ANTHOLOGY PREVIEW!

That's right!

Tomorrow our first anthology, SPICE & STEAM, launches!

So I thought it would be a great idea to let you get a taste of it, see if you like how it's going, before you buy it.

Now, if you prefer to download it, just click either one of these buttons for PDF or EPUB versions.

But if you want to read it, keep scrolling! I have two pages from each story here for you to enjoy.

Adam


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Published by Adam Gaffen, Author, LLC

This Anthology is Copyright © 2022 by Adam Gaffen, Author, LLC and AC Adams

All authors in this anthology are the sole copyright owners of their Work, and retain all rights to their Work except for those expressly granted to Adam Gaffen, Author, LLC for appearance in this anthology


Cover Design created by the GetCovers design team


Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.


All Rights Reserved.


The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.


THIS SAMPLE IS NOT TO BE SOLD OR DISTRIBUTED WITHOUT THE EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE PUBLISHER



Note from the Publisher

Thanks for downloading this sampler!

In here you’ll find two pages from each of the nine stories in Spice & Steam.

On behalf of my co-editor, AC Adams, and our fellow contributors, we hope you enjoy this and pick up the rest of the book!

Adam Gaffen, Editor



Love’s Escape

By Madilynn Dale

Chapter 1


Glancing around, I rush toward the open window. I feel as light as a feather on my paws, and I knew any second now, Melissa would realize her mistake. Adrenaline causes my heart rate to increase, and nausea burns in my throat. I can taste freedom on the breeze. The sweet smell of tree sap greets me from the forest I know is waiting for me on the other side.

My fur bristles as I squeeze through and fall, landing on my feet. I don’t miss the tickling of the green grass against my paws before taking off at a sprint. I briefly notice the trees moving around me as the wind tussles their leaves. A storm is moving in and the air smells of rain.

I huff in short bursts as spots fill my vision. My legs are shaky, requiring more effort to move, and my stomach feels like a rock. My heart rate increases and seems to stutter as a scream fills the air behind me. I have a moment of panic when my legs buckle briefly, causing me to skid across the grass, but I shove my fear aside and spring back up. She will no longer use my energy to fuel her magical spells.

The forest ahead of me is dark, but I know I can hide in it. There are plenty of places a feline such as myself can squeeze in. I just need to find the right spot to catch my breath. Just a few moments to let myself adjust and calm is all I need before moving on. Being free of that small cabin is exhilarating, but terrifying. What does the world hold for me?

Suddenly, a loud howl fills the air. It sounds full of pain and suffering, which can’t be real. Fear courses through my being at a new pace and I question if anywhere will be safe. Melissa summoned a shadow hound to track me down. I am so screwed.

My ears prick as the sound of a car in the distance catches my attention. I can hear the tires moving on asphalt and I know someone is driving in this neck of the woods. This area was supposed to be deserted, according to Melissa’s musings, but thankfully not. Would the person driving take pity on me and pick me up? It’s not often you find a cat wandering in the middle of the woods.

I continue running as fast as my little paws will take me and ignore my surroundings, even though the wind continues to pick up around me and rain, lightning, and thunder fill the air. My heart beats a steady staccato and soon the surface beneath my feet changes from dirt to grass to pavement. The black asphalt is hot. My mind goes blank as I realize that I have not only found the road, but I’m in the middle of it.

Tires squeal and I blink, trying to pull myself out of a brain fog. Turning my head, I’m blinded by the headlights of a vehicle coming toward me. It’s an unforgettable sight that causes me to freeze. I can faintly see the silver grill. This must be my time. I close my eyes, preparing for the death blow, the pain that will come, but nothing happens. My body shakes as I stand waiting. I finally open my eyes when I hear a door open and slam closed. A deep voice swears loudly, and I hear the rustle of jeans. I’m alive!

“What the hell are you doing on the road? I could have hit you!” An average built man comes around the front of the vehicle, his eyes directly on me. He’s a bit thick and graying but attractive.

I stare at him, unable to move.

“Don’t worry, little kitty. I know I smell like a dog, but I won’t hurt you. That’s just my inner wolf. You’ll be okay. I’ll get you to safety. I can’t believe you’re out here in the middle of the woods, especially with this storm moving in.”

I blink at him and his scent registers. It’s wild and reminds me of the forest behind me. What was it he said he was? Oh yeah, he said he was a wolf. There is something about him, though. He feels safe and sounds safe, but he isn’t. I think. I might be wrong. Cats don’t get along with any type of dog, so why am I not bothered by him?

