by Cassondra Murray
With two very special guests
I’m just cleaning up the bar—the center for parties and activity in the lair—putting the last glasses away as the huge grandfather clock in the front room begins to chime. I’ve been burning the late-night oil the past few nights, coming up with a new signature cocktail for the lair.
Okay, truth. I’m stuck on my latest story and when I’m stuck, this is what I do. I clean. I decorate. I mix drinks. Anything but sit and stare at that blank page.
The clock finishes its chiming.
Well, almost midnight. The darn thing is always running ten minutes fast. I suppose I could fix that. Use up a little more of the time I’m NOT writing on my uncooperative story.
I go out to the oversized front foyer and stare up at the clock face, two feet higher than I can reach. Where’s one of Joanie's gladiators when you need one?
I turn to get a ladder when my phone bleeps with a text. Probably Jeanne in the writing caves, asking where the heck I am and why the heck I’m not down there, staring at my going-nowhere story and typing words. Can’t fix a blank page. I can just hear her saying it. *sigh* I won’t be able to hide forever. I pull the phone out of my pocket.
Not Jeanne. It’s Dianna Love.
Where r u? it reads.
In the lair. Goofing off. I type. Where r u? I hit send and head for the closet in the kitchen.
Bleeeeep. At the front door. Let us in.
What? Dianna is at the door to the lair—this late? She’s the one who gets up at 4:00 in the morning—about the time I’m usually heading to bed. And who is “us”?
I glance at the time on my phone to make sure I haven’t fallen through some time portal. Yup. Eight minutes to 12.
I lift the heavy bar, flip the big metal deadbolts and swing open the door to see Dianna on the front porch. “What's going on? Why didn’t you knock or ring the bell?”
“I didn’t want to wake up everybody else,” she says, glancing around with a nervous look. “Where are those gladiators?”
“Not to worry,” I say. “Ermingarde’s asleep.”
“What ith ermmy-gah?”
I look down toward the source of the gruff little voice. “Oh, hi Feenix!”
I can’t help but grin at the leathery little guy. Feenix is a two-foot-tall gargoyle with big yellow-orange eyes and EVL TOO printed on his shirt. His shirt says that because he belongs to someone who rides a GSX-R —or Jixxer, for short-- and has EVL ONE on her motorcycle tag. He grins back, showing off his two fangs. I explain, “Ermingarde is the lair’s dragon.”
“What ith dwagon?” This question also from Feenix.
Dianna breaks in as she steps over the lair’s threshold and Feenix follows, thumping along on his fat, four-toed feet. She tells him, “A dragon is something you don’t want to meet right now, Feenix.”
I glance at the grandfather clock, then at my phone again. Something is definitely off here. “Uh, Dianna, it’s almost midnight. You don’t do midnight.”
“No kidding, “she says. “But you do. That’s why I’m here. I need you to help me babysit¸ remember?”
I squint at Dianna as though she has three heads. “You’re serious? Now? First off, I don’t have a maternal bone in my body….and second…I thought last month when you mentioned babysitting Feenix, that it meant a couple of hours maybe. This afternoon...outside.”
“As if I inherited any mothering genes?” Dianna gives me a wry grin. “ I have fish and motorcycles. And yeah, I thought this would be day gig, too, but Evalle came over in a panic an hour ago. She was out taking Feenix for a ride near my house when she got a RED V 2 text and had to take off for VIPER headquarters. She had no time to take Feenix home, so she swung by my house, and reminded me that Feenix is my responsibility, too, sort of like a godparent I guess."
Evalle Kincaid is an Alterant—half Belador, half unknown. VIPER is a multinational coalition of all types of unusual beings and powerful entities created to protect the world from supernatural predators.
As one of the Belador warriors who support VIPER, Evalle works in the southeastern region—more specifically in Atlanta-- protecting humans. Dianna became fascinated by this secret group about seven years ago when she realized most humans don’t know they exist, and she decided to chronicle their activities. Since then, she teamed up with #1 NYT best selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon to co-write what is believed to be a fictitious series on the Beladors.
The first Belador novel, BLOOD TRINITY, came out in 2010 and debuted on the New York Times list. If only people knew the truth behind this series…
Then again… better that they think it’s fiction. Otherwise there could be widespread panic.
Evalle is one of three main characters in the series. The other two are Evalle’s best friends, Tzader Burke and Vladimir Quinn. All three keep Dianna and Sherrilyn busy documenting Belador activities.
The text Evalle received tonight—RED V 2— was a Code Red to drop whatever she was doing and go straight to VIPER headquarters in the north Georgia mountains, and that’s how Dianna—a definite daywalker—has ended up on a midnight ride all the way to the lair for babysitting help from an admitted vampire like me.
“Looks like we’ll be up for a bit,” I say as I turn down the lights in the front foyer. “A bunch of Bandits are down in the writing caves, on deadlines, so I bet Sven has coffee going in the kitchen.”
I ask Dianna, “what’s up with the VIPER team? Some kind of emergency?”
“Apparently there’s been an increase in demon activity in downtown Atlanta. Evalle couldn’t say much. Just that she wasn’t able to ask Tzader or Quinn to take Feenix home because they were called out, too.” Tzader is the North American Belador Maistir (translation – head Belador badass) and Quinn has a rare gift—he can mind lock--plus he’s the investment genius who oversees Belador finances.
I glance behind Dianna as I shut the door, to find her vermillion BMW F-650-GS motorcycle parked just at the bottom of the flight of steps leading to the front porch.
“You’re on the bike?”
“Yeah. Feenix rides all the time with Evalle, so I figured it would be easier and more familiar for him than riding in a car. And I thought this way I might actually keep my leather car upholstery intact.” She casts a look at the sharp claws on Feenix’s short fingers.
“What ith upothery?” Feenix blinks up at both of us, looking from one to the other. I grin as I shut the door and Dianna tries to describe a car seat to someone who has only recently learned how to count to ten. Evalle rescued Feenix from a demented sorcerer and the little guy is just learning to talk.
I turn back around just as a gladiator walks into the room on his regular midnight security patrol through the lair. He stops in his tracks, holding a silver-colored training shield at his side.
Feenix starts to flap his wings and dances from side to side on his pudgy little feet. “Peetha!”
Dianna takes one look at the gorgeous man and grabs Feenix’s four-fingered hand. “Ah, shoot. The shield,” she says. Feenix is stronger than he looks, and tugs Dianna forward, heading toward the metal-clad warrior, saying, “Peetha. Peetha. Peetha.”
“No, Feenix,” Dianna says, struggling to hold him back. “That’s not a pizza. You can’t eat the shield.”
“Bran,” I say, trying to keep my voice calm, “you and the other gladiators might want to lose the metal shields and armor just for tonight.” Bran frowns at me. “Oh, and if you could grab one of the other guys, y’all should hide that suit of armor at the door to the back hallway.” Bran’s frown deepens, and I explain. “Feenix loves anything silver…he eats metal. He thinks your shield is a silver pizza.”
Dianna is trying to distract Feenix when a streak of yellow feathers darts into the room. The rooster takes one look at Feenix and starts to flap and sqwawk.
Feenix beats his bat-like wings in the air wildly, lifting off the floor, and makes a honking cry sound. His eyes glow bright orange and smoke curls from his nose. Dianna tells him, “Calm down, Feenix. The Golden Rooster won’t hurt anyone. Promise.”
“That crazy rooster was at Jane’s place in New York until a few minutes ago,” Bran says. “I don't know how he got back in here without my knowing it.” Bran takes off up the curving staircase after the GR, and Feenix finally settles back to the floor, eyes rounded in worry. “Roother?”
“Yes,” Dianna soothes. “Nice rooster.”
Well, that “nice” part is debatable, but Feenix has managed to not blow fire out his nose and burn down the lair or make rooster crispies, so with the little gargoyle calmed down, we make our way to the kitchen. I can smell the coffee as soon as we open the door.
As we walk in, Sven is coming through the back with a small stainless steel bucket full of shiny, silver-colored lug nuts. He glances up, taking in Dianna and Feenix. “They’re here already?”
He sets the bucket on the table and grins at Feenix. It’s hard not to grin at Feenix if you’ve read BLOOD TRINITY, the first book in the Belador series, and I’d given Sven a copy last October when the book was released. Sven nudges the bucket forward. “I got him some treats.”
“Sven, this is why we love you,” I say. Sven tosses one of the lug nuts to me, but before I can catch it, Feenix leaps up, flapping, and snags it out of the air with his tongue.
“Yeah, but I had an ulterior motive,” Sven says, and runs his hand lovingly across the giant Viking commercial range—all silver-toned stainless steel. “My appliances are sacred. I also got him a bean bag chair.” Sven points toward the corner of the kitchen at an enormous, bright green bean bag.
“Wow,” I say. “That’s ugly.”
“Yeah,” Dianna says, “but Feenix will love it.” As if to prove her right, Feenix toddles over to the bean bag and pokes at it. Then he drags it across the room toward us.
“Nathcar,” he says.
“Coming right up,” Sven says, and reaches for the remote. He clicks the tv above the refrigerator to the appropriate channel. He obviously paid attention when he read BLOOD TRINITY.
“So,” I say, and raise one eyebrow at Dianna, “what does one do when one babysits?”
Dianna frowns at me. “Don’t ask me. I like to fish and ride motorcycles. You never babysat?”
“Twice,” I say. “In emergency situations like this one. I promised to keep them alive, and that’s what I did. I did not promise fun, and we didn’t have much. All my children have fur or feathers. I have no clue what to do with a ba—uh….a two-foot gargoyle”
“He seems to be doing just fine,” Sven says, and nods toward Feenix, who is happily cuddling his stuffed alligator, watching NASCAR® and sucking on the steel lug nut like a lifesaver candy. “Hey, Feenix, I thought you had an art contest going on. Got the finalists yet?”
Feenix looks at Sven, then around at Dianna, “Where’th my picthur?”
Dianna sighs. “I would have thought Evalle had explained this to him by now. The finalists will be announced on September 19th at www.MyFeenix.com.”
“That’s next week,” I explain, when Feenix looks confused. He makes a happy grunting noise and goes back to his NASCAR® show.
I pull up one of the old kitchen chairs around the heavy wooden table. Dianna chooses another chair as Sven sets out human snacks and pours coffee for himself and the two of us. Clearly, he recognizes two incompetent gargoyle-sitters when he sees them, and plans to stand guard over his beloved appliances. “Hey," I say to Dianna, "Why don’t you tell everybody how this has turned into The Year of Feenix?
“It really has,” Dianna says, and grabs a carrot stick from Sven’s tray. “And I wish I'd planned it, but it was all fate. I’d intended to draw Feenix last winter, then hit on the idea of the art contest, because of having been an artist before I started writing. We set it up so that high school and adult artists could create images of Feenix for prizes—money, art supplies, and books for the artists and for school art departments and libraries. And we scheduled the announcement of finalists for September 19th.”
Feenix makes happy sounds and flutters his leathery wings as the cars in the pre-recorded race scream around the track. Dianna keeps one eye on Feenix and smiles as she sips black coffee.
“But then the next book release got moved up, right?” I munch broccoli spears with Sven's homemade ranch dressing, and watch Sven refill cups and start another pot of coffee.
“Yeah,” Dianna continues around a bite of carrot. “ALTERANT, book 2 in the Belador series, was originally scheduled to be released in November, but Pocket (the publisher) changed the date. They set it for September 27, just two weeks after the My Feenix™ Art Contest Finalists are announced. And ALTERANT starts with Feenix—so that was a really cool kind of kharma we couldn’t have planned if we’d thought of it.”
“And,” I say as I point at Dianna with a piece of celery. “You’ve got a Belador story coming out as a free e-book in the next couple of days, right?”
“Right. This week, we’ll release the free story FIRE BOUND—and Feenix has a big role in that too.” Feenix looks over at Dianna and grins. “So this is definitely your year, isn’t it, Feenix?”
"Feenix!" Dianna and I say at the same time. Sven turns toward the sink and snorts back a laugh. Evalle accidentally cursed in front of Feenix just once, and he picked right up on it. She's been trying to undo that ever since.
Feenix blinks his yellow eyes and shifts around on his bean bag. "What ith year?” He flutters his wings and Dianna rolls her eyes.
“I’ll announce the release of the free story this week on my facebook page,” Dianna says. So everybody be watching for that. Also, you can check my website for the news, too. It’s www.AuthorDiannaLove.com. And, you can read an excerpt of ALTERANT there as well."
“Looks like we’ve got a long night ahead of us,” I say. “Sven, keep the coffee coming, and make it strong.”
Here's the blurb for ALTERANT.
In this explosive new world of betrayals and shaky alliances, the only Alterant not incarcerated faces an impossible task -- recapture three dangerous, escaped creatures before they slaughter more humans…or her.
The way Evalle Kincaid sees it, saving mankind from total destruction should have cleared her name. But when words uttered in the heat of combat are twisted against her, she's blamed for the prison break of three dangerous Alterants. She has one chance to clear the cloud of suspicion hanging over her…for good. All she has to do is recapture the escapees. But deals with gods and goddesses are tricky at best, and now the lives of all Beladors, and the safety of innocent humans, rides on Evalle's success. The only person she can ask for help wants to see her dead.
So, Bandits and Buddies….have you ever had to babysit?
A lot of you are moms and dads, but before that, what was your first experience caring for a little one?
Did you babysit for money, or was it your younger brothers and sisters you had to care for?
Are you like Dianna and me? Did you have to work at the whole “caregiver to kids” thing? Or did it come naturally to you?
We’re going to need lots of help tonight, cuz we’re both clueless about babysitting a two-foot-tall gargoyle who can fly and breathe fire. At least Sven has lots of treats on hand. So tell us, what would you do to entertain Feenix?
(And no, letting him barbecue the Golden Rooster is not an option.)
Give us your best babysitting tips and advice, for a chance at a free book Dianna will give away as her thanks to you for staying up with us and helping babysit Feenix.
Dianna is expecting her early copies of ALTERANT any day now. So she’ll give away a copy to one person who helps us out tonight and tomorrow.
Sven, your free copy is already set aside.