Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hello, loyal followers! I am pleased to announce my move over to wordpress. So if you love me, will you follow me? The new site is up, pretty, and stock full of new features, including character bios for the Sinners and Saints cast, updated links, fun stuff, and all that. So join me! We'll have fun. Promise!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nikki London's debut novella, Southern Comfort

Now available from Phaze books is a novella I can't recommend enough. Southern Comfort, the literary debut of author Nikki London, is snarky, fun, romantic, sensual, and quirky. Put it plainly: some of the best ingredients this gal could ask for.

In her debut novella, author Nikki London is quick to introduce readers to her strong sense of character development, relationships, and her killer intuition when it comes to dialogue. The plot behind SOUTHERN COMFORT might be familiar, but with its characters, humor, quirks, and heart, this is one ride you won’t want to miss.

We start with Kris Meadows, the faithful assistant to career politician Jay Rosenberg. Their rapport is quick and familiar, and with just a few lines, Ms. London establishes a relationship that is cozy but wrought with tension. You can sense the affection between her main characters from the start, be it between Kris’s close relationship with Jay’s mother or Jay’s teasing Kris over her obsession with ghost stories. Jay’s mother, Edith, manages to convince her son to take a vacation, which by itself would be considered a feat. Throw in that their getaway is in Mississippi, and it’s practically a miracle. A last-ditch effort to save face results in Kris finding a plane ticket with her name on it, though she has no idea how she can pretend to be nothing more than Jay’s friend without the familiarity of an office setting.

Ms. London doesn’t play coy with the characters or their relationships. We enter the story very much aware that Kris is in love with Jay and that Jay harbors a crush on her as well. Furthermore, the characters themselves seem to be aware, but mutually tacit due to what it could mean for their working relationship. It’s not as though there are no obstacles: Ms. London establishes Jay as a workaholic playboy, whose selection of arm candy is almost always politically motivated. Yet it is clear from the start that Jay’s love life is less the result of his being a chronic womanizer, and more due to his attraction to sharp women whose ambitions are much like his, not to mention his need to put work first. Without motivation, his close friendship with Kris might never escalate to something more, though he wouldn’t be opposed to it. And Kris, having had a front row seat over the past several years of working with Jay, knows every relationship he enters has an automatic expiration date. That doesn’t stop her from loving him, but it does keep her from pursuing him, or thinking it possible they could ever work.

With a company of additional characters, including a cranky old woman, a pair of horny college coeds, and a bed-n-breakfast owned by what Jay sees as a walking contradiction, SOUTHERN COMFORT will keep you rooting for their characters, grinning at their snappy dialogue, and falling in love with the story’s overall amazing heart.


“So, how are you, Kristen?”

Kris Meadows twisted a strand of long blonde hair around her finger, rolled her eyes, and tilted the phone against her ear. “You wouldn't believe what your son made me do last night.”

A gentle sigh came across the line. “I can only imagine. Jason seemed very determined to get that Foreign Ops bill passed.”

Kris lowered her voice to a whisper. “He made me stalk someone.” Not that she was all that traumatized by the experience, but she liked telling on her boss...especially to his mother.

“What?” Edith Rosenberg snapped.

“Well, he seems determined to find out if Jennings is running for Senate before he leaves Brooks alone.”

“Believe it or not, I'm pretty sure he wasn't raised like that.”

Kris could hear the woman’s disgust. “Edith, the greatest saints in the world couldn’t make him tolerable.”

“Speaking of, where is Jason?”

“He had a meeting in Senator Brooks’s office to gloat about the bill finally being passed. He should be back any moment.”

“I'm going on vacation in the next couple weeks.”

“Oh.” Kris was at a loss of words. Not only was it a complete change of topic, but she couldn't remember the last time she’d had a real vacation; it was well before she embarked on the career of a lifetime as Jason Rosenberg’s personal assistant. While the last four years of employment under one of D.C.’s premiere political strategists and campaign organizers provided plenty of travel, she rarely had a chance to get away and relax. “Where are you going?”

“Natchez, Mississippi.”

“Natchez, Mississippi?”

“Oh, it's lovely,” Edith gushed. “Well, at least the photographs I’ve seen and stories I've been told. My good friend, Olivia, is president of the Glendale Community Garden Club. She makes regular trips to Natchez during their spring pilgrimage.”


“It's the height of their tourist season. Lovely. And we're going together this year. I'll send you an email with some information.”

Kris sighed with envy. “It sounds nice. You should enjoy it.”

“What about Jason?”

She looked for a sign of her boss. “Oh, he still isn't back yet. But I did just see Ted so he shouldn't be far behind.”

“No, I meant do you think Jason would like Natchez?”

“Depends on whether there's federal legislation that depends on Natchez Pilgrimage information.”

“For a vacation.”

Kris laughed. The idea of Jason Rosenberg, Washington’s hottest political asset, taking a vacation was as ridiculous as George Washington having crossed the Rubicon rather than the Delaware.

Though knowing today’s educational system, she wouldn’t be surprised if some people actually thought that was the way it happened.

