I’m participating in a promo this week! Paranormal romance and urban fantasy, all free on Kindle Unlimited. There’s some really good stuff in there. So I’m entering my paranormal romance Malevolent! Click the pretty below to check it out!
Anyway, Malevolent has been out for more than a year now. I would have had the sequel out already, but I kind of had a baby in November, and that always sets back all artistic endeavors by six months. Anyway! Book 2, Malcontent, is in final revisions and awaiting the jaded eye of a professional editor. I thought my loyal readers might like to read the first chapter and see how Mal and Libby are coping with the fallout after the events of book 1.
“You’re going to have to tell your parents eventually, Libby,” Mal said.
It was a hot August morning, and the sky was that brassy white color, like the lid on a casserole dish. Mal was gently wheeling a beehive on a dolly to its new position near the blueberry field. He’d poured so much smoke into the bees that they were comatose.
I leaned against a fence post and folded my arms. “I know what’s wrong with me. You know what’s wrong with me. I don’t need a psychiatric evaluation.” I tried to sound defiant, but inside I was quivering with terror.
“That’s why you’ll have to tell them,” Mal grunted, wrestling with the heavy hive. He wouldn’t let me help. “I advised you to tell them as soon as it happened, remember.”
His soul inside of me was like a cavern of alien feelings. I tried to keep myself separate from it, but when I got upset, he bled into me like sugar into coffee. Right now, I could feel his calm pity and exasperation, and it annoyed me.
“How can you be so calm?” I snapped. “I’m going to have some doctor trying to figure out if I’m crazy or not!”
Mal straightened, wiped his forehead, and looked at me. While he was as thin and vampire-looking as ever, the California sun had given him a healthy tan to cover his creepy paleness. His hazel eyes still seemed to change colors, though–probably a trick of the light. Right now they were more green than hazel.
“It is the logical course of action after all you’ve been through. Your condition is … unstable.” He faced the hive and bowed his head a moment. A deep shame flowed from his soul into mine.
“It’s not your fault,” I murmured. “I’m the one who decided to grab your soul.”
And forgetting things. And having memories that weren’t mine. But it didn’t mean I was crazy. Right?
He was silent a moment, then gave me a haggard look. “I would say that I wish I had never gotten involved, but then you would be dead, or worse.”
It was the or worse that still haunted me. I tried to think of something to say, drew a blank, and nodded instead. Then I checked the time on my smartphone. “I’d better go.”
He nodded and lifted a gloved hand in farewell. His shame persisted inside me as I walked the couple of acres back to the house.
Our farm was called Blossom Ranch, because when Dad bought the place, the almond orchards were in full bloom. We had several acres of them, and right now their plentiful green leaves held a bountiful crop of nuts. I had to hurry back from the doctor because today was the first day of harvest, and I didn’t want to miss it.
The air conditioners droned outside our farmhouse, the music of summer in the Central Valley. It sounded like ice cream, corn on the cob, and swimming. I circled the yard and paused to look through the wooden fence at my border collie, Suki. She flattened her ears and smiled at me, pleading.
“Sorry, girl,” I told her, “dogs aren’t allowed at the doctor. You can ride with me later.”
She whined, not placated.
In the driveway sat my new four-wheel drive pickup. Well, it was new to me, anyway. Its white paint was splattered with mud from where I’d taken it out in the fields on test drives. I’d blown my life savings on it back in June. Every dime I made around the farm went into the gas tank. Oh, the roar of the engine and the way it leaped free of the driveway onto the road was so satisfying. It made the drive downtown to the doctor’s almost fun.
Arvin is a little farming community in the south end of the San Joaquin valley. Community–no–teeny town was more like it. Still, we had our shopping center and a movie theater, and we were only an hour or two from LA in one direction and Bakersfield in the other.
The psychiatrist’s office was one of many in a nondescript complex. They must have kept the air conditioning on constantly, because my feet in my sandals began to freeze as I was checking in. As I sat in the tiny waiting area, alone, my fingers and nose chilled, too. The blazing parking lot began to beckon with its promise of warmth.
Finally they called me in to see the doctor. I was expecting one of those half-couches, where I would sit and look at pictures of ink blots. Instead it was an ordinary doctor’s office with an examining table, a stethoscope hanging on the wall, and an ugly landscape painting.
The doctor was a sharp-faced woman with no makeup, her hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. She gave me an appraising look as she entered. “I’m Dr. Wilson. I’ll be accessing you today.”
I forced a smile, even though my heart was trying to escape my rib cage. “Hi.”
She took my blood pressure and listened to my heartbeat. “You’re stressed, Elizabeth. What’s the matter?”
“I’ve–I’ve never been to a shrink before.” I swallowed. “Are you going to zap me with tasers?”
