Conjuring Misery Chapter 5 (the second half)

I see last week whetted your appetite. Good! Then Dave Benneman, Camille Douglass and I have done our jobs! Without further ado, we bring you back to the old west and our tension filled poker game of CONJURING MISERY…

Poker

Chapter 5
Snake

Sitting with my back to the door was making my damn neck itch. Not that I was given much of choice. Only good thing was it let me keep an eye on my ratfink uncle who was currently laying a card in front of Sam as the German droned on. Two things happened at once. Gunther said the magic words, “Yaqui Star” and next to Smoke, Sam picked up the card Jinx dealt and froze.

Hard won instincts kicked in with a vengeance. There was no time to bring my girls out to play. Instead I reached for my next best weapon, my magic. A harsh word and between one breath and the next, time slowed, creeping through amber as the scene around me froze for everyone but me. The wild flow of magic left me gritting my teeth. Holding it to my will and slowing the tick of time was like trying to ride a buckin’ mustang, bareback. Breathing through the bone-grinding pressure and pain, I tried to figure out who or what was threatening to interrupt our game. Smoke was leaning into Sam, who was in the midst of laying his cards down, his mouth partially open. Probably getting ready to fold. What spooked him?

The magic gave another vicious tug. I wouldn’t be able to hold the clock back much longer. My gaze roamed around the table, trying to pick up the clues I didn’t have time to read. Jinx’s half smile. Gunther’s gaze aimed behind me. Villalobos staring daggers at Smoke. Another tug, this one strong enough time slipped my hold. Next to me Two Crows blinked, his dark eyes focused on me. Behind him Smoke’s eyes widened.

I dove to the side even as the recalcitrant magic raked out with vicious claws and I lost my grip. Time snapped back into place. I had Ruby up and talking before the door finished opening as Pearl was pinned in her holster under my weight. It was awkward shooting from the floor, but I made do. Lead left the barrel in quick, repetitive barks and hit their target. Unfortunately they weren’t very discouraging.

Of course when you’re already dead, pain ain’t much of a deterrent.

“Dimond Jim?” The distressed high pitched squeal had to come from Gunther, but it was hard to tell from my position on the floor.

Around me chaos broke out. Two Crows was up and next to Smoke, who was standing in front of Sam. No telling what the others were doing. I could hear boots frantically scraping across the floor. I rolled until I was on my back and could bring Pearl into play. As soon as the last bullet left Ruby, I started in with Pearl. The girls were good, but they were merely gnats to a revenant. I was just hoping to give Smoke enough time to keep our dead miner occupied.

There was nothing of Dimond Jim in the empty eyes aimed at me. It made it easier to pull the trigger. Another of my bullets plowed into his face, leaving a red ruin behind. He barely rocked back, but he shook his head, flinging drops of blood like a hound shaking free of water. Well, I had his attention now. He zeroed in on me and lurched forward even as Pearl gave it her best. As she sent her last bit of lead flying, I braced.

Like the muffled blast of dynamite set off in a mine, a sound that might have been a word rang out, filling in every inch of the room until the echoes grew deafening. But it wasn’t enough to drown out the ear splitting shriek coming from the thing that used to be Dimond Jim as it reared back, hands clamped over his ears, what was left of his lips peeled back sending beams of light reflecting off the diamond imbedded in his tooth.

Taking advantage of the unexpected reprieve, I rolled to my feet leaving Pearl and Ruby behind as I pulled my knife free. A quick glance behind the revenant confirmed Smoke was focused on me. “Now, Smoke!” Her lips moved and the edge of my blade began to glow an unsettling red. Sound washed back into the room. There was the clamor of shouts and yells erupting behind me, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. Instead, I closed in with Dimond Jim. Still reeling from whatever magic was messing with his head and ears, the revenant was slow to react. Lucky me.

I used the over turned chair to launch off of and managed to sink my blade hilt deep into Dimond Jim’s ruined eye socket. I didn’t let go as he teetered backwards, slamming into the door. I rode him down, twisting my wrist to ensure as much damage as possible. Only when my boots were braced against the floor once more, did I pull my blade free and slowly straighten. Looking down, I muttered a curse at the blood spattering my coat. Dammit, now I’d have to change. I wiped my blade on Dimond Jim’s shirt to remove the worse of things. Then turned to face the chaos erupting behind me.

Smoke

Sweat covered my brow and soaked through my dress making the taffeta material, already a nuisance, almost unbearable. My legs wanted to shake but I locked my knees. There were too many dangerous characters in the room.

“Well Snake, you can take another ear to add to your necklace,” I drawled.

Snake gave me a feral grin. “I may need to get a new string.” She knew the game we were playing. When people thought you were savage they tended to stay clear. Regular old dangerous wasn’t good enough for the average layman.

Jinx snorted but when I glanced over at him I could tell he was shaken. All that rosy pale skin his ginger complexion gave him had turned a slightly gray color. That’s right Uncle mine, your nieces have more tricks up their sleeves than you realized. I arched a brow at him and he quickly looked down. My eyes must still be black. It would fade in a moment.

I turned to check on Sam. He flinched but maintained eye contact. “Maybe we should have taken a better look at the body.” He volunteered.

I shook my head negative and was about to speak when Two Crows cut me off. “That thing has been dead for days, the body will taint anything that touches it.” His voice was deep but raspy from disuse. Snake had made her way to my side and he looked pointedly at her knife.

She dipped her head respectfully. “It will be taken care of.” She pulled a handkerchief out of her back pocket and wrapped the knife carefully. If we got to it before sun up we might be able to salvage the blade. Snake herself needed a salt bath pronto but she wouldn’t leave me in here alone and we needed information.

Two Crow’s words had told us a lot. Death emanated from the man coating his aura, but he was not a revenant raiser. He didn’t carry that particular stench. Much to our surprise he cleared his throat to speak again and any hushed whispers in the already quiet room were cut off. “Tonight I came to see what would become of what is rightfully mine. One of you will find it, you will use it, and you will come to understand that you were not made for its burden. That burden is mine alone. Once you realize this I suggest you return it to me. For this minor service I will grant you three requests, within reason, if you have to ask if it’s reasonable then you already know the answer.” With that he looked around the room and started toward the door, but not before leaning in and whispering in my ear.

I watched his back as he disappeared out the door all the while feeling everyone else in the room watching me. Damn it, the old shaman had given me a clue, but he had not been subtle about it. Glancing up Jinx and Villalobos looked at me with calculation. Snake placed her hand on Pearl, or was it Ruby? I never could remember which lethal implement had which pet name. Sam had shifted behind me slightly. Smart man, and he was just about to come in useful.

Clearing my throat, I called out. “Charlie, we’ll be needing two large bags of salt.”

The barkeep appeared in the door left open by Two Crow moments ago. Looking at the body of his friend he opened his mouth in horror. Lucky for us this revenant had a direct order he had come straight to the back room. After whom? We didn’t know, but whoever or whatever raised him had been as subtle as one could be when resurrecting a decomposing corpse.

Before Charlie’s brain could jump to any crazy but possibly true conclusions Sam stepped forward. “Charlie, it appears Diamond Jim had some sort of fever. We have to stop it from spreading, get the salt quickly. I have the coin.”

Charlie blinked twice but jumped quickly to our bidding at the word ‘fever’.

Snake raised her voice as soon as Charlie was out of earshot. “Alright fellas we got work to do, or should I say you’ve got work to do as I’ve done my part and now have a lovely salt treatment to tend to. Jinx you and Smoke take care of the body.” I nodded immediately knowing that whereas our uncle was an ass and a borderline sociopath he would know how to dispose of a revenant and therefore not hinder my movements. Snake continued, “Villalobos, I believe our fellow player has succumbed to the vapors. The man is shit at poker but probably should be revived nonetheless.” She pointed to the prone form of Gunther on the floor behind the table. I’d completely forgotten about the man but shrugged it off, he definitely wasn’t the threat in the room.

Sam leaned over to whisper in my ear, “And what exactly am I supposed to do.”

I returned his whisper. “You my friend are going to show off your skills. We have a name. Donoma, Diamond Jim’s girlfriend.”

Join us once again when we return with Chapter Six next week…

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Conjuring Misery Chapter 5 (the first half)

Welcome back, oh devotees of CONJURING MISERY. We’re (by this I mean, me, Dave Benneman and Camille Douglass) happy to pick up our tale of gunslinging mayhem and magic as we rejoin our plucky gambler, Sam, at his invite only poker game….

Card game

Chapter Five
Sam

The cards were not falling into my lap as usual and my ability to sense what the other players might have was hit or miss. Gunther came through loud and clear, but I could take his money without any help. I played my cards smart and kept my bets conservative. Villalobos was less clear, but his tells were readable. When I looked at Jinx thousands of playing cards swirled about caught in a twister. It made me dizzy. Miss Snake projected her usual blank slate. Two Crows scared the shit out of me. Searching him had me staring into an endless abyss. Blacker than midnight and smelling of death. I didn’t usually get scents making Two Crows doubly disturbing.

Gunther’s stake diminished with each hand. I watched Villalobos close as he dealt the next hand. He seemed the most likely to pull a fast one. Hard as I tried I couldn’t get Two Crows to do more than grunt at me when I asked him something. I had the distinct feeling the stakes were higher than the pot indicated. Everyone at the table had that look in their eye a miner gets when he first sees a sign of gold. For some it meant greed and for others it signified power.

The half playing card matching my own was more of a summons than an invite. It meant the Yaqui Star was in play. Throwing my lot in with the sisters seemed like a smarter move with every deal. Villalobos didn’t have it. If he did, he’d be high-tailing it back to Mendez with the goods. Gunther was a throw away. He didn’t belong here. Once his money ran out, he would be tossed out on his ass. Jinx represented the wild card. Was he with us or against us? Based on my observations I leaned toward against. Two Crows could be holding the goods. It was an Indian relic after all. He could also be in pursuit of the Star. I was no closer to figuring this out than when I walked in.

Smoke came in with chaos on one arm and charm on the other. Her constant traveling companions were easily recognizable. “Hey y’all, brought you some decent hooch if anyone’s interested.” Glasses clinked in her hand as she waved them about.

“What the hell? Is this a public hanging?” Villalobos pointed a dirty finger at her. “Get out. This here is private game.”

Smoke’s smile grew sharper. “If you want to count to ten tomorrow, you’ll put that away. Mendez is not a man who likes damaged goods. He’ll throw you out with yesterdays bath water if I send you back with nine fingers.”

Confusion washed over his face, but to his credit, he slowly lowered his finger.

Jinx chuckled, but didn’t look up from his cards. “Don’t pay her no mind. She’s as flaky as yo mama’s biscuits.”

“Who’s responsible for letting that old reprobate in here?” She motioned at Jinx with her bottle of hooch. “I didn’t know Meemaw’s apron strings stretched this far. Or are you AWOL from the protection of her womb?”

Jinx’s color turned a little darker. “Shut it Smoke, before I put you across my knee and whip your fanny.”

I noticed too that his projection changed from a whirlwind of cards to a dark figure in a hooded shroud. This twisted my mind even further. Over the years, I understood the projections that came to me were of significance to the person sending at that moment. During a poker game, most men concentrated on their cards, giving me a peek into their hand. Any other time the images meant nothing to me and were all over the place, to the point I taught myself to block them out. Tonight the volatile gathering made blocking them out difficult.

Smoke laughed and set the booze and glasses down next to me. “Why don’t you try that? Lay hands on me once and I’ll gut you like a fish. Alls’ I need is one reasonable explanation for Meemaw.” She gave a careless shrug. “She won’t like it, but I’ll take my chances.”

“You much respected by your family Jinx.” Villalobos slapped the table rattling glasses. He laughed alone.

Two Crows looked like he was taking a nap, but I knew he saw everything through those slitted eyes. Poor Gunther was about to soil his britches. Jinx glared at Villalobos. Snake sat quiet, but her mouth held a hint of a smile. I think she was hoping to see Jinx gutted. Aside from me, it appeared no one liked Jinx. At the moment, I had no opinion one-way or the other.

“Don’t you worry your greasy head over it none,” the beleaguered redhead drawled, finally looking up. “Respect is over rated. Fear of me is what they have. And their fear will keep them breathing until they forget.”

I opened the bottle Smoke brought in and poured myself a liberal amount. “Here’s to fear.” I tossed back the drink. “Now can we get back to the game at hand?”

The room felt crowded and the air thickened. I waited.

Señorita, you are playing?” Villalobos asked.

Smoke’s red lips made a sneer of distaste. “I think I’ll sit this hand out.”

“There is no room for, how you say, sitting out.” He watched her the way a cat watched a curious mouse. “Play or leave.” He twisted one end of his mustache.

“Look who found his cajones.” Smoke applauded.

Villalobos pushed back his chair. Before he could rise, Snake’s two lead spitting machines were out. One pointed at Jinx. The barrel of the second one placed squarely in the center of Villalobos’ dark eyes.

“Niece of mine, why you pointing that at me?” Jinx set his cards face down on the table.

