TOUCHED BY FATE is now on shelves near you! #newrelease #pnr #romsus

Mike! MIKE! Do you know what day it is? IT’S RELEASE DAY!

(Actually, release day was Tuesday, but since life pretty much splattered like pigeon poop on a windshield, we’re doing release day today!)

That’s right! TOUCHED BY FATE, the second book in my PSY-IV Teams series is now available wherever you purchase your e-books! So if you haven’t gotten your copy yet, go (insert shooing motions with hands). Go get your copy and don’t miss Risia and Tag as they race through the less glamourous side of Vegas and espionage.

touchedbyfate_MIU

Now available in eBook format at:

MUSEIT UP / AMAZON / BARNES AND NOBLEiBOOKS / KOBO / SCRIBD

TOUCHED BY FATE, PSY-IV Teams #2

Trusting him with her secrets is dangerous.

 As a specialized consultant for the Department of Defense, Risia Lacoste understands the bargaining chip of a well-kept secret. When her current assignment threatens to unearth her deeply buried skeletons, she’s forced into a high-stakes game of lies and loyalty where even her ability to foresee the future can’t predict the winner.

Trusting him with her heart could be fatal.

Darkness lies under the skin of every man, and PSY-IV Team operative and touch empath, Tag Gunderson, has the demons to prove it. Scarred by betrayal and disillusionment, he’s not Risia’s top pick for a partner in the game, but he’s all she’s got.

As the game draws them deeper into a pit of intrigue and their list of enemies grow, will Risia trust Tag with more than her secrets or will his demons destroy them both?

READ CHAPTER ONE

         Why, when you finally think you have your chosen path hammered out, Fate, the fickle bitch, always, I mean always, manages to knock you on your ass? Let’s just check out where my ass was currently. Hunched behind a mammoth RV, you know the kind, those massive houses on wheels that tend to flock southward every winter. Unfortunately, this particular one was perched in a parking lot, a stone’s throw from my lovely, air-conditioned condo in downtown Las Vegas. Not only was the baked asphalt burning said ass, but I was still struggling with watching another, very daring ass of the presumably male variety dangle off my top-floor balcony before dropping down to the one below it.

What the hell?

Maybe the July heat was playing tricks with my mind. Either that or last night’s ugly events had finally broken my tenuous hold on sanity. Yeah, let’s go with that one, because sanity and I had a very contentious relationship. One where it threatened to take a hike on a regular basis, while I tried to lure it back with lofty promises even I knew I wouldn’t keep.

Promises like I’d never question that gut-tugging sensation screaming warnings again. Because it normally meant things were about to take a very drastic downturn. Like coming home last night while riding high on the possibility of finally being done with my current assignment for Colonel Charlene Delacourt, the warning signs started their high pitched aria. I ignored them. Not smart. Nope. Instead, I walked right into my home, confident the building’s security wouldn’t allow for an ambush.

Arrogant, maybe. Careless, not usually. Distracted, definitely.

Stupid, never.

So last night, instead of being able to kick off my gorgeous lavender Jimmy Choo’s, I ended up sipping a Booker Noe neat trying to disguise my internal freak out of having been met by Lawrence Rawlings, the egomaniac behind Aether Industries and his hulking sidekick in my own (albeit rented) living room. And that wasn’t the end of it. It got better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.

Not only did Rawlings want me to endorse Aether’s upcoming contract with the Department of Defense, he wanted much more. And if he didn’t get what he wanted—namely me, and then his contract—he had no problems exploiting, what I had believed until he opened his mouth, a very well-hidden secret.

The DOD paid me good money to vet their civilian contracts, money which allowed my penchant for expensive footwear, a skyline view of the Vegas strip, and a closet full of indulgences. That same money kept my troublesome secrets six feet under. Secrets Rawlings shouldn’t have been able to unearth. But whoever he had digging up my past, dug deep.

So deep in fact, by the time Rawlings left with his smarmy smile and menacing shadow, I found myself between a rock and a hard place, wishing I had something a hell of a lot stronger than whiskey.

Mixing whiskey with nerves had triggered my desperate attempt at leveling the playing field. Which, in turn, led to my current position, crouched behind an RV watching someone spider-man his way out of my condo. It was such a death- defying stunt, even my lungs were stunned. And they didn’t remember to function until whoever that was dropped safely onto the balcony below mine. For a moment, all I could do was stare at where the whole surreal thing had happened, my very tired and battered brain trying to figure out the who and why, but coming up empty.

One thing was clear. Going home was not an option. Dammit.

Fate was having a hell of a good time at my expense.

Let’s tally her bill, shall we? A black eye, check. Bruised ribs, check. A bullet graze stinging across my shoulder, check. Nerves strung tight on exhaustion, double damn check.

Sweat trickled down my spine, and the muscles in my legs trembled. Not just from their uncomfortable position, but because for the last fourteen hours, I’d run more than I’d ever run in my life. Being blessed with a hyperactive metabolism, running was never really a consideration. Well, not until last night. And if things didn’t change soon, I’d be doing some more mad dashes trying to stay ahead of the rolling mounds of crap hurtling toward me.

What I should do is call Colonel Delacourt. Especially since it was mainly her fault I was in this mess to begin with. My job as the colonel’s information collector allowed me to play some very exciting, sometimes dangerous games. Most of the time, I didn’t mind. The adrenaline rush was almost as good as the paycheck, but this time the rush was fraying my nerves to tiny shreds.

Neither the DOD nor Delacourt could pay me enough to repair Rawlings’s damage to my nerves and my aching body. Initially, Rawlings garnered the DOD’s attention because his communications company had managed to find and solve a newly discovered weak spot in the government’s encrypted communications program. It wasn’t an overnight sensation. It took three years of work. For three years the DOD watched Rawlings and his Boyau Project. It wasn’t until Rawlings presented his project’s results and pointed out the DOD’s little problem, all the while requesting to put Aether’s prototypes with one of the many U.S. acronymned agencies, that the DOD decided to send me in to evaluate how accurate his claims were.

Then Delacourt, mistress of manipulation and guilt trips, called.

Seemed someone managed to hack into some very delicate files in some hush-hush agency, and were now preparing to market them to the highest bidder. For reasons known only to those above my pay grade, her interest turned to Rawlings and his new, nifty toy. Since my job just happened (yes, that was sarcasm you picked up there) to put me in the perfect spot, would I mind doing some digging for her? Stir in a subtle tablespoon of “you owe me” and a dash of guilt, and I teetered. Offering two paychecks for one job? Doable. So I tumbled right over the edge and agreed.

Maybe I should’ve thought it through a bit more, because right now, two paychecks wouldn’t come close to getting me out of this mess. But Delacourt had a team, a kick-ass team with unusual talents who could. Maybe. Problem was, a favor from Delacourt would be cashed in with interest sooner or later, and I was busy avoiding one particular team member as if he carried the plague. He didn’t. In fact, I kind of wish he did so he’d get the hell out of my head at the most inopportune times. Especially since I was pretty sure my preoccupation was one- sided.

Still, skulking in a parking lot in late afternoon in Vegas with dried blood and other things I really didn’t want to think about right now decorating my black cargos and T-shirt, stuck between a rock and hard place, calling Delacourt was quickly becoming my only viable option.

Armed with a new plan, tenuous though it was, I straightened, simultaneously wincing and groaning as my shoulder woke up. The too-close call with a bullet wasn’t going quietly into that good night. A lovely parting gift from my failed attempt to level the playing field. Failed as in, it tilted it decidedly out of my favor. I looked around preparing to move out, when life reached out and slapped me upside the head, because everything leading up to this wasn’t enough to crush me. The late-afternoon sun gained strength and seared across my retinas safely ensconced behind dark lenses. The world began to white out.

“Dammit, not now, please not now.” I slammed both palms against the RV, the metal burning my skin. My plea fell on deaf ears. The world wavered. Edges too bright. Shadows dancing in strange forms. Then the whispers started. See, told you sanity and I were not friends. Frustration and maybe a smidgen of fear rose, and I refused to listen, refused to see. My forehead joined my hands. Setting my waning patience, desperation, and anger against the sense of impending doom, I shoved against what waited. It backed off. The reprieve wouldn’t last long. Never did. And when it returned, it would bring reinforcements. Fun times.

My breathing was overly loud, but the sounds of voices and footsteps managed to get my attention. Trying not to aggravate the soft pounding in my skull, I slowly raised my head. At first, it was just a moving blob, then it became a small group of people exiting the condo and heading across the parking lot. As they took shape, something—no, someone—caught my attention. It took a moment for the image to register. And when it did, I didn’t know if I should jump for joy or just sit down and bawl.

At least I now knew who had been spider-manning from my balcony, and possibly courting a death wish.

Walking out the front doors, standing above the crowd of casually dressed businessmen was the last person I wanted to see, no matter how much he invaded my thoughts.

Thomas Anderson Gunderson. Tag.

Oh. My. God. Life really had a hard-on for me.

Have I scratched your interest enough to tempt you to get a copy? Good. Then go forth and get yours!

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Now available in eBook format at:

MUSEIT UP / AMAZON / BARNES AND NOBLEiBOOKS / KOBO / SCRIBD

Conjuring Misery Chapter 4

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

Chapter 4

Sam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing to say.”

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

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

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

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

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

“One who has returned.”

I waited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She narrowed her gaze. “Where you going?” 

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

“Who gave you your half?”

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

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

“I won’t forget.”

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

Snake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Easier said than done,” I mumbled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t deny blood, girl.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Crazy Busy = Upcoming MIA Blog Posts

(in best speaksey voice, complete with wiggly eyebrows) Regarding those upcoming blog posts, yeah? Wells, here’s the scoop.

I have this great day job with a local provider of higher education and this is the time of year when multiple graduations devour students and their time. As one of those administrative persons who assist said students, it is also that time of the year when my time is gobbled up by panicked students facing various final projects. As I am there to help talk them off the ledge, my next couple of weeks will be dedicated to their graduation success, therefore blog posts and personal writing time will be set aside.

This is not all bad. In fact, next week will see Chapter 4 of Conjuring Misery, the joint endeavor of myself, Camille Douglass, and Dave Benneman. So be sure to tune in next Thursday for that delicious indulgence of magical fantasy.

And then there are the following exciting upcoming events

  • The highly anticipated release of TOUCHED BY FATE, the second PSY-IV Teams book on 5/24/16 (go forth, pre-order your copy!).
  • Hang on because I’ve finally gone for it—jamigray.com will be getting a make-over. Yes, indeedy, we are sprucing up the place and adding a little polish. I’ll try to give you a date when I get one. This time, it’s not me behind the changes, but the talented staff of Hot Damn Designs and their fearless leader, Kim Killion, who are coming to my rescue.
  • I’ve joined forces with Goodreads and set up a giveaway of 3 autographed print copies of HUNTED BY THE PAST, to celebrate TOUCHED’s release! Go forth and throw your name in the hat!

So while I may miss a post here and there to the everyday chaos, I do promise things are happening!

Conjuring Misery Chapter 3

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

Chapter 3

Sam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the same reason you’re here.”

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

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

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

In unison, they turned and looked at me.

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

They both grinned at me.

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

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

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

Traveler chuckled. “Be nice, Snake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snake nodded.

Sam added a firm, “Yes.”

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

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

Behind me Snake snorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tune back in for Chapter 4 in two weeks.

TOUCHED BY FATE is hitting shelves soon! #PNR #newrelease

Coming MAY 24th from MuseIt Up Publishing…TOUCHED BY FATE, the second installment of the Paranormal Romantic Suspense series of the PSY-IV Teams. Pre-order your copy for $2.99 while it’s hot!
touchedbyfate_mid

Trusting him with her secrets is dangerous.  Trusting him with her heart could be fatal.

As a specialized consultant for the Department of Defense, Risia Lacoste understands the bargaining chip of a well-kept secret. When her current assignment threatens to unearth her deeply buried skeletons, she’s forced into a high-stakes game of lies and loyalty where even her ability to foresee the future can’t predict
the winner.

Darkness lies under the skin of every man, and PSY-IV Team operative and touch empath, Tag Gunderson, has the demons to prove it. Scarred by betrayal and disillusionment, he’s not Risia’s top pick for a partner in the game, but he’s all she’s got.

As the game draws them deeper into a pit of intrigue and their list of enemies grows, will Risia trust Tag with more than her secrets or will his demons destroy them both?

Available for pre-order at:  MUSEITUP Publishing

READ AN EXCERPT

Why, when you finally think you have your chosen path hammered out, Fate, the fickle bitch, always, I mean always, manages to knock you on your ass? Let’s just check out where my ass was currently. Hunched behind a mammoth RV, you know the kind, those massive houses on wheels that tend to flock southward every winter. Unfortunately, this particular one was perched in a parking lot, a stone’s throw from my lovely, air-conditioned condo in downtown Las Vegas. Not only was the baked asphalt burning said ass, but I was still struggling with watching another, very daring ass of the presumably male variety dangle off my top-floor balcony before dropping down to the one below it.

What the hell?

Maybe the July heat was playing tricks with my mind. Either that or last night’s ugly events had finally broken my tenuous hold on sanity. Yeah, let’s go with that one, because sanity and I had a very contentious relationship. One where it threatened to take a hike on a regular basis, while I tried to lure it back with lofty promises even I knew I wouldn’t keep.

Promises like I’d never question that gut-tugging sensation screaming warnings again. Because it normally meant things were about to take a very drastic downturn. Like coming home last night while riding high on the possibility of finally being done with my current assignment for Colonel Charlene Delacourt, the warning signs started their high pitched aria. I ignored them. Not smart. Nope. Instead, I walked right into my home, confident the building’s security wouldn’t allow for an ambush.

Arrogant, maybe. Careless, not usually. Distracted, definitely.

Stupid, never.

So last night, instead of being able to kick off my gorgeous lavender Jimmy Choo’s, I ended up sipping a Booker Noe neat trying to disguise my internal freak out of having been met by Lawrence Rawlings, the egomaniac behind Aether Industries and his hulking sidekick in my own (albeit rented) living room. And that wasn’t the end of it. It got better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.

Not only did Rawlings want me to endorse Aether’s upcoming contract with the Department of Defense, he wanted much more. And if he didn’t get what he wanted—namely me, and then his contract—he had no problems exploiting, what I had believed until he opened his mouth, a very well-hidden secret.
The DOD paid me good money to vet their civilian contracts, money which allowed my penchant for expensive footwear, a skyline view of the Vegas strip, and a closet full of indulgences. That same money kept my troublesome secrets six feet under. Secrets Rawlings shouldn’t have been able to unearth. But whoever he had digging up my past, dug deep.

So deep in fact, by the time Rawlings left with his smarmy smile and menacing shadow, I found myself between a rock and a hard place, wishing I had something a hell of a lot stronger than whiskey.
Mixing whiskey with nerves had triggered my desperate attempt at leveling the playing field. Which, in turn, led to my current position, crouched behind an RV watching someone spider-man his way out of my condo. It was such a death defying stunt, even my lungs were stunned. And they didn’t remember to function until whoever that was dropped safely onto the balcony below mine. For a moment, all I could do was stare at where the whole surreal thing had happened, my very tired and battered brain trying to figure out the who and why, but coming up empty.
One thing was clear. Going home was not an option. Dammit.

Now available for pre-order at: MUSEITUP Publishing

 

Jami Gray Small

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

Come stalk Jami at any of these fine locations:

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

 

Conjuring Misery Chapter 2

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

Chapter 2

Sam

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

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

“Is that so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herding Cats #planning #writergoals

Did you enjoy Conjuring Misery? Don’t miss out on Chapter 2 when in rides into town on a weary steed next week. Until then, time for an update and reasons why I’ve been quiet and shall continue to be quiet this year. Let’s be honest, juggling the writing, family and work things takes concentration.

herding-cats

I’m still scribbling away on the newest project in a mad attempt to be ready to offer my humble writings to agents and editors in summer.

The cover art request is off to the cover artist for Touched by Fate, the second installment of PSY-IV Teams. I promise to share once it’s done. Hopefully this means a release date is imminent as well.

The next item on my To-Do list is revamp my website. I’m excited about this, but I don’t have a set month when this will happen because, well, life seems to eschew schedules lately.

I’ll be roaming the halls of the Romance Writers of America’s convention in San Diego in July. I hope to see some of you there!

Continual installments every two weeks of Conjuring Misery, as the trio of contributors have committed to keeping to the timeline on threat of painful torture involving peanut butter and a wild pack of Labrador Retrievers. (Don’t let the big puppy eyes fool you, they are vicious lick monsters!)

Once I return home I’ll begin the next writing project, which will be… (drum roll, please!) the fifth Kyn book tentatively titled, Shadow’s Dreams. Remember, tentatively means I get to change my mind any time prior to publication. For those curious minds, I will confirm that this is Cheveyo’s story. He’s gotten quite impatient with me, so before he turns me into a gila monster, I must acquiesce to his demands. This gives those of you who may be behind in reading the series a chance to catch up. I’m aiming for an early 2017 release date, but that all depends on a whole metric ton of other factors, as we found out with the delay of Touched’s release.

So stay tuned for Touched by Fate’s cover and hopefully release date. I’m thinking of doing a Goodreads giveaway of the print version on Hunted by the Past to help spread the word once Touched by Fate is ready to go. If the writing fates smile upon us, we may yet get PSY-IV Teams third title, Marked by Obsession, out by end of year as well. Fingers crossed!

Hope everyone is gearing up for the summer and has reloaded their To Be Read (TBR) lists!

Conjuring Misery Chapter 1

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

For now, may I present…CONJURING MISERY

Chapter 1

Sam

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

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

“Whiskey,” the stranger said.

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

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

Charlie poured.

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

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

“I just did.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Interesting. Snake what?”

“Just Snake.”

Snake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke aka Traveler

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

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

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

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

I gave her a quick grin.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2 riding in on April 21st!

When Plans Go Awry… #writing #planning

My Knight in Slightly Muddy Armor is a wise man. Most of the time. One of the reasons he and I are who we are together is because we share opposite personality traits. I am a planner. He rides the waves. He’s very good at it. Right now, I wish I could emulate him and his ability to go with the flow, so I wouldn’t be clawing my way out of a hole of frustration.

An off-road traffic sign post over a clear blue sky showing an alternative direction - a clipping path is included to separate sign from sky.

Here’s the deal–I have…err…had a plan for my writing, one that is currently not happening the way I anticipated. This plan has nothing to do with sales or name recognition. This was a simple plan of production. I would get two books out per year. I’m not sure that will happen this year. In fact, my frustration with my plan veering off course has left me questioning some decisions. But that is not the true point of this post.

The actual point is: it doesn’t matter how good your plans are because the only thing you can do is your part, the rest isn’t up to you.

Are you clutching your stomach or hair right now? Yep, so am I.

I managed to get the second and third PSY-IV Team books in to my lovely publisher by my self-imposed deadline to ensure I maintained a 2 book per year release schedule. However, due to things outside of my control and ever chaotic world of publishing, that’s not happening. It’s heartbreaking and stressful, to the extent there’s been this little gray cloud hovering over me for months, and dammit, I’m tired of carrying an umbrella. So I’ve come to the painful decision to step back and let things happen as they will. It isn’t easy for me, because as I mentioned earlier, I HAVE A PLAN DAMMIT. Unfortunately my plan is obviously not what Someone Else has in store for me.

Instead I have chosen to focus on the newest project and keep moving forward. This includes the upcoming serial venture with my fellow word warriors, Camille Douglass and Dave Bennemen, for CONJURING MISERY in April, completing the newest book so it may go forth into the wild world of agents and editors, and then it will be on to Cheveyo’s story for the fifth installment of the Kyn, which is still penciled in for a 2017 release. The two PSY-IV Teams will be coming, just not as soon as I had hoped. However, I will keep you posted on release dates as they are determined.

If you’re struggling with plans gone awry, I feel your pain, but unlike my Knight who can glide through the rough waters with ease, I can only offer my deepest empathy and this: you can only do what you can do, the rest will come as it will. Have faith!

What Do You See in the Ruins? #writerinspiration #photography #ruins

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a very visual person. So much so, in fact, that my previous writing group, lovingly pointed out that I tended to ignore the other senses available to my characters. To this day, it’s something that lingers in the back of my mind as I’m furiously writing my scenes.

Every writer goes about inspiration differently, but I have two major art forms that I use–music and images. Don’t believe me? Check out my Pinterest stuff. I’ve got images and music for almost every major player in my series. Both form resonate with me, always have and probably always will. I could offer a bunch of reasons (I grew up playing five different instruments, my first college degree was in photo-journalism and hiding behind a lens means you don’t have to adult and talk to people) but what it boils down to is that either form will bring my imagination to life.

Music is the easier one for me to fine most times. Granted the music doubles as a muffler while the males in my household dominate the electronic gaming arenas, but it also serves as a soundtrack to over-riding emotions of whatever scene I’m in.  Fight scenes get fast tempos, heavy base, and sharp notes. Emotional scenes rely on melodic chords of strings. And the sex scenes–well depending on what’s happening you can get anything from driving club music to intense orchestral soundtrack type montages, if you dare to sneak a peek. My writing play lists can go from light and happy to disturbingly dark, much like my writing.

But images, those are harder. When I write I tend to visualize an entire scene and replay it, frame by frame. When something causes my fingers to stumble, I’ll rewind, adjust, and hit replay. Again and again until it’s right–in my head and on the page. But it’s when I delve into research that images really come in to play.

Ancient ruins

Let’s take the current book I’m working on. It’s set after the world has gone to hell and humanity is barely hanging on, civilization as we currently know it, is a glorious history. Besides the in-depth research on economic impacts on society, climate changes wreaking havoc on the familiar, how fast viral diseases can sweep through a dense population leaving devastation in its wake, the emotional impact of surviving to live, what happens when the lifeblood behind our electronics is severely limited, I found myself on the hunt for what the world would look like. The buildings, the cities, the outlying areas, everything we take for granted now.

During this exploration I ran across a stunning collection of 24-year old photographer from Ohio, Johnny Joo (pronounced ‘Yo’ per his website). I spent a few years behind a lens, not anywhere near what a true photo-journalist or photographer has dedicated to the art, but enough to appreciate the talent these individuals have. Johnny specializes in what’s called urban exploration–basically he’s the Indiana Jones for urban decay. You can read all about him at his awesome blog at Architectural Afterlife.

The reason I mention Johnny is because I’ve been on the hunt for images that will breath life into my setting, and in his photos I’ve found it. When I stumbled across his blog, I spent hours (literally) going through his galleries, taking in the juxtaposition of clinging vines twisting through the remains of hospital, or the eerie living room that looks as if its owner stepped out for groceries in 1970 and just hasn’t come back. While his architectural photos were just what my writer’s mind needed, his nature portfolio was just as stunning. Not only is his talent obvious, but there is a heart there too. If you love sunflowers, you need to check out his Nature gallery under Summer, and if you decide to take some sunflowers home, know that he donates the proceeds to a beautiful cause that he details in his gallery.

I would love to share his pictures here, but I think it’s better experienced on his blog, so go there: Architectural Afterlife.

By the way, I found out this fascination with abandoned places is called Ruin Porn. The term made me giggle, but it’s fairly accurate. There is something compelling about these images of the familiar left abandoned. It’s as you can see the history and the future in one perfect moment. All the intents of the initial creation are there in the original bones, yet the truth of what lies ahead holds you in morbid fascination, leaving you unable to look away or not wonder on the what ifs. Ruin porn is a good way to describe it.

Johnny’s not the only one who documents such sites, there’s also Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre who have a fabulous series on Detroit and abandoned theaters. Well worth checking out.