That Listless Place

A great many changes have occurred over the last couple of years and it seems that they are catching up to me now. The momentum that carried me through several novels has faltered and I find myself scrambling to get words on the page.

This has, in fact, happened to me before and the only way I was able to drag myself out of it was to do something radical.

So.

I have decided to revisit the serial novel.

For those of you who have been around, you know that Persona – my WWII romance – was done as a serial novel for its first draft. I did this knowing that I would only be allowed to self-publish the novel once it was completed and I have never regretted it. The feedback I got from those who tuned in every week for a chapter was invaluable and the completed/polished novel is better for it.

Many professionals out there might shake their heads at me, because giving the work out for free limits where it can go in the future, and because writing a novel is such hard work that authors deserve to be paid for it.

But, I have always said that I write because I love to tell stories. Whether or not they get published isn’t always up to me. What is up to me, and what I constantly strive for, is the improvement of my craft.

With that in mind, I am happy to announce that The Castle of Three Kings will be available every Tuesday afternoon at Wattpad and a designated blog. I will post links every week, and once I’ve fully edited the manuscript it will be made available in its full form.

I had a lot of fun with this the last time I did a serial novel, and given the feedback I received in the middle of it all, I think a lot of readers did as well. So! Why not?

It’s a brave new world, after all.

(FYI – Chapter One is published and available for your reading pleasure!)

Welcome to 2020!

Happy New Year!

Normally I write this post prior to the holiday, but a bout with the flu bug held me back and I refuse to feel bad about it. Just seems counterproductive to start the year out with regrets, especially when you can’t anticipate getting sick over Christmas.

So! It’s time for my regularly scheduled road-map review and prep.

I had a lot of ambitious ideas for 2019 but in the spirit of letting things go and moving forward, I’m just going to pat myself on the back for getting the following things done:

Completed Melody of Bones. Also known as The Thirteenth Month.

The second draft of this novel stands at over 110,000 words and while that isn’t terrible for a fantasy novel, I’m going to be shaving that number down. I hope. I will also be drastically altering the story, tightening the plot, and combining characters to make for a less sprawling narrative.

BEGAN “A WEREWOLF WEDDING” NOVEL

This is a guilty pleasure. Nora Grayson, marital counselor to the supernatural, is a great deal of fun. Her novel isn’t completed yet, but if I continue with my current pace it should be finished by the end of April.

WON NANOWRIMO WITH “EVERY PRAYER BUT ONE

This novel kicked me in the teeth in September and has consumed much of my attention. It is nearing completion, but work has slowed down some due to complex emotional stuff in the novel that needs to be appropriately handled.

SUBMITTED, SUBMITTED, SUBMITTED

I was also terribly brave this year in that I submitted my completed works to a number of places. One of which is still considering a novel that I promised to have out by the end of 2019, but since it is in limbo that obviously didn’t happen. You can expect more announcements about publication dates and whatnot in the coming months.

So… What’s penciled in for 2020?

Things on the writing front have slowed down a good deal due to the day job’s demands, but I have found a comfortable regime and will continue to toss novels out into the wild as they are completed and/or picked up by publishing places.

My new regime calls for working on multiple projects at the same time. Basically, one novel in edit phase and one in drafting phase to exercise two parts of my brain. I’ve done this before and it was working well. I can’t remember why I changed it.

I’m not sure why anyone other than myself would find this interesting, but if you’re an author and you’re looking for a way to organize your writing time, then maybe this can help you. Please keep in mind that life has a way of altering plans, much like a novel has a way of breaking the author’s carefully created outline, so all of this is a loose projection at best.

January – March

DRAFT – Every Prayer But One

EDIT – Melody of Bones

April – June

DRAFT – Werewolf Wedding

EDIT – Castle of Three Kings

July – September

DRAFT – Inmate

EDIT – Every Prayer But One

October – December

DRAFT – City of Cemeteries

EDIT – Werewolf Wedding

That’s it. That’s what I want to accomplish on the writing front.

