Villains, Annoying Assistants, and Monsters…Oh My!
My best friend had nothing to do with bouncing or monsters until something went terribly wrong in my new job. Suddenly she’s missing, and the rumor is that a nest of monsters might have her. Those monsters are about to meet their match. I’m going to go medieval on their furry butts. If only I can figure out how to control my bouncing magic for five solid minutes.
I just hope Molly will forgive me for bringing her assistant Rog along on the rescue mission. The man has taken annoying to levels heretofore unknown. Believe me, I’ve tried to shake him. But he’s like a giant octopus with a thousand tentacles. He insists he needs to go with me on the rescue. Unfortunately, the man has even less sense than he has magic. And he has zero magic.
Something tells me this is going to go badly.
Justice looked at me. “You get him home. Elvo and I will handle this.”
I surged upright. “No. I’m going with you.”
“She’s right,” Rog said, earning brownie points from me. “She can help find Mols. Don’t leave her here with me. Don’t make me the cause of Molly maybe being lost because you didn’t have the help you needed.”
His plea was desperate but reasonable enough to make Justice hesitate. He glanced my way and I nodded. “I’m coming.”
“It’s not safe for Rog to be out there alone.”
“That’s okay,” Molly’s stubborn assistant said. “Because I won’t be alone. I’m coming with you.”
No amount of arguing changed Rog’s mind. Finally, realizing we were losing precious time, I gave in, forcing Justice to follow suit. “You stay close and do exactly what we say when we say it, understood?” I told Rog.
The man’s lips flattened and fire lit his gaze, but he nodded. “Understood.”
He was totally going to do whatever he wanted.
Sighing, I moved to the locked metal cabinet at the back of the room. I picked up the candy bowl on the top and reached inside, finding the fake wood bottom and prying it up with my fingernail.
“This is no time for a snack,” Rog said, his tone snotty and impatient. In other words, normal.
Ignoring him, I extracted the key hidden beneath the wood and unlocked the cabinet, pocketing the key. Since Rob knew about my hiding spot, I’d have to find a different one after we got Molly back.
The thought comforted me. We would get her back.
Opening the top drawer, I tugged a pile of clean clothing aside and grabbed my gun and two knives. I handed Justice the knives and grabbed an extra magazine for the Glock.
When I turned around, Rog was staring at me gape-mouthed. He looked kind of gray.
“You had weapons!”
I thought he was horrified by their very existence in his sphere, but his next words changed my understanding.
“Why didn’t you tell me those were there? I could have saved Molly.”
Aside from the idea of Rog with a gun in his hand, which was enough to liquify my bowels, I was shocked he’d even consider using the gun. He was a self-declared peacenik and liked to call me a barbarian for believing in the equalizing quality of a good gun or blade. “I…ah…”
Justice nodded toward the door, saving me from having to respond. “I’ll go first, you stay close to my heels,” he told Rog. “Rae will take up the rear. Under no circumstances will you abandon that position.”
Rog nodded without the attitude he’d given me.
We exited the store and walked out into a warm, dark night. I looked up at the security lights and gasped. Even in the darkness, I could see the bent and twisted lamps atop the poles. “Justice,” I said softly.
His gaze followed mine and he stilled. No normal bear had done that. He didn’t respond, but he glanced at Rog. “Stay close,” he whispered.
Rog seemed to pick up on our worry. He was strangely quiet, a state I didn’t think I’d ever seen him in, and did as he was told without argument.
The only voice I heard was Justice’s as he swore at Rog to stop stepping on his heels.
The night air felt heavy and moist as if rain were trapped there, unable to fall. The sky was a mix of lead and charcoal, so dark I could barely see Justice fifteen feet away.
In front of me, Rog suddenly dodged sideways and my hand tightened on my gun, still jammed in the small of my back. Without warning, a tall form appeared in front of me and I sucked in a surprised gasp, the gun found my hand before I identified my foe. Then I laughed, realizing I’d just drawn on a sapling.
“What did that tree ever do to you?” a snide voice said from beside me.
Only decades of experience on the streets as a cop kept me from plugging Rog between his bulgy eyes.
My pulse pounding in my ears and my skin tingling with awareness, I eased a breath out between my lips and forced myself to relax. “You’re going to get shot. You’re supposed to stay close to Justice. Where is he?”
The whites of Rog’s eyes were visible through the dark. They looked enormous. “I lost him. I figured he was with you.”
“Have you seen Vel?” I asked my assistant as she buzzed past, wings whirring softly in the quiet space.
“No.” Sebille stopped in front of me and popped into full size, her expression perplexed. “I was just looking for Baca. One of the ceiling tiles is loose in the bookstore. I was going to have her fix it.”
I frowned, looking around the enormous, warehouse-like space of the artifact library. “I just realized I haven’t seen Mr. Wicked or Hobs either since dinner.”
Our gazes met and locked, alarm widening her iridescent green eyes and my blue ones in matching indications of concern. “What are they up to?” I asked, knowing it was a rhetorical question since nobody but the aforementioned little monsters knew the answer.
If my cat, Mr. Wicked, was missing, along with the brownie, Baca, and her constant companion, Hobs, that was concerning enough. If the newest member of our strange gang was missing too, things were almost guaranteed to get squiggy. Vel, our little demon dog, was a sweet but undisciplined disaster waiting to happen. We’d gotten her from the demonic plane, and I suspected she was just a puppy with massive powers she seemed to have little control over.
The front bell rang and a clear, worried voice called out. “Naida? Sebille? I need to talk to you.”
I looked at Sebille and she rolled her eyes. “What does she want now?”
Sebille didn’t usually react that way to our friend Lea, the earth witch who lived above the magical herbs shop next door. The sprite generally saved that level of derision for me. But Lea had been in something of a dither for the last couple of weeks. She’d read some signs in tea leaves or something. We assumed she was reading them wrong. But she was sure of her results. And they were bad. Really bad. Basically, she was predicting the end of the world.
Two brisk knocks on the dividing door between the store and the artifact library had me sighing. As much as I loved my friend, like Sebille, I was getting just a wee bit tired of the drama about the full moon. I mean, we had a full moon a dozen times a year, right? What made the current full moon so different?
