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

Cast in Godfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

The gods are rallying to take down Marion, their ally and voice in the mortal worlds. She’s gotten her memories back to disastrous results. She’s destroying the faerie courts, and the rest of the universe is next. The other deities want Seth—also known as the God of Death—to stop Marion before she breaks something that can’t be fixed.

Unfortunately, when Marion looks at Seth with those eyes and insists that she’s not doing anything wrong, he wants to believe her. Marion claims she isn’t trying to rewrite history. She’s protecting it.

Seth wants to trust Marion. It’s only the universe that’s at stake, after all. And some women are worth shattering worlds over…

The final chapter in New York Times Bestselling Author SM Reine's Mage Craft series.

Excerpt:

Jaycee Hardwick was scrying throughout the Middle Worlds, and she was not happy about it. For one thing, her search was yielding no results. A task she’d blocked out an hour to take was instead consuming her entire morning.

For another thing, the hours she spent scrying meant that her damn tea was getting cold while she was zoned out. And now she needed to brew another pot.

“This is just ridiculous.” She pushed back from the palantír, which she had mounted upon a platinum stand in order to match the rest of her office’s furnishings.

Jaycee stood and smoothed her skirt over her hips as she walked toward the wall of windows. Seattle looked the way she felt—which was to say, buried under fog. It was raining again—it always rained at this time of year—and the moisture clung to the streets, the trees, the rooftops.

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The weather would have been perfect for quiet fireside time with her mate, had she any clue what had become of him. “Where are you, Pierce?” she muttered, digging her fingernails into her mug.

Pierce Hardwick had once been famous primarily for his role as founder of Hardwick Medical Research. That had been before Genesis, back when Pierce had been a mundane human.

Hardwick Medical Research was no more. It had cured lycanthropy shortly before the company was shattered into a thousand smaller companies and sold off. The skyscraper that Jaycee stood in now was Frost Tower. It was a beautiful building that housed thousands of offices, and only some of those offices did medical research, and absolutely none of them under the Hardwick name.

If humans discovered that this year’s flu shots had been designed by sidhe…

Paranoid little ants.

Jaycee sipped her cold tea, set it on her desk, and glared at the palantír again. It was no longer filled with fog. It only reflected the clouds outside her window.

“I didn’t want to look anyway,” she said with a haughty sniff. She tossed a silk cloth over it. “You don’t even know where anything has gone.”

Her assistant was buzzing. Jaycee was ten minutes late for a meeting with the Somalian Health Council, and she was never late for meetings. In the days she’d been human, she had even shown up for meetings with a high fever and delirium.

The fact that Pierce was missing was far more problematic than a flu bug. Especially because he’d most likely left of his own volition.

The day that Pierce went missing, Jaycee had woken up to find a note in his handwriting on her bedside table. It had said that he was safe and had not been abducted. Which was exactly what a note from an abductee would say.

Jaycee was not capable of verifying that claim, since wherever Pierce had gone, the palantír could not scry it.

She flung open her office door. Her assistant was mysteriously absent. A fresh vase of wildflowers stood next to the last week’s bouquet, both of which Pierce had sent as an apology.

Jaycee flicked the card on this week’s bouquet open with a fingernail. “To my beloved…” she read aloud. She rolled her eyes and tossed the card into the trash. “My beloved, pathetic wife who is holding down the castle while I frolic through my midlife crisis.” She shoved the flowers into her assistant’s trash for good measure.

There. Take that, Pierce. A hollow gesture that you won’t even see.

Where was Jaycee’s assistant, anyway? She had just buzzed about the meeting. She should have been there.

Jaycee set a hand on the wall and pulsed magic through Frost Tower.

Her sidhe magic connected with the wards, which were embedded so deeply into the foundations that nobody knew they were there. Jaycee hadn’t filled out the proper paperwork with the proper authorities. They’d have never let her plant a magical building in the middle of Seattle without absurd regulatory nonsense.

Jaycee could set the entire thing on fire and turn it to ash within five minutes if she so chose. That was the beauty of below-board warding.

The wards were not catching fire at the moment. They were reporting to her.

And they reported…nothing.

Frost Tower was empty.

At this hour of day, that was impossible. People should have been trundling in from the parking garage for hours, and most employees were so mundane that they blared in Jaycee’s senses like stink lines on cartoon feces.

The wards detected nothing.

“Damn it all,” Jaycee said.

She took off her shoes—a pair of next season’s Manolos—and put them into her assistant’s drawer. The big one with the lock. Jaycee stuck her feet into sneakers instead. When something terrible is about to happen, fashion must be sacrificed for proper footwear.

The terrible thing started approximately ten seconds after Jaycee finished lacing the first shoe.

Her wards stopped being silent and started screaming.

Alert. Alert. Sidhe magic. Invasion. Alert.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Jaycee said, flicking her fingers to dismiss the alerts. Her wards strangled into silence.

Through the windows, Seattle had become foggier. She couldn’t even see the bay anymore, or the streets directly ringing her building, for that matter.

She gathered her power into her fists and blacked out the windows, obstructing the fog’s view into the building.

Jaycee returned to her office, shutting and locking the door behind her.

A second door was hidden behind her desk. It was a secret exit built into a water feature. The sound of the fountain running always made Jaycee feel like she needed to pee urgently, but it cloaked her escape route perfectly.

With a gesture, the water stopped, the wall opened, and a passage to her helicopter pad appeared.

Jaycee slung her purse over her shoulder and headed through.

She was barely two steps down the passage when she heard the thudding on her door.

Someone was trying to get in.

Jaycee lifted her watch toward her lips. “Remind me to call insurance about the extent of our coverage for magical battles tomorrow.” Her digital personal assistant blooped in serene acknowledgement.

The thumping grew louder.

She ran into her secret passage and the door shut. It was a small tunnel illuminated by only witchlights, urging Jaycee onward.

On the other side of the wall, she heard her office breaking open. My insurance better replace that door. It had been hand-carved by some Moroccan designer that Pierce liked. For all that Jaycee was annoyed by her husband’s mysterious absence, she still wanted him to have his stupid, beloved Moroccan doors intact.

The entire tower shook. Plaster dust showered around her.

“Good God, have they sent an entire army after me?” She hadn’t done anything worthy of being attacked by an army.

Well, at least not this week.

But if this was an army thumping around in her tower, ruining all her beautiful expensive furnishings, then they could have only come from one place.

The new unseelie king was even more of a moody brat than Jaycee had anticipated, and she’d anticipated he would be very bratty.

She pressed her hand to the wall as she rounded a corner. The wards were accompanied by a second, stronger set of spells that would demolish the whole building. She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to use them, but, well, if an entire army was coming…

Better demolished than turning everything over to King Konig.

King Konig. Lord, the sidhe were bad at names. Konig meant “king” in some other language, so he was “King King.” They might as well have named him “serious attitude problem” on his birth certificate.

Would a child with a normal name, like Eugene, have ever had the nerve to invade Frost Tower?

Highly doubtful.

Jaycee activated her demolition spells.

A five minute countdown began.

It took another ninety seconds for her to spiral up to the rooftop. She was rounding the final curve when she heard an explosion from ahead.

Jaycee’s eyes widened as light poured into the tunnel.

“Well,” she said.

Nobody should have known the secret passage was there, but someone had broken into it on the far end.

In order to know it existed, the invaders either knew Jaycee’s architect—highly unlikely—or been capable of accessing her wards, which would have taken unusually powerful magic. She was betting on the second one. And her bet was confirmed when she emerged from the end of the tunnel.

“Well, well, well,” Jaycee said.

A frost giant was crouched on the rooftop, his hands braced on either side of what used to be a hidden escape hatch, looking down into the not-so-secret passage with a jagged face. He was bigger than a car and probably weighed as much. He turned the air around him so cold that moisture became snow.

And he had a witch mounted on his shoulder, sitting delicately as though she were riding a horse side-saddle.

Well, not a witch.

A mage.

“Hello, Jaycee,” said Marion Garin, Queen of the Unseelie, also known as the Voice of God.

“Hello, Marion,” Jaycee said. “Want to tell me what’s happening?”

The hallway trembled. The army had penetrated her secret door and was coming up from behind.

There was no escape.

“We’re here to arrest you for sedition,” Marion said.

