Sunday, March 19, 2023

Amazon 99 Cent Sale: Shadow of the Eclipse


Shadow of the Eclipse

by L. A. Kelley

99 Cent Amazon Sale

Ends March 31

Excitement brews in Crossroads for everyone but lawyer, Callum MacGregor. The harvest festival coincides with an eclipse, but a recent breakup leaves him no desire to attend until a visit from his old law partner, Isaac Bingham, drops a bombshell. Twenty years before Cal’s birth, his grandfather, Phillip, extracted a promise. Isaac must get Cal to the festival or the world faces unparalleled disaster. The mystery deepens when Cal learns another person received the same mysterious summons.

        After being fired for refusing to cook the books, accountant Meg Adler gets a letter with a job offer from a man named Bingham. She must attend the Crossroads Harvest Festival and meet his representative to discuss details. Meg is leery, but it’s not the end of the world if this doesn’t pan out. Right?

        Ancient evil prowls the shadow of the eclipse, and the key to saving the present is in the past. Cal and Meg enter a mystic maze and journey to Babylon, the Dark Ages, and 1906 San Francisco on the trail of magic artifacts lost in the recesses of time. Can they dodge demonic forces, fulfill a dead man’s mission, and discover a new future with each other?


“So, Cal,” Meg said. “Why meet here? What does this festival have to do with a job?” She flashed a cheeky grin. “I should warn you I don’t work the carny circuit.”

A job? An uneasy sensation settled in his gut. “I’ve no idea. I thought you knew why we were here.”

“Me?” Meg pulled back her hand and color rose to her cheeks. “What is this? Some kind of sick joke? Who does this Phillip Bingham think he is, anyway?”

Cal gaped at her. “Phillip Bingham contacted you? Not Isaac?”

“I got a letter from him with a vague employment offer from the Lux Foundation along with an invitation to attend the Crossroads Harvest Festival.” She wrinkled her brow. “It was a funny kind of letter on really old paper. The room at the inn was paid for by a man named Isaac Bingham, and I needed a job, so I figured what the hell. The instructions said a person would find me here to discuss the details. I assume that is you.” Her voice tightened in anger. “Is Phillip Bingham the town lunatic?”

“No, but I’m sorry to tell you he’s very much dead.” Cal gave her a recap of his meeting with Isaac.

As Meg listened, her eyes widened in astonishment. “Phillip Bingham died decades ago? How could he know I’d lose my job this week and be desperate enough to jump at this crazy offer?”

Cal ran a hand through his hair. “How did he know either of us would even be born?”

Meg took a wary step back. “I’m not sure I believe you.”

“I’m not sure I believe it myself. Listen, do you want to go somewhere and talk? Try to figure this out? I’ll call Isaac, tell him we found each other, and demand an explanation.”

Meg cocked her head toward the entrance of the corn maze. “Do you hear that? Someone called for help.”

“Probably lost in the maze. George made it extra challenging this year.”

“No, it’s different.” She sucked in a breath. “M-my name—I swear I heard my name.”

A gust of wind rippled the stalks. They bent toward the entrance, fluttery hands beckoning them inside. Cal strained to hear past the whispery rustle of the leaves.

Almost as if they were voices…

“I’ll check it out,” he said. “Maybe someone fell and got hurt. Wait here—”

“Not a chance.” Meg bolted into the maze, and Cal ran after her. They came to the first intersection, and she skidded to a halt. “Which way?”

“Left,” Cal said without hesitation.

They dashed deeper into the field, now left, now right, now straight ahead. With each step, Cal’s path became surer as if something pulled him with an invisible cord.

Meg puffed beside him. “How do you know which way to go?”

“I-I can’t explain it.” With every breath, the air around Cal became hotter and more oppressive, pressing on his shoulders like a stifling blanket. Humidity dropped to nothing. Beads of sweat on his brow evaporated. Cal licked his dry, cracked lips and grimaced at the gritty feel of sand on his tongue.

Sand in a corn maze?

They turned a corner and stumbled into a clearing. In the center was an arbor that arched over a circle of flagstones on the ground. A glowing flame hovered above the stones, suspended in midair. Meg and Cal exchanged dumbfounded looks and stepped forward. The clarion note of a distant horn sounded a soldier’s call to action. A surge of adrenaline flooded Cal’s veins. He hadn’t felt like this since his days on patrol with the Army. Unconsciously, Cal’s hand went to his hip, reaching for the sword. He stared at his empty hand. Sword?

