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Posts Tagged ‘Nocturnal Serenade’

Nocturnal Serenade, book 2 in the Nocturnal Lives series, is now available. You can find it on Amazon or through Naked Reader Press. It should soon be available through Barnes & Noble as well as Smashwords and other outlets. The first book, Nocturnal Serenade, is currently available through Amazon. It will return to other outlets in the near future.

Here’s a quick blurb about Nocturnal Serenade:

Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

To go with the release of Nocturnal Serenade, I have a great new cover for Nocturnal Origins. I liked the original cover — and you can still find it on the hard copy version of the book — but I think the new cover is more accurate to the novel. Many thanks to Sarah A. Hoyt for the design of both covers.

Next month, my short story Nocturnal Haunts will also be coming out from Naked Reader Press. It will be available for individual purchase as well as being included in the anthology Sisters in Blood (Kate Paulk, Sarah A. Hoyt and myself). As soon as I have a publication date, I’ll post it.

So, I guess that’s about it for now. Back to the keyboard to write some more.

Later!

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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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This past month, I’ve been focusing more on my writing than in previous months.  Part of it is because I have deadlines looming large.  Part of it is because the job is still as demanding as ever but I’m more confident in what I’m doing.  Of course, I still need to clone myself — as well as everyone else at Naked Reader Press — to keep up with everything that’s going on, but I’d rather be busy than twiddling my thumbs.

As I’ve mentioned here and at Mad Genius Club, part of the problem with my writing has been the number of stops and starts I’ve had to make because stories wouldn’t cooperate or I’d suddenly realize the book I was writing wasn’t the one I was supposed to be writing, etc.  Anyway, I thought I’d give you a taste of some of the different voices/plots/characters demanding my time today.  Then, if you feel you need to call the men in the white jackets, go ahead.  I need a nice vacation for a week or so.

From Hunter’s Moon:

Death is inevitable.  Try as you might, you can’t prevent it.  Medical science and a healthy dose of luck might postpone it, but that’s all.  Sooner or later we all die.  It’s what happens next that’s up for grabs.

Just because there’s no way around it doesn’t mean I want to die one moment sooner than absolutely necessary.  For one thing, the way my luck runs, the next phase very likely would not find me traipsing happily through the Elysian Fields or whatever you call the afterlife.  No, it would be my luck to turn into one of the creatures I’ve spent most of my unnatural life hunting and killing, all in an effort to keep humanity safe.

Unfortunately, it looked like my life had finally run out.  It was bound to sooner or later but, given a choice, it would be later – much, much later.

I admit it.  I was in a lousy mood.  Dealing with cops has never been my idea of fun.  Dealing with them in a dark alley before dawn and in the middle of a “job” ranks right down there with my least favorite things to do.  That’s especially true when the cop in question looks all of thirteen and is convinced he’s just seen me commit cold-blooded murder.

Damnation, I hate days like this.

Then there is this one that I’ve posted before from Skeletons in the Closet:

All my life, my mama’s tried to raise me to be a proper lady.  No, that’s not quite right.  She’s tried to raise me to be a proper SOUTHERN lady, full of refinement and grace, dressed in lace and delicate pastels.  To hear her talk, it’s been a futile effort that’s caused her more than her fair share of gray hair.  And, where the lace and pastels are concerned, she’s right.  Still, she’s managed to get me to say, “yes, ma’am,” and “no, sir”.  For the most part, I’m respectful of my elders, even when they don’t deserve it.  I even wear clean underwear whenever I leave the house – usually without any extraneous holes in it – because Mama is convinced some rampaging bus will find me and strike me down, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

I swear, I think it’s her life’s dream that it will actually happen.  You see, in her world, a trip to the ER has only one ending.  The handsome, rich and oh-so-conveniently single doctor who saves my life will fall madly in love with me.  What she seems to forget is that in a bus vs. me battle, the bus will always win.  So, unless the doctor is also a re-animator, he’d be falling for a corpse and, well, ewwwwww!

