Count Down to Publication Date and First Chapter of Stained

So I’ve set the date for publication of Stained. It’s October 14th. But the universe seems to be against me. I’ve dotted all my i’s and crossed my t’s and still it will be delayed a few days. How many I’m still not sure. My book is ready, it’s just the technical issues now. All the behind the scenes machinations that are slowing things down. I thought I was prepared. I had a timeline, a to-do list. But alas, The Man says otherwise. I’m just waiting on the IRS. UGH!

I might take up biting my fingernails. As you might have guessed, I’m not a patient person. But I have to believe it will all be worth it when it’s done. Until then I am posting the first chapter of Stained for viewers as a little enticement. Hope you enjoy. Please forgive the formatting.

CHAPTER
1

Hail, Guardians of the Watchtowers come! By
the air that is Her Breath, send forth your light, be here now …

…The circle is cast. We are between the
worlds… The fire is lit, the ritual is begun.

She wore a white ceremonial dress. It was gauze
and swayed with her hips. Moving gracefully, she traced her circle with her
athame making it her own. Now she was skyclad, having tossed her clothes off
for the rest of her ritual. Twirling and moving in a carefree manner, she was
focused on her magick. She chanted and danced. She felt secure knowing no one
would be around to see.

But he was watching in the dawn. Silently he moved closer, the soft bare earth of
the Berkeley hills beneath his feet.
A set smile was on his lips
but his eyes were dead pools of black as he walked right through her circle.
She was startled out of her revelry. As he moved forward and grabbed her arms,
her eyes darted from side to side looking for help, knowing no one was there.
His smile didn’t soothe her. Now he had her hands restrained, yet she struggled
and screamed. She pleaded with him not to hurt her. He was amused.

He slowly ran his knife down her leg, searching. There they were, twined in the
roots of a willow tree, talismans. He reached behind his back, slid out his katana
and with a smooth swing sliced off her head. As the head rolled to the side he
was washed in her warm, bright red blood. He didn’t see it or feel it. He was
after something more important. He went back to her tattoo. With his athame he
skinned her of her talismans.

Blood pooled with ink as the needles pierced her client’s skin. Thorn colored in the
intricate design. Her stomach tightened as it always did, but years of practice
kept her from showing it. The man she tattooed flinched as the pain registered.
She smiled to herself. Pleasure and pain would soon be his addiction as it often
was for those who came to her.

Her nitrile covered hands moved swiftly as they dipped the needles into ink and
moved back to the design. The outline evaporating into blood and a more
permanent ink. The flesh raw after she was done with it.

Her shop, Stained, tucked into the slightly seedy, increasingly funky but always
vibrant Telegraph Avenue, hummed with the noise of tattoo machines, music and
people milling around looking at the art work displayed in books. Antique
prints of ‘painted’ tattooed ladies gave the shop a burlesque feel. Thorn loved
everything about it. Being just a few blocks from UC Berkeley, the shop was a
favorite with students and more faculty and staff than one might guess. Each
tat station was open to the public eye except for one back room where the
artists could work on more private areas. She had chosen dark blue blending to
cerulean towards the ceiling to soothe the customers, unlike the bright reds of
so many other shops.

The man she worked on grunted, trying not to move, as she continued, adding ink and
wiping away blood so she could see clearly. The design made itself known. As
she wove it into existence, she chanted under her breath a spell of healing
into the ink. She had created a sacred space in her store so she would be
protected while she chanted and worked her spells.

Gérard, Reese, and Gwynn worked with her tonight and they were busy with customers too.
Gérard with his creole accent, Reese with her red hair, t-shirt and jeans, and
Gwynn dressed in a hemp dress with her blonde hair thrown up in a messy bun
held together with chop sticks. Jason, her intern, worked the front, helping
customers, running errands for the artists and selling t-shirts and other
souvenirs. Tonight he wore skinny jeans showing his boxers and a rainbow Muppets
t-shirt.

Thorn had more work than she could handle and that was the way she liked it. The shop was open
during the day with a talented, experienced crew. Thorn covered the hours from early
evening ‘til midnight and had a steady flow of customers until she shut the
doors. Besides her discreet late night patrons, she catered to a select
clientele and never took walk-ins. The high fees from her late night clients
fed her bolt fund.

Her present client had made his appointment six weeks ago. He’d opted for a custom designed pinup
girl and it was turning out nicely. She’d drawn up the design last night and he
loved it. Halfway through the night, Raven, her familiar, swept into the room
onto his perch and cawed, “Trouble.” He was a large, midnight black raven,
talons that could shred a man to ribbons and a beak like a bowie knife. He
refused to be named. He mentioned that names held power over the being and he
wanted no binds on him, so she just called him Raven.

Raven would have warned her mind-to-mind if it had been a real threat. Whatever was
coming was more likely some kind of annoyance.

