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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Savvy Saturday: Exclusive Peek at J.S. Marlo's Favorite Part of Her New Book Thin Ice

What is your favorite part of the book, and why will your readers love it?


I have many favourite scenes, probably as many favourites as there are scenes in the book, and for many different reasons. To pick just one was hard. I ended up rereading the entire book before I set my mind on this one. It was written around a single sentence: “Well, Maman, you may not be dating the guy, but he’s certainly dating you.” I love that scene. It was challenging and fun to write, and I had the greatest time developing an entire conversation just so it would end with that punchline.

It’s a sweet, a bit awkward, and yet amusing scene during which Julie is trying to tell her teenage son that she met a new man, but she’s worried about his reaction. Most of us I’ve been in a situation in our lives when we needed to have a fretful conversation with someone only to be pleasantly surprised when none of our fears or worries came true. I think my readers will love the way Julie is trying to tactfully handle the conversation, and they will be tickled by her son’s reaction.

~*~

Julie walked out of the arrival terminal wheeling her son’s suitcase and headed for the airport parking lot.

Beside her, her only child carried his hockey bag and sticks. He appeared to have grown another inch and gained an extra five pounds since she’d last seen him at the beginning of October for Canadian Thanksgiving.

“I didn’t bring my laptop. I hope you won’t mind if I borrow yours?”

“Of course not.”

As she approached the forest green SUV she’d rented that morning, Julie clicked on the key. The front lights of her new vehicle flashed and the cargo hatch gradually rose.

Thierry slowed down. “When did you trade the minivan for a SUV?”

“It’s a long story.” A story she could have fed him last night when he called after Luke’s departure, but knowing her son was busy getting ready to leave, she hadn’t wanted to bother him any longer than necessary. “I’ll tell you everything once we’re out of the parking lot.”

She lived forty minutes from the airport, which gave her ample time to recount her eventful Sunday.

Her son was the strong, silent type. From the time he was a little boy, he’d excelled at keeping his emotions wrapped in a cool demeanor, an enviable quality to possess as a goaltender, but one that made him difficult to read. As she spoke, Julie observed him from the corner of her eye.

At the mention of the hit and run, her son mumbled something about idiots under his breath. When she described the guests invited for brunch, he shook his head. And as she detailed Luke’s heartfelt attempts at assembling the perfect Christmas tree, she glimpsed the shadow of a smile on his face.

“When you told me over the phone you met Luke at the office, I thought he was a client. I can’t believe the guy invited you for pizza and you recruited him to build Twiggly. That’s not first date material, Maman. You two lack imagination.”

The intersection light turned red. Her gasp of surprise drowned in the squealing of her brakes.

Thierry’s reaction had thrown her for a loop. Though she’d wondered how he’d react to the news she’d invited a man home, this particular scenario never entered her mind.

Stopped at the light, Julie stared at her son, feeling like a teenager caught sneaking in after curfew.

“It’s not...it wasn’t...a date. Not exactly.” Or maybe it was a date. Dates ended with a kiss. Strictly speaking, Luke had kissed her, but she never had the chance to kiss him back before she threw him out.

Maman, it’s okay if you’re dating someone. Now that he’s gone, Papa wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life alone. If Luke treats you right and makes you happy, he’s good in my book.”

To receive Thierry’s approval lifted a weight she had no idea she carried. She loved her son, she loved him more than anyone or anything in this world, but he couldn’t fill the void left by his father’s death. Luke, on the other hand, had--

The car behind her honked, scattering her thoughts. She accelerated through the green light before turning left in the residential area where she lived.

“Will you see him again?”

“Maybe. I told him he was welcome to come back and hang the Christmas lights around the house.”

Maman, you’re supposed to be nice to the guy.” A tinge of amusement pierced through her son’s feigned indignation. “Not to put him to work every time he shows up.”

Had Luke heard Thierry, Julie was pretty sure he would have been tickled.

“Fine. You can hang them yourself tomorrow afternoon while I’m at work.”

Moi? But I have a game tomorrow. How did I get drafted for that awful job?”

“You just volunteered. When’s your game?” Last she’d heard, his hockey tournament didn’t start until the twenty-seventh. In Spokane. “Or do you mean you have tickets to go watch the Capitals?”

