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

The Descent Series Complete Collection

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

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

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

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

THE COMPLETE SERIES

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

Suicide Queen

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

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

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

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

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

Cashing Out

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

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

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

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

Kill Game

Someone's importing illegal metals into Las Vegas. Iron, to be specific: the only substance that can instantly kill one of the deadly sidhe. But there are no sidhe in Las Vegas. Not anymore. Dana McIntyre killed the last of them two weeks earlier.

Importing the iron seems to be a matter of life and death, though. Mostly death. People are being slaughtered over these imports, and Dana can't figure out why. It's a puzzle that must be solved quickly and quietly. If the Office of Preternatural Affairs realizes how destabilized Las Vegas has become, they'll shut down vampire hunters like Dana.

She has no choice but to partner with Nissa Royal, the right hand of the city's master vampire, to hunt down the iron's buyer. Nissa's interested in a lot more than a functional partnership from Dana, though. She won't settle for anything less than Dana's soul...

Excerpt:

Paradise, Nevada—July 2034

The hookah lounge in front of the Mirage probably wasn’t the ideal place for a contraband purchase, especially on a night when the wind carried the scent of rain, but Aggy couldn’t think of anywhere better.

The Paradisos used to pull these kinds of deals out in the desert. It had seemed like a good idea at first. After all, there were no witnesses aside from the Joshua trees and moonlight. But Aggy’d been with the Paradisos long enough to remember when they’d feuded with other murders, like the Southside Killers and Mama’s Dogs, and going out to the empty desert for deals had been like putting a target on their backs. It was easy to track the only cars heading north on the highway, and easier still to ambush them.

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Aggy didn’t know how many vampires had gotten ashed in those days. It was hard to count bodies mixed together with the dust in the salt flats. She’d have bet the numbers hit triple digits, though.

The Paradisos hadn’t lost folks in such numbers since they’d started using public drop points. Basically nowhere was more public than the Mirage’s Strip-facing hookah lounge.

There were tourists everywhere. The obnoxious kind of tourist who wore sunglasses at night and hoped their concealer made them pallid enough to pass for bloodless. And then also the tourists sucking down smoke, blowing it in each other’s faces, and tossing back whole growlers of whiskey. There were slimy guys hitting on women in little black dresses. Bartenders who watered down drinks to save money on liquor. A deejay who thought that everyone seriously wanted to listen to 00s pop.

None of them paid any attention to the actual vampires in the back. It was a setting so public it might as well have been private.

Aggy and Momoe, the healer, repped the Paradisos for this trade. Mohinder trusted Aggy above the other vamps, which was smart of him; she’d rather cut off her tongue and bitch-slap cops with it than narc on her master.

Opposite Aggy and Momoe sat Lucifer’s guys, a pair of new-blood vamps staring so hungrily at the tourists that their eyeballs seemed likely to pop out their sockets. Lucifer was a vampire based in the Nether Worlds whose flunkies sold contraband topside. He was famous for a vampire. He didn’t have to beg for blood, and he couldn’t be arrested for drinking from anyone he wanted. His lackeys were not so untouchable.

“You can’t eat here,” Momoe said. She had to shout over the music to be heard. The deejay was currently assaulting their ears with an offensively brassy remix of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” even though most of the baby-faced mortals at the hookah lounge hadn’t been alive when the song came out.

“No eating? At all?” Roy looked melancholy, and the amount of black eyeshadow he wore and his droopy jowls meant he probably always looked melancholy. Gods only knew what basement Lucifer had dragged that vamp out of.

“Synth blood only in Paradise,” Aggy agreed. “We can have the bartender bring us some.” She waved him down.

Paradise was a city within a city. Few people realized it even existed inside of Las Vegas even though it encompassed most of the local tourist thruways, including the Strip, the university, and even McCarran International Airport. The eponymously named Paradisos owned almost every single square inch within Paradise. They were only missing parts of UNLV. There wasn’t enormous value to a university when you were dead, aside from owning the Rebels to theoretically profit off of their wins, if they ever won. Which they didn’t.

Basically everything else belonged to the vamps.

So yeah, there was no drinking of human blood anywhere in Paradise. Humans weren’t just food. They were money. The little rats would only come wandering through the city if they felt safe doing it. Start picking them off, and who’d pay the bills?

The other of Lucifer’s vampires leaned forward so he could talk more quietly. “You seriously only drink synth on the Strip? You can’t tell me that’s how Achlys rolls in private.”

Sergio was both right and wrong. Aggy’s former master, Achlys, had kept a few feeders who’d pissed her off in captivity. But Achlys didn’t do anything in private anymore. She’d been slaughtered.

Now that Mohinder had taken over the Paradisos, and all of Achlys’s properties, it was more important than ever to keep their noses clean. Lucifer was a drug dealer by trade. He wasn’t exactly going to report Mohinder to the Office of Preternatural Affairs if it came out that the new master liked to drink from the jugular. But even Lucifer had a way of letting rumors get around, and his flunkies would be even bigger chatter-boxes.

Image was everything. They couldn’t risk Mohinder’s run against Mayor Hekekia.

