Wednesday Weekly Roundup


Last week I wrote 17k and started on FEC11… by this week I’ll probably be over the past years’ wordcount, with still a few weeks to spare. I’ll keep counting next year, that’s the only thing I decided so far, since writing is still fun and the best way to cope with all this. Although I still have no idea of what I’m going to write or publish beyond what I’m currently working on and that will take me to February.

And we now have a Nightly Bites BUNDLE too! Shorter works, including Mortals Apocalypse – a short novel at 34K (or a novella if you go by SFWA standards, I remember when I tried for Tor novellas they wanted between 20K and 40K) – and other awesome books.

“The Night Killers” is actually a full novel to complete this awesome bundle! And it was on my Recommended Reading List last year, so yeah, it’s really worth checking out, LOL! A little more bang for the reader’s buck.

This bundle will have a much shorter run than usual. It used to be six months, more or less, but this will be gone after the holidays, at the start of 2021.

Also, I took out the year from the Silvery Earth Kids calendar on Zazzle, so you can now get the 2021 calendar with Torik and his friends.

Here’s the latest scandal – Audiblegate! If you’re on Audible, they are screwing you. If you’re a writer or a narrator, that is. If you’re a reader, stop returning audiobooks. In the words of my friend A.L. Butcher:

Please DO NOT just return a book you have listened to because you want something different and Audible offers an ‘exchange’ with your credit. The authors and narrators have to pay – we lose royalties – they are either recouped or taken from the next month’s royalty payment. It is NOT Amazon who take the hit on this.
In effect, you get to listen to a free title, and the authors and narrators pay you to do so.

I’m with Findaway Voices, and I got an email to inform me than I can be paid in currency other than US$ if I apply by December or something. Except I think it’s a phishing email, since I received it on my Paypal email, and the communications from them usually go to my author email.

And there’s no trace of such thing on their dashboard or on their blog, where I found out that last June they expanded their Giveaway Codes, so if anyone anywhere wants a code for Otherside, now you can redeem them! 🙂

Previously, Giveaway Codes only worked in the US, Canada, and Australia. Now, Giveaway Codes can be redeemed by listeners in the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States.

If you’d like one, just drop me a line. Also, since it has become easier to generate them, I might get some also for The Hooded Man and Firebird. If anyone is interested, that is.

Authors Direct is currently only available for users on iOS and Android (non-Kindle) mobile devices.  We cannot support direct MP3 download, playback via desktop computers, etc.

Authors Direct Giveaway Codes are only for listening inside of the Authors Direct mobile apps and can only be redeemed at https://authors-direct.com/redeem/

So there, if interested, drop me a line and I’ll send a code. Also, let me know if you’re okay with Otherside or want to try any of the other two. Thanks.

Speaking of submissions to major magazines, this year I sent another story straight to Asimov, yay! I submit to them every 3 years, apparently. But this was unrelated to any series and possibly hard SF, so I decided they’d get the first shot. I’m still waiting for Strange Horizons, to whom I submitted back at the beginning of September, but I know they are backlogged.

And next week I’ll have Submission Day where I’ll send out to the Zombie Need Brains anthologies and another market! Here’s to getting another acceptance letter soon. Meanwhile, check out the Other Publications with my stories in it! 🙂

Besides Audiblegate, another “scandal” came to the forefront this week. Disney isn’t paying royalties to Alan Dean Foster. I read the novelization and its sequel (the italian versions) of Star Wars back in the early 80s, and I can’t believe what’s happening. Traditional publishers are going down the hill and big companies are screwing writers more than ever!

I’d call for a boycott, but that’s not in my nature. I stopped watching Disney movies a long time ago. I stopped watching Star Wars a long time ago too! 😉 So, do as you please, but if you’re a writer, stay away from the Mouse with your IPs. And here’s to Disney paying his due to a huge SF author like Alan Dean Foster.

And if you’re even thinking about going with a traditional publisher still (for your novels, not the short stories), please read this post by Kris Rusch. And definitely don’t tell me. I unfriended wannabe writers who boasted of their agents before. So, if you’re one of them wannabes looking for an agent and a traditional publisher, don’t tell me and leave quietly, okay? 😉 Have a great week! 😀

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Sunday Surprise


And it’s a guest! Not really new for whoever has been following this blog since she was already interviewed here waaay back in 2011  and  then again in 2015 for her wonderful series… And even her characters were interviewed on this very blog! Anyhow, for those of you who don’t know Mighty Jo, let me present you Amaranthine creator Joleene Naylor!

Where do you live and write from?

I live – and sometimes write – in the midst of chaos; a Victorian house that we’re very slowly redoing. We have three rooms finished, the rest are in various states of stacked boxes, displaced furniture, and partially stripped wallpaper, with copious amounts of dust bunnies and a few skulking cats.

Why do you write?

I’d love to say that I write because I have a story to tell, but honestly I write for two reasons. 1) It’s fun. 2) I have people who want to read what I’m writing. If the day comes when those no longer apply, I’ll quit and find something else to do. Maybe glut on anime.

When did you start writing?

I started writing stories before I could spell. My first “book” was a fully illustrated masterpiece about a girl who gets a phone call and goes roller skating. I didn’t do too bad for a three year old, though I hadn’t grasped vowels, so the spelling is pretty creative.

What genre(s) do you write?

I write the paranormal Amaranthine universe. Though it’s vampires, I lean on a lot of fantasy-style tropes – including epic quests, evil wizard-like figures, and sort-of magical abilities – because fantasy is my favorite genre.

What is your goal as a writer and what are you doing to achieve it?

I see so many authors with great answers to this question. They want to help people, or save the world, or change someone’s life. Me? I just want to entertain people. Nothing is more amazing to me than when someone tells me they were thinking about my characters.

As far as what I’m doing to achieve it, I’m trying to relax and not get caught up in the numbers game. Author communities put so much emphasis on sales numbers, on making money, on getting votes, on having a 1,000 member email list, on and on, by saying that we have to do these things in order to be “legitimate” authors. There was a time when I happily said, “Sure, I’m a hobby author, and I don’t care.” But, after listening to the same routine for years, it got to me. My sales aren’t good enough. I’m not making enough money. No one votes for me (or nominates me) in contests. I have a very small email list. Those kind of thoughts sap all the fun out of the craft, and make you not care whether you’re entertaining anyone or not – why should you care when they can’t even click a vote button? That’s why I decided to back off novel writing for a year and reevaluate if I want to keep at it. To fill in the gap, I’m writing serial short stories for a blog group. The blog group is fun, and if I write – and publish – shorts from the Amaranthine Universe I can use them to stay relevant, just in case I want to keep at this writing gig (a year vacation can make an author’s sales disappear, and mine were pretty low already). I’ve been at it for five months, and I’m starting to remember why I liked writing. Since the stories are free, there’s no sales numbers for me to worry about. Dropping out of most authors’ groups has also helped a lot, not to mention I refuse to read any “You MUST do THIS!” articles. I’m once again happy to be a “hobby writer”, and am planning some longer works in the future.

Outliner or improviser? Fast or slow writer?

Usually I’m an improviser, though I’ve outlined a couple of times. As for speed, I’m sloooooow. It takes me a year to get a novel done.

Tell us more about your book in the bundle

I have two books in the bundle: Shades of Gray and Legacy of Ghosts.

Shades of Gray introduces us to Katelina. When her friend with benefits is murdered, she’s dragged into the world of vampires. Dodging an angry coven, she falls under the protection of Jorick. But what happens when her knight in shining armor turns out to be one of the monsters?

Legacy of Ghosts picks up where Shades of Gray ends. Healing from their previous battles, Katelina is afraid to go home covered in bandages, so she agrees to go to Jorick’s house to heal. If only they’d get left to recuperate in peace, instead of getting dragged into another war…

Tell us about your latest book

I’m working on a year of short stories right now, with at least two free shorts released every month. Currently I’m writing Tales of the Executioners, short stories about the elite police officers of the vampire world. You can find all the details – including links to all retailers – on my website http://joleenenaylor.com/freebies/tote.php

Any other projects in the pipeline?

When my short story year is up, my next novel will star Micah and Loren on a road trip to California. Then I have a trilogy planned that takes place sixteen, or so, years after the original Amaranthine story ends, and stars Paylin and Jayleth. I also have plans for a gothic-style novella, and a half idea for a standalone mystery with Jamie and Verchiel. We’ll have to see about that one, though.

Barb’s note: I totally agree on the point of being a hobbyist writer so one doesn’t have to care about sales numbers and MustDo – it’s probably where I’m going too (keep writing but not publishing). As for the projects after the sabbatic year… erm… Jo… Sorino and his pet human (no spoilers) pleez? (Yes, I’m a fan of Amaranthine, my favorite being Verchiel, followed by Jorick)

________________________________________________________

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To read sample chapters and more, visit my website!
http://www.JoleeneNaylor.com
*For more info on how YOU can get YOUR book featured * on my blog, please
see:  http://joleenenaylor.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/author-excerpts/
*First time author?* Check out The Self Published Authors’ Lounge<http://selfpubauthors.wordpress.com/>for tips and advice!

Vampires of the World Weekend Part 2


My flesh ignited with the sweetness of the drink, the sweetness and the saltiness and the pure, tawny wholeness of it.  I could feel the rough ridges where my pantyhose had run as I stumbled through the hallway — when was it?  A lifetime ago?  I could feel a hangnail on my right thumb, sense it tingle before it closed itself up, before it disappeared.

And I could feel the mangled mess beneath my jaw.  My torn vein was weaving itself together, knitting itself back to health.  The flow of blood was restored beneath my skin, and the smooth stretch of my neck was new again.

With the healing came full awareness.  Full comprehension.  I knew that I was on a leather sofa.  That I was cradled against a body.  Arms were wrapped around me, holding me close, spoon fashion.  My face was pressed against one of those arms, against a smooth, muscular wrist.  My lips were suckling at the edges of a wound.

I was drinking Mr. Morton’s blood.

I pulled back, horrified.  My motion, though, only moved me closer to his chest, closer to the body that sheltered me, that protected me.  Closer to the vampire who was my boss.  “Let me go!” I demanded, but I was still too dazed to put actions to words, to actually push myself away from him.

In a moment,” he said, and his words reverberated along the length of my spine.

I should have been petrified.  I should have fought for freedom, given my life to escape to the human world, to the sane world, to the normalcy that waited somewhere outside this office.  But the energy inside me — the alien blood inside me — soothed me, calmed me as if it were a drug.  I sank back, dazed by the sensation that all was right, that I was safe.

I licked my lips, and I realized that the blood carried information.  I knew things that I’d only imagined an hour before.  A lifetime before.  I understood vampires — who they were, what they did, how they lived, year after year after year, forever, unless they were killed.

Vulnerable to silver:  check, as I’d already witnessed back in the courtroom.

Destroyed by sunlight:  check, if “destroyed” meant increasingly severe burns tied to the length of exposure, culminating in brutal, cindery death.

Killed by stake:  check, but only with a direct blow to the heart, with a weapon made of oak.

Teleporting, mind-reading, turning into a mist:  nope, nothing that cinematic.

Garlic, crosses, and other pathetic human folk remedies to protect against fangs:  forget about it.

Vampires didn’t need to sleep in coffins, and they didn’t salvage earth from some distant homeland.  They did require an explicit invitation before they could cross the threshold of a home.  And somehow, creepiest of all, they had no reflection — not in a mirror.

All of that was crystal clear inside my head.  All of that, and one more fact:  vampire blood healed humans.  Healed humans completely, from whatever physical harm we suffered, from whatever illnesses our weak, flawed bodies harbored.

Vampire blood had brought me back from the very brink of death.

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The door jerked open and Jorick stood in the doorway, framed in a glaring blaze of light. His black hair was wild about his face. Blood splattered across his pale features and his dark eyes were filled with anger. As if to make the scene more surreal, he brandished a bloodstained sword.

Without a word, he pulled her from her attacker and threw her behind himself. The intruder lunged and Jorick lashed out at him with the blade.

Katelina’s screams had stopped, replaced by someone else’s. She looked around to find the basement bathed in the brilliant light of flames. The pile of wooden crates looked like a miniature bonfire, as did a screaming man. He danced around and tried to beat out the fire that engulfed him. Two bodies lay slumped some distance from him, face down on the basement floor. Dark puddles spread beneath them.

A new cry sounded and Katelina looked in time to see the attacker in the corridor fall. Jorick paused indecisively over his body, and then quickly turned away.

Come on!” He grabbed Katelina’s arm and tugged her after him. The wooden beams above their heads began to catch fire and the thick smoke rolled against the ceiling.

The stairs,” she cried and pointed desperately to their only escape.

No. There are more of them upstairs. This way.”

He pulled her to another padlocked door. Though he didn’t bother with his keys, he only kicked the door to shreds in one smooth motion and dashed though it. The darkness quickly swallowed them as the tunnel twisted and turned, going ever upwards. Katelina glanced over her shoulder time and again, eyes scratching the darkness for signs of pursuers, but she saw nothing.

At last Jorick stopped. He released her hand and threw open a trap door above them. Cool moonlight spilled down into the corridor and she shrank back from it.

Jorick pulled himself through the opening. He motioned for her to stay where she was, then disappeared from her sight. He was back in a moment, crouched at the edge of the opening. “It’s clear, come on.” He held his blood stained hand to her and she took it, too numb to care. He pulled her up into the night where she collapsed on the dewy grass and gasped mouthfuls of fresh air.

We must not linger; we may yet be followed.” He slammed the trapdoor shut and busied himself locking it from the outside.

Katelina sat up and nodded mutely, all of her limbs shaking. She tried desperately to catch her breath and gasped out the question, “Who… who were they?”

Jorick sighed. The moonlight made his skin gleam white and turned the blood splatters into splotches of black. “Vampires,” he said quietly. “They were Vampires. Just like Michael.”

Katelina stared at him for a moment, waiting for the punch line. When one didn’t come she threw back her head and laughed. “Of course they were!” In that moment it seemed the slender thread that separated waking from nightmares had snapped, and she suspected she’d never see a Twinkie again.

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They cut through the untouched snow, circling the ruins of the mansion. Some distance from the back of the house was a grouping of forlorn trees. Dead, heavy moss trailed from their branches, and at their feet were clustered several old gravestones. As if to make the scene complete, a wrought iron fence bordered three sides of the tiny cemetery and thick, thorny vines grew around the stones and onto the trees; old rose bushes waiting for spring.

Man, it’s like a horror movie,” Loren mumbled. Though he shuffled along casually, his hands in his pockets, his eyes darted around nervously. “Hey, you’re sure this isn’t, like, a trap?”

No one would know of this place,” Jorick answered firmly. He came to a stop in the center of the graveyard and waited patiently.

Katelina moved to stand next to him, but a patch of softer earth sank beneath her feet and she jerked back instinctively. The snow rose in a small mound and hinted at something beneath the surface; a fresher grave, perhaps. She glanced to her left and saw a lopsided stone that had four names roughly carved into it. All but one were names she recognized: Jesslynn, Alexander, Tristan, and Bethina. Tristan? Could that have been the baby? And how had he buried them? Had he picked their bones out from the remnants of the fire and dug the hole himself?

The macabre thoughts made her shiver, and she stepped away, instinctively putting space between herself and that grave. Loren glanced at her uncertainly, uncomfortable fears in his eyes. A chill crept up her spine and she imagined a thousand terrible monsters that might be hiding somewhere. But, there were no foot prints; no sign of life at all except the heavy trees and the mournful winter wind.

Loren caught Katelina’s attention and held his hands out questioningly. She shrugged in reply and he cleared his throat to get Jorick’s attention. “Hey, man, I don’t mean any disrespect, but I don’t think-”

Jorick held up a hand to silence him. He pointed to a distant figure that was slowly making its way towards them. Katelina squinted and thought she recognized Oren’s gait.

Sure enough, it was Oren who joined them moments later, his blonde hair windblown around his face and his hands tucked into the pockets of a long gray coat. He looked from one to the other, then settled his attention on Jorick. “You got my message, then?”

Yes, in a way.” Jorick’s face was unreadable as he studied his friend. “What was so pressing, Oren, that you must send for me? I’ve already made my position clear.”

Yes, of course.” Oren replied impatiently. “That isn’t why I asked you here. I both have something to give you and would ask something from you.”

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He couldn’t pretend that seeing her laughing and smiling like that at that guy hadn’t cut into him. Hadn’t he been watching it all year? Hadn’t he been supportive when she’d been dating that idiot Chris?

Of course he had and that was the problem right there. He was always supportive. He was the friend and she’d never, never see him as anything else.

He was doomed.

And it was his own damned fault because he couldn’t figure out any other way to get close to girls. He didn’t have Charlie’s ability to chat them up. The only thing he knew how to do was be nice. And when he was nice all they thought of him was nice.

Doomed to be nice.

Dammit!

He kicked at some dead leaves on the ground. His pace slowed. There weren’t any leaves on the lawn. He lifted his head and actually looked around. In the gloom, he saw the suggestion of trees all around him. Somehow he’d wandered off the lawn and into the trees off the path. Great, that would be great to get lost in the trees until the sun came up. He still had class tomorrow even if it was later in the morning.

Well, he’d probably walked straight in so he would just turn around and walk straight out again. He spun and headed back. Without his head down, he felt the lower branches brush at the top of his head, messing his hair even more than usual. What did it matter? No one ever bothered to look at him twice so who cared?

Great, now he’d turned into a self pitying whiner.

Someone just shoot him.

He caught a suggestion of movement out of the corner of his eye to the right. Before he could turn, something slammed into him. He stumbled, his legs buckled with the force of it. He landed on his side, his arm pinned under his body. He tried to push up on the ground, his hand sinking into wet, squishy vegetation, but something dark fell over him. He smelled a sour stench. Something grabbed his head and yanked it to the side. A soft wetness licked along his neck then sharp pain pierced his skin. His body jerked and flailed. Something encased him in a vice grip, preventing him from moving. Soon he didn’t want to. Ice seemed to flow into his body from his neck, paralyzing his muscles. Was this what snakes did, he wondered but there couldn’t be any snakes here, not one this big. He tried one last time to kick his feet, thought he might feel a running shoe slip off and go spinning into the darkness. Then the pain didn’t matter any more, in fact it wasn’t pain at all, it was euphoria spreading through his limbs, leaving him weak and jelly-like and the vice grip was a warm blanket, wrapped around him by his mother. He could almost feel her kiss on his neck.

But her teeth… Oh her teeth were too sharp…

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Vampires of the World Weekend Part 1


Fever devoured him – or maybe it was just a fast. weak pulse and heavy breathing. He felt shaky and unable to move, drained of strength and blood.

He realized at some point that he was in his bed, sweating. He opened his eyes on the night and saw Bran’s silhouette standing by the bed. The sorcerer’s presence had brought Rajveer back to his senses.

He moaned, his chest heaving in pain.

“Good evening, Rajveer.” Bran’s voice seemed to reach inside his head. “Would you like me to finish you?”

“No…” He was too weak to fight, but he couldn’t die in his bed, taken away by a mysterious sickness. He was meant to die on the battlefield. Not like this – helpless, defeated, in pain.

He saw Bran’s fanged smile come closer to his face.

“So you want to live?” A whisper.

“Yes…” He nodded, breathless. Not this agony, gods, please. He closed his eyes, exhausted.

Bran grabbed the nape of his neck and pulled up his head. Rajveer felt something pressed to his lips, and coppery liquid dripped into his mouth. And then he grabbed Bran’s wrist with both hands, biting, sucking as if his life depended on it, the warm blood sliding down his throat. He could feel both his heart and Bran’s thundering in his head.

Then Bran pushed him away and let him fall back on the bed. Rajveer held his breath, feeling a change through his veins. His blood had been replaced by something else. His eyes opened on the darkened bedroom and he saw the canopy in all its embroidered detail as if it were day. The air in his lungs was cool and his body shivered. He lost control of his limbs and his bowels as a low moan came out of his mouth.

“Don’t worry, only your body is dying.” Bran’s voice was eerily gentle.

A final jolt made his back arch, and he lay still as his breathing slowed. He could still feel his heart beating. Bran’s hand on his forehead wasn’t so cold anymore. He exhaled in relief.

“Welcome to darkness,” Bran said, leaning to kiss his sweaty forehead.

Rajveer closed his eyes, then opened them again. He could hear everything. Every night animal moving in the garden, the owls and mice and a honey badger. The whisper of two guards meeting on watch duty to give each other the “all clear” on the battlements. The soft snores of sleeping servants in the apartment.

And the smells. Of plants and flowers and water ponds, but mostly of warm-blooded creatures. Including humans. Humans smelled different. Their blood sent intoxicating fumes. Luckily there were none in the room to tempt him.

He looked at Bran, who seemed less pale now. He sat and glanced around the room as if the sun were up.

Bran grinned. “Are you still hungry?”

Rajveer touched his lips, unsure. “Sort of…” he admitted. He glanced at Bran’s wrist, but didn’t see any traces of blood or wounds. He licked his lips, but they were clean. Bran’s blood was coursing through him, making him feel invincible. He wanted more.

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Kaylyn awoke with a gasp, and her throat was filled with heat and smoke. She’d been dreaming of falling into the pits of hell, and she opened her eyes to a raging fire devouring the wooden partition of her chamber.

She heard Baldwin’s roar, but her husband wasn’t by her side anymore. Panting, she frantically looked for a way out. Why was the manor on fire? Why wasn’t anyone trying to extinguish it?

Screams and curses came from beyond the flames. The wood crackled and then suddenly gave in. Soon everything would come crumbling down and Kaylyn couldn’t gather her wits.

It was daytime. She was supposed to be asleep, away from the sun’s rays. What if she left the burning room from the window and was incinerated by the sun? The chamber was so filled with smoke that she couldn’t see the weather outside.

Fire was attacking the wooden floor as well as the beamed ceiling. Only the external walls were made of stone. Eyes wide, Kaylyn didn’t know what to do. But then, if Baldwin had left the bedroom, there was probably no danger in going out.

Maybe outside it was another cloudy English day. The heat was getting worse, and Kaylyn decided to move. She got off the double bed and made her way along the walls towards the stone staircase to the lower floor on the other side of the rectangular room.

She was about to reach the closest window, her back against the wall as if she were walking on a narrow ledge, when the floor under the bed gave way, and the canopy crashed downstairs into what had been the main hall of the castle.

Kaylyn froze, staring at the chasm that had opened a few paces from her feet. Soon the whole floor would collapse and she’d fall into the furnace of the lower floor. Her “life eternal” would come to a blunt end in a literal hellfire after only ten years.

She was beginning to think the fire wasn’t an accident. Holding her breath, she started moving again towards the small windows. It wouldn’t be easy to get out that way, but she was thin, and hopefully could get through.

Someone broke the central column of the closest window, widening the opening, and a blurry figure landed in the smoky room that still had half of its floor, since no furniture weighed on it.

“Baldwin?” Kaylyn called with a shaky voice. Only her husband would be capable of jumping so high to break the window. He had come to save her!

But from the smoke emerged the tall figure of Bran, the Celtic druid who had been both hers and Baldwin’s maker. His long platinum-blond hair looked red by firelight.

“Let’s go, Kaylyn.” He threw a blanket over her face and upper body and threw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Kaylyn screamed, but didn’t fight. She felt the jump, and then she was shaken by Bran’s run. She wasn’t afraid of the darkness anymore, but the smell of blood that reached her nostrils as soon as the smoke cleared made her lick her fangs.

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Part One: Arizona & New Mexico

Chapter 1

As Jonah Ivory sat between his parents’ caskets in the parlor of the funeral home in Tucson, he finished his eighth beer of the evening. His goal was to drink a whole case.

Eight down, sixteen to go.

Crumpling the eighth empty can in his fist, he tipped his chair back and chucked the can behind the caskets with the other seven. Before he could tip forward and reach for number nine, however, his chair rocked off balance, and he fell back and down to the floor.

Perfect.

After the impact, Jonah lay there for a long moment, staring up at the ceiling. His eyes burned as the tears he’d been holding back tried to force their way out.

But he wouldn’t let them.

I’m too young for this. Too young to lose them.

In fact, Jonah was seventeen years old…not that he looked it. He was skinny, with a boyish face, and he wasn’t exactly wearing responsible grown-up clothes for a viewing: a black Jethro Tull concert t-shirt, ratty faded blue jeans, and sneakers.

But then there was his shoulder-length hair, which was prematurely white. It had been scared that way five years ago.

That was when he’d lost his two brothers, who had been abducted right in front of him. He’d been thirteen years old when it had happened…so maybe he wasn’t too young at seventeen to lose his mother and father, after all.

First the twins, now my parents. I ought to be getting used to this by now. So why do I miss them so much?

It was a mystery to him.

Jonah hadn’t been close to his mother and father for ages. Though they’d been living in the same house in Tucson, seeing each other every day, they might as well have been living in separate towns for the past five years. The loss of the twins had driven them apart.

But in the few days since the car accident that had killed his mother and father, Jonah had been feeling completely and irretrievably lost. All he could think to do was drink himself into a stupor and stumble through the motions of the prearranged viewing and the preparations for the funeral.

Why does it matter? We were practically strangers.

The biggest question of all, though, the one that loomed up in the gaps between lazy drunken sparks and ripples, was this:

Now what?

Jonah rolled off the upended chair and got to his feet. He pulled his ninth beer out of the red and white cooler that occupied two chairs in the front row of seating.

As he snapped open the tab on the can, he looked around the empty room.

At least I don’t have to deal with anybody.

Jonah and his parents were alone. Other than the undertaker, who had strolled through a few times, not one soul had shown up for the viewing.

Nice turnout.

After a long drink of beer, Jonah righted the chair he’d knocked over and sat back down on it. He glanced over at the closed caskets beside him, then quickly looked away as the reality smacked him in the head again.

I hate this.

Just as he lifted the beer for another drink, a young, black-haired woman walked into the room.

She was beautiful. As soon as Jonah caught sight of her, he lowered the beer from his lips. Her body was slender and shapely under her waist-length red leather jacket and short black dress. Knee-high red leather boots accentuated the curves of her long, lean legs.

As she approached, Jonah saw that her features were even prettier than they had looked from a distance. She had a long face and angular nose that gave her an exotic look—Italian, maybe, or Greek or Arab. She must have been wearing contact lenses behind her black horned-rim glasses, because her eyes were two different colors: one hazel, the other amber flecked with red.

Simply put, she was a knockout.

As bad a day as Jonah was having, he still automatically assessed his chances with her before she’d even said a word. He knew it in a heartbeat: she wasn’t just out of his league, she was out of his universe.

Even if he hadn’t been having the second shittiest day of his life, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to make a play for her. That was why he didn’t bother to get up when the woman approached him. He just stared out from behind his long, white bangs and burped softly.

“Hello, Mr. Ivory.” She stopped a few feet away and didn’t offer to shake his hand. She had a slight accent—Italian, maybe? “My name is Stanza Miracolo.”

“Don’t mind me.” Jonah waved at the two closed caskets. “Go ahead and view all you like.”

“Not here for that, thanks.” Stanza slid two fingers into a vest pocket of her red leather jacket. “Here for you,” she said, tugging out a business card and offering it to him.

When Jonah didn’t take the card, she flipped it at him. The card landed face-up on his stomach, and he stared down at it.

Stanza Miracolo, it said. Bloodlines Genealogy & Beyond.

Jonah brushed the card from his black Jethro Tull t-shirt. “You picked the wrong day to try to sell me something, lady,” he said, and then he polished off his beer.

“Already paid for,” said Stanza. “I’m your inheritance.”

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Now

The villagers never paid attention to the dogs anymore.

The constant barking and scrabbling was background noise after years of so many strays learning to survive past their pampered origins. The rich, forested mountains in Transylvania were kinder than the crowded streets of Bucharest, under Communism or decades later. Creatures meant to warm laps and comfort hands have no easy transition to wandering, endlessly searching for shelter.

Some whisper of instinct surely must remain, even with every appearance of wild ancestors bred out of them decades before.

Leo Sabov wondered at that every time he was in Romania, how such a huge population could go unnoticed in the city or in the country. People could get so worked up over stray animals in the US, yet somehow the nomadic animals here seemed healthier and more content with less attention.

He sipped strong coffee on his third floor balcony, watching the first rays of sunlight trace orange fire on the sharp granite cliffs above the tree line across from him. His bare feet were pleasantly chilled by the tile, his mind soothed by his first good night of sleep in many weeks. Staying up too late and drinking too much with his little brother usually had the opposite effect.

A young girl walked through the chicken coop below, gathering eggs for the guests of the inn he’d been returning to with his wife for over twenty years. The milling birds stirred up a scent of rich earth strong enough to overcome even the coffee. The girl sang to herself, a sweet song at odds with the quarreling chickens and agitated dogs. Maria would have known the words to the song, would have whispered them into Leo’s ear.

He rubbed his eyes, struck by a different sound in one of the dog’s voices. His mind seized on the escape from memory. An old female with the dangling teats of many pregnancies stood in the neat yard beside the inn. She stared at something Leo couldn’t see behind the rough-hewn logs of the outdoor kitchen. Her black and tan coat was healthy, and she was normally friendly, one of the sweetest in the village. This morning, though, her voice had a harsh, desperate edge.

Dogs began to gather around her, from neighboring houses and inns, from their rough shelters on the hillsides. Some looked around, searching for what was bothering her so, then resumed their normal morning discussions and investigations. The others, many of them clearly her offspring with that same rangy body and distinctive coloring, watched her silently at first. Then their voices began to take on that same worried note.

The old mother dog took a few stiff-legged steps forward, more than a dozen of her young following. Her sharp, fast barks were interrupted by low growls. Even from three floors up, Leo could see her long hair rise into hackles from her neck to the base of her tail. She walked forward again, her group in near lockstep beside her.

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