Archive for March, 2011

Writer Behaving Badly

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last day or two, you missed this example of how to never, EVER react to a review.  It has also ignited an internet storm — not to mention how it set Twitter afire yesterday.

The review itself, while negative, certainly isn’t the most brutal I’ve ever seen.  At least you can tell Big Al actually read the book.  And, to be honest, the review hits a lot of my sore points when I’m reading.  I hate to be involved with the story only to be thrown out by grammar, structure or formatting issues.  So, yes, these are valid points to be critiqued in a review.

But it’s the comments that are absolutely boggling — especially those by the author.  If there is now a poster child for what not to say in response to a crit, it’s this author.  From blaming the reviewer for not downloading a new copy when she told him to — and, sorry, that’s not the reviewer’s job.  If there is a better copy of the e-book, it’s up to the author to send it — to refusing to see grammar errors and professing that she is a good writer and we’d all know if it we followed her link and listened to her READ her work, to blaming it on the fact that she is British and the reviewer isn’t, to just telling everyone to f**k off, this author has gone off the deep end.

Now, I’ll admit, I have posted one response to a review on Amazon asking for clarification from the reviewer.  But that’s it.  Never would I even consider behaving as this author did.  This is like the author a couple of years ago who went on a profanity laced tirade against one of his editors on his LJ page.  Yes, he pulled it down within a couple of hours, but it is still out there to be found.  It was so over-the-top that it was mirrored on other people’s blogs, discussed and dissected.  It’s going to be the same with this.

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Sorry for the lack of posts this week.  I’ve been ambushed by a novel that demands it be written.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had one be this insistent, so I’m doing my best to obey.  Yes, obey.  There are times when you just don’t mess with the muse.  She’s a fickle mistress and can make your life hell if you don’t do as she wants.  😉

Any way, I have a new post up at Mad Genius Club this morning.  Go check it out.

I’ll be back later today or tomorrow with a real post.  I promise — muse allowing, of course!

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First off, I want to thank everyone who’s already bought Nocturnal Origins and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I’d appreciate it if you’d consider posting reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This next bit is where I need your help.  Promotion is not my strong suit and it is something every author has to do.  Part of what someone suggested  — yes, Sarah, you know I’m talking about you — is for me to do a blog tour.  So, here’s the big question and favor.  If you know of a blog, or blogs, that might be good ones for me to approach about doing a guest blog, leave a comment here or on facebook.  If you have a blog you’d consider letting me do a guest post on, let me know.  I promise I’m housebroken and I won’t leave too big of a mess behind when I leave.


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Like most writers, I’ve tried more than my fair share of programs supposedly designed to help make writing easier.  For the most part, they’ve either been much too glitchy or too difficult or just not what I’ve been looking for.  So I’ve always defaulted back to either Word, much as I dislike most things Microsoft, or Open Office.  Then I saw this.

I’ve read blogs extolling the greatness that is Scrivener.  I’ve talked to authors who swear by it.  The only problem has been that it’s a Mac program and, much as I like Macs, I haven’t been able to justify the price differential for writing.  So, after seeing that there was a beta version of Scrivener for the PC, and for linux users as well, I thought I’d check it out.

First off, you have to understand, I’m not usually one to risk a beta program.  But, well, I was intrigued and, after a couple of days using the program, I’m pretty much sold on it.  For one thing, you can pick and choose what parts of it you want to use.  You don’t have to fill in all those obnoxious boxes and files and charts some of the programs require before you can start the actual process of writing.  I like that.

For another, and this one is going to sound strange, I like the cork board function.  Before I switched desks — this one has the built on bookcase which is nice for holding my reference books — I had a cork board and a dry erase board over the desk.  This was where I’d put my notes, etc.  Scrivener has a function that is very similar to what I did.  So there is that feeling of familiarity I’ve missed.

Whether I stick with it after the program goes out of beta remains to be seen.  But, for the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic.

And, just for the record, I haven’t received any form of compensation for this.

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The Wearing of Hats

Like everyone, I wear a number of different hats in my life.  I’m mother and daughter.  I’m writer and editor.  I’m handyman and janitor, jack-of-all-trades, teacher and enabler  I am, despite sometimes doubting it, human.

Unfortunately, all those hats have been demanding more than their fair share of attention of late.  As a result, my writing has taken a backseat.  It is so easy to postpone it, telling myself I’ll get to it later in the day.  Then later comes and I’m exhausted from all the battles of the day — which has included an ongoing battle with my internet/phone/tv provider for the last three months — so I tell myself I’ll write tomorrow.

Well, the procrastination has come to an end.  For the first time in a long while, I want to write.  More than that, the NEED to write has returned.  I’d forgotten what a demanding mistress that need can be.  She’s also very loud and bossy.  But she’s back and I think I’m glad.  😉

Now the only question is which of the current projects to complete.  Do I finish the lighter urban fantasy or the historical fantasy, the space opera — which I haven’t snippeted here — or the sequel to Nocturnal Origins?  Or do I start something completely different.  Hmm….that’s the question.  Hopefully, while doing the latest round with the internet folks this morning, the answers will come to me.


St. Petersburg, Russia
January 1913

Winter settled on the city, blanketing it with a fresh coat of snow.  Several blocks away, ice covered the Neva River, a reminder Spring was still several months away.  Clouds hung heavily in the sky.  Only the pale light from an occasional street lamp broke the darkness that mimicked an early dusk.  Snowflakes, larger than any he’d seen in a long while, danced in the wind and mocked him as he moved as quickly as he dared in the direction of Rastelli Square.

Why had he insisted the cab drop him so far from his destination?  Surely the need for discretion didn’t require him to chance freezing to death.  Of course it did.  A little discomfort was small enough price to pay to avoid discovery.  He’d learned that lesson well over the years.

A gust of bitterly cold wind blowing in from the Gulf of Finland cut through him, chilling him to the bone.  His step faltered as his boot heel landed on a patch of ice.  His foot slid.  His arms flailed as he struggled to keep on his feet.  He would not fall.  He wouldn’t.

No doubt about it.  Winter here had to be the earthly representation of the Third Circle of Hell.  Only Russian snow was white, not the black Dante wrote of.

Damn Peter the First!  He’d wanted the Russian capital to be a showpiece; something to prove to the Europeans that Russia was a country to be reckoned with not only militarily, but artistically as well.  That was all well and good, but Peter had not considered the problems with moving this far north.  Nor had he thought about how those coming after him would pay for his ambition.

Instead, he’d instructed his ministers to find the best engineers to design a new capital on the Gulf of Finland.  That would give him the natural port he desired.  More importantly, the new capital would be closer to Europe, better for trade and, if one was to be honest, rapid troop movement.

Of course, engineering prowess hadn’t been enough.  Not to build an entire city on marshlands.  So many of those possessed of the old magic had been pressed into service.  They had reshaped the land and the weather so construction of Peter’s showplace could proceed.

None of that mattered when all Grigori Yefimovich cared about was reaching his destination without catching his death of cold.

If only Peter I had left the capital in Moscow.  St. Petersburg was too far north and too cold in the winter, especially now that the royal mages seemed unable to control the weather as they once had.  Something had happened since the days of Peter the Great – and even Catherine after him.  The old magics had deserted the royals. But this was neither the time nor the place for contemplations about things he could not control.

