From All The Missing Children:
As Raven advanced toward the men, he sniffed. They stopped working when they saw us, and the horse trainer leaned an arm against a stall, studying us. The yard maintenance man leaned on a garden rake.
“Didn’t expect to see you again,” the trainer said. “How can we help you?”
“First, we’d like to introduce ourselves. I’m Raven, a fire demon enforcer for Muddy River. This is Nyte, a supernatural marshal for this entire area. My mate, Hester. Nyte’s mate, Cazzandra. You know Winifred. And our friends, Derek and Prim. They were supporting the new supernatural settlement where all of the parents were killed.”
The man blinked. “A whole settlement was wiped out? Why?”
Prim answered, her voice tight. “So that four women could steal all of their children.” She pointed to Winifred. “She was one of them. The coven that met here meant to sacrifice her at the full moon.”
The men stared.
“And you are?” Raven asked. “I can tell by your scents you each have a small amount of magic.”
The trainer nodded. “I’m Edik, part Fae. And this is Lance. He has a small bit of earth witch in him.”
Introductions out of the way, Raven’s voice turned business-like. “As you know, by our laws, since we destroyed the owner of this property for breaking supernatural rules, we’ve inherited the horse farm. But we’re hoping that both of you will stay on when Nyte and Cazzandra move here to start a new settlement for our kind.”
Lance’s shoulders relaxed. “Good news. We were worried you’d put it on the market. If mortals buy it, they might sell off the horses and develop it into a subdivision. That’s happening a lot in this area. We’d lose our homes and jobs.”
“No worries of that,’ Nyte told him, “but we would like to ask you some questions about the coven who practiced here.” He was about to say more when a black stallion bumped against its stall, leaning its head out to touch him with its nose.
Edik stared. “That stallion is usually stand-offish.”
Nyte smiled and turned to rub its forehead. “I love horses, and they usually like me.”
“But you’re part vampire.” Edik frowned. “Most horses are shy around vamps.”
Nyte smiled. “But I’m part Fae, too. That reassures them. And you’re part Fae, so he’s familiar with your scent.”
Raven returned to the reason we’d come. “What can you tell us about the former owner and his coven?”
Hester and Raven volunteer to help Drago, a shifter demon, find who paid an incubus to kill his live-in partner, a voodoo priestess. They visit her voodoo village to learn more about what happened: From Mixing It Up With Mortals:
I knew very little about voodoo magic, other than the magic was based on nature, much like ours and could use talismans to protect or curse, similar to white and dark magic. Drago directed us to a narrow, two-story house on the edge of the swamp that belonged to Marie’s aunt. Monkey heads, jammed on pointed posts, surrounded the yard.
As we walked up the sidewalk to the front porch, Claws hissed and growled. “It’s all right,” I assured him, bending to stroke his smooth fur, but they made me uneasy, too..
Drago knocked on the front door, and a woman with mocha-colored skin and pale eyes stepped out to greet us. When she saw Drago, she held out her arms to him. He stepped into them for a fierce hug.
Once they parted, Drago motioned to us. “These are friends I called for help. Raven’s the enforcer for Muddy River in southern Indiana, and his mate, Hester, leads Muddy River’s coven.” He looked at me to finish the introductions.
“Meda’s a witch in my coven, and Brown’s part shapeshifter and an Indiana sheriff.”
Her pale gaze studied us. It lingered on me. “I can feel your magic. If the four of you can find who killed my niece, we’ll perform ceremonies to honor you.”
A cold tremor raced through me, but I nodded my thanks. Then I explained about the incubus we’d been tracking.
A frown drew her silver brows together. “Three vampires built a private club just over the border of our territory. It’s a bar and a brothel, secluded enough that no mortals bother them, but they want to expand their parking lot. They used all of their property on the front and far side of the building. The back overlooks the Ohio River, so they want to build on our side, close to our cemetery. It’s not legal. Drago has rules. Supernaturals are bound to leave plenty of space between one community and the next. They have no regard for anything but their own needs. Marie talked to them about it and meant to report them to Drago when she returned to him.”
