Free Fiction Thursday – Love Stinks, Inc.

Annie HS cover webLove Stinks, Inc.

Annie Reed

1

Dyte glared at the black cat perched on the center of her desk. It couldn’t stare back at her since it was just one of the many wildly successful plush toys her company produced, but that didn’t stop her from hating its adorable little guts.

The cat held a puffy red heart in its front paws. The universal Don’t Do This symbol, a circle with a slash through the center, was printed on the red satin fabric along with the stylized logo for Dyte’s company—Love Stinks, Inc.

The plush cat was part of this year’s line of stuffed animals meant to appeal to chronically unattached women (and chronically unattached men confident enough in their masculinity to buy themselves a stuffed toy). Given her company’s more than healthy bottom line, the world contained about a bazillion single people who didn’t mind dishing out $9.95 for a fuzzy toy to cuddle with on Valentine’s Day just to make themselves feel better about being alone.

Just like Dyte was alone.

She leaned forward, planted her elbows on the smooth surface of her desk, and rested her chin in her hands so she could gaze at the cat at something approximating its eye level.

“What’s your secret?” she muttered at the cat. “Why do people love you so much?”

She should be happy the toys were so successful. A significant amount of her company’s research and development budget had gone into determining a perfect size for the plush toys (big enough to cuddle but not so big they would give a real cat or dog or skunk a run for its money), the length and thickness of their fake black fur (somewhere between shorthair and Persian, when measured in feline terms), and the color of their over-sized eyes (a washed out blue somewhat darker than the noontime sky uncluttered by clouds but not as deep as the clear blue of a high mountain lake). That still didn’t the ridiculous popularity of the things. Even the skunks.

At least the toys weren’t spelled. She’d put her foot down (metaphorically speaking) at the mere suggestion, even though both R & D and her sales department had lobbied long and hard for inclusion of a compulsion spell—a “minor” one, they had assured her—in the stuffing inside the red satin heart all the plush toys held.

As far as she was concerned, customers would either buy her company’s products because they wanted to, or they wouldn’t. The last thing she wanted to do was compel people to fall in love with a stuffed toy.

Compelling people to fall in love was her dad’s thing, not hers. It was hard enough to be taken seriously in business when you were the immortal daughter of Cupid and Psyche, and you had a ridiculous name like Dyte because your mom thought it would be a nice tribute to name you after your grandmother.

Like Aphrodite had ever given one whit about her granddaughter.

Which was fine with Dyte. From the stories she’d heard, grandmother had a vindictive streak a mile wide, just like a lot of the old gods in the family tree. Even though Dyte was an immortal like her parents, she was glad to stay off grandmother’s radar.

If only she’d managed to keep her private life off her dad’s radar.

