Author Archives: Judi Lynn

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Chapter 17

Brie   (Birch)

I slept in. There was no school this week. Raven still drove into town to work with Brown at his office, and both men were going to show the two guest witches the houses that remained empty. Since the two women would be with us a while, I’d asked their names. I didn’t want to keep calling them Drago’s witch and the third witch. The powerful witch was Astra and the younger witch, Lucia. Well, young in witch years. She was a century old.

Yule Eve was Thursday, and I’d already made most of the cookies I’d serve, so I was working on batches of cashew brittle when Aengus called. He and Afric were driving into Muddy River later in the day to check on Lir and make plans for when he was strong enough to return home. We’d met at Derek’s bar enough, so I invited them to have supper at our house.

“I’ll invite Lir and Birch, too,” I told him.

“Perfect.” We set up a time. When Aengus disconnected the call, I finished the brittle, then looked in the refrigerator. It was packed with food for Yule, but nothing for a quick supper tonight. I headed for my winter coat. “Claws! I’m driving into town. Want to come?”

My ocelot could stay home if he wanted to. No enemies could enter Muddy River, so he didn’t have to accompany me, but he enjoyed seeing other familiars as much as I enjoyed seeing my friends. He ran from the living room and jumped into my SUV. It was a short drive to Main Street, and I stopped at Birch’s boutique first. Claws saw two cats waiting patiently for their witches in front of Syn’s lingerie shop and went to join them. I gave him a quick wave.

“I won’t be long.”

Birch looked up when I entered the boutique and smiled. “What brings you here? Do you need a new outfit for Yule Eve?”

I grimaced. I probably did, but that would have to wait. I heard footsteps coming down from the storage area upstairs, and Lir came to greet us. He was carrying a stack of dresses draped over his arm. He laid them on the counter near Birch, then walked to a stool behind the counter and sat down.

Birch frowned at him. “You’re overdoing again.”

He grinned, and mischief sparkled in his green eyes. “I need to earn my keep.”

“That’s silly, and you know it.” But her tone was indulgent.

I smiled, listening to the two. They’d been good for each other. “I actually came to invite you for supper tonight.” I explained about Aengus and Afric coming. When I mentioned that Aengus wanted to talk about when and how to bring Lir home, Birch’s happy glow faded.

“He misses me.” Lir sounded smug.

“He’s awfully fond of you.” I’d noticed how many times the Druid priest had invited his young friend to his home when I stopped for visits.

Lir grew serious. “Our big festivities are coming up. It’s a sacred time for our settlement. He knows I’ll want to be there for them. I’m strong enough to travel now.”

“You tire quickly and easily,” Birch reminded him. “And I’m still making you drink Hester’s potion four times a day.”

His lips curled as she lectured him. “Yes, Mother.”

She shot him a look. Her eyes were green like his, but an unusual moss green. She wore her fine, white-blond hair in a loose bun. “You don’t take your illness seriously enough.”

He raised his palms in surrender. “If Hester is kind enough to give me more, I can take it with me and drink it at home.”

Birch heaved a sigh. “If you remember.”

Laughing, Lir placed a hand over his heart. “I pledge, I’ll set an alarm clock.”

Birch still wasn’t happy, so I decided to bypass the question. “Can you both make it for supper at my house?”

They nodded in unison, Lir eager to come, Birch looking resigned. My witch didn’t like the idea of not seeing the copper-haired Druid. I started to the door. “I’ll see you at six then.”

Claws was running to join me when Raven’s Lamborghini pulled to the curb. He rolled down his passenger window to ask, “What are you doing in town?”

“Aengus and Afric are driving here tonight, so I invited them to supper. I just asked Birch and Lir to come, too. Now I’m going to Faiza’s store to find something to cook for them.”

“Then I’m in luck. Brown and I got both witches settled, and there’s nothing else we have to do today. I can come with you.”

“Good, I’m tired of getting dirty looks from Faiza for coming without you. The girl needs her eye candy fix.”

“I should have worn a snugger shirt then.” Raven motioned for me to hop into his car and waited for Claws to settle on the backseat. Then he drove to the grocery store Faiza and her parents owned. Someday, and it couldn’t happen soon enough, the young Fae would find a mate. Until then, she fantasized about my demon. I considered buying her a drool bib once, but thought that might be too snarky.

When we walked through the door, she looked up and lit up like a Chinese lantern. “Welcome, enforcer.”

I grimaced. She didn’t even bother to greet me.

Raven smiled at her. “How’s it going, Fae girl?”

She swelled with happiness that he had a personal nickname for her. “I’m fine. Hester has enough potions and spells to protect you from the undead and voodoo, doesn’t she?”

I rolled my eyes. I obviously only existed to keep Raven safe.

He put a hand under my elbow to steer me deeper into the store. “She takes good care of me,” he told her. “I’m a lucky man.”

She darted me a look but didn’t comment as Raven took a shopping cart and we wandered to the back of the store. “Do you have something in mind for tonight?” he asked.

“Aengus has a fondness for salmon and queenies.”


“Scallops with bacon and onions, white wine and lemon.”

“Works for me. And the salmon?”

“You add it to the pan with scallops, add a little heavy cream, then shredded Cheddar to make a sauce.”

Raven raised his dark brows. “Our Druid has expensive tastes.”

I shook my head. “He’s pretty fond of Cornish pasties, too, but they’re more work.”

“Does he have a favorite dessert?”

“He’s getting whatever my demon chooses from Noira and Sugi’s shop.”

His tawny eyes gleamed. “Then he wants an apple pie.”

“He’s probably yearning for one. And ale. We have to have ale.”

