I miss book signings

Last Sunday, my husband and I took off for a long, lazy Sunday drive.  We decided to go to Grand Lake in Ohio–a large, manmade, shallow lake that was dug as a reservoir for the Miami and Eerie Canals.  To get there, we took a route that I realized, after we drove through several small towns I recognized, was one I drove many times years ago.  My writer friends–Carl Grody and Dawn Dunn–and I drove from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Dayton, Ohio to Books & Company whenever the bookstore invited a favorite author to give a short presentation and sign books.   We’d stop for supper at the Spaghetti Warehouse, which I haven’t been to since Carl moved away and Dawn became a nurse practitioner.  We listened to many good authors talk about what drove them to write the particular book they were promoting and often added something about the craft of writing.  Each time we went was a wonderful experience.  We each always bought one of the author’s books as a thank you for him/her sharing her time and experience with us.

The time came, though, when we didn’t have to leave Fort Wayne to find authors.  A new bookstore–Little Professor–went up on the southwest side of the city.  The three of us went to see the owner and told him about the wonderful experiences we had in Ohio.  He wasn’t quite ready to jump into book signings, but he asked if we’d give panels at his store once a month so that he could see what the turnout would be.  So many people came, month after month, he decided to go for it.  Little Professor became a good stopping place for Chicago authors to promote new books.  We went to every signing and bought a book at each.

Now I’m not an especially sentimental person.  I often gave my books to the library or friends after I read them.  I went to hear and meet the authors.  The presentations meant more to me than anyone’s signature.  I did get Ann Rice to sign SERVANT OF THE BONES, though.  Carl, Dawn, and I still did panels when the weather was bad and the store needed a program in a hurry.  And our city felt like a little hub of literary activity until Barnes & Noble came to town and Little Professor closed its doors.   To this day, I miss that store.

But book signings, in general, have become a thing of the past.  I can’t blame authors.  Too few people buy books at the end of the presentations.  On the first beautiful days of spring, nobody shows up.  Weather can turn nasty.  Signing books in a store is a hit and miss proposition, and everyone’s busy these days.  There’s never enough time to get everything done.  I’d never go to a store just to buy a book and get it signed.  If there’s no presentation, I’m not there.  Publishers don’t pay most authors to travel and promote their books these days either.  If you’re not a big name who’ll attract a big crowd, forget about it.

I know everything changes.  Readers can tweet with authors now, read their blogs, and visit their webpages.  It’s not the same.  I still miss Little Professor and I still miss authors sharing writing and experiences for half an hour here and there.  Hope something inspires you to hit those keys this week.  Happy writing!

 

P.S.  Thought I’d add the authors coming to Books & Co. for July and August, just so you can check Books & Company out.

http://www.booksandco.com/calendar.html

 

 

Advertisements

Demon Heart–the end–is up

I hope you enjoy it.  It–and part 3–are posted on my webpage.  I wanted to give you an idea of what I post there, but from now on, I”ll post stories there and return to using my blog for thoughts about writing.  For now, here’s Demon Heart–part 4–the end.

Chapter 4

 

Gazaar, Rowan, and Hennie looked at the list, then looked at Babet.  Prosper shrugged.  He didn’t have a clue which witches were more powerful than others.  Ophelia was too depressed to be of much help.

Morgana rested her head on Babet’s foot as Babet scanned the names again.  “The rest of us are pretty evenly matched.”

Hennie shook her head.  “No, dear, you’re the most powerful.  You have your mother and your father’s magicks.  Then Rowan.  Then me.  Then the rest.  If you were to worry about anyone, who would it be?”

Babet answered without doubt.  “Evangeline and Perdita.”

Her mother stared.  “But Evangeline has Emile’s powers.  She took them when she killed her father.”  A death that he thoroughly deserved.  “On top of that, her mother’s the voodoo priestess at the settlement.  Evangeline has both magicks.”

“She’d rather grow magical herbs than learn spells,” Babet said.  “She’s doing better.  If she’s threatened, she’ll fight.  But that’s defense.  She never takes the offense, doesn’t have a fighter’s spirit.  Neither does Perdita.”

Rowan pursed her lips, considering that.  “Perdita’s never had a husband or a family.  She’s content mentoring Evangeline.”  Perdita practically oozed happiness lately.  She’d always wanted to be a mother.  When Evangeline needed to learn their craft, Perdita had taken her under her wing.  She thought of Evangeline as a daughter.

Babet nodded.  “That’s why I worry about them.”

Hennie frowned.  “But Cleo and Maeva are mothers.  They nurture, too.”

“Did you see them when their children were in danger?  They were ferocious.  I wouldn’t go to one of their houses.”

Rowan agreed.  “We should concentrate on Perdita and Evangeline.”

“Then they should come here to stay,” Gazaar said.  “We can buy another air mattress.”

Prosper raked a hand through his thick, brown hair and looked around the table.  He was getting impatient, Babet could tell.  “That’s your decision then?  Perdita and Evangeline next?”

Rowan nodded.

“Babet and I will go for them.”

Gazaar stood.  “I’m coming with you this time.”

“Not enough room in my car,” Prosper said.  “I’ll be bringing the two women back with us, and Morgana won’t leave us out of her sight.  She gets middle seat.”

Gazaar sighed, and Babet smiled, understanding.  Her dad wasn’t used to sitting on the sidelines.  He thought a minute.  “I’ll meet you there.  My job comes with perks.  I can will myself anywhere I’m needed.”  He looked at his wife.  “There’s no need right this moment, so nothing’s calling to me, but if you give me a location, I can go there.”

