Preview: It Is What It Is: Hollywood Knights Two

ONE

I was standing in the shadow of the Washington Monument when I got the call.  I wanted to hop the next flight to L.A., but I was in the middle of assisting The Agency with a case, and my walking away could cost innocent kids their lives. 

“I’ll be home in a couple of days,” I told Elizabeth.  “Tell Dylan and Brian congrats and kiss Sophie for me.”

I hung up the phone feeling frustrated, disappointed, and relieved.  I’d wanted to be there when my friends’ daughter was born, and I hated that The Agency—of all things—had pulled me away at exactly the wrong moment.  But more than that, I was glad that Dylan and Sophie had come through it all okay.  Dylan’s pregnancy had been hard on her, and we’d all been worried about what would happen when the big day came around, but Elizabeth had assured me that both mother and daughter were doing fine.

I pushed all thoughts of my friends away.  I had other things to deal with at the moment—like helping The Agency catch a madman who was using his metaphysical abilities to kidnap, abuse, and kill little kids.

You won’t find The Agency listed on any government websites.  You won’t hear about The Agency on the news or read about them in the headlines.  Technically, the organization doesn’t exist.  Off the record, The Agency is the branch of the U.S. government that deals with magic.  And because they don’t technically exist, they can get away with breaking all kinds of rules.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  Sometimes it’s right.  But it has always scared the hell out of me to know they can and often do operate without boundaries.

I’d worked with The Agency since right after I’d graduated high school.  I’d apprenticed with a P.I. in Jacksonville, Florida, and he’d introduced me to contacts within the organization.  He often worked for them as a private contractor, but he refused to join up.  It didn’t take me long to understand why, and when he retired and I took over his business, I decided to follow in his footsteps in that regard; I’d often worked with The Agency, but I would never work for them.

Nothing I’d seen during this newest case had convinced me otherwise.  If anything, The Agency had slid a little farther toward the black end of the spectrum.  They still scared the hell out of me, though there were plenty of good people within their ranks.

Like the woman who was covering the ground between us with long, sure strides.

I shivered and tucked my hands into my armpits to keep them from freezing off as I watched her make her way toward me across the mostly deserted mall.  In her no-nonsense boots, cords, and heavy, wool coat, she looked strong, confident, and sophisticated, not to mention much warmer than I was in my jeans and leather jacket.

“I’m not cut out for this shit, Martine,” I told her when she got within hearing distance.  “Next time, can we chase down an asshole in the Caribbean?”

Martine flashed me a smile.  “How do you think I feel?” she asked me, her normally faint accent as thick as old honey.

Martine Rochon had been born and raised in the Caribbean.  I’d never asked where. I thought her accent might be Haitian, but I wasn’t sure.  I, on the other hand, had been born and raised outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  It gets cold in Ohio, and at one time I’d enjoyed that, reveling in snowball fights and white Christmases.  But I’d moved to Florida when I was nineteen, and I’d lived there my entire life…until recently, when I’d moved to southern California, where, if anything, it was even warmer and sunnier.  Martine was no more comfortable with the cold temperature than I was, but at least she’d been smart enough to prepare for it. 

“I think you feel pretty snug all wrapped up like that,” I answered.  Then I turned from small talk to our case.  “What have we got?”

She gave me a small, quick nod, and then turned to walk away.  I fell into step beside her, and she filled me in as we walked.  We bounced around some ideas and ended up with a plan.

In a way, I hated that we worked well together.  I hadn’t been prepared to like Martine when we’d first met.  I sure as hell hadn’t expected to respect her. 

We’d met in a small hospital in Austin, shortly after a hard-fought battle between The Agency and a rogue practitioner named Hayes, who’d kidnapped and tortured both my brother’s girlfriend and a tiny little girl named Madison.  Several people I cared about had been badly hurt during that confrontation, including my ex-boyfriend and good friend, Rob Quinn.  Martine had been dating Rob at the time, and yes, I’d been jealous.  I’m not even sure why.  We’d had a good run, Rob and me, but we’d wanted different things.  We’d managed to stay friends, and I’d been grateful for that, but a part of me hated that another woman had been at his side when he needed someone most.

In the end, it hadn’t mattered.  Rob had taken a header down a staircase while in the middle of a magic-induced hallucination and died before he hit the bottom—and I’d been the one left behind to hold Martine up through the worst of her grief.

Martine and I had become friends afterward, and we had worked together a few times as well.  We worked really well together, and I still hadn’t gotten past my Robbie issues to the point where I could deal with that fact.

But if we managed to catch this asshole before he hurt any more kids, I figured that would go a long way toward making me appreciate our working relationship.

TWO

We managed to catch the kid-snatching asshole a couple of days later, and I hopped the next flight back home to California.  I stepped out of the airport terminal into blinding sunlight, and I turned my face up to it with a smile.  It wasn’t exactly warm in L.A. at Christmastime, but at least it wasn’t freezing like it had been in D.C.  My jeans and leather jacket were perfectly appropriate for the L.A. weather, and the brilliant, late afternoon sunshine reached past the surface to warm something inside of me that had been chilled by the case as well as the overcast days in the northeast.

I was dead tired, and I ached to head home to my big, comfy bed and a long, long nap, but after I paid a small fortune to get out of the airport parking lot, I found myself headed toward Brian and Dylan’s apartment instead.  I could put off sleep for an extra half hour or so.  There was someone I needed to meet.

When I got to the apartment, I knocked gently on the door, afraid of disturbing anyone.  No one answered, so I tried the knob, which proved to be unlocked, and let myself inside.

At first I didn’t see anyone in the main part of the apartment, but as I stepped further inside, I realized that someone was sitting on the sofa, out of my line of sight.  He looked up as I walked into the room, a goofy, besotted smile curving his lips.

