Man, I haven’t updated this blog since last June. I’m wayyyy behind.
I was trying to get a bunch of stories done at once. First I finished BAD MOON RISING, which will be included in the Witching Hour: Zodiac anthology (99 cents for 36 novellas — can’t beat that). Then I finished ASSASSIN’S BLADE, which will be the first book in a new series set in medieval Italy with magic, dragons, and a determined young woman who will risk anything to rescue her kidnapped father. Now I’m trying to finish NIGHT IN MY VEINS, the second book in the Owl-Bearer series, which is coming out this December. I’m kind of way behind on that one.
But tonight I’ll post the first chapter of IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, which came out a month or two ago. Yes, I am wayyyy behind. But, better late than never.
Remy is a fast-talking genius who solves mysteries with the help of the Trapped Dead and his owl, Hinto. He makes a great living at doing so … until one of his investigations gets too close to the wrong people.
Sarae is still reeling from the loss of her family. But an owl teaches her how to free the dead, and she finds solace in her work. She’s sure she’s the only one with this gift, until she meets Remy, who’s on the run.
Their meeting unlocks a new mystery involving some missing girls, and they’re forced to work together — and the sparks fly. But time is running out for the girls. Monsters are on the rampage in the night forest, and an ancient power is rising … one that is more powerful than Sarae, Remy, or their owls.
Rural Missouri don’t play around ….
You’ll Never Eat Lunch In this Town Again
from In the Midnight Hour
Life gets complicated when the dead can talk to you any time they damn well please.
Remy needed to ward his brand-new RV, but the spell was painfully complicated, and he was busy. He hardly slept more than twenty minutes at a time anymore, which made it hard for the dead to visit him in his dreams – so what the hell.
It had taken him twelve hours to ward his previous RV from the voices and visions of the Trapped Dead. After the warding, the place had smelled like burned chicken feathers and rotting flesh for a week.
Remy looked around his pristine Mercedes Benz Sprinter. It seemed a shame to ruin its new car smell.
No. He’d ward it next month. Or the month after that.
Remy put his feet up on the seat and went back to carving his latest puzzle box, working through clues in the case with the pharmacist and his drug-smuggling scam. After all, the dead don’t sleep, especially in a place like Los Angeles. Dead were layered upon dead in this place.
This morning a ghost had visited him in a dream and had given him a new connection in the case.
“It may surprise you to know,” Remy told Marcus without looking up, “that the pharmacist case is connected to the naked dude with the Klingon sword found stuck in the millionaire’s chimney.”
“Nope.” Marcus leafed through the piles of papers on the small table in the back of the RV. “No amount of twisted shit surprises me anymore.”
Remy grunted and nodded, flicking away some wood shavings with the point of his whittling knife.
“So … do you ever plan to call Kim back?”
Remy raised his eyes in a cold stare.
Marcus was grinning, but immediately lost the grin. “Whoa! Okay! I’ll take that as a no.”
Remy just exhaled. “Let’s not ever talk about her again.”
“Just because she tried to run you down with her car ….”
“I said, let’s not talk about her ever again,” Remy said.
Kim had complained that Remy was always too busy to spend time with her. But he had work to do. He couldn’t just put things on hold to go on impromptu dates or whatever. It simply helped if they could schedule things a couple of weeks in advance. Maybe three or four weeks.
She completely lost it when he missed a nice date that he’d planned three weeks in advance – actually, it was her birthday. That afternoon, he found a lead on one of his cases that he absolutely had to follow up on. He didn’t get back to her until after she’d been sitting at the restaurant for about two hours. So that led to an argument in the restaurant, then in the parking lot, then in the street.
The next thing he knew, Kim came for him in her car and chased him several blocks before he managed to escape her wheels of death.
Happens to everyone.
“Romance works better if you give a part of yourself to those who love you,” Marcus said quietly.
Remy made a rude noise with his lips. “Romance is overrated. People need to learn how to take care of themselves. Look at me. I’ve taken care of myself all my life and I’m fine.”
“Oh! Is that so?” Marcus asked wryly.
Just then Marcus’s phone buzzed.
“Ms. Burnett just texted about her missing Bedlington Terrier,” Marcus said, glancing up from his phone. Remy replied by grimacing at the chunk of wood slowly taking shape in his hands. “For the fourth time.”
“Did you tell her no again?”
“No, I told her you are an eccentric genius. That you must not be pestered.”
Remy looked up from the puzzle box hopefully. “Did that work?”
Marcus shrugged as the phone suddenly rang in his hand. He checked the number, then shoved a stack of papers aside and handed Remy the phone.
“It’s the Mayor,” he said.
Remy’s nostrils flared as he looked down his nose at the phone, but Marcus merely waggled it at him, smiling broadly.
“Politicians ….” Hinto sneered softly from his perch between the RV’s driver and passenger seats. The great horned owl hopped from his perch, not able to fully spread his great wings in the confined space of the vehicle, and came to sit on the windowsill behind Remy. “Those cheap bastards don’t pay for shit.”
“Ignore him,” Marcus said. He knew the owl well enough to know the bird was saying something unflattering about the mayor of the City of Los Angeles.
Remy placed the whittling knife and block of wood carefully onto the table and snatched the phone from Marcus. “Frank, my man!” he shouted, widening his eyes at Marcus, who shook his head warningly. “What the hell time is it, anyway?”
Remy knew the mayor hated to be spoken to in this casual ‘I don’t give a shit who you think you are’ manner, but he enjoyed the way the Mayor would struggle to kiss his ass anyway.
Also, how many damn times did someone have to explain they only took meetings at night? Marcus said this rule was because Remy loved sauntering around with Hinto on his shoulder, intimidating everyone with his eccentric genius, but Hinto was a part of the team, and owls are nocturnal, so it was only considerate. Plus, Remy was sure he did not “saunter.”
But there’s no way around the fact that it looks pretty badass to walk around with a great horned owl on your shoulder. And if he’s an owl you can talk to and understand? Hell, yes.
Marcus enjoyed the sight of it, too, Remy knew. He was just too nice to admit that having a giant bird of prey sporting terrifyingly long talons on your team was great for getting people to stay the fuck out of your face.
Remy could still close his eyes and see clearly the first time he’d set eyes on Hinto. His majestic wings were spread wide as he glided silently through the smoke. The light of the fire’s flames glowed on the pale feathers along his throat, and shone bright orange in his round eyes.
It had been before the firemen arrived, when Remy had run at the blazing inferno that had been his home, dashing tears from his eyes. It was then that the owl had flown to him out of the fire, and he’d stopped, chest heaving.
They would all arrive minutes later, the rushing heroes, the gaping crowd, the sirens, the flashing lights – but those minutes had been enough for Hinto to tell Remy what he needed to tell him. And Remy realized he was too late to save his mother, his father, and his little brothers.
The fire had spread so fast, it was almost unnatural. A living, murdering, devouring creature. If Remy hadn’t been out walking—if he had been able to sleep—he would have been its fifth victim.
The owl had spoken, and part of Remy’s mind heard the soft chirps. And part of his mind had easily translated and understood.
“Remy Laveau, descendent of Marie Catherine Laveau, The Great Voodoo Queen. Your family is gone, and I am here. I will help you keep the madness of the Sight at bay. I will teach you to protect yourself from the Trapped Dead.”
Remy hadn’t thought it was strange at all that an owl was talking to him, and that he could understand it. Maybe that was proof he had inherited some kind of “sight” from his great-great-great-grandmother. He had felt the shock of course, the grief of their loss, but he had locked it away and simply accepted that Hinto was his family now.
Maybe it had all been too much.
Because at that moment Remy had also been able to see and hear ghosts.
“The Trapped Dead,” as Hinto called them. Spirits confined to the place of their deaths, tethered to this world by tragedy, by attachment, by sadness—by endless pain. They looked at him, and they saw him see them, and they drifted closer, as close as their invisible borders allowed them to. They called out to him, begging him for help until Remy understood what it meant to go insane.
Hinto had settled down onto his shoulder then, lighter than he looked, his great taloned feet as adorable as enormous fluffy cat paws, but with deadly curved talons. And when he hissed at them, the spirits retreated back into the shadows.
Remy knew he couldn’t return to normal life—to school. There was no normal anymore. Normal had been obliterated with his parents and little brother in that fire. Normal had vanished with the arrival of Hinto.
Remy had never been what anyone would have called normal to begin with, with his high IQ, his indifference to mundane concerns, and his obsession with puzzles. But now that he could speak to the dead? Forget it.
He had been almost 18 by then, and so with the help of Marcus’s parents, he’d arranged his finances, settled his parents’ wills, and hassled for insurance money.
Then he’d sold his car, bought his first RV, and had gone into business for himself.
With the ability to speak to invisible witnesses, with Hinto able to fly above the city with superhuman eyesight, Remy knew there would be a high demand for the endless possibilities his new life presented.
Within months, Remy had hired Marcus. He found himself with more clients than he could handle and the paperwork alone was becoming a total pain in the ass. And Remy had never been able to keep anything a secret from the friend he’d known since before either of them could speak anyway. With Marcus’s crazy good looks, easy charm, and “normal-ness,” he proved himself invaluable. Soon their business catapulted into the most sought-after service in Southern California.
That had been nearly two years now. Remy still had a lot to learn about the practice of the occult, spiritualism, witchcraft—whatever name it was given these days.
He still had a lot to learn about magic.
And Hinto was no ordinary teacher. The owl demanded that Remy “tap into his natural gift.” He wasn’t about to “spell shit out every time you need something done the easy way. You need to feel it, man.”
“Laveau, are you listening to me?” the mayor snapped.
“Huh?” Remy said. “Oh, sure sure sure.”
“Your investigation is getting too close to my office.”
“I beg your pardon?” Remy asked, mock-offended. “Too close?” He racked his brain to remember what investigation the mayor was talking about. “You mean the pharmacist case? The one with the naked man with the Klingon sword in the chimney?”
The mayor drew a sharp, sudden breath.
Remy was usually hard to rattle. But that inhale suddenly brought it home to him. He’d just given away his game. And the mayor just had, too.
The mayor’s voice grew very soft and sharp. “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, to find out everything that you’ve learned, but enough is enough. If you know what’s good for you, you’d leave the city as fast as you could.”
Now Remy regretted taking the phone call, but he brushed off his concern. “Mayor, boy, have you got the wrong person. Now let’s go back to that case you called me about earlier. Let me check our calendar here….” Remy trailed off, lifting the beginnings of the puzzle box and tilting his head to peer at the details he’d already carved along its wooden surface. “Yeah, it looks like we’re booked up until … three months from now. I’ll let you know if we get an opening.”
“Still blowing me off?” the mayor sneered. “You’ll change your mind soon enough. My friends should be showing up at your brand-new RV any time now.”
Remy frowned. He put the phone on speaker so Marcus could hear. “Now wait a minute, Frank. You don’t have an appointment! Neither you nor your little friends.”
“I have video of that little purchase you made last week,” the mayor added over the speakerphone. “We have information on your taxes, which you haven’t paid for years. And your money laundering.”
“What? You’ve paid your taxes,” Marcus said, but he was looking worried.
“Get out of town, Laveau,” the mayor sneered. “Get out if you know what’s good for you.” He hung up.
Remy tossed the phone back to Marcus, who shook his head again.
“What was that all about?” Marcus asked. “What purchase was he talking about?”
Remy pulled a face. “Let’s not go into that right now.”
“Money laundering? What’s going on here?”
“Let’s go –”
“Get breakfast?” Marcus said hopefully.
“Yeah, yeah, cool,” Remy said. “You can handle that while I, um, nap.”
But just then, three black cars pulled into the parking lot where they were sitting. Two cars pulled up at their sides. The third screeched to a stop directly in front of them.
“Remy, what the hell?” Marcus slid into the RV’s driver’s seat and hit the start button.
“Get out of here, go, go, go!” Remy slid into the passenger seat, nearly jabbing himself in the hand with his whittling knife.
Outside, three sets of car doors opened and men in dark suits climbed out, crowbars in their hands.
“Oh, hell no!” Remy cried. “I just bought this mother!”
“Hold on tight,” Marcus said.
Marcus jammed the RV into reverse and gunned it. They squealed out of the open square of cars, careering backwards, and then he slammed it into drive and hit the gas. He drove the RV straight over a low curb and sidewalk directly into the busy street. Cars screeched and blasted their horns as they roared onto the street, Marcus dodging traffic as if he were driving a rally car, blasting his horn until the parking lot and the black cars were well out of sight. Then he hit the turn signal to get onto a nice road that didn’t have much traffic but could get them out of the city in a decent amount of time.
Hinto ruffled his feathers and settled back onto his perch, eyes wide.
Marcus was still aghast. “Remy, what the hell is going on here?”
“Just … keep driving for a while,” was all Remy said.
* * *
Remy knew he must have fallen asleep as soon as he saw the white lady. She had one of those stupid-looking 80’s perms, like she wanted to look like Cher in Moonstruck. She wore a suit jacket with giant shoulder pads in a bold emerald green that perfectly matched her high-waisted culottes, and contrasted with her black and white striped shirt. She even wore those pointy shiny red heels. Marcus always said that Remy didn’t care about fashion, and it was true to some extent.
On the other hand, knowing about fashion helped him to pinpoint when a ghost had died.
The ghost stood looking at him silently for a long moment, and Remy began to lose patience. He should’ve warded the RV.
“Hello,” she said, her voice carrying in that soft, echo-y ghost way. “I’m—”
“I’m not interested,” Remy told her. He would ward the RV tomorrow, damn it.
“I’m not here for myself.” The ghost’s eyes flared with the volatile, crazed anger unique to the Trapped Dead. It had scared Remy the first time he’d seen it. Now it just irritated him.
“My girls are missing,” the ghost said. “They’re in trouble. You have to help them!”
With the last words, she transformed to a hideous corpse-version of herself, her bloated, purple and blue face only inches from his own in an instant, her eyeballs bulging and bloodshot, her tongue lolling and swollen.
Remy tried not to sigh with bored exasperation.
“Please try to control yourself,” he snapped. “That shit doesn’t work on me.”
He could see the ghost struggling with her emotions, trying to regain her composure, her pre-death appearance.
“That means back the fuck out of my face,” Remy growled.
With a lurch like an electrical glitch in a film, the ghost was across the room once more, her face pale and composed.
He started to recite the charm that would wake him up.
But then the ghost said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Remy kind of stopped at that. “What do you mean?”
“You forgot who I am,” she said angrily. “How could you forget?”
“I’m serious,” Remy said, his annoyance returning. “I don’t remember you at all. I’m sorry.”
“Well then. Maybe you remember the mutilation case? In Missouri?”
Remy really stopped. He stared at her for a long moment.
“Jesus,” he said. “Are you shitting me? You’re ….”
“Yes. I am.” Her voice gurgled, a ghost’s way of showing strong emotion, barely suppressed.
“Oh my God.”
“So you do remember.”
Remy did not want to.
“You need to come back to Missouri,” she said. “It’s happening again, but now other actors are in play.”
“Like hell I’m going back to that goddamned state,” Remy said.
The ghost whispered a laugh. Then she said something that chilled Remy to the marrow.
“Everything old is new again.”
Remy stood there, trying to process this saying that he’d hated since he was a child and his parents were on the run. He’d grown into a man here in the safety of southern California.
He thought he’d been done with Missouri, with everything it had done to his parents and family.
But now the mayor of Los Angeles was sending his goons after Remy. He needed a place to lie low until this all blew over.
“So … I’m going back there again,” he croaked.
The ghost grinned.
“You’re going to hell,” she said.