“That’s it, little one, let me get you. I’ll find out where you belong. You’ve got to be someone’s pet. Let’s get you something to eat and out of this bad weather first. Then we can make a game plan.”

I meow at him, shaking myself out of my frozen fear, and he picks me up, cradling me close to his chest. I purr as he carries me around to the door of what I realize is a pickup truck, but I question myself. Why am I purring? This guy’s a wolf! I shouldn’t be so calm.



Sleeping Cutie

By Nat Paga


Mari could not believe her eyes.

When she set out into the King’s Forest early that morning, the herbalist hoped to find the plants she needed for her clients’ orders. Business was booming lately, which meant it was time for a restock. She needed to pluck marigolds in particular, her namesake, since she knew some poor sunburned person would need an ointment over the impending sunny season.

The neighboring village people might call her a witch, but they certainly wanted what she sold. Almost every day, someone made the trek to her homely hut at the forest’s edge, hoping her spells or potions might cure them. As long as they were polite and could barter something for her services, Mari was happy to help. It let her live as she wanted, quietly and without conflict.

Until now.

It was close to midday. Sunbeams filtered through the moss-laden pines and maples, casting a glow over the verdant, sleeping giants. Twittering birdsong flittered all about, alongside underbrush rustled by a fawn or another small creature. As Mari took a deep breath of the warm, blossom-scented, late spring air, she felt at peace.

And then perplexed.

A rapturous beauty slept in a pocket clearing before a glittering pond. Like some forest goddess, she rested in a bed of carnelian and mustard marigolds. Her features were soft, with a button nose and round rosy cheeks. Yet she had a look of maturity. She was nude, her long locks flowing around her exquisite form like liquid gold, obscuring if not entirely hiding her figure. She radiated an air of a gift of nature not to be plucked.

When the man knelt over the unaware woman and leaned in to do just that, Mari intervened.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

The man leaped. As he turned, Mari was surprised to recognize him.

He was the dashing bachelor lord from a nearby landholding, Vespian Le’Vance. He was impossible to mistake with his tall and lithe athletic frame, luscious raven hair tamed into a neat tail, and formal finery worth a small fortune. He was the type of man that women dreamed of being with.

Most women.

Mari had little interest in men and less patience for their antics.

At first, Vespian looked at Mari as if he were a rabbit caught in a hunter’s snare. His demeanor shifted once he determined she was not a threat. Dark eyes sized her up, lingering on the cleavage revealed by her admittedly loose dress laces (it was hot, and she had not expected to run into anyone). He bowed as he introduced himself, casting a smirk like he expected her to swoon.

“Fear not, kind maid. For I am Lord Vespian Le’Vance! I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”

Mari set her gathering basket down and crossed her arms.

“So? What gives you leave to put your hands on an unaware woman? Do you know her? Does she want your attention?”

“I… Well, I don’t know her in the strictest definition,” he blustered. “As a highborn lord, I assure you my intentions are nothing but pure. I shall wake this maiden with true love’s kiss, binding us in blissful union. Whoever she is now, she will become a lady of repute.”

Mari rolled her eyes.

“A romance for the ballads. It’d be considerate to ask if she wants to be a part of your union.”

“Tch. There isn’t a woman alive who would turn down the opportunity. How about you, hm? I’d heard there was a witch with blood-red hair living in these woods. The rumors failed to mention your beauty.”

Lord Vespian sauntered over to Mari. Closer, it seemed he saw something he liked by the eager glint in his gaze. Mari did not care what it was—the crimson locks she braided and coiled under her hood or the striking features she inherited from her mother—she did not appreciate his regard one bit.



Faith and Kalili go to Rome

By AC Adams


“Faith, what are you doing?”

I wasn’t annoyed, but I tried to fake it. Truth was, I was bored, and Faith’s promise of “come on, let’s go have some fun!” was welcome.

We’d changed into smart outfits. Faith preferred dresses, and today she picked out an emerald-green sheath, one which brought out the stunning copper of her eyes and hugged her curves. I favored pantsuits, a relatively adventurous look for women at the time, but one I was comfortable with. Today I chose one I’d had made for me in the city, simple black and gray vertical stripes on both the cigarette pants and jacket. My blouse was white silk, and the only concession to color was my red flats. Hats and matching purses completed our looks.

And the blindfold on me.

