The Descent Series Complete Collection

Elise Kavanagh was born to be a living weapon known as the Godslayer. She's tried to deny her destiny. She threw down her sword after one too many near-losses against the demons she kills. Now she's been retired in hiding for half a decade, and she's beginning to believe that she might be able to have a normal life. Until an ancient enemy rises to strike Elise again. Fighting the Hand of Death makes shockwaves like an arrow pointing out Elise's hiding place. Once one old enemy finds her, the others begin to find Elise, too.

The only person she can rely on is James Faulkner, the witch who has always protected her mind and body. Despite untrustworthy allies and unpredictable foes, James is a constant who never changes--someone who would never betray her. Someone whose past is cloaked in secrets that even Elise doesn't understand...

Elise must descend into the infernal to battle the angels who hunt her. She must become the very thing she's spent most of her life fighting: a powerful demon that feeds upon human flesh. A creature that might survive slaying God.

This collection contains all seven books of The Descent Series, as well as three short stories interspersed with the books.

THE COMPLETE SERIES

  1. Death's Hand
  2. The Darkest Gate
  3. Deadly Hearts
  4. Dark Union
  5. Damnation Marked
  6. Death Scream
  7. Dire Blood
  8. Defying Fate
  9. Dying Night
  10. Paradise Damned

Preternatural Affairs

Witch Hunt, Silver Bullet, and Hotter Than Helltown

This urban fantasy boxed set contains the first three books of the Preternatural Affairs series: Witch Hunt, Silver Bullet, and Hotter Than Helltown.

My name's Cèsar Hawke. I’m a witch working for a division of the government you’ve never heard about.

The world’s not what everyone thinks it is—unless you think that our world’s a pawn in a game of chess between Heaven and Hell, and riddled with as much magic and wonder as it is with evil.

In that case, the world is exactly what you think.

My place of employment—the Office of Preternatural Affairs—takes a modern approach to an ages-old problem. It used to be that inquisitors would burn demons and the people in league with them. Now we get warrants, perform arrests, put the suspects on trial, and send guilty parties back to the Hell from whence they came with the travel forms filled out in triplicate.

This stuff I do with the OPA, it saves lives on most days.

Most days, I said.

ABOUT WITCH HUNT
There are scratches on Cèsar Hawke’s arms, a discharged Glock on his coffee table, and a dead woman in his bathtub. Yeah, maybe he brought the waitress home for some fun—he was too drunk to remember it—but he knows for a fact that he didn’t kill her. He’s an agent with the Office of Preternatural Affairs. He doesn’t hurt people. He saves them.

The cops disagree. Now Cèsar is running.

Isobel Stonecrow speaks with the dead. She brings closure to the bereaved and heals broken hearts. But when she talks to the wrong spirit, the OPA puts a bounty on her head.

Tracking down Isobel is the last case assigned to Cèsar before he bolts. If he finds her, he can prove that he didn’t kill that waitress. He can clear his name, get his job back, and bring justice to all those wronged families.

She’s just one witch. He’s bagged a dozen witches before.

How hard can one more be?

ABOUT SILVER BULLET
Former private investigator Cèsar Hawke has one rule: He doesn’t deal with dead bodies. That’s why he enlisted with the Magical Violations Department in the Office of Preternatural Affairs. He’s happy tracking down witches that commit petty crimes, but he leaves the homicides to other agents.

Except that he’s been assigned to a new team—a team that handles special investigations—and the job has suddenly changed. Now Cèsar has to deal with dead bodies. He also has to deal with necromancers, murderous cults, and demons that can stop a man’s heart with fear.

This isn’t the job he signed up for, but it’s the job he needs to do.

If he survives the first week.

ABOUT HOTTER THAN HELLTOWN
A killer is mutilating bodies in Los Angeles. Agent Cèsar Hawke is on the case, but the murderer is ahead of him—way ahead of him.

Wiping the memories of the dead so that the team’s necrocognitive can’t talk to them? Done. Preventing magical reconstruction of the crime scenes? Oh yeah. And the murders keep getting more brutal while Cèsar struggles to catch up.

The best way to heat up a cold case is to go to Helltown, where Los Angeles’s most powerful evil hides out, but even those demons are afraid of the murderer. Their fear adds one more question to the growing pile of unknowns:

What kind of bad guy is too hot for Helltown?

Silver Bullet

Former private investigator Cèsar Hawke has one rule: He doesn’t deal with dead bodies. That’s why he enlisted with the Magical Violations Department in the Office of Preternatural Affairs. He’s happy tracking down witches that commit petty crimes, but he leaves the homicides to other agents.

Except that he’s been assigned to a new team—a team that handles special investigations—and the job has suddenly changed. Now Cèsar has to deal with dead bodies. He also has to deal with necromancers, murderous cults, and demons that can stop a man’s heart with fear.

