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

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…

Oaths of Blood

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

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

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

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

Excerpt:

December 2012

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

Dawn, and its accompanying safety, was hours away.

Until then, the senator was alone with the night.

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

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

It blinked out the moment his foot touched it.

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

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

He was alone. So very alone.

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

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

“No, oh no…”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank the Lord,” he said.

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

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

There was a figure moving in the fog.

Heart hammering, he let the curtains fall shut.

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

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

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

“Gary?” asked the senator.

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

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

Zettel’s voice sharpened. “What?”

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

Senator Peterson dropped the phone.

The fluorescent lights flickered.

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

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

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

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

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

His hand fumbled for the light switch.

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

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

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

“Oh God,” he said.

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

He screamed. She shattered into shadow.

COLLAPSE

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Sacrificed in Shadow

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

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

Sometimes, you need a demon to fight demons.

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t touch me,” Lincoln said.

The blond barked a nicotine laugh. “Queer.”

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

“Think he’s queer? He looks queer.”

“What a faggot.”

“Cut him,” said a fourth.

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

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

“Don’t touch me,” Lincoln said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln Marshall walked into The Pump Lounge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There was nobody out there,” Lincoln said.

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

“Who?”

The bartender had already turned her back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lucas McIntyre?” Lincoln guessed.

McIntyre tongued his stretched labret plug and smiled.

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

Find the woman.

“How can I help you?” McIntyre asked.

“Aren’t we still waiting on someone?”

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Deputies deal with murders,” McIntyre said.

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

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

“It’s both,” Lincoln said.

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

“Yeah. It’s like that.”

“Full moons?”

“And new,” Lincoln said grimly.

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

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

“Six dead.”

“Survivors?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Out back.”

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

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

Lincoln followed.

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

“Lord help me,” Lincoln said.

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

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

“Just do it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Succubi.”

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

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

Lincoln couldn’t wait to get home.

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

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

That was where they stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re lying,” McIntyre said.

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned.

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

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

Lincoln had found the woman.

Elise Kavanagh.

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

Lincoln struggled to remember how to speak.

“That’s all I know,” he said.

She glanced over his shoulder. “McIntyre?”

“He seems legit to me. Up to you.”

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

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

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

“Will you help me?” Lincoln asked.

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

Lincoln felt the strange urge to kiss her.

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

“Fine,” Elise said.

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

“Really?”

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

“Where?” Lincoln asked. “When?”

But she was gone.

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

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

“I know,” Lincoln said.

“Cool.”

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

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

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

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

Empty.

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

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

He didn’t look.

Lincoln got behind the wheel and drove.

COLLAPSE

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

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Paradise Damned

Elise Kavanagh is being held captive without weapons or allies. The only way out of the garden is to kill God Himself.

James Faulkner's son has been taken by Metaraon, but James is caught in Limbo and helpless to save him.

An army of half-angel, half-demon hybrids is converging on the gates of Heaven, where the Union prepares for a final battle.

The end has arrived.

Excerpt:

Kansas – June 1989

Elise received her first mortal wound when she was eight years old. It happened during her second hunt without Mom, which should have been an easy fight; they had another local kopis backing them up, and chupacabras that migrated so far north were more of a livestock threat than a human one. But Dad had made a mistake. Since he had thought they were on the trail of a goat-eating monster, he didn’t have any silver weapons ready when the werewolf attacked.

“A werewolf in Kansas?” he muttered as he dragged Elise’s bleeding body out of the line of fire. He set her next to the back wall of the restaurant. Fidel, the territory’s local kopis, was still grappling with the beast. “There are no damn werewolves in Kansas!”

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The six-inch gashes on her stomach begged to differ. Elise clutched her falchions to her chest, gasping for air. The leather-wrapped hilts and steel blades weren’t as soothing as usual.

Dad shoved her arms out of the way so that he could look at the injury. Her eyes were too blurry to make out his expression, but she could tell that the damage was bad by the way he clicked his tongue. If it had been anything less than fatal, he would have told her to walk it off.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, closing her arms over her chest again. She hugged the falchions like teddy bears.

“Where are you going, Dad?” Elise asked, craning around to watch him stepping around the Dumpster. “Dad? Don’t leave me—it hurts!”

“Don’t whine,” he snapped.

He was right. She was whining.

Her mouth closed, fists clenched on the hilts of her swords, and she practiced the breathing exercises he had taught her to get through pain.

The fighting could have been miles away, as far as she could tell. The werewolf’s claws sounded like chisels digging into the pavement.

Men grunted. A beast growled.

Then she heard a gunshot—and everything went silent.

It was quiet for so long that Elise thought that her father must have been killed. She acknowledged that possibility with a calm sense of inevitability. He had warned her it was likely to happen sooner rather than later, and her instructions for that scenario were to stay calm and focus on escaping. She needed to make sure that Mom was safe.

