Exciting news for those of you who have been waiting for the next installment in the series....
The second bit of news (and some of you already know this) is that I will be charging for this next book. I've thought very hard on this and feel, at this point in my life, it is what I need to do.
The reason for the shift is three fold. First, I'm getting very close to retirement and with changes in the economy my nice pension might not stretch as far as it would have a few years ago. The other day the newscast was predicting 30-40% increase in electricity rates in the next few years. Yikes! I need to be able to afford to plug in my laptop! And sometimes I wonder if the good Lord is saying, "You fool! I gave you this opportunity to make some money so you wouldn't go without in your old age. Why aren't you taking it?!?!" LOL
Secondly, I'm also starting to incur some expenses with this 'hobby'. Hiring a line editor so I can get the books out in paperback, paying for images for the covers, buying a domain name, giveaways... It adds up and hopefully the books can 'pay their way'.
Finally, I have this crazy idea that I'd like to help my local animal shelter get a new building and expand their spay/neuter program. The current location is awful. The kennels are old and look more like jails and the building is way too small - they just don't have enough room to keep very many animals and way too many are euthanized needlessly simple because they have no place to house them. If I can make enough money with my books, I might be able to help out in meaningful way.
Here's a little Christmas gift for you...
Before you start reading, please note that this is NOT a scene from the next book. However, it is a short vignette about Damien during his time as a rogue.
Secondly, I’d like to thank Jan for her work as Beta/editor. All mistakes are the result of me tweaking after she checked it over!
And now, on to the story!
Silent Night, Lonely Night : A Damien Vignette
Damien hunched his shoulders against the cold wind that stole his breath and reddened his cheeks before swirling down the nearly deserted main street. Snowflakes, mixed with bits of ice, stung his face and clung to his lashes, blurring his vision. He blinked irritably but trudged on, the slush underfoot soaking his feet. He didn’t have boots and his toes were growing numb.
Damien, why didn’t you dress properly for this weather? Beth’s voice echoed in his mind, scolding him as she pulled off his wet socks and chafed his frozen feet in her warm hands.
A smile drifted over his face as he imagined how the scene would unfold until they were both warming themselves in bed.
Weariness, soul deep, had settled on him, the winter chill sapping his energy. He should find a place to spend the night, but it seemed too much of an effort. Curling up in an alley and drifting off into oblivion would be much easier. There were worse ways to die than hypothermia, he mused. His steps slowed and he eyed the narrow space between two buildings. It really didn’t matter to anyone if he lived or died…
He forced himself to move, Beth’s reprimand sounding in his head. She wanted him to keep going, and for her he would. For her, he would do anything.
A door opened to his right, its sensors having detected his presence. He paused as light and warmth spilled out onto the frozen street, pushing back the darkness and beckoning him to come closer. Snatches of Christmas carols filled the air and his nose tingled from the scent of ginger and cinnamon. Reaching out, he caught the handle as the door began to close, for some reason drawn to the interior of the building.
The bell above the door jingled merrily as it closed behind him, blocking the bitterness of the wintery night while at the same time sealing him into the epitome of a Christmas wonderland.
Plastic reindeer and grinning elves adorned the shelves. Garlands and twinkling lights were draped over the windows and wrapped around posts. A trio of mechanical snowmen waved and sang while a miniature train driven by Santa wove its way through a tiny village.
Damien stared at the display. He hadn’t even realized the season. It was Christmas.
I love Christmas. Baking cookies, decorating the tree. Beth smiled at him, her dove grey eyes bright with excitement.
His heart clenched in pain. He’d never shared a Christmas with Beth. She’d been taken from him months before.
We’ll go see my parents. They’re so anxious to meet you! She’d held his hands, squeezing them tightly, reassuring him when he’d expressed his doubts.
He twisted his lips into a bitter smile. Beth’s parents hadn’t welcomed him with open arms. Instead they’d accused him of being responsible for their daughter’s death. They were right, of course. It had been his fault. He hadn’t been there to protect her. Hadn’t been able to save her…
Someone spoke behind him and Damien stepped further into the store to let the young couple behind him enter. Automatically he noted their appearance, years of training taking over. Mid-twenties. Hand-knitted caps. Older coats. The man had his arm wrapped around the woman’s shoulders. She was looking up at him, her eyes filled with adoration while one hand rested on her rounded belly.
Regret sliced through him as he thought of the baby he’d never held. His child, killed along with his mate. Everything he’d ever loved had been taken from him.
Frozen in place by grief and regret, he watched the young couple as they moved down the aisle, their booted feet thumping gently on the old wooden floorboards. It was a small store and he could easily follow their progress. He watched the red pompom on the woman’s cap as it bobbed with every step she took. A silly bit of adornment that Beth would have loved.
“Would you like some hot apple cider?” A store clerk seemed to appear from nowhere, a steaming foam cup in her hand. He studied the offering and then looked up at her. She was smiling at him, nodding encouragingly. “It’s very good.”
“Thanks.” He took the cup and drank, surprised at how the sweet liquid slid down his throat and seemed to force the coldness out of his body.
“We have cookies, too.” She extended a plate. “It’s almost closing time so take as many as you want.”