Half an hour later, loaded with everything we needed, Raven drove me to my SUV, and I followed him home. Or at least, I tried to follow him. There’s no way I’d keep up with his speed on Banks Road. An hour later, our friends walked into our kitchen, and we all sat down to enjoy our meal.

When I placed the huge platter of scallops and queenies on the table, Aengus stood and crunched me in a hug. Crunched is the right word. The man was so big, I didn’t know if I’d survive his show of affection.

“You remembered,” he said.

“I remember how many you can eat, too. We have plenty of them.”

We made small talk while we ate. Somehow, we got on the subject of Druid and witches’ gardens. Birch listened to what Aengus’s settlement grew, wide-eyed and interested. “I’d like to add some of your plants to the garden in my backyard,” she said.

Lir chuckled. “You call that a garden? Most mortals grow more than you do.”

She stared at him. “What does that mean?”

“You have herbs and vegetables, but nothing to make spells and potions. You’re going to lead a new coven. You need to teach them what to dry and mix while they chant. I could help you plant what you need.”

“Is that so?” She lifted her chin. “I hate to tell you, but you’re not a witch.”

He nodded toward me. “Ask Hester. Druids and witches grow a lot of the same things, but don’t worry. You’ll learn what you need eventually.”

“Hester taught us all of those things in witches’ school.”

“But have you practiced them?”

She frowned. “I know them. I just haven’t done it yet.”

He shrugged. “You’ll learn.”

She stared at him. “Are you trying to aggravate me?”

“Why would I do that?” He tried to look innocent but failed.

Aengus watched them both closely, then caught my gaze. He smiled, amused. They were pretty entertaining.

“Okay, Mr. Know It All, you might know gardens, but have you ever run a business before?”

He smirked. “I help run the Druid export business at our settlement.”

“Then why were you asking so many questions in my store?”

“I don’t know the first thing about fashion.”

She looked him up and down. “I can tell.”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing, but her comment didn’t deter Lir at all.

“No girl has turned me down because she doesn’t like my jeans and T-shirts.” He was lanky and luscious and knew it.

Aengus cocked a brow at him. “No girl has turned you down, but not one of them has caught your interest either. Maybe you’re too picky.”

Lir wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I’ve known every single one of them too long.”

Aengus shrugged. “Maybe you’ll stay a bachelor then, but for now, Muddy River’s been so kind to you and to us that we should return the favor. Why don’t the four of you drive to our house for supper tomorrow night? I don’t think Birch knows much about us. Some Celtic practices are frowned on these days, but Afric’s especially good at reading entrails to find answers to difficult questions.”

Entrails. I didn’t know exactly what to say, but Raven nodded. Birch looked surprised and looked to me for guidance. I smiled. “We’d love to come. Our communities are close, not only in proximity but in practices. We’ll pick up Birch and Lir on our way.”

Birch worded her question carefully. “Should Hester bring extra healing potion so that Lir can take it at home four times a day like he does here?”

Aengus studied him and shook his head. “My young apprentice has a brilliant mind, but he’s careless about his own health. I’d feel better if you watched after him a while longer.”

I stared at my friend in surprise. Lir was healthy enough to return home, so why was Aengus having him stay? I glanced at Afric, expecting her to contradict her husband, but she looked pleased. I was missing something, and I glanced at Raven, confused.

My fire demon’s amber eyes gleamed with amusement. He understood whatever was going on. I’d ask him about it later.

After we finished the apple pie and coffee, Aengus and Afric rose to leave. Aengus wrapped me another hug. My friend was in an especially good mood tonight. Birch and Lir followed them out to their vehicles and when they drove away, I turned to Raven.

“Why did Aengus almost demand Lir stay in Muddy River longer?”

He ruffled my hair. “Your friend is even more devious than I thought. Lir obviously isn’t interested in any Druid girls in their settlement. If he wants to mate, he’d have to look elsewhere. And who’s closer to Aengus than we are?

I couldn’t hide my surprise. “He’s trying to set Lir up with Birch.”

Raven shrugged. “If they mated, Lir could live here and still drive to the Druid settlement every morning to work with Aengus on exports. Lots better than if he moved to Drago’s territory to find a mate.”

Smiling, I leaned into Raven. “I like it. They’re good with each other, don’t you think?”

Raven’s chuckle rumbled in my ear. “Birch will never get bored, that’s for sure.”

I pursed my lips, trying to decide if that was a good thing. And then I realized that since I’d mated with Raven, I hadn’t had one boring moment either. That had its pros and cons, but mostly, I wouldn’t change it for anything.


When Hester and Raven get back to Muddy River, they stop at Derek’s bar to regroup.


Chapter 16

Our vehicles got really crowded. Drago’s witch rode back to Muddy River with Raven and me, Brown and Meda. We dropped off Oren on our way. Laurel and Flint and the third witch we’d freed rode back with Boaz and Cein. The first thing we did when we reached home was stop at Derek’s bar.

“The three witches need food and fast,” I told Speedy when he stuck his head out of the kitchen to check on us.

“And you?” he asked.

“Burgers for everyone,” Raven said. That made everything simpler…and quicker.

Boaz had called Melodia on the way, and she and Lust walked into the bar a few minutes after we did. I’d called Birch, so she and Lir were there, too, seated with Aengus and Afric. Someone had let Festus know, because he and Wanda were sitting at their favorite table. Gray and Syn were with them to check on Brown and Meda. Gray might have taken off when Brown was young so that mortals wouldn’t suspect either of them were shifters, but he sure liked keeping track of his son now.

“Eat first, tell us what happened second,” Derek ordered. He’d looked at the witches, who were barely hanging in there, and knew they needed energy. When their food came, they practically attacked it. Speedy watched them and went to make more. By the time they finished their burgers and fries, he slid another plate in front of them. When we finally ate our last bites and Derek replenished our drinks, Aengus said, “Can you talk now?”

