I admit it -- I've known for years I needed to update my website from its original design. I was totally in love with the kickass graphics created by none other than Ilona Andrews (fabulous urban fantasy author).
But after a while all things need a change.
Of course, I kept procrastinating -- there were books to write -- and it never got done. Until now.
So here's my new Jana Oliver site, complete with info on all the books plus a section for my alter-ego Chandler Steele. And I promise to post more often than once every (checks sidebar) two years 0-o.
Cats have it made. At least the indoor ones. They sleep most of the time, are fed regularly with on-demand scratches, playtime, treats. You name it, cats got it. All because they’re adorable furry tyrants who were smart enough to cozy up to some primitive humans and rid their caves of rats. Seems like a good bargain to me.
This is my cat, Dali, who is now nearly 11 years old. She’s a rescue who started out way skittish and now she’s queen of all she surveys. As it is with cats. Right now I wish I was here because napping on this gray, rainy day would be perfect.
Thanks for reading my books and hanging on social media with me.
Hope your Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are bright. On to the New Year!
Now that I’ve completed the first draft of VALIANT LIGHT (Demon Trappers #6), I’ve “marked up” about 100 pages of it as I work on Draft #2. So far I’m happy with it.
That doesn’t mean the story won’t slide off the rails further into the edit, but so far folks are doing what they should. Riley’s snarkiness (missing in the first draft) is fully engaged and Beck is being his lovable self. Lucifer is all things creepy, as one would expect of the CEO of Hell.
Hoping to have the second draft done before Christmas. That’s being *very* optimistic. Still, it’s nice to have goals. As the late Douglas Adams once said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” #VALIANTLIGHT
Beginning today, SOJOURN (the first book in the multi-award winning Time Rovers series – a mashup of fantasy, science fiction, romance and historical mystery) is on sale at Kobo.
Set in the mean streets during the Autumn of Terror (think Jack the Ripper 1888), SOJOURN introduces us to Jacynda Lassiter, a Time Rover who is one time hop away from insanity. But when her lover is killed and his body thrown in the Thames, Cynda vows to find his killer, without screwing up history.
Casebook: Jack the Ripper
“Sojourn is a rare, well-researched and entertaining tale of time travel set against the backdrop of Victorian England and the Whitechapel Murders.”
Romantic Times BOOKreviews – 4-1/2 Star Top Pick (Science Fiction/Fantasy)
“Oliver’s first Time Rovers book is a spellbinding, multilayered mystery with a bit of romance that will delight fans. She’s done her research, skillfully recreating the sights and sounds of Victorian England with perfect detail, and she’s equally adept at fast-forwarding into the future. Strong characters and realistic dialogue add to this exciting page-turner.”
Winner of the:
*Bookseller’s Best Award (Greater Detroit RWA)
*Daphne du Maurier Award (Kiss of Death Chapter RWA)
*Golden Quill Award (Desert Rose RWA)
*Prism Award (Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal Chapter RWA)
*ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award (Editor’s Choice – Fiction)
Welcome to the world of the Time Rovers® www.TimeRovers.com
Pseudonym: nom de plume/pen name, alias
Short version: Chandler Steele is a pen name. The actual person behind the Veritas Series is me.
And who is me?
Jana Oliver. I’ve been in the publishing biz since 2001, been writing since 1998. My books have been published by small presses, big presses and independently. My most successful endeavor to date is the Demon Trappers, which is a young adult urban fantasy series and has been published worldwide. I’ve won quite a few awards, including ones in the mystery genre. In short, I’m not a newbie.
Why Publish Under Another Name?
Why did I create Chandler and keep her a secret? Much like J.K. Rowling (though my royalty checks are **considerably** less hefty), I wanted to do something new without any preconceived notions as to what the story might contain. Rowling knew her fame with Harry Potter colored readers’ expectations of her Cormoran Strike series, so she published as Robert Galbraith. These books are classic British mysteries, set at a different pace than the Potter ones, with not a jot of magic or the paranormal. Once her pen name was “outted”, reviewers complained that the Strike books weren’t anything like Harry Potter. Which was the whole point.
I’ve run into this issue myself as often my non-Demon Trapper books are compared to the series, which is much beloved. I understand the sentiment, but I wanted to have free rein. Chandler was “born” so I could write pure romantic suspense/thrillers, based on current events, stories that include adult language and (gasp) sex.
From this day forward, Chandler and Jana are one person. No more hiding that fact in Facebook posts or on Twitter, Instagram, etc. Chandler will continue to “live” in Chicago, writing her rom suspenses with hunky heroes and kick butt heroines (and blowing sh*t up.) Jana will continue to live in Atlanta and write spooky paranormal urban fantasy stories. They will happily co-exist as Jana and Chandler both like scotch and the occasional cigar.
The Other Reason I did This
This was an experiment, of sorts. I wanted to find out exactly how hard it would be for a new author to find readers in 2016, without using an existing network of friends and acquaintances. Tyra Burton (best buddy and university marketing professor) and I used many of social media’s tricks, tools and platforms in an effort to build readership. And found it was just as hard in 2016 as it was in 2001 because there is so much competition. In fact, we’re presenting a workshop on our findings today, complete with all the grimy details. We both learned a lot of new things, lessons that we will be applying down the line.
For Jana’s readers, you have two books and a novella you didn’t realize existed (CAT’S PAW, KILLING GAME and BROKEN DREAMS in the Veritas series). These are NOT young adult stories. Currently they are only available on Amazon and Createspace, but will be rolling out on iTunes, B&N, Kobo and GooglePlay in December, along with a boxed set. More details can be found at Chandler’s website (www.ChandlerSteele.com) along with some informative blogs that cover “ripped from the headlines” topics like domestic terrorism, what it’s like in prison, prostitution and drug running in New Orleans, what it’s like to be a sniper, etc. And yes, the next Demon Trappers book (VALIANT LIGHT) will be out in the spring of 2017.
For Chandler readers, well now you’ve got a lot more selection to choose from (www.JanaOliver.com). Twelve books are currently available, ranging from young adult urban fantasies, to paranormal murder mysteries, and an award-winning trilogy about time travelers in Victorian London.
Eventually Chandler’s website will be integrated into a section of Jana’s (once that site is completely reworked). From now on I’ll be doing events as both JO and CS. But I have to admit being CS has been a blast, mostly because I had the joy of writing books I’ve always wanted to write while running completely under the radar.
So it’s ALL GOOD!
Jana & Chandler
Jessie Kilpatrick was beginning to regret her plan. It’d been a great idea: drag her hermit of a sister out on a sultry May night to take a stroll around the French Quarter. Maybe even have some fun together, like it used to be. Anything would be better than watching Katarina curl up in her bed, nose deep in another book of ghost stories. Unfortunately her identical twin wasn’t playing along.