Now, on the personal front… I have challenged myself to 365 acts of kindness through 2020. Big or small, for whoever I see needs it, I am going to consciously and actively seek out ways to help the people around me. I’ll be recording this on Twitter, so if you want to follow along, you’re welcome to at my handle @AJMaguire

Snippets and Things – December 2019 Round Robin

This month, we have been invited to post a snippet of our work in lieu of our round robin discussions. However, I don’t have anything seasonally appropriate just yet. Instead, I am going to be brazen and shove a rough draft up here.

This is from my current work in progress, which is tentatively titled Every Prayer But One.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays!

It was a noisome building, filled with the insistent barking of animals in their pens and the occasional meow from those more personable cats in residence. The sign over the door read Almost Home Animal Shelter and as Michael stepped over the threshold, he was accosted by the smells so many animals could produce. He rubbed his nose.

One long counter ran the length of the wall to his left and he was reminded at once of a pub; all nicked wood and history, with a small space open so that the attendant could stand behind it. Except that there were large windows here, both open to fight against the lingering smell, and the room was brightly lit.

And there was no bartender.

The wall behind the counter housed another window, this one looking into the room beyond where a tall figure in overalls and rainboots was scrubbing one of the kennels with a long, yellow-bristled brush. Her dark hair was doing its best to escape the bun at the base of her neck, and she glowed from exertion. Canine faces peered out of their gates, all turned to watch the woman’s progress, and he was able to pinpoint the more vocal creatures now, one in particular with a cone wrapped around his neck.

There were no chain-link fences like he’d been expecting, and he loosened the grip on his keys. Each animal was separated by wooden partitions, allowing some privacy and giving the appearance of a small room rather than a kennel, save for the gated doors that allowed access from in the bay and outside. It was not at all like the dreary, sad place he’d seen featured in cartoons as a child and his estimation of the owner rose exponentially.  

“Can I help you?”

He turned. There were three other doors in the building, each leading to kennel bays with paned windows for easy viewing from the front foyer. The freckled blonde standing in the door labeled “Cats” was watching him with a mix of annoyance and curiosity, her eyebrow hiked up as he took his time responding.

They were busy. He should come back another time.

But outside in the parking lot was his dreadfully silent truck and he steeled himself. “My name is Michael York. I called yesterday and was told to stop by…”

The girl’s face underwent a dramatic transformation; one moment annoyed and the next lit with understanding and pity. Michael cleared his throat and glanced away. Eighteen months later and he still wasn’t used to that look; the one that said without speaking that he was a widower, that he was due all consideration and space that polite society had to give.

While he couldn’t say precisely what he would prefer – his wife back from the dead and the last three years erased, possibly – he knew for a fact that he didn’t want either consideration or space.

“The border collie?” the girl asked.

He nodded.

“I’ll go get Sarah.”

Giving a brief thanks, he glanced over his shoulder at the open door to the parking lot. His green truck sat prominent in the nearest space with its windows open to the October air. The border collie in question couldn’t be seen through the windshield, but he knew she was sprawled in the seat, head on her front paws, disinterested in all things.

Fresh grief washed through him and for a heartbeat he struggled to breathe. So many things had changed after Laura died that he hadn’t noticed the pup was in distress. There’d been whining, of course. Days and days of whining and pacing where Delta hunted the house, waiting for Laura to come home.

Heartbreaking, to be sure, and if he was honest with himself there’d been days he almost asked Laura a question, expecting her to be in the next room or something. Her shadow was everywhere in the house, lingering but still somehow gone.

“Mr. York?”

Sarah turned out to be none other than the overall-wearing, brush-wielding woman he’d spied earlier. Her rainboots glistened with soapy water, and she left footprints on the tile as she strode forward, hand outstretched. He took the hand by instinct and shook it, not at all surprised to find her grip firm as she introduced herself.

“I’m Sarah Riley, we spoke on the phone yesterday.”

She had a pleasant face, perhaps too round to be called pretty these days, but her expression was more of concern than pity and Michael felt another knot loosen in his back. At least he would not have to endure condolences from another stranger, no matter how well-meaning.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice,” he said as they turned for the door.

“It’s not a problem,” Sarah said. “When was the last time Delta ate?”