The flame grew larger and brighter, shooting through the arbor into the heavens.

“Cal!” Meg’s voice sounded very far away.

“I’m here!” Cal reached for her, but the flame blinded him, blotting out the maze, blotting out the sun, blotting out the world.

Nothing remained but the roar of the cheering crowd.

Amazon Link


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Apple AI Audiobook Narrators


Audiobooks are nerve-wracking to produce by yourself. Sure, you can offer a shared royalty route with the narrator and hope to find a good one. But a narrator search can be difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming. Not to mention, the entire production process is  daunting and expensive. Where to begin?

According to Apple, not with a human. Apple started production of digital audiobooks using artificial intelligence, specifically two AI narrators named Madison, a female soprano, and Jackson, a baritone. The platform uses advanced speech synthesis technology combined with input from linguists, quality control specialists, and audio engineers. Currently Madison and Jackson are used for fiction and romance only. In the near future, Apple will have two additional digital voices, Helena and Mitchell, for nonfiction and self-development audiobooks.

 If you’d like to hear a sample of Madison click here.

 According to Apple, these are the benefits:

·        The audiobooks will be easy to produce and delivered via preferred partners. The original ebook must be created in either Draft2Digital or Ingram CoreSource.

·        Audiobooks have wholesale price limits. (The website isn’t clear on what they’ll be.)

·        Distribution will be solely via Apple Books and to public/academic libraries.

·        Publisher/author retains audiobook rights, and there are no restrictions on producing and distributing other versions of the audiobook.

How do you make an Apple audiobook?

The ebook must be created with either Draft2Digital or Ingram CoreSouce. Then the author selects the title. Apple has a review process and acceptance isn’t guaranteed. The general requirements are as follows:

·        Ebook must be available on Apple Books.

·        Author must own the audio production rights.

·        Primary category must be romance or fiction. The only subcategories currently accepted are literary, historical, or women’s fiction.

·        Book must be in English.

How good are AI narrators?

Frankly, Madison is fine. A lousy narrator can ruin a good audiobook and I stop listening when any set my teeth on edge. Madison has a pleasant voice with good tone, if a trifle unemotional. If you listen to her, you understand why Apple limits the AI to audiobooks without an exciting chase scene or hilarious denouement. An AI can’t make handle extreme ranges of emotion. Other things AIs can’t do:

·        A multitude of characters in the same book. Their voice is typical of a national newscaster; nothing to determine a regional accents. Nor can an AI handle a stutter, quirky word pronunciations, foreign words and phrases, or fictional words. (Sorry, Samuel Clemens, J. R. R. Tolkien, and me. Our work doesn't qualify.)

·        Difference in ages. All the characters sound roughly the same age.

·        Difference in genders. Male and female characters speak with a similar tone.

 So what’s the big problem with AI?

Even if an AI sounds okay, I have issues. A top-drawer narrator makes an audiobook memorable, and AI has a long way to go to reach that level. Audiobooks are also an art, and frankly, I’m not crazy about the idea of a soulless digital character taking a job from a human who spent years honing a craft. Not to mention, a human narrator adds emotional nuance to every page, something an AI can’t do. AI narrators are still few and far between and until I have no choice, I’ll opt for a human every time.




Friday, January 20, 2023

The Rose Stone is on Sale for 99 Cents


by L. A. Kelley

Amazon 99 cent sale

January 20-February 3

Jessica Rose Stone has a death sentence, an inoperable brain tumor. As the muscle tremors and pain intensify, an alarming new symptom develops, a rose-colored haze invades her vision. With it, comes the captivating hallucination of a world under a dire threat, protected by a magic crystal called the Rose Stone. Her doctor warned vision changes signaled the beginning of the end, but this Commonwealth of the Rose issues a compelling call. Jess dares to answer and finds a warrior named Griffin engaged in a struggle with an enemy called the darkling, a mysterious being who takes a chilling interest in Jess. With the help of Griffin and his warbird, she evades the darkling’s assassins and discovers her connection to the Commonwealth of the Rose runs deeper than mere illusion.

