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7/25/2009

Blue Diablo

Posted by Munk


Met this new to me author at RT 2009 and wanted her book so bad but I had already blew my budget. What I should have done was scrape pennies to buy it. The story is strong, fast paced, and action packed. The hero is sweet, sexy, and mysterious. The heroine is strong, smart, and sassy. It has everything I want in in a UF. Throw in a wicked sense of humor from the author and I have a great new series to add to my auto buy list. Well done Ann. I can't wait for the next one!

Publisher: Roc(April 7, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0451462645
ISBN-13: 978-0451462640

Get your Blue Diablo gear here and here!
Blurb

Right now, I’m a redhead. I’ve been blonde and brunette as the situation requires, though an unscheduled color change usually means relocating in the middle of the night. So far, I’m doing well here. Nobody knows what I’m running from. And I’d like to keep it that way…
Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border to Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover, and her “gift”. Corine, a handler, can touch something and know its history—and sometimes, its future. Using her ability, she can find the missing—and that’s why people never stop trying to find her. People like her ex, Chance…
Chance, whose uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep, needs her help. Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas, and the only hope of finding her is through Corine’s gift. But their search may prove dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies—and black magic…

“Ann Aguirre proves herself yet again in this gritty, steamy and altogether wonderful urban fantasy. Outstanding and delicious. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.”–NYT Bestselling author Patricia Briggs

“Rising star Aguirre moves from outer space to the Southwest in this new first-person series. Corine Solomon peers into a dark world filled with ghosts, demons and sorcerers. With murder, magic and romance, this is an enticingly dangerous journey. Don’t miss out!”-Romantic Times

“An authentic Southwestern-flavored feast, filled with magic, revenge and romance, spiced with memorable characters and page-turning action. ¡Muy caliente!”–Rachel Caine, author of the Weather Warden series

Excerpt
Your first taste is free.