“Can we go home now?” Kat asked, her tone dangerously close to a whine. “You know I don’t like Bourbon Street. It’s too weird.”
Weird? That was saying something coming from a girl who led ghost tours on New Orleans’ streets and into its spookiest cemeteries, during which Kat would regale the rapt tourists with tales about Voodoo queens, zombies, black curses and the spirits of dead pirates.
“Come on, it’s early,” Jessie said. “Let’s stay a bit longer.”
Kat wasn’t listening to her now, staring at nothing, her forehead wrinkled as if in pain.
“You okay?” No reply.
She’s zoning again. She knows that creeps me out.
“Let’s see if we can grab a table at Johnny W’s up on the gallery,” Jessie urged, hoping to bring her sis back to reality. “We can split a burger and fries. I’ve got my fake ID. We can get some beer and—”
“No!” Kat said, exhibiting a rare flash of anger. “No on the drinking. No on being down here.”
“Because of them, right?” Jessie asked.
The “them” being ghosts, which Kat claimed she could see. It hadn’t always been that way: It was only after Hurricane Katrina that her sister had begun to change. Their mom had said it was to be expected after all that had happened during the storm: the loss of their father, watching as New Orleans reeled from the horror of the dead, the maimed and the abandoned. In fact, Kat had grown even quieter, more withdrawn in the two months since Ian, their brother, went missing.
Now it was as if Kat and Jessie were no longer identical twins. Her sister had dyed her hair blue-black and went uber Goth with her clothing. Black, with occasionally a bit of dark blue. An odd choice for New Orleans’ steamy summer weather.
Jessie’s hair was still caramel brown, currently pulled back in a ponytail to keep it out of her face. Jeans or shorts were her thing, along with colorful T-shirts, preferably those with statements like Chicken Little Was Right. As Jessie saw it, black was for mourning.
She loved being with people, loved hanging out, talking and dancing. She’d gone through three boyfriends in her senior year because she was easily bored. Kat? Not a steady guy since eleventh grade, and that one was only because she was seriously into the dude’s pet iguanas.
Kat rubbed her temples as if she had a headache, frowning. “I only came along because of you. It hurts to be here.”
Hurts? That was new. Jessie rolled her eyes. “You’re going drama queen on me.”
“No, I’m not,” her sister replied, steel in her voice now. When a tourist bumped into her, she stepped to the side to allow him to pass. “Can’t you feel how much it’s changing?”
Jessie turned to survey the heart of New Orleans, trying to picture it through Kat’s eyes. It didn’t work. Bourbon Street was Ground Zero for strange behavior in this city. At a little past nine-thirty, it already brimmed with bodies, mostly inebriated tourists. Go a block or two either way and it was quieter, but this street was considered the heart of New Orleans.
Most locals avoided this stretch of real estate on a Saturday night, but not Jessie. It was pure sensory overload. As you walked along it alternated between hot and humid to icy cold when you stepped in front of the open doors, all because the restaurant and bar owners blasted their air conditioning to compensate.
Jessie took a deep inhalation of the tantalizing scent of fried fish that wafted out of one establishment, followed by the yeasty smell of beer at another. Music flowed out of the bars as well—country, rock, blues or jazz. It was as if Bourbon Street didn’t know what it wanted to be, so it was trying to be everything at once.
“Nothing’s different,” Jessie said. “Same weird. I don’t know why it’s bothering you so much.”
The neon signs sent shafts of colored light along the rain-dampened pavement as couples wandered along, some toting alcohol, others just staring into the various bars, restaurants and sex shops. A brass quintet fired up a blaring version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” which had Jessie humming along.
She gazed up at the closest gallery where people sipped their drinks and watched the stream of humanity below. One woman pointed and laughed when a hairy dude on inline skates rolled along the street. He wore a grass skirt, two coconut shells for a bra, and a long purple wig. His wiry gray mustache somehow seemed to fit.
“You really can’t feel it, not at all?” Kat said, gesturing around her.
“No, to me it’s just home.”
New Orleans in all its gaudy glory.
There was always a vibrancy here, a pulse of life echoing around them, a visceral electric buzz Jessie could feel deep in her veins. It was weird, but she got high off it, a triple Grande espresso with a side order of an adrenaline rush. Something she could never quite explain to her sister. She’d tried and failed. Repeatedly.
Kat squinted now, as if her headache was growing worse. “It feels different. More . . . dark. The ghosts are uneasy and they only get that way when something bad is going to happen.”
A spectral early warning system?
Jessie gave in. “Okay, let’s go home.”
“Look, maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. You stay and do whatever it is you do down here. I’ll go.”
“Yeah. But be home before Allie or you’ll get another lecture,” Kat said, acting more like their aunt, the cop, than someone who had just turned twenty. Then she must have realized how she sounded. “Look, I’m sorry I’m a bummer.”
Bummer? No, you’re way worse than that. Which Jessie didn’t dare say or her sister would go into pout mode and stay there for a day or two.
“I just worry about you,” Jessie said. “You’re so . . . ” She couldn’t find the right word, at least not one that wouldn’t piss off her sister.
“Reclusive, introverted?” Kat offered, doing her human thesaurus thing.
“Yeah, all those. I don’t want you to become some lonely old lady with a hundred cats, you know?” She caught hold of her Kat’s chilly hand and squeezed it. “I just want you happy, and I don’t think you are right now.” Because I’m not.
Her sister looked away, confirmation that Jessie was closer to the truth than either of them liked. “I just want . . . ” Kat began, then shook her head. “Never mind. It’s okay.”
No, it’s not. What hurt more was that Jessie didn’t know how to make it right.
“I wish Dad was still alive and I want Mom to get better, be more like her old self.”
“And we both want Ian back,” Kat replied. “I miss him so much.”
Jessie found her eyes clouding at the mention of their brother. “I miss him too. If Ian’s alive, where the hell is he? Why hasn’t he called us?”
Kat shook her head. “Maybe someday we’ll know the truth.”
Not until they find his bones at the bottom of Irish Bayou.
While they walked back down the street, Jessie and Kat fell silent for a couple of blocks, each caught up in their own thoughts. As kids they’d always chattered back and forth, finishing each other’s sentences. They’d dressed alike, just to mess with other peoples’ heads. It was fun. Their triplet, Ian, had played along—the Third Musketeer, they’d called him.
It had all changed two months before when the car containing their mother, brother and their dog, had plunged into Irish Bayou during a heavy spring thunderstorm. Their mom had been badly injured and was now recuperating in a rehabilitation facility in Kenner. The doctors said her mind might never be the same.
Ian had disappeared, as in no trace of him. The divers had done their best to find him once the storm had passed, but he hadn’t been in the car when they’d winched it out of the water. With the heavy rains, the current could have easily pulled the body away from the crash site. As one of the cops had so callously observed, “There’s gators in there. I wouldn’t put too much stock in finding anythin’ left.”
“He’s alive,” Kat murmured, eyes wider now. “He feels closer now.”
Please God, don’t let her be wrong.
“You guys always kinda creeped me out,” Jessie admitted. “I don’t know how you could get into each other’s heads like that. I mean, if it was you and me, sure. That’s a twin thing. But Ian isn’t identical to either of us. How could you two have such a connection?”
Kat shrugged. “Always did. I’m not the only one who thinks he’s alive. Even Mom says he is.”
Jessie rolled her eyes. “Our dear mother was talking to a grapefruit during breakfast the other day and acted like it talked back. You know what she’s like now.”
“I know,” Kat said quietly.
“But, ah . . . she’s better,” Jessie added. “I mean, she remembers us now. That’s good, right?”
A curt nod was the response.
They parted company at St. Peter Street and Kat headed toward the family bookshop and their home above the shop. It was difficult for Jessie to let her go on her own—that came from losing Ian—the fear that somehow her other sibling would be taken from her. She waited until Kat vanished from site, then she headed to Johnny White’s. A few minutes later a text arrived from her sister.
HOME. STOP WORRYING
“Not a chance.”
Jessie paused at the doorway to a bar, spending a few moments listening to a smoky jazz trio, then wandered on. She and Kat had just turned twenty, a birthday made bittersweet as their brother wasn’t around to share it. There’d been no cake, no celebration. No joy.
After the wreck, they’d dropped out of their second year in college. There was no other option, what with their mother so badly injured. Though they both had enrolled for the fall semester, Jessie knew she wouldn’t be attending.
Too soon. Not until we know about Ian.
Her sister had disagreed and there’d been some heated arguments about the issue. Arguments that would continue until Kat understood how things really were, and that it wasn’t going to be Jessie who went back to school. At least not for a while.
As she grew near to Johnny White’s, she spied a former high school classmate, now a student at Tulane University. Lisa Timmons was easy to spot: She was tall and her blond hair hung to her waist, supermodel straight, as if the gods had gifted it to her just to annoy the lesser mortals. It did annoy Jessie, whose hair always turned unruly in New Orleans’ unrelenting humidity. Then she’d learned Lisa spent a crap ton of money on some special treatment to make it look like that, and had to spend even more every six months to keep it that way.
Even from a distance, Lisa didn’t look happy, not with that cocked hip and the “You’re not listening to me” expression she adopted whenever she wasn’t getting her way. They might be friends, but they weren’t close because it was All Lisa, All the Time.
She was arguing with a guy, probably the latest boyfriend. All through high school Lisa had attracted boys like mushy apples did fruit flies, and cycled through them every few months or so. This one was as tall as her, about five eleven, with broad shoulders and dark hair that curled along the open collar of his blue shirt. He wore a pair of faded blue jeans that were shiny at the knees. A denim jacket hung off Lisa’s shoulders, covering her skimpy tank top.
As Jessie drew near, she heard her say, “Don’t be like this.”
The young man frowned. “I should have known you’d be just like the rest of them.”
“Listen to you! All rich and famous, but you don’t give a damn about anyone else.”
Rich and famous? Jessie slowed her pace, taking another long look at the guy. Smoky brown eyes set off his face, moving it from every day to unique. Still, he didn’t ding her “Ohmigod, that’s so-and-so” meter.
“I ask for one little thing and you get pissed at me. Is it because I wouldn’t sleep with you?” Lisa demanded.
Okay, that’s awkward. Jessie actually felt bad for this dude.
The guy’s face colored, his posture tensing. “That wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference. No way am I doing what you want. Just drop it!”
Knowing now wasn’t the best time to say hi, Jessie paused long enough for someone to move out of the way on the sidewalk, then stepped around the couple. Lisa’s guy suddenly shifted to the right, and a second later Jessie was hit full on with a cupful of cola and ice, courtesy of her outraged buddy.
“Wow. Great aim. I’m impressed.” the guy said, smirking.
“Really? Was that necessary?” Jessie called out, dripping liquid in all directions.
Lisa stared at her. “Oh, Jessie, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. I was aiming at this piece of . . . crap,” she said, glowering at the young man as if it’d been his fault. “We’re done, Sayer. Hit the road.”
“Works for me,” the guy replied. “Jacket?”
Lisa slung it at him. “Go to hell.”
“You first, babe,” he said. After he delivered a blistering glare at Jessie, he stalked off into the crowd.
Jerk. “What was all that about?” Jessie asked.
“Nothing . . . well, I need to know the truth about something and I thought Sayer would help me. Obviously not.”
So you drowned me because you didn’t get your way? Of course you did.
Lisa’s phone pinged and she scrolled through the message. “All right!” she crowed, smiling now. “I got what I needed, no thanks to that dick. Look, I gotta go. Call me, okay?” Then she scurried off into the crowd while Jessie drip dried in the New Orleans’ heat.
“Yeah, thanks, glad I could be part of your little psychodrama there.”
Jessie carefully wiped her face with a tissue, hoping her mascara hadn’t done a runner. The evening was shot. No way could she hang around looking like she’d bathed in cola as it was already becoming sticky.
As she turned to go home, someone brushed by her, moving quickly toward the business district, like they were following Lisa. Jessie found herself shivering uncontrollably for a few seconds, as if Death himself had just walked past her.
She’d felt that way two other times in her life, when her dad had died, and the night of the car wreck. Coupled with Kat’s premonitions, Jessie swore she felt the darkness increase, despite the bright lights and the drunken laughter.
Now I’m going crazy too.
After the inadvertent baptism in soda—and having to explain to her sister exactly how that had happened—Jessie needed to escape. Despite Kat’s plea that she stay home, she took a quick shower, then hopped in the family car and headed out of the city. It was late, just after ten, but if she was lucky, she could make the trip and still be home before midnight. She was too old for a curfew, but she respected her aunt’s paranoia. As a New Orleans’ street cop who saw some really bad stuff go down late at night, Allie didn’t want her nieces to be part of that.
By the time Jessie reached Highway 90 northeast of the city, a brief rain squall had run its course, now just a misty drizzle. As she cut off onto Highway 11, the Toyota’s wipers dragged across the windshield, revealing the pavement in brief patches. She usually had the radio on, but she’d purposely left it silent to concentrate because of the rain. Her hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly they ached. They always did when she drove here. The pain kept her focused, kept her mind from playing games.
Nearly every night for the last two months she’d made the trip along this two-lane road, slowly driving past where the accident had occurred. If the traffic was light, she’d pause and leave flowers behind. Coming here during the day didn’t feel right, and Kat didn’t want to join her, so she’d made the pilgrimages into the dark Louisiana countryside on her own. Jessie never really understood the need she felt to visit this place. It was dangerous out here. What if something happened? What if she landed in the water and drowned like Ian?
My. Brother. Is. Not. Dead.
