Already?

Welp, it’s New Year’s Eve as I write this, and there is SO MUCH cleaning and getting ready to do. I have a few resolutions, but I think I’ll consider them a bit and write about them next time.  Today, I’ve got my family around me, and a whole new country to experience for this holiday.  Today is for staying close to home and family.  Tomorrow we’re heading to Kamakura to explore a bit and celebrate a whole new year.

So until next week– year– I’ll just say that I hope that you find health, contentment, and lots of great books in 2019.  Happy new year!

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A sneaky-peeky gift for you!

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As promised, here’s a very early peek at the first two chapters of a new series.  I don’t want to give too much away, but here are a few tidbits to tide you over. This is from what is technically the prequel novella, explaining how Caroline gets tangled up with Darien and his very special teammates.

I can’t lie, I’m pretty excited about this.  Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

–Chapter One–

Caroline shivered under the table and hoped that nobody could hear the shaking.  It served her right, really, that everything had gone so horribly wrong. She shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and now she was paying for it.  

It was the dumbest thing, too. She shouldn’t have let Monique and her cronies get under her skin. She should have just let it all wash over her and not snapped back like that.  If she had just let it go and not started mouthing off, the gym teacher would never have heard her, and then… ugh.  Such a mess.

It wasn’t even worth remembering, but she still felt her face heating over the humiliation of it all.  And that, of course, was why she’d decided to skip school that afternoon, for the first time ever. And, being her first time skipping school, she’d gone somewhere she was positive that nobody would look for her: the city’s Local History Museum.  It was just a few rooms in the back of the city hall, with a small side entrance so that visitors wouldn’t disturb the grand municipal business of the city and nobody ever went there.

Until today, naturally, when Caroline decided to be a truant.  Today would, of course, be the day armed thugs decided to come crashing into the front room of the museum nobody ever went to, to start rummaging loudly through the displays, while she sat in the furthest back room with her novel.

So, now she huddled under the table covered in pamphlets and the empty mailing list signup sheet, hoping that none of the weird attackers would find her and she could go home to confess everything to her parents.  She didn’t even care what sort of punishment she’d get, anything they could dole out would be heaven compared to this.

A boot stopped right in front of her, it’s scuffed black leather feeling huge from what she could see of it, just the couple of inches between the bottom of the cheap blue tablecloth and the floor.  

“You’re sure there’s nobody here?  I could swear I keep hearing something,” said a deep, male voice.  It almost sounded musical and was so far from what Caroline expected to hear that she almost gasped.  She slapped her hand over her mouth and held her breath, eyes wide and staring at the boot as it shifted.

“Me too, but I can’t find anyone.  We ran off a couple of gawkers. Not like anyone cares about their local history these days, after all,”  said a second voice, very close. It must belong to Boots in front of her here. A few more footsteps and another foot appeared, facing Boots.  This man’s footwear was similar in style but they were pristine. Shiny, even, for all their rugged foot protection.

“As long as we find the artifact.  We will deal with any witnesses one way or another,” Shiny said.  Caroline could almost hear the smile in his voice, and it felt oily to her.  

“Another hostage could come in handy.  Those idiots in the FPAA might not worry too much about how to retrieve one of their own considering what he is, but a civilian might give them a few minutes to think,” Boots agreed.  

A loud crash nearby made Caroline jump.  It sounded like part of the building collapsed, and there was a shout of triumph accompanying it.  Both pairs of feet in front of her turned to face the noise and she squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that any noise she’d made in her surprise had been muffled by the ruckus, whatever it was.

“I got it!” someone shouted.  There was a sound of more feet rushing around, Boots and Shiny stepped away from the table and out of her view, then after a few minutes, there was quiet.  Caroline stayed under the table, motionless and silent for a long time. An odd image flashed into her mind of a rabbit that lived in her mom’s garden that would sit just under the edge of a bush in the twilight and watch you watching it.  She’d sat there watching the animal for maybe fifteen minutes once, both of them sitting completely still, the rabbit no doubt hoping that either Caroline hadn’t seen it already or that she wasn’t hungry.

