Latest Publication: Silver Spoon, A Donna Howard Mystery!

Nearly ten years after her first case, Donna Howard from Coin is now an established investigator of antiques. With the help of deceased historical people only she can see, she tracks down the stories of family heirlooms. This time around, her investigation takes her to Salem, Massachusetts, where she delves into the town's haunted history and the modern world of antique hunting.

Her research into the provenance of a silver spoon leads Donna to a stash of antiques in an old man's basement, an old man whose death Donna begins to suspect was less than "accidental." Along with a possible murder, she must also contend with a possible possession and a possible boyfriend. Because nothing can make the dead past and the living present more precarious than the unpredictable complexities of human relationships.

* * *

Thanks to Eugene, editor, administrator, and cover designer! Silver Spoon can be obtained through various sites used by Peaks Island Press

Latest Publication: Coin, A Donna Howard Mystery

Coin: A Donna Howard Mystery is now available on Kindle and in paperback!

Coin introduces a new murder mystery series. It's 1995 and Donna Howard is living an ordinary life in Portland, Maine. She works as a hairdresser, has a boring boyfriend plus two opinionated brothers and two exhaustively energetic parents. As far as she's concerned, she's an ordinary person and is proud of it.

Except she can see the past. Walk down any street in the old part of the city and four centuries of its inhabitants walk right along with her. She can observe them, hear them, smell them. And she'd rather not. She'd prefer to leave the past in the past.

Until a customer "accidentally" leaves an ancient Roman coin at the hair salon. A coin worth an awful lot of money. Then the woman appraising the coin for the Portland Museum of Art "accidentally" ends up dead. And now the past won't leave Donna alone.

Not even the man whose visage was molded into the metal 2000 years ago, a man who wreaked mayhem then and may have witnessed murder now. Quite unwittingly, Donna uncovers family secrets, confronts historical controversies, and closes in on a very contemporary crime.

Thanks to Eugene, my editor, who is also responsible for the Art Deco cover. More Peaks Island Press books can be found here.

Publication: Tales of the Quest

Tales of the Quest is now available in print! Tales is a compilation of previously published and new stories bound together by an overarching discussion of THE QUEST:

How do quests work? What types of tasks can prince (and princesses) expect? Are quests successful? Do the participants always find true love? Why are they and the questees so fascinating? 

The blurb:
Ah, the Quest! The sight of noble knights setting forth on heroic tasks to win the hand of the fair princess stirs any heart. Here are the medieval heroes who once donned clanking suits of armor to fence, joust, and battle fire-breathing dragons for honor and acclaim.

That is, until the tasks got too messy, too inconvenient, too strange. And the armor way too heavy. To be sure, talent and determination still count. But the Quest just as often becomes a tool of trade and diplomacy, with fortunes and royal reputations weighing in the balance.

Immerse yourself in chronicles of desperate princes, strong-willed princesses, and romantic beasts. This fourth installment in the Roesia series pulls together new and previously published stories of questing daring-do updated for the modern age.

Amidst all the politics and game playing, can true love still triumph? Therein lies quite the tale.
This is the fourth Roesia novella and a few characters from previous novellas do make an appearance.

As always, mucho mucho thanks to Eugene for editing Tales and making suggestions--particularly about the "in-between bits"--that substantially improved it. Every recent novella is my favorite; in this case, I also had a ton of fun.

Roesia Chronicles: Notes

First Cover--Designed by Eugene
Photo: Kezia Moore
The Roesia Chronicles are based around a created world filled with magicians, transformations, quests, and politicians. I came to the Roesia Chronicles after writing my tributes to Jane Austen and Samuel Richardson. Consequently, the Roesia Chronicles are heavily influenced by the customs, clothes, and architecture of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. All Roesia novellas fall into the same time period with the exception of Roesia 4 (coming soon!) which goes back a little further in time.
 
When I published Aubrey: Remnants in Transformation (Roesia 1), I posted notes about the writing process. I do not claim to be a perfect writer. I am a reasonably skilled craftswoman, that's all. But I find the writing process absolutely fascinating! How does one solve a writing problem?

