For the first time, here are the last three books in the Chintz 'n China paranormal cozy mystery series, collected together into one volume.

Book Four — A Harvest of Bones:

It's harvest time in Chiqetaw, Washington; Emerald O'Brien's favorite season. But this year, nature yields a most supernatural bounty. When Em and her sweetie, Joe, stumble over a bramble-covered foundation that has remained hidden for fifty years in the lot next door, strange events begin to occur. The cat vanishes. Will o' the Wisps threaten to harm Emerald and her loved ones. And the ghost of a woman named Brigit and her beloved calico make themselves at home in the backyard. Now it's up to Em and her friends to delve into the past, reveal the secrets of the dead and lay them to rest as they ring in the autumn with a harvest of bones.

Book Five — One Hex of a Wedding:

Emerald O'Brien is about to tie the knot with her fiance Joe, but one uninvited guest to their engagement party reminds her that some ties still need to be severed. Her ex-hubby Roy can't hold his liquor--or his temper--and after brawling with Joe, he threatens to ruin their wedding. When Joe is wounded from a gunshot the next day, Roy becomes the prime suspect. Emerald knows her ex has a mean streak a mile wide but doesn't believe he'd be capable of attempted murder. And when a sinister presence starts stalking her maid of honor, Em begins to worry that her marriage has been cursed before she's even walked down the aisle...

Book Six — Holiday Spirits:

When Kip gets himself in serious trouble, a strange spirit enters the house—one that at first poses as Santa Claus. But beneath that jolly exterior, lies a dark creature from legend and lore. Join Emerald O’Brien for the holidays, as she battles both psychic turbulence as well as the demons every mother faces when her child lands in trouble with the law.

Additional books continuing the series that are not included in this set:

Ghost of a Chance (book 1)
Legend of the Jade Dragon (book 2)
Murder Under A Mystic Moon (book 3)

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Release Date: September 26, 2017

When Sandy needs help rescuing her ward, she never dreams that she’ll end up with a tiger by the tail.

Sandy Clauson is Mad Maudlin’s best friend. When Sandy’s ward Jenna goes missing on Paulson’s Peak, Sandy must face the wrath of a major storm to find her. When weretiger Max Davenport—new to Bedlam—offers to help, Sandy finds that, not only does he guide her through the ice and snow, but he comes dangerously close to melting the walls that guard her heart.

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THE PHONE BELTED out Highway to Hell at an alarmingly loud level. Startled, I yanked off my sleep mask and shot straight up in bed, grabbing my phone by sheer force of habit. I pressed the TALK button as I brought it to my ear.

"Unnh?" was the only word I could muster up.

"Cassandra Clauson?"

The voice was no-nonsense, registering as male through the hangover haze that had knocked me on my butt. Alex and I had polished off a blender full of daiquiris the night before and my head felt like it was stuffed full of dryer lint.

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I squinted at the phone, holding it away from my ear. Without my contacts, the Caller ID was blurry, but I could just barely make out the letters. The moment I recognized the name-Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students-I leaned back against my pillows and tried for force some semblance of diplomacy into my voice, even though I wanted to ask them what the fuck they meant by calling so early. It could be bad news, so I needed to clear my head and listen.

"This is Sandy. Clauson. Is everything all right?"

"Ms. Clauson, tomorrow is the Seventh Term's elemental nature hike. We still haven't received your written permission for Jenna to accompany the class."

Oh crap. Last night I kept thinking I had forgotten something, and now I knew what. Jenna was my ward-at least temporarily. Derry, a friend of mine, had undertaken a world tour that would last at least two years. She hadn't wanted to drag her daughter all over Timbuktu and beyond, so I had agreed to oversee Jenna's welfare. Jenna lived at the Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students, and I had temporary custody. I was still getting used to the Mom thing, though I doubted I'd ever win any accolades for mother-of-the-year. While Jenna lived at the academy, she would be staying with me on some weekends. I wasn't sure exactly how it would work out, But Derry had chosen me and nobody else but me, so I was determined to return her daughter to her in one, happy, well-adjusted piece.

"Listen, as soon as I'm up for the day, I'll fax over a permission slip. Email me the information you need, where they're going, and I'll get right on that when..." I paused to glance at the time. Fucking hell. Six AM?

"Really? You are really calling me this early?" So much for diplomacy. Nobody ever called me before ten unless it was an emergency. Not even Maddy, my best friend.

"I'm sorry Ms. Clauson. We always call parents and guardians early when something like this comes up."

"Fine...fine. Just send me the info. Thanks." As soon as the line went dead, I slid the sleep mask over my eyes again and settled back under the covers. I was out like a light, before I could even ponder just how much this guardianship gig was going to affect my life.

***

TWO HOURS LATER, I had showered and dressed. I had dressed for comfort-yoga pants, a gauzy peasant shirt, and a pair of Uggs-and I hurried toward the dining room, determined to get a clear-headed start on the day. As I passed Alex in the hall, he pressed a cup of coffee into my hand. He was swiping away on his phone.

"Here's your coffee. Texting you your schedule for today. Your bear claw is on the table." Alex pulled out a chair for me. "I also took the liberty of printing out the permission slip from Neverfall for Jenna's hike tomorrow." He slid the paper onto the table and handed me a pen. "Sign there, and there, and I'll fax it right back to them."

I sat down and, taking the pen, scribbled my name on the appropriate lines. "Where are they going?"

"The Wonderland Trail up on Paulson's Peak. Elemental magic lesson-out in the wild, so to speak. How old is she again?" Alex hadn't met Jenna yet.

"She's thirteen and smart as a whip."

I flipped open my tablet and, picking up the tongs, selected a bear claw, dropping it onto the waiting plate. The pastries were fresh, a yeasty, rich smell filled the room. My stomach rumbled. I loved bear claws, and cinnamon rolls, and anything else that had a thick layer of glaze on it. The coffee was Kona-deep, dark, and strong, just the way I liked it. I settled back with a satisfied sigh. "That hits the spot. Where's Mr. Peabody?"

Mr. Peabody was my new pet. He was a skunk who had been de-scented by a previous owner, then abandoned to the wild. A few weeks ago, I had found him in a snow bank, as he desperately tried to scurry over to me. It quickly became apparent that Mr. Peabody had only ever known a domestic life, so I gathered him up and brought him home.

We got on well. He was an independent little guy, but we had our cuddles, and he was good at keeping away door-to-door salesmen. All I had to do was call him over when I answered the door, and the solicitors ran for the hills. My vet had given Mr. Peabody a clean bill of health, had microchipped and vaccinated him, and I decided to name him after one of my favorite cartoon characters. Since he'd been living with me, Mr. Peabody had developed a fondness for Alex and hung out with him during the day.

"Mr. Peabody is having his breakfast in the kitchen. His highness deigned to eat turkey gravy platter this morning. He's decided that chicken liver pate no longer appeals to his palate." Alex snorted. "Goofball. Anyway, as to your schedule, I've added a party tonight. I know you didn't want to attend any more social events this week, but this sounded like one you really should make an appearance at."

I wrinkled my nose. My schedule was meeting-heavy today. While I had money to burn, I wasn't one to sit around idle. I was on the board of directors of the Sand Witches-a chain of upscale eateries my ex and I owned. We had opened them before he discovered his attraction to Robert, a twenty-two year old waiter. But as shocked as I had been, I knew better than to blame either one of us. After I had processed through the loss, I decided we might as well stay friends. We made good partners in business, and in my over three hundred years, I had learned a lot about human nature, and one thing I knew for sure: you don't throw away people because they come late to an understanding about themselves.

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Knight Magic

This novella is no longer available separately--you can find it included in this anthology: Otherworld Tales, Volume 2

Camille journeys to Otherworld on a quest to find the last member of the Keraastar Knights. There, she must face one of the ancient Fae Lords who stands between her and the key to fulfilling her destiny. And there, she also discovers that her past has come full circle to meet her future.

This novelette takes place between Moon Shimmers, book 19 of the Otherworld Series, and the upcoming Harvest Song, book 20.

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When Kip gets himself in serious trouble, a strange spirit enters the house—one that at first poses as Santa Claus. But beneath that jolly exterior, lies a dark creature from legend and lore. Join Emerald O’Brien for the holidays, as she battles both psychic turbulence as well as the demons every mother faces when her child lands in trouble with the law.

 

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IT WAS THREE weeks till Christmas and the first snowfall of the season was hitting hard. We usually got a dusting of snow, or a few inches, but this year it was particularly chilly and the meteorologists were talking about something going on with the jet stream and La Niña and how we'd better brace for a whopper of a storm. So Joe made sure that we were well stocked with wood for the fireplace, and we had changed out all of the windows for double-paned ones, and made certain the furnace was cleaned and working well.

It still boggled my mind how willing Joe was to tackle the chores. Being married to someone who was interested in what was going on at home-someone who wanted to be in a partnership as opposed to a dictatorship-was proving to be a new experience for me. I was still getting used to the changes that had taken place over the past year or so.

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On late Friday afternoon, I was almost finished with the last of the tree ornaments. Well, trees. We had two of them, an artificial one in the living room, which was eight feet tall, and then a large spruce in the front yard that we had to use a huge ladder to reach the top of. That one, Joe and the kids took care of. I wasn't all that comfortable creeping fifteen feet up a ladder.

As I hung two perfect satin owls on the tree, Kip came racing in.

"Mom? Mom!" He skidded to a halt as I gave him the no-running-in-the-house look.

I stared at my son, catching my breath as I realized how fast he was growing up. He was only eleven, but he had undergone a growth spurt and shot up three inches over the past few months. He was almost normal height now. He'd never been tall and I doubted he ever would be, but he was lanky and lean and looking like a gangly preteen now.

"What's shaking, kiddo?" I smiled. Kip had really blossomed since Joe and I had walked down the aisle. I hadn't seen my son this happy in a long time. Miranda-my fifteen-year-old daughter-barely batted an eyelash as Joe had moved in. But Joe meant the world to Kip, providing the father figure he had wanted for so long. Roy, his birth father, was doing better but he would never be the father who would teach Kip to be a good man. He just didn't have the dad gene. But I had to hand it to Roy. He had managed to stay in rehab for six months and though he was still battling with his alcoholism, he was trying.

"Mom, I heard something in the basement." Kip cocked his head, watching as I tried to squeeze another dozen ornaments onto the tree. I decorated like a fiend and woe be anybody who got between me and my ornament obsession.

I paused, the glittering orb suddenly heavy in my hand. "Something...or some...thing?" Life had quieted down for some time on the astral level. Either that or I had just been so busy I hadn't noticed anything going on. But neither spook nor spirit had raised its ugly head during the past six months. Even down at my tea shop-the Chintz ‘n China-the tarot readings had been easy, and life blessedly uneventful.

