Last preview

coffee-snack-cup

I need more coffee.  Oh, guys.

I know, I know, it’s been a lot of previews up in here lately.  But Brewing Trouble goes live on Thursday, so next week you should have a different sort of post here.  Assuming NaNoWriMo hasn’t completely shut my brain down.

Hah, maybe I’ll write about how it’s difficult to be creative on demand.  Entirely possible, but tough.

At any rate, here’s your last excerpt before launch, I hope you enjoy it!

 

Brewing Trouble ebookA heavy shudder ran over her body and made the old bench creak.Suddenly, the stillness of the night and the soft gurgle of the water seemed ominous, and the soothing peace she’d sought fled for the comfort of the lighted apartments.Sarah wanted nothing more than to follow it.She turned in her seat and started to stand up, and the shadowed figure standing on the path froze her in place.For one panicked second she thought the wights were back and had somehow gotten inside the wards, but then the familiar, friendly, safe greeting reached her.

“Mr. Young!” Sarah gasped.The world around her snapped back into place, the stress and anxiety driven off by the quiet older spirit.Mr. Young smiled and tipped his head at her, his brown eyes soft and comforting.

“Sure, I’d love for you to join me.”Sarah scooted over on the bench to make room for him.He never spoke— at least not that she had ever heard— but he still managed to communicate somehow.Nobody really understood it, but everyone agreed that you just knew, somehow, what it was he wanted to say.

Mr. Young stepped over and sat gingerly on the bench, sighing in simple pleasure as he settled his weight and brushed his hand over his plain brown trousers.He settled back onto the bench slowly, with a long, tired sigh.

“Oh, come on, you’re not that old.You’re barely old enough to be my grandfather,” Sarah said, then chuckled and shook her head.“Actually, you’re probably older than I would guess, aren’t you?”

Mr. Young winked at her and reached into the pocket of his cardigan.He pulled out a candy bar and snapped it in half, holding one piece out to her.

“Thanks.” Sarah accepted the gift and turned back to the pond, which was once again just a pleasant spot to spend some time.“I guess you’re only as old as you feel, huh?”

Mr. Young nodded.They sat and listened to the water splashing into the pool while they ate their treat.Finally, after swallowing his last bite, Mr. Young turned to her and tipped his head.

“Nah, I just needed a few minutes, you know?Everything’s been so hard this week, I had to step away for a breath or two.”Sarah shrugged.“This outbreak of shadow pox while Doc’s in the hospital, and then Meg got hurt today—”

Mr. Young frowned.

“She’s okay, mostly.She got shoved by some guy, and it all cascaded until the display case broke.She needed to get stitches for one cut, but otherwise she’s fine,” she said.“But I’m not fine with it.The guy that shoved her?He was sent into the shop on purpose, with a talisman specifically to get through the wards.”

Mr. Young’s frown deepened.

“I know.I’m kind of freaked out.” Sarah slumped back onto the bench and pulled her own jacket tighter around herself.The days were plenty warm, with the summer sun shining, but the evenings could get chilly and tonight definitely qualified.“Doc is being attacked deliberately, it’s not just some weird, random virus she picked up or anything.I’m so worried about her. And we don’t know what to do.Gabe saw a witch casting some sort of big spell, and she seems to be Angela Davila Meg’s so-called coven leader and all around favorite person. “I’m not Doc.I’m not my grandmother.I’m not good enough to do all this.”

She sensed rather than saw him roll his eyes, and got the impression of a snort.A lone wisp of mist drifted past her eyes where she stared at the path that they sat beside.It flowed over the ornamental gravel and collected on the surface of the pond to swirl playfully away to nothing.

“You know I’m not exactly a well trained witch.Sure, I know I have the potential, I’m not going to ignore that, but with the exception of breaking that one curse on Sebastian, I’ve never done anything big on my own.And even that was almost just pure luck, and I’m pretty sure that Kai’s dad was helping guide me.”

Mr. Young nodded.He looked around the pond and pointed at something invisible, just past the wall on the far side of the water that surrounded the whole apartment complex.

“Yeah, I fixed the wards, but I’ve worked with Doc on wards for months.I’ve never seen Shadow pox before. Or Ellie came in the other day with Dryad Flu.And now there’s another witch out there coming after the shop, and Doc, and by extension all of us.And I have to fix everything.”

It was too much for a new witch to handle on her own. Mr. Young shook his head and raised his eyebrow at her.

“Yeah, I know you’re right.Nobody can do everything by themselves.And I’m not on my own here.I’ve got you and Sebastian and Kai and everyone,” Sarah slumped on the bench. “It’s just that this feels like a problem that needs to be solved by a witch, you know?And I’m the only one around now.And I don’t even know where to begin to start.I don’t know if I can do this, and then it’ll be my fault if Doc doesn’t get better.”

Her eyes burned and she squeezed then shut against the tears.A warm hand brushed over her shoulder and she smelled something that made her think of her garden after a cool morning shower passed over it, something refreshing and healing and honest.

Tears filled Sarah’s eyes now for a different reason.Mr. Young patted her shoulder and then held out a packet of tissues.

“Thank you.”She took the tissues and dabbed at her eyes while her companion smiled gently at her.

“Yeah, Doc said I should look for other teachers, too.It seems to be a theme lately,” she said.It was a little scary to know that Mr. Young— a spirit old and powerful enough to be considered a god— had faith in her. A completely average, young, all too human witch.She had to smile at the idea that she now thought that being a witch was average.

He nudged her elbow with his own and grinned.

Sarah laughed out loud now.“Yeah.Sebastian has been after Gabe, and I made the mistake of mentioning the idea to him.Now he’s starting to get after me about it, and it’s been barely a day since the idea came up.”She sobered slightly.“Doc suggested that I study herbalism, but I don’t know.I feel like I’m getting as much hands on practice with that as I need. Maybe I should look at something else to compliment that?What do you think?”

He tipped his head and his salt-and-pepper hair caught the bit of light from the corner.It almost looked like the mist was clinging to him as much as to the pond.Sarah wondered again what sort of spirit he could be.Not that it mattered especially, but…

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“I guess.”Sarah wasn’t sure that she was ready to take a whole new degree in anything.“I mean, I could look into classes for that sort of thing.Sebastian’s been after me to take classes ever since I mentioned it.You’re right that if I’m going to stick around doing this back-room witch clinic stuff, I should know more about medicine in general.Especially if Doc’s not around as much.”Sarah refused to accept that her mentor might not recover.The Apothecary without Doc was unthinkable.