I nodded to Raven, and he told them, step by step, everything that had happened.

Afric gulped down the rest of her ale. “I wish I knew some way to control spirits. They ran to Buthay while you fought and gave him plenty of time to disappear before you reached his camp.”

That was the thing about voodoo spirits. They could travel fast. I looked at Festus, Boaz, Cein, and Lir. “Do you still have your tattoos?”

They rolled up their sleeves, and Festus stood up to cheer. “It’s gone!”

Laurel winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to harm you. I didn’t know any other way to call for help.”

Cein immediately said, “You had to do the only thing you could. We all understand that.”

Festus nodded agreement. “I didn’t mean anything, girl, but I can’t pretend I’ll miss it.”

She smiled, looking stronger already after having a meal.

“Where did you learn Celtic tattoos?” Lir asked, rubbing his arm where the tattoo had been. Faiza came into the bar and sat next to him. She leaned to see his bare skin and grinned. Birch glanced at her and frowned.

Interesting. Like the witches, Lir looked better but still weak.

Laurel studied him. “Are you the one Buthay cursed?”

“Yes, but Hester made a potion for me, and Birch is fussing over me every day. I’m starting to feel better.” His gaze went to Birch, and his green eyes glittered with amusement. He was teasing her, and she flushed. She liked it. Our young witch had better be careful. Lir was clever and playful. He loved to keep people off kilter.

Aengus gave Laurel a gentle smile. “Your tattoos aren’t used often these days. They’re from the old Celt ways. Was someone in your family a Celt?”

“My grandmother was full Fae and married a Celt. I’m half witch, half Fae.”

“That explains it then. It’s a pleasure meeting someone who still knows the old ways.”

Raven returned to the problem of the voodoo priest. “He escaped with three barracks full of Undead and four dark witches.”

“Maybe he’ll decide it’s too dangerous here,” Festus said, sounding hopeful. “Maybe he’ll run as far from us as he can.”

“It won’t be far enough,” Raven finished his beer. “I still want to stop him. Either that, or he’ll kill more mortals. We can’t let that happen.”

Meda yawned. She tried to cover it, but Brown saw her. “Tired?” he asked.

“It’s been a long ordeal.” My fellow witch hadn’t skirted any responsibility, but then, no one in my coven did. “I’m ready to sleep in our own bed.”

Raven nodded and turned to the three witches. “Flint’s staying in my old apartment in town. Laurel can stay with him, if she wants to. If you’d like to stay at our house, you’re welcome. You can call for someone to come to get you in the morning.”

“I don’t want to leave.” Drago’s witch squared her shoulders and straightened her spine. “Not until you find Buthay. I want to help you hunt him and kill him.”

Funny, everyone who met him felt that way.

“Me, too,” the third witch told us. She looked at Flint. “Do you have a couch we can sleep on? Anything’s better than the cots Buthay put in our cells.”

“We have a few more empty houses,” Meda said. “We can help you move into one tomorrow. I’m sure we can round up enough beds.”

Plans made, we went our separate ways. We were all tired. All I wanted to do was crawl under our covers and sleep. It was so late when we got back, Claws curled in front of the fireplace and purred, happy to be home. Raven stopped in the kitchen, though, and sniffed the air.

“I smell cookies.”

I laughed, glad my cookie frenzy hadn’t gone unnoticed. My fire demon’s priorities put sweets at the top of his list. Hopefully, I tied with them, but I wasn’t sure.

Being Benched Is A Bummer

We’ve had a lot of company and seen a lot of people over the holidays.  Most of our friends have retired and their kids are grown.  But all of us can still be rattled when our kids hit a bumpy patch, friends hit snags, or health problems knock us sideways .  It’s frustrating to feel helpless.  The thing is, there are a myriad of things we can’t do much about.

Once kids grow up and move away, there’s only so much you can do to help them.  Sometimes–and this is even worse–you have to watch them make mistakes, get hurt, and lick their wounds.  It’s hard.  When you really care about people, the first instinct is to fix things for them.  But often, that’s not possible.  It’s not always even the best thing to do.

One of my friends is a therapist, and he uses the term “helicopter parents.”  They hover over their children, trying to protect them and shield them from being hurt or disappointed.  They think they’re helping.  They’re not.  Life isn’t always smooth or easy, and kids need to learn to deal with that.  But, if the problem is too big, and you CAN make a difference, wouldn’t you be tempted?

In the mysteries I write, my protagonists are usually dragged into trying to find a killer because they’re trying to help someone they care about.  In all three series, my protagonists are amateur sleuths, so the stakes have to be high enough to make them get involved.  In my Jazzi Zanders series, Jazzi usually knows the person who was killed or the person who’s a likely suspect and might be blamed.  In Muddy River, Raven’s the area’s enforcer.  It’s his job to find a culprit and punish him.  But Hester’s a teacher and the leader of the town’s coven.  She joins in trying to solve the crime because she takes any injury to someone in Muddy River personally.   In the new series I’m working on, Lux is a journalist who’d rather report a crime than try to solve one, but when her friends are in danger, she digs deeper to find the killer before someone she loves gets hurt.

I’ve read mysteries–and enjoy them–where the amateur sleuth takes risks just to satisfy her curiosity.  I’m sure there are people like that, and writers can make them believable, but myself, I’d steer clear of anything that might cause me bodily harm unless I was REALLY motivated.  That’s my protagonists’ approach to crime solving, too, and I think watching a loved one suffer for whatever reason–fear of going to prison, blamed for a crime they didn’t commit, fear that they might be the next victim, or grief because someone they loved died would be enough to make them jump in to help.  They’re not helicopter friends, but the type of friends you can count on in your time of need.