“You never know what direction trouble comes from.” Her full attention remained on Villalobos even as her tone stayed lazy. “Maybe you get shot in the crossfire. One can’t be too careful.” There was no humor, just haunting darkness as she continued, “You’re going to want to slide your macho ass back into that chair before I have to ventilate your forehead. You understand me, Mexican?”

With the introduction of Snake’s two side arms, the room got smaller and the air huddled in the corners. I considered cashing out. My gut screamed to cut and run. I was a lover, not a fighter. Yet when it came down to it, I stayed. I could hold my own under normal circumstances. Dragon Breath spilled her share of blood in desperate times. I could see another such moment arriving here as clearly as one could see a late night train arriving at the station.

Raising both hands, I slowly stood. “Let’s all settle down a little. Miss Smoke, if you would please join us.” I grabbed an empty chair sitting behind me and made space between Two Crows and myself. She gracefully sat with a rustle of taffeta and pushed in her chair.

“Mr. Villalobos, please.” He scooted in, not much, but enough.

Now for the hard part. “Miss Snake, if I might, implore you to put your weapons away for the moment.”

That half smile returned and she nodded at me. I understood this as direction to sit. I sat and she retired her pistols keeping the one on Jinx until the very last. Obviously, the sisters wanted me to believe they had issue with their Uncle Jinx. For what, I could only imagine.

Straightening my glasses, I cleared my throat. “Before we begin, I suggest we all try some of this very tasty moonshine Miss Smoke so graciously brought us. At no small expense either, if I know Charlie.” I poured and passed glasses around the table. To my surprise, Two Crows accepted one. “May Lady Luck sit at your right hand tonight.” Everyone drank, except Two Crows. He politely lifted his glass, but the moonshine never touched his lips.

Smoke arranged two bit coins along with an ample supply of silver dollars.

I held my hand out for the cards. They were passed my way with only a little grumbling.

Gunther mopped sweat off his brow and forced a smile. “That’s more like it. A friendly game of cards.”

I was sure he’d soiled his britches by now and was grateful I hadn’t chosen to sit next to him. “Miss Smoke, as the new comer you may have the honor of the deal.” I showed off my one handed cut before passing her the cards.

The deal progressed around the table to Jinx without incident. Gunther was one hand away from getting the boot and I didn’t understand his purpose here. At least, not until he shared how he and Diamond Jim were old friends. Seemed the two served in the war together, fighting for South. The more he drank the more he talked. When he got to the story about Jim’s Indian girl friend, no one interrupted but the tension grew to a fever pitch. Wrapped in alcoholic splendor, Gunther remained oblivious as he related how the Yaqui Star came to be in Jim’s possession. As he babbled on, I wondered. He must know, or at least have a guess, as to the where abouts of this sought after piece of folklore.

With a pair of aces and an eight, I raised the bet.

Jinx passed out the fourth card and I froze. Another eight. The dead man’s hand.

I would not be playing this hand out.

Our humblest apologies, but we shall stop here, mid-chapter so as not to take you away from your daily routine for too long. Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion to Sam’s dilemma on our way to the next blood curling stop in our magical western adventure…

 

Conjuring Misery Chapter 4

Ladies and Gents, welcome back to Misery, where magic tangles with card sharks, gunslingers, and ladies of questionable virtues. CONJURING MISERY, brought to you by the combined talents of Camille DouglassDave Benneman and Jami Gray. If you missed previous installments, feel free to go back and retrace our steps.

Chapter 4

Sam

The assortment of dead creatures adorning the hill staggered me. We’d only been in Jim’s shack a quarter of an hour. How could so many animals have been skinned alive in such a short time? Most of them lay still, while flies convened on their corpses. A few twitched, in the final throes of what had to an agonizing death. They looked to me for release, but they were on their own. I didn’t have the stomach for it. I mounted up.

The hypnotic gait of Daisy Bell lulled me into a trance. The sisters were ahead chatting away, while I did a little soul searching. I rehashed our supposed deal. The stakes had gotten rich for my blood. These two could have left me out there for those things. An understanding came to me. I know what they mean when folks say something dawned on them. My moment was like a sunrise. The night sky lightened imperceptibly at first. Then predawn arrived with a show of light at the horizon, then before you know it, the sun revealed itself blinding me as it inched upward. 

Either one these women could skin me and hang my hide over the hitching post in front of the livery. I believe the lucrative reward slowed my cogitator. Now I could see it. These ladies wanted The Yaqui Blood Star for some higher purpose. The stranger who offered me a large some of money to track it down had his own agenda. In my line of work, we call this gambling with your heart. When a man gambles with his heart two things are possible. He either comes up shirtless. The most probable outcome. The exception being for the man, or in this case ladies, who are willing to risk everything to get what they want, there is no down side. These are dangerous people to gamble against because winning is the only acceptable end. My cogitator rolled that fact around for a bit. I gave serious consideration to cashing out of the game. With no skin in the game, if you’ll pardon the pun, I held the disadvantage. 

As a simple businessman who played the odds, I had some special talents that helped me stay successful, but I lacked zeal. My willingness to fold and wait for better cards was my strength. Truth was I had passion for nothing, except breathing. I enjoyed the niceties in life, but not when the asking price became too steep. 

The asking price here was getting to that point. Yet, I was reluctant to quit. The next stage wasn’t due through town for a few more days. A part of me intended to be on it. Let Mendez and the mad sisters fight it out to the death. They didn’t need me. The idea of remaining vertical appealed to the coward in me. Another voice in my head whispered in favor of seeing this through. My life had become mundane. I could stand a little adventure. At what cost the smart voice asked. It urged to head on to California. The gold rush was on. Gold made a man stupid. When money and stupid go hand and hand a gambler can make a good living for himself. That’s adventure enough.

Our shadows stretched long in front of us as we approached Misery. These two crazy women intoxicated me. For all I knew Smoke, or Traveler or whatever her name was, skinned those animals herself with all that nonsense she moaned. My attraction for these two hit me like a smithy’s hammer. My talents allowed me to read people. Sometimes I could see their cards through their eyes. Even knew their wager before they made it. Nevertheless, Snake startled me right away. She was a blank slate when I looked at her. Smoke was worse in some ways. Her thoughts were immersed in a murky soup, impossible to navigate. 

“You going to perch up there all night or you coming down to Tilley’s for a drink with us?” Snake spit. 

“Sorry, I was gathering wool as my pa used to say.” I swung my leg over Daisy Bell and hit the ground with a jolt. My pa also said I’d never amount to much cause of my unwillingness to see a thing through.

Smoke snapped her fingers in front of my face. “Must be a lot of wool in that fat head of yours.”

“You need a sweater?” I forced a chuckle. 

She dismissed me with one hand and strode across the dusty street toward Tilley’s. I found myself traveling in their wake for the third time that day. There’s always another stagecoach, right? The women from Mademoiselle Angelique’s Boarding House waved and tittered from across the street. A hot bath and a pretty young thing to wash my back might be what I need tonight. There’s no harm in having a little fun when you’re seeing a thing through, is there Pa? 

Tilley’s was unusually quiet. Charlie half-heartedly wiped down the rough bar. A handful of patrons were scattered around keeping their own council. Even the gaming table sat empty. The sisters had a table near the bar with a bottle and two of three glasses already in use.

Smoke waved me over. “You’ve been a might quiet.”

“Nothing to say.”

“In the short time I’ve known you, I have to say that’s out of character.” Snake lit another one of those prairie dog turds she smokes. “Cause that’s a first since I met you.” 

“Let me ask you a question?” I tossed back my drink and winced. “God that’s awful.” I lowered my voice. “What could have done that up on the hill?” 

Snake rolled her eyes. “Tell him, again.”

Smoke took a moment. “We told you, revenants” 

“Yes, you told me. What the hell is a revenant?”

“One who has returned.”

I waited.

“From the dead,” Snake hissed through clenched teeth. “Were you born under a rock?”

I laughed for the first time since Diamond Jim departed this here existence. “I get it now. You’re a couple of grifters.” I helped myself to another splash. “You had me, until just then.” I lifted my glass, tipping it towards them. “The build-up was good. However, you skipped the payoff to lock me in. You have to convince your mark it’s legit.” I threw back another swallow.

  Red tipped nails drummed on the table as Smoke watched with a disconcerting stare. “What are you talking about?” 

My eyes watered from the whiskey’s sting and it took a moment for my voice to even out, “You’re running a con, the old flimflam, a scam. But I’m no gull.”

The dark haired beauty shook her head. “We should have left him to keep Diamond Jim company.”

I saw the confusion in their eyes, but I wanted to be right about this because any other explanation took me back down that dark road. “Come on. It’s over. Who is the sick bastard who skinned all those animals for you?” 

Snake laid one of her shoot’n irons on the table. “If you don’t keep your voice down, I’ll poke a hole in you.”

Smoke leaned in. “A remnant is a thing, usually a person, who died and has returned in the form of a demon. They assume different forms depending on how much power they wield. In many ways the less you know about them the better. Someone in this town will die of an attack by a coyote or a wild dog tonight, all because we denied them. The people will mourn and maybe go hunting the thing down. They’ll never see it for what it really is. And it won’t really die the way they understand death.”

Charlie came over and Smoke sat back in her chair and sipped her whiskey.

“Hey Sam, there’s a game gathering in the back room.” Charlie proffered half of a two-eyed jack. “Big shot said to give you this.”

“Thank you, Charlie. When did they get started?”

“Probably ain’t got started yet. I carted my best booze back there along with a handful of Miss Angelique’s gals. My guess is the festivities is barely underway. Mr. Fancy Britches ordered food for later. They must be plan’n on going all night.”

“Thanks Charlie.” I fished around in my vest pocket until I found it. “Booze, I forgot the booze. Miss Snake, would you be so kind as to rescue my booze from Daisy Bell?” I pushed back my chair and searched my pockets.

She narrowed her gaze. “Where you going?” 

I matched up the half card Charlie give me with the one from my pocket. “It appears I’ve been summoned to the back room for a game of chance.”

“Who gave you your half?”

Smoke snatched the card halves from my hand and matched them up. Then she laid them on the table and held her hands above them. With her fingers spread wide and her eyes closed she hummed. I started to reach for them, but Snake waved me off and put a finger to her lips. I watched in fascination. When Smoke opened her eyes she smiled at her sister, the way I might smile at an easy mark. Then she turned her attention to me. “You better go. He’s waiting.”

I got up slowly and picked up the two-eyed jack. “Miss Smoke.” I tipped my hat. “Miss Snake, you won’t forget my whiskey?”

“I won’t forget.”

“You be careful back there.” Smoke rose to look me in the eye. “And keep your eyes open.”

Snake

Watching Sam disappear into the back room, I played with my half-empty glass. Without looking at Smoke, I asked, “Wanna share?” 

“Don’t worry, sister mine, we’ll be joining in soon enough.” 

Sometimes Smoke took the whole mystic shtick too far. I grabbed the glass, and threw back the remaining liquid. The whiskey burned a familiar path to my stomach, easing the knots that gathered with the arrival of the revenants. Damn demons were a nuisance. Unfortunately their arrival meant Mendes was dabbling in magic better left alone. Not good news. Granted we had family that dabbled in darker things, but it wasn’t our hides I was worried about, it was Gambling Man’s. Not sure why his continued existence mattered to me, but strangely it did. “Fool’s going to get himself killed.”

“Or worse,” Smoke agreed without batting an eyelash. “But I think he’s going to prove useful in the long run.”

Charlie came over and dropped a couple of tin plates on the table. “Ladies.”

We nodded our thanks and watched him waddle back behind the bar. Using my fork, I poked at what purported to be chili. 

Smoke’s fork tapped the edge of my plate drawing my attention. “So long as Sam sticks with us, he’ll be fine. Stop worrying, Snake.”

“Easier said than done,” I mumbled. 

She sighed. “Just like you to go taking responsibility for the under dog.” She managed to fork up beans with an uncanny grace. Her fork paused halfway to her mouth. “Need I remind you, he made his choice of his own free will.” 

“Maybe, maybe not. What if Mendes used glamour to get what he wanted. You know better than anybody how unpredictable he is.”  

Smoke took her bite, chewing thoughtfully without batting an eyelash. When she finished, she said, “You and I both know whatever plan Mendes had for Sam wasn’t good. Sam’s chance of staying alive is better for being with us.”

I took a bite. It didn’t take long to realize someone had a heavy hand with the cayenne pepper. Hastily, I splashed more whiskey into the glass and gulped it down. After a minor bout of coughing, I managed to get out, “You going to warn me who’s back there before I head in with Sam’s alcoholic offering?”

Her grin was quick and bright with mischief. “Now where’s the fun in that?”

Obviously she was bound and determined to send me in blind. So be it. Heaving a put upon sigh I pushed back my rickety chair and stood up. “Enjoy it while you can, but remember-karma is a real bitch.”

Her laughter followed me out Tillie’s door. Our trio of asses—or would that make them assi?—watched me approach with a decided lack of concern. Squeezing between them, I managed to get into Sam’s saddlebags.  A little digging and I found his precious bottle. Of course, being the curious sort, I also noticed the other items neatly tucked away. A ribbon tied stack of letters penned in an elegant hand, but no indication of the sender. A small velvet bag that rattled. Perhaps containing a favorite pair of die? Then there was a well-worn leather bound journal and my fingers itched to tuck it into my coat, but I gallantly refrained and left it alone.

