Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

40 Ways to Lose a Guy

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LENGTH: 71,000 words, 280 pages (approx)

My bad luck with men is a joke in my family.

The two other women in my family think I attract only bad guys. Rasmus morphing into some ancient winged creature and flying away convinced my mother she was right. Working with Colonel Benson and the sexy elf Conn recruited to guard my daughter is worsening her opinion. Can you believe my daughter at twenty thinks I’m the naive one? Well, the joke’s on both of them.

Turning forty didn’t make me extra picky, but they need to stop judging me for saying no. Colonel Benson is happily married, and I turned down the sexy elf Conn dangled in front of me on principle. I don’t have time to deal with ancient winged creatures, eccentric fairy folk, and back-stabbing demons. The last thing I need is another man determined to ruin my life. Jack Derringer did a bang-up job of that already.

Speaking of my ex, and I really wish I didn’t need to, but it seems Jack is involved in something extremely shady. It turns out that the reason Jack sent me to prison was to line his wallet. Should I be flattered that my absence was worth so much to someone? Finding out Jack betrayed me for money is why I informed my daughter that I couldn’t promise to not kill her father when I saw him.

No one’s paying me these days, but I still need to sort this out, find a way to permanently lose the guy I divorced, and maybe find the one that flew away from me before he gets captured again.

40 Ways to Lose a Guy is an exciting new paranormal women’s fiction tale from USA Today Bestselling Author Donna McDonald.

Chapter 1
We chose a booth at the back of the bar and sat facing the door so I could watch for our visitor. I chose seats as far away from the music and pool tables as I could get us.

If Father Peter Landerman was wearing his hearing aids this evening, we’d be fine here. If he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, I would ask the waitperson to move us next door to the restaurant where we could be sure to hear each other. If he was wearing his collar, which I fully expected him to be doing, I’d have to seat the priest where he wouldn’t draw attention.

Why would I go to such extremes merely to talk to an old family friend? Because I planned to shamelessly pour Peter’s favorite booze down him until he told me what I wanted to know.

I turned to Conn, my demon familiar and the caretaker of my not-so-great wealth to ask about our finances. Fresh out of magickal prison, I had no idea if I had any money or not. Every time I asked Conn about it, he told me not to worry and started throwing around financial terms like safe money market accounts and high-risk high-rewards investments.

There was usually a bit of bragging in his comments as well, which I also tuned out. Anything more complicated than negotiating payment for work confused me.

I admit I took a more practical approach to my earnings. Either I had money to spend on something or I didn’t. Tonight, I wanted to be sure I could spend it as freely as necessary

“Are we solvent enough to pay for top-shelf liquor tonight?”

Conn grinned at me and chuckled at my question. “Yes. I cashed out one of our money market certificates. Renting the house for a year took most of what I converted, but I know you need the stability.”

It was good not to have to explain to Conn the reaction I’d had leaving the cottage for good. I hated what the place meant the whole I was there, but it had been all I knew for seven very, very long years. Jack’s house was just that—his house and not mine. It wasn’t stability I needed so much as it was to establish some other place as my sanctuary. I’d jumped at the first house whose energy felt right.

Conn hadn’t offered me a single argument against it. What mattered more than a house we didn’t have to leave was that we were together again. Finding a new normal would be easier with a place to call home for a while.

I smiled at him. “I’ll look for a normal paying job after this is all over. My ‘after prison’ plan was to move home to Ireland but that’s not going to be possible for a while yet.”

“You’re just wanting to be away from Jack.”

I considered it, and then nodded. “True, but now I’m not sure one ocean between the two of us is going to be enough. How would ya feel about not staying here in America? Ya have a stake in where we live as well. Are ya done with America yet?”

“I go where you go, Aran. That’s the deal between us. I would only miss one person here in Salem, and it’s not Lilith. Seeing her has reminded me that she never truly returned my interest, not even when I loved her madly. Besides, there are too many females in this world to ever believe only one will do.”

“I won’t move back unless we both can see it working. We’re a team. We always were and always will be.”

“Which is why I choose to imitate you. No other keeper has ever given me so much freedom.”