“Synth only,” Aggy said firmly. “It’s the law.”

“Toeing the line of the law is funny coming from someone doing deals with Lucifer.” Roy’s fingertips drummed on the suitcase at his side. It was the size of an airplane carry-on and made him look like he’d just gotten off JetBlue without checking into his hotel.

Momoe Esquerer had a matching carry-on. The witch was an outwardly nice older lady, somewhere in her fifties, and she looked convincingly like a traveler despite sitting with a clutch of vampires.

Except her carry-on didn’t have her medication and curling iron.

It had cash—lots of it.

“I don’t like the looks of this place,” Roy said after another long, baleful look around the patio. “It’s too open. I can’t immediately pinpoint all the cameras. There’s people everywhere. And if there are any avian shifters…”

Aggy would have bet that Lucifer instructed his guys to pull the deal on more favorable territory. Lucifer liked information as much as money, and if his guys could get Paradisos alone, then it’d be easier to pry. Or capture and torture them. Torture had been rival murders’ favorite pastime for years.

“Here is fine,” Aggy said. “Nobody’s paying any attention to us.”

“There are gulls and crows,” Sergio said. He nodded toward the cabana. The indistinct shapes of birds watching for food formed a skyline against the Mirage’s illuminated flank.

“You’re not afraid of a couple birdies, are you?” Momoe’s tone was acid. Same patronizing tone she used when she was healing. Bedside manner was not one of Momoe’s strong suits.

“I don’t want to get killed by shifters because you insist that we do this in such a public venue,” Sergio said.

Aggy took a long inhale of the hookah. “But we do.”

“What?”

“Insist,” she said with a smile. Smoke curled out of the corners of her mouth.

The bartender brought three bottles of synthetic blood over. He knew Momoe wasn’t a vampire just by looking at her. It was easy to smell the mortals even underneath thick clouds of shisha smoke.

Roy gave a gloomy, “Thanks,” and took the bottle.

Bon Jovi switched over to Counting Crows.

“You’re nervous, poor babies, so let’s get this done. Let’s see what you’ve got,” Momoe said.

Roy pulled the carry-on into his lap. He unzipped the top, pulling it open like a mouth so that she could peer inside. Aggy’s night vision was as good as that of any vampire who lived off synth blood. Through the slit, she could see that they had at least some of the promised product.

“What do you think?” Aggy asked Momoe.

Momoe stood and extended a hand. “May I?”

“Enjoy,” Sergio said. “If you try to run off with it, I will rip your head off.” He smiled lazily as he said it, like he was joking.

Momoe lifted the suitcase. It was almost too heavy for a mortal of her strength; she strained to pick it up a few inches. Aggy was surprised that the strap didn’t break. When Momoe set it down again, she was panting audibly despite the loud music.

“All right,” Aggy said. “Looks good.” She stirred the coals on their hookah with her pinky nail, then took another inhale from the pipe.

“This was a weird request, coming from you guys,” Sergio said. “But you must have paid pretty for it if Lucifer sent us all the way across the ley lines to deliver. Makes me think that you’ve got a big change in Vegas if you’re making such weird orders.”

“I heard Achlys is gone,” Roy said.

Aggy remained relaxed, her elbows on the back of the couch. “Where’d you hear that?”

“When a master vampire dies to mutiny, word gets around.”

“Mutiny?” Aggy laughed. “Mutiny!” She probably laughed a little too loud, a little too long.

In truth, it had been mutiny. Achlys had let an unseelie sidhe into her murder, and it had turned out that Shawn Wyn was exactly as much a vampire-hating psychopath as everyone had worried. He’d only played along with vampire politics to get close to leadership.

Shawn Wyn was dead now. He no longer posed a threat to the vampires of Las Vegas.

But when Shawn had gone down, he’d dragged Achlys into death with him.

Mohinder was a much better master than Achlys. Everybody preferred him. He wasn’t as scary as Achlys, who’d slunk around in those Elvira-like dresses with her Corpse Bride figure. That ability to fill people with fear was the reason Achlys had earned her monopoly over Vegas. It had been useful for conquering. In the long term, constant terror was exhausting. Aggy was glad Achlys was gone.

But there was no way she’d corroborate rumors of a coup with vampires from other murders; it made the Paradisos look too weak. “It was Dana McIntyre,” Aggy said. “She killed Achlys. Staked seventeen of her personal security members and then took down the master herself.”

“McIntyre?” Roy exchanged looks with Sergio. “We’ve heard about her.”

“Bet you have. She’s going to kill all of us if we let her run wild.” That was the Paradisos’s official statement on Dana McIntyre, and their attitude toward the Hunting Club at large. Had to make sure to color them as villains, not heroes. Rumors had a way of making history.

“Are you saying Achlys let her run wild?” Sergio asked.

“Mohinder won’t,” Aggy said. “He’s working with the LVMPD to shut her crew down. It won’t be long before Vegas is safe for all of us.” All of us meaning, of course, vampires.

“And that’s why you needed a massive shipment of contraband,” Roy said dully. Sarcastically. “Because Mohinder’s got everything under control.”