This isn’t the job he signed up for, but it’s the job he needs to do.

If he survives the first week.

Excerpt:

If you saw me sitting down in the old Soup Express building that Wednesday morning, you’d think that the spineless piece of shit stool pigeon that I was interviewing was human. You’d be right about the spineless piece of shit part. The human part? Not so much.

You could have passed Connie on the street corner with no information about her but the shifty-eyed way she watched the world, and you’d instantly know she was the type to spill the beans for enough money. She looked as slimy as her personality: greaseball face, a wig likely styled with canola oil, damp patches at her groin and underarms. The chunky gold watch and necklace she wore were the kind of jewelry owned by CEOs and high rollers, not assholes with Sharpie eyebrows and Juicy sweats.

If Connie had been smart, she would have sold that watch for whatever the pawnshop would give her and headed for the border. Not to a country without an extradition agreement, but a country without an overlord.

READ MORE

Connie wasn’t smart, so she was in an empty, condemned building with me.

She was regretting it.

“We haven’t met before, have we?” she asked, mopping at her forehead with a fistful of dusty napkins from the counter. Before the economy crashed, Soup Express had been one of those places where you ordered at the register and got your food delivered to your table—an uncomfortable mix of fast food and sit-down—and they’d left behind a lot of detritus.

I fought the urge to lean back as Connie sat in the chair across from me, arranging her long, narrow limbs into the pretense of a casual posture. Slouched back, ankles crossed, arms behind her neck. Might have been convincing if she’d held still like that longer than two seconds. She couldn’t stop fidgeting.

Jesus, she didn’t smell right. I expected someone that looked like her to reek of body odor and cologne. Instead, she smelled like rot.

“No, we haven’t met,” I said. Fortunately. “How many contacts do you feed information to, if you can’t remember them all?”

Connie shrugged. It was a short, twitchy gesture, more like someone was tickling the back of her neck and she was trying not to look back to see who it was. “You know how it is. Drop some lethe, lose a year.”

I didn’t know how “it” was. I didn’t even know what “it” was.

I casually lifted the cover of my manila folder and skimmed the top page. Fritz had left me a sticky note about lethe. It said, “Street drug for demons. Stimulant. Subcutaneous insertion via intake bracelet or inhalation via sinuses.”

My eyes flicked up to Connie. Her watch had slid down her bony wrist, revealing an iron band on her forearm. The intake bracelet.

I pretended that I hadn’t noticed it, or at least, that it didn’t surprise me. I wanted Connie to think this was a normal day of the week for me. Like it was part of my morning routine to squeeze information out of spineless piece of shit stool pigeons.

It wasn’t. My job was not so much intimidation and hexes and shooting guns as much as pushing papers from one side of my desk to the other, and occasionally tracking down non-violent perps.

At least, that’s what my job used to be, before I had a bounty put on my head by the incubus mafia. One thing had led to another, I’d gotten promoted to a special team, and the status quo had changed in kind of a big way.

Now here I was, working with demon informants.

A demon. Jesus.

This part definitely wasn’t normal for me.

I had one demon contact. One. And Monique was an artisan, a shut-in, someone who presented no real threat to humanity. And even though a skinny chick like Connie was as unintimidating as I could imagine, I didn’t know what kind of demon tricks she might be able to pull.

These days, frankly, it felt like I didn’t know anything about…anything.

Not that I could let Connie catch on to that.

“We need to talk about the infernal energy event that we detected this weekend,” I said. The words came out smooth. Infernal energy event. Those were three words I’d never put together before in my life, but I thought I made it sound pretty natural.

Connie’s face crumpled like she was about to start crying. “Oh man.”

I let the manila folder drop closed. “So you know about it.”

“Don’t need to ask me about this one. Find someone else. Anyone else.”

I was mostly new to demons, but not new to dealing with informants. There were two kinds of them: the kind that needed intimidation to loosen up, and the kind that needed money. I thought Connie might snap if I tried to intimidate her. Couldn’t imagine pulling the “look at how big and scary I am” moves on a lady anyway, even if she was a demon-lady.

Sliding my wallet out of my pocket, I set it on the table in front of me.

“Let’s take this nice and slow,” I said. “Start from the beginning. Where do you work, Connie?”

Her fidgeting stopped when she spotted my wallet. She swallowed hard. “I hold down a job at Craven’s Casino. Part-time. Janitorial work’s a good way to get info. It’s like I’m invisible in the uniform, you know? You’d be surprised what people say around the staff, like we’re not even there.”

Now she was talking. That was good.

“Craven’s Casino is owned by demons, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah. Obviously. John Ascuaga’s not going to serve long pig ribs on Thanksgiving.”

