Lucky Blow Teaser

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, because I’ve been busy working on a new book. LUCKY BLOW, Gods and Pawns Book 1 is now available for pre-order and will be released 9/27/16. Here’s the first chapter, and the pre-order links are below. Enjoy!

MY DLucky Blow Cover ebook-smallestAY STARTED upside down. No joke, I was harnessed, suspended midair, with my feet up and head down, looking over a room full of priceless artifacts when the antique grandfather clock beside the door struck midnight. Dings and dongs thundered, reminding me I was running out of time. As much as I’d like to pretend my days didn’t normally begin in an upside-down race against the clock, I’m not a liar, just a thief. But hey, a girl’s gotta make a living somehow, and this was what I was created to do—there’s a contract and everything—but that’s a story for a time when my life isn’t literally hanging from the ceiling.

As I released another inch of rope and lowered myself further, the black cocktail dress I’d hastily tucked into the knife sheaths around my thighs tumbled free, covering my upper body in chiffon and revealing my panties to the vacant room. I sighed. This was exactly why I hated dresses. But since I couldn’t magically make my normal work pants and T-shirt appear, I ignored my wardrobe malfunction and focused on my objective.

My target rested two feet, five inches below my head, locked away in an engraved metal display box chained to a pedestal, which was bolted to the wooden floor and surrounded by trip wires. Red lasers sliced the air between me and the box, rotating randomly.

Randomly…that’s what the alarm company’s brochure says.

I smirked. Human security…so quaint. 

Everything has a pattern if you’re patient enough to find it, and I was so patient, my new harness dug craters into my shoulders while I memorized the cycle. Random, my ass. As my opening approached, I bent at the waist and let out a foot more rope. The lasers shifted. I spit a small key out of my mouth and sprang back down, sliding it into the lock. I technically didn’t need the key, but picking the lock could potentially take longer than I had between laser cycles.

Besides, the owner of this building was a sleazeball who’d been too busy “accidentally” bumping into his party guests to notice my hand sliding into his pocket. A little piece of me felt like I was doing a solid for women everywhere by ripping the jerk off.

Getting back to the task at hand, I turned the key and popped open the box. Magic flooded the room like a pulsating glow of sunlight and power. Music sprang forth—some sort of ancient battle song—forcing a vision into my mind. I suddenly found myself in a bed chamber, watching an enormous brute swing a singing sword back and forth as he advanced on the figure asleep in the bed. Shaking myself free of the vision, I ignored the deafening tune and fought to stay focused on my orders. Get in, get the weapon, get out.

The bedchamber dissipated and I was once again in some rich guy’s trophy room, hanging upside down and staring at a metal box. Within the box, a magical sword almost as long as my legs and hooked at the end like a sickle, kept right on singing, declaring its greatness to the world.

The lasers were coming back around. I should have grabbed the sword, but the familiarity of it gave me pause. I pulled back from the lasers and struggled to process what I was seeing. I’d stolen some pretty high-value goods before, but this sword…I knew this sword. I’d seen pictures of it in books and read the lore about it. I was almost certain I knew what I was looking at, but I couldn’t accept it.

The Harpē?  

It seemed to glow brighter in response.

It can’t be. 

Nobody seems to know where the Harpē came from, but its lore began when Gaia, the goddess of earth, and Uranus, god of the sky, birthed a handful of hideous children, known as the cyclops and giants. Uranus sent the uglies to live in a hell-like prison for deities, pissing off Momma Gaia so much she gave the weapon to their son, Cronus, and asked him to whack off his father’s junk.

And I couldn’t think of a single reason why a weapon powerful enough to take down the god of the sky would be locked away in the trophy room of a human.

Was he human?  

I’d done my homework. Public records had the owner of this place listed as Aaron Blake, some corporate CEO spawned from old money and raised to power on the backs of blue-collar workers. The guy was textbook for a hit. I had no reason to believe he was anything more than some greedy player.

Stupid, Romi. 

If Aaron Blake wasn’t human, what was he? A god or a demigod in disguise? Everyone called the disguises glamours. They were more like a trick of the eye…easy to create. I’d used the same type of magic to disguise the daggers strapped to my thighs, assuring nobody would see so much as the outline of them through my dress. Yet I hadn’t even looked for a glamour surrounding Mr. Blake. I wasn’t prepared to go up against a god, but the more I stared at the sword, the more certain I was of its identity, which meant touching it would bring someone’s ire down upon me. 

Damn. What does Shade want with the Harpē? 

