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

Cast in Balefire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Half-angel mage Marion Garin has become Queen of the Unseelie, but she can’t hold the faerie courts without convincing everyone she’s in love with her cheating, abusive husband—the beloved King ErlKonig. Rumor says Marion’s in love with the God of Death. The unseelie are revolting. And it wouldn’t be so hard to fix if the rumors weren’t true…

Excerpt:

Niflheimr, The Middle Worlds

During her idle moments—of which there had been few—Marion had tried to learn about her absent mother. There hadn’t been much information to gather. Ariane Kavanagh wasn’t a popular character in Marion’s multitude of personal journals, so she had largely been mentioned when Marion was complaining.

Marion had been willing to filter that information through the understanding that Marion, pre-memory-loss, hadn’t been a popular character either.

Ariane might not have been as bad as the insults in Marion’s journals posited.

She couldn’t have been as vain as Marion painted her. She wasn’t self-centered but simply withdrawn. The preferential treatment Ariane seemed to give Dana had been the perception of a girl suffering ordinary sibling rivalry.

There was most likely a great reason that Ariane hadn’t made contact when Marion had gone missing, reappeared, or gotten married.

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Marion was ready to believe the best about her mother until the moment she realized that Ariane Kavanagh was colluding with the goat-demon who had stolen Marion’s memories.

Maman,” Marion whispered, reverting instinctively to French. She only took one step down her throne room’s stairs before stopping herself. She cleared her throat. Raised her voice. “Ravens! Heather!”

“Don’t do that,” said Onoskelis, the goat-demon.

The Raven Knights didn’t come even though someone should have been in earshot.

Marion was alone in her throne room. Freshly wedded, absolutely miserable, and cornered.

“I’m not one for the Middle Worlds, so let’s keep this meeting short.” Onoskelis hiked her robes high enough to flash cloven hooves as she clattered up the stairs. She settled into the stenographer’s empty seat, producing parchment and a fountain pen. “Do you prefer Garin? Kavanagh? You can’t take Konig’s last name. They never do last names in the sidhe courts.”

Marion was speechless.

“Why?” she asked after some moments of uncharacteristic floundering.

“For the contract to return your memories,” Onoskelis said.

“You took my memories. You were there that night, at Original Sin, and you took my memories!”

“It was not necessary to take your memories as I had copied them prior to that night. I only went to Original Sin to bear witness to a critical moment in time,” Onoskelis said.

The demon’s words passed by Marion unabsorbed. Her gaze was magnetically drawn to her mother’s. “And you’re behind this?”

Ariane tipped her cheek to her shoulder in a gesture that was too girlishly cute for a woman approaching fifty. “Frowning creates wrinkles, my little sweet.” She spoke in French too.

So it was true. All of it was true. Ariane was as horrible as Marion had feared.

“We arranged this meeting between the three of us before you lost your memory,” Onoskelis said, dashing out a few lines of text onto her parchment. “You insisted on having a mortal witness. Your mother volunteered.”

“Volunteered to witness…what, exactly?” Marion asked.

“The contract.” The goat-demon’s impatience made her hand scratch more aggressively across the page. “You have to do what I tell you in order to get your memories back.”

“You have to do a series of tasks, to be clear,” Ariane said.

Marion dug her fingernails into the arms of her chair. “I can’t believe you’re making demands of me after such a protracted absence. You missed my wedding. Where have you been?”

“You of all people should understand that life gets in the way of our best intentions. But I’ve been nearby, even if I haven’t been able to make contact.” Ariane swirled the large glass vessel cradled in her arms. It took a full-body motion, almost like a dance, to get it sloshing. Sparkles erupted from its bubbling surface.

“Should I recognize that?” Marion asked.

Ariane stopped swaying. “You would if you hadn’t lost your memories.”

“Which I’d really like to get on to fixing.” Onoskelis’s head was bowed so that her furry goat muzzle was millimeters from the papyrus. “Marion Garin or Kavanagh?”

“Garin,” Marion said distractedly. “Mother…the potion?”

Ariane set the glass vial on a table framed by velvet curtains. “It’s similar to the magic we embedded in the honesty bracelets. I was asked to use the potion on your behalf to sway the votes.”

That was why the group had voted for Konig to keep his title. Marion had unwittingly benefited from magical coercion.

“Who asked you to do that?” Marion said.

“Adàn.”

He was the stag shifter leading Los Cambiasformas Internacional, the alliance of Western European gaeans. Marion had never heard him addressed informally before. Nor had she seen anyone smile at the thought of Adàn Pedregon.

“How do you know each other?” Marion asked, though she suspected she already knew.

“Intimately,” Ariane said. “I’d have helped even if Adàn hadn’t asked the favor, but gratitude is a flattering look on him. Regardless, I’d planned to intervene in order to keep things on track.”

Marion was feeling lost again. “On track?”

“There’s a plan to all of this—a greater design.” Onoskelis waved at the throne room with her pen. Crimson ink splattered on the icy floor and began melting through. “You, Marion Garin, Queen of the Unseelie, have willingly shouldered the task of intervening where deities cannot. You must perform a series of labors I assign to you, each of which is intended to keep Events aligned with the Meta. When you’ve completed the tasks, you’ll have your memories restored.”

“You wanted me to inform you that these tasks are all in the service of the greater good, and your safety is ensured when you follow them,” Ariane added. “Onoskelis is making a generous offer. Take it and don’t look back.”

The back of Marion’s neck prickled unpleasantly. “First of all, I won’t be told what to do by someone who’s been absent since my initial abduction, and gods only know how long before that. I am not your property. I’m not a child. I’m Queen of the Unseelie, and you’ll speak to me with respect.”

Ariane stepped up the first stairs, approaching Marion. “What’s the second thing?”

“It’s impossible for me to get my memories back. They were destroyed in the Canope.”

