It’s been two week since Menagerie was released. It’s been on Amazon’s top 100 list in paranormal and urban fantasy every day until today. I’d like to say I know what put it on there and what made it slide off. (I wish I could understand Amazon’s finicky ways.) But I can only assume it was a collection of things. Which is interesting because Menagerie means a strange or diverse collection of people or things.
Melange, the tentative name of Menagerie’s sequel, means a mixture or a blend. I know that some people are hesitant to read an unfinished series, because, after all, some series are abandoned. So I thought I’d post a few teaser chapters of the book that may be called Melange, just so you would know it is happening. Maybe the plot isn’t exactly what I had thought it would be, but that just makes it that much more fun.
I plan on publishing it around the first of the year.
On the sort of spring evening that lasts forever, when the sun’s fading into blackness stretches for hours, Declan tried to convince himself that time really could be harnessed, and the simple pleasure he found walking beside Lizbet, listening to her laugh, would last as long as they both lived. And yet his errand reminded him that bits and pieces of life could be fleeting, that nothing lasts forever, and things could change as quickly as the weather. But fortunately, at that moment, the finicky Pacific Northwest sported a few wispy clouds, a smattering of dim stars dotting the darkening sky, and the promise of a cool, clear night.
“Are you sure you want to wait?” Declan asked.
“What else am I going to do?” Lizbet asked. “Besides, hanging in a bookstore is one of my favorite things to do.”
“I feel weird having you walk me to my grandfather’s house.” He skated a glance at her, wondering what his grandfather would think of Lizbet’s curly hair, elfin features, tiny build, and bright green eyes. His mom called Lizbet a wild child, which was, given her strange upbringing, an apt description. “It’s supposed to go the other way, right?”
“What do you mean?” Lizbet turned to him.
He wanted to kiss her, but after a quick glance at his grandfather’s imposing brick mansion on the other side of the long stretch of lawn, he tucked his hands in his pockets to stop himself from reaching out to her. “I’m the guy,” he said. “I’m supposed to walk you home.”
“But neither of us are going home. I’m going to the bookstore, and you’re stalling.”
“I’m not stalling.”
She placed her hands on his chest to keep him away. “Yes, you are. We’ve been walking down this street at turtle speed…”
He wrapped his hands around her wrists, holding her close. “He’s going to think I’m hitting him up for money.”
“Why do you say that?”
Declan sucked in a breath. “He’s going to ask about college. So, I’ll have to tell him about Duke, and that will lead to a conversation about money.”
“I’d rather talk about money than your stepfather.”
“True that.” Declan didn’t like to think of, let alone speak about, his stepfather. Fortunately for him, although unfortunately for his stepfather’s business, Gaylord Godwin had been missing for weeks.
“But you’re not your stepfather, and you don’t have to talk about money. You can steer the conversation in any direction you wish.”
A rustling in the bushes caught and held Declan’s attention. The giant rhododendrons bordering the lawn shivered before falling still.
Lizbet followed his gaze, her expression curious and baffled.
“Probably a cat,” Declan said.
Lizbet shook herself and tucked her hands into her sweater pockets. “I don’t think so…it would have been a really big cat.”
“A dog then,” Declan said, dismissing it. “Are you going to be okay walking to the bookstore?”
Lizbet smirked. “I don’t know…this is a pretty sketchy neighborhood.” She waved at the turn of the last century mansions, the tree-lined street, and manicured lawns before taking his hand in hers and squeezing it. “This is the kind thing to do. Remember, this is for him, not you. I’ll be fine and so will you. And more importantly, so will your grandfather.”
But Declan knew that wasn’t true. The whole reason he stood on the street outside his grandfather’s house was because the old man wasn’t fine. His days were numbered. According to his nurse, Frank Forsythe only continued to live because he was too ornery to die.
“He scares me,” Declan admitted.
“I think you could take him on,” Lizbet said with a grin.
“Physically, but probably not intellectually.”
“If he tries to play chess, just run.” Lizbet put her hands on Declan’s shoulders and turned him so he faced the front gate.
