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Archive for the ‘Snippets’ Category

First a couple of items of news, sort of.  First of all, Naked Reader Press has put up a preview of Kate Paulk’s upcoming novel, ConVent.  Kate is one of those writers who constantly surprises me.  She can do alternate history (Impaler) with a twist of the fantastical and then she can be split-your-sides funny laced with a healthy dose of cynicism and WTF (ConVent).  Any way, the first scene from ConVent is up at The Naked Truth and the book will be available for purchase the weekend of Oct. 21st.

The next bit of news is that The Naked Truth will be featuring previews of several new novels over the next few weeks, including Quicksand by C. S. Laurel, Cat’s Paw by Robert A. Hoyt, and my own Nocturnal Serenade.  There is also a guest post by Jim Snover, author of the wonderful steampunk/western short story  Blackie, that will be up on the blog sometime within the week.

As for the thought or two, do you remember when I blogged about how readers are beginning to look closer at what e-titles they buy?  As proof of that, there is a new thread on the kindle boards this morning asking how to tell what titles are written by “indies” and what titles are not.  Now, before you get excited, the original poster isn’t wanting to know what books and short stories are written by indies because he wants to buy them.  Quite the opposite in fact.  He wants to know so he can avoid them.  A quick look at the responses show that most of those answering are concerned by exactly what I — and so many others — predicted.  Poor editing, poor story construction, poor cover art, etc.  No longer is the low price enough to entice them into buying a title.  They’ve been burned before — too often, according to some of them.  Now they want e-books and short stories that only come from established publishers.

Does this presage a quick death to indie publishing in the digital world?  Nah.  But it does point out that authors, established and newbies, who want to go this route need to make sure they are putting out a quality product.  Editing, and not just copy editing and proofreading, is a must.  Decent cover art is also a must.  Now, I’m not sure about having “professional” reviews as some of the commenters suggested.  After all, for most of these so-called pro reviews, you have to pay.  That sort of defeats the purpose, imo.

What this means is that we, as writers going the indie route, need to make sure the product we put out is as good, if not better, than that put out by traditional publishers.  Mind you, in a lot of cases that’s not saying much.  But take a look at the e-books you’ve downloaded, especially the free ones.  How many have had weird fonts or strange formatting?  I’ll be honest, I’ve seen more than that than I have of e-books with horrible spelling or punctuation.  In fact, when I’ve seen complaints about that, and I’ve checked for myself, the spelling errors have usually been from the reader and not the author.  But, there have been spelling and grammar mistakes I’ve seen and, usually, I can attribute them to the author relying on spell-check and grammar-check.  Please, DO NOT DO THAT.

Any way, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the fundamentals of what makes a good e-book.  I’ll probably do that for Mad Genius Club for The Naked Truth later.  This was just to put the bug in the ear of all those who are considering self-publishing to be aware of the fact that there is a movement among some readers of e-books not to buy indies because of all the bad ones they’ve read before.  The moral of the story is to make sure you have the best product possible and that you have enough of a preview available for your potential readers to show not only that you can write but that you also hook them with the plot and the characters.

 

 

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I have been busy the last few months trying to balance my work with Naked Reader Press and my writing and family and, well, life.  All too often, the writing has had to take a backseat to it all.  However, that’s changing, mainly because I have deadlines of my own looming large and I have to put butt in chair and get serious about writing again.

So, what’s coming up?  First, my very first short story ever accepted, Bump in the Night, is now available for purchase from NRP and will soon be available from Amazon, B&N and other e-tailers.  Bump first came out in 2008 as part of the anthology Better Off Undead.

Next up is Nocturnal Serenade, the sequel to Nocturnal Origins.  I’ve snippeted Serenade before, but in case you’ve missed it, I’ll add short snippet below.  This series is close to my heart.  It’s one of those where the characters are almost a part of me.  Other writers will understand what I mean.  These books aren’t ones that I have to struggle to write.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I have to fight to keep from writing only in this “universe”.  There is at least one more book in the series after Serenade.  Of course, that also depends on how well the series continues to sell.

