Ruled by Steel

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

Book Cover: Ruled by Steel
Editions:Kindle - First Edition: $ 4.99 USD
ISBN: B00G7A6PGA
Pages: 391
Paperback - First Edition: $ 14.99 USD
ISBN: 1493547496
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 390
Audiobook - First Edition: $ 24.95 USD
ISBN: B00SU4ZO1S

Only a demon can save the souls in Hell.

Elise Kavanagh failed to prevent the Breaking, and now Hell is spilling onto Earth. She’s delved deep into the City of Dis in an attempt to stop the infernal armies–but even the legendary Godslayer is unprepared to face Dis’s fiercest demons, not to mention the responsibility of liberating the humans they’ve enslaved.

On Earth, rogue angel Nash Adamson is wing-deep in damage control after the Breaking, and his fellow angels don’t want to get involved. War is approaching the werewolf sanctuary. If Heaven won’t help them, he’ll have to turn to Hell for salvation.

Everything hinges on who can control the City of Dis. Elise and her allies have no choice but to rule by steel…

Excerpt:

Belphegor selected the slave because she wouldn’t look at him. There was mystery to seeing only the tip of her nose under her hair, the hunch of her shoulders, her shins peeking out from behind the protective armor of folded arms. There was so little mystery in his life these days.

“That one,” he said, pointing at the cage. It was only one cage in a row of a hundred on that floor. The capacity of the kennels could accommodate a thousand slaves when filled.

Bek tu?” asked his attending fiend in the infernal tongue. The words were stilted, the syntax poor, but Belphegor understood the meaning. Are you certain? It tentatively went on to say, “Pach ohk nati.There are better slaves here.

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The fiend was a stupid, slobbering creature; it cringed when Belphegor glanced in its direction. His pale fingers stroked the throat of his high-collared shirt, tracing the edge of his steward’s pin. It was a meaningless decoration now that the Palace had fallen, but one he wore with pride.

“Your concern is noted,” Belphegor said. He replied in the higher form of the demon language, which only those with the education and proper mouthparts could pronounce.

Another cringe. The fiend nodded, fumbling to untie the leather cord holding the cage door shut. There was no lock. The slaves never made more than one attempt at escape.

This slave did not cry, nor did she attempt to shrink to the rear of the cage. She simply bowed her head to her knees and seemed to grow smaller.

Without the mesh door between them and the mortal immobile, Belphegor could admire the little details: the lines of every rib from her shoulder down to the place her waist cut in too shallowly from malnourishment, the dust caking her hair, the delicate twist to her bony toes.

The slaves always looked so miserable in the mornings, after a full quarter’s rest; there was no avoiding the brutal air of Dis. It wreaked such havoc upon tender mortal tissues. But the baths were being sharpened, and she would soon be gleaming and tender, as befitted such delicate creatures.

Ah, she did not even tremble at his gaze. He wondered if she had attempted escape before. He thought he would have recalled the pleasure of bringing her back.

“This one will do,” Belphegor said with a nod.

He flourished a hand into the kennel. She simply shifted onto all fours and began crawling toward him without ever lifting her head. He couldn’t help but notice that one of her hands was bandaged. She was already broken.

Exquisite.

Her head remained lowered when she stood beside him, utterly naked but for the smears of crimson clay upon the swells of her breasts. Even with her body hunched, he could see that she was in good condition: svelte but muscular, young but hardened by life. He rubbed a lock of her hair to clean away the clay. It would not stick to his waxy skin, so it crumbled to the floor of the slave pens without staining his flesh. The slave’s hair was black underneath.

“Come,” Belphegor said, not unkindly, as he took her elbow.

Many of the other cages had already emptied. Lines of mortals shuffled toward the dry baths. They curved around him as he led her through their ranks, as if pushed away from him by force of gravity. The fiend limped at his side, dragging the blunted blade of his sword.

The usual stations of daily maintenance waited on the black slopes beyond the kennels. The House of Abraxas was a fortress built upon the slopes of Mount Anathema, and the rear of the property butted against a nearly sheer cliff face. A few iron trees jutted from cracks in the stone, thrusting toward the sky with sharp fingers, as if hungering for the slaves that walked past them.

Belphegor performed a casual inspection upon the guards as he approached the pit, ensuring that the fiends were in the places he expected and handling the slaves with the utmost care.

The lines were led past a pit where the slaves were instructed to relieve their bladders and bowels of what had not already been eliminated in their cages overnight. Then they were taken to the dry baths, where fiends waited with brushes and stones to scrape away the stink of mortal sweat. They would be fed after that—quite the hassle, since so many of the slaves began refusing to feed themselves after a few months. Manual application of nutrition was necessary for these fragile slaves.

Daily maintenance for the full complement of the House of Abraxas’s slaves took almost a full quarter, from the time they woke up on Second Monday to the end of Second Friday. But Belphegor’s hand-picked selection was lucky that day. She would bypass the lines and be given first priority for maintenance so that she might spend the rest of the day in the House with Belphegor himself.

The sky in Dis was violet that day—a strange color that he hadn’t seen in his millennia of service. The fissure didn’t reach the sky directly above the House of Abraxas, but Earth’s light was strong, and it changed the entire atmosphere of the place. Belphegor found it distasteful, but great reward required great sacrifice. If an easy access point to conquer Earth required tolerating the occasional moist bite of a spring breeze in Hell, he would tolerate it.

Belphegor strode toward the pit with the slave at his side. He did not need to push aside the line to make room for her. The slaves shied away from him.

He stepped to the edge, holding her arm to steady her.

“Empty your bowels,” he said.

