The Cat and the Pendulum

Masterful psychic cat detective Mr. Poe is cunning enough to solve any mystery Haven throws at him. When his mentor, the zombie sheriff Gwyneth Gresham, fails to return from a trip to her ranch, Mr. Poe is the only one who suspects foul play. With only the help of his protege, a kitten named Louisa May, Mr. Poe must discover Gwyn's whereabouts—and rescue her from dangers of her own making.

The fifth novelette in the series.

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The Second Coming

Elise Kavanagh was once known as the Godslayer - a woman born to kill Adam, a man become God. But she defeated him and stepped into his role, taking her lifelong partner into the pantheon with her. Now she must navigate her mortal goals with her divine life, beginning with substantiating into an avatar to have James Faulkner's baby, and ending with vengeance. Book 8 of the Ascension Series.

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Publisher: Red Iris Books
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The Spellslinger

Lincoln Marshall has failed. The Godslayer is trapped in her worst nightmares. His only chance of repairing the timeline is dead. He's stuck a decade in the past with Sophie Keyes, and the world is falling apart.

Held captive by the Union, Lincoln and Sophie must fight to repair a timeline rapidly unraveling.

James Faulkner has survived, but he's not whole. He's divided into angel and demon--his ambition and obsession severed from his power and passion. His angel side wants to rescue Elise. His demon side wants to rescue the world, at any cost--even if it means letting Elise die. Between their brilliant minds, they've conceived a plan that can repair the timeline. The only price is their lives.

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Publisher: Red Iris Books
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Wretched Wicked

An Urban Fantasy Novella

Cesar Hawke works for the Office of Preternatural Affairs. He’s an agent in the Magic Violations Department, hunting down witches who break the law, saving lives, and getting caught up in a lot more trouble than he’s paid to deal with.

Fritz Friederling is his boss. The director. The heir of the Friederling fortune, earned by mining in Hell with human slaves. A man who puts away witches for life without trial. Inheritor of his father’s legacy, and his grandfather’s, and all the ruthless men who came before.

But they didn’t always work together. Not before, and not after. Once they were strangers, and now they’re something else. More fatal than family, more permanent than marriage, closer than the oldest friends, until death do they part.

Reign of Monsters

Book Cover: Reign of Monsters
Part of the Artifact Hunters series:

Shatter Cage has everything he wants. He’s convinced his billionaire boss that he’s a phoenix shifter—not a were-squirrel—and he’s working his dream job as a professional thief. But just when everything is going to plan, his home falls apart. Literally. The barriers protecting his lower-class neighborhood from toxic fog have fallen.

Luckily, his new boss is powerful. Less luckily, his new boss doesn’t care to help.

Cage can help his hometown if he doesn’t mind stealing from his boss, risking his dream job…and if he can survive the resentful ex-girlfriend on his heels, hellbent on murdering him.

Race of Thieves

An Urban Fantasy Adventure

Book Cover: Race of Thieves
Part of the Artifact Hunters series:

You’d never know that Shatter Cage is a were-squirrel by looking at him. Between fake fire charms and his impenetrable confidence, everyone believes he’s the phoenix he claims to be.

The lie is a necessary part of his branding. He’s determined to become a Hero, blessed by the Oracles and venerated by legions of followers. For now, he’s just one more thief slinging magical artifacts on the black market, hoping for infamy to strike like lightning. But he’s never going to become canonized if Gutterman, demon and loan shark, gets his pound of flesh from Cage first.

A job offer from the biggest Hero cult in America lights a path to fame—and enough money to repay Gutterman. Unfortunately, Cage’s ex-girlfriend, Brigid Byrne, wants the job as bad as he does. Whoever steals an artifact named Nábrók will be hired. And Brigid doesn’t mind kidnapping, poisoning, and back-stabbing Cage to win…

The race of thieves is on. And Cage is bent on scoring Nábrók before all his bad decisions catch up with him.

Excerpt:

The Helios Tether was open all night, so Phaethon Bay was too. Shops seldom closed. High-rises never darkened. Its rhythm merely shifted with the arrival of moonlight as the day-dwellers went inside and the population’s other half emerged.

At midday, children shouting at playgrounds formed the backbeat for the commuter vehicles on the way to the Tether. Once the sun dipped behind the towering skyscrapers, usually early in the afternoon, the music of the night rose. The howls of shifters, the sweep of feathered wings as long as helicopter rotors, the metallic zing of magetech.

Shatter Cage always thought that the city sounded alive at night. Almost like he was crouching upon the bony ridge of some impossibly huge animal’s brow rather than the roof of a skyscraper.

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Of course, if Cage had seriously thought that there was anything biological to the city itself, he wouldn’t have been wiring a bomb to blast the top off one of its skyscrapers.

Magic pulsed quietly by his right ear, where Vision hovered. Although his dangling optic nerve didn’t move the air, Cage had gotten used to the infernal eye that followed him everywhere, and he was sensitive to its weight upon the universe. He could always feel his assistant’s living spy camera when it drew close.

Anton Vex’s voice murmured from the Link at the base of Cage’s skull. “You mixed up the red and blue wires.”

“No, I didn’t.” Cage flicked his thumb to make the charmed ring flare. In the moment of bright orange light washing over his bomb’s initiator, he saw that the red and blue wires were indeed crossed. “I just wanted to try an alternative wiring scheme this time. See if we can add a longer delay to the fire suppressant.”

Vex turned enthusiastic. “That’s a great idea! I usually test everything in my lab before taking it into the field, but if you think that will work, I’m sure it’ll be fine!”

Bless the warlock’s shriveled black heart. Even when he thought Cage was about to blow himself up, he had nothing but positivity to send through Vision.

Cage would fix the bomb. Eventually. For now, he fiddled with the ignitor’s battery to waste time and spare his dignity, much like how his cat always gave her ass a thorough licking after falling off the bed.

His fingers were numb from going this long without gloves. The air was too cold and wet to be outside, and it was only going to get worse. Another storm was rolling in off the ocean. Weather witches said they should expect fifteen centimeters of rain that week alone, beginning at midnight.