My protagonists aren’t the type to stay on the bench when they can make a difference.  They can’t stand sitting on the sidelines.  In life, sometimes, that’s all a friend can do.  And it’s awful.  We can’t fix the problem or make it go away.  The most we can do, at times, is to be there for moral support, to listen, and to share part of the burden.  But in mysteries, sleuths find the clues they need to solve the crimes.  And that’s the beauty of them.  As writers, we can make justice prevail and provide a satisfying ending.

Happy Writing!







Hester and Raven find the voodoo priest’s settlement.

canstockphoto0699509Chapter 15

Raven left the house right after breakfast. On a Sunday. Our day to enjoy each other. Once he was gone, the house felt empty. I thought about Birch and understood why she took in Lir. I used to love solitude. Not anymore. Not when it stretched for an indefinite time before I’d see Raven again.

I did what I usually do to distract myself. I got out the ingredients to bake and cook. I baked so long that by the time I crawled into bed at the end of the day, I fell into an exhausted sleep. And that’s how I spent the entire rest of my week. I’d teach, come home and start cooking, grab something small for supper, then make candy until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. By the time I went to bed late Friday night, I was in a horrible mood. Even the sky over Muddy River looked dark and threatening, reflecting my feelings.

I usually made an effort to contain my magic, but at the moment, I didn’t care. Tomorrow morning, I was driving to find my demon whether he wanted me to or not. School was out for the holidays, and I didn’t have to return until Raven came with me.

Claws woke first. I heard his restless pacing. He missed Raven as much as I did. “Easy, cat. We’ll see him soon.” I was packing a few things for the trip when Boaz called.

“Any news?” he asked.

“Nothing. School’s out. I’m going after him.”

I heard his chuckle. “In the Lamborghini? On snowy roads? I’ll come pick you up. The waiting’s getting to me, too. Lust asks about Cein every day. She’d come with us if I’d let her.”

“She’s probably powerful enough, but who knows how ugly this is going to get? She doesn’t need to see a magic war at fifteen.”

“Agreed. I’m on my way. Call Raven and tell him we’re coming. And tell him the town will be glad to see you leave. They’re tired of gray, grumbling clouds.”

My demon’s mood wasn’t any better than mine. He growled when he answered the phone. “Nothing. We’ve got nothing. We’ve driven all over this part of Indiana and Kentucky, and we have nothing to show for it.”

“Maybe our luck will change. Boaz and I are leaving now. The witches used all the magic they could. Let’s hope it’s enough.”

“How’s Lir?” he asked before I disconnected.

“Birch is nursing him back to health. He’s getting stronger every day. I stopped at her house to check on him two nights ago. He’s impatient to get out of bed, but he seems to be enjoying himself, teasing and pestering Birch.”

I could hear the smile in Raven’s voice. “And Birch? Is she doing better without her parents?”

“Lir’s a good distraction. They’re both getting better together.” Boaz’s pickup pulled into our drive. “Gotta go. Boaz is here. See you soon.”

Before I hopped into his pickup, while Claws curled on the backseat, I chanted a quick spell.

“What’s that for?” he asked as he started toward River Road.

“It blocks my magic so the priest can’t feel it.”

Boaz gave me a sideways glance. “You’re just full of tricks. Did you get a hold of Raven? Where are he and the others staying?”

“At Oren’s house. I’ve been there and protected it.”

“Good, I don’t want to find out how well vampires do with voodoo magic.”

“Didn’t I give you protective pouches to wear?” He wasn’t wearing one now.

“You gave them to everyone in Muddy River, but once in a while, I work with an accountant who’s a warlock. He’s not very strong, and he travels a lot. Just like Lir, I thought he could use a bit of protection.”

I rolled my eyes. “I never said that each person in Muddy River was only allowed to have one set of pouches. All anyone has to do is ask me for more, and I’d give them to them.”

He grinned. “I’m a financial advisor. We have to have every term spelled out for us. You didn’t make that clear.”

Obviously. It was becoming abundantly clear people must think I rationed my magic, but I had plenty to spare. I handed him a leather cord with pouches and pointed to the box with more that I’d brought. “Those pouches will protect you from voodoo. I wear mine all the time.”

He stopped the truck to slide his over his head and then we set off again.

It took us two hours to reach Oren’s house. It felt like we were crawling, he drove so slow, but I glanced at the speedometer, and he was going seventy. Boaz didn’t stomp his foot on the gas pedal and fly down county roads like Raven did. When we parked next to Oren’s log cabin, my demon came out to greet us.

“Good. You made decent time. Mind if we travel the backroads some more to look for the priest’s hiding place?”

Oren came to welcome us, too. “For Hecate’s sake, at least let them get out of the pickup and stretch their legs. They probably haven’t had anything to eat yet.”

Raven sighed, frustrated. “Sorry, I should have thought of that. I’m just tired of coming up empty. Maybe we’ll have more luck with you here.” He gave me a look. He was hoping I could feel the three witches’ magic.

I got out of the pickup and came to stand beside him, pressing a hand to his arm. His body vibrated with energy, he was so wound up. “Give us half an hour. Then we’ll leave with you.”

Oren led us into his home. “I’m no cook, but I have sandwiches if you’re hungry.”

We were. We all shared an early lunch, but I could tell that Brown and Meda were as exasperated as Raven. They must have covered a lot of ground with zero success.

Raven forced himself to be patient until we finished eating and got to relax a few minutes, then he said, “Ready now?”