(end of sample)

~~~

Love Stinks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Annie Reed

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.

Be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

New Release!

Happy New Year, everyone!

To kick off 2015 with a bang, the third issue of the Uncollected Anthology releases today, and this time around the anthology welcomes its first totally awesome guest author — USA Today bestseller Kristine Kathryn Rusch!!  Woot!  (Can you tell I’m excited? *g*)

This issue’s theme is Heartspells, and my contribution is “Love Stinks, Inc.,” featuring none other than Dyte, the immortal daughter of Cupid and Psyche, who made her first appearance in my Diz & Dee story “Omens and Oracles and Eros, Oh My.”

Annie HS cover webIf you’re unfamiliar with the Uncollected Anthology, here’s the deal:

Each quarter all of the UA authors pick a theme and write stories to that theme.  This quarter’s theme is Heartspells.  Each story is published individually, so it’s kind of like going to a buffet–you only buy the stories you like.  Of course, we hope you’ll buy them all, and I think you’ll want to–they’re just that good.

Who are the other authors participating in the Uncollected Anthology, you ask?  Here’s this issue’s lineup:

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Dayle A. Dermatis

Leah Cutter

Michelle Lang

Leslie Claire Walker

Phaedra Weldon

They’re fabulous writers, each and every one of them, and I’m a big fan.  In fact, that’s how the Uncollected Anthology started.  We’re all fans of each other’s work, and we wanted to read more of it.  I hope you will too.

Free Fiction Thursday – The Case of the Missing Elf

Missing Elf webThe Case of the Missing Elf

Annie Reed

I was having a non-argument argument with my partner about whether we should get a Christmas tree for the office when the front door opened and a whole passel of elves piled in.

Up front, I should tell you that my partner is an elf. A tall one. Broad-shouldered, pointy-eared, strong-jawed, and with the most drop-dead gorgeous blue eyes I’ve ever seen. You might be thinking Legolas from those movies, but Diz is more The Rock than Orlando Bloom. He even has The Rock’s glower. The cinnamon and marshmallow-colored mullet, though—that’s all Diz’s own.

Yeah, I know. A mullet. But considering how great the rest of him looks, who am I to complain?

Together, Diz and I run a private detective agency called D & D Investigations out of a former bakery in a rundown neighborhood on the mainland side of Moretown Bay. I’m Dee, the other D in D & D. I’m not an elf. Or a dwarf. Or a fairy or any one of a hundred other kinds of magic folk who call the area around the Bay home. I’m a plain old vanilla human with curly brown hair that tends to frizz when it’s humid, which is just about all the time. I also have a touch of precognition I’ve yet to learn how to control any better than my hair.

“You find missing people?” the nearest elf in the pack said.

I looked down at him. Unlike Diz, who’s a good foot taller than my medium height, these elves were all way shorter than I am. I counted seven of the mini elves. They all wore variations of the same outfit: forest-green pants, red-and-green shirts that were more tunic than shirt, and red, green, or white scarves. The elf who asked me whether we find missing people had curly salt-and-pepper hair peeking out from beneath a red knit hat with a white pom-pom on top. They made the office look like a seasonal munchkin convention.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. I resisted the urge to point to the lettering beneath the agency name on the plate glass window of our office—Missing Persons Are Our Specialty. We’d paid extra for that, but no one ever seemed to read it.

The elf behind the guy with the red knit hat elbowed him. “I don’t care what you say, this can’t be the right place,” he said in a stage whisper I could hear fine even though his voice sounded like he’d just taken a hit of helium. “Just look at it.”

The rest of the elves nodded and muttered among themselves. Except for the elf with the red hat, they all sounded like helium addicts.

(end of sample)

 

# # #

The Case of the Missing Elf

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

This story can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

If you liked The Case of the Missing Elf, check out these other Diz and Dee Mysteries!

Free Fiction Thursday – The Snow Queen

Just in time for the holidays, this story will be free to read for two weeks!

Snow Queen web

1

Gunther missed snow.

Back home when he’d been a kid, come the first of November, more often than not he’d wake to big, fat, fluffy flakes sailing down from the sky like soft little pieces of cotton candy.

Put enough of those flakes together and he could build a silly snowman, complete with his big sister’s favorite knitted scarf, because what else were little brothers for than to torment their older sisters?

By the first of December, enough snow would have fallen to turn the hillside behind his family’s farm into the perfect place for sledding. Gunther and his sister took turns swooshing down the hill on his dad’s old sled, avoiding the oak trees and rocky outcroppings that dotted the hill. They didn’t stop even when their noses turned red from the cold and their feet got numb, but just kept right on sledding until it got too dark to see.

Snow days started with steaming mugs of his mother’s hot chocolate and his father’s special omelets filled with home-smoked bacon and sharp cheddar and ended with everyone warming frosty fingers and toes before a roaring fireplace after an enthusiastic snowball fight or two. Even as he got older and strong coffee replaced hot chocolate and an apartment in the city replaced his parents’ farm, Gunther still got a thrill every morning when he’d wake up to falling snow.

Snow softened harsh noises. Snow took the rough edges off things. Snow made November feel like winter and made December feel magical, frosting strings of twinkling Christmas lights into blurry little stars of red and green and blue.

That had been December in the Midwest.

December in Moretown Bay, a coastal city smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, was nothing but dull and gray and dreary.

Icy rain pelted the shoulders of Gunther’s heavy winter coat and ran down the sides of his neck as he bent to unlock the iron security gate at Chocolatapus, a specialty candy store located in a trendy waterfront marketplace complete with cobblestone streets and an open-air craft market during the summer.

Unlike the used bookstore and curio shop next door run by a curmudgeonly old wizard who only opened the place to the public for an hour a day on the second and third Tuesdays of every other month (most of the wizard’s customers shopped by appointment only), Chocolatapus was open seven days a week, ten hours a day.

As the store’s manager, Gunther worked most of those days and hours, but to tell the truth, he didn’t mind. It wasn’t like he did much with his time off anyway, and besides, working at Chocolatapus had turned into the best job Gunther had ever had since he’d left home nearly ten years ago. Not that being the manager of a candy store was exactly where he saw himself ending up after all the time, not to mention money, he’d spent earning a college degree.

He might even like Moretown Bay if only it didn’t rain so much in the winter. Which made winter seem like spring and summer and fall, only a little colder. And which today made him miss his family and home and snow days all the more.

As for Chocolatapus, the store was pretty nearly perfect. It sold milk chocolate and exotic dark chocolate and every kind of chocolate in between, along with silky caramels and chewy taffy, salty-sweet kettle corn and crunchy almond brittle. In December, the store also stocked Gunther’s favorite: swirly peppermint sticks that reminded him of the candy canes that always appeared as if by magic on his family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning. With long glass display cases filled with sweet treats lining both side of the narrow shop, the store felt warm and cozy and smelled like his mother’s hot chocolate mixed with all the best memories of his childhood.

After Gunther pushed the heavy iron security gate away from the front door, he murmured the words of the spell that would disable the wards around the front door.

Gunther didn’t have any magic of his own—no one in his family did—but more magic folk than Gunther had ever seen anywhere else lived in Moretown Bay. Spells that could be used by regular old humans were available for purchase from licensed witches and wizards pretty much anywhere in the city. For all he knew, the curmudgeonly old wizard who owned the shop next door sold spells on the side.

Of course, spells could also be reversed for the right price.

(end of sample)

