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

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

Ascension Series

Sacrificed in Shadow, Oaths of Blood, and Ruled by Steel

This urban fantasy boxed set contains the first three novels in The Ascension Series and totals 300,000 words.

When it comes to problems involving evil, Elise Kavanagh is the expert in saving the day. Not only is she a legendary demon hunter known as the Godslayer, she’s also the most powerful demon to ever walk the Earth—a once-human creature that other demons now look up to as a deity.

Rylie Gresham is Alpha of the last werewolf pack. They’re hiding from recent government laws regulating preternaturals and trying to avoid conflict.

But someone’s trying to get into Eden. The garden holds secrets too dangerous for anyone to possess, including Elise’s former partner James Faulkner: a half-witch, half-angel bent on becoming God. He doesn’t care what it takes to get into Eden, and the werewolf pack gets trapped at the center of the conflict.

Elise will do anything to keep James—or anyone else—from reaching Eden, even if it means journeying deep into Hell and seizing control of the City of Dis. Trapped between shadow and light, Elise walks a fine line trying to save the world yet again…even if it means losing her friends among the werewolves, the man she once loved, and her soul itself.

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

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

ABOUT OATHS OF BLOOD
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…

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

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

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

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…

Torn by Fury

Elise Kavanagh is marching on New Eden, the city angels have built from the bones of human victims. She’s hellbent on making them atone for their sins–no matter the cost.

Rylie Gresham has realized that werewolves are the key to defeating angels. They’re apex predators, designed to bring powerful, immortal beings to heel. She has no choice but to follow Elise into war against Heaven…especially since it’s the only way to protect her family from complete annihilation.

The angels are prepared to fight. Their magic will tear the universe apart. And if they have their way, there will soon be no Earth left to save…

Lost in Prophecy

Elise Kavanagh is too busy liberating slaves in the City of Dis to worry about what’s happening on Earth. She hasn’t even noticed that more than three thousand people have gone missing—not until an anonymous client hires her organization, The Hunting Club, to rescue them. The man asking for help doesn’t seem to exist. But the trail of clues is too strange to ignore, and she finds herself caught in the investigation.

Werewolf Alpha Rylie Gresham is absorbed in troubles of her own. The pack is disobeying her, and the cult camped out in Northgate seems to be the source of the problem. Her mate, Abel, has resolved to fix it one way or another—even if it means going over Rylie’s head and killing their enemies.

Through secrets, lies, and assassination attempts, Elise and Rylie find that they have a new enemy in common. And what it takes to prevail might mean shattering the universe…

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
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Excerpt:

Gerard met Elise in the hallway outside her rooms. She wasn’t sure how he knew that she had returned from Malebolge, but he always seemed to know where everyone was in the Palace at any given moment. For a human, Gerard pulled off the illusion of omnipresence pretty well.

“We caught him,” he announced, unable to contain a wide grin.

Elise didn’t smile back, but dark satisfaction uncurled in her heart. “Finally.”

She changed directions and Gerard fell into step beside her. He wore her livery, though he had stripped off the jacket and wore a Black Parade t-shirt instead, which matched the leather boots surprisingly well.

“Where have you taken Gremory?” Elise asked.

“We’ve got him in the interrogation room. It’s the only place that the wards are strong enough. Plus, the chains are designed for his breed.”

Gerard had done well, as always. She didn’t have to force her smile of gratitude.

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He held open the doors to the courtyard, allowing Elise to exit first. The Palace of Dis had never been busier. A new market had sprung up within the walls, trading goods brought down from Earth, and it had become the primary source of supplies for the Palace’s human residents. And she had a lot of residents to care for now. Of the thousand or so slaves that she had rescued, a full third of them had remained to help.

The survivors weren’t even half of the creatures living in the Palace, though. Elise had begun allowing certain demons to live within the battlements. She trusted few members of Belphegor’s army—her army—and kept most of them outside her defenses, where they wouldn’t be able to easily stage a coup; instead, she had taken in the artisans and servants, the lowest of the low who served with gratitude.