“The originals were,” Onoskelis said without looking up from her writing. “I have copies. I am a Librarian.” She said the word without a hint of self-importance, but the sound of it resonated, as though plucking at Marion’s soul. “Librarians chronicle everything that happens throughout every genesis, and I’d never allow the pages from the notable book of your mind to be lost.”

“Bold claim,” Marion said. “Too bold. I’ve heard enough. Raven Knights!”

“They won’t come.” Onoskelis set her pen down and scattered sand over the page to dry the ink. “I’ve paused time.”

“You’ve paused…?” Marion swept off of the throne, flinging aside curtains to look outside.

The Winter Court had evolved in the hours since Marion’s wedding. The Autumn Court’s eternal sunset shone gold on the horizon, creating silhouettes of the mountains. Light had never touched the Winter Court, not once. Not until Konig began ruling it.

The snow eternally blasting through the lightened sky was not moving. The swaying trees had gone still. Even the shivering towers of Niflheimr were still.

Onoskelis had paused time.

“You can’t do that,” Marion said.

The goat-demon lifted a second page she’d been writing on. “Words are miracles, every one of them. Books open more doors than you can imagine.”

“You have no clue how many doors I can imagine.”

“I’m privy to the Meta, which means I know everything about you and everyone else I encounter. What that must happen, will happen.”

“Then I don’t need to sign any contracts,” Marion said.

Ariane took the paper from Onoskelis and transported it to Marion, who reluctantly read. The contract didn’t list each of the labors Onoskelis intended for her to perform. It said nothing about how long those labors would last, either.

The terms more or less said that Marion was promising to behave herself, like a naughty student who signed a contract promising to do her homework. But she had no clue what the homework was, and she had no proof that the teacher across the desk was legitimate.

Damn it all, Marion was a queen, and they wanted her to promise to be obedient.

“You’re too late to offer this to me,” Marion said. “I don’t want my memories back.”

Ariane’s cheeks paled. “You don’t—?”

“I’m a better person without them. I was a wretched, loathsome child on a power trip.”

“Sweetheart…” Ariane moved to touch her cheek, but Marion swept out of range.

Onoskelis’s oval pupils, veiled by thick eyelashes, focused on Marion’s face. “You haven’t been able to reach out to the gods since losing your memories. You’ll know how you used to reach them.” Her ears flicked within the hood, stirring the heavy cloth. “You’ll be able to speak to Death.”

The floor dropped out from under Marion’s feet, and there was nothing underneath her except a yawning chasm of grief. Wretched misery tasted like the brimstone that had devoured Seth.

Marion tossed the contract to the table. “Prove you can hold up your end of this.”

“Very well.” Onoskelis turned the contract over and wrote a couple quick lines on the back. “Sign this.”

It was a truncated contract offering Marion a “trial” of memory restoration. She plucked the pen from Onoskelis’s eerily child-like hand and signed it.

“I’ve restored a handful of nonconsecutive hours to you,” Onoskelis said. “For instance, the speech you gave at the shifter academy while running for student high priestess.”

Marion remembered.

It wasn’t like having missing moments replayed. There was simply new information available—recollections of standing under searing lights with confidence she was going to win.

“You’ve had some magical knowledge restored too. You’ll discover other memories as time goes on,” Onoskelis said, “but I’ll return them all to you once you’ve completed the tasks as dictated by this contract.” She flipped the page back over and shoved it under the nib of Marion’s pen.

She’d sign no such contract.

Those recollections weren’t the only things restored. They’d dragged wisps of Marion’s personality along with them, shrouding her in arrogance and affront.

Marion was a queen, gods damn it all. Onoskelis was withholding access to Seth. And Ariane was complicit.

She flung the pen to the table. “Who do you think you are, to hold my memories hostage? To blackmail me, Queen of the Unseelie?”

The goat-demon took dainty wire-framed spectacles off the end of her nose, folding her arms with cherubic fingers. “You’re the one who wanted me to make a copy of your memories for safekeeping.”

“You approached her,” Ariane agreed. “You asked me to insist on your compliance.”

Marion whirled on her mother, fist clenching as she lifted it.

Electric-blue magic lanced over her knuckles.

Ariane didn’t look nearly as surprised as Marion felt. Onoskelis had restored more than a few memory scraps—she’d returned some of Marion’s magic. She’d only needed to reach instinctively into the cables of energy that flowed through the universe and seize them.

“I’ve reached the limits of my tolerance for Niflheimr,” Onoskelis said, casting an annoyed side-eye toward Marion’s hand. “Tell Ariane Kavanagh once you’re ready for the first of your labors, and she will pass it onto you.”

The Librarian vanished.

The Raven Knights erupted into Marion’s throne room moments later, bows raised, looking for a fight that was long gone.

COLLAPSE

Summer Court

A Paranormal Romance

Half a year ago, Samita Madin shared one steamy night with a friend - what she thought would be just a fling with that firefighter her mom didn't like. But she couldn't stop thinking about Slater Reinhard in the weeks that followed. Especially once she realized she'd gotten pregnant from their tryst.

Samita had every intent of staying in Toronto, keeping the baby a secret from Slater. But then demons attacked North America in a massive catastrophe known as the Breaking, which let Hell pour onto Earth. Separated from her family, and injured in a collapsing building, she has no choice but to let Slater protect her - and their unborn baby - from the preternatural onslaught.

But now Slater's one of the preternaturals. He's been bitten by a werewolf since the last time they saw each other. He's changing from a hero firefighter into a monster with urges that he can't control.

A lot of those urges have to do with Samita.

He only needs one glance from Samita to vow he'll get her and their baby through the end of the world. And Slater has every intent of claiming Samita as his mate.