“But she never made it home,” Drago blurted, his hands balling into fists.
The aunt reached to pat his arm. “It’s a hot day and humid. Have a seat on the front porch, and I’ll bring us all iced tea.”
From ALL THE MISSING CHILDREN:
When we drove to the next house two towns over, we had to knock on another neighbor’s door to inform her that the person who’d lived next to her had died. She pinched her lips together. “I warned Cyrus that he traveled too much, took off in any kind of weather, but when that friend of his came to the farm, you couldn’t keep Cyrus home.”
Raven asked, “Do you know where the farm was?”
“No idea.” The woman waved his question away. “But I think it’s silly that a grown man rushed off once a month to spend time with his buddies.”
“The friend he went to see didn’t own the farm?” Nyte asked.
“Oh, no, he wasn’t from around here. Cyrus said he was some kind of big shot from farther north, that he was lucky the man made time for him at all. I gathered he was some kind of mentor or something.”
“Cyrus never mentioned his name?” Raven tugged out his list to make a note on it.
The woman laughed. “He called him Merlin. Can you believe it? Maybe they dressed up like those folks do at Medieval Festivals, like knights in armor. Merlin probably wore a long, blue robe and a pointy hat.” She shrugged. “To each his own. It sure made Cyrus happy, though.”
Nyte moved forward to catch her attention. “Do you happen to remember how long Cyrus had been going to the farm? Was it a long time?”
“No, it was a recent thing. Maybe only three or four years. I blame it on a mid-life crisis. Cyrus’s wife left him, you know. He went out and bought a convertible after she moved away.”
Had she left because he began practicing dark magic? Or did he turn to that after his marriage fell apart? Driving the convertible should have been enough to ease his pain.
From ALL THE MISSING CHILDREN:
The woman opened the door wider and motioned us inside. “It’s about time someone came to look into this. Sally was close to us. She wouldn’t just quit calling. Our girl’s either in trouble or dead.”
“Was your daughter a witch, too?” I asked.
She led us into a living room with a stone fireplace large enough to heat the entire downstairs. A slim man rose from his chair to greet us.
“Sally’s father,” he said. “We’re grateful you came.”
Nyte sniffed and narrowed his eyes. “A warlock. Your daughter must have been powerful.”
The mother shook her head. “She wouldn’t train, didn’t want anything to do with witchcraft.”
Raven took a seat and waited for the rest of us to get comfortable. Then he said, “Tell us about Sally.”
The wife grimaced. “Everything happened too fast. She left home to get a job in the neighboring town. Wanted to live like mortals. The next thing we know, she tells us she’s in love, she’s moving in with Mitch, a warlock.”
“I thought she didn’t want anything to do with magic.” Red flags snapped in my mind. “Was Sally practical? Did she have a lot of common sense?”
Her dad nodded. “She was steady, not one given to romantic ideas.”
“And stubborn,” her mom added. “Once she made a decision, it was impossible to change it.”
I spoke my biggest fear. “Did you suspect a love potion? That Mitch cheated?”
“That had to be it. Sally wouldn’t know. But we would.” Her mother’s voice cracked. “We were driving into town to check on her when she sent pictures of a small ceremony and said she’d invite us to her new home when she got settled.” The mother went to retrieve the photo. My heart cried when I looked at the young girl with copper hair and gray eyes, only a slip of a thing, smiling at a tall man with his back to the camera. The mother pinched her lips together, gazing at the picture, too. “That’s the last we saw of her.”
I passed the picture to Cazzandra. “Could that be your father?”
Nodding, Cazzandra shivered and rubbed her arms.
From ALL THE MISSING CHILDREN:
We were walking the shore line when a flock of river swallows swooped down to land near me. “Did you find something?”
They swirled back into the air and we raced for our vehicles, clamored in, and followed them. They led us upriver until we came to a boat dock with four boats tied to it. I waved a thanks and sent a blessing, and the birds wheeled away.
