Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Guest Ann Purser!

Today our guest blogger is author Ann Purser. Ann is the author of the Lois Meade and Ivy Beasley mysteries!  Welcome, Ann!

Thank you, Rocco!

I started writing after my small daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.   We thought that though she had been dramatically premature, she seemed to be okay.   But then, finding out, we concentrated on doing the best we could for her.   At eight years  old she went away to school, and I missed her so much I had a period of gloom.   Fed up with me, my husband suggested I write down what I felt, and it appeared in SHE magazine and I had much comforting feedback.
My next daughter and later a bouncing boy, completed our family.   They are still more important to me than anything else.

SHE was a well respected mag in those days, and the editor was an ex-girlfriend of my husband!   I continued in this fashion by taking on television reviewing for the Stage and Television Today.   They wanted Philip, but he said his old woman would do it for the fee they were offering.   So I did, and greatly enjoyed it.

Next I was offered a whole page interview with a tv or radio performer of my choice, one a month on SHE (same editor).

A wonderful experience, and I was threatened with a law suit only once.  

Six years later, I decided to broaden my horizons and did a wonderful degree with the Open University.  By now, I reckoned I could try my hand at a novel, so wrote the six Round Ringford village stories, following these up with my two detective series, starring Lois Meade, detective in one, and Ivy Beasley, head of an enquiry agency in the other.  Lois runs a cleaning business, and recognises the ideal environment for detecting:  a position of trust in her clients` houses.   Lois is married and has a hands off relationship with Inspector Cowgill; and Ivy is engaged to be married to Roy, both resident in an old folks home in Suffolk.

I love writing both series, and find that writing them alternately is as refreshing as a break from my workroom!

My agent (also my husband`s) was wonderful Jacqueline Korn at David Higham Associates, and she was always helpful, and forthright in her judgement on my early efforts.

My latest release is:   The Sleeping Salesman, an Ivy Beasley enquiry.   Roy`s only relative, Steven, is to be best man at the wedding, but there are many hitches, not least the possible postponement of the wedding, and murder, abduction and deceit are there in plenty. 

I always have music - classical mostly - while I`m writing.   I love music, and find that it acts as a barrier to extraneous sounds such as playtime in the village school next door, aiding my concentration.

What would my readers be surprised to know about me?   Not much, I suspect.   Perhaps the fact that I keep chickens and pick dandelions for them every day from the hedgerows?   Boring, boring!  The craziest thing I’ve ever done was as a fourteen year old, I rode a large Irish mare at the gallop through local town on market day, unable to stop her and aware that my mother and friends were shopping and watched me go by.   Nothing since.

Am I a Plotter or pantser?   Maybe because I am English, I have no idea!

If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be my grandson George, on loan from the hereafter.

I hope my readers take away only amusement and enjoyment from reading my books.   I love it when they write to me, and feel I have made friends.   My website (which needs major updating, I fear) is
My email address is:

 It’s been delightful and thank you for having me on your blog, ROCCO!

Thank you, Anne!

Coming in September:  Gemma Halliday!
I will be offline whilst THE HUMAN takes a vacation (imagine that – I do not take one and I sorely need one, Meow!)
But join us for  more fun and interviews in October!

Incredible Blogging Cat

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cat-ching up Erika Chase!

Meow! Today my guest is author Erika Chase!

The first in the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries by Erika Chase, A Killer Read, hit the bookshelves last year and was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Read and Buried followed in Dec., and Cover Story this month. Erika also writes short stories and is part of those dangerous dames, The Ladies’ Killing Circle. She has been shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She was the owner of a specialty mystery bookstore in a previous life. And then, as now, has been ably distracted by her two Siamese cats.

And now…Erika!

R: Hello, Erika, and welcome,meow!

E: Thanks, ROCCO.

R:  How did you become interested in writing?

E: I got hooked on writing in the eighth grade when my teacher, Mr. Ross gave me top marks on an essay. His encouragement led to my first attempt at writing a novel. The plot was about a young girl on a horse ranch, as horses were my passion.  Weren’t they for every 14 year old? The book did not go far – into my bottom desk drawer as a matter of fact but the urge to write remained. Fast forward to my Journalism degree and doing everything from reporting to writing radio ads, to editing a community newspaper. Eventually, I ended up writing novels once again.

R:  Tell us about your latest release.

E:  The lastest in the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries is Cover Story, released Aug. 6th. It revolves around an old childhood friend of one of the main characters, Molly Mathews, who returns to Ashton Corners, now a widow and a writer. The book club hosts a book launch, and murder and mayhem ensue. First the books are stolen and Molly is attacked; the publisher is found dead; another body is found; and the main suspect is a book club member….so of course, Lizzie Turner and gang go sleuthing again.

R:  How did you decide to write in the “cozy mystery” genre?