Yes, this will be the last book in the Tarot Witches series. 🙂

Forbidden Witches

Book Cover: Forbidden Witches
Part of the Tarot Witches series:
Editions:Kindle: $ 3.99 USD
ISBN: B00QU3MCSE
Pages: 223
Audiobook: $ 17.95 USD
ISBN: B00TKJZVPQ
Paperback: $ 9.99 USD
ISBN: 1505400422
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 222

In a week, straight A student and total good girl Leah Todd is supposed to graduate with her bachelor’s degree. Then she receives a mysterious tarot card in the mail and everything changes.

The tarot card seems to serve as a VIP ticket into a show by a metal band called The Forbidden. She’s never heard of them before, but the instant she lays eyes on the lead singer, Rage, she knows that she’s much more than a fan. She’s found where she needs to be.

Weirder still, the band agrees. They’ve been waiting for a tarot witch like Leah to save Graham, a dying werewolf, by mating with him. The problem is that Leah’s not a witch, she doesn’t believe in magic, and she quickly falls for the wrong werewolf. But Donne doesn’t seem to return the feelings. In fact, he might kind of hate her.

As high priest of his coven, Rage has solutions for Leah. All she needs to do is surrender her life to the coven, the werewolf pack…and to him.

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
Tags:
Excerpt:

Did I mention that the last concert I’d seen outside of my temple’s holiday productions had been The Backstreet Boys? Because that was the last major concert I’d seen.

It didn’t prepare me for watching The Forbidden perform.

The music began with heavy drums. Lights blazed to life underneath me, revealing a man sitting at the center of the drum kit. He only had two arms and two drum sticks—hardly the dozen drummers I’d imagined would be required to play such a huge instrument.

His hands moved so fast that it looked like he had a thousand limbs. He slammed out a beat that I could feel deep in my chest, pumped out over the giant speakers, magnified for the entire stadium to hear.

That primal sound set my blood on fire and sucked all my breath away.

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Distantly, I was aware that I was leaning so far forward that I had almost fallen off of Storm’s lap. He chuckled. The drums were loud enough that I could only feel the motion of his chest behind me, not hear the sound.

I didn’t care if he was laughing at me. The alcohol was too heady, the music too overwhelming.

Now there was a bass line with the drums, and a man sauntered onto the stage who looked a lot like the drummer—narrow-shouldered, pale-skinned, and dark-eyed. Both had hair so long that it brushed their knees. But their coifs weren’t ratty, like the hippie guys at my college. These guys had hair like sheets of shimmering silk. All that hair should have made them look feminine, but it didn’t. Even with makeup, they were incredibly masculine.

My heart had skipped a beat or six at the music they created together. I gripped the edge of the balcony, gasping for air as I watched the bassist’s fingers pluck out a rhythm in time with the drums.

Fire erupted at the edge of the stage. It was so hot that I could feel it all the way up in the balcony. My internal eight-year-old Leah had completely vanished sometime around the first glass of liquor, so all I felt was an overpowering sense of awe.

The audience in the stadium screamed. They weren’t awed. They were exhilarated.

It sounded like they were about to riot.

When the fire finally dropped again, there was one more man on stage.

I had never seen a guy more gorgeous than this one. He looked like a painting rendered in adoring detail by one of the great masters, with all of the perfect musculature, the full lips, the dimpled chin. His eyes were rimmed with black kohl. His hair, long enough to brush his chiseled jaw, had been smeared with glitter that made him shimmer under the stage lights.

His bared chest muscles were completely covered in tattoos, all the way from collarbone to the place his waist sloped into his hips. They curved in abstract patterns around his abs and made spikes digging into his ribs. His arms were covered, too.

I wondered what other tattoos his leather pants might be hiding, and immediately blushed for thinking such a thing.

I’d seen him backstage, although he’d been wearing a shirt at the time. It was the man who had been staring at me as Road Crew led me up to the VIP balcony. Now he wore a guitar slung low over his shoulder so that the instrument was by his hips.

He was the lead singer.

“Rage,” Storm whispered into my ear. “His name is Rage.”

Rage caught the microphone in one hand, and he began to sing.

The words didn’t make any sense to me. I’m sure he was singing in English. I’m sure they were words that I knew, too. I was an English major, after all, and my vocabulary was a force to be reckoned with.

But my brain didn’t want to process the lyrics. It was like he sang pure emotion into my chest.

I understood why they called him Rage.

The song he played on his guitar, backed by those wicked drums—it made rage build in my chest like I was angry for whatever crimes had been committed against this guy. I felt his anger and I liked it.

It wasn’t just anger. His power chords switched to flats, making a bittersweet melody that evoked an aching deep within my heart.

I lost myself in that music. And I lost myself in the sight of Rage’s face as he chugged on his guitar. He was beautiful to behold, like a work of art come to life.

The music built toward a crescendo as he screamed. My legs clenched together, and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to suppress the climax that I felt building.

Oh my goodness. Just the freaking music was going to make me orgasm.

Here. In front of all these people I didn’t know.

I’d only ever touched myself a couple times, hesitantly exploring the parts of my body that my roommate’s steamy romance novels called “rosebud” and “moist center,” things that the anatomy books gave much uglier names. It was too overwhelming for me to have done anything more than once or twice.

Now I was on the brink just by listening to music.

Oh. My. Goodness.

A feminine voice whispered in my ear. “You’re thinking too much. Stop thinking.” It was Ravyn. She tried to hand me a drink, but my hands were shaking too hard to take it.

She laughed at my awkwardness, the sound inaudible under the pounding music, and tipped my chin back with a finger so that she could pour the alcohol into my mouth.

At first, I balked. I tried to close my lips. Liquor slid down my chin.

Then I drank.

Oh my gosh, did I drink, taking long swallows that filled my stomach with the heat of the alcohol. I was so thirsty.

The alcohol hit me immediately.