“I know.” Edith apparently interpreted her response. “But he hasn't visited since he started working with Brooks and I’m beginning to worry about his health. All that stress can’t be good for him.” She paused. “I think I'm going to ask him to come to Natchez with me.”

“Good luck,” Kris said earnestly. She doubted Jay’s mother truly knew how much the stress was getting to him. In December, he’d gone to the hospital with chest pains; Kris knew his health was the main reason he’d stuck with Brooks rather than delving into the next big race. “I hope you convince him to go. Besides the obvious fact a vacation for him means free time for me, I really think some time away would be good for him with the election and...everything. Not to mention spending some quality time with you.”

Behind her, the man in question cleared his throat and whispered, “Please don't tell me you're using government time to arrange your next disastrous relationship.”

She inhaled sharply. The sensation of his breath on her neck made her shiver, but she wasn't about to let him know how much she enjoyed their close moments. Instead, she whacked his head. “It's your mother!”

In Kris’s other ear, Edith said, “Oh, tell Jason that I'll have to call him back later. My bridge game starts in ten minutes and I really want to beat Morgie Parker.”

“Okay.” Kris smiled. She loved this woman. In many respects, she maintained a much healthier relationship with Edith than with her own mother. She talked to her constantly, since Edith often called Jay at the office to avoid catching him during a meeting. Plus, Kris didn’t have to deal with the nagging and guilt trips she often got when she checked in with her parents.

Edith continued, “But I will send you that email. You would love the history there. A place like Natchez would be perfect for you to come and visit.”

“I’d really love to, but my boss is kinda a jerk.”

“Hey!” Jay grumbled. “Let me talk to my mom.”

Kris ignored him. “Love you, Mom. Enjoy the game and I'll be looking for that email.”

Jay waved his hand. “Stop stealing my mother.”

“Bye,” Kris chirped before placing the phone on the receiver.

Jay gave her a dirty look and grunted. “I wish you two would stop doing that. I'm beginning to think she wants to put me up for adoption and take you in instead.”

Kris beamed. “Well, she does tell me I would make a lovely Jewish girl.”

He tilted his head and smirked. “You are cheap and have a guilt complex that would make my grandmother jealous.”

She feigned a laugh and glared at him until remembering how embarrassed she felt last night while wandering around the Capital. “I'm still annoyed with you.” She grabbed a yellow folder and handed it to him.

“You were doing your job. I can't help it that you felt silly.”

“You made me a stalker. That’s illegal, mind you. And your mother said she would call you later. She didn't have time for you.”

He frowned. “You take too much pleasure in stealing her away from me.”

“You take too much pleasure in making me do things that are immoral.” She caught a glance of an approaching shadow along the wall, but ignored it. The office was always bustling with activity.

“It wasn't stalking—”

“You had me follow a man around the Hill for three hours in order to report every office he stopped by and every hand he shook. Please tell me how that doesn’t coincide with the legal definition of stalking.”

Jay blinked. “Bite me.”

“Wow, could you save the hot stuff for after hours?” Ted, Senator Brooks’s chief of staff, growled, walking up behind Jay.

Kris noticed Jay blushing while they tried to pass off the exchange with identical eye rolls. Jay nodded to Ted. “What's up?”

“I wanted to go over the senator's remarks for this afternoon.”

As the men retreated into Jay’s office, Kris shouted after them, “Your mother is going to call you after her bridge game.”

“Why does she know more about your mother than you?” Ted asked.

“A question I stopped asking a long time ago.”

A few hours later, Jay’s office door flew open in its usual dramatic fashion. Kris immediately expected a ritual venting. Like clockwork, less than three seconds passed before he was at her desk.

“You knew about this, didn't you?” he snarled.

Her eyes went wide for a moment. She really wanted a good quip to begin the exchange, but none was forthcoming. “What?”

“You knew. Probably had a whole conversation about it.”

“Jay, I have many conversations in which I plot against you. Would you care to give me a few more details?” She had to smile at how cute he was when annoyed. The way he furrowed his brows made his forehead wrinkle in the most adorable way. He also had a tendency to fold his arms and stomp his feet like a small child during a temper tantrum.

He pouted. “I was caught so off guard that I couldn't refuse right away. The best I got out was that I'd think about it.”


“I'm not going to go to Mississippi and call it a vacation.”

Kris giggled with realization. “Natchez is lovely. Your mother sent me pictures of the B&B she has booked for her and her friend. And there were some sites with amazing reviews of visits during Pilgrimage. The history alone would make a good vacation, but the flowers, food and ghost stories sound so fun.”

Jay stared at her. “You did hear the part about vacationing in Mississippi?”

“You should go!” she cried. “Besides the break from work, it would mean the world to your mother to spend some quality time with you.”

“Damn you woman.” He turned and stalked down the hall.


Jay was at a loss. He mindlessly poured himself a cup of coffee, and then headed toward his office. How could he argue against Kris’s logic? He loved his mother and knew Kris did as well. While he wanted to please them both, he sure as hell could come up with something better than this. Better than Mississippi. Kris seemingly read his mind. When he passed her desk, she said, “You should really look at the books your mother is sending. They should be here in the morning.”