Rowan grabbed a piece of paper and sketched a quick map for him while Babet and Prosper started to the car.  Perdita lived a fifteen-minute drive away.  Her dad might reach the house before they did.  Perdita had met her father.  She considered him the perfect mate for a high priestess and doted on him.  They might arrive to find him having tea and coffee cake with her and Evangeline.

When they pulled in the drive, Babet wasn’t surprised to see her dad, sitting in a rocker on the front porch with both witches fussing over him.  She smiled.  Her dad deserved some TLC when he got away from the pits.  He usually focused on performing his duty.  This visit was supposed to have been warm, family bonding, celebrating his wife’s three-hundredth birthday, before Xamian showed up.

Prosper hurried toward the porch.  “I smell cookies.”

Even Morgana slithered faster than usual.  The snake always enjoyed seeing Evangeline.  After all, she’d lived at the voodoo settlement with Evangeline and her mother until she chose to be Babet’s familiar.

Babet rolled her eyes.  Her mate, with his sensitive shifter nose, could smell a baked good three blocks away.  Now he was climbing the steps, reaching for a glass of lemonade and a stack of sugar cookies.  Incorrigible.

Babet declined a cookie, but sipped her lemonade.  “You two would be safer if you’d stay at my mom’s,” she told Perdita and Evangeline.

The two women exchanged glances.  “My property and the house are warded.  You helped us make them stronger,” Perdita said.  “We’ve been enjoying each other’s company.”

“Baking and playing in your gardens?”  They were treating Xamian’s attacks as an excuse for fun, and it annoyed Babet.  What she thought they should be doing, she had no idea, so she knew she wasn’t being fair.  But really!

Evangeline smiled.  It was odd how the girl had the same coloring and facial features as her father—the warlock Emile—but looked completely different.  Emile’s raven black hair and pale eyes accented his cruel personality and dark magic.  Evangeline’s black waves curled randomly, and her pale eyes skitted away from meeting someone else’s gaze.   Babet hadn’t met anyone so unassuming.

“You haven’t assigned us anything to do,” Evangeline said, “or we’d be doing it.”

That’s why Babet worried about them—too  passive—but it’s the same thing that made them wonderful, kind friends.  It seemed to her that some people were just naturally more aggressive, softer-spoken, or more determined than others.  How much could a person change his basic personality?  And did she even want them to?

Gazaar took another cookie and smiled.  “We could use two, calm witches at Rowan’s right now.  Ophelia’s going through a hard time.”

Clever man.  Babet hadn’t realized how devious her father could be.

Perdita’s face crinkled in sympathy.  “The poor girl, of course we’ll come.  Won’t we, Evangeline?”

Evangeline nodded, suddenly serious, too.  “When your mother called, she said that Xamian had a partner, and you caught him.  Did Mom’s spirits find where Xamian is staying, if he has a base?”

Babet shook her head.  “It won’t be easy to find him.  He can make himself small.”

“But he’s killed three witches,” Evangeline said.  “Has he left anything of him behind?”

“Of him?”  And then Babet remembered how Evangeline and her mother killed Emile by sticking pins in a voodoo doll with strands of his hair inside.  She blinked, considering.  “My dad’s whip bit into his skin.”

Evangeline’s lips curled into a sly smile and Babet rethought the kind, innocent image she had of her friend.  “When we get to your mother’s house,” Evangeline said, “we should go to Hennie’s potions shop.  Until someone’s visited our settlement, most supernaturals don’t protect themselves against voodoo.”  She glanced at the rings Babet and Prosper wore, the ones Babet had bespelled.  “You know better.”

Babet looked at her father’s hands.  Even he wore one of her rings.  Evangeline or Nadine would never curse her, but not all voodoo users held the high standards they did.  Every witch in mom’s coven and every magic user she knew, even the vampires, had taken a cue from her and protected themselves.

Prosper held the car door for Perdita, and Evangeline and Babet climbed into the back seat of his car.  Morgana settled beside Evangeline.  Her father carried the dirty dishes and glasses into their house, shut their door behind him, and thought himself back to her mother’s place.  They joined him a short while later.

Hennie’s smile greeted them.  The white-haired witch had almost as big of a soft spot for Evangeline as she did for Babet.  “Good, you made it.”

Perdita went in search of Ophelia, but Evangeline waved Rowan and the others to the potions room.

“Our magic is different than yours,” she said.  “I’ve been studying with my mom as much as I’ve been studying with your coven.  I can make a voodoo doll on my own now.”

Rowan stared.  So did Babet.  Evangeline was so pleasant that it was easy to forget how powerful, and how dangerous, she actually was.

“Can you kill a demon?” she asked.

Babet shook her head.  “No, demons can only be killed by whoever created them.”

“The Father,” Gazaar said.  “They didn’t start out as demons.”

Evangeline nodded.  “Maybe that’s better.  We can’t find Xamian, but voodoo magic can hurt and weaken him.  He’ll come to us, and then someone else can decide what to do with him.”

Nerves prickled, and Babet rubbed her arms.  She wouldn’t underestimate her friend again.  “How can we help you?”

Witch stores stocked as many wax candles as any voodoo devotee would need.  They melted them and shaped them into a doll with a long, pointed tail.  Then they laid Gazaar’s whip onto the work table, and Evangeline grinned at the red fur she scraped from it.  Saber-tooth tiger fur.  A smug joy filled Babet.  Say “meow” to that, Xamian!  Chanting a spell Babet didn’t recognize, Evangeline pushed the fur inside the doll.  More spells followed, until satisfied, Evangeline reached for a long, sharp needle.  She looked at the rest of them.  “When I do this, Xamian’s going to feel pain.  He’ll be here soon.”

That was an understatement.  He’d be here, and he’d be furious.