“Hey,” he said softly.

My heart caught in my throat for a moment.  Seth was the last person I had expected to find here.  He was supposed to be off on the other side of the country somewhere, touring with his band, not snuggled up on Brian and Dylan’s sofa with a tiny, pink bundle nestled in his arms. 

In the two months since we’d spent the night together down by the ocean, I’d heard precious little out of Seth.  We’d texted some, communicated sporadically though the social networks, and had a couple of brief telephone conversations about the house, the cleaning crew, and the yard guy.  We hadn’t seen each other, and we hadn’t spoken a single word about ‘us’ —or the lack thereof. 

Now here he was, smiling up at me like he hadn’t been avoiding me for all he was worth.  It made me want to punch him in the throat.

Seth either didn’t see the rage and frustration bubbling up inside me or he chose to ignore them.  He looked down at the baby in his arms and tugged the blanket a little farther away from her tiny, pink face.

“She’s awesome, isn’t she?”

I looked down at Sophie and my rage melted away.   I dropped my backpack on the floor, leaned down over the sofa and Seth’s shoulder, and stroked the back of my knuckles against Sophie soft, little cheek.

“Yeah.  Yeah, she is,” I agreed.  “Where are Mom and Dad?”

“Napping.  They’re both exhausted.  I convinced them that Sophie could keep an eye on me for a little while.”

I grinned despite myself.  “She looks like she could take you.”

“Yup.  Teeny-tiny badass.”  He looked up at me, still smiling.  She had him completely enchanted.  “You want her?”

“Duh.” 

I skirted around the sofa and leaned down to take the baby before straightening again.  Two seconds later, Seth was on his feet, obviously unable to stand letting Sophie’s sweet face out of his sight.  I couldn’t help grinning.

“It’s been a long time since I got to cuddle one this size,” I said.

“Not since April?” he guessed.

I gave a little nod, not trusting myself to speak.  I didn’t think about April much, but when I did, it still hurt.  My niece had been one of the best things to come into my life.  She’d been an amazing little girl, sunny and happy almost all of the time. 

Then she got sick. 

I hadn’t been around as much as I could have, but when I had spent time with Chris’s family, it had been torture to watch April struggling against the illness that eventually took her life.  And it had been torture watching what her illness—and her death—did to my brother.  Even now, sixteen years later, it hurt like hell to think about how they’d suffered.  I snuggled Sophie a little closer and blinked back tears.

Seth wrapped his arms around me and Sophie.  “Yeah, me, too,” he said.  “Ryder came along after that, but Stacy and Brad were still in upstate New York then, and I couldn’t get away from my crap job long enough to go see him until about a month later.  And when Becca was born, I was too broke to fly home at all.  Didn’t see her until she was almost a year old.”

“I saw the pictures your mom posted on your Facebook the other day,” I told him.  “Those kids are growing up so fast.”

“I know,” Seth said.  He sounded sad.  “And I have no idea when or if I’ll get to see them again.”

I moved away enough so that I could turn to face Seth without smashing Sophie.  “Why not?”

“I didn’t tell you?” he asked, his brow furrowing.  When I shook my head he asked, “I did tell you that Brad took off, right?”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yeah.  About a year ago,” he said, his attention back on Sophie.  “Just up and left them.  Moved to Miami.  Fucker.”

“That’s pretty shitty.”

“Yeah.  My sister didn’t handle it too well.  Ended up ‘getting religion.’  She still talks to Mom and Dad, but she doesn’t want me around her kids until I repent and get away from the devil’s music or some shit.”

“Oh.  Fun.”

“Yeah.”

I couldn’t hold back a jaw-cracking yawn.

“Didn’t mean to bore you,” Seth said with a crooked grin that said he knew damn good and well that wasn’t the case.

“I haven’t slept much lately,” I told him.  “I had planned on going to head straight home to bed, but I couldn’t resist this one,” I said.

“She is pretty irresistible,” he agreed.  “If you’re half as tired as you look, you probably shouldn’t be driving.  No one’s using the guest room.”

“They aren’t?” I asked, looking up in surprise.

“Dylan didn’t want her folks staying here.  They drive her nuts.  And Brian’s parents won’t get into town for a couple more days.  So it’s all yours,” he explained.  “Go.  Sleep.”

With a nod, I negotiated another baby switch-off, managing not to drop Sophie or even jiggle her around too much.  Then I snatched up my backpack and headed for the guest room for a much-needed nap.

Facebook Book Launch Party for Smoke and Mirrors
Tuesday, September 10, 11:00 am CDT
Come help me celebrate the birth of a brand new series - Hollywood Knights - with the release of the first book. For fans of my Jukebox Heroes series, the MC in this book should look familiar, as should her misfit friends. Jenny Marshall demanded her story be told, and here’s where it starts. For those who are new to my writing, Smoke and Mirrors is a good place to start. ;) You don’t have to have read any of the Jukebox Heroes series to get into Hollywood Knights. But during the launch, you just might get the chance to check out JBH for free.Samples, giveaways (ebooks, signed books, book-related swag, and maybe even some music), discussions, and general insanity will commence around 11:00 am CDT on release day, September 10 and continue until everyone goes home or I have to log off, whichever comes first. ;)
https://www.facebook.com/events/1432409523649829/

Facebook Book Launch Party for Smoke and Mirrors

Tuesday, September 10, 11:00 am CDT



Come help me celebrate the birth of a brand new series - Hollywood Knights - with the release of the first book. 

For fans of my Jukebox Heroes series, the MC in this book should look familiar, as should her misfit friends. Jenny Marshall demanded her story be told, and here’s where it starts. 