He exhaled, pleased to be getting to the heart of his problem so soon. “I got her to take some roast beef by hand last night, but it wasn’t much. I know table scraps aren’t healthy…”

“At least it was something.”

Michael wasn’t certain if he heard censure in her voice or not, and truly he didn’t care. He was at his wits end and had to do something. Laura had rescued the dog at four months old, thinking their active lifestyle was a perfect match for Delta’s high energy. And even after the diagnosis, back when they’d thought Laura could fight her way through the cancer, the dog had been a constant motivator that took them outdoors.

This was her dog; he couldn’t let the creature die.

They stopped at the passenger’s side of his truck and Sarah peered inside. Delta lay just as he’d left her, one blue eye and one brown eye watching the window but otherwise unmoving. She was merle patterned, sable spots peppering white fur, mixing in places to make grey freckles across her muzzle and back. He had an image of her the day Laura brought her home; still young enough that her white legs looked lanky paired with a slender body, and a muzzle shorter than it was now by a good inch, everything in her face clinging to puppy phase. But what caught him then, as it did now, was the way her ears stood only half upright, folding down at the tips so that they danced whenever she walked.

“Well, hello beautiful,” Sarah said, leaning against the door so she could cross her arms on the window frame.

Delta did not seem impressed.

Nonplussed, Sarah continued; “Want to go for a little walk with me?”

Taking that as his cue, Michael opened the door and took Delta’s leash. The dog obliged, albeit slowly, and jumped from the seat. Sarah was already reaching for the leash, cooing at his dog in real admiration, and Michael found himself handing control over to this stranger with a mix of pride and uncertainty. He wanted Delta to get better, but an accusing voice in the back of his head insisted that he should be the one to fix his dog.

Didn’t it say something about his state of mind that he wasn’t capable of working this out on his own?

Still, he watched Sarah take the leash and turn Delta toward the woods. His dog walked sedately next to her, tail drooping in a further display of distress, and he had a pang in his chest at the sight. He couldn’t remember the last time her tail was up, its white tip wagging like a flag as she chased a ball or a frisbee.

“She’ll be all right,” said the freckled woman from before.

She’d managed to walk up while he was distracted, and it was only when she propped a hand on her hip that he noticed the swell of pregnancy under her shirt. Her smile was full of compassion and curiosity, and she nodded out at where Sarah neared the tree line on the other side of the parking lot.

“Sarah’s a bit of an animal whisperer. She’ll find a way to help.”

Michael found some comfort in the girl’s words, even if he didn’t subscribe to the idea of animal whisperer’s in general. Then again, he didn’t have faith in much these days.

He crammed his hands into his pockets and watched as Sarah and Delta disappeared into the autumnal forest. Most of the greenery had bled into burnished shades of orange and red, but here and there was a splash of bright yellow from sugar maples, and there was the occasional pine tree standing defiant against the weather change. Laura would have photographed it.

The thought knifed across his heart and he turned to shut the truck door, perhaps more forcefully than he’d intended. Thankfully, the girl didn’t flinch. Instead, she looked back to the shelter and heaved a sigh. The barking hadn’t ceased, and he could see a few other shapes through the windows, probably more people caring for the animals.

Tall white fences stretched to either side of the building and he realized with a start that there were people out playing fetch with various dogs. None of them were paying him any mind, but he felt somehow exposed, as though everyone were aware of his circumstances and his poor, ailing Delta.

It was ridiculous, of course. These people didn’t know him. They certainly didn’t know Delta, so he put the whole feeling down as a residual effect of the funeral. Too many eyes had followed his every move those first weeks, it was no wonder he was paranoid now.

“Well, those litter pans aren’t going to scoop themselves. I should get back in,” the girl said and took a step to leave. But she paused and gave him another smile. “I’m Lisette, by the way.”

He gave his name again, awkwardly realizing she already knew it from before, and kicked himself. His wits weren’t exactly up to par.

Lisette grinned but thankfully didn’t tease him. Instead, she asked; “When Sarah gets back, could you tell her that the volunteers who were going to fix the food shed cancelled?”

“Food shed?” he asked.

She nodded over at a sad little structure set off to the side of the shelter. Blue tarp was lashed across its roof and he could see one side sagging. That wasn’t going to hold up through winter, make no mistake.

