Naomi is a skilled mediator who has an uncanny knack for getting everyone to agree. And she is newly engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Brock. Life is pretty sweet. But on the winter solstice of 2012, she learns that a Native American goddess named White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman has drafted her. She has enhanced Naomi’s powers of persuasion so that she may mediate a peace agreement in heaven between all the pagan gods and goddesses and the Christian God.
The goddess has also given Naomi a team: Shannon, her Counselor and best friend; Joseph, a Ute skinwalker and her Guardian; and an Investigator who often causes more trouble than he is worth. Together, they embark on a journey that will change all their lives – one that will end in a time out of time, on a windswept plain, and with all life on Earth in the balance.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
For NaNoWriMo in 2011, I decided to try my hand at writing an urban fantasy. So I came up with the plot for Seized, the first book in the Pipe Woman Chronicles, and realized I had enough material for four more books. Once I had finished all five books in the series, I decided to collect them into an omnibus, so that readers could have the whole set in one place.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted a strong female character who wasn’t your typical fantasy heroine. Naomi is a lawyer who doesn’t have much time for what she calls “woo-woo,” but she finds herself sucked into mystical doings anyway, and has to figure out a way to cope. As for Joseph, every urban fantasy needs a hot shapeshifter, right?
Seized: Book One of the Pipe Woman Chronicles
You know how they say you should be careful what you wish for? Well, I’m living proof.
Let’s start with the night Brock proposed to me. We met as law students, in the same class at the University of Denver, and now we worked at the same big law firm in town. He was a counsel and on track to make partner, a rising star in the firm. I too should have been about to make partner, but I had deliberately shifted my career along a different course. After a couple of years of working on big client cases, I became disillusioned with both the document review drudgery that new associates get stuck doing, and the cutthroat adversarial nature of most legal matters. So I went for mediation training. It meant going half-time at the firm while I earned certificates in both mediation and alternative dispute resolution, but the firm graciously agreed to allow me to complete my mediation internship there. I sold the management committee on the idea that having a certified mediator on staff would bring us business. They were dubious to start with, and I got plenty of advice about how I was derailing my “promising career as a litigator.” But now that a couple of years had passed, the partners were beginning to trust me and my methods, and were starting to throw business my way.
Just that week, I had completed an arbitration for a dicey matter involving the owners of a local sports team and their star player, and Brock insisted that we go to Colt & Gray to celebrate. He seemed as thrilled as I was that the alternative dispute resolution (or ADR) had gone so well, although he seemed most thrilled that the team owners, who were clients of our firm on some other matters, had gotten nearly everything they wanted.
“But the player got what he wanted, too,” I insisted as the waiter placed our food before us. Brock had chosen the grilled beef hearts with marrow butter. He had tried to persuade me to order the same thing – “it would be so appropriate, considering the way you eviscerated the other guys,” he’d said – but I picked the seared salmon instead. “And there are no ‘other guys’ in mediation, Brock,” I continued. “You know that.”
“Sure, sure,” he said, waving one hand airily before slicing into his meat.
I watched him for a few seconds before reaching for my own utensils, marveling again at how I had landed the guy. Brock Holt was the quintessential jock – tall, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, with the blond hair and perpetual tan of the die-hard skier. He had confided in me at one point in law school that he was drawn to the profession initially because it seemed to have a massive potential for doing business on the slopes; that the actual practice of law fit his aggressive personality was a nice plus.
Okay, not aggressive – ruthless. Brock could be quite the bastard, given half a chance. And his practice gave him more than half a chance. He had been counseled more than once to go easy on his bulldog style, but not very seriously; some of the partners appreciated playing the good cop to Brock’s bad cop.
So what was Naomi Witherspoon doing with him, anyway? I had heard the talk around the office about how Naomi the Nice – the girl with the pale face, the one who wore hippie clothes to hide her extra pounds and had that weird conciliatory vibe – didn’t belong with Brock the Bastard. And yet we’d been dating since our final year of law school. Brock had stuck by me during my professional dark night of the soul, and was one of my biggest boosters professionally.
