Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Dark Pool by Jen Black ~ Excerpt

Sorchand leaned forward and prodded the roasting bird just as a spear shot by his shoulder and thudded into the soft earthen floor beyond. Outside, the horses jostled and snorted. The rickety plank door burst open on a rush of big, burly men and the owner of the spear vaulted through the window after it. Someone swung an axe at Sorchand's head.

Eba sucked in air, choked and scrabbled backwards away from the bearded, bright-eyed giant who stepped across the fire, clapped a large hand across her face and dragged her into his embrace. There was a brief scuffle, full of thuds and gasps. Comgell reeled away from a blow, collided with the wall and slid to the ground. Sorchand stumbled and fell backwards, arms out flung.

The man holding Eba tossed her in a corner. Fear gathered thick in her throat, she crouched motionless and watched one of the men seize the carcass from the spit and divide it amongst his cronies. She heard her own uneven, shallow gasps, clamped her mouth shut and peered at the two youths flat and silent on the dark earthen floor. The flames flickered on Sorchand's red curls and closed eyes, but someone's boots blocked her sight of Comgell's face.

In a very short time the attackers threw down the bones, licked greasy hands and looked at her over in the same way she had seen her brother assess cattle. Big, and armed with long daggers and swords, they spoke in a language she could not understand.
She pressed back into the cold stone, her heartbeat thudding in her throat. One man stooped to grasp her arm. He dragged her to the door. Once in the open, he slung her across his shoulder and set off downhill.

She hadn't enough breath to scream, even if there had been anyone to hear, and his grasp of her thighs was too tight for her to wriggle free. She bounced horribly on his shoulder as he hurtled down a steep and stony path, and fought to brace her palms against his spine. She couldn't think beyond gritting her teeth to stop them banging together, caught only a glimpse of Comgell and Sorchand, both belly down across horses. Her pony trotted free, anxious not to be left behind.

The forest thinned out, sand appeared through the grass and she could smell the damp, salty tang of the sea. Fine sand stung her face as he ploughed through sand dunes. Eba shut her eyes, heard the harshness of his breathing and then the echo like a muffled drum as he reached flat, damp sand. At last he halted, hauled her off his shoulder and dropped her at his feet.

She landed with a thump in wet sand, the flat calm sea before her and a dark, threatening shape to her right. Bruised and breathless, Eba looked beyond her captor and let out a squawk of fright. In the cool milky light of morning the graceful bulk of a Viking longship reared above her head.

An excerpt from Dark Pool by Jen Black,
available here at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Lion's Embrace by Marie Laval

This is an excerpt from Chapter 1

Algiers, April 1845

 Fissa, fissa,” Harriet urged as she followed the boy down the narrow alleyways leading to the harbour. It wasn’t dark yet but already a full moon lit the Algiers sky, shimmered on the surface of the sea, and steeped the walls of the old town in its silver light.

          Drunken, rowdy sailors and soldiers on leave crowded the streets. Men lurked in shadowy doorways. She had been in too much of a rush getting out of Lord Callaghan’s palace to be scared earlier, but now anxiety knotted her stomach and tightened her throat. She gripped the dagger at her side. Coming here on her own might not be such a good idea after all, but Lucas Saintclair was at the Seventh Star and she desperately needed to talk to him. He was the best guide in the whole of the Barbary States, the only man who could help her.

          At least nobody gave her a second glance. With her indigo blue tunic and trousers and the turban she had bought at the souk, she looked like a Tuareg fighter —albeit a diminutive one.

          In front of her a man relieved himself against a wall and stumbled into a pile of rotten rubbish, his breeches still open. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and stepped over him.

          The boy pointed to a blue door above which a crudely painted golden star dangled precariously. Harriet slipped a silver coin in his hand and was about to push the door open when it flew straight back in her face. A short, stocky man ran out into the street. Wheezing loudly, his eyes bulging with fear, he looked as if the devil himself was on his tail.

          It was.

          A tall, dark-haired man entirely dressed in black strode out of the tavern and bumped into her.

          Rood Bâlek!” he growled, grabbing her arm to push her out of the way.
She tilted her face up to look at him. If there was something of a pirate in his strong, weather-beaten face covered with dark stubble, it was his eyes that sent a shiver down her spine. They were the coldest eyes she had ever seen; icy blue, and so pale they were almost transparent.

          He stared down at her. She held her breath, fearful he had seen through her disguise and would rip her scarf off.

          He shoved her aside, slid his hand in the pocket of his leather waistcoat, and pulled out a dagger with a curved blade. In long, supple strides he caught up with the other man and toppled him onto the ground.

          “Now, Rachid, you snivelling rat,” he said in French as he pressed the tip of his black riding boot onto the other man’s throat. “You have five seconds to tell me where the map is. Un… deux…” He flipped the dagger like a toy between his fingers.

          “Oh, my God,” Harriet breathed out. She glanced around, but nobody was paying the two men the slightest notice. There was no time to think, a man’s life was at stake. With a muffled cry she hurled herself at the tall stranger, jumped on his back, and hooked her arms around his neck.

          He let out a roar of anger and swirled round to shake her off, but she wrapped her legs more tightly around his waist.

          Bon sang! Qu’est-ce que...”

          He dropped the dagger, twisted his body, and managed to grab her waist to slide her to the front so she was now against his chest. Aware she was losing her grip she lunged forward and sank her teeth into his shoulder.

          He growled, held her at arm’s length, and threw her off. She fell on the cobbles. The turban softened the impact to the back of her head, but a vicious pain at the bottom of her spine made her cry out. The man swore in French. Although she only caught a few words, she understood he was angry. Very angry. His victim had escaped.

          She let out a sigh of relief. She had done it. She saved a man’s life. Her joy, however, was short-lived. The Frenchman leaned over, picked her up by the collar of her tunic, and lifted her as if she was no heavier than a bundle of cloth. The savage glint in his eyes dried her throat; her heart hammered against her ribs.

          “Please, don’t hurt me,” she pleaded, breathless.

His eyes opened wide in shock.

          Since when did Tuareg fighters speak fluent English? Come to think of it, since when did they smell of Damascus rose soap?

          He peered more closely at the face in front of him and saw two large, grey eyes bordered with long, dark eyelashes and the tip of a small nose above the dark blue scarf. He recalled the odd sensations when the soft, curvy body had thrust against him earlier. This wasn’t a Tuareg fighter at all, it was a … He ripped the headdress off and a mass of thick, honey blonde hair tumbled out.

          “A woman? I thought as much. Who are you?” he asked in English. “What the hell did you think you were doing just then?” He shook her a little, not to hurt her, but enough to give her a fright.

          The woman didn’t answer.

          “You’re not so bold now, are you?” He narrowed his eyes, smiled his meanest smile, and was satisfied to hear her helpless cry. She had cost him days of patient stakeout. Now, because of her, Rachid was free to sell the map to the highest bidder. And he knew exactly who that would be.

          “Maybe you want to take another bite?” he snarled, pointing to his shoulder.

          “No,” she whispered.

          “Actually, maybe I’ll be the one to take a bite. You look appetizing enough.”

He lifted her closer, until his mouth almost touched hers, and he felt her warm breath on his skin.

          He gazed into her grey eyes and time seemed to stop.

          “Please,” she squeaked.

          He shook his head, dizzy, like someone pulled too abruptly out of a dream.

          “You have some explaining to do, lady,” he said, his voice a little hoarse.

          She was shaking like a leaf now. He let her down, keeping a firm hold on her arm. He didn’t trust her. She might stand in front of him, small and fragile, but he wouldn’t put it past her to run off and disappear into the maze of alleys of the old town.

          She wouldn’t go anywhere before he had answers to his questions.


A curious crowd had gathered around them. The man’s fingers were a steel vice around her arm. Surely he wouldn’t dare hurt her in front of so many witnesses?

          “Get your hands off her!” A man’s voice called.

          Thank God.

          “Archie!” she said, flooded with relief as her oldest, most trusted friend sliced through the crowd toward her.

          The man let go of her. She ran to Archie, welcoming the strong, safe arm he wrapped around her. She saw that he gripped the butt of a pistol under his jacket.

          “Are you hurt? Did he hit you?” His face was flushed, his thick blond
moustache quivered with indignation.

          “I didn’t touch her,” the Frenchman said, calmly. “She’s the one who jumped on me like a banshee, bit me, and set my man free when I finally had him.”

          He clenched his fists.

          “You were going to kill him,” Harriet cried out in protest. “I saw it all!”

          “What I was doing was none of your goddamned business.” He narrowed his cool blue eyes to stare at her. “You don’t seem the type to work for Rachid. Who are you? What do you want?”

          Archie’s arm tensed around her as a warning but she ignored him.

          “I’m looking for Lucas Saintclair,” she said.

          “Whatever for?” He cocked his head to one side.

          “I have a proposal for him.”

          A slow grin spread on his lips.

          “Then it looks like you found him, darling.”

          There was a moment of stunned silence.

          “You are Saintclair?” Harriet and Archie exclaimed in unison.

          He nodded, bent down to pick his dagger, and slid it into his pocket

          “What do you want with me? Apart from spoiling a nice evening, that is.”

The Lion's Embrace blurb:

Arrogant, selfish and dangerous, Lucas Saintclair is everything Harriet Montague dislikes in a man. He is also the best guide in the whole of the Barbary States, the only man who can rescue her archaeologist father from the gang of Tuareg fighters that has kidnapped him. As Harriet embarks on a perilous journey across Algeria with Saintclair and Archibald Drake, her father’s most trusted friend, she discovers a bewitching but brutal land where nothing is what it seems. Who are these men intent on stealing her father’s ransom? What was her father hoping to find in Tuareg queen Tin Hinan’s tomb? Is Lucas Saintclair really as callous as he claims—or is he a man haunted by a past he cannot forgive? Dangerous passions engulf Harriet’s heart in the heat of the Sahara. Secrets of lost treasures, rebel fighters, and a sinister criminal brotherhood threaten her life and the life of the man she loves.

Does forever lie in the lion’s embrace?

The Lion's Embrace is available from MuseitUp Publishing
From Amazon

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Characters who stick - Jen Black and Matho Spirston

When I wanted a foil for Harry Wharton's cheerful charm, I came up with Matho Spirston. His is a peasant against Harry’s gentry background, and he has a dour and very practical common sense approach to life. I think of him as a typical male of the Northumberland region, from his dry, cynical humour and outspokenness to his strong sense of purpose. He’s never been further north than Otterburn, but in my wip he sets off with Harry for Edinburgh because Harry asked him to, and there’s an outside chance he may make some money while he’s at it. 

Almost everything that happens once they set off is a learning curve for Matho. By using deep third point of view, I can filter the events of the day through him, and let readers know how he feels about maybe having to kill someone, if he misses the ritual of mass, or how the Borderers feel about armies tramping through their crops and thieving their cattle and sheep as provisions. Matho’s real adventures begin in a book as yet unpublished, but he first graced the page in Fair Border Bride, initially published as a paperback Till the Day Go Down, which was really Harry and Alina's story. (When the company turned up its toes, I re-edited and self-published the story as Fair Border Bride.)

He was a lowly Guard Captain at Aydon, the home of the Carnaby family and had grown up with Alina, the daughter of the family. When Harry falls foul of Alina Carnaby's father, Matho decides to help Alina save Harry's life. In doing so, he admires Harry's courage and thinks he lacks common sense. Matho is very much the leader when  Alina is kidnapped.

As a character, Matho just grew and grew in my mind, to the point I started writing of his journey. His friendship with Harry led him in directions he would never have expected. The final polishing of his story is nearing an end, and then I'll have to let Matho rest while I try and find an agent and a publisher for him. I have a rough draft of his next adventures, and I think he'll be with me for a long time yet.


Harry gripped the bars of the grill. “I swear,” he said, his voice strong and steady, “that I have done nothing, and will do nothing, that will bring hurt or harm to the people of Aydon.”
Matho shifted, trying to get a good look at Harry. Harry moved further into the shaft of moonlight. He sensed that something good might come of this exchange.
“Aye, well. Tomorrow. There’s nowt as’ll change Carnaby’s mind once it’s made up. He hates the family Scott to the last wee de’il in it, and since ye were daft enough to say ye name was Scott, he’ll have ye tossed off the crag, ne doubt aboot it. But there’s summat…”
“What? What, man?” Hope rose in Harry’s chest like bubbles of air through water. He thumped his chest to be rid of the pressure they caused.
“A wee chance, maybe, if ye’re a lad wi ye wits about ye. The Master hasn’t noticed yet, but a tree came down a day or two back, an’ it lies fair across the gully below the crag. If ye were to hop onto it, like as not ye’d be able to shimmy down and get clean away.”
“How far down is it?”
“Ten feet, maybe.” A grin slid over the solid Northumberland features. “Figurin’s no my strong suit, y’knaw.”
“And below that?”
Matho looked him straight in the eye. “Nowt but the Ay burn.”

Fair Border Bride, available on Kindle.

Posted by Jen Black

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Beneath The Shining Mountains - Linda Acaster

‘Lover? I have no lover! I am chaste. There’s not a man alive who can entice me.’
   Moon Hawk is playing a dangerous game. Her heart is set on Winter Man, but why would a man with so many lovers want to take a wife?
   Challenging his virility captures Winter Man’s attention, but in a village of skin tipis where every word is overheard their escalating game of tease and spar soon spirals beyond control, threatening Moon Hawk and her family with ridicule and shame. Is this Winter Man’s intention? Or are they both dancing to another's tune?
   From buffalo hunting to horse raiding, this is a story of honour among rival warrior societies, and one woman's determination to wed the man of her dreams.

Available as a paperback and ebook.

   Winter Man sat on the damp earth watching his string of horses quietly grazing the remnants of the autumn pasture. He’d gathered his mounts together away from the tipis to decide which and how many he would give to Bear On The Flat, but his mind was reluctant to dwell on the etiquette surrounding the exchange of bridal gifts. He’d lain awake most of the night thinking of Moon Hawk, arousing himself with memories of the way she’d responded to his kisses, dreaming of future nights when they’d be together.
   The tingling anticipation of lying with a willing woman was nothing new to him, but he couldn’t recall when it had been so fierce, or had lasted so long. Making love was an enjoyable pastime, but so were racing horses and wagering on dice. Each excited his spirit in its own way, but only for a short time. What Moon Hawk had fired in him was possessing his senses to the exclusion of all else. 
   He hadn’t given thought to it earlier, but every one of his numerous lovers had known a man before they had lain with him. He’d accepted it without concern; after all, it meant he could enjoy without having to teach. Yet, holding Moon Hawk in his arms had shown him how wrong he’d been. Innocent of the pleasures she could offer or thrill to, her sexuality stretched before him as pure and unsullied as a fresh fall of snow. What power lay in his hands. To watch her grow from a dormant seed into a woman alive with the knowledge of her own sensuality . . . What a source of fascination. And he could have lost her, acting like a fool because of his wounded pride.
   He resented the way Bear On The Flat had manipulated him, it was true. On occasions he resented Moon Hawk, too, for being so sure of gaining him, but he regretted, now, his decision to stand before Bear On The Flat’s lodge in the poorest clothes he could find. He felt ashamed of the aggressive sense of elation he’d experienced when he’d seen the disappointment on Moon Hawk’s face. The rest of the marriage ritual — the offering of horses and gifts to her father and brothers — he’d fulfil with such flair that the people would talk of it for years. He’d make Moon Hawk’s face light again.
   ‘You are deep in thought. Have you decided how many horses you are going to offer for her?’
   Winter Man raised his gaze and smiled at Hillside. ‘Not yet. How many do you suggest?’
   Hillside shrugged and crouched opposite him, pulling idly at a tuft of grass. He looked wary, Winter Man thought, and then he remembered how abrupt he’d been after the hunt, when Hillside had welcomed him as one returned from the dead. He regretted that, too. It seemed that there were a great many things to regret. Since the beginning of the summer the normal stability of his life had been turned upside-down. It was almost as if First Maker had tied his spirit to an unbroken stallion and whipped the animal into flight. Either that or Trickster had got its teeth into him.
   ‘You seem very certain that Bear On The Flat will accept horses from you.’
   Winter Man had confided to no one his and Bear On The Flat’s conversation when they’d lain injured in the wash; he wasn’t going to start now. ‘We’ve settled our differences.’
   ‘What about his sons? Will you be offering horses to them, too?’
   ‘It will be expected that I should.’
   Hillside raised his eyebrows. ‘Are you ready to receive them back with their legs slashed?’
   Winter Man frowned. The thought had crossed his mind. Antelope Dancer was a Fox, like himself. At the last society meeting he had simply stood and walked away when Winter Man had approached. His younger brother, the hot-headed Runs His Horse, belonged to the Lumpwoods, and Winter Man had heard from his own relatives that the young man was losing no opportunity to denounce him. Slashing the legs of offered bridal horses was something he might not wish to pass by.
   ‘I think I’ll give them all to Bear On The Flat, saying that they are for him and his family, and let him sort it out.’
   ‘You’ll have to judge the number you offer him. If his sons refuse to help him collect reciprocal gifts for your family, you may unwittingly insult him by giving more wealth than he can return. Remember, his wife is a captured woman. She has no relatives of her own to turn to.’
   Winter Man rubbed a hand down his face and shook his head. ‘It would have been so much easier if Moon Hawk had just eloped with me!’

Beneath The Shining Mountains is available as an ebook & paperback from:
Amazon USA ¦ Amazon UK ¦ Barnes & Noble ¦ Apple ¦ Kobo ¦
all e-formats Smashwords

Linda Acaster is a writer of historical and paranormal romance, and a guide to writing short fiction. Catch her at: Website ¦ Facebook ¦ Twitter

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Peter Alan Orchard: 'The Painter of Lemnos'

Time for another excerpt from my take on an episode from the Bronze Age. The painter Kindulos, blasted out of a quiet life on a Greek island painting mythical and rural scenes on rich men's walls by being selected as a human sacrifice, breaks with age-old tradition by running away:


It was not Kindulos's duty to escape. No-one ever escaped. It was the duty of the chosen one to be caught running to the mountain, to be bound and carried back to the village, borne high like the hunted animal he was. The last sound in his ears would be the keening of his mother, his last sight the painted face of a grinning village woman, priestess for the day, driving a spear into his throat. Then the smith-god would surely be content and the dreadful roaring and bucking of the island would stop, but the victim would know only the darkness and the fluttering unseen wings of dead souls.
Save me!
Panicked, Kindulos began to run again, behind the hill and into a gully sheltered by shrubs and the roots of acacia and tamarisk. He fell, his thin chest heaving, and lay waiting for the women. Voices pierced the air beyond him, the terrifying ululation of women preparing to shed blood - his blood. Kindulos clasped his arms around his head and shook with horror.
The screaming rose and fell away. There was a querulous tone now, the uncertain, indignant sound of hounds that have lost the scent. The women were further away, down the hill. Kindulos lay still, as a snake does when a hawk is hovering, and wondered, Am I the first to escape the women? And if I do, what of the mountain?
The cries of the women floated up the hill again, insistent, desperate, but far away, the crying of seabirds over a fishing boat. The earth settled and lay calm.
Kindulos lay in the gully until the sun died over the sea, and thought, What now?

He woke with a cry, itching from insect bites and ashamed to have slept. It was dark still, but lightening faintly into a grey dawn. Dew hung in the air, chill and sweet, scented with herbs. Slowly, afraid, Kindulos peered over the scrub and saw only the fingertips of moonlight on the sea, felt only the breeze on his face.
Hanging from his narrow waist, a leather belt carried his brushes and sponge in a leather bag, with powdered rocks and bones for pigment. A jar stoppered with a rag held his precious blue, a blend bought from an Egyptian trader.
'I'm alive,' Kindulos told himself with wonder. 'The island is resting again, all of itself. No need for death.' He patted himself down. 'I must work. I have a painting to finish.'
He set off down the hill until he reached a track beaten by goats driven to pasture. As he crossed it he heard the scuffle of hurrying feet. He froze and waited. The women were long gone, but what was this? A ghost? A god?
Out of the grey sky a small figure formed and hurried towards him. Kindulos breathed out deeply, relieved. It was a boy, the son of the trader whose wall he was painting, searching for him in the night.
'I'm safe,' Kindulos said, smiling into the darkness. 'I can start again.'
Paos waved Kindulos away, his thin arms whirling. 'No, Kindulos, you cannot! You must not!'
'But my family - '
'Your family must never find you. Never come back here. Go!'

Unfortunately, the only way of escaping the island is on a merchant ship carrying supplies for the Trojan War...

'The Painter of Lemnos' is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and NobleSmashwords and all the usual outlets.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Guest post: Alice Duncan



Award-winning author Alice Duncan lives with a herd of wild dachshunds (enriched from time to time with fosterees from New Mexico Dachshund Rescue) in Roswell, New Mexico. She’s not a UFO enthusiast; she’s in Roswell because her mother’s family settled there fifty years before the aliens crashed (and living in Roswell, NM, is cheaper than living in Pasadena, CA, unfortunately). Alice would love to hear from you at . And be sure to visit her Web site at and her Facebook page at

Book #1 in my Daisy Gumm Majesty series
Original paperback cover
Welcome to sunny Pasadena, California, just a stone’s throw from Hollywood. The twenties are in full roar, Prohibition isn’t stopping anybody . . . And Daisy Gumm Majesty is getting by the best way she knows how–catering to the rich and famous as a medium who put the “con” in conjuror . . .

Excerpt 1:

It all started with my aunt Viola's Ouija Board. It was an old one, and sort of shabby. I guess Mrs. Kincaid had been using it ever since she bought it in '03 when they first came out, but she claimed it still worked.
Whether it worked or not, Mrs. Kincaid gave it to Aunt Vi after her own custom-made one with a large emerald in the center arrived from overseas. Mrs. Kincaid declared it had been made by a Gypsy woman in Rumania but I had my doubts then, and I have my doubts now. After all, Mrs. Kincaid was rich, and we all know how gullible some rich people are. I suppose I should amend that to read that I know how gullible some rich people are. Lord knows, I've had plenty of experience in gulling them.
On the other hand, my aunt Viola Gumm, like the rest of my Gumm kin, wasn't at all gullible. Or rich. In fact, Aunt Vi worked as a cook at Mrs. Kincaid's mansion on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena, which is how she came to be involved with the Ouija Board to begin with.
Aunt Vi claimed to be a little scared of the thing, but I think she was only teasing. Everybody knew Ouija Boards were just pieces of wood some smart guy painted and patented to swindle people with money out of it—money, that is to say. You didn't have to look any farther than Mrs. Kincaid if you doubted it.
So that's what started it. What kept it going was Aunt Vi taking the thing out on Christmas Eve to show the relations. Everybody laughed at it, but nobody wanted to touch it. I thought that was strange, since if Ouija Boards weren't truly conduits to a Great Beyond somewhere past death, what harm were they?
I decided to take a crack at it. Why not? I had no morals to speak of, being only ten years old at the time. Back then my main concern was in not making the adults in my life so mad they'd spank me. Since they seemed crazy for this silly board, I decided to have some fun on my own.
You could have heard a pin drop when I sat down across from my cousin Eula and we settled our fingers lightly on a triangular shaped piece of wood Aunt Vi told me was a planchette which, I assumed, was a French word for a triangular piece of wood. Eula, who was sixteen and showing it in every detail, wanted to know if there would be any beaux in her future. I didn't much like Eula, since she wouldn't let me beautify myself with her new eyelash curler, so I made the planchette tell her she'd have three boyfriends, turn Catholic, and enter a nunnery.
Needless to say, my spelling wasn't great, but I invented a spirit control named Rolly, who'd lived in 1055, and who'd never been to school. Therefore, since nobody expected Rolly to spell well, it worked out all right.
I was quite proud of Rolly. I'd listened hard when Aunt Vi explained the Ouija Board to Ma. She'd said that people conjured up some sort of spirit control from the Other Side, whatever that was, with which they communicated through the Ouija Board. That's how I came up with Rolly when I felt a need to explain my rotten spelling. Nobody else in the family could spell worth beans anyhow, so I probably could have dispensed with the control altogether, but Rolly added a touch of panache to an otherwise childish exercise.
To my utter astonishment and her absolute horror, Eula believed me. Everyone joined in communicating with the Ouija Board and Rolly through me after that, except Uncle Ernie, who'd already drunk most of the punch and had taken to snoring in his big easy chair. Uncle Ernie, Aunt Vi's husband and my father's younger brother, snored through most of our family get-togethers.

Excerpt #2

Every time I thought about doing a séance, I had to fight hysteria. For some reason I envisioned those poor dead people rising from their graves, still swaddled in their burial finery, dripping dirt, and looking skeletal, except for who were still in the process of rotting. Especially when it came to the soldiers who'd lost their lives overseas, the visions were hideous and bloody and made me feel sick to my stomach. They were unpleasant mental images, but I couldn't help it that they invaded my mind's eye any more than I could help Billy.
"I don't know why you can't get a normal job." Billy let go of my hand and hunched in his wheelchair. He could walk a few steps at a time, but his lungs were so bad from the mustard gas, and his legs were so badly damaged from grapeshot, that he couldn't walk like he used to walk: forever and ever without even thinking about it. Or run. When we were kids, we used to run everywhere. He'd pretend to find me annoying because I liked to follow him around, but I didn't believe him then. I believed him now. Nevertheless, his tone of voice riled me. Still, I tried to keep my anger from showing.
"A normal job wouldn't pay as well as this one." I'd pointed out this trenchant fact before, but Billy didn't buy it. Or maybe he did and just didn't want to admit it. Sometimes I felt as if I didn't know anything for certain any longer.
"Money's not the only thing that's important in this world, you know," Billy said in the strange, querulous voice that seemed to belong to someone other than the Billy Majesty I'd known all my life.
"Maybe not, but money keeps food on the table and clothes on our backs." Every now and then, when I remembered how his rich laugh and deep baritone voice used to thrill me when I was a starry-eyed bride, I wanted to cry. At the moment, I wanted to shove his wheelchair down the front porch steps and save us both more pain and grief.
"It's sinful, what you do."
"What?" It was too much. I snatched up my handbag and whirled around, my fists planted on my hips, and glared down at my poor, destroyed husband. "What I do is not sinful, Billy Majesty. What I do is called work. I can't help it if you don't like it. It's all I know how to do, and it pays a lot of money." I hated that I had to pass the back of my hand under my eyes to catch tears. "Besides, it helps people, whether you want to believe it or not."
"Hunh. You're only fooling yourself, Daisy. It's wicked."
"It's not wicked! What I do gives comfort to bereaved people." That there wasn't a darned thing I could do to comfort Billy was a fact that seemed to shimmer in the air between us. I wanted to stamp my foot and scream.
His bitter expression didn't alter appreciably, even in the face of my fury and well-reasoned arguments. He ignored my impassioned speech. Sometimes I thought he ignored all of my impassioned speeches because he knew it was the best way to hurt my feelings. I knew I was being unfair to both of us.
"Who's going to be there?"
I turned around, slammed my handbag on the dresser since I hadn't meant to pick it up in the first place—these arguments always rattled me—and picked up my elegant black cloche. I tried to keep my hands from shaking as I settled the hat over my knot-in-a-pouf hair-do. The style was a little old-fashioned, but I was afraid I'd look like Irene Castle if I got my hair bobbed. I'd have liked to get a bob. It would have been so free and easy and simple, especially since my hair was thick would have taken to the "do" with relative simplicity. But then, nothing in my whole life was free and easy any longer.
As you can probably tell, every once in a while I'd get to feeling sorry for myself no matter how much I tried not to.
"How should I know who's going to be there? I'll probably see Edie." Edwina "Edie" Marsh was one of my friends from high school. She worked as a housemaid for the Kincaids, and we always had a good time trading gossip when I conducted séances the mansion. "And I'm sure there will be some of Mrs. Kincaid's rich friends there. Oh, and her sister, Mrs. Lilley, I guess, since it's her son we're trying to reach."
"That's horrible," Billy said in a low voice.
It was, kind of. I'd never say so. "Maybe, but it pays the milk man and the grocer."
Without another word, Billy pushed his chair around and rolled out of the room. I turned and watched him go, my heart aching. Thanks to my work, we'd managed to get him one of those newfangled chairs with wheels big enough so that Billy could maneuver himself around without help. That was some kind of blessing, I guess, because he felt helpless enough without having to have an attendant push him every time he wanted to, say, go to the kitchen or, worse, the bathroom.
Not for the first time, I was glad America had climbed aboard the water wagon. I could envision poor Billy, bitter and incurable, turning to the bottle for escape. Life was hard enough for us already. We didn't need the Demon Rum living with us, too. I worried a little about the morphine the doctor prescribed for him, but without the drug his pain was too great to bear. In other words, there wasn't any happy solution to the Billy problem.
Audiobook cover

The books in this series are soon to be given new covers and will be re-released by ePublishing Works. The first two books, Strong Spirits and Fine Spirits will also be available in print form as print-on-demand books. More information to follow when I know what the heck is going on.

All the Daisy books are available on Kindle. The seventh in the series, Spirits Revived, will be published in March of 2014 by Five Star/Cengage Publishing. l-text&qid=1268442707&sr=8-1-catcorr