Greenwood Cove (Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 1)

In the tradition of the Jane Yellowrock Series (Faith Hunter) and the Mercy Thompson Series (Patricia Briggs) comes a new, action packed Urban Fantasy set in rural Appalachia.

I had three loves in my life: my daddy, him what my mama killed in cold blood; my son Henry, God rest him; and tall as an oak Riley Treadwell.

I lost all of 'em, one way or t'other, 'til Riley showed up on my stoop with a monster problem and tried to wiggle his way back into my life.

Only, weren't no monster bothering him; was the one bothering his ex-girlfriend what'd stirred up a hornet's nest out on Lake Burton amongst the muckity mucks. Weren't no never mind to me, see? I was fine letting well enough alone, 'cept curiosity got the best of me, and Riley, well. He weren't above using that silver tongue of his to persuade me 'round to his way of doing things. If I'da listened to my gut, maybe I woulda avoided stepping knee deep into somebody else's trouble.

Then again, I ain't never been one to heed a warning when monsters come a-calling.

© 2017. Published by Bone Diggers Press.

Excerpt from Greenwood Cove

Was a pooka what got me into this business. Not an adorable one like the books lined along my walls claimed they was, when they was a-willing. This’un took my son, a sweet angel of a boy what never did nobody no harm, took him and God above knowed what it did to my baby.

We never found him, only the blood. Dear Lord, the blood.

I swallowed the bile down, nearly choking on the acid grating along my throat.

My sweet, sweet baby rested in Heaven now. I held on to that hope with ever thing in me. He weren’t baptized like the Good Book said he orta be, but God’s got a special place in his wide heart for young’uns. That’s what the preacher man said leastwise, and if you can’t believe a preacher man, who can you believe?

That pooka? I sent it straight to Ol’ Scratch, quick as I could find it, with my heart all cold like the great sea of ice on top of the world. I followed it for three days, no food in my gut, nothing ‘cept a hunting knife and a bottle of water to get me through. My daddy taught me that before he run off with that vacuum cleaner salesman. Not much else, but by golly, he taught me how to track.

My mama? She in prison now. Was her what taught me how to kill. She sure done a number on my daddy. I never could look on her straight like again, not after seeing what she done to him. That didn’t stop me none from doing the same to that pooka. You mess with my baby, you gonna pay.

I tucked my fingers into the place between my breasts what hurt something fierce ever time Henry come to mind, God rest his soul.

If the man sitting in front of me was thinking hard on how I killed a pooka with not much more’n my bare hands, assuming he knowed, it sure didn’t show. His hard hazel eyes followed my fingers from the scarred top of what passed for a desk to the place where Henry lived, and lingered for a good long while on my skeeter bite sized breasts.

Weren’t no never mind to me where his eyes rested, long as his hands didn’t follow.

Lordy, them nimble hands. Long fingers, calloused palms. A tug of heat warmed me down low between my thighs. Mmm, what them hands could do to a woman. I heard the rumors. ‘Course I had. Small town gossip run thick through the Georgia pine, and this man in particular was a favorite topic of the local women folk, him being who he was. Rumor had it Riley Treadwell knowed exactly what to do with them hands, where to put ‘em, how to move ‘em, and a whole lot more besides.

I shoved them thoughts away lickety split. Maybe if his long body was wrapped in something ‘sides a worn t-shirt and jeans cupping him in places a woman wanted to know best, them thoughts wouldn’ta been running around in my noggin.

I rapped my knuckles hard on the wooden plank of my desk, grabbing his attention before he got any notions about my breasts. Or worse, before I got any notions about what was under them jeans of his.

“What you want, Riley?” I asked. “I ain’t got all day.”

Riley slid a finger along firm lips over the beginnings of a smile, probably from being caught ogling me like a teenager just figuring out where God intended his pecker to go. Them hazel eyes sparkled a little, but they raised up ‘til they met mine. “A friend of mine has a problem.”

I let my eyes go hard as his, what good it’d do. Riley was about a foot taller’n me and wide as a full grown oak. On top of that, he was a lawman descended from a long line of lawmen. Me, I was half as big as a cricket and twice as skinny, and the only kin I had to the law was when my family stepped chin deep into the wrong side of it. I was David to Riley’s Goliath, only a lot less scary looking than the shepherd boy ever thought on being, even with my mama’s coon crazy eyes staring out at the world.

“I don’t work with no intermediaries,” I said. “You tell your friend to get his lazy butt out here if he wants my help.”

Riley’s rough bark of laughter shivered down my spine, halfway between honey and hell. “She couldn’t even get up your driveway. You ever think about grading it once in a while?”

She, huh? A stone cold knot fixed itself in my gut. Weren’t jealousy, couldn’t be. Riley Treadwell and me didn’t even live on the same planet, far as man-woman relations went. I was beneath his notice, something I learnt the hard way back in high school, somewhat before I lost what sense God give me and let that fool Terry Whitehead plant Henry in my belly.