Chance Met
Right now, I’m a redhead.
I’ve been blonde and brunette as the situation requires, though an unscheduled color change usually means I need to relocate in the middle of the night or face people burning crosses on my lawn. I’ve set a new record, going on eighteen months in the same city, no consequences, no demonstrations, and for the last year, I’ve been a respectable business owner to boot. Maybe I should knock wood.
So I do.
But right now, a redhead. I tell myself it goes with the blue eyes, even if my skin is a little too olive for the carpet to match the drapes. And sure, I get a few looks because it’s a true red, Garnier Nutrisse 64R to be exact, not the plum that most women here favor, but I may as well please myself because I will never, ever blend in entirely. The best I can do is to make sure nobody reckons me any crazier than anyone else.
Around here they do call me la Americana loca, but I figure it’s affectionate, as it doesn’t stop them from coming to my shop. Unlike many of the open-air tiendas, I have a front door and a bell that chimes softly when anyone enters my domain, a dim and shady store piled high with junk or treasure, depending on your definition. I have handmade pots and broken radios, alleged religious artifacts and rare books in sixteen languages.
A ceiling fan stirs sluggishly overhead, but it never gets hot inside. The buildings are heavier, solid rock covered with plaster, so it’s cool and shady when the mercury rises and even the lizards are too lazy to move. Sometimes people step in, wanting a break from the sun, or to get out of the deluge during rainy season, but they never leave without buying something. That’s part of my unique gift (and why I always work in retail). At one point I sold furniture on commission but it just wasn’t fair, fish in a barrel.
Ostensibly, I run a pawn shop marked by a simple red and white sign that reads Casa de Empeno, but anyone who lives in Los Remedios along the road to Atizapan will tell you it’s more. They’ll also offer you a fuchsia candy tortilla at the stoplight just before you come to my store; it’s the intersection where a man with a mime’s face juggles fire and a monkey-less organ grinder plies his trade dispiritedly (how he lost the monkey is another story). Don’t eat the tortilla, don’t tip more than twenty pesos, and make a left turn. You’ll find me, if you really need to.
I’m an expert at staying hidden. More than once, it’s been the difference between life and death, so I live lean and keep my head down. So far as I know, I’m doing well here. Nobody knows what I’m running from.
And I’d like to keep it that way.
Unfortunately, our pasts have a way of coming back, time and again, just like our shadows. Oh, there are ways to sever your shadow, and I know a guy who did, but it was a really bad idea. He took sick afterward, died the slow death of a consumptive, and last I heard, his shadow was making a killing in Atlantic City. Literally.
These are dark times, and I just want a quiet place to ride it out.
Unfortunately, things never seem to work out the way I want them.
My first inkling that I hadn’t covered my tracks completely came on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. I was sitting behind the glass case in my shop, eyeballing a pair of hand painted porcelain miniatures I’d bought for two hundred pesos maybe twenty minutes before. Nice, they looked Dutch, and some tourist would buy them by next Friday.
Foretelling isn’t really my thing–well, only as an adjunct to my real gift and only as relates to the object I’m handling. When I touch something, I know what’s happened to an item, who’s owned it, and to a lesser extent, what will happen to it in the future, although that’s less sure, as any diviner could tell you. Such prediction isn’t much use, unless you’re breathless with wondering about the fate of hand painted Dutch miniatures. Most people aren’t.
History, though…yeah, therein lays the magic. And the reason folks never stop trying to find me. If this could talk, people say dreamily, peering at a piece of antique jewelry. In truth it’s generally pretty boring; the item gets worn, and then it goes in a box. Repeat. But once in a while, once in a while an item passes across my palms with a real story to tell.
And that’s where the trouble starts.
Trouble smells like singed horsehair. I’ll never get past that. When I was ten, my pony burnt up in our barn, and I’ll never forget the way Sugar screamed. That was my first look at an angry mob, but not my last. If you think they don’t burn witches anymore, you never lived in Kilmer. And that’s the damnedest thing; those same folks will come creeping after dark to your back door, one by one, begging for the moon, but get them all together, talking, and they start lighting torches.
To this day, when life is about to get rocky, I smell the burning all over again, one of two legacies my mama left me. And on that Wednesday, the shop stunk to high heaven as someone pushed through the door, jingling the bell. I put down the miniatures, already braced to make a break for the door off the alley.
But I didn’t want to leave, dammit. Thanks to the second gift my mama gave me, I made a good living here and sometimes I even went out on Saturday nights. Nobody brought me tiny pierced earrings from dead babies or soiled mittens from missing children. Nobody expected me to do anything at all, and that was exactly how I liked it.
I don’t know if the dark-haired man who walked into my store that day has a name, other than Chance. I’ve heard he came by the tag from the silver coin he likes to toy with, rolling it across his knuckles, tossing it for a hundred and coming up tails every time. Regardless, his presence in my humble shop in Los Remedios, two thousand miles from where I’d seen him last, could mean nothing good.
“You’re a hard woman to find,” he said, leaning up on my counter like he thought I’d be glad to see him. “I could almost be hurt by that, Corine.”
Well, I couldn’t really argue as I’d left him sleeping in my bed when I took flight. “What’re you doing here?”
“I need you to handle something for me, just one job. I wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t important.” Pleading, he fixed his eyes on me, striated amber, knowing I was a sucker for that look.
Or I used to be. I wasn’t anymore.
And Chance wasn’t my manager any longer either. I didn’t want to handle, didn’t want to tell people their loved one had been strangled while wearing that sweater. I didn’t want to do that anymore.
My hormones gave a little kick. After all this time, he still had the power to make my pulse skip. Some genius genetics had gone into Chance’s making: long and lean, chiseled face with a vaguely Asian look, capped by uncanny eyes and a mouth that could tempt a holy sister to sin. I wondered if he’d felt the last kiss I brushed against that mouth, eighteen months ago. I wondered whether he’d missed me or just the revenue.
To make matters worse, he knew how to dress, and today he wore Kenneth Cole extremely well: crinkle-washed shirt in Italian cotton, jet with a muted silver stripe, dusty black button-fly jeans, polished shoes and a black velvet blazer. I didn’t need his sartorial elegance to remind me I’d gone native, a sheer gauze blouse with crimson embroidery around the neck and a parti-colored polyester skirt with an elastic waist. I was even wearing flip-flops. They had a big red silk hibiscus on each toe, but flip-flips nonetheless. It was amazing he could look at me with a straight face.
But then, he’d been raised well. His mother, Yi Min-chin, was a nice lady who made great kimchi and pulgoki, but he’d never say who his daddy was, claiming such knowledge granted too much power over him. And his mom went along with it. I figured it was just more of his bullshit, but with Chance, you just never could be sure. He had the devil’s own luck, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Lucifer himself someday came to claim him.
“It’s never just one job with you,” I said then with a trace of bitterness. “I’m a show pony to you, and you never get tired of putting me through my paces. I am out of the life now. Retired. Get it? Now get out and if you ever felt anything for me, don’t tell anybody where I am.” I hated the way my tone turned pleading at the end.
I’d built this life. I didn’t want to have to parlay to keep it.
Without a word, he flattened his palm on the top of the glass case that housed my rare treasures. When he lifted his hand, I expected to see his coin because the item glinted silver. But as I leaned in, I saw something that sent snakes disco dancing in my belly.
Because it meant I had to help him.