Without ever lifting her head, she did as instructed, teetering somewhat precariously on the tip of the outcropping in a squat. There were several other outcroppings, all of which were occupied. The scent of human waste mingled with Dis’s sulfuric breeze. It was impossible to distinguish the sounds and smells of each individual mortal.

Once she rose, he took her elbow again.

They ascended to the dry baths: stone platforms on which the fiends scrubbed the slaves with wire brushes to scrub them. They were elevated to allow the lines of waiting mortals watch. Belphegor helped position her upon the table on all fours.

“We will give special attention to her hair,” he instructed the fiend, tapping his fingers on his chin thoughtfully. “And attend to her teeth, as well.”

The fiend hurried to offer the brush to him. Belphegor took his time scraping at the smears on her rear and legs, pressing hard enough that it would leave raised welts on the skin of most slaves. Her skin was firmer than it looked. Broken or not, she must have been thoroughly nourished to be so strong.

He attempted to lift her head to brush her teeth, but she would not comply with the hand on her chin.

“Come,” Belphegor said. “Allow me to clean you.”

Her chin remained lowered to her chest, lips pinched shut, eyes invisible under the fall of hair.

Not so broken after all.

Belphegor rubbed the pin of his stewardship again. It was cold compared to the heat of the air. Annoyance turned his mouth down at the corners.

He enjoyed struggle. He did not enjoy defiance.

But perhaps the struggle was to come. Some mortals responded strangely to their time at the House of Abraxas. Mourning the lives they had lost seemed to be a lengthy emotional process; perhaps this one simply had some fire left.

If there was despair within her, he would find it by the time daylight fell on Earth above.

The teeth could wait.

“To the feedings,” Belphegor said after brushing the clay from her hair.

She was as compliant taking her breakfast as she had been relieving herself into the pits; she ate everything without ever lifting her eyes. Belphegor rubbed his hand through her silken hair as she chewed and swallowed the serving of protein, which was culled from the organs of obsolete fiends. It was iron-rich and would fuel her well for the day to come. He daydreamed of it while separating her soft locks into sections, only to let them fall into place again.

They sat at the front of the dining hall, looking down upon the other slaves as they moved through their breakfast routine. They ate as they were bathed: on all fours, under the watchful eyes of fiends. Scarred bodies trembled as they dipped down on their elbows to lift flesh from the troughs with their teeth.

Belphegor did not make his slave eat with the others. She remained on her knees, and ate off of a plate in his lap. A fond smile crossed his lips as he continued to stroke her hair. She knew to use her mouth properly; there was no need to muzzle her.

The anticipation was too great. He was beginning to tremble with excitement by the time the last bite of raw meat slid between her lips. The wet sound of swallowing thrilled him.

A fiend approached Belphegor at the head of the room.

Tu nati omak?” asked the fiend. Will you be on the first run?

The slaves were entertained and exercised by two walks through the City proper each day. He liked to accompany them, sometimes. But not that morning.

“No,” Belphegor said, perhaps a little too quickly. “We will not be attending the run.”

He stood. The slave followed suit.

Together, they approached the noble House of Abraxas.

The entryway gleamed and black and proud. Jagged teeth adorned the arch of the doorway, which was thrice Belphegor’s height. A true wonder to behold.

To prevent the escape of indoor staff, the front door had to be unlocked from the exterior by guards. Belphegor waited patiently as the pair of fiends assigned to the duty operated the levers to either side of the door. It lifted, baring a foyer carved of pit glass and a spiral stair beyond.

As soon as they stepped through, the door slammed shut behind them.

The House was an impressive manor exemplifying the artistry of the finest infernal architects to have passed through Dis. Parts of it had been cut directly from the solid stone of the mountain; other parts had been carved from imported chisav bone, slaughtered en masse to near extinction in order to provide enough materials for the wings. The entryway itself was decorated with pit glass: a crystal-clear substance that glowed with light, but not heat.

The slave’s tender feet slapped gently on stone as they crossed the foyer. There was no hint of curiosity within her; despite the glory of the House, she never lifted her gaze from her feet. She hadn’t even taken her arms from behind her back since leaving the dining hall.

Belphegor dwelled in a room with simple trappings near the center of the House. It was better described by what it was not rather than by what it was: he had no keepsakes of his long years of service, no bed in which to sleep, and no decorations that might please more common eyes than his. It was merely a black box with a single window, a desk, and a switch controlling the front gates. It required a demon with Belphegor’s unusual strength to operate that lever; it could unlock every guard tower along the wall in case of emergency, and they would not trust it with anyone else.

The only other remarkable thing in the room were the chains on his wall.

They dangled in sensual silver lines, tipped with hooks and spurs and corkscrews that gleamed wickedly in Hell’s half-light. He had bolted them in various positions on the wall, low and high, to accommodate entertaining a slave of any height, in any position. He had left room only for a shining steel cabinet in the corner, which held his accessories. They did not match the chains so much as compliment them.

Abraxas had once tauntingly called Belphegor’s office a “play room.” Derisive as the intention had been, the steward found it to be an adequate descriptor.

“To the wall,” Belphegor told the slave, closing the door behind them. The bolt made a heavy, satisfying sound when it settled into place, signifying the privacy they were to enjoy. “Arms above your head, palms flat to the wall, legs spread.”

She stood in the center of the room, head down, and did not go to the wall.

More defiance.

Belphegor was uncertain if he wanted to break her when he had been hoping for a slave that was already shattered, but now they were there. His choice had been made. He was as resolute as he was hungering.

Pale, deft fingers loosened the collar of his shirt.

“To the wall,” he said again. He rolled the wrists of his sleeves back. The forearms underneath were shrunken and skeletal.

