Fall of the House of Cat

Mr. Poe’s months-long rivalry with Cèsar Hawke comes to a head when they’re forced to cooperate on an investigation. The vampire barista’s house has been falling apart since her feline companion passed away, and she’s convinced it’s punishment for her sins as a cat mom from the god of cats himself. Searching for the truth leads Mr. Poe on a treacherous path of mortality, mystery, and trying to convince his owners they don’t need a second cat.
The fourth entry in the Psychic Cat Mysteries novelette series.

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
Genres:
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Masque of the Red Cat

There's no mystery a sharp mind like Mr. Poe's can't solve. He's saved the soul of a dead warlock and taken down a murderous, knitting vampire. When he begins having visions of devastation around Haven, he's prepared for the fight.

Unfortunately, Mr. Poe's family still thinks he's an ordinary black house cat, and they've become intent on ensuring he's an indoor cat. Thanks to a magical collar, he can no longer leave the house.

When his visions of disaster strike, Mr. Poe must use his brilliant mind to solve the mystery—without ever leaving his favorite sunbeam.

Showdown

Twenty heroes have been stolen. Removed from their times, their worlds, and their lives, they're put in front of a bloodthirsty audience to fight.

Every one of these people has fought to save the world. They've killed and died. And now they must become enemies in order to meet the monster behind it all.

Showdown is a 30,000-word novella that was originally serialized online as an interactive reader event. It's not intended to be read unless you're a fan of The Descentverse (such as The Descent Series, The Ascension Series, or Seasons of the Moon).

Excerpt:

NOVEMBER 9, 2019.

Rylie Gresham woke at three o'clock in the morning, and she wasn't certain why. Her bedroom was still and her werewolf ears could tell the world outside was asleep. The sanctuary had been peaceful as of late; with the new hospital facilities, freshly built downtown, and the new Academy under construction, everyone was kept productively busy. Too busy to fight. Too busy to stay awake at night when the air hung with a quiet chill.

Her mate, Abel, wasn't with her. Is something wrong?

She donned her bathrobe and padded to the kids' room. Benjamin slept peacefully, sprawled over the toddler bed he refused to trade for a Big Boy Bed. His baby sister slept peacefully on a floor mat because she kept climbing out of the crib. Rylie’s aunt, Gwyneth, took the twin bed, and the zombie would have woken if they needed anything. They hadn’t roused Rylie.

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"Then why am I awake?" Rylie whispered to herself, shutting their door silently.

And where is Abel?

She headed barefoot into the night. It wasn't too cold for a werewolf Alpha. Her breath came out as fog while her toes scrunched against ice. The clouds had vanished. It felt like the stars were watching her.

A wind lifted. It smelled of coffee, whiskey, and cannabis. Rylie's nose wrinkled at the scent, turning to look for the source—

—and she found herself facing a stadium.

It was an open dirt was lit by fires around the edges. Across that pit, the benches were filled with a quiet group, watching the ground with anticipation. Rylie’s acute eyes could make out every detail of the onlookers in the darkness. Her nose told her that if she was in some kind of strange viewing box, there were others next to hers, occupied by other people.

The entire world had changed in a blink and she’d felt no sense of movement.

Shock rolled through Rylie's body. She tried to take a quick step back onto her stairs, but they weren't there. She bumped a stone bench hard enough to bruise her ankle.

"Ow!"

"Careful," said a lovely young woman with mounds of chestnut curls, who sat against the wall in the corner.

She looked familiar. Her luminous white-blue eyes were the signature mark of an angel, which put Rylie’s hackles on edge. She’d met few angels who she could trust. "Who are you? Where am I?" Rylie asked.

"I'm Marion," said the girl.

Rylie blinked. "No you're not." Marion was one of Ariane Garin's daughters, and she was an adorable schoolchild with too much attitude and little respect for adults. She’d spent last summer staying with Rylie. She wasn’t even tall as Rylie’s ribcage yet, much less a gazelle-legged supermodel with glowing eyes, a designer gown, and eerily calm features.