Some of these notes also include information about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially since I use relevant photos and portraits to illustrate each post.

Second Cover--Designed by Eugene
As with the Jane Austen and Pamela notes, I have attached links to each topic below.

Notes on Jane Austen and Her Time Period

My historical novels include two tributes to Austen's novels and a tribute to Samuel Richardson's Pamela.

Austen Tributes
Persuadable, my tribute to Austen's Persuasion, is told from the point of view of the "villains," Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay. They view the protagonists and antagonists of Austen's last novel with wry appraisal and insightful commentary. 

A Man of Few Words is my tribute to Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. It is told from the highly reserved Darcy's point of view and seeks to explain WHY this uncommunicative man does the things he does.

Pamela Tribute
In my omnibus volume, The Gentleman & the Rake, the "rake" refers to Mr. B from Samuel Richardson's Pamela (the "gentleman" is Darcy). Mr. B's novella, Mr. B Speaks! begins the omnibus and details his defense for seducing the novel's heroine. 

Each of these works involved research into the social environment of eighteenth and nineteenth century England. Notes regarding issues such as pregnancy, traveling, and scandal have been grouped into three categories. Links to these notes are listed below and to the right of the page:

Notes for Mr. B Speaks! (Eighteenth Century)

Notes for A Man of Few Words (Nineteenth Century)

Notes for Persuadable (Nineteenth Century)



Aubrey Final Chapter: Epitaphs

Aubrey came slowly to herself in a warm space. She lay on her side on a soft bed across from a square window beneath a slanting roof. Sheets covered the bottom half of her legs; a bare arm lay across her naked hip.

I should panic. But that thought came from a far away memory—this had happened to her before: waking in a new place, a storeroom. She’d been in pain. Now, she was drowsy and loathe to move.

Except there was that arm. In the window’s light, she could see that the arm was muscular and covered with light-brown hair. It ended in a square hand with long, blunt-edged fingers. Behind her, the owner of the arm breathed soporifically.

She slid forward—away; the arm’s hand slid along her hip and dropped laxly to the bed. She set her feet on a cold, wooden floor and stepped across to the window. Looking out, she sagged in relief. Below was Cleveland Square. She was in Police Headquarters..

She turned to study her location although she already knew it. There was a tall, three-drawer bureau, there a writing desk, and there a large bed containing a waking rumpled man. Charles pushed up on his hands to roll over and sit against the bed’s backboard; he studied her, eyes heavy-lidded.

“I thought that was you,” he said, his voice pure gravel.

“How long was I transformed?”

“You arrived here in cat-shape last night.”

She climbed back onto bed, rolled herself in the top quilt, and lay on her side facing Charles.

“I came to your room,” she said.

“You were sitting on the front step when our night patrol changed shift. I followed you up here.”

“I was at Lord Simon’s. There were two men—Mr. Jacobs and Kev—”

Charles stiffened.

“Yes,” Aubrey said. “Kev wanted to take me back to wherever this all started, continue his experiments. I transformed. I think I clawed him.”

“Good. And Lord Simon?”

“He got what he wanted. It was never about the initial spell. It was always about the second one. Or at least, it was always about what lasts—like these.”

She let her claws spring free. Charles touched one, moved his hand to her cheek. She opened her mouth, and he lightly touched her fangs.

“We’ll catch Kev,” he said. “We’ll lock him up—and this other man, Jacobs.”

“He put a bag over my head.”

“When you were human?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” He grinned slightly at Aubrey’s grimace and moved his hand to the back of her neck, massaged it.

“This way, we can hold him for kidnapping,” he said.

Aubrey yawned as Charles gently scratched her scalp.

“Should I purr?” she said crossly.

“You did before.”

She laughed and tumbled back, bringing Charles with her. She raised her chin, and he kissed her, she kissed him, pressing her scent against him; they became a tangle of quilt and legs until Charles moved his head to her shoulder, breathing deep, holding her with no other caresses.

Aubrey said, “Don’t you want—?”

“I prefer things regularized.”

“So Richard didn’t misread your intentions.”

