Wednesday, February 27, 2013

UNTIL NOW... by Denise Skelton

UNTIL NOW... by Denise Skelton

Terry Meyers' life seems to be falling apart. Her husband left her and their 2 sons for a woman 10 years her junior, she has a mortgage that she can't afford, a car that stays broken more than it works and a son who's going through puberty and seems set to drive her crazy in the process. Add to that the desire to go into business with her cousin, who is adamant that that will never happen and Terry believes her life could not get much worse.

But as things seem to go from bad, to worse, Terry decides it's time to take stock in her life. First on the list, handle her deadbeat future ex-husband. Second, find a new career. Third, swear off men, what's the point, she always chooses the wrong one, always ends up being used or hurt. Until Now...

Wade Nelson has moved back to Chicago to work as the new English teacher at Jefferson high. His strained relationship with his father has kept him away for many years. What his family doesn't know is that Wade has another agenda for being back in Chicago.

When Wade meets feisty Terry Meyers, the last thing he's thinking about is being in a relationship with anyone, let alone a woman who has two children, but Terry has a way of finding herself in rather strange situations and he just happened to be the one there to bail her out. With a past that he has never put to rest, Wade, by no means, considered the idea of settling down. Until Now...



Terry glanced to her left. She definitely didn’t remember extending an invitation to share her bed. "You can’t come creeping in here in the middle of the night."

Keith leaned across the small space towards her. "But-"

"Woo hoo, that morning breath," Terry howled, covered her nose, and pushed him back.

He grinned at her. "I didn’t even brush my teeth yet."

"No smooches until you brush those stank teeth," Terry said fanning a hand in front of her face.

"Okay Mommy," six-year-old Keith Wilkerson said before sliding from the bed and racing from the room.

Glancing at the clock, Terry saw that it was 6:40 am. Grimacing, she pushed back the covers, crawled from the bed and headed to the bathroom for a quick shower before leaving for work. Damn she thought, she should have skipped that last margarita. When she entered the bathroom she switched on the light, the almost blinding glare illuminating from the light bulb made her wince, and she quickly switched it off. Groaning again, the thought came to her that, if she was lucky, she’d slip, fall, and drown in the shower, thus relieving her hangover.

Twenty-five minutes later, Terry walked from her bedroom dressed in a crisp white blouse, pleated gray slacks and black loafers. She wore her dark brown hair pulled back into a loose ponytail and her chestnut complexion was void of any makeup. She banged on her eldest son, DJ’s bedroom door.

"Breakfast in five minutes," Terry called as she walked past, and then paused. Grinning she took three steps backwards and quickly opened the door. "Didn’t you hear me?"

At fourteen, DJ was already just over five and a half feet tall, five inches taller than his mother, and close to a hundred and fifty pounds. He jumped, hearing the door open, and quickly pulled his pants up, tumbling and almost falling to the floor. "Mom!"

Terry laughed and snorted at the same time. "Boy, you ain’t got nothing there that I haven’t seen. I said breakfast would be ready in five minutes."

Closing the door, she grinned and headed down to the kitchen with a little more bounce in her step. When she entered the kitchen, Keith was already there, sitting at the counter watching Arthur. Terry picked up the television remote, turning the channel to the morning news.

"Mommy, I was watching that."

"Yesterday was your day, tomorrow is DJ’s, and today is mine. You know the rules. We all take turns watching what we want in the morning."

Terry took three bowls from the cabinet, filled them with Cheerios, and plucked up a banana.

"But, it’s so boring," Keith whined.

"Boy, you’re not old enough to be bored."

"Please, Mommy!" Keith whined again.


Pealing the banana, she cut it into very thin slices, putting five slices over each of the bowls of cereal. She poured milk into each, and was setting the bowls on the counter when DJ entered the kitchen.

"Mom, can we have sausage and eggs this morning?" DJ asked sliding into the stool next to his younger brother.

"You know we can only have sausage and eggs on Sundays. Right now, it’s not in the budget."

"We didn’t have sausage and eggs this past Sunday."

"Well then, we’ll just have extra sausage next time." I hope.

"Mommy, these are nasty. I hate Cheerios, " Keith mumbled.

"So do I," Terry said, sniffing the spoonful of cereal she was about to put in her mouth, and then scrunched up her nose. "But, it can’t be helped; this is what’s in the budget."

Actually, it was a generic brand, and they tasted so bad that Terry was surprised that the grocery store didn’t offer customers a dollar a bag just to take them off their hands. She had to agree with Keith; they were nasty, but it was better than nothing.

Keith looked at the bowl Terry had placed in front of him with disdain. "You can tell Daddy, tell him we don’t like Cheerios."

"No, she can’t," DJ glared at his brother.

"DJ," Terry warned.

Sure, she could tell their father that his sons were tired of eating repulsive generic cereal every morning and hotdogs three nights a week. But, he already knew that they were in financial trouble. He knew their situation; he just didn’t seem to care. But she didn’t want to tell Keith that. At first, when his father left, Terry had told Keith that his daddy had gone on a business trip; and she’d stuck to that story for two weeks. Eventually she had to tell him the truth. He had been devastated; he didn’t understand why his daddy wanted to live with a stranger and not them. Terry could tell him that his father didn’t give a damn about living with his children, and that he could care less if they ate at all, but why make Keith suffer more then he already was?

"Well you can’t," DJ said to his mother, and then, dropping his eyes, he stabbed his spoon in his bowl. "He doesn’t care about us eating Cheerios every day; he doesn’t care if we eat at all."

"He does too!" Keith immediately said, defending his father.

"DJ," Terry warned again.

"Tell him, Mommy!" Keith said, looking at his mother for confirmation.

"I bet Shareese doesn’t have to eat Cheerios every day," DJ complained.

"Okay, that’s enough," Terry said, rose, and gathered the bowls from the counter. Crossing the kitchen, she ran the cereal down the drain, clicked on the garbage disposal, and rinsed the bowls. "Go get your things together. We’ll stop by McDonald’s and grab you guys a sausage biscuit."

"Yippee!" Keith yelled as he jumped from the counter and rushed from the kitchen.

DJ followed at a much slower pace. "Sorry, Mom."

Terry sighed, stroking his cheek as he passed her. "Don’t worry about it, buddy."

Twenty-two months ago, their lives had changed. They went instantly from a happy family of four to a confused and struggling family of three. Twenty-two months since her ex-husband had come home from work and told her that he wasn’t in love with her anymore. That he had met someone else, and she was going to have his baby. Five years before that day, Terry would have chased him from their home with a baseball bat, and she would have made both of them rue the day they had crossed her. But, she’d changed, she’d grown, she’d evolved…for the most part.

Now it was just her and her boys. She had a mortgage for a house that she couldn’t afford, a car that stayed broken almost as

much as it worked, and a teenage son who had shot up five inches in six months. David had promised to pay half of the mortgage, but hadn’t paid his share in almost a year. He hadn’t paid her the agreed amount of child support in the last few months. Things had been hard, and it didn’t look like it would be getting any easier any time soon. The hours at her job as a customer service representative at the mall were being cut because of the economy, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. For the past six months, she’d borrowed half the money for the mortgage payment from her cousin Dee. She didn’t complain about it, and Terry promised herself that she’d pay back every cent; but, it seemed that all she was doing was getting deeper and deeper in debt. She didn’t want to sell the house, the boys had had a hard enough time with their father abandoning them, they didn’t need to lose their home too, but she was running out of options.

Digging inside her purse, she pulled out her wallet, checking her cash. "Seven dollars and thirty-five cents; great," she sighed.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013


A Sarah Woolson Mystery
A body is found just blocks from attorney Sarah Woolson’s peaceful Rincon Hill home. Sarah is soon on the case, but 19th-century San Francisco is rapidly thrown into a state of panic as a gruesome crime spree begins to take hold of the city.
Engaged in a life or death struggle to find the murderer, Sarah becomes embroiled in the erotic escapades of the town’s infamous high-end brothels, a proper Anglican church, Darwin’s shocking theory of evolution, and a vicious killer who will stop at nothing to achieve a scandalous objective



The nightmare began early on the morning of Sunday, December 4th.

Upon reflection, perhaps I ought to rephrase this statement. By nightmare, I do not refer to the frightening dreams each of us suffers upon occasion. Rather I am describing the horrific events which sent ripples of fear through the inhabitants of Rincon Hill – nay, through the entire city of San Francisco – shortly before Christmas, in the year of our Lord 1881. Unarguably, the murder which set the horror in motion that morning was a tragedy, yet none of us could have possibly foreseen the carnage which was yet to follow.

I had retired late the previous evening, and was in a deep sleep when I was abruptly awakened by an odd noise. Sitting bolt upright in my bed, it was several moments before my groggy mind comprehended the source of that sound; some fool was throwing rocks at my window!

Pushing back my bedcovers I arose and, without bothering to pull on slippers or robe, hurried across the room to the window facing the west side of the house. I was reaching for the edge of the drapes when another handful of pebbles bounced against the pane. By now thoroughly awake, and not a little irritated, I angrily pulled up the sash.

Below me, a pool of light emanated from a kerosene lantern held aloft by the dark figure of a man. Regarding him in some surprise, I realized he appeared to be wearing the dark blue frockcoat (appearing nearly black in the dim light) of the San Francisco police department. I should have known, I thought, expelling a sigh of relief. The man peering up at my window was George Lewis, my brother Samuel’s good friend and a sergeant on the above mentioned force.

“George,” I called down to him, “would you kindly explain why you are throwing rocks at my window? And in the middle of the night?”

“I apologize, Miss Sarah,” he said in a loud whisper. “Your back fence prevented me from reaching Samuel’s window. A body’s been found in the Second Street Cut, and I knew he’d want to be the first reporter on the scene. Would you – could you please wake him?”