I was less than thrilled as she guided me out of our home. We’d had plenty of adventures outdoors, but rarely during the day, and never so close to the place we lived. We might have been immortal and virtually invulnerable to mortal weapons, but we weren’t stupid.

And no matter what you might think, in 1952, being discreet lesbians in Westchester County, New York, wasn’t easy. Our neighbors certainly suspected, but as long as we smiled and dressed modestly, they ignored the elephant on the front lawn.

Pulling me out of the house for “fun” put all that at risk. Having survived the witch scares in both Europe and the American colonies—and boy, did our timing suck there, leaving one just to get caught up in another—we were both skittish about being called out.

That left out the fact that neither of us was human.

I was a demon, and she was an angel. I was over seven thousand years old. Faith was older, though how much older we didn’t know. Some millions of years, but time was wibbly wobbly in the Head Office.

Both our putative employers utterly forbade our relationship.

We didn’t care. We were the last Thirteens, and their rules didn’t apply to us, no matter how much they wished they did.

If we were going out to have fun, with that tone of voice from Faith? There was going to be fallout.

“I can’t tell you!” she sing-songed, guiding me to our car.

“Faith,” I growled, settling into the seat. We shared a beautiful new Jaguar, an XK 120 roadster, red and right-hand drive. We’d both learned to drive while living in London, and though we’d been back in the U.S. for a couple of decades, we both preferred the UK set-up.

“It’s a surprise,” she said, closing the door.

“I got that.” I heard her come around and settle into the driver’s seat. Then she was busy getting the car running and us out onto the road, so I held my tongue. Immortal or not, I didn’t want to distract her and cause an accident. I liked that car.

I waited as patiently as I could. It was easy at first, with the grumble of the engine, the wind and sun on me, and my love next to me. I rested my hand on her thigh, just so she could feel my touch.

But when we’d been moving for at least a half-hour, my patience ran out.

“Faith, where are you taking me?”

She tsked at me. “What part of surprise don’t you understand?”

“Faith!”

“Oh, fine, you can take off the blindfold. For now.”

I whipped the cloth from my face. We were on the parkway, headed towards the city.

“What’s the big deal?” I said. “We go into the city all the time.”

“Today’s special. And we’re not going into the city.”

Again with the non-answer. I decided on a different tactic and shimmied over in the seat, pressing my thigh against hers. She dropped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me into her.

“I love you, Faith.” I purred into her ear, and I felt her shiver.

From Earth and Ash

By Fern Miller

Chapter One

The first time I saw my future mate, our eyes connected across the candle flame. He came to see if the pack’s rumors were true, that I was here and soon to be his. At least, that’s what the other girls told me.

In the dead of night, my bedroom door opened to reveal glowing golden eyes peering at me. The flick of the flame danced across his sharp jawline, allowing me a peek at the alpha they arranged for me to marry. Broad shouldered and muscular, he was built for hunting and fighting.

I had heard rumors of my own about him. He’s a killer. Possessive. Trouble. The type of alpha that doesn’t give second chances. I questioned why my parents would contract me to him. But then I realized no one else would risk their human daughter on the alpha named Roan. I was the last option, so I had to make this work.

He came closer, hovering over me as I sat on the corner of my bed. I focused my eyes on his chest, noticing a small trail of hair going past his stomach and moving farther down.

He placed his hand on my cheek and tilted my head so that I stared into his eyes. His touch was firm and demanding, even though he never made a sound. Only through his midnight stares was how I came to know him.

When I was first told of the contracts to the pack, my mother warned me it would be like this. “You are not to speak to each other until the marriage is consummated. It’s their pack tradition. And enforced by pack magic.”

As a fifteen-year-old, hearing that from your mother terrifies you. But, being born a daughter, I knew my life was already pre-arranged. I was to help keep the peace between the wolves and the humans. Five other girls and I would be assigned a mate based on the best probability of pack survival. We were to breed and carry on the wolf bloodline, because the wolf women became infertile several years ago. The men were to protect us, our children, and the pack members from outside forces and, if it came down to it, from each other. It’s a treaty that’s been enforced for generations.

Now, as a twenty-five-year-old waiting for Roan’s approach, I am filled with both excitement and nervousness. My belly rolls from the combination of the emotions I feel. Roan should be here soon for another visit. I’ve gotten used to him taking me by my black hair and forcing me to stare into him. Maybe it’s a way for him to connect with me, as we have no other way to communicate one on one. I don’t know, but it’s working.