Oren shook his head but didn’t argue. Claws and I rode in the SUV with Raven, Brown, and Meda. Cein, Flint, and Boaz followed in Oren’s vehicle. We went up and down one country road after another until the sun sank lower in the sky. It was almost dusk when I held up my hand and said, “Stop!”

Raven slammed on the brakes. I jolted forward before my seatbelt stopped me. Oren had to pull alongside us so that he didn’t run into our SUV. People started to complain but Raven ignored them. “What do you feel?”

I got out and waved my hands in the air. At the end of a weedy field, a huge bubble became visible in front of us. I smiled. “Magic. A protective shield.”

Meda and I strode toward it, the others following close behind.

It was almost dark. It was hard to see. “Should we come back early tomorrow?” Oren asked.

I shook my head. “Hear that?”

Everyone grew silent and concentrated. Then we caught the noise of people dragging their feet in a slow march. A lot of them.

“The undead. They’re heading toward a town,” Brown said.

We ran to catch up with them, then go past them. We planted ourselves between them and wherever they were headed. And when they came into sight, two witches were with them.

I sniffed. “A foul stench—dark magic.” A slew of spirits swarmed close to them. When the spirits saw us, they turned and fled.

“They’re afraid of you,” Boaz said.

I shook my head. “They’re returning to the priest to warn him we’re here.”

The witches stopped, studying us. Then one stepped across from Meda and one across from me. Meda grinned. “We’ll take care of them if you guys slaughter the undead.”

“There are kids with them,” Boaz said.

“Just bodies,” I reminded him. “Their spirits have gone on, and the priest has no right to use their flesh. If you behead them, you free them from him.”

Fangs sprang past his lips and his nails grew into long, sharp talons. Brown and Oren stepped out of their clothes and shifted—Brown into a werewolf, Oren into a huge mountain lion. Cein’s body elongated and feathers popped out of his skin. He opened his beak in a screech of anger and leapt into the air. Flames flicked around every inch of Raven.

The witch across from me raised her palms, and I threw up an invisible shield. Her magic bounced away harmlessly. “Are you ready?” I asked the others.

“Just keep the witches out of our way,” Raven growled.

We all started forward. The priest’s witches were stronger than I’d expected, and we volleyed back and forth, first one spell or chant then another, until I stomped my foot, knocking them off balance, and Meda and I finished them. We’d kept them battling us while Raven and the others plowed through the undead. When we finished, I studied the battleground. Bodies and heads lay separated all across the field. So did burnt corpses.

Boaz returned to his human form, scanning the field and beyond. “Let’s find the priest before we dispose of the bodies properly.”

My thoughts, too. I wanted to find the witches and free them before the priest could harm them.

We returned to the protective bubble I’d found and Meda and I gingerly put out our hands to measure its strength. “We’re in luck,” I said. “The witches were too weak to call on a proper one.”

Meda and I raised our palms in unison and blasted it. The entire field of energy fell. We marched forward, anxious to find the priest and battle the rest of his undead. But when we reached the compound, no one challenged us. Were the undead asleep? Would we find them in the barracks?

Raven scowled at the house on stilts in the center of the marsh. “How do we reach it?”

A tentacle lifted out of the water, and I pulled him back. “Things are living in there.” I threw a protective shield around myself and lowered a hand into the water. Sharp teeth tried to bite through my shield. I waited until they stopped then pulled my protection back a few inches to shoot energy out my fingers. I started small, and fish like piranha immediately floated to the top of the water. So did some odd-looking beast with a dozen tentacles. Once the area around my palm was safe, I motioned to Raven. He lowered his hand and let flames blaze in all directions. The water boiled and bubbled until it was filled with dead creatures.

Once that was done, I used my magic to move earth until a dirt bridge crossed from our side of the marsh to the house on stilts.

Raven’s lips curved in a cruel smile. “I finally get to meet the priest.” He hurried across to the ladder leading to the priest’s house. I blasted the door, and Raven rushed inside. No one was there.

We moved to the barracks next, walking in one, then another. All empty. Finally, we went to the barn and descended the steps into the basement. All three witches lay on the floor in their cages. I waved my hand to unlock them.

Flint rushed into the one holding Laurel. He picked her up gently and cradled her in his arms. She groaned, and hope filled his eyes. He looked at me. “Can you help her?”

Meda and I each went to her side and laid our hands on her. We poured healing magic into her, and slowly, she blinked and tried to sit. Flint leaned her back against his chest, supporting her.

Laurel pointed. “We’re all weak, near dead. Buthay didn’t need us anymore. He’s recruited enough dark witches to help him animate the dead.”

Meda and I went to the other two witches and pushed enough energy into them to keep them alive. They needed a good meal. Their magic was spent. Boaz and Cein helped Drago’s powerful witch lean against the bars of her cage. Raven and Brown helped the third witch.

I frowned, confused. “Why would witches who practice the dark arts join with Buthay?” An apt name for an evil priest.

Laurel explained. “Witch magic can’t raise the dead. With their blood, he can. The witches liked his power.”

“But isn’t he afraid that once he raises an army, the witches will kill him and take it over?”

The powerful witch smiled a cold smile. “If Buthay dies, so do the bodies he controls.”

Raven ran a hand through his dark hair, still confused. “We know he’s building an army, but what for? What’s his ultimate goal?”

“To create his own voodoo kingdom,” the third witch said. “He’ll destroy any good voodoo communities who won’t join him.”

Like the one in Drago’s territory in Kentucky. Our friends.

“And the witches?” I asked.

“They hope to form an army of their own, all dark witches, working alongside voodoo. When Buthay captures people to create more undead, he promised them the peoples’ blood to spill on their own altars.”

I shivered. More adversaries who lusted after power. And they struck me as more ambitious than Murlyn had ever been.

