“No Coincidence” – Excerpt from SIGHT UNSEEN (Witch Hollow)

What happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

sightunseencoverart

When a wealthy philanthropist is found dead in a locked room, with no apparent cause of death beyond the faint scent of incense, Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team have their work cut out for them. As the case starts to go cold, she’ll be forced to turn to a man with abilities in which she can’t bring herself to believe, and credentials that leave her no choice but to accept the possibility he might just be on the level.

 

 

“No Coincidence” – Excerpt from SIGHT UNSEEN (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book #1):

Faith paled. “There’s another body?”

Jonathan nodded grimly. “This one was called in by a couple of hikers, out in the woods. The officer on the scene couldn’t tell me much, but he says there’s not a lot left of the body that he can see. Hopefully, it’s enough for an ID.”

Faith started walking, already digging in her purse for her car keys and cell phone. “I’ll call Linda. She can be there faster, and start taking photos and measurements. She’ll get us an ID. I just hope there’s enough flesh left for toxicology.”

“You’re not just planning to run a random tox. screen, are you? You’re looking for something.” He fell into step beside her.

Faith didn’t respond, phone to her ear. “Linda, did you get the call about the new body?  Yes. Can you get out there and start your preliminaries? Take the camera, too – you can get some wide angles and preliminary position shots. Also, if you can do it without disturbing the body, I’d like a few rough reconstruction sketches. Just to give Caulder something to start working with until I’m finished with the body.  Thanks, Linda.”

She ended the call and glanced at Jonathan. “You were saying?”

“You have a hunch.”

“I don’t have hunches. I rely on facts.”

“You’re looking for something. Otherwise you wouldn’t be running a tox. screen.”

She sighed, punching the disengage button for her car alarm as they neared the vehicle. “I couldn’t find any of the traditional poisons in Ramsey’s body, or in any of the prior victims.”

He met her gaze, saw the flicker of suspicion there. She knew something she wasn’t telling him. “But?”

“Remember when I told you I smelled some kind of incense around Ramsey, when I first examined him?”  She looked distinctly uncomfortable, and he knew she was onto something.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I took your advice.”

He blinked. This, he hadn’t expected. “Excuse me?”

“I thought outside the box.  I researched toxins that could be breathed in, rather than ingested, and I think I found something.”

“What?”

She shook her head. “Until I can confirm it from a second source, I’m not comfortable making a full assessment. At the moment, it could be nothing more than some kind of weird coincidence.”

Jonathan froze. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

She shot him a look as she slid into the driver’s seat of her car and reached for the door. “I wasn’t aware there was anything you didn’t believe in, Caulder.  I’ll meet you out at the scene.”

With that, she closed the door and started her car. Watching her pull out, her tail lights retreating through the parking garage, Jonathan had the strangest sense of someone else there, watching. Someone who was none too happy of his presence in Faith’s life.

Look for SIGHT UNSEEN, coming from Esther Mitchell and Desert Breeze Publishing on October 11, 2016.

“Marked For Death” – Excerpt from NICK OF TIME (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

NoTWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When a young woman is abducted from a Pennsylvania state psychiatric facility, it looks like a straightforward kidnapping, until her real identity is revealed, and the agent responsible for locking her down is put back on the case. Now, FBI Agent Jonathan Caulder and his new partner, Faith MacKenzie, are in a race against time, before an ancient Order uses a terrible secret to commit genocide.

“Marked for Death” – Excerpt from NICK OF TIME (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book #3) —

Faith glanced at the girl curled up in the motel room chair across from her, and worry tugged at her. Shawna didn’t look well. The girl hadn’t looked well since they found her, but even less so since that seizure.

“Are you okay?”

Ancient eyes that didn’t belong in such a young face stared back at her, sheened with tears.

“Doctor MacKenzie?” The girl’s soft voice emerged, hesitant, as she hugged her arms tighter around her shins and rested her cheek against her upraised knees, her gaze going back to the rain-slicked window. “What’s it like to fall in love?”

The question blindsided Faith, and she jerked back in surprise. How did she answer this question? She wasn’t prepared to provide motherly advice. Especially not about something she’d never figured out for herself. Finally, she settled on the truth, and sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”

Shawna’s head nodded against her knees in an awkward shrug and shift motion. “I guess it doesn’t matter. I’ll never know.”

Faith’s worry edged deeper. Shawna’s spiral into depression, following her seizure, was a very bad sign. “Sure, you will. You’re young. You have a lot of time to figure it out.”

Those ancient eyes turned her way again. Only, now, the tears that were only a glimmer before traced the girl’s cheeks. “No, I don’t. I’m dying, Doctor MacKenzie. Didn’t Agent Caulder tell you?”