Nyte studied the area. “These boats are for rent.” He motioned to a weathered shack with row boats leaning against its side and a sign with rates by the hour and another sign advertising bait. We walked to see if anyone was inside the building.
A man with gray hair, his skin as weathered as his shack, narrowed his eyes to study us. “What can I do for you?”
Raven pulled out his wallet and flashed a badge for law enforcement. “We’re investigating a case and found signs of four boats docking where a crime happened. Did you rent out the bigger boats two or three days ago?”
“Sure did. Mighty odd customers rented them, too.” He slowly looked the rest of us up and down. “You folks don’t look like no police or game wardens neither.”
Nyte showed him his badge.
The man whistled in surprise. “An enforcer—whatever that is—and a marshal. Musta been some crime.”
“A number of deaths were involved.” Raven stiffened to his full height, six five. “Could you show us your records? We’d like to question whoever rented the boats.”
The man pulled a clipboard off the nearby wall and turned it for Raven to see. He pointed with a gnarled, calloused finger. “One woman paid for all of ‘em. Said she was giving a river party, inviting lots of friends. When the time came, she showed up in a white van, along with three other women friends. They each took a boat. Paid good money. When I came in the next morning, the boats were all back.”
Raven read the name listed on the sheet. “Delilah Jones.”
Derek and I exchanged glances. That sounded as fake as a name could get.
Raven kept reading. “She paid cash. You have a license plate number for her.”
The man grimaced. “You’d be surprised how many people borrow boats and forget to return ‘em.”
Nyte glanced at the license plate number and typed it into his phone. He grunted in disgust. “A rental.”
Raven tried again. “Did she have a driver’s license?”
“Yup.” He pointed to a scribble beneath the name.
Nyte typed it in. “Deceased.”
That meant there really had been a Delilah Jones. I wondered what happened to her, how long she’d been dead.
“Can you describe the women?” Raven asked.
The man put a finger beside his nose, wrinkling his forehead in thought. “All four had long, dark hair halfway down their backs. Ain’t seen women with that much hair for a long time.”
“Anything else you remember?” Raven persisted.
“They gave off a creepy vibe.” The man turned his head to spit out chewing tobacco, then shrugged. “I been in the business a long time. Meet a lot of people. You get a feel for ‘em, you know? Something was off about these gals. Couldn’t put a finger on it, though.”
Snippet 3: from All The Missing Children by Judi Lynn
The house was big for one person—three stories with a dozen rooms on the second and third floors. An elegant, old curving staircase in the center of the foyer led upstairs. Cazzandra had bought it about ten years after I settled in Muddy River.
Raven walked to the window with lace curtains to look outside. Our room faced the back yard with a patio off the kitchen and a huge witch’s garden. “How did you two meet?”
“We were both running from New England. I was escaping the witch hunts. She was escaping her father. She needed someone to keep her safe. A few witches and I had already started our coven, and we took her in.”
“How long did she stay with you?”
“Close to two years. We traveled for a while, stopped for a while. None of us knew where we were going. We were aimless, disheartened. She met a full-blooded shifter on our journey, and they hooked up. Nothing romantic, more like brother and sister. When my coven and I turned toward Indiana, she and the shifter kept going south with a few other supernaturals and witches.”
“Was that the last you saw of her?”
“No, I was surprised to see her again when I stopped here on my way to help a friend. We were both happy to see each other, but we didn’t keep in touch.”
“Do you trust her?”
We locked gazes. “I can smell dark magic. She hasn’t practiced it.”
Raven tilted his head toward the end of the parking lot. “Witches don’t have the gift of scent demons and vampires do. Did you smell the bodies buried back there when we got out of the SUV? Derek did. That’s what’s bothering him. So did Nyte.”
“Would most vampires and shifters smell them?”
Raven shook his head. “No, we’re stronger than most. The bodies made us wonder.”
Claws growled. My familiar had smelled them, too.
