Monday, July 30, 2012

Mistress of Malice and Mercy Chapter 32

Chapter 32 of Mistress of Malice and Mercy is one of my favorites for several reasons - a fight, a turning point of sorts, and it starts out bloody but ends so sweet. 

- - - 

“Sugar,” Duke started, voice gravelly and low.

A tendil of longing skittered down her spine; she imagined hooded blue eyes and strong, welcoming arms. She’d lived like a gypsy for years while hunting her father and had started her business because it allowed her the luxury of travel, of never being tied to one place. Homesickness, not for the house or her apartment but for Duke, the only home she ever needed, made her throat tighten and her knees wobble.
“Yeah, Tobias?"

“Come home.”

 - - -
And we also get to see Viola offer up some wisdom... of sorts... to a demon in a similar situation

Orili remained silent. With a grunt, Viola studied the reticent Grimadore. The stony face and compressed lips didn’t give much away, but the combination of sorrow, anger and guilt swirling in his eyes was familiar. She saw it in the mirror whenever she thought of her father. Sympathy temporarily trumped dislike.

“You know him.”

Orili jerked like a puppet on a string. Encouraged by the reaction, Viola continued. “Not in the mortal enemy way, either. You know him. Looking at him right now hurts you. Not just because he’s been your oppressor but because on the outside he looks like the guy you knew but on the inside he’s a stranger. A monster.”

Orili nodded slowly. “You are truly wise, Lady Viola. He is my mother’s first son. We are half-brothers.”
Viola awkwardly patted his shoulder. “Family sucks.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Family Lies short - 8 years before Daughter of Deception

A gift for a friend who wanted a jealous and confused Duke.  This is an incident mentioned in Mistress of Malice and Mercy and features a main character from an eventual Network-verse book.

- - - - - 

Duke has always considered himself a fairly laid back person, all things considered. As long as his Trackers follow the rotation schedule, take care of the demons, and turn in their paperwork in a reasonable amount of time, he's content to let them be. When Max Sparks, his late grandfather's friend and a former member of the Network's elite International Threat Response team, says he's going to bring in Jeremy Whittier, son of the head of the New England region, for additional training during the summer, Duke doesn't think twice. He's actually a little pleased. People are coming to his region for training.

He does his region head duty and meets Whittier at the airport. The kid, only a year younger than Duke, is older than he'd imagined. Whittier’s cool and standoffish on the way to short-term parking, but warms up quickly when discussing his impending transfer to the ITR and defending his beloved Patriots. Whittier doesn't want to join the ITR to get away from his jerkwad father, but because he genuinely wants to help areas that do not have a permanent Network presence. By the time Duke pulls his truck into Max Sparks' driveway, Duke's thoughts have blossomed into full-fledged respect for the younger man. Despite his terrible taste in football teams.

Max is waiting for them on the front porch. So is a familiar, sulking black-clad girl. With school out, they've created a rotation of their own. Sebastian Ashwood calls it "Viola-watch." Duke has a few other names for it he'll never speak aloud. The theory is that if they keep the teen occupied she won't get into trouble. Into much trouble. Max, bless his masochistic heart, has volunteered for most of the daytime shifts. Whittier and Duke walk up to the porch just in time to catch the tail end of an argument.

"But he had a broken ankle," Viola protests, tone edging towards a whine.

"Yes he did, but you know better than to rush a wounded creature. You're lucky all he did was crack a rib and dislocate your shoulder," is Max's patient response.

Duke's eyes snap to Viola’s torso. Nothing looks out of place, but he doesn't miss the way she holds herself so straight and still. Duke has a thousand adjectives he uses to describe the littlest Ashwood, but 'still' isn't one of them. Once he's certain she's not going to die - the paperwork for that is terrifyingly complicated and her brother would be a pain in the ass to deal with - his eyes drift to the young Igral dozing by the toes of her combat boots. Ace bandages are wrapped around the hairless, goat-sized demon's left ankle.

"What'd you do, Vi?"

"I just wanted to help."

Her lower lip juts out in a pout that never fails to have her brother and sister falling over themselves but only makes Duke arch a blond eyebrow. He’s immune to most of her tricks. "Admirable, Shortcake, but stupid. How's the shoulder?"


It's a lie. Dislocated shoulders hurt like a bitch, but he'll let it slide and won’t wound her pride. He knows Max, ridiculously overprotective of his jeopardy-friendly mentoree, would have marched her to the doctor if the injury was serious. He offers Viola a ride home, shrugs when she declines, and moseys back to his truck while Max makes introductions. With his rotation schedule thrown off by Trackers taking summer vacations, he gets so busy he forgets all about Whittier being in town.

Two weeks later, he's at the Ashwood house doing paperwork in the kitchen with Sebastian. He'd prefer to do the reports on his own, but this is the best way to make sure Sebastian fills out everything correctly and doesn't skip over sections. Viola, dressed in a pair of bike shorts three inches too short and a size too small and a t-shirt that looks like it shrank in the dryer, breezes into the kitchen. Her face is flushed and damp with sweat and her smile could light up half the city.

"Hey, Bas." She ruffles his hair affectionately as she passes on her way to the fridge. After twisting the cap off a bottle of orange sports drink and taking a swig, she sags against the counter. "It's hot out. I mean hot. Should have gone for a run earlier, but we were up way too late. I think it's going to rain later. Good thing you're not on rotation tonight, huh? Sucks for me and Max and Fred and Jeremy, though. It's okay, I guess, a little rain never hurt anyone. Unless you’re a Lhba. Max says that he's considering telling Fred to stay home. He plans on letting Jeremy and me do most of the work anyway. Which is just awesome. You should have seen the way Jeremy handled that Rigalin on Monday. He... I mean it was gorgeous."

Duke knows his mouth is gaping, but he can't help it. Viola isn't usually a chatterbox. Since her father's disappearance a year earlier, she's grown angrier and difficult to talk to about anything but Tracking. He starts to dip into her mind, braces himself for the defenses she's annoyingly adept at building, and nearly falls out of his chair when he finds the gates thrown wide open. Who did she let her guard down for? He glances at the thoughts zipping around at light speed and retreats.

"Are you high?"

Viola jolts, smiles sheepishly at Duke. "Sorry, Toby. Didn't know you were there."

Duke blinks. Not know he was there? Viola always knows when he's within a ten-mile radius. He's accused her of having a special Duke-radar because she's constantly in his face. How had she walked into the house without knowing he was already inside? "Are you drunk?"


She pauses, starts to say something else, but the trill of her cell phone cuts her off. She checks the display. The way her eyes brighten and giddiness practically rolls off her skin makes Duke's stomach churn. As soon as she's out of the room, he's going to beat the hell out of Sebastian for neglecting to tell him that Viola had been possessed.

"Jeremy? No, I made it home just fine. Told you I would. You're so sweet. It was a good run. I’m glad you could keep up with me." Phone tucked between her ear and her shoulder, she skips out of the kitchen with her bottle of sports drink. Bubbly laughter trails in her wake.

As soon as she's out of earshot, Duke slugs Sebastian in the shoulder. "What's wrong with your sister?"

"There's nothing wrong with Vi."

"She just giggled, man. Giggled." Duke doesn't point out that she didn't notice him. As much as he complains about Viola's crush on him, he knows he'll never hear the end of it if he complains about the lack of attention.

"Oh, that." Sebastian shrugs, twirls his pencil. "She's been like that since Jeremy came to town. She's over at Max's all the time, which I don't mind, honestly. When she comes home, it's always 'Jeremy-this' and 'Jeremy-that.' I don't mind that much, either. She seems happier, which let me tell you, is something we never thought would happen."

"Who is Jeremy?" Duke's voice drips with ice.

"Jeremy Whittier. The kid from Boston."

"He's not a kid! He's twenty-one! She’s seventeen."

When Sebastian only shrugs again, Duke flings himself back in the chair and crosses his arms over his chest. Whittier has no business getting involved with Viola. He's leaving the country at the end of the summer. The ITR is dangerous and he'll be out of touch for months at a time. He shouldn't be messing around with a teen girl's heart only to shatter it later. Especially considering that heart belongs to the girl who... Duke shakes his head, stops that thought before it can fully form.

Duke tries to let it go. Viola isn't his sister or his partner. She’s just a friend, sometimes, when she isn’t driving him up the wall. He tells himself that he should be glad she's following someone else with those puppy eyes and undisguised adoration. He tells himself that he's glad she isn't dogging his every step and pestering him with questions or contradicting him. He goes out with long-legged, blue-eyed Pauline, who never argues with a word he says, and spends his whole night trying to pick a fight. When he drops her off at her doorstep and ignores the come-hither look in her wide eyes, he can't help but wonder what a certain hazel-eyed girl is doing at that moment. The next morning, he invites her out for a quick sweep of an area that's teeming with activity, but she turns him down. Flat. For breakfast with Jeremy. Duke very nearly throws his phone against the wall.

The same thing happens four days later. He's not used to Viola saying no. When he subtly questions Sebastian about Viola's pod-behavior, his friend cheerfully relates that Viola has taken to spending every waking hour, and a night or two, at the Sparks residence. Olivia, taking a break from summer classes to do laundry and cook a week of meals for her culinary-deficient brother, adds that she'd been surprised when Viola didn't cancel a planned shopping trip. She'd even had to talk the tomboyish Viola out of an indecently short leather skirt, though they had picked up a "cute" sundress. A pastel sundress. Duke chokes on his beer.

Six weeks into Jeremy Whittier’s stay in Houston, Duke's had enough. Max's annual summer barbecue seemed like the perfect time to quietly watch Viola and her Jeremy, but Duke can't hold his tongue anymore. Whittier and Viola haven't been apart from each other's side since the party started. Duke's jaw twitches every time she flutters her eyelashes or smiles that wide grin that used to be reserved just for him. He'd like to throttle Olivia for letting Viola buy that sundress. The skirt may not have looked short in the store, but the light summer breeze lifts it so that it twirls high above her knees with irritating regularity.

Muscles tense, jaw clenched, and spine stiff, he stalks across Max's backyard towards the laughing duo. Viola's eyes flick up to him, but the delight that sparkles in them is only a quarter of its usual luminescence. "Hey, Toby."

"Vi. Whittier." Duke inclines his head at the younger man, pinning him in place with his glare. "Max was looking for you, Shortcake. He said something about running out of potato salad."

Having taken over as hostess for her widower mentor, Viola frowns. "Damn. Thought I bought enough. Thanks, Toby." She pops up on the toes of her sparkly silver sandals to peck Whittier's cheek before prancing off.

"She's a good kid," Duke starts.

"She's wonderful," Whittier corrects, eyes following an auburn head as it bobs through the crowd.

"She's a good kid," Duke repeats, making sure to put the emphasis on the right word.

"She's not a kid. You'd better not let her hear you say that. Not only would she kick your ass, but it's wrong. The law may say she's just a kid, but she doesn't Track like one. I've seen guys twice her age with about half the level of training or competency she has."

Stung by the reprimand, Duke's glare intensifies. "That doesn't give you the right to toy with her. A summer fling may sound like fun, but when you run off to join the ITR, you're going to break her heart. If she's as wonderful as you say, she doesn't deserve that. She’s been through enough. I know it can be intoxicating having a pretty girl flatter you and cling and hang on to your every word, but - ."

"Is that what you think this is?" Whittier interrupts firmly, voice as cold as Duke’s and eyes hard as stone. "That I'm letting the attention go to my head? I admit I was flattered at first, but it's more than that. You know what my ability is, don't you?"

Duke nods. Olivia Ashwood is your run-of-the-mill empath - she can read and often feel others' emotions. Whittier's abilities are light-years beyond that. People like him taste emotions, can manipulate them. It's one of the reasons for Duke's concern. Who is to say how much Whittier is amplifying Viola's crush to suit his own needs.

"Viola feels so much. All the time," Whittier continues.

"Olivia's said that."

"And while not all of it's pleasant, there's a fair amount of anger and pain there, it's all honest. She doesn't cover up her emotions or try to change them to fit in with anyone else. They're big and bold and in your face. You can't escape them even if you wanted to. Which I don't." Whittier stuffs his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels. "When you cover up emotions, it sours the taste. Makes you want to gag. Back home, with Dad, everything tasted like spoiled milk and moldy bread. Viola's a palette refresher, for lack of better comparison. She’s a gourmet meal after years of gruel."

"So you're using her." Duke's fists clench at his sides. It's all he can do not to pound Whittier into the ground. If Sebastian won’t pull his head out of the sand and defend his baby sister, Duke’s more than willing to stand in as a substitute. No Yankee with a smug smile and pretty words uses Viola Ashwood while there’s still a breath in his body.

"Yes. But she needs a friend, so it's not completely selfish. She knows I'm leaving in August. She won't be as heartbroken as you think."


Whittier's lips curl up in a sly smile. "If you only knew how much I've heard about her precious Toby these past weeks. I figured there was something between you two that first day when you were so worried about her shoulder. The way she talks about you and the way you try to eviscerate me with your eyes every time we see each other only confirmed that. I know better than to poach someone else’s territory."

"Viola and I aren't... there's nothing... she's a kid." An annoying, reckless, brilliant, compassionate, loyal, strong, amazing, pain-in-the-rear,best-friend's-little-sister, kid. It's embarrassing how often he has to remind himself of the last two items on his list.

"Okay, sorry," Whittier claps Duke on the shoulder as he wanders toward a potato-salad carrying Viola. "Your jealousy tastes like dill pickles, by the way. Very heavy on the vinegar."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mistress of Malice and Mercy Preview

Since I feel so terrible about Mistress of Malice and Mercy taking so long, I am offering an advance copy (PDF) of the first 20 chapters.  If you are interested, you can leave a comment here or email me.

- Just a note, though, this will be an advance copy so there are bound to be a few errors.  Those who request the advance copy will also receive a free PDF version of the completed book.

Limit of 20 requests, sorry!  I don't want too much to get out :)

Hope you're having a fantastic weekend!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mistress of Malice and Mercy - title

Someone asked me recently where the title for the third book came from.  Since "from my brain" wasn't answer enough, here's a snippet to explain:

Viola settled back against Duke’s side and tucked her head against his chest. The steady beat of his heart under her ear grounded her like nothing else on earth. “Those who oppose my father call me the Mistress of Mercy.” She dug her elbow into his ribs when an image of her dressed in a leather catsuit and wielding a whip filtered through the link.
“Pay attention, gutter brain.”
“Yes, mistress,” Duke purred, lips pressed against her temple.

“Those who follow Dad call me the Mistress of Malice.”
“Nice to see alliteration transcends battle lines.”

Her lips twitched. “Yeah.” She blew out a sigh, let her eyes fall shut. “Thing is, I think they’re both right. I don’t feel like an angel of mercy or the destroyer of worlds. I feel a little like both.”

Duke’s arm tightened around her shoulders. “You’ll find, sugar, that the truth behind most myths lies somewhere in the middle.”
Viola’s nose crinkled. “Could you not channel Tom when we’re snuggling?”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

National Museum of the Pacific War (Kara's Vacation Part I)

Happy 4th of July, all!

On July 22nd, the majority of the females on my Mom's side of the family congregated in Fredericksburg, TX for a wine tour.  It was a really awesome way to spend my 30th birthday.  I'll post more later on the great wines and wonderful tours we went on, but I had another reason for really looking forward to the trip. 

For over two years now, I have been a volunteer transcriptionist for the National Museum of the Pacific War/Nimitz Education and Research Center.  I got started with the Museum because Grandpa Misenhimer does the oral interviews.  As of July 2012, he has done over 700 interviews.  He needed a transcriptionist, I like to type, so we worked it out.  I enjoy listening to the tales from our vets, but I have never been to the Museum.

So, you can guess what I did that Sunday, right?  I had a picture in my head of a small-town museum and that's what I was expecting.  I've never been so glad to be wrong in my life.  The Nimitz part of the museum is what I expected, but the George H. W. Bush Gallery is hugeHUGE.  I wish I could have spent longer - they aren't kidding when they say it takes 4 hours. 

They offer an hour-long tour at the Pacific Combat Zone.  It is a little over 2 blocks from the main museum, but you can drive and park there (our car was at the hotel so I jogged - not fun in June).  I am so glad I didn't skip that part of the museum like so many people do.  Our tour guide was wonderful.  There is a TBM Avenger, a PT boat, and outside there are several other WWII relics.  They do a reenactment several times a year that Davis and I are going to attend. 

Since I was short on time, I did not go through the Plaza of Presidents, Memorial Courtyard or the Japanese Peace Garden.  They are on my to-do list for next time. 

The George H.W. Bush Gallery is large.  Very large.  And filled with information from the end of WWI and Japan's rise to the end of the war.  My favorite parts were the visual aids - where you hear bombs going off and radar and the shouts from Pearl Harbor to getting to walk inside a sub to see how little space crewmembers had. 

I'm sure you don't want to hear me go on and on about a museum, but I couldn't not tell you about this wonderful place that not many people know about.  There is a wealth of information for everyone - whether you are a military history buff or not.

For more information please visit

Fredericksburg itself is a great place for a quick weekend vacation - there are wonderful shops up and down Main Street, wineries all along 290, Bier gardens, open container laws for those walking up and down Main Street.  I truly enjoyed my vacation and cannot wait until we go back.

- Pictures taken from the museum website.