Deep dimples dug into his cheeks. “I’m waiting to hear for the tickets, but I found a team to play with while I’m here. They’re called the Detonators. Their captain posted an ad on a rent-a-goalie site and I contacted him.”

“An online ad?” She understood he needed to keep practicing, but she didn’t like the uneasy feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. “Are you sure that team exists?”

“No.” His candid answer didn’t appease her worries. “I guess I’ll find out when I show up at the arena tomorrow morning.”

Given the choice, she’d prefer to know her son was safe at home at the top of a ladder than playing goalie for a mysterious online team called the Detonators, but the choice didn’t belong to her. Maybe the careless, reckless driver of the pickup truck had done her a favor after all by sending her minivan to the garage. Thierry was too young to drive the rental SVU. Someone would need to drive him to that arena.

As she veered onto her street, her right foot slipped from the accelerator pedal. This couldn’t be her house. She’d only been absent a couple of hours.

Luke?

She eased into the driveway, her eyes glued to the colorful, glittering lights framing the roof, the garage door, the windows, and the shrubs.

Laughter erupted from the passenger seat.

“Well, Maman, you may not be dating the guy, but he’s certainly dating you.”

~Thin Ice, available May 1st, 2017~



Julie Lavoie is no stranger to personal tragedy, but as she contemplates giving love a second chance, she must face her fears regarding the occupation of Rubens “Luke” Lucas, a federal agent embroiled in an explosive investigation.

The sudden disappearance of her only son tests Julie’s courage and determination. She welcomes Luke’s help to search for Thierry, but their two investigations intertwine, jeopardizing her chances of ever seeing her son again.

Available on:
Amazon
Champagne Bookstore
Kobo

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Savvy Saturday: Favorite Parts of Elfin Nights from Brantwijn Serrah

We at CBG asked author Brantwijn Serrah what were her favorite parts of her upcoming book, Elfin Nights, to be released May 1st. She not only told us all of the good bits, but she gets to share them today with us as well!

What is your favorite part in your new book, Elfin Nights, and why?


My favorite part: Sure, let's start out with an impossible question, ha! It's so hard to decide, but I think if I had to pick only one, it's a scene about halfway through the book when Finn has to steal a bit of magic from a jealous faerie temptress called the Mariposa. I love writing Finn when he's being witty and snarky; it's just so easy with him! So I loved writing the back-and-forth, the careful way he turns on the charm for Mariposa first, then the point where she pushes him a little too far. Finn drops the courtly politeness and is ready to brawl so quick. I love letting him off his leash, so to speak, and shed the Prince Charming act (which, admittedly, he is also good at), so he can show a bit of the beast beneath.

Teaser:

“Milady Mariposa,” I greeted her, sweeping into a bow. My anger and irritation still seethed—hard to forget all the insults she’d thrown my way, with the spider bite and the cuts of her thorns still smarting all over me—but when dealing with powerful Sidhe one did not jump into negotiations on an accusation. I’d entered her realm uninvited, after all. She’d see it not just as a right, but an obligation, to let her pets have their way with me.

“I’ve come far to ask thine aid,” I told her. “My wards, Gloriana’s changeling daughters, are vulnerable without me, and I have sworn an oath to return to them. The Desert of Bones has left me sapped of magic, and I beg a boon of thee, if thou wouldst share one fruit, nay, even one half, to restore me.”

Her wings folded in and out, shades of pink now rippling across them. Some kind of laughter echoing from within her, I thought. She said nothing for a very long time, though, indulging in a little more of what I could only take to be mental undressing.

“Tis a pretty boon thou asketh of me, Knight,” she said at last. “And with thou disgraced as well, and turned out from thy Court. Were I to help thee, the Queen of Springtime may take offense.”

“The new queen is my ward, and she will hold no wrong against thee for aiding me to find her again. It may even be she will reward such loyalty in bringing me home.”

She laughed out loud, and the pink tint of her wings shivered with the sound and brightened nearly to white. The color settled again to ruby as she composed a smile once more, and she climbed to her feet to meet me.

“Ah, yes, mayhap she would. A boon of my own to return her precious plaything.”

She said it with intentional ugliness, the way a jealous ex might refer to her lover’s new romantic interest. Gloriana probably hadn’t spared the Elvyn Court any detail of my scandal, regardless how it affected her daughters.

Something to discuss after I made it back to my ladies. I bowed my head in a show of humility and said, “Queen Gloriana did rightly punish my transgressions. Alas, though, she appointed no other guardian to my ladies before she died and thus their safety is still in my hands. To my knowledge, the new queen has not upheld Gloriana’s sentence upon me, nor replaced me, so I am left to conclude she yet prefers me at her service.”

Another laugh. The sweet fragrances of rose and raspberries and light, white wine followed her as she circled me. “No, Sir Knight, I doubt the High Elvyn Queen would dismiss such a novelty as thee. I daresay the strength and stamina of the Children of War should be most pleasing to any fae woman. T’would be fine as riding the darkest stallion night after night, and finding him ever ready and willing to ride again evening next. Art thou such a beast, Sir Knight?”

I gestured to the transfiguration Gloriana had laid on me with her curse. “As thou may see, milady, of late I am not exactly the man I was.”

“Hm, yet still a Knight.”

Her ears came to a smooth point, like all elves, and as she turned I caught the gleam of a gold tattoo inked between her wings and winding down her skin past the plunging back of her gown. Butterflies in flight, of course. Flecks of the same gold, like filigree, peppered her bare shoulders, neck, and even the first few inches of her hairline. They caught and reflected the changing glow of her wings like fiery embers.

Maybe I should have expected her touch, but she caught me by surprise. Her fingertips traced my bicep and made me shiver. Without meaning to, I cringed away.

Her leering smile could cut glass. She strolled past me and back to the thick bank of clover. She tossed a wink over her shoulder and let one cap sleeve of her gown drop down an inch or so off her smooth, golden shoulder.

“Since thou ask a taste of my fruit,” she murmured, “I request a taste of thine in return. Join me in my bower, Sir Knight. Share with me the pleasures thou has heretofore squandered on two silly little changeling girls. I will show the Son of the Morrigan true bliss, here in this garden.”

She coyly shrugged her other shoulder, slipping the second cap sleeve free. The dress hung on, but the slightest twitch would send it pooling at her feet.

“And once thou provest thyself a worthy stud, I shall give thee one of the fruit. If, of course, thou still wishes to go…”

I stared at her.

What do you think will be your reader's favorite part, and why?

What I hope readers will enjoy most are the romance scenes, because really, the devotion Finn has for his girls is the very heart of this story. As an erotic writer, I'm very excited to share steamy moments of menage romance (and as in most of my books, I wanted the sex to be brazen, and immersive, and hot--I don't write R-rated stuff, I like it turned all the way up to NC-17!). At the same time, Finn and his princesses have such an abiding love, such a powerful bond. I think this might be the most romantic book I've written so far. So I hope readers can really get lost in that, and get worked up, and get misty-eyed from the trio's very unique bond.

An (unfortunately) PG-13 Teaser:
Nineva let out a bright gasp—not at my words, but at my touch. She shuddered under my hands and squirmed, a mewl of strained delight escaping her.

“Oh, Knight!” she breathed. “No, do not let go. Thou hast no idea the fire coursing through me, a flame without air, needing to burn and struggling to breathe.”

She grabbed my wrist and stood on tiptoe to plant a hard kiss on my lips.

“My body must remain within the ley line,” she whimpered. “It washes away excess energies I cannot command. But ah, my Knight! How it burns in me. How it threatens to break me open!”

Underneath my palms the shimmering lines of elvish on her skin buzzed and hummed. The sensation spread and reverberated in me, awakening the prowling need of my own power, which had been roused this day by war, but never fed. When she kissed me, I hardened against her. She bit my lower lip then arched to me with a moan.

“Nina…” I whispered.

“I need this,” she rasped. “Finn, oh, Finn…I feel I will spin out of control…”

“Aye, lass…”

I slid my hands down to hike her up on me, and she wrapped her legs tightly around my waist. We tumbled off balance until I backed her against the stone wall, planting one hand against it while the other clutched her pert bottom to hold her up.

“Nina, lass…you are not usually so…”

“I am taken with fever for you, Child of War,” she growled. “This energy…take it from me Finn. Please, please take it.”

I stared into the white stars of her eyes and read more than heat. She strained for release. She shook with it. She needed something hard and strong and now, to work the tension out of her.

I was all three. And her mad yearning infected me like a plague.

I pressed my princess—no, my queen, now my queen of lightning storms and bursting red blooms, queen of clear bright nights, shooting stars, and brisk, burbling streams—harder against the wall. Our lips met, almost violent, our tongues warring as if we meant to devour each other. Her hands tangled in my hair, grasping, tugging, while my fingers dug hard into the flesh of her buttocks, through the ephemeral fabric of her gown.

Elfin Nights
eBook
$3.99
Preorder:

A fae Knight’s life belongs to the monarchies, but for Finn of the Morrigan, his life comes second to his heart. And his heart belongs to his ladies.

The changeling princesses of the Springtime elves share a unique bond with their Knight—a bond that must remain perfectly secret. When the Queen of the Elves discovers their passionate love, she curses and exiles Finn from the elfin lands forever. With their guardian sent away to a lifeless wasteland, the royal changelings have no defense when the unseen enemies of the Four Courts attack, and the House of Elves falls.

To save his loves, Finn will need to break out of prison, undertake a perilous journey across the lands of Thairy, face wicked creatures, rogue Knights, and one of the most dangerous monsters in the fae world.

The enemy will soon learn what it means to provoke a true Son of War.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bai Tide by Erika Mitchell Review by Manoflabook.com


Buy Bai Tide from Amazon.com*
My rating for Bai Tide – 4
Thoughts:
Bai Tide by Erika Mitchell is a fun book filled with adventure and humor. The novel features an American CIA agent of Chinese origin who is brave, sarcastic, and self-deprecating.
I do enjoy the spy genre very much, and have read most of the Ian Fleming James Bond novels. This novel is more like the Bond movies and not like the books, even though Hsu and the literary Bond share the same self-doubt, guilt and obligatory cockiness, and loyalty to country and allies.
The book is mostly action, and I’m quite impressed that Ms. Mitchell managed to develop her characters in such a short book while keeping the story rolling along at a very fast pace. The author writes action very well, her description of hand-to-hand combat is fast, descriptive and exciting.
There are some plot holes, as in many other books of the genre and some of the rookie mistakes Agent Hsu made were, I felt, out of character for a trained agent. I’m nitpicking of course, it’s the little things as we all know, but I still enjoyed the book.
Bai Tide is a light, fast read with loveable characters and exploit. The book is easy to read and a good introduction to those interested in getting into the espionage or thriller genre.
Synopsis:
Bai Hsu, a CIA case officer, gets a “bonus” in the form of an easy assignment at a high-security private school. A North Korean operative tries to break into the school and our hero must find out why.
As Hsu continues to investigate, and get the volleyball team ready for their tournament., he discovers a plot he must stop and save millions of people in the process.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Elfin Nights Cover Reveal

























Blurb
The changeling princesses of the Springtime elves share a unique bond with their Knight—a bond that must remain perfectly secret. When the Queen of the Elves discovers their passionate love, she curses and exiles Finn from the elfin lands forever. With their guardian sent away to a lifeless wasteland, the royal changelings have no defense when the unseen enemies of the Four Courts attack, and the House of Elves falls.

To save his loves, Finn will need to break out of prison, undertake a perilous journey across the lands of Thairy, face wicked creatures, rogue Knights, and one of the most dangerous monsters in the fae world.

The enemy will soon learn what it means to provoke a true Son of War.





Elfin Nights Pre-Order 

Support indie press by pre-ordering at the publisher's website.

Or at Amazon.

Author Bio

They say you should never meet your heroes, but Brantwijn Serrah says otherwise. At a Los Angeles book signing in 2012, Brantwijn met one of her all-time favorite authors of urban fantasy, Jim Butcher, who couldn't have been kinder or more encouraging to her. As it turned out, the book he signed for her that night gave her a spark of inspiration for the Four Courts series.

When she isn't visiting the worlds of immortals, demons, dragons and goblins, Brantwijn fills her time with artistic endeavors: sketching, painting, customizing My Little Ponies and playing with graphic design. She can't handle coffee unless there's enough cream and sugar to make it a milkshake, but try and sweeten her tea and she will never forgive you. She moonlights as a futon for four lazy cats, loves tabletop role-play games, and can spend hours on end sketching characters and scenes in her secret notebooks.

Find Brantwijn and her books at www.brantwijn.com.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Savvy Saturday: R.J. Hore The Fearless Pantser

Everyone should be familiar with the term “pantser” when referring to a writer. Basically, it means one who writes by the seat of his or her pants, rather than the traditional “plotter” who is well organized with all details set down far in advance of starting to actually create.

I am a pantser. I want to start into a project as soon as an idea hits me. I don’t want to wait (weeks, months) while I set out the backstories, create scenes, lay out each chapter in minute detail. A plotter might spend as much time researching their story, as actually creating it.

I write because I want to find out how the story ends. Quite often I surprise myself.

Take, for example, how I write my Housetrap Chronicles series. I decided I would write a fantasy detective novella-length story that I could someday turn into a series. For my creative motivation I decided I would simply take a famous mystery title, twist it around a bit, and write a story to suit the title. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

One of Agatha Christie’s tales that came to mind was The Mousetrap. So I decided to write Housetrap. Sitting down to write the story I had no idea what a Housetrap was, but I had the basic idea for an opening, the private detective, his wise-cracking secretary, and something or someone missing. Shades of Sam Spade. Once I got into the tale the story wrote itself.

With the exception of the second story in the series, Dial M for Mudder, I’ve gone back to the original opening scene format. I set it in the detective’s office and have the problem come to him. That way I can introduce the main characters so that the reader can jump in anywhere in the chronicles and is not forced to start with the first in the series. The advantage to reading in order, however, is that I found myself bringing favorite characters back into other tales. This happens in the latest tale, Murder on the Disoriented Express. A character who first appeared in Hounds of Basalt Ville shows up on stage in this eighth episode.

This latest plot was easy to come up with. From the title I knew I was going to write about a train trip and a murder. Where it gets a bit tricky, is in the details. The who, and the why, and stuff a plotter would know well before they started. I was probably half way through before I knew who the murderer was, however the more difficult part was the “why” the train trip in the first place. Once I get to know the characters I turn them loose and they often help me out with the details.

In my other full-length works, mainly mediaeval-style high fantasy, it is often a single face, scene, or headline that gets me started writing. If I’m lucky, I might even have an idea of how it will end. If not, I sit back and enjoy the surprise.

R.J.Hore
Ronald Hore had three stories published in a writer's group anthology in 2005 and in 2006 won a Canadian Author's Association national short story contest for a ghostly love story. His short story "Chrysalis" appeared in the modern vampire collection Evolve in 2010.

In 2012, writing as R.J.Hore, his first full-length novel, The Dark Lady, a medieval-style fantasy was published by Burst Books.ca. This tale has since been turned into a trilogy with Dark Days and Dark Knights. A second series of swords, magic and romance novels followed, The Queen's Pawn, also now a trilogy with The Queen's Man, and will be completed in August 2016 with the release of The Queen's Game.

A stand alone, slightly different fantasy novel, Alex in Wanderland, was released in 2015.

His fantasy detective series, The Housetrap Chronicles got off the ground with the Housetrap, the first of a fantasy detective series of novellas. This was followed by Dial M for Mudder and House on Hollow Hill. These have also been collected in a volume 1 anthology in paperback.

Next in this fantasy detective series came Hounds of Basalt Ville, Murder in the Rouge Mort, and The Treasure of the Sarah Madder, also now available in print in a second collection.

The eighth in the Housetrap series, Murder on the Disoriented Express, joined the group in 2017.

When not writing, or wrestling a large cat off of the keyboard, Ron may sometimes be found sailing on Lake Winnipeg.
www.ronaldhore.com

www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore



Saturday, April 8, 2017

Savvy Saturday: What We Want from Your Submissions

Looking to submit your novel to a publishing company? Well we are open and ready to hear from you! Take a peek at what each of our editors is looking for and see if your book fits the bill.


Owner/Publisher/Editor Cassiel Knight

Cassiel (or more fondly, Cassie) is looking for horror stories, science fiction, and space operas. This lady loves a good story, and is an amazing editor, so if you can manage to snag her attention, you will be in good hands.


Executive Assistant/Review Coordinator/Editor Kat Hall

Kat is a busy lady, but she will read just about anything. So long as there are no zombie apocalypse's. Her favorite genre however, is romantic suspense/thriller. She is "always on the lookout for a gem that stands out, over and above the other stories. The ‘one’ that rocks your mind and senses and won’t let go." Kat has training in many editing fields, and her expertise will surely make your book shine.

Social Media Coordinator/Editor Kylee Howells

Kylee loves romance. Particularly paranormal and historical romance, but she will read any where the characters get a happily ever after. The steamier the better for this lady. Absolutely no horror or scary in the least for this editor. The newest on the CBG team, she is ready to help you edit and promote your book so that it does the best it can.




Editor Nikki Andrews

Nikki is an outdoorsy, songwriting New Hampshire resident who is looking for well-written sweet-to-sensual romances with a strong subplot. These can be mystery, thriller, fantasy, historical, or futuristic, but she will absolutely say no to any dystopians. With many edited books under her belt, and a few of her own published, your book will be safe in Nikki's capable hands.

Editor Diane Badzinski

Romance, romance, romance is what Diane is looking for. She is not a horror fan, but will accept anything else with a bit of romance in it. Historical is her favorite, and she loves a good happy ending. With ten years of five-star editing behind her, you can expect only the best from Diane.

Editor Celia Breslin

Celia is interested in romantic fiction (all heat levels), urban fantasy, and science fiction (especially with a splash of romance). In all genres, she prefers character-driven, emotional stories with a strong conflict, quirky, sassy, and smart heroes and heroines, and a solid plot arc. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are her first loves (Vampires! The Fae! Werewolves! Sorry, no zombies), but she also enjoys contemporaries with humor and action (military romance, romantic suspense), especially if there’s a tortured and tattooed hero or heroine involved. For science fiction, vivid and consistent world-building is absolutely required along with unique but believable characters. Celia has been an editor since the 90's, and is a multi-published author with some pretty great books out there to read. She will be able to tell you how best to edit your book, and how to be a successful author.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Excerpt from the New Murder On The Disoriented Express

Murder On The Disoriented Express
Housetrap Chronicles 8
By R. J. Hore
Fantasy
$2.99
Amazon: https://goo.gl/JNEdNt
Kobo: https://goo.gl/n4qMPs
Champagne Books: https://goo.gl/w0p1Oc

A normal day at the office sends Randy on a trip across the continent with two harmless elves, an elderly maiden aunt and her niece.

Excerpt

I make it a rule to dislike elves as a matter of principle. They are treacherous, judgmental, stuck-up, and just plain annoying. So when Bertha opened my inner office door and interrupted my latest ritual of mint-flavored hot chocolate and the morning rag with mildly risqué pictures, I was somewhat aggrieved.

“What do you want?” I said, without raising my head. “This is my quiet time.”

“You may go right in,” she announced in her sweetest voice.

I glanced up. An attractive elf was in the process of navigating a wheelchair through the doorway. The chair contained an elderly member of that same species who looked like she’d seen a century or three of hard duty. She smiled. Long, almost transparent, hands rested on top of the multi-colored blanket wrapped around her. She balanced a lethal-looking cane on her knees.

Her assistant parked the chair directly across, facing me, and stood behind, all very prim and proper.

I rested my elbows on the top of the desk and formed my fingers into a professional-looking pyramid. “How may I be of assistance?” I said through clenched teeth.

“A gentleman should always stand the first time he meets a lady,” the ancient said.

I resisted my natural urge to muse out loud on the facts that I wasn’t a gentleman and lacked current information to comment on her status. Instead, I stood and extended my paw.

“Now that wasn’t difficult at all, was it, Randolf? I thought I should meet you before we set out.” Taking my hand, she examined my fingers. “Your nails are dirty.”

“And just how is this relevant?” I retrieved my fingers and sat. “Before we set out? To where?”

“Nails speak to character.” Two bright yellow eyes examined me from beneath a mop of close-cropped and probably dyed, coal-black hair. A minor mountain range of wrinkles around those eyes spoke to a life at least partially spent outside.

“I’m afraid there has been some misunderstanding.” I started to rise and direct the pair toward the door. “I’m booked solid for the next month.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, sonny,” she said, smiling through well-reddened, thin lips. “Your partner, Miss Wildwater, has confirmed all of the arrangements. I’m probably the reason you are booked up. Meeting you today is simply a pleasant formality.”

I swiveled my growing glare on my executive assistant sitting at her desk. She smiled at me through the window and waved. If good help wasn’t so hard to find I should have fired her years ago. I could chastise her severely, but she wouldn’t pay any attention.

“I’m afraid there has been a small gap in communications,” I said. “Do you mind bringing me up to speed? A brief outline will suffice.”

The yellow eyes twinkled. “My name is Miss Agatha Litchfield. I’m your new employer. This is my niece, Bella Annapolis. She is my ward and one of the Annapolis Royals. We are traveling to the Free Wet Coast where she will be meeting her fiancé. You are accompanying us.”

“As your bodyguard?” I frowned. Why would this pair need protection?

“No, of course not. We simply decided having a male accompany us would be useful, in case of heavy lifting.”

That made about as much sense as this pair needing a bodyguard. “Not that I’m saying I’m going on this expedition,” I said, “but I’m rather expensive for a laborer. You could hire two hobgoblins for an entire day at half my hourly price.”

The smile broadened. “I’ve been assured you are well worth it, Randolf.”

Now who is making referrals? “How are you traveling, by shuttle or dirigible?” Not that I was interested.

“We booked passage on The Trans Continental Deluxe Rapid Express.”

That aged rattletrap hadn’t crossed the entire continent in the last century. Now it was lucky to make the trip from Central City to the coast without incident. And by the sound of things, this pair could well afford to travel first class.

“The old steam train? Whatever for? That will take five to seven days depending on stops. An orbital shuttle would get you there in two hours, more or less. A dirigible might take almost as long as the train if there was a severe headwind, but with far fewer stops.”

Agatha Litchfield wagged a finger at me. “I don’t believe in flying, young’un. Besides, dear Bella has never crossed the prairies or the mountains. Best seen from the ground, not on one of those new fangles.”

Her niece laid a hand on the elderly shoulder. “Auntie was so gracious in arranging this trip. It’s the last chance for us to spend some quality time together.”

I glanced up at Bella for the first time. My initial impression of attractive was well on the mark. Tall and slim, with skin like pale polished porcelain, she had large round eyes that looked as though they could weep tons of tears on cue. Black hair was cropped to just above the shoulder, and thick enough to cover most of those pointed ears. Her outfit, calf-length with long sleeves, was almost too sensible for someone who appeared barely old enough to have graduated from a finishing school.

Bertha was trying to attract my attention through the window. I glanced at her. My half-banshee assistant held up what appeared to be a substantial bag of coins, smiled wide-eyed and pointed at it, nodding eagerly. I assumed that meant the client over-paid. I supposed I could put up with a pair of harmless-looking elves for a week, and it didn’t hurt my private eyeball reputation to be known to be out of town on business once in a while. I guessed I could use some quiet time.

“All right,” I said, “but there are a few conditions I want to get straight. I am not a nursemaid. I don’t do stuff like bathing clients or changing dirty clothes. I expect proper sleeping accommodations and all meals. I do not want to spend two weeks inside those wheeled wooden coffins. You will pay for my return trip on the shuttle.”

“Agreed,” Agatha said.

I blinked. That was too easy. I should have thrown in a bar tab too. “When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow, at eight in the morning.” She held out her hand. “A pleasure doing business. We’ll meet you at the station at seven. We will have your ticket and all our necessary travel documents. Good day.”

Bella wheeled her out through the office, pausing to chat briefly with Bertha, and then they were gone.

Why did I feel as though the business had just been done to me?