Crazy Busy Time of Year!
I'm glad the holidays are over. Bob had total knee replacement surgery on 12/20. It went well, but surgery is surgery and always has a significant recovery period. As I type this, he's about 2.5 weeks out. He can walk unaided and has graduated from a walker and crutches to walking sticks, but he still has quite a bit of pain, which is to be expected. The surgeon said to plan on two months before it faded. I'm taking him to PT multiple times a week.
Meanwhile, it started snowing like mad two days after his surgery. Over the next week, we got upward of 12 FEET of snow. The first couple of days, it was wet, heavy, Sierra cement. After that, it just dumped. I was outside shoveling at least twice a day. Sometimes three times.
But I kept all four decks clear and the kitchen yard. That one is a total bitch. I have to keep the area to the left of the door clear because it's where the dryer vent is and also the propane lines that come to the house much like natural gas in other locations.
It means I also have to keep the kitchen door clear. Currently, there's about a two foot by thee foot area surrounded by many feet of snow. If I slough off on the door, snow cascades into the house when I open it. Really a poor design, but the house is still standing after 50 years so they must have done some stuff right.
The other glitch with this house is the intake/exhaust set up for the propane furnace. It's up at the roofline, so think twenty+ feet in the air, but when we get really a lot of snow, it piles up and buries the pipes. Then the furnace quits because it can't breathe.
Toward the end of Snowmageddon, I walked up the road to take a look at the furnace problem. Sure enough, the pipes had a hole in the snow surrounding them. The only reason the furnace was still going was because I'd set the thermostat to 70 and just let it run. I can hardly wait to see the bill when it arrives.
I got my harness and rope and shovel, hucked up a big snow bank, and took a good look at a mega overhanging roof cornice that was at least nine feet tall and canted right over my path to get to the furnace pipes. One lesson I've learned in the mountains is discretion is the better part of valor. I retreated, called some young, strong men I know in town and hired them to shovel my roof.
No more snow on the horizon. Even though keeping things together taxed me, we need every drop of precipitation that falls. I'd taken Dru to his trainer to board the day before Bob's surgery. Just brought him home today. He is one happy boy!!
Available Now wherever e-books are sold. Don't forget, you can pick up the prequel, Hands of Fate for free right here.
Fitting in has never been in the cards. Not part of the hand Fate dealt me. My superpower is animals, magical and otherwise. They adore me. Birds and insects too. Back when the Celts still roamed the Highlands, I begged them to shed light on how I came to be since my power is unique.
You can guess how well that went. They’re a taciturn, entitled lot. I didn’t shed a single tear when they packed up and left Earth.
Other mages don’t care for me. They don’t trust my one-of-a-kind magic. On my more generous days I don’t blame them. For now, I run a tiny private investigator shop in the Scottish Highlands. Mortals are quick to hire me because I always solve their problems. Using magic is cheating, but they’ll never find out.
Most days, it’s a delicate dance. If I get lucky, no other mage has it in for me. But I’m still stuck hanging onto enough of a glamour to fool mortals. Occasionally, I want to pack it all in and vanish to…well, to somewhere else.
|For a limited time, grab Earth's Requiem from my store for just .99.|
Here's an excerpt:Salt Lake City, Utah
Aislinn tried to stop it, but the vision that had dogged her for over a year played in her head. She squeezed her eyes shut tight. Mental images crowded behind her closed lids, as vivid as if they’d happened yesterday. She raked her hands through her hair and pulled hard, but the movie chronicling the beginning of her own personal hell didn’t even slow down. She whimpered as the humid darkness of a South American night closed about her…
Her mother screamed in Gaelic, “Deifir, Deifir,” and then shoved Aislinn again. She tried to hurry like her mother wanted, but it was all too much to take in. Stumbling down the steep Bolivian mountainside in the dark, she ignored tears and snot streaking her face. Her legs shook. Nausea clenched her gut. Her mother was crying too, in between cursing the gods and herself. Aislinn knew enough Gaelic to understand her mother had tried to talk her father out of going to the ancient Inca prayer site, but Jacob hadn’t listened.
A vision of her father’s twisted body lying dead a thousand feet above them tore at Aislinn. Just a few hours ago, her life had been normal. Now her mother had turned into a grief-crazed harridan. Her beloved father, a gentle giant of a man, was dead. Killed by those horrors that had crawled out of the ground. Perfect, golden-skinned men with long, silky hair and luminous eyes, apparently summoned through the ancient rite linked to the shrine. Thinking about it was like trying to shove her hand into a flame, her pain too unbearable to examine closely.
Aislinn was afraid to turn around. Tara had already slapped her once. Another spate of Gaelic galvanized her tired legs into motion. Her mother was clearly terrified the monsters would come after them, but Aislinn didn’t think they’d bother. At least a hundred adoring half-naked worshipers remained at the shrine high on the mountain. Once Tara had herded her into the shadows, her last glimpse of the crowd revealed one of the lethal exotic creatures turning a woman so he could penetrate her. Even in Aislinn’s near-paralyzed state, the sexual heat was so compelling, it took all her self-discipline not to race to his side and insist he take her instead. After all, she was younger, prettier. It didn’t matter at all that he’d just killed her father.
…Aislinn shook her head so hard, it felt like her brains rattled from side to side in her skull. Despite the time that had passed since her father’s murder, she still fell into these damned trance states, where the horror happened all over again. Tears leaked from her eyes. She slammed a fist down on a corner of her desk, glorying in the diversion pain created. Crying was pointless. It wouldn’t change anything. Self-pity was an indulgence she couldn’t afford.
Pull it together. The weak die.
Even though she wasn’t sure why life felt so precious—after all, she’d lost nearly everything—Aislinn wanted to live. Would do anything to hang onto the vital thread that maintained her on Earth.
A bitter laugh bubbled up. What a transition: from Aislinn Lenear, college student, to Aislinn Lenear, fledgling magic wielder. A second race of alien beings, Lemurians, had stormed Earth on the heels of that hideous night in Bolivia, selecting certain humans because they had magical ability and sending everyone else to their deaths.
It was a process. It took time to kill people, but huge sections of Salt Lake City sat empty. Skyscraper towers downtown and rows of vacant buildings mocked a life that was no more. In her travels to nearby places before the gasoline ran out, Aislinn had found them about the same as Salt Lake.
Jacob’s death had been a harbinger of impending chaos—the barest beginning. The world she’d known had imploded shockingly fast. It killed Aislinn to admit it—she kept hoping for a miracle to intercede—but her mother was certifiable. Tara may as well have died right along with her husband. She hadn’t left the house once since they’d returned a year before. Her long, red hair was filthy and matted. She barely ate. When she wasn’t curled into a fetal position, she drew odd runes on the kitchen floor and muttered in Gaelic about Celtic gods and dragons. It was only a matter of time before the Lemurians culled her. Tara had magic, but she was worthless in her current state.
The sound of the kitchen door rattling against its stops startled Aislinn. On her feet in a flash, she took the stairs two at a time and burst into the kitchen. A Lemurian had one of its preternaturally long-fingered hands curved around Tara’s emaciated arm. He crooned to her in his language—an incomprehensible mix of clicks and clacks. Tara’s wild, golden eyes glazed over. She stopped trying to pull away and got to her feet, leaning against the seven-foot tall creature with long, shiny blond hair, as if she couldn’t stand on her own.
“No!” Aislinn hurled herself at the Lemurian. “Leave her alone.”
“Stop!” His odd alien gaze met hers. “It is time,” the Lemurian said in flawless English, “for both you and her. You must join the fighting and learn about your magic. Your mother is of no use to anyone.”
“But she has magic.” Aislinn hated the pleading in her voice. Hated it.
Be strong. I can’t show him how scared I am.
Something flickered behind the Lemurian’s expression. It might have been disgust—or pity. He turned away and led Tara Lenear out of the house.
Aislinn growled low in her throat and launched herself at the Lemurian’s back. Gathering her clumsy magic into a primitive arc, she focused it on her enemy. Her tongue stuttered over an incantation. Before she could finish it, something smacked her in the chest so hard she flew through the air, hit the kitchen wall, and then slumped to the floor. Wind knocked out of her, spots dancing before her eyes, she struggled to her feet. By the time she stumbled to the kitchen door, both the Lemurian and her mother had vanished.
An unholy shriek split the air, followed by another. Aislinn clapped a hand over her mouth to seal the sound inside and clutched the doorsill. Pain clawed at her belly. Her vision became a red haze. The fucking Lemurian had taken her mother. The last human connection she had. And they expected her to fight for them? Ha! It would be a cold day in Hell. She let go of the doorframe and balled her hands into fists so hard her nails drew blood.
Standing still was killing her, so she walked into blindingly bright sunlight. She didn’t care what happened next. It didn’t matter anymore. A muted explosion rocked the ground. She staggered. When she turned, she wasn’t surprised to see her house crack in multiple places and settle. Not totally destroyed, but close enough.
Guess they want to make sure I don’t have anywhere to go back to.
Her heart shattered into jagged pieces that poked her from the inside. She bit her lip so hard it ached. When that didn’t make a dent in her anguish, she pinched herself, dug her nails into her flesh until she bled from dozens of places. Fingers slick with her own blood, she forced herself into a ragged jog. Maybe if she put some distance between herself and the wreckage of her life, the pain sluicing through her would abate.
As she ran, a phrase filled her mind. The same sentence, over and over in time to her heartbeat. I will never care for anyone ever again. I will never care for anyone ever again. After a time, the words etched into her soul.
Two Years Later
Rune paced from the kitchen to the living room and back again, hackles at half-mast and tail twitching behind him. Marta, his bondmate and the woman who’d rescued him from a trap when he was just a wolf pup, was resting. At least he hoped she was. Something between a whine and a growl slipped past his clenched jaws.
Damn her, anyway.
Didn’t she understand she’d been targeted by the dark gods? Ever since she took to spying on the Lemurians in Taltos, their underground city, things turned to rat shit. Something hideous happened on her last trip. He wasn’t certain quite what because he wasn’t with her, and she refused to tell him. Many moonrises had passed, and she was only just now beginning to talk and think normally.
Rune paused to stare out a large window. The front yard was absolutely silent. So was the road fronting Marta’s house, but then it would be since most of the humans were dead, and gasoline to make their cars run had long since run out.
He shook his fur out and came to a decision. Should he tell Marta now or wait until she woke?
She solved the problem for him. The sound of her footsteps made him spin to face the door into the living room. She was dressed to go out and had shoes on. Not a good sign.
“There you are.” She favored him with a maternal smile, the one that made him want to bite her. She may have rescued him when he was too young to care for himself, but that was long ago.
“Here I am,” he agreed and trained his amber eyes on the woman who meant everything to him.
“I’m leaving for a while—”
Rune’s decision roared out of him. “Not without me, you’re not. Never again. Look what happened last time.”
“Be reasonable.” She smiled again, and Rune felt magic prowl beneath her words.
He slapped up power of his own. “Reasonable has nothing to do with it. Last time they nearly killed you. I wasn’t certain until yesterday you’d get enough of your memories back to be yourself.”
“Neither was I.” Her smile developed grim edges. She sank to the thick Oriental carpet and held out her arms.
Rune stayed where he was. “All the more reason to take me with you. You can merge your senses with mine. Together we’re stronger. It’s why we chose the Hunter bond.”
“Aw, Rune.” Sadness etched lines around her eyes and into her forehead. “You don’t understand. None of us will get out of this alive, but we have to fight until we can’t fight anymore. If we don’t, it’s like turning Earth over to those bastards, and I won’t do that.” She slapped the floor with the flat of her hand. “I won’t.”
“Neither will I.” He gazed cooly at her. “Where are we going?”
“I can’t take you with me. It’s too dangerous.”
“If you don’t take me, you’re not going, either.” The wolf stood his ground, but it was shaky. She could order him, and he’d have to obey. It was how the Hunter bond worked.
Marta looked away, studying her hands. Her long coppery hair was in its usual tight braid, and she was dressed in loose-fitting black trousers and a black jacket, with stout lace-up boots. She was tall, almost as tall as the Lemurians, and she sat with her legs splayed in front of her.
Rune kept his gaze glued to her, willing her to capitulate. He was fully prepared to take her on in combat to keep her in the house, if she refused his company. “I’m not being stubborn,” he said. “I need to be with you for me, not just for you. How do you think I’ll feel if you don’t return? How can I live with myself if you die in a place where I wasn’t there to help you?”
“I could die anyway.” She did look at him then, her clear green eyes filled with something he didn’t have a name for.
“So could I, but if we’re together at least we’ll know we did everything we could for each other.”
Marta nodded once. “All right. I don’t have enough energy to argue with you. We’re going to one of the mining camps to the west of us. Some humans are still alive, and they need my medical skill.”
“How do you know anyone’s alive?” he countered.
She shrugged. “Call it a hunch. I dream things sometimes, and this came to me not long ago. We’ll do a travel jump. It’s not far. If the place is deserted, I’ll bring us right back.” The same, sad smile returned. “With luck, we’ll be home in time for supper.”
“Ready when you are.”
She got to her feet. “Are you going to come closer than that? I already said I’d take you, Rune. Bondmates don’t lie to each other.”
Shame filled him because she’d nailed his reticence. He didn’t trust that she wouldn’t trick him. He made his way to her side and felt her magic as she opened a portal for them to travel to the place she’d seen in her dream.
They rolled out into high, arid desert, and the remains of a mining camp sprawled about them, buildings falling into disrepair. Bullet holes riddled tin roofs and corrugated siding. Rune sent his senses spinning outward.
Nothing lived anywhere near here.
“Curious,” Marta murmured. “I was so sure.”
Rune’s hackles hit full alert, standing on end the length of his back. “We must leave,” he snarled. “It has to be a trap.”
Before Marta could reply, another gateway opened a little way away. Bal’ta poured out. Marta flung magic at the disgusting creatures, minions of the dark, but she barely made a dent. They stood between five and six feet tall, with barrel chests, and their bodies were coated in greasy-looking brown hair. Thicker hair hung from their scalps and grew in clumps from armpits and groins. Ropy muscles bulged under their hairy skin. Orange eyes gleamed, and their foreheads sloped backward.
Rune had faced them before. At least they didn’t have magic of their own beyond a shared intelligence. The flood had slowed, and he gathered himself for action. He and Marta could take them. They’d faced worse odds. Apparently she agreed, and he felt her merge her consciousness with his.
“I’ll take this side,” Rune growled and thrust himself into the thick of things, avoiding the cudgels and maces they used in battle. Rune knew to stay out of the line of Marta’s magic. He sliced into one neck after another until he was coated in blood. The air was thick with the coppery stench of it. For some reason, Bal’ta avoided him. Something about his animal energy burned them, and he took full advantage of their hesitation.
He glanced at Marta from time to time, grateful beyond thought she was still on her feet. In addition to magic, she held a knife in one hand. A knife dripping blood. Dead bodies piled around both of them.
Rune danced to one side to avoid a cudgel aimed for him skull. He sent out a call for forest wolves, but none came to their aid. Maybe there weren’t any living here—or maybe they didn’t see the point in taking a stand in someone else’s battle.
No matter. He and Marta were winning. Only a few Bal’ta remained. He’d begun to work his way back to his bondmate, when another gateway opened, this one black and edged with flames. A man sashayed through. Rune stopped cold, staring in disbelief. The remaining Bal’ta faded away from that gaping maw; in moments they’d summoned another portal and left.
Rune focused on the newcomer. It had to be one of the dark gods. No one else held that level of deadly beauty. Long dark hair streamed behind him, and he trained his shrewd dark eyes on Marta. She squared her shoulders and stared back.
“Kill him,” Rune urged.
“I can’t,” she ground out. “Much as I’d love to.”
The dark god tossed his shapely head back and laughed; the sound was disturbing, discordant. “Your bondmate is wise,” he told the wolf. “She’s clever not to get too close.”
“Which one is he?” Rune demanded.
“You may as well ask me, since I’m right here.” Dark eyes crinkled in chilly humor, and he mock bowed. “My name is Tokhots. I’m also known as the trickster.” Dark robes fluttered around him, sashed in gray.
While Tokhots had been talking, Marta sidled farther from Rune and severed her connection with him. Worried, he tried to determine just what she was up to. If she planned an attack, he didn’t want to be in the way and ruin things. Nor did he plan to leave her to the mercy of the dark god. Maybe if he kept Tokhots chatting…
“What do you mean by trickster? It’s not a term I’m familiar with.”
Tokhots did a funny little side step. “I play tricks. I’m funny. I’m a hell of a nice guy. If you got to know me, you’d—”
A ball of fire immolated one side of his robes. Tokhots’ pleasant expression shattered, and he batted at the flames—and at jolts of power Marta hurled his way. Rune wanted to launch himself at the dark god, but Marta’s power kept him rooted in place.
Finally giving up on extinguishing the flames, Tokhots shucked his robe, revealing golden-hued skin beneath. “Bitch!” he spat and raced to Marta so fast he beat Rune, who was also headed that way at breakneck speed.
“Don’t bite him,” Marta shrieked. “His blood is deadly poison.”
Rune aborted a leap in midair and crashed to the rocky ground. He’d been about to close his jaws around Tokhots’ neck.
The dark god held a writhing Marta in his grip. “You can’t hurt me either,” he taunted. “One drop of my blood and you’ll be deader than the shades that roam the countryside.”
“What do you want with me?” Marta gave a mighty heave.
Rune thought she might free herself, but Tokhots tightened his hold. “You’ve become an inconvenience. I sent the Bal’ta as a diversion until I could get here.”
“What happens next?” Marta’s voice was steady, but Rune sensed her fear, and it filled him with fury. He worked his way closer to the pair, not moving very fast.
“That’s for me to know.” Tokhots laughed again.
Caution departed. Rune judged the distance and leapt. So what if he died? At least Marta would go free. The air around him thickened, holding him suspended above the ground. Darkness dropped over him like a curtain until he couldn’t see. He thrashed against the magic holding him and plummeted to earth, landing hard on jagged rocks. Ignoring pain, he vaulted toward where Marta had been, still running blind in unnatural darkness.
She wasn’t there. Neither was the dark god.
He still couldn’t see, but he could smell and hear. He employed both senses, ears pricked forward and nose snuffling so hard it began to bleed.
Marta’s scent was strongest right where he stood.
Rune threw his head back and howled his desolation to the skies. He’d failed. The dark god had his bondmate, and he had no way to go after them.
By the time the darkness receded, his throat was raw with grief. He called for other animals, birds, even insects, to tell him what they’d seen. If they knew anything, but no one answered.
Despondent, guilt-stricken, Rune put one paw ahead of another. No point in staying with the dead Bal’ta. Tokhots would never bring Marta back here.
The dark god had taken his bondmate on a oneway trip. Rune knew, as clearly as he knew anything, she’d never run by his side again. She was still alive, but her life force ebbed through their Hunter bond.
Soon she’d be no more, and it was his fault. If he’d been quicker, hadn’t hesitated…
He shook his head hard and broke into a run.
Chapter OneAislinn pulled her cap down more firmly on her head. Snow stung where it got into her eyes and froze the exposed parts of her face. Thin, cold air seared her lungs when she made the mistake of breathing too deeply. She’d taken refuge in a spindly stand of leafless aspens, but they didn’t cut the wind at all. “Where’s Travis?” she fumed, scanning the unending white of a high altitude plain that used to be part of Colorado. Or maybe this place had been in eastern Utah. It didn’t really matter anymore.
Something unnatural flickered at the corner of her eye and she tensed. Standing still bought trouble with a capitol T. She swiveled her head to maximize her peripheral vision. Damn! No, double damn. Half-frozen muscles in her face ached when she tightened her jaw.
Bal’ta—a bunch of them—fanned out a couple hundred yards behind her, closing the distance eerily fast. One of many atrocities serving the dark gods that had crawled out of the ground that night in Bolivia, they appeared as shadowy spots against the fading day. Places where edges shimmered and merged into a menacing blackness. If she looked too hard at the center of those dark places, they drew her like a lodestone. Aislinn tore her gaze away.
Not that Bal’ta—bad as they were—were responsible for the wholesale destruction of modern life. No, their masters—the ones who’d brought dark magic to Earth in the first place—held that dubious honor. Aislinn shook her head sharply, trying to decide what to do. She was supposed to meet Travis here. Those were her orders. He had something to give her. Typical of the way the Lemurians ran things, no one knew very much about anything. It was safer that way if you got captured.
She hadn’t meant to cave and work for them, but in the end, she’d had little choice. It was sign on with the Lemurians—Old Ones—to cultivate her magic and fight the dark, or be marched into the same radioactive vortex that had killed her mother.
Her original plan had been to wait for Travis until an hour past full dark, but the Bal’ta changed all that. Waiting even one more minute was a gamble she wasn’t willing to risk. Aislinn took a deep breath. Chanting softly in Gaelic, her mother’s language, she called up the light spell that would wrap her in brilliance and allow her to escape—maybe. It was the best strategy she could deploy on short notice. Light was anathema to Bal’ta and their ilk. So many of the loathsome creatures were hot on her heels, she didn’t have any other choice.
She squared her shoulders. All spells drained her. This was one of the worst—a purely Lemurian working translated into Gaelic because human tongues couldn’t handle the Old Ones’ language. She pulled her attention from her spell for the time it took to glance about, and her heart sped up. Even the few seconds it took to determine flight was essential had attracted at least ten more of the bastards. They surrounded her. Well, almost.
She shouted the word to kindle her spell. Even in Gaelic, with its preponderance of harsh consonants, the magic felt awkward on her tongue. Heart thudding double time against her ribs, she hoped she’d gotten the inflection right. Moments passed. Nothing happened. Aislinn tried again. Still nothing. Desperate, she readied her magic for a fight she was certain she’d lose and summoned the light spell one last time. Flickers formed. Stuttering into brilliance, they pushed against the Bal’tas’ darkness.
Yesssss. Muting down triumph surging through her—no time for it—she gathered the threads of her working, draped luminescence about herself, and loped toward the west. Bal’ta scattered, closing behind her. She noted with satisfaction that they stayed well away from her light. She’d always assumed it burned them in some way.
Travis was on his own. She couldn’t even warn him that he was walking into a trap. Maybe he already had. Which would explain why he hadn’t shown up. Worry tugged at her. She ignored it. Anything less than absolute concentration, and she’d fall prey to his fate—
Vile hissing sounded behind her. Long-nailed hands reached for her, followed by shrieks when one of them came into contact with her magic. She snuck a peek over one shoulder to see how close they truly were. One problem with all that light was it illuminated the nasty things. Their backward sloping foreheads leant them a dimwitted look, but they were skilled warriors, worthy adversaries who’d wiped out more than one of her comrades. Their insect-like ability to work as a group using telepathic powers scared her more than anything. Though she threw her Mage senses wide open, she was damned if she could tap into their wavelength to disrupt it.
Chest aching, breath coming in short, raspy pants, she ran like she’d never run before. If she let go of anything—her light shield or her speed—they’d be on her, and it would be all over. Dead just past her twenty-second birthday. That thought pushed her legs to pump faster. She gulped air, willing everything to hold together long enough......
Keep right on reading. Click here
|Reader reviews from Court of Rogues:|
"A completely new take on "faeries". The world-building in this first book of a brand new series is amazing."
"This book starts with a bang and keeps you on the edge of your seat through the very end. The storyline is very fast-paced and well written, filled with magic and mayhem, mystery, murder and intrigue."
Excerpt from Court of Rogues
*******The door to my cramped office slapped against its stops, rattling the frosted glass blazoned with Jedediah Rolfson, General Manager, Lady Luck Casino. The gilt lettering had faded, but everyone in the gaming house knew who I was and where to find me. Of course, Jedediah isn’t my true name. Names hold immeasurable power. Even if mortals had been able to pronounce my real one, I’d never, never give them that sort of leverage over me.
My door was still vibrating. A knock would have been nice. Respectful, even, but manners had passed most mortals by. Fueled by irritation, my power simmered so close to the surface it took an effort to rein it in. No need to turn around to identify the man who’d disturbed what passed for peace in this place.
“What is it, Rudy?” I still hadn’t swiveled my chair to face him.
“How’d you know it was me?” he demanded.
Because I can smell you, idiot…
I did twist then. The motion of my big body forced the ratty leather chair around almost as an afterthought. Stick-straight black hair fell across Rudy’s face, and his white shirt was rolled to the elbows. His usual dark pants were rucked up over the tops of battered leather boots. He looked more like a kitchen knave than a pit boss—an underfed kitchen knave who’d stopped growing as a teenager. I made a point of hiring oddballs—freaks and losers. They weren’t in a rush to use Lady Luck as a steppingstone for something better.
Angling a pointed look his way, I growled, “Never mind how I know things. What’s gone wrong?” I snapped my fingers in the vain hope he might hurry things up.
He squeezed his bloodshot dark eyes shut for a count of two before opening them. “That infernal twit who counts cards is back.”
Many patrons count cards, but only one had posed a challenge recently. Interest flickered as I constructed an image of the leggy red-haired Witch with an iridescent nimbus of power floating around her. “You mean the woman?”
“Of course I mean the blasted woman.” A touch of his Russian accent slipped through. “She’s the only one who’s been able to beat our system.”
“What exactly were you hoping I’d do?”
Color stained his sallow cheeks. It was such an unusual response, I delved into his mind and helped myself to his thoughts. Mortals were quite the superficial lot. Culling through their secrets saved me a lot of time.
“Well?” I snapped my fingers again, more out of frustration than actual hope it would move Rudy off the dime.
“Maybe you can tell her to leave.” He drew himself up to his full five-foot-eight-inch height, but it didn’t have the desired effect. He wanted me to respect him, to back his play, but I’d seen the whole sorry charade in his puny mind. He’d chased the Witch out the last time she stopped by the casino, but he’d also done his damnedest to fuck her.
She’d lured him with a fine set of tits, and then hexed him. Even though he had no concept of what she’d done, her sneaky spell had rendered him impotent. I smothered a chuckle. Witchy charms had a shelf-life. Eventually his little johnny would stand up and salute again, and—
A muted crash came through the audio on one of many screens I’d had mounted so I could see the entire gaming house. Not that I needed them, but they looked good and avoided explanations about how I knew jack concerning the brawl in the basement lounge. The patrons had no idea I spied on them—until I turned them over to the authorities for cheating the house. I’ve been called a lot of names since I was suckered into taking on this thankless job. So far, I’ve maintained my cool.
Eventually, though, some hapless mortal will find himself skewered by Fae magic. They’ll beg for mercy, for the compassion of a human court, but it will be too late. Mortals never leave Faery unless we release them, not intact, anyway. Those who break free end up in institutions.
“Jed?” Rudy prodded.
“Yeah. Yeah. On my way.” I flowed out of my seat. If Rudy weren’t hovering in my doorway, I’d have teleported four floors down. Meanwhile, the ruckus was escalating amid the crash of breaking glassware.
“The thieving card counter?” Rudy’s gaze skittered away.
“Is that why you’re still standing there?” I made shooing motions with both hands. “Christ. Strap on a set. Get moving. I have bigger problems.”
The color that had stained his face turned an ugly tomato shade before he spun and pelted down a nearby stairwell mumbling in Russian. He thought I’d never hear him, but he was whining about the fight that had broken out not being on his floor. If it were, the Witch would have beat a hasty retreat.
A snarl of frustration burbled past my throat. I’d never been able to pound the whole team player concept down everyone’s throats. Rudy had risen to pit boss because he was honest—and loyal. Maybe it was too much to expect him—or any human in my employ—to show any initiative beyond the basics.
He didn’t like me, but then none of the staff did. They sensed I was different, couldn’t put their fingers on why that was, and felt uncomfortable in my presence.
Good. I’d never lift a finger to alter their instinctive dread of me.
The day humans can lounge in front of Fae royalty—never mind how far we’ve fallen—is the day for me to retire to the Dreaming and never resurface. A quick glance at the monitor reassured me the brawl was in full swing. No one would notice an unorthodox entrance, so I hopped on an enchanted conduit and emerged in the largest of five gaming halls in a blaze of light.
Muted light, but it still would have given someone pause. Not here, though, and not now. What looked like a motorcycle gang—leather and tatts and piercings—had faced off against a bunch of Asian street hoods who fancied themselves a modern-day version of the mob.
Ha! Bugsy and Al, two of my old buddies, would have laughed until they puked at the comparison. They’d understood how to be badasses because they’d borrowed liberally from Faery. Much of their wickedness never saw the light of day; they were too smart to reveal themselves, and I’d sworn them to silence. Most mortals wouldn’t honor such a bond, but they did. They had no idea what I was, but they’d absorbed my lessons like mother’s milk. I crossed a few lines—eh, more than a few—by teaching them gruesome ways to inflict pain and death. Even then, my kingdom was on its way out. What were a few more broken rules?
Turned out flaunting Fae law held a price beyond measure, but I’m getting ahead of things.
No one noticed me as I crunched over broken glass, my fury growing at the senseless destruction. The acrid stench of piss merged with the coppery tang of blood. If I didn’t establish control over the situation, this room wouldn’t be usable for a few days.
Unacceptable. The tables in this gambling hall raked in better than $50,000 a night.
Grunts and curses rained around me as men punched and knifed one another. I sent magic spiraling out, hunting for the telltale bite of metal. Lady Luck had a no-firearms-or-knives rule, and a metal detector sat at the main entrance. It netted us an impressive array of weapons that we stashed in a safe and turned over to the cops once a week.
Yeah. That’s right. Bring a gun or a shiv into my club, and you have to petition the cops to get it back. Works great if the piece is legal, but most of them weren’t. Ever since I’d established that brilliant bit of policy, we hadn’t seized too many of them.
I’d made it to the front of the large hall. Not a dealer or croupier in sight. Either they were hiding in the shadows, or they’d fled at the first hint of trouble. I’d deal with that later. They were supposed to alert someone like Rudy. Or me. I employed half a dozen pit bosses who rotated through the club.
I’d heard from Rudy, but not about this mess.
Someone catapulted into me from the side brandishing a knife. I punched him squarely in the neck, and he dropped like a stone. Shouts told me I’d made someone happy by knocking out one of their enemies. Another dude decked out in black leather rushed me from the back. I knew he was coming, but I let him think he was getting away with something.
I swear, mortals’ intelligence has been on the wane for the past hundred years. If Shit For Brains had any at all, he’d have recognized a dead-to-the-world five-year-old would have heard him bearing down on me. Timing is everything. I turned at the precise moment to hit him with a one-two combo to the gut and heart. I might have killed him, but I didn’t care.
Once he was squealing and twitching at my feet, I cupped my hands around my mouth and amplified my voice with magic laced with you’d-better-do-what-I-say-or-your-days-will-be-numbered compulsion.
“Stop. Right Now.” Three little words. No need to repeat them.
A slow lazy smile formed, stretching my face into an unaccustomed configuration. Yay me. I still had it. Everyone had frozen in place.
“Excellent,” I went on, smooth as melted butter. “Everyone get the fuck out of here except your top dogs. Take the fallen with you.”
As the crowd cleared, shuffling toward the door, another of my pit bosses scuttled to my side and cleared her throat. “Sorry, boss,” Tatiana mumbled. “I went to find you, but your office was empty.”
Kind of like your head.
I’d learned to squelch comments like that long ago. Mortals were notoriously thin-skinned, and Tatiana reeked of fear. She hadn’t pissed herself, but it had been nip-and-tuck. Her blonde hair was in an updo, and her skin pale under heavy makeup. She would have been pretty without all the war paint. Blue eyes, her best feature, were framed by thick lashes, and she wore Lady Luck’s standard employee uniform: white shirt and black pants. Most of the shirts carried the Lady Luck logo, a phoenix sinking into a crater.
The symbolism escaped everyone except me, and I’d never been in a sharing mood when it came to questions like, “What’s that mean, boss?” Besides, even if I told them it represented Faery’s decline, they’d have thought I’d had too much to drink.
Meanwhile, four men had moved closer, but not too close. Like I said, I make humans nervous.
“Yeah?” One narrowed his eyes. “What’d you want us for?”
I nailed him with my gaze. I employ a glamour. It smooths the points of my ears and makes my eyes appear blue, rather than a mix of silver and gold with coppery centers. For the slightest of moments, I let it slip a notch, just a hint of a blur.
The dude rubbed his eyes. “Shit. Drunker than I thought.” His words were slurred.
It was tempting to display more of what I really was. I shrugged it off. No point in making him yearn for the impossible. He’d be drawn to my deviant beauty. More than drawn. He’d twist himself into a pretzel for one more peek. If I’d wanted a lackey, sure, but I had other plans for him and his partners in crime.
“You have two choices,” I told the men who were shifting from foot to foot as they looked mostly at the floor. “Grab mops and buckets and clean up the mess you made.”
“Or?” One tried for a sneer, but didn’t quite manage it.
“Or I hold you here and call the cops. Property damage is a felony. Bet you’ve had a few of those already.”
I rocked back on my heels, waiting. Tatiana had drawn closer to me, not because I was warm and fuzzy, but because the thugs made her even more nervous than I did.
“Big talk. How are you planning to keep us from leaving?” Shit For Brains Number Two asked.
I swept an arm wide. “I don’t have to. You’re all on camera. I give the cops the feed and voila.” I dusted my hands together. “I’m sure they know you already.”
“We’ll clean,” he gritted out.
“It would go faster with more of us,” another pointed out.
“Probably so, but I don’t want ‘more of you’ in here,” I told him. “While we’re on that little topic, you and your gang members are barred from Lady Luck from here on in.”
The one who’d said his life would be simpler with drones to order about drew himself up. “You can’t do that, man.”
“The hell I can’t,” I retorted and turned to Tatiana. “Show these fellows where the cleaning supplies are and oversee the work. They don’t leave until you’re satisfied they’ve done a good job.”
Her blue eyes widened. “Erm. Maybe the head of janitorial would be better for that.”
“He might be,” I agreed, trying for an amiable tone, “but I assigned this job to you.”
Something in my voice told her arguing was pointless. She’d run at the first whiff of fighting. That story about coming to find me had been pure fabrication. She rolled her shoulders back, barked, “Follow me,” and loped across the expanse of parquet flooring.
After a pause a shade too long for my liking, the men turned to follow her. Just so there’d be no misunderstandings later, I called after them, “Don’t even think about hassling her. If you do, I’ll find out.”
I left it there. No need to spell out what I’d do to their sorry, shitty asses if they made a grab for Tatiana’s tits or any other part of her. I retreated to one side and wrapped myself in shadows. I wouldn’t remain long, only until the cleanup project was underway.
I hadn’t realized I’d clenched my hands into fists, and I uncurled my fingers one by one. Damn it, anyway. Everything was broken—and I didn’t mean in this gaming room. I was here, straddling worlds, to mend what I could, but I hadn’t made much progress.
Or any if I were honest.
Aye, and when I start lying to myself, I’m done for, a patronizing inner voice spouted off.
I wasn’t the source of the original damage. It could be traced directly to the Fae court, who’d decided it would be a grand idea to kick Faery’s gates open to mortals a century ago. Not that any of us ever cared about humans. We’ve always held them in contempt, but we wanted their money.
They’d done a bang-up job stripping their world of everything salable and grown filthy rich in the process. My kinsmen are drawn by gold—and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sing to me as well. We all love wealth, which is strange since our creature needs are taken care of in Faery.
At first, around the end of the 1800s, everything appeared to be going smoothly. We provided something not unlike a circus attraction for the well-heeled. One element none of us had reckoned on was Faery herself. Our land is alive, and she rebelled at the presence of those without power. Not right away, but when it happened the backlash was swift, sure, and brutal…
Buckets clattered as they rolled across the faux wooden floor. Some establishments have carpet. Not mine. For just this reason. My impromptu work crew dug in. Two men looked as if they’d never seen a mop before, but after Tatiana taunted them for being inept dicks, they shaped up.
I heard cheers from the strip show one floor up. No reason for me to stay here. I’d have it out with the dealers and croupiers at the all-staff meeting tomorrow afternoon. Tucking my hands into my pockets, I strolled through a wall, angling until I intersected a stairwell. Rather than naming the deserters, perhaps I’d be better served reiterating club policies to everyone.
The more I considered it, the better I liked my idea. I’d gin up something and have everyone e-sign it. I started to head for the floor show. Getting a gander at bouncing breasts and shaved pussies always settled my mind. Or diverted it, anyway. My cock thickened where it was tucked into my trousers, and I curled my fingers around it, enjoying sensation as it skittered through me.
Sex served as a reminder of the Witch. My cock grew more distended as I remembered her striking face and generous curves. To hell with the dancers in the lounge. I wanted the Witch—up close and personal.
If she was still in Lady Luck, I’d weave a lust spell, make her see only me. My errant member twitched against my fingers. “Yes, yes,” I told my sidekick. “She’ll want you so much, she won’t be able to contain herself.”
Rudy managed the blackjack and poker tables. A magnet for card counters, they spanned two rooms on the second floor. I couldn’t do much about my erection. It would be as useless as attempting to stuff a genie back into a bottle, so I crafted a diversion spell from my waist down. It would draw eyes away from the tented-out front of my pants.
I bounded into the nearest chamber, gratified by the small noises that verified Lady Luck was making money. Chips clicking, dealers calling for bets, and cries of delight as patrons raked in cash.
Rudy sidled up to me. “How’d it go?”
“It’s handled. How about your assignment.”
He screwed his face into an angry mask, adding ten years to his grizzled appearance. “I tried, but I’m not getting anywhere near that bitch ever again. She did something to her blackjack dealer.”
“What do you mean, did something?” I added a jot of magical coercion to my question.
“He’s not right. Won’t look at me. Won’t answer me.”
Damn my eyes, it sure sounded like a hex. “Is she still at his table?”
Rudy nodded. “I told the dealer not to authorize payout, but—”
“Never mind. I’ll take it from here.”
“Thanks.” For once, Rudy looked cowed, and embarrassed. Like most men, admitting defeat is right up there with swallowing glass shards.
The Witch wasn’t in this room, so I crossed the hall and walked into the other one. The feel of her power smacked me mid-chest. Witch magic smells delightful. Aged whiskey and wildflowers with a touch of blood to blend everything together. This witch was old. I could tell from her scent and the extent of her power. It oozed from her and had wrapped around the dealer in visible strands.
Oberon’s balls. She didn’t need to count cards. She had the dealer in thrall. What did she think she was? A fucking Vampire? Whatever game she was running, she could damn well take it elsewhere.
I strode across the big room with its colorful tables. Horse races played on big screen televisions lining one wall. We took a bite out of bets placed on them too. Unlike a mortal, the Witch knew I was coming. I felt her attention, even though her back was turned.
A long skirt swirled around her sandal-clad feet. Made of a pale green sheer material, it offered tantalizing glances of long legs and made it clear she hadn’t bothered with underwear. An equally sheer tunic made of silver fabric embroidered with violet runes covered her from shoulder to hip. Her shapely arms were bare. She told the dealer to hold up—in Gaelic—and he complied. I knew damn good and well Hector didn’t speak Gaelic. He’s Native American from a local reservation.
How deep in trance did she have him, anyway, that he responded to commands in a foreign tongue?
Slowly, tantalizingly, she twisted until she faced me, upper body first, followed by a two-step motion that bought her hips around. Her eyes were a pale, clear green, her face a study in perfection with high, slanted cheekbones, a regal forehead, and a strong chin.
When she smiled and ran her tongue over her lush lower lip, I dropped a hasty ward around myself. She could dupe a mortal—snare them in her spells—but I was Fae, and my interest in fucking her had staged a dramatic retreat.
The Witch angled her head to one side, still giving me come-hither vibes. “I know what you are,” she purred.
Her words tossed still more cold water on my arousal. “Aye, and I know what ye are as well, Madame Witch,” I growled back in Gaelic. “Get out of my casino.”
Her full lips formed a pout. “You’re no fun.” Her magic intensified, pummeling my warding.
My control snapped and I grabbed her upper arm, squeezing hard. “Where is your coven? I will return you, as is my duty for any renegade Witch.” I’d stuck to Gaelic, and an archaic form at that. Zero chance of anyone understanding it—other than Witchy-gal.
“No need to get tetchy.” She yanked her arm, but I held fast.
“Your coven?” I added a whopping heap of compulsion to my query.
Her face twisted in pain, and I had a momentary twinge of conscience for forcing her. “Don’t have one,” she ground out.
Her reply had been true, but it shocked me. “Covens are a requirement,” I lectured. “After the Witch uprising of 1943—”
A violent twist jerked her arm out of my grasp. “Don’t lecture me on my own history,” she hissed. “I’m…different.”
“We all are, sweetheart,” I told her tartly. “Misfits attract magic.”
Her lips twitched into half a smile. “Hate to admit it, but that’s catchy.”
Fuckity-fuck. She was still trying to con me. “Yeah. Now beat it. And don’t come back.”
“But I need the money.” Her pouty look was back.
“Not my problem, darling. Turn tricks. Get an honest job. Before you go, release my dealer from whatever you did to him.”
“If I do, will you hire me?”
The question came out of left field, leaving me dumbstruck. Luckily, a loss for words never lasts long. I started to say hell would freeze over before I’d offer her work, but something stayed my tongue.
“Show up here at five tomorrow afternoon. We’ll talk about it.”
She tilted her chin and ran her gaze from my toes to my head. Something about her direct stare got me going all over again, even through my warding.
“Good enough.” She nodded and walked to the dealer. Reaching into his pants pocket, she withdrew a charm, breathed on it, and we both watched it disintegrate into motes of light.
I eyed the dealer. He still stood motionless, a dreamy expression in place. “Get rid of the other ones too,” I told her.
Breath swooshed from her mouth. “I was getting to them. Can’t hurry these things or he might turn into the village idiot.”
Village idiots predated medieval times, so I asked, “How old are you?”
“Never ask a lady her age,” she retorted and retrieved two more charms. By the time they were dead, the dealer was starting to look more like a man and less like a puppet.
She regarded him and spoke a few words before turning to me. “There. Give it a few and he won’t remember a thing about any of this. See you tomorrow.” Her hips swung enticingly as she strode away.
“What’s your name?” I called after her.
“You’ll find out tomorrow. When I complete the employment application,” she replied in mind speech, not bothering to turn around.
I was still sorting how a Witch had mastered telepathy, not a skill native to their magic, when the dealer made a grunting noise. “Boss. What happened? I feel…off.”
“Take a break,” I told him. “Back to your table in fifteen.”
Without waiting for more questions, I walked out of the card room. It was only an hour from closing time. I could skip the rest of tonight’s never-ending drama and slip into Faery. My magic needed a boost, and my mind a rest. The mortal world dragged at me, drained my essence, and made me long for an earlier time.
One before we’d opened our doors to humankind.
Keep right on reading. Click here for everything you need!
|On sale for half off in my store! Just 4.99. |
Over 1100 pages of can’t-put-down paranormal fiction.
Shifters and gypsies hate each other, but they hate vampires more.
If they can’t set their differences aside and forge a new alliance, they’ve signed their own death warrants. And if magic dies out of the world, humans won’t be far behind.
Tairin Jabari was born in a caravan and has always believed she's Romani. Why wouldn't she? Her mother and father never suggested otherwise. The Rom have harsh rules. When Tairin's first shift catches her unaware at thirteen, her father disappears, and the elders move with deadly speed to punish her mother for mating outside the blood.
Half Romani, Tairin's no stranger to hiding her mixed blood from gypsy caravans. What she can't hide is her perpetual youth, courtesy of her shifter heritage. Every few years, she drops out of sight, resurfacing in a new country to join a caravan where no one knows her. She's overstayed her welcome where she is, but Germany is at war, and travel has become all but impossible for everyone targeted by the Reich.
Magic runs strong in Ilona, a gypsy seer. Powerful ability isn't valued in Romani women, so she focuses her fortunetelling on inconsequential details. Nothing that could come back to haunt her caravan if a prediction went bad. Rounded up and dumped in Dachau prison camp, she has plenty of time to rue her decision to downplay her ability. If she'd taken the time to scry her own future, she'd still be free.
Long before Germany targeted the Romani people and sent them to prison camps, the Netherlands declared them undesirables. Yara's caravan disbanded when she was fifteen to avoid being driven out of the country. Ten years have passed, and she's been alone for most of that time hiding in caves and abandoned buildings. It's been a lonely life, but at least she still has one. For now.
While you're browsing, The Coven Enforcer Bundle is also on sale!
|The prince is very happy to be home. He's always impeccably behaved when he comes back from boarding. As in, "Please don't send me away ever again." It's good to have him back!|
Until next time, folks.
Post a Comment