Sunday, December 09, 2018

Christmas Carole is out from Changeling Press!

You’ll want a visit from these Ghosts of Christmas Yummy…
Carole Elzer is no Scrooge -- she loves Christmas. But when she’s visited by the ghost of her best friend and business partner, Marley, Carole learns she must make amends for something she hasn’t done -- otherwise, Marley warns, she’ll spend the rest of her life in anguish and guilt.
She’s guided on her voyage into Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come by three sexy spirits, all of whom look just like her partner, Bob Crockett. Bob is still grieving for the wife he loved and lost years ago, but Carole nurses a guilty love for him.
As Carole explores her past, present and future with her handsome spirits, she realizes just how high the stakes are. Bob’s young son Tim’s life hangs in the balance. If she doesn’t learn how to save the child, none of them will ever again know a merry Christmas -- and she and Bob will have no future together.
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I turned to continue up the stairs -- and gasped.

Parked on the stairs ahead of me -- stairs that had been empty a heartbeat before -- a hearse stood, its back hatch swung wide to reveal the coffin inside.

Lurching backward with a yelp, I barely saved myself from falling with a frantic grab for the banister. I spun and raced back down the steps so fast, it was a miracle I didn't break my neck. At the bottom, I wheeled to peer back the way I'd come.

The stairs were empty.

Dumbass, what did you expect? No way in hell could a set of hundred-and-forty-year-old steps support a couple tons of hearse.

It hadn't been cannabis that cake had been laced with. It had been LSD.

Bob. I needed to call Bob. Six-foot-four with a broad, muscular build, Bob Crockett could handle anything. One call and he'd be here in ten minutes. Back in his hard news days, Bob had covered everything from shotgun murders to high-speed chases, and nothing shook his cool. Not even his business partner's overactive imagination.

But it was Christmas Eve, and we'd spent all day working that wedding because the bride's family had written us a check with a lot of zeros. I wasn't about to drag him out of bed now. For one thing, he shouldn't leave his twelve-year-old son home alone just to calm me down.

Tim had gone along on today's shoot, just as he'd been doing from the age of five. He'd always been a laughing, bright-eyed boy, but his mother's death had left him pale and quiet. He'd seemed particularly withdrawn today.

Damned if I was going to bother them because visions of serial killers danced in my head. Instead I stood at the foot of the stairs, concentrating on getting my racing heartbeat under control.

I kept a Lady Smith .38 in my upstairs closet. Bob had bought it for me one Christmas, then dragged me to the range to practice until he was sure I could hit what I aimed at. "I've covered too many fucking murders," he'd told me. "If you're going to live alone, you're damned well going to be able to defend yourself."

Now I took back every time I'd teased him about his paranoia.

Pulling my cell out of my pocket, I started up the stairs almost as fast as I'd come down them. If I heard so much as a floorboard creak, I was calling 911.

And tell them what? demanded the voice of common sense. That your doorknocker turned into your dead partner's face and you saw a hearse parked on the stairs? The cops'll search the house for drugs.
Damn it. No cops.

I hurried up the steps and down the hallway to the master bedroom, flipping on lights as I went. 

Pausing, I gave the room a once-over. The brass bed was neatly made under a beautiful heirloom quilt I'd inherited, like the house, from my grandmother. An antique cherry armoire and bureau stood along opposite walls. Next to the bow window, the Christmas tree was draped in twinkle lights, swags of gold tinsel, and wooden replicas of Victorian toys.

I closed the door behind me and hurried to the antique cherry armoire, where the Lady Smith resided in a top shelf gun safe. Fingers flying, I punched in the code and pulled out the matte black automatic.

Yep, fully loaded, safety on.

Feeling a lot more secure -- and a bit stupid at my freak-out -- I put the gun down on the cherry nightstand and started undressing. We always dressed up for weddings, but shooting video requires stringing cable on your hands and knees. Not the kind of thing you do in a dress and hose. Today I'd worn a black wool pantsuit and an ice-blue silk blouse. For a moment, I distracted myself with the memory of Bob in a suit. The jacket had needed no padding to call attention to his broad shoulders, narrow waist, and long legs. Not to mention that perfectly muscled ass...

