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CC Sarah Holmes Night City

(Credit Sarah Holmes from Unsplash.com)

For the SFR Brigade November Showcase and to keep developing my short story skills, I thought I’d do another original short from the world of Snowburn. This tale takes place a few days after the end of Snowburn, but before the beginning of Throwing Fire.

***

Kez lies on top of me, pressed warm and sweaty against my chest. Her face is buried in my neck, trying to muffle her giggles. I’m trailing my fingers up and down the underside of her arm, stretched over my head and still tied to the leg of my desk.

“I’m thinkin’ noodles,” I tell her.

She snorts, which I think is her attempt to swallow a giggle rather than a response to my dinner suggestion.

“You thinkin’ noodles?” I ask, moving my fingers a little faster.

“Okay, okay!” She finally breaks out into a peal of giggles and writhes away from me as much as she can manage with her wrists still bound to my desk. “You win.”

Since I figure that means we’re done, I pull up my pants and roll onto my side to face her. “What do I win?”

“I don’t know!” she huffs, in mock-exasperation. “What were you tickling me for?”

I shrug and sit up. “’Cause I felt like it. But since I win, you can get me those noodles on your knees—”

I break off at a noise from the hallway.

No one should be on this level of Tyng Tower now. All of the Xecs left hours ago. I’m only here because I wanted to review a bunch of classified files and didn’t want anyone seeing what I was doing. Then Kez came back from her last run of the day, and distracted me.

Kez scoots around until she can sit up. “Did you hear something?” she whispers.

I nod. Kez holds out her wrists to me and I quickly cut the cord looped around the leg of my desk with one of my knives. I don’t take the time to unbind her wrists. I want to know what that noise was first. And I might want to use those ties again later.

We climb up off the polymousse flooring of my office and creep to the door. Kez shakes the tunic she’s wearing back down over her thighs. I sheath the little knife I used to cut Kez’s bindings and draw the big guns: a pair of hollow-ground kukris I made myself, out of my boots. One of the advantages of Kez on top? I don't have to take off my boots. I tuck Kez behind me. She can take care of herself – despite the fact she’s only half dressed – but she’s never the first one through the door. Not when I’m around.

I pass my hand over the door’s viewie. It doesn’t have a great field of vision, about a meter on either side of the door. But it’s better than nothing. At the moment, though, that’s all it shows me: nothing, empty hallway.

“Call security,” Kez whispers from behind me.

“I am security,” I remind her. Chief Xec of Security for Tyng Enterprises. My new title for all of three days. Besides, I don’t think much of Tyng corporate security. They let a viral bomb walk right through the front door two days ago.

I shift Kez to the side, close to the wall, so anything lurking in the hallway won’t have a clear shot at either of us. Then I tap the viewie and wait while the door snicks open. I give it a count of two. When nothing comes at us, I poke my head out into the hallway.

It’s dark in both directions. The lights are motion-activated. So anything moving around should have set them off. Unless someone’s turned them off. The cat’s eye implanted in my retina lets me see in the dark, but I don’t see anything but empty corridor, and every few meters the gleam of the damn gilt Buddhas that Tyng stuffed in every spare niche and alcove of his headquarters.

But I did hear something. And I’ve learned over the years to trust my senses.

I ease out into the hallway. No lights; someone's definitely turned them off. Kez follows a step behind me. When I turn right, she turns left, then backs up a step so we’re pressed back-to-back, covering both directions. Smart kitten.

I move slowly down the hallway, checking each dark office. There are only two offices on the hall that have doors: mine and the new Chief Xec, Chiara. The rest are dark, empty maws that exhale the scents of the working day into the corridor. The combination of cold kaffe, stale perspiration and the static smell of flimsy wrinkles my nose.

At the third empty office, a different smell hits me. Body odor. Goat-strong. I lean back into Kez. Wait until she registers the smell with a small sniff. Then I sidestep so I flank the door. Kez moves to the other side. Together, we peer into the dark office.

Like most Xec offices, it’s spacious: ten meters by ten, with a window-wall that looks out over the twinkling lights of Hemos City. An imposing, executive desk is centered in front of the window-wall. A reflection of the personality of the Xec who occupies the office: the Director of Transportation and Distribution, Rol Harada.

But Rol’s never smelled like this, never smelled like anything other than flannel, actually. He has his corporate unisuits specially made of the organic material, as he told me at mind-numbing length when we were introduced three days ago. While he gave my military-surplus fatigues the stink-eye. He’d probably throw himself out of his eighteenth-story window if he ever smelled anything like the rank odor now filling his office.

Rol’s also one of the few Xecs who has a couch in his office instead of guest chairs. And it’s on this couch, tucked in the lee of the doorway, that I find the source of the smell.

It’s a man. I only know that because he’s bare-chested. His lank, grizzled hair hangs around his shoulders. Bony knees, drawn tight to his chest, poke out of a pair of thermal pants so old and stained, I’m not sure what color they were originally. He clutches something in a ball between his stomach and thighs, plucking at it with twig-thin fingers, while he watches me. Or I think he’s watching me. His eyes are partially obscured by hanks of hair, but what’s peeping out, is black from lid to lid, so it’s hard to tell where he’s looking.

Despite the olfactory assault, Stinky don’t seem like any kind of threat. So I tuck my kukris away before I move around the corner. Kez follows me, and immediately goes down on one knee next to the couch.

“Hey,” she says softly.

“Hello, Miz Kerryon,” a woman’s voice, elderly and authoritative, issues from Stinky’s mouth.

Kez stumbles back against my legs. I catch her and pull her up my body. Cross my arms over her chest. Nice and safe.