The balcony blurred as someone took my hand, spinning me off of Storm’s lap into a dance. I glimpsed Ravyn’s face flashing through the strobe, reducing her joyous laughter to a jerky motion play.

Hips ground against mine from behind, driving someone’s erection hard against my pelvis. I knew what that was. I wasn’t that innocent. But my normal embarrassment was nowhere to be found, and I pushed back, dancing in time with him.

Ravyn’s hands clutched my waist, pressing her breasts to mine.

My head fell back, and I laughed.

The music went on for what could have been an eternity.

Rage rocked through me. Rage and exhilaration and excitement and…hunger. A deep, carnal hunger that I’d never felt before.

For some reason, I found myself thinking of Road Crew with his black t-shirt and red mohawk staring at my chest. I thought that if he’d joined us up on the balcony at that moment, I might not have been able to resist the urge to dance with him, too. Maybe do a lot more than dance.

Liquor flowed. Bodies danced.

I forgot my shame, my fear, and all I knew was the music.

If only Chad could see me now…

Time faded into a blur of music, alcohol, and dancing. I fell from the arms of one fan to those of the next—Ravyn and then to Storm, then over to a woman calling herself Phoenix, and a man who didn’t tell me his name. I let the beat move me. I’d always been too self-conscious to dance, but it felt good with these people. It felt right.

At some point, I thought that maybe, just maybe, Chad had been right to drag me out of the house after all.

We were having so much fun that I didn’t notice when the music stopped. It was easy to miss, since the fans never quit dancing. The drinks still flowed, and now we moved to the beat of our blood.

Only the touch of firm, rough hands on my arms brought me down from my high.

I twisted to see that Road Crew had come back again. It was hard to focus on his square features through my tipsy haze, but my cheeks immediately flushed at the sight of him.

I’d been thinking about Road Crew ever since the moment that he left me with the fans. Those thoughts had become increasingly dirty with every ounce of alcohol Ravyn poured down my throat.

Now he was here again, holding on to my arms, and he was even more ruggedly handsome than I’d remembered in his absence. It seemed impossible that a man could be so darn chiseled.

My thighs were clenching at the sight of him. His eyes were so penetrating that it felt like he should have been able to look through my skull and see all those dirty thoughts.

It was so presumptuous of me to think about climbing into Road Crew’s lap, grinding myself against him, exploring the parts of his body I’d always been too embarrassed to explore on my ex-boyfriend. I mean, it’s downright rude to fantasize about someone you’re not involved with. Isn’t it?

But my fingers crawled up his neck, tracing his cheekbones and ears and hairline. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t get him out of my mind and I didn’t want to get him off of my skin.

I wasn’t shy about touching what I wanted to touch now. Ravyn and Storm and the gang had taken my sense of shame away for the moment.

His expression remained rigid as I touched him.

“Is it over?” I asked, stumbling over the words. “Is it time to go home?”

“No,” Road Crew said. He steered me back toward the stairs, and I stumbled after him, held upright only by the mercy of his incredibly thick biceps.

Ravyn noticed that I was being abducted. She cried out with complaint. “The kitten’s having fun! Let her stay and have fun!”

Road Crew’s response was curt. “Rage wants to examine her.”

A giggle slipped from my lips. “Examine me? What, is he a doctor or something?” Goodness, I was drunk. “I had this really hot doctor once. Um, he was actually a pediatrician—the guy I saw when I was like, you know, sixteen years old, and ancient Dr. Ermine retired, so the new guy wasn’t even thirty, and…” What in the world was I saying? “Rage can totally examine me. That’s what I’m getting at.” Yeah, I didn’t sound drunk at all.

I almost slipped down the stairs. Blame Chad’s stupid drag queen heels.

Road Crew’s steadying grip kept my ankle from twisting.

“Careful,” he growled, fingertips digging into my elbows. He looked angry that I’d almost fallen. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry. Be careful trying to handle me. We don’t want your mohawk getting hurt.”

“How much did they give you to drink?”

“I don’t know. A couple.” Another giggle. I couldn’t stop giggling. I might never stop giggling. “I feel nice, Road Crew. Really nice.”

“Road Crew,” he muttered, hefting me off of my feet.

Oh my goodness. I weighed a lot, and he could pick me up like I was nothing.

He practically carried me down the stairs into the darkness backstage, barely allowing the soles of my shoes to brush the floor.

The post-concert disassembly was chaotic. Reporters were cordoned off behind a line of tape, prevented from entering the crew-only area by a bunch of muscular men.

Those reporters had cameras. Someone could easily take my picture and publish it somewhere, in some newspaper or on some celebrity blog, and my mom could see it. She could know that I’d been drinking.

Luckily, I’d had enough to drink that even that thought didn’t bring me off of my high.

The crew that wasn’t holding off reporters were already breaking down, packing up, taking the equipment back out the way they had come. The tour buses would be waiting in the parking lot, along with a lot of eager fans desperate to meet the band, and—hopefully—my friend Chad.

Yet I wasn’t guided back to that dark hallway and the freedom beyond. I was taken to another room in the back corner. Its walls were painted black. The floor was concrete. There were a couple of folding tables in the corner.

Road Crew stepped inside with me. He cupped my face in both of his hands, searching me with his eyes. “Calm down, kid. You need to be calm. Can you do that for me?”

Somehow, I stopped giggling. “What’s going on?” I asked, swaying against him.

Road Crew gently dislodged me. The fact that he could handle me like that, firmly but without causing any pain, seemed incredible given his raw size. “Rage is going to inspect you. Wait for him here.”

He shoved the door shut again.

Suddenly, I was alone.

“Hey, Fabio, where’d you go?” I asked, trying to open the door.

It was locked from the other side.

The warmth of alcohol burned from my veins awfully fast, and worry filled the void where that buzz had been. I’d been having so much fun with the fans upstairs that I’d forgotten how weird the whole situation was in the first place.