I snorted. “If I hadn’t treated ya well before I got out of prison, I certainly would now. That was a hard lesson learned about the ability to move around this world freely.”

The waitress interrupted our serious discussion when she brought our drinks. It was a dark beer for Conn, which was his usual drink of choice. I didn’t drink much so I didn’t have a usual. I ordered a rum and fruit juice drink that wasn’t very strong.

Conn chuckled low. “Being here and waiting on a priest to join us feels like we’re setting up a joke.”

I laughed as I shook my head. “This is no joke, Conn. Father Landerman’s knowledge of angels is renowned. He even knows about the ones not recognized by his own beliefs, including djinn.”

Conn took a sip of his frosty beer and smirked at me. “A witch, a demon, and a priest walk into a bar. The witch asks, ‘Have you ever heard of a friendly Nephilim, or at least one not looking to destroy the world? The priest, fearing the creature his god once destroyed, runs out of the bar screaming in terror. The demon laughs at the irony of a creature made by the gods who is scarier than him.”

He stopped talking to smirk at me because he knew I’d have to know. When I broke, I broke hard. “Okay. I’ll bite, Conn. What happened to the witch?”

Conn’s grin stretched wide. “Fearing neither gods nor the creatures created by them, the witch was shocked that her question caused all hell to break loose.” He snapped his fingers. “Wait… you’re right. This isn’t a joke. We’re talking about your normal life.”

“Shush,” I said, elbowing him as I chuckled. “Peter doesn’t know ya’re a demon and he can’t tell. He also doesn’t know I’m a witch or that I wield the power of a child of The Dagda. So ex-nay on the emon-day.”

Conn nearly spit out his beer laughing. “Pig Latin?” he asked.

I grinned at him. “It’s the closest to real Latin a pagan like me can get.”

Grinning back, Conn took another sip. “That’s blatantly not true. Some of your favorite spells are in Latin. The druids turned their Roman conqueror’s language against them. That was a superb historical irony.”

I waggled a finger at him. “No druid talk either, Conn—nothing pagan at all. We won’t mention any other religions to Peter unless he brings them up. Father Landerman is a respected family friend. He and Ma talk about angels together. I’m hoping he’ll talk to me about them. Who knows? Maybe he knows about the guardians.”

Conn laughed as he studied me. “I can’t imagine anyone talking to you for five minutes without realizing you’re a far more powerful person than they have ever imagined existed. Your witch powers don’t often show, but The Dagda’s power in you always makes itself known.”

I sipped my rum drink. “Is that a compliment? Or are ya saying I suck at fooling people?”

“Both,” Conn said. “I guess I’m here keeping your company because the priest believes I’m your brother.”

“Not this time. Father Landerman thinks ya’re my cousin because he knows Ma only had one child. No imaginary love children are allowed in this conversation, either. Ya’re here because I need a second pair of ears to hear what he has to say.”

Despite being in human form, Conn gave me a toothy demon smile. “How can you broach a real topic with the man if you’re constantly filtering reality for him?”

“That’s what the top-shelf booze is for, of course. I intend to ply him with liquor to loosen his tongue, as well as his religious affiliations.”

Conn’s deep, masculine laughter drew the attention of the woman serving at the table closest to us. The way he tossed his head to move his thick hair out of his eyes was enough to have her staring. He smiled back at her when she smiled at him but then looked quickly away. He looked too much like me to be my date and he knew it. That meant there was only one reason Conn was playing things so cool.

I smirked at his actions. “We can’t talk about the Wu Shaman tonight, either. Her magic is too tribal.”

Conn smiled but kept his gaze on his beer. “I’m obsessed with her—I admit it. It’s very limiting to my social life.”

I smiled as I sipped my drink. “Limiting for you? What about me? I haven’t gotten a haircut in two months. Do ya know why? Because I refuse to listen to Mulan ranting for hours about you in multiple languages. I’d rather waste my long-distance minutes listening to Ma lecturing me about my poor grooming habits, and ya know how much I hate that.”

Conn rattled off something in a Chinese dialect. I didn’t understand a word, but I didn’t have to. I wasn’t the person meant to understand.

“Good goddess, ya learned her language to impress her.” I shook my head in shock. “I sure hope she appreciates yer efforts.”