E: I have to give full credit to my editor at Berkley Prime Crime. She suggested it; I leapt on it.

R: Tell us about your beautiful Siamese cats, meow! How did they come into your life?

E: Keesha is a lively 15 years old and came into my life after another cat, Sheba passed at age 21. Mojo, now nine, joined the family as a companion to Keesha. I just felt so guilty about leaving her alone so much. Now I can’t imagine life without two Siamese!

R:  What is your favorite genre to read? Who’s your favorite author?

E: Cozies are the closest thing I have to a favorite genre, although I also love British police procedurals. As for favorite author, there are so many and so many are good friends, that I daren’t name just one!  Sorry.

R:  Do you have a “How I got my agent” story to share? How did you feel when you got “the call”?

E: I had the right friend at the right time. My close friend Mary Jane Maffini (now writing at Victoria Abbott, along with her daughter) got a call from her agent asking if she knew anyone who might want to try writing a cozy for Berkley Prime Crime. I bit and she liked what I sent her. The rest, as they say, is history. When I heard it had sold, I was in a state of shock, until I phone Mary Jane and her screaming brought me back to reality.

R: What’s a must have for you when you’re writing and what aids your creative process?

E: I always have music in my life, especially classical. I find the baroque instrumentals help my creative process, although to get into the southern spirit when writing A Killer Read, I was known to play some Leonard Skynard, the soundtrack from The Big Easy, and other mood setters.

R: If you had access to a time machine, where would you travel and why?

E: I’d love to go back to the Jazz Age. The music, the fashions, the joy of life…it seems so glamorous from this stage in time.

R:  If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead?

E: I’d like to see Cover Story on the big screen. It was a very visual book as I was writing it and I think it has the elements to keep viewers glued to the screen. Lizzie would have to be played by a young Sandra Bullock and Mark Dreyfus, the police chief and Lizzie’s love interest, would be a younger (and bald) Paul Gross. Ellen Burstyn (think Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood) would be a very elegant Molly Mathews.

R:  What is the one thing your readers would be surprised to learn about you?

E: I’m an introvert with a capital ‘I’. The life of solitude side of writing suits me to a ‘t’; it’s the ‘get out there and promote yourself’ part that’s challenging.

R: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

E:  My business partner (Mary Jane Maffini) and I had just purchased Prime Crime Books, a specialty mystery bookstore in Ottawa, Ont. That would be about 20 years ago. Next thing we do is attend MWA in New York, and knowing that we wanted a skeleton for our window, we checked the yellow pages and hit the ‘bone’ shops. We found our guy at a shop on Broadway, had ‘him’ packaged and left. Declaring him at the border was another matter. The customs guys had no idea how to classify our purchase. Believe it or not, they’d never had anyone traveling with a skeleton before – go figure. Best they could come up with was ‘novelty’. Our skeleton, Sam, was deeply offended.

R:  What do you hope your readers take away from your writing?

E: I hope they will take away a sense of pleasure. I want my books to be enjoyed, the characters to become friends, and the plots to be a satisfying read.

Just for FUN:

Night or Day?  Day
Dog or Cat?    Cat (EXCELLENT answer, meow)
Mountains or Beach?   Beach
Steak or Salad?   Salad
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada?   Dirty Martini
Hawaii or Alaska?  Alaska  (I think you are the first person who answered that, meow!)

Your Favorite:

Drink: Espresso
Book: The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri  (because I just finished it and love the series)
TV Series:   Castle (Meow – we just did a fundraiser for Nathan’s charity!)
Movie: Chocolat
Actor:   Sean Connery
Actress:  Judy Dench

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world it would be….
Carole King. Love her song writing and want to know how she gets there.

If I had just one wish it would be…..that I could travel more

If I could trade places with anyone it would be…. Sally Armstrong. I greatly admire her reporting, her causes, and her courage. She’s someone who’s making a difference.

Where can readers find out more about you?

People can find me at:
I’m also on Facebook at Erika Chase, author
and tweet me at @erika_chase
I also blog on the 7th of each month at

Meow, thank you for a great interview, Erika!

Folks, Erika will be giving away a copy of COVER STORY to one lucky commenter!

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link:
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link:!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Winner will be chosen at random using  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck!

Coming in September:

Gemma Halliday!

Incredible Blogging Cat

Sunday, August 11, 2013

ROCCO gets down and dirty with...MIDNIGHT LOUIE!

Aha, it's the interview you've been panting for, kitties! I get down and dirty with that fleet-footed, short, dark and undeniably charming star of his own mystery series - MIDNIGHT LOUIE!