“I’ll just do conventional wiring if you’re worried about it. If only to make you more comfortable, Vex.” Cage flipped the wires around again, connecting red and blue where they belonged. “How’s it look now?”

Vision vaulted weightlessly over his shoulder to examine the bomb from every angle. Vex was the designer of their explosives, so he should have been deploying them too. But Phaethon Bay’s lively nights meant there were people outside, and Vex didn’t do people. The eye was as close as he could get.

“It looks perfect! You did so great!” Vex cheered through the Link. His voice sounded loud to Cage, but since it was transmitted through the Link and encrypted by Vision, nobody else would be able to hear the warlock. Cage’s cheering squad of one never needed to stop talking, even when he was in delicate situations.

Like the very delicate situation Cage was about to be in.

He checked his watch before pulling warm gloves over his stiffening fingers. It was ten thirty-seven. Their plan would begin at ten forty-four at the latest.

Cage wedged the bomb between two air conditioning units and stepped onto the edge of the roof. He dropped into a crouch so the wind wouldn’t buffet him as hard.

He was so high up, in such a wealthy strata, that the understory’s freeway looked like a bioluminescent bloodstream hundreds of meters below. Tracks and tunnels sang with the passage of steel bodies. Cage had grown up in the city, among the best magetech you’d find in human spaces, and its beauty still staggered him. “Any signs of rewiring in our target’s security system?”

“Everything’s green for now.” Vision dropped onto his knee, warm and reassuring.

Not that Cage needed the reassurance. He was a seasoned thief with hundreds of grabs under his belt, so he wasn’t worried about the job. Yet Cage always felt better with Vision resting against him. He couldn’t resist the urge to pet the little eyeball while wind yanked his jacket’s flaps, enclosing them in a cocoon that Phaethon Bay’s ethereal glow couldn’t penetrate.

“Any sign of the silver BMW?” asked Cage.

Vision’s iris seemed to blink vertically. The Tether reflected off his eye, casting a blazing white bar over his crimson pupil. “No, but I’m watching every traffic camera for a kilometer radius. We’ll know when he’s out.”

Cage’s laugh was sucked away by the wind off the bay. “You won’t miss him. You never do.” Vex was meticulous. He’d kept Cage alive against the odds for years.

Of all of the professional thieves in the North American Union, Cage was not the smartest. Not to say that he was stupid—just not the smartest. Ever since the Gaean Security Amendment passed, trafficking pre-Genesis artifacts had become more lucrative than any other industry. The field attracted the best minds and the toughest competition. Cage was a medium-sized fish in a pond that was somehow fitting whales.

That meant he had to make up in other places. Mostly, he made up by having a constant connection with Vex—easily the best assistant any thief could ask for worldwide, not just in the NAU.

Cage also made up for his inadequacies by being obsessive. As the seconds ticked nearer the launch of the next phase, his fingers wandered, performing one last check of his gear. He’d brought a lot of things he’d probably never need. But if he did need them, and didn’t have them in functional condition, he’d be dead.

So he’d checked and repacked and checked again, every idle moment for the last several hours.

Parachute? Check. Backup parachute? Check. Grappling hook? Check. Spare grappling hook? Check, and check three more times, because he had brought a hook for every occasion.

Breaking into Araboth Condominiums was not an easy feat. Cage had spent all week looking for a way in and out other than the bay-facing windows, since they were thousands of meters above pavement. It was a scary entry point. Scary because failure meant falling. Scarier still because the fall wouldn’t kill him, and he’d fail the theft with no way to repay his debts.

Then he would die.

Unfortunately, Araboth Tower’s security couldn’t be evaded. Their lower floors were staffed by witches who could see through any glamour. Their computer system was impenetrable, meaning that Vex couldn’t fabricate credentials for Cage. Even hiding on a resident’s body as they passed security wouldn’t work against the scanners. Hitchhiking was a favorite way for demons to break into fancy places just like this one, after all. Araboth Condominiums was ready for it.

Cage had spent all week researching and found no way inside.

That left the windows.

Vision alighted from Cage’s knee. “Bad news,” Vex said. “He’s on the move.”

“Being on the move is part of the plan.” Cage clenched his fist and fire flared again over his knuckles. His hands warmed within the gloves.

“Not Forfax. Gutterman’s guys.” Vex’s voice over the Link was not exactly panicking, but he had lost some of his chill. If Vex lost his chill, Cage was going to lose his chill, and that was indeed bad news.

“Are they heading toward you? Did they find our apartment?”

“I can’t tell,” Vex said. “We should still have four hours, so…”

Cage relaxed. “He won’t try to kill us until we’re out of time. Gutterman always wants money more than blood.”

Gutterman was a nightmare demon by biology and a loan shark by choice. His infernal ability to feast upon human fear made him perfect for the criminal underworld. He could intimidate anyone into doing anything, except for producing money out of thin air. Cage was so terrified of the guy that he’d have done it if he could.

Cage had taken a teeny, tiny business loan from Gutterman six months back. A million northcoins.

He’d been due to repay a week ago.

It should have been easy to repay. Cage had immediately invested the loan into his Museum of Oddities and Hellspawn—a guaranteed income stream. It was near Third at Thirteen. It had a view of the Helios Tether. His exhibits were cool.

Perfect tourist bait…in theory.

In practice, the museum was dust bait. For some reason nobody was interested in Cage’s oddities, no matter how many thousands of fliers he left on car windows, how many northcoins he drained into his online ads, and how many fake five-star reviews he left on Yelp. The best he could figure was that someone had cursed him. Vex was still looking into that, but so far, no luck on the curse-breaking front.

When Cage had asked for an extension on the loan, Gutterman had replied with goons wielding silver-laced knuckle bars. They’d given him two good blows to the face and seven more days to pull together more money than Cage had seen at any other time in his life.

A miracle hadn’t materialized.

So now he was here, preparing to jump across the emergent layer, and probably going to pancake on pavement with disappointingly non-fatal results.