Who the hell John Ascuaga? What the hell is long pig?

If there was any way to make an investigation more difficult than throwing me at my first demons, it was throwing me at my first demons in an unfamiliar city. But I kept my face smooth as I jotted down the notes to look up later. Just had to look good, look confident, keep Connie talking. My Steno pad already had a full page of notes about this investigation and I’d been working on it for less than twenty-four hours.

“Were you at work when the event occurred, Connie?”

She stiffened. Gave a jerky shrug. Gnawed on a fingernail. “I don’t know.”

Time to rephrase.

“What were you doing on Sunday night at ten o’clock?”

“Working,” she said.

Okay. We were getting somewhere. “Did you notice any strange behavior in the casino that night?”

“It’s always strange in Craven’s, amigo.” Connie tore her thumbnail off, spit it onto the floor. “Our cocktail waitresses wear assless chaps and they let people fuck them. They encourage it. But anyone who fucks them turns up dead. And you don’t need chips to gamble on the floor; you can toss anything valuable on one of those tables and play. Or you can put down nothing at all and let the dealer figure out what you owe. The dealers are happy to take blood or flesh half the time. So you wanna talk strange? At Craven’s?”

She painted an ugly picture. I was starting to feel a little hot. I caught my hand loosening my tie and made myself stop.

It was easy enough to imagine what a demon-owned casino might be like. Helltown, in Los Angeles, played by similar rules—the trade of flesh and blood and souls. Demons liked money, but they liked organic currency much, much better.

I’d been quiet too long. I tried to remember what we were talking about.

“Did you see anything stranger than usual? You know what I mean.”

“David Nicholas was irate,” Connie said. “Normal levels of irate, but…” She stopped. “I don’t know. I just—I don’t know.”

David Nicholas? I flipped through the dossier. No way to make the search look casual now—his information was toward the back. We had no photo, no information on aliases or species. All it said was that David Nicholas was the name of the manager running Craven’s Casino.

I doubted that he was human. Hard to imagine a human that could keep charge of that kind of hellhole.

Pun intended.

“Did you speak with the manager? Do you know what was bothering him?” I asked.

Connie shook her head. “No. I avoid him. Everyone smart avoids him.” Her fingers crawled across the table, toward my wallet. I resisted the urge to put it away and instead opened it. Green paper poked up on one side. Connie’s glassy eyes brightened. “I heard him laughing.”

“Laughing?”

“Cackling,” she said. “David Nicholas was storming around, biting heads off like usual, and then he went into his office for a while. I felt the—this event thing—and when he came out of his office again, he was happy. Happier than I’ve ever seen him.”

I made note of it. “When did he go into his office?”

“Dunno. I was busy mopping the first floor shitters.”

“Is that early in your routine at work, or late?” I asked.

“First thing.”

So David Nicholas’s momentary disappearance probably coincided with the infernal energy event.

It wasn’t much information. It was barely anything at all. I drummed the end of my pen on the table, frowning hard at Connie. She shriveled under my gaze, so I made myself stop. Didn’t want to intimidate her. Hated seeing fear in a woman’s eyes.

“I want to pay you, Connie. If you can tell me anything about what caused the event—including rumors you may have heard—you can walk out of here two hundred dollars richer.” Fritz had actually given me a thousand dollars in cash before sending me into Soup Express for the chat, but I didn’t think Connie was that tough a nut to crack.

“It’s because of her,” Connie whispered, staring fixedly at the floor.

I followed her gaze. She was watching a spider skitter across the dusty concrete. It was a harvestman, a daddy long legs. Connie looked petrified by it.

“They’re not venomous,” I said, bending down to scoop the harvestman up in my fingers.

Connie jerked back, shooting to her feet, sending her chair crashing to the ground.

“Oh man,” she said again, rubbing her hands over her face, raking furrows through her greasy hair.

I went to a cracked window. “There you go, buddy.” I ushered it off of my hand. It delicately stepped off of my fingers and vanished outside. Snow aside, it was a pretty warm night in Reno, Nevada—the harvestman would be fine.

When I turned back to Connie, she had plastered herself flat against the wall. She was shaking harder. Didn’t look like fear anymore. It looked like she might be having a seizure.

“It’s her,” she said again. “She saw me. She knows I’m talking. I’m dead.”

“Who is ‘she?’”

“She wants to find it—she—she knows that it’s there, down in my nest. She’s been asleep for so long and now she’s trying to wake up and she’ll come for me down there.” Tears rolled down her sweat-slicked cheeks. “I said too much. She knows that I said too much. She’ll kill me.”

My heart folded in on itself. “I can protect you. Let me help.”

There was something in Connie’s hand—something velvety black. For a moment I thought she’d snagged my wallet while I was distracted, but it was still on the table.