The slave finally lifted her head and looked him in the eye.

Her face was as beautiful as her body, in that human sort of way. Her lips were full and red. The curve of her jaw to her cheekbones and forehead formed the shape of a blunted spade—pleasingly youthful, though decidedly ageless. Her eyebrows were slanted, giving her an angry expression.

“No,” she said.

Familiarity swelled within him, though he could not determine why, exactly. He didn’t think it was because she had tried to escape before.

“To the wall,” Belphegor said.

She went to the wall—but she did not spread her legs. She wrapped her hand in one of the chains and snapped it from its moorings with a jerk of her arm.

The slave whipped the chain in a wide arc, snapping the spurs at his knees.

You go to the wall,” she said.

Her voice did not have that raw quality characteristic of slave voices. Whether screaming for mercy or whispering a prayer, they spoke as though their delicate mucus membranes had been stripped by granite. The dry air was brutal to a mortal’s system. Their entire bodies cried out from the endless agony of it. But hers did not.

It stood to reason, then, that she was not mortal at all.

“Who are you?” Belphegor asked.

She snapped the chain at him again with a powerful twist of her arm. “Palms to the wall. Spread your feet.”

It was absurd. Like a dog asking its master to roll over.

He reached for her with the intention of positioning her body by force. She ducked under his hand, flinging the chain like a whip to wrap it around his forearm. The tip of it tug into his sleeve and caught.

The slave wrenched it back, almost pulling Belphegor off of his feet. He was surprised by her immense strength. He actually staggered.

She had behaved so well. She had defecated on command, allowed her hair to be brushed, ate the meat without her hands. This creature was nothing like the thing he had led from the cage.

It wasn’t anger in Belphegor. He didn’t have those kinds of shallow emotions. But there was a sense of resignation—the cold realization that he had erred in some way, or that a fiend had, and that he was facing punishment for that error now. Instead of a blissful day in seclusion, he would have to terminate the problem. Killing her was not how he had hoped to pass the hours. Far from it.

The spur of the chain had dug into his flesh and scratched him. Ichor welled to the surface.

Rather than attempting to remove it, he seized the chain and used her grip on it to pull her toward him.

“Who are you?” he asked again. She struggled against him at first, digging in her heels, but her feet found no traction on the stone.

She released the chain as he advanced on her. A quick side-step put the desk between them. It was an obelisk at the center of the room and made an excellent barrier.

“I’m the one who’s taking the House of Abraxas,” she said.

Sit. Stay. Beg. Roll over.

Belphegor weighed the chain in his fist, dragging it behind him like a tail. Metal slithered against the stone flooring.

It did not matter, he supposed, who this woman was. The priority was rectifying his mistake swiftly—or perhaps not swiftly at all.

Perhaps he could still enjoy the day the way he wanted.

She would need to die. They didn’t have the facilities required to contain slaves that were not mortal, nor was there any need to keep a dangerous creature when the helpless ones served Abraxas’s purposes just as well. But he could chain and enjoy her before the death. Not as much as he would have enjoyed a mortal, unfortunately, but it had been a long time since Belphegor had broken anything with such spirit; he believed that he could salvage the day with creativity.

With a mere thought, he crossed to the other side of the desk, seizing the woman’s throat in his hand and using his grip to slam her into the window. If it had been made of ordinary glass, it would have cracked. He expected her skull to break instead.

Her head bounced and left no blood.

He tightened his fingers—and his hand closed into a fist on nothingness. Her throat, and the rest of her body, had disappeared.

Belphegor turned in time to see her launching a kick at his face. He tried to grab her ankle. Her leg vanished before it contacted his hand, yet the hard edge of her foot struck him along the temple—just as solid as her leg had been untouchable.

Selective incorporeality. Definitely not mortal.

“We will not conduct this fight on your terms,” Belphegor said, ducking under her second kick as he walked toward his desk. He stepped around her jabbing elbows and thrusting fists without breaking stride. She may have been able to disappear and reappear at will, but she was still not as fast as Belphegor.

He slapped a hand on his desk. Red light flared within the room.

“I have activated a ward,” he went on. “You will no longer be able to turn incorporeal.”

With that announcement, he snapped the chain at her. The hooked edge caught her skin. Blood welled to the surface where he expected to see ichor—not the sweet crimson blood of mortals, but an amber-colored sludge.

The slave tried to free her wrist, but the motion only made the hook dig deeper. He flicked his wrist and wrapped the chain around her forearm.

Again, he said, “To the wall.” He punctuated this by kicking her in the back. The woman stumbled and caught herself on the play room wall.

She wasn’t nearly as fast without the ability to phase. The woman turned, but he seized the back of her neck and smashed her face into the black bricks between chains, slamming twice. A crack suggested that her nose may have broken.

A shame to damage such a pristine face.

He did it again.

Belphegor didn’t react to her foot slamming on his instep, nor did the elbow in his solar plexus have any effect. He bound both of her arms together with the chain, hook firmly entrenched in her wrist, and attached them to a pulley. With two pulls on the rope, the slave’s arms were jerked over her head, stretching her naked body tall and long. A third pull lifted her to the tip of her toes.

She grunted, jaw clenched.

“I have other spells built into the mortar of my office,” Belphegor said, as emotionlessly as ever. “It is sound-proofed, and, yes, energy-proofed. If our interaction hurts you, please feel free to leak all of your infernal powers in panic. It will harm nobody within the House.”

“Thanks for the information,” she said. She still was not afraid, bound to his wall and warded into corporeality.

Belphegor removed a drawer from his cabinet and set it on the edge of the desk. He had a delightful mix of tools within the drawer: studded phalluses and corkscrews and jagged-toothed pliers. There were many things that might be able to put the fear into her.