“Why?” Jay gazed heavenward. “Why Mississippi and why did you give them a chance to collude against me?”

“Once you get done admonishing God, you better head down to Brooks’s office.”

He met her eyes and tried not to get lost in the vibrant blue. It was harder remembering on some days that she was his assistant and not his girlfriend. “Okay,” he said before forcing himself to walk away. By the next morning, Jay felt his routine return to normal. Granted, his life wasn’t normal, but there were certain degrees of chaos he’d learned to live with.

Jay Rosenberg loved his life. He’d been blessed with good genes and an unruly head of thick brown hair that curled if he didn’t keep it extra short. His dimples gave him the ability to disarm friend and foe with as little as a wink and a nod. Though he could have his way with nearly any woman in the district, he was a workaholic, and most women, like his ex-girlfriend, grew distant in the end. While he had developed an obsession with the gym and warding off the chances of dying young like his dad, he couldn’t let go of his stress, which constantly brought him down. Elections and politics fed his soul. And he wasn’t about to change, especially to accommodate a woman.

He spent most of the night devising a plan to evade a potential vacation in Mississippi. Really, his plan was ultimately aimed at keeping him from any vacation at all, but he figured this was a one-step-at-a-time thing. Kris enacted the first stage by ignoring the entire previous day of mother-oriented Natchez conversation. Instead she began the morning by addressing the need to create less congestion during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

After spending the morning on the Hill, negotiating things that didn't make complete sense to him, Jay headed back to the office for lunch and the dreaded conversation with his mother. He only hoped she didn't guilt him to the point he cried—again—about the vase he broke when he was twelve. Jay had made it to his office door before Kris spoke.

“Did you know that Natchez was largely unaffected by the Civil War?”

He hoped he was hallucinating.

She kept talking. “Of course there was some damage and destruction, but considering that the town was located on the Mississippi River between Vicksburg and New Orleans, it was minor.”

Jay turned around to glower at her. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Though he was sure Kris knew full well what he meant, she chose to take it in a way that furthered her enjoyment. Her creamy flawless complexion didn’t show a single hint of crimson guilt as she gave him an innocent smile. “Oh no. Not kidding at all. In fact, while the war caused many to lose their fortunes, such as the case of the owners of Longwood, the only deaths during the war were a seven year old girl and a man who had a heart attack while watching the Battle of Natchez.”

“So, Mom sent you some stuff?”

Kris shook her head. “I just enlightened you with quality information found on Wikipedia.”

“I'm going to work now.” He bit his cheek to keep from smiling back at her.

“You mean you are going to go eat lunch and break your mother's heart when she calls to say she's found the best deal on plane tickets for you to fly down and vacation with her in Natchez.”

“Did you really say there was a thing called Longwood?”

“Are you really going to make a perverted joke about the home Dr. Haller Nutt built for his wife?”

“With a name like Longwood, do I really have to make an actual joke about it?”

Kris scowled. “Your mother should be calling you at any moment. Your sandwich is getting cold.”

The look on her face had his defenses deflating. Since the day Kris walked into his office four years ago with her resume and freshly printed degree in Politics and Government, Jay had been attracted to her. She shared his ambition and drive in making Washington accountable to the electorate as opposed to the lobbyists. Her eyes were a window to her soul, and he’d immediately seen she wasn’t corrupted by agenda like so many others. Having her by his side kept him in check. She was his daily reminder he was fighting the good fight.

He hated the look in her eyes now. He hated when his Krissy was disappointed in him.

He had forgotten to figure that into his plan.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

On editing

This post also appears on Romancing the Muses One of the questions I’ve found most repeated among authors is the standard, “What annoys you most as an editor?” I’m sure some editors keep a catalogue of actions, expressions, tropes, words, and so on that make them grit their teeth and fantasize about strangling the author through the computer. I find with most of the manuscripts that land on my desk, the majority of the issues are repeated throughout.

Why? Because authors have their favorite ways of expressing their characters’ actions. One of my editors pointed out that my characters routinely smirk and shrug. And they do. I always see my characters shrugging or smirking or even at times doing both. Therefore, I know to look out for these things when going back through it. But I’m not perfect (though I often boast otherwise), and since it is my work, there’s no way I’m going to catch all of my own boo-boos. So I’ll send my manuscript to two or three crit partners and maybe one casual reader to gage their reactions.

Does this mean the manuscript is perfect when I submit? Heck. No. I don’t even expect the manuscript to be without the occasional typo when it’s officially published. No one is above the typo. Not me, not you, not Stephen King, not the bible, nothing.

But this does bring me to my major pet-peeve as an editor: authors who submit without doing at least one of the following:

1) Rereading their manuscript. After you type “the end,” close the program and let the document sit for 24-48 hours, preferably longer. Go do something to take your mind off it. Have your S.O. take you to dinner to celebrate finishing a project at all. Go for a hike. Read a book. Watch a movie. Buy yourself a present. Just don’t look at the manuscript. After you actively avoid looking at the manuscript for a period of time, read it carefully from start to finish. Do this at least once.
2) Send it to someone who doesn’t think the sun shines out of your ass and have them read it.

