Showdown

Twenty heroes have been stolen. Removed from their times, their worlds, and their lives, they're put in front of a bloodthirsty audience to fight.

Every one of these people has fought to save the world. They've killed and died. And now they must become enemies in order to meet the monster behind it all.

Showdown is a 30,000-word novella that was originally serialized online as an interactive reader event. It's not intended to be read unless you're a fan of The Descentverse (such as The Descent Series, The Ascension Series, or Seasons of the Moon).

Excerpt:

NOVEMBER 9, 2019.

Rylie Gresham woke at three o'clock in the morning, and she wasn't certain why. Her bedroom was still and her werewolf ears could tell the world outside was asleep. The sanctuary had been peaceful as of late; with the new hospital facilities, freshly built downtown, and the new Academy under construction, everyone was kept productively busy. Too busy to fight. Too busy to stay awake at night when the air hung with a quiet chill.

Her mate, Abel, wasn't with her. Is something wrong?

She donned her bathrobe and padded to the kids' room. Benjamin slept peacefully, sprawled over the toddler bed he refused to trade for a Big Boy Bed. His baby sister slept peacefully on a floor mat because she kept climbing out of the crib. Rylie’s aunt, Gwyneth, took the twin bed, and the zombie would have woken if they needed anything. They hadn’t roused Rylie.

READ MORE

"Then why am I awake?" Rylie whispered to herself, shutting their door silently.

And where is Abel?

She headed barefoot into the night. It wasn't too cold for a werewolf Alpha. Her breath came out as fog while her toes scrunched against ice. The clouds had vanished. It felt like the stars were watching her.

A wind lifted. It smelled of coffee, whiskey, and cannabis. Rylie's nose wrinkled at the scent, turning to look for the source—

—and she found herself facing a stadium.

It was an open dirt was lit by fires around the edges. Across that pit, the benches were filled with a quiet group, watching the ground with anticipation. Rylie’s acute eyes could make out every detail of the onlookers in the darkness. Her nose told her that if she was in some kind of strange viewing box, there were others next to hers, occupied by other people.

The entire world had changed in a blink and she’d felt no sense of movement.

Shock rolled through Rylie's body. She tried to take a quick step back onto her stairs, but they weren't there. She bumped a stone bench hard enough to bruise her ankle.

"Ow!"

"Careful," said a lovely young woman with mounds of chestnut curls, who sat against the wall in the corner.

She looked familiar. Her luminous white-blue eyes were the signature mark of an angel, which put Rylie’s hackles on edge. She’d met few angels who she could trust. "Who are you? Where am I?" Rylie asked.

"I'm Marion," said the girl.

Rylie blinked. "No you're not." Marion was one of Ariane Garin's daughters, and she was an adorable schoolchild with too much attitude and little respect for adults. She’d spent last summer staying with Rylie. She wasn’t even tall as Rylie’s ribcage yet, much less a gazelle-legged supermodel with glowing eyes, a designer gown, and eerily calm features.

"You look young, which explains why you don’t know me like this,” Marion said thoughtfully. "I don't think you and I were pulled from the same year. Where did you wake up today?"

"The sanctuary," Rylie said. "Um, in 2019."

"Ah, yes. It's 2032 for me." Marion hugged herself, even though the stadium was warm. She shivered. "Don't try to leave. We can't. Whoever brought us here—”

The fires blazed higher, erupting with a boom that washed charcoal heat over Rylie. The crowd erupted with cheers, launching from their benches to wave their arms over their heads. They were a diverse crew, from what Rylie could see and smell. There were demons, sidhe, angels, and humans among them, mingled as one.

Something was beginning.

Rylie edged to the waist-high wall overlooking the stadium. A pair of people walked into the dirt pit.

"Army of Evil, we hear you!" roared a beast of a woman with a cat coiled around her shoulders. She wore all leather. She was plastered in so many tattoos that hardly a bare inch showed. "You want a showdown of heroes? We'll give you a showdown of heroes!"

"Showdown?" Rylie echoed in a whisper.