Cut it out, Carole. No lusting after Marley's husband.

Still, I loved the intent look he got in those gray eyes whenever he was setting up a shot. There was something sensual in the way his powerful hands gripped one of our commercial-grade video cameras, balancing it effortlessly on one strong shoulder.

Thinking about Bob drained the last of my anxiety. I pulled on flannel pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, then crawled into bed. Settling back on the pile of fat pillows, I picked up my phone and opened my Kindle app, meaning to read until I got sleepy.

I did a search on the word "Christmas," meaning to pull up one of the holiday romances I'd collected over the years. The first thing that popped up was A Christmas Carol, one of Marley's favorite books. Every single year, we'd ended up watching one of the many TV or film versions of the classic. She'd told me once the book had fascinated her when she was a child because Scrooge's ghostly partner, Jacob Marley, shared her name.

I suddenly remembered a scene from the book that hadn't been in any of the movies. On the way up the stairs to his bedroom, Scrooge had seen a steam-powered hearse on the steps. My subconscious must have dredged up the memory and produced the modern-day version.


I clicked on a promising historical and settled back against the pillows to read. I'd just begun to sink into the lush world of Regency England when a sudden sound jolted me.

Thump clatter rattle thunk clatter.

My head snapped up as my skin went cold, my heart beginning to pound. That was not the house settling. Something was coming up the stairs.

"Shit!" I snatched the gun off the nightstand and flicked the safety off, pointing it toward the door. The clatter grew louder. My terror spiraled until I had to clamp a scream behind my teeth.
Marley floated through the bedroom door.

She wore the dress she'd been buried in, the same bright yellow chiffon tea-length gown she'd worn to marry Bob thirteen years ago. Her skin glowed with an eerie, pearlescent sheen, her long sable hair floating around her face as if she were underwater. Thin cords wrapped her body, each hung with glowing rectangles. One of them spun toward me, and I realized it was an iPhone.

"I guess that's better than chains and iron account books." My voice sounded so high, you'd think I was five. "What... What the fuck, M... Marley? You weren't a miser, and you..."

She shot at me like a comet, USB cables and phones whipping around her. She stopped, her face an inch from mine, her features contorted with a rage I'd never seen there when she was alive.

I recoiled against the pillows so hard, I felt the press of the bed's brass spindles through the fabric. 
"Marley, what the..."

"This isn't about me!" she shrieked. "It's about everything else you've ignored!"

I jerked, nerveless fingers losing their grip on the gun. It tumbled off the bed and hit the rug with a thump. Not that it would've done me any good. She was already dead.

Part of my mind was gibbering, This is not real this is not real this is not real! But it felt entirely too fucking real. She smelled of decaying leaves and wilting lilies, the smell so strong I almost gagged. And the air around her was so cold, breathing seemed to freeze my lungs.

"I... I never ignored C-Christmas!" I babbled. "Bob and Tim are coming for Christmas dinner tomorrow, and I've got him an iPhone..."

Marley's eyes blazed red. "You think all my child needs is a meal and toys?"

Instinctively, I thrust out an arm to push her away, but my hand sank to the wrist into her glowing, insubstantial body. It felt like I'd plunged it into a half-frozen pond. As my skin began to burn, I jerked back, cradling my hand against my chest. "What... what do you need me to do?"

"I don't need a damned thing," she hissed. "I'm dead. You need to be worried about the living. You need to care about someone other than yourself and your own pain!"

That stung. "I care about Bob and Tim! I've done everything for them I can think of, anything they've needed..."

The rage on her face was terrifying, and not just because she was dead. "Right, you care," she sneered. "But do you care enough to actually pay attention?"

"Pay attention to what? If you'd just tell me..."

"It wouldn't do any fucking good! It would end the same, in darkness and anguish. You'll have to learn the hard way." She floated backward a little, and I managed to drag in a breath that didn't sear my nose with cold. "Three spirits will visit you. You'd better learn what they teach, or you'll wish to God you had!"