“This never would’ve happened if people just came to my museum,” Cage muttered under his breath.

“What did you say?” Vex asked.

“Nothing.” Cage fired a sticky charm at Forfax’s window, making an anchor for his grappling hook. The tracker was a dim green rune that Cage could barely see through the fog. It should have been brighter. The magic hadn’t adhered securely enough.

“Prepare to deploy the cable,” Vex said. “A silver BMW is leaving the parking garage.”

Crap. Cage didn’t have time to shoot another charm. His grappling hook would fall while he was still zipping through midair.

He latched the hook to the charm. The rope stretched tight above the glowing freeway. Several hundred meters of cable connected to Cage by little more than an enchanted carabiner.

“Yes, that’s Forfax’s car,” Vex said. “Go! Now!”

The tracking charm was already flickering.

But Forfax was going to his dinner appointment, and they had ten minutes until building security visited his condo on eleven o’clock rounds.

Cage leaped into space.

For a terrifying instant, Cage felt as though he were flying.

Then the carabiner caught, magic pulsed, and he soared feet first toward Forfax’s window.

By the time he could see the tracking charge in the foggy night, its flickering had intensified.

It cut out a heartbeat before his feet slammed into the window.

“Whoa!”

The grappling hook tumbled into misty night, thrashed by wind all the way down.

Cage’s fingertips scrabbled at the centimeter-wide ridge of the window frame. His entire weight hung on three fingernails for the two longest seconds of his life—until he brought up a diamond-tipped glass punch, slamming it into the window.

The glass turned into glittering shards.

He didn’t register the scrapes until he’d already somersaulted across the carpet and onto his feet. “Hellfire,” Cage swore, shaking glass off of his sleeves with a grimace. He’d been scratched a good dozen times on the shoulders and thighs. He burned with the healing fever as his body knitted itself back together.

Cage wasn’t often grateful to be a shapeshifter, but he never loved it more than when he pulled stupid stunts and survived.

He took inventory of the condominium while healing.

Air hushed from the vents. Wet wind whistled over the broken window. Glass crunched under the soles of his boots. His shifter ears were sensitive enough to tell that there were voices on the floors above and below him, but it was normal conversation from other tenants, not incoming security.

Vision bobbed through open air, breezing past the glass shards untouched. “Bad news, Cage. Silent alarms are going off. I swear to the gods that I cut those!”

“I’m sure you did. Security probably just repaired them.” That was okay—it just meant they were tighter on time.

Cage had memorized the floor plan and electrical layout of Forfax’s unit. He knew what to expect before he landed. But schematics had failed to convey the impressiveness of his decor.

As an archangel, Forfax was basically required to have a weird hobby; his poison of choice was antique wardrobe pieces. Half of his living room was filled with display cases underlit by hazy amber lights, giving them the moody look of a rock band music video.

“I like a man who really appreciates what he has, but...” Cage peered closely at a full set of SWAT gear from pre-Genesis New York. It was brutal yet quaint, utilitarian and mundane. It would have been a great entry into his Museum of Oddities and Hellspawn. “This is kind of weird, isn’t it? Just collecting fancy clothes?”

“You like baseball,” Vex said.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Four minutes and thirty seconds left,” Vex replied.

It took five minutes for the security team to completely lock down after an alarm. The building would be quarantined from the surrounding city first. Other condos would become magical Fort Knoxes to isolate the site of the alarm—in this case, Forfax’s condo.

Then, at the five-minute mark—now four and a half minutes—the security team would descend to pepper Cage’s skull with silver bullets.

Every angel who visited the geosynchronous station at the top of the Helios Tether, called CYCNUS, held joint ownership in Araboth Tower. That gave them hardcore diplomatic immunity. Almost sovereignty. Nobody would question his death if he suddenly went missing, so security wouldn’t warn him before shooting.

In less than five minutes.

“Plenty of time!” Cage said.

He abandoned the SWAT gear and headed down a curved hallway. Its inner wall was made of glass, creating an exhibit out of the round room at its center. Within, a fountain bubbled round the roots of a marble tree. Magelights tipped each branch. The glass was too thick to allow sound to pass, but speakers piped the rush of water into the hall.

The serene bubbling chased Cage down the sloped hallway, which opened into a postmodern clerestory with stairs spiraling to three bedrooms. He wanted one on the right. That was where the electrical schematics had showed the highest concentration of cables, suggesting the highest security.

“You’ve now got three minutes, fifty-seven seconds until security arrives,” Vex said, “and Forfax’s silver BMW has flipped a U-turn three blocks down.”

An angel would be able to reach Cage much faster than the security team, lockdown or not.

There was no time for lock picking and skullduggery.

Cage lashed out with a heel. Rubber sole met lock mechanism. The mahogany around the handle pulverized and the door bounced open.

The bedroom had been converted to accommodate two aisles of armor stands within class cases. Some of the armor looked to belong to sidhe royalty. The black leather catsuit had belonged to the first Gray overlord in pre-Genesis history—first, last, and only. Forfax also owned a set of stone body armor that Cage didn’t recognize, though the placard attributed its design to half-angel Oracle Marion Wilder.

The two end cases were the most secure. They had battery backups in case the power went out, ensuring the climate within would be maintained. Magetech wards shimmered over the glass. He had expected this type of display for the Tigris Coat, which Gutterman had described simply as “an old red jacket.”

What Cage hadn’t expected was too find two old red jackets, both heavily locked down.

One jacket was dyed, tattered linen. The other one looked like an English gentleman’s coat, but frillier and stupider.

“Which one is the Tigris Coat?” Cage asked.

Vision had caught a ride down the hallway on his lapel. The eyeball slipped off his shoulder to take a closer look. “I don’t know,” Vex said after a moment. They had prepped exhaustively for this heist but hadn’t been able to find details about the Tigris Coat. It was an obscure artifact among obscure artifacts.

Neither of them could identify it.

An audible alarm began blaring. The building had shifted from its initial quarantine mode to locking down the other residents’ condominiums. That left Cage two minutes before guards showed up.