7/22/2009

Destined For An Early Grave

Posted by Munk


NY Times & USA Today bestselling author

Destined For An Early Grave



Book Four in the Night Huntress Series



Coming July 28, 2009



Since half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her undead lover Bones met six years ago, they've fought against the rogue undead, battled a vengeful Master vampire, and pledged their devotion with a blood bond. Now it's time for a vacation. But their hopes for a perfect Paris holiday are dashed when Cat awakes one night in terror. She's having visions of a vampire named Gregor who's more powerful than Bones and has ties to her past that even Cat herself didn't know about.






Preview Destined For An Early Grave Here

7/22/2009

Eyecandy

Posted by Munk


7/16/2009

Eyecandy

Posted by Munk




7/14/2009

Eyecandy

Posted by Munk


7/11/2009

Seduce Me In Shadow

Posted by Munk


Book 2 in the Doomsday Brethren series gives us Caden's story and I can honestly say without a doubt that If I loved Tempt Me With Darkness, I'm absolutely in lust with Seduce Me With Shadow. The world building in book one was fascinating and flowed seamlessly into book two. I love a story that can so captivate me that I forget that I'm not actually there and Seduce Me In Shadow did that for me in a big way.



Caden is an amazing character. Conflicted feeling about his magical awakening he has been sent to retrive the stolen Doomsday Diary. Easier said than done when feisty Sydney Blair is involved. Caden is a sexy, protective, tortured alpha male that kept my attention from cover to cover.


We are drawn even deeper into the lives of all the Doomsday Brethern and I must say I've fallen for them all. We get a peek inside several powerful passionate scenes with the warriors that left me breathless. Super hott alpha males that are surprisingly vulnerable at times will keep me coming back every time.


A question I asked over and over before I got my grubby little hands on this book was did she bring us the heat and now I can answer...... Shayla Brought it! : )


Seduce Me in Shadow
Doomsday Brethren Series, Book 2 — Caden’s StoryPublisher: Pocket BooksISBN-10: 1416578447

ISBN-13: 9781416578444

Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy RomanceRelease Date: September 29, 2009


Pre-Order:





Overstock

When a villainous wizard escapes from exile, the devastatingly sexy Doomsday Brethren must defend all magickind in the spellbinding second book in bestselling author Shayla Black’s seductive new paranormal series.


Ex-Marine Caden MacTavish has shunned his magical heritage all his life, but he will do anything to heal his desperately ill brother, a Doomsday Brethren warrior in mourning for his missing mate. Posing as a photographer, Caden must convince firecracker tabloid reporter Sydney Blair to reveal the source of her recent exposé on a supernatural power clash. Unfortunately, keeping his hands off the sizzling redhead proves as hard as getting them onto the potent and mystical Doomsday Diary he discovers at her bedside. A bloody rebellion led by an evil, power-hungry wizard is imminent. If Sydney divulges the book’s existence, she will jeopardize magickind’s most deeply guarded secrets and become the ruthless wizard’s number one target. Caden has never trusted magic’s cruel and dangerous powers, but he will protect Sydney with his life and magic—even if it means risking his heart.

READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

Chapter One

“We have problems.”
Caden MacTavish rolled his eyes. If Bram Rion thought that was news, it came two weeks too late.
Hovering on the edge of a bottle green armchair, Caden watched Merlin’s grandson slam the door to his palatial home office, locking the Doomsday Brethren into the edgy silence with him. Each were warriors in their own way, most magical. All had the kind of mettle that would have been welcome in the Marine platoon in which Caden had served.
Without Bram’s Hollywood smile, magickind’s Brad Pitt looked both jumpy and grave. In fact, all the wizards, and Marrok, the former immortal and King Arthur’s champion, looked grim. The tension ratcheted up, and Caden’s thoughts drifted to his absent brother Lucan, a Doomsday Brethren warrior.
Please God, let this end soon.
A loud crash upstairs thumped the ceiling, shook the walls. A woman screamed, terror bleeding from her voice. On the upper floor, a door crashed open, the shrieking grew louder, and footsteps pounded above him. She was running down the stairs. Heading out the door.
Tearing out of the library, Caden raced to the shrieking blond woman, ignoring Bram’s shout calling him back. He grabbed the frantic witch by her shoulders. Though likely over two hundred, she looked deceptively young. Her wide green eyes were frightened, as if she’d been playing a game of chicken with a barreling freight train.
“Wait. Please.” He caught her anxious gaze. “My brother—”
“I can’t.” Her voice quivered. “He’s big and feral and—snarled that I smell of another man. He ripped his ch—chains.” Her words broke with new tears. “And lunged for my throat.”
Caden closed his eyes and held in a curse. The fifth energy surrogate Lucan had frightened away in two weeks. Now what?
At the top of the stairs, Bram’s sister Sabelle appeared. Her lace shirt and golden hair were askew, but her demeanor was calm. “I have Lucan under control. Let her go.”
Instead, Caden clasped the witch tighter. If he released her, what would become of his brother? “He needs her. Without the energy she generates…”
Caden couldn’t finish the sentence. The thought.
“He’ll die.” Sabelle sighed. “He misses Anka so deeply that it’s unhinged him mentally. My Aunt Millie says she’s never seen a case of mate mourning this severe.”
More dreadful news. Where was the freaking light at the end of the tunnel? Bram and Sabelle had dragged him away from his peaceful life in Dallas two weeks ago; the hell hadn’t let up since. Frustration ate his gut like acid. He didn’t want to fail Lucan. Years ago, he’d been unable to save his younger brother. Damned if he’d let his older one die, too.
“If Lucan isn’t taking the energy to survive from these women, how can he have enough strength to fight them?”
“Primal rage,” Sabelle supplied. “When the surrogates come, it’s as if he’s defending an attack. It’s a delusion, and we can’t explain otherwise to him. All his senses, except smell, have shut down. Surrogates bring the smells of their other clients along unwittingly. Lucan fights back.”
“Maybe…it’s time to consider that he wants death,” Bram murmured behind him.
Fury slashed through Caden. What kind of friend even thought that? Caden had held the hands of fallen comrades in Iraq and prayed for their recovery…even as some rattled their last breath.
“My brother will not die like this! I will find Anka and bring her back.”
“It may be too late. Let the witch go,” Bram demanded.
“Please,” the scared blonde pleaded.
Caden shook with rage. He wanted to crush something, punch a wall, lash out at magic, which had again screwed up his life. But the sobbing witch in his grasp shrank back in fear, like he, too, was a monster.
For about the two hundredth time since returning to England a fortnight ago, Caden cursed magic. To a human male, the loss of a beloved wife could be emotionally devastating. But as a wizard, Lucan’s loss had reduced a perfectly sane person to a rabid animal. The man upstairs wasn’t the older brother Caden had idolized as a child.
Though he’d left his childhood home a dozen years ago and disavowed anything or anyone associated with magic, now that tragedy had struck, and he might lose his only remaining brother, guilt seared Caden. The thought of never speaking to Lucan again? Unthinkable.