Mr. Young nudged her elbow again.His grin was sly, and Sarah had to laugh again.

“You’re right.My mother would have a harder time arguing about a medical degree,” she said.“Though I have to say, I’d probably go for something like nursing rather than trying to be a doctor.She’d complain loudly that it wasn’t prestigious enough or something, I’m sure.”

Mr. Young just rolled his eyes slightly, but Sarah didn’t get any impressions of conversation behind the gesture, so it must have been just that.She sat beside him quietly thinking for a moment before turning back to tip her own head.

“Thank you,” she said.“I didn’t realize how much I just needed a friend for a minute.”

Mr. Young patted her arm, and Sarah had the sense— not that he was speaking in any way, but there was just a connection to a feeling— that Mr. Young was looking out for his family in his own way.If family was what you made of it, then she was glad to call Mr. Young her grandfather.And Doc was more maternal than her own mother.

Sarah was going to make them both proud.

Brewing Trouble is in preorder until Thursday when it goes live, and the rest of the series will be on sale to celebrate!

NaNoWriMo ate my brain

woman-sitting-at-table-and-working-with-computer.jpgI forgot it was Monday.  So I didn’t write a blog post and now I’m in bed and have no energy to come up with one, so instead, I’m offering a small piece of Book Five, which I’m trying to complete under the NaNo guidelines.  So here, completely raw, unedited, and totally unrevised, is an excerpt from my work-in-progress.  Let me know what you think!

Kai ended the call a moment later with over polite farewells, then frowned at the phone when it rested back in its cradle.

“Who was that?” Seb asked.

“That was Lloyd Franklin, city inspector.He wants to come inspect,” Kai answered.

“Inspect what, exactly?And why?I thought we’d finished all that.” Sebastian pressed, and Kai had to shrug.

“I have no idea.The roof, I guess.Maybe the clubhouse since that was sort of a last minute thing.We’ll have to make sure that there’s no suspicious informal coffee shop stuff in there, I guess.”Kai frowned at the phone again, then shrugged and returned his attention to Gabe.“Now then, back to your problem.”

“Oh thank god,” Sebastain groaned.“If I had to spend one more hour working with the gloomy yawn machine here, I was going to run away to the Carribean.”

“Oh come on, it’s not like you’ve never showing up here exhausted from not sleeping,” Gabe shot back.“Just because my excuse isn’t as pretty as yours is, doesn’t mean you need to rub your nose in it.”

Sebastian just grinned broadly.“Sarah is pretty, isn’t she?Maybe she’ll come with me to a tropical island and neither of us will have to hear you yawn.”

“Okay, both of you,” Kai cut in.“I swear, it’s like preschool in here some days.Gabe.Let’s go through your grounding ritual real quick and see if that helps drain off some of these unscheduled nightmares.”

“I hope I never want to schedule a nightmare,” Gabe grumbled, but he kicked off his shoes and socks and stood, barefoot, to head to the small manmade spring.

“And then after that, I want you to go with Sebastian to The Apothecary.Doc’ll take one look at you and you’ll be set up with some tea or something that’ll help you get some decent rest.”

“Seriously, Gabe.I don’t want you working around here when you’re exhausted.It’s unsafe,” Sebastian agreed.

“Exactly.And it’ll get the both of you out of my hair for a while so I can get some actual work done instead of having to hold storytime and recess for you children.”Kai started toward the door.

“So you’re sending us off for naptime and a timeout instead?Very clever, Mr. Kai.Can we have art class later?”Sebastian’s voice followed him out the door and as it closed he flicked a ball of foxfire back into the room, laughing at Sebastian’s sudden yelp.

I hope it’s not too terrible.  Also, the preorder for Brewing Trouble is still up until next week!

A second sneak peek!

Here, my lovelies, is another peek at Brewing Trouble.  I hope you enjoy!

Brewing Trouble ebookIt was Tuesday and the whole atmosphere of the shop was filled with absolute insanity in Sarah’s mind.  She’d started getting phone calls while Sebastian served up dinner the night before.  A couple of the kids in the Village had come down with something and Sarah had to spend the evening doing research instead of relaxing like they’d planned, before she finally gave up and called Doc’s phone since hospital visiting hours were long over.

Doc pointed Sarah in the right direction and it was a damn good thing, too.  This bug going around wasn’t anything terrible, but it was still something that needed to be treated.  Doc told her how to make up the medicine that the kids would need and how they should take it, and said it should start working for them pretty quickly.  She also warned that the number of cases would increase before the kids started getting better.  She hadn’t said anything about almost every kid in the Village coming down with it at the same time, nor that every one of their parents would be calling Sarah in a panic.

So, Sarah had been effectively trapped in the back of the shop all morning, mixing batch after batch of the potion that would help the kids get over the worst of it while they recovered.  Now it was just after one in the afternoon and she’d had to field about thirty phone calls of varying intensity and reassure everyone that she was making the potion as fast as she could and would have the first batch ready by around 3 for Sebastian to come and pick up for delivery.

The fact that it just needed to simmer for a while inside the grid of magic that she’d set up around the portable cooktop on the workbench for an hour was more of a relief than Sarah had imagined it would be.  It meant that she could sit down for a few minutes before hopping back up to make a few phone calls.  She had run out of two ingredients, unfortunately, and needed to replace them before she could start the next batch.

Before that, though, she needed to check in with the actual shop.  Gabe could handle most things, and she thanked all the gods she could think of that he was in today.  Still, it was technically her job to be in charge, and they’d been busy every time she stuck her head out front.  Not swamped enough to call for reinforcements, but busy enough that none of them had taken a break since opening.  Sarah decided that she would let Meg take a break, then Gabe, then use her own break to go pick up the ingredients she needed.  By the time she got back the first batch would be cool and ready to bottle.

As she approached the curtain that draped over the opening to the kitchen serving the cafe, she heard the normal hum of chatter die away and a man’s voice carried over top, raised in irritation.

“If you can’t even get my order right, what’s the damn point of taking it?” he said.

“Sir, I’m sorry you’re not—” Meg tried to answer, but just as Sarah emerged from the kitchen, the man who had been yelling reached out and shoved Meg’s shoulder hard enough to send her stepping back.  The whole room full of people watched as she tried to keep the tray of used dishes steady while stumbling backwards to regain her balance.  Even the nasty customer seemed somewhat surprised by the result of his actions as Meg took one last attempted step back and got her foot snagged on the leg of a chair.

