Monday, September 17, 2012


(We interrupt this program to show off a lil' bit. Blue Ghosts comes out in October 2012. Here's a sample for your reading pleasure)

           Dinner with an Elf. You don’t do that every day. Casey Winter straightened the skirt on her very best dress, which was about six hundred dollars too cheap for her surroundings, and tried not to worry about what her dinner date would wear. Corpus Christi, Texas, wasn’t exactly a cultural hub, but it did have several nice restaurants. Marco Creed, the elf in question, had invited her to the nicest.
           The Republic of Texas. By God, was it ritzy. Dark wood and burgundy trim glowed under expensive lighting. Cut crystal glasses full of aged scotch sat at elbows. Lush greenery curled around brass fixtures. Wait staff moved with the collective grace of cranes, and with the sharp eyes of hawks spying rodents in the grass. Empty glasses were filled, plates were whisked away the moment knife and fork hit four o’clock. Complicated telepathy kept questions to a minimum. Here’s a salad, a soda, the entrée, your scotch. Plate clink, silverware song, mummer of voices under soft, slow jazz. Casey felt six inches tall when she asked the hostess about Marco’s table. It wasn’t ready yet, they said, and handed her an expensive glass of champagne.
           Good God in heaven, girl. What am I getting into? She wondered. A whole bottle of this stuff probably equaled her next royalty check. No way Marco made this kind of money on a mechanic’s salary. Oh, I’m sorry. He’s a car modifier. He’s still not pulling this kind of cash. Unless he actually did. When your dinner date is immortal, nothing is guaranteed.
           She wasn’t waiting long. A throat cleared behind her, and when she turned her nerves—well, around this man, they definitely didn’t settle.
           Elves are handsome. Marco Creed was also hot. Every time she met his eyes she thought about Chippendale dancers and underwear models and the large number of games you can play with ice cubes. Peach skin, eyes in almost luminescent blue, long gold hair in a braid he pulled off about as well as a lion in a circus tutu. And—this made her feel so much better—his well muscled chest was hidden by a suit about fifty bucks cheaper than her dress.
           He took her hand and ran his thumb across her knuckles. Shivers raced up her spine. “Ms. Winter.” He kissed the back of her wrist, then turned the charm on the amused hostess. “Table for Creed.”
           “Right this way.” The Republic of Texas sat on top of the Omni Hotel, and the hostess carried two menus towards a small table near a window. It had a breathtaking view of the moonlit ocean. Small boats and buoys floated through silver currents. The American Bank towers rose to the right, sides hit by spotlights. Falcons nested on the window ledges, spreading wing to spiral down to the pavement below. Light Wednesday evening traffic motored through the streets. Marco pulled her chair out for her, then sat in his own chair with effortless grace and dignity.
           Which he promptly blew by scraping his chair up that extra half inch. Nobody looks dignified doing the scoot-and-jump boogie.
           A waiter arrived with a bottle of champagne, the same brand as her first glass of bubbly, and he poured it with the majesty of a ritualistic magician. Marco thanked him, and checked the label as soon as his back was turned. Air was sucked through clenched teeth. “Pricy?” Casey whispered.
           “Yep.” He jammed it back into the ice. “Thank God, I’m not paying the tab.”
           “You’re not?” Casey was perpetually broke and currently unemployed. So was she relieved Marco wasn’t blowing hard earned cash on her, or disappointed?
           “I intended to,” he said, quickly. “But I told Razeil about our plans, and she had the manager bill her. A reward, she said.” He rolled his eyes.
           “You don’t think so?” Casey picked up the menu. Oh, my god, orange glazed quail. Sounded like one hell of a reward to her.
           “Raziel’s gifts come with strings—no—steel cables with thousand-volt generators attached. She’s up to something, and it bothers me that she’s involved you.” He brushed stray hair out of his eyes, drawing her attention to something that should have been there, and wasn’t.
