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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Demon Assassins! Urban Fantasy Romance with Hexes and Spells to Burn


Witch’s Bane
Demon Assassins, #2
By Ann Gimpel
Dream Shadow Press

66K words
Release Date: 9/6/16

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance AMAZON US: http://tinyurl.com/zygdllj
AMAZON UK: http://tinyurl.com/zrc36xb
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Urban Fantasy Romance with a heaping side of Hexes, Spells, and Magick!

 
Book Description:

Last of the demon assassin witches, Roz, Jenna, and Colleen have escaped disaster so far, but their luck is running low. Demons strike in the midst of Colleen’s wedding, and Roz launches desperate measures. As she shape-shifts to keep one step ahead of evil, at least it takes her mind off her other problems. Personal ones. She burned through a couple of marriages and hooked up with a string of loser men before, after, and in between. Though she wants to be happy for Colleen, the jealousy bug bit deep and hasn’t let go.

In Roz’s secret heart, she’s attracted to Ronin, one of the Daoine Sidhe. He’s so profanely beautiful she can barely breathe around him, but he’s also headstrong and arrogant. Not good partner material—unless she wants to end up dusting her heart off one more time.

Ronin set his sights on Roz the day he met her, and he can’t get her out of his mind. Unfortunately, she’s so prickly getting close to her requires scheming. He casts an enchantment to lure her at Colleen’s wedding, but she senses the spell and calls him on it. Demons swarm out of the ether before he can come up with another strategy. Killing them trumps everything.

Roz is used to calling the shots. So is Ronin. Sparks fly. Tempers run hot, right along with an attraction too heady to ignore.

 
Excerpt from Witch’s Bane:
Roxanne Lantry—Roz to everyone who knew her—paced up and down the sodden lawn outside the huge old Victorian that housed the Witches’ Northwest Coven headquarters in Seattle. Rain pelted her from beneath a gunmetal sky, but it was better out here than inside. She fought an unfamiliar thickening at the back of her throat and balled her hands into fists.

“I will not cry,” she muttered to an inquisitive ground squirrel that ran across her boot tops, but telling herself and controlling her emotions were two different things.

One of her two best friends, Colleen Kelly, would be getting married in less than half an hour. Roz had been inside, in the midst of all the bride-craziness, but seeing Colleen swathed in cream-colored lace sent her into a tailspin.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

She kicked at a hummock of grass and yelped when it didn’t move, but the pain from her stubbed toes helped her focus. If she was honest, not an easy task when men were involved, she knew exactly what was bothering her.

“Yeah,” she mouthed the words, lecturing herself. “Two failed marriages and a whole bunch of loser dudes before, after, and in between. I’m jealous and I need a good, swift boot in the backside. Just because Colleen finally stumbled across Mr. Right doesn’t lower my odds of ever finding someone who’s gorgeous and magical and worships me.”

Now if I could only believe that…

Roz was happy for Colleen and Duncan, the Daoine Sidhe she was marrying. They made a great couple, but surely there was enough connubial bliss in the universe to sprinkle a little her way too. Her last go-round with a strikingly handsome Oklahoman she’d met online had ended in fireworks when he’d admitted all he really wanted was to tap into her magical ability. When the rubber met the road, he didn’t even like women. Her stomach churned. She hated being made a fool of. She’d turned the guy in to his Coven for false advertising and laying a trap to delude a fellow magic wielder, but she doubted they’d done much to censure him.

Water dripped off her nose. She stuck out her lower lip and blew upward, but the rain kept on dripping. Roz shook her fist at the low-hanging clouds, recognizing it for displacement activity. What she really wanted to do was pound her fist through the Oklahoman’s nice, straight nose.

Enough of this. Give it a rest. That happened months ago.

For Christ’s sake, I need to get moving, go inside, and trade my jeans and serape for fancy duds.

Roz took a few deep breaths to settle her angst. She couldn’t show her tear-stained face to the world. She’d never live it down. When she closed her eyes, the Oklahoma asshole formed behind her lids, taunting her. Roz clenched her jaw and summoned a calming spell. It seemed like cheating, but time was short. As the wispy edges of magic caught her up, they soothed her frazzled nerves and she turned hard right and headed for the house at a brisk trot.

She, Colleen, and Jenna Neil were the last of a long line of demon assassins. Witches with specialized powers, they lured Irichna demons, immobilized them, and sent them packing to the netherworld. When things worked right, she and her sister witches—along with Colleen’s familiar—shanghaied the demons and locked them behind the gate guarding the Ninth Circle of Hell.

The demons didn’t go without a fight, though, which was what had killed off the other demon assassin witches. It didn’t help that demons as a group had been gathering power these last fifty years or so. Witches lived a long time, but they were far from immortal, and demon assassination ability was genetic. She, Jenna, or Colleen would have to produce children or that strain of magic would die out. None of them had a shred of domesticity, so no one had signed up for motherhood. At least not yet.

I can’t put two weeks together without a major demon battle these days. How the hell could I take time off to raise a kid?