Finally, when she couldn’t take the heavy quiet anymore she crept towards the sliver of light where Boot’s boot had appeared and pressed her face to the floor to peek out.  The room was a mess, one of the display cases overturned and the contents scattered across the floor, mingling with shards of glass and splinters of the wooden frame that had held the case together.  

No feet.  No people at all.  Still, she waited a few more minutes, holding her breath and watching the dust swirl in the one shaft of sunlight that speared through the window.  The displays usually needed dusting, she thought to herself, but this seemed like a terrible way to go about it. As soon as she thought it, she breathed a quiet giggle.  It was such a ridiculous thought that the tension drained out of her all in a rush and she decided that she was being completely silly, hiding under a table when the thieves had gone a long time ago.  The police were probably outside right now, and she could go tell them the little bits that she’d overheard and then go home to be grounded for the rest of her life when her parents found out.

Caroline crept out from under the table, careful not to put a hand or knee on a glass shard— the last thing she needed was to cut herself and start bleeding everywhere— and stood up with a shiver to survey the damage.  

A hand gripped her arm and she froze again.  

“I knew I heard something.”  It was Shiny’s voice. Caroline twisted to look over her shoulder and saw his perfect boots matched the rest of him.  He was dressed like the undercover military SWAT team guys usually were in the movies with his black boots and cargo pants, and the black long sleeved shirt under a black vest of some kind, but at the same time, he managed to somehow look like he was wearing formal wear.  He was sitting cross-legged on top of the table so she would never have seen him when she looked across the floor, and when he was still it was the complete stillness of an inanimate object. Or a predator.

Caroline did the only thing at that moment that she felt that she was fully capable of.  She fainted.

–Chapter Two–

“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 just 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?  And who the heck was asking?

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 unhurt, 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, good,” the voice said.  “You’re not hurt too badly then.  Thank goodness for that anyway.”

Caroline’s eyes flew open and she sat up. There was nobody else in the room that she saw.

“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, his other leg stretched out in front of him.  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 rips 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. She was kind of glad that she couldn’t see his torso if his shirt looked that bad.

“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, but to be fair to myself it was a bit of a brawl.  The rest of this is just them enjoying themselves for a few minutes. Stress relief or something.”  He snorted inelegantly and Caroline supposed he thought he was making jokes.

“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 cut class. 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, though the room itself wasn’t very cold.  

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 leading into 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 to 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 so far only act of rebellion since third grade 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 were 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 some sort of special undercover cop 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 strong, she could see the muscles flexing under his clothes. Not body-builder macho-man style, but more like a swimmer. It was strangely comforting.

“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 do—”

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 tiny window.

“Here you go, young lady.  Dinner is served. I hope the accommodations meet with your approval, but let’s be honest with each other.  It wouldn’t much matter if they didn’t,” Shiny said. “Pity that you had to pick today to investigate local history, but that’s simply the strange way fate works.  Until we decide what to do about you— both of you,” he glared at her companion now, “you’ll simply have to stay here and be patient.” He set the trays down on the bed beside her.  It was clear that nobody considered her a threat, but that they were very careful of her cellmate.

“As for you,” Shiny was saying.  “Your colleagues don’t seem terribly interested in retrieving you.  I’m somewhat amused by that. Office politics go sour?” Caroline heard the taunts in his voice but was confused by what lay underneath.  Smugness, which made sense, but also nerves and just a hint of fear. Caroline felt dizzy with questions but knew one thing for dead sure.  She was in way over her head.

Her cellmate just shrugged and stayed otherwise still.  Shiny narrowed his eyes and glared for a moment before turning and walking out.  The gunmen backed out slowly, never taking their attention off their target before the door closed and she heard a heavy thunk as it was locked.

