Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What's it like to wake as a canid?

Embedded in my latest novel, Rivers of Red, is the conclusion to the backstory of Clifford and Claire. The chapter where she first turns him into a werewolf was one of the most fun to write and, as a dog lover, the following scene, where Cliff first wakes to his new self, was an absolute blast. For all lovers of the canids, this post is for you...

Thump.

We’re awake.

Thump-thump.

Panic. Where are we? What’s that noise?

Thump-thump, thump-thump.

A gasping breath. Blankets. A floor, carpeted. It’s our heart beating.

Thump-thump, Thump-Thump, THUMP-THUMP. Why is it so loud?

Not loud. Strong. Feel it? We are strong.

Wait a minute. “We?”

Yes, “we.” It is “our” heart, now, strong enough for two. Breathe, stretch our limbs, and see.

Clifford responded to the inner voice. Inhaling deeply, he extended his arms and legs experimentally. The stretch felt good, like his muscles had awakened from a deep sleep. But, when his legs and arms reached their fully extended length, the stretch…kept going.

Four muffled pops, like the first kernels in a bag of microwave popcorn, came from the direction of his knees and elbows. He felt all four joints separate. He groaned, more from alarm than pain. Another series of pops ran up his spine, rising in volume as they reached the vertebrae in his neck, where it sounded like someone was firing a gun next to his ear. He winced, emitting what sounded astonishingly like a yelp.

I’m transforming!

We are transforming. I am coming out.

It hurts!

Only if you resist. Let go. Let me come.

Striving to relax, Clifford gulped air and tried a long exhalation of breath. It came out as a scream, morphing into a howl, a strange, eerie melody backed by the wet, crackling percussion of sinew and bone lengthening and changing shape. His torso began to thrash uncontrollably, like a fish suddenly pulled from the water to wriggle and gasp on dry land.

And then, it was over. He lay on his side, panting. Yes…panting.

“Get up,” said a voice in his head. It sounded like Claire.

Clifford cut his eyes upwards. The face of Claire’s wolf filled his vision. She licked his snout. “Get up,” she repeated. “See how it feels.” Excitement resonated in her stance.

Clifford considered how he might manage getting to his feet. The wolf took over, and before he realized it, he was standing on four legs, looking down at her.

“So,” said her voice in his head, “how’s it feel?”

It felt right and wrong at the same time. He tried to communicate that to her, emitting a strange sound, something between a yawn and a yowl.

“Don’t try to speak. Just think the words…in my direction.”

“IT FEELS OKAY, BUT A LITTLE…” They both winced at the volume.

“Think the words more softly,” she said.

“SORRY, I…DAMN.” They both winced again. He took a breath and tried once more. “Sorry. It feels different, but okay.”

“That’s better. You got the volume under control pretty quickly, for the first time. It’ll get even easier with practice.”

“THERE’S TWO OF…sorry…two of us…inside me.”

“There always was. Now you are aware of each other. For the most part, your human self is in control, but in this form you have to let your wolf do the things you can’t, like move your body around.”

“I want to…I mean, we… want to…go outside.”

She chuckled. “I’m not surprised. Let’s go for a run. It’s dark now. It should be relatively safe.”

He turned for the door.

“Not that way,” she said. “We’ll take the balcony.”

Claire padded over to the wall switch and nosed the lights off. Expecting the room to be plunged into darkness, Clifford was amazed to find he could see quite well. “WOW,” he gasped. “I mean, this is amazing. I can see!”

“Oh, this is nothing. You just wait.”  She trotted towards the back of the living room, grasped a cord dangling beside the curtains in her mouth, and pulled. The curtains opened to reveal a sliding glass door to a balcony facing the rear of the building and overlooking the adjacent greenway. Cautiously, she pulled the door open.

Senses Clifford didn’t know he had, were assaulted as the night air wafted into the apartment. A thousand sounds and…smells! He raised his snout and inhaled. Oh, my God! He’d had no idea. He sneezed. A strange sensation tickled at his spine as Claire gave a mental giggle.

“Told you,” she gloated, stepping outside. “Follow me.”

She leapt over the rail. Clifford squeezed his bulk through the doorway - his body was much larger than he realized – and looked over the railing to see Claire’s wolf peering up at him from two stories below.

He hesitated. He didn’t want to look like a wimp, but it seemed like quite a jump. But before he could voice his reservations, his wolf leapt from the balcony. For a moment, he hovered in the air, until gravity took over and the ground rushed to meet him. He landed with a soft grunt, none the worse for wear.

Oh, God, this was cool as shit. A sensation his body could not contain rose in his chest. He raised his snout in the air to release it.

“DON’T!”

Claire’s shout gave him pause. He cocked his head at her.

She laughed. “You were about to howl. That would freak out everyone in the apartment complex. Curb your enthusiasm and come with me.” She turned and loped off towards the trees.

Something akin to an itch shivered up his spine. When it reached his skull, he twitched slightly. His head shook, and suddenly his whole body followed, jowls, ears, and loose skin flailing at the air for a few seconds, until the spasm passed back along his spine and disappeared out the tip of his tail.

