I wasn’t fast enough. He caught me and then he beat me until I lost consciousness. When I woke, he gave me my first lesson about how the slave bands could be used.” She shivered violently at the memory. “He chained me like an animal so I could only move on hands and knees. For the rest of the day, I had to follow the mules like a stray dog. Then he beat and raped me again. From then until we arrived here, when we would make camp at night, he would chain me to a tree. He promised I would never get away from him again.”

She paused, her mouth working as she swallowed against the bile the rose in her throat. She could feel his hands on her, rough and painful. His breath was fetid. Madness – or something worse – filled his eyes and she knew he would take a great deal of pleasure in dealing out as much pain as he could before he finally killed her.

No! It was just a memory. That was all. He couldn’t hurt her any more. He was the one now tied and helpless. She could do this. She had to do this.

“The second time I tried to escape, he caught me before I could leave the tavern. It was late, after the last customer had left. I thought he would kill me, he was so angry. Instead, he dragged me down to the cellar where he beat me again. Then he chained me so I couldn’t move, much less leave. He kept me down there for two days without food or water. Except when he came to me at night, he kept me gagged. He promised he would kill me if I did anything to bring attention to myself. From that day on, he made sure the opportunity to escape never came.”

“Why didn’t you say something to me at least, child?” Longbow asked.

“He threatened to kill anyone I told, sir. He said if he even thought I’d said anything untoward to someone, he would kill them and make me watch. I couldn’t risk him hurting anyone else.” Tears burned her eyes and she angrily dashed them away.

“She lies!” Fear laced Giaros’ voice so heavily Cait prayed the others realized it meant she spoke true.

“I said to be quiet!” Darrias turned and backhanded the tavern-master, almost knocking him from his chair.

“What about my other question, Cait?” the duke asked.

“Milord, he did force himself on me. I know not how many times. I quit counting long ago.”

“When was the last time?” Fallon asked.

“A few months ago.” At least she thought it had been that long. She couldn’t be sure.

“Do you know why he stopped?”

“I asked what he would do if he got me with child.”

She could almost smile at the memory. She had known the moment Giaros dragged her upstairs to his rooms what he had in mind. Something inside of her seemed to snap. She no longer cared what happened. If he beat her into unconsciousness, at least she wouldn’t know if he raped her. Death would be a welcome release.

She had asked the question before she knew what she was doing. The response was something she had never thought to see. Giaros stopped, his breeches around his ankles, his shirt dangling from one hand. His expression looked like he had just been hit by a tree and then he paled. Without a word, he pulled up his breeches. Then he grabbed her by the arm and hauled her down to the cellar where he chained her and, just before locking the door behind him, he warned her to be quiet or face his wrath. Then the door closed and she listened as the bolt slid into place. That had been the last time he’d forced himself on her.

As she remembered that night, Cait sensed Fallon stiffening at her side. When she looked up at him, she was very glad not to be in Giaros’ shoes just then. The knight looked as if he would like nothing more than to pull his sword and use it to make short work of the tavern-master. That did more to reassure Cait than anything short of Giaros’ death and her departure from the duchy could have and she clung to that for all she was worth.

Despite what the duke said, there were more questions. How often had he hit her? Had he treated her injuries? Had she ever been seen by a healer? She answered as best she could, all the while wishing they would just stop. Hadn’t she said enough already to convince them she was telling the truth.

“Cait, we’re almost done,” Fallon said softly. She nodded, not quite believing him. “But now we need to see where you stayed. Can you show us?”

Swallowing hard, she nodded. Fear knotted her stomach at the thought of returning to the cellar. Could this be a ruse to get her down there so they could do with her as they wanted? No, she couldn’t – she wouldn’t – believe that. Not when Fallon looked at her, so worried and caring, and not when she could see the fury reflected in Commander Darrias’ eyes whenever he looked at Giaros. She needed to trust these men not to betray her. But it was so very hard . . . .

She slid her hand into Fallon’s and let him draw her to her feet. Without a word, she led them through the tavern to the cellar entrance at the back of the kitchen. The heavy wooden door was closed, the bolt slid into place. Darrias stepped around her and slid the bolt back and opened the door. At his signal, one of the troopers appeared with a lantern. He led the way down the steep, uneven steps, Darrias just behind him. With Fallon following closely, Cait descended into the setting of so many of her nightmares.

She said nothing as the men looked around. She didn’t have to, not when the cellar itself told the tale. Resting on the stone floor in the far corner of the dark, dank room were the thin mattress and threadbare blanket that had been her bedding. Cait shuddered at the sight of the heavy metal rings set into the stone floor along the sides of the mattress and the short chains attached to them. Most nights, those chains had been secured to her slave bands, leaving her a helpless victim to whatever depravity Giaros wanted to visit upon her.

Her other nights had been spent chained to the man’s bed. It might have been more comfortable but there had been no pleasure in it. Those nights she had been raped and abused, often by others besides Giaros. She had learned to fear those times even more than those lonely nights in the cellar. At least on those nights, unless Giaros came to her, no one hurt her and she could escape in her dreams for a little while at least.

“Cait, did you ever see any others like you?” Fallon asked as they once more made their way to the common room.

She shook her head and then smiled slightly as he once more seated her at the table and handed her the mug of mulled wine. Gods above and below, she wanted to trust him.