“What…”  Caroline’s voice squeaked and she had to clear her throat.  “What’s your name? I can’t just keep thinking of you as ‘that guy.’  I’m Caroline.” She swallowed and waited.

“Darien,” he said, then slid down the wall to sit on the floor again.  He was breathing heavily like he’d been running and she saw that the blood running down his face, which had been dry when she woke up, was now dripping onto the shoulder of his shirt.  He swiped at it gingerly. “Darien Webb, but my friends usually shorten it to just my first initial. Because they’re lazy and think they’re clever, I guess.”

“So just D?”  she said, grabbing a water bottle from one of the trays and twisting the top off.  She scrambled over to where he slumped on the floor and tried to hand it to him. “You’re really badly hurt, aren’t you?”  He glanced up at her and shrugged.

“Besides the obvious?”  He gestured to the bruises on his face and winced at his movement.  “Yeah. A few broken ribs I think, maybe some internal damage. And I think my wrist is broken.  Maybe a concussion. Almost certainly a concussion”

“Why aren’t you lying down?”  Caroline swore she felt herself go pale as he casually listed off injuries that should have him in a hospital bed.  “Why did you stand up like that? You need a doctor!” He shook his head.

“If they think I am anything less than a very serious threat to them, it won’t end well for me certainly.  Maybe not for you either, since they’ve tossed us in together.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Although maybe they didn’t have a choice.  I think they just had this room ready in case they needed it, not because they were expecting lots of prisoners. Maybe it’s the only one they have.”  He shrugged again. And winced again. “I have to stop doing that.”

“There’s no way you can be a threat to anyone besides yourself if you’re so badly hurt,” she said.  “Let me help you over to the bed, okay?” Darien shook his head.

“No, I’ll heal.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been on the losing end of a fight.  Trust me, this will pass. Eventually.”

Caroline sat on the floor beside him.  It was strangely comforting, even as badly injured as Darien was, to know that she wasn’t in this alone.  Just having his company was probably keeping her from hysteria.

“That guy did sound kinda scared of you.  And then the extra scary guns on top of it.  The other guys must look really terrible after all.”  That got a laugh.

“Yeah.  I’d have made it out fine if I’d been less of an idiot.”  Then he frowned. “What do you mean he sounded scared of me?”

“Oh, just his tone of voice, you know?  Under the taunting bravado, he was kinda… I dunno.  Scared of you. And a little confused maybe? Which doesn’t make much sense, but…”  she shrugged now herself.

Darien emptied the bottle of water, using what Caroline now realized was his good hand.  He was frowning at the floor again.

“I wonder what my parents are doing.  I should probably have been home hours ago by now.”  

“How old are you, if I may ask?”  

“Seventeen.  They don’t know I was there at all, at the museum.  I…” Caroline shifted, her guilty conscience driving tears to prickle in her eyes.  Now that she was feeling them, she was pretty impressed that she hadn’t cried sooner.  I mean if there was ever an appropriate moment to break down in tears, it was when you wake up kidnapped by crazy, violent thieves.

“Hey, it’ll be okay.  Somehow.” Darien bumped her shoulder with his own.  “I’ll think of something.”

“How did you know that there was someone coming?” She swallowed her tears down, trying to will them away.  Crying never helped and she hated that it seemed so out of her control.

“I heard them,”  Darien said.

“Like my breathing.”  Caroline glanced at him, and he nodded.   “The breathing I’ll grant you, but there is no rational reason that you could have heard anyone walking down that hallway.  Those guys all move like freaking cats, and that door is about four inches thick. I looked when they opened it.” She watched him and saw his expression harden like it was freezing in place the way parents always threatened.

“I, uh…”  he said. Caroline felt like she’d caught the edge of something.  Like there was a piece of clear tape on a window, and now that she’d found the edge of it she felt compelled to pick at it.