Tossed back and forth between two worlds, Jess battles the darkling in one reality and a tumor in the other. Her struggle to determine her true place grows as does her attraction to Griffin. Is the call of the Rose Stone a dream, a hallucination, or will it set her heart on the path to something greater?


The sunlight from the window shifted. Color surrounded me, vibrant pink hues deepening to brilliant crimson, spilling across the painting, brightening the rose. Not so much a haze, but a glowing aura, blocking out everything but the rose, setting the petals ablaze with color.

“Perfect,” I whispered. Drawn by the extraordinary effect, I clasped the palette knife tight to my chest and with my other hand touched the canvas. Spinning, whirling, falling into the depths of the crimson light, I lost feeling in my body but wasn’t afraid. If this was death, it was kinda fun. My eyes closed.


I hit with a thump, whooshing the air from my lungs, then sucked in a breath and groaned. I was no expert but assumed death didn’t come with a hard landing. I must have passed out and hit the floor and cursed my stupidity. If I were bleeding, I’d have to clean the mess before Melanie arrived or I’d never hear the end of it. I rubbed a hand across the floor, hoping for the touch of concrete and not a pool of something warm and sticky. Instead, my fingers entwined in a soft, springy mass.

“What the…” My floor had no carpet, and this felt like grass. My artistic air freshener had disappeared, too. Lush floral notes replaced the omnipresent smell of paint and turpentine in the loft.

I opened my eyes. My jaw dropped. “Not possible,” I whispered.

The loft had vanished. I lay face up in a glade, surrounded by thick piney woods, one hand clutching the palette knife. Faint pink tinted the foliage, but it vanished as I scrambled to sit. Overhead, a sky with ominous gray clouds was barely visible between the heavy overhanging branches. A stiff breeze, rife with earthy forest scent, batted my cheek. My heart skipped a beat at soft chittering overhead. Leaves rustled as furry creatures scurried across tree limbs as if my sudden appearance startled them.

I staggered to my feet, gulping in a lungful of clean, fresh air, and gawked at the unfamiliar surroundings. This was deep woods and not the local park with manicured walkways. The weather report predicted clear blue skies today, but the gathering clouds overhead hinted at a coming storm. Brush and trees ringed the small clearing. Big trees. Not the local pines, but massive conifers with flat needles that looked as if they had stood for hundreds of years. I’d never seen such trees near my home. I’d never seen such trees ever. Nothing was familiar. I touched a trunk. The dream tree was eerily solid.

My mouth dried. “How can this be real? Where am I?”

Did hallucinations have clear scents and sounds? Shoot, why didn’t I ask Melanie more questions or grill the pharmacist about the side effects from those stupid pills?

Because you were afraid of the answers. How do you feel now about using denial as a treatment for a terminal illness?

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Kinda dumb, actually.”

I took a step and grimaced as a painful muscle spasm shot through my leg. I flexed my fingers and winced. They hurt, too. That much hadn’t changed. I still had the palette knife, so dropped it in the smock’s pocket. Convinced I had completely lost my mind, I placed a finger on my neck and didn’t know whether to be happy or rattled at the steady pulse.

“Okay. I choose to believe I’m alive, but something is very wrong with this scenario. Maybe it’s not a normal hallucination. I-I must have fainted and gotten a hard knock on the head. This might be a coma.” Panic flared inside me. “Calm down. Try to wake up.” I took a deep breath and shouted, “I’m awake now.” The vision of the primeval woods remained stubbornly in place.

A rumbling growl reverberated through the trees, and my heart raced. “All righty. Attracting attention might not be the brightest idea until I figure out what’s going on.”

The little animals overhead chittered again, but this time their conversation had a frenzied aspect. My arrival gave them jitters, but that sound caused wild-eyed terror. Branches shook as they dove for cover, knocking bits of leaves and twigs to the forest floor. In an instant, stillness reigned. Even the stiff breeze had dropped.

Cold sweat trickled down my spine. “Okay, Jess. I really mean it this time. Wake up now.”

Dried vegetation on the forest floor crunched under the weight of a large, heavy something lumbering through the woods. No more than fifty feet away came rustling brush and a low, rumbling snarl. Branches ripped apart as the ominous sound forged a beeline in my direction. Then the noise stopped, but the eerie stillness of the forest offered no comfort. The silence lengthened as if that something was waiting, listening.