Whatever she was holding, it had shiny parts.

A knife.

“I need backup!” I shouted, drawing my gun, moving to take cover behind the stairs.

The informant moved too fast for me to stop her. But she didn’t attack me.

She dragged the blade across her throat.

It wasn’t sharp enough to cut with a single swipe. She hacked at her own neck, mangling the flesh. Black blood gushed over her hands. She cut herself open from ear to ear and exposed shining meat under the skin.

I forgot my gun and rushed to stabilize the wound.

“Connie—”

She sagged in my arms.

The back door to the restaurant exploded open. Agent Suzume Takeuchi ran in, gun drawn but aimed at the floor. “What happened?” she asked, scanning the surroundings.

Connie’s blood was stinging my skin. I dropped her and tried to wipe my hands clean on my jacket, but the blood started burning a hole through the breast. I took the whole thing off, swiped my hands dry, and dropped it.

“Jesus,” I said.

Suzy nudged Connie with the toe of her shoe. She didn’t move.

Our informant had killed herself.

COLLAPSE

Witch Hunt

A brutal murder.

There are scratches on Cèsar Hawke’s arms, a discharged Glock on his coffee table, and a dead woman in his bathtub. Yeah, maybe he brought the waitress home for some fun — he was too drunk to remember it — but he knows for a fact that he didn’t kill her. He’s an agent with the Office of Preternatural Affairs. He doesn’t hurt people. He saves them.

The cops disagree. Now Cèsar is running.

The search for a shaman.

Isobel Stonecrow speaks with the dead…for the right price. She brings closure to the bereaved and heals broken hearts. But when she resurrects someone for the wrong client, she ends up on the OPA’s most wanted list.

One risky solution.

Tracking down Isobel is the last case assigned to Cèsar before he bolts. If he finds her, he can prove that he didn’t kill that waitress. He can clear his name, get his job back, and bring justice to the victim.

She’s just one witch. Cèsar has bagged a dozen witches before.

How hard can one more be?

Excerpt:

Hell of a night.

It was my first thought when I peeled my eyelids open—an immediate precursor to “everything hurts” and “screw tequila, I’m never drinking alcohol again.” My mouth was dry like I’d licked that brown apartment carpeting that every sadistic landlord inflicts on his tenants, including mine. My muscles were petrified into knots.

Somehow, I stretched my legs out, flexed my toes, twisted my hips. My spine popped a few times. My body creaked.

And something jangled.

Would you look at that? A pair of open handcuffs dangled from my headboard. The key glistened on the bedside table, reflecting a sunbeam right into my aching eyeballs. I didn’t make a habit of decorating my bedroom with my work equipment, so I assumed that recreational use of my cuffs meant I had company. The best kind of company.

I swatted it with a finger and grinned at the clatter of chains.

READ MORE

My eyes traveled from the cuffs to my arm. Four bloody scratches spanned the space between wrist and elbow.

I’ve handled enough crime scenes to recognize fingernail marks. And I’ve been with enough women to know that some wildcats like it like that.

Yeah, definitely a hell of a night.

Too bad I couldn’t remember it.

Grabbing at the scraps of memory made them float away faster. I thought I remembered a beautiful woman with beautiful curves and the kind of throaty giggle that would make me instantly hard. I had half a stalk just trying to remember her.

I sat up, checked the clock. I was late for work. Twenty minutes late, in fact. Should have woken up hours ago, showered, put on my monkey suit, gone into the office. No way I would be in before lunch now. Talk about an instant boner-killer.

Standing hurt in all the bad ways. My throbbing skull made my nuts shrivel into my body. Worst hangover I’ve ever had? Probably. There wasn’t much competition. I wasn’t a drinking guy. If I’d been partying this hard last night, she must have been really worth it.

Where was she, anyway?

I was alone in my bedroom. The open windows cast unforgiving beams of yellow light on the wall, cut into slices by my mini-blinds. The curtains were open. The neighborhood must have gotten a pretty good show.

But there was no woman in sight—no souvenirs but a misused pair of cuffs and a back ache.

Out of habit, I opened my side drawer and grabbed a poultice that I’d prepared last full moon. Only two of them left. I’d need to do another ritual soon. I popped one into my mouth, chewed the grave dirt and oak, felt my muscles warm with magic. I grimaced as I swallowed. It was about as pleasant as drinking the clumps at the bottom of a protein shake.

I scratched a few unflattering itches as I snagged a suit out of my closet. Looked like I needed to steam out the wrinkles while I showered. Always did. I wasn’t good at getting my clothes out of the drier in time, and government work didn’t pay well enough to justify the dry cleaner’s.

I hung it over my arm and dismantled the wards on my bedroom door with a wave of my hand. Or at least, I tried to dismantle the wards, but they weren’t active. I must have forgotten to turn them on during my drunken haze.