A completed manuscript is just the first step. It’s what we call a “rough draft.” Do more than one draft. Make sure you leave nothing dangling, and if you do, you have a good reason. Make sure the characters’ eyes don’t change colors unless they’re supposed to change colors. Make sure that a drink a character was holding in the beginning of the scene didn’t disappear midway through. Read, absorb, and understand each word, identify your weaknesses and ask others for help.

Most importantly: work with your editor. We’re not perfect. You’re not going to write the flawless novel, and your editor isn’t going to necessarily catch every little thing. The editing process is a give-and-take relationship. It’s not an editor’s job to fix something, rather improve. It’s not an editor’s job to rewrite, but help you rewrite. It’s not an editor’s job to make you feel good, but identify as many of your manuscript’s warts before it becomes available to the public. 2) Send it to someone who doesn’t think the sun shines out of your ass and have them read it.

A completed manuscript is just the first step. It’s what we call a “rough draft.” Do more than one draft. Make sure you leave nothing dangling, and if you do, you have a good reason. Make sure the characters’ eyes don’t change colors unless they’re supposed to change colors. Make sure that a drink a character was holding in the beginning of the scene didn’t disappear midway through. Read, absorb, and understand each word, identify your weaknesses and ask others for help.

Most importantly: work with your editor. We’re not perfect. You’re not going to write the flawless novel, and your editor isn’t going to necessarily catch every little thing. The editing process is a give-and-take relationship. It’s not an editor’s job to fix something, rather improve. It’s not an editor’s job to rewrite, but help you rewrite. It’s not an editor’s job to make you feel good, but identify as many of your manuscript’s warts before it becomes available to the public.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans

When I was in Weight Watchers, I lived by a set of guidelines for survival. People typically don't end up in Weight Watchers unless they're food addicts, and that is definitely the case with me. Yet after years living on the WW program, there are a number of lessons I've learned that I can apply to life in general. One being: if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

Words to live by.

The latter, and the subject of this post, is not a rhymy catchphrase. It's likewise the one most people have the hardest time doing.

People make plans. Sometimes those plans fail. Rather than beat yourself up over what you did in place of what you should've done, the only productive thing to do is accept you failed, buck up, dust yourself off, forgive yourself, and move on.

Last year I set out to complete three manuscripts. That was my resolution. Finish Know Thine Enemy, start and finish Sinfully Scandalous, and complete the work that became Elevated Exposure. I did a good job, and I even tossed in a short story or two for nothing. A Friend In Need was pounded out in less than a month. I had no idea that would happen, even when I decided to do NaNo for the first time. I exceeded my own expectations, and with a heartful of optimism, I took the accomplishments of 2011 and decided to at least match that in 2012.

It's May. Next month will mark the midway point through the year. That's right. 2012 is almost halfway over. And what have I accomplished that I set out to accomplish?

If you answered a big fat load of nothing, congrats, you guessed correctly.

That's not to say I've coasted. Contrary, I've had a very busy spring. I got married two weeks ago (thus my husband-in-name, as he's been for years, became my husband-in-name-AND-on-paper!) and it was a big shebang. Honestly, I should have expected it as my mother's only daughter. I'm not the girliest girl, though, and I guess I thought I could get all my shit done in a timely manner. I thought with editing (and I've taken on several freelance jobs), and writing when I could, I, the great multi-tasker, could just show up to my wedding and see what happened.

Stop laughing. It’s not nice.

Obviously, that didn’t go as planned. But I did get stuff done. A modest amount of work has been completed. I'm about halfway through Sinners and Saints, Book 3, according to my word count estimate. I have plans for the revamp of Possession and all that, and half a dozen other ideas. But I must admit, when it comes down to what I personally love working on, the Sinners and Saints series is hands down the winner. I love the universe, I love the characters, I love the mythology – I am unabashedly infatuated with my own work, as I think all authors should be. And though modest, the series has gained a handful of fans.

Yet for the first time, I am completely self-aware of myself, the words, and the flow as I write the story. I wrote Sinfully Scandalous on a high mostly, never dreaming it'd actually get published. It was too different, had too many controversial themes, and wouldn't be received well by those who read the first. And yes, I did receive a few quiet comments about the content, but overall, it was received well. But unlike Lost Wages of Sin, I did little to no promotion. I tweeted, posted excerpts, gave away a few copies, and even now I have no idea how well it did, aside from the less-than-encouraging numbers on

Now, I don't write for money. I write for me. I publish for the cash, sure, but the overall awesome feeling that is having my name on a book that is read and enjoyed by at least more one more person than my best friend and my mother is worth most of the blood, sweat, and tears. Yet with LWoS, something in me changed. I really loved the book, and I loved the thought of starting a series, and I loved the thought of others loving the series. I spared no expense, purchasing bookmarks, paying for multiple print copies, cover art, and so on. I didn't spend a ton, but I don't have tons of expendable income, which made it all the more disheartening when my first check didn't even begin to cover what I'd forked over.