That was all it took.  Meg went tumbling back and caught her elbow on the edge of the cafe table on her way past.  Cups and saucers and silverware went flying to land in a cacophony of splintering china that bounced and scattered all over the room. Meg grabbed at the table’s edge, trying and failing to save both it and herself. It landed heavily against the display case with Meg’s momentum behind it.  The crack of shattering glass replaced the crash of the table once it smashed through the front of the display.  Meg shrieked and let go of the table to wrap her arms protectively over her face to fend off the newly created daggers that fell around her like rain.

There was a moment of dead silence in the shop as everyone stared at the disaster that was still skittering to a halt in shards of glass and ceramic and a smear of chocolate cream where a cake had once been.

Trouble’s Brewing

Here, my dear, patient readers, is a little teaser excerpt from Brewing Trouble.  The manuscript is finally complete, and off to the editor, so if you see any typos, please feel free to let me know!  After all, even editors are only human.

 

Sarah and Gabe were laughing when they walked into The Apothecary tea shop.  Gabe only helped out a few days a week now that he was working with Sebastian and Kai at the apartments.  He didn’t need to wait tables anymore, and as a result of his schedule, it meant that he was working seven days a week.  Still, he said he liked the atmosphere at the shop, and he’d rather spend a day off there anyway, might as well get paid for it.  Sarah was just glad of the chance to hang out with him.  She liked the kid.

It was still early enough that the shop wasn’t open yet, so the fact that there was nobody in the dining room wasn’t a surprise. The fact that they stepped into the back room to grab their aprons and found Doc being fussed over by the new girl was.

“Doc!  What happened?” Sarah hurried over to inspect the scrape that ran up from the older woman’s elbow.  Meg— the new hire— was dabbing at it with a clean tea cloth.

“I’ll get the front set up,” Gabe said quietly so just Sarah could hear.  He didn’t say that Sarah could handle the Meg Situation.

“Some jerk on a bike damn near ran me over on the way here.  Didn’t even apologize or slow down much.  Just wobbled a bit and kept going, while cussing at me,” Doc scowled.  “Like it’s rude for a pedestrian to be crossing the street in a crosswalk or something.  Jackass.”

“Hold still,” Meg stuffed the cloth into her pocket and started to turn towards the shelves. “Now where’s the first aid kit back here?”

“I’ll get it,” Sarah said.  Nobody wanted Meg rummaging around too much.  All the shop stock was on the front shelves, but in the back of the room were Doc and Sarah’s more specialized supplies.  It wasn’t always easy keeping a community of spirits healthy on a normal day, and in the past six months, abnormal had become much more common.  Wights and Hunters and warlocks and… Sarah sighed and grabbed the small kit near the front of the shelving units.

“Here we go, Doc.  Get to break into the new batch of ointment yourself!”  Sarah winked.

“Wow, is that handmade?”  Meg gasped, her eyes wide.  Doc and Sarah exchanged glances.

“Yep,” Doc answered.  “Made it myself.  I’ve studied herbal remedies for years.”

“Oh my gosh, that is so exciting!  I’m considering that path myself,” Meg gushed while she watched Sarah carefully.  “It would mesh really well with my other skills.  After all, I’m a witch, you know, and it just seems like such a perfectly witchy thing to do.”  Doc’s eyebrows shot up her forehead and Sarah almost dropped the jar at this declaration.  They exchanged glances and turned to look at Meg, who was holding out her hand to take the jar and peer at it curiously, completely oblivious to the other two women.

Sarah reached out mentally, seeking a trace, a wisp of power to confirm the girl’s statement, and came up blank.  Another glance at Doc confirmed that her mentor hadn’t detected anything either.  They shrugged and moved on.  Lots of women called themselves witches.  It was a cool thing, or a spiritual thing, or a wishful thinking thing.  If Meg wanted to call herself a witch and study herbal medicine there was no reason to discourage her, after all.

“My coven leader agrees that it’s worth pursuing,” Meg turned the small jar this way and that, as if she could figure out its secrets just from peering into it.  “She’s really encouraging that way.  It’s so nice to have that sort of guidance in one’s life, you know?  Everyone should have a mentor of some kind, I think, even if they don’t have access to the magic of the deeper mysteries like I do.”

“Well if you want to learn a few things, I could tell you some.  It takes a lot of hard work and focus though, if you want to really know much about it all.  If you really want to pursue it, you need to learn a lot of biology and mainstream medicine as well,” Doc said.  Sarah bit her lip to keep her laugher back and taped the square bandage over the scrape.  It wasn’t bad enough for anything more than that, but it would annoy the older woman every time she bent her arm and noticed the tape.

“Oh, do you mean that?”  Meg was starting to really gush now, and Sarah smiled.  “I’m sure that I’ll be able to pick it up quickly once you start teaching.  I have a true connection to the energies of plants.  My coven leader says she’s never seen anyone as inherently talented in the garden as I am.  She loves it when I come over to help her out with the weeding and harvesting, she says that the plants always seem more lively when I’m done.”

Sarah was not surprised.  Gardens generally look nicer after a bit of attention, but if it made Meg happy, then who was she to judge?  And there were plenty of herbalists out there that had not a lick of magic in them who were true healers.

“I’m always impressed by anyone who can be a healer,” Sarah said.  She finished packing up the first aid kit and returned it to the shelf.  “Doc’s been teaching me a bit, but I don’t know if I could ever be as good as she is.  Or as my gran was, from all I hear.”

“Oh, honey.  You’re an excellent student, don’t be talking yourself down.  Your gran would be so proud of you, and of how far you’ve come in just a few months.”  Doc reached out and put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder, a small, sad smile on her face.

“Where’s your gran?”  Meg asked.

“She died last winter. Cancer,” Sarah answered, washing her hands.  She rummaged under the sink for the cleaner and a rag.  “I hadn’t seen her since I was a kid.  She and my mom had a fight about something, and Mom never forgave her, I guess.”  Sarah shrugged, but the acid mix of emotions stirred in her stomach again.  Regret at never being brave enough to defy her mother until Gran was dead.  Anger and frustration with her mother for being so close-minded and controlling.  Guilt at feeling glad to be away from both her mother and New York City, and at not being a better daughter.

“Holding a grudge only hurts the grudge holder,” Meg shook her head sadly.  “And I guess it hurts the grudge holder’s daughter, too.”  Meg stepped forward for a quick hug.

“That’s very wise, Meg,” Doc said.“And you new her Gran.  Sarah is Rosie’s granddaughter.”

“And my mom was her daughter in law, but I think your point still applies.  I don’t think Mom came out of the whole thing unscathed either.”  Sarah sighed, then shook her head so as not to get lost in memories.

Doc shooed both women in front of her and toward the door like she was herding ducks. “Maybe we can continue this out front, where I’m sure Gabe could use our help.”

“Oh!” Meg jumped, then scurried out to the front.  Doc just laughed quietly and shook her head.

“That girl is sweet.  A bit easily led, but sweet,” Doc said.  “I suppose I can teach her a bit about the teas and what have you.”

“I kind of wonder about this coven, though.  How are we going to deal with our…” Sarah groped for a subtle way to say Spirit customers that need magical help but her imagination failed her.

“Our work with the spirit folk?  We’ll manage,” Doc shrugged.  “It’s a bit of a lull right now, thankfully.  I’m hoping that we have a few weeks at least, between Gabe’s adventures and whatever it was that he saw coming next.  He tried to get a clearer vision, but I guess that seeing what could be and what will be are two entirely different things.”  Doc started pulling supplies down from the shelf and Sarah joined her at the work bench, curious to see what today’s special blend of tea would be.  Doc started with the green tea she favored for blending.  The sweet herbal smell floated through the back room and Sarah took a deep breath to pull the sensation into her body.  The barest fizz of the magic inherent in the tea plants soothed her as much as the familiar scent of the tea.

“Yeah.  He was explaining it to me a little,” Sarah nodded.  “I guess, the more branches there are between now and the possible future event, the fuzzier it is for him.  He can see the past a much clearer, but only little bits of it, like a short internet video or something.”

“Yes,” Doc nodded, measuring the tea into her large mixing bowl with practiced movements.  “Also, he’s still adjusting to being able to call his visions on command instead of whenever the power leaks out of him and takes control.  He’s been practicing every day, though.  I think he’ll get the hang of it sooner rather than later.”

The mint’s bright sharpness swelled, then started blending with the softer green tea as Doc scooped that into her bowl.

“Yeah. He’s a great kid.  Young man, excuse me,” Sarah grinned.  Doc added a large scoop of bright yellow lemon peel and the sunny citrus smell added its note to the chorus of scents.  Sebastian will enjoy this when he stops by.  He always stopped by the door when he came in and took a deep breath, scenting the day’s blend and finding some peace in the moment.  Sarah had noticed it soon after she started working there, and it made her smile every time, even when she was having a terrible day.

Doc mixed the batch with her fingers, carefully sifting through the new blend and making sure she was satisfied with the proportions.  She didn’t use recipes for these, going more by instinct, and Sarah herself was beginning to get a feel for it as well.

“Ready?” Doc flicked her eyes to Sarah for a moment, then to the door out to the front of the shop to make sure they were undisturbed, and they both held their hands over the bowl, casting the enchantment they always infused into their teas.  Good health, and now after everything the Village had survived over the past few months, they also threw in a mild protection charm.

After the spells were cast, Doc rolled her shoulders and gestured to the large tea canister they would use for the day.

“You okay?” Sarah asked.  She scooped the new blend into the canister and tidied up the workspace.

“Yeah.  I think I must have gone down harder than I thought, though.  I’m feeling it a bit,” Doc said.  “You mind if I get some office work done for now?  You can call me if you need anything, but sitting down for a bit and taking it easy feels like a good idea.”

“No problem at all,” Sarah said.  She picked up the canister and headed to the front.  “You take care of yourself.  I’ll bring you a cup in a bit.  And a snack when the food gets here.”

“Oh, good.  There’s supposed to be a purslane and tomato salad today.  Sounds just right.”  Doc winked and headed back to the office, while Sarah bumped the door to the front open with her hip.

sick

cold and flu medications

I’m sorry I don’t have a post today, and that this apology is going up so late. I have been coughing so hard my eyes crossed the other day.  I’ve had a headache that you wouldn’t even believe.  I’ve tried to write but got about a sentence down before my brain started melting.

So instead of a decent post here, I’m going to put up a link that I sent out to my newsletter subscribers a little bit ago.  It will take you to a site called BookFunnel where you can get the first few chapters of Sarah’s Inheritance, and you can read them for free before the book goes up for sale on Sunday.  I hope you enjoy it!

I also hope I can stop coughing and that my eyeballs stop trying to escape my head.  It’s the little things, you know.

 

Personal Demons

Katherine_Kim_KSo you have no doubt heard by now that my next book is in preorder.  It’s a little bit of a different take on Riverton, poor Michael being merely a side character in this one.  Still, I rather like Brian, and now that he’s gotten through this little adventure, it turns out he’s pretty determined.  I have his next adventure already simmering away and hopefully the step back I’ve had to take from writing this month will help my brain sort through the bit where I kind of got the poor guy stuck. (Seriously, 12 hour work day plus commute time doesn’t exactly lend itself to scheduling in time to write a novel.) (And I bet you thought working in theatre was all glamorous all the time…)

Anyhow, I am providing for you now, free of charge, another look into Brian’s dilemma.  Well, one of them at any rate.  I hope you enjoy it and find yourself intrigued enough by the guy to see how his story intersects with Michael’s most recent adventure.  And if you would enjoy advance excerpts from what I’m working on right now, do sign up for my newsletter!  That link over there in the sidebar will take you to my signup page!

 

“You’ll regret this,” Kevin hissed, his fake smile finally falling away.  His eyes narrowed for a moment, glaring at Laura, then his fist was flying towards Brian’s face. Instinct moved Brian’s arm to stop the blow.

“I suggest you leave now,” Brian said, his hand wrapped firmly around Kevin’s wrist and holding it a good six inches away from making contact.  He didn’t feel any guilt over knowing that the wrist under his fingers would be bruised and probably swollen after this encounter.  Kevin clearly needed physical evidence of how badly outclassed he was in this fight.  Maybe the minor injury would keep him from starting another one?  The men’s eyes met for a long moment, both full of rage, before Kevin’s gaze dropped and he yanked his arm out of Brian’s grip.  He stormed out of the cafe and slammed the door behind him.

The silence after the bang of the door was broken after a few seconds by someone in the back clapping.  Soon the whole place was full of applause and shouts of “You tell him, girl!”  and “That guy’s a damn hero!”  and “Lemmee buy you two a coffee!”  One of the waiters came up and tapped Brian’s shoulder.

“Hey.  You want me to call the cops about that guy?” he said.  Laura shook her head.

“I just want to go home.”  She shivered and glanced at the door Kevin had just slammed.  The waiter nodded.

“Y’all can go on out the back door if you want.  In case that asshole’s still hanging around.”  Brian looked at Laura who just nodded and followed the waiter out through the small kitchen.  They walked out through the back, down the alley behind the shops, and out into a street several blocks over.  They were maybe halfway back to Laura’s apartment when she finally spoke again.

“Thank you,” she said.  Brian glanced over at her.  She looked pale and shaken, but unafraid.

“Anytime.  What a creep,” he said.  She just nodded. And walked a bit further.

“I didn’t know any better back then.  And he wasn’t so quick to show his creepy side.”

“Hey, we’ve all got at least one ex that we’re ashamed of, right?”  He smiled at her and got a small grin in return.  “Might be worth calling a lawyer and seeing if you can do anything though.  Like a restraining order or something, he seemed pretty determined.  Any idea why he’d show up like that now?  I know it’s none of my business.  It just feels a bit shady to me, for what that’s worth.”

She shook her head.  “I have no idea.  But you’re right,”  She looked up at him. “And I think your opinion is worth a lot.  Thanks.”  They turned a corner and she stopped, putting a hand on his elbow to stop him as well.

“I’m scared, Brian.  Kevin was never quite that…”  she groped for a word.  “That crazy, I guess.  I don’t know how to explain it.  And there was power swirling around, too.  I work at the Temple library so I know how it feels well enough to notice it.  I’m really scared.”  She looked up at him, tears filling her eyes but refusing to spill over.  He tried not to react too strongly to her statement, instead concentrating on her frightened shiver.  He could almost feel her fear as a physical thing in front of him.  His arm moved almost on its own as it wrapped around her shoulders.    

“It’s okay.  As long as I’m here, I’ll do my best to keep you and Owen both safe.”  Brian had no idea where that promise had come from, but he knew that it bought him at least a few more days of pretending to be normal, and he wasn’t above a little greed.  She leaned into his hug and rested her head against his chest and he felt her trying to control her breathing.  “Hey, it’s going to be fine, okay?”

She nodded into his shoulder.  Brian wondered how big of a jerk it made him that he was pleased she was comforted by him instead of scared of him after that display of violence.  He wasn’t used to anyone being glad that he lost his temper, even in such a small way as he had in the cafe.

“I know.  I just…  I just need this for a minute,” she said.  Laura turned towards him fully and put her hands up against his chest, holding onto little handfuls of his shirt.   After a minute she shook her head as if clearing her head, and stepped back again.  She was trembling slightly, but didn’t say anything else.  Brian didn’t know what else to do but hold on while she needed it.

“Sorry about that.  It’s so hard to be strong all the time for Owen.  Sometimes I just need to lean on someone.”  She flickered a smile at him.  “Usually it’s Mom and Dad.  Thanks for putting up with me.”

“Nothing to put up with at all.”  Brian felt heat creep over his ears.  “Everyone could use a hug once in a while, right?  I’m happy to oblige.”  They started walking again.

“So!  Do you have any sort of plan for what you’re doing next?”  Laura asked.  He was more than glad to change the subject.

“No, not particularly,” he answered.  “I was just hopping on my bike and going wherever I felt like.  Riverton seemed to be a nice place to stop for a while.  I was in New York last, and it was fun, but man it was busy, you know?  Riverton has a slower sort of vibe to it, but there’s still lots to do.”

“Would you maybe consider staying?  Just for a while?”  She said it quietly, still looking ahead of them, towards her building, but she spoke clearly.

Brian started to answer then closed his mouth and just breathed.  Should he risk it?  He didn’t want to risk them getting hurt, and he didn’t want to face his own pain when it all fell apart like it inevitably would.  Staying here actually with people who were getting to know him seemed like begging for disappointment, but it was so freaking appealing.  He liked Owen, and Laura was so damn tough, working and raising her son, and standing up to her jackass ex in the cafe.  It was the thought of Kevin coming back around that really gave him pause.  After a few steps he answered.

“Yeah.  I can stay as long as you need me.”

Saved?

Welp!  I told you to watch this space.  A Demon Saved is up for pre-order (or purchase, depending on when you read this…) thanks to the vagaries of book releases, and the level of my skills before the coffee has seeped into my brain, the paperback will be available slightly before the e-book.  Either way, my friends, you too can own a spanking new book in mere days!

The other book, Personal Demons, won’t be available for another few weeks, but I consider these two to be joined at the hip almost.  They share events, and have some overlap, though they focus on entirely new characters.

So!  To get you all excited, here’s one final excerpt from A Demon Saved for you to enjoy.  Poor Michael gets into a terrible mess in this book.

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The cave was dry, at least, and had been carved out into a series of rooms and passages at some point.  It smelled of dirt and rock and sawdust and something Michael couldn’t quite identify.  Something sweet.  He followed the main passage further into the hillside, descending into the earth.  He noted the kitchen, the smell of cave giving way to the smell of cooking and spices.  He found a storage room full of musty crates that might be left over from the mining operation, and a room full of equipment and clothing, but no weapons.  There must be an armory somewhere nearby.

He stumbled as he was leaving the dressing room, and put his hand out to the wall to catch himself.  Caution, he reminded himself, he needed to be careful here, not clumsily tripping over a loose rock or whatever it had been.  He would rather confront Milquert himself and leave the human forces to the police, and he couldn’t avoid the lackeys if he alerted them to his intrusion through carelessness.

Further in, now.  He found a small library, more like a cell for study, and a room with beds and trunks.  Clearly the barracks for the guards he’d attended to already and a few others.  Michael blinked and frowned.  His vision was significantly better than a human’s, especially in the dark, but the deeper into this fortress he got, the harder he had to work to see clearly.  A fog was rising up to obscure things.  He took a deep breath, trying to ignore the foul, sweet smell that felt almost thick in his throat.  It was getting stronger the deeper into the underground lair he got.  Perhaps there was a garbage dump near the back of the tunnels?

Michael rubbed his eyes hoping to clear them a bit, and stretched out with his other senses again.  It wasn’t just his eyes, his mind felt foggy.  That faintly sweet undertone that had followed him through his whole journey underground now clogged his nose and choked the breath in his lungs.  His throat felt like it was closing off his air.  His head snapped up, the realization hitting him like a club.  He’d long ago read about the incense that could take out armies, but had never thought it was more than a story.  Something based on some sort of dust or gas weapon that could be fired into attacking forces, but clearly he’d misjudged the truth of those ancient reports.  He had to get outside, to clear air.

He stumbled back the way he had come, being exaggeratedly careful and feeling like a drunk.  He had to keep his hand on the wall now, for balance, and still he had to concentrate on staying on his feet.  He shook his head trying to clear the heavy blanket of drugging smoke from his consciousness, but only succeeded in making himself dizzy.  Another stumble had him landing on his knees, his hand sliding across the stone of the wall and skidding onto the floor.

He knelt there, struggling for breath before trying to stand again, but his legs wouldn’t move the way he needed them to, wouldn’t support his weight.  He realized that in his struggle he had ended up sprawled in the dirt of the tunnel floor, immobile and helpless.  For the second time in as many weeks, Michael felt fear spike through his chest, then a moment later he felt nothing.

Personal Demons, available on Amazon

Introductions

 

I’ve mentioned Brian a few times now.  He makes a rather splashy entrance, I have to say, even if it does seem like Riverton could stand a bit less excitement. I hope you enjoy this wee snippet from Personal Demons, which will be available for preorder in October, along with A Demon Saved.  

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“Trucks, Owen!”  Laura reminded him and he obediently flopped back to the ground to pick up his toys.  There was some shouting down the path now.  Something was apparently going on past the trees at the soccer field, but she couldn’t see.  Something in the tone of the shouts made her nervous— they didn’t sound anything like what she was used to hearing in a park. It sounded more like there was a fight going on.  She started to turn back to her son who was grabbing the last truck and getting to his feet to dash towards her when she saw the man come pelting around the trees that hid the large grassy picnic area.  He was swinging his arm wildly at everyone in front of him, something glinting in his hand.   An older, Asian man was chasing him with a look of determined fury on his face.  Everything slowed.

Laura dropped her bag and bolted towards where Owen was starting to cross the path, but even as she left her seat she knew she wasn’t fast enough.  The soft dirt and round pebbles of the path slicked the ground under her sneaker, refusing to give her the traction she needed to move faster.  The madman with the knife was carried forward by momentum and not even her panic could overcome that.  His boots drummed up the path and he swiped his knife in a wide, silver arc and with his other hand he shoved her hard and she went spinning away in a swirling cloud of dust, barely missing the end of the bench.  Just before she hit the ground, she saw him slash out at a wide-eyed Owen.  Even as she rolled with the impact she was scrabbling to her feet and turning to reach the bloody, lifeless body of her son.

What she saw instead was indeed somewhat bloody, but it was neither lifeless nor was it Owen.  A man lay there a few feet off the path with his body wrapped protectively around the four year old, one arm cushioning the small head and the other firmly wrapped around his legs.  A line of bright red stretched from the man’s shoulder to nearly his elbow and the sleeve of his t-shirt was sliced clean into two flags that fluttered and collected the dust that drifted across the scene.  Laura dropped to her knees beside the pair, helping the stranger to sit up while he was still carefully holding the stunned child.  When he was sitting up Laura realized that he had landed on a toy bulldozer.

“Oh gods.  Are you okay?”  Laura didn’t even bother to try stopping the tears that streamed down her face.  At the sound of her voice, Owen snapped out of his shock and launched himself at his mother, kicking the stranger right in the stomach.

“Owen, baby.”  Her arms wrapped around him and they both cried together for a moment.  She sat there, rocking him and trying to breathe.

“Are you both okay?”  The man’s voice was rough with pain, but she could tell that he was at least trying to sound friendly.  Laura nodded.

“I can’t even thank you enough.  I don’t know how you moved so fast, but I will be forever grateful. Where did you even come from?”  Laura gave Owen one last squeeze and shifted to carry him her hip one-armed before scrambling over to grab her bag.  She dug through it till she found the first aid kit and hurried back.  He started speaking to Owen when she knelt again by the heroic stranger’s arm.

“You’re sure you’re okay, kiddo?”  Owen scrambled to hide behind Laura, peeking from around her shoulder.  The man just grinned.  “That’s all right.  After all that, I don’t blame you for being shy.”

“I’m Laura Butler and this is Owen,” she introduced herself while she dabbed an antiseptic wipe over his arm.

“Brian Sedge.  Nice to meet you,” he said.  He reached around behind him with his good arm and held the truck out to Owen. “I think this is yours?  It’s pretty cool, but not the softest pillow I’ve ever come across.”

“That’s not a pillow.  It’s a truck,”  Owen said without moving any further from behind the safety of his mother.

“Oh, wow.  Well that explains it then!”  Brian smiled and started to use the toy bulldozer to move some pebbles around in the dirt, making truck noises.  It only took a few moments before Owen shot over to the truck and started supervising the new building site himself.  Laura watched, trying not to start sobbing again.

She glanced around.  People all down the path were reacting to the chase.  The older man who had been doing the chasing was walking back up the path, looking thunderous at having lost his quarry, and talking on the phone.  It sounded like he was calling for an ambulance.  Laura realized that he didn’t even seem winded, which surprised her for a moment.  The way he moved, though, told her that he was a Temple trained warrior of some sort, which explained a great deal.  Sirens started wailing in the distance.  Not trusting herself to be especially stable on her feet, she just kept cleaning Brian’s arm and watching Owen.

“Thank you.”  She swallowed, and wiped her sleeve over her face.  A trio of EMTs jogged around the same curve of the path that the attacker had, and spread out to start checking with the groups of stunned onlookers.  One of the them came over and took her place, peering at Brian’s arm.  It was a long gash, but the knife had apparently been scalpel-sharp and the wound had eerily tidy edges, according to the paramedic looking at it.  Soon it was cleaned up and bandaged neatly, no need for much treatment so long as he kept it clean.  Brian also sported a large bandage over the left side of his face where he’d been scraped up when he hit the ground hard, and a warning to be gentle with what was going to be a gloriously colorful truck-shaped bruise on his side.  Brian just grinned and said he’d take a bruise over broken ribs any day.  The EMT chuckled and told him to hang out till the police had his name and contact information, and moved on down the wake of the lunatic with the knife.

“Hmm.  Contact information.”  Brian frowned slightly.

“What’s wrong?”  Laura asked.

“Well, nothing really.  I have a cell phone number, I suppose.  Just no address to give them at the moment.”  He shrugged.

“Are you moving or something?”  She looked at him, deciding that he was far too composed and tidy— dirt-stained, bloody slashed up t-shirt and bandages aside— to be entirely homeless. He wore jeans and there was a motorcycle jacket on the ground a few feet away where he had dropped it in his lunge to protect Owen, and she saw a delicate Temple charm on a chain peeking out from the collar of his shirt, a strangely feminine contrast to the athletic hero vibe he was giving off.  Then again she was pretty biased about the hero part right now.