“That would be cowardly…” Declan shuffled his feet.
Lizbet gave his back a gentle push.
The bushes shook again and this time Declan caught sight of an enormous gray tail beating the bright red flowers before disappearing into the shrubs. “That’s a huge dog.”
“I’m not scared of a dog,” Lizbet assured him.
“What if my grandfather gets talking and I can’t get away before the bookstore closes? I can’t leave you here in the dark by yourself while a giant dog runs loose, terrorizing the neighborhood.” Declan balked at the black wrought iron gate that separated his grandfather’s house from the rest of the world.
“For one thing, no one is terrorized. And another, this is the Pacific Northwest. It’s June, the longest day of the year is only a few weeks away. We have another two hours, at least, of daylight. And if your grandfather gets extra chatty, I’ll take a bus home.” She reached around him and pushed open the gate. “Now, march up to that door and act chummy. He’s old, he’s sick, and he wants to meet you.”
Declan nodded and after a quick backward glance at Lizbet, the girl who had become the center of his world and his personal voice of reason, he headed up the walkway.
As much as the bookstore tempted Lizbet, curiosity made her pause at the edge of Frank Forsythe’s property near the now-still rhododendrons. Cocking her head, she listened for the dog who belonged to the great furry tail she’d spotted earlier. She shot Declan a quick glance. He stood on the porch with his hands shoved into his pockets, his back to her.
“Hello?” Lizbet whispered into the bushes. Silence. She gazed up at the trees lining the property expecting to catch the attention of a squirrel or even a bird, but couldn’t find a creature in sight. A chill crawled down her back. “Hello?” she called a smidge louder.
The bushes rustled again and Lizbet searched for the cause. A rabbit, a chipmunk, even a skunk—there had to be an animal around. Why wasn’t anyone responding? She gave the house another glance, but Declan had disappeared from the porch.
She hadn’t heard the front door open, but that must have been what had happened. The nurse, Teddy, had been expecting him. Lizbet let out a little sigh of relief, pulled her sweater a bit tighter, and headed for the Blarney Bookstore.
The University District was an eclectic mix of shops catering to the UW’s students and the historic homes of the professors and Seattle’s business professionals. Lizbet’s sandals made a flopping sound as she walked and she told herself that the eerie echo wasn’t in any way sinister. But goosebumps rose on her skin as she scanned the yards, trees, and shrubbery for signs of animal life.
Where was everyone? The only reason she knew of for the animals to desert an area was a forest fire, and the warm humidity held only a spark of the imagination. Unfortunately, Lizbet’s imagination was running wild. She tried to rein it in as she headed for the bookstore.
When only silence answered the door, Declan stepped off the porch to peek in the window. He’d never been inside his grandfather’s house so he didn’t know what to expect. The tapestry rugs, wingback chairs, and pastoral paintings didn’t surprise him. The overturned table, shattered vase, and strewn flowers across the wood floor did. He rapped on the window. Just like when he’d knocked on the door, no one answered.
He cast another glance at Lizbet. She stood at the intersection at the end of the street. Should he call out to her? What if someone had broken into his grandfather’s home? What if that someone was still in the house? The further away Lizbet was, the safer she was. Squaring his shoulders and refusing to jump to conclusions, Declan jogged toward the back of the house. A shoulder-high brick wall enclosed backyard. When he couldn’t find a gate, he scrambled over it and landed hard on his feet. His breath accelerated as he picked up his pace. A quick glance in the windows told him the living and dining room were both empty. A motion censored light flicked on when he reached the patio. Everything in the backyard screamed quiet and peaceful elegance. It was hard to imagine his grandfather had met any violence. The windows were intact, but the back door hung ajar.
Declan reached in his pocket and fingered his phone, debating on whether or not he should call the police. He poked his head through the door. The kitchen with its tall white cabinetry, scrubbed oak table, and gleaming stainless steel appliance looked like it belonged in a magazine. But a large butcher knife lay on the floor surrounded by a smattering of…what was that?