A few minutes later a man in a black button down shirt, jeans and a jacket walked
in. The suit jacket fit tightly over his broad shoulders, pulling under his
right arm around the bulge of his gun. His eyes catalogued everyone and what
they were doing.  He walked as if he was
like every other patron but he was trying too hard to look casual. He had cop
written all over him.

“I’m looking for Thorn,” he said in a whiskey-rough voice.

Thorn shifted slightly in her chair to look over her shoulder. “You’ve found her,”
she answered.

“I’m Detective O’Bradigen.” He pulled out his card. Thorn nodded towards the
countertop and he placed the card there as she was already gloved up. She
noticed his first name was Sé, pronounced Shay in Gaelic, meaning raven. An
omen? O’Bradigen meant spirited. She was getting defensive vibes from him though,
guarded. He didn’t seem comfortable around her for some reason.

“Sé… raven,” she said. One dark eyebrow climbed, but didn’t alter the expression on
his square-jawed face. His eyes were deep blue, and vibrant under his thick ink-black
hair.

“You speak Gaelic?”

“A bit,” she said as she wiped away some more blood from her client.

Sé’s eyebrow climbed again.

“Something I picked up over the years traveling. What can I do for you, Detective?”

His eyes took in her leather pants and short t-shirt, her hands in gloves, poised
above the shoulder blade of a young woman, her second customer of the night. “I
want to ask you a few questions for a case I’m working.”

She blew the hair out of her face as she kept working. “I’m booked solid until
midnight. Can you come back then?” Raven shifted on his perch, turning his head
from side to side. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. She knew what he
was thinking. He was going to make her pay for delaying the hunt for his late
meal.

He nodded. “I’ll see you at ten till.”

She gave him a slight nod of the head in return and turned her attention back to
her customer. But her mind was on the detective.

Thorn noticed Jason snap a picture of her with his phone as she bent over her client.
She sat up and stretched and he took another and furtively put his phone away. She
shivered like a goose ran over her gave as her mamó used to say. He sometimes
took photos for the display books, but he didn’t have to hide that. She glanced
back at Raven but he was preening his feathers.

Two stations over, Gérard’s honey-colored face concentrated on his customer. Thorn
thought Gérard was humming to himself, perhaps a creole lullaby? He looked up
and met her gaze with a smile. She went back to her customer, asking the
Goddess to aid in her healing as she continued to ink in the design. The hours
passed and Thorn stretched as the end of the night approached.

At ten minutes to twelve, Detective O’Bradigen strolled through the door. Thorn was just wiping
down her station and checked to make sure the sharps box wasn’t full. She could
have guessed he would be punctual. Gwynn shook out her bun taking Reese’s hand as
they left for the night. They threw curious looks at Sé. Gwynn pulled her
woolen shawl tight against the wind and Reese pulled on her hoodie. Raven
ruffled his feathers and turned his back to Sé. Sé mirrored the gesture by
shaking the cold October air off with a brisk shiver.

Thorn rolled her neck and stretched her shoulders, letting the muscles relax. “I
could use some coffee. Want some?” Thorn led him to the back of the shop.

“That’d be great.” He shivered. “I think the rain’s going to start early this year.”

They made their way down a hallway to the break room. It was cheerful and brightly
lit, painted white with watercolors from local artists on the walls. Everything
was neat and clean like she expected the rest of her shop to be. She had some
old and new artists represented and Sé took his time appraising them while she
put water in her electric tea kettle. Thorn loved the way the muted paintings washed
color across the stark white walls. It was a calm room to be in after dealing
with people all day and that was her goal when she set it up.

Thorn noticed the broadness of Sé’s shoulders as he studied the paintings. The way his hair fell across his
eyes made her wonder if it was as silky as it looked. Before she got too worked
up, she pulled two mugs down and a canister of coffee beans. She ground the
beans she’d picked up at Peet’s and scooped the fresh grounds into her French Press.
When the water boiled she poured it in. The strong aroma of French Roast
permeated the room.

“Mmmm,” Sé said with a lopsided smile. His smile transformed his face from tired cop to
sensuous Irish rogue, his eyes sparkled and his dimples showed.

She carried two steaming coffee mugs across the hardwood floors and put them down
on the table, took a seat, and asked, “Do you follow any local artists?”

“A few. No one in this media,” he said as he took a mug. After a sip, he asked, “How long have
you been tattooing, Miss Thorn?”

“Please, it’s just Thorn. I’ve been doing this for six years now. How can I help you, Detective?”

“I’m a homicide detective. My partner, Detective Scettico, and I are working on a
case that involves a tattoo. A very intricate tribal looking tattoo. I asked
around and was told you specialize in tribal tats. Is that so?”