As soon as I stepped out and saw the rest of my apartment, I gave a low whistle.

My kitchen was a wreck. The contents of the counters had been dumped on the linoleum. The toaster and microwave were unplugged and upside down on top of each other like they were the ones having a hot tryst. My jar of dried beans had shattered and spilled its guts all the way into the living room. The Blurays were everywhere. Oh man, even my eight-track collection had been screwed up.

There were stains on my couch and I didn’t want to know what they were. Lubricant or bodily fluids or whatever. The damn thing was from IKEA anyway. I would just toss it and get another one.

Again, I tried to remember the night before, and failed.

“Hope you were worth it,” I muttered, mentally tallying the cost of restoring my collections.

Fortunately, my fire safe was untouched, and my badge for work and wallet were still on the bookshelf. I took a quick inventory of the contents. Cash, driver’s license, genuine counterfeit FBI identification, unmarked key card, St. Benedict’s medallion. Everything in its proper place.

My apartment had been turned upside down by a mysterious woman, but at least she had been honest about it.

Something out of place caught my eye. Not something that had gone missing, but something that didn’t belong to me.

A Glock.

I was already right in front of the bathroom when I saw the gun on my coffee table, so the unpleasant shock of possessing a firearm I didn’t recognize was interrupted by another kind of shock.

The floor in front of the bathroom door squished. I stepped back and lifted a foot to see what I’d touched.

It was red. It was slick. It smelled like a slab of rare steak.

It definitely wasn’t lubricant.

Once I realized that I smelled meat, I smelled more of it. It was thick in my sinuses. I wasn’t just nauseous because of the stiff neck and the hangover; I was nauseous because I smelled something dead.

In my apartment.

Funny how much faster I could move once I’d stepped in a puddle of blood.

I slipped back into the living room, dropped my suit on the chair, grabbed the Louisville Slugger from where it was propped on the wall. Everything was so much brighter and clearer than it had been a few seconds ago. My heart was hammering and every beat was a shot of adrenaline.

As I curled my fists around the bat, my peripheral vision seemed like it widened. The whole world was quiet. The air conditioning clicked on and cool air whispered against my ankles.

The apartment narrowed to the bathroom door as I approached. I didn’t hear anything moving on the other side.

I opened it.

The blood in the carpet was the end of a smear that crossed the linoleum and terminated at the other end of my bathroom—which, until that second, had been my favorite room in the apartment. The toilet and counter and fluorescent lights were standard Home Depot cheapies, but the bathtub was not. It was one of those big corner tubs with the jets that feel like sin after a hard workout at the gym. I’m enough of a man to admit to loving a hot bath. Sometimes even with bubbles and fizzy salts.

And there was the woman that gave me such a wild ride. Legs like a colt. Firm, perky breasts. The kind of pouty lips my eldest brother, Domingo, used to call “beejay mouth” until I punched him hard enough to shut his stupid face.

The mystery woman was real pretty. I knew her name—I was sure I knew her name. For sure, she worked at The Olive Pit, a favorite bar for my office. It was where we relaxed on Fridays at six o’clock and held retirement parties and the annual Christmas gift exchange.

This waitress had laughed at me the first time I asked for her name, and the second time, and the third, but eventually I wised up and just took a look at the schedule in the kitchen. I couldn’t remember making love to those long legs and perfect breasts but I remembered her ridiculously feminine handwriting.

Erin. Her name was Erin, punctuated with a smiley face encircled by a heart.

She was dead in my bathtub.

Hell of a night.

COLLAPSE

The Descent Series

Death's Hand, The Darkest Gate, and Dark Union

Book Cover: The Descent Series
She was destined to be a weapon. Elise Kavanagh is good at one thing: killing demons, angels, and gods. For years, she was the death that supernatural creatures feared. More myth than woman, she walked the Earth as the embodiment of vengeance.
But Elise doesn't want anything to do with destiny. She wants time off to spend with her only friend and former investigative partner, James Faulkner - a powerful witch, the only person she trusts - and try to be a normal person, whatever that means.

Destiny hasn't forgotten her.
It's not easy to retire when you were born to be a killing machine. Old enemies still hold bitter grudges against Elise. The demon overlord of her new home isn't happy to have the Godslayer hiding out in her territory. And there are still gods that need to be killed...
This is a collection of the first three titles in The Descent Series, which are gritty urban fantasy books about an exorcist, a witch, and their battles against the forces of Heaven and Hell. (Approx. 200,000 words total.)

Books included:
1. Death's Hand
2. The Darkest Gate
3. Dark Union

Death’s Hand

Book Cover: Death's Hand
Editions:Audiobook: $ 24.95 USD
ISBN: B00F9HQPIU
Kindle
ISBN: B00AQZX4BG
Paperback: $ 11.99 USD
ISBN: 1937733181
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 300

Elise Kavanagh doesn’t want to hunt demons anymore. It’s been five years since she killed her last enemy, and life has been quiet since then. She went to college. Got a job, and then lost it. Made a friend or two. Lived a normal life. Now her former partner, a powerful witch named James Faulkner, wants Elise to fight one more time. The daughter of a coven member has been possessed, and Elise is the only exorcist nearby.

Becoming a hero again would mean risking discovery by old enemies. But digging into the case reveals that it might already be too late–bodies are disappearing, demons slither through the night, and the cogs of apocalypse are beginning to turn once more. Some enemies aren’t willing to let the secrets of the past stay dead…

Excerpt:

Steam drifted from the surface of Marisa Ramirez’s coffee. She blew on it gently, cupping the mug between her hands to warm her chilly fingers. Golden morning light rimmed the closed curtains over the sink. The thermometer outside the window read sixty-six. The swamp cooler clicked on and blew chilled air into the kitchen. Marisa shrank deeper into her sweater.

Augustin Ramirez sat across the table with his face in his hands. The ceiling rattled above their heads as distant screams and sobs peaked in time with fists pounding against the floor.

His left cheek muscle twitched. They exchanged glances, and he found his own haunted expression mirrored in her face.

Hands shaking, she lifted her coffee cup and took a sip.

The doorbell chimed. Their daughter shrieked in response.

READ MORE

“Are you going to get that?” Augustin asked. Marisa didn’t respond. His jaw tightened. “I said, are you going to get that?” She ducked her head, lips trembling. The right side of her mouth was darkened with the shadow of a bruise. He made a disgusted noise, shoving his chair back as he stood. “Fine. I’ll get the door.”

She took another drink and set the mug down.

The living room blinds were shut and covered by heavy curtains, casting the room in twilight. Augustin navigated to the door by memory, unlocked the dead bolt, peeked through the door.

The woman on the other side pushed her sunglasses into her hair to study him with narrowed eyes. A single scar broke the line of her right eyebrow.

“Augustin Ramirez. Right?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry… do I know you?”

She held out a hand. She wore black gloves with a button at the wrist. “Elise Kavanagh. James sent me.”

He gave her hand a brief shake. Her grip made his knuckles ache. “James Faulkner?” Augustin asked. “He said he was going to send a—uh, an exorcist to look at our daughter.”

Elise nodded. “Yes, right. I’m the exorcist.”

“You’re not what I… that is to say…”

“Yeah, I know. Can I come in?”

“Yes,” Augustin said, stepping aside.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was on my way to the office, and I wasn’t expecting James to ask me to do a job. I haven’t been an exorcist in a long time.” She indicated her outfit with a sweep of her hand—a black skirt, white blouse, and black blazer. Augustin wasn’t sure what he expected an exorcist to wear. Maybe leather and chains. Definitely not business casual.

She handed a business card to him. Elise Kavanagh, Certified Public Accountant. It was so absurd he had to laugh. “So you used to exorcise people a lot?”

“More often than I do now,” Elise said. “I went into retirement five years ago. Anyway, I’m not going to exorcise your daughter. I’m going to determine if it’s demonic possession.”

“Demonic possession,” he echoed. “You have me at a loss. Frankly, this all seems a little… absurd.”

She gave a humorless, thin-lipped smile that might have been a grimace.

“You’re here,” Marisa said. She hovered in the doorway, arms wrapped around her shivering body. “I’m so glad you came.”

Augustin frowned. “You know this woman?”

“She’s always at the coven meetings,” Marisa said. Her voice trembled slightly. “I think she does James’s accounting. And he told me they’re, uh, bound. Kopis and aspis.”

What?”

Her cheeks colored. “It’s Latin.”

“Greek, actually,” Elise said. “Kopis means sword, and aspis means shield. It means I am—or used to be—a warrior against the forces of Hell, and he’s my partner.” She wasn’t laughing at all. She was completely serious.

Distaste twisted Augustin’s mouth. “Coven nonsense. It’s taken me awhile to get used to the idea of witchcraft in the first place, and I don’t think—”

Elise held up a hand. “I have places to be. I don’t have the time to let you get used to it, Mr. Ramirez.”

His face grew hot. “I’m not—”

“Augustin,” Marisa said softly.

He closed his eyes and took a breath. Their marriage counselor harped on him about counting to ten when he was getting too angry, but he gave it to twenty this time. Covens and “warriors against Hell.” He could count to a thousand and still feel unsettled.

“Sorry,” Augustin finally said. “We’re stressed.”

Elise accepted his apology by inclining her head. “Where’s Lucinde?”