But first, a bit about Ms. Carole Nelson Douglas! (who collaborates with Louie!)
Photo credit: Sam Douglas

Carole Nelson was born in Everett, Washington. She received a bachelor of arts degrees in Speech and Theater and English Literature from the University of St. Catherine in 1966. She sold a paperback original novel, Amberleigh (1980), to Jove and a fantasy, Six of Swords (1982) and its sequels, to Del Rey Books. Douglas became a fulltime fiction writer in 1984.  Douglas had incorporated animals since her first novel (there was an Irish wolfhound in Amberleigh, a King Charles spaniel in the next historical, Fair Wind, Fiery Star (1981). So little surprise she began to write about Midnight Louie, the twenty-pound black tomcat with the wit of Damon Runyon. The cat was based on a true-life cat who made his home at a motel, and truly munched on the fish in the reflective pond. The owners had no use for the cat, but a sympathetic woman retrieved and cared for the feline — and Douglas interviewed the woman and cat for a story for the St. Paul newspaper she worked for at the time. Douglas later came to own a number of rescue cats, including one she named Midnight Louie Jr.

and a bit about our star himself....

Midnight Louie first appeared in romantic suspense novels, Crystal Days and Crystal Nights (1990). “I just moved Louie and his carp pond to the abandoned (fictional) Joshua Tree hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, which was remodeled into the (fictional) Crystal Phoenix, the classiest hotel in Vegas, with Midnight Louie as ‘unofficial house dick.” 

Louie is, by his own description, short, dark and unobtrusive. He's a twenty pound (give or take a pound) jet black tomcat with all of his assets intact (for the most part - he has had a vasectomy).  He talks like a detective out of a forties pulp novel.  Plus, he’s remarkably light on his feet and he can shimmy into places Columbo would never dare to tread.  Louie is the first furpurrson of mystery, or as he puts it, the star of his own multivolume mystery series. And make no mistake about it, Louis is THE star, even though at times he finds himself sharing center stage with some very interesting humans.

  and now...I"m so excited! I interview the one, the only....MIDNIGHT LOUIE himself!

R:  Midnight Louie, my idol!  It’s such a huge pleasure to meet you – tell me, when did you first realize you had a flair for PI work?
L: Thank you, ROCCO, for inviting me on your show. Oh, it is Miss Toni LoTiempo’s blog? Forgive me, but I am an old-fashioned sort of guy and I think it is your show.
Well, like all kits, I chased my own tail, but I wised up way earlier than most that it was self-defeating. This was after my father, Three O’clock Louie, left my ma flat with a six-pack of kits after a one-night stand. Ma did her best, but we all had to make it on our own at an early age. I quickly found that tailing humans got me a better class of Dumpster leavings. After I discovered the Chinese chef’s koi pond at the Crystal Phoenix Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, I set up shop as unofficial hotel house detective there, and kept the rats (human and otherwise) off the premises. I also learned to outrun any hurled meat cleaver in town.
With the entire Strip at my disposal, my inborn street smarts soon attained an air of savoir faire. I was quite the dude about town. Then, I was casing a big Vegas book convention for lunch leavings and was spotted. During my escape attempt, I ran straight into a dead body.  Miss Temple Barr, the petite but feisty redhead in charge of public relations for the event, quickly found me, and the corpse. The dead guy was soon morgue-bound. I was captured and animal pound-bound . . . until I charmed the Jimmy Choos off Miss Temple by helping her solve the crime and save her own life. 

In late October, that first case of my series (formerly titled Catnap), will be out in eBook with a new title: Cat in an Alphabet Soup, along with Cat in an Aqua Storm (formerly Pussyfoot). So, Rocco, how do you like my new cover model shots and these "in progress" covers?  I'd love your opinion (and your readers too, of course!)

R:  Those covers are pretty cool!  Speaking for myself, I prefer Alpha cover numero uno (no legs). Why detract from your catly self?