These demon additions to her staff had stalls in the new market, too. Products made from human byproducts weren’t permitted, but there were an impressive number of handcrafted tools and trinkets made from Dis’s more natural resources: blown glass, stone cookware, harpy wool blankets.

When Hell wasn’t murderous, it could be downright beautiful.

A hush fell over the market as Elise passed through the stalls, heading toward the interrogation room. She had been spending so much time with the army outside the walls that people freaked out when they saw her within the Palace. Neuma said it was because they admired her; Gerard claimed it was fear.

Neither of those were pleasant possibilities.

By the time she reached the ladder into the interrogation room, her face was fixed into a severe frown and tension was knotted between her shoulders. The nearby walkways were filling with people, all eager to watch.

The interrogation room was a suspended platform surrounded by magical walls that allowed spectators to watch the proceedings within. It used to be where the Inquisitor plied his trade—a role occupied by Elise’s father in the previous administration, the irony of which did not escape her—but now it was the best place to torture high-profile prisoners.

The wards were inviolable. And everyone could see exactly how merciful Elise was toward those who didn’t obey the Father.

Every time she went in there, it was like being on stage again. Elise hadn’t performed in years, not since she and James had advertised their fledgling dance studio by participating in competitions. She had never been a fan of the attention, but James had thrived on it.

She couldn’t hide behind a dance partner anymore. Elise was a soloist now, and with a blade rather than high-heeled shoes and a fixed smile.

The corner of her mouth quirked at what James would have thought of Elise’s latest performances.

She climbed hand-over-hand into the interrogation room. Gremory was supervised by a group of human guards and a single gibborim. He was so large that he had to crouch to fit under the arched roof. Elise wished she had seen how he managed to get into the room in the first place.

The prisoner was chained on his knees with his arms above his head. His scale armor had been stripped away, leaving his muscular, human-like body bared to the harsh air of Dis. His skin was bone-white and translucent. Red veins gripped his ribs and crawled down his thighs.

“Father,” Gremory said, “what a pleasure to meet you.”

Elise didn’t bother replying.

Gremory had been Belphegor’s praetor when he still possessed the army. They were also the same type of demon, although Gremory was much weaker. That didn’t mean much. Considering Belphegor’s power, it would have been hard for anyone to match him.

“We found him trying to lead one of your centuria away,” Gerard explained, taking position beside the gibborim. “The twenty-sixth.”

Elise lifted an eyebrow. It wasn’t surprising that Gremory had been trying to undermine her, but the twenty-sixth had been camping right by the gates—a dangerous place for a dissident to appear. “Were they leaving willingly?”

“It seems so. He was trying to transport them to the House of Volac.”

That House wasn’t allied with her yet, but she did have its daughter, Sallosa, as centurion of another century. More dissent within the ranks. “Send men to watch the thirtieth century—the one that Sallosa is commanding. Reassign the twenty-sixth to the wasteland perimeter. Kill the ones that resist.”

“Sure we shouldn’t kill them all?” Gerard asked.

Tempting. But Elise couldn’t kill every single demon that didn’t like her. Besides, she’d needed to move more forces into the hostile wastelands anyway. The forces she sent to patrol there kept going missing. Might as well put the centuries that disobeyed at risk.

“You heard my order,” Elise said.

Gerard sent one of his men out to take care of the twenty-sixth centuria. The trap door opened and slammed shut again.

Elise held out her hand. Without asking, Gerard gave her a knife.

Gremory’s eyes tracked the motion of the blade. There was no fear in his eyes. Elise would have to see if she could change that attitude.

“What’s at the House of Volac? Is that where you were going to meet Belphegor?”

The answer came from him easily. No threatening required. “He’s not there. I was merely planning to run an errand for him.”

