The snow is coming down here in New England today. They’re calling for 6 to 8″ and I don’t want to go out and remove snow. It’s been a strange autumn so far. Lots of snow and bitter cold are usually January weather, but Mother Nature decided to surprise us this year.
NaNoWriMo is in full swing. I’m about a day and a half behind in word count. I took a weekend off to head back to my old stomping grounds of State College to meet up with very close college friends and go to the football game. PSU won, we shopped and I’m restocked with PSU gear, we ate a lot of good food, and there was a lot of wine consumed. It was a great weekend and worth falling behind in word count.
Chasing Destiny has been out now for two months. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been that long. Feels like forever since it came out.
We’re both hard at work on the next books. Dani is editing a book with a new immortal with guest appearances by Damianos and Akantha. I’m plugging away at a new book with vampires and vampire hunters for NaNo. I’m two days behind in word count, but hope to make those words up this week.
Thanksgiving is two days away and I wanted to say I’m thankful for my co-author Dani, my daughter, my dogs, my friends, and my family.
Dani and I are thankful for READERS! & so are 29 other amazing authors! To show our appreciation, we’re hosting a 30 ebook giveaway from 11/19-11/23. Just click the Rafflecopter link & do as many entries as you want!
I’m offering a sneak peek at a NA book we have completed and we’re waiting to hear back from our publisher. Here’s the first chapter:
Mike leaned against the door frame of the half-bath and crossed his arms over his chest. He watched Abby do her hair before her date with Greg, his closest friend. He’d say best friend if anyone asked. She’d been doing her hair for almost two hours. At least. Okay, maybe not that long, but it sure seemed like it. It took girls forever to get ready and he’d never understand it. He couldn’t recall if his old girlfriend in Colorado had been like his sister. “You know, no matter what you do, you’re not going to look any different.”
“Shut up,” Abby growled.
Abby was pretty, but he’d never admit it to her. Her brown hair was never out of place, not even during cheering, and she didn’t go to extremes with makeup. Her old friends in Colorado bought stock in makeup companies judging by the amount of makeup they wore. Mom had never let Abby go out of the house with more makeup on than a clown. The thought of his mom reopened the deep wound caused by her death. Each thought was like ripping the wound wide open again. Mike pushed back the grief threatening to drown him. He took a deep breath and focused on tormenting his sister.
“I could cut some holes in a paper bag for you to wear. It’d be an improvement.”
The hairbrush became a missile aimed directly at him. Mike ducked and it sailed over his head, slamming into the wall behind him. He laughed. Irritating his twin was one of his favorite things in the universe outside of food. He hadn’t done much of it lately, not since their parents died three months ago, but Abby had been given enough of a reprieve. He was worried about her. In their old school she had been one of the most popular girls in school and on the cheer squad, but now she didn’t seem concerned about either one of those things. The person in front of him was almost a stranger who looked like his twin.
“You’re such a jerk.”
“At least I’m not ugly enough to scare a troll,” Mike countered.
“Good thing for me trolls aren’t real,” she said. She smirked at him and picked up the hairspray.
“You don’t know if they’re real or not. Don’t you have your own bathroom out in the carriage house? Why are you hogging this one?” he asked.
“You’re an idiot. I left my keys in here. I had to come in and get them and the wind messed my hair up.”
It was a legitimate reason, but he wasn’t going to give her a break from teasing and torment. Life had to go back to some resemblance of normal for both of them. It’d never be the normal they knew in Colorado, but a new normal. Mike had yet to figure out what that new normal for him was and he was certain Abby was in the same boat. “That was almost two hours ago. I have to use the toilet, so scram so I can go.”
“It wasn’t two hours and you can hold it. Or better yet, go upstairs and use that bathroom. There’s three bathrooms in this house. You can use one of the other two.”
He wasn’t going to let his sister have things her own way. People walked on eggshells around her so she wouldn’t be angry and it was time to remind her that she wasn’t the only person in the world. Mike got it. She was still grieving the death of their parents, he was too, but she didn’t have to take it out on people just trying to help her. The only person she didn’t snap at was Carrie, her closest friend. “I’m not going up there when there’s a perfectly good bathroom on this floor.” Mike shrugged. “Have it your way. I’ll just pee on you.”
Her eyes widened and she hurried past him. Mike laughed, unfolded his arms, and entered, closing the door behind him. He didn’t have to go, he just wanted to get his sister out of the bathroom. It was petty, but she deserved it. It never hurt to take his twin down a peg or two. He flushed the toilet for good measure and washed his hands for dinner.
He entered the spacious kitchen a few moments later to find Abby filling a sports bottle with water from the dispenser in the fridge. Despite the house being over a century old, the inside had been renovated recently and the kitchen sported all stainless steel appliances. The walls were white, and a white tile backsplash filled in the space between the counter and upper cabinets. An island with a sink and an eating bar sat in the middle and the dark granite counters were spotless. A table and four chairs sat in the breakfast nook surrounded by windows. The kitchen was full of light and radiated warmth and welcome. It reminded him of the kitchen in his old house in Colorado.
The rest of the house was immaculate, not one thing out of place, except for his room and gaming room.
Thankfully Alex, their honorary aunt, didn’t go up to the third floor and see the mess. His first impression of the house had been cold, almost unwelcoming. To Mike it seemed more like a museum than a home with all of the old and very fragile looking items. He lived in constant fear he’d break something that cost a small fortune. Surely Alex had to have inherited the house and everything in it. It was as if an old person decorated it, not someone Alex’s age.
Alex placed a small stack of plates and a bowl on the table. Munchkin, the largest and furriest dog he had ever seen, snored loudly under the table. There was hardly enough room for the chair legs. “Dinner will be ready in a few moments,” Alex announced as she moved a towel covered bowl from atop the plates to the table. Steam wafted from the folds. She set plates in front of three of the four chairs.
Mike inhaled. His mouth watered at the aroma of fresh bread. “Good. I’m starving.”
“There’s a surprise.” Abby rolled her eyes.
“Will you be joining us for dinner?” Alex asked Abby as she walked toward the stove.
Mike noticed that as usual there were three place settings on the table. Abby usually grabbed food and took it with her to the apartment, but Alex always set a place for her. He could count on one hand the number of times she had eaten with them since they moved in back in March, three months ago. The savory smells caused his stomach to rumble. Alex was an excellent cook, even better than his mom had been, and he looked forward to each meal. Nothing beat fresh food, a lot of it grown in the greenhouses on the property, and freshly baked bread. Mike appreciated good food. A lot.
“No. I’m going out,” Abby answered.
Alex looked at Abby. “Where are you going?”
“Out,” she answered with a growl.
Mike watched the exchange. Abby hadn’t been the nicest of people since moving in. She snapped at people on occasion and did a hermit impression by staying in her apartment most of the time. The only time she left was to go to school, work in the shop, or hang out with Carrie. Alex took it all in stride and not once had gotten upset or angry. She didn’t blink when Abby said she was going to live in the apartment above the store instead of the main house.
“With whom?” Alex asked.
“Which Greg is this? There are a few Gregs in the school.”
Abby didn’t answer.
“When will you be back? It is a school night,” Alex asked.
“Later. I know it’s a school night. I didn’t realize that I’d get interrogated when I wanted to do something. I’m an adult and you’re not my mother.”
“It’s not an interrogation,” Mike said. One day Alex wouldn’t just take things in stride and her patience with Abby would be at an end. He wanted to be there when it happened and have the popcorn ready.
“You’ve only been an adult for all of a month and Alex isn’t trying to take the place of Mom.”
“Stop sucking up,” Abby snapped.
“I see,” Alex said. “I will put a plate of food in the fridge for later if you’re hungry when you get home.”
His sister got off easy as always. “It’s not sucking up. It’s called being nice and answering a question when someone asks you something.”
Abby’s phone beeped and she glanced at it. She headed for the front door without so much as a word or a look back. The door slammed shut and he turned to Alex standing at the stove. He sighed. “She’s a good person. I’m sorry she treats you like this. It’s been three months, she shouldn’t still be angry about having to move here.”
“I know she’s a good person and you don’t need to apologize. You lost your parents and had to move on short notice. It’s a lot to deal with,” Alex said.
“She’s not normally like this.” They moved across the country from Colorado to Maine a month before they turned eighteen. The will designated Alex as their legal guardian if their parents died while Abby and Mike were still minors. If they had died two months later, Mike and Abby would be on their own. Mike, for one, was glad they moved and had Alex in their lives.
“I know, Mike. I wish you and Abby had your parents back, but you need to know that I will do my best to take care of you as they would.”
“I know.” He cleared his throat of the sudden lump “What’s for dinner? Is it ready? I’m starving.”
Alex turned back to the six burner gas stove. “Lamb. I forgot what teenage boys are like, eating everything and anything in sight.”
Lamb frequented their dinner plates here as often as chicken had been on their dinner plates back home. He hardly ate lamb until he moved here. “Do you have a brother?” he asked.
She didn’t look old enough to have kids. Despite living with Alex for a few months, he still knew little about her. The few things he did know were pretty normal. She drank a lot of tea and coffee, and her dog was the biggest he’d ever seen. He glanced over at Munchkin still snoring loud enough to wake the dead.
The weirdest part to Mike was that she didn’t watch television. At all. At first he thought she didn’t have one, but he learned the one television in the house was hidden in a cabinet in the living room. It had to be the tiniest television he had ever seen, the type people used in kitchens attached to the cabinets. As far as he could tell, Alex hadn’t watched it even for a minute since he and Abby arrived. Thankfully she bought him one for his game room.
He knew she had been a good friend of his parents, but he couldn’t remember meeting her before she showed up right before the funeral. The woman was a mystery and somehow he’d learn more about her. Abby, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care or make an effort to get to know the woman.
“Yes, but I didn’t live with him when he reached his teens.”
“Are you older?”
“I was a few years older,” she said. “Two or three I think.”
“Why didn’t you live with him when you were both teenagers? Did your parents divorce?” In some corner of his mind he realized he was asking personal questions, but he wanted to know more about her. Curiosity was something the twins had in common.
“I lost my parents when I was six,” Alex explained.
Only a few months passed since their deaths and the hurt inside hadn’t diminished. He wondered if it would ever lessen. How would it be in a few years? “What happened to you when your parents died? Did you live with relatives?”
She didn’t answer right away. She turned away from the stove and looked at him. Her mouth was twisted up and her forehead wrinkled, dark brows coming together. “I guess you could say I was raised by a religious order that took care of orphaned children. They did their best.”
“What happened to your brother? Did you have any other brothers or sisters?” His brain was telling him to stop, but his mouth wouldn’t listen.
“I was one of four children and I don’t know what happened to the others after I went to the orphanage. They went elsewhere.”
“I’m sorry.” It made him realize how lucky Abby and he were. They could have ended up in a group home for a few months until they turned eighteen if their parents had not made arrangements for Alex to take them. Both sets of grandparents had died and both of their parents were only children. Their situation could have been a lot different and a lot worse. Grateful didn’t even begin how to describe how he felt about the woman. He cleared his throat against the small lump that refused to go away and blinked back the sudden excess moisture in his eyes. “Did you ever try to find them? Social media is really good at helping people find long-lost relatives.” Was Alex even on social media? She didn’t seem like the type to use Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
“It’s okay, Mike,” Alex said. “It was a long time ago. I hardly remember who I am sometimes and I was too young to remember anything about them. I only wanted you to know that I understand what you and Abby are going through.” She turned from him and opened the oven, sliding the pan out. She set the pan on the counter next to the stove and closed the oven door.
“It means a lot, Alex. Abs and I appreciate what you’re doing for us, even if she doesn’t show it.” He walked over and opened the drawer with the flatware in it. He removed two sets of knives and forks.
“I’ll talk to her,” he said, returning to the table and placing the flatware next to the plates.
“It’s okay, Mike. She’ll come around in her own time. Everyone grieves in a different way and the healing process can take some time. You can’t expect someone to move on someone else’s timetable.” She carried the pan full of roasted vegetables and lamb to the table.
Despite what Alex said, he was going to have a talk with Abby. She could grieve all she wanted, but she couldn’t continue to be the Queen Bitch of the Universe. He didn’t snap and growl answers or shut himself away despite going through the same thing. Alex hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Mike inhaled deeply as she passed in front of him with the pan. His stomach rumbled again. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Can you take my book into my office and put it on my desk, please?”
“Sure,” he said and grabbed the old, worn, leather-bound book from the table. He opened it up and turned it sideways and then straightened it. “What are you reading? What language is this in?” he asked. His mediocre grades reflected his relationship with books.
“It’s in Greek. Herotodus’ Histories,” Alex replied. “I’m on the part about Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae.”
“I loved that movie! This is SPARTA!” His loud voice startled Munchkin into opening his eyes, and Mike would swear the dog looked annoyed. He offered the dog an apologetic look now and would pass some chunks of lamb under the table during dinner to make up for it.
“What movie?” Alex asked.
Mike blinked. Who hadn’t seen 300? Alex was so weird. All the movie references he made, as well as every popular culture reference, went over her head. She only used her laptop for work-related things and was one of the few people he knew who still read the newspaper. She usually had a book open nearby and he had never met another person who read so much.
“300 of course. It was great. You’d like it. It’s all history.”
Alex shook her head. “I doubt it. Hollywood’s version of history varies greatly from what actually happened. While Leonidas did have three hundred Spartans there, there were over six thousand other Greek soldiers there.”
“Oh. I wonder why they left that out of the movie.”
“Probably to make it more dramatic,” Alex answered with a shrug as she walked over to the sink. She removed two glasses from a nearby cabinet. “Maybe during the summer we’ll take a trip to Greece and you can see where the real events took place.” She took the glasses and filled them from the dispenser on the fridge.
Mike perked up. A trip anywhere sounded awesome. “Really?”
Alex nodded. “Yes. You and Abby haven’t done much international traveling and I think it’s time you broaden your horizons a bit. Greece is a good place to start.”
“That’d be awesome. We’ve never been out of the country. Speaking of going somewhere, you don’t have to sit home with us every night. Abby and I can see to ourselves if you want to, you know, go out and see … people.” Men or women, he hadn’t heard Alex mention a significant other or that she was seeing anyone. Surely she had to be dating someone. He’d never admit it out loud, but Alex was kind of hot. Even the guys at school thought so.
Alex’s gray eyes were hard and her jaw was set as she slid into her chair. He squirmed a little under the penetrating look. “I’m not seeing anyone. I know that if I were, you and Abby are old enough to be left alone for an evening. In earlier times, the two of you would have been considered adults a few years ago and probably would have been married and have families by now.”
“Yeah, I’m glad I didn’t live back then. I’m not getting married or having a family for a long time.” He offered her a weak smile. “I’d have to give up my games.”
“Marriage isn’t for everyone. Life has a way of providing the unexpected and not going according to plan.”
“Yeah, I know.” There was no way he planned on what happened to his parents. Now he had to figure out where his life was going after the sudden turn. It may take him longer than Abby, but he’d eventually figure it out. Right now he had to focus on getting through high school. Books and homework weren’t at the top of his list of favorite things.
“It’s okay, Alex,” he assured her. “I’ll be right back.” He left the kitchen to take the book to the office, glad for the brief break from the conversation. Families and marriage were things he had no intention of thinking about until he was older. Much older. Like when he was thirty.
Mike returned to the dining area and took a seat in his usual chair. Eating meals with Alex was the closest thing that came to normal as Mike had known it and he liked normal. He immediately helped himself to the roasted lamb and vegetables. Alex helped herself to food. Eating didn’t encourage talking and Mike was glad for the relative silence. He slipped pieces of lamb under the table to Munchkin when Alex wasn’t looking. At least, he didn’t think she saw him, but Munchkin himself was a big clue. The dog’s big head rested on Mike’s knee.
Mike finished off two plates of food in the time it took Alex to eat one. As usual. Good food didn’t last long around him. “It was really good.” He leaned back in his chair.
“Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Alex sat with her arms leaning on the table and her hands folded.
“How about I clean up the kitchen and you can go relax?” he suggested.
“No dessert?” Alex asked.
“There’s dessert?” he asked.
Alex laughed. “You sound surprised. There’s always dessert.”
The sound of her laugh surprised him. He couldn’t recall hearing Alex laugh since they moved in. Then again, the three of them didn’t have much to laugh at lately. “I might have skipped that last piece of bread if I’d known there was dessert.”
“You can eat it later. It’s in the pie safe.”
“You have a safe for pies?” Mike asked with a tilt to his head. Alex paused before she spoke again. Mike knew he tried her patience at times, but seriously, a safe for pies? She didn’t have to lock it up. He would have left it alone if she told him it was for dinner. There was always other goodies to eat. He kept a stash of junk food in his room.
“A pie safe is a cabinet that was used to hold baked items and other foodstuffs. Mine is over there.” She nodded toward a standalone cabinet in the corner.
“Oh. That’s where I find the bread but I didn’t know it had anything else in it.” He eyed the wood cabinet. There were extra dishes and linens in it, too. The wood was mellowed with age and glowed with regular polishing. Now that he knew pies were kept in there, he’d make it a point to look behind the bread on a regular basis.
“They aren’t used anymore, but that one came with the house.”
“Yeah, this is a really big house for one person.”
“How lucky am I that I have two eighteen-year-olds to make it noisy and take up space,” she said, taking a sip of her water.
His cheeks grew warm, but not much. With Abby in the carriage house apartment, he knew Alex was talking about him. He made a lot of noise with his video games and stereo and he wasn’t exactly the neatest person to begin with. She didn’t sound angry and he thought this might just be the first time Alex poked a little fun at him. He couldn’t be sure, he hadn’t detected much of a sense of humor so far, but maybe it was coming out now.
“Sorry, I’ll try harder.”
“I’m teasing. You don’t make any more noise than Munchkin does when he’s snoring. Well, if you’re going to clean the kitchen and feed Munchkin the leftovers, I’m going to work on the account books in the office.”
Mike smiled at the teasing. It felt almost normal and any sense of normal was a good thing. “Not all leftovers. I’ll need a snack later.” He grinned at her when she shook her head in resigned amusement. She left with her glass of water. Munchkin did not follow her as he usually did. The dog knew Mike was soft-hearted and ready to spoil him with table scraps.
Mike didn’t disappoint the dog. He scraped food left on the plates onto one and added in bits of lamb and chunks of vegetables from the pan. He put the plate on the floor and was brushed out of the way when Munchkin moved for it. Between him and Munchkin, leftovers never lasted long.
When he and Abby moved in, he was overjoyed to see a dog in residence. He had always wanted a dog, maybe not one as big as Munchkin. Caucasian Shepherds were huge. If Munchkin stood on his hind paws and put his fronts paws on Mike’s shoulders, the dog was as tall as he was. Munchkin didn’t play fetch and he didn’t obey Mike’s commands, which were more suggestions. The only person Munchkin obeyed was Alex and he did everything she told him to do. Still, Mike enjoyed having the dog around, even if it meant getting pushed out of his bed every so often. The dog was undemanding company and the silent listener that Mike sometimes needed when he thought too much about his parents.
He turned on some music on his phone to listen to while he started the soapy water in the sink. Most everything would go in the dishwasher, but he knew Alex hand-washed the cooking pots and pans. They were big and took up too much space in the dishwasher. He placed the leftovers in the refrigerator where they would be found later for a snack before bed.
Once the kitchen was cleaned up, and Munchkin had long deserted him when his plate was empty, Mike got the pie out of the pie safe. He searched the cabinet just to take stock of what was in it. Right now it was just two pies, one apple and one cherry, behind a loaf of Alex’s homemade bread. Mental note for later, make a lamb sandwich.
He finished eating a slice of each kind of pie when Alex entered the kitchen.
“Grab your jacket. Abby’s in the hospital. There’s been some sort of attack.”