L: Heh, heh, quite true! I didn't think of that!(And Miss Carole probably didn't either!) The rest of the series is:  Cat on a Blue Monday, Cat in a Crimson Haze, Cat in a Diamond Dazzle and Cat in an Emerald Eye, and so on. You may spot a title pattern here. I am currently helping Miss Carole write Cat in a Yellow Fever.
R: I know how grueling that can be.  I help The Human (Miss Toni) write her Nick and Nora mysteries as well.
L:  A tough job, but someone has to do it, right? Anyway, Miss Temple Barr was recently single when we met, so moving in with her gave me a more, ahem, intimate base of operations. Our relationship is strictly platonic, though.  (I heard I was replacing a sleek green-eyed, black-haired dude named Max, who went out one day and never came back.) I have his coloring, but know better than to run out on a sweet situation. My Miss Temple gives me more than half the king-size bed, leaves the bathroom window open for my comings and goings on night detecting (and other) excursions, ladles shrimp over my politically correct but obnoxious Free-to-Be-Feline health food, and gives me control of the TV remote. What more could a guy ask?
R: Out of all the cases you’ve solved, which one stands out in your mind as your most challenging?
 L: It is hard to pick. In Cat in a Leopard Spot I had to defend a performing leopard charged with murder and interrupt an illegal canned hunt by making the cowardly “hunters” my prey. In Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit I was dealing with a raft of Elvis impersonators, aka tribute artists, and possible sightings of The King himself. I had to interrogate an anaconda in that one, and I was in quite a tight corner there.
I do not talk to humans on principal, but I can communicate with different species. Each one is a challenge once you get beyond your usual cats and dogs. It is fortunate that I write my own separate chapters to describe my doings, as I go where the action is. Or vice versa. It is not just a matter of clueing my people in on evidence and perps. Often I risk life and nail sheaths to physically “nail” the bad guys. I have had to break into the animal pound, which is risky. In my latest oeuvre, Cat in an Alien X-Ray, I had to break into the morgue. Those heavy steel doors could trap a dude where he would not be found until he is an ice cube.
R: You have quite a way with the ladies – what do you attribute that to?
L: For human ladies, it is their fabled weakness for fur coats. When I give them one of my famous calf massages, they nearly swoon. Since I am well-traveled and unfailingly the gentleman, the ladies are so much on my side that some would like to “save” me from myself. They are always trying to pick me up, with good intentions, but I am not going into any homeless shelter. I am much safer as a free agent, although it is the rare dude of my breed who can say that. As I tell my readers and cats everywhere: I am a professional. Do not do as I do. Just sit back and watch.
For the feline set, I am quite the courtly gentleman when I need to be. It helps that I developed a youthful crush on a shaded silver Persian belonging to a fading movie actress, Miss Savannah Ashleigh. The lithesome Yvette has always been “the Divine” in my books. In her honor, I must live up to my ideal and treat every street-worn little doll as a lady of the first rank.
As for females of other species . . .
ROCCO: No, don’t tell me!
L: The true romantic gentleman rover does not discriminate. Ladies of all species welcome considerate attention and do not get enough of it.
R:  You’ve been with your Miss Temple Barr quite a while now – what was the biggest adjustment you had to make in cohabitating with a human?
L: Miss Temple is a superior human--super smart, full of heart and true grit despite her petite size. She may look cute and fluffy, but she is a human terrier primed to root out crime and associated vermin, like murderers. However . . . she has this high heel thing, obviously a defensive mechanism to compensate for her five-feet-0 height. I myself am used to being short, dark and handsome, and have found my lower stature useful for PI work. She, though, must collect these fancy spike shoes (she is quite the vintage clothing collector), and does throw tantrums when I select one for a wee bit of gum exercise. (The interior odor is catnip to me.) Or when I find a silk dress to settle onto for a luxurious paw-pummel and midday nap. 
R:  You can speak frankly with me, Louie…(ROCCO arches eyebrow!) which of Miss Temple’s suitors is your favorite, and why?
L: Miss Midnight Louise, my purported daughter, claims I am partial to Mr. Max Kinsella. Obviously, we are the same sort of handsome, mysterious hip cat. He is a Vegas Strip-class magician, but has a hazy past in undercover events abroad. I believe he was a counter-terrorist agent.
On the other hand, Louise has gone ga-ga over a shaded golden male and Miss Temple’s new neighbor after Mr. Max vanished, Mr. Matt Devine. He is a radio hotline counselor, also with a secret and surprising past, and is in Las Vegas on a personal mission with a dark side. He has a lot to overcome and there is not a female around who would not love to be his helpmate, from Midnight Louise to Miss Temple Barr.
My first loyalty is to Miss Temple. If either of these guys endangers her, he is mincemeat, and I have the sixteen concealed shivs to ensure that. If, sadly, she takes one into our home, I will adjust to sharing the zebra-stripe comforter I look so well upon with the lucky upstart.
R: Tell us about your latest adventure, Cat in an Alien X-Ray! Aliens? Really? Are you getting into an X-file kind of thing now?
L: Think about it:  in the classic X-Files TV show you have agent Fox Mulder, curious as heck, dark, and sexy, intent on probing every corner of possibly paranormal life and crime. And you have his foxy red-headed partner, Dana Scully, a skeptic who needs to be shown the light in order to believe the truth is out there. Obviously, I and my Miss Temple Barr are the reincarnation of that classic duo, except that I have fur and we both have better-sounding names. I mean, Molder and Skully. Sounds like a series about a couple of medical examiners.
Also, Las Vegas is a neighbor to Area 51, and the sort of news stories that come out from the Strip definitely catalogue some very alien goings on. So when tourists are capturing photos of hovering UFOs over the Strip in Cat in an Alien X-Ray, it isn’t surprising that UFO nuts, conspiracy theorists, and science fiction aficionados converge on Vegas, with the result of two dead bodies and new cases for me and my four human cohorts to solve. I might add that while Miss Temple and Matt Devine are skilled amateur detectives, Mr. Max Kinsella and Miss Lt. C. R. Molina are pros, but everyone still needs my help, whether they know or admit it, or not. 
Also lurking out there, besides the truth, is a demented former IRA terrorist who is stalking all my favorite folks. Think of my adventures as a three-year TV series with an ensemble cast: lots of story arcs and character building, but also plenty of danger, mystery, humor and heart. Since my alphabetical series is nearing Book Z, subplots are tying up as the main characters head towards . . . Armageddon or closure. Not to worry, I write a prologue, “Previously in Midnight Louie’s Life and Times,” that brings new readers up to date in the series, and a lot of readers enjoy rereading the whole thing time and again. What can I say? The ladies love my massage skills and instinct for the sweet spot and the guys like to prowl the Vegas byways through my feline-noir, hairy-chested, hard-boiled viewpoint. 
R: So which one will it be for you – Solange, Yvette – or perhaps some cute kitten we have yet to meet?
L: There are eight million people in the Naked City, as they say about NYC. In Las Vegas, there are about eight enchanting feline dames I have met over the course of my adventures that I would foxtrot to North Pole to save. Call me undecided. I am free, black, and nowhere near 21.
R:  What are your plans for the future, Louie? Do you see retirement anywhere in there?  And if so, would you be willing to take a charming, albeit tubby tuxedo under your wing?
L: My life and times will not end at Book Z. My fan base would not allow it. No, I shall have to suffer picking up long-tailed ladies in distress and succulent leavings from the best Vegas restaurants, roaming back allies and major Vegas entertainment venues at my midnight hour, snoozing under the canna lilies and taking a dip in the Crystal Phoenix koi pool by day, and doing mixed marital arts at the drop of murder victim.
It is a demanding life, but mine own. I would not mind your company, ROCCO, since you are always attired for upscale Vegas action, rather like James Bond (to whom I have been compared, along with Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Columbo, and Mike Hammer). I would trot any ugly extra pounds off you in no time, ROCCO. I can get a new business card reading: Have tuxedo sidekick, will work for koi.
R:  Thank you, Louie, for this amazing interview!  And thanks also to Ms. Carole Nelson Douglas for her support!
L:  My pleasure, as always, ROCCO! If you’re ever in Vegas, well, stop by.  We can catch koi together. Maybe a few shady characters, too.

