For The Love Of…Secrets by Artemis Crow

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Boy, howdy, do I love secrets! Big ones, little ones, they all make me quiver with anticipation. Throughout my childhood, my parents liked to tease (torment) us with a secret code on our Christmas presents that we had to break. My wonderful mother-in-law taunts me with “I have a secret!” before each Christmas, starting earlier and earlier each year for the greatest effect, so of course I do the same to her and my husband. Share the pain, right?

Maybe that’s where my love of mysteries comes from. Mysteries, thrillers, action-adventure, I love them all in my reading and viewing, and though I don’t write in those genres, I still like to infuse secrets and mystery in my stories. To that end, I’m showing you an excerpt from my secret writing project. I’m having a blast with it, and one day I will publish it as part of my current series world.

* * *

Thea adjusted the long, white wig until the bangs were no longer over her right ear, but squarely centered on her forehead. A thick lock of her real hair slowly escaped the hair net and fell onto her shoulder, the thick, straight-as-a-stick, someone-painted-it-like-a-chrome-car strands reflecting the morning light like a mirror. “Damn it. Rena!”

Heavy footsteps pounded up the narrow stairs to Thea’s attic bedroom. The door flew open and Rena, Thea’s Aspis best friend stopped in the doorway, her entrance as dramatic as the rest of her. “Good goddess, you’re a grown woman. When are you going to learn how to girl?”

Rena strode across the room, which took her all of five steps—kind of undermining the effect of a good strode—and snatched the ratty wig off of Thea’s head. She tsked and worked the hair net free and let the stunning chrome hair fall to Thea’s midback. “Honestly, it’s October in the northeast, home to witches and all manner of spooky things and you want to hide this stunning hair?” Rena asked, squinting against the hair glare. 

“And blind someone?”

“Okay, maybe you have a point, but when the sun is down…”

“Just help me, no lectures. My clients expect a white-haired witch to do their reading, just as I’ve done for years, and that’s what they’re going to get. At least the wig is white, instead of black.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Rena said, gathering Thea’s hair. “Let’s do a plait then add the hair net. That’ll contain this thing of beauty you so desperately hide and give me something to anchor the wig to.”

Thea closed her eyes and relaxed under Rena’s quick, but gentle, hands. The woman was magic with hair and makeup, far better than the Fae and without the pesky after effect of owing a favor to a dangerous and fickle creature. 

Not that Rena wasn’t dangerous; the woman was an Aspis after all. A black humanoid snake with blue and green iridescent-striped skin that she had to hide with makeup and layers of all-black Goth clothes; gold eyes with black slits for pupils like a viper that she had to cover with contacts, and venom that was many times deadlier than the most poisonous snake. Oh, and fangs that she couldn’t hide or file down, thus the Goth attire to give her an excuse for long, sharp, needle “canines”.

Wig secure, Rena tipped Thea’s face up with a finger under her chin. “Hmm, I need to fix your makeup too.” She dug through the mostly unused pile of makeup she’d given Thea until she found the palette she wanted. 

“Not too much makeup, I don’t want any undo attention.”

“With your face and figure, anytime you leave this village, you create undo, even without makeup. It’s rather annoying.”

Thea snorted and frowned until Rena flicked her cheek. “Did you just flick me?”

“To get you to stop scowling, hell yes. Now sit still and tell me again why you turned down that job in Boston, because I know I didn’t hear you right the first time.”

“I can’t leave mom and Gram. You know this, don’t know why I have to keep repeating myself.”

“You wouldn’t be leaving them; you could commute every day.”

“But I’d have to leave the village every day for work. You know I can’t.”

Rena swept rouge on Thea’s cheeks. “Your mom and Gram brought you here as a baby, surely they don’t want you to leave this place in a pine box.”

“Come on, don’t exaggerate. I leave plenty of times, like tonight and tomorrow night, and every night in October that I can get booked.”

“In a costume, only a few miles away, and with that around your neck for protection,” Rena said, pointing to Thea’s pendant with her pinkie.

Thea gripped the large pendant in her hand, her thumb running over the intricate, multi-pointed star carved into the metal. The Star of Chaos her Gram had told her when she was old enough to wear it; a shield from unwanted attention from the paranorm world her mother and grandmother had taken her out of at the moment of her birth. Why, they had never said, and as the years went by, Thea stopped asking, growing afraid of the truth her mom never wanted to speak, content to live her small life in their small New Hampshire town, or “village”, as Rena like to call it.

“Gram is the very best at protection spells,” Thea finally said, gently releasing the pendant. “And you haven’t taken yours off since the day she gave it to you.”

Rena smirked. “Not true, I hang it on the bedpost when I have company.”

“So, fifty percent of the time.”

“Try a lot north of that,” Rena said with laugh. “Okay, smartass, I’m done with your makeup.” She pulled her phone out of one of her many pockets—the woman had a thing for pockets—and tapped the screen. “Oh, I better scoot. The signing is in thirty minutes. You sure you won’t come? We’re co-writers. People should have a chance to meet you.”

“We agreed, you are the face of our partnership.” Thea pointed at Rena’s outfit of a long, black, maxi skirt, a tight long-sleeved tee, topped by a floor-length, black velvet, robe edged with lace appliques. “And you’re the perfect branding for our urban fantasy series.”

“About a subterranean world populated by paranormals, that, oh by the way, actually exists even though humans haven’t a clue?”

Thea smiled as she stood. “They do say write what you know.” She picked up her witch’s hat and started for the door.

Rena stopped her. “A world that you’ve never seen first-hand.”

“A world that I will never see.” Thea placed a hand on Rena’s shoulder. “That’s why we’re a great team.”

“You have the writing chops, and I know the world.”

Thea nodded once. “Exactly.” She pushed against Rena. “Now go be your fabulous self and sell a boatload of books. And hey, we can celebrate with pizza when I get home tonight.”

“I never turn down a great pie, but I can’t tonight. I’m going to the conference in Boxborough right after the signing, remember?”

“Crap.” Thea trotted down the steep stairs of the old saltbox house she called home to the second floor, then again to the first floor. 

“I don’t know how you can run down these stairs without killing yourself,” Rena said, taking each step sideways and slowly, a hand gripping the railing tight.

“Practice.”

Thea dropped the hat on the sofa in the drawing room and looked around for her tote bag. “When will you be back?”

“Sunday around lunch time, hopefully with zero books left.”

“And an award for the Halloween costume contest.”

“Oh, you know I’m winning that bad boy.”

“You’ll send pictures?”

“The moment they’re snapped.”

Thea turned to her friend, as different from her as could be, and pulled Rena in for a bear hug. “Pizza on Sunday then, yes?”

“Absolutely, but you’re paying with all that woo-woo money you’re going to make,” Rena said, pushing away. She ran out of the house, a whirlwind of black and spice and salty-sweet that Thea loved like a sister.

I hope you enjoyed this little excerpt!

May your words flow freely,

Artemis

The Zodiac Assassins series
Available on Amazon Kindle and Print, Nook and Kobo

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