Tattoos and Portents–14

The three witches the voodoo priest kidnapped join together to mark where they’re being kept with strong magic, but the priest feels the change in energy and realizes what they’re doing.  They can’t send a message in a bottle, so they imbed a tattoo that holds a dream on Lir’s arm.  The priest attaches a curse to it, though, and Lir barely makes it back to Muddy River in one piece.

voodoo face


Chapter 14

The trip was mostly a bust. We followed Oren to the houses crowded together on both sides of the road, parked, and walked through each of them. A wind blew, making us hunch our shoulders and pull our heavy coats tighter. Inside each house, furniture was overturned, a Christmas tree was knocked over, its ornaments rolling to every corner of a room. People had fought the undead, but they’d obviously lost. Deep grooves plowed through the clean snow, and we followed the path farther down the road until tire tracks marked where several large vehicles had parked. Then the trail disappeared.

We’d all been hoping for a shred of luck, some small clue to point us toward where the priest was, but Hecate didn’t surprise us with any small blessings. We returned to town, frustrated and tired. On the way, my cellphone buzzed. At my hello, Aengus rushed to say, “I’m coming to Muddy River. I’m bringing Lir. He came home with a tattoo and dreams. And something else.”

“What something else?” I asked.

“I’d guess a curse. He’s in bad shape.”

“We’ll be at Derek’s bar in twenty minutes.” I turned to Raven. “Hurry.”

“I’ll meet you there.” Aengus disconnected.

I didn’t think we could go faster than we were, but I was wrong. Raven’s foot pushed harder on the accelerator and my SUV’s tires flung snow and mud behind us. I thought I was the only one white knuckling my door handle, but even Cein was clinging to his. When we entered the bar, Aengus and Afric were already there, holding Lir up between them. The bar was full. Word must have spread that something had happened. Birch was sitting at a table, alone, looking worried. Afric’s purse was next to her, and she was staring at Lir, who could hardly stand.

As soon as we took our usual stools, the men started rolling up their sleeves, Cein joining them. Birch reached to roll up Lir’s while the Druids kept him as steady as possible. The second Lir’s arm was bare, the tattoos reached for each other.

The girl felt another stirring of magic. A new supernatural must be close by. She stood at the edge of her cage and looked toward the two other witches caged near her. They rose their palms in unison and chanted a spell to mark where they were being held. They were all so weak, only a powerful witch would feel their magic and be drawn to it if she got close enough.

They could feel the tattoo embedding itself into some unknown’s skin, their dream entering his mind, but then they faltered. A dark magic was joining with theirs. The priest must have sensed the stirring of their energy and was sending a curse to the person they’d chosen. They dropped their hands, fear gripping them. Would the person survive? Had they accidentally doomed him?’

A horrible laugh filled the basement and dark magic swirled around them. They cringed to press themselves into corners, but the priest’s magic found them. The girl tried to cling to consciousness, but couldn’t.

The dream ended. Lir’s entire body started shaking, his head drooped.

“Can you help him?” Aengus asked.

I laid a hand on his forehead and forced healing magic into him. The shaking stopped, but his fever still raged. I pressed my lips together. “Did he wear the pouches I gave him?”

Aengus shook his head. “He gave them to a man three towns over who constantly travels for a living. He thought he needed it more.”

A sigh of frustration left my lips. “He should have asked me for another one. The pouches would have repelled the priest’s voodoo. But I can make an antidote. It won’t be an instant fix. He’ll have to rest, and someone will need to give him the potion four times a day. He should stay in Muddy River. He’s not strong enough to travel.”

Afric looked at Aengus. “I can stay here to tend to him. You need to lead our solstice services. Only the high priest can climb our sacred oak and cut its mistletoe to make the elixir that cures infertility and poisons.”

“We always do that together,” Aengus said.

“Lir needs us now.” She propped him against her side so that she could raise her hand and feel his forehead. “He’s burning up.”

Birch pinched her lips together. “He can stay with me, and I’ll care for him. My parents left Muddy River this morning. The house feels empty. I need something to distract me.”

“Who’ll watch your shop?” I asked.

“My assistant. She needs the extra money. And the shop feels weird to me without Mom and Dad. I’ll adjust, but it’s put a damper on Yule. Doing something else right now would be good for me.”

I turned to Aengus and Afric. “Lir won’t get better care than Birch will give him. She’ll make sure he has whatever he needs. And he deserves our help. He went out of his way to ask about the voodoo priest as a favor to us.”

“Will you call us and let us know how he’s doing?” Aengus asked. “I’m the one who sent him to ask about the witch. It’s my fault he’s sick.”

I shook my head. “It’s the priest’s fault, Aengus. We’ll heal him, and when we find the witches, we’re driving to free them and finish the priest.”

“When you fight him, I’m going with you,” Boaz said.

I glanced at Melodia and she nodded. “My husband’s powerful. He can help. Besides, I’m guessing Cein will go, too, and if anything happens to him, Lust will never forgive us.”

Cein blinked. “Will people quit saying that? She’s a kid.”

Boaz’s lips twitched, his opinion obviously similar to mine. “Keep telling yourself that, but my daughter has a mind of her own. She’s chosen you. Someday, we’ll be happy to welcome you to our family.”

Cein grimaced, dismissing his words. “I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, since the witches marked where they’re being kept, can we find them? Will we smell their magic if we get close enough?”

Raven nodded. “Our odds are better. Tomorrow, I’m taking Hester’s SUV, and I’m driving to the Ohio River. I’ll drive up and down it and as many backroads as I can, looking for them.”

“I’m going, too,” Cein said.