That had been her mantra ever since the call from the parish police, telling them of the accident. It was why she drove along the same stretch of water, praying for a miracle.
Kat insisted this was an irrational obsession. Her sister didn’t understand. Once Jessie stopped making this journey, Ian really would be gone. This was her way of keeping him, and her hope, alive, feeding the dream that had her brother materialize out of the darkness like nothing had ever happened.
But deep down, Jessie feared that dream was being suffocated with each passing day. Soon it would no longer have the oxygen needed to survive, probably like Ian when the car had sunk deep into the brackish water.
I’m so messed up.
As she drove closer to the accident site, Jessie murmured a prayer. If only God would hear her, just once. Movement on the road ahead caught her notice, probably a raccoon or an alligator. She sucked in a sharp breath when a dark figure appeared in the glare of the headlights. Moving too fast, she had to swerve to miss him. The car instantly rebelled, going into a long skid on the wet pavement.
Time slowed as the vehicle edged toward the rain-swollen marsh, toward where her brother’s bones might rest. Finally the car lurched to a stop at an angle across the two lanes. Heart pounding and her breath coming in short pants, Jessie laid her head on top of her hands clenched around the steering wheel. Her stomach rolled over, threatening to eject its contents. Swallowing heavily, she slowly raised her head to find she sat in the middle of the two-lane road, the perfect place to get flattened if another driver wasn’t paying attention.
Unwilling to turn around in the dark, not with water on either side, she eased the car to the shoulder on the proper side of the road, and put it in Park with a shaking hand. Flicking on the emergency flashers, only then did her eyes go in search of the person she’d nearly hit.
As if she’d conjured him out of her dreams, a form moved out of the darkness and into the headlights.
“Ian?” she whispered. The figure was about her brother’s height, tall and leggy, and clothed in a dark denim jacket, no doubt to thwart the mosquitoes. He staggered, as if disoriented.
“Oh, God.” Jessie flew out of the car, bashing her elbow on the door. “Ian?” she cried.
As she ran forward, he looked up and she saw his face clearly in the lights. Hope flipped to fury as she skidded to a halt on the wet pavement. It wasn’t her brother. No, it was Lisa’s boyfriend, the guy from Bourbon Street.
“You have got to be kidding me!” she shouted, her blood boiling. She marched toward him. “You stupid moron! What are you doing out here?”
He blinked at her, confused. “Getting drunk. What does it look like?” he replied, holding up a six-pack of beer with his other hand, three of which were already gone. Then he blinked again, this time recognizing her. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying not to run over your stupid ass, what do you think?”
Jessie took a long breath to hold back the tears. For the barest of moments she’d thought her prayers had come true.
Not tonight. Maybe not ever.
The sound of chorusing frogs grew louder around them. The marsh had a strong, sulfur stench and the mosquitoes buzzed her face unmercifully, eager for fresh blood. A low rumbling noise indicated there was a gator nearby.
Jessie put her hands on her hips. “I could have killed you.”
The young man shrugged. “Whatever.” He stumbled toward her. When he grew closer, he veered toward the other side of the car, as if being close to another human was painful.
“You’re wasted,” she said.
“No, but I’m getting there.”
He set his cans of cheap beer on the hood, then heaved the empty into the water. With much effort, he freed a full can from the plastic holder.
“Does Lisa know you’re out here?” Jessie asked.
He popped the top on the brew. “Why the hell would she care? She’s just another skank. I’m better off rotting in this bayou than—”
“Don’t say that!” Jessie shouted, slamming a fist down on the car hood. “Don’t ever say that.”
He blinked at her. “Hey, chill.”
Jessie wrapped her arms around her body, trying to extinguish the images roiling in her mind now.
“Someone would miss you,” she said, her voice quaking. “Someone would wonder how you got hurt . . . how you . . . died.”
“No, you’re wrong. No one would miss me,” he said, shaking his head.
“I would,” she said defiantly.
He looked at her, frowning. “Why? You don’t even know me.”
“Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t care.”
He looked down the highway, squinting. “There’s another car coming. You need to get moving or you’re going to be the one who’s dead.”
He wasn’t lying: There were headlights in the distance. “You want a ride back to town?”
“No. Just want to be left alone.” He took a few steps, then halted. “I’m Sayer . . . Arceneaux. The last name is spelled with an ‘x’”. He stifled a burp. “A-r-c-e-n,” he paused, “e-a-u-x. Make sure they get it right in the obituary, okay?”
“The what?” she blurted.
Then the guy whose last name ended in an “x” headed for the other side of the road, swigging his beer as he walked. Jessie returned to her car and waited as the other vehicle passed by. To her relief, the drunken fool didn’t jump in front of it.
“I don’t care if you are an idiot,” she muttered to herself. “No way I’m leaving you out here on your own.”
It took her a while to find a place to make a U-turn, then she headed back toward Lisa’s ex, passing two cars along the way. Neither had bothered to stop for him. When Jessie caught up with him, she slowed the car to a crawl, realizing he had something in his hands.
What are you doing?
Sayer straightened up now, holding a big turtle. He walked it to the water’s edge, away from the road, then set it down. It snapped at him as he pushed it into the bayou with a foot. As if realizing he was being watched, he turned and stared at her now, the remaining beers still hanging from one hand. Jessie clicked on the flashers again, and rolled down the passenger side window.
“The offer of a ride is still open,” she called out. “Even if you are a royal jerkface.”
As he wiped his hands on his jeans, Sayer scowled. “Go away,” he said. “I just want to be left the hell alone.”
“You could die out here.”
“Works for me.”
That does it. Jessie slammed on the brakes, put the car in Park and launched out the door. Pointing at him over the roof, she shouted, “No way! You get in this car or I’ll call the cops on you. They’d just love busting your ass.”
His eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Yeah, I would. This pity party of yours has gone on long enough. Get in the damned car.”
He gaped at her. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“The name’s Jessie. Looks like I’m your guardian angel tonight.” He didn’t move. “Get. In. The. Car. Now!”
When he still didn’t move, she grabbed her cell phone from off the seat and began punching in numbers, like she was calling the police. Because she would.
“All right, dammit.” A round of creative swearing erupted, then Sayer swung open the passenger door.
“Lose the beer,” she ordered, ending the fake call. “I do not want to spend the night in jail. My aunt, the cop, would skin me alive.”
More swearing, but the cans went flying into the water. Sayer slid into the Toyota and slammed the door with great force. Jessie got into the car, shaking so hard it was difficult to click the seat belt. She pointedly waited until her passenger had done the same. He smelled of marsh, cheap beer and aftershave, a strange combination.
“Thank you,” she said, just to piss him off.
Sayer glowered at her. “You’re as crazy as I am. I could be some pervert and you just let me in your car. You can’t go around doing stupid stuff like this. It’s not safe.”
The car picked up speed. “Oh, stupid stuff like drunk-walking on a dark road in the rain?”
“What you’re doing is dangerous,” he insisted.
Jessie eyed him for a second before turning her attention back to the road. “You’re right. I won’t do it again.”
He huffed. “Good.”
“Here’s where you’re supposed to say you won’t either.”
“I don’t give promises I don’t intend to keep.”
God, you’re stubborn. “If this is about Lisa, you just need to get over her. She goes through boyfriends like crazy.”
“It’s not just about her. It’s . . . more complicated than that. And not your problem.”
“It would have been if I’d hit you. I’d see your face in my nightmares for the rest of my life.”
Sayer looked over at her, surprised. “I didn’t think of that.”
“Clearly. Why was Lisa so mad at you?”
Sayer’s body sagged as if he was exhausted. “She wanted me to get some information for her. She thought since I was Harmond Arceneaux’s kid, it’d be easy. I told her no.”
Arceneaux. This time the name clicked. “Your dad the guy that owns the fertility clinic or the attorney who was up on bribery charges last year?”
“Attorney. Those charges were dropped,” he said tersely.
“Okay. How’d you get way out here?”
“I hitchhiked. Bought the beer at a bait shop.”
Jessie caught sight of a nutria ambling its way across the road in front of them. “Giant freakin’ rats. I hate those things,” she said. Then she remembered what Sayer had been doing right before she’d picked him up. “You moved that turtle off the road so it wouldn’t get squashed.”
What’s with this guy? Jessie growled under her breath. “Fine.” You save turtles, I save jerks.
Her passenger stared out the window, his jaw clenched while Jessie concentrated on her driving. He’d been right—picking him up had been totally insane. But at least he was safe for tonight.
This guy wasn’t her problem. Or at least Jessie was trying to convince herself of that. Something about Sayer got to her, and it wasn’t because she’d found him near where Ian had disappeared. His odd behavior told her there was more going on with him than a fight with his girlfriend.
Though it was getting late, Jessie wasn’t going to drop him off on some street corner, fearing he might just hitch another ride back to the bayou. After much prodding, Sayer finally gave her directions to his house and, no surprise, it was in the Garden District, the old money part of New Orleans. As she pulled up to the curb in front of a tall, bay-front Italianate home, she guessed that the house dated from before the Civil War, maybe the early 1860s. It sat in the middle of the block like a queen, and all the other houses were mere attendants.
“Nice place. Apparently those bribes are paying off,” she said.
Sayer glared at her. He climbed out of the car and was about to slam the door when she called out, “A thanks for the ride would be nice.”
He eyed her, his brows furrowed in thought. “Yeah. Thanks. For nothing.”
“Stay alive, Sayer Arceneaux with an ‘x’. Trust me, somebody loves you, even if you are a totally selfish butthead.”
“Go away,” he said, then slammed the door.
“Consider me gone.”
(c) 2016 Jana Oliver
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I was recently contacted by a reader who wondered if it was coincidence that Riley Blackthorne’s name was very similar to Cassie Clare’s Shadowhunter family (Blackthorn). It was, actually. Riley and, more particularly her father, were named as an homage to actor Paul Blackthorne of The Dresden Files. And I’ve always loved that surname.
However, while doing some research about Ms. Clare turned up an interesting article about “fantitlement”, the curious process where authors hit “critical mass” when it comes to readers, who then get very vocal about nearly everything related to the author’s books. I refer to this as the “Twitter Syndrome”. Early on, Twitter had a small, friendly community, sort of like your neighborhood bar. Then suddenly it became very popular and the “rules” of engagement changed. People became abusive, threatening.
I’ve seen this happen to a couple of author friends of mine — everybody was cool and civil in the beginning and then they reached a certain level of popularity and the gloves were off. In Ms. Clare’s case, she came with previous fan-fiction baggage, which certainly didn’t help.
Luckily I’ve never reached that tipping point. Yes, every author dreams of being a huge bestseller, but honestly, given the choice of selling 600k copies of a book, or having a friendly group of folks to hang with? I’m good with the latter. #PopCulture
Wow, did last year blow past in a hurry.
Or at least it did in my world.
So here’s what’s up in 2016:
Love Our Readers Luncheon (Feb 12) Kennesaw, GA
JordanCon (April 22-24) Atlanta, GA
Novelists Inc Conference (Sept 21-24) St. Petersburg, FL (closed event – only for NINC members)
NOLA StoryCon (Sept 29 -Oct 1) New Orleans, LA
Indie BookFest (Oct. 7-9) Altamonte Springs/Orlando, FL
New Books Coming This Year:
DEAD EASY - A Young Adult/New Adult murder mystery set in contemporary New Orleans. I'm guessing this will be published in June or July
VALIANT LIGHT - The FINAL Demon Trapper's book (at least one featuring Riley and Beck as the leads) will be published either late September or October
For those of you who have read the third book in the Demon Trappers’ series, you’ll remember Riley and Beck (along with the Demon Hunters) clearing a building in Demon Central. That building used to house the Atlanta Constitution (a newspaper). When I wrote the trapping scenes, I’d never been inside the building.
Now there are images from inside and though there is no broken furniture, etc., it’s a pretty grim place. Word is that it might renovated. I’m hoping that’s the case.
Here’s the link to the article. Enjoy!
Riley Blackthorne’s two apprentices were having too much fun, laughing and playing in the unusual Atlanta snowfall. It’d grown increasingly cold throughout the day, and at dusk the white stuff began to accumulate. This being the South, traffic had immediately snarled in the grip of a “snowstorm” that promised three inches tops.
Riley chose to ignore it. Though it was pretty in a fairytale sort of way, it was a distraction. When you trapped demons for a living, distractions could be fatal. Or at least earn you a lot of time clawed up and healing.
“Guys, let’s focus here,” she said, sounding at least two decades older than her eighteen years. It all came down to what life had thrown at her, most of it bad, and almost all of it during this last year.
“But the snow’s so cool,” Richard said, proving he was a true Southerner. Someone from up north would have shrugged and moved on.
Richard Bonafont was thirty-something, a former radio DJ, now on his second marriage. He wore wire-rim glasses and had a ready smile. He and Kurt Pelligrino had been with her since the summer, and were partway through their training. The third apprentice, Jaye Lynn, was out on family leave at the moment, but Riley expected her back in the trenches soon.
“Yeah, but how often does it snow down here?” Kurt asked. Just into his twenties, he was single, tall, and sporting some serious muscles.
As apprentices went, these guys were sharp, not like some who were hotheaded or downright stupid—traits that did not promise a lengthy career in the Atlanta Demon Trappers Guild.
At least a hothead could change. Denver Beck, Riley’s fiancé, had. Being stupid, on the other hand, was a lifespan-limiting issue, especially when you were dealing with Hellspawn.
“Here’s a hint: We are in Demon Central,” Riley said in what she called her “teacher’s voice.” She came by it honestly; both her parents had been educators and her father, one of the best demon trappers in the country.