I threw a wisp of my Keeper magic toward the door and it opened, revealing a harried, wild-eyed earth witch wearing pink and lace footie pajamas.
“Ah!” Sebille said, holding up her arms as if to ward off a boogie. “What are you wearing?”
Looking perplexed, Lea glanced down at her curvy form. “My PJs. Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“Other than the obvious?” Sebille asked.
“Says the woman who wears red and white striped footie PJs to bed all the time?” I said, in Lea’s defense. Not to mention the green and purple polka dot dress Sebille was currently wearing with black and red striped stockings and fire-engine-red shoes that matched her long, red hair. My assistant was the last person who should be picking on somebody else’s clothing choices.
“I wear them in the winter,” Sebille responded. “It’s only October. Way too early for the Full Monty, pajama-wise.”
Lea hurried over, the plastic bottoms of her footie feet scraping softly on the concrete. “My heat’s broken, and the shop is freezing.” She fluttered her hands dismissively. “That’s not important. I just read the tea leaves again.”
I didn’t look at Sebille. I didn’t want to see the face I knew she was making. “Oh?”
To be honest, I was with Sebille about the tea leaf overdose. Lea had just learned to read tea leaves, and she was seeing danger around every corner since starting. The whole thing had a “Chicken Little” feel to it. “I take it you saw something alarming?”
Sebille elbowed me in the side hard enough to make me grunt. She didn’t want me to encourage the witch. If she could communicate telepathically, she’d no doubt be telling me, “Shut it. The witch finds enough trouble without us encouraging her.”
I didn’t disagree.
Lea ran a hand through her long, light brown hair, her movements jerky and agitated. “Nothing new,” she responded. “Just the same death and destruction.”
“Can you give us anything to work with?” I asked. “Any detail at all?”
Lea shook her head, looking like she wanted to cry. “I’m getting the full moon, with a blood-red haze over it. And howling. Lots of howling. Then I get this feeling of death.” She shuddered, clearly affected by what she was seeing.
Even if it was all in her imagination.
“Look, Lea…” I began.
The bell on the front door clanged again. Hippopotamus halitosis! “Did somebody replace the front door with a revolving one?”
Lea frowned. “It wasn’t locked when I came inside. In fact, the knob is kind of kluge.”
“Kluge how,” I asked, heading for the front of the building. I tugged the dividing door open and found a man with broad shoulders and mahogany-brown hair standing by the front door. He was staring down at something in his big hand.
“Kluge like that,” Lea said. She nodded toward the doorknob in my boyfriend Grym’s palm.
He looked up, an apology in his dark caramel gaze. “I’m really sorry, Naida. It just came off in my hand.” It might have been the result of his gargoyle DNA. Or the door might have been compromised already, as Lea suggested.
Panic swirled through me. Had Croakies been broken into?
I looked at Sebille. “I need to do a quick read of the whole place.”
She nodded. “I’ll make tea.”
Tea would fix everything. Well, not everything. “We might need cookies too.”
The sprite nodded.
Grym turned back to the door and tried to stick the handle back into it. “Where’s Baca? She can fix this in no time.”
The brownie was becoming indispensable.
I closed my eyes and lifted my hands, palms up. Tugging power from my core, I released it in dual waves of silvery energy that spread throughout the bookstore and then moved into the much larger artifact library at the back. As it moved through the building, I mentally inventoried every magical book and artifact, finding nothing out of place or missing.
Opening my eyes, I shook my head. “I don’t know where Baca is,” I said, belatedly answering Grym’s question. “I can’t find any of them.” Noting Grym’s dour expression, I realized he hadn’t just come to Croakies to say hey. “What’s wrong?”
Grym was a detective with the Enchanted Police. I gathered from his manner that he had business of a police nature to share with us. I also guessed it wasn’t good news.
He motioned toward the table by the bookshelves. “You might want to sit down.” He took the tea Sebille offered him and nodded at Lea. “All of you.”
Panic swirled in my chest, making my heart flutter with concern. “What’s wrong?” I repeated, my tone going slightly shrill. “The kids are okay, right? You’re not here to tell us something’s happened to them?” Suddenly the idea that I hadn’t seen them since dinner took on a sinister feel.
My question was based on recent experience. There had been a whole Pied Piper thing that still gave me nightmares. The sight of all of my friends and loved ones being marched away to almost certain death had left me scarred.
Grym gave me an apologetic look. “No. This isn’t about them. But…” He stared into his teacup and sighed. “You might want to keep them close for a bit.”
“Why?” Lea asked. She glanced toward the door, and I didn’t need to read her mind to know she was thinking about her little cat, Hex, alone in her apartment next door.
Grym set the tea down on the table and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “You remember Rhonda across the street?”
I nodded. “The banshee.” I’d only met Rhonda a couple of times, but both times had been memorable. She’d joined us for a pretty chaotic Christmas party where someone had spelled the cookies to mix up our bodies with our spirits. I would never forget the experience, having spent way too much time as a frog, craving bugs. I shuddered at the memory. The second time, we’d been battling a building-sized snake, and she’d screamed the monster to sleep for us. “I haven’t seen her for a while.” Even as I spoke the words, I knew what he was going to say.
“Well, she…” his brows lowered as he seemed to be struggling with the right words. “Somebody…” He shook his head. “She’s dead.”
“Oh!” Lea said, shuddering violently. She looked at Sebille and me. “See! I told you. Somebody’s already been killed! I was right.”
I held up a hand for her to calm down. “How did she die?” I asked Grym.
He winced. “I don’t really want to…”
Sebille, Lea, and I all gave him the stink eye.
“You can’t come in here and tell us Rhonda’s dead and then not tell us what happened,” Sebille said.
“She’s right,” I told him.
“Was she murdered?” Lea asked, looking as if she’d just eaten a bug.
“Yes,” he finally said. “She was killed. Somebody, or something, chewed on her.”
5 Stars! “I loved it! It's a well written cozy mystery that is full of twists and turns, add in a cat, dog and a pot-bellied pig and you have a wonderful book.“
LaLee is a typical cat. She’s snooty, hostile, and opinionated. She’s also been kittynapped. Heaven help the idiots who thought that was a good idea. The good news is that they’ll probably be so sick of her antics by the time we find them that they’ll be happy to give her back!
