The Other NaNo Project

Before I get to the other NaNo project, I filled in for Sarah over at Mad Genius Club this morning. You can check it out here.

Now, I’ve been snippeting from the story that wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m still working on it, but have told it that it will NOT be finished by the end of the month. Editing one book and writing another during NaNo is quite enough, thank you very much. It, on the other hand, has been trying to tell me that popcorn kittens are fun and need to be loved and played with. Sigh.

Anyway, the “real” NaNo project is a novel I started and discarded a couple of years ago. Part of the problem was that I really didn’t want to get into the romantic suspense genre. I already had one book out in it and that book had driven me crazy. The main character was chatty and more than a bit of a ditz, although not (imo) too dumb to live. But the real reason was I was still operating under the old rules, as I perceived them, of publishing. You just didn’t genre hop until you had an audience established. Since I didn’t want to focus just then on the rom-sus genre, I focused on what I enjoyed writing — urban fantasy.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I’ve realized that I can and should write whatever I want to. Or whatever speaks the loudest to me. Yes, I use open pen names for the rom-sus, PNR and science fiction. That’s mainly so those who read the urban fantasy aren’t surprised if they pick up one of the other series.

Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of saying that I am back to working on the original NaNo project. It has morphed from what it started out as. There may be some cross-over with the characters from Wedding Bell Blues, but that’s not a given yet. What I do know is that this is going to be the first in a series of novellas and novels built around the holidays. The first realization I had of this change in plans was when the novel presented its new title to me: Slay Bells Ring.

Yep, “Slay” Bells Ring.

Help me. Please. I’ve been taken over by my pen name and I may not survive.  😉

And, here is the beginning Slay Bells Ring.

(For NaNo accounting purposes, the word count on this now stands at 22,253 words.)

***

Welcome to beautiful Mossy Creek!

I stared at the green and white sign, my stomach a knot of tension. Once I drove past, I’d be caught. There would be no turning back. But it wasn’t too late, not yet. I could still turn around and drive as far and as fast as possible from the small town where I’d grown up. I’d done it before. I could do it again.

Unfortunately, circumstances changed and I had grown up. That meant running didn’t come as easily as it once had.

My fingers drummed against the Mustang’s steering wheel and shook my head. Twelve years ago, I’d left Mossy Creek to attend college. I’d sworn then that I’d never return, at least not for more than a day or two at a time. There had been more to it than a high school graduate’s desire to strike out on her own. God, there had been so much more. Even then, I knew I needed to get away from the watchful eye of my parent – note the singular.

The truth was I needed to get away or I’d be forever lost in my mother’s shadow, and believe me, my mother casts a very wide shadow, at least metaphorically speaking.

So I’d worked hard all through high school, making sure my grades were the best they could be. I knew I’d have to get a scholarship out of state because Catherine Eugenia Metzger Grissom Anderson Carlisle had her mind set on me attending the University of Texas at Austin, THE university, and joining the Pi Beta Phi sorority is her legacy. After all, I had a duty to keep up the family tradition, didn’t I?

The only problem with that was the tradition began and ended with Mama. Not that it stopped her from trying to force the issue.

Fortunately for everyone concerned, she hadn’t been able to get my scholarship to the University of Maryland revoked. Believe me, she tried. World War III, should it ever happen, will look mild in comparison to the arguments we had those last few months before I left town. It got so bad toward the end that I’d been tempted to accept a scholarship to Texas A&M just to see the look on her face when I told her that her only daughter was going to attend UT’s most hated rival other than the University of Oklahoma. The only reason I hadn’t done just that was the simple fact that College Station was much too close to home for comfort.

Well, that and the fact that Sam Caldwell would be there, but that’s another story, one I’d closed the book on long ago.

So I packed my bags and bade a not so fond farewell to Mossy Creek, bound for College Park, Maryland instead of College Station, Texas, ready for my life to begin.

Only to find myself just shy of my thirtieth birthday staring at the city limit sign marking the edge of Mossy Creek and wondering if I could just turn around and drive off, never looking back. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t ignore this latest summons home, not if I wanted to be able to live with myself.