I wanted Chad. I wanted the safety of his car. I wanted a ride back to the dorms and to snuggle up under my down comforter.

But the door wouldn’t open.

“What did you think of my show?”

I whirled, flattening my back against the locked door. Ooh, don’t move that fast. Whipping around made my head swim like I was on a cruise ship rocked by a storm.

“Your show?” I echoed. The room was too dark for me to see who had spoken.

Soft footsteps, like bare feet padding against the carpet, whispered through the shadow. “I saw you on the balcony with my people. I watched you, watching me. Did you like it?”

That deep, husky voice. I recognized it even through the alcohol’s fog.

I swallowed hard, but my mouth was almost too dry to speak. “Are you…?”

A man slipped into the edge of the single floodlight brightening the room. It illuminated his feet first, then slid up the black leather pants that hugged his thighs, his hips, and then highlighted the curves of his muscular chest.

My heart started pounding when I saw those distinctive tattoos. They curved around his pectorals, scraped at his ribs with sharp fingers, outlined his abs. It drew my eyes from the dark circles of his nipples down to his navel.

Then he took one more step forward, and I could see his face.

My eyes snapped up to his. There he was—this man that I had just been watching below me on the stage, his image projected a thousand times on giant screens as he screamed and sang into a microphone, pushing my body toward an unwilling climax.

He looked even angrier up close. I guess that was why they called him what they did: Rage. Like he wasn’t a man at all, but a force of pure anger locked inside a human body.

A really sexy human body that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the cover of my roommate’s romance novels.

This was the guy who all those reporters were dying to meet, but weren’t permitted to approach. Chad would have sawed off a body part to be in that room with him. Or sucked off a body part.

But the reporters and Chad and a million loyal fans of The Forbidden weren’t in that room.

It was me. Just me.

Leah Todd, too drunk to say anything that wouldn’t sound stupid.

Somehow, I managed to talk. “Thank you for the ticket.”

He prowled toward me, allowing me to get a closer look at the sleeves tattooed from his shoulders, down his biceps, to encircle his wrists. On his right arm, he had jagged forests, a dark sky, a full moon. All of it swirled with inky smoke as though the entire mountain was on fire.

These weren’t abstractions, like what he had on his chest. They were masterful works of art that evoked a frightening night in the wilderness as fire closed in on me. I could almost hear the howling of wolves over the crackling of flames.

And then Rage was there. Standing right in front of me. So close that I could feel his breath, so close that I could have touched him if I lifted my hands.

His face was shadowed as he gazed down at me. The spotlight shining behind him rimmed his hair and shoulders.

“Ticket?” he finally asked.

Did he want to see it? Proof that I was allowed backstage to meet the band?

I pulled The Hierophant out again. “This…” I couldn’t manage to get more than a single word out. I couldn’t feel my cheeks. Or my teeth, for that matter. Could I ever feel my teeth?

What I wouldn’t have given for a little more sobriety.

Rage, oblivious to the worrying status of my teeth, sucked in a breath at the sight of the tarot card. “May I hold it?”

Why was he asking me? “It’s your ticket.”

The lead singer took it from me, almost reverently. The tattoo sleeve on his other arm, the left one, didn’t match the right. It had a group of indistinct human figures swirling around a five-pointed star.

There were flames, sure, but there were also crashing waves, clouds, flowers sprouting from the earth. Blood dripped from the humans onto the pentagram.

Wolves on one side, witches on the other. This guy was occult all over.

I was never going to invite him to spend Thanksgiving with my family.

He studied the card as closely as Road Crew had, like there was nothing in the world but him and The Hierophant. “This is no ticket,” Rage said. “This is an invitation.”

“To your concert?”

“To something much, much greater than that.” He handed the card back to me and brushed his lips over the back of my hand. “Take care of the card. It came to you, and it’s yours now—for the rest of your life.”

His lips lingered on my skin. It was like he’d kissed me somewhere much more intimate. My knees pressed together, squeezing my thighs.

“Why? What does it mean?” I hoped he didn’t notice how breathy my voice was getting.

“It means that you’re like me.” Rage brushed his knuckles along the line of my jaw. My eyes fell shut. It was too overwhelming to look at him when I could already feel his touch throughout my entire body. “We’re the same. But you—you’re so much more. You have The Hierophant. You’re one of us, and one of them.”

I was pretty sure that I had absolutely nothing in common with Rage. I definitely wasn’t better than him. I wasn’t a rock star who could fill entire stadiums with my presence.

But I didn’t want to argue with him. I wanted him to like me the same way that I wanted the people in the booth to like me.

He hooked his arm around my waist, pulling me flush against his chest. I was locked in place as his other hand took possession of my body.

Rage explored my curves as though we’d already been involved much more intimately than as lead singer and new fan. His fingers darted between the laces of my corset and raked the furrow of my spine. He cupped my ass, crumpled my skirt in his fist, jerked my hips hard against his.

It was the inspection that Road Crew had promised. An incredibly physical inspection. I had a feeling Chad would have approved of it.

My whole body was burning hot. Embarrassment coupled with arousal. Nobody touched me like that, not even my former boyfriends, but Rage made it seem so casual. He wasn’t offering to have sex. He was sizing me up, taking stock of my body, seeing what he had to work with.

“Not a mark on your body—or on your soul, for that matter. You’re still so pure. So human.” Before I could ask what he meant by that, he abruptly changed the subject. “I’m going to show you something. Do you want to see?”

The good girl inside of me who had fought so hard against coming to the concert was dwindling rapidly to nothingness. She was being replaced by a wilder woman, a woman who hungered for Rage’s touch, someone who wasn’t afraid of anything.

It was that woman who groaned at his knee pushing between my thighs, hands splayed over his tattooed chest.

“Yes,” I gasped. “Please…show me everything.”