Declan pushed inside for a better look, then, with trembling fingers he called his mom.
Lizbet finally spotted an owl perched on the branches of a giant maple tree. It was early for an owl, but that was only one of things out of place on this strange night.
Lizbet glanced up and down the street, making sure that she and the owl were alone. “Where is everyone?” she asked.
The owl swiveled his head in her direction and blinked at her. “The wolves are back,” he said with a hoot as if this should answer all her questions.
“The wolves? In the University District?” Her mind tripped back to the large gray tail she’d spotted in Frank Forsythe’s rhododendrons. Why would there be wolves close the city center? Wolves belonged in the woods or near pastures where the slow and easy prey lived.
The owl blinked again and nodded.
“All the animals have disappeared because of the wolves?” Lizbet pressed.
“I suggest you do the same.”
“Why are you here?”
“I am a sentinel. We owls have always been so.”
“Admirable,” Lizbet murmured. She pressed her mouth closed when an elderly couple walking a standard poodle appeared at the end of the street. She watched as the poodle sat down and refused to budge. The woman tugged on the leash and reprimanded the stubborn dog. After a moment, the man took possession of the leash, but the dog remained obstinate. The man pulled on the leash, but the poodle sat on his haunches while his collar threatened to pop off his furry head.
She turned back to the owl. “Do you know where the wolves are now?”
The owl lifted one wing and pointed at the Forsythe house.
Lizbet ran and her sandals slapped the sidewalk.
She stopped short when a giant gray wolf appeared on the sidewalk. “What…who are you?” She confronted the wolf.
He didn’t answer but stared at her with blazing yellow eyes.
It occurred to Lizbet that he was trying to scare her. She balled her fists and planted them on her hips. “Answer me!” She raised her voice and tried to infuse it with authority. “Who are you and what do you want?”
The creature flicked his tail before turning and sauntering into the dark night.
Lizbet opened the wrought iron gate, tripped down the walk way, climbed the steps to the front porch and rapped on the door.
Declan answered, his face pale. Silently, he widened the door to let her in. “I thought you were the police.” His voice wavered.
“Why? What happened?”
Declan nodded over his shoulder. A newscaster’s voice floated through the open door and the light flickered from a TV screen.
Lizbet started for the room, but Declan put a warning hand on her arm stopping her. “Don’t,” he said.
“Well, for one thing, I vomited in there. And another…”
“And Teddy, his nurse.”
“Are they dead?” Lizbet whispered, although she didn’t know why.
Lizbet put her fingers to her lips, because she knew it wasn’t grizzly—not like a bear—but wolfish, like a giant gray wolf.
When Lizbet arrived back at her grandmother’s ranch, she tested the locks on all the gates and fences, and checked in with the animals. She didn’t mention the wolves, because she knew how skittish the horses could be, and how it was really easy to send the chickens into a panic. She tried to sound casually conversational as she chatted to the goats and a passing rabbit.
Gazing up at the sky, she thought about calling to a circling owl. The birds were always the first in the know, but since it was a warm evening without a promise of rain she knew her mom and grandmother would have their windows open, and she didn’t want to alarm them anymore than the chickens.
Her mother’s window shone with a soft warm light, letting her know that her mom was still awake and probably waiting for her. Lizbet’s heart lifted. It had only been a few weeks since her mother had woken from her coma, and Lizbet had yet to get over profound gratitude for her mother, even though sometimes she felt that her mother was a different person here at the ranch than she’d been on the island where Lizbet had grown up. Still, her mom was her rock—the only permanent thing in Lizbet’s young life. She hurried inside to tell her mom about Declan’s grandfather.
Daugherty sat on the edge of her bed, a shell-shocked expression on her face. She held out her arms in a greeting when she caught sight of Lizbet.
“Did you see him?” Daugherty asked after Lizbet dropped into her mom’s arms.
Lizbet inhaled her mom’s familiar scent of vanilla and honey and shook her head. “Declan did.”
“Oh, that poor guy.” Daugherty stroked Lizbet’s curls.