~~~

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

Free Fiction Thursday – Here, Kitty Kitty

Kitty Kitty webPrivate investigator Dee and her gorgeous but grumpy elf partner Diz find missing people for a living. Tracking down a fairy’s missing ceramic cat should be a snap, right?

Dee should have known any case involving one of the fey would lead to disaster. Much less an angry little fairy who hurls weapons at her head and yells at her in Japanese.

To save her skull and find the kitty, Dee and her partner plunge headlong into the world of manga, anime, and cosplay. Diz might never be the same again.

This story is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Here, Kitty Kitty

Annie Reed

I dove behind my desk as my miniature Zen garden went whizzing past me. The garden’s stone base slammed into the wall right about where my head had been a split second ago, sand rained down into my hair, and I wondered what else I’d left lying around the front office that the little fairy might decide to throw at me.

My name’s Dee, and I’m a private investigator. Clients usually don’t show up at my office and launch deadly weapons at me. Along with my partner, Diz, I run D & D Investigations. People—and by that I’m loosely referring to elves, leprechauns, Greek gods, and my family—hire us to find loved ones who’ve gone missing.

We rent office space in a shabby building on the inland side of Moretown Bay. The neighborhood’s seen better times, but I like it. A masseuse with a unique flair for marketing and questionable taste in aromatics has a shop across the street, and there’s an Asian store next to the office run by a very nice lady who two days ago introduced me to the little fairy currently hovering over my desk and yelling at me in Japanese.

I don’t speak Japanese. I think my dog might since his usual Golden Retriever grin was dialed up to a near giggle.

“Want to let me in on the joke?” I asked him as I crouched behind my desk clutching my battered executive chair like it was a shield.

Dog didn’t say anything. He only speaks to me in my visions. And yes, that’s his name until he tells me otherwise.