There are also a couple of other projects on the fire, with deadlines also coming up.  I’ll let you know more about them in the near future.  In the meantime, Nocturnal Origins is available in both print and digital versions.  You can find it through the Naked Reader Press storefront or through Amazon, B&N, etc.  The great thing about NRP is that there is no DRM added to their e-books.

So, without further ado, here’s a brief snippet from Nocturnal Serenade, coming out in November from Naked Reader Press.

*     *     *     *

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.

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Sorry to be late this morning.  I’ve been taking care of some business for NRP before breaking long enough to blog. I know this is my writing blog, but I do want to give everyone a heads up that we’ll be  making some announcements soon and I’m really excited about it.

I also want to thank everyone who has purchased Nocturnal Origins and have been helping spread the word.  Please, keep it up.  You guys are my best form of PR and I do appreciate it.

Now, since it is Thursday, here’s another snippet from Russian Nights.

*     *     *     *

“Katya, please, go upstairs and make sure your brother is getting dressed for dinner.  You know your papa will be home soon.”

            Irena Baranova stood in the doorway to her husband’s study and shook her head.  She’d made this simple request once already.  Not that Katya had heard.  The girl – no, she had to quit thinking of Katerina as a girl.  She was a young woman now – had her nose in a book.  As was almost always the case when she read, Katya was oblivious to the world.

Not that Irena minded.  They had a few minutes before Feodor returned home.  Time enough for Katya to finish the page and then see to her brother.

            Eighteen year old Katerina Yelizaveta Baranova sat in a well-worn chair before the far window.  The heavy draperies were pulled tightly against the falling darkness outside.  The dark of the room was relieved only by the glow from the lamp next to Katya.  Not that Katya realized how late it had become.  Once lost in a book, nothing else existed for her.

            Aggravated as she should be, Irena couldn’t help smiling as she looked at her daughter, her eldest child.  Tall and willowy, it was hard to guess it from the way Katya sat curled in the chair, much like Kisa, the family cat.  Katya’s thick auburn hair fell in soft waves below her shoulders.  She might not be beautiful in the classic sense.  But Irena knew she’d grow more beautiful as she matured, something other women would resent with the passing years.  Until then, there was a strength to Katya’s features, softened by compassion, that couldn’t be ignored.

            “Katya,” she repeated, a hint of impatience creeping into her voice.

            “Mama.”  Katya looked up from her book, her expression a mix of affection and aggravation.  “Sasha’s probably got his nose pressed to his window, watching for Papa.  You know how he misses him.”

            “Which is why I need you to make sure he’s not so busy watching for your papa, he’s forgotten to get ready for supper.”

            “Mama, you worry too much.”  Katya carefully marked her place before closing the book and placing it on the table next to her chair.  Then, with a cat-like grace Irena envied, she uncurled her legs and climbed to her feet.  “But I will go hurry Sasha along.  I want to make sure he’s worked on his lessons for morning any way.”

            Katya lightly kissed her mother’s cheek before leaving the study.  Irena looked after her, no longer trying to hide her smile.  Katya was just one example of why no one would mistake them for a “typical” Russian family, noble or not.  In fact, being an atypical Russian family was something both she and Feodor, her husband these last twenty years, prided themselves on.  Just as they prided themselves on raising an intelligent, independent daughter.

Of course, there were times she might wish Katya was just a bit less independent. . . . But not often.

***

            “Papa’s home!”

            The door to her brother’s bedroom flew open and the boy hurtled into the hallway.  With the ease of much practice, Katya stepped to the side, all but hugging the wall.  Her right hand reached out and closed around Sasha’s arm as he rushed past, pulling him to a halt.  Twelve year old Aleksander glared up at her, outraged that she’d stopped him.  Then, as she reached out to ruffle his dark hair, smiling in affection, he ducked his head and grinned in response.