My name is Joey Fulle and my superpower is solving mysteries with my handsome PI boyfriend. We also get a little help from my sweet Pitbull Caphy and her sisters in crime, LaLee the Siamese cat and Ethel Squeaks the miniature potbelly pig. Fortunately, we’ve been in a mystery dry spell for a few weeks and I’ll admit, I’ve been a little bored. A condition I immediately regretted when LaLee was kittynapped. Now my posse and I need to discover why they took the crotchety cat, figure out how to save her, and then solve a murder.
Just another day in Bumpkinville!
5 Stars! This book was non stop action from the very beginning to the last page. I could not put the book down. Between Joey and Hal, her good looking private eye boyfriend, they must figure out where the missing necklace is while solving a murder case all before her precious cat pays the ultimate price. This book is a MUST READ!!!!
Here's a fun taste of the book…
Grabbing my keys, I threw open the door and ran for the cabin. Cold, muddy water splashed up my legs, and rain pounded down on me. I was happy to see that the water hadn’t reached the cabin yet. Hopefully, it wouldn’t.
Using the key Hal had given me, I opened the front door and was immediately attacked by a small black and white creature wearing a pink sweater. Ethel squealed angrily at me, clearly thinking it was my fault she’d been left alone in the rain.
I dropped to my knees and let her jam her twitching snout into my middle. “I’m so sorry, sweet girl. We’re getting out of here. You’ll be okay, I promise. Caphy needs you,” I told her as I scratched her enormous, twitching ears.
Feeling my window of opportunity sliding away, I shoved to my feet and moved into Hal’s room. Quickly packing some dry clothes and shoes, I carried the duffle bag into the living room and shoved Ethel’s favorite blanket and toys inside with his things.
Ethel trotted on my heels, so close she kept bumping into me. She was really spooked.
Five minutes after I’d come inside, I had the duffle bag straps looped around my shoulders and was scooping Ethel into my arms. “Okay, sweet girl. I need you to cooperate now. If you squiggle out of my arms, you might get caught up in some of that water out there.” I hugged her tight at the thought. “We can’t let that happen.”
She squeaked a little, her tiny black eyes darting nervously around.
Taking a deep breath, I yanked the door open and plunged back out into the rain.
I barely managed to close the door as a gust of icy wind slammed into us.
Ethel struggled against my hold as we stepped out from under the porch’s roof and the driving rain started pelting us. There was a roar in the distance that concerned me a lot. I’d been telling myself it was the wind combined with the force of the falling rain, but I knew that sound. I’d heard it often enough. That was the Fawn River, angry and bloated. And I was really afraid it was going to blow past its banks and flood Hal’s pretty little cabin.
But I didn’t have time to worry about that at the moment. An impossibly hard gust of wind made me almost drop Ethel. I tightened my grip on her, but that only made her fight me harder.
That thing about greased pigs? You don’t really need grease. Water works too. If it weren’t for her cute little pink sweater, courtesy of Lis, I’d have dropped the little pig, and I might never have been able to catch her again.
Thunder boomed overhead. Ethel squealed in my ear, wildly thrashing. She slipped down until her tiny hooves were nearly touching the water that had found its way up the driveway to my car.
It took everything I had to keep hold of her. I had one hand gripping her sweater, but it was starting to slide up over her head.
In about ten seconds, I was going to lose her. A different roaring sound had me snapping my head up, looking for the source. Lights flashed over us as a big, black SUV shot toward us in the unnatural darkness of the storm-ravaged late afternoon.
Hal skidded the big car to a stop mere inches from the Jeep’s bumper and jumped out of the car, bounding toward us. “I’m so sorry, honey!” he yelled over the pounding rain. “I didn’t know it was this bad.” He wrapped his strong arms around Ethel and pulled her tight against him. “As soon as I heard, I rushed over.” He carried the little pig to the car and placed her carefully into the back seat. I climbed into the passenger seat and yanked the door closed. Blessed heat blasted over me. I sighed under its delicious power.
Hal jumped behind the wheel and slammed the door on the storm. He looked at me, rain dripping down his gorgeous face and off his chiseled jaw. He was barely breathing hard, but I was panting. Probably more from fear than anything else.
He reached over and cupped my face with a big, warm hand. “Are you okay?”
I shivered violently. “Other than being pretty sure I’ll never get dry or warm again, I’m fine.”
Some of the tension left his face. He shoved midnight hair off his face and nodded. “Good. You should have called me.”
I just shook my head. “I didn’t think there was time.” My gaze slid to my car and then Hal’s house. “The river’s coming.” Tears burned my eyes.
He gave my hand a squeeze. “It’s just stuff. You and Ethel are safe. Everything else can be replaced.”
I nodded but didn’t want to speak through the tears. I stared at the Jeep as Hal maneuvered the Escalade around, afraid it would be the last time I’d see it. My parents had given me the car when I’d graduated high school. I loved that car. Caphy loved it. I’d never have another car that meant as much to me.
I swallowed a sob and forced my gaze toward the obstacles ahead.
“Hold on tight,” Hal said, and then he hit the gas.
5 Stars! This is such a fun series! It was nice to revisit ‘bumpkinville’ for this mini mystery! The characters are always entertaining. The pets that are an integral part of this series are wonderful and add so much to the enjoyment of reading these mysteries. Escapist entertainment in a mini mystery package!
Talk about your midlife crisis. How was I supposed to know when I bought a pretty country church in a city named Rome that I was acting like a guardian deity? Lares Schmares. Anybody who deifies me needs serious therapy.
I went very still. Thirteen gongs? No. That wasn’t right.
Monty suddenly whipped around and ran back into the shadows. “Monty, come back here.” I hurried after him. The belfry was giving me the creeps and I’d decided I’d wait until morning to fix the bell. If I had to, I’d put earplugs in my ears to get through the rest of the night.
My little dog watched me approach with my light. He stood on his back legs, his front paws resting on the short belfry wall. Whining, he danced excitedly as I reached him, begging to be lifted.
“You can’t go up there,” I told him, eyeing the narrow ledge around the top of the short wall. Rising from the wall on all four sides were open archways so the bell’s music could travel across the countryside.