Breath caught in my throat.

I took a stumbling step back and froze at the snap of a twig underfoot. “It’s a hallucination,” I whispered. “It can’t hurt me.”

Without warning, the heavy body pounded across the forest floor, rapidly closing the gap between us. Through the brush, I glimpsed a scaly hide. “Screw it. I’m out of here.”

I did an about-face and shambled in the opposite direction, cursing my legs. Why didn’t I remember to bring the cane into the dream world? The lurker in the trees followed, thumping steps drawing closer. I could almost feel hot breath on the back of my neck. Blind panic urged me faster, but I was slowed by a stumbling gait and thick foliage that snatched at my clothing.


A heavy body landed right behind me, shaking the ground. Claws clamped my waist, dragging me to a halt and lifting me in the air. The self-defense class Melanie talked me into one summer rushed back. I struck out blindly with my fists and connected with something squishy. I grabbed it and yanked hard. There was a tearing sound and an inhuman bellow. The claws

opened. I tumbled to the ground and got the first good look at my attacker. A scream froze in my throat as I came face to face with a walking horror.

In point of fact, face wasn’t the right word.




Monday, December 26, 2022

I Hate Your Stupid Book


Photo by Selena Koi

End of the Year Rant:
I hate your stupid book.

My spouse and I have an agreement. When either of us has a rotten day, we’re entitled to a five minute rant. It can be over anything, no matter how important or trivial. The boss must be an alien testing earth defenses or why would he have me redo that report five times? The children’s behavior can't come from my side of the family; I never sprinkled glitter on the dog. Why has that cloud been following me all day? The other person must sit still, listening attentively, saying nothing other than nodding encouragement and making appropriately sympathetic sounds. At the end of the five minutes, the ranter is done and feels much better, and the rantee can’t comment on the lunacy of the rant.

I’ve decided you’ve all earned an end of the year rant from me about the things in books as a reader that drive me bat nuts.

 1.      Cliffhangers in an unfinished series.

I like series. I do. I don’t mind when a book hints at the continuation of the story. But don’t get me interested in a book and the final page has the death of the hero or heroine and expect me to wait until you get off your lazy butt and finish the next volume where the person has been miraculously saved. (Yes, this has happened to me—twice.) Not only will I shoot daggers of dark thoughts in your direction, I will never ever read anything else written by you ever again. Not even a shopping list. So there.


2.      Unnecessary deaths

Speaking of deaths, the only reason to kill off a character is to advance the story. That’s it. That’s the ONLY reason. (I’m shouting, in case you didn’t know.) If you kill off a character because, “I have to make the reader feel something” or “It’s an action book and someone has to die” you’re a rotten writer. And what I feel is that I won’t read another of your stupid books again.


3.      Surprise! You’re a daddy.

This works in novels set in the past before social media when a love interest could show up ten years after the fact stupefied to find the ex-girlfriend is his baby momma. Nowadays, you occasionally read of abandoned babies or women with hidden or surprise pregnancies, but it’s rare. Let’s face it, in the electronic age everybody knows everybody’s business. The trope is old and worn out. Consign it to the “Only in Historical Novels" bin.


4.      Names that are wrong for the time period

I don’t care if you love the name Madison, your favorite daughter, aunt, cousin, nephew (I don’t judge) or niece is named Madison and you swore to them all you’d dub the heroine in your historical novel Madison. No one in 1880’s Gilded Age New York City ever had a daughter named Madison. The name didn’t become trendy until after the movie Splash hit the screen a century later. I once started reading a book, came across Gilded Age Madison immediately tossed it aside and struck this author off my reading list forever. Blech. This is just plain laziness. It only takes a few seconds to Google appropriate names.


5.      Glossaries

I hate to break it to you, but you’re not J. R. R. Tolkien. He’s allowed to have glossaries because he was a master linguist and actually invented languages that made sense. You can’t. You’re not that smart. I’m not that smart. However, if you write fantasy or science fiction a few invented words are allowed. That’s part of the fun of writing, but if your book requires a glossary, you’ve just written a rotten book. Nobody wants to go flipping back and forth trying to find what the heck a skylxy is and why it gamborth the flooz nords. Edit that hot mess immediately.