For those who are new to my writing, Smoke and Mirrors is a good place to start. ;) You don’t have to have read any of the Jukebox Heroes series to get into Hollywood Knights. But during the launch, you just might get the chance to check out JBH for free.

Samples, giveaways (ebooks, signed books, book-related swag, and maybe even some music), discussions, and general insanity will commence around 11:00 am CDT on release day, September 10 and continue until everyone goes home or I have to log off, whichever comes first. ;)

https://www.facebook.com/events/1432409523649829/

Smoke and Mirrors - Chapter Two preview

Despite the uncertain terms of our arrangement, I was glad that Seth had given me a place to live, and I was grateful to Elizabeth for setting it up.  When I’d first come to California a few months before, I’d crashed with some friends in San Bernardino.  It didn’t take long to realize that my long-distance friendship with Carla and Pam should have stayed long-distance.  They were nice ladies, but we had very little in common besides our ties to the magical world.  And they had a thing for watching reality TV, which was the proverbial straw that sent me running.  I moved into a cheapish hotel, where I usually stayed when I wasn’t guarding a client 24/7.  After sleeping on Pam’s couch and then spending a few months bouncing between my clients’ homes and the hotel, having an actual house all to myself sounded like heaven.

By the time I left the hen party to move into my new digs, it was already pretty late.  I took Elizabeth’s key, stopped to grab my gear and check out of my hotel room, and made myself at home at Seth’s place.  Just because I could, I helped myself to his Scotch, which I had to water down with Coke before I could stand to drink it.  I took my Scotch and Coke upstairs and sipped at it while I unpacked what few things I had with me.  I hadn’t been planning on staying gone when I’d left Florida back in March.  I hadn’t been planning on a lot of things when I’d left Florida…like having to say goodbye to a man I’d once loved —had still loved, to be honest— while comforting his grieving girlfriend.

I sighed and pushed Robbie out of my mind.  Tonight was a night for celebration, not mourning.  I had chosen a direction, plotted my course, and forged ahead.  My paperwork was all in order, and I had a place to live.  As soon as I could find office space and get my apartment and office in Florida packed and moved, I’d be ready to start a new chapter.  No, a whole new story.  Jenny Marshall: California Edition.

Still sipping my drink, I wandered downstairs in search of Seth’s library.  As a traveler and a gadget-obsessed geek, he’d graduated to an e-reader or a tablet or somesuch ages ago, but I knew he still had books.  I’d seen them —lots of them—somewhere, back when I’d first gotten a tour of the mansion Seth called home, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen them since.

A systematic approach to my search seemed most logical, so I went with it.  I started at the front door and wound my way through the downstairs rooms —foyer, living area, kitchen, home theater, home gym.  When that turned up very little, I headed back upstairs to continue my search.  I knew the library wasn’t in my bedroom, and I didn’t think I’d seen a lot of books in Seth’s room, either.  A handful, yes, but not shelves full.  So I poked through the upstairs rooms as I had the down —guest bedroom that had been Elizabeth’s room, linen closet the size of most walk-in closets, extra bedroom that seemed to be serving as a storage area. 

Just when I’d decided I must have imagined finding any books in the house, I poked my head into the last of the extra bedrooms and struck gold. 

Rather than the stuffy formal libraries I’d read about in a million books, this room was a cozy reading nook and informal office.  There were a couple of oversized recliners with a table in between them, good reading lamps, and an old-fashioned writing table that would be just about the right size for a laptop.  Other than the small bit of space taken up by the writing table, the walls were covered with shelves and shelves of books. 

I moved closer to the shelves and ran my fingers over the spines.  Antique volumes shared space with tattered paperbacks.  Shakespeare rubbed shoulders with Steinbeck and Sparks.  There seemed no rhyme nor reason to the placement of the books, except that those in a series were more or less kept together.   I found myself smiling.  Knowing Seth, he could find any book he wanted in this chaos at any time but wouldn’t be able to find a thing if they were properly organized.  I knew plenty of people who’d be driven nuts by the jumble, but my philosophy is that there is a time and place for everything; the organization, or lack thereof, of someone else’s book collection in his own house…well that’s just not worth getting bent out of shape about.

I grabbed a book at random.  A quick scan of the back cover, and I shoved it back into its spot on the shelf.  It took a few more random grabs before I found a book I could live with.  I took it and my Scotch back to the bedroom, changed into my version of pajamas, and curled up in bed to read.

The book had just drawn me in when my cell rang.  I thought about letting it go to voice mail, but when I saw Seth’s name on the caller ID, I answered.

“You all settled in?” he asked.  His voice was rough and he sounded tired.

“Yep.  Unpacked, made myself a drink, gave myself a tour of the house, and jacked a book.”  I traded the book for my drink and settled more comfortably against the headboard.

“I told you to stay out of my Scotch,” Seth said.

I looked down at my drink and blinked a couple of times.  “How did you…?”

“I’ve known you a long, long time, Jen.”  He punctuated his declaration with a jaw-cracking yawn.

“Thanks for the reminder that we’re getting old,” I said.  “You sound like shit.”

“I feel like shit.  I think I’m coming down with something.  Gonna drown myself in the giant fucking Q when I get off the phone.  But you wanted to ‘work out the details.’”

“It can wait.”

“AND,” Seth said, raising his voice to talk over me —which had to suck for him— and continuing like I hadn’t said anything, “I need you to understand that there aren’t any details to work out.”  I tried to interrupt, but he added, “No, shut up and let me talk while I still have a voice.”

“Okay.”

“You’re the most self-sufficient person I know, Jen.  I know you don’t need my help.  Besides, you really are doing me a favor by watching the place.  And I like knowing that you’ll be there when I come into town in a few weeks; I hate being in that house alone.  So, yeah…I don’t need rent money.”