He hunched deeper into his heavy coat and reminded himself that, cold as it was, this was nothing compared to all those winters he’d survived in Siberia as he grew into manhood   Not that the memory warmed him any.

Today, however, the weather acted as his ally.  The threat of being caught in one of Russia’s infamous blizzards kept the faint of heart safely inside, all but insuring he’d arrive at Smolny Cathedral without curious eyes seeing.  He might look like someone from ordinary peasant stock  — which he happened to be – and, therefore, no one of any importance.  But, as the last few years had proven, sometimes unpleasantly, he was no ordinary peasant, no ordinary man.  Because of that, even the most lowly of St. Petersburg’s citizens knew his face and would mark his passage.  At least now he had a chance of moving through the streets unseen.

He quickened his pace and soon turned down the stone path leading to Smolny Cathedral.  A slight smile touched his lips as his gloved hands worked the ornate iron gate’s locking mechanism with an ease that betrayed the number of times he’d done so before.  Neither Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, who had envisioned the cathedral as monastery for nuns, nor Catherine the Great, who had halted construction on the cathedral because she disliked the design, could have imagined his use for Smolny.  Not that they would object.  Both of those great women knew the importance of protecting Mother Russia and her rulers, no matter what the cost.

His booted feet moved surely yet carefully along the path, avoiding the occasional ice patch, until he stood before an unadorned door near the rear of the cathedral.  A quick look over his shoulder confirmed what he already knew.  No one who might be passing could see him from the street.

He didn’t pause to knock or announce his presence.  He didn’t need to, not when he came in service of the Tsar or, more precisely, the Tsarina.  Besides, it would be so much better if he could accomplish his task without any of the priests inside realizing he’d been there.

He closed the door behind him and almost moaned in relief to no longer be buffeted by the wind.  Cold as the corridor was, it was still much warmer than outside.  He could take comfort in that and not much else.

The cathedral might be a showplace with its ornate stylings, high ceilings and polished Revel stone floors.  Yet it offered him little in the way of comfort.  No, that wasn’t right.  It wasn’t the building itself that denied him.  It was the priests within, those who resented him and his place with the Royal Family.

Determination replaced his relief to be inside.  He had no time to waste, not if he wanted to avoid being caught there should the weather deteriorate even further.   So no more ruminating.  He had a job to do.

A soft footfall as he turned to the ancient coat tree in the corner warned him he was no longer alone.  Frustration boiled and, for one brief moment, he closed his eyes.  He’d prayed that just this once he’d be able to slip in and out of the cathedral without the priests knowing he’d been there.  Perhaps this was his test.  If he managed, again, not to let them know the real reason for his visit, he might finally accomplish his goal.

That had to be it.  God did work in mysterious ways.  Perhaps He used these priests to remind Grigori Yefimovich not to become too sure of himself.  The sin of pride had felled many men.  Grigori yefimovich would not be one of them.  But what to do now?

That he had an answer for, one born from experience.  He wouldn’t acknowledge the newcomer.  Not yet.  Let them make the first move so he could decide the best way to respond.

He waited, doing his best to ease the frustration from his expression and still his emotions.  Instead of turning, he finished unwinding the scarf from around the bottom of his face and neck.  Then he removed his hat, stuffing his scarf and gloves inside his hat before placing it atop the coat rack.  To give himself a few moments more, he slowly unbuttoned his heavy black coat, ignoring the frayed cuffs and the third button barely hanging on by a thread.  He must remember to have someone fix that.  Or maybe not.  A missing button, like the frayed cuffs and worn wool of the coat, even his long hair and scraggly beard, were all part of the image he’d so carefully crafted to suit his needs.

By the time he shrugged out of his coat, revealing an equally worn black cassock beneath it, hands were there to assist him.  He bowed his head slightly, indicating an appreciation he didn’t feel.

“It has been some time since you last visited us, Father Grigori,” the newcomer said as he made use of the coat rack.

There could be no mistaking the slight note of censure in the younger man’s voice, and an anger as cold as the wind outside knotted in Grigori’s Yefimovich’s stomach.  How dare he!

“My duties to the Royal Family keep me very busy, Father Dmitri.”  Let that be a reminder as to which of them bore the real power. “Is the bishop in residence today?”

“He is.  Shall I announce you?”

Grigori Yefimovich paused and chewed the edges of his scruffy mustache, as if deep in thought.  Let Father Dmitri believe him hesitant to interrupt the bishop.  Much as he hated it, he had to maintain the illusion of a respectful servant, one not worthy to be interrupting Bishop Malenko.  How ironic.  If anyone was unworthy, it was Malenko and the priests who served him.  They had no true calling from God, not as he did.

Fortunately, the bishop hadn’t realized why he continued to visit.  Of course, that was because Malenko and the younger priests were so busy being bastions of condemnation for what he did and for how he served the Royal Family, especially the Tsarina.  Let them.  He would no more abandon his calling as spiritual advisor to the Romanovs than he would willingly return to Siberia.

“Shall I tell Bishop Malenko you wish an audience, Father Grigori?  He has a full schedule today, so I cannot promise he will be available to speak with you.”

That hint of impatience, of censure he’d come to expect once more crept into Father Dmitri’s voice.  Fool!  He would never enjoy the privilege of serving the Royal Family.  Dmitri Rostapovich, newly ordained and assigned as the aging bishop’s secretary only because of who his family happened to be, would never understand that either.

Full schedule, indeed.  Now the young fool lies to me.  One day he shall learn just how foolish it is to try my patience.

Before he could answer, the sound of young voices raised in hymn filled the air and Father Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin smiled slightly.  Excellent.  He hadn’t braved the elements for naught after all.

No indeed.  He’d come to the cathedral, as he had on a number of other occasions, to make a selection.  He would visit the boys he’d heard singing and take their measure.  Then he’d choose from them a suitable candidate to act as companion to Alexei Nickolaevich Romanov, Tsarevich and supposed hemophiliac.

It sounded so simple, so harmless.  One or two boys chosen by the priest who advised the Royal Family, the holy man who’d saved the future tsar of all Mother Russia.  The lucky one would become playmate and confidante to the Tsarevich.  What an honor, not only for the boy, but for his family as well.  An honor none had yet to decline.

But the one chosen would also be so much more than a simple companion to the Tsarevich.  Not that the boy, or his family, would be told.  The Royal Family couldn’t afford for their subjects to know the truth, not when so many already questioned the need for a tsar.  Any hint of weakness in the Tsarevich, any hint of him being different, had to be avoided, no matter what the cost.

It fell to Rasputin to make the selection.  After discussing his choice with the Tsarina, he would visit the boy’s family and give them the glorious news that their son had received the honor of being the Tsarevich’s close companion.  It was his duty to convince the family to say goodbye to their son, to remind them of the benefits their son would receive – private tutors, the finest clothes, social contacts and, most important of all, a personal connection to the future ruler of Mother Russia.  Then he’d promise they would soon be invited to the Winter Palace, or one of the other royal residences, to visit their son.

A visit that would never happen if everything went as it should.