A soft nose nudged my shoulder. Turning my head I stared into a pair of soulful brown eyes. Guess Sam’s little mule was a mite protective of her man. I patted her nose. “Pay me no mind, girl. I’m leavin’ it alone.”

Bottle in hand, I headed back into Tillie’s. Night was settling in and so far the dusty street was quiet. Here’s wishing our luck held, but I wasn’t holding out hope.  Using my shoulder, I shoved the swinging door in and stepped inside the saloon. There was a hiccup in the conversation, but not much more. The patrons must be getting used to seeing me. The urge to shake things up a bit ran under my skin but I shook it off. No need to initiate chaos, Smoke was doing a bang-up job of it all on her own.

I touched the tip of my hat to her as I passed. She gave me a damn little finger wave, grinning like a loon. Gods, she was getting too big of a kick out this. The heels of my boots echoed as I crossed the wooden floor to the back room. Behind the bar, Charlie watched, a frown marring his face, but he didn’t try to stop me. Smart man.

Tension coiled through me as I drew closer to the half closed door. The sounds of poker chips dancing across a table mixed with the rumble of masculine voices and clinks of glass. Sounded like the game was well underway. Bracing, mentally and physically, I used the flat of my hand to set the door to swinging and walked in.

Conversation snapped off and five heads turned or lifted to lock on to me. Using the hand holding Sam’s offering, I touched the brim of my hat. “Evening, gents.” My greeting came out on a growl, but considering I was gritting my teeth so hard I was surprised my enamel wasn’t shattering, it was a minor miracle the words were recognizable to begin with. Now I know why Smoke was laughing her ass off.

Three cautious nods were given as Sam rose from his spot. “Ah, thank you, m’lady for being so kind as to retrieve my contribution to tonight’s gathering.”

I barely registered his words, my attention caught and held by the pair of laughing eyes under a head full of wild, red curls belonging to the fifth occupant of the room. Damn and blast it! I was going to kill Smoke. Obviously we didn’t we have enough to handle with Mendes and his minions. Nope, looked like family was doing what it did best—butting in where they weren’t wanted.  A tug on the bottle in my bloodless grip reminded me to let Sam have his gift. I uncurled my fingers letting him have it, all without taking my eyes of the smiling jackass whose grin was spreading with each passing second. “Jinx, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Now, now, Snakey-poo, that’s Uncle Jinx to you.” He kicked back his chair until it was balanced on the back legs and folded his hands behind his head, stretching the stained, plaid material under his suspenders tight across his thick chest. 

“I’m not claiming your sorry ass as family.” Instinct had my hands going to my waist where my girls waited with bated breath. 

“Can’t deny blood, girl.”

“Maybe not, but I’d be happy to spill it, if you’d rather,” I snarled.

A throat being cleared next to me drew my attention to Sam, who was watching our exchange with undisguised curiosity. “Mind if I proffer introductions to the rest of our gathering?” 

Knowing if I didn’t remove temptation, I might be explaining to dear Meemaw why her youngest, most pain-in-the-ass son was pushing daisies courtesy of my temper, I folded my arms across my chest. “Please do.”

Taking me at my word, Sam began the introductions. “Miss Snake, we’ll assume you know Jinx. To his left is Tomas Villalobos.” He indicated a slender Hispanic male in rather expensive duds. “To his right is Gunther.” The name belonged to a ruddy-face blond gussied up in an ill-fitting suit. “And this wise man, would be Two Crows.” The last player was an intimidating Navajo elder.

I exchanged solemn nods with each man, taking quick impressions as I went along. Tomas was probably in cahoots with Mendes based upon his shifty, yet slick demeanor and would warrant closer inspection. Gunther was a straight-up blustering fool, his puffed out chest and smarmy, know-it-all attitude easy to read. The last player, Two Crows, didn’t need to say or do a thing. The weight and power humming around his presence was more than enough to commend my respect. The gathered gamblers were more mismatched than Jinx’s unusual eyes—one brown and one green. Meemaw liked to blame the unusual quirk on granddad. Personally, I figured it was just a physical manifestation of his contrary nature.

Realizing I could stand there and uselessly glare at my uncle who drew trouble like a dousing rod, or I could wipe that damn grin off by emptying his pockets. The decision was easy. My lips curled up and Jinx’s grin dimmed. Motioning to the empty seat next to Two Crows, I asked, “Mind if I join in, gentlemen?”

Smoke

 With Snake safely ensconced in the poker room I turned to go about my own business. She’d be pissed when she saw me next but someone needed to keep Jinx occupied. What I said to Sam earlier was true. Snake and I had a lot of kin, but like most families there were a few less than savory characters amongst our flock. I could label us all as black sheep because we could not be labeled as normal, but if Jinx wasn’t her youngest I swear that Meemaw would have offed Jinx years ago just to be rid of his oily hide. As it was he could do no wrong in her eyes, so Snake and I needed to keep our eyes wide open. If not for ourselves, then for Sam. That fool was going to get himself killed. Luckily for him Snake decided to step up as his protector even if he didn’t realize it yet. 

Walking away from the table, I sashayed over to the bar and waved Charlie down. His gaze left something to be desired. Most men flung themselves at me, but Charlie’s gaze was hard. He wasn’t fooled by any of my airs or theatrics. “Another bottle of whiskey, Miss?”

I wanted to shiver at the mention of the swill we’d been drinking, instead I leaned over the bar, my taffeta rustling delicately as I batted my lashes. “Uh no Charlie, but a little bird told me that you may have some Apple Pie Moonshine?”

His eyes remained cold even as he leaned in close, playing the game. “Now where’d you find this bird, lady?”

Truth was I snooped around his back room one boring afternoon. Something warned my admission of snooping would be less appreciated than my farce of a flirtation. Made my decision to wing it easy. “I went on a ride the other day and met a gentleman by the name of Diamond Jim.” Stretching it a bit maybe as I met his corpse. Still even deader than a doornail he had the air of a gentleman who would enjoy a fancy moonshine. 

Charlie blinked once, breaking eye contact, and nodded. “That old coot. Haven’t seen him in days. Well, I’ve got it, but it ain’t cheap, and I don’t advertise on account of it being limited quantity and all.”

I pushed back from the bar doing my best to nod sagely. “Supply and demand.”

“That’s exactly what it is, Miss. Bring me some coin and I might be willing to part with a bottle.” 

Amusement rose. Dear Charlie was looking to fleece me. While it might be more fun to teach him a lesson, in these charades one must keep up appearances. “Why Charlie, I do believe you’ve offered quite a bargain. I’ll just head up to my room for a moment, to freshen up from my long, drawn out day. Maybe when I return, you might have a bottle ready, plus a few glasses for myself and my companions? I promise I can make it worth your while. I won’t be but a moment.” 

Charlie was hot-footing it down the bar before I finished my sentence. Guess he was truly immune to my charms. Ah well, I shrugged and headed to the rickety staircase. While he busied himself in the back room and Snake kept the gamblers occupied, I needed to use my namesake to find out what Jinx and his compatriots were up to.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually turn into smoke which was why I sent Charlie to the back. The bar sat directly beneath the rooms he rented out and I didn’t want him to hear me rustling around where I wasn’t supposed to be. The moment I sensed Jinx I knew which room he rented, the high roller suite, if such an establishment could be said to have one. Didn’t matter how many times he was warned about routines, Jinx never listened. This time, it worked in my favor. My first night in Misery Charlie tried to sell me on the large room done up in reds, golds, and cheap velvet. Unlike my uncle, I prided myself on practicality and turned down the suite conveniently located near the bedrooms belonging to the working ladies of the house. 

Once up the rickety steps I made my way past the door guarding my own sparsely furnished room and continued down the hall. Lady Luck took a shine to me. All the the action appeared to be confined behind the closed doors or limited to the drinking establishment below. At the suite’s door I placed my hand on it, trying to get a sense if Jinx put up any protections or alarms. Nothing caught my attention. I rolled my eyes, my idiot Uncle was a reckless fool. The decorative pick locks fashioned as hair pins and tucked into my hair made quick work of the cheap lock. In no time at all I stood in the dark room. 

Closing the door behind me I spent a moment searching the shadowed interior. The heavy moon was kind enough to shine on the gas lamp atop the bedside table. With efficient strides I crossed the room and turned the lamp up enough to allow me to search, but not be obvious through the window. Jinx arrived a few hours earlier and the garish room was already trashed. Clothes were strewn this way and that, dirty plates sat on the small table in the room, along with a half empty liquor bottle resting on its side. My nose wrinkled at the odor of dirty clothes worn for weeks without washing. 

Pushing the environment from my mind I began to carefully lift the soiled clothes and search the pockets. Jinx had a reputation for being cunning and ruthless, but as demonstrated by the door, the man had no sense when it came to protecting his personal belongings and privacy. In the third pair of soiled trousers I found something. It was a hand written receipt of a money wire. Two thousand dollars, and it was signed by Mendes. Son of a bitch. The blackguard was working against his own family. Perhaps if I buried him deep enough Meemaw wouldn’t realize he was gone. 

With the receipt tucked safely back in the pocket and the clothes again in the proper disarrangement, I turned down the lamp. Quietly, I moved toward the door, my heart skipping a beat when I heard the heavy tread of boots in the hallway. When they kept on moving, I let out a silent sigh of relief.  There was no way Jinx would give up torturing Snake after only a half hour. When silence reclaimed the hall I snuck out, locking the door behind me. A brief stop in my own room to smooth my hair and dress for appearances sake, and then I was drifting back down stairs. I stopped at the bar long enough to pay a king’s ransom for the moonshine, taking it and few glasses before heading to the poker room. Snake deserved a reward for putting up with our uncle. Sam probably just needed a drink in general. 

 

 

Conjuring Misery Chapter 3

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. Ladies and Gents, welcome to Misery, where magic dances with the old west, and you never know what questionable characters you may meet. CONJURING MISERY, brought to you by the combined talents of Camille Douglass, Dave Benneman and Jami Gray. If you missed previous installments, feel free to go back and retrace our steps.

Chapter 3

Sam

Daisy Bell, the given name of my less than desirable mode of transportation plodded along with no sense of urgency. I followed my drinking companions out of town, a simple enough task. Doing it discreetly was nigh to impossible. Having resigned myself to a game of wits, as opposed to stealth or speed, I planned my next course of action.

My guess, we arrived in Misery for the same reason. To acquire the Yaqui Blood Star. I don’t know what the two women’s intentions were, but they would need to be dealt with. With no desire to dig multiple graves in the hard pack scrabble passing for dirt in these parts, I’d have to find a way to end this game on friendly terms. I, for one, am not good at sharing. Making it a certainty that someone was going to be mightily disappointed.

Diamond Jim lived like a hermit. A drastic change in circumstance for the former flamboyant ladies man, given to excessive gambling and drink. You hear a great deal of talk about things happening in threes, both good and bad. Jim balanced his obsession with the bottle and cards between two women. But, hell hath no fury like that of a scorned woman. Legend had it a gal by the name of Rosemary stabbed him in the back with a penknife and left him to bleed out. She got the end of a rope for her trouble and Diamond Jim disappeared. Along with a bauble reputed to have shamanistic capabilities. In the right hands it could ease a man’s burdens. Based on Jim’s current life style I assumed his were not the right hands.

To gain this much information on a man who doesn’t want to be remembered, you have to play an awful lot of cards and buy enough whiskey to float a boat. But information was my ace in the hole. Although we’d never met, I now knew Diamond Jim like a brother. To get what I wanted, I’d entice him into a game of cards, accompanied by the bottles presently clinking in the sack over Daisy Bell’s flanks, all to gain his confidence and ultimately learn the location of the mythical amulet last seen in his possession. My life’s work would not be for naught. A believer in magic once told me, all magic carried a price. While it delivered the goods, it kept a balance sheet. Sooner or later the deficit required payment. If this was true, a greedy man could find himself in an unfavorable situation. It occurred to me, Diamond Jim may have rode the Blood Star goody train for too long because his luck was about to run out with the appearance of the two mysterious females making their way to his door.

My assumption was the woman calling herself The Traveler was betting on the disarming Jim with her more than adequate feminine wiles. She’d make her play in the pretty black dress I could hear rustling in the wind from here. It didn’t take a genius to know a gentleman liked the attention of a pretty lady, and The Traveler had pretty in spades. She also had a mysterious side that could put off a careful man. My advantage lay in the fact that Jim’s near death experience with Rosemary soured him on women forever, leaving me to play off this aspect.

Snake, on the other hand, would be a bit more straightforward. She was all about the hard approach, one withering glance from her and your mouth would dry up. Chances were darn good her presence would put Diamond Jim in a cautious mood. Which might work to my benefit as I’d become a cautious man myself. Might wasn’t all that. Might could be defined as a long shot with optimistic tendencies. In short, my odds against the two women looked dismal.

Daisy Bell and I arrived at Diamond Jim’s humble casa in the midst of pandemonium. Jim lay in his dooryard with Snake and Traveler leaning over him. On closer inspection I recognized Diamond Jim was having some kind of fit. Blood leaked from his ears and nose, while red froth covered his beard. His limbs were stiff, and he shook like he was riding a wagon on a washboard. “What happened?”

Snake gave me a look designed to shrivel a lesser man. “Do we look like docs?”

I shrank back and averted my eyes. “Can’t you do something? He’s having a fit.”

This time Traveler turned a dangerous smile in my direction. “He’s been poisoned.”

“But how? Who?” I stood and backed away, my hand firmly on the hilt of Dragon Breath.

“It wasn’t us you buffoon,” Traveler spat.

I looked up and met the deep abyss of Snake’s shooting irons. Guess she took offense at my questions. “Sorry, you must admit, it looks a little suspicious, you two standing there while he flails in his death throes at your feet.”

After a moment, Snake nodded and holstered her weapons. “Yeah, I guess. Why are you following us?”

“I’m not. I just happened to be passing by when I saw the commotion.” I knew how absurd this was before I said it, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Snake spit off to the side. “Yeah, and moon is made of cheese.”

Diamond Jim shook his last and stillness settled over us. Traveler stood next to Snake and eyeballed me, before her gaze wandered beyond me and out at the empty desert. “We are not alone.”

Straightening my glasses, I took a turn at looking around, but there was nothing to see but cacti and sage. “You mean me?”

Snake pulled out a cigarillo. “Why are you here?”

“For the same reason you’re here.”

“Then, what pray tell, do you think I’m here for?” The match flared, hit the tip and spice hit the air.

“It’s time we stop beating around the bush.” Traveler smoothed out her overskirts and then knocked dust from her black pants. “Maybe we can join forces.” Her offer came out in a deceptively casual tone. Too casual in my opinion, but I held my tongue and let her continue. “It’s clear we have competition and they’re a step ahead us.”

“What makes you think they haven’t already won the race?” They exchanged that look again, leaving me with the impression I was not here. “What?!”

In unison, they turned and looked at me.

Uneasy and frustrated, I snapped, “There is something going on here I don’t understand. You two keep doing that thing.” I pointed a finger at Traveler. “You almost knocked me on my ass when we shook hands.” My finger moved to Snake. “She pulls her guns faster than any man I ever saw, and I have little doubt of her accuracy should anyone be stupid enough draw against her.”

They both grinned at me.

“He’s not as slow as you thought he was.” Traveler tilted her head in my direction.

Far from slow, but leaning heavily toward grumpy. “I’m tired, thirsty and I smell like a jackass.”

Snake gave a playful wink. “Let’s not stop at the smell.”

Traveler chuckled. “Be nice, Snake.”

Folding my arms over my chest, I huffed out a breath. “I want some answers.” Again they traded that look.

“You first.” Snake leaned one shoulder against the doorway drawing on her cigarillo, then releasing a steady stream of smoke. “What put you on the long stagecoach ride to Misery? Surely not the whiskey, or an abundance of high rollers.”

“I’m searching for an amulet said to have magic.” Tension lifted off me like mine timber. I’d kept that secret so long I’d forgotten its weight. My shoulders lifted in a half-hearted shrug. “If you believe in that sort of thing.”

“Do you?” Traveler’s gaze zeroed in on me, searching for the truth. “Believe in that sort of thing?” she clarified.

Interesting question, but no harm in answering honestly. “Yesterday, I would have said no, but I would have been kidding myself. Truth be told, if I didn’t believe at least a little, I wouldn’t be here.”

Traveler traded another of those damn side long glances with Snake, who took another drag before asking, “Does this amulet have a name?”

Deciding sharing time was over, until these two anted up, I removed my spectacles and wiped the dust from the lenses with the end of my scarf, hoping to appear confident. “Oops, it appears my turn is over. What do you know about it?” And failed ambitiously.

Snake

Sam’s bravado act made me want to chuckle. Instead of giving in, I blew out another lungful of smoke, narrowing my eyes against the sting. “You sure you want to play this hand, Gambling Man?”

That earned me a glare he couldn’t hide behind the round glass of his spectacles. “I didn’t waste my money on some damn fine whiskey or my time sitting on the back of an ass to give up just because mystery and danger decided to join the hunt. Put up or shut up.”

“I’m calling dibs on being mystery,” Smoke muttered.

Our lucky gambler had balls, that’s for sure. Shaking my head, I took one last drag, dropped the finished cigarillo to the dirt, and used my heel to grind it out. “Fine, but can we move our conversation inside? I’d rather hold this conversation without the carcass centerpiece, if you don’t mind.”

Sam shifted his stance and dropped his arms before waving a hand toward Diamond Jim’s door. “After you, ladies.”

Smoke gave me a silent warning, which I answered with a nod. Letting Sam follow at my back wasn’t ideal, but my gut said he was playing it straight. For now. So I let my sister lead the way inside, my neck itching the entire time, whether from the unseen eyes lurking out among the sagebrush and sand or from the man behind me, didn’t really matter. There wasn’t much to Diamond Jim’s shack. A pot bellied stove squatted in the corner, a pile of blankets I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole lay nearby. There were a couple of haphazard cupboards lining the opposite side above a rusty basin. A cracked pitcher sat on the rough wood counter. A lantern held a place of honor in the center of an upended whiskey barrel serving as a table between two crates with faded lettering.

Smoke poked around the cupboards as I shifted to the far side of the one room shack, standing just to the side of the meager window draped in a gray cloth. Sam left the door open and slid to the side by the table, keeping Smoke and me in sight. Good thing he didn’t close the door, because the reek inside was eye watering. Maybe we should’ve stayed outside.

Smoke muttered a few unintelligible words under her breath and flicked her hand toward the door. An unexpected breeze swept through the interior, leaving breathable air behind. Sam’s eyes widened and his Adam’s apple bobbed. Regardless of his earlier statement, I was betting Sam was still coming to terms with the existence of magic. Deciding to get this conversation rolling, I drawled, “What do you know about the Yaqui Blood Star, Sam?”

My question snapped his attention from Smoke to me. Despite my earlier musings to my sister on his intelligence, Sam was far from stupid. “Legends say it holds shamanistic powers.”

“Such as?” Smoke cut in sharply, closing the last cupboard.

Sam shrugged, his face carefully blank. “Native peoples say Shamanistic power is for spiritual purposes. Blessings, healing of the spirit and such.”

Time to clue Sam in to a few facts. “The Blood Star is a hell of a lot more than a focal stone for a medicine man. Talismans don’t garner reputations as fearsome as the Blood Star because it’s all goodness and light.”

“Fearsome?” Sam cocked an eyebrow. “This particular piece is meant to bring its bearer unending luck. I wouldn’t consider a run of luck dangerous.”

I couldn’t suppress the snort as I used a gloved finger to inch the material aside and scan the exterior. “Wouldn’t you? I’m thinking Diamond Jim may disagree with that assumption.” Nothing moved in the dust and sage but the tension singing along my spine kept me vigilant.

“I sincerely doubt the Blood Star poisoned Diamond Jim,” Sam shot back.

Turning from the window and letting the dingy material drop back, I leaned against the wall. “Nope, that would be courtesy of Levi Mendes.”

Interest sharpened Sam’s blue eyes. “Who is Levi Mendes?”

“A very, very bad man,” Smoke offered as she straightened from checking out the nooks under the basin, a tin can in hand. “And at some point, he must have visited with our dearly departed.” She tilted the tin, peering at the contents, then bringing it up for a delicate sniff. Her nose wrinkled and her gaze met mine. Worry added a deeper luster to her dark eyes.

Shifting from the wall, I took a step forward. “What is it?”

She held up a finger, stopping me. “Give me a minute.” She wet her fingertip and dipped it inside the tin. When she lifted her finger, dark granules dotted the tip. Her tongue darted out, capturing a few flakes.

“Really?” I asked. “You think that’s smart?”

She rolled her eyes, her mouth working for a minute before she turned her head aside and spat into the basin. “Arsenic.”

“I sincerely doubt the Blood Star put Arsenic in Jim’s coffee.” The glib comment came from Sam who was studying Smoke. “So, I ask again, who is Levi Mendes?”

Grabbing the conversational reins, I said, “The man who wants the Yaqui Blood Star and is not above killing for it.”

Sam’s attention darted back to me, skepticism etching tightening his mouth and narrowing his eyes. “Never heard of him.”

“Isn’t he the one who hired you?” Smoke asked, putting the tin on the counter, before turning back.

Sam blinked but stayed quiet, refusing to show his hand.

Time to show some cards. “Since Diamond Jim isn’t one for entertaining, let’s all admit we’re here for the same thing, shall we? The Blood Star. Whether you believe in magic or not, I’m sure we can all agree it’s definitely worth a pretty penny.” That got me a reluctant nod from Sam. “Right then, we can then assume whoever is out there watching us wants the same thing.” Another slow nod. “I’m not sure what your stake is in recovering this piece, but our,” I nodded to Smoke, “interest probably out weighs yours. It’s not like we ran into each other at the butt end of the world on a whim.” I waited until he put the pieces together that Smoke and I were partners before continuing. “Factor in the determination of our invisible friends outside to ensure none of us claim the Blood Star, and I’d say our odds rise dramatically if we work together.” I held Sam’s gaze. “You’re a gambling man, Sam, how do you think this plays out?”

I could practically see the wheels in his mind spinning. A long moment ticked by as both Smoke and I let him ponder his current predicament. Bored, I pulled out another cigarillo and lit it.

Finally he blew out a slow breath. “Make me a proposal.”

Smoke

“Here’s a proposal. We let the dandy make a snack for our new friends outside while we get out of this hell hole,” I muttered.

Snake turned sharply to look at me, “Smoke!” Chastisement hung from her words.

I shrugged, looking over at Sam. I could see a sheen begin to gather on his forehead that I doubted had anything to do with the stifling heat in the shack. “Don’t worry if we fed you to them it would only make them ravenous for human flesh. Our mules may be steady but they’re certainly not fast enough to get us off this mountain in one piece if revenants are chasing us.” I grabbed the cigarillo from between Snake’s lips, she started at the sudden movement but I already took a long drag and handed it back to her before she could really start bitching. “Don’t tell mama.”

She rolled her eyes at me, snorting. “If you think mama doesn’t know you steal my cigarillos on occasion then maybe the revenants are already gnawing on your brain.”

I inclined my head at her before turning back to Sam who had begun to twist the fabric of his scarf unconsciously. “I go by many names, but to you I’m Smoke. Snake here keeps it simple, but as you might’ve surmised, we’re sisters. What that means for you is this, if you hurt one of us, the other one will come after you. Say by some cunning of wit, and I do believe you have wit despite my earlier assessment, you manage to hurt both of us, we’ve got a lot of kin who believe in vengeance. Our clan is meaner than a rattle snake whose had his morning sunbathing interrupted. I mean, do nice people name their children Snake and Smoke?” I finished my speech by giving the man before me a hard stare.

If the scarf wasn’t covering his neck I swear I would have seen his Adam’s apple bob. Then he bucked up, straightened his shoulders, and held out his hand. “Pleasure to meet you Smoke.”

I took his hand with some trepidation and was surprised to find it dry and warm and whatever he had zapped me with last time appeared to be minding its manners.

“This here is real heart warming and all but we’ve got revenants waiting to suck the marrow from our bones, and, if I’m not mistaking, a deal to make.” Snake stepped forward as I dropped Sam’s hand. “So, how do you see this playing out?” Snake’s words were directed at Sam. I already knew what we wanted the Blood Star for.

He reached up to straighten the already settled spectacles giving himself a moment to contemplate. “If what you are saying is true, I would assume that no one really wants to own the Blood Star for too long. I would suggest a shared custody of sorts to be determined at time of acquirement. For now we just need to get our hands the damned thing.”

Sam using “our” was encouraging. Snake didn’t miss the word either as interest sharpened her gaze. “And what is it that you have to bring to this table exactly?”

He wasn’t flustered by Snake’s harsh tone. “Well, I found Diamond Jim didn’t I?”

Taking one last drag from her cigarillo Snake pinched the end and tucked it away, all the while blowing a perfect smoke ring. “That’s fine and dandy Sam, but Diamond Jim is dead, and as you don’t seem to know Levi Mendes I’m not sure how you’d be able to help us.”

“Fair point my lady, but I am good at gathering information. I didn’t even know the Blood Star existed until last week and yet I’m hot on your trail after having to travel from a state over to get here. Information is my specialty and now that I have a name, I will find your Mr. Mendes. Not bad for a guy who only learned magic was real a week ago.”

Unimpressed, Snake crossed her arms. “This arrangement can be terminated at will.”

He nodded, “Of course, one doesn’t like to be locked into a contract should it prove to be a shit deal.”

I walked over to the door and opened it, before looking over my shoulder. “We in agreement then?”

Snake nodded.

Sam added a firm, “Yes.”

“Good enough for me.” I turned my attention back outside. The revenants were coming closer but they were cautious, weakened in the late afternoon sun. The dark weight of their presence gathered on the edges of awareness like thunderclouds before a monsoon. I was glad the mules were tied close to the shack and reasonably out of harm’s way. Our wheelin’, dealin’, pissing contest could have left us going back to town on foot. It would have been nicer to have made our getaway earlier, there was no helping it now. Clearing my mind, I reached into the dark place of my mind and let the language come spilling out of me. It was an odd combination of lyrical and guttural but by the time I came out of the trance the revenants were fleeing down the mountain.