He selected a leather gag with a spiked mouthpiece and turned to face her again.

While Belphegor had been distracted, she had used the strength of her arms and her feet against the wall to lift her body, bringing her bent arms level with her face. She chewed at the bandages on her hand with her canines. Cloth ripped, and the bandaging fell free.

Light flared on her hand where the flesh had been concealed. Colorful runes slid over her knuckles, between her fingers, and down the inside of her wrist. Now that they had been freed, they marched down her arms like insects.

It was magic, but magic that he had never seen before.

And no demon had cast magic since the era before the Treaty of Dis.

Belphegor was becoming mildly concerned.

He seized the first thing in the drawer that he touched—the studded phallus. It was crafted from dense stone, capable of heating to a searing temperature, with metal protruding from the mushroomed head. It would make an excellent a bludgeon.

She pointed her fingers at him. At the same moment, he lunged at her, raising the phallus over his head.

The slave spoke.

It was not English or the infernal tongue that fell from her lips, but a silent word that quaked the room, making the floor tremble under his feet and his desk shudder. One of the runes ignited and vanished. He felt it punch him in the chest.

Belphegor’s back slammed into the opposite wall. The contact was severe enough to make his vision momentarily black out.

When he could see again, the woman had freed herself and stood over him with the chain still wrapped around one arm.

“I think I told you to get against the wall,” she said.

Belphegor didn’t bother responding. He instead began to swell, allowing his limbs to stretch and chest to widen. He could grow to the size of the Palace’s once-glorious tower, given enough space; he believed he would only need to be perhaps twenty feet tall to crush this woman.

She jumped behind him and wrapped her arm around his throat before he could grow more than a foot. Her rune-encrusted hand spasmed wildly over his chest. With another word of power and a second ignited wound, he felt his muscles harden.

He could neither grow nor run—nor make any other motion.

Belphegor’s concern increased fractionally.

She pulled the silver chain tight around his body. Her strength was easily equal to his when his muscles were ossified by magic, and she trussed him with the chain within moments. She dragged him across the floor, hooked him to the pulley, and lifted him off of the ground so that his stiff legs dangled uselessly beneath him.

He could only watch as she flicked a couple more runes at him, placing a wall of fire on the floor between them and reinforcing the chains. When she finished, she stepped back to study him. The woman seemed satisfied with the result.

She wiped the amber blood off of her upper lip and picked up the phallus. She registered no emotion as at its appearance, though her grip was white-knuckled.

The slave rounded on him and swung.

Pain exploded across Belphegor’s face, making his vision erupt in stars. The second strike split the skin on his cheekbone. Cold blood coursed down the side of his face, chilling his immobile flesh.

“You’re fucking sick,” she said, tossing the bloody phallus in the drawer. “How many humans have you raped?”

“One every month for centuries,” Belphegor said. His lips barely moved.

She grunted. “Guess you lose count after a while.”

With Belphegor rendered momentarily harmless—only momentarily—she turned her attention to the switch in the center of the floor. It was a simple mechanism. Moving the lever from the ten o’clock position to the two o’clock was enough to throw open the gates. They hadn’t bothered making it more difficult to open since there were very few demons that were strong enough to manually operate it, and fewer still that could get past Belphegor’s defenses.

“It doesn’t matter if you open the guard houses,” he said as she tested the weight of the lever. “The wards are linked by soul and blood to the lord of the House. You cannot invade without his compliance.”

“Soul links don’t work once the owner is dead,” she said. “And I killed Abraxas weeks ago.”

For the first time, Belphegor felt fear.

She kicked the lever.

COLLAPSE

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Oaths of Blood

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

Book Cover: Oaths of Blood
Editions:Kindle - First Edition: $ 4.99 USD
ISBN: B00F0SXP6S
Pages: 340
Paperback - First Edition: $ 13.99 USD
ISBN: 1492356522
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 338
Audiobook - First Edition: $ 24.95 USD
ISBN: B00OVCJMX4

Werewolves are immune to every illness and can heal any wound. It should be impossible for one to become possessed by a demon. But that’s exactly what Seth Wilder is facing: a werewolf gone insane from possession. He has no choice but to deliver her to the only exorcist in America, Elise Kavanagh, who also happens to be a powerful demon known as the Godslayer.

Elise is in hiding when Seth and Rylie Gresham, Alpha werewolf, arrive seeking her help. She agrees, but everything has its price. What they learn about the possessed werewolf changes everything — Hell and Earth, the pack, and the future of the entire world…

Excerpt:

December 2012

It was dark on Capitol Hill that night—much too dark. There were streetlights to burn away the night, but by the time Senator Peterson reached them, they would snuff out like candles. The fountains that should have been illuminated were dark. The streets, normally bright with traffic, were devoid of life.

Dawn, and its accompanying safety, was hours away.

Until then, the senator was alone with the night.

“Light,” he gasped, pulling at the neck of his jacket. The fog of his evaporating breath billowed around his face. “I need light.” His words fell flat on the air, as if he were speaking into an invisible wall.

Harsh winter air burned at his lungs as he raced for the next street lamp. The pool of light on the sidewalk looked like the sweet promise of safety.

It blinked out the moment his foot touched it.

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Senator Peterson gave a ragged sob, no longer worried about people seeing him melt down in public. In fact, he would have been grateful for a swarm of reporters to take photos of his tear-streaked face, especially if they brought flash bulbs. Anything for a witness. Anything for light.

But there was nobody to see him there. All of the normal joggers, lawyers, security guards, and Union officials had somehow vanished.

He was alone. So very alone.