“Sedition?” Jaycee asked. “Couldn’t you have come up with a charge more creative? Or perhaps more accurate? You could have unleashed mundane bureaucracy on me just by reporting this building to the OPA.”

“Konig decided on sedition,” she said.

Of all the undignified ways to lose Frost Tower. Getting arrested over a silly charge by the wife of some temperamental brat.

“Just so you know, this tower is about to be demolished, and everyone inside will die,” Jaycee said. “There’s just enough time for you to escape. You may be able to withdraw much of your army if they access the ley lines as well.”

“No, I don’t think so.” With a wave of Marion’s hand, she hijacked Jaycee’s spells, laying claim to all of Frost Tower.

And she disabled the wards while she was at it.

“Well,” Jaycee said again.

She hadn’t expected that one.

Marion had always been good at magic, but she hadn’t been that familiar with sidhe magic. Becoming queen had done her a lot of favors.

The queen slithered off of the frost giant’s shoulder and her midnight blue dress pooled around her. “Ymir, would you kindly…?”

Ymir punched the tunnel wider and then reached in to grab Jaycee like he was King Kong. She slapped his chilly hand away. “Don’t you dare.”

Jaycee took herself up onto the roof, thank you very much, emerging into that dense magic fog. Even though she couldn’t see it, she could feel a helicopter incoming, and if any pilot would be capable of approaching in such conditions, it would be Isidora.

Even now, with her safeguards destroyed, Jaycee was not without options. She was never without options.

“What is the real goal of this?” Jaycee asked, circling Marion warily. “Have you allowed yourself to become pawn in Konig’s game of grudges?”

“We have no grudge against you,” Marion said.

“Surely you don’t believe I’m a traitor.”

“You were in the Autumn Court at the same time as the former leaders of the Summer Court. You invaded our party without an invitation. We’ve every reason to think you’re colluding with the seelie traitors.”

Jaycee couldn’t deny that she’d been in the Autumn Court. She had taken advantage of an opening in the wards, but only so that she could look for Pierce.

Far more concerning was the other thing that Marion had said.

Former leaders?” Jaycee asked.

“We no longer recognize the sovereignty of the Summer Court. The entire Middle Worlds are ours, as they have always meant to be,” Marion said.

This arrest attempt was looking worse by the moment.

On the bright side, Jaycee’s sensitive hearing was picking up the chugging of chopper blades. Isidora was incoming.

Jaycee peeled away the illusions that made her appear human--very much like the human she’d been before Genesis, in fact. Her real skin was diamonds. Her hair was the black fog rolling in off of a stormy ocean at midnight. She was the moisture in the air, the mist that perpetually clung to Seattle.

Jaycee’s magic and presence extended into infinity. She was a mighty gaean creature, connected to the fabric of the Earth in the way that a half-angel could not be.

She understood that non-sidhe couldn’t handle the full effect of a sidhe’s presence. She was accustomed to hiding herself at all times to prevent humans from perceiving the well of gravity with Jaycee at its center.

Now she didn’t hold back.

She let it all out. She pushed it out, forcing it on Marion.

And she saw the moment that Marion was overwhelmed.

In someone as powerful as the Voice of God, it wasn’t a total mental breakdown. The pain was demonstrated by Marion wavering on her feet and her eyebrows crimping. It showed in the step backward that she needed to take, reaching out to Ymir as though she was no longer certain that the ground was stable under her feet.

Jaycee smiled. “Remember next time who you’re dealing with, my so-called queen.”

The helicopter was near. Jaycee felt it in the shifting air.

Jaycee summoned the wind of winter and her sneakers lifted from the roof of Frost Tower. It wasn’t a precise way to fly, but it flung her toward Isidora’s helicopter. It appeared in the fog as a black form, hovering like an oversized bee just beyond the edge of the roof.

She was almost there. She was going to escape.

But then the lightning.

It lanced through the sky in a bolt of blazing white. It struck the propeller.

The helicopter pitched to its side and tumbled from view.

In her shock, Jaycee lost control of the wind.

She tumbled through the air—an undignified head-over-heels cartwheel.

Electric magic snapped around her like a lasso, yanking her back.

Jaycee struck the roof in front of heeled shoes and navy blue spills of fabric. Looking up at Marion from below, the mage girl seemed taller, her hair brushing the sky as the smoking helicopter vanished behind her. Ymir sauntered up behind her. He cuffed Jaycee’s wrist and yanked her upright.

“Please,” Marion said. “Don’t waste your time fighting me. You have so little time left.”

The frost giant yanked them through the ley lines.


Konig had captured many political prisoners in his short reign as king, but he’d left Heather to worry about detaining most of them. Jaycee Hardwick was different. She was a prize—the head of a deer that he would mount on his wall to commemorate the hunt. He escorted her back to the Middle Worlds personally.

“Impressive,” Heather said, keeping pace with them as they headed into the depths of Niflheimr.

Jaycee wasn’t shackled, but she didn’t need to be. Every resident of the Winter Court lined the halls to see a Hardwick in custody. If she tried to escape, she’d be buried under a hundred blasts of simultaneous faefire.

The stick insect of a woman kept her chin held regally high. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone, remaining focused on the end of the hallway.

“She’s not that impressive.” Konig glanced behind him to make sure that Marion was still at his back. She was serenely quiet, surrounded by handmaidens, and without a single external indication of the enormous magic she’d cast to capture Jaycee Hardwick.

“I meant the fact you got her at all,” Heather said. “We’ve been looking for Jaycee and Pierce for weeks. I was starting to think we’d never find them.” Her lips twisted. “Although I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate you by this point.”

It was really Marion who shouldn’t be underestimated. She had declared that she was going to arrest Jaycee, and she had formed the plan. Konig had let her do it as a favor. In return, he’d taken the credit with the news media—and with his people.

Raising his voice, Konig said, “Draft a statement to be issued to all the Middle Worlds. Tell them that I’ve ensured the safety of the unseelie courts by removing a dangerous traitor.”

You removed her?” Heather asked in a neutral tone.

Perhaps she did know that Marion had been behind it all. Heather was much less stupid than the average sidhe woman.

Konig cast another glance at his wife—and at the hundreds of sidhe behind her, who were listening attentively to the conversation. “Yes, I captured her,” Konig said. “And she’ll be put on trial for what she’s done to us.”

“I’ll draft a statement,” Heather said.

She broke away from the others. She cut a stunning figure with her curves wrapped in brown leather, and Konig’s eyes lingered on her back as she raced away.

They arrived in Niflheimr’s dungeon. Most dissidents were kept in Myrkheimr, but Jaycee was too dangerous to bring into Konig’s childhood home. Instead, she would get to enjoy the abattoir that Konig had built to contain demons.

Jaycee peered through the doorway and gave a disdainful sniff. “If you were as civilized as your father, you’d have the courtesy to lock me in a proper bedroom.”

“If I was my father, I’d probably chain you to my bed,” Konig said. “Is that your preference?”

She laughed. “Cute. No. Thank you.” Her eyes flicked down to his tight trousers. “Really, no thank you.”

Jaycee didn’t permit the Raven Knights to touch her. She climbed into the abattoir all on her own, dignified but for the sneakers that didn’t match her skirt suit. “What do you think?” Konig asked Marion.

He wasn’t asking what she thought of the capture or the reaction from the sidhe. That didn’t matter. He was asking what she thought of the aftermath—especially the statement where Konig took credit.

If Marion were attempting to play Konig, as he’d long suspected, being deprived of due credit should have set her off. She had too much pride to take that.

She should have exploded.

But Marion smiled thinly.

“You know what I think,” she said, quietly enough that everyone in the hallways wouldn’t be able to hear her. “I think you’re trying to provoke me.”

Clever as always. He lowered his voice. “How does Jaycee fit into your little pet project, anyway? Is she somehow qualified to help you with the…angel thing?” Marion had been working on some kind of heritage project where she recovered artifacts from Dilmun. Sentimental girl stuff.

“You said you don’t care about my project,” she said.

“I don’t, as long as you keep your attention where it belongs,” Konig said.

“Believe me,” she said, “my attention is exactly where it belongs.” She shot a cold look down at Jaycee. “Capturing Jaycee is a safeguard. The Hardwicks are too strong to let the Summer Court get them first. I did this for you, my love.”