“We’re going to end up fixing it ourselves at this rate,” Lisette said.

“What happened to it?”

Lisette shrugged. “A thunderstorm took down a tree branch, which crashed its way through the roof.”

The last big thunderstorm had been several weeks ago, he knew. Delta hated storms and he’d been forced to wrap her in a special blanket for the night.

He frowned. “How much food did you lose?”

“At least half,” Lisette said, becoming more animated, “But Pastor Annie put the call out that following Sunday and we got a ton of donations. Sarah says we have more now than we did before the shed broke, so that’s good. We put what we could in the attic and the rest is under the tarp.”

“Well, you’re not going to want that tarp through the winter.”

“No kidding.”

They lapsed into a brief silence before Lisette, remembering she had work to do, flashed a smile and hurried back inside. Michael leaned against his truck and watched the rotation of dogs through the yard. Most of the handlers were proficient, giving each animal time to stretch their legs, do their business, and zoom for a ball. There were a few unpracticed hands that interrupted the rhythm, but no one could say the animals here weren’t loved and cared for.

Not that they should stay, of course. For better or worse, this was a kennel and each pet inside deserved a home of their own, but it seemed that Sarah Riley was doing her utmost to keep them happy while they were here.

Maybe his brother hadn’t been off his rocker to send him here after all.

It was some time before Sarah emerged from the woods again, Delta in tow. Michael squinted at them as they approached, trying to see if there was any improvement in his dog’s demeanor, but her tail was still down.

That was to be expected, he coached himself. It had taken a year and a half to get to this point, one meeting with a stranger wasn’t going to miraculously cure the creature. Still, he held his breath and waited for Sarah’s assessment as she delivered Delta to him.

“Well, Mr. York, she’s grieving,” Sarah said and reached down to smooth back Delta’s ears.

Michael ground his teeth. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

She gave him a sharp look, hazel eyes alight with challenge, but seemed to master herself in the next instant. “You said you already took her to the vet and nothing physical was wrong with her?”

“Yes,” he said, wrestling for patience.

They’d been over this on the phone.

She hummed and continued to stroke Delta’s head, who sat quietly beside her. “Did you know, Mr. York, that there are some breeds of dog who love their masters so much that when the two are parted, the dog simply shuts down? They don’t eat, they don’t drink, they just wait to die.”

He looked down at Delta. Her mismatched eyes stared unblinking at the truck door, still disinterested, still lost, and Michael felt his gut clench. “Is that what she’s doing? Waiting to die?”

“If we let her.”

The words were quiet and heavy, delivered with a matter-of-fact tone that held no malice. Michael was grateful for that much. He knew it was his fault that Delta had fallen so far into her depression, he’d practically watched it happen over the course of several months, but Sarah had the grace not to point this out.

Another consideration, he supposed.

He was a widower, who could truly blame him?

Heaven help him, he hated that word; widower.

Clearing his throat, he met Sarah’s patient gaze. “What can we do?”

If she noticed how hoarse he sounded, she didn’t mention it. Her attention switched to Delta and she heaved a little sigh. “I’m sure I don’t need to explain grief to you, Mr. York. It’s not something we can fix, and it’s not going away. But there are some things we can do.”

“Such as?”

“Remind her that she’s not alone.” Sarah rubbed the back of her neck and looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Look, I know this is going to sound weird, but my dog is particularly good at helping others. She seems to sense anxiety and has a way of putting other animals at ease. If you’re willing, I’d like the two dogs to meet.”

“You’re right, that does sound weird.”

They both chuckled and Sarah shrugged, leaving the decision to him.

“Beyond that,” she said, crouching down to give Delta more attention, “you can try canned cat food. It has a stronger smell and might get her to eat a little more. It’s not recommended for the long run, but some food is better than no food.”

Michael regarded his dog, watching the way she endured Sarah’s affections. It wasn’t clear whether Delta appreciated the attention or not, but neither was she snarling for Sarah to stop. She simply did not care, and that, above anything else, made his decision his decision for him.

“When would you like the dogs to meet?”