“Demons should like snow too,” Richard said. “They never get to see it in Hell. I wonder if they’d build a snowman if they had a chance.”
“Probably make it look like Lucifer or something,” Kurt chimed in. “Though I bet they wouldn’t have the balls to give him a carrot for a nose.”
“No snow in Hell.” Riley knew that for sure, and exactly what the Prince of Darkness looked like. There were no carrots involved. “If you don’t pay attention, this pretty, white, fluffy stuff may be the last thing you see.”
“You know, you can be a real bummer,” Richard said, shaking his head.
“Better a bummer than a corpse,” she shot back. Then immediately felt bad.
In their own way, these guys were telling her to chill out. She’d been too serious since her trip to Scotland in late October. Nearly being killed by an Archfiend and a rogue necromancer would do that to you.
“Okay, message received,” she said. “I’m far too grim tonight. Sorry.”
Riley looked up, caught a snowflake on her tongue, and tried to lighten up. It wasn’t like they were going to do anything before another demon trapper arrived. It was standard procedure now: The first time an apprentice trapped a Grade Three fiend, a pair of experienced backups were required. Tonight, those parts would be played by herself and Journeyman Trapper Lex Reynolds.
As they continued to wait for Reynolds, her apprentices horsed around in the snow while Riley executed a slow three-sixty to scope out their surroundings. Demon Central, as the trappers called it, was located just south of downtown Atlanta. With the depressed economy, it’d been a dumping ground for garbage by those trying to avoid paying the high trash-collection fees. Now, with the economy finally improving, it looked cleaner. The ocassional deep holes in the pavement, a remnant of Civil War Atlanta, remained.
“‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,’” she murmured. Maybe in Tolkien’s Shire, but in this part of the city, holes meant Hellspawn. Grade Three demons loved them. Since their usual home was Hell, a hole in the middle of a major city had to be an improvement.
The guys behind her were too quiet. Riley turned to find that they had fashioned snowballs and were eyeing her as a potential target.
She grinned. “Remind yourselves that I assign who cleans the demon crap from under the holding cages at Master Harper’s place. And I’ll be doing that for the rest of your apprenticeships.”
The snowballs hit the ground simultaneously. No one liked that task. At least she let them wear gloves and use a shovel, unlike when she’d had the job.
“So who can give me a rundown on the type of Hellspawn you’re trapping tonight?”
The two looked at each other, and it was Kurt who answered.
“A Grade Three demon, also known as a Gastro-Fiend, is an all-purpose omnivore. It’ll eat anything. They usually stand about four feet tall, have six claws on each paw, and one or two sets of razor-sharp teeth, depending on the fiend’s age.”
She nodded. “Why do they live here?”
“The holes,” Richard replied. “They seem to like them. And all the garbage down here.”
“At least until recently,” Riley said. “The city is cleaning up this area of town. Why is that a problem for us trappers?”
That stumped the two apprentices.
“What happens when you alter a predator’s natural habitat?” she nudged.
Richard nodded his understanding. “It finds another place to hunt.”
“Exactly. The Threes have been branching out. They’ve always been pretty mobile, but clustered down here for the most part. Now they’re regularly seen as far north as Midtown and Buckhead, and as far south as the airport. Though why they’d go down there is anyone’s guess.”
“This change of territory doesn’t sound good,” Kurt said.
“No, it’s not. The Guild warned the city about what might happen if they messed with this area, but they’re eager to develop the land after the casino went bust. The demons expanding their hunting range is a prime example of what my dad used to call ‘unintended consequences.’”
Before either of them could respond, something crawled across Riley’s skin, like the sharp skitter of thousands of clawed feet. A quick glance at the other two proved they’d felt it as well.
“What was that?” Kurt asked, his eyes widening.
“That would be magic.”
“Really? How cool is that?” Richard said.
“Not at all cool. Not down here.”
Another crackle of magical energy lit up the night, appearing farther south, near Alabama Street.
“Not our problem, right?” Kurt asked, his voice thinner now. “I mean, Grade Three demons aren’t going to care if someone can sling spells around.”
He was correct. A Gastro-Fiend wouldn’t care—a necromancer would make just as tasty a meal as a demon trapper if he or she wasn’t careful. Most of the magic users were brighter than that.
“It’s not just Threes down here,” she said. “That’s the danger.”
With each increase in grade on the demonic rating scale came a corresponding increase in lethality and smarts. Playing with magic in Demon Central was like laying a juicy steak in front of a hungry mongrel. Some of the demons would ignore it, but not all. Not the really badass ones. They’d love nothing more than to grab onto the soul of some clueless necromancer. If you delivered a summoner’s soul to the Prince? That’d earn you special brownie points.
Hell was all about one-upping your fellow fiends, the ultimate corporate hierarchy. Mortal institutions were only pale imitations.
When the ground rumbled beneath her feet, Riley knew the magical bait had been taken. “Damn!” she said, pulling out her cell phone.
“What was that?” Richard asked.
“Big trouble.” Riley sent a text, one that automatically went to all the demon trappers on duty tonight. One that meant they should drop whatever they were doing and get here as fast as possible.
FIVE IN DEMON CTRL
No other directions would be needed—a Geo-Fiend, or Grade Five demon, stood at least seven feet tall. No way you could miss it. All the trappers had to do was follow the lightning and the raging windstorm.
Once she finished the text, Riley looked over at her apprentices. Richard’s and Kurt’s faces had paled now. They knew what a Five was, and they knew they were nowhere near ready to confront this level of demon. It would be suicide.
She needed to reinforce that thinking, so they didn’t try some of the crazy stuff that she had when she was an apprentice.
“Guys, this thing is above your pay grade. You stay here. Do not get in the middle of this.”
“But—” Kurt began.
“No! This fiend will tear you apart.” Riley paused. “This is the kind of demon that killed my dad. You know, Paul Blackthorne, Master Demon Trapper?”
“But you need backup,” Richard insisted.
Her newbies had guts, that was for sure. But guts with no training would get them just as dead.
“Backup will be here shortly. What you can do is keep the civilians away. There are bound to be some nosy ones around,” she said, pulling a blue grounding sphere out of her backpack. “Stay safe, okay?”
They both nodded, still in shock. There was a point in every trapper’s career when the job bitch-slapped them, and she suspected that moment had just arrived. This was usually when the decision was made: Continue with the training or walk away? Riley would tackle that issue later.
Right now, she had a demon to trap.
Riley took off at a trot. One street away, she found herself facing increasing gusts of wind and lightning bolts that slammed into the buildings nearby, causing debris to break loose. As she drew closer, she found the source of the trouble: A man in a dark-blue robe stood in the middle of the street, magic arcing around him. Didn’t he realize that he had attracted one of Hell’s most lethal killers?
“What a total idiot,” Riley said, picking up speed. If she could hold the Geo-Fiend in place until the other trappers arrived, they could ground the monster and send it back to Hell. If not, there would be more earthquakes, high winds, and casualties.
One of which might be her.
Riley had nearly reached the necromancer when he turned in her direction. He didn’t look familiar, but then, she knew only a few of the corpse summoners. On the whole, she tried to avoid them.
The necro smiled at her, pulled up the hood of his cloak, then vanished in a ball of bright-blue light.
“What the . . . oh no.”
Had she just been set up?
The Geo-Fiend rose out of the boiling asphalt, its bull-shaped head resting on a pair of massive shoulders that would make any steroid-stoked bodybuilder proud. Horns curved out of its skull, and it had two massive canines. Coal-black skin contrasted with the blazing-red eyes, which homed in on her immediately. That wasn’t surprising. If this behemoth could kill her, or obtain her soul, it would be given the biggest celebratory party Hell had ever seen.
“Blackthorne’s daughter!” the fiend bellowed.
It hovered above the ground now, wind swirling around it, picking up snow and debris. The mini earthquakes were bad enough, but the debris could be lethal. She’d lost her father that way.
Riley ground to a halt about forty feet from the monster, needing to buy time for the others to arrive. Her heart hammered and her palms sweat, making it hard to keep hold of the grounding sphere.
She thought of the man she loved, how Beck would handle this. And then she knew the best way to play it.
“Hey, dumbass!” she called out, channeling her fiancé’s, mouthy attitude. “Yeah, you! What are you doing here? Don’t you know Atlanta is a no-go zone for you losers?”
“Your soul will be mine!” it called back.
One-track mind. “Not happening,” she replied, sweat now rolling down her back despite the chilly night. “How’s old Lucifer nowadays? Still cracking heads like a good tyrant?”
The demon snarled at the mention of his lord. The fiends might serve the Fallen angel, but that didn’t mean they liked to be reminded. The lesser demons would cringe at his name. This one just winced.
Without any warning, the ground in front of Riley cracked, heaving open. Heat and the stench of rot rose in a steady cloud.
“That again? Really? Don’t you guys learn any new tricks?”
Where is my backup?
If a Five came to the city, every demon trapper on duty had only one response: They came to the battle.
Yet here she was, alone.
They wouldn’t let me die like this.
Or maybe they would. At least some of them.
The demon laughed in amusement, knowing she was in trouble. “Pledge your soul to me and I will let you live,” it offered.
“Yeah right.” Riley smirked, trying to cover the fear that had wound itself around her middle and squeezed like an anaconda.
“Let me guess, that deluxe “Sell Your Soul to Me” package comes with a one-way trip to Hell, a personal welcome by the Prince himself, and an eternity of torment. Am I right?”
The fire in the demon’s eyes grew brighter now. “Of course not.”
“Liar. You forget, I’ve been down there. I know what it’s like.”
And no matter what it took, she would never go there again.
The demon flicked its hand, and a mini tornado formed on its palm. That was this kind’s strength—the ability to command the weather and generate earthquakes. It dropped the funnel to the ground, and it immediately grew in size, spinning the snow as though she and the fiend were inside a hellish snow globe.
Usually Demon Central was littered with scraggly metal fencing, left in place because most people weren’t brave enough to try to salvage it in an area full of monsters. The grounding spheres worked best by connecting with the metal and—if you were lucky—enclosing the Five in a circle of magic. Once the fiend touched ground, it would return to Hell. A quick check proved that the city’s ambitious cleanup plan had robbed her of that option, at least when it came to the fencing.
“Thanks a bunch, guys,” Riley muttered. Now she would have to lob the magically charged sphere underneath the fiend. If the sphere hit in just the right place, it’d work. Most times, it didn’t.
Just as she was about to throw the sphere, a voice called out. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed Lex Reynolds running toward her at top speed. The bad news was that he was the only one.
He skidded to a halt by her side and, breath heaving, asked the same question she’d been thinking. “Where is everyone?”
“Polishing their nails, apparently.”
He met her eyes and the message was passed: They were on their own. At least until someone grew a conscience. Or a pair.
The earth rumbled again and they dodged right to avoid another sinkhole, debris swirling around them. When Riley looked back, the demon had shifted closer. Too close.
“Stay or take off?” she called to Reynolds. Not that she wanted to run, but they were in deep trouble.
“Stay,” he said. “Let’s send this thing home.”
“Then we’ll kick some people’s asses.”
“You got a deal.”
They flanked the Five, carefully avoiding the steaming pits that continued to open around them. It was harder to avoid the crap whirling in the air.
A low groan from Riley’s left indicated that one of the derelict buildings wasn’t tolerating the wind. “Reynolds!” she called out in warning.
He sprinted out of the way as a jumble of bricks cascaded to the ground, adding even more fuel to the demon’s windstorm. A crackle of lightning made Riley look up just in time to avoid being speared by a sizzling white bolt before it slammed into the ground, scorching the pavement in a five-foot circle. Car alarms blared in the distance.
Reynolds’s blistering expletive and “Hell no, you bastard!” told her that the Five had just made the same “Sell Your Soul” offer to him. So much for being special.
Her fellow trapper’s grounding sphere fell short. As the demon roared in anger at the futile attempt, Riley took her best shot. Her sphere landed closer to its mark, which only infuriated the Five more. As the magic took hold, grabbing onto the fiend, her companion sent another grounding sphere under its clawed feet.
When the Five went ballistic, fighting against the magic, they broke open their shield spheres, forming a protective envelope of magic around each of them.
Riley’s heart raced and her breath grew short as the storm roared around them. Another sphere arced near the demon, a long lob from somewhere behind them. That sphere caught as well, and with a final deafening roar, the Five sank into the ground, leaving behind one last, sharp shake that sent Riley tumbling to her knees.
As the debris pattered around them like rain, she covered her head, praying the shield spheres held a bit longer. Finally the fallout ended, and she regained her feet.
Reynolds raised his head. “You okay?” he called out.
“In one piece.” A trickle of blood ran down the side of his face. “Jackson, you good?”
Master Trapper Chris Jackson joined them now, his face and ponytail covered in brick dust. “Sure am. Damned that was a big mother.”
“Where the hell are the others?” Reynolds demanded.
“I have no idea,” Jackson said. “I was at Georgia Tech. I figured I’d be the last to get here.”
If he could make it all the way down to Demon Central, there was no good reason the rest of the trappers weren’t here.
“We just got hung out to dry,” Riley said. “And I’m willing to bet it’s because I was the one who sent out the call.”
The two men traded looks, but didn’t argue. That only made her angrier.
“I owe you guys,” she said. “Really.”
“No, you don’t. But you do owe the others some serious pain,” Reynolds said.
She nodded grimly. And I’m the girl to deliver it.