“Well, sort of.  I’ve been touring around the east coast on my bike and just got into Riverton early this morning.  Haven’t found a motel or anything yet.  Maybe the cops can suggest one?” he said.  “Sounds like I might be here a bit longer than I thought.”

“You can stay with us.  At least for tonight.  It’s the least I can do,” Laura said.  Gods, what was she thinking, inviting a total stranger into her home like this?  Especially after her history with men.  But some instinct told her that it would be fine, that she could trust him.  Brian had risked his own life for a stranger’s child, after all.  He looked at her, curiosity on his face.

“Are you sure?  I mean, you don’t know me,” he said.  His hesitance was clear in his expression.  He looked suddenly nervous of her.  The man had risked his life to save a stranger and he was shy of her?  “What about Owen’s father, he going to be okay with it?”  Laura scowled.  Kevin would never have risked his life to save anyone, not even his own son.  The contrast just reinforced her certainty.

“Owen doesn’t have a father.  And I am definitely sure,” she said.  “Right Owen?”  The boy grinned up at both of them.

“You can help me build my skyscraper!”  He said.  Well that settled that then.

A taste

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Today is a fancy special treat for you, my dear readers!  I am spending most of today sitting on an airplane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, so in the hopes that you’re finding more entertainment than I am, probably, I am presenting to you a small taste of A Demon Saved, which is Coming Soon.  If you check in my Facebook page then you know that I’m having a slight crisis in publication schedule, so I won’t be able to confirm when preorders will be open just yet.  I’m hoping that by the time I get back from vacation I’ll have somewhat more solid details for you.  That said…  you may get to taste the other project that is fighting for first dibs before I announce the release schedule.  So either way you win. I ‘m thinking.

I have to admit though, that I am totally in love with this cover, and I had to show it off as soon as possible.  Add to that some phenomenal notes from my award-winning teacher, top-tier fan and beta-reader Wendy, and I couldn’t help myself from posting this here for you to enjoy while I try to survive the last few hours of being trapped in a small space with my extremely energetic 6 year old.  Enjoy!

“I don’t know who you are but I can’t think of one single reason that a non-human would be anything but an enemy to you.  I will not let you touch Michael, so back the fuck off,”  May growled.

“I am a nefil, and a healer.  I merely wish to help.  If you do not allow me to help then the poison will continue to spread, and there will be no saving him.”  The woman stood quietly, waiting for May’s answer.  “As it is I am not completely sure that I can help anyway.  The poison has been working for some time, if I understand correctly.”

May’s eyes shot involuntarily to the blood-soaked bandage and the lines wiggling out from it.

“How do you know about the poison?”  She asked, not quite ready to trust this woman.  Nefil and demons were clear enemies, and that was putting it mildly.  The few hazy stories that survived in the Temple’s archives were extremely clear on that subject at least.  “You can’t really expect me to believe that you just happened to hear about this injured demon in the Human Realm and came hurrying here to help out of pure kindness.  I don’t care what the reputation of your kind is, I am not so gullible to believe that.  Nefil haven’t been seen in this realm for millennia, why would you return now?  And while the stories claim nefil helped humans, they most certainly did not help demons.”

“No.  You are right.”  The woman put her box down on the chair May had leapt from and opened it with a gusty sigh, carefully placing what looked like surgical tools on the rolling metal stand from the corner.  “I was already here, in this very building when I heard; I was telling one of your Elders about why I am in the Human Realm when the news came and I could not stand idle.  This is, unfortunately, more than likely related to my mission.  As a result of that, I feel that I must take some responsibility for the situation and help this man if I can, no matter what realm he is from.  I believe I know the one who created that poison.  I am not the only nefil in this Human Realm at this moment,” the woman closed her eyes for a moment, pausing in her setup.  She looked up at May, her blue eyes filled with regret meeting the human’s wary hazel ones.  May could feel the weight of the guilt this woman carried as it settled over the room.  “Long, long ago there was a war.  It was brutal and violent and laid waste to all three realms as nefil and demon tried to exterminate each other.  My people’s leaders long ago realized that the war we waged was never going to end, our people are far too well matched by the demon forces.  So they decided to teach humans what they could to be able to defend themselves against the demon realm and closed off the most accessible gateways to our own realm.  It sealed us off, mostly, from the conflict and after a few centuries we had all moved on.  Now not even the oldest of our race remembers the Great Wars, it has been relegated to the histories and is held as a reminder of the evils that violence and aggression hold.  My… associate Milquert, however, became obsessed with the histories.  He seemed to think that we had abandoned humanity to be ravaged and fall to demonic forces.  He travelled through a Gate to…” she shook her head slowly.  “I don’t even know what he plans, but to me this looks like his work. I am afraid of what he may unwittingly start.  I came to prevent him from doing something foolish.  Like attacking the Temple.”

May wavered.  If what this woman said was true, the ramifications…  Michael would know better what to do, he was the strategist of their team.  Things like this were far more political than May was comfortable with, but it was like bread to him.  She looked back at him on the bed and her stomach lurched again.  Michael lay on the bed, so still she almost thought it was too late already.  It was only her sense of him through their bond of Guardianship that assured her he still lived.  The woman was right about one thing, anyway.  There was nothing that the human doctors could do.

“Why do you think you can help?  What do you know about healing demons that we don’t?”  May asked.

“Probably nothing,” the woman admitted, turning to frown at the wound.  “I have never seen one of his kind before, nor until just a few days past had I ever seen a human.  But I do know a great deal about what Milquert knows, and how he works.  If I can draw this poison out of the wound, or neutralize it somehow, your friend will have a better chance to fight the effects.  If I can’t, then it will continue seeping through his body and he will die.”  She stood, finished laying out her tools and a few bottles.  “First I must identify what sort of poison he used.  I have a few suspicions, but I must test them.  Just trying antidotes at random could make things worse.”

May looked over the tray, then over at Michael’s pale form, his demon’s face looking even more alien than usual, even with his huge, seemingly bottomless eyes closed.  A sheen of sweat covered him, but when she reached out to take his hand it was ice cold.

“Priestess, he is dying,” the nefil said, her voice gentle and sad.  May’s lip quivered and her vision swam for a moment before she blinked then met the woman’s gaze.  May nodded.

“What do we do?”