“Then where is he?” she asked, circling Gremory.

“You already know that I won’t tell you. Attempt to torture me.”

He sounded so calm about it.

Elise’s eyes flicked up to the walkways ringing the room. Half of the Palace was watching. She needed to handle this as she did all things—swiftly, and without bullshit.

She stepped close to Gremory. “This isn’t going to end well,” she muttered. “We don’t need to do it like this. It’s a waste of time.”

“However long you waste attempting to beat information out of me is entirely within your control, Father.” A lazy smirk curved over his lips, and it was unsettling on a face so similar to Belphegor’s. Belphegor didn’t smile. Not like that. “There’s an alternative way to reach my master, you know. Let me go. I’ll arrange the meeting.”

Belphegor had offered to teach her to perform warlock magic. He was the only surviving demon that knew the archaic skill now that Abraxas was dead.

Elise hadn’t taken him up on the offer. She still didn’t know why Belphegor regarded her as an ally, and, frankly, she didn’t want to know. There would be a price for that knowledge, and Elise wasn’t going to pay it.

She dug the knife into Gremory’s chest.

At least, she attempted to dig it into his chest. The blade deflected from his skin, grating as though he were made of stone.

When she struck again a second time, harder than before, the blade simply shattered.

Gremory was still smirking.

Elise slipped the hilt of the broken knife into Gerard’s hand, careful not to let the spectators see that it had failed.

“What’s your backup plan?” Gremory asked casually, as if he were one of the guards ringing the room rather than the prisoner.

Gerard barked a laugh. “You think that was her primary plan? You really thought she was going to try to stab you?” He said it loudly, grandly, playing to the audience. They all laughed. Of course they all knew how hard Gremory was. Of course the Father knew better than to hope she could damage him physically.

She couldn’t falter when people were watching. She couldn’t have doubts.

Gerard was right, though. She had already suspected that torturing Gremory wouldn’t be possible.

Elise paused to gather herself, eyes closed, taking a deep breath. This is just another performance. She was about to go on stage to compete for a regional title. She only had to dance for a board of harsh judges and walk away with the prize. The fact that her dance partner of the day was in chains and the only accompaniment was the pounding of her heart didn’t change the fact that it was just another performance.

It would have been easier with James beside her.

She opened her eyes and turned to face the spectators. With her teeth, she tugged on each finger of her left-hand glove, loosening it. Then she peeled it away.

Gasps and hushed whispers spread over the walkways.

Her hand was covered in fiery orange runes that crawled over her knuckles, slithered between her fingers, orbited the joint of her thumb.

Infernal runes.

Elise lowered her arm and turned back to Gremory before the spectators could see that the runes were flickering. Not the flicker of fire, but the flicker of failing power. Every time the symbols darkened, pain lanced to her elbow.

She didn’t let it show on her face.

“Do you recognize this?” she asked, curling her fist around the magic, concealing the weakening runes from his view. Flames licked between her fingers.

Doubt had crept into Gremory’s features. He pulled on his chains, as if testing their strength. “Impossible.”

“Tell me where to find Belphegor.”

After a beat, he said, “No.”

She wasn’t going to ask him again.

Elise took off her warding ring, letting the full sense of magic settle over her. With her opposite hand, she gripped his throat. “I am the Father,” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear her. “Behold.”

Time to do the tango.

She let a word of power roll off of her tongue.

It spilled from her core, striking the air like a tuning fork rapped against stone. The tone was almost right. A little sharp.

The rune under her thumb flared.

Fire washed over Gremory. He radiated bonfire heat, veins burning bright red.

His head fell back and he screamed.

It was burning him—actually hurting a demon like Belphegor—so Elise didn’t let go. But she felt the wrongness in the spell. It was flickering harder. Her bones were shaking. The burn was creeping up her arm, lashing back against the wielder.

If she held it, she would be reduced to ash.

She gritted her teeth and pushed hard with all her willpower, trying to shove the magic into him.