“You ever think on minding your own beeswax?”

“Jesus, Sunny. I’m trying to bring you a paying client.”

“If she can’t get up the drive, she don’t need no help, do she?” I snapped. “And don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”

His firm lips twisted into something akin to a smirk. “You’re telling me not to cuss? That’s rich, darlin’.”

“I got right with Jesus.”

And I had, sorta, right along the time I learnt about Henry. I done the whole bit of Sunday School and church meetings and all that before that pooka took him into the deep wood between here and Fame’s trailer. ‘Course after that, me and Jesus ain’t had two words to spit on each other. That weren’t none of Riley’s beeswax neither, though.

“I know your mama learnt you better,” I said.

He rolled them hazel eyes toward the ceiling of my trailer. “Are you gonna help me or not?”

I was thinking not, right up ‘til my mind lit on the coffee tin serving as my bank. Well, crud. Helping Riley weren’t nothing I wanted no part of, but I liked to eat ever once in a while. The roll of green bills tucked away from the dribbles of honest work throwed my way was getting mighty thin. Weren’t a lick of other business in sight neither ‘cept some of Fame’s, and I done shed myself of that line of work.

“What’s the problem?” I asked, and tried to ignore the triumph in that smooth grin of his.

“There’s something out on Lake Burton,” he said, “tearing through dock pilings and doing a lot of damage.”

I curled my upper lip into a sneer. “So the muckity mucks is losing some money on repair bills. What’s it to me?”

“I don’t think it’s that simple, Sunny.” A furrow appeared in Riley’s brow and his eyes went all serious like, losing their brightness. “I dove down under Belinda’s dock—”

The breath squeezed right outta my chest. “Belinda who?”

He hesitated long enough to tumble my heart into a sick nosedive. “Belinda Arrowood.”

“You mean Belinda Heaton, your ex-girlfriend, head cheerleader, and all around bitch.” I stood up, shoving my chair back against the wall as I did. You’re beneath his notice, sugar. I put up with that crap back in high school. Didn’t have to now. “Get out.”

“Sunny, come on. That was a long time ago.”

“Not so long as my memory.”

I reached under my desk and pulled out the Ruger LCP .380 holstered there in case of emergencies sorta like the one I was in now. Didn’t point it at him. Weren’t no need to. Riley done his time, six years of hard labor under Uncle Sam’s thumb in Afghanistan, dodging bullets raining down all around him. He knowed one end of a gun from the other, and he sure as tootin’ knowed not to push Famous Carson’s niece.

I jerked my chin at the door, case he weren’t catching my drift. “Get on out, now.”

He stood slowly, unfolding his long length as he stared me down, or tried to. Took a lot more’n him to make me blink. “That thing legal?”

I snorted. As if. “You ain’t no lawman in my home, Riley Treadwell, not unless you got a warrant.”

“Christ, Sunny. I’m with the DNR. That’s hardly the kind of law you need to worry about unless you’re hunting out of season or digging up wildflowers.”

Well, reckon he hadn’t found the Mary Jane my cousins planted in clusters ‘long and along. Never on my property, no way, no how, but pretty much ever where else within a coupla miles’ walk, including state parks and national forest. Riley finding that orta be fun to watch.

He sighed, though he didn’t look a bit resigned. “Walk me out?”

“If you was invited, I’d walk you out. Come to that, if you was welcome, I wouldn’t be handing you your hat.”

“Ouch.”

His mouth tilted into that smile again, the one he’d worn when I forced his eyes away from my teeniny breasts. Them eyes took on a glow, soft and hot and kinda delicious, truth be told. Riley’d been a handsome feller back in high school when his body was still kinda lean like and growing. Now, between his heavy muscles and flat abdomen and a crown of auburn hair nearly touching the sky, he’d filled out in a way what sent a sane woman’s good sense flying right outta the nearest window.

Thankfully, I only had a passing acquaintance with sane.

He shifted into a wide-legged stance and crossed his arms over that fine, fine chest, and my breath went kinda shallow in my lungs. Lordy, if that’s all it took to wet my whistle, I needed to get out more.

“I’m grilling out tonight,” he said. “Thick steaks, baked sweet potatoes. Why don’t you come over and we’ll hammer out the line between guest and intruder?”

I blinked, then bit my tongue against the curse what popped into my mouth. I hadn’t lost a staring contest with him since we was kids, dang his sorry hide. Now I was gonna have to put a quarter in the cussing jar, two if I counted using the word bitch to describe Riley’s ex-girlfriend, which I didn’t. Calling a spade a spade weren’t on no level with cursing.

“I got plans,” I said. “Thanks anyhow.”

“You’re a lot of things, Sunshine, but I never thought you were a liar.”

He left without saying nothing else, didn’t need to. I could about hear what he was thinking. Riley Treadwell would be back, and when he come, I’d have a sight more to worry on than taking a job for that nasty piece of work calling herself Belinda Arrowood.