I looked out on the cemetery in the back, shivering at the sight of the fog roiling over the ground. It looked like a scene from a Halloween horror flick. Shivering violently, I pulled the robe closer as I stared out over the fog-shrouded tombstones.
The cemetery was old. Really old. With tombstones that were broken and falling over. The grass and weeds had grown up all around the stones, in some cases obscuring them entirely.
Maintenance on the little plot had been neglected for years. I was going to change that. The ground below me was sacred. The lives within it were important. Giving them back the resting spot they deserved was at the top of the list of things I planned to take care of as soon as I got settled.
In the distance, lightning spiked from the sky in a jagged spear of light and energy. A moment later, a soft boom told me thunder was hot on its heels. A cool breeze washed over me as Monty started to bark again.
Lightning stabbed downward again, significantly closer to my little piece of heaven. We needed to get out of there. “Come on, Monty. We’ll come back in the morning. With relief, I watched him bolt across the belfry and bound happily down the steps.
I started to follow him. But something caught my eye in the cemetery. I turned to look and felt a jolt of fear.
Someone was standing out there among the broken stones. I went very still, my eyes locked on the tall form. He…and I was pretty sure it was a man…stared back at me, though I couldn’t make out any features, just the gentle tilt of his head, but I could feel his gaze like a brand against my skin. With a sudden, inexplicable certainty, I knew he was looking directly at me.
We stared at each other for a beat as the fog swirled around his long legs, and then he slowly lifted a hand as if in a wave.
All the hair rose on my arms again.
The world exploded in light−detonated in a cacophonous boom. And the world turned charcoal gray beneath it.
“Say what?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear you right.”
Shane’s gaze landed on the two men standing before the hut. “You heard me right. The Brothers aren’t fond of travelers. Let’s just say they’ve been burned a time or two.”
“And yet this is where you brought us to spend the night?” Alina said. Despite her lowered brows, there was a suspicious twitch in her lips that made me think she was amused by our situation.
I wished I felt the same.
“I’ll agree it’s not perfect,” Shane said.
Hawk barked out a laugh. In a blink, several of the brothers had weapons in their hands.
We went very still, eyeing their weapons.
Alina’s slender fingers caressed the handles of her guns. “Blades made of stone. Interesting choice of weapon.”
“Don’t underestimate those blades,” Shane said, absently rubbing a shoulder. “They hone them until they’re impossibly sharp. And they can split a mosquito from forty yards with one of those things.”
“Let’s take a vote. Everybody who wants to move on,” I said, raising a hand.
Alina raised her hand too. When she saw Hawk hadn’t raised his, she lifted her other one. “I’m voting for two.”
I snorted out a laugh. A man stepped from the shadow of a smaller black hut. He held his blade low at his side, balanced between two fingertips. His expression didn’t show any emotion, but even from a distance of fifteen feet, I could tell he was tensed to throw the knife.
“Shane,” I murmured, pulling energy from the air. I gasped as the magic rushed to fill my core, thick and rich and vibrant with expectant power. I absorbed so much and so quickly that it shot to my hands, swirling in thick rust-colored clouds that filled the air around us with static electricity.
Every hair on my body stood at attention. Beside me, Alina sucked air and laughed with genuine humor. I turned to find her touching the ends of her hair that were floating around her head.
“What the…?” Shane rubbed the hair on his arms back into place, only to have it rise again.
I looked at Hawk. He looked back, his dark blond hair drifting around his face like an aura. He arched a single brow, making no attempt to tame his flyaway locks. That made me smile.
“I guess now we know why they all shave their heads,” Alina said.
“Um…look alive,” Shane mumbled, moving away from us and extending his hands as if preparing to fight.
That was when I realized every Brother in the camp was holding at least one blade. Several of them held a weapon in each hand.
And the air around us had become so saturated with magic it was almost impossible to draw breath.
We were going to die.
Belle’s door creaked as something shoved it open.
We didn’t dare turn to look at Nicht as he dropped lightly to the ground. A beat later, I heard him yawn, a long, theatrical affair that usually involved exposing a lot of big white teeth.
I risked a look and almost laughed. He looked like a giant black puffball. All of his fur stood at attention from the static.
Like a cold summer rain, the hellhound’s appearance doused the building hostility in the camp.
Blades slipped out of sight without any apparent movement. Backs went ramrod straight.
And before I knew what was happening, every single Brother had dropped to his knees and lowered his forehead to the ground.
We all looked at Shane. He shook his head. “I have no idea. But the dog seems to have caused a break in the hostilities, so I say we go for it.”
His comment was met with a low, extended growl, followed by another doggy yawn.
A portal protector and her baby gargoyle, a guardian daemon, a hellhound, and a witch. Together, they must survive in a strange land filled with unknown monsters. Combined they must be strong enough to defy an elite group of magical terrorists. They are Auctus, augmenting the magic flowing through her world…but will they be enough?
A Taste of Auctus…
The land that stretched out in front of me was a patchwork of different types of plants, all sown in perfect rectangular gardens with strange rock formations on every corner. In the farthest field, an enormous horse pulled a metal contraption through the gray soil. A tall man rode the back of it, standing on a small metal platform as the horse furrowed the fields.
I lay on my belly beneath the soft, overarching branches of a bush, a pair of special field glasses pressed to my eyes. With those glasses, I could see the small patch of white hairs on the horse’s back, probably regrowth after an old injury. I could also see the determined set of her taskmaster’s jaw and the hard glint in his pale eyes.
A bird trilled several yards from where I lay, and my gaze jerked in that direction. Tiny pieces of a nearby sandstone tree fluttered down around my head. I sneezed as the granular wisps of bark that gave the tree its name got sucked into my nostrils.
The man on the plow tensed and a hostile gaze slid unerringly in my direction. I hunkered down with a mumbled swear.
“Don’t swear, Glynnie,” said a soft, chastising voice. “It’th not nithe.”
Setting down the field glasses, I rolled onto my back and looked up at the baby gargoyle. “If somebody didn’t keep throwing bark dust at my face, I wouldn’t be worried about getting caught, and I wouldn’t accidentally say an admittedly unfriendly word.”
Boyle tsked me clumsily, his tongue not accustomed to the gymnastics needed for the sound. “Don’t make ’scuses for your bad behavior, Glynnie.”