We’d been having a nice afternoon at the office, Dog and I, up until the fairy barged through the door. Diz was off doing whatever tall, grumpy, gorgeous elves do—by themselves—after they crack a case with their partner. Dog had been curled up asleep in a small patch of actual sunshine coming through the front windows. I didn’t blame him. Clouds, rain, and mist are the norm in Moretown Bay. Rare slices of sunshine should always be celebrated with a good nap. My cat was probably doing the same thing in my upstairs apartment unless she was still pouting. She hasn’t quite forgiven me for allowing a dog to invade her life.

Faced with an office full of sleeping animals and no cases to work on, I’d been trying to distract myself from obsessing over my terminally single state, this time with Zen meditation. Diz told me recently that I should learn to live in the moment and enjoy the process instead of focusing so hard on the results. He thinks that might help me control my visions. I’m not an elf or a fairy or any other brand of magical folk. Vanilla human, that’s me, only with a seriously unreliable touch of precognition. Since I suck at living in the moment, I thought learning Zen meditation might help, hence the little desk-top sand garden I’d purchased at the Asian market two days ago.

I’d been sitting at my desk raking lines in that stupid little plot of sand for what seemed like hours, trying to stop thinking about my partner’s pointy ears and the one time I’d witnessed the tantalizing curve of his towel-covered derriere and just be in the moment, when our latest supposedly happy client flew in the door, picked up the Zen garden, and threw it at my head. I ducked just in time. She’s got quite an arm for someone only ten inches tall.

“Okay, okay!” I said from behind the safety of my desk. Which, let’s face it, isn’t all that safe when the fairy hurling weapons at your head can fly just about anywhere she wants to. “I get that you’re angry. Want to let me in on why?”

(end of sample)

# # #

“Here, Kitty Kitty” previously appeared in Fiction River #1: Unnatural Worlds

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Free Fiction Thursday – Rolo the Great

Rolo webMagic mixes with everyday life in this charming tale of hope and determination.

Rolo the Great, a courtly, pint-sized peddler of tourist trinkets, has at last found the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately for Rolo, she’s trapped in the belly of a brass pig.

In a place where magic co-exists with the mortal world, how can one small man with no magic of his own hope to rescue a damsel in distress?

Worse still, what if she doesn’t want to be rescued?

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Rolo the Great

Annie Reed

Rolo the Great owned the corner of Sussix and Wales. Or at least, that’s what he called it.

In reality, Rolo’s home turf was a six-foot wide strip of concrete sidewalk on the southwest corner of Fourth Street and Madison Boulevard, just a mere two blocks from the tourist trap that was the fishermen’s and farmers market in Moretown Bay. Rain or shine, Rolo could be found on the corner hawking his wares, which this month happened to be spiral wires enchanted to sparkle in all the colors of the rainbow, with little trinkets of gold or silver jewelry or a small feather hanging off the ends. Given his courtly manner, not to mention more than his fair share of charm and wit and a smidgen of rugged good looks, Rolo was able to eke out a living by charming the ladies, tourists and locals alike. The spirals he sold were hair charms, which he was more than happy to show each lady how to wear, provided they bent down low enough for Rolo to reach their heads.

Rolo was only four foot tall, you see.

He wasn’t properly a dwarf or a halfling, and he was too tall to be a gnome. Whenever a potential customer was crude enough to ask him if he was an elf, he would happily brush back his unruly brown curls to show them his perfectly human-shaped ears, which meant he was also neither fairy nor nymph nor leprechaun. He was simply a somewhat short person who thought he was the King of England. In a past life, of course.

So it all made a certain kind of sense when he fell in love with a princess.

An enchanted princess.

Of course.

(end of sample)

# # #

“Rolo the Great”

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Free Fiction Thursday – After

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I don’t know about you, but this has been a busy week for this writer person. I’m getting ready to head out for two back-to-back workshops. I don’t travel a whole lot, so each trip out of town is like a mini-adventure. This one should be fun. Lots of friends and writing and business talk (yes, that’s fun when it’s about the business of writing), with some imaginary characters thrown in here and there for good measure.

A few years ago I went on another adventure with a friend — a trip to a beautiful mountain lake. One day we stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake. It was the middle of the week, not yet the tourist season, and we were the only customers in the place. We sat outside on a second-story deck and ate pizza in the shade of huge pine trees and just enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. A few months later, this week’s story was born. I hope you enjoy “After,” the story of an artist with one foot in the real world and one foot in a world that only exists in her imagination.

After_cover

 

After

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2013 by Annie Reed

The older Belle Creedy gets, the more she wonders about what happens.  After.

In the mornings, when dawn’s just a lick of peach in the eastern sky and she’s so far into the world of her art she only knows the sun’s coming up because the racket from the birds roosting in the thick pines around her house intrudes on her thoughts, she stops whatever she’s working on and pads out onto the deck on the second story of her place.  She watches ripples on the surface of the clear mountain lake just across the road take on the color of the pre-dawn sky, and she considers just how many coincidences go into making a world like this.  Are they really coincidences after all?  Or is there something more?

It’s quiet this morning, so early in the day the birds have barely started their chatter.  So early that Gary Weeds, another old-timer like herself, isn’t even on the lake yet.  Gary lives halfway up the mountain.  He fishes every day he can, and since he retired in 1989, he can fish almost every day the weather lets him.   He crunches down the one-lane dirt road that snakes up through the pines, rod and tackle box in his hand, and shoves off in his rowboat.  Sits out on the lake half the day, the damn fool.  One of these days she’s gonna catch Gary peeing over the edge of his boat.  Man has a cast iron bladder, but even a cast iron bladder can’t stand against the ravages of time.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Don’t Touch

Good morning, everyone! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, last week’s free story, “Love Among the Llamas,” will be up for another week. “Love Among the Llamas” is a traditional romance. This week we have a story about a different sort of love. I hope you enjoy “Don’t Touch”.

dont touch cover

 

Don’t Touch

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2013 by Annie Reed

You lift the curtain with the tip of one finger and peer out at the customers ringing the edge of the bar.  That’s all you can see through the glare of the stage lights.  Emma’s up now, dancing around the pole like it could rub her back and pay her mortgage and put her kids through school, and maybe it can because no man’s ever gonna do those things for her, like no one’s ever gonna do them for you, but it’s all you got, and you take what you can get.

The customers look the same as last night’s and the night before.  Middle-age losers, their mouths slack, hands cupped around their drinks, staring up at Emma with so much naked want in their faces, it makes you sick.  Cigarette smoke curls around Emma’s ankles like so many fingers pulling at her.  That’ll be you out there in five minutes once Emma’s done with her routine and she goes out on the floor so the men beyond the bar can stuff dollar bills under the elastic of her G-string and pretend that fleeting touch is enough.

How many of them would want to touch her if they knew she went home with you?  Would it matter, or would they pay more to watch?

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Omens and Oracles and Eros, Oh My

Happy Thursday, everyone!

You should know by now that I’m a big fan of The Big Bang Theory. A couple of years back when they introduced Amy Farrah Fowler as Sheldon’s girlfriend, I was skeptical. Sheldon Cooper with a girl? Sheldon was, as the characters themselves sometimes put it, a man of science, only unlike the other characters, he had absolutely no interest in girls.

Well, as it turns out, I think Amy was a great addition to the cast, as was Bernadette. The show is, at heart, a romantic comedy. Romantic comedies come complete with romantic entanglements of one version or another for their characters.  While Sheldon is still a man of science, now he has an equally odd woman of science to spend his time with, complete with relationship agreement.

All this talk about relationships leads me to this week’s free story, which finds Cupid, the God of Love, hiring our intrepid detectives Diz and Dee to find his missing daughter. I hope you enjoy “Omens and Oracles and Eros, Oh My.”

omens cover

Omens and Oracles and Eros, Oh My

Annie Reed

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

It’s not every day a Greek god walks through a girl’s front door.

My partner and I run a detective agency out of an old storefront half a mile from the ferry landing on the mainland side of Moretown Bay.  The neighborhood is rundown urban with a touch of whimsical eclectic.  The shop next door sells everything Asian, from manga to anime to imported CD soundtracks side by side with things like shrimp chips and lichee jellies.  The masseuse across the street has her front door decorated with purple glitter and glow in the dark stars.  Every time one of her customers opens that door, enough aromatherapy candle smoke escapes to engulf the neighborhood in a cloud of calm.  Or passion.  I’m pretty sure on those days she provides more than a simple massage.  I don’t intend to find out.  She seems like a nice enough woman, but I’m not that starved for affection.  Not yet.

I didn’t recognize the guy who walked in my office like he owned the place, not right away, anyway.  Who’d have thought you’d find a god wandering around a neighborhood like this?  The sidewalk in front of our office looks like concrete accordion pleats, and I’m pretty sure a family of four is living in the panel van permanently parked at the back of the municipal lot at the end of the block.

Plus, the guy wasn’t dressed in a diaper and carting a bow and arrows. Even a detective needs at least a couple clues.

“You find lost people?” he asked, his tone more than a little upper crust.

“We do.”  I resisted the urge to look at the plate glass window at the front of the office.  The name on that window was D & D Investigations, and underneath:  Missing Persons Are Our Specialty.

I’m Dee, one half of D & D.  Diz, short for Dizzy G, is the other half.  Diz is an elf.  I’m not.  I get along with most people.  He glowers.  He’s also built like The Rock, and that makes him more than a little intimidating.  Which is why I’m the one who meets with potential clients.  If I let Diz do the meet and greet, we’d both be begging the police department for our old jobs back.

“I need you to find someone,” the guy said.

I smiled my most competent, professional detective smile.  “Have a seat.”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Chance of Bunnies with Occasional Toad

Good morning, everyone! Happy Thursday!

One of the things I love about where I live is the unexpected wildlife that shares our space. I’m not talking about spiders (yuck!) the cats sometimes chase or the bull snake that decided to make a kitchen cabinet his temporary home (don’t ask), but the bunnies who munch on my lawn, the little lizards who sun themselves on the deck, and the quail who scurry across the road in front of my car, because lord knows, quail will never fly when running really really fast will do. There’s a kind of quiet magic about sharing space with animals whose lives would normally have nothing to do with mine.

This week’s story is about that kind of backyard magic. “Chance of Bunnies with Occasional Toad” is now available in a brand-new paperback edition that includes a free electronic copy. Enjoy!

Chance v2 ebook small

 

Chance of Bunnies, with Occasional Toad

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 by Annie Reed

The house smelled dusty and abandoned.

Just like me, Cecily thought.

For a minute there, the old-fashioned lock, rusty with age, fought her.  Cecily worried the real estate agent had given her the wrong key, but eventually the doorknob turned, and she pushed the door open.

Even though Cecily was a grown woman with a place of her own, it felt odd opening this door with a key that now belonged to her, just like the house itself now belonged to her.  During all the summers when she’d been sent to live in this house with her aunt because her mother couldn’t deal with having Cecily home from school for an entire three months, Cecily had never unlocked the door herself.

She could have.  Cecily was one of a generation of “latch key” kids, a by-product of the feminist movement that saw women like her mother working nine-to-five jobs while their kids went to school from nine to three.  Cecily had worn her house key on a lanyard around her neck, and for two and a half hours every afternoon, she sat by herself at the dining room table and did her homework in an empty house.  Not because she wanted to, but because her mom would check Cecily’s work first thing, even before starting dinner, and if Cecily couldn’t show her mom two and a half hours’ worth of work, she was grounded from watching television for the night.

Her aunt didn’t place the same restrictions on Cecily as her mom had.

“Summer is a time for fun,” her aunt used to say.  “To read because you want to.  Eat in the living room, have dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner.  It’s not a time for kids to worry about keys.  Keys are for grownups.”

(read the rest of the story here)