The senator ran up the stairs to his office, slipping on the half-melted snow as he attempted to pull the Bluetooth earpiece from his pocket. His hands scrabbled at the iron railing. When he caught himself, he nearly wrenched his shoulder out of its socket.

The earpiece slipped from his fingers and landed in a puddle.

“No, oh no…”

The lights in the building across the street turned off all at once, as though a power outage had hit the block. But there was no wind, no downed power line, no electrical problems.

Misty fingers of fog slid along the street, devouring everything on the ice-slicked road he had left behind.

Senator Peterson didn’t bother trying to retrieve the earpiece from the puddle.

He badged into his office building and slammed the door behind him, chest heaving. The lights were still on there. His entire body flooded with a relief so powerful that he almost fell over.

He allowed himself a pause, leaning against a wall to catch his breath and treasuring the glow of light on his skin.

“Thank the Lord,” he said.

Maybe he was safe. Maybe it wouldn’t follow him here.

He pushed the curtains aside to look through. Clouds hung in the sky overhead, heavy and violet with the promise of snow yet to come. He couldn’t see the building on the other side of the street anymore, nor could he see the sidewalk and lawn leading up to his offices. Even the stairs were being taken by that mist.

There was a figure moving in the fog.

Heart hammering, he let the curtains fall shut.

The senator turned on every light switch he passed, burning the shadows out of the corners of the hallway, behind the receptionist’s desk, in the elevators.

Senator Peterson reached his offices on the third floor to find that everyone had gone home already. His staff had been working long hours on the preternatural regulations bill, and there should have been at least an unpaid intern or two suffering at her workstation. Yet every desk was empty. The computers were powered off. He had never seen the building so empty.

He grabbed the phone off of an intern’s desk and punched in a phone number. It rang once before someone answered. “Hello?”

“Gary?” asked the senator.

“Yes, sir.”

Lucky again. First lights, now he had reached Gary Zettel. Maybe Senator Peterson wasn’t about to die after all.

“I need you to come to my office right now,” the senator said, approaching the windows that should have overlooked the courtyard. He could see nothing beyond the glass but the reflection of a pale, terrified old man with tufts of white hair and a suit too baggy for his frail form. “As quickly as possible. It’s an emergency.”

“Sir, with all due respect, we have a week to work on this bill. I have other commitments that need—”

“This isn’t about the damn bill! Someone is chasing me!”

Zettel’s voice sharpened. “What?”

How could he explain that the night was chasing him without sounding insane? No—there was no time for that. “Send a team right away. I’ll explain when you get here.”

Senator Peterson dropped the phone.

The fluorescent lights flickered.

He jumped, staring at the ceiling. The lights stopped flickering immediately, but it was enough to flood his system with fear again.

There was an antique blunderbuss over the desk in his personal office. He didn’t think it had been fired since his grandfather passed away, but he suddenly wanted to hold it in his hands very desperately.

The lights continued flickering as he staggered through the rows of desks toward his door, dripping snowmelt on the carpet. He shed his loose jacket, removed his tie. It wasn’t easier to breathe with less clothing. He still felt like he was smothering. Like the fog had taken up permanent residence in his lungs.

He jumped into his office in time for all of the lights to die.

Senator Peterson slammed the door and pressed his back to it. It was pitch black inside his office, but it wasn’t the tangible darkness that had been chasing him outside. That was on the other side of the door. Moonlight streamed through the window in silvery rays of hope.

His hand fumbled for the light switch.

The ceiling lights didn’t come on, but his desk lamp did. It illuminated the blunderbuss on his wall, the mess of paperwork on his desk, and the leather executive chair facing his window.

Senator Peterson took two steps toward his desk before the chair spun around.

A woman sat at Senator Peterson’s desk, and she had brought the night with her. Her hair seemed to melt into the black void of her leather jacket, isolating the white circle of her face, the spheres of her breasts lifted by an overbust corset. She was unaffected by the bite of winter. She was the bite of winter.

“Oh God,” he said.

The woman’s expression was almost pitying, but her blood-red lips curved into a frown.

Did she fear religious relics? Could his cross protect him? He fumbled to extract the rosary from underneath his shirt. “Begone!” he cried, shaking the crucifix at her.

She lifted an eyebrow. A bone-white finger drummed on his desk impatiently.

“Really?”

The rosary slipped from his trembling fingers. It bounced under his desk where he couldn’t see it. The woman didn’t even flinch. She stood smoothly, getting between Senator Peterson and his blunderbuss.

“I just—you didn’t—can’t we talk about this?” he asked, ashamed at how quickly his tone became whining.

“The time for talking has passed, Senator,” she said.

He screamed. She shattered into shadow.

COLLAPSE

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Sacrificed in Shadow

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

Book Cover: Sacrificed in Shadow
Editions:Kindle - Second Edition: $ 3.99 USD
ISBN: B00DYUMCPY
Pages: 328
Paperback - Second Edition: $ 12.99 USD
ISBN: 1490957413
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 326
Audiobook - First Edition: $ 24.95 USD
ISBN: B00II828EM

Sometimes, you need a demon to fight demons.

Lincoln Marshall is a small-town deputy with a very big problem. Six members of his church have been found dead, killed by a rogue werewolf. He’ll have to make a deal with the Devil to save victims that have gone missing — maybe literally. Elise Kavanagh, preternatural investigator and exorcist, is the expert when it comes to violent deaths at the jaws of evil. She’s also among the most powerful demons that Hell has spawned.

Elise jumps at Lincoln’s case, and it’s not just because of his down-home charm. Someone’s laid a trap for her in Northgate, and she wants to find out who. She’ll have to team up with Rylie Gresham, Alpha of the last surviving werewolf pack, to figure out who’s trying to blame the murders on werewolves. Only together can they stop the killings — and uncover the secrets buried in Northgate.