So he had to be careful, not only in how he dealt with the bishop and the priests at Smolny, but also with his choice of whom to invite to become the Tsarevich’s companion.  The lad, just like all those before him, would be chosen for something very unique to him.  He must be strong in the old magic.  The magic that had run through the royal lines of Russian aristocracy since before the Romanovs took power three hundred years earlier.  A magic that had tragically, disastrously been declining within the Royal Family for generations.

A decline, Rasputin knew, that had led in great part to the challenges now facing the Tsar.

But that would, if all went according to God’s plan, change once the right boy was at the royal palace and introduced to the Tsarevich….

It was best not to think about that now, however.  Several of the priests assigned to the cathedral were sensitives.  Of them, some already plotted against him.  He knew it.  Just as he knew they were jealous.  Jealous of how God favored him.  Jealous of his relationship with the Royal Family.  Because of that, Rasputin couldn’t allow himself to become careless.  He’d play their games and be patient until the day came when he could finally show them just how dangerous it was to attempt to undermine him.

A soft cough reminded him one of those sensitives stood before him, waiting impatiently for an answer.  Rasputin once again carefully schooled his features before answering.

“Please, Father Dmitri.”  He bowed slightly, hands folded before him.  “While I wait to see the bishop, I shall look in on the boys and see how their lessons progress.”

For a moment, it seemed Father Dmitri might object.  Then, with a nod just short of being curt, the young priest turned and started down the corridor.  Rasputin watched, his pale blue eyes cold and hard.

Father Dmitri was just like all the rest, all those who whispered their poisonous lies in the Tsar’s ear.  Just like those who tried to diminish him in the eyes of the Tsarina.  They’d succeeded once because he’d allowed himself to grow too sure of himself and of his place in the Royals’ lives.  That carelessness had found him torn from the Royal Family and his place at their side as ordained by God.  Not again.

Never again.

How much simpler things would have been had the priest on duty been anyone save Dmitri Rostapovich.

Still, plans made could just as easily be altered as the situation dictated.  That lesson he’d learned well back in Siberia.  So he’d look in on the boys today, making note of any who seemed likely to suit his needs.  It would be easy enough later to arrange to meet the boy somewhere away from the cathedral.  Some place where they would be uninterrupted as he took the boy’s measure.  Then, if the boy was suitable, an “introduction” to the Tsarevich would be arranged.

Yes, patience today, success later and without those of his enemies who would work to foil his plans being forewarned

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Thanks to everyone who said they wanted another snippet from Nocturnal Serenade.  It does any writer’s heart good to know people want to read what she’s written.  Just remember, the only way Serenade will be finished and published is if Nocturnal Origins does well enough for NRP to contract for a sequel.  It’s sad but true.  Also, on the subject of Nocturnal Origins, if you’d prefer a print edition over a digital one, those should be available through Amazon before long.

The following scene is not what comes next in Serenade.  I thought I’d skip ahead some.  This scene comes about 75 pages or so into the book.  It will give a little of Mac’s family background and, hopefully, tease you some about what’s happening in the book.  Yes, I’m evil and I love it.  Hope you enjoy the snippet.

* * *

“All right, Mackenzie, don’t you think it’s time you told me what in the world is going on?”

They’d finally collected Ellen’s bags, after what had to be one of the longest delays in getting luggage from a jet to the terminal in recent memory, and had made their way to Pat’s sedan.  Instead of answering her grandmother’s question right away, Mac had stowed Ellen’s luggage in the trunk, thinking hard as she did.  Where to start?  There was so much to tell her grandmother, none of which would be easy.

So she’d start with the easiest.  She’d explain that they’d have to wait until morning to go to the hospital.  The doctors wanted to keep Elizabeth sedated during the night so she could get some of the rest she needed so badly to begin her recovery.  Ellen simply nodded, her eyes flitting from her granddaughter to Pat and back again.

Now, with Pat carefully navigating her way through the parking garage, Mac knew she couldn’t put off telling Ellen the rest of it. Especially not with her grandmother looking at her so closely.  Still, she couldn’t quite find the words to begin.

“When did you start shifting?”  Ellen’s voice carried a mixture of concern and, to Mac’s surprise, guilt.  “And I assume you’re aware of the fact your partner’s a shifter as well.”

Well, trust her grandmother to cut right to the chase.

“It’s a long story, Gran, and I’ll tell you everything later.  I promise.  But the short version is this.  Shortly after my birthday, I was attacked by one of the local lycans.  He damn near killed me —  Hell, they thought he had.  Imagine my surprise when I woke up in the morgue.  I about scared the poor attendant to death —   Any way, the attack awakened my shifter abilities.  I started shifting shortly after that, although I didn’t realize what was happening.”

Anger and resentment flared as she remembered how scared she’d been, how close she’d come to actually considering killing herself for being a monster.

Easy, Mac.  It’s not her fault you didn’t know what might happen one day.  You know that.  Just as you know it’s something you need to talk to your mother about.  So ease back on the anger.

“Fortunately” she continued, relieved none of the resentment showed in her voice, “my captain, who happens to be the local pride leader, did realize what was happening to me.  He sent Pat and another member of the pride to watch me.  Fortunately, all of them, especially Pat who helped me control one of my first shifts and then who took me somewhere secluded so she could teach me, helped me begin accepting what was happening.”

“Thank you.”  Ellen reached over and lightly clasped Pat’s shoulder in appreciation.  “And this lycan who attacked you?”

“It didn’t take long to realize he was responsible for a series of murders Mac and I were investigating.  At first we didn’t know if he was a loner, because there hadn’t been any problem with the local lycans for years, or what.  Then we realized he was a member of the local lycan pack and was doing his best to stir up trouble.  Which, as I’m sure you realize, was the last thing any of us wanted,” Pat said.

“Wait!” Ellen leaned forward, reaching out with her left hand to turn Mac’s face to her.  “That is why the Conclave convened here, without warning.  You met that bastard in the Circle.”

It was more statement than question and all Mac could do was nod.

“I dealt with him, Gran, as I needed to.” That much was true.  She had needed to deal with Wilcox herself, not only for what he’d done to her but for what he’d done to the other’s he’d stalked and killed.  “The Circle gave me the only way I could make him pay for his crimes without arresting him, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.  I couldn’t risk him shifting while in custody.”

“Of course you couldn’t!” Ellen leaned back, suddenly looking her age as the implications sank in.  “Mackenzie, I’m sorry.  You shouldn’t have –“

“Gran, don’t.”  Mac waited until she knew she had her grandmother’s undivided attention.  Then she waited a moment longer as Pat paid the toll to get off of the airport grounds.  “I won’t lie to you.  I was angry and hurt and more than a little confused and scared about what was happening to me.  Then, when I learned shifting ran in the family, that you and Granddad were shifters, I was more mad than anything else.  I didn’t think we had any secrets between us, and, damn, this was a big ass secret.

“I’ve had to do a lot of thinking since then.  I know it wasn’t your decision not to tell me.  That’s something I’m going to have to discuss with Mom when she’s better.  But I am glad you know now and that we can talk about it, and about the family aspect of it.”