There. That’s it. My five minutes are done. Your turn. I won’t judge even if you sound nuts.








Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Naughty List: Free on Amazon


The Naughty List

by L. A. Kelley

Amazon Free Days: November 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

This isn't a typical Yuletide tale.

Murder, mystical artifacts, an invisible demon with anger management issues, and an overbearing cupid—not what Rosalie Thatcher put on her Christmas list.

The holidays had always been a magical time for Rosalie, but not this year. The new manager at Penrose’s Department Store is determined to make this season the most profitable in the store’s history. Introducing arbitrary rules was bad enough, but forcing Rosalie into the stupid elf hat was the worst. The worst, that is, until she meets a real E.L.F. (Elemental Life Form) named David and gets lassoed into a desperate hunt for the stolen Naughty and Nice List. Now Rosalie and David must dodge a murderous invisible demon and recover the missing artifact before hellhounds track them down. The couple race against time for without the influence of the Naughty and Nice List the world will tumble into eternal chaos.


 A knock sounded at the door. Rosalie groaned. She was not in the mood for company. Maybe if she stayed quiet, the person would go away. Someone knocked again.

 “Rosalie?” A man cleared his throat. “May I have a word, please?”

 She wrinkled her brow, not recognizing the voice. Sliding the chain across, she cracked open the door.

“Hi. I’m David. I’m not a stalker—”

 She slammed the door in his face. How dare he show up at her home! Rosalie’s fingers clenched.

 “Please,” he begged. “I really need to talk to you.” She glanced around for her purse.

 David rapped again. “Rosalie, give me five minutes…one minute?”

She reached inside and pulled out an aerosol can and her phone. He would so regret this.

“You don’t understand.” David pounded on the door. “You’re in danger.”

The door whipped open. Rosalie stood tight-jawed with a small aerosol can in one hand and her cellphone in the other. “Either cops or pepper spray. You have five seconds.”

 “Rosalie, please—”


 “If you just—”


 “Please, listen—”


 “Um, I know Santa.”


David vanished. An instant later two hands behind her yanked both the can and cellphone away. She spun around and stared dumfounded as he threw the pepper spray on the floor and put the cellphone in his pocket. How did he move so fast?

“Rosalie, if you only—ow!”

 She kicked him in the shin.

“Quit it! I won’t hurt you. I only want to talk.” He motioned to the bag on the floor. “I brought dinner.”

 “I don’t care if you brought your own personal chef!” she yelled. “Get the hell out of my apartment. You…you…snitch.”

 He looked completely perplexed. “I think we have a misunderstanding—”

 “That’s it—I’m making some noise.” Rosalie took a deep breath as if to scream. David’s hand shot out and grabbed her. The apartment dissolved into nothingness.

 “Aaaaa—” Rosalie cut off mid-yell. Her head whipped back and forth in stunned amazement. “W-Where am I? What did you do?” Her heart thumped wildly as she gulped in a deep lungful of air.

“We’re on top of Penrose’s.” David leaned over and rubbed his shin. “Man, that’s gonna leave a bruise.”

“Penrose’s? Penrose’s?” Impossible, but they were suddenly four stories above the parking lot down below. “How did we get here?” she demanded, fear tinging her voice. “I don’t remember anything—” Fear turned to rage as the only logical explanation hit her. “You slipped me a roofie.”

“Of all the… I would never…” he protested with an indignant sputter. “I’m sorry I scared you. If you listen for a moment, I’ll explain everything.”

“Forget it. You have nothing I need to hear.”

Glaring, Rosalie backed up, not realizing she was dangerously close to the edge of the building.

“Rosalie, wait!” David leaped forward to stop her.

Startled by his sudden movement, she stumbled, hit the low curb around the roofline, and lost her balance. Flailing wildly, Rosalie screamed as she toppled over the side.

David snagged her hand. “I have you!” He clung to her with a grimace, bracing his feet against the low wall.

Her fingers inched out of his grasp. “Help me,” she choked out, panic-stricken. “I can’t hold on.”

David strained with the effort to pull her up. “I…won’t…let…you…fall.”

Her fingers slipped. Rosalie screamed and suddenly the world went black again.


