Cast in Faefire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Marion Garin, the Voice of God, is due to marry the Prince of the Autumn Court by the end of the week - assuming that the world's preternatural leadership doesn't have anything to say about it. They plan to strip Prince ErlKonig of his title, ensuring that Marion can't form a god-forbidden treaty with the angels.

Still injured from his final fight in Sheol, Seth Wilder is seeking a way to stay alive. If he dies, he'll lose more than his life - he'll be slave to the gods' whims for all eternity. He's ready to take drastic steps. Maybe even make a bargain with the vampires. But what the gods want, they get. And they don't appreciate being defied.

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Excerpt:

Niflheimr’s throne room had changed drastically in the last month, more so than any other part of the palace, thanks to Konig’s mother. Violet had moved in during Marion’s recovery and taken charge of decorating for the wedding. Many of her touches were clearly meant to be permanent, though, from the tapestries of nymphs that concealed the cogs of ice to the furniture scattered around the nave.

The queen herself was seated upon the throne when Marion and Konig arrived. “You’re late.”

“Barely,” said their guest, checking her watch. Deirdre Tombs offered a smile to Marion. “I’ll forgive you for it this time, I guess.”

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The shifter leading the American Gaean Commission was startlingly young—which said a lot, considering Marion had yet to hit her twentieth birthday. Deirdre wore chunky combat boots, leather leggings, a leather jacket, and a tight leather corset. She looked like she should have been heading to a vampire bar for a night of blood-letting fun.

Deirdre jerked a thumb at the ornate chair Violet was sitting in. “Good move not doing another ice throne. I’ve got no idea what they were thinking the first time around, making a seat that melts.”

Marion extended her hand to shake. “I’m so grateful that you were willing to have this conversation here. I know it’s not convenient for gaeans to travel between the Middle Worlds.”

“Really?” Deirdre looked at her hand, laughed, and pulled Marion into a hug.

“Oh,” Marion said, surprised.

Deirdre looked just as surprised when she stepped back. “What’s wrong?”

Marion hadn’t inferred a friendship with Deirdre Tombs from reading her own journals, which had been written in a code that assigned obscure nicknames to everyone Marion knew. If they were friends, Marion surely would have written about it. She’d have to figure out what she had called Deirdre to know their history.

At least the AGC chair was greeting Marion with a hug instead of a gun.

“Wedding planning is overwhelming,” Violet said when Marion failed to think of a response. “I’m afraid my future daughter-in-law has been distracted these past few weeks.”

“Thanks for the help, mother,” Konig said pointedly.

Violet gave him a thin smile and finally stood.

The Onyx Queen was the obvious source of her son’s otherworldly beauty. White hair flowed around a face shaped like his. Chains dangled from her tiara, just above the delicate bridge of her nose, and the fullness of her lips was the color of roses faded in sun.

When she slid down the steps from the throne, she was trailed by voluminous veils that made Marion’s dress look like something she’d picked up at a gas station. It was the kind of descent that would have made anyone stop to stare. “Jolene Chang has already been released back to Earth,” Violet said. “We couldn’t allow her to stay. She wouldn’t answer any of our questions.”

Deirdre folded her arms. “What did you ask?”

“The wrong questions,” Violet said. “If we’d asked the right things, we’d know why she was in the dungeons. Did you sanction her spying? Is that why you agreed to have this meeting in the Winter Court?”

“Mother,” Konig snapped.

“It’s a fair question,” Deirdre said, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “Jolene thinks she can find the darknet servers.”

Heather had been right.

“Then you did sanction it,” Violet said.

“No, I told her not to run off. If the darknet servers really are in the Winter Court, then they wouldn’t be easily accessible from Niflheimr, and we’re not in the habit of spying on allies,” Deirdre said. “I’m sorry for Jolene’s behavior. Thanks for taking it easy on her.”

Violet inclined her head in graceful acceptance of the apology. “Then what do you want, Deirdre Tombs?”

“I was hoping I could just talk to Marion,” Deirdre said. “Marion and Konig, if he’s still speaker for the unseelie. And the talk should be alone, ideally.”

“We aren’t really speakers anymore,” Marion said. “We only fulfilled those roles at the summit.”

“You’re both still authorized to make decisions for your factions, though,” Deirdre said. “You know your favorite terrorist’s gone legit, right?”

That was clearly a personal reference Marion should have understood. “Yes, I’m fully aware of your work with the American Gaean Commission. You’re doing wonderful things.”