Excerpt:

It was the kind of bar where truckers stopped to pick up whores. The women hovered near the back door, smoking cigarettes and picking at their sores; they swayed to the road, back and forth, teetering on Lucite heels that stretched the malnourished muscles of their legs into ropes. The missing teeth were slightly more attractive than the rotting ones that remained.

They catcalled to Lincoln Marshall when he pulled up in a rented ’96 Toyota Corolla. A brittle-haired blond in her forties plumped her breasts, wrinkled to hard leather from too much sun, and grabbed his crotch the instant he stepped from the car.

“Look at him,” she told the others. “I love a man with money.”

He pushed her hand away, but another took its place. A cracked French manicure dug into his balls.

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“Smells nice,” said Frenchy, sliding her palm down the shaft through his briefs. He didn’t even manage a half-hearted erection.

“Smells like Axe,” said a third. “I love Axe.”

“Don’t touch me,” Lincoln said.

The blond barked a nicotine laugh. “Queer.”

He pushed away the next attempt to grope him, and the next.

“Think he’s queer? He looks queer.”

“What a faggot.”

“Cut him,” said a fourth.

Lincoln had seen the likes of these bitches when he was in college. They were flies buzzing around the corpses of good towns gone sick, feeding on the rot in the hearts of men. The only way to eliminate them was to eliminate the corpse.

He smoothed a nervous hand over his hair, cropped so that it wouldn’t brush his ears or collar. He bumped the door of the Corolla shut with his hip. And then he drew his badge. The brass shined in the caged lightbulb on the bar’s back door. Six points of a star, nestled comfortably in leather backing, encircled the insignia of the Grove County Sheriff’s Department.

“Don’t touch me,” Lincoln said again.

This time, the women listened. He blinked and they were gone.

Lincoln Marshall turned a full circle, looking for the pungent women that had greeted him. There was no hint of lycra or animal print. He couldn’t even smell tobacco anymore.

Semi trucks slumbered on a patch of bare dirt behind the bar, reduced to black rectangles against the navy sky. Music rattled through the tin-paneled walls of the bar, jittering the boards nailed over the windows. Lincoln heard laughter inside, the too-loud voices of drunk men shouting, the rattle of glass bottles.

But the women were gone. They hadn’t even left footprints in the dust.

He grabbed the handle of his car door, tempted to drive away. Instead, he pocketed his badge again, and pulled out a notebook. He had written three things on the first page: The Pump Lounge (US-93), Lucas McIntyre - The Hunting Club, and Find the woman. There was a hundred dollar bill tucked in the back page in case he needed gas or a tow truck. The rest of the money was at home. All five thousand of it.

Notebook back in pocket. Hand smoothed over his hair. Deep breaths.

Lincoln Marshall walked into The Pump Lounge.

A live band played on a three feet-by-three feet platform in the corner that passed for a stage. Banjo, drums, vocalist, none of them with any obvious skill. It didn’t matter. Nobody was listening.

At one table, three bikers in fringed leather vests argued with a jaundiced skeleton of a man. An old woman wearing Daisy Dukes was sobbing at another table, consoled by a trucker. A man was slumped at the end of the bar, thigh fat drooped over either side of the barstool, snoring into a pile of vomit. The bartender, a brick house of a woman with a heart tattooed on her cheek, wiped down the chunks with a dishtowel.

“What you want, sugar?” she asked Lincoln. Her eyes flicked over his polo shirt, khakis, and loafers.

“Lime and tonic on the rocks,” he said. “I’m driving.”

“You’re stained,” the bartender said, jerking her chin at his crotch.

He looked down, surprised to see a circle of moisture over the lap of his khakis. He hadn’t even been aroused by the assault outside, yet his body had reacted to the pawing.

Angry heat crept up his neck. He could see his face purpling in the sliver of clean mirror behind the bar. He was a handsome man, Lincoln Marshall, and he knew it—from the square jaw to the bright hazel eyes, the cheekbones that could cut right through any woman’s heart, and the broad shoulders. Girls in high school used to tell him to go to Hollywood. Become an actor. But he’d returned from his full-ride football scholarship to protect Grove County. Nothing was more important than that.

He wasn’t a man that wet himself over crack whores.

“Don’t take it personal,” the bartender said. “They get everyone.” She slid a tumbler toward him. He caught it.

“There was nobody out there,” Lincoln said.

She gave him a knowing look. “Take the booth. He’ll be here soon.”

“Who?”

The bartender had already turned her back.

Lincoln glanced at the door that he had used as an entrance. The night outside was black, blacker than it had any right to be. He couldn’t even see the rickety wooden steps leading to the threshold. It was like someone had draped a blanket over the doorway. He wouldn’t be going out that way.

He wouldn’t be going out the supposed front door, either. It was nailed shut. He got a real good look at the bent nails as he slid into the booth positioned next to it. The table was covered in a yellow crust. Sulfur? It was hard to tell with the overbearing stench of piss and vomit and cheap liquor.

Lincoln set the tumbler down. He didn’t dare drink. Alcohol-free or not, he didn’t trust the bartender to serve him something that wasn’t laced.

Ripping napkins out of the metal container, he scrubbed at his trousers. He had shot a load at having broken fingernails dug into his genitals and hadn’t felt the orgasm. Some unsettled part of him wondered if the hooker had stolen the sensations from him. The Devil was working black magic behind a bar on US-93, miles from Alamo City, where even God couldn’t shine His light.

“You’re a long way from home, Deputy.”