“Forfax is out of his car,” Vex said.

That gave Cage thirty seconds at best. He fumbled a pair of enchanted earplugs out of his breast pocket. “I’m gonna blow the bomb.”

“Give me twelve seconds so I can get outside and watch!” Vision whirred through the open door, racing toward the entry point.

“Don’t run off!” He jammed the earplugs into place. “How am I supposed to know which coat to grab?”

“You’re the Shatter Cage! You’ll figure it out!” Vex’s voice was softening as distance weakened the signal to the Link.

A rustle of feathers. A breath of wind. Moments after Vision disappeared, Forfax appeared at the end of the clerestory, his wings stretched to their full glory. Each one extended three meters and had feathers as long as Cage’s hand. They were not white like angel wings in kids’ books, but the multihued earth tones of a bird of prey. It brought out the gold in his skin and emphasized the chilly blue of his irises.

Chilly and hostile blue, for that matter. Forfax had spotted Cage within the shadows of the bedroom.

“Shapeshift!” Vex urged. “You’ll be too fast to catch if you change, and there’s a vent right behind you!” Cage’s animal form was small enough that “shapeshift” was great advice for escaping most situations. But it was advice he never took. Not when he had a dozen guys aiming guns at him, and not when he’d been spotted by a furious angel.

“Come out with your hands up!” Forfax drew a scimitar from within his jacket. It caught fire when he twisted his wrist, because of course it did. Archangels had to have the scariest, most fucked up toys to go along with their eccentric hobbies.

Cage didn’t look back before slamming the diamond-tipped punch into glass. He put all his weight into it, and it still barely cracked. Shapeshifter strength should have pulverized any glass on the planet. Angels were probably getting glass from Jupiter or somewhere ridiculous. They had a stranglehold on lunar mining, so they could afford it.

The hole in the glass was big enough for Cage to yank out the more elaborate of the red coats. It looked fancy enough to be worth Cage’s life.

Surprise burst over Forfax’s features. “What are you doing?”

“The dignified thing,” Cage said, and then he raced straight at the angel.

Shifters could go from zero to sixty faster than sports cars. Fast enough to surprise an angel.

Forfax was surprised all right. He leaped aside, plastering his back to the wall. That cleared a path for Cage to get to the living room. He arrived just in time to feel the concussion and hear the explosions and watch the building across the street go up in a fireball.

The shockwave made the glass remaining on Forfax’s windows ripple like water. Cage’s eyes watered from the blazing light, and his eardrums throbbed, even with the charmed plugs.

Every other shapeshifter for kilometers was going to be deaf like they had just seen a Black Death revival band playing at max volume.

The duller ears of the angel were still sensitive to the explosion. Forfax roared and staggered behind Cage. His sword dropped. The fire went out when it lost contact with his skin.

This would have been a great time to escape. He’d grabbed the coat, and Forfax thrashed on the ground. Finders keepers, losers bleeding eardrums.

But how was Cage supposed to escape when the fireworks were this good? He’d decapitated the building like Marie Antoinette. The reflection on Vision’s glossy eyeball somehow made it look delighted.

“Over here!” Cage reached out a hand.

Vision whirred away from the window, and Vex’s cheers of delight grew louder as it approached. “That was so cool! Did you see, Cage? Did you see what a mess that made?”

He nestled Vision in the neck of his shirt. “That was even better than the Centre Pompidou!”

Like the time they’d blown up a wing of the Centre Pompidou, they’d ensured the area they were destroying was empty. It was an office building—no employees at night. And Vex would have disconnected the trigger if any lifeforms had appeared at the top of the building before detonation.

That meant it was just pretty. Very, very pretty.

And they could giggle over it like total psychopaths because nobody was actually hurt.

Although at least one insurance company was gonna be pretty pissed off after this.

Forfax struggled to his feet, swiping at the silvery blood that trickled down his jaw line. “You—you thief, you fool—” It was perversely satisfying to see a perfect angel’s face twisted into such pain.

Gods, he hoped Forfax wasn’t the type to hold a grudge.

“Sorry about this! Nothing personal!” Cage called.

The eyeball tucked itself into Cage’s collar. Forfax lunged toward him, but Cage raced for the window. He didn’t need to run very fast. Forfax didn’t seem serious about getting him. Otherwise, he could have used his wings to close the distance in a heartbeat.

Instead, the last thing Cage saw before leaping out the window was Forfax’s bemused face.

Not angry, not vengeful.

Bemused.

Cage, the coat, and the eyeball plummeted out of the window.

One of his bigger grappling hooks connected easily with a grotesque perched on a building down the street. Cage swung away safely, and Forfax never chased him, and Cage tried not to worry why.

COLLAPSE

Hell’s Hinges

Sophie Keyes has made a mistake that might destroy the universe. The Traveler has an offer: go back in time, fix your mistake, and save the world. Easy. Except that fixing Sophie's mistake means destroying her life, and Lincoln Marshall won't stand to see that happen. Not if he can time travel with them to find another way.

Their attempt to jump into the past goes awry and dumps them into Reno 2006, where Elise Kavanagh is in hiding with James Faulkner. It's a delicate moment in the timeline, and if Lincoln takes a single wrong step, he'll change everything. He can't go to Elise for help. He can't speak to the woman he's loved for years, touch her again, kiss her... Not unless he's willing to bring the universe that much closer to destruction.

For the Godslayer, Lincoln might be willing to lose it all. For the Traveler, it might be a step too far.

War is breaking out in Reno 2006, and the consequences threaten to ripple through time--assuming that they don't make the entire world fall apart first.

Book 3 of the A Fistful of Daggers series.

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Lonesome Paladin

An Urban Fantasy Novel

God is dead. Lincoln Marshall knows who killed Him...

It's been a month since apocalypse destroyed the world as Lincoln Marshall once knew it. The new world is populated by deadly faeries, wild shapeshifters, and humans without a god. Lincoln's sins can never be absolved now that God is dead. There's nothing left for him but the bottom of a whiskey bottle.