I started to say I would, too, but Raven shook his head. “I’m staying down there as long as it takes to find them. You have another week of school to teach. I won’t go after them without you or Boaz. When we find the priest’s settlement, I’ll call you, and we’ll wait for both of you to join us. We’ll need your magic.”

Brown glanced at Meda, and at her nod, said, “Count me in now. My sense of scent is better than most.”

“Where he goes, I go,” Meda told him. “Witches can’t scent like shifters, but I can defend your backs while you’re looking.”

“I want to go, too.” We all turned to see Flint standing near the back door. “Raven called me about the Druid’s new tattoo. Thank you. If we can find Laurel, I’m in.”

I frowned at Raven. “I’m glad you called him, but Flint’s too young. He hasn’t battled. . . “

“He has to learn some time,” my demon said, interrupting me. “And if you were out there, nothing would keep me from looking for you.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. He was right. I’d tear the state apart if I had to, to find Raven. Flint had a right to join them.

With a nod, Raven stood. “Birch, you can follow us home, and Hester will get the antidote for Lir. Then I’ll follow you back here and help you get Lir to your house. Anyone coming with me tomorrow can meet me at my office at nine. We’ll leave then.”

I wasn’t happy on the drive home. I didn’t like sending Raven off without me. Even Claws was grouchy. But Raven had made up his mind how he wanted this done, and for once, I decided not to argue with him.



Time’s Running Out

I’m beginning to sympathize with the people who did NaNoWriMo in November.  They had a short amount of time to write a whole lot of words.  When I decided to try to write two books at the same time, I thought I had plenty of time to finish them before January.  And I would have, if everything had gone according to plan.  I know, I know.  How many times does that happen?  How many times do the best laid of plans of …well, you know.

I had both the Muddy River book–TATTOOS AND PORTENTS–and the contemporary mystery novel–OLD FRIENDS, NEW HABITS–plotted out.  I’d work on Muddy River in the morning, take a break to look at e-mails and twitter, etc. and eat lunch, then work on the Lux mystery in the afternoon.  And honestly, I was making great progress.  Until I had to stop to write plot points for my sixth Jazzi Zanders book.  The book isn’t due until May 4th, and I’ve never had to send in plot points way ahead before.  But there’s a funny little thing called a contract, and it listed Dec. 15th as the deadline for my cozy mystery outline.  Not sure why.  Maybe my publisher wanted to remind me that I had a book to write.  But it is, what it is.  So I had to put on my writing brakes and pound out plot points.  I need enough suspects, twists and turns, and clues to keep things interesting, and they took longer to figure out than I’d expected.   By the time I sent them, I’d lost almost two weeks.  Those two weeks pretty much doomed me.

I’m not sure that I can work on Jazzi, then if I get my pages done for the day, work on one of my other books.  The problem?  I get hopelessly messed up if I try to switch back and forth between first person and third.  And believe me, when that happens, you notice.

My daughter who’s a nurse in Indy and my grandson and his wife who live in Indy are all coming up to celebrate a late Christmas with us this weekend.  Cheers and happy dance!  We get to exchange presents and have the big, holiday meal.  By the time they leave on Sunday, though, there’s not a whole of December left.  Even if I took coffee intravenously and didn’t sleep at all, I wouldn’t have enough time to finish both books.  So, I’m playing with options.

Maybe I could write on Jazzi during the week and work on Muddy River or Lux on the weekends.  My husband would still remember who I was, wouldn’t he?  Or maybe I could write on Jazzi during the day, take a LONG break, and then work on one of my other books for an hour or two in the evening.  HH likes basketball this time of year:)

I’m guessing it’s obvious by now that I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  But I’ll think of something.  I always (okay, usually) do.  I’m too close to The End to give up now.  Light candles for me.  Send me happy thoughts.   And whatever you’re working on now, best of luck!


Tattoos and Portents–13

Hester keeps trying to make things ahead for the Christmas Eve dinner she invites her coven and their families to.  But when a voodoo priest is busy creating undead, she has to deal with one interruption after another.  This Saturday, though, she finds time to bake cookies.  Yes.  Even supernaturals are tempted by cookies.cookies-1387826_640

Chapter 13

Snow started falling on the way home. Southern Indiana was a lot warmer than the northern part of the state, but we still had white winters. My coven and I had bespelled the roads inside our boundaries to be free of ice and snow so Raven could use his Lamborghini with no worries of ice or slippery spots. As we approached our driveway, I waved my hand and the outside lights all lit. Icicle lights hung from the roofline of our tall Victorian with a deep front porch. Lights rimmed the porch roof, too, and they twinkled on the arched walking bridge that spanned the stream at the side of our large property. More glowed from the gazebo. It looked like a picture card winter wonderland.

Raven dropped me off near the kitchen door, then he and Claws drove farther to park the car in our garage. My ocelot didn’t pad into the house, like usual, but ran toward the tree line near the river. He’d explore instead of waiting outside our bedroom door.

Raven shook snow off his black hair as he stepped inside and hung his coat near the door. Then without a word, he scooped me up and started upstairs. My fingers slid under his sweater to feel his warm skin, his hard muscles. He kicked the door shut on his way to the bed. We were finally alone, and we meant to enjoy it. Later, much later, we heard Claws lie against the door in the hallway. Raven got up to let him in the room. We slept with no blind on our window so that Hecate’s moonlight could shine in and bathe us in her silver beams.

Raven slid across the bed to spoon his long, hard body against mine, and I fell asleep cradled in his warmth. We slept in since it was Saturday and neither of us had to rush to our jobs. We took our time showering and getting ready for the day. I was going to bake and make candy the entire day. School was still open all next week, but after Friday, we started Yule vacation. Yule Eve was on a Tuesday night, and Yule itself was Wednesday, so I had more time to prepare, but I knew I’d keep losing evenings and days to trying to find the voodoo priest.