What a sensation! Suppressing yet another urge to howl, he bounded after Claire. In just a few strides he reached the edge of the woods, where she sat on her haunches waiting for him. He skidded to a halt beside her, nearly crashing into a tree. Regaining his balance, he turned to face her, and sat on his haunches. A rhythmic rustling sound caught his attention.

“What’s that noise?” he asked.

She laughed again. “That’s your tail. It’s wagging.”

He looked over his shoulder and confirmed her observation. Bare earth was exposed where the appendage had swept away the dead leaves and other humus. “It won’t stop,” he complained.

“Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “Let’s sneak down the hill, here, and make sure no humans are along the greenway. If it’s clear, we’ll stretch our legs a bit.”

She moved silently through the underbrush. He followed her, making much more noise.

“I don’t feel like I’m ‘sneaking’ very well,” he whispered.

“You’re doing better than you think,” she replied. “It will suffice for our purposes tonight. We’ll have to work on your skills before we go hunting, but I will teach you.” They’d reached the bottom of the hill, yards away from the jogging trail. “Wait here, while I check it out.”

He plopped down on his belly, resting his snout on his forepaws, as she disappeared silently into the foliage ahead. The rich aroma of the forest floor filled his sinuses, and he sneezed again. His head jerked up and his ears pricked at the sound of some small animal rustling in the leaves a short distance away. He inhaled its musky odor and was able to locate the little field mouse trembling in frozen fear under his gaze.

His mouth watered. Could he catch it? He leapt to his feet, and the mouse scampered for its life. He bounded after it, closing the distance in a single stride. He had it! But his jaws snapped on empty air just before his snout slammed into the earth at the base of a large tree, where the creature had disappeared into its burrow.

Frustrated and whining, he began digging furiously at the hole with his forepaws in an effort to widen the opening. The mouse was only inches away. He could smell it.

“Hey, what’s going on back here?”

Claire’s mental voice startled him. He jumped back from his task, feeling sheepish. “Uh…”

Her laughter tickled his spine. “Having an issue with a rodent?”

He sneezed, and she laughed again.

“I got a little carried away,” he admitted.

“You think?”

“But…I almost had it! I was, like, way over there, and it was just a few feet away from this hole, yet I almost caught it!”

“I’m sure,” she chuckled.

“You don’t believe me.”

“Of course I believe you. Don’t pout. Your wolf instinctively knew you had a chance of getting it. Physically, anyway. Problem is, neither of you yet have the necessary skills…or judgment. And you expended more energy digging that hole than you would have gained from eating the tiny morsel had you caught it.”

She trotted over to him. “Bend down here a second.”

He crouched. She reached up and began licking at his muzzle. He jerked his head back. “What are you doing?”

“You’ve got dirt all over your snout. Hold still.”

He complied with her wishes as best he could, but his body could barely contain itself. His ears pricked constantly at the plethora of sounds around him, and his nostrils flared at scent after scent wafting on the breeze. After seconds that seemed like hours, she stopped.

“Okay, I guess that will have to do. You look like you’re about to explode. We need to find you some open space. Follow me.”

He loped after her. They left the trees to follow a jogging trail for a hundred yards or so before she turned into the woods again. Since Clifford had spent a lot of time in the greenway, he was vaguely aware of where they were; but, he was observing with such unfamiliar senses that he couldn’t be sure of their exact location, until they emerged from the forest at the edge of a large field he recognized.

Often on weekends, this field was divided into two roughly-regulation-size soccer fields for use by the local Latino leagues. Even though he didn’t understand the rules, Clifford had enjoyed watching the games before, marveling at the skills of the men who played with such passion, despite their aging, beer-gutted bodies.

The field was deserted now. He and Claire were alone. The moon had yet to rise, and they’d not likely be seen by human eyes. He could contain himself no longer. He didn’t even check with Claire to see if it was okay. He felt her mental laughter recede into the distance behind him as he took off.

He ran.

I hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed writing it. Check out the My Books tab for info on all my works. Happy reading!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Release Day! Rivers of Red

Release Day!

Rivers of Red

After five long years, the finale to the Red Wolf Saga!
---
Most guys are willing to make a few lifestyle changes when the right girl comes along, but Clifford Crane may have crossed the line when he let Claire Deerfoot turn him into a werewolf. But they were happy, until she died suddenly, leaving him alone and carrying some very big secrets to her grave.
When Clifford stumbles upon the local werewolf pack in a nearby national forest, he’s surprised to learn the unusual hue of his fur links him to an ancient prophecy. The prophecy promises a red wolf will one day appear to lead the Lycan to victory over the growing vampire scourge, thus saving mankind and fulfilling the wolves’ destiny.
Full of hope, his new comrades welcome him into their pack, and the pack bond awakens in Clifford unknown powers, confirming to many that he is, indeed, the one foretold. News of the Red Wolf of Prophecy spreads far and wide. Clifford even starts to belief some of the hype, himself.
Barely used to the prospect of a thousand-year lifespan and the supernatural immune system which keeps his human form youthful and nearly impervious to injury or disease, he’s suddenly the object of adoration from a swelling army of followers who are willing and eager to die for him. Prominent among them is the pack alpha’s gorgeous sister, Heather, who makes it clear from the start she’s available. Heady stuff.
But there are plenty of folks willing to kick his pedestal out from under him. Danielle, a jealous ex-girlfriend-turned-vampire, has sworn to kill both Clifford and Heather. The Chinese red wolf, Wei Shen, with his own claim to the prophecy, travels from his homeland to assassinate the upstart Crane. Worst of all, there’s the cunning vampire, Roland Trudeau, to whom all the players in this drama are but pawns in his Machiavellian scheme to rule the vampire world.
Clifford wrestles with his inner demons as well. And, when things come to a head as Wei Shen first kills him, then brings him back to life, one of those demons returns with him from the Other Side. Claire Deerfoot, once the love of his life, claims she’s here to help, but she’s not the same.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Excerpt from Rivers of Red: Luke Saunders