“Mackenzie, there’s more to this than you’re telling me.  What is it?”

Mac laughed softly, ruefully.  She’d forgotten just how quickly Ellen could read through all the layers and realize she’d hadn’t been told everything.

“Unfortunately, Gran, there is.”  She paused, chewing her lip as she thought.  “I know you’re worried.  But I’d appreciate it if you’d wait for an explanation until we get to my place.”

Leaning back, arms crossed, Ellen studied her granddaughter for a moment before nodding.  The moment she did, Mac smiled and thanked her.  It was going to be hard enough to tell her everything that had happened, especially when it came to the attack on Elizabeth.  The last thing Mac wanted was to be confined in the car where she had to sit still, not pace and burn off at least some of her own anger and fear as she spoke.

Half an hour later, Mac and Pat carried Ellen’s luggage inside and upstairs to the bedroom she’d be using while in town.  Ellen trailed behind them and Mac could almost feel her fighting against the urge to start asking questions again.  She understood.  If their roles had been reversed, she’d have been demanding answers long ago.  But then, she’d never had her grandmother’s patience, something she knew she should try to cultivate but simply didn’t seem to be able to.

“All right, Gran.”  Mac handed Ellen a glass of wine and sat across the kitchen table from her.  They were alone for the moment.  Pat had excused herself a few minutes earlier and had disappeared outside.  Although she hadn’t said so, Mac knew she was checking the perimeter and talking with whomever King had sent from the pride to keep watch.  “You said there’s more to what’s happened than I told you and you’re right.  There’s a hell of a lot more.  But let’s start at the beginning.  How much do you know about what happened at the Conclave?”

And you’d better be ready to tell me how you know, since you weren’t anywhere near here at the time.

“I know that the Conclave was called by the head of the pride here because at least one of the local lycans was openly hunting and leaving his kills where they were being found.  I’d heard that the lycan had also attacked a member of the pride.  Cassandra called the Conclave when it became clear that the pack leader either wouldn’t or couldn’t control the lycan, this Wilcox I assume.”  She waited until Mac nodded in confirmation.  “Apparently, the pack turned Wilcox over to the Conclave for judgment rather than risk the Conclave disbanding the pack or ordering its extinction.”

“All true,” Mac confirmed.  “The pack leader, Ferguson, had been aware of the trouble Wilcox was stirring up but hadn’t, apparently, realized how much trouble he was actually causing in the pack itself.  When he did, instead of calling out Wilcox, he punished two weaker members and expelled them.  All that seemed to do was send Wilcox over the edge.  He’d already caused at least two deaths that we know of, as well as attacking me.  His third kill was also here in the city and happened just before the Conclave arrived.”

“So, how did you wind up meeting him in the Circle?”

A hint of disapproval touched Ellen’s voice.  Mac heard it but knew it wasn’t aimed at her.  Or at least not totally.  She had a feeling that when her grandmother finally met King and realized he was the local pride leader, her captain would get a lecture he’d not soon forget.

“When the Conclave passed the death sentence on Wilcox, he demanded his right to trial by battle.  Pat and some of the others of the pride had already warned me that he had that option.  So, when the Speaker, this Cassandra, asked Mike who would stand as the pride’s representative in the Circle, I said I would.”


“Gran, I didn’t have a choice.  I had to do it.  I had to for me, as well as for all the others he’d attacked.  We still don’t know now many others he killed.  Nor do we know if he managed to turn anyone.  But we do know he can’t do any more harm and the pack now realizes we will not stand by and let them run wild.  It’s hard enough keeping our existence a secret without one of them getting careless and revealing our existence through DNA or other forensic evidence.”

“I understand why you felt you needed to do it, Mackenzie.  What I don’t understand is why your pride leader allowed it.  You were too new as a shifter.”

“Gran, that’s you speaking as my grandmother.  Besides, Mike knew better than to try to stop me.  I had to do it and, as you can see, I managed quite well, thank you.”

“All right.”  Now she smiled, and reached over to grasp Mac’s hand.  “Don’t get me wrong, sweetheart.  I’m very proud of you.  Your grandfather would be as well, if he were here to see you.”

“I hope so, Gran.” She gave Ellen’s hand a quick squeeze and then leaned back, wondering how to say this next part.  “But there is more you need to know.”

“Just say it, dear heart.”

“Gran, we haven’t caught the bastard who attacked Mom.  But we do know one thing about him, or her.”

“I have a feeling I’m not going to like what you have to say.”

“You aren’t.”  Mac lifted her wineglass and drained it.  “Gran, she was knifed by a lycan.  I don’t know if the bastard was trying to turn her and things got out of hand or what.”

Ellen looked at her in disbelief, the color draining from her face.  Then, much as Mac had done just a moment before, she lifted her wineglass and drank it dry.

“Y-you’re sure?”

“I am.  I got there within minutes of the attack happening and there was no mistaking the scent.  Pat and Mike confirmed it.”

“Damn it!”  Ellen shoved back her chair and got to her feet.  Mac watched as she paced the length of the kitchen once and then twice before returning to the table.

“It gets worse, Gran.  I don’t know if he infected her.  Hell, even if he didn’t, I don’t know if she’ll react like I did and start shifting on her own.”

“Dear sweet Lord, Mac.  This is going to be more than your mother can handle.”

“You’re right.  We tried talking to her about it when she was old enough to start showing signs of shifting, not that she had.  But she wouldn’t listen to us.  When she finally realized just how serious we were, she decided to try to ignore it all.  When she couldn’t do that any more, and when she realized she wasn’t going to be a shifter, she convinced herself that your grandfather and I had some sort of hideous disease that she wanted to avoid at all costs.”  Ellen paused, gnawing her lower lip much as Mac did when thinking hard.

“So, when you were born and I tried talking to her again about the possibility of you being a shifter, she panicked.  She watched your every move, scared you’d begin showing signs of having inherited the curse.

“She should have told you, Mac.  I should have told you….”

“Gran, don’t.” Mac slid out of her chair and moved around the table to her side, holding her close.  “It’s over.  Now you can help me continue learning.  More than that, you can help me look after Mom and help her deal with what’s happened.”

Ellen nodded and Mac relaxed slightly.  They’d have to talk some more, a great deal more, but it could wait.  One step at a time, and they’d already taken a huge one.  Even better, they’d managed to do it without it devolving into an argument.  Now if she could just figure out how to manage the same with her mother when Elizabeth was able to talk.

* * *

Check out Mad Genius Club for some more musing about this snippet and sequels.  See you there!

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Ah for the days when Spring Break meant running away to the beach to lie in the sun or the mountains to ski.  But those days have been gone for mumble-mumble years.   The last few days, instead of playing — or writing — I’ve been trying to help my son figure out how much he has lost when his dorm room flooded and to pull together receipts, replacement cost estimates, etc.  Needless to say, as stressful as it’s been for me, it’s worse for him.

But, the stress has kept me from focusing on my job as editor at NRP and on my writing.  I’ve got three projects right now I want to be working on, but I just can’t concentrate enough to do it.  In fact, I realized a few minutes ago just how stressed I still am when, as I tried to start the next chapter in one of the projects, I found myself reaching for chocolate.  Now, that wouldn’t be unusual if it was mid-afternoon.  That’s called a snack.  But it is only a few minutes past 0930 right now.  Too early to drink and too early to be eating chocolate…because, if I start eating that wondrous food of the gods this early, I’ll be eating it all day.