Sam walked up to stand beside me, touching my elbow inquiringly. “Ah, pardon me, but were you just speaking in tongues?”

Behind me Snake snorted.

“Some people have called it that, but I don’t know it’s name. It’s passed down through the generations. I inherited it from our Meemaw. Snake inherited…other things.”

He looked at me skeptically. “Uh huh, but why exactly were you singing, moaning, and talking gibberish?”

Shielding my eyes I searched the area about ten yards from the mules and pointed to the freshly flayed carcass of a jackrabbit. “Like we keep telling you, revenants. If you go searching this hill top you will find any formally living creature to be in the same state as Bier Rabbit over there.”

Immediately Sam walked out to test my words. While he spent the next ten minutes wandering around the hill looking at the remains of other brutally assaulted creatures, Snake and I leaned against the shack, letting the skeptic come to his own conclusions. He wandered back looking a little gray. “What does this mean?”

“It means,” I answered in a kind tone, “that we need to get off this hill before nightfall.”

Looking up at the orange sun descending, we got to getting.

Tune back in for Chapter 4 in two weeks.

Conjuring Misery Chapter 2

Welcome back to our continuing story of magic in the old west, CONJURING MISERY. If you missed Chapter 1, feel free to go back and retrace our steps.

Chapter 2

Sam

The surge of energy left me dazed. My hand instinctively went for the hilt of Dragon Breath, but I regained my senses before unsheathing her. Snake’s shooting iron tickled my ribs before the presence of mind to drop my hand returned. While her lead spitting machines could do me no permanent harm, I had neither the time nor the inclination to lay up in this dust bowl long enough to heal. The place was no more than a way station to Hell.

I flashed, what I considered to be my most charming smile, and poured her a drink. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma’am. I’ve admired you from afar.”

“Is that so?”

“I witnessed your encounter last night, so I decided it wasn’t be proper for a gentleman to approach a lady without a formal introduction.” I instantly saw my blunder. “Now, Miss Snake here was a little different. She walked into Tillie’s like a hired gun, and I felt it in my best interest to find out who hired her, if that was the case. A gambler who never loses can’t be too careful.”

Snake slowly holstered her weapon with gentle affection. “I am glad you straightened that out Sam, I would hate to mess up that pretty jacket over a misunderstanding.”

“You never, ever lose?” Traveler tilted her head to one side.

“How do you account for that Sam? Good fortune? A lucky talisman perhaps?” A shine radiated from Snake’s green eyes at mention of a talisman. That gave me pause. Not in the habit of underestimating people normally, I had a bad feeling my first evaluation of her may have been off. She was clearly not, what she appears.

“Yes, do tell.” Traveler pinned me with her gaze.

The tenuous grip I had on the situation slipped another notch. “No ma’am, I have a God given talent for cards.”

“I do believe Sam here, is playing his cards close to vest.” Snake exchanged a glance with our new arrival.

My curiosity peaked, as did my survival instinct. The existence of a fabled talisman in this part of the territory was the very thing that brought me to Misery. “I confess, keeping my cards close, is a ploy that keeps me alive and winning, but gamblers aren’t the only ones using it in these parts.” She was baiting me. Should I see her bet, or fold? This is where the hand would be won or lost. I waited.

“The man has talents that’s obvious,” Traveler said. “What they are, is the question.”

They exchanged another glance. The sensation of drowning was unexpected in the desert, and yet every fiber of my being screamed I was in over my head. Time to go. I decided go all in. “Folks say Diamond Jim plays his cards very close. So close in fact, I haven’t laid eyes on him.”

“That’s a shame. I think you and he may have a lot in common.” Traveler flipped her hair over one shoulder with the back of her hand.

Ouch. I’d been hanging around here for most of two weeks and hadn’t seen him. She swoops in yesterday and…“You’ve met him?”

“You might say we’re getting to know one another,” she said.

That cleaned me out. Time to go before I lost my shirt too. “Ladies, I have some business to tend to. Reluctantly, I’ll be taking my leave.”

“So soon? We only just met. Now you’re going to leave two unescorted ladies alone in an establishment as disreputable as it is dangerous?” There was a mocking glint in the Traveler’s eyes.

“And just when we were acquainting ourselves.” Snake tipped her hat back with a gloved hand.

These two were intoxicating. “It would be a privilege to see you both home, if you’re ready to go.” I waited for a response. The idea they were having a conversation I wasn’t privy to struck me hard. I looked from one to the other trying to read their thoughts. Feeling as welcome as a wet fart in a wedding dress, I tipped my hat. “Keep the bottle, it’s paid for.”

Snake

Watching Sam make a run for it, I shook my head. “Where, exactly, do you think he’s heading?”

Smoke twisted an inky lock of hair over a finger, a sign of contemplation, not nerves for my sister, as her gaze narrowed on the swinging doors. “Trouble.”

“Yep.” I snagged the bottle, because you should never waste whiskey, and pushed away from the bar. Charlie cleaned the same spot on the bar over and over, doing a piss poor job of hiding the fact he was eavesdropping. “Maybe we should join Sam on his stroll.”

Smoke’s grin made Charlie pale and skedaddle down the bar. Never did understand why everyone got so scared when she did that. It was much more pleasant than mine. She fell in step beside me, and I could swear a unified sigh of relief chased us out Tillie’s doors.

“Now isn’t that curious,” she murmured, bumping my shoulder.

Blinking against the afternoon glare, I followed Sam’s progress down the other side of the street, the tail end of his scarf fluttering in his wake as he took the time to tip his hat at a gaggle of painted women. He stopped to converse, and won a rousing round of laughter. No surprise, he struck me as the type who could charm a scorpion out of its shell.     “It’s called flirting, oh sister mine.” I moved to the nearest railing and hitched a shoulder up against to continue my perusal.

Next to me Smoke slipped an delicate looking fan from some hidden pocket and began to wave it, hiding her mouth from any curious passersby’s. “Not that, dunderhead. Further down by the saddlery.”

Redirecting my attention, it didn’t take long to see the creeping form half-hidden in the shadows. The subtle urge to look away, produced the opposite reaction. Being hardheaded had its advantages. Tension coiled and my focus sharpened because whatever that was, wasn’t natural.

Taking a chance, I shifted my sight beyond the mortal realm. “Well, now, aren’t you a fair ways from home?”

I straightened and stepped away from the railing, making my way as casually as possible down the rickety steps. Behind me the murmur of taffeta indicated Smoke keeping pace.

“Demon?” She kept her voice low. No sense in giving the good people of Misery more strange topics to discuss. I’m sure they had plenty with the two of us.

Considering the wispy trails of red tinged black that continually blurred the animalistic form, her guess was a safe bet. “Possibly one of the lesser ones.”

“Think it’s here for us?” She snagged my arm, pulling me up just shy of being run down by wagon.

I waited for it to pass and the rumble of wood over hard-packed dirt to fade before I answered. “My money’s on our lucky gambler.”

“Poor sucker.” She dropped her hand to gather her skirts, pulling them high enough to show off the high-heeled leathers, the same pair I considered “borrowing” during our last visit.

I strode along as she wove her way to the other side. Her heels hit the wooden boards with an echoing thunk. My boots made a duller echo as I joined her. Sam turned his head at the sounds, the roguish smile entertaining the ladies tightened into a grimace he couldn’t hide before he turned away.

Just beyond him, our slinking fiend from hell paused. Without my second sight it was a mangy, underfed mutt of indiscriminate origins. But through that otherworldly lens, it was an unsettling mishmash of insect and mammal. Thank god for the whiskey, because otherwise there would be nothing for my stomach to roil over. The misbegotten creature lifted its head, maliciously dark eyes met mine, and a low warning rumble of its growl made my skin crawl.

My lips drew back in an answering snarl, hiding my revulsion. No sense in letting it know it was getting to me. Smoke, being the over protective sibling she was, whispered a melodic string of words in a language long since dead, and flicked her finger and thumb as if brushing off a fly. Magic, the size of bullet, zipped through the separating space, missing our new companion and his group of admirers, by a hair’s breath, to collide with the mangy demon. A sharp, pained yip broke through the everyday clamor, then the demon slunk back into the shadows.

Touching the brim of my hat in silent thanks to Smoke, I kept my head turned to Sam, while I pulled open the door on The Wild Hog, the mercantile store, ostensively holding it open for Smoke. Down the way Sam took his leave and meandered on, his practiced casualness belied by his stiff shoulders. Smoke stepped in close, keeping our conversation private. “Guess it’s time to pay Diamond Jim a call about a trinket.”

Smoke

We took mules. Animals didn’t always know how to react to my sister and me. One time I’d been thrown off a mountain by a mule that had been previously owned by miners, and had literally had dynamite set off in her general vicinity on a regular basis. Another time a barely broken stallion with a reputation of being a demon, displayed impeccable manners. He probably recognized the familial connection. I should have bought that damn horse.

We had some luck though, these mules were a little antsy, but I didn’t think I’d be rolling down the rocky, cacti infested hillside that we were currently on, just out of Misery. Turning in my saddle I checked on Snake. “How’s your ass?”

She didn’t smile but I saw the telltale twitch at the corner of her mouth. “I have a great ass. How about yours?”

“Mine is fine as well,” I responded with a cheeky grin. I began to turn to face forward when I caught the something out of the corner of my eye. I pulled back on my reins digging my heels deep into the stirrups. The mule wasn’t going at a fast pace but she had a hard mouth. Turning further in the saddle my taffeta skirt bunched higher on my thighs revealing more of the black britches I had on under the noisy skirt. About fifty feet, down the hill, on the trail we had come up on, I saw Sam plodding along on another despondent mule.

Snake had pulled up behind me and had turned to catch a view of the red scarf fluttering behind the man like something to aim at. My fingers itched to throw something at him. Something along the lines of what I’d sent at that demon earlier but I maintained my cool.

“Guess we should have been watching for a tail.” Snake muttered.

“What’s he gonna do?” I scoffed, “We’ll have the trinket before he ever makes it to the shack.” My body gave an involuntary shiver remembering the handshake from earlier. Okay so maybe he could do something, but my guess was that he didn’t even know what he was or what he was playing with otherwise he wouldn’t be messing with a couple of conjurers. The familial demon blood may have been watered down but it still maintained its dominance.

“I know that glint in your eyes, Smoke,” Snake interrupted my thoughts pulling her mule alongside mine on the wide trail.

“Whatever do you mean?” I said, raising my chin, putting on airs.

She swatted at my arm. “Let’s go your majesty, we should get the trinket before what’s his nuts catches up.”

She was right, so I gave her a brisk nod and turned to nudge my heels into the mule’s sides. I didn’t need to though, Snake was kind enough to slap my ass’s ass to get us rumbling along. The chuckle escaped my lips before I could stop it and kept a smile on my face all the way to the top where we reached Diamond Jim’s abode.

He stepped out of the shack as we approached. His shaggy hair ruffled in the breeze, it looked dirty and greasy much like his clothes. Lovely. One would wonder how a man dressed like a hobo, living in shack, would end up with a nickname like Diamond Jim. Then he smiled and his right canine blinded you from the sparkle. Some quack had managed to drill a diamond into the tooth.

Snake turned and raised a brow. We didn’t need to speak this conversation. Yep, I would have bought a bath instead of a diamond tooth as well. Priorities varied.

Conjuring Misery Chapter 1

Welcome one and all to the arrival of our serial. We will post a chapter every two weeks, and if you happen to fall behind, feel free to check out the entire collection under CONJURING MISERY.  If you manage to miss it here, you can also view it at the blog spots of Camille Douglass and Dave Benneman.

For now, may I present…CONJURING MISERY

Chapter 1

Sam

Slow footsteps echoed off the boards until they reached the door of Tillie’s Saloon and Emporium. At the rickety poker table the dealer stopped mid shuffle. My hand hovered over my winnings as my gaze lifted to the swinging doors. The snick and hiss of a match flaring cut through the sudden quiet and smoke floated over the doors. The saloon held its breath, waiting for those dusty snakeskin boots to push through. With squeal, the doors parted.

The stranger strode in through a cloud of smoke, hat pulled down low over a hard stare. I followed the lean figure that seemed to be carrying the weight of the world. The polished ironwood handles of her matched shooting irons were the only things that weren’t dusty. I tipped my straw hat to the stranger and gave Charlie a signal.

“Whiskey,” the stranger said.

Charlie wiped out a glass and poured. “Compliments of the gentleman.” He pointed me out.

She held her glass up in a toast with a gloved hand, cigarillo safely tucked between fingers, and tossed the contents down her throat. The rotgut Charlie served seemed to give her pause until she banged the glass down on the bar. “Again.”

Charlie poured.

I looked to the dealer who had yet to deal the next hand. “I’m cashing out.”

“You can’t just up and quit,” said the man to my left.

“I just did.”

“Maybe you did and you didn’t.” The cowpuncher to my right slipped a hand off the table.

From the bar the stranger said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” One of her six shooters was pointed right at the cowboy. The other fanned the rest of the crowd in Tillie’s, her still burning cigarillo resting on the scarred bar-top next to her glass.

I gathered my money and walked to the bar where my benefactor stood watching the crowd. “They’ll be all right. Mostly bark, no bite.” I could see she was uneasy. My timepiece clicked open. “They’ll be high tailing back to the ranch soon.” The watch, slipped back into my vest pocket and I adjusted the chain. “Charlie, another glass please and leave the bottle.”

“Name’s Samuel Connor.” I extended my hand. “Call me Sam.”

She held my gaze as she shook my hand, hers remained gloved. “Snake.”

“Interesting. Snake what?”

“Just Snake.”

Snake

Letting Sam’s hand go, I did a quick scan of the crowd before slipping Ruby into her holster and reclaiming my half smoked cigarillo from the bar. No telling who’d be dumb enough to make the first move. Not that it mattered, I’d make the last move, because, well, that’s just smart business. And I was all about business.

One more cold glare at the watching crowd, a few more dropped gazes, and I was good with tucking Pearl back in her well-worn home, leaving a gentling hand on her, just in case. I leaned back against the heavy wood, taking time to enjoy another inhale of the spicy tobacco and waited. Not that I had long to wait.

The bartender set a half full bottle and empty glass between me and my newest friend on the scarred bar. Reaching for the bottle of whiskey, I splashed a bit more into my glass, then did the same for Sam’s, before nudging it his way in silent invitation.

I twisted the cigarillo’s tip against the hard wood surface before tucking it safely away, and studied Sam. He had all the accouterments of a dapper gent, but something didn’t ring true. Tailored jacket and matching vest was relatively clean as was the tan duster cradled on his arm, but he wore a vivid scarlet scarf in place of the typical tie you found in these parts. Among the sweat-encrusted crowd gathered around us, Sam stood out.

He picked up his drink, brought it to his lips, paused, and tilted his head. Light glinted off his spectacles, hiding his eyes behind a disquieting glimmer. “So, Snake, passing through?”

“Not sure yet.” I threw back the second shot, refusing to shudder as warmth chased away the chill embedded in my bones. My eyes burned. Not from the whiskey, but from the lack of sleep. Three days with no sleep was just one too damn many, but I didn’t dare close my eyes. Not yet. Wasn’t quite ready to face what would come out of that darkness.

Sam made a quiet humming sound, laid his duster on the stool between us, took a polite sip, and settled an elbow as he watched me. “An ambiguous answer. You must be here on business then.” His jacket fell open, revealing an intricate scabbard lying along his hip, the dull gleam of a polished hilt flashing before the material resettled. Curious to find a swordsman this far outside of town.

My lips quirked at his polite fishing expedition. “Of a sort.” I considered another shot of whiskey, and decided it might not be in my best interest just yet. I let my gaze wander over the room. Now that a gunfight was no longer imminent the patrons had turned back to their endeavors and the low rumble of voices had returned.

Next to me, Sam continued to watch me with a small smile. It wasn’t his perusal or his grin that worried me, it was that niggling sense of something being just a tad bit off about my new acquaintance that kept me on edge. Still, as I was in need of some information, perhaps it was time to cast my own bait. “You seem rather comfortable here, been around long?”

He tipped his glass towards me, the small smile growing under the neatly trimmed beard. “Long enough to be entertained by local stories and enjoy meeting the characters sharing in them.”

Good enough. “I’m looking for someone.”

He gave a soft chuckle. “Aren’t we all?” He took another sip, set the glass aside, and hitched a hip on a stool. “Your someone have a name?”

“The Traveler.” Truth be told, she had quite a few names, but I gave the one I figured she’d be using here.

Even in the dusky light of the bar, I could see Sam pale and his jaw clench just before he nabbed his glass and downed the remaining contents.

My lips curled back in a feral grin. Yep. The Traveler was here.

Smoke aka Traveler

When I stepped into the worn down saloon a stillness blanketed the room. Looking to my left, one of the gentleman callers who dared to pay me a late night visit shortly after my arrival, was studiously staring at the floor while cradling his broken arm in a haphazard sling. Normally when I worked, I preferred a low profile but the only thing the people of this godforsaken town seemed to respect was a theatrical nature or a willingness to follow through on a threat. The night I arrived, wearing all black, which matched my hair and equally dark eyes, I took the room at the top of the rickety stairs, where I was forced to follow through on the threat my appearance made. Hence the idiot currently cradling his arm.

It was a shame that a town like this was too rough for most of the lily livered weaklings practicing the trade. Blood wouldn’t be the issue, that was the butter for their biscuits. Issues arose when the occasional visitor held you at gunpoint insisting you stitch up their stab wound for free. I shrugged, it’s not like I ever needed doctoring. While I had been pondering the lack of medical assistance in this little piece of hell people called a town, I missed the tiny feeling of knowing. A grin twisted the corners of my mouth before I could stop myself. A glass dropped. The yahoos apparently weren’t expecting anything other than the hard ambivalent look I always regarded them with, but I didn’t care. My sister was here.

I strode quickly to where she was straddling a barstool, sharing a drink with a man that I hadn’t laid eyes on before. Normally, I’d have paid more attention to a stranger, but if Snake thought he was okay, then I needn’t worry. Appearances needing to be maintained; I stopped myself from enveloping her in a hug.

She winked at me before leaning in to whisper in my ear, “Hey Smoke.”

I gave her a quick grin.

She held up her hand to catch the barkeep’s attention and then gestured to her glass, indicating he should bring another so I could have a drink of whatever putrid concoction they had poured in the bottle and mislabeled as whiskey.

While the barkeep hurried over with my glass, Snake turned back to her companion. “Sam this is The Traveler, Traveler this is Sam.”

I nodded, and took the offered hand. When I grasped it, a gripping pain coursed through my body. I simultaneously wanted to vomit and black out. I managed to lock my knees and keep myself upright, all the while gritting my teeth and urging the pin pricks of light to exit my vision.

            The pain left as soon as he let go of my hand. It felt like ages but must, in fact, have only been seconds, because the look in Snake’s eyes was one of mild concern and not the murderous rage that would have been there if she’d realized what happened. Sam eyes held only a twinkle of amusement. What game was he playing?

Chapter 2 riding in on April 21st!

Nab Jami Gray’s SHADOW’S EDGE Free for a Limited Time! #freeread #uf #pnr

This fantastic paranormal action novel is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. I could not put it down, and had to exercise serious self-control to keep from staying up all night to finish it. – The Romance Reviews, 5/5 stars

“This book has everything in it, you have your Fey, Demons, Witches/Wizards, and Shifters. What more could you ask for?! Plus you have a great story to follow. The story and characters flowed so well together, it was like watching a movie in my head! Book 2 here I come!!” – Paranormal Romance & Authors That Rock, 5/5 Fangs

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SHADOW’S EDGE: BOOK 1 OF THE KYN KRONICLES

Everyone fears what hunts in the shadows—especially the monsters…

When the supernatural lurks in the shadows of the mundane, hunting monsters requires unique skills, like those of Raine McCord. A series of deaths threatens to reveal the Kyn community and forces her to partner with the sexy Gavin Durand.

As the trail leads to the foundation haunting Raine’s childhood, she and Gavin must unravel lies and betrayals to discover not only each other, but the emerging threat to them and the entire magical community.

Now available Free in eBook format at: AMAZON / BARNES AND NOBLE / BLACK OPAL BOOKS / ARe / SMASHWORDS / iBOOKS / KOBO / SCRIBD

READ AN EXCERPT

Walking into the dim house, Raine braced for the usual smell accompanying a violent death. She knew that smell. It was distinctive. It reminded a person of raw meat and coppery blood. A scent warning you whatever you found, it wouldn’t be recognizable.

Coming down the short entryway, a few steps behind the two men, she realized there was no odor. No blood, no raw meat. She let out the breath she was holding. Only then picking up on the spine tingling traces of magic. It raised bumps along her skin as she drew closer to the front room.

Two agents passed her, heading out of the house, small evidence bags in their gloved hands. Osborn stopped just to the left of the front room’s entryway. Gavin came to a halt in the middle of the opening, blocking her view. Stepping around to his right she came to an abrupt stop, puzzled.

Bane Mayson was sprawled on the faded green couch under the picture window. At first glance the scene didn’t make sense. There were no visible wounds, no horrific mutilations, nothing to show how he died. Just the skitter of magic down her spine, making the deceptively calm scene in front of her much more ominous.

“Can you give a positive ID?” Osborn’s rough voice pulled her gaze back to him. He looked at Gavin who wasn’t answering. She tilted her head to find out why, and then realized Gavin was looking at her.

“What?” she asked.

“I’ve never met him,” he said blandly. “Just spoke to him on the phone.”

“Oh.” A little disconcerted, she turned back to the waiting agent. “Yes, that’s Bane Mayson.”

Now available Free in eBook format at: AMAZON / BARNES AND NOBLE / BLACK OPAL BOOKS / ARe / SMASHWORDS / iBOOKS / KOBO / SCRIBD

If you want to play in the shadows, continue the adventure with Jami Gray’s Kyn Kronicles:

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Jami Gray Small

Jami Gray is the award winning, multi-published author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Kyn Kronicles, and the Paranormal Romantic Suspense series, PSY-IV Teams. She can be soothed with coffee and chocolate. Surrounded by Star Wars obsessed males and two female labs moonlighting as the Fur Minxes, she escapes by playing with the voices in her head.

Come stalk Jami at any of these fine locations:

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Google+ / Amazon

 

Kelly Meade and BLACK ROOK swing by Jami’s place with a #giveaway! #PNR #newrelease

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Today I have the lovely and very talented, Kelly Meade (or as some of us know her, Kelly Meding) as she celebrates the release of her new book, BLACK ROOK. She even agreed to share her take on story ideas and unintentional research. Oh, and there’s a GIVEAWAY (so read all the way through and don’t forget to enter!)

“THIRD AND FINAL CALL…”

Thank you to Jami Gray for having me on her blog to help celebrate the release of BLACK ROOK, which begins my new paranormal romance trilogy with Berkley Intermix. I’m here today talking a bit about story ideas and unintentional research.

I’ve been to a lot of auctions in my lifetime—with my grandparents, my parents, my sister, and even by myself. Auctions are a fun way to take a peek into the past and to find things that are very old, very cheap, or even things that are simply unique. I’ve seen whiskey decanters shaped like Old West outlaws, antique spinning wheels, colorful aluminum drinkware, sewing kits, old medicine jars, and thousands of other strange things. Sometimes it’s more fun to go just to look, without having any intention of buying. If you’ve never been, I suggest you hit one up simply for the experience.

As a hobby of sorts (as well as a way to earn additional income) my dad and I sell antiques and other sundries at flea markets. The best way to get inventory without spending a lot of money is by attending auctions, and since we live on the lower Eastern Shore of Delmarva, we tend to go up north to Pennsylvania for auctions. One particular location we frequent is in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. It’s a freestanding building with its own loading bay and parking lot, smack in the middle of town.

My dad is to blame for my love of the paranormal. We watched horror movies together when I was a kid, and we still share movies back and forth. He’s often coming up with strange ideas that he’ll pass along—something I might be able to use in a story some day, he says. So it wasn’t surprising when, on one trip to Lebanon, I began musing what it would be like if werewolves ran this auction house instead of humans. I liked the idea, but it lacked an actual story and I was in the middle of writing another book at the time, so I tucked the thought into my back pocket.

Fast-forward a few years, and I’m looking to try my hand at paranormal romance. I know I want the series to be about a set of brothers, and I want them to be wolf shifters. But I need something else—something that ties them and their present lives together. And presto! Werewolves in charge of an auction house! The family business! I’d been doing unintentional research on how auctions are run for years, so writing the opening scene for BLACK ROOK was a cinch. I even modeled the McQueen Auction House after the Lebanon auction location.

Do you frequent auctions? What’s one of the most unusual things you’ve seen at one?

Check out Kelly’s stories…
Cornerstone Run is a paranormal romance trilogy, set in a world of hidden loup garou, their mystical Magi enemies, and the occasional vampire. The small, reclusive town of Cornerstone, Pennsylvania, houses an almost entirely loup garou population—one of only thirteen towns around the country that serve as a sanctuary for their nonhuman inhabitants, where the loup garou are free to be themselves. When a neighboring sanctuary town is attacked by a vicious, unknown enemy, the three sons of Cornerstone’s Alpha must stand together to protect their people—and the women who steal their hearts.

Black Rook

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Penguin | BAM | GoodReads

She never saw this coming…

Brynn Atwood is a low-level Magus whose unpredictable precognitive powers have made her an outcast among her people—and an embarrassment to her highly-regarded father. After a frightening vision in which her father is murdered by a loup garou man, Brynn decides to prove herself by finding the killer, and stopping them at any cost.

Her target is Rook McQueen, the son of a small-town loup garou Alpha. Despite being the youngest of three, Rook is first in line to inherit the role of Alpha, a duty he isn’t sure he’s capable of fulfilling. When Brynn finally meets Rook, she doesn’t expect the attraction that draws her to him—and him to her.

No longer believing him a murderer, Brynn and Rook strike an alliance to find her father’s real killer. But when his older brother is targeted by an unknown enemy, Rook will have to choose between his growing feelings for Brynn and his duty as the future Alpha of his community.

INCLUDES A PREVIEW OF THE NEXT TITLE IN THE CORNERSTONE TRILOGY, GRAY BISHOP.

Cornerstone Run Trilogy
Black Rook Gray Bishop White Knight

 

Excerpt – Chapter 1

Brynn Atwood observed the entrance to McQueen’s Auction House, as she had done for the past few minutes while she gathered the courage she needed to leave the safety of her rental car. A steady stream of vehicles entered the parking lot and ejected browsers and buyers, all eager to view today’s auction and visit with acquaintances seen only during these once-a-week sales. Not Brynn. She was certainly the only person who’d showed up today intending to prevent a murder.

Walking alone into a town populated with and run by loup garou wasn’t the smartest thing she had ever done in her twenty-four years, but it certainly counted as the bravest. If she managed to achieve her goal, even her father would have to admit to her courage and to the validity of her visions. He didn’t trust in her seer ability, nor did he believe that her vision of him being murdered by a loup garou would come true.

“Surely you know I would never put myself into a situation that would result in such a calamitous outcome,” her father, Archimedes Atwood, had said the previous day. And as with every chilly encounter between them in the last few months, he’d spoken with the impatience of a strict teacher correcting a belligerent child. “Perhaps some of your visions have come true on occasion, but do not use me to distract attention from your own disgrace. I have no more time for this nonsense.”

Her visions were always nonsense.

Archimedes was a Prime Magus in the Congress of Magi, one of four, as well as a powerful practitioner of elemental magic. He’d never hidden his disappointment over Brynn’s uncontrollable precognitive powers—powers he had yet to acknowledge were real—or her inability to one day claim his spot on the Congress. She was too weak, a failure as a Magus. She couldn’t even manage to keep her job as a Congress tutor for more than two years. All she had left were her infrequent visions, in whatever time or manner they chose to come.

And worse yet, he had all but accused her of fabricating this vision and the need to save him in order to make up for the shame she’d brought to their name when she was fired. She didn’t want the vision to be true. She wanted her father alive for many years to come.

She would figure out how to save him on her own. She would prove her value.

Brynn climbed out of her car and surveyed the quickly filling parking lot. In any new situation, her best first step was to observe her surroundings, study others, and discover the way to best fit in. She had never before attended a public auction of any sort; she knew only that antiques and other goods were bid upon and purchased, sometimes at outrageous prices. Some patrons walked into the building carrying their own boxes, clearly expecting to purchase items. Others entered carrying only cups of coffee or soda, or small children.

The variety of patrons surprised her: young and old, scruffy and well-kempt, couples and singles and large groups, and families. Some drove up with pickups and vans; some parked expensive cars in the narrow, crowded lot. Everyone seemed at ease.

I must stick out like a smoking vampire in daylight.

Standing there like a fool would only garner her unwanted attention. Subtlety was the route to accomplishing her task. Brynn forced her feet to carry her forward, past other vehicles, toward the main entrance. Everyone seemed to be entering the large, barnlike building through those glass double doors. A few people came back to the parking lot from the side of the building, which indicated a back entrance/exit, as well. She’d tried to find blueprints of the layout before her arrival, but getting any sort of in-depth information on Cornerstone, Pennsylvania, was next to impossible.

The town had a small population of six hundred forty-one residents, and Brynn could guess that about ten percent were human. Cornerstone was founded by a run of loup garou nearly two centuries ago, and was one of a dozen similar safe havens around the country. Much like the Congress of Magi and a few surviving nests of vampires, loup garou runs required secrecy and anonymity to survive in the modern world. The weekly auctions at McQueen’s brought outside income to the town without the interference of tourism or industry, and it kept them from appearing too insular to the outside world.

Her father stubbornly refused to have any faith in her abilities, but Brynn’s visions of the future came true without fail, and the most recent had led her here to McQueen’s Auction House. Led her to the loup garou she’d seen standing over her father’s broken body. The man her careful research told her was named Rook McQueen.

The boy, she corrected.

As a general rule, her people did not trust technology. The Magi trusted tradition and magic above all else. Growing up an only child with few friends, Brynn spent hundreds of hours on her computer—a gift awarded by her father on her twelfth birthday, as a means to keep her mind occupied beyond the limited resources of their home’s physical library. Only weeks before, she had spoken to him of her first vision. In the middle of reading a book, she had seen a clear image of a baby bird falling from a nest. It disturbed her so much that she’d fled into the backyard in time to see it happen. She scooped the tiny robin up and climbed the tree where she spotted the nest, returning the lost baby to its siblings.

She was so proud when she told her father about it that night—not only the bird, but the premonition. Her very first display of a Magus power. “Manifestations of a child’s overactive imagination,” he had scoffed. “Do not bother me with these small things, daughter.”

The computer became her gateway to the outside world, a link to knowledge far beyond the borders of her home in Chestnut Hill. And like the young sleuths in the slim novels she’d loved so much, Brynn taught herself how to research and investigate—skills that had served her well these last few days as she raced to identify her father’s killer.

One of three sons of Thomas McQueen, the auction house’s owner, Rook was two years younger than herself, a recent college graduate, and the former lead singer of a popular local rock band—not exactly the portrait of a killer, loup garou or otherwise. And yet the brief glimpse of him in her vision, skin marked with tattoos, human teeth bared, and hands covered in her father’s blood, showed him capable of violence, as all loup garou inevitably were.

She would not allow her father to become Rook McQueen’s victim. Archimedes Atwood was too important, not only to herself but to the Congress of Magi. The Magi were small in number, and they relied on their leaders to protect them from their enemies, including the volatile, deadly loup garou. And as an elemental Magi, he was among the most powerful. Few others shared his ability to manipulate fire. Their people needed him, so Brynn needed to protect him. She had to find a way to prevent her father’s murder before it occurred.

The biggest blank in her research was Rook’s relationship to the run’s Alpha. Brynn had no access to the Congress’s files on the loup garou, and she couldn’t directly ask her father for the name of Cornerstone’s Alpha—her father had no idea she’d identified his would-be assassin, or that she was in central Pennsylvania doing reconnaissance on said assassin, instead of at the family home wallowing in her professional disgrace.

A random loup killing her father carried a very different meaning than a loup from within the higher ranks of the run’s Alpha family—the latter could easily be considered an act of war against the Congress of Magi. A foolishly begun war, as the Magi and loup had maintained an uneasy peace for the last sixty years.

Concentrate, foolish girl, before you get yourself killed. This isn’t one of your novels, this is real.

Brynn smoothed her palms down the front of her green t-shirt and tugged at the hem. She stopped, recognizing the nervous gesture, a habit from the two years she’d worked as a Congress tutor, which required skirts and blouses and high heels. The t-shirt, denim shorts, and Keds combination she’d chosen for today’s mission had been partly for comfort in the August heat and partly to blend in. The final piece of her costume was the Magus pendant hidden behind the t-shirt, which would act as a sensory mirror and hide her natural scent—any loup sniffing her for signs of “other” would smell a common human female, instead of a Magus. The auction attracted dozens of human buyers, but the people who ran it and worked there were still loup. The pendant was her only real protection against their sense of smell.

The stolen pendant, you fool. Plucking it from her father’s office had nearly given her fits, and her father would be apoplectic when he discovered it was missing—yet another reason to finish her task and return home posthaste. Maybe, just maybe, she could prevent this vision from coming true. She had to try.

Nerves twisted her stomach into a tight ball that nearly squeezed the air from her lungs. The thump of music and drone of voices greeted her as Brynn pushed open the door and stepped inside McQueen’s Auction House.

Avesta, protect me, your loyal daughter.

Plea to the Magi’s patron sent, Brynn forced her anxiety into the background and paid closer attention to her surroundings. The entrance was spacious, with a short hallway and a brightly painted “Restrooms” sign on her immediate right. On the left was a bulletin board covered in layers of posters and flyers advertising yard sales and on-site auctions. Past it was a roped-off stairwell going up to parts unknown. A handsome young man in cowboy boots and a matching leather hat leaned near the stairwell, sipping from a Styrofoam cup, as though he lived solely to hold up that particular wall.

His intent gaze landed on her, and she didn’t have to search for the copper flecks in his brown eyes to know he was loup garou. Brynn’s insides froze, but she forced out a calm, flirty smile. She knew she was attractive enough to gather a few second glances, and he was what she might hesitantly call beautiful—if a man could be considered so—with a slim nose and perfectly symmetrical features. However beautiful, this man was also her enemy. His body was fit, impeccably toned, and even at ease he thrummed with the power of his caged beast. He also wasn’t Rook McQueen, so although he was quite pleasant to look at, he did not hold her interest.

He tilted his head in a friendly gesture, then winked. Brynn blushed and ducked her head, a reaction she did not have to fake. Male attention of any sort nowadays left her insides squirrely, a sense of bitter panic residing where her confidence had once dwelled. She also needed to remain inconspicuous while here, and flirting with a local cowboy was not the way to stay alive.

Brynn followed an elderly couple out into the main room. She slipped over to her left, out of the flow of traffic, and absorbed the scene of orderly chaos. An elevated pair of cash registers stood near the entrance, with lines on each side. The customers in line traded personal information for a large index card with a number written in black marker. Cards in hand, the customers went to one of many places in the cavernous room.

Dozens of tables of merchandise were set up along the perimeter of the room, three rows deep, and at the center of it all was a dais, two stools, and a microphone. Directly behind the dais was a long row of antique furniture and four glass cases. Rows of mismatched chairs covered the rest of the floor space, facing the dais. At least half the chairs were marked by either sitting bodies or empty boxes waiting for their owners. In the far back of the room, close to Brynn’s position, was a food counter advertising sandwiches and chips and cold sodas, and it produced the bitter scent of over-brewed coffee. Opposite Brynn was another set of propped-open double doors, and a steady stream of people moved in and out of a second room that seemed crowded with boxes.

Someone jostled past on a waft of coffee-scented air, alerting Brynn to the competing odors in the room. The food counter fought with the tang of human body odor, as well as the musty stink of old paper and leather. A damp smell, like rain, hung over everything else, reminding her that even though she was surrounded by human beings, nonhumans also mingled. Every loup in the room posed a threat to her safety.

Brynn walked along the back wall, out of the heavier flow of people, alert for her prey. She spotted three other men who set off her loup alarms. Each wore a black t-shirt and jeans, just like the man outside in the cowboy boots.

McQueen employees. They must be.

One of them lingered near the dais, chatting with an older woman in a purple caftan, giving her his full attention while still managing to observe the room. He had a strong facial resemblance to the loup in the entrance, and a stronger resemblance to the photo she’d found of Rook. Each could easily be one of Rook’s two brothers. Brynn swallowed hard, mouth dry. If two of the three McQueen brothers worked here, maybe Rook did, as well. He could appear at any moment.

Your brother may one day murder my father.

The thought saddened her. Rook wasn’t just a potential murderer. He was also a brother and a son, and his family would miss him if he were gone. They would also fight to protect him the moment they considered her a threat.

You can’t think about that now, foolish girl.

Brynn inhaled a steadying breath. She palmed her right hand in her left, the fingers of her left hand smoothing over the gold band of the ring she wore on her right index finger. The top of the ring appeared to be a piece of costume jewelry, a blue gem the size of a nickel. A blue gem filled with a paralytic poison, developed decades ago to specifically target the loup garou’s nervous system. One tap of the ring would send a dose of poison down the ring’s band to her hand, and one firm handshake with any loup would put enough on his skin to kill him within an hour. No one would suspect such an innocuous item to be a deadly weapon, which was exactly the reason she’d stolen it from her father’s study.

As a small child, she had once overheard him boasting to another Magus of using the ring to drug an unsuspecting loup garou, and they were none the wiser. She had thought this made her father particularly clever, and the moment had stayed with her. Brynn Atwood might walk alone into a loup sanctuary town, but she wouldn’t walk in unarmed.

She had a single dose of the antidote hidden in her car in case she accidentally poisoned someone—no sense in leaving that to chance. She might be willing to kill to protect her father and she would defend herself if attacked, but she would not hurt an innocent loup.

If loup could be considered innocent. Her father would scoff at the notion.

She had considered her plan a dozen different ways before engaging. She didn’t rush blindly ahead. She rarely undertook any sort of action without having first clearly considered the potential outcomes. The only action guaranteeing her vision never came true was her removing Rook from the equation. Murdering him first. That was, however, a last resort action that almost guaranteed her own death at loup garou hands, as well as bringing the full power of her father’s anger down on their run.

She preferred the plan where she observed, gathered information, possibly discovered who the run Alpha was so she could introduce herself, and then took steps to prevent her vision that left all involved happy and healthy—her father especially.

Awareness prickled up her spine just as a male voice said, “You look a bit lost, miss.”

Brynn turned, not terribly surprised to find the cowboy from the entrance watching her. The cup was gone, but he still wore the silly leather hat, which cast a shadow over his eyes. It didn’t hide his beauty, though.

Enemy.

“I was supposed to meet someone here, but I don’t see them yet,” she said, the rehearsed lie falling easily from her lips.

“That explains it, then.” His tone was light, his voice lyrical and calming, but it still held a hint of danger. And challenge.

“Explains what?”

“Why you looked like you were casing the place.”

She laughed without forcing it, finding actual humor in the comment. “Do you often have problems with armed robbers staging stickups here?”

“No, but we’ve caught a few thieves over the years, trying to break in and steal items before they go up for sale.”

“Are you saying I look like a thief?”

“You just looked a little lost, that’s all. This your first time here?”

“It’s that obvious?”

He lifted his left shoulder in a shrug. “My father owns the place, and I’ve worked for him since I was a kid. I know all of the regulars, and most of the semi-regulars. New faces are easy to spot, especially faces as pretty as yours.”

Two things solidified for Brynn then: this man was definitely one of the McQueen brothers, and he was definitely flirting with her. Inbred disgust at the loup’s attention seized her, and she barely managed to stall a physical reaction.

He jumped, then his hand went to his jeans pocket. Brynn’s rising alarm calmed when he whipped out a vibrating cell phone and checked a message. “Damn,” he said as he tucked the phone away again. “Work calls.”

“Don’t let me keep you.”

“I hope your friend shows soon. In the meantime, take a look around. We’ve got a lot of great stuff today.”

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

He eased past her and walked straight up the center aisle of chairs to the dais, directly to the other man she suspected of being a McQueen. She watched them from the corner of her eye, but the other man gestured at the furniture behind the dais. They didn’t seem to be talking about her. She’d just had a conversation with her target’s brother and no one suspected a thing.

Don’t get cocky. Things could still go badly in a moment’s time.

She pushed away the voice of reason. A little more confident now, Brynn gave herself permission to look around. It was her first auction, after all. She wandered to the other side of the room, as much to make a show of belonging as to check out some of the items for sale. She’d always assumed auctions were full of dirty antiques and shiny glass baubles, but the table nearest her was covered with books. Boxes and boxes of books—hardcovers, paperbacks, textbooks, in all genres and on all subjects. The reams of knowledge in those boxes made her chest ache for the satisfaction she used to get from teaching.

Until last month, when she was fired from her tutor position and found herself with zero standing among her people, and with no hope for her future.

Maybe after this you’ll find a new calling as a Congress investigator.

Smiling at the ridiculous notion, she picked up a thick copy of the annotated works of Homer and smoothed back the torn corner of its dust jacket. Nostalgia for school and learning settled heavily in her chest, so heavily it tried to force up tears. She’d briefly considered returning to school and earning a new degree, since history and education hadn’t served her very well. Briefly. If the Alpha reacted badly to her presence in his town, or Rook took issue with her allegations, she’d never get the chance to reconsider her education more thoroughly.

She’d never get the chance to do a lot of things. Her father once said that loup justice was swift and merciless.

She put the book down and pinched the bridge of her nose, damming the tears and steeling her nerves. She would not cry, not here in public. Not when she needed to accomplish a job that required her full attention.

A flash of movement caught her attention, and Brynn turned her head toward the entrance. Her gaze drifted up. Above the entrance, probably accessible from that roped-off staircase, was a large window and a room behind. Two men stood at the window, talking and gesturing, in what looked like an office. Probably the manager’s office, which gave him a bird’s-eye view of his business.

The shorter of the two men captured and held her attention. Hints of a tattoo peeked out from beneath the sleeve of his black t-shirt. Metal glinted in his right earlobe, and another tattoo—or possibly the same—crept down his ear to his neck and disappeared into the collar of his shirt.

Even in profile, Brynn knew him. Fear and rage collided in a storm of cold and heat, and she clenched her hands into tight fists.

Rook McQueen. Her father’s future killer.

Blood rushed hot in her veins, and her heart thumped harder. He wasn’t just a face in a vision any longer. He was real.

“Ma’am?” The strange male voice alarmed Brynn into spinning around too fast. Her elbow clipped the voice owner in the chest and he grunted. Brynn’s stomach bottomed out. The man from the front of the room, her second McQueen brother suspect, frowned darkly, and she saw her own death there.

“I’m so sorry,” Brynn said. “Are you all right?”

“Fine. I’m sorry to bother you, but do you drive a white Dodge Neon?”

She blinked at the odd question about her rental car. “Yes, I do.”

“Someone reported that they backed into your car. You may want to come with me and exchange insurance information.”

“Oh for Av—God’s sake.” Brynn mentally slapped herself for the near slip. Using “Avesta’s sake” in the presence of a loup garou was as obvious as wearing a t-shirt that said “Yes, I’m a Magus Spy. Kill Me.”

“Small lot, so it happens once in a while,” the man said. Up close, she better saw the resemblance to the cowboy-wannabe in his narrow nose and hooded eyes. However, the slight roundness in his cheekbones and higher forehead showed a more pronounced similarity to Rook. And he was definitely older than the other two. “The auction doesn’t start for another forty minutes, if you’re worried about missing something.”

“No, it’s fine,” Brynn said, even though it wasn’t. The coincidence unnerved her, but she had no choice except to see how this played out.

He stepped to the side. “After you.”

She walked to the end of the row of chairs and made her way back toward the auction house entrance, keenly aware of her shadow’s presence, and that she’d just turned her back on one of her people’s greatest enemies.

 

About Kelly Meade
Raised on a steady diet of Star Wars, Freddy Krueger and “Fear Street” novels, Kelly Meade developed a love for all things paranormal at a very young age. The stealthy adolescent theft of a tattered paperback from her grandmother’s collection of Harlequins sparked an interest in romance that has continued to this day.

Black Rook is the first novel in her Cornerstone Run series, a paranormal romance trilogy from Berkley Intermix that also includes Gray Bishop and White Knight. It follows three loup garou brothers who will do anything to protect their town, their family, and the secret of their existence—and maybe fall in love in the process.

Writing as Kelly Meding, Three Days to Dead is the first book in her Dreg City urban fantasy series. The series follows Evangeline Stone, a paranormal hunter who is resurrected into the body of a stranger and has only three days to solve her own murder and stop a war between the city’s goblins and vampires. Additional books in the series, As Lie the Dead, Another Kind of Dead, and Wrong Side of Dead, are available in both digital format and mass market paperback from Bantam. Book five, Requiem for the Dead, is available digitally through all platforms.

Trance begins the story of the grown-up children of the world’s slaughtered superheroes who receive their superpowers back after a mysterious fifteen-year absence, and who now face not only a fearful public, but also a vengeful villain who wants all of them dead. Trance and Changeling are available now in both digital format and mass market paperback from Pocket Books. Tempest and Chimera are available in digital format only via Pocket Star. All four MetaWars books can also be purchased as a digital bundle.

KellyMeding.com | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Tumblr

 

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Tour Schedule
July 01 [Insert Clever Quip Here] July 15 Rantings of a Reading Addict
Pure Textuality July 16 Yummy Men and Kick Ass Chicks
SnoopyDoo’s Book Reviews July 17 Rabid Reads
July 02 Rage, Sex, and Teddy Bears July 18 BookSkater
Wild Wordy Women Addicted 2 Heroines
July 03 Booked and Loaded July 21 Paranormal Haven
July 04 MM Jaye Writes July 22 All Things Urban Fantasy
Toot’s Book Reviews Gizmo’s Reviews
July 07 Geeks in High School Totally Addicted to Reading
July 08 Rhi Reading July 23 Deal Sharing Aunt
July 09 The Book Nympho July 24 Book Lovin’ Mamas
July 10 Angel’s Guilty Pleasures July 25 Between Dreams and Reality
July 11 Mad Hatter Reads July 28 I Feel the Need, the Need to Read
Wendy Dawn’s Wicked World Platypire Reviews
July 14 Romancing the Dark Side July 29 Indie Author How-To
Wicked Women Book Blog July 30 WTF Are You Reading?
July 15 I Smell Sheep Jami Gray’s Blog
July 31 Tez Says

 

Rabid Tour Host

Urban Fantasy vs. Fantasy or Girls vs. Boys Phoenix Comicon panels part duex #writingtips #rogues

Welcome to part deux of my ventures into Phoenix Comicon writing panels. I saved the best for last. The panel was titled “Writing Rogues” and man, the panelists fit that description to a ‘T’.  Recognize these names: Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicles), Pierce Brown aka Pretty Boy (Red Rising Trilogy), Sam Sykes (The Aeons’ Gate series), and Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards series). If you read fantasy, you know at least one of these. And yes, it did not escape my notice there were no females present (but more of that later).

This workshop focused on the role of the rogue in fantasy series.  You know the ones: Han Solo from Star Wars, Lynch’s Locke, Harry of Jim Butcher fame, Atticus from Kevin’s series, these male characters know how to work that line between bad boy attitude and hero.

They started off with what makes a rogue–flaws, moral grayness (morally transgressive), never sure if they’ll side with you or leave you hanging in the wind, ambivalent, never committed to any cause, unless it’s themselves. They’re the characters you aren’t sure will show up, and when they do, you still aren’t sure what they’re going to do. They break the boundaries of their worlds, have to fight themselves before they fight their antagonist.  Want more examples? Think Snake Eyes from GI Joe, Stryder from LoTR, Cpt. Kirk of USS Enterprise–each one of these is what is described as a “chaotic neutral”.

The panel was an hour long and these guys are high caliber smart asses, witty without trying, and awesome to listen to. Then one of the audience members got up and asked a question.

“Why aren’t there any female rogues in fantasy?”

Silence descends for a moment, then Patrick dares to address the 15 minute rambling that I managed to get down to 8 words.  Because part of that rambling question were comments, such as “why does a female rogue have to be attractive, but a male one doesn’t?”, and “why are female rogues considered $itches”, and “how come its an all male panel?”, and so forth.

It was a big room with lots of people. My heart went out to the panelists. This is a minefield question. The questioner was on the younger side (no offense meant, but it may give insight into the whys behind the questions).

I won’t go into the debate that broke out, but I will boil some of it down:

1. In Fantasy, the world settings tend to model on medieval, which then extends to your world’s attitudes on genders. Patrick posed an interesting question, “If a fantasy author wrote a book where the lead was a mother, who decided to leave her hubby and kiddos, to undertake a heroine’s journey, would the readers be sympathetic?”  My answer as a reader–not me. First, I’m a mom and a wife, and somehow leaving behind the important peeps in my life to undertake some journey to find a magical object, would require serious incentive. Patrick pushed it further. “So say this mom does leave it all behind to do this journey, and say the sexual mores of this world were less puritan than ours, so she can now hook up with males through out her journey without worry of negatively impacting her family behind, would it still work for you?”  Again, me as a reader–um, yuck.

My take away from this one:  Fantasy is based on historical mores/values/cultures, and women, unfortunately did not play dominant roles in those, which is then reflected in high fantasy.

2. Many, many, MANY (did I say many?) times, each of the authors on the panel brought up woman writers who have kick-ass female rogues: Carrie Vaughan, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Laurell Hamilton, Elizabeth Hand, etc.

After much back and forth, guess what I wanted to yell at the minor demon of debate castigating the panel: Yo, honey, you want rogue females? Then PICK UP A DAMN URBAN FANTASY BOOK!  Rogue female characters work in UF because it’s fantasy set in contemporary times, where moral trangsgressiveness is gender blind. You want to know what happen to rogue female leads, yeah they’re kicking ass a few hundred of years after the bad boys of fantasy.

Besides, you tell me, don’t Granuaile from Hearne’s novels, or Karen in Jim’s novels, nail the female rogues roles?

So I refrained from violence, barely, but I still had to vent a bit on this.

Tell me, as I haven’t read the newer High Fantasy lately, are there women rogues in lead roles? Ones that aren’t portrayed as hardened $itches?

Discover The Kyn Kronicles by @JamiGrayAuthor #MFRWauthor #pnr #UF

I’ve seen many memes out there, you know the kind, funny/informative/silly pics out on Facebook and other social sites and thought, “Hmmm, why not make one for each of my books?” Okay, yes, I’m in between projects rights now, but still, it was fun to put these together. Now, I’m going to share them.

First up, Book 1: Shadow’s Edge  Everyone fears what hunts in the shadows—especially the monsters. Come meet Raine McCord and find out why others tremble in her wake…

Shadow's Edge Meme

Intrigued? *rubbing hands together* Good. Let’s move on.  Care to find out how good your balance is when treading the crumbling edge between right and wrong? Follow Raine and Gavin as they carve their own dark path in Book 2: Shadow’s Soul…

Shadow's Soul Meme

We’ll leave Raine and Gavin behind for Book 3: Shadow’s Moon. Sometimes love isn’t enough, something Northwest Alpha Warrick Vidis understands all too well. Especially when he’s faced with his stubborn mate, the feisty female, Xander Cade…

Shadow's Moon Meme

 

Ready to pick up some new reads? You can find them all here:

The Kyn Kronicles by Jami Gray

And if you’re looking for a new Paranormal Romantic Suspense, don’t miss the first in my new PSY-IV Teams series coming July 11th…Hunted by the Past.

Hunted Meme