I thought for a moment I had misheard. “Did you say you found a body just two blocks from our house?”

“Yes, and I’m in something of a hurry. I have to return there as quickly as possible.” His voice grew more urgent. “I hate to bother you, Miss Sarah, but would you please tell your brother?”

I made up my mind on the instant. “Yes, I’ll fetch him right away!”

In my bare feet, and still not bothering with a robe, I left my room and padded quickly down the hall. The way was but dimly lit by several small sconce candles hung on the walls, requiring me to watch carefully where I stepped in order to avoid the squeakier floorboards. Samuel’s bedroom was located at the rear of our house, which overlooked the back garden. The gnarled old oak tree that grew just outside his window had for years provided my brother with a convenient method for coming and going without our parents being any the wiser. Even now I knew he occasionally utilized the tree for this purpose, especially if he were pursuing a newsworthy story.

Unknown to my mother and father, or any other member of the family, for that matter, Samuel – who had completed his legal education some five years previous – had invented endless excuses to postpone taking his California Bar examinations. In those intervening years, he had become far more interested in the life of a crime journalist, for which he had unarguably been blessed with considerable talent.

The reason for this subterfuge was because our father, the Honorable Horace T. Woolson, Superior Court Judge for the County of San Francisco, nurtured a deep prejudice, not to mention mistrust, for anyone in the newspaper business. It was Samuel’s profound hope that Papa would never discover the real reason why he continued to avoid taking that last step toward becoming an attorney. He had, you see, been busy forging a career in journalism under the name Ian Fearless, the noted San Francisco crime reporter much in demand by a variety of publications, ranging from the Police Gazette to the city’s well-established daily newspapers. George Lewis was right. Samuel would undoubtedly do anything to scoop the town’s other reporters when it came to a good murder.

Not stopping to knock, I boldly entered my brother’s room and crossed to his bed. Samuel was an especially sound sleeper – it was a family joke that he’d even managed to sleep through several significant earthquakes – and I was forced to shake him by the shoulders before he could be roused from his slumber.

“What the hell?” he grumbled, pulling the bedcovers over his tousled head. “Go away and let me sleep.”

“Samuel, wake up,” I said, continuing to shake him. “George is waiting for you outside. They’ve found a body in the Cut. He thought you’d want to cover the story.”

At this, he sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “What time is it?”

By the faint glow of candlelight spilling through the open door to the hall, I could just make out the hands of his clock.

“It’s a few minutes after two o’clock,” I told him. “Hurry up and get dressed if you want an exclusive story.”

Without waiting for him to agree, I scurried back to my own room. Hastily, I tore off my nightgown and pulled on the first dress that came to hand. Not bothering with petticoats or stockings, I threw on a pair of old boots and tossed a long, hooded wrap over my shoulders. I gathered my thick mop of tangled hair into a bun as I raced down the stairs and, grabbing hold of one of the lanterns kept at the ready in a downstairs cupboard, flung open the front door. Leaving it slightly ajar behind me, I joined a startled-looking George Lewis who stood waiting on the street.

“Miss Sarah,” he protested, “You can’t mean to come with us. The victim is, that is it’s not a pleasant sight.”

“Never mind about that, George,” I said, straightening my cape so that it covered me more securely. “You should know by now that I am not faint at heart.”

Before George could find more reasons to object to my presence, my brother came flying out of the house, pulling on his topcoat with one hand, while attempting to balance a note pad and his own lantern in the other.

“I might have known you’d insist on coming along,” he said, spying me standing next to his friend.

“I tried to tell her she should stay here,” George said, regarding me unhappily. “Where I’m taking you is no fit place for a lady.”

Samuel gave a dry little laugh. “Save your breath, George. You have as much chance of stopping her as you’d have holding back a wild boar.” Striking a match, he lit both our lamps, then blew out the flame. “All right, my b’hoy, lead us to this body of yours.”

George flashed me one more uncertain look, then silently turned and set off at a brisk pace toward the Harrison Street Bridge. This structure, which the noted author Charles Warren Stoddard referred to as “a bridge celebrated as a triumph of architectural ungainliness,” had been erected to span Harrison Street across the gap caused by the infamous Second Street Cut. Many San Franciscans – my father and I included – considered the cut a greedy and ill-advised scheme which had signaled the beginning of the end to Rincon Hill, until then one of the city’s finest districts.

Tonight, the bridge loomed before us like a long, graceless serpent, barely distinguishable against the dark sky. A god-awful eyesore, Papa was fond of saying, and I must admit that I heartily agreed with this sentiment.

As we drew nearer, I spied a one-horse chaise parked to the right side of the road leading onto the bridge. A man I assumed to be the driver, moved out of the shadows and signaled to us with his lantern, then turned and directed us to yet another light burning on the dirt slope below the bridge. Stepping closer, I could make out the figures of three men standing some thirty feet beneath us. The man waving the lantern up and down was wearing a police uniform. Two more dark forms stood off to the side, silently watching our approach

“The men standing next to officer Kostler are the ones who discovered the body,” explained George. “They were crossing the bridge when they heard screams coming from below. They say they saw the figure of a man scrambling up the opposite embankment. When they investigated, they found the victim lying under the bridge with his head bashed in. They sent the driver to summon the police, then agreed to wait with the body while I fetched Samuel.” In the lantern light, I could make out a wry smile. “Kostler owes me a favor, so I trust him to keep his trap shut about my little side trip to your house.

Admonishing us to watch our step, George picked his way cautiously down the eastern embankment of the overpass, a precarious, hundred-foot side hill prone to mud slides during the rainy season, and sloping steeply to the bottom of the “cut” and the redirected Second Street below.

About a third of the way down, I spied a dark, unrecognizable shape sprawled in the dirt, partly hidden by one of the concrete bridge supports. As George held up his lantern, it was possible to make out the line of a leg, and just above it, a hand. Drawing closer and raising my own lantern, I could see that the victim was a man and that he lay face down, his arms stretched out as if attempting to ward off the blows to his head. His legs were flung out to either side of his trunk at awkward angles.

It shames me to admit to such squeamishness, but I confess that I recoiled at the sight of the man’s wounds. His dark hair was matted with blood, and the right side of his face had been battered in beyond recognition. As Samuel drew closer, the combined light of the three lamps revealed a three-foot section of two-by-four laying a half dozen feet above the body on the steep slope. From the blood-soaked look of it, I concluded that this must be the murder weapon. George obviously concurred, although he made no move to pick it up, or indeed to move it.

“He hasn’t been touched,” Officer Kostler told his superior. “And no one else has come along, or even crossed the bridge for that matter.”

One of the two men standing apart from the policeman regarded George in some distress. His round, full face appeared very pale in the spill of lantern light.

“It’s late and damn cold,” he said, his voice none too steady. “Can we be on our way now? We know nothing more about this horrible crime than we’ve already told you.”

“Just a minute,” said George. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a pencil and notebook. After jotting down their names and addresses, he informed the two men that they could leave. “But we may want to speak to you again at a future date, so please inform us if you plan to leave town.”

The men nodded gratefully, then scampered up the hillside as quickly as they dared, given the dim light and unsure footing.

When they were gone, Samuel moved closer and felt the man’s face. “He’s still warm, and this is a chilly evening. Most likely he was murdered within the past half hour.”

“Yes,” George agreed. “That skews with the witnesses’s account. Too bad they weren’t here a few minutes earlier. Might have scared off whoever did this and saved the bloke’s life.”

My brother peered down at the sad figure who, a short time earlier, had been as alive as any of us standing here now. “Who is he?” he asked his friend. “Have you gone through his pockets?”

George nodded. “That was the first thing I did when I realized the poor sod was beyond mortal help. Whoever did him in took his wallet, but left his gold pocket watch and the two gold rings he’s wearing. There were a few bills stuffed into one of his pockets. Of course it’s hard to tell if anything else is missing until we speak to his family.”

“So you think it was robbery then?” asked Samuel.

“Looks like it,” George replied. “Probably a case of the poor bugger being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“But George, that makes no sense,” I said. “Why would a thief leave behind cash and valuable jewelry?”

“That’s easy enough to explain, Miss Sarah,” George said with a cheerless smile. “The knuck sees this fellow crossing the bridge and decides to take advantage of the opportunity. He takes the mark’s wallet, but before he can grab anything else he hears a carriage on the bridge and the sound of voices. He very sensibly skedaddles off before anyone has time to see his face.”

“I don’t know,” I said, still not convinced. “Why kill the poor man? Surely the thief ran little risk of being identified on such a dark night. Why not just render his victim unconscious, rob him, then leave before he came to? Surely there was no need to batter the man’s head in, er—“ Out of my side vision I caught a glimpse of the victim’s battered upper torso and swallowed hard. “—like that.”

“Who knows, Miss Sarah?” said George. “Sad to say, we see this sort of thing all to often. These rounders care little enough about their victims. Just as soon kill them as not.”

I knew what he said was true, but I continued to be troubled by the excessively violent nature of the crime.

Before George could respond to these concerns, Samuel nudged my arm and nodded up the slope. Following his gaze, I spied a stout figure making his careful way down the hill with the aid of a kerosene lantern. The light swung back and forth in front of his face, and I was dismayed to recognize the newcomer as our father.

As Papa half-slid his way toward us, I saw that he was wearing the old topcoat he kept on the back porch, along with the gardening boots which were also stored there. I suspected that beneath his coat he might well be wearing nothing more than his nightshirt. His hair was mussed, and he looked none too happy. I glanced quickly at Samuel, who shared my surprise at this unlikely addition to our group.