Take a look at some other snippets from my fellow authors! They are all wonderful human beings and I count myself lucky to be able to participate in this Round Robin every month.

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1Ng
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com
A.J. Maguire https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Oddly Terrifying – November 2019 Round Robin

Faxon Mylonas showed up in my debut novel Sedition smelling of pipe-weed and lurking in the shadows around Kiavana Fortress. He was, on first blush, an assassin and a mercenary, and I only grazed his character in that novel.

That in itself might not qualify him for the strangest character I have ever written, but when I started Usurper – the third book in the series – I was suddenly thrust into his point of view and learned something very quickly; he is a little crazy.

Or a lot crazy.

It depends on what mood you catch him in, I suppose.

Which I admit made for some fun scenes. Here, let me show you…

He could throw his stiletto at her, the one located just under his right sleeve. It was the same weapon he’d used to pin Troy down, so it hadn’t been properly reattached yet.

Was his name Troy? Faxon hadn’t been paying close enough attention to their names to know for sure but he was mostly certain he had it right. It started with a “T”, that much he could remember because he’d immediately associated the boy with Trenna out of sheer laziness.

Troy and Trenna, he thought. Double Ts.

Troy and Trenna tried traipsing through town with a trembling, troublesome troupe. Terrified travelers trumpeting their… Gods, he needed to stop.

Like I said, fun. His boredom led to several observations that any other point of view character wouldn’t have seen, and while I’m worried what it means that I have such a criminally-minded and brutal character sprouting from my subconscious, the novel is richer for his insights.

Check out what bizarre characters my fellow authors have dreamed up in this month’s Round Robin!

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
(YOU ARE HERE) A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1LT
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

When Crap Hits the Fan – October Round Robin

It seems that no matter how much planning I do, no matter how many times I revise an outline, the novel never goes my way. (FYI- Spoilers Inbound.)

For instance, if I’d had my way then Johnathan Relo of the Tapped series would have died already. If you’ve read the novel then you know that didn’t happen. It seems the stubborn man refuses to go quiet into the night, which I am grateful for because he brings a lot to the table in the second novel.

For my newest release – The Haunting of Tessa Pines – the entire plot of the novel was altered right around the 1/4 mark of the story. This was my second attempt at writing a straight forward romance novel and I utterly failed.

My first attempt at a straight-up romance novel was Witch-Born. In that case, my Robin Hood flavored romance became a steampunk fantasy where witches are nobility and nature itself is trying to consume the world.

So what happened with Tessa’s book?

Well, a lot of things. Tessa as a character was originally meant to be in my dragon vs. vampire novel. I even outlined that entire novel with Tessa falling in love with a dragon and having her friends put in danger because of it and sweet mamba jamba, can I tell you how many novels/stories are EXACTLY LIKE THAT OUTLINE?

To be fair, I was studying what works. Those are the stories that make headlines, after all.

But I didn’t write a single word after finishing the outline.

I sort of stared at the page with a dismal understanding of how the formula works and zero interest in putting it to use.

As an author, I can admit to having no desire for writing a novel with a formula in mind. It’s just one of those things I learned about myself in the process of creating this book. That isn’t to say that I don’t adhere to story structure – formula and structure are not the same thing – but I digress.

Because I was plotting Tessa’s novel for National Novel Writing Month that year, I tossed the original outline and went to an outside source for help – my (then) boyfriend. He’s now my husband, so I have fond memories of working the new outline with him.

Together we plotted a story about a paranormal investigation gone wrong, with a romance woven through. The original is vastly different from the finished product, but that seems to be the way of things. In any case, the book is a testament to how a writer’s life affects their fiction.

Take a look at what stories have morphed into with my fellow authors!

A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Dr. Bob Rich  https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1JS
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

The Haunting of Tessa Pines – Release Shenanigans

September 25th is fast approaching!

In case you were wondering, that’s the official release date for my newest novel The Haunting of Tessa Pines. Which is perfect because as the title suggests, there are ghosts in it, making this time of year ideal for reading.

I love autumn. I love the smells, the colors, the brisk air.

And corn mazes.