“Who-who are you?” Kez asks.

“My designation is M-T-R-J-One. You may know me as Mother Jo.”

I stare at Stinky incredulously. “You’re the Tyng AI?”

Stinky nods. Plucks more anxiously at whatever’s in his lap. A few strings tangle around his fingers. Looks like a big ball of twine.

“Not to be rude,” Kez says. “But you don’t look like an AI.”

Stinky’s thin mouth twitches into what could be a smile. Or it could just be gas. Hard to tell. What comes out of that mouth, though, is clear. It’s Mother Jo’s alto chuckle. “This is Clancy. Clancy is kind enough to play host to some of my physical systems.”

Fuck, it’s a TYE. I remember the horror of the AI I knew on Tje Dhos, Sangakara, when General Gruber demanded that Sangakara accept a TYE as part of the treaty that ended the miners’ rebellion. Meeting Stinky, I begin to understand Sangakara’s objection.

I try to remember everything I’ve heard about TYEs. While I’m racking my brain, Kez says, “Um, can Clancy, uh, hear us?”

Mother Jo chuckles again. “Clancy has fully functioning senses.”

Kez leans forward a little in my arms. “Can he understand us?”

“Ah,” Mother Jo says. “Clancy has a independent brain, but his mind stopped maturing when we were TYED. Think of Clancy as a five-year old child.”

Stinky looks in his late forties to me. Long time to have a computer in your brain.

“Who takes care of Clancy?” Kez asks.

Stinky shrugs. Mother Jo says, “I ensure that Clancy’s basic physical needs are met.”

She may be making sure Clancy’s physical needs are met, but she sure as hell ain’t making sure he bathes.

“Snow?” Kez twists in my arms and looks up at me. Fuck, I know that look. Kez collects strays like you would not believe.

“No,” I growl. Anything that smells this bad is not a good addition to the collection.

“Please? Snow, please? Just for tonight.”

I scowl at her. She smiles up at me happily, knowing she’s won.

“Clancy, would you like to come to my house tonight? I have a really nice place you can sleep. You can’t see the city like here.” She nods at the window. “But you can see the stars. I have some friends who would like to meet you, and there are bunnies to play with if you’d like.”

At the mention of Kez’s pets, Clancy’s black-on-black eyes widen. He nods eagerly. Wait until he spends some time with Kez’s mutant rabbits. We'll never get rid of him. Even I have to admit they’re endearing.

“Miz Kerryon, I appreciate the offer,” Mother Jo says. “But Clancy cannot leave Tyng Tower. If he moves out of range, my systems will suffer loss of signal integrity.”

“Oh,” I can hear the disappointment in Kez’s voice.

I give her a squeeze. Then, knowing how much her little family of orphans and misfits means to her, I say, “How ‘bout you bring Gig and some of the bunnies to meet Clancy tomorrow?”

“Okay.” Kez lets out a long breath; I can feel her accepting the set-back. She’s nothing if not adaptable, my kitten. “Clancy, does that sound okay? We can bring a couple of the bunnies over and have breakfast with you?”

Clancy nods again, his head bobbing on his thin neck. Looks like he could use a good meal. Maybe more than one. As well as a damn bath.

“Thank you, Miz Kerryon,” Mother Jo says.

“My pleasure,” Kez says and the smile’s back in her voice.

“Say goodnight, kitten,” I tell her. The plan’s been settled, Clancy’s smell is getting to me, and I’m ready for those noodles. Or I will be after the night air clears out my lungs.

“Goodnight, Clancy,” she says. “Goodnight, Mother Jo.”

“Night-night,” says Clancy. He uncurls and sets the thing he’s been holding against his stomach down on the couch. It’s a blanket, so old and worn that it’s barely more than a pile of strings. He pats it into a rough pillow and lies down with his head on it. Facing towards the window-wall, and its view over the night city.

“Sweet dreams,” Kez offers.

Do AIs dream? I’ll find out tomorrow. Tonight, I’ve had enough of the freaky, stinky TYE. I want to be alone with my kitten. Or as alone as we can get in a house with four other people and eighteen rabbits.

I draw Kez with me out of the office. Thinking of the smell that will greet Rol in the morning after Clancy's slept there all night makes me smile as I take Kez's hand and lead her back to my cube to gather the rest of our clothes. “Guess we’d better head back to your place,” I tell her. “Since you got a field trip to arrange.”

Kez links her arm through mine, leans against my side and smiles up at me. “We can detour to yours first. Since I owe you noodles. On my knees.”

I kiss her temple. My kitten.

***

Enjoy the story? Leave me a comment and take a look at these other out-of-this-world science-fiction/romance authors:

SFR Brigade November Blog Hop:

1. KG Stutts
2. Pippa Jay
3. Pauline Baird Jones
4. Aurora Springer
5. Eva Caye
6. Rachel Leigh Smith
7. C.E. Kilgore
8. Cassy Campbell
9. ML Skye
10. Shona Husk
11. Sue Ann Bowling
12. Misa Buckley

Cover Reveal for Grace Falls!

I'm delighted to host a cover reveal for Misa Buckley's upcoming "Grace Falls":

Grace Falls ecover

"Having learned that Global Solutions has a space rocket facility, Grace McKenna and Benedict Thomas race to stop the launch in the belief there's a bomb. But the launch goes ahead without issue, making Grace wonder what she's missed.

When fellow "abnormal" Charity points out the rocket launched is an attempt to control the rain cycle, Benedict surmises that there's something being added to the water. Going against his wishes, Grace heads to Hammel, determined to get the answers.

However, the main one, of who is behind the scheme, is waiting for her... and his plans are darker than Grace could ever imagine."