His stomach growled just then and she laughed.
“Here, take the lot of them. I doubt there’ll be any more customers with that snowstorm outside. Most people will be heading right home. No one wants to get stuck at work on Christmas Eve.”
Damien took the food she offered, befuddled by the generosity. Most places he went, his reception was anything but warm.
“Ten minutes until closing time, if I can help you with anything…?”
He shook his head and she smiled at him again before hurrying over to the checkout, where several customers were now lined up.
Taking a bite of one of the cookies, Damien glanced around, spotted the red pompom a few aisles over and headed in that direction. For some reason, he was curious about the couple, wondering what they were doing on Christmas Eve.
The young woman was lingering by a small display of jewellery. Damien busied himself at a nearby rack, trying to look interested in neckties while watching her out of the corner of his eye. She tried on a silver bracelet adorned with delicate filigree snowflakes, a smile spreading over her face as she examined how it sparkled in the light.
“Kevin, isn’t this pretty?” She called over her shoulder to the young man as he emerged from the next aisle.
He nodded, his gaze moving from the bracelet to her face. “It looks beautiful on you. Would you like—?”
But she was shaking her head even before he finished speaking. “No. We can’t afford it.”
“Maybe I could—”
“No.” She pressed her fingertips to his mouth. “We need a new vacuum. I won’t have our child crawling around on filthy floors.” Sliding the bracelet off, she returned it to the display.
The man wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her as close as her expanded girth would allow. “One day, I’ll get a better job and I promise I’ll shower you with jewels then.”
“No need.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him. “You and the baby, that’s all I need to make me happy. Now come on, let’s go buy a vacuum.” Tugging at his arm, she led him away. “I hope they aren’t all sold out. It was a great price…”
Damien stepped forward and picked up the bracelet the young woman had been looking at. Holding it to the light, he watched how the snowflakes gently swayed and glistened. It was delicate and beautiful, just like Beth had been. He knew she would have loved it.
He’d never had the chance to buy her a Christmas present, but this would have been the perfect one. The metal warmed in his hand. In his mind’s eye, he imagined how he’d kiss her awake and then slide the bracelet around her wrist. She’d smile at him, her eyes sparkling with joy. Then she’d reach up, wrap her arms around his neck and pull him down onto the mattress, thanking him with sweet kisses…
“The store will be closing in five minutes. Please bring your purchases to the front. We thank you for doing your Christmas shopping with us and wish you the happiest of holidays.”
The voice on the PA system interrupted his daydream and Damien gave a start, surprised he was in the store and still had the bracelet in his hand.
He fingered the bit of silver again before nodding and heading to the cash register.
“You found something?” The clerk who had given him the cider and cookies smiled at him.
“I…” He stared at the bracelet not sure why he was buying it.
Behind him he could hear laughing. “Kevin, you are such a goof!”
“Sir?” The clerk prodded him. “Do you want a gift box for the bracelet?”
“How much are vacuums?”
If the woman was surprised by his question, she didn’t show it. “They’re on sale this week.” She quoted him the price.
“Good. I’ll buy a vacuum and this bracelet.” Damien pulled some bills out of his pocket. “This should be enough.”
“I’m sure it is.” She stared at the pile of cash and reached for the intercom. “I’ll just call for someone from the stockroom to bring a vacuum up to the front.”
“Never mind. Here comes the vacuum. And give this,” he set the bracelet down on the counter, “to her.” He jerked his chin towards where the woman with the pompom hat was emerging from the aisles, the man behind her carrying a large box with a picture of a vacuum on it.
“Oh!” The clerk looked from him to the young couple. “Do you know—”
“No.” He shook his head. “Just wish them a Merry Christmas.”
Without looking back, he left the store.
The snow was still falling when he stepped outside, but it had lost its icy sting. Now, large fat flakes floated down as gently as feathers, caressing his face, coating the world in a soft white blanket.
As he walked down the street, he could hear carols coming from a nearby church, Christmas lights shone from rooftops and trees; strange how he hadn’t noticed them earlier.
“Ho, ho ho! Merry Christmas!” A thin Santa stood on the corner, ringing a bell with a collection kettle beside him.
Damien nodded and forced his mouth into a half smile. It wasn’t as hard as he’d thought it would have been. He reached into his pocket to pull out some money to give to the man.
“Thanks.” The Santa gave him a considering look. “Would you like to join me at the Mission? We’re having a Christmas Eve dinner; turkey and all the trimmings.”
Damien studied the Santa. There was no pity or scorn on his face, just patience as he waited for an answer.
From some distance away, he heard laughter and, turning his head, he could see a man pulling a child on a sled, shrieks of excitement filling the air.
“Faster, Daddy. Faster.”
Those words would never be uttered to him. His child, his family, was dead. Buried in a cold grave. He’d been too late to save them. His fault.
“No.” Damien looked at the Santa.
“Are you sure? There are a few spare beds if you feel inclined to wait the storm out someplace warm.”
Damien shook his head and turned away. He was a rogue, destined to spend his days roaming the Earth by himself. Trying to do anything else only ended up hurting others.
Shoving his hands in his pocket, he hunched his shoulders against the icy cold and walked into the night alone.