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Monday, April 22, 2013

Spin a Tale of Sidhe Romance


Like the ancient Sidhe, Keira and Barrett dance in the flame of duty until it brands their souls.

Buy Link Liquid Silver Books
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Life in a were bordello is all Keira has ever known. Because of her mixed blood, none of the magicians’ guilds wanted her, or protested when the Weres bound her as an indentured hooker. Mired in the hopelessness of her dreams, Keira longs for more.
Barrett, one of the Daoine Sidhe, runs a magician supply shop in what’s left of Seattle. No one is more surprised than he when the Sidhe leader commands him to extricate Keira from the weres.

Magic and intrigue throw Keira and Barrett into one another’s arms. Convinced they have a job to do, they struggle against the heat of the passion between them. Until it gets way too hot to handle.

 


Prologue
Barrett bent over, hands on his knees. His limbs were heavy, weighted with weariness. Even the mud-streaked asphalt looked tolerable as a place to lie down, assuming he found some cover. He strengthened the magic surrounding him and sucked air. The goddamned humans and their atomic weapons had poisoned the atmosphere. It would probably hasten the end of the war, but at what price? His gaze swept over an uninterrupted vista of gray. The sky, clouds, remaining buildings, and ground were the same depressing color. He didn’t have to try very hard to hear the Earth cry and curse her guardians, the Sidhe, for doing such a piss poor job of protecting her.

"The weres, druids, and witches are ready to talk. The fairies agreed to moderate." A familiar voice sounded from behind him.

"Hmph. Nice of them to consent to parlay while there’s still something left to salvage." Barrett straightened and turned to face Caelin. With the Daoine Sidhe queen long dead, he was their de facto leader. All the other Sidhe answered to the Daoine, so Caelin was responsible for thousands of them. Too bad he hadn’t thought of that before dragging them into the war…

Tall and wraith-thin Caelin looked about as trashed as Barrett felt. His shoulders sagged. Bright red hair had escaped his warrior braids and hung to his waist in tangles. His battle leathers drooped in tattered shreds. Bits of grit, leaves, and dirt mingled with everything. His sharp-boned face was streaked with grime. The only part of him which looked the same was his eyes: a deep, dark blue.

"Isn’t it, though?" Caelin’s customary sarcasm rang through. He spread his arms wide. "That last atomic blast decided things."

"Maybe it’s for the best." Barrett met Caelin’s gaze. "We’ve been fighting for close to ten years. If the humans hadn’t felt threatened and pulled out all the stops, this might have turned into a hundred year war—if any of us lived that long."

Caelin snorted. "We coexisted with those bastards for thousands of years. The minute they got a whiff they weren’t the only ones on the planet, they overreacted."

A corner of Barrett’s mouth twisted wryly. "You have to admit magic can be a bit off-putting for humans."

"Well, they’ve fucked themselves. There won’t be very many left once the atomic dust settles."

Barrett quirked a brow at his leader. "To borrow from your vernacular, they’ve managed to fuck us, too, by dying. We’re going to have to figure out how to keep things running without them."

"Point taken. Be sure to toss it on the table when we draw up a Covenant with the other magic wielders." Caelin shook his head. "Despite all our efforts, there are more weres left than any of the rest of us—"

"Only because they breed like rabbits."

Caelin waved him to silence. "Be that as it may, we must secure their cooperation. Otherwise, our numbers are too small to maintain any semblance of civilization. There’s electricity, water, the Internet, the cellular system, and food." He ticked them off on his fingers as he talked. "It’s fortunate enough structures are still standing to house most of those left."

"Where and when is this meeting scheduled?" Barrett hoped he could catch a few hours of sleep. He’d been up for the better part of the last two days.

"It’s now. In the Opera House, since it’s mostly intact. Walk with me." Caelin set off at a moderate pace.

Barrett caught up to him. His muscles ached. A headache pounded behind one eye. Normally, he would have used magic to ease both, but he was seriously depleted. What little remained of his power was focused on filtering the air before it entered his lungs. "I still wish—"

"Don’t say it. Even in my worn-out state I have enough magic left to read your thoughts." Caelin’s jaw set in a hard line Barrett recognized only too well. The Daoine Sidhe leader had never liked being questioned, nor was he open to discussion about his decisions.


Fine. Read my thoughts then. You can pretend they don’t exist, but we both know differently. The loss of their queen, Ivanne, had heated the rift between weres and the Sidhe to a boiling point and proven disastrous. She’d been a skilled mediator, navigating difficult political waters with grace and skill. Caelin was a warrior. He saw the world in black and white. Convinced the weres had murdered Ivanne, he’d convened the Council, dominated it with his anger, and led the Sidhe to war. At first it was just Sidhe against weres. Then witches and druids jumped into the fray, some on one side, some on the other. The only magical beings who’d remained neutral were the fae and the fairies.

"The weres poisoned Ivanne. Her death demanded retribution." The harsh gravel of Caelin’s voice broke into Barrett’s thoughts.