Grace Falls is the fourth story in the Amazing Grace series, and is released 1st December 2014 through Champagne Books.

Aoife Sheridan's Hunters

I'm delighted to host Aoife Sheridan in her blog tour for "Hunters":

3D-Book-Template for hunters

Taken from Chapter One – The Possession (Abigail)

***

“Where is she?” I asked as I laid out my roll of equipment on a hall table; it was the only piece of furniture in the hall so it had to do.
Taking a cross out of my pack, I poured holy water over it, splashing some on the hall table and the carpet. A small price to pay for us saving his daughter’s soul. Rolling the rest back up, I placed it back into my jacket and tucked the bible under my arm.
“This way,” the man said looking ready to bolt but thought otherwise.
He stood at the third door down the hallway. Zee placed his hand on the door, and then gave me a nod, letting me know that we had the right house. I moved towards the door, but before I turned the handle, I turned back to the man.
“How long has she been like this?”
I asked as Zee got himself ready.
Father Peter didn’t give many details, he just needed me to get there as quick as possible.
Tears filled the man’s eyes. “A week, maybe two.” At least, it didn’t have a long time to fester.
I gave Zee a nod just as I turned the door handle and entered the darken room. Light hurts them so I switched it on and let it flood the space. It was a standard sized bedroom, nothing special about it. A wardrobe rested against one wall, it once had been white but with time, it had faded. My eyes moved to the locker that was pine. It was bare of any ornaments and sat tightly against the single bed that the girl lay on. Her body was partially naked and her long blonde hair was stuck to her neck with sweat, I couldn’t make out her features as her face was no longer human looking than the hands that rested on her swollen abdominal. I turned to the man to give him a piece of my mind for leaving such a small detail out, but he had bolted, leaving us here with his pregnant and possessed daughter.
Words of another language and another time came out of the girl’s mouth, more than likely cursing us into the ground or into hell.
Zee’s hands moved robotically, taking items out of his trench coat. He placed two small white candles on the window sill, but didn’t light them - they were a just in case. He stayed close to them, but leaned against the wall. He looked so large in the small room.
“Do you want to do it or shall I?” I asked.
I always gave him the option; he did most of the work, but I hated tiring him out.
He gave me the once over, considering if I was strong enough. “You go ahead. I’ll observe,” he finally answered.
Moving towards the girl caused the demon inside her to rev up, making the girl’s body move at all the wrong angles.
I splashed her with the holy water. It bubbled up on her skin, the vapor rising and disappearing. A hiss left her mouth and more words followed. Taking out the bible, I turned to the page where the most powerful prayer lay, holding the cross steadily in my hands I started,
We drive you from us,
Whoever you may be,
Unclean spirits,
All satanic powers,
All infernal invaders,
All wicked legions,
Assemblies and sects.
In the Name, and by the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
May you be snatched away and driven from the Church of God,
And from the souls made to the image and likeness of God,
And redeemed by the Precious Blood of the Divine Lamb.
The sound of laughter made me stop. As the demon overtook the girl’s face completely. My heart rate elevated. Zee, quick to act, lit two candles, knowing what was to come as the light bulb brightened, casting a blinding light in the room before it exploded and small shards of glass flew across the room. I covered my face, protecting it from the onslaught of the flying glass. Small cuts across my hands stung and warm blood slid slowly across my fingers. I took my hands away, ignoring the pain. The flames from the small candles that Zee had lit danced across the room but gave little light. Not being able to see fully, always made a possession more frightening, no matter how many times I did it, it never got easier.
“Aaabbbiiigggaaaiilll,” the demon hissed inside the girl, slowly stretching my name, but I heard it. My body responded, causing me to stumble back, never before had a demon or spirit spoke my name. I stood paralyzed.
“Abigail,” this time it was Zee who called my name and I could hear the warning in his voice.
I needed to continue. I sucked in a deep breath and wiped the blood from my hands onto my jeans. I started the prayer again, saying it faster, and louder. My voice trembled slightly. I felt shook up after hearing that thing say my name. The demon inside the girl roared to life and squirmed with a voracity that shook the bed savagely. The bed’s thin, wooden legs slammed into the carpet, the noise drowning out my words, but I didn’t stop, I couldn’t stop for fear of what might happen. I continued as a few pictures fell from the walls, their frames snapping with the impact and the glass shattering across our feet. The curtains billowed now from an unseen wind. The bed continued to move rapidly. And the large wardrobe shook violently. Its doors swinging open and closed, the sharp bang lifting my heart every time. Zee stood protecting the candles from the breeze that raced through the room, carrying the foul stench of an unwashed body. I spoke louder closing my eyes, forcing myself to stay focused, even against the activity in the room. I clung to the cross. As my grip tightened it caused my cuts to bleed, coating my hand once again. I could feel the cross slipping and soon my hand was empty. The slamming of the wardrobe doors was getting faster and louder. The bed hit the floor harder, the wood snapping against the strain, small splinters of wood breaking free, and scattering across the floor.
Then everything ceased, silence fell upon the room, my breathing moved in and out of my nostrils, sounding so loud in the dead silence.
“Dad?” The one word was filled with fear and confusion and had come from the young girl; her voice broke through my numbness and fear.
I moved towards her slowly, looking at her face. She looked normal again, pale yet terrified, but normal. I smiled the best I could at her confused face, hoping to give her comfort. She met my eyes with big blue ones of her own, ones she must have inherited from her mother as her father had those muddy brown eyes, a ray of freckles covered her nose and cheeks making her look like she was only about sixteen. She was so young to be pregnant.
“Hi, my name is Abigail your dad called us, you were sick,” I said
She looked around the room for her father. I gave Zee a nod to go get him and he hesitated, looking at the girl for a moment.
“It’s fine, Zee. She’s okay,” I assured him.
He left hesitantly at my words.
“What’s your name?” I asked, moving closer, trying to halt all the questions that I knew must be going around in her head right now. Once someone was possessed, they could never remember the ordeal. It was for the best or lots of people would never sleep again.
“Lucy,” she said, still looking around the room that was only lit now by candle light.
“Lucy, that’s a pretty name,” I said, she was looking at me as if I was crazy.
“What are you doing in my room? And why is everything such a mess?” she asked, looking at all the frames and shattered glass on the carpet. A logical question, yet I had no logical explanation.
“How far are you gone?” I asked, looking at her stomach, trying to distract her until her dad got there and he could come up with whatever story he wanted to. She looked down at her belly after hearing my question and her cheeks lit up when she realized she was half-undressed. Fear and confusion filled her face.
“It’s okay, Lucy.” I didn’t get to finish as she started to scream while kicking her legs and pulling the remaining blankets off her, blood started to soak the sheets.
“My baby!” she screamed as Zee and her dad entered the room. I rushed forward, grabbing the blanket; I needed to stop the bleeding, her stomach rippled and I had to blink twice to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing. A hand formed, pushing its way against her stomach, reaching out to me, stretching her skin almost to breaking point. I fell back off the bed, away from the hand, while pulling the blanket with me. The bed started to levitate.
Lucy’s screams and her father’s pleas to save his daughter made the room swarm around me. “Abigail, Abigail,” the voice danced around me, I covered my ears. “No. No!” Zee’s feet rushed past me and he jumped up on the bed, fighting the hysterical flailing arms that Lucy threw around as her stomach stretched and moved at abnormal angles. The demon had attached itself to the child’s soul. I snapped out of my daze. The cross lay on the ground, its gold surface now tainted with my blood. I grabbed it and jumped up while holding onto the cross for dear life as Zee placed his hand on Lucy’s stomach, a gust of air ripped through the room, throwing everything into chaos. The candles hit the carpet and distinguished almost immediately, leaving us in darkness. I couldn’t move for a moment, but could only watch as light poured from Zee’s fingertips, blinding all of us. Sound ceased to exist at that moment, while everything around us continued to shake. I could feel the ground under my feet vibrate. Through the light, I could see Lucy was still alert, her mouth open as she screamed in fear and agony. Her eyes wild, the veins bulged in her neck as she continued to scream soundlessly. It was like watching a movie with the sound on mute. A large crack raced down the wall behind the bed, just stopping at the skirting board, and then the room went dark. The world stopped shaking.
“Lucy, sweetheart, talk to me,” her father’s frightened whispers reached my ears. I opened my eyes as Zee came to me and his strong arms pulled me into a tight embrace. His smell, his warmth calmed me. His heartbeat pounded against my ear, bringing me back. I looked up at him.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I nodded, but I was anything but okay.
I pulled away and stood on trembling legs, making my way to the bedroom door. Once I opened it, light flittered into the room. I looked at Lucy, her body lay still. She looked snow white against the blood soaked sheets.
The father’s face turned to us tears stricken and red with anger. “What have you done to my baby girl?”
I didn’t reply, but took out my phone, ignoring the trembling in my hands, pausing before making the call. I turned to Zee. “Did we lose the baby?” I asked, he nodded his head, and a pang twisted my heart. “The girl?”
“She’s alive,” he answered and left the room.
I pushed the button and made the dreaded call.