“You have my deepest apologies, Cait. Until now, I did not want to believe you. I did not want to think such evil could exist in my lands without me knowing about it. For that, I am truly sorry.” The duke inclined his head, his expression as serious as she had seen since his arrival. “There is little I can do to make up for what you have suffered, but I hope you will let me begin by accepting my offer for you and Sir Fallon to take up residence at the keep until the council has met and determined the appropriate punishment for the tavern-master.”

“It would be our honor, my lord,” Fallon answered for them both. Then he looked down at Cait and she realized he wanted to make sure she agreed. She nodded. Just then, she would agree to almost anything if it meant she could leave the tavern and never return. “With your permission, milord, I think it best we leave this place. It holds nothing but pain and fear for Cait. More importantly, her injuries need to be seen to. Then I want those cursed bands removed. She has been forced to endure them all too long already.”

“Of course, Sir Fallon.”

“Once that is done, milord, I think the two of us must discuss how such an abomination could exist in your duchy for so long without someone discovering it.” Fallon’s voice was so cold that Cait looked at him in surprise. “Steps must be taken to insure there are no others suffering as Cait has.”

“I assure you, Sir Knight, that I share you concern and want those same questions answered.” If possible, the duke’s voice was even colder than Fallon’s had been. “Come morning, the council shall convene to hear this matter. But for today, Commander Darrias and his people will question the tavern-master about Cait and what has happened.”

“Very well.” Fallon inclined his head and once again rested a reassuring hand on Cait’s shoulder. “I insist upon one other thing, milord. Giaros must be confined. He cannot be given the opportunity, no matter how small, to cause Cait more harm or to escape justice.”

“Agreed.” The duke quickly issued the necessary orders and Commander Darrias assured him he understood. “Shall we go?” he asked, pointedly turning his back on the tavern-master as Giaros once more began pleading his cause.

Fallon nodded and helped Cait to her feet.

“Sir Fallon,” she said softly as they followed Longbow and the duke into the golden warmth of the afternoon sun, the first she had felt in more than a year.

“Just Fallon, lass.”

She paused and glanced skyward, one hand lifting to shield her eyes. Everything seemed so bright, so clear and clean. Despite the pain from her injured ribs and back, she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with first fresh air for the first time in much too long. Then she smiled slightly, praying this wasn’t all a dream. Even if it was, it was worth it. She had forgotten how beautiful a day could be. Now if it would just last.

“There is no way to thank you for what you’ve done.” She fell silent, wondering what those looking through open doors and windows thought of the strange procession moving through the streets in the direction of the keep. How many of them had come to the tavern over the many months she had been there? How many had seen her, had seen the bands she wore and ignored them. Anger flared and she pushed it down. There would be time for that later. But now she had to focus on what was happening and do everything she could to make sure she was never returned to Giaros. She would rather die first. “What happens now?”

“After we’ve been shown to our rooms, your injuries will be treated and those accursed bands removed. Then you can bathe, eat and get some much deserved and needed rest.”

“And after the council meets?” Damn that note of fear in her voice. It was never good to show weakness. It would be used against her. That was another lesson she had learned at Giaros’ hands.

“I promise to see you settled and safe well away from here, Cait.”

She glanced up at him, surprised by the fierce determination that shone from his expression. As she did, she knew intuitively that she could trust him. Even so, until the bands were removed, she would not be able to accept it was all real. Maybe then she could finally begin to believe things were going to get better.

Another snippet because my brain hasn’t started working yet

It’s been almost a month since I last posted a snippet. Part of the reason is because I have really wanted to give Sword of Arelion time to sit before I start the editing process. Part is because, well, I knew that the moment I started regularly snippeting it, I would have focus on it once again until it was ready to go live. The problem with that is I have two other books — Honor from Ashes and Nocturnal Challenge — I need to be focusing on. As I’ve said in my posts last week, I’ve been doing some background work for Honor, mainly re-reading the previous books in the series and making notes about what needs to be covered and not left hanging in this book.

Fast forward to this morning and, well, the world of my writing flipped on me again. Oh, I’m not delaying Honor. However, there is no way I will start writing on it for at least another week. So . . . my muse hit me (with a little help from AJ Prince and her post over at Twisted Writers this morning) and Sword woke up again. So, you guys get a snippet and I will start editing that manuscript when I’m not re-reading and taking notes on Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) (since I finished doing just that with Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) day before yesterday).

Portrai of mystic  elf woman with sword, armor and tattoo on her hand.Sword of Arelion is a fantasy novel I originally wrote more than 10 years ago. I have now completely rewritten it to what is, at best, rough draft status. It’s been an interesting project because I haven’t written anything like this in quite awhile. Please keep in mind that this is a very rough draft. That means there will be spelling and grammar errors, and probably more as well. These will be corrected during edits. As with anything posted here, the copyright is mine so all the standard disclaimers apply. Now, here is the opening section from Sword of Arelion, a fantasy novel that may or may not see the full light of day.

The image I’ve attached to this post is a mock-up of what I think will be the cover. Yes, I know the typesetting sucks. I was more interested in finding an image that “fit” and then in getting something that would keep reminding me that I am serious about trying to complete this novel, even if only as an exercise in what can be done

Click here for Snippet 1 and here for Snippet 2.

***

She stared at her hands where they rested in her lap, fingers clasped so tightly together it hurt. But that was nothing compared to the pain lancing her ribs with every breath she took or that where the tavern-master’s belt had broken the skin of her back. Not that pain was anything new to her. It had been her almost constant companion for so long she now expected it.