Shade was terrifying enough without a magical sword at his beck and call. He already wielded me like a weapon, and the idea of arming him with the Harpē made my stomach churn.

No. I won’t take it! I won’t give him this.

Determined to follow through with my decision, I pressed the button on my harness and let the rope retract. Pain blossomed inside my chest, and the further I got from the sword—and the task Shade had ordered me to complete—the more I hurt. My insides seemed to fold inward, squeezing the air from my lungs. I knew from experience it wouldn’t let up. The pain would drive me crazy until I gave in and did my sire’s bidding.

Stars danced before my eyes, I smelled copper, and felt blood welling up in my nasal cavity, especially unpleasant due to my upside-down position. Swearing, I pressed the button again, halting my retreat. I’d only managed to get about five feet away. I dangled midair, cursing both my sire and the mother who’d abandoned me with him. Once again accepting the fact I had no choice, I lowered myself back down to hover above the sword and wait out the next cycle of lasers.

Giving in to Shade’s commands despite my personal convictions always left a sour taste in my mouth, but I couldn’t disobey. Not with my kid counting on me to make it home.

My brief rebellion squashed, I studied the box again, trying to come up with a plan. A weapon as valuable as the Harpē would be protected by a ward. Wards were magical barriers, used to keep valuables safe from thieves like myself. Generally speaking, the more treasured an item or a place was, the stronger and more potent its ward would be.

And the Harpē probably had a doozey of a ward on it, which didn’t bode well for me.

Once the lasers cycled, I blew into my hands. Gold shimmered across my palms, imbuing them with luck. Hoping it would be enough to breach the ward, I sprang down and reached for the sword. My hands hit the invisible barrier and stalled, but I pressed harder.

There was a loud pop, and then I surged past the barrier and grabbed the Harpē’s hilt. It felt like plunging my hands into an open flame. Despite its length, the sword was light enough to wield with one hand. I hefted it toward me, but it hit the ward and bounced back. The heat intensified, and my flesh burned. Biting back curses, I shifted the sword to my right hand and pulled back my left to push the button and retract the rope again. The electronic pulley system clicked, then whirred to life, tugging at the rest of my body while the ward fought to keep hold of the hand wrapped around the sword’s hilt.

Voices came from the hallway, growing louder. The doorknob jiggled. Mr. Blake had to feel me messing with his ward, and now he was here to investigate.

I clenched my jaw, trying not to scream in pain as the rope and the ward fought over my body, tugging me in two like some jacked-up version of the rack. The door slammed open, and there I was, caught with my dress around my waist and my hand in the cookie jar.

Another loud pop sounded. I flew a few feet in the air and then my body jerked to a jarring stop. As I tried to assess my level of whiplash, the mechanism whirred again, taking up the slack. With the Harpē still clutched in my blistered, smoking hand I lurched upward, ascending toward the high ceiling for what I hoped was the final time.

Once I reached the top, I pushed the button to stop my ascent and flipped myself right side up, grabbing hold of the rope with my free hand to manually tug myself the rest of the way.

“Hey! Intruder!” someone shouted. “Stop!”

Not a chance in the underworld. Blisters popped and flesh tore from my hands as I pulled myself up to the skylight. I pushed it open and slid through, unhooking my equipment and shoving it into the backpack I’d left on the roof on my way in. Swearing as I scooped up the pack and my discarded Louboutin pumps, I sprinted across the annoyingly well-lit roof on bare feet. I made it almost to the shadows of the partial third level before something yanked on my backpack, tugging me backwards. Heart racing, I turned to find Aaron Blake grinning down on me.

No human could have followed me. Suspicions confirmed, I looked from the host to the skylight and asked, “What are you?”

His hand went from my backpack to the bare skin of my arm. Godblood pulsed through his veins, revealing his heritage in a way that rendered words useless.

Great.

As if he’d heard my thoughts, his grin widened and he released the human glamour he’d been wearing. Mischievous green eyes that sat a little too close together stared out at me over cheekbones sharp enough to slice a ripe tomato. He stood at least two feet taller than me, and his shoulder-length hair—dark at the roots and red at the tips—was styled back and up in a do that made a mockery of gravity. With his hand still securely wrapped around my arm, he gave me a quick bow. “Talon, son of Dolos.”

A demigod. That explained the quick travel, but why would someone willingly admit their sire was the god of trickery? Not exactly the best way to build trust and make friends.