So, since it looks like the writing is going to be delayed at least a bit longer today, here’s the next scene from Nocturnal Serenade, the proposed sequel to Nocturnal Origins. It’s rough, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.  And remember, you can find Origins here, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

* * *


Flashing lights from half a dozen emergency vehicles greeted her as she rounded the corner.  A marked police unit blocked the road ahead.  Two officers huddled inside yellow slickers as rain beat down on them.  She didn’t need to see their expressions to know they’d much prefer being warm and dry inside their squad car.  Even so, they stood their post, making sure the curious didn’t get too close to the crime scene.

That was important, especially since the media had already descended upon the scene.  Not that it surprised her.  Murder in suburbia, even if this middle-class neighborhood was technically inside the Dallas city limits, made for great press, especially if the media found some way to add controversy to the story.  It was up to her and her team to make sure that didn’t happen.

Lightening streaked across the early morning sky as she parked two houses down from the crime scene.  A rolling crash of thunder followed almost immediately.  The reporters and curious neighbors shuffled around behind the barricades, casting disgusted looks skyward.  They might be cold and wet, but their morbid curiosity overrode physical discomfort.

Lt. Mackenzie Santos ignored the questions shouted at her just as she ignored the rain beating down on her.  Long legs carried her down the street in quick, confident strides.  She flashed her badge at the young cop in her path before ducking under the yellow crime scene tape.  The press would have to wait until she figured out what was going on for a statement.

Even then, she’d do her best to avoid answering their questions.  She was damned if she’d feed the vultures unless he absolutely had to.


“Burke, what have we got?” she asked the uniformed officer who greeted her just inside the house.

“My partner and I responded to a welfare check call and saw the body through the back window.  It was obvious he was dead so we secured the scene and called it in.  Your partner’s back there now.”

Mac nodded and looked around the front room, what she assumed was the den.  Comfortable furnishings, a bit warn but still showing good workmanship and quality.  Pictures and photos in various sizes and types of frames graced tabletops and hung on walls.  This was a home where family was important.  So what had happened?

“Anything else you can tell me?”

“Not much, ma’am.  The registered owners, a George and Faye Hemmings, are spending the month in Florida and their son, Jason Hemmings, is supposed to be house-sitting.  The neighbors called it in when they hadn’t seen him in several days and realized the papers had been piling up out front.”

“All right.  As soon as the ME gets here, send him in.  Have Crime Scene start processing out here.  I’ll send for them when I’m ready for them to deal with the rest of the house.”

Mac took one more look around the room before motioning for Burke to take her to the body.  Whether the body in the back room belonged to the homeowners’ son or not, the house would never be the home it had been.  That sense of safety, of being a haven from the rest of the world had been shattered just, she feared, as the family would soon be shattered.


Mac paused just inside a small bedroom.  As she did, she swallowed convulsively.  The fingers of her right hand absently closed about the small jar of Vicks in her pocket and she dabbed some inside her nose.  The burning of the menthol was a small enough price to pay to make the odors of filth and decomposition, odors she’d give almost anything never to smell again.  But she knew that wasn’t going to happen.  More than ten years with the Dallas Police Department, the last three and a half as a homicide detective, had taught her that.

For several long moments, Mac stood still, her green eyes taking in every detail of the room.  The unmistakable smell of death permeated the air.  Mingling with it was the sickening odor of burnt flesh and, beneath that, the faint odor of marijuana.  Whatever she’d been expecting, it wasn’t this.

Shadows hung heavily in the room.  Dark drapes covered the windows and the only light came from light overhead.  A lamp that had been set on the bedside table lay on the floor, its bulb smashed.  Next to it rested a small clock, its display dark, the cord ripped from the all.  If it weren’t for the body in the middle of the room, Mac would say someone simply hated to get up in the morning.

For now, however, the investigation centered on the body of the young man slumped against the ropes binding him to a wooden chair Mac assumed had come from the dining room.  Who was he and what had he been – the son who was supposed to be house-sitting, or someone else?

Or was he something else, something that would make the investigation into his death much more complicated than she first anticipated?

“What have you got?”

The blonde detective kneeling carefully next to the victim looked over her shoulder at the sound of Mac’s voice.  Her blue eyes and closed expression betrayed an anger Mac recognized and understood.  Her partner was no more desensitized to death, especially senseless death, than was she.  And that anger spoke volumes just then. Something about the scene, or the victim, hit home with Sergeant Patricia Collins and the possible explanations worried Mac.

“Sorry to call you out, LT, but this one just doesn’t feel right,” Pat commented as she climbed to her feet and carefully crossed the room to where Mac stood.  As she did, she peeled off the protective gloves she’d been wearing, turning them inside out and tossing them into the sack by the door to be collected by the crime scene techs later.

“Run it for me.”

“All right.  At 0530, 911 received the request for a welfare check.  A patrol was dispatched to investigate.  After viewing the body from the window – the drapes were open.  I pulled them to keep the media and neighbors from gawking through the window – they secured the scene and called it in.  I received the call at 0600 and responded.  The officers on the scene had set up a perimeter by the time I arrived.  I did a quick walk-through before checking the victim.  Preliminary observation showed the victim tied to the chair with obvious signs of being in a fight.  The drug paraphernalia, as well as the syringe still in his arm, make it appear to be a drug deal gone wrong or, perhaps, payback for a double-cross of some sort.”

“But?” Mac prompted.  Pat wouldn’t have called her to the scene if it were that simple.

“I don’t think that’s the case.  A closer look at the victim shows he was not just beaten, but tortured.  This wasn’t a drug deal gone wrong.”  Pat paused and chewed her lower lip, a sure sign she was thinking hard.  “I’d like you to have a look and see if you agree.”

“All right.”

Mac drew a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then exhaled slowly.  While she appreciated the fact Pat wasn’t jumping to conclusions, a hint of frustration crept in.  Her partner needed to start trusting her own instincts.  After three months with the squad – and almost as much time on the force as Mac – Pat shouldn’t be second-guessing herself.  And the only way for her to stop doing just that was to handle and investigation without Mac there to coach her at each step along the way.

Then another possible explanation for Pat’s request dawned on her and Mac paled.  Her heart seemed to skip a beat and her breath caught.  No, it couldn’t be.  Pat would have found some way to warn her.  Wouldn’t she?

Of course, she would have.  If one of their people had been involved, Pat would have made sure Mac knew it.  She wouldn’t play that sort of guessing game with her partner, her fellow pride member.  There was too much at stake to risk a non-Shifter figuring out what they were, especially after all that had happened over the last few months.

Pushing down the quick flare of panic that started in the pit of her stomach and threatened to erupt in a cry of distress, Mac once more turned her attention to the scene before her.   As she did, she dug deep inside, calling on her jaguar.  Almost instantly she felt her cat there, just below the surface.  The smell of death and the sight of the body called to the jaguar and Mac quickly reinforced her control.  She couldn’t risk shifting but she wanted the added sensitivity the jaguar gave her.  Even so, she couldn’t stop the growl deep in her throat, a growl that had Pat looking over at her in quick concern.