Evangeline jabbed the pin deep into Xamian’s gut.  Then she reached for another one.  Three pins later, an explosion hit the ward outside her mother’s privacy fence.

Gazaar grabbed his whip and hurried out of the shop.

Evangeline gave a wicked smile.  “I liked Pearl and Agatha.”  She jabbed a pin into Xamian’s left knee.  A howl came from the alley.  Evangeline looked at Babet.  “You can help your dad.  I’ll keep playing in here.”

Playing.  Babet shivered.  Her friend had a dark side she hadn’t seen before.  She was glad she liked the coven.  Prosper looked slightly shocked, but gave his head a quick shake.  Of course, he ripped out peoples’ throats when they crossed him.  If Babet thought about it, every supernatural had their own way to defend themselves.

“Come on!”  She hurried after her dad, Prosper close behind.  Rowan and Hennie followed.

Gazaar opened the gate and stared at the demon.  Xamian was limping.  One arm hung at an odd angle.  Ooze ran from a large wound in his stomach and pus dripped from smaller wounds in his shoulders and abdomen.

“What are you doing to me?” Xamian screamed.  “How are you torturing me?”

“We’ve combined our magicks.”  Gazaar’s whip snaked out and wrapped around Xamian’s waist.

Morgana rushed forward and sank her fangs into his calf.  The demon kicked, but Morgana bobbed out of his way and returned to Babet.  Soon, dark stains colored Xamian’s veins.  The snake’s poison pumped through them.  The demon panted.  Sweat beaded on his crimson skin, and he pressed his palms to his temples.  He struggled, but he was weak.  His left leg snapped and he roared.  He turned to Gazaar.  “Take me!  Get me away from here!  Drop me back in my pit.”

“As you wish.”  Gazaar nodded to the witches and Prosper.  “I’ll return soon.”

Prosper stared.  He held up his hand and rubbed the ring Babet had bespelled for him.  Ancient symbols covered every inch of its surface.  “Remind me never to make Evangeline mad.”

“She’s only vicious when someone pushes her too far.”

Prosper let out a long breath, and Hennie patted his arm.  “I’m going to start a pot of tea.  It’s over.  It’s time to relax and celebrate a hard victory.  Perdita brought a container of cookies.”

His eyes lit at the mention of cookies.  Rowan and Babet trailed behind them.  Babet leaned closer to her mother.  “Are you all right?”

Rowan frowned.  “I need to rethink who I let join our coven.  Weaker witches can train with us, but it’s too dangerous to take them in unless they can defend themselves against formidable enemies.”

Babet sighed.  Their coven had existed for a long time, but they’d mostly concentrated on improving their magic, becoming better witches.  They hadn’t thought about fighting evil, but maybe they should.

When they entered the shop, Prosper came to hand her a cookie.  “Eat one.  You’ll feel better.”

Babet grimaced, but popped the circle of sugary wonder into her mouth.  And who knew?  It did make her feel better.  So did having Prosper by her side.  And soon, Gazaar stood beside her mother.

Evangeline came to hand her father a sealed, waxed bag with the voodoo doll inside it.  “In case you need it sometime in the future.”

He raised a black eyebrow at it, but smiled.  “Thank you.”

Evangeline laughed.  “They’re creepy, aren’t they?  They give me the shivers.”

Babet let out a relieved sigh.  Her friend did what needed done, but at heart, she was a kind and gentle person.

They ordered in pizza for supper, enjoyed each other’s company, and then everyone started for home.  Prosper had called Hatchet to catch him up on the news, and Hatchet had volunteered to pick up Ophelia, Perdita, and Evangeline to give them rides home.  When he pulled to the curb, Babet watched Ophelia, shoulders slumped, walk toward his car.  She was going home to an empty house.

The girl looked so sad, Babet bit her bottom lip, unsure how to help her.  But Perdita said, “It’s going to feel lonely at my place when Evangeline returns to the settlement.  What if you stay with me a few days to keep me company?  I could use it.”

Ophelia gazed at her in surprise.  “Are you sure?”

“We can bake cookies and garden,” Perdita said, “and I can help you practice your magic, to make it stronger.”

“I’d like that.”

Evangeline smiled.  “I’ll stay an extra night, so we can all get to know each other better.”

Babet leaned closer to Prosper.  Some witches could toss magic bolts and zap enemies, but some baked cookies and made people feel better.  Everyone had their own set of strengths, and she meant to respect each of them.

Prosper bent to kiss her forehead.  “I have special skills, too.  I don’t just rip out throats.  I’m a connoisseur of great legs and nimble witches.”

She narrowed her eyes.  Had he read her thoughts?  “Is that so?”

He tugged on her hand.  “I’ll give you a ride home and prove it.”

Morgana followed them to the car.  She coiled on the back seat and rested her head on the smooth leather.  Babet smiled.  They were all ready for the simple joys of home, even the snake.

 

 

Demon Heart–part 2 is up

(In case you missed part 1, it’s on my webpage.  Here’s the link: https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/.  You can find part 2 there as well.)

Chapter 2

 

Prosper couldn’t drive fast enough.  They went from house to house, warning each member of the coven and explaining about Agatha’s death.  A sense of urgency throbbed through Babet’s veins.  She couldn’t get the image of Agatha out of her mind.   When they passed the witch’s house, Babet’s mother’s car was still parked in the drive.  Tears prickled Babet’s eyes, and she blinked them away.

Finally, she blurted, “What do you think created a round, deep wound like that?  Xamian didn’t claw her, so what was he when he attacked her?”