Gremory’s eyes opened again. He glared at her.

“No,” he repeated.

His will was weaker than hers, but he wasn’t the one draining himself by using untested, hacked-together warlock magic.

She pushed, and Gremory pushed back.

The runes fizzled out. Her hand went blank.

“Shit,” Elise said.

With a roar, Gremory wrenched his arms down. The chains had been weakened by Elise’s faulty magic, too—they snapped.

His fist seemed to come from nowhere.

The blow sent Elise flying. Her back smacked into the wall, and she bounced off onto the floor.

Gremory was laughing as the humans fired on him with human guns. The bullets didn’t touch him.

And the spectators were watching every moment of it.

Elise had just fallen on a grand jeté.

Have to recover.

The gibborim threw himself on top of Gremory, and they wrestled, rolling across the tiled floor with a rain of meaty slaps and grunts. Her guard didn’t stand a chance against the prisoner. But the distraction gave her an instant to pull out her failsafe.

She wrenched off her other glove.

The ethereal runes blazed to life, making her entire body shake, blanking out her vision so that all she could see were green shapes when she blinked. This magic had been waiting for her for weeks. She hadn’t dared use it—not when it weakened her so much.

Now Gremory was slamming the gibborim’s head into the floor, and the gibborim wasn’t fighting back. Gremory got to his feet and turned to face Elise again.

She unleashed the ethereal runes.

Lightning lanced to Gremory, engulfing him in brilliant, burning light. It hurt. She was screaming. But it was so much more powerful than the warlock spell had been, and it was her only chance to kill him. There was no point containing something like Gremory for long.

The spectators shrieked with pain. Many were demons, and just as susceptible to ethereal light as Elise.

She didn’t stop to see if they were smart enough to run. She threw all of her strength into the spells, roaring as the magic ripped through her to consume Gremory.

He didn’t have any of Belphegor’s anti-magic defenses. He fell.

Elise stood over him for a full minute—about thirty seconds longer than she needed to—and kept pouring the rune magic into him, lighting up the interrogation room and the courtyard with nuclear white. She could actually watch as her skin faded away and the bones appeared underneath. But she kept electrocuting Gremory until he stopped moving, stopped breathing, until he was nothing but charcoal at her feet.

Then there was nothing left in her. The magic cut off.

She staggered, arms clutching her stomach. Hunger roared through her body.

“Elise!” Gerard moved to catch her.

She regained her footing and shoved him away. “Don’t,” she snarled. Just being near him made her hungrier. The heartbeats of her human guards made her salivate. Her body pulsed in time with their flowing blood.

“You killed him,” said another guard, Aniruddha. “But he could have told us where Belphegor was.”

Elise couldn’t respond. She stumbled toward the trap door.

“He wasn’t going to talk,” Gerard said from behind her. He still sounded confident. Unbothered. His trust in Elise was unaffected. “Send a cleaning crew up here. We’ll fertilize the flesh gardens with Gremory’s ashes.”

She wrenched open the exit and took a last glance around. The walkways had mostly cleared out, but not entirely. There were witnesses to Elise’s failure. Word would spread.

Elise had finished her dance, and the judges had awarded her a row of zeroes.

COLLAPSE

Caged in Bone

Abel Wilder, werewolf Alpha, has gone missing, leaving his mate and the pack in a panic. His captor magicked his scent out of the sanctuary so that his mate can’t track him down. Only one witch can cast a spell that powerful.

James Faulkner has finally crossed a line that Elise Kavanagh can’t ignore.

Elise is going to have to hunt James down before the werewolf pack loses its Alpha and Rylie loses her mate. And Elise will have to find a way to make sure that James never bothers the pack—or anyone else—ever again.

Excerpt:

Abel woke up on the last day he would spend with the werewolf pack and stared at his ceiling. The sun hadn’t risen yet. Moonlight reflected off the icy lake, casting silhouettes above his bed in the shape of tree branches and the ridged edge of a bush.