Snippet 2: from All The Missing Children:
Nyte motioned us up the stairs and led us to the first bedroom on the right. A man lay on the floor in pajama bottoms and a woman lay next to him, dressed in a long nightgown. Nyte bent to turn them over, and we saw the bite marks covering their faces, necks, and shoulders. Claws growled deep in his throat and backed up so that he was half in, half out of the room.
Raven pressed his lips together in a tight line. I waved my hand over the bodies, looking for residual magic. “Serpent bites and venom from some supernatural being. Nothing I can identify.”
Nyte scrubbed a hand through his dark hair. “There are so many bites. I thought it must be a swarm of something that attacked them,”
“Flying serpents?” I asked. “Are there any such things?”
“I’ve never dealt with any.” Raven started to another room. We followed him. Empty. A pink comforter with kittens prancing on it lay rumpled, half on the bed, half on the floor. He went to the last bedroom. It was empty, too. This comforter was blue, covered with toy trains. He looked at Prim. “How old were their kids?”
She leaned into Derek, and he wrapped her in an embrace. Voice strangled, she said, “Auriel was five. Tad was seven.”
The names made it more personal. The comforters bothered me even more. Every school day, I taught kids aged five to eighteen. I had a thing for them. Loved watching them grow into their potential. Where were these two? What had happened to them?
This snippet is from my second Muddy River Mystery, a paranormal cozy mystery, Mixing It Up With Mortals. Hester Wand, the witch who leads the coven in Muddy River, and Raven Black, Muddy River’s fire demon enforcer, have moved in together, and Raven tries to surprise Hester with a lake cabin getaway:
Raven led us to the last cabin in the group and scowled at its open door. “I didn’t leave this unlocked.”
My stomach knotted. I wasn’t sure I wanted to look inside, but Raven pushed the door wider and we both stared at a man and a woman lying on the floor, their skin stretched tight over their skeletal bones. Every ounce of blood or life force had been sucked out of them.
“Why?” Raven raked his hand through his black hair in frustration. “Why did this have to happen here? On our property? These are mortals. I can’t just set them on fire and turn them to ashes. I have to report them to a human authority.”
I frowned. I’d lived among mortals when my family had left Europe and settled in Salem. That hadn’t gone well. When I’d lost all of them to the noose, that’s when I’d gone in search of a new home, a place where humans couldn’t reach me. “Have you worked with mortals before?”
“Occasionally, I have to. I can’t in good conscience just make these two disappear. Some mother or father is probably worried about them. They might have children waiting at a grandmother’s house. Whoever loved them deserves to know they’re gone.”
I bit my bottom lip, worried. “When anyone sees these bodies, he’s going to know something unnatural happened to them.”
“I know. I’ve worked with an officer in this area before, though. We have an understanding. He needed me once when a shifter was picking off victims in a big city, hoping their disappearance would go unnoticed or unsolved. One of the mortals who shops at Drago’s market recommended me to him.”
Drago was one of Raven’s old demon friends. His supernatural community was across the Ohio River in Kentucky. They offered a farmer’s market that was open to anyone, mortals included.
“Why you? Why not Drago?” I asked.
“Everyone who knows my friend knows he doesn’t much care about humans, other than their money. If a few disappear, and it doesn’t affect him, he doesn’t bother with it.”
I’d met Drago when Raven and I had searched for someone who sold wood betony to a young witch in Muddy River. Drago was more interested in bedding beautiful partners and eliminating supernatural law breakers than helping someone who didn’t live in his area.
Raven pulled his cellphone from his pocket and punched in a name. I was too restless to stay to listen to the conversation, so Claws and I went to peek inside the other small cabins. They were all laid out the same. Four bunkbeds with a heater, a small table and chairs, and a tiny bathroom in the back.
When I returned to Raven, he was just returning his phone to his pocket. He crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Brown will meet us here in an hour. Let’s go back to our place and fix some lunch. He’ll join us there. It might take a while to sort things out, and I don’t want to work on an empty stomach.”
We plodded back to the big cabin, our euphoria deflated.