Friday, March 31, 2023
Friday, March 24, 2023
Down the corridor, someone shouted, “Hey, no! I didn’t mean—stop!” Sounded like Max’s voice. High-pitched in a panic.
The scraping whine of a chair against the floor followed.
A scuffle in the break room?
Fran ran the rest of the way down the hall. He arrived to the thud of a punch making contact, and his son thrown sideways before bouncing across the floor like tossed dice. The kid shot up with fire in his eyes, his hand dabbing a bloody lip and his chest heaving.
A group of clones stood by, mouths closed.
Fran couldn’t tell which one of them had thrown the punch.
Max dropped into a chair, head down.
It took every cell in Fran’s body to keep his voice to a low roar. “What the hell is going on here?”
The group of individuals present, all of them members of the security squad, gathered in a loose circle. Several stepped back.
Consuela spoke first: “Just a disagreement, sir. Between Leonard and … Max.”
“Why is my son bleeding?” He pushed past Consuela and Andre, and stopped in front of Max, who continued to stare at the ground, hunched in a humiliated way.
“Somebody better start talking,” Fran said.
Leonard, the most military of all the squad and the highest ranking, stepped out of the circle of uniform-clad employees. Diligent, careful, mature, Leonard was at least a foot taller than Max. Fifty pounds more solid too. One of the early clones, he’d received his DNA from Leo—his sandy hair, pale skin, and slate-gray eyes made that much obvious. He would have had a normal American-guy build, like Leo’s, had he not spent the past two decades eating egg whites and lifting barbells in his free time. Leo, the husband of Miranda, headed Startbright’s department of security. He was Fran’s boss, in other words.
Leonard stepped forward and without hesitating, said, “He was complaining about the job, sir.”
“We don’t do that at Starbright.”
“Okay. So, I don’t understand,” Fran said. “You hit him?”
“Yes, sir.” Leonard perfected his already snapped-to soldier’s stance: chest puffed to barrel size, boots together, arms straight as fence posts. The guy was a senior officer. It didn’t make sense that he would throw a punch—or even a slap someone.
Jovians never resort to violence.
“Everyone but Leonard and Max get out of here,” Fran said. “Go find something to do.”
“Yes, sir,” they responded in unison before scattering like billiard balls.
Fran lingered on the fact that no Starbright employee on record had ever hit another employee. Period. Not even accidentally … or in self-defense. If a threatening individual accosted you, you were to take them to the ground and apprehend them using forceful but nonviolent measures.
That’s the way it was, the way it always had been as far as the Jovians were concerned.
How did Max always find a way to screw up?
Fran rubbed his forehead as he unearthed the commanding attitude he once dispensed to cocky FBI recruits: “You just punched your boss’s kid, Leonard, so I’m gonna need to see you in my office immediately.”
Leonard shook his head, his chin looking more square than usual. “You’re not my boss, sir.”
This gave Fran’s face a reason to contort in a befuddled and infuriated way. “Excuse me?”
“Sir, you’re not my—"
“You better believe I am,” Fran exclaimed, determined not to hear the statement twice. “I’ve been your boss for the past eight years.”
“I take orders from the Jovians—”
“What’s gotten into you?” Spit flew from Fran’s mouth. He pointed to the room’s exit. “Get to my office before you say something really stupid.”
The clone turned and left without another word.
Fran stared after him, perplexed. Clones were obedient. Difficult to rile. They had a shallow depth of emotion perfectly suited for this line of work. No one wanted their security staff punching, shooting, or otherwise going off because they were spooked, afraid, or angry. So how did Leonard end up so pissed that he broke rule number one and hit Max?
Thursday, March 23, 2023
Before she could answer, Raven’s words filled her mind. Such needless fear and
indecision. There is nothing wrong with wanting to survive, Kari. The only ones who will blame
you are the ones who deserve to die.
Kari staggered to a stop and ripped the necklace off. She held the gem in a hand, fingers
wrapped so tight the jagged edges cut her palm.
Kari’s vision swam. She recalled the redheaded woman leaning closer, her eyes glowing embers, her smile long and large. I’ve thought of the most wonderful plan.
“You!” Kari shouted.
“Oh,” the Fire Witch said. “And I thought my day would be dull and dreary.”
“You!” Kari yelled again. Her legs were numbly locked in place, but her chest was
aflame. Lightning crackled to life at her fingertips. She mouthed exclamations, insults, but her
voice failed. The woman was here, the one who had ruined everything!
She extended a shaking hand. Zina dropped the gem into her palm, where it flashed as it
touched her skin.
“Since you have taken it of your own will, you and the gem are now Bound.” As she said
the word, the air around Kari stiffened. Magic. “Should you die an unnatural death, the gem will
shatter, destroying the soul within.”
The palm-sized crystal tumbled to the ground and began to bounce. Kari watched, her eyes widening. Dark smoke issued from the gem, curling over the ground, swirling until it took the form of a kneeling woman. Her features coalesced: long, dark hair to match her wintry robes and contrast her ivory skin. The woman lifted her head, looking about with eyes cut from obsidian.
Her pale-pink lips were uplifted in a sneer, betraying little surprise.
The woman spared Kari no attention as she stood to her full height and looked around. She faced the nearest patch of darkness and raised a hand, curling her fingers into a fist. The shadows stretched away from the trees, bending toward the woman in lazy snake-like wisps.
They lifted off the ground and twisted around her fingers.
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Ten Ways to Tell If You’re Dating a Shapeshifter with Roxanna Mason #ParanormalRomance #ParanormalDating
I didn't know what Owen had in mind, but it was already obvious to me that I would go anywhere this man was leading. He kept his hand in mine as he guided me through the crowded bar and toward the pool tables. Thankfully, because the band was still playing, the back of the bar was far less populated.
"Is playing pool normally part of a first date with you, or are you just trying to get me alone?" I teased.
Owen took a step towards me, pinning me between him and the pool table.
"Both," he said with a smile on his face that I could only describe as wicked.
I tilted my head to the side as I looked up at him. "Let's make it interesting, then."
I took a step to the side, sliding out from between him and the ancient wooden table. I grabbed a pool cue off of the rack and tossed it to him before grabbing a decidedly smaller one for myself. "We're going to need more shots," I said to him.
A smile crept over his dark features. "My kind of girl..." he murmured as he lowered his head towards mine.
"Nope, if you want to kiss me, you better plan on winning."
Owen shook his head and left me at the table while I started to rack the balls. A few minutes later, he returned with four shots; two of whiskey, two of tequila. I took one of the shot glasses filled with dark brown liquor straight out of his hand and threw it back. I winced as the alcohol made my throat close in on itself. The truth was, I might have been putting on a show. I enjoyed the way I felt around Owen, but I didn't know if I was as wild as I wanted him to believe.
"So what are the stakes here?" he asked me as he set the remaining shots on a nearby hightop.
"If you win, you get to take me home..." I said in a voice I barely recognized as my own. It was breathy and seductive. Those two shots apparently went to my head faster than I thought.
"And if you win?" Owen asked with a raised brow.
"If I win, I get a second date."
"Who said we can't do both?" he said with a chuckle.
I rolled my eyes. I didn't have this whole impulsive, whiskey-drinking, short skirt-wearing Jacey completely figured out yet.
Owen took a step towards me. He reached for my hips and pulled me toward him. "What do you really want?"
I could feel my pulse banging in my ears, and the loud, crowded bar faded into the background. He reached around my head, threading his fingers into my hair and tugging me towards him. I leaned forward, expecting him to kiss me, but his mouth hovered over mine.
"What do you want?" he asked again.
"You," I said, my voice caught in my throat.
"What was that?" he asked teasingly. His deep voice, vibrating through me.
"I want you."
Finally, he brought his lips to mine and kissed me deeply. Kissing Owen wasn't new to me; we couldn't stop kissing the night he drove me over the Brooklyn Bridge. But this was something else. I wasn't sure I even knew my own name anymore.
"When I take you home, it's going to be because you're begging me to...not because I won at pool."
Monday, March 13, 2023
In the middle of the night, I awoke to a low growl. Confused, I groggily fought my way up through thick layers of sleep to realize it was Misha. Fully awake now, I shushed him and listened. Faint footfalls crunched outside. Whoever it was, they weren’t on top of us yet, but they weren’t far away. I shook Pip awake and held a finger to my lips as she blinked up at me. Misha growled again, making Pip sit straight up in her sleeping bag.
“Get the gun,” I whispered. “And hold onto him,” I gestured at Misha, who stared intently at the tent flap. I dug my large hunting knife out of my bag and unsheathed it. “And don’t shoot me,” I added.
“Don’t go out there!” Pip hissed.
“It’ll be ok,” I said. “You remember how to use that, right?”
“Yes, but I still don’t think you should go.”
“It’ll be ok,” I repeated, as much for myself as for her. I unzipped the flap as quietly as I could.
Misha twitched behind me, but Pip held him tightly in the crook of her left arm. In her right hand, she clutched the gun, her finger loosely on the trigger. “Be right back,” I whispered. “If you see anyone who isn’t me, shoot them.” I slipped out before she could answer, leaving the flap open in my wake.
Holding my knife in front of me, I crept away from the tent, every muscle in my body tense with anticipation. The clouds had dissipated, leaving a clear, moonlit night. I didn’t see anyone in the immediate area. Our fire had gone out. I crouched low and made my way around the smoldering pit to the check on the horses.
Dancer huffed and regarded me with huge, calm brown eyes, his scruffy coat in desperate need of brushing. I gave him a good scratch. Blitzen shook her head and whinnied, shoving her nose at me to be stroked too. They didn’t seem upset. Perhaps what we’d heard were simply sounds of the winter forest settling for the night.
Just as I had the thought, a huge arm covered in stinking fur grabbed me around my neck and a grimy hand clamped roughly over my mouth. I sputtered and backed up into what felt like a brick wall. Without thinking, I stomped down hard with my right boot and shoved my butt out as far as I could, surprising him and breaking his hold on me. I whirled around and got low, grunting like an animal and diving for his knees. I didn’t manage to knock him over, but I drove my knife deep into his inner thigh just above his knee. When I heard the solid wet ‘thock’ of its hilt hitting his flesh, I jerked it up all the way up to his groin, severing his femoral artery.He didn’t so much fall as crumble to a sitting position on the snow. He grabbed at his leg and looked at me. I scuttled backward on my butt like a crab, putting a couple more feet between us even though I was pretty sure he was bleeding out. “Demon,” he hissed. “I know you.” I crept forward again, my bloody knife held before me like an offering. “Get away from me,” he said.“You’re dying,” I said back. “How many of you are there?”
“All of us. We’re coming for you.”
“Yes, but how far away?” I asked, exasperated. We didn’t have time for this. I was absolutely sure he was part of a group.
“We’re everywhere,” he said, fading. The blood beneath him was turning black, growing like a cartoon shadow. “You and your little girlfriend are going to die.”
“Not before you,” I said, rising. I looked around in the gloom. The horses huffed and stomped their feet. Was it possible he’d been alone? Maybe just a scout?
As I turned to go back to the tent a single gunshot shattered the stillness of the night. I broke into a run, skidding through muddy snow, sliding to a stop just beyond the fire pit. A body lay in a heap outside the tent. It was too large to be Pip. Cautiously I approached and leaned over. I could tell it was a man, or formerly a man, but that was all. His face had been completely obliterated from the point-blank shot. I peered into the tent, saw a smoking barrel, and Pip’s pale face beyond. “Are you ok?” I asked her.
“Misha’s gone!” she cried, pushing her way out of the tent. “He ran away when I fired the gun!”
“We’ve got to go, Pip. Others are coming.” I began throwing things into my pack and stuffing them down. Gently I took the gun from Pip. Her hands were shaking.
“We can’t leave Misha!” she yelled at me.
“Pip, we have to go. They’ll kill us, or worse. Get your stuff now!”She rolled up her sleeping bag quickly and secured it to her pack, zipping up her parka. Mine was already done and strapped to my pack. “I’ll get the horses. You stay here,” I ordered.