Oh sure, we’d had our ups and downs. We had broken up more than once, usually over his penchant for flirting with the female baby associates. He always swore that they came on to him – which I could almost believe, except that I’d seen him come on to them right back. But all that seemed to be in the past now; we hadn’t had a major dust-up for at least a couple of years, and I had begun to think that maybe he was ready to settle down.
God knows I was ready to settle down. We were both past thirty and my biological clock was ticking ever louder. We were becoming established in our careers, we were comfortable with one another, we had plenty of money – why not get married and have kids?
“Something wrong with the salmon?” he asked, gesturing at my plate with his knife.
“Oh!” I glanced down, realizing that while I’d been lost in my reverie, he had torn through half of his entree. “Sorry. No, nothing’s wrong with it. I was just thinking again about how well the ADR went.” No way would I tell him I’d been thinking about how good he looked. His ego didn’t need any encouragement. “How’s your heart?”
“Terrific, as always,” he grinned before popping another piece into his mouth. Then he sat back and said, “You’re really on a roll lately. The Bingham estate settlement, that copyright infringement matter, and now this.”
I waved off the compliment with a self-deprecatory smile. “I’m having fun. I get to learn a little bit about a lot of different areas of law. Beats the hell out of document review.” I wrinkled my nose in disgust at the thought as I took a bite of the salmon, then smiled appreciatively as I chewed.
“Sure,” Brock continued, “but that’s not what I meant. It’s like you have a knack for persuasion.”
“Like you have a knack for intimidation?” I asked with a sardonic grin. Really, we’re pretty well matched – I can be a bastard sometimes, too.
He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. Like you have a magic talent or something. Ross told Perry that it was like he couldn’t help agreeing with everything you said.”
I had been about to stab into my fish for another bite, but my fork stalled just above the plate as I stared at him. “Ross shouldn’t even be speaking to Perry about the ADR.”
Conflict of interest, in a law firm setting, is a funny bird. There’s a seemingly inexhaustible supply of clients, and a big client can have hundreds of matters, but there are only so many law firms. Inevitably, a client will run into a situation where its go-to law firm also represents its opponent. At that point, a virtual wall can be erected within the firm to keep the lawyers assigned to matter A ignorant of what’s going on in matter B, and vice versa. The system works, but only if everybody involved scrupulously plays along.
“Don’t worry,” Brock said hastily, “Ross didn’t give away any details about the settlement. Since he was in the building, he stopped by Perry’s office to talk about the training camp lease. Perry told me he was making small talk with Ross – you know, ‘how’s it going in general,’ that kind of thing – and Ross volunteered that you seemed to have a magic touch. He meant it as a compliment. Don’t get sore.”
I thought about it for a second. “Yeah, I guess that’s okay,” I conceded, and took that bite of salmon. “I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, huh?” I continued ruefully. “I should be grateful for a client to put in a good word for me with a partner, especially since promotion evals are coming up.”
Brock grinned. “Exactly.” He jumped, and then looked abashed. “Forgot to take my phone off vibrate,” he apologized, pulling the offending device from the pocket of his slacks. He glanced at the number and got up from the table. “I’ve got to take this in private, sorry.”
I nodded and gestured at my plate. “Go,” I said. “It’ll give me a chance to catch up to you.” He grinned and walked away, putting the phone to his ear as he went. I propped my chin on my free hand for a moment, watching the tails of his suit jacket move as he walked and imagining the play of muscle underneath. Then he rounded a corner and I went back to my cooling dinner.
He was right about my string of successes. For the past month or so, I had been pleasantly surprised by the ease in which I was settling cases. Experience counted for some of it, of course. But every case was different, and no amount of experience can prepare you for the twists and turns that some matters take. Even as I tallied my wins and basked in my success, a little voice in my head kept asking whether things weren’t coming too easily, whether I wasn’t heading for a hard fall.
It’s true: my mother didn’t raise any self-confident children. The only child she raised, in fact, was me. She had carefully instilled in me a Protestant work ethic; a strong streak of humility; and the sense that what God giveth, God could taketh away on a whim.