R:  You're on, Louie!

Louie's human and co-collaborator, Miss Carole Nelson Douglas, has kindly consented to give away not one, but two books to two lucky commenters. To win your choice of either:
A) A signed hardcover edition of CAT IN AN ALIEN X-RAY    or
B) A signed mass-market copy of CAT IN A WHITE TIE AND TAILS

simply leave a comment below, stating which of the covers for Cat in an Alphabet Soup you prefer! Legs or no legs????????? (You can also weigh in on which image of Louie you like best, too -front or back view!)  You can also state which book you would prefer to win.  Please be sure to leave your email address (entries WITHOUT email addys will be disqualified; sorry.) Just to clarify...there will be TWO winners, and each winner will receive ONE of the above mentioned books - their choice.  Please, please remember to leave your email address. Entries without an email address are automatically disqualified, and LOUIE hates to disqualify anyone!!!!!  (As do I, ROCCO, blogger supreme, heh heh)

For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link:
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link:!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Winner will be chosen at random using  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Contest runs through midnight, Sunday, August 18. Good luck!

the winner of our MJ Davidson giveaway is:  Jenni Walker!
Next week: Erika Chase in the hotseat!



Sunday, August 4, 2013



I’m so purr-fectly happy to welcome our good friend, the extremely talented and lovely Mary Janice Davidson, back to the blog! 
MJ’s here to talk about the new Queen Betsy book, UNDEAD AND UNSURE, out this Tuesday, August 6!  She’s also been kind enough to provide us with an EXCLUSIVE sneak peek at UU!  This is the only place, kitties, you will be able to read this excerpt!

So, without any further ado….MJ!

Thanks, ROCCO!

Folks, Rocco and Giselle are the only cats I like, and one of them is fictional.  (And also dead.)

It’s nothing against cats as a species.  I’m a dog person from a long line of dog persons (dog people).  (I’m also the proud descendant of a long line of substance-abusing white trash.  It’s weird that I take pride in that, right?)  I like a pet who does stuff, like care if you live or die.  Cats, as Andrew Vachss wrote (brilliant, brilliant writer, better on his worst day than me on my best), are the lap dancers of the animal world:  the minute you’re done paying off, they’re outta there.

