And the new release, Psychic Wanted (Un)Dead or Alive is off and kicking!
When a ghostly curse is killing men on Halloween, psychic FBI agent Ariana Ryder must face her own past to stop it, because it’s just set its sights on her boss.
I love October!
The leaves from the giant oak overhanging the southern edge of the parking lot crunched like potato chips under my black screw-me-shoes, muffling the usual clickity-clack song of heels on pavement.
The breeze was cool and smelled like fall. Pumpkin pastries from the Panera I just exited mingled with coffee from the Starbucks next door and the sweetly rotting aroma of dying trees.
The line of businesses across from Vanderbilt were all student oriented like upscale fast food places and coffee shops designed for studying. And they were all decked out to the nines, tens, and twelves with orange and black bunting, painted pumpkins, and paper skeletons, tombstones and hook-nosed witches.
It was great.
I hiked the bags up on my dragging arms and walked as fast as the heels and the ton of cookies would allow. What were the things made of, bricks?
“Got them.” I wiggled the four plastic bags bursting with cookies dangling from my arms as I reached Kat’s dark purple Honda.
“And I got the lattes,” she said.
Her fancy black updo bobbed as she nodded down at the lattes in the cup holder and gave me her chipmunk grin.
Kat’s Asian-American and has a mischievous, round face. Most days she dresses like June Cleaver, but today’s ensemble was centuries older than that. Her wasp waist was trussed up in that torture device known as a corset and a full blood red skirt fell like a fountain of silk under a matching Boleyn-esque bodice.
She’d had me take in everything on the measurements when I made the dress, so I knew how tight that corset had to be.
My skimpy outfit wasn’t much more comfortable, but at least I could breathe.
“Caffeine! Bless you,” I said.
I slid into the passenger seat after dumping the bags in the back of the car with all the other junk food we’d picked up for tonight, and we took off towards Len’s club.
“How are you driving?” I asked.
Her skirt had to be bunched into her lap so she could shift and I couldn’t even begin to fathom how she worked the clutch with her four-inch stilettos.
I can barely drive a clutch in flats, heels are a definite no-no.
“I turn the wheel and push down these little peddle things.” She grinned again.
It was just past five and the streets of midtown Nashville were packed with people leaving work, and dressed up college students heading to parties; but the traffic was nothing compared to what it’d be in about four hours around here when the bars really started hopping.
Even when it falls on a weekday, Halloween in Nashville gets insane.
And that was true even before I got my powers and discovered the magical underbelly of our world.
A black cat, Spiderman, fairy princess, and Harry Potter ran across the street, giggling and tossing a small stuffed dog between them.
“When does this thing start again?” she asked.
“Officially around eight, but I said I’d help with the decoratin’,” I said. “Len kinda dropped the ball on the whole thing. Something about having a falling out with his party planner.”
Kat snorted. “Lovers quarrel?”
“I didn’t ask, but yeah.”
I loved Len. He was a good friend and a ton of fun, but he ran through guys like, as Mama would say, a woman of loose morals.
I flinched, good mood evaporatin’ like morning dew in July.
We’d gone the whole afternoon without talking about our boss. We’d gotten our nails done, got ready for the party, giggling and chatting, and then ran errands, and I actually hadn’t thought about Grant the entire time.
I took a breath and said very carefully, “I don’t know. You can ask him.”
“When are you two going to cut this whole thing out?”
I sighed. “I’m not doin’ anything. This is all him. Ask him when he’ll cut it out. Three and a half months and he… he won’t even fight! If he’d yell at me or whatever, I think we could move past this, but he just won’t.”
We’d gone to Miami for a job in July for the vampire king of Southern Florida, Carvi. He had magical powers even before he became a vampire, and one of them was the power of lust.
I did things I’m not proud of.
Not the least of which was trying to seduce Grant.
We’d both kinda buried the incident afterwards, and even seemed okay.
Until about a week or so after we got back to Nashville.
And Grant went from my boss and friend and sometimes comforter and confidant to just a boss.
He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t punishing me. He wasn’t treating me any different than anyone else in the office.
But it wasn’t the same.
He didn’t answer texts unless they were direct questions. And even then, they were short, curt answers. He didn’t hang out with me after work, watching movies, going shooting, or grabbing a drink, all things we used to do. When he did go out, it was when all of us on the team were, and then he never stayed longer than Jet or Dan.
He didn’t hold me during vicious visions at crime scenes, hadn’t come over with soup when I was sick with a serious cold last month, and he’d stopped hugging me goodbye.
For a while I’d go in for a hug and he’d barely bend and wrap his arms around my shoulders for a second before letting go.
He wasn’t acting like he did when he was mad.
He was terrifying when he was mad.
He just wasn’t my friend anymore.
Tears stung my eyes as an ache shot through my chest, and I sniffed, turning my head and pulling a tissue out of the glove compartment.
“Ariana,” Kat said.
“No,” I said. “I don’t wanna talk about it. We’ve talked it to death… but every time I try to talk to him about what happened, he just shuts down. He says it’s fine, we were under Carvi’s influence, and to let it go, but he’s not him anymore. He’s not my friend. Kat, I don’t know what to do.”
My voice broke and I dabbed under my eyes with the tissue, trying not to smear the eye makeup that’d taken me twenty minutes to do.
“I didn’t invite him tonight,” she said. “I’m pretty sure Jet or Dan would have though.”
My heart hiccupped and I shoved the feeling down.
I shrugged. “I’m done. I’m not gonna try to hang with someone who obviously wants nothin’ to do with me.”
My chest ached again and I clenched my fists tight as they’d go.
“I have a boyfriend,” I said. “And after the whole thing with Carvi, Quil and I have been good. We’ve talked it through and we’re doing the whole monogamy thing, and it’s good. I don’t even want Grant as anything more. I just want my friend back, and when I told him that, he just… blew me off! I’m not even sure if I’m hurt anymore cuz when I think about it, I’m just plum pissed. Has he said anything to you?”
“No,” Kat said, shrugging as she pulled into the Kickback’s parking lot. “The only time he says anything to me about you is in the context of work.”
Whenever someone says the opposite of love is hate, they’re bein’ stupid.
The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
Kat pulled around the back into the recently re-paved parking lot. (Some witch ended up scorching the crap outta it in September. I still couldn’t get the exact story from the vamps though.)
I climbed out, careful to keep my short skirt from flying up, and opened the back door.
“Stsssssssss,” a rattle sang out.
“Eep!” I hopped up and turned.
“Ah!” I plastered myself against the car as a ten-foot-long snake wiggled and rattled not one yard from me. “K… Kat!”
I heard her run around the car but kept my eyes glued to the critter.
The golden-brown scales gleamed in the sunlight and he rose on his belly, pushing himself up in a line no natural snake could pull off to look me in the eye.
I stared him straight in his gold eyes as they drew even with me.
I knew this snake!
“Carvi? You scared the crap outta me!”
If he could smile in snake form, he would’ve.
He likes scaring the crap outta me.
As it was, he shook his rattle, and bobbed his head down, sweeping his eyes up, taking me in like a tall glass of sweet tea in summer. He slid his forked tongue out and wiggled it at me.
My stomach went stone solid. And I thought being checked out by a younger guy was bad. How about being eye-screwed by a rattler?
“What are you doing in Nashville anyway?” I asked, propping my hands on my hips and taking deep breaths.
It was Carvi. He wasn’t up here for anything good.
My stomach jerked, pullin’ on things lower, and I mentally slapped it down.
Carvi was so not good for me.
I should’ve known better than to ask him any questions cuz he settled back on the ground.
I didn’t realize what he was doing at first.
The scales softened so slowly that I didn’t notice til they started running together like a milk chocolate river.
I flinched but couldn’t look away as bones started to reform and his built, golden legs shot out of his snake belly.
Golden skin slurped up the scales and I very specifically kept my eyes on his northern hemisphere as the snake melted into broad shoulders and built arms, then finally, into one hell of a heartbreaker’s face.
“Hello, lea,” Carvi said, smiling wide and bright.
Everything from my thighs to my belly seized and I squeaked.
Where was a valium when I needed one?
Kat broke into giggles behind me and I turned to look at her.
“Nice… to finally meet… you,” she managed to get out between giggles.
I could feel his gaze lock on me as I turned back around.
He met my eyes and winked and I actually felt my face heat up at least ten degrees.
Why oh why did I choose the green and black beer maid costume complete with Wonderbra that made me look like I belonged in Amsterdam?
The tops of my breasts were squished up and plump looking thanks to the aptly named bra, and I knew from personal experience that one of Carvi’s favorite snack areas just happened to be the breast.
The other was the thigh.
And those were on full display in the short skirt too.
I looked up at the receding sun. Carvi’s the one vamp I know old enough to walk out in the sun, and certainly the one I most wish couldn’t.
Well, no. The one I most wished couldn’t would’ve been Nashville’s old queen, Jade.
It would’ve been bad for me if she could’ve walked in the sun before, but she was still locked up in Carvi’s own private hell on the astral plane.
“Someone could’ve seen you,” I scolded without looking at him.
I didn’t know what else to say.
Carvi has that effect on a lot of people.
“We’re behind a building with trees and a solid wall lining it, and I’d hear someone if they were nearby,” Carvi said.
I pressed my lips together, suppressing a shiver.
I’m big on textures, and his voice is loaded with black velvet foam, low, dark, and arrogantly seductive.
I was terrified of him for a few good reasons, not the least of which was he wasn’t great with the words “no” and “I have a boyfriend.”
“What’re you doing here?” I said, crossing my arms.
“I came to warn you.” A smile tugged up the edges of his Cupid’s bow lips. “There’s a contract out on your life.”
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