           “Your ears,” She said. They’d been pointed three days ago. Now they were human blunt. 
           “I’m splurging.” A shy kind of sheepishness spread across his features. “Magically, I mean. It takes relatively little power for me and Raziel to hide ourselves—especially for me, where there isn’t much to hide—but the others…not so much. I wind up donating most of my personal magic so they can have a normal life…or something like it.”
           “And it takes so much, you can’t hide your ears all the time?” She asked. The waiter returned, and Casey ordered the quail. Marco ordered steak and lobster, and waited for the waiter to retreat before he answered.
           “Baseball caps work just as well. I’d rather not waste the power. I’ve got a lot, mind, but I’m not Sidhe, or even Elestrin. The well, in my case, ain’t bottomless. And magic on Earth is limited. Back in Ambercross, we could draw power from the trees, from the sky, from the Earth herself.” He looked at the vase in the center of their table and touched a daisy. “Everything was so…alive.” Roots curled out of the flower stem, and sudden pea green shoots curled around Marco’s fingers. Three more daisies flowered while she watched. “Alive on a level that you can’t even imagine. It sang to us, colored our every waking moment. But here…” he took his hand away. The daisies tried to cling to him at first. Then they withered, petals falling, leaves turning brown and disintegrating onto the table cloth.
           “Our world is dead?” She asked, horrified.
           He shook his head. “Sleeping. And like a dragon with a sore tooth, it’s a good thing it sleeps. The undercurrents I can touch are…angry.
           “But its slumber affects us. The sources a Merrow would use to shape shift, for example, are closed to her, and they have no personal reserves of power. Raziel and I, however, we’ve got big resources. Finite, but profound. That’s why we’re the leaders. Piss one of us off…” he pointed at the withered daisy. “No magic for you.”
           Seinfeld fan. She thought. Aloud, she said, “I thought it was because you could hurt them if you had to. Elves and Elestrin are big time scary when they want to be.”
           “Well, yeah. But it’s more effective to lead with a carrot than a stick.” Their salads arrived, and Marco smiled politely until the waiter retreated again. He picked up the pepper and shook it over the lobster. “Okay, your turn.”
           “Tell me something about yourself that I don’t know.”
           She tried to wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off her face. “Um…what is there to know? Between Facebook, Twitter, and that blog my agent makes me update once a blue moon, my life is an open book.”
           “In Ambercross you would be tortured to death for that pun. We’d shove wooden splinters under your fingernails until you relented.”
           “That’s kind of the point.” She grinned and took a bite of salad.
           Casey had been marginally successful writing about elves and magic and a world named Ambercross…and had been flabbergasted three days ago to learn that it was, more or less, a real place. Neighbor-world to Earth. The kind that borrows your lawnmower and never returns it. She had some bizarre, unconscious connection to it, something even Marco couldn’t explain. He didn’t understand it any better than she did. But he claimed that, more often than not, when she wrote about Ambercross she was describing something real.
           Earth had Faerie population, too. Exiles from Ambercross, they’d latched onto her books as if they were a direct line to home…which, she supposed, they were. Most of the Exiles were immortals born in Ambercross, but even the Earthborn liked to read tales of their grandparents’ world. As for the Faerie-born…they missed their home world passionately. They clung to Casey’s literary straw, hoping against hope it would turn into gold.
           And that was a lot of heavy to put on her shoulders.
           It could have gone straight to her head—hey, she was a magical newscaster!—but it hadn’t. Mostly because her only benefit so far had been books that barely sold and getting shot at when a Faerie twisted off. Marco had saved her life that time, first by taking a bullet for her, and then by tangling with a fully shifted Merrow whose great goal in life was murder. Not bad for somebody who should work for Calvin Klein.
           She owed him something for it, but, well…“You know every part of me, Marco. There’s nothing to share.”