Wonderful things, and dangerous things. Deirdre represented direct opposition to Rylie Gresham’s institution. She’d also been gathering faction-free North American Union preternaturals at her back, forming something that resembled a rebellion, if not an overt army. She was chaos in shifter form, as far as the establishment was concerned, but she draped herself in the robes of justice. Democracy.

Deirdre presented a thick binder with “Proposal for International Preternatural Council” on the cover. “I want to make a permanent coalition out of the people who attended the summit. I think we can accomplish a lot of good for the world with ongoing cooperation. Here, look at this.”

Marion took the binder and sat in one of the chairs on the floor of the throne room. It was the kind of furniture that Violet liked, all hand-carved wood and hard seats. She was forced to sit very straight or slide off onto the ground.

She flipped through the pages. It was a lot of information, but as a half-angel, Marion was capable of consuming staggering amounts of information in minimal time. Once she’d realized that she could speed-read at a rate of ten thousand words per minute with a little touch of angel magic, it had made tearing through her old journals a much easier chore.

Now she employed it to inhale Deirdre’s proposal.

“It’s good,” Marion said, shutting the binder.

Amusement touched Deirdre’s full lips. Amusement, but not surprise—she must have known Marion well indeed. “Gotta say, I’m relieved to have your approval. You’re the linchpin.”

“How so?” Konig asked.

“In the same way that she ensured the honesty of negotiations at the summit.” Deirdre lifted her wrist to flash a bracelet identical to the one that Marion had used on Geoff Samuelson.

Marion relaxed a tiny amount—as much as she could while sitting in one of Violet’s stiff chairs. The bracelet’s compulsion meant Deirdre couldn’t lie. When she said that she wanted to use the group to benefit the world, she must have been honest about the good intentions.

“We’ve also adapted the magically binding contract you wrote up for the summit to create a new contract for this council,” Deirdre said. “I’ve got copies both of you can check out. All the other factions have already signed on, including Adàn Pedregon, and he’s a real pain in the ass.”

She took a pair of envelopes from her bag, handing one to Marion and then climbing the stairs to give the other to Konig. He’d sat on the throne that his mother had vacated. His lazy rockstar posture made him look a little too sullen to be king.

“Here’s the proposal for those who can’t read War and Peace in a half hour. Each speaker agrees to contribute to a system of checks and balances for the factions. When we vote on something, the vote’s binding, magical-style. If we all vote to say that it’s illegal for sidhe to eat cupcakes, we’ve all gotta enforce that.”

“I’m not voting against cupcakes,” Marion said.

“Just an example,” Deirdre said. “Full disclosure, motivated by my fancy-shiny bracelet: the voting body will also be capable of removing people from power. If Rylie Gresham goes nuts, we’ll be able to vote a new Alpha in without a nationwide election.”

Violet peered over her son’s shoulder at the contract. “This sounds unconscionably intrusive.”

“It’s a way to take overwhelming power from any one faction. It’s a safety net.”

“It’s undemocratic to take leadership choices away from the people,” Marion said.

Deirdre smiled at Marion. “The Alpha only became an electable position because Rylie wanted it that way, so she’s still got absolute power. Without this agreement, she can change her mind about holding elections at all.”

“This would impact the sidhe royal families.” Violet plucked the contract out of Konig’s hands. He took it back.

“Stop, mother,” he said. “This is my choice. You made me speaker for the unseelie. And I have to say, Deirdre, I’m intrigued.”

“You should be. This could save lives. A lot of lives.” Deirdre planted her hands on her hips. “Look, Genesis screwed everything up, big time. And you know what caused that?”

“The gods dicking around with reality?” Konig suggested.

“Pre-Genesis factions pissing off the gods,” Deirdre said. “The angels were getting all up in everyone’s business, and the demons pulled the Breaking thing, and it was a mess. Rebooting the universe was the gods’ solution to cleaning it up. We’re lucky we didn’t get forty days and nights of rain too.”

“You want to be able to have all of the factions magically bound together to prevent another Genesis,” Marion said.

“Exactly. We’ll only vote on big stuff like that. It takes ten of the twelve factions agreeing we need a vote in order to do it. Although we can also chat more casually about other stuff—open up more diplomatic relations and stuff.”

Marion skimmed her copy of the contract. It was bordered with ethereal runes like those she had all over spellbooks in her private home, back on Vancouver Island. She traced her fingertips along the runes as the internet guides to magic had instructed. The spells whispered their truths to her.

