Masque of the Red Cat

There's no mystery a sharp mind like Mr. Poe's can't solve. He's saved the soul of a dead warlock and taken down a murderous, knitting vampire. When he begins having visions of devastation around Haven, he's prepared for the fight.

Unfortunately, Mr. Poe's family still thinks he's an ordinary black house cat, and they've become intent on ensuring he's an indoor cat. Thanks to a magical collar, he can no longer leave the house.

When his visions of disaster strike, Mr. Poe must use his brilliant mind to solve the mystery—without ever leaving his favorite sunbeam.

Suicide Queen

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

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

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

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

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

Cashing Out

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

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

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

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

Kill Game

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

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

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

Excerpt:

Paradise, Nevada—July 2034

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basically everything else belonged to the vamps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had cash—lots of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

Bon Jovi switched over to Counting Crows.

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

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

“What do you think?” Aggy asked Momoe.

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

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

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

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

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

“I heard Achlys is gone,” Roy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was that. Sale finished.

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

“It’s all there,” Aggy said.

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

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

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

Aggy hadn’t seen her coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momoe screamed. “Fuck! Stop!”

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

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

So Aggy ran.

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

Problem was that the suitcase was really fucking heavy.

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

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

People were still screaming.

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

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

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

And Caesar’s Palace really was so close.

Aggy almost got there.

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

Yet when she hesitated, she heard pounding footsteps.

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

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

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

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

She never got to finish that thought.

Dana McIntyre buried the stake in her heart.

COLLAPSE

Drawing Dead

An Urban Fantasy Thriller

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vampire. Permanently dead vampire.”

“No kidding,” Brianna said.

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

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

“What’s that?” Brianna asked.

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

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

“Damn,” Brianna muttered.

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

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

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

“Oh, come on,” Brianna groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good thing I was there,” Brianna muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Help me please,” Dana finally said.

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?” Chief Villanueva asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dana said, “No.”

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

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

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

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

COLLAPSE

Cast in Godfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranoid little ants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they reported…nothing.

Frost Tower was empty.

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

The wards detected nothing.

“Damn it all,” Jaycee said.

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

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

Her wards stopped being silent and started screaming.

Alert. Alert. Sidhe magic. Invasion. Alert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaycee slung her purse over her shoulder and headed through.

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

Someone was trying to get in.

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

The thumping grew louder.

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

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

The entire tower shook. Plaster dust showered around her.

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

Well, at least not this week.

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

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

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

Better demolished than turning everything over to King Konig.

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

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

Highly doubtful.

Jaycee activated her demolition spells.

A five minute countdown began.

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

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

“Well,” she said.

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

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

“Well, well, well,” Jaycee said.

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

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

Well, not a witch.

A mage.

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

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

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

There was no escape.

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

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

“Konig decided on sedition,” she said.

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

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

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

And she disabled the wards while she was at it.

“Well,” Jaycee said again.

She hadn’t expected that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former leaders?” Jaycee asked.

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

This arrest attempt was looking worse by the moment.

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

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

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

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

Now she didn’t hold back.

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

And she saw the moment that Marion was overwhelmed.

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

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

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

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

She was almost there. She was going to escape.

But then the lightning.

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

The helicopter pitched to its side and tumbled from view.

In her shock, Jaycee lost control of the wind.

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

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

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

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

The frost giant yanked them through the ley lines.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She should have exploded.

But Marion smiled thinly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gave a shallow curtsy. “My King.”

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

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

Maddisyn looked startled. “Of course.”

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

“Reports?” Maddisyn asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Usually.”

“But not always?”

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

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

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

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

“Maddisyn?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jaycee was waiting for interrogation.

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

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


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

Again, she didn’t even look his way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In every sense of the sentiment.”

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

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

There was a lot Rage hadn’t told Konig.

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

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

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

“Even the darknet?”

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

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

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

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

Konig’s heart stopped beating.

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

“I’m very interested,” Konig said.

COLLAPSE