“She’s upstairs. We’ll go with you.”

Marisa and Elise headed up the stairs. Augustin followed a of steps behind, watching the legs of the supposed exorcist. She wasn’t wearing nylons. Another scar marred her ankle, like a dog bite that had long since healed into a fleshy white mass, and his stomach turned. Some accountant.

Elise spoke to Marisa as they walked, oblivious to the reaction her scars evoked. “I need to ask you some questions. Have you summoned any demons or used a Ouija board?”

“Of course not.”

“Any unusual noises or sightings? Animals with glowing eyes, objects flying across the room, strange noises on the telephone…”

Marisa shook her head. “Aside from Lucinde’s illness, everything has been normal.”

“What about nightmares? Have you experienced sexual dreams of a dark nature?”

“That’s a personal question,” Augustin interrupted.

Elise’s lip curled, but she didn’t respond.

“I haven’t,” Marisa said. Her voice was hardly louder than a whisper. “Augustin?” After a moment, he shook his head. “Lucinde was having nightmares before. Not… sexual. But she kept waking up screaming.”

“Did she tell you what she was dreaming about?” Elise stopped to peer at a family camping photo beside an artful arrangement of silk flowers. In the picture, the Ramirezes were tan and smiling. Lucinde’s low, croaking moans echoed through the house.

“She told me a monster was eating her heart,” Marisa whispered. “I thought… I mean, what a strange thing for a little girl to dream about. She dreamed a monster ate her heart and sat in her chest.”

Elise’s eyebrows lifted. “Really.”

“It’s not weird for her to have bad dreams,” Augustin interjected. “Especially not about her heart. She has a condition. The doctors don’t think it should be fatal, but you know how kids are. Of course she’s scared of bad things happening to her heart.”

“What kind of heart condition?” They reached the top of the stairs, pausing down the hall from Lucinde’s room. All the doors were open but hers.

“I don’t think you need to know that to do your job,” Augustin said.

“Just wondering. I assume you’ve already taken her to see a doctor and a psychologist?”

“Those were our first choices. They gave us the option of waiting to see if she would improve or sticking her in an institution. I wouldn’t have let Marisa call you unless we didn’t have any choices left.”

“I see. I’m going to go in and look at her now.”

“Be careful. She’s gotten… violent,” Marisa said.

“How violent can a five-year-old be?” Elise gave an unpleasant smile that didn’t suit her angular face. “I’m sure I’ve handled worse.”

“Just be careful. She’s in here.”

Elise approached the door Marisa indicated, and the Ramirezes hung back. The girl became quieter as she grew near. When she stood before the door, Lucinde became entirely silent.

Elise pushed the door open and went inside.

Lucinde’s room was even colder than the rest of the house. Heavy curtains cast the room in near-complete darkness, and a portable swamp cooler made the air chill and muggy. A white canopy bed blocked the back half of the darkened room.

There were multiple obstacles strewn across the floor: an overstuffed comforter, rose-colored pillows in varying sizes, and a toy chest. Possible hiding places included the closet and the shadowed area behind a pink trunk with princess costumes draped over the sides. No girl in sight.

Elise didn’t like the room’s poor visibility. It felt confined. Dangerous. “I’m going to open the window, Marisa.”

“She won’t like it.”

She moved toward the window, hugging the wall, and stepped over a toy unicorn with blood caking the mane to its neck. Ears perked for any hint of motion, she jerked aside the first layer of curtains, then the second.

Light filled the room. Someone squealed.

Elise rounded the bed in time to see bare feet disappearing under the bed. “Lucinde?”

She dropped to her hands and knees and leaned her cheek close to the carpet. A pair of luminous eyes stared back at her. The girl under the bed looked nothing like Marisa. Her skin was dark, like her father’s, and her flat nose was offset by his same expressive lips.

“Cold,” she hissed. “Cold!”

Elise’s gaze traveled over her bared legs. Her knees were heavily bruised, purple and black and brown on the edges. The flesh on her shins looked like broiled strawberries. “Have you used force to restrain her?” Elise asked.

“She hurts herself,” Marisa said. “We can’t stop her.”

“Colder!” Lucinde demanded again, sinking further into the corner as though she wanted to hide inside the wall. Elise glanced at the swamp cooler. Colder.

Lucinde tried to jerk away when she touched her foot, but Elise caught her ankle, pulling her foot into the light. A few remaining flakes of pink nail polish decorated her toenails under caked blood. One nail had been torn out. She released the child’s ankle, and withdrew again.

“How are you doing?” Elise asked. “Quomondo vales?”

Lucinde froze. Her eyes widened fractionally.

Quomondo vales?” she repeated. “Loquerisne Latine? No? ¿Hablas inglés?”

“She speaks English,” Marisa said, offended.

“Of course.”

Elise pulled the chains of her necklace over head and picked a bronze pendant from amongst the other charms. It caught the sun and scattered gold light on Lucinde’s forehead. The whites of her eyes were almost yellow, shot through with crimson veins, and a long, low hiss issued from between her lips.

Crux sacra sit mihi lux,” Elise whispered. Lucinde recoiled, covering her face.

“What are you doing?” Augustin demanded.

Lucinde remained flat against the carpet, fingers spread through the dusty shag as though she feared being dragged away. She whimpered like a wounded dog.

She was so small. Elise was sure she had never been that small.

Elise leaned closer. “Can you speak?”

Marisa stepped forward. “Watch out—”

The girl’s foot lashed out and the bedroom exploded into red stars. The pain struck a moment later like being struck in the jaw by a baseball bat.

She reeled, hand flying to her mouth. Lucinde scurried from beneath the mattress.

“Colder! Colder!” Her voice was shrill, piercing.

Lucinde’s nails flashed. Elise raised her arm in defense—but the little girl stopped short, swiping the hand inches from Elise’s face. Lucinde’s wrist was roped to the corner of the bed.

Augustin hauled the exorcist to her feet, dragging her away from Lucinde. She shook her elbow free of his grip.

“We told you to be careful,” he said, voice rough. “She’s not normal anymore.” Elise ignored him, meeting the girl’s eyes.

“Cold,” Elise echoed.

Marisa moved into the room, making soothing noises. Lucinde screamed a long note with the tenor of a beast. Augustin guided Elise out of the room and shut the door. Without windows, the hallway was darker than Lucinde’s bedroom, but it felt much less oppressive.

“We won’t be held liable for our daughter’s—”

“I’m not going to sue you for my wound, if that’s what you’re getting at. I’ve had many injuries much worse than this.”

“Good.” His mouth twisted. “Good. What were you doing in there?”

“Testing her,” she said. “This is the pendant of Saint Benedict. He’s the patron saint of a lot of things—nettle rash, servants who have broken stuff that belongs to their masters. Spelunkers.”

“Spelunkers?”

“He’s also invoked during exorcisms. I wanted to see if she would react to Latin because a lot of Greater Demons don’t speak any living languages.”

“She’s been speaking English,” Augustin said. “She keeps saying ‘cold.’”

“I saw that.”

“So… what do you think?”

“I can’t say if she’s possessed,” Elise said, touching the back of her hand to her mouth. It came away bloody. “She’s definitely got an attitude problem.”

“She was never like this before,” Augustin said.

“I’m sure.” She headed down the stairs, leaving Lucinde’s screams behind her. “I’ll do some research. I’ve seen my share of possessions and exorcisms, but never one as spontaneous as this. You’re sure nothing has been flying around?”

“Completely sure. We’re not freaks.”

“You don’t have to be a freak to be targeted by demons; just unlucky or stupid. Since you haven’t summoned anything, you could be the former.”

“We’re not stupid.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t put words into my mouth.”

Augustin puffed out his chest. “Can you exorcise Lucinde or not?”

“I could, if she’s possessed,” Elise said. “It definitely seems like a demon problem.”

“Like in the Bible.”

“Yes. ‘Like in the Bible.’ I’m going to confer with James, after which he’ll be in contact with you. What would be the best number to reach you at?”

“Marisa’s so-called high priest has it,” Augustin said.

“Okay. Keep Lucinde in her room for now. Try to keep her eating and drinking water, because if she is possessed, she’ll resist it on her own,” Elise said. She touched her bleeding lip. “You already know to keep your distance.”

“Yes.”

He opened the front door to let in the hot summer air. The clouds had thickened since Elise’s arrival, and it smelled like rain again. “You have my card. Call me when she gets worse,” she said, stepping outside.

Augustin was already closing the door. He looked as inclined to give her a call as he was to offer a finger to his daughter’s mouth. “Right, thanks,” he said.

Elise paused by the Ramirezes’ gate. She glanced up at Lucinde’s window, half-covered in a heavy drape. As she watched, a hand came up to jerk it closed.

“You’re welcome,” she muttered. Elise turned on her car, cranked the radio, and pulled out of the cul-de-sac.

In the bushes between the Ramirezes’ house and their neighbor’s, an earless gray creature crouched in the shadow of the tree watching Elise’s car pull away. A small tongue darted out of its mouth to lick its leathery lips.

It blinked, dedicating Elise’s face to memory, and vanished.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:on Taking It One Book at a Time:

Freakin' loved, loved, loved this book from page #1! Elise is TOTALLY my kind of bad ass heroine. All in all this book would have received 6 stars from me if it was possible. By far one of my top 10 reads of the year! It was refreshing, unique and pulled at all of my emotions.