Very rough

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I present to you, for your enjoyment (and ridicule) a small chunk of the novella I accidentally wrote a week or two back.  It is *very* rough.  Downright raw, in fact, so please forgive the typos.  I find myself really rather enamored of these two, and a few other folks that show up later on, so you may expect them to pop up again in the future.  We’ll have to see how they do, though.  Darien here seems to have had a fairly bad day, though Caroline’s not doing so great either come to think of it.  Enjoy!  (I am not sure why the formatting is so odd here, but I can’t seem to fix it. I’ll keep trying though!)

“Hey.”

Caroline shivered.  She wasn’t sure why but she was terrified and just hoped that whatever it was she was scared of wouldn’t notice her.  Probably jet the end of a nightmare.  She had them sometimes and could never really remember them after, just the odd, creeping feeling of dread that didn’t wear off for a few hours.

“Hey, miss.  You need to wake up and let me know you’re okay.”  Okay?  Why wouldn’t she be okay?

Then the whole scene rushed through her memory at high speed: the disaster at school, running off campus to just get away from all that drama, going to the tiny town museum, and the robbery.

She’d been kidnapped.  Holy shit.

“Miss, if you’re okay, please let me know.  I don’t want to be locked in here with a corpse.  Again.”  The voice was strained and not at all melodic like Boots or Shiny.  Still, she kept her eyes closed and didn’t say anything.  She just focused on keeping her breathing deep and even so he’d think she was still out while she tried to come up with a plan.

“Oh, thank goodness.”  The voice said.  “You’re not hurt too badly then.  Thank goodness for that anyway.”

Caroline’s eyes flew open and she sat up.

“How could you tell I heard you?”  She demanded.  Then she wanted to smack herself in the face for being so easily taunted into revealing herself.  The man chuckled softly.  There was no malice in the sound, just amusement.

“I could hear your breathing change.  You were working too hard at sounding asleep.”  He said.  Caroline looked over and saw a man sitting on the floor in the corner across from her, one arm propped on his bent knee.  He looked relaxed lounging there in the corner, but she had the strange sensation that it was an act.  He was wearing jeans and a polo shirt, and scuffed up hiking shoes, and looked a bit like anyone.  Well, aside from the dirt smearing him from head to toe, and the tears all over his clothes, and the blackening bruises she could see all down the left side of his face and peeking through the holes in his shirt.  Dried blood trickled past his right ear from somewhere under his hair and his left eye was swollen almost shut.

“Holy shit what happened to you?”  She was clearly going to have to work on her filter when under stress.  The man shrugged.

“You should see the other guys.”  He smirked, before sobering a bit.  “Well, some of them anyway.  They got me with elf shot from behind.  Stupid, rookie mistake leaving my back exposed like I did.  The rest of this is just them enjoying themselves for a few minutes.  Stress relief or something.”

“Elf… shot?”  Caroline wondered what kind of weird slang that was.  “Where are we?  What’s going on, anyway?  Who are those guys?  Why are we here?  Why would those guys want anything in that boring old dustbag excuse for a museum?”

“Well what were you doing there then?”  he countered.

“Er…”  Caroline wondered if she’d lost her mind.  Why was she feeling guilty about admitting that she skipped school when she’d been kidnapped by museum robbers.  “I, um.  I was kinda hiding out.”

“Hiding out?  I guess a dusty unvisited museum room is a good place to do that.”  The man nodded.  “Although I hope you weren’t hiding from them, because in that case you did a lousy job.”

“Well, not when I went there to begin with, no.”  Caroline slumped on… what was she on?  She actually took a moment to look around now and discovered that they were in what looked like a basement room, with a small, barred window high up in the wall letting in a trickle of sunlight.  She sat on a cot that she had expected to be filthy but was surprisingly clean and comfortable.  There was even a wool blanket folded up at the foot of the narrow mattress.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and probably warm.  In the wall opposite the window was the expected door, and as expected it looked thick and strong, and had no opening in it anywhere.  What  she hadn’t expected was in the wall opposite her own seat on the cot was another door, standing halfway open, and opening onto a small bathroom.

“Where…”  Caroline didn’t even know what to start asking.  The man sighed and the noise sounded so…  defeated somehow that she looked back at him.

“I’m not honestly sure how much I should tell you.”  He said, staring at the floor between them.  “If we ever get out of here it might be best if you don’t know.”

“If?  Won’t the police come save us?”  She asked.  Caroline knew that she was a bit sheltered.  She was a self-admitted nerd and her parents knew that she was probably too trusting of people and as such kept her on a pretty tight leash.  Skipping school today had been her first and only act of rebellion, unless one counted wearing navy blue instead of black like her mom had picked out to go to her dad’s formal club dinner.  Still, wasn’t that the whole point of having police?  Even in a smaller town like this one?  The man sighed again.

“Not very likely.  Well, not the police you’re thinking of anyway.  My team will have pulled rank on them pretty damn quick, and they work under slightly different rules.  If they come here they will try to get us out, yes, but we’re not going to be their main focus.”  He huffed a humorless laugh.  “My chief probably won’t even bother looking for me, frankly.  He’ll be glad to be rid of me.  And they may not even know about you.”

“What?  But why?”  Caroline heard the bitterness in his voice as he spoke.  There was frustration and anger and defeat there as well, and a few other things that were less strong.  She’d never been very good with people, felt that ‘socially awkward’ was probably the nicest way to describe herself, but she had always been able to hear more shades in people’s words than everyone else.  It was how she reacted to the knowledge that she didn’t know how to deal with.

He flashed her a small smile, wincing at the flair of pain from his eye.

“He’s never cared much for my kind.  Hated it when my transfer application was approved.  I used to work up in Washington state.”  He shrugged again.

“Your kind?  What, like undercover cop kind or something?”  Caroline asked.  He glanced up at her and blinked.  Then took a deep breath and slowly started to sit up straight.  She watched him unfold himself from his spot lounging on the floor and realized that he was tall.  Very tall, it seemed to her, easily another foot and a half taller than she was herself.  And he was muscular, like a movie stuntman playing a tough soldier.

“Someone’s coming.” He said, leaning back against the wall again and crossing one foot over the other.  Again she got the feeling that he was pretending to lounge, but was actually more like a coiled spring.

“What?  How—”

The door opened. And three men came in.  Shiny, in the middle, carried two trays and the other two men had very serious looking guns pointed at her cellmate.  Caroline watched the men with huge eyes, but they didn’t even glance at her, keeping their whole attention trained on the beaten man leaning against the wall under the window.