Halloween Blog Hop

Happy Halloween! Thanks to Booknibbles.com for the wonderful tour! If you’re just coming across this post, you can catch the beginning HERE.

In celebration of Halloween and Samhain, the Celtic New Year, here is chapter one of our novel, New World Order.  We hope you like what you see!

Chapter One:  The Hunkman Cometh

“Hey, Lieutenant,” Belinda Gary called. She handed her sidearm through the slot to the waiting Sergeant and turned to greet the tall Latino. “You’re up late.”

“You got a minute?” Lieutenant Sandillo spoke with no trace of a Spanish accent, though she knew he was fluent.

“Yeah, let me drop my stuff at my desk. Your office?”

He nodded and pivoted on his heel. She watched him go, bemused. Least he could do is pretend he knew how to talk to other people.

She walked over to her steel desk, the light blue color faded to an indeterminate grey. The window looked out on the parking lot, but at least she got natural light. She adjusted the Venetian blinds to let in a little more of the pre-morning light. She’d been up past dawn.

Again.

She stifled a yawn and looked longingly at her car keys. Instead, she headed to Sandillo’s office.

Guillermo Sandillo wore his habitual black suit, white dress shirt, and thin black tie. He never seemed aware of the seasons, preferring to wear his suit in any situation. Occasionally, and very occasionally at that, he would consent to remove the suit jacket, but she could count the times she’d seen it on one hand. Without using her thumb.

“Hey, Lieutenant.”

“Close the door, please.”

She did so and sat on one of the hard metal chairs in front of his desk. Nothing cluttered its surface besides a phone and black laptop, closed now, its cord snaking off to the right. As she watched, he retrieved a single case file from a drawer and set it in the precise center of the desk. She glanced at it, but his hand covered the label.

“You have a new partner.”

It took her a minute to process what he said, then she shot to her feet. “Oh no. You aren’t going to foist some rooky on me, Lieutenant! Not like the last time. I work just fine –”

“Belinda.”

It wasn’t loud, but she stopped mid-sentence and stared at him, chest heaving. “What?”

He tented one long-fingered hand on the top of the folder. “He’s not a rooky.”

She chewed her bottom lip and then sat down. “Fine. So tell me about him.”

“He’s on loan from Chicago. Homicide. One of their best undercover men.”

“If he’s so good, why’d he leave?”

“Mandatory two-year rotation.”

She felt her eyes widen. Only team that had a mandatory rotation like that worked serial crimes unit. The profilers and their ilk. “He’s a profiler?”

The lieutenant inhaled and lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug. “Not exactly. Close enough for us. But he’s got a good record and we can use him.”

Superstition pricked her and she tamped it down. Just because the lieutenant may have implied there’d be more murders for the Investigative Unit to deal with, didn’t make it so. No matter what her brother might have to say about it.

At the thought of her brother, anger swelled in her chest. They’d argued again over the upcoming Samhain holiday. He wanted her there to celebrate with him, but she wanted no part of it. She wanted to be normal, dammit.

A light knock interrupted her reverie and she realized she’d missed the Lieutenant’s last comment. His gaze intensified in annoyance, but he said nothing and stood to greet the newcomer.

Her new partner.

She turned and looked up. And up. She finally got out of her chair, intimidated by the huge leviathan that swam in. At least six-three, maybe six-five, he was a big son-of-a-buck. Probably bigger than her brother, a part of her mind noted smugly. A thatch of silvery brown hair flowed to his shoulders in loops and waves, but his chiseled jaw saved him from being effeminate.

As though anyone that big could be ‘effeminate.’

“Lieutenant Sandillo. I’m Jon Taylor, from Homicide.”

“Good to meet you,” Sandillo responded. He moved around his desk so he could shake hands, and then turned to Belinda. “This is Sergeant Belinda Gary, your new partner.”

His eyes fell on her, a shade of brown just this side of milk chocolate. His grip, when he shook her hand, felt firm but not too strong, though his hand engulfed hers like a catcher’s mitt.

She had the irreverent thought, ‘you know what they say about a man with big hands and big feet.’ She turned to retrieve her cup of coffee and to cover the slight blush covering her cheeks. She turned back, in control of herself. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Madison coffee better than Chicago coffee?” he asked, eyebrow raised.

She laughed outright. “Doubt it.”

He grinned, teeth very white. “Sounds perfect.”

“I’ll show you where it is.”

She could feel Sandillo’s eyes on her back as she left and resisted the urge to rub the back of her neck. God damned psychism just had to flare up now. She tried to close the window in her mind but knew the Lieutenant watched her, wondering about her former partner Monica Carlyle and whether Belinda could learn to deal with this one.

The fact her last partner died a gruesome death on their last case colored his thoughts, though he didn’t bring it out to examine.

Not the way she did, every night, in her dreams.

She nearly spilled coffee on herself at that thought, but managed to get the liquid in the cup with only a quick swipe of the towel required. They’d given her two different rookies after that, to “test out” the waters. Both were abysmal failures, one even drummed out of the service entirely.

She hauled her mind back to business. “How do you like your coffee?” Belinda asked the man-mountain hulking beside her.

“Strong and bitter.”

“Like you like your women?” she quipped.

He eyed her, but said nothing. She got a sudden flash of a naked man, Chippendale dancer style, and nearly choked on her coffee.

“You all right there?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s go look over our case file, shall we?”

He nodded and followed her to her desk. She pointed at Monica’s old desk standing back to back with hers, so they could sit facing each other, and tamped down the memory of Monica’s blue eyes dancing as they discussed music and men. She cleared her throat.

“You can sit there, it’ll be your desk now.”

“Thanks.” He set the coffee down. Monica’s chair creaked under his weight but didn’t collapse under him.

Shame, really.

If you like what you see, we hope you’ll check out the other chapters we have posted. Chapter two is here.

New World Order, Chapter 15, Appraising a Jewel (Brock)

Brock looked over at his team as the SUV glided to a smooth halt in the parking lot. Crowded with silent cars, many people were still waking and beginning their day. Not many people out and about yet. This fit perfectly with their plan.

Jon’s visit, very early that morning caused Brock to make two phone calls. One, to his Gran, infuriated him; while the other filled him with pride. He decided not to dwell on his frustration at his grandmother’s refusal to move the dagger. He’d deal with that later. The other call, to scramble the Guardians to readiness, accomplished much. The team of Guardians had readied within thirty minutes and their arrival here was within an hour from when Jon left Brock’s front door. An aura of excited tension radiated from them. They knew this visit held the potential to escalate swiftly.

Rather than waste time arguing with his grandmother, Brock switched to the other priority of discovering who was behind the disappearances. They needed to know if the ‘bad guy’s’ presence in Madison was the Coven’s fault. Magic users need permission to settle in their city. He’d hate to think one of his friends met with a murderer and couldn’t sense it and allowed them into their midst.

Brock and Eddie’s conversation on the phone determined that this time was best. Though there might be civilians around, the element of surprise would be on their side. Besides, hopefully, this would just be a calm conversation.

Chad Cadfell tapped him on the shoulder and Brock switched his attention to the muscled redhead. “A female with strong magic is in that corner unit for sure.”

“Let’s move into position,” Eddie ordered.

They moved from the vehicle, magic blurring their images. Even while watching them, Brock couldn’t follow their progress with his gaze. They seemed to melt into the early morning shadows within minutes. He felt a mental nudge from Eddie to let him know they were ready.

He straightened out his suit after climbing from the SUV. He decided on this formal wear to let his quarry know this was an official visit. Brock’s hand smoothed over his ponytail, checking its smoothness.

He decided not to wear the uniform of the Guardians, black fatigues with their name on the back. It emulated a security firm, which on paper they were. Their only client happened to be the entire city of Madison. But a suit would blend into the idea this was an official, but not intimidating, visit. Brock didn’t need to spook her into offensive tactics as soon as she opened the door.

His own shields carefully hid his magic from anyone. He looked over at Naomi Peck. The older woman nodded her readiness. Her trim figure in a navy suit and graying blonde hair in a smooth chignon, she looked prepared for a board meeting. She possessed the uncanny ability to sense the truth, so Naomi was the logical choice to accompany him.

Knocking firmly, he waited to the side of the door to meet the young woman. He sensed when a presence hovered just on the other side of the wood panel. Staring at the peephole, he sent a strong compulsion for her to open the door to them. It opened slowly, the chain still in place. Brock met the hesitant green gaze looking out at him and saw it widen.

Was it arrogance to assume that she would recognize him? That descriptions of the Gary Guardian twins preceded them to anyone magical entering Madison? According to the background he’d read, she came from the Boston area. From her reaction, it appeared that the other coven was well informed.

Brock drew himself to his full, intimidating height. “We need to talk.”

Her blonde hair, cut in a chin-length wavy bob, swung as she nodded. Unhooking the chain, she stepped back and waved them in and at the loveseat.

“Coffee, tea?” she politely asked.

They shook their heads.

“Then what can I do for the Madison Guardians?”

“Just to answer some questions, Miss McKenzie,” Brock replied as he seated himself.

Naomi sat next to him and the young lady claimed one of the armchairs facing them. Jade McKenzie smoothed her grey pleated skirt over her long legs.

They were fantastic legs, Brock noted. After all, he was still bi; but it stirred nothing deeper. He knew it wasn’t because this visit was ‘official’, nobility didn’t cling to him. Was the lack of interest due to his recent acquaintance with a certain large handsome detective or something else?

Brock wished his empathy was better developed.

Naomi ‘accidently’ jarred him as she shifted. A pale blue Gary gaze eyed him, reminding him why they were here. Many coven members shared the pale blue eye color, all related, however distantly, to him.

He turned back to his quarry. “Miss McKenzie, I’m Brock Gary and this is Naomi Peck.”

She cocked her head, giving every appearance of excited interested. “Peck, another founding family of the region, isn’t it? It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She paused, and then appeared regretful. “I’m on my way to work, though, so if you don’t mind…”

“Understood.” Before Brock could continue, they were interrupted.

A pale, slender shape skittered into the room from the bedroom of the suite. Brock watched the odd, humping run as the ferret drew closer. It clambered onto the coffee table so it could face them. Rearing up on its hind legs it sat, folding its little paws and studying them with every appearance of intelligence.

Jade smiled, appearing more relaxed. “And this is Kiki, my familiar.”

Brock nodded and made the introductions again, this time to Kiki. The degree of intelligence that familiars possessed varied; but it was best, and polite, to assume it was high. Kiki’s robust appearance reassured him. Though a practitioner might hide the affects of using dark magic from others, it usually showed on their familiars that were used as conduits. Kiki’s friendliness, teamed with her shiny and healthy coat, made this less likely.

Naomi spoke next to him, getting them back on track. “When you previously contacted a Coven member to receive permission to live within the city limits you stated it was for your job.”

Jade nodded, her blonde bob swinging and brushing her jaw.

“You work on the Madison campus for the University of Wisconsin, is that correct?” Naomi seemed calm and friendly, all ‘good cop.’

“Yes.”

“With one of the daggers,” Naomi added.

A crease appeared between Jade’s eyebrows. “Yes…”

“Did you steal them?” Brock demanded. Guess he got to be ‘bad cop.’

“Did I… No!” Jade met his gaze with no prevarication. “I did not!”

Brock ‘felt’ Naomi’s slight confusion, thought she outwardly hid it. Hmm… “You know they were stolen, though?” He continued.

She nodded. “That’s why I had them take it off display. A man in town kept calling, trying to pressure us to let him see the piece…”

“You wrote to our historian concerning the dagger prior to coming here.”

“Of course. I’m a researcher and it’s a prominent piece of my exhibit.”

Brock only sense calm professionalism radiating from her now. Any discomfort fled now that the topic turned to the firm footing of her job. He exhaled, frustrated.

Naomi glanced at him and back at Jade. “Why Madison, Miss McKenzie? You told our Coven in your letter that you wished to come here to study and work at the University. But you’re from Boston; surely there are more interesting cities to visit?”

“Madison is one of the few cities in the country with no détente. Your covens rule the area with iron control. This area has also preserved the Celtic customs of old Wales. Only the Appalachian mountain region shows similarities and that is because of its isolated nature. You don’t find that fascinating?”

The young woman’s gaze now shined with interest as she leaned forward, excited. If it was an act, it was a good one.

Though Brock didn’t like feeling like a butterfly in a scientist’s case.

“This is our home, Miss McKenzie, not an experiment,” he growled, annoyed.

She flushed and glanced at him. “I didn’t mean it like that!”