Slowly, I set the orb back on the coffee table, making sure it didn't roll off onto the floor. I draped my arm around Kip's shoulders and led him over to the sofa. He squirmed a little but let me sit next to him. Yeah, he was growing up, all right.

"I think...thing, Mom. There's something down there."

Damn it! I tried so hard to ward the house and keep the nasties at bay. "When did you first feel it? And is it...are you afraid?"

My son was as psychic as I was. I had taken him in hand a few years back after an astral entity had briefly possessed him and started teaching him how to ward and shield himself. It had proven to be an easy task, given that Kip took to magic readily. Miranda, on the other hand, wanted very little to do with that side of my life. Her focus was up among the stars. She wanted to be an astronomer. Or maybe an astronaut. She hadn't fully decided yet.

Kip tipped his head to the side. After a moment, he shrugged. "Kind of. It doesn't feel all that friendly and I know that whatever it is, it doesn't belong in the basement. I think there might be more than one, though. The second one feels darker. Denser?" He frowned. "Like gravy that's too thick."

Dense energy usually meant "low" energy, which meant energy vibrating at a level that could be dangerous. And that meant I'd have to go investigate and, quite possibly, kick some ghostly ass. But the ghost busting would have to wait because we were ready for dinner, and I wanted to finish the tree. As long as nobody was actively trying to scare us out of house and home, I wasn't about to let them interfere with our routine.

"Dinner!" Joe's voice rang out from the kitchen. He was a better cook than I was, though I could manage enough to fill my family's stomachs without too much complaint.

I stood and held out my hand, pulling him to his feet. "Oof, you're getting big, kiddo. How dare you grow up on me!"

"I can't wait till the other guys stop picking on me because I'm short."

"Yeah, I understand. Well, just don't get too big for your mother, okay?" I nodded toward the kitchen. "Come on. Let's go eat."

He gave me a quick hug. He'd always been short and thin, but now he was four-foot-five. I still had a few inches on him but give him another year and he'd be as tall as I was. Yes, my Kipling was growing up.

"What are your plans for the evening? You want to help me put up garland?"

He flushed. "Can we do that tomorrow? I'd like to help, but I want to go over to Sly's after dinner."

"Kip, you know how I feel about that. You were over there last night."

The flush turned into a frown. "But Mom, we're working on a project together."

I let out a long sigh. Sly, his best friend, was also a juvenile delinquent in the making. The pair had gotten in a lot of trouble through the years, bouncing off one another in ever-escalating fiascos. So far, the worst had been breaking windows in an abandoned house, and trying to be junior-size con men by shaving the fur off Sly's dog and selling it as monster fur. But I was worried that one of these days their exploits would overstep the boundaries of high jinks. Kip promised that he'd be on his best behavior, but I knew how easily my son was swayed into stupid stunts.

"Okay, but be home by eight-thirty. Not a minute later than that, you understand? And if he's alone, I want you to call me and tell me so that I know." Sly's mother didn't keep track of her kid, and I worried about the boy, but there wasn't much I could do. The one time I tried to talk to Katherine she had blown me off like a bothersome mosquito.

We entered the kitchen, where Joe was setting a roast and mashed potatoes and salad on the table. A fireman, he worked four days on, three days off at the firehouse. Tomorrow, he'd be heading back to work, but when he was home, he enjoyed taking over the cooking.

As we gathered around the table, Miranda came bouncing in.

"Hey, I can't believe I made thirty bucks today tutoring the Jameson kid in math. He's not dumb, but he hates to study." She slid into a chair.

"Got plans for your windfall?" I asked.

She laughed as Joe handed her the juice. "College fund. Scholarships are nice and I know I'll get one, but I'm not about to let anything go to chance."

With that, we began to pass around the dishes, discussing our days over the clink of forks on china. After dinner, Kip took off for Sly's house, and Miranda headed out for the library to meet with her study group.

Joe turned to me. "We have the evening free." He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.

I grinned. "I'd love to hop into bed with you, but first, I have to look into a potential problem." I told him what Kip had said.

"Are you sure?" He wrapped his arms around me and pressed his lips to mine in a slow, fiery kiss. I was thirty-eight, Joe was twenty-eight, and we hadn't moved out of the hot-for-each-other stage, even after a couple of years. Deciding the ghosts could wait, I took his hand and led him upstairs.

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6

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When fun-loving witch Maddy Gallowglass moves to Bedlam to turn an old mansion into a magical bed-and-breakfast, the last thing she expects is to meet her match in the gorgeous vampire Aegis.

As Maudlin and Aegis prepare to open the Bewitching Bedlam B&B to guests, they immediately find themselves embroiled in a battle for customers. Ralph Greyhoof, the owner of the Heart’s Desire Inn, doesn’t like to share. The conflict heats up when Maddy finds a local witch dead in the rose garden. The woman looks a lot like Maudlin and suspicion falls on Ralph. But Maddy knows that as competitive as Ralph is, he wouldn’t resort to murder. Maudlin and Aegis set out to find the killer, even as their own relationship is put to the test. Aegis’s old flame has returned, determined to win him back, no matter what it takes.

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Chapter 1

"BUT WHY WON'T you paint it pink?"

Franny was standing in the middle of the kitchen. She also happened to be standing in the middle of the kitchen island, which gave the effect that she was cut off at the waist. Disconcerting to say the least, but I had quickly learned to keep my complaints about her displacement to myself. She took criticism hard, and I wasn't up to the fallout, which included full-scale whining and moaning à la Jacob Marley. There's nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to see a weeping ghost by your bed, staring at you with puppy-dog eyes, which was why I had banned her from my bedroom.

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"We've been over this at least a half-dozen times. I hate pink, unless it's fuchsia or magenta. I am not painting the kitchen pink just because you like it." Hands on my hips, I stared at my uninvited roommate. I might have to live with her, but I didn't have to let her call the shots. I had paid for the mansion. She just happened to be an added bonus, although I used the word "bonus" loosely.

"How do you think I feel? I can't leave this house. You changed my favorite parlor into a media room and put that horrible monster you call a television in there. You chased me out of your bedroom. And you're letting that...that...vampire live here." She spat out the word so vehemently that I was grateful that she wasn't corporeal, or I would have been hit with a mouthful of spit.

"That vampire is my boyfriend, who also happens to be one of the sweetest men around. You know perfectly well that Aegis doesn't harm his..."

I stopped. Technically, "victim" really would be the appropriate choice of words, but I felt like a traitor using it. Aegis didn't hurt anybody he drank from. Not unless they tried to stake him. And he never chose anybody who was anemic or diabetic. Vampires had the ability to tell when someone was low on their favorite flavor of fruit punch, or when that said punch had too much or too little sugar in it.

But Franny refused to see it my way, and I was tired of the argument. Every time she wanted me to change something, she fell back to "You let that vampire live here." I had heard it-or a variation thereof-so many times the past month that my head was spinning.

"Franny, get this through your misty mind. You have to deal with it. Aegis lives here. He sleeps with me. Well, technically we have sex in my bedroom. He sleeps in his coffin. But whatever the case, this is my house and I'll let whoever I want live here." I straightened my shoulders. "Count yourself lucky that I haven't hired an exorcist to deal with you."

"I wish you would! I hate being trapped." But Franny didn't sound like she meant it.

"I could evict you myself, you know. I could banish you. Bingo! One easy spell and boom, you'd be out on your ass, wandering the highway like some lost mournful spirit. But did I do that when I found out you were haunting my home? No. I did not."

I paused, suddenly deflating. I wasn't going to exorcise her ass and she knew it. Oh, I was trying to sound intimidating. But considering that I was holding a stuffed unicorn under my left arm and a tray of cookies in my right hand, the threat just didn't have the impact that I hoped for.

Franny huffed, then turned and flounced off, the long skirts of her muslin gown sweeping the floor with a ghostly swish as she vanished through the wall. She was still wearing the dress she had died in. Franny had lived around these parts of Bedlam until August 1815, when she died. She had been so wrapped up in reading her book that she missed a step and went tumbling down the staircase, breaking her neck. It was over quickly, but somehow, she had become trapped in the house. I felt sorry for her, but Franny needed to find a sense of humor, and find it quick if she wanted to go on living with me.

Shaking my head, I set the cookies down on the counter and carried the unicorn over to the rocking chair. Made of polished mahogany, the rocker was wide enough to curl up in. I had chosen it specifically for the kitchen. I had always wanted a kitchen big enough to have a rocking chair in and this mansion fit the bill perfectly. As I nestled into the seat, tucking the unicorn onto the table beside the rocker, I closed my eyes. I just needed a little rest. Just a little time out.

"Maddy? Maddy. Oh Maddy, wake up, pretty girl." A sinuous voice echoed through the fog.

I blinked, suddenly aware that someone was kissing my nose. Jumping in my seat, I opened my eyes to find Aegis leaning over me, a grin spreading across those gorgeous lips of his. The tips of his fangs were showing-spotless and glowing white. I'd warned him to watch how much of the whitening toothpaste he used, but television commercials had convinced him that his pearly whites needed to be even brighter. I kept telling him his teeth were practically fluorescent, but they didn't detract from just how pretty the man was. Handsome. Gorgeous. Insert adjective of your choice.

"What the-?" I blinked. "Is it night already?"

Aegis had turned on the light. Outside, the dusk was growing. I had obviously slept away part of the day, and it had to be after sunset for him to be awake.

"Enjoy your nap with Drofur, love?" His voice wrapped around me like a silken scarf, its resonance tickling me. Even though witch's blood was an aphrodisiac for vamps, this particular vampire's voice was an aphrodisiac for me. His voice...his hands...his body...his...

Shaking my head to clear my thoughts before they reached the X-rated stage, I looked down to see that I was holding the unicorn. I must have picked it up again in my sleep. With a blush, I realized that I had been cuddling it. I hastily returned Drofur to his spot on the table.

"Um, yeah. I guess I was more tired than I thought." I cautiously stood, stretching as my knees and back protested the un-horizontal nap they had taken.

He was dressed for his gig, wearing tight leather pants and a leather jacket. His muscled chest was bare, his abs rippling and pale, and he was wearing a thin gold chain around his neck. Even though it was the dead of winter, he wouldn't get cold. Or rather, he was already so cold that the weather wouldn't faze him. Vampires didn't emit body heat.

My breath caught in my throat. I wanted to rub my hands all over him. His hair hung loose around his shoulders, long and dark, and his eyes were the color of rich, black coffee tinged with clouds of cream. When he was aroused or hungry, crimson rings appeared around them. To top it off, he smelled like vanilla musk with a hint of cinnamon, thanks to his shampoo.

Aegis slipped his arms around my waist and pulled me toward him. "You too tired to spend a little time cuddling?" Leaning down-the man was a good seven inches taller than me-he nuzzled my neck, gently nosing behind my ear where he left a trail of butterfly kisses.