The fire in his eyes told me that I was going to get exactly what I had asked for.

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.

Winter Court

Book Cover: Winter Court
Editions:Kindle: $ 3.99 USD
ISBN: B01759SV7M
Pages: 250
Paperback: $ 13.99 USD
ISBN: 1518798330
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 340

CEO Pierce Hardwick is testing a cure for lycanthropy. Jaycee Frost, witch and executive assistant, wants to help. But she can’t risk getting too close to her irresistible boss. Ever since that one hot night they shared in the break room—the night before Jaycee realized Pierce would be her new employer—Jaycee has been struggling with her entirely unprofessional attraction toward him.

Then Jaycee receives a magical tarot card, and the message is clear: destiny has plans for her. No matter that Jaycee only wants to achieve professional domination with Hardwick Medical Research. She’s got a bigger job.

And that job might have to do with mating to Pierce Hardwick…

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

As the assistant of one of the most powerful businessmen in the world, I’ve become accustomed to invisibility. Invisibility indicates I’ve done my job well.

I am not Jaycee Frost, executive assistant, graduate from one of those major colleges you’ve heard of before, seeking prestige at the right hand of Pierce Hardwick.

I am the nameless, faceless person who increases the value of Hardwick Medical Research’s stock by making Pierce Hardwick’s life run perfectly.

That’s why it was so strange to get an envelope with my name on it delivered to the office.

My name: “Jaycee Frost.”

READ MORE

Not “Pierce Hardwick, c/o Jaycee Frost,” or “Hardwick Medical Research,” or the name of a department.

“Jaycee Frost” in calligraphic letters, inked so darkly that they were difficult to read against the black A3 vellum envelope.

I turned it over to search for a postmark, a return address, or any indication of who might have sent it to me. There was nothing beyond my name on the front and a crimson wax seal on the back. The seal was unbroken. Nothing entered my office unbroken—not since the anthrax scare.

What the letter was didn’t matter. It was most likely an invitation to some ridiculous charity event, simply misaddressed to me rather than my boss. The fact it had been delivered in such condition was of much greater concern.

I tossed it into the trashcan and pressed the button for the intercom.

“Felicity, please remind the mail boy that we need all mail screened,” I said. I released the button. On second thought, I pressed it again. “And then fire him.”

My heeled pumps clicked against polished tile as I paced to the espresso machine, flipping through the remainder of Pierce’s mail. There wasn’t much. We had gone digital for important communications, and only inter-departmental notices too private to entrust to even our encrypted servers stubbornly maintained a paper trail.

There were lab results, primarily, and other medical minutiae that Pierce found fascinating. He enjoyed digging into that kind of data even though it was hardly a profitable use of his time. I set them aside for his later analysis regardless.

Ordinarily, I would have taken those results to him directly, but Pierce was already in a meeting. His door was closed—a clear sign that he didn’t want me to intrude.

I could just barely make out the shape of his body moving on the other side of the frosted glass. Even when he was nothing more than a blurred silhouette, I could make out the trim lines of his tailored suit, the graceful motion of his arms as he gestured.

There was no early-morning meeting on his agenda. Pierce seldom came in before nine, and never before me. But there was definitely another man in there with him.

Their deep-voiced murmurs made the walls hum faintly.

I made myself an espresso first. If Pierce wasn’t going to allow me to help him with his morning meetings, then he would just have to wait for his coffee. I was an excellent assistant, but not a pushover.

I pulled a jar of blessed cinnamon and nutmeg out of the cabinet and sprinkled it atop my espresso. The jar’s lid had a pentagram on it, which funneled the full moon’s energy into my spices and gave me a little extra mental clarity through the day. The flavor was lovely, too.

Sipping the hot espresso, I gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Hardwick Medical Research building was taller than everything else for miles. It gave me an excellent view of the rising winter sun and cars inching over the ice-limned streets.

The day’s agenda buzzed through my mind as I surveyed the city—a place where Pierce and I had created thousands of jobs, and crafted medicines to benefit millions.

There were meetings to come, studies to conduct, pharmaceutical agents to brief. No time to linger over my espresso.

I tossed back the remnants and spun to return to my desk.

The toe of my shoe pushed an envelope across the tile.

“What…?”

That heavy parchment envelope was on the floor between my feet. I was certain that I had tossed it in the trash.

I picked it up. I had been too distracted the first time I touched it to recognize the buzz of magic when I traced the edge of the wax seal. That was why I could read the dark-red ink scrolling my name across black vellum, and that was why it had fished itself out of the trash to demand attention at my feet.

“Ah, I see.” I pressed the intercom again. “Have you fired the mail boy yet, Felicity?”

“I’m doing the paperwork and arranging a security detail to escort him out of the building first,” she said. She sounded nervous.

“Shred the paperwork and forget about it. He’s fine.” There was no point in firing the mail boy over a piece of mail that had been magicked to arrive in my mailbox, after all.

Correspondence from my old coven, perhaps?

I glanced at Pierce’s office door. He was still talking to his mysterious guest, and Goddess only knew how long that would take. Unscheduled meetings seemed to be the most time consuming. There would be no harm in reading personal mail while I waited for him.

My thumb slid under the wax seal, breaking it.

There were only two things inside the envelope: a short letter, and a large tarot card.

I read the letter aloud. “‘The wheel of life turns and the Forbidden yearn for a world that no longer exists. Solve the card and you’ll find you can leave this behind and join the rest of us in the mists…’ Hmm.” Forbidden? Mists? If those were magical terms, they weren’t ones that I was familiar with.

The back of the tarot card was patterned with a twisted art deco design, a little too industrial to quite be pretty. The shapes seemed to shift when I turned the card in my fingers. The picture was elaborately drawn, but that didn’t account for the illusion of motion. It must have been more magic.

I turned the card over to examine it.

The Chariot.