Prosper’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel.  “It looked like a damn tusk or horn to me.  Maybe the bastard’s trying to find a different way to kill each of you.”  He rubbed his hand over his forehead.    “Agatha just squeezed my ass, and now she’s dead.  That pisses me off.”

He changed clothes the minute they got home and set off for the station.  Babet stalked from room to room, pacing restlessly.  Morgana slithered to a corner, curled into a ball, and watched her.  The snake could gauge her emotions.  She’d wait until Babet calmed down before trying to greet her.

There must be something more they could do!  There had to be.  That’s when Babet thought of the list.

She felt guilty, collecting a pen and a pad of paper.   Her task felt wrong, but it needed done.  Before she settled down to work, she kicked off her shoes and padded into the bedroom.  Her skirt and dressy top hit the floor.  She pulled on baggy shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt.  Prosper would fuss that she didn’t put her clothes in the hamper, but fussing was good for him.  She went to sink onto the soft, leather sofa in the living room and bent over the paper on the coffee table.  She bit her bottom lip as she scribbled names of the women in her mother’s coven, trying to list them from the most powerful to the weakest.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.  She rubbed the ring she’d embedded with one protective spell after another, a nervous habit, and offered silent apologies to the women who might qualify as early victims.

Morgana came to curl near her feet.  Babet leaned to stroke the top of her head.  At least, that was smooth.  The rest of the boa was peeling in patches.  Morgana stretched to lay her head on Babet’s knee.  Who knew that a snake could be so affectionate?

Babet glanced at the names she’d written.  She’d never ranked the members of their coven before, didn’t judge her fellow witches that way.  She rethought whom she’d consider the strongest and the weakest.  Come to think of it, though, how did Xamian know?  He’d never met any of them before.  How could he determine their strengths?       She thought about her succubus powers.  She could taste someone’s energy, or worse.  Unlike succubi in other cities, who stole energy from unsuspecting victims, the supernatural laws in River City were strict.  Plenty of mortals were willing to let a vampire or succubus sip from them in return for sexual favors, but there were set limits, and humans had to condone the exchange.  No furtive tastes.  Absolutely no draining.  Her father was an angel and an incubus.  Could he and Xamian, a demon, inhale someone’s energy and gauge their power?

She went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.  Morgana slithered behind her and peered out the French doors at their walled-in courtyard.  Houses touched walls in this part of the city, so the courtyard offered privacy.  The snake loved to lie in the sun on the patio’s warm cement.  Babet cracked the doors for her, and Morgana went to the fountain.  Prosper had built a slanted, plywood ramp for her, and she wriggled across it and slid into the warm water to soak.  Hopefully, her skin would loosen enough, she’d finally be able to shed.

Babet returned to the living room and to the list she’d made.  She sipped her wine and ran a line through Agatha’s name.  Ouch!  That hurt.  The image of Agatha, smirking at her, while plastered against Prosper, made her throat hurt.  Agatha had definitely been the weakest witch in the coven, but one of the nicest.  Her inability had nothing to do with lack of trying.  The genetics just weren’t there.

If Babet were totally honest, Pearl would be next in line.  Babet liked Pearl, really enjoyed her offbeat humor, but Pearl struggled with concentration.  When Rowan trained the coven, Pearl learned half of a lesson and then daydreamed through the rest.  Mom probably wouldn’t have accepted her into the group, except that her sister Ophelia had joined before her.  And Ophelia showed lots of promise.   Truth was, none of them voted for members because of strength.  They voted for people they liked spending time with.

Babet scanned the list again.  If Xamian meant what he said and would try for the weakest first, Pearl would be his next choice.  Even though she and Prosper had driven to each house and warned each member, it wouldn’t hurt to visit Pearl and Ophelia again.  The two sisters shared a tiny cottage on the west side of town.  Not particularly safe at the moment.  The yard was too private.  Without blurting that Pearl had little power, Babet had warned them it would be wise to leave temporarily.

Babet glanced at the kitchen clock.  Seven.   Damn, it had been a long day.  Hopefully, the sisters had found some place to stay.  A quick image of them, lying on the ground, big holes in their chests, made her clench her fists.  Surely, they’d listened to her and left their house….  Most of the big hotels would be filled with tourists and businessmen, but there were plenty of smaller hotels and motels around the city.  She called Ophelia.

“Hello?”  Not Ophelia’s voice.

“Pearl?”

“Oh, hi, Babet!”  Pearl sounded nervous.  Something was up.

“I wanted to stop by and see you.  I thought I might be able to help you cast protection spells on wherever you are now.”

Silence greeted her.

“Pearl?  Is Ophelia there?”

“Don’t be mad at us.  We only came home for a few minutes,” Pearl said.  “I forgot to pack a few things.”

Babet’s breath caught in her throat.  “You went home?  Alone?  No one else is with you?”

“It’s only for a minute.”

“Do you have wards on your house and property?”

“A few of them.”

Babet bit her bottom lip.  A few wards weren’t even enough to protect against most supernaturals in River City.  They sure as hell wouldn’t hold against a demon.

“Get in your car and leave there now.  Right now.  Okay?”

A gasp sounded in the phone.

“Pearl?  What is it?”

“Ophelia’s running for the house.  A red beast is chasing her.”

“Didn’t you put a ward around your property?”

“It’s too big.”

Babet gritted her teeth.  The sisters’ property was unprotected.  If Xamian didn’t kill them, she might.  How careless could they be?  “Get Ophelia in the house and hold Xamian off until I get there.  Hurry!”

Pearl’s phone went dead, and Babet ran for her car keys.  Panic surged up her throat.  She swallowed it.  Her skin felt cold.  Dread coiled in her mind.  Morgana raised her head out of the fountain when Babet ran across the courtyard, but Babet waved her back.  “No time!  Have to hurry!”