           “Not every part.” He waggled his eyebrows seductively and she underhanded an ice-cube at his lap. He deflected it with one smooth hand. Then the watts in his smile dipped. “What about your marriage?”
           He might as well dump ice water over her head. She shrugged, super casual. “I was married, he was an ass, he broke my leg and I divorced him.”
           “If he was an ass, why’d you marry him?”
           She flicked hair out of her eyes and took the last bite of her salad. The waiter whisked her plate away. Damn it, he was watching her too expectantly. He could probably out-wait her, too. She sighed. “You’ve told me world-shattering secrets about yourself. I suppose it’s only fair.” Her entrée arrived and she picked half-heartedly at the quail. Marco poured them both champagne, and Casey downed her entire glass before she spoke again. “He wasn’t an ass when I met him. He wasn’t even abusive. Jack was…God. Jack was great.”
           Noises rose around them. Someone laughed, high and long, as the jazz gave over to a live pianist. Whoever it was had skill, she thought. It was one of those heartrending melodies guaranteed to put tears in your beer.
           “He was the artist for my book covers,” she said, at last. “And he flew down to Houston for a convention. We met at this Irish bar. The Mucky Duck.” She laughed a little bit. “He had long hair and he tied it back with a zip tie. There was red paint on every single part of his body. And he--” she stopped, her eyes distant and dreamy. The memory had barely faded. Smell of old cigarette smoke. Warm wood bar and tables and stools, neon beer signs advertising Harp and Guinness. A slender young man with sharp blue eyes and long black hair smiling over the lip of his beer. Within twenty four hours his warm lips would be exploring more than personal history. “He was perfect.”
           “Love at first sight?”
           She shrugged. “Lust, I think. The love came later, when he…” She dropped her head because her eyes were stinging. “Our second date, we go out dancing. After about an hour he spots this little girl in a corner, crying her eyes out. She’s sixteen, she had Downs Syndrome, she was crying her eyes out, her mom was trying to comfort her. I would have kept going and let them do whatever. But Jack…he went right over and asked what was wrong.
           “He asked her, you understand. Not her mother. He asked the little girl.
           “Turned out, the most popular boy in school had asked the girl out as a joke. She’d had her hopes raised and then shattered because he and his sick buddies thought it’d be funny. And you know what Jack did? He took that little girl out on the dance floor and danced with her. He’s bumping around on the dance floor, I don’t know what the hell he’s doing, the girl’s doing something completely different…Marco, her smile lit up the whole world. All her mom could say was thank you. ‘Thank you both.’” Casey sniffed. “That’s when I saw that he was beautiful.”
           “And then he hit you,” Marco said, dryly.
           Sharp intake of breath, like a punch to the gut. She closed her eyes and nodded. “He got sick. Brain cancer. Then he had a stroke, and when he recovered…” she trailed off. At some point she’d begun rubbing her right knee. The deep, ridged scars from her last surgery could be felt through her panty-hose. She put both hands on the table. “He didn’t know who I was. Who he was. Anything. I thought if I were good enough, if I did enough, if I worked hard enough, I could fix him. I could bring my Jack back.”
            “And what happened?” Marco asked.
           “I burned dinner, and he beat me with a rolling pin. Three times in the face,” hand on right cheek, where six surgical pins held the bone together, “then the shoulder,” right collarbone snapped in two, “chest,” two broken ribs that still ached in cold weather, “and then my right knee.” Her right little finger began tapping her water glass over. And over. And over. “They said the bone looked like marbles in a sack. When I woke up all the way, I asked to be moved so this new version of Jack couldn’t find me. If I had stayed another day, I think he would have killed me.”
           Marco was quiet while he tried his steak and she ate a bite of quail. It had a strong citrus flavor, and was dreamily tender.
           “So that’s why you were working at a convenience store?” he asked.
           She nodded. “Yeah. The medical bills are pretty big. Reconstructive surgery. Physical Therapy.”