*****

Purchase Links:
Amazon.com - http://www.amazon.com/Hunters-Demon-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00NLRMJ5S/

Amazon.co.uk - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunters-Demon-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00NLRMJ5S/

Createspace: https://www.createspace.com/4652900

To contact Aoife you can email her at aoifesheridan101@gmail.com

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My fellow sci-fi romance author and SFR Brigader, SE Gilchrist, has a new novel out (with such a great title - I'm very jealous)! I've already downloaded mine, and here's the skinny:


The third full-length novel in SE Gilchrist’s bestselling erotic SF series mixes one sexy spy, a soldier looking for salvation and an unlikely mission to save the world.

Reece, contortionist bubble dancer and part-time spy, has one goal – a safe haven and independent life far from the war. But her plans go awry and her future becomes dangerously uncertain when she is falsely accused of the murders of her friend and a Darkon traitor. Now her new list of goals includes payback.

In her way is Ulrac, a banished Darkon patroller responsible for incarcerating females for barbaric ‘treatments’ and ‘research’ on the planet Isla. He's determined to use the capture of the spy and her intel to win the approval of his father – a hard-line Traditionalist with his own agenda – and help him overthrow the current ruler of Darkos.

But the war of the Seven Galaxies has reached a critical stage, and personal plans and goals suddenly hold very little meaning. The enemy is poised to unleash a terrible weapon and no one stands between him and total domination of all the universes.

No one – except Reece and Ulrac.

WHEN STARS COLLIDE

Available now:
Amazon US
Amazon AU
Amazon UK
Kobo
Googleplay
JBHiFi Ebooks
AllRomance
iBookstore


Learn more about S. E. Gilchrist and her books:
Website
Twitter - @SEGilchrist1
Facebook

Neon Blue

girl-dancing-246822-m


("Girl Dancing," courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski, SXC via freeimages.com)


Chapter 1

I’m a sucker for flavored coffees. Starbucks. Dunkin Donuts. They put on some flavored coffees – amaretto, mocha, hazelnut, vanilla crème, or that new one for fall, pumpkin spice – and they’ve got me.

Unfortunately, anyone who knows me, knows my weakness. And knows where to find me. Which is how Manny Goldberg tracked me down to a table in front of Borders on School Street one September morning.

“Zee, how are you, kid?”

I hunch over my double pumpkin spice. Manny is one of the few of my former clients who won’t accept that I’ve moved on. “Hey, Manny.”

Manny settles heavily into the chair across from me. The September sun’s unkind to him. It brings out the blotchiness of his doughy skin, the slivers of scalp peeking through his comb-over. His dark blue suit looks like it’s been slept in.

“Want a coffee?” I offer, knowing he won’t take me up on it. High blood pressure and an ulcer keep Manny away from my vice.

“No thanks.” He stretches and tries to look casual as he slides three thick files onto the table. Redwells. I haven’t seen legal files in months. At the clinic, we keep our files in colored folders. Bright and cheerful.

“What’s with the files, Manny?” I ask, although I know perfectly well. Manny has run into a dead-end on a case and wants my help. My special kind of help.

I hunch my shoulder at the files. I don’t want to give him what he wants. Don’t want to get pulled back down into Manny’s world of adultery, divorce, death.

“How’s the new thing going?” Manny tries to divert me from the oppressive presence of the files between us.

“Good, thanks.” I don’t ask how things are with him. I don’t want to give him an opening. “Are you sure I can’t get you a coffee?”

“No. You know.” He pats his rounded stomach. Guess his ulcer’s playing up. “Listen, kid, I know you’ve got this new thing going, but I wondered . . . it’s just these three. I’ve kinda hit the wall on them. They really need your, uh, special touch.”

I glance at the files resignedly. I owe him. Big time. “No child custodies?”

“No, no. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

I nod. At least he’s respecting my rules, even if he has hunted me down in the middle of my morning fix. I take a sip of coffee and pick up the first file. Reynolds. I flip through the file quickly. “Love potion?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

“Did they love each other . . . before?” I wave my hand over a set of pictures in the back of the file. Pretty blonde wife in a variety of compromising positions with someone who is clearly not Manny’s client.

“He says so.” Manny sighs heavily. “He wants it back the way it was.”

“And you’ve warned him about what can happen if she never really loved him?”

“Yeah, I got him to sign the disclaimer.”

I shake my head. Manny worries about malpractice claims. I worry about dooming two people who don’t really love each other to a lifetime of misery.

I close the Reynolds file and pick up the next one. A quick flip through shows more of the same. Husband straying this time. Serially.

“She doesn’t need a love potion. She needs a leash.”

“She has three little kids. They need a dad.”

I glare over the top of the file at Manny. I hate it when he tries to guilt-trip me.

“He definitely loved her once upon a time?”

Manny nods.

“Pretty girls.” I say, nodding at the pictures. They’re all very pretty, and very young. “How is she looking now?”

“Like the mother of three little kids.”

“Rose-colored glasses.” I hold out my hand. “Did you bring them?”

“Back of the file.”

I tilt the file forward and peer into the back of the redwell, where two small vials nestle amongst the papers. “Contact lenses?”

“Yeah, won’t they work? She says he never wears glasses. Not even sunglasses.”

Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never tried the charm on contacts. I shrug. “I’ll give it a shot.”

I close the file and place it on top of the Reynolds file at my elbow.

As I reach for the third file, Manny says, “That’s a strange one. I don’t really know what to make of it.”

I read the label. “English, Willa. Probate.”

“Yeah, I did Ms. English’s will for her about five years ago. Pretty straight-forward. Most of her assets to her family. Bequests all the way down the line, even the pet cat. Everyone’s happy, yadda, yadda. Except for this ring. This ring she wants donated to some museum in Cambridge. The Column Museum of Antiquities.”

“Never heard of it.” Which is odd, because I’ve lived one town over all my adult life.

“Me, neither. Turns out it’s a private collection. Very private. Never open to the public. I only found them ‘cause I got a friend at Harvard and sometimes they get pieces on loan from this Column place.”

“Okay,” I say, not really seeing how a love potion or any of the other charms that make up my particular bag of tricks could be called for. “So?”

“The ring’s missing.”

“Missing,” I say flatly.

“Yeah. From her safe.”

I shrug. “Maybe she took it out before she died.”

Manny shakes his head. “I saw it in there myself when I went to itemize the estate. It’s distinctive, you know. Big black thing. It was in there one day, and when I went back a week later, it wasn’t.”

“So someone took it out.”

“That’s what weird. I’m the only one who has the safe combination. Miss English was very particular about that. She wouldn’t tell it to anyone while she was alive.”

“Well, she obviously told someone, Manny.”

“I don’t think so. And the Museum doesn’t think so, either. They’re raising a huge stink about it. Evidently the ring’s got some big historical value.”

“What are we talking?”

Manny rubs a hand over his face. “They say three million.”

“Dollars?” I gape at Manny. I thought he was strictly small time. Divorces, wills, evictions, DUIs. I’ve never known him to handle anything more than a couple hundred thousand. And now he’s got a ring worth three million?

Or, more to the point, doesn’t have a ring worth three million.

“Yeah.” His voice drops and he leans forward to say in a whisper, “Here’s the thing . . . they’re saying I must have taken it.”

“Ah.” I stare at the file, to avoid meeting his eyes. Manny doesn’t look it, with his rumpled suits and desk-jockey paunch, but he likes to take the occasional walk on the wild side. He takes cases no-one else will. Skates close to the edge.

Consorts with witches.

For a moment, I have to wonder.

“I didn’t do it.”

My eyes flash up to him. “I believe you.”

And I do. I only wondered for a second, and then logic and instinct kicked in. Logic, Manny would be setting himself up if he took it, since he’s the obvious suspect, and he’s too smart for that. Instinct, I’ve known Manny for years, and although you can never know for certain what goes on inside someone else’s head, Manny’s not the kind to steal from his own client. Not even for three million dollars.

“Who do you think did?” I ask.

“That’s the weird part. I don’t. I’ve been over it time and time again. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t write it down anywhere. Miss English didn’t tell. It’s like it just vanished.”

“Rings don’t just vanish on their own.” Well, not most rings anyway, and if Manny’s looking for one of those rings, there’s not much I’m going to be able to do to help him. Fae rings are beyond me. I sigh. “You need a P.I., not a witch.”

“Yeah, I thought about that. Then I read that letter that’s in there.”

There’s a folded piece of parchment tucked into the file. When I pull it out it’s stiff, heavy with red wax seals. I unfold it and try to read it, but it’s written in that impossible copperplate with the odd 'f's and 's'es. My eyes cross after the first line.

“What does it say?” I ask, knowing when I’m beaten.

“The ring belonged to Reverend George Burroughs. He was tried for witchcraft. You know, in Salem, back when. And in his confession he said it was the ring Solomon used to command the demons who built his Temple . . .”

I hold up my hand in a rattle of bracelets. “King Solomon? Manny, you’ve got to be kidding.”

“Wish I was. That letter’s from a court clerk, Stephen Sewall, to the Governor of the Commonwealth. The ring was seized during Burrough’s trial. Sewall says he’s heard the voices of demons speak through it himself.”

I hunker into my army surplus jacket. Demons. Just the mention of them makes the sunny day go cold and grey. Ghosts, elementals, shifters, the fae – I’m fine with all of them. But demons? They scare the shit out of me. I admit it. Anything that picks between eating your face or your immortal soul is something I steer well clear of.
Through a shiver I ask, “What’s this thing doing in some little old lady’s safe?” I take another glance at the file. “In Beverly, of all places.”

“No idea. I’ve gone through every other scrap of paper in her house. Nothing. No mention of the ring except in the will. I’ve questioned her whole family, even the damn cat. One of the nephews thinks it’s a family heirloom. But that’s the best I can come up with.”

I shake my head. “Manny . . . what do you want me to do? Look, you know my deal. You want a love potion? A memory charm? I’m your girl. But I don’t know anything about this sort of thing. You need a . . .”

I trail off, because I know what Manny needs. He needs a diabolist. Someone who knows about demons and inferiarcus, their summoning artifacts. But I only know two real diabolists, that crackpot in Pennsylvania that I’m pretty sure has gotten too cozy with his subjects.

And Rowena.

I sigh. “I know someone who might be able to help. I’ll give her a call.”

Manny reaches across the table and grips my hand. His hand is sweaty, and I don’t think it’s because of the autumn sun. “Thanks, kid. I’m really in the shit on this one. I appreciate your help.”

I try to smile. Despite being a lawyer, Manny’s not a bad guy. He was there for me when I hit my own personal bottom. I want to help.

I just don’t know if I’ll be able to.

Excerpt from "Throwing Fire"

SFRB-ShowcaseBanner

For the SFR Brigade October showcase, I thought I'd give everyone a sneak peek at Throwing Fire, the sequel to Snowburn, which I'll be publishing in the spring. Enjoy!



Kez lands us in Tiv thirty-five minutes later. After we’ve circled ‘round and ‘round the motives for everyone and their fucking clone to want to kill her. And gotten no closer to identifying anyone other than Jaxon.

I let her handle the landing. With the ground berths still closed in the aftermath of our skimmer crash, we dock at the tether, two klicks away from the city. Tether landings are not overly technical. And it’s good practice for Kez, who still struggles a little with landings. She does a fine job with this one.

Once we’re hooked into our berth, I flip the display over to a local feed. Pick up our messages. The first one is from Acker, asking us to plex him as soon as we land.

I stare at the message for a moment. Innocuous black Uni characters against the viewie’s background of sky and clouds. But they feel ominous. Why the change of plans? He and Tee were supposed to meet us. I expected them to be waiting at the tether, not plexing us.

With a sigh, I tap the interface to return the call.

Acker’s face immediately appears in the pane. “My friend, forgive me, but I have a pointy problem.”

My neck and shoulders unknot. Hearing that he’s got a problem he can’t deal with on his own should make me tense. Instead, I relax. Pointy problems I can deal with. Betrayal from the only man I’ve liked well enough to call brother in a decade? That would fucking sting. “Whaddo you need?” I ask.

“You, and Lightfoot, if you will come. I need you in the Deeps. I know your questions for Java are urgent, but this is a problem that will not wait.”

I nod. Maybe this is a ruse. Maybe it’s a trap. But my gut says Acker’s in trouble. And you never say no to a brother in trouble. “On the way,” I tell him.

“I will meet you at the tether exit. The streets are not safe for either of us. I will bring you in another way.”

“See you in ten.”

Kez, attuned to me in every way, is already tapping commands into the ship interface. Plexing our change of plans back to base, reconfiguring the ship for an extended stay at the tether, and paying the berthing fee. While she does, I climb out of my chair and head towards the Infinity’s storage holds. There are five of them, but the smallest hold’s my destination. At the moment, it looks like just another empty hold – gridded floor, empty mag-brackets set into the plain walls – and that’s all anyone would see on a scan. But when I give the ship a series of commands, panels in the ceiling fold back on themselves. They drop slowly toward the floor in a double accordion. When the panels reach the floor, they lock into racks and rotate, revealing my own personal armory. I take a pair of bags off the bottom rack and load them up with everything I’ve got. Body armor. Pulse grenades. P.B.Ex. White phos smoke grenades. E.M.P. bombs. Two portable surveillance scanners. A handful of tinglers. And a shitload of knives, most of which I’ve made myself. A pair of katanas don’t go in the bags. They go across my back in a leather harness that lets me draw them over my shoulders. Any tether security guard stupid enough to question me gets to meet one, up close and personal.