“Have you watched the news?” Naomi put in. “This is getting darker and more serious as more time goes on.”

Jade nodded. “We’ve talked about it quite a bit at work, actually.”

Brock heard a light scratching against his chair and looked down. The other two women continued to talk as Kiki climbed up the side of the loveseat, laboriously trying to get closer to the top. He reached down to help her and Jade laughed.

“She’s faking it,” Jade told him. “She doesn’t need help, she just wants to get close to you.”

Kiki swung her tail around Brock’s wrist and clung with all four paws to him instead of letting him deposit her on the arm of the short couch. He sat back with her in his lap and stroked her back with his free hand, amazed at her light fresh scent. He sniffed. She didn’t smell at all like ferret musk, if anything, she smelled like sage and rosemary…

“I bathe her a lot,” Jade said then. “I make a soap from rosemary herb and sage leaves. She loves it, the dear.”

Kiki grinned at him, showing her little fangs, and then crawled along the couch arm to try and root behind his back. “That tickles,” he murmured.

The ferret pulled back and looked up at him with bright black eyes as he watched her over his shoulder. She then crawled up the back of the loveseat to go along and curl up behind Brock’s head.

Distracting little creature, he noted. He had the distinct feeling that the little familiar could answer all of their questions. Naomi, thankfully, didn’t lose her focus as she continued to question Jade on the exhibit. Kiki, meanwhile, attempted to unhook his ponytail holder and play with his hair, so he finally lifted her bodily off the couch and set her on the table. She regarded him with large sad eyes over one shoulder as she flounced over to her mistress. .

Great, a guilt trip from a creature smaller than his cats.

He gazed around the apartment as his mobile buzzed the ‘all clear.’ He felt his muscles unclench, but Jade looked up at that moment and met his gaze. She held Kiki in her lap now, and the ferret looked out the front window.

“Am I in trouble with the Coven?” Jade asked, her tone of voice much more afraid than before.

Brock cocked his head. “Why would you ask that? Have you done something I should know about?”

Jade paled. “No… I just… There’s a lot of you out there…”

Brock gazed at her, trying to read her. “You’re not in trouble. But we would be foolish not to be on our guard.”

“But I’m not going to harm anyone!” Jade cried.

Naomi shifted in her seat, but Brock couldn’t spare the attention to look at her. He let his gaze bore into Jade’s eyes. If he got to be ‘bad cop,’ might as well play it all the way. “I’m not saying you are, Miss McKenzie. But this is a serious matter, you have to agree.”

“I think we’ve said all we can,” Naomi declared, standing. “You know that we’re aware you’re here, Miss McKenzie. The daggers are valuable, and to more than just the historians among us.”

Jade’s expression appeared pinched. “Yes, ma’am.”

“How did you know it was more than just the two of us?” Brock asked.

Jade gave him a strained smile. “You shielded yourselves, not the vehicles you drove that magic clings to. And I can feel four of those, so I’m guessing a dozen arrived with you. Should I be flattered or scared shitless?”

Brock smirked. “A little of both, maybe.”

Naomi made an odd noise, soft, but audible. He glanced at her and saw her trying not to laugh.

Jade smiled again, eyes still tight. “I appreciate the distinction.” Her eyes flicked to the adjoining bedroom that Brock could see as he stood.

“Are you alone?” he asked sharply. He knew he would have ‘felt’ anyone else. Just as he cold have ‘felt’ the presence of the daggers. But there was an odd lingering impression of ‘something.’ It ebbed through the wards the young witch erected in her temporary home that Brock breached by being invited inside them.

Kiki hissed and jumped out of Jade’s grasp. “Yes, why?” Jade asked.

Brock watched the little ferret, wishing his ex-boyfriend were there. Doc Soskoff could have ‘read’ the little ferret, since he was an animal empath, and just told Brock outright what he wanted – needed – to know. “Mind if I check out the kitchenette?”

He headed over that direction without waiting for an answer and Jade followed, nervous all over again. Two bowls sat in the strainer, along with two spoons and a coffee mug. No other clues jumped out to bite him, but he wished they would. His sister was probably better suited to this part of the work, as much as he hated admitting that – even to himself.

“I told you,” Jade insisted, “it’s just Kiki and me!”

Kiki hissed again, and waddle-humped over to the bedroom. Brock followed and Kiki looked up at him, her little face screwed up into an angry scowl. She glared at the bed and the feeling Brock sensed earlier seemed stronger here.

Jade got a can opener and caught the little creature’s full attention, giving her some wet food. Frustrated, Brock walked back to where Naomi waited. “All right, we’ve taken enough of your time,” Brock decided. “Have a good day, Miss McKenzie.”

“Thank you,” Jade answered, coming out of the kitchen with a spoon in her hand.

A bowl for Kiki sat on the floor, just like the two cereal bowls in the strainer. Maybe he was just being paranoid.

On the other hand, maybe his sister and Jon ought to check her out anyway. He sighed, knowing the upheaval his revealing, after not sharing this information, would cause between him and his twin. Not to mention the oh-so-serious detective. He followed Naomi out into the sunlight, annoyed that the answers weren’t clearer.

New World Order, Chapter 14: No More Games, Mr. Balistreri (Belinda)

A half hour after barging into Sandillo’s office, Belinda found herself back at her desk. The day planner sat there like an accusation. Balistreri refused to speak to them, then refused to even talk to Sandillo. He relented, finally, and agreed to see them – but later, not right that moment. He had ‘important business to attend to.’ She wanted to snarl with frustration.

“You hungry?” Jon asked.

Belinda blinked. “I could eat. Why?”

He stood. “Come on. I’m buying.” He walked toward the door without waiting for her.

Scrambling out of her chair, she snatched her shoulder bag and stuffed the case file and day planner into it. Her fingers lingered on the carved wooden button that she’d added to it after getting it last Yule. Her palm smoothed the soft leather flap down and she saw Jon glance over his shoulder at her. By this time, her partner had surged halfway down the hall so she jogged to catch up.

“What do you have a taste for?” she asked after climbing into the car. His car surprised her. The Cobra, crouched and waiting in the reserved lot, seemed out of place surrounded by dark, four-door sedans.

She watched as Jon folded himself into the low seat with the ease of long practice. His large hands gripped the steering wheel of the sports car and she realized how well her new partner and the car ‘fit.’ It highlighted how much she still needed to learn about him.

“Burgers. I was going to try a new place I saw… Why? You have a suggestion?”

“Brocach Pub has the best burgers in town. We’re kind of regulars there. It’s one of Brock’s favorite places.”

He blinked and shot a glance at her, but didn’t comment. He pulled to the entrance of the parking lot and then looked at her.

“What?”

“Directions?” he drawled.

“Oh!” She gave him the headings and he set out for the pub. She liked that he’d asked her rather than reaching for the fancy GPS unit perched on his dashboard.

“So. Explain something to me.” His tone sounded firm, authoritative.

“What?”

“What exactly can you do?”

“Huh?”

“You can talk to Brock without a telephone. What the fuck is up with that?”

“Oh. That.”

“Yeah, that.” He glared at her. “Exactly. Weird shit, you ask me.”

“You’re the one who transferred to Madison,” she retorted, stung.

The light turned green and he focused on the road again.

“You never saw magic in Chicago?”

He shrugged. “Not up close and personal. There’s a unit of practitioners, but I didn’t do much with them.” His tone seemed to indicate he thought that just as well.

“And what, you think it’s odd?”

“No, I wouldn’t use the word odd.”

“Creepy, then.” She felt bitterness well up inside her. It figured that she’d lose her third partner over something as stupid as her natural abilities.

“No, not creepy. But you’ve got to admit, if you’ve never seen it before, it’s pretty fucking weird.”

She felt a bolt of anger surge through her that it left her trembling. ~It’s not that weird~ she said into his mind.

He hit the brakes so fast it threw her against the seat belt hard enough that her ribs creaked.

“Fuck!” He stared at her, eyes wild. “What the bleeding hell was that?”

She wanted to laugh. “You want weird, fine.” ~I give you weird~

He stared at her. The car behind them honked but he ignored it. They honked again and he started moving, both hands gripping the wheel so tight she could hear his skin creak.

She glared out the passenger side window. “It’s not weird, Jon. It’s just natural ability, like running fast or a good singing voice.”

The Brocach appeared and he pulled into a parking spot but didn’t turn the car off, just stared out the windshield. He inhaled and blew air out, as though frustrated. “So you can speak into my mind?”

“Yeah.”

“How?”

“I don’t know how, Jon! How do you walk?” She snapped her belt loose and reached for the door handle.

He caught her arm. “Wait. Please. I’m trying to get my head around this. Jesus, Belinda! It’s not like you broke it to me easy or something!”

She grudgingly conceded he had a point and sat back in her seat. “Sorry,” she grunted finally. “I probably should have picked a better way to show you.”

“Yeah. You sure are touchy!” He rubbed his face. “Okay. We’re parked and I’m not going to hit someone. Do it again.”

“Do what again? I’m not a trained dog, Jon!”

His eyes met hers, shocked. “I didn’t mean…”

She frowned. No malice showed in his eyes. “You really didn’t, did you?”

“No! I’m trying to understand this shit. I’m a profiler, Belinda! I deal with serial murderers, not weird magic daggers and brownies and shit!”

She digested that. Was it possible she’d misread him? Brock sure seemed to think he fit the bill…

~All right. This is what it’s like to talk without talking~

He jumped when she started talking and stared at her with huge eyes. ~Like this?~ His ‘voice’ sounded gravelly, but clear.

She nodded and felt herself smile. ~Exactly~

“And you and Brock can talk like this?”

“I can. Brock can only do it if I start. Otherwise, he has to be touching me for it to work.”

“Oh.” Jon seemed disappointed. “I thought…”

“His skills are more physical than mine. I can borrow his strength, but he’s an elemental mage. My skills are more in the mind. I’m psychic and a precog. He’s a telekinetic and empath. He can talk to people mind-to-mind if he’s touching them.”

“What’s a precog?”

“I can get echoes of future events. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it can help me.” She looked away, memories of Monica welling up despite iron control. “It doesn’t always work.”

“Can you, uh, read my mind?” She didn’t need to be psychic to see the faint hesitation in his expression.

“Nope, not that good. Wouldn’t want to if those magazines articles are true and you guys think of sex every three minutes.”

Relief flooded her when Jon’s bark of laughter echoed in the confines of the car. “You hungry?”

She laughed. “You think with your stomach?”

“Yeah, why?” he retorted, but his eyes twinkled. “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch and you can pick my mind.”

“I’ll starve,” she quipped.

He snorted. “You wish. Besides, it’s more like every five minutes.” He got out of the car, grinning.

She rolled her eyes and followed.

They’d hardly ordered when Jon got the call that Mr. Balistreri would see them in ninety minutes at his shop.

“We have time to eat,” Belinda told him.

“Good. I’d’ve done it anyway. This guy pisses me off.”

She laughed. “Yeah.” She decided to change the subject. “Shame my uncle’s not here, you could meet him.”

“Oh?”

“This is his hangout when he’s not at the dojo.”

“Dojo?”

“He owns a jiu-jitsu dojo a couple doors down.”

“Jiu-jitsu, huh?” Jon seemed impressed. “I suppose you and Brock studied?”

“Yeah. He’s had other training as well so he doesn’t compete, but I still hold a couple titles.”

“You don’t say!”

She smirked at him. “State Champion two years in a row in my age and weight class.”

She saw curiosity on his face and ‘felt’ that it concerned her brother, but Jon asked no further questions. Kelly brought their food and the big cop took an enormous bite out of his burger.

“Kelly, this is my new partner, Jon Taylor. Kelly’s an old family friend,” she added to Jon so he didn’t have to speak with his mouth full of burger.

“Nice to meet you,” Kelly said warmly. “You work with Belinda?”

He nodded and swallowed. “I just transferred from Chicago.”

Kelly cocked her head. “Welcome to Madison. How do you like it so far?”

“A lot,” Jon answered, not putting the burger down.

Kelly took the hint. “I’ll let you guys eat. Hope to see you again,” she told Jon, then moved to another table.

They finished and Kelly took their cash. “We can walk,” Belinda proposed.

“Sure,” Jon agreed, following her out into the bright afternoon sunlight.

The antique shop had a brass bell hanging from a hook at the top of the door and clattered as they entered. Mr. Balistreri, whom Belinda had seen multiple times, appeared in his habitual suit, this time a dark grey. As usual not a hair appeared out of place. Belinda would bet money that he touched up his hair coloring to keep the distinguished white wings in the still-dark hair.