Gods, he loved her when she was like this, cruel and pragmatic and focused. “I love you.” Konig wrapped a hand around the back of Marion’s neck and dragged her toward him for a kiss.

She leaned into it, biting at his lips. “I know,” she whispered back.

He pushed her away as quickly as he’d grabbed her. “Take care of whatever remains on your agenda. I will interrogate Jaycee Hardwick.”

She gave a shallow curtsy. “My King.”

Marion took two of her handmaidens by the elbows, and they vanished into the ley lines.

“Stay here with me,” Konig said to the third handmaiden.

Maddisyn looked startled. “Of course.”

He shut the door to the hallway, leaving the Raven Knights and onlookers outside. Jaycee was so far down the hole that she wouldn’t be able to hear them talking, not that there was anything she could do with information she overheard now. “You haven’t turned in any reports lately.”

“Reports?” Maddisyn asked.

“On Marion,” Konig said with an amount of patience that should have won him some big prize, like a Nobel.

Maddisyn fidgeted, pulling on her hair. “Oh. Well. You two have been spending a lot of time together lately, so I just figured you knew everything she’s been getting up to from firsthand observation.”

Spending more time with Marion made Konig feel like he knew her less by the moment. She wouldn’t budge from his side for weeks, but then vanish for days to work on her heritage project. And she never told him what she was doing when she returned.

It was an open, simmering point of resentment between the two of them. They both knew that this would explode. They’d even said it to each other’s faces more than once.

Marion was doing something, even if she insisted that Jaycee wasn’t part of it. Konig was busy enough trying to conquer the Summer Court to let her do it. But he’d have it conquered soon enough. Then there would be nothing left to do except break down the puzzle of his wife.

“Have you seen her working on her project?” Konig asked.

Maddisyn was the worst of the handmaidens at keeping her cool. Her face was already reddening like she might cry. “I’ve picked her up from Dilmun a couple of times, but I never stick around.”

“What’s she doing in Dilmun? Is she alone?”

“Usually.”

“But not always?”

She chewed on a knuckle—a nervous habit she’d had as long as Konig had known her. Right now, her knuckle had been gnawed so much that the skin was raw. “Sometimes there are other angels.”

“Like who?” On a hunch, he asked, “Have you seen Leliel?” Leliel had long been an enemy of Marion’s, and even stabbed her a couple of times. There was no way in the world that they could be meeting amicably to do some trivial project.

Maddisyn’s gaze fixed to the floor at Konig’s feet. She wouldn’t look at him.

Konig seized Maddisyn’s arm. Hard. “Have you seen Marion with Leliel? Tell me right now.” He dragged her toward the edge of the abattoir, and she gave a tiny squeal. “Tell me, or you’ll join Jaycee!”

“Maddisyn?”

One of the Raven Knights, Wintersong, peered through the door. He was an old white-haired sidhe whose brain hadn’t worked right since Genesis. He’d always spoken with his words a little bit jumbled, his thoughts wandering, his behavior often inappropriate. Konig had written him off as a useless moron who was good with a sword.

Wintersong’s timing was way too good for a useless moron.

“What do you want?” Konig snapped, yanking Maddisyn away from the ledge.

“I camed here to get her to Marion,” Wintersong said. “They’s gots errands. Dresses fittings and shit.”

That was probably true. Sidhe had parties every day, and seldom wore outfits twice. They were constantly getting new dresses fitted.

Konig considered keeping Maddisyn anyway. He could pull the truth out of her with magic. He’d learned from keeping his political prisoners that even powerful gentry were susceptible to a good hard squeeze from, say, tree trunks.

But Jaycee was waiting for interrogation.

He Maddisyn go. She hugged Wintersong’s side, and he put an arm around her shoulder.

“Have fun with the dresses,” Konig said. “I’ll see you soon enough.” He bared his teeth at her in a grin. He’d been told he had a very handsome smile by women throughout his entire life. “Very soon.”


Konig expected Jaycee to be difficult to interrogate. He hadn’t expected her to ignore him completely. “Jaycee,” he snapped for approximately the seventeenth time since he’d entered the abattoir.

Again, she didn’t even look his way.

It wasn’t as though Jaycee Hardwick couldn’t hear him. The abattoir transmitted sound superbly. His voice resonated so clearly that it was like three other Konigs spoke from opposite ends of the room.

Yet she was still circling the bottom of the abattoir, staring at its blank walls of black ice as though they held all the information she needed for escape.

“Jaycee!” He lashed out with magic that time, making the walls blaze with fire.

She jerked away from the edge of the abattoir. “Like a toddler,” Jaycee snapped, upper lip curling as she surveyed Konig. “You’ll do whatever it takes for attention, no matter how obnoxious. There’s a reason Pierce and I never opted to breed little Hardwicks. I’ve no patience for snot-nosed children.”

Snot-nosed? Konig was attended by so many healers that his mucosa couldn’t have permitted him a runny nose if he’d waded through a sea of pollen, cat hair, and dust. “Why don’t you rephrase that in a way that’s more respectful toward the man who has you captive?”

Her laughter was unpleasantly sour. “Man?” Jaycee toed her shoes off, kicking them across the floor. Barefooted, fresh ice spread from underneath her toes. “Do me a favor of being frank. Tell me what you want modified so I can tell you where to shove that request.”

Konig surveyed her features—as symmetrical yet uniquely strange as those belonging to any sidhe.

She must have meant the darknet. It was the only thing that Konig knew to be associated with the Hardwicks, since the prominent unseelie couple had declined to be otherwise involved with the activities of royalty.

“I want access to the records on the defenses on each court,” Konig said smoothly, as if that was what he’d intended all along. As if capturing Jaycee hadn’t been Marion’s idea.

“Records on defenses?” Jaycee snorted. That snort had haunted Konig’s nightmares ever since the one time she’d babysat him as a child. She’d never found any of his antics endearing, or even tolerable. “It’s insulting to use me for access to records. Gods, Konig. You may as well have contracted a mundane white hat for that.”

“You think you’re too good to give me what I want?”

“In every sense of the sentiment.”

Konig’s shoulders prickled. “What else would I want from the darknet?”

“Anything,” Jaycee said. “Everything. Rage didn’t tell you what the darknet can do?”

There was a lot Rage hadn’t told Konig.

In fact, Konig hadn’t seen the former king much lately. He’d lost his mate—Konig’s mother—to a bullet from Death’s gun, and with it had gone everything but a tenuous grip on sanity. His health was declining faster and faster. Rage seldom got out of bed.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” Jaycee said.

“You’re my captive. You have nothing to offer,” Konig said.

“Even the darknet?”

“I’ve sold administrator access away and I can buy it back from the vampire who holds it. I don’t need you for anything.”

“The administrator owns all the front end of the darknet,” Jaycee said. “There’s much more to the back end of the darknet that you can’t dream of. I can tell you what it’s capable of. I can tell you how to get what you want.”

“In exchange for what?” Konig’s eyes narrowed. “Your freedom?”

“Pierce,” Jaycee said. “He’s hiding from me, most likely somewhere in the Middle Worlds. Find him for me. Find him, and I’ll tell you how to change the rule of the Middle Worlds from matriarchal to patriarchal.”

Konig’s heart stopped beating.

If he didn’t need to be married to Marion in order to rule, then…well, he wouldn’t need Marion at all.

“I’m very interested,” Konig said.

COLLAPSE

Cast in Balefire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Half-angel mage Marion Garin has become Queen of the Unseelie, but she can’t hold the faerie courts without convincing everyone she’s in love with her cheating, abusive husband—the beloved King ErlKonig. Rumor says Marion’s in love with the God of Death. The unseelie are revolting. And it wouldn’t be so hard to fix if the rumors weren’t true…

Excerpt:

Niflheimr, The Middle Worlds

During her idle moments—of which there had been few—Marion had tried to learn about her absent mother. There hadn’t been much information to gather. Ariane Kavanagh wasn’t a popular character in Marion’s multitude of personal journals, so she had largely been mentioned when Marion was complaining.

Marion had been willing to filter that information through the understanding that Marion, pre-memory-loss, hadn’t been a popular character either.

Ariane might not have been as bad as the insults in Marion’s journals posited.