“He was pretty shaken. He vomited.” Lizbet pulled away and sat beside her mom. The mattress shifted, sliding them together so their shoulders and thighs met.
Daugherty patted Lizbet’s leg. “John told me.”
Lizbet met her mom’s gaze and smiled. “He’s not still mad then?”
“Oh, he’s still mad.”
“But not too mad to talk?”
Daugherty studied the floor and shook her head.
“He’ll come around. He loves you.”
“He loved me when he thought I was a fantasy, but now that he knows I’m real…”
Lizbet softly laughed. “This is the downside of ginger root tea.”
“We can’t blame the tea.”
But Lizbet had some hard feelings of her own about the tea her mom had used to cause a forgetfulness almost has deep as Daugherty’s own amnesia. She knew that she and Daugherty were lucky to be able to live with Elizabeth, Lizbet’s grandmother, while her mom tried to recreate their lives after a nearly twenty-year solitary hiatus on Blackstone Island. John, Declan’s dad, had been the only person to visit them who actually knew Daugherty, but thanks to the tea, John had thought Daugherty was nothing more than a hallucination. And he hadn’t ever even seen Lizbet until they had met on the mainland.
“What do you think will happen now?” Lizbet asked.
“You mean for Declan?” Daugherty asked. “Well, according to John, he’s not a suspect even though often the person to discover a body is.”
“The vomit—for one thing, but also the nature of the wounds.”
Lizbet sucked in a deep breath. “So weird, right? Who ever heard of wolves in the center of Queen Anne?”
Daugherty nodded and slid a glance at Lizbet. “Do you know anything about wolves?”
“Only what I read in My Antonia.” For a reason she couldn’t define, she’d kept her ability to talk with animals a carefully guarded secret. She’d learned long ago that her mother couldn’t hear or understand the animals the way she did. At first, this had bothered her. For years, she had believed her mother to be all-knowing and all-powerful, but in time, Lizbet had grown to love that she had an ability her mother not only didn’t share but also discounted as a childish whim akin to make-believe friends and monsters beneath the bed.
The phone on the night stand buzzed. Lizbet and her mom just stared at it. Josie, Daugherty’s sister and Lizbet’s aunt, had given Daugherty the phone so that she could keep a constant line of communication open between her and Lizbet’s aging grandmother.
Lizbet peeked at the screen. “It’s John.”
Lizbet bumped her mom’s arm. “You should answer it.”
Daugherty sighed. “Everything was so much easier on the island.”
“No, it wasn’t. Don’t glamourize it.” She rested her hand on her mom’s thigh. “It was also a lot of hard work.”
“I know, but with John…”
“The best is yet to be.” Lizbet finished her mom’s sentence.
“Do you really think so? Do you think he’s ever going to forgive me?”
“Don’t you think he might be a tiny-bit mad at himself? I mean, he’s the one who let himself get snookered with ginger root tea.”
“But I’m the one who gave it to him!”
“So what? That’s like blaming the arms dealer for a shooter’s rampage.” Lizbet paused then added softly, “Besides, you can’t be held responsible. You had amnesia. You didn’t know who John was. You didn’t even know who you were!” Lizbet thought about bringing up Rose, Lizbet’s biological mother, but decided to wait for a better time. She bottled up her curiosity and put a cork in it. “Did John say how Declan is doing? Or his mom?”
“He said Gloria is frantic. She’s afraid the police are going to try and pin the murder on her missing husband.” Only a few weeks ago, Declan’s stepfather—and possibly Lizbet’s real father—had left Daugherty for dead and then, later, had taken a few potshots at Lizbet as well. Since then, he had disappeared.
“I don’t know how Gloria can still care about him.”
Daugherty shrugged. “Love is complicated.”
Lizbet thought about her relationships with her mom, Declan, Maria, Elizabeth, even Matias. Complicated wasn’t a word she’d use to describe them.
“Besides,” her mother continued, “Frank Forsythe wasn’t killed by a man. He died of a heart attack.”