Everything in my body tensed, but it was a good tension. I wanted to rip my clothes off and press my breasts against that bare chest of his. My taut nipples pressed against the silk of my tank top. Even through the lace of my bra, the silk seemed to rub them ever so deliciously. Meanwhile, my lower region was starting to clamor, wanting in on the action.

"As long as that cuddling includes sex." I wrapped my arms around his neck and grinned up at him.

"Then we'd better get busy."

He swept me up in his arms. I wasn't a lean woman. I was curvy and busty with thighs that made the floor quake when I was angry. But Aegis carried me as though I was as light as a feather. I laughed, holding on as we headed toward the staircase. My laughter echoed through the far-too-barren living room, and the sight of so much empty space sparked off a random thought.

"We need to buy furniture this week." The furniture from my old condo just wasn't enough to furnish a Victorian mansion, especially one I was turning into a bed and breakfast. I needed to get my ass in gear and start prowling the thrift shops.

Aegis shushed me. "Hush."

He paused on the landing, pressing my back against the wall as he nestled himself between my legs. I wrapped them around his hips. With one hand supporting my butt, he slid the other around my shoulders, then pressed his lips against mine, kissing me so deeply I forgot about furniture and thrift stores and everything else. His tongue gently flickered in and out of my mouth.

I moaned, pressing against him. My breasts were threatening to burst out of the bra all on their own. "Upstairs. Now."

"At your command."

And we were on the move again, up to the master bedroom. While it was technically my bedroom, since Aegis and I had different schedules and he didn't dare sleep above ground just in case of an accident with the curtains, it was all ours when it was time for sex.

He tumbled me onto the bed, wedging himself between my legs as he held my wrists over my head. "Command me, woman."

A jolt of hunger raced through me, slashing like lightning from my breasts down to my pussy. I wanted out of my clothes. Their restraint was driving me nuts. I closed my eyes, focusing, and the zipper on my jeans began to slowly open. I urged it on, feeling the belt buckle shift as I willed the prong to slip out of the hole.

"You're very hungry, aren't you? You want me in you, don't you?"

His voice echoed through me, like the rich, deep notes of a song. Eyes flashing, he shifted position, sitting back on his knees as he let go of my wrists. Reaching down, he slid my belt out of its loops, tossing it aside. Then, with one swift yank, he pulled my jeans down as I raised my butt and bent my knees. I was going commando beneath, and Aegis let out a growl of delight as he worked the jeans off over my feet. They landed on the floor next to the belt. I sat up, yanking off my top. The hunter green tank joined the pile of clothes, and my bra was the cherry on the top.

Aegis was on his feet, unzipping as he eased off his leather jeans. His cock sprang to attention, hard and smooth, as cold as the rest of his body. He started to shrug off his leather jacket but I stopped him.

"No. I love the smell of leather." I knelt on the bed, my breasts rising and falling with each breath. The chill of the room shrouded me, and my nipples grew as hard as his shaft.

"And I love your breasts," he said with a low growl. "I love how ripe and round they are, how smooth they feel under my fingers." He grinned. "And I love how they jiggle when I touch them. Your nipples drive me crazy."

I squirmed, wet and hungry for him. "Touch them. Touch me. Please?"

"I'm taking my time, woman. I want to watch you. Lie back and bend your knees. Spread them so I can look at you." His gaze rested greedily on me as I obeyed.

I lay back, spreading my legs as I reached down and slowly rolled a finger around my clit, then spread the lips of my vaj. "You want a taste?"

With a grunt, he dove deep between my legs, pressing his face between my thighs as his tongue worked overtime to swirl over my clitoris. I jumped at his touch, a peal of laughter dancing out of me as my desire began to build.

"Oh gods, oh gods, don't stop!" I fisted his hair as he lapped at me, tonguing my sex until I was dizzy. Catching my breath, I let out a choked shout as he drove me higher and higher. I couldn't stop if I tried. The past six weeks with Aegis had been the best sex of my life. I'd never had it this good, and I'd had my share of lovers, my ex-husband being the worst of the lot. After what had felt like a long, dry desert in my life, everything was growing again, vibrant and humming along like a top-of-the-line vibrator.

"Come on, Maddy, come for me. Come on," he coaxed. His voice muffled by my snatch, he increased the speed of his tongue. He was always careful with his fangs, making certain to keep them at bay when he was eating me out. We'd already had one accident and I didn't care to repeat it.

"I'm coming, trust me I'm co-co-co-" And the words stopped there as I began to come, my orgasm vibrating from my core out through my fingertips. The world exploded with color and then, as the waves rippled in rings and slowly began to subside, I opened my eyes to find a trail of rose petals drifting down around us. They landed on the bed, on my nose, on Aegis's hair.

He laughed softly.

"I love how you bring the roses when you come," he said.

I sighed, settling in beneath him. The roses didn't happen every time, but when they did, I felt like I was dancing in a garden under the moonlight.

Aegis rose up with a steaming look, then nestled between my legs as he drove himself deep inside me. As we began to move in rhythm, his girth stretched me deliciously wide. I let out a soft moan. He rested his head on my breasts and I slid my arms beneath his, embracing him. He thrust deeper, penetrating every inch of me until there was no part left untouched. He slipped one hand down between my legs, tweaking my clit, and that one touch was all it took. I climaxed yet again, and another time as he stiffened, tilting his head back as he let out a long throaty groan.

As he relaxed into my embrace, I drifted and the rose petals kept falling.

At that moment, Bubba landed on the bed beside us and let out a loud purp. Aegis glared at the huge orange cat, but then broke into a wide, toothy grin.

I gave the cjinn a shake of the head. "Dude, really? Please, we're in the middle of something here."

Bubba snorted then hopped over Aegis's back and jumped off the other side, yowling as he stared out the French doors leading to my balcony. He swatted at the glass, hissed, then turned around and raced out the door into the hall.

"Well, that's enough to dispel the mood, don't you think?" I leaned back, breathing deeply as a wave of laughter raced through me. The past six weeks had been easily the oddest of my life, and the best.

* * *

SO, INTRODUCTIONS ALL around. My name is Maudlin Gallowglass. Maddy for short. I'm older than the hills-or at least older than most of you. I was born on October 28, 1629. Figure that I'm 387, going on thirty. Nobody could ever accuse me of being mature, though I'm fully grown and a damned powerful witch.

The Gallowglass family has magical roots going back to the days of Stonehenge. You know that folk song "Boys of Bedlam" that a gazillion groups have covered? There's a girl mentioned in it-"Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes, for to save her shoes from gravel." And the Bedlam in the song wasn't anything like the Bedlam that I live in now.

Yeah, that girl was based on me. Nobody in the history books seems sure who wrote the song, although there are claims that someone named Thomas d'Urfey penned it. But I happen to know the truth. Tom (the Tom of the song "Mad Tom of Bedlam") was my boyfriend and he wrote it. D'Urfey just swiped it. There was a lot of literary pilfering going on back then.

Tom (my Tom) wrote a number of songs as we escaped England to return to Ireland. We traveled for years, trying to evade the witch hunters. We passed as wandering minstrels and never stayed in one place too long. But it wasn't the witch hunters who finally got him. No, it was the vampires. They trapped us, but I escaped, thanks to him. I've never forgotten his sacrifice. And I remembered the vamps who turned him. They paid. Mad Maudlin made sure.

So yes, I'm Mad Maudlin, though these days I tend to go by just plain Maddy. I left Mad Maudlin in the past, which is the safest place for her. That part of myself can be a lot of fun, but she's scary as hell and not always nice. I've kept her under leash and key for nearly three centuries. The day I let her loose, heaven help whoever I'm targeting.

Six weeks ago, I was living in Seattle in a condo I had won from my ex in our divorce settlement. I was also bored out of my mind. On a drunken dare from my best friend Sandy, I decided to take a look at an old mansion on Bedlam-an island in the San Juans.

The look turned into the decision to buy. From the moment I laid eyes on it, all I could see in the decaying old mansion was a beautiful bed and breakfast. I admit, not all of my reasons always came with the best of intentions. Selling the condo and using the money to buy a dilapidated old house would piss the hell out of my ex, Craig. That alone was enough to make me hand over the check. Anything I could do to thwart his scrawny, pompous ass, the better. But something about the mansion also charmed me.

Moving to Bedlam had been an eye opener. As I said, Bedlam's both an island and a town-in fact, the entire island is the town. Founded by magical folk, it's a wonderland for the Pretcom-the preternatural community. All sorts of Otherkin live here-Weres and shifters, witches and Fae. In other words, just about anybody with magical powers or a supernatural background is welcome, though there were a few humans around, too. Although vampires are kept under strict observation. They aren't exactly welcome, but neither are they shunned. They just have to mind their manners and not feed on the locals. We do have a local vampire queen living here, which is a tad bit scary, but there's not much we can do as long as she follows the rules.

It's not that Otherkin avoid humans. In fact, some of us like humans a lot. Hell, I married one, till that went south. But one bad human doesn't mean they're all bad. However, Bedlam offers us the opportunity to be ourselves without feeling like outsiders. We need a place to call our own. In this corner of the nation, Bedlam is it.

When Sandy convinced me to move back and I bought the house, I wasn't aware that a vampire came attached, as well as a ghost. While I can handle Franny, Aegis and I had a few scuffles about whose house it actually was. We settled the argument in bed and that's all she wrote. Instant connection: instant sparks. We seem to have a connection that goes back a long ways. Past-life stuff, perhaps. But the end result is that he's my boyfriend. He's also a rock star. Or at least an up-and-coming one. I try to balance my natural antipathy toward vamps with my attraction for him.

Franny, of course, is the house ghost. She also came with the mansion and I don't have the heart to chuck her out. And Bubba-well, he came with me. Bubba's a cjinn, but more about that later. He's a little butthead, mostly, but I love him and he loves me, as much as a cjinn can ever love anybody but himself.

End result? The four of us are settling in, trying to learn to live together as one odd little family. Aegis and I are overhauling the mansion into a bed and breakfast fit for a king. Or at least, a guest with a fat wallet. And I've named it "The Bewitching Bedlam Bed and Breakfast." It only seems fit.

* * *

I GLANCED AT the clock. It was going on seven-thirty. Outside, the dusk was deepening. "You'd better get a move on. You know that Jack-Az doesn't like the entertainment to show up late."

"Jack-Az can bite me," Aegis said with a smirk. He slid out of bed and wandered over to where his clothes were scattered together with mine.

I couldn't stop staring at his butt, which was one of the finest butts I had ever seen. Tight, muscled...firm ass. Oh yes.

"Or rather, I wouldn't mind taking a bite out of him," Aegis continued. "He's a pain to work with."

Jack-Az was the owner of Utopia, Bedlam's biggest nightclub. He wore his name well, although his real name was Johann Azrial Bähr. He was a bear shifter who had been active in both World War I and II. He had a crusty temperament, but he provided free eats on the side, and right now, the Utopia offered a continuing gig for the Boys of Bedlam, Aegis's band.

The Boys of Bedlam were in the process of making a demo tape, but they were having trouble making the connections they needed in order to get it in front of any big-name DJs. They planned on releasing their first CD under their own label but getting airplay, especially among the growing surge of indie bands, was even harder than it had been before the big labels started to fall off in popularity. It didn't help that Sid, the band's bass player, had just had his fifth kid. His wife needed him around a lot, so it was difficult to tour while he was in the throes of being a new father again.

I let out a soft sigh, wrapping the blankets up around my shoulders to keep warm. "Jack-Az has a good reason for his issues. He still suffers from PTSD from World War II. You know how rough it was over there. He lost a lot of family members who were part of the Black Forest Pretcom Resistance."

The Black Forest Pretcom Resistance had been a united group of Otherkin who were connected to the Yugoslavian resistance movements against the Nazis. A lot of them had died, but they had been instrumental in fucking over the German troops who entered the woods. They had helped sabotage Hitler's war machine in ways most people never knew about. They had also run an underground railroad, aiding the escape of a number of humans who were targeted by the Nazis.

Aegis grunted. "I know, and you're right. Jack-Az deserves to be as crusty as he wants, given his service. We could use more like him. I'm just talking trash. I don't mean anything by it." He began to squeeze into his leather pants.

I watched as his balls and dick disappeared under the front of the tight jeans. "Um, aren't you going to shower first?"

"Nope," he said with a wicked grin. "I like having your smell on me, you gorgeous witch. You smell like honey and cream and peaches." He zipped up, then turned around. "Dust me off for the show? It sucks not being able to use a mirror."

I laughed. "At least I can play your personal stylist. Come here, you big lug."

I slid out from beneath the silk sheets. I was happy with Egyptian cotton, but Aegis liked silk. With a critical eye, I circled him. His pants were clean and still a little too new. They hadn't reached that creased-comfort zone yet. His jacket was heavily adorned with hardware-studs, chains, zippers. I adjusted a couple of the zippers and he stroked my face. On his right index finger, he wore a large square ring. Gold, it was engraved with a sunburst pattern on the flat surface, and a carnelian cabochon nestled in the center. The ring was a memento left over from the time when Aegis had been a servant of Apollo.

Aegis had been cast out on the whim of a god, turned away from the sun, which he worshipped, and changed into a vampire-one of the Fallen. But he hadn't let it destroy him, nor would he destroy others through his powers. Not willingly. The other thing Apollo left him besides the ring was his voice. Aegis's voice was as sensual as Jim Morrison's when the lizard king was at his best. Aegis actually looked a lot like Morrison, too-only with longer hair, larger muscles, and a vampire glamour.

"Do I clean up well?" he asked, tapping my nose with his finger.

"You clean up so yummy that I'd yank you back into bed if we had time." Satisfied that he was ready, I stepped back and patted his chest. "You're good to go, gorgeous. Remember, we're having the after-show party here. We may not have much furniture, but we've got the space and it's the first time..."

I paused. I had been about to say it was the first time we had planned a party together, but that sounded way too clingy, considering we had only been together six weeks. But he understood.

"I'm excited too. The boys in the band know you, but now I get to show you off. And maybe this will help the neighbors quit being so prissy about having a vampire for a neighbor." He laughed, then zipped up his coat and headed for the bedroom door. "You'll have everything ready when we get back?"

I nodded. "Sandy's coming over to help." Sandy and I had seen the bottom of way too many wine bottles together. She was the friend who would help me hide the bodies in the middle of the night.

"Don't start the party early, please." He wiggled his eyebrows at me.

Laughing, I threw a pillow at him. "Get out of here. I'm going to shower and dress and then start setting up."

As Aegis darted away from the pillow and slipped around the door, I padded into the bathroom for a shower. The first thing on my renovation list for the mansion had been to hire the Alpha-Pack-the local werewolf pack that owned the main contracting company on the island-to revamp the bathrooms. They had reno'd all six of them first thing after I moved in. Now, in my en suite, I had a huge spa tub, a walk-in shower, and a two-sink vanity.

I turned the water in the shower and slipped beneath the rainshower showerhead as the pulsing side jets beat a welcome tattoo on my body. Leaning my head back, I settled in as the warm water washed over me. The day had been long and chilly, sex had been sweaty, and there was nothing like a shower of warm water and amber-scented soap.

As I loofahed my arms and legs, exfoliating everything I could reach, a faint click caught my attention. The bathroom door had just opened.

What the hell? Had Aegis forgotten something? Bubba couldn't open doors, at least not that I knew of. I cautiously wiped away a patch of condensation from the shower door and cupped my eyes to peer out. Sure enough, there was somebody in the bathroom with me, and it wasn't Bubba. No, whoever this was was bipedal, at least.

I considered my options. I was stark nekkid, but I didn't need clothes to use my powers. I could attack first-send out a nasty ball of energy to whap whoever it was, or I could try a paralyzing charm.

The former would hurt anybody who wasn't immune to fire and lightning, but if it was a friend, they'd be fried. Not that most of my friends came creeping into my bathroom, but I wouldn't put it past a few of them. The latter would only work on humans, and there just weren't many humans on Bedlam. As I squinted, trying to figure out my uninvited guest's motives, I detected the scent of musk and wine beneath the lingering fragrance of the amber bath gel I was using.

Hell. Musk? Wine? Those scents were all too familiar. I slammed open the shower door, almost breaking the glass, as I managed to startle the satyr. Standing there large as life, his denim shorts sporting a tent pole that would do any male proud, Ralph Greyhoof was holding my hairbrush in one hand, a plastic baggie in the other.

I stepped out of the shower, planted my hands on my hips, and barked out, "What the hell do you want in my house, Ralph? And what are you doing with my hairbrush? You have ten seconds to answer before I fry your freaking ass right into the hospital."

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jill Smith on RT Book Reviews wrote:

The awesomely talented Galenorn launches a fun and exciting new series set in the small town of Bedlam, Wash., where centuries old witch Maudlin “Maddy” Gallowglass has decided to settle down and open a B&B. Bedlam is chock full of magical and supernatural creatures all “attempting” to live in harmony. As she does so well, Galenorn immediately develops a host of intriguing characters whose interactions and confrontations lay the groundwork for a memorable story. This is a great introduction to this world and its inhabitants.


Playlist:

Air: Napalm Love,
Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare, Some Folks, Poison,
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Bad Fever, Sunshine Coolin', My Club, The Sun Ain't Shining No More, X
AWOLNATION: Sail
B-52's: Quiche Lorraine, Love Shack, Is That You Mo-Dean?,
Beck: Que Onda Guero, Cellphone's Dead, Nausea
The Black Angels: Always Maybe, Indigo Meadow, Don't Play With Guns
Blondie: One Way or Another, I Know But I Don't Know
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Butterfly: Crazy Town
Cake: The Distance
The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
Damh the Bard: The Cauldron Born, Obsession, Willow's Song, Gently Johnny, John Barleycorn, The Wicker Man
David Bowie: Fame, Let's Dance
Dead or Alive: You Spin Me 'Round
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Fatboy Slim: Praise You, Weapon of Choice
Fergie: Fergalicious
Fluke: Absurd
Gary Numan: My World Storm, Are 'Friends' Electric, Voix, My Shadow in Vain, Bridge? What Bridge?, War Songs, Outland, Praying to the Aliens, Soul Protection, I, Assassin,
George Benson: On Broadway
Gorillaz: Demon Days, Dare, Clint Eastwood, Hongkongaton, Feel Good Inc., Stylo, Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head,
Hayzi Fantayzee: Shiny Shiny
Hella Good: No Doubt
Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Justin Timberlake: SexyBack
Kills: Dead Road 7, Sour Cherry, You Don't Own The Road, Wait, Nail in My Coffin, U.R.A Fever,
Kirsty McColl: In These Shoes?
Ladytron: Black Cat, Ghosts, I'm Not Scared
Madonna: Beautiful Stranger, 4 Minutes,
Men at Work: Down Under
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance
MIA: Bad Girls
People in Planes: Vampire
Puddle of Mudd: Psycho, Famous
Pumped Up Kicks: Foster the People
The Pussycat Dolls: Buttons, Don't Cha
Ruth Barrett: Faeries Love Song
Shriekback: Big Fun, Intoxication, Underwater Boys, Now These Days Are Gone, The King in the Tree, The Shining Path
Spiral Dance: Tarry Trousers, Boys of Bedlam, Rise Up
Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner, The Fox
Stone Temple Pilots: Atlanta, Sour Girl
Talking Heads: Burning Down the House, I Zimbra, Life During Wartime, Moon Rocks
Tempest: Nottamun Town, Queen of Argyll, Black Jack Davey, Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Thompson Twins: The Gap, Watching
Tuatha Dea: Irish Handfasting, Long Black Curl, Tuatha De Danaan
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow, Dance of the Wild Faeries, Elemental Chant, The Circle Song

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Ghost of A Chance
Original Edition: August 2003, Berkley Prime Crime

Second Edition: October 2016, Nightqueen Enterprises, LLC

Emerald O'Brien is the owner of the Chintz 'n China Tea Room where guests are served the perfect blend of teas and tarot readings. She never set out to be a detective, but once word gets out that she can communicate with the dead, there's no turning back... When the ghost of Susan Mitchell asks for Emerald's help in convicting her own murderer, Emerald can't refuse. Along with her friends-an ex-supermodel and a cop-and her new love interest, Emerald must search for clues to put the killer behind bars, and Susan's tortured soul to rest.

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Chapter 1

MY NAME IS Emerald O'Brien and I never set out to be a detective, but when Susan Mitchell's ghost appeared in my bedroom and told me that she'd been murdered, my life took a U-turn and I've never looked back.

Oh, sure, most people would have been scared out of their wits, but I'm used to dealing with the supernatural, so spirits and spooks don't bother me unless I figure out that my shadowy guests intend some sort of nasty surprise. My Nanna taught me how to work with my psychic abilities early on, and when the ghosts come calling, I don't freak out or hide under the covers or scream for help. I fully admit to being a coward when it comes to ill-tempered brutes and eight-legged beasties, and I have an unnatural hesitation about eating mushy bread. But show me a ghost and I can usually hold my own.

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I'm not a professional ghost-hunter, though. I own the Chintz 'n China Tea Room. Not Tea Shoppe, spelled with the cutesy extra pe, but Room. We sell fine china, go hunting for rare pieces customers ask for, serve tea and cookies all day long, and soup for lunch during the week. I also offer my services as a tarot reader.

Chiqetaw may be a small town, but I get my fair share of clients coming in. Mainly wonderful older women who want to know how the coming holidays are going to be, or if it's the right time to make that investment they were planning on. I don't answer health questions, I don't lie and tell them what they want to hear, I just read the cards as they fall, and most of my customers come back for more. They seem to find my candor refreshing, a relief to me since I'm not always as diplomatic as I probably should be.

Considering that I'm the only professional tarot reader in town, and considering my handiwork with folk magic, it's not surprising that I got labeled the "witch of the village." At least they didn't stick "old" in there-I don't quite fit any of the clichés in the movies, you know-the scary old hag out on the edge of the woods, or the lovely wise woman always ready to heal the sick. I'm thirty-six, divorced, and as far from a domestic goddess as you can get. I wouldn't know my way around a health food store if you paid me, and I have two brilliant, quirky children.

Anyway, that's where Susan Mitchell comes in. Or her ghost, rather. Given my reputation, it didn't really surprise me when she showed up at my bedside. I just wish she'd picked a better night. I was lying under the covers, fighting my usual insomnia, with a sinus headache so bad that it felt like somebody was using my face as a punching bag. I had on my sleep mask, trying to doze off in that desperate "please, oh, please, let me go to sleep" way all insomniacs have, when I heard a rustle in the corner. Samantha yowled and bounded off the bed. Somebody else was in the room.

Great. My eight-year-old wanted to get up to play Ninja Fighters or some equally violent video game and had startled the cat. Or my daughter was sneaking in from a late night's star gazing and wanted to talk over her latest discovery. I never knew when I'd find her sprawled on the roof in the middle of the night, using the telescope to spy on both Mars and the neighbors. More than once she held me breathless as she filled me in on some pretty kinky goings-on next door before I'd snapped out of it and warned her about the dangers of becoming a teenaged voyeur.

Prepared for anything-or so I thought-I sat up and pulled off the mask and there she was. Susan Mitchell. Or rather, the ghostly remains of Susan Mitchell. Of course, at the time, I didn't know that was her name. All I knew was that a short, translucent blonde was hovering about three inches above the edge of my bed. With a groan, I rolled over and closed my eyes, willing her to go away. After a moment the hairs on my arms stood at attention and I knew she was still there. Sigh. I was going to have to take care of this.

I swung my feet over the edge of the bed and felt for my slippers, all the while keeping track of the now-alert and rather excited-looking spirit. The gleam in her eye made me nervous, and I wondered if I'd have to resort to my handy-dandy middle-of-the-night exorcise-those-beasties ritual, but she pulled back as I poked my arms through the sleeves of my flannel robe. Then she folded her hands together, prayer like. Maybe it was this gesture that warmed my heart, maybe it was the grateful look on her face. Whatever the reason, I felt a little kindlier toward her and, sinus headache or not, decided to find out what she wanted.

I tucked my hands in the crook of my underarms. It was so cold I could see my breath. The Sixth Sense had it right-it did get colder when ghosts were around, but it wasn't because they were angry. I'd dealt with enough spirits to know that they seemed to coast in off the astral breeze and bring the wake of it with them.

The ghost hovered there, about two feet taller than me thanks to the fact that she was floating in midair. She seemed to be waiting for me to speak. I wasn't sure what to say. Most spirits I'd dealt with in the past hadn't been interested in the humans who shared their space. I rather preferred it that way.

After a few minutes of this standoff, I decided that she was either shy or didn't know how to speak to me. If I ever wanted to get back to sleep, I'd have to be the one to make the first move. I took a deep breath and planted myself on the foot of the bed, near enough to seem friendly, but not enough to be a target should she decide to get nasty. "Hi, I'm Emerald. You can call me Em. Who are you, and what do you want?" Not very original, but blunt and to the point.

She cocked her head, beaming. I hoped she wasn't one of those spirits who could manipulate physical objects. The last thing I needed was a hug from beyond the grave. Granted, my grandmother had done just that, after Roy blackened my eye and stomped out to go live with his bimbo. But right now I didn't feel like being the recipient of any ghostly embrace.

She seemed to be trying to speak-her mouth moved but I couldn't hear anything. I shook my head and she tried again. Finally, her eyes flashed with frustration and she glided over to my desk, which sat below the Monticello window overlooking the backyard. A pen began to vibrate and went scribbling across the stationery scattered on the top of the desk.

In scrawls that were almost illegible, the name "Susan Mitchell" covered the page. The name seemed familiar, but I couldn't place it. I looked at the ghost. "You? You're Susan Mitchell?"

She nodded. As soon as she filled another page, the pen fell to the floor. I gingerly picked up the paper and looked at the letters that danced across the paper. What I saw made my blood run cold. I glanced up, and Susan looked at me wistfully. She pointed to the note, then to me, and vanished in a puff of icy air.

I looked at the note again. The words were damning. In looping letters she had written: "I was murdered by my husband but nobody knows. Help me."

What did she expect me to do? True, I was considered the town witch, but I owned a china shop, for cripes' sake-I didn't run a detective agency. Now I was supposed to go to the police and say that Susan Mitchell's ghost had appeared by the foot of my bed, begging me to prove that her husband had killed her? I didn't know who she was or where she had lived. I didn't even know if she was telling the truth-ghosts could lie, too. And I wasn't sure why she'd shown up in my bedroom, except for the fact that I was a pretty good medium and happened to be Chiqetaw's only professional tarot reader when I wasn't busy selling Earl Grey tea and Royal Winton china. But somehow, the paper in my hand seemed to have captured the spirit's mood. Sorrow echoed through her words... sorrow and resignation. How could I ignore the plea for help? Just because she was dead didn't mean Susan Mitchell was at peace. But what could I do? And where would I start?

Feeling more awake than ever, I trundled downstairs. Nothing beat a good pot of Moroccan Mint served up in a chintzware teacup at three in the morning when you were trying to figure out how to help a ghost prove she was murdered.

* * *

MORNING CAME FAR too early. I squinted, aware in some faint corner of my mind that I had fallen asleep in the rocking chair, and found myself staring into my son's bewildered face. My eyelashes were stuck together, and there was a ball of fuzz on my lap-Nebula, one of Samantha's kittens, had curled up for a good, long snooze. I gently shooed the cat down. I had the feeling that standing up was only going to lead to pain, so I avoided it for as long as possible. In the end, I gave Kip a blurry-eyed grin as I pushed myself to my feet.

"You okay, Mom?"

I leaned down and planted a kiss on his head. "I'm fine, bud. My insomnia's been acting up, but it's nothing to worry about. Have you had breakfast yet?"

He shrugged. "Leftover pie."

"Healthy, huh?" Nature called and I made a stiff-legged dash upstairs to my bathroom.

Sun slanted through the rose window that I had the carpenter install when I bought the house a little over a year ago. The light cast a rosy hue over the pale canary of the walls, and the result always startled me as a blush of tangerine filled the room. I leaned against the vanity as I washed my face, savoring the few moments alone, not thinking of last night, not thinking of the day-just enjoying my own company. My mother had sent me a bar of jasmine-scented soap from her last trip to Hawaii, and I worked up a good lather because I loved the smell and because it felt like soft cream.

After a quick shower, I slapped on some moisturizer and braided my hair so it would dry into a mass of waves. I had stopped dyeing it when we moved to Chiqetaw and only now was getting used to seeing the long, silver strands interweave through the brunette. I tucked a bandanna around my head to keep from catching cold. Utilitarian, if not pretty.

Still blurry-eyed, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweater. As much as I'd rather spend the morning figuring out just what had happened last night, Saturday was cleaning day down at my shop. We opened at noon, after waging war on all the cobwebs and dust bunnies that had collected under the counters and tables throughout the week.

Kip pounded on the door. "Mom, are you sure you're okay? I grabbed a Pop-Tart, too."

I smiled. Eight years old and he didn't know how to work a cereal box yet. My little slacker. But he helped around the house and finished his chores without complaining too loudly, so I wasn't going to bitch about his lack of motor skills in the cornflakes department. I blinked at myself once, twice, then opened the door and shuffled out. My mind was beginning to race, but my body definitely lagged behind.

Kip leaned against the wall with the remains of the toaster pastry. He had a wary look in his eyes and crumbs on his face. I immediately knew something was up. I reached out and tousled his head. "Whatchyu doing, kiddo?"

He gave me one of his long looks. He was so good at them that he could reduce an adult to gibberish within five minutes. I was proud of him for it. Not every woman's son had the ability to disconcert his elders, and it seemed more useful than anything the Boy Scouts could have taught him.

"Waiting for you. Why did you stay up all night?" Did I detect a hint of concern in his voice? Could Kip have possibly seen the ghost, too? My son was far too psychic for his own good at such a young age. I'd been trying to help him learn how to control and cope with it for the past year. Though his talent had been apparent from birth, it had blossomed out since Roy left us. A lot of things had blossomed since then.

He took a deep breath and plunged ahead with what I was afraid I was going to hear. "Mom, I thought I felt something in the house last night. I had a nightmare."

Nightmare? Kip hadn't had nightmares for over a year. "What was it about, kiddo?"

"Some lady, I guess. I dunno. I woke up in the middle of the night and was worried about you. I thought maybe something was going to hurt you." He swallowed the last of the Pop-Tart and wiped his hands on his jeans.

Normally, when Kip was upset in the middle of the night he would come tapping gently on my door and creep under the covers next to me. That he hadn't done so this time told me that he'd been too frightened to leave the security of his own bed. I didn't want him to worry, didn't want to talk about the ghost until I'd figured out what was going on. "Well, I look all right this morning, don't I? It was probably a dream, my Kipling."

He gave me a penetrating glance, and I knew he knew I was hiding something, but I also knew he knew I wasn't going to tell him until and unless I was good and ready. He nodded and bolted for the stairs, stopping long enough to turn at the railing. "Okay. Can I go over to Sly's?"

Sly was his current best friend and a little con artist, but Kip had enough brains to keep from getting involved in whatever trouble that kid had cooked up. I waved him away. "Wear your jacket-it's cold out. And don't forget that I want you at the store in an hour. Be there." One of the kids' chores was to help out on Saturday mornings. He took the stairs two at a time and vanished out the front door with a slam.

On the way to the kitchen, I stopped by the rocker and picked up the sheets of paper on which my ghostly visitor had written. The moment I touched them, I felt a wave of sadness overwhelm me. I looked at the writing. No, it hadn't been a dream. Susan's presence had been real enough. "I was murdered by my husband but nobody knows. Help me." How the hell was I supposed to deal with this? I didn't even know who she was.

I cracked eggs into the skillet and started toasting the bread, while Miranda grabbed the paper from the front porch. She gave me a quick peck on the cheek as I slid our breakfast onto the ruby crystal dishes I had so coveted for years. Roy had thought them too old-fashioned. After he left, I didn't care what he thought. In fact, I had decided to find a set of Cranberry Spode to go with them. The contrast would be startling and eye-catching.

Miranda poured the juice. With a bite of runny yolk on toast, I opened the paper and glanced through the news. There, down at the bottom of the page, an article caught my attention. The headline read, "Local Romance Writer Found Dead in Home."

Susan Walker Mitchell died Thursday evening after slipping into a diabetic coma. Mae Tailor, the Mitchells' housekeeper, found Ms. Mitchell unconscious upon returning to the residence at about 4:00 P.M. on Thursday afternoon. Blood tests confirmed the presence of both alcohol and Valium in Ms. Mitchell's system, a dangerous combination. However, doctors attribute her death to hypoglycemic coma, brought on by a failure to eat after taking her morning insulin.

"The levels of Valium and alcohol were high, but not within life-threatening ranges," Dr. Johansen, the Mitchells' family physician, stated. "Mrs. Mitchell has been admitted to the hospital four times in the past year for low-blood-sugar seizures... unfortunately, no one was with her this time to prevent her from slipping into a coma." Ms. Mitchell died without regaining consciousness.

Ms. Mitchell was well loved for her work in the community theater, but she was best known for her career as a romance novelist. She produced twenty-nine books over the past fifteen years, including the best-selling Love on Clancy Lane. Her books are read worldwide.

Survived by her husband, Walter Mitchell, Chiqetaw, and a daughter, Diana Mitchell, Seattle, Ms. Mitchell will be greatly missed.

I stopped reading. Of course. Susan Mitchell. The romance novelist. I remembered seeing her mentioned in the paper before, though I'd never met her. The photograph beside the obituary was most definitely that of my ghostly visitor.

"Is everything okay, Mom?" Oh no, not her, too. It was bad enough that Kip had sensed something, but Miranda spooked too easily, and I didn't want her involved in any part of this yet.

I squelched the urge to blurt out the truth. "No... no... nothing wrong. Go ahead and run along. Remember to be at the store by ten."

She grabbed her pack and raced out the door to catch the bus. Grabbing a pen and a steno book I always keep handy near the phone, I ripped the article out of the paper and tucked everything in my purse.

So my ghost was real, or had been. Diabetic coma? Murder? With a dozen thoughts reeling through my head, I made my way out to the car and pulled out of the driveway. I had a lot to do before opening the shop. The only trouble was, I didn't know where to begin.

COLLAPSE
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PEOPLE...BEFORE YOU WRITE TO ASK IF THIS WILL BE AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK--IT IS. BUT...it's in POD, which means Print. On. Demand. It means if you click the Amazon link below, you will find that you can order it from Amazon. It will be in trade size (which is larger). I cannot order it into mass market size like you're used to from when I was with Berkley. And you CANNOT get it in stores. But you CAN get it in print, just like ALL my full-size novels that aren't reprints.

 

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Delilah is a two-faced werecat and a Death Maiden. Menolly is a vampire married to a gorgeous werepuma and a vampire prince. And me? I'm Camille, a Moon Witch married to three gorgeous husbands, and I'm about to ascend to the throne of Dusk & Twilight. But the path to the throne lies through a labyrinth of dangers, which I must face alone...

Before I can fulfill my destiny to become the Queen of Dusk & Twilight, I must seek out the Keraastar Diamond. But to find the magical gem and take control over the Keraastar Knights, I must venture back to Otherworld, deep into the treacherous Tygerian Mountains. Once there, I face a magical trial by fire. If I fail, the chance to stop Shadow Wing will fade with me. If I succeed, my life will forever change. And I'm not certain which prospect frightens me the most.

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Chapter 1

"Block him at the pass!" I dodged out of the way, trying not to dive face first into the dirt, but I didn't see the stray tennis ball some dog had dropped under the bridge, and did a banana-peel flop onto my butt. I rolled to the side, hard, as the damned troll charged past. Or rather, troll spirit.

"I swear, the next blowhard who tries to tell me that spirits can't be corporeal is going to get my fist in their face." I groaned, rolling to a sitting position. Damn it. I had torn my skirt on a shard of glass. Well, better my skirt than my leg. At least I hadn't broken my ankle. I had long ago given up fighting in stilettos, but tonight we hadn't planned on a showdown and we were all dressed to the nines for dinner, and my heels were four inch spiky sandals.

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Delilah raced by, pausing to hold out her hand. I grabbed it and she hauled me up. As soon as she pulled me onto my feet, she was off again, trying to catch up to the lumbering ghost. Menolly was already up ahead, dangling off the troll's back like some demented monkey, only cuter. I swallowed my pride, made sure nothing was broken, and hauled ass in their direction. Thanks to regular workouts, I was faster than I used to be, but I still lagged behind. Delilah was a natural-born athlete. So was Menolly, plus she was a vampire. Me? Not so much either one.

"He's not slowing down and I can't break his neck because he's not alive!" Menolly's voice echoed from up ahead. As I watched, the troll spirit veered directly for a massive cedar.

"Watch out for-" I stopped, wincing as the spirit skidded to a stop. In a whiplash effect, Menolly went flying over his head. She landed a good three yards ahead of him, sliding along the asphalt, cursing like a sailor. The troll turned right onto a side street and bounded away, leaving us all in the dust.

"Well, that had to hurt." Delilah shaded her eyes, watching the troll vanish.

I caught up to her and we jogged over to Menolly's side. Menolly picked herself up off the road and dusted her hands on her jeans. We had lost the troll's trail. Oh, we could go racing after him and probably pick him up again, but seeing that he was the spirit of a troll and not the actual creature, chances were we'd be off on a wild goose chase.

"What the hell was that?" Menolly stretched her arms over her head, then shook her shoulders out. Her eyes were glowing crimson in the pale light of dusk, a sure sign her hunting instincts had been out to play. "That wasn't like any troll I've ever dealt with before."

"That's because it was a ghost, although not your typical run-of-the-mill spook. Somehow, the spirit managed to become corporeal." I winced. The spill I'd taken was catching up to me and I was pretty sure I had bruised my tailbone. "What I want to know is where did it come from?"

We walked back beneath the overpass to stare at the Freemont Troll. A Seattle landmark, the troll was a massive sculpture that had been designed and created by a team of artists who called themselves the Jersey Devils. Formed from rebar, wire, and concrete, it was big enough to hold an actual Volkswagen Beetle in its hand. But behemoth or not, the troll was a just a sculpture. Or so we had thought. Nothing more than a neighborhood icon.

I would have been happy to remain blissfully ignorant, except Chase had called us while we were out to dinner. Someone had reported that the Freemont Troll had come to life and was rampaging around under the bridge. Once we got there, of course, we found the sculpture right where it had always been. However, there was a troll roaming around, only it was a confused, angry spirit.

"What do you suppose happened?" Menolly glared at the sculpture as we passed it. "Who on earth thought putting a troll under an overpass was a good thing?"

"They made this before the Supes came out of the closet." But I was right behind her in giving it a nervous glance as we passed it. Actually, the Freemont Troll was rather fun. Fans dressed him up for the holidays, and he was as much a part of the Seattle landscape as was the Space Needle. No, the troll we had faced had only hidden inside the sculpture until something set him off.

"We already knew that spirits can sometimes take on corporeal form. Something spooked this one and he's not happy. Which means our troll friend-the spirit, not the sculpture-is dangerous to anybody he happens to meet."

"I know what did it." Menolly dashed up the slope beside the troll to stand on top of his head. "Come up here."

The last thing I wanted to do was climb up a dirt embankment in a fancy dress and corset, but I pulled off my shoes and Delilah and I scrambled up the easy rise. When we were on top of the troll, we were standing right beneath the overpass.

There we found an altar, of sorts. A makeshift 'talking board' sat between two candles in Mason jars. The candles were still flickering. A quartz crystal rested to the left and a tipped over bottle of wine to the right. The board was a rough rectangle of plywood, with the alphabet painted across it, and the words, "yes" and "no" at the top corners. A upside-down paper cup rested on the board atop a thin piece of transparent acrylic, just the right size to cover one letter at a time.

"Fuck me now." I stared at the setup. "Somebody figured out there was a spirit hiding itself in the troll and decided to commune with it. Bingo, open door policy. Idiots didn't realize that boards like this are actually portals."

"Either that, or they were just drunk off their asses and screwing around." Delilah rubbed her temples. "When will kids learn?"

"Why do you think this was a group of kids? I've met plenty of adults who don't have the sense they were born with." I toed the board. Sure enough, a sizzle sparked against my big toe. "Well, whoever they were, they opened the door, but I doubt they're capable of locking the troll back in the bottle, so to speak. Which means we have to figure out what to do with it. We can't just force it to go back inside the sculpture. That's no life for any spirit."

"I feel guilty for suggesting it, but we could call Ivana." Menolly glanced at me. Ivana Krask, or the Maiden of Karask, was one of the Elder Fae. She loved ghosts. She loved ghosts all too much. She trapped the nasty ones in her ghoulish little 'garden of ghosts' where she fed off their energy and tormented them. But she was good at rounding up spirits, that was for sure. She'd probably salivate over the chance to nab a troll's spirit.

I stared at my sister. "While the idea of handing over this creature to her is tempting, the fact is that we don't know whether it's evil or not. And I honestly can't face myself in the mirror if we end up giving her a ghost who's just confused and unhappy."

"I thought you might say that." Menolly shrugged. "I'm out of suggestions for now. We don't know where the thing went. We don't know what to do about it if we do find it again. What do you suggest?"

"Let's head back to the car." Delilah glanced up at the sky. "We can hunt it that way. We'd better find it, though. Tomorrow night's the full moon and I won't be of any use then. I can already feel the pull in my blood." Full moons were always out when it came to any sort of plans for Delilah unless they included gallivanting around in my catnip garden, or chasing moths through the yard. They were out for me, too.

"Right. And I'll be off on the Hunt with the Moon Mother." I was swept away during the Full Moon, too, only I went racing through the skies instead of the back yard.

"So, what do we do? We can't even figure out how to contain it, let alone send it off to the happy troll gardens or whatever their afterlife is. All we've accomplished so far is a broken butt and torn skirt for you, and skid marks tearing up my leather jacket." Menolly shrugged. "Maybe we should do a little research? We may actually save time that way. We're near the station. They have computers. Chase will let us use one."

I hooked my arm through Delilah's. "She's right. We aren't going to manage anything until we figure out what we're fighting and how to combat it. Let's head over to the FH-CSI."

Delilah shrugged. "Whatever you think is right. I just hope that thing doesn't hurt anybody while we're surfing the net. Come on, let's go." She held up her keys as we approached her Jeep and unlocked the doors. Without another word, we piled in the car and were off to the station.

* * *

The FH-CSI was the acronym for the Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation unit. Over the years, it had grown from a specialty operation to a powerful city organization. Chase Johnson, the detective in charge of it, was a friend of ours. He and Delilah had been an item for awhile but the gulf between them was too great. Now, he was paired up with the Elfin Queen and while they got along great, once again, circumstance had intervened.

Sharah had returned to Otherworld to take up her duty when Elqaneve and the Elfin lands had been pulverized during war. The old queen was killed, making Sharah-a niece and the only one close to the throne who was still alive-the heir. She had returned home to take the crown, leaving Chase and their daughter, Astrid, over here Earthside. It wasn't ideal, but neither Chase nor Sharah had a choice. Her duty to the throne came first for Sharah, and duty to his daughter and his own post came first for Chase.

Located in the Belles-Faire district of Seattle, the FH-CSI was on Thatcher Avenue. It was a large building with one floor above ground which housed the police unit and healing facilities for the Supe community. At least three stories below ground included an arsenal, a jail, a laboratory, morgue and archives, and there was a rumored fourth level, though Chase would never confirm or deny it.

The parking lot was empty, though in thirty-six hours it would be full. A few of the jail cells were actually used as kennels during the full moon, for when some of the werewolves went careening around the city. The animal shelters sub-contracted members of the FH-CSI to round up the bigger predator types and cart them down to the holding cells until morning. Once they reverted back to their human forms, they paid a nominal fee and were set free. That way, nobody got hurt and in the morning, their families would come get them, crowding the parking lot.

As we approached the building, the sound of traffic blurred in the distance. The sky was clear and the weather, balmy. June in Seattle didn't exactly fit most people's definition of warm, but the rain was holding off and it was sixty degrees at ten-thirty. Shirt-sleeve weather to locals.

I glanced at the stars. Most of them were drowned out by the light pollution, but here and there, a bright star flickered. The sky was so different from what it had been home in Otherworld. Here, the city lights blotted out all but the brightest stars. But there was an energy over Earthside that OW didn't have. And I had gotten used to that energy. I was actually grateful that I was here to stay.

I pushed through the doors. The police station was to the left, and the medic unit was straight ahead. As we entered the police station, the bustle of activity hit us like a wave.

Yugi, Chase's second in command and a Swedish empath, was racing around with a clipboard in his hand. At least three officers that we could see were checking their weapons. I jumped back as Marquette-an elf who had joined the force a couple years back-hurried by. The look on her face was dour. Brooks, a full blooded human, followed her, looking just as grim. Behind him was Fry, another FBH. She was carrying one hell of a big shotgun.

Chase was standing at the door of his office. When he saw us, he brushed his hair back from his face and motioned us in. "Thank gods you're here. You lost the troll, didn't you?"

At six-one, Chase was Delilah's height. With dark wavy hair and olive skin, he looked Mediterranean. We had all thought Chase was human until a few months back when we discovered he actually had an ancestor from Otherworld in his lineage, giving him a touch of elfin blood. He was wearing a designer suit-Calvin Klein-and right now he looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel in his forehead.

"That's why we're here. The Freemont Troll is right where it was. What we're chasing is the corporeal spirit of a troll who was resting quietly inside the sculpture till some lamebrain decided to use a talking board. At least, that's the way we think it went down." I glanced over at his desk. His landline was ringing off the hook, three of the four lines flashing. "Your phone-"

"Never mind my phone. We have a major problem. Whatever that thing is, it's headed toward the Golden Gardens Park, where there happens to be a major event going on."

Delilah paled. "What event?"

"The midnight wedding of some big shot lawyer's kid. There are two hundred people milling around the park, half of whom are scheduled to eat a midnight supper there after the wedding. I'm sending officers over now but we have to do something before the bride and groom end up taking their vows over a mass grave." Chase was stumbling over his words. He usually wasn't this frantic, even during emergencies.

"Slow down. We'll head out there. We just wanted to do a little research on this spirit. We aren't sure how to stop it." I frowned. "What else is wrong, Chase? It's not like you to be so panicked over a routine monster fight."

His shoulders slumping, he dropped into the chair behind his desk. "What's wrong is this: Do you know the name Brandon Rigal?"

Delilah let out a loud cough. "Yeah, he's that big mucky-muck lawyer who defends the members of the Freedom's Angels and the Guardian Watchdogs when they get busted."

The Freedom's Angels and the Guardian Watchdogs were two incredibly nasty hate-groups out to oust the Supe Community from Seattle. They had spread to other cities as well. At first the Angels were talk-only, but once the Guardian Watchdogs got involved, and with the Brotherhood of the Earth-Born backing them, now they all violent. It wasn't a far step from shouting vile slogans to acting on the rhetoric.

"The wedding just happens to be that of Rigal's daughter. If the troll disrupts his little princess's precious nuptials, Rigal will do everything he can to rile up the Freedom's Angels and the Guardian Watchdogs. Not only that, he'll drag the FH-CSI through the mud."

Crap. That put a whole new spin on the night. We had to stop that troll spirit before he laid waste to the nuptials.

"Delilah, look up the troll on the computers. Menolly and I will head out...oh damn it, we can't. We only brought your Jeep." We had been on the hunt for fish and chips, not a fight. I turned to Chase. "Can Menolly and I ride with your people?"

Chase nodded. "Hurry, though. They're ready to head out. Delilah-you can use the computer in Yugi's office. He'll help you with anything you need." As we headed out the door, he called after us, "I don't care how you do it. Just get that troll or we'll all pay the price."

* * *

Marquette and Brooks were partners and they had already left, so Menolly and I crammed ourselves into the backseat of Fry's patrol car. Fry was lean and tall, and as tough as they came. When she barked, the others jumped. A regular Rottweiler, Chase had said.

She glanced in the back seat as we buckled ourselves in. "Don't touch the guns and don't spill anything on the seat. Especially blood."

I glanced at Menolly, repressing a laugh. "We aren't in the habit of grabbing guns, and I guarantee you, Menolly won't be using me as a juice box."

"Fine. Hold on. I'm cranking on the siren." And with that, the siren let out a loud alarm and we lurched out of the parking lot, gaining speed as the drivers ahead of us gave way.

Menolly stared out into the night. "You realize that by the end of this month, we won't be doing this anymore. Not like this, anyway."

My mood plunged to gloom within seconds. "I know. I don't want to think about it."

"You'd better start thinking about it, because Litha's coming up in a couple weeks and then..." She didn't finish. She didn't have to.

I didn't answer. There was nothing to say. Within two weeks, I'd be moving myself and my husbands out to Talamh Lonrach Oll, where I would take the crown as the Queen of Dusk and Twilight over the sovereign Fae nation.

* * *

My name is Camille Sepharial D'Artigo and together with my sisters, Menolly and Delilah, I came over from Otherworld a few years back. Our mother, Maria D'Artigo, was human, and our father, Sephreh ob Tanu, full blooded Fae. They met and fell in love when he was on assignment over Earthside. He swept her off to Otherworld and they had us. Shortly after Menolly was born, Mother died from a fall off of a horse. Our father never quite recovered from her death, and we lost him a few months back.

I'm the oldest, and I'm a Moon witch and High Priestess. And in two weeks, I'll take the throne as the Queen of Dusk and Twilight. I stand between worlds-between Otherworld and Earthside. Between light and dark. I'm married to three gorgeous men: Smoky-a dragon shifter, Morio-a youkai kitsune, and Trillian, a Svartan-one of the dark and charming Fae. They get along, mostly, and they are the loves of my lives.

Delilah, the second-born, is a two-faced werecat, able to shift into both a long-haired golden tabby, and a black panther. She's a Death Maiden, serving the Autumn Lord, and she's engaged to Shade, a half shadow dragon and half-Stradolan. Someday, she's destined to bear the child of the Autumn Lord with Shade acting as his proxy. Being the mother of an Elemental Lord-or Lady-seems a daunting prospect, but she's down with it. Delilah's very maternal.

And then there's Menolly. Menolly started out as a jian-tu. She could climb walls, ropes, trees with abandon. She could make it across cavern roofs, until the day she fell off into a nest of vampires. Dredge, one of the most dangerous vamps in history caught her and the result wasn't pretty. He tortured her and then, at the last, when she could hold out no longer, he forcibly turned her and sent her home to destroy her family. I managed to lure her into our safe room and lock her in. A year of rehabilitation taught her to control her impulses, but she continually battles her inner predator. Menolly's married to a gorgeous werepuma named Nerissa, and to Roman, prince of the Vampire Nation. They make an odd little trio, but somehow, it works.

The three of us are as different as light and dark. I have hair the color of raven wings, and violet eyes that flash silver when I work my magic. At five-seven, I have big boobs and ample hips and a narrow waist, and while I work out now so I can keep up in a fight, I'm a gurly girl and I'll always be. Delilah's six-one, athletic and lean, with short blond hair in a Euro-cut, and about the only time we can force her into a dress is during special occasions. And Menolly is petite, barely five-one. Her hair is the color of burnished copper hair and hangs to her lower back in long thin braids, dappled with beads.

Our mixed blood causes havoc. Our powers fritz out at the most inconvenient times. That wasn't exactly a big selling point to our bosses at the OIA-the Otherworld Intelligence Agency, and although we worked our asses off, we were never exemplary employees. Between our lapses, and my run-in with a supervisor who got pissed when I wouldn't blow him, we were shipped over Earthside on what was ostensibly a sabbatical. Things went downhill fast.

We arrived Earthside thinking our stay would be all fun and games. A real chance to explore our mother's home world. We ended up at the frontlines of a demonic war and trust me, saving two worlds, one monster at a time, isn't easy. We've been to hell and back in this war, and until we find the last spirit seal and forever bind all nine away from Shadow Wing-the leader of the Sub-Realms-there will always be the chance that he'll take control of the portals, force them open, and raze both Earthside and Otherworld. We're battle weary and we've lost too many friends to this war. We just want to finish it and be done, because trust me, war wounds run deep, and we're all scarred with injuries that are mostly unseen, but always present.

* * *

We were almost to the Golden Gardens Park when Fry suddenly veered off the road, onto the shoulder. She leaned across the passenger seat, squinting out the window. To the right was a swath of grass, and a large wall leading up to a street that ran parallel with ours. The wall was covered with ivy.

"I thought I saw something big and fast out there," she said. "Is this creature invisible?"

I glanced at Menolly. "I don't know if it can fully turn invisible, but I'd say it could camouflage itself against a background of greenery.

"Come on. Let's go take a look. Hand me the shotgun, please." She held out her hand.

I stared at the gun, not wanting to touch it. There was enough iron in that gun to burn my hands if I accidentally touched any part that wasn't wood.

"Just do it-oh." She stopped, looking at my face. "You're half-Fae. Iron thing right?"

"Right."

Menolly grabbed the gun, letting out a faint curse as her finger grazed the barrel. She carefully lifted it over the seat. Her fingers were blistered when Fry took the gun from her, but they began to heal up quickly. Vampires healed faster than most people realized, which meant she could touch iron and-while it still hurt-it wouldn't incapacitate her.

I frowned. "That gun won't do a thing against this creature. We're fighting a spirit. Even if you have silver bullets, it's not going to make a difference."

"Then what do you suggest I use?" Fry really didn't sound happy. She gazed down at the gun, then back at the window. "He's out there-see?"

I plastered my face against the window. Sure enough, I could see his faint form against the wall, blending into the ivy. "Come on, Menolly. We'll go on foot from here. Fry, why don't you drive ahead and try to keep people from scattering. If we can keep him from making it to the park, then maybe we can pull this off without the wedding guests ever knowing what's going on. Tell them...oh, tell them you're chasing a couple burglary subjects or something that won't cause a panic."

With that, Menolly and I hopped out of the car. Fry hesitated a moment, then she put the gun down and took off toward the park which was about a quarter mile down the road.

Menolly and I headed for the stone wall covered in ivy. I had left my shoes in the car, for easier running, and as we passed over a gravel spit, my toes grumbled. Of course, I had to find the sharpest pieces of gravel available. I hopped across to the grass and wiped off the pebbles that were stuck to the bottoms of my feet.

"What do we do when we get there?" Menolly asked.

I kept my eye on the hulking spirit. Turns out troll spirits were as big as their bodies, which was huge. The smallest troll I had ever seen was ten feet tall, and that was a youngster. Troll parents didn't let their young go wandering until they were large enough to look out for themselves. But trolls weren't just tall. They were bulky and muscled and scary as hell.

"At least we aren't facing a dubba-troll. Two heads are definitely not better than one." I paused, trying to keep track of where the troll spirit had gone to. Then I saw him, up ahead, still on his way to the park. "There he is. Why he's determined to go to the park, I don't know."

"Neither do I but let's get a move on. I'm going to ahead. You come as fast as you can." Menolly sped up. She could move in a blur, like most vampires, and before long she was keeping pace with the troll. The next moment, she was in front of him and ready to try to dropkick him backward. As her foot hit his stomach, it went right through him and she landed in a heap on the grass. The troll didn't even look back.

"What the hell? Now he's not corporeal?"

My phone rang as I jogged over to where Menolly had fallen. She was up and chasing him again. I stopped, leaning over to breathe, and glanced at the Caller ID. Delilah. I punched the TALK button and tried to keep from panting into the phone.

"Yeah? Talk fast."

Delilah snorted. "With as many workouts as your husbands give you, I'm surprised you aren't a champion sprinter. Anyway, I found reference on the GoGargoyle search engine to a particular spirit that seems to be endemic to Earthside. Apparently, some trolls and ogres who stayed behind near the Snohomish area began to fade over the years and they've wandered around the Seattle area over the years. They aren't true spirits, but faded shells of the creatures they once were. They've become a form of wight, though they aren't necessarily evil by nature anymore. Some dimwit dubbed them 'vrolls'-vapor and troll mixed-and it stuck. So we're facing a vroll. Apparently, they've lost their sense to hunt, and they're more like a wild animal who doesn't understand what's happened. Poor things are just afraid, from what the reports say."

"What's he looking for? How can we stop them?"

"Vrolls are looking for one thing: shelter and a place to hide, where they eventually will fade away into nothing. But when they're riled or forcibly shoved out of their hiding spots, they turn violent. Then the only thing you can do is either find a new place for the creature to slumber, or put it out of its misery. There's no reasoning with them. What's left is pure instinct and drive for self-preservation." She paused, then added. "It's really kind of sad, isn't it?"

I bit my lip. Sad was the word, all right. But even though the vroll was a sorry creature, we couldn't let it attack a wedding. Especially a wedding being thrown by one of Seattle's most vocal hate-mongers.

"How do we destroy it?"

Delilah let out an sigh. "You have to drain it of life-force. Menolly can't. There's no blood there to drain. But magick will work. We need Vanzir."

Vanzir could drain energy. The demon had, at one time, been forcibly bound to us, but he proved his mettle and now was a good friend, as well as an ally. He was a dream-chaser demon and he had the ability to feed off both the dreams and life-force of others.

"Can you call him? We're at the park and I'm trying to catch up to Menolly and the vroll."

"I already did. He's on the way. Smoky's bringing him through the Ionyc Sea. He's stopping here to pick me up first. We'll be there within a couple of minutes. Oh, by the way, apparently vrolls are attracted to sparkly things." She hung up.

I shoved my phone in my pocket-thank gods for skirts with pockets. Smoky-my dragon shifter husband-could travel through the currents of energy that separated the Ionyc Lands and kept them from colliding. The non-corporeal dimensions-the etheric, astral, and spirit realms all formed the Ionyc Lands, and to get to them, one had to either have the ability to shift over, or to travel through the great sea of energy.

The dusk was fading. We had only a few moments before it was full on night, and it would be harder than ever to see our goal. I shaded my eyes with my hands, trying to scan ahead to see where Menolly and the vroll were. The moon was rising, though nowhere near its zenith, but its light was enough to show me the silhouettes ahead. The park was only a few hundred yards beyond. Even from here, I could hear people shouting and laughing.

Fuck. We had to keep the creature out of their path until Vanzir got here. I sent a piercing whistle through the air. Menolly would recognize it. Sure enough, a few seconds and she appeared in a blur.

"What?"

I held up my phone. "Delilah called. Vanzir is on the way. He's the one who can stop the vroll-it's not really a spirit, but a faded troll. The only way to stop it is to drain its life-force. The creature's running scared and there's no way to reason with it. He's looking for a new place to hide, but if he can't find it, in his panic he'll just cause mayhem and havoc all over the place. We have to keep his attention until Vanzir and Smoky get here."

"He didn't blink an eye when I tried to smack him one. I went through him like water through a funnel. Something appears to be drawing him to the crowd. He can't eat them, can he?" Menolly glanced around, then waved to our right. "If he's looking for a place to hide, maybe the tunnel?"

I glanced over. There was a rounded archway in the wall that supported the street above, leading through to another wooded area. "Good thinking. We need to draw his attention over there somehow. If we can get him behind the wall, then maybe he'll feel safer and calm down." Then, I had an idea. "Get him to look over toward me." I took off for the wall.

Menolly nodded, veering off, shouting at the vroll. I raced over to the tunnel, which was pedestrian only, cursing as the gravel bit into my feet. But I ignored the pricks and jabs of the stones, instead focusing on the area in the center of the tunnel. I could create a bright sparkly ball of energy there, hopefully long enough for the vroll to notice it and come running.

Shouts and screams echoed behind me, and I whirled around, skidding to a stop beside the tunnel opening. Oh gods, the vroll had found the wedding, and with it, the silver balloons that were attached to every chair at the event. He was headed right toward the throng of invitees, just as the bride was walking down the aisle.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jill Smith on RT Book Reviews wrote:

4.5 Stars Top Pick

Superb writer Galenorn continues her long running Otherworld series with the 19th book that brings half-human/half-fae Camille D’Artigo’s destiny into clear focus. A true joy of this series is watching all of the various evolving relationships, especially those between the sisters. Camille, Delilah and Menolly each have a critical role to play in the unfolding fight against Shadow Wing and none of their destinies are easy. Supposedly there will be two additional books after Moon Shimmers that will bring this epic and amazing storyline to a close. Hang on for the danger is ramping up!

Moon Witch Camille is destined to become the Queen of Dusk & Twilight very soon, but before she can ascend the throne it is critical that she find the long missing Keraastar Diamond. This magic gem will allow Camille to reassemble and take over the Keraastar Knights who will be critical in the upcoming war with Shadow Wing. The hunt for the diamond will take Camille and her gang back to Otherworld and into the treacherous Tygerian Mountains. With all their hopes riding on her success, Camille will be tested as never before!


Playlist

Air: Playground Love, Napalm Love, Moon Fever
A.J. Roach: Devil May Dance
Al Stewart: Life in Dark Water
Android Lust: Here and Now, Saint Over
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Sunshine Coolin', Heart Attack
AWOLNATION: Sail
Beck: Nausea, Qué Onda Guero, Emergency Exit, Farewell Ride
The Black Angels: Always Maybe, Don't Play With Guns, Young Men Dead
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blue Oyster Cult: Godzilla
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Chris Isaac: Wicked Game
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
David Bowie: China Girl, Fame '90, Golden Years
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig
Don Henley: Dirty Laundry
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Beaing
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Elektrisk Gønner: Uknowhatiwant
Fatboy Slim: Praise You
Faun: The Market Song, Hymn to Pan, Iduna, Oyneng yar
FC Kahuna: Hayling
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kids
Gabrielle Roth: Raven
Garbage: Queer, #1 Crush,
Gary Numan: My Breathing, Walking with Shadows, I Am Dust, Cars (Remix), Petals
Gorillaz: Dare, Last Living Souls, Demon Days, Clint Eastwood, Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head, Kids With Guns, Stylo
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Hedningarna: Ukkonen, Juopolle Joutunut, Räven (Fox Woman), Grodan/Widergrenen (Toadeater), Drafur & Gildur
Huldrelokkk: Trolldans
Ian Melrose & Kerstin Blodig: Kråka
In Strict Confidence: Silver Bullets, Tiefer, Snow White
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
The Kills: Sour Cherry, You Don't Own The Road, Nail In My Coffin
Kirsty MacColl: In These Shoes?
Lady Gaga: I Like It Rough, Paparazzi,
Ladytron: I'm Not Scared, Paco, Ghosts
Leonard Cohen: It Seemed the Better Way, You Want It Darker
Lord of the Lost: Sex on Legs
Lorde: Royals, Yellow Flicker Beat
Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
Marilyn Manson: Tainted Love, Personal Jesus
Matt Corby: Breathe
Nine Inch Nails: Deep
Orgy: Social Enemies, Blue Monday
Puddle of Mudd: Famous
The Pussycat Dolls: Don't Cha
Queen: We Will Rock You, Another One Bites the Dust
Roisin Murphy: Ramalama (Bang Bang)
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet
Shriekback: Dust and a Shadow, Underwater Boys, The King in the Tree, The Shining Path, Intoxication, Go Bang, Now These Days Are Gone
Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Stone Temple Pilots: Atlanta
Strawberry Alarm Clock: Incense and Peppermint
Styx: Renegade
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Talking Heads: I Zimbra, Burning Down the House, Girlfriend Is Better, Moon Rocks
Tamaryn: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming, Violet's in a Pool
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tuatha Dea: Tuatha De Danaan, Long Black Curl
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Warchild: Ash
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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