“Papa,” I called out. “What are you doing here?”

My father did not immediately respond, seemingly busy saving his breath for the arduous descent. Even when he finally reached us, he spent several moments taking in deep gulps of air before endeavoring to answer my question.

“I heard the two of you leave the house,” he said, once his breathing had steadied. “You made enough noise to wake the dead. Couldn’t imagine why in tarnation you were stomping hell bent down the stairs in the middle of the night. I managed to follow your lanterns, although there was no need for you to walk so blasted fast!”

His eyes fell on the crumpled body lying beneath one of the bridge supports, and he stopped short. “Who is this?” His voice was less strident as he regarded the unfortunate man.

George was the first to answer. “We don’t know his identity yet, sir. Whoever did this made off with his wallet.”

My father moved closer to the body. He appeared to be paying particular attention to the man’s clothing and shoes. For the first time, I realized the victim was wearing evening dress; he had evidently attended the theater, or a soiree of some kind that evening.

“May I turn his head?” Papa asked George. “I’ll try not to disturb anything else.”

George nodded, but seemed puzzled why my father should make such a request. We all watched silently as Papa pushed up his sleeves and gently moved the man’s head until he could more clearly see his face. Bringing his lantern closer, he studied the victim’s features for several long moments.

“I think I know this man,” he said at last, stepping almost reverently back from the body. “His condition makes it difficult to be certain, but I believe his name is Nigel Loran, no, wait, it was Logan, Nigel Logan. If I am not mistaken he is – was, rather – a botanist or biologist of some sort. My wife and I met him for the first time last night at a party we attended in honor of the Reverend Erasmus Mayfield’s twenty-fifth ordination anniversary. Mayfield is the rector at the Church of Our Savior.”

“Do you happen to know where Mr. Logan lives?” George asked Papa. “It can’t have been too far away for him to walk home so late at night, instead of taking a cab.”

My father thought for a moment before replying, “I believe I heard someone say that he had a room in a boarding house on Harrison Street, several blocks beyond the bridge. I seem to recall that he taught science at the University of San Francisco. You know, the college run by the Jesuits?”

Indeed I did know. This renowned institution had been established in 1855 by the Jesuit Fathers. Located on Market Street between Fourth and Fifth, it was now widely regarded as one of the city’s foremost academies of higher education. If Mr. Logan had taught classes there, he must have been an accomplished scholar.

“Tell me more about the party you attended last night if you would, Judge Woolson,” requested George. “I’ve sent for some of my men and a wagon to transport the body, but while we wait I’d like to hear about this Logan fellow.”

“I can’t say that I know much more than I’ve already told you,” Papa said thoughtfully. “In fact, the only reason I remember the young man at all is because of the argument he had with Reverend Mayfield.”

“And what argument was that, sir?” asked George, once again opening his notebook and moving closer to Samuel’s lantern. Pencil poised, he regarded Papa with keen interest.

“It was just the usual folderol between the church and the scientific world, this time over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.” Papa harrumphed, displaying grave misgivings that the human race could possibly have developed from a lower form of animal species. “Logan began quoting from Darwin’s latest epic, Descent of Man, and not surprisingly Reverend Mayfield took exception to this reference, as well he should. I’m sorry to say the two of them went at it hammer and tong for some little time before our host managed to break them up.” He chuckled. “I thought for awhile the two might actually come to blows over the idiotic book.”

“You said the Reverend Mayfield became upset?” inquired George, looking up from his pad.

“I’d say he was a damn sight more than upset,” answered Papa, still smiling at the memory. Then, for the first time he regarded the younger man as if just now realizing where his questions were leading.

“Wait a minute, George,” he went on. “It’s true that both men were agitated, but if you’re trying to imply that Reverend Mayfield was so angry he followed Logan and murdered him because he disagreed with his beliefs, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’ve known Erasmus Mayfield for fifteen years, and he’s one of the few ministers of my acquaintance that I consider to be a man of God.” He nodded toward the crumpled body. “I assure you, sir, that Reverend Mayfield is incapable of violence, much less the degree of brutality visited upon this unfortunate soul.”

George raised a hand, obviously in an attempt to calm my father. “Please, Judge Woolson, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought Mr., er, the Reverend Mayfield killed Mr. Logan. I’m just trying to collect information about the victim, particularly the time leading up to his murder. It occurred to me that maybe someone else, someone who overheard the argument say, might have been so het up about Nigel Logan’s support of Mr. Darwin’s book, that he thought to teach the young scientist a lesson. Maybe that lesson went too far and the man accidentally killed the fellow.”

I considered this highly unlikely and said so. “Come now, George, churches have been railing against Darwin’s hypothesis for over twenty years. I can’t imagine anyone at the Tremaine’s party becoming so distraught over Logan’s argument with Reverend Mayfield, that he would bludgeon the man to death.”

Samuel nodded in agreement. “Sarah’s right. Excuse the pun, George, but the severity of those blows to Logan’s head strike me as overkill. This attack has the feel of a more personal crime, as if the killer bore an intense grudge against the fellow.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” commented George, unconvinced by this argument. “I see cases like this every day, more than I care to recall. And I’ve come across many a rough who’ll beat a man to death for the sheer love of the kill. Doesn’t seem to matter if he knows the bloke or not.”

Samuel seemed about to offer another objection, but was distracted by the sound of a police wagon clattering across the bridge. Papa, Samuel and I remained standing by the body, while George and Officer Kostler went to meet the men. A few minutes later, they returned with three uniformed policemen, two of them carrying a stretcher.

Before George would allow them to move the body, however, he asked one of the new arrivals to sketch the scene, paying particular attention to the position of the corpse in relationship to the bridge support, as well as its rough distance from the top of the dirt embankment.

“This isn’t exactly police procedure,” he commented, directing a self-conscious look at my father. “But Fuller here has a good eye and does a bang up job with a sketch pad. I find it helps me remember the condition of the body and where we found it. I’ve heard that some police departments Back East have actually started to take photographic pictures of crime scenes, but so far we haven’t been able to convince the commissioner that it’s worth the expense.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, George,” I said, regarding him with newfound respect. Ever since he had made sergeant earlier that year, he seemed to be developing into a fine detective. “Imagine how helpful it would be to have a true representation of a murder site, one that could be examined at a later date for missed or overlooked evidence?”

Papa looked skeptical. “Considering all the time it takes for one of these photographer fellows to get a halfway decent likeness of their subject, I can’t see the process being of much use to the police for years to come, if ever.”

With this somewhat cynical pronouncement, my father turned and commenced the laborious climb back to the top of the embankment. Samuel and I waited where we were until Fuller completed his sketch (which was remarkably good considering how quickly it had been rendered), then watched as the remaining policemen loaded the victim’s body onto the stretcher. Given the steep grade leading up to the waiting police wagon, George and Samuel were forced to lend a hand in order to prevent the stretcher bearers from losing their precarious foothold and sliding down the hill, taking their heavy burden with them.

I followed this procession, steadying my lantern in an effort to see where I was placing my boots. Even then it became necessary for Samuel to take hold of my hand and pull me up the final half dozen feet or so. As he did, I was dismayed to see a taxi pull to an abrupt stop by the side of the bridge. I recognized the man who exited the carriage as Ozzie Foldger, a crime reporter who frequently competed with Samuel for stories.

“Who do you suppose tipped him off?” murmured my brother, eyeing the short, tubby little man who had a well-earned reputation for the ruthless tactics he all too often employed in his quest to scoop other reporters. “Sometimes I think that man has a telegraph machine installed inside his head.”

Foldger gave Samuel a mocking smile, nodded in some surprise to me, then blinked in astonishment when he recognized our father standing by the police van. The reporter acknowledged Papa’s presence with a polite tip of his cap, then pulled out his own notebook and pencil and set off to corner Sergeant Lewis. George shot a helpless look at my brother, then with unhappy resignation began to answer Ozzie’s rapid-fire questions.

With a muttered oath, Samuel kept a wary eye on his rival as the stretcher-bearers loaded the body into the police wagon. Seemingly using this as an excuse, George broke away from Foldger, bid my father and me a hasty good morning and joined Kostler and their fellow officers for the ride to the city morgue. With another sardonic smile, Ozzie Foldger pocketed his notebook and got back into his waiting cab.

As Papa, Samuel and I started for home, I was unnerved to see our father silently considering his youngest son, a perplexed look on his face. I could tell that Samuel, too, felt the tension which hung over our heads like a heavy swirl of morning fog. Indeed, the unspoken strain between my brother and father seemed to build with each step we took, until the short, two block walk home, felt closer to a mile.

It was a relief when we finally reached our house and were once again inside the quiet foyer. I headed immediately for the stairs, suddenly very weary and looking forward to the comfort of my bed. My brother followed closely upon my heels, eager, I was certain, to escape Papa’s probing gaze. We had gone only a few steps, however, when we were halted by our father’s voice.

“Wait a minute, the two of you,” he said, his tone pitched low enough not to awaken the rest of the family, but with a sharp bite of authority. He regarded us levelly from the hallway below. “You must think me remarkably naïve to accept without question how my two youngest children came to be standing beneath the Harrison Street Bridge in the middle of the night, examining a brutally murdered young man. I heard no police bells or other sounds of alarm, and even if I had, I would hardly expect the two of you to rise from your beds at that ungodly hour and chase after them.”

I glanced nervously at Samuel who stood a little below me on the stairs. His handsome face betrayed his agitation as he struggled to come up with some rational explanation for this admittedly irrational act.

Before he could manufacture an excuse however, Papa sighed and gestured dismissively with his hand. “Oh, never mind. I’m too tired to listen to what are sure to be a litany of woeful excuses.”