I rarely make it through an entire corn maze, but I have great fun trying, which is something I have in common with the main character of the novel. Tessa finds herself in the middle of a corn maze during the course of the story and I admit to taking a good deal of pleasure writing the scene.

There’s more going on in it, of course. The poor woman is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and finds herself in a bit of a mental maze as well. Add to that the presence of her ex-husband, an overbearing father intent on making his daughter well again, and a nosy roommate, and we have the makings of a very frustrating evening.

I’d like to say I wrote the scene directly after visiting a corn maze, but this novel was written during National Novel Writing Month in November 2017, so all the mazes were already closed. At least in Idaho they were.

Still, it was the right time of year.

August Round Robin – Travel Teasers



This month we’re sharing excerpts of our work that relate to travel or vacation. And because I’m in the middle of a new work, you get a tiny taste of One Big Werewolf Wedding.

The title is obviously in the works.

And thanks to my stepmother, who requested I visit steampunk again, I have opted to exchange modern-day Boston/New York with an 1800’s steampunk version. I’m actually enjoying this change a good deal more, even if I am still struggling with the first person POV.

One Big Werewolf Wedding – Excerpt

Boston South Central hummed with activity, human and supernatural creatures alike making their way to individual train cars, politely keeping to themselves. There were many top hats and business suits to be seen, including those of my abductors, who were having a time blending with the crowd. They were all too large, and most had blunt noses from too many fights. Except, of course, for picture-perfect Derrick King.

Maker help me, that man needed a flaw.

Aside from the whole abduction business.

Really, the abduction business should have made him less attractive, even if he was trying to save his mother. But he’d chosen to shave before we left the seedy motel, and that blasted aviator jacket did far too many nice things to his shoulders.

Smug, whose name I’d learned was Mark, kept a brisk pace and blocked my view and I realized I’d been staring. Fighting a blush, I scowled at him, all too pleased to see his cut lip and taped nose. “Tell me why we aren’t driving again? I know the Leslies can afford autmotives.”

“The train shaves an hour off our travel time,” Mark said. “Which I think is a waste of money, but our fearless leader made the call.”

He looked particularly moody, and not just because of the battered state of his face. There was a sheen of sweat at his widow-peaked hairline and he had a white-knuckle grip on his bag. For that matter, the rest of our troupe were in varied states of distress, each with hunched shoulders and scowls, and I began to suspect that werewolves did not like to ride the train.

My suspicions were confirmed when we reached the train car’s steps and Mark’s coloring had gone an alarming grey. Only Derrick seemed unperturbed by our situation, confidently handing out tickets and ushering wolves toward the waiting conductor. There were grunts and mutters from the group, but none of them made eye contact with Derrick as they passed.

 “Trust me, you would not have wanted to be stuck in an automotive for four hours with this bunch,” Derrick said as he reached me.

Eyeing the brown paper ticket he was holding out I said, “I don’t want to be with this bunch at all.”

His jaw flexed and he gave me a tolerant look. I thought about screaming, making an awful scene and calling humans to attention, but there was the rune stone in my hand and dammitall if I didn’t need him. And, if I was honest with myself, there was the matter of his mother to contend with. I couldn’t really walk away, not with the knowledge that another woman might be harmed in my stead.

Still, I wasn’t about to let him off the hook. The fact that he was a Constable and allowing this to happen was an unspeakable breach of trust.  I scowled and Derrick’s eyebrow rose in question. He opened his mouth to speak but I cut him off by snatching the ticket, marching to the conductor with angry strides that I hoped made my point for me.

The conductor smiled and it was only after a moment that I realized she was making eyes at Derrick, which was unprofessional to the extreme. Irritated, I kept going, trusting that the brute would be right behind me, and he was. He stayed on my heels as we entered the train and squeezed through the tight space.

My seat was beside Mark, who had already stowed his bag and was bouncing his knee so hard I feared his foot might go through the floor. By the time I was buckled and slouched against the annoyingly tight seat, Mark had discarded the emergency instruction pamphlet in favor of the barf bag. For a heart-stopping moment I thought he meant to use it right then, but he just clutched it in his hands and exhaled through his mouth.

I stared at him. “Really? We haven’t even left the station.”

“Shut up,” he said and closed his eyes.

