Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Duke/Viola December 2001

December 2001

Duke's backup was late. He'd called sent out a general call for assistance ten minutes earlier, but no help had arrived. He drummed his fingers on the top of the tailgate and assessed the four Xrains across the street. If he could avoid their razor-sharp claws, pointy teeth, lethal venom, spiked tails, and the red fur that always made him itch; he had a shot of taking them down. Since bullets didn't do anything but piss them off, he had to slit their throats. It would be tricky to say the least.

"On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." he started quietly, having decided to wait another ten minutes for a Tracker to show.

"Six Gregins growling, five silver bolts, four caged Zizks, three days rotation, two Preas prancing, and a detachable box magazine for my FN Five-Seven."

Duke hung his head at the familiar voice. He'd asked for backup and he'd gotten an overzealous rookie. Just dandy. He would have been better off taking on the Xrains by himself.

"Guess we should change that fourth part, huh?" With one foot on the hitch and the other on the rear bumper, Viola Ashwood craned her neck to see over the top of Duke's truck. "Eh, four snarling Xrains doesn't have the same jingle, you know."

"What are you doing here, Vi?"

"You called for backup. I was just sitting at home watching some stupid, sappy Christmas special on the Lifetime network." She narrowed her eyes, shoved a finger in his face. "Say a word about it to anyone and I'll rip out your spleen."

"Easy there killer. Your secret love for schmoopy romantic movies will be our little secret." Duke paused long enough for her to sigh in relief. "For a price."

"How about I not let the Xrain eat you for a late night snack?"

"You really are a pest, you know that?"

"Yeah. So?"

Duke chuckled and shook his head. She was annoying, but being around Viola was never dull. Her blunt honesty was a refreshing change from the Network politics he'd spent a week buried under. If he never had to attend another National Conference again, he'd be one happy region head.

"I've got a couple javelins in my car. If we use them to sever the... falanca-thingy...whatever it is they call that main artery in their neck," Viola suggested, brow furrowed in contemplation. She shivered when the icy wind shifted and shoved her hands in the pockets of her purple hooded sweatshirt. She regretted not grabbing her leather jacket before leaving the house.

"You shouldn't be here, kiddo."

"And yet here I am." She grinned at him and bumped his shoulder. Though Max Sparks was her Tracking mentor, she loved going out with Duke. Max was great, but Duke didn't give off those 'teacher' vibes. Plus, she'd been in love with him since she was six.

"You're only seventeen, Vi. I'm responsible if anything happens to you. Do you know what your brother would do to me if anything happened to you? And even then he'd be stuck with whatever pieces of me Olivia left behind."

"I'm not," she corrected quietly, smile slipping off her face. She turned her face away from him, blinked rapidly.

"Not what? Going to get into trouble? In case it's slipped your notice, Shortcake, that's all you manage to do."

She didn't know whether she wanted to cry or she wanted to break his nose. She pulled the fleece hood over her head and huddled against the cold metal of the truck. She would have thought that he of all people understood why she was freezing her ass off at one in the morning and willing to help him with the Xrains.

"Not seventeen. Not for a whole sixty-four minutes."

"Oh, Via-mia." Duke's hand found its way to her shoulder. He brushed his lips across the back of her head. He'd forgotten all about the time, but he hadn't forgotten her birthday. Underneath the seat in his truck was a wrapped box with two daggers inside. He'd picked out the carving for the handles with her in mind.

She nodded and smiled shakily. She was glad he'd finally caught on. Her birthday wasn't her favorite day of the year, and she'd rather spend it fighting a demon than at whatever party Olivia undoubtedly had planned for the afternoon. "So, the javelin idea sounded like a good plan, but I'm worried about how much maneuvering space we're going to have."

"That's a fair point." Duke popped open the toolbox in the back of his truck. He had a few weapons he could use, but there was one sure-fire way to put that twinkle back in Viola's eyes. "Check underneath my seat, kiddo. There's something there I think you could use?"

Viola's eyes lit up. She rarely got to touch Duke's weapons. "Really?"

"Yeah." Duke smiled to himself when she raced around the truck and flung open the door. "And grab my spare jacket. You're going to freeze to death out here. What in the hell were you thinking leaving the house without a jacket? That sweatshirt isn't going to protect you from the Xrain, either. I swear, Shortcake, you'd dash in after a Gragin with nothing but a stick if we let you."

Viola grinned as she pulled a box wrapped in shiny black paper out from underneath the seat. Presents, a demon, and Duke. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad birthday after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Giveaway Closed

Thanks to all who entered!
The winners have been notified.
Stick around for more Duke and Viola coming soon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giveaway - Five Copies of The Chaos Child (e-book)

To celebrate being 99.5%** finished with The Chaos Child and it's Amazon.com release, I am giving away five copies of The Choas Child through either Amazon or Smashwords (winner's preference).

Entering is super simple. All you have to do is leave a comment here - no requirements on the comment content - you can tell me what your favorite part of the series has been so far, what you didn't like in the series, which backstory you liked most, what you want to see in a future backstory (or futurestory), etc. The contest will run until Monday, December 20th. I will be e-mailing the winners, so be sure to leave your e-mail address with your comment.

For an extra entry you can drop me a note on twitter (@karahelen).

Ready for another adventure with Duke, Viola, a few new characters, and one old enemy?

After nearly killing herself weakening her demon-possessed father, all ghost-gabbing Viola Ashwood wants to do is relax with new husband Tobias Duke and take care of the demons in their region of the Network.  Her plans are ruined when her estranged brother Sebastian arrives with terrible news:  their sister Olivia’s missing.  Daddy’s not as weak as she’d believed, mysterious gifts keep popping up on her doorstep for no apparent reason, and her brother’s addicted to a Network-banned drug.  When demons start spouting prophecy about the Child of Chaos, Viola isn’t the least surprised.  It’s turning out to be that kind of year.

Haven't read Daughter of Deception yet? Visit Daughter of Deception at Smashwords to get your copy (and use coupon code RV74G for an extra-special holiday/giveaway deal)

Good luck!

(***nothing is ever truly finished, you know - and there's your philosophy lesson for the day)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas 2002 - Viola, Sebastian, Olivia

First Christmas story for Cathy who wanted to see a little Ashwood sibling interaction.

December 2002

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven Leaud’s swimming, six Gregin’s growling, five silver bolts, four caged Zizks ….,” Viola sang as she pushed the door open with her hip.

“I’m going to kill Duke for teaching you that song.”

Viola stopped abruptly. The plastic shopping bags hanging from her wrists slapped her thighs. She grinned merrily at Sebastian before finishing the song. “Three days rotation, two Preas prancing, and a detachable box magazine for my FN Five-Seven.”

“You don’t even like guns, Vi,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the dresser.

“No, I don’t like to fire guns. I have nothing against them on principle. I can appreciate the shininess.” Viola dumped the bags at her feet and jerked her head towards the parking lot. “C’mon. There’s more in the car.”

“More?” Sebastian’s jaw dropped. He stepped over the small pile of bags and followed his sister to the trunk of his new SUV. Though he preferred driving cars over trucks and SUVs, the vehicle gave them more room during the long trips and the four-wheel drive was handy.

He gasped when he saw the bags piled up in the rear of the SUV. “Sheesh, Vi, what’d you do? Buy out the entire store?”

“Nope.” She pulled a long box free, stood it on end, and shoved it at his chest. “But I gave it my best shot.”

“No kidding.”

It took them four trips to clear out the rear of the SUV. Sebastian lined the bags up along the wall and the edge of the bed so there was a clear path to the bathroom. He tried to peek into one of the bags only to have his hands slapped away by a Santa-hat wearing Viola.

“Where’s the grouch?” she asked, nudging the bag under the bed with her foot.

“Olivia’s doing laundry like you asked her to.” Though he'd agreed that a little cheer was in order, he hadn’t enjoyed listening to Olivia’s ten-minute rant on irresponsible sisters and improperly opened ketchup packets.

“You should join her.”

Sebastian snorted. It was a well-known fact that he and laundry didn’t mix. Left to his own devices, he’d once turned an entire load of white clothes a garish shade of purple. Olivia had exempted him from all future laundry duties but had made him wear the purple shirts and socks as punishment.

“It wasn’t really a suggestion, Bas. Go keep Olivia company.” When he made no sign of moving off the bed, Viola sighed. She wrapped her arms around her middle and stared out the open curtains at the parking lot. Snow dusted the cars and the walkways. “Look, I know I’ve been a real Scrooge the past couple of Christmases, but I want to make up for it this year.”

“It’s not necessary, kiddo.”

Viola shrugged. She knew it wasn’t necessary; Olivia and Bas understood her reasons for being anti-Christmas the prior years. She needed to get out of her funk, though, and she worked better alone. “I brought my rock and roll Christmas CD.”

Sebastian grabbed his coat off the back of a chair. He pecked her cheek on his way to the door. “I think I’ll take Livy a cup of coffee.” The door slammed shut behind him.

“Works every time.”

While singing along with The Kinks and George Thorogood, Viola transformed the bland hotel room into a bright, festive holiday-spirit-palooza. She hastily wrapped the small presents she’d purchased for her siblings and placed them underneath the fiber optic tree along with the gifts she’d picked up weeks earlier. She hung long strands of metallic garland across top of the burgundy curtains, stuck blue snowflake decals to the bathroom mirror, and set cinnamon-scented flameless candles on every available horizontal surface. Stuffed reindeer, snowmen, and Santa Clauses covered the two queen-sized beds.

When she heard footsteps outside the door, she poured apple juice into plastic cups and stuck a cinnamon stick into each cup. She thrust a glass into Olivia’s hands as soon as the door opened.

“Merry, merry Christmas, Livy-liv-liv!”