I work a full-time job, a part-time job with editing, and whatever time I have left over is either spent socializing, relaxing, or sleeping. Because as much fun as I find writing, that doesn't take away from the fact that it's work. In some fashion, it's work, and it takes effort. If I spend eight hours a day at work and another three editing, whatever time I have left over is, ideally, spent writing. More realistically, though, I'm cuddled on the sofa with Aaron watching whatever TV show we're catching up on. If I'm in the groove, getting x amount of words committed to paper doesn't take much. If I'm not, I can waste hours trying to force my way inside before giving up and going to bed angry and frustrated with myself.

At the end of the day, though, the thing I enjoy writing the most is a series that I spent more money promoting than I gained in sales. I love writing it, I do, but a writer's head is never quiet. To get into the zone, I have to shut up the crowd of naysayers that takes up the peanut gallery inside my noggin. With Sinfully Scandalous, this took no effort, and I think a part of that was on some level, never expected it to be published.

All this to say, I desperately need to turn this motherfucker around and find the road I was on before I peeled off the exit. I have excuses, and many are legitimate, but what I really need is to quiet the peanut gallery, gather my bearings, and return to basics. Basics might mean writing new stuff for a while – new new stuff. If I’ve learned anything, it is I will come back to those things that are important to me. Know Thine Enemy took almost three years to write, because I wrote the first 15k, hit a wall, and then didn’t come back to finish the rest until I’d pretty much forgotten what I was doing in the first place. I don’t think it’ll take quite that much time to find my way back on track, but until then, I can’t promise to work on Flip Side of Sin. To those who like the series, and chastised me for waiting a year between the first and second book, all I can do is beg your patience and understanding. When I’m not writing, I’m not the best me I can be, and right now I’m not writing. I hate not writing.

It’s time for me to accept I’m likely not going to meet the goal I set out for myself in December 2011, which also means I need to stop beating myself up over what I did in place of what I should've done, accept I’m human, buck up, dust myself off, forgive myself, and move on. Goals, schmoals. This isn’t a race. I’ll get there when I get there.

Until then, I can't push it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Just a quick question...

Do people read blurbs anymore? Recently, I've seen several reviews for books that complain about things that were clearly advertised in the work.

Blurbs aren't easy to write, people. They're pretty awful, actually. Summarizing every nuance of a book, choosing between what plot points to mention and what to keep, and then writing a couple paragraphs in a way that both showcases your skill yet also ensnares readers. The market is saturated with a thousand other stories like the one you're selling, and you're expected to make yours stand out. Think that's hard? Every other author is doing the same thing.

Yeah. I hate blurbs. Most of my author buds do, too. So it's somewhat disconcerting when readers don't even bother glossing them over. Don't like menage? How about not buying a menage book. Not a fan of shifters? Maybe pay attention when the author starts discussing wolf packs. Skeeved by taboo subjects? Steer the fuck away.

These things are there for a reason, people. Are you allowed to not like a book because of a kink or theme? Of course. You're allowed to not like a book for any reason you see fit. But there's a reason I'm not rushing out to buy Fifty Shades. I have some idea what it's about, and I'm not interested.

I actually saw a review for an Ellora's Cave book complaining about the sex. As in, it was too descriptive. In an Ellora's Cave book.

If you're going to spend money on a book, you owe it to yourself to read up on what you're buying.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Elevated Exposure, new from Ellora's Cave. Available today!

Swinging by really fast to announce the release of Elevated Exposure, my debut novella with Ellora's Cave! There's unrequited attraction, deceit, a sex tape, and two people hopelessly drawn to one another stuck in an elevator.

Also, if you drop by Kacey Hammell's, she's running a special giveaway.

I have a very busy weekend ahead, but I had to share my squeeing over the release. It's the first contemporary publication I've had in a long time. Hope I didn't lose my touch.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Friend In Need - Chapter 1

Chapter One

Clarice St. Clair was not having a good day.

Then again, Clarice's birthdays were notoriously hexed. Over the past few years, especially, it had become a running gag throughout her family--a source of much amusement for her perfect younger sister, Sophia, and Sophia's equally perfect husband-to-be. No matter what occurred, Clarice remained the black sheep of the family. The constant punch line. Whenever something went well for Sophia, something horrific inevitably happened to Clarice.

Honestly, there were times Clarice wondered if she and Sophia had separate fathers ... or parents altogether. Sophia was tall, leggy, and had a river of sparkling, wavy blonde hair that could likely get a job of its own as a sales-rep for Pantene Pro-V. On the other hand, Clarice was short, flat-chested, narrow through the hips and waist--(“Men like a woman with birthing hips,” tsked Mother. “Oh, Claire-Claire, how will you ever get a man with those legs?”)--and had, in Mother's words, plain, bland, and downright ugly mud-colored hair. She also wore what her family called “Harry Potter glasses,” and somehow she didn't think they were so-named because of how prettily they framed her face.