His smile was wide. “Not yet, but she will. And that reminds me of something.” Conn pulled an envelope out of his pocket with my name on it.

I took it, opened the flap, and saw a stack of money inside. “What’s this?”

Conn’s smile was wicked. “It’s thirty percent of the ninety percent profit, which ended up being one thousand three hundred fourteen dollars and change, which she generously rounded up. I know this because the Wu Shaman told me that several times. She also said to tell you she invested the ten percent victim’s share into an account which at the end of one year if left unclaimed will be divided among the three of us. She agrees with me that the Rasmus we knew is never coming back—hence the investing.”

“That woman is crazy, Conn. She hocked the scimitar the guardian used on Rasmus. That’s what she’s calling profit.”

His pleased and proud chuckle had me grinning.

“Yes, I believe she sold it online to a collector for a very healthy sum. Leaving the blood on it would have brought a higher value, but she didn’t want the responsibility of some random person coming into contact with guardian blood and turning into an evil, man-made guardian monster. She cleaned the blood off, burned the cleaning rags to keep prevent it from spreading, and totally removed the guardian’s energy before she shipped the sword to its new owner.”

Conn’s wickedly happy grin told me volumes about how proud he was to tell me that entire story in precisely that manner. The Wu Shaman was one of a kind—part medicine woman and part opportunistic thief.

I stared at the envelope of money for a while before shoving it out of sight in my new purse. We’d had to replace all our belongings after the first in our previous rental house. It had taken a second visit to the coin dealer just to buy new clothes. Hopefully, we wouldn’t end up losing everything again. A year’s worth of rent was a hefty investment.

“Tread lightly with the Wu Shaman, Conn. I’ve seen her power and I may not be able to stop her from casting ya somewhere. If ya break her heart, she might capture ya, stuff ya, and sell ya to a collector to buy her family’s herb farm back.”

Conn snickered at my warning. “The same thought already occurred to me. That’s why I bought her family farm back before Mulan got any ideas about making a profit off me.”

My mouth fell open before I laughed. “Tell me ya didn’t. Does she know?”

Conn rubbed his nose. “Her father does, but he promised not to tell her. She’s been sending money home for that purpose for years. He told her he got a good bargain and thanked her profusely for helping him restore their family’s honor. Her sister is still complaining about her, though. I thought about cutting out her sister’s tongue but feared that might make Mulan mad.”

“Do ya think?” I exclaimed, knowing he was not joking—not in the least.

Conn looked serious for a moment. “Mulan doesn’t need me, but she wants me.”

“She needs ya more than she realizes. Mulan needs someone strong enough to deal with her crazy. And I need ya to woo her because I refuse to be the only one dealing with her. Ma is determined to make Mulan and me the best of friends.”

Conn’s laughter filled the bar. One of his most winning traits was the deep masculine laughter that so easily rolled out of his throat whenever he was amused. He caught the female server’s eye earlier, but now every woman in the bar turned to look longingly at him.

I appreciated it too, but all too often, I was the cause of his humor. He laughed at me more than he should. There were plenty of times Conn’s teasing made me want to cut his tongue out.

And that’s how Father Landerman snuck up on us.

“Is this a private party or can an old man join in on the fun?”

“Father Landerman!”

“Now, Aran, you know my name is Peter. That Father stuff is for parishioners,” he scolded.

“Okay. Peter,” I said with a smile, scooting from my seat. “It’s so good to see you.”

I hugged the elderly man and helped him arrange his robes to sit in the booth. I waved over the wait person. “Bring us two more dark beers and two top-shelf whiskeys—one single and one double, please.”

“I feel spoiled,” Peter said with a smile.

“Thanks for the refill,” Conn also said with a smile.

“Ya gentlemen are both welcome.” I saved introductions until the server ran off to get the drinks. “Peter, I don’t think ya’ve met my cousin. Conn is from Da’s side of the family. He’s here staying with me for a while.”

The priest nodded to Conn but didn’t offer his hand. Very few people did. Women had no fear of touching my familiar, but males instinctively kept their distance. Conn said an ancient male instinct warned them away from him because an imperial demon was an apex predator.

Passing for family was never hard for Conn and me, but sometimes we had to get creative in labeling our connection. Brother. Cousin. We changed it to suit ourselves.

We’d gotten strange looks from the other bar customers when the robed priest sat down with us, but it wasn’t because Conn was a demon. No, I was the one who got the stares, especially when I hugged him and helped him sit. Maybe a confirmed pagan like me didn’t put off the right vibe to be entertaining a man cut from Catholic cloth.

But Peter was a family friend and I didn’t care what others thought. Peter knew Ma and I didn’t share his faith… or really any faith he could readily explain. I never asked Ma how many details she’d shared with Peter. He didn’t seem to be ashamed about knowing me, so I refused to be worried about being seen with him.

“Your mother said you were interested in talking to me about angels. Bridget and I have had many wonderful talks about them. I wish she’d stayed in the states with you. I miss her.”

I smiled and nodded. “I miss Ma being here too. Next time she comes for a visit, I’ll make sure she looks ya up.”

“Thank you, Aran. You’re a good daughter. What was it you wanted to know about angels?”

I smiled again. “What can ya tell me about the Nephilim, Peter? I read they were the hybrid children of angels and humans. I also read they were more evil than good. Does the very mention of them make ya want to run screaming from the building?”

Peter laughed at my dramatic teasing. “You joke, but they affect certain people that way. God considered them to be abominations and outside intended creation. Along with the bulk of humanity, most of the Nephilim were destroyed during the Great Flood.”

“Ya said most of them, Peter. What happened to the Nephilim who survived?”

“Many ancient texts claim those that didn’t die hid from God’s sight. In the years after the Great Flood, I believe that the ones who remained alive got called ‘giants’ and even ‘heroes’ sometimes. I think many of the famous myths about alleged demigods were based on them. Some scholars think the tales of Hercules were about a Nephilim because he was a hero who went insane and killed his family. Insanity from having too much power is their fatal flaw.”

“Are they evil to your religion then? Tales I read of them didn’t paint a pleasing picture.”

Our wait person chose that moment to slide our drinks onto the table. I indicated for her to put them all in one place and moved them around while I waited for Peter to answer.

“I disagree with the view that Nephilim were abominations. The reason I disagree so strongly is that scripture states God instantly regretted the flood and the earth’s destruction after he lost his temper with humans and Nephilim. What is evil anyway? Often, one person’s evil is another’s salvation. That’s why there are so many scriptures warning us not to judge each other. I believe the actual issue with the Nephilim was that they refused to take sides. They didn’t dare because their side would always win. The immense powers they inherited from their heavenly parent were far more than their earthly side could handle. Insanity was inevitable.”

I nodded and sipped my drink, thinking of Rasmus changing into a being that flew like a rocket through the skies. “What would ya say if I said I was fairly sure I’d met a Nephilim?”

Peter’s eyebrow arched upwards. “Hold that thought until I can hear it better,” he ordered.

Then he drank the single shot of whiskey straight down without stopping. There was no coughing or sputtering. Instead, Peter simply took a small sip of the dark beer I’d ordered for him and sighed in pleasure.

Still without speaking, Peter picked up the double and took a healthy sip. I feared with that sort of drinking he would become incoherent before I got the first real question out of my mouth.

“Let’s get some food too,” I said with a smile.

I waved our server down and ordered a variety of appetizers. Keeping this casual was hard when I was impatient for answers.

After the wait person scurried off to place our food order, Peter found his voice again. “So you think you met a Nephilim and lived to talk about it?”

I smiled at him and shrugged. “I did him a favor. Or at least, I believe that’s how he saw things.”

I pulled a feather out of my pocket and held it out between two fingers. “He left me this as a souvenir of our encounter, which is the only reason I don’t think I imagined him. I will admit that I haven’t told Ma yet. She’s got a soft spot for angels. I didn’t want to alarm her if my encounter turned out not to be with one.”

I laid the tiny feather in the palm of my other hand. The feather instantly changed from dark gray to brilliant white.

“May I?” he asked, reaching out to touch it.

His ancient fingers lifted the feather up after I nodded. It immediately turned gray again. He sucked in a breath. “It wasn’t a Nephilim you met, Aran, but that was a very good guess about the being you saw. The being you ran into has similar powers.”