I knew The Chariot. It was part of the major arcana—the trump suit of the deck—and it was meant to indicate control in all its forms: being in control of one’s life, collapsing under the pressure of refusing to relinquish control, etcetera.

This was a strange version of the art, though. It wasn’t the Rider-Waite image I was familiar with from early readings with the coven.

There was a man sitting on a chariot, as always, but he was being led forward by only a single sphinx. There were always two creatures. Whoever had designed this card didn’t understand the symbolism well, though everything else was in place, including the square on the charioteer’s chest.

I gazed at his face, which was a hard-edged rectangle with intelligent eyes and sensitive lips.

The charioteer reminded me of Pierce.

And the sphinx—the lioness—she had hair like mine. She was naked, on all fours, fingernails digging into the earth. The entire design was much more sexual than usual.

Strange.

I’d read tarot in the past, just for fun. There was little magic to it. The cards had been designed by a mundane man for gambling centuries earlier, and had since been reproduced by thousands of publishing companies and charlatans for fun. As a method of meditation, scrying, and focus, they were fine. Tarot was not inherently magical, though.

Even so, there was nothing mundane about the strange feeling that came over me when I looked at that picture.

When I shut my eyes, I could imagine kneeling in front of Pierce, harnessed to his Lamborghini as he flicked a whip at my flank.

A man shouted in Pierce’s office, loud enough that the tone penetrated the walls.

My head snapped up. My eyes narrowed.

I stuck the strange tarot card in my desk and was halfway to my boss’s door when it swung open.

Pierce Hardwick emerged.

Even now, after working with him for so long, the sight of him momentarily awed me.

He was a rare kind of man who was even greater than his reputation would suggest. People whispered about how he was as sexy as he was rich, but they were wrong: if raw magnetism could be given a dollar figure, Pierce would be worth far more than his billions. They also called his style “nerd chic” in the tabloids, chalking up his square-framed glasses to fashion, and utterly ignoring the athletic body that slid under the sheath of his perfectly tailored suits.

There was nothing nerdy about the man once he got naked.

The fact that I knew that from firsthand, intimate experience is something I’ve struggled to forget every time I see him, even now, years after that one ill-advised tryst we shared.

I should not have been Jaycee Frost, breathless schoolgirl who couldn’t remember her birthday when her eyes met those of Pierce Hardwick.

I was an executive assistant—the best possible executive assistant—and a consummate professional.

My knees were not shaking as Pierce strode across my office, storm clouds brewing in his wake. A river of fire was not coursing from between my legs to my pounding heart. And I didn’t have to grip the reports tightly in my fists to steady myself.

Pierce carved a path across the office to meet me.

My smile of greeting was practiced and professional. I had spent thousands of dollars to make my teeth as perfect as the rest of my appearance, ensuring that there wouldn’t be so much as a hair out of place. I looked good when photographed behind Pierce. And by looking beautiful, I made myself easily dismissed, forgettable to the powerful men that Pierce met with.

The way that Pierce looked at me, though—I was not invisible, easily dismissed, or forgettable to him.

That was part of the problem.

“Good morning, sir,” I said with chill calm. “I wish you had told me that you had an early meeting this morning. I would have come in earlier.”

“I didn’t tell you for a reason.” Pierce was always prickly in the mornings, and even more so when I didn’t arrive in time to meet him with a double shot of espresso. “I want you to meet an old friend of mine. His name is Rage.”

It was only then that I took a chance to study this “friend.”

I’d been anticipating Pierce to meet with an allied CEO, most of who were entirely interchangeable rich old men.

This man may have been rich, and he was certainly male, but there was nothing interchangeable about him.

Rage was tall, muscular, longhaired. He wore leather as though he was taking a break from a BDSM dungeon to have breakfast with my boss. His chest and stomach were covered in tattoos, though I could only see some of the ink sticking out of his sleeves and the neck of his shirt. I had seen the man naked on several album covers, so I could easily summon the memory of his tattoos no matter how clothed he was.

Rage was the lead singer of a band called the Forbidden. He had been big for decades, ever since his teenage years, and produced so many award-winning albums that he likely picked spinach out of his teeth with a Grammy.

He was well known among witch circles for being one of us: a skilled practitioner of the craft.

His appearance settled one mystery of the morning. He must have left the tarot card and poem for me. I should have realized he’d be involved as soon as I’d read that line about the “Forbidden.”

“An honor to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Pleasure is all mine,” Rage said. He tried to let his grip linger, which I’m sure he thought would be seductive. To be fair, it probably was seductive to many women. I didn’t allow it.

“How do you prefer your coffee?” My smile remained fixed and professional. Whatever game he was attempting to play with that tarot card, I wouldn’t engage. I was better than that.

“Irish,” he said. “But I don’t have time for that today. I was just…leaving.”

Rage gave a significant look to Pierce.

Wordless communication passed between them.

“I’ll see you soon,” Pierce said.

I held the office door open. Rage slunk outside. Felicity was waiting to take him downstairs, her cheeks a brilliant shade of pink, hands fluttering over the buttons on her blouse’s collar, as though she were considering flinging off her clothes so she could jump on him.

Rage’s gaze skimmed over me one last time, from head to toe.

And then his eyes flicked to the desk drawer where I had hidden the tarot card, though there was no way he could have known where I had hidden it.

The door swung shut, and he was gone.

~~~

It had never been my job to know everything that Pierce was doing. There were happenings at Hardwick Medical Research too classified for even me to know about, such as military contracts or even business with foreign governments. Typically I had no trouble shutting those things out of my mind.

Whatever had gotten Rage worked up in Pierce’s office was too interesting for me to pretend I hadn’t heard it. Too interesting, and too personal, since it had resulted in that magical tarot card tucked in my drawer.

My curiosity warred with my urge to respect Pierce’s privacy.

I brought his double shot of espresso to his desk. He watched me cross the office, eyes narrowed, hands steepled in front of his chiseled features.

The mail that had been delivered that morning was spread across his desk. All of it except the tarot card. He’d moved one lab result to the center of the blotter and been drawing on it in red.

“Problem with the results, sir?” I asked, handing him the cup of espresso.

His right eye twitched when I called him “sir.” Pierce had made it clear a thousand times that he’d prefer less formality between us. “It’s fine. Everything here looks fine.” He shoved the papers into a pile. “What do you know about lycanthropy, Jaycee?”

I concealed my surprise by tidying his papers.

Pierce knew that I was a witch. I had never attempted to make a secret of it, and I had even consulted on establishing the wards that protected the corporation from magical onslaught. But he had made it clear that he preferred all things preternatural and medicine not to intersect. The pharmaceuticals we developed were purely science.

“It’s regarded as a curse,” I said. “The people who are bitten change twice a month, on the new moons and the full. They turn into killer monsters that can only be stopped with silver bullets. Or so I’ve heard. Werewolves are a dying species. Few remain. I’ve never encountered one.”

“I’ve been working on a cure for those who are still around,” he said. “On the side. Not officially.”

Now my curiosity was too strong. Pierce had started out in biosciences, but he didn’t do much hands-on research anymore, despite his insistence on getting elbow-deep in reports for his favorite project of the month. “Is your friend Rage a werewolf?”

“No, but he’s got friends who are. He’s got a personal interest in curing lycanthropy, and whatever Rage has a personal interest in, I do too.” Pierce sat back in the chair with a sigh, ripping the thick-framed glasses off his face. “Rage is the reason I have all of this.” He waved the arm of his glasses at the office. “We went to college together. He was my first and only angel investor.”

“Generous classmate.”

“I owe him big time, but my cures keep failing,” Pierce said. “Nothing is working. Now Rage tells me we’re out of time. A friend of his, Graham—he’s an aging werewolf, and the transformation is killing him. Rage has worked up some magical ways to delay it, but those are failing, too.”

“I could inspect the spells Rage has put into place,” I said. “I may be able to help.”

“It’s still only a delay. We need to be able to cure werewolves.” He glanced at his watch, pushed his chair back. “Cancel everything on my agenda for the day. Everything tomorrow, too. And call the chopper.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “Where should I tell the pilot to take you?”

“Rage’s mansion, up on the coast.”

My lips thinned. I was a witch, so of course I knew that tonight would be the new moon. It was no coincidence that Pierce was rushing to Rage’s house—and all his werewolf friends—on a night like this. “You’re going to attempt to administer a new cure yourself.”

“I owe him everything, Jaycee.” Pierce moved toward his coat rack.

I stepped in his path. “I’m coming.”

“Jaycee,” he said. His hand rested on my wrist.

My heart skipped a beat.

I gazed at the place that our skin touched, and those memories I did my best to push into the back of my mind came raging to the forefront.

The way that he had ripped my blazer open, buttons pinging against the wall.

Pierce’s hot mouth sucking my nipples into peaks.

His fingers scraping up my thighs, seeking the band of my underwear.

I hadn’t been working for him when we’d had that encounter. I had been executive assistant at another company, which Hardwick Medical Research had been in the process of buying. Pierce hadn’t had a clue who I was or that he would inherit me during the transition. And I hadn’t recognized him without the glasses, especially since I’d been at least two bottles deep into my wine drinking for the night.

Pierce was used to being treated reverently, like corporate royalty, so he must have been confused when I’d pushed him into the closet at the office Christmas party. Confused or not, he hadn’t protested when I’d forced him to sit against the shelf while I stroked him to hardness through his slacks.

And then he’d probably been even more confused when I showed up to the official meet-and-greet the next day, perfectly coiffed and hiding my hangover behind a pair of sunglasses.

One night. One intense, smoking night together before we’d ever worked together.

Biggest mistake of my life.

As I’ve said, I was a consummate professional. I didn’t sleep with coworkers. I certainly didn’t sleep with my bosses.

Of course, as Pierce had later pointed out, we hadn’t done any sleeping at all on that night.

He had a good sense of humor about it. But I always steered the conversation away from that night whenever he brought it up, just to be safe, just as I always called him “sir” or “Mr. Hardwick” to properly distance myself from him.

We’d had a fantastic working relationship for the last four years. We were a team. The best damn team.

Even so, when he touched me, it was hard not to think about how he had felt moving inside of me. Even drunk on wine, I had committed rolling that condom over him and guiding Pierce’s cock into my body to permanent memory. I remembered the taste of cognac on his lips and the scrape of his stubble against my chin.

I especially remembered the low groan he’d given when he’d spent himself—easily the most delicious sound I’d ever heard.

Pierce’s fingers were still on my wrist.

I drew my hand back.

“You need me,” I said.

His eyebrow arched.

I cleared my throat. “You need help if you’re going to administer experimental treatment to werewolves. Lycanthropy is likely to be as magical as it is physical. It’s not as though we’re trying to annihilate cancer. You need a witch. I’m the best witch at the company.”

A smile slanted across his mouth. “You’re probably the only witch.”

His fingers slipped across my inner wrist, as though feeling for a pulse. Or else I was the one drifting toward him, and he was just responding.

Either way, it wasn’t professional.

“Dennis, the mail boy,” I said. “He’s a witch.”

Pierce’s smile faded a fraction. Fierceness sparked in the warm brown pools of his eyes. “Dennis? You know Dennis very well?”

“I know everyone in this building well.” It helped ensure Pierce didn’t need to know them. “Dennis wouldn’t be able to help you on the trip. I would. I’m coming to help you test the cure on the werewolves.”

“Okay,” Pierce said. He whipped his jacket off of the hook. “Get in the helicopter.”

COLLAPSE