Faith’s chest constricted. Despite her job, death wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Not the slow, wasting kind of death she watched her father go through. She wasn’t stupid or naïve – she knew kids died of terrible diseases every day. But the sad resignation in Shawna’s eyes got to her. Leaning forward, she stretched out a hand to cover Shawna’s clasped hands.

“No,” she answered softly, careful to keep her pity tucked deep inside. “He didn’t mention it. What’s your diagnosis?”

A sad, teary smile tugged the very edges of Shawna’s lips. “I’m Legacy, Doctor MacKenzie. After my first episode, they started medicating the Legacy, suppressing it, until Mr. George found me. He helped me, but it was already too late. The dreams had taken hold. Besides, Mara don’t have the greatest of lifespans, to start with. There’s no medical diagnosis. There’s just madness, and death.”

With that, she turned her attention back to the rainy day outside, and Faith had the feeling the girl wanted to be left alone. With a small sigh, she released Shawna’s hands, and rose to her feet, moving to the counter where Jonathan left Shawna’s case file. Determination flooded her. She wasn’t buying this nonsense about mythical legacies, evil dreams, and whatever the hell Mara were. Every disease had a root, and if she could find Shawna’s, maybe she could come up with a treatment. Maybe there was even a cure, out there. All it took was a clear mind, and the ability to see past all the superstition. Good thing she was here, after all.

Look for Book #1, SIGHT UNSEEN, coming from Desert Breeze Publishing in May 2016!

“Dead Pirate Walking” – Excerpt from LADY’S LAMENT (Guardians, Inc)

Guardians, Inc. has given me a lot of space to play, over the years. Until a few years ago, I had bunches of random scenes all collected in a series of notebooks I keep for when I free-write (that’s an exercise to keep the creative juices flowing when I get bogged down by something, or I experience a writing lull where I just can’t focus). I knew I wanted to do something with them, but my hands were tied by an early publishing mistake I made.

When I went back and decided to undo the mistake, to return a book that was virtually destroyed to its original glory, the floodgates opened, and Guardians, Inc and its sub-series came pouring out, from the notebooks, drawing forward a flood of fascinating characters I hadn’t realized introduced themselves in those free-writing pages.

Here’s a brief snippet from one of those stories, the creation of which comes from a free-writing session done in early 1991. Enjoy! 🙂

“Dead Pirate Walking”  — excerpted from Lady’s Lament (Guardians, Inc)

There was someone up there.  A  chill of awareness slid through Alie, pulling her gaze to the upstairs window of the old manor, even as her brain called her an idiot for believing Mrs. Tolliver’s stories.  She dealt with Paras every day, and she’d never encountered a ghost.  She didn’t even believe in them.

She was about to turn away, when the curtains stirred again.  The air left her body in a gasp of disbelief as a shadowy figure passed behind the curtains and disappeared.  There was no one in that wing of the manor; not at this time of night.  But it was exactly where the chatty town historian told her rumor said the pirate appeared, keeping look out for the lover who once betrayed him.

A new shiver passed through Alie, and nausea gripped her.  There are no such things as ghosts.

But what if there were?  Were the stories true?  After all this time, had Captain Sawyer come back from the grave?  Or had he simply never left?

“A Different Kind of Monster” – Excerpt from NOBODY’S BABY (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

I know a lot of people think Romance is about hearts and flowers and mushy stuff. For some people, that might be just fine. Personally, I think love that can prove itself despite the odds against it is the truest measure of its real strength, and I believe that love is a real-world emotion, and should be given the respect of a real-world environment in which to either flourish or wither. This is why I don’t write light and airy Romance. I write hard, gritty reality. What gives the Romance in my work strength is all about the characters — they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for where their relationship goes, and I never really declare a story “over.”

Nor do I shy away from subjects that impact the real world, and explore some of the darker areas of our world. Without the darkness, how would we ever learn to appreciate the light and healing love has to offer?  From the moment I started this series, nearly two decades ago, I knew it would either be enthusiastically embraced or completely attacked. I’m willing to take that risk, because I believe in these characters that much. I only hope you are as intrigued and touched by them as I continue to be.

“A Different Kind of Monster” – Excerpt from NOBODY’S BABY (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow) —

It was late. That was why she swore she still heard a soft, child-like voice speaking out of the darkened corners of the Bunker’s autopsy room/morgue. The occasional whimper further unsettled her, but she told herself it was her fear talking. She owed Jonathan the truth, but she just couldn’t find the words to tell him. How did one even bring up a subject so personal? She didn’t have a clue.

“You still here?”   The sound of his voice startled her, and she dropped the forceps she’d just picked up with a clatter of metal on metal, whirling toward him.