“I like to do them. I do a lot of them.” She crossed her legs, letting the butter-soft
leather slide across itself. “I don’t know if that qualifies as being specialized
in something.”

“I’d like you to look at the tattoo and tell me if you recognize anything about it.”

“Where do we go, the morgue?”

“No, I’ve brought you pictures,” he said as his face closed up and he pulled away.
Thorn knew that this man was holding something back. He was still guarded
around her. It was more than the cop thing of keeping too much evidence a
secret. It was something more. Keeping his body tight and distant. He did make
it clear he meant business, though, by looking her directly in the eye.

“I understand,” she said meeting his gaze. “I remember Detective Scettico. He
helped me with a break in we had a few months ago.” Thorn wrapped her now cold
fingers around the warm mug of coffee. Scettico seemed to hate her before
they’d even met. He’d had something against female tattoo artists. Thorn
thought against females in general.

“Let me show you those pictures.” He laid them face down trying to prepare her. “The
weather and animals did a number on it.”

He turned over the first 5×7. She took the picture and held back a gasp. The
tattooed flesh had been cut up and was green and bloated but she recognized the
tattoo immediately. She had worked it on a witch a year ago. She felt the blood
run from her face as she took in the pictures and she breathed slowly and
calmly to settle herself. She knew this witch.

“Are you okay,” Sé asked.

“I just need a minute.”

It shocked her to know the young witch had died and someone had mutilated her this way. The witch,
Willow, had wanted the typical protection symbols but also a love spell worked
into it so she would be unaccountably irresistible. Thorn had cautioned her
about this but the witch was strong magickally and confident she could defend
herself. It was clear from the pictures Thorn now held in her hand that the
magick symbolism was missing. It had been cut off the body. The witch had
recently been giving Reese, one of her artists, some trouble. She claimed Reese
had made a pass at her girlfriend but Reese was committed to Gwynn. Once Thorn
had explained this, the witch, Willow, backed off.

Witches and vampires came to Thorn to be inked as she was able to invoke spells into her
artwork and ink. She’d weave talismans into the tattoos to imbibe them with
magick. These were her late-night patrons who paid so well. She could also
bespell the ink so a vampire could be tattooed. Normally they healed too fast
and the ink disappeared. She was the only one who could do it that she had
heard of and she had vamps coming from all over the world to get tattooed.

“This is my work.”

“What can you tell me about it?”

“Part of it’s missing.”

“You’re sure about that? So many tattoos, you remember all of them?”

“Some are more memorable than others. This is one of those. There were some
distinctive symbols that have been removed, just those specific symbols. It was
very carefully done too.” Thorn pointed to the missing skin which hadn’t
disrupted the unmagicked design.

Sé gathered up the pictures and studied her. “What did the symbols mean?”

Thorn laughed. “Detective, they’re just symbols.”

“I know that and you know that but our killer seems to think otherwise. You must
know what they mean, Thorn.”

“She had a symbol for protection and for love woven together. Funny, the protection
thing didn’t work too well for her did it?” Thorn said. She let out a big
breath.

“No it didn’t.” He looked at the pictures a moment longer before he put them away. “Where
did you learn to be a tattoo artist?”

Thorn’s face froze. Was this just curiosity or still part of the interview? “I was an
artist first. Then I studied the art of tattoo in Japan, New Zealand, England, and
all over the States.” Thorn shifted in her seat and took a sip of her coffee. “Tattooing
is an old art.” She studied his eyes, trying to determine how much to tell him.
“Its history is a mix of mysticism and magick.”

“Why do you think someone would want to cut these symbols off a person?” Sé asked.

“I have no idea, Detective. Why would anyone kill?” He lingered, looking past her.
She needed him to go. She had a client coming in at three a.m. A vampire. One
of the special clientele she kept separated from her everyday customers. There
was blood involved and she didn’t want undue temptation from other customers
being near. Besides the fact that the mixing of human mundanes and vampires was
strictly forbidden in her licensing agreements with the vampire council. And
she needed some time to recover from this shock.

“I didn’t ask why someone would kill. But I guess you’re right,” he said. “We
never really know why these guys kill and even less why they mutilate. Thanks
for your time, Thorn.”

He met her eyes and then, as if needing to prolong the conversation, he thanked
her for the coffee too.

She walked him back out of the shop and saw him to the door. He gave a little wave
as he strode into the night and she locked the door behind him. She stood in
the doorway for a few minutes watching his figure get smaller as he faded
amongst the shadows. The street was dark, hiding the homeless that used doorways
for shelter once the sun went down and the shops closed up. The scent of rain
was on the wind. This made her think of Sé again and she smiled to herself.

“Trouble that one.”

“Oh Raven, I can look at least can’t I?”

“Our kind don’t mix well. Trouble.”

“Clap your trap, Raven. I think I need to do some investigating of my own. Let’s go
hunt.”

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