   Howdy, Readers. It's been a while. The finale of the Red Wolf Saga, Rivers of Red, is currently out to beta readers, and I have re-activated my blog in order to provide information leading up to its publication. I'm going to start by offering an excerpt from Part One.
   Remember Luke Saunders, the private investigator hired by the vampire Roland Trudeau to spy on Clifford Crane and his Uwharrie pack of werewolves? In the last novel, Red Wolf Rising, Luke had finally had enough of Trudeau's  evil machinations, betraying him by going to Clifford to reveal his employer's plans to lay a trap for the wolves.
   Knowing Trudeau would not take the betrayal lightly, Clifford offered Saunders protection, but Luke declined, choosing instead to take his chances on his own. Using skills obtained through decades of PI work, he attempted to hide from the vampire by dropping off the grid.
   Let's see how that's going for him, now.

Monday, June 27, 2011 7:15 pm
Luke Saunders glanced at the clock on the wall behind the bar and panicked. Oh, fuck, it’s almost sunset. I gotta get home.
“Jeez,” he said to the woman who’d distracted him with conversation for the last forty minutes, “I completely lost track of time. I have to be somewhere before sunset.” He dropped a wad of cash on the bar and signaled the bartender, indicating he was paying for both their drinks. “It was really nice talking to you.”
The young woman looked genuinely disappointed. “Oh, yeah, it’s been nice. You’re easy to talk to.” She placed a light touch on his hand, her fingers sending a thrill up the entire length of his arm. “Do you really have to go?”
He glanced briefly at the clock, then back at her. She wasn’t really his type. She had short hair, dyed an unnatural shade of red, with pale skin that was covered with more tattoos than clothing. She had a piercing on one side of her nose, inset with some blue stone he didn’t recognize. Around her neck was a wide choker, the same shade as her hair. Usually, he hated that kind of shit, but not on this girl.
Maybe it was the two margaritas talking, but there was something extremely compelling about her, right now. Vampire, his mind suddenly warned. But, no. Her touch had been warm, it was still a while before sunset, and this little corner of paradise was as free of the bloodsuckers as any he could find. “Yeah,” he nodded, “Sorry, I do have to be somewhere.” At home. Always safely at home, before the sun goes down.
She dipped a finger in her drink and gave the liquid a few half-hearted stirs. “You’re going home,” she whispered, then cut her eyes at him, “Alone?”
Fuck, she read me like a book. He swallowed. “Um, yeah.” He shrugged.
She nodded. Holding his gaze, she raised her glass to her lips, drained what was left, and set it on the bar. “Can I come?”
Adrenaline coursed through him. It would be a violation of the rules, but they were his rules, after all. Hell, what was the use of living in paradise if you couldn’t enjoy it, now and then? Still, he hesitated. “Um...”
“Hey,” she said, “if it’s an inconvenience…”
He detected hurt in her voice and reacted quickly. “No, it’s not that. I…uh…you just caught me by surprise. I don’t usually do…this.”
Her eyebrows rose. “This? You mean, picking up a girl in a bar?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, “kind of. I mean…”
Her hand was back on his arm, cutting him off. “Hey, it’s okay. I never do this. But, I’m on vacation, and I figured what’s the use of being in paradise if you can’t enjoy it?”
He grinned. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Well,” she smiled, “you have to admit, it’s a pretty good argument. Is your place far?”
He shook his head. “Just up the beach a little.”
“Good,” she said, gathering a small purse and sliding off the bar stool, “a walk on the beach sounds nice.” She reached for his hand and entwined her fingers with his. “Ready?”
He was, very much so. Her hand was warm, her touch promising. They left the bar via the beach entrance. She guessed the direction correctly and hooked her arm through his as they ambled towards his cottage.
Walking along the water’s edge, she kept a running commentary, her voice barely audible over the crashing surf. Although she said nothing that required a response, he was forced to lean close in order not to miss her words. Her scent was intoxicating.
“Oh, my God,” she gasped, bringing them both to a halt, “that’s so beautiful.”
He followed her gaze to the horizon, where the deep red of a spectacular sunset colored a low line of clouds. “It is,” he agreed.
They watched for a time, as the red deepened to violet and the last tip of the orb disappeared into the ocean. She turned to him in the fading light and lifted her lips to his, pulling him into a deep kiss. Her breath tasted faintly of cinnamon, eliciting a vague question in his mind as to the identity of the drink she’d had back in the bar.
She pulled her lips off his, encircling her arms around his waist and resting her head against his chest. “That was nice,” she sighed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry?”
She pulled back and looked up into his eyes, frowning. “Really, it’s nothing personal.”
“What?”
She took a few steps back, looking down and away. Luke’s stomach turned to ice as a cold voice spoke behind him, “Good evening, Mr. Saunders. You’re a hard man to get hold of, after sunset.” An icy hand clamped down on his shoulder and the voice chuckled, “Get it? ‘Get a hold of?’”
Luke tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. The choker! I should have guessed. I’m so screwed. “You’re a fucking pet,” he accused the woman. She didn’t answer, only lowered her head further.
“Not exactly,” said the cold voice. “Chelsea is very much her own woman, I assure you. By the way, thank you, my dear. You gave your usual stellar performance. Your fee has already been deposited in your account.”
Chelsea raised her head but did not look at either one of them. “I can leave now, then.” Her tone was so flat, Luke couldn’t tell if she was stating a fact or asking permission.
“Not yet, please,” said the voice. “I have some questions for Luke, here.”