"You look young, which explains why you don’t know me like this,” Marion said thoughtfully. "I don't think you and I were pulled from the same year. Where did you wake up today?"

"The sanctuary," Rylie said. "Um, in 2019."

"Ah, yes. It's 2032 for me." Marion hugged herself, even though the stadium was warm. She shivered. "Don't try to leave. We can't. Whoever brought us here—”

The fires blazed higher, erupting with a boom that washed charcoal heat over Rylie. The crowd erupted with cheers, launching from their benches to wave their arms over their heads. They were a diverse crew, from what Rylie could see and smell. There were demons, sidhe, angels, and humans among them, mingled as one.

Something was beginning.

Rylie edged to the waist-high wall overlooking the stadium. A pair of people walked into the dirt pit.

"Army of Evil, we hear you!" roared a beast of a woman with a cat coiled around her shoulders. She wore all leather. She was plastered in so many tattoos that hardly a bare inch showed. "You want a showdown of heroes? We'll give you a showdown of heroes!"

"Showdown?" Rylie echoed in a whisper.

"I'm Louise the Monster," went on the woman. "This here's Flora the Destroya. Make some noise!"

They lifted their arms to receive the adulation. Rylie clutched her heart, adrenaline rising at the sound.

Flora had sharp eyes and a mischievous smile. "We've pulled twenty champions from every world we could reach—the infernal and ethereal planes, and the Middle Worlds—at the times when these heroes were strongest. All of them veterans of war. And none of them have any choice but to fight for our entertainment!"

This pleased the crowd too—this Army of Evil.

Rylie grabbed the half-wall so she could lean out and look for somewhere to escape. But she butted against an invisible wall. It zinged like she’d made the mistake of blow drying her hair with wet hands again. She jerked back.

"Fights are to the death," said Flora. "Two by two, we're going to narrow these heroes down to person standing!"

"They won't be dead forever," added Louise. "Once they drop dead, they're going back to their lives with no memory of this. There are no costs. No consequences. Just glorious battle! And today, we're starting with two of the greatest—Elise Kavanagh, from the Breaking, and Deirdre Tombs from the first election for Alpha werewolf!"

Iron gates rolled open from either end of the pit. Rylie's heart splashed into her stomach as she watched the two woman enter.

Elise Kavanagh was a demon. Pale flesh, flowing black hair, and looking pissed as hell. Rylie pitied her opponent until she saw an unfamiliar shifter stroll into the arena...and immediately catch fire, standing in the midst of a blazing inferno. Rylie had never heard of a shapeshifter who could catch fire. This was something else entirely.

"Who's ready for some fun?" shouted Flora.

COLLAPSE

Wretched Wicked

An Urban Fantasy Novella

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

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

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

Lonesome Paladin

An Urban Fantasy Novel

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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


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

COLLAPSE

Bitter Thirst

Cèsar Hawke works for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, and until now, his detective work has been a secret to the nation. But a Senator has been publicly assassinated in Washington DC…by a demon. Now America knows that the preternatural are real. Everyone knows it's real.

The doomsday clock is ticking. A change is coming. And if Cèsar doesn't stop the Apple cult from sating their bitter thirst for power, then all Americans will end up fodder to feed hungry angels.

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
Genres:
Tags:
Excerpt:

The door to the sidewalk blasted open before he could shoot.

Literally blasted—the holes that appeared around the handle looked a heck of a lot like they’d been made by shotgun pellets. Not that I was an expert. If I had no choice but to swing a gun around, my preference was more of the Desert Eagle persuasion, not a Remington 870 loaded with double aught.

Without a lock, it took only a single swift blow from the heel of a cowboy boot to bounce that sucker open.

A woman stood on the other side. She was shaped like the red marks on a black widow’s swollen gut and her fangs came in the form of steel with a wooden stock. Long, slender braids swayed behind her, tipped with beads that chimed when they hit each other.

“Down, asshole,” she said to me.