Until Cesar Hawke comes seeking help. The undersecretary of the new Office of Preternatural Affairs has manifested uncontrollable magical powers. The only cure lies beyond the frontier of the untamed faerie worlds -- a land that no mortal man can survive. He needs Lincoln to escort him to the Winter Queen through hostile territory riddled by killer unicorns, doppelgangers, and false prophets. No big deal.

Lincoln Marshall once conquered Hell. He's certain he can conquer the Middle Worlds too -- and if he can't, he's happy to die trying.

Excerpt:

Eloquent Blood was only one of a dozen bars in downtown Reno—the oldest of the businesses in the area. It looked its age. Sulfur had long since crystallized on the tabletops and along the edges of the floor, then gathered dust on that, and dirt on the dust. Nobody had cleaned it since the world became new. That was part of the appeal. You could sink into Eloquent Blood and nobody would bother you.
There weren’t a lot of places in America these days where the government wasn’t watching.
That was why Spencer had spent most of his days in the last month at Blood. His golden eyes marked him as one of the Rebirthed, and he couldn’t wipe his ass without the Office of Preternatural Affairs wanting him to check in. Give a blood donation, get scanned for emergent powers, provide the mandatory hours of public service that all citizens were now expected to contribute to rebuild the infrastructure of the broken world.