Somewhere on the first floor, the antique grandfather clock began to chime, bonging its way to midnight. Marley floated backward, her eyes never leaving mine as she stared at me with such fury and betrayal, it felt like an ice pick to the heart.

"I'm sorry," I gasped as she began to sink into the door as if she were submerging in a pool of water. "I never intended... Marley, whatever I did wrong, I'm going to fix!"

"Prove it!" she snapped, and vanished from sight.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Master of Valor is out now at Changeling Press!

 The newest Mageverse novella is out now at Changeling Press, and up for preorder everywhere else!  Here's an excerpt:

So a vampire, a witch and a werewolf walk into a morgue… Seriously. The night has teeth.

Handsome Afghan war veteran Duncan Carpenter barely survived a horrifying IED attack that cost him his legs. He gets a second chance at life when he agrees to become an agent of the Magekind -- a vampire sworn to protect humanity. The spell that transforms him also heals his broken body and gives him incredible new abilities. Now he must pay for that gift, because the Magekind is preparing for war with powerful magical enemies. But first he must complete his training with a Magekind witch, Masara Okeye. Problem. He’s falling for his mentor, even as he struggles to deal with life as a vampire.

Masara finds her apprentice deliciously seductive -- a little bit too much so for her peace of mind, because he brings up memories better left buried. But when Duncan and Masara are asked to help a werewolf cop investigate the murder of a jogger, they’re targeted by the same vicious killers. The fight for survival drives the couple together, despite Masara’s determination to keep her distance. Then the case turns even more horrific and mysterious. What turned a couple of loving werewolf grandparents into vicious killers?

And what’s with the flying rabid zombie rats?

Master of Valor Buy Links
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A globe of fire the size of a basketball flew at his face. Duncan Carpenter ducked behind his shield as flame splashed its tough, transparent surface. The magical attack triggered the shield's enchantment, and a ward sprang out to encircle him as the flame licked the barrier.

The fire cleared, and for a moment Duncan saw his opponent -- a towering teal blue humanoid whose three-fingered hands held a massive sword. The Fomorian's features were basically human, except for red irises rayed in veins of purple and gold -- oddly beautiful. His snarl revealed a mouthful of long, jagged teeth designed to tear flesh. The Fomorian charged, running silently on three-toed feet, insanely fast in enchanted leather armor engraved with protective spells.

Just as the sorcerer reached him, Duncan bounded five feet straight up and chopped down with his sword, aiming between the twin bony crests running over the top of the Fomorian's head.

The sorcerer shied back, avoiding the blow by a hair. As Duncan hit the floor, the Fomorian's hand shot into the air, a nimbus of light dancing from thumb to the two long, thick fingers. Duncan jerked his shield up...

Too late. The force blast hit him right in the face and knocked him across the room. He hit the wall so hard, he saw a whole constellation of stars. When they faded, he lay on his back surrounded by smoke. Dazed, he turned his head -- to see the bloody remains of a leg clad in shredded camo pants. He knew it was his own...

Fucking flashback. Get up and fight, Marine! Legs ain't free!

Duncan blinked, and the illusionary leg vanished, becoming his sword again. He snatched the weapon off the ground as the Fomorian roared. Duncan threw himself into a roll. The sorcerer's blade cut so close, the breeze of its passage lifted his hair.

Springing upright, Duncan lunged at the Fomorian, shield still strapped to his left arm. Swinging his sword in furious arcs, he rained strokes at the sorcerer -- his head, his arms, thighs, abdomen. The seven-foot monster retreated, parrying, unable to launch his own attacks as he fought to block the thundering blows. Fear flashed over the sorcerer's face...

And Duncan really felt his own miraculous power, the speed and strength he couldn't have imagined six months before. Most of all, he felt every inch of his legs. The ones he'd lost a year ago on the worst day of his life. The ones that should be clumsy mechanical replacements instead of superhuman flesh and blood. He was the luckiest bastard on the planet. And he had to be worthy of his miracle. His lips peeled off his teeth in a bloodthirsty cross between a snarl and a grin.

Somewhere in the house, a clock struck midnight. The Fomorian threw up one hand and panted, "Lunch break."