Despite the simple designs, the magic behind them was immense. The elegance and complexity were breath-taking. Marion had a hard time imagining she’d ever been able to craft such a thing even though her fingerprints were all over it. The spells practically sang in delight at her acknowledgment.

It would be easy enough to activate the runes in the master contract. Marion could definitely bind the council.

“This absolutely cannot go through,” Violet said.

“It’s not your decision,” Deirdre said. “Right, Prince ErlKonig?”

He puffed up at being addressed directly. “Right.”

“I like the idea,” Marion said. The last thing they needed was another Genesis, and the gods had made it clear they weren’t afraid of interfering when people made them angry. “I have to wonder, though—what’s the specific motivation behind getting this together now?”

“It was inspired by events at the summit,” Deirdre said promptly. “We’ve got to be able to unite against threats—like demons—that might motivate another god-driven catastrophe.”

She set the master contract out on a marble-topped table and produced a pen.

Everyone had signed it. Everyone. Ten of twelve factions.

“I’m amazed you got everyone to cooperate,” Marion said. She’d barely survived the week of the summit without punching anyone in the nose, and she wasn’t exactly the nose punching type.

“You’re not the only one who’s good at politics,” Deirdre said. “Plus the whole ‘I can set fire to anyone who pisses me off’ thing doesn’t hurt.”

Marion’s eyes widened. She’d been told Deirdre Tombs was a shapeshifter. What kind of shifter could set fire to people?

Deirdre misinterpreted her reaction. “I’m kidding. I’ve spent weeks talking everyone into it. Cupcakes might have been involved—not cupcakes I made, mind you, because I’m awful at baking. Good cupcakes.”

“You didn’t bring any for me?”

“Sorry, I didn’t think they’d last the trip between worlds. I’ll give you an IOU if you sign.” She offered the pen to Marion. “All my work to this point means nothing if you and your husband-to-be don’t join the group.”

Violet ripped the pen out of Deirdre’s hand. “Where were you, Deirdre Tombs, when the sidhe courts needed to be established? What did you sacrifice to establish benevolent monarchies that would care for the sidhe, when nobody else did?”

Deirdre didn’t even blink. “I was getting shuttled between orphanages because Genesis killed my dad and left me without a home.”

Konig sauntered down the stairs and took the pen from his mother. “I’ll sign, and you will too, Marion.”

“You’re making a grave mistake,” Violet said.

Her son had already signed.

Now he extended the pen to Marion. “Do it, princess.”

Deirdre was practically glowing as Marion signed. “Now you just have to activate it,” the shifter said. “Go ahead.”

Marion stroked the page. She felt the instant that the binding spell activated. It locked into her breastbone like an invisible golden chain.

For a moment, the pain was so immense that she couldn’t breathe.

It was gone as quickly.

“Thanks,” Deirdre folded the contract and tucked it into her bag again. “I look forward to seeing you guys at the vote next week.”

Marion blinked. “Next week?”

“We’re voting to have Konig’s title as Prince of the Autumn Court removed. He won’t be heir. He won’t hold lands. That way, if the two of you get married, the peace treaty with the angels still won’t extend to the Winter Court.” Deirdre’s shrug almost looked embarrassed. “Sorry.”

“But…but…” Marion’s mouth opened and closed. The only thing she managed to get out was, “You’re wearing the bracelet.”

“I told you nothing but the truth, so help me gods. The voting body is meant to prevent god-level disasters again. And like you told us at the summit, Marion: the gods will have blood if you let the angels have the Winter Court.” Fierce light filled Deirdre’s eyes. “I’m not going to let that happen.”

“That’s not what we’re planning to do,” Marion said. She’d never dream of giving the Winter Court to the angels once Leliel killed the refugees.

“But you could do it,” Deirdre said. “Just like how Rylie doesn’t have to have elections for Alpha because she’s got absolute power. Nobody can have absolute power to ruin the world—even you, Marion.”

Shimmering magic overcame Konig. Niflheimr trembled with his fury. “I signed your contract!”

Marion felt dizzy. Ten of twelve people are needed to call a vote.

Everyone Deirdre had spoken to had agreed that Konig needed to be removed as prince.

Everyone she had worked with at the summit.

“Get her!” Violet roared, thrusting a finger toward the shifter.