The pillow next to him was empty, indented where a body used to be. The sheets had been pulled aside. He could still smell the woman that had been there, even though the rapid fade of her sweat meant that she had already been gone for an hour. He dropped his hand into the empty space and imagined her warmth.

Rylie Gresham, Alpha werewolf, was an early riser. Had been for as long as he’d known her. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept in later than him, but he wished she would have slept in that morning. Would have been nice to wake up beside his mate just the once.

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Abel shut his eyes again, tried to relax. But even though he had just woken up, he felt completely alert—no chance of falling back asleep now. His heart was already starting to race and he hadn’t gotten out of bed yet.

He inhaled deeply. Through the artificial barrier of the walls, he could smell the world beyond. Pine. Ice. Mud. Tar. Smoke. Wolves. Deer. Someone was already awake and starting to cook breakfast. It was a big job, feeding a pack of hungry wolves and all the humans that hung out with them. There hadn’t been a new werewolf in months, yet their pack was growing rapidly.

This was the last time he’d be smelling all of that for a while—the soaps and shampoos and sweat and human stink of it all.

He wondered if he would miss it.

***

Abel stuffed his feet into boots, pulled on a sweater, stepped outside. Most of the pack was still asleep. The sanctuary was quiet, even though what used to be a collection of cottages straddling a single road was rapidly becoming a small town. The two greenhouses had become four. They were building a trading post, kind of like a general store, and a school—a goddamn school.

Originally, they’d talked about those additions casually, like a “maybe someday” thing. Maybe if we don’t all die in the apocalypse, then someday we can build a school.

Hell was on Earth, the apocalypse had come, they were still alive, and now they were building a school.

He never thought he’d see the day.

Shoving his hands in his pockets, he walked fast to warm himself up, lifting his knees high to trudge through the feet of snow that had accumulated overnight. Wind bit at his nose and cheeks.

He found a shovel in the storehouse and got to work unburying the main road. They’d recovered a plow that could handle the road between the sanctuary and Northgate, but it had trouble getting down the hill into the valley. That meant that it took manual labor to clear a path all the way down. Usually, Abel let someone else do it. He liked to spend his day as a wolf, patrolling the perimeter, tracking the movements of deer through their mountains, sheltering in that no-emotion warmth of the beast’s mind.

But this morning Abel put all his weight into shoveling. He dug deep into the snow by the greenhouses and piled it on the side of the road, moving slowly down the hill. In the dim light of early morning, the snow had purple undertones. Almost the same color as the clouds in the sky.

His breath was a gray mist as he worked. The ice was settling in the forest, cracking and shifting. The river had frozen and turned the waterfall into a few long icicles plastered to the side of the cliff, and it always seemed too quiet without the water flowing. There was nothing to listen to but the rhythm of his slow, steady footsteps and the scrape of a metal shovel against asphalt.

He lost himself in the motion of it. The repetition.

Abel cut through the cottages and past the kitchen before he took a break, jabbing the shovel into a snowdrift so that he could lean on it. He was suddenly too hot. He pulled off the jacket and tossed it onto a picnic table.

The creak of hinges told him he wasn’t alone anymore. Abel turned.

A woman had appeared on the steps of the kitchens while his back was turned. She was bundled in a jacket, oversized jeans, snow boots. Her face below the collar was covered in a scarf, but he could tell she was smiling at him by the way her eyelids creased.

Abel sniffed the air, inhaling her scent across the long road. She must have been cooking breakfast. The air that came from the kitchen behind her smelled of a slow-cooked roast. But his wolf stirred at the musk of the woman, not the meat.

Mate.

This was the missing woman from his bed, the woman that had been missing in his life long before he had known she existed.

He didn’t have to speak or wave to acknowledge her. The heat of their joined gazes was enough. He wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been hot enough to melt all the snow between them.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. He had to keep shoveling.