I frowned, but there was nothing behind it. He was just too darn cute. Even if he was becoming a bossy boy since his Aunt Sissy had decided we were barbarians and started teaching us both manners. “We have to stay really quiet, baby boy. I told you that. If the man over there saw us spying on him…”
“He’d be really angry,” said a deep, rusty voice from a few feet away.
Boyle’s head shot up, his turquoise gaze went wide, and he covered his mouth with a long-fingered hand.
I rolled and leaped to my feet in a single move, the knife I kept in a sheath on my thigh hitting my palm before my mind even had time to register that I’d gone for it.
The man standing on the gray-green grass five feet away from me crossed tanned, muscular arms over his chest and lifted shaggy silver brows skyward. “First, you trespass on my land and now you’re going to stab me with a knife?”
I moved to stand between him and the baby, who was climbing down the tree with the ease of a monkey or a…well…a gargoyle. “When you put it that way,” I said. “It sounds unfriendly.”
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought his lips twitched slightly at that.
His gaze slid to Boyle as the baby clasped my hand in his warm grip. “Don’t be mean to Glynnie. She’s not treespassin’. She only mostly passed bushes ta come here. Not trees.”
I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling.
The man in front of me cleared his throat. He looked down at his muddy boots. “Well, if you’re sure she’s good people, I won’t yell.”
Boyle’s little face lit up in a smile. He bounced up and down, jerking me along with the energy of his jumps. “See Glynnie, he nice. We don’t have ta be quiet no more.” Boyle kept bouncing like he had an invisible jump rope, his energy off the charts from too many recent days stuck inside Victoria. Apparently, we’d landed in Outvald just before the rainy season. And, so far it had been a doozy.
The man’s eyes sparkled, his steel-gray eyes warming. “He sure is a springy little thing.”
I nodded, sliding the knife back into its sheath. “He’s been cooped up too much lately.”
The man looked out over his fields, grimacing. “It’s all I can do to plow this year. The mud’s just about to do old Bessie in.”
As if responding to his statement. The enormous horse blew through its nostrils and dipped its head. The short tail swished at a bug and her head whipped around, big teeth snapping at something that pestered her. I’d noticed the bugs in Outvald were downright scary. At least twice as big as anything I’d ever seen at home.
The man extended a work-roughened hand. He looked at it and grimaced, pulling it back. “Name’s Shane. You have to be Belle’s granddaughter, Glynn.”
Belle was a nickname Grams had used, a name from her past. “I am. How’d you guess?”
“She had long brown hair just the same color as yours, with the sun glinting copper off the strands. And you have her eyes. A brown as dark as night.” He tilted his head. “You’re taller than Belle though, what are you about five-ten?”
“Five eleven,” I told him, feeling self-conscious about my size. I wasn’t only taller than most women, but I wasn’t small-boned either. I was a big woman, not meaty, but strong. Not a woman who men felt like they had to tuck away and protect.
“Belle was a strong woman too. She always gave as good as she got.” He stared toward my land, his expression seeming to reflect good memories rather than bad.
Hearing him call Grams Belle was a little disconcerting. I knew Grams had been called different names by different people. She’d liked to compartmentalize the segments of her world. But to me, she’d always just been Grams.
Belle had been a special name. She’d told me a little bit about the time when she’d used it. And I’d seen the fond memories dance across her face as she had. It was a name from her youth. So, it made sense she would have gotten the name on Outvald. She’d spent her youth there. “I haven’t heard that name for a while,” I told him, laughing. “Except as it pertained to that stupid car.”
It was his turn to look surprised. “She still has that old Chevy? Goddess, that thing has to be as old as I am.”
“We still have it, yes.” I gave him a searching look. “You knew Grams passed, right?”
His gaze slid to the horizon toward Victoria, and sadness filled his expression. “I didn’t know for sure. But I thought she had.” He stared hard at the rolling hills and oddly shaped trees in the distance as if he could picture Victoria’s weathered peaks and chipped paint from there. “I’ll tell you a little secret, Glynn, your Grams was never far from Outvald, even when she went through the portal that last time.” He thumped his chest with his fist. “She stayed here. In the hearts of all the people she touched.” His eyes glistened and he blinked, looking away with embarrassment. Sniffing, he turned to Boyle with a forced smile. “And who is this handsome young man?”
“I’m Boyle,” the baby said proudly. He drew himself up to his full height of twenty-eight inches and a smidge, as Sissy liked to say to make him giggle.
“Boyle’s my son,” I told Shane. My gaze held his for a beat, looking for any kind of judgment that would make it impossible for us to be friends.
But he only inclined his head in a quick nod and crouched down to speak to Boyle. “I’ll bet you’ve never ridden a horse.”
Boyle’s eyes almost popped out of his head. He started bouncing again, his fingers clutching at my shirt as his eyes went wide. “Can I, Glynnie? Can I? Can I?”
I grabbed his hands to keep him from ripping my shirt and looked at Shane. “Are you sure it’ll be okay?” I nodded toward Bessie, who was contentedly ripping gray-green grass out of the ground with her powerful teeth.
“Absolutely. Old Bessie loves kids, don’t ya girl?”
The horse lifted her head and nickered softly, her ears twitching toward Boyle and then swiveling away, unconcerned.
“Then, I’m sure he’d love it. Thank you,” I told him warmly.
He held my gaze a beat and I saw the truth in his words when he said, “It’s my pleasure, Glynn. It truly is.”
What more could you possibly want in a Valentine's Story? heh
Hearts and Heresy
Never let it be said that I have a thing against heart-shaped stuff. Goddess knew I was currently surrounded by it.
Heart-shaped cutouts hung from nearly every surface above navel height throughout Croakies bookstore. Heart-shaped doilies dotted every flat surface.
Heart-shaped candies enclosed in heart-shaped tins and wrapped in heart-colored foil filled a heart-shaped wicker basket on the sales counter.
Heart-shaped cookies, sans frosting since I’d sworn off frosted cookies after our ill-fated Christmas fiasco, were displayed on a heart-shaped platter with a pink paper heart taped to it proclaiming, “Snarf to your heart’s desire!”
