A snippet from the first Muddy River: Black Magic Can Backfire:
When Raven Black summoned you, you showed up. Muddy River’s appointed guardian, he was our law officer, judge, and jury all rolled into one. Executioner, too, if he found you guilty. Our community only had one fire demon, and every adult here had sworn to avenge him if any harm came to him. Not that that was likely. Raven had massive powers, and no shape shifter, vampire, or witch—except maybe me—could go against him unless he had a true-dead death wish.
I respected the man. Of course, as a demon, he was so handsome, it was hard not to stare. With jet-black hair and tawny-colored eyes, he stood six-five of pure muscle. I’d never seen him wear anything other than black. He performed a job not many would want. With so many supernaturals settled in one area, we needed someone to keep order. And it’s surprising how many undead don’t want to tempt being turned into cinders—which Raven can do.
When I pulled out of the garage, I reached across the car seat to open the side door for Claws. He jumped on the passenger seat of my SUV, and we raced north, away from town. While I drove, I punched a group message button on my phone and let the coven know what happened. “If you can get to the Dark Forest any time soon, I’ll be there.”
The road to the forest is dark and twisty. When I’d first brought my coven to this area in southern Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio River, we’d been looking for an isolated area to call home, a place far away from mortals where we could practice magic without fear. Trees and forests are thick here. The terrain’s wild and hilly with creeks and hollows, but somehow other supernaturals found us, following our tendrils of magic to our location.
What had been a tiny community of thirteen houses grew into a populated area with many pockets of magicks branching off from the main downtown center. No humans had been welcomed, and none stayed longer than to wander through some of the specialty shops before leaving. Too many scowls followed them, and they were unsettled by the familiars that roamed the streets with their owners. When a mortal reached to touch or pet one of them, a hiss or screech warned them to keep their distance or lose a hand.
Claws purred on the front seat. The cat loved car rides. He went everywhere I went. When we finally reached the parking lot, I pulled beside Raven’s black Lamborghini and got out to greet him.
A waxing moon etched tall grasses leading to the tree line with silver. The humid air clung to my skin. Raven was standing behind a line of cars parked at the end of the asphalt, his strong body silhouetted by a few tall, overhead street lights. Not much effort went into making the parking lot safe, but shape shifters and vampires could see in the dark. Only witches needed flashlights to follow the path to the woods.
As I joined him, I noticed thirteen humps that dotted the ground from the asphalt to the forest. Bodies. He nodded at them. “Looks like someone picked them off on their way back to their cars. What can you tell me about them?”
Another snippet from UNDER SIEGE, a 90-minute Amazon read. https://amzn.to/2nLM42G
(young student learning potions and spells)
When I left to teach in the morning, Raven and Brown planned to contact anyone and everyone in the districts they served to let them know supernaturals were in danger. A valid concern, since some lived in remote areas or in towns with mortals. The ones who lived in towns hid their magicks, and I wasn’t sure anyone could tell they were part supernatural. But no one wanted to take that risk.
The men set up office at our kitchen table, so Claws and I hiked across the street and down the long drive to the school building. I was surprised to see Strike’s sister, Odifa, waiting for us there.
“I came to teach with you, if that’s okay.” She followed me inside and watched me wave to turn on lights and heat. Claws, as usual, went to curl on his cushion.
I turned to hug her. She’d pulled her thick, toffee-colored hair into a knot and wore sensible black pants and shoes. Teachers were on their feet most of the day, so she’d come prepared. She didn’t bother with makeup to hide her red, puffy eyes or to add color to her cheeks. She was grieving, and it showed.
“I’m glad you came,” I told her. “The truth is, I’m grateful. My mind has been churning with so many thoughts, it’s hard for me to concentrate. But I’m surprised to see you. You just lost Tianne and Hans.”
“That’s why I’m here.” She rubbed her eyes, a tired gesture. “I couldn’t sit in our new house all day and seethe and grieve. I needed to do something or I’d go crazy.”
“I get it. I do better when I keep busy.”
“Will your students mind?”
I snorted a laugh. “Are you kidding? They’ll have more attention than they’re used to. They’re going to love it.” And they did. It worked so well, that at the end of the day, Odifa and I decided to make it a permanent arrangement.
Today’s snippet comes from UNDER SIEGE. Even supernaturals have to watch their backs.
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By the time our guests trudged into the house at six, supper was ready. Everyone settled around the kitchen’s long wooden work table and Meda made quick introductions.
