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:
Tags:

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.

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

Deadly Wrong

Isobel Stonecrow’s life has an expiration date: One month, two weeks, four days, and six hours remaining.

Not that she’s counting.

When she signed a contract giving her soul and memories to a demon named Ander, she didn’t expect that she would ever have to face termination. But now Ander is dead and she’ll be following suit if she can’t find a way to dissolve the deal.

Too bad she can’t remember anything from the time before she signed the contract.

Fritz Friederling, a billionaire demon hunter who owns several businesses in Hell, isn’t ready to give up on Isobel. But she isn’t sure that working with Fritz is better than dying. She doesn’t know much about her past life, but she knows that she signed Ander’s contract for a reason—and that getting away from Fritz was a significant part of it.

Escaping her contract means remembering the life that she chose to forget. And it means trusting Fritz Friederling, who Isobel fears might be the biggest danger of 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.

Silver Bullet

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

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

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

If he survives the first week.

Excerpt:

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

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

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

READ MORE

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

She was regretting it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here I was, working with demon informants.

A demon. Jesus.

This part definitely wasn’t normal for me.

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

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

Not that I could let Connie catch on to that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now she was talking. That was good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to rephrase.

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

“Working,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pun intended.

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

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

“Laughing?”

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

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

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

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

“First thing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is ‘she?’”

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

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

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

Whatever she was holding, it had shiny parts.

A knife.

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

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

She dragged the blade across her throat.

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

I forgot my gun and rushed to stabilize the wound.

“Connie—”

She sagged in my arms.

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

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

“Jesus,” I said.

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

Our informant had killed herself.

COLLAPSE

Witch Hunt

A brutal murder.

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

The cops disagree. Now Cèsar is running.

The search for a shaman.

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

One risky solution.

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

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

How hard can one more be?

Excerpt:

Hell of a night.

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

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

And something jangled.

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

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

READ MORE

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

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

Yeah, definitely a hell of a night.

Too bad I couldn’t remember it.

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

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

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

Where was she, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Glock.

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

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

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

It definitely wasn’t lubricant.

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

In my apartment.

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

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

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

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

I opened it.

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

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

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

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

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

She was dead in my bathtub.

Hell of a night.

COLLAPSE