He used his thumb and forefinger to rub the bridge above his nose, a gesture he often performed when he was suffering a headache. “Your mother and I plan to spend the day with friends in the country. I’m going to try to get what rest I can before it’s time to depart.”

He lowered his hand and stared deliberately at each of us in turn. “But don’t either of you think for one moment that this marks the end of our discussion. I know you two are up to something, and I have every intention of finding out what it is.”

Monday, February 25, 2013



What happens in the club, stays in the club...except on Valentine’s Day.

Being single on the dreaded day of love sucks. Ask Morgan. Three years in a row of sucky dates have made her gunshy. But a night of clubbing and a chance meeting with the man who features in her naughty fantasies just might turn this girl’s thoughts around. Maybe.

The moment he laid eyes on Morgan, Trip knew she was the woman for him. And what better day to make his move than Valentine’s Day?

He’s about to find out how hard he’ll have to work to get what he wants—her.


“You’ll do anything to push people away, won’t you?” Trip rose to his full height, then grabbed her hand. “Come on.”

“Where the hell do you think we’re going?” Morgan braced her feet. “I am not going anywhere with you.”

“You’re pissed and hurting.” His blue eyes blazed, and his warm breath feathered on her cheeks. She noticed the freckles sprinkled on his nose. Since when had he sprouted freckles? And why was she looking?

“Lacey said you were upset, but I never expected you to be this upset.” Trip wrapped an arm around her. He tugged her across the room, through the throng of sweaty bodies to his office. What did he want? To stretch her across his desk for a quickie? Hot sex against the wall while the dancers partied, oblivious, on the other side? Her pussy quivered, and she pressed her knees together.

Trip McDivott served as the principal player in all her naughty fantasies. Now he wanted her alone in his office. If she wasn’t mistaken, she could’ve sworn she heard Lacey giggle over the thundering dance music. The cooler air of his office slapped her back to reality. This was her boss. She shouldn’t imagine him wanting her for anything other than as an employee.

Fucking cruel Valentine’s Day strikes again.

“Trip, let go of me. I’m here for fun, not so we can have a staff meeting.” She nudged him away from her, only to have him hold her tighter. “Trip, don’t make me bust your balls.”

He shut the door with one hand, then turned on her. “We need to talk.”




City of Lights Series Book 1

Sometimes it's harder to be together than it is to be apart.

Rabb is an alpha shifter, a werewolf, who likes to defy both the odds and authority. He prefers the city lights over the open spaces most shifters enjoy.

Brant is a politician with a secret that's becoming harder and harder to contain. As mayor of Bright City, he's determined to keep the city free of shifters to protect his secret.

The two men share a fair amount of distrust, along with a smoldering history that threatens to drag them under again. But when shifters begin to die in Bright City, Rabb and Brant need to find a way to work together again. Especially when one of them inadvertently steps right into the murderer's deadly path.


The bike’s single headlight swung over trees and flared against open land as Rabb turned onto the dirt road leading to the running grounds. The trip to the forest had taken two hours. Two hours of feeling Brant pressed against him. Two hours of smelling the other man’s incredible scent—the scent that still permeated his dreams every single night.

Two hours of a raging hard-on he couldn’t possibly ignore.

Brant’s hands resting lightly on his thighs didn’t help. Or the soft wash of his breath bathing the back of Rabb’s neck. At least Brant couldn’t hear the embarrassing thud of Rabb’s heart beneath his ribs. The husky roar of the bike saved Rabb some serious embarrassment on that score.

He pulled the bike alongside a line of cars, trucks, and bikes and stopped. The silence that met their ears when he killed the engine seemed almost louder than the throaty rumble of his Yamaha.

Cricket song throbbed through the velvet black night, driven past on a soft breeze that carried the scent of shifters. Lots of them. Rabb looked at Brant. “Whatever happens, stay close to me.”

Brant’s handsome face looked ghostly in the moonlight. “That isn’t exactly reassuring.”

Rabb shrugged, grinning wickedly. “Maybe I’m trying to keep you close for other reasons.”

Brant laughed. “Yeah, I wouldn’t put it past you.”

“Come on.”

They left the small spot of flattened grass that served as the parking area and moved into the trees. Though dense and claustrophobic, the forest wasn’t as uniform as it appeared from the road. They followed a narrow, path worn into dirt by shifters and their prey. Looking close, Rabb could see small signs of the packs’ passing. Small, broken limbs and mashed vegetation told a story only the most observant would recognize.

The night enveloped them. The woods seemed empty until Rabb tuned his senses to it, tapping into an entire ecosystem that was replete with warm and cold blooded inhabitants of all shapes and sizes.

The air between the trees was cool and damp and the earth beneath their shoes was rich with the scent of all the decades that had passed before.

Rabb focused on all of it, while keeping one ear on Brant, making sure he stayed close. He hadn’t been teasing the other man, or trying to score, he was worried about bringing him there. The pack wouldn’t appreciate his bringing an enemy to their most sacred place. In fact it was a pretty sure bet they’d be royally pissed. Rabb would be the only thing standing between Brant and a painful eviction.

Or worse.

Secrets lived long and prospered in the running grounds. Enemies were extinguished, soul and body, there. Mistakes were permanently obscured. And grudges were laid to rest, along with the losers.

Rabb would have his hands full keeping Brant from becoming a permanent part of the landscape.

They hadn’t gone far before Rabb smelled wood smoke. He stopped, throwing out a hand to halt Brant. “Stay behind me and keep your mouth shut. No matter what.” He turned and fixed the other man with a warning look. “Understand?”

Brant nodded but his expression held far too much arrogance for Rabb’s comfort. “I mean it, Brant. There are no laws here except pack law. You’re in our territory now. I’m the only insurance you have that you’ll walk out of here tonight.”

Brant crossed arms over chest, belligerent. “Which totally explains why you insisted I bring no guards.”

“I had no choice, fang. One look at your conglomeration of black suited thugs and this would have been a blood bath.”

Brant glared at him. Rabb could deal with that. It was the pinpoint of fear in the icy gaze that did him in. “Look, you’re just going to have to trust me. The pack is understandably jumpy right now. Someone is targeting us and when that happens we tend to contract and isolate. You’re not pack so you’ll be suspect. They aren’t going to care that we slept together once. A long time ago.”

“It was a hell of a lot more than once,” Brant offered.

“You know what I mean.”

They stared hard at each other for another minute and then Brant finally sighed. “Okay. I’m trusting you with my life, wolf. Let’s see if you can take better care of it than you took with my heart.”

Rabb felt the sting of that remark all the way to his gut. But it wasn’t the time or place to get into it. “I’ll do as well as you’ll let me. Just like last time.”

He turned away and started forward, not wanting to give Brant the chance to say anything else. Their past was their past and he really didn’t want to rehash it—now or ever. Some relationships just weren’t meant to be.

Theirs was apparently one of them.

Golden firelight danced through the trees as Rabb emerged into a small clearing. The fire raged at the center of the space, filling the sky with soft, gray smoke. Dozens of people stood around the flame, their faces blank and their muscles taut with anger.

On the ground next to the blaze was a slim form, wrapped in a blanket. Kneeling on the ground next to the woman was her mate, his head bowed. He was covered in blood, most likely some of it hers, and his big hands were clenched in tight fists at his sides.

As Rabb stepped out all heads turned in his direction. Almost immediately, faces softened, legs buckled, and several shifters hit the ground, prostrate with grief. A soft keening sound filled the night. One of the women sobbed, her head dropping back on the heartfelt sound.

Rabb was their alpha. Pack law said they showed no emotion until the time was right. Until all was in place. With Rabb’s arrival the pack could begin the grieving process. They wasted no time.

Brant stepped out behind him and the mood changed with the swiftness of a hatchet slamming into wood. Tension pulsed across the space, hitting Rabb with the fierceness of actual violence.

Slowly, in movements borne of exquisite pain, the mate of the slain woman stood and turned. His bloodied face was purple with rage, his hard eyes bright with it. His gaze found Brant and his jaw worked, the vein at the side of his throat throbbing with rage. “Good. You brought us a sacrifice. Let the blood feast begin.” He turned to the waiting shifters. “Tonight, let the woods fill with the sound of screams and the scent of death as we avenge our fallen packmate.”

Rabb’s muscles tightened, ready to fight if he had to. He’d known it was coming but even he was shocked by the swiftness with which it occurred. As the entire pack moved forward, all eyes fixed on Brant, the only sound Rabb heard was the startled gulp of the vampire standing at his back.


PAID IN FULL by Megan Slayer

PAID IN FULL by Megan Slayer

Ever danced with the Devil? I have...

You know how people make deals with God? I made one with the Devil. For what you ask? A boyfriend.

Little did I know, the Devil would not only take me up on the deal, but make it worth both our whiles -- just not in the way I'd imagined.

Turns out, nothing in my world is what it seemed.


Megan Slayer
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2013

This e-book file contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

I massaged my temples. Someone stood outside my apartment door thumping away. If it was the neighbors again, fucking in the hallways... I'd like to say I'd scream, but I'd probably stand there and watch. I mean, Adam and Alex are the two hottest men I can think of.

Part of me wanted to leave them alone. The other part dangling between my legs wanted to watch. Oh, what the hell.

I opened the door. "Holy Christ."

"Not Christ. Not by a long shot." The Devil stood at my door, arms folded and thick black hair waving in the breeze. I shivered and he inclined his head. Not a red-skinned half man, half beast like I'd envisioned. Nope. This Devil was handsome. A little taller than me, just like I liked, and filled out with muscle.

He crinkled his brow. "You know why I'm here. Turn around with your hands on the wall. Pay up."