“Trade time.” Aggy’s words were muffled through the smoke billowing from her dry lungs.

Roy glanced around the patio. “You’re sure about here?”

“One hundred percent,” Aggy said. There was so much smoke that she couldn’t make out even the people at the nearest couches. Throw in the deejay’s flashing lights, and even vampires wouldn’t see anything. And the gulls wouldn’t care either.

Momoe set her suitcase next to the first one. Roy took hers. Aggy took the heavy one.

And that was that. Sale finished.

Roy stood watch as Sergio gave the cash a cursory counting. He didn’t have the time or the privacy to pull everything out for a more accurate inventory.

“It’s all there,” Aggy said.

“You better hope it is. Lucifer knows how to find you guys if you’re trying to scam him.”

“All this paranoia.” Momoe sneered openly. “Imaginary cash shortfalls, or imaginary seagull-shifters listening to us talk. Nobody’s even looking!”

“Almost nobody,” said a woman who came to stand up at the edge of the table.

Aggy hadn’t seen her coming.

She caught only a glimpse of the woman out the corner of her eye: the short messy hair bleached white, tipped with temporary blue dye; the thick waist and thighs that indicated a woman who wasn’t shy about putting on muscle; the single metal gauntlet she wore with jeans and her tattered Metallica tee.

“Run!” Momoe spat at Aggy. The witch’s hands plunged into her purse—an oversized bag made of the same fabric as the carry-on.

When she pulled her hands out, she was holding a handgun and a wooden stake.

Dana McIntyre bared her teeth. Her canines were slender and elongated, just as Achlys’s had once been. “Don’t even think about it, asshole.” She touched her ear and said, “Now.”

All the lights at the hookah lounge went off. Street lights, casino lights, everything on the block—totally black.

Aggy’s eyes were as good as any vampire’s, but her pupils still needed time to adjust. Going from light to black left her blinded. Her fingers fumbled on the strap for the suitcase, and she tripped over a half-dozen couches trying to run for the exit.

Momoe screamed. “Fuck! Stop!”

Her cries were punctuated by snarls and shrieks, some of which came from Lucifer’s guys. Roy and Sergio weren’t Aggy’s problem anymore. They’d received the cash, and she had the package from Lucifer. If McIntyre was killing them…whatever.

The only thing that mattered now was getting the suitcase to Mohinder.

So Aggy ran.

She was a good runner. Fast. There was a reason she’d been handling trades like these for as long as the Paradisos had existed.

Problem was that the suitcase was really fucking heavy.

Even Aggy’s undead muscles could only handle hauling that thing for a couple seconds. Then she had to drop it to its wheels, and it was smashing into tables, sending hookahs and coals to the ground, making mortals scatter.

It took full-body effort to haul it over the fence ringing the edge of the patio. Still less time than it would have taken to find the exit in the darkness, though.

People were still screaming.

But it was getting quieter. Like a certain vampire hunter had already killed Lucifer’s guys and was now moving in Aggy’s direction.

“Fuck,” Aggy panted, racing down the uneven sidewalk toward the nearest lights she could see. Caesar’s Palace wasn’t far. She could disappear into its depths, jump behind the shopping mall into the employee hallways, go underground.

Her mind ran the calculations as her feet did everything else. A vampire on synth blood was usually three times as fast as a human at top speed. Blood virgins were still mostly human. Even if Dana McIntyre was running ten miles an hour, and the suitcase slowed Aggy to twenty, she had one heck of a head start.

And Caesar’s Palace really was so close.

Aggy almost got there.

But she hesitated at the crosswalk, trying to decide if the pedestrian bridge would be faster or what. An instant of hesitation shouldn’t have made a huge difference. Not with vamp speed against a blood virgin.

Yet when she hesitated, she heard pounding footsteps.

Then a force collided with Aggy’s back. She hit the sidewalk. Rough hands—one bare, one gauntleted—flipped her onto her back, and knees pinned down her arms. “It’s impossible!” Aggy gasped, squirming underneath Dana McIntyre’s pressure.

“Shut up, bloodless.” McIntyre yanked a wooden stake out of her belt.

The power on the block flared to life, bathing the hunter in light from the nearest casinos. She was still white-haired. Still wearing the gauntlet. She was also wearing ash now—heavy gray ash clinging to her shirt and jeans. And McIntyre’s eyes were as colorless as her cheeks.

“You still haven’t been drinking,” Aggy said. “You’re turning into a vampire but you—”

She never got to finish that thought.

Dana McIntyre buried the stake in her heart.

COLLAPSE

Drawing Dead

An Urban Fantasy Thriller

The vampire slayer is turning into a vampire? Over her dead body.

Dana McIntyre has been bitten by a master vampire. She's infected with the venom. And after killing hundreds of vampires to keep Las Vegas safe, she'd rather die than turn.

There might be a cure. But the only way to get it is through Nissa Royal, a vampire with close ties to the masters of Las Vegas. Nissa is dangerous -- too dangerous to be allowed to live, much less work alongside.