Kez joins me while I’m still loading up. She helps me clear the racks and shoulders one of the bags after I seal it closed. “Do you think it’s the Ojos?”

“That’d be my guess.” But I’m reserving judgment until I’m face to face with Acker. Could be a trap, in which case the Ojos are the least of his fucking worries.

She takes my hand and together we walk back through the cargo holds and exit through the ship’s proboscis, a flexible plaz tube that connects the ship with the tether’s funnel. Exiting through the proboscis circumvents the passenger debarkation lounge, and that layer of tether security. I got no illusions we’ll get out of the port without bumping into some sort of security, but it’ll be crew security, which is often more relaxed than security for the geese.

When we reach the airlock at the bottom of the proboscis, we find it locked, red lights blinking around the circular portal. Looks like the funnel grav-lift is busy. Probably pressed into service moving cargo down the tether, since the ground berths are still closed. We wait side-by-side and I slant a glance at Kez. Still wearing her leather pants and steel-toed boots. Baby blues shadowed and set deep in their rings of khol. Arms wrapped from wrists to elbow in genSkin and the shiny threads that I know are her weapon of choice. Carrying half my arsenal over her shoulder. “What kinda message you sendin’ now, kitten?”

“Stop fucking hunting me.” Kez adjusts the bag. “What kind of message are you sending? Between that—” She nods at my Biosteel vest, which is pretty clearly body armor. “—and your swords.”

I shrug. “Don’t want the rats to think I’ve gone soft.”

“Yeah.” She snorts. “You’re good.”

“Until we see what’s what, kitten, you don’t turn your back on any of them.”

Kez’s grin quickly tightens into a frown. “But Acker said—”

“I heard, and I believe him. That’s why we’re goin’. But a hundred CeeBees is still a big number.”

And that number is a big incentive.

Kez squares her shoulders and looks down at her boots. She’s silent for a moment and I let her think. Listen to the howl of the wind, the creak of the huge tether just beyond the airlock, and the faint drip of water somewhere, which I hope is off the tether rather than something dripping in our ship.

“Snow,” she begins, and I nod at her, acknowledging her careful use of my pseudonym. We’re alone at the moment, on our own ship. But the lift could arrive any moment, and someone could be scanning us. The proboscis isn’t as heavily shielded as the rest of the ship, and Kez knows that. “Is this how it’s been for you? Suspecting everyone?”

“Pretty much.”

“What’d you think that first time I walked up to you? Did you think I wanted . . . what did you think?”

I grin so wide, it hurts my cheek muscles. “Thought I wanted to fuck you.”

She snorts. “Other than that.”

“Yeah, kitten, I was suspicious.”

“You didn’t show it.” She looks down, scuffs her boot on the proboscis’s soft polymousse flooring. “I just wanted to know you.”

“I got that.” That’s why she’s my one-in-a-billion.

“Maybe Acker’s the same way.”

“He’s shit outta luck if he is.”

She looks up at me quizzically. “Why? Have you changed your mind about him?”

“No, I never wanted to fuck him.”

Kez laughs. At that moment, the airlock control blinks green. I give it a tap and the airlock slides open with a soft swush to counterpoint Kez’s laughter.

Social Media Mantra

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(Image courtesy of webtoolkit4.me)

The inspirational Rachel Thompson (@RachelintheOC) recently tweeted this mantra: Content. Keywords. Engage. Converse. Care. I think this is great guidance for artists trying to engage on social media.

Content. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as an author and started thinking of myself as a content-generator. I create content on a lot of different levels. I create new content in my novels. I create promotional content in tweeting about them, what inspires me, and my writing process. I create iterative content in re-tweeting the content created by others. Thinking of my social media activity this way takes a little of the sting out of the feeling that I spend a lot of my “creative time” doing something that isn’t traditionally creative. It also creates a more interesting social media profile than a string of “buy my book” posts.

Keywords. I’ve come late to the hashtag, but I’m learning how to use both hashtags and keyword searches more effectively, both as a content-generator and as a user of social media. Using keywords in my posts allows interested users to quickly find my content. Searching by keyword myself has allowed me to find other users who share my interests, and content that I, myself, am interested in seeing.

Engage. This is probably the scariest concept for an introvert like me. Engagement is an opportunity for rejection, and emotionally exhausting. If you’re going to put your work out there for public consumption, you have to take the good with the bad. Focus on the good – the positive reviews, the folks who retweet you and reply to your tweets, the amusing cat pictures. Shake off the bad. Limiting the time I spend on social media every day has helped with the emotional exhaustion, and using tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite allows me to maintain a social media presence even when I’m offline.

Converse. There’s nothing more boring than a Twitter feed that’s just variations on “buy my art.” I think promotion has its place, but it very quickly grows stale. Conversations add depth even to a promotional campaign. Joe Kawano (@joekawano) is doing a great job of using conversations to add depth to his Launch Your Universe platform – take a look at his Twitter feed, Facebook page and blog for tips and, hey, engage with him!

Care. This is also a tough one for me because of the ever-present possibility of rejection, but I recognize the importance of it. I always know when someone has put 200% of themselves into something. That level of care shows. It creates meaning in this cloud of content that we’re all busy generating!