"That may be true." Barrett grabbed Caelin’s upper arm and forced the other man to a standstill. "War never solved anything. Not in human history, or in ours, either." He swung an arm wide. "Look. Just look what a mess we’ve made. It will take decades for Earth to recover, if she ever does. Deep within my soul, she reprimands me over and over for our part in the destruction."

A sheepish look flitted across Caelin’s face. He ran a hand down it, distorting his features. "Glad I’m not the only one she nags."

A brittle anger filled Barrett, setting his guts on fire. "We deserve to be nagged. More than nagged, we deserve to be chastised—"

"It’s not like I did this singlehandedly." Caelin sounded defensive. "The weres could have capitulated anytime."

Barrett let go of Caelin’s arm. He pounded a fist into his open palm. "Damn it! You know better. Weres never apologize. They’re constitutionally incapable of admitting they were wrong about anything. It’s their dual natures. The animal side takes over and—"

"Spare me." Caelin’s hands settled on Barrett’s shoulders. Fingers dug in hard enough to make him wince. "If I made a mistake avenging Ivanne, it is water long passed under the bridge. Think, man. That was ten years ago. We must play the ball where it is today. There’s little enough of our royalty left. Here in the Americas, it is you and me. I must have you standing solidly beside me. The weres will sniff it out soon enough if we are not aligned with one another."

Barrett blew out a breath. Annoyance scoured his nerves. He hated to admit it, but Caelin was right. If the war was finally over, the next task would be crafting a Covenant with terms advantageous to all Sidhe, not just the Daoine. And making certain it enlisted everyone’s aid healing the damage done to Earth.

He ducked from beneath Caelin’s hands, squared his shoulders, and swept straggling copper-colored hair out of his face. "You need have no fears on that front. You have always had my allegiance and support." Of a height with Caelin, Barrett locked gazes with him. "You are a brilliant tactician. And a fearless warrior. I only wish you had a bit more in the way of warmth and compassion to temper things."

A wry grin split Caelin’s face. He didn’t smile often. The effect was electrifying, bringing all his latent beauty to the forefront. He punched Barrett lightly. "I wish for a lot of things, too. Problem is I rarely get any of them." He inclined his head in a mock bow. "After you."



Chapter 1





Eleven Years Later
Keira opened a door in the were bordello where she lived and worked and peeked out into the long hallway spanning the first floor of the building. Empty. Good. It was the middle of the afternoon, always a slow time. Her last customer had just left. Maybe, if she snuck out the rear door, she could claim a few hours of freedom. She ducked back into the room she shared with one of the other indentured hookers, donned a cloak and boots, and walked down the hall, making as little noise as possible.

The air was crisper than she’d expected as she eased the door shut behind her. Keira wrapped her arms around herself, wishing she’d brought a warmer coat. Most of her working clothes were wispy and suggestive. At least she’d been smart enough to put on tattered jeans, a moth-eaten sweater, and her favorite black cloak. For once it wasn’t raining. A pallid sun hung midway to the western horizon, bathing what were once busy urban streets with sallow light.
Keira emptied her mind, trying not to feel she was playing hooky. It wasn’t as if the weres kept her prisoner… She glanced at her left arm. Under the sweater and cape, she could have sworn the indenture bracelet spanning her upper arm tightened. Who am I trying to kid? They can find me anytime they want.

She walked briskly through Seattle’s Queen Anne district. Keira had the streets to herself today, but then she usually did. Good thing, too. Those like her, mixed-blood magic wielders with minimal power, were at pretty much everyone else’s mercy. Bottom of the New World totem pole.

Her gaze swept over urban rot. Keira grimaced. Buildings still stood, some of them, anyway. But most of the glass had been rocked out. Piles of trash blocked the roadways. Cars were a thing of the past. Out-of-control garbage had obliterated the sidewalks long ago. Paths wound through it, carved by varieties of magic wielders and prowling beasts. She made a point of ignoring what was underfoot. Most of it was too gross to even consider. It was a damned shame so many humans had been wiped out during the war. They’d taken care of things like that.

She pretended to consider what to do with her freedom, knowing her deliberations were a sham. She’d do the same thing she always did: head for Barrett’s magician’s shop. Housed in a cavernous Victorian on lower Capitol Hill, it was only about an hour’s walk from the were bordello. With its dark wood furniture, Oriental carpets, and overflowing shelves, the shop exuded a homey atmosphere which was irresistible.
Face it. The thing which makes it so enticing is Barrett. Keira smiled to herself as she pictured the tall, broad-shouldered Daoine Sidhe with his thick, coppery hair and pale blue eyes. Beyond his obvious beauty, though, he seemed kind. Not that she’d ever exchanged more than a few words with him, but he had laugh lines in the corners of his eyes and she’d watched him interact with other customers. He was always helpful, doing that little bit extra to assist someone find something. There was still bad blood among magic wielders, but not in Barrett’s shop. Everyone was granted equal status there. Never mind Daoine Sidhe magic was far more powerful than were, fae, or witch. Druid magic barely counted; it was nearly as feeble as hers.