A knock at my door startles me from my thoughts. I turn away from my vanity and move to open the door.

“Hello, Ms. Cora. I’ve come to bid you good night.” My maid walks into the room carrying blankets and a steaming kettle.

I take the blankets from her. “Thank you, Joanna.”

She smiles while placing the kettle on my vanity. “I’m here to make the ladies comfortable. I know what it feels like to be far away from home.”

“You help,” I say. “What’s in the kettle tonight?”

Joanne smiles and looks down at the kettle. Steam rises from it, weaving through her blonde waist-length hair. “Chamomile tea.”

She fiddles with the pocket of her black apron to get a match. With the flick of her wrist, she lights the one candle allotted me. “To help you sleep,” she explains.

“I thought my betrothed would come to me again tonight.” Joanna always comes in after Roan leaves. I watch her reaction in hopes she will tell me why he’s not here.

“He is entertaining other guests this evening. You will see him at the wedding ceremony tomorrow.”

“I see.” My eyebrows furrow. “Did he tell you this?”

Joanna steps away before making eye contact. “Has no one informed you of the evening before rituals? He and the other alphas are busy. He informed me you are not invited.”

One Must Imagine Andromeda Happy

by Rose Sinclair


“Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world,” - Albert Camus


Divinity such as ours comes from an artist’s hand. Words plucked from a palette of mixed colors. Each hue a warning of dreadful punishment, where I often play. Rarely celebrated along by the serious, and never the caution-less crashing chariots.

Where Cepheus rules, power unjust, a seed sentenced to grow wherever planted. My name is Andromeda, an image reflected in the sky under the crown of my mother and chained to the rocks by choices that were not mine. From prophetic words is where I usually stand, wind tugging at the white cloth piled over breasts–both equally validated for their supposed purity and a hot longing from others that never wears away.

Long ago, I lingered within their cities, the painted picture of innocence and beauty. Adoring the pale sweetness of childhood that whispered “as a princess I could be anything”. It was hours after a monstrous flood they found me suddenly sacrificial.

The village did not sing of the wind and the storms, but the birth of the nation. A wilderness that must be conquered even if it tramples over every blessed divinity they claimed. Holes were torn in royal portraits that no longer fit their purposes. My voice turned as black as the false truth they worshiped with such pride.

Made homeless for doubting their prophecy on how to tame the wild, and now chained to rocks and abandoned by a once loving family. It is here where my skin tans in the sun and where I find I am finally free. Bound in chains, where the true nature of the world is all I can see.

Out in the wild, overlooking the ocean, a different type of beast roams. Slithering through the senseless sea. Breaching the surface as if the barnacles on the creature’s back need a breath, with teeth so yellow I wonder if they had even been once white.

First thinking, making my heart race with fear was an unspoken game I was meant to play a part in. Just another object to be loved or terrorized. Then realizing, the giant beast did not whip his tail against the water to assert bravado. That idea was a fluke.

Rather, my shackled focus allowed me to witness the monster wordlessly communicating with others of its kind, and rain barnacles in an unending food chain. Perhaps all water was connected in such a fashion. And thus the accidental gift in the punishing folly of my family was the ground under my feet that remains firm after the rain.

“What to do now?” one must ask themselves. Unable to raise a family, hands bound and unable to build anew along the water. Fruitless with no soil. And yet, I found myself without the need to weed a garden. Here there are no screaming monsters, no demands, no question over if one is worthy enough to belong. When living this way, one does not need to labor for a living.

It might have made for a more profitable show if I had screamed to draw a crowd, posed for anyone around so they may capture the tale as they saw it. But that wouldn’t have been my voice speaking. Instead, silence is how my whispers reached far into the hollow future to challenge the roar of monsters.

The world is connected by its own bonds. Even when my people gave up on me, someone new fell from their high ground. A chance created by the turbulence of a brewing storm and winged sandals, landing before me amongst the rocks. Once I might have assumed his struggle resulted from being struck by Cupid, but I don’t think he even saw me as human at first.

No, not until the wind blew my long hair and stole tears from my eyes as I fought to watch the handsome addition to the landscape. His sword seemed to pierce the sky with shattering sunbeams. His muscular body shifted the light across his skin with every bend he made. When he speaks, I almost don’t recognize the words. They mean nothing more than the calls of the seagulls that fly above and only land to offer their company. He does not find a frail maiden in distress waiting for rescue, so I may as well be a marble statue capable of invoking awe, but not conversation.