She couldn’t have been as vain as Marion painted her. She wasn’t self-centered but simply withdrawn. The preferential treatment Ariane seemed to give Dana had been the perception of a girl suffering ordinary sibling rivalry.

There was most likely a great reason that Ariane hadn’t made contact when Marion had gone missing, reappeared, or gotten married.

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Marion was ready to believe the best about her mother until the moment she realized that Ariane Kavanagh was colluding with the goat-demon who had stolen Marion’s memories.

Maman,” Marion whispered, reverting instinctively to French. She only took one step down her throne room’s stairs before stopping herself. She cleared her throat. Raised her voice. “Ravens! Heather!”

“Don’t do that,” said Onoskelis, the goat-demon.

The Raven Knights didn’t come even though someone should have been in earshot.

Marion was alone in her throne room. Freshly wedded, absolutely miserable, and cornered.

“I’m not one for the Middle Worlds, so let’s keep this meeting short.” Onoskelis hiked her robes high enough to flash cloven hooves as she clattered up the stairs. She settled into the stenographer’s empty seat, producing parchment and a fountain pen. “Do you prefer Garin? Kavanagh? You can’t take Konig’s last name. They never do last names in the sidhe courts.”

Marion was speechless.

“Why?” she asked after some moments of uncharacteristic floundering.

“For the contract to return your memories,” Onoskelis said.

“You took my memories. You were there that night, at Original Sin, and you took my memories!”

“It was not necessary to take your memories as I had copied them prior to that night. I only went to Original Sin to bear witness to a critical moment in time,” Onoskelis said.

The demon’s words passed by Marion unabsorbed. Her gaze was magnetically drawn to her mother’s. “And you’re behind this?”

Ariane tipped her cheek to her shoulder in a gesture that was too girlishly cute for a woman approaching fifty. “Frowning creates wrinkles, my little sweet.” She spoke in French too.

So it was true. All of it was true. Ariane was as horrible as Marion had feared.

“We arranged this meeting between the three of us before you lost your memory,” Onoskelis said, dashing out a few lines of text onto her parchment. “You insisted on having a mortal witness. Your mother volunteered.”

“Volunteered to witness…what, exactly?” Marion asked.

“The contract.” The goat-demon’s impatience made her hand scratch more aggressively across the page. “You have to do what I tell you in order to get your memories back.”

“You have to do a series of tasks, to be clear,” Ariane said.

Marion dug her fingernails into the arms of her chair. “I can’t believe you’re making demands of me after such a protracted absence. You missed my wedding. Where have you been?”

“You of all people should understand that life gets in the way of our best intentions. But I’ve been nearby, even if I haven’t been able to make contact.” Ariane swirled the large glass vessel cradled in her arms. It took a full-body motion, almost like a dance, to get it sloshing. Sparkles erupted from its bubbling surface.

“Should I recognize that?” Marion asked.

Ariane stopped swaying. “You would if you hadn’t lost your memories.”

“Which I’d really like to get on to fixing.” Onoskelis’s head was bowed so that her furry goat muzzle was millimeters from the papyrus. “Marion Garin or Kavanagh?”

“Garin,” Marion said distractedly. “Mother…the potion?”

Ariane set the glass vial on a table framed by velvet curtains. “It’s similar to the magic we embedded in the honesty bracelets. I was asked to use the potion on your behalf to sway the votes.”

That was why the group had voted for Konig to keep his title. Marion had unwittingly benefited from magical coercion.

“Who asked you to do that?” Marion said.

“Adàn.”

He was the stag shifter leading Los Cambiasformas Internacional, the alliance of Western European gaeans. Marion had never heard him addressed informally before. Nor had she seen anyone smile at the thought of Adàn Pedregon.

“How do you know each other?” Marion asked, though she suspected she already knew.

“Intimately,” Ariane said. “I’d have helped even if Adàn hadn’t asked the favor, but gratitude is a flattering look on him. Regardless, I’d planned to intervene in order to keep things on track.”

Marion was feeling lost again. “On track?”

“There’s a plan to all of this—a greater design.” Onoskelis waved at the throne room with her pen. Crimson ink splattered on the icy floor and began melting through. “You, Marion Garin, Queen of the Unseelie, have willingly shouldered the task of intervening where deities cannot. You must perform a series of labors I assign to you, each of which is intended to keep Events aligned with the Meta. When you’ve completed the tasks, you’ll have your memories restored.”

“You wanted me to inform you that these tasks are all in the service of the greater good, and your safety is ensured when you follow them,” Ariane added. “Onoskelis is making a generous offer. Take it and don’t look back.”

The back of Marion’s neck prickled unpleasantly. “First of all, I won’t be told what to do by someone who’s been absent since my initial abduction, and gods only know how long before that. I am not your property. I’m not a child. I’m Queen of the Unseelie, and you’ll speak to me with respect.”

Ariane stepped up the first stairs, approaching Marion. “What’s the second thing?”

“It’s impossible for me to get my memories back. They were destroyed in the Canope.”

“The originals were,” Onoskelis said without looking up from her writing. “I have copies. I am a Librarian.” She said the word without a hint of self-importance, but the sound of it resonated, as though plucking at Marion’s soul. “Librarians chronicle everything that happens throughout every genesis, and I’d never allow the pages from the notable book of your mind to be lost.”

“Bold claim,” Marion said. “Too bold. I’ve heard enough. Raven Knights!”

“They won’t come.” Onoskelis set her pen down and scattered sand over the page to dry the ink. “I’ve paused time.”

“You’ve paused…?” Marion swept off of the throne, flinging aside curtains to look outside.

The Winter Court had evolved in the hours since Marion’s wedding. The Autumn Court’s eternal sunset shone gold on the horizon, creating silhouettes of the mountains. Light had never touched the Winter Court, not once. Not until Konig began ruling it.

The snow eternally blasting through the lightened sky was not moving. The swaying trees had gone still. Even the shivering towers of Niflheimr were still.

Onoskelis had paused time.

“You can’t do that,” Marion said.

The goat-demon lifted a second page she’d been writing on. “Words are miracles, every one of them. Books open more doors than you can imagine.”

“You have no clue how many doors I can imagine.”

“I’m privy to the Meta, which means I know everything about you and everyone else I encounter. What that must happen, will happen.”

“Then I don’t need to sign any contracts,” Marion said.

Ariane took the paper from Onoskelis and transported it to Marion, who reluctantly read. The contract didn’t list each of the labors Onoskelis intended for her to perform. It said nothing about how long those labors would last, either.

The terms more or less said that Marion was promising to behave herself, like a naughty student who signed a contract promising to do her homework. But she had no clue what the homework was, and she had no proof that the teacher across the desk was legitimate.

Damn it all, Marion was a queen, and they wanted her to promise to be obedient.

“You’re too late to offer this to me,” Marion said. “I don’t want my memories back.”

Ariane’s cheeks paled. “You don’t—?”

“I’m a better person without them. I was a wretched, loathsome child on a power trip.”

“Sweetheart…” Ariane moved to touch her cheek, but Marion swept out of range.

Onoskelis’s oval pupils, veiled by thick eyelashes, focused on Marion’s face. “You haven’t been able to reach out to the gods since losing your memories. You’ll know how you used to reach them.” Her ears flicked within the hood, stirring the heavy cloth. “You’ll be able to speak to Death.”

The floor dropped out from under Marion’s feet, and there was nothing underneath her except a yawning chasm of grief. Wretched misery tasted like the brimstone that had devoured Seth.

Marion tossed the contract to the table. “Prove you can hold up your end of this.”

“Very well.” Onoskelis turned the contract over and wrote a couple quick lines on the back. “Sign this.”

It was a truncated contract offering Marion a “trial” of memory restoration. She plucked the pen from Onoskelis’s eerily child-like hand and signed it.

“I’ve restored a handful of nonconsecutive hours to you,” Onoskelis said. “For instance, the speech you gave at the shifter academy while running for student high priestess.”

Marion remembered.

It wasn’t like having missing moments replayed. There was simply new information available—recollections of standing under searing lights with confidence she was going to win.

“You’ve had some magical knowledge restored too. You’ll discover other memories as time goes on,” Onoskelis said, “but I’ll return them all to you once you’ve completed the tasks as dictated by this contract.” She flipped the page back over and shoved it under the nib of Marion’s pen.

She’d sign no such contract.