Strike looked as good as ever. The warlock’s hair and eyes were toffee-colored, his jaw square, his body compact and muscular. He wasn’t quite six feet, but very masculine and debonair. One sister had his coloring, the other had flaming copper hair and blue eyes.
While Raven dished up bowls of chili, he nodded at Strike. “Tell me about the problem in Carolina.”
Face and voice serious, he said, “We were getting picked off one by one. We found a shifter beheaded in his own backyard. I led search parties and found two more.”
“Beheaded?” Brown asked.
Strike nodded. “A vamp disappeared. We found a pile of dust on his front porch. Two Faes were slashed to pieces outside of town. But all of them were mauled and partly eaten. Well, except the vamp.”
I poised my fork in midair. “Eaten?”
He nodded. “Flesh ripped off, chew marks on their arms and legs.”
Brown frowned. “A shifter? Our claws are sharp enough to slice off heads.”
Strike slowly shook his head. “We found paw prints, but they didn’t look big enough to be a werewolf’s. You guys are enormous once you change. And I didn’t smell any magic at the kill sites.”
I frowned. “Do you think mortals killed them?”
Strike let out a defeated sigh and shrugged. “I don’t know what to think. The prints were made by animals of some kind, maybe a pack of them. Big animals, but not Were sized. We were beginning to wonder if it was some strange monster we didn’t know about.”—
Certainly possible. Most of us had traveled here from Britain or eastern Europe. There were a lot of creatures we knew little of.
Raven finished his salad and pushed the bowl away. “Were any mortals from your settlement killed?”
Strike nodded. “A few, each of them friendly with supernaturals. There wasn’t much of them left when we found them, their flesh and organs mostly gone.”
Today, I’m offering as a snippet the beginning of a new Muddy River short read that I’m working on. I hope to publish it soon on Amazon under their one-hour reads. When I wrote urban fantasy under Judith Post, I loved writing novellas as Lunch Hour Reads, especially the Babet and Prosper series, so I thought I’d have just as much fun writing short Muddy River novellas. Here’s the start of UNDER SIEGE:
I was thrilled when Meda called to tell me the news. Strike Blister, the handsome, sexy warlock who was her old flame before she mated with Brown was returning to Muddy River. The man had style, charm, and wit besides being drop dead gorgeous. Muddy River would welcome him back with open arms. When Meda had turned him down, he’d met a lovely Fae and moved to Carolina to mate with her. He was bringing her and his two sisters home with him.
“I thought he wanted to live near his sisters who were happy in a supernatural community out there.” When Raven walked into the kitchen, I covered the phone to tell him, “Strike’s going to settle in Muddy River.”
My fire demon gave me a thumbs-up. He liked Strike, too. He took my coffee cup to get me a refill and then poured himself one, too. Meda had called early, before Raven left to go to his office on Main Street and before I walked across the street to teach at my school for witches. Way back, when I’d settled here with other survivors escaping the Salem witch hunts and mortals’ war on supernaturals, I’d bought my three-story, yellow Victorian house from the only mortals in the area. Then, when enough supernatural families joined me and my coven, we’d built the school across from my house. It wasn’t until recently that Raven had moved in with me, and we’d become mates.
I watched him lean his hip against the kitchen counter to listen to our conversation. Tall and dark with bulging muscles, my mate was worth looking at. He caught me and grinned. His amber eyes sparkled with humor. As Muddy River’s enforcer, he’d been trying to catch a rogue shifter who ducked in and out of the town’s borders to beg from locals. No danger. Just an annoyance. He meant no harm, or he couldn’t enter here. My coven and I had warded the entire perimeter, and the Fae who lived here had cast an obfuscation spell so that mortals didn’t see us.
Raven was losing patience with the rogue, though. They’d spent a month playing cat and mouse, and Raven was ready to singe his fur for costing him so much time. If the rogue were smart, he’d take off and bother some other supernatural community or he’d walk into town and make an honest citizen of himself. No mortals could settle here. Every resident had to have at least a small amount of magic to pass our wards.
Raven handed me my coffee and settled across the table from me. Meda went on to explain. “From what Strike told me, the Carolina settlement was a mix of mortals and supernaturals who’d called truce and got along. But lately, the supernaturals have been under attack. Too many of their bodies have been found. No one knows if mortals are hunting them or some supernatural predator. But anyone with magic isn’t taking any chances. Supernaturals are packing up and leaving, going in different directions to protect themselves.”
“But everyone in Strike’s family is okay?”
“So far. He doesn’t want to risk his wife or sisters, so decided to bring them here since Muddy River’s protected.”