“Miss Gary. Mr. Taylor. I was given to understand that Guillermo would join you?”

Sure you were, you pompous pig-head, Belinda thought. “He’s on his way.”

“Parking,” Jon added.

“Ah. If you’ll come this way, I have coffee prepared.”

Sandillo appeared at the door and stepped in. “Good afternoon.”

“Ah, Guillermo! Good of you to stop by,” Gilberto gushed, coming forward to shake the lanky Latino’s hand.

Belinda wondered what Sandillo thought of being called by his first name. His expression gave nothing away. They followed the dapper shopkeeper through the immaculate display area and into the office at the back.

Well appointed, with natural light from three large windows, the office fairly screamed opulence. A thick rug lay on top of the already wall-to-wall carpet, its black outline and jewel-bright colors setting off the furniture well. The desk stood diagonally to the room, heavy walnut with brass hardware. A matching glass-front cabinet stood on the left with two small spotlights inside, showcasing a gorgeous collection of decorated eggs and what looked to Belinda’s inexperienced eye like actual Faberge. Two heavy chairs sat in front of the desk, and Balistreri pulled another one out to set next to it before going to his credenza and pouring coffee.

He handed cups and saucers to each of them and she recognized the Havilland china without turning it over. Jon cocked an eyebrow at her but said nothing.

The coffee, predictably, smelled decadent.

Balistreri sat down. “So how can I help you?”

“What is your relationship with Thomas Evans?” Sandillo asked in his quiet voice.

“A client, nothing more. Why?”

The coffee tasted even better than it smelled and she sat there a moment, blissed-out.

“What kind of client?” Jon asked.

Balistreri waved a hand and the diamond in his pinky ring flashed. “He had an item he wished to sell. He didn’t come to his meeting, and I assume he’s changed his mind.”

“You’ve had no contact with him after scheduling the meeting?” Sandillo asked.

“No. Nor prior.”

“So you have no knowledge of his whereabouts?” Jon pressed.

“This is getting tedious, gentlemen.” He glanced at Belinda as though to say, ‘Men.’

“He’s dead, Mr. Balistreri,” Belinda told him while she had his gaze.

His eyes widened and he paled slightly. “Beg pardon?”

She leaned forward and she watched him fight to not look at her bosom. “He’s been murdered, Mr. Balistreri. For the dagger.”

That hit home, she could see it. She felt his flash of shock and then he broke eye contact. “This is very unexpected,” he murmured, but without his usual urbane tone.

“Frieda’s was taken too,” Belinda continued, suddenly angry. “They’re being collected and there’s a killer on the loose.”

“Surely you don’t think that I had anything to do with –”

“Then stop withholding information and help us do our jobs!” Belinda shouted.

“Belinda,” Sandillo murmured.

“No, Lieutenant, your detective is right,” Balistreri said. He sighed. “I have been… less than forthright in my dealings with you.” He looked up at Sandillo and Belinda could read the pain in his eyes. “But you have to understand my perspective! The daggers are priceless!”

“Enough to steal them?” Jon purred.

“No!” Balistreri swallowed. “No, I didn’t mean that. I mean…”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Sandillo coaxed.

Most of it, they knew already. Balistreri kept his dagger hidden, not part of the insurance policy. He knew about Wilfrieda Kincaid’s dagger, but she refused to sell it. “But the other two…” He trailed off and sat back. “I was trying to strike a deal!”

Two,” Jon echoed sharply. “What other two?”

“The one at the museum and the one in Milwaukee,” Balistreri said impatiently.

“The museum.” Jon rubbed his cheek. “What museum?”

“The Chazen Museum of Art at U-W Madison,” he answered. “It’s been taken out of public view by the Guest Curator, though, according to the museum staff. They won’t set up an appointment for me, either, but I’ll keep trying.”

“Who?” Belinda asked.

“A graduate student named Jade McKenzie. She’s finishing up her doctoral thesis, I’m given to understand.”

“And the one in Milwaukee?”

“It was the first one stolen,” Balistreri said. “That’s why I brought mine to the store, to keep it safe. I don’t know how they knew I moved it!”

“Can I look around?” Belinda asked. “Maybe get an echo of something?”

Balistreri hesitated. “Very well. Just be careful, please. This is my place of business.”

She smiled, but knew it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”

Belinda slipped out of the office. No one occupied the store and she saw the reason: the “Be Back Soon” sign hung in the front door. She smirked. Must not interrupt the police, Mr. Balistreri. More like, he didn’t want anyone to know he was slumming.

She walked around the perimeter of the store. The echoes she felt didn’t seem like the ones at Mr. Evans’ house. She got the impression of a very orderly individual, methodical and careful. She didn’t disturb any of the other items in the store…

Belinda froze. “She.” The perpetrator was a woman? She got no such feeling from the murder scene. But here… She closed her eyes. Faint traces, like golden filaments, appeared in her mind. She opened her eyes enough so she could walk without running into anything, then traced the trail from the back door, through the store to the front. A detour to one of the étagère confused her for a moment and then she headed for a cabinet at the back of the store, beyond the office. Another presence, this time of a powerful object, intruded on her mind.

“That’s where it lay before it was taken,” Balistreri said.

She jumped. “I didn’t hear you come up.”

“I’m sorry. I assumed you knew. But that’s where I had the dagger, locked in that cabinet. How did you know?”

She glanced at him. “The thief toured the shop. They left very little traces and touched nothing. They knew what they wanted, walked through the entire place and paused up front, then came straight here. Very neat and surgically precise. A woman,” she added.

“Impressive,” Balistreri noted. “You see much. How long have you trained?” He stepped closer, invading her space a bit.

She stepped back. “My whole life. Why?”

“I’ve never met an ancestral Witch of your power before,” he noted.

~He’s lying~ she told Jon.

The big man jolted, but since he stood behind Balistreri the shop owner missed it.

~How can you tell?~

~He knows Gran. He’s flirted with two members of the crone’s coven, and they’re both ancestral Witches~

Sandillo stepped out from behind Jon and regarded her with his large, dark eyes. ~Ask him about them~

She blinked, startled. ~Sir?~

He smirked, but said nothing. Figured, he’d pull a stunt like that and not explain.

“Do you know Ginger Hopkins?” Belinda asked the shop owner.

“The City Councilwoman? Of course, we’ve met.”

~He’s head blind~ Sandillo put in.

Belinda covered her surprise by turning away to examine the cabinet. She decided to take a different tack. “Nothing else from this cabinet was disturbed?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

“No. Nothing.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about the man in Milwaukee?” Jon interjected.

“I didn’t think it was pertinent! I gave you the address!” Balistreri protested, the picture of offended innocence. It was a good act.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Balistreri. We’ve disturbed your business long enough,” Sandillo said. He collected Belinda and Jon by gaze.

She followed them out of the store. As she left, she could feel the shop owner behind them, watching them with a bemused expression on his face. Head blind or no, he gave her the creeps.

New World Order, Chapter 13: You Can Pick Your Friends… (Belinda)

Belinda Gary spread the file out on her desk. Mr. Thomas Evans, age forty-seven, formerly resident of the house with a brownie and a housekeeper… She left the crime scene photos in their plasticine sleeves, face down. She did not need more nightmares. Instead, she sorted everything across her blotter. Her own notes and Jon’s went on the left, then the details of the insurance file. The contents of the kitchen went to the right of that, followed by Mr. Evans’ day planner.

“Very organized.”

She jumped. “Don’t sneak up on me!”

Jon Taylor chucked. “Don’t be so jumpy.” He went and sat down at his desk across from her and watched her fiddle with more papers, putting more material in piles. “What are you looking for?”

“Connections,” she grunted, concentrating. He fell silent and she focused on the papers. Letting her intuition rule her hands, she sorted and resorted piles and kept coming back to the day planner. She leafed through it and then set it, closed, in front of her. Leather, its brown cover well-worn, the two-inch thick binder held all the mundane details of a life. An inkling tickled the back of her mind.

A babble that erupted near the door broke her concentration. Bee looked up from her desk. Why was she even surprised? Her family rivaled the Pony Express for gossip getting around.

As her mother breezed in, a chorus of “Hi, Heather!” rang out.

She insisted on not being called ‘Ms. Gary’. That title belonged to Gran, usually with bowing involved.

Heather Gary aged well. Her waist-length honey-blonde hair, the source of Belinda and Brock’s own color, flowed around her head like a crown, with very little grey. Belinda knew chamomile tea and other herbs kept the color shiny and bright, but nature merely supplemented her mother’s natural beauty. Large, almond-shaped blue eyes saw the world from a smooth-cheeked face of a woman ten years younger. Her favorite colors, autumnal shades of russet, lavender, and gold, decorated her long skirt and tunic. A plain ivory top peeked out from the tunic, and her long legs tapped along in soft brown leather knee-high boots.

The large brown paper bag, the type that supermarkets used to carry before being seduced by plastic, probably contributed to the enthusiasm of her greetings. Already the smell of fresh baked cookies filled the station.

It was no use telling the front desk sergeant to announce her first; bribes of his own bag corrupted him long ago.

Her mother’s trim form paused at the kitchenette counter at the back of the squad room. She tisked over the old pot of coffee and started a new one. Despite Heather Gary’s aversion to caffeine, it still would brew beautifully for her.

Hardened, grouchy detectives crowed around her like a football team of youths homing in on the most popular cheerleader, one that possessed baking talents rather than acrobatic skills.

Sandillo emerged from his office and Belinda’s coworkers parted like the Red Sea for her mother. Another, smaller brown bag appeared from the huge hand-knit satchel always on her mother’s shoulder when she ventured forth.

“I made chocolate chip for the squad, but I remembered that oatmeal raisin was your favorite so I whipped up a few for you,” Heather said, holding them out.

Belinda watched as her lieutenant accepted them silently, but sighed as a smile spread across his harsh countenance. She patted his arm like old friends and they began chatting quietly, too quiet for Belinda to overhear.

Chatted!

There would be no stern looks reminding them to work now. Thoroughly grumpy, Bee turned back to her file with her concentration totally out the window. She set the planner aside and pulled the photos from the insurance company over.

Jon sat opposite, a steaming mug in his hand. “The coffee’s really good, you want one?”

“Only if it’s big enough to drown myself in.”

“So, who’s Miss Popularity?” Jon asked, faint sarcasm in his deep voice.

“My mother.”

She watched her new partner hide his wince behind a sip.

“It’s okay. I’m fully aware of her effect.”

“If your mother is visiting, why isn’t she over here?”

“Trust me, I wish she would ignore me. She’s letting me get accustomed to her invasion gradually.”

Belinda glared when she overheard Sergeant Gavin Tensell tease her mother.

“Heather, are you sure you’re already taken?” he called out around a mouth full of cookie.

The warm, soft look on her mother’s face as she looked over her shoulder gave answer enough. Belinda concentrated on the fuzzy photo in front of her. The reminder that her brother had been right about the quality of the insurance pictures didn’t improve her mood. The dagger seemed like so much metal blob, rather than a dagger.

She watched her mother approach from the corner of her eye and considered hiding under the desk. Realizing that would be too subtle Belinda resigned herself, raising her head and smiling.

A stronger smile that reached the warm blue gaze that matched Belinda’s one blue eye returned it. Belinda could see where Gavin’s teasing comment rooted in truth. Her mother still possessed a lithe figure, soft curves accented by the flowing tunic sweater and multicolored skirt of fall colors. No grey showed yet in the honey blonde Gibson Girl knot that Belinda could not master. On her, the style always ended up in messy disarray.

Of course, her father never being around helped fuel the good natured flirting a few of the detectives indulged. Gavin, catching sight of Belinda’s face, blushed and turned away to chat with his buddies. They all suddenly ignored Heather and Belinda, giving them the illusion of privacy.

“Hi, honey.” Heather hugged her and pecked her cheek. Then she turned to Belinda’s desk mate. “You must be Jon.”

Jon stood and stuck out his hand to shake. “Jon Taylor. I’m Belinda’s new partner.”

Instead of shaking hands, Heather deposited a small bag of cookies into the huge paw. “These are for you. Do you like Snickerdoodles?”

“Yes!” Jon sounded delighted and dove into the bag. “These smell better than…” He blushed and cleared his throat. “They smell great!” He took a bite of one and beamed. “Taste even better.”

Bee rolled her eyes. “Other than bribing half my department, what are you doing here, Mom?”

“You’re in a snappy mood,” Heather commented. She sat down in the extra chair next to Belinda’s desk. “I can’t check on my daughter?”

“I’m not fourteen, Mom. What are you doing here?”