           “Wouldn’t Jack have to pay for part of it, at least?” He sounded outraged.
           Casey shrugged, feeling like a microbe on a telescope. “Texas is a no-fault divorce state. It was easier not to fight. I just wanted him out of my life.” She paused, and then a little of the old vitriol came out. “It was nasty. I don’t get alimony, I couldn’t keep any of his paintings. In one year he went from being the best human being I ever knew, to being this…vindictive, dangerous child.”
           “And he broke you.” Marco said.
           “He did.” She looked away and took another bite of quail. Outside the window, the hawks were settling in for the night. She shivered.
           Marco’s beeper went off.
           “Jesus. Who even has those anymore?” she said.
           Marco sighed, extruding long-suffering from every pore. “Raziel got one in the nineties and fell in love with it. I’d buy her a cell phone, but she’d use it for target practice.” He studied the number, then pulled his phone out of his pocket. “I’m sorry—”       
           “—but you have to take it. I understand.” And she did. Something told her a relationship with Marco Creed would be a little bit like dating a cop. Nice to know her instincts worked at least some of the time.
           After two rings, Marco flinched. He didn’t identify himself either, just listened for several minutes. “Wait,” he said, “Wait a second. She’s not—” more time passed as words flew across land lines and the atmosphere. Then finally, he sighed. “Alright. I’m making no promises. And if you hurt her—fine. Fine.” He hung up. Storm clouds brooded in his eyes. Storm clouds, and a bone-deep fear that put shivers up Casey’s spine. He sighed, then stood and put his napkin on the table.
            “Raziel wants to meet you.”

           “Trust me, Casey. This is not a good thing.” Marco turned his truck down Rod Field Road. The stereotype said Marco should have driven a pretty silver environmentally friendly Prius; this truck could have eaten five of them. The inside was pure white, not one scratch on the vinyl, not one smear on the dashboard. The outside was fire-engine red with metal flake and emblems from his home world airbrushed on the hood. He also liked heavy metal and the Black Eyed-Peas. She had yet to forgive him for the latter. He clicked his blinkers on and pulled into an apartment complex. Casey frowned.
           “She lives here?”
           “But…this is all student housing.” The apartment blocks were stark white and framed with palm trees and hibiscus, as if to argue that this was not some form of industrialized storage system disguised as living quarters. It didn’t really work.
           “It’s government supplied housing.” Marco paused a long time, then sighed. “She doesn’t work for a living.”
           “So she lives off the government?” Casey said, a definite edge to her voice. Though maybe she should reconsider. Being magical could be damn near crippling in this day and age, right? Elestrin were technically humanoid, the way unicorns were tangentially related to horses. Maybe government assistance was the best she could do.
           But Marco kept talking. “We pay her dues, and she keeps us out of trouble. Bails us out, keeps a separate apartment in case one of us needs to lay low for a few days. She’s not a bad person.” Marco said. It sounded more like he was convincing himself than Casey as he pulled into the main parking lot.
           Nighttime shrouded the buildings, turning soft yellow stucco to shallow off-blue. Cars occupied most of the spaces, including one incredibly shiny Jag with a Spectraflare paint job. It threw rainbows even in the moonlight. A lawn chair and board blocked off the space beside it. Marco stopped the car, got out, shoved the board and chair up onto the lawn, and then parked.
           “Raziel blocks this space off.”
           “Oh, so she’s one of those. Entitled to a parking space, so she takes one even though she doesn’t have a car.”
           “No. She has a car. Specifically, that one.” He pointed at the shiny monster parked beside them.
           No job, she lived off her charges, and she owned a Jag. Casey’s opinion of this woman was sinking fast. “You give her money for gas and insurance, too?” She said, climbing out of the car. “Or does she panhandle in her spare time?”
           “She does a lot of good things for us, Case. Exiles need a leader, and Raziel is better than most.”