Abel ducked his head and got back to work.

When he looked up again, Rylie had gone back inside.

***

The sound of an idling car engine echoed over the snow. The sky had lightened to pale violet, heralding the approach of sunrise—still too early for most of the pack to be awake, much less going anywhere. Abel propped the shovel against the wall of the nearest cottage and went to the carport.

Summer and Abram were loading a pickup, pouring gas into its tank and setting bins of produce in the bed. “Hey, Abel!” Summer called once she spotted him, waving a gloved hand over her head. “Good morning!”

“Morning,” he grunted.

Abel watched as they rearranged the bins to make them all fit at the bottom, and Abram watched Abel right on back. Under the brim of his knitted black cap, his face was filled with barely concealed irritation, as if Abel had interrupted something.

They’d gotten a lot of leafy winter vegetables out of the greenhouses that week. Too many to fit in the pickup easily. Abel grabbed a bin to help and Abram jerked it out of his hands.

“I’ve got it,” Abram said.

He jammed it in place and slammed the tailgate shut.

Abel’s wolf bristled. He straightened his spine, squared his shoulders. Made his profile as big as possible.

Submissive wolves knew to shrink down and lower their eyes when he looked like that. Problem was, Abram wasn’t a wolf, and he wasn’t submissive. His posture screamed dominance. It took all of Abel’s self-control not to start growling.

Summer, of course, was oblivious. “I’ve got a couple more bins before we can go,” she said, tossing a tarp over the truck bed. “We’ll need to trade all these veggies for scrap in Northgate, and I want the greenhouses pretty much empty when we go.”

“I’ll meet you back here in a few,” Abram said. “I have a couple other things to do.”

“Also known as hiding in a warm cottage while I do the hard work,” she said to Abel in a stage whisper. She dropped down from the truck, landed in the snow, and gave him a hard pinch in the ribs. “Tomorrow is a homecoming day, so we’ll be staying overnight at St. Philomene’s. See you when we get back?”

Abel stepped away from the pinch. “Well…” The gold ring on her left hand seemed to catch all the light and glow. “You still wearing that thing?”

Summer pulled her hand against her chest, like he had smacked her knuckles. “It’s an engagement ring. I’ll be wearing it for the rest of my life.”

He snorted. He didn’t mean to—it just came out of him.

A frown looked so foreign on Summer’s normally cheerful face, but her expression quickly shuttered, hiding her hurt. “Yeah, okay. Homecoming tomorrow. Stuff to do. Gotta go.”

She jogged toward the greenhouses again, curly hair bouncing behind her.

Shit. That wasn’t what Abel had meant—well, except that it was. He didn’t think much of one of the angels marrying his daughter. Especially a jackass like Nash. But Abel hadn’t wanted to pick any fights, not this morning.

Abram jumped out of the truck too. He was a little shorter than Abel. The spare inches were enough to make the Alpha wolf relax—even if just a fraction.

“I could use help shoveling, since you got a few minutes,” Abel said, pushing thoughts of Summer’s engagement out of his mind. It was hard make the request nicely. He didn’t ask for help with the pack; he demanded compliance. But today was going to be a good day, and Rylie would want him to be nice about asking.

His son didn’t seem to have gotten the message. Abram’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t bother,” he said. “It’s not happening.”

A growl escaped Abel before he could stop it. “I told you to help me shovel.”

“I don’t help assholes do anything,” Abram said.

back to top!


Deleted Scene

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This scene originally took place toward the end of the first chapter of Caged in Bone. I truncated and rewrote it in Abel’s perspective when I realized that the tone and mood was all wrong for the book – it just didn’t fit. But we so seldom get to see Rylie and Abel being intimate that it seemed like a shame to keep it to myself. This has had ZERO editing. It’s a rough draft, fresh from my brain. Also, it is sexy, so (like the rest of The Ascension Series) it’s not recommended for young readers. Happy reading!

