It's Sunday. It may mean the end of the weekend and time to get ready for work again, but fortunately it's meant a day of writing. To celebrate, I'm offering up two previews of Mistress of Malice and Mercy.
Now, I've already mentioned that we'll see Duke's mother. And you thought Viola had the only dyfunctional family in the series...
There was an unfamiliar car parked in his driveway. Duke motioned for Wiff to crawl into his front pocket. The wards around the house hadn’t gone off, so the uninvited guest wasn’t a demon or a person with malicious intent. The small, nondescript sedan was empty. He took note of the sticker on the back bumper. The car was a rental.
After parking the truck, Duke dropped the tailgate and managed to get Finn onto the ground without tearing his stitches or injuring the dog. Duke’s hand inched around so that it rested on his FN Five-Seven USG. Rather than race towards the house, Finn remained pressed against Duke’s legs. When they neared the porch, Finn’s lips curled back to reveal sharp, white teeth. He growled warningly at the figure in red reclining on one of the wrought iron chairs.
The tension slipped off Duke’s shoulders. His hand fell away from the gun. The intruder was going to ruin the rest of his day, but she wasn’t going to hurt anyone. He sent a quick alert to Viola letting her know that he was going to have to skip their lunch. When Finn tensed, he patted the dog’s head. “It’s okay, boy.”
Finn growled again. He lifted his large head and snapped his teeth at the blonde, middle-aged woman. Duke huffed, swatted Finn’s ears. “That’s enough. You really are Vi’s mutt, aren’t you?”
Finn sat on Duke’s foot to prevent him from moving any further.
“I didn’t know you had a dog, Toby,” the woman on the porch said. She gracefully rose and walked to the edge of the first porch step. She curled her hands around the painted beam and leaned against it.
In the attic was a picture of the woman in a similar pose. The artist, a local talent who’d done the painting as a birthday present, had captured the blonde’s soft facial structure and ivory skin. Dressed in a flowing, butter-yellow sundress, she looked like the goddess of the dawn caught in a moment of quiet reflection. Paul Duke consigned the painting to a dusty corner of the attic the same day his wife of thirteen years presented him with divorce papers.
“What are you doing here, Mom?”
- - -
And this one takes place a little later. I just love Duke and Viola.
- - -
The pressure and anxiety that had settled on Viola’s shoulders dissolved like fog in the sun when she saw Duke waiting on the steps of his grandmother’s front porch. As soon as the car rolled to a stop, she flung open the door and raced up the driveway. Duke stood up, opened his arms in invitation, and braced for impact.
“No, no, that’s okay, Vi. I’ll get the door. It’s not like I’m going to have my hands full or anything.” Sebastian avoided the sight of his friend and baby sister making out like teenagers under the bleachers after a football game. He didn’t want to ruin his appetite for Aggie Duke’s gumbo. After kicking shut the door Viola had left open in her haste to greet Duke, he grabbed the two boxes of chocolate meringue pie from the backseat.
He deliberately bumped Duke’s shoulder as he passed the kissing couple on the way up the stairs. Neither broke for air. “If you’re not inside in two minutes, I’m going to get the garden hose,” he said. Viola stopped holding the back of Duke’s head long enough to flip Sebastian off; Duke did the same with the hand that had been gripping his wife’s hip. Sebastian rolled his eyes and stalked into the house.
At the slamming of the screen door, Duke unglued his lips from Viola’s. “Wait…,” he panted, glancing around for Sebastian. He’d been on the porch watching for them for a reason. Not that getting to enthusiastically greet his wife wasn’t good enough motivation all on its own.
“What? Why?” Viola scraped her short nails across his skull, tugged on his left earlobe when he didn’t immediately turn back to her. She unwound her legs from around his waist and dropped lightly to the ground.
“Never mind, I can’t remember.” Duke dipped his head to kiss the sharp jut of Viola’s collarbone. The unexpected tickle of soft, short hair thwarted his plans to kiss every inch of skin exposed by her v-neck shirt. He ran the tip of a finger from the point of her chin to her navel. It was a good thing he wasn’t allergic to cats, demonic or otherwise.
Her arms tightened around his neck. The gravelly way he murmured endearments weakened her knees and set her blood on fire in the most delicious ways. “Yeah, Tobias?”
“You’re covered in Chaisan hair.”
Viola glanced down at her shirt. She hadn’t noticed the white and brown fur stuck to the front of her gray shirt. No wonder Tom had been reluctant to hug her when she’d left Burkeholt.
“One of the little monsters took one of my bracelets. I had to get it back.” She held her wrist up and flicked at the small charms dangling from the sturdy silver chain. The ghost-themed bracelet had been a graduation present from her Network mentor. “After wrestling with Finn for over a year, it was like taking candy from a baby.”
Duke tucked a wisp of dark hair behind her ear. Catching something off in the symmetry his mother had pointed out earlier, he took a small step back to get perspective. It only took a second to pinpoint the source of the imbalance. She had two holes in each ear but only three earrings. “You’re missing one of your hoops.”
Her hand flew to her ear. She’d worn cheaper earrings because of the Chaisans, but having been so easily duped still rankled. She slumped forward and thumped her head against Duke’s shoulder. “I hate cats.”