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Halloween Candy: The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Awful


Halloween Candy: The Good, The Bad, and the Just Plain Awful

Halloween is around the corner. For many, that brings to mind ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. For me, Halloween has always meant snack nirvana. Halloween is the only American holiday that isn’t associated with a nutritious meal. Who needs that when you have candy? When I was kid, my siblings and I would sit around after trick-or-treating salivating over delightful piles of Almond Joys, Snickers, Butterfingers, and Hershey Bars. Woe betide any house that doled out one small Tootsie Roll. They were obviously cheap child-hating SOBs who should have their house TPed. (I plead Not Guilty.)

Some Halloween treats have been around for a while.  

Candy Corn

Candy Corn was supposedly invented by George Renninger in the late 1800s. It was designed to look like chicken feed since half of Americans worked on farms. By 1900, it was mass produced by the The Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia. There are no niblets in candy corn, but there is corn in the form of corn syrup. Nowadays, different colored candy corn can be found at Christmas, Easter, and Fourth of July. I consider them a sacrilege. There are also a plethora of candy corn flavored ales on the market. If you drink enough you can forget the entire candy corn debacle. 


Although not technically a treat (let’s face it, they’re too healthy), they’re also associated with Halloween. Celtic folk used them for divination, so did early Americans bobbing for apples. Whoever snagged an apple from a big bucket filled with water, hands tied behind the back, would wed soonest. Whoever didn’t, drowned, and got his candy stolen. If you didn’t die from apple bobbing, there were Snap Apple Night parties. An apple was jammed into one end of a suspended stick with a lit candle at the other end. Participants tried to take a bite of the apple while the stick was spun around. Winners got a bite of apple, losers set their hair on fire. A forgotten hero of Halloween is Kraft Foods employee Dan Walker or as I refer to him, Saint Dan. In the 1950s he elevated the mundane apple to candy nirvana. While experimenting with excess caramels from Halloween sales, he melted them down and added apples. Ta-da. Vito Raimondi of Chicago, Illinois also deserves an honorable mention. He patented the first automated caramel apple machine in 1960.


The worst Halloween candies.

(Doling out these is tantamount to child abuse.)


Twizzlers: Technically, they aren’t a candy, but solidified wallpaper paste.

Hot Tamales: Wallpaper paste flavored with cinnamon.

Necco Wafers: Wallpaper paste scraped from the shoes of employees at the wallpaper factory and pressed into disks to punish children.

Life Savers: The worlds most boring candy, also dangerous to your mental health because they prompted the Aussies to make a flavor called musk, not to be confused with musk sticks which, apparently they also savor. Both are equally disturbing.

Dots: The only thing they’re good for is to freeze them and use them as ammo in blow pipes.

Circus Peanuts: Seriously, who eats these? I once owned a dog that ate everything including cat poop from the litter box and he buried Circus Peanuts in the backyard.

Tootsie Rolls: Only if you want to be known as the cheapskate of the neighborhood and have your house TPed. (I plead Not Guilty again.) 

Serious about trick-or-treating and want to make tracks to the state that doles out the best candy? Check out this  interactive map from


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Free on Amazon: The Rules for Lying, Big Easy Shaman Series Book 1


The Rules for Lying 

Big Easy Shaman Book 1

by L. A. Kelley

FREE Sept. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

Magic isn't for sissies


WARNING: No good comes from a book with magic, mayhem, theft, murder, sass talk, demons, animals committing felonies, gleeful revenge, and bad things happening to good people for no particular reason. This story won’t encourage good habits and probably fine tune bad ones. The only lesson learned is don’t lie until you know the rules.

Life in New Jersey is tough in the Great Depression, but teenager Peter Whistler has an exceptional ability to lie. He hones his talent, convinced it’s the ticket to easy fortune. He certainly doesn’t foresee the arrival of a murderous conjuror with mysterious designs on a little blind girl named Esther. Drawn into a nefarious plot to unleash a demon, Peter leads Esther and an enchanted terrier on a desperate escape to New Orleans and meets Amelie Marchand. Like all well-bred Louisiana gals she’s trained in deadly martial arts, but with a murderous stepmother, Amelie has troubles of her own. Peter and Amelie’s one chance for survival is to head deep into the bayou and seek help from a mad shaman known as the Frog King.