The sooner I slid the transmission into drive, the sooner I find out what was going on. Life would have been so much simpler if I hadn’t answered the phone that morning.


Chapter One

“Juliana, you have to come home.”

My heart stopped. No one called me Juliana anymore. Heck, no one had called me that since I was little girl. Growing up, I’d been Anne or Annie – usually Annie, at least at school. I’m still surprised that alone hadn’t landed me in therapy for the rest of my life. Try growing up in a small town as a girl with curly red hair who also happens to have a twin brother named Andrew and who, back then, was called Andy. Is it any wonder the two of us have more than a few mother issues?

Now that I’m grown, when someone calls me by my full name, I know there’s trouble. When it’s my grandmother, I know it’s bad trouble. That’s doubly true when the call comes in before six AM on a Monday just a few weeks before Christmas. The last time I’d received such a call, my grandfather had suffered a stroke. He died before I could get home.

God, what had happened now?

“What’s wrong?”

I sat at the kitchen table and looked longingly at the coffeemaker. I had just pressed the brew button when the phone rang. Instinct had me reaching for the receiver almost before my brain registered what I was doing. It didn’t matter that I’d just come off a three week capital murder trial.  If one of Austin’s movers and shakers – or, more likely, one of their kids – had managed to run afoul of the capital’s finest, there was a good chance I’d be called out to get the little darling out of jail. I’d have preferred it to this.

“Gran?” I prompted when she didn’t immediately respond.

“It’s your mother.”

What started as a general sense of dread flared and I fought down the panic that replaced it. “Is she all right?”

“Oh God, Annie, I don’t know.”

I relaxed a little. If she was back to calling me Annie, things couldn’t be too bad. Could they?

“Just tell me what’s happened, Gran.”

“Annie, she’s been arrested.”

I swear I moved to receiver away from my ear and stared at it, halfway expecting to find it had changed into a banana or something. It certainly couldn’t be a telephone and I most definitely couldn’t have heard correctly. There was no way, absolutely no way in the world that my oh-so-proper mother could have been arrested.

“Say again.”

“Your mother’s been arrested.”

“Why?”

I couldn’t fathom it. My mother’s no saint, but she certainly isn’t the sort who goes around getting into legal trouble. Man trouble? You bet. Butt heads with the family? Absolutely. She’d make that into an Olympic event if she could. But she had never done anything more serious than get a speeding ticket. The only possible explanation I could think of that would explain why she might have been arrested was that she’d had too much to drink and had been picked up for DWI. That wouldn’t surprise me, not with not with Mama’s love for a good cabernet and the current push across the state to get drunk drivers off the road. But even that didn’t feel right.

“Annie, it’s bad.” Gran choked back a sob and I waited, doing my best not to yell at her to get to the point. “Drew just called to tell me.”

Drew? Why hadn’t my twin called me?

I got to my feet and, taking the receiver with me, hurried back to my bedroom. I had to do something. I’m never my best in the morning, but dropping something like this on me before coffee and then not getting to the point. . . .

“Annie, they’re saying your mama killed Spud Buchanan.”

“What?”

I must have heard wrong. For one thing, if my mother ever decided she wanted anyone dead, she’d find someone to do the deed for her. She’d never risk getting her hands, or her designer clothes, dirty. For another, she was smart enough not to get caught, at least not by the local cops. Okay, my brother might be a member of the Mossy Creek Police Department, but they were still small town cops. Unless they caught someone standing over the body with the smoking gun or dripping knife in her hands, they’d be hard-pressed to make a case without help from an outside agency.

“They’ve charged your Mama would Spud Buchanan’s murder,” Gran repeated. “From what Drew told me, they found her dressed in her nightie, standing over his body.”

The world came to a screeching halt. There was only one explanation for what was happening. I had fallen down the rabbit hole and into some warped alternate reality. It wouldn’t be long before the Cheshire Cat showed up, followed shortly by the Queen of Hearts demanding my head.