“What do you want?” I asked. I had to ask. That’s how these warped little godblood games worked. If you caught someone of the blood, and could hold them, you could weasel anything you wanted them out of them in exchange for their release.

Talon released my arm only to wind his fingers in my hair and trail down to my bleeding sword hand. “For now, what I want is to know the name of the enchanting little thief who broke my ward and stole my sword.” His gaze drifted back to my face and locked with mine.

“Your name?” he repeated.

I stared at him defiantly.

“Oh, come on, I’ve already seen what’s under your dress.”

Refusing to acknowledge the heat creeping up my cheeks, I didn’t so much as blink.

“Fine, we’ll do this the hard way.” His demeanor intensified and the air crackled with a charge. “Tell me your name.”

Compulsion laced his words, making me want to spill my secret, but not even a son of Dolos was skilled enough to break my current contract. Shade had forbidden me to give out any personal information at all, so my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.

One thin, dark eyebrow arched up his flat forehead. “Interesting. Well, I caught you, so give me back my property.” He held out his hand expectantly.

I considered returning the sword, and the torturous twist of my internal organs made me rethink my position on the matter. Having no idea whether or not I was immortal, I didn’t necessarily fear death. It was the promise of a fate worse than death that scared the bejeebers out of me. I could potentially live through disobeying a direct order from Shade only to spend an eternity writhing in pain, lingering on the verge of having the life squeezed out of me. No thank you.

Talon took a step back to study me, clearly perplexed by my ability to resist his magic. That was a big mistake. The second he put distance between us I leapt backwards, calling the nearby shadows to me.

Shadows are living, breathing, brutal beings, always vying for power and wiping out the weakest among them. Sensing my pain, they launched a full-on attack against my burnt and blistered hands, extorting what they perceived to be a weakness. Gritting my teeth through the prickling pain of what felt like a thousand needles stabbing into my wounds, I opened myself to the power of Erebus and let it pulse from me. It consumed the first round of shadows, strengthening and energizing me.

The Harpē’s song increased in tempo as it flitted through notes in what now sounded like some sort of escape tune. I called more shadows, and this time they enveloped me with a loving caress.

Talon’s eyes widened as he watched the whole ordeal. “A child of darkness,” he said, chuckling as I stepped into my grandsire’s realm.

Reality shifted and my stomach did a little flip. Darkness surrounded me, spanning out as far as I could see. Keeping my destination firmly locked in my mind, I took another step. Another shift, and I was standing on the uneven cobblestones of the Seattle Underground.

Home sweet home.

 

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Dial L for Lynda Sneak Peek

The cozy mystery I’m co-writing with Tracey Jane Jackson is available for pre-order now and will be released 5/1/16. Here’s a sneak peek:

Addison

FRIDAY MORNING, I was awakened by the phone buzzing on my nightstand. I rolled over with a groan and checked the caller ID. Harley. “Um, hello, no calls before eleven on Fridays. You better be in a ditch with a broken leg somewhere.”

My best friend groaned into the phone. “I just got fired.”

I sat up. “What the hell? Why?”

Harley Linn James has been my best friend since she transferred into my exclusive private school in the sixth grade. She’d been given a special scholarship due to her family’s financial situation and the shrew girls (we’d named them that because they were way worse than mean girls) clocked her the second she walked through the doors.

Harley was gorgeous. G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S. As in, soft, curly red hair, a smattering of freckles over her nose that was cute as hell (as my brother said all too many times), hazel eyes, and, when she hit her teens, she developed a curvy figure which was all too often noticed by the wrong people.

As if beauty wasn’t enough, Harley had a quick wit and an even quicker mouth. Although she rarely stood up for herself, she fought for everyone else: me, the janitor being harassed by the shrew girls, random dogs locked in hot cars on sunny days, bugs about to be squished in the hallway. And while this kept her from belonging to the “in” crowd, it made me love her even more.

And now she was calling me at 9:59 in the morning because her asshat of a boss had fired her. And I’m pretty sure I know why she was let go—because despite his many advances, she wouldn’t sleep with him.

“Why do you think?” she confirmed.

“Come over.”

“I’m already here.”

“Well, then use your key and come in. Why are you not already inside?”

“Because I didn’t know if you had your gun in its safe, or next to you, and I didn’t want to be fired and dead!”

I giggled. “Gun is in its safe. Come on in.”

I slid out of bed and wrapped my silk Armani robe around me. I could walk around half-naked in front of Harley, but she’d already been traumatized enough for one day.

I hustled into the living room and pulled her in for a hug. “He’s a dick.”

“I know,” she said, her stoic nature working overtime.

“You can cry you know.”

“I’m not going to cry over that asshole!” she snapped. “I might drink bleach later, a nice 2015 Clorox, but I won’t cry!”

“Okay, lady.” I forced myself not to laugh as I raised my hands in surrender. “Coffee?”

“Yes,” she breathed out. “Coffee. STAT.”

“You should have been a nurse,” I mused as I grabbed containers for my Keurig.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because you have the lingo down.”

“Shut it.” Harley gave me her “I will stab you in your sleep” eyes, and I smiled.

“Nurse Harley. I wonder if you’d be anything like Nurse Jackie. Let me see your eyes. Are your pupils pinned?”

I heard a quiet snort and turned to see her biting back a smile.

“I totally beat your record!”

We’d had an unwritten contest for as long as I could remember that whenever one of us was having a bad day, the other one had to get her to laugh. Harley could usually get me giggling within minutes; however, I just beat her best time, so I did a happy dance around my kitchen while I’m sure she plotted my murder in her mind.

“Let’s go out tonight,” I suggested, handing her a cup of coffee.

“Um, hello. No job, no money.”

“I’m paying.” I smiled. “Or Daddy is.”

My father was, how do you say… absent? So when my parents separated, he gave Asher and me credit cards to use whenever we wanted. Even after my parents reconciled (for appearances only, let’s be honest), Daddy insisted we keep the cards “for emergencies.”

Asher never touched his; as a highly skilled attorney, he didn’t need to. Me? I hadn’t quite found myself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I did nothing, but planning fundraisers and events for Mother and Daddy isn’t what I ultimately wanted to do with my life. I was good at it, but it wasn’t my bliss. Of course, using Daddy’s money whenever I wanted to did bring a certain measure of joy, and since I did the work for less than most meeting planners would charge, I let my father assuage his absent-parent guilt when I needed cash for retail therapy… or bar hopping.

“Addie.”

Before I could respond, my phone buzzed. “Oh, look, it’s my brother.”

“Don’t answer,” Harley demanded.

“Hey, Ashy.”

“I’m killing you in my head,” she hissed.

I gave her a sassy smile and focused on my brother. Asher was two years older than me and besides Harley, my best friend. It had been the two of us against the world (or our parents) forever—still was, to be honest. Then along came Harley, using her sharp wit and small-town charisma to carve her way into the position of (her words) third wheel, although, admittedly, she provided just the balance we needed.

We’d had more fun than three kids should legally be allowed to have, until she and Asher caught the feels for each other and started acting more like two stooges.

“Hey, sis,” Asher said.

“What’s up, favorite brother of mine?”

“Can I swing by and grab that portfolio I asked you to look over?”

“When?”

“Like, now?”

I glanced at Harley and she glared at me, shaking her head. She must have heard Asher’s question.

“Ummm… ”

“I know it’s before eleven, but it’ll only take a second. I can just let myself in, but wanted to call in case your gun wasn’t in its safe.”

“What is with everyone and my gun?” I snapped. “I wouldn’t just shoot somebody willy-nilly.”

“Bobby Moore,” he said at the same time Harley asked, “Who the hell says willy-nilly?”

Bobby Moore, my shooting instructor, had made the mistake of trying to flirt with me while teaching me to shoot. I almost shot his leg off when I threw my hand up in frustration because he kept distracting me. In the end, the bullet went through his jeans, just grazing his calf, and that’s when I realized he’d never be the man for me. He was way too weak… blubbering like a sissy because of a minor flesh wound. I still shuddered thinking about what a wimp he was, and Asher loved to remind me. Gah! I hated weak men.

“One time,” I replied. “And it barely broke the skin.”

Asher chuckled. “Sure, we’ll go with that. Did I hear Harley?”

“Yep,” I said, stepping away from the laser-beam glare Harley shot me. “She says ‘hey.’”

“I hate you,” Harley breathed out, and I blew her a kiss.

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Sounds good,” I said, and hung up.

* * *

Harley

“Addison Angeline Allen, don’t you turn your back on me,” I demanded in the most threatening tone I could conjure.

“More coffee?” Addison asked.

I slid my mug toward her. “Please tell me your brother is not on his way here.”

“You couldn’t possibly want me to lie to you, could you?” she asked, looking appalled. “Harley, you know I’m not that kind of girl.” Then she beamed me her signature, hundred-watt smile, reminding me why I could never stay mad at her. She was like a cute little blonde-haired, blue-eyed demon whose good intentions were sure to lead me straight to my own personal hell.

“He can’t see me like this, Addie. I’m so…” Destitute, jobless, beaten, pathetic; none of the adjectives I could come up with did my situation justice.

“Are you kidding me? Right now is the perfect time for him to see you. You’ll tell him what your boss did and he’ll swoop in and drag the asshat to court, saving the day and forcing you to finally admit you’re in love with him so the two of you can get married and give me lots of gorgeous nieces and nephews.”

Addison was also a hopeless romantic.

“You think you got this all figured out, don’t you?” I asked, preparing to crush her dreams.

She nodded enthusiastically. “I’ve even found you the perfect dress.”

And I bet the glamorous creation would cost more than I made in a year. I needed to derail this train before it flattened the pennies left in my savings account. Don’t get me wrong, when it came to Asher, Addison and I had the same goal in mind–I’d marry her smart, funny, kind, handsome big brother and have his babies—but I intended to make my own way in this world first. I was working on a plan to dig myself out of the hole I’d been born into so I could climb up to his level, but losing my job would take me back to square one. And at twenty-four years old, and acutely aware of my biological clock ticking toward thirty, I didn’t want to start over.

Feeling defeated, I collapsed on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. “You don’t get it, Addie. I want Asher to see me as an equal… as someone he’s chosen to love because of what I bring to the table. Not because he has to rescue me like some damsel in distress, getting harassed by my pervert of a boss.”

She put her hands on her hips and stared me down. “You’re an idiot, you know that? Ash has been in love with you since—”

“Since when?” I interrupted. “Since that stupid “Seven Minutes in Heaven” game when I threw up in his lap? I’m sure that made quite the impression. Not my best moment, Addie.”

She cracked a smile, shaking her head at the memory. Some people get sweaty hands or stutter when they’re nervous. Turns out I throw up… all over the boy I’d spent my entire life crushing on. Epic.

“That was years ago, and you—”

“Can still barely talk to him without losing my lunch,” I finished for her. “Admit it, Addie, I’m a lost cause.”

“So you like the guy so much it ties your stomach in knots. It’s… it’s sweet.”

I barf on him and she calls it sweet. See? Hopeless romantic.

“And when he finds out what your boss did to you, he’ll—”

Asher picked that very moment to walk into the living room. Of course he did, because I was having the best day ever.

“What’s going on with your boss, Harley?” he asked, without missing a beat.

My cheeks heated as my eyes sought him out, wondering what else he’d overheard. Asher was suited up for the day. Probably Armani, since both he and Addison had a penchant for the designer. He had the same blond hair as his sister, but his blue eyes had an intensity to them that always managed to steal my breath away. He was currently rocking a short beard that added a layer of ruggedness to his posh handsomeness, taking him to yet another level out of my league. Hell, now that I was jobless, we weren’t even playing the same sport. I sat there in my clearance-rack skirt and blazer, acutely aware of the small run in the back of my nylons, wishing I could blend in with Addison’s leather sofa. When I didn’t answer his question, he turned to Addison.

“Addie?”

“Her boss is a douchebag,” Addison replied. “He’s been hitting on her since she started there, and when he finally realized it wasn’t going to happen, he fired her.”

Asher’s eyes hardened and the muscles along his jawline rippled as he turned his gaze back onto me. “Is that true?”

I swallowed. “Not… exactly.”

“Harley!” Addison admonished.

When I didn’t elaborate, Asher walked over to the sofa and sat down beside me. “Tell me.”

The heat of his body did crazy things to my pulse, but I forced myself to woman-up and face him. “There were some discrepancies with the budget. I brought them to his attention and he informed me they weren’t my concern and ordered me to keep my nose in my own job. But they affected my job because I couldn’t add his expenses without plunging the budget into the red, so I… I took my issue to his boss. Next thing I know, “Kirk the Jerk” is helping me pack up my desk under the watchful eye of the security guard. Like I would take anything that reminded me of Bridge City Property Management Company, eeeeeencorporated.”

Asher arched an eyebrow. “So he wasn’t hitting on you?”

“Uh… well… let’s just say that wasn’t the reason I was fired.”

“More like it wasn’t the reason he gave you,” Addison countered with a huff. “Seriously, Ashy, you should hear some of the things this Kirk douchebag has said to her. And the other day, he actually patted her on the ass! Can you imagine? Don’t you think she should—”

“Not important right now,” I said, feeling my cheeks heat up as I cast a hard glare at her. “Addie, you’re not helping.”

She glared right back at me. “You can’t let him get away with that crap.”

Asher grabbed my hand, forcing my attention back on him. “Harley, if your boss did or said anything inappropriate, you have options for—”

“For never getting a job in this town again?” I asked, emboldened by my frustration. I tugged my hand away from his, stood, and started pacing to work out my energy. “As much as I would love to do a solid for women everywhere and nail Kirk’s balls to the wall, I have to think about my future here. Do you have any idea what a sexual harassment case does to a woman’s chances of employment? I need to work, Ash. I had a plan and I was…” I paused long enough to swallow back my emotions, reminding myself that crying wouldn’t solve anything. “It would be less detrimental to my career to kill him than it would be to sue him.”

“Great, I’ll get my gun,” Addison said, heading for the safe.

Always the voice of reason, Asher lunged to wrap his sister in a hug, effectively cutting off the route that would begin her murder sentence. “I get what you’re saying, Harley. I don’t like it and I wish I could change your mind, but I understand why you don’t want to go after your boss. He’s definitely not worth those consequences.”

Addison snorted. “We can hide a body, Harley.”

“You say that like you’ve done it before,” Asher accused.

Addison raised her hands. “I will neither confirm, nor deny… ”

“To be clear, we’ve never bagged a body then weighted it down with twenty-pound cinderblocks before throwing it in the river, watching it sink and never be seen again.” I winked at Addison and then sighed. “Asher’s right, though, Addie. I don’t want to spend any more time or energy on Kirk. I just want to drink my feelings away this weekend, and then Monday morning I’ll put on my big girl panties and update my resume.” And with a little luck, I’d have my college loans paid off right about the time I hit ninety.

Addison’s expression softened. I could tell she wanted to hug me, but was thankful she didn’t, because I could barely hold on to my tears as it was. “You’re amazing and awesome and super-duper incredible, so you’ll find something quickly. I know you will. I’ll help you go through job listings this weekend.”

“Thanks, Ad.”

“Tonight we party, though,” Addison said. “On me. Ashy, wanna join us?”

“Can’t, Sis. I’d love to stick around and make sure you two don’t end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, but I’ve gotta get back to work. And I have dinner with a client tonight. But call me if you need anything.” He released Addison to grab a file off the coffee table. Then he hugged me.

Asher had been one of my two best friends for years, and his arms felt safe and familiar, like a lighthouse directing me out of my current storm. I laid my head on his shoulder and breathed in his scent, content to let him hold me while tears stung my eyes. I wished I could stay like that forever, but all too soon the rest of my body picked up on his nearness, increasing my pulse and launching my stomach into a triple-tuck flip with a half-twist.

I started to pull away, but Asher gave me one last squeeze, whispering, “I miss you” against my cheek. Then he released me and headed out. I watched his very impressive backside disappear out the door before turning back to Addison.

“That bit about the body in the river was clever,” she said. “A little terrifying, but clever.”

I shrugged. “I’ve been reading mafia novels.”

Addison rolled her eyes. “You’re so weird. No reading tonight, though. We’re gonna go out and make sure you forget all about that sleazy boss. Which reminds me, I finally figured out a way to deal with my own sleaze problem.”

Because Addison was gorgeous and at least a dozen tax brackets above the average working guy, she was often hit on by greasy gold-diggers who wanted to get their hands on her daddy’s money. Yes, male gold-diggers were a real problem for her and, just like their female counterparts, they had no shame. Many of our conversations had been interrupted by men, shirts open to their waists to thrust their ripped chests into Addison’s face like she was some kind of bitch in heat who wouldn’t be able to stop herself from rolling over and showing her who-ha at their manliness.

Right. But no matter how many cheesy pick-up lines they tried to sell to Addison, they couldn’t seem to buy a clue that jobless, pretty-boy scrubs weren’t her type. And sometimes the overly-confident jerks were really hard to deflect, forcing Addison to get creative.

The last time we’d gone out some douchebag who oiled his chest—not kidding, he was shiny and reeked of baby oil—wearing an open blazer and skinny jeans wouldn’t leave our table, insisting she give him her number. Seeing no way out of it, she scrawled a random number on a napkin and handed it over. He took two steps away from our table, called the number, then turned to freak out on Addison for throwing him fake digits. As if his pretty face and stacked body entitled him to her number.

“Good. What’s the plan?” I asked.

She grinned. “This time I’ll use a real fake number.”

“Come again?”

“Well, I added another phone line to my plan, so I just need to record a voice mail for my fake name, and bam! Problem solved.”

I scratched my head. “So you’re paying another monthly line fee to give guys a fake number?”

She nodded, still grinning. “Genius, right?”

I was thinking more along the lines of expensive and unnecessary, but I could see where it would be useful. “You sticking with the name Lynda?” I asked.

Both Addison and Asher called all their navigation systems Lynda. I’d made the mistake of asking why once, and had gotten some long, drawn-out answer that boiled down to neither of them knowing. It was just something they did. So when Addison gave out a fake name, she used Lynda. Using her navigation system’s name was her way of telling people to get lost, and writing Lynda with a Y instead of an I was like telling them to get lost with a flourish on the tail. Which pretty much summed up why she was my best friend.

“Of course,” she said, grabbing her phone. “Then whenever we’re having a crap-lousy day, we can dial in and listen to the messages. It’ll be like our own little reality show. We’ll call it Clueless Scrubs.”

Despite my own crap-lousy day, I couldn’t help but laugh as Addison set up an extra-breathy message on her new voice mail. “You know…” I grinned. “If your dad ever cuts you off, I think you could have a real future as one of those phone sex operators.”

She threw her phone at me. Then, knowing exactly what I needed, my bestie clapped her hands together and said, “All right, let’s get this party started.”

We drank mimosas for breakfast.

* * *

I WAS SLEEPING off the worst hangover of my life Saturday morning when loud pounding woke me up.

Before I could even get my bearings, the door of my studio apartment burst open and two police officers blazed in with their guns drawn.

I sat up and tugged my comforter around me, instantly sobering up by at least three margaritas. “What… what’s happening?” I managed to get out.

Neither spoke. The Hispanic cop kept his weapon trained on me, while the blond scoured the small space, checking behind my sofa, searching the closet, and peeking under my bed before he paused in front of the bathroom door. He swore, then squared his shoulders and entered. I heard the shower curtain slide over its rod before he reemerged.

“There’s blood in the bathroom. No other suspects. Let’s take her in.” He turned and spoke into his radio, but I was too freaked out to pay attention to what he said.

“What blood? Wait, take me in? To where? For what? What’s going on?” I asked.

“We need you to calm down, ma’am,” the Hispanic cop said.

Which had the opposite effect of calming me down. Heart thundering against my chest, I asked, “What?! Why are you here? Am I being arrested?”

“Blood in the bathroom?” he asked the other cop.

“Yes. We’ll need to get it roped off.”

The Hispanic cop turned back to me. “Yes ma’am. You’re under arrest for suspicion of murder. Anything you say and do can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

“Suspicion of murder?” I interrupted. “Whose murder? Where? What are you talking about?”

Instead of answering, he kept reading me my Miranda rights while he tugged me from my bed, revealing my tank top and panties. The blond kept his gun on me while the Hispanic officer gathered clothes and sneakers and tossed them on the bed. As soon as I dressed, he handcuffed me. When he tugged me past the bathroom door I peeked in. Dark streaks ran across the floor, the wall, and the shower curtain.

“What the hell?” I asked, leaning back as they shuffled me forward. “That blood? Wait, I can explain that blood.” My face heated at the idea, but embarrassment was far better than jail time.

“Ma’am, anything you say can and will be used against you… you heard that part, right?”

I bit back a snarky Addison-esque comment and dropped my head.

We stepped out into the hallway where the Hispanic handed me off to a female officer. She tugged me forward, around two more cops who were roping off the area with yellow crime scene tape. I looked past them to see the body of a man propped against the wall, only steps from my front door.

I recognized the rumpled dark suit, thinning brown hair, and squinty little eyes immediately.

But the knife sticking out of his chest was new.

I swallowed, but couldn’t seem to take in any air. Whether from an excess of alcohol or a lack of oxygen, the edges of my vision darkened and my body trembled. The female cop pulled me along. We squeezed past two men in suits and a couple of men in white jumpsuits. I glanced back, catching one final glimpse of the body.

Just yesterday, Kirk Miller had terminated my employment and I’d—very publicly, in front of the entire office—told him right where he could stick my job. In fact, I’d even offered to do it for him. Now his dead body was propped against the wall outside my apartment, making it clear that in the end I was the one getting screwed. Talk about irony.

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Fictional characters need love too.

Readers, what determines whether or not you’ll be drawn into a fictional story?  Is it meticulous scene-setting and imagery?  Engaging storyline? Realistic dialogue? Exciting action? A strong author voice?

For me, a novel can be perfectly written – including all of the above – and still fail to draw me in by neglecting to build an authentic relationship with the characters. If I don’t care about the characters (love, hate, concern, some sort of emotional connection), nothing else about the book will matter.

tumblr_nul0axryqk1uwbmnzo1_1280(A character reading about a character)

Seriously, think about the last book you read. What kept you reading? You cared about the characters, didn’t you? You wanted to see what happened to them and whether or not they achieved their goal. I even finished one novel because I hated the protagonist so much I needed to know she got her comeuppances. She didn’t, unfortunately, and that was the one time I was tempted to burn a book. Love, concern, connection, respect, even complete and utter disdain for a character will keep a reader turning pages, whereas indifference will not.

So how do you build authentic relationships with fictional characters?

  1. Let your reader get to know them organically. As a reader, it is a huge turnoff when an author tells me what kind of person their character is. I don’t want to be told, I want to be shown. When I pick up your book, I want to engage in a journey … an escape from this reality to the one you’ve created. I want to get to know your character like I would anyone else: through their actions. Think about it. If someone approached you and told you they were funny, how would react? Would you automatically laugh at everything they say? Probs not. But if someone cracks jokes and makes you laugh on a regular basis, you’d decide they’re funny. The same goes for anyone introducing themselves as generous, kind, mean, greedy, etc. Don’t tell your readers what they should feel, show them why they should feel that way.
  2. Give your characters flaws. As flawed human beings, it’s very difficult to relate to perfect characters. In fact, it’s down right annoying. It’s also irritating when authors go overboard, turning every character into an alcoholic, drug addicted, abusive cheater. In real life, nobody’s 100% good or 100% evil. We’re all subject to the human condition and readers relate better with characters who share that disability.
  3. Give them passion. Not every character you create should be a raging lunatic about everything, but most people are passionate about something. Family, shopping, running marathons, animals, a relationship, religion, politics, rock climbing, street racing, painting, making money … most of us have something we’re willing to sacrifice for and work to achieve. Again, don’t tell us about your character’s passion … show us, by what they give up for it or how many hours they put in to achieve it.
  4. Let them struggle. My friend and co-author, Tracey Jane Jackson, is fond of saying, “You can’t have fiction without friction,” and she’s absolutely right. I’ve also heard, “Relationships without friction are fiction.” Also correct. In reality, people butt heads (and they can be butt-heads). They make stupid decisions and have to pay the consequences. Don’t shield your characters from consequences.
  5. Don’t give them one-track minds. This is an idiom and should never be taken literally. People do not have one-track minds, and characters should not be created like they do, either. Ever read a book about a person who does nothing but shop? Or who does nothing but kill? Passion is great, but characters need to be multi-dimensional.

That’s it for my suggestions on character building. Please comment and let me know what you think. Also, if I missed one, please add it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

#MakeArtNotHousePayments

Can I just ask who the freak came up with this hashtag? Seriously? Do they really believe being an artist exempts people from adult responsibilities? So, when artists accrue doctor or utility bills, or go grocery shopping, or go buy their five dollar lattes, do they have some sort of magical artist stamp that miraculously pays their part?

If so, can someone please share that damn stamp?

Actually, never mind. I don’t want to take the easy way out, because as an artist – an author – I’ve found that passion rarely manifests without struggle. Passion happened when I was juggling work and family time, exhausted, yet unable to sleep because the need to create was too overwhelming. That’s when I was finally able to overcome fear and doubt enough to open a vein and pour my life into my manuscript. (Disclaimer: Metaphorically speaking, of course. I do not condone cutting or suicide, even for art.) So now when someone recognizes my passion and is willing to pay for it, you better believe that the last thing on my mind is #MakeArtNotHousePayments.

Oh hell no. I’m thinking, YAY! I get to do this and still feed my family! Yay, I don’t have to sell plasma this week. Score! #kiddingNotKidding.

People who throw up hashtags like #MakeArtNotHousePayments (encouraging others to throw their responsibilities to the wind and create) make me want to fashion a shiv out of their art and shank them with it because #WritingMafiaBooksTeachesMeFunSkills.

For real though, be an adult. Nobody owes you a free pass because you make pretty pictures or songs or spread words across a page. Keep your debt low to keep the pressure off, but either treat your art as a job and work your butt off until you make money at it, or treat it as a hobby and pair it with a job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool that you feel called to create, but you should also feel called to adult and pay your damn bills. And who knows? The struggle might actually make you a better artist.

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