What she wasn’t used to was being the center of attention. Her master had told her to never bring attention to herself. Having so many eyes watching her, so many people discussing her as if she wasn’t even there unsettled her. If she could, she would flee the room but something told her that would not be allowed.

So she sat as still as she could, praying they would soon leave her be. Her master would be so angry when they did. She hurt now but it would be nothing compared to what he would do to her once they were alone. Blessed Elanna, why hadn’t she tried to help Master Longbow sooner? If she had, her master would have been none the wiser.

“What is your name, child?”

She lifted her head slightly and studied the man kneeling in front of her. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he looked like so many who frequented the tavern. But he wasn’t one of those she had served. She would have remembered his fancy clothes. The others had called him duke. What did he want with her?

Unsure, afraid of what Garris might do should she answer, she glanced to her left. Longbow sat at her side, his expression concerned and yet oddly reassuring. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and nodded. He wanted her to answer the young man. The duke, she reminded herself. She had trusted Longbow before but could she now?

“H-he calls me Sparrow.” She spoke softly, so softly the words were barely audible. Still, they sounded almost like a shout in the silence of the tavern.

“And your age?”

“H-he told me eighteen winters.” Without taking her eyes from the duke’s face, she nodded to where the troopers held Garris in place.

“Child, don’t you know how old you are?”

She heard Longbow’s concern and tears pricked at her eyes as she shook her head. There was so much she didn’t know but how could she tell them that?

“No.” If possible, she spoke even softer than before. Why couldn’t they leave her alone?

“Child, look at me.”

Something about the voice made her comply. She looked up from her hands as someone knelt next to the duke. The stranger, the one who had tried to protect her from her master, knelt there, his expression troubled. Then he reached out and she started nervously. He paused and then gently brushed a lock of hair back, revealing more of her face than she had let anyone see in so very long.

“Child, my name is Fallon Mevarel. I am a knight of the Order of Arelion. I swear you have nothing more to fear. I will make sure nothing else happens to you.” He spoke softly, almost as softly as she had, yet there was such confidence in his words and the way he spoke them that she wanted to believe him. But how could she? She had learned the hard way how foolish it was to trust anyone but herself. “Will you answer a question for me?”

She nodded almost reluctantly.

“You said the tavern-master calls you Sparrow. Is that your name? Is it what you call yourself?”

She closed her eyes as a single tear tracked down her cheek. Why couldn’t he leave her alone? She didn’t want to think about what he asked and what she knew he would ask after that.

“N-no.” She licked her lips, struggling to find the courage to continue.

“What is it?” The knight’s hand cupped her cheek so lightly she could barely feel it. Never could she remember anyone treating with such care.

“I don’t know.” Once again, she ducked her head and stared at her hands.

“Child, are you telling us that you don’t know your name or how old you are?” the duke asked.

She nodded, too ashamed to look at him or at anyone else. She was a nobody, not worthy of having a name. That was what her master had told her. She was property to be used and discarded at his whim. Would these people feel the same?

“How did you come to be called Sparrow?” the knight wanted to know.

“My master named me. Said I was his caged bird with no more sense or beauty than a common sparrow.”

She glanced up and through the mask of her hair, saw Fallon’s expression harden as he glanced at Garris. A spark of hope, faint but real, seemed to come alive at the very core of her. Maybe she could trust him, this stranger who saw more in the span of a few hours than others had in so very long.

“What do you call yourself?”

Call herself?

A slight, bitter smile touched her lips. She could tell him, just as she could tell him how much she had hated being called Sparrow, hated all it had stood for. But that would reveal much, perhaps too much, about what she thought and felt. After so long of hiding that part of her from everyone, and most especially from her master, did she dare trust this stranger?

But what did she have to lose?

“Please, child. We need to know what to call you and it would be best if it was a name you prefer.” Longbow’s hand closed over hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

She drew a deep breath, wincing as her ribs screamed in pain. She could do this. She had to do this if she was to ever break away from her master.

“Call me Cait.”

crossedswords

Fallon thought his heart would break at that one soft word. Her voice – Cait’s voice – was so filled with despair it hurt. If he had had any doubts before then, he no longer did. Not when he looked at the way she stared at her hands, rough and reddened from hard work, not when he recognized the word and its slightly foreign sound. She had chosen a name for herself that was the opposite of what the tavern-master had chosen. He had wanted to cage the bird. She wanted to kill it, or at least to kill what it represented. Cait, which she pronounced as kawch, was how some of the northerners said cat. Had she heard someone say it that way or was it a clue about where she had come from?

He couldn’t worry about that – yet. He needed to do everything possible to make sure the duke understood the extent of the problem in his realm. That was first and foremost. But he also had to make sure Cait never had to spend another moment at the mercy of Garris. Once those two things were done, he could worry about how she had come to be there.

“Cait. I like it.” He smiled and once more reached out. This time he tilted her head up so she looked him in the eye. She needed to see that he spoke true. “I have a feeling it fits you much more than Sparrow ever did.”

She gave him a small, shaky smile but it was enough to let him hope she had not yet been broken by Garris.

“Will you answer a few more questions for us?”

She nodded once.

“How long have you been here?”

She closed her eyes as if trying to remember. “This will be my second winter here.”

Longbow nodded when Fallon looked to him for confirmation. As he did, anger flared. How could so many people have seen what was happening around them and yet not do anything? Fallon wanted to climb to his feet and pace – or mete out instant justice to Garris and all like him. Instead, he stayed where he was, focusing on Cait and making sure he did everything he could to reassure her so she felt safe enough to tell him what he needed to know.

“And before you came here?”

She shook her head, tears once more leaving tracks down her dirty cheeks. Fallon closed his eyes, putting a tight rein on his emotions. Thank the Lord and Lady he listened when instinct pulled him in the direction of New Grange. If he had ridden past, he had no doubt the girl would not have lasted much longer. From what he could tell, it was a miracle she had lasted this long.

“Cait, don’t you remember anything from before you came here?”

Another shake of her head.

“I know I am asking much and I am sorry but it is important that I know everything you can tell me.” He reached out and, using his fingertips, brushed away her tears. He waited, praying she understood. Then she nodded again. This time, however, she looked directly at him instead of at her hands. Good. He hoped that was good. “What is the first thing you remember?”

“Waking in a small tent. It was cold. I was cold, so cold. I tried to sit up but I hurt. Everything seemed to hurt. Then I realized I was bound, hands behind my back, ankles crossed. It was dark and I was along.” She paused and then softly thanked Fallon as he pressed a mug of mulled wine into her hands. He waited as she sipped, knowing better than to rush her. She needed to tell this in her way and in her time. Not that it made waiting any easier.

“I may have passed out. Maybe I slept. I don’t know. But suddenly he was there.” she nodded once again at the tavern-master. This time, anger lit her eyes and Fallon nodded in approval. “Another man came in after him and dragged me outside. Neither said anything as they put the bands on me. Once they had, the second man freed my ankles and said it was time to sample the merchandise. He—” Another nod at Garris—“raped me. When he finished, they told me I belonged to him. A chain was locked to my neck band and he led me out of the camp.” Tears rolled freely down her cheeks and she reached up with one grimy hand to wipe them away.

“What else did the tavern-master say about your relationship?” the duke wanted to know.

“That I was his property. If I did as I was told, I would be rewarded. If I failed to please him, I would be punished.”

This time she glared at Garris. Seeing it, Fallon smiled in approval. Her spirit might have been battered but it had not been broken. That would help her recover both mentally and physically – if he could get her away from there before anything else happened.

“Cait, you said there was pain when you woke. Can you describe it?” Fallon asked, hoping that might help determine why she could remember nothing before that terrible day.

“Aye, sir. I seemed to hurt all over. I later realized I had a number of injuries, some almost healed.”

“Your head? Did it hurt?”

She nodded. “It did. It was hard to focus and the light hurt my eyes. It hurt badly for several days after I woke.”

A head injury then as well as everything else. But how had she been injured and by whom?

“What about the other man? What can you tell us about him?” Fallon knew her answers could tell him a great deal, at least about who held her before Garris. That would at least give him a place to start.

“Big. Skin was wind burned but still pale. He spoke strangely, as if his native tongue was not this one.” She shivered as she recalled him and Fallon wished he didn’t have to ask her to relive that time. “His hair was dark, darker than mine, and there was a band on white in it.”

Wasteland raider then. But what was a nomad from that godless land doing this far north? More importantly, when and how had he gotten his hands on Cait and what in the name of all that was holy had he done to her before handing her over to Garris?

Fallon frowned thoughtfully. Learning that Garris had been doing business with the raider boded ill for not only the tavern-master but for Lineaus and the rest of the Imperium as well. For years, the raiders had believed it their right to enslave and kill anyone who was unfortunate enough to wander into their lands. For generations, they had pressed the borders, trying to gain inroads into the Imperium. If they were getting bold enough to look for, and find, those within the Imperium willing to do their bidding, then Lord and Lady help them all. Trouble was most definitely on the horizon.

“All right, Cait.” The duke held up a hand to forestall any other questions. “What about your life here? How did Garris treat you?”

Sword of Arelion – snippet 1

As I noted Friday, I’ve been having trouble recapturing the right “voice” in Nocturnal Challenge. So I am spending much of the weekend re-reading the first three novels and the novella in the series. Once I have, and once I’m confident I have Mac firmly planted back in my head, I will go back over what I’ve already written and should be able to pound the remainder of the book out in 10 days or so. In the meantime, I’m seeing if I can resurrect a fantasy novel I originally wrote more than 10 years ago. So far it has been interesting because I haven’t written anything like this in quite awhile. But it is a good exercise and it is keeping me writing without interfering with the process of finishing Challenge.

I think what I am going to do is treat this like a NaNoWriMo piece. To keep myself honest about it, for the next week or two, I will post my work. I will try to break it up when I can because I don’t want to post 5,000 word chunks. However, today’s snippet is almost that long. It is also a very rough draft. That means there will be spelling and grammar errors, and probably more as well. These will be corrected during edits.

As with anything posted here, the copyright is mine so all the standard disclaimers apply. Now, here is the opening section from Sword of Arelion, a fantasy novel that may or may not see the full light of day.

***

Chapter One

The old man sat before the fire, head bent, eyes closed. His chin rested on one upraised fist. The other hand, gnarled fingers loosely curled, rested on the table. Nearby, the fire crackled loudly, sparks flying as the logs collapsed onto the grate. He started nervously, his head jerking up. Rheumy blue eyes quickly scanned the room. Then, as if realizing he had nothing to worry about, he pushed a lock of long, gray hair from his weather-worn face. With a heavy sigh, he once more lowered his head onto his fist and closed his eyes.

Intrigued, Fallon closely watched the man from across the room. When Fallon first arrived at the tavern almost an hour earlier, the common room had been crowded with men in search of a mid-day meal or drink. They had gathered around the long, cluttered tables, voices loud and raucous, especially when they called for service. But not once had they complained about the old man sitting by himself at one of the few small tables near the fire. Instead, they greeted him respectfully, beaming proudly if he returned their greetings – which he almost always did.

Tipping back his chair, Fallon stretched his long legs before him with a weary sigh. He should get back on the trail. Kirris would be more than a little displeased if anything delayed his mission, not that Fallon could blame him. The information he carried could save the lives of so many in Cartesia by preventing civil war from breaking out. All he had to do was get it to his fellow members in the Order.

Yet there he sat, a mental battle waging between his sense of duty and the need to stay at least a little longer. He knew he was where he needed to be. He just didn’t know why he needed to be there. Gods above and below, he wished he had the answers.

Two hours earlier, he had been on the trail. He hadn’t planned on stopping, at least not for several more hours. He certainly hadn’t planned on coming into town. One of the first lessons he had learned after joining the Order was to never advertise his presence when riding courier missions. Too many eyes and ears took note of strangers and, all too often, they sold that information to those willing to pay the right price. And that, Fallon knew, could lead to death – or worse – of the courier or of those his information would protect.

Yet still he sat in the dark, smoky tavern, still unsure about what had brought him there. All he knew was that the closer to town he came, the stronger the call to leave the trail. Someone or something needed the kind of help only someone like him could offer. That feeling had brought him through town to the Black Duck Tavern.

So he sat and waited, the sense of urgency he’d felt on the trail just as strong now, more than an hour later.

Kirris would have his head, figuratively at least, when he found out he had left the trail. This wasn’t just any town Fallon had ridden into. Oh no, he had left the safe anonymity of the tail to ride into New Grange. Not only was it the largest town for miles around, sitting at the intersection of several major trade routes, but it was also the capital city of the duchy of Lineaus. That alone increased the chances someone would realize what, if not who, he was.

Frowning, Fallon tugged at the sleeves of his rough woolen coat. Because his mission required secrecy, he wore a homespun tunic and thick wool trousers under his coat. His sword hung in a well-worn leather scabbard from an equally well-worn leather belt. He had taken great care to make sure nothing about his outward appearance betrayed his association with the Order. He hoped that did not come back to haunt him.

Time was not on his side. If he didn’t soon learn why he had felt compelled to come here, he would have to leave. He didn’t like it but he had no other choice. His mission was too important to delay on the off-chance something might happen here. Not that he liked it, not when the feeling that this was where he was needed was so strong.

Movement to his left caught his eye and he turned his head toward it. The serving wench he had seen earlier shoved the kitchen door closed with one foot as soon as she entered the common room. One hand carefully balanced a small tray holding a plate of food and a battered tankard. She reached out with the other hand to snag a rag from the end of the bar. As before, she did not look up, did not appear to make eye contact with anyone.

Nothing about her looked out of the ordinary, at least not for a place like this. When she had served Fallon earlier, she had almost faded into the background. Now every fiber of his being seemed to focus on her. His mouth went dry and he swallowed hard. How had he managed to dismiss her so easily before? It didn’t make any sense. Not when she all but shimmered with a power so strong and untamed every instinct screamed for him to get her away before someone got hurt.

Forcing himself not to react, Fallon quickly reinforced his mental shields. Then he once again turned his attention to the source of such surprising power. Like so many serving wenches in all too many taverns, she looked unremarkable to the naked eye. She shuffled around the common room, head bent. Hair, dark as night either from natural color or filth, hung in oily hanks, obscuring her features. To the casual observer there was nothing, absolutely nothing remarkable to her.

But to the inner eye. . . .

He couldn’t call attention to himself, Fallon reminded himself. He didn’t know who the girl was or how she had come to possess such a strong yet untrained power in this of all places. So he rested his elbows on the table and schooled his features into what he hoped the others would see as nothing more than bored curiosity as he watched the scene unfold. He had a feeling if he failed in that simple task, the girl would be on her guard once again and that was the last thing he wanted.

In fact, it was the very last thing he wanted. Every fiber of him warned of trouble, a trouble that centered on the girl. Her aura screamed of fear and pain. But without attempting a reading – something he wouldn’t do unless he became convinced she was in immediate danger – he could not tell what the trouble was or how deeply it ran.

That left him only one choice. He had to remain in New Grange until he got to the bottom of whatever was going on. He hoped Kirris understood.

“Master Longbow.” The girl spoke softly and dropped to one knee at the old man’s side. “Sir.” This time she placed a light hand on his where it rested on the tabletop.

The old man started and then turned his rheumy blue eyes on her. “Eh, child? What is it?”

“I brought you something to eat and drink, Master Longbow.” She placed the plate and small tankard on the table before him.

“No, lass, though I thank you for your kindness. But I will not let you get into trouble because of me.” The old man tried to push plate and tankard back to her. “I know Garris has sworn to punish you should you try to help me again.” Longbow’s expression hardened, revealing a strength that surprised Fallon. “He might not be able to prevent me from coming here without bringing down the wrath of our liege lord but he can pushing you as I know he has in the past.”

Shamelessly listening in, Fallon wondered just how and what the girl was. Earlier, as she moved through the common room serving the patrons, there had been nothing particularly noteworthy about her. But now is was as though safe to drop her mental shields. Did she realize she had a talent that needed to be trained now, before it went rogue?

But there was more, much more. Before, she had said nothing more than necessary to do her duties. Not once had Fallon seen her make eye contact with anyone. Now, with Longbow, she suddenly, unexpectedly seemed ore sure of herself. There was no doubt that she was more determined. A steely glint in her hazel eyes as she tried to convince the old man to eat belied a strength of character that surprised Fallon.

By all we hold holy, who is this child and why hasn’t she had some Training?

Fallon shook his head. That was a question to be asked and answered later. Another question was much more important, at least to his way of thinking.

How had some come to be in Lineaus, a realm where those who possessed the special talents were sent away – or worse?

“Please, Master Longbow. There will be no trouble for me. My master is away from the tavern. Besides, there is naught he can complain of. This is mine by rights, given by Cook for my mid-day meal,” she assured the old man.

Even so, Fallon caught the way she glanced nervously over her shoulder, as if making sure the master she spoke of was nowhere to be seen.

Fallon watched the exchange in growing interest. While none of the few others still lounging over the remnants of their mid-day meal made any attempt to insert themselves into the conversation, he saw several nod, whether in agreement or approval, he didn’t know. That was another indication that they held this Longbow in high regard despite his well-worn clothing. Fallon assumed the old man had been a loyal member of either the royal household or the Duke’s Company in his younger days. As such, he could not be harmed or slighted without bringing the wrath of the duchy’s current ruler down on the head of the offender. That would explain Longbow’s comment at least.

But that didn’t explain the girl. Now that he had the chance to study her, Fallon realized she was younger than he first thought. Certainly, she had yet to see her eighteenth winter. Even so, she was taller and thinner than most from this realm. Her voice was light and held a musical lilt that also seemed to confirm that she was not originally from this part of the kingdom. There most definitely was more to the girl than met the eye and the fact Fallon felt a calling to help her only served to underscore that point.

“Child, please. This is your meal. Do not give it away,” Longbow continued.

“Master Longbow.” She pushed the plate back toward him. “I have heard the tales of how you saved the Royal Family when the Raiders of the Black Web invaded. That alone is enough to you the reverence the Duke has ordered. My master is wrong to treat you as he does. So please, take this. A few missed meals will harm me none and will do you a great deal of good.”

Before any more could be said, the front door to the tavern flew open with a resounding bang. Instantly, the girl spun in the direction of the sound. Fear instantly flickered across her expression before disappearing behind an impassive mask. Fallon turned and what he saw with his eyes did not trouble him nearly as much as what he saw with his inner sight.

A short, burly man with thinning blond hair and scraggly beard stalked across the room. His bare arms were heavily muscled. There was a cruel, angry glint in his light blue eyes as he moved toward the girl and Longbow. Watching him, all but tasting the bitter darkness of his aura, Fallon knew the man presented a grave danger to both the girl and the old man. But how could he respond without interfering in what, to this point, was simply a matter for the local authorities?

“I thought I told you not to serve this old fool unless you sat the glint of his coppers!” the man swept plate and tankard from the table with an angry snarl that had the girl stepping back in fear. “It is not my duty to feed useless old men who should long be dead. He eats only when he gives value for the meal.”

“Master.” The girl faced him steadily despite the fear reflected in her hazel eyes.

Fallon nodded slightly, thoughtfully. She might be scared, yet she still tried to do right by Longbow. Not only had she spoken but she had physically placed herself between the old man and the tavern-master. She swallowed once, almost audibly, and stood her ground. Instead of groveling before the man as many others in her position would, she held her ground. Whatever he had done to her, the tavern-master had yet to break her spirit. That meant she had not been under the man’s cruel hand for too very long.

At least Fallon hoped not.

But he still did not know enough to determine the best course of action.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on the girl. Emanating from her was an aura of fear and anger so strong it battered relentlessly against his mental shields. Instinctively, he reinforced his shielding before probing gently, carefully below the outer layer of her emotions. As he did, his own anger reared its head like an enraged bull and he fought it down, surprised by the depth of his reaction.

Suddenly and without warning, Fallon found himself linked with Miranda. Her emotions whirled dizzily, black and red, around him. Nausea churned dangerously in the pit of his stomach and he clamped down on it. For those few fleeting moments, he was part of the girl and experiencing all she did. Knowing the danger of remaining linked with her without having laid the proper foundation, he quickly ended the link.

Breathing deeply, more than a little shaken, Fallon leaned back. Never before had he been pulled so quickly and unexpectedly into a link. There was very definitely much about the girl that needed exploring. But that had to wait until he figured out what his first move should be. He knew one thing for certain. After sharing the link with her, it was clear the situation was far worse than he had feared. Now he had to act on her behalf. Failure to do so would be a violation of the sacred oaths he had sworn to the Lord and Lady.

“Master, I gave him only my own mid-day meal. He asked for nothing,” she said defiantly as Fallon’s awareness returned to the common room.

“Dante Garris, do not be so foolish as to punish the girl for being charitable to an old man.” Longbow climbed stiffly to his feet. As he did, there was a hard, lean look to him that did as much to convince Fallon he had been a dedicated soldier in his younger days as did the way Longbow unconsciously reached for the sword he no longer wore.

“Hold your tongue, old man,” Garris rasped. As he did, he reached out and grabbed the girl by her left arm. “She is mine and I will do with her as I please. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to stop me.”

As if to prove his point, the tavern-master’s hand caught the girl with a vicious backhand. Her head snapped back. Her lips disappeared in a smear of blood. Before she could fall, he grabbed the front of her tunic and shook her like a rag doll before tossing her negligently to one side. Off-balanced, she stumbled two steps and fell, striking her head against the fireplace hearth.

Moaning softly, she struggled to her knees. As she did, Garris pulled his wide leather belt from the loops of his dirty trousers. With a sadistic grin, he sent the belt, buckle first, flying in the girl’s direction. She cried out in pain as the heavy metal buckle connected with her ribs. Before the next blow could land, she curled in on herself, her arms covering her head. Not that it stopped the tavern-master from landing three more savage blows across her back and shoulders.

With surprising speed, Longbow closed the distance between himself and the tavern-master. As Garris prepared to strike the girl yet again, the old man grabbed his arm. Surprised, the burly younger man spun to face him. At the same time, the girl, whimpering in fear and pain, dragged herself a few feet away.

“Old man, never interfere with how I deal with my property,” Garris roared and threw Longbow off as if he weighed nothing more than a father, laughing as the old man fell to the floor. “The next time will mean your death.”

To emphasize his point, Garris pulled his booted foot back and then kicked Longbow in the ribs. When two of the nearby patrons moved to intercede, Garris turned to them, glaring. They raised their hands and quickly backed out of the tavern. The few other patrons present suddenly became very interested in the remnants of their meals.

For a moment, Fallon simply stared at the scene before him. Anger quickly his disbelief and he surged to his feet. In one fluid movement, he slid out of his coat. His right hand rested on the hilt of his sword. He might be required by his oaths to give the tavern-master the chance to step back but he dearly hoped Garris refused. Part of him wanted very much to treat the man to some of the cruelty he had rained down on the girl and Longbow.

Then a glint of metal near the girl’s right ankle caught his eye. Gorge rose in his throat as the implications of that simple band of metal hit him. No! It couldn’t be. Not even in this godsforsaken land. His fury turned cold and hard as the need for vengeance all but sang through him.

“Hold!” he ordered as he moved to stand between Garris and the man’s victims.

“Who do you think you are to interfere in the affairs of my household?” the tavern-master demanded.

It was a valid question, especially since Fallon was not wearing the armor and other accoutrements that marked him as a member of the Order of Arelion. Since it was, he reached under the collar of his tunic. His fingers closed over the heavy chain and a moment later he produced the intricate medallion marking him as a Knight of the Order. As he did, he heard several of those gather gasp softly. Then there was the scraping of chair legs against the floor followed almost instantly by the sounds of someone rushing outside.

“Someone who cannot and will not stand by and allow you to continue this travesty. I warn you not to try my patience any further,” Fallon said coldly.

Standing there, ready to pull his sword and skewer the tavern-master if he so much as moved wrong, Fallon heard the sounds of people beginning to gather in the doorway behind him. Angry murmurs, discussions about helping Garris against the armed stranger were shouted down by others saying Garris was only getting what he deserved. Hopefully, the standoff would continue outside. The last thing he needed just then was to have his attention divided. That would give the tavern-master the chance to escape, or worse.

Not that he didn’t expect Garris to try something foolish. Fallon recognized the look in the man’s eyes. Cornered animals had that same look just before charging their opponents. After all, if there was nothing to lose, why not try for the unexpected?

His fingers tightened around the hilt of his sword and Fallon rocked up onto his toes and then back. He would not be taken unawares.

Suddenly, the murmuring behind him silenced, replaced by the sounds of booted feet racing in the direction of the tavern. Shifting slightly, ready to react should Garris decide to try something, Fallon cut his eyes to his right. As he did, the crowd parted and half a dozen members of the local militia hurried inside.

“What seems to be the problem here?” the commander demanded as he stepped forward, motioning for several of his troopers to see to the injured.

Even as the troopers hurried to carry out their commander’s instructions, Fallon stepped to one side. Longbow lay almost motionless near the hearth while the girl, still curled in a tight ball, sobbed softly. Frowning, the commander stepped forward, a concerned look darkening his expression.

Without a word, Fallon waited, giving the commander time to take stock of the situation. As he did, he relaxed slightly. Almost ten years had passed since he last saw the commander. At that time, he had been impressed with the man’s sense of duty. He hoped that impression hadn’t been wrong. More importantly, he hoped the man had not changed in the intervening years.

“Commander, it’s Master Longbow!” one of the troopers said as he knelt at the old man’s side.

“Is he seriously injured?” Commander Darrias asked.

“He doesn’t appear to be, sir, but the physician should see to him.”

“And the girl?” Darrias nodded to where she lay.

“She has been brutalized by this man, Commander,” Fallon reported. “They both have.”

“Sir Fallon!” Darrias snapped to attention and crisply saluted. “You say the girl’s been brutalized?”

“Aye. This man—” He pointed to Garris with a look of distaste. “This man has broken the laws of this duchy and the laws of this kingdom. From what I gathered from what Master Longbow had to say, she has been beaten and brutalized by the tavern-master on more than one occasion. Garris himself called her his property.” He all but spat out the last word.

“He lies!” Garris lunged forward, hands outstretched as if to grab Fallon, only to be pulled back and held firm by one of the troopers.