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Spencer had tried to show up for Work Crew once, a couple mornings after Day Zero, and they’d had him sterilizing a hospital full of orphans. Hundreds of preternatural orphans with uncontrolled powers. Hundreds of crying children who didn’t understand why they’d died, why they’d come back, why they didn’t have parents anymore.
Blood was better. Grimy, smelly, but *better*.
“Two drinks,” Spencer said, lifting a finger to the bartender.
“You know what we’ve got,” said Cassandra.
“Yeah, I know.” They didn’t have any good liquor in the bar. At least, nothing that Spencer could afford.
“How’s it going?” Javi asked, sliding onto the barstool beside Spencer.
“Bad,” Spencer said. Cassandra cracked two beer cans and poured them into glasses. He took one and gave the other to Javi. “It’ll be worse in an hour though.”
Javi squinted up at the light at the surface. There used to be a casino named Craven’s atop what the patrons called Blood, but while the bar had survived urban warfare against demons, it’s surface-level structure had been flattened. The only way into Blood was through a crumbling rebar-prickled crevasse near Fourth Street, which flooded every time it rained and the Truckee swelled against its banks.
At the moment, Blood was dry, and the clear sky beyond was red-shifting away from daytime into twilight. Moonrise would come once the sun vanished. It was a shockingly regular activity these days. The moon came up when the sun went down, and they traded places in the morning. It was magic, no doubt about it, and a small nod toward order in a chaotic world.
They probably had thirty minutes to get to a safe house. The nearest was a five minute walk, not far from Greater Nevada Field on First. Plenty of time for them to drink.
Javi lifted the glass to his mouth, but the rim never met lips; instead of cold glass, his mouth touched the skin of his friend’s hand. Spencer scowled at him from the adjacent bar stool.
“You didn’t give thanks,” Spencer said. “You know better than that.”
Javi set the glass down slowly, and Spencer’s hand followed the rim to ensure that Javi wouldn’t sneak a gulp the instant he withdrew. “It’s three-year-old Coors Light,” Javi said. “It tastes like stale water and beer can. There’s nothing to give thanks over.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Spencer said. “We came back from the end of the world. We aren’t in one of those hospitals. We have *something* to drink, and a lotta people don’t. You think that NKF thinks there’s nothing to be thankful for?”
“I don’t think NKF is thinking much about what’s going on in some underground hole of a bar where two asshole shifters are trying to delay going to a safe house,” Javi said.
“NKF is God. He can think about everything.”
Javi grew quiet at this, contemplating the foul yellow drink in his murky glass. “All right.”
They extracted a couple of wooden crosses from under their shirts. Spencer had gotten a matching pair from a gift shop on North Virginia, right next to the Little Nugget. It used to sell novelty t-shirts and shot glasses. Now it sold crosses, charms, and flimsy switchblades. Nothing that could actually protect anyone from folks who Rebirthed as vampires or whatever, but it made folks feel good.
He wrapped his hands around it, bowed his head to his knuckles.
“We give thanks for this life, and what we’ve got in this life,” he murmured.
“We give thanks,” agreed Javi.
Spencer started to say, “We give thanks for—“
“Careful,” whispered Cassandra as she leaned across the bar to pass napkins to them. Her gaze flicked toward the corner. There was a booth in shadow, its leather sliced open to allow the guts of its stuffing to bulge free. A pair of crossed legs clad in tattered, mud-stained denim extended over the seat. The man was reclining so Spencer couldn’t make out a face.
Face or not, there was nobody to stop him from praying. “We’re supposed to give thanks to NKF every time,” Spencer said.
“Skip this time,” Cassandra said.
“That kind of shit’s how we got in trouble the last time.” If the gods hadn’t been pissed off at the world, then they wouldn’t have all died. The world wouldn’t have ended. They’d still be all human, without safe houses and cheap beer, and Spencer would have his old job at the Amazon warehouse.
If a few people had stopped to give thanks, maybe they wouldn’t have suffered through Genesis at all.
Cassandra lifted her hands in surrender. “You get into a fight with Lincoln, take it outside. We’re not having that in here.”
Javi waved her off. “Nobody’s gonna try to fight us looking like pussy babies who say their widdle prayers before drinking fucking Coors Light.”
“Javi,” Spencer warned.
“I give thanks for my fucking Coors Light,” he said, assuming prayer position again. “I talk crap but I’m happy for it. I’m happy for my life, this world, this ‘beer.’ So I give thanks to NKF.”
“What in the hell was that supposed to be?” The inquiry was said in an unfamiliar voice, gravelly and filled with hot anger.
The person in the jeans.
The man Cassandra identified as Lincoln.
He sat up slowly, his jacket creaking, blond hair slanting across sharp eyes. An arm hung over the back of the booth. He was glaring at Javi and Spencer.
“We’re praying,” Spencer said. “Do you have a problem with it?”
“Fuck, not this again,” muttered a guy down at the end of the bar. He picked up his drink and relocated closer to the surface tunnel.
“Who are you praying to when all the gods are dead?” asked Lincoln.
Spencer silently asked NKF for patience. That was one of the theories going around—that Genesis had been a result of war between gods, and that both sides lost. All the gods were dead now.
They were wrong. Spencer had seen death come upon him, he’d seen the dawn on Day Zero. He knew what it was to believe.
He drained his Coors, shoved the glass aside. “I take it you haven’t heard about NKF yet.” He lifted his wooden cross so that Lincoln could see it. The aluminum clasp caught the fading sunlight topside, making it glow where it draped over his fist. “The god who made us all what we are now. Shifters and sidhe, vampires and witches.”
“Is that right?” Lincoln asked. He pushed out of the booth and came upright. The man was a little above average in most ways. A little prettier than most men, yet a little more rugged; a little more thick-built but also a little taller. Just good enough to catch looks from Cassandra, even though he also looked like he hadn’t showered since Genesis. “How d’you know anything about what’s going on with the gods? You think you’re some kind of prophet?”
“I’m just a follower,” Spencer said. “Javi too.”
“Oh, so that’s how it is? We’re both doing this?” Javi asked. He’d come to recognize NKF more reluctantly, only because Spencer dragged him to worship on Sundays. He’d heard the stories. He believed too. But he wasn’t ready to face some ripped drunk dude over it.
Spencer didn’t think Lincoln would present much of a threat. He was swaying where he stood and it didn’t seem to be a result of alcohol. The man smelled like he’d never touched a drop of hard liquor. He didn’t have the sallow, sagging look of an alcoholic, either. But it had to be something. Everybody was on something to get through life these days.
A quick sniff told Spencer that Lincoln wasn’t a shifter. Wasn’t a vampire. He smelled like human man, unwashed and unshaven and unmotivated.
“God is dead,” Lincoln said. “You disrespect the man by praying to false idols.”
“Are *you* a prophet?” Spencer shot back.
“No,” he said, “but I dated the bitch who killed God, and she told me all about it.”
Spencer and Javi exploded into laughter.
Lincoln wasn’t laughing.
After a moment, it didn’t seem funny. Spencer shot a questioning look at Cassandra. She just shrugged.
“NKF appeared as a vision to people in Genesis,” Spencer said. “There are witnesses. The sidhe gentry—”
“Magic fags, all of them.” Lincoln spit on the ground of the bar.
Spencer’s hackles lifted. He went from dubious about this asshole to instantly loathing him. “They witnessed NKF. They’ve got a temple to our God in Alfheimr, and they talk to him, so his existence is fact.” He dropped off his barstool, cracked his knuckles. “You got a problem with fags?”
“Or just magic fags?” Javi asked. Now he was looming at Spencer’s side, equally offended.
“I got a problem with disrespecting God’s law,” Lincoln said. “The guy might be dead, but that doesn’t mean you should be spreading blasphemy and getting up to unholy bullshit. Leviticus was real clear about men laying with men. Now, my ex-girlfriend—the Godslayer—she said that the Bible was a book of man, not a word of God. But she did go out of her way climbing to Heaven in order to kill God. Maybe I shouldn’t have listened to her about much of anything.” He scratched the blond scruff on his jaw and gave a mirthless grin, a baring of teeth. “I’m gonna trust the Book.”
“Can you believe this dick?” Spencer elbowed his friend. “You hearing any of the shit he says?”
“Take it outside,” Cassandra called.
Lincoln stepped closer to them. When he passed through the last beam of fading sunlight, Spencer saw why he was swaying. The guy was already bruised in a few visible places. It was probably worse in the places his clothes covered. He was swaying from broken bones, struggling to breathe with cracked ribs.
But he didn’t smell like prey.
Spencer didn’t have a lot of experience as a shifter, but he’d run across enough injured people to know that weakness made them smell like prey. Didn’t take much. A broken bone in the foot, a mild flu. Anything that slowed them down and made them vulnerable. Just a whiff of it got Spencer’s animal stirring with frightening hunger, and sent him running to an OPA support group for shifters.
Sniffing Lincoln’s sweat and hair didn’t give Spencer any sense of weakness.
“Are you smelling me?” Lincoln asked.
Spencer had drawn nearer the man’s shoulder by force of habit. His animal liked greeting other shifters by smelling their necks, right behind the ear, along the hairline. And his animal was curious about this limping not-prey. “If you don’t like gay people then I bet you don’t like me getting in your face like this, huh?” Spencer kept his tone tauntingly soft. “Am I gay? What do you think I’ll do, suck your dick? Or are you afraid you’ll wanna suck *my* dick?”
Lincoln shoved him.
Had Spencer braced himself, he wouldn’t have moved an inch, much less stepped back. Lincoln pushed with human strength. But Spencer allowed himself to be rocked back, and he turned to Javi.
“That was a push,” Spencer said.
“Looked like aggression to me,” Javi said.
“Take it outside,” Cassandra said again.
And Spencer would have listened to her. He’d have walked away from this blond asshole in a heartbeat, since it was about time to get to a shifter safe house anyway.
Then Lincoln said, “If there’s still a Hell, I know at least two reasons you’re going there.”
So Javi punched Lincoln.
“Hey,” Spencer said. “That was my shot.”
Lincoln dropped, and Spencer smashed his heel into Lincoln’s gut.
“Fuck!” Cassandra leaped over the bar, yanking long linen ribbons along with her. Magic surged over the runes stitched into the cloth. “He’s human, you fuck-rods!”
“Homophobic too,” Javi said, delivering a bonus kick to Lincoln’s jaw.
“He’s *human*,” she hissed. She shoved between the man on the ground and the shifters standing over him, flinging her arms out to guard him. “And it’s sundown.”
There was no light left in the hole leading to the road.
“Shit,” Spencer breathed.
He grabbed his jacket, grabbed Javi’s arm.
“I already called the OPA,” Cassandra said, checking Lincoln for a pulse. “You know I have to report preternatural crime against mundanes. You know I do. And I warned you. You better not be here when an agent shows up. Nearest safe house is—”
“I know,” Spencer said.
They ran.