"I'm Louise the Monster," went on the woman. "This here's Flora the Destroya. Make some noise!"

They lifted their arms to receive the adulation. Rylie clutched her heart, adrenaline rising at the sound.

Flora had sharp eyes and a mischievous smile. "We've pulled twenty champions from every world we could reach—the infernal and ethereal planes, and the Middle Worlds—at the times when these heroes were strongest. All of them veterans of war. And none of them have any choice but to fight for our entertainment!"

This pleased the crowd too—this Army of Evil.

Rylie grabbed the half-wall so she could lean out and look for somewhere to escape. But she butted against an invisible wall. It zinged like she’d made the mistake of blow drying her hair with wet hands again. She jerked back.

"Fights are to the death," said Flora. "Two by two, we're going to narrow these heroes down to person standing!"

"They won't be dead forever," added Louise. "Once they drop dead, they're going back to their lives with no memory of this. There are no costs. No consequences. Just glorious battle! And today, we're starting with two of the greatest—Elise Kavanagh, from the Breaking, and Deirdre Tombs from the first election for Alpha werewolf!"

Iron gates rolled open from either end of the pit. Rylie's heart splashed into her stomach as she watched the two woman enter.

Elise Kavanagh was a demon. Pale flesh, flowing black hair, and looking pissed as hell. Rylie pitied her opponent until she saw an unfamiliar shifter stroll into the arena...and immediately catch fire, standing in the midst of a blazing inferno. Rylie had never heard of a shapeshifter who could catch fire. This was something else entirely.

"Who's ready for some fun?" shouted Flora.

COLLAPSE

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.

READ MORE

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.

READ MORE

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

Cast in Faefire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

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

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

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
Cover Artists:
Genres:
Tags:
Excerpt:

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

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

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

READ MORE

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” Marion said, surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

Violet gave him a thin smile and finally stood.

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

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

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

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

“Mother,” Konig snapped.

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

Heather had been right.

“Then you did sanction it,” Violet said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now she employed it to inhale Deirdre’s proposal.

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

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

“How so?” Konig asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This absolutely cannot go through,” Violet said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t bring any for me?”

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

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

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

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

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

Her son had already signed.

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

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

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

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

It was gone as quickly.

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

Marion blinked. “Next week?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone she had worked with at the summit.

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

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

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

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

“So much for cupcakes,” Marion said faintly.

COLLAPSE

Cast in Hellfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Marion Garin is the  daughter of Metaraon, the former Voice of God. Now she's also the steward of the Winter Court, which has been in anarchy since a revolution five years earlier.

Problem: Marion still doesn't remember anything that happened before two weeks ago.

Seth Wilder has a lead on her memories. Whoever stole them and sold Marion's essence to a demon lord in Sheol. Marion wants to help steal them back, even though that means abandoning the Winter Court to war. And Seth can't seem to tell Marion no.

He wants Marion nearby. Very nearby. Possibly in his teeth. See, Seth has this little problem where he's developing a killing urge, and it seems to be centered primarily on the half-angel girl who adores him. It conflicts with everything Seth believes himself to be: a moral man, a doctor who heals instead of hurts. Yet he's obsessed with Marion. She wants her memories, and he wants her to have them as much as he wants her blood.

They'll work together to make Marion whole, come hell or high water. Even if it means war. Even if it means Seth might hurt Marion. And damned be the consequences...

Published:
Publisher: Red Iris Books
Cover Artists:
Genres:
Tags:
Excerpt:

Marion Garin gripped a pen so hard that it snapped.

Black ink oozed across the table. She bit the inside of her cheek and tried to mop it up with a piece of official stationary before anyone noticed.

“What’s wrong with you?” muttered the vampire on Marion’s left. Her name was Jolene Chang, and she was representing the American Gaean Commission. Jolene was an asanbosam—a weak breed with knives for teeth, long fingernails, and insignificant social power. Yet Marion was forced to sit beside her.

What was wrong with her? Marion wasn’t seated at the head of the table, that was what was wrong with her.

She was among a dozen preternaturals who had been selected as speakers for their various factions, which meant that she was ranked equally among them in this particular context. But in every context—including this one—she was still the Voice of God, and she should have been in charge.