I sighed.  “Seth—”

He cut me off again.  “If I needed your services, needed you to…I don’t know…solve some great mystery…would you charge me your going rate?”

“Of course not,” I had to admit. 

“I don’t need rent money,” he said again.  “If it’ll make you feel better, we can work something out.  You can send your rent money to a charity or something.”  He paused for a second and then added, “Or if you really want to do something for me, you can have a hot, lesbian orgy in my bed and send me the video.”

I laughed.  “I think I’m going to have to pass on that offer, Seth.  For a whole lot of reasons.”

“Damn.”

I laughed again.  “Go to bed, Seth.”

“Yes, ma’am.  Going.  Good night, Angel.  And stay out of my Scotch.”

He ended the call before I could respond.  Seth always did have to have the last word.  I just smiled and went to make myself another drink.

Starving Artist

I’ve decided to add a new segment to this blog. I’ve oh-so-originally called this segment “Starving Artist.”  It’s basically my culinary experiments and notes on cheap and/or easy cooking or other things I’ve learned about keeping myself and my roommate fed while working a low-paying, full-time job and trying to get my writing career off the ground.

I’m going to start with tonight’s culinary experiment: Chicken and Linguine in Vodka Sauce with Garlic-Herb-Parmesan Cloverleaf Rolls.

Total cost is about six bucks or so.  The chicken is the costliest part.  I usually buy the 3 pound bags of frozen chicken breast for $7 or $8, and it makes a helluva lot of meals for two people.  

So…cubed, pan-“grilled” chicken tossed into a jar of Prego Vodka Sauce.  Linguine.  And then the rolls.

For the rolls I used a can of cheap, cheap biscuits, creatively rearranged and dipped in garlic-herb butter.  Basically, I took two biscuits (uncooked), stacked them, and tore them into thirds.  I rolled each pair of two biscuit pieces into a ball, dipped it into some butter melted I’d dumped herbs into, and and tucked three of the balls into a muffin cup.  I drizzled the excess butter over the rolls, sprinkled with some Parmesan cheese (left over from my last pizza-splurge), and tossed ‘em in the oven until they were done.

So…cheap, easy, and tasty.  

Smoke and Mirrors and the Butterfly Effect

A couple of years ago, I was in the process of writing my first novel, Call Out, and still had no idea how it was going to play out. I was on Facebook one night when I should have been writing, and I saw a comment from one of the guys on my friends list (how I even came to be in the right place at the right time to see that comment is a story all on its own). Bryan made some crack about coming out on the other side of the illness he was fighting as a superhero. And it was like a lightbulb went on in my head. I didn’t create a superhero based on Bryan, but I did want to. And somehow that translated into the realization that I needed to add in some new characters and turn my novel into a series.

In the next book in the series, I introduced a character named Chris Marshall. While Chris isn’t based upon Bryan, he does look a whole lot like him. That was done intentionally as a sort of tribute, seeing as how the character would not have ever come into being if Bryan hadn’t said what he had when he had.

From very early on, I knew a lot about Chris’s family and history. One of those things that I knew was that he had a younger sister. When it came time to introduce the sister into the storyline, I knew what her name had to be, too. And if you watch the video posted here, you’ll get why her name is Jenny.

Yep, I’m all about the inside jokes. My books are full of inside jokes, references most people would never get, pop culture tidbits, and my own true experiences. And even people who know me can’t always tell which is which.

But I digress. I was talking about Jenny Marshall.

When Jenny came into the story, I was a little surprised. I had no idea that she was who she is – a tough, smart, magically-gifted woman who made a living as a P.I., bodyguard, and consultant to a secret government agency that deals with all things magic. I didn’t know who she was then, but I quickly came to absolutely love her.

So when I finished up the Jukebox Heroes series, it only made sense to me to learn more about Jenny. And thus Smoke and Mirrors (and the Hollywood Knights series) was born. I hadn’t expected to start another series with the same characters, but here we are. And it’s been an interesting ride, so far. Smoke and Mirrors is now in the editing and rewriting stage, and the first draft of its sequel is well under way.

And to think - it all started with a comment on Facebook.

Call Out - Chapter One Preview

Chapter One

From all around me came the sounds of battle: the dull thump of mace on shield, the jingling of chain mail armor, the heavier clank of full plate, the rhythmic chanting of wizards and healers casting their spells.  Somewhere in the chaos my brothers-in-arms – my friends – threw themselves into the fight, working to press the enemy back, away from the fortress we were foresworn to defend.  I had no time to spare a thought for my friends as I moved to square off against an opponent, a sword in my right hand and a shield strapped to my left arm.

The enemy, smaller and younger than me, shifted lightly from foot to foot, looking for an opening between me and my shield and trusting his compatriots to watch his back.  He was wise to let them; he had enough to do trying to protect himself from the front.  Speed and agility are the hallmark of the young, but so are inexperience and overconfidence.  The boy – for he couldn’t have been more than that – danced forward and drew his sword down, right to left, aiming for my legs.  I dropped to my knees in the dirt, and my shield turned his blade aside. 

Seeing my opportunity, I flung my left arm wide, following the deflected sword.  Into the now wide open space in front of me I thrust my blade.  The boy tried to jump backward, but I let myself fall forward, and my momentum carried the tip of my blade into his belly.

I let myself fall to the ground, sword hand still extended, and rolled onto my back, covering myself with my shield.  I looked up to find one of my allies shielding me, giving me a moment to regain my feet and reenter the fray. 

Staggering to my feet, I let my eyes sweep the battlefield.  I nodded to the man who had been guarding me, and we moved together to engage a mace-wielding madman.  I paused midstride, listening.  Then I stepped back out of striking range, set my sword aside, and reached into the pocket of my jeans.

