Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What's wrong with this picture?

Every morning the sun peeks through my blinds and I crack open one eye, my hand invariably fumbling on the night table for my alarm clock. Of course, I already know the alarm didn't go off, because I can hear my children down the hall squabbling. I crane my head and listen for the sounds of bloodshed, while at the same time wondering why half my body is freezing and the other half is weighted down and sweating like a Turkish bath. It's then I realize the two dogs have somehow wormed their way onto the bed, and have nestled themselves snugly into the space between me and my husband. I'm pinned into place by three snoring bodies, all of whom growl at any attempt I make to move them.

You gotta ask yourself, "What's wrong with this picture?"

If you're anything like me, your ordinary day probably starts in a similar way. Oh, the characters and culprits may vary, but the basic plot remains the same. The same question reverberates from households across the country the minute the gun goes off at the gate.

I get out of bed and stumble into the bathroom, children and dogs close on my heels. It's as if a radar blip has gone off throughout the house, letting everyone know my proximity and that I'm doing something that requires privacy. I can envision mothers universally nodding their heads in solidarity.

There's an unwritten rule somewhere that we're not allowed to pee or chat on the phone or check our email by ourselves. Almost as if they're afraid we'll never come out once we lock the door behind us. My guess is that's closer to the truth than they'd care to admit. I mean, have your kids ever ventured to knock on the bathroom door while their father is sequestered inside? In my house, the roof would have to be on fire first.

The morning has now moved itself into the kitchen. Breakfast has been served and there's a sudden flurry of homework papers and folders in a last minute frenzy before the squeal of the bus is heard down the street. My husband is still upstairs, no doubt on the phone or doing something that requires adult thought, as I glance longingly at my computer and the emails waiting for me from my editor. Dish towel in hand, I wipe stray Cheerios and milk...emails left waiting, my latest deadline on hold and my muse forced to listen to muzak while I'm busy being Mom.

I used to joke with my girlfriends if you asked any successful woman what the difference was between them and a successful man, they'd answer...a wife. That, and of course the pay differential.

So, while my husband conducts business from the minute he steps foot out of bed, I'm left to conduct the business of the house like Toscanini in front of the New York Symphony Orchestra, my own work left waiting in the wings.

The kids rush off and I watch from the porch, a series of their I love you(s) still lingering in the air as they run for the bus. Closing the door behind me, I walk back into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, my eyes passing my office and my still quiet laptop. My husband smiles and winks at me over his own cup of joe, quietly handing me the drawing of our family our eight year old did in school the day before.

What's wrong with this picture?

Not a damn thing.

My inaugural post on my blog Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture April 10, 2011

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...I Am My Mother After All

This Saturday night, my darling husband and I attended a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser for a family we know affected by the disease. It was a wonderful event. Good food, good music, great friends and a fabulous cause...and of course, lots and lots of pictures.

That's when I realized things were no longer the same.

As we sat laughing and having a terrific time, camera phones were busy snapping candids and all was right with the world...that is until I hit the back button. I started scrolling through the pictures and found myself staring at the small lcd screen, the words "Oh my God, is that what I really look like?" reverberating from the walls of my brain.

Why is it men always seem to get better looking with age, but as a woman approaches the most vital, most productive, most creative time in her life, everything else seems to go south along with her boobs? It's the ultimate betrayal. Mother Nature's practical joke on womankind.

Sunday morning I got up and took inventory of my face. As I stared at myself in the mirror, it was the first time I saw shades of my mother looking back. The transformation isn't complete, but the outlines...along with the crows feet...are there. And for an urban fantasy author such as myself, it's shapeshifting in its most basic form.

Squaring my shoulders, I realized I had a choice. I could either view my newly discovered signs of aging as badges of honor or signs of decay. Which was it going to be?

Like with one of my stories, it became a matter of point of view, or as writers call it POV. Was I going to allow myself to wallow in what the world tells me is beautiful or was I going to do some world building of my own and create my own definition? So... Botox or battle scars?

For my own sake and for the sake of the two girls I am trying to raise 'till the day they find ME staring back at THEM from some mirror, I decided to place my bets on my own definitions. After all, words are my first line of defense, and whether or not they are on the written page or in the mantra I tell myself everyday, they are powerful.

I am powerful. I am beautiful. I am woman. What's your definition?

Ready, Set...GO!

Oh, how I used to love weekends. Especially Saturday. When I was younger I would look forward to Friday, to go out with my friends and sleep late the next day. Come afternoon I'd be on the phone, eagerly planning Saturday night and all its diversions. Sigh.

Now it seems weekends have become an extension of my work week, a time to play catch up for all the things I didn't have time to finish. As the oldest of four, I remember looking at my parents and thinking what a waste it was to spend the weekend running errands and kids around town, then watch in disgust as they parked themselves in front of the television after dinner like a couple of slugs. I promised myself that would never be me.


Fast forward a couple of decades and here I am. Slug city.

I have to admit sometimes it gets to me, but when I look around I realize I'm not missing anything. There was a time and a place in my life for all that "fun", and the nostalgia I sometimes feel is nothing more than glory days popping in to play head games.

I used to think it was just guys who had glory day withdrawals. The thrill of carousing with their friends, the all night parties and the stories that would rival the movie, The Hangover, but women have them too, they just take a different form.

We browse through the racks with our teenage daughters in stores with names like Forever 21 and Hot Topic and we sigh, remembering with fondness our own miniskirts and midriffs. We shop for bathing suits and wonder just when it was we inherited our mother's thighs and all the jiggly bits that go along with them. We sigh again and stoically reach for the age appropriate rack.


So, in our youth obsessed culture, what's a mature woman to do? Raid our daughters' closets in a pathetic attempt to hang on to our youthful self image or head straight for polyester pantsuits and boxy shirts that scream our descent into middle age?

Truth is, the choice doesn't have to be either. Smart, savvy women learn to work it at any age. And by working it I'm not talking about doing the shimmy without the benefit of underwire. No, what I mean is owning your own self worth. To accept who you are, that you're seasoned not sagging and that life experience is a currency no twenty-something can spend.

We need to remind ourselves that women are glorious at any age: in our perky, yet naive twenties, our ambitious thirties, our confident and successful forties or our fabulously finessed fifties, and so on and so forth.

As we head into our jam-packed weekends full of lacrosse games and hockey tournaments, dry cleaners and supermarkets, make sure to take the time to look around. Smile, and realize you're still you, regardless of pant size.

Originally posted on my blog Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture May 27 2011

Stop Complaining and just Enjoy the View

For the last couple of days I feel like I'm living in that Progresso soup commercial...the one where the wife calls the company to complain her husband looks like he did twenty years ago since eating their light version. Striking a pose, the husband then picks up the extension and tells her to stop complaining and to just enjoy the view... gaak!

My own darling man just took off twenty pounds and he did it in a little over six weeks. I know. You don't have to say it because I want to slap him too. sigh 

So why am I so pissed off? He looks great. I mean GREAT...yet he's still the same loving, attentive man he's always been. His little makeover didn't change him, so why is it changing me?

Two words. I'm jealous.

As sad as that is, it's the God's honest truth. I mean as women we self sabotage all the time, even if we don't want to admit it. We see a friend we haven't seen in a long time and they look toned and terrific and while we are genuinely happy for them, we secretly hope to find they're wearing Spanx or had liposuction. We don't want to look in the mirror someone else's hard work holds up to our face.

But it's not just women. We're all guilty of this kind of destructive emotion in some way. It's part of the human condition, but what separates us is the way we handle it. So I guess I'm going to put down the donuts and put on my sneakers and hit the treadmill.

...and when my husband comes home tonight I'm going to do more than just enjoy the view!

Originally posted on my blog Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture July 15 2011

Show me the love...please!

February is usually a feel good kind of a month. At least for me. There's Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, and spring is on the horizon. But this year, it was a little harder to muster up the warm fuzzies.

It seems everywhere I go these days, people have forgotten the basic rule of treat others the way you want to be treated or my mother's favorite, if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all.

It seems this way of thinking has become pervasive, from impatience on supermarket checkout lines, to the mean spirited dialogue written for characters on TV, to the God-awful comments people leave anonymously on the internet.

I spend my days creating characters that are independent and strong, yet still compassionate. I pour myself into how I craft their nature, developing them into three-dimensional characters, tested and pushed, but still finding strength within to hold onto their humanity. However, in the real world lately, I've had a hard time convincing myself goodwill isn't dead and buried somewhere under a headstone that reads, "Here lies the Humanity." An illusion that no longer exists.

People will say, "Well, you're from New York, what did you expect to find? Please, excuse me and thank you?" This antagonistic apathy isn't something limited to my cynical city. It's all over and I don't know what to do about it. What's worse, I see it popping up in the school my children attend, in the way the kids speak to each another. Of course, the reason is they're mimicking what they hear and see around them.

As a society, have we become so soulless that our idea of humor is so entrenched in the self-serving, the lines between mean-spirited and funny are forever blurred? And where is it written it's acceptable to leave non-substantive yet hurtful commentary all over the internet and that today it's not only expected, it's considered ratings worthy?

Part of me cringes, because I know I sound like my grandparents back in the day when they protested that Rock-n-Roll Rubbish. However, in this case, it I don't think  this is so much a shift in freedom of expression as much as a blatant disregard for common respect, consideration and right vs. wrong.

Some argue this is fallout from not enough accountability and too much entitlement. And while I don't know about that, I do believe the warning signs are flashing red. Perhaps it's not as bad as my experiences this past month have made it seem, and there are people out there who still believe you go farther with a kind word than a nasty one, and that a job well done is worth the effort you put in. One can only hope. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Originally posted on my blog "Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture?' February 26, 2012

Where has the time gone?

It seems like yesterday my kids were these delicious little gremlins, reminiscent of cute Anne Geddes photographs as they sat in their strollers, and everything I needed to keep them happy and safe was in a compact diaper bag.

But, like everything else in life, things change...

Somewhere along the line, I traded in my diaper genie for a chauffeur's cap and joined the ranks of other suburban moms ferrying their children around from place to place. Oh, the destinations changed as the years flew by, moving from kiddie parties and mite hockey games to, "Just drop me off at the mall," and "Mom, I need a new dress for the dance," and "My hockey team is going to Lake Placid to skate the Olympic ice!"

However, all of that pales in comparison the day they turn to you and ask,"Mom, can you teach me to drive?"

If you're like me, you pretend you didn't hear them. Of course, the reality is you did hear them, but your head is swimming and you're suddenly incapable of coherent speech. You muster every conceivable argument you can find to try and stave off the inevitable, but it's a lost cause. Life just took sharp curve and pushed you out of the driver's seat...literally.

As you fight panic, along with nausea and nail-biting at the fear of everything that can and will go wrong, you stop and take a deep breath.You look at your child and find yourself muttering about where time has gone, baffled at how your beautiful, little baby grew into this gorgeous teenager, ready to take the helm and start their own life's journey.

And then it hits you. Besides the worry churning in your stomach, a cold reality dawns it is no longer your time, but theirs. The spotlight has shifted and you've been directed to exit stage right. It's a sobering moment. For me, my maternal worry was followed by an immediate sense of loss, of suddenly not being needed, of growing old. But I looked at my kids and amazingly it dissipated, replaced by an overwhelming sense of pride and unconditional love.

I guess this is what my parents meant when they said, "One day you''ll understand."

The truth of it is we were all on that same threshold at some point. Every one of us has war stories and glory days, and most of us can easily recall our own teenage battle cries, our zest for life in all its forms, regardless of consequence. The memories maybe soft and hazy with nostalgia, but catch yourself talking with friends, especially ones who knew you when, and watch the smiles blossom. They might be embarrassed, 'what was I thinking' sort of smiles, but still chuckle-worthy.

Now it's our children poised at the starting gate and no matter how much our fingers clutch at the air, we need to let them go. We need to have faith in them and in the lessons we've taught, however flawed. It's their time. Their rite of passage. We need to let them sound their own battle cry and run, fists raised into life, to make their own mistakes, their own memories, and all we can do is pray they don't get caught in the crossfire.

I taught my kids everything, from how to talk and walk, to how to reach for their dreams. It may no longer be my time in the spotlight, but it's certainly my time to watch my children soar, knowing I'll always be there for them regardless of the thuds along the way.

Originally posted on my blog 'Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture' April 17 2012

Men...Can't live with 'em, just can't shoot 'em.

The Forrester Sisters had a terrific song out a few years ago, with the best line I've heard in a long time. Men, can't live with 'em, just can't shoot 'em. Ladies, if you've been married for more than a few years, you know what I'm talking about. Oh, it's more than just a Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus thing... hell, sometimes I swear we aren't even part of the same solar system.

The realization dawned on me not too long after the birth of our first child. Now granted, this was almost twenty years ago, and the title of new parent applied as much to my DH (Darling Husband) as it did to any new father, but I remember this one poignant moment like it was yesterday. That day, I asked DH to pack the diaper bag for a family outing we had to attend. It was to be an all day affair and I had errands to run right before we had to leave. I'm sure I don't have to go into detail as to what essentials were missing, just use your imagination and picture your own face when you unzipped the diaper bag at a crucial moment and then needed to explain why more than one diaper was necessary to the skeptical face on the man standing over you.

Fast forward ten years. I'm sitting with a friend at lunch and she relates a story that had me both laughing and shaking my head. The feeling of been there, done that, resonated like church bells on Christmas...not in its specifics, but in the truth of just how 'real' it all is when it comes to the differences between the sexes. She had just come home from a day of errands, leaving her two children home with her DH for the better part of the day. He was in the yard, the house looked like a Nabisco Snack Factory exploded in the kitchen, and the kids were still in their pajamas. Dumbfounded, she walked out the back and ventured the question, "What happened today?"

"Whaddya mean?"
"Honey, the house is a disaster and the kids are still in their pajamas, what do you think I mean? Did you even give them lunch?" Her voice raising half an octave.
He shook his head.
"Why?" She asked, almost afraid of his answer.
He shrugged. "I wasn't hungry."

We've all had moments like this and the combined experiences have led my sisters and I to coin the acronym, OMC. Oxygen Mask Club. We firmly believe all men belong to this club in varying degrees of membership. But why Oxygen Mask Club? What does oxygen have to do with the differences between the way men and women view the world? It's simple. Picture an airplane. Everyone is seated and awaiting take off and per FAA safety protocol, flight attendants stand mid-aisle giving their pre-flight safety demonstration. At one point they hold up their hand and simulate oxygen masks dropping from ceiling compartments and what do they instruct next? For passengers to always "fit his/her OWN oxygen mask BEFORE assisting anyone else."

Need I say more?

While most men, my DH included, are loving, caring, responsible men who would give their lives for their families, they are nonetheless connected at different times, in one way or another, with the OMC. So, the next time your DH leaves you with an expression of stunned disbelief, just laugh and remember he may be a charter member of the club. I swear some days my own is the Grand Poo-bah of them all, but I love him dearly, regardless. ;)

Originally posted on my blog 'Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture' April 23, 2012

The Forgetful Heart

We've all had days that blur endlessly one into another. The same daily routines that leave us mind-numbed and yawning through our lives. However, every once in a while we're given a gift, a glimpse of how life should be. Like flashes from a Hallmark card come to life, these glimpses come in moments so seemingly insignificant, they're easy to miss.

I had one of these moments this morning while dropping off my kids at school. As usual, the circle was packed with cars, bumper to bumper waiting for the crossing guard to give the go ahead to move. The buses had just let out and legions of third, fourth and fifth graders herded toward the main entrance of the school. It was pretty much the same old, same old I saw every morning, but as I watched my kids join the throng, I noticed two boys holding back. They had spotted my fifth grader, and with huge smiles, waited for him on the sidelines. As my son joind his friends, they all fist punched and then laughing, headed in to start their day. I felt a stupid, silly grin spread across my face and my heart swelled. All I could think was, "Wow."

Happy, I pulled out of the circle and onto the street, but as I drove home that momentary feeling of parental euphoria ebbed as I thought about life, about how things change and how I didn't want any part of that change for my kids. How I wanted them to stay happy and innocent the way I saw them just moments before. I don't know why, but for some reason scenes from the movie, "The Breakfast Club," flashed through my mind. The random thoughts were most likely a by-product of caffeine-deprivation, but nonetheless, there they were. Those of us of a certain age remember the movie well, and though there are an equal amount of humorous and poignant moments from the film, imagine my dismay when one line in particular grabbed me as I turned into my driveway: "When you grow up, your heart dies."

I sat in my car a little stunned at where my brain had taken me, and after my initial feeling of, "What the hell...", I thought, "Huh, is that what really happened? Why I was so blown away by such a simple gesture of innocent joy?" I turned off the ignition and looked at myself in the rear view mirror, staring at my reflection as if the answer was hidden somewhere behind my eyes.

With a sigh, I got out of the car and walked halfway toward my open garage door and stopped. It hit me then. It's not that our hearts die when we grow up. It's that we forget to remember that life is simple, that joy isn't quantified by how much we know, how much we have, what we look like or how much success we achieve. We get sidetracked in our busy lives, becoming associates in our marriages and our friendships, believing that life is made up of details.

I went in the house, and shut the garage door behind me. As I climbed the basement stairs, I started to laugh. My caffeine deprived brain had done it again, but this time it was the epilogue from the movie that ran through my head.

...[Mr. Vernon] you see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms and in the most convenient definitions...But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete...and a basket case...a princess...and a criminal. Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club

The words still speak to me, but I see them now as a token memory, encouraging me to look past the obvious and see what's really there. That perhaps these little glimpses grab our hearts for no other reason than to remind us of what's important. That joy is right there in front of us, if we have courage to look for it.

So, take inventory of the glimpses shown you and recapture the moments of joy in your own life. Trust me, your forgetful heart can take it.

Originally posted on my blog 'Madcap Moms...What Wrong with this Picture'  May 1, 2012

How independent is too independent?

My daughter is beautiful, smart, athletic, has lots of friends...all the things you would think would make for teenage heaven, right? Of course, right. And on top of all that, she's a parent's dream in that she's not boy crazy yet, like many other girls her age.

Okay, okay...you can stop rolling your eyes at me. I know I should be over the moon she's focused on grades and sports and just being herself. And don't get me wrong, it's not that guys aren't on her radar, they are. She's noticed quite a few and believe me they notice her, too. In fact, just this past Valentine's Day, a guy she knows gave her a beautiful bracelet for the occasion. She was thrilled with the gift and the sweet kiss that followed. So it's not that romance isn't on her list of interests...it's just not something she's interested in chasing.

So, should I worry she's not like the other girls in her class, preoccupying themselves with incessant texts and snap chats to guys and gossiping with their friends over the latest hookups? No. That's not something I'm interested in chasing.

So what should I think about all this disinterest?

I've written blog posts in the past about being a role model for my girls, about teaching them to be independent and to develop their self-worth through action and accomplishment...that the worst thing I could do for them as their mother, is to allow them to believe their value lies in nothing more than being decorative. I think I've accomplished that well through example, rather than just through words. They've been with me every step of the way as I earned my first and second degree black belts, as I started my writing career and my books began to win awards. They've been there when I've had speaking engagements and seen the pictures from the writer's conferences where I've been featured often as a guest panelist. My interests have always been eclectic and I work at my own pace, comparing my own accomplishments against no one else's but my own.

Now I have to ask myself, with all this independence and strength...and I use the words conditionally...swirling through the way I run my life, have my girls gotten so caught up in my tornado of ideas and opinions that I've robbed them of certain rites of passage every girl should experience?

Is there such a thing as too independent?

I feel like Karen Allen, the actress from the movie, The Sandlot Lot, when she tells her son to go out and get into trouble, to get dirty and skin his knees because he's too good to be true. Do I tell my teenage daughter to stop being so focused and to start flirting or do I just let her be herself? Do I need to worry that she's so focused on the goals she's set for herself, that she's forgetting to enjoy the journey...or worse...that she doesn't know how?

Every parent questions whether or not they've made the right choices when it comes to their kids. My hope is I've prepared her enough for her future, and as far as that goes, independence and a clear sense of self-worth is never a bad thing. As to romance and heartbreak as a rite of passage, I guess no one escapes it forever, and when it does come knocking I'll certainly be there for my daughter the same way my own mother was there for me. I just want to make sure my girls look around every once in a while to see that it is there, even if it's only on the horizon. That it's worth its weight in gold to be carefree and even silly sometimes, and that you can have it all. You just have to remember to let it happen.

Originally posted on my blog 'Madcap Moms...What's Wrong with this Picture' March 8, 2013

When ghosts come calling....

A crisp night, a campfire, s'mores and of course...ghost stories. We've all sat mesmerized as creepy tales raise goosebumps, making us move that much closer to the warm body sitting nearest to us. Shadows, creaking branches and a soft moaning wind are enough to make some of us move inside, as if plaster walls will keep us safe from unexplained bumps in the night.

It's that kind of shiver that brings a smile to my face. The furtive glance over your shoulder into the gloom. Spooky tales, especially ones filled with history and mystery make the Halloween season for me.

Spook Rock is book three in The Legend Series, a teen supernatural suspense with splashes of horror, history and of course, romance. The series began with Hollow's End, a story inspired by historic events surrounding the village of Sleepy Hollow...yup...you guessed it....as is the famous Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Incidentally, where my family is from and my children were born. The tale moves to Time Turner, also inspired by history and legend only this time the reader is plunged back in time to 1780 and the intrigues and plots surrounding West Point and the American Revolution, and finally Spook Rock, a tale of possession and a restless spirit and the fight to free their soul from the evil holding them hostage.

I squeezed my eyes closed, shutting out the voiceless conversation with my dead sister. Talia was killed on Halloween night almost a year ago. It wasn’t long after that our mother started having visions of my sister. Problem was, I saw her, too.
Or did I?
Maybe crazy ran in the family. Except, I didn’t really believe that, and that meant Talia was really here…
Hannah Meyer’s teenage life was shattered by evil a year ago. Since then, visions of her dead sister have grown stronger, more insistent, the closer it gets to Halloween and the anniversary of her death. Something is holding Talia hostage from the light and she warns time is running out.
Angel Morales has been Hannah’s best friend since kindergarten, but lately things have changed, pushing the two into uncharted waters between friendship and love, and now, light and dark.
But they’re not alone in this fight to free Talia’s soul. Rowen Corbett and her witchy family have joined the struggle, but will they be enough to send the most powerful evil they’ve ever faced back to hell?

How about a sneak peek at book one, Hollow's End to get you started?


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When Authors Kill...

A conversation I've had with each of my books...

Muse: "He has to die."
"Are you sure?"
Muse nods, then eyes me from the reflection in my mirror. "Yes."
I blink once, then shrug. "It's not like I have any say in the matter, so..."
Muse grins: "I'm glad you finally see reason." She pauses, considering me closer. "Now, the question is how?"

If this sounds like you took a ride on the crazy train, then you know what it's like for me. I'm an author. Our characters talk to us, and our muse is even worse. Mine, in particular, has no respect for day or night. She doesn't care whether I'm in the middle of a REM cycle or in the shower. When she has something to say, I listen...and hopefully I have my laptop at the ready, if not at least a pen and paper near by.

It's nuts, I know. But that's part of the creative process. I've found this notion fascinates most people. They often ask if I have to force myself to write a death scene or if I experience guilt when my story develops to the point I know someone has to die. The answer is no.

That doesn't mean I don't regret losing characters. Villain or hero, each one is my creation and like most authors I get very attached, but when the story calls for it, they have to go. I usually know who pretty quickly, and it's not always the bad guy. Killing off a character is often cathartic, both for me as the author and for the remaining characters in the story. Real life isn't always fair, and people suffer collateral damage every day. I try to keep that feel throughout my books, their paranormal settings notwithstanding.

Collateral Blood is the latest in my Cursed by Blood Saga, and from the very first chapter I knew who would die and how. Like all of my books in this series (and most in my other series) the main thrust of the story is suspense. Romance? Yeah, there's that too, but I love a plot driven thriller, and that's what I try to give my readers.

Want a taste? Here's chapter one of Collateral Blood.

Chapter One

The Red Veil
Vampire Club, New York City
Two am
“You asked to see me?”
Rémy lifted his eyes from his cellphone. “Abigail. Come in.”
The strawberry blonde vampire stepped through the doorway, her expression guarded. “You have news?”
“Sébastien is not returning to New York as expected.”
She frowned, watching the elder shrug into his trademark period-style frock coat. His dark gold hair luminous against the dusky brocade, its silky length dipping to hide the ruined side of his face.
“Why? When last we spoke Sébastien claimed he had outstayed his welcome at Dominic’s villa. I assumed that meant his exile was at an end.”
Rémy grunted. “Exile. Leave it to my brother to invent extraneous drama. He wasn’t exiled, Abigail. He was removed from his seat on the council and his so called sabbatical was more house arrest than holiday. To be honest, Sébastien is lucky he still has his fangs.”
Face impassive, she didn’t comment.
“Your marked lack of curiosity speaks volumes. Then again, your loyalty to your sire was always commendable if not misguided. I will forgive your silence and answer your unasked questions.”
Abigail waited, eyes unblinking.
“Sébastien is not ready to return to his place with us. The council deems him too volatile yet, thus the delay in his return.”
“Council?” She frowned. “You mean you deem him unfit.”
Rémy tucked his wallet and his phone into the inside breast pocket of his coat. “Volatile, Abigail. Not unfit. Although that particular failing does lend itself to your interpretation. It doesn’t matter. Dominic thinks him unstable and Carlos and I agree.”
“Dominic? Good God,” she repeated, annoyed. “How can he make an assessment? He hasn’t stepped foot in New York in over a century.”
Rémy nodded. “iPhones are truly a blessing.”
She stared at him open-mouthed. “Dominic facetimed his decision?”
“I was as surprised as you. Over a millennium old and yet it seems he’s embraced the twenty-first century. As the song says, The times, they are a changin’.”
He watched her stunned silence. “Nevertheless, Sébastien has been Dominic’s guest for six months and yet he remains impenitent for his actions against his own kind. Humility was never Sébastien’s strong suit. Not as a human and even less so now. You can’t spend nearly half a millennium lording over those you consider beneath you and not ruffle a few feathers. He has much to account for.”
“Abigail sank into the nearest chair, stunned. “All this because he refused to let the wolves help with the Jane Street shadow house?”
The older vampire stiffened at her question. “Abigail, it’s time you saw your maker for what he is. Sébastien refused help when it was greatly needed. He broke the cardinal rule of a Council Supreme and put his pride ahead of the community. He slaughtered an entire shadow house, vampires and donors alike, because of an imagined insult.”
Rémy’s irritation softened at the pained look on Abigail’s face. “You must understand, my dear. Others have suffered much worse than Sébastien for far lesser crimes. In this day and age news travels at the speed of light, and Sébastien’s involvement in the shadow house destruction is no longer a secret. He may yet face a much uglier fate.”
She exhaled. “He should never have agreed to leave the country.” Her mumbling earned a questioning brow from Rémy.
“You are certainly your sire’s progeny, Abigail. Rome was the perfect choice for what we needed Sébastien to accomplish, and Dominic the perfect mentor. He’s nearly twice as old as Sébastien and myself, so who better to teach any one of us how to adapt?”
Her lips parted and she blinked, but then closed her mouth in a tight line. “I see.”
“Our world is very small, my dear. You would do well to remember that.”
She exhaled again, lifting her eyes to his before nodding in acknowledgement.
“I’m going out. Please make sure the residence is secure once the club closes for the night. The safety of those living within Le Sanctuaire is paramount.”
“Of course. I always do.”
He moved to his desk and lifted a copy of the Daily News from the top of a pile of mail. “I’m sure you’re aware the city has a new scourge.” He turned, handing the newspaper to Abigail.
She shrugged. “So I’ve read. New York has always had its fair share of nutcases. There have been gang related subway slashings for over a year now. It was only a matter of time before a serial killer took center ring.”
“The police came to see me today.”
“Why wasn’t I informed? You shouldn’t be bothered with human minutia.”
“They wouldn’t take no one’s available for an answer. You were at your rest, and my age made me the only one available for a daytime tête-á-tête with New York’s finest.”
Abigail stood, leaving the paper on the chair. “I’m sorry, Rémy. I should have a procedure in place. This will never happen again.” She inclined her head, but jerked her chin up at the sound of his chuckle.
“Abigail, when will you finally realize I am not Sébastien? My brother may enjoy keeping his nose in the air, but I don’t. I was happy to help.”
At her silent nod he gestured to the newspaper. “It seems the latest victim of this serial maniac had a Red Veil stamp on her hand. The police came to canvas the staff, questioning if anyone remembered seeing her at the club recently.”
“I see. Were any able to help?”
“A few. The detectives requested our surveillance tapes.”
“But the backrooms…” she started.
Rémy lifted a hand. “Those are of no interest to the police. The girl in question was not on the VIP list nor was she anyone’s special guest. The surveillance we provided for their investigation was of the club’s main floor and bars. No more. Do you understand?” He fixed her with a pointed look.
“Of course.”
“The ugly incident was most likely a coincidence. However, I want extra security in place just in case. Every door, inside and out, especially the ones leading to the backrooms. The NYPD has a job to do, but I draw the line there. The Red Veil is both our sanctuary and playground. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I’ll make the arrangements as soon as I get downstairs.” She watched as he finished readying himself for the night, and a small smirk tugged at her lips. “Meeting Jenya?”
A genuine smile lit his face, softening the ruined flesh scarring his one side. “She’s hunting tonight. It’s a new moon.”
“Central Park?”
He nodded. “She likes to clear the vermin, if you know what I mean.”
“And who better? New York is overrun with the two-legged kind these days.”
He shrugged. “I told her I would keep her company.”
Abigail didn’t comment, but she understood the subtext. Rémy needed to keep Jenya in line. The Russian vampire had come a long way in channeling her cruel beginnings into something positive, but she definitely held the inclination to kill creatively.
“Will you be back tonight or should I call the Shadow House on East 81st Street and arrange for dawn accommodations? They have the rarest blood types, and Jenya’s favorite is currently in residence at the donor hall.”
Impressed, he smiled at her. “As efficient as ever, Abigail, but I sense thoughtfulness in your resourceful nature that wasn’t there before. It seems your time with the wolves has tempered you.” He paused, meeting her eyes. “Personally, I find this softer side very becoming.”
She blushed, as much as a vampire can, and the two walked out toward the private steel-reinforced doors in silence. With a nod, Abigail headed back to the club and Rémy turned toward the exit and the alley outside.
The scent of fresh blood and residual violence hit his nostrils the moment he stepped into the darkness. Holding still, his fangs pierced his gums, descending instinctively, and he peered into the encompassing shadows. No body heat or movement registered in the concentrated gloom.
He took a step and an unexpected crunch drew his gaze. The Red Veil’s motion-activated spotlights lay in smashed shards on the pitted asphalt. “Damn.”
It wasn’t the first time vandals and thieves had tried their luck. If they knew what horrors awaited in certain backrooms at the Red Veil, they’d avoid the alleys surrounding the club like the plague.
Still, the scent of blood was too overpowering for superficial cuts from a few shattered lights. His fangs tingled.
Tall concrete on either side of the alley made for thick darkness under normal circumstances, but no light and no moon made the gloom nearly impenetrable. Even for a vampire. He thought to call for Dash or one of the other wolves, but then dismissed the idea. Night vision was not his strongest gift, but he had other skills that more than compensated for any bump he might encounter in the night.
He focused his senses and walked into the murk toward the heady copper scent, allowing his eyes to adjust.
“Damn,” he muttered again, along with a string of other expletives. A lifeless body dangled from the side of the building. A woman. She hung by her feet from a steel reinforced pole, vandalized brackets on either side of her dead weight.
Rémy exhaled and dug in his pocket for his phone. “Abigail. Have security come to the south exit. Now.”
Slicing the yellow nylon rope holding her suspended, he moved the dead woman to the ground. Her throat had been slit wide, yet only splashes of blood coated the blacktop in a hollow circle directly below where she hung.
Rémy drew his fingers through the viscous fluid, lifting the bloodstained tips to his nose. Still fresh and barely cooled. She’d been dead less than an hour.
But why? Her blood was barely congealed, so it was obvious she was killed here. The asphalt should be a river of blood, not mere spatters.
Rémy glanced over his shoulder and frowned. Where was security? He scrolled through the contacts on his phone again, the blue ambient light from its screen casting shadows along the ground No doubt, the woman was murdered. They were going to need specialized help clearing this mess.
A flash of silver caught him unawares, a hand knocking his cell phone from his grip. Before he could react, searing pain sliced through his cold flesh as a razor sharp blade slashed his throat, burning silver puncturing his jugular.

Rémy’s hand flew to the wound, his eyesight narrowing as his fingers tried to stem the flow of black blood. He peered into the darkness for his assailant’s identity but his vision failed. He slumped to the ground beside the dead woman, the sound of muffled panic and footfalls thick in his ears.

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