And, right at that moment, a heart-shaped face, peering at me with heart-felt emotion brimming in eyes that reflected a heartbreaking level of devastation from my lack of hearty despair for her heartfelt disappointment.
“But you advertised that ‘Hearts of Bomb’ would be available today,” The cupid’s bow lips said. The heartsick client shook her head, her stick-straight mop of Valentine-colored hair swinging back and forth to reflect her disgust. “You promised.”
I opened my mouth to tell Holly Heartsick that the shipment of books had been delayed, risking another accusation of bookseller heartlessness. Thankfully, the heart-rending announcement was waylaid by the arrival of my own personal Valerie Valentine.
Sebille’s naturally heart-colored hair was plaited into two waist-length braids on either side of her long, freckled face. She wore a matching red dress dotted with white hearts and pink and white striped socks that covered her knees beneath the calf-length dress. Her usual Wicked Witch of the West shoes were the perfect complement to the bad dress and ugly stockings.
By contrast, I wore a plain white shirt, worn blue jeans and white sneakers. My below-shoulder-length brown hair was straight and my dark blue eyes were wary. Valentine’s Day wasn’t my favorite holiday. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I don’t seem to like any holidays. That wasn’t true. Exactly. I just haven’t found the one I like yet.
The sprite surged energetically into the bookstore, her sticklike arms wrapped around a plain brown box marked all over with heart-shaped stickers. “They’re here!” Her iridescent green eyes flashing, she grinned at my excited customer, who was currently hopping around and clapping her hands with wholehearted, heartfelt glee.
My shoulders slumped with relief. I grabbed a frosting-free sugar cookie, pink sparkles glittering from its pale surface, and jammed it into my mouth, wishing I had tea to go with it. Sebille settled the box on the table and opened it, pulling out a glossy paperback whose cover was a study in…you guessed it…pinks and red hearts.
Sebille plucked a copy of ‘Hearts of Bomb’ from the box and offered it to my merrily cackling client.
“Yay! I can’t believe it’s here,” Holly Heartface enthused as she did a little happy dance.
I rolled my eyes for two very good reasons.
Number one, though I loved books, and made half…okay a third…all right, a tenth…of my living with the sale of them, I couldn’t imagine becoming so enamored of one that my world literally ended if I couldn’t get my hands on it.
And two, unlike my heart-eyed customers, I knew the author of the book personally and was finding it exceedingly difficult picturing my Uncle Archibald Pudsnecker, a.k.a. Ben E. Nigma, as the type to write a cozy murder mystery with a cutesy name meant to bring to mind a stalky vegetable. Especially since the book that was currently all the rage with my customers was only his second. Pudsy’s first food cozy, “Banana Scream Pie”, had taken the mystery world by storm, selling out its first modest print run and earning two additional runs by the time the new book was released. This was no small feat for a guy whose previous works had included the riveting treatise, “Spatial Voids Around the World” and “The Argument For Embracing The Abyss”.
Sebille and her new best friend shoved me out of the way and I all but ran away from the counter, leaving them to it.
In a desperate move I knew I’d regret later, I shoved another cookie into my mouth. I was going to gain ten pounds before the current Valentine's Day book massacre ended.
“Thanks so much for coming!”
I jerked around at the pleasant, happy sound of Sebille’s voice and caught her waving gaily at her heart-faced bestie as the woman headed out of Croakies with a tin of candies in one hand and her new book in the other.
The door opened again and three women, all old enough to know better, bounced inside to the sound of the jangling doorbell. The oldest and tallest of the threesome set her bright, expectant gaze on me. “Please tell me you have Hearts of Bomb in the store?”
I swung an arm toward the box. “Just came in. Help yourselves.”
My dour mood didn’t seem to have any effect on their excitement. The gaggle of giggling women descended on the box like a school of piranha and extracted whole handfuls of the books.
Finally, my shopkeeper mojo kicked in. “Only one per person,” I told them. My Valentine’s Day crankiness earned me a trio of scowls, but I yanked the box off the table and held it out for them to replace their extras.
I’d like to say that I was trying to make sure every single one of Uncle Pudsy’s adoring fans got a copy of his latest book, but really, I just didn’t want to face another rabid reader with the bad news that we were out of stock. Again.
Sebille happily made the three sales, doling out candy tins with every purchase, and then sighed with unnatural contentment as the three women left in a dither of excitement. She turned to me and her smile wilted like raw spinach in a hot frying pan. “What’s wrong with you, Dour Dana?”
I started arranging the books atop the table in a happy display of pink and red hearts, my lips curling. “Not a thing, Valentina. Why are you so blasted happy?”
Sebille shrugged, her thin lips curving in an irrepressible smile. “Nothing. I just like Valentine’s Day.”
I looked agape at my usually morose and unhelpful assistant. “Why? You realize it’s a totally made-up holiday, right? It’s a retail holiday, created just for selling stuff.”
“Apparently you haven’t noticed this is a retail establishment?”
I slammed a paperback down on the table with excessive force.
Sebille came over, a half-eaten cookie in her hand and vanilla crumbs painting the corners of her lips. “Still no word from Grym, huh?”
I grimaced and didn’t respond. My fight with the prickly detective was not a subject I wanted to discuss.
Sebille nodded. “Okay, don’t tell me. I’ll just guess.”
Realizing that letting the sprite’s imagination run wild over the bumps in the road of my love life was a recipe for disaster, I sighed. “He’s about as malleable as a…” The thought slid away from my brain and turned to mist. I’d been having trouble holding a cogent thought all day. I blamed the copious amounts of sugar I’d eaten. I’d gorged on two heart-shaped jelly donuts for breakfast, a heart-shaped red velvet cupcake for lunch, two tins of heart-shaped candy, and three of the sugar cookies.
I was mood eating. And, I was in dire need of some of the stalky inspiration from Pudsy’s cozy. Or anything even remotely resembling a vegetable.
“As malleable as a boulder?” Sebille finished for me, snickering. “Granite?” Her snickers turned to guffaws. “A mountain?” She bent double, happy tears pouring from her iridescent green gaze.
I was not amused. “Gargoyle humor. Har,” I said, glaring.
The dividing door opened between the bookstore and the artifact library at the back of the store. A blur of pale pink and white shot into the store and skidded to a stop right in front of me. For a blip, the air around the creature looking up at me with oversized blue eyes was striped with cartoon-like contrails from his superfast arrival. Then the glowy lines on the air sifted away into nothingness.
I narrowed my gaze on Hobs, my resident hobgoblin. “Are you wearing a diaper?”
He laughed, happily bouncing on his oversized toes. “Miss Sebille made it for me. Do you like it?”
My still-narrowed gaze slid to the matching, heart-shaped spots of pale red highlighting his cheeks and then to the tiny bow in his hand. “Please tell me you’re not supposed to be playing Cupid?”
Hobs cocked his head, looking confused. “I’m not supposed to be playing Cupid?” His high-pitched voice was filled with a question.
I sighed and threw a glower Sebille’s way.
“What?” she objected. “Customers will love him.”
My eyes went wide. “We can’t…”
The dividing door slammed back on its hinges and Mr. Wicked skulked through, his dark orange gaze wide as he hit my calf with a manic, “Yeow!”
“Hey, buddy,” I said, bending to scoop him into my arms. I buried my face in his fur and sucked a snout full of something small and irritating.
Sneezing violently several times, I nearly dropped my cat. I sniffled, glancing at my hands. They sparkled. “What is in your fur?” I asked him.
Wicked swished his tail. Hard. A tiny growl slid from his throat.
He was all sparkly. Pink sparkly! “Sebille!”
She rolled her eyes. “Uncoil your granny panties,” she said. “He’s fine.”
I sneezed again, placing him on the floor. “You’re killing me with this Valentine’s stuff. What other surprises do you have for me?”
She flipped a dismissive hand. “I’ll make tea. Maybe that will calm you down.”
I looked down at the fat, green squish on the floor by my feet.
He blinked up at me, his eyes blank pools of black, like miniature Pudsy voids.
Horror slid up my spine. “What…?”
Get it off me! screamed the irate frog in my mind. Now!
Enormous pink lips protruded from the frog’s sparkly green face. “Oh, Slimy,” I said in a commiserating tone. “I can’t believe she did this to you.” I crouched down and tugged at the lips, expecting them to be made of paper or wax. Instead, realistic-feeling flesh, plumped and puckered, resisted my tugging. I jerked my hand away, straightening on a squeal. “They’re real!” I rounded on the Sprite, who quickly turned away from me when I tried to catch her eye. “I can’t believe you gave him puckery lips! Have you lost your mind?”
She hid a grin behind her hand. “Don’t you get the joke? Kiss the frog, get a prince? Come on,” she said as steam wafted from my ears. “Customers are going to love it.”
“Ribbit!” Slimy proclaimed indignantly.
I pointed a shaky finger toward the quivering frog. “Fix. Him.”
Sebille gave me a long-suffering sigh and threw a pale green jet of magic toward the frog. The big, puckery lips disappeared with a pop.
Slimy gave the sprite one last indignant, “Ribbit!” and then hopped underneath the nearest bookshelf to work on regaining his self-respect.
“You’ve lost your mind, sprite,” I told her, madder than I’d ever been. Well…in the last week anyway. “What’s going on with you?”
Amazingly, she gave me a secret smile and headed for the door. “I’m taking my break.”
I felt my eyes go wide. “What? You can’t take a break. You just got here.”
She shrugged and slipped through the door, leaving me with one delighted Cupid who I couldn’t let anybody see, a traumatized frog, and a seriously annoyed cat.
I sagged. Could the day get any worse?
Proving that it could, the front door bell jangled and I steeled myself for more shrieking Ben E. Nigma fans. Instead, I found myself looking into a handsome, craggy face and an intense dark caramel gaze. “Oh,” I said, my wit firmly intact.
“Hello, Naida,” said Detective Wise Grym, a.k.a. my maybe-boyfriend.
Well…It's been quite a year, hasn't it? No one can deny that 2020 was a tough one. In many ways, for many people, it was a life-changing year. In our home, we've lost several beloved pets this year, and many tears have been shed. But the human faction has held strong. We're all healthy, and where sickness threatened, we came through with flying colors. The old adage is true. What doesn't kill you will actually make you stronger. And, though sometimes it's hard to see the good that comes from the pain, I have always believed that things happen for a reason.
This is a magical time of year for me. It's a time of family and love and celebration for our many blessings. It is made no less magical for the challenges we suffered as a family. In fact, I believe the magic was in the ability to move beyond it all and embrace our traditions to affirm the healing power of love. Thank you all for hanging with me this year. Thanks for reading my books. I'm glad you're in my posse. I can't promise I won't occasionally be like crazy Aunt Ethel with a dog in her purse and false eyelashes floating in her soup, but I'm secure in the knowledge that YOU GET ME. (You poor sap!)
Anyway… That's a long way to go to tell you that I count you among my many blessings. As we finish out a truly challenging year together, I wanted to say, “May your day be rich in love and joy. And may the coming year embrace you in a happy cocoon.”
Talk to you soon! xx Sam
Would you like to keep up with my writing and releases? Join my Newsletter!! It's quick and easy and you get a fun novella just for joining! https://samcheever.com/newsletter/
A frog, a cat, and a hobgoblin walk into a bar…in the Jurassic period. Nope…not kidding. Okay, maybe it wasn’t really a bar. But it was definitely the local drinking establishment. For dinosaurs…
What could be more fun than riding a time-traveling tortoise into the past? That's easy, riding said tortoise into the Jurassic era to dance (or run for your life) among the dinosaurs. Well…fun might not be the best word…terrifying maybe?
Anyway, imagine the age of the dinosaur with a vegetarian T-Rex, an accident-prone heroine with no deodorant, a magical cat, a talking frog, and an irreverent, irrepressible hobgoblin with a flare for finding trouble, and you have…well…you have Turtle Croakies. Book 10 in my fun and fast-paced paranormal cozy mystery series. Enjoy the ride!
Also…you have a little pterodactyl poop…right…there…
It's all fun and games until somebody gets eaten.
From Turtle Croakies…
Sebille and I shared a long, shocked look.
Holy turtle toes! The car-sized dinosaur was a lumbering, lettuce-eating time machine!