But if Dana dies, vampires win Vegas. If she doesn't die, she becomes one of the bloodless. The cure's her only chance. In this deadly game of hold 'em, Dana's drawing dead, and whatever happens next, there's no changing her losing hand. Dana only knows one thing: If she's going down, she's taking as many vampires as possible on her way out…

Excerpt:

Nobody at the murder scene wanted to see Brianna Dimaria. Nobody got excited when she shuffled over with her bathtub-sized coffee and wooden pentacle charms, and a couple of the cops didn’t even make eye contact.

“I thought you said that the Hunting Club was coming out,” muttered one crime scene tech to another. Brianna prepared not to hear them.

She’d gotten to the Hunting Lodge at six o’clock that morning, right after sunrise, so she’d been the first person to check the answering machine. The cops had requested a consult on a murder. Brianna put the word out and headed in first.

Dammit, people should have been thanking her for how quickly she’d gotten there.

But no, there was all the whispering and glancing around, seeing if Brianna might be followed by one of the Hunting Club’s more famous associates. Chugging the coffee wasn’t waking her enough to deal with this crap.

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“Ugh,” she sighed once she’d drained her mug. She swirled the dregs of the black coffee around the bottom. “Anyone got chai, by any chance? Or any other tea?”

“The only thing we’ve got here is ash,” Officer Jeffreys said. “You don’t want that.”

“No. I don’t.” She set her mug on top of a police car, made a mental note to retrieve it later, then wiped her hands off on her tunic. “Okay, what’ve we got here?”

“Vampire. Permanently dead vampire.”

“No kidding,” Brianna said.

The corpses left behind by perma-dead vampires were distinctive from those left behind by humans. Sure, they had all the same parts, but every bit of a vampire was flammable in sunlight. If they found the body before sunlight wreaked havoc on the evidence, it looked like finding a human who had been barbecued. Bones charred as well as the soft tissue, and the skin got crispy fast.

Given a few more minutes in daylight, this vampire would have been indistinguishable as having ever lived, much less as a vampire. But right now, Brianna Dimaria was confident that the pieces crime scene techs had fished out of a Dumpster belonged to one of the bloodless.

“What’s that?” Brianna asked.

Officer Jeffreys lifted a piece of bone in his gloved hand, careful to keep it in the shade of the bar’s rear alleyway. “Judging by the curve, I think…skull?” He swallowed wetly.

Who could blame him for looking queasy? He wasn’t just holding a piece of skull. He was holding a piece of skull with clear characteristics of the person it had once belonged to. Probably a masochist, considering that they had screwed metal horns into their skull.

“Damn,” Brianna muttered.

There was no way that the Hunting Club wouldn’t get blamed for this dead vampire.

She heard the bass rumbling on a car’s stereo before it pulled up to the mouth of the alley. The crime scene had been taped off, but someone pulled the tape aside to allow the lifted pickup truck to roll up to the edge of the scene. The windows were opaque black, in stark contrast to the lime-slashed Pepto Bismol of the body’s paint job. The grill on the front looked like it had been used to literally catch cows, since there was dried blood and tissue caked to the bars. The driver was listening to music by Slipknot—Brianna recognized the frantic rhythm of the drums.

A couple cops had the nerve to start applauding when that pickup appeared.

“Oh, come on,” Brianna groaned.

“You can’t blame them. She’s got a legacy.” Chief Villanueva came up to stand beside Brianna. Charmaine hadn’t been doing fieldwork since her promotion, so if Charmaine was watching, then it meant Mayor Hekekia was watching. And so was the OPA.

“Legacy shmegacy,” Brianna said. “Did you know that I used to be high priestess of the single most prestigious coven in the world before Genesis?”

“You might have mentioned it twenty or thirty times,” Charmaine said with a good-natured smirk.

“That, and I show up to consults on time,” Brianna said.

The pickup door popped open. Beer cans tumbled out of the driver’s seat, scattering across the cracked cement, and studded platform boots struck a moment later.

Dana McIntyre glared murder at the cops who’d applauded her arrival, and that only seemed to make them all the more excited.

If a McIntyre was on the scene, they considered the case already solved.

There was nothing to get excited about at the sight of Dana. Her pink-tipped hair was styled into spikes, the solid mass of her body was held snug by a leather corset with stone pauldrons, and she wore a leather skirt. She had an open beer can in one hand and let a belch out of the corner of her mouth as she sauntered over.

“Dana, good morning.” Brianna was grinning crazily and speaking through her teeth again. “How nice of you to join us at a crime scene, with police, where you drove in a pickup while drinking beer. Which is so totally legal.”

“O’Doul’s.” Dana crushed the beer can and hurled it over her shoulder. “Like the flavor. Don’t drive drunk.”

Chief Villanueva was not surprised by this display from Dana. “Glad to have you.” She clapped Dana’s hand in both of hers and shook with genuine relief. “We could have used you last night when I had the master of the Paradisos in my office.”

“Good thing I was there,” Brianna muttered.

“I was on patrol.” Dana lifted her gauntleted fists, and magic sputtered from her elbows to her knuckles, which were just as studded as her boots. These particular studs were bloody on the tips. “There was a shifter brawl, so you’ll want to check in with jail intake later. You guys are full up. Brianna, help me strip.”