“Probably after the dog attacked.”
“True,” her mom conceded.
“And what about the nurse?”
“He died from the wounds and blood loss. There’s no way of knowing if a person was or wasn’t responsible for the animal attack. No sign of forced entry.”
“Then we might not ever know,” Lizbet said, but what she thought was, I’m going to find the wolf, human or beast, responsible for this.
Declan tried not to be embarrassed for his mom as she fluttered around the gravesite, acting more like she was hosting an open house for a swanky townhome than grieving for her father in a cemetery. She had told him that the service would be limited to family and a few close friends, but Declan felt small and lost in the sea of people surrounding his grandfather’s grave. It bugged him that most of these people probably knew his grandfather better than he did.
He blamed his mom. She and her dad hadn’t spoken in years. Declan had never been able to cross the wedge between them.
He glanced over his shoulder at the catering van parked next to the small chapel adjacent to the graveyard. Even from a distance he recognized Mr. Croft and Missy, the caterers his mom always used for open houses and other events. He had suggested that his mom use Lizbet’s mom. Daugherty was trying to get a blackberry wine business off the ground and had thrown a few luncheons and business events for family and friends using her unique blends of food and wine, but Gloria had been adamant about using Mr. Croft.
Which was fine…he supposed. He liked Mr. Croft. He just liked Lizbet and her mom more. His dad, John, hovered in the back. His big shoulders filled out his suit, and the tie looked like a noose around his neck. Declan knew his dad hadn’t liked Frank Forsythe any more than Gloria, and Declan guessed that his dad was here for him. Declan met his dad’s gaze and he started toward him. Gloria, who was whispering in the ear of a city councilman, wouldn’t miss him.
Feeling like a fish trying to swim upstream, Declan weaved through the crowd, headed for his dad. A hand on his arm stopped him. Seconds later, he was engulfed in a tight hug.
“OMG, I’m so sad for you!” Nicole breathed into his ear.
He pulled away and straightened his tie. “I didn’t know him. We never met.”
“And that makes it so much more tragical.”
Tragical? He never knew Nicole to make up words before. With her pale skin and hair, light blue eyes, and plain black dress she was the opposite of Lizbet in almost every single way. The sun’s ray glinted off the silver cross around her neck making him blink.
“If you need to talk, I lost my grandma a few months ago, so I know what it’s like.”
Since Nicole’s grandma had probably died peacefully in a hospital bed rather than being ripped to pieces by a wolf, Declan knew that Nicole did not know what he was feeling. He couldn’t tell her that the sight his grandfather’s bloody and torn body haunted him. He couldn’t tell her that the rusty smell of blood and putrid stink of death clung to him like a mold he couldn’t wash away. He couldn’t admit to her, or anyone, that a gray wolf with crimson eyes lived in his nightmares.
“Who’s that?” Nicole asked.
Declan followed her gaze to the gravesite where a tall man with honey blond hair stood beside his mom. “I’m not sure.” It could have been any one of his grandfather’s ‘family and close friends,’ but something about the man’s posture leaning toward his mom told him that this wasn’t just anyone. Declan tightened his lips and threw his dad another glance. Fortunately, John was involved in a hushed conversation with East End’s tennis coach. Declan thought he caught the word football.
Nicole elbowed him. “Your mom wants you,” she whispered.
His mom used her white handkerchief to wave him over. The crowd parted as he headed her way.
“Darling,” Gloria reached out and placed her hand on his arm. “This is Leo Cabriolet.”
“Godwin’s tennis partner,” Declan said, taking the man’s extended hand in a firm grip.
“Former partner,” Cabriolet said.
“Also your grandfather’s attorney,” Gloria said.
Declan slid his mom a studied glance and read her excitement. He felt ill and off balance. He blamed the sun, his own lack of sleep, and the nightmares.
“We need to talk,” Cabriolet said.
“Of course,” Gloria said.
Declan glanced around at the crowd and shook his head. “This isn’t the best time.”
Cabriolet nodded. “Tomorrow then?”