Alex and Adam swore the Devil would come for me. They said engaging in our threesomes was deliciously devious and sexy. How in the hell was I to complain or say no? Right. I didn't. Every Friday I went to their apartment, and we did anything and everything to each other. Now the Devil wanted in? Sure. Wonder if Alex and Adam would want in?

"Excuse me." The Devil tipped my chin, forcing me to look him in the eye. "You owe me. You don't think I'd sit back and watch you fuck two of my best minions without getting in the middle, do you, Nicky?"

"No." I didn't. I knew he'd come calling... but wait. Alex and Adam were minions? That made more sense. They probably saw it as their calling to entice me. Oh, well. I liked being enticed.

"Turn around and give me what I want." His voice wasn't a roar, but I felt the insistence just the same.

I complied and stifled the grin. I knew damn well what he wanted -- my ass, all for his pleasure. Worked for me. I wanted it as hard and fast as he'd give it. I popped the button on my pants, then flattened my hands on the hallway wall.

"We could go into my apartment," I offered. I'm good at being bad, but sometimes bad can get you arrested. "Or won't the neighbors see?"

"Let me worry about them."

The next sound I heard was the tearing of denim. The shriek of fabric ripping split the air. Damn it. I liked those jeans, too. A whoosh of cool air caressed my bare ass. I spread my legs and wriggled my butt. My asshole puckered and my nerve endings tingled. Shit. I wanted this fuck more than I'd realized.

The Devil spread his hand over mine. His warm breath tickled my ear. He massaged my bare rump with his free hand. "You like dancing with the Devil?"

"Yeah." I closed my eyes and gasped for air. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't breathe.

"What do you want for your trouble?" He speared one finger into my ass.

I grunted at the burn from his invasion and bore down on him. "Love." I didn't have to think, just feel.
"Is that all?" He stroked me from within, curling his finger and massaging my prostate.

I rode his finger and moaned. Earlier I had cared who might catch us. Now? The entire world could've been standing there, and I wouldn't have noticed. My balls tingled. Maybe I did want the world to watch.

"More," I panted.


Sunday, February 24, 2013



When Lucas Spires goes missing, his brother, Amos, turns to Brett Hutchings, an ex Marine, kicked out for being gay. After Amos betrayed him, forced him out of Lucas’s life and ended his career, Brett vowed to never to speak with, much less help Amos, until the end of eternity. But Brett can’t deny his need to save Lucas, the one guy he’s never been able to get out of his system, even if it means working for Amos.

The trail is cold, with Lucas missing for more than a month. The cops are clueless, unable to find even a hint that the young man was abducted instead of just wandering away. When Brett latches onto a trace of evidence, it looks like he’ll find Lucas, but the clue doesn’t pan out the way he thinks it should.

Lucas can’t take the abuse any longer. He’s at the end of his chain, literally. If he could escape into the mountains, he would, but the sick bastard attached a manacle to his leg, exerting his control physically. Lucas is desperate to escape his captor; all hope has vanished, crushing his spirit. Lucas dreams of a savior, but Brett walked away a long time ago, and he’s the only man strong enough to save Lucas.

Warning: This book contains material that some may find disturbing and is only suitable for mature readers. This book deals with difficult subject matter, including abduction, abuse and murder. While there is no consummation of sex shown in the story, this is a very sensual tale. Enjoy!



The metal cuff dug into Lucas Spires’ ankle as he shuffled across the kitchen, trying to keep the chain dragging behind him quiet. Master would be up soon enough, and he didn’t need to wake the bastard early. Lucas paused and gazed up at the ceiling, searching for help, but knowing he’d find no answers there. Tears welled, threatening to spill down his cheeks; he swiped them away. Closing his eyes, he clenched his fist, willing himself to be strong.

Three weeks. The time in captivity seemed like forever. Three long weeks of hell and abuse at the idiot’s hands. He squared his shoulders and tamped down the pity party, vowing not to cave under the pressure.

Lucas took another step, the chain clanking against the floor. He stopped and almost crumpled to the linoleum, overwhelmed by misery. With gritted teeth, he willed himself to stay strong. The need for Master to secure the knives had passed with the desire to kill himself, and he couldn’t hurt Master. The fucker was too strong, and the zapper he carried delivered a hell of a volt.

The first week, Lucas had tried to escape. The second week, he’d lain on the little pallet Master had made for him and only moved when the beatings hurt too bad to stay still. This week he accepted his slave status; he had no choice in what happened to him. Serving Master was his only option in this new reality. Lucas fought the memories of his past threatening to race through his mind. He wouldn’t think of school or of rushing through the Student Union to meet with his friends over coffee. Letting his thoughts wander to those memories crushed him, making him want to end his pathetic excuse for a life. In some small part of his consciousness he hung onto the hope of making it out of here alive, where he wasn’t held prisoner, somewhere he had freedom.

Hunger clawed at his belly, but the fucker padlocked the refrigerator, only opening the appliance for him to cook. The asshole locked the pantry also. Lucas glanced down at his naked body. His stomach caved in, showing his ribs. His legs were too lean, like a scarecrow. Master fed him enough to keep him alive, but not nearly enough to sustain a healthy weight.

Master opened the bedroom door and Lucas flinched. He tried to keep his knees from shaking, but failed.

“I want eggs. You can have one.” Master opened the refrigerator, taking out the carton of eggs. “Three, scrambled. Don’t fuck ‘em up.”

Lucas stared at the open refrigerator, eyes burning with despair. So much food, and most of it would spoil before Master consumed half. If only...But it didn’t help to have if only thoughts. He ate what master gave him and didn’t complain.

Master watched as Lucas prepared the pan and cracked the eggs into a bowl. He whipped the eggs with a fork and poured them into the hot pan. The sound of the eggs sizzling reminded him of the zapper, and he flinched, his throat tight with emotion. Master hated when he broke down. He had to stay strong, at least until Master went off to work.

Lucas stirred the eggs, watching them grow thicker as the seconds ticked by. His belly hurt for food. One egg would be enough to take the pain away, but not enough to fill him. Never before had he been this hungry, this desperate for food, like all of him would splinter into little pieces if he didn’t eat.

Once Master’s eggs were done, Lucas put them on a plate and delivered them to the table where Master sat. He dismissed Lucas with a wave of his hand, the small reprieve almost caused Lucas to sigh, but he caught himself in time. Lucas went back to the stove and cracked his egg into the pan. He watched as the clear liquid boiled on the surface and turned white. He broke the yoke and flipped the egg, just like his mother had done before she passed away. When the egg turned white, and no yolk flowed from the cut in the center, he took the pan off the burner and ate the egg. No salt, no pepper. The bruises had faded, but the lesson remained; he received no extras.

Master ate the last of his eggs, placing his fork on the plate. Lucas swooped in, clearing the dishes. After rinsing the dirty dishes, he waited for his next set of instructions, hoping like crazy the jerk didn’t want sex. Master said nothing as he went to the bathroom. The sound of water running told him that his abductor had started his shower. Lucas relaxed a bit as he cleaned the kitchen, washed the plates and put them back in the cabinet. The asshole had never demanded sex after showering, Lucas got off easy today.

Since Master was still here, he didn’t even think about opening the refrigerator and sneaking a piece of meat, though his stomach ached as if he hadn’t eaten all week. He stood in the center of the kitchen waiting for Master to leave for work. The door to the bedroom opened and Master walked out dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Lucas had no idea what job Master held, and he didn’t care. All he wanted was for the jerk to leave for the day without asking for sex or touching him.

Without a word, Master fixed his lunch, locked the refrigerator and walked out the door. Lucas went to the window and watched the red truck drive away. No one ever came up the road except Master. They were somewhere in the mountains, that’s all he knew. The despair burning deep in Lucas’s belly came out in a piercing cry, rumbling through the rooms as he screamed and cursed at his situation.

He slumped against the wall, relieved that he was alone for the day. Part of him wished Master had him locked up anywhere but here. Truly alone in this piece of shit house, the isolation taunted him. After he stopped crying, Lucas wiped his eyes and checked out his food for the day.

Master had left a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the counter. Lucas paced himself, taking a small bite then waiting a long while for another, knowing he had all day to finish the meal. He lay on the blankets for a long time then swept and mopped the main room. He ate another bite of the sandwich, ignoring the clawing hunger. Boredom set in so he took a nap then checked the time, praying master wasn’t due back soon. He'd already eaten half the sandwich, but starvation hovered close, never leaving him alone. If he ate the rest now, he would get nothing else until Master returned home. Too long to go without any food.

Lucas turned on the tap and slurped down some water. The gross taste filled his mouth, but felt good when the liquid hit his belly. The temperature dropped even more last night, and he probably wouldn’t survive the winter unless Master gave him clothes. Already the house was a little chilly. At least he had a blanket.

He spent the day cleaning the house like Master demanded. Passing the time with the chores kept him from getting too bored. If only he found a way to communicate with someone and tell them he needed help. With no phone and no computer to hook up to the internet, he was at a loss.

After dusting the house again, Lucas realized he hadn’t eaten all of his sandwich and Master would return soon. He shuffled to the kitchen and heard Master’s tires crunch on the gravel outside. Fear pinged around his body. He stuffed the last two bites of sandwich into his mouth, chewing quickly and swallowing before Master came in. Master would be displeased if he didn’t eat what he was given and then Master would give him less tomorrow. Lucas had played that game earlier, and he hated the results. Master knew how to be cruel enough to motivate him to do whatever the bastard wanted.

Another quick slurp of water from the faucet washed the sandwich residue from his mouth. Lucas did a quick glance around the kitchen, noticing the napkin Master had set his sandwich on still on the countertop. He raced over and grabbed paper, tossing it into the trash before Master walked in.