            “Papa may be home, but do you want to greet him by bouncing down the stairs on your head?” she teased.

            “But my head is hard, Katya.  You keep telling me that,” Sasha said with a cheeky grin.

            “So I do, Sashel.  But think how sad it would make Mama if you bled all over your new shirt.  And what of Anna who would have to clean the mess?”

            “Well –” He tilted his head to one side as he looked up at her, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth even as he pretended to consider it all.  “I guess it would make for a homecoming Papa might not enjoy.”

            “Then, shall we go down now and give him one he will enjoy?”

            Together they made their way downstairs a bit more slowly – although, to be honest, not that much more – than Sasha wanted.  After all, he wasn’t the only one anxious to see their father after Feodor’s week long absence.  But there was one person in the household who had missed Papa more than either of them and that was their mother.  Knowing that, Katya hoped she’d managed to stall her brother long enough for their parents to have a short but private greeting because it would be their last time alone until Sasha went to bed and she retired to her room and her own studies.

            As they entered the salon, Katya smiled to see how her father still held Mama close, love clearly reflected on both their expressions “Papa!” Sasha rushed across the salon and flung himself into Feodor’s open arms.

            “Irena, I do believe our son is glad to see me,” he said, his brown eyes twinkling.  “But how about our daughter?  Have I been gone so long she’s forgotten me?”

            Katya grinned and hurried to join her brother in their father’s embrace.  “Never, Papa, but little Aleksander here didn’t look like he’d make room for me.”

            Feodor cupped her chin in his big hand and kissed her cheek.  “It is good to be home.  Now, I know your mother and Anna have supper almost ready.  Why don’t the two of you help set the table while I freshen up?”

            Katya hid her smile to see how badly her brother wanted to protest.  After all, Papa had just gotten home.  But neither of them had been raised to either backtalk their parents or take for granted anything they had.  That was one thing that made their family different from so many of those of Katya’s friends.  Despite the fact her parents came from old, aristocratic families, they had taken great pains to make sure both Katya and Sasha understood that did not entitle them to anything they did not earn for themselves. 

            Because of that, they did not have a houseful of servants.  Instead, they had Anna Petrovskaya, their live-in maid who helped Irena with the cleaning and cooking, and her husband, Viktor, who acted as butler and chauffeur.  Both had come with the family when it moved to St. Petersburg in 1906 when Feodor began working for Peter Stolypin, then Minister of the Interior.

If an occasion arose when they needed additional help, Irena hired it.  As a result, both Katya and Sasha had learned early on how to pick up after themselves and care for the home.  After all, if they were lucky enough to have a home and nice things, they should learn how to care for them themselves.

            “Come along, Sasha.”  Katya smiled once more at their father and winked at their mother.  “You can talk to Papa over supper.”

            Later, they retired to the sitting room, as they did most evenings when the entire family was home.  Unlike many of the other families of their acquaintance, they did not follow the trend of the children being sent to their rooms or the nursery while the adults went their separate ways.  No, Irena and Feodor believed in the importance of spending time with their children, sharing the events of the day with one another.

Katya smiled indulgently as she watched her brother all but run across the room to settle on the floor next to their father’s favorite chair.  How many nights had he spent sitting there, looking up at Feodor, raptly listening to their father talk about any variety of topics?  Not that she blamed him.  Katya had spent her fair share of nights sitting there as well, at least she had until her mother had taken her to one side and explained how important it was for Sasha to have some of their father’s attention now that he was growing up.

            “So,” Feodor began as he leaned back and reached for his snifter of brandy.  “How have things been while I was gone?”

            “You know how it is, dear,” Irena began, her blue eyes twinkling as she glanced first at Sasha and then at Katya where she curled on the far end of the sofa opposite her mother.  “The children miss you, but try to act as if they don’t.”