A bear of a man took the opposite side of the booth. The hair on his head was prematurely receding, but what remained looked like it had been dyed blue with Kool-Aid. What his scalp lacked carpeted his beastly arms and stuck out the collar of his wife beater instead. He wasn’t trying to hide his shoulder rig. Two pistols, positioned for a cross-draw, gleamed black in the dim light of The Pump Lounge.

“Lucas McIntyre?” Lincoln guessed.

McIntyre tongued his stretched labret plug and smiled.

In any other situation, Lincoln would have offered to shake his hand. But he still had a fistful of messy napkins and his nerves were wound tight. He wasn’t going to touch this filthy redneck riddled with facial piercings, not when a single touch from the women outside had juiced him dry of both semen and courage.

Find the woman.

“How can I help you?” McIntyre asked.

“Aren’t we still waiting on someone?”

“No.”

“You said on the phone that you could hook me up with her,” Lincoln said.

“I can. You talk to me first.” His sentences were staccato, choppy as his thinning hair, like talking was an effort.

Lincoln tossed the napkins onto the table. “I could have talked to you on the phone if it was like that. I didn’t have to come…here.”

“You did ‘cause we said you did,” McIntyre said. “Tell me what you need. I’ll tell you if you can see her.”

Lincoln didn’t like this. Not one bit. But he could tell when he was cornered. He had no leverage to negotiate, and he wanted out of this hellhole as soon as possible. “There have been murders. I’m told that she’s the expert with this stuff.”

“Deputies deal with murders,” McIntyre said.

“They’re considered animal attacks. The bodies are mauled beyond recognition. Remaining flesh is semi-masticated, and the rest of the bodies are consumed.”

“First they’re murders, now they’re animal attacks.”

“It’s both,” Lincoln said.

McIntyre raised his pierced brows. “So it’s like that.”

“Yeah. It’s like that.”

“Full moons?”

“And new,” Lincoln said grimly.

That was the information that clearly convinced McIntyre. An average crackpot wouldn’t know that werewolves—real werewolves, the Devil gloved in a man’s skin—transformed twice a month: once when the moon was full, and once when there was no moon at all.

McIntyre rubbed his jaw with a meaty hand. There was a chunk missing from his chin that looked like a bite wound. “How many?”

“Six dead.”

“Survivors?”

“None,” Lincoln said. “Yet. But there have been two missing people. We don’t know if they’re dead or if they’ve been…taken.”

“You want to find these people?” McIntyre asked.

It was a weird question, and equally as probing as the question about the phases of the moon. Lincoln sat back against the ripped leather bench as he considered. If he wanted to find the missing people—if they found them alive, bitten, and changed—they would have to do something about the fact that they had become werewolves. It was, at its core, a question about Lincoln's sympathies.

For the last year, the newly-formed Office of Preternatural Affairs had taken a tough stance against all things evil and fanged. Their obvious yet unspoken policy on werewolves was toughest of all: extermination. Werewolves were already an endangered species. The OPA hoped to make them extinct.

He couldn’t exactly disagree with the sentiment, but if the OPA learned that Grove County had a werewolf problem, they would get involved. Lincoln didn’t want an OPA office in his town. It was his county, his people, and he wasn’t going to let the feds take it from him.

“I called you instead of the OPA for a reason,” he finally said. Let McIntyre make of that what he would.

The fact that Lincoln wasn’t supporting their scorched-earth policies seemed to please McIntyre. “Maybe we’ll help,” he said. He pulled his girth out of the booth. “Let’s see what she thinks.”

Lincoln glanced down at his drying khakis before rising, too. He left the tonic on the table. “Where is she?”

“Out back.”

He was torn between relief at leaving the stench and cacophony of The Pump Lounge behind, and trepidation at stepping out into that darkness again. He gripped the back of the booth. Dug his fingernails into the leather. Eyeballed the bent nails holding the front door closed.

McIntyre was oblivious to his hesitation. He flicked a wave at the bartender, who was trying to drag the unconscious man off of his bar stool, and headed to the back door.

Lincoln followed.

The music chased them out into the cool autumn evening. The dome lights were on in one semi’s cab. He could see the forty-something woman grinding against the driver, whose head was thrown back in ecstasy. She caught Lincoln's eye through the window and winked. Then the light went off. It was so very, very dark inside.

“Lord help me,” Lincoln said.

McIntyre shot a look at him for that. “Careful whose name you take in vain out here. She’s not a fan.” He nodded at Lincoln's collar. “Hide that, too.”

The deputy had forgotten that he was wearing a crucifix on a slender gold chain. He put a possessive hand over it. “Why?”

“Just do it.”

Thoughts of vampires and the Devil flitted over Lincoln's mind, quickly followed by the thought of all the dead people back home.

It took two tries to work the clasp. He kissed the crucifix, said a prayer, and dropped it into his pocket.

McIntyre led Lincoln through the darkened trucks. Some of them were shaking. He thought he heard moaning. He imagined those women turning tricks inside, and then quickly stopped himself—he didn’t know what might happen if he dwelled on the mental image of sun-leathered cleavage, French manicures, and Lucite platforms. In the vast, sagebrush-pocked night, Lincoln feared his thoughts might become tangible, take on a life of their own.

“They won’t bother us,” McIntyre said, as if catching the tenor of Lincoln's thoughts. “Not when I’m here.”

“What…?” Lincoln began to ask. His mouth dried.

“Succubi.”

“So it’s true,” he said. “Demons have infested the western states.”

Nevada, Arizona, and Utah’s plight had been broadcast over the news networks virtually nonstop for months. The west had gone wild again. Demons owned the desert.

Lincoln couldn’t wait to get home.