The boyfriend, I was pretty sure, I got on my own. But God could taketh him away if I didn’t locketh him down pretty damn soon.
I saw Brock re-enter the dining room and murmured, “Why don’t you just ask me to marry you already?”
His eyes widened for an instant. Then he nodded once, decisively. Smiling broadly, he resumed his seat and reached for my hand. “Listen,” he said, “you’re not going home for Christmas, are you?”
I blinked. “I hadn’t planned on it. I’ve got a couple of mediations after New Year’s to get ready for, and I’ve got to finish drafting the ADR order. Why?”
“Why don’t we go skiing? We’ve got the condo in Vail. Days on the mountain, evenings before the fire, nights….” His grin became almost predatory. “What do you say?”
“We’ve got a condo in Vail?” I asked, amused. “You’ve got a condo in Vail.”
“But it will be ours after I put your name on it.”
“After we’re married.”
He had stunned me for the second time that evening. “Are you proposing to me?” I said in disbelief.
He glanced around, still holding tightly to my hand. “It’s not the most romantic setting, I know, but I’ll get down on one knee if you want me to. Maybe we’d get a free bottle of champagne out of it.” He half-rose from his chair, his napkin slipping to the floor.
I laughed delightedly. “That is completely unnecessary. Sit back down, you goofball.”
“You’re sure?” he asked, still in a crouch.
“Yes!” I snatched back my hand and bent over to get his napkin, still laughing.
“Yes, you’re sure? Or yes, you’ll marry me?”
I searched his gaze. Then I said, with all the honesty I could muster, “I love you, Brock. I’ve loved you for years. But I’ve never really been sure whether you loved me, too.”
His face softened, and tenderness shone from his eyes. “If I didn’t love you, why would I ask you to marry me?”
That wasn’t exactly the phrasing I was after, but I decided it would do for now. “Yes, Brock, I will marry you,” I said, smiling.
He whooped and waved over the waiter with a grand gesture. “A bottle of your best champagne for the happy couple,” he said, loud enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear. “We’re engaged!” The place erupted in applause.
We skipped dessert and went to my place. I lit a fire in my bedroom fireplace (I fell in love with the condo precisely because it had fireplaces in both the great room and the bedroom) and we proceeded to, in Brock’s elegant phrasing, consummate our engagement. But then I sent him home. I don’t know why, exactly; he had certainly spent the night before. But I realized that tonight, I wanted the place to myself. So as the fire log in the grate sputtered out, I pleaded exhaustion and sent him on his way, blowing him a kiss from my doorway as he stepped onto the elevator.
I closed the door behind me and leaned against it. Then I glanced into the mirror that I’d put by the door for last-minute appearance checks (and usually forgot to use) and noted the spots of color on my cheeks and the smile that hadn’t left my face since Brock proposed. My face is gonna hurt in the morning from all this unaccustomed smiling. I laughed aloud at the thought.
Then I got myself a glass of water and a couple of acetaminophen. No way I was going to start my new life as a fiancée with a hangover.
I wasn’t sleepy, despite the alcohol and the exercise. I toyed with the TV remote for a minute or two, then reached for my cell phone and called my best friend Shannon to give her the good news.
“Naomi?” she answered. “I was just going to bed. What’s up?”
“Ms. McDonough,” I said grandly, “you have the honor and pleasure of addressing the future Mrs. Brock Holt!”
“I knew it!” she crowed. I could visualize her in her Day of the Dead jammies, her auburn curls cropped close from the wretched haircut she’d gotten over the weekend and her face alight with glee.
“You did not!” I said. “How could you have? It was a complete surprise to me.”
“There was a disturbance in the ether,” she said smugly, and I pshawed in disbelief. Shannon claimed to be fey, but I didn’t buy most of her New Agey woo-woo stuff. She always struck me as simply very observant of others’ emotional states, which was a big help to her in her job as a social worker. I often took mental note of her techniques and then used them in my mediation practice. (I’d confessed it to her once, and asked if it was okay with her; she claimed to have known about it all along.)