The Raven Knights materialized from the ley lines. Even Marion, mostly immune to the reality distortion effects of sidhe magic, found herself incapable of standing when they swarmed in with battle magic flaring. She lost all sense of body. Her eyes and ears overloaded, reducing Niflheimr to fuzzy whiteness.

She could still see enough to know that Deirdre shifted in a burst of flame. The AGC chair became a fire bird—something halfway between heron and hawk, assuming she’d been rolled in kerosine then shot through a bonfire via cannon.

Deirdre seized the bag with the contract in massive talons and vanished into the night, untouched.

“So much for cupcakes,” Marion said faintly.

COLLAPSE

Cast in Angelfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Book Cover: Cast in Angelfire
Editions:Paperback - First Edition: $ 14.99 USD
ISBN: 9781937733995
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 342
ePub - First Edition: $ 4.99 USD
ISBN: 9781937733322
Pages: 350
Kindle: $ 3.99 USD
ISBN: B01CN5G0EO

Marion can’t remember anything before waking up at Mercy Hospital. All she knows that a lot of people want to kill her. And her would-be assassins are not human…

Faeries are real. So are vampires and angels.

They all want Marion dead.

Surrounded by enemies, Marion turns to Lucas Flynn: a mysterious doctor as good with a gun as he is with a scalpel. He fights like a demon but claims that he’s human. And he’s hellbent on protecting Marion.

Lucas claims that Marion is a half-witch, half-angel mage with terrifying powers that could crack the world. But Marion can’t remember how to cast magic any more than she can remember where she comes from.

Marion must find her identity and her power…before the forgotten sins of her past catch up with her.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Billings, Montana—September 2030

There was a bounty on the life of a girl named Marion. The dollar figure was high enough that the real question wasn’t whether she would die—it was how quickly, and who would land the reward.

The bounty was passed around on darknet forums where killers sought their next paychecks. The darknet had become more advanced as unseelie sidhe developed technology so complex that it seemed to be magical, and the content was immune to the eye of law enforcement, since the servers were hidden in the Winter Court. Only people invited to the darknet could access it. Invitations were not cheap, and they could never be purchased with money.

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The original posting of the bounty said that the target answered to “Marion,” and that she had multiple last names. This Marion had been born in 2011—four years before Genesis rebooted the world, spewing vampires, faeries, and a thousand other preternatural breeds across the face of the Earth.

It also said that she needed to die before the first of November. That meant that there was less than a month to form a plan, track her down, and murder her.

The bounty’s poster included a blurry photograph of the target taken from a distance. Only her wavy brunette hair was distinct, but she stood near a bus shelter, which allowed Geoff Samuelson to approximate her height at five feet, ten inches—perhaps a bit taller.

The information wasn’t much, but it was enough for Geoff to get that bounty.

And he didn’t plan to share.

“She’s only nineteen,” said Vasicek. “A baby.”

“Nineteen’s old enough to screw, and it’s old enough to die for your country,” Geoff said.

Vasicek slipped a magazine into his sniper rifle. “I’m not saying it’s a problem. I’m stating fact. My little sister is older than she is.”

“She musta done something to piss people off,” Geoff said. Nobody got million-dollar bounties put on their head unless they really deserved it. That was the thought that had been comforting Geoff while crossing the North American Union on Amtrak, rushing toward the target’s last known location in Montana. If someone was willing to pay that much money to knock off Marion Multiple-Last-Names, then she probably deserved it.

The thought of what Geoff would do with all that money was its own kind of comfort, too.

Vasicek had a dreamy look that said he was contemplating something similar. Even the serpents coiled over his ears looked like they were fantasizing about the bounty. “What do you think you’ll do with your half?”

“I’m out of this business,” Geoff said. “Out of the business, out of the country, retiring for life.”

“The money’s good, but not that good.”

It would be once Geoff murdered Vasicek, ensuring that he didn’t have to split the bounty in half. “What are you planning to do with your cut?”

“I’m franchising. Got lots of connections who are, you know, like me.” Vasicek probably meant demons in general, not specifically megaira. His specific breed made good assassins, though. They fed on aggression the way vampires fed on blood. “Us types do good with this killing stuff. I’ll buy ‘em, pay ‘em a salary, collect lots more bounties. Get some fat stacks going.”

“Like the Mary Kay of murder?”

“The Wal-Mart of murder. We’ll be huge. We’ll dominate.” The snakes creating Vasicek’s hair laughed along with him in a chorus of cruel hissing.

