Here's the first chapter in next year's new Lily Harper Hart series Witch on the Rocks! I hope you enjoy it.
“I want sex on the beach,” a blonde slurred as Hali slammed the plastic pitcher into its blender slot and started grinding her piña coladas.
“Don’t we all,” Hali drawled, smirking. When the blonde didn’t reply, Hali let loose a sigh. One of the things she hated most about running her own business was having to turn away customers. This one was due to pass out at any moment, however, and that meant she was officially cut off. “I think you’re done for tonight.”
“What?” The woman was in her early twenties — old enough to drink, but still young enough to ignore the potential consequences — and the confusion lining her face would’ve been entertaining under different circumstances.
“You’re done,” Hali reiterated. “At least you’re done here. If you want to head over to one of the resort bars, I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to feel like death warmed over twice, however, I would start drinking water now.”
The woman screwed up her face in an expression of utter contempt. “I want sex on the beach.”
“You want a Sex on the Beach,” Hali corrected. “You’re not getting it from me, though.”
“I’m a VIP. That means you have to give me what I want.”
Hali blinked several times in rapid succession. “I don’t have to do anything.”
“I’ll complain to the manager.”
“Go ahead and do that, Karen.”
Now it was the woman’s turn to blink. “My name is Jennifer.” She glanced over her shoulder, clearly confused. “Who is Karen?”
“Nobody you have to worry about,” Hali replied. “You also don’t have to worry about getting another drink. The only thing I’ll be serving to you is water.”
“But … that’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t fair.” Hali almost laughed to herself when she said it, and then she shifted her stance because her hip — the one that had to be surgically repaired after she was mowed down by a drunk billionaire in a golf cart — was starting to ache. She was completely healed from that ordeal. Er, well, that’s what the doctors said. However, she didn’t feel as if she was back to her old self. It was as good as it was going to get, though, and she’d made her peace with what happened.
“I hate you,” Jennifer hissed, slamming her hands on the counter that separated her from the bar owner, who was safely tucked away in the tiki hut. “I’m going to the front desk right now, and I’m going to tell them you won’t serve me. Then you’re going to get fired. How do you like that?”
“I think that sounds like a fine idea,” Hali replied, not missing a beat. “You should definitely do that.”
“I’m going right now.”
“Knock yourself out.”
Jennifer’s lower lip came out to play and she stomped her foot again. “This is the worst vacation ever.”
“Take it up with the front desk.” Hali was in no mood for nonsense. “I’m sure they have some coupons they’ll give you to make you feel better.”
“You’re not taking me seriously,” Jennifer argued. “I’ll totally get you fired.”
Hali smirked. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard the threat. She knew it wouldn’t be the last time either. “Better women have tried. Go ahead and do what you feel you need to do.”
“Fine.” Jennifer turned on her heel with purpose, swinging so fast she almost toppled over. She was clearly determined, but she’d turned in the wrong direction if she planned on going to the front desk. In fact, she was walking away from the resort.
“Good grief,” Hali muttered under her breath. She grabbed the pitcher from the blender, poured the contents into four glasses, and then nodded for one of her servers to take them before she poked her head out the back window of the tiki bar. “Hey, Gordon,” she called out, drawing the attention of the middle-aged security guard who sat at a table reading his newspaper — an actual physical newspaper in this day and age — and swallowing a smirk when she caught sight of his aggrieved expression. “One of your VIPs is walking down the beach, in the wrong direction mind you, and she’ll die in the surf if you don’t turn her around.”
“Ugh.” Gordon let loose a groan as he stood. “How long until I retire again? They don’t pay me enough for this crap.”
Hali was convinced that Gordon spent seven hours of his eight-hour shift sitting behind her bar reading the newspaper most days. As far as she was concerned, he was way overpaid. She never brought that up, though. “Have fun.”
When she swung back to her patrons, she found Lana Silver watching her with luminous green eyes. “What?” she asked, automatically checking her cheek to see if she had food on it. She’d inhaled an order of fried oysters during her break and hadn’t bothered to wash up afterward. “Do I have food on my face?”
Lana shook her head. “Fun fact, London dry gin isn’t made in London. That’s the method, not the city of origin.”
Hali ran her tongue over her teeth. Lana was a regular at the bar — had been since the first night she’d opened the Salty Cauldron several months prior — and she was used to the woman’s insistence on dropping fun facts at every turn. Unfortunately, the facts were rarely fun. “Does that mean bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky?” She was making a joke, but Lana’s nod was solemn.
“Bourbon can be made anywhere. It also doesn’t have to be aged.”
“Good to know.” Hali moved to the other side of the bar and stopped in front of Annabelle Hunter. She was another regular, one who never dropped fun facts, which was preferable to Hali at this point in the night. “Are you good?”
“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” Annabelle replied. She was intent on her phone. “Two lime wedges.”
“Sure.” Hali bobbed her head and reached for the Bombay. “What are you reading?”
“I’m putting together a to-do list for the week.”
“That sounds … delightful.”
When she looked up, Annabelle’s smile was crooked. “Yes, I’m a control freak. Alert the media. I believe we’ve been over this subject multiple times.”
“I happen to like that you’re a control freak,” Hali countered. “You always make me want to strive for more control of my own life.”
“You really could use some organization,” Annabelle agreed.
“I’ll take it under advisement.” Hali slid her gin and tonic in front of her. “Anything else?”
“I’m good for now.”
Hali moved several spaces, took drink orders from a frisky couple who didn’t bother looking at her because they were too busy pawing each other, and shook her head as she leaned in to talk to Kendra Bickerstaff, one of her regular servers. “I’ve got twenty bucks that says they finish this round of drinks and then go for a romantic walk on the beach.”
Kendra followed her boss’s gaze and shook her head. “I’m not taking that bet. The dude is already to third base — I don’t know many bras that move like that — and he’s going to want to call himself the home run king before the night is over.”
Hali narrowed her eyes, taking in the young woman’s flushed face with fresh eyes. “You don’t think she’s too drunk to consent, do you?”
Kendra shrugged. “She seems fine to me. Are you worried?”
“I don’t know. Give me a second.” Hali moved back to the couple and leaned in so she could get a better look at the woman. She engaged her magic, unfurling it so it felt like a cooling breeze when it brushed over the woman’s shoulders and invaded her mind. It only took her a few seconds to find what she was looking for. “Anything else?” she asked on a bright smile when she placed the drinks in front of the couple.
“Just the bill,” the man replied, not looking up. His attention was completely focused on the woman.
“Sure.” Hali moved to the register, to where Kendra was waiting. “She’s fine. She’s faking being drunk.”
Kendra’s eyes went wide. “How do you know that?”
Hali liked Kendra a great deal. The younger woman was always on time, never called in sick unless she was actually sick, and was always great with the guests. She was not, however, in on the big magical secret.
“It’s her eyes,” Hali replied, not missing a beat. “They’re clear. She’s just acting giggly because she thinks that will make her new friend more attracted to her.”
“Ugh.” Kendra made a disgusted face. “I hate it when women do that. Just be yourself.”
“That’s my philosophy,” Hali agreed. She glanced around, the bar was packed, and then untied her apron. “I need to run to the bathroom. Will you be okay for a few minutes?”
“Sure.” Kendra readily bobbed her head. “Sarah and Dina are out on the sand anyway. I’ll be fine.”
“Thank you.” Hali beamed at her before shoving the apron under the counter. Then she headed out through the back opening, skirting around a drunk couple sitting on the ground and threatening to mate right on the cement, and slipping inside the glass door so she could use the restroom. She paused, her hand on the front door once she’d crossed the threshold, and glanced over her shoulder. She could feel a pair of eyes on her, although she had no idea where they were coming from.
The clientele at the Salty Cauldron was constantly shifting. The resort guests made up seventy-five percent of her clientele and the regulars from St. Petersburg made up the other twenty-five percent. She preferred the regulars to the guests, who were often entitled and demanding, but she was happy with how the business had turned out. She’d only been in operation for three months — that’s how long it took her to recover from the surgery — but she’d been in the black since the first month. With the nest egg she’d been able to tuck away thanks to Franklin’s disastrous driving skills, she was fine. Actually, she was better than fine. She was doing better than she ever had … well, other than her pesky hip problems. They would never get better than they were, though, and she was resigned to that fact. One day, and likely before she was forty, she would need a full hip replacement. She wasn’t looking forward to that, but it had become a reality for her. Crying about it would do nothing. All she could do was accept it and move forward.
After several seconds of scanning the crowd, Hali decided she’d imagined someone watching her and disappeared inside. The tiki bar had to use bathrooms designated by the resort — something she’d had to negotiate after the fact with Cecily — and that meant she wasn’t responsible for them. That was another perk of her location.
When she was finished, she walked out of the building still drying her hands. A quick look at the clock hanging from inside the tiki bar told her it was still early. Well, early for bar standards. They wouldn’t close for hours, which meant she had a long night ahead of her. She was about to return to the tiki hut and pitch in — it looked as if people were starting to line up for drinks — but a flurry of pink feathers caught her attention, and she jerked her head to the right. There, a flamingo stood in the shadows … and he didn’t look happy.
“What are you doing?” Hali demanded as she closed the distance between her and the bird. She didn’t bother to look around to see if anybody was watching. She could only hope that the patrons were so drunk they didn’t notice her talking to the sort of animal that shouldn’t be able to talk back.
“What do you think I’m doing?” The bird tried to stand on one leg and tipped, forcing him to put his other leg down. “I’m blending.”
Hali rolled her eyes. “Wayne, you can’t even stand up straight. You’re like the worst flamingo ever.”
For his part, Wayne didn’t bother to get offended. “I’m the best flamingo ever. I mean … I talk. How many flamingos talk?”
“Just one, and I wish he didn’t.” Hali glanced over her shoulder. Nobody was looking in their direction. She took that as a good sign. “What did I tell you about hanging around the bar?”
“I believe you said I was a lovely conversation piece.”
“Yes.” He bobbed his head so the hat he wore — why he insisted on wearing the hat when it drew so much attention to him was beyond Hali — dipped to the side. “You know that I’ve been assigned to you. I’m your familiar. The coven says that we have to work together. That means I have to stick close to you unless I’m mistaken … and I’m rarely mistaken.”
Hali narrowed her eyes to dangerous slits. “The coven might’ve assigned you to me but that doesn’t mean I want you at my bar. You need to go.”
“Yeah, I’m good.” Wayne angled his head so he could stare at the bar. “What’s on special tonight?”
“Nothing you’re getting your pasty little beak on,” Hali shot back. In addition to showing up when not invited, Wayne also enjoyed when the cocktails were overflowing. It drove the witch who was supposed to be in charge of him crazy. “You’re banned from drinking at my establishment.”
Wayne’s smirk was quick. “Oh, it’s so cute that you think that.”
“It’s the truth,” Hali insisted. “It’s my bar. I decide who I serve. You’re not being served.”
“We’ll see.” Wayne extended his neck and flapped his wings, making a strange bird sound that had Hali cringing.
“Don’t,” Hali warned. It was already too late, though. He’d garnered the attention he was looking for.
“Oh, look at the cute bird,” a woman cooed from somewhere on the shadowed part of the terrace. “I want to take him home with me.”
“Oh, if only,” Hali muttered to herself.
Wayne shot her a smug look. “Do you really think your guests are going to turn me down when I dip my beak in their cocktails? That’s what I thought.”
“I’ve had it up to here with you,” Hali insisted, glaring at him as she held her hand chin level. “You’re fired as my familiar.”
“You can’t fire me.” He was matter-of-fact. “That’s not how it works. The coven assigned me to you. That means, as an employee of the coven, you’re stuck with me.”
“We’ll just see about that. I’m going to call them and get you fired.”
Wayne snorted. “Yeah, I look forward to hearing how that goes. Now, if you’ll excuse me … .” He stepped around Hali and headed toward the bar. “My fans await.”
Hali gripped her hands into fists and glared at the flamingo’s retreating back. She was at her limit with the creature — her absolute limit — and she didn’t want to deal with him. Why the coven had assigned a drunk flamingo baffled her. He’d yet to help her with a single spell, spent all of his time getting soused, and he was obnoxious. He sexually harassed really drunk bar patrons on a regular basis.
She was completely over him.
“Excuse me?” a male voice interjected, jolting Hali from her revenge-fantasy reverie.
“Yes?” Hali automatically pasted the most welcoming smile in her arsenal on her face and turned. “Can I help you?”
The man standing to her left was tall — at least six-foot-three if she had to guess — and he boasted broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He was well-muscled, that was obvious thanks to his T-shirt, and he looked relaxed in his simple khaki shorts and sandals. “My name is Grayson Hunter,” he started.
“If you’re looking for the security office so you can put in a résumé, they’re closed until tomorrow morning,” Hali said automatically. “You can drop your résumé with the front desk, though.”
Rather than frown, the man smiled, showing off a ridiculous cheek dimple. “I’m not looking for a job. I have a job.”
“Oh, yeah?” Hali’s smile never diminished. “Do you need a drink? If so, you can head up to the bar. They’ll take your order there.”
“I don’t need a drink,” Grayson replied. “Although, actually, a drink might be nice. What I really need is a few minutes of your time.”
“I’m working.” Hali had to shake her head. She couldn’t believe this guy was hitting on her in the middle of a shift. Sure, it had happened multiple times before, but this was the first time someone had followed her behind the bar. “I don’t have time for whatever … this is.”
“I’m asking you to make time.” Grayson didn’t back down.
“Well, that’s sweet.” Hali tried a fresh smile. This one was more feral than welcoming. “I’m flattered. You’re a decent looking guy. I’m not interested, though.”
Grayson blinked several times in rapid succession and then shook his head. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. I’m not here to ask you out.”
“You’re not here to ask me out or for a drink,” Hali mused. “You’re not looking for a job. What else is there?”
Grayson pulled what looked to be a wallet out of his pocket and flipped it up, showing off a laminated identification card. It said he was a private detective. “I’m looking for a missing woman, and I’m hoping you can help me.”
“Oh.” Hali’s heart sank when she saw the identification, and her cheeks quickly heated when she realized how glib she’d likely sounded to him. “I didn’t realize.”
“I have a few questions if you have a few minutes that is. If you’re too busy now, I can wait until you close.”
Hali had no interest in involving herself in a missing person’s investigation. Still, she nodded. She could spare a few minutes, especially after acting like such an idiot. “Sure. Let me help my staff catch up on this rush. Sit over there.” She pointed toward an empty table. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Grayson nodded. “Thank you for your time.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I very much doubt I can help you.”
“Never say never.”
First chapter of new book, Sinfully Delicious (set one town over from Hemlock Cove) available for free
“Stormy, you have three orders stacked. Get a move on.”
My uncle Brad peered through the window between the order wheel and spice rack and caught my gaze.
“Did you hear me?” he pressed when I didn’t immediately respond. “All of these are your orders.”
I glanced at the jumble of plates and sighed. They claim you never forget how to waitress; it’s like riding a bike. They’re right. I remembered all of my shortcuts from when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, I was severely lacking in the speed department, and it was beginning to show. Apparently that was going to take some dedicated concentration.
“I’m on it.” I transferred the first two orders to the same tray and shifted it to carry with my left arm. “I’ll be back for the other order in a second.”
“Hurry up.” Brad’s gaze was serious as he regarded me. “It’s not even the lunch rush yet. You need to get it together.”
“I said I was on it,” I snapped, agitation coming out to play. It was my first day on the job — er, well, it was my first day back on the job — and I was still bitter about the turn my life had taken. That wasn’t my uncle’s fault, of course. That didn’t mean I wasn’t keen to lash out at someone, though, and turning my frustration inward was no longer an option because I was already bruised and battered from all the internal loathing I’d unleashed on myself. “I’ll be right back.”
I swung through the double doors that led to the cafe side of the restaurant and headed to my table. Two women, both in their thirties and with sleeping babies in car seats propped up next to them on booth benches, stopped talking as I approached. It was obvious they’d been gossiping and didn’t want me to overhear. I was fine with that. There’s little I hated more than gossip.
Okay, that’s a lie. I love gossip. Still, I didn’t recognize the women, and it’s only fun to gossip if you know who is being talked about behind his or her back.
“Grilled chicken salad, no croutons, and ranch on the side,” I announced, delivering the first plate. “Toasted tuna on rye, two extra pickles on the side,” I said to the other woman as I slid the plate in front of her.” I kept my smile in place, even though it was a chore, and glanced between the women. “Do you need anything else right now?”
“I think we’re good,” the brunette replied as she unfolded her napkin. She was slim, had the sort of glossy hair I always dreamed about, and cast me a cursory dose of side eye. “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
“I don’t know.” I’d been dreading this part of my day. When people started realizing who I was, the questions were bound to start flying fast and furious. “Who are you?”
“Sarah Bollinger, but that’s my married name. I used to be Sarah Harris.”
I did a double-take. “Seriously?” She didn’t look even remotely the same as when I’d left. She’d been four years ahead of me in high school, which meant we didn’t hang out or even really know each other. She’d been popular, though, a cheerleader, and everybody knew her. “I thought you were living in East Lansing these days.”
Sarah’s nose wrinkled as she looked me up and down. “That’s where I went to school.”
Right, on a volleyball scholarship. Shadow Hills wasn’t known for producing world-class athletes, but Sarah was one of the few who managed to parlay meager talent above the net into a full education. She was essentially the epitome of the standard Shadow Hills teenage dream. That didn’t explain what she was doing back here now. “And you’re back here visiting?” I was hopeful that was the case.
She shook her head. “No. I went to school in East Lansing and then returned home. I worked in the feed and seed with my parents for a year or two before meeting my husband.”
And that’s when my hope fled. “You married Danny Bollinger?” That was disappointing. He’d been hot when I was in middle school, quarterback of the football team. All the girls threw themselves at him. Shadow Hills was basically one stereotype heaped on top of another stereotype, and Danny hadn’t escaped the curse. Now, fifteen years after his graduation, he was fifty pounds overweight, about a pound of hair lighter, and he spent all his time sitting at the front coffee counter talking about his glory days with the other men who lived and worked in town. He’d been parked in what I assumed was his regular spot when I showed up for my first shift.
She nodded and smiled. “Yes, he’s the love of my life,” Sarah said blandly, her tone telling me she would happily pack up and run should the chance arise. Danny was apparently nobody’s happily ever after, which was probably to be expected. “I still don’t know who you are.”
The time I’d been dreading had finally come and I wanted to find a hole and crawl inside to hide. I’d made a promise to myself, though. I wasn’t going to run from this. It was only a temporary solution after all. I wasn’t back in Shadow Hills forever.
Except you are, a weak voice whispered in the back of my mind. You know that as well as anybody. You took your shot, made it for five seconds, and now you’re back. There’s no escaping this town.
I brutally shoved the voice out of my mind and pasted what I hoped could pass for a friendly smile onto my face. “Stormy Morgan.”
Realization dawned on Sarah and I didn’t miss the hint of triumph that managed to push through even as she wrestled to hide her glee. “Right. I should’ve recognized you. I saw you on television when you were doing the rounds on all the news shows years ago for that book you wrote. What was it again?”
“Death of a Small Town,” I gritted out. She darned well knew the title. Heck, everybody knew the title. It was set in Shadow Hills, for crying out loud. The book put the town on the map for a full year — before everyone forgot about it and I faded into obscurity.
“Yeah, that was a big hit, right?” Sarah’s expression was encouraging, but I knew better. She wanted to hear the sad tale of my fall from grace. She wanted to hear how I got one book contract and sold hundreds of thousands of copies and then flopped with my second book and the publisher dropped the option on my third. That was the reason I was back in Shadow Hills. Everybody was going to want to hear that story.
“It did okay,” I replied evasively, shifting the tray. “I really need to deliver this order. I’ll be back to see if you need anything else.”
Sarah beamed at me. “Maybe when you come back we can catch up. I’d love to hear about the time you spent in New York.”
I had no doubt that was true. “I really spent only a few months in New York. I was in North Carolina after that ... and Savannah ... and New Orleans.” Basically anywhere I thought I could find inspiration for my second book, I silently added. “I have to get back to work. It was good to see you.”
I was grateful that the women on the other side of the cafe, the dinner side that boasted salad and soup bars, were older and didn’t appear even mildly curious about who I was, or why I was delivering their cheeseburgers and fries. They were in their sixties and deep in conversation, talking about some incident that occurred at the senior center the previous day.
“I’m telling you she’s a cheat,” the woman with the platinum blond curls hissed, barely sparing a smile for me as I delivered her food. “She has hand signals she shares with Marla. That’s how they always win the weekly euchre tournament.”
The other woman gasped in surprise, which quickly turned to outrage. “That makes so much sense.”
I checked to make sure their beverages were full and then disappeared back into the kitchen to claim my last order. Brad was busy talking to the dishwasher, a kid from the local high school I didn’t recognize.
“The Democrats want everyone to be on welfare and the Republicans want everyone to starve,” Brad explained to the hapless teenager, who looked confused by my uncle’s filibustering. “You have to decide which one you believe in more and then go with it.”
I’d barely spent any time with my uncle before reporting for my first shift, but one of the first things I’d noticed about him was he’d suddenly developed an interest in politics. When I was a kid, he was all about peace, love, and understanding. Now he was all about political shows and arguing simply for argument’s sake. As far as I could tell, most of what he said was complete and total nonsense. He couldn’t even pick a side to land on when it came to these arguments. He bagged on both sides.
“You should leave him alone,” I instructed Brad as I collected my plates. “He’s a teenager. He doesn’t want to hear your bitter old guy shtick. He’s still dreaming of getting out of this place.”
“Oh, I’m going to get out of this place,” the teenager intoned, his eyes lighting with excitement. “Two more years and then I’m out of here. I’m going to college at Central Michigan and then I’m going to find an actual city to live in.”
“One that has more than one stoplight and actually has a fast-food restaurant, right?” I asked, thinking back to the things that were important to me when I was his age.
He bobbed his head excitedly. “Exactly. I want a Taco Bell, people. Is that too much to ask?”
His enthusiasm made me smile — and then frown. I’d wanted a McDonald’s. Who doesn’t love those fries? I’d been so excited when I got to college and could eat fast food regularly. That lasted only a few weeks, though. Then I missed the food at the cafe. Of course, I wouldn’t admit that to anyone.
“Well, good luck.” I swooped out of the kitchen just as my uncle was explaining proper military strategy from the Republican point of view, and I delivered the food to a corner table in the cafe. The men waiting on their burgers started inhaling the food, as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks, and I left them to it. I saw Sarah trying to catch my attention and flashed her an apologetic smile before crossing over to my grandfather. He sat at the coffee counter, alone, reading his newspaper as he ate chili over a bed of onions — with a fork.
“How can you eat that?” I complained as I moved behind the counter and grabbed the pot of coffee to top off his mug. “I mean ... that’s like all-day heartburn right there. It’s gross.”
Grandpa glanced up from his newspaper and regarded me with unreadable eyes. In the years since I’d left, his hair had thinned some and grayed at the temples. His face had a few more lines. Other than that, he looked mostly the same.
He also acted the same.
“Do I comment on your meals?”
I shook my head. “No, but we haven’t had many meals together since I got back. I expect that to change because you comment on everything.”
He chuckled. “You haven’t been around for any of the family dinners,” he countered. “You even missed last night’s meal, which was a welcome home dinner for you, so that was a ballsy move. Your mother was mad, by the way.”
As far as I could tell, my mother was angry about everything these days — especially the fact that I was working in the family restaurant again. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t get rich off the one book that sold well, enough to live comfortably forever. When I explained that’s not the way it worked, her response was that I should’ve tried to sell a second book. I told her I did, but it didn’t sell. Her response? “Well, you should’ve tried harder.”
That was two weeks ago and we hadn’t spoken since. I’d made my move to Shadow Hills, taken over the apartment above the restaurant, and seen almost everybody in my family during the intervening days. There was still no sign of my mother. It was too much to hope she wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of her life. She would be back, there was no doubt about that.
“Isn’t my mother always ticked off?” I asked, grabbing a rag from the small sink and wiping down the counter. I felt the need to stay busy. If I didn’t, my mind would start to wander, which was the reason I was living on four hours of sleep a night these days. I couldn’t stop running what had happened through my head. How could I get everything I ever wanted and then lose it in a few short years? It would’ve been easier if I’d never been published.
“It seems so these days,” Grandpa confirmed. “She told me to fire you, by the way.”
I was stunned. “What? Why does she want you to fire me?”
“Why do you think?” His eyebrows hopped with amusement as he dropped the newspaper. He was one of the few people I knew who still insisted on regular delivery even though the local newspaper was so thin you could read it in five minutes. “She believes that you’ll write another best-selling book if I fire you.”
“Yeah, unless I starve first.”
He smirked. “She doesn’t understand what happened. I think perhaps that’s because you’ve never taken the time to explain what happened to her.”
Oh, well, of course he would think that. “Why is everything always my fault?”
“You make an easy scapegoat,” Grandpa replied without hesitation. “No one is at fault in this particular situation. You got lucky with that first book. You didn’t get lucky with the second. Maybe, after taking a little downtime and getting some perspective, you’ll get lucky with the third.”
I narrowed my eyes to blue slits. “What makes you think there will be a third book?”
“We didn’t raise you to be a quitter. Your mother may be a hippie-dippy freak, but she’s a hard worker. She owns her own real estate business now, which is something to be proud of. Your father is a hard worker, too. You always worked at the restaurant, even when you hated it. I don’t expect you to suddenly give up on your dreams now that things have gotten rough. You’ll put it back together.”
He sounded sure of himself, which only served to annoy me. “It doesn’t feel like anything is coming together right now,” I argued. “It feels as if everything has fallen apart and I’m sitting on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall off at any moment.”
“And people say your second book lacked dramatic tension.” He shook his head.
I glared at him. “You’re not funny.”
“I think I’m hilarious.” He patted my wrist and then turned back to his chili and onions. “You need time to absorb what happened to you, Stormy. You’re still young. You haven’t lost the dream forever. You’ve simply misplaced it for now. You can get it back.”
That felt unlikely. “I don’t know many literary agents willing to accept submissions from waitresses,” I muttered.
“Then don’t tell them you’re a waitress. Tell them you’re a princess or something. I know, tell them you’re a witch. Witches are everywhere now.”
“A witch? Stormy the witch? That’s just ... way too much.”
He smiled. “And somehow I think it fits.” He inclined his head toward the swinging doors, to where Brad’s head poked between the opening. “I think your uncle wants you.”
I scowled as I turned my gaze in that direction. I used to think the worst thing in the world was working a shift with my grandfather. I would gladly take it today if it meant I didn’t have to listen to Brad’s nonsense. His political conspiracy theories were starting to give me indigestion. I was running on caffeine and nerves as it was. “Do you need something?”
He nodded. “I’m out of pickles.”
I waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, I shrugged. “So what do we do?”
“They’re in the storage building behind the restaurant,” he replied. “You need to get them.”
“Why do I need to get them?” I was feeling petulant, in no mood to be ordered around. “Why can’t you get them?”
“I’m the chef, which means I’m in charge of the kitchen today. As my underling, it’s your job to do as I say.”
I wasn’t a fan of the word “underling,” but when I turned a questioning look toward Grandpa, I found he’d already disengaged from the conversation and was again reading his newspaper. Apparently I was on my own. “Fine. I’ll get the pickles.”
I muttered a series of nasty words as I cut through the kitchen and headed for the back door. There were two exits, one close to the steps that led to my apartment and the other by the industrial-sized freezers. I sidestepped two of my cousins smoking by the steps and went out the other door.
I was lost in thought, my mind jumbled with my new reality, and made the mistake of not watching where I was going. I stepped in a puddle, skidding a good two feet before I found pavement again. The alley between the restaurant and storage building was wide enough for a semitruck to park for deliveries, but that wasn’t a benefit now as I stumbled four hard paces to keep myself upright, stopping only when I crashed into the storage building.
“Ow.” I rubbed my elbow as I turned to see where the water had come from. The first thing I realized as I studied the area was that it wasn’t water I’d slid in. It was something else. Something red.
My mouth went dry as my eyes drifted to the crumpled form resting in the puddle. The older man in mismatched socks wasn’t moving.
I opened my mouth to scream for help but I couldn’t find my voice. I tried again but nothing.
All that time I stared at the body, willing it to move. This had to be a mistake. Perhaps my uncle was explaining his political views on crime. After a good three minutes, I realized this wasn’t a joke gone awry.
It was something much, much worse.
Note: You can preorder the book here. It will be in KU and hits the seconds Tuesday in April. https://www.amazon.com/Sinfully-Delicious-Broomsticks-Grill-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0838QN99Q/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Sinfully+Delicious&qid=1585142505&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
Okay, I get a lot of questions about when series are ending. Some series are opened ended and will continue until sales/reviews fall. Reviews? Yes, reviews. I need the reviews to advertise. When I can’t get enough, that plays into the end of a series. Only reviews on Amazon count for the advertising. It is what it is.
What series don’t I have an end date for at this time so don’t send me panicked messages because I’m not giving you specifics about endings (that’s because there are no specifics, so chill)?
1. Wicked Witches of the Midwest
2. Moonstone Bay
3. Mystic Caravan
4. Spell’s Angels
5. Two Broomsticks Gas & Grill
6. Charlie Rhodes
7. Supernatural Speakeasy
8. Hannah Hickok
They will go on indefinitely as of this time. If an end starts to take shape, I will let you know with more than a year to go.
Which series are ending?
1. Ivy Morgan: In November of 2021, the last regular book in the series will hit. It’s called Wicked Forever (book 21 in the series) and is several books after the wedding. The characters will continue showing up in crossovers, though.
2. Death Gate: This was always a set number of books. Much like Aisling, I had a set story I wanted to tell. It will be nine books. When does the last book hit? Not until October 2022. Will there be more Grimlocks after that? They will be regular players in another series (actually, probably more than one but that needs to be ironed out going forward). The heroine of the one series I’m absolutely sure about is actually being introduced in Only the Devout. You will get to see her a bit (no, she is not Redmond’s love interest) and you will get to know her before she gets her own series. I actually have an incredibly in-depth world set up for her and a fun way to explore the new environment that is taking shape in Detroit’s downtown.
3. Harper Harlow: As of right now I have Harper ending with Ghostly Travels (book 18 in the series) in May 2021. I am not 100% married to that – it’s more 50-50 – but I’m leaning toward it. She will also be continuing in crossovers. If I were to think of some fantastic arc, I can see pushing that off for three books (but that would be the limit). I don’t presently have that arc, so I’m leaning more toward ending it. I would prefer ending when I still have fresh ideas than grasping at straws.
As for the rest, I have books planned for all the series I termed “ongoing” through at least 2022. I can’t answer after that because I can only think so far into the future.
That brings us to Avery Shaw. You will notice I didn’t include her in either section. To be honest, Avery is my favorite character. She’s the most like me. However, she suffers from declining sales, an inability to cross over into the other worlds, which makes her an island, and declining reviews. That doesn’t mean I totally want to let her go, though, because I like writing about myself in a story. So, what does that mean? In March 2021, the last SCHEDULED Avery Shaw book will hit. I’m not telling you the title because it’s a spoiler. After that, basically I will write an Avery book when I have a really good idea (which is very easy for me to do because I get inspiration from the news constantly). She will not have more than one book a year, though, and I will basically plug her into the schedule when I have inspiration/time. I will announce when I plan to publish a book, but she will no longer be on the schedule after March of next year. I will simply add her in when I can.
Which brings us to new series.
There will be one new series next year. Harley, who you’ve met in Charlie’s series, will get her own series. The first book hits in September 2021. The Grimlocks will be involved in that series, too, although they will not be as prominent as they are in the Death Gate series. The love interest in that series is Logan, who you met in the Mystic Caravan and Grimlock crossover. There will be more on that later.
For Lily Harper Hart, the Witch on the Rocks series will also launch in September 2021. That one will be a lot of fun and I will break it down later (when I have more time).
Those are the only new series next year. I don’t know yet what new series will launch in 2022 but that’s quite a ways off anyway and I need time to figure things out.
So, I think that’s it. If there are any changes, I will let you know. As always, thank you for reading.
New Series hits December 4th: Ofelia Archer is a witch with a plan; Zacharias Sully is a panther shifter on the case. They're about to collide.
Ofelia Archer, or “Fe” to those closest to her, was the picture of productivity as she used one dish rag to wipe down the counter and another to clean out the sink from the garnish remnants the previous bartender had refused to clean up. Even though it was his job ... and she was the boss ... and she’d told him repeatedly how she hated it when he didn’t throw away the used garnishes.
She absolutely loathed it when people didn’t do things her way. Since she didn’t want to be known as a fussy pain in the behind, though, she tried to keep those complaints to herself ... at least most of the time.
“I don’t get it,” she muttered bitterly as she scooped up orange slices, maraschino cherries, olives, and cocktail onions. “How hard is it to throw the garnish in the trash before dumping the leftover ice in the sink to melt? I mean ... really.”
Her father, Oscar Archer, sat on the other side of the bar and nursed a bourbon on the rocks as he regarded his only daughter. “Maybe he thinks you like having things to worry about,” he suggested after a beat. “There are people in this world who get off on complaining. They’re not really upset, of course, but they like to pretend they are. It’s what you might call a personality quirk.”
Ofelia narrowed her eyes. “Exactly what are you saying, Dad?”
“I’m saying that you’re my absolutely favorite daughter in the world and I don’t think anything you do is weird ... or odd ... or annoying.”
“Ugh.” Ofelia made a disgusted sound deep in her throat. “You make me want to take that bourbon away from you and kick you out of my bar.”
Now it was Oscar’s turn to be annoyed. “Technically you own this bar, but only because I sold it to you — and for a song, I might add — so you could have your own business. You wouldn’t even have this place if it wasn’t for me.”
Ofelia wanted to argue the point, but he wasn’t wrong. Krewe, an underground bar located one block off Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter, had always been her favorite place on Earth. She made up excuses to visit when she was a kid, even though it was technically illegal for her to be in the space. Her father understood her attraction to the building, and the customers who frequented the establishment. Her mother was less forgiving and constantly screeched at her when Ofelia was caught dipping in the garnishes for something to munch on. Their reactions were very different, which was probably why they ultimately got a divorce and went their separate ways.
As much as her parents loved one another — and Ofelia was convinced that they did even to this day ... deep, deep down — they simply weren’t compatible. It had almost been a relief when the marriage imploded. Ofelia and her brother Felix had been adults at that point (although just barely) and they waved happily as their parents started separating family goods and talking about financial settlements.
Oscar got the bar in the divorce, which meant he also secured more time with Ofelia during the process. Marie Archer (now Marie Charles because she was remarried) got the expensive townhouse on Camp Street, which is where she still lived to this day with her new husband Henri, a man Ofelia liked a great deal even though he seemed to be something of a walking doormat to her mother.
Ofelia had figured out the truth behind her parents’ relationship a long time ago. They were both alpha dogs and neither wanted to be a beta ... ever. That meant they constantly fought about who was in charge. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe two alphas could be together — er, well, at least mostly — but those alphas occasionally had to cede control for at least a dollop of time and bend to the will of the other. Compromise was too important to completely throw out the window. It was a lesson her parents couldn’t seem to learn.
“You’re basically accusing me of manufacturing drama so I have something to complain about,” Ofelia noted.
“Yup.” Oscar purposely crinkled his newspaper as he made a big show of hiding behind it. The Advocate was Louisiana’s biggest daily newspaper, one of the few that still published regularly. Her father was a news junkie, spending his evenings watching cable news while yelling at the pundits if he didn’t agree with them. She couldn’t help wondering now if he simply hid behind the newspaper because it was a convenient way to avoid eye contact. She wouldn’t put it past him.
“That’s something Mom would do,” Ofelia said bitterly. “I’m not Mom.”
Oscar snorted. “You’re definitely not your mother. You’re more of a mix between us. She never loved this place like I did. You get that from me. She did, however, like to complain just to hear herself talk ... and you definitely get that from her.”
Ofelia was officially over the conversation. “Whatever, Dad. I was simply making a statement.”
Oscar’s lips quirked at the obstinate tilt of her head. That she got from him. She was definitely a mix. Marie was fair and Ofelia was dark, like her father. Her brother Felix was also dark but boasted his mother’s bone structure ... and his father’s nose. In fact, Ofelia and Felix looked nothing alike (other than their dark hair), to the point where most people didn’t believe them when they said they were related. Both children had fiery personalities, though, and that was because their parents — both of them — never met an argument they didn’t like.
The fact that Ofelia and Felix were often stubborn, belligerent, mouthy, sarcastic messes was a product of their environment ... and Oscar wouldn’t trade them for anything.
“What were we talking about again?” he asked absently, because he knew it would drive Ofelia to distraction.
She narrowed her eyes and glared. “I don’t find you funny at all,” she huffed, annoyance on full display. “I mean ... not at all. In fact, you’re a pain in my posterior.”
Amused despite himself, Oscar arched an eyebrow. “Posterior? Since when are you afraid of swearing? I seem to remember you got detention for a week straight for dropping the F-bomb on your middle school math teacher because you claimed algebra was for self-important individuals who wanted to lord their mathematical superiority over normal people.”
Ofelia rolled her eyes to the sky and tapped her foot on the ceramic tile behind the bar. Her father never forgot a story about her childhood ... especially one he found amusing. Her mother was more absentminded, which was annoying – or preferable – depending on the day. “I still maintain I didn’t need to know algebra. It’s not as if I use it during the course of my day. Mrs. Lipscomb said that I wouldn’t be able to carry a calculator around with me at all times and I had to learn. Guess who turned out to be right on that one.”
Oscar smirked. That little personality quirk was definitely a gift from him. Ofelia liked to be right. So did he. Of course, he couldn’t remember a single instance when Marie admitted to being wrong. That was one of the reasons their marriage crumbled. “Yes. Algebra is certainly one of the devil’s finer punishments.”
Ofelia rolled her eyes. She recognized that her father was barely listening. His responses were timed in such a manner, delivered in such a way, as to drive her crazy. He was good at that. Since he’d negotiated a regular stool at Krewe when he sold the bar to her, she was fresh out of luck if she wanted him to leave. He was free to do whatever he wanted when it came to what was lovingly referred to in the family as a supernatural haven, and he regularly took advantage of the situation.
“Speaking of your brother, have you seen him lately?” Oscar smoothly switched conversational topics. “I think he’s been avoiding me.”
“Oh, why would he want to do that?” Ofelia drawled. She was twenty-seven, a year and a half younger than her brother, but she still had the mouth of a teenager at times. She couldn’t shake it and had given up trying a long time ago. “You’re the best father ever. I can’t imagine wanting to avoid you.”
“Nobody needs the sarcasm, young lady,” Oscar shot back. “It was a simple question. Have you seen your brother?”
Uncomfortable with the topic shift, Ofelia hopped from one foot to the other. She was dressed in simple capris and a Bohemian peasant blouse because she kept the dress code at Krewe casual. Customers were more comfortable if they didn’t feel as if a show was being put on ... especially the sort of customers who frequented Krewe, that is. Since it was an underground speakeasy for the paranormal denizens of New Orleans, comfort was most definitely the name of the game.
“I’m not my brother’s keeper,” Ofelia said finally, her eyes moving to the chalkboard on the wall. She hadn’t changed the drink special in a week and she was about due to shake things up. “I’m going to take the Sazerac down and put up something else. I’m thinking a French 75 or maybe even absinthe.”
Oscar recognized exactly what she was doing and wasn’t about to be dissuaded from his informational quest. “When was the last time you saw your brother?”
She blew out a frustrated sigh. “Oh, can’t you just leave him alone?” She knew she sounded whiny, but she was beyond caring. As much as she loved her parents — and truly she did — Felix was the one she was closest with. He was her big brother, protector, and sounding board on a regular basis. They hung out together in their free time, and not just because they were siblings and it was expected. They honestly enjoyed each other’s company. “He’s doing his own thing. He’s an individual. I would think you would be proud of that instead of giving him grief over it. Most parents would kill for a kid like Felix.”
Instead of being sheepish and apologizing, or opting for introspection and personal growth, Oscar rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t give me your crap, Fe,” he snapped. “Your brother is the most annoying thing to ever pop from my loins.”
Ofelia slapped her hand to her forehead as her mouth dropped open in abject horror. “Did you just say ‘loins’? I can’t even ... .”
Oscar ignored her. He was used to Ofelia playing the dramatic game. She was good at it. “Does your brother have a job?”
That right there was the biggest point of contention in the Archer family. Felix was something of a free spirit. The one and only thing Oscar and Marie could agree upon was that hard work was necessary to make it anywhere. A real job, a safe job, was preferable to taking a risk. Ofelia had taken that advice to heart. Felix, on the other hand, took very little to heart.
“He’s working,” Ofelia said testily. “He always manages to take care of himself. I don’t understand why you get so worked up about this. He never asks you for money, so why do you care what he does for a living?”
Oscar lowered his newspaper to the bar and fixed his only daughter with a withering glare. “So ... he’s not working, huh?”
“Ugh.” Ofelia wanted to gag him, or at least kick him out of the club until she could regroup. Technically she had the magical ability to do just that without breaking a sweat. She was a witch after all. Thanks to her mother’s lineage, she was a strong witch, too. However, she rarely put her magic on display, even though it was welcome in New Orleans, and instead opted to act like a normal human being ... who just happened to run a speakeasy for the various paranormal creatures of the city.
“I don’t understand why your brother can’t get his act together,” Oscar complained, sinking into what Ofelia recognized would be a righteous diatribe. It could go on for hours if her father got a full head of steam. “I mean ... I really don’t understand it. He’s a smart kid. He could do practically anything he wants. Instead, he chooses to do nothing.”
“Not nothing,” Ofelia countered, finding her voice. “He does stuff. He just doesn’t do stuff you think is important. He’s been performing in Jackson Square lately. He’s developing quite the following.”
Oscar’s expression only darkened. “He’s been performing in Jackson Square? How ... lovely.” He made a growling sound deep in his throat. “Only reprobates perform in Jackson Square. That’s not a real job.”
Ofelia actually disagreed. She’d seen her brother perform in the park numerous times. Sometimes he painted himself and became a human statue. Other times he hopped in and played with various bands. He was a musical marvel, something Ofelia had always been jealous of. She had negative rhythm and couldn’t keep a beat. The musical talent her brother seemed to have in spades completely skipped her.
“He’s paying his own bills,” Ofelia reminded him. “He has his own place. He never asks you for anything. I don’t see why you can’t just let him be. He’s doing the best that he can.”
“Oh, but he’s not.” Oscar wasn’t about to let his daughter bat her eyelashes at him and forget his annoyance. She was good, but he recognized when she was trying to manipulate him ... like now. “Do you know that Caesar saw him driving one of the horse carriages two weeks ago? He was right over in front of Cafe du Monde and acting like it was a normal thing.”
Ofelia hadn’t heard about the carriage gig yet. Apparently her brother was holding back. She had no intention of owning up to that in front of her father, though. “So what? He doesn’t know what he wants to do, Dad. That’s a normal thing for a lot of people. Just because you knew you always wanted to own your own business, that doesn’t mean that Felix is the same way. Why can’t you just let him figure out things on his own?”
“I did let him figure out things on his own. When he was eighteen ... and twenty ... and twenty-four. Your brother is now twenty-nine years old. He can’t be confused for a child any longer. He needs to find some direction.”
In truth, Ofelia sort of agreed with her father. Felix’s insistence on hopping from thing to thing, woman to woman, had been amusing ten years before. Now it just seemed a little sad. She wanted her brother to be happy more than anything. Unfortunately for her, he didn’t appear to be moving toward a goal. He was stagnating, and she was fearful that would turn into a permanent thing. It was one thing to dabble as a human statue, paint yourself in silver or gold from head to toe and pose for hours on end, in your twenties. Once you hit your thirties, though, you were supposed to be looking toward the future. Ofelia’s biggest fear was that Felix would give up on having a productive future.
Still, she had no intention of admitting that to her father. He would simply use it as ammunition against Felix.
“I think the more you attack him on this, the more likely he is to dig his heels in and fight you,” she offered pragmatically. “No, I’m being serious. I know you love Felix. He’s hard not to love. I also know that you want the best for him. If you try to force his hand, though, he will fight back. He got that from Mom and you know darned well how things are going to go if you don’t take a step back.”
Oscar made a huffing sound that Ofelia recognized as resignation and it made her smile. Even though he was full of bluster, her father had a good heart. He was also a practical man. He realized that what she was saying was true. Felix was unlikely to change his behavior until Oscar took a step back. He had to decide what was more important: Ordering his son around or ultimately getting what he wanted, albeit down the line.
It was going to be a tough call.
“I think your brother just does the things he does to drive me crazy,” Oscar admitted, turning back to his bourbon. It was still early for a drink in most parts of the United States, but in New Orleans, there were no societal limitations on what was appropriate. “He’s good at it, too.”
“I see. This is all about you. I ... .” She stilled when she saw movement at the front door. The bar was located off a parking garage underneath a famous — well, infamous would be the more appropriate word — hotel. Only those who knew what they were looking for could find it, and that was exactly how Ofelia liked it.
The man who walked into Krewe was tall and well built, broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. His hair was so black it was blinding, but his eyes were a bright shade of blue that stood out against the contrast of his hair. Ofelia didn’t recognize him, but she instinctively knew he wasn’t a tourist.
No, he was something else.
“Can I help you?” she asked after a beat.
The man nodded. “That would be great. Do you know there’s a body in the back alley?”
Whatever she was expecting, that wasn’t it. Ofelia practically tripped over her feet as she moved out from behind the bar. “Are you kidding me?”
“We need to call the police.”
The man dug in his pocket and returned with a badge. “I am the police.”
Oh, well ... Ofelia wasn’t expecting that. This morning wasn’t exactly going how she expected.
Hannah Hickok was not having a good day.
It started when she left her small apartment in Roseville, Michigan. She didn’t live in the best neighborhood as it was — gang activity was creeping into the Detroit suburb, moving north, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear a gunshot or two at night — but she wasn’t expecting a high-speed car chase to force her to hop into the gutter during her two-block walk to the bus stop.
The gutter, of course, was full of dirty water from the storms the night before. The drainage system was clearly blocked thanks to the discarded newspapers, fast food wrappers, syringes, condoms, and any other number of abandoned items that people were too lazy to see properly tucked away. Because of that, the one nice pair of dress shoes Hannah owned were soaking wet and had bits of things she kept telling herself couldn’t possibly be as bad as she was imagining clinging to them.
Another bout of rain the forecaster promised wasn’t coming hit when she was waiting for the bus. She didn’t have her umbrella — the forecaster swore up and down she wouldn’t need it, after all — so she was caught in the open when the sky opened up. Since her blond hair, which she thought of as her best attribute on a good day, curled in humidity and rain, she looked disheveled when she finally made her way to the law office where she worked in the Renaissance Center, which was located in downtown Detroit. It was actually half-curly and half-straight, which gave her a deranged sort of look.
She was still lamenting her bad luck when she crossed the threshold into the Renaissance Center — a building she used to love when she first started working inside of it, but now hated — and her security pass alerted. Confused, she knit her eyebrows and watched as the guard, Clyde, a man she’d known since her first day, placed a call to her boss. He looked grave as he listened and the smile he shot her was almost pitying as he handed back the pass.
“You can go up.” He patted her hand, which she should’ve caught on meant something bad was about to happen. She didn’t, though. She was too busy feeling sorry for herself.
“What was wrong?” Hannah asked as she shoved the identification card into her purse. “Did it get wet or something?”
“Probably. You should talk to Mr. Dawson about getting you a new one.”
To Hannah, that sounded like the worst possible idea in the world. Archibald Dawson was more than her boss. He was the man who was supposed to be her father-in-law. That was the plan anyway. He was a senior partner at the firm Dawson, Scruggs and Butler — one of the premier law firms in the state — and he had massive power. His son, Michael, was working his way up the ranks. He was also working his way through the paralegal pool ... and the temp pool ... and the cleaning staff as well, apparently. That’s the reason Hannah and Michael called off their engagement. She caught him cheating on her for the third time (although she suspected that number was much higher) and finally found the strength to kick him to the curb.
She had plans. She thought marrying into a rich family was simply the next step on the way to achieving those plans. It turned out she was wrong. Oh, so very wrong.
Archibald was waiting for her in his office — which was the same size as Hannah’s tiny studio apartment — and he looked busy as he flipped through a file. Hannah had never been comfortable around him. He was a hard man to like because he was curt, cold, and often clueless when it came to conducting conversations with individuals who couldn’t drop ten thousand dollars a day on random purses and watches. He was bad when it came to chatting with people outside of his financial window or the courtroom. That’s why Hannah was surprised he wanted to talk to her. He’d barely looked at her since she’d broken up with his son.
Uncomfortable, Hannah made a weak throat-clearing sound, causing Archibald to look up from the file he was reading and fix her with an unreadable expression.
“Ah, Hannah.” His smile was tightlipped and it made her nervous for some reason, although she couldn’t put her finger on why. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
On instinct, Hannah flicked her eyes to the clock on the wall and frowned. Despite her terrible morning, she was on time. She prided herself on punctuality. She always built twenty extra minutes into each day to make sure she made it to work on time. “Is something wrong?” she asked, licking her lips nervously.
“Something has come up,” he clarified, causing the sense of doom in Hannah’s stomach to spread. “Please shut the door and have a seat.”
That was the last thing Hannah wanted. She wasn’t in the mood for more upheaval. That’s how she ended up in the crappy apartment in Roseville in the first place. She decided to travel to Traverse City to surprise Michael when he was on a special trip and she was the one who was surprised when she let herself into his hotel room and found him naked and panting with a woman she didn’t recognize. Oddly enough, Michael looked more annoyed at the interruption than sorry ... and that’s what sealed it for her.
Michael hadn’t been faithful throughout the duration of their relationship. The first time she caught him cheating was when they first started at the law firm. They went to the same school together — Michigan State University (Archibald bled green and white so he insisted his son attend his alma mater) — and she’d been three-quarters of the way through a public relations degree when Michael declared his love and proposed.
In her head, Hannah knew it was a mistake to quit and follow her boyfriend. Her mother, who died when she was sixteen, would’ve been mortified to think of her only daughter tossing everything she worked so hard for out the window. Hannah thought she knew best, though. She thought she’d found her soulmate. Romance novels and Hallmark movies influenced her decision, and she dropped out.
She and Michael immediately moved in together, a ritzy townhouse in Birmingham, Michigan, serving as their home. Archibald paid for it, of course. Michael was fresh out of college so he didn’t have piles of disposable income like his father. Still, they had a private driver and groceries showed up in the refrigerator like clockwork. Because she didn’t want to sponge off Michael and his family, she went to work as an administrative assistant at the family law firm not long after leaving college.
The money was good. The hours were normal. The work was tedious, but she had no trouble wading through it. She thought things had lined up.
Then she caught Michael with one of the stenographers from the Macomb County Circuit Court. They were having a private lunch at the townhouse Hannah and Michael shared. She only discovered they were together thanks to a flu that had her going home sick early.
Michael apologized, claimed he thought it was allowed because they hadn’t discussed only dating each other, and feigned ignorance of societal norms. Since they were living together, Hannah was under the assumption that meant they were dedicated to one another. Apparently Michael had other ideas.
In hindsight, Hannah realized she should’ve run right there. She didn’t, though. She stayed. Then she caught Michael cheating again, this time with one of the interns working at his father’s law firm. His explanation after that “slip” was that he had a sex addiction. It was all the rage on television, what with Charlie Sheen and TigerWoods spouting off about it left and right. At the time, Hannah convinced herself it was a real thing and agreed to stick by Michael as he worked his way through rehab at a posh resort. It was wrong to abandon a loved one in need. At least that’s what she told herself.
The next few years, he was a good — if distracted and sometimes distant — fiancé. Hannah convinced herself that was normal because they’d been together so long. By now she was five years out of college. She was twenty-six, with no degree, but making a good living as an administrative assistant. They’d yet to set a date, though, or make any plans. She started pushing for it ... and that’s when she caught him with another junior lawyer at the firm.
Laura Madison was twenty-five, perky, and hungry to move up the corporate ladder. Hannah had seen the way she looked at Michael and forced herself to keep from dwelling on the possibility of Laura going after him. Michael had been good for years. Hannah was convinced of that ... kind of. Okay, she wasn’t really convinced of it. She told herself he wouldn’t dare cheat on her again. He was a good man. She wanted to believe that ... until the good man turned into a dog. This time when he was caught, all he did was shrug. He said she should get used to it because it wasn’t going to change.
That’s when she snapped. She lost her cool, threatened him with a pair of scissors, and then headed home. There, she proceeded to shred every expensive suit he owned with said scissors and threw them on the front lawn. She smashed his expensive cologne, stabbed the tires of his luxury sports car, and broke his beloved flat-screen television. She felt better afterward, calm.
And then the hammer dropped. Michael’s was the only name on the lease. She had to move. She looked unbalanced for the way she retaliated. He started rumors that she was crazy and people believed them because of the way she reacted to the betrayal. Everyone asked why she didn’t simply leave with a little dignity. She was so fed up by that point she wasn’t even sure she knew what dignity was. Still, she understood the whispers and did her best to ignore them.
That was three weeks ago, though. She moved quickly, found a terrible apartment she could afford, and tried to ignore the way everyone at the office looked at her … and whispered. She didn’t want to engage in gossip and figured the talk would die down after a few weeks.
Apparently she was wrong.
“Am I in trouble?” Hannah asked, chewing on her bottom lip as she nervously fidgeted in the chair Archibald indicated he wanted her to sit in. “I mean ... am I about to get yelled at?”
Archibald’s expression was bland. He was always hard to read, but today he looked especially taciturn. “Yelled at? No. I don’t think that’s necessary.”
That was an evasive answer, Hannah realized. She didn’t like it. “But I’m in trouble, right?”
“Trouble? I don’t know that I would use that word. It’s more that you’re in limbo.” Archibald leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers on his stomach as he regarded the young woman. At only twenty-six, Hannah had her entire life ahead of her. She felt as if she was suddenly running out of time under his studied gaze, though.
“I’ve given your future with us a great deal of thought,” he started, causing Hannah’s mouth to go dry.
“Meaning ... what?”
“Meaning that I’ve always considered you a diligent, if uninspired, addition to our team,” Archibald replied pragmatically. “You’re one of those women who manages to get the job done even if it takes you six hours to do a task that should only take two.”
Hannah frowned. “I always do everything that’s put in front of me.”
“Of course you do. To be fair, though, you’ve always only done the bare minimum. You’ve never gone out of your way to seek out extra responsibility.”
Hannah could sense where the conversation was going ... and she didn’t like it. “I didn’t realize I was supposed to do that.”
“That’s another problem. You have no initiative.”
“Excuse me?” Despite the serious nature of the conversation — and Hannah had no doubt where it was ultimately going, the security card screw-up should’ve been a giveaway — her temper came out to play. “I don’t see why I have to sit here and be insulted. Your son is the one who should be in here.”
“My son is going to be a senior partner one day.”
“So ... he’s important to the future of this firm,” Archibald replied, not missing a beat. “That’s not a distinction you can lay claim to.”
Hannah understood without reservation what was about to happen. Honestly, she should’ve seen it coming. She knew that. However, it was too late to go back in time and shore up her job prospects. She simply had to stand strong and take it ... if she didn’t pass out from the lightheadedness threatening to overwhelm her.
“I take it I’m being fired,” she croaked out, wringing her hands.
“You’re being relocated,” he corrected. “We have a satellite office in Warren. That’s closer to your new home, I believe. You can either work there or take a severance package we’ve drawn up. It’s completely up to you.”
The old Hannah would’ve made the move to the crappy job in an effort to not make waves. The new Hannah was having none of that, though. Things might not have gone the way she predicted, but she had no intention of just taking the crap Archibald dished out.
“Let’s talk about the severance,” she suggested, taking control of the situation. “I’m guessing it’s not going to be acceptable. I bet we can get it there by the end of the day, though.”
Archibald arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps. I guess we’ll find out.”
IN THE END, HANNAH NEGOTIATEDsix months’ worth of severance and continued insurance. It wasn’t easy — Archibald dug his heels in on the dental and vision — but she ultimately got what she wanted when she reminded him that Michael would be free and clear once she was completely gone from the company.
“As long as I’m here, I’ll always be the woman you had to keep around because you were afraid I would sue — and with cause,” she reminded him. “Once I’m gone the whispers will turn to how well you treated me with the severance package. You won’t be the bad guys.”
Archibald’s lips slowly curved. “You’re much better at this than I’ve given you credit for,” he noted. “You should’ve shown similar initiative before it came to this. I might’ve found a reason to keep you.”
“You’re assuming I would’ve found a reason to be kept. I very much doubt there’s any scenario where that would’ve happened.”
In the end, Hannah was jobless but no longer tied to anything (or anyone) in the area. She had no family in Michigan — her older brother moved to New York after college to be near their father, who relocated after the death of his wife — and she had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. That’s what made the envelope she found in her mailbox all the more intriguing. It was from some place called Casper Creek, Kentucky.
“I’ve never heard of that,” Hannah muttered as she threw herself on the couch. It was something she picked up from the thrift store and it had a distinctive smell. Her black-lab-mix dog, Jinx, panted happily as he joined her. He didn’t seem bothered by the smell. Of course, he was so happy-go-lucky that almost nothing bothered him.
“Hi.” She smiled at the two-year-old bundle of energy. She and Michael adopted him together. Michael wanted to buy a purebred dog — something that could be shown off and serve as a conversation starter — but Hannah insisted on adopting an animal from a shelter. He was the one thing she took with her when she was forced from the townhouse, although Michael didn’t seem to mind that she took the dog with her when she left. “How was your day?”
Jinx merely tilted his head to the side and regarded her with soft eyes. He was happy to see her when she came home. That was his normal reaction. He didn’t seem to think she was uninspired.
“Should we look inside?” Hannah tore into the envelope and exhaled heavily. Now that the deed was done, she felt better. Of course, she still had to find a job. She’d also negotiated a job recommendation from Archibald and a promise that he and Michael wouldn’t badmouth her to prospective employers. Since Archibald wanted her to be nothing more than a bad memory, he readily agreed to those terms in an effort to make sure they both got what they wanted.
Hannah wasn’t sure what she expected to find in the envelope. She thought Casper Creek was probably some sort of spa resort that would want to tempt her with sugar rubs and mud baths. Those were the sort of things she could occasionally indulge in when dating Michael. She very much doubted they would be in her future moving forward. Instead of a brochure, though, she found a copy of a will ... and a whole new adventure she was never expecting.
“What the ... ?” Her misery from earlier in the day forgotten, Hannah leaned forward and peered at the documents she’d removed from the envelope.
Jinx might not have been able to read, but he recognized the change in her demeanor and gave her a sloppy kiss on the cheek as he expectantly waited for her to explain what she was looking at. There were times when Hannah was convinced that he knew exactly what she was feeling ... and saying. He was a goofy dog, but he was also intelligent. She never doubted that.
“According to this, I’ve inherited a town,” Hannah muttered. There was nobody to talk to besides Jinx, so that’s exactly what she did. “A town. It’s some sort of themed town.”
Jinx bopped his head, seemingly excited.
“It’s like a role-playing town. One of those cosplay towns. Everyone dresses up like gunfighters ... and saloon girls ... and rides horses and stuff.”
Jinx merely continued to stare.
“Someone left it to me. A grandmother ... although, I don’t really remember having a grandmother. Do you think I had a grandmother who was still alive after all?”
Jinx couldn’t answer that, so he didn’t.
“This has to be a mistake.” Hannah was certain of that. There was no way she could’ve inherited a town ... especially at a time when she had no job or prospects. That was simply too coincidental. “I’ll call the attorney listed on here and talk to him tomorrow. I’m certain it was a mistake.”
Turn away if you haven’t read Grim Vows.
So, the final book in the first reaper series is finished and you can see where it’s going.
I always knew exactly how the book would end (the epilogue). It’s been in my head for years. I didn’t always know I was going to do another series but I had so many ideas I couldn’t let it go.
So, what will happen in Izzy’s world?
Honestly, it’s going to be a lot of the same … only a little bit different.
When we open the next book, Aisling is very close to giving birth. In fact, she will give birth in Only the Lonely and you will be able to see it. Because I wanted to use grim reapers in Moonstone Bay, I sent Griffin and Aisling on their honeymoon there. I originally planned to debut Only the Lonely after that book but people were freaking out so much that I felt it was necessary to debut the book right away. So, you will go forward in time nine months for Only the Lonely and then back a bit for Freaky Deaky Tiki in January. It’s not the end of the world but I wanted to make you aware there’s a bit of fudging with the timeline.
Izzy spent some of her childhood in Detroit. Her parents handled the gate on Belle Isle (which is only twenty minutes from Grimlock Manor, so it’s a new location but you’re still hanging in the old locations). Her parents were killed following an “accident” at the gate. That is a mystery, much like Lily Grimlock’s true intentions, that will unfold over the course of the entire series.
There’s a handful of new characters. I didn’t want to go overboard because there are a lot of old characters who can serve the same function as new characters. Cormack will technically be Izzy’s boss, which means he’s around often. So are the others, although Braden gets the most screen time.
Why Braden? Because he was the most interesting. Redmod is a good guy but he doesn’t have the emotional issues Braden does. Plus, well, Braden and Aisling’s relationship isn’t done quite percolating yet. They are the most alike and they will interact in hilarious fashion once the baby arrives and Izzy and Aisling bond.
All the other characters will be there. The new interaction – Izzy is not their sister so they treat her differently – will allow you different insight into their character. Jerry will be there. Even Angelina shows up in the first book … as does Bub. Also, Izzy is tied to another character in the Grimlock world, although I’m going to save that reveal for the actual book (which is not far away).
The first Grimlock series was about the family you’re born into. The second will be more about the family you make. Izzy has a family, but only two people remain and they will play into the story going forward. She’s going to have a massive adopted family going forward … and getting used to them is not always going to be comfortable.
She’s feisty, but she’s “more” than the others. She doesn’t even know the strength of her powers yet. She’s not just reaper, which expands the world.
So, I think that’s it. It should be pretty straightforward going forward. You will get to see a lot of baby Lily and how the family reacts. Griffin will be involved because a police presence is always necessary. Jerry will be around because he’s too much fun to ignore.
Honestly, the first book has Izzy bonding with Aisling the most (although Braden is not far behind). That is by design going forward.
It’s a new series but it’s the same world. It’s simply growing bigger.
Thank you for reading.
I’ve had some questions about how I decide which crossovers to do.
I think a lot of people believe I do it just to do it, but a lot more energy goes into the decision than that.
Basically, crossovers happen when I need a specific type of character. If I already have that character in my library, why create a new one?
So, for example, I knew I wanted to tackle werewolves in my Charlie Rhodes series. I already had wolf shifters thanks to Aric and Sami from the Covenant series … and there was natural crossover ability between Zoe and Charlie because they’re both magical. So, it was pretty easy.
The same for my Moonstone Bay series. I knew I had a story where I wanted to deal with a reaper situation on the island. Hadley was going to have to interact with other reapers. I just happened to have a family of them … and guess what, two were about to go on their honeymoon. It was the perfect time, which is why Freaky Deaky Tiki in January will feature Hadley’s gang interacting with Aisling and Griffin. There might even be some group phone calls home so you get to see a few more reaper characters, even if it’s only brief interaction.
The upcoming Mystic Caravan crossover with the Wicked Witches of the Midwest is slightly different. Even though I didn’t feel our circus friends necessarily needed witches, I couldn’t get the idea of Nellie and Aunt Tillie hanging out together out of my head. It haunted and haunted me until the rest of the story started taking shape.
On the flip side, I know exactly the story I want to tell when the Covenant folks visit the Mystic Caravan Circus. I’ve known the basics of that story since I launched the series. I’m simply waiting for the right time in the narrative because Zoe’s interaction with Max and Kade will be an important stepping stone. It has to be tackled at the exact right time.
As for other crossovers, I have some ideas but they’re simply notions right now. Under my pen name, I plan to cross over as many characters as possible. There really is no order. It’s simply when the crossover can fit into the narrative without causing issues and I can wedge in the writing. That’s it.
I have a basic idea for a Mystic Caravan crossover with Moonstone Bay … and a potential visit to the island for Aric and Zoe (although that’s really just a few stray thoughts at this point). I keep notebooks all over my house, and when I have an idea, I jot them down and sort through them later. That means some crossover ideas are closer than others.
When are the next two? Ironically, they’re right on top of each other. Freaky Deaky Tiki (the reaper and Moonstone Bay crossover) hits in January 2019 and Freaky Witches (the Mystic Caravan and Wicked Witches of the Midwest crossover) hits in February 2019. As for after that, I can’t say.
I do believe Charlie Rhodes will eventually cross paths with some reapers … and very probably the circus. Will she go to Moonstone Bay? I don’t know. I’m constantly thinking and jotting down notes, so anything is possible.
What do you think? What crossover do you most want to see?
I get a lot of questions about why I end a series, or if I have a plan from the start.
The answer is: Sometimes.
Sometimes I do have a plan, like with Aisling Grimlock. I always knew how the series would end. That being said, I wasn’t quite sure how many books it would shake out to be and even after I realized when “the end” was coming, that allowed me to think outside the box and come up with the spinoff series, which will involve all the original players as they interact with a new heroine (more on that series later).
With Covenant College, I originally thought it was going to be eight books. I was going to do one book for each semester and that was it. I realized pretty quickly that it was too hard to find story for semesters and that’s when I switched over to covering one school year (like Harry Potter with a way more snark).
After I wrapped up the series, I thought that was it. Then I had ideas for the two trilogies. Even though the series was never a huge seller, I decided to do the two event series and I’m happy with how things wrapped up. I’ve gotten a few messages since asking if I plan to spin-off to Sami, but honestly, I don’t see that happening. The Covenant folks will appear in crossovers, but that’s it.
The other series are all open. That essentially means I will keep writing as long as:
1. I have stories I want to tell.
2. Fans are still enjoying the series.
3. Sales are holding steady.
While I would like to say money doesn’t play into it, that’s not true. If a series stops selling, then it will end. I try to pump up my series with advertising as much as I can, which is always helpful, but advertising is a double-edged sword. Finding effective advertising is difficult and then securing that advertising isn’t easy. That’s why authors are always so worried about reviews. We need a specific number and rating to secure advertising, and while readers might not consider three stars a negative review, advertisers do. In fact, anything less than four stars works against authors and it’s become a thing. Readers often think authors are always begging for reviews because of ego but it’s really for advertising purposes because it’s a competitive market out there.
So, how long will my current series last? Good question.
Charlie Rhodes and Moonstone Bay are new, so they’ll be around for years.
Reaction to the most recent Avery Shaw makes me believe that it’s best to start thinking about an exit strategy. So, that will probably mean three more books. I was hoping to figure out a way to keep adding to Avery Shaw for a long time (years and years), but I don’t know how feasible that is going to be. The thing with Avery is, though, she doesn’t need a “big” ending. That means I can essentially keep the series open and add books here and there without sticking to a fixed schedule. Nothing is decided yet, but I will be giving it a lot of thought going forward and readers should probably brace themselves that either the series will end or there will only be one entry a year going forward (after 2018, you will still get a second book this year).
For Wicked Witches of the Midwest, we’re looking at some changes there, too. I get a lot of grief for the fantasies (I mean … a lot) and while I enjoy them, a lot of people hate them. I will stick to the schedule and release a second fantasy this year but going forward, it’s likely there will only be one fantasy a year to go with the two mysteries.
As for my pen name, Rowan Gray is a set story and will be nine total books. There are two more books in the Maddie Graves series and then she will be in crossovers, but that’s it. Ivy and Harper are sticking around for a bit, but they won’t continue forever. I came up with the crossover concept to keep the characters alive even after a series ends, though, so those characters could carry on for a very long time. New series will be coming in whenever a series ends, though, which creates even more crossover opportunities.
In truth, I have a lot of series I want to write. You would be stunned if you saw my computer desktop. We’re talking completed covers and outlines, and a lot of excitement. Making decisions on when to end a series isn’t easy, but it’s also exciting because it means I can bring a new series into the mix. It’s exceedingly difficult to find the correct balance on this stuff, though. That’s why I basically look at sales, reviews and fan reaction when making the decisions.
So, that’s it. I will let you know when something is going to end, and I will never leave a series hanging without an ending. That’s not how I roll. I will always craft an exit for each series because I’ve been burned by series ending without notice and I hate that.
So, it’s not happening here.
Basically that’s it, though. I am always watching and considering the next move to make.
Thank you for reading.
There are some authors out there who struggle to come up with ideas. I know because I hang around with them on the internet (and in person sometimes). They’re always fascinated by me because I have so many ideas I will never be able to write them all.
I’m the person who can see a photo on a site like Shutterstock and have an entire series geared around it in about two hours. I’m not saying that to brag. It’s simply the way my mind works. I have too many ideas and not enough time to write them all.
In October, I went to a writing conference and hung around with some cool authors, most of whom I already knew from hanging around together on line. We got to talking one night around the tiki bar (I’m now obsessed with tiki bars and totally want to include them in every series I write) and started hatching a world. I don’t even think we realized we were hatching a world until we were already knee deep in rum runners and laughter.
Who are those authors? Annabel Chase and Leighann Dobbs. We spent a lot of time together and had a great time. In fact, if you ask people hanging around with us, some people will say that Annabel and I were laughing so hard we sounded like cackling witches. We all had a lot of ideas that started flying fast and furious … so many so that it became obvious we needed to work on a project together.
As we got to talking, one of the things we knew right away was that we needed a fourth writer. We wanted someone who wrote outstanding witch books – because it will be a witch shared world – and we all decided Gina LaManna fit right in with our plans. It wasn’t even a debate. We all agreed on her right out of the box. We reached out to her, she accepted, and now we have four witch writers building a world together.
It’s been a learning experience. Much like Avery Shaw, I worried I wouldn’t work well with others. Surprisingly, that part has gone well.
The benefit of a shared world is that we can create a special place (in this case it’s an island called Eternal Springs) and share overlapping characters. Basically, we each created our own witch, came up with a backstory, and then let our imaginations take hold. Another benefit of a shared world is that with all of us working in it, there will be four books quickly and yet we don’t have to take time away from our other series to explore the shared world. It’s basically the best of multiple worlds.
So, right now, the plan is to debut all four books in the Eternal Springs series in July. We’re steadily working on world building now. If people like them and they do well, we will continue the world. If they don’t do well, each book can stand on its own and serve as a complete story. Each author will mainly focus on her witch but we will include the other witches as side characters so there will be tons of overlap.
Right now, it’s an experiment, but it’s one we’re all looking forward to. I will keep you updated as we get firm publication dates and I hope everyone enjoys the ride … because we really are having a blast coming up with the world and I’m sure a lot of people think we sound like real witches when we’re talking with one another.
That might be part of the magic, which makes it even more fun.
NOTE: THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER OF MY NEW SERIES. IT HITS ON JANUARY 2ND (NO PREORDERS) AND WILL ALLOW FOR A LOT OF CROSSOVERS
“Welcome to Moonstone Bay. We have eight hotels, fifteen bars and hundreds of shopping destinations. Where can I take you?”
I arched an eyebrow as I stared at the man standing next to what could loosely be described as a taxicab. He was handsome – in a work out four hours a day, five days a week sort of way – and his brown hair was a tad unkempt. Given the cut of his cheekbones and broad shoulders, the messy hair made him all the more appealing. Sure, the Hawaiian shirt and chinos tempered his sex appeal, but not by much.
Unfortunately for him I wasn’t in the mood for hot guys and flirty banter. All I really wanted was a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and a cold cloth for my forehead. The choppy ride to Moonstone Bay – my new island home – on the world’s smallest and most turbulence-prone airplane ever designed had been nothing short of vomit inducing.
“I’m going to the Moonstone Bay Lighthouse.” I shifted my bag so it rested on my larger suitcase, which thankfully rolled on wheels. If I had to lift it I knew I’d throw up … or maybe pass out due to the heat and humidity. That wasn’t the way I wanted to say “hello” to my new home.
“Really?” An eyebrow winged up on the taxi driver’s handsome face. “You’re Hadley Hunter, huh?”
I wasn’t sure if I should be surprised or impressed. “Am I your only recent transplant?”
The man shrugged. “We’re a tourist destination. That means we see a lot of new faces. Very few of those faces are permanent.”
I spared a glance for the sunny sky, sandy beach and lush foliage that filled the area surrounding Moonstone Bay’s small airport. It wasn’t an airport like the one I’d left from in Detroit. That had been a metropolitan airport, packed with stores, restaurants and terminals. No, the Moonstone Bay airport had only one terminal and two stores. You were either coming to or going from Moonstone Bay. There were no connecting flights.
“I see.” I forced a smile as I tucked a strand of my long black hair behind my ear. I could already tell the humidity was going to be murder on my tresses. It would soon become wider than it was long if I didn’t get a hand on decent hair care products. I didn’t give that due thought before rushing headlong into lunacy and uprooting my entire life to move to a place I’d never heard of and surrounding myself with people I’d never met.
Maybe I should go back. No one wants to deal with permanent summer hair, right?
“You seem a bit overwhelmed.” The man smiled as he grabbed my suitcase and loaded it into the back of the cab. The vehicle in question was actually a small bus, one of those you see in movies from the sixties and think are cute on first inspection – until you’re forced to sit on cracked vinyl seats and realize the air conditioning no longer works.
“I’m not overwhelmed.” Even though the words came easily to my lips I didn’t believe them. I hoped the man would be a different story. I was determined to meet this new adventure with a bold heart and open mind. I’m naturally snarky and prone to bouts of rampant complaining, so I wasn’t sure that was possible. I was going to give it my best shot, though. “I’m simply a bit sick to my stomach.”
“Ah.” The man nodded, recognition dawning. “You were on the morning flight, which means you were on the smallest plane that stops here. If I remember correctly, that plane makes the ride a bit … rocky.”
That was putting it mildly. “I think I’ll take the ferry next time.”
“If you have a weak stomach, that won’t help. The waters are choppy when you come in through the bay.”
“Well, great.” I meant the exact opposite. I’m the only person I know who’d pick a new home that promised continuous vomiting whenever I traveled to and from it. That was so … me.
“Yeah, you’re overwhelmed.” The man grinned as he extended his hand. “I’m Booker, by the way.”
I slowly accepted his hand. “Booker? Is that a first or last name?”
Booker bobbed his head and grinned. “Yes.”
Huh. Given the way he looked – half hot, half schlub – I guess I could expect nothing less. “It’s nice to meet you. I take it you’re the island taxi driver.”
“Among other things.” Booker ushered me to the passenger side of the small bus and opened the door. “Hop in. I’ll give you the ten-cent tour of our fine island on the way to the lighthouse.”
“I can’t wait.”
Booker was the chatty sort, which seemed to go with his outfit rather than his chiseled facial features. He didn’t bother looking both ways before pulling into non-existent traffic as he began his running commentary.
“You’ll find there’re very few vehicles on the island,” Booker explained, waving at an elderly woman on the sidewalk. “The island is only fifty square miles and the bulk of the population resides in the main city.”
“The island and the city are both named the same thing, right?”
Booker nodded. “Moonstone Bay.”
“It’s a unique name.”
“It’s a unique place.”
I’d landed only an hour before, so I could hardly argue with that. “So, I’m guessing the main industry is tourism.” I kept my eyes on the scenery flashing past the window. “Does that sustain the entire island?”
“Pretty much.” Booker’s smile was enigmatic. “There are farms on the far side of the island, so we have our own fresh produce and meat. Other than that, almost everything we do is in the name of tourism.”
“You don’t sound particularly happy about that.”
Booker pursed his lips. “I’m not unhappy with it. I’m merely … used to it. This is a new experience for you so it will probably take a bit of time to get used to island living. It’s not something most people embrace overnight.”
That was a strange statement. “Isn’t island living the same as living anyplace else … just on an island?”
Instead of agreeing, Booker barked out a laugh. “You’re cute.”
“Thanks … I think.”
“Island living isn’t like anything else you’ve ever experienced, I can promise you that.”
“You don’t even know me,” I pointed out. “I could be a wild person who jumps from island to island for all you know.”
Booker slid an appraising look in my direction. “I think you’re probably wild, but I doubt very much you’ve ever lived on an island.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re whiter than Maddie Park’s new bikini.”
“She owns a store on the main drag. That’s not important.”
“Then why did you say it?”
“Because I talk a lot and sometimes I simply say things to fill uncomfortable silences.”
“We’ve yet to have an uncomfortable silence.”
“Give it time. I always seem to find them.” Booker lifted his chin as we hit a busy part of town. “This is the main drag. It’s where you’ll find all the stores and restaurants. Even though we’re taking the scenic route, you’ll find that when we get to the lighthouse that you’re within walking distance of all of it.”
“I guess it’s good that I don’t have a car, huh?”
“You won’t need one. And they limit how many vehicles are allowed on the island,” Booker supplied. “I recommend getting a bicycle. It makes things easier. Maybe one with a little basket so you can transport groceries.”
That sounded nothing like me. “I’m pretty sure you’ll never see me on a bicycle with a basket.”
“Oh, come on,” Booker prodded. “I think you look exactly the type to have a basket, a pink bike helmet and one of those little horns to make sure people stay out of your way when you illegally ride on the sidewalks. By the way, that’s a big no-no. The Moonstone Bay Downtown Development Authority will fine you if you’re caught riding a bicycle on the sidewalks. That’s only allowed on the roads.”
“Good to know.”
“I can see you’re trying not to laugh, but I’m not exaggerating,” Booker said. “The fines are like five hundred bucks so … just keep it in mind.”
That sounded absolutely absurd given the state of the world today – you know, real crime and stuff – but he appeared serious enough that I filed away the tidbit for later. “I’ll remember what you said. I promise.”
“Good.” Booker was back to smiling. “So, this is the main drag, and pretty much everything you’ll need is here. That includes grocery and hardware stores. The bars are great and friendly to everyone. The same goes for the restaurants.”
“It looks so … colorful.” That was the only word I could think to describe it. From the kitschy T-shirt store with the pink awning to the tiki bar with colored surfboards dotting the walls, the entire main drag was a nuclear bomb of pastels. “Do you have regular seasons?”
“We’re an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Florida,” Booker noted. “We only have two seasons. Hot and hotter.”
“I guess that means your schedule is busy and busier.”
Booker nodded without hesitation. “That’s exactly right. Maybe you are geared toward island life after all.”
Somehow that sounded like an insult. “Give me the rundown,” I instructed, resting my hand on my stomach in an effort to settle it as I leaned forward. “Are there any crazy politicians? Eccentric residents? Overenthusiastic cops?”
Booker nodded. “Yes.”
“I didn’t realize I had to make a choice.”
“Good grief.” I heaved out a sigh. “I guess living on an island is like living in a fish bowl, huh? Everyone knows everyone’s business and all of those little things that drive you nuts about other people in big cities are magnified.”
“Or maybe people are the same everywhere – at least deep down – and you find those sorts of things wherever you go,” Booker suggested. “You, for example.”
My eyebrows flew up my forehead. “Me?”
“Word on the street is that you come to us from Detroit,” Booker explained. “I’m guessing you’ve seen your fair share of crime. That’s the stereotype, at least. Island folk deal with that all the time. People think we’re simple and quaint. People probably think you’ve witnessed a few murders and had your hubcaps stolen. How does that make you feel?”
“I’ve only seen one murder after a botched robbery outside of a casino and my hubcaps have been stolen three times.”
Booker merely shrugged. “Were they nice hubcaps?”
I ignored the question. “I think stereotypes are often wrong, but they exist for a reason.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” Booker flicked his turn signal and steered the bus toward the beach. “I knew your grandmother well. May was … interesting.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of the statement. “I never met her.”
Instead of being surprised, Booker merely pressed his lips together. “I know. She told me.”
“She told you?” I couldn’t contain my curiosity. “I’ve been trying to sort my way through this situation since I first got notification of her death three months ago. I had no idea she existed.”
“She knew about you.” Booker’s expression was hard to read as he remained focused on the road. “She told me about you before she died.”
“You were with her when she died?”
“Not at that exact moment,” Booker clarified. “May was a favorite daughter of the island. When she got sick – when we realized that she might not be able to fight off the cancer as easily as she did the old biddies at the senior center – we all made it a point to spend time with her.”
“Because you thought she needed help?”
“Because we didn’t want her to be alone,” Booker corrected. “No one should be alone at the end.”
“I guess.” I tugged a restless hand through my hair as I shifted on the seat. “I’m confused how she knew about me and yet I never knew about her.”
“Perhaps you should ask your mother.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Booker’s expression reflected remorse. “May mentioned that Emma died when she was close to crossing over, but I was hopeful that she was merely delirious. She didn’t talk about Emma much after she left the island.”
“I don’t know anything about her,” I said, licking my lips. It wasn’t in my nature to volunteer sensitive information to a guy I didn’t even know, but there was something about Booker’s quirky personality that appealed to me … and not in a Sex and the City way. More of a Friends way. I’m talking about Friends before they all started pairing off. Wait, what were we talking about again?
“You didn’t know your mother?” Booker furrowed his brow. “But … I don’t understand.”
That made two of us. “My mother died giving birth to me.”
“Oh.” Booker’s expressive face flooded with sympathy. “I didn’t know that. I always thought Emma ran off and lived happily ever after … or at least as much as was possible. It makes me sad to realize she’s been gone all these years and I didn’t even know it.”
I took a moment to give Booker another probing stare. He looked to be my age, maybe a few years older. He certainly wasn’t old enough to have hung around with my mother when she lived on Moonstone Bay. “Did you know my mother?”
“Of course not.” Booker answered almost immediately. He seemed sincere, yet there was something off about the response, something I couldn’t quite identify. “She and my mother were friends.”
“Really?” I forced myself to relax a bit. “Maybe I could talk to her once I’m settled. I don’t know anything about my mother except that she was married to my father and they were looking forward to having me. That’s what my father told me, anyway.”
“I wish that was possible, but my mother passed on some time ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I was sorry, too.” Booker forced a smile for my benefit. “As for your mother, I’m sure I can come up with names of a few people who knew her. They’ll want to meet you because … well … just because.”
“Because of my grandmother?”
“She was beloved around here.”
“And my mother?”
Booker shrugged as he pulled into a long driveway. I saw the lighthouse, white brick walls with red accents and a fancy blue roof reaching into the sky offsetting the lovely beach tableau stretching out behind it. “Your mother was before my time, but I believe she was beloved, too.”
“Then why did she leave?”
“Island life isn’t for everyone.” Booker flashed a toothy grin. “But it’s the only way for some people. I have a feeling you might be one of them.”
Even though I found him a bit odd, I couldn’t help but return the smile. “What makes you say that?”
“Because you’re here.” Booker stopped the bus in front of the lighthouse. “This was your grandmother’s home for her entire life. It was your mother’s home for the first nineteen years of her life. Now it’s your home.”
“You seem to know a lot about my mother despite the fact that she was older than you.”
“It’s a small island. Gossip spreads like mustard on a ham sandwich.”
I tilted my head to the side, dumbfounded. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that saying before.”
“Then you haven’t been hanging with the cool kids.” Booker put the bus into park and killed the engine, his eyes bright as they caressed the lighthouse’s bright façade. “I’m glad you’ll be staying here. It’s been sad to see the place so dark and quiet the past three months.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t sure I was going to come at all,” I admitted. “When I got the letter … well, let’s just say I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I had no idea I had a grandmother. For some reason I always thought my mother was alone in the world.”
“Why did you think that?”
“My father knew very little about her, and apparently she never volunteered information.”
“Maybe she thought she would have more time.”
“Maybe.” I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead as I reached for the door handle. “Well, thanks for the ride. I appreciate the tour.”
Booker snorted. “You’re a poor actress, but I appreciate the effort.” Instead of waiting for me to collect my luggage and head toward the lighthouse, Booker pocketed his keys as he exited the vehicle. “Would you like some help?”
Of course I would. I didn’t want to get a reputation for being needy, though. “I’m sure I can manage.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I … can figure it out.” I struggled with the answer, but managed to muster a smile. “It’s just a lighthouse, right?”
Booker snorted, legitimately amused. “Yeah. How about I give you a tour and we’ll see if you still feel the same way? How’s that sound?”
It sounded like the best offer I’d had all day. “It sounds like you can carry the big suitcase.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.