He must restore Lucan’s mental health. To do that, he had to find Anka and return her to his brother’s arms—quickly. And clearly, the witch Caden currently detained couldn’t help.
With a sigh, he released her. “Go.”
She sprinted out and closed the door. Silence reverberated.
“Come back to my office,” Bram said.
Caden whirled on the wizard. “I won’t give up on my brother, damn you!”
With a twitch of Bram’s finger, Caden was magically hauled back into the office. Caden seethed with resentment slammed the door behind them. He opened his mouth to give the wizard a furious earful, but Bram held up a hand.
“I understand your frustration. But our difficulties aren’t merely about you and your family. These problems affect us all.” He gestured to the other three men in the room. “And the rest of magickind.”
“My brother is chained to a bed like a lunatic, Anka is missing, and we haven’t a single clue where she’s gone. We cannot make Lucan whole without her return. Nothing is more important.”
“I wish. Our other problems are many and grave.”
Ice Rykard, another of the warriors, was a big man, but when annoyance stamped his square, hollow-cheeked face, like now, sane people backed away. “You summoned me here to tell me what I already know?”
As Ice rose to leave, Bram blocked his path. “Something new has arisen. Prudence requires that we attend to it. All of us.”
Bram refused to help his brother, then sought his assistance? Caden would have laughed if he weren’t so furious. “I came only to find my brother’s missing mate—”
“Former mate,” Bram corrected. “Their bond is broken.”
“Involuntarily,” Caden stressed. “I’ve no doubt Lucan still regards Anka as his, and they were in love. Why would she not welcome him back? I’m here to find her so they can bond again, not solve your problems.”
Bram sighed. “Lucan is my best friend, and I want more than anything to make him whole again. But that is a mission of mercy. The other matters are of life and death.”“If you do not help me find Anka, Lucan will die!”
“If we fail to act on this new problem, thousands, maybe millions, will die. Including Lucan.”
Sacrificing one for many. Bram had shoved this “necessity” down Caden’s throat before. His patience was wearing thin. Exhaling, he rubbed gritty eyes. Every day, worrying. Every night, not sleeping—he often paced, Lucan’s mad countenance swimming in his mind. Meanwhile, his brother’s “friends” worried about everyone else.
“Please.” Simon Northam, aka Duke, the youngest of the Doomsday Brethren, drilled him with a direct stare. “We need you as much as Lucan. The sooner we tend to these issues, the sooner we can help him.”
Caden felt four pairs of eyes locked on him. Except for the fact Bram had kept a roof over Lucan’s head, he owed these men nothing. He’d known them a mere fortnight, wanted nothing to do with magickind and their problems. But their stares accused him of abandoning them…and Lucan’s cause. Guilt twisted in his gut.
Blast them! He merely wanted peace and solitude since witnessing half his friends dying in Iraq. Of the few who had survived, two had returned home, only to commit suicide. Another was in prison, unable to make the transition from shooting terrorists in a desert shit hole to walking the dog in suburbia. The last had gone missing following a training exercise at his home base. The tragic death of Caden’s younger brother nearly two decades ago had proved that magic’s body count was even more shocking and heartbreaking. He’d had enough of loss, of death. As soon as Lucan recovered, Caden would return to his sedate life as a staff photographer for a Dallas newspaper. No one died taking pictures of city council meetings.
“The Doomsday Brethren means a great deal to Lucan,” Bram reminded.
Manipulative bastard.
“Besides, you may soon need us. Your magic is coming…”
Caden prayed that his sleeplessness was merely anxiety, stress, and not a harbinger of his own coming transition into magic. But there was no denying the electrical surges and flashes of emotion racing through his body of late. He feared the witching hour— in this case, his thirtieth birthday—was approaching. “Not if I can help it.”
“You can’t.” Bram shrugged. “If you have the magic gene, it’s coming.”
Marrok, the human warrior-giant who looked every inch a medieval knight, from the slash of straight hair that reached his shoulders to the sword strapped to his hip, frowned at Bram. “Does this new problem concern Shock? Have we yet heard from the varlet?”
