Sunday, July 31, 2016

New Excerpt from LADY OF THE STAR WIND A Portal Fantasy

Posted by: Veronica Scott
I answered a couple of questions about my hero and heroine and thought I'd share an excerpt, plus the amazing book trailer that Cheri Lasota created for the book!


Tell us about your hero. Give us one of his strengths and one weakness.  Mark Denaltieri is an ex Special Forces soldier in the Sectors but also a former Imperial Guard in the Outlier Empire. His strength is his determination. He never gives up, always fights for what’s right and to protect Alessandra. His weakness is that he holds onto his anger  for far too long about how he was betrayed in Outlier and exiled to the Sectors.

Tell us about your heroine. Give us one strength and one weakness. Alessandra  Zhivanov is the heiress to the Outlier Empire but all she wants is to be with the man she loves. Alessandra is very single minded and determined to accomplish her goal of reuniting with Mark. Her weakness is self-doubt about whether she can master the magic of the mirror and what it will mean for them as a couple if she does.

Here’s the story for Lady of the Star Wind:
Are they merely luckless lovers … or a legend come back to life?
Mark Denaltieri, ex-Sector Special Forces, has been hired by the Outlier Empress to rescue her granddaughter, Princess Alessandra, from kidnappers. Since the Empress once had him tortured and banished, she’s the last person Mark wants to work for. But he takes the job. He’ll save Alessandra, his first love, and discover why she didn’t speak for him when he desperately needed her. Then he’ll be on his way, finally free of his past.
Alessandra would rather her rescuer was anyone but Mark–after all, he let her believe he was dead all this time. But when the couple are forced to flee her captors by Traveling via a strange crystal globe, they find themselves in a lovely Oasis on a desert planet, the old attraction sizzling between them again.
They soon discover they are far from alone. The Oasis holds the entrance to another world, one in which the inhabitants are convinced Sandy and Mark are the Lady of the Star Wind and her Warrior, come to free them from an evil Queen.
Mark and Sandy must work together to unearth an ancient mirror, and crown the true king of this land.  Can they fulfill the prophecy of the Lady and her Warrior … and this time, will their love survive the test?

Excerpt from an emotional moment after the couple has traveled through the portal and are trying to get reacquainted:
           He never talked about himself. He kept those doors in his mind shut, and no good ever came of peeking behind them, in his experience. Yet how could he refuse to answer her questions? She was the cause of all his misfortunes. “I did my twenty in the Sectors Special Forces, got mustered out recently, in fact. The brass decided my skills and resistance to orders I didn’t like made me too spooky for them, too unpredictable. I didn’t know what to do next until your grandmother had me kidnapped. Ekatereen and I had a cozy little reunion – I’d have probably killed the old witch if she hadn’t had half the palace guards in the room. I hope the snatch-and-grab job on me cost her a solar system’s ransom.” Bitterness burned in his throat. He wanted the empress to suffer, even if nothing would ever compensate for all she’d done to him. “She set me up as a mercenary, thanks to your madcap journey with Portuc.”
                Dropping her fish, Sandy recoiled. “She paid you to bring me to Throne?”
                This discussion was veering perilously close to emotions he’d locked away in order to survive. Hurtful words came to his rescue. “Why else would I have bothered going to Freemarket? She offered more credits than I could spend in a lifetime.” He chewed his fish and hoped his surliness would end the conversation for now.
                Sandy pushed away her plate.
                “So, most of those years in the Sectors, you knew who you were? But you made no attempt to return to Outlier? To me? Until someone—my grandmother, of all people—paid you?”
                Listening to the shock and pain in her voice made him remorseful, so he offered a piece of the truth. “I didn’t even know who the real Mark Denaltieri was until long after I graduated from the academy and commenced active duty, carrying out missions. If the Sectors authorities ever suspected me of being an Outlier soldier, I’d have been thrown in prison and never let out.”
                “But you weren’t tempted to come for me before this?” Her voice was tight, and she eyed her dinner away as if the food had suddenly spoiled.
                “I didn’t know what your situation was. News doesn’t filter from Outlier into the Sectors, especially not about minor members of the imperial family. You’ve no idea how impossible it is to travel from the Sectors into Outlier. Sectors citizens are expressly forbidden to cross the border. It takes huge piles of credits, connections, and sheer luck. Even if I’d somehow gotten to Throne, what could I have done? Empress Ekatereen would have had me executed the moment I crossed the Outlier border.” Why couldn’t she see he’d had no choices? He’d done what he had to do to survive. How could she blame him for all the things out of his control that blocked him from returning to her? “I made the best of my situation and persevered in the Sectors. At least I had a place there, a purpose.”
                “You could have come for me.” Keeping her voice low, Sandy averted her face, contemplating the rising quarter moon, a glowing reddish dot, far over the horizon.
                “You were the direct cause of my losing everything.” Mark tried one last time to explain. “My final memory of you was the fight we had because I wouldn’t join your household guard, remember? For all I know, you betrayed me to the empress. The secret police arrested me not two hours after I’d left our secret spot. The empress supervised my torture personally—did she tell you that? And one of the things she threw in my face while her men were doing their damnedest to break me was the information that you’d decided I wasn’t worth risking yourself and your status for any longer.”

                “Do you really believe I’d betray the man I loved to her secret police?” A sob caught in her throat. “Why would I do such a thing?”

Buy Links: Amazon    KOBO     Barnes & Noble     iBooks  All Romance eBooks

The video book trailer:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

How Was That Werehamster Story?

Posted by: Linda Mooney
It started with werewolves. Big, ferocious, very Alpha. Not quite man (or woman), but not animal, either. But a poor soul who
changed from one form to another either because of a curse or by natural instinct. Of course, they would take over the paranormal romance world first because of their previous prevalence in literature, and in movies as far back as 1915. (My favorite were- movie by far is Ladyhawke.) 

There were also silkie stories (wereseals), thanks to Irish and Scottish legend.

Since then, we’ve had weredogs, wereducks, weredolphins, weredragons, weretigers, and werebears, to mention a few. I admit I’ve been guilty of writing about a weresnake, alligator, lion, bear, deer, and coming soon, an eagle and cougar. But some “combinations” have left me scratching my head. Why?

Think size. It makes perfect sense to me that a grown man could become a wolf because their sizes are compatible. Relativity is important to me as a reader and writer. But when a hero becomes something that is barely a tenth in size, or a creature that is a hundred times bigger, I find myself cracking up. Of course, I fully blame Dracula and his alter persona, a bat.

Is there a were- combination that surprised you?


Is there a were- combination you haven’t read but would like to?
* * *
While I have your attention, you might want to check out few of my were-books:




























Link






Friday, July 29, 2016

Getting to the finish line

Posted by: Sonya Clark
I wanted to be a writer for many years before I actually was a writer. I knew I wanted to tell stories but I didn't know any of the things I needed to know. At least I was self-aware enough to know I didn't know. ;) I took a creative writing class at a nearby university but all I learned from that experience was that the professor hated the publishing business and was bitter about the stack of rejections he had for his literary masterpiece. My short stories had the whiff of genre fiction so he never had much to say to me.

A few years later I felt on the verge of giving  up. I had a manuscript I'd been struggling with for a long time but it was going nowhere. Ultimately I put it away. I didn't give up writing, though. I had a few ideas about a very different type of story than the one I'd been working on unsuccessfully for years. About a year later I had my first finished novel, a Young Adult paranormal that came in at a hundred thousand words.

What did I learn from the experience? Nothing about point of view, that's for sure. The thing was full of head-hopping. Didn't learn tight plotting either. The story meandered around like a wayward puppy with a bad case of "ooh shiny let's go over there! ooh shiny what about this over here?" It was littered with adverbs and egregious comma abuse and no telling how many other grammar offences. What I did learn was invaluable: I learned I could finish something.

There comes a point in every manuscript, sometimes several times, when it feels like it will never be finished. It will feel as if the story is falling apart and that it would be a merciful death to delete the document. When that happens, especially when it happens more than once, you will hate your book. You will hate it with the fire of a thousand suns and a whole lot of other overworked metaphors. You will want that book to DIE.

Unless you are insanely lucky, this will happen with every book. The way I deal with it is to think back on that first book and the lesson it taught me - that I can finish. Whether I get a second wind or a grudging determination from that thought, it helps me to fight my way through to the finish line on the current book.

It doesn't matter how bad that first book sucks or that no one will ever read it. What matters is that you did it, you finished it, and you can carry that knowledge through every book you write, through every dark period in the writing that makes you want to give up. That breakthrough experience of reaching THE END is one of the most valuable lessons a writer will ever learn. Whether it takes you a month or a year, it's a lesson you have to learn if you're serious about writing. Don't give up until you learn it.


Note: This post originally appeared on my first blog, which is no longer active, in 2011. I made a few minor changes but the bulk of the message is the same, because it's still true - the most important thing you can do with your first novel is to finish it! :)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Hunt By Moonlight Sneak-peek

Posted by: Shawna Reppert
I'm so very excited to share with you, after long last,  a sneak peek at the first book of Werewolves and Gaslight series, A Hunt by Moonlight!

But first, a little bit about the book:



Something more deadly than werewolves is stalking the gaslit streets of London. Inspector Royston Jones, unacknowledged bastard of a high-born family, is determined to track the killer before more young women fall to his knife. But his investigation puts him in the way of a lord who is a clandestine werewolf and the man’s fiancĂ©e , a woman alchemist with attitude and a secret of her own.  Will they destroy Royston to protect their covert identities, or will they join with him to hunt the hunter?

And now a teaser!




Inspector Royston Jones straightened up from his examination of the mutilated body of the shop girl. The night patrol had found her in the narrow alley between the butcher’s shop and the chandler’s and had immediately sent for him despite the hour. 

Parker, the constable who had led him to the scene, looked about nervously. “They say it’s the Ladykiller, come back.” 

“Nonsense.” Royston kept his tone firm, matter-of-fact. “Blackpoole is dead. I saw the body myself.”

 “They say he’s come back,” the constable whispered.

“He had his throat torn out by a werewolf. A man doesn’t come back from that.”

“They’re saying maybe Blackpoole wasn’t a man, sir.” Parker glanced over his shoulder as if expecting Blackpoole’s shade to creep up on him as he spoke. “They’re saying he was something else.”

Royston put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, Parker, but you’ll never make inspector if you keep spouting superstitious nonsense like that. Truth is, people don’t want to think that one of their own, a human just like them, could be capable of such things. They especially don’t want to think that there could be more than one such human predator. It was one of the reasons Blackpoole was able to misdirect suspicion onto werewolves, despite the evidence.”

There was a distant sound of hooves on the cobblestones. Too light and quick to be the first of the morning delivery carts. It might be the last of the night’s theater-goers or gambling hell rakes heading home.
He nodded toward the dead girl. “She bled out, but not here. The cuts were clean, made with a sharp knife. Killer had some knowledge of anatomy, but the unevenness of some of the cuts show that the victim was alive through at least some of it.” His throat tightened on the last bit. 

Pale beneath his high, rounded helmet, the constable looked ready to vomit then, but he had already emptied the entire contents of his stomach behind some empty crates at the back entrance to the chandler’s shop. Parker was a solid man with a few years’ experience, but these killings would make anyone sick, and Parker had a wife at home and two little girls that would someday be young women out in the world. Royston, even with his longer service, held his composure only because he’d been working late at the Yard and had missed his supper.

Think like the criminal, his mentor, Jacob Godwin, always told him. But who knew why this madman killed. Because it’s a day that ends in a ‘y’? The only one who could understand would be another madman. Should he apply to Bedlam for help?

“Just like the others,” Parker said unnecessarily.

Royston couldn’t fault his desire to break the eerie silence. The infamous London fog wrapped the night in a funeral shroud and dimmed the yellow haze of the gaslight street lamp in the adjoining a cobblestoned street. Anything could be hiding in the shadows.

His eyes were drawn back to the girl. Neat-trimmed, clean nails, good skin. She had been pretty in life.

 “May as well cover the poor thing,” Royston said. “We’re not going to get more from the body until the coroner has a look.”

And he wasn’t any closer to catching the killer than he had been after the first murder, or the third. Big Ben chimed five times. Soon his London would be up and about its business, watching over its shoulder for the monster that lurked somewhere in its midst.

#

            By that afternoon, Royston had a name for the victim. Her flatmate had run up to the constable on their beat in tears. Kitty hadn’t come home that night, and it wasn’t like her, Kitty was such a good girl, and with these murders, well. . .

The constable had already heard of the latest victim found and escorted the flatmate to the morgue, where, according to the attendant, she collapsed into a dead faint on seeing the victim’s face. Upon being revived with smelling salts, she had provided a name. Kitty Harper, nineteen years old, come from her family’s failing farm to seek her fortune. 

She’d had better luck than many such girls, having secured a respectable job at a dry-goods shop. Better luck, that is, until her luck ran out. Royston had tea brought into the interview room. Tea was a comforting ritual even when there was no comfort to be had. It gave the interview subject something to focus on when the words tumbling out of her mouth were too horrible to bear without distraction.

He gave her a moment to settle in and take his measure. Royston knew himself to be one of the Yard’s less impressive physical specimens. His hair was a nondescript, mousy brownish-blonde and he was among the shortest men ever to be accepted onto the force. But in interviews, his appearance worked in his favor, and he accentuated it with a deliberately mild manner that put witnesses and sometimes even suspects at ease, made them feel as though it was safe to speak freely.

The flatmate, pale blonde and blue-eyed, had the sort of complexion that betrayed emotion in a range of color. At the moment, her bloodless-white face carried blotches of pink high on her cheeks. The look of high fever, or great distress. Royston wanted to comfort her, to change the topic to a more agreeable one, to suggest that she go home and rest and have a friend bring her tea in bed.

Instead, he asked question after question about the dead girl, knowing all the while that the flatmate couldn’t speak her friend’s name without seeing her dead on the slab, couldn’t think of her without imagining what horrible wounds the coroner’s stark white sheet had hidden.

“It were him, weren’t it?” she asked. “The one the papers are calling Doctor Death?”

Why did the papers have to sensationalize everything? This case was bad enough without screaming headlines and clever monikers.

“That is one avenue we’re exploring.”

She narrowed her eyes. To hell with proper form. He’d get nothing from her if she didn’t trust him, and she wouldn’t trust him if he remained all proper and procedural. “Probably, yes,” He softened his tone, but nothing could soften the words.

She gave a choked cry, stifled it with the handkerchief he had loaned her. It was one thing to suspect, another to have one’s suspicions confirmed. He gave her a moment.

She continued in a high, tight voice. “What the papers said, about how those other girls died?”

“You don’t want to know about those things, Miss.” And, oh, God, he didn’t want to talk about them. Certainly not with someone who had known the victim in life.

She sobbed into the handkerchief. He waited out the storm. Crying women always made him feel helpless.

“Can you think of a reason someone might want to have hurt your friend?”

“Why? Papers say it’s random, say anyone could be next.”

“We haven’t found a connection yet. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.” And if there isn’t one, finding the killer will be as hard as finding a drunken sailor in Church on Sunday. “Besides, we have to rule out the possibility of someone using these killings as a cover.” When totally at a loss, the only thing to do was to fall back on the standard questions. “We must be thorough. We owe that much to Miss Harper, don’t we?”

She nodded, and sipped at her tea, making a clear effort to compose herself. “There was no one. This may sound impossible, but I can’t think of a single person who disliked Kitty. She was the sweetest—“ 

He waited patiently for her to get herself back under control. “Was there any beau? A special young man she was walking out with?”

“No. She had her share of admirers, sir. ‘Course she did, pretty as she is. Was. She was friendly with all of them,”

No strong suspects, not even a weak one.

“Oh, not like that, sir,” she said, catching and misinterpreting his frown. “Just, she came from the country, see? Everyone was a friend to her, she hadn’t learned London ways. She was just. . .friendly. Never saw the bad in people.”

All the easier for a charming stranger to chat her up and lead her off. From the lowliest schoolyard bully to the worst of the men who killed for amusement or for the few coins in the victim’s purse, predators looked for weakness. Unfortunately, in the streets of London, being too kind, too friendly, too willing to help a stranger in need constituted weakness, especially for a vulnerable unmarried woman. 

Royston drank his tea, bitter in his mouth despite milk and extra sugar, hoping it would somehow stave off the headache building near the front of his skull, the combined result of a lack of sleep and a lack of hope.

            “Kitty was the best friend I could ever hope for,” the girl said. “I just can’t believe something like this could happen. It’s just like with the Ladykiller, except the ’wolf got him. Would figure that it’d be the rich girl he saved, that’s just how the world works, innit? Except I can’t figure why a werewolf would side with the hoity-toity; they’re kept even lower than us working folk.”

That was just one on the unsolved mysteries around that supposedly closed case. Royston was just glad it hadn’t been his case, though the Inspector in charge had brought him in to assist. He'd been newly promoted and enthusiastic and had that really been just over a year ago?

“I’m so scared, Inspector. All us girls are so scared." Her eyes pleaded, full of fear. "Please catch him, sir. Please catch him before he gets another one of us.”

Royston saw her out with a solemn oath to do his very best to see justice done for Kitty Harper. That much he could swear to. He’d do his best, he’d been doing his best, but right now his best felt utterly inadequate. 

            Royston forced himself to choke down a cold sandwich at his desk before his next interview. The headache would only be worse if he didn’t eat. The food sat in a lump in his stomach as he left to interview Miss Harper’s employer.

            The Commissioner and his daughter were coming into the Yard just as he was leaving. Adela Chatham was a vision indeed. An intricate twist held her hair up under her peacock-plumed hat, but a few rich chestnut curls artfully escaped to frame the sweet oval of her face. The rich emerald of her dress complimented her coloring perfectly.

She had consented to walk out with him a time or two. Royston had dared to hope, but it had come to naught. He suspected that her father’s disapproval had something to do with that, but she was too well-bred to embarrass him by explaining the cause in detail. He supposed it had no future to begin with. Though the gentry would consider a police commissioner barely above a tradesman, the commissioner thought much more of himself, and Miss Chatham had been brought up as gently as any lady, untouched by the darker realities of her father’s world and as untouchable as an angel in a dream.

            “Inspector Jones, how do you do?” The sincerity of her smiled warmed him through.

            “Well, thank you. You are a vision as always, Miss Chatham.”

            She blushed prettily. “And you are still the consummate gentleman.”

            “Adela, could you wait for me just inside? There’s a lamb.” When she was out of earshot, the Commissioner turned to Jones. “A word, if you will, Jones.”

            He had already started on his way. He stopped and turned, one step down from the Commissioner and feeling that much shorter for their relative positions.

            “Any progress on these new killings?”

            Royston looked down for a moment, then made himself meet his superior’s eyes. “No, sir, not yet. We have an identity for the girl found last night. Her flatmate wasn’t able to tell me anything of use. I’m on my way to talk to her

            “Honestly, Jones, if I’d know from the outset how big this case was going to be, I’d have assigned it to someone more seasoned.”

            “Yes,

            He wouldn’t point out that of the more seasoned inspectors, two had retired, three had been fired for graft, and the remaining couldn’t come close to Royston’s success rate.

            “I’m keeping you on the case because of your work in the Dalton case and because Godwin seems to see something in you. This case could make your career, Jones. I’m giving you a chance to rise above your background. Not many men get that. It’ll be on my reputation as well as yours if you fail. Don’t let me down.”

            “No, sir.”

He could not entertain the fear that Chatham’s low opinion of him was justified. He had proved himself time and time again. But this was his biggest case yet. What if he wasn’t equal to it? He’d sworn he’d prove himself to those who looked down on him as a governess’s bastard with a name his mother had usurped from her betters. But what if his pride meant that a killer stayed free and more girls died?

This case could, as Chatham pointed out, make his career. But the girls were more important, the ones walking home from merciless jobs through lonely walkways, yes, even the ones working the streets because they had no choice. The women who, like his mother, had no one to care for them in a city that made it difficult and dangerous to be a woman alone and unprotected. 

            Royston walked a short distance and then caught the omnibus that would take him to the dry-goods shop where Kitty Harper used to work. The interior of the ‘bus buzzed with a half-dozen conversations, not all of them conducted in English. Most of the words he caught and understood (English, plus the French and Greek he’d learned from his mother) had something to do with the dead girl, the killer, the terror that ran through the streets of London, and the ineffectiveness of the Yard.

 He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, glad that his rank freed him from the identifying uniform.

As the patient, plodding horses wove their way between hackney cabs and delivery carts, stopping here and there to avoid pedestrians and bicycles and the occasional steam-driven horseless, he turned his mind to the dead girls.

            He could see no obvious link between them. The first two had been prostitutes, which was probably why Royston had been put on the case instead of someone the Commissioner favored more. No one cared about a couple of dead whores. Good riddance, many would say.

As though prostitution weren’t the inevitable result of a society that declared a man should not marry until such time as he was financially settled and that ‘good’ women did not have sex outside of marriage. Combine that with natural urges and the pressure on boys to ‘become a man’, add in the extreme desperation of poverty, and he couldn’t imagine how anyone expected that there wouldn’t be prostitutes.

The only reason an investigation had been opened at all was the gruesome way the girls had died and the similarity to the Blackpoole case. The next girl had been a seamstress, though, and the one after that a washerwoman. Three of the four girls had been fairly new to London, and both of the prostitutes had been fairly new to the trade. No common acquaintances.

            The omnibus jerked as the horses pulled to a sudden stop to avoid a flashy horseless carriage zipping through traffic in a particularly reckless manner. Bloody toffs thought they owned the road!

            Although he had to admit, it had been a particularly fine-looking machine, all bright paint and polished chrome. He didn’t imagine he’d have a chance to ride in one of those in his lifetime.

            The horses leaned into their traces once more, and the omnibus continued its slow progress.
One thing kept repeating in his mind, words repeating like a chant in time to the slow clop of the horses’s hooves against the paving. It’s just like with the Ladykiller, except the ’wolf got him. . . I can’t figure why a werewolf would side with the hoity-toity. . . When something wouldn’t leave his mind, he’d learned to pay attention.

From where the omnibus let him off, it was only a half a block walk to the dry-goods shop. Not the fanciest part of town, but definitely not the worst. There was a stationer’s, a dressmaker’s, and a butcher with offerings that looked fresh and wholesome.

The merry jangle of the bell on the door of the dry-goods shop set Royston’s nerves on edge. The gray-haired woman behind the counter turned at the sound. He took in the pride of her manner and the quality of her dress, which, while though of plain gray linen, bore lace embellishments on the sleeves. Surely this must be Mrs. Tull, the proprietress. 

Her eyes, red-rimmed from crying, softened the first impression given by the thin, downturned lips and the hard lines of her face. She had heard already what had happened to Miss Harper, then. At least he did not have to break the news—by far one of the worst parts of his job.
            “I’m sorry to disturb you, Ma’am. I’m Inspector Jones of Scotland Yard. Do you have a moment to answer a few questions about Kitty Harper?”

            “Yes,” she said. “Yes, of course. “You’d best come through to the back. The bell will tell me if anyone comes in. I’m sorry, I’m short-handed today because…” A sob caught in her throat, and she swallowed it with visible effort. “I’m short-handed,” she repeated in a firm, business-like tone.

            “Of course,” Royston said softly. “I’m sorry.”

            He followed her to the back room of the shop, which was dimly lit by a high window and crowded with a hugger-mugger of accounts books and receipts and an overflow of shop merchandise. A small stove huddled in one corner. He pictured Miss Harper here, perhaps shuffling through things looking for a special order for a customer or having tea on a break, greeting a coworker with a sweet smile. 

            “I’ll put on a kettle for tea,” she said. “It won’t be but a minute.”

            She bustled about, putting a kettle on the stovetop, getting the plain blue tea pot down from a high shelf in the cupboard, carefully measuring out the tea leaves from a canister with the focus and care of an alchemist working with precious metals or dangerous chemicals. 

            Royston made himself sit patiently through the ritual of tea-making. One thing about this part of his job—he’d never go thirsty. Refusing tea would have set the woman off her routine and emphasize the fact that this wasn’t a social call. The closer she came to forgetting that he was a Detective Inspector and not a sympathetic neighbor, the more open she’d be.

            The bell at the door rang. She jumped, nearly dropping the china cups and saucers.

            “Oh, dear,” she said. “I’d best. . .”

            She took a step toward the front of the shop, and then back, indecisive. 

            Royston smiled at her in reassurance. “It’s fine. You have a shop to run. I’ll take care of the tea, shall I?”

            That only made her do the back-and-forth dance once more, with a quick glance to her china as though uncertain whether a mere man could be trusted with so delicate a domestic operation. But at last the needs of commerce won out, and she excused herself, leaving him to watch the pot on the stove.

            He listened to the sound and rhythm of the voices in the front of the shop but couldn’t make out the words until Mrs. Tull’s voice rose in anger.

            “Fine then! Your custom will be no great loss to me, I assure you, ma’am.”

            The kettle whistled, and Royston jumped to pour it over the measured leaves in the pot, performing with the honor of all bachelors everywhere at stake. Thus distracted, he missed the customer’s reply, though he heard the bell ring angrily as the door jerked open hard and slammed shut. To his surprise, next came the sound of the lock on the door as it shot home, followed by the sound of windows being shuttered.

            Mrs. Tull stalked back to Royston, her face red, her hands on her hips. “Gossips! Nasty, filthy-minded gossips. Third one this morning. I’ve closed for the day. I can’t bear it, I tell you!” Her face screwed up as though she didn’t know whether she wanted to sob, scream, or do violence. 

            “And you! I expect you’re here to try to dig up some sordid stories about poor Kitty, find some way that this was all her fault to excuse yourself and the rest of you Peelers for your inability to do your bloody jobs!”

            Royston flinched. Her anger came out of fear and grief, not rationality, but that didn’t make it any easier to bear.

            “Kitty was a good girl! She didn’t do one thing, one bloody thing to bring this on her,” Mrs. Tull sank into the nearest chair and buried her face in her hands, sobbing.

            “I know,” Royston said. “I know. I talked to her flatmate earlier. And in my line of work, I’ve seen enough to know that horrible, horrible things sometimes happen to the best of people. The small-minded would prefer to blame the victim because it makes them feel safer, no matter how much it hurts those left behind.”

            It had been that way when his mother was killed.

            He pulled out a fresh handkerchief and offered it to her. Tools of the trade. He’d never yet had to fire a gun in the line of duty, but he’d employed a handkerchief more times than he could count. A gentleman always carries a clean handkerchief, his mother had told him, time and time again. Little did she know how handy that would be in his chosen field.

            Mrs. Tull dried her eyes and looked up at him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry, it’s just. . .” She took a deep, shuddering breath.

            “It’s all right. Take a moment.”

            He poured tea for both of them while he waited for her to collect herself.

“Kitty was such a sweet girl,” the woman said after a calming sip of tea. “Good worker. Honest as the day is long. Always had me send part of her pay back to her widowed mother in Derbyshire. What kind of man could do this?”'
“That’s just what I’m trying to find out, ma’am.”

The shopkeeper, though more than willing, had nothing of substance to offer. Kitty was a friendly girl, so sweet and so pretty, a favorite of all the customers, but no, there was no one she could recall who paid her any special attention, or who hung about often enough to make anyone uncomfortable, mostly it was women who did the shopping, don’t you know? No, there had been no gentlemen meeting her at the door to walk her home.

Essentially the same story as the flatmate had given. He thanked her for her time and extracted her promise to contact him should she think of anything else.

She walked him to the door. “Thank you. Thank you for listening.” She tucked a packet of biscuits into his pocket before he could protest. “To strengthen you on your way. Catch this monster for us, Inspector.”

He wished he could promise that he would. Instead, he said the only thing he could. “I’ll do my best.”
On the walk to catch the omnibus, he passed a beggar in ragged, ill-fitting clothes. The man looked familiar, and he scoured his memory. Not one of his sources. Someone he’d arrested at some point? 
Maybe—no. Clean the man up, take ten years off him. . .

“Smythe, is that you?”

The man looked up sharply, startled at being recognized.

At least that explained why an apparently able-bodied man was begging in the streets mid-day when there might be work to be had on the docks. In the wealthy, idleness was considered a virtue, but in the poor, it was a sin. A smart beggar would either have to appear to be seeking work, or show an obvious reason why he could not work. It seemed Smythe was still too honest to pretend blindness or other malady.

Smythe was smart and good at maths, and everyone at school had agreed that he was destined for something better than the factory work that was slowly breaking his parents’ health. A clerk, for sure, maybe even a bookkeeper, it could happen.

But that was before he was bitten.

“I had heard. . .” Royston trailed off awkwardly.

It wasn’t something you talked about, was it?

Smythe gave a weary shrug of one shoulder, as though two would be too much effort. “These things happen.”

Royston glanced away and tried to think of something to say. He dealt with terrible, terrible things every day in his line of work, but it was different with someone he knew.

Smythe had been robust in their school days, muscled from helping his uncle load delivery carts in the dark morning hours before the start of school. Now he looked like a scarecrow. Probably lived off of soup kitchens and scraps. No one would hire a werewolf, and few who knew what he was would spare a ha’penny to one begging in the streets.

Royston put a hand in his pocket.

Smythe shook his head and backed away. “No. You don’t have to.”

Bad enough to be begging in the streets. Royston imagined it would be far worse to accept a hand-out from someone one knew. He managed a smile. “Not charity. Just think of it as me buying an old friend a drink.”

A small difference, especially as he offered enough silver to buy a couple of meals as well.
“You’re a good man, Royston,” Smythe said. “Always have been.”

Smythe glanced around furtively before accepting the money. Looking for other ‘wolves. Werewolves, excluded from normal society, had one of their own. If it was largely criminal, well, what other options had they? No ’wolf who valued his skin would be seen by others taking money from a police inspector. Whether Smythe was part of the criminal subclass or just afraid of them, Royston didn’t want to know. He wished the man well and hurried to catch the omnibus.
It had been too long a day on too little sleep, and he contemplated a quick stop at his favorite fish-n-chips cart and an early night, but when he stopped at the Yard to file his notes there was a dinner invitation awaiting him from Jacob Godwin.

Godwin always showed an almost psychic sense for when Royston needed to talk, but with last night’s dead girl all over the papers and the headlines screaming of the Yard’s lack of progress, it wouldn’t take a master detective such as Godwin had been to know Royston’s state of mind.

#

Jacob Godwin forbade two topics at the dinner table—the work and Godwin’s son, Willie. Willie’s mother was long gone, and Royston often took meals with his mentor in Godwin’s rented rooms, which were small but well-furnished, and significantly more comfortable than Royston’s lonely portion of a two-up, two-down.

Royston had been a constable when a bank robber’s bullet had shattered Godwin’s kneecap, ending the career of one of the finest detectives London had ever seen. Godwin was an impressive man even now, tall and broad of shoulder, posture proud and straight, the steel streaking his black hair speaking of dignity rather than infirmity. His big hands were equally suited to collaring a criminal or to comforting a young boy who was being bullied.

            The roast and potatoes were excellent. Pursuant to Godwin’s rules they kept the conversation light, discussing the merits and disadvantages of the newfangled, steam-driven horseless carriages over a good, old-fashioned carriage-and-four. Pure frivolity—neither Godwin on his police pension nor Royston on his new detective’s salary could afford either conveyance.
Royston’s mind was only half on the subject, anyway.

            Finally they adjourned to the sitting area to smoke by the fireplace. Godwin handed Royston tea liberally laced with brandy. 

“So,” Godwin said. “They’ve found another one last night.”

            Royston nodded, though it hadn’t really been a question. Godwin filled his own pipe from a seashell-encrusted box that had been a souvenir from a Brighton Beach trip when Willie was a boy, a memento of happier times. He handed the box to Royston. Royston took his pipe case from the inner pocket of his jacket and proceeded to fill and light his pipe. He seldom indulged in tobacco, except for this ritual with his mentor who had given him his first pipe when he turned eighteen. 

He leaned back, taking comfort in the familiar scent and flavor of good tobacco, one of Godwin’s few extravagances. This same overstuffed chair had dwarfed him as a child, that first day Willie brought him home to meet his Da.

The chair had been of good quality, finer than any Royston had sat on before, but now it was a bit faded, upholstery worn thin at the arms. 

He had been anxious to talk about the case over dinner. Now that the time had come, he wished he could indulge in the comfort of fire, brandy, and tobacco without dragging the memory of dark alleys and torn flesh into this sanctuary.

He opened his jacket buttons. No need to stand on ceremony with someone who had washed his grubby hands and face when he was a boy, and Godwin always kept his home warmer than Royston did his own rooms. Even on his inspector’s salary, the extra coal seemed like a needless extravagance. He’d become used to much colder when he was a child.

“You always say to think like a criminal, to understand how he thinks as the huntsman understands the fox, but how can I begin to understand a mind like this? Though I’ve been fortunate enough never to come to it myself, I can imagine killing in the line of duty to protect innocents or in self-defense. Killing in hot blood, in rage, I can understand, even if it is reprehensible. But to abduct a girl off the streets and kill her slowly, take her apart as she screams and cries and begs for mercy, I can’t understand it. I’m not sure I want to. But if I don’t understand it, then I can’t understand the killer, and I can’t catch him before he kills another poor girl.”

His chest heaved with emotion by the time he finished his rant. In silence, Godwin; calm, implacable, and understanding, waited until he pulled himself together.

“The newspapers are saying that the Ladykiller walks again,” Royston said at last. “Ridiculous, of course, though the modus operandi is similar. Except for the brass wolf token Blackpoole left, and that was meant to throw us off his track.”

            Godwin would know all of this, of course. But it helped to talk things through. Godwin was always patient about letting Royston work his way through to an answer. When Royston had been a boy, Godwin would bring tales of his cases home for Royston and Willie to whet their minds on. Willie had been better at the game, but Royston keener and more focused, so it had often been Royston who puzzled out the answer after Willie had wandered off to shoot marbles.

            “Still, I can’t ignore the similarities in the victims. All were young women, mostly working class.” Royston fingered the charm on his watch chain, a small French coin his mother had given him with the watch and chain. It was both a novelty and a symbol, so that he would never be totally penniless. “What if Blackpoole wasn’t acting alone? His death may have caused the other to change tactics. There may be more predators out there, just as I’ve always believed that the Ladykiller had more victims than have been recorded. As you’ve always said, a killer like that often starts young.”

            Godwin shook his head. “The trail was cold on your mother’s case years before headlines with the Ladykiller started selling newspapers. For your own sake, I wish you the closure of certainty, but I fear you’ll never find it.”

            Royston turned his mind to mysteries more recent. “It still bothers me. About the werewolf. We never found out who he was or why he came to Miss Fairchild’s rescue alone among all the victims. And then there was the thing with the tracks.”

            Godwin lit his pipe. “Tell me again about the tracks.”

            Godwin wouldn’t have forgotten a single detail, but sometimes things came together in a new way when the details were spoken aloud. It hadn’t worked yet on this particular mystery, but it might. 

            “There were human footprints all over the garden. Mrs. Pemberton had led the early guests on a moonlit tour of it. The wolf prints were very clear in the soft dirt, but it was as if the wolf just appeared a few strides away from where the kill took place. As though he had materialized out of thin air.”

            “Or as if some of the muddle of human footprints were his human form and he had transformed there,” Godwin said.

            “In that case, he would have had to transform among the guests, as they were walking about the garden just at moonrise, according to all accounts. The moon was well up when Blackpoole tried to make away with Miss Fairchild, and the ’wolf intervened.”

            “I can hardly imagine such an elegant company allowing a ’wolf among them,” Godwin said. “Was there no other mention made of unusual occurrences that night?”
            “Nothing so unusual as a werewolf among the guests. You know how conscious such gently bred folk are about the company they keep. Such a scandal would surely be remarked on. I think we can rule out that he transformed in the middle of the garden at moonrise before all of Pemberton’s elegant guests. Yet if he transformed elsewhere, where are the rest of the tracks? And a werewolf cannot help but transform at the rise of the full moon.”

            “There’s an alchemist who’s been claiming his draught can suppress the shift. It's still in the experimental stages but supposed to be promising,” Godwin said.

            “Snake oil?”

            “I don’t think so. It’s the same alchemist the Yard uses for blood analyses.”

            “That Foster fellow? I’ve met him. He seems sane enough, as far as alchemists go. But if the draught works and if the werewolf were taking it, he wouldn’t have changed at all.”

            “You haven’t heard of the Riley case?” Godwin paused. “No, you would have been a constable then, sorting out drunken workers on the docks. It was kept pretty quiet, too. No one wanted to stir up controversy.”

            “What happened?”

            “One of Foster’s early test subjects was walking home from the pub in human form on a full moon night. He was set upon by a back alley cutthroat who would have taken his purse and his life. He abruptly shifted into wolf form to his own surprise and that of his attacker. Killed the man quick as a terrier with a rat. Pure instinct—which is not a legal defense, and it was clearly self-defense.”

            “Which is an excuse under the law, even if it’s seldom applied to werewolves.”

            Back when he was a constable trying to prove himself worthy of advancement, he’d read the laws, studied court transcripts, even sat in the gallery of the courthouse on his days off to hear cases tried. He’d seen a ’wolf sentenced to hang for killing two squires’ sons who had decided it would be fun to hunt a werewolf through the countryside with their horses and hounds as though he were a fox. The gentlemen’s surviving friend claimed that it was all in fun, testimony which was not supported by the bullet wound in the werewolf’s lower back. The shot had been clearly made while the wolf was still running and had been, as the unfortunate defendant testified, the reason he decided that fleeing was futile and his only hope of survival was in attack.

Royston had left the courthouse after the verdict was announced even though half a day’s hearings still lay ahead. He'd taken a long walk through London, reminding himself of all the people who still deserved to be protected.

            “According to the coroner, the man died of a heart attack rather than directly from his injuries. That helped his case. Foster’s theory was that a moment of extreme passion somehow overrode the alchemy that kept the wolf chained inside the man.” Godwin’s voice pulled Royston back to the present. “He said it had happened once before, when one of his patients came home after moonrise and found his wife in bed with the neighbor. He changed instantly and barely restrained himself from tearing both their throats out. Good thing he did, for his sake, though they would have deserved it.”

            Given Godwin’s unfortunate marriage, Royston could hardly fault him for his hostility toward adulterers.

            “The werewolf who killed the mugger did get off on self-defense. He was lucky—a witness came forward, and the cutthroat he killed was known to authorities. If he hadn’t been a werewolf, he probably would have won some sort of award for public service.”

             “So you’re saying the wolf who killed the Ladykiller could be one of Foster’s patients? But why did he rescue Miss Fairchild and not the others? Are you suggesting he had passionate feelings toward the woman?” He chuckled. “If so, Lord Bandon will not be best pleased.” He did not have to be one of the gentry to be privy to the upcoming nuptials. It was splashed all over the papers. The heiress to the Fairchild estate was to wed the last Bandon scion.

            “It might not have to do with Miss Fairchild at all,” Godwin said. “Given how Blackpoole was trying to redirect blame toward werewolves, any ’wolf in London would have reason to hate him.”

            Which made sense. Only, Royston’s gut told him that it did have something to do with Miss Fairchild, and a good detective never ignored that kind of a gut feeling. He was less sure that the werewolf or Miss Fairchild had anything to do with his current case, but with no other leads to follow, it might bear investigation. His mind kept coming back to the werewolf, and that had to mean something. When he found his thoughts worrying at a subject, like a dog at a bone, he had to pay attention. Sometimes the idea came to naught, but more often it came to something.. He would have never solved the Dalton case if he hadn’t followed up on his niggling feelings about the bowler left on the scene.


 

 

A Hunt by Moonlight will be released on August 27! Pre-order on Amazon here.

Author's webpage: www.Shawna-Reppert.com

 








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