“No.” He raised his head, smiled down at her. “I wanted you from the moment you ran to me out of Belemont Park—maybe even before when I hunted for you around Sommerville. But that night—you stood there demanding to go home, and I thought—I’m nine years your senior, Aubrey—Oh, damn, I’m going to have to be fatherly.”

“I've never thought of you as fatherly. I can’t imagine I did before.”

“You give me reason to think you don’t.”

She touched his cheek, claws faintly extended.

“You really don’t mind these.”

Charles shrugged, looking honestly perplexed, and Aubrey giggled, nudging her face against his arm.

She said, “I’m thoroughly compromised now.”

“Richard contacted me when you didn’t return home last night. He asked me to search for you. We should tell him you're safe—”

“And I leave you. Again.”

His arms tightened, drawing her closer.

“For a little while. I need to be able to—manage the situation.”

Protect her, he meant, from government interference. 

“There may be a way—The first step is to neutralize the Academy’s interest in you.”

The police’s idea, Aubrey learned as she sat in the office later (Charles had brought her a gray frock to wear), was to use Kev’s arrest (for the original kidnapping) and Jacobs’s arrest (for the latest one) to bring pressure to bear on the ministers to curtail Academy actions.

“If the Academy can no longer research potions at all, they’ll have no reason to pursue you,” Charles explained.

Perry clucked. “They were so worried about police monitoring, but without police monitoring, pressure has only increased for the ministers to do something, anything.”

“Should I give my story to another reporter?”

Charles half-smiled at Aubrey’s acerbity.

“Maybe later. I want to visit Lord Simon. I'll drop you at home on the way."

“I should go too.”

“The danger—”

“Lord Simon likes talking to me,” Aubrey said. “He's curious about what I'm going to do with my life.” He would enjoy seeing her with Charles, but she didn't say so aloud. “I'm a witness, you know. I can identify the location, show you what happened.”

* * *

What had happened was that Kev was dead.

His body was a pile at the center of the great hall, a troubling assortment of limbs splashed with red.

A lanky man, hands in pockets, stood over the corpse. He turned as Charles and Aubrey entered.

“Ah, Miss St. Clair,” his voice untroubled by more than curiosity.

Another person who knew her—she'd believe she'd been a real molly during her bespelling, if Charles didn't say otherwise.

Charles and Lord Simon.

“I'm Stevenson,” the lanky man said, extending his hand to Charles who shook it.

“From the Academy?”

“Yes. We heard about Mr. Marlow's mauling.” Stevenson glanced at Aubrey.

“Self-defense,” Charles said quickly.

Aubrey protested. “I only scratched him.”

Stevenson barked a laugh. “Not according to Jacobs.”

“We’d like to question him,” Charles said.

“You can have him. He ran to the Academy, but we don’t want the headache.” Stevenson's eyes darted back to Aubrey. “He keeps saying, ‘Just a cat? Simon made her a bloody tiger.’”

Charles went out to the carriage. Patrick had come with them, and Charles sent him to fetch Jacobs from the Academy infirmary.

“You won't have any trouble collecting him,” Stevenson said indifferently. “Sir James—let’s just say there's been a regime change. Sir James is looking for new patrons.”

“I'll have the body collected,” Charles said.

Stevenson shrugged.

“It's not like we want to cut him open.”

* * *

A tiger. Aubrey sat silently in the hackney, Charles’s arm around her shoulders.

“It was self-defense,” he said again.

She wondered if she should feel disgusted or guilty—bad—about Kev. But Kev had been evil and stupid. She didn’t even feel satisfaction. Just—he was done, over.

What did slow her thoughts, focus her mind was—

Tiger. Something dangerous, possibly even to Charles, who seemed entirely unworried.

She would have to be careful. With Charles.

With the Academy, however—

Would Stevenson's cohorts risk experimenting on a creature that could kill with the swipe of the paw?

If she was drugged maybe. Captured. Held—

She could still prove dangerous. She might become a lion. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give the Academy that impression.

She said, “I think the Academy should show me more respect,” and Charles laughed.

The hackney stopped. Charles had brought her to her family’s home. Aubrey stepped down slowly, Charles behind her, and paused at the end of the short path.

If she didn’t want to become an Academy experiment, she certainly no longer wanted to be not-quite-a-debutante living in Richard's house under Gloria's eye. That life would have been enough once. Survivable.

No longer, she thought as she started towards the front door, Charles at her heels. Survival was a starting point, not an end one.

For an end—

There was Charles, the life offered by that cozy upstairs room in Police Headquarters. She would no longer have to read about mysteries in the newspapers; she would witness them directly.

Her family and Gloria waited in the sitting room. Mother, ready to swoon, reclined on the divan. Andrew stood beside her. He waved weakly at Aubrey (older sisters can be such embarrassments).

Richard came forward, grasped Aubrey’s shoulders, and peered down into her face.

“You’re alright?”

“Yes.”

Gloria didn’t believe it. Gloria stood in plump disapproval behind Richard’s shoulder, her supposedly affable mouth pursed, ready to rebuke.

I might even be able to rescue Richard.

Aubrey raised her hands away from Richard’s arms, let her claws spring out. She stared straight at Gloria and hissed. Full-mouth.

Gloria shrieked. Mother swooned, then quickly opened her eyes; she didn’t want to miss anything. Andrew gaped and sat. And all the while Gloria kept shrieking.

Richard looked over Aubrey’s shoulder, said, “Maybe you should just take her,” his voice impossibly dry.

“Yes,” Charles said in a matching tone. “I think that's a good idea.”

* * *

In Cleveland Square, the doors of Police Headquarters were propped open. Perry stood on the front step issuing orders to police going on patrol.

“You’re back,” he said to Aubrey and Charles.

“To stay,” Aubrey said, and a few of the police whistled and grinned, eyes resting on Charles's impassive face.

“Good, good,” Perry said and also glanced at Charles. “Patrick picked up the boy, Jacobs. The Academy didn’t object. David Duclaire wants a quote.”

Aubrey went up the steps and through the front doors. She heard Charles mount the steps behind her two at a time; reaching the lobby, he tapped her shoulder before she could start her ascent to Charles’s room. Their room.

“I told you, I prefer regulation,” he said softly against her ear.

She tipped her chin back to study the smiling-lined eyes.

She said, “Tigers are difficult to domesticate.”

His mouth tipped at one corner.

“I’ll give it a try. I’ll also get a license.”

“Soon?”

“Today.”

Aubrey patted his cheek, claws open, though not to scratch, and turned back towards the stairs. Behind her, she heard Charles head towards the office, greet Mr. Duclaire.

Deep inside, she began to purr.

Coming in 2014!
Sir Simon and Richard's stories.
And Aubrey Revised!

Aubrey Chapter 16: Transformation

Aubrey's ultimatum came two days later at Lady Vernal’s ball.

Olivia was full of a scandal—someone else’s for a change—and Aubrey, half-listening, was thinking that Olivia’s life was not a bad one. She executed its routines and excitements and not infrequent ennui with panache. If one was to have Olivia’s life, Olivia was how to lead it.

I don’t want this life. 

As an alternative to fear and pain, it was a good one. She must have thought that when she chose to forget. But as a single option, an ultimate decision, it didn’t have much to offer.

Charles with his inexhaustible equanimity offered more.

She danced and drank punch and held light conversations with the (real) debutantes; some of their chaperones looked on with indifference; others plucked their charges away from Aubrey’s presence; no one could decide what she was.

I need to decide.

“Miss St. Clair,” said a lanky blond man with a supercilious air.

He seemed vaguely familiar. Aubrey couldn't place the face but she could place the feeling: hairs rising on the back of her neck; the sensation of being watched, stalked. 

“Leslie Jacobs,” the man said with a bow that seemed faintly mocking. “We met at the Academy—during your adventure, as Sir James calls it.”

Aubrey kept her company smile in place, fangs hidden.

“Hello,” she said and gave him her hand, claws tucked away out of sight. 

“I hear you have questions. Seems you would have come to someone in the Academy before the police.”

He gave her a faintly quizzical look, the kind of look that said he didn’t think much of her intelligence (ask the police questions about magic?) but was too much a gentleman to say so.