“Mind your tone,” Heather warned, heat in the back of her eyes.

Belinda felt her face redden and sat down. “Mom…”

“How are you, honey?”

She frowned. “Fine. Why?”

“Are you coming to Gran’s for dinner this week? Thursday night is good.”

“I…” She cleared her throat and stood abruptly. “Let’s take a walk.”

Jon eyed them with mild surprise but didn’t comment. Heather stood gracefully and hefted her much-lighter bag. “Sure, honey.”

Bee led the way outside and across the street to the park where Heather parked her bicycle. “Why are you here, Mom?”

“I was in the neighborhood, Bee. You really ought to come to dinner, you know. Your Uncle wants you to be there.”

Belinda sighed and looked down, avoiding her mother’s gaze. She concentrated instead on the fluttering strands of green, silver and white that streamed from the handlebars of Sasha. For as long as she remembered her mother rode the same bike. Bright green, the smaller basket hanging from the front of the handle bars supplemented the larger ones that resembled saddlebags. Large enough to be stuffed full of various baked goodies.

Unable to resist she slipped into her ‘sight’. An aura of a large pony superimposed over that of the bike now. Her hand reached out and long, silky stands of a mane tangled around her fingers. The flapping sounds of cards stuck among the spokes covered the faint echo of hoof beats Belinda knew she would hear when her mother pedaled away. Often she swore that the shrill bell her mother often rang resembled a whinny.

For the last few years she gained the ability to ‘see’ Sasha’s ‘other’ form and it fascinated her, but frustrated her as well. For now there existed yet another subject that her mother refused to fully explain.

The fuzzy image of an equine head tossed and Belinda jerked her hand away. She stepped back and shoved her hand in her pocket, her fingers tingling. She glared at the metal bike, leaning on its kickstand. Raising her gaze she caught her mother’s frown.

She hated earning her parent’s censure and it made her angry. Angry that this time she felt it wasn’t deserved. Angry that her mom seemed more concerned about Brock than her right now. And especially angry at herself for using her magic again.

The case justified its use, someone had died. But it felt good in an odd way that, even thought the subject had been horrifying, a tightness in her chest eased afterwards. Just now had been for fun, and fun and her magic were not allowed to mix anymore.

“And Gran?” she asked bitterly.

“Gran too, you know that.”

“All right. I already told Uncle Matt I’d come, so I’ll come. Thursday?”

Heather eyed her but didn’t comment on her tone. “That will be fine.” She went to her bicycle and deposited her bags into the basket. “I’ll let Gran know.”

Belinda gave her mother a stern look. “You really didn’t need to come to the station to check up on me.”

“That wasn’t the reason behind my visit.”

“Okay, to check out my new partner, then. He probably won’t last anyways for you to worry if we’ll get along.”

Her mother’s warm palm cradled her jaw and Belinda leaned into it. “I didn’t for your sake, honey, but for Brock’s.”

Belinda blinked as her mother climbed on her bicycle and peddled off.

Jealousy flared in her stomach and she felt tears in the back of her eyes. “Damn you, Brock,” she muttered without real feeling. It wasn’t like it was his fault.

She turned and trudged back to her office.

The day planner sat on her desk, practically talking to her. She picked it up and set it in the center of her blotter. “What is with you?” she muttered.

“Huh?” Jon asked, looking up from some forms.

“Nothing. Sorry.”

He shrugged and turned back to his paperwork and she leafed through the planner. The pages fell open to reveal that week and she stared at it for a moment in shock.

“Jon!” she cried.

He jumped. “What?”

She looked up at him. “Our vic had an appointment to see the antique dealer. Tomorrow.”

Jon sat back, looking as stunned as she felt. “You don’t say.”

She tapped the day planner. “It’s right here.”

“I think it’s time we talked to this antique dealer, don’t you?”

She grinned and his answering expression matched it: feral, excited, and altogether predatory. They turned as one to go to Sandillo to set up a meeting.

New World Order, Chapter 12: Interlude at the Door (Brock)

Fresh from the shower, the melodious tones of his wind chimes caught Brock’s attention. He shuffled over to the stairwell. Originally, the brownstone had been divided up into flats; convenience prompted him to keep the front door buzzers on each level when he remodeled.

Of course, his sanity and temper changed the harsh buzz to this sound when premonitions of interruptions while he painted came to him.

He pushed the button. “Good Morning.”

“It’s Jon Taylor, your sister’s partner,” the answer clarified for him.

In case Brock had forgotten his name.

In case Brock hadn’t shouted it while jacking off.

“A very good morning, then.”

“Uh, can I come up? Official police business.”

The latter was said in a much firmer tone; the low, growly one Brock already loved. He could imagine the large man shifting uncomfortably on his front stoop.

“Sure. I’ll buzz open the entry door and meet you on the second level. It’ll take me a second.”

Not only would he need to get down from the third to the second floor, but he was not dressed for the early morning visit.

Or, more accurately, he was overdressed.

His favorite shapeless grey sweat suit draped his tall frame and a towel wrapped, turban- style, around his wet hair. Huge polar bear slippers adorned his feet.

The hardwood floors got chilly.

He kicked off the slippers and stripped the fleece away, tossing them in the general direction of his bedroom. Racing down the stairwell, he paused in front of the door. He sensed Jon on the other side.

Pulling the towel from his head, he draped it around his lean hips instead. Brock squeezed some water from his damp hair so drops beaded on his bare chest.

Glancing over his shoulder, hoping the opening of the front door didn’t reveal a mess, he spied his audience. Three cats were lined up on the back of the couch staring at him as if he was crazy on catnip and crack.

Brock glared at them. “Look casual!”

Pulling open the door revealed a rather uncomfortable-looking detective. Brown eyes widened, taking in Brock’s appearance. Those lush lips slightly parted as Jon began to breath through his mouth. Brock wondered how wonderful the other man would sound panting with excitement.

Perhaps he could find out, now rather than later.

“Come on in,” Brock purred.

He stepped back and waved Jon into his home. Brock decided to ignore his pets and hoped his guest did the same. Amelia now hid under the couch, peeking out warily while Jezebel busily washed her paws. Queenie sat with her back to the men, ignoring them.

“Why don’t we sit down?”

His wide and deep couch could easily hold both of them.

Horizontal.

A gentle push of magic nudged the cats from it. Jezzie hopped down, Queenie glared first before complying. Jon shook his head, still hovering at the open door.

Brock’s manners kicked in. “How about a hot cup of Chai?”

Another head shake answered Brock. This time the restless shifting of large feet accompanied the negative gesture. It appeared as if Jon prepared to bolt. Brock’s flirtatious manner disappeared. Jon would not be allowed to escape after showing the courage to show up uninvited like this.

He moved forward, invading the other man’s personal space. Reaching past Jon, he pushed the door shut and continued to crowd closer. The detective backed up until he leaned against the oak panel.

“You are being rude, and rudeness needs to be punished,” Brock stated, making his tone low and firm.

He watched Jon’s eyes widen before dropping. But, not before Brock glimpsed the yearning. He placed his palm against the door level with Jon’s shoulder. Then Jon shifted sideways and Brock’s other hand moved to stop him. Now, Brock bracketed the set of wide shoulders and he leaned inwards.

Jon’s aborted movement ended with his legs now spaced apart, making his height even shorter. Brock realized this was deliberate and pleasure at his new playmate’s ingenuity flowed through him. He obliged Jon by looming over him.

No hands rose to push him away. Instead, they flattened low against the door. Quickened breathing betrayed Jon’s excitement and Brock noted that the lowered eyes fastened on his mouth. He leaned forward until his warm breath bathed the waiting lips.

“Look at me,” he ordered softly.

Dazed brown eyes obeyed and met his.

“Tell me your safe word.”

Jon blinked, confusion and awareness creeping into his gaze. It seemed that Brock’s command jarred the building scene. But Brock always asked for safe words first, they were just too important. Changing this, just to maneuver a sub into a scene, wasn’t the way Brock played.

“I didn’t come here for that,” Jon protested.

His still body and needy eyes contradicted that statement. Brock did not deride him for that apparent falsehood. Instead, he waited.

“I wanted to warn you not to withhold information from me, especially if you were planning on only telling your sister.”

“I won’t,” Brock assured him. “I consider you Bee’s equal and partner.”

“But not your equal.”

Jon’s face flushed. Brock read embarrassment on the other man’s face. He knew of several subs whose self image of their submissive side warred with their personality outside of a scene. Brock also wondered if another reason for Jon’s hesitation was due to Jon’s work world crossing the line into his fantasy one.

“You know that the sub holds all the true power, the power to stop everything when uttering his safe word.” He paused. “So, tell me yours.”

“I haven’t agreed to a scene or anything else! Besides, now that I’ve seen you in just that towel I know I’ve got thirty pounds of muscle over you!”

Brock smiled. The heated gaze roving over his exposed flesh when the door first opened had almost dried him. Jon had noticed a lot, and appeared to like it very much. He remembered how the brown gaze lingered on his tattoos. They both knew that the scene had already started and Jon’s protest was a prod to be proven wrong, but Brock wouldn’t allow any gray areas between them.

He reached down and grasped the other man’s wrists, raising them and pinning them against the door. His fingers moved over the rapidly beating pulses. Again, no physical resistance halted him. Brock, though, was not going to allow Jon to get away with just letting things happen to him and enjoying them. He had to make an admission of want and a decision to consent.

Brock moved his hands away, fingers tracing a pattern on the door instead.

“You’re helpless now, so tell me you safe word.”

Brock made his tone taunting and washed a wave of tingling power through Jon. The other man narrowed his gaze, the odd sensation clearly jarring and confusing him. Instinctively he tried to move and discovered he could not.

Brock’s magic held him more securely than any chain or shackle.

Panic flared in the brown depths as he struggled. Brock buried his hands in the loose waves of Jon’s hair and directed his gaze to meet his own.

“Remember the rules, you have the power.” Brock squeezed Jon’s hands. “Tell me and choose if you are actually going to use it.”

A shudder shook the large, muscular frame followed by a sigh. Awe replaced fright in Jon’s eyes as he relaxed.

“Shit! You really could physically dominate me if you wanted to!”

“If you wanted me to,” Brock corrected.

“It’s ‘Peaches,’ and you’re right, my rudeness earlier should be punished.”

Upon hearing the other man’s consent, Brock’s mouth swooped to cover Jon’s. Their first kiss was not tentative and exploring, but harsh and invading. Brock ground his mouth against Jon as his body copied his movement. Pressing the other man against the unyielding oak door, his hips rubbed against the cradle of Jon’s pelvis. The towel and thin pant fabric proved to be flimsy barriers.

Jon moaned and Brock took that opportunity to force his tongue inside. He swept around, discovering the faint lingering hints of minty toothpaste and coffee. Warm wetness surrounded his tongue and he tangled his with Jon’s.

His hand reached to tangle in Jon’s loose hair, forcing a better angle for his invasion. The whimper he swallowed proved that Jon liked this action and Brock’s fingers tightened, producing more soft sounds. Brock’s other hand swept down the pressed dress shirt, finding peaked nipples under the stiff cotton. He tweaked one, twisting and pulling on it. The large frame trapped under him arched, a deeper moan rumbling from the massive chest.

Brock smiled in satisfaction, his mouth still devouring Jon’s. Finally releasing his prize, he moved his lips to nip and bite the strong jaw that curved to expose a tanned throat. Brock accepted the silent invitation and licked and nibbled Jon’s neck. The other man’s pulse raced under his lips.

Abandoning the nipple he tormented, he followed the line of buttons down to Jon’s belt. Brock moved slightly to the slide to give himself room to explore. Nimble fingers worked the buckle free and the rasp of Jon’s zipper sounded loud, even over the sound of their labored breathing. Brock felt the other man stiffen and decided not to let him think too much. His mouth still freed, Jon could safe word and stop him at any time.

His fingers reached in Jon’s slacks and found engorged flesh. Brock grinned at the feel of sensible cotton boxers. He stroked Jon through the thin fabric and the other man’s hips twitched.

“Don’t move, be still for me.”

“Sorry,” Jon muttered.

Brock sipped his fingers into the slitted front of Jon’s boxers. Coaxing and pulling, he freed the swollen cock. A swipe of his thumb found and spread the pre come beading from the slit. He gently ground the pad of his thumb into the narrow slit and more flowed as Jon gave a hissing groan.

He looked over, the other man’s eyes were closed a dull flush spread under the freshly shaven cheeks. Jon’s lips were swollen and wet from his earlier kisses. The hands held against the door fisted and the muscled chest heaved, brushing against Brock’s with every breath. Pleasure filled him at Jon’s reaction to his touch.