“Shit.”  I held my shield over my head in an awkward gesture that signified defeat.  “Sorry.  Phone call.  I gotta take it,” I said.  I didn’t recognize the number, and this close to graduation any unfamiliar number could be a potential job offer.

“It’s all good,” my team-mate said, never missing a step, his attention focused on the game.

I scooped up my sword and shoved it under my arm as I hurried off the field, answering my cell as I ran.

“Hello?”

Nothing but silence answered my greeting, and I wondered for a moment if the call had dropped.  Then a familiar voice asked, “Elizabeth?”  I’m good with voices.  Sometimes it’s easier for me to identify someone by his voice than by his face.  Even without that, I’d have known this voice anywhere.  Brian Kelly had the most unique accent I’d ever heard, not quite Australian and not quite British but something in between the two.

“It’s me.  What’s up Brian?” I asked, wondering why in the world he could be calling.  We were friends, but we usually kept in touch through my best friend who happened to be his girlfriend.  I scored a bottle of water from a nearby cooler and plopped down at a picnic table.

There was an uncomfortable silence, punctuated by the sounds of my fellow gamers bashing each other with foam-padded swords.  After a moment, Brian asked, “Have you heard from Dylan?”

Brian had convinced Dylan Connelly, my closest friend and former roommate, to spend a week with him in Orlando.  From what Dylan had told me, her flight should have landed by now.  I frowned as I cracked the seal on my water bottle.

“I haven’t talked to her since last night.  Is everything okay?”

I listened to the silence spin out again as I uncapped the water and took a long drink. 

“Brian?”

“She’s not here,” Brian said.  “Her flight landed half an hour ago.  I haven’t seen her, and she’s not answering her phone.”

I took another drink before answering.  “Brian, you know Dylan’s bad about forgetting to turn her phone on.  She’s probably wandering around the airport wondering where you are.”

“So…she didn’t change her mind, then?”

I almost laughed.  Dylan had talked about nothing but Brian for months.  This week was likely to be the highlight of her year – or maybe her decade.

“Brian, honey,” I said, “Dylan didn’t change her mind.  Not about this week, and not about you.  Okay?”

Brian made a small sound that couldn’t quite be called a laugh.  “London said I was being paranoid.”  London, I knew, was Brian’s close friend and band mate.  The band - named DPS of all things – had a gig at the Hard Rock in Orlando at the end of the week.  Dylan was almost as excited about the concert – and seeing Brian’s friends again - as she was about having a week of alone-time with her boyfriend.

“I would say so, yeah.  At least about the whole ‘changing her mind’ thing.  Maybe not so much about the ‘she hasn’t shown up’ thing.”

“Yeah.  I’m going to try her cell again.  I’m sorry I bothered you with this.  I’ll talk to you later.”

"Don’t you dare hang up on me!" I snapped.  I took a deep breath, reminding myself that Brian had to be worried and distracted.  "You can’t just get me worried and then leave me hanging, Brian.”

“Sorry.”

“Psssh.  Is her phone going straight to voice mail?  And are you sure you’re at the right terminal, have the right flight info?”

“Dylan sent me a copy of her flight information.  I’m in the right place, and her plane definitely landed a half hour ago.”

“And her phone?”

“Straight to voice mail.”

I nodded, even though I knew Brian couldn’t see it.  I took another swig from the water bottle while I collected my thoughts. 

“Okay, so.  The voice mail thing tells me her phone’s off, like I said.  But she should have tried to call you by now if she thinks you guys have missed each other.”

“Right.”

I tucked my feet under me on the bench, what we used to call ‘sitting Indian style’ before the term became politically incorrect.  “Well, hell.  I don’t know what to tell you, Brian,” I said.  “No, wait…I wonder if she missed her flight.  It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“If she did miss her flight, and she’s in the air…”

“Then you won’t be able to get her on her cell.  And you’ll be left in limbo for who knows how long.”  I waited a beat, and then added, “But it just so happens that she trusts her best friend way too much.  As soon as I can get to a computer, I can find out if her flight got changed.”  I unfolded my legs and stood up, digging in my pocket for my keys.  I wanted to get home and find out where the hell Dylan had disappeared to.

“Could you tell someone else how to find out?”

I tucked the phone between my ear and shoulder so I’d have my hands free to gather up my role-play equipment.  “Not that I don’t trust you, but I feel weird about giving you Dylan’s info.”

“I didn’t mean me,” Brian said.  “I was actually thinking of London.  He’s probably at his computer right now.  But I guess the same’s true of him.”

“Even more so,” I agreed.  I managed to hit the trunk button on my key fob without dropping any of my gaming gear, but fumbled the phone when I shoved my bundle of weapons and armor into the trunk.

“I can be home in 20 minutes,” I said, as I unlocked the car.  I stopped, turning to lean my back against the car.  “You know what…no.  When we hang up, try Dylan’s cell again.  If you don’t get an answer, have London call me.  If you do get an answer, have Dylan call me.  Okay?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, of course.  Someone will call you back in…ten minutes, either way.”

“Perfect,” I said.  “Good luck, Brian.”

“Thanks.”

We hung up, and I got into my car.  I turned on the radio for something to concentrate on, but didn’t start the engine.  I didn’t want to try to drive and talk on my cell at the same time, so I stayed put. 

I passed the time imagining how the conversation would go if it were London who called.  Everything I knew about him I had learned from Dylan: he drummed for DPS and he was one of Brian’s closest friends.  I had heard a few of the band’s songs, and I liked the music well enough.  The mellow pop-rock sound didn’t seem to fit Brian all that well; it didn’t fit the mental picture I had of London Dahlbeck, either.  I’m not sure why, but I pictured London as a modern Mick Jagger.  I could imagine him raising hell and terrorizing the staff in some high-class hotel, though as far as I knew DPS hadn’t ever caused any scandals. 