All this to talk about the new Betsy the Vampire Queen book, UNDEAD AND UNSURE, and dogs.  Specifically the vampire king’s dogs.  He has two of them now, because thanks to the events in the last book, UNDEAD AND UNSTABLE, Eric Sinclair can now bear sunlight for the first time in decades.  To celebrate, Betsy gets him two black lab puppies at tremendous expense:  the expense of the damage they did to Sinclair’s car on the way back from the puppy farm (you didn’t think Betsy would take her own car, did you?), Sinclair’s dignity (the term “Who loves Daddy the very very most?” has been heard, and he wasn’t talking to a human infant), and Betsy’s sanity (dogs are drawn to her, and love to lick her shoes).  Fur and Burr are new additions to the Undead family, and that’s just a taste.  Jessica’s pregnancy, now in the seventeenth or third or ninth trimester (no one, including Jess, can seem to keep track and no one seems to care, either) is coming to an end.  One way or the other.

Also included:  your yearly allotment of snarky heroines, blood, vanity, al fresco sex (Sinclair really likes having sex outdoors in broad daylight), baby talk, and good triumphing over evil.  Kind of. 

* * *

     I was hip-deep in velvet clogs and last year’s pumps, and heard what was becoming a near-daily sound:  someone on Summit Avenue had stomped on their brakes right outside our house.  There’s something about the shriek of brakes and the creak of fingers tightening on the steering wheel that kicks adrenaline from ‘ho-hum, should I have breakfast and lunch at Burger King?’ to ‘I’m going to be killed any second and I should do something right now!’. 
Even before I died that was a stressful sound, and as a vampire that hadn’t changed.  These days that sound meant one thing:  Eric Sinclair, the king of the vampires, was playing in traffic again.  I galloped down the Gone with the Wind staircase and was out the front door in time to see the vampire king standing on Summit, cuddling Fur and Burr to his (broad) chest and waving a cheerful goodbye to a rattled driver who was not lingering.  “I am certain that will buff right out!” he called, and the car lurched as the driver stomped the gas pedal.  “It was lovely talking to you!”
     “Ah, man.”  I fought the urge to slap myself on the forehead.  “Again with this?” 
     Eric Sinclair spun toward me, Fur and Burr’s long silky ears flaring out as he did.  Identical bundles of fluff and teeth, Fur and Burr were black lab sisters, with the soft short coat and large liquid brown eyes of the breed.  They also drooled prodigiously.  Fur wore a red collar with matching leash; Burr had the green one, also with matching leash.  Unless it was the other way around.  Who could tell?  Who wanted to?
“Ah, my own, a glorious sunny day rivaled only by your beauty.”
     “It’s cloudy,” I pointed out as he came up the driveway.  “And what was the other thing?  Hmm it’s on the tip of my tongue, why’d I come sprinting out of—oh, right!  Stop playing in traffic!  Stop!  Playing!  In—”
“Traffic?” he guessed.
“I can’t believe I’ve had to say that even one time to a grown man.  A very grown man in your case—certainly old enough to know better.”
     “I am warmed by your loving concern.  As much as I am warmed by the sun as it—“
     “Lurks behind a cloudbank.”  I tried not to smile.  My husband was a pile of contradictions which I found as sexy as I did interesting/annoying/infuriating.  Tall, dark, and—there was no other word—foreboding, with big hands capable of killing, hands that had killed—but he’d never hurt an innocent.  Immaculately dressed, but walking around in a cloud of dog hair.  Old enough to qualify for Social Security, but forever in the taut toned sleekly muscular body of a young man in his physical prime.  An unstoppable satyr in the bedroom and veteran of more threesomes than Charlie Sheen, but faithful to me.  Glittering black eyes capable of forcing anyone’s will to his, but when he looked at me it was with sweet sappy luurrrrv.  I suppose a staid predictable mate would be boring.  Sinclair was never boring. 
     Yes indeed, he was my husband and my king, together we (sorta) ruled the vampire nation (such as it borders and no border patrols or citizenship tests or patriotic bumper stickers or taxes) and were feared and loathed by many, and bugged by many more, and there King Puppy Love was in all his insane puppy-cuddling glory. 
And it was still damn near impossible not to gape up at him and grin and grin, because his unalloyed joy at his new freedom was contagious. 
     I stomped on my happiness.  One of us had to be the responsible adult, dammit, and the cosmic joke of it all was:  that meant me.  Setting an example.  Or something. 
“When I asked the devil to fix it so you could run around in sunshine, I had no idea the downside was you’d drop fifty I.Q. points.”  I was going for scolding, and not pulling it off.  “Is it asking too much to want you to retain some self-respect?  Because you’re capable of at least that.  If memory serves.”
     Fur and Burr answered for him with puppy yaps.  The little black dogs had begun squirming like hairy worms when I’d come out.  They adored him, they lived to be near him, they cried on the infrequent occasions he left them, but they loved getting their fur and slobber all over me almost as much.  Sinclair thought they were perfect in all ways, but I could only take their incontinent cuteness in small doses.  I was a cat person whose cat was dead.  So I had pretty much the same relationship with Giselle as I’d had when she was alive:  we ignored each other while going about our lives.  Which had suited us both fine, so don’t even start with the judging.