“I don’t want to watch this,” she said. Her tone was now more animated, and Luke’s testicles drew up to join the knot in his stomach.
The cold voice behind him became irritated. “You won’t have to, if you can help me get some answers,” it said.
“It doesn’t always work, you know,” she complained, “especially if…” She took a deep breath. “Under torture, people’s minds go in directions I can’t always follow.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to try.”
Chelsea ground her teeth a moment before nodding. “Very well.”
The voice waxed sarcastic. “So accommodating of you. I found the perfect spot on the very deck of Mr. Saunders’ cottage, overlooking the ocean. I’ll go get him ready. Take your time.”
Luke felt himself suddenly whisked off his feet and carried swiftly over a stretch of dunes to where his beach front cottage stood. When he regained his equilibrium, he found himself on his back deck, securely tied between the hooks where a hammock had been strung before he’d left for the bar earlier that afternoon.
Before him stood a tall, pale man, unmistakably a vampire, regarding him purposefully with half-lidded eyes. “I know you don’t want to answer my questions,” he explained, “so I’m going to have to use my venom to put you…in the mood, so to speak.” He rubbed his chin, speculatively. “This is not an exact science.”
A shudder ran through Luke’s body before he found his voice. He reached for as much defiance as he could muster. “You think your saliva can get me high enough to tell you anything?”
The vampire’s lips spread in a wide, humorless smile. “No, I don’t. If Roland Trudeau had wanted you turned into a compliant pet, he would not have sent me. You see…” He was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs from the beach. “Ah, she’s here. We can get started. How close do you need to be, Chelsea?”
Luke craned his head around as Chelsea reached the top step. He watched her take a seat on a low bench built along the railing. “I’m fine over here,” she stated.
“Okay, then,” continued the vampire, turning back to Luke, “as I was saying…hey, hold on there, what are you doing?” The vampire’s finger was suddenly in Luke’s mouth, pressing his tongue away from the tooth Luke had been working at, the tooth the vampire was now holding in front of his face, between two fingers.
“Tsk, tsk, Mr. Saunders. Nice try. You really are a clever fellow.” The vampire sniffed at the tooth. “Cyanide?” He looked at Chelsea, frowning, “You didn’t pick up on that?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I was…getting ready.”
The vampire crushed the false tooth between his fingers and wiped the residue on his shirt. “Let me know when you are ready,” he told her.
“Go ahead,” she sighed. “Let’s get it over with.”
“Humph,” the vampire grunted, turning back to Luke, “why does everyone have to be in such a hurry all the time?” He grasped Luke’s chin, moving his head back and forth to inspect his neck. “You’re an unusual man, Mr. Saunders, having been closely associated with our kind for this long without being bitten. I understand there is a clause in your contract for the ongoing investigation into the activities of Clifford Crane that specifically states you are not to be turned into a pet. For some reason, Trudeau has chosen to honor that contract, despite the fact you have broken your end of the bargain.” He frowned. “You know how a pet is made, don’t you, Mr. Saunders?”
His chin still in the vampire’s iron grip, Luke could only cut his eyes at his captor in response.
“Well, let me explain. Vampire venom contains a paralytic poison designed to immobilize a victim during the feeding process. The poison is so fiercely painful, however, that our original creators mixed with it a pain killer that relaxes the victim, so that the human adrenal system won’t kick in, rendering our meals…unpalatable.”
The vampire raised his eyebrows in a question. Luke didn’t notice, however. His eyes were wide, casting desperately in every direction. They settled on Chelsea for a moment, begging. She shifted uncomfortably and looked away.
The vampire cleared his throat, unnecessarily. “Ahem. Anyway, the pain killer has a euphoric effect that is extremely addictive, or so I am told. If bitten more than a few times, a victim will develop such a craving for the high that they’re pretty much willing to do anything, or say anything, or betray anyone, just to get another fix. It’s sad, really, but very effective. We call these addicts ‘pets,’ a rather demeaning term, if you ask me. You know, it says something about you and your skills that Trudeau chose to ensure your compliance with a contract rather than…you know, our usual methods.” He leaned close, positioning Luke’s head so he could look in his eyes. “Based on the trouble I’ve had to go through to find you, I’d have to agree with him.”
The vampire released Luke’s chin and straightened to his full height. “But, I digress. Let me get to the point. A small percentage of humans lack a certain chemical substance in their systems, called…sorry, I can’t pronounce it…but, it’s the same thing that makes them immune to such plants as poison ivy, sumac, that sort of thing? If one of these humans is turned to vampirism, their venom lacks the pain killer that would allow them to create a pet. In fact, their bite is so painful that it is best to kill a victim quickly and feed later, which is not as enjoyable a meal as it could be. Or, so I am told.” He sighed. “I am one of those unfortunate individuals with no pain killer in my venom.”
He shrugged. “Oh, well. I don’t enjoy feeding as much as my brethren.” He leaned closer, again, and smiled. “But, I really…really enjoy inflicting pain.” He straightened and turned to Chelsea. “Have you gotten anything, yet?”
She shook her head.
He grinned, turning back to Luke. “Good. Let’s get started, then. This may hurt a little.” His jaws opened wide, his fangs clicking into place. He sank them deep into Luke’s neck, oh so slowly.
       Luke’s screams carried on the breeze, past the surf and out to sea, where no one could hear.

   Stay tuned for more, readers. Feel free to leave a comment below.
   And, thanks.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

For the Love of Minor Characters

Ever fall in love with a minor character? Someone captures your imagination, or you identify with them in some unique way, and you want more of them, but, alas, it is not to be. The classic example, for me, is the postman in Stephen King’s Cujo, who the reader comes to love by way of several pages of wonderful character development, only to have his throat ripped out by the book’s protagonist minutes later.

Such a waste.
I have a minor character in the Red Wolf Saga whom I’ve come to love. Luke Saunders, the reluctant private eye employed by the vampire Roland Trudeau to track the comings and goings of the werewolves during daylight hours, has continued to delight me with his occasionally documented antics over the course of three novels. His life has hung in balance the entire time, and his fate remains undetermined primarily because the author (me) has such affection for his character.
I just completed a re-edit of all three Red Wolf novels in preparation for an upcoming new-editions release and giveaway through Amazon, and when I ran across this scene in Red Wolf Rising, I just had to share it with you.
Setup:
Luke has determined it’s time to break his contract with Roland Trudeau, take the small fortune he’s amassed, and go into hiding, somewhere far away “with beaches, long days, and short nights.” But, in response to an increasingly guilty conscience, and against his better judgment, he’s decided to confess to the red wolf, Clifford Crane, what he knows of Roland’s evil plans…