Likewise, whenever Sophia had an event or threw a party, it was a smashing success.

For Clarice, even mundane triumphs, like surviving another year unscathed, didn't come without expense. And this birthday was no different. Right out of the gate, Clarice knew fortune wouldn't be on her side. Between fielding complaints from three university students with overdue books and lengthy excuses--the wildest of which involving larceny and the Russian mafia--a shopping trip with her mother she'd already postponed seven times, and her sister's upcoming nuptials (for which Clarice received daily “Save the Date!” reminders), the universe seemed permanently set against her. Throw in a morning stop from Professor Weston Ryans--during which he caught her with her pantyhose around her ankles--and the safer bet seemed burrowing herself in her apartment and sleeping until her birthday was over.

Not likely. Her mother had other ideas. And they involved dragging Clarice to all her least-favorite shops, talking about her least-favorite topics, and had currently landed her in her least-favorite café.

The woman didn't notice her daughter's discomfort, of course.

“This is a big birthday for you,” Mother insisted over a toasted bagel. “Do you feel any different?”

Clarice worried her brow. Her mother was, on her best days, only neurotic and mildly insulting. Today she was downright weird. “You know you ask me this every year, right?”

“Well, it seems especially important this year.”

“Why in the world would it seem especially important this year?”

Mother fidgeted and gingerly applied a napkin to her mouth. “No reason.”

In momspeak, that meant, “Big damn reason, but I'll let you figure out why.” Which was just fine with Clarice. Honestly, she failed to see the hype.

“Clarice, what have I told you about slouching?”

Instinct kicked in and she immediately straightened her spine. “Girls who slouch will marry a grouch.” It held less appeal than Mother's favorite saying, the more popular adage concerning the lack of passes boys made at speckled females.

“And you don't want to end up like your Great Aunt Betsy.”

“I don't think slouching is what landed her in an asylum, Mother.”

“Yes, well, I suppose we'll never know, will we?” Mother took a dainty sip of her sweet tea and batted her eyelashes. “So tell me, any romantic prospects on the horizon?”

This was precisely the reason Clarice went to great lengths to avoid these visits. The outing inevitably concluded on her lack of a love life, what she was doing to drive men away, and how she could avoid becoming an old maid if she just took some of dear Mother's advice. Said advice was, after all, how Miss Perfect Sophia had found Prince Charming (whose name was Vaughn Derfil, which no one aside from Clarice found amusing). When it came to men, work, and life in general, everything was a game of Mother Knows Best, and Mother was always there to say “I told you so” whenever things didn't go as planned.

Clarice had avoided business school in pursuit of an English degree, and now worked at her alma mater's library with no advancement in sight ( “I told you so” ).

Clarice hadn't signed up for that matchmaking service her childhood neighbor, Mr. Jefferies, had established for local lonely singles, and as a direct result hadn't had a date in six months ( “I told you so” ).

Clarice hadn't worn the blouse Aunt Marie had sent her for Christmas, therefore missing the chance to talk with that charming young salesclerk from the department store regarding the difference between red and fuchsia (“I told you so” ). Honestly, with as much as Mother enjoyed being right, Clarice dreaded the day when things didn't go as she predicted.

“No, Mother,” she said at last. It seemed infinitely wiser to get these things out in the open now rather than drag them out.

“Well.” Mother huffed in her self-important way. “Is there any wonder? Honestly, Claire-Claire, with the way you dress and the awful way you do your hair, what man is going to take notice of you?”

Clarice rolled her eyes. “I don't know how many times we have to have this conversation--”

“Neither do I, to be quite frank.”

“I am not interested in attracting men.” That wasn't entirely true; Weston Ryans was one tall drink of whisky she wouldn't mind sampling. But Weston hardly fit the bill of realistic romantic ambitions, or even better, the sort of man Mother would approve of. And if she were honest with herself, Clarice wasn't sure if her attraction wasn't amplified by the latter admission.

“Well, you're certainly not interested in attracting women, are you?”

A smirk tickled her mouth. “Not for lack of trying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means whatever shuts you up.”

“That is no way to speak to your mother.”

“It's a pity there aren't more rules about how to speak to children.” Clarice sighed and reached behind her head to tighten her ponytail. “Somehow I don't think you go fifteen rounds on what Sophia's doing wrong in her life.”

Mother's nostrils flared the way they always did when Princess Sophia was referenced in any way that might hint upon anything less than praise. “Your sister--”

“Is marrying Mr. Wonderful, I know.” Literally. Vaughn Derfil. Mr. Von Der Ful. Seriously, how did no one else hear that?

“Your sister,” Mother continued, “has time that you do not.”

“My biological clock is only wound three years ahead of hers. Somehow if I haven't been proposed to by the end of the year, I think I'll survive.”

Mother looked stricken at that, and then did something not even Clarice could have anticipated.

She burst into tears.