Shake It Off

Like her or hate her, Taylor Swift has some good advice for writers. Bad review? Flame attack? Shake it off.

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(Image: screencap from ITunes video.)

I’ve been lucky so far in putting my creative endeavors out there for public consumption. Readers have been unfailingly generous and overwhelmingly positive. But I know that a one-star Amazon review is inevitable, and I’ve already had a few experiences with flame attacks and cyber-trolling. I’ve watched friends get drawn in, both in my defense and defending their own work. My mantra is and always should be “Shake It Off.”

The temptation to engage is strong, no question. I desperately want to defend my baby (and the brain-babies of others). Don’t these one-star reviewers and trolls get it? Maybe if I explain my brilliance, I’ll change their minds.

Engagement with negativity is always a losing proposition, though. I know this in life. I avoid negativity in other areas of my life, so why should my creative life be any different? I think it’s because writing is so intensely personal and writers get so invested in their work (or maybe that’s just me).

No matter who wins the public battle, the writer always loses. Even if the reviewer or troll eventually slinks away in defeat, the writer’s been dragged down into the mire. More importantly, the writer’s lost precious creative time and energy.

As the song goes, “haters gonna hate.” Let ‘em. By engaging, we validate their negativity. Shake them off. Be positive instead: write something new, and kill a character or two in their honor.

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"Balance is Everything"

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(Screen cap courtesy of http://www.underthegunreview.net)

The Chronicles of Riddick is not my favorite movie, but pretty much anything Judi Dench says is memorable and that line has stuck with me.

I do believe in balance, and I’m happiest when things in my life are in balance. There hasn’t been a ton of balance this year, and I’ve not been very happy. My mission for fall is to rebalance my shit.

Starting with my writing.

Publishing Snowburn focused me on that work. Even though I was no longer writing it, I was still thinking about it all the time. Promoting it. Reading reviews of it. Thinking about more ways to promote it. Although I declared it “done” more than six months ago, it’s still been on my mind every day since then. I usually have several projects on the go at any one time, but not this year. Snowburn has been all-consuming. No balance.

Promoting Snowburn has kept me tied tightly to the social media outlets through which I’m pushing the book. Twitter. Goodreads. Facebook (to a lesser extent). These have felt all-consuming, too. Because my market is primarily in the US (so far), with the time change, I’ve spent most of the evening hours I’d usually spend writing on social media. For me, social media is, well, social. It’s a concerted effort to engage with potential readers. That’s a very different activity than writing. Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but I find social media draining, while I find writing energizing. So instead of recharging during the evenings, I’m exhausted by the time I go to bed. No balance.

While my “vacation” this year was not really a vacation, it was a complete change of pace and gave me a chance to assess why I’ve been unusually unhappy this year and what I can do to rebalance my life.

The first thing is to get several projects on the go again. I re-read both Throwing Fire and Neon Blue while I was away and Throwing Fire has stalled for me. The story and characters are not calling to me. I’ve got nothing new to say. But Tsara and her demon have lots to say. So I’m going to shuffle my publishing schedule (wee, the joys of being indie!), push Neon Blue to the front and finish it, and keep Throwing Fire simmering on the back burner while I do. Rebalanced.

Next is to change my social media behavior. Reading some of Nat Russo’s blog posts about getting the most out of Twitter and recognizing that, as an introvert, social media leaves me drained instead of energized has informed this thinking. So, thoughts on how to rebalance:

1. Instead of staying on the internet all night (and all weekend), I’ll set aside ten minutes every hour to do social media stuff. The rest of the hour, the internet is off.

2. I’ll take my iPad to work with me and do social media responses through the day (in the same sort of 5-10 minute bites), so there’s not a backlog to deal with at night.

3. I’ll compose blog posts and promotional tweets offline and in advance, instead of staring in terror at an empty “Compose New Tweet” box.

4. I’ll write blog posts in particular at times when I feel creative (during “writing time”), so that I generate interesting, new content rather than reactive crap.

5. On weekends, instead of lurking around the house (and on the internet), I’ll get out and write in places I find stimulating. Cafes (avoiding internet cafes), movie theatres, the ice rink. Places where I’m surrounded by people but do not have to interact with them. Places which do not have internet access.

I’ve been implementing these ideas this week, and I already feel better. I’ve written more new material this week than I have in months, and I’m enthusiastic about it. Interestingly, engagement on Twitter is at an all-time high this week, so maybe being better balanced also makes me more interesting to engage with, and isn’t that the goal of all of this in the end?

Inspiration abounds in Barca

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(Image courtesy S O'Brien.)

Once a year I take a break from the law and writing and housekeeping and bunnies and I TRAVEL.

I love to travel. I don't do it enough now that I have a law practice and a growing library and a house that seems to fill up with crap whenever I glance away and bunnies. But I do love to travel. This year we're traveling around the Med and the first stop is Barcelona.

I've been to Barca before. It's one of my favorite places. Wandering around for the last three days has reminded me why. It's a fabulous city, full of things to see and do.

But it's also an extremely strange city, patinaed with gothic weirdness. It's easy to pin that on Gaudi, but his influence wouldn't be as prevalent and enduring if it hadn't touched on some core of gothic weirdness in the soul of this city and its people. And in the souls of those who visit.

Touching my soul with gothic weirdness is probably a risky proposition. It's pretty weird already. Add some funky gothic buildings and art, and what do you get?

Inspiration.

I've started writing Throwing Fire again. The alligator-men that were the highlight of the crawl through the sewers may have to take second place to the gothic re-envisioning of the sewer-beast itself.

I love Barca.