Rylie touched a match to the last candle just as the flame crawled to her fingertips.

“Ouch,” she whispered, flicking her hand to extinguish the flame on the match. She sucked on her burned hand. The skin tingled with the healing powers of a werewolf, but the memory of pain lasted long after the actual injury was gone.

She stepped back to look around the bathroom in her cottage. She had picked the design of the buildings herself and selected the floor plan with the largest bathrooms, but they were still pretty small. There was barely enough room for the deep corner tub, a toilet, and a sink. It had taken a lot of clever placement to fit two dozen tapers in the room. It lit everything up with a pinkish-orange hue.

“Okay,” Rylie said, shoving matches in the drawer and grabbing the bathrobe off the wall hook. “Almost done.” She was talking to herself. That was bad. She was way more nervous than she had any right to be.

She and Abel had been together for over a year now. They had two adult children together.

Being a couple should not have been this hard.

Awkward or not, Rylie could try. It was the best she could do.

So she stripped down, put on a bathrobe, filled the bath with painfully hot water, and she waited.

She didn’t have to wait for long. The walls of the cottage shifted, air sighed from under the bathroom door, and she heard footsteps.

Rylie fidgeted with her bathrobe, then made her hands hold still at her sides.

Abel pushed the door open. He was tall and broad enough that he dwarfed the room, sucking all the air out as soon as he stepped in. There was faint amusement in his eyes as he took in the steamy bathroom and all of the candles.

“That,” he said, pointing at the tub, “is a bath, not a shower. You promised me a shower.”

Her whole body cringed at the criticism. “Sorry. It’s dumb. I’ll put out the candles.”

“No, I don’t mean—fuck it, Rylie,” Abel said, “just shut your mouth.”

He pulled her against him and kissed her hard. She melted against him, all soft curves against the hard plane of his muscular chest.

They kissed for endless minutes. His tongue explored her mouth as his hands stroked down her back, to her hips, molding her in his grip.

He hooked a finger through the knot on the tie of her robe. Tugged it loose.

The robe fell open, and Rylie could barely breathe as he stepped back looked at her. His gaze was tangible. Hot fingers teasing her nipples to peaks, making her skin pebble. He palmed her breast, rolling the hardened nipple between his fingers, squeezing the flesh so that his hands left pale imprints on her skin.

Abel’s touch was possessive. He claimed her with every stroke and squeeze and rub.

He pushed her thighs apart with his knee, pushing her against the wall, lifting her weight so that her feet came off the floor. There was nothing holding Rylie up but his leg and her back against the tile. They were close enough to the candles on the back of the sink that she could feel their warmth, and Abel shifted the folds of her robe so they wouldn’t catch.

“The candles are a little dumb,” he said, sliding a hand down her stomach to slip his fingers under the waistband of her panties.

She didn’t have enough brain cells to be offended this time. “I thought they were sexy.”

“You’re sexy,” Abel said, hiking her thigh up, his fingers burning a path from her knee to the edge of her underwear, “and I want to see you.”

He reached out for the light switch. Rylie grabbed his wrist.

“Wait, don’t—”

She pulled on him, and he pulled back. They unbalanced. The back of her legs bumped against the edge of the tub. She slipped and crashed into the water, hands still locked on Abel’s shoulders.

One more benefit of being Alphas was the incredible reflexes. He had the presence of mind to cup the back of her head against the impact and turn at the last instant, splashing down next to her instead of on top of her. But that meant that they were both almost fully submerged, from knees to chin, feet dangling over the side. Hot water sloshed over the floor.

Rylie gasped, wiping her soaked hair out of her face. “Oh my God—are you okay?”

Abel choked and spluttered. For an awful, embarrassed second, she thought that he had swallowed too much water. But then she realized that he was laughing. “Leader of the pack,” he said, leaning over her, water streaming off his sodden shirt, beading on his square jaw. He was even warmer than the water. “Biggest, baddest wolf alive. Clumsy as hell.”

