A Bit of Preview, Something to Look Forward to

Author’s Note: While I do have to wonder… Can I call the story The Squirrel Prince when he’s not always a squirrel?

Well, either way, several months ago, I posted a teaser of this story, the first scene, and in the meantime, I’d stalled out on writing it. When I was considering what to post as a serial while I continued my overhaul of Even Better than Dreams, I posted a list of possibilities, and I was pleased when Liana Mir suggested I resume this one. Over the last few days, I’ve been editing, fixing where I think I went off track a bit, and I expect to be writing new scenes by the end of the day (don’t worry, there’s plenty of written, to the tune of about 36,000 words) so with a bit more work, this will be ready to launch as a serial. In the meantime, enjoy a bit more.

Lodi, Foxes, and Falls

“I don’t suppose the odd smell was food, was it?”

“Are you that hungry, Lady Lodyma? I am certain we can find some sort of food here, wherever we are,” Anson said, and were he not a fox, he would have given her the brightest smile she’d ever seen, she was sure of that. He bounded ahead to his brother’s side, enjoying this too much. Lodi walked behind the foxes, smiling a little as she watched the younger one. Anson seemed to be loving his experience, whereas Trystan was in a bad mood and extremely touchy. Anything she said annoyed him, and she knew that was probably because she was human here and he was not.

He made an adorable fox, though. Not quite as cute as he was a squirrel, but he was still rather charming as a fox, at least in appearance if not in mood. She found it interesting that he always changed, and she would actually like to see more worlds and what he would turn into there. How many worlds were there, anyway? She had no idea. She would be curious to find out, but if the number of them were as infinite as parallel universes were supposed to be, then they might never find the one where the giants came from in order to save their kingdom.

She watched as Trystan scrabbled up the support beam of the wall, jumping up onto the rafter that ran the length of the room, moving along it quickly. Anson tried to follow him, but he slid down off the beam and sighed. “How did he do that?”

“Well, he did have a bit of practice as a squirrel,” she began, though that really didn’t explain the way that Trystan adapted so easily to whatever form he was in—he seemed as at ease in his fox body as he was his human one or his squirrel one, and that realization made her frown.


“Just thinking, Anson.” She moved forward, trying to find where Trystan had gotten to, since he had managed to disappear from sight. She didn’t like this, either. Now she felt strange, as if she couldn’t trust him. She felt sick. She wanted to be able to trust Trystan—needed to be able to trust him. She didn’t want to think that he had done more exploring than he had admitted to, that he knew more of these worlds than he was saying.

It wasn’t like he’d told her everything, though. He’d left out more than he’d said.


“Damn it.”

She looked up, seeing him pace the rafter. She fought against the uneasiness of her stomach, flinching when he almost lost his balance. She didn’t know if she wanted him to know how worried she was, though. “Oh. There you are. Did you find what you were looking for?”

“Not even a way down.”

“You mean you’re stuck? I thought you knew what you were doing and where you were going.”

He stopped, frowning at her. “Why would you think that? I’ve never been here before. I don’t know the first thing about this place. I only thought this would give me a good vantage, but I have seen nothing of use, and I cannot think how I will get down from here.”

“I still don’t know how you got up there,” Anson said with a slight pout. He interrupted himself by scratching his ear, and Lodi smiled. He was even more of an adorable fox than his brother, though she had a strange fondness for her first talking animal prince. “No fair that you were a squirrel first.”

“Squirrel would have been easier for this. Better claws for climbing,” Trystan remarked, lifting a paw to study it. He unbalanced himself and tumbled forward off the rafter. Lodi stared, her brain somehow not getting the message that she should try and catch him. He tried to stop his fall, the flailing and scratching at the air getting nothing but laughter out of his brother.

She rushed to his side after he hit, grimacing. “Ouch. That had to hurt.”

“I think I shall not move for a while,” Trystan agreed with a sort of hissing moan. He did not even open his eyes. Anson seemed to be grinning, still amused by his brother’s sudden lack of grace. She ran her fingers through Trystan’s fur, inspecting him for damage.

“Anything broken?”


She lifted him up into her arms, continuing to pet him. She couldn’t feel anything broken or out of place, at least not that she could tell. Oh, and his fur was so soft again. She wasn’t putting him down, not now. Maybe not ever. He could stay right where he was.

“Lodyma, now that you know that I am not gravely injured, please put me down.”

Lodi shook her head, running her fingers through the fur and speaking like a little child. “No. My fox now. Gonna keep it.”

Anson snorted, laughing and rolling around on the floor. “She’s got you now, brother.”

Early Morning Call

Author’s Note: So I went by Three Word Wednesday to see the words of the week, and it was my intention to use them in something new and unrelated so that it could stand alone.

No inspiration came, other than a beginning line that sounded very much like Garan, so I thought I’d end up skipping the prompts this week.

Well, I took the line and used it in the story I’m currently working on, since it was a thought Garan would and did have, and low and behold, the other two words found their way into it.

So, no, it doesn’t stand alone. It probably makes little sense out of context. Still… It had all the prompts. I’m sharing it anyway.