And you believe me when I say I got the fuck down.

READ MORE

About a half second later, blood sprayed onto the wall behind me. It wasn’t my blood. Ofelia’s aim was way better than that.

There was skull and brain stuck to the middle of that splatter.

I looked up to see a dead body dropping to his knees, and then sliding onto his face.

When my ears stopped ringing, I could hear an explosion of chatter in my earpiece. Talk, talk, talk. They’d heard the shot. Now people were worried we’d blown the perimeter around the hotel. Weren’t any of them worried about whether I’d got blown away?

I pushed the button on my earpiece as I pushed back to lean on my heels. “Chill out,” I said, ears muffled by the too-close gunfire. It sounded like I was talking through a toilet paper tube. “I’m alive.”

The microphone rustled and when someone spoke again, it was a familiar male voice, which brought to mind narrow features topped with a brush of yellow hair. “We heard a shot. Verify your condition, Hawke.”

Oh man, someone cared about me.

Too bad it was fucking Fritz Friederling, who was obligated to care about me just because I was his aspis.

“I’m all right,” I said.

A hand thrust into my vision. It was a dainty feminine appendage with a piercing on the long pinky nail. Who the fuck pierces their fingernails?

Ofelia. That was who.

I grabbed her hand and she pulled me to my feet. Then she grabbed my earlobe, yanking me down so she could speak into my microphone: “Agent Hawke just got his ass saved by his baby sister.”

COLLAPSE

Frequently Asked Questions

Will Bitter Thirst be released as an audiobook?
Yes. The narrator who voices Cèsar (Jeffrey Kafer) and I have made arrangements, but he's a busy guy. He won't have time to do this book until Fall 2017. Thanks for your patience - we're all excited to get this book to you!

Is this the last book in the Preternatural Affairs Series?
No. There will be one more book, which I plan to be the end of this series. It will not be the end of Cèsar, though. Don't despair!

Do I need to read the other Preternatural Affairs books before I read this one?
Probably. I make an effort to include all the "need to know" information in every book I publish, but you'll enjoy a much deeper story if you've got the seven books leading up to this one rattling around in your noggin.

Preternatural Affairs

Witch Hunt, Silver Bullet, and Hotter Than Helltown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most days, I said.

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

The cops disagree. Now Cèsar is running.

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

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

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

How hard can one more be?

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

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

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

If he survives the first week.

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

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

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

What kind of bad guy is too hot for Helltown?

Once Darkness Falls

The worst case scenario has happened: Reno NV has fallen to demons.

Someone at the Office of Preternatural Affairs fucked up.

As the lead of a secret internal investigations team, Agent Cesar Hawke needs to discover who is responsible.

And then he needs to kill them.

Excerpt:

I woke up to my phone ringing. That was a sure sign that I was about to have a bad day.

See, I don’t do the girlfriend thing, and I don’t have much by the way of man-friends either. If someone’s calling me in the middle of the night, it can only be my employers—the Office of Preternatural Affairs. It can only mean I’ve been volunteered for overtime. And the OPA doesn’t want to pay overtime unless shit’s going down.

The instant the ringing phone shattered the dream of being served fancy drinks with umbrellas by Rihanna, my gut told me that shit had gone way down.

It wasn’t like I’d developed magical powers of precognition. I’d just been conditioned to feel powerful dread whenever I was woken up with a phone call.

I know what follows middle of the night phone calls.

Hint: it doesn’t involve a sexy singer from Barbados bringing me a Mai Tai.

READ MORE

I was rolling out of bed to get dressed even as I answered my phone. “Agent Hawke here,” I said, handset pinned between my chin and shoulder as I stripped my sweat pants.

“Come outside.”

That wasn’t the voice of the woman who worked in dispatch—who I wasn’t actually sure was a real woman at all. The same individual seemed to work twenty-four-seven and her voice was a monotone, so I’d always harbored the theory she was a robot. Probably a magical robot, knowing us.