The shadiest member of the Doomsday Brethren had been MIA since their battle two weeks ago with the evil wizard Mathias, who sought to control magickind with the help of his minions, the Anarki. During that skirmish, Shock had suddenly appeared to switch his loyalties to the other side. No surprise there, given the man’s dark background. Because Shock was both Anka’s previous suitor and cozy with Mathias, Bram thought he might be willing to divulge Anka’s whereabouts. Caden disagreed. Mathias had brutalized Anka after abducting her and forcing her to break her mate bond with Lucan. Shock had apparently done nothing to help her.
Bram, Ice, and Duke all shook their heads.
“Nothing? That is vexing,” Marrok snarled. “Surely he has told Mathias much about us.”
“It’s Mathias’s quiet that disturbs me,” Ice cut in. “Two weeks of it… Right dodgy. Makes me itch.”
If Caden cared about magickind, he’d agree. But his only mission was to determine what Mathias had done with Anka and return her in the hopes of restoring Lucan’s sanity.
“During our last battle, Olivia laid a bolt of power on Mathias that should have flattened the bastard,” drawled Duke. Clad head to toe in designer everything, he looked perfectly urbane and wealthy, the artful muss of his dark hair cut perfectly, just like his aristocratic features, all the way down to his cleft chin. “It appeared to deplete his magic and should have prevented him from rising again, but…”
“This is Mathias,” Ice finished.
Exactly. If Mathias regained even half his power, the small but determined cabal of warriors assembled under Bram’s direction were screwed, and every man in the room knew it. How could the Doomsday Brethren kill a wizard who had already returned from the dead once? He had an army of slaves at his disposal. Caden could count the Doomsday Brethren on one hand.
Bram winced. “I’m afraid, gentlemen, our problems are worse than that.”
Marrok muttered, “Would that we knew from whence Mathias found so many disposable recruits.”
Those were troubling, indeed. Mathias had stripped the souls from their human bodies to create walking dead Anarki, for the purpose of helping Mathias enslave magickind and destroy the Doomsday Brethren. During their last battle, the black-blooded zombies had been plentiful—and immune to magic.
“All true,” Bram conceded. “But I called you here to discuss something even more critical.”
Ice cast him a cutting stare. “Your magical signature tells me you took a human mate last night? A problem, indeed.”
Caden’s jaw dropped. Bram, one of the most pedigreed wizards today, had taken a human mate?
“Wouldn’t your grandfather be proud?” Ice sneered. “Merlin prized that pure bloodline. Pity.”
Bram charged toward Ice. “Shut your bloody mouth, you fu—”
“Cease!” Marrok grabbed him and held him back.
Caden was inclined to help. Bram and Ice were always at one another’s throats. If Bram needed wizards loyal to him for the Doomsday Brethren, why the devil had he picked Ice to join?
“Piss off!” Bram growled.
“We can fight no enemy if we are too busy fighting one another,” Marrok advised.
“Beating in the tosser’s skull would make me feel better.”
“What has you on edge?” Duke asked.
Caden wondered the same thing. Bram was usually the voice of sanity amidst all this magical muck. At the moment, he behaved as if he was crawling out of his skin, one step away from the mental ward.
“Where is your mate?” Ice added fuel to the fire. “I’d like to offer her my condolences.”
“My mate is none of your concern. However, the Book of Doomsday is.” Bram hesitated, then rolled his shoulders. “Last night, while I slept, she found it.”
“Found it? Lying about?” Duke demanded.
“It was hidden.” Bram rubbed the back of his neck. “She must have searched for it.”
An ominous gong clanged in Caden’s gut. Magickind wasn’t his issue, but if that book disappeared…everyone, magical and human, was at risk.
“She cozied up to you to find the book?” Ice looked ready to laugh.
Bram didn’t have to answer; the humiliation on his face did it for him.
“Shut up!” Caden glared at the stubble-headed wizard, then turned back to Bram. “What happened? Where is the diary?”
“She took it and disappeared.”
Bram’s quiet admission resounded through the room.
“Fuck,” Ice muttered.
“You have no idea where it is?” Caden struggled to pick his jaw off the floor. “Where she is?”
“None.”
“Double fuck,” came Ice again.