The first time she’d stumbled into Barrett’s shop, it was by accident. She’d gotten into a big blow up with Simon, one of the staff at Were Calls, for refusing to service a customer in his animal form. Simon slapped her, which was a big no-no; punishment was supposed to be delivered through her bracelet per the terms of her indenture.
Keira had never seen Simon quite so angry. She didn’t wait around to see what he would do next. Despite being in her hooker garb, including high heels, she’d raced out the door and ran until her arches ached. It hadn’t helped when the skies opened and it began to pour. Not knowing what else to do—because she was not going back to Were Calls until things cooled down or they zapped her through the bracelet—she’d opened her magic senses. They’d led her straight to Barrett’s shop. It was only a couple of blocks from where she’d stopped.

Keira had pushed the heavy, carved wooden door open, ready to bolt if anyone so much as looked cross-eyed at her. No one did. The shop smelled heavenly. Herbs. Lots of them. They hung in bundles from a raised walkway, ten feet off the ground, which accessed a partial second story. Feeling a bit braver, she let her gaze roam the large room, crowded with shelves. No one paid her the slightest attention, which was amazing since all the other patrons were garbed in cloaks and coats. She glanced at her low-cut top, barely-there micro mini, and high heeled boots and winced. Her top didn’t leave much to the imagination since it was half-soaked through. Because she was cold, her nipples had pebbled into suggestive peaks.

Embarrassed, she’d skittered behind a bank of shelves and worked her way around the outside wall of the shop, appreciating being out of the weather. Her eyes widened at the variety of wares for sale. She lingered over things she couldn’t identify and hustled past things she wanted but could never afford. Along the way, she pulled a tiny bit of magic to help dry her clothes.

Keira recalled hearing the weres talk about Barrett’s shop. It was the only place left which still sold magician’s accoutrements and supplies. Three-quarters of the way through her transit of the shop, a musical baritone voice caught her attention. She stopped and looked for its owner. He stood behind the counter, wrapping a package and counting out change. Because he was occupied, it seemed safe to let her gaze linger on him. What a beautiful man. When he patted a witch’s hand before handing her the packet he’d wrapped, Keira wondered what those hands would feel like on her. The shop suddenly felt much warmer. She bit back a laugh. Sex was plentiful in her life, no reason to moon over a man. Several would be waiting for her back at Were Calls.

She’d just decided to edge a bit closer to the counter, drawn by the Daoine Sidhe’s magnetism, when the bracelet on her arm tightened. Keira ignored it, but it only tightened more. She knew how the game worked. The weres tracked her with electronics. Once she headed for Were Calls, the bracelet would leave her alone—as long as she kept moving. If she stopped for too long once they’d warned her, the next event would be a shock.

Keira scuttled out of Barrett’s store that day, but she hadn’t stayed gone long. Every time she left the bordello, it was where she ended up. She spun fantasies about what it would be like if she were free and could offer to work for Barrett. Just the thought of being close to him for long hours each day made her heart speed up…
Don’t be foolish, she chided herself as she reached the now-familiar door and pushed her way into the magic shop.

He’s Daoine Sidhe. He’d never be interested in a mixed blood like me. She walked to a locked case with crystals and gazed at them. A beautiful rose quartz one she’d lusted over was gone. Damn! She’d been working up her courage to ask if she could hold it in her hand to feel its energy.

Keira never bought anything; she didn’t have the money. She’d felt apologetic her first few visits, but now she’d been there so many times, she felt confident Barrett wasn’t going to throw her out.

"Can I help you find something?"

Keira froze. It was him. She’d know Barrett’s voice anywhere. She heard it in her dreams and sometimes she imagined one of her johns was him. In her imagination, he crooned to her in that wonderful voice and…

He tapped her shoulder. "Miss. May I help you?"

Keira spun to face him. Her face heated and she knew she had spots of color high on both cheeks. "Uh, no. I’m just looking." Responding to something, maybe a small spell, maybe just an invitation in those wonderful ice-blue eyes, she stammered on, "The rose quartz crystal—"

"I sold it. Just yesterday. It was one of my favorites as well. If you’re interested, I should be getting a new shipment soon, but the crystals are all unique. If there’s one you like, just let me know and I can see if it pairs well with your energy."

"I, um, you see, I can’t really afford anything like that. I just like to look."

"It’s okay. I get lots of lookers here." Barrett smiled at her. Gazed into her eyes and smiled right at her. Keira’s heart stuttered. She opened her mouth and closed it again when words wouldn’t come. Unable to help herself, she took a step toward him and stumbled.

He reached a hand and placed it under her elbow to steady her. "Got you."
An electric shock ran up her arm. Her breathing quickened. You don’t know the half of it. You’ve more than got me. Heart thudding, throat dry, she smiled, managed to murmur, "thank you," and scuttled toward the door before she did something stupid like throw herself at his feet and beg him to take her. Here. Now. On the floor in front of everyone.