Olivia glanced over her shoulder at Sebastian, pursed her lips and arched an eyebrow. “Look, it’s a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Crack.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Covers, Real Life, Crashed Computers, and Other Annoying Things

Aside from the football story earlier in the week, I know I've been absent lately. I apologize. It's not laziness, I promise. I really do have a few good excuses:
     1) My computer crashed Monday night. It was a momentary scare, but eventually I got everything back.
     2) TCC edits! I finally finished!
     3) WWII interview transcripts - I was given three new tapes at Thanksgiving and I needed to work on them because a) the money is nice around the holidays and b) the interviews were done in June and the museum needed the transcripts
     4) Work. It sucks, but it's a necessary evil.
     5)  I've been working on the SKOW prompt (Twelve Days of Christmas) - it's fun, but a lot of work because I didn't want to use any of my "established" characters.
     6) Cover! The cover for The Chaos Child is finally done (thank you I.D.). It's below. I wanted something fairly simple that would shrink well. I think it's nice. What do you think?

There 's a long list of things I need to do this weekend, but don't worry.  I haven't disappeared.

Also, since TCC is going to be up at Amazon and Smashwords very soon, I plan on doing a contest here for several free copies so I've been working on that.  Look for it sometime after the 15th.
What you can do for me:

I'm going to do a series of holiday-themed Viola/Duke drabbles.  Just leave a comment with something you'd like to see and I'll post them before Christmas.  If you don't want Viola/Duke, that's cool, too.  I can do Aaron in a Santa hat, Sebastian trying to wrap Christmas presents, and Olivia losing her temper in a shopping mall.

Let me know your thoughts on the cover.

Have a wonderful weekend!

PS:  If you're looking for a great holiday read, check out Samantha Hunter's I'll Be Yours for Christmas - racing, characters who don't whine or act like jackasses, and my favorite "frenemies to lovers" type of storyline.  So good, I'm reading it again... at work... on my iphone... shhhh... don't tell anyone!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Duke/Viola - December 2008

December 2008

"Football? Again? I thought I erased the last one off the DVR." Viola froze, eyes wide and lips parted. She swallowed loudly and offered up a sunny smile. "I mean I thought the last game mysteriously disappeared when the power went off last night."

Duke's eyes slid from the television screen to his wife's pink cheeks and guilty eyes. "I was on the phone with the damn cable company for an hour this morning arguing over damn DVR glitches."

"I know." She bit down on her lip and bounced on her toes. Her smile broadened. "I'm sorry?"

He glared at her before a loud cheer from the crowd on the t.v. captured his attention. "You're lucky you’re cute, you know that?"

"Oh, I think you lucked out in that instance, Tobias."

He grinned, curled an arm around her waist, and yanked her onto his lap. Sparks and dots exploded behind his eyes as she wiggled and writhed until she was wedged in the sliver of space between him and the arm of the chair. He coughed to clear his throat and exhaled shakily. "Viola," he rasped.

"What?" Her smile was all innocence, but mischief danced in her bright eyes.

"Football." He coughed again and pointed at the screen.

She rolled her eyes and flopped her head onto his shoulder. "Married for a month and the romance is gone."

"You want romance, sweetness, I'll give you romance." Duke's lips unerringly found the sensitive spot behind her ear. "After the game, though."

"Ugh." Viola slapped his chest lightly. She watched the uniformed men run across the field for a few minutes before growing bored. She frowned at the clock on the wall. "What time is everyone coming over?"


Lips pursed, Viola grasped his chin and forcibly turned his face away from the t.v. screen. "What time is everyone coming over?" she repeated, over-enunciating every word.

"No one's coming over, Vi."

"You picked up a sandwich tray and that deli platter. There are two twelve-packs of Shiner in the fridge. You asked me to bake two batches of brownies. I assumed there was a New Years' Eve party planned." She shook his chin gently. "I cleaned the entire house for three hours this morning."

"I know." He lightly nipped her fingers. "I’m sorry?"

Her left eye twitched. "You're lucky you have..."

"After the game, sugar."

She counted to ten and focused on her breathing until she was reasonably certain she wasn't going to throttle her husband. "So there's really nobody coming over?"

"The food's so we don’t have to worry about cooking. It's just you and me tonight."

"Aw," she cooed, anger instantly forgotten. "That's incredibly, surprisingly sweet."

"And a couple of bowl games."

Her eye twitched again. "Sometimes I hate your living, breathing guts, Tobias."

He chuckled, tucked her firmly against his side. It didn't get better than a night of food, beer, football, and his girl. Had he been single, he might have gone down to his favorite bar to watch the game, but he enjoyed not having to deal with crowds or girls who wouldn't take no for an answer. Besides, Viola's brownies were better than the dry chocolate cake Joe's wife made every New Years'.

Viola squirmed, resigned to the fact that she was going to spend the next several hours watching football. It was a sport she'd never really followed. She liked baseball because Duke and Bas had played in high school, and she liked hockey because of the violence factor. Besides, the rules were easier to understand in both games.

"What are we watching, anyway?"

"Sun Bowl. They're playing in El Paso."

Viola squinted at the screen. "Neither team is from Texas, though."

"That's not how it works, Vi." Duke groaned and tried to come up with a simple, short explanation for the rather complicated college football bowl system. He gave up after only a few seconds. "Just watch the game. It's almost over."

"Which game is next?"

"The Texas Bowl."

"Who's playing in that one?"

"Navy and Mizzou."

Her nose wrinkled. "They’re not Texas teams either."

"They don't have to be from Texas. Look, it has to do with the conferences and rankings. Different bowl associations take the ranked teams in different conferences. For example, the Sun Bowl Association took a team from the PAC-10 and a team from the Big 12. Since they had fifth pick with the Big 12, they got Oklahoma."


Duke ran a hand through his hair and cursed Sebastian for not properly educating his baby sister. "Okay, teams are ranked in their individual conferences. The bowls match up teams from different conferences. Some conferences get automatic bids, but sometimes the bowl association gets to pick. It's complicated, Vi."

"You don't even understand it." She laughed and playfully dug her elbow into his ribs. She tried to pluck a more coherent explanation out of Duke’s brain, but there was nothing but a jumbled mess.

"I do, too."

"No you don't." Viola laughed harder, tears dripping down her cheeks and sides aching. "I'm inside your head, remember? You're as confused as I am."

"Oh, shut up and watch the game," he grumbled, clamping a hand over her grinning lips. "Pick a team and cheer for them."

She nodded and resisted the childish urge to lick his palm. Knowing Duke, he'd only wipe it across her cheek afterwards. She snuggled against him and watched the last quarter of the game, drawing on the information in his head rather than asking questions aloud. She had to admit that the game was a little easier to understand once she knew all the rules. She still didn't get the whole bowl thing, though.

"How many bowls are there?"

"Over thirty."

Viola whistled. "It's sorta like t-ball, huh? Everybody gets a trophy."

Duke's head thumped against the side of the chair. "This is worse than trying to watch pro football with you."

"Aww, that's just because you were happy the Texans were beating the hell out of the Colts." She ran the pads of her fingers across his jaw. "You'd be happier if a Texas team was playing in one of these stupid bowls."

"The Cougars were playing earlier," he pointed out, neglecting to mention that they'd lost to the Air Force football team. He was a proud University of Houston alumnus, as was Viola, and didn't want to reflect too long on the loss.

Viola wasn't listening to him. She stared at the television screen with brow furrowed and shoulders tense. After a moment, she let out a small squeal and kissed Duke's cheek happily.

"Sweet mercy, I finally understand what a safety is! Where were you during all those awful high school football games? This is awesome!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Fakeccino

Now, I love a good, hot drink as much as anybody, but I don't always have time (or money) to stop and buy one.  Especially when I'm at work.  As I've undoubtedly complained about before, I am chained (once, literally!) to my desk for ten hours every day.  It gets downright frigid in my office during the winter and I can't turn the heater on because I work in a very dusty office.  I can't wear gloves because I need to use my keyboard and calculator all day.  My solution to the problem?  Hot drinks.

I've got a little Melita two-travel mug coffee maker on my desk.  I never make coffee in it.  I've forgotten how much coffee I'm supposed to use in it.  I either make instant coffee (thank you Starbucks VIA and Tasters Choice) or hot tea (again, yum).  During the really cold days, I can drink up to four or five hot drinks a day and even though I use a variety of different teas it gets to be a little boring.

My cheap, easy solution?  A fakeccino!  I keep milk in the mini-fridge in my desk in a plastic water bottle (I tried leaving a half-gallon in there but the power went out one time and... it was nasty the next day).  All you have to do to make the fakeccino is shake up the milk (it works best if the small bottle is half-full) vigorously for about twenty seconds and pour over your brewed tea or coffee.  For a little extra "special", I sprinkle cinnamon or cocoa over my drink.  It's easy, nice, and much cheaper than buying drinks all the time (plus, it's lower in calories since I use 2% milk and artificial sweetner).

The fakeccino  also makes a great mid-day treat.

So, I'm not always spot-on with the cinnamon.  See the nice layer of foamy milk on top?  Yum!

I had to restrain myself - wanted to take a sip before I snapped the picture!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

May 2005 - Duke/Viola

May 2005

Duke swirled the heavy glass hoping to discover a hidden measure of whiskey underneath the melting ice cubes. No such luck. He didn't bother asking the bartender for a refill. Joe, who usually indulged his favorite customers, had made it more than clear that the drink in Duke's hand was the last for the night. With a sigh, Duke squinted bleary eyes and sucked a whiskey-flavored ice cube in his mouth.

"You want me to call a cab for you or someone else?" Joe asked as he pulled the glass out of Duke's lax grip. As his bar was a popular hangout for Network Trackers, Joe knew all about demons and Duke's responsibilities. He also knew why Duke had staggered through the doors with an unshaven face, wrinkled clothes, and the burning desire to drink himself into unconsciousness.

A phone number tumbled out of Duke's dry mouth. Body numb and brain fogged, Duke slumped in his stool and rested his hot cheek against the damp, slightly sticky bar top. The racket around him went in one ear and out the other. He kept his open, bloodshot eyes glued to half-empty bottle of Crown Royal on the shelf behind the bar. He hadn't slept in over thirty-six hours and, though exhaustion seeped out of his pores, he wasn't in any rush to drift off to dreamland. Having witnessed the autopsy, he knew what horrific nightmares would plague him.