While some moms were prone to natural theatrics--and Francis St. Clair was no exception--there were displays too personal, too unseemly, to resort to while in the company of others. Though Mother certainly didn't consider herself above snide remarks, passive-aggressive observations, and long looks that no one needed translated, screaming and crying were on her big list of public no-nos. And to that point, Clarice wasn't sure if she'd ever seen Mother shed a tear, even when the woman's beloved baby brother, Maurice, collapsed dead of a heart attack at age thirty-eight.

Thus to be in a café--a café Mother frequented enough to have “a usual”--and watch the woman collapse into a mess of loud, guffawing sobs, was at once extraordinarily alarming and morbidly hilarious. Thankfully, the warring reactions cancelled each other out, leaving Clarice with nothing to do but stare in stunned silence.

“Oh, Clarice,” Mother finally sputtered, blowing her nose loudly into her napkin.

“Can you ever forgive me?”

“Ummm ... sure.” It seemed a no-brainer. The novelty phase had begun wearing off, leaving her with the awareness that everyone in the proximity suddenly found them interesting. Bizarre or not, once-in-a-lifetime experience or not, Clarice preferred not to be a spectacle for the entire café.

“No,” Mother insisted noisily. Fat tears squeezed out of her eyelids and skated down her cheeks. “You can't.”

“I can't?”

“I don't see how you could.”

Clarice leaned forward, bracing her palms on the table. “Are you okay? Do I need to ... call Dr. Nelson?”

The blubbering escalated tenfold. “Such compassion! I don't deserve you.”

“Well, I've always thought so--”

“Dear, you have to listen to me.”

I think the whole state is listening to you. Clarice managed to bite back the words, aiming a glare at the gawking, not-at-all-subtle looks the roomful of patrons cast their way. “What's the matter?” she spat. “Haven't you ever seen a nervous breakdown before?”

A few gazes broke away, chased by guilty blushes. The rest unapologetically stared on.

Somehow, the entire exchange completely escaped Mother. “Dear,” she said, reaching across the table. Clarice managed to evade the hand still clutching the mucous-filled napkin. “Twenty-five years, nine months ago, your father and I--”

“I so don't need to hear this.”

“We couldn't conceive children.”

“Yes, I know. I know I was your little miracle.” Clarice heard this story every year on her birthday ... only it typically came sans the blubbering and snot bubbles. “Both because I was born, and because I was the only recorded virginal birth since Christ.”

Mother looked at her askance, the sniveling coming to a halt. “Oh, dear, no. I was no virgin. Your father used to--”

Clarice dropped her mother's hand and immediately closed her ears. “I--really--don't--want--to--know--this!

Mother kept talking, which was customary. She didn't look as upset anymore, either. Perhaps the number twenty-five simply had her feeling more nostalgic than usual. It didn't make sense, but not much of what Mother did made any sort of sense to Clarice. A point emphasized the next moment, when at last Clarice felt it was safe to drop her hands.

“--so your father and I made a deal with a demon.”

Clarice blinked at her. At some point, the bustling around the café had resumed, the customers apparently no longer finding their conversation interesting. She was left staring at Mother, who did not elaborate, rather stared right back.


Mother sighed and shook her head, at once a visage of her normal self. How someone could go from sobbing and rending their garments to perfectly composed and somewhat condescending was an art of its own, and Francis St. Clair was a master.

“Honestly, Claire-Claire, why do I feel like you never listen to me?”

“A demon? A...” She frowned. Mother never really had enjoyed what normal people called a sense of humor. “I don't get it.”

“Don't get what, dear?”

“The joke.”

“What joke?”

Clarice scowled. “The joke you just told me!”

Mother looked offended. “This is no joke, Clarice! Why on earth would I joke about such things?”

“This is exactly what I'm trying to figure out.”

“I am perfectly serious. Your father and I desperately wanted children, and we went to the local occultist when the traditional methods didn't pan out.” Her tone was so damn conversational, she almost sounded bored. “He gave us a book of spells and incantations, and after we decided upon the right demon to approach, we had a deal in place.”

Clarice's jaw couldn't seem to decide between the floor or locked tight. “Okay, now I really don't get it.”

“The demon's name was Asmodeus.”

A twinge of something not related to shock or confusion itched through Clarice's body. She knew that name. Weston had mentioned it half a dozen times in his last open-campus lecture, raving on about the demons who represented the cardinal sins. Asmodeus, if memory served, was supposed to be lust.

This meant two things: either Mother had researched her demons before pulling this elaborate prank, or she actually believed the words she spoke. Mother would sooner pluck out her eyeballs for an afternoon snack than research hell demons ... which made either possibility quite terrifying.

“Mother,” Clarice said slowly. “Why are you looking up demon names?”

Mother shot her a scandalized look. “I am doing nothing of the sort! I haven't touched a ... a ... demon book since before you were born!”

She sat back, her hands coming up. “Don't get all pissy with me; you're the one who brought up the D-word.”


“Would you please just tell me what the hell you're talking about so we can get back to our regularly scheduled episode of What's Wrong with My Daughter?”

“I will not sit here and let my own daughter blaspheme in front of me!”

“And yet in this twisted reality, consorting with demons is fair game.” Clarice shook her head and rested her elbows on the table. “Are you going to elaborate or do we get to play a round of twenty questions?”

Mother stared at her a long moment before her lip began quivering. “Oh, Claire-Claire...”

“Don't you freak out on me again.”

Surprisingly, the woman didn't leap to the defensive. She instead straightened her shoulders, stole a last sip of sweet tea, then bowed her head as though facing the gallows. “I mean what I said. Your father and I brokered a deal with a demon so we could conceive.”

The pesky niggling of fear began creeping up Clarice's spine again. This simply wasn't the tone one associated with jokes, even bad ones. While Mother might be famously bad at pulling someone's leg, she typically wore a goofy grin and jabbed her elbow to emphasize the ludicrous aspects of her story. She wasn't one to sit stone-faced and dance between a mixture of remorse and grief.

At this rate, it seemed best to go along with the joke and hope the punch line followed quickly. “Okay,” Clarice said slowly. “You ... brokered with a demon?”


“And what exactly did you broker?”

Mother wet her lips and fidgeted. “That's just it, dear,” she said. “You were the bargaining chip.”

Clarice blinked dumbly. “I was.”


“Before I was born...”

“The terms of the agreement were as follows.” Mother cleared her throat. “The firstborn child shall be raised five and twenty years until such a time when she is physically and mentally capable of ... submitting to Lord Asmodeus.”

Clarice's jaw again wrestled with gravity. Mother never referred to anyone aside from the baby Jesus as “Lord.” Never. There were no “lords of the house,” no one ever “lorded anything” over anyone else, and as far as she was concerned, William Golding had never written a book dealing with lords or flies. Mother wasn't a specific type of religious; she just was religious as surely as she was female, and she took her bible seriously.

“Lord Asmodeus?” Clarice echoed. “Mother, are you sure we don't need to call Dr. Nelson?”

Mother drew herself up. “Of course, dear, I am perfectly fine.”

“Yes, it is perfectly fine to discuss demons.”

“Don't take that tone with me.”

Clarice moaned and let her face fall into her waiting hands. Whatever in the world Francis St. Clair had up her sleeve was anyone's guess, but she supposed wading through the waters toward whatever endgame was her only option. After all, none of her conversations with Mother could ever be classified as normal, therefore splitting hairs now, while the instinctive thing to do, would only worsen her headache in the long run. “Okay,” she said. “You made a deal with ... Lord Asmodeus.”

Mother gave a tight nod. “Yes.”

“To submit me when I turn...”

“Twenty-five.” She paused, then leaned inward, a conspiratorial glint in her eye.

“That's this birthday, dear.”

“Yes,” Clarice deadpanned. “I do know how old I am.”

Mother quirked her head. “I don't understand.”

“Believe me, neither do I.”

“Apparently you haven't grasped the severity of this situation.”

“No, I haven't grasped the severity of your stroke. Does your face feel numb?”

Mother waved a hand and ignored her. “If memory serves,” she said, “a demon will visit you at precisely 7:19 this evening to discuss the next step.”

“The step of submitting me to this Lord Asmodeus guy.”

Another nod. “That's correct.”

“And what exactly does this submission shiiiii--stuff entail?”

“Lord Asmodeus is the ward over the Sin of Lust.” The way Mother spoke, one could hear the proper nouns. “He is a filthy, filthy creature ... but it was the only way to have you.”

“To have me. And give me up.” Even in her parents' delusions, Clarice was an unwanted child. She supposed it was all right so long as Princess Sophia remained virginally intact.

The other woman shook her head. “We didn't have a choice. We didn't--”

“All right.” Clarice heaved a breath and pushed her chair away from the table, doing her best not to wince at the loud whine it drew across the floor. “I think it's time to go.”


“Don't you want to go and watch me try on clothes you hate? Won't that make you feel better?”

“Lord Asmodeus is going to claim you as his bride.”

“I'm sure he is.”

“I am perfectly serious!”

“Yeah,” Clarice agreed slowly. “At least I'll have a date to Sophia's wedding. And you won't have to worry about me dying an old maid.”

This prospect did not lighten Mother's suddenly grim mood. Instead, she frowned, but moved to follow Clarice out the café door. “I don't know if Lord Asmodeus will permit you to attend your sister's wedding.”

An excited, wicked little rush hurried through her body. “Oh, even better. I'll have a good excuse to ditch.”

“Clarice St. Clair, what a horrid thing to say!”

Her inner cashiers began calculating what this outing would cost her in guilt and therapy; thus far, she was well under budget. Therefore, Clarice felt no remorse in responding with a clipped, “No more horrid than selling me to a demon.”

Even if the notion was ridiculous, she figured the phrase “it's the thought that counts” ran both ways.

“This was before we knew you, dear.”

“At least it wasn't Sophia.”

Clarice didn't know whether to be glad when there was no rejoinder, or offended at the implication that Mother agreed with her.

In the end, she decided silence was better.

Find out what happens to Clarice, and what her former professor, Weston Ryans, might already know, on April 30. A Friend in Need, coming soon from Liquid Silver Books.