Find the woman. He clenched his fist on the crucifix in his pocket hard enough for the corners to leave an imprint on his palm.

McIntyre led him to a copse of Joshua trees. The Pump Lounge was reduced to a lonely red light near the highway, and Nesbitt Lake was a line of paler blue on the horizon.

That was where they stopped.

“Say your problem,” McIntyre said. “Loudly.”

Lincoln looked around, confused. They were alone among the human-like figures of the trees. A breeze whispered through the sagebrush.

“I already told you what’s going on,” he said. “Are we being watched?”

McIntyre flicked a lighter, lit a cigarette, took a drag. “Say it.”

Lincoln took a bracing breath. “I’m Deputy Lincoln Marshall from the Grove County Sheriff’s Department. I believe we have a werewolf problem. There have been six murders, and two people are missing. I want your help finding them.”

He felt dumb speaking to the Joshua trees, and dumber still when there was no response.

McIntyre tilted his head as if listening to a strain of distant music. “Who’s missing, deputy? Tell me about ‘em.”

“A man,” Lincoln said. “Thirty-three years old. Bob Hagy.” He licked his lips to wet them, tightened his fist on the crucifix. It was so quiet out here. “And a, uh, a girl—nine years old. Lucinde Ramirez.”

“You’re lying,” McIntyre said.

“What?”

“You’re lying about the victims. Lucinde Ramirez hasn’t gone missing.”

Unease crept over Lincoln's heart. “Her disappearance has been assigned to me. That’s what it says on the report. Nine years old. Lucinde Ramirez.” McIntyre held out the cigarette as if offering it to someone else to smoke. Not Lincoln. “Why do you think I’m lying?”

“Because she says you’re lying,” McIntyre said.

And the cigarette suddenly wasn’t in his hand anymore.

He hadn’t dropped it or put it out. It was pinched between his first finger and thumb one moment, and then gone the next.

Light flared behind Lincoln, briefly splashing his shadow over the trunks of the Joshua trees.

He turned.

A woman stood behind him, taking a deep drag on the cigarette. The top of her head came to Lincoln's chin. Black hair was pulled back into a long ponytail, and a form-hugging tank top bared an inch of pale midriff above her belt. Her legs were encased in leather leggings and low-heeled boots. It took Lincoln a moment to look up from the alluring peek of navel to her face, and once he did, he was transfixed. Her lips were full and red. Her irises were black.

Where the supposed succubi had been wrecked, hideous women, this creature of the night was beautiful and youthful. Ageless, almost. The Devil had taken a much more tempting form.

Lincoln had found the woman.

Elise Kavanagh.

“Lucinde Ramirez has been dead for four years,” she said, flicking her thumb against the butt of the cigarette. Ash fell to the desert. “She would have been nine if she’d survived.”

Lincoln struggled to remember how to speak.

“That’s all I know,” he said.

She glanced over his shoulder. “McIntyre?”

“He seems legit to me. Up to you.”

“Werewolves,” Elise mused. Her lips puckered around the cigarette. Lincoln was jealous of it.

“Didn’t you have a run-in with werewolves once?” McIntyre asked, sauntering over to take the cigarette from her. He seemed comfortable with Elise, almost fraternal, as if she hadn’t appeared from nothingness outside a pit of succubi.

“Yeah,” she said. “Long time ago in Kansas. I’m not a fan.”

“Will you help me?” Lincoln asked.

She walked up to him, standing close enough that their bodies nearly touched. Her head tilted back so that she could study him. It wasn’t the night that made her eyes look black. They were black, from iris to the edge of her pupils.

Lincoln felt the strange urge to kiss her.

He didn’t move when she reached her fingers into his shirt pocket, removed his badge, and studied it. She traced a fingernail over the text. Then she put it back. Her hand lingered on his chest, as if she were interested in the pounding of his heart.

“Fine,” Elise said.

He hadn’t been expecting that answer. After everything that Lincoln had been forced to go through to get a meeting with this woman—flying all the way to Nevada, driving out on US-93, going to that hellhole of a bar—he had been expecting an argument.

“Really?”

“Yes. I’ll meet you there,” Elise said.

“Where?” Lincoln asked. “When?”

But she was gone.

He couldn’t have looked away for more than a half-second—the length of time it took to blink—but the woman had vanished. The cigarette smoldered in the dust at his feet. McIntyre stubbed the embers out with his toe, wiping his hands off on his jeans.

“I’ll call you later to arrange payment,” McIntyre said. “You know it’s not free, right?”

“I know,” Lincoln said.

“Cool.”

McIntyre sauntered away—not toward the bar, but toward the lake.

Lincoln was alone, but he didn’t feel alone. Invisible eyes made his skin crawl. He put his crucifix around his neck again and walked back to The Pump Lounge, barely resisting the urge to break into a run.

When he arrived, he found the building dark. There was no music, no shouting, no clinking of glass. He pushed the back door open.

The stage was uninhabited, the bar was dusty, and everything was coated in sulfur.

Empty.

In fact, it looked like it had been empty for months. The desert had begun to reclaim the property. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling. A thick layer of dust covered the floor, which had holes the size of Lincoln's Toyota in it. The roof was rotting away.

His heart pounded in his throat as he backtracked to his car. The trucks weren’t rocking with the ministrations of the women anymore, and Lincoln wondered if he would find dead truck drivers inside if he looked.

He didn’t look.

Lincoln got behind the wheel and drove.

COLLAPSE

This book occurs after the final book in The Descent Series and after The Cain Chronicles. You don't have to read either series to pick up Sacrificed in Shadow, but you might enjoy reading them to get a sense of the bigger picture.

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