Elise hurt too much to want to move, but Dad never accepted injury as an excuse for failure. She rolled onto her stomach and crawled out from behind the Dumpster, seeking confirmation of her father’s condition.

Dad wasn’t dead. He stood over the immobile body of the werewolf, Fidel’s gun in hand. A pool of blood spread underneath the furred beast.

She would always remember how he looked framed by the light of the full moon, the long muscles of his arm taut as he continued to aim. He was waiting to ensure the werewolf was dead. It didn’t move.

Madre de Dios,” Fidel said. He sat beside the furred corpse with a hand pressed to his shoulder. “That was no chupacabra, Isaac. You were fucking lucky I had silver bullets with me, else I woulda gotten a lot more than bitten.”

“It bit you?”

“Yeah. Look at this.”

Dad bent to look at the other kopis’s wound. Fidel’s borrowed gun was a small cannon—a Desert Eagle. It glistened in the moonlight, as graceful and deadly as Elise’s swords. It was strange to see it in Dad’s hand. He said that guns were beneath them. Inelegant. He preferred to kill with his bare hands.

Elise’s vision blurred with pain. She grunted and pressed a hand to her stomach. So much blood.

When she looked up again, it was just in time to see Dad shoot Fidel in the head with his own gun.

Mom was waiting for them in the truck. It had been parked outside a 7-Eleven a safe distance away, where Dad’s quarry wouldn’t be able to hurt her. She cried when she saw Elise, drawing her into her lap like she was a much smaller child. “What happened to you?” she sobbed, pressing her lips to Elise’s cheek.

“Don’t coddle her,” Dad snapped. He was drenched in his daughter’s blood with Fidel’s gun at the small of his back. “Every kopis does this a few times. She’ll be fine if we’re fast enough. You know that, Ariane. I can’t believe I have to tell you again.”

He pushed Elise into the backseat, tossed a jacket over her, and gunned the engine.

Elise was embarrassed by her mother’s show of weakness, even as much as she longed to be in Mom’s arms. She tried not to make any noise.

“The hospital is that way,” Mom said.

“We can’t afford it. You know where we have to go.”

“Please, Isaac. We can’t take her there yet. She’s too young.”

If he replied, Elise didn’t hear it. She drifted in and out of consciousness, alone with the pain.

She replayed the fight against the werewolf in her dreams.

It had moved like lightning—a blur of fur that was impossible to focus on, much less attack. Elise had been shocked to stillness at the sight of it. None of her practice fights against Dad could have ever prepared her for a beast the size of a horse that moved with supernatural speed.

So she had failed. She tried to jump left too slowly; the werewolf’s claws had been waiting for her. Elise hadn’t gotten a single blow in before it knocked her down.

No wonder Dad was so disappointed.

It hurts so much.

Ma fille,” Mom whispered, smoothing her hand over Elise’s forehead. She murmured words of comfort, separated from Elise by the seats of the truck and Dad’s will. None of Mom’s French made any sense to Elise in her dazed condition, but it was nice to be touched.

She slipped into unconsciousness again.

What if she had jumped right instead of left? What if she had brought up her falchion in time, the way that she had originally intended? The blades weren’t silver, but surely a werewolf couldn’t survive decapitation.

If only Elise had gone right, she wouldn’t be pouring blood all over Dad’s truck. He wouldn’t be so annoyed with her. Mom wouldn’t be crying.

Je t’aime,” Mom said, her words punctuated by Isaac’s grunt of irritation.

Elise wished that Mom would stop babying her. Real kopides didn’t get babied by anyone.

Failure.

She drifted. She bled.

Elise woke up fully healed with the sour aftertaste of magic lingering on her tongue. “There,” said the witch, sitting back on her heels. She was an elegant older woman with gray-streaked hair sleeked into a bun, and she wore a silk bathrobe, like she had just stepped out of a spa.

“Thank God for you, Pamela,” Mom said.

Pamela grimaced. “Well, don’t do that. You never know who’s listening these days.”

Elise peered at her mother through bleary eyes. Mom’s cheeks were wet and her nose was running, but she still managed a grateful smile for the witch named Pamela. “I would have taken her to the hospital. I know we should have. But Isaac thought that—”

“You did the right thing. We’re far too invested in Elise to allow her care to fall to mundane doctors.”

“Will she become a werewolf?”

“No. Claws don’t transfer the curse. Many kopides are immune anyway.” Pamela finally noticed that Elise had opened her eyes. She wiped the blood off of Elise’s stomach with a damp cloth, and the skin underneath was undamaged. “How do you feel, Elise?”

“Fine,” she said, because Dad would have hated it if she had complained about her sore back and the strange taste in her mouth.

Elise pushed her mother away and sat up on her own. She was surprised to find, as her senses returned to her, that she was outside in a forest. The only light came from a bonfire that Elise glimpsed through the trees. Silhouettes of dancers flitted around the flames to the slow beating of drums.

“It’s Litha,” Pamela explained at Elise’s confused expression. “Midsummer. My coven is celebrating the sabbat tonight. Would you like to see?”