Thursday, June 9, 2011, 3:19 pm
Luke Saunders tried to swallow in a dry throat. He thought about asking for a glass of water, but suppressed the urge. He figured there was a fifty-fifty chance he was going to die within the hour, and he didn’t want to make the odds any worse by being an inconvenience to the others in the room, in any way whatsoever.
I’m surrounded by werewolves, he reminded himself, be cool.
Easy for you to say, Himself answered.
Searching for calm, he took a deep breath. It dried his mouth out worse. He tried again to swallow and gagged, drawing stony, silent glances from a few of the men who stood towering over him, their huge, ripped upper bodies barely contained by the thin gray t-shirts they all wore, with SECURITY stenciled across the chests.
Their silence increased his anxiety. Once in a while, the men would glance at each other and smile or frown at some unshared thought. Unshared with Luke, at any rate. He reminded himself that these men were half animal, and that animals were supposed to be good at non-verbal communication, so maybe that’s what was happening.
Or, maybe they’re communicating telepathically?
Don’t be a dick, he told he told Himself, that’s impossible.
As impossible as turning into a huge, snarling beast capable of ripping your throat out?
I see your point. Whatever. Anyway, the silence was the worst part of this.
No, Himself reminded him, it’s the fact that we’re about to die.
To say he was having second thoughts about being here was an understatement. What had happened to his plan to get out, to cover his tracks, run from the vampires, and never look back? That had been an excellent plan. Instead, he’d driven right out of the frying pan and into the fire, presenting himself at the front gate of the Alligator River Werewolf Pack’s secret compound.
What had he been thinking? He was lucky they hadn’t torn him apart on the spot.
They probably want to make it a slow, agonizing death, Himself interjected.
Before Luke could answer himself, the security guys suddenly stood at attention.
Something’s up.
Sure enough, the door swung open, and Clifford Crane swept through followed by Nicole Black and – Luke hadn’t expected this – the tall Chinese werewolf who’d visited the club in Ocracoke the day before.
Was Crane’s army going international?
Good, he thought, the more, the merrier. Maybe the wolves would be able to exterminate the vampires. Just don’t kill me first.
Crane’s gaze fell on Luke immediately, but before the werewolf leader said anything his attention was diverted by something Luke didn’t see. Both Crane and Nicole looked for a moment at the one who’d brought Luke in from the front gate. (The guy hadn’t offered a name, but he’d seemed to be in charge, and Luke figured he was the head of security, or something.) Crane looked in Luke’s direction, sniffed the air, nodded, and turned back to the man.
Still think they’re not communicating telepathically? It was Himself again.
Crane walked over to where Luke sat and extended his hand. “Luke Saunders, is it? I’m Clifford Crane.”
Luke stood. Several of the men stepped forward threateningly, but Crane waved them off. Luke cautiously took the proffered hand. Crane’s grip was firm, dry and…calming? Luke could have sworn his blood pressure just dropped a notch.
A puzzled look crossed Crane’s features as they shook. “I’m sorry, Mr. Saunders, but I don’t recall…have we met before? At a meeting, or something?”
Luke withdrew his hand and cleared his throat. “Luke,” he corrected, which brought a smile and a nod from Crane. He took a deep breath, plunged his hands into his back pockets, and sighed. “I’m not really a Friend of Bill’s,” he said. “My father was, though. I just thought it’d be the best way to say, ‘I come in peace.’ Actually, I work for…” He held up a hand. “…used to, that is…Roland Trudeau.”
There were a few growls in the room. Crane rolled his eyes and looked around. “Come on, guys,” he murmured. The others fell silent. “Go on,” he said to Luke.
Luke swallowed. Strangely, although he figured he was even closer to his imminent death, his mouth was no longer dry. “I just now quit,” he elaborated. “Trudeau doesn’t know it, yet. He’ll try to kill me when he finds out.”
“Try?”
Luke wasn’t sure who’d said it. He looked around, but couldn’t locate the source. He turned back to Crane. “Well, yeah, most likely he will kill me, but…shit.” The pressure behind his eyeballs – unshed tears - caused him to lose his voice for a moment.
Crane motioned for him to sit, and Luke plopped back down in his chair with a sigh. Crane pulled a chair up to the table opposite him. “Luke,” he said softly, “no vampire can touch you here. You’re safe.”
“Safe? Really? You haven’t heard what I have to say.”
“Shit,” Crane muttered, then louder, “Don’t worry, you’re safe from us, too.” He looked at Head-of-Security. “Right?”
“If you say so, sir,” grumbled the big man.
“I do,” said Crane. He turned back to Luke. “Go on,” he said, “tell us.”
Luke looked around nervously. “Man, I’m not sure where to begin. Look, I can’t blame you for being pissed, but I swear to God I didn’t see this coming. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.”
Crane just nodded.
“Right. Okay. I’m a…was a…still am, I guess…a PI…private investigator? Had a nice, low-key service operating out of Durham for almost ten years. Not getting rich by any means, mind you, but built up a pretty good rep. Anyway, this guy shows up one day. Says he represents a group of investors in Charlotte who are looking into opportunities in the Uwharries. Gives me a list of names, folks living in and around Troy. Wants to know as much about them as I can find out, what connections they might have with each other, what they do together, etcetera. He’s heard I’m from the area – I am, by the way, grew up there - and he figures I’d be a good choice for the job.
“And he offers cash, too. Lots of it. Should’ve raised a red flag, but like I said, I’m not getting rich, so…” He sighed, looking around at the others. “Don’t worry, I’ll get to the point soon.”
He turned back to Crane. “The Feltons are on the list, which makes sense, since they own a lot of land around there. So is “J.B.” Covington, who has the Ford dealership, so I figure this is all about money. But some of the other names, the Blacks, the Lamelles, the Barnes, the Olenas, they don’t necessarily fit the profile.”
Crane nodded.
“But, it’s weird. There is a connection. And the more I dig, the more I find. And when I give my first report to this ‘representative,’ he tells me his boss wants to discuss my findings in person. So, he sets up a meet.”
Luke took another breath. “This boss turns out to be Roland Trudeau, who offers me a long-term contract to work for him exclusively. Again, it’s too good to be true, but I accept. I mean, I didn’t think twice about it; the guy’s so persuasive. Only later do I start to understand how he got to me so easy.”
There were grunts from a few in the room. Crane nodded again.