Lincoln swam to consciousness with Cassandra the bartender looming over him. She was a pretty enough lady, with big eyes and a little bow for a mouth. Too young for Lincoln. Too much like his kid cousin. She was slapping him gently across the face with her mouth moving, but all he heard was ringing.
When his ears cleared, she was saying, “The ambulance should be here before curfew.”
An ambulance.
Lincoln wasn’t getting in an ambulance.
He shoved away from her, rolled onto all fours. His skull pressed down on his eyeballs and his stomach pressed up against his throat. Cassandra didn’t help him stand, but she backed up to give him room. She had that look of frustrated helplessness again.
“You shouldn’t move,” she said. “They got you good this time. Better than Gutterman did.” Lincoln still had the bruises from that beating. It had a compounding effect. One beating atop another to scramble his neurons. “Hold still until the ambulance arrives.”
“No ambulance,” he said, leaning over the bar to get a water bottle. He fumbled in his pockets for cash. Lincoln had a dollar or two. He was sure of it. “Damn, Cass, can you find my wallet?”
“Just take it. Swear to God—whichever God, I don’t fucking care—you get into those fights because you *want* your ass kicked,” Cassandra said.
“Only a crazy man would want to get beat by shifters,” Lincoln said.
“Then what’s that make you?”
“A winner,” he said. He didn’t find cash in his pocket but he did find what he’d grabbed from Javi before falling. Lincoln lifted the chain and the wooden cross dangling at the end.
Cassandra flung her hands in the air. “Try getting your ass kicked in someone else’s bar once or twice!”
He lurched up the tunnel, lukewarm bottle pressed to his forehead. He couldn’t see much of anything. Couldn’t navigate through the rebar and rubble without slipping. He put the cross in his pocket to free a hand. It felt like he had to climb to the street, even though he knew it was real possible to walk the distance.
Ambulance lights whirled at the end of the street. He pitched the opposite direction, away from the ambulance, up the road toward Virginia.
It was Lincoln’s lucky day. Nine out of ten emergency calls didn’t get a response nowadays. Between first responders failing to return from Genesis, organizational collapse, and the frequency of crime, more people died while sitting on the line with a dispatcher than ever saw those red and blue lights.
But Lincoln was lucky.
So fucking lucky.
Maybe if everyone had woken up one day preternatural, the world could have continued the way it used to. They’d have found jobs for the werewolves and the faeries and vampires. Gotten them nice and integrated. Made them into cops and EMTs and made sure the world kept spinning.
Except people had died without coming back, too.
There were millions of orphans. Millions of businesses suddenly unstaffed. Millions of empty homes and grieving widows.
And a whole lotta folks had turned preternatural on top of that.
It was too much all at once. The world couldn’t keep spinning.
Civilization had kind of stopped.
So Lincoln wasn’t the only aimless soul on the streets of Reno, most of the time. Like most, he didn’t have a home to go back to. On Day Zero, he’d come back into his skin in Reno, Nevada—a city far from what he regarded as his stomping grounds—and without public transit working right, he wasn’t going to get far anytime soon.
In better years he’d heard Reno equated with whores, easy divorce, and gambling. In the worse years, he’d heard about its demon apocalypse. From what he knew, back in 2009—before anyone knew demons and angels were real, before anyone knew that God was on a one-way trip to murder town—there had been a visit from some kind of devil who essentially dropped the city into a sinkhole, rendering it permanently inhabitable.
The city Lincoln staggered through wasn’t in a sinkhole anymore. Not a literal one, anyhow. He’d never seen a city with so many bars. Never seen so many strip clubs, casinos, and homeless filth smeared across the gutters.
Except that these pits of sin had lost employees too. Only a couple of the casinos had opened part of their floors, and mostly just so that they could try to figure out how much was missing. In the meantime, every oversized casino sign was advertising mandatory Office of Preternatural Affairs “services” available to city residents.
“Gold eyes? No problem!” In the photograph on the banner, a model was grinning and pointing toward a structure that looked like a squat stucco house. “Check into your local safe house every full moon and new moon!”
Golden eyes were the universal symbol of shifters. Some of them had silver eyes, but they were the good kind, the type with more control over their animals. Or so they said. There was a push from silver-eyed shifters to be exempted from the brand new regulations saying all shifters had to spend their moons in safe houses.
The ad made it look real nice. Lincoln had stopped to stare at one of those billboards before, drinking in the sight of the flowers lining the sidewalks, the friendly signage, the beautiful model. There were three safe houses around downtown and midtown Reno alone. One on First, one on North McCarran, one over on Plumb. None of them had flowers.
The government was especially struggling to manage a world with thousands of shifters that hadn’t been there before. They’d commandeered bunkers, warehouses, anywhere with barred windows that could hold supernaturally strong people who didn’t know how to control their beasts.
The law said shifters needed to go to such safe houses.
But some of them didn’t.
Some did, but broke out.
Hence the curfew.
The sun had dropped behind Harrah’s, casting the streets in blue-black shadow. The Aces stadium darkened as Lincoln trudged past. He didn’t have to look up to see the big baseball over the ticket stands go dark; it had been bright enough to glint gold on the sidewalk where he stared. Arroyo darkened when he walked past too, and so did the signs outside an art studio, until the only light left on the street was from those damn OPA billboards.
“Answer the call!” A staggeringly attracting man was beckoning toward the camera. He looked like his skin was glowing on the inside. He had wings like a butterfly. “Get screened for sidhe blood at United Health Services!”
Lincoln heard voices behind him.
“It’s him again. Is he following us?”
“Don’t, Javi.”
His night was getting luckier. Turning away from the ambulance meant Lincoln had accidentally gone the same way as Spencer and Javi. They were ahead of him, looking back his way, golden eyes glinting in the casino billboard lights.
Lincoln got to the corner—a pay by the week motel with an art deco sign and a blinking light that said “VACANCY.” Most of the hotel rooms were dark. He’d break into one of them, sleep as long as he could behind the bed. They’d probably give him a room free if he asked, since the government claimed to reimburse hotels that accommodated people displaced by Genesis, but Lincoln didn’t want to ask. Not for that, not for anything else.
“Just keep walking,” Spencer said, trying to push his friend.
Javi resisted. “But he took my cross!”
“I’ll give you mine, all right? The safe house—”
“Hey! Asshole!”
That was all the warning Lincoln had. One shouted insult, a couple fast-pounding footsteps, and then Javi struck.
Brick wall met face.
Stars exploded through Lincoln, hot and sick and tasting like the stale canned lima beans he’d eaten two days earlier.
They were going to kill him this time.
Lincoln was going to die.
Lying there on the pavement, looking at the shifters’ legs as they swung and kicked and knocked his teeth out of alignment, he thought he saw a third person watching over him. A woman wearing black leather and a disapproving frown. He remembered the way her colorless skin had tasted when he fucked her in the shower, damp and sweaty and a little like blood, and he remembered her flat tone perfectly too. *Seriously, Linc? You’re just going to sit there?*
“They’re shifters,” Lincoln tried to say. Something jagged touched his lip. Broken molar. He spit it into the pool of blood. “Can’t fight back.”
He could have fought back. He could have avoided a fight impossible to win in the first place.
*Seriously, Linc?*
“Ask him where he put it,” Spencer said, hanging back, looking nervously around the street.
“Where’d you put it?” Javi asked. His voice writhed within Lincoln’s skull.
“Put what?” Lincoln asked.
Wrong answer.
Javi picked him up, and the change in orientation hurt worse than the impacts at this point.
Lincoln took a fist to the jaw. Felt like he should have been decapitated by the force of it. His head stayed on his shoulders, which meant that the shifters were being gentle. They could have turned his skull into a rotten watermelon with a blow. They wanted him to hurt, not die.
He had the dying part covered anyway. Javi let go of him and he stumbled again, caught in Spencer’s tree trunk arms.
The pale-fleshed woman wasn’t really there, but her annoyance felt so real. She was the only clear thing in a foggy world. She was in sharp focus, from her breasts piled atop the steel bones of her corset to the slick black hair slithering over one shoulder.
*You’re better than this, Linc.*
“I’m not,” he said.
“We don’t have time for this,” Spencer said. “Sorry Javi.”
Lincoln almost relaxed, thinking he was about to be freed, left to stagger to wherever he ended up next.
Instead he took a knee to the gut.
It was instinct to bend over at the impact, folding in half, but that put his face at the right level to take another jab. He was reeling so hard from that he didn’t even realize he’d been thrown into the street until his vision cleared and he saw the yellow double line under his head.
“Hurry,” Javi said to his friend.
Their retreating shapes were blurry and dark. Shadows in dusk. Not shifters, not men. Just the dark dreams that chased Lincoln everywhere he went.
*Seriously, Linc?*
He didn’t try to get up.
From the way it felt, Lincoln suspected he had broken ribs. Inhaling was like taking a knife to the collarbone. But his hand slid into his jacket, and he felt a cold aluminum chain wrapped around cheap wood, and he knew he’d kept the crucifix.
It was some kind of victory. Maybe not a victory that made anything better, but a victory that scuffed dirt in the eyeball of some blaspheming piece of shit clinging to lies after Genesis.
“You killed him,” Lincoln told his ex-girlfriend.
The Godslayer shrugged. *That doesn’t mean there aren’t any gods left, does it? You didn’t need to pick a fight.*
Lights swam over Lincoln.
His whole head was ringing like a bell, so it took him a minute to realize he heard sirens.
A tire stopped in front of him. Boots dropped out of a car. Black-gloved hands grabbed his arms, hauled him upright. Lincoln found himself face-to-face with someone whose eyes were a normal shade of brown, with thick brows at a disapproving slant. He wore a black suit with a silver pentacle pinned to the lapel. He was an OPA agent.
The agent’s mouth moved. Lincoln could hear just enough to figure out what he was saying.
“Are you aware it’s seventeen minutes past curfew?”
Lincoln opened his mouth, vomited on the agent, and blacked out.