“And where is Mr. Holt?” she asked.
“I sent him home.”
“Ah,” she said mysteriously.
“What the hell does ‘ah’ mean?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she said.
“You’re a rotten liar, Shannon.”
She laughed. “So you’re going to go to bed alone, then?”
“I have to work in the morning!” I protested. “I can’t stay up all night having sex!” As her laughter died down, I added, “Anyway, there will be plenty of time for that next week. Brock invited me to his condo in the mountains for Christmas. You know, skiing, ring shopping, long nights by the fireplace. That sort of thing.”
“Well, congratulations,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming. I thought he’d never ask you. What did your mother say?”
My smile faded. “Haven’t called her yet.”
“Ah,” Shannon said again.
“Would you quit with the ‘ah’?” I demanded. “Anyway, I wasn’t planning to go home for Christmas – I was going to stay here and work, remember?”
“Of course I remember. But I also know she’s not that wild about Brock.”
“Mostly, she’s been wondering why he’s been taking so long to propose,” I said. “She should love him to pieces now.”
“Mmm,” she said.
“That’s no better than ‘ah,’” I told her. “Look, I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep. Why don’t I come over? I’ve got a plate of cookies my secretary gave me for Christmas. I’ll bring them along – you can help me eat them.”
“Are they that bad?” she laughed.
“No, they’re terrific. But if I eat them all myself, Brock may think twice about marrying Naomi the Whale.”
“You should have asked him to help you eat them,” she said. “Then you could begin to grow old and fat together. Okay, come on over. I’ll put the kettle on.”
“See you in ten minutes,” I said, and hung up. Then I grabbed the cookies from the kitchen counter and headed to the basement garage.
Shannon lived in a triplex north of Sloan’s Lake, only ten minutes or so from my loft in LoDo (the nickname for Denver’s trendy, if I do say so myself, Lower Downtown neighborhood). It was a Wednesday night so traffic should have been light, but the bars were closing and the crowd was clogging up the streets. Working my ginger Nissan Cube free of LoDo at last, I pulled up behind a car that was sitting at a stop sign…and sitting…and sitting. No traffic was coming in either direction that I could see, and my earlier ebullient mood was evaporating by the second. Finally, in frustration, I cried out, “Just go, already!”
The car ahead leaped into the intersection. A horn blared as another car shot into my range of vision from the left, narrowly missing the first car. As the driver on the cross street flew by, still honking, the other driver rocked to a halt on the other side of the intersection and just sat there.
I realized my hand was covering my mouth. I pulled it away with an effort and sat for a moment, glancing between the flaring brake lights across the road and my hands trembling on the steering wheel. Finally, the other car’s brake lights went out and he, or she, drove away. Slowly and carefully, I did the same.
Shannon met me at the door, her grin dissolving into a look of concern. She snatched the cookies as if she was afraid I would drop them, then took my coat and steered me to the wicker loveseat. An opened novel sat, flipped over, on the coffee table, atop a pile of papers. She removed the aluminum foil covering the cookies and set chamomile teabags to steep in two mugs with a matching Navajo design.
Then, finally, she said, “What happened?”
I told her. About the other driver, and about the settlements.
As I talked, my brain began clicking things into place. It wasn’t just that I was getting really good at my job – it was too easy. People were far too suggestible around me. The client had told Perry that I had a magic touch. That he couldn’t help agreeing with everything I said.
I could tell someone to get out of my way at an intersection, even if it put that person in danger.
“Something weird is going on,” I finished, rather lamely.
“Yes, it is,” Shannon agreed. “And now you know what the ‘ah’ meant.”
I blinked. “On the phone?” I tried to sip my tea, burned my lip and swore.
“Sorry, it’s hot,” she said, and fetched an ice cube for me. “Suck on that. Yes, on the phone. I’ve always sensed an odd aura around you, but it’s gotten worse over the past month or so.”