It was a nice fantasy all right. Before Genesis, Vasicek might have been able to do such a thing. Demons had been almost as numerous as humans back in those days, and there had been no sidhe or shifters to compete with. Now there weren’t many demons for Vasicek to hire. They’d all been shoved into the Nether Worlds, then the key to the door tossed away.

Geoff didn’t bother pointing out how impractical the plan was. Vasicek should enjoy the fantasy while it lasted. In a few hours, he’d be bleeding sulfurous blood onto the pavement, his soul dragged to the Nether Worlds to be with his brethren. No Wal-Mart of murder for him. Not on this plane.

“It’s a nice idea.” Geoff got to his feet as the train halted. He shouldered his backpack, which was a lot smaller than Vasicek’s gun-laden duffel bag. Geoff didn’t need weapons to kill. “Dream big, bro.”

“Dream and keep on dreaming,” Vasicek agreed.

The train station wasn’t far from the target, so Geoff braced himself for competition—the legions of assassins, primarily sidhe, who would be closing in on the same million-dollar skull that he was. It felt anticlimactic to step off the train to no fanfare, no blood, no gunfire.

He hoped they weren’t too late to kill Marion.

Their destination waited on the other side of the street. Original Sin. The name was picked out in bold neon sparkling with magic.

It was one of many clubs under the same name—a franchise not unlike Wal-Mart. This was the kind of franchise that mundane humans couldn’t see, though. Mundane humans passed on the sidewalk without ever glancing at it. Their eyes skipped from the tattoo parlor to the lingerie shop on the other side, like that space between didn’t exist.

Even Geoff had a hard time focusing on any of the Original Sins he’d visited. Like the darknet, Original Sin was intended only for the kind of souls who could locate it, and the owners didn’t make that an easy chore.

“What time did the email say?” Geoff asked.

Vasicek said, “Midnight.”

The train had been delayed at its last station; the time was already after eleven thirty. Geoff and Vasicek wouldn’t have much time to set up.

The bouncer at the door for Original Sin had the strange glittering flesh that was a hallmark of sidhe—also known as faeries, though the sidhe had made it clear that wasn’t their preferred term. And most people were smart enough to call sidhe whatever the hell they wanted.

Sidhe were a whole other deterrent to visiting Original Sin. The sheer power of their magic warped the world, consuming all light and emanating it from their glittering flesh. It was hard to think straight around the unseelie sidhe, harder still to focus on them, and near impossible to murder one of them.

If Geoff and Vasicek pissed off the bouncer, they’d die before they could track down the bounty.

This particular sidhe seemed too bored to fight. Vasicek paid their cover fees, and the sidhe didn’t even glance in their bags before stepping aside.

Eleven thirty should have been too early for any club to be so busy. Under ordinary circumstances, the creatures of the night didn’t get partying until the witching hour struck, but Original Sin wasn’t an ordinary circumstance. The regulars simply never left. It was as packed with bodies that evening as it would have been in brilliant, burning midday.

Every version of Original Sin was essentially the same, with minute differences. Geoff scanned the room to orient himself to the changes in this location.

The bar was at the back as it usually was, glowing like a beacon in the midst of inky shadow. Liquor bottles seemed to hold inner lights all their own, as if pixies had been trapped at their bottoms.

The dance floor was on a level below ground. Geoff skimmed the faces of the dancers as he walked along the mezzanine, picking out all the preternaturals he could. Shifters were easy to spot, golden-eyed as they were. Vampires were the pallid and frail. There were only a couple of sidhe besides the doorman. Having too many sidhe around was bad for business.

This particular version of Original Sin had columns of fire in each corner, a shade of white-blue that suggested magic. Geoff passed by one. It looked deadly, but it wasn’t hot. He still wouldn’t risk bumping into it. Original Sin was exactly the kind of place where they would decorate with something fatal at a touch.

“Up there,” Vasicek said, jerking his chin toward the south wall. Scaffolding supporting the lights that strobed over the dancers, lighting their preternatural flesh like prisms.

Geoff climbed the scaffold. Vasicek was right behind him. Much like the doorman, none of the regulars seemed interested in the fact that two men were scaling the rigging for the lights; of all the strange things that demons did in Original Sin, crawling up the walls was the most ordinary.

The scaffold gave them an excellent vantage point overlooking the rest of the club. Geoff could see into the curtained booths on the far side of the bar. He could even see the hallway behind the DJ.