“And how did you even manage to stand up like that, anyway?  If you’re so badly hurt— and I believe you, for some weird reason.  I mean about the internal injuries and the concussion and stuff. If you’re that beat up you shouldn’t be able to stand up and look almost bored about it.  You should be curled up and unconscious or something.”

“Um…”  Darien started to look uncomfortable.  Which as she had just said, he should have looked this whole time.  Uncomfortable at the very least.

“And you said something earlier about your boss not liking your ‘kind.’  What did you mean? You never answered me, and I don’t think you just meant cop.”  Caroline turned to face him fully and realized that he looked almost embarrassed.

“Boy, you’re tough.  And you’re just in high school?  Sure you’re not an undercover cop or something?”  He hunched over a bit and groaned before sitting up again.

“I’m about to graduate,”  Caroline huffed. “Assuming those creeps don’t murder me or sell me off or something.  What’s going on here? Why would they want to rob the town museum? I mean it doesn’t even have anything interesting to us and we live here.”

“Remember when I said it might be for the best if you didn’t know?”  Darien asked, glancing at her. Caroline nodded. “Well, I think that with as many questions as you have, and how much you’ve noticed already, that ship has sailed.”  He sighed and looked sad for a moment. “Those guys are elves, and they seem to be after some sort of artifact that was broken up into bits. I have no idea what it is or why they want it, but those guys specifically are from a small group of elf supremacists, and they’re not averse to violence, so whatever it is they have planned can’t be good.”

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Book Report! Bless Your Heart

One of the books that made it into the hailstorm of Kindle Unlimited books I blew through in my recent effort to hide from the world was a novel by Kimbra Swain, Bless Your Heart4287681186_9e1b5f1840_b.  I hadn’t read any of her work before, and as hypocritical of me as I know it is, I have a hard time reading books with female leads.  I’ll get to that later, but for now, I have to admit that I mostly enjoyed my time hanging out with Grace Ann Bryant.

Now, as anyone with an ounce of awareness of Southern culture knows, the phrase Bless your heart can be used to mean anything from an expression of pleasure to a barely veiled threat of painful retribution.  Grace uses the phrase very effectively as she navigates her life in a doublewide in Alabama.  She’s there because she was exiled by her own people when she was not quite fully an adult fairy, and her father King Oberon did nothing to stop the punishment.  She’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder from that, you could say, and now she lives among humans even though the ruling has been reversed.  Grace wants nothing to do with her family or the realm in which she’s royalty.  She barely seems to want to have anything to do with her own magic, but she does what she must with a fairly good attitude.

Unfortunately, in order to stay among humans and not be constantly moving, she had to strike a deal with what amounts to the enforcers of the human world: the Sanhedrin.  She’s got a few rules to follow: she can’t get romantically entangled with a human.  She is required to work with law enforcement when they call upon her.  She can’t move too far without permission.  That sort of thing.  Not that Grace seems to mind too much, and she’s even become reasonably friendly with the enforcer that is assigned to Alabama.  So when he brings her a young man and asks her to keep an eye on him while dealing with other things, she does it, grudgingly but without much animosity.

Naturally, that’s when all hell breaks loose.  Two brutally murdered children, a tangled love affair she can’t afford to have, a demon, Oberon putting paternal pressure on her to return home… and honestly, that’s just the easy stuff.  This story is a murder mystery in an urban fantasy setting, so if you like a little sleuthing in your fantasy, then this is a good bet.  I’ve been reading mysteries for most of my life and while I figured a few things out early, I didn’t guess the murderer until almost the official reveal.

Grace herself felt real to me, for the most part.  She did what she could because it was the right thing to do.  She genuinely liked her neighbors and was truly angry at whoever ‘did that to those kids’ and was determined to find the culprit even after she was herself accused of the crime.  The young man she takes under her wing irritated the poop out of me at first, but within a few chapters, I felt like he had relaxed and I actually found I liked him after all.