Brianna sighed. “What’s the magic word?”

Ngou ho,” Dana said in hetânâ, the magic language both of them were fluent in. Ngou ho meant “fuck you.” The words had absolutely no power coming from a mundane like Dana, except that it made Brianna’s blood pressure spike.

“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” Brianna said. “Try again or else I’ll show your adoring fans pictures of when I helped potty train you. I bet they’d love to hear how you insisted on wearing pull-ups until kindergarten.”

Dana’s eyes narrowed, as if she were evaluating whether or not Brianna was serious.

Brianna was completely serious. She’d been putting up with Dana McIntyre and her stupid family legacy ever since Dana was knee-high to a pig’s eye. When Dana had been a teenager—worst decade ever—awkward childhood photos had been the only threat to control her.

“Help me please,” Dana finally said.

“Happily.” Brianna undid the straps on Dana’s gauntlets, her pauldrons, even her belt. She was left standing with fifty pounds of enchanted gear, which she tossed into the back of Dana’s ugly-ass pickup while Dana herself went to examine the scene.

A crime scene tech handed latex gloves to Dana. She snapped them on and picked up the same piece of skull that Officer Jeffreys had been investigating.

Dana lifted it into the sunlight. It began smoking. She blew the fire off, then peered closely at the remaining bone.

“This vampire was killed by the Paradisos,” Dana said.

“How do you know?” Chief Villanueva asked.

“Because I’ve got fucking eyeballs.” She tossed the skull to Officer Jeffreys, who managed to transfer it to an evidence bin before diving into a corner to barf. “This vampire was starved. No Vegas vampire starves on accident, and no Vegas vampire gets held captive without Paradisos knowing. So the Paradisos did it.”

“Our lab will be able to confirm that the vampire was starving, but we’ll need more than that to pin it on the Paradisos,” Chief Villanueva said.

Brianna shot a sideways look at the chief. Did Charmaine want to pin it on the Paradisos? She’d made it clear that vigilantes and vampires in Las Vegas were on equal footing, and equally fucked if things went wrong.

“Don’t waste your resources.” Dana peeled her gloves off and dropped them into a trash bag held by another tech. “If the vampires are fucking around with a civil war, let ‘em do it. Vamps killing vamps is nobody’s problem.”

“Murdering American citizens is illegal, no matter who does it,” Brianna said.

Dana’s snort wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t meant to be. She reveled in being as disgusting as possible, even while consulting at crime scenes. Maybe especially while consulting at crime scenes. “But the vampires do it anyway, because they’re vampires. They’re killers. They aren’t capable of doing anything else.”

“Help me link this murder to the Paradisos,” Chief Villanueva said.

Dana said, “No.”

She climbed into her pickup. Brianna heard another can of O’Doul’s cracking open before the door slammed shut.

The truck backed out of the alley. Dana’s tailgate clipped a trashcan and knocked it over, spilling its contents across the pavement. She dragged a bag halfway down the street before it finally tore loose, and then she was gone, leaving wreckage and adoring cops behind her.

Dana McIntyre had been there less than five minutes. Everyone looked star-struck and it seemed like Brianna no longer existed.

“Yep,” Brianna said, glancing at her watch. “Just another Tuesday.”

COLLAPSE

Cast in Godfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranoid little ants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they reported…nothing.

Frost Tower was empty.

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

The wards detected nothing.

“Damn it all,” Jaycee said.

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

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

Her wards stopped being silent and started screaming.

Alert. Alert. Sidhe magic. Invasion. Alert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaycee slung her purse over her shoulder and headed through.

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

Someone was trying to get in.

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

The thumping grew louder.

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

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

The entire tower shook. Plaster dust showered around her.

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

Well, at least not this week.

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

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

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

Better demolished than turning everything over to King Konig.

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

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

Highly doubtful.

Jaycee activated her demolition spells.

A five minute countdown began.

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

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

“Well,” she said.

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

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

“Well, well, well,” Jaycee said.

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

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

Well, not a witch.

A mage.

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

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

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

There was no escape.

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

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

“Konig decided on sedition,” she said.

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

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

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

And she disabled the wards while she was at it.

“Well,” Jaycee said again.

She hadn’t expected that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former leaders?” Jaycee asked.

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

This arrest attempt was looking worse by the moment.

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

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

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

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

Now she didn’t hold back.

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

And she saw the moment that Marion was overwhelmed.

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

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

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

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

She was almost there. She was going to escape.

But then the lightning.

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

The helicopter pitched to its side and tumbled from view.

In her shock, Jaycee lost control of the wind.

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

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

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

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

The frost giant yanked them through the ley lines.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She should have exploded.

But Marion smiled thinly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gave a shallow curtsy. “My King.”

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

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

Maddisyn looked startled. “Of course.”

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

“Reports?” Maddisyn asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Usually.”

“But not always?”

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

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

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

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

“Maddisyn?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jaycee was waiting for interrogation.

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

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


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

Again, she didn’t even look his way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In every sense of the sentiment.”

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

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

There was a lot Rage hadn’t told Konig.