Sebille bent closer to Tildy, peering carefully into the tortoise’s calm, dark eyes. “So how do you work her? Is there a remote control or something?”
Alice harumphed. “Don’t be daft. She’s not a blooming telly. She’s a living creature, i’nt she?”
I watched the two cats on the windowsill. They were both sitting upright, staring with fascination as a street sweeper crawled slowly past beyond the glass. Fenwald’s long tail was scruffier than Mr. Wicked’s, the fur patchy and rough. But it swung in time and rhythm that matched my beautiful boy’s sleek gray one. They were two peas in a pod. It made me smile.
“Aren’t they adorable, then?” Alice said.
I skimmed her a grin. “They haven’t forgotten each other.”
“Course not. It’s only been a few months since I left after all.”
Or three years. But who was I to quibble over thirty-three months? “Seems like just yesterday,” I said, my lips twitching.
“Saucy thing,” Alice said, bumping my shoulder with hers. But I heard the smile in her voice.
I turned my gaze to the elephant-sized problem in the room. “So…what do you need from me?”
Alice opened her mouth to respond but never got the chance.
The front door opened with a jangle of the bell. I frowned. I could have sworn I’d locked it behind Rustin and Lea. My pulse spiked. I couldn’t have customers walking in to find a giant magical tortoise sitting in the middle of the store.
My panic quickly turned to shock when I saw who it was. “Oh!” I said, because…witty. “What are you doing here, Mr. Pudsnecker?” My mind slid to the envelope I’d hidden beneath a pile of books on Shakespeare’s desk, and guilt ate a path through me. What if he was there to demand my reaction? I’d have to admit I’d been too afraid to read past the first few sentences.
I was a coward.
But Archibald Pudsnecker didn’t seem to have come for me. He was busy glaring at Alice.
I barely had time to feel relief.
“Oy, Pudsy. How’s things?” Alice asked with a smile.
Pudsy? I frowned, a fragment of a memory slicing its way from my subconscious and splatting on the floor as it unfolded fully in my mind.
I’m Glynn Forester and I’m Magis. More. I enhance and strengthen magical energy. My power augments rather than creates.But sometimes More is not enough.
My world is fractured between magic and non-magic. The magical elite rule. And they are ruthless and corrupt. They want what I protect. But protecting it has been my family’s job for time before time. So I hide. I hide from those who would attempt to use my abilities for unscrupulous purposes. I hide to save innocents from their venom.
But something’s changing. The world around me is pulsing with malevolent magic, I realize I no longer have the luxury of anonymity. It’s hard to give up my old ways. But I may not have a choice. Others will need my help. And if I deny them I’ll be no better than those who threaten my world.
Will my magic make a difference in this new reality? I can offer Magis. More. But will it be enough? And will there be anything left of me when it’s done?
“Buy this book! Open up the pages and step inside the world of magic and monsters, even monsters who look like you and me. This is one adventure you don't want to miss!!!!”
A light fog had settled into the zone. A cool mist that fell over my clothes and turned my chin-length brown bob stringy and limp. The miasma encapsulated the gently awful smell that always pervaded the street, invigorating it, turning it into something almost alive.
I grimaced as I shifted against the still-warm scratchiness of the roof. My boot stuck for a beat, clinging to the tar where a piece of the shingle had broken away.
Behind me, the soft glow of a lamp bathed the sharp slope of roof. Like a siren’s melodious notes sifting through the fog of a storm-tossed sea, the light called to me.
I sighed, shifting again.
My stomach growled. I winced at the sound, despite the fact that it fell into the fog and was lost. Nobody heard it but me. It was a stark reminder that it had been a long night, and I was ready for it to be over.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Not until I found him.
Not until I confronted him.
A soft scuff had me straightening from my crouch, the sharp, wavy blade of my knife held at my side in a firm grip. The grip of the weapon was warm, as if I’d been holding it for a while. But it had been safe in its sheath against my thigh.
The shadows behind the mist swirled and gained density. I tensed, staring into the moving fog. “Who is it?”
My voice was soft enough to barely nudge the mist aside. But the creature that moved in an uneven shuffle in my direction heard me. He heard me just fine.
Perfectly round eyes glowed briefly in the light from my window. A small face, gray and leathery, grimaced as he took in my stance ─ the charcoal heft of my knife. “Sorry, Glynnie,” the little gargoyle said. “I didn’t try to sneak.” Boyle ducked his head, his pointed ears shifting with guilt. A soft scraping sound preceded the sliding of his long tail across the roof, and his claws scritched softly as he sat.
“It’s okay,” I told the baby. I gave him a smile because he had a tender psyche and was generally unsure of himself. That was what happened when you were dumped with a stranger as an infant. “I should have been paying attention.”
He shifted again, the scritch, scritch, scritch of his strong black claws a soft song in the night. “Is da man there?” he asked in a whisper so loud it couldn’t help carrying across the street.
I hid a grin. “No.” I turned back to the street below, watching the moonlit surface of the rough asphalt for signs of the creature who’d invaded my life and yanked what peace I’d managed to scrounge brutally away. “Not tonight.”
My stomach growled again. A soft huff of amusement spilled between Boyle and me. I grinned, spreading my palm over my belly. “I’m hungry,” I told him. “How about you?”
His round eyes, so dark in the night but a bright turquoise blue in the sun, sparkled with excitement. “Yeth!”
I grinned at the soft lisp. He’d almost grown out of the tendency with the arrival of his adult teeth. But every once in a while, one would slip through again. I loved the sound. It reminded me of the first years of his life. “Come on, then,” I told him, moving toward the window. “I made stew.”
The baby ’goyle gave a gentle huff of pleasure. He jumped through the window when I opened it, landing with a soft thump and then waddling across the room and flinging himself onto my bed.
Boyle loved my bed. He rolled happily, pulling the covers over his small body with another huff of pleasure.
I climbed inside and turned, my gaze sliding across the street below for just one more minute. My heart pounded hard with expectation or worry. I was never sure which anymore.
He was out there. I knew he was. I just had to keep watch. Eventually, I’d catch him in the act of invading both my mental and defensive space.
It was only a matter of time. And then I’d ask him why he was there. Because his presence felt wrong. It felt dangerous. Like an omen of bad things to come.