Those recollections weren’t the only things restored. They’d dragged wisps of Marion’s personality along with them, shrouding her in arrogance and affront.

Marion was a queen, gods damn it all. Onoskelis was withholding access to Seth. And Ariane was complicit.

She flung the pen to the table. “Who do you think you are, to hold my memories hostage? To blackmail me, Queen of the Unseelie?”

The goat-demon took dainty wire-framed spectacles off the end of her nose, folding her arms with cherubic fingers. “You’re the one who wanted me to make a copy of your memories for safekeeping.”

“You approached her,” Ariane agreed. “You asked me to insist on your compliance.”

Marion whirled on her mother, fist clenching as she lifted it.

Electric-blue magic lanced over her knuckles.

Ariane didn’t look nearly as surprised as Marion felt. Onoskelis had restored more than a few memory scraps—she’d returned some of Marion’s magic. She’d only needed to reach instinctively into the cables of energy that flowed through the universe and seize them.

“I’ve reached the limits of my tolerance for Niflheimr,” Onoskelis said, casting an annoyed side-eye toward Marion’s hand. “Tell Ariane Kavanagh once you’re ready for the first of your labors, and she will pass it onto you.”

The Librarian vanished.

The Raven Knights erupted into Marion’s throne room moments later, bows raised, looking for a fight that was long gone.

COLLAPSE

Sins of Eden

There have always been three gods. Always.

Until Elise Kavanagh murdered them.

A demon named Belphegor has entered the Origin and become a new god, triggering genesis: the death and rebirth of the entire universe. He wants Elise to join him in Eden for the end of all things, but only once she’s watched everyone she cares about die painfully under his heel.

With nothing but a dwindling army of werewolves, Elise must enter Eden, slaughter Belphegor, and stop the genesis. But Belphegor’s smarter than Adam ever was, and far crueler. He’s spent lifetimes preparing for this.

He will have his world of Hellfire. He will have victory. And he will have Elise’s life…

Paradise Damned

Elise Kavanagh is being held captive without weapons or allies. The only way out of the garden is to kill God Himself.

James Faulkner's son has been taken by Metaraon, but James is caught in Limbo and helpless to save him.

An army of half-angel, half-demon hybrids is converging on the gates of Heaven, where the Union prepares for a final battle.

The end has arrived.

Excerpt:

Kansas – June 1989

Elise received her first mortal wound when she was eight years old. It happened during her second hunt without Mom, which should have been an easy fight; they had another local kopis backing them up, and chupacabras that migrated so far north were more of a livestock threat than a human one. But Dad had made a mistake. Since he had thought they were on the trail of a goat-eating monster, he didn’t have any silver weapons ready when the werewolf attacked.

“A werewolf in Kansas?” he muttered as he dragged Elise’s bleeding body out of the line of fire. He set her next to the back wall of the restaurant. Fidel, the territory’s local kopis, was still grappling with the beast. “There are no damn werewolves in Kansas!”

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The six-inch gashes on her stomach begged to differ. Elise clutched her falchions to her chest, gasping for air. The leather-wrapped hilts and steel blades weren’t as soothing as usual.

Dad shoved her arms out of the way so that he could look at the injury. Her eyes were too blurry to make out his expression, but she could tell that the damage was bad by the way he clicked his tongue. If it had been anything less than fatal, he would have told her to walk it off.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, closing her arms over her chest again. She hugged the falchions like teddy bears.

“Where are you going, Dad?” Elise asked, craning around to watch him stepping around the Dumpster. “Dad? Don’t leave me—it hurts!”

“Don’t whine,” he snapped.

He was right. She was whining.

Her mouth closed, fists clenched on the hilts of her swords, and she practiced the breathing exercises he had taught her to get through pain.

The fighting could have been miles away, as far as she could tell. The werewolf’s claws sounded like chisels digging into the pavement.

Men grunted. A beast growled.

Then she heard a gunshot—and everything went silent.

It was quiet for so long that Elise thought that her father must have been killed. She acknowledged that possibility with a calm sense of inevitability. He had warned her it was likely to happen sooner rather than later, and her instructions for that scenario were to stay calm and focus on escaping. She needed to make sure that Mom was safe.

Elise hurt too much to want to move, but Dad never accepted injury as an excuse for failure. She rolled onto her stomach and crawled out from behind the Dumpster, seeking confirmation of her father’s condition.

Dad wasn’t dead. He stood over the immobile body of the werewolf, Fidel’s gun in hand. A pool of blood spread underneath the furred beast.

She would always remember how he looked framed by the light of the full moon, the long muscles of his arm taut as he continued to aim. He was waiting to ensure the werewolf was dead. It didn’t move.

Madre de Dios,” Fidel said. He sat beside the furred corpse with a hand pressed to his shoulder. “That was no chupacabra, Isaac. You were fucking lucky I had silver bullets with me, else I woulda gotten a lot more than bitten.”

“It bit you?”

“Yeah. Look at this.”

Dad bent to look at the other kopis’s wound. Fidel’s borrowed gun was a small cannon—a Desert Eagle. It glistened in the moonlight, as graceful and deadly as Elise’s swords. It was strange to see it in Dad’s hand. He said that guns were beneath them. Inelegant. He preferred to kill with his bare hands.

Elise’s vision blurred with pain. She grunted and pressed a hand to her stomach. So much blood.

When she looked up again, it was just in time to see Dad shoot Fidel in the head with his own gun.

Mom was waiting for them in the truck. It had been parked outside a 7-Eleven a safe distance away, where Dad’s quarry wouldn’t be able to hurt her. She cried when she saw Elise, drawing her into her lap like she was a much smaller child. “What happened to you?” she sobbed, pressing her lips to Elise’s cheek.

“Don’t coddle her,” Dad snapped. He was drenched in his daughter’s blood with Fidel’s gun at the small of his back. “Every kopis does this a few times. She’ll be fine if we’re fast enough. You know that, Ariane. I can’t believe I have to tell you again.”

He pushed Elise into the backseat, tossed a jacket over her, and gunned the engine.

Elise was embarrassed by her mother’s show of weakness, even as much as she longed to be in Mom’s arms. She tried not to make any noise.

“The hospital is that way,” Mom said.

“We can’t afford it. You know where we have to go.”

“Please, Isaac. We can’t take her there yet. She’s too young.”

If he replied, Elise didn’t hear it. She drifted in and out of consciousness, alone with the pain.

She replayed the fight against the werewolf in her dreams.

It had moved like lightning—a blur of fur that was impossible to focus on, much less attack. Elise had been shocked to stillness at the sight of it. None of her practice fights against Dad could have ever prepared her for a beast the size of a horse that moved with supernatural speed.

So she had failed. She tried to jump left too slowly; the werewolf’s claws had been waiting for her. Elise hadn’t gotten a single blow in before it knocked her down.

No wonder Dad was so disappointed.

It hurts so much.

Ma fille,” Mom whispered, smoothing her hand over Elise’s forehead. She murmured words of comfort, separated from Elise by the seats of the truck and Dad’s will. None of Mom’s French made any sense to Elise in her dazed condition, but it was nice to be touched.

She slipped into unconsciousness again.

What if she had jumped right instead of left? What if she had brought up her falchion in time, the way that she had originally intended? The blades weren’t silver, but surely a werewolf couldn’t survive decapitation.

If only Elise had gone right, she wouldn’t be pouring blood all over Dad’s truck. He wouldn’t be so annoyed with her. Mom wouldn’t be crying.

Je t’aime,” Mom said, her words punctuated by Isaac’s grunt of irritation.

Elise wished that Mom would stop babying her. Real kopides didn’t get babied by anyone.

Failure.

She drifted. She bled.

Elise woke up fully healed with the sour aftertaste of magic lingering on her tongue. “There,” said the witch, sitting back on her heels. She was an elegant older woman with gray-streaked hair sleeked into a bun, and she wore a silk bathrobe, like she had just stepped out of a spa.

“Thank God for you, Pamela,” Mom said.

Pamela grimaced. “Well, don’t do that. You never know who’s listening these days.”

Elise peered at her mother through bleary eyes. Mom’s cheeks were wet and her nose was running, but she still managed a grateful smile for the witch named Pamela. “I would have taken her to the hospital. I know we should have. But Isaac thought that—”

“You did the right thing. We’re far too invested in Elise to allow her care to fall to mundane doctors.”