She closed the courtyard’s gate, jumped in her car, and sped through the city.  She called Prosper on the way.  “Trouble.  Xamian’s at Ophelia and Pearl’s house.  I need backup.”  Hell, she’d lived with a cop too long.  She was starting to sound like one.

She glanced at the sky.  Two more hours of light.  Good.  She wouldn’t be fighting an enemy in the dark.  The clouds had scattered, and heat rippled off the cement.  She could slice the humidity with a knife.  Another stroke of luck.  Most people had scrambled back to their air conditioning and wouldn’t venture outside until it was evening.  It still took her half an hour to reach the sisters’ cottage—thirty minutes too long.

Bursts of magic exploded in the air above their house.  Screw caution.  Babet drove through the side yard and screeched to a stop near the back door.  A crimson rhinoceros lowered its head and rushed the house.   A single horn glinted bloodred—that’s probably what killed Agatha.  Chunks of wood lay on the back stoop.  Not a good sign.  The sisters’ wards must be weakening, letting Xamian ram the house.

No time!  She had to save them!  Babet rushed from the car and raised her palms, slamming magic at the beast as it passed her.  The rhino staggered sideways, then whirled to face her.  Narrow, hate-filled eyes squinted at her.  It snorted, then charged in her direction.  Not overly smart.  She rippled the earth under its feet, tossing it off balance.  As it floundered, she pursed her lips and inhaled, breathing in its energy.   Yich.  Disgusting.  Xamian’s foul taste coated her tongue.  Bile rose in her throat, and she gagged.

The demon hesitated.  He’d felt the drain.  He shook himself, then his shape blurred and stretched until a wooly mammoth rampaged toward her.  Two vehicles came to an abrupt halt beside hers.  Xamian screeched to a stop.  Prosper and Hatchet sprang forward to stand, shoulder to shoulder, beside her.  Prosper tossed off his clothes and shifted—a sight to behold if things were more leisurely.  In seconds, a monstrous brown bear flashed its claws and bared long, lethal teeth.  Hatchet rolled up his shirt sleeves and tattoos stretched from his skin, reaching for Xamian.  He held up a hand, and a bolt of lightning flew into his fist.  The mammoth retreated a few feet.  It pawed the dirt, then turned and ran.

Babet’s knees almost gave, she felt such relief.  Prosper shifted back, and both men’s shoulders sagged.  They’d been worried, too.  Ophelia and Pearl burst from the house, looking pale and frightened.  Prosper yanked on his clothes, not that the witches hadn’t seen him naked before… part of shape shifting.

“I thought we were doomed.”  Ophelia’s hands shook, and she gripped them together to steady herself.  “We kept pumping magic into our wards, but they were beginning to crack.”

Babet couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice.  How stupid were these two women?  How could they not know the danger?  “Why did you come back here?”

Pearl looked down.  She couldn’t meet Babet’s eyes.  “I left my spell book when we packed.  I was afraid if Xamian found it and read it, he could use my own magic against me.”

“Didn’t you cast protection spells on it, so that if anyone opened it besides you, the pages would go blank?”

Pearl chewed her bottom lip.  “I must not have learned that part of the lesson.”

Babet took a deep breath, fighting for composure.  Prosper reached out to take her hand—an unsubtle clue to calm down.  She pressed her lips together to keep from saying anything she’d regret.   Fear drove most of her anger, she knew that, but they’d survived this, and somehow, they’d prepare Pearl to be better from now on.

Hatchet smoothed his sleeves back over his arms.  How the man could stand sleeves in this heat, she didn’t know, but she’d never seen him sweat.  Maybe weather didn’t affect Druids.   He looked at Pearl and smiled.  Even Hatchet’s smiles could prove intimidating.

“Nothing is more important than keeping both of you safe.”  He looked at Babet.  “Perhaps there’s someone they could stay with?  Someone to watch over them?”

Ophelia colored with embarrassment, but Pearl looked excited.  “That would be fun.  It would be like a sleepover.”

“Exactly.”  Hatchet nodded.

Prosper frowned, thinking.  “They’d be safest with your mom and Hennie.  Gazaar’s staying with them.  That would make five magicks for Xamian to go against if he went there.”

Babet couldn’t disagree.  Mom and Hennie’s apartment stretched above their magic shop on one side of the building and Mom’s school for young witches on the other.  There’d be plenty of room for Ophelia and Pearl in the school room.

“I’ll call Mom and tell her we’re coming.  I’ll drive them.”  She didn’t want Xamian attacking the sisters on the road.

“We’ll make a caravan.”  Prosper locked gazes with her, as worried about getting them somewhere safe as she was.  By returning home, the two sisters had put them in danger, trying to protect them.

Hatchet put his flashing lights on top of his car and drove lead.  When they reached her mom’s place, Mom waited at the door and opened it for them to hurry inside.  When she closed it, she smiled.  “Xamian doesn’t have enough magic to get past our wards.   Hennie’s magic complements mine.  No enemies can enter here.”

“Good, Xamian can’t reach them.”  Babet’s thoughts flew to the next name on her list.  She couldn’t help it.  The names churned in her mind—Agatha on the bottom, Pearl next, and then Melina.  Melina’s great-grandmother had been a witch.  Her grandmother had carried the gene, but had no magic of her own, and her mother could have been powerful, but turned against witchcraft.  She wouldn’t even use magic to fight the fever that claimed her, leaving Melina on her own with smatterings of magic and no training.   When the girl had joined the coven, she’d felt so guilty about her gifts, she could hardly perform magic.  She wasn’t close to full strength yet.