For some reason, Declan wanted to say he had school, basketball practice, or work, but since the next day was Sunday, he said none of those things.
“Ten?” Gloria suggested.
Cabriolet smiled. “I look forward to it.” He cuffed Declan’s arm in a friendly goodbye, as if they were meeting for a date instead of a reading of a will.
Lizbet watched her mom and grandmother move to the front of the crowd while she hung back in the shade of a giant maple tree. Above her, a squirrel chattered, but she paid him little attention.
Large groups of people made her nervous. It still took her by surprise that this was exactly where her mother belonged—this was the world where her mother had been raised. These well-dressed, diamond-flashing peers of Declan’s grandfather had been the parents of her mother’s playmates.
Lizbet smiled watching her grandmother. Elizabeth didn’t ooze with money as the others did, but even in her last century dress, heels, and hose, she belonged. Her husband’s wealth and land-holdings had secured his wife and daughter’s position on East End’s slippery social ladder.
Lizbet sought out Declan. She spotted him near the grave site, hovering near his mom. Nicole whispered something in his ear, and he turned and gave her a brief smile. Lizbet’s heart tightened as if someone had tied a string around it. She knew that Declan planned on leaving in a few months. He and Nicole both planned on attending Duke University. Lizbet wondered who had made their plans first.
She knew she didn’t hold Declan’s leash. She wanted him to go to the best school that could best prepare him for the best med-school. But she also knew that what was necessarily best for him might not be what was best for her. The thought of him leaving while she stayed behind made her ache.
Her own plans were nebulous. She wanted to go to school, but she also wanted to stay and help her grandmother on the ranch, and her mom was attempting to start a business, so that was also interesting. She had decided to attend a local community college that would allow her to keep her job at the nursery, live on the ranch with her grandmother and mom, and lend her mom the occasional hand with the fledging business. She tried to be content with this plan, but adventures in foreign lands tempted. Duke University, even though she knew she’d never be accepted, also tempted her.
John pulled away from a group of middle-aged men. With his football player build, thick brown hair, and strong jaw, he looked too young to be Declan’s father. He took Elizabeth’s arm and helped her find a seat beneath the white hospitality tent. Lizbet strained to hear what he said to her mom.
She understood why he was mad. She just hoped that he would get over it soon. What her mom had done was wrong—no one deserved to be doped up on ginger root tea—but Lizbet couldn’t blame her mother for what she’d done while suffering from memory loss. Lizbet had read that amnesiacs, as well as those under a hypnotic spell, would never do anything that goes against their personal code of morals and ethics. Which made her wonder where ginger root tea fell into her mother’s moral compass.
She guessed that John had the same concerns as she watched her mom and John exchange a few brief words. Even from a distance, Lizbet could see their mutual attraction buzzing between them like a force field.
She hugged herself, feeling, as she often did, misplaced. Someone nudged her. Turning, she smiled up at Declan’s enormous best friend, Baxter. His suit pants looked a little short and his jacket was too tight, but she was glad to see him.
“Hey,” he said. “Does Declan know you’re here?”
Lizbet shook her head. “It’s okay. He should be with his family, especially his mom.”
She watched Declan’s face as he talked with Nicole.
“You should at least let him know you’re here.” Something in Baxter’s tone made her wonder how he felt about Nicole.
“Finding the right someone is like finding a pair of shoes,” Baxter said.
“What does that mean?” Lizbet asked, smiling up at him. Declan had told her that both of Baxter’s parents were therapists, and he frequently quoted them.
“It means that people look for good looking, smart shoes, but they always end up with the ones they feel the most comfortable with.”
Lizbet didn’t know if Baxter was comparing her to a pair of broken-in loafers, but when he waved Declan over, she decided not to take offense when she was pretty sure none was intended.
Relief washed over Declan’s face when he caught sight of Lizbet. Immediately, he broke off his conversation with Nicole and headed for Lizbet. She decided she’d be loafers, stilettos, or gumboots—any footwear Declan desired—as long as he always looked at her this way.