“You’re not going to come until I allow it.”

Jon nodded then frowned and shook his head. Brock’s fingers slipped to pinch the sensitive skin between Jon’s cock and scrotum.

“Agree with me with words,” he instructed.

“I’m not going to come until commanded.”

“Good, baby.”

As a reward he closed his hand around the impressive girth of Jon’s erection. After a few strokes Brock removed his touch and Jon whimpered.

“Shhhh.”

Brock pulled the towel from around his hips and swung it over his shoulder. His own cock curved up and he moved forward. Grasping Jon’s cock again he captured it in a firm grip with his own.

“Watch us.”

His other hand forced Jon’s head forward and he could feel the heat of the chocolate gaze as his new lover followed his instructions. Brock glanced down as well, at the contrast of his nude body and Jon’s clothed one, just a reddened cock protruding from dress slacks, almost obscene and definitely erotic. As the pace of his strokes increased, Brock leaned forward, his tongue tracing a pattern on Jon’s jaw.

His grip rough, only their pre come as lube, he jacked them furiously. Brock had the advantage of enjoying release in the shower just a short time ago. Too soon, though, he felt the familiar tingling at the base of his spine and of his balls drawing up. Jon, at this point, panted like a steam engine and all but trembled with suppressed tension.

He released his grip on Jon’s hair to grab the towel. Wrapping it around their erections, he moved his mouth to Jon’s ear.

“Now, baby, now.”

The muscled body bucking against his almost tossed Brock away as Jon shuddered in release. Feeling warm cum making his cock slick triggered Brock’s orgasm as well. His mouth covered Jon’s again, capturing the whimpers and moans the other man made.

After long moments Jon slumped back against the door, Brock’s body following. The spell restraining Jon evaporated without his concentration. Brock snuggled, recovering waiting for his breath to return to normal. The smell of sex filled the air and Brock gave a low laugh.

“See? You didn’t need an excuse to come see me.”

Surprise filled him as Jon pushed him away. Those muscles came into effective effect.

“This isn’t a game, the case is real! Someone died last night because of those damn daggers!” the detective growled.

Brock blinked in shock, the ramifications of this violent turn in the case affecting him. One of the still missing daggers resided at the Gary homestead where his mother, Gran and Uncle Matt lived. The towel being yanked from his slack grasp focused him. He watched as Jon hurriedly cleaned himself, the rough terrycloth rasping over sensitive skin.

“Did you do the sketch of the dagger?” Jon asked tersely.

“Yeah, it’s downstairs on my studio table. The door’s unlocked, I was down their earlier.”

Before he could add anything more Jon wrenched his door open and stormed down the stairs. Brock heard his studio door open and slam closed, and then that of his front door.

Brock sighed, knowing his fledgling relationship had taken a blow. He should have never mocked Jon’s job. He wondered how much damage control he would need to do. Brock scooped up the thrown towel; nothing to be done about it now. First he needed to make some phone calls.

Then he would concentrate on Jon. This was by no means over between them.

New World Order, Chapter 11: Scene But Not Heard (Belinda)

Belinda parked in front of the quiet house, police ‘do not cross’ tape blocking off the front yard from the neighbors. No neighbors congregated in front of the yard. The street had an abandoned feel, as if everyone hid from the ugliness of earlier. Street lights provided some illumination, but the house seemed shadowed with no porch light or any internal lamps turned on.


“We going in?”

She jumped and snapped her head around to face her partner. “Huh?”

He frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!”

“Belinda, you’re acting like a rookie case of nerves here!”

She shivered. A breath of wind flowed through her and it seemed for a moment like her hair would move in the face of it. Goose bumps popped up along her arms and throat and tightened both her nipples, but it didn’t feel like arousal. She turned back to the front of the house, inhaling.

“What is it?” Jon whispered.

“I don’t know yet,” Belinda responded. “There’s something…”

Jon’s phone bleated and they both jolted. He rolled his eyes and got out of the car, snapping the phone open. She heard him talking but didn’t pay attention, focused on the house in front of her.

She put her hand on the door handle and a snap of static electricity zapped her all the way up to her elbow. “Ow!”

“What’s wrong?” Jon asked sharply, bending to look in the car.

“Nothing, I’m fine,” she growled, annoyed.

She got out of the car and stood up. The scarab seemed to shiver on her skin and then went cold. She inhaled and opened her right hand, palm down. “Brock…” she whispered.

~Bee?~

~Help me~

She felt his spurt of panic and then the sense of him riffling through her memories. He realized she stood at the crime scene, but not in any actual danger, and calmed down.

~Show me~

She let her eyes fall shut and inhaled deeply. Warmth tingled along her arms and then her fingers. A breeze stirred the leaves overhead and littering the ground, a soft susurration that smelled like dust and small animals. She walked toward the front door, moving through a strange double awareness.

~There~

A faint blue shimmer surrounded the stairs, only a couple inches off the ground. As soon as she registered it, the color faded like mist, but she could still feel it like a pressure against her collarbone.

Jon walked up and she caught his arm. “Don’t step on the stairs!”

He looked down, a bewildered expression on his face. “Huh?”

“Just stay back, will you? I’m trying to figure something out.”

Brock’s ghostly chuckle in her mind only irritated her further. ~Well?~

~It’s not human~ he answered with no delay, despite his clear wish to play with her.

She stifled her surprise. It wouldn’t do to annoy him when he wanted to help out. Then what he said hit her. “You’re kidding!”

“Who?” Jon asked.

~Would I do that to you?~

“Shut up, both of you,” Belinda muttered.

“Excuse me?”

~Is it hostile?~ she asked.

~Depends.~

~On what?~

~What are you there for?~

‘Not everything you see is visible.’ She studied the house and its shadowy angles that shrank from the light. She closed her eyes and opened her hand, palm out, and pointed it toward the house. It felt like she reached through a gauze curtain.

~Brock. I have no clover oil with me~

~Oh. Um… Hold on~

She got a sense of him riffling through his magical supplies and had a moment to wonder if she’d interrupted him mid-ritual. Then she felt a ghostly impression of something cool on her eyelids, as though a phantom hand brushed eye shadow across her skin. She realized he applied it to his own eyes, and used their link to ‘give’ it to her. She wasn’t sure that would work, but… She opened her eyes and the house sat there, ordinary-looking and unshadowed.

~Wow~

~Yeah~ Brock agreed. ~Bee careful~

She grimaced. ~Funny. But what is it?~

~No idea~ He paused. ~Drop your keys~

~Why? They don’t like iron!~

~So Jon picks them up~

She felt his grin like something physical and slammed her shields down on his ghostly laugh. “Prick,” she muttered.

“Who the fuck are you talking to?” Jon snapped, annoyed.

“My brother,” she answered without thinking. “Come on.”

Jon’s big hand landed on her arm, covering nearly the entire bicep. “What?”

“I have a blue tooth for my cell phone,” she lied. “Come on.” She pulled away and went up to the yellow police tape. She scratched on the door frame. “Hello! I’m coming in, and don’t want to disturb you. I’m a police officer, I’m trying to find out who killed the owner of this house.”

“You’re beginning to really creep me out.”

“Keep your shirt on, big guy.” The door opened easily and she stepped in. Even with the clover oil, the shadows inside seemed to move and freeze in slightly different positions than they were before the door opened. She shivered. “Stay behind me.”

She heard the click of his gun safety and resisted telling him to put the gun away.

“Hello?”

His loud bellow made her jump and she rounded on him. “Keep it down!”

He frowned. “Why? The place is unoccupied.”

“How do you know?”

He studied her. “Where’s your blue tooth?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The blue tooth you talked to your brother with. Where is it?”

She flushed and turned away. “Never mind.” She moved toward the kitchen and then saw a flash of something move ahead of her.

Jon bumped into her and then stepped back, his large hand holding the gun next to her head as he sighted down the hallway. She’d go deaf if he fired it from that close. His hand stayed rock steady, but his voice came out breathy. “What was that?”

She eased a hand onto his arm and pressed down, so the gun pointed at the floor. “Relax. It’s what I came here to find. You’ll scare it with the gun. Put it away and stay in the hall.”

She saw the saucer of milk as she entered the kitchen. It sat on the counter in the mercifully spotless kitchen. Someone took their time cleaning, too; she could smell the cleanser in the air. Something fresh and non-chemical, but thorough. A small dish with chocolate chunks sat near the milk; definitely not snacks for a kitten or cat. It had to be one of the fey… but would it be friendly to a stranger?

Belinda felt a pressure in the air to her left and resisted the urge to move quickly. Instead, she squatted down and then sat cross-legged on the floor. “My name is Belinda Gary. I’m with the Madison Police. I’m trying to find out what killed your Master.”

The voice, when it came, sounded like dry sticks rubbing together. “Gary.”

“That’s right. Belinda Gary. My friends call me Bee.”

“You know Tilly.”

She felt a flash of cold bolt through her. She swallowed around a dry mouth and nodded. “She’s my grandmother.”

“Master likes Tilly. Good woman, Tilly, he says. You good woman, Bee-of-Tilly?”

She edged her face to the left slowly, so as not to startle the creature. “I try to be.”

“You not sing, Bee-of-Tilly. Why you not sing, Bee-of-Tilly?”

Her eyes widened. “How do you know I sing?”

“You have the music, Bee-of-Tilly. Tilly has it. Matthias has it. Bee-of-Tilly has it. You have brother, Bee-of-Tilly?”

“Yes. Yes, his name is Brock.”

The creature stood maybe two, two-and-a-half feet tall. Wrinkled brown skin, dark like a walnut, covered it. The hair wasn’t hair so much as corn silk, a silvery greenish brown that reminded Belinda of a garden in Spring. A neat white smock adorned it and its feet remained shoeless, the nails on the toes like little shiny claws. Beady green eyes, like little agates, regarded her out of a wizened face.

“Brock keeps the music. You not sing, Bee-of-Tilly. Not good, not sing. Must sing, Bee-of-Tilly.”

“I’m here to try to find out who killed your Master.” Maybe if she kept to the case…

The creatures eyes welled up with huge tears and it looked to where the body had lain. “Evil woman kill my man, Bee-of-Tilly. Evil woman!”

“Woman?”

“Yellow-haired. Lighter than you. Taller, too. Said to buy the dagger. But lied.”

The hairs on Belinda’s arms raised at that last word, and the echoes hissed and bounced around the kitchen. Despite its diminutive size, the creature seemed menacing suddenly.

“Belinda?” Jon called.

The creature hissed and raised a clawed fist.

“It’s my partner,” Belinda soothed. “Stay there!” She hoped Jon would heed her.

“Your partner, Bee-of-Tilly?”

Belinda got the distinct impression the creature meant romantic partner. “No, my work partner,” she clarified. “He’s a police officer too. We are trying to catch the murderer of your master.”

“You must sing, Bee-of-Tilly. To catch this murderer, you must sing.”

Belinda stared at it. “What?” Her voice had hardly any sound.

“You must sing,” it insisted. It took a small step closer to Belinda and smiled, showing an alarming number of sharp, pointy and very white teeth. “You call me Buca.”

“Can my partner come in, Buca?”

“Your partner, Bee-of-Tilly?”

“He’s helping me find the killer, Buca.” She figured it would be good to remind the little creature. Was this a brownie? Had Belinda finally met a brownie? What would her brother think?

At that thought, Brock appeared in her mind like an overlay.

~Shit~ Brock sounded completely flabbergasted.

She’d’ve laughed if the situation weren’t so serious.

Buca cocked its head. “Bee-of-Tilly? That your partner?”

~She knows I’m here!~

~She?~ Belinda asked. “My brother, Brock.”

“Brock-of-Morgan already sing, Bee-of-Tilly. You must sing,” Buca insisted.

~Look at the dress, Buzz. Of course it’s a chick. Buca is Welsh for ‘brownie,’ I thought you knew that. You’ve never seen a brownie before?~

~Not in the flesh, and not in my murder scene~

~Did she see who did it?~

~Yeah, but her logic isn’t exactly human~

A snort is a weird thing to experience through a psychic link. She felt Brock riffle through the memory of the conversation and then he fell silent, thinking.

~Ask her if the woman had ever come here before~

“Buca, did the killer ever come here before? Did your Master know her?”

“No, not!” Buca said in a loud voice. Her eyes filled with tears again as she looked where the body had lain.

A step alerted Belinda and then Jon stepped in.