Hennie pursed her lips, studying Babet’s expression.  Like an aunt to her, Hennie  knew her too well.  “Who else are you concerned about?”

“Melina.”

Hennie nodded.  “We should invite her to stay with us, too.”

Prosper looked around the classroom.  Rowan and Gazaar had pushed the desks to the room’s edges and put two, queen-sized, air mattresses in its center, inside the large hexagram painted on its pine floor.  More protective magic.  He glanced at Hatchet.  “We’ll help Babet fetch Melina and bring her here.”

“Thank you.”  Rowan smiled her gratitude.

Gazaar eyed the size of the room.  “Bring as many as you think wise.  We’ll find safety in numbers.”

Rowan reached for her cell phone and began punching in numbers.  “I’ll let Melina know you’re coming.”  But when no one answered, she glanced their way.

“No answer.  She must not be home right now.  I’ll try phoning her again.”

Babet gave a quick nod, but didn’t wait.  She felt like they were already two steps behind Xamian, scrambling to catch up.  She and Prosper hurried to Hatchet’s car and, lights flashing, rushed to reach Melina as quickly as possible.

“You don’t think I’m overreacting?” she asked.

Hatchet shook his head.  “Why take chances?  Better safe than sorry.”

When they pulled in front of the large, plantation-style house in the Garden District of River City, they all stared, surprised.  Melina didn’t give off a rich vibe.  She didn’t wear designer clothes or take trips.  If anything, Babet suspected that Melina had to budget to make ends meet.  Boy, was she wrong.

They got out of the car and walked to her front door.  The bell chimed through the house.  The way it echoed, the rooms must be massive.  No one answered.  The gate for the side yard stood slightly ajar.

Babet pushed the doorbell again and slid behind a bush to press her nose against a front window.  “I don’t see any movement inside.”

“Maybe she’s not home yet.  Let’s go around back.”  Prosper edged the gate wider, and they made their way to the back door, which was open.  A calico cat lay, too still, on the cement patio that surrounded the pool.  Babet clutched Prosper’s arm and motioned to it.  “Melina’s familiar.”  When a witch died, so did her familiar, so tight was the magic that bound them.

Babet pressed a hand to her stomach.   She suddenly felt sick.  Hatchet tapped the back door with his toe, and it yawned wider.  He rolled up his sleeves, ready for anything.  But then they noticed the blood on the floor.  It led to the far side of the kitchen island.  Shit.  Babet started toward it, palms up.  Prosper stayed close to her side.  Hatchet came at it from the other direction.  They rounded the corner, and Melina’s body sprawled on the marble tiles, a butcher knife protruding from her chest.

Hatchet’s lips pressed into a tight line.  “She opened her door to someone.  Why would she do that?”

“Her wards are at full strength.  I can feel them.”  Babet scrambled for an answer.  “How did an enemy get past them?”

Prosper motioned to a take-out bag, filled with white Chinese boxes, on the counter near the door.  He nodded at the money clutched in her fist.  “She called for him to come inside, so she could pay him.”

Hatchet stepped outside and looked around.  When he rejoined them, he said, “There’s a bike propped against the fence.  A guy’s body is lying behind some bushes.  Xamian took his uniform.”

Babet sank onto a stool at the kitchen island, her legs suddenly weary.  Bicycle delivery men were welcome sights all over the city.  When Melina saw a white jacket and a take-out bag, she opened the door and went to get money.  “You’d think she’d have noticed he was bright red.”

Hatchet shrugged.  “All he’d have to do is turn his head and pull his cap lower than usual.  She’d only give a quick glance before she went to pay him.”

It had been too easy.  Xamian killed Melina with a damned butcher knife, like any mortal might use.  Babet pushed her unruly, black hair away from her face, frustrated.

Prosper called her mom and explained what had happened, then walked to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  “We’ll call in the crime.  Our men will handle the rest.  Want me to drive you to your mom’s shop?”

She nodded.  She sure as hell didn’t want to stay here.  Hatchet nodded them on their way and called the station.  Prosper led her to the car and said, “I’ll drop you off, then come back to help Hatchet.  I doubt if we find anything useful, but we’ll look.”

Babet watched scenery blur past them on the ride to Magic Street.  Usually, she enjoyed watching tourists who jostled along the sidewalks of River City.  Not today.  At a red light, she peeked in the bar windows at tables crowded with people and frowned.  Their happiness didn’t register.  Was this what shell-shock felt like?  Numbness licked at the corners of her mind.  It had taken too much energy to fasten her seatbelt, and for once, Prosper hadn’t protested.

Her Were pulled in front of Hennie’s shop and leaned sideways to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.  “Hang in there.  He’s been one step ahead of us, but we’re catching up.”

Like hell they were, but she didn’t argue.  She waved him off, then went inside to talk strategy with the others.

After she told them everything, her father turned to her mother.  Dark circles rimmed her mom’s eyes.  She and Hennie had lost members of their coven before—five of them—the first time Jaleel attacked River City.

“You okay?” he asked.

Mom and Hennie glanced at each other, looking haggard and overwhelmed.  Just like she felt.  But that wouldn’t do anyone any good.  Babet squared her shoulders.  She took a deep breath.  “What do we do now?”

The bastard had killed another witch.  How did they stop him?

Gazaar nodded at her.  “We fight back.”

“How?”  Babet looked at Hennie.  “Did you find any spells that would help us find Xamian?”

Hennie shook her head.   “No, but I called Nadine at the voodoo settlement.  She’ll send her spirits to search for him.”

Nadine’s spirits had helped their coven before, but Xamian would be harder to locate.  He could look like a ladybug on a leaf, if he chose to.