Besides, having somehow managed to survive a close encounter of the nearly fatal kind, the last thing I’d be interested in is finding a man to settle down and raise a passel of kids with.  Not that it would deter Mama one little bit.  Hell, she’d probably arrive at the ER with her minister firmly in tow, a marriage license burning a hole in her hand bag, all ready to fill in the blanks and make me a married woman.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my mama rarely lets reality interfere with her plans.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can usually deal with Mama’s plans and manipulations.  I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out how.  All I have to do is make sure I look both ways before crossing the street.  Of course, the odds of a bus hitting me here in Misty Creek are about as good as the odds of Hell freezing over.  So I figure I’m safe – at least for the time being.

Knock on wood.

From Jubilee Plot:

“Slainte!”

He leaned back and nodded slightly, satisfaction filling him.  Who would have guessed he’d have found so many kindred souls in America.  Kindred souls with money and the patriotic fervor only those driven from their homelands seemed to possess.  Kindred souls who would do almost anything he asked, if for no other reason than to strike a blow against the English who continued to refuse to admit Ireland was for the Irish.

Perhaps Ireland would finally be freed from its English oppressors.

It was strange, and certainly now what he’d expected, but he felt at home here.  Chicago was live with commerce and trade.  Everywhere he turned, someone had an opportunity to offer.  Sure and he knew some were merely opportunities to part him from his cash.  But now, after several days in the city, he was beginning to understand why so many called this the Land of Opportunity.  Where else could an Irish Catholic who fled his homeland with nothing but the clothes on his back be able to make his fortune?

But it was more than that.  Parts of Chicago were more Irish than Ireland.  Even here.  The poorly lit pub was filled with voices, many of which sounded as if they’d arrived from Ireland not much before he had.  Mixed in with the lyrical accents he knew so well were the broader, flatter accents of those who’d never stepped foot on Irish soil but who were just as Irish as was he, in heart and mind if not in location.  Irish Gaelic mixed with English, lulling him into a sense of security, almost as if he was home.  Add to that the smells of too many people in too small of a space, stale ale, whiskey and smoke and, well, he could be sitting in his favorite pub in Dublin.

Familiar it might be, but it wouldn’t do to be careless.  Even here in Chicago, home of one of the largest Irish populations in America, the Brits had their spies, something his companions didn’t seem to understand.  Little did they know that the Home Office, as well as the Metropolitan Police, had agents everywhere, doing all they could to derail the movement for Irish independence. 

The Brits might decry those patriots fighting for Irish independence as murderers and traitors, but they weren’t above murder or the use of double agents who thought nothing of leading brave Fenian men and women to their deaths.  Of course, he couldn’t explain how he knew this, not without risking his own life.  So he’d choose his words carefully and keep his eyes and ears open.  That tact had kept him alive all these years.  Hopefully, it would for many more years as well.

The fact his four companions seemed unconcerned about meeting in a crowded pub to discuss their “business” didn’t sit well.  The Shamrock and Shillelagh might be considered safe by those who frequented it, but its connections to Clan na Gael were well known, not only to those who believed in Irish independence but to those who opposed it as well.  A stranger might not be made to feel welcome unless vouched for by one of the regulars, but who was to say one of the regulars wasn’t a spy — or worse, a traitor.  Even if the stranger posed not threat, there were too many people around, too many ears to hear what he and his companions had to say.  All it took was a slip of the tongue, innocent or not, by someone who happened to overhear the wrong thing to foil their plans. No, he’d feel much better if they were meeting somewhere isolated and easily secured.  Unfortunately, he’d left the place of their meeting to his companions and it was too late to change it now.

“You’re not drinking, Francis.”