“What was it then?”

“You met a custos, a praeses, a defensor—they’re known by many names. In English, we call them guardians.”

Conn stiffened beside me but stayed silent.

“What is a guardian? I heard that term before, but I couldn’t find anything written about them.”

Peter drank the rest of his double shot before he answered me. “There’s nothing to find because no one knows what they really are. The Church quietly recognizes them as part of heaven’s army, but we don’t know enough about their powers to talk about them with confidence. They show up in dire times and do things to correct the balance of power in the world. Or that’s what we think they’re here doing.”

“How long have they been here?” I asked.

Peter spread his hands. “That’s also something we don’t know, but they appear at troubled times in history. Even when they take human form, I’ve heard they don’t give many explanations. We concluded they have no little or no power while walking the earth in human form. Or this is what we believe based on the few stories we have. It’s hard to find someone who talked to them and remembers what was said. Making people forget them is only one of their many talents. Your mother said forgetting everyone sounded more like a curse to her.”

I refused to believe Rasmus could ever make me forget him. “Are ya saying that a guardian is a shapeshifter?”

Peter nodded. “Yes, but not like one of those fictional creatures people make up to tell a good story. Think of him more as a Skinwalker like in First Nation legends. A guardian will take on whatever form they need to in order do whatever it is they intend to do—animal, human, maybe even a god. I’ve studied them all my life, but I’ve never seen one in person. People who see them only tell me about it during confession, especially if they believe the guardian was an angel.”

Maybe Peter would think my question rude, but I had to ask it. “If ya’ve never seen one, how did ya know what creature this feather belongs to?”

Peter snickered. “You’re a sharp woman, Aran. The reason I know is because I saw a feather like that once before. The person who showed it to me said he’d gotten it from a confirmed guardian. That person knew more about them than I did, but he refused to give me details. He said it wasn’t allowed but refused to tell me by whom. He was a completely reliable source, and I have no reason to doubt his story.”

We stared at each other for a few moments. As usual, I was the first to break. “Are ya going to tell me who the person was?”

Peter crossed himself making the symbols of his faith, then linked his ancient fingers together in front of him on the table. I expected the rosary to appear in his hands soon, but it hadn’t yet.

“I don’t really want to tell you, Aran, but I will if you insist.”

I held his gaze. “He left me this feather on purpose. I believe I need to know.”

“Fine. It was your father who had the other feather,” Peter said finally


Peter nodded and pointed at the feather. “Either that feather in your hand is the same one he had, or you both were visited by a guardian. And I have to tell ya that the latter worries me sick. Seeing a guardian is not a good sign based on what happened to your father. He was in perfect health and should have lived as long as I have. After his encounter with the guardian, his death came sudden and far too soon.”

Conn straightened beside me. “It was my understanding that my uncle died of age-related illnesses. Sometimes the solitary burdens we keep secret age us beyond our years. Don’t you agree, Father?”

Peter nodded. “Yes, I do. That was well said, young man.”

Those profound words were the only ones Conn spoke in the priest’s presence. Church officiants weren’t his favorite people. I always figured the animosity between demonkind and humankind had its roots in a lack of empathy. But I’d given up trying to change that many years ago. Inspiring compassion in all creatures for each other was a bigger job for a better person than me.

On the way home that evening, I couldn’t shake off learning that Da had met a guardian too.

It also intrigued me that the version of Rasmus I met and had been attracted to could be only one form of the creature he’d became after Lilith broke the demon compulsions on him. What other being could he masquerade as?

Wondering if he had taken the form of some random stranger and kissed some other woman who turned out to be a witch upset me, but I couldn’t help it thinking about it. I felt deceived somehow for believing his human form was indeed him.

I twirled the feather the creature left behind in my fingers and wondered which side of the good versus evil fight I had landed on with my own supernatural talents.

Both as a witch and a child of The Dagda, I felt I was doing well in the world. That said, I’d dispatched magickals in the past with no more regard than Jack had shown when he’d imprisoned me. Was I right to think I knew who was good and who was bad?

Ya could have said I was having a true mid-life crisis and not be wrong.

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