When the target came in, he would know.

Geoff turned on his cell phone to read Marion’s emails again. An anonymous person had contacted Marion to ask for help, and despite the message’s brevity, Marion had readily agreed to meet that person at Original Sin at midnight. The target must have known the individual she was due to meet.

He checked the time again. Almost midnight. Geoff rolled the moonstone charm in his fingers as Vasicek set up. “Do you feel that?” Vasicek asked, scratching at the back of his neck. His nails were sharp enough to leave red streaks on his greasy skin.

Tilting his nose up, Geoff took a sniff. The club was filled with a nauseating cocktail of lethe, pot smoke, liquor, sweat, and piss. One smell was so strange that it rang alarm bells in his head, even though it was faint—the smell of burning oak.

His eyes swept the crowd, and he spotted the target near the door.

Marion shone among all the other preternaturals. She wasn’t the most beautiful of them, but there was something compelling about her willowy figure, high cheekbones, and cold blue eyes. She didn’t look like she was only nineteen. She didn’t exactly look older, either.

Ageless was the word for it.

Unease crawled over Geoff. What is she?

The options slithered through his consciousness—cherubim, gibborim, or messenger, maybe. He wouldn’t have expected any of them. Ethereal types seldom left their territory in the Levant, and they would never deign to socialize with mere gaeans.

He felt less guilty about Marion’s impending death.

Marion glided toward the bar and slipped into a booth. A waiter brought her drink in a martini glass, which she accepted with a smile. It must have been her regular drink. She wasn’t old enough to have a regular drink.

She sat out in the open, oblivious to how many creatures would be circling for her blood. Trusting enough to meet an unnamed contact in public, trusting enough to sit with her back to a room filled with strangers.

Vasicek extended the stand on his sniper rifle, propped it against the rails of the scaffold, and aimed it down. The light coming through the sight shined on his eye. Black swirled over the iris like pools of ink. “I have her in my sights.”

“Remember the plan,” Geoff said. “Wait until I’m down.”

“I’m waiting, I’m waiting.” Vasicek’s finger looked awful twitchy. “Hurry up.”

Geoff swung off of the scaffolding, landed behind the dance floor, and slipped out the back door to the alley. The moonstone charm was burning a hole in his pocket—almost literally. He needed to use the magic before it expired.

He stripped his clothing off and stuffed it behind a trashcan. The moonstone scorched his palms. He bounced it between them, waiting for the signal that it was time to change.

Muffled gunshots popped from within Original Sin.

People screamed.

That was Vasicek’s signal.

Doors burst open, and Original Sin’s patrons flooded onto the sidewalk. Geoff watched them from his hidden position at the back of the alley.

Some people clutched bloody wounds on their arms, shoulders, necks. Vasicek hadn’t deliberately been aiming to kill. He had been trying to create mayhem, and it had worked.

“Come on,” Geoff muttered, pressing his thumb against the stone.

Gaean magic settled over him.

It didn’t hurt to shapeshift into his wolf form when he allowed the Alpha to control him, as most shapeshifters did. But using a charm between moons to force the change—that was different.

He shapeshifted a piece at a time. Fast and brutal.

His knees broke. Switched positions. He collapsed onto his hands as the fingernails fell out. Silver claws thrust from the skin, oozing blood around the edges.

He threw his head back and roared through his breaking jaw, which extended into a muzzle.

Nobody heard him. They were too busy running from Vasicek’s attack inside. There were more gunshots, more screaming, the wail of a fire alarm.

After his spine extended into a tail, vertebrae replicating, grinding, twisting, the fever of fur extruding from his skin was nothing. It barely even itched. Within a minute, he had swollen to quadruple his former size, perhaps more, and Geoff could no longer hide behind the trashcan.

A pair of women burst through the rear door.

One of them Geoff didn’t recognize. She was a petite nobody with hair the color of straw. Most likely the anonymous person who had emailed Marion asking for help.

The other one was tall, with lots of curly brown hair, and bright-blue eyes.

Even Geoff’s wolf brain recognized the target, and it remembered how much she was worth.

A million dollars.

He could retire permanently.

Geoff lunged.

Werewolves were faster than any other gaean breed, so he flashed across the alley in a heartbeat, and he was on top of her the heartbeat after that. He slammed her into the wall hard enough to knock her out. Maybe even hard enough to kill her, if her skull hit in just the right way. He’d struck her with half a ton of werewolf at a hundred miles an hour, after all.