The only thing I really have to complain about is that by the end of the book Grace, this powerful fairy queen, falls into a habit I find common among female characters: falling all over themselves to make everyone happy, including themselves, regardless of the situation. Because heaven forbid a woman gets justifiably angry, or frustrated, or upset.  It is entirely unreasonable to expect a strong person— male or female— to constantly give up on feeling because it will upset someone else.  Or, as is the case with a female character at least half the time, refuse to be upset with someone because she’s in love with them and that clearly means that she should never get angry or offended or hurt in any way by their object of affection.

The other side of the coin, unfortunately, tends not to be well-rounded female characters who have reasonable reactions to things, they tend to be unlikeable, selfish harpies, but that’s a different rant for a different day.

On the whole— even with the occasional forays into Typical Female Characterdom scattered through the story— this is a great book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  It is the beginning of a series, and it seems that there’s lots of fun to be had.  And honestly, I kind of want to know what terrible ideas Cletus and Tater have next.

4.9 rutabegas out of 5 on this one.

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Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

The State of Your Author

 

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Me, until very recently.  Photo credit: quinn.anya on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

I’m not dead, I swear!  I’m sorry for not posting for so long, though.  I hit a point where I needed to let a few things go, for my own sanity, and the blog is one of the things that didn’t make the must-do cut.  (I’d kind of rather I could have blogged and stopped doing the laundry instead, but everyone else disagreed.)

I’m not going to lie to you.  It’s been somewhat tough the past couple of months.  The Boy is essentially homeschooled, which means he’s at home all the time, and as much as I love the kid, he’s pretty high energy and needs a great deal of my attention.  That makes it tough to get any of my own work done, including writing.  I’ve got so much of my mental and emotional energy focused on my son that I don’t have much left over for poor Kai’s little problems.  As a result, I haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve been reluctant to socialize at best and grumpy and snarly at worst.  Not fun.

That said, I have been making headway on Book Five (you’d think by now I’d have thought of a title for it…) and have started going over some stories I banged out last summer.  I’m going to get those whipped into shape for you fine folks, and I’ve got an idea that’s been stuck in my head for a while that actually fits nicely into the new universe as a side-series.  If I can get myself sorted out just a bit better, 2019 is going to be super exciting and full of new books.

Next week I’ll have a review up for one of the books I plowed through in the past month, and keep your eye out for sneak peeks in the next few weeks.  I’ve got a poll up on my Facebook page if you’d like to tell me what to post first.  And, of course, I’ll have to write about our first holiday season in Tokyo.  It’s already proving very strange: our Christmas tree is just about a foot tall and is sitting on top of our PlayStation 4.

At least there will always be cookies.  That will help with pretty much all these problems!

Last preview

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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.

Care and feeding

man-dark-silhouetteI am, as you have no doubt figured by now, rather more of an introvert than anything.  Finding some peace and quiet to sit with a good book and a cup of coffee is a pretty much a life goal.  My husband, on the other hand, is an extrovert.  As much as he loves hanging out at home, he actually starts getting twitchy if he doesn’t get to marinate in the wildly swirling energy of a group of people.  Needless to say, Tokyo is a good place for him.

The only real trouble is that he’s caught between wanting to do what I need him to do for my own mental health (take our son off for a few hours so I can have some peace and quiet at home, turn the TV down fairly low, that sort of thing,) and honestly not understanding what I need.  To him, going out with a large group and spending hours talking and eating and going to karaoke 7is as necessary as breathing.  To me… well I like a few hours of that, but it’s exhausting beyond words after a while.  I’m pretty classic.  I need alone time to recover from being social, with fairly few exceptions.

So the other night we went out to celebrate two friends’ birthdays.  It was a wonderful day that was half spent just us as a family, wandering around and seeing the sights as we slowly made our way to the restaurant we were meeting everyone at.  Once there, we had a fun, slightly odd meal of almost all pies, and they wrapped up while I wrangled The Boy.  On the train home there was a flurry of texting, then silence, then more texting.  The Boy and I were ready to get home and crawl into bed, but my husband? He wanted to go back, meet everyone for karaoke at another station not far from us.