His Adam’s apple bobbed heavy under his skin and I unbuckled. There was no way I was going to sit next to a motion-sick werewolf for however long this ride might be. Ignoring the hushed protests of fellow passengers, I made my way to Derrick, intent on making him switch seats with me. He looked up when I reached his aisle, concern and surprise on his face, and glanced back at where Mark was leaning over his bag.

Most of the passengers were loaded and I nodded at the seat beside Derrick; “Is anyone sitting here?”

“I wouldn’t…”

“I don’t care what you wouldn’t do, Mr. King,” I said and sat down. “I refuse to deal with Mark throwing up on me.”

Derrick cringed as I settled in. “I didn’t realize they would have such a bad reaction to the ride,” he said, but his gaze was fastened on my lap. “I really don’t think you want to sit there.”

“Of course, I don’t,” I said, lowering my voice a fraction. “We both know I have no desire to be sitting here at all.”

The conductor began welcoming everyone to the train and the car jostled into movement.  It was then that I realized something was wrong with my seat. I could feel a wetness under me, seeping into my pants, and when I looked back at Derrick he was openly cringing.

As calmly as I could, I met his gaze and asked; “Why is my seat wet?”

“I tried to warn you,” he said. “That’s supposed to be my seat, but I smelled it and shifted over.”

“Smelled… it?” I asked weakly, wishing for all the world that I had the sense of a werewolf. Then again, I’m not sure smelling it would have helped.

“I fear the previous passenger may have…”

I cut him off with a hand; “Don’t say it. Please don’t say it.”

He stopped talking and I closed my eyes, frozen for a full twenty seconds as reality pounded into me.

I was sitting in pee.

Skin crawling, I fumbled with my purse, desperate to get up, but the train accelerated, pushing me back. Derrick’s hand covered mine in an iron grip and he leaned over to murmur; “You can’t get up yet, you’ll hurt yourself.”

“You’re not the one sitting in pee,” I said through my teeth.

His fingers tightened on me and I met his gaze. There was a hint of laughter in his eyes and I glared up at him as he said; “I sympathize, I do. But you need to wait. We’ll get this sorted once we’re moving properly.”

“You think this is funny!”

He shrugged but didn’t deny the accusation. “I did try to warn you.”

“Try harder next time!” I snapped and then, because the cool wetness was soaking into my undergarments and I knew what it was, I gagged.

Derrick had the barf bag out and in my hands within seconds, but I wasn’t going to throw up. At least, I hoped I wasn’t.

There was the stomach-dropping moment when the whole train jerked into forward motion, and I nearly did utilize the bag, but after several seconds of breathing exercises I was able to gain a semblance of control. Derrick kept hold of me, keeping me seated in someone else’s pee as the train chugged faster, still jerking and jostling as it tried to reach its top speed.  

Several aisles behind us, I could hear Mark losing his breakfast into his barf bag and I shuddered. If sitting in urine wasn’t already gag-inducing, that sound was sure to get me, so I tried to distract myself with Derrick.

“Why aren’t you a nervous traveler?” I asked.

“Who says I’m not?”

I slanted a glare at him. “I don’t see you clutching a barf bag.”

He gave a shrug and glanced at the fasten seatbelt sign. “I suppose I’m just used to it,” he said. “I did have to travel to America.”

“Nothing can inoculate you better than several days on a boat?”

He smirked at me. “Something like that.”

There was a mellow ping and I realized the train was as smooth as it was going to get. Derrick released my hand and I unbuckled, ejecting from my seat with enough speed to knock into the headrest in front of me. Murmuring my apologies, I slipped into the aisle and hurried for the nearest restroom. I ignored passengers who glanced at me as I hurried by, including Mark who I thought might have been scowling but with the uncomfortable cooling sensation happening around my backside I couldn’t be bothered to care.

I ducked into the first restroom and locked myself in. It was difficult in the cramped space, but I managed to strip my skirts and underwear off and squished them against the corner with a toe. Splashing a bit of soap and water on a paper towel, I did my best to clean the offending area and tried desperately not to think about what stranger I was having such an intimate affair with. And then I realized I was half naked in a tiny train bathroom with nothing else to wear.