The Doomsday Diary was the ultimate weapon in the magical war. If used properly, it was rumored to grant any wish, up to and including the world’s annihilation. People had died in Mathias’s quest to obtain it. Lucan’s life was in shambles because of it. The Doomsday Brethren had formed and were fighting a war to protect it. If Mathias obtained the book and used it to bring about doomsday—well, that was everyone’s problem.
“I second what Ice said,” Caden muttered.
“You had no magical protections on the book?” Duke asked.
“Of course. Against anyone magical. I never imagined a human would know of the book’s existence, much less that I had it. The only way she could know is if she’s Mathias’s pawn. I worry… What if he has the diary now? What will he do to her?” Bram paced, raking a frantic hand through his golden hair.
Marrok planted a friendly hand on Bram’s shoulder. “Use your bond to find her.”
With a shake of his golden hair, Bram sighed in frustration. “I can’t and I don’t understand why. I should be able to… It’s confounding me.”
“You touched her, aye?” Marrok asked. “Did you not use your powers to read her mind?”
“Yes…and no. I could read her body with my touch, but not her thoughts. I’ve never encountered such a woman before.”
Duke sighed. “What the devil should we do now?”
Panic? Caden kept the thought to himself.
“Not to add to our problems, but have you seen this?” Duke slid a newspaper in the middle of Bram’s desk. The bold black headline screamed Supernatural Forces Battle in South London Tunnel.
Bram glanced at the paper. “Out Of This Realm? It’s a rag. No one takes that rubbish seriously.”
Not true. Back home, several of the reporters at the Dallas Morning News were addicted to the paper’s imaginative stories. They were more creative than The National Enquirer.
“That may change after this issue’s lead article. The byline belongs to a reporter named Sydney Blair. She’s disturbingly close to the truth. Most news outlets wrote off the battle with Mathias as a foiled terrorist act, a gang initiation, or the work of a madman. Ms. Blair calls it ‘an ongoing clash between powerful factions within magickind.’”
Bram’s eyes bulged. “How the bloody hell does she even know there’s a magickind, much less an ongoing battle? Few in magickind know of Mathias’s return.”
Though Caden had eschewed magic long ago, even he knew the necessity of keeping magickind’s existence a secret from humans. Witch hunts, trials for heresy, and burnings at the stake weren’t distant memories for a society whose citizens often lived to be one thousand. The seventeenth century was, relatively speaking, last year. No one was naïve enough to think that technology was any insurance policy against genocide. People still killed what they didn’t understand.
“I consulted Peers and People of Magickind before coming here. I found no mention of her,” Duke said. “She is no witch, nor is she mated to a wizard.”
“Human? Mayhap she’s one of Mathias’s soulless minions,” Marrok suggested.
“If Mathias wanted to influence humanity, he wouldn’t take over a tabloid reporter’s mind to do it,” Bram assured. “Besides, if she’s still leading a human life, she could not do so looking like an undead Anarki. The other humans notice walking cadavers.”
“So she’s fully human,” Duke surmised. “And frightfully well informed.”
“Or perhaps…” Ice glared at him. “She’s getting her information from someone who rejected magickind and would celebrate its end.”
“Me?” Caden jumped in the big wizard’s face. “I’ve no love for magic, true, but I would never advocate mass murder. Besides, ending you all would mean my brother’s death. Would I be here saving him if I was willing to kill magickind?”
Duke nodded, the cooler head prevailing. “He’s right.”
Muttering, Ice backed away. Barely.
Turning back to the newspaper, Duke went on, “Whoever she is, she’s dangerous. The rest of the article is equally disturbing. ‘The bodies discovered in the tunnel are decomposed far beyond expected, given their recent deaths.’”
“This is no secret.” Marrok waved his words away. “The media has been scratching over that like a mongrel with fleas.”
“Listen further,” Duke barked. “‘Out Of This Realm has learned the bodies bear new wounds and fresh traces of gunpowder, suggesting they somehow fought in the battle, rather than merely being left behind as a macabre message. It appears as if they were actually more dead than alive prior to the battle, but able to fight due to evil magic.’”