            “Mama!” Sasha protested, a blush creeping across his fair cheeks.

            “Don’t let your mama tease you, Sashel.  I know you do your best to be the man of the family, and I appreciate it.  I feel better when I have to leave, knowing you are here looking after your mother and sister.”

            But he didn’t, not really, and Katya knew it.  Just as she knew he wished she had been born a son.  Oh, he loved her.  There was no doubting that.  He made it clear every day.  Still, she knew he’d feel better if she had been a son, just as she knew some sort of trouble was coming and it worried her father.  But what could she do?  He wouldn’t talk to her about it.  Nor, she suspected, had he discussed it with her mother and, until he had, there was very little any of them could do to help.

            “Katya.” Concern touched Feodor’s voice and she shook herself.

            “I’m sorry, Papa.”

            “You were a world away, child.  Is everything all right?”

            “It is.”  She smiled to reassure him.  “I was just thinking about today’s classes.”

            “Are you sure you weren’t thinking about some boy?” he teased and it was her turn to blush.

            “I’m positive,” she answered firmly.

            “Feodor, quit teasing the girl,” Irena scolded, her eyes sparkling with good humor.  “Katya has been quite busy this week helping with Sasha’s studies as well as attending her classes at university.”

            “Good.” The smile he turned to his daughter had Katya all but preening in pride.  “And, Katya, I promise we will discuss sending you to either Uncle Stefan in New York or Aunt Katerina in London to attend university there very soon.”

            For a moment, Katya just sat there, looking from one of her parents to the other. Then, as the full import of what Feodor said sunk in, she all but flew from the sofa to throw her arms around her father’s neck.  She couldn’t believe it.  She’d hoped — no, she’d prayed — to be able to go to university in England or America, but she’d never thought she’d be allowed.  It cost so much money and her parents had said many times they did not want her so far away.  Now, all of a sudden, it looked like her dream might come true.

            What had happened to change Papa’s mind?

            “Thank you, Papa, Mama.” She returned to her seat, pausing long enough to give her mother a hug equally as enthusiastic as the one she’d given her father.

            “No promises, Katya.  We will have to see.  But I do promise your mother and I will discuss it with you soon.”

            She nodded, knowing she shouldn’t get her hopes up, but unable to help it.  Even discussing it was more than she’d ever expected.  Whenever she’d brought up the possibility before, one or the other of her parents had always changed the subject.  She didn’t care why they suddenly seemed to have changed their minds.  Not if it meant possibly being able to live out her dream.

            “I understand, Papa, and thank you.”

            “Tell us, dear, how bad was the trip home?” Irena asked.  Her fingers lightly traced the floral pattern of the teacup she held.  A hint of concern colored her voice.  Katya understood.  They’d both worried the weather would delay Feodor’s return.

            “Uneventful.  Of course, if I’d left Moscow any later, I might not have made it home today.  The closer to the capital we came, the worse the weather.  I admit, I worried about ice on the rails.”  He sipped his brandy and the reached down to ruffle Sasha’s hair.  “And how was your day today, Sasha?”

            For the next few minutes, the boy described in infinite detail everything that happened at school.  Both Feodor and Irena listened, occasionally asking a question.   Katya wasn’t surprised when her brother commented on the number of his classmates who had not been in school, taking advantage of the weather to stay home.  Nor was she surprised when he named several of them.  Too many of his classmates came from families who felt the rules did not apply to them unless the Tsar said they did.  That attitude would only lead to more trouble for Russia.

            “And your religion class?”

            For a moment Sasha didn’t respond and Katya frowned in concern.  He generally enjoyed his classes with Father Dmitri and couldn’t wait to tell them what he’d learned that day.  Worried, Katya leaned forward, waiting.

            “Sasha,” Irena prompted.  “Did something happen today?”

            “I don’t know, Mama.”  A frown creased his forehead.  “Father Dmitri taught us more about God’s covenant with man.  It was interesting.”