*

Barrett gazed after the fleeing girl. His cock pressed against the front of his worn breeches, as hard as it ever got. It throbbed hotly, urging him to go after her, run her down, drag her back to his bed, and… He shook his head. What had gotten into him? He was well beyond the age where he let his cock lead him around.

The girl was unbelievably beautiful. Her blonde hair was so long it reached her ass. She had an arresting face with high cheekbones, lush lips, and silver eyes. He’d thought only his own race had eyes that color. They were rare even amongst the Daoine Sidhe. But the ache in his groin went beyond her beauty. There was something about her, a purity of spirit which called to him. When he tried to sense her magic to see just what she was, he’d run up against a wall. Almost as if she were warded. It wasn’t something she was doing on purpose, though. If it were, he’d have seen it in her mind. No, it was more like a magical barrier surrounded her.

He usually didn’t pay any attention to the hordes of customers frequenting his shop. After all, it was the only one of its kind left. He expected it to be full to overflowing with patrons. He’d noticed the girl, though, the very first time she’d snuck in. Wet to the bone, her full breasts, tipped with wonderfully erect nipples, had been fully visible through the

thin fabric of her top. She’d taken to the outer wall and worked her way around the shop that day. Curious about her, he’d spun a mild compulsion spell to reel her in closer. He still didn’t know what happened. She’d been moving toward him when something shifted and she’d scampered out of his shop like the dogs of hell were nipping at her heels.
Sort of like she did today. He chuckled, not caring that a pair of witches eyed him oddly. He’d spoken with the girl a few times, but today’s conversation was by far and away the longest. Though he liked to see himself as immune to women, this one frequented his dreams. He often woke with his hand pumping his shaft as he fantasized about the girl with no name. In his favorite vision, she was astride him, firm breasts pressed against his chest and long, blonde hair tickling his naked flesh.

Determined to at least find out where she lived before her trail grew cold, he glanced about the store. Too many customers to get rid of. He strode to Baen, a witch who’d fought on their side during the war. "Could you watch the register for me? Sorry, but it’s a bit of an emergency. I won’t be gone more than an hour or two."

She raised perfectly formed red brows in her ageless, porcelain-skinned face. "For you. Of course," she purred.

"Thanks." Barrett kicked himself. He’d forgotten Baen had been trying to worm her way into his bed for a couple of years. Then he stopped thinking and sprinted out the door. Barrett threw his magic senses wide open, searching. He blew out a relieved sigh. There she was. Her track would be easy to follow. He’d been afraid the same magic which cloaked what she was would hide her trail as well.
He warded himself so his power wouldn’t tip her off and followed her back to Were Calls. She’s a hooker. From his vantage point behind some stacks of trash, Barrett was incredulous. How did the weres ever get someone that gorgeous to trick for them? And then things fell into place. She had to be indentured. It was why he couldn’t get close enough with magic to sense what she was. The weres must have some sort of microelectronic harness on her. He’d heard about them from the fairies who generated most electronic devices these days.

An indefinable sadness tugged at him. He felt the heaviness in the pit of his stomach. Barrett waited until the door shut. He’d heard a man shouting at the girl from where he was, all the way across the street. It was a struggle not to go pound on the door, tell them he’d buy her bond, and be done with it. Even if she didn’t want him, at least she’d be free…  Barrett took a deep breath and then one more. Get back to the shop, he instructed himself sharply. The last thing I need is emotional entanglements. So he wouldn’t be tempted to change his mind, he pulled magic, visualized his shop, and left in a hurry.

At least the girl wasn’t a mystery anymore. It explained why she’d been so tentative in his shop. He was surprised the weres let their property roam about freely, but then he remembered the Covenant. Even the indentured had some rights. Weres had been the only ones who wanted indentured servants. The others had argued vehemently against them. Especially the fairies. In the end, other magic wielders had capitulated because the weres were ready to walk; they weren’t signing anything which didn’t let them keep their servant pets.
Barrett stood in front of his shop for a few moments composing himself. Now that he knew more, he’d have a better chance of approaching the girl next time she came to his shop. I thought I didn’t need any emotional tangles, an inner voice mocked him. Barrett
ignored it. He nodded to himself. He was certain she’d show up again. Something about his shop drew her. Maybe it was an antidote to the life she led. He pushed open the door and went inside.

"There you are," Baen cooed and placed a hand familiarly on his arm.

"Yes." He forced himself to smile brightly. "Thank you so much. Here." He broke away from her grip. "Let me pay you."

"Not necessary. Maybe I could stay for a bit after you close—" She leered suggestively and licked full, red lips.

Barrett blew out a breath. "I’m flattered, but no. I do not want you in my bed."

Her eyes widened. "I-I’m not sure where you got that idea," she sputtered, color staining her face.