This Monday’s the last day of September, so for today’s Monday Snippet, I wanted to put you in the mood for October and All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote a special Halloween short story for Muddy River for you to read:
A Muddy River Halloween
October 31st was three days away. Realistically, there’s only a full moon about once every nineteen years for Halloween, or what we refer to as Samhain. This was one of those years, and I was as excited as all of the other witches in Muddy River.
“You lived with Celts for a while, didn’t you?” my mate, Raven, asked. Samhain was their holiest festival, the beginning of a new year. The time when nights grew longer than days.
We were sitting on the front porch of our Victorian house in the evening, watching the sun set. Raven knew the important blips in my life history, but we’d both lived a long time. We’d only touched on the big things in our pasts. “I was born when the Celts settled in Ireland, around 500 B.C.”
He was older than I was. Lillith had sucked out his last breath and blown her own into him, making him a demon, long before that. I could understand why she’d turned him. Who wouldn’t want a few centuries to enjoy him? Hopefully, we’d be partners even longer than that.
“But all witches celebrate Samhain, don’t they?” My fire demon had battled witches many times, ones gone bad, but had never lived with one. He didn’t know as much about us as I’d expected.
I nodded. “We follow the pagan traditions.”
“How long did you stay in Ireland?”
“Until the fourth century when the Anglo Saxons began to invade. Then we moved to Europe. When the witch hunts started there, we moved to the New World, thinking we’d be safer. We weren’t.” I was the only one of my entire family who’d survived Salem.
“Do you still believe the old pagan ways?” He stretched his long legs. Raven’s six five of pure muscle. When he stretches his legs, they reach all the way to the porch railing.
I took a sip of my wine. “Even witches study science in school, but science doesn’t really explain magic, does it? Our Hecate is goddess of the moon and hunt, so we always celebrate a full moon and the solstices.”
“But Samhain isn’t a solstice, and there’s rarely a full moon.”
“No, it’s a night to celebrate the last harvest. It’s the start of our New Year. The entire town parties—all of us—witches, shifters, and vampires. We’ve lived long enough to remember the old ways. In old beliefs, the veil between the two worlds thinned. We use it to honor our dead ancestors. When a full moon and Samhain fall on the same night, it’s a really special occasion.”
His lips quirked in a smile. “So Muddy River’s going to go all out for this?”
“Of course.” Claws padded onto the porch to join us. My ocelot/familiar had spent enough time prowling the river bank at the far back of our property. He sprawled at my feet and closed his eyes. “We’ll have to leave a saucer of milk out that night.”
Raven frowned. “Why? Claws doesn’t like milk.”
Fire demons obviously didn’t share our rituals. “It’s tradition, like hanging a Christmas stocking. Cat Sith, from Celt mythology, is a black cat with a white spot on its chest. If you leave her a saucer of milk, you’ll be blessed. If you don’t, you’ll be cursed.”
“Like trick-or-treaters?” he asked. “If you don’t treat them, they trick you.”
I nodded. “Cat Sith is said to be a witch who can transform to a cat and back nine times in her life.”
“Hasn’t she used those all up by now?” he asked.
I smiled. “No one wants to risk it. I personally think she can shift back and forth at will.” If I could brew potions to aid every Were in Muddy River to easily shift, I’m sure she could, too.
With a chuckle, he stood to go inside and bring us fresh drinks. When he returned, the horizon was turning a deep rose, and the sun blazed a bright orange as it sank out of sight. The night air held the scent of rich earth and harvests and the tang of the river. I’d picked most of the herbs from my witch’s garden, and they were hanging from the rafters of my attic, drying.
We sat in silence until stars twinkled in the black sky. Then finally, we went inside. This year, Samhain would be even more agreeable than usual, happening on a Saturday. This weekend, tables would line Main Street, filled with food families carried in. One table would be set, holding sweets and treats for the dead who came to visit us. Each member of my coven, including me, had already hung autumnal wreaths on our front doors.
When we climbed the steps to bed, Raven threw the curtains open so that the moon could beam in on us. It was already bright. Soon, it would shine enough to light our festivities in town. The Harvest moon was a sight to behold.
The next few days flew by with people busy decorating Main Street with pumpkins, their orange representing the vitality of life to offset black tablecloths, symbolic of death. On the actual night, candles and lanterns were lit everywhere to the light the way for the waning sun. Before the feast began, every door I saw had a bowl of cream sitting beside it.
Raven, as Muddy River’s enforcer, announced the beginning of the festivities. People laughed and talked as they ate. Then the music started. Shifters, in their various forms, whirled their partners onto the street to dance. When the last notes ebbed, they’d leave to race toward the woods surrounding the town to hunt. My coven performed a cleansing spell for the entire area and then chanted for Hecate to bless us with her silver beams. We all ate, drank, and danced until I was too weary and went to find a chair. Raven joined me, and we were watching our fellow citizens when I noticed a black cat, padding from one building to the next, taking one lap of milk from each bowl set out. Until it reached Red’s gas station. Red was an enfield shifter—part fox/part eagle. He sat at the end of the last table, alone. Typical. The man was almost a recluse, who lived a simple life with simple needs. He could fix anything, a wonderful mechanic, with a quick mind and nimble fingers. Five ten, with a stringy build, red hair, black eyes, and a sharp nose, he even looked clever. But he hadn’t put out any cream.
The cat stopped at the door of his station with its small, attached house. It turned to scan the people partying, and its golden eyes stopped and stared at Red. The full moon shone on the small white spot on its chest and I offered a quick chant that Cat Sith wouldn’t curse Red. Too late, the cat turned to stalk away, and a long tree branch crashed onto the roof of Red’s house.
For weeks after that, once Red fixed one problem, another showed itself. I liked Red. He should have put out cream for Cat Sith, but I didn’t think he deserved all of the curses that plagued him, one after another.
I almost dreaded driving to town on Saturday, afraid to hear what had befallen him this time. I was delivering a new batch of potions to Prim for her magic shop when I saw a young witch, maybe only six or seven, trudging tiredly down Main Street on her way through town. Her clothes were tattered, her red hair dirty and matted. She stopped to stare longingly into Noira and Sugi’s coffee shop at their glass counter, filled with baked treats. I was walking toward her when Red opened the door of the shop to leave. He stopped when he saw the small girl with her nose pressed against the glass.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. She was the most bedraggled thing I’d seen for a long time.
Cringing, she took a step away from him.
“No need to be frightened. I was going to go back inside for another cup of coffee. Would you like something? My treat? I hate to eat alone.”
Really? The man usually avoided company. The girl stared, clearly thinking of bolting, but then pressed a hand to her stomach and nodded.
Red opened the door and motioned her into the shop. “Order whatever you want. Everything these girls make is wonderful.”
By the time I followed them inside, the girl had a slice of quiche, two donuts, and a cream puff sitting in front of her with a glass of milk. Red was sipping at his coffee. He nodded for me to join them. “Hester, let me introduce you to my friend. She seems to be alone, and I have no idea where she came from or where she’s going. She’s not the talkative type.”
I sniffed the air. Clearly witch magic. I studied the girl, then tried a smile. “Does your family live around here?”
For such a young girl, she came across as worn and tired. She tilted her head, clearly taking my measure, then asked, “You’re an old witch, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “I’m the leader of Muddy River’s coven, and I teach young witches at my school for magic.”
Another long pause, then she said, “I don’t have a family. My dad said my mother was a witch, but she left when I was a baby and I don’t remember her. Dad got sick and died. I buried him and stayed in our house as long as I could, but all of the food ran out, and I didn’t know where to go.”
Red stared at her. “You don’t have any aunts? Uncles? No one?”
Chin high, she shook her head. “But I’m strong and a hard worker. I can earn my keep.”
“Earn your keep?” Red looked appalled. “You should be in school or outside playing with friends.”
“No time for that,” she said. “I need to eat, to find a place to stay. I came here to find a job.”
He turned to me. “I need an assistant. My house isn’t big, but it has two bedrooms. Can she go to your school?”
I forced down a smile. Red had always managed before. “My classes have already started. She’s behind, but I’ll help her catch up.”
He frowned at the girl. “There you go then. You have a home if you want one. I can offer you that.”
She shook her head. “The old woman told me to go to this town’s gas station. I’m meant to try there first.”
Red’s jaw dropped. “Why is that?”
“If the man’s kind to me, we’ll both be blessed. If he isn’t, his curse won’t lift, and she said to find Hester.” She looked at me. “That’s you, isn’t it?”
I nodded and pointed to Red. “And Red’s the man who owns the gas station.”
It was the girl’s turn to look surprised, then her whole expression lit. “She sent me to you.”
Red lowered his eyes. Voice small, he said, “She’s being kinder than I deserve. I forgot to put out cream.”
When the girl frowned, confused, I said, “Red will explain. If everything’s settled here, I need to get going. Raven will be home soon.”
On the drive out of town to our house on Banks Road, I remembered a lesson my grandmother often repeated. “The cream we leave for Cat Sith is really a reminder to be kind to our fellow beings.” Red might have forgotten to put out cream, but he’d taken in a small orphan. And that act of kindness would enrich not only her life but his as well. Cat Sith had blessed them both. A happy ending to a special Samhain.
Friends from Muddy River are preparing to battle a warlock and his coven who’ve turned to the dark arts. Muddy River isn’t home to just witches and shifters. All sorts of supernaturals have settled there to live. Baryl is one of them–a banshee. From All the Missing Children:
Cazzandra sighed. “I’m nervous. I never meant to see my father again. I never even dreamed that I might fight him.”
Nyte gave a tight smile. “Let’s hope for the best. We’re as prepared as we can get.”
Not really. I’d rather have an army of allies with us, but we couldn’t afford to drain all of the power from any supernatural community. My thoughts turned to Drago, Raven’s fellow demon enforcer and friend, but Murlyn might target our home towns if he won.
Cazzandra pursed her lips, deep in thought, then threw up her hands in surrender. “I’ve run long enough. If I die fighting Dad, I die in battle, not on one of his altars. It’s my choice.”
When the rest of our friends wandered into the kitchen, Nyte looked at Baryl. “I’ve lived a long time, but I’ve never fought alongside a banshee before. What exactly do you do?”
I braced myself. He’d had to ask. Clearly, a demonstration was in order.
Raven reached inside his jeans pocket and pulled out a baggie full of soft ear plugs. “Even if Baryl’s behind a shield, no one can escape her magic. Her wail brings whoever hears it to their knees.”
Nyte’s expression was skeptical. “Really.”
At a nod from Raven, Baryl let her melancholy song burst from her lips. She kept its volume low, but it still sent shivers through me, and my knees gave out. A simple shield wouldn’t protect me from it. We all collapsed to the floor at the same time, then she smiled and stopped
From All the Missing Children:
We’d grabbed take-out on the way back. When we entered the hotel’s kitchen, Claws came to greet Raven. When I bent to pet him, he turned his head, snubbing me. He was angry that I’d left him behind. After letting me know his displeasure, he pushed out the door and raced toward the woods. He didn’t mean to forgive me soon.
We were gathered around the hotel’s long table when blasts hurled toward us, hit our wards, and exploded.
“Oh, look, Murlyn’s going to entertain us with fireworks.” Wes grinned at his wife, sitting across from him. “You guys did a good job on the wards, babe.”
“Thank you.” Destinie blew him a kiss and stood. “Things are heating up. I’m getting my cards to read.”
Destinie was the witch in my coven skilled at Tarot and horoscopes. I don’t know how old her deck was, but the illustrations couldn’t be found today. They were handmade with brilliant shades of ink that had faded with time. “A witch’s Tarot,” she had told me once.
Another blast came, plummeting from high in the sky straight downward. Chloe rolled her eyes. “Murlyn should know better than that. A ward makes a bubble. He can’t drop bombs on us. He’s wasting his time.”
Archer reached across the table to pat her hand. “Now, honey, maybe he’s one of those warlocks who like to make a lot of noise. Maybe he likes attention.”
“Only from an appreciative audience,” Destinie said, returning with her worn cards. “He sneaks around to do his evil deeds.”
The earth rumbled in the distance, like an earthquake, and I shook my head. “I hope he’s having fun. Any earth witch worth her salt can do that.”
Raven gave me a look. “You’re hard to impress.”
I shrugged, turning to Cazzandra. “Show him. Send your dad a reply.”
Cazzandra chanted the words, and a deep rumble traveled away from us. “He’ll hear it in a few minutes.”
And sure enough, a short time later, dark clouds gathered and rolled overhead.
“Guess he doesn’t like tit for tat,” I said.
Raven leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “We want to keep him riled. Is it hard to return his magic, only big enough to upstage him?”
My witches and I locked gazes. We might have to cool our heels and wait until Murlyn was ready to face us, but we might as well have fun while we were doing it. We all raised our palms as one and chanted whatever spell came to mind. I sent strong enough winds to down trees, blocking the road leading to his hidden drive. Chloe, who could control water magic, sent drenching rain for the entire area. We couldn’t reach Murlyn’s property with its wards, but we could make getting to it inconvenient. Cazzandra and Destinie, earth witches, started a tiny crack that would open into a chasm and split the ground where his property joined the main road.
“What did you do?” Wes asked.
Chloe smiled. “The warlock will have to go to the mess we made outside his ward to fix the damage.”
Wes laughed. “I’m starting to enjoy this game.”
I was, too. I was so fixated on battling Murlyn, I found anything that would irritate him quite fun.
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.