            “Sashel, what is it?  What troubles you?” Feodor asked.

            “We had a visitor today, Papa.”

            Katya glanced from her father to her mother and back again.  This was the first she’d heard of a visitor and, judging by her mother’s expression, the first Irena had heard of it as well.  Still, that didn’t explain Sasha’s reluctance to talk about the class.  Could something have happened, something Father Dmitri hadn’t spoken about with Irena when she collected Sasha from the cathedral?

            “Who, son?”

            “Father Grigori.”

            For a moment, no one said anything.  Then Feodor cleared his throat and spoke softly, gently.  “Grigori Rasputin, son?”

            “Yes, Papa.”

            “Did he say anything?”

            “He said he wanted to know how our studies were going and he listened to us recite scripture for a few minutes.  Then he left.”

            “Sasha, what else?” Irena asked.  When he didn’t reply, she moved to kneel before him, taking his hands in hers.  “Sashel, you know you can tell us anything, no?”

            He nodded once, almost reluctantly.

            “Then what troubles you?”

            “I know it’s wrong to fear him, Mama, but I do.  He scares me.”

            “Sasha.” Katya couldn’t help herself.  She moved quickly to kneel next to their mother, closing the protective circle around her brother.  No one, no matter who they were, was allowed to scare him.  “It’s all right.  There is nothing wrong with fearing him.  To be honest, he scares me too.”

            For a moment Sasha said nothing.  Then, when he looked up at her, his blue eyes that were so much like their mother’s filled with tears.  “Really?”

            “Really,” she confirmed.  “He is so different from Father Dmitri and the other priests.  Maybe because he’s so intense.  Maybe because of his role with the Royal Family.  But, yes, he scares me.”

            She did her best to let him see she spoke the truth.  Grigori Rasputin did frighten her.  She’d met him once, in Nevsky Prospect when she and their mother had been shopping.  That day, she’d realized Irena didn’t like the holy man despite the fact her mother had been nothing but respectful as she introduced him to her daughter.  That alone would have been enough to keep the memory sharp.  But it was her own reaction to him that surprised her, and that came rushing back. 

Never before had she reacted so strongly to anyone.  Nor had she ever wanted to avoid being near a person as she did the holy man from Siberia.  It had been all she could do not to turn and cross the street, leaving her mother to deal with Rasputin on her own.  There was something about him that was wrong.  She knew it, even if she didn’t understand it.

And now the man had been near her brother and had scared him.  Why?

            “Your sister is correct, Sasha.  It isn’t wrong to fear Rasputin.  But it also isn’t something to discuss outside of the family.  Not even to Father Dmitri,” Feodor said, his expression troubled as he looked over his son’s head to Irena.  Seeing it, Katya swallowed hard, a knot of fear growing deep inside her.  “Did he do or say anything else?”

            “No, Papa.  Only that we were credits to Father Dmitri’s fine teaching.  But it didn’t really sound like he meant it.”

            “Don’t worry about it anymore, Sasha.  You’ve done nothing wrong.”  Feodor pulled him to his feet and gave him a hug.  “Now, it is bedtime for you, my young man.  Go up with your sister.  She’ll help you get ready.  Your mother and I will be up shortly to kiss you good night.”

            “Papa’s right, Sasha,” Katya said, taking her cue from their father as she climbed to her feet.  “I will take a look at your lessons while you change.  Then you can read to me for a change.”

            He grinned, almost despite himself, and slipped his hand in hers.  With one last look over her shoulder at their parents, Katya knew she wasn’t the only one worried by Rasputin’s sudden appearance in Sasha’s class that afternoon.  Unfortunately, she had a feeling neither Feodor nor Irena would discuss their concerns with her, at least not yet.

            And that worried her more than the rest of it.