           “Right. You know, David Koresh was awful nice to his cash cows, too.” They started up the stairs. “Is anyone else going to be here?”
           “Tim, maybe. Ero. Maybe everyone. I don’t know. The last time we introduced a human to our society she dragged people from Victoria down. She’s not predictable.”
           “And yet you’re expecting trouble,” Casey sighed.
           “Some things are more predictable than others.” He knocked on Raziel’s front door.

           The woman that answered the door was gray. Not the genteel tones of an old lady, but the deep steel of hurricane clouds. Her hair and skin were the same color, her eyes a slightly deeper oil smoke. She was tall like a lightning strike, narrow waist, almost flat-chested, and every seam of her perfect blue suit had been mathematically calculated to remind you that this was a razor blade masquerading as a person.
           “Marciaus.” The gray eyes tracked to her. “Winter. Karoline with a K. Come in.” She turned and walked back.
           Danger, Will Robinson. Casey thought. Danger. Danger. She walked into the house.
           You can tell a lot about a person by their house, and Razielara the Elestrin warrior-maiden had a front room straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. Gardenias in vases, sofa cushions in alternating shades of shale. Cutesy scrapbook dioramas. It felt like icing on a plastic cake, so Casey was relieved when Raziel lead her guests through the window dressing without pause. But the ruffles and gumdrops in cut crystal bowls left her very unprepared for the room they entered next.
           No frou-frou. No flowers. Almost no furniture at all. The heavy desk in one corner was almost a medieval throne. Its surface was mathematically neat, papers here, pens here, lamp emphatically there. And the centerpiece was a knife in a stand, the blade bare, razor sharp, and turned so that if you stumbled against her desk, you’d lose your hand. A starburst of swords, arrows and axes hung on the wall behind her chair, each blade rippling with skill and definitely sharp enough to kill. In one corner a full suit of armor, complete with a fox-shaped helm, stood guard over a display of six-shooters, each with their ammo lined beneath the barrel in a neat row. The bullets were polished, too.
           This was not an office. This was an armory run by a psychotic.
           Raziel sat behind the desk. There were no chairs for Casey or Marco. Her bad knee was aching already.
           “You have caused me a lot of trouble, Mrs. Winter,” Raziel said.
           “Ms. Please. I’m no longer married.”
           The tiny bit of good humor in those cold, gray eyes died. “You have killed a person who was under my protection.”
           Casey felt equally as cold. “I defended myself and Marco from a crazy woman and her boyfriend.”
           “You destroyed a creature of Faerie. This is not something that can pass without consequence.”
           Great. Casey was on the defensive in a room made of knives. Not the best place to be. “We didn’t have another option, ma’am. If you had been here—”
           “She would have gone quietly, and I would have another trophy. So not only did you destroy one of my people, you denied me the pleasure of a hunt.” Her smile was very dark.
           “What else should I have done?” Casey asked.
           Raziel laughed, beautifully, and nails on a chalkboard would be more calming. “You have made one disastrous assumption, Mrs. Winter, in coming here. You assumed that I care for the humans in this city. I don’t. You assumed that I would have protected you because you deserved it, or because you are famous, or because you can provide my people with a hope for return to Ambercross. I would not. What matters to me is that you have done something that cannot be undone. By our laws your life could be forfeit, and if I thought for a moment you could give me fair sport I would take it. A legal kill does not often come my way.”
           “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Casey said. Marco gave her a warning look.
           “But,” continued the gray woman, “You preserved the life of Marcaius as well as your own. And you are one that our people would listen to. And you have an extraordinary knowledge about us, thanks to your Gifting. You’ve potential to be a useful tool, and I don’t discard my tools without purpose.”
           “Raziel,” Marco interrupted, “No one holds to the old laws these days.”
           “The McHally family does. Lyrene was the daughter of their patriarch. They have already petitioned for your life, Marcaius. I have denied them the privilege as attacking your leader for sport is not a just kill. For now, they do not know about Mrs. Winter’s involvement, so they cannot petition her life. If this were to change, I would not give either her or you more than a few days. They would not go through me. By our laws, they do not have to.”