Deal with the Devil

By Brittany Wright


Four years earlier


I never meant to hurt anyone intentionally, but the money was too good. I’m not sure how I found myself with the job that I have, but the work came so naturally to me.

Human organs are worth more than organs from animals. Even though science allows us to use them in humans after a little manipulation, the human organs are worth so much more.

The tiny humans were never my main target. I tried to save them. However, the other humans, a different story. When they were in the ICU and near death, when they didn’t make it, I took their bodies and sold them for their organs. To explain, their bodies were sold and organs were resold and I received sort of a commission. The money was a good reward. I knew I was saving someone else’s life. They were unknown organ donors part of the red market exchange.

Before I was corrupted by the market, I was a good soul that cared about The Hippocratic Oath and was one of the first female surgeons in my family, but life never works out the way we want it to. I call it my generational curse. I worked my butt off to get where I was. I tried to save everyone, but not everyone made it. Before the moment I sold my soul, I made sure that I did the right thing. I consulted with international doctors that have been doing the same thing for eons longer than I have. I went down every avenue possible. I did my research. I begged, pleaded and prayed for answers. I believed in the Golden Rule. I believed in Karma. I mentored young girls to be better women. I schooled nurses and trained those around me. In my hospital and my unit, I was the youngest surgeon! I was only 26 years old. I had three years left. So close to being where I wanted to be and that was a pediatric doctor that spent time with babies all day. Three years!

The moment everything changed for me, I was assigned to treat a pedophile who molested and abused many children before a parent stabbed him in his kidney and lungs. I wanted him to die, but I couldn’t cause harm to him. Someone, something, was paying attention and felt my pain. I kept praying for an answer. I prayed for something or someone to help me get beyond my hatred for this person. A letter appeared on my table of tools that I would use to stop the internal bleeding. This letter would change my life forever, but this letter was not that moment, but it was definitely a turning point in my career and my soul’s destiny.


Nadia,

Don’t save his life. Allow him to perish from his injuries. If he survives, he will harm more children and teenagers. He doesn’t abuse them for pleasure, he tortures them. If you save him, he will likely try to harm you as well.

Let him die. Use all of his viable organs to save another life. He does not have a POA or a living will. None of his living family will care about his demise. He is an organ donor on his license. End him and I will pay you $200k for his body; plus an additional amount for each organ that is able to be used. Once I hear the code red, I’ll deposit the money into an account and give you the information the next day.

Signed,

Hayden,

Shinigami Incubus


I remembered hearing about the Shinigami in my son’s comic books. It is the Japanese version of death bringer or grim reaper.. And an Incubus well, everyone knew they were the male version of a succubus, but I thought it was all a myth. Apparently, not the case.

I stared at the eyes of the male on the table. The John Doe had no family. Nobody would miss him. His victims would never get their day in court, though, but certainly justice would be served by his death.

His eyes opened. If I didn’t intervene, he had about three hours left. I put the letter in my pocket and decided the money was more important than him hurting another soul again. Those poor children, I thought to myself.



Taken by the Mothman

The First Erotic Cryptid Adventure of Riley Montgomery

By Dani Hermit


There was a time when Riley Montgomery was a normal, innocent, teenage boy. A time when he didn’t live in an RV, traveling North America in search of urban legends. A time before he looked into luminous red eyes and was changed forever.

Riley didn’t think of himself as a victim, like some people might in his situation. He didn’t regret the unexpected turns his life had taken. After all, they led him to becoming what he thought of as a surprised but willing participant in some very in-depth studies of North American cryptids.

It all started the year between Riley’s freshman and sophomore years at college, when he had just turned nineteen.

Riley intended to get his doctorate in folklore and mythology studies. Eventually, at least. He had the good sense to be minoring in teaching so that when he was done, he might stand a chance at making a living by teaching other delusional young minds and leading them to get what was possibly the most useless degree in existence.

Riley’s best friend Larry might argue his English degree was the worst, but even years later, when they both held their master’s degrees, they had yet to make a serious comparison while they were sober, so there was no definitive answer to that debate.

However, Riley could easily say that his youthful journey into hands-on cryptid studies was, in a large part, Larry’s fault.

The events that led to his encounter with his first cryptid started during their senior year in high school. Rather than stay close to home in New York City, Larry decided he could pursue his English degree with equal success in any city in the United States. Technically, Riley admitted Larry was right. But Larry picked his theoretical favorite party city, Miami.