     “Where’s my badass vampire king?” I complained.  Unlike most rhetorical questions, this one was answerable.  Temporarily replaced by the farmer’s son was correct.  Sinclair had grown up on a farm and been around swarms of dogs his whole childhood and adolescence (though he was a teenager before the word teenager was invented).  After he became a vampire, he decided it would be cruel to try to keep a dog or dogs when he could never take them for a walk during the day, and when at any moment he could be killed again.  Kind of a grim tale, right?  Yeah, well, I accidentally changed that.  I also accidentally changed the timeline and accidentally killed Lena Olin.  Because that’s me in a nutshell:  accident-prone.
     Not only had I made a (literal) deal with the devil for Sinclair’s soul (sorta), I’d picked up the puppies and brought them home for him, a hey, great to have you back in the sunshine! gift.  Again, in my defense, I had no idea it would leave him clinically insane.
     “You were once a badass but now you’re the undead Dog Whisperer,” I teased.  “Where’s the cold ruthless vampire I loved and loathed?”
     “Right here!  Isn’t um badass vampire king wight here l’il woogums yes he is!  Yes he is!”
     Dear God.  “Well, we had a good run, but it’s time for our divorce now.  I’ll have my people call your people.  Which will be easy since my people are your people.”
“Oh no, not ever,” he replied, confident in my love and horniness.  He grinned and I smiled back—just could not help it.  He only talked the baby talk to Fur and Burr when I could hear him; he knew it set my teeth on edge.  Right?
Please God, that’s why he’s doing it, that’s the only reason he’s doing it, to get a rise out of me.  The alternative is unthinkable!
“Come walk with me,” he coaxed over the puppies’ whimpering.  They were trying as hard as they could to get down so they could put muddy paws on my dark purple leggings.  Purple leggings which matched my slightly less purple sweatshirt, and pale green flats on my feet...what had I been thinking?  I looked like an upside-down eggplant.
“Pass.”  I stepped close to pet them, which only increased the wiggling and yelping.  “Bad enough to have these two always wanting to climb all over me; I don’t need the neighborhood dogs chasing me home again.”  One of the perks of being Elizabeth, The One (gah, I know, sue me; I didn’t make up that dumb dumb dumb title), is that I’ll be pretty cute forever.  One of the not-perks was that dogs were drawn to me. 
“How can my true love say nay,” he sang, “on such a beautiful d—bbllech!”  He’d been cut off as Fur had licked his face and accidentally Frenched him.  Heh.  That alone had been worth running out of the house for.  “No, no, you dreadful hound,” he scolded in the same tone people used for “I love you and everything you do is wonderful”.  Yeah, that’d show those two who was boss.  “Just for that, whee!”
     “Please stop doing the Mary Tyler Moore twirl.”  (Authors note:  Sinclair did this for the first time in Undead and Underwater and it was just as off-putting.)
     I’d always assumed that when I met the right vampire, we’d settle down and live with a houseful of weirdos and I’d be the embarrassing one.  Oh, life, must you always teach me lessons?
     The four of us went into the house, where Sinclair shrugged out of his black wool coat and de-leashed the dogs, tossing both coat and leashes into the mudroom just off the kitchen.  If I needed further proof that things were different, the sight of him tossing a $600+ Ralph Lauren cashmere overcoat onto a dirty counter, then closing the door on the whole mess (ta-dah!  all gone!) would have done it.
The mudroom was aptly named.  It always looked like someone had thrown a mud grenade, then slammed the door.  Ker-BLOOSH!  Mud all over.  Mud in places you can’t get mud out of.  Mud in places mud was never meant to be.  The puppies, knowing the routine, dashed past the door to their corner and started frisking around their food dishes. 
     “This is not funny.”
     “I know!” I cried.  “You’ve lost your mind, the devil’s dead, the Anti-Christ is pissed, and I have to go grocery shopping again because Jessica’s belly is devouring the planet.”
     His piercing gaze met mine for a moment and I felt hot and cold at once.  Cold because although Sinclair would set himself on fire before hurting me, he was pretty much the baddest vampire on the planet; you didn’t break his gaze without giving something up.  Hot because he was pretty much the baddest vampire on the planet and you didn’t break his gaze without giving something up.  Yum.  Yum squared.
     His lips parted.  I felt myself leaning toward that I thought about it, we hadn’t had sex in almost seventy-two hours.  The horror!  Unimaginable.
     “Tina!” he bawled, and I jerked back.  That wasn’t the name I’d expected him to shriek.
     We heard feet pounding down stairs, we heard someone galloping down the hall to the kitchen, and then—whoosh!  Tina was sliding to a stop in front of us.  She loved fuzzy socks, but bemoaned their lack of traction...most days, anyway.  Also, her socks were yellow with black stripes, making it look like she had bee feet.