           “You’re threatening me,” Casey said. And doing a damn good job of it. “What do you want?”
           Another cold, knife-edge smile. “I need a problem-solver who will keep my secrets without worrying about her own. Preferably, because she has none, save the ones I give her.” She looked down for a moment, then back up. “Marcaius has told you about our problem child, yes? The missing Phooka, Prix.”
           “Yes.” Casey nodded.
           “You are to find her and bring her to me.”
           Marco exploded. “Wait a minute. She’s human, Raziel. She can’t stand up to--”
                        Raziel waved a hand. That was all, just one motion. But Marco went silent as if he were choked. He turned an alarming shade of red while Raziel watched, amused. When he stopped fighting, she looked back at Casey. “A human, indeed, but with magical gifts.”
           “I don’t know how to use them.” Casey said.
           “And even if you could, Portal power is no kind of a defense.” Raziel nodded. “But tools prove their usefulness outside of their intended purpose. Consider it a test of your abilities. I expect you will have Marco’s help, which means you will have the aid of those loyal to him. You will have five days to find Prix and bring her back to me.”
           “I don’t even know where to start.” She said. “And why five days? Why such a big hurry?”
           Raziel folded her hands on her blotter. It did not seem very surprising that she was the type who had a blotter. She probably used it to catch the blood of her victims. “Four people have been injured on the Lexington. Two tourists, two workers. All injured either at night or during a black out, with no sign of how they were injured or why. One of our people visited the site, and claimed to have found the scent of magic and fear. The Phooka seems an obvious conclusion.”
           Not to Casey, it didn’t, but she decided not to argue the point. “You’re not worried because people are getting hurt. What’s the real problem?”
           The look in Raziel’s eyes could have blistered nail polish. “People think the Lex is haunted. A reality show wants to investigate. They’ll be here on Friday. There will be cameras, tape recorders and many people to witness Prix’s violence. Publicity of our kind must be avoided. If Prix, or any Faerie, were to appear on camera, the lives of all witnesses become lawful prey. Something you and Marcaius would want to avoid, yes?”
           “I’d think that’d be your idea of the perfect day,” Casey said. Marco actually hit her.
           Raziel smiled, looking more and more like a great white shark. “She’s spunky, Marcius. From what passed in the tabloids I expected a little mouse, and instead I get a spitfire. A hunt would be very interesting, Ms. Winter, very interesting indeed with you at its end. You and whomever Marcaius can pry out of hiding will pose as a second group of investigators. And you, you alone, will bring Prix in…or kill her. Succeed, we’ll call the books even and your future assistance will result in reward. Fail…” the gray woman smiled. “Well, you will probably be dead, so it won’t matter.”
           “And if I refuse to help at all?” Casey asked.
           “I will tell the MacHallys that you killed their daughter, and you will die.”
           Casey closed her eyes. Three days ago she had been shot at by a crazy mermaid, and the responding officer had been a hard-assed no nonsense bad boy. He’d retreated from Raziel’s business card like it were made of snakes and not card stock. Casey now found this a testament to the man’s nerves. Raziel favored mahogany lipstick and brown-gold eye shadow. She looked like a storm cloud inches from a tornado. “We have a ghost problem, Mrs. Winter. Who you gonna call?”
            “Somebody with better taste in movies.” She took the papers out of Raziel’s hands. “I’m in.”
(And if you liked that, check out my other books on Smashwords)


  1. Cool, looking forward to it. Do you have a cover for this one, or are you still working on it?

  2. I've been saving the covers for last, mostly because I don't "get" the stories until this point in the editing, or thereabouts.

    Also, I'm trying to come up with an idea that isn't "mermaid in front of the Lex." Because i really don't want to paint a battleship...