Rain ran down her neck and Roz shivered. Thinking about demons chilled her bones. Realizing she’d stopped walking, she plodded toward the house again and forced her thoughts to the magicians’ supply store she owned with Colleen and Jenna in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The other two witches had moved there months ahead of her. She hated the idea of all that snow and cold and winter nights that lasted twenty hours, but she’d boxed herself into a dicey situation and hadn’t had much choice. Her temper, never very controllable on a good day, had gotten the better of her, and she made short work of her cheating husband and his two—yup, count ’em—girlfriends. After that, she’d packed up and headed her aging Subaru north. Next stop, Fairbanks…

That had happened a few years ago. So many, it was almost time to move on before anyone noticed she and the other witches didn’t seem to grow any older.

Roz shook her head, not wanting to go there, either. She forced her mind back to the special skill she shared with Colleen and Jenna. She hated to admit it, but demons held the high cards these days, and she had no idea how to even the odds.

Aren’t I just the queen of cheerful?

She gave herself a mental shake with instructions to snap out of her funk.

Roz made it to the huge house and tugged on one of the ground level doors. When it didn’t open, she hit it with a jolt of magic, and the deadbolt snicked aside. She stopped long enough to shake water off her and then loped down a long corridor with a concrete floor toward one of the old mansion’s many stairwells. Fluorescent lights, recessed into the ceiling, gave off a sickly yellow gleam that matched her sour mood.

She’d just begun climbing upward when a rush of footsteps sounded from the hallway below.

“There you are,” Bubba, Colleen’s familiar, cried out and leapt up the stairs after her.

Roz glanced over a shoulder and saw he was in his normal form: a three-foot-tall changeling with oversized feet, long arms, and a bow-legged gait. His shaggy, black hair had been brushed until it shone, and his dark eyes glittered mischievously. Colleen had a hell of a time keeping him dressed, but today he sported black pants and a black jacket over a white shirt.

“Yes,” Roz countered, still feeling out of sorts. “Here I am. The question is why aren’t you upstairs with everyone else?”

“Colleen got worried. She sent me to hunt you down.” Bubba crossed his arms over his chest, looking pleased with himself.

Roz rolled her eyes. “Bubba, look—”

“Uh-uh.” He uncrossed his arms and waggled a finger at her. “Niall. Remember, you all promised to use my real name from now on.”

“So we did. Crap! I don’t have time for this.” She unkinked her neck and trudged upward.

“No kidding,” he agreed. “Everyone’s here, and you’re not even dressed yet.”

Rather than focus on her shortcomings, Roz changed the subject. “You’re looking pretty spiffy, bud.”

“Do you like it?”

“What I saw of it. It’s sort of like a black tuxedo, but with Velcro instead of buttons.”

“I hate buttons.”

Roz grinned in spite of herself. “I know you do, sweetie.”

She came to the third floor landing and pushed the stairwell door open, holding it for the changeling. “Run and tell Colleen I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” Without waiting for an answer, she walked briskly halfway down the long hall and let herself into her bedroom. Locking the door behind her, she unlaced her wet boots and toed them off. Next she shucked her sodden clothes, ducked into the bathroom, and gathered strands of coal black hair, pulling it into a ponytail with both hands. Once she had her hair together, she wrapped her head in a towel. She didn’t believe in hair dryers, so once she’d soaked as much water as she could into the towel, she grabbed her comb, made several sections, and plaited her knee-length, straight-as-a-stick hair, weaving it into a pseudo-French braid.

Before she left the bathroom, she inspected her face in the mirror. She never wore makeup because it made her look like a clown. Her bronzed skin and stark bone structure declared her Native American blood more clearly than words could have. She smoothed her eyebrows with a few drops of water and considered which of two outfits to wear. Colleen had said it didn’t matter to her, so long as Roz didn’t show up in her usual tattered blue jeans and combat boots.

With a snort of amusement, she padded back into the bedroom and pulled a long, beaded black buckskin skirt off a hanger. She stepped into it and laced the side fastening. Next came a turquoise deerskin top, also beaded, that clung to her like a second skin. In addition to not bothering with makeup, she also didn’t care for underthings, so the outline of her breasts was clearly visible through the soft leather. She slipped a heavy silver and turquoise necklace over her head, arranging her braid on top of it, and grabbed a matching ring off the dresser.

The only thing left was her moccasins. Roz wriggled her feet into them, enjoying the way the deerskin warmed and hugged her feet. Jenna always wore high heels, but Roz had never understood how she could tolerate them. They’d had a few heated discussions years ago before Roz finally gave up.

“To each her own,” she told the mirror. Satisfied she looked presentable, she focused the threads of her calming spell, strengthened it a bit to make certain she’d last through the ceremony without breaking down and bawling like an idiot, and let herself into the hallway.

The buzz of a crowd reached her from the main floor. She glanced toward the stairs and then the other way, wondering if Colleen was still up here. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to find out, she walked two doors down and knocked. The door flew open almost immediately and she looked into an accusing set of pale blue eyes.

“It’s about fucking time,” Colleen exclaimed. Auburn hair with lily of the valley woven into it swirled around her, falling to waist level. At six feet, Colleen was normally a good four inches shorter than Roz, but today she wore heels and they were of a height.

“Huh?” Roz murmured, confused. “I almost went downstairs. I had no idea you were waiting for me.”

“We’d planned to all go down together.” Colleen sounded sullen. “You know, like a proper wedding party.”

“If we were all that proper,” Roz said, “Jenna and I would be wearing matching—”

Jenna made chopping motions with both hands and unfolded her well-rounded frame from off the bed. Blonde hair, hacked off at shoulder level, framed a gamine’s face with shrewd, hazel eyes. Rather than her standard, thrift store couture, today she wore a short beige silk skirt, a lacy blouse, and her trademark high-heeled boots. Huge, golden hoops graced her ears.

She walked to Roz’s side and looped an arm through hers. “Don’t think anything of it. The bride—” she waved an airy hand Colleen’s way “—has been antsy as a scalded cat all day.”

Colleen closed her teeth together with an audible clack. “Maybe I’m making a mistake.”

Roz and Jenna turned to stare at her. “What?” Jenna asked, incredulous.

“Hey, if you don’t want him—” Roz began.

“No shit,” Jenna interrupted. “Tall, blond, drop dead gorgeous. Those green eyes are to die for and those shoulders.” She made panting noises. “The couple of times I saw him without a shirt, I almost came just watching his muscles rustle beneath his skin when he walked.”

Colleen rolled her eyes. “You two are impossible. Can’t a bride have a case of jitters without her two closest friends turning into vultures?”

“No.” Roz looked down her nose at Colleen. “Considering how long and hard I’ve hunted for decent partner material…” She let her words trail off before the extent of her jealousy leaked out.

The door blew inward and Bubba marched in, hands on his hips. “Come on. Everyone’s ready.” He lowered his voice, but not by much. “I think Duncan’s worried that you—” he pointed at Colleen “—got cold feet.”

“She nearly did,” Jenna muttered.

“Aw, crap. Guess I need to go tell everyone the wedding’s off.” Bubba did an about face, but before he could sprint through the open door, Colleen snatched him up.

“You’ll do no such thing.” She swallowed audibly. “I’m ready. I guess.”

“Let go of me.” Bubba writhed in her grasp.

“Not before you promise to keep your mouth shut.”

Roz smirked. Circumspection was not exactly the changeling’s long suit. She walked to Bubba’s other side. “I’ll take him.” She held out her arms.

“I can walk,” the changeling said with a great deal of dignity, “as soon as Colleen lets go of me.”

“You haven’t promised,” Colleen said. “Please, sweetie. It’s important to me. A girl needs to have some things stay private.”

He blew out an annoyed sounding breath. “All right. I promise.” Colleen relaxed her grip. Shaking himself like a dog might have, the gnome-like changeling chuckled. “Too bad. Something like that’s a prime piece of gossip.”

Colleen broke into a broad grin. “Right up your alley, eh?”

Roz made shooing motions. “Let’s get going. You don’t want all that food the Sidhe catered to get cold do you?”

“I don’t care about food,” Colleen mumbled. “I’m so nervous I probably won’t be able to eat a thing.”

“Well I do,” Jenna said. “I’m with Roz. Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Have a couple belts of whiskey,” Roz suggested. “It’ll do wonders for your nerves.”

The hallway air brightened and shimmered. When it cleared, Titania, Queen of Faerie, shook floor-length silvery hair out of her ice blue eyes and pushed it over her shoulders. A diaphanous gown, more jewels than fabric, floated around her tall, thin frame. “Is there some problem?” she inquired with asperity, and her gaze zeroed in on Colleen.

Colleen half curtseyed.

Roz considered it, but didn’t because Titania wasn’t her queen.

“No problem at all.” Colleen inclined her head. “We were just on our way.”

The Queen of Faerie’s severe expression softened. “Thank the goddess. For a minute there, I was afraid you were going to break Duncan’s heart.” She strode forward and thumped Colleen’s chest with a bony forefinger. “If you ever hurt that boy, I’ll hunt you down and make you very sorry.”

“That boy—” Colleen held the queen’s gaze “—is a thousand-year-old man.”

Titania furled her perfect silver brows. “Details. Besides, it’s rude to contradict me. Privilege of age and rank and all that. Let’s go. I haven’t performed a marriage in centuries. I’m quite looking forward to it.”

Colleen’s eyes widened. “I thought Naomi, the leader of this Coven, was going to join Duncan and me.”

“We both have roles to play.” Titania’s mouth twitched. “Surely you didn’t think I’d let one of my own be bound in marriage without my magic involved.”

“I have no idea what I thought,” Colleen managed, but she looked ready to throttle the queen.

Before things got any tenser and Colleen started in about it being her wedding, Roz herded them out the door and down the hallway. Colleen stopped for a moment at the head of the stairway, tension rolling off her in waves.

Roz wrapped an arm around her. “It will be fine,” she whispered. “Just fine.” After a quick hug, she let go.

As if those six words did the trick—or maybe it was the hug—Colleen swept down the long, curved staircase, looking regal. Roz, Jenna, and Titania jostled one another as they made their way down the twenty-five steps. Bubba made an end run around them and fell in behind Colleen, where he picked up her lace train.

They marched through the dining area where caterers and witches bustled about laying out a spread of food that smelled delicious, into a large, luxurious room that took up much of the bottom floor of the old Victorian. At one point, they’d talked about having the ceremony outside, but the weather put the kibosh on that idea. Roz wondered why they’d wasted their breath even considering an out-of-doors event. It was the winter solstice in Seattle. She bet there’d never been one when it wasn’t raining like crazy—or snowing.

Chairs lined the wood-paneled great room, and a fire burned merrily in a huge stone fireplace that took up one end of the sumptuous space. Old-fashioned chandeliers were festooned with hundreds of blazing candles. Witches sat on one side of a center aisle, Daoine Sidhe on the other. Roz guessed between three and four hundred people were in attendance—more Sidhe than witches. Everyone turned in their seats to stare at Colleen, and a collective aaaaah surged through the room.

Roz clamped down on a grin. Colleen really did make a lovely bride, with her Irish complexion and red tresses. The creamy lace dress was perfect. White would have made her look washed out. Titania strode around all of them and took her place at the head of the room. Roz noted with amusement that Naomi held her ground when Titania tried to push her to one side.

Before she and Jenna left Colleen to find their seats, her gaze landed on Duncan—Lord Regis—and her heart nearly stopped. All Sidhe had an ethereal beauty, but Duncan practically glowed. Dressed in a black tuxedo with a crimson cummerbund and diamond studs, he cut an impressive figure with his high forehead, sculpted cheekbones, and strong jaw. Longish blond hair had been braided in tight rows, but the severe style suited him and make him look like an ancient warrior.

Roz averted her gaze, afraid he’d catch her staring, but he only had eyes for his bride. She said a quick prayer asking the goddess’s blessing on their union and turned toward the witches’ side of the room.

Because Ronin came up from her other side, she didn’t notice the Sidhe leader until he wove an arm around her shoulders. “I saved you a chair next to me.”

Her heart slammed into double-time rhythm. She’d met Ronin two weeks before at his castle in northern England, and they’d shared several spirited conversations over meals. Something magical and electric had sparked between them, but she’d chalked it up to everyone’s emotions running full tilt. She’d just escaped demons by the skin of her teeth, and he was dealing with shame or guilt—or whatever he felt—about forcing witches into being demon assassins two centuries before. While his attentiveness had been welcome—and more than a little flattering—she’d been more focused on her relief at being alive than anything else. Besides, after the Oklahoman, she’d sworn off men—forever.

Ronin smiled, not looking anything but glad to see her, and her heart did a funny little flip-flop, in addition to beating much too fast. Dark hair hung loose to his shoulders, and his blue eyes twinkled warmly. Every bit as handsome as Duncan, he was dressed in formal clothing, black with a blue cummerbund, and what might have been ruby studs.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I’m supposed to sit over there.” She gestured in the general direction of the witches’ side of the room.

“No one will notice,” he assured her and hooked his hand beneath her arm.

Roz didn’t fully understand why she let him guide her to a padded straight-backed chair near the front of the room and help her into it, but there was something irresistible about his energy. Too late, she recognized a mild compulsion spell. Anger spiked, but now wasn’t the place to give in to it. With every shred of self-discipline at her disposal, she forced her attention to Duncan and Colleen reciting their vows, and to Naomi, who’d muscled her way in before Titania could get rolling.

When Ronin draped an arm around her shoulders, she shot him a harsh look that made him move it damned fast. Good, she thought. It’s about time the Sidhe realize their days of pushing witches around are over. Yes, he was gorgeous, and he seemed interested in her, but the last thing she needed was some overbearing mage mucking things up. She still wasn’t quite certain how Colleen’s marriage to Duncan would impact her and Jenna. They’d always been kind of like The Three Musketeers, demon style. The permanent addition of a Sidhe was bound to have some effect. Exactly what was hard to gauge.

Who am I kidding? We didn’t just get Duncan. We’re stuck with his kinfolk now too. All of them.

She bit back a sigh. If the series of meetings a couple of weeks before in the U.K. was any indication, she, Jenna, and Colleen would have to fight to be recognized as anything remotely close to equal.

Roz snuck a glance at Ronin. He sat straight in his seat, his profile heartbreakingly beautiful. His long-fingered hands were clasped together in his lap. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what they’d feel like stroking her body. Warm. Electric. Compelling.

Maybe I should give him a chance, a tiny, inner voice piped up.

Bosh.

Roz tried for a stern note, but the other part of her brain wouldn’t shut up.
*****'
If you liked this excerpt, you can read the first three chapters of Witch's Bounty, first book of Demon Assassins, absolutely free. Here's the download link: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/6jnPy

Urban Fantasy Romance With a Heaping Side of Hexes, Spells, and Magick!


Witch’s Bounty
Demon Assassins, #1
By Ann Gimpel
Dream Shadow Press

66K words
Release Date: 9/6/16

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance AMAZON US: http://tinyurl.com/zygdllj
AMAZON UK: http://tinyurl.com/zrc36xb
B&N: http://tinyurl.com/hz9y8wo
KOBO: http://tinyurl.com/jcgs93m
iBOOKS: http://preview.tinyurl.com/zpuhyyh
ARe: http://tinyurl.com/hkhu9sk
GOOGLE PLAY: http://tinyurl.com/jfxhecx


Amazon
B&N
Kobo
iBooks
ARe
Google Play
Author’s Store

 

Urban Fantasy Romance with a heaping side of Hexes, Spells, and Magick!

 

Book Description:

One of three remaining demon assassin witches, Colleen is almost the last of her kind. Along with her familiar, a changeling spirit, she was hoping for a few months of quiet, running a small magicians’ supply store in Fairbanks, Alaska. Peace isn’t in the cards, though. Demons are raising hell in Seattle. She’s on her way to kick some serious demon ass, when a Sidhe shows up and demands she accompany him to England to quell a demon uprising.

Gutsy, opinionated, and outspoken, Colleen refuses to come. Witches need her help, and they trump everything else. Despite breaking a prime Sidhe precept concerning non-interference in mortals’ affairs, Duncan offers his assistance. Colleen fascinates him, and he wants to discover more about her. Lots more.

The Sidhe might be the best-looking man Colleen’s ever stumbled over, but she doesn’t have time for him—or much of anything else. She, Jenna, and Roz are Earth’s only hedge against being overrun by Hell’s minions. Even with help from a powerful magic wielder like Duncan, the odds aren’t good and the demons know it.

Sensing victory is within their grasp, they close in for the kill.

 
Excerpt from Witch’s Bounty:

Rain worsened from a steady drizzle to a pounding, punishing deluge of icy sleet. Colleen Kelly strengthened the spell around herself. It sizzled where it ran up against the droplets. At least she wasn't quite as wet as she would have been without its protection. Pavement glistened wetly in the last of the day's light. It was just past three in the afternoon, but December days were short in the northern latitudes and Fairbanks was pretty far north.

“At least it’s not snowing,” she muttered as she pushed through a nearby glass-fronted door into the magicians’ supply store she owned with two other witches in the older part of downtown. Bells hanging around the door pealed discordantly. She sent a small jolt of magic to silence them.

“I heard that. Not the bells, but you. It’s supposed to snow this time of year. How could you possibly be pleased the weather patterns have gone to hell?”

Jenna Neil stalked over to the coatrack where Colleen stood. Blonde hair, hacked off at shoulder level, framed a gamine’s face and shrewd, hazel eyes. Jenna towered over Colleen’s six foot height by a good four inches, and her broad shoulders would’ve made most men jealous. Between her trademark high-heeled boots and a scruffy embroidered red cloak tossed over skintight blue jeans, she looked as exotic as the anti-hex hoop earrings dangling from each ear.

Colleen rolled her eyes, shook out her coat, and hung it on the rack. “Spare me your lecture about global warming, okay? It’s cold enough to snow. It just isn’t, for some reason.”

“Mmph.” The line of Jenna’s jaw tensed.

Indian spices wafted through the air, mingling with the scents of herbs, dried flowers, and desiccated body parts from small animals. Colleen’s stomach growled. Breakfast had been at six that morning—a long time ago. Pretty bad when even dried newt smelled like food.

“Did you cook something?” she asked. “And if you did, is there any left?”

A terse nod. Jenna turned away, walking fast. Colleen lengthened her normal stride to catch up. “Hey, sweetie. What happened? You can’t be in this big a snit over the weather.”

Jenna kept walking, heading for the small kitchen at the back of the store. “A lot of things. I was just having a cup of tea. Shop’s been dead today.” She disappeared behind a curtain.

Colleen glanced over one shoulder at the empty store. The phalanx of bells around the door would alert them if anyone stopped in. The minute she tugged the heavy, upholstery fabric that served as a kitchen door aside, the pungent tang of Irish whiskey made her eyes water. “You said tea.”

“Yeah, well I spiked it.”

Colleen grunted. “Smells like you took a bath in booze. What the fuck happened?” She grabbed the larger woman and spun her so they faced one another.

“We got another pay-your-tithe-or-die e-mail from our Coven.” Jenna’s nostrils flared in annoyance.

“So? That’s like the tenth one.” There were new policies none of them agreed with, so they’d joined with about twenty other witches and stopped paying the monthly stipend that supported their Coven’s hierarchy.

“It’s not what’s bothering me.” Jenna pulled free from Colleen, tipped her cup, and took a slug of what smelled like mostly liquor.

Colleen fought a desire to swat her. Getting to the point quickly had never been one of Jenna’s talents. She clamped her jaws together. “What is?”

“Roz called with…problems.” Jenna turned and started toward the steep staircase ladder leading to her bedroom above the shop.

“You can’t just drop that bomb and leave.” Colleen made another grab for Jenna to keep her in the kitchen. Worry for their friend ate at her. Of the three of them, Roz was by far the most volatile. “What happened? I thought she was in Missouri, or maybe it was Oklahoma, visiting that dishy dude she met online.”

“Didn’t work out.” The corners of Jenna’s mouth twisted downward.

Colleen quirked a brow, urging her friend to say more.

Jenna plowed on. “He only wanted her for her magic. Turned out he preferred men.”

“Aw, shit.” Colleen blew out a breath. “She must’ve been disappointed.”

Half a snorting laugh bubbled past Jenna’s lips. “Maybe now she is. At the time, furious would’ve been closer to the mark.”

Colleen’s throat tightened. “Crap! What’d she do? She didn’t hurt him, did she?”

“Not directly. She turned him over to the local Coven.”

“Thank God!” Colleen let go of Jenna and laid a hand over her heart. Roxanne Lantry was more than capable of killing anyone who pissed her off. It was how she ended up in Alaska. Roz hadn’t exactly been caught when her cheating husband and his two girlfriends went missing, but she hadn’t stuck around to encourage the authorities to question her, either.

Colleen and Jenna had already left Seattle when that little incident went down. Roz repressed her antipathy for Alaska’s legendary foul weather and joined them. Magically, she was strong as an ox, and she had a hell of a temper.

Colleen’s stomach growled again. Louder this time. It didn’t give a good goddamn about anything other than its empty state. She pushed past Jenna to the stove, lifted a lid, and peered into a battered aluminum pot. Curry blasted her. The spicy odor stung her eyes and made her nose run.

“Whew. Potent. Mind if I help myself?”

“Go ahead.” Jenna sat heavily in one of two chairs with a rickety wooden table between them. She picked up her mug and took another long swallow.

Dish in hand, Colleen slapped it on the table in front of the other chair and went in search of a mug of her own. There weren’t any clean ones, so she plucked one out of the sink and rinsed it. Back at the stove, she tipped the teakettle. Thick, amber liquid spilled from its stubby snout into her waiting mug. Jenna waggled the whiskey bottle in her direction.

“Nah.” Colleen settled at the table. “It would go right to my head. Maybe after I get some food on board.” She tucked in. After the first few mouthfuls, when the curry powder nearly annihilated her taste buds, the pea, potato, and ham mixture wasn’t half-bad.

Jenna drank steadily, not offering anything by way of conversation.

When Colleen’s dish was empty, she refilled her mug with tea, filched a couple of biscuits from the cupboard, and sat back down. “Are you going to talk to me?”

“I suppose so.” Jenna’s words slurred slightly.

Colleen cocked her head to one side. “I suggest you start now, before you forget how.”

“Oh, please.” Jenna blew out a breath, showering the small space with whiskey fumes. Colleen waited. The other witch could be stubborn. Wheedling, cajoling, or urging wouldn’t work until she was good and ready to talk.

Finally, after so long Colleen had nearly chewed a hole in her cheek, Jenna finally muttered, “Roz called.”

Colleen ground her teeth together. “You already said that. It’s how you knew what happened with the guy.”

Jenna nodded. “There’s more.” She picked up the whiskey, started to pour it into her mug, then apparently changed her mind and drank right from the bottle. “She’s in Seattle. Checked in with Witches’ Northwest, just to say hello, and because she wanted to touch base with people she’s known for a long time.”

Another long pause. Colleen batted back a compulsion spell. It wasn’t nice to use those on your friends. She shoved her hands under her bottom to reduce the temptation.

Jenna lowered her voice until Colleen had to strain to hear. “The Irichna demons are back.”

“But our last confrontation wasn’t all that long ago. Only a few months. Sometimes when we best them, they’ve stayed gone for years.”

Colleen shook her head. Even the sound of the word, Irichna, crackled against her ears, making them tingle unpleasantly. Irichna demons were the worst. Hands down, no contest. They worked for Abbadon, Demon of the Abyss. Evil didn’t get much worse than that. No wonder Jenna was drinking. Colleen held her hand out for the bottle—suddenly a drink seemed like a most excellent idea—and picked her words with care. “Did Roz actually sight one?”

“Yeah. She also asked if we could come and help. More than asked. She came as close to begging as I’ve ever heard her.”

“Erk. They have a whole Coven there. Several if you count all the ones in western Washington. Why do they need us?” Colleen belted back a stiff mouthful of whiskey. It burned a track all the way to her stomach where it did battle with all the curry she’d eaten.

Jenna just shot her a look. “You know why.”

Colleen swallowed again, hoping for oblivion, except it couldn’t come quick enough. She knew exactly why, but the answer stuck in her craw and threatened to choke her. The three of them were the last of a long line of demon assassins, witches with specialized powers, able to lure demons, immobilize them, and send them packing to the netherworld.

When things worked right.

They often didn’t, though, which was what killed off the other demon assassin witches. It didn’t help that demons as a group had been gathering power these last fifty years or so. Witches lived for a long time, but they were far from immortal, and demon assassin ability was genetic. She, Jenna, or Roz would have to produce children or that strain of magic would die out. So far, none of them had come anywhere close to identifying a guy who looked like husband material…

Colleen looked at her hands. Even absent a husband, none of them had a shred of domesticity. Certainly not enough to saddle themselves with offspring.

“What’s the matter?” Jenna grinned wickedly, clearly more than a little drunk. “Cat got your tongue too?”

As if on cue, a blood-curdling meow rose from a shadowed corner of the kitchen and Bubba, Colleen’s resident familiar, padded forward. When he was halfway to them, he gathered his haunches beneath him and sprang to the table. It rocked alarmingly, and Jenna made a grab for her cup. The large black cat skinned his lips back from his upper teeth, bared his incisors, and hissed.

“Oh, all right.” Colleen clamped her jaws tight and summoned the magic to shift Bubba to his primary form, a gnarled three-foot changeling.

The air shimmered around him. Before it cleared, he swiped the liquor out of her hand and drained the bottle.

“Would’ve been a good reason to leave you a cat,” Jenna mumbled.

He stood on the table and glared at both of them, elbows akimbo, bottle still dangling from his oversized fingers. “If you’re going to fight demons, you have to take me with you.”

“No, we don’t,” Colleen countered.

“You don’t follow directions well,” Jenna said pointedly.

“Isn’t that the truth?” Colleen rotated her head from side to side, starting to feel the whiskey. At least once when they’d humored the changeling, he’d almost gotten all of them killed. Problem was she couldn’t predict when he’d follow her orders, and when he’d decide on a different tack altogether. Then there were the times his fearlessness had saved them all.

Bubba might be a wildcard, but he was her wildcard.

“You forgot when I welcomed your spirit into my body—and kept it alive—while the healers worked on you.” Bubba eyed Colleen, sounding smug.

“If you hadn’t decided to play hero, and needed to be rescued, the demons wouldn’t have injured me.” Colleen winced at the sour undertone in her voice. That incident had happened five years before. Maybe it was time she got over it.

“Nevertheless.” He tossed his shaggy head, thick with hair as black as the cat’s. “When you conjured me from the barrows of Ireland, and bound me, we became a unit. You can’t go off and leave me here. It would be like leaving a part of yourself behind.” His dark eyes glittered with challenge.

“I hate to admit it—” Jenna sounded a little less drunk “—but he’s right.”

“See.” Bubba leered at them, jumped off the table, and waddled over to the stove with his bowlegged gait. Once there, he opened the oven, climbed onto its door, and peeked into the pot. He started to stick a hand inside.

“Hold it right there, bud.” Colleen got to her feet, covered the distance to the stove, and dished him up some of the curry mixture. “Get some clothes on and you can have this.”

He clambered down from his perch and over to several colorful canisters scattered around the house where she stashed outfits for him. Keeping Bubba clothed had been a huge problem until she’d hatched up a plan, and sewn him several pant and shirt combos with Velcro closures, since he didn’t like buttons or zippers.

The changeling dressed quickly and took the bowl from her. “I could’ve gotten my own food.”

“Better for the rest of us if you keep your paws out of the cook pot.” Jenna stood a bit unsteadily. “I’ll be right back.”

Bubba stuffed food into his mouth with his fingers. “Where’s she going?” His words came out garbled as he chewed open-mouthed.

Colleen looked away. “Probably to pee. Maybe to throw up. Um, look, Bubba, it might be wiser if we took a quick side trip to Ireland and released you.”

She glanced sidelong at the changeling spirit she’d summoned during a major demon war forty years before. He’d been truly helpful then, especially after he’d mastered English, which hadn’t taken him all that long. In the intervening time, he’d mostly clung to his feline form, eating and keeping their shop free of mice and rats. They’d lived in Seattle the first ten years or so after he joined them, relocating to Alaska to conceal their longevity. She dragged the heels of her hands down her face, feeling tired. It was getting close to time to move again, but she didn’t want to think about it.

Bubba shook his head emphatically. Food flew from the sides of his mouth. He scooped a glob off the floor and ate it anyway. “I have to agree to being released. I don’t want to go back to my barrow. I like it much better here.”

Colleen sucked in a hollow breath, blew it out, and did it again. Bubba was right. Rules were rules. He’d had a choice at the front end. He could’ve refused her. Witches respected all living creatures. The ones on the good side of the road, anyway. No forced servitude for their familiars, despite rumors to the contrary.

Jenna lurched back into the kitchen looking a little green. “You okay?” Colleen asked.

“Yeah. I drank too much, that’s all.” She rinsed her mug at the sink, refilled it with tap water, and sat back down. “Did you two come up with a plan?”

“I’m going.” Bubba left his dish on the floor and vaulted back onto the table.

Jenna rolled red-rimmed eyes. “That was the discussion when I left.”

“Your point?” Colleen swallowed irritation.

“Nothing.” The other witch sounded sullen, but maybe she just didn’t feel well.

“I offered to free him—” Colleen began.

“I refused,” Bubba cut in. He shook his head. “No recognition for all my years of loyal service. Tsk. You should be—”

“Stuff it.” Jenna glared at him. “We have bigger problems than your wounded ego.”

He stuck out his lower lip, looking injured as only a changeling spirit could, but he didn’t say anything else.

“I suppose we have to go to Seattle,” Colleen muttered, half to herself.

“Don’t see any way around it.” Jenna worried her lower lip between her teeth.

“What exactly did Roz say?”

“We didn’t talk long. Her cellphone battery was almost dead.” A muscle twitched beneath Jenna’s eye. “She’d just stopped in at Coven Headquarters and the group mobbed her. Said we had to come. They’ve already lost about twenty witches to stealth demon attacks.”

Colleen’s heart skipped a few beats. Twenty witches was a lot. Maybe a quarter of the Witches’ Northwest Coven. “Crap. When did the attacks start?”

“Only a few days ago. They’d planned to call us, but saw it as goddess intervention when Roz showed up.”

“Damn that Oklahoma cowboy.” Colleen pounded a fist into her open palm. “If his Coven doesn’t flatten him, I will.”

“He wasn’t a cowboy.” Jenna’s voice held a flat, dead sound. “He was supposed to be a witch. You know, like us.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Do you want to close things up here, or should I try to get someone from our Coven to fill in at the shop?” Jenna looked pale, but the tipsy aspect had left her face.

Colleen shook her head. “We haven’t sold enough in the last few weeks to make it worthwhile to pay someone to clerk for us.”

“Okay.” Jenna’s hazel eyes clouded with worry. “When do you want to leave?”

“If you asked Witches’ Northwest, we probably should’ve left three days ago.”

“How are we getting there?” Bubba squared his hunched shoulders as much as he could and eyed Colleen.

“Excellent question.” Jenna looked at Colleen too.

She raised her hands in front of her face, palms out. “Stop it, you two. I can’t deal with the pressure.” Colleen clamped her jaws together and considered their options. Roz already had a car in Seattle. It didn’t make sense to drive their other one down, plus it would take too long. Flying with Bubba was impossible. He looked too odd in his gnome form and his cat form didn’t do well with the pressure changes. They had to teleport, which would seriously deplete their magic and mean they couldn’t fight so much as a disembodied spirit for at least twenty-four hours after they arrived.

Jenna screwed her face into an apologetic scowl, apparently having come to the same conclusion. “Look, I’m sorry I’m not more help. There’s something about that particular mix of earth, fire, and air that I always bungle.”

Air whistled through Colleen’s teeth. It had been so long since they’d teleported anywhere, she’d almost forgotten Jenna’s ineptitude with the requisite spell. “How about this? You go down to the basement and practice. I’ll get a few things together…”

“What do you want me to do?” Bubba asked.

“You can help me,” Jenna said. “I’ll do better if I have an object to practice with.”

The changeling scrunched his low forehead into a mass of wrinkles. “Just don’t get me lost.”

“Even if she does, I’ll be able to find you.” Colleen tried to sound reassuring. She was fond of her familiar. In many ways, he was very childlike.

Heh! Maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to have a kid. I already have one who’ll never grow up.

The bells around the shop door clanged a discordant riot of notes. “Crap!” Jenna shot to her feet. “First customer in two days. I should’ve locked the damn door.”

“Back to cat form.” Colleen flicked her fingers at Bubba, who shrank obligingly and slithered out of clothing, which puddled around him. She snatched up his shirt and pants and dropped them back into the canister.

“I say,” a strongly accented male voice called out. “Is anyone here?”

“I’ll take care of the Brit,” Colleen mouthed. “Take Bubba to the basement and practice.”

She got to her feet and stepped past the curtain. “Yes?” She gazed around the dimly lit store for their customer.

A tall, powerfully built man, wearing dark slacks and a dark turtleneck, strode toward her, a woolen greatcoat slung over one arm. His white-blond hair was drawn back into a queue. Arresting facial bones—sculpted cheeks, strong jaw, high forehead—captured her attention and stole her breath. He was quite possibly the most gorgeous man she’d ever laid eyes on. Discerning green eyes zeroed in on her face, caught her gaze, and held it. Magic danced around him in a numinous shroud. Strong magic.

What was he?

And then she knew. Daoine Sidhe. The man had to be Sidhe royalty. No wonder he was so stunning it almost hurt to look at him.

Colleen held her ground. She placed her feet shoulder width apart and crossed her arms over her chest. “What can I help you with?”

“Colleen Kelly?”

Okay, so he knows who I am. Doesn’t mean a thing. He’s Sidhe. Could’ve plucked my name right out of my head.

“That would be me. How can I help you?” she repeated, burying a desire to lick nervously at her lips.

“Time is short. I’ve been hunting you for a while now. Come closer, witch. We need to talk.”
******
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