“So what do we do next?   There must be something that will help us fight the demon.”

Hennie had an answer.  “I say we go to each witch’s house and work together to re-enforce their wards.  And then ask everyone to stay inside.”

Rowan started to the door.  Mom wasn’t any better at sitting and waiting than Babet was.  “Let’s do it.  Gazaar, will you stay here to guard Ophelia and Pearl?”

“Done.”

Her mother looked at her.  “Will you come with Hennie and me to cast protection spells?”

Babet gave a tired nod.  It wasn’t much, but it was something they could do to help.  The three women walked to her mother’s car and drove from one witch’s house to the next.  There were only four to visit.  Agatha was already dead.  So was Melina.  Ophelia and Pearl were staying at Mom and Hennie’s.  Babet’s house didn’t need any more wards.

Their first stop was Perdita’s.  Evangeline was staying with her mentor instead of returning to her mother’s voodoo settlement.  Voodoo performed powerful magic, but the women at the settlement couldn’t defend themselves against a demon on their own.  Evangeline could wield both voodoo and witch magic, and Perdita had enough power, but she nurtured more than battled.  She didn’t have one aggressive bone in her body, and that worried Babet.

They all joined hands and chanted their spells until the house buzzed with energy.  When they left, Babet felt sure that they were secure.  Then they drove to Loreena’s house.  The beautiful, young witch had already chanted at least a half dozen spells to keep her house safe.  After her encounter with the Pied Piper of River City, she didn’t take safety for granted.  She was thrilled Rowan, Hennie, and Babet helped her chant more.  After that, they visited Cleo’s house, then Maeva’s.  Both Cleo and Maeva were mothers, and they joined hands for every spell Rowan could think of to keep their children’s homes and yards safe.

By the time the three women returned to Rowan’s shop, the sun hovered on the horizon.  Temperatures had cooled, and tourists crowded the streets.  Prosper pulled to the front curb, bearing huge bags filled with po’ boys.  He dangled one of them in front of Babet and grinned.  The man’s grin could melt hearts.  “Shrimp.”

She licked her lips.  Nothing said heaven like a mound of fried shrimp on toasted  French bread, smothered with mayo and shredded lettuce.  The others chose oysters, Prosper’s favorite, but what did they know?  Her mom and dad carried bottles of wine and beer to the back patio, and they all sat outside, enjoying their meal.

Pearl laughed as she tipped back her bottle of ale to indulge.  “This has been such a fun day!  First, we had Rowan’s birthday party, and now we’re having a sleepover.  Isn’t it great?”

Ophelia gave her sister an odd look, but forced a smile.  “There was that little misadventure in the middle, battling Xamian.”

Pearl wrinkled her nose.  “But Babet, Prosper, and Hatchet came to rescue us.  It was exciting!”

Gazaar looked as though he’d like to smack her, but Rowan laid a hand on his arm.  “Someday, if you train hard enough, you could be that ferocious with your magic.”

Pearl’s eyes gleamed with pleasure.  “I’m going to start concentrating harder, I promise.  Babet’s magic knocked Xamian off balance.”

Ophelia followed Rowan’s lead.  “We could practice together at home and help each other grow stronger.”

“We could, couldn’t we?”  Pearl clapped her hands together.  Babet had never realized how child-like the witch was.    When she thought back on their coven meetings, Ophelia worked hard to cover for her, making Pearl seem more competent than she really was.

Hennie finished the last fried oyster on her sandwich and smiled.  “Witches have to be strong and clever.  We need to think about our friends and our enemies, so that we don’t make rash decisions.”

Pearl bobbed her head.

“Xamian will try to trick us,” Hennie said.  “That’s why it’s important not to trust anyone we don’t know until we capture him.”

Pearl frowned.  “But he can’t step foot on your property.  No enemy can.”

“That’s right, so you’re safe unless you walk outside this building or the privacy fence.  You won’t do that, will you?  No matter what.”  Hennie waited for Pearl’s answer, and Babet realized Hennie had always known how naïve she was.

“I won’t leave this property,” Pearl said.

Hennie’s smile widened.  “Good, that means a lot to me.”

Pearl heaved a happy sigh, pleased with herself.  Ophelia’s shoulders relaxed.  A wave of worry drained Babet’s energy.  She rubbed her forehead, fighting a headache.

Prosper looked at her and rubbed her cheek.  “Come on.  We both could use some rest.  Everyone’s protected for now.  Maybe one of Nadine’s spirits will get lucky and find Xamian tonight.”

He put a hand under her elbow, and for once, Babet let him guide her on their way to his car.  They didn’t talk on the eight block drive from Magic Street to their yellow bungalow.  Tourists thronged the sidewalks in front of their house, walking from their hotels to the popular spots in town.  None of them stepped foot in the tiny yard that led to their bright-red, front door.  She’d bespelled it to keep people off.   Prosper turned at the corner and drove to the alley that ran in back of their property.  He parked beside the high wall of their courtyard.  When they stepped through the gate, Morgana slithered to greet them.

“You finally shed!”  Prosper bent to pet the boa’s bobbing head.

Babet crouched to rub her smooth scales.  “You look beautiful.”

If a snake could smile, Morgana did.  The boa’s happiness lifted Babet’s spirits.  She laughed.  “I’m happy for you!”

Prosper carried drinks onto the patio, and Morgana glided around its perimeter, looking for snacks.  No mice or frogs survived if they slipped past their gate.  On a whim, Babet opened it and said, “Tourists don’t use the alley.  Stay in the shadows, and hurry back.  But find yourself a good meal.  No pets, though.”

Morgana’s body trembled along its entire length.  This was a rare treat, and she disappeared before Babet could change her mind.