“Wasn’t I too busy thinking about the pretty lass back home?”  Let them think what they would.  They were amateurs at the conspiracy game.  If he told them how worried he was, it might queer the deal.  He couldn’t risk that.  So, he’d lie.  It was only a white lie after all, one designed to protect them all, whether they realized they needed protecting or not.  “Slainte!”  He tossed back his whiskey, savoring the smoky taste before signaling for another round.  “Now, Paddy, you said you had news –“

Francis Millen paused, shaking his head, as, with a puff of smoke and squeak of metal wheels against wooden floor, a small servercart rolled up to the table.  America truly was a strange land.  He’d seen some mechanicals in London and Dublin before, but not like here. It seemed as if the mechanicals were almost everywhere, in every shape and size.  Steam powered airships floated through the skies.  Mechanicals that looked like oddly built spiders scurried up the sides of buildings, sealing cracks in windows and conducting other minor repairs. In this country, technicians and engineers were encouraged, even respected, and they took advantage of it.  Even in the pubs their strange machines seemed almost commonplace.  A quick glance at the bar showed the pub owner, a large controller in his hands, guiding the servercart amongst the tables, stopping from time to time so the patrons could grab their drinks.  Each time the ‘cart started, it gave a puff of steam from its smokestack, much like a train engine’s, adding to the smoke already hanging in the air from cigarettes, cigars and the occasional pipe.

“Well, you’ll be home to her soon enough, Francis,” Patrick Murray assured him, snagging another whiskey from the ‘cart before it moved on.  “We think we’ve a solution to your problem.”

Add to all of these Russian Nights , my historical fantasy/alternate history, Nocturnal Serenade, the sequel to Nocturnal Origins, a space opera that is really starting to bother me because it’s been neglected for so long, a mystery and the project I hinted at yesterday but can’t say too much about just yet.  So, is it any wonder I sometimes want the voices to shut up just so I can hear myself think?

 

 

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I Have Been Pirated

I knew it was bound to happen.  At least I hoped it was.  No one wants to have their work pirated.  After all, it’s hard work to write a book and get it published.  So, once it is finally available, any writer wants folks to actually buy it.  We have bills to pay, after all.  But then there’s that niggling of self-doubt at the back of your mind.  What if no one thinks your book is good enough to pirate?  Okay, maybe I’m weird there.  But I had wondered.

Now, though, seeing a site that has Origins available for a free download — and it’s not a site NRP has an agreement with — I don’t know whether to be pleased or insulted.  Pirating really doesn’t bother me that much.  Not on an intellectual level.  Maybe I’ve spent too much time hanging around Baen that I’ve been infected by their point of view.  I really do feel that pirating is nothing more than a form of promotion.  It gets our books into hands that might not otherwise have gotten it.  Some of those folks will then go out and buy the book and others by me or other NRP authors.

But this site is one that bothers me.  Most pirate sites have contact addresses you can send a take down notice to.  This one doesn’t.  No, only after a searching and finally clicking on the “sign up for a new account” did I find a “contact us” link.  And that opened up an email form to fill out.  Further investigation shows that this particular site has only been around for three months.  But…and this is the big but…if you keep looking around, it is clear the site has been around much longer.  It is simply one of those that changes its address and name from time to time.

Now, like I said, I’m not all that worried about someone pirating my book.  In fact, I am sort of pleased — again, in a perverse sort of way — that only one site has, so far, posted it for free download.  (And no, I didn’t sign up for an account nor did I try to download it.  I like my computer too much to risk the sorts of bugs these sites tend to carry).  One of the reasons I like NRP, both as my publisher and as my employer, is the fact that it doesn’t attach DRM to its titles.  The fact that NRP titles aren’t showing up en masse on pirate sites tends to prove my theory that it is the challenge of DRM that brings out a lot of these guys, not just their need/desire to give away something that should be paid for.  Add in the fact that NRP doesn’t charge more than $4.99 so far and, well, there really is no reason to pirate their titles.

Still, part of me is outraged to find my first book on a pirate site even as it is thrilled to be there.  Mind you, I’ll be keeping my eye out for other sites as well as keeping an eye on this particular one.  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.  After all, we do have to keep these pirates in business….right?

;-p

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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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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.

“Lieutenant.”

“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.

“Damn.”

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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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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