“Will she become a werewolf?”

“No. Claws don’t transfer the curse. Many kopides are immune anyway.” Pamela finally noticed that Elise had opened her eyes. She wiped the blood off of Elise’s stomach with a damp cloth, and the skin underneath was undamaged. “How do you feel, Elise?”

“Fine,” she said, because Dad would have hated it if she had complained about her sore back and the strange taste in her mouth.

Elise pushed her mother away and sat up on her own. She was surprised to find, as her senses returned to her, that she was outside in a forest. The only light came from a bonfire that Elise glimpsed through the trees. Silhouettes of dancers flitted around the flames to the slow beating of drums.

“It’s Litha,” Pamela explained at Elise’s confused expression. “Midsummer. My coven is celebrating the sabbat tonight. Would you like to see?”

“But the hunt,” Elise protested. “The werewolf’s body—I have to get back.”

“Your father has returned to take care of the dead,” Mom said, smoothing her hand down Elise’s hair. “We have nothing else to do there.”

Elise hung her head.

Isaac had left them rather than wait for his daughter to be healed. He must have been even more disappointed than she feared.

She nodded, resisting the urge to wallow. Dad wouldn’t have wallowed.

“I’m going to join the circle,” Mom said. She stood and—to Elise’s surprise—began to strip.

She abandoned her skirt and blouse on a tree, like the branch was a hanger. She fluffed out her curls, smiled at her daughter, and stepped into the clearing.

Pamela washed Elise’s blood off of her hands with the remaining water.

“Many rituals are performed skyclad,” the witch explained. Pamela sounded like what Elise imagined a teacher would sound like, though Elise had never been to school. “It helps witches feel connected to the elements. Young and old alike participate. Strange as it seems to the uninitiated, it’s not sexual.”

The idea hadn’t even occurred to Elise, but having Pamela mention it brought heat to her cheeks.

“I’m not getting naked,” she said, folding her arms tightly across her chest. She didn’t have any of her mother’s physical features yet—and, hopefully, never would—but she wasn’t prepared to advertise their absence, either.

Pamela rubbed her back. “You’re not a witch. Nobody would expect you to join the ritual. But you can’t stay in the trees unsupervised, and I’m not babysitting you. Come, you can sit on this log over here.”

Elise would have preferred to face another werewolf than enter that clearing. But Pamela drew her onward, guiding her to a fallen tree at the edge of the meadow, and sat her down on the tree.

Mom had jumped in with the other witches as if she belonged there, and they greeted her with cheers of joy. The coven already knew her.

The shouts and cheers of the coven sounded a lot like the yipping of the werewolf as they had hunted it through the Kansas strip mall. The witches were more animal than human. Beasts of the earth and trees. Mom’s magic had never been like that before—it was a sedate, passive thing, best for making potions and poultices. Elise wondered if it was her mother who was strange, or the coven itself.

That was Elise’s first real impression of witchcraft: naked bodies dancing around the fire to the beat of primal drums, with the taste of blood and magic at the back of her throat.

But not everyone around the circle was a joyful participant in the bacchanalia. A man stood on the opposite side of the bonfire, occasionally visible through the licking flames. He wore a button-down shirt. His hair was charcoal black, like Pamela’s must have been when she was younger. And he was deep in argument with a naked old man whose skin was like leather.

“Who’s that?” Elise asked, tugging Pamela’s sleeve.

Pamela turned to see whom Elise was referring to. The younger man was shaking his fist in the face of the older man, silently threatening, even though Elise couldn’t hear the words over the drumming.

“That’s my nephew, James,” Pamela said. There was a strange expression on her face. Somewhere between wistful and worried. “I think you’d like him. Would you like to be introduced?”

How could Pamela possibly know what kind of people Elise would like? They had never even met before.

As frightening as the coven’s weird ritual was, the contrast between their joyous shrieks and James’s anger was stark. Among all of them, this was the man with the real power—the only one of them that didn’t succumb to the crowd’s energy, and was unafraid to stand apart. Of all the witches she faced that night, he was the one she would least want to fight.

“No,” Elise said. “I’m staying here.”

Pamela looked relieved. “Probably best, for now. Plenty of time for that later.” She let the robe fall from her shoulders, then joined the circle again.

Power drifted into the sky, gathered from motion, dance, and drums. Elise sat on the log and tried not to show her fear.

The next time she looked through the flames, James was gone.

Dad came back for Elise the next morning. The Desert Eagle was gone. The blood had been scrubbed out of the truck. And the first thing he said to Elise was, “What did you learn last night?”

“Never underestimate,” she replied promptly.

She didn’t just mean the werewolf that they had failed to anticipate. She couldn’t shake the image of her mother with those pagans, or her father calmly shooting Fidel in the face. She understood now that there were many things she didn’t know about her parents and the world at large—and many of those things were likely to be bad.

“Good,” Dad said. “Very good.”

COLLAPSE

Defying Fate

Elise Kavanagh has exorcised demons, slain gods, and come back from the dead. And she’s done it all with the help of James Faulkner: a powerful witch, and the only person Elise has ever loved or trusted.

But now the worst has happened. The Treaty protecting humanity from war between angels and demons has fallen. Elise has been taken by her greatest enemy and imprisoned in madness. And James may be responsible for it…

Excerpt:

California – May 2010

Conan O’Brien cracked a bad joke on TV. The audience’s responding laughter was shrill, harpy-like, almost screaming. Hannah wanted to throw the remote through the screen. But late night programming was the only thing had kept her son quiet lately, and she couldn’t afford to replace the television, so she only dug her fingernails into her palm, gritted her teeth, and tolerated it.

Spring in Half Moon Bay smelled like saltwater and seaweed. The steely ocean rippled outside her window, unsettled by a coming storm, and the wind was just on the wrong side of cold. Hannah didn’t close the guest house’s window. She hadn’t been in Hell for months, but she still hungered for cool, moist air.

Another joke, more shrill laughter. Her nails dug into her hand.

“What do you want for dinner?” she asked.

Nathaniel didn’t respond.

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She stepped into the kitchen. In the refrigerator, she had an open box of baking soda, half a liter of milk, a few slices of bread. The coven would have plenty of food if she wanted it—they were only a phone call away. But admitting that they had run through Hannah’s paltry savings was more than she could handle.

Hannah braced her hands on the granite counter and let her head hang between her shoulders. She could see a sliver of the television through the doorway. Conan O’Brien was dancing. The audience roared, but Nathaniel’s expression never changed. He had spent all night, every night, sitting in that same position. The couch had all but molded around his body now.

Zoning out was still better than what he had been doing with his days.

The phone rang, startling Hannah.

“Phone, Mom,” Nathaniel said without looking up.

A corded handset was mounted next to the refrigerator. She pulled it around to the dining room. The table was covered in books, papers, stones, crystals, pens, candles—everything a growing witch needed to cast magic.

She pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“It’s me, Hannah,” replied a man, whose voice she recognized.

She let out a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding. Hannah hadn’t heard from James Faulkner, her former fiancé and father of her son, since she had left him in the City of Dis last December. After so long without word, she had started to think he must have been dead.

There was a time that Hannah had fantasized about James getting killed—the times when she was trapped at home with Nathaniel when he was a raging toddler, and James was off saving the world. But Nathaniel wasn’t a child anymore. He was an almost-teenaged witch who was drawing runes in his own blood. The idea of losing James—maybe the only witch powerful enough to control Nathaniel—had been haunting her for weeks.

“Where are you?” she asked in a low voice, gripping the receiver in both hands until the plastic creaked. “I thought you were going to contact us as soon as you got back.”

“You need to meet me at Pamela’s old house in one week. We’re going to go to the Haven.”

Hannah glanced at the wall calendar. Below the picture of an ocean sunrise, Nathaniel had been crossing off days. One week would be the end of the month.

Swallowing down the last vestiges of her shriveled pride, Hannah asked, “Could you meet us here instead?”

“I won’t be available for another week.”

“Why?”

“Because,” James said. “I’m about to be arrested by the Union.”

The phone slipped an inch before Hannah realized that her fingers had gone slack. She caught it, put it back up to her ear, leaned around the doorway. Nathaniel was still transfixed. She whispered anyway. “Arrested? For what?”