Less than ten minutes later, my phone rang again, startling me back to the here and now.  The number wasn’t Dylan’s.

“Hello?”

“Hi.  This is London.  Dahlbeck?  Brian Kelly asked me to call you.” 

The voice wasn’t at all what I had been expecting.  Instead of having a Jagger-esque British accent, he sounded…normal.  More than ever, I found myself wondering what kind of people would name their son ‘London,’ especially paired with ‘Dahlbeck.’  Elementary school must have been so much fun for this poor guy.

“Hi, London.  Brian wanted me to pair my brain with your computer.”

London laughed.  “You make it sound like I don’t have the brains to pair with it.”

“Well, I have no proof to the contrary,” I said.  I shook my head.  “Prove it to me.  Help me figure out where Dylan is.”

“I’ll do what I can,” he promised.  “Okay, I’m guessing your plan is to look at her flight information on the airline website?”

“Yep.  And I’m sure you know that….”

“We’re going to need a res number, yeah.  We hacking her email?”

I smiled.  He was already proving himself sufficient in the brains department.  Good.  “It’s not hacking if she gave me her password,” I replied.

“True enough.  Where’m I going?”

I told him which website she used for email and gave him her login and password.  I could hear the click-clacking of keys as he followed my directions.

“I’m in,” he said.  “Okay…she’s got a billion little folders in here, and I have no idea what most of the labels mean.  I mean ‘work’ and ‘Brian’ are pretty self-explanatory, but I don’t see…oh wait, maybe….”

“Try search,” I suggested.

“Too late.  I found the confirmation.”

“You got lucky.”

“I’m good at that,” he said.

I laughed.  “The advantages of being in a band.”.

For a moment there was utter silence, not even the clacking of his computer keyboard coming through the phone.  Then, “That is so not what I meant.”

“Sure,” I said.

“I mean, I’m not denying that I’m good at ‘getting lucky’, but that really isn’t what I meant.”  Before I could think of a witty retort, he said, “Fuck.  She didn’t change her flight.  She checked in…she should have been on that plane.  She should be in Orlando.”

“Fuck,” I agreed, leaning my forehead against the steering wheel.  “Now what?”

London took his time replying.  After a moment, he spoke, his voice low and somber, “It’s too soon to file a missing person’s report.”

“And the airline won’t tell us anything,” I added.  “But I can’t just sit here and wonder.”

We spent another quiet minute or two thinking.

“Elizabeth?”

“I’m here,” I said.

“Can you get to Orlando?”

“What?”

“Can you get away from work or whatever and get on a plane to Orlando – today?”

“I…I don’t know.  Maybe.  I mean, if I knew it would help….”

“Elizabeth, I need you to trust me on this.  I need you to get a flight to Orlando as soon as you can.  And if you have something of Dylan’s, I need you to bring it.”

I sat up, rubbing my forehead.  “What do you mean?  What sort of ‘something’?”

“Just about anything that belongs to Dylan should work.”

‘Work for what?’ I thought.  Aloud I said, “I have some heels I stole from her.  And probably some of her books.  I…I don’t know.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” he said.  It sounded like he might be talking to himself instead of me, so I didn’t ask what he meant.  “Just look around and see if there’s anything.  I think you’ll know what to bring when you see it.”

“You’re kind of freaking me out.”

“Yeah,” London said.  “But I’m not going to apologize for it.  Not this time.  Just book that flight.  If you can’t afford it, call me or Brian back, and we’ll deal with it.”

I wanted to get huffy, to explain that I’m an independent woman and didn’t need his money.  But truthfully, finances and I had not been friends lately.  The perils of being a college student at thirty-five.

“I’ll let you know,” I promised.  “And I’ll make sure to leave a paper trail, just in case.”

London gave a little, humorless laugh.  “Yeah.  Good idea.”

“I should go.  Looks like I have some packing to do and a flight to arrange.”

“Hold on a minute,” London said.  I could hear keys clicking again.  “There’s a flight leaving from Bush Intercontinental in a little over two hours.  Can you make it?”

I did the math in my head.  “Yeah, I can make it.”

“Hold on,” he said again.  More typing sounds.  “I need your full name.”

“Elizabeth Kathleen Morgan.  What are you doing?  Wait…you’re booking my flight?”

“Yup.  Date of birth?”

I didn’t even bother protesting. I just gave him all the information he asked for.

“You’re booked.  Itinerary’s in your email.”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“Say ‘bye’ and hang up.  I want to be sure you make your flight.” 

“Fair enough,” I said with a little laugh.  “Bye, London.”

“Bye, Elizabeth.  I’ll see you in Orlando.”

I don’t remember the drive from the park back to my apartment.  That should have worried me far more than it did.  I more or less parked and then launched myself out of the car and across the parking lot to my front door.  I fumbled the key into the lock, opened the door, and kicked it shut behind me as I started stripping off my role-play costume – belt, tabard, tunic.  The jeans, though dirty from rolling on the ground, could stay, I decided.

I dashed into the bedroom, grabbed my two carry-on bags from the closet, and started packing.  I do a lot of travelling, though usually by train or bus.  I hate flying.  Anyway, I was something of a pro at packing, even in a hurry.

Comfortable, serviceable clothes – socks and underwear, bras, t-shirt, jeans.  I remembered what Orlando weather could be like, even in the early spring, and packed a couple of pairs of shorts as well.  I pulled off my hiking boots – too impractical for dealing with airport security – and traded them for my favorite pair of low-top Converse.  The shoes, a gift from Dylan, were black with little skulls all over them.  Some of the skulls had pink bows on top.  A lovely blend of macabre and cutesy, they were totally ‘me.’  I tugged on my favorite Red Chapter t-shirt and stepped into the closet to grab a jacket for the plane.