Buca turned her head and squeaked. “So big!” A loud clap, like thunder, split the air in the small kitchen and the brownie disappeared.

The force of it knocked Brock out of link with her.

“Fuck!” Jon shouted, frozen in the doorway.

“That was a brownie,” Belinda told him, rubbing her ears. “She saw the murderer.”

It wasn’t until she followed Jon back to the car, so they could go tell Sandillo what they’d seen, that it occurred to her: how did Buca know their father’s name?

She eyed the house, stomach clenched, until the shadows shifted and danced in her vision. Unsettled, she turned the Prius around and headed toward the office.

Chapter 10: A Pie for All Seasons (Belinda)

Belinda Gary swung by her house to feed the animals on her way to the precinct. Just as she went in to wash up, a car pulled up outside. A burgundy Shelby Cobra parked behind her Prius, its paint immaculate and gleaming. It reminded her of the kind of car her brother would drive if he weren’t so obsessed about the environment.

She wasn’t really one to talk, since she cared as much as he did, but he was more mouthy about it…

King and Trixie surged at the driver’s side door, the deep bells of their barking drowning out Marvin’s determined efforts. Of course Marvin, a long-haired Golden Retriever, wagged his whole body as he barked and ruined the effect. The two Burnese Mountain Dogs were an entirely different matter and she headed outside to call them off.

“King! Trix! To me!” She let out a piercing whistle with her fingers in her lips. She never could master the tongue whistle that Brock could do. Dogs came just fine without it, no matter what he claimed. She clapped her hands. “Come!”

A wave of three ecstatic dogs turned and crested over her, dust and dog spit flying. “Oh, guys, now I have to change again!” She ushered them to the side gate and through, then closed the gate so her visitor could get out of the car without getting mauled. Or licked to death.

Prince’s odd, lonely-sounding hoot could be heard over the dogs. Monica loved the quirky peacock, both for his feathers and his affectionate nature, but Brock hated him. She glanced over to make sure his enclosure hadn’t gotten opened by the dogs on accident and then turned back.

Jon alighted, bouncing the car on its shocks as it reacted to his weight. She felt her eyes widen. Jon drove a Cobra? He caught her watching him and waved with one hand, then bent to retrieve something off the passenger seat.

Pizza.

Her new partner brought her pizza?

Maybe she wasn’t losing another partner, after all…

She opened the mud porch door for him. “How’d you find me?”

“I’m a detective, remember?” he said, but without rancor. “Sandillo told me. He said you like anchovy on your pizza.”

She felt her eyes widen. “Bet he didn’t.”

He laughed. “I’ll tell you inside. I’m starving.”

She sighed. “Yeah. All right.”

She held the door and followed him in. The finches, or “The Girls” as Monica called them, exploded into happy beeps and chirps when they caught sight of him. She closed the door between the kitchen and the dining room where their flight cage sat so they could have a conversation.

“Sorry.”

“No problem. Canaries?”

“Huh-uh. Finches. They all have names, but I’ll introduce you later. They like men, especially big ones. They’ll never shut up if I bring you in there now.”

He chuckled and set the pizza on the counter to look around. She felt self-conscious suddenly, very aware of the dirty dishes in the sink and on the right side of the counter. Monica never let dishes accumulate. She loved to cook and make house, and kept everything immaculate. Belinda, never a good homemaker under the best of circumstances, didn’t have the wherewithal now that Monica died to keep things up the right way. Keeping up with the animals was enough of a chore. “I’m sorry it’s such a mess.”

“Nah,” he disagreed. “Just looks lived in.”

She wondered what he’d call her bedroom with its four loads of unwashed laundry, but figured she wouldn’t need to find out. He wanted Brock, not her. “So why the meals on wheels?”

“Where are your plates?”

She blushed. “I don’t have any clean…”

“Let me,” he interrupted her, stepping in front of her as she went to the sink. “Peace offering.”

He brought her a peace offering? “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but why?”

He started the water to let it heat and stacked the dirty dishes on the drain board. “You had a theory. I want to hear it.”

She knew better than to say something sarcastic. Her brother long ago explained ‘boy’ for apology; it dawned on her this must be Jon’s way of doing it.

If he fed Brock when they got into fights, they’d grow old together. She turned her back so he wouldn’t see her smirk.

“There are two perps,” she told her towel drawer. Its contents, thankfully, didn’t need washing. Of course, that was because she hadn’t washed dishes enough to use them all up.

Maybe she should start a load or two before she went to work.

She set the towel down and washed her hands. She eyed her clothes, but decided with one dab of the towel that she still looked presentable.

“Do you have something to drink?” he wanted to know.

“Coke or ginger ale?” she offered.

“Ginger ale?”

“Vernor’s.”

He smiled, pleased. “Then I’ll take that.” He brought the plates and pizza to the table. “You have oregano?”

“For what?”

“The pizza. You can’t have pizza without oregano flakes.”

She rummaged in the spice cabinet, digging through to the ‘O’s.’ Monica rivaled Belinda’s mother for an herb garden, and in fact traded herbal wisdom with Heather whenever she could. She found the oregano leaves and brought them out, handing the small plastic baggie full of whole dried leaves to Jon.

“What’s that?” Jon asked, suspicious.

“If I said pot, you’d probably believe me, huh?” Monica told him. “Relax. It’s oregano from my garden. My …” She started to say ‘girlfriend.’ “My partner picked it last Spring, so it’s fresh.”

He eyed it and then sprinkled a large helping on his plate and crushed the leaves in his fingers. His eyes widened. “This smells divine!”

She grinned, pleased. “She was a good cook and gardener.”

He opened the pizza box and it was her turn to be suspicious. “What is that?”

“Pizza,” he said in an overly innocent tone of voice.

“It looks like you killed a cow for the milk,” she muttered. “How much cheese is on that thing?”

“It’s Chicago deep dish,” he told her. “Sausage and garlic. Sandillo said you usually get that pansy New York shit, but I’m buying, so I get to pick.”

She didn’t think her pizza was ‘pansy,’ but this… She watched him serve her an enormous slice. “I can’t eat all that!”

“Just try it,” he advised.

“Where’d you get it?” She had to admit, it smelled divine.

“Lou Malnati’s,” he answered, cutting his own piece. “I had some shipped up here and they just got dropped off by FedEx, so I froze them and brought on here.”

“Don’t you stay in an extended-stay apartment?”

“Yeah. I only got three.” He sounded defensive.

She watched him sprinkle the oregano on top and tried some on her own. When she took a bite, she had to close her eyes.

“You look happy,” he noted smugly.

She waited until she chewed and swallowed. “This is like sex on a plate.”

“Better than,” he agreed, taking a huge bite.

“Only if you’re doing it wrong,” she retorted.

He glared at her, but had too much food in his mouth to say anything. She laughed and took another bite.

“So tell me about his theory of yours.” He served himself another piece.

“How’d you heat it?” she blurted, staring at the pizza. “They don’t ship it hot…” Of course they didn’t. She flushed.

He snorted. “No, they send them frozen. I have an oven in my apartment.”

“And you just heated it up?”

“Don’t you cook?”

“Why, cuz I’m a chick?”

He frowned at her like she should know better. “No, because this is obviously a cook’s kitchen.”

Her stomach clenched. “Oh.” She fished a piece of sausage off her piece of pizza. “Yes. Monica did all the cooking.”

His eyes softened. “I’m sorry.”

She shrugged. “Let’s just stay focused.”

“Fair enough. So why do you think it’s two perps?”

She resisted saying, “I know there are,” but only because he just brought her pizza. “The first perp is orderly. The ‘feel’ of the scenes is methodical, calm. Like a thief. The third scene…” She had to set her food down. “Maybe we should talk about this after we eat.”

His eyes widened and then he swallowed his bite. “I should have thought.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s not like I’ve never worked homicide.”

“Just not so up-close and personal,” he finished for her.

“Yeah.” She took another bite, dainty compared to him, and he started in on his third piece.

“Why’d you pick Madison?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I looked around. I wanted a change of scenery, since they wouldn’t let me stay in serial crimes. Madison has a good rep, and it’s a good city.”

“Where else did you look?”

“Boulder and San Francisco,” he told her. “But Sandillo seems to be the kind of leader that I could work with.”

“Really?” She frowned. Why?”

“You like him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, of course!”

“That’s why.”

“Oh.” She finished her slice and sat back. “I’m full.”

“You sure?”

“I had something with my uncle earlier, so…”

“Ah. Shall we leave the rest in the fridge?”

She nodded. “Sure!”

He rose, stuffing the last of his crust into his mouth, and opened the door “Jesus, Belinda!” He stared at her refrigerator.

“What? It’s clean!”

“There’s no food!” He set the pizza box on the top shelf. “You need a housekeeper.”

Unfortunately, that reminded her of the woman at the murder scene. “That poor woman.”

He closed the door and leaned against the counter, hip cocked. “Huh?”

“The housekeeper. At the murder scene.”

“Oh.”

“She seemed devastated.”

“Maybe she wasn’t just a housekeeper.”

She remembered her uncle’s admonition. “I need to go see the crime scene again.”

“What for?”

“I… I have a hunch,” she told him. It wasn’t exactly a lie, she just didn’t specify whose hunch it was.

“So we good?”

“Yeah. You still don’t believe me, do you?”

He shrugged. “I’ll keep an open mind.”

“You were a profiler!” she burst out. “What do you think of the pattern?”

He shrugged again. “Too soon to tell. One school of thought would say it’s just that the killer is coming unglued, and that’s why he’s escalating it.”

“How do we know it’s a guy?”

“We don’t.” He grabbed his ginger ale and then leaned against the counter, looking down at her. “Just using that to be economical. If I have to start saying ‘he or she’ all the time, it’ll take forever to say anything.”

She laughed. “Fair enough.”

“Are you driving or am I?”

She frowned. “Driving where?”

“The crime scene?”

“You’re going with me?’

“We’re partners, aren’t we?”

“Yes, I guess we are.” She stood. “I’ll drive. Takes less gas, so move your ego monster for me to get out.” She wondered if he had purposely parked behind her so she couldn’t escape before they sorted things out. He was pushy, just like her brother…

He smirked but didn’t argue her reasoning, just let her precede him out the door.

New World Order, Chapter 9: A Pint of Harp (Brock)

Brock walked into the dim interior of the pub his eyes searching for Kelly, his usual waitress. Or, more accurately, his uncle’s. With the size of Uncle Matt’s tips, not only did his uncle get great service, but Kelly’s teenaged son was assured of a college fund. After dealing with his Gran for two hours, Brock really needed a pint of Harp.

He knew where his great uncle would be: at the back with a good view of the front door and the dart board.
Uncle Matt waved a greeting at him and Brock slid into the booth. Surprisingly, none of his uncle’s cronies gathered nearby. Shouts from the bar under the TV broadcasting football answered the mystery. Brock glanced over. After see that the Packers weren’t playing, he lost interest.

Uncle Matt nudged the basket of onion rings his way and Brock grabbed a few, justifying that the deep fried treat was still a vegetable and fit in with his usual healthy diet. Munching on one, he spied a telltale spot of red on his uncle’s neck.

The breading on the onion ring scratched his throat as he hurriedly swallowed. “Did you go paint balling today without me?”

Uncle Matt grinned. “It was a senior division match. We won!”

“Was it fair, considering your team consists of Guardians?”

“They were retired Marines. It was fun afterward when they discovered we were ‘civvies’ in their eyes and half of the team women.”

“Great, let’s piss off the retired armed forces.” Brock rolled his eyes.

“Nah, they won’t hold a grudge. Some joined up with us for drinks and Edith is making it up to their squad leader. Or at least that’s my guess, as she didn’t leave with us. He’s a widower,” Uncle Matt added.

Brock blinked; perhaps his former baby sitter earned the nickname ‘Fast Eddie’ for other reasons besides her speed with blades. He ran his hands over the polished wood top of the table. A faint echo ghosted through him.

“Was Bee just here?”

“Yup. She’s all twisted up about this new case.”

“I’ve been trying to get Gran to give over the Greenlee dagger for safekeeping, but she didn’t go for it.”

Uncle Matt grinned. “It’s safe enough where it is and well protected, that’s why we claimed it after our great, great, great aunt’s death. I’m more worried about your sister than some burglar.”

Brock nodded and munched on another onion ring. Kelly appeared and he gave his order. “Bee is still having trouble dealing with Monica’s death and Gran pressuring her to ‘let her old partner go’ isn’t helping.”

“Tilly’s still under the impression that Monica was just her partner, not Belinda’s life partner.” Censure colored the older man’s voice.