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

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

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

“Even the darknet?”

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

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

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

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

Konig’s heart stopped beating.

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

“I’m very interested,” Konig said.

COLLAPSE

Sins of Eden

There have always been three gods. Always.

Until Elise Kavanagh murdered them.

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

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

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

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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Dark Union

Every fifty years, the most powerful ethereal and infernal beings convene on Earth to resolve conflicts with mediation by kopides–humans born to police relations between Heaven and Hell. They’re meeting in Elise Kavanagh’s territory this year, and she used to be the greatest kopis in the world. But she’s not invited.

An old friend, Lucas McIntyre, asks her to attend the summit in his place. But when she arrives, she discovers that a human faction called The Union has taken charge of the summit, and they’re not playing nice. Worse yet, someone has killed a prominent Union member…and now they’re demanding blood.

Excerpt:

It was a miserable day. The temperature had reached one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, there was no wind, and Anthony Morales had been trying to sell his Jeep to random assholes from Craigslist all afternoon.

“What the hell have you done to this thing?” asked potential buyer number three, who claimed his name was “Buddy,” and was as thick in the waist as a baby elephant.

They stood in the shade of a high-rise apartment building, which funneled heat directly toward them over rippling asphalt. Anthony hoped that parking his Jeep in an alley stained with oil, covered in trash, and overlooked by barred windows might make his car look a little less offensive in comparison. Instead, the Jeep looked like it belonged in one of the big green dumpsters.

Anthony rubbed a hand down his face and left behind a greasy smear. “There were pictures in the ad.”

“Is that what I asked? No. I asked what you did to it.”

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“I told you. I’m a mechanic. This was my hobby vehicle.”

Buddy snorted. “Is your hobby beating it with a goddamn crowbar?”

Anthony tried not to feel wounded. The Jeep was his first car, and it had been through a lot with him in the ensuing years. Sure, the bumper was missing, the upholstery was ripped, and the body was thoroughly dented. That was what happened when you drove through a cemetery full of zombies. But the engine was great and the tires were new. He had put a lot of love into it.

“Do you want it or not?” he asked in a dull voice.

The buyer walked around the Jeep again, his considerable girth swaying with every step. “I’ll give you three hundred for it.”

“I’ll only take twelve hundred.”

“You kidding? Three hundred is a good deal for this piece of shit.”

Anthony’s patience was gone. “Okay. Fine. Sorry to waste your time.”

He climbed into the Jeep, but Buddy leaned on the hood to prevent him from moving to a shadier spot. “Five hundred.”

“Now you’re wasting my time.”

“Come on. You can’t seriously think it’s worth twelve,” Buddy said.

Anthony’s girlfriend came around the end of the alley at that moment, sparing him from having to think of a response that didn’t use words like “insulted” and “asshole.” Elise’s curls were pulled out of her face in a thick braid, and she wore faded shorts, a tank top, and sneakers, yet still managed to look like a Greek Fury as she stalked down the alley.

She was followed by a teenage boy and his mother—potential buyer number four.

Elise glanced at Anthony. “Is he buying it?” she asked, jerking a thumb at the fat man, who smoothed a hand over his sweaty pate as he took a long look at Elise’s legs.

“He’s trying to get it for five hundred.”

“Get out of here,” she told Buddy. “We’re done with you.” He opened his mouth, and she didn’t seem interested in discovering if it was to argue or make a counter offer. She turned the full force of her stare on him and said again, “Get out.”

Buddy waddled his elephantine mass toward the street with a flip of the bird.

Why didn’t Anthony have that kind of gravitas? Someone was always screwing with him, whether it was over the sale of his Jeep, the cost of labor at the shop, or the grades he got on his college papers. Nobody screwed with Elise.

Of course, she also wasn’t much of a salesman.

“This is it,” she said to potential buyer number four, who was watching the alley like she expected muggers to jump out at any second.

Anthony jumped down to join them. The mother had contacted him by email that morning to see if he thought the Jeep would be good as her teenage son’s first car. “Hi,” he said, wiping his palms dry on his jeans and holding out a hand. “Thanks for coming all the way downtown. I’m—”

“Twelve hundred,” Elise interrupted. “Firm.”

The mother looked doubtful. “I don’t know…”

“What happened to that thing?” the boy asked. He had braces and a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

Anthony’s heart sank. That question again. He prepared to give his response about it being a project car, but Elise spoke first. “We drove it through a cemetery of zombies. There used to be a cowcatcher on front, but it crumpled after hitting the first dozen bodies.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

The mother shot Elise a long-suffering look. “Does it run?” she asked, sounding exhausted.

“Perfectly. And insurance is cheap,” Anthony said.

“Great. I’m sold.”

She pulled out her wallet as her son pumped his fist in the air. He jumped in the driver’s seat and ran his fingers reverently over the wheel, like he had just gotten his first Porsche. Anthony resisted the wild impulse to push the boy away from his car. Twelve hundred dollars was more money than he and Elise had possessed for weeks.

“You can bring it to my shop if anything goes bad in the next month or two, but it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, exchanging a business card for a small stack of twenties. “I just replaced the tires and transmission. Everything is in perfect condition.”