I didn’t see my black leather jacket, the one that I defaulted to, especially when travelling.  I sifted through the clothes on the racks, one hangar at a time, certain the jacket had to be lurking somewhere.  Near the back of the closet, I pushed aside a garment bag…and stopped and stared for a moment.  I moved the clothes on either side of the bag and twisted it on its hangar so I could reach the zipper.  I opened the bag and pulled out one of the dresses inside.

Dylan and I had found the long black and white formal in a resale shop.  It fit Dylan just right and made her look like a movie star from the Golden Age of the Silver Screen.  I had urged her to buy it, assured her she’d have a chance to wear it if we ever got to go on the cruise we’d been planning for years.  Less than a year later, we went on our cruise, exploring the islands of the Caribbean.  We spent our first night onboard the ship hanging out in one of the lounges.  It was there that we met Brian, not knowing at the time that he was the guitarist for a big-name rock band.  Dylan and Brian hit it off from the very beginning.  She’d been wearing the black and white formal the first time he kissed her.  At the end of the cruise, the dress had gone into the garment bag with my formal and so had ended up in my closet.

I realized London had been right; I knew this was the ‘something’ I needed to take to Orlando, though I still didn’t know why.

I took my dress out of the garment bag, tucked Dylan’s back inside, and carefully folded the bag to fit into the rolling suitcase that was the larger of my two carry-ons.  I moved on to gathering up the rest of my things – toiletries, computer, phone, iPod.  Grumbling about the TSA, I went to the coat closet by my front door to dig out a fresh box of Ziploc bags - and there was my leather jacket.  Later I would realize that if I’d known where I’d left the jacket, I wouldn’t have found Dylan’s dress.

Smoke and Mirrors - Chapter One Preview

Chapter One

 

“For the last time, I am not calling my agency “Hollywood Knights!”

Lori, the newest and youngest addition to my circle of friends, pretended to pout.  “Aw, Jenny.  You’re no fun!”

Blow me.”

Not even if you had the right equipment,” Lori said.

I rolled my eyes and shoved the last bite of my garlic breadstick in my mouth so I wouldn’t say anything I’d regret later. 

When I’d announced my intentions to move my consulting and investigations agency from Florida to L.A., where I’d been living for the past few months, I’d expected my friends there to react.  I had actually expected them to react in a positive way — cheering, congratulations, champagne…something.  What I’d gotten instead was a half-hour’s worth of god-awful name suggestions, including one that wouldn’t go away — Hollywood Knights.  Never mind that the word ‘knight’ conjures images of a man with armor and a sword, and never mind that there is only one of me, my friends were determined to call my agency Hollywood Knights, regardless of what I decided to name it.

“So when are you officially moving to L.A.?” another of my friends, Dylan, asked, unconsciously rubbing her hugely pregnant belly.

“I’m not sure.  Depends on when I can find office space, I guess.  And somewhere to live.”

I guess part of me was hoping that one of my friends would offer me a place to crash, because I was disappointed when all I got were a couple of nods.  Elizabeth, who I’d known the longest, didn’t even give me that much; she was too busy texting.

Sighing, I dropped my half-eaten slice of pizza onto my plate and leaned back into the couch cushions.  My new friends here in California didn’t seem too interested in my big announcement.  But then my old friends in Florida hadn’t, either.  The only people who had shown any genuine interest in the idea were my family — my brother Chris, my mom, and my niece, Hannah.  They were excited about the move, even though I wouldn’t be any closer to them.  They lived in Texas, of all places.  Chris’s excitement I could at least understand.  A little.  My moving to L.A. would give him one more excuse to come and visit, like having his girlfriend and best friend living out here wasn’t enough of a draw.  And Hannah probably had all sorts of ideas in her head about rock stars and actors and glamour and glitz.  Mom…I had no idea why she was so thrilled with the move.  I also knew that she wasn’t likely to tell me, so I just chose to let it ride.

After a minute or so, Elizabeth looked up from her text and smiled at me.  “Need any help packing?”

“Domestic bliss wearing thin already?” I teased.  She’d been living with London, her boyfriend —one of her boyfriends, I should say, since she had two of them— for less than a month.  I knew there was no way she was tired of London yet.

“Hell, no.  But I can drag myself away for a couple of days if you need help,” she said.  “Oh, and answer your phone.”

I looked at her like she’d lost her mind, since my phone wasn’t ringing.  And then it did, and I have to admit that I was spooked for a second.  I snatched the cell off the coffee table and checked the caller ID.  It was Seth, my brother’s best friend, who I’d known since I was in high school.  I couldn’t remember the last time he had called me, but it had been a while.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on tour?” I said when I answered.

“Whatever happened to just saying ‘hello’?  And I am on tour.  We just got done with soundcheck a little bit ago, and I’m about to faceplant in a plate of steak and potatoes, so I need to make this quick, okay?”

“Um…you called me.”

I swear I could tell he was rolling his eyes from the way he huffed air into the mouthpiece.  “You’re not helping,” he said.  “Short version, you need a place to stay in L.A., and I need someone to keep an eye on my place while I’m on the road.  Get Elizabeth’s key, do whatever the hell you want to one of the guest rooms, and don’t skinnydip on Thursdays unless you want to give the pool guy a free show.  Okay?  I gotta go.”

“Wait…Seth!  Don’t you dare hang up!”  I glanced around the room at the other girls watching me: Lori looking slightly confused, Dylan with a bemused smile, and Elizabeth, who seemed both guilty and proud of herself.  The pieces clicked into place.

“I really need to go, Jen.”

“I just wanted to say thank you,” I lied.  I had questions and concerns, but they could wait.  “Call me later and we’ll work out the rest of the details.”