Dr. Wilson smiled, her fierce expression warming toward humanity. “That sort of treatment has been out of date for decades. I’m only going to ask a few questions today, okay?”
I nodded and squeezed my hands together in my lap. There was a lot of stuff I couldn’t tell a doctor–or anyone.
“Your records show that you spent the last school year sick with Valley Fever. How do you feel now?”
It wasn’t Valley Fever, but I couldn’t tell her that. “Fine. Those new meds worked great.”
Mal’s magic honey had worked better.
She wrote something on her clipboard. “Have you been under any stress recently?”
Other than carrying around Mal’s soul, and waiting for the Necromancer to return?
“Uh, a little. It’s harvest time, and I’ve been looking at colleges for next year.”
In this case, college was code for training under the Marchers. After spending six months in bed, I still wasn’t back up to my old physical strength. My parents had agreed to give me a year off school in order to get my health back, and I had opted to enroll in the Marchers’ athletic program. That was how the Marchers taught people to use magic.
“Do you suffer from any sort of depression or mood swings?”
I considered. “Not really.” My mood jumped around near Mal because I felt whatever he felt. Far away, though, his soul was a quiet cavern inside me.
“Yeah.” The word slipped out before I could stop it.
“Oh, a few every week.” It was hard not to have nightmares when you kept seeing the Necromancer tear the soul out of your best friend. Often he was holding up a human skull, and I was trying not to look into the eye sockets. I’d be twisting my head away, eyes shut tight, and wake up gasping, fighting the blankets.
“They wake me up.” I smiled and shrugged, like it was no big deal.
Dr. Wilson wrote for a long time. Extra dread sank into my stomach. She couldn’t tell my parents anything–patient confidentiality and all that–but what if she decided I ought to be committed to a hospital?
“Any changes in your appetite?”
It seemed a harmless enough question. “Since I got well, I like eating.” I tugged at the waistband of my shorts. “Look, I fit my clothes again.” The skeletal look is popular with girls my age, but dieting was never my thing. You try skipping a meal after spending hours hoeing weeds in a blueberry field.
Dr. Wilson smiled and made a note. “How is your memory?”
“No blank spots, no forgetfulness?”
I hesitated. I was forgetting things more and more–stupid stuff, like the ending to a movie I’d seen a jillion times, or the way to a friend’s house. Sometimes I’d look around and feel like a stranger in an unknown place, whether it was my bedroom, the almond orchard, or a random street in town.
“Kind of.” I looked at my folded hands rather than at the doctor’s face. I knew she was watching me. The memory thing was why my folks had made me this appointment.
“Can you be more specific?”
I drew a breath and gave her a defiant look. “It’s because we were playing Settlers of Catan, and I couldn’t remember what resources I was getting from where. The board stopped making sense. Then when I said I wanted to quit, Mom asked why, and I said …”
I had said, “Don’t cross the salt, or you forfeit your soul,” only I don’t remember saying it.
“…so, yeah, something’s up with my memory.”
Dr. Wilson wrote this down with the sort of poker face a person uses when they smell Starbucks at four in the afternoon and say no thank you, they’re not hungry, but you know they’re planning to ditch you for a double half-caf soy cappuccino.
“Are you in a relationship right now?”
My relationship with Mal wasn’t what you’d call normal. “I guess so, yeah.”
She studied me, probably to see if I was lying. “Are you physically involved?”
“Heck no.” I’d kissed Mal once–after that, the soul problem made it too dangerous. At the most, we sometimes held hands. “He’s big into purity, and so am I.”
She followed this up with a series of questions that made me squirm with embarrassment and answer, “No,” a lot.
After that were done. Dr. Wilson tucked her pen into the top of the clipboard. “Well, Miss Stockton, you do seem fairly normal for someone barely recovered from Valley Fever. However, you do exhibit symptoms of trauma. I can prescribe some anti-anxiety medication, if you like.”
I shook my head. “No thanks. It’s not that bad.”
She turned a page on her clipboard. “Disorientation is a side effect of the medication you were taking–are you aware of this?”
Relief flooded me. “Really?”
She shrugged. “It could be. If the problems persist, or if you develop other issues, contact us immediately. The sooner we treat you, the sooner we can correct the symptoms.” She gave me a searching look. “Are you sure you have nothing else to add?”
No way was she dragging a confession out of me. “Nothing I can think of.”
“All right, then we’re finished.”
I escaped to the safety of my truck soon afterward, the blessed heat restoring my circulation at once. That wasn’t so bad, I reflected as I roared toward home. I had a plausible excuse for the memory thing and had been otherwise pronounced normal.
Mal and I knew what was really wrong with me, but I’d struggle through somehow. As long as I didn’t forget how to work the conditioner today, I’d be fine.