No robots for me tonight. The voice on the other end of the line was my best friend-slash-partner in crime-slash-guy who had recruited me to work for the OPA-slash-the director of the Magical Violations Department, Fritz Friederling—the one and only blond Jet Li of Beverly Hills.

I froze with one leg in my slacks, the other balanced on the edge of my bed. It freed up a hand for me to switch the phone to the other ear.

“What’s up?” I asked warily.

The OPA doesn’t call in the middle of the night unless something’s wrong, but Fritz might call for fun. Billionaires have some weird-ass quirks. The guy has been known to drive a cherry-red Bugatti around Westmont, for fuck’s sake.

“You heard me the first time, Hawke.” He hung up.

“Fucking fuck,” I grumbled under my breath, along with a few other select words that no decent guy says. I’m not real decent, though.

I finished getting dressed. Whatever Fritz wanted was gonna involve wearing the monkey suit, whether it was a job related to the OPA or one of his special tasks. Like the time he’d picked me up on a weekend to act as his bodyguard at the races. Not horse races—demon races. Turned out that chisavs could run faster than the wind when motivated by the right kind of meat. And the dress code at the races was strict as any government office.

Jesus, I hoped I wasn’t going to have to follow him around the races again. I hadn’t had to block that many knife attacks before in my life.

But by the time I was shoving my feet into loafers that hadn’t seen better days for at least two years, I heard the sound. That thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of a helicopter descending.

That told me we wouldn’t be going to the races.

See, I hear helicopters all the time in my neck of the woods. I’m a government employee. Unlike Fritz, I can’t afford rent in Beverly fucking Hills. Just the nature of the job.

It was also the nature of my job that I recognized the sound of an Apache.

Cops around here didn’t fly those. Bad as gang bangers might be, LEO still didn’t need air-to-ground missiles to handle criminals.

At least, not the human ones.

That dreadful churning in my gut was getting stronger. Almost as strong as that choking feeling I get whenever I’m stuck somewhere with a nightmare demon, like I’m about to drown in fear.

It was the dread that got me turning on the TV while I grabbed a protein shake out of the fridge.

I clicked over to the news. When I’d turned off the TV last night, it had been set to Adult Swim. I’d always been an anime fan, and I stayed up way too late to watch it on nights when I should have been resting for work.

“—bringing all kinds of problems. Buildings have collapsed. There are reports of people trapped in buildings that came down around them. They have made desperate calls to 911 asking for help, but rescuers aren’t able to get to them.” The news anchor, January Lazar, was looking blank in that way that talking heads only do when there are bodies on the ground. It was a tense blankness, afraid to show any emotion in case it was inappropriate, in case it hurt ratings.

The camera flashed away from her to footage of Reno, Nevada—a city just a couple hundred miles north of Los Angeles. It had never been a pretty city, what with all the old casinos past their heyday and the river that ran dry most days of the year. But now even the old hotel towers had collapsed under a black fog. Rubble peppered the streets.

From the looks of it, someone had dropped a bomb on Reno.

“It’s too dangerous for rescuers to venture into Reno south of McCarran Boulevard, so thousands of residents and tourists are still believed to be trapped,” January Lazar went on. There was a faint magical buzz to her words. The broadcast must have been arranged by the OPA. We had an entire team of people dedicated to throwing spells over the airwaves so that viewers’ opinions would shift whichever way we wanted.

That night, it seemed like we wanted everyone to believe there had been a volcanic eruption in Reno.

The sound of the Apache got louder.

I tossed my protein shake in the sink and flung my door open.

My jacket was whipped open, tie lashing around my neck. The chopper had landed close enough that the rotors blasted me with wind. The noise was going to wake up everyone in my apartment complex. Considering that the OPA didn’t officially exist, we must have been in a real hurry for secrecy not to matter.

The door was open. Fritz hung halfway out the side, arm hooked into the straps of a seat, Blackberry glued to his ear. He was wearing a suit like I was, along with sunglasses, and he was waiting for me impatiently.