READ MORE

Instead, she was seated at the far end of the table beside Jolene, a great big nobody, and another vampire delegate, Lucifer, who was as much a nobody.

Being surrounded by speakers from insignificant factions spoke volumes about the organizers’ respect for Marion.

On the other hand, Prince ErlKonig of the Autumn Court was seated near the head of the table. When he caught her looking at him, he winked. Marion reluctantly smiled.

“Cast your votes,” said Rylie Gresham, Alpha of the North American Union shapeshifters.

She was the one in charge, so she had been seated at the place of honor at the head of the table. It was her logo on everything. Her blond-haired, apple-cheeked face on the posters ringing the room. Her guards, from both the Summer Court and the shifter sanctuary, protecting the doors and watching the delegates to make sure that they couldn’t cheat while voting.

Rylie Gresham was all over everything.

Marion couldn’t cast her vote with a broken pen. She gestured to her assistant for help. Jibril was an angel who looked as pleased to be her assistant as he would have been to scrape dog crap off of the bottom of his designer shoes.

Everyone else around the table had already marked off their vote, folded their papers, and passed them to Rylie.

That was how they were voting. They were writing “yes” or “no” on a paper, and then Rylie would count them. It was irritatingly low-tech for a summit of such importance.

Konig had said that Marion had originally been slated to cast some kind of voting spell. Unfortunately, Marion’s oeuvre at the moment was more along the lines of breaking pens, irritating the angels, and making people hate her, and not so much with the politically oriented magic.

So they were casting votes manually.

Marion glanced at Konig again. He was sitting back in his chair, hands folded behind his head. The decision had been easy for him.

Marion moved to mark her vote, but the tip of her new pen hovered over a clean sheet of paper…and she didn’t know what to write.

It felt like everyone was looking at her.

Jolene certainly was. So was Jibril. Marion didn’t want to look at anyone else in case they really were, too.

What is wrong with you?

A question that applied perfectly to so many situations.

Marion wrote quickly. She folded her paper. And then she passed it to Rylie Gresham.

Rylie’s eyes were warm but worried when she smiled at Marion. Their hands brushed, and Rylie’s fingers lingered in a fashion that was most likely meant to be comforting. “It will only take a moment to add these up,” Rylie said, returning to her seat.

The Alpha sorted them by yes and no votes. She counted them, and then had her Alpha mate count them as well. Abel seemed to take longer to count. He probably struggled to get above numbers like five or six. Abel was a stupid idiot moron who had only become important because the skanky Alpha female was sleeping with him.

Marion was so busy glaring at Abel and thinking mean things that she forgot to be anxious about the outcome of the vote.

“No,” Rylie finally said. “Nine votes say no. Four say yes.”

There were no cheers, no groans. Not a sound in the entire room.

Quite the anticlimax.

“Thanks for your time,” Rylie added.

Chairs were pushed back. Bodies shifted.

Then the whispers started.

Marion watched the others without getting up. She was getting better at picking up on their thoughts. That was apparently part of her oeuvre too—part of the oeuvre of anyone who had angel blood, which Marion did, though hers was watered down more than that of the others. She was only half-angel. Half seemed to be more enough.

Elation radiated from the seelie sidhe serving as speaker for the Summer Court. Storm must have voted no.

His elation was tinged with anxiety, though. He knew what his “no” meant.

Adàn Pedregon, speaker for Los Cambiaformas Internacional, was only angry as he stormed past Marion. He’d likely voted yes, as getting the angels out of the Ethereal Levant would mean more room for his gaeans to expand—or perhaps an easy route to move down into Africa.

She didn’t need to reach into Konig’s mind to know how he’d voted. He had told Marion how he wanted things to go, and she had ultimately agreed with him.

“What did you write?” Jibril asked.

Marion stood, smoothing her dress. It was a flashy thing that day: a red dress with a fitted bodice and ridiculous number of skirt layers, more akin to something sidhe might wear than an angel, half-blood or otherwise.