God, he needed his father. He'd gladly give up decades off his life and everything he owned for five minutes with Paul Duke. He needed to know how to keep his head up at the next Tracker meeting and where to find the strength to meet the eyes of the freshly widowed Jamie Sparks. He wanted to ask his father how he was supposed to keep going in spite of the guilt tearing his heart apart. How had his father gotten over losing his first Tracker?

A slender, smooth palm gently caressed his scruffy cheek. Delicate fingers brushed the hair off his sweat-dotted forehead. The crisp scent of mint mixed with sharp rosemary was a pleasant respite from the combined odors of cigarette smoke, beer, and perspiration. He slowly loosened his grip on his mental shields and braced himself for contact with warp-speed, disorganized thoughts. When he wasn't immediately bombarded by chaos, he dropped his shields completely and basked in the unexpected, soothing warmth of the other mind.

"Can you stand up?"

Duke rolled his head towards the familiar feminine voice. He could almost taste the salty residue of tears on her cheeks. Sorrow thickened her slight Southern accent and elongated her vowels. Under any other circumstances, he might have appreciated the unintentional sultriness of her tone. He couldn't though. It was his fault, in a way, she'd been crying. Taking advantage of that would make him an even bigger bastard. There were other reasons he was supposed to keep her firmly in the 'friend' category, but with the alcohol clouding his brain, he couldn't remember what they were. Something about his parents and her brother…

"C'mon, Tobias."

"V'la?" He blinked his gummy eyelids and tried to make two of the three Violas he was seeing disappear. He succeeded only to have the one Viola blur around the edges. It made her look like an angel. The thought of Viola Ashwood as an angel was almost enough to make him smile.

"Wha're y' doin' here, Vi?"

"You called me, bud."


"Okay, technically Joe called me, but I figure you had to give him my number so it's the same thing. Essentially."


Viola smiled tiredly at Duke and slid her hands down to his biceps. Thankful she'd taken advantage of the gym in the last twelve hotels she'd stayed in, she tugged him off the stool and onto his feet. When his knees weakened and he wobbled unsteadily, she slipped underneath one of his leaden arms and propped him up with her shoulder. After tossing a grateful smile and several bills at Joe, she helped Duke stagger out of the bar into the muggy Houston air.

"Thought y' were in Ok'homa," he said as they slowly made their way across the parking lot. He closed his eyes to protect them from the bright street lights only to open them when the ground beneath his feet dipped and spun. The slim arm around his waist tightened and a hand dipped into one of his front pockets. Keys jangled, but he didn't have the energy to call her on her poor pick pocketing skills.

"We headed here as soon as we heard about Max. Patrick and Olivia dated for a couple of months in college and Stephanie was a year between you and Bas. Mrs. Sparks called Bas while we were on our way to ask if he'd be a pallbearer. I spent some time with her earlier and will go over again in the morning."

Duke winced. He'd let Abelardo and Bert do most of the notifications when they'd offered, but he'd forgotten about the Ashwoods. He wondered who had made the call and which sibling had been forced to break the news to the other two. He hoped like hell Viola, who had more ties to Max Sparks, hadn't been the one to answer the phone.

"'M sorry, Vi. Should've called y'first."

She swallowed down a lump of misery, her heart breaking for him. She wanted nothing more than to ease even a fraction of his pain and guilt. "No, you shouldn't have. You had a ton of more important things to do than worry about me."

"But Max..."

She stopped abruptly, steadied him when he lurched forward, and glared. "Yes, Max was my mentor, but he was also your Tracker and Granny's friend and Tim's partner. You had enough to deal with, okay? Bert's the one who called. He was very kind about it."


Duke let Viola maneuver him into the passenger seat of his truck. He batted her hands away when she tried to buckle his seatbelt. Bitter laughter spilled from his lips when she moved his seat forward. "Y've got short legs."

"I do not," she protested hotly, slamming her foot on the gas pedal and backing out of the parking space. "They're perfectly normal for my height. You're the one with freakishly long legs, Tobias."

"How come y' don't call me 'Duke' li' ever'one else? 'S always T'bias."

Viola's fingers clenched the steering wheel tightly. She couldn't very well tell him that she did it to piss him off enough that he'd never forget her or mistake her for one of his floozies. They never learned his first name. She liked being set apart from the plastic, blonde Barbie dolls he went through like water. Even Olivia, who swore she hadn't encouraged Duke's flirting a few years earlier, called Duke by his last name.

"I don't know. You got all huffy when anyone besides Granny called you 'Toby' so I went with 'Tobias.'"

"'S annoyin'."

She grinned. "Then I must be doing something right."

"I hate you."

Her heart sank. There were days she feared he meant that. She loved him fiercely, had since she was a kid, but was afraid he saw her as nothing more than irritation he was better off without. She'd remain his friend for the rest of their lives if that's all he ever wanted, but sweet mercy she wished for more.

Duke rested his head against the seat and studied the woman behind the steering wheel. Did she realize that she was the only girl to have ever driven his truck? He was even reluctant about letting Bert or Abelardo drive his vehicle. In the faint greenish light from the dashboard, he could see that her eyes were red and swollen. Pain, whether from Max’s death or his harsh words he couldn’t be sure, was written all over her pretty face.


"Yeah?" She tried to tamp down the hope that colored her tone. She mentally kicked herself. He was mourning the loss of a colleague and she was dreaming about declarations of devotions. God, her mother was right: she was a selfish bitch.

"Viola, I..." Duke broke off on a sigh. He wasn't sure what he wanted to say. 'I didn't mean it,' was the first thing that came to mind. 'Thank you' warred with 'I need you' and in the back of his mind lurked words too complex and terrifying to even contemplate.

"What, Tobias?"

He sighed again, shifted his head and stared out the windshield. "Where are we going?"

"Your house." She let the disappointment roll off her back. Duke needed her to be a friend and not a lovesick fool. "I didn't figure you wanted to be around Bas or Olivia. Granny's not real sympathetic when you're drunk, either. I'll stay with you, if you want."

"Just like old times," he muttered, remembering the nights she'd driven him home from the bar on the anniversary of his father's death. It was odd, but he trusted her, more than anyone else, to care for him when he was blitzed.

"Eh. If you could not throw up on my shoes this time, I'd appreciate it."

"Will do my best." He belched, gagged at the fumes burning his nostrils. “But no promises.”

"Thanks." She dropped one of her hands to the seat and wrapped her fingers around his. She gave his hand a small squeeze.

Duke reluctantly disentangled himself from her grip. Her skin felt good, almost too good, against his and he was starting to remember a few of the reasons she was on the forbidden list. "Hands at ten and two, Vi."

Viola growled at him but put both hands back on the steering wheel. The rest of the drive to Duke's house was silent. After parking the truck, she jumped out of her seat and ran around to the other side to help him out. Though he protested, she kept an arm around his waist during the walk to the porch. On the second porch step, he stumbled over his own feet and sent them both crashing to the ground.

She dodged his falling body, but scraped her palms and bare knees on the rough wooden porch. Flat on his back, Duke cackled like a hyena. Viola rolled onto her back beside him and picked splinters out of her right palm.

"You're not going to win any gracefulness awards, Tobias." She whimpered as she dug out a particularly deep splinter. A bead of blood welled up from the wound. "Give me a sec and we'll get up and in the house."

"Nah," he panted, trying to control his laughter. "We'll stay here."

"Okay." She whimpered again, cursed softly. As soon as the funeral was over, she was going to make Sebastian and Duke spend a day sanding and resealing the porch. It was too damn dangerous the way it was.

"Let me see that." Duke grabbed her wrist and dragged her towards him until she was lying across his chest. He held her wrist up to the dim light and squinted at the splinters. "I keep causing people pain."

"Hey!" She thumped his shoulder with her free hand. "Max's death sucks beyond belief, but it wasn't your fault. It's a risk we all take every time we go out on rotation. You can't blame yourself. That's just stupid and a waste of time. I promise that no one blames you at all for what happened. It was supposed to be a regular Digaion hunt and there was an accident. It's terrible, but it happens."

Duke gently pulled a thin splinter of wood out of her palm. He soothed the pain with a chaste kiss to the abraded skin. "Thank you, sugar."

Giddiness welled up inside, but she kept her face impassive. "It's nothing, Tobias. Really. It's what friends do."

Duke nodded. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes but kept Viola's hand sandwiched between his. He tried to keep his eyes open, but they drifted shut. The tension he'd carried around since Max's death melted away. Viola was warm and soft against him; her slightly irregular heartbeat lulled him to sleep.

"Just so you know, Tobias," she whispered in his ear as her own eyelids grew heavy, "even if I had been in Oklahoma or Maine, for that matter, nothing would have stopped me from coming when Joe called. It's what people in love do."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review of "Haunt Me Still"

Haunt Me StillHaunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I felt I should have enjoyed it. The descriptions are wonderfully done, and you feel as if you are right there with Kate. The book is nicely written so that you feel Kate's fear and the awkwardness of her relationship with Ben. The suspense was very nice and I did not recognize the "bad guy" until the very end. All in all, it had everything a good suspense novel needs.

Except for pacing. The book moved too slow. It made gigantic leaps in action, but overall the pace was far too slow. The reader gets bogged down with information about the play, which is interesting, but it makes the entire book drag along.

I will say that I thought the historical interludes were distracting at first, but I did get over and enjoy the secondary plot they brought along to the story.

All in all, I thought was an enjoyable book, but I would have liked it more if it had held my attention for longer stretches of time. This was not a book that I "had" to finish all in one night. I could put it down easily, but I am glad I finished it.

Disclaimer: I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Duke/Viola - December 2008, Blog Only Story

This short story takes place between the last chapter and the epilogue of the first book.

December 2008

Viola tilted her hand back and forth admiring the way the sunlight made the gemstones on her engagement ring sparkle. Though Duke had only placed the ring on her finger five days earlier, and slid the matching wedding band on two days later, she’d already grown used to its weight on her hand. Not once in all the years she’d admired Granny Duke’s rings had she imagined they would be hers. Then again, she hadn’t believed Duke would ever marry, either. She’d never been so happy to be wrong before.