The key slid into the first of the locks, and Lucas dropped to his knees, fighting back the tears. Another key in another lock, and Lucas settled his ass on his heals. The sharp clink of a padlock dropping to the ground sent fear racing through Lucas’s body. He shivered and bent forward, placing his forehead on the ground, his hands pushed in front of him as though he were bowing to Master.

The position, dictated by Master, left him totally defenseless against Master’s attacks and whims. Lucas choked back the sob threatening to erupt as the door swung open and Master stepped in.

“Slave, I’m home, and I’m feeling good.”

Welcome to hell.

Lucas shut down his mind, no longer allowing himself to think. He wouldn’t spend any more time permitting his emotions to rule. Soon enough, this place would be more than he could handle. When the time came, he’d have a plan. For now, he would exist and pray that somewhere, someone searched for him.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

KITTY KAT by Anne Kane

KITTY KAT by Anne Kane

Protect and Serve Series

Kat hasn’t always been a stray -- but times are tough, and when she lost her job, her no good boyfriend dumped her. Now she’s living in a deserted basement and scrounging for food behind the restaurants in the better section of town, while attending business school during the day.

Jake feeds scraps of his dinner to the fluffy little con-artist from time to time as he walks his beat. He can’t get the sassy stray off his mind. He feels a strange affinity for the feisty little kitty, so he decides to trap her and tame her. What he doesn’t realize is, she’s a shifter, and she’s conned his heart right out of his chest.


Protect and Serve: Kitty Kat
Anne Kane
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2011 Anne Kane

This e-book file contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

Jake hunkered down behind the glassless window, setting the cup of steaming take-out coffee down beside him. Stakeouts were nothing new, but this one was different. The suspect wasn't human; wasn't a suspect really. It was hard to believe that a hard-nosed, cynical Irish beat cop would go to all this trouble to capture one scruffy, ill-tempered scrap of a kitty cat.

He took a sip of the coffee, cursing under his breath when it burned his tongue. When he'd decided to go ahead with this scheme, he'd rigged a live animal trap from descriptions in a book he'd found in one of the old library buildings. Libraries were one of the first things to go when society broke down, but the books were still there, covered in dust and spider webs.

Bait was easy -- he'd been tossing scraps to the little feline for over six months now and he knew her preferences. Funny little thing, she preferred her meat cooked. Chicken, fried like they used to do it in those fast food places you saw on history shows, would draw her into the cage, and once the trap door shut, he'd have her. A soft thud alerted him and he stilled, his eyes narrowing as he searched the shadows of the deserted warehouse.

The little stray leapt into view from the top of a pile of dusty cartons. Her fur stuck up in unkempt clumps, affirming his decision to capture her for her own good. Once he got her home, he could look after her properly and put a little meat on her scrawny frame. Her attention flicked to the lump of chicken in the trap but she took her time, scouting the area first. Tail lashing back and forth, ears pricked forward on high alert, she stalked the perimeter of the warehouse space.

Jake suppressed a chuckle even as he respected the tiny creature's security precautions. Life had become much tougher after the collapse of the World Economic Council, and this was one of the roughest parts of the city. She might be small, but his soon-to-be little pet was a survivor.

Satisfied there was no imminent danger, the little cat padded toward the makeshift trap, her head tilted quizzically to the side. Probably wondering what this new contraption in her territory was and why it was there. Her nose twitched as she inched forward, stalking the chicken as if it were a mouse.

Jake held his breath as she entered the trap, her attention centered on the food. It seemed like forever before her entire body was inside the cage and the gate slammed down, ensnaring her just as she took the first dainty bite of the prize. Tiny as she was, the feline exploded into a snarling, spitting bundle of pissed-off fur, and Jake chuckled at the display of temper. He guessed she'd weigh less than ten pounds dripping wet, yet she acted as though she thought she were a full-sized tigress.

He unfolded himself from the chair and took another sip of his coffee. Now that she was secured, he wasn't in any hurry to face the little wildcat. Sauntering over to the trap, he stared down at his prize.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

HEALING by Veronica Tower

HEALING by Veronica Tower

If you lost the use of your legs, what would you do to walk again?

When an automobile accident severs Ari's spine, she's willing to try anything to regain her mobility and the independence that comes with it—even travel to a mysterious clinic in the Rocky Mountains in search of a miracle.

But no one will tell her how the clinic achieves its fabulous cures or how an unbelievably handsome young man living at the facility factors into the process.

Can this hot young man regenerate Ari's spine? And if he does, can Ari live with the hidden price of Healing?



 “Ari, are you awake?”

Ari’s eyes flashed open—not that that helped very much.

A blurry shadow beside her bed called to her again. “Ari?”

Ari groaned, recognizing the pleasant dream for what it was. She tried vainly to find a clock before she remembered she couldn’t read the numbers without her glasses. She flailed at the little table beside her bed but couldn’t feel the missing frame and lenses. She tried to sit up, but her useless legs frustrated her efforts.

“Here, let me help you,” the man said.

He clearly misunderstood her immediate priority because instead of handing Ari her wayward glasses he did something to the side of her bed. A motor hummed to life, lifting the mattress beneath her back and head and raising Ari to a sitting position. “Is that better?”

Ari finally pulled enough of her wits into wakefulness to identify the voice. “Arden?”


“What are you doing here?”

“I …”

“Wait a minute! I need my glasses. I can’t see anything without them.”

Arden fumbled around on her nightstand until he found the desired object and placed them in Ari’s hand. She gratefully slid them into place so that the blurry shapes resolved themselves into dark shadows.

“Thank you,” she said. “That’s much better. Now what are you doing here?”

“I, um, didn’t want to sleep so I-”

“Wait a minute!” she told him. “What time is it anyway?”

Arden spoke about the same time that Ari found the clock. “About three o’clock in the morning.”

She shook her head. “This is unbelievable. Am I missing something or did we just meet this morning?”

Arden audibly swallowed. “I’m really sorry,” he repeated. “I’ll let you get back to sleep.”

“There’s no point in that now,” Ari told him. “I’m awake. Why don’t you turn the light on and pull up a chair?”


The young man fumbled around near the wall for a moment and then the light came on in Ari’s room. She blinked furiously for several seconds until her vision cleared. Arden had already picked up a chair and carried it over to her bed. He was wearing sweat pants with no shirt and his pale body was very lean. She couldn’t honestly call him muscular, but neither was he skinny. The affect was very pleasant on the eye.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013



The High Rollers Series

Dateless, Sam still expects her best friend’s New Year's Eve wedding to go without a hitch. The one magical night a year has other ideas, and they come in the form of Eric Christianson.

Eric has everything—money, looks, and the title “High Roller.” When he coaxes the beautiful Sam into one night of passion, sparks fly and revelations become clear.

Bets are made, everything is a gamble. When chances rest on pure luck, the jackpot is in reach... will they double or walk away with nothing?



Sam placed a hand on his chest because she couldn’t resist the temptation to touch him. “Are you a poet Eric?”

Placing his hand on top of hers, he laughed. “I try, but I think I should keep my day job.”

Sam couldn’t help the snicker that left her lips. “And what is your day job?”

The look Eric gave her sent chills across her arms and a spasm of warmth through her core. The look belonged in the bedroom, not on the dance floor of a wedding reception. Suddenly, she felt surrounded by him, his presence drowning her in the scent of Ralph Lauren and something entirely male.

Eric laced their fingers together and brought the back of her hand up to his lips. “How about I show you personally,” he offered, following his move by placing a soft kiss against her skin.

Sam was calm and collected on the outside, but inside, she was doing back flips. Wedding Crashers got nothing on this bitch! She didn’t even have to try, and yet here she was the object of Eric’s interest. Still, while she was eager to race from the room and follow Eric wherever he led her, she did have one concern.

“What about the wedding? Don’t you think they would notice if a bridesmaid suddenly just disappeared?” she asked, her eyes glancing past him to the dance floor where Anya and Torrance were once again swaying to the music.

Eric sidestepped so Sam was forced to either stare at his chest or meet his gaze. Though she lingered on his chest, her eyes zeroing in on the gap he’d left in his button-up shirt that showed a bit of skin, it wasn’t long before her eyes trailed back up to meet his gaze. “I don’t think they will mind. We can try to make it back before they cut the cake.”

Sam smiled slowly. “Is that a promise?”

Eric took their glasses and set them aside on a nearby table before taking her hand and leading her towards the wide double doors he had entered through earlier. “I never said it was a promise. I said try.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013



A Sarah Woolson Mystery
An ancient Aztec priest speaking though the voice of a Russian clairvoyant, ghostly apparitions and flying trumpets, are hardly up practical young attorney Sarah Woolson’s alley.

So, when she and her protesting colleague Robert Campbell make their way through a violent storm to attend a séance at San Francisco’s Cliff House, they are stunned to find not only specters, ghouls and phantom music, but one very dead body at the table!



“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this!” Robert Campbell grumbled.

As if to punctuate this complaint, jagged bolts of lightning flashed across the night sky, followed by a resounding clap of thunder. That brief burst of light revealed my companion’s tense face as the cabby’s frightened horse nearly ran our brougham off the road. Eddie Cooper – the young lad I’d met several months ago during the Russian Hill murders – quickly brought the dappled-gray under control. Unfortunately, he seemed disinclined to lessen his horse’s pace as the first heavy drops of rain splashed onto the roof of the carriage.

My tall, brusque colleague – until recently one of my co-workers at the prestigious San Francisco law firm of Shepard, Shepard, McNaughton and Hall – pressed his face against the window to glare outside at what was rapidly turning into a downpour.