Prosper grinned.  White teeth glowed against burnished copper skin.  Damn, his grin worked wonders.  Babet could feel the tension of the day dissolve a little more.  She slid onto the lounge chair next to his.  He raised an eyebrow at her long, bare legs.  “Have I told you how much I like it when you wear anything short?”

“You’ve mentioned it.”  She shook her head.  Prosper loved shapely legs.  He loved long, dark hair, and he wasn’t averse to perky boobs.  But it all seemed pointless at the moment.  Two witches were dead, and a demon roamed River City.

Prosper raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.  “We survived Jaleel.  We’ll survive Xamian, too.”

“A pep-talk.  I need it.  You’re a good man.  But you wouldn’t be so upbeat if your detectives were under attack.”

A scowl furrowed his brows.  “First, I’m not upbeat.  I’m damned frustrated.  But you’re right.  If it were my men on the line, I’d be like you, mulling over one idea after another to kill our enemy.  And you’d be like me, trying to bolster me up.  We make a great team.”

She smiled.  They did work well together, on and off the battlefield.  By the time Morgana returned, moving more slowly with a bulge in her midsection, they were both ready to call it a night.  Prosper closed the gate, and Babet put their glasses in the dishwasher.  Then they headed to the bedroom.  They left the door open, so Morgana could curl on the floor at the foot of the bed.  A new compromise.  The snake liked being in the room with them.  Babet spooned her body against the long, hard length of Prosper’s, closed her eyes, and immediately fell asleep.

The phone woke them a half hour before Prosper’s alarm.

 

It Takes Two

I tried–really hard–to kill only one person in my third mystery.   I wrote plot points for every chapter and scene, had enough suspects and witnesses–I thought–to keep moving the plot.  I had two subplots to add depth.  I was happy with what I had.  The thing is, I got to within fifty pages of the end, and I just wanted more.  I wanted something dramatic, something I didn’t expect, something that would throw all of my carefully placed clues into turmoil.  So I killed someone.  And it just felt . . . right.

Having only one victim would be a challenge for me, I knew–a challenge I wanted to meet.    But I didn’t.  Maybe I wrote urban fantasy one time too many.  I got used to having battles that kept escalating in danger the longer the novel went.  Maybe I missed that adrenaline rush.  I thought about Elizabeth George’s latest mystery, and there was only one body near the beginning of the book.  BUT, there were two crimes, and the second crime felt worse than the first.  It provided the oomph that made the ending pages stronger.

I’m not going to walk around, hanging my head in shame.  True, I tried something and couldn’t quite pull it off this time, but I sure love how this book came together.  It’s been so long since I read Agatha Christie, I can’t remember how many bodies she sprinkled through her mysteries, how she built tension as the clues added up.  I recently watched a TV remake of Ten Little Indians, though, retitled And Then There Were None, and she set a record for body count in that book.  I’m going to think about that with the next mysteries I read.  You can learn so much by studying authors you admire.  And maybe I’ll find something that will make one victim plenty to work with.  Or not.

In any event, I only need to write the big last chapter and then the shorter wrap-up, and THE BODY IN THE DUMP TRUCK is done.  I hope to write The End on Tuesday.  (I’m not even thinking about tonight and tomorrow).  But that’s only the first draft.  So it will only be The End until my critique partners give me their notes.  And then who knows?  I’ll find out what worked and what didn’t.

In the meantime, I wish you happy writing and reading!

 

Favorite authors take up a lot of room

One of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews, just came out with a new book.  While I was at the book store–yes, I actually drove to the store to buy it, BUT Barnes and Noble didn’t have it–I ended up buying another favorite author’s book that I was on the fence about, Patricia Briggs’s latest Mercy Thompson novel.  I probably would have passed on this one, since Mercy is on her own in Europe without her usual cast of characters (or so the blurb makes me think), BUT my online friend Midu read it and told me I HAD to give it a chance, I’d like it.  And I trust Midu, so it’s waiting its turn near the top of my reading list.

I’ve bought more than a few books lately to read on my Kindle.  No matter.  For the next week or two, they’re all getting bumped.  It made me think.  I have NO name recognition as a writer and when I come out with a new book, I probably get bumped by a whole battalion of favorite authors before a reader is willing to take a chance on me.   It’s not easy to get readers to notice you, let alone buy you.  Even harder to get them to read and review you.  Favorite authors, though, have EARNED your loyalty.  They deliver what you like.

Even my bookshelves verify that it’s hard to find room as a new writer. I can’t bear to part with my favorite books, and as soon as those authors come out with a new one, I want to buy and read it.  Which means they get more and more space and new authors get squeezed or shuffled to the bookcase upstairs, along with Harry Potter and the favorite children’s books I read to my kids.  (I’m slowly but surely giving these to the little girls who live next door when they come to visit).

P1030374

I have quite a few shelves, but two of them are filled with cookbooks.  (I just bought another one of those today on the clearance rack, like I don’t have enough recipes already:)  Agatha Christie takes up most of another one.  Elizabeth George’s book are so thick, she spills from one shelf to another.  Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs each have a shelf of their own, then Nancy Pickard and Martha Grimes share another.

A lot of my brand new favorite authors exist in my Kindle.  I’m more willing to take a chance on someone unknown to me when I can buy their books at a cheaper price.  Sad, I know, but true.  The other bright spot of storing Kindle e-books?  I don’t have to dust them.  I admit, though, it’s not the same as walking into my office and being surrounded by books I love.

Someday, I hope each one of us will have our books lining someone’s bookcase, that someone will cherish our words and characters too much to part with them.  But for now, happy writing!  And have a great July.

P1030372