So, in a park in Tokyo, on a warm autumn evening, I had to call him to task.  It was an entertaining conversation that never quite reached the argument stage, where I told him to go.  Go play with his friends, sing loud songs about giant robots and argue about whose turn it is next.  He wanted to stay with us, go through the whole bath-and-bed routine with our son.  Watch whatever recorded on the DVR that day.  He wanted to take care of us and make sure we weren’t left out, even though he reeeeeally wanted to go out and play with his friends, and I wanted to go home and take a long bath.

I feel for him.  It’s hard, not understanding at such a visceral level what makes someone else tick.  I don’t see the appeal, myself, of karaoke.  Or of loud restaurants and spending hours at an arcade with the flashing lights and overwhelming noise.  But my husband does.  He thrives on it.  And I love him, so I send him off.  And he tries to understand the other side of that coin, to help me get the time I need, but I think that ultimately it’s much easier for an introvert to send someone away than it is for an extrovert to leave someone behind.

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Photo credit: Bennilover via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

Vectors

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I am a creature of momentum, and frankly, it makes life really difficult.  I suppose, to a degree, everyone has this problem, and I know I’m not alone in this difficulty.  It’s the reason that kids throw a tantrum when they have to change activities.  It’s why binge-watching has become how people consume television programs.  It’s why gamers will sit down and intend to play for one level or just this one quest, and then get up hours later only thanks to the demands of biology. It’s why knitters lie and say ‘just one more row’ or bookworms claim they’re only reading till the end of the chapter.  Once you’re doing something, it’s so much easier and more satisfying to just keep doing that thing pretty much forever.

Still, most people are capable of getting their butts up at the end of lunch or a break or when they finish the one task they need to complete, in order to move on to the next thing they need to attend do.  Turning off the TV and going to start dinner doesn’t feel like an impossibly difficult thing for most normal folks, and ordinarily, I’m able to manage to force myself to get into the kitchen and feed myself and my family.

It’s just my circumstances right now that are really messing with me.  My sleeping habits are not the greatest, as you’re aware by now.  Added to that, the dark peacefulness of the small hours of the night are the only quiet I really get to myself.  But this translates into not waking up before The Boy does, not that it’d be easy to do that anyway.  Kid’s up at almost 5 am daily and has been since birth.

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Photo credit: Fairy Heart ♥ on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

So, he gets up and plays in his room, often with a Nintendo DS or the Switch, but there’s Legos and robots and other things to amuse him as well.  Then my husband gets up and gets through his morning routine to get ready for work, and then… well, lately I sleep through all of that.  I’ll wake up when my alarm goes off at quarter till nine.  Now, it’s not an alarm I set to get me out of bed.  It’s an alarm I set to remind me to keep a record of something at nearly the same time every day.  It’s a business thing. And for the past month, I’ve managed to almost sleep right through it.

So the day is already off to a poor start.  Instead of getting up and being ready to leave the house with my husband like I’m supposed to, to walk with The Boy to the market and get the day’s groceries (which was working really well for a while!) we’re lucky to leave the house at all.  I’m in pajamas most weekdays, much to the amusement of a couple of delivery guys who’ve been by.

It’s a struggle that I’m trying to break free of, and my body hasn’t been helping with the back-to-back colds I’ve had in the last few weeks.  The bright side of this is, though, that if I can start writing in the morning like I have the past few days, I can bang out a pretty respectable word count by bedtime.  Which means that I’m making headway on short stories, and on a few other projects.  So there is a small glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.  I just hope I can shift my habits around a bit and get some more positive momentum going.

After all, the holidays are coming, and nothing wreaks more havoc on a routine than December.

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.