Ha! He'd tired her out. Duncan straightened, breathing hard. As he watched, the Fomorian's body seemed to melt like wax, vivid blue-green skin darkening to something more human. A blink later, Masara Okeye stood there, no longer surrounded by the Fomorian illusion she'd worn for combat practice.

Masara was a head shorter than Duncan, but her lean body was as lithe and strong as a leopard's. Her long dreads swung as she walked across the room to retrieve a couple of towels from a shelf. She tossed him one and blotted her face with the other.

He caught the towel without really looking at it. She fascinated him, with those sculpted cheekbones, the full, deliciously sensual mouth, the exotic swoop of her nose, and her big, dark eyes. Not to mention all that skin, rich and brown and gleaming with sweat, barely concealed by a black jogging bra and leggings. Just looking at her made his upper jaw ache. Some air current brought the hot smell of exertion and woman to his sensitive nose, tinged with the seductive tang he'd learned to associate with witches. Lust flooded his blood and hardened his cock. And it wasn't the only thing growing, either. Judging by the ache in his upper jaw, his incisors had lengthened.

Great, Duncan thought, irritated at the all-too-visible reaction his instructor was bound to notice. I'm getting a fang-on. The spell that had healed Duncan had given him his legs back, but it had also made him a vampire.

Yeah, well, legs ain't free.

* * *

Good thing Duncan has no idea how tempting he looks, Masara thought. I'd be in trouble. Bare-chested, sweat-slicked, wearing only a pair of loose shorts, her apprentice tested both her self-control and her ability to concentrate. He wore his curling chestnut hair tied back in a tight tail, calling attention to the brutal perfection of his features and the sensual mobility of his mouth. His eyes were a shimmering crystalline blue that turned dark when he was aroused and icy in anger. He reminded her of a young god.

He was certainly endowed like one. It took all Masara's considerable willpower to keep her eyes off the erection testing the soft blue nylon of his shorts. The deliciously long, thick shaft made her imagine all kinds of sensual possibilities. She really needed to take him to bed. If he'd been anybody else, she probably would have done so months ago. He needed to get his mind off what happened to him that nightmare day in Afghanistan, and a nice hot fling would probably do the trick.

Trouble was, he wasn't just another apprentice. She'd trained dozens of witches and vampires over the decades, but none of them had been as driven, as focused, or as haunted as Duncan. And none of them had such vivid blue eyes that took on that chill burn when he was frustrated or angry.

When Masara had been a child, a look like that in blue eyes meant it was time to find something else to do, as far away as possible. Even one hundred sixty-one years as a Magekind agent hadn't been enough to reprogram the reaction. Which made serving as Duncan's mentor a dicey proposition. She had psychic landmines of her own, and those eyes could trigger them.

Still, he was a hard man to resist. It just wasn't his looks or his formidable intelligence either; none of her apprentices had been homely, and they certainly weren't stupid. No, it was the man's stoic warrior attitude, his psychic wounds, his dogged determination to deserve the second chance he'd been given.
A second chance he'd needed because he'd sacrificed himself to save an Afghani child from an IED. 

The Magekind needed people like Duncan, and it was Masara's job to make sure he had the training to fight the Fomorians -- and survive.

They needed every warrior they could get to fulfill the mission Merlin had given them 1500 years ago. Keeping humanity from committing mass suicide through war or environmental catastrophe took a lot of manpower.

"After lunch," she told him as they caught their breath, "I want you to practice against a troll." Which meant another grueling hour maintaining an illusion spell, not to mention the physical effort of sparring with a vampire hand-to-hand. She'd be black and blue by the time they finished. Still, if it kept him alive, it was worth it.

"Trolls, centaurs, Fomorians, Merkind, giants..." He rolled his eyes and curled an expressive lip. "Why the heck do they all want a piece of us?"

"They don't like sharing Mageverse Earth with humans," Masara told him. "Or our Sidhe cousins, either. They want us all dead."

"An alien Axis of Evil." He shook his head. "My life is so damned weird."

"Welcome to the Magekind."

Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoy Master of Valor!

Angela Knight