When Raven and I finally started down the stairs to begin our day, Claws ran to the front door and a deep growl rumbled in his throat. I frowned. What could bother him outside? No enemies could pass our wards. What had him so upset?

I went to the door and opened it to glance outside and stared in surprise. The young shifter who’d run away with the witch in the dream huddled on our porch. “How long have you been here? You look half frozen.” I opened the door wide and motioned him inside.

The poor boy shivered in our entryway, and I went to start the coffee pot while Raven frowned at him. “Are you in danger?”

“No, but all I can think about is Laurel. I want to help you find her. Don’t try to send me back home. I can’t go there. When my father found out what I was doing, he disowned me. I’m banned from our town.”

I could see his father doing that. My thoughts immediately flew to the boy’s mother. I felt sorry for her. If Raven ever pulled something like that, he’d be out of the house, and my kid would be home. But Raven would never be that stupid.

Raven led the boy into the kitchen, and I poured him a cup of coffee, then I poured cups for Raven and me. “I can’t keep calling you shifter or kid,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Flint, my dad says I’m flint gray in my wolf form.” He sipped the coffee, holding the mug in both hands to warm himself, and I could almost watch him thaw a little. He hunched his shoulders. “I don’t have any money. If it’s all right with you, I thought I’d sleep in my car until we find Laurel. Is there a law about that in Muddy River?”

I grimaced. “There’s no law, but it’s not going to happen. You’ll stay here with us. Things have been more chaotic than usual, though, so we’re in and out a lot.”

“I couldn’t do that.” He started to shake his head, but Raven interrupted him.

“Either here, or you can sleep upstairs of my office and the town’s jail. I used to live there until I met Hester.”

“You wouldn’t mind if I did that?”

“It’s empty right now. There’s furniture and a bed but no groceries.”

“I’ll call Ruby,” I said, “and tell her to make a tab for you at her diner, and we’ll pay for it later.”

“I don’t want . . . “

I shook my head. “You’re no good to us if you’re weak and hungry. The undead defeated you before. If you’re going to help us, you need protection from voodoo magic. I’ll get you the pouches you need. And Raven needs to teach you how to kill the undead.”

He stared. He obviously hadn’t thought things through very well when he came here, but his intentions were good, so we were going to make it work. Besides, I liked anyone who wanted to help our poor witch, and especially a young shifter who loved her this much.

“Did you bring extra clothes?” Raven asked.

“I have a suitcase with everything I own. I can’t go back.”

With a nod, Raven started to the door to get his coat. “Follow me into town, and I’ll show you my old apartment and give you a key. You won’t be able to get in the office. A door opens onto the stairs that lead to the second floor. Then I’ll take you to Noira and Sugi’s bakery and get you some rolls and bread for breakfast, and we’ll stop at Faiza’s grocery to buy you some supplies.”

“Are there any jobs I could do here to make money?”

Raven hesitated. “Toothy and Paws are looking for someone to hire, but it’s long hours.”

Flint’s eyes lit up. “I don’t mind hard work.”

“You might mind this. They run a chicken and poultry farm. Every kind of chicken known to man, ducks, and geese, even pheasants. Their daughter sells eggs to the bakery and at the market in town.”

“Will they hire me since I’m a stranger?”

Raven smiled. “After Paws hears your story about the undead taking your young witch, she’ll probably invite you stay to eat supper with them. She’s a cat shifter with a big heart. If you’re interested in meeting them, I’ll drive you out to their place.”

I glanced at Claws. “Do you want to go with them?” But my ocelot had traveled enough lately and went to stretch in front of the fireplace in the front room. I kissed Raven on his way out the door and watched him drive away before gathering things from my pantry to get some baking done today.

I had five dozen chocolate crinkles, five dozen M&M cookies, and three dozen sugar ‘n spice cookies done before Raven’s Lamborghini returned. Brown’s squad car pulled in behind it. I wiped my hands on my apron with a sigh. If Brown was here, something was up. While Brown and Meda stepped out of his car, Cein’s red Corvette pulled in behind them. It must be something big.

They all crowded into the kitchen and started toward the long wooden table. Cein stared at the cookies cooling there and grinned. “Has Raven tasted them yet for quality control?”

I shook my head. “No better time than now.”

I’d made another pot of coffee for my demon’s return and poured everyone mugs. Hands reached for cookies while they sipped the hot brew.

Raven gave me a sympathetic look and I shrugged. I could always make more. “You must have heard news,” I said.

“Oren called.” Raven reached for a chocolate crinkle, one of his favorites. “A tiny town that’s more like a spot on the road went missing, every mortal gone.”

“How many? What ages?” I asked.

Brown’s lips turned down. “Four retired couples, three young families with seven kids between them.”

Sparks flew from my knuckles. Kids. The priest had killed kids.

Meda looked at the sparks and nodded. “He’s pushed his luck.”

“Oren’s asked for backup. We’re going to meet him, then visit the town.” Raven’s strong jaw was set in an angry line. “The youngest kid was only six.”

That was the age young witches started school. I bit my bottom lip. If we could find the priest, he deserved swift and horrible punishment.

Raven glanced at the kitchen, at the bowls waiting for more ingredients. “I’ve been an enforcer a long time, and I have lots of help. You could stay home this time. We can handle this.”

I shook my head. “If you find a trail that leads us to the priest, I want to be there to watch him die.”

Raven grinned. I wasn’t usually this blood thirsty, but the priest had earned his way to my most wanted list. I wanted him dead, and if he suffered first, all the better.

He gave me a look of approval. “That’s my girl, a healthy sense of justice and revenge.”

We bundled up and drove to meet Oren.