“I don’t really care,” said the mother. He spread the paperwork out on the hot metal of the hood, and they each signed it. “Anything to get him to leave the house for once. Maybe he’ll even get a few friends.”

“This sound system is totally sick!” her son enthused.

“We installed it for use in a mass exorcism,” Elise told him, leaning her elbows on the door. Anthony groaned. It was the truth, but nobody would ever believe her. The miniature zombie apocalypse in May had been treated like a natural disaster in the mainstream media. But Elise didn’t seem to care. She smiled a little as the kid swung the wheel around.

“What were you exorcising?” he asked.

“Demons. Really nasty ones.”

“That is so cool.”

“Don’t encourage him. He already plays too many video games,” the mother said. “And move over, Travis. I’m driving it home.”

“Mom!”

She climbed in, and Elise stepped back beside Anthony.

A few seconds later, the tail lights disappeared around the corner. His heart twisted painfully.

It only lasted for a second. He had lost everything in the last few months: his Millennium Scholarship (because fighting demons did zero favors for his grades), his cousin Betty, and now his beloved Jeep. It was getting to the point where the pain was a constant stabbing in his chest. He couldn’t work up additional grief over his car for longer than a few seconds.

“Let me see that,” Elise said, holding out a hand. He gave her the cash. She counted it out. “Great. This is rent for two months, at least.” She pocketed a few bills and returned the rest.

“Hey,” Anthony complained.

“Do you want groceries or not?”

He didn’t really care. The Jeep didn’t belong to Elise, and she had no right to the money. But what was the point in arguing? They had gotten an apartment together downtown—a furnished one bedroom for five hundred a month, which smelled like tobacco even though neither of them smoked—and all their money was getting poured into bills and debt and Top Ramen anyway.

“What now?” he asked dully.

“Now I’m going to run errands.” Elise stretched up to kiss his chin. “I’ll be home late. Don’t wait for me.”

She left before he could try to kiss her properly.

Anthony thought about going back to their apartment, which was just around the corner, but he found himself staring at the spot his Jeep had stood only minutes earlier.

That twinge was back.

He sank to a crouch, covered his face with his hands, and didn’t move for a long time.

II

Eloquent Blood was dark, and the sign on the alley door said CLOSED, but Elise walked in anyway. Its usual patrons weren’t bothered by heat, so they didn’t bother air conditioning the bar, but being positioned in the cavernous basement kept it temperate. The sweat on Elise’s skin cooled and made her shiver.

“Neuma?” she called, pausing by the railing to peer at the bottom several levels down. The DJ booth was empty. Three walls of a cage stood where the dance floor should have been, but it would be hours until the fights started. A demon with three eyes mopped the stage. “Hey! Is Neuma in yet?”

It nodded without looking up.

The fluorescent blue lights behind the bar were turned off. The stripper pole hadn’t been cleaned yet, so it was covered in fingerprints, sweat, and flecks of brimstone. But there was no sign of the bartender.

Elise hopped over the bar, snagging a bottle of tequila on the way. She was more than just a frequent patron of Eloquent Blood—she used to be the accountant, before getting in a fight with the owner. She had since killed David Nicholas and any chance of being gainfully employed with them again, but she still made frequent visits to enjoy Neuma’s generosity with the liquor.

She headed down the back hall. “Neuma, it’s me. Where are you?” Something bumped against the wall. Elise jiggled the handle to the dressing room. Locked. “Hey. Open up. I can hear you in there.”

“Go away,” Neuma said from the other side.

Elise’s senses sharpened. “Are you okay?”

“I’m peachy.”

“Bullshit. Open the door or I’ll kick it in.” She had done it once before, and she had no qualms about breaking the handle again.

“No, don’t do that,” Neuma said. “Hang on.”

A pause, and the lock clicked. Elise pushed inside.

The dressing room was even more of a mess than usual. Costumes were spread across the floor like a rug of latex and silver chains. One of the vanity mirrors was shattered, leaving shards of glass sprinkled over the strippers’ outfits, and half of the bottles on the shelves had been broken. It reeked of sulfur and booze.

Neuma was slumped in a chair by the door. Her skin and white bathrobe glowed in the black light, but her ink-dark hair was a shadow puddled on her shoulders. She had a hand over the left side of her face.

“What happened in here?” Elise asked.

“Nothing. Just haven’t cleaned in a long time.” Neuma’s voice was about an octave too high.

Elise sniffed the air. As if the wreckage wasn’t evidence enough, every sense told her that a powerful demon had been on the premises—from the uncomfortable pressure at the back of her skull, to the sour bite of brimstone in her nose. It was too strong to belong to Neuma, who was only a half-succubus Gray. She was mostly harmless. Her greatest threat was being a little too sexy.

The sight of the destruction was enough to trigger Elise’s protective instinct. Setting the tequila on the counter, she picked up a costume, shook out the glass, and threw it in the closet. “Your parties are getting too wild,” she said, working quickly to unclutter the floor and sweep the glass into a corner.

Neuma smiled weakly.