She shivered as the temperature in the car dropped another couple of degrees. She pulled the fleece blanket up to her chin and eyed the coffee in the cup holder speculatively. They’d stopped for drinks and snacks an hour earlier. What were the chances the coffee was still warm?

Opting to forgo the coffee, she adjusted the travel pillow cushioning her head and closed her eyes. She’d had a small, niggling headache all day and was tired of being cooped up in the car. She was going to try her best to persuade Duke to stay in Baton Rouge for more than a day. She needed a break from road glare and country music.

Just as she drifted off to sleep, the car shook violently. Her head bounced off the window. Grumbling obscenities and rubbing the sore spot on her forehead, she opened her door and stuck her head out the opening.

“Need any help?”

“No, I’ve got this. Stay inside.”

Viola resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her panting husband. Husband, she squealed internally. She could finally write Viola Duke, the name she’d doodled in spirals and on paper textbook covers in school, without having to hide it from her nosy siblings. There was the small problem of her initials being “VD,” but it was so worth it.

When the car shook a second time, she balled the blanket up and tossed onto the backseat. She retrieved a small plastic pouch from the center console, snagged Duke’s leather jacket by the collar, and slipped out of the car. She hissed as the icy wind slapped her in the face.

Huddled close to the car, she followed the sound of Duke’s voice and pained grunts. She found him on his back near the front of the SUV. A magenta, furry demon no larger than Finn stood at his feet sniffing his shoelaces. Teeth clamped down on her lower lip to hold back her laughter, Viola dropped Duke’s jacket onto his head.

“Here. It’s cold. You’re going to get frostbite, and that’d be really inconvenient for me.”

Duke yanked the jacked off his face and shoved his arms through the sleeves. The lining was cold, but he was grateful for the protection from the wind. He tilted his head back so he could glare up at Viola.

“You’re not going to be very good at this whole ‘obeying’ thing, are you?”

“Now whatever gave you that idea?”

“The first twenty-five years of your life.”

She chuckled and leaned back against the cold metal of the SUV. “Just wait until you see the next twenty-five.”

A broad grin split his face. He ran the back of his hand across her knee. “I’m looking forward to it.” He lightly swatted her other knee. It was far too soon after her four-day coma for her to be up and about with demons around. “Now get back in the car. I can handle this on my own.”

“Are you sure?” She frowned at the demon moving stealthily towards Duke’s head. “Shruulumps can be tricky.”

“I said I’ve got it, Vi. I have Tracked without you holding my hand you know.”

“Okay.” She shrugged; thrust her frigid hands in the pockets of her jeans. “You might want to duck, then.”

Ignoring her advice completely, Duke turned back around to face the demon only to end up with the Shruulump’s slick tongue on his cheek. He gagged as the foul-smelling saliva coated his skin. Before he could back away, the Shruulump’s long, red tongue made another pass over his face.

“Well, I suppose a shower’s going to be included in my plans for tonight,” Viola observed dryly. She wrinkled her nose in disgust when yellow-tinted saliva dripped onto Duke’s thermal shirt. “A trip to the hotel’s laundry room, too.”

“You’re not very nice.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, sounding anything but, “I must have skipped over that part of my vows.”

“Hardly surprising.” With a groan, Duke shoved the Shruulump away and surged to his feet. His back ached and his knees stung from where he’d scraped them on the asphalt. “Remind me again why we don’t kill these things?”

“Because they’re cute?”

Duke froze, slowly turned his head to stare incredulously at Viola. He gestured at the demon with brightly-colored fur, hairless rattail, massive three-toed paws, and sharp, black teeth. Shruulump’s had always reminded him of something a person tripping on acid would dream up.

“Cute? You think that is cute?”


He shook his head in disbelief. “You have a very, very whacked definition of ‘cute,’ sugar.”

“I know,” she responded mildly. “I married you, after all.”

His eyes narrowed; his lips thinned. “Get back in the car, Viola.”

“Oh, don’t pout. You know you’re handsome.” She winked at him flirtatiously. “Some people might even call you sexy.”

“Really?” Duke perked up. He ran a hand through his short hair and used a napkin from his pocket to wipe most of the saliva off his face.

“I said ‘some people.’ I never said that included me.”

"Get in the car.”

Grinning, she pushed off the car and looped an arm around his waist. She pressed a kiss to the side of his mouth. “Love you, Tobias.”

“You think I’m just going to forgive you because you pulled the love card, don’t you?”

“Pretty much, yeah.” She kissed him again. By the time she pulled away, the scowl had slipped off his face and his eyes were dark with lust. The thoughts he broadcasted through their link made her knees weak. “Let’s take care of the Shruulump so we can get to the hotel.”

“Best plan I’ve heard all day.” He glanced down at the demon at their feet. “Got any suggestions?”

Viola dangled the plastic pouch under his nose. “I had these left over from the last time I had to take Finn to the vet. Toss a handful into the bushes. Once the Shruulump eats them, he’ll fall asleep and we can call a team to pick him up.”

“That’s not going to work.”

"Sure it will. They knock Finn out, so they should work for the Shruulump. They’re about the same size.”

“That’s not how it works, Vi, but we’ll try it.”

Duke read the back of the package of dog treats, shrugged, and tossed a handful of the round treats into a clump of bushes a few feet from the road. The Shruulump immediately scampered after the sausage-flavored treats. Three minutes later, the loud, wheezing sound of the Shruulump’s snores reached them. With a smirk, Viola handed Duke his cell phone and pranced back to the car.

“Nobody likes a know-it-all, Viola!” he called after her.

“Oh, just get in the car, Tobias.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

SUBO-SS Chapter 5/6

Yay!  We are nearing the end.  Only one chapter left.

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

Chapter Five:

“Emmett,” Kacy called over her shoulder, hands fisted in the soft cotton of Sam’s sweatshirt.

“Yeah, baby doll?”

“When I wake up, don’t ever let me eat Hawaiian pizza or drink merlot ever again, m’kay?”

The warm chest she was cradled against vibrated. Sam’s husky chuckle filled the air and sent a shiver all the way down to her toes. She melted him against him for a moment before sanity returned. “Put me down!”

“I will when we get there,” Sam said. “Charles isn’t faster than me, but he is faster than you. I need to protect you.”

“Oh boy,” Emmett groaned. Kacy was not the type of woman who liked to be “protected.” He blamed their mother for that attitude. He and his father were used to indulging their ‘fierce womyn,’ but how would a man-incubus-whatever supposedly born with sixteenth century notions handle liberated, twenty-first century Kacy?

“You will put me down right this minute, Samuel Crowder, if that is your real name!” Kacy wriggled insistently until Sam had no choice but to set her on her feet. She planted her fists on her hips and glared up at the face she’d dreamed of for months. “If you expect me to believe any of the crap John’s been feeding me, I’m going to need more of an explanation.”

“Your name is Katya Clover Jacobson. You were born in Richmond, Virgina to Robert and Mariska Jacobson. Your father was an incubus, but your mother was human. That makes you part-succubus and part-human.” Sam shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not as terrible as it sounds, though. Eventually you’ll get over being half-human.”

“One would think it was the energy-sucking demon part I’d need to get over,” Kacy bit out icily. She liked Sam better when he was a long-dead soldier who wrote letters so full of longing and devotion they made her heart ache. At the thought of the letters, white-hot fury rushed through her veins. “Those letters. Major Sam Crowder. The soldier your commanding officers wrote so glowingly about. Was any of that true? Do I have a box of lies in my house?”

“No. It’s all true. I wrote those letters to Mother and I regretted that John and I could not see eye-to-eye on certain issues.” Sam wanted to pull her into his arms and feel her heart beating under his fingertips. Years of watching her from a safe distance had satisfied his need to be near her, but nothing compared to touching her. “John was supposed to return to the house after Mother ‘died’ and retrieve the box, but was intercepted by a clan of vampires. I had utterly forgotten the letters until you purchased the box.”

“So it was all one big coincidence? I just happened to buy a box of letters that belonged to the incubus who knew my parents?”

“Not at all.”

Kacy’s brow furrowed. She prided herself on being a logical person, but she was having trouble keeping up with the details. “So you arranged for me to somehow purchase the box.”

“Of course not!”

Stung by the vehemence of his denial, Kacy drew herself up to her full height, which she admitted wasn’t all that imposing, and gave Sam her most withering glare. “I swear, if I the next words out of your mouth aren’t a clear explanation…”

“You’ll what?” Sam arched an eyebrow, lips twitching as he fought to conceal his grin. She was still the fierce little kitten he remembered: all bristling hair, needle-sharp claws, and determination.

“I-I don’t know.” Kacy’s glare softened slightly. “But I can promise it won’t be pleasant.”

“We need to keep moving,” John reminded them grimly. He shot his brother an exasperated look as he brushed past to take the lead. Emmett shrugged at Kacy as he followed John. He didn’t know what to make of any of this, but if demons said to run away, he was going to run. At least until he figured out what sort of trouble Kacy’d managed to stumble upon.

Sam twined his fingers with Kacy’s and tugged her along. Their pace was fast but not brutal. She was glad she’d chosen to wear her tennis shoes and not the pretty powder blue ballet flats that matched her sweater. The thin soles weren’t meant to be worn on rough asphalt.

“Charles likely manipulated the situation so that you wound up with the letters,” Sam said as they ran.

Kacy wanted to scowl at him, but was too busy concentrating on keeping up with his long stride. She envied his ability to speak without sounding the least bit out of breath. Her lungs burned and beads sweat trickled down her spine. She wished they could pause just long enough for her to take off her sweater. Surely her camisole wouldn’t be too scandalous to wear in front of Sam and John.

“He’s been looking for you since you disappeared. For me, too, since I left around the same time you did. He likely assumed that I would be nearby keeping an eye on you.” Sam squeezed her hand and pulled her closer when she stumbled on a loose rock. “Someone must have seen you, but couldn’t be sure. You’ve colored your hair.”