“Stronger,” she amended. “Worse is a value judgment. I’m not prepared to make a value judgment at this time.”
The ice cube felt good against my sore lip, but the melt water was dripping down my wrist. I dropped what was left of the cube into my mug and wiped my wrist on my jeans. “Okay,” I said carefully, afraid we were veering into the woo-woo. “When will you be prepared?”
She laughed. “I know you don’t believe in the supernatural, Naomi, and some of it, you’re right to doubt. But a lot of it is real.” She reached under the novel and extracted a green handbill from atop the pile. Then she handed it to me. “We should go to that.” She bit into a chocolate cookie and sighed. “Your secretary makes good cookies.”
I nodded in agreement as I nibbled at a star-shaped sugar cookie covered in yellow sprinkles and glanced over the sheet. Then I put the cookie down. “Oh, Shannon, come on,” I said, looking squarely at her. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am serious,” she said. “These cookies are delicious. And we really should go to this sweat.”
I looked at the handbill again. It advertised a “special Winter Solstice 2012 sweat lodge” up in the mountains near Boulder on Friday – two days away. “By invitation only,” it said.
“We’re not invited,” I said, tossing the paper atop her novel.
“We are,” she countered. “That’s the invitation.”
“Well,” I said, “I’m not invited. I’d have to take off work, and I’m already planning to take next week off to go to Vail with Brock.”
“Actually,” Shannon said, “you are invited. An Indian guy dropped off the invitation at my office today as I was seeing a client out. He said specifically that it was for you and me.”
My head snapped up. “What?”
“He said he knew you.”
“He specifically said to you, ‘Shannon, this is for you and Naomi’?”
She shrugged. “Not exactly in those words, but yes, he mentioned you by name.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “He must have me confused with someone else. I don’t know any Indians. Not well enough to be invited to a ceremony, anyway.” I picked up the handbill again. “Is this going to be authentic?”
“I think so,” she said. “Wait. What do you mean by ‘authentic’?”
“Native American Church-type authentic. Including peyote.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. But if it’s a bad scene, we’ll leave.”
“You can count on that,” I said, and then thought of another objection. “You’re not trying to sucker me into some goofy Age of Aquarius, end-of-the-world thing, are you? Real Indians are running this, not one of those New Age charlatans?”
Shannon’s eyes had narrowed as I spoke, but she answered me. “The guy who gave me the invitation seemed authentic enough to me.”
“What did he look like?”
“Well, he wasn’t dressed in buckskin and fringe, with feathers in his hair, if that’s what you’re asking.”
I dialed it back a bit. “I’m not making fun of you, honest. I’m just worried about us ending up like the people who died in that bogus sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona a few years back. Really, what did he look like?”
She dropped her hackles a little. “A jacket over a plaid Western shirt,” she said. “Jeans. Boots, but work boots – not expensive cowboy boots.” Her eyes unfocused as she recalled details. “It was his face that sold me. He was dark-skinned and had those Indian features, you know? And long, dark hair, like yours. He had it pulled back in a ponytail and braided.” Her eyes refocused on me. “But his eyes were bright blue.”
“And he said he knew me.”
She nodded. I shook my head. No blue-eyed Indians were coming to mind.
“Look, Naomi,” she said. “I see it this way. You already know weird stuff is happening to you. And on the same day you figure this out, a strange man invites us to a Native American ceremony. Maybe he has some answers for you.” And she said again, “If it gets too weird, we’ll leave.”
I sighed. “Okay, fine, let’s go, I guess.” I read over the paper again, so I didn’t have to see the satisfied look on Shannon’s face. “This thing starts at sundown. That’s, what, 4:30 in the afternoon? And the light will fade sooner on this side of the mountains. I’ll leave work at noon and pick you up at your office. We can grab lunch on the way.”
“No lunch,” she said. “We’ll be fasting.”
“Maybe you’ll be fasting,” I said, “but I’m going to eat lunch. I don’t do woo-woo on an empty stomach.”
I drove home, careful to keep my opinions about the other drivers on the road to myself.