“That’s not important. They won’t keep me for long. My parents have agreed to hide you, and they won’t tell Landon you’ve returned. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not worried about it for me. I’m worrying for Nathaniel.”

He sighed. “Yes. I am, too.”

The silence between them carried a lifetime of secrets. Hannah had a thousand questions, but nothing to say—not over the phone. She didn’t even know where to begin. Thoughts of archangels, conspiracies, and deicide vanished as quickly as they occurred to her. She shut her eyes. Pressed her forehead against the wall.

“Here’s the thing, James: I don’t have any money left. I can’t afford to go to Colorado.” It was physically painful to confess that aloud. “And don’t tell me to ask the coven here for help.”

“I wasn’t planning on it. It’s not necessary anyway—I’ve added you to my bank account. You’ll be able to withdraw whatever you need from the local branch. But move quickly; my transactions are likely to be monitored, and they’ll be looking for you.”

“Who?” she asked.

James gave a low, mirthless chuckle. “Everyone.”

“This week is going to be bad. Isn’t it?”

“Very bad. But after that, you’ll be safe. You and Nathaniel. You’ll never have to worry again—not about money, your safety, or any covens. I promise you that.”

“You’ve made promises before,” Hannah said. The laughter from the living room abruptly stopped as Nathaniel turned off the TV. She was out of time for questions. “I’ll see you in Colorado.”

She hung up the phone.

COLLAPSE

Dire Blood

Elise Kavanagh died while killing the mother of all demons, and her fight should be over. But nothing is ever that easy where the Godslayer is concerned. Elise has been resurrected–and she came back as a demon.

Now the most powerful witch in the world, James Faulkner, has been dragged to Hell and accused of violating an ancient treaty. The punishment is eternity in Hellfire. Elise is the only one who can save him. But it means following him into Hell to face inhuman urges, the secrets in her past, and the horror in her future.

The Godslayer’s fight isn’t over yet. It’s only just beginning…

Excerpt:

It was almost midnight on a cold, snowy evening, and Gary Zettel was patrolling the Union warehouse’s perimeter. Leather gloves and a black scarf protected him from the chilly wind, and his gun, vest, and slacks blended in with the darkness of the night. Only the white, six-inch letters stamped on his chest in reflective tape caught any light.

He shifted his grip on the gun to keep his fingers limber as he headed down the south side of the fence. The dirt had been packed down and laced with pressure-sensitive wire that could pinpoint the position of an intruding mouse, but beyond the barbed wire was nothing but wild, unguarded desert. Sagebrush and sparse trees made formless shadows that Zettel could imagine as a hundred hostile beings—a mob of angry human survivors, possessed demons, or some other foe they had yet to face.

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But the night was quiet. An icy breeze whispered through the sagebrush. His footsteps crunched on the dirt, and his leather gloves creaked as he checked his gun’s safety yet again.

Zettel reached the corner of the fence, swiveled, and headed in the other direction.

His aspis, Allyson Whatley, hurried out of the building. She was bundled in a heavy jacket zipped to her chin. He felt her approach an instant before he saw her; he always knew where she was, even when they were in different states.

Her square face was triumphant. “I did it.” She faced the cold desert as she spoke, and she barely moved her lips. “I finally did it.”

Zettel turned off his earpiece. “Let me see.”

She removed a scrap of cloth from her pocket. A complex symbol was embroidered in the center of the white linen square and stained by a bloody thumbprint. From her other pocket, she took out a folded piece of paper on which she had drawn the same symbol.

“Watch,” she said, and she flicked the paper in the air.

It burst into flame and turned to ash in her hand. The paper was gone so quickly that Zettel almost didn’t believe that he had seen it.

Allyson had finally replicated written magic.

“Does this mean you can make the wedge?” he asked, pulse speeding.

“I’ve already started.”

Zettel struggled to suppress his excitement, but the implications of this were dizzying. He punched his fist in the air. “Yes,” he hissed. It was the only moment of celebration he would allow himself.

“I’m going to finish it,” she said. “You can contact HQ when you’re ready. But…quietly.”

He nodded. Yes, quietly. Nobody could know what they had found. Not yet. And especially not his commander.

“I have two hours left on my shift,” he said. “Do you think you’ll be done by then?” She hesitated, and then nodded. “Good. Great. I’ll see you in two hours.”

“We’re so close,” Allyson whispered.

He nodded stiffly as she stuffed the cloth back into her jacket again. It took all of his strength not to follow her as she spun on her heel and returned to the building. Instead, he stared at the flakes of ash settling on the tightly packed earth and felt his stomach flip-flop. Not with nerves—Zettel didn’t get nervous—but with anticipation.

So close.

But not for a few more hours.

He flicked his earpiece back on. Composed his features. Resumed walking the perimeter of the fence.

Zettel was so distracted by the heady, dizzying sense of impending victory that he didn’t feel the tingle at the back of his neck until it was almost too late.

A pale flash caught the corner of his eye—too far to the south to be a guard at the nearest watchtower.

He froze, watching for another hint of motion.

The night was still.

Scanning the compound’s exterior, he took inventory of everything that was meant to be there: spotlights focused on the outside of the warehouse, a man patrolling the opposite fence in the same black uniform he wore, the waiting SUV that had been left with the driver’s side door open.

All quiet. Unremarkable.

Unease crawled over him. Zettel wasn’t skittish, and he didn’t imagine things. Especially not people that weren’t there.

He picked up his pace and headed toward the SUV, putting two fingers to the bluetooth headset in his ear. His excitement was suppressed by a rising sensation of something gone awry. “Mack? Anything registering on the pressure sensors?”

A buzz, and then, “Just you and Mason.

There were shadows on the ground on the other side of the SUV—two dark shapes that looked like feet.

“What’s Mason’s position?” he asked, lowering his voice to a whisper.

Another buzz. “Northeast corner.

Nowhere near the SUV.

Zettel lifted his gun. “Suspected intruder by the garage. I’m going to engage. Verify reinforcements.”

Negative, Gary. There’s nothing with you.

Then who was standing on the other side of the SUV?

He stood by the hood for a moment, taking measured breaths and preparing to engage. His pulse thudded in his throat and temples.

Zettel leapt around the vehicle and brought his weapon to bear.

Nobody was there.

The ground was empty, and the door stood open. There was no sign of what had caused the shadows. The earpiece was buzzing again, and he put his fingers to it to hear the transmission. “I repeat, Gary: do not engage. There’s nothing there.”

He pushed the talk button. “Roger.”

Zettel scanned the door into the garage, the open land, the total absence of unusual shadows. He wasn’t the kind of person who imagined things, but maybe the stress of surviving the apocalypse was starting to get to him. Just a little bit.

Lowering his sidearm, he put a hand on the SUV’s driver’s side door to shut it.

A blinking blue light caught his eye. Whoever had driven the vehicle last had removed their earpiece and forgotten it in the cup holder. That was the kind of laziness that their new commander, Malcolm, was letting the unit get away with. When Zettel had been in charge of the unit, he would have brought swift, harsh retribution upon whoever was stupid enough to lose their equipment.

But Zettel wasn’t in charge anymore—for the time being.

Muttering a few choice swear words, he leaned in to grab the earpiece.

Black eyes stared at him from the backseat.

Adrenaline rushed through him, slowing time to a crawl and making his vision sharpen. Zettel took a step back. Reached for his gun.

He couldn’t move fast enough.

A white flash rushed through the air and connected with his chest. They both hit the ground. His head bounced, blurring his vision and making his ears ring.

The sensitive wiring in the ground should have registered someone sitting on top of him and made his earpiece blow up with chatter. He could see her—pale face, black eyes, black hair, lips peeled back in a grimace. He could certainly feel her, with her hands digging into his vest and knees pressing against his gut.

But there were no alarms. His earpiece remained silent.

She ripped the gun from his hands and flung it across the ground. And then she vanished into midair, scattering into shadow like a flock of ravens.

A buzz. “We’re registering unusual activity in your sector. Did you fall over?” The tiny voice had a hint of laughter to it. The dick in the control booth was laughing at him. Nobody fucking laughed at him when he had been commander. When the Union put him in charge again, Mack was going to be the first on latrine duty.

He tried to punch the button his earpiece and missed. He hit it on the second try.

“I just got attacked,” Zettel said, scrambling to his feet and grabbing his gun. “There is an intruder, and it’s not registering on the sensors.”

Negative, Gary—”

But control was cut off by jangling alarms. They shattered the air, echoed over the plains, and made his eardrums vibrate. The spotlights on the building turned red and began to flash.

A dozen voices began speaking in his earpiece simultaneously.

Something just entered the garage level—”

“—registering a bogey, moving fast—”

What did you see? What is it?

Zettel felt a surge of satisfaction that was almost as strong as his confusion. He pressed the talk button as he ran toward the door, but he didn’t know what to tell them he had seen. The pale skin, dark hair, and how it had vanished into the shadows—those things always meant a demon of some flavor, like a nightmare or a succubus.

But what he had seen couldn’t have been a demon. It couldn’t.

Mason rushed to meet him at the side door, which stood ajar. The lights inside were on alarm, too, and black shapes rushed through the halls as sleeping kopides began to awake and mobilize.

“Jesus, what was it?” Mason asked.

I think it was a ghost.

That would have sounded insane, so all Zettel said was, “I’m going after the bogey. Drag Malcolm’s drunken ass out of bed and have him find me.”

And then he slammed through the door and entered total chaos.

The screeching alarms were worse inside the warehouse. They rattled and bounced off of the walls, and the pitch made his eardrums tremble. The alarm lights were red, so it took no time for his eyes to adjust after the darkness outside.

He was surrounded by shipping trucks and the crates they had been carrying, each turned to black cubes by the strobes.

Nobody was working in the garage that late at night. The only active personnel should have been patrolling, just like Zettel had been outside. But as far as he could see, the room was empty.

Footsteps banged on the metal walkway above. He whirled to follow the sound, raising his gun.

The runner vanished before he could target.

Swearing under his breath, he launched himself up the ladder and onto the walkway. The shadow had already reappeared on the opposite catwalk, shoved open the swinging doors into the hallway, and passed through.

Ragged breaths tore through his throat as he chased the disappearing and reappearing shadow. The chatter on his earpiece fuzzed in and out of static.

The shadow swept through the halls ahead of him, darkening a few feet at a time, like a black hand was moving over the lights one by one. Doors slammed around him, opening and closing of their own volition.

Occasionally, he saw a flash of a hand, a slender throat, a face glancing over a shoulder—like he was chasing a beautiful ghost through a forest of fluttering darkness.

He was never going to catch up.

“Issue a quarantine protocol on my level!” he shouted into the earpiece.

Mack moved fast. The fire shields began to slide over the hallway doors.

Zettel slid under the nearest one just in time to see the shadow pass around the next corner, near the armory. He could cut it off if he reached the next level first.

He leaped up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His shoulder bumped into a kopis as he passed his quarters. He recognized the cry of protest, even under the blaring alarms—Malcolm.

Then the shadow swept over them.

For an instant, it was utterly black. Something cold washed down Zettel’s spine. The back of his neck itched and crawled.

It was gone an instant later.

“The hell?” Malcolm asked. He slept naked, like he was still a bachelor at university, but he had his clothes bundled under one arm and a gun in the other hand. What a goddamn pig.

Zettel hit the button on his earpiece. “This level also needs to be closed, control. I think the bogey must be going for artifact storage.”

The commander tried to follow him down the hall, bouncing on one leg to pull on his pants. “Oi! Gary! What bogey?”

Between control’s shouts on the earpiece and the blasting alarms, the rest of the units in the warehouse were mobilizing, but it was too late. Men stepped into the hall seconds after Malcolm had already run past them, and the shadow was already long gone.

That meant that the lift would be too slow, too. Zettel launched himself up the stairwell, Malcolm just a few steps behind with his trousers around his knees.

He got out on the fourth floor. Went two halls down.

There was nobody in sight, and the door into artifact storage was still closed. Totally silent. No shadows, no ghosts, no intruders.

Uttering a silent thanks, Zettel punched his access code into the panel to check the logs. Text scrolled past on the screen, but he wasn’t sure what he expected to find. If the door was locked, then even a shadowy bogey wasn’t going to be able to break through three inches of heavy steel without leaving some traces.

No attempts at opening the door showed on the log for six hours. He had beaten the bogey there.

He squinted through the reinforced glass. There were no alarm lights inside the secure storage room, so he could barely make out the shelves of crates and containers inside as the strobes behind him flashed.

A strobe momentarily illuminated the aisle between the shelves. A woman stood at the end, wearing the shadows like armor.

Cold shock washed over him. For a moment, all he could do was stand with his mouth agape, face pressed to the glass. The intruder glanced up at him as she pulled a box off of the shelves. It was the size of a suitcase, and marked with the Union insignia.

How had she gotten inside?

Zettel inputted his access code, but it took a few seconds for the whirring locks to disengage. He slammed his fist into the door, as if that could make it go faster.

“You bitch!” he yelled, spit flecking on the door.

The woman saluted him with two fingers to her temple.

Click. The locks released. Zettel flung the door open.

Everything went black.

The heavy hand of darkness pressed against his mouth and nose, squeezing into his throat, down his chest, and gripping his lungs. The rattle of alarms filled his skull. An impact rocked through his spine.

And then the darkness was gone—and so was the bogey, the box, and any sign of her shadow.

Zettel had somehow ended up sprawled out on his back, and he wasn’t sure how or when it had happened. Maybe that had been the pain he’d felt. The bitch must have pushed him.

Before he could get up, Malcolm ran out of the stairwell, one hand hanging onto the pants around his thighs and the other holding a 9mm. He jerked his trousers over his hips and belted them. He was still shirtless and barefoot. He must have abandoned the rest of his clothing somewhere in the stairwell.

“Did you see her?” Zettel asked, scrambling onto his hands and knees.

“Her who?” Malcolm grimaced and pressed a hand to his temple. “God, that shrieking—someone turn that shit off. Hear me?” When the alarms continued, he put a hand to his earpiece. “Come on, you bastards, turn off the bells!”

Silence flooded the hall. Control was still chattering away, the useless fucks. Zettel turned the volume down on his earpiece.

“We’ve got a problem, sir,” he said, getting to his feet.

“We’d better have a problem, if people are waking me at midnight when I was having a good dream. What in the seven burning hells is going on, Gary?” His Irish accent was even harder to understand when he had been woken up from a drunken stupor.

“Intruder. Thief. We’re under attack.”

“What?” He blinked stupidly as the red spotlights cut out and turned white again. “What kind of intruder? Nightmare? Succubus?” He gave a low chuckle. “A succubus would definitely explain the dream.”

Zettel took a deep breath. Let it out. “She was on me for a second. I only saw a glimpse, but I think I recognized her. And considering what she took…”

“Hang on. Back up a few steps. Who is ‘she?’”

He braced himself for the ridiculous, impossible truth.

“It was Elise Kavanagh.”

Malcolm only stared at him, as if waiting for the punch line to a joke. It never came. “Elise Kavanagh’s body is in cold storage,” the commander said.

“I know.”

“She’s been dead for weeks. You were there when we picked up her body.”

Zettel nodded. “I know.” That day was permanently emblazoned on his memory—the first sunrise that touched Reno after days of darkness, the swirling snow and ash, the decimated buildings. Elise had gone down after killing Yatai, the mother of all demons.

She had already been cold by the time they’d found her. And what sweet satisfaction that had been. It was Elise’s fault that Zettel had been demoted.

He had watched the video of the autopsy with great pleasure. Had seen the mortician weighing her organs. Had read the report on her unusually low body fat and blood volume, her missing reproductive organs, her severed arm.

Elise was definitely dead. But she was also, almost as certainly, the thing that had attacked him.

Malcolm strode for the stairs and hit the button on his earpiece. “Control, I need you to get in touch with Union HQ and have someone check the refrigerators. See if there are any missing bodies.”

A buzz, and the response piped over Zettel’s earpiece, as well. “Roger that.” They jogged down the stairs to the garage, and it didn’t take long for control to respond—nobody ever slept at Union HQ. “Everything is intact, sir.

“Shit,” Malcolm said. He jumped in the first SUV they came across and waved to Zettel. “You’re coming with me, Gary. Let’s get the bitch that stole Elise’s face.”

COLLAPSE