“But the hunt,” Elise protested. “The werewolf’s body—I have to get back.”

“Your father has returned to take care of the dead,” Mom said, smoothing her hand down Elise’s hair. “We have nothing else to do there.”

Elise hung her head.

Isaac had left them rather than wait for his daughter to be healed. He must have been even more disappointed than she feared.

She nodded, resisting the urge to wallow. Dad wouldn’t have wallowed.

“I’m going to join the circle,” Mom said. She stood and—to Elise’s surprise—began to strip.

She abandoned her skirt and blouse on a tree, like the branch was a hanger. She fluffed out her curls, smiled at her daughter, and stepped into the clearing.

Pamela washed Elise’s blood off of her hands with the remaining water.

“Many rituals are performed skyclad,” the witch explained. Pamela sounded like what Elise imagined a teacher would sound like, though Elise had never been to school. “It helps witches feel connected to the elements. Young and old alike participate. Strange as it seems to the uninitiated, it’s not sexual.”

The idea hadn’t even occurred to Elise, but having Pamela mention it brought heat to her cheeks.

“I’m not getting naked,” she said, folding her arms tightly across her chest. She didn’t have any of her mother’s physical features yet—and, hopefully, never would—but she wasn’t prepared to advertise their absence, either.

Pamela rubbed her back. “You’re not a witch. Nobody would expect you to join the ritual. But you can’t stay in the trees unsupervised, and I’m not babysitting you. Come, you can sit on this log over here.”

Elise would have preferred to face another werewolf than enter that clearing. But Pamela drew her onward, guiding her to a fallen tree at the edge of the meadow, and sat her down on the tree.

Mom had jumped in with the other witches as if she belonged there, and they greeted her with cheers of joy. The coven already knew her.

The shouts and cheers of the coven sounded a lot like the yipping of the werewolf as they had hunted it through the Kansas strip mall. The witches were more animal than human. Beasts of the earth and trees. Mom’s magic had never been like that before—it was a sedate, passive thing, best for making potions and poultices. Elise wondered if it was her mother who was strange, or the coven itself.

That was Elise’s first real impression of witchcraft: naked bodies dancing around the fire to the beat of primal drums, with the taste of blood and magic at the back of her throat.

But not everyone around the circle was a joyful participant in the bacchanalia. A man stood on the opposite side of the bonfire, occasionally visible through the licking flames. He wore a button-down shirt. His hair was charcoal black, like Pamela’s must have been when she was younger. And he was deep in argument with a naked old man whose skin was like leather.

“Who’s that?” Elise asked, tugging Pamela’s sleeve.

Pamela turned to see whom Elise was referring to. The younger man was shaking his fist in the face of the older man, silently threatening, even though Elise couldn’t hear the words over the drumming.

“That’s my nephew, James,” Pamela said. There was a strange expression on her face. Somewhere between wistful and worried. “I think you’d like him. Would you like to be introduced?”

How could Pamela possibly know what kind of people Elise would like? They had never even met before.

As frightening as the coven’s weird ritual was, the contrast between their joyous shrieks and James’s anger was stark. Among all of them, this was the man with the real power—the only one of them that didn’t succumb to the crowd’s energy, and was unafraid to stand apart. Of all the witches she faced that night, he was the one she would least want to fight.

“No,” Elise said. “I’m staying here.”

Pamela looked relieved. “Probably best, for now. Plenty of time for that later.” She let the robe fall from her shoulders, then joined the circle again.

Power drifted into the sky, gathered from motion, dance, and drums. Elise sat on the log and tried not to show her fear.

The next time she looked through the flames, James was gone.

Dad came back for Elise the next morning. The Desert Eagle was gone. The blood had been scrubbed out of the truck. And the first thing he said to Elise was, “What did you learn last night?”

“Never underestimate,” she replied promptly.

She didn’t just mean the werewolf that they had failed to anticipate. She couldn’t shake the image of her mother with those pagans, or her father calmly shooting Fidel in the face. She understood now that there were many things she didn’t know about her parents and the world at large—and many of those things were likely to be bad.

“Good,” Dad said. “Very good.”

COLLAPSE

Dark Union

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll only take twelve hundred.”

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

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

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

“Now you’re wasting my time.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

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

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

“Great. I’m sold.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What were you exorcising?” he asked.

“Demons. Really nasty ones.”

“That is so cool.”

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

“Mom!”

She climbed in, and Elise stepped back beside Anthony.

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

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

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

“Hey,” Anthony complained.

“Do you want groceries or not?”

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

“What now?” he asked dully.

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

She left before he could try to kiss her properly.

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

That twinge was back.

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

II

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

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

It nodded without looking up.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m peachy.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened in here?” Elise asked.

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

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

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

Neuma smiled weakly.

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

“Jesus, Neuma.”

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

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

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

“Tell me who attacked you,” Elise said.

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

“You couldn’t have fought?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Elise!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLLAPSE