Nocturnal Lives

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

Tag: snippet (Page 2 of 5)

Publication notes and a snippet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

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

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

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

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

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

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

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

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

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Witchfire Burning

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

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

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

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

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

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

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

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

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

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

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

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s my day at MGC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pardon me while I whine for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor did I plan to.

“Quinn?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And ice cream?” Ali asked hopefully.

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

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

“Yes, ma’am,” Ali said.

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

“Quinn, it’s so good to see you!”

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

“Sit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded. What else could I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucas Moore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Andy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hear you there.”

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good.”

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

Home.

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

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

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

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

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

And man was it some secret.

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

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

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

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

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

Please let it let me inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dagger of Elanna – Snippet 3

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Skeletons in the Closet – Snippet 5

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

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

*   *   *

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

 

“Amy, I’m all right. Really.”

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

That was the last thing I wanted or needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And did I really want to know?

“So who did you call?”

“My grandmother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn it.

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

Out of the ordinary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh God, Amy. What now?”

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

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

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

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

“So where are we going?”

And did I really want to know?

“I’m taking you home with me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I so didn’t want to know.

Skeletons in the Closet – snippet 4

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lexie!”

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

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

Mama had not been pleased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh no. Your poor dad.”

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

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

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

“Damn.”

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

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

Neither did I, at least not yet.

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

“What?” My voice cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lexie!” Amy screamed

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

At least I had on clean underwear.

Blogging, Writing and Maybe a Snippet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I’m fresh as a daisy.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

 

Skeletons in the Closet – snippet 2

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or would she?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama’s scream!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry, Granny, just thinking.”

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

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

They had passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet — snippet 1

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

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

In the Beginning. . . .

 

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

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

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

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

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

Knock on wood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been the same since.

Nocturnal Challenge – Snippet 2

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

Click here for Snippet 1.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least she hoped so.

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

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

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

Very different.

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

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

Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I look forward to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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