Brock raised his eyebrows and took a fortifying sip after Kelly left his tankard on the table. “Inheriting the house wasn’t a tip off? Does Gran think it’s just about taking care of Monica’s pets?”

Uncle Matt frowned. “Watch your tone, young man.”

Brock nodded, the closest he could admit to an apology. He knew his great uncle tolerated only so much criticism of his own twin, Brock and Bee’s grandmother.

It still amazed him how blind everyone seemed. Bee’s aura swirled with unhappiness and the constant barrage from their grandmother only served to drive his sister further away. She’d already left the covens, separating herself from her family would be the next step. Would it take her moving from Madison for his kin to wake up?

Kelly slipped a plate of lasagna under his nose. “I know you’d want some.”

“Sure do. Rudy’s lasagna is a work of art. Thanks, hon.”

Brock picked up his fork, that pumpkin stew hadn’t been very filling and the ladies wouldn’t share the brownies he’d brought. His great uncle continued the conversation, proving he understood the seriousness of the situation concerning Belinda.

“I’ve tried to get Belinda talking about Monica but she just clams up. Maybe someone, a stranger outside of the situation, can get her to open up. Like her new partner?”

“Maybe. Her partner is Jon Taylor and he seems real sharp and not the type to let her wiggle out of discussions. He’s from Chicago, so I don’t think he has any friends here. He’s used to homicides, so a stubborn partner won’t deter him much.” He went on in that vein, thinking out loud.

Brock stared at his empty plate that he’d made inroads on while talking. Speaking of talking, had he’s just been jabbering away about Jon the entire time? A glance at the wall clock showed that over twenty minutes passed since the discussion began concerning the handsome detective.

His great uncle’s blue eyes gleamed when Brock met them and he fought a blush. Thankfully, he knew of a sure way to distract the older man. “Wanna play darts?”

Uncle Matt rose and grabbed the darts. “You planning to cheat again?”

“Who, me?’

“Using telekinesis to push my arts around while I toss is cheating, boy.”

“Oh, so that’s your excuse when you lose to me?”

Uncle Matt snorted, narrowing his eyes, and the game began.

New World Order, Chapter 8: In Plain Sight (Belinda)

Belinda stretched in her warm cocoon of blanket and quilts. She hated sleeping in a stuffy room, so even though Wisconsin nights got chilly, she always jacked down the thermostat before tumbling into bed. Rolling on her back the scarab ached a bit, reminding her that the skin had been broken and need extra care and attention.

It also reminded her of true reason for her deep, restful sleep. Despite the weariness making her eyes gritty, Belinda had fully expected not to be able to drop off. Her body ached, too tired and stressed to relax, while her mind replayed images of blood splattered in that pristine kitchen.
Earlier as she lay fretting over her theory of two perps, the idea that Jon dismissed so easily, the scarab had begun radiating warmth that slowly spread. It allowed her to drop into a restful haven protected from the horror of earlier. She knew her shields would be strong for hours to come, perhaps lasting until the small punctures fully healed and faded away days from now. No spillage from her new partner, or strangers, threatened to distract her.

Belinda viewed depending on her brother’s magic to be a crutch. But, as she sat up and pushed back the heavy drapes that let her nap the afternoon away, perhaps she was being too critical. She absorbed the serene view of the lake. She knew Brock only tried to help. The trouble was, lately, she felt like she didn’t deserve it. Not since she’d failed and Monica paid the price for it with her life.

She threw herself out of bed, unwilling to continue that line of thought. She got in the shower and by the time she finished shaving her legs, she had a plan.

The Prius felt cold against her still damp skin and her head chilled since she hadn’t yet dried her hair. The heater warmed up quickly and she ran it full blast all the way from her house to the pub. She drove around back to the small employee lot and parked next to her uncle’s pickup. A regular for as long as she could remember, he had permission to park back here and so did she, though in her case it owed more to her status as a police officer. She walked in the back door of the restaurant.

“If it isn’t little Spelling Bee!” Rudolph, the huge Black man who had cooked there for almost three decades, grinned from ear to ear. “You here for breakfast, little girl?”

He hugged her one handed, the other occupied stirring the day’s soup.

“Uncle out front?”

“He’s by the back dart board,” Rudolph grunted. “You need some food, girl. You’re gonna fade away, now that Monica’s not feeding you no more!”

Unfortunately, that reminded her of her earlier line of conjecture and she felt the smile fall off her face. Rudolph, occupied with his soup, didn’t notice. “I’ll catch you later, okay Rudolph? I need to talk to Uncle.”

“Sounds fine, little girl, just fine,” he responded cheerfully.

Matthias Gray remained Belinda’s favorite relative, with the exception of Brock, all through college and once she became a cop. He didn’t judge her, for one thing, and rarely told her what to do.

“If it isn’t Bee-Linda,” he greeted kindly when he saw her. “You out slumming today?”

His nickname for her lightened her heart. “Maybe I’ve come to arrest you.”

His blue eyes glinted and his welcoming grin grew predatory. “If you win a game of darts.”

“You’re just saying that. You won’t really go quietly when I win.”

“That’s because you never win.” He winked, then tossed her a set of darts when she came up to him, a gentle sideways toss so as not to hurt her.

She put each one in the triple ring on twenty.

Two men seated nearby turned to stare at the board and then watched her uncle surreptitiously. She didn’t recognize them and wondered if they knew Matthias or were just tourists.

Matthias didn’t even bother to rise. He took a sip of his beer and threw all three darts in a precise grouping dead-center. Triple bulls eye.

“Dammit!” Bee cried. “Every time!” She rose and twirled each dart free of the board.

Her uncle’s eyes twinkled as he grinned at her. “Looks like it’s not your day, Bee-Linda.”

She sat down, deflated. “Tell me about it.”

He cocked his head. “Tell you about what?”

She let the darts fall and put her elbows on the table. “Everything!”

“Hey Val!” Matthias called without turning. “Tell Kelly to get us the usual, honey?”

“Yeah!” The curly-haired blond bartender scribbled a note on a ticket and handed it to Kelly, their waitress, as she walked toward the kitchen window. Kelly went back and got Bee’s huge mug, a blue ceramic with a picture of a large flower and two drunken bees on it, from a shelf at the back of the bar. Monica gave the mug to her for her last birthday and Uncle Matt had them keep it for her, knowing well her coffee addiction.

“Just iced tea today, thanks Kelly,” Bee called before she could fill it. She turned back to find her uncle regarding her.

He blinked and then studied his beer. “So. What brings you to the bar in the middle of the afternoon? Sandillo know where you are?”

She shrugged and moved her hand so Kelly could set the tea down. “Not exactly. I’m not on for another couple hours.”

The two men who’d watched their dart game got up to leave and Belinda waited for them to be out of earshot. Kelly, meanwhile, brought them both scrambled eggs with what looked like every vegetable in the kitchen as well as a double stack of toast to share.

It had been Monica’s favorite dish.

“What’s wrong, Bee-Bee?” Uncle Matt coaxed.

She shook her head. “This case,” she said, not lying but not telling the whole truth. “I have a new partner, and I don’t know if it’s going to work. And there’s been a murder, Uncle Matt!” She had to put her fork down as the scene welled up around her.

Her uncle said nothing, just ate another bite as placid as ever.

“The murder happened near the lakefront. The wards weren’t disturbed, not even a little. They recognized me, and it was like they could tell what I said, that he’d been killed!” She shivered. “There are two perps, Uncle Matt. But Jon doesn’t believe me!”

He broke eye contact and took a sip of ale. When he looked at her again, his eyes seemed bluer than before. “They weren’t his wards, then,” he pointed out. “As long as he’s human, the wards die when he does. What does your partner think?”

“I don’t know. But there’s something else weird. The rug in the living room felt…” She trailed off, searching for a description.

“Like what?”

“Well, like Gran’s crone circle, sort of.” She took another bite of food but hardly tasted it. “It recognized me when I walked on it.”

He digested that, playing with a fragment of mushroom on his plate. “What about the rest of the wards?”

“Nothing. Just the living room.”

“Not all you see is visible to the naked eye.”

She blinked. “What?”

He shrugged. “Finish your food.”

“But Uncle Matt –”

“Don’t ‘Uncle Matt’ me, girl. Eat your food before you get sick from bad habits.”

“Yes, sir.” She sighed. When he got that tone, there was no arguing.

One thing was certain. If not all she saw was visible, she would have to go back to that house. She finished her lunch and excused herself to go to the bathroom. The bar steadily filled with patrons, there to watch the Colts play the Bears. Any time the Bears played anyone, the Brocach filled to watch them get trounced. And if they played their beloved Packers, the patrons cheerfully threatened all sorts of mayhem to their Chicago rivals.

“Not everything is visible to the naked eye.” Bee stared at herself in the mirror. “Like what, though?” She stopped further inquiry when two women came in, overly cheerful and definitely tipsy. She washed her hands and checked her makeup.

Her hazel eye looked back at her from its contact, blue now, and then seemed to change. She bent closer and felt her blood run cold. Monica’s darker blue eye looked back at her from her own face, filled with love and concern.

She dropped her purse and the sharp sounds its contents made as they clattered around the floor broke her reverie.

“Here, let me help you,” one of the other women said kindly. Her eyes, safely brown and shaped like downward-facing ovals, seemed friendly but not too forward.

“Thank you,” Belinda managed to mumble, feeling her face heat. She prayed she wouldn’t tear up in front of her.

She emerged to find her Uncle embroiled in one of his dart wars with two older burly marines. She knew their military branch from the patches on their coveralls, by their age she guessed them to be retired. The second one threw a good shot, in the center too, but her uncle repeated his performance of earlier.

“Dayum!” the other marine blurted. He finished is Coke. His arm had three paint spatters on it, and a bruise peaked out of his sleeve. “We’ve got to RTW, but next time we’re in town, we’ll look you up!”

She knew ‘RTB’ meant ‘return to base,’ since Brock went through a phase where that’s all he’d say: acronyms for everything. Her uncle must have shared her puzzled look because they grinned and explained.

“That’s ‘return to wives’ nowadays.”

She resisted rolling her eyes. Her Uncle refused to give up paintball; now it appeared he played with Marines.

The three of them shook hands and the two big men passed her and exited the bar.

“I’ve got to go, Uncle,” Bee interjected.

“Just remember what I said.”

“Yes. Thank you, I will.” She hugged him.

“Are you all right?” he murmured, his hands on her shoulders.

“Yeah, why?” She smiled brightly up at him. “Just a late night, and this case..”

He nodded and broke eye contact. “Come over for dinner this week. Gran’s getting irritated.”

“Uncle Matt…”

She broke off the rest of her whine as his blue eyes regarded her, utterly without sympathy this time.

“Yes, all right. I’ll come for dinner. Thursday.”

He beamed. “Good.”

Good. Right. She walked out into the midday sun and went to her car, lost in thought.

New World Order, Chapter 7: Promised Fulfilled (Brock)

Brock rolled away from his easel, well satisfied with the progress he made. He captured on canvas the way Jon’s huge hands cradled a mug of chai. Smiling, he remembered the suspicious way the detective sniffed it before tasting. Already he had several drawings in charcoal, but Brock knew that this pair of hands would be added to his oil collection.

His mother’s hands holding her favorite mortar and pestle, Gran’s aged hands almost hidden in the thick fur of her familiar, Uncle Matt’s around a sword hilt, his father’s folded neatly on a gleaming tabletop numbered among his most treasured. He had several of Bee’s: one caressing the keys of her piano and, in his favorite, wrapped around the butt of her service automatic.
He kept others; one of an old service buddy opening a letter from home and more of his coven mates doing various tasks. Brock painted them on small canvases, just a bit bigger than life sized, and not for sale. People claimed that the window to one’s soul was through the eyes, Brock believed it was in the hands.

He stared at his canvas and wondered again what it would feel like to have Jon touching him. Queenie mewing from the doorway, managing to sound both pitiful and imperious, broke his musings.

His own stomach growling alerted Brock to the reason for the silver tabby’s visit. That, and the imitation of a starving feline performed by her, once she realized she had his attention.

“You know the rules, Queenie. I need to clean up first.”

He gathered his brushes and palette and carried them to the gardener’s sink in the corner. The pungent scent of the expensive oils he used filled his nose. He carefully washed them, leaving them on the drain board rack next to the basin to dry.