“Had… t’get… respect…” she panted, prickling at the accusatory tinge in his observation. What business of his was it if she’d dyed her hair? It was her head.

“Charles gave the historian a juicy story she couldn’t resist and then sat back and waited. You went on television and, damn it, that was a stupid move. The hair might’ve fooled his underlings, but there you were with all the passion and intelligence and joy you’d had as a kid. He’d have recognized you in an instant.”


“Yes. I caught him outside your house last night and then again this morning. As I said earlier, I chased him off, but he was on his way back with reinforcements. He’s not going to let you go twice.”

“T-twice?” Kacy dug her heels in until Sam stopped. She felt a pang of fear when John and Emmett disappeared from sight. She was alone with a man who claimed to be a centuries-old incubus and, possibly, her babysitter. Exactly how much wine had she had the night before?

Sam’s lips dipped into a frown. He brushed a smudge of dirt off her cheek with his thumb. “Your father was Charles’ best friend for two hundred years. They were close as brothers until one morning Robert was feeding at a high school and met a young English teacher.”

“W-wait a minute! You feed off of students?” Her stomach churned with disgust and disappointment. How could she have forgotten that demons were killers? Child-killers, to make matters worse. “That’s… God… that’s….”

“We don’t drain them completely. Well, not always and not usually on purpose.”

“Yeah, that’s real comforting.”

“What kind of parasites would we be if we killed off the things that feed us?” Sam chuckled grimly. “High schools and hospitals are our preferred feeding grounds. Teens are bursting with hormones and emotions. It’s practically an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

“Stop! Just… stop.” Kacy held her hand up to silence him. “So, you, what? Spend eternity as high school students… when you’re not masquerading as war heroes, that is?”

“Students? No. That’s just ridiculous. We’d go mad with boredom after the first decade. We either take jobs as teachers or principals. The hospitals work, as well. I’ve been a doctor seven times in the past century. War, of course, also provides adequate food.”

“I don’t want to hear anymore.”

“You won’t be able to hide your head in sand for too long, little Clover. You’re one of us.”

Kacy shook her head, hoping if she shook it hard enough she’d dislodge the terrible images his words conjured inside her brain. “What happened to my parents?”

“Your typical love triangle, I’m afraid. Charles fancied himself love with your mother. He wanted to make her like us, but she refused. Robert stood up for her. It was her decision, after all. We lived in an uneasy peace for several years.”

"What happened?”

“You were born. Charles claimed that you were his destined mate. Your parents fled. The clan split into two factions. My family accompanied yours.” Sam cupped her cheek. His thumb caressed her quivering lower lip. “Charles lied. There is no such thing as fated mates for our kind. Love is… wonderful and frightening and dangerous… but it is just something that happens without rhyme or reason.”

Kacy swallowed. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips. She tasted salt, grass, and something heavy like bitter dark chocolate. Sam. “What happened to my parents?”

“Charles caught up with us. He killed your parents and tried to abduct you. In all the confusion of the battle, you managed to escape. The authorities picked you up before we had the chance.” Sam’s eyes grew dark and haunted. Regret radiated off him. “When we finally found you, Mother insisted that we keep our distance. Charles could track us much easier than he could track you. We went to Africa to lead him on a chase. By the time we’d gotten him completely turned around, you’d been adopted and had settled into a life with humans.”

“I am human,” she insisted stubbornly.

“No, you’re not. Not really. You could have lived a human life if you’d never met any of us ever again, but being near us… activates the other half of your heritage.” Sam smiled gently before pressing a kiss to the corner of her mouth. “You’ll need to feed soon. I can sense your hunger.”

“This is completely crazy! You can’t just turn someone into by being near them.  I didn't go to bed last night human and wake up a succubus!”

"You know it’s not crazy. You may not remember your parents or me, but something inside you knows I’m telling the truth.”

He was right. She should have been screaming for Emmett or for help, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t calling him a liar or accusing him of playing a practical joke. A spark of something in the back of her mind brightened and filled her veins with warmth. Hunger gnawed at her stomach.

“Come on. We’ve got to catch up with the others,” Sam urged.

“Oh, I’m afraid it’s far too late for that.”

A large, tanned hand clamped down onto Kacy’s shoulder. She whimpered at his bruising grip. Torn out of Sam’s grasp, she was roughly spun around so that she faced their attacker. The man was almost a foot taller than Sam, and his shoulders were twice as broad. He would have looked right at home on the football field with Emmett. The sun haloing his blond head gave him the appearance of an avenging angel, but his sinister black eyes were downright malevolent.

“Charles,” Sam growled, reaching for Kacy but blocked by two snarling minions.

“No need for theatrics, Samuel. I’ll just take my bride and be on my way.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back Story - February 2001 - Request fic

Another request fic.  Someone wanted to see a back story from the point of view, more or less, of a minor character.  She wasn't specific, so I chose someone not even mentioned in the main stories (yet):  Aaron, Viola's best friend in high school.
If I ever stop procrastinating and work on my DoD prequel, Aaron'll be a main character in that.  This would take place around that same time period.

February 2001

His eyes were drawn, as they usually were, to the door just as she strolled into the classroom. Any one of the other five thousand people on campus could walk through the door and he wouldn’t bother glancing over, but something about Viola Ashwood captured his attention. He watched her green-gold eyes sweep across the room before she started towards her desk. He wished he knew what it was she looked for whenever she entered a room. What made her spine stiffen for those brief seconds?

“Hey, A.”

Aaron grinned up at his best friend. “Hey, V.” His eyes fell to her ornate gothic cross belt buckle. The shiny silver stood out against the black of her pants and long-sleeved t-shirt. “Mary’s going to freak when she sees your buckle. She’s been searching for one like that for months.”

“I know. She’s getting one just like for her birthday next week. A buddy of my brother’s makes them.” Viola dropped her backpack to the floor and slid into the hard plastic chair in front of Aaron. “Don’t say a word, though. It’s fun to watch her squirm.”



His retort, something witty sure to make her finally fall in love with him, withered on his tongue when she distractedly shoved up the sleeves of her shirt. Black and purple bruises dotted her left arm and ringed her right wrist. The neckline of her shirt shifted when she leaned over to pick up her pen. Aaron spotted a line of butterfly bandages on her shoulder. There were long pink scratches on her collarbone.

Jesus, V,” he rasped, brown eyes wide with horror.

Viola hastily yanked down her sleeves. She shot Aaron a quelling glare when he opened his mouth again. “Class is fixing to start.”

He nodded jerkily and opened his textbook. He couldn’t take his mind off the marks on his best friend’s pale skin. He knew her home life sucked: her father had disappeared on her sixteenth birthday, her mom was a nutcase, and her older siblings were overbearing. She’d come to school with a bruise or two before, given how often she snuck out of the house it was expected, but never like that.

The small notes he shoved under her elbow went ignored. Her attention was wholly focused on Mrs. Cavazos. He knew it was only because she wanted to avoid him. She had the highest grade in the class but she never paid attention their teacher.

“Did everyone memorize a passage this weekend?” Mrs. Cavazos asked, glancing around the room full of half-asleep juniors. “No volunteers to go first? How surprising. Ms. Ashwood, why don’t you have the honor?”

“’By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule,’” Viola quoted, voice devoid of inflection and eyes fixed on the clock at the front of the room.

Ah, Poe, again. I should have known, Ms. Ashwood.”

“Yeah, like the freak reads anything else!” One of the football jocks in the back of the classroom called out. His buddies and their cheerleader girlfriends laughed loudly. A few other students tittered nervously, their eyes sliding away from a visibly vibrating Viola.

While Mrs. Cavazos tried to restore order, Aaron leaned forward to cover one of Viola’s clenched fists. He bent his head so that his electric blue hair mingled with her dark auburn strands. “They’re just sheep, V.”

“I know that,” she ground out between clenched teeth. “I’m fine, Aaron.”

Surprised because she hardly ever used his full name, he dropped back into his seat. Fortunately, the rest of the class passed without any other incidents. He threw his book and spiral into his backpack, but by the time he pulled the zipper closed all he could see was the back of Viola’s head. He watched her gracefully bob and weave through the congested hallway and made a vow to talk to her before lunch.

He’d quit track after tearing a ligament in his knee the previous spring, but hadn’t regretted the decision until recently. He had been Viola’s usual running partner, though he suspected she deliberately slowed down to keep pace with him. A three-mile run around the track would have been the perfect time to talk about the bruises.

By the time fourth period rolled around, his stomach was in knots. Had Viola’s brother hurt her? If Sebastian Ashwood was beating her, had she told anyone about it? Did her sister know? Was her sister part of it? Did she have any other family members she could live with?

Worrying his lip ring with his tongue, Aaron walked right past his fourth period classroom and towards the gym. He hung out in the hallway outside the girl’s locker room and gently grabbed Viola’s shoulder when she appeared beside him. “Skip?”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

For the first time in hours, Aaron smiled. That was as good as an agreement. “Not likely.”

“Yeah, okay. I didn’t do my Spanish homework, anyway.”

Aaron led the way out of the school. Once they were off school grounds, though, he faltered. All of their usual hangouts were his favorite places. He wanted Viola to feel comfortable when they had their talk. “Where d’you wanna go?

Viola shifted her backpack and curled an arm around her middle as if protecting herself from something. She shivered, eyes on something in the distance Aaron couldn’t see. When she tilted her head to the side, he could see faint bruises on her forehead.


She jerked as if startled and shook her head. “Sorry, A. I know a place. It’s not too far from here.”

After a few minutes of awkward silence, Aaron cleared his throat. He peeked at Viola through his eyelashes. “You know you can always stay with me, right?”

“What?” Viola stopped abruptly, winced. “What are you talking about, A?”

"If your brother… you know…” He gestured towards her arms, courage fading. “If you can’t be at home because it’s too dangerous or too whatever… you’re always welcome at my place.”

“You think Sebastian did this?”

Aaron blushed. Why did jumping to the logical conclusion feel like a monumental mistake? He wished the ground would open up and swallow him whole.

“Oh, A.” Viola darted forward and pressed a brief, chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth. “You’re very sweet.”

“Hey!” He bristled at the compliment. No one had ever called him sweet before. He wasn’t sweet. He made freshmen run in fear at the sight of him. He’d even made a seventh-grader wet his pants once just by glaring.

“It’s true and you know it,” she taunted. The teasing smile slid off her face. She clasped his hands tightly and squeezed. “Thank you, Aaron.”

“So, what did happen to you, then?” he asked as they resumed their trek to Viola’s secret hideout.

A loud growl from the copse of trees across the street stopped both teens in their tracks. Aaron paled. Viola groaned. Still holding his hand, she dashed across the pavement towards the trees.

“What are you doing, V? It could be an animal. We need to call the cops or animal control or something!”

Viola chuckled dryly. “I know what it is and in this case, I am the animal control.”

Aaron gasped when she skidded to a stop, released his hand, unbuckled her belt, and slid it free from her belt loops. Her slender fingers pressed a hidden latch on the belt buckle he’d admired earlier that morning. By the time she was finished with it, it looked more like a dagger than a cross.

“Stay here.” She slipped her backpack off her shoulders and handed it to him. Her face was more serious than he’d ever seen it before. “I mean it, A. No heroics. Stay right here.”


“Sweet mercy this is going to suck more than running laps.” With a grimace Viola stealthily ventured into the copse.

A second growl had the tiny hairs on the back of Aaron’s neck standing on end. He tightened his grasp on Viola’s backpack and prepared to follow her. He couldn’t just stand by why she went after a potentially wounded, dangerous animal.

The squeal of tires on the street behind him kept him from taking more than two steps. He heard a door slam shut and then footsteps pounding on the wet grass. Glancing over his shoulder, Aaron saw a tall, broad-shoulder blond man racing in his direction.

“What’re you doing here, kid?” The man’s blue eyes slipped down to the backpack. His lips curled down in a frown. “I should have known she’d be here. Where’d she go?”

Confused, but grateful he didn’t have to face the whatever-it-was in the trees, Aaron pointed in the direction Viola had disappeared. He vaguely remembered seeing the blond man at Viola’s house once or twice. He thought the man was one of Sebastian’s friends.

A third growl started but cut off abruptly. Aaron could smell blood and smoke on the breeze. He shuddered. Was this what Viola did that gave her the bruises? Is this why she disappeared on weekends and didn’t return her phone calls? Just what in the hell was she involved in? How many other secrets was she keeping from him? Did he even really know her at all?

“So I get to the hospital to check on my three favorite pains in the ass, and sure enough, one of them is missing. No one saw you leave, but I didn’t think for a second you’d been kidnapped,” the blond man said as he dragged a sullen Viola out of the copse. “No one’s crazy enough to want to haul your irritating ass along, that’s for sure. I was on my way to school to see how your ribs were holding up when I get a call about a Brivid in this area.”

“It’s the same one we lost last night,” Viola interjected.

“I know that, Shortcake. It’s why I took the assignment. I figured I owed it a broken leg or two.”

“Did you see what it did to Livy’s arm?”

“I saw the pictures of what it did to you, too.” The man’s lips thinned. He gently shook Viola. “You’re damn lucky I got here when I did. You may think you’re invincible, kiddo, but you took a hell of a beating last night. You wouldn’t have lasted another two minutes against that thing.”

“Oh, please. I was doing fine.” Viola rolled her eyes. Her expression froze when she caught sight of Aaron. She inclined her head towards the blond man but Aaron could still hear her clearly. “A’s going to walk me home, okay?”

The man studied her for a moment before nodding once. “Fine. I’ve got to take care of the Brivid. I’m taking you back to the hospital tonight, though. You’re probably going to miss the next couple of days of school. Plus, Bas was pissed as hell at you.”

“Thanks, Toby.” Viola skipped across the grass and skid to a stop in front of Aaron. Leaves were stuck in her hair and there was a smudge of mud on her cheek, but she looked happier than she had all morning. With a hesitant smile, she linked her arm with his. “Guess we need to talk, huh?”

Well?  What'd you think of Aaron?  Interested in hearing more from him?  Want to know where he's at now?

Monday, November 8, 2010

SUBO-Short Story 4/6

Did I say this was going to be five chapters?  I seriously underestimated how much I wanted to cram into this short story.  It's going to be five chapters and an epilogue.  I mean it this time.  Six chapters total.

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Chapter Four:

“Back off!” Emmett scowled at the man on the doorstep as he hauled Kacy back against his chest. His stomach churned when she made no move to get free. She normally hated being manhandled. “What did you do to her?”

Thorne Dow held his hands up and cocked his head to the side. “I assure you that I did nothing at all to Ms. Adams.”

“’S John,” she murmured, turning in Emmett’s arms so that her cheek was pressed against his shoulder. Her self-preservation instincts railed against turning her back on the man who shouldn’t exist, but she couldn’t look at him any longer. He was wrong and, God, if he wasn’t John Crowder, she deserved to be back in that mental hospital.

“What was that, baby girl?”

“He’s John. He’s Sam’s brother.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Adams, but my name is Thorne and I don’t have any brothers.”

“Shut up!” Kacy whirled around, jabbed Thorne/John in the chest with her index fingers. Her flushed face was streaked with tears and her eyes were wild. “Don’t you dare stand there and lie to me. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I know who you are!”

“Kacy!” Emmett tightened his grasp on her waist and pulled her away from their stunned visitor. Her behavior was unsettling. She’d never been violent before. He smiled apologetically at Thorne. “I’m sorry about this. I don’t know what’s come over her.”

Thorne gently grabbed Kacy’s left arm. He twisted it so that the inside of her wrist was in the air. He brushed his thumb along the ankh tattooed beneath the ‘KC.’ “Katya,” he whispered.

She yanked her arm out of his hands. “My name is Kacy.”

“I can’t believe he was right. I can’t believe it’s you.”

“Funny, I could say the same thing.” Kacy leaned back against Emmett, grateful for his presence. He was warm, solid, and real. She could trust him to protect her, even if she was certifiably insane. “I’ve got to say, you look really good for someone a hundred and sixty-seven years old.”

He chuckled. “I assure you, Ms. Adams, I am nowhere near that old.”

“No! You can’t do that!” Kacy shoved her wrist under his nose, the force of her anger sent him stumbling backwards a few steps. “You can’t claim to know who the hell I am and then lie to me about who you are, John Crowder.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the empty street. “Perhaps we should move this conversation inside. It’s not safe to be out in the open like this.”

“Not safe? Not safe from what? From whatever’s been growling outside my window?”

All traces of Thorne, the affable history teacher, disappeared. The man who all but shoved Emmett and Kacy into the townhouse was closed off and wary. He bolted the door once they were inside and closed the curtains on the picture window beside the door. Dark eyes quickly scanned the room to locate every possible exit and hiding place.

It was easy for Emmett to see the soldier in Thorne/John/Whoever-in-the-hell-he-was. He snuggled Kacy against his side, ran a hand down her trembling arm. His eyes fell on the framed Crowder Family picture on her desk. John Crowder’s grim face stared back at him. He mentally compared the image in the picture to the man prowling around his sister’s home. There was no denying they could pass for twins, but it was impossible for it to actually be John Crowder, Civil War soldier, wasn’t it?

“I’m right, aren’t I?’ Kacy wriggled out of Emmett’s arms. She planted herself in front of ‘Thorne’ with her hands on her hips and eyebrows raised. “The growling means something. It’s got you worried.”

Emmett was far too familiar with the determined expression on her face. He almost felt sorry for their visitor. Kacy was like a pit bull with a meaty bone when she wanted information.

“I heard the first one last night. It wasn’t… it wasn’t any animal I’ve ever heard.” She shuddered at the memory. “One of the ones this morning was different, though. “

“How many have you heard?”

“Definitely two different growlers.”

John ran a hand through his hair, cursed softly. “Sam.”

Kacy perked up, her head swiveled around as if she expected Sam Crowder to pop up from behind the couch. “He’s the one growling?” Her hands slid off her hips as her brow furrowed in concentration. “Is he… mad at me? It is because of the t.v. show?”

Dry laughter spilled out of John’s lips. He shook his head and leaned against the wall. “Mad at you? Kid, if you only knew…” His laughter stopped abruptly, his eyes narrowed. His sharp gaze seemed to pierce right through her. “You should know.”

“Well, I don’t know. I’ve never met Sam Crowder.” Kacy plopped onto the couch, propped her heels up on the edge of the coffee table, and rested her aching head against the soft cushions. It had to be a dream. She was going to wake up at any minute with one hell of a red-wine hangover. “Of course, that’s not surprising, since, oh, I don’t know, he died 119 years before I was born!”

“No he didn’t.”

Kacy turned her eyes to a silently-observing Emmett. “Em, was I born in 1982?”

“That’s what the doctors figured when they checked you over.”

“Thank you. And, according to the letters written to his mother and the paperwork his commanding officers filled out, did Captain Samuel Crowder die in 1863?”

“That’s the story.”

“Thank you, again.” She flashed Emmett a smile before glaring at John. If she found out Juan had put ‘John’ up to this, she was going kill him. “I’m sure you think screwing with me is a ton of fun, but you’re going to have to find another victim for your little game. I quit.”

John hesitantly moved towards Kacy and perched on the edge of the coffee table. He kept his body positioned between her and the door. Half his attention was trained on the door. “Sam didn’t die in 1863. There was so much confusion then, it was easy for him to swap identities with another soldier that had been killed. I had done the same thing a couple of months earlier. ”

“That’s horrible!” Anger clouded Kacy’s face. She surged forward to slap John’s arm with the back of her hand. The heartbreak Annie Crowder must have felt, and for no reason at all! “Your poor mother! How could either of you do that to her?”

Rather than be indignant over her accusation, he stared at her in wonder. “You really don’t remember anything do you?”

“What am I supposed to remember?”

“Your parents, for one thing.”

Kacy shivered at the frost in his tone. When Emmett claimed the cushion beside her, she gratefully curled into his warmth. “I have parents: Jenny and Paul Adams. I have a brother, too. I had good childhood; I wasn’t spoiled but I never wanted for anything. I had friends, I played sports, and I got good grades.”

“But you don’t remember the first five years of your life.”

Emmett wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest. He wanted to punch John in the face. For years Kacy had agonized over the blank spot in her memory. It wasn’t fair to bring it up when she’d finally moved on. “The doctors said it was unlikely she’d ever remember. Her brain buried those memories deep to protect itself from some sort of trauma.”

John paled. His righteous anger faded into a grimace. “I’m sorry. It was… traumatic for all of us. I can’t imagine what it was like for you. It never should have gone down like that.”

“What are you talking about?” Kacy demanded.

“What do you know about incubi?”

“W-w-what?” Kacy sputtered. “I ask for an explanation and you ask me about mythology?”

"They’re demons that feed off sexual energy. “Unexplainable” pregnancies were blamed on incubi. There’s a variation of the myth in dozens of cultures. Legend says that Merlin’s father was an incubus.” Emmett flushed and shrugged when two sets of eyes zeroed in on him. “What? I was an English major. I took a couple of mythology courses!”

“The myths are only half right. We require energy to survive, but it isn’t limited to sexual energy.” John frowned. “I don’t know for sure about that bit regarding Merlin.”

“Wait!” Kacy froze. Her fingers tingled and her stomach twisted. The fog that always shrouded her early childhood started to thin. “You said ‘we.’”

“I did.”

Her lips twisted in a humorless smile as bile rose in her throat. Something inside her compelled her to believe his story, but she clung to logic. “You’re crazier than I am!”

“Or I’m telling the truth.” John started to reach for Kacy’s hands but pulled back when Emmett snarled warningly. “My mother was a succubus and my father was an incubus. I was born in 1543. My younger brother Samuel was born in 1550 in London.”

“That’s… that’s really not possible.”

“Sam and I are incubi. So, Katya Clover, was your father. Your parents were part of our clan. Sam and I used to babysit you. You had Sammy wrapped around your bitty fingers. He called you Clover, you know. You hated it.”

Before Kacy could respond, the front door crashed open. Emmett instinctively curled over Kacy like a human shield. John braced for an attack. The growl died in his throat when he spotted the man standing in the doorway.

“We’ve got to get Kacy out of here. I ran him off earlier, but Charles is on his way back!” Sam Crowder, his jeans and sweatshirt a far cry from his Confederate uniform, rushed into the townhouse and grabbed Kacy’s limp hand. He smiled charmingly and winked before scooping her into his arms. “Hello again, little Clover.”

Come on, who didn't see that coming?  Still with me, here?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sour Cream Pumpkin Bundt

After reading The Food Librarian's "30 Days of Bundt Cakes" (found here - seriously, check her out, she's awesome), I decided to put my rarely-used (read: never used) bundt pan and make the Libby's Sourt Cream Pumpkin Bundt.

Mine didn't turn out quite as pretty, but I'm happy to say the struesel stayed where it was supposed to.
You'll have to forgive the crappy lighting - I've had my phone for over a year and I'm still learning how to use it.

It fell apart because it was still warm (breakage occured at the struesel layer) - I should have let it cool longer, but as you may know, I have zero patience.  It smelled wonderful and I had to have a slice.

Here's the recipe - Sour Cream Pumpkin Bundt

JT said it needed a little more "pumpkin" flavor to compete with the struesel, so I think next time I make it, I'll throw in some pumpkin pie spice along with the cinnamon (in addition, not as a substitute).

Tomorrow (or Sunday) we'll try an apple spice cake and then I've got to make the banana bread I've been promising JT for weeks.

LSU/'Bama game tomorrow.... I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SUBO-Short Story 3/5

Chapter Three:

“That wasn’t the same one!” Kacy slipped out of Emmett’s arms and spun around searching for the source of the growl. While the one she’d heard the previous night had been full of malice, the most recent growl was more like a warning or… jealousy?

“The same what, kiddo?”

“Growl. Last night’s growl was different.”

“And I’m just hearing about this mysterious growl now because…”

Kacy groaned and ran a hand through her dark brown hair. “I knew you’d overreact.” She narrowed her eyes as he wound a massive arm around her waist and pulled her behind him. “Kind of like you are now.”

“No such thing as overreacting when it comes to my baby sis.” Emmett scanned the street, the driveway, and the tiny front lawn but couldn’t see anything out of place. At the sound of second growl, this one deeper and more menacing from the first, he pulled Kacy tight against him until the cold tip of her nose was buried in his back. He still didn’t see anyone and the house was too close to town for it to have been a wandering wild animal.

A third growl, the same as the first one that morning, had Kacy crawling up Emmett’s back. She looped her arms around his neck and locked her ankles around his waist. “In the house, please.”

He was certain his football equipment had weighed more than she did. Emmett rushed towards the front door. A manila envelope tucked in the white mailbox by the front door caught Kacy’s attention. She dug her heel into his abdomen to get him to pause long enough for her to grab it.

The envelope was heavy and rigid. Before she opened it, she knew there would be pictures inside. Inside her townhouse, she slipped off Emmett’s back and kicked off her flip-flops. She slid a trembling finger under the flap, sucked in a calming breath, and opened the envelope.

“Oh, God.”

The pictures fell out of her lax grasp and spilled across the floor. She staggered toward the couch. Her knees gave out before she reached the cushions. Hot tears spilled down waxy, pale cheeks. She drew her knees up to her chin and pressed her face into the word denim. Her heart thundered, her head spun and tried to make sense of what she’d seen.

Emmett scooped up the photographs and quickly flipped through them. Judging by the way the people were dressed, they were old photographs. He studied the signs and banners in the backgrounds, shrugged, and kept the pictures in his hand as he settled onto the floor beside his sister. “They’re just reunion pictures, Kace. You and Juan saw hundreds of them when you two did that project on the difference between the GAR and the UCV.”

Under different, less maddening, circumstances, she would have been proud of him for remembering the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans. Most of her history lectures had gone in one ear and out the other. Tucked against his side, she reached for the photos.

“This is the May 1911 UCV reunion in Little Rock.” She held up a black-and-white reproduction of the original photo. “There were speeches, receptions, hot air balloon rides, a parade, and a Veterans’ Ball.”


“This is the May 1951 UCV reunion in Norfolk Virginia. It was the 61st and final reunion.” She switched the 1911 photo for one that looked more recent. Three very old men stood front and center of a crowd of smiling people.

“What does any of that have to do with your freak out? Like I said, you’ve seen these pictures before.” Emmett eyed her carefully. He knew she was under more stress than usual. If he had to, he’d kidnap her and take her away from everything until she relaxed. Their adoptive parents wouldn’t hesitate to be his accomplices.

She tapped the space beside a dark-haired man standing near the back of the group in the 1951 photo. “This is Samuel Crowder.”

Emmett squinted at the image. He’d seen Kacy’s pictures of Captain Crowder. It could have been him in the photo or it could have been one of a thousand dark-haired men. “Kacy, Crowder died in 1863.”

“I know that,” she snapped. She flipped back to the 1911 photo and tapped the face of the same dark-haired man. “He was at the 1911 reunion, too.”

“Maybe it’s his son or a nephew. Family members went to those reunions, didn’t they?”

“Sam didn’t have any children. Neither did John. They didn’t have any other siblings. Their father died in 1857 and their mother never remarried.” She studied the photos for a moment and before holding up a black-and-white one. Her lower lip trembled and her bloodshot eyes glistened with fresh tears. “In 1913 the UCV and the GAR held a joint reunion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.”

“Okay.” Emmett kissed her forehead. She didn’t feel feverish. As soon as she put the photos down, he was going to bundle her up and carry her to their mother Mary. A day of coddling and Mom’s hearty vegetable soup was what Kacy needed.

“This is Sam Crowder.” She pointed to a dark-haired man then slid her finger to the man standing beside him. “This is his brother John.”

“Didn’t John die before Sam?”

“Exactly!” Kacy scrambled to her feet. She clutched the photos against her chest. “I’m going to scan these and send them to Lisa. She can tell me if they’ve been doctored or not. Then, I’m going to put up a request on a couple of message boards. I want to see if anyone else has seen pictures of Sam.”

Emmett hovered behind Kacy as she scanned the images, e-mailed them to her friend, and then posted messages on several Civil War-related boards. His thick fingers worked the tense muscles in her shoulders. She was wound tighter than she’d been during week before her thesis had been due.

“There. Now I just need to sit and wait.” Kacy clicked the ‘refresh’ button. There were no responses. She clicked the button again.

“Why don’t you come have lunch with me at Mom’s? You know she’s dying to see you.”

“I saw her two weeks ago. We argued because she wanted to set me up with the preacher’s son.” Kacy wrinkled her nose, shuddered. “I’ll join a convent before I let Mom set me up on any more blind dates.”

“Just for a couple of hours, Kace,” Emmett wheedled. He flashed a bright smile complete with dimples. It was a smile few women could resist. If Meghan had been over, she would have dissolved into a puddle of goo at his feet. “We’ll play cards and talk Mom into making banana pudding.”

“Why are you so determined to get me out of…” she broke off and glared at him angrily. “You think I’m losing my mind, don’t you?”

“No.” Emmett covered her hand before she could refresh the page again. He lifted her off the chair and folded her into his arms. “I think you’re tired, stressed, and maybe a little obsessed.”

“I mean, I’ve been crazy before,” she continued, voice muffled by her brother’s shirt. “It’s not like I’m a stranger to the mental ward. You and Mom have probably been sitting around waiting for this day to come.”

Emmett winced. He still remembered the skinny, big-eyed little girl his parents had brought home. Found covered in blood, wandering, and rambling about black-eyed women wearing old-fashioned clothes, the authorities had institutionalized the five-year-old with the letters K and C tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. His mother had been a nurse at the hospital and had fallen instantly in love with the quiet girl. By the time she was seven, Kacy Adams was Emmett’s new sister.