Seth sighed.  “There are no details.  Elizabeth has a key and an alarm code for you.  Don’t skinnydip on Thursdays.  That’s it.  Oh, and don’t drink my Scotch.”

“I don’t drink Scotch.”

“I knew there was something not quite right about you,” he said.

“Lots, actually.  Anyway, thank you.  And there are details.  And we’ll argue about them later.  Go get your steak on.  And kick ass at the show tonight.”

“Thanks.  Later, Angel.”

He ended the call before I could even say goodbye, but that didn’t surprise me.  What had surprised me, though, was his calling me ‘Angel’.  He’d given me the nickname when I was seventeen, and I had almost forgotten all about it.  But apparently he hadn’t.

I pushed away the shock of hearing that nickname again and turned to glare at Elizabeth.  “Really?”

She just smiled.  “I knew he’d make the offer, anyway.  I just expedited things.  You know how guys are, especially Seth.  It can take them forever to get their heads out of their asses long enough to figure out what’s going on around them.  And by the time they do, poof!  Opportunity’s gone.”

“No shit,” I agreed.  “Now if you can find me office space that easily, I’ll be your new best friend.”

“Hey!” Dylan cried.  “No taking over as Em’s best friend.  That’s my job.”

Whatever you say, Mom.”

Thanks to my foresight, I saw the pillow she threw at me just a few seconds before she hurled it.  My foresight usually existed as a sort of low-level awareness of what would likely happen in the next few seconds.  It was almost like white-noise for the sixth sense; something I could sense but that wasn’t likely to distract me.  When I wanted to, I could concentrate on a person or situation and get a clearer and longer-term picture of future possibilities.  Even though I could use my ability for every single question from what I should eat for breakfast to who would win the Super Bowl, I chose to limit the use of my foresight for two reasons.  First, the future is constantly changing; even the tiniest choice by anyone involved can change the probabilities from one moment to the next.  More importantly, calling on my magic or metaphysical talent or what-the-hell-ever is taxing; if I tried to use it for every little thing, I’d never have the energy for anything else.  So over the years, I’d developed the talent that had manifested when I was eleven into a delicate tool instead of trying to use it like a sledgehammer.  I’d also turned it into an ability to save my own ass—and sometimes other peoples’ as well.

I was never in any danger from the pillow, but without the foresight, Dylan would have taken out half a pizza and two perfectly good bottles of beer.  Thanks to my gift, though, I managed to snatch the pillow out of the air and send it back her direction, where it bounced off the wall to land at her feet.

 “I hate that you can do that,” she said.

“You hate that I can walk without waddling.”

“You better watch it,” Lori warned, “or next time she’s gonna be throwing something a lot more dangerous than a pillow.”

“Nah,” I said.  “She loves me.”

It was true, too.  I could get away with saying shit to Dylan that no one else —except maybe Elizabeth— would live through.  She understood that, from me, smartass remarks and veiled insults were the equivalent of big, snuggly hugs.  It was something we had in common.

Kickstarter - Smoke and Mirrors

I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to the indie publishing game.  I have a lot of great, talented friends who’ve been willing to work for free or trade services so that I could get my stories out into the world.  Now that I’ve been in the biz for a while, I figured it was time to try something new: actually paying people for the services I’ve been trading for.  Ergo, Kickstarter. 

Kickstarter, for those who don’t know, is a crowdfunding concept especially for creative endeavors.  Essentially, you create a campaign, ask for backers, and deliver the goods - your creative project.  In return for donations, backers get…well, they get whatever you deem fit.  In my case, I’m offering everything from inclusion in the acknowledgments to hand-crafted jewelry to short stories written about whichever character the backer chooses.  For those who don’t want the extras, or can’t afford the extra cost, there is also the option of essentially pre-ordering the ebook by choosing the corresponding donation level.

I have no idea if this will work.  I may end up trading favors yet again.  But you’ll never know if you never try.

Smoke and Mirrors Kickstarter

Smoke and Mirrors - Hollywood Knights book 1…coming soon.

Smoke and Mirrors - Hollywood Knights book 1…coming soon.

Lightning Review - Don’t Tell Anyone by Laurie Boris
Lightning Review - Don’t Tell Anyone

Don’t Tell Anyone by Laurie Boris

Blurb:
When pneumonia lands Estelle Trager unconscious in the emergency room, it ruins everything for the stubborn 65-year-old woman. She’d been keeping a secret—a deadly secret—that she’d planned on taking to the grave. But now her son Adam and his wife, Liza, know about her tumors. Adam is outraged, but Estelle, who watched her mother and grandmother suffer from breast cancer in the days when no one dared speak its name, has no intention of putting her family or herself through the horrors of cancer treatment. Estelle decides there is only one solution: ask Liza, the 33-year-old daughter-in-law she once called a godless hippie raised by wolves, to kill her. A horrified Liza refuses and keeps the request—among other things—a secret from her furious husband. But she tells his younger brother, Charlie, a close friend from college with whom she shares her own confidences, despite Adam’s serious case of sibling rivalry. Armed with nutrition textbooks and her neighbor, a savvy nurse, can Liza win over her mother-in-law and convince her to consider other options before the cancer, the secrets, and Estelle’s determination to end her life win out?

Review:

I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a novel about cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer in 2002, and I tend to shy away from books or movies that deal with the big C.

That said, I’m so glad that my love of Laurie Boris’s writing drove me to read “Don’t Tell Anyone” despite my reservations. The story isn’t all gloom-and-doom, and it wasn’t `a downer’. It’s a very _real_ story about very real characters dealing with an utterly crappy situation. It’s easy to connect with. And there’s even a certain sort of healing in it.

I can honestly say that I would - and do - recommend this novel for anyone at all who enjoys a good book.

Rating: 5 stars