He reared back to rip her face off.

His claws halted inches from Marion’s cheek.

It felt as though a fist had closed around his body, holding him suspended in the air. He thrashed, howling. But no matter how he snapped, there was nothing to bite. Nothing physical held him.

Marion slid out from underneath him, hands outstretched, pupils white with magic. Her hair swirled around her neck, lifted in a wind that didn’t touch him. “Bad dog,” she said, and she flicked her fingers. “Down, boy.”

Geoff hurtled into the far wall hundreds of feet down the alley.

He’d been tossed around by Alpha shapeshifters before. He’d been shot more than once. He’d even been crushed by a car before.

None of that hurt as much as Marion tossing him with a single, magical gesture.

“Stay down,” she said. Her voice rattled within his skull. The very sound of it hurt.

Geoff scrambled to his feet while his head was still spinning.

Marion was holding hands with her straw-haired friend, ignoring Geoff as though he presented no threat whatsoever. “Are you okay?”

“I think so,” the girl said.

“Get back into Original Sin.” She pushed the other woman through the back door.

Geoff launched himself at Marion again, faked a left, and then swung right. All with lightning speed. The fastest that he had ever moved.

She stepped out of his way effortlessly.

He skidded past her, paws scrabbling uselessly on pavement.

Marion saw his lightning speed and decided to raise him by summoning real lightning. She pointed one hand toward the sky and the other toward Geoff. “I told you to stay down.”

Electricity danced down her upright arm and clustered on her fingertips. It arced from her fingernails.

Geoff dodged—barely. The lighting struck the wall behind him. It lanced up the bricks, sizzled against the roof.

He leaped toward Marion from the rear.

She swung around, annoyance twisting the graceful lines of her face.

“No,” she said, side-stepping him again.

The neon lights outside of Original Sin popped in a shower of sparks. Every single street light within range blacked out.

The night was absolute.

Unable to see, Geoff slammed into the trash. It exploded around him in a shower of stinking garbage. He shook it off, but old beer and vomit weighed his fur down.

His worst fears were true. There was only one type of creature that disabled all electricity simply by existing.

Angels.

The bounty on this kid should be a lot higher.

Light glowed at the end of the alley. Marion’s magic was gathering again, illuminating her the way that lanterns were illuminated by inner flame. Her eyes spilled ethereal blue down her cheekbones. She advanced on Geoff. “Who sent you?”

The back door banged open, bouncing off the wall. Geoff glimpsed Vasicek emerging from over Marion’s shoulder.

The megaira raised his gun. He fired as Marion turned to look at him.

Geoff didn’t get time to feel hopeful that Vasicek would finish the job. Marion plucked the bullet out of the air an inch in front of her nose. “Silver,” she said, rolling it between her fingers. “Whoever hired you must not know me well at all.”

She hurled the bullet at Geoff before he could react. It embedded in his foreleg as though shot from a gun.

There was no pain quite like silver burn. Geoff’s howls shook the bricks of the alley. His vision blurred, his head rang, his blood turned to acid.

Vasicek gave a strangled yowl.

And then he was silent.

Geoff couldn’t see what had happened to the demon. He could see nothing, think of nothing, feel nothing but the bullet. Marion seemed to have aimed it so that the point would flatten against the bone deep within his flesh. The moon was scorching him from the inside out.

Vasicek was probably dead.

Not enough money in the world for this.

Marion crouched and ran her hand through the ruff of hair at Geoff’s neck. He whined and snapped at her fingers. She pushed his muzzle to the pavement, as casually as though that were something she’d done to werewolves before. “I want you to shift back and tell me who sent you.”

If he could have, he would have. Anything to make her back away. Anything to stop the pain.

The charm wouldn’t wear off for another hour, and there was no way to tell her that.

She stood suddenly, distracted by another person appearing in the alley. Marion stood and turned to face them. The smell of her shock came off of her in waves so powerful that they pierced Geoff’s suffering.

Mon dieu,” Marion said softly. Her hands balled into fists. Her voice strengthened. “Qu’est-ce que toi, tu fais ici?

There was no responding voice. There was only blinding darkness, immense and total.

When the street lights flickered back on, Vasicek was dead, Geoff was still bleeding, and Marion Many-Last-Names was gone without a trace.

COLLAPSE

This series is urban fantasy romance unfolding over multiple books with an eventual happily ever after. It features some violence, mature language, and sexual references.