“That’s not fair, Kace. We’ve never done anything like that.” He didn’t bother to point out that there had been times he’d worried about her mental state. She tended to get lost in her studies and block out the rest of the world.

Kacy deflated. Her indignation dissipated. She hated hurting Emmett’s feelings. He’d always been her rock and her biggest supporter. He’d even helped smooth the way with their mother when she’d cut all her hair off and dyed the blonde curls a rich brown her senior year of high school.

“I’m sorry, Em. I didn’t mean it. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I do need a break.”

He grinned and ruffled her hair. “It’ll be fun, baby girl. I’ll even let you when a round of Phase 10 or two.”

“Shut up.” She ducked to avoid the hand descending towards her head a second time. “You know I always kick your ass at that game.”

“Mom and I have been practicing. You’re going down this time, you little cheater.”

Kacy laughingly rolled her eyes. They always accused her of cheating. It wasn’t her fault she was better at finding patterns and had better luck. Emmett had been right. They weren’t even at their mother’s yet and she already felt a thousand times better.

The scathing retort she had planned withered on her tongue. Her e-mail program dinged, letting her know she had a new message. Emmett once again hovered over her shoulder while she opened the e-mail. It was a response from messages she’d posted. A high school history teacher in the area had not only seen her on television but had some information on the Crowder family.

“I don’t like this.”

“You’re so suspicious,” she teased Emmett. “You should have been a cop.”

“He’s a history teacher, for crying out loud. How dangerous could he be? He’s just a fan.”

“Or a murderer.” Emmett rocked back on his heels and crossed his arms over his chest. His expression was grim. “I want to be here when you meet him.”

“Okay. I’ll tell him to be here this afternoon. No, don’t give me that look. My address is in the phone book and anyone with half a brain could get it.” She quickly typed out a response to the e-mail. Once it was sent, she pushed her chair away from the desk. “Can you entertain yourself while I change clothes?”

“He’s not coming for tea, Kace. He’s coming so you two can get your geek on.”

“Thanks.” She popped up on her toes to kiss his cheek. “There’s soda in the fridge and Oreos in the cookie jar. Try not to make a mess, ‘kay?”

She was tying the laces of her tennis shoes when she heard the doorbell ring. She glanced down at her silver watch and frowned. It had only been five minutes. Surely Mr. Thorne J. Dow wasn’t that close. She smoothed down her blue sweater and met Emmett in the living room.

He stayed at her back like a menacing bodyguard while she peered through the peephole. The man had his face turned away so she couldn’t see him. After wiping damp palms on her jeans, she steadied her racing heart and pulled open the door.

“Ms. Adams? I’m Thorne Dow,” a masculine voice greeted, the barest hint of a Southern accent evident.

The breath left her lungs in a whoosh. Her vision swam. Her knees wobbled. If it hadn’t been for Emmett’s arm around her waist, she would have fallen to the ground. Tears stung her eyes and bile rose in her throat. She had lost her mind.

Thorne J. Dow was Union Lt. John T. Crowder.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Still Untitled Blog Only Short Story (2/5)

Honestly, I had forgotten about this one because I was so focused on finishing up TCC.  Since I need the distraction from all the rewrites, we're going to get this sucker done.

If you missed the first part, it is here.

Chapter Two

“See, you should have come out with us.”

Kacy sighed and continued stirring her drink with a swizzle stick. Cocktails in the courtyard, a Bloody Mary for Meghan and a Screwdriver for Kacy, after a night of partying was a Saturday morning tradition. After listening to Meghan rave about the club’s DJ and the amazingly hot guy she’d met, Kacy told her about the e-mails and the phone conversation with Juan.

“Come on, Kace, cheer up. Think about it this way: now you’ve got even more pictures of your Captain to ogle,” Meghan teased.

“I do not ogle him!” was the automatic protest. When Meghan rolled her eyes and snorted, Kacy couldn’t help but giggle. Okay, so maybe she indulged in some ogling. She didn’t think anyone would blame her. With dark, shaggy hair that looked perfect for burying fingers in and lips to die for, there wasn’t an actor or model who could compare. It didn’t hurt that she’d always been a sucker for uniforms.

“It’s not even him. Just a guy who looks like him. I’m being stupid.” Kacy groaned and took a long sip from her drink. The cool, tart juice soothed her dry throat while the more-than-generous shot of vodka warmed her insides.

She didn’t think she was imagining things, though. After staring at the pictures for hours, she was still certain that it was the same man in all the photos. Wartime was confusing and chaotic, but she had two letters written to Mrs. Annie Crowder regarding the death of her beloved younger son. Major J.C. Rogers and Brigadier General Jerome B. Roberston had both sent their condolences for the loss of such a “fine, passionate, and loyal brother.”

While Roberston’s letter had had more of a cookie-cutter feel, Rogers’ had been more specific. On September 23rd, 1863, three days after sustaining severe injuries to his lower extremities and abdomen, Captain Samuel Crowder died. Rogers had made a point to try and comfort Mrs. Crowder with the knowledge that her son, drugged to the gills with opium, had “felt little pain at his time of passing.” Kacy wasn’t sure Mrs. Crowder bought the lie any more than she did. Rogers had sent Mrs. Crowder Samuel’s silver-plated flask, a gift from his grandfather, and a pocket watch. The flask had been in the trunk but, though she’d tried her hardest, Kacy couldn’t locate the watch.

“Oh, no, sweetie,” Meghan’s laughing voice brought Kacy out of her thoughts. “You’re the resident expert on Captain Cutie. If you say it’s him, then it has to be him.”

Kacy hung her head, loose hair spilling over her shoulders and shielding her face from Meghan’s observant eyes. “I think I’m losing it. It’s not just the pictures, either. I could have sworn I locked the doors after you left last night, but they rattled when that storm came through and scared the hell out of me. Then, when I was walking back after locking the doors, I heard a growling. Not like a wild animal growl either. It was… weird.”

Meghan patted her friend’s hand gently. “You’re being too hard on yourself. You’ve been killing yourself wrapping up your doctorate and working overtime because Marcy went on maternity leave. That’s not including all the crap from that t.v. show. Cut yourself some slack.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Skepticism dripped from Kacy’s voice. A few years earlier, she’d pushed the limits of sleep deprivation while taking classes for her Master’s and working full-time. Coffee had practically replaced all the blood in her veins and the shadows under her eyes were almost permanent, but she’d never had auditory hallucinations before.

A glance down at her watch had her jumping to her feet, the Pier One patio chair falling to the ground behind her. “I’ve got to get inside. Em’s coming over for lunch!” she exclaimed as she straightened the chair.

“Oh?” Meghan quirked a pencil-thin eyebrow. “I didn’t know tall, dark, and yummy was gracing us with his presence.”

Kacy shot her a glare. Meghan’s complete lack of subtlety when it came to her crush on Kacy’s adopted brother drove her crazy. Emmett, whom Kacy had to admit was heartbreakingly attractive, refused to give Meghan the time of day. He liked girls with a little more class and a little less brass. Meghan, however, refused to take the hint.

“Juan called him last night after I totally flaked out. I don’t know what he told Emmett, but he was in full big-brother mode this morning.”

“That’s so hot,” Meghan sighed.

Kacy’s glare intensified. “No, it’s not. It’s annoying. I don’t care if they do have some weird ex-jock bromance going on, Juan shouldn’t have called Emmett. You know how pissed he was when I told him I wanted to live by myself and not with him.”

“How could I forget the Carter-Adams Smackdown of 2009?” Meghan pushed her sore, hungover body upright. She swayed momentarily before grabbing her glass and shuffling towards her townhouse. “Tell Emmett I said hi.”

Kacy nodded though she had no intention of passing along the message. It would just frustrate Emmett. He was a genuinely nice guy and didn’t like hurting Meghan’s feelings. She stepped back into the cool, dark interior of her townhouse, bolted the door, and then double-checked the lock. She flicked on the kitchen lights and set down her Screwdriver.

Fortunately she’d made a grocery run the previous afternoon. Emmett, a former football player and current football coach for the local high school, was a bottomless pit. Their adoptive mother joked that it was a good thing he’d gotten a football scholarship since most of his college fund had gone to filling his fridge. After sticking a few cans of her brother’s favorite soda in the fridge, she dashed through the townhouse to make sure there wasn’t anything embarrassing or, considering Emmett’s bull-in-a-china-shop behavior, breakable out.

She didn’t bother hiding the Crowder letters or the photos. Since Juan had likely filled him in on the phone call, Emmett would want to see them. He, much like Meghan, often teased her about her “crush” on Samuel Crowder. Of course, since a long-dead boyfriend meant he didn’t have to vet and threaten a real, live boyfriend, he didn’t give her too much grief.

While waiting for Emmett to pull into the driveway, she perched on the window seat near the front door and read her favorite Crowder letter. Samuel had written it to his brother but sent it to his mother in hopes that she would forward it to John Crowder. Like the two other letters to John in the trunk, it touched on the skirmishes Samuel’s regiment had been involved in and the places he’d seen. For the most part, though, he reiterated his love for his brother and his dismay that they hadn’t been able to see eye-to-eye. Samuel longed for the day that he and John could “be reunited one glorious day on Momma’s front porch without blue and gray dividing our hearts.”

“Oh, Samuel, I wish you and John could have had that glorious day,” Kacy murmured as she reverently folded the letter closed. John had been killed in action three days before Samuel had written that particular letter. From the letters he’d written to his mother afterwards, it was difficult to tell if he knew that John was dead or not.

Hearing gravel crunching under tires, she set the letter on the window seat, slipped her feet into a pair of old flip flops, and darted out the front door. As soon as her behemoth of a brother was out of his shiny red SUV, she threw her arms around his neck. “Em!”

“Hey there, baby girl,” Emmett laughed. He wrapped his beefy arms around her thin waist and lifted her off her feet. Only when he felt her ribs creak did he loosen his grip. He pulled back far enough to kiss her cheek.

This time, it wasn’t just Kacy who heard a growl.