     “Majesties.”  She wasn’t panting, because she had no breath to be out of, but she’d wasted no time coming on the run.  “How may I serve?”
     Sinclair, meanwhile, had twisted the lid off the puppies’ canister o’treats.  “This is unacceptable.”
     “My king?”
     He held the canister upside down and shook it.  “It is not to be borne!”
Tina blinked slowly, like an owl.  She loved my husband, she had loved him decades before I was born and I confidently expected her to love him for centuries more.  But her love didn’t threaten mine.  She had been a friend of the Sinclair clan for generations; she was the vampire who had turned my husband from a grieving brother and son to a coldly infuriated predator.  She was devoted, had killed and (at least twice that I knew of) almost died for him, and her love for him was utterly maternal.
Which, given how she looked, was as hilarious as it was touching.  Tina had been a prime hottie in her day and still was, in mine.  Her dark blonde hair was pulled back into a thick braid which brought attention to her pale face, making her dark eyes and bristly lashes even more striking.  Pansy eyes, my mom called them.  She was regularly carded when she tried to a) drink, and b) see an NC-17 movie.  This was partly because she was a vampire and partly because she liked dressing the part of a lecherous senator’s fantasy:  plaid skirts, usually in a green or red tartan, crisp white blouses, little to no jewelry, no makeup.  In life, she must have driven the other southern belles out of their teeny tiny minds, and trust me, their minds were having enough trouble grasping the fact that Daddy’s slaves had nutty ideas about how it sucked to be owned.  (Yeah.  She was that old.  Her full name was Christina Caresse Chavelle.  Ha!)
All this to say, she was a creature of contradictions, just like my insane husband, and also like my insane husband, she loved and protected us.  That didn’t mean we didn’t drive her bugshit sometimes.  Like now, for instance.  Sinclair was shaking an empty canister and I could tell she wanted to roll her eyes but wouldn’t indulge.  Thus the slow blinking. 
After a few seconds while Sinclair practically tapped his foot waiting for her answer, she said, “I must apologize, my king.”
“How could you let this happen?”
“I foolishly let the budget, the management of our offshore accounts, an audit on Scratch, a conference call with Michael Wyndham and Dr. Bimm to lay groundwork for possible alliances, and the monthly newsletter take precedence.”
I wanted to sigh with admiration.  Only Tina could have gotten away with it:  a perfectly serious response, with terrific undertones of because it’s not my friggin’ job, nimrod, now how about you go play with your dogs and let me get back to the grown up stuff?
     “It’s nothing to freak out about.  We’re not out.”  I figured I’d toss Tina a save, not that she needed one.  “There’s a whole pack of those Gaines Burger things in—“
     “Store bought?” the king of the vampires nearly shrieked.  I had the feeling he would have said “Abstinence?” in the same horrified tone.  “Factory churned dreck with peanut shells and corncobs as filler?  Never!  Never while I live!”
     “Technically you’re not ali—quit that.“  Tired of waiting for her snack, Fur had abandoned her bowl and jumped up on my legs.  She had sharp claws to go with her sharp baby teeth—those puppies had mouths full of sewing needles.  “Stop it!”
     “My darling, my own,” Sinclair crooned as he set the canister down and came to me.  He put his lovely strong hands on my shoulders and pulled me in for what I hoped would be some heavy kitchen smoochin’.  Maybe we’d shoo everyone out and nail each other on the butcher block.  Hmm, no, we made our smoothies there; the others would throw a fit.  The puppy counter?  I’d throw a fit.  It was no coincidence that the kitchen was one of the few rooms in this monstrosity we hadn’t christened.  “I need you at my side.”
     “Back atcha, big guy.”
     “Let us bake love.”
     “Oooh, I’ve been waiting all day for—what?”
     “Bake love.”  Was he...?  He was!  Eric Sinclair was reaching past me and grabbing an apron, which he dropped over his head and then tied behind his back.  “That is how you show love to your pets,” he went on as if this was a serious topic of conversation and not further evidence of clinical insanity.  “You bake love.  I shall begin with a batch of Apple Crunch Pupcakes.”
“Please lose the apron,” I begged while Tina sloooowly backed out of the room.  “I can psychologically block most of this if you just lose the apron.  I can blitz the whole day just please lose the apron!”  Oh God, God, why wouldn’t he lose the apron?
“It will not stand!  We may have run out of homemade dog biscuits but my precious darlings will never be forced to choke down—“
     “Forced?  So you’ve never once noticed how they eat?  Because they are not forced.  Ever.”
     “—repulsive store-brand dog treats loaded with by-product meal and chicken heads.  Now where...”  He stood still for a moment, thinking.  “...where is my mixing bowl?”
     I fled the horror.


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Next week…the interview you’ve all been waiting for!
I interview MIDNIGHT LOUIE!!!!!!!!!!