Aubrey said, “Sir Prescott helped me.”

He smiled, a teeth-ful of charm.

“I would be honored to help you as well, Miss St. Clair. Perhaps—” he gestured towards the ballroom’s terrace.

Does he think everyone is a fool or just women or just me?

But it was time to make a decision, so Aubrey went with him onto the half-lit terrace where quiet couples leaned on the balustrades.

“Not terribly private,” Mr. Jacobs said.

“So many people,” Aubrey said, forestalling the next gambit. “I suppose we should next take a stroll in the garden.” 

A pause, then Jacobs chuckled.

“I forgot how, ah, saucy, you can be, Miss St. Clair.”

He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

“I can't go too far,” she said. "Sir Prescott worries about my health.”

“The Academy has many faces. Some of us, Miss St. Clair, some of us care about the Academy's magical tradition. We have created powerful formulas that could help our government, our country. We could resolve the problems of our age.”

“Without my help, I'm afraid. I've forgotten what happened to me.”

“Have you?” he said softly, bending to peer into her face.

He had maneuvered her towards the edge of the terrace. He held out an arm, generously allowing Aubrey to proceed him. She went down the narrow steps into the garden's shadows, knowing danger stalked her—behind and before.

She was not surprised when a bag was thrust over her head, when a voice hissed, “Now, I got you. Now, you’ll answer my questions.” She just wondered why Jacobs and this other man bothered. She was going to come willingly.

She sat in a carriage, the bag still on her head, her hands tied. Across from her, a thin, eager voice rambled about discoveries and transformations until Mr. Jacobs snapped, “Shut up!”

“I was that close,” the other man whined, “that close to a breakthrough. The Academy never accomplished as much.”

“Transformation is a dead-end.”

“It is the key. Lord Simon knows it. I said so. I said she could never revert completely.”

Aubrey said, “Are you Lord Simon’s lackeys?”

Jacobs answered, his huffiness reminding Aubrey of Gloria's posturing:

“Lord Simon doesn’t always appreciate others’ initiative.”

“Am I the proof of your initiative?”

“You are collateral. He wants you. He’ll get you. I get his formulas.”

“How enterprising,” she said and didn't bother not to sound snide.

“He's an opportunist,” said the other man. “They all are. Me—I will prove the power of permanent potions.”

Mr. Jacobs snapped, “I will be unbelievably relieved when I no longer have to spend time in your presence.”

Aubrey said nothing. She could feel the second man’s avidity, a mania that flowed from him like noxious air.

She carefully, cautiously let her fangs drop. But not her claws, not yet.

The carriage stopped. She was lifted to the ground, hustled down a path through a door into a cavernous space. Silence descended, filling a space that stretched beyond the present—as if she stood on the brink of a chasm.

A new voice, dry and elderly, said, “Why a bag? Do you think she doesn’t know her location?”

“Lord Simon?”

“When she clearly does.”

The bag was pulled up and off her head, leaving her hair in disarray. She used her bound hands to push it aside, looked across a beamed hall at an immensely thin man with a predator’s face: a hawk that kills.

“And bound?” he said. “Although that could make sense. Have your claws returned, Miss St. Clair?”

“Will they return?”

“Yes,” said the eager voice. “Yes. The spell was too permanent for removal. Wasn’t it?”

Aubrey looked at the speaker, a greasy-haired, stooping man who rubbed his hands against his pants, then each other, then his hair: ceaseless motion.

She wasn’t sure if he spoke to Lord Simon or to her, but she answered:

“Yes.”

“Show me!”

“No.”

Lord Simon laughed.

“She’s grandstanding,” said Mr. Jacobs in a bored voice.

“No. No, she's not. Didn't you catch the glint of fangs?”

“Show me,” Kev cried, coming around Aubrey on her left.

“Wait, Kev. You will have your chance. The fangs returned. And the claws?”

“Yes.”

“The spell itself?”

She didn’t respond. He nodded.

“What do you remember, Miss St. Clair?”

“I dream. I know some things. Why do you care?”

He beckoned, and she neared him. The man Kev began to follow, a shuffling of feet, but Lord Simon leveled a long stare over Aubrey’s shoulder until the shuffling stopped. Lord Simon began to undo the knots that held Aubrey’s hands.

“I care nothing for transformation. And nothing, you will be happy to hear, for you. I need to break a spell. You were the best specimen to test whether that was achievable.”

“Spells aren’t usually permanent.”

“No. But I have a poor track record in that record. The philter that transformed you—its base was mine. And you are not the first woman that I’ve harmed in this way: a spell without end.”

“Is she dead?”

“And not. She haunts me, haunts this house. I hope to restore her.”

“You couldn’t restore me to what I was before.”

“No. Yet, my potion wasn’t entirely ineffective. You are whole. The spell is stable.”

The rope around her hands dropped to the floor. Lord Simon took her shoulders, looked down at her face.

“Are you happy?” he said softly, and she saw that this answer mattered—not for her sake but for the quest he was on that took no moral notice of anything but his own objectives.

“Perhaps.”

“What would make you happy?”

“To be nobody, I suppose. Or just somebody to a few people.”

“Like your surprisingly sanguine policeman. You found him again?”

Aubrey tilted her head, said nothing. Charles was not going to be sacrificed to this man’s curiosity.

Lord Simon took no notice of her deliberate silence.

He said, “An upright man of sterling character, he must have his fetishes. Claws down the back, fangs in the lip?”

Aubrey blushed, and Lord Simon snorted.

“Still innocent.”

“Am I? Was I?”

“You were never truly corrupted.”

“But I’m not what I was before.”

“No,” he said and for the first time, he sounded remote, defensive.

Sad.

She’ll be changed,” Aubrey said.

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to be used again. Not for anyone’s sake.”

“You are no longer a useful candidate, not for me. You are innocent but not, shall we say, unsullied. However, I can’t speak for others.” He raised his voice. “Kev would certainly like to examine you.”

She turned to confront the avid-faced man and over his shoulder, bored Jacobs.

You experimented on me,” she said to Kev.

“I did. It was worth the sacrifice”—her sacrifice. “Important. Come. Come—” he held out a hand, fingers twitching. “He said I could have you when he was done.”

Lord Simon chuckled, a rasping sound that rattled his chest.

“I said you could try, Kev,” he said.

“I kidnapped you once,” Kev said. He beckoned more strongly. “Come. Come now.”

She showed her claws then.

Jacobs said, “Hey!” not to her but to Lord Simon.

Lord Simon was backing away, leaving her to face Kev in the center of the hall. She looked from Lord Simon’s retreating form to Kev's face, and she recognized the look in his eyes. Sir James, Sir Prescott, even Gloria had that look when they speculated what Aubrey meant, how she might serve or ruin them.

Only Charles looked at her, her complete, not a collection of parts to be used, studied, coveted.

Jacobs cut across the corner of the hall towards Lord Simon.

Kev said, “I have the right to get answers. The Academy claimed you. It got credit for your reversion. But I was the one who saw the potential in the first place.”

The bubble was already rising. Aubrey let it come until it touched the surface of her skin, rippled there. And still Kev reached out, panting, agitated. Lustful.

He said, “I should have let Dmitri have you—early on. We should have kept you docile. Submissive. Should have broken you.”

A door banged.

“Not again. You bastard,” Jacobs yelled in frustration.

Kev said, “You belong to me. I got you open. I know what’s inside. Mine,” and reached for her.

And Aubrey let the bubble loose.

She didn’t try to direct it: her clothes fell away in a outward explosion of fur and claws. Someone ran. Someone screamed. She pounced and tumbled. She felt human flesh, tasted warm blood and then she was pacing back and forth, back and forth across the wooden floor, claws clicking. Somewhere someone screamed again high and long, but the sound meant nothing, carried no threat.

She turned, paced forward, found fresh air. She raised her face, collecting information: animals nearby, people in the vicinity. Location. Palisade. Inland. Away from the sea. 

She bounded into darkness. She had her instructions. She knew where to go.

Resolved in Chapter 17 "Epitaphs" on December 6, 2013 . . .
©  Katherine Woodbury