Welcome to an alternate 1930s where both jazz and magic fill New Orleans’ air. Can a little luck, mystical lies, and a dash of Cajun crazy help Peter harness the power to kill an immortal demon? If not, the Depression will be a picnic by comparison when hell arrives on Earth.


The Grimaldis huddled over a piece of paper. Mr. Grimaldi looked up and cleared his throat. “Everything is in order. The carriage house suited you?”

Pike slid an envelope stuffed with cash across the tabletop. “Yes. It was private and exactly as described. We have a deal.”

Mrs. Grimaldi snatched at the bills with undisguised greed. “We wouldn’t do this, you understand, but the Feds raided all the local speakeasies. Our best clients shut down. Times are tough.”

Mr. Grimaldi scrawled a signature on the paper and handed the pen to his wife. She added hers, and then Pike tucked the paper in his pocket. “You needn’t be concerned about the girl.”

My ears pricked up. Girl? What girl? If Pike meant Mrs. Hart, the doctor needed to get his own eyes checked.

Mr. Grimaldi shifted in his seat, a flush tinting his fat cheeks. “People might get the wrong impression if the arrangement is discovered. You understand—they don’t realize our actions are for her own good.”

I sucked in my breath. Mr. Grimaldi lied big time.

“Don’t worry. No one will ever find out.” Pike’s voice was as cold as midwinter ice.

A teensy doubt jabbed at my mind that this had to do with gangsters, but I brushed it roughly away. Pike and the Grimaldis rose from the table. I darted from the window and ducked behind a tree right before the kitchen door opened.

Mrs. Grimaldi beamed at Pike. “If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to stop by.”

The dark man set the fedora on his head and snapped the brim over his eyes. “I’m quite satisfied. You won’t see me again.”


For some reason, the truth shook me more than a lie. Mr. Grimaldi closed the door, but Pike remained on the stoop. The kitchen went dark and then a light switched on in an upstairs bedroom window.

I peered from behind the tree. Why did Pike wait? To rob the joint after they fell asleep? If so, I had no plan to stop him. I had half a mind to help.

The bedroom light flicked off and the yard went pitch black. One second…two seconds…three seconds…

A yellow beam danced across the door, and my throat nearly closed in terror. That was no flashlight.

The ray from Pike’s eyes narrowed and focused pencil-thin. The smell of burning wood drifted across the lawn as he etched a smoldering hieroglyphic of a flame in the middle of the door. The outline of glowing embers flared and then snuffed out. Pike stepped back from the stoop. He paused for a moment as if to admire his handiwork and then sprinted down the alley.

Heart thumping, I darted to the door. My fingers stroked the spot where I last saw the little flame. The wood was still warm.

I snatched back my hand. The wood now blazed hot, more scorching by the second. The glowing outline flared to life again. A spark shot out, soared overhead, and landed near the chimney. Patches of shingles exploded in flames.

A long thin spark slithered from the symbol, a fiery snake writhing toward the keyhole. Without thinking, I reached to sweep it away only to jerk my fingers from the scalding heat. The spark slid into the opening. With a roar, a curtain of fire engulfed the downstairs windows.

In a panic, I banged on the door. “Wake up! The house is on fire!”

A thick choking cloud of smoke billowed under the doorframe, and I staggered back in a coughing fit. In a blink, the first floor was an inferno. How did the fire spread so fast? Mrs. Grimaldi’s terrified screams cut through the crackling fusillade of flames.

Blistering heat drove me across the yard. The panic-stricken face of Nico Grimaldi appeared at the bedroom window struggling to open the sash.


The wooden supports inside the house splintered and gave way. Mr. Grimaldi vanished in a thunderous crash as the second floor collapsed on the first. His wife’s screams cut off.

Multiple sirens wailed in the distance. I stumbled down the alley as hot cinders rained from above. Embers lit on my clothing, and I slapped them away. The Grimaldi house was now a nightmare of hellfire. I flinched as the outside walls caved in with a deafening roar.

The first of the fire trucks screeched around the corner. Cops would surely follow asking questions I couldn’t answer. As I ran across the street, the glare of a headlight caught me for an instant.

Tires squealed, and a man yelled, “You there, stop!”