Next, Brock took the stiff brush and removed the colorful splatters adorning his hands and forearms. After rinsing his hands clean he dried them and then stretched, working the kinks from his long frame. The setting sun filled his studio, the rays spilling in from the skylight and two walls of windows. One wall faced the building next to him, devoid of a view but useful for the precious light the long windows provided. The back windows overlooked his garden and he strode over and looked down over the peaceful visage as he unbraided his hair. On the other two walls his canvases covered the pale oak paneling, a colorful collage stretching to the ceiling. More canvases leaned against the walls, scattered around the large room. Queenie twining around his ankles reminded him that he had starving pets.

Slipping silently down the stairs in sheepskin moccasins, Brock left his upper studio to reach the living level. There, two more pair of anxious feline eyes watched as he warmed their food. Most of their dinners were made by him using fresh ingredients and they appreciated his cooking very vocally.

Jon would have a huge appetite, Brock reflected.

He shook his head, amazed at how completely his sister’s new partner commanded his attention. After he fed the cats he returned upstairs to change from his paint splattered tee-shirt and pajama pants back to the clothes he wore earlier. Brock added a brown leather bomber jacket and scooped up his keys. He stopped in the kitchen to grab the plate of brownies he made before beginning to paint. He knew better than to show up without a bribe.

Climbing into Pearl he carefully placed the plate on the passenger seat and fastened his seat belt. Pearl purred to life when he turned the key and he pulled out into light traffic. The Ford Escape hybrid ate up the miles. He loved his vehicle and felt no shame in naming her. Well, the pirate movies populated by cute actors helped. The color, Black Pearl slate metallic, made her name easy- Johnny Depp just helped.

Not that he ever admitted it to his sister, after all the razzing he gave her on naming the Prius.

The drive to the Gary homestead seemed short despite the impending confrontation. Originally part of a larger farm, on what was once the outskirts of the city, now twenty acres remained. The land had not been sliced up and sold to developers; instead coven families built houses and clustered around the Gary home. A regular little magic commune hid in Madison suburbia.

He grew up there; his mother chose to stay in the family home and let Gran and Uncle Matt help raise him and Belinda. Uncle Matt was actually his Great Uncle Matthias, Gran’s twin. He wouldn’t be there tonight, normally choosing to avoid quilting night in favor of his pub.

The long driveway wound through trees and hedges, kept up by various members of the coven’s bevy of children and teenagers. Two of their herd of horses stood in the pasture to the left of the gravel roadway; he recognized Thunder from the white streak on his face. The big bay, his black mane and tail silky and the burnished red of his body glowing, whinnied as he drove by, hopeful for treats. Brock couldn’t quite see who stood with him, but guessed Thunder’s partner in crime, Ladybug. Technically, Ladybug wasn’t a horse, but a Pony of the Americas pony. She stood a full fourteen and a half hands tall though, and gave Thunder a run for his money. The big gelding tried to dominate her, but she knew what Thunder didn’t, that he wasn’t a full male anymore.

Not for lack of trying, Brock noted to himself with a smirk.

Brock smiled as the white farmhouse with green shutters came into view. Two storeys tall but with an attic and basement with attached cellar, the house had been built in a time when families grew large and needed lots of space. Unlike modern houses with their spacious rooms and closet space, this monster house had plenty of small rooms and a huge ‘great room’ on the main floor that could hold all the covens for parties and gatherings.

He’d have to repaint soon. They painted every five or six years, Madison winters being what they were. A salesman appeared every so often to propose aluminum siding, but Gran wouldn’t hear of it. None of the Garys would. Painting involved re-warding the house and remained a beloved ritual, complete with a full day of cooking and night of partying after the hard work got done. A spacious wrap-around porch extended the house on all four sides, more of a veranda. In back they’d enclosed it, to create a mud-porch for winter, but in summer they used the veranda for an extension of the party space. Three handmade bench-swings, built by Great-Uncle Matthias and decorated by cushions and quilts made by Gran and her circle of crones, lined the front porch. The right side, Brock knew by memory, held the children’s toys and two sturdy romp-around enclosures for infants. Adirondack furniture, built by Matthias and Brock as a training exercise, populated the rest of the porch. The older ones they replaced, made by a previous Gary years ago, now squatted in the garden.

The gravel driveway circled the house to the right. The left of the house backed up on the kitchen garden and chicken coop. Rather than entering through the front door, painted a deep green to match the shutters, he pulled around back to park with the vehicles of his grandmother’s friends. A clear space remained for parking between the vegetable and herb gardens. Brock balanced the plate of brownies as he closed his car door. His boots quiet, he crept across the wraparound porch and slipped into the kitchen. He tried to sneak up on one of his Gran’s friends that stood at the counter, Edith Booker. The steak knife she used to spread peanut butter flashed to his throat.

“Don’t try that on me, boy!”

“Sorry, Edith, but I hadda try.”

He slipped a brownie from under the clear wrap and handed it over as a peace offering. At her raised eyebrow he added another and put it on her plate next to her open sandwich. Brock grinned at Edith as she wolfed one down. In her younger days they called her ‘Fast Eddie’ for the speed she possessed with her blades. To the coven’s enemies she earned the title ‘the Beheader.’

She rolled her eyes and hugged him, her hands tugging at his sweater hem afterwards. The forest green chenille refused to do her bidding and lengthen, creeping up again when she released it.

“I didn’t get it right, again, did I?”

“It’s one of my favorites and I love it,” Brock assured her.

She slapped together her sandwich. “I’ll try again.”

Brock kept silent his instinctive protest. Edith’s skills excelled at teaching weaponry, not knitting. But, he wouldn’t dream of hurting her feelings.

The spacious kitchen, built, like the rest of the house, at a time when families grew large and people didn’t eat out often, spread along the entire side of the first floor. A polished light oak table that sat ten stood at the back, jackets draped over the chairs and purses and other bags strewn across its surface. A tray in the center held the salt, pepper, and numerous condiments used by the Gary family and guests to season their food. A heavy red vase of gladiolus, Gran’s favorite flower, held court in the center. The spotless white walls reflected the light warmly and set off the pink of the flowers.

To the right of the door stood the heavy six-burner stove. A wide counter to its left held the fixings for dinner, where Edith worked. Along the perpendicular wall the sink and dishwasher lived, and then the huge fridge. The deep freeze in the basement held extra provisions, and a second fridge down there held extra drinks and food for parties. A spacious double-panel of cabinets lined the wall next to that, built by Uncle Matthias to double the space in the kitchen.

He strode to the crock pot warming on the counter next to the stove. An odd orangey substance bubbled and gurgled up at him as he lifted the lid.

“Pumpkin stew,” Edith informed him as she left with her sandwich. “Good luck.”

He wondered if she referred to the concoction or his upcoming conversation with his grandmother. Spooning up a small bowl, Brock followed her. In his other hand he carried the offering of soft squares of chocolate. As long as he could remember the dining room was never used for eating. Instead, it served as a craft room and here the other women gathered.

He spied that they were just starting a new quilt, squares and triangles of colors scattered around and scissors flashing as they cut. The dark walnut wood of the heavy, carved table disappeared under the colorful fabric. With the leaves in, the table could seat sixteen, but now just had chairs for ten. The women looked up as he entered. Eddie took her chair near the open archway. Brock wondered if the others noticed she still placed herself between them and potential danger.

Zoey Thomas also stationed herself near the doorway, ready to hop up in case her beeper sounded. As an obstetrician, her patients had the habit of delivering at odd times. She wielded the scissors with a surgeon’s skill. Her short, wiry black hair belied her Irish heritage, but her clear blue eyes regarded him with penetrating intelligence. She wore her favorite color, a bright cobalt blue, this time in a long dress with brown calf-boots with a two-inch heel.

“Hey Dr. Z.” With both hands full he bent his head and she patted it.

“You’re such a good boy,” she replied, slipping a square from under the plastic.

“You call him a scamp when he hasn’t been baking for us,” Edith reminded her.

“That’s because I can’t bake. It confuses me,” Zoey added, at the other woman’s look.

“I’m sure that inspires confidence in your patients.”

Brock hid his grin as he continued to the table, remaining quiet. He saved his smart-assed remarks for his sister, knowing better than to take on the coven’s crones.

The other two women that helped raised him argued over colors.

“I like the pinks,” Ginger snapped. She brandished a fat quarter of magenta, rose, and rich berry.

“It’s too girly,” Lydia disagreed. “We need earth tones, like a tree. Browns and sables. Green. Definitely green.”

“It’s a quilt, not a maple,” Ginger shot back.

Since Ginger Hopkins reigned in the city council room and Lydia Dziedzinski in her boardroom, the debate raged fast and intense. Because he knew their friendship spanned decades, Brock understood that the heat was more habit then seriousness. He also knew they could argue for hours. Brock waved the plate of brownies to distract them. Ginger’s fading strawberry blonde curls and Lydia’s sleek salt and pepper bob swiveled to track the chocolate treats.

He placed the brownies on the table between the two women and leaned over and hugged each of them. Unfortunately, he could not escape the very thing he strove to avoid.

“What do you think, Brock?” Ginger asked.

He shoved a spoonful of pumpkin stew in his mouth instead of answering. It tasted…interesting.

“Ginger thinks there too many browns, makes it too dark, but I think they’re necessary for its owner,” Lydia said.

“You don’t even know who it’s for, yet,” Ginger scoffed.

Lydia glared. “Lots of times we’ve a quilt not knowing who it’s for. I know I’ve never met him.”

Brock silently agreed with the ‘him’ part. The colors definitely radiated ‘masculine’. So far only forest green deviated from the palette of browns in the fabric near Lydia. He picked up a chocolate brown triangle, one that reminded him of Jon’s eyes. The forest green shade matched the hue of his sweater, Brock noticed. He had a feeling of who the quilt’s owner would be. He also wondered if his presence would precede or follow it being on the detective’s bed.

The women looked at him, waiting, and Brock hoped a blush wouldn’t give him away. He slipped the chocolate brown fabric scrap in his pocket and reached for a darker one.

“Replace this with a russet one and add some cream that you have left over from the quilt for Dr. Z’s daughter,” Brock advised.

Ginger clapped her hands in delight. “Perfect!”

Lydia gave him an approving look that also had a good measure of consideration in it. His grandmother entering the room gave him an excuse to glance away. Her familiar, a large silver tabby, preceded her. Victoria trotted over to twine around his legs, mewing a greeting. He put his bowl on the table so he could lean down and pet the feline.

After a moment he straightened to hug his grandmother. She already sat at the head of the table like a little queen. He went to her and planted a kiss in her silvering blonde curls. She seemed even tinier sitting. Gran barely reached 5’2”. Brock, at 6’5”, and Uncle Matt, at 6’2”, always towered over her.

What she lacked in height she made up for in force of personality.

“I know you didn’t come to quilt. What do you want?”

Brock hid his smile. Gran and Belinda were too much alike. It probably fueled their many conflicts.

“I received an official visit from the Madison Police Department this morning.”

Gran snorted. “What did Belinda have to say?”

“The daggers are finally being gathered up.”

Gnarled, but still nimble fingers stilled as the coven’s crones absorbed his news.

“They’re not being bought, but instead homes are being broken into. Already Wilfrieda and Gilberto have lost theirs.”

Gran’s eyes narrowed. “Gilberto had one?”

Brock nodded.

“Well, isn’t it fortuitous that one is safe here?” Her tone firmly stated it as a rhetorical question.

“Frieda never mentioned a break-in!” Ginger seemed surprised at the news.

“Oh, you’re talking to her again?” replied Lydia, dryly.

“Frieda and I are friends; we just don’t have a lot in common.”

“Except for Gilberto. I bet you’re more upset that he never showed you the dagger.”

“Gilberto’s just a friend.”

“You thought he liked you. Gilberto paying attention to Frieda put your nose out of joint,” Lydia stated flatly.

Ginger’s face reddened. Brock remained silent. He would never have guessed that Ol’ Gil was such a ladies man.

“Enough,” Edith overrode Ginger’s response. Her hand slapped palm down on the table.

A startled silence fell, and both Ginger and Lydia stared at Edith.

“You’re interrupting Brock,” Edith told them calmly, taking another bite of sandwich.

Gran eyed them, and turned back to Brock with her eyebrow raised.

Brock ignored it. “We need to at least tell Bee about it. Better yet, give it to the station for safe-keeping. They can keep it in their evidence locker. It’ll be hard to steal surrounded by cops.” At her look he added, “A temporary loan, you know Sandillo will give it back.”

“Unfortunately neither Sandillo, nor I for that matter, have complete control of the Police Department. Who knows if we’d ever see it again if it left our hands?”

Brock sighed and sat down at the table. He picked up a pair of scissors; a long evening of arguing waited ahead of him.