“I told you we were in for a storm. But no, nothing would do but that you drag me out to Land’s End in the middle of a hurricane. And for a séance, of all the bizarre—“

“Oh, for the love of heaven!” I sighed, fighting to retain my patience. Robert Campbell, who had proved to be a loyal ally in several past adventures, nonetheless could exhaust the fortitude of a saint. “Hurricanes occur in the tropics. This is nothing more than a rainstorm. Do stop being so melodramatic.”

Naturally, he ignored me. “If your brother Samuel is so het up to write an article about ghosts and goblins, why didn’t he make this ridiculous trip himself?”

“For the dozenth time, Samuel had to leave for Sacramento this morning. And as he has not as yet acquired the ability to be in two places at once, he asked me to go in his stead.” I was forced to grip the seat, as our carriage wheels bounced over a deep pothole, resulting in a fresh mumble of curses from my disgruntled companion. “Robert, be honest. Aren’t you the least bit curious about Madame Karpova? The city has talked of little else for weeks. From what I’ve heard, her European tour earlier this year was a huge success.”

He gave a low grunt. “I don’t have any patience for gullible people who believe that this – this charlatan can actually communicate with the dead.”

He jerked as another flash of lightning threw the bleak countryside into stark illumination. “And why in god’s name does she have to perform her parlor tricks all the way out at the Cliff House, instead of some decently dry room in the city?” He ran his fingers through his unruly mop of red hair, causing it to stick up in small, irregular patches. I also noted that his Scottish ‘rs’ were rolling along nicely, becoming ever more pronounced as the storm intensified.

Not wishing to encourage Robert’s bad temper with a response, I silently busied myself straightening the folds of my dark lavender skirt, particularly the horizontal pleating which had become tangled with my boots during the uneven ride. My unhappy colleague did not take the hint.

“It’s a mystery to me why Junius Foster agreed to this crazy idea in the first place. Lieutenant Foster has been managing the Cliff House for fifteen years, and damn profitably, too. What do you suppose possessed him to turn the place over to a Russian tea leaf reader, of all things?”

“Apparently Madame Karpova has some very influential admirers in San Francisco Society,” I replied, determined not to be pulled into another one of Robert’s pointless arguments. “I’ve never been to the Cliff House myself, but Madame Karpova evidently claims the place possesses a unique atmosphere conducive to ethereal vibrations.”

“Good lord, Sarah! Do you hear yourself?”

“Oh, do calm down, Robert. I’m merely repeating what Madame Karpova is reported to have said. I suggest you put away your preconceptions for the evening, and approach the experience with an open mind.”

He muttered something largely unintelligible by way of a reply, then once again came an inch out of his seat when another flash of lightning lit the carriage. It was quickly followed by a clash of thunder.

“Try to relax,” I said, steadfastly ignoring the frayed state of my own nerves. “I’m sure this bit of weather will soon play itself out.”

Half an hour later, I was forced to eat these words. Not only had the “bit of weather” not dissipated by the time we reached our destination, it had developed into a full-fledged deluge, made worse by erratically gusting winds.

Successfully negotiating the last rugged stretch of muddy road leading up the cliff, Eddie reined up in front of what had become popularly known as the “second” Cliff House. It had acquired this name some ten years earlier when Lieutenant Junius Foster added two large wings to the original structure which, heretofore, had primarily consisted of a saloon and dining establishment. This ambitious remodeling provided hotel accommodations for moneyed guests who, after an over-priced dinner, chose to postpone their long trek back to the city until the following morning. From rumors I’d heard, these rooms were just as frequently occupied by politicians and gamblers, or by gentlemen seeking a convenient trysting place to bring their paramours.

I looked out the carriage window at the single-storied edifice perched high above the northwest tip of San Francisco. One of the reasons for the Cliff House’s burgeoning popularity was the spectacular view it afforded of the entrance to the Golden Gate – at least on a clear day. Tonight, the churning black sea crashed against Seal Rocks as if determined to crush them into sand. And for once there was no sign of the sea lions, otters and seals responsible for naming the famous rocks, even though they commonly cavorted upon the sandstone cliffs at night. Perhaps Robert was right, I thought, looking out at driving sheets of rain, most sensible mammals would not venture out on a night like this.

Descending from his perch at the front of the brougham, Eddie Cooper opened the carriage door and handed me an umbrella. I nodded gratefully, although I feared it would do little to protect us from the torrent, which, at the moment, was pouring almost horizontally down upon us from the west.

“Take the brougham around to the carriage sheds, Eddie,” I shouted, in order to be heard above the howling wind. “After you’ve wiped the horse down, go to the kitchen. I’ve made arrangements for you to be given food and something hot to drink.”

“Righto, Miss,” Eddie replied, his youthful enthusiasm not in the least diminished by the storm. He looked furtively around, then pulled a heavy brown stocking from his coat pocket. By the way it jangled as he whacked the sock into his palm, I guessed he’d filled the toe with a goodly number of coins, making it into an effective, if somewhat primitive, cosh. “If you or Mr. Campbell need me, Miss, just call out.”

I wasn’t sure whether to smile or frown at this improvised, if serious-looking, weapon. “I’m sure that won’t prove necessary, Eddie. But it’s good to know you’ve come prepared.”

With a conspiratorial wink, Eddie helped me out of the carriage and I opened the umbrella. As Robert and I danced about trying to avoid the larger mud puddles, the boy leapt back onto his seat at the front of the brougham and clicked the horse off in the direction of the carriage sheds. True to my fears, the umbrella was next to useless as Robert and I hurried up the wooden stairs to the Cliff House entrance.

Before we reached the front door, it was flung open by a tall, rangy-looking man with a riotous black beard set off by vivid streaks of white, shaggy black eyebrows, and equally forbidding black eyes. The stranger’s appearance was startling enough to take anyone by surprise, but the way his towering frame filled the doorway certainly created a chilling enough atmosphere for the upcoming séance.

I must say he was well suited for the role. The deep lines on his craggy face had been uniquely chiseled, having the curious effect of making him appear menacing one moment and devoid of emotion the next, depending upon the angle in which he was viewed. He was dressed entirely in black from head to foot, which produced the brief, but startling illusion that his head floated through the air independent of a physical body. I guessed him to be in his fifties, but his deeply lined skin made age difficult to judge.

After several moments of awkward silence, the man stood back from the door, allowing us to enter. Although he uttered not one word of introduction – or indeed of welcome – I knew from Samuel’s description that this must be Dmitry Serkov, Madame Karpova’s brother. Stone-faced and mute, the gloomy Russian reached out his hand and inclined his head at our wet coats. Just as silently, we handed them over, then followed him as he led us to what I assumed must be the Cliff House dining room.

When we reached the door, I stopped so abruptly that Robert collided into my back. Even then, I made no move to go any further. Call it my imagination, but the atmosphere in that room was so palpable I felt goose bumps rise on my arms. For a dazed moment, I thought I had somehow stumbled upon Aladdin’s Cave!

All around us dozens of candles sparkled like glittering jewels, darting about this way and that as they were caught in a confluence of small drafts caused by the storm outside. While my eyes adjusted to this optical extravaganza, I spied a large, beautifully rendered Japanese screen standing against the wall to my right. I blinked as the flickering candlelight made the daintily painted birds and butterflies on the screen appear to flap their wings and fly.

Feeling Robert’s none too gentle nudge upon my shoulder, I mentally chided myself on being fanciful. Gathering my scattered wits, along with my sadly dampened skirts, I stepped through the door and into the dinning chamber.

It was immediately apparent that the room had been considerably rearranged, in honor, I supposed, of tonight’s séance. Most of the dining tables had been moved to either side of the room, creating an empty space before an expanse of windows overlooking Seal Rocks. There, three or four tables had been pushed together to form one long, rectangular surface, totally bare except for a large white candle glittering in its center. Normally, this location would have been ideal for viewing the popular rocks below. Tonight, however, the famous boulders were visible only when lightning illuminated them with stark streaks of light and shadow, making them loom up before us like some kind of demonic sea monster.

So taken was I by nature’s frenzied display, that it was only when someone coughed that I realized a group of people were already seated at the improvised table. Recalling myself to tonight’s task, I noted that nine guests sat before the window, five women and four men. All of them were dressed in fashionable, if dark-colored clothes. Were they afraid, I wondered a bit giddily, that the sight of brighter tones might offend the spirits?

Everyone sat in awkward silence, as if not sure what to expect and therefore unwilling to let down their guard. A few people regarded Robert and I with fleeting curiosity, then immediately shifted their eyes elsewhere.

Before we reached the group, a tall, exotic-looking woman seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Since the only visible door was the one through which Robert and I had just entered, I concluded the woman must have stepped out from behind the Japanese screen. For effect? If so, it had certainly succeeded. Almost surely the partition must conceal a second entrance into the dining room, perhaps from the kitchen, or even from the saloon.

The four gentlemen at the table rose to their feet as the distinctive-looking woman swept majestically to the table. From her regal bearing, I was certain this must be the famous – or should I say infamous – Madame Olga Karpova, the self-proclaimed Russian aristocrat and psychic who had successfully conquered Europe and who now seemed determined to triumph over north America as well.

Sinking gracefully into the vacant chair at the head of the table, Madame Karpova motioned for the gentlemen to take their seats, then beckoned Robert and I toward the last two unoccupied places opposite her. Our company now numbered an even dozen, but the tension I’d originally sensed in the room had increased exponentially with the clairvoyant’s entrance. The drama was about to begin, and I felt a brief shiver of anticipation. Looking at the expectant faces watching her from around the table, I was sure I wasn’t the only person eager to see what Madame Karpova had in store for us.