“Votes are private,” she said, stepping into the hallway behind the other speakers. Marion glanced over her shoulder at Rylie and Abel, who were still seated at the head of the table, discussing the votes in whispers.

“Votes aren’t private within the factions.” Jibril grabbed Marion’s arm the instant that the door swung shut behind her. “Did you vote for angels to get control of the Winter Court?”

The Winter Court was in the Middle Worlds: one of the four courts that was meant to be occupied by the sidhe. Specifically, it should have been occupied by the unseelie sidhe.

There had been a coup five years earlier which had resulted in the queen’s assassination. The rebels hadn’t managed to maintain power either, and since then, the Winter Court had been in anarchy.

The angels wanted that Middle World for themselves.

The gods had commanded that Marion should take stewardship of it until the unseelie could resume leadership.

The vote of nine against four meant that an overwhelming majority agreed with the gods.

“Hands off, angel.” Konig had been waiting for Marion outside the board room, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Now he hovered beside them and he radiated danger.

Jibril released his grip on Marion instantly. He knew better than to pick a fight with Marion’s boyfriend.

“Are you okay?” Marion asked. She couldn’t imagine that Konig was thrilled about the outcome of the meeting.

“Of course I am. It’s over! Now we can deal with the next thing.” Konig was immediately pleasant again once he’d been obeyed. It was shocking how quickly he swung between intimidation and charm. “I thought I’d die of boredom during all the final speeches leading up to the vote.” He planted a kiss on Marion’s lips, wrapping a firm arm around her waist.

“Me too,” she said. “And they seated me so far away from you.”

“Precious thing,” Konig said. He seemed to think that Marion was offended that they didn’t get to sit together, not that she had been seated with a couple of vampires.

Jibril made an impatient noise when they continued to kiss.

“Time to turn this loss into a victory,” Konig said. “Good thing I had my knights getting everything packed this week, just in case. Now you and I can get to our home. Our new home.”

Her heart fluttered. “Already?”

“The sooner we move in, the sooner we can get the refugees somewhere safe.” He beamed at her, excitement glowing from the violet gemstones of his eyes. Sidhe weren’t subtle about any of their emotions, whether it was anger, lust, or happiness. He was shining brighter than the sun. “And the sooner we can get comfortable in Niflheimr.”

Marion wasn’t shining along with him. She had been trying not to think too hard about what the “no” vote would mean personally.

War with the angels was bad enough.

Becoming steward of the Winter Court—a Middle World frozen in eternal darkness—meant that Marion had to leave her comfortable home on Vancouver Island to live in Niflheimr.

Marion found the idea of such a leadership position appealing. The climate…not quite so much.

At least Konig had agreed to go with her if such a thing happened. He wasn’t from the Winter Court, but his unseelie power meant he’d be able to engage most of the wards around Niflheimr, and he was more familiar with the local culture. Together, they would cooperate to gather refugees and start the court anew.

It was like buying their first house together. Except that house happened to come with vassals, enemies, and an entire kingdom.

As a prince, Konig had spent his life prepared for such responsibility, and he got to do it with his girlfriend at his side. Of course he was excited.

“I should see Jibril off,” Marion said, twining her arms around Konig’s neck. “Will you wait for me?”

“Afraid not, princess. Have to give the order to start moving my belongings into the Winter Court. I’ll have Nori pick you up in a couple hours. Don’t be surprised if you get waylaid in the Autumn Court—my mother will want your feedback on her decisions about redecorating Niflheimr.” He rolled his eyes.

Her decisions?” Marion asked.

“Don’t start with me.” Konig kissed her again, hard enough to take her breath away and scramble her thoughts.

He released her, and Marion staggered, hand pressed to her beating heart.

The look he gave her… It almost made Marion forget about how queasy she felt about the outcome of the vote.

How could Konig be “business as usual” when that decision was going to piss off the angels so thoroughly?

He was already striding away with his entourage, leaving Marion with Jibril. The hall had otherwise emptied. Everyone was in a rush to get home.

Get home, and probably batten down the hatches.

“Well, Marion?” Jibril demanded.

Marion swallowed the knot in her throat and got into the next elevator. An empty one. “It doesn’t matter what I voted. We lost.”

“We’ll appeal,” Jibril said, joining her in the elevator.

She pushed the button to take them to the zeppelin dock at the apex of the tower. “Appeals aren’t possible.” That vote had concluded the summit. There had been other, more minor issues debated in the last week—such as territory squabbles between independent shifter packs—but the fate of the Winter Court was the only issue everyone had cared about.

“What am I supposed to take back to the EL?” Jibril asked. “I can’t tell them we’ve lost.”

The lights flickered.

“Control yourself,” Marion said. “You’ll break the elevator.” Angels could disable everything electrically powered within a mile if their power flared—say, during an emotional outburst. Jibril looked to be on the brink of an outburst that could fry all of New York City.

“Don’t you know what Leliel will do?”

Marion could imagine. Leliel was the ruthless leader in the Ethereal Levant—an angel who had been de-winged shortly before Genesis and hadn’t taken the amputation gracefully.

She’d tried to assassinate Marion in order to keep her from delivering a message from the gods. The one that had led to the vote.

Leliel was not a woman with an even temper.

Marion sighed, massaging her temples with her fingertips. “I’m sorry, Jibril.” She lowered her voice. “If it makes you feel any better, I voted yes.”

Jibril’s eyes widened. “You did?”

“I’m the Voice of God, not the Mindless Obedient Zombie of God. I’m allowed to have my own opinions.” At least, Marion assumed she was allowed such things. Her memories didn’t stretch far enough back to include her last conversation with the gods, presumably when they had told her that they wanted the angels to stay out of the Middle Worlds.

“Why?” Jibril asked. “You want to run the Winter Court. You want to run everything.”

Marion wasn’t going to argue with that. “Believe it or not, I don’t want to fight with you people, nor do I want angels to die out. If the Winter Court’s the best place for all of you to nest, then you should have it.”

“You’ve surprised me.” Jibril drummed his fingers on his hip. “What would you think of negotiating some kind of compromise, now that you’re steward?”

“I’d be thrilled to discuss it. I’d also be shocked if Leliel is willing to talk to me rationally.”

“We’ll see about that,” Jibril said. “We can arrange something without her, though. I’ll meet you and Prince ErlKonig tonight in the Winter Court. There may be something we can do.”

“Hopefully Leliel will come.” After all, Leliel led the angels in Dilmun—they couldn’t make a binding agreement without her. “I’ll propose negotiations to her personally.”

The angel had failed to kill Marion once already. She was reasonably certain she could handle another tantrum from that woman.

And Leliel probably wouldn’t try to murder her now that the summit was over. Angels were, if nothing else, deeply logical creatures. The vote had ended, so killing Marion at that point would only be a waste of energy and a great way to piss off the Autumn Court.

The elevator chimed and its doors slid open. The dock was already occupied by the rest of the ethereal delegation, preparing to return to the EL after the summit.

Suzume stood on the left—an amusingly crass angel—with Leliel on her right. Marion had been planning to escort Jibril to the edge of the dock, but the sight of Leliel stopped her two feet in front of the elevator.

Leliel was beautiful. Curvaceous for an angel, statuesque, auburn-haired with skin in warm olive tones. Her body was draped in layers of peach that accentuated her large breasts and hips. She could have also probably hidden a few knives under that dress. Maybe even one of the flaming swords angels so often carried.

The instant that Marion saw her expression, Marion knew that Leliel had already heard of the vote.

“I have a message for you to deliver to your in-laws,” Leliel said. “Tell them that war is coming.”

“Wait, Leliel. We should talk,” Marion said.

“You’ve done enough, mage girl.” Her enchanted wings whipped free of the tattoos on her back. The other angels unfurled their wings as well—genuine wings, feathers glowing with so much energy that all the lights immediately extinguished in the dock.

The wind caught them, and they were gone.

Marion stepped up to the edge to watch the three of them go. She had a foul taste in her mouth.

“I voted in your favor, dammit,” she said into the foggy evening.

But it didn’t matter.

Marion’s fists were shaking, and she realized that her fingernails had cut neat half-moons into her palm because they’d been clenched so tightly.

Strangely, she wasn’t angry that Leliel refused to listen. Marion never would have expected her offer to talk to go over well.

She felt queasy that she’d even voted in the favor of Leliel, her would-be killer, even she and Konig had agreed that it would be the easiest way to prevent war.

What’s wrong with you? Jolene had asked.

“If only I knew,” she muttered.

COLLAPSE

Ascension Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sins of Eden

There have always been three gods. Always.

Until Elise Kavanagh murdered them.

A demon named Belphegor has entered the Origin and become a new god, triggering genesis: the death and rebirth of the entire universe. He wants Elise to join him in Eden for the end of all things, but only once she’s watched everyone she cares about die painfully under his heel.

With nothing but a dwindling army of werewolves, Elise must enter Eden, slaughter Belphegor, and stop the genesis. But Belphegor’s smarter than Adam ever was, and far crueler. He’s spent lifetimes preparing for this.

He will have his world of Hellfire. He will have victory. And he will have Elise’s life…

Torn by Fury

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

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

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

Sacrificed in Shadow

An Urban Fantasy Mystery

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

Sometimes, you need a demon to fight demons.

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

READ MORE

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

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

“Don’t touch me,” Lincoln said.

The blond barked a nicotine laugh. “Queer.”

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

“Think he’s queer? He looks queer.”

“What a faggot.”

“Cut him,” said a fourth.

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

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

“Don’t touch me,” Lincoln said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln Marshall walked into The Pump Lounge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There was nobody out there,” Lincoln said.

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

“Who?”

The bartender had already turned her back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lucas McIntyre?” Lincoln guessed.

McIntyre tongued his stretched labret plug and smiled.

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

Find the woman.

“How can I help you?” McIntyre asked.

“Aren’t we still waiting on someone?”

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Deputies deal with murders,” McIntyre said.

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

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

“It’s both,” Lincoln said.

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

“Yeah. It’s like that.”

“Full moons?”

“And new,” Lincoln said grimly.

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

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

“Six dead.”

“Survivors?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Out back.”

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

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

Lincoln followed.

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

“Lord help me,” Lincoln said.

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

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

“Just do it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Succubi.”

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

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

Lincoln couldn’t wait to get home.

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

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

That was where they stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re lying,” McIntyre said.

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned.

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

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

Lincoln had found the woman.

Elise Kavanagh.

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

Lincoln struggled to remember how to speak.

“That’s all I know,” he said.

She glanced over his shoulder. “McIntyre?”

“He seems legit to me. Up to you.”

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

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

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

“Will you help me?” Lincoln asked.

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

Lincoln felt the strange urge to kiss her.

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

“Fine,” Elise said.

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

“Really?”

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

“Where?” Lincoln asked. “When?”

But she was gone.

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

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

“I know,” Lincoln said.

“Cool.”

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

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

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

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

Empty.

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

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

He didn’t look.

Lincoln got behind the wheel and drove.

COLLAPSE

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

sisaudio
Available in audiobook format!

Get it on Audible or iTunes.

Of Wings and Wolves

Book Cover: Of Wings and Wolves
Part of the The Cain Chronicles series:

Summer Gresham knows that she’s different. After all, she’s the only twenty-year-old coed that shapeshifts into a wolf. But her unique nature is a well-hidden secret, so she’s baffled to be singled out for a prestigious internship. She’s even more stunned when she discovers that the man who wants to hire her–Nash Adamson–specifically requested Summer…and he won’t take no for an answer.

Nash has more than a few secrets of his own. Like Summer, he’s different, too: a rebel angel in exile. Summer is the key to his freedom, and her warmth and beauty stirs something inside of him that’s been sleeping for millennia. She almost makes him forget that he’s imprisoned.

Summer suddenly finds herself at the crux of an ancient war, and angels don’t care how many mortals get caught in the crossfire. Torn between saving Summer and freeing himself, Nash has to choose what matters most: their love, or his freedom.