It was after one in the morning by the time I got back to my loft. I was in that weird state of keyed-up exhaustion in which you’re never sure whether you’ll be able to fall asleep. But the alarm was going to go off at 6:30 a.m., regardless, so I decided to give it a try.
No sooner had my head hit the pillow than I started to dream. Or at least it seemed like a dream.
I was about twelve. I was wearing a fluffy white coat that Mom had bought for me when I was in sixth grade, and my hair hung in braided pigtails behind my ears. I could hear someone droning on about some Indian legend. I turned away from the voice, and came face to face with a small, white buffalo. His withers came even with my eyes, and he didn’t have any horns. I reached out to touch his fur – I think I intended to pet him, like you would a dog – but his front half dropped to the ground, his skinny legs stuck out straight in front of him, while his back half stayed up in the air. The droning voice stopped, and then cried, “He bowed to her! The white buffalo calf bowed to her!” I heard more voices then, murmuring behind me. The little buffalo’s rump then sank to the ground, and as I bent to try to touch his head once more, I looked up.
Behind the buffalo stood a woman. Her dress was made of white buckskin, elaborately fringed along the seams of the bodice and sleeves. Her hair – long, straight, and black as night – fell around her shoulders like a cloak. Her skin was deeply tanned; her eyes were black and kind, and their depths went on forever. And she was smiling at me, and nodding. She seemed to be encouraging me to touch the little buffalo calf, which still lay motionless at my feet.
The voices behind me were approaching. My hand was a fraction of an inch from the buffalo calf’s head when a crow began to squawk. I looked up again, glancing around for the crow, who continued to squawk insistently. Repeatedly. Regularly.
Groaning, I rolled over and hit the snooze button to silence the alarm. But I didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, I lay there, wide awake and staring up at the ceiling, remembering.
I’d forgotten about that white coat, and about how Mom used to put my hair in pigtails. And I had totally forgotten about that field trip in seventh grade to see the legendary white buffalo calf that had been born over the summer.
We lived in Logansport, Indiana, then, and the buffalo calf was born on a farm in Kewanna, a bend in the road nearby. We rode a school bus to the farm. I remembered using a fingernail to scrape away the frost flowers that had bloomed overnight on the inside of the bus window. Or maybe that was a different bus on another morning. I rode a bus every day to school, growing up. Anyway, it was cold that morning, and frosty, but we hadn’t had any snow yet.
I’d forgotten how bored I’d become at the spiel the farmer gave our class about the white buffalo calf legend. I had been in the back of the group so it was hard to hear, and I was getting cold, standing in one spot. So I wandered away, down the dirt path to the corral.
I remembered, now, spying the white calf with his mother near the barn, and propping my forearms on the fence railing to watch them together – my own private showing of the miracle calf. And then the calf saw me, and came over. And – how could I have forgotten this? – the little buffalo had indeed dropped to the ground in front of me.
There was a big to-do when the farmer spotted us, just as there had been in my dream, and my teacher made a big deal about it when we got back to school. The kids on the bus called me “Indian girl” and “buffalo girl” for months afterward, all through that winter, during which I had to keep wearing that damned white coat because Mom couldn’t afford to get me a different one. But she stopped putting my hair in braids after that. And at the end of the school year, we moved to Lafayette, a bigger town. By the time I started classes at my new school in the fall, everyone had forgotten about the miracle calf and the girl it had supposedly bowed to – and even if they remembered, there was nothing in Lafayette to connect it to me.
But how had I forgotten?
And why had there been an Indian woman in my dream, when none had been there in real life?
Lynne Cantwell has been writing fiction since the second grade, when the kid who sat in front of her showed her a book he had written, and she thought, “I could do that.” The result was Susie and the Talking Doll, a picture book illustrated by the author about a girl who owned a doll that not only could talk, but could carry on conversations. The book had dialogue but no paragraph breaks. Today, after a twenty-year career in broadcast journalism and a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University (or perhaps despite the master’s degree), Lynne is still writing fantasy. In addition, she is a contributing author at Indies Unlimited.
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