“Don’t do that to me!” She closed her eyes and forced her breathing back to normal. Inside, her heart raced in her ears. Oh, God, what did she do, now?  This was getting so awkward.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Jonathan eyed her dubiously. “You don’t usually jump at shadows.”

Faith swallowed hard, and turned back to the corpse on her autopsy table. She wasn’t about to admit it wasn’t shadows making her jumpy. “I’m fine. And I think I found cause of death.”

She sensed, as much as heard, him move up beside her, and steeled herself against the urge to shift away. If she did that, he’d know something was up.

“I thought you said she died of exposure.”

“I did. Initial indications at the scene supported that hypothesis, at the time. But this child wasn’t just dumped behind that building, Jonathan. She was tortured, first.”

She caught movement in her peripheral vision, and turned to see Jonathan tensed, his expression grimly angry. “Who tortures a baby, for God’s sake?”

“I don’t know, yet. But there’s significant sharp force trauma to the skin on her thoracic region, and evenly-spaced, antemortem bruising consistent with some kind of heavy pressure applied to her upper thighs and forearms. Could be some kind of restraints.” Faith fought to keep her voice steady. People who tortured anyone infuriated her, but to do this to a baby…

“All right,” Jonathan’s voice snapped with anger she understood only too well. “Linda got her sketch to the media, and we’re searching Missing Persons right now. We’ll figure out who she is, and the identity of the bastard who did this to her.”

Faith sealed her lips over her own doubts. She had no proof, but every ounce of her training told her this was a crime committed by someone whose job it was to protect this beautiful little girl. And that was the worst part of her job – knowing that someone could do something so unspeakable to someone so innocent. A child they claimed to love.

“Missing Pieces” – Excerpt from BLOOD MOON (Witch Hollow)

This series began life around two decades ago, but when the first book was originally published, it was edited into a pale, awkward version of itself, and pretty much killed the series on the spot. I couldn’t see going on with any more books, at the time.

Now, I have the opportunity to share with you the story and characters I originally got to know and love. I’m hoping you’ll love them as much as I do. 🙂

When three bodies show up, all hanging from the same tree, in one of Pennsylvania’s oldest state forests, the Bunker crew is called in to investigate a possible ritual serial killing. What they’re about to discover, though, goes deeper than any cult, and could put them all in peril.

“Missing Pieces” – Excerpt from BLOOD MOON (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

He shook his head in wonder. She never ceased to surprise him. “You still don’t believe, do you? After all this time, you still don’t believe.”

“It’s not about what I believe.” She looked up at him in exasperation. “After everything I’ve seen since I first met you, I’d have to be an idiot to not accept the possibility there are things out there I can’t explain logically. I’m not an idiot. But I am a scientist, Jonathan. I have to approach every case from that angle, first. Statistically, it’s impossible that every case we have will involve the paranormal, no matter what your connections are.”

“Maybe, but it sure seems like we get an overwhelming number of the weird ones, doesn’t it?” He quipped sarcastically, earning himself an annoyed glare from the woman crouched beside the mutilated corpse. “Look, Mac, all I’m saying is, you don’t have to act like it’s an insult to consider all the possibilities.”

She didn’t respond, a frown marring her face that told him she wasn’t paying attention to a word he said. She bent closer to the body, her expression pinched in concentration as she reached one hand into the gaping abdominal wound on the corpse. There was a gag-inducing squelching sound he was certain couldn’t be normal, before Faith pulled her hand free and her gaze shot to him. The shock and fear in her blue eyes punched him hard in the gut.

“What is it, Mac?”

“There’s no liver.”

Okay, that couldn’t be good. “You’re sure?”

She glared at him again. “I’m a pathologist, Jonathan. I know where the liver is supposed to be.”

“Okay, stupid question. What do you think happened to it? Scavengers?”

She shook her head. “The body’s too undisturbed. I ruled out scavengers when we first got here. Besides, whoever or whatever did this removed his liver with clean, surgical precision. And I think he was still alive when they did it – there’s a lot of blood in the abdominal cavity. It’s early, but I’m calling cause of death as profuse internal bleeding from a severed hepatic artery.”

Jonathan’s gut roiled. This really wasn’t good. “And the only thing missing is his liver?”

Faith peeled off her bloody gloves as she rose to her feet. “Confirmation will have to wait until I’ve had a chance to perform a full autopsy, but so far it appears the only things missing are his skin and his liver.” She glanced his way. “Any idea who or what could do something like this?”

Did he ever.

“You don’t want to know,” he muttered, eyes closed. If he was right, they were all in some very deep shit, indeed, and he needed to talk to Damion. Fast.