For any writers out there, or readers, or anyone in general really, I can tell you this. Don't break your leg, like I did, on June 17. It slows down EVERYTHING in your life. I was dumb enough (let me rephrase that, impatient, as always), and stood on my beloved rocking chair (which has held me for 40+ years) to reach a high shelf. The rocking chair is fine. It's solid, but I put a fancy, new pillow on it that doesn't tie--not my smartest move, And when I stood on it, the pillow slid right out from under me. Lots of pain followed, and a broken tibia. My bones felt jiggly. Never good. Foolishly, I thought that since I couldn't get around and go anywhere, I'd write like a mad woman. Not so. If you sit in a wheel chair to write and bend your knee, it goes stiff. If you use a laptop and keep your leg straight while you write, it goes stiff. There is no pleasing a broken leg. So you write for an hour, then nurse it for an hour. Write for another hour, then nurse it for an hour. Not very productive. During the week, you have therapy. Not torture, but not pleasant. You come home from it, and nurse your leg for an hour. So my advice? Don't break your leg. Stay healthy. And happy writing! (And yes, this a frustrated rant.) Don't do as I do.
In OPPOSITES DISTRACT, Harmony cherishes her alone time and funky schedule. Everything revolves around her writing. When she comes to Mill Pond to visit her close friend, Tessa, she believes she'll still have that. Tessa's busy enough, the two women won't get together until supper time. Harmony isn't fond of kids, but Paula (the inn's chef) lives in the inn with her two children. Harmony's plans shift and warp when Aiden asks her to read to them. Finally, and the most distracting of all, Ian's brother, Brody, is staying at the inn to help him convert one of the inn's wings into four suites. And then, well, things get even more complicated when Tessa needs Harmony's help:
Tessa greeted them. “Ian’s grilling steaks on the back patio. Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”
Harmony studied her as she led them into the kitchen. Her frizzy, copper hair was flat. A no shower day, for sure. Her creamy complexion looked pale. “Are you okay?”
Right then, Ian came in the back door, teeth chattering. His nose and cheeks glowed like Rudolph’s. He held a platter with four steaks, tented in foil.
Tessa looked embarrassed. “I baked with Grandma all morning. I felt great. I wanted to make bouillabaisse, but the smells bothered me. I kept getting nauseous.”
“Oh, shit.” Brody shook his head.
Ian frowned at him.
“You need to go see a doctor,” Brody said.
“What do you think is wrong with her?” Ian sounded concerned.
“I don’t think I’m sick,” Tessa said. “Or contagious.”
“Neither do I.” Brody went to the refrigerator to fetch two beers. “I think you’d better start taking prenatal vitamins.”
Ian stared. So did Tessa and Harmony.
Tessa asked, “What do you mean?”
Brody raised an eyebrow. “I think you’d better pee in a cup.”
In OPPOSITES DISTRACT, Harmony Meyers writes urban fantasy. Her book deadline is looming, but her landlord has decided to redo the apartment's heating system, making it impossible to concentrate over the noise and commotion. So when her friend invites her to the resort her husband owns, she gladly makes the trip, searching for peace and quiet. What she finds is that Mill Pond has plenty of distractions of its own, including the chef's two kids. Harmony's not usually a kid person, but these are unusual circumstances, so she bends. Here's a small snippet from the book:
When Paula's son, maybe ten, got close to Harmony, he stopped to look her up and down.
"Do you like kids?" he asked.
Oh, Lord, what was she getting herself into at this resort? She gave him a level stare. "Why? You aren't going to put a toad in my coffee cup, are you?"
His eyes went wide, surprised by her answer. "Mom would ground me."
Harmony smiled. "Then we'll get along great."
"Mom says you write books. You must like them."
Okay, she hadn't seen that coming. "I have a few favorites."
"Would you read to us?"
"My books?" Her voice rose. Her vampires tended to be a bit horny, not good reading material for kids.
She pursed her lips, considering. She’d never cracked one of those books. Probably missed out on a cultural milestone. “What time? I have to hit my page quotas everyday before I do anything.” But after she wrote for five or six hours, her brain went to hell. She was lucky if she could think of two-syllable words. A break would be good for her.
“Before supper?” He narrowed his eyes, waiting for her answer.
She’d be shot by then, brain dead. "Hell, why not?"
Harmony's a writer, like me. Like me, she can easily lose track of time and get distracted. When Harmony is worried that she's not going to meet her book's deadline, she visits her friend, Tessa, in Mill Pond. Tessa's husband, Ian, owns the inn she's going to stay at. Problem is--Ian's brother, Brody, is staying there, too. He's come to help Ian remodel one of the inn's wings. Brody's gone through a bitter divorce. He's still trying to work through it, When he meets Harmony, all he sees is trouble until he figures out that maybe he's been looking at the wrong things for the perfect wife all along.
Here's a short snippet from OPPOSITES DISTRACT when Harmony and Brody first meet:
When Ian draped his jacket over the back of the couch and sat next to his brother, Harmony had a chance to study them more thoroughly. Both men would turn heads. Tall and dark-haired, they exuded maleness.
Ian motioned toward her suitcases. "When you're ready, I'll show you to your room. I put you on the top floor, far enough from our project that we shouldn't disturb you."
Brody turned his attention on her again. "I noticed your license plate. You're from New York?"
She nodded. "The Finger Lakes region. That's why I drive a Jeep. Winters can get serious there."
"I live near Ithaca, too."
She frowned. How odd that they'd both traveled to the same spot in Indiana from the same area in New York. Fate? Nah. No stars were stupid enough to throw her and Brody together. He made her nervous, he was so intense.
Thought I'd put up a snippet from my latest romance. Harmony realizes that Brody is more bark than bite when he helps his brother, Ian, rescue a duck that's gotten frozen in the ice on the lake. Hope you like it!