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A year or so ago, Sarah A. Hoyt and Kate Paulk challenged me to write a historical fantasy.  Now, I know some of you don’t see that as being all that hard.  But you have to take into account the source of the challenge.  Sarah has been known to put on her pointy boots and kick me in the butt to get me to write.  Kate, on the other hand, can be down right evil in her attempt to assist Sarah in keeping my butt in chair and fingers on the keyboard.  So any old historical fantasy just wasn’t going to do.  Oh no, they had to choose something not only off the beaten path but also something, to quote Monty Python, “completely different”.  The result was Russian Nights.  It’s almost finished, but hasn’t been edited yet…so take that as fair warning.

Set in St. Petersburg, Russia in the months before the Russian Revolution, this is a world of intrigue, political machination and magic.  Grigori Rasputin, the Mad Monk, is at the center of it all and knows his life depends on finding a way to save the life of the tsaravich.  But in this world, young Alexei doesn’t suffer from hemophilia, although the world at large believes he suffers from the “curse of the royals”.  No,  magic is the source of his illness and the only means to save him.  But to do so, others must be sacrificed.  All for the good of Mother Russia — and, of course, Rasputin.

As with our own timeline, Rasputin is feared and despised and the royals mistrusted.  Too many people, too many children have simply disappeared.  The tsars cossacks have been too enthusiastic in quashing the protests and strikes.  The pogroms have only stirred the troubled pot even more.

That should do as an intro…at least I hope it does.  Kate and Sarah didn’t give me much more than that when they set me down this road.  Now, with apologies to those who have already seen this, I give you the opening of Russian Nights.

*     *     *     *

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 senstives. 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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Wow, it doesn’t seem possible that Nocturnal Origins has been out for a month.  Thanks to everyone who has bought it, read it and spread the word.  You’ve been great.

I know there have been some of you who have been waiting for the print version of Origins and I wanted to let you know that it will be available soon.  I have seen the page proofs and the cover design.  If everything goes as expected, it should be available in a week or so.  I’ll keep you guys in the loop.

So, while you wait, do you want more snippets?

(Yes, I’m trying to find reasons not to work on the top secret project that shall not be named because Nocturnal Serenade wants to be written and the tsp is dragging its feet.)

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I want to thank everyone who’s been kind enough to buy Nocturnal Origins.  It was a fun book to write and one that is very near and dear to my heart.  I know, I know, all my books are supposed to be near and dear.  And they are.  But there are some that just seen to hang around and demand more be written.  Origins is one of these.  I have several more books in the series outlined and the immediate sequel about half-way written.  However, I have to be pragmatic.  As much as I love the book and its characters, I need to work on other projects until we see if Origins sells well enough to warrant a sequel.  So, for those of you who have asked about the next book, here’s what I need you to do — spread the word about Origins.  That’s the best form of promotion there is.

Now for the promised tease, here’s a short excerpt from the sequel, Nocturnal Serenade.  This will be the last snippet from it until we see if I’ll be finishing the book.  As much as I’d love to keep doing the snippets, it’s too much of a temptation to finish the book when I have another I have to finish to meet a deadline.

As with the previous snippet, this one is out of order.  It is also from the rough draft, so there will be changes in the final — fingers crossed — version.  Just a little background and I guess this deserves a snerk warning, even if only a little one.  For those who haven’t read the snippets, or who haven’t read Origins — and why haven’t you 😉 — Mackenzie and her mother have what is best described as a strained relationship.  Mac simply never did fit her mother’s ideal of what a daughter should be or do.  Becoming a cop certainly wasn’t on Elizabeth’s list of approved professions for her eldest daughter.  Strained relationship or not, they are going to have to talk about what’s happened to Mac and why her mother hadn’t warned her.

*   *   *

Elizabeth slammed down the phone, frustration building to the point she wanted to scream.  How dare that little chit tell her Mackenzie wasn’t in!  That she hadn’t been in all day.  She knew better, especially since Mac wasn’t home.  Since her eldest daughter took vacations about as frequently as did she – in other words, never – she had to be at work.