“She’s guessing,” said Bram.
But even he didn’t sound convinced. Caden winced.
Duke shook his head. “Here’s more: ‘According to an anonymous source, there’s a mad wizard on the loose once more, allegedly fighting social injustice in the magical world. He’ll stop at nothing to tear down the establishment and replace it with his version of anarchy.’”
Caden shook his head. Poor magical bastards.
“Who is this anonymous source?” Bram demanded.
Duke laced his fingers together with quiet concern. “Ms. Blair claims it’s ‘a witch who recently found herself tangled in this magical war.’”
“A witch?” Ice spat. “Who knows so much?”
Caden’s heart stuttered and adrenaline charged. “Anka.”
“Or perhaps any of the other missing women, like Craddock’s daughter,” Ice pointed out. “But what witch in her right mind would spill sensitive secrets to a bloody reporter?”
Who knew? Still… “It could be Anka,” Caden insisted.
And possibly the first clue Caden had discovered to her whereabouts in a fortnight.
“Whoever her source, Sydney Blair knows there’s a magickind, that we’re at war, and that Mathias is supposedly fighting the Social Order,” Duke insisted.
“The moment anyone actually listens, humanity will hunt us. It’ll make the Inquisition will seem like a bloody holiday.” Bram raked a hand through his disheveled golden hair and continued to pace. “And if Mathias reads this, her life may well be in danger. We must handle this situation immediately.”
Bram leaned back against his desk. The morning sun slanted through the office’s open shutters, showing just how much strain the wizard was enduring. He swallowed, then pinned a wily gaze on Caden that made his blood freeze. “I know how we can deal with Ms. Blair. You’ve worked at a newspaper.”
Caden sent him a wary glance. “So?”
“Offer your services as a photographer and shut her up, before she reveals anything more about magickind.”
He didn’t want to get involved. “Why don’t you visit her and do that wizard mind-reading trick of yours?”
“Only works if I’m touching a woman—deeply. Now that I’m mated…well, I can no longer get that close to Sydney Blair, or any woman except mine. So you’ll have to go and pry information from her the human way.”
Caden’s thoughts raced. Perhaps he could placate them and help his brother. If he worked for Ms. Blair, he could discern if her anonymous source was Anka.
Bram smiled tightly. Bloody bastard had Caden by the balls and he knew it. In order to make Lucan whole, he must find his brother’s mate. At the moment, the reporter was his best—and only—lead.
#
“Have we come to the part yet where I spank you?”
Sydney Blair closed her eyes as the last notes of “Happy Birthday” echoed through the small conference room. Had her perpetually-randy coworker, Jamie, actually suggested a little light S&M with the entire staff of Out Of This Realm looking on?
A dozen of the newspaper’s employees twittered with nervous laughter, except her yummy new photographer, Caden MacTavish. Mortified, Sydney risked a glance at him. The taut arms bunched over his wide chest and the chilly blue of his watchful eyes made her wince.
Sydney slowly turned to the office lothario with a glare that let him know how little she appreciated his comment. He merely wagged his brows at her and grinned from ear to ear.
“Have we come to the part yet where you leave?” Caden countered.
The words somehow sounded polite. Caden had that upper crust Londoner sound, though muted by time elsewhere. But he could still say most anything and sound civilized. His current expression, on the other hand, rivaled Attila the Hun’s on a bad day.
“You think you should be first to have a go at her?” Jamie challenged Caden. “I’ve seen how you stare.”
Sydney went hot all over—from more than simple embarrassment. Caden lit her up like a millennium fireworks show. She’d be thrilled if the man had sexual thoughts of her. But in the few days she’d worked with him, he had not appeared to notice her more than professionally, despite Jamie’s delusions to the contrary.
“Bad Karma!” Aquarius, her flower-child assistant, scolded. “Mellow!”
Neither spared a glance for the little waif. Silver bracelets tinkling, Aquarius reached out to Caden. Whether she intended to soothe him or test his aura, Sydney didn’t know. She shot a warning glance at her assistant. Now was not a good time for her healing