“Stop it,” Rylie said, but she couldn’t stop giggling, either.

His shirt was stuck to his abs. She peeled it up his chest and he lifted his arms to let her take it off over his head.

Once that was out of the way, he collapsed on top of her, pushing her legs into the tub. It was deep enough to fit both of them, though not wide enough for them to comfortably lay side by side. He fit himself between her knees instead. The fly of his jeans dug into her tender flesh. Her bathrobe floated around them.

“First the candles, now this,” he said, nipping the side of her throat hard enough that she felt the burn of healing fever.

“I promise I will never try to seduce you again,” Rylie said. She ripped his jeans open. The button popped off and bounced against the porcelain side of the tub. She winced at the sound.

Abel’s laughter faded to a heated stare. “Like I told you before, I ain’t complaining.” He jerked the elastic of her panties hard enough that they snapped.

“Hey,” she protested, “I liked that pair.”

“And I liked these jeans,” Abel said, tossing her panties to the floor.

He pushed inside of her, no preparation, no warning. Rylie was ready for him, but it was still a shock—the fullness of it, the sheer size of his body in proportion to hers. Her fingernails dug into his shoulders as she gasped. Abel liked it when she did that, digging her fingers into the muscles of his back hard enough that another ounce of pressure might draw blood. He growled as he began to move.

The rhythm of their bodies made the water ripple over her, hot water on hot skin. She felt like she was going to slip under. Rylie’s hand slapped against the tile, seeking purchase, and found nothing. She had nothing to hold onto but Abel.

They moved and rocked together. Tension built within Rylie, making all her muscles clench and heat spread to the tips of her toes.

“Abel,” she gasped.

He sank his teeth into her neck. Hard. “Do it,” he said.

She hit her peak, and he followed a moment later, roaring and cresting and emptying half of the bath tub onto the floor.

And outside, it continued to snow.

COLLAPSE

Ruled by Steel

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

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

Only a demon can save the souls in Hell.

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exquisite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Empty your bowels,” he said.

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

Once she rose, he took her elbow again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so broken after all.

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

He enjoyed struggle. He did not enjoy defiance.

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

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

The teeth could wait.

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

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

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

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

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

A fiend approached Belphegor at the head of the room.

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

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

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

He stood. The slave followed suit.

Together, they approached the noble House of Abraxas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More defiance.

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

Pale, deft fingers loosened the collar of his shirt.

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

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

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

“No,” she said.

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

“To the wall,” Belphegor said.

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

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

You go to the wall,” she said.

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

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

“Who are you?” Belphegor asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sit. Stay. Beg. Roll over.

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

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

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

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

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

Her head bounced and left no blood.

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

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

Selective incorporeality. Definitely not mortal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A shame to damage such a pristine face.

He did it again.

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

She grunted, jaw clenched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belphegor was becoming mildly concerned.

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

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

The slave spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belphegor’s concern increased fractionally.

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

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

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

The slave rounded on him and swung.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the first time, Belphegor felt fear.

She kicked the lever.

COLLAPSE

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Oaths of Blood

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

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

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

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

Excerpt:

December 2012

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

Dawn, and its accompanying safety, was hours away.

Until then, the senator was alone with the night.

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

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

It blinked out the moment his foot touched it.

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

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

He was alone. So very alone.

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

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

“No, oh no…”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank the Lord,” he said.

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

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

There was a figure moving in the fog.

Heart hammering, he let the curtains fall shut.

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

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

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

“Gary?” asked the senator.

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

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

Zettel’s voice sharpened. “What?”

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

Senator Peterson dropped the phone.

The fluorescent lights flickered.

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

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

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

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

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

His hand fumbled for the light switch.

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

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

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

“Oh God,” he said.

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

He screamed. She shattered into shadow.

COLLAPSE

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