While the occupants of the table resettled themselves, some sharing whispered comments with their neighbors, others darting inquisitive looks at Madame Karpova, I, too, took the opportunity to study the psychic. She presented a singular appearance, both in her manner of dress as well as in her demeanor, which, like her brother, was decidedly theatrical. Perched straight-back in her chair, hands placed palms down on the table before her, Madame Karpova resembled nothing so much as an enthroned queen surveying her subjects. She had yet to utter a single word, yet she easily dominated the room. Even those individuals in our company who numbered among the cream of San Francisco Society, were regarding her with expressions of uneasy, yet undeniable, deference.

There was no doubt that Madame Karpova gave the impression of a woman accustomed to being in control; every movement of her slim body exuded self-confidence and absolute faith in her own powers. As with her brother, she was dressed completely in black, her gown constructed from some sort of diaphanous material, and decorated with astrological signs, some rendered in gold and some in silver. The flowing, long-sleeve dress was fastened at her throat by an onyx broach. The dangling silver and gold bangles that hung from her ears, were also shaped into astrological signs, although the light was too dim, and I was too far down the table, to identify which ones they represented.

Madame Karpova’s face was long and boldly sculpted, with high cheek bones and a thin, patrician nose. Her light olive-colored skin was very smooth and surprisingly free of wrinkles for a woman who must be approaching fifty. Full, beautifully shaped black eyebrows arched elegantly across a high forehead, and her lips were dark and somewhat severe, as if they rarely curved into a smile. The woman’s hair color was a mystery, since she had wrapped her head in a black turban. This, too, was fastened with an onyx broach.

Despite her unorthodox costume, the psychic’s most distinctive features were her dark brown, almost black, eyes. The heavy kohl she had applied to outline them was obviously for dramatic effect, but there was a deeper, almost magnetic quality about them that transcended artificial enhancement. To say that they were penetrating would be an understatement; I found them absolutely compelling.

Madame Karpova was effectively using them now to capture her guests’ attention. One by one, every eye at the table fixed upon her. Except for the uneasy shuffle of Robert’s feet and the sound of rain beating upon the roof and windows, the room was eerily silent. Like an actor milking every ounce of drama from a scene, she waited several long moments before speaking.

“Welcome, my friends,” she said at last. “I am Madame Olga Karpova.” She paused as if to give this pronouncement the significance it deserved, then gestured to the beautiful young girl in her mid to late teens seated to her right. “This is my daughter, Yelena.” Turning to the dour man who had let us in, and who was now seated directly to Robert’s right, she added, “And this is my brother, Dmitry Serkov. It is my practice to dispense with further introductions to protect the privacy of my clients. Be assured that those spirits beyond the pale require no introductions. They come to us in peace, bringing comfort and enlightenment to those loved ones who have been left behind.”

The clairvoyant’s voice was deep and richly textured. Although I detected a Russian accent, her command of the English language was surprisingly good. It was so exceptional, in fact, that I questioned her insistence that she had only left her native Russian three years earlier.

Once again she paused, taking us all in with that darkly intense gaze. “I have one, implacable rule. Those entities who choose to join us this evening are to be treated with the utmost respect and deference. Is that understood?”

This was answered by a surprised nod of heads, and a general, albeit hushed, murmur of agreement.

Seemingly satisfied, Madame Karpova turned to her brother. “If you please, Dmitry.”

Silently, the tall man stood and with a lumbering gate made his way around the room snuffing out candles. As he slowly but methodically set about this task, Madame Karpova explained what we might expect to see that night.

“Unlike many spiritualists, I disdain the use of cabinets, curtains or other such props. They are for those pretending to possess the gift, that rare ability to communicate with those souls who inhabit the nether world beyond our own.”

She spread her arms to indicate the empty space surrounding the table, and particularly the area around and behind her chair.

“I, Madame Karpova,” she went on with histrionic self-importance, “have no need to hide behind such artifice. I will remain in your sight throughout tonight’s reading.“ Her dark eyes captured each of ours in turn. “Even when I am no longer in possession of my body.”

This last bit was said in a voice so pregnant with implications that it precipitated another low, nervous murmur around the table. She quickly squelched the response.

“There are some of you in this room who scoff, who doubt not only my powers, but the very existence of life beyond the dark portals of death. Oh, yes, I know who you are.” Her voice rose to a crescendo, drowning out even the storm. I felt Robert stiffen beside me, and could not deny my own quick intake of breath. If nothing else, Madame Karpova certainly knew how to mesmerize an audience.

“Yes,” she went on. “I tell you the world is filled with disbelievers. But cynics beware. The spirits have been known to exact a terrible vengeance upon those foolish enough to deny their existence.”

She paused, and such was the sheer magnetism of the woman, that not a single sound filled the sudden void.

“I must also caution you,” she resumed in low, compelling tones, “I have no control over which entities will choose to join us tonight. My primary control – the spirit whom I will allow to inhabit my body during tonight’s reading – is Tizoc, an Aztec priest. But even a spirit over a thousand years old has limited influence over those who have traveled beyond our earthly plane.”

As she droned on about the world on the “other side,” Robert leaned close to my ear and asked what I knew about the others seated at the table.

Thanks to my brother Samuel, who had somehow managed to obtain a list of tonight’s attendees, I was able to identify most of the guests. I required no list, however, to recognize the distinguished-looking man sitting directly to my left at the opposite end of the table from Madame Karpova.

“That’s state senator Percival Gaylord,” I informed Robert quietly. My elder, sadly narrow-minded brother Frederick, was also a member of the California senate. Since I had been forced to listen to him gush about Gaylord, whom, for reasons best known to himself, had become Frederick’s mentor, I’d been more than a little surprised to learn he would be present tonight. What would my brother think, I wondered, if he knew his revered adviser was taking part in a séance?

“That’s the senator’s wife, Maurilla Gaylord, seated to his left,” I went on in a hushed whisper.

Robert gave a derisive grunt, then nodded toward the young man seated to Mrs. Gaylord’s left. “What about the boy? He looks too young to be taken in by this spirit nonsense.”

Unobtrusively, I peered down at Samuel’s notes which I’d placed in my lap. My brother’s horrible handwriting and the dim light made them difficult to read. Yet because of the young man’s age, there could hardly be a mistake.

“That must be Nicholas Bramwell,” I told my companion. “He’s the younger son of Edgar Bramwell, you know the San Francisco contractor. Samuel says he recently graduated from Yale University’s School of Law. That must be his mother, Philippa Bramwell, seated to his left.”

I nodded toward a plump, middle-aged woman stylishly dressed in a burgundy silk gown, the long cuirasse bodice decorated with narrow satin stripes that gleamed in the candlelight as her breath moved in and out of her ample bosom. Atop her perfectly-coiffed brown hair, perched a small but elaborate burgundy hat, trimmed in feathers, jewels and the same satin material.

“The elderly widow next to her is Mrs. Theodora Reade. Apparently, she and Mrs. Bramwell are devotees of spiritualism and rarely miss one of these events.”

“Then we have Yelena, Madame Karpova’s daughter,” Robert murmured, admiring the lovely, dark-haired girl sitting to Madame Karpova’s right. “By the silly look on the Bramwell boy’s face, he’s clearly taken a fancy to the lass.”

I had also noticed the admiring looks the young man was bestowing upon the medium’s daughter. Although Yelena pretended to be unaware of young Bramwell’s attention, the occasional sidelong glances she gave him from beneath long, thick black lashes told me she was very conscious of him indeed.

Seated directly to Madame Karpova’s left was another unlikely attendee: Lieutenant Frank Ahern of the San Francisco police department. Ahern was a short, rather burly middle-aged Irishman with a ruddy, good-natured face, and sandy-colored hair liberally sprinkled with grey. His eyes were a vivid blue, and seemed to gleam with ill-disguised skepticism as he regarded the Russian clairvoyant. To his left was his wife, Nora, a small, pleasant-looking woman who was watching Madame Karpova with single-minded intensity.

“By the horn spoons!” Robert exclaimed after I’d identified the Aherns, his so-called whisper loud enough for Madame Karpova’s penetrating eyes to fasten on us in silent disapproval. “A state senator and a police lieutenant. You’d think they’d be the first ones to escort this Karpova woman and her bag of tricks out of town.”

“Shh,” I hissed, as other faces at the table frowned in our direction.

With a final, disapproving glare at Robert and myself, Madame Karpova’s attention went to her brother. In that same ponderous pace, Dmitry Serkov extinguished the last candle – save for the white pillar positioned in the middle of our table – then once again took his seat between Robert and Mrs. Ahern. The light cast by this sole remaining candle barely penetrated beyond the twelve of us, leaving the rest of the room in virtual darkness.

Madame Karpova cleared her throat and solemnly announced that we were ready to begin. “I would ask each of you to relax and concentrate on the entity you wish to contact,” she instructed. “Please remember, once I have entered into a trance I will be in an altered state, delicately balanced between this world and the next. While I am out of my body, it is vital that no one make any sudden sounds or movements, or attempt to—“

Her words abruptly cut off as the dining room door swung open with a bang, and the room was vividly lit by another flash of lightning. Startled, we all turned to see a large man standing framed in the doorway. At least I supposed the intruder was comprised of flesh and blood. In truth, he was so bizarrely dressed in a long black cape and matching cowl pulled low over his eyes, that for a wild moment I thought he might actually be one of Madame Karpova’s spirits.

Since he was only illuminated for a fleeting moment, I had to question whether the figure had truly been there at all. But when a second bolt of lightning quickly followed the first, I knew the stranger had been no figment of my imagination.

With a muttered oath, Lieutenant Ahern rose halfway out of his chair. By the light of the table’s flickering candle, I could see that his expression was a cross between anger and barely suppressed fear.

“Darien Moss!“ the police lieutenant hissed. “What in the name of all the saints are you doing here?”


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