Larry clung to dreams of cruising through a degree that should be easy for someone as smart as him, but spending half the year fucking the out-of-town visitors - both men and women. Riley repeatedly explained to Larry that he gave bisexuals a bad name, but Larry laughed at him. In retrospect, Riley knew it had nothing to do with being bisexual and more with Larry being a horny eighteen-year-old.

But that wasn’t what made this all Larry’s fault. No, what placed the blame firmly on Larry was his insistence he wasn’t coming home for summer break. Instead of spending two months in New York City with his family and Riley, Larry decided he would get a small apartment with a friend from school and pick up a summer job. It was hard to blame him. Riley had grown up with Larry and knew he wasn’t super close with his family, especially after he came out at sixteen. But staying in Miami made Riley’s summer plans harder. He didn’t want to spend the summer out of school and not see his best friend.

After a few weeks with his parents, Riley flew down to Miami and spend a long week with Larry. It wasn’t so bad. Riley slept in while Larry went to his job in the morning, and the latter part of the day was spent at the beach or playing video games. It was really very much like the summers they spent together while they were growing up, only the beach was a lot nicer than the community pool.

Seeing how happy Larry was in Miami soothed some of the admittedly petty feelings of betrayal that had grown in Riley. He had never seen Larry so at home, so it was hard to stay mad. Plus, having an excuse to travel to Miami twice a year wasn’t exactly a bad thing.

After ten days of enjoying their time together, Riley picked up a rental car and headed out. He had two weeks before he needed to be on campus in Philadelphia and wanted to make a few stops along the way. As one might expect, with his area of study being mythology and folklore, Riley was intrigued by urban legends and local stories of cryptids. There were plenty between Florida and Pennsylvania to learn about.

The last stop on his meandering trip back to college was Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It was reportedly the home of an infamous creature called the Moth Man. Riley intended to spend a day there, buy a few overpriced souvenirs, hear the locals tell their stories, and maybe have something to write about for his midterm thesis.

He was not at all prepared for what he found.



Sugar and Spice

By C. R. Clark


With every step I took towards the black door, I could feel the tightness in my chest squeezing harder. The logical part of my brain screamed at me to turn around, but something was pulling me in, like a moth to a flame. I finally was close enough to touch it; I reached out my trembling hand, my lungs screaming for air that would not come. I placed my hand on the glowing doorknob, expecting it to burn me, but only felt ice cold shoot up my arm. I began to turn the knob and felt the door open under my hands, like it had been waiting for-

I started awake at the sound of the obnoxious rooster-that-was-not-mine crowing, demanding the rest of the world start their day with him. Momma always said not to feed the strays, but I never thought that would be applicable to a dead witch’s decrepit familiar. Usually a familiar would die soon after the passing of their witch, so when I stumbled upon the rooster and his mistress, one of them inexplicably dead, I felt sympathy and brought him home with me to live out his last few days safely and comfortably. That was eight months ago, and Steve was still here. Dot hated him, and contemplated a nice chicken dinner almost daily. I wasn’t a huge fan of his morning routine, but he was fine otherwise, and mostly acted like a normal rooster.

Dot opened one eye and glared at the window. She let out an exasperated sigh and rolled over again.

I got up instead of fighting Steve for twenty more minutes of sleep. I had work to do and figured I could get a head start on bundling and hanging some herbs from the garden. I dragged myself into the bathroom and didn’t even bother turning on the lights. I quickly brushed my teeth, splashed water on my face, and headed downstairs.

§

If she’d turned on the light, she would’ve seen the first hint that the day wasn’t going to go as expected.

§

I put on some coffee and threw a handful of dried corn out the window to Steve, stopping his horrendous squawk. The sun was out and the weather was sliding towards summer. The crisp spring air crept toward a warm April day. Not too hot yet, which called for open windows. I bopped around the house, baking a few dozen loaves of bread for The Paperback Snack Shack. The owner, Lauren, had sent me a huge list for the upcoming week, and I was always happy to oblige. The rich smells of whole wheat and my special cornbread recipe wafted through the house.

I bustled around the house sipping coffee and knocked out some small chores. Dot finally came downstairs and demanded breakfast and a cup of tea. I’m not sure how many other cats got tea for breakfast, but my familiar was special.

“You’ll have two visitors today.” Dot didn’t always meow obnoxiously, but spoke directly into my mind.

“Two? I know Mrs. Johnson is coming by, but who else? Is she bringing Grace?”