Whatever had happened to Reno, it wasn’t bombs, and it wasn’t a natural disaster.

The Office of Preternatural Affairs doesn’t get called in for boring shit like that, after all.

My name is Cèsar Hawke.

It wasn’t that long ago that I worked for myself as a private eye. Yeah, that’s a real job. It’s not something invented by Hollywood explicitly for black-and-white noir movies.

The job is real, and a hell of a lot boring than you’d think—lots of following cheating wives to Pilates class, tracking the internet activity of people who jumped bail bonds, shit like that.

Shit that involves mortals.

Humans.

I’m not a private investigator anymore.

And I don’t deal with humans very often.

These days, I’m an agent for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, which is a secret government agency that you’ve never heard about. We’re not even mentioned in the fine print of bills that pass through the Senate. We silently siphon money out of other parts of the government, soaking up tax dollars in the name of public safety.

Officially, I work in the Magical Violations Department of the OPA. We’re all witches who track down other witches—the ones who break our unwritten laws. We clean up messes left behind by nasty spells. We enchant and disenchant and sing to the fucking moon if that’s what the job calls for.

Unofficially, I’m still an investigator, albeit a different kind than I used to be. I take all the odd cases that don’t fit anywhere else, the sensitive jobs.

Demon things.

Fritz had put me on his special team after I proved that I was trustworthy. At least, proving that I was someone he could trust. Fritz had always had agendas hidden in agendas, and only some of those agendas aligned with the OPA’s. I aligned with Fritz, so I did whatever he told me, whether it was above-the-desk stuff or the kind of case that led to fistfights next to the cashier’s cage at the chisav races. We’re bros like that. We’re tight.

Even though Fritz and I both work for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, our relationship doesn’t have a lot to do with them anymore.

See, we’re kopis and aspis now. You’ve never heard of those titles, just like you’ve never heard of the government agency that I work for. The long and the short of it means that Fritz and I are bound for life as partners. He fights demons with his super-strength as a kopis, and I protect him magically.

It also means if one of us dies, the other goes, too.

So yeah, I do what Fritz tells me.

He says, “You’re running a special investigation,” I say, “Yes, sir.”

That’s life with the Office of Preternatural Affairs.

That’s life with Fritz Friederling.

You’d think I’d be used to it after all these years. And sure, if you’d have asked me a week ago, I’d have said it was getting easier.

But a week ago, Reno hadn’t been blown up by demons.

COLLAPSE

Ashes and Arsenic

Agent Cèsar Hawke is in his element when he’s investigating magical crime. And with his boss out of town, Cèsar gets to pick which cases he works on. He’s bent on doing nothing involving demons, zombies, or fallen angels this time. Instead, he’s going to find the witch who used magic to rob a bank.

Easy stuff. Cèsar plans to catch the perp before his boss gets home.

But when he digs into the robbery, he finds much more than missing money. He also finds a deadly turf battle between two covens and a trail of bloody violence.

A trail that leads directly to his brother, Domingo Hawke.

Domingo wants Cèsar’s help taking down his enemies. Forget that Cèsar works for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, forget allegiances, forget pesky “contracts” and “conduct.” Domingo is calling in a favor and the Hawke family is too tight to refuse.

Blood is the most powerful ingredient in any witch’s spell, after all…

Shadow Burns

When more than a dozen people die at a retirement home, the official story is carbon monoxide poisoning. Cèsar Hawke is convinced the reason is less mundane and more infernal. But that’s his job. As an agent working for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, he’s always looking for supernatural answers to deadly questions.

Isobel Stonecrow agrees to help him find the truth. With her powers of necrocognition, she can speak to the dead and get the real story.

But when they return to the crime scene, they find a lot more than cadavers. They find a nightmare that they can’t escape—a nightmare from Isobel’s past, which even she can’t completely remember thanks to the contract that signed away her soul.

Cèsar will have to disinter Isobel’s secrets to save her. He’ll learn who Isobel used to be, what she’s done, and the price she paid…no matter how deadly the knowledge might be.