"Because I’m very good at reading body language. And minds. Thanks for watching the shop. Now, if it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon end this conversation."
Her lips drew back into a snarl. Magic spooled so hot it turned the air incandescent. Barrett steeled himself, sure she was going to launch herself at him and go for his eyes. Instead, she spun on her heel and strode toward the door, hips swinging as if to say, see what you missed, buddy.

Barrett blew out a tired breath and settled himself in his customary seat behind the counter. He hoped there wouldn’t be any repercussions from the witches because Baen was angry. From long habit, his gaze scanned the shop, alert for any sign of trouble. Today everyone seemed to be getting along. He shut his eyes. The girl materialized in the darkness, silver eyes aglow.
Tomorrow, he promised himself. Tomorrow, I’ll at least find out her name
 

 
 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Gothic Romance! Magic's Daughter

 
Buy Link Liquid Silver Books
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Magic, danger, and intrigue abound in Magic’s Daughter. Dark forces are at work to destroy Cassie’s world, her death the ultimate goal. Drawn to a man from her past, the battle becomes more than a fight for survival, it becomes a fight for a love she never could have anticipated.
 
Destined to be surrounded by magic yet have none of her own, Cassie walks a thin line between love and danger. Her mother is dying and her boyfriend has turned into something which terrifies her. By the time she wakes up to the danger she’s in, it’s nearly too late.

 Cassie’s friend, Jeremy, warns her about her scumbag boyfriend, but she’s not listening until deeply disturbing events unfold and her life hangs in the balance. With few choices left, she and Jeremy join forces to battle the darkness threatening them. Meanwhile, she warms to her old friend in ways she never could have anticipated. Love was there all along if she’d just opened her eyes and looked.

Excerpt:

Chapter 1
Cassionetta Ceobbinn sat in her old Subaru and rested her forehead against its steering wheel. Her electronic design work had ground to a halt an hour earlier and a headache pounded behind one eye. The garage of the Capitol Hill mansion rose around her, silent as a crypt. Her mother’s Aston Martin sat off to one side, gleaming white in the semi-darkness. Cassie girded herself to open her car door, grab her things, and go inside. “It’s my house, goddammit,” she muttered to boost her courage. “So what if he sent me a text message not to come home.”
The garage lights came on, blinding her. The door leading into the house crashed against the wall. Before the ringing in her ears subsided, her live-in boyfriend stomped to her car. Well, the live-in part was still accurate. The boyfriend part seemed to have evaporated like so much smoke.
“You weren’t supposed to come home tonight,” he growled. “I texted you hours ago. You can just turn that piece of shit you drive around and go stay at your mother’s office.”
Fury boiled up from her guts. She took aim and opened the car door hard into his midsection, hoping she could clip a ball for good measure.
“Oooph. You little bitch.” He jumped back, rubbing his stomach.
You bet I am. High heels slapping the concrete floor, she jumped out of her car and stood eyeball to eyeball with him. “This is my mother’s house, Tyler MacKenzie. I live here. Or have you forgotten?” Cassie yanked her shoulder bag and computer case off the passenger side of the front seat and stormed past him.
He grabbed her arm before she reached the steps leading into the kitchen. “I have people over. It’s the full moon. I’m leading a séance. Your presence would disturb the energy.”
She twirled to face him, breaking his grip. “You mean you have mother’s clients over. Where is she, by the way?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Haven’t seen her.”
Cassie turned away from him. He closed his hand over her arm again, hard enough to make her squeal. “If you don’t let me go,” she snarled through clenched teeth, “I will call the police.
His fingers loosened marginally. “But, sweetie...”
She heard compulsion beneath his words. Cassie didn’t have any magic of her own, but she recognized it in others. When Tyler had wanted her to fall in love with him, he’d used honeyed words all the time. They’d only stopped once she’d let him move in.
“Can it.” She twisted her head so she could lock gazes with him. “Let me go. Now.” His hand fell away. “I want you out of here tomorrow--”
His eyes narrowed. He shoved long, red-gold hair out of his face and sneered at her. “Fat fucking chance of that. We’ve had this conversation one too many times for my liking. I’m here, and I intend to stay. There’s nothing you can do about it. Unless you want to meet with an unfortunate accident.” A nasty laugh bubbled past lips she’d once thought were full and sensual. “Of course something like that could happen anyway. If I were you, sweetie, I’d watch my back.”
Cassie shuddered. She swallowed, but her mouth was dry. Maybe she’d underestimated Tyler. Once they’d stopped getting along, she’d seen him as an inconvenience, not a menace. He’d never sounded quite like this before though. There’d been threats, but they’d been subtle, veiled in double entendre.
She squared her shoulders and turned to face him. It was the kiss of death to let bullies know they were getting to you. “I’m done with your crap.” She infused as much venom as she could into her voice. “I will call the police. You threatened me.”
He snorted. “I’d just deny it. They’ll believe we had a lover’s spat. Women are so emotional.” His blue eyes gleamed with an unnatural light.
She blinked. For a moment, he looked like a demon one of her mother’s psychic friends had raised by accident. Cassie knew enough about demons--interdimensional beings which traveled from world to world wreaking havoc--for the idea of them to scare the shit out of her.
Don’t be ridiculous. Ridiculous, ridiculous echoed in her head. I’m seeing things.
Her heartbeat sounded loud in her ears; her hands fisted at her sides. “You’d better get back to your séance. Wouldn’t want any of those high rollers to get away.” He took a menacing step toward her; his mouth was set in a hard line. She sucked in a breath, ready to defend herself.
Thank Christ he spun on his heel and trotted smartly back into the house. Tyler cut an elegant figure with his richly-embroidered gypsy cape, broad shoulders, and classically handsome Nordic features. Flowing ruby silk pants rode low on his slim hips. No wonder she’d been taken in by him.
Fuming--and scared half to death--she followed him into the house, but turned a hard left before she reached the kitchen and took what had once been the servants’ staircase. It had been stupid to fall for Tyler, one of the dumbest things she’d ever done, but there was no going back. She couldn’t unravel time and choose not to tumble into his arms and his bed. That part was a done deal. If she listened to him, his residency at chéz Eleanora was a done deal as well.
Shit!
Worry for her mother filled her, obliterating her fears for her own safety. Eleanora Ceobbinn was--or had been--a well-known psychic, but she’d apparently made one too many trips to the far side of the veil. She was still alive, but she hadn’t spoken a word in nearly a year and spent the majority of her time rattling around their old house like a ghost.
Eleanora had come from money--and made plenty on her own--so at least that wasn’t a problem, but Cassie’s mother was definitely fading. It was almost as if someone--Tyler?--were feeding off what little energy she had left.
Unable to shake her earlier sense of foreboding, Cassie shivered. If she hadn’t been holding onto her purse and computer bag, she would have wrapped her arms around herself.
Maybe because she was thinking about her mother--and the house had a mind of its own--she wasn’t surprised to find herself beneath a full-sized oil painting of Eleanora. Lush dark hair ended at knee-level and her haunting violet eyes seemed alive. People had told Cassie she looked like her mom, but she’d never thought so. Eleanora was beautiful--and ageless. Cassie had the hair and the eyes and the striking six foot height, but the effect wasn’t nearly the same.
She still had no idea what had gone wrong the day her mother had checked out. She’d come home from work to find Eleanora sprawled face down on the Oriental carpet in the séance room, candles smoking black gouts of greasy flame. If there’d been clients, they were nowhere to be found.
Her mother had regained consciousness, but that had been about all. Cassie had known better than to lug Eleanora around to a bunch of other doctors with their uncomfortable questions and pained silences after the first one had asked, “Your mother does what for a living?”
Cassie dragged her gaze away from the portrait. As a little girl, she’d believed her mother’s painted eyes were the gateway to a magical world. She’d asked Eleanora and her mother had smiled shrewdly. “Stranger things have happened, child,” she’d said. “It’s best not to test this one.”
Cassie pulled a key out of her bag, unlocked her bedroom door, and then used the voice activated electronics she’d designed to spring the second lock. She was almost positive Tyler was stealing from her, but that wasn’t why she kept her door locked. Even the marginally gifted could wreak havoc if they got hold of your things. Her father, Francis Statton Braxbury, a British seer, had taught her that before his visits to Eleanora had petered out.
Cassie locked her door behind her and tossed her things in a chair. Kicking off her high heels, she sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her sore arches. This thing with Tyler was way out of control. He’d shown up right before her mother’s accident. Lost in the first flush of sex with a new man, she hadn’t realized it was a shade too convenient that he just happened to be there to snap up all her mother’s clients.
That had been nearly a year ago. Tyler had dropped any pretense of a relationship with her after the first few months, but he’d been marginally friendly--and even polite--until recently. She shook her head, trying to figure out what had changed. It had actually been useful to have him help watch Eleanora, which was why she hadn’t tried harder to get rid of him.
Most of her non-Eleanora time was devoted to developing an electronic version of the Ouija Board because she hoped she could use it to reach her mother. Usually her circuitry was spot on, but for some reason this project had dragged on for months, dogged by one setback after another. It was like everything she’d learned getting her degree in electrical engineering didn’t work quite right. She was still stuck on the basic circuit board design. Until it worked right, there wasn’t much point in designing software or hunting for a microprocessor.
Speaking of which ... I need to hunt for Mother. Cassie got to her feet and stuffed them into slippers before heading into the hall. She glanced around nervously before locking her door. Tyler had moved into the guest suite at the north end of the ground floor, but the mood he was in, it paid to be vigilant.
“Mrroww.” Hector, Eleanora’s large, black tomcat, landed lightly not ten feet from her, tail pluming as it swished back and forth.
Cassie jumped. “Where’d you come from?” She bent to scratch his head. The cat arched his back in pleasure. “Do you know where Mother is?”
“Mrroww.” Swish, swish.
“I take it that’s a no.” She turned a wall dial. Crystal sconces lining the long hallway brightened. Polished hardwood with Aubusson runners stretched before her. Leaded glass panes lined the hall. Priceless paintings graced the walls at intervals, interspersed with elegant bronze sculptures. Cassie checked her mother’s bedroom. Empty. Eleanora’s wonderful, earthy scent lingered. It made her heart ache. If ever she needed one of her parents, it was now.
I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. I’m twenty-five, for God's sake. Time to fight my own battles.
Not finding Eleanora anywhere on the second floor, Cassie mounted the stairs to the third. She heard faint chanting coming from downstairs and wondered whose dead relative was on the hook tonight. She believed in the spirit world and had always trusted Eleanora to hold the gates. Her faith in Tyler’s ability to do the same was pretty truncated.
Oh my God. Is that how he’s planning to hurt me? By proxy?
Her heart slammed against her chest. It was hard to breathe around the thickening in her throat. Some spirits could do a lot of damage, mostly through suffocation or running people off cliffs...
“Stop it.” She spoke out loud to get a grip on what was starting to feel a lot like out-of-control panic. “Just find Mom. Make sure she’s okay.” It did occur to her that if Eleanora were truly missing, it would give her the perfect excuse to clear out all the New Agers at the séance and call the police.
There were seven bedrooms on the third floor. Eleanora was in the one at the far end of the hall, staring out its large windows into the night. Cassie left the bedroom lights off. Enough illumination filtered in from the hall which was twin to the one on the floor below. “Mother?” She crept forward and laid a hand on Eleanora’s arm. Her mother flinched and shook her off.
Cassie’s eyes flooded. Even though her mother wasn’t really rejecting her, it still hurt. Especially now that she felt so alone and vulnerable.
“Mrroww.”
Cassie looked around. Hector sat in the doorway, ears pricked forward. She hadn’t realized he’d followed her.
Eleanora turned and went to the cat. Maybe his non-human frequency was easier for her to respond to. He twined himself around her legs, purring for all he was worth. She reached down and petted him and then drifted into the hall like a sleepwalker. Cassie thought about trying to talk to her mother again, but gave it up for wasted effort. Either Eleanora couldn’t hear her, or she couldn’t answer. Maybe both.
Her mother was dressed all in black as always; her skirts swirled around her as she walked. Cassie followed her back to the second floor and breathed a sigh of relief when her mother went into her bedroom and shut the door behind her. The snick of the deadbolt was loud in the silence of the hall.
“Mrroww.” Hector’s tail swished faster. He looked annoyed. The cat lifted a paw and left a long scratch in the wood next to Eleanora’s door.
“It’s okay. You can sleep with me.”
Cassie strode the few feet to her own room and unlocked the door. Hector raced inside. Who knew? Maybe the séance made him just as uncomfortable as it made her. The rise and fall of voices from below hadn’t abated. She pulled the door shut and secured it, wishing she’d inherited some sort of magical ability. Almost anything would be helpful. Telepathy to read Tyler’s mind. Clairvoyance to peek into the future. Medium skills to raise spirits to protect herself--or harm him.
She strode across the room and pawed through a bottom drawer, coming up with a dog-eared card. It was one of the last birthday cards her father had given her before he’d declared her too old for such nonsense. She dug a small, flat crystal out of the envelope. Her father had said if she ever needed him to hold the crystal in her hand and think of him. He’d told her to plan ahead because results wouldn’t be immediate, and she might have to do it more than once.
Cassie stared at the clear stone with amber flecks deep inside. She set it down, unzipped her black wool skirt, and let it pool around her feet. Her green cashmere sweater came next. She bundled both up and took them to her closet where she hunted down some hangers. Grabbing purple sweats off the floor, she pulled them on and returned to the table where she’d left the crystal. Her hand hovered over it before she picked the crystal up again.
What about fighting my own battles?
To hell with that. What about being so stubborn I end up dead?
Hector jumped onto the bed and groomed himself. She flopped down next to him and kicked off her slippers. She didn’t want to bother her father in London unnecessarily--cripes, she hadn’t seen him since she was ten--but the escalating tension between Tyler and her was more than a little unnerving. I need help, but it’s not fair to involve anyone else. Cassie blew out a tense breath. Her magical heritage had been quite effective at sealing her off from casual friendships. She’d always been afraid something would slip, and the person would think she was crazy.
Rubbing her temples--the headache was behind both eyes now--once again she considered involving the police. Even if she got them to chase Tyler off, unless she hired a bodyguard, he’d probably worm his way back into the house. And then he would kill her, as retribution for calling in the law if nothing else. Tyler had a pretty sweet deal. One he planned to hang on to. He’d made that patently clear in the garage.
Wonder why it’s taken me so long to figure out how toxic he is?
Feeling like a gullible idiot, and a weak one at that, she let the stone warm in her hand and thought of her father.
Cassie didn’t realize she’d fallen asleep until her standard ringtone--“Ode to Joy”--sounded from the depths of her shoulder bag. Staggering muzzily across the room, she located the phone and punched answer without focusing on the display.
“Cass?”
Her eyes widened. “Jeremy? What time is it?”
“Past midnight. Sorry to wake you, but--”
She picked her way back to the bed, cursing when she stepped on one of the high heels she’d discarded earlier.
“Are you all right?” He sounded worried.
“Uh, yeah. Just stepped on something sharp. Give me a second to get back under the covers. It’s cold in here.” She pulled the duvet up to her chin. “Okay, all set. What’s up?”
“I just got this feeling...” His voice trailed off again.
Cassie sat up straighter in bed, not feeling sleepy at all anymore. Something in her friend’s voice was ... unsettling. Jeremy was almost her only friend; she’d known him forever. Psychic like her mother, he definitely marched to his own drummer. “Whatever it is, just spit it out. Sometimes it’s easier that way.”
A sigh rattled through the cellular network. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt something and thought you were in danger.”
Cassie sucked in a breath. For the briefest of moments she considered telling him everything but then reined herself in. No point in getting Jeremy riled up about Tyler’s threats. This wasn’t really his problem. Besides, she was embarrassed about fessing up to her own stupidity. Yeah, I was so desperate for a guy to want me, I didn’t read the fine print.
“Cass? You’re pretty silent over there. It is not making me feel any better.”
“Huh? Oh,” she forced out a light laugh. “Tyler held a séance earlier, but I’m sure they’ve mostly left by now. I could go look--”
“No!” The single word thundered in her ear.
“Okay, okay. You don’t have to shout at me.”
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to.” He cleared his throat. “I probably shouldn’t have bothered you. Promise me you’ll stay in your room until daylight.”
“Sure.” Confusion and an uneasy sensation made her feel ill.
“Call me tomorrow.”
The sick feeling did not get any better. Jeremy had never felt the need to check on her before. “I’m spending all day working on e-Ouija.”
“Okay, I’ll call you. Sleep well, Cassie. Sorry to wake you.”
“Jeremy?”
He wasn’t there. She clicked end call and shut off her phone. To her surprise, she could barely keep her eyes open. Then she realized he’d probably cast a spell to make sure she stayed in her room. Damn it. Last thing I need in my life is two meddling men using magic to control me.

 

 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tuesday Temptations: A Paranormal Romance Short Story

A Matter of Honor
Running for her life, a frantic witch finds the man of her dreams. But can she trust him not to betray her?
Buy Link at Musa Publishing

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Hacked at with knives and tossed in the Danube, Melis Andresen's tormentors are certain she's dead. But for quick thinking, witchcraft and her training as a healer, she would have been. She's asleep in a bedraggled heap next to a small fire when a man walks out of the surrounding woods. Though she doesn't know it at the time, her life is about to change forever.

 
Excerpt:
Witches and cats have nine lives.

The river caught Melis Andresen and spun her around, pulling her under. Plumes of red eddied next to her, dark against the murky water, then vanished into the river’s current. A distant part of her mind clamored, that’s my blood. Strike out for shore. Do it now while there’s still some left. The same thought repeated in her brain, do it now...do it now, but she couldn’t force her arms or legs into motion.

It’s already too late, an insidious inner voice whispered.

“No,” she rasped, shocked by how weak her voice was. “Damn it. It’s not too late. I have things to do yet.” Pulling her body through the water was excruciating. Melis gritted her teeth so hard they ached. Muscles took over where her mind stopped.Her legs kicked against the weight of the water pulling against her. Somehow,she got into a ragged rhythm, but even that required constant attention. Heavy clothing dragged her down. The river’s current was strong—almost stronger than she could handle in her present physical state.

A snag rose out of the turbulent water just out of reach—part of a huge logjam. If she could just catch hold of it, she might be able to work her way to shore using the logs for purchase. A shudder ripped through her, making her teeth rattle uncontrollably. Now she’d begun moving…the cold enveloped her. She hadn’t noticed how close to river temperature her body had fallen until she started fighting so desperately for her life. Ironically, the cold water was likely the only reason she was still alive. It slowed the rate she was bleeding from her wounds.

Pay attention to now. It’s my only chance.

Melis forced her eyes to focus. She was closing on the snag fast. She’d have to work hard or she’d miss it by a good five feet. Gasping, panting, and moaning, Melis drove her limbs to move faster. She shook her head to avoid inhaling any more of the polluted water.

An ungodly shriek rose from deep inside her, trumping the rush of the water. She flung herself toward the snag and closed her fingers over it. She hadn’t counted on how slippery the bark would be and nearly lost her grip. Sheer will saved her—and a foot she jammed into something underwater. Pain ratcheted up her leg. Don’t think about it.

Clinging to water-slick logs with both hands, Melis wanted to howl her victory to the skies, but the logjam began breaking apart. She had to hurry or she’d be right back where she started—a foundling in the current. She wouldn’t have the strength for a second round if she lost this one. Pulling herself onto the rolling logs, she eyed deep gouges on her arms and winced.