When Elise finished, she turned on the overhead lights without waiting for permission. The bartender flinched. She pulled her hand away from her face for an instant, but it was enough for Elise to see a massive gash running down the side of her face. Thin, watery blood poured into the collar of her robe.

“Jesus, Neuma.”

“I think I need a witch,” she whispered. Half-demons were fragile creatures. They couldn’t heal on their own—given a few hours, they could bleed to death from a paper cut. “Treeny, up in Craven’s—cocktail waitress for the sport’s bar—she can do a little hocus pocus.”

Elise pulled Neuma’s arm over her shoulder and supported her as they limped into the hallway. The facial injury wasn’t the worst of it. The robe gapped to show a missing chunk of flesh in her thigh.

They took the stairs to the manager’s office, slowly and carefully.

“Tell me who attacked you,” Elise said.

“Name’s Zohak. This thing, this demon—he took all our money, and I couldn’t do shit about it. He bit my leg and fuckinglaughed at me.”

“You couldn’t have fought?”

“I did,” Neuma said. “But half the bouncers left when David Nicholas died. There’s nobody left to help during the day anymore.”

They reached the office, and Elise helped her sit on the executive chair. The room was empty aside from a single filing cabinet and paperwork scattered on the desk. Neuma had been trying to keep up on bills and taxes, but she didn’t have the organizational skills.

“Wait here,” Elise said. “I’ll find Treeny.”

It wasn’t hard to locate the cocktail waitress. Most of the employees had worked for Craven’s when Elise and Death’s Hand destroyed half of the casino, and they were properly intimidated by her. She ordered the first demon she spotted to send Treeny to the office, and they scurried off to make it happen.

The waitress met them upstairs a few minutes later. She wore a tiny dress that barely covered her butt, hugged an empty drink tray to her chest, and trembled under Elise’s scrutiny.

“What’s up?” Treeny asked. To her credit, her voice didn’t shake nearly as much as her knees. A pentacle ring sparkled on her thumb. It danced with silver light in the corner of Elise’s vision, which meant it was enchanted.

“I’m told you can heal,” she said, wiping her hands off with a tissue. She had patched up the wound on Neuma’s thigh to slow the bleeding, but the bartender’s skin was ashen, and she could barely lift her head.

Treeny’s face lit up. “Oh. Yeah. A little, if I have time for a ritual. But I’ll need supplies.”

“You’ve got fifteen minutes to get them. Go fast.” The witch ran off, and Elise helped Neuma to the bathroom attached to the office, and the bartender washed the blood off her bruised face. “I don’t think you’re stripping tonight.”

“No kidding. That’s not sexy at all, huh?” Neuma tilted her head to study the damage in the mirror. “Forget it. I’ll have to call someone in, if I don’t die first.” She heaved a sigh. “Thanks for helping, doll. Is there a reason you came to see me? Are you covering my shift tonight?”

In the aftermath of the attack, Elise had completely forgotten that she visited Craven’s for a reason. “I got some cash, so I wanted to pay my bar tab. What am I up to this week—eighty bucks?”

“Nothing. It’s on the house.” Neuma tried to smile, and failed. Her skin had completely lost its usual glow. “It could be on the house forever if you would help me.”

Elise’s mouth twisted. Neuma had been trying to talk her into taking over Eloquent Blood and Craven’s casino—which continued to operate only by habit and the force of Neuma’s will since the overlord died—for the last several weeks. Every time she showed up for a drink, it was the same thing again. Help me, and, I need you.

It was getting on her nerves. Elise couldn’t help them—she couldn’t help anyone.

But the half-succubus’s eyes were wide and pathetic. It was getting harder to resist her pleas. “I just can’t handle this alone anymore,” Neuma whispered when Elise didn’t respond. “I thought it would be better if we could get rid of David Nicholas. I thought I could keep up on it myself. But I can’t, and everything’s falling apart. With the Night Hag gone…”

“How many times do I have to tell you no?”

Please. You could protect us, at least. This isn’t the first time someone’s rolled in to screw with us. If we could stop getting attacked for a few weeks, maybe we could find someone good to take charge. Maybe—”

Elise slapped two fifty dollar bills on the desk. It only left twenty for groceries, but she had been living off dried beans and rice for weeks anyway. “That’s for my tab.”

“Don’t go! Zohak will be back—he said he would.”

“I have stuff to do. Try not to die. I’ll see you later.”

“Elise!”

She left the office without looking back, and bumped into Treeny on the stairs. Elise didn’t need to see Neuma—that pathetic stare was stamped permanently on the inside of her skull.

It was hard being asked for help. It was even harder to deny it.

The walk to her new apartment was short—just two blocks from Craven’s. But even that distance was miserable in the afternoon sun. It was the kind of heat that melted the rubber on shoes and turned metal into a searing brand. Elise bumped the crosswalk button with her hip.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket as she crossed the street. She ducked under an awning’s shade to check the screen.

When she saw the number, her heart stopped. It took her two tries to speak. “Hello?”

“Hey, Kavanagh,” responded a masculine voice. “It’s McIntyre.”

Elise knew immediately that he was calling for help—and this time, she wouldn’t be able to say no.

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