A quick sniff, then a second and Mac relaxed a little more.  All the expected smells were there.  Blood, other bodily fluids best left unsaid.  Acrid perspiration.  Burnt flesh.  The stale smell of smoking, both of legal tobacco and illegal pot.  All expected based on what she’d seen so far.  More importantly, nothing to indicate another shifter had been involved.

Thank God.

Relieved, Mac moved forward, carefully watching where exact step went.  The last thing she wanted, or needed, was to contaminate or destroy any evidence that might help them close the case.  A moment later, she knelt in almost the exact place Pat had earlier.  Without touching the body, she carefully examined it, quickly understanding why her partner had sent for her.

“Do we have an ID on him yet?”

“No.  I haven’t checked the body.  I didn’t want to move it before you had a chance to see it.  However, he does match the description the neighbors gave for the owners’ son.”

Mac nodded and continued her examination.  If she had to guess, she’d say the victim was around twenty.  Dressed in only in a pair of jeans, it was easy to see how much he’d been forced to endure before he died.  His chestnut colored hair appeared to have been recently barbered.  An expensive watch was still in place on his left wrist.  Obviously, theft wasn’t the motive for the murder.  If it had been, the watch, laptop computer on the desk under the window and numerous other easily portable items would have been taken.

Mac had seen enough of the rest of the house when she arrived to know the other rooms had been undisturbed.  So the victim hadn’t been dead for long.  Certainly not more than a day or so, no matter how many papers had been allowed to pile up on the front porch.  Good neighborhood or not, scavengers were always around and they rarely, if ever, turned away from an easy mark.

And there was no easier mark than a dead man.

After pulling on a pair of protective gloves, Mac reached out and carefully tilted the young man’s head up some.  The sight of his face, bruised and bloodied beyond recognition, had her closing her eyes and offering up a quick prayer for that he had passed out before most of the damage had been inflicted.  Someone had used their fists and a knife, or some other sharp implement, to inflict the most damage possible.  How the neighbors hadn’t heard him screaming in pain was beyond her.

“Did you see any indication he’d been gagged?”

“Yeah.”  Pat’s voice was flat, matching her partner’s mood.  “There’s a wad of cloth over here, looks like it might have been part of his tee shirt.  From the looks of it, he not only bled on it, but vomited into it as well.”

“Poor bastard.”

With that, Mac continued her examination of the young man.  The fingers of his right hand looked as if they’d been broken.  More blood streaked his chest and abdomen.  Whether it was from the injuries to his face or from injuries to his torso, she couldn’t tell.  She’d have to wait on the ME for that.  But she did recognize the small, circular burns that covered seemed to run down his neck.  More were visible on his arms and upper chest, even his feet.  Someone had done a job on him and hadn’t stopped there.

Wrapped about his left bicep and then loosened slightly was a thin black belt.  A syringe hung precariously from the inside of that elbow, a small drop of blood pooled around the needle.  Since she saw no other indication he was a user, Mac wondered what he’d been given and why.

Most of all, she wanted to know by whom.

“You made a good call here, Pat.  Someone either wanted this guy to suffer or wanted something from him and he wouldn’t cooperate.  Poor bastard.”  She climbed to her feet and pulled off her gloves, tossing them into the same sack where Pat had tossed hers a few minutes earlier.  “Let crime scene and the ME in.  I want the entire house processed, inside and out.  This might be nothing more than payback for a drug deal gone wrong, but I doubt.  So let’s make sure nothing is overlooked.”

“Understood, Mac.”

“I’ll send Sears and Nguyen out to assist you.  Keep the uniforms as well to help with the door-to-door canvas.  I’ll tag the 911 tape and pull up the call history for the area, this address in particular.  Report in as soon as soon as you finish here.”

For a moment, Pat simply stood there, her expression blank.  Then she stared at Mac in disbelief.  Clearly, she’d expected her partner to remain on the scene, possibly even take charge of the investigation.  Well, it was time for Pat to learn she didn’t need her partner with her all the time.  She was a good cop.  If she weren’t, she’d never have lasted as long in Narcotics as she had.  But now she needed to gain the same confidence in Homicide that she’d had as an undercover cop and Mac was determined to help her get it – whether Pat thought she was ready or not.

“Will do.”

Pat paused and Mac could see all the questions in her partner’s eyes, questions Pat fought to keep from asking.  Understanding, remembering the first time she’d been given the lead on a homicide investigation, Mac relented a little and motioned for Pat to come with her before turning and quickly making her way outside.

“All right, Pat, just say it,” she instructed her partner once they were safely inside Mac’s Mustang and away from the gawking neighbors and reporters demanding to know what was going on.

“Mac, have you lost your mind?” Pat swiveled in her seat so she faced Mac and there was no mistaking her disbelief or her concern – or even the slight trace of fear – that touched her voice.

“Nope.  Not at all.”  Now Mac grinned even as she slid the key into the ignition and started the engine.  “Pat, you’ve run undercover ops that would turn my blood cold.  You know what to do and you shouldn’t be having second thoughts about it now.  So run the on-site investigation.  I’m as close as the phone if you need me.

“More importantly, you’re the second ranking officer in the squad.  I know you haven’t had much experience in Homicide, but you have to get your feet wet sometime.  You have to if you want to keep the respect of the rest of the squad.  This case looks as if there might be a drug tie-in, which means you have more contacts and more of an idea of who to talk to than I do, at least until we rule out the drug angle.  Besides, after the Wilcox case, just about anything should be a cakewalk for you.”

Mac waited, giving her partner time to digest what she’d said.  As she did, she checked her watch and grimaced slightly.  In less than an hour she was due at the Chief’s weekly briefing.  She’d be expected to report on the current caseload of her squad as well as explain why there were still outstanding cases.  Not that anyone actually expected the squad to close each and every case that came in.  Dallas was too big, the crime rate too high and there were too many unidentified victims for that to ever happen.  Even so, the pressure was still there to explain why cases weren’t moving any quicker than they were.

Face facts, Mac.  You’re just as uncomfortable with your new role as squad commander as Pat is with hers as a homicide detective.  Politics has never been your strong suit.

For a moment, the blonde said nothing.  Then she nodded once, emphatically, before reaching for the door handle.

“Okay.  I just hope you’re right.”

“I am.”  Now Mac grinned.  “I do have one suggestion.  Once Crime Scene finishes and the ME is ready to take the body, check the vic for anything he might have on him that not only would identify him but might also explain what happened.  Have them take special care in bagging his hands as well.  I don’t want to lose any forensic evidence that might be on them.  And let me know if you find anything that jumps out at you.”

“Will do.”  Pat climbed out of the car.  She straightened and looked up and then down the street, shaking her head as she did.  Then she ducked back inside, her expression thoughtful.  “Mac, this part of Lakewood isn’t where you’d expect to find a drug deal gone wrong.  I haven’t been gone from Narcotics that long and I don’t remember any problems here.  So, unless you have some objection, I’m going to tag Malloy in Narcotics to see if he might know anything that might shed light on what happened here.”

