Tag: Ellie Ferguson (page 1 of 4)

Light Magic – Snippet 3

(This is from the rough draft of Light Magic. There may be — and probably are — misspellings, grammar issues and more that will be corrected in the editing phase. You can find Snippet 1 here and Snippet 2 here. Of course, the usual disclaimers apply.)

Welcome home?

What the hell was she talking about?

“Someone had better start explaining or I’m out of here.” To put action to words, I dug out my wallet and tossed a twenty onto the table. That should more than cover the cost of my pancakes and coffee.

“Meg, please.”

Surprisingly, it was Annie who spoke and not one of the others. As I turned to her, she struggled to her feet. Ignoring the others, she stepped around her father-in-law and moved to my side. For the first time, I realized she wore what could only be considered a power suit, albeit it one designed for a very pregnant woman, and heels that made my feet hurt. How in the world could she stand wearing them, much less wearing them when it looked like she could give birth at any moment?

“Give them the chance to explain.” I must have looked like I was about to bolt because she continued. “I know you have no reason to trust any of us, but I promise these are three of the best people I’ve ever known. I trust them with my life and with the life of my son. Even with the life of this little one.” She smiled and lightly rested a hand on her swollen belly. “If they say they knew your mother, they did.”

I ran a hand over my face. She asked a lot, especially since I knew her no more than I did those she urged me to trust. Still, Mom’s words echoed in the back of my mind. For whatever reason, she’d wanted me to come here. Two of the first people I’d met claimed to have known her. I saw no way they could have faked the picture in the yearbook, even if it was only a digital representation of a single page. They’d have had to know I was coming and they didn’t. They couldn’t have.

And yet Miss Peggy had, so maybe I as wrong. What in the world was going on?

I felt their eyes on me as I moved away from the table. I needed to pace but there wasn’t room in the café to do so. Instead, I walked behind the counter and poured myself a glass of water from the pitcher on the back counter. I wasn’t thirsty but it gave me something to do while I tried to figure out how to respond.

When I turned, the others had returned to their seats at the table. Serena Duchamp sat where I had not long ago. She appeared relaxed even though I caught a hint of concern in her eyes. Judge Caldwell glanced at his watch and I wondered if he had stopped in for breakfast with his family before court. When he pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to someone, I figured I had my answer. He might not have court, but he had something set that morning and it appeared he was postponing it. Whether that was good or not, I had no idea.

“Look, I don’t know any of you and I can’t figure out how you know who I am, how you knew my mother or how you knew I’d be coming to town.” I drained my glass and set it on the counter. “I’m tired and hungry and I want some answers. So, let’s start with this. How did you know to look for me?” I leaned against the counter and glanced from Miss Peggy to Miss Serena.

And when in the world did I start thinking of women older than me a “Miss” anything? Mom hadn’t raised me to address them in such a manner.

“Meg, it seems there is a great deal we need to discuss.” Miss Serena spoke with a soft drawl. “But I knew you would be coming because your mother contacted me a week before her death. She told me about her illness and why she hadn’t said anything to you about it. She knew you wouldn’t understand, but she didn’t want to be a burden to you. I offered to go to Maxon’s Mill but she refused. She reminded me she’d never had been one to ask for help and she wasn’t going to start now.”

I swallowed hard as tears once again burned my eyes. That sounded exactly like my mother. Damn her. Why hadn’t she said anything to me? I should have been there with her. I would have been with her. But she hadn’t let me. Why?

“Meg, your mother had one favor to ask of me. She said she was leaving you a letter telling you to come see me and she asked me to do whatever I could to help you.”

I gritted my teeth and fought the urge to curse long and loud. I had a feeling Miss Peggy might hit me up the side of the head with a skillet for being rude and I really did not want to think about what Miss Serena might do, not when I’d already seen how powerful she was. For all I knew, she’d turn me into a toad or something just to make the point that I needed to respect my elders. Since I had no love for toads and didn’t believe in the Frog Prince, I decided not to chance it.

“That doesn’t explain how she,” I nodded at Miss Peggy, “knew I’d be coming to town.” Much less how she knew it would be now.

Annie’s chuckle distracted me and I glanced at her in time to see her blue eyes dancing with amused understanding. Then she once again slowly stood, one hand cupping her swollen belly and the other reaching for her purse and briefcase. As she did, the judge climbed to his feet and angled his chair out of her way.

“Ladies, I have clients this morning, but my conference room is open if you’d prefer talking there.” Annie nodded to the group of people clustered around the front door and I could have sworn there were more there than there had been a few minutes earlier.

“I need to get to court. My bailiff has texted twice now to tell me the defense attorneys are getting restless.” Judge Caldwell smiled at his daughter-in-law, his eyes twinkling in mischief, and I wondered if she might not be one of those defense attorneys. “Meg, after you’ve talked with Miss Serena, you might want to stop by Annie’s office. Her grandfather practiced law here for years and I know for a fact he represented your mother on at least one occasion. Some of the answers you’re looking for might be in the files there.”

I swallowed hard and nodded. Before I could say anything, Annie slipped a business card into my hand and gave me directions to her office. Then, after welcoming me to town and saying she hoped to see me again soon, she left the café, the judge following close behind. Even as I considered leaving with them, the door closed and I heard the lock once more sliding into place. When I glanced back at Miss Serena, she smiled and motioned for me to sit down. I blew out a breath and nodded. Best to deal with this now, before anything else happened.

“Meg, I won’t ask you to trust me.” Miss Serena folded her hands on the tabletop. “I won’t even say I understand how you feel right now because I don’t. I can’t. But I can promise to answer your questions, at least those I know the answers to. However, Annie was right about one thing. This isn’t the best place to do so.”

The look she gave Miss Peggy spoke volumes. Whatever she had to say to me, she did not want it becoming fodder for the local grapevine. Well, that made two of us.

“Answer me one thing.” One very important thing. “How did you know my mother?”

I’m not sure what I expected. It was too much to hope that I’d wake and realize the last few weeks had never happened, that it had all been a bad dream. But that wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t happen. Nothing could erase those terrible weeks, no matter how hard I prayed. All I could do was wait and hope whatever Serena Duchamp said answered at least some of the many questions currently running through my head.

“As Peggy said, your mother was a couple of years behind Bob Caldwell in school. Her family was one of the most conservative, for lack of a better word, ones in town. When your mother started showing signs of being an Other, they tried to cure her. When that didn’t work, they kicked her out of the house and told her not to come back. They weren’t going to have someone like that living under their roof and eating their food. I learned what happened when my daughter, who was in her class, came home and told me. I reached out and offered to let Faith stay with us and I offered to teach her, if she wanted. She stayed with me for four years before leaving Mossy Creek.”

I slid down the side of the counter to sit on the tile floor. Without realizing what I’d done, I drew my knees up and wrapped my arms around my legs. Then I lowered my head until my forehead rested on my knees. As I did, I remembered the one time I asked Mom about my grandparents. She seemed so sad as she told me they were dead. I’d never asked again because I didn’t want to upset her. I’d been maybe five or six at the time.

A gentle hand brushed over the top of my head. When I looked up, tears burned my eyes and emotion clogged my throat. How horrible it must have been for Mom to find herself cut off from her family simply because of what she was. The one thing I learned about Mossy Creek in the research I’d done before coming here was that it had been one of the first places in the country where the Others had officially come out. Even before then, most everyone in town knew about them and few seemed to have objected.

But that hadn’t helped Mom, here or in Maxon’s Mill.

I swallowed and pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes. When I looked up a moment later, Miss Serena knelt in front of me. Compassion filled her expression. Then, as if understanding I needed to know more, she gently helped me to my feet and guided me back to the table. Gone were the coffee mugs and my plate. Instead, a single glass of water and a second glass with what looked like a healthy jolt of bourbon in it had replaced them. Miss Serena pressed the bourbon into my hand and then reached for the glass of water. She waited, giving me time to gather my thoughts. The only problem was I wasn’t sure I wanted to gather them, much less ask any of the questions battering around in my head.

God, Mom, why didn’t you tell me?

“Her parents, are they still alive?”

And what would I do if they were?

“They are, but they don’t live here any longer.” She reached over and rested her hand on mine. A warmth seemed to spread from it, moving up my arm and then through the rest of me. As it did, some of my tension eased. “They moved back East ten years or so ago and rarely come back.”

One day, I might want to meet them but, for now, I felt empty. They had kicked their daughter out for being different. The woman sitting across from me supposedly gave her a home and training. Then, for whatever reason, Mom had left Mossy Creek and, not long after that, I’d been born. I had no idea if she had any other relatives still living in the area and I didn’t care. Not now and probably not ever. They, like my father’s family – whoever he might be – had made the choice not to be part of our lives. I wouldn’t betray my mother’s memory by reaching out to them now.

“So why, after all this time, did Mom want me to come here?”

“I have my suspicions but we can find out if you will come home with me.” Miss Serena shook her head before I could protest. “Meg, your mother did things her own way. She always did, just as she always kept her own counsel.”

That certainly described Mom.

“When we spoke, she told me about her letter to you. She also said I would receive a letter as well and she asked me not to open it until you arrived. I got that letter yesterday and I kept my word. I haven’t opened it. It is waiting for the two of us.”

I tossed back the bourbon, wincing slightly at the burn. Then I remembered I hadn’t eaten more than a few bites. It probably hadn’t been a very smart move on my part to drink the three fingers of very good liquor on an empty stomach. But, damn it, I needed the drink almost as much as I needed answers.

“All right.” I’d come this far. I might as well finish what I’d started. Something stopped me nonetheless. “If you don’t mind, I’ll meet you there. I think I’d better do as the judge suggested and stop by Annie’s office first.”

For a moment, Miss Serena didn’t say anything. Then she nodded. To my surprise, approval shone in her eyes as she looked at me. Interesting.

“Then I’ll be waiting for you.” She smiled and reached over to grasp my hand. “Annie will give you directions to my home. It’s not far. Did your mother give you my phone number?”

I shook my head. There were a number of things my mother hadn’t given me, or so I was learning. Miss Serena’s phone number was just one of them.

Before either of us could ask, Janny appeared and quickly scribbled something on a page from her order pad. Then she handed it to me. I couldn’t help but smile to see she’d made sure I had not only Miss Serena’s number but the café’s, her personal number as well as her mother’s.

“Thanks.” I folded the single sheet of paper and slipped it into my wallet. “Miss Serena, I shouldn’t be too long.”

“You take as long as you need, Meg.” She smiled, understanding reflected in her eyes.

“I’ll see you soon.”

Assuming I didn’t get on my bike and ride straight out of town.

***

Check in at Mad Genius Club for my post on reading, expanding genres and what writers should learn from what their readers say.

Light Magic – Snippet 2

Yesterday, I posted the opening sequence to Light Magic. Now that the characters and I aren’t fighting one another any longer, the book is flying. As I noted in the previous post, I have been able to use some of the original draft as well as the draft for the book that turned out to be a mix of this book and the next. That means, hopefully, it won’t take me long to finish the “real” book. Here is the next snippet. Hope you enjoy. (As I said yesterday, this is the rough draft. There may be — and probably are — misspellings, grammar issues and more that will be corrected in the edit phase.)

***

I rode past the green and white sign proclaiming “Welcome to Beautiful Mossy Creek” and almost instantly wondered if I’d somehow managed to step back in time. Downtown could have been lifted straight out of the 1950’s – heck, even earlier for all I knew. Small shops with colorful awnings and sandwich board signs on the sidewalks lined Main Street. More than a few of the shop windows contained signs supporting the high school football team in its quest to become the regional champion. Parked along the street and in the surface lot across the street from the courthouse were everything from battered farm trucks to, I kid you not, a Lamborghini.

Next to the courthouse stood Peggy’s Café. I slowed, looking for a parking spot. I’d been on the road since well before dawn. My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten. If that wasn’t reason enough to try the café, the fact I needed more coffee was. Besides, if the café was like those in other small towns I’d visited over the years, someone would know where I could find this Serena Duchamp. Who knows, they might even tell me something about the woman and why my mother thought it so important I make the trip to see her.

Or, more likely from the stares I’d gotten since pulling into town, they’d clam up and not say a word. Maybe riding in on my Harley SuperLow and dressed in black leathers hadn’t been the smartest thing I to do. Not that I cared. I was here only because my mother told me to come. It was, in a way, an attempt to fulfill her dying wish. I didn’t have to understand it or like it. I’d do it and, hopefully, be able to leave without delay.

I found a spot not far from the café and backed in. As I did, I glanced around. Early as it was, people hurried up and down the sidewalk, some to work and others in the direction of the café. Some even glanced my way and nodded in greeting. Others actually wished me a good morning. That was certainly more than I’d ever gotten in Maxon’s Mill, not that it meant anything.

Or did it?

I switched off the engine and reached up to remove my helmet. For a moment, I squinted against the morning sun. Then, as a light breeze kissed my cheeks, I lifted my face and inhaled. A moan escaped my lips as the tantalizing aromas of freshly brewed coffee, frying bacon and fresh pastries wafted toward me. With my mouth watering and my stomach growling, I climbed off the Harley and secured my helmet to the back of the seat. I might not get any answers inside the café but it at least smelled like I’d get something much better to eat than the fast food I usually survived on.

That had to count for something, didn’t it?

Those enticing odors drew me ever closer to the café’s door. A moment later I reached out and the door opened with the tinkling of a bell as I stepped inside. Instantly, I braced for the silence that always greeted me whenever I went anywhere in Maxon’s Mill. Instead, those present looked up to see who had entered and, as with those I’d seen on the street, they nodded in greeting before going back to their conversations. Surprised and even more relieved, I made my way the counter and an empty seat near the far wall.

“Mornin’, hon. What can I get you?”

The cheery voice belonged to a woman I guessed to be in her forties or early fifties. In one hand, she held a coffee pot. When she lifted it in question, I nodded and watched her expertly fill the white mug that had somehow appeared on the counter in front of me. As she turned to place the pot back on its burner, I lifted the mug and inhaled the rich aroma.

“If you think that’s good, you should try the Irish coffee,” she said with a grin as I moaned in pleasure after my first tentative sip.

“A bit early for that, I’m afraid.” Which really was too bad if it that first sip was any indication.

“It’s never too early for a good mug of Irish coffee,” someone said from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder and a grey-haired man sitting at one of the four tops lifted his mug in greeting. Seated next to him was a young boy of maybe six I guessed to be his grandson. Across from him were a man and woman I figured were the boy’s parents. They smiled in greeting and the young woman, who looked to be about my age, shook her head, a smile of affection on her lips.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” the redhead said. “But he’s right. It never is too early for one of Miss Peggy’s Irish coffees. They are one of the things I miss most right now.” She lightly patted her swollen belly.

“My mother’s already promised to have one ready and waiting for you as soon as you quit nursing that little one, Annie,” the woman who served me said.

“She has to decide she wants to be born first, Janny,” the redhead grumped.

I chuckled softly and then turned back to the counter. As I did, Janny pulled a pencil from behind her ear and produced her order pad. “Know what you want, hon?”

Since I hadn’t looked at the menu yet, I shook my head. “What do you recommend?”

“Miss Peggy’s pancakes are awesome!” the little boy volunteered from behind me.

I bit back my laugh. “I guess I’d better try them then.” I turned and smiled at the boy who now shyly hid behind his grandfather. As I did, his parents smiled at him in amusement. “Thank you.” As I spoke, I could almost hear my mother telling me I was forgetting my manners. I didn’t sigh, not quite, but it was a close thing.

“You’ll have to forgive Robbie, ma’am. He really does think the pancakes are the best,” the older man said as he got to his feet. A moment later, he stood before me, his hand extended in greeting. “Bob Caldwell.”

I stood and grasped his hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir. Meg Sheridan.”

“The pleasure’s all mine, Ms. Sheridan. Let me introduce you to this young scamp.” He motioned for the boy to join him. “My grandson, Robbie, and his parents, Sam and Annie.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” I grinned at Robbie and shook his hand. “And thank you for recommending the pancakes. They sound perfect this morning.”

“Are you passing through or will you be staying for a while?” his grandfather asked.

“Judge, you let her be,” a woman called from the kitchen. “She’s here to see Miss Serena.”

The world came to a screeching halt. As I turned toward the kitchen, it was as if I moved through molasses. Suddenly, all eyes in the café were on me. I sensed rather than actually saw Judge Caldwell reach out to steady me. Someone else, maybe the redhead, asked if I was all right. Then, as a short, wiry, gray haired woman in khaki slacks, pink tee shirt and matching pink orthopedic shoes stepped into the dining room, the world sped back up.

“Who are you and how in the hell do you know why I’m here?”

One part of my brain registered several of the patrons shoving back their chairs and getting to their feet. Whether to flee or move to the woman’s aid, I didn’t know and, just then, didn’t care. Nothing mattered more than finding out who she was and how she knew why I’d come to Mossy Creek. I hadn’t told anyone about Mom’s letter. The attorney wouldn’t have said anything for fear of violating attorney-client privilege. There certainly wasn’t any way Mom could have said anything. Surely if she’d figured out a way to talk from beyond the grave, she’d be talking to me and not some stranger.

“Peggy?” the judge asked.

Instead of answering, the woman walked briskly – walked was putting it mildly. I knew drill sergeants who would have shed tears of joy if their recruits marched with the precision she did just then – to the door. The little bell tinkled once again as she opened it. As if understanding the signal, most everyone gathered stood. Some gulped down the last of their coffee while others took one last bite of their meals. Then they tossed money on their tables and headed out. Sam Caldwell lifted his son in his arms, kissed his wife and said he’d see them later. Then, to my surprise, he reached over and rested a hand on my shoulder.

“You’re safe here, Meg. I promise.” With that, he reached for Robbie’s backpack.

When the last of the customers stepped outside, Miss Peggy shut the door, flipped the sign over to CLOSED and turned the lock.

Eyes narrowed, I waited, wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into. No, what my mother had gotten me into. I was locked in a café with four people I didn’t know. At least one of them knew why I’d come to town. This wasn’t good. Not good at all.

“Someone had better explain and quickly or I’m out of here.” I ground out the words, doing my best not to let my temper get the better of me. None of us would like what happened if it did.

“Janny, get the girl her pancakes and bring us all some coffee,” Miss Peggy said as she gently tried to steer me to the table the judge and the others had occupied moments earlier.

Without another word, she cleared away the plates. The judge held Annie’s chair out for her and probably would have for me except I shook my head. Then I positioned myself so my back was to the wall and I had a clear view of both the kitchen and the front door. I hadn’t felt this trapped in a very long time and I didn’t like it. But I needed to remember Mom sent me here for a reason. It would have been nice if she’d told me what that reason was. Unfortunately, she hadn’t and now I needed to figure it out before everything blew up in my face – again.

“You’ve never been here before, have you?” As she spoke, Annie reached across the table and lightly rested her hand on mine, drawing my attention back to her.

I shook my head. “Never even heard of this place before my mother died.” My throat tightened and tears burned my eyes. I blinked them back. I would not cry. Not here and certainly not now.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

The strange thing was, she did seem to be sorry, certainly more than those who had known my mother in Maxon’s Mill. But it was the look on the judge’s face that had me swallowing hard. A few moments before, he had been as nonplussed by Miss Peggy’s comment as had I. Now sympathy and something else darkened his expression. When he closed his hand over Annie’s and mine, it was as if he was offering protection and something more. Concern, caring maybe?

“Meg,” he began. “May I call you Meg?” he asked, as if suddenly remembering his manners.

I couldn’t help it. I smiled slightly and nodded.

“Meg, you’ll have to forgive Peggy. We haven’t figured out how she does it, but she knows everything that goes on here in town. Sometimes she knows it even before those involved do.”

Miss Peggy snorted and slid onto the seat to my right. A moment later, Janny served us fresh mugs of coffee. They were followed a few moments later by my pancakes. Her mother told me to eat while they were still warm. One bite was enough to convince me to do as she said. Robbie had been right. They were the best pancakes ever. But, good as they were, they didn’t answer my questions.

“At the risk of repeating myself, how do you know why I’m here?”

“Because I knew your mother. You did too, Judge.”

His brow furrowed and he looked from her to me in question. At least I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on.

“Faith Luíseach.” She pronounced the last name lee-shock.

For the second time in much too short of a period, I found myself wondering what in the world was going on. Faith had been my mother’s first name. But I’d never heard that last name and certainly had never run across it in any of the legal documents or correspondence I’d come across closing out her house and there had been more of those than I’d expected. Could this all be some sort of strange misunderstanding? Maybe this Miss Serena was expecting someone else and had told Peggy to be on the lookout for her. Except that was too much of a coincidence and I most definitely did not believe in coincidences.

“Her last name was Sheridan.” I spoke flatly, doing my best to keep the flair of temper in check. If these people condemned her for having a child out of wedlock like those is Maxon’s Mill had, I wouldn’t be responsible for what happened next. I’d kept my mouth shut, at least once I was old enough to understand protesting that my mother was better than anyone else in town wouldn’t help, when others attacked her. But no more and certainly not with people who hadn’t known her.

Judge Caldwell looked from me to Peggy and back. Then he blew out a breath and shook his head. I waited, my patience growing thinner with each passing second. At least Annie looked as confused as I felt.

“Dad?” She spoke softly, her blue eyes concerned. “One of you owes Meg an explanation and, to be honest, I’d like one too.”

For that alone, she earned points in my book.

“Peggy, are you sure?” Judge Caldwell asked.

She waved off his question and looked at me. When she did, I fought the urge to move to another chair – hell, another table, one far away, possibly one in the next county, maybe even the next state. In that moment, she reminded me of my first grade Sunday school teacher. Mrs. Hebert could look right into your soul and knew what you were going to do before you did. I hadn’t felt that from anyone since then and I liked it no more now than I had back then.

“Look at her, Judge. She’s the spitting image of her mama.”

I closed my eyes and reminded myself I couldn’t do anything foolish. There was the possibility, remote though it might be, that Miss Peggy wasn’t crazy. But why would Mom have changed her name and not said anything about it?

Damn it, Mom, what the hell is going on?

“Miss Peggy, Dad, I really do think you’d better explain,” Annie said softly as I pushed away from the table.

Thank goodness, someone seemed to be thinking clearly because I certainly wasn’t.

“Janny, call Serena and asked her to join us here as soon as she can. Tell her Faith’s daughter has come home,” Miss Peggy said. Then she turned her attention back to the rest of us. “Bob, you remember Faith, don’t you? She was a year or so behind you at school.”

For a moment, the judge said nothing. Then he nodded once. Even so, his expression remained skeptical. But, when he looked at me, his skepticism seemed to ease.

“Faith Luíseach.” A slight smile touched his lips. “Annie, do you have your iPad with you?”

The redhead seemed as surprised by the request as I was. Instead of questioning it, however, she nodded. A moment later, she pulled one from the briefcase I hadn’t realized rested under the table. After activating the tablet, she handed it to him. We watched as he tapped the screen, opening an app. Then he typed in something. A few moments later, he nodded and handed me the tablet.

I glanced down at the screen and found myself staring at what looked to be a page from an old high school yearbook. For a moment, I didn’t understand why the judge wanted me to see this. Then one picture seemed to jump out at me and my breath caught. It couldn’t be. I’d never seen a picture of my mother before she’d been in her twenties. She always said those photos had been left behind when she left home.

My eyes tracked down slightly to the name under the photo. Faith Elizabeth Luíseach. I’d never known her middle name. I didn’t know she had changed her last name or why. How much more about my mother didn’t I know?

Why had she kept all this secret from me?

“I don’t understand.”

And that was putting it mildly.

Before anyone could begin to explain, something shifted inside the café. It was subtle at first, like a change in air pressure. A moment later, the bell over the door jangled once. But it couldn’t have. I’d watched Miss Peggy close and lock that very same door only minutes ago. I tore my eyes from the picture of my mother but no one was there.

Then I caught sight of someone in the distance, a woman of indeterminate age, moving surely down the sidewalk in the direction of the café. Those still gathered outside the door turned toward her. I didn’t need to hear them to know they greeted her. Then they stepped aside, giving her free access to the door.

The locked door.

So why had the bell jingled? The heater hadn’t come on and I sensed nothing else that could have caused it to ring. Was the woman somehow involved or was it something else?

And did I really want to know?

My focus narrowed to the door. The knob turned and then the door began to open. The moment it did, the air around me turned electric. It felt alive, as if someone or something was searching ahead, seeking something out and that something was me.

Instinct kicked in and, without thinking, I acted. I stood quickly enough to send my chair skittering across the linoleum. As I stepped away from the table, I bladed my body, making myself as small of a target as possible. Part of me screamed to run. Whoever – whatever – this woman was, I had never before felt such power. But another part told me I couldn’t run. There were others here, people who might not be able to protect themselves, one of them very pregnant. I had a duty to stay and do whatever I could to keep them safe, no matter what.

Thanks Mom, for giving me that sense of duty.

Once again, time slowed. This time, however, I expected it. I welcomed it because it gave me time to think and act. I took another step away from the table, putting myself between the others and whoever – or whatever – was about to enter the café. I might be without mundane weaponry but Mom had trained me well in other ways of self-defense and that training had saved me more than once in my thirty years. I hoped it was enough to do so again.

The air seemed to almost sizzle as I waited. As I sought out the threat, my consciousness expanded beyond the door. A light breeze moved around me, teasing the loose strands of hair that had escaped my braid. As if from a distance, I heard Annie gasp. Even so, I sensed no fear from her or the others. Surprise, yes, but no fear. That was yet another difference between Mossy Creek and Maxon Mills. Interesting and something I’d have to think about later, after this was over.

Assuming I lived that long.

Slowly, the door swung open. I watched as the woman neared. No longer nondescript, she appeared to be in her seventies. She looked like someone’s loving grandmother, the sort who baked chocolate chip cookies and had wonderful tales to help pass away the night. Not that I planned on lowering my guard. I learned long ago that appearances could be deceiving. Besides, the door had opened without anyone touching it. As the bell tinkled again, my right hand fisted at my side. I felt the energies building and focused them. If necessary, these people would soon learn why my mother and I had been feared by most of Maxon’s Mill.

The woman stepped inside the café. She paused and glanced around. As she did, I swallowed hard. Never before had I felt so much power associated with one person. I had no doubt she could wipe the floor with me without so much as batting an eye. Even so, I wouldn’t let her near the others. Whoever or whatever she was, she would not get past me.

I shifted my feet slightly, tracking as she moved further inside. As I did, I inhaled and steadied myself. If anything happened, it would be soon and I had to be ready. I would be ready.

The breeze inside the café picked up and the temperature rose. As it did, the woman’s lips curved up in a smile. Then, as she looked at me, I caught my breath. I knew her. But how?

Before I could ask, she waved her right hand in front of her and the breeze died away and the temperature inside the café returned to normal. All the energy I’d drawn around me in preparation for, well, whatever, flowed away. Knees weak, I looked at her, praying she wasn’t about to hand me my head – figuratively or literally or, more likely, both.

Instead, she smiled again, affection lighting her expression.

“Hello, Meg. Welcome home.”

Happy Halloween!

Just a short post this morning. I’ve got a post up at Mad Genius Club this morning. Please go have a look. I talk about some of the “tricks” and “treats” we see today in the world of publishing and more. I’d also like to remind everyone that I have the following three titles for sale through today.

Witchfire Burning (Now on sale for $2.99)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Skeletons in the Closet (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lexie Smithson’s family had never been what most folks would call “normal”. They had more than their fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek did, especially if they lived on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Lexie’s sister came home from school, complaining about how Old Serena Duchamp had given her the evil eye. When her mother decided it would be a good thing to confront the town’s resident witch, Lexie knew life would never be the same. How could it when their loved ones began returning to the old homestead the day after their funerals. Lexie knew she should be happy none of her neighbors reported mutilated cattle or corpses with missing brains. But that can be hard to do when your loved ones have passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet is a novella set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe. It is the first of a series featuring Lexie, her family – both living and dead, not to mention furry – and their friends.

Nocturnal Haunts (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of families.

When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to do some reading today. When I’m not, there are movies to watch and writing to be done. So, what are you doing this Halloween?

Halloween Reading Special Redux

Finally! The three titles I put up for sale are finally ON SALE. The price drop is good only through tomorrow. Two, Skeletons in the Closet and Nocturnal Haunts, are short reads. The third, Witchfire Burning, is a full-length novel. So, welcome to the Halloween Reading Special Redux.

Witchfire Burning (Now on sale for $2.99)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Skeletons in the Closet (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lexie Smithson’s family had never been what most folks would call “normal”. They had more than their fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek did, especially if they lived on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Lexie’s sister came home from school, complaining about how Old Serena Duchamp had given her the evil eye. When her mother decided it would be a good thing to confront the town’s resident witch, Lexie knew life would never be the same. How could it when their loved ones began returning to the old homestead the day after their funerals. Lexie knew she should be happy none of her neighbors reported mutilated cattle or corpses with missing brains. But that can be hard to do when your loved ones have passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet is a novella set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe. It is the first of a series featuring Lexie, her family – both living and dead, not to mention furry – and their friends.

Nocturnal Haunts (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of families.

When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

*  *  *

I always loved Halloween as a kid and I still do. Tomorrow it looks like the fun will be spoiled by rain. So I’m going to curl up with some good books and scary movies and enjoy myself. Here’s hoping you have a great Halloween.

Halloween Reading Special

Just a quick post today. I am running a Halloween Reading Special through the 31st. Two of the titles, Skeletons in the Closet and Nocturnal Haunts, have already seen their prices dropped. Witchfire Burning should already be discounted but, for some reason, the price hasn’t yet been adjusted. I’ll try to keep an eye on it an update the post when the new price goes live. (You can click the links above or the pictures below to go to the title’s Amazon page.)

*   *  *

Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of families.

When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

Currently on sale for $0.99

*   *  *

Lexie Smithson’s family had never been what most folks would call “normal”. They had more than their fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek did, especially if they lived on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Lexie’s sister came home from school, complaining about how Old Serena Duchamp had given her the evil eye. When her mother decided it would be a good thing to confront the town’s resident witch, Lexie knew life would never be the same. How could it when their loved ones began returning to the old homestead the day after their funerals. Lexie knew she should be happy none of her neighbors reported mutilated cattle or corpses with missing brains. But that can be hard to do when your loved ones have passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet is a novella set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe. It is the first of a series featuring Lexie, her family – both living and dead, not to mention furry – and their friends.

Currently on sale for $0.99

*  *  *

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Writing Life

Oh how I wish the Hollywood image of a writer was real — no, not the writer in books like Misery. I’m talking about the image of Jessica Fletcher and Richard Castle, among others. You know, writers who have little trouble with characters who refuse to cooperate and where the money comes in hand over fist. Heck, I’d be happy with only one of the two happening. But that’s not the truth when it comes to having a writing life.

My latest adventures in this writing life of mine happened this weekend. I’ve been working, seriously working, on Light Magic for a couple of weeks. I know the story. I had a very, very rough draft. But this was the “real” writing. The character development and weaving in of sub-plots, etc.

And it was like pulling teeth. Oh, words were coming but there was something wrong with them. I couldn’t figure out what. I just knew it was there.

There are times when we, as writers, have to step back and think long and hard about what we are doing. It might be a current project, a project on the drawing board, or one in edits. But it is hard. We get so wrapped up in the writing life, in making sure we keep to our schedules, that we sometimes ignore the internal warning signals. I’ve been guilty of that and, each time, it’s risen up to bite me on the ass.

So, this weekend, I let my mind wander. Okay, I’ll admit it. Most of that was during a gathering I really didn’t want to be at. Giving myself permission to step back from writing Light Magic and just wander mentally helped. In fact, I figured out why I was fighting the project as much as I was.

I realized I had two separate problems to deal with. One was that I was trying to hook my main character up with the wrong person in the story. My subconscious had recognized something I hadn’t — or, more accurately, remembered something from previous titles in the series that I had forgotten. That’s the easy-ish part to solve. I even know who the love interest should be. I just have to figure out how introduce him into the story and get that part of the plot going.

Oh, wait, I’ve managed to do that as well. So far, so good. Right?

Yep.

But now comes the more difficult part. The main problem I had with the book was my main character. Somewhere along the line she had gone from the character I’d envisioned to one who let herself be swept along by events and other people. In other words, she was too passive.

Now, passive main characters have never been something I’ve suffered from. Yes, I have had one or two who, in retrospect, were probably too dumb to live. But I’ve never had one who hasn’t been a fighter in her (or his) own way. That bothered me and I spent most of the last 24 hours — including getting very little sleep because my brain kept returning to the issue — trying to figure out how to fix the issue.

The solution is there. I can see it. But it means I’m going to be head down, fingers on the keyboard even longer each day if I’m to keep to my schedule. It also means I’ll be releasing a short story in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe to introduce the new male lead. Now, this story has been on the schedule but now it has been moved up.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough, I got hit with a short story set in the Nocturnal Lives universe that may — if I find time to write it — come out for New Years.

Yes, the writing life is anything but peaceful. There are times I wonder why I subject myself to the torture of Myrtle the Evil Muse. But I also wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Now, since I need to buy kibble for the animals, a bit of promo as well. Because I’m working on Light Magic, why not check out some of the titles in the universe?

Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks, Book 1)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Slay Bells Ring (takes place in the same “universe” but not a direct entry in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series)

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.

Light Magic and the Evil Muse

Moving from one writing project to another isn’t always a smooth process. That is especially true when, like me, you have an evil muse. Myrtle, my own particular evil muse, loves to torment me by giving me the basic plot of a book but multiple ways to start it. I swear she does it because she knows it will drive me crazy. But I guess that’s better than having no idea how to start a book. Of course, I wouldn’t argue if, for once, I didn’t start and stop several times before getting to the opening that works best. Still, the stops and starts on Light Magic will have been worth it if the opening is as successful and i think it will be.

Which is what I have finally done.

I think.

I hope.

Okay, that’s enough insecurity from this writer. Light Magic is under way. With the change in opening, there will be a slight change in the plot, but nothing major. The biggest issue I have where this book is concerned is finding time to write. Fortunately, this one has the feel of one of those that won’t fight me every step of the way. If that is the case, my beta readers will be getting it within the month. Snippets should start in two weeks or so. I’ll keep you informed.

One way Light Magic has changed is that it will be bridging the “normal” plot and characters of Slay Bells Ring with the “Others” of Witchfire Burning. Some of that started with Witchfire but this will cement it even more. Of course, this being Mossy Creek, nothing is ever as easy and “normal” as one thinks. That is something Meg Sheridan will learn quickly. It will take her a bit longer to understand why her mother told her to run to Mossy Creek if anything ever happened to her.

Now it’s time to do the mundane things of life — take out the trash, check email and figure out what I have to do today that can’t be postponed for a day or two. Once all that’s done, I can sit down to write. In the meantime, I have a guest post up on According to Hoyt about heroes and sports figures. Take a few minutes to check out Victory Girls as well. Posts this morning (so far) include covering the Equifax breach and how some of their execs made a financial windfall by selling off stock while the company kept quite about what happened and a great short fiction piece that brings home the impact 9/11 had one some of us.

Whew, made it!

Last week was a challenge. I’ll not bore you with the details. Let’s just say I’m glad it’s over. Now, hopefully, I can get back on track.

Part of that is figuring out why the conversion for Nocturnal Rebellion borked. Even though I’m putting it up for pre-order, it bothers me when the conversion isn’t what it should be. For that reason, I didn’t take the pre-order live. I’m looking at the file again this morning and trying to find the problem. As soon as I have it fixed and the upload goes through, I’ll post here.

In the meantime, here’s hoping everyone who attended LibertyCon over the weekend makes it home safely. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make it next year. Fingers crossed and all that.

Also, a reminder that I’ve got three books on sale right now:

Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives, Book 1)

by Amanda S. Green

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

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

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

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

Wedding Bell Blues

by Ellie Ferguson

Weddings always bring out the worst in people. Or at least that’s the way it seems to Jessica Jones as her younger sister’s wedding day approaches. It’s bad enough Jessie has to wear a bridesmaid dress that looks like it was designed by a color blind Harlequin. Then there’s the best man who is all hands and no manners. Now add in a murder and Jessie’s former lover — former because she caught him doing the horizontal tango on their kitchen table with her also-former best friend. It really is almost more than a girl should be expected to handle. . . .

Hunted 

by Ellie Ferguson

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what. Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what. Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

Another Title Discount

Good morning, all. Let’s get started with another sale announcement. I’ve lowered the price of Hunted to $0.99.

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what. Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

Here’s a snippet from Hunted:

THEY WERE HERE.

I knew it the moment I stepped outside. Despite all the precautions I’d taken, despite all the times I’d moved and left no forwarding address, they’d found me – again. It didn’t matter that I’d done everything possible to live off the grid. All it took was one small mistake and there they were.

Damn it. I really liked it here and now I had to move and move fast.

Assuming I lived long enough to do so.

Just moments before, I’d been thinking about the upcoming weekend. A couple of days off sounded good. I didn’t even mind the fact Dana had set me up on a blind date with her cousin. Not that I expected anything to come of it. Nothing ever did. Either my demons interfered or Michael’s trackers did – like now. Damn it, what’s a girl got to do to have a nice dinner and maybe some good sex?

Without breaking stride, I melted into the early afternoon foot traffic. A quick glance right and then left didn’t reveal my pursuers. But I knew there were there. I could feel their eyes on me. The back of my neck prickled. There was that itch between my shoulder blades. Instinct had kept me alive this long. Would it be enough now?

God, I was an idiot. I’d actually started believing Michael had forgotten about me or had decided it just wasn’t worth the effort to keep looking for my latest hiding spot. I should have known better. I’d embarrassed him when I refused his advances in front of the others. But that hadn’t been the end of it. He hadn’t let it go.

Bile rose in my throat at the memory of that long ago night. I’d learned what it meant to fight for your life then. If I closed my eyes, I could still feel his hands on me. I could smell the scent of him as he’d pulled me close. I’d fought back. That’s the one thing he hadn’t expected. It was over almost as quickly as it had started. That night I’d fled the only home I’d ever known, leaving him bleeding on the floor.

I’d run. I might not have looked back but I had kept a look out. I’d known Michael wouldn’t just let me go. But I’d never expected him to keep up the chase this long. God, would I never get my life back?

I’d arrived in Dallas almost a year ago, hoping to lose myself here. After fifteen years on the run, I was tired. I wanted nothing more than to settle down, find a mate and have a life. The thought of moving again, of having to establish yet another identity was almost more than I could bear.

Had I gotten careless because I was tired of running?

It didn’t matter what happened. The damage was done. If I wasn’t careful, I’d find myself once more facing Michael. This time there’d be no escape. He would view what happened so long ago as a direct insult to him, the clan’s Alpha. Michael had to bring me back. Otherwise the others would think he wasn’t strong enough to control a mere female. If he wasn’t strong enough to control a female, they’d question his ability to control the clan.

It didn’t matter that I had never been a “mere” anything where the clan was concerned.

None of that mattered. Only one thing did. I had to get away. The next person to bump into me could be the one I was running from. I’d never been one to act like a lamb awaiting the slaughter and this was no time to start. I might not be the Marine my father had been but he’d taught me well. He and my mother, God rest their souls, had taught me how to act under fire, real or metaphorical.

It was time to remember exactly who and what I was. I was the daughter of the former clan Alpha and his mate, who was an alpha in her own right. Let the fools Michael Jennings sent for me learn just what that meant.

If they wanted to play, I was more than happy to oblige.

I paused before the main display window for Neiman Marcus and glanced around, careful not to be too obvious about it. Yes, someone was definitely there. Again. As much as I’d like to believe whoever was watching me was more interested in my good looks – hah! – or even in stealing my backpack, I knew better. Despite all my attempts to tell myself differently, I’d felt their presence for a week now. Never at the same place and never at the same time – and never this close.

Damn it, I had gotten careless.

Fortunately, so had they. They were close enough I could scent them. Yes, them. There were at least three trackers close by. I probably ought to be flattered Michael had decided a single tracker wasn’t enough to bring me in. Hopefully, three wouldn’t be enough either.

I didn’t have time to wonder why Michael had suddenly changed tactics. Had something happened within the clan to force his hand? Or was he, like me, growing tired of the hunt

God, why couldn’t this be over? I like a good hunt as much as the next person. But only when I’m the hunter. This being the hunted didn’t sit well. One way or another, I had to end this game of cat and mouse. But I had to bide my time. Downtown Dallas wasn’t the place for a confrontation, at least not the sort I usually found myself involved in. So, unless I wanted our secret made public, I had to find some place secluded and I needed to find it quickly.

A hint of worry licked at my confidence. These hunters were better than the others Michael had sent for me in the past. They’d been able to track me no matter what I did to throw them off. That meant they were at least as good as I was, perhaps even better. So I had to be careful. No unnecessary risks. Well, at least no outrageously unnecessary ones. My whole life was one of risk. The fact that someone was stalking me – again – only proved it.

Fortunately Dallas, even downtown Dallas, wasn’t without out-of-the-way areas where I could put my plan into action. All I had to do was get to one before my unseen trackers decided to make their move.

I started down the block. Attorneys and their clients hurried down the street in the direction of the courthouse, briefcases swinging like weapons to part the crowd before them. Men and women in business suits strolled only slightly more leisurely back to their offices from lunch. One or two may have staggered, a bit worse for wear after one too many margaritas at lunch.

As the crowd pressed on down the street, I paused near the entrance to Renaissance Tower. I carefully shifted my backpack, settling it more comfortably over my left shoulder, leaving my right hand free. I wanted to be able to drop it without hesitation, or use it as a weapon, when the time came – and something told me that time would be soon.

I had to get off the streets.

A man bumped against me and I stiffened, relaxing only as he mumbled a quick, “’Scuse me” before moving on. One thing about Dallas, it’s a polite city. Even though I looked like the average college – okay, post-grad – student wandering the streets, people still greeted me and begged for forgiveness for whatever minor breech they thought they might have committed. Strange town this.

A slight smile touched my lips as I ducked inside the building. I knew it was a risk. There were any number of security cameras here, cameras that would capture my image. But they’d also capture the image of whoever followed me. It might not help me, but in the long run, it might help any who looked into my disappearance. That really was the best I could hope for.

The glass doors closed. For one moment I relished the cool air that greeted me. But I couldn’t stand there enjoying it. Too many others wanted inside, politely but insistently pushing past me. Then there were the trackers. I could feel them even if I couldn’t see them.

“May I help you, ma’am?” the uniformed security guard asked as I approached his desk. Then he looked up and grinned. This was the third delivery I’d made there this week. “Hi.”

He really did have a nice smile.

“Hi, Gil. I’ve got a delivery for George and Chandler from the Jessup Firm. They’re expecting it.”

I waited as he called upstairs to confirm my story. I hadn’t realized when I took the temporary job as runner for a local law firm that it would come in handy as a way to keep alive. I’d been surprised enough when it led to some very interesting dates. Now it seemed I had another reason to be thankful for those bottom feeders called lawyers.

“Twenty-fifth floor, Finn. Sign in and put this on.”

He pushed a clipboard across the desk in my direction with one hand and handed me a guest badge with the other. He glanced at the page as I scrawled my name on the first available line. I handed him back the clipboard and then attached the badge to the right front pocket of my jeans. There, I was official.

“When you going to finally agree to go have a drink with me, Finn?”

“When you don’t have a family to go home to, Gil.” That was one of my only rules. No married men, and especially no married men with kids.

I gave a little wave and moved toward the elevator bank. I needed to be smart now. More than my own future depended on it. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for letting the world-at-large know that shape-changers really do exist and that we walk among them. Michael might be willing to risk it but I wasn’t.

Ten minutes later, my delivery made, I stepped into the corridor and glanced around. No one else was visible. But that didn’t mean anything. My pursuers could very easily be waiting for me in the lobby. It would be easy enough to flank me as I stepped off the elevator. They’d rely on the fact I wouldn’t want to create a scene. By the time we were away from the crowds, it would be too late – at least for me.

They could be closer, hiding in the restrooms down the hall or in one of the stairwells. I doubted they had given up, but I could no longer feel them bearing down on me. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. All I knew for sure was I had to get out of the building without being forced to either surrender or reveal much more to the public than any of our kind wanted to.

The elevator doors slid open and I tensed. Instead of the demons from my past appearing, a couple of well-dressed women stepped out instead. From their whispered conversation, I knew they were talking about a different kind of assignation than the one I’d been expecting. No, they were comparing notes on their love lives, oblivious to all around them.

Inspiration hit. I reached out and stopped the door before it could close. I punched the buttons to make the elevator car stop on the twenty first, nineteenth and tenth floors before coming to a stop in the lobby. Unless I missed my guess, the car would stop on at least one other floor along the way which was all to the good. The more stops it made, and the more people who got on and off, the more difficult it became for my pursuers to realize where I had actually gone

Now, to get out of the building. Then I could make sure that any confrontation happened on my terms and not theirs.

I resisted the urge to run as I walked toward the stairwell door. I could hurry once there. Then I’d take the stairs up six floors and then take the elevator down. Everything above the thirtieth floor used a different bank of elevators than the one I’d come up on. Those elevators opened out of sight of the main lobby. Even better, they opened just across from the stairwell door that led down to the parking garage. If I could just cross to that door, I’d be in the garage before anyone knew it.

Of course, that was a very big IF….

The elevator doors opened and I let myself be swept out by the other passengers. I glanced around, every sense alive and seeking. Much as I’d hoped my shadows had given up, at least one was still there. I could feel him. He was close, too close for comfort. But where? Why couldn’t I see him?

Praying the explanation was as simple as whoever it was happened to be on the opposite side of the elevator bank and blind to my return, I looked for the stairwell door. All I had to do was get to it. That’s all. Only ten feet separated me from potential freedom.

With my backpack thumping against my side, I hit the door at a dead run. Now we’d play it my way. Let’s see just how good he – or she – happened to be. I’d bet my life – hell, I was betting my life – that he hadn’t. Dear God, I hoped I wasn’t backing the wrong horse this time.

I pelted up the drive, climbing, climbing until I saw daylight. Cars lined up at the gates, waiting for their tickets to enter or to pay so they could exit. I slipped between them, emerging onto the street. Even then I didn’t slow. I couldn’t. Not when I could hear someone behind me. Running feet, labored breathing. Good. He wasn’t in the physical condition I was and he’d pay for it. Then he’d tell me what I wanted to know or pay an even greater price.

I veered to my right into another parking garage, an above-ground one this time. We’d already run more than a city block, not counting the time in the bank’s parking garage. I could feel my pursuer flagging. Good. Just a little longer. I had to be careful about where I chose to confront him. But soon, very soon, this would be over.

There’s something about the hunt that excites at the primal level. It doesn’t matter if you’re the hunted or the hunter. At least it doesn’t matter to me. My senses seem to sharpen as my pulse increases. My mind clears and a sort of calm settles over me. I know how good I am. I’ve managed to survive combat situations and too many chases like this one because of it. This hunter, if you dared call him that, was no match for me.

I raced up the ramp, one level and then two. My running shoes, carefully selected for just such an emergency, cushioned my steps. Only a muted slap-slap-slap with each footfall betrayed me. Even though my pulse raced, my breathing was barely labored. I was born for the hunt.

I hit the door leading to the stairwell. Time to add some distance between us. The door slammed behind me, just as I wanted. I wanted him in the stairwell. I wanted him to wonder which direction I’d gone. When he started up the stairs, he’d be even more tired. That would make him an easier target when the time came.

Three flights up, I slammed through another door. I didn’t think about anyone else who might be on the other side. This was between me and the man following me. The world had shrunk to just the two of us. There wasn’t time to worry about anyone else. Not until this was over. Until he was over.

Then I could worry about consequences.

I slowed, my eyes scanning the level. Almost every parking space was filled. The cars and vans increased the shadows on the level, making it easier to hide. And hide I was going to do. Now was the time for patience and cunning. Maybe it was even time to play with the fool a bit before pouncing. This mouse had very sharp teeth and the cat had better be battle-hardened before going after it.

He was close. I could feel it even as I heard him coming nearer. The fool. Why wear boots if you’re trying to stalk someone? Every step he took reverberated, even through the closed door. Soon, very soon, it would be over.

I crouched behind a van near the top of the ramp, hidden in the shadows. My backpack rested on the concrete beside me. Down the aisle, the stairwell door clanged shut, followed almost instantly by a sharp curse. I couldn’t help smiling. It just kept getting better.

I remained where I was, secure in the knowledge the shadows were, as always, my friend. For a moment, the only sounds were those of my heart beating and my slow, even breaths. There! A step. Then another. His pace quickened. He wasn’t running, but it was close. If I’d had any doubts about being followed, I no longer did.

Waiting, listening as he moved up the aisle, memory intruded. This was wrong. There had been at least three of them when I’d ducked into the bank building. Why had they split up? More importantly, where had the others gone? I might have little respect for Michael but he wasn’t a fool. He’d have sent a team that worked well together. So why was this team breaking all the rules?

Leaving my backpack, I edged around the rear of the van. The backpack, if the tracker found it, would delay him further. It would divert his attention and give me the chance to act. But I had to take care not to blow my chance before it arrived.

I crept behind another vehicle, this one big and black. Some sort of SUV. I really didn’t care what it was as long as it offered me protection. Now was when hunter became the hunted and the thrill of it raced through me. If only we were away from town where this could become a real hunt. It had been too long since I’d allowed my jaguar out and now it strained against my control, confident it was better at this game of cat and mouse than I.

Hell, it probably was, not that I dared do anything about it now. The trackers might be willing to risk exposing our existence, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t. There were too many others who’d suffer if the normals discovered the things of their nightmares walked among them.

Footsteps neared. Slower now, more relaxed. It was almost as if someone was taking a leisurely stroll down the aisle. Had I misjudged? Was it possible my stalker had been playing me? No, I didn’t believe that. There had to be another explanation.

I shrank further into the shadows. My heart hammered. Fear clawed at my throat. For one moment, I closed my eyes. I prayed this was all some horrible dream I’d soon awaken from. But it wasn’t. I’d learned long ago that the only nightmares are the ones we’re forced to live, day after day after day.

A car door opened just a few yards away and I started nervously. My hands flew to my mouth in a desperate attempt to silence my gasp. It wasn’t him. By all that was holy, it wasn’t him. It had been an innocent, that’s all. Whoever it was, they weren’t a part of this. All I had to do was wait for them to leave. Then I could finish this, once and for all.

If I had time. For all I knew, the hunter had heard my gasp and even now was using the sounds of the car starting and backing out of its space to distract me as he closed in on my location. Dear God, what should I do?

Patience. I had to stay patient and not move too soon. I couldn’t risk getting careless now, with the end so close.

A red sedan slowly passed my hiding space. Behind the wheel sat an attractive, gray haired woman. From where I crouched in the shadows, I could see she hadn’t locked her doors. It would be so easy to slide into the backseat as she drove past, to force her to drive me out of there and away from my pursuer. It was so tempting. . . .

No! That wasn’t the way. It was far too dangerous to involve someone else, someone outside the clan. In this day and age of lo-jack tracking on cars and global positioning software in cell phones, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. One phone call to the police and they’d know within minutes where the car was. I might be willing to do a lot of things but risking a police shoot out wasn’t one of them.

The car disappeared around the curve and I sank back against the wheel of the SUV. Where was he? My ears strained and my heart pounded. No matter how many times I’d been in this position – and I’d been there more times than I cared to count – it never got any easier. But this time was different. I could feel it. The hunter was alone and a one-on-one fight suited me just fine.

I wouldn’t kill him unless he forced me to. Not that I wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to find out how he’d found me. Once I knew that, I could disappear into the shadows again and move on, another town and another identity.

Again.

Leather scraped concrete and my muscles tensed. I waited, ready to pounce. All he had to do was come a little closer.

Wait. Something was wrong. This was all happening too easily. Was it possible this was all some sort of elaborate trap they’d laid to capture me?

Fear licked at my confidence and without thought I glanced down, frantically searching for that tell-tale red dot of a laser scope. Nothing. If anyone besides the two of us were there, they hadn’t tagged me, at least not yet. Maybe I was worrying for no reason.

I dropped to my stomach and looked under the cars, searching for another set of feet, for anything to prove or disprove my fears. Nothing. Only the boots and jeans of the lone tracker.

I sat back up and drew a slow, deep breath. My lips pulled back, baring my teeth and a low, primal growl fought for release as my jaguar fought for control. My muscles all but quivered in anticipation as each step brought the tracker closer, ever closer.

From where I crouched, I saw his legs first. Faded blue jeans. Black, worn boots. Interesting. That wasn’t the usual attire of the trackers but it did make sense if this one was trying to blend in. Maybe he wasn’t quite the amateur I first thought. Or maybe not. Although he moved slowly up the aisle, checking first one direction and the other as he scanned between the parked cars, his hands were visible and very empty. My well-trained eye saw no hint of a weapon anywhere on him. Good. That would make things much easier.

I slipped further into the shadows cast by the SUV and the wall behind me. All I needed was for him to take another couple of steps forward. That’s all. Then I’d be in his blind spot and could move. He’d never know what hit him. By the time he figured it out, it would be too late and they would both be well away from there and anyone who might be looking for him.

Silently, I rose from my crouch and stepped into the aisle, ready to attack. My head jerked up, the scents of the other trackers suddenly assailing me. Damn it! It had been a trap. Somehow, I’d played into their hands. But how? How had they known this was where I’d come?

My mind may have frozen, but my body acted on instinct. I turned and took first one step and then another. I had to run. It didn’t matter where. All that mattered was getting out of there. I’d made the worst mistake possible. I’d become over-confident and I’d fallen into their trap.

The screeching of tires filled the air. A moment later, a black Mustang slid to a stop beside me.

“Get in!” the driver yelled as the passenger door swung open

For a moment, hope flared. Escape was at hand.

Three sharp jabs hit my back, like needles or nails, as I dove into the car. Then my system lit up. It felt as if a thousand – no, a million – hot needles suddenly pierced me. Every nerve seemed to catch fire. No longer would my body answer my commands. Muscles tensed, spasmed and I slumped forward. There was pain – I think there was pain – as I hit the dashboard face first. Then I was thrown back against the passenger seat as the Mustang sped off.

Breathe. I had to breathe. But my lungs wouldn’t work. Panic filled me. This is what Hell must be like. A mind alive and terrified in a body that does nothing but scream in agony. Dear God, was this really the day I’d die?

***

Yesterday, I announced that I’ve put Wedding Bell Blues on sale for $0.99.  Nocturnal Origins is also still on sale for $0.99.

Wedding Bell Blues

No, I’m not getting married. I’m very happily single and enjoying that lifestyle, thank you very much. However, the title of this post refers to one of my books. This one, written under the Ellie Ferguson pen name, is a romantic suspense novel. With the upcoming holiday, which will be a very long weekend for a lot of folks, I decided to drop the price. It is now on sale for $0.99.

Wedding Bell Blues

Weddings always bring out the worst in people. Or at least that’s the way it seems to Jessica Jones as her younger sister’s wedding day approaches. It’s bad enough Jessie has to wear a bridesmaid dress that looks like it was designed by a color blind Harlequin. Then there’s the best man who is all hands and no manners. Now add in a murder and Jessie’s former lover — former because she caught him doing the horizontal tango on their kitchen table with her also-former best friend. It really is almost more than a girl should be expected to handle. . . .

Chapter One

“. . . and while the official police statement is that they are pursuing a number of leads in the recent string of burglaries, unnamed sources within the department confirm that they have very little to go on. Detective Colton Dougherty, the detective in charge of the investigation, has refused comment, referring all questions to the public affairs officer for the Dallas Police Department. . . .”

The image on the television screen across the room changed from the studio shot to the exterior of one of the local strip malls. Police cars with their light bars flashing acted like beacons in the night, drawing a number of gawkers. Uniformed officers stood nearby to prevent the onlookers from getting too close. Detectives in dark slacks and white shirts, badges hanging from shirt pockets or chains around their necks, moved in and out of one of the stores. Normally, I’d not pay much attention to such film clips, but one of the detectives was familiar – too familiar, and I started in surprise before I could control it.

“Stand still!” my mother hissed around a mouthful of pins as she desperately held onto the hem of my dress.

I barely heard her. Instead, my attention was focused on the newscast. Colton turned to face the camera, his contempt for the reporters shouting questions clear. For a moment, he stood there, his expression hard, the fingers of his right hand drumming impatiently against his thigh. Another shouted question and he took a step forward. As he did, I leaned forward a bit, forgetting that I stood precariously balanced on a three-legged stool while my mother tried to pin the hem of the dress I’d be wearing in my sister’s wedding in less than a week.

“Jessica, stand still! Do you want me to stick you?”

Mother gave the skirt a little jerk and I shook myself. The last thing I needed was for her to know I’d been watching the news story – No, the last thing I needed was for her to know I’d been watching Colton.

Then I realized what she’d said and actually considered it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like pain. Under most circumstances, I go out of my way to avoid it. However, it was possible that if she stuck me, I’d awaken from this nightmare and discover that pink and purple taffeta hadn’t taken over my life. That had to be worth something, didn’t it? At least it was only for another week or so. Once my sister was married, the maid of honor dress from Hell could be relegated to the back of my closet where it belonged, never to be seen again.

Problem solved.

At least until the glow of seeing her youngest daughter married dimmed and my mother once more embarked upon her campaign to get me married. That was yet another reason why I didn’t want her to know I’d been watching Colton on the TV. Still, I’d enjoyed three months of peace and I didn’t look forward to it ending. Maybe, before that happened, the gypsies would finally come steal me away. A girl can hope, can’t she?

“Sorry,” I mumbled, teetering slightly on the stool. As if looking like a harlequin wasn’t bad enough, now I had to worry about keeping my balance.

“I don’t know why you can’t just stand there like the other girls, Jessica.” As she pinned the hem of my dress, Mom’s fingers worked with the precision of a surgeon. Probably because she was one. “You’d think you weren’t happy your sister is getting married.”

“I am too happy!”

And I was, on a lot of different levels. Maryanne had been in love with Brett Boudreaux from the moment she first laid eyes on him in second grade. She’d made it her life’s mission to win him over. There had been times when she’d almost despaired of it ever happening. But my sister is both determined and resilient. Despite that, it had taken a pregnancy scare and the threat that she’d cut him out of her life and their baby’s before he finally came to his senses. Six weeks and a lot of convincing later, he asked her to marry him. Now she was getting her big wedding, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

“You’d never prove it by me, not the way you’ve done your best to avoid your duties as maid of honor.”

I rolled my eyes and said a quick prayer for patience – or at least for the wisdom to keep my mouth shut. There’s one thing you can say about Dr. Faith Marie Jones. She always knows she’s right, no matter what the truth might actually be. For some reason, she’d convinced herself I was jealous of Maryanne and nothing I’d say would change her mind. All I could do was ignore her and hope she’d change the subject.

Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t wrong about me trying to avoid my “duties”. I had, and I felt guilty about it. Work had kept me busy, and Maryanne had chosen to get married the week before finals. Still, I could have made time for the different shopping trips and girls’ nights out she’d arranged for the bridesmaids. But, in my mind at least, begging out of those things had kept the peace because it meant I hadn’t been too tempted to kill one of the other bridesmaids.

“Oh, Jessie, you look absolutely adorable in your dress,” Janie Bickerstaff drawled from the doorway as she quickly snapped three photos of me teetering on the stool. Wonderful. By the time I got home, everyone on her email list some would have copies. See, this was why I had begged out of so many of the things Maryanne had planned. Janie and I had never gotten along. I still remembered with regret that grade school field trip to Burgers Lake when I’d talked myself out of drowning her because I knew it would upset my sister. I’d have done the world a favor if I’d acted on my impulse back then. Really I would have.

A sharp prick just above my right ankle cut off my quick retort. Just as well. This was Maryanne’s day and I wouldn’t spoil it by killing Janie where she stood in the doorway smirking at me. Besides, my mother would never forgive me for staining her new carpet.

However, there are other ways of dealing with persistent pests besides mashing them underfoot.

“I can’t wait to see you coming down the aisle, Janie. The pink and purple will look wonderful with your hair.” Her fire-engine-red hair straight from the bottle. She paled, gulped once and dashed back into the kitchen. Mom chuckled softly and shook her head. That pinprick might have kept me from giving Janie a verbal lobotomy, but the truth of the matter was Mom had no more use for her than did I.

“Mama, are you about through?” Maryanne called from the kitchen.

“In a minute, dear. I’m just finishing up your sister’s dress.”

For a moment, relief filled me. Janie and the other bridesmaids were going to do some last minute shopping and then go out for drinks and, maybe, dinner. That meant I could slip out and escape the crazy ladies before they moved from wedding talk to dissecting my love life – or lack thereof.

“Jessie.” Maryanne’s pretty face appeared around the door frame and my heart sank. Before they left, she wanted us all to have a drink together to toast the upcoming wedding. “What do you want to drink?” She looked so excited. I couldn’t leave, not yet. I was her big sister and her maid of honor. I’d spent my life being there for her. I couldn’t leave her now simply because wedding preparations scared the hell out of me. Besides, it was just a drink. How bad could it be?

“Iced tea, Tink.” I grinned as she glared at me. “I still have papers to grade.”

“Jessica, don’t call me that!”

“Sorry.” I winked and she grinned even as our mother gave my skirt a tug, reminding me to behave. Maryanne had been “Tink” or “Tinkerbell” since she’d been a baby.

“Jessie, you don’t hate the dress, do you?” Maryanne’s blue eyes were worried as she hurried to stand before me. Damn that Janie Bickerstaff. I’d lay odds she’d said something like that to Maryanne just to upset her.

“Of course not. You know all I care about is you being happy.” I meant it, too. She’d waited a long time for this day – well for a week from today – and I wasn’t about to ruin it by telling her she’d taken leave of her fashion sense. “Besides, your dress is so gorgeous no one is going to be looking at anyone else.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

Her smile seemed to light up the room and, ignoring our mother’s protests, I leaned down to give Maryanne a hug. “Now go make sure the others aren’t making too big of a mess in the kitchen. Or worse, getting into the wine you picked out for your dinner with Brett’s family tomorrow.”

Maryanne gave a soft squeak of concern and hurried back into the kitchen, the robe she’d put on after her own fitting fluttering behind her. Mom’s chuckle surprised me as did her look of approval when I glanced down. She placed one last pin in the hem and helped me off the stool. A moment later, she carefully eased the dress over my head and stepped back, spreading it across the back of the sofa until she could hang it up.

“Go keep those girls from destroying my kitchen, Jessie. You know what they can be like,” she commented as I slipped into jeans and tee shirt. “I’ll be along shortly.”

I breathed deeply and steeled myself for a return to the foolishness I’d hoped I’d left behind when I graduated from high school and did as she asked. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.

Yeah, sure it wouldn’t. It would be about as much fun as a root canal without Novocain.

Needless to say, I was wrong. A root canal without Novocain would have been so much more fun than the gossip-fest I sat through. Oh, the gossip wasn’t that bad, even though there is no more vicious animal on the face of the Earth than a bunch of women with time on their hands and other people’s business to discuss. At least as long as I was there, they didn’t try – too hard – to dissect everything they believed was wrong with my life. Of course, the fact most of them remembered how, at different times, I’d threatened to pound them into dust for being empty-headed little idiots might account for that.

So, for another hour I sat through wedding plans, honeymoon speculations and none-too-subtle hints about what married life and married sex would be like. Most was all good-natured fun. But some, mainly from Janie, who’d once gone after Brett herself, was more than a bit snide. Only Mom’s warning glances – and a sharp kick to my shin under the table – kept me from saying anything. At least Maryanne seemed oblivious to her friend’s intent. Still, if Janie kept it up, I’d be forced to say something. There was no way I would let her, or anyone, spoil Maryanne’s happiness.

Finally I was freed from the insanity when Maryanne and the other bridesmaids left to go shopping, never one of my favorite pastimes. Not that I didn’t feel a bit guilty for choosing not to go, but I really did have a stack of papers to grade. With peace once more filling the house, I helped Mom load the dishwasher before heading home.

“You were really good with your sister today, Jessie.”

“Huh?” I know. I’m a brilliant conversationalist.

“Janie,” she said simply.

“Mom, we both know that little bitch would like nothing more than to cause trouble. I won’t give her the satisfaction.” However, once the wedding was over, I planned to have a little chat with Ms. Bickerstaff about exactly what might happen if she tried any of her little tricks where Maryanne and Brett were concerned. I’d seen her destroy too many other relationships to sit still and let her have a go at Brett and Maryanne.

Bitch.

“So, Jessie, when are you going to quit waiting for Mr. Perfect?”

If I hadn’t just swallowed the last of my iced tea, I’d have sprayed it across the kitchen. Talk about being blind-sided. Now Mom watched me, a shrewd look in her light blue eyes. Crap. I’d expected the peace to last at least a couple of weeks after the wedding.

“Mom – “

“Jessie, it’s just that I worry about you.” She turned to face me, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “You haven’t been serious about anyone since Colton Dougherty, and that’s been, what, nine years?” Crap! Had she seen him on TV too? That would certainly explain this sudden change of topic.

Ten years, three months and twelve days. But who’s counting? Not me. No, siree. He wasn’t worth it.

“Mom, you don’t have to worry. Really. One day, the right guy will come along and then I’ll marry and give you a ton of grandkids to spoil.” I smiled, praying she’d take the hint and drop it.

“Jessica, you’re thirty-three. It’s time you quit waiting for Prince Charming. He doesn’t exist.” She cocked her head to one side, examining me as she might a patient just before opening him up on the operating table. “Unless you don’t like guys….”

For a moment, I stared at her, torn between the desire to laugh and the more perverse desire to confirm her greatest fear that her daughter might be gay. It was so ludicrous. All she had to do was look at the evidence and she’d see just how ridiculous it was. While I might not have had any serious these last ten years, I’d certainly enjoyed my fair share of men, and I do mean enjoy.

Part of me wanted to say, “Yes, Mom, I’m gay,” just to see her reaction. But I’m not into matricide, no matter how much she gets on my nerves. And there was no question how she’d react to such an announcement. She’d drop dead from shock and then, with my luck, she’d come back to haunt me, making it the goal of her unnatural life to find me a nice man to spend the rest of my so-called natural life with.

“Mama, I love you and I know you’re worried. But you don’t have to be. I promise I’m not gay. I like guys just fine. I simply haven’t found one I want to spend the rest of my life with.” I reached over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Now, I really do need to get home and get those papers graded. See you tomorrow for mass.”

“All right.” She smiled and, to my surprise, gave me a quick hug. “Will you stop by Manny’s on your way home and pick up the order for Thursday’s dinner? It should be ready.”

I’d forgotten about dinner Thursday. Dinner with both families and Brett’s best man, his college roommate. The frat boy I’d have to walk down the aisle with after the wedding and who was, according to my sister, a self-described lady’s man. Wonderful. Oh well, if I could put up with the bridesmaid dress from Hell, I could handle one overgrown boy for an evening.

“Of course.”

Ten minutes later, I sped away from my parents’ house, thinking of little except how much I wanted a nice bottle of wine. Better yet, a bottle of really good single malt. I deserved it after resisting the impulse to strangle Maryanne with her veil for making me wear that monstrosity of a dress. Not to mention wanting to lock Mom in the basement, never to be heard from until she gave up on the notion of trying to manage my life. And I didn’t even want to think about what I’d like to do with the oh-so-perfect Janie Bickerstaff.

Of course, the main reason Janie was being such a bitch, besides that being her natural state, was that she was supremely pissed Maryanne had the audacity to have a sister. Worse, that sister was me and Maryanne had asked me to be her maid of honor. I really should have drowned Janie when I’d had the chance. No one would have minded. After all, it would have strengthened the gene pool, and several marriages would have been saved.

The neon sign over Manny’s Fine Wine and Spirits called to me like a beacon as I pulled off the freeway. Seemingly on its own, my battered Mustang turned into the parking lot. Not that I objected. Manny’s is on the way home and it’s cheap. Besides, I intended to treat myself this once.

Or, better yet, I might just let him put the bottle on my parents’ account.

I parked the Mustang near the door and got out. Looking around, I frowned slightly. Usually by this late on a Saturday, the parking lot is full to overflowing. But not today. Besides my Mustang, there were only four other cars visible.

My frown deepened. The red “CLOSED” sign hung from the top of the door. That most definitely wasn’t right. Was possible the insanity of the fitting had carried over for a full day and it was now Sunday? It could have driven me into a short catatonic state. No. A quick check of my watch confirmed not only that it was almost five thirty but also that it was still Saturday. So why wasn’t Manny open?

I ignored the warning bells going off in my head – heck, they’d been going full force during the fitting as Maryanne’s friends became more and more excited over our harlequin dresses. Somehow, the insanity of the wedding plans had either rendered them colorblind or fashion-sense deprived or both. This was just the residual warning. Besides, it was possible Manny had simply forgotten to flip the sign when he opened up this afternoon.

The door swung open under my touch. The bell hanging from the top of the door jangled loudly. I paused. Why hadn’t Manny or one of his sons called out a greeting?

“Manny?” The bell jangled again as the door closed behind me.

Sound exploded. I smelled cordite. Shit. Someone had just shot a gun. At me. I dove for cover, hitting my elbow on the corner of a display shelf. What the hell?

Glass shattered and I slid on my belly farther down the aisle, looking for cover. Why was someone shooting at me?

It’s a dream. That’s it. I’ll wake up soon and none of this will have happened. No harlequin dress, no one shooting at me.

Another shot rang out and I did my best infantryman-crawling-through-the-trenches impression as I slithered even farther from the door. Part of me wanted to close my eyes and make-believe I wasn’t there. No, when someone’s shooting at you, closing your eyes tends to have a very permanent result, and I’d be damned if I didn’t look the bastard in the eyes before he killed me.

Footsteps raced toward the front of the store. At least I thought they did. Of course, the way my heart pounded made it hard to tell. I hunkered down behind a stack of boxes. Surely at any moment, I’d hear the bell at the front door. The fact my ears were still ringing from the gunshots wouldn’t prevent that, would it?

I climbed to my knees. One corner of my mind registered that I was hiding behind boxes of my favorite single malt. Well, at least I wouldn’t have far to go to pick up a bottle. Hell, at this point, I might just make it a case.

Lungs straining for air, I forced myself to take a quick look. . . . .

Great, just great. Bad enough I have to put up with the bridesmaid dress from Hell, now the Devil himself has decided to pay me a visit.

I backpedaled in fear as a red-faced monster stared back at me.

I didn’t move fast enough. The devil cursed and lashed out.

There was pain. Of course there was pain. The devil’s not the sort to ask you to tea or speak nicely.

Everything went dark.

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