“It was after I signed the contract that he starts feeding me this story about a…a pack of werewolves. I…I actually laughed in his face.” Luke stared inwardly as he recalled the event. He emitted a nervous chuckle. “Haven’t done that since.”
He leveled his gaze at Crane. “He showed me who…what he was, then. Made it clear what the consequences would be if I broke my contract.”
“Which you’re doing now,” Crane interrupted, “out of desperation, I assume.”
“Oh, I’m way past that point.” Again the nervous chuckle. “Mr. Crane…”
“Cliff.”
“Right, uh…Cliff, I’m not one to take sides. You have to be nonpartisan in my profession.” He threw up his hands. “And, God knows, I don’t want to get in the middle of what’s going on between you two…groups.” He swallowed. “But I can’t be a party to the things Trudeau is doing anymore. No amount of money…even my life…is worth helping him to…to… Cliff, he’s got Grady Rush, and…”
Clifford groaned, propped his elbow on the table, and rubbed his forehead into his palm. Nicole gasped, “Oh, Cliff!”
Luke turned to her. “Ms. Black, he’s got Janine Unger, too. And her husband. And…her two little girls.”
Before he could blink, she’d crossed the room and was right in his face. “Where?” she demanded. “Are they okay?”
“Depends what you mean by ‘okay.’”
She grabbed him by the shirt and literally jerked him out of the chair. “Tell me where they are,” she growled.
I’m gonna die now, thought Luke. Surprised I made it this far, really. Jesus, the little slip of a girl was strong. And the thing inside her was close to the surface, he could tell. Don’t look her in the eye. Never look them in the eye.
Clifford gripped her arm. “Nicole,” he admonished.
She shook him off, inadvertently letting go of Luke, who grunted as he flopped back in his seat. “He’s got to tell us where they are,” she said. She pointed a finger at Clifford. “And don’t say ‘I told you so,’” she threatened.
“I wouldn’t,” he answered. “Jeez, give me a break. And give him a break, okay?” He indicated Luke. “He’s here to help. Let him.”
She glared at Clifford before taking a step back. “Sorry,” she muttered, in Luke’s direction.
“It…it’s okay,” said Luke. I’m still alive. He could feel himself shaking as the adrenaline rush subsided. “I understand how you feel. Well, not exactly how you feel, since…I mean…you’re a…and I can’t imagine what that feels like, but I…you know…” Jeez, I’m babbling.
Clifford reached across the table and placed a hand on his arm. Again, that feeling of calm swept over Luke. The shaking stopped. Wow. Luke was sure about it this time. Crane spoke in even tones. “What more can you tell us?”
“They’re alive…unharmed, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”
“Well, he and that vampire chick you used to…uh…ah…be with.”
“Danielle?” Clifford clarified, pretending not to notice the exchanged glances around the room.
“Right, Danielle…Anderson. She and Trudeau are keeping them all sedated on vampire venom. No plans to turn them, as far as I can tell. But Rush and Ms. Unger are addicted, for sure. And Rush is under Danielle’s thrall.”
“So that’s what this is about,” murmured Crane.
“What?”
“Nothing,” said Crane, waving a hand in dismissal. “Go on.”
“Okay. Well, they’re keeping them in the guest house at the mansion in Mathews. I…I think you could get them out.”
“How?”
“Well, security’s pretty tight there, as you know. But, I think Trudeau is away right now.”
Head-of-Security broke in. “You think?
Luke turned to the big man. “Right, I think. He was scheduled to go to Atlanta yesterday. I’m supposed to meet with him tomorrow night, but I don’t think he’s back, yet.” He turned back to Crane. “If you hit the place tomorrow, say, right after dawn?” He looked around. “It wouldn’t be any trouble. Not for you guys.”
“Whoa. Hold on.” It was Head-of-Security again. “It could be a trap. It’s probably a trap, just the kind of thing Trudeau would come up with.”
Crane shook his head. “I’m guessing Danielle’s behind this. She’s probably acting on her own and Roland doesn’t even know about it.” He dug his phone out of his pocket. “I bet if I just give him a call, we can straighten all this out without causing any…”
“No, don’t!” Luke was vehement. “This is all Trudeau’s doing, swear to God. He sent Danielle after Rush, and he took the Unger woman himself.”
“You’re telling the truth,” whispered Clifford, incredulity in his voice. “But, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he…”
“Why doesn’t it make sense?” Head-of-Security interrupted.
“Because Roland’s always been…I mean, I know none of you guys trust him,” Clifford said, looking around, “but he’s actually been pretty helpful in the past.”
“What?” Luke was taken aback. “The dude turned your girlfriend into a vampire, for Christ sake!”
“To save her life, after he rescued her from the Draculata Nest,” Clifford argued. “And it was her choice.”
Luke shook his head. “You never figured that out? Come on, man. Trudeau didn’t rescue Danielle Anderson from shit. I know. I was the one who delivered her to Ms. Black’s house the morning before y’all cleaned out the Draculata Nest,” he said. “The girl had been at his mansion for days. The Draculata Nest never had her, didn’t want her, never even knew she was there.”
“Oh, my god,” gasped Nicole, “That’s why exterminating the entire Draculata Nest had no effect on Danielle. Roland was the one who bit her in the first place!”
Clifford was stunned. His face dropped into his hands. When it came back up, he looked like he’d swallowed something vile. “Damn. I don’t believe it. He…he used her…me…” He looked around the room. “…hell, all of us…” He stared inwardly. “…even Kent? Sacrificed him? Jesus, just so he could become maior of the Queen City Nest?”
“Nuh uh,” said Luke, shaking his head, “that’s not all he wants. The Queen City Nest is just a stepping stone to…I don’t know…bigger things.”
“Bigger things?”
“Yeah. He’s been meeting with other maiors and some…higher-ups, setting himself up as the resident expert on red wolves, and…”
“What higher-ups?”
“I don’t know, but I get the impression they’re badass, ‘cause he’s extra careful dealing with them. He’s afraid of ‘em, I think. But, whatever, he’s got ‘em convinced he’s the best choice to lead this vampire army they’re all putting together.”
An uneasy tension spread through the room, and Luke took note that everyone seemed to take a few steps away from the big Chinese guy, like the dude had passed gas or something. Clifford didn’t seem to notice. Neither did Nicole Black. Curious.
“What’s he want with Grady and Janine?” Clifford speculated. “Obviously not hostages, since he didn’t contact us with demands. Are you sure this isn’t just Danielle’s doing?”
“I’m sure,” said Luke. There was now a note of condescension in his voice. “Spies, man. He wants spies. Danielle’s no good for that now that y’all are…split up, or whatever. So now he’s got Grady Rush in thrall, grilling you about plans to attack Atlanta…”
“Oh, fuck,” Clifford groaned. Indeed, Grady knew as much about the Atlanta campaign as anyone at this point.
“…so I suspect he’s planning the same for Janine Unger eventually, to try and get information out of Ms. Black.”
“We have to get them out of there, Cliff,” Nicole said.
Head-of-Security was emphatic. “It’s a trap, sir.”
“I don’t think so,” argued Clifford. “Luke here’s obviously telling the truth.”
“He believes he’s telling the truth,” Head-of-Security clarified.
Luke felt a rising panic. Fuck. He hadn’t considered the possibility that Trudeau might have set him up, that he might have sent him into the wolves’ den with some post-hypnotic suggestion or something. He wouldn’t put it past the blood sucker. “You think I might be in Trudeau’s thrall, too?”
“Are you?” asked Head-of-Security.
“I…I don’t…I didn’t think so,” Luke stammered. He straightened as an idea occurred to him. “But we can find out, can’t we?” He looked at Clifford and swallowed with determination. “Just do to me whatever you did to those chicks at the Davy Jones in Ocracoke. You did do something, right? Do it to me.”
“He shouldn’t have to,” said Nicole. “He’s already touched you. That’s all it takes.”
“No shit?” Luke’s eyes went wide. He looked at Cliff. “Is that all?”
Clifford nodded, shrugged.
Luke looked at his right hand. “I felt something, when we shook, and then again just now, when you touched my arm. Damn, that’s incredible! And, it means you can really help them…those two little girls. You have to go save them.” His shoulders sagged. “Except…”
“…except, it’s a trap,” Head-of-Security finished for him.
“Yeah, it could be,” admitted Luke.
Clifford shook his head. “We don’t know that.”
“The hell we don’t,” Head-of-Security insisted.
“We have to do something,” Nicole said. “And we have the advantage of knowing it’s a trap.”
“That’s an advantage?”
“It has to be some advantage. Cliff, we need to get them out of there. Cliff?”
Clifford’s face was buried in his hands again. He looked up. “What?”

