A long snippet from Blood Winter (Max is Back!)

We’ve got a showing on the house on Monday. That means I have to clean this weekend. I mean, really clean. Plus rake leaves. I have some help from children, but mostly it will be me. Plus I start a new block on Monday, which means prepping the course and all that. I mean, I’ve been getting ready, but I have to get more ready and things printed and so on and so forth. So keep good thoughts for the showing.

Otherwise, I’ve been getting some writing done and wrangling kids. They’ve been out of school for a couple of days and having lots of fun with friends. Also there’s the whole doing laundry, feeding them, being mugged by dogs, and all that sort of thing.

And now, for your snipped of Blood Winter:

“What is this stuff?”

As Tyler complained, he brushed at his clothing. A streak of bright red dust clung to the shirt wrapping his lean, muscular frame. His long blond hair was tied at the base of his neck, and he sported a Three Musketeers-style mustache and beard.

Max sipped at the concoction in her glass, wincing at the thick, syrupy taste. Now that food was getting a lot harder to come by, Magpie, a Circle-level witch and the covenstead’s cook, had come up with a high-calorie drink made from honey, berries, and who knew what else. It tasted like the worst kind of cough medicine, but Shadowblades and Sunspears didn’t have much choice. They needed a minimum of twenty thousand calories a day each to fuel the spells that created them, and going to Costco or Walmart for tubs of peanut butter and pallets of power bars was no longer an option. The Ugly Juice, as everybody was quietly calling it when Magpie’s back was turned, was the only answer they had come up with.

“Maybe you rubbed up against something,” she suggested unhelpfully as the red smudge refused to budge. “Or someone.” She lifted a brow suggestively.

“The same something—or someone—you rubbed up against?” He glared at her arm. His blue eyes burned in his narrow face, and he spun a knife around the fingers of his left hand. It never seemed to leave his grip anymore. Like a deadly security blanket. He was perpetually angry, always needing to move. As if he was hunted.

Max glanced down at herself and frowned. A streak of red dust ran down her forearm. She wiped at it. The stuff might as well have been spray paint. She shrugged and gave up. “Probably something one of the witches concocted. Likely Kyle,” she said, wincing again.
Her brother had all the power of a Triangle witch and all the training and self-control of a toddler. He tended to experiment with spells before considering the consequences, with frequently messy and sometimes dire results.

“He needs a keeper,” Tyler said, taking half a biscuit drenched in gravy and offering it to the beast lying at his feet.
The Grim stared up at him with unworldly green eyes for a long moment, before closing Tyler’s entire hand in her jaws and scraping off the biscuit, leaving welts across his skin. The creature was at least two hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle and stood about three feet tall at the shoulder. Her bearlike fur was blue-black, developing into a ruff behind her heavy, square head. Her tail curled around her legs.

“Nice doggy,” Max said, eyeing the scrapes on Tyler’s hand. His healing spells kicked in instantly, and a moment later they vanished. “What’s she do when she’s pissed off at you?”

He looked down at the Grim. The beast looked like a cross between a dog and a bear, but she was something far more magical and dangerous. Not to mention unpredictable, moody, and very possessive of Tyler.

He grimaced, and then the corner of his mouth turned up reluctantly. “It’s not what she does when she’s pissed that’s the question, it’s what she does if she isn’t. That I’m still waiting to find out.”

Max snorted. “You do seem to attract sketchy women.”

“Like you?”

“I was thinking of the witch-bitch herself. Giselle.”

He chuckled. “You’ve got a point there. Apparently, I like hard-assed women with vicious tendencies.”

“Good thing, too, given that you’re surrounded by them. And sleeping with one,” she said, jerking her chin at the Grim. “Does she hog the bed?”

Tyler winced. “More like I am the bed. I usually wake up with her sprawled across me and with a mouthful of dog hair.”

“Sounds romantic.”

“Shut up. What about Beyul? Alexander’s Grim doesn’t exactly strike me as the sort to sleep at the foot of the bed.”

“He likes the couch.”

“What about Spike?”

Spike was a Calopus and looked a lot like a silver wolf, except for the two thin horns that curved from her skull and the multitude of poison spines along her back, chest, sides, and tail. She had taken a liking to Max and had become her regular companion. Just at the moment, she slept under the table, her chin resting on Max’s foot.

“The couch is big enough for her and Beyul both.”

“You and Alexander are probably too loud and energetic for either beastie to sleep well if one of them tried to share the bed. But maybe they like to watch,” Tyler said, waggling his brows up and down. His knife still spun between his fingers.

Max flushed despite herself. She wasn’t used to having someone special in her life and in her bed. Ever since becoming a Shadowblade, she’d kept everyone at arm’s length, resorting to one-night stands to scratch her sexual itches. But then Alexander had come along and changed all that. Sort of. She was still trying to figure out how not to fall back into the habit of closing him out. During the days in bed, when she could float on the amazing feelings he awoke in her, things were just about perfect. But then nights came, and she had to deal with all her fears and knee-jerk patterns of shutting down rather than dealing with too many conflicting emotions. Alexander had a lot patience, but it was running out. After that— After that was something that was starting to give her nightmares.

“Maybe they do watch,” she said with a shrug. “’Course, I wouldn’t know. I keep busy, you know.”

“Which reminds me, where is the fair Alexander tonight?” Tyler glanced around at the other tables in the covenstead’s dining commons, where several other Shadowblades and Sunspears were eating. “You didn’t forget to unlock his handcuffs, did you?”

“No, just wore him out. Turned him into a puddle of satisfied man-goo.”

“Way too much information,” Tyler said, sitting back and making a face.

“You asked.”

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