“Quiet!” Darrias bellowed. “Sir Fallon?”

“He held her as his slave, Commander.”

Darrias paled and then straightened his shoulders as if bracing himself for what he had to do. “Did she tell you this?”

“She didn’t have to.” Fallon heard the bite in his voice and didn’t care. The time for tact had passed. “The truth is there for anyone who cares to look.”

There was no sense telling Darrias how he saw it. The commander would only fall back into fear and superstition like all who came from this godsforsaken realm did. That was the problem with this part of the kingdom. The inhabitants were suspicious of the gifts of the Lord and Lady. So he had to be careful about how he explained the situation to Darrias.

“Take a good look at her, Commander. My guess is that she is not of this realm. Besides, who treats a servant or member of their family as she has been treated? Look at her neck. Her wrists. Her ankles. If those aren’t Sarussian slave bands, I will lay down my sword for good.”

Without a word, the commander knelt at the girl’s side, his expression drawn. Gently, he eased her slightly forward so he could examine her back. The cloth of her tunic was torn and bloody where Garris’ belt had landed. Angry looking welts were visible when Darrias lifted her tunic for a closer examination. From where he stood, Fallon saw older injures as well and it was all he could do to keep from cursing long and hard. Bad as the injuries were, he knew they were far from the worst.

Darrias reached out with a hand that shook slightly to touch the thin metal band that had been hidden beneath the collar of the girl’s tunic. Softly, he assured her everything would be all right even as he checked her ankles and wrists. Then his voice turned hard and Fallon relaxed slightly. Darrias now knew he spoke true. Hopefully that meant the tavern-master would soon be dealt with.

“Sergeant, hold this scum in close custody. Then send word to the keep that the Duke’s presence is required at once. Sir Fallon’s accusations appear to be well-founded.”

Garris flinched under the cold anger reflected in the commander’s eyes.

“If the Duke questions why I’ve sent for him, explain that there has been an incident involving Master Longbow that requires his immediate attention.”

The sergeant nodded once before dispatching a trooper to the keep.

“Corporal Bemis, go to the clothier and secure something for the girl to wear besides these rags. Have him charge it to the Company,” Darrias continued.

“Aye, sir.” The young man saluted and then hurried off.

“Now, lass, everything is going to be all right,” Darrias said gently as he helped her sit up. “Can you stand?”

“I-I think so.”

Fallon watched as the commander helped her to her feet. He frowned as she hissed in pain, her right hand flashing to left side of her ribcage. Then, as the commander looked at her in concern, she shook her head, denying the pain Fallon assumed she had experienced too many times before. She seemed almost as unaware of the pain as she was of the blood streaking the left side of her face, that eye rapidly swelling shut.

Very gently, Commander Darrias led the girl to the table where Longbow had been sitting earlier. Fallon smiled in gentle reassurance as she slid onto one of the chairs. If she saw it, he didn’t know. Instead of responding to him, she looked around almost frantically until she saw the old man being helped to his feet. She drew a long, shuddering breath before visibly relaxing.

“Sir, are you all right?” she asked once Longbow sat next to her.

Very interesting. She no longer calls him Master Longbow. In fact, to hear her now, I’d guess she is from one of the northern or western realms.

So how had she managed to fall into Garris’ hands? That was a question Fallon knew he had to answer.

“Aye, lass,” the old man assured her with a weak smile. “It will take more than the likes of Dante Garris to kill this old warrior.”

Fallon saw the doubts that lingered in her eyes.

“Sir Knight, my appreciation for your help. I fear age and time have combined to slow me to near uselessness.” Despite the fact he was obviously in a great deal of pain, Longbow sat straight and proud before sketching a slight bow in Fallon’s direction.

“Never that, Master Longbow,” Fallon assured him. “You served this young lady well today, just as she tried to serve you. It is I who should apologize for not reacting sooner to what was clearly a dangerous situation.”

“Master Longbow, you and the girl should rink this.” Commander Darrias placed a pitcher of mulled wine on the table before them. One of the troopers followed with two tankards. “When the Duke arrives, he will need to hear what happened. Will you be up to it?” He looked at the girl, concern still reflected in his expression.

“I will, Commander,” she responded as Fallon poured out for her. “Sir, will I have to remain here?” Fear roughened her voice and Fallon cursed silently. The prospect of spending another night at the tavern had to terrorize her. Not that he blamed her.

“No, child,” he assured her before the commander could respond. “You now have my sworn protection. I promise you won’t be forced to spend one more night in this place unless you want to. Further, unless I’m convinced you wish to remain in this land and will be safe here, you will accompany me when I leave.”

“Is truth?” She looked to Longbow for confirmation.

“It is, lass. Sir Fallon is a knight for the Order of Arelion. He and all those like him will care for you now,” the old man replied with a reassuring smile.

Watching the girl out of the corner of his eye, Fallon saw first the relief and then the doubt that flashed across her expression. For a moment, her reaction puzzled him. Then understanding dawned. She had no guarantee any of them spoke true and she certainly had to wonder if she was, by trusting him, merely trading one form of slavery for another. He knew he would feel that way if their situations were reversed.

Somehow, he had to reassure her. But how? How to win her trust and how to find out just who and what she was? All he could do was trust in the gods. They had brought him here. They would give him the insight and the knowledge needed to deal with this very special and very frightened girl.

He hoped.

Page 2 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén