Wizard Constable, Chapter 9 - "A Night in a Shack"

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Chapter 9 - A Night in a Shack

Jorac hadn’t slept on a bed so lumpy in quite some time, and he awoke in the middle of the night several times, tossing and turning. He must have dozed at last, because there was some light leaking through the window shutters when he stirred again. He went outside and used the tiny outhouse (it reminded him of the one his family had when he was growing up). Here there weren’t corn cobs or wads of grass, but a papery, fuzzy leaf of some sort in a small pile near the seat; it proved not as comfortable as the cotton wool used by the rich houses, but better than most alternatives.

When the Dorrie and Kimma came out of the house, the men were up and dressed for the day, and Veseen and Schrog were preparing a list of needed supplies. The squad hadn’t been planning more than a day trip deep into the swamp, so they had only the one tent and little food. Hox was still sleeping, and would be another day recovering. The young giant still needed a bit of tending, and would doubtless need some food when he awoke; the pair of day-old breakfast pies they’d saved him wouldn’t last him long.

It took only a few minutes for everyone to agree that Schrog and Veseen would go into town for supplies, and Dorrie and Jorac would stay here with Hox. Jorac gave Schrog some money; he’d brought quite a lot, and was mentally composing his expense report. “T’ings go right, we prolly be back by lunch time,” Schrog said. “Anyti’ng else you needs?”


Jorac thought a moment. “Yeah, I’d better let our bosses know where we are.” He smiled wryly. “Not that the wizards would come looking for me in time to help, but I can probably avoid a lecture if I tell them.” He scrawled a brief note on the paper he’d brought and handed it to Schrog. “Can you get one of those Swampside runner boys to take it to a constable? Cerom will know where we are, and he can get word to the Wizard Council for me.”

Veseen said “Master Radyry” to Jorac in a quiet voice.

Jorac nodded. “And I need to get word to Master Radyry too. I warned him Veseen might be in late last night, but we’re past that already. Here, let me write another note.” Jorac forced himself to take his time and wrote a flowery, respectful note to the wizard master explaining that Veseen was safe and would be needed further, stressing how valuable the boy had been on the trip. He could have written less, but it was all true, and Veseen’s school marks might benefit.

After Schrog and Veseen set off, Jorac followed the women into the shack, where Kimma checked on Hox. She left a water skin near him and whispered, “He’s okay,” then motioned them outside so they wouldn’t disturb him.

When they got outside, she said, “No fever, arm looks good. Nearly normal color, no swelling.”

“When do you think he’ll wake up?” Dorrie asked.

“Maybe this morning, maybe afternoon. Hard to tell. That potion mostly makes ‘em sleep about one day.”

“You know,” Jorac said, “we haven’t paid you for that potion yet. How much do we owe you?”

“Eh. Well, I tells people anywheres from fifty coppers, up to a couple hundred, depending on how well I likes em. With Schrog here. . . aw, I don’t know. Call it a hundred.”

Jorac knew he had barely a hundred coppers, and wanted to keep them. He reached in his pocket, opened his pouch, and pulled out a gold coin.

“Sorry, I can’t pay a hundred coppers; you’ll have to take this instead,” he said as he handed her the gold. It was worth about five times her asking price.

“What the hell you tryin’ to pull? I gave you my price.” She looked as if she was going to throw it back at him.

Jorac put his hands up in a don’t-blame-me manner. “Hey, I’m on expenses. I’ll turn in a report and collect it back from my bosses. And remember, Hox is so big you had to give him a double dose of potion. Not to mention that you knew what potion to use for his problem and how to use it, and you’re sheltering not only the patient, but four other people who came with him! I’m not sure what I gave you is even enough.”

“Aw, ‘twern’t nothin’. Okay, I’ll keep it.”

Jorac said, “It’s perfectly fair, even at your reasonable rates. Actually, what you’ve done for us is worth a lot more than that. When I get back to the city, I’m going to apply for a reward for you.”

“Reward? What for?”

“You saved the life of a constable on duty. One working for the Wizard Constable, so that counts extra, and I know how to do the paperwork. We’ll get you compensated.”

“Aw, de orange and green frog just make ya sick for a while; it ain’t like it was the orange and purple. He’d have lived.”

Dorrie stepped in. “Young lady, don’t low-rate yourself. You saw what Hox needed and you did it, even after you saw Schrog, and before you heard his tale. And where else were we going to get help for him? You saved his life, and he was on duty, so you get a reward from the constables, or the wizards, or maybe even both. Got to know how to play the game, make them think it’s their idea. Me and Jorac can work on that. And don’t forget to add on your fees when you guide us; we’ll need to make sure that gets paid too.” She smiled. “Of course, you’ve got to come into town to get it.”

Kimma thought for a long moment. “Well, thanks,” she said quietly. “I guess I can use the money.”

Jorac had the impression she was thinking of the future for the first time in a while. He knew what that was like; he remembered the night at his father’s house when he realized he had to find something better to do with his life. The next day he’d shaved the beard he’d grown with the tribesmen, and set out finding the job as a guard that eventually led him here.

Dorrie said, “If you’re going to make money in your business, here’s some advice. You need a special price for nobles and wizards. Five times as high.”

Jorac grinned. “And I just paid it, because I’m working for the damned wizards now – begging your pardon, Madame Velosp.”

Kimma was confused by the remark, so Jorac and Dorrie explained how Dorrie was able to parlay her limited magical ability, along with her theatrical skill, into a good living.

In return, Kimma explained some of the economics of her business, such as it was. Miz Madouve had a good reputation as a healer, more reliable than most. A few other healers came and went in the swamp, sometimes eking out a living for a few years while waiting for some problem in the city to quiet down. Miz Madouve’s clients weren’t numerous and couldn’t afford high prices, so she often ended up bartering her services for food and supplies. “Sometimes I get two or three folks in a day,” she said, “but I go lots of days when I don’t see nobody.”

Jorac asked conversationally, “So, what do you do on days like that?”

“I put on de outfit, an’ Miz Madouve usually goes out swamp-crawlin’. Stuff to hunt out dere.”

“Ur, um, like those soft leaves in the privy? I’ve never seen the like.”

“Yeah, stuff like that. Maybe find some stuff I can trade. I should go out again soon, too.”

“Mind if I go with you? I want to collect some more of those leaves. I imagine we used a week’s supply for you, and if we’re camping I’d like some more.”

Dorrie volunteered, “I’ll sit with Hox. I don’t mind.” She looked at the shack, not at Kimma.

Kimma looked at Jorac and Dorrie, obviously weighing the offer. Jorac didn’t blame her for the caution; despite their constable uniforms and knowing Schrog, she’d only met them yesterday.

Finally she said, “Yeah, alright.” Then her voice changed. “But out dere, I’m Miz Madouve, got it? And don’t do nothin’ stupid.”

Ill obey your every command. I dont want to end up like Hox. Or with a crossbow bolt in me, he thought, and I know shed do it. Somehow, that thought more pleased than worried him; competence was something he highly approved of.

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Frostbite- Chapter 56

Up near the top of the junk heap was what looked like a school bus. Most of its windows were still intact. If she could get inside of it she could hide, for a while at least. Of course, getting up there wasn’t going to be easy, but that actually made it even more desirable as a refuge. As hard as it would be for her to climb up there, it would be next to impossible for a human being.

Directly ahead of her lay the enormous crumpled bulk of a tunnel borer, a big round machine with a toothed maw on one end. It must have been used to dig out the mines, back in the day, and she didn’t doubt it had been great at cutting through solid rock. Its teeth were blunted by age and shiny with erosion now. A length of massive chain, each link as thick across as her thigh, lay draped over its cab. She grabbed onto the chain and pulled herself up, out of the polluted mud, climbing the links like a ladder. She dragged herself up on top of the borer and then stumbled across the side of a tailing heap, a pile of fist-sized rocks that crumbled under her touch.

There, ahead, she saw where a pile of metal rods had rusted together into a thick stalk that jutted out from the side of the pile. The individual rods were no thicker than her thumb. She could swing up on top of the pile and then the school bus would be easy to get to.

She grabbed one of the rods and pulled on it. It gave, but just a little. She worried it might snap off in her hand. She looked down and saw that her footing was ridiculously bad. She had one foot on the loose tailings, the other on a flap of rusted metal that probably wouldn’t support her weight.

It didn’t matter. She had more important things to worry about than falling in the lake. Chey leaned out as far as she could and then jumped, swinging on the rod, all of her mass conspiring with gravity to pull down hard, to shear off a length of metal.

The rod held. She brought her feet up to get them on top of the pile, but missed.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 16

When Michael showed up at Ana’s house on the following Wednesday, he made sure that 1) he brought his checkbook to purchase her painting, 2) he arrived around lunchtime, and 3) he dressed sharply yet casually, in khaki slacks and a white shirt, looking as clean-cut and non-threatening as possible. When she opened the door, Ana was impressed by how handsome and proper he looked in such a simple outfit. The pale colors and clean lines of his clothes brought out his athletic form. In turn, Michael noticed approvingly that Ana wore a skirt that conveniently flared right above the knees and a button-down with a rounded collar similar to the one he had seen her wear in church on the day they met.

“I seem to have perfect timing. Am I interrupting your work again?”

“No, I was just having lunch,” she said, without inviting him in.

He stood there, waiting calmly.

“You have a habit of just dropping by unannounced at people’s houses, don’t you?” she asked him. Once again, she sensed her own ambivalent reaction to his brazenness, feeling simultaneously flattered and repelled by it.

“As a matter of fact, I don’t usually do that. But… I hope you don’t take this the wrong way… for some reason I feel so at ease with you, Ana. I see no point in being formal with each other,” he said warmly.

Neither do I, Ana thought, appeased. “Would you like to join me for lunch?” she invited him in. She led her guest into a modest dining room, furnished with a simple wooden table and chairs. Michael surveyed the meal already set on the table: fresh plum tomatoes, French baguette and bhabha ghanoush, a Greek eggplant dish.

“For some strange reason, I still prefer the foods I had as a child in Romania. My grandmother used to make this amazing eggplant dish. It’s called salata de vinete.”

“That’s some kind of salad, right?”

“Eggplant salad,” she confirmed. “Would you like to try it?”

“Sure, I’d love to.”

Ana went into the kitchen to get him an extra plate, glass and set of silverware.

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 8 - "An Unexpected Reunion"

Visit the Wizard Constable site for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info.

Chapter 8 - An Unexpected Reunion

The crossbow was now pointed directly at Schrog, and the old healer lady was revealed to be a young, very attractive woman with short, dark hair. Her eyes glinted, and her mouth pursed in anger – it looked to Jorac as if she was struggling to control herself. It took just a second for him to get over his surprise, then he causally reached down and put his hand on his dagger – just in case.

Schrog said nothing at first, his face amazed. With his voice almost breaking, he said, “Kimie, you’re alive!”

“Fockin’ right I’m alive. No thanks to you. One day I’m keeping house with my mum, and the next I’m carried into the swamp in a sack and left with a half-crazy old lady. And told not to ask any questions, nor go back, ever. What happened!” She lifted the crossbow and sighted it straight at Schrog, who looked back without blinking.


He drew his knees up and put his arms around them. In a tight, choked voice he said, “Kimie, I may deserve killin’, but not for your ma. Was de first decent t’ing I done. Gimme a min here.”

“It’s Kimma. I ain’t a little girl any more.” Without the old-lady voice, she pronounced her words a little better, but still had the accent. The crossbow didn’t waver at all; it was still pointed at Schrog’s face.

Schrog nodded and wiped his tearing eyes with his sleeve, looked at the ground in front of him, and continued in a firmer tone. “Dis is all eight years ago. Kullo had been talkin’ about a big score, I didn’t know from where. Den your ma came to me, middle o’ de night. She was hurt bad. Said she just killed Fergram, remember him? Short guy, liked his drink. He’d got drunk and let it slip dat Kullo’s new big score was sellin’ girls – not pimpin’ em, dat be too easy to trace, but sell em as slaves, put em on a boat and gone. Young girls ten, twelve years old. Had him a buyer and all. You was gonna be one of dem. Anyway, Fergram talked too much, and yer ma sticks him with a knife. Didn’t kills him quick enough, ‘cause he stuck her too. She comes to me, says to get you outta dere. So I did.”

He looked up at her “Kimma, she had a big knife hole in her belly. Blood and shit comin’ out of it. You know what dat mean. Best wizard in de city might save her, but prolly not. She say to save you, don’ worry about her. So, I did what she said.”

He raised his hands helplessly. “I t’ink, where I’m gonna hide a li’l girl? I remember Miz Madouve, she owed me – helped her out of a couple o’ jams, stopped a guy from robbin’ her one time. So I puts you in dat sack, and runs out here, in de dark. No moon dat night. Got lost. Found her place in de mornin’. Had to leave you wit’ her.

“Time I got back to de place, your ma was dead, and a bunch of shit started happenin’. . .” He stopped and shook his head. “Anyways, dat’s what happened to yer ma.”

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 7 - "To The Swamp"

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Chapter 7 - To The Swamp

They walked on through Swampside with no further incidents. In, fact people melted before them on the street, and even the hawkers quieted their cries as they passed; Raah’s word obviously carried weight here. After about half an hour they reached the edge of town, where a final clearing marked the start of the riverside trail that led south to “deep” Swampside.

Since there was no one else in sight, they stopped there to adjust their small day-packs and their clothing. The men changed into high boots and stuffed their pants into them, and Dorrie removed her veil and fancy skirt to reveal some practical pants underneath. Having been warned about biting insects, all wore long sleeves – for Hox, long sleeves came down to only past his elbow, but he was used to that. It was nearing midday, so Jorac suggested they eat their lunch, some barely edible sandwiches they’d bought from a street vendor, washed down by water from the flasks everyone carried.

As they were finishing up, Jorac spoke to the group. “I was hoping we could avoid this, but we’re going to have to go at least a little way into the actual swamp. I did a little reading about it, but I didn’t find out much that would help us. Mostly they said it’s dangerous, and you should have a guide, and you shouldn’t touch anything you don’t have to. So all I can tell you is, keep alert and don’t touch anything you don’t have to. We’ll stop at the first place we can and do our test.” And with that, they set off again.

The road began as wide, solid ground, but it soon narrowed to a winding trail, squishy in spots, that went around hummocks and through patches of sedges, some taller than even Hox. As before, Hox was at the rear and Schrog took the lead. The pace he set was slower than Jorac expected, and Schrog developed an odd head-bobbing pattern that confused him until he realized Schrog was scanning the swamp around them and the ground ahead, almost before every step.


This part of the trail showed frequent use, with matted vegetation or bare ground on the path itself, and nearby plants cut or trampled back from the margins. Sometimes small paths branched off to the side; Jorac wondered if they were game trails or led to some swamp-dweller’s house, but decided to wait rather than interrupt Schrog’s concentration with questions.

It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was beginning to be humid and quite warm. Jorac had been told that the wizard spell that gave Vaggert perfect weather gradually faded beyond the city’s borders. He found his clothes beginning to stick to him, and there was a rich, swampy background smell of decaying vegetation. Some annoying gnats buzzed around them, but there was no other wildlife to be seen.

After Jorac idly complained about the gnats, Veseen said “Hold up, please. Last week I learned a warding spell that might work here.”

He pulled some spell component out of a small pouch he carried, and explained, “I’ve gotten to the point I don’t need the components for a few spells, but this one is still new to me. This is powdered fly wings; it should work for this.”

He had everyone stand well back from him, then concentrated and slowly, carefully cast a spell. When he motioned the group back to him, Jorac saw that a small circle around the apprentice was clear of insects. Other people could enjoy it too – but only if they stood right next to him.

“I’m sorry,” Veseen said dejectedly. “I wasn’t trying to be selfish, but I don’t think I helped anyone else with that. I was hoping I could make the circle bigger.”

“No matter,” Jorac said, “it was worth a try.” He’d still rather work with the self-effacing youngster than any number of more powerful wizards. They all shrugged and walked on – at least when they were walking it took a little while for the bugs to find them.

It would have been a pleasant stroll except for the gnats, the squishy path, the increasingly powerful smell of decaying vegetation, and Schrog’s obvious concern. At the first dry wide spot outside of town, a lumpy raised area with wide-based trees all around, Jorac called a halt so they could do a manite test.

To provide darkness, Jorac had checked a small tent out of the City Guard’s supply depot and asked Hox to carry it. When they unfolded it, it proved to be a floppy canvas box tent, now very worn. To assemble it, they’d have had to find and cut poles to tie it up to, which seemed like too much trouble, so they merely used it as a big canvas wrap. Hox was too tall to fit inside, so stood guard. The other four got inside, using Dorrie’s walking stick to hold up the middle, and managed to get it fairly dark. After a little while for their eyes to accustom, Dorrie did the honors again while Veseen shielded Jorac, and they marked the direction on the ground with a stick.

The inside four were happy to emerge from the canvas – it had been stifling inside – and the group talked while they folded it up and stowed it. Their mark on the ground definitely didn’t point back the way they’d come, but it was hard to tell exactly what direction it did point. They squinted up at the sun and tried to figure it out. Veseen apologetically explained that a competent wizard could have told the exact direction, but he hadn’t learned that skill yet. They finally decided the direction was still south, or perhaps southeast, further into the swamp but somewhat away from the river – crosswise to the trail at this point.

They stood and gazed at the thick, marshy vegetation in that direction. Everyone looked reluctant to go on, and Jorac felt the same way.

“Well, that’s it, unless we can get a guide. Schrog, if we go back to Swampside, can we hire a guide?”

“Yeah, dere might be somebody in town. Take a while to find ‘em, maybe dey could be trusted, maybe not.” He looked down and kicked the ground a little. “But dere used to be somebody lived out dis way who could help. We can go see if dey’re still dere.”

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 6 - "Swampside, Again"



 

Jorac’s an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he’s allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city’s overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical “epic fantasy”, it’s a fast-paced, fun adventure story.

Support indie authors! You can buy the book on Amazon. E-book copies are also available on Kindle, B&N Nook , and iTunes

Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.




right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.







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Frostbite-Chapter 55

For a long time she just wondered what to do next. It had seemed so simple, back in the fire tower. She would find Powell, convince him that they needed each other. Then they would run off into the horizon together. Find some way to survive, together.

Without him she was doomed to an eternity alone. Trying her best to do what he had done, to get as far away from people as she could so she didn’t end up killing them. It seemed like the worst possible fate she could imagine. Was it really so much better than taking the way out Bobby wanted for her, one quick silver bullet to the head?

She was supposed to have died on the Yellowhead Highway. Lycanthrope kills two in bloody road rampage, no survivors—that was one way it was supposed to have played out. She had thought many times that she might have, well, actually, preferred it. The guilt of surviving her father’s death, the blankness and trauma and fear and depression and unhappiness that followed, the sleeplessness that had defined her life—none of those things would have had to happen. If she died now, if somebody killed her twelve years after the fact, things would still balance out. In their own bad way. Chey knew she understood very little about the universe, but she knew that things coming to a bad end was not unheard of. That sometimes happy endings were too much to ask for.

Lycanthrope kills two.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 15

Ana looked over her new painting again. Somehow, everything felt wrong about it: the sinuous forms of the woman; the brightness of her red dress; the serene smile upon her lips; the sunny, colorful background surrounding her. There was absolutely no darkness or anguish anywhere in sight. What’s come over me? she wondered.

When the doorbell rang, Ana didn’t rush to open the door. It was usually people soliciting money for various causes she didn’t support. This time, however, the solicitor must have been really desperate, since they rang the doorbell several times in a row. With an annoyed sigh, Ana lay down her brush and went upstairs to check who it was.

“Michael?” she asked with surprise. How does he know where I live? she wondered. She tried to recall if she had invited him to her house, or perhaps alluded to an invitation. But she couldn’t recall any such exchange between them.

“Am I disturbing you?” he asked with a coy smile.

“No, actually, I was just finishing a new painting.”

“May I see it?” he spotted an easy overture.

Ana hesitated. It crossed her mind that she didn’t know Michael all that well. How much interaction had they had so far? A brief meeting in church, a short exchange at her gallery and a few seconds of conversation at the Renaissance festival, she recalled. Even her close friends called in advance before showing up at her door. “How did you get my address?” she asked him.

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 5 - "To Pigtown"



 

Jorac’s an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he’s allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city’s overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical “epic fantasy”, it’s a fast-paced, fun adventure story.

Support indie authors! You can buy the book on Amazon. E-book copies are also available on Kindle, B&N Nook , and iTunes

Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.




right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.







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Frostbite- Chapter 54

The pain curled her inward on herself. It made her want to scream. She forced the pain down, away from her, and rose to her feet. If not for the strength her wolf shared with her she knew she would be unconscious, maybe even dead already.

She spun around in a circle, looking for Powell. Looking for any sign of movement—a flash in the darkness, a dull glint. There was nothing.

“Talk,” he said. “You want to talk to me. Fine. Talk.”

But she couldn’t think of what to say. So instead she looked at Port Radium.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 14

“Today’s the day! I’m taking out the trash,” Ana announced on Saturday morning. Being a neatness freak, she celebrated the day of the week when the garbage got collected.

“Vayas con Dios, mi amor,” Rob hummed a farewell song to the garbage, amused by his wife’s enthusiasm for the mundane.
Meanwhile, the kids were busy wolfing down the remains of that morning’s batch of pancakes.

“Let’s finish up so we can have a full day at the Renaissance Fair,” Rob urged them, keeping in mind the fact that no matter how late you got there, you still had to pay full price for the tickets.

“Stop staring at me!” Michelle snapped at her brother.

Allen was looking innocently past her at the T.V., which happened to feature an exciting episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants. “I’m not!” the falsely accused protested.

“Instead of picking on your brother, why don’t you go put on your costume?” Rob suggested.

“But Daddy, I can’t be a fairy anymore!” Michelle objected.

“Why not? We paid a hundred bucks for that costume last year.”

“Because. Last year I was still a little girl.”

“And what are you now? An old lady?”

“No, but I’m too old for that girly stuff. I can’t dress as a fairy anymore. It’s embarrassing.”

Great! Another hundred bucks thrown out the window, Rob concluded. Meanwhile, his wife was deciding which outfit in her wardrobe looked appropriately medieval for the festival. According to Michelle, everything her mother wore pretty much qualified. Nevertheless, Ana was faced with a tough decision. Should she wear ordinary clothes and act like she’s going to the fair just to please the kids? Or should she be a good sport and wear her Romanian folk costume with the golden brocade? Since she felt in pretty good spirits that morning, she opted for the Romanian costume.

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 4 - "Madame Velsop"



 

Jorac’s an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he’s allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city’s overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical “epic fantasy”, it’s a fast-paced, fun adventure story.

Support indie authors! You can buy the book on Amazon. E-book copies are also available on Kindle, B&N Nook , and iTunes

Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.




right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.







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Frostbite- Chapter 53

Night had officially fallen. The stars were out, thick in the heavens, and they gave enough light for the two of them to see each other but not much more. The moon had not yet risen, so they were still human.

Powell wore a pair of coveralls much like her own—she guessed he, too, had been forced to scrounge for clothing since he’d been in Port Radium. He didn’t have Dzo around to follow after him in a rusty pickup truck anymore.

He had an ugly scar across his forehead and cheek. Either he’d been injured since his last change or he’d had a near miss with a silver bullet. His icy green eyes were quiet—she couldn’t quite gauge what he was thinking. Or what he was planning.

She wondered if he’d given as much thought to this confrontation as she had.

“Hi,” she said, moving toward him as sedately as she could manage. “Powell. Listen. There’s something I have to tell you, something I—”

“Save it,” he said.

Then he leapt right at her, his head down, his arms wide. He grabbed her around the midsection and knocked her off her feet. She went skidding along a rough section of asphalt and her head bounced off a broken stone. Light erupted behind her eyes and she couldn’t seem to breathe.

He was on top of her, a piece of rubble in his hands as big as her head. He brought it up high, clearly intending to use it to smash her face in. She lunged upward with her knees and he flew off of her. Rolling onto all fours, she looked over and saw him doing the same.

“Just give me a second,” she called. “Just let me—”

“No more lies,” he said.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 13

Michael felt himself sinking into the giving softness of the pillow. A warm, tingling sensation enveloped his midsection. He didn’t dare open his eyes, fearing that it might break his concentration. In the dark, he intuited her presence. Her long dark hair covered him like a silky blanket. Her mouth wrapped around him, determining the pulse of his desire. When he was about to lose control, he pulled her up towards him. Strangely, however, he felt more resistance than anticipated. Something isn’t right about this, it occurred to him. She didn’t glide up his body with sufficient ease; her curves didn’t envelop him with the fragile softness he expected. As Michael opened his eyes, the fantasy of Ana vanished. “Karen?” he asked incredulously. Once fully awake, he realized that his life was back to normal. “What a pleasant morning surprise,” he attempted to mask his disappointment.

“Good morning, sweetie!” Karen cooed in a melodious tone that rang false to his well-trained ears.

Why does her behavior strike me as fake? he wondered. Well, maybe not fake, he reconsidered. Because, in all fairness, she’s trying her damnest to please me. But it still seems… forced. Like she’s trying to be something she’s not. He recalled the last time they had attempted this particular activity, nearly two years ago, when Karen had lunged into the bathroom afterwards, to rinse her mouth out with Listerine. “You don’t have to do this.”

“But I want to, honey,” she assured him.

There goes that word again. “Honey.” It sounds so strange coming from her mouth. What in the world does she want from me? Michael wondered. In the past, whenever Karen did him any sexual favors, afterwards, she’d either ask him to do something for her in return (such as spend the weekend with her sister or her parents) or, worse yet, kindly inform him that she had already made plans for them. “I don’t want to have brunch with either your parents or your sister’s family today,” he preempted in one breath two possible requests.

Karen’s lips quivered into a smile that she maintained for a few seconds. “But I wasn’t asking you to do that, sweetie.”
I can’t recall the last time she called me “sweetie,” Michael reflected. Karen’s saccharine behavior gave him the strange sensation of swimming against the current in a sea of molasses.

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 3 - "Constable Work"



 

Jorac’s an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he’s allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city’s overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical “epic fantasy”, it’s a fast-paced, fun adventure story.

Support indie authors! You can buy the book on Amazon. E-book copies are also available on Kindle, B&N Nook , and iTunes

Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.




right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.







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Frostbite- Chapter 52

Chey’s feet padded effortlessly across the broken ground, while behind her Pickersgill stumbled and cursed with every bump or irregularity of the stony earth.

Bobby’s helicopter stood motionless in the air, maybe half a kilometer away, maybe seventy meters up. The bubble cockpit was turned her way—was he watching her, was he watching Pickersgill march her across a field of broken stones? Was he wondering why she wasn’t dead yet? Maybe he wasn’t even inside. Maybe it was just Lester up there.

“Okay, head over to that utility pole,” Pickersgill said from behind her. He wasn’t taking a lot of chances—she had to keep her hands straight up in the air or he would jab her in the back with one of his pistols.

The field had been a parking lot once, she thought. It was relatively flat and it was interrupted here and there only by ten- meter- tall light poles, each crowned with a pair of long- broken Klieg lights. The poles were as thick as her arm and made of some metal that hadn’t corroded over the years.

“Listen,” Chey asked, “could I get a coat or a blanket or something? I’m freezing like this.”

He tossed her a pair of moth- eaten, grease- stained coveralls and she struggled into them. They were meant for a larger person than herself, but she was glad just not to be naked anymore. “I appreciate it,” she said. “Can we talk for a second? I’d like to—”

He didn’t let her finish. “Turn around and grab the pole behind you with both hands,” Pickersgill said.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 12

Although Ana had closed the bedroom door, she could still hear the children’s voices shouting and laughing. On that Friday evening, they were hosting a double slumber party. In the spirit of equality and fairness, Rob had allowed both Michelle and Allen to invite their friends over for pizza and a sleepover. It was already past ten. Ana hoped that the kids’ energy level would go down, but no such luck. They were charged up like batteries, while she and Rob felt exhausted. To relax, Ana went online to check her email. She found five spams and three messages. Four of them advertised enlarging various body parts while the last one, by way of contrast, suggested liposuction. The three real messages came from people she didn’t know. Let’s see, Ana opened the first, with only mild curiosity. It was from an artist who wanted to know if she had an art agent. No I don’t, she replied. The second was from a man who claimed to have seen her painting of the two lovers. He wondered if she would be willing to do an idealized representation of him and his wife. Ana responded that she didn’t do portraits. The last note was from an artist who wanted her to recommend his work to her gallery owner. Ana replied that she’d be happy to, but she’d have to take a look at his art first.

As she was about to log off, she became aware that the house was unusually quiet. Back in the old days, when the kids were calm without adult supervision for more than a few minutes, it often meant they were up to no good. Once she even caught them making mud pies in the living room with the leftover fudge.

She found the boys in Allen’s bedroom, playing Nintendo. Ana headed next for Michelle’s room. It was empty. She checked the playroom and her studio, down in the basement. Nobody was there either. She proceeded to search in the front and back yards. Still no sign of the girls. “Rob?” she called out. “Where are the girls?”

Her husband was on the phone with a childhood friend. He winced at the interruption. “Don’t worry about it. They’re having fun.”

“But I looked everywhere and couldn’t find them,” his wife insisted.

“They’re probably playing outside.”

“At 10:30 p.m.? In the dark? By themselves?”

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 2 - "Squadleader"









 

Jorac's an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he's allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city's overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical "epic fantasy", it's a fast-paced, fun adventure story.

Support indie authors! You can buy the book on Amazon. E-book copies are also available on Kindle, B&N Nook , and iTunes

Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.



right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.











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Frostbite- Chapter 51

The wolf didn’t understand why the breath in her lungs felt rank and bitter. She did not understand why her skin crawled as she closed on her goal. She barely cared. The human stench was full upon her and a few toxins weren’t about to stop her.

She trotted out to the top of a sand esker, a long, low bar of sand atop slickrock that had been deposited by glaciers when true dire wolves still roamed the earth. She wanted to howl in jubilation and anticipation of the bloodshed to come, but she didn’t want to alert her prey to her presence just yet.

Her eyes were not sufficiently keen to see the buildings a half kilometer from where she stood. She could make out some square outlines— unnaturally square, humanly square. She could not see the red and green pigments that painted the tops of the waters all around, but she could smell the heavy metals floating in great swirls like oil slicks there.

She could not feel the radiation that leaked upward like darkness from the very ground she stood on. She could not in any case have understood that the very land here was cursed with uranium, with radon gas, with the vast deposits of pitchblende and raw radium that gave the place its old name.

But she could tell the place was cursed.

Cursed, she panted, cursed, cursed. Cursed forever. She would have chosen another place if it had been up to her. Any other place. But she was a predator and she followed her prey. If they went to ground in tainted earth she would wallow in poison to get to them.

And they were nearby, she knew it. Even over the bitter wind, over the stinks of heavy metals and broken ore and disturbed earth and rusted metal and decayed plaster and crumbled concrete, she could smell the humans. The human. The one who had chained her and tried to drive her mad.

As the sun began to set she picked her way down from the esker and into Port Radium, and it was there she yelped and whined, for the change came too soon.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 11

Ana stepped into the gallery which exhibited her artwork. She secretly hoped that an important art critic would drop by, see her work and whip up a sensational article on her paintings, which would instantly catapult her to celebrity. Not that she painted to become famous. She painted to express herself, as any artist does. But with fame came money, which, Ana felt, would shift the balance of power in her family. If she were more successful, Rob might treat her with more respect, like he used to back in college, when she was winning all those prizes and he saw in her so much artistic promise. In turn, Michelle would see that pursuing your dreams isn’t necessarily a waste of time. As for Allen, Ana was obliged to admit that her son’s attitude wouldn’t change much. He was the least judgmental member of the family.

Surveying the gallery, Ana noticed a woman with asymmetrical salt-and-pepper hair. She was examining her work down the sharp incline of her pointy nose, an impressive feat given that the paintings were hung above eye-level. She looks snooty, Ana assessed her. She then spotted a more promising prospect. A gentleman in a dark suit was contemplating her latest painting. It featured two naked lovers locked in an embrace: but not a happy one, God forbid. The figures’ tortuous positioning, the angular shapes of their bodies, the grayish tint of their sickly skin and the anguish reflected upon their pasty features, all suggested an attitude of suffering and despair. Well, I had to put a sexier painting in this show since Tracy asked me to, Ana justified to herself this concession to what she considered to be popular taste. Tracy, the gallery owner, had recently speculated that perhaps the reason why Ana’s paintings weren’t selling so well was because they were too somber: “When the economy’s bad, people want to look at something bright and cheerful,” she had suggested.

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Wizard Constable, Chapter 1 - "Working for Wizards"



 

Jorac’s an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he’s allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city’s overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical “epic fantasy”, it’s a fast-paced, fun adventure story.

Support indie authors! You can buy the book on Amazon. E-book copies are also available on Kindle, B&N Nook , and iTunes

Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.




right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.








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Frostbite- Chapter 50

That night Chey walked through the forest with the fatalism of the truly damned. Her feet hurt, blistered by the loose boots, and her body trembled with cold, hunger, and fatigue. None of it mattered. If she had thoughts in her head they were dark, earthy thoughts that crumbled like clods of dirt when she tried to grab at them. The landscape changed around her as she hiked, but she barely noticed as the trees grew thinner and shorter. The world got wetter, too, became a realm of swampy half- frozen muskegs where the tree roots dipped like bent pipes into dark water. Once she had to ford an actual river, a ribbon of brown water deep enough in the middle that she was forced to swim across its width. The chilly dip woke her upa little—enough to see the dead forest beyond the further bank.

The trees over there stood white as bones, pointing at random angles at the cold stars above. They bore neither leaves nor needles and their branches stuck out like broken ribs or were missing altogether.

The ground at her feet was caked with ash. There must have been a forest fire here recently, she thought. Every step stirred up more of the powdery gray debris. What had happened? Surely the Western Prairie guys hadn’t been foolish enough to throw a lit cigarette butt into the underbrush. Maybe lightning had struck nearby. She knew that after a forest fire the smaller plant species—grasses, mosses, shrubs—came back quickly, but she could find nothing green anywhere.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 10

Ana rushed to her car in the pouring rain, placing her purse above her head in lieu of an umbrella. She braced herself for the traffic she’d have to face on her way back to Ann Arbor. As she ran to the parking lot, she had the strange feeling that she was running away from something rather than towards it. She kept seeing Michael’s warm brown eyes gazing at her furtively, with shyness. She recalled noticing that, at some point during their conversation, the lower lobes of his ears had turned crimson and he looked away. That small gesture of disavowed attraction had sent a shiver of desire up and down her spine.

“Thank goodness I’m going back to my kids and my nice quiet life,” Ana told herself as she fished for the car keys in her coat pocket. Her fingers grazed a slip of paper. It was the one upon which Michael had jotted down his name and number with rounded, almost calligraphic letters. By reflex, an image of her kids flashed before her eyes. Michelle was delicate and high-strung. Though only nine, in some ways she was as mature and independent as a teenager. By way of contrast, Allen, who was a year younger than his sister, constantly sought the warmth and protection of his mother’s love.

Ana pressed the button to unlock her car. On impulse, she crumpled up the note Michael had given her and tossed it into the trash bin. Traffic was slow, but her mind raced. Lulled by the regular, back-and-forth movements of the windshield wipers, Ana thought of her husband.

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Frostbite- Chapter 49

She forced herself to look at Frank Pickersgill’s body. It was awful. She got up and stumbled away from him, staggered down the creek bed.

Forced herself to go back again.

She’d made her choice. She’d known, when she jumped out of the tower, that she was letting the wolf out as well as herself. She’d known what it was capable of, better than anyone.

Bobby, Balfour, the Pickersgills—they wanted her dead. They had accepted what she’d become and they were acting accordingly. She had to do the same.

She had to start thinking like a fighter. Like someone who was going to survive this, no matter what. If she was going to live long enough to get back to Powell, to explain herself to him, there were things she was going to have to do. Things she was going to have to learn to live with.

She managed to climb up on the far bank, a gentler slope. She rolled in the dead leaves and mud there and just breathed for a while, and thought of nothing. Then she went back to the body.

His coat was stained with blood in a couple of places. She pulled it off of his arms anyway and struggled into it. He’d been a giant of a man and she was an average- sized woman. The coat sagged across her, dangled from her arms and across her knees. It was still warm. She shuddered, but she didn’t take it off. It was better than being naked in that trackless
wilderness.

She rifled his pack. It felt like sacrilege. Evil, pure evil.

No.

It was the smart thing to do.

Her conscience stayed mostly quiet as she searched through his things. She found a packet of ketchup chips, which she ate with one hand while searching with the other. She found a mickey bottle of bourbon, which she put aside for maybe later. Though surely drinking a dead man’s liquor was enough to bring down heavenly wrath on her, if anything was. She found a box of silver shotgun shells and she took one cartridge out and held it in her hand. She unraveled the red paper wrapper and picked one of the spherical pellets out. It was perfectly smooth, but it felt like a piece of broken glass rubbed against her fingers. Blood welled in the whorls of her fingertips and she threw the pellet back into the pack.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 9

Driving home after his encounter with Ana, Michael felt elated. Not so much because he thought that he had made an indelible impression upon the young woman, but because she, herself, had moved him. At the moment of his deepest doubt in his ability to fall in love, Ana had reawakened his faith in his own capacity for human emotion.

“Whoa! Let’s not put the cart ahead of the horse,” he reminded himself. Once he arrived at his apartment, he flung the keys on the kitchen counter. By association, he fell back upon a play on words, “Let’s not put the heart ahead of the whore,” to take the edge off his euphoria. No point in taking a little crush too seriously, he made a second attempt to bring himself back down to earth.

Yet the ruse of cynicism proved ineffective. That night, he couldn’t fall asleep. He lay with his head propped up upon two pillows, contemplating his recent encounter with Ana. He went over their conversation, her glances, each gesture she made, his own overtures and reactions. He recalled how when he looked into her eyes, he felt like for the first time he saw a woman in Technicolor, as it were. Everything else he had experienced, every other woman he had met before, now seemed like a faded black and white photograph compared to the kaleidoscope of emotions that had burst within him the instant he saw her.

She’s the one, Michael told himself. Then, once again, he tried to find a joke or at the very least a pun in his own observation, embarrassed by his premature sense of conviction. This time, however, the joke was on him. There was a freshness and fire about this woman that disarmed him of the artillery of hackneyed phrases he usually deployed in his encounters with women. A vision of Ana appeared before his eyes. He imagined caressing the curves of her breasts over her modestly buttoned-up blouse, incapable of resisting their soft invitation. She had told him about the death of her parents, about her difficult childhood as an orphan. But was she happy now, with her own family? Was her husband good to her? Above all, he wondered, has this woman ever tasted the pleasure of falling madly in love?

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Frostbite- Chapter 48

She swung around, her massive mouth wide open, and pulled the human into her jaws. His weapon fell to the ground and he screamed and her blood sang. She closed her jaw like a vise and twisted and pulled and tore and his leg bones snapped inside her head. She could hear them thrum against her upper palate. She could taste his blood on her tongue.

His body surged with pain and fear and it made her rejoice. She shook in convulsions as she tore at his flesh, as she swallowed chunks of him. He rattled and wailed and fell away from her and part of him tore free. His leg tore open in her mouth, and he toppled backward like a felled tree. She gulped down his blood and meat and lunged forward for the rest of him. Bloodlust scattered her senses—all she knew was to press forward, to press the attack. She did not see his arm come around, would not have guessed he had any strength left, and when his closed fist smashed into the top of her head, crushing her sensitive ears, she yelped and dropped to her side.

Light swirled in her eyes. Her mouth was full of nothing, full of air, of air—her paws beat at the carpet of pine needles and dead leaves. What had happened? How had—how had he hurt—how had—

He pushed away from her, scuttling into the darkness like a pill bug, his hands pushing at the snow and the rocks. She shook herself, trying to throw off the dullness, the ringing numbness in her head. When she recovered he was not there. She cast about, threw her forelegs down and touched the earth with her muzzle, sniffing for him. He couldn’t have gotten far. She knew she’d wounded him badly.

She took a step forward, another, another. She smelled water and breeze, cold air like the trailing hem of a ghost’s gown flapping in space. Another step and—no. She stood on a precipice looking down at a sunken stream bed. Far below her, down a raw slope of disturbed earth, he had crashed to the bottom of the trickling water. He was down there moaning and bleeding and still alive.

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 8

Michael gazed outside and, despite the religious setting, cursed under his breath when he saw that it was pouring buckets. In just nine months, I’ll leave this wretched Midwest to bask in the sunshine of Arizona, he consoled himself. As he was about to brace himself for the downpour and dash out of the church, his glance was caught by a young woman who stood before a lit candle. Her lips moved slightly, in a quiet murmur that sounded like an incantation in a foreign tongue. He examined her profile. Her wavy black hair reached down to the small of her back and thick bangs covered her forehead. She was dressed in a brown skirt cut just above the knees and a modest white blouse with an old-fashioned rounded collar. Feeling the intensity of his gaze upon her, she turned, her dark eyes quizzing him.

Uncharacteristically, Michael didn’t utter a word. He just stood there, enthralled. The sight of the young woman made his heart skip a few beats. His throat constricted, making it difficult to breathe. Apnea, a physician might have called it. But as he attempted to regulate his breathing and strike up a conversation, Michael recognized a coup de foudre when he felt it. He was drawn to her not because of her modest attire and feminine grace, but because there was something so tender and expressive in her features. He was struck by the straight, thick line of her bangs, by the paleness of her cheeks against the background of those waves of dark hair and by the rigidity with which she stood holding the candle in her hand, contradicted by the uncontainable drama of her eyes. She reminds me of a Georges De La Tour painting, he thought, captivated by the angelic innocence of her face, illuminated from below by the soft candlelight. It occurred to him to say, “I’ve never seen you in this church before,” but that sounded too much like one of his cheesy pick-up lines. It would be practically a sacrilege to use it in church, Michael thought, momentarily forgetting that he had engaged in far more sinful behavior in that very context only a few moments earlier.

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Frostbite- Chapter 47

Like fungus after a rain the white tubes stuck up out of the earth around the tower. They stank of men. They stank of timber wolves, and of silver. The wolf moved around one of them, uncomprehending. She studied it, inspected it with nose and ears and eyes. She licked the outside of it and felt it thrumming, felt the tension inside of it like the fear in a field mouse’s belly. She licked the edge, tasted oil there, tasted wolves. Timber wolves—not her pack. Not even her nation.

Still—

She snuffled around the edge of the pipe. It was no mere curiosity that drove her, nor was it the tantalizing smell. This was a man-made thing, and therefore, she hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it. That was the law, the iron margin of her existence. She hated it, without further reason or meaning except that it was touched by human hands, that it was part of their world. Yet it didn’t move or offer any resistance. So she took her time.

The top was open and dark. She looked inside, but her eyes weren’t her strongest sense. She put a paw up on the edge.

Then she twisted around it and sank her sharp teeth into the yielding, cracking whiteness of it, dug in deep and then yanked backward with the powerful muscles in her neck.

The pipe slid up out of the ground with a noise like thunder. Something fast moved past her cheek, flew into the darkness. She cast the pipe away from her and danced backward, her ears stinging with the noise it had made.

Her mouth snapped open and her tongue came out, tasting the air.

What was that, was that, was that, what was that?

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The Seducer-Part I-Chapter 7

Michael returned home exhausted. He plopped down on the couch, propping his feet up on the coffee table. He turned on the T.V. and flipped channels. Not finding anything of interest, he turned it off. Truth be told, he missed having a woman he could count on in his life. Not necessarily Karen, but a woman he could call his own nonetheless. Since they had broken up, he’d been going out on the prowl, bar hopping every night. At first, he enjoyed being free to do whatever the hell he pleased, hooking up with whoever caught his eye. But after awhile, even absolute freedom began to bore him. There was nobody to fool, nobody to cheat on, nobody to manipulate. It was kind of like pushing hard against something that offered no resistance.

That evening had been particularly unproductive. After a mind-blowingly tedious conversation with a stuck-up blond, Michael returned home empty-handed. That’s how he’d been rewarded for his patience! He had listened to Janet, Janice or whatever the hell her name was talk about her divorced parents. She also told him that she focused all her energies on her studies and had no time for commitment. Which would have been fine with him had she stopped the conversation right then and there. But she went on and on. Michael listened to her drivel, hating to quit, hoping to score. He didn’t even roll his eyes when she bragged about her near-genius IQ, which wasn’t in evidence that evening. He graciously indulged her in a dialogue about her business major. He even nodded approvingly when she told him that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and go “like, into advertising,” minus the late hours, working on weekends and extramarital affairs. For Michael, the most challenging part of the conversation was focusing on her face as opposed to the low cut, V-neck sweater, which exposed a fine pair of boobs. He had trouble coping with his impatient erection, which seemed to be humming the Elvis song which called for “a little less conversation, a little more action please.” To move things along, he inquired with strategic vagueness: “Wanna go somewhere else?”

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Frostbite- Chapter 46

“It’s at least thirty meters down,” Chey said, looking out into the darkness. She had one shutter propped open, but the moon was down (of course it was, she thought, otherwise she’d be in her wolf form) and she couldn’t see anything beyond the branches of the nearest trees. She couldn’t, for instance, see the ground below her. She thought if she could see how far the drop was she might be more afraid than she was already. In the pitch dark it might be possible to climb up on the sill and jump out. The idea still made her stark raving terrified. “That would kill me.”

“No, it wouldn’t.” Dzo leaned out and looked down. “You’re a shifter, remember? It’s just going to hurt like a bitch.”

Chey licked her chapped lips. “I’m not sure if I can do that. I’m afraid.”

Dzo shrugged mightily. “You asked if I knew a way out of here. You’re looking at it. Don’t blame me if you wimp out.”

“You’re not human. I don’t think you’re alive, really. You’re more like a ghost or a spirit. Can you even feel pain? Have you ever felt pain?”

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