Oh, right. The prompts were: backfire, embarrass, and taste.

Early Morning Call

Plans would always backfire on you, and the sooner you accepted that, the easier it got. Garan didn’t think that Effie was there yet, but he’d learned that lesson a long time ago, in a way that stuck with him and never left, just as bad as one of the many physical scars that covered his body. He knew how one moment could change everything, and he knew that there was little point in expending too much effort in planning. Strategy was important, but being adaptable was better.

When his phone rang just before he could have a real taste of his coffee, he grimaced, setting down the cup and putting the receiver to his ear. “What do you want, Wilmore?”

Across the room, his aunt and uncle frowned, and even Effie got stiff. None of them liked hearing the name, and all of them knew that a call from that man was never good.

“We need to meet, Kennedy.”

“Bad idea. You do realize that if our mutual ‘friend’ is watching me, he might be waiting for an opportunity like this to get at you.”

“You are a good enough agent to ensure that you will not be followed. Thirty minutes.”

The call ended, and Garan would have thrown the phone at the wall if he didn’t know that there was another call coming. Thirty minutes from now, he’d get further instructions, and he knew better than to be late getting them.

“What is it?”

“He insists on meeting. Didn’t say why.”

Fletcher started in on a set of curses that would have made his Ranger buddies blush, and Kate reached over to cover his mouth. Effie reached across the table, putting her hand on Garan’s arm.

“I don’t care what he wants. Don’t go. It’s a bad idea. You said so yourself.”

“I know it is, but I also know if I don’t go, he’ll find a way to make me regret it. Me and anyone that might have talked me into blowing him off,” Garan said, rising. He leaned down to kiss his wife’s forehead and cup her cheek. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. This time I don’t need to leave a note. You already know I’m going.”

“I hate this. I also hate him.”

“He seems to like you. It’s surprising and somewhat disconcerting.”

“Yeah, it is.”

Kate cleared her throat. “You might want to think about changing before you go. Unless, of course, you want to embarrass yourself by showing up to your clandestine meeting half-naked.”

“He’s in his pajamas.”

“As if that’s any better.”

Garan smiled. “I doubt Wilmore would notice. True, he’s trained to notice details, but he’d hardly want to face the scars on his agents. Might force him to admit that he had a part in them getting there. No, he’d ignore it.”

“Still, that doesn’t mean you should go like you are,” Effie told him, giving his stomach a pat. “You know how I feel about others ogling my eye candy. I don’t like to share.”

“That’s hardly fair. You have a full collection of vintage clothes, and no one keeps their eyes off you.” He watched her smile get smug, tempted to carry her off and deal with that look properly, but he didn’t have time. He settled for a kiss instead, using everything he’d learned about her against her before he let go.

“Bastard,” she cursed, breathless. He smiled at her before grabbing his keys and heading toward the stairs.

In Order to Consider a Sequel…

Author’s Note: So I want to do more sequels, build on worlds I’ve already established, spend more time with characters that are already friends, and maybe get away from some of the things I repeat too often.

I was rereading this story to re-immerse myself in the world and the lives of these characters, and I figured if I was try and brainstorm a sequel, maybe I should share the beginning of the first one.

From Matched Set

How do you ask someone for a favor after you broke their heart?

Or maybe she should call it what it really was—a betrayal. She’d done it, and she’d never admitted that to herself, not before now. She had no idea what he’d do, how he’d react to seeing her again, and she didn’t care for all of the unknowns here. She was used to walking into a situation and knowing exactly how to handle it, but this was unfamiliar ground for her.

Suck it up already, she told herself. She was Wichita Price. She was a highly sought after consultant with two best-selling true crime novels. She’d worked hard to get her position and build her reputation in her field, and she wasn’t about to back down now. She might not have seen him in almost six years, but that didn’t mean she was afraid of him. Hardly. It wasn’t like she didn’t still have a badge and a gun, and she could use them if she needed to. That didn’t scare her, either. She could handle anything that was thrown her way, and Reece—well, he was just one of those things.

Or the biggest mistake of her life.

She parked the Yukon in front of the house and studied it for a moment. Remote, simple, it suited him. She knew this place had been in his family for years, though no one had bothered to make much of it after they’d homesteaded it. It was a small blip in the middle of a desert. An oasis, he’d called it once. A mirage, she’d countered.

It still felt like a mirage, that was for sure.

Damn it, why now? It had been five years. The case was closed. The bad guy was behind bars. It was all over and done. It should have stayed that way. Locked up, boxed away, and forgotten. All of that was finished. The past was gone, couldn’t be brought back, and that was how it stayed.

It had better be a copycat. That was what it was. This new killing was some idiot thinking he could get famous by imitating someone else. Or maybe it was an homage, a way of honoring the bastard in the way that only psychopaths could, but still, it wasn’t the same guy. It was someone else. Someone different. They’d put the right man behind bars.

Of course, if that was true, then she wouldn’t be here, would she? At the very least, she could give Reece the satisfaction of saying I told you so. With a sigh, Wichita opened the door and got out of the SUV. She took off her jacket, leaving it on the seat. It was too damn hot out here, and this would be uncomfortable and unpleasant enough as it was. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail before she shut the door.

Now or never. She couldn’t delay it any longer. He had to know she was here by now. Maybe not her, specifically, but he had probably heard the Yukon pull up and was waiting for the driver to come to the door. It was time.

No, it wasn’t. Maybe he’d have the satisfaction of an I told you so, but it wasn’t much, and she’d been careful to keep away from him after what she’d done. She gave him that much. He didn’t need her as a reminder, didn’t need salt poured into that wound. They were better off apart. After what she’d done, he couldn’t trust her, and their friendship was completely gone.

Along with a few other things, leaving him back at his crappy oasis while her career really took off. She had her own team now and the books, and she was at the top of her game. People requested her by name, wanted her to consult across the country. She wasn’t some backwoods detective relying on her partner for guidance, not anymore.

She stepped onto the porch, hearing the wood creak under her boot, and she reached over to ring the doorbell. After a moment, the door opened.

Reece leaned against the door frame, his hand above his head, dark eyes sweeping over her. Except for the slight mark of the scar near his forehead, no one would have ever known what he’d been through. He was lean and fit, still in perfect shape, and she had to wonder if he’d left that shirt of his unbuttoned on purpose.

“I thought it was you,” he muttered. She tried to smile, but he shook his head. “Should have told them to send someone else. I have nothing to say to you.”

And he slammed the door in her face.


Author’s Note: So… it’s interesting adding new content to stuff that’s been finished for a while. I have been extending some random quotes into larger pieces, parts of the Collector’s training, but I don’t really have an audience for them since I’ve already “completed” this story.

This particular section was done to explore his physiology as a Collector and the effect that has on him, but I fear the first part is too confusing…

Also, please enjoy the divider art created by the other half of the Kabobbles team. It is quite nice, and separates the scenes rather well, doesn’t it?



Everywhere all over him, crawling and claiming and drowning. He couldn’t get free. He was caught in the memories and he would never get free. They had him. He was dying. Drowning. He had been swimming, but he did not know how to swim. He did not know water. He hated water.

This wasn’t water.

Where was he? He felt so strange. He was caught, so tangled up and twisted. He did not feel as he should. He hated this. He could see things, hear voices, but they are not his and not ones he knows—but they are. He knew they were. He’d been in the memories. He knew them from the memories. He knew all of their lives.

“You love me. You know you love me.”

“No! I never loved you! Let me go!”

The pain, the pain, so much pain. He could feel it. He could still feel it, but it wasn’t his. It couldn’t be his. The pain belonged to the woman, but he was not a woman. He didn’t understand. He could not hurt like this…

The son, being held by his father. “This is your legacy. Do you understand? Do you know what all of this is? What we have built for you?”

“We’re rich, aren’t we?”

The father laughed. He embraced his son, pleased with the young child’s comprehension. “No one is poor anymore, but we have much more than most do.”

Not his father. He didn’t have a father. He was born of the vat, and he never knew a father or a family. He did not have anyone. He was alone. Alone and drowning and…

There was blood. He can smell its strange odor, can watch it cross the floor and drip down the side of the steps. Drip, drop, the color was wrong, and he was wrong about everything. No murders had been committed in centuries, and he knew that. He was too far back in the memories.

No. Wait. The blood belonged to someone with Rashon heritage. That was why the color was wrong. No. They lied. They said no murders, but the Rashon were still hated, and they had killed this one because he carried that legacy within him.

Murder. He could feel the pain, that fear, that outrage. He had been killed, but he was not dead. He did not understand. He did not see this. He did see this. He felt strange, so strange…

“Who gave him a sedative? Don’t you know better than that? He is not like other children.”

“He was trying to escape. He was violent and abusive. He had to be restrained. He might have done harm to himself or someone else.”

“He is a Collector. He cannot be drugged.” That voice he knew, and not from the memories. The trainer. “Yes, that’s it, young one. Listen to my voice, let me guide you out of the memories now.”

“He’s not in the memories, though. He’d look different if he was.”

“He’s trapped between the two worlds, and he might not come back thanks to you. Never sedate a Collector. Now go. You will be dealt with.”

The boy moaned, trying to fight the tendrils. He couldn’t get free. They were dragging him under again, and he no longer heard the trainer. He could hear nothing. All he could feel was pain. He thought he smelled something, but nothing was real here.

Everything was real.

He didn’t know what this was. He didn’t know where he was. He was sick. Must be sick. He could not be sick. He could not feel pain. No, that was a lie. He didn’t know what was happening. He wanted the tendrils to let him go.

They would never let him go.

He would never be free.

tentacle bigger than small

“Open your eyes. Do you know where you are?”

“No. Yes. No.”

The trainer gave the boy a small smile. “I know you are upset, but you must try and sit up. Physical movement will help reorient you to this world, help you find your way again. You have been dealing with a lot of images, haven’t you?”

The boy swore that he could still feel the tendrils. He shuddered, pulling his legs up against his chest and cursing when he bumped the nodule on his side. The trainer frowned. “Language.”

“I’d say a lot worse. I hate you.”

“I did warn you what would happen if you tried to escape. I told you it was an ill-advised decision. I tried to stop you, but you would not be stopped. You had to try and leave. You know the consequences of your actions now.”

“What, torture? You can torture me and pretend that it is nothing?”

“It was not torture. The guard made a mistake. You are not supposed to leave, and for most people, a sedative is a suitable deterrent. You are not like most people. Your body reacted unfavorably to the sedative—something the guard should have known—and the drug blurred the lines between your reality and the memories, between your past and the truth. You could not tell the difference between the realm of the memories and your own world.”

The boy looked at the trainer, still shivering. “Was… Was any of it real?”

“I cannot be certain. I had to draw you out, and you were quite resistant.”

“I do not remember that.”

“You would not,” the trainer said, sitting down next to him. “The doctors say that you are well enough physically. Your training is expected to resume—”

“No! No, you can’t—I don’t want to go back in the memories. I won’t go back in the memories, not ever. I won’t. You can’t make me. That was… It was…”

“You were frightened.”

He drew his knees tighter against his chest. He tried to keep himself calm, but his body would not stop with the shaking and shuddering. His mind kept going back to the things he’d seen, and he felt the tendrils pulling at him. “Am I not allowed to feel fear, either? Is that it? Must I always be like one of the robots and obey all commands without thought or emotion?”

“You brought this fear and upset upon yourself. You were warned.”

“You are… punishing me?”

The trainer adjusted his robe. “You know the rules. You have been told of our guidelines from the day you were born.”

“I was not born. I was engineered.”

“True, but the principle is the same. You knew the rules, yet you chose to attempt escape. You must learn to live with the consequences of your actions.” The trainer rose, and the boy stared after him. He was about to be left alone, and that was what he wanted—most of the time. Not now. No, not now.

“Don’t go.”

“We have no training to do today. You need to recover.”

“No! No, you don’t understand,” the boy said, shaking his head, rising from the bed. “You can’t leave me alone with the tendrils. They’ll pull me in and under, and I’ll drown all over again. I can feel them. I don’t know how to get away. Please.”

The trainer stopped at the door. “The drugs are gone. You are in no further danger. Your training will resume when you are in a fit state to proceed.”

“You… You don’t care about me at all, do you? How can you walk away when I ask you not to, when I beg you not to? I know I have been difficult, but I am scared, and I don’t want to be alone. Please.”

“You may be a child, but you are also a Collector. You must be able to overcome whatever you experience in the memories, and you brought this fear upon yourself. It would not be proper for me to indulge you when you knowingly broke the rules. We are held to higher standards, and we must be. You cannot escape your own actions.”

The boy bit his lip. “If you would have let me see the world, I wouldn’t have tried to escape. I tried asking. You wouldn’t let me. Now you tell me it is all my fault and I should suffer because your rules are intolerable?”

The trainer shook his head. “When you are told no, that does not give you the right to go against it. You have had a lesson, whether you like it or not. You must learn from it.”

He turned, stepping through the door. It closed behind him, and the boy sat back down on the bed, shuddering as the tendrils tugged at him. He tried not to cry. If they wanted to make him a robot, then he’d act like one. He would.

Being a robot had to be better than being a Collector.

Proper Meaning

Author’s Note: I’m sharing this as incentive to keep me working on my edits.

Back to the beginning, sort of, with the Collector’s training.

Proper Meaning

“The world is founded on one basic principle—you cannot hide what you have done. This echo you leave behind, in this moment, will always carry with it the truth of your actions and what you have done, what you have felt, and what you intend to do now,” the trainer said as he led the boy out onto the balcony, showing him the city.

The boy studied it for a long time. It seemed to come up from the clouds, a shimmering land of pale cream towers, each a different height, jutting up from the ground, separated from each other by vast courtyards of marble with a few pieces of intha in between. He knew that there were many more colors mixed in and blended among the cream, but he could not really pick them out from where he stood. He wanted to. He wanted to see so much more than this. From up here, the people seemed tiny, small blurs of blue mixed with other colors as they hurried about their days. Occasionally, the light glinted off something metal, reminding him that the machines were among them as well, robots that had very nearly come into their own sentience. These machines were helpers and some considered them… friends. Yet they were not allowed on their own.

Like him. He was like a machine to them, that was all. They would give him orders, tell him to listen to the trainer, and they expected him to do it as mindlessly as the robots followed their programming.

Though he knew it was rare for them to be outside, and he wanted to see more of the people and things that were real, he turned away from the trainer and walked toward the door.

“Where are you going, child?”

“I do not see what you want me to see. I refuse to see it. I want to go out there, to be down in the city. I do not want to watch. I do not want to stay here—and I do not care about your stupid memories! What good are memories to anyone? They’re not… They’re not real.”

“The memories are forever. They have always been, and they will always be,” the trainer said, and the boy looked back at him, folding his arms over his chest. He did not care. He was sick of looking at things but never touching them, hearing them but never speaking to them, seeing emotions but never feeling them, not for himself. “It was the Collectors that came later. Their true nature and importance was misunderstood at first.”

“I do not want a history lesson! I do not want another lesson at all! All you ever do is talk or drag me into the memories, and that is not living! The world is out there! It is not in our minds.”

“That is not true. It is both.”

The boy shook his head, but his trainer caught hold of his arm before he could return inside. “Have you learned nothing from what I’ve taught you? Do you still fail to understand what you really are?”

“I know what I am! I am a prisoner and a slave! You give it a fancy name, you make it sound better than what it is, but it is still slavery! It is not collecting anything. It is watching. Always watching. Endless watching. Answering questions that other people ask. Doing what I am told. Always what I’m told and never what I want. Never what those people out there are doing.”

“They are not like you. You are special.”

“This is special? Then I do not want to be special! I want to be normal and ordinary and free.”

The trainer shook his head. “That is not possible. You are a Collector. You will always be unique. You more so than any of the others—you are the last, and you are unlike any that has come before you. That makes you all the more valuable.”

“No,” the boy corrected coldly. “It just makes me a prisoner. Forever.”

When Worlds and Cats Collide

Author’s Note: So… I realize this doesn’t entirely stand on its own.

I picked this part because it’s the least spoilery (for both stories) so far.

I know it’s crazy. It’s sort of a sequel, sort of a crossover. It’s insanely fun to write. It’s all Reynolds’ fault. I can’t remember which story I started first, which Reynolds was the first one, Ben or Persephone, but since they shared the same last name, somehow they ended up related and created this complication. The Consultant and the Cat meets the Machine… Yeah. Um. I should probably be embarrassed, but I’m having too much fun.

When Worlds (and Cats) Collide

“It’s getting creepy.”

“What, the leopard?”

Reynolds looked over at the cat in the middle of the room. “That, too.”

Perry leaned back in his chair, tempted to kick the other man’s seat. He didn’t want to think too much about the way Carrington had arranged part of his new home—his new shared home—into a replica of their office. Oh, it lacked the counters in the conference room, and Perry hadn’t seen a coffee pot yet, but the boards he used were there and the table, and it looked like Carrington had been planning on having a team here all along.

“You weren’t here the first time those two met. If you think this is a bit odd, it was tense and awkward as hell the first time. Randolph’s a damn good profiler. He pegged those crimes, and he pegged me and the guys I worked with, and he probably had a good read on the Machine. The Machine, of course, he can turn that right back on anyone, and when the two of them got into it, they got into it. The Machine didn’t get mad, but he got pretty quiet. That dangerous quiet that he gets. He said something about Randolph’s father that had Marciano dragging him out of the room before someone got hurt.”

“And the two ice queens?”

Perry glanced toward the women. “Simply put, Ben, we’re all screwed. We are doomed. The men are not going to survive this one.”

Reynolds groaned, putting his head down on the table. Perry patted him on the back, grinning as he saw the leopard crossing toward him. The cat put her head in Reynolds’ lap, and he jumped out of his chair with a bit of a squeal.

The women looked over, both of them laughing, and Carrington and Randolph turned. Randolph’s smile was amused. Carrington frowned. Perry clapped his hands together. “Priceless. I wish I’d been filming that.”

“There is no need for you to share his humiliation on the internet, Perry, though I suppose you would say that your wife should have seen it.”

“Well, Mo and Abby, yeah.”

Reynolds glared at him. “No. Absolutely not. I hate you, Perry. I’ll get you for this. I swear. Where was the warning on that one?”

“Oh, come now, Reynolds—I mean your cousin, Persephone, not you—Katya did not harm anyone. She is very attuned to moods, though, and she was trying to help. I have been told I should register her as a therapy animal. She is good at such things,” Randolph said, and his cat ran over to his side, rubbing against his legs. “Yes, love, I tried to explain. You didn’t intend to hurt anyone.”

“This is insane.”

“And what we did before was sane, Reynolds? We investigated crimes while being stalked by a serial killer. Compared to that, a leopard is quite tame. In more than one sense of the word,” Carrington said, turning back to his board. “Why these three, Randolph? If someone is looking for a pattern, they should be looking for more of a signature.”

“It’s not necessarily about how they died.”

“It’s who died. I see. Someone believes that these people are being targeted for execution?”

“So I am told, though I know that I’ve been lied to, at least in part,” Randolph said, rejoining the other man at the board. “When Reynolds called Persephone asking for a case, I thought this had to be the one since I know there is something wrong. I just haven’t pinpointed it. What about you? You usually do this a lot faster than I do.”

“It has been suggested that this machine needs a reboot,” Carrington said, frowning at the pictures. The leopard bumped his leg, and he glanced down at it. “My mood is fine, thank you. I do not appreciate being interrupted while I’m working.”

Perry laughed, but he stopped and stared as the leopard did something he thought he’d never see. Animals were supposed to sense evil and all, and most didn’t react all that favorably to the Machine. This one, though, she licked his hand and seemed to be… purring.

The First Stage of Grief: Denial

Author’s Note: So this from is one of the stories I wrote and completed a long time ago, but due to some issues raised with it and some nasty feedback I got when posting a fanfiction with a similar concept, I was hesitant to share it. I had to do this to get past a roadblock in The Monster in My Garden Shed, a plot that was going to derail the already messy storyline I had going on there. So, Renatta didn’t have to do this… The story became Verina’s.

The First Stage of Grief: Denial

“Tell me it’s lying. That thing is… defective.”

Cameron wrapped his arms around me. I buried my face in his chest, not wanting to look again. I couldn’t even look at him, knowing that he wasn’t the one I wanted holding me. As close as he could be, I supposed, but it wasn’t the same. It would never be the same again. I was willing to believe that I’d messed up the test somehow, made a mistake, only it seemed rather straight forward—alarmingly so. I hit the mark, I set the timer, and I waited. I repeated the same process with two other brands. They all had the same undesired result. “Please?”

“We will get you in to see the a doctor and get one of those tests.”

“You think these ones are telling the truth?” I asked, shaking my head. I knew they’d be telling me that I was lucky, but no, I wasn’t lucky. This wasn’t luck. None of it was. “I know I did more than one, but I just really want you to tell me that they’re all wrong.”

“I know you do,” he agreed, rocking me a little. I closed my eyes, trying to will away this nightmare. Or maybe I wanted to pretend that he was someone else. If I kept my eyes closed, I could almost believe it. He sounded so much like his brother. “It’s possible that it’s some kind of—oh, I don’t know what it’s called, but something that would cause them to all read false because of what they test for, and that’s something that I believe the doctor’s tests can tell the difference.”

“I am not on any kind of hormone therapy. Yes, there was protection, but it wasn’t the pill,” I said, moaning, leaning into him. I knew that I was giving him information that he didn’t want to hear—details he didn’t need, didn’t want. He hadn’t even been that close to his brother, and he was basically a stranger to me. Still, he continued to hold me. I needed to stop this because I was not like this. Not normally. Of course, normal would have meant so many other things would be different now. “It’s only been, what, a week? It’s too soon. That’s why the results are off.”

“A week since Sam died, not necessarily a week since you’ve been pregnant. Try and stay calm until tomorrow when you can see the doctor,” Cameron suggested, hesitantly combing back my hair. I sighed. I was not going to cry anymore, but I felt so defeated at the moment, unable to deal with this. “Ina, I know how hard this is for you.”

“Cameron, you don’t even know me,” I reminded him, a bit annoyed to hear him shortening my name like that. Why Ina? I was kind of used to people picking Rina, not that I’d ever liked it. Just plain Ina? What was that? “And it’s not in you, okay? You don’t… You don’t understand at all.”

He touched my face gently, looking at me with the same eyes his brother had, though I swore Sam had never seen through me so easily as Cameron was right now. It was the grief. It had torn down all my walls, and I was left exposed, unprotected and even… naked. “It’s not a monster. It’s not any part of a monster, either.”

I shuddered, wrapping my arms around him and shivering. I couldn’t seem to get warm right now. It was like he knew, and how could he know? I hadn’t even told Sam. “I am so scared of this, Cameron. I don’t know what to do.”

He was quiet for an unnervingly long time. “I can’t tell you what to do. I’ve never been particularly good at figuring that out for myself. God knows Sam hated that about me—my inability to stay in one place, to settle—he always said I couldn’t make up my mind.”

I nodded. That sounded like Sam. I could remember those complaints when he’d pick up a postcard from wherever his younger brother was at the time, shaking his head in disgust and saying Cameron would never learn, that he only thought he was living a good life but he was really running.

He’d never actually said what Cameron was running from, and I’d never actually asked. I looked down and turned the wedding ring around on my finger. “Sam… He was definitely grounded. Stable.”

Cameron nodded, leaning his head back against the wall and running his hand through his hair. I knew what he wasn’t saying. The stable one was gone, and the reckless one had lived, and it wasn’t like I had any real expectation of him sticking around, either. I didn’t even know how he’d heard about the accident that killed Sam. The funeral had only been this morning, or Cameron would have been long gone by now, not sitting with me.

Finding out you were pregnant the day you put your husband in the ground was just about the worst way it could happen. I didn’t even know why I’d suddenly been gripped by the need to make certain that I wasn’t—sure, I’d thrown up after I woke up, but that only made sense because I was burying Sam. Still, I’d turned to Cameron as everyone walked away and told him I needed the tests. He hadn’t said anything, later pulling me from the wake to give me the bag, and I’d waited until now, when everyone else was gone, to take them.

“I had to have done that wrong. Three times, and I screwed it up. That’s the only explanation.”

Cameron gave me a doubtful look, and I sighed. “I don’t want a kid. I’m not good with them, and even though your brother wanted one desperately, I didn’t. I don’t now. How the hell am I supposed to do this without him when I didn’t think I could do this with him?”

“You have options.”

I grimaced. “Options. Right. On that note, I think I’m going to bed. I’ll sleep, and in the morning, this will all be a bad dream.”

Better in Person

Author’s Note: So, officially, I hate myself.

The more I write with the original Effie Lincoln and Nicholas Tennant, the more I like them and curse myself for the story I gave them back in the beginning. I suppose I could throw it out and rewrite the ending for them…

Never thought I’d want an AU (alternate universe) for my own story.

Better in Person

“Where is the latest in that long line of heroes? Do I need to teach him how to breathe or perhaps how to chew with his mouth closed? If he’s stiff as a board, he better not expect me to loosen him up.”

“Tempting as such an offer might be, I think I am rather flexible, and you needn’t worry about my health—I’m nowhere near dead. I can breathe just fine, and my mother taught me the best of manners and etiquette,” Nicholas said, leaning back in his chair with a smile, enjoying his first glimpse of Euphemia Lincoln in the flesh. She’d come in just like one of her movies, an entrance befitting a queen, and he had to wonder what role she figured on playing with him right now. Damn, but she was impressive, more vibrant and forceful in person.

More of the bombshell she was billed as, and it only took one look to know she was trouble.

She studied him. “You’re taller than the usual leading man.”

He shrugged. “I bet I’m plenty of things your other costars weren’t. Single, better looking, more talented, and completely impervious to your vamp act.”

She put her hand on her hip, frowning at him. “Who says this is an act?”

His lips curved into a smile. He rose, walking around behind her—she wasn’t much of anything, easy to get around, just a slip of a woman—but he didn’t doubt that she was a lot stronger than that figure suggested, nothing about her seemed all that delicate. “I do.”

She turned around to face him. “You know nothing about me.”

“I could pretend that I had read every interview or article written about you, and I could lie and call myself a fan, but that’s not true. You just have no idea how much you give away when you’re on screen. Those little details you give the parts, the gestures you throw in, they say so much more than you realize.”


He touched the section of her hair by her eye, brushing back the peekaboo to get a good look at her face. “How did she end up with the devil, anyway?”

“What makes you think I know? I didn’t write the story.”

“I’d have given it a better ending,” he said, and she fought a smile. “Every time you’re on screen, there’s this look on your face like you have so much to say if you only had the chance.”

“Do I?”

“You have that look now.”

She smiled. “Well, this movie should be interesting to make, hero.”

He frowned. “I’m not a hero. I’ve never done anything useful, never served in the military or the police, not even as a volunteer firefighter.”

“You’re an actor, aren’t you?”

“Depends on who you ask. My father calls it lying.”

She laughed. “I think I might just agree with him. Still, they brought you here to play a part, the leading role, and that man is always the hero.”

Nicholas shook his head. “I read the part. He’s an idiot.”

“They always are.”

“I’d rewrite this ending, too.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s the way they always end. That’s the thing about heroes. They never get the bad girl.”

A Bit Lonely

Author’s Note: I was looking over Merits and Means, a story I wrote after spending a few days doing history fest last spring, inspired by this house, and I debated about sharing so many different parts of it, but most of my favorite pieces are either spoilery (it’s a mystery) or wouldn’t stand alone. I almost picked the dime novel bit or the bonus story, but the dime novel is just a snippet, and the bonus story gives away far too much.

I settled on the first scene, since I liked the end of it so much.

A Bit Lonely

My new neighbors hated me, and I did not know why. Perhaps this would not matter so much if I did not already feel so isolated. My new home had every possible convenience—in some respects it was almost too modern. I had all the finest things, the arrangement of them was done according to my exacting specifications. I carried the key to the parlor with me, in charge of every aspect of this house. It was my kingdom. I could rule as queen—without any subjects, with a king that was a stranger to me despite the fact that he was my husband. I supposed that I had felt the neighbors would help alleviate the sense that I had some how been… exiled.

No one had said that moving west was intended to be a punishment, and had I perhaps committed a sin that required a hasty marriage to cover over my indiscretion, I would understand the sort of behavior I found myself experiencing, but I had not. I was far from my family, but I was living in the middle of a town, in luxury, and society should have been open to me. Instead, my next door neighbor had taken a dislike to me for reasons I did not know, and she seemed to control the circle around here enough to bar me from it.

Perplexed, I sat in my overly ornate parlor, staring at the empty chairs. I was supposed to entertain here. That was my duty, my role, even my purpose. At it, though, I was a spectacular failure. Though I had been raised with the expectation that I would know this and how to run my own household, I feared I had spent too long in my mother’s shadow. I had her example of everything I was to do, but I had never been allowed to do it for myself. It may have been as simple as inexperience, and yet I could not see what I had done to offend this Mrs. Shaw so strongly as to earn this kind of censure. I had been cut without warning, and it stung.

My hand touched the paper in my lap, and I remembered Mother’s advice, so simple and yet it seemed impossible. Cultivate other social connections and—this was perhaps the worst of her advice—never forget, daughter, if the house seems empty now, you will soon fill it. I moved my hand to my stomach, so thin and trim as Mother and the lady’s maid had forced it to become, and shook my head.

Though by law he was my husband, in truth he seemed more like a housemate, and barely that. The idea of our union had been suggested and almost wholly arranged by our parents. Before what I thought a true courtship had even a chance to start, I suddenly found myself affianced without that question being asked—at least not of me. I had barely spoken to the man before it all happened. Everything was rushed as he was due to head west for a very important position—some sort of vice presidency in his family’s business—and that meant, of course, that he must be sent with his wife and possessions as well. I was, I sometimes thought, considered one of those possessions. I had little say in any of what took place. They arranged a morning ceremony, a reception in the afternoon, and then gave us over to the berth on the last train of the day, shipping me off west without another thought.

I had thought this was all what I was supposed to do—obey my parents and their wishes, to acquire a husband to provide for me for the rest of my life, and to settle in my own home and raise my own family. I knew of no other life, and yet I found myself wondering what I had done that I deserved this fate.

My husband was not by any means unpleasant, I would not say that at all—it was difficult to find fault with a man who was never there, after all. It was simply… awkward between us whenever we were together, and such a thing was rare enough. His position and the work he did kept him out late enough to where I frequently ate without him and retired to my room before he even arrived home.

Perhaps I should hire some sort of servant. Though there was not much around the house to keep me all that busy, I would at least have someone to talk to for a change.

I heard a knock and jerked my head up, looking over at the French doors, startled. “Mr. Attwater.”

His lips curved into a smile, and some of the fatigue disappeared from his face. For a man of five and twenty, he looked at least ten years older when he returned home after a long day of work. On the other hand, he was rather handsome when he smiled. It gave a different light to his dark eyes and softened the sharpness of his features. “Are you going to call me that for the rest of our lives, Philomena?”

I flushed. Some women did that, called their husbands “Mister” or even “Father,” but I suspected that he knew my use of the title came from the fact that I still felt he was a stranger to me. “I suppose that depends. You are home quite early today, aren’t you? Unless I was woolgathering for longer than I realized, in which case, dinner shall be very late—or shall have to be cold or—”

“You do not have to fret. I am early and not terribly hungry,” he said, coming into the parlor. His eyes went to the letter and then back to my face. “Are you… homesick?”

“What makes you ask that?”

“The way you looked when I came in, the fact that you did not hear me when I did, and when I spoke to you first, you again failed to hear me. I had to knock,” he answered, sitting down next to me.

Embarrassed, I sighed. “I am not—This is my home now. This is where I belong. It is… I seem to have done something wrong and everyone here hates me.”

“They cannot possibly hate you. They do not know you,” he corrected, leaning back in his chair and flexing his hand as he did. I was not sure what that habit of his was, but I had noticed him doing more and more since we’d been here. Of course, given how little I knew of him, that meant nothing. “I cannot believe it is anything you did. You and I are new to the area. Perhaps they need time.”

I looked away. He had a point, but then he was not the one being snubbed. My failures reflected on him unfavorably, but that was not the same. “Why are you home early?”

“My project was finished, and I refused to start another today,” he answered, yawning. “I think I shall retire early.”

He rose, and I watched him walk toward the door. I shook my head. Surely we could not continue like this for the rest of our lives. “Mr. Attwater?”

“Merritt.” He did not stop, rather forcing me to follow him. I set the letter aside and rose, making my way to the pocket door before I stopped.

“Are you suggesting that what I ask has to have merit? Why are we discussing merits all of a sudden?”

He laughed as he reached the stairs, looking back at me. “My name is Merritt. You could try using it, Mrs. Attwater.”

Another Bit from a Different Larger Project

Author’s Note: I have two projects at the moment, and I shared part from the other earlier, but I figured once I found a nice bit without much spoilers from this one that I’d share it as well.

I happen to love the exchanges between this character and his daughter, and since I was just caught up in the middle of one, I couldn’t resist sharing.

“Dad, if we tell Mom that I have friends here from out of town and want to stay with you to see them while they’re here, do you think she’ll let me?”

“I thought you were too young for a boyfriend.”

She rolled her eyes, taking hold of his hand and wrapping her fingers around his. He thought she’d gotten past that age, but she’d been clingy ever since he got shot, so that shouldn’t surprise him at all. “It’s not about a boyfriend. It’s about not being with Mom and her husband. Ever. I hate that place, and I hate them. Please? Can we at least ask?”

“And if I say I don’t want to do anything with the people from out of town?”

“We don’t actually have to see them. Mom and him don’t have to know that we didn’t actually spend the time with them.”

“Listen to you, you little liar. What is my daughter becoming?”


He laughed. “You’re terrible, and I shouldn’t be amused by that, but you know… You’re a difficult one to resist, Moonshine. I shudder to think about when you get older. The world is in trouble. It’ll be the end. I swear. It’ll implode or something.”

She glared at him. “Yeah, sure. If the world can survive you, Dad, it can survive me.”

He looked down at her. “You know, if I felt better, I’d have to pick you up and hang you upside down until you begged for mercy for that one. I don’t feel that great, so I suppose when we get home, I’ll have to give you a sock.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You’re using the dirty sock threat too much. It’s losing its ability to scare me like it used to.”

“Remind me to stick my feet on you when we sit on the couch, then.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Deep down, you want to be given a dirty, smelly, old man sock. It’s your secret goal in life, or why would you be such a troublemaker?”

“Because I love you.”

“That logic makes no sense. I’ll blame that on the fact that you’re a girl.”