COLLAPSE

Suicide Queen

There are only thirty-six hours until Las Vegas will be daylighted by the witches of the Office of Preternatural Affairs. Thirty-six hours until every last vampire in Clark County gets ashed.

A serial killing vampire is taking advantage of every last one of those hours. His perverse game means mutilated vampire fledglings running amok, and it means there's only one vampire hunter who can catch him.

Dana McIntyre's getting out of prison to do what she does best.

And Nissa Royal is waiting to receive her with open arms.

The suicide queen's been dealt. The stakes are deadly. Now it's time to show their hands and find out who has the high card - and who will be winning the soul of Las Vegas.

Cashing Out

With the previous master vampire out of the way, and Dana McIntyre presumed dead, there's nothing standing between Nissa Royal and her vision for Las Vegas: a city of vampires where humans serve as no more than cattle.

Except that someone keeps killing the vampires who are sweeping the streets for victims. A mysterious killer that nobody can seem to find. Someone bent on stopping Nissa...

Police Chief Charmaine Villanueva is losing control of her city to the Office of Preternatural Affairs. She hopes to appease them with a preliminary cure for vampirism--her last shot at reassuring them that she can keep her citizens safe. Except someone has broken into Holy Nights Cathedral to steal the Garlic Shot, even though the church should be impossible to burgle. She can only think of one person with the ability to steal from the cathedral. But Dana McIntyre's been dead for hours. Hasn't she?

Torn between OPA control and vampire control, Las Vegas is a city on the brink of war missing its guardian angel. It's a high stakes game with no limit. But the house isn't letting any of its players cash out yet...not when the game is just getting hot.