I was going to have to put the pee clothes back on.

Groaning in despair, I fell forward, letting my head rest against the mirror. “Why is this happening to me?”

There was a knock on the door and Derrick’s rumbling voice; “Nora?”

Feeling awkwardly exposed despite the closed door, I scowled. “This is all your fault.”

“Yes, you’ve made me quite aware of that,” he said. “Could you open the door?”

I glanced down at my bare legs and snorted an unladylike laugh; “Not on your life.”

There was a beat and then; “I have some clean clothes, if you’re interested.”

“I couldn’t possibly fit in any of your things,” I said, which was an insane argument because what else was I going to do?

“Well, no,” Derrick said, and I could imagine him leaning into the door because his voice was easier to hear. “But I sent the lads to get some things from your home before we left so these should definitely fit.”

I sat stunned for a second, half furious that a group of wolves invaded my home and rifled through my private life. The other half of me was staring at pee-soaked skirts, shivering because it was blasted cold in the little room. And there was something else too, a niggling in my gut that might have been guilt.

Derrick didn’t want to be in this situation any more than I did, but he’d taken the time to see to my comfort, even with all my snark and sniping. Granted, I would have preferred if he’d been the one to gather my things. The very idea of Mark poking around my underwear drawer was enough to make me want to punch him in the nose.

Practicality won in the end.

I unlocked the door and opened it just enough to squeeze one hand through. I felt my clothes thrust at me and yanked it all inside, latching the lock once more. Since my blouse still had coffee stains on the sleeve – curse that ivory color, it always does this to me – I was pleased to find that Derrick had included a shirt. Even if that shirt was plain blue cotton that did not at all match the black skirt he’d delivered, at least it was clean and stain free.

Getting dressed inside a train car restroom was a unique challenge. I managed to stub my big toe twice, bash my head against the sink and then the opposite wall like a pinball, and ram my elbow into the toilet-paper dispenser so hard I lost feeling in my fingers. I’m quite certain I heard concerned murmurs outside but ignored it in favor of locating my boots. These at least were easy to put on, sliding up and over my ankles with their faux-fur fringe.

I looked ridiculous but urine-free, so I counted it a win and opened the door.

Derrick was there, his expression highly amused, and I glared at him because that seemed to be my default today.

“I don’t even care how stupid I look,” I told him. “I’m dry and that’s what counts.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” he said and held out a paper bag. “I didn’t imagine you’d want to touch them again until they were washed.”

Realizing he meant my discarded clothes, I glanced back into the restroom. Of course my purple-polka dot underwear would be right on top and I cringed, feeling the flush as it raced up my neck to bloom in my face. It did not escape me that he’d already handled my clean underwear, which sported turquoise hearts and a frilly waistline, but somehow this was worse. I could dissect the reasons for that later, though.

“I thought we’d just burn them,” I said.

Derrick snorted a laugh. “They frown on burning things when the train is in motion.”

“Drat,” I said and took the paper bag.

I managed to get the soiled garments into the bag and rolled the top securely. When I turned back around, Derrick was still there. He flashed a faint smile and reached for the bag, which I was more than willing to part with.

The train dipped left and shuddered. I stumbled and might have bashed my head again if Derrick hadn’t grabbed me. His hands clasped my elbows, drawing me close enough I could feel his breath on my cheek. My eyes fastened on the hallow of his throat and I was washed in the scent of fresh detergent and soap. I hiccupped a breath, stiffening because some part of me wanted to lean into him, to feel if he was as solid to the touch as he appeared.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

My hand was on his side and yes, he was solid. I withdrew, flustered.

“Nora?”

“Yes, fine, just,” I scrambled for an apology but what came out was; “You smell good. I hadn’t expected…”

“For wolves to bathe?” he asked, with no small amount of amusement.

Mortified at my own words, I opened my mouth to apologize again, but hadn’t I just proven I couldn’t trust myself? I shut my mouth and pivoted away, praying I could make it through the rest of the trip without saying anything more. Just to be safe, I sat beside Mark and kept my eyes on my folded hands as Derrick went back to his seat.  

Maker help me, I needed to get home.  

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