Riley’s two apprentices had waited for her, doing just as she’d asked: keeping the curious out of harm’s way. Tonight it was only a small knot of bystanders. One of them was filming her on his cell phone.
Every. Blasted. Time.
By tomorrow she’d be on YouTube. Again. It was a sure bet that Beck would see the video, and then she’d get a worried phone call from Scotland.
When she reached her apprentices, she gave them a pleased smile. “Thanks, guys, you did good.”
Kurt shook his head, his eyes still wide. “My God, that thing was huge!”
“Yeah, they are just that,” she said, trying not to show how much she was shaking inside. “But we took it down.”
“I thought there’d be more trappers here to help you,” Richard said.
Now was not the time to tell them why she thought that hadn’t happened.
“You guys go on home. We’ll trap a Three another night.”
They looked relieved and she knew why: The sight of the Five had filled them with terror. She wasn’t much different. Only two other of Hell’s killers scared her more: Fallen angels and Archfiends.
“See you tomorrow at nine at Harper’s,” she added.
If her gut was right, they’d be there. If not, one or both of them would have phoned in their resignations. And she wouldn’t blame them. Sensible people did not trap Hellspawn for a living.
“Good night, Riley,” Kurt called out. Richard seconded it and they headed out of Demon Central, talking back and forth animatedly.
She looked over at Jackson, who was just getting off his phone.
“You called Harper?”
He nodded. “He wants you to head up to Stewart’s house. He’ll meet you there. They want a report. I already gave them mine.”
Oh boy. “Who was on duty tonight, besides you and Reynolds?”
“McGuire, Stanfield, and Machen.”
Riley snorted. “Why am I surprised? Those guys have never wanted me in the Guild.”
“There are only a few,” Reynolds said. “Most are fine with you being a trapper. After what you did for us last spring, everybody oughta be worshipping at your feet.”
“Not likely,” she said. Lowering her voice so none of the bystanders could hear her, she added, “Some think the only reason Heaven and Hell almost went to war was because of me.”
“Then they’re stupid,” Jackson said. He walked to where the small knot of locals was clustered. “Time to go home, folks. The demon is gone.”
To her amusement, a young lady offered him a scrap of paper and asked for his autograph.
“Groupies,” Reynolds murmured. “Gotta love ’em.”
A few more cell phones flashed, capturing Riley in her post-Five-whirlwind glory. Just once, she wished they’d see her looking good. Unfortunately, for a trapper, this was the norm.
She hadn’t mentioned the necromancer to either Jackson or Reynolds, saving that newsflash for the two senior masters. Because if anyone knew how to handle that problem, it would be them.
# # #
Grand Master Angus Stewart lived in Riley’s dream home, a multi-story, blue Victorian, complete with a turret and a ballroom. Because it had once been the Vatican’s requirement that Stewart keep an eye on her, she’d lived with the grand master since earlier in the year. Now that Beck was away in Scotland, she split her time between here and his place across town. Once Beck was back home for good, there’d be a wedding to plan and . . .
Not yet. There was just too much going on to think about all that.
Her own master’s truck was already in the driveway, which meant Harper had headed over here the moment he’d gotten off the phone with Jackson.
He and Stewart are going to be furious.
The scent of aromatic pipe tobacco greeted her as she entered Stewart’s favorite room in the huge house. The stone fireplace currently hosted a warming blaze. Her eyes automatically tracked to the Scottish flag above the mantel, the white St. Andrew’s cross on a blue background. Family pictures adorned the walls, and a couple new photographs of grandchildren had been added.
Stewart sat in his usual chair, one of his legs propped up on an ottoman. Unlike usual, he didn’t have a glass of whisky at his elbow, no doubt in deference to Harper’s battle with alcoholism.
Harper gave her a quick look, then shook his head at her appearance. “Yeah, it was a Five alright,” he said.
“That’s for damn sure,” Stewart said.
“I look that bad?”
“A lot like Dorothy after the tornado blew her ta Oz,” Stewart said, his light accent a reminder of his homeland.
He was in his sixties, had spent the last decade in Atlanta, and was a member of the International Demon Trappers Guild. Though as a grand master he technically outranked Harper, it was Harper who ran the local Guild. When she’d asked why, Stewart had explained that Harper deserved to be the head of Atlanta’s trappers, that he’d paid a very high personal price for that job.
Harper, on the other hand, was in his fifties, but looked older. Part of the reason was the wicked scar on his face. His years of living in a bottle hadn’t helped, but now that he’d joined Alcoholics Anonymous, Riley’d had the opportunity to see the real Harper. Still a tough old bastard, he had a heart buried down under all the attitude, something she hadn’t always thought possible.
Riley chose her favorite chair in the room. Fortunately, it was leather, so she wouldn’t leave too much of a mess behind. It was also close to the fire.
“Sorry. I was going to clean up, but I wanted to talk to you guys right away.”
“Not a problem. If ya need somethin’ ta drink, help yerself,” their host said.
“No, I’m good.” She pulled out a water bottle from her backpack and took a sip. The silence filled in around them.
This was familiar territory. More than once, she’d been here with these two men after one momentous event or another. Back then, Harper had been the enemy, but now they had a truce in place. From the fire in his eyes, she could tell he was mad. At least it wasn’t at her.
“Give us your report,” her master ordered.
Riley did as he asked, laying it all out, including the necromancer who had summoned the Five and how it seemed as if he’d been waiting just for her.
“Shite,” Stewart muttered. “Lord Ozymandias has killed enough of the fools, ya’d think they’d learned their lesson.”
Harper fumed. “So we’ve got two separate problems here: the necro calling up a demon, and the fact that three of our trappers didn’t back you up tonight. Is that right?”
She nodded. “If Jackson hadn’t shown up, Reynolds and I would have been in big trouble.”
“Dead, you mean. And I do not want to be the one who has to call Beck to tell him his squeeze is history because no one was there for her,” Harper said.
“Trappers’ meetin’ tomorrow night?” Stewart asked.
Harper nodded in response. “The sooner the better.”
“Telling them they have to treat me like any other trapper isn’t going to work,” Riley said. “Some of them are always going to hate me.”
“It depends on how they get told, lass,” Stewart said. He looked over at Harper, and her master gave a nod. “Get some rest. Ya did a fine job tonight.”
She knew that, but it felt good to hear it.
Harper cleared his throat. “I agree.”
A compliment from her master? That was rare too. “Thank you. I’ll be staying at Beck’s tonight,” she said.
“Keep yerself safe, lass.”
“I will. Thanks.”
As Riley reached the front door, they began to talk back and forth. She couldn’t hear the exact words, but she caught the undercurrent of righteous anger. Once again, she was unwillingly causing hassles within the demon trappers’ ranks.
This crap has to stop.
(c) 2015 Jana Oliver – All Rights Reserved
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Jana is an international & multi-award winning author in several genres including young adult, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.