“Back up, Gran, and tell me everything. They found Mama in her nightgown, standing over the body? Where?”

“At Spud’s house.”

I hadn’t fallen down the rabbit hole. This wasn’t even an alternate reality. There couldn’t be one warped enough that my mother would be sleeping with her worst enemy. No, some sort of bizarre cosmic ray had bombarded the Earth as I slept and transformed Mama into a black widow in human form. Mate and then kill. At least that would make some sort of sick sense given the history between her and Spud.

“Gran, I’m not trying to be dense here –” Or maybe I was. I hadn’t had my coffee yet, after all – “But are you telling me Mama has been sleeping with Spud Buchanan?”

“I don’t know, Annie. All I know is what Drew told me. The police received a disturbance call from one of Spud’s neighbors. When they got there, they found him dead and your mama standing over him. They arrested her and took her to jail.”

God, it just kept getting worse and worse. If this was a nightmare, I was ready to wake up.

“Please tell me she called an attorney.”

“Honey, this is your mama. She doesn’t think she needs an attorney.”

Crap.

That was just like my mother. She would firmly believe that her social standing and connections would see her through this.

“All right. Get one of the local attorneys over to the jail. I don’t care what you have to do to do it or how much it costs. I’ll foot the bill. Just make sure Mama doesn’t say anything to the cops. That includes Drew.” I opened my closet door and tossed a pair of jeans and a T-shirt onto the bed. Then I stopped, thinking hard. I might not be expected at work today but I was tomorrow. No way would this mess be cleared up by then. So I’d need to talk with the office, make arrangements for my docket to be covered for the next few days. Hopefully that would be enough time to take care of this latest mess Mama had gotten herself into. “I’ll get home as soon as I can, Gran, but it won’t be before noon at the earliest. Call my cell if anything else happens.”

“Thank you, Annie. I know I’m asking a lot.”

“Gran, you didn’t ask. Besides, she’s my mom. Of course I’m going to come home.”

“Come by the house when you get here.”

“All right.” I ran a hand over my face. Maybe I’d wake up and find this at all been a bad dream. After all, I had had that three day old Chinese take-out just before going to bed. That could be the reason for all this, right? “What else did Drew have to say?”

“Nothing. No, that’s not quite right. He said he had to get off the line before the DA realized he’d called me.”

That sounded ominous, but I didn’t give it much thought, not then at any rate. I knew from personal experience that most DAs wouldn’t appreciate a cop calling the suspect’s family and it wouldn’t help that the cop was part of the family as well. Hell, I’d lay into any cop working one of my cases who did that. “Try not to worry, Gran. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Be careful, Annie.” She paused and I waited. “Thank you.”

“No need, Gran. Now go find Mom an attorney. I’ll call you once I’m on the road.”

 *     *     *

That had been six hours ago. I’d spent in the next several hours rearranging my court schedule and getting other members of the office to cover for me. Then there’d been the call to my boss, the elected District Attorney for Travis County. I knew before I called what the ultimate result would be. David Carlton-Hughes had one cardinal rule: nothing took precedence over the job. As far as he was concerned, because I was leaving town without advance notice, he could no longer count on me. Funny thing is, hard as I’d worked to move up in the professional ladder, the news about Mama put things into perspective. Family would always take precedence over work. It had to. I’d miss the friends I’d made there but I wouldn’t miss the politics or the grind.

With a sense of something very near freedom, I had finally climbed into my car and started the drive from Austin to Mossy Creek, a hole-in-the-wall halfway between Dallas and the Oklahoma border.

And, for once, luck had been with me. Despite speeding – nothing new for me – no flashing red lights had appeared in my rearview mirror. Hopefully that was a good sign. So why did it feel like this was just the calm before the storm?

So here I sat, staring at the sign welcoming everyone to beautiful Mossy Creek as the traffic reporter on the radio talked about how bad the traffic was, especially for a Monday.

Have I said how badly I hate Mondays?

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