So, as usual, Mackenzie was avoiding her calls.

Well, that wasn’t going to work.  Not this time.  This time they had to talk, whether either of them wanted to or not.

Dear God, did they have to talk.

All it took was a glance at the photos spread across the top of her desk to remind her of just how important it was to do just that.  A dozen photos, all time stamped.  All taken over the last several months.  Some looked as if they’d been taken at Mackenzie’s house.  Others were taken in a wooded area, perhaps a park of some sort.  All showed Mac in the midst of changing, part human and part-part monster.

A sob choked Elizabeth as she tried to hold it back.  No matter how much bad blood there was between them, she’d never wanted this for Mac.  It was her fear of the family curse that had led to so much of the trouble with the girl.  Mac had resented the way Elizabeth watched her, how she demanded to know about every aspect of her daughter’s life.  To Mac, it meant her mother didn’t trust her.

It would have been so easy to prove to Mac that wasn’t it.  But it would have meant telling her why she was so worried, and that was something Elizabeth simply hadn’t been able to do.  She couldn’t even discuss it with her own mother, despite all the times her mother had tried.  So Elizabeth had watched Mac, waiting for the day when the curse would manifest itself in her.  And Mac had resented her, as any normal teen would resent it.  All of which led to a breach in their relationship neither of them had tried to heal.

Now, somehow, Elizabeth had to put all that aside as she reached out to her daughter.  She had to find a way to make Mackenzie listen.  They couldn’t risk anyone revealing what Mac had become.  But how?  How was she going to get Mac to listen to her, much less talk to her?

Since Mac wouldn’t take her calls, there were only a few alternatives available, none of which appealed to Elizabeth.  She could call her own mother and ask Ellen Santos to contact Mackenzie.  Or she could go park herself in the squad room until Mac finally realized she wasn’t going to leave.

Both options could, and most likely would, explode in her face.  Still, she had to do something.

Elizabeth sighed heavily, once more looking at the photos.  When she’d found them mixed in with the mail the night before, she’d known she couldn’t ignore them.  Someone not only knew about the family curse, but they were targeting her – and Mac.  But who?  And, more importantly, why?

Yet she hadn’t called Mac right away.  She’d done her best to find something, anything about the photos or the envelope they had come in that would help her identify who had sent them, only to find nothing.  There wasn’t even a note with these photos.  It was as if the sender wanted  her off-balance.  They were playing with her, and she knew it.  She just didn’t know what to do to stop it.

So, after a sleepless night, she’d called Mackenzie.  She’d called early enough that her daughter should have still been in bed.  But there’d been no answer.  So she’d tried calling Mac at the station, only to be told Mackenzie wasn’t there.  Just as she’d been told the other three times she’d called.

Damn her daughter’s hard head and stubborn pride.  It really was a good thing nothing had happened to either of the twins or to Ellen.

It would be so easy to fall back into the habit of relying on Ellen to act as intermediary between her and Mackenzie.  Unfortunately, as easy as that would be, she couldn’t do it.  First, because it meant she’d have to have that talk with Ellen again – the discussion not only about what the family was, but also why she should have told Mackenzie and the twins long ago. Second, and in some ways worse, Elizabeth was afraid that if she did talk to her mother, Ellen would tell her she knew about what was happening with Mackenzie, and Elizabeth wasn’t sure she wanted to know her daughter had gone to Ellen instead of her.

Not that she could blame Mac if she had.  The two of them hadn’t had a heart to heart talk since Mac’s fifteenth birthday.  To be honest, they really hadn’t talked since that day.  And that was yet another memory Elizabeth didn’t want to think about just then.

Mac simply wasn’t leaving her any choice.  They had to talk, and they had to talk now.  So, whether Mac like it or not, her mother was about to track her down and force her to listen.

Heaven help them both.

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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.”

“MacKenzie!”

“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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