Well, that’s probably more than enough, for now. If you want to read the rest of the scene, by all means, click on one of the links in the My Books tab, and purchase a copy. But remember, I’m having a massive giveaway on Amazon soon for Kindle users, so if you want to save $2.99, you can wait a few weeks.
        Meanwhile, happy reading!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol III

   Okay, one more rant and I’ll drop the subject, I promise. But, really, don’t you just hate picking up a new book touted as first in a series, and you really, really like it, and then when you finish you find the next book has yet to be written?
   I do.
   I can’t stand it. Now, I’m hooked, and maybe there’s not even a clue when the next book will be available. Plus, the wait-read cycle could repeat itself over quite a few years. It takes time to write, edit and publish a book. Even the most prolific writers can’t fulfill the need I have for instant gratification once I’ve become a fan.
   The series I’m most anxious about at the moment is a delightful dystopian/sci fi offering by my favorite paranormal author, Richelle Mead.

   We all know Mead from her popular YA novels that sprung from Vampire Academy and its spinoff, Bloodlines. If you’re lucky, you’ve read her debut adult series featuring the reluctant succubus, Georgina Kincaid.

   Mead has become a master at putting together a tight, six-novel series that features a feisty heroine you’re guaranteed to fall in love with, surrounded by a supporting cast of interesting friends, lovers, vampires, demons, etc. They’re fast-paced and written mostly in first person from the perspective of the single main character.

   But, in the midst getting out the last few Bloodlines novels, Richelle snuck in a couple of gems, Gameboard of the Gods and The Immortal Crown, the first two in a series she’s named, the Age of X.
   Age of X represents a definite departure from the norm for Mead. She’s abandoned the first person, single character POV for a third-person narrative, and the perspective flips back and forth among three main characters. Mae and Justin have all the depth and breadth you need in adult protagonists, and even the culture-shocked teen genius, Tessa, has enough baggage in her short past to balance the scales of the multiple plot lines.

Gameboard of the Gods (June,2013)

The Immortal Crown (May,2014)



   I love these books. I love the post-apocalyptic world Mead has created for the backdrop. I love the eclectic palette of dystopian societies she uses to color the stories. I love that she’s created a series that allows her to indulge her love of world religions and cultural mythologies, bringing in the gods themselves as characters.
   What I don’t love is that, although it was only twelve months between publication of the first two books, it’s now been fifteen months since The Immortal Crown, and we haven’t a clue when The Eye of Andromeda will be out. I check Richelle’s website regularly, and the answer to that burning question has been for a while, and still remains, “Release Date TBA.”
   Arrrgh! I want it now!
   Life is so hard, isn't it?

   Hey, if you want to get hooked on an unfinished series yourself, check out the My Books tab at the top of my blog. Happy reading!