“Good idea.”  She glanced at her watch and sighed. “I’ve got to run, Pat.  I have the Chief’s weekly briefing in less than an hour.”

“Then I certainly don’t want to keep you.”  Now a very wicked smile touched Pat’s lips and Mac chuckled humorlessly in response.  “I know how much you love that part of your job.”

“Just for that, I’m going to leave you to it.”

A moment later, with Pat striding across the front yard toward the house, Mac pulled away from the curb and sped off.  As she did, she frowned.  She’d much rather stay on the scene and work the case.  But she couldn’t.  With the promotion to lieutenant came the added responsibilities of squad commander.  That meant she had to make her appearance at the Chief’s weekly briefings – whether she liked it or not.

Maybe she’d get lucky and something would break with this case or one of the others her squad was working, requiring her to leave the briefing before the Chief got to her.

With that happy thought in mind, Mac contacted Dispatch to let them know she was on her way to the Justice Center.

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No writing today

Instead, trying to wrap my head around the news that my son’s dorm room flooded after he left for Spring break. According to housing, his computer and printer are toast as is anything on the floor. What is really worrisome is this may also mean his senior boots — that he just got and has yet to be able to officially wear. Calls tomorrow will be made to Corps housing and Hollicks and then trip to CompUSA to replace the printer. Such fun today — not

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My son is coming home for part of Spring Break today, so it’s time to clean and get ready.  I’ll be doing that as soon as the coffee kicks in.  In the meantime, I’ve been researching review sites and shaking my head over the antics of the Dallas City Council.

There are a number of wonderful advantages to living between Dallas and Fort Worth.  But there are disadvantages as well.  One of them is having to watch the antics, for lack of a better word, of the Dallas City Council over my morning coffee.  This is a council where a member can tell citizens to go to hell but where citizens are escorted out of council chambers if they complain about it.

Oh well, it’s starting to be like old times in the Dallas council chamber.  Just like watching the WWE over breakfast.

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Okay, last snippet tease from different projects.  Starting Wednesday, I’ll get serious about doing writing related posts.  There may be more snippets later, but they will be on my current WIP — when I decide what that might be ;-p

This is the opening chapter to Nocturnal Serenade, the sequel to Nocturnal Origins.  I hope you enjoy.

* * *

From the deepest shadows he watched, just as he had every night for the past week.  He didn’t know why he watched.  He didn’t need to.  Past experience had taught him the less he knew, the better.

His job was simple enough, at least at first glance.  All he had to do was let Novacek know if the target moved and where she went.  Simple enough, right?  No.  Nothing was ever that simple, especially when Novacek was involved.

Not that he’d ever tell Novacek.  Heavens, no!  Stanley Middleton might be many things, but he wasn’t a fool.  Aaron Novacek had the reputation of never leaving those who criticized him unscathed and Stanley had absolutely no desire to be the next to fall victim to the lycan’s anger.

Damn it!

Stanley shivered as another gust of wind cut through the trees.  If only he hadn’t been foolish enough to think he could play the two lycan camps against one another.  But it had seemed like such a good plan at the time.  For the last several months, the pack had been fracturing.  No one had yet challenged the pack leader, but it was only a matter of time.

Not that they’d succeed.  Stanley had watched from the outside for too many years as Ferguson fought his way to becoming pack leader.  That’s why, when Ferguson came to him and asked him to be his spy in the other camp, Stanley had agreed.  After all, no one expected a weasel like him to be brave enough to actually plot against Novacek.

Of course, like with so many other things in his life, Stanley had been wrong.  At least he’d been lucky enough that Novacek hadn’t killed him out of hand.

Lucky?  Bitter resentment filled Stanley as he once more looked toward the house.  Luck had nothing to do with it.  If it had, he wouldn’t literally be up a tree, doing his best not to fall and break his neck as he spent yet another night waiting for the target to do absolutely nothing.

Nor had luck had anything to do with it when he thought about where the target lived.  Her house was a relatively new “McMansion” in one of the thrice-damned gated communities that seemed to have sprung up virtually overnight across the country.  The guards at the neighborhood entrance wouldn’t let him pass without authorization – something he most certainly didn’t have and couldn’t get.  Even if he managed to bluff his way past the guardhouse, he wouldn’t be able to settle down in his car near the target’s home for the long hours of waiting and watching.  If the neighborhood rent-a-cops didn’t roust him, the real cops would.

Nor could Stanley simply scale the stone walls surrounding the neighborhood.  Security cameras mounted strategically along the perimeter would surely spot him.  If the guards didn’t immediately descend upon him, the way his luck usually ran, some law-abiding resident would shoot him as a prowler and then call the police.

He couldn’t even shift and sneak in.  His animal was a weasel.  Small and crafty.  Unfortunately, like so many shifters, once in his animal form, he didn’t retain enough of his human mind to do the job.  Nor could he sneak in as a weasel and then shift back.  The residents of this upscale neighborhood most definitely would shoot a naked man hiding in the shadows.  So that left him with just one option.

He’d parked his car on a side street several blocks away and trekked through the trees separating the houses from the neighboring golf course.  Now he perched in an oak tree just beyond the brick wall.  Ten feet above the ground, his legs wrapped tightly around a thick limb, his back firmly pressed against the tree trunk, Stanley did his best to become one with the oak tree.  The rough bark bit painfully into his legs and back, but he didn’t dare move.  Moving was bad, very bad.  Moving meant a change of balance, of possibly falling.  So he sat as still as possible, praying the wind didn’t suddenly decide to pluck him from the limb and toss him down to the ground.  And he watched and waited, fervently hoping tonight turned out to be just as uneventful as the previous six nights had been.

In an attempt to forget how precarious his perch happened to be, Stanley once more turned his attention to the house before him.  A single light shown from the second floor window he had quickly figured out was the target’s home office.  For the last two hours she’d sat at her desk, presumably working on something important.  Perhaps she was preparing a case for trial.  Novacek had said she was an attorney, so that would make sense.  Whatever it was, it must be important enough, or compelling enough, to alter the schedule she’d kept the past week.  Every other night, she had turned off the lights and gone to bed by midnight.

But not tonight.

What was so interesting it kept her up so much later than usual?

Not that he minded.  It was so much easier to stay alert when she was awake.  As long as she was, he had something to concentrate on.  More than that, it kept him from fixating on how cold his feet were and how badly he hated hiding in the trees.  Every noise startled him, leaving him convinced he was about to be discovered.

As afraid as he was of Novacek, Stanley was even more afraid of the police finding him.  He had no doubt what their response would be.  They would accuse him of being a stalker.  After all, he was hiding in a tree in the middle of the night, watching the home of a divorced woman without her knowledge.  The only reasonable explanation for his actions was that he was stalking her.  The only reasonable response would be to throw him in jail.

But even the threat of jail wasn’t the worst possibility he faced if discovered. This was Texas after all.  One of her neighbors might just decide to take matters into their own hands and shoot first, ask questions later – assuming he was able to answer any questions once the neighbor finished emptying his gun.  He might be a shape-shifter but any shifter could be killed if hit with enough bullets.  All it took was severing the head or destroying the heart so it couldn’t regenerate.

A shudder ran through him and his balance shifted.  As his stomach pitched, Stanley grabbed convulsively for the branch he sat upon.  He breath exploded as fear raced through him.  For one moment, he teetered on the brink of falling.  Then he slammed his chest forward against the branch and held on for dear life.  Nothing, absolutely nothing could pry him loose now.

God, he hated this assignment.  Too much could go wrong, too much he could and would be blamed for.  So here he sat, his feet cold, his heart pounding and his eyes glued to the house a hundred yards away.  He prayed the target didn’t suddenly decide to fly the coop.  If she did, he might as well start looking for a very deep, very dark hole to hide in, because he would never be able to keep up with her, not with his car parked so far away and not with his arms locked in a death-grip around the branch he lay upon.

And Novacek would never forgive him if the target got away.


Elizabeth Santos Wheeler dropped her head into her hands and closed her eyes, fighting back a sob as she did.  This was all just a bad dream and she would soon awaken.  It had to be.  No other explanation, reasonable or not, made sense.  But what if it wasn’t?  What if it was real?  Then what was she supposed to do?

Damn it, why was this happening?  It had nothing to do with her, not really.  So why was she the one forced to deal with it?

Because you’re the one with the most money as well as with the most to lose.  That’s why.

Resentment warred with fear, anger with the maternal instinct to protect.  For the first time in so very long, she didn’t know what to do.  It was as though her worst fears had suddenly sprung to life and she simply didn’t know how to react, didn’t know if there was anything she could do to protect herself and those she loved.

Damn it!

She shoved back from her desk and climbed to her feet.  As she did, she glanced outside.  Beyond the window, darkness swathed the yard.  Only the light cast from her window and the pale lights surrounding the swimming pool broke the darkness.  The leaves of the ornamental fruit trees on the opposite side of the pool rustled gently in the light breeze.  The oak trees shielding the yard from the golf course formed a dark curtain against the night sky.  In the distance, a neighbor’s dog barked one, twice, as if calling for someone or something to answer.  Everything looked so normal.  Yet it wasn’t and it might never be again.

Her lips pressed together in a thin, angry line.  She moved from behind her antique Georgian desk and began to pace.  Her steps were muffled, almost silenced, by the thick carpet.  She no longer heard the soft strains of the music she’d put on earlier in the evening when she’d come upstairs to work.  Instead, the sounds of her teeth grinding and her heart pounding filled her ears.  She didn’t have time for this.  She should be focusing on the Allingham case, not this – this stuff of nightmares.

As she turned back, her sea green eyes fell on the photos scattered across the top of her desk.  No one else looking at them would be this upset.  They would know with a certainty that the pictures had been faked.  After all, the images showed the unbelievable, the unreal.

But she knew better.  No matter how badly she wanted to dismiss the photos as a simple prank, she couldn’t.  She knew the images captured by some unknown photographer could be all too real, no matter how unbelievable they were.  After all, she’d lived with this particular nightmare all her life, waiting, fearing for the moment it would manifest itself in either her or one of her children.  Now it had and she didn’t know what to do.

Her fingers trembled as she reached for the nearest photo.  Her chest felt as though an iron band had tightened around it, making it almost impossible to breathe. Instantly she was transported back to that terrible moment she she’d first seen the picture.  Despite the fading light caught by the image, she’d immediately recognized the subject of the photo.  In that moment, she’d died just a little.  Even as her brain tried to close down, to deny what her eyes saw, she knew the truth and she damned herself for it.

Sharp pain and the bitter taste of blood brought her thoughts back to the present.  Absently, she dabbed at the lower lips she’d been gnawing without realizing it.  But her eyes remained glued to the photograph she held in her right hand and a soft moan escaped her lips.

Why?  Dear Lord, why?

A young woman knelt on the ground, her head thrown back, her expression filled with agony as her hands ripped at her tee shirt.  Her green eyes, just a shade darker than Elizabeth’s, reflected terror at what was happening to her.  Even then, the change was obvious, if you knew what to look for – and, much to her regret, Elizabeth did.

The young woman’s hands were altering, her fingernails lengthening even as the features of her face blurred.  Muscles rippled and bunched as her body was reshaped.  Hair seemed to sprout from every pore, short hair that was more fur than hair.  All of this was documented in the other photos strewn across the desktop.

A soft sob caught in Elizabeth’s throat as the photo fluttered down to the floor.  No, the image was all too real and her nightmare had finally come to life.  What was she going to do?

Not even the note included with the photos helped her decide what her next step should be.  A single sheet of ordinary white paper with just a few lines printed on it mocked her, revealing nothing about the unknown sender or what he wanted from her.

Mrs. Wheeler:

I thought you might want to see what your eldest daughter is up to these days.  Being a parent is such a trial at times, isn’t it?  I wonder if your other children will show the same bad habits as their sister.  But don’t worry.  I’ll be in touch soon to discuss what needs to be done.

That was all.

Mackenzie, what happened?

Unable to stand it any longer, Elizabeth abruptly turned on her heel and started out of the room.  Then reality once more intruded and she hurried back to her desk.  She couldn’t leave the photos where they might be found.

Without really thinking about what she was doing, she scooped up the photo she’d dropped and then those scattered across the desk top and shoved them back into the envelop they’d arrived in.  Once she had, she locked them in the top drawer of her desk and pocketed the key.  At least they were safely hidden from view, for a while at least.  But how long would it be before the photographer made them public?

And what would she do when that happened?

Her left hand slammed against the light switch on the wall by the door as she passed, throwing the room into darkness.  She had to do something, anything to find out who had sent the photos.  The envelope had been delivered to her office.  Hopefully, the receptionist had made an entry as to who brought in the innocent looking brown envelope.  She’d check the log and then decide what her next move should be.


The back door slammed, shattering the silence of the night.  Startled, Stanley’s head jerked up and his arms and legs once more tightened their death-grip around the limb before he could fall.  The relief of moments ago fled, replaced by a frustration so great he wanted to scream.  Damn it, why couldn’t she have stayed put like she had every other evening?

The tall, slender woman all but raced across the short expanse of the yard separating the house from the detached garage.  Her long legs covered the distance quickly, effortlessly.  Her purse, grasped firmly in her right hand, swung against that leg, accenting every step she took.  As she neared, the garage door groaned as it slid open, the inner light flooding the night beyond.

What had spooked her?  She couldn’t have seen him.  He hadn’t moved from his perch in the tree.  Not that it really mattered why she was leaving.  He had one job that night – to keep track of her.  If he didn’t move fast, he would lose her and he didn’t want to think about how Novacek would react to his failure.

Fear replaced frustration and he quickly dropped to the ground, wincing as pain shot up his legs from the impact.  Ignoring it, he turned in the direction of his car.  Even as he pelted through the trees, he knew it was an exercise in futility.  He would never cover the distance to his car and then manage to get to the front gate of the neighborhood before she was gone.  But he had to try.  He had no choice.

Maybe he’d get lucky and she wouldn’t be able to leave the neighborhood before he could get into place to follow.  If not that, maybe the earth would cease to exist.  At least that way he wouldn’t have to face Novacek and admit he’d failed.

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