Brody’s attention was drawn to something outside the back windows. His brows furrowed in a worried frown. He narrowed his eyes, staring at the lake. “Is that one of your ducks?” he asked Ian.
Ian finished the last bite of his sandwich and followed Brody’s gaze. His expression took on a worried look, too. “Is she stuck in the ice?” he asked Brody.
Brody stood to go see her better. “She’s struggling, but can’t get out.”
A feather could have knocked Harmony over when Brody disappeared to get his winter coat. Ian followed him. She looked at Paula. “Are they going to rescue a duck?”
“Not just any duck,” Paula told her. “Ian fed it all summer and fall.”
Brody glared as he passed Harmony. “You can’t just leave a poor animal trapped in ice to die, whether you fed it or not.”
The two men tramped out the back door and headed to the lake. Harmony turned to Paula. “How do you unstick a duck?"
Enoch finally gets what he deserves:) I changed the title of this novella, because I realized it's focused on Enoch, not Samiel. Hope you've enjoyed Enoch's journey.
REDEMPTION, CHAPTER 8 (the Fallen Angels series)
Enoch and Caleb slowed down to study one of the many fortresses dotted around the valley. Built of huge stone slabs, it soared three-stories high. The bottom wall stood fifteen feet tall and had narrow slits of smoked-glass windows close to its top, guaranteeing that no sunlight would trickle indoors to the first floor. Enoch guessed that floor housed the sleeping quarters of the vampires stationed there.
“Tunnels probably run underground through most of the valley,” Caleb said.
Enoch nodded. Vampires might work together in a seethe, but each one liked his own, private lair.
The second floor was narrower than the first with turrets at each corner. Metal shutters covered a spattering of openings that must house weapons. The third and last floor ended in a flat roof. The vampires could gather there to fight their enemies.
The building wasn’t completely finished, but it was functional. As Enoch tilted his head to study it better, a horde of vampires leaned over the top floor to see him and Caleb. One of them called to him. “So, we finally meet the Dark Angel, the famed vampire killer. We have no business with you. Why have you come?”
They knew exactly why he was there, but Enoch decided to be polite. “Caleb and I want to see Samiel. We’d like a compromise, a truce to avoid war.”
A female warrior laughed. “With Samiel? You’re optimistic.”
“Let’s hope he’s realistic. He knows me.” Enoch nodded to the heavy structure. “How many vampires will each fortress hold?”
The male vampire grinned, exposing his fangs. “Ours alone would keep Caleb’s generals busy, and there are many more scattered around the valley, equally as strong.”
Samiel’s soldiers over-estimated themselves. Bart and his generals would slaughter every one of them in a short time, but how many more were there? Enoch pressed his lips into a tight line. How long had Samiel been working here? Why hadn’t the One warned him that Samiel was building an army? But then, the One had done nothing when Samiel rebelled the first time. Was that part of free will?
Caleb called, “Where can we find Samiel? Can you give us directions?”
“There’s a lodge made of logs, close to the lake. Samiel will be expecting you.”
He and Caleb had seen the lake when they stopped on the ridge. They needed to take the trail that led west. With a nod, they headed off in that direction. The vampires cheered them on their way.
“Odd,” Caleb called over the drone of their engines. “You’re almost a celebrity for them.”
“A macabre one,” Enoch said. “Like the towns that used to greet the executioners.”
Caleb laughed, amused at that comparison.
They bumped over rough terrain for another hour before they saw the lodge in the distance. It took another half hour to reach it. It was four in the morning, but every light was on inside the long, log building. When they parked and started for the stairs that led to the front porch, the doors opened and dozens of vampires flooded outside to greet them. Samiel came last, taller with broad shoulders, his golden beauty like a beacon. He shook his head at his fellow angels.
“You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”
Enoch raised a dark brow. “I’m not the one who made a big deal out of asking my friends to team with me while I was building an empire. When did you start this? A year before you ever came to visit me?”
Samiel grinned. “Almost to the day, but after I thought about it, I really didn’t want you as an enemy. I thought if we could live and let live, everyone would be happier.”
Caleb climbed out of his vehicle and stretched his long limbs. “So why bother with me? Why come to my casino, asking for an ally?”
Samiel shrugged. “Enoch’s never approved of what you do, but he leaves you alone. I thought if you and I worked together, he might turn a blind eye my way, too. But no, you couldn’t be bothered, didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
Caleb scanned the lodge and the construction along the lake shore. “Because you never learn. You have tunnel vision, old friend. You can’t break out of the same, old patterns. Who cares if the One rules Home? Who needs power to be happy? Here, on earth, we can meet our own needs, enjoy life on our own terms, and if we don’t push the envelope too hard, no one cares.”
Samiel’s full lips curled downward. “I don’t want anyone setting limits on what I can or can’t do.”
“Fine, then battle about your limits instead of enjoying what you can do.” Caleb started up the steps. “Are you going to invite us in?”
Samiel blocked his way. “No, I’m not.”
They were the same height, the same strength. Samiel’s vampires spread out behind him. Enoch came to stand next to Caleb. “If you’d rather, we can talk here.”
Samiel frowned, aggravated. “What do you want? What do I have to do to make you go away and stay away?”
There was no reason to mince words. “Make an angel’s promise that no one in Three Rivers will be harmed because of you.”
“Impossible! Even if I made a promise like that, what if someone broke my rules and harmed someone there just so that I’d be thrown back in the pit?”
“The One knows the Truth, whether you were involved or not. He can read your intentions.”
“My fate isn’t resting in the One’s hands.”
“Then go Home. I either get a promise from you, or we battle now.”
“Damn you!” Samiel slammed his fist on the porch railing. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”
“No, I don’t trust you, never have.”
“And here I thought you were the gullible one. I should have asked you to join me and my followers instead of Caleb.”
Enoch rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t have happened. I like Home.”
“But the One banned you from there, didn’t he? You can’t return until Caleb does.”
“There are rules.”
Samiel barked a harsh laugh. “Yes, there are always rules. New Testament, my foot! The One’s the same rule-driven, punish the sinner god He’s always been.”
“That’s not because of the One. That’s simple cause-and-effect.”
Samiel hissed his displeasure. “Spoken as the true goodie-goodie you are. Nothing’s ever the One’s fault. We’ve always failed him.” More vampires gathered behind him. They bulked up for action. Their fangs dropped into place and their nails grew into razor-sharp claws.
Enoch grinned. “Is that the best you can do? Call me a goodie-goodie? It’s like this. Give me an angel’s promise, or I don’t leave until I get one.”
Samiel whistled one piercing note, and more vampires flew to him. “No one tells me what to do anymore.”
Caleb’s eyebrows rose at the sheer volume of enemies they faced. “I didn’t know there were this many unhappy vampires in the world.”
One of them stepped forward. “It’s not that we’re unhappy, it’s that Samiel offers us so much more.”
“More what?” Caleb asked.
“Without your rules, we can take all the mortals we want. We can sip, drain, herd, rape, and enjoy.”
Enoch’s hands balled into fists. “You never intended on following our rules. You said that you would.”
Samiel glanced around the meadow. “I didn’t make an angel’s promise, did I? I wasn’t ready to challenge you yet. I am now, and I have to say, even with your Light, I think you and Caleb are outnumbered. You might want to consider a compromise.”
“No.” Caleb bulked up, too. As the first, original vampire, he was rather terrifying.
“Think, old friend.” Samiel gestured to the army behind him. “You don’t have the Light. You can suffer pain. If you’d join with us, I’d protect you.”
“For how long? Until I don’t please you anymore?” Caleb shook his head. “I might have hurt mortals because I was thoughtless and desperate, but I’m not purposely cruel. I can’t be a part of your plan.”
Samiel sighed. “Too bad, I didn’t want to see you hurt.” He gestured, and the vampires sprang forward.
Enoch raised his hands, and Light blasted from them. The first row burst into dust. Four vampires dropped onto him, so he pulled Light from his core and let it gush through his body. The vampires howled and tried to yank their fangs out of him, but not fast enough. Light filled them, then they exploded. A half dozen vampires landed on Caleb. He slashed and bit and whirled. Soon, they were disposed of, too.
Samiel waved for the next onslaught of vampires to attack, but the sky rumbled ominously. Hooves pounded the air, and a bank of clouds rolled toward them. Everyone stopped to look up. The clouds parted, and a dozen dark angels on horseback hovered overhead. They raised their palms, and a wave of Light flooded the vampires behind Samiel, destroying them.
Gabriel, darker and more menacing than all of them, grinned when he saw Enoch. “Looks like you’ve gotten yourself in trouble again.”
“We were doing all right until you let Samiel drop by for a visit. How boring are you guys that no one wants to stay Home anymore?”
Michael laughed. “We’ve missed you. Thought we’d stop in to say hi.”
Samiel howled in rage. He turned to shake his fist at them. “This is none of your business. Go Home!”
“Not quite yet.” The angels turned on their steeds and galloped across the valley. They blasted Light at each and every fortress they passed, blowing them to pieces and turning their occupants to dust. Then they returned.
Samiel stared at them, openly stunned. “You had no right! What about free will? Angels have visited Earth before. Why punish me for it?”
Gabriel didn’t bother to hide his disgust. “The first angels came to bed women. Consenting adults. Nothing good came from it. Caleb was tossed here as punishment, and Enoch to clean up after him. But you—you came to take advantage of those who are weaker than you. Not allowed. We were sent to bring you Home.”
“I’m not going.”
Michael shrugged. “It’s that or the pit.”
Samiel’s blue eyes blazed. “I choose door number two.”
“So be it.” Gabriel waved a hand, and the earth yawned wide, swallowed Samiel, then closed again. Gabriel turned to Caleb, and Enoch braced himself. What did Gabriel have in mind?
“You, friend, created a mess here, but you’ve also tried to control it. You created generals and vampire rules to help maintain some sort of order. Your generals are heroes, risking their undead lives to protect mortals and discourage rogues. We admire them. You love your earthly pleasures too much to return Home, but the One has decided to give you back the Light when you need it for defense. That’s the only time you can use it, but you won’t have to worry about pain and torture again. You can help Enoch when he battles.”
Caleb’s jaw dropped open in surprise. “You mean it?”
Michael slapped him on the shoulder. “You’re not the brightest lightbulb in the celestial box, but you’ve tried to make up for your mistakes.”
Gabriel turned to Enoch. “And you, friend, have stuck it out with honor and integrity. The One has invited you to return Home.”
Enoch had waited eons to hear those words, but now, he was torn. He’d be miserable whichever way he chose.
Michael smiled at him. “We know you love Voronika and your adopted daughter. The One’s letting you come and go as you please. We’ve missed you. You’re welcome in both worlds.”
Enoch didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth, then had to look away, his emotions in turmoil. Finally, he swallowed hard. “Thank you.”
The entire group of angels came to greet him. They visited, laughing and catching up with each other, until Gabriel glanced at the hint of daybreak on the horizon. “It’s time we return Home, but come to visit us soon, friend.”
“I still have a job to do here.” Enoch gestured to the meadow. “You destroyed all of the rogues who joined Samiel, but there are always more. Always.”
“If you need us, we’ll take turns coming to take your place. We’ll give you a break. You’re not alone anymore.” Then Gabriel pointed to Caleb. “And when we come, we’ll drop by to see you, Earth lover. Take care.”
Then the angels mounted their horses. Dark clouds settled around them, and they rode skyward and out of sight.
Caleb turned to Enoch. He looked as stunned as Enoch felt. “The One helped us. He’s forgiven us. I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
Enoch was beginning to feel that way, too. He thought he was as banished as Caleb had been. “I can return Home.”
Caleb’s deep blue gaze settled on him, suddenly serious. “What will you do?”
Enoch shook his head, struggling to accept his new options. They still felt surreal, a dream come true. “I’ll go Home to visit, but I have a home and family here, and friends. And I still have a job to do.”
Caleb sighed. “I’m happy for you, brother. I know what I’ve cost you. And I’m sorry.”
For a second time, Enoch was speechless. Caleb? Admitting his flaws? Finally, he said, “You’ve found your heaven here. And I’ve found happiness. We’ve both done okay.”
Caleb nodded, then laughed. “Good, because I’m not good at contrition. Let’s get out of here. Let’s jump on the plane and go home.”
Home. Enoch had two of them now, and he felt doubly blessed.
They revved up their buggies’ engines and raced toward the airplane.
Brody McGregor comes to Mill Pond to help his brother convert a wing of his inn into four suites. Harmony Meyers comes to finish the novel she's writing in time to meet her deadline. The two couldn't be more different. Brody's organized, punctual. Harmony writes until her stomach rumbles. But they find they have more in common than they'd ever guess:)
If you like small town romances, you might like this!
Enoch watched from the airplane window as the pilot circled a wide meadow, surrounded by steep peaks. A nearly full moon flooded the area, and he leaned closer to the glass to get a better look at the scenery below them. He motioned to Caleb, seated across from him. “Look in the shadows. Are there movements from one end of the meadow to the other?”
Caleb finished his glass of champagne and nodded for the beautiful vampire stewardess to bring him another. His private jet was stocked with every amenity to make travel comfortable. “Somebody’s been busy. Looks like construction work.”
“In the dark?”
Caleb shook his head. “We’re vampires, remember? We can’t work in sunlight.”
“You’re a vampire. But you’re an angel, too. You can walk in daytime. I’m thinking Samiel’s both by now, too.”
Caleb nodded. “I changed him so that he could sip blood to keep up his strength.”
Enoch wasn’t sure that had been a good idea. If Samiel faded and weakened on Earth, he’d have to return home. Now, he didn’t have to. Of course, Caleb had figured out that blood made a close substitute for the Light, and that’s why he’d bitten mortals when he first came here, infecting them with his immortality. Samiel would have done the same, and Lord help the poor mortals he chose.
The plane flew over the length of the meadow, and Enoch spotted a large lodge sitting near a lake, light spilling from its windows. Moonbeams reflected across the lake’s smooth waters. A serene picture, but Enoch knew better.
“No good place to land,” Caleb said, studying the terrain.
The pilot called back to them. “Near the top of the ridge, there’s a road that’s wide enough for me to set the plane down. You’ll have to take the all-terrain vehicles from there.”
“All terrain vehicles?” Enoch frowned, looking around the plane.
Caleb grinned. “Below decks. I should have known. Ace thinks of everything. I can always count on him.”
Ace had piloted for Caleb ever since a vampire attacked him on a bombing mission during World War I. When Enoch battled rogues with Caleb’s generals, Ace usually flew them to where they needed to be. Tall with a rangy build, Ace looked the part of an airman in khaki pants and a bomber jacket. “Thanks, Ace!” Enoch called to him.
“Anything for you, Glowstick!” Ace’s nickname for him.
The plane banked and began to descend. Once it came to a stop on a lonely road that circled the brim of the valley, Ace ferried it to a turn-off and parked. Then he came back to check on them. He led them to a lower level that contained a half-dozen, four-wheel utility vehicles, meant to travel over rugged environments. They reminded Enoch of Dune buggies with roll bars, big tires, and monster engines.
Enoch smiled his pleasure. “I’ve never driven one of these before.”
Caleb pushed a button, and the tail of the plane yawned open and a ramp sloped to the ground. Then he folded his long frame into one of the open-air buggies and started the engine. “Try to keep up, brother. This is going to be fun.”
Enoch began his usual protest—“I’m not your brother,”—but gave it up. He was here, wasn’t he? Siding with Caleb? He felt a stab of guilt. “I bullied you into coming with me, but it might not be safe. You can feel pain. I don’t. Why don’t you go back to the casino and send your generals to help me?”
Caleb barked a laugh. “You only think you’re my nanny, but you’re not. Samiel came to me, not you. He’s my problem. Are you with me, or would you rather sit here with Ace and play cards?”
“Right behind you.” Enoch started his buggy, too.
Ace shook his head. “It’s always fun and games until the enemy attacks. Try to stay safe, you two. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Caleb flicked him the finger. “Such a spoil sport. Let’s go, Enoch!”
They revved their engines, then drove down the ramp, bouncing when they hit the rough cement of the road. Whew! What a ride! The shocks on the buggies were topnotch, but Enoch’s bones rattled as the tires jostled in and out of potholes. He raised his fist in the air and gave a wild shout. “Here we come!” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had so much fun.
“You have to get out more,” Caleb teased.
“I don’t have all the toys you have, no reason to, but I like these.”
The path they were on climbed to the summit of the craggy mountainside. When they reached the top, huge trees had been placed across the road to block their way.
They skidded to a stop and looked down at the meadow beneath them.
“The entire meadow’s active,” Enoch called to Caleb. He had to shout over the engine noise to be heard.
Caleb nodded his golden head. “I’d guess Samiel had vampires working here before he ever visited my casino. He just locked me up to keep me out of his way.”
“He didn’t know about our telepathy.”
“A good thing, or I’d have been stuck in a lair and Samiel would have used my casino to recruit more followers.”
“He must feel safe enough now to go out on his own. He’s that sure of himself.” Not a good thing. A brazen Samiel would be hard to intimidate.
Caleb scanned the dozen stone fortresses Samiel had built around the perimeter of the meadow. “His base looks pretty secure.”
How many vampires could Samiel house in each one of those? Enoch recalculated Samiel’s actions. “I think he’s been building these since he came to visit me the first time.”
“You warned him away,” Caleb said, remembering.
“But I’m guessing he didn’t leave. He started building his empire. Then he decided he’d fare better if he had you as an ally, only you turned him away, too.”
They walked to the edge of the peak and gazed at Samiel’s military base, spread out below them. Formidable.
“More of everything than any angel needs to flex his muscles and own his own kingdom,” Caleb said.
Enoch sighed. Samiel never did anything in half measures. What did he have in mind this time?
“Samiel must want some privacy.” Caleb turned off his buggy and stalked toward the pile of tree trunks and branches, blocking their way.
Enoch followed his lead. They grabbed trees and tossed them out of the way, then looked at the steep trail that curved to the meadow. Once they’d cleared the debris, they started forward again, but were stopped a few miles later when the road ended and another pile of tree trunks littered the dirt path. No Trespassing signs warned visitors off.
When they started removing those logs, too, a dozen vampires landed close by and stalked toward them. The vampire in the lead warned,
“You’re on private property. Go away.”
Caleb mustered one of his best smiles. “We’re friends of Samiel. He’s expecting us.”
The vampire wasn’t amused. “He is expecting you, and told me to shoo you away. You’re not welcome.”
“Did you hear that, Enoch? After we came all this way? It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive. We intend to see Samiel, one way or another.” Caleb crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the vampire. He was tall and bulky, but both angels were taller with more muscle.
Enoch stepped to the side of his friend and raised his arms. “It won’t be a fair fight. I don’t want to have to blast you. The Light turns a dozen vamps to dust in a flash.”
The vampire narrowed his eyes. “You’re the dark angel?”
“In the flesh.”
Samiel’s guards exchanged glances. Their leader jerked his head, and they sprang up in unison and flew away.
“No goodbyes?” Caleb sighed. “Kids these days. No manners.”
Enoch lifted a log and tossed it aside. “They’re going to warn Samiel that we’re on our way.”
“Maybe we’ll have a meet and greet.” Caleb ran a hand through his shoulder-length, golden hair. With his sapphire-blue eyes and golden skin, he almost glowed. “Too bad I wore jeans and an old T-shirt. I won’t impress anyone.”
“Doesn’t matter. Samiel’s followers won’t lust after you. They’d rather make you true dead.”
“Poor them, can’t happen.” Caleb tossed the last trunk and climbed back into his vehicle. “Move it, brother! First one down the mountain gets a gold star!” He zoomed away.
A gold star. Really? The One had placed many a star in Enoch’s name throughout the heavens. Not that stars had saved him once he helped Caleb. As far as he could tell, he’d never get to return Home. He’d always be jailed here, cleaning up after his friend. Grinding his teeth, Enoch pushed on his vehicle’s gas pedal and roared down the mountain.
Soon, they’d meet Samiel. Then the bargaining would begin. How ambitious was Samiel? Silly question. If Samiel had his way, he’d be first in command, and the One would do his bidding. Enoch couldn’t see any fair compromise that would please all of them.
Sorry this is going up a day late, but I fell off a rocking chair (don't ask) on Saturday night and broke my tibia. Not my smartest move. But I'm home now, hobbling around with a walker, and I can fit my wheel chair under a card table to use my computer. I'm back in business. Hope you like this!
Caleb’s pilot flew Enoch to France to join Voronika and Angel. Enoch had visited every big city in the world, but rarely for fun. Usually, he was hunting a rogue vampire, traipsing through dark alleys and watching for quick movements along rooflines. This time was different. He didn’t want his girls to return to the penthouse in Three Rivers just yet. When he knocked on the door of their eighth floor suite, Voronika called, “It’s open!”
He sighed and ran a hand through his thick, black hair. She obviously felt safe here, not that a door would protect her from Samiel or rogue vampires. He turned the knob and stepped into a large sitting room only slightly less opulent than Caleb’s casino. A tall, thin man stood in its center amidst piles of clothing boxes. A young woman hovered nearby, trying not to call attention to herself.
“I brought this style in three different colors,” the man was telling Voronika as she turned in front of a large mirror, framed in gilded gold. “The low slung hips and slim fit look wonderful on your figure.”
Enoch stared. The snug, black slacks clung to her long legs and tapered at her ankles. To him, she was always beautiful, always sensual, but in these, she was a sight to behold. She turned again, noticed him, and waved him to her. She gestured to the pile of boxes and smiled. “You can hire shoppers in Paris who’ll bring clothes to your hotel.”
Long windows overlooked the street, but layers of sheer curtains blocked the sun. A perfect shopping solution for a vampire. She was wearing her blue contact lens. Her long, platinum hair fell past her shoulders, and her lush lips were brushed with glossy pink lipstick. He liked the softer look.
A pile of clothes was stacked beside Angel’s velvet-covered chair and another pile teetered next to the sofa. Enoch raised a dark brow. “I’m glad I raised the credit line on your card.”
Voronika strolled to the silk-covered sofa and settled there, pulling her long legs under her. She looked pleased with herself. “So am I. We’re having a wonderful time.”
He glanced at the boxes and laughed. “What? No jewelry?”
“I try not to be too greedy.” She raised her face for a kiss, and he crossed the room to oblige her.
Angel squirmed in her chair, then flew to him. “I’ve missed you.” She burrowed her head into his cashmere coat.
He ruffled her hair. Twelve, going on twenty, she was as close as he’d ever get to having a daughter. “I don’t know how long I can stay, but I missed you, too.”
The elegant man cleared his throat. “Have you seen enough for today?”
Enoch’s gaze returned to Voronika’s shapely legs. “We’ll take all three of these, along whatever else they’ve chosen.”
“You like them?” Voronika grinned.
The man’s eyes widened. “These are from our designer collection.”
“They must be expensive.” Enoch glanced at his mate. “Do you want them?”
Enoch handed the man his own credit card. “I missed Valentine’s Day.” He’d almost forgotten it in all the mid-February drama. “My wife doesn’t indulge often. When she does, I’m happy to please her.”
The young woman in the corner hurried forward to gather boxes and stack them onto a luggage cart. In another fifteen minutes, the purchases were made and the shopping assistants were gone.
Once they were alone, Voronika’s smile faded and she turned to Enoch. “Was it Samiel? Did you send him Home?”
Enoch noticed a cheese board and two bottles of wine on a side table. “I’ll tell you everything while I snack. We never stopped long enough to eat.” Enoch didn’t have to eat, but food was a passion of his, a luxurious pleasure. He ate and drank while he told them about Caleb and his casino.
When he finished, Voronika shook her head in disbelief. “And Caleb forgave Samiel and allowed him to stay?”
“He didn’t have much choice. He owes Samiel. When Samiel rebelled against the One, Caleb swore allegiance to him. He’d have been thrown in the pit with him and his followers if I hadn’t stopped him.” He paused, remembering the scene Caleb made afterward. “He wasn’t happy with me for that.”
“You should have let him go. Maybe the One would have left him in the pit, even after he released Samiel. Caleb’s more work than he’s worth. You still care about him more than you should.”
Enoch couldn’t explain his friendship with Caleb. It was too complicated, so he didn’t try. He changed the subject instead. “I still don’t think it’s safe for you and Angel to go home. I’d rather wait until Samiel shows his hand. Would you like to stay here longer or travel to some place new?”
“Here!” Angel cried. “We go sightseeing every night.”
Enoch hesitated. “So you haven’t seen Paris during the day. There’s no way around that. Voronika can’t go out in the sunlight, but while I’m here, I can take you while Voronika sleeps.”
Angel leaned forward, excited. “How long can you stay with us?”
“I don’t know. Until Samiel makes a move, I guess.”
Angel stared. “We can’t stay here forever. I don’t want to do all of my lessons online. I like school. I miss my friends.”
Words he never thought he’d hear from her. She’d done as little as possible in grade school. “If this stretches out too long, I’ll think of something else,” he promised. “In the meantime, let’s enjoy it.”
Angel bit her bottom lip, unsure.
Voronika had been a vampire a long time. Like him, time seemed less immediate than it did to Angel. She understood that. “We’ll get you back in your own school before March starts,” she said.
Angel’s shoulders relaxed. She wouldn’t mind missing two more weeks of school, but she didn’t want to miss much more.
Voronika gave her an approving look. “You’ll be proud of her, Enoch. Angel’s gone online and done her homework every day.”
Angel tilted a sideways smirk his way. “I’ve surprised you, haven’t I?”
She was such a smartass. He loved that about her. “I remember a time when you thought homework was for lesser mortals.”
“Still do, but you won’t pay for my new school if I don’t make decent grades, and I can’t think of a way to trick you.”
He laughed, enjoying her honesty. “You’ll thank me some day.”
Her expression said that she doubted it, but at least, sixth grade challenged her more. She enjoyed changing rooms for her classes, and her friends competed for top grades. They pushed her. That was good.
Her previous school struggled with students and families bogged down with poverty. Enoch had donated money to buy new shoes for each kid and new laptops. He’d seen the difference the extra dollars made and vowed to donate more each and every year. He’d been impressed by how hard the teachers in that building worked.
He looked at the many purchases scattered around the hotel room and shook his head. He had no qualms enjoying wealth, but if he could help eliminate poverty, he would. He looked at Angel. “What did you have planned for the rest of the day?”
“Voronika was going to take me to the indoor pool and nap in a lounge chair while I swam.”
“I’ll take you.” Enoch finished his glass of wine. “Voronika can enjoy some alone time.”
Voronika gave him a grateful smile and stretched out on the long sofa. “It’s nice having you here. We can convert back to our usual routine.” Which meant that he’d take care of Angel during the day while Voronika slept, and the girl could keep normal, mortal hours.
“When does the chef come with our supper?”
Voronika glanced quickly at Angel. “He doesn’t. He was offended by the meals that Angel asked for, said that a French chef doesn’t make hamburgers and French fries. We’ve been ordering room service.”
Enoch raised an eyebrow at Angel. “Hamburgers? You can get those at home.”
She glanced down at the floor. “His food was too fancy.”
Enoch let that pass. “Angel and I can visit the markets each day and bring food back.” If he’d rented an apartment, he could have cooked—one of his joys, but he could buy chickens, roasting on rotisseries, at the market. And there was stall after stall of fresh vegetables. “Come on. We’ll go there now and visit the pool after supper.”
Angel hurried to the door, excited. “Voronika can’t go there. They’re only open during the day.”
“That’s why the One created grocery stores,” Enoch teased, “for twenty-four-hour shopping.”
Voronika waved them away. “Have fun. Get out of here, and let me sleep.”
She sounded bored, indifferent, but both Enoch and Angel knew better. Ever since they’d taken the girl in, Voronika had pushed herself to wake up when Angel got home from school so that she could spend time with her. In Paris, she was doing her best to keep Angel’s hours. Angel didn’t realize how hard that was for a vampire, but Enoch did. She must be exhausted. He motioned for Angel to follow him, and they set off.
Angel loved the open-air market they walked to. She’d never seen anything like it. She and Enoch spent hours choosing flowers to put in vases, pastries for breakfast, desserts for supper, honeys, and breads.
For the next two weeks, they worked around a basic schedule. Enoch took Angel to the pool every morning, then they went exploring every day before they ended up at the markets. They returned to the hotel in time for supper with Voronika, and then when the sun sank, they explored a little more. Enoch had forgotten how much fun Paris could be when he wasn’t hunting rogues.
When the two weeks were up, Enoch gave in gracefully when Angel wanted to return home. He couldn’t hide her and Voronika endlessly. He still worried about Samiel, but maybe he’d misjudged him. On Caleb’s private jet, returning to Three Rivers, he decided that his fellow angel must be enjoying freedom enough to forget any ulterior motives.
It wasn’t until a month later—when Angel was starting her spring vacation from school—that he heard Caleb call for him. He sensed no danger this time, only aggravation. Enoch went out onto the balcony to connect with him. The air held the hint of spring, warm and fresh. Temperatures bobbed up and down, but winter felt like a thing of the past.
Caleb’s image hovered before him. “Samiel left the casino today. He’s decided to create his own, small kingdom. He’s surrounding himself with rogue vampires and mortals who’d like to join their ranks.”
Damn. Not the news he wanted to hear. “For what purpose?”
Caleb sighed. “I’d say that he wants to imitate the One. He wants to be a supreme ruler. He’s tired of being in the One’s shadow. That’s one hell of a lot of responsibility, but Samiel thinks it’s worth it.”
Enoch’s gaze swept the city before him—the limestone courthouse with its high dome, the restaurants, and businesses. Traffic crowded the streets. “Samiel agreed to our conditions. No one gets harmed.”
“That’s what he said.”
“I don’t trust him.” What if he snatched Voronika or Angel to hold as hostage? Or Danny and Maggie? His brows furrowed in frustration. He refused to live with constant worry, wouldn’t let Samiel make the first move. “I’m going to him. He either gives me an angel’s promise that Three Rivers and everyone in it will be safe from him, or I fight him now.”
Caleb’s image flickered—a sign of strong emotions racing through him. He’d made an angel promise to Enoch, too. He knew the consequences. “You still have people to protect, people you care about. Samiel killed the followers I held dear.”
“Most, but not all. Come with me. Make him give you a promise, too.”
Caleb turned to look at someone, and Enoch saw his chambers. A beautiful, male vampire was lying in his bed. “I’m a little busy right now.”
“Too busy to make sure Samiel doesn’t kill your new lover?”
Caleb’s blue eyes blazed. “That was a tacky remark.”
“I don’t care who you sleep with, but how many people are you willing to risk to Samiel?”
Caleb’s lips thinned to a tight line. “My jet will be in Three Rivers in two hours. I’ll pick you up.”
Enoch nodded. “Together, he won’t have much choice but to listen to us.”
Enoch kept his face expressionless when Caleb sank his fangs into Samiel’s neck. If he’d wanted to, Caleb could have licked Samiel’s skin and dulled the pain. If he’d licked it long enough and glided his incisors smoothly toward Samiel’s vein, the moment could be almost erotic. Neither had clearly mattered to him.
Samiel winced, but remained stoic as Caleb drank. As a fellow immortal, he couldn’t be drained, but Caleb could gulp from him until he was weak. Enoch locked gazes with his friend and shook his head. Caleb’s lips curled as he drank, and his blue eyes sparkled. He was enjoying himself.
Enoch wanted to return to the casino to check on Bart and his generals, but he stayed where he was, crossing his arms over his chest and raising a dark brow.
Finally, Caleb gave a final slurp, licked Samiel’s punctures to close them, and smirked. “I have to feed from him three times to change him. I’ll be kinder the next two times.”
“Good.” Enoch might not like Samiel, but that didn’t excuse excessive abuse.
Samiel frowned at him. “Do you always try to do the right thing?”
“Always,” Caleb answered for him. “My nanny has high standards.”
“I’m not your nanny.” Enoch started back toward the elevator. “Bart and the others will be wondering about us.”
Caleb fell into step beside him. They walked shoulder to shoulder, filling the passageway. Samiel started after them, and Caleb turned his head. Over his shoulder, he said, “Bart won’t be happy with you. If you’re smart, you’ll stay behind Enoch and me.”
Samiel shrugged, unconcerned. “Bart’s a vampire. He can’t hurt me.”
“Oh, but he can.” Caleb touched his own shoulders, remembering. “When my oldest vampires turned on me, they jumped me in unison and drained most of my strength. If Enoch hadn’t been there, I couldn’t have fought them off.”
Samiel stared. “They couldn’t have killed you.”
“No, but they could have dragged me off somewhere and fed off me to keep me weak, and they could have tortured me for fun.”
Samiel touched a hand to his face. It had returned to its golden tan, smooth and supple, and he looked relieved. “If your generals worked together, they could defeat me?”
Enoch pushed through the heavy, iron doors into the wider corridor. “Easily, especially since I’d side with them if you caused them any grief.” He smiled when overhead lights greeted him. “You vampires like the dark too much.”
“That’s because we can see in it, even when we’re in our mortal form.” Caleb made it sound like bragging.
Enoch was unimpressed. “Unnatural,” he muttered. He set off at a fast stride.
“This isn’t a sprint,” Caleb complained. “Bart won’t send a Saint Bernard if we don’t show up promptly.”
Enoch ignored him. Instead he asked Samiel, “How many rogues did you send to battle them?”
Enoch relaxed and walked more slowly. “Good, not enough.”
Caleb threw back his head and laughed. “Your confidence in my generals always amazes me.”
“That’s because I fight with them. You don’t.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Why would you? You’re too happy doing what you do.” They reached the elevator and Enoch stepped inside.
Caleb glanced at Samiel. “Enoch doesn’t approve of my frivolous ways.”
Samiel stepped in beside Caleb and frowned. “What do you do? I meant to ask you.”
“I run the casino and indulge my many appetites.”
Samiel lifted his pale blonde brows. “I knew that, but what else?”
“What else is there?” Caleb grinned.
Enoch huffed his reproach and pushed the button for the ground floor. When the doors slid open, he went in search of his friends. They were standing under the center of the high dome, surrounded by ashes. Enoch shook his head and grinned. “All safe?”
Bart looked surprised. “Did you doubt us?”
Claudia’s lush, dark hair looked disheveled, the only sign that she’d been in a battle. In a salute, Ulrich tipped a bottle of beer he’d gotten from the bar at Enoch. The Viking vampire was happier than usual, but then, Ulrich enjoyed himself when enemies were near. “You missed all the fun, old friend.”
Bart nodded at Enoch’s tattered shirt. “Looks like he had his own good time.”
Enoch glowered at the ruined shirt, and Caleb laughed. “The way female mortals are looking at you, I should pay you to rip your shirts more often. Customers love it.”
“Slip out of yours. They’d enjoy that just as much.”
“For women?” Caleb shivered, scandalized.
More women came to gawk. Seeing three angels together was a rare event. Each epitomized perfection in his own way.
Bart’s good humor vanished when his gaze settled on Samiel. “You attacked our sire.”
Ulrich’s nails grew a few more inches, and he narrowed his eyes, sizing him up. “I think we can take him.”
He started to say more, but Caleb interrupted. “Samiel and I had a misunderstanding. We’ve reached an agreement.”
Bart’s lips pressed into a tight line. He glanced at Enoch. “Do you trust him?”
“No, but Samiel said he’d abide by our rules.”
Ulrich drained his beer, then slowly walked in a circle around Samiel and Caleb. He asked Enoch, “Does he have your Light?”
Ulrich grinned. “In that case, if we work together, we can defeat him. It won’t be pretty, but it can be done.”
Enoch nodded. “You’d all have to drink from him at once to drain his strength. If you call me, I can blast him with the Light.”
Samiel crossed his arms over his chest, irritated. “Did you need to tell them that? I agreed to your terms.”
Enoch locked gazes with him. “As I said, I don’t trust you. They’re my friends. If you change your mind, they’ll know how to deal with you. And Ulrich’s right. They can.”
Bart’s hands balled into fists as he turned to Caleb. “So what now? What do we do with him?”
“You leave him to me. He doesn’t want to go Home. I understand that.”
“And if he attacks you again?”
“You’ll come to my rescue, and then you can have him to do with as you please.”
Samiel stared, but remained silent.
Enoch would rather he didn’t stay on Earth. He’d rather he returned Home. “You know the odds of living here now, the reality. Do you still want to stay?”
Of course, he would. He thought he could bend more rules here, find ways to achieve his own goals. Enoch looked at Caleb and hesitated. Had his friend thought this through? Silly question. That wasn’t Caleb’s style, but once Caleb made a decision, he was too stubborn to change his mind. Enoch frowned at him. “If you need us, call.”
“Quit calling me that.”
“Then quit sounding like one.” Caleb scanned the grand foyer. No statues were smashed, no urns overturned. “Were any mortals hurt during the battle?”
Bart shook his head. “Every rogue zeroed in on us. The fight didn’t take long. The mortals seemed to enjoy watching it.”
That news didn’t thrill Enoch. “We’re not their entertainment. The mortals who come here expect everything to be over-the-top. Caleb caters to their worst instincts.”
“So do you.” Caleb gestured to three women, staring at Enoch’s torn shirt and rippling muscles while they sipped martinis. The generals were almost as delicious, so the women were openly enjoying themselves.
“My point exactly,” Enoch grumbled. “They’re spoiled and self-absorbed.”
Caleb tsk-tsked. “Now you don’t like my mortals, either?”
Caleb grinned. “I have to give you credit, brother. You judge everyone the same—angels, vampires, mortals—on if they’re good or if they’re bad.”
Enoch shrugged. “Too many things are out of our control. The only thing that’s a deciding factor is how we use our free will. And these mortals pay high prices for worthless pleasures.”
“Worthless? Entertainment’s a worthy goal in itself, but I’ll never convince you of that.” Caleb graced them all with a smile. “The danger’s over now. I thank you for coming to my rescue, but I’m ready to return to my rooms. I didn’t enjoy being locked in a dark lair all that much. I’m in the mood for a cocktail.”
His generals bowed their heads slightly and watched him go, Samiel close on his heels. Bart sighed. “We might as well return home, too. We fought well tonight.”
“Not that it accomplished much.” Claudia’s glare followed Samiel until he was out of sight.
Enoch watched, too. “We did more than rescue Caleb. We set boundaries for Samiel. He’s an angel who needs to know his limits. If he’d taken over Caleb’s casino, he’d have more in mind than gaming.”
Ulrich nodded agreement. “That one’s ambitious, isn’t he? I can smell his desire for power.”
“He won’t be happy in Caleb’s shadow long.” Bart cracked his knuckles, looking frustrated. “We’ll meet him again, sooner rather than later. Be ready.”
When they walked to the parking lot, two jets sat at its far end—one for Ulrich and the others, the second for Bart, Claudia, and Enoch. On the airplane ride home, Bart said, “All right, Enoch, tell us your thoughts.”
“I’m worried. Samiel’s smart and devious. The One sends him to do the jobs no one else wants to, and he never makes the same mistakes twice. Pleasures won’t be enough to satisfy him.”
Bart reached for Claudia’s hand. “I wish Caleb would have let us drain him and send him Home. Can you sense Samiel’s moods like you can Caleb’s?”
Enoch shook his head. “No bond, but if he goes rogue, I can sense where he is. That’s a perk the One gave me to track enemies.”
“That’s a start.” Bart didn’t look any happier than Enoch felt, but there was nothing more they could do at the moment.
Claudia reached for Enoch’s hand, too. “All we can do is wait and hope for the best.”
She didn’t sound optimistic, but she was right. All they could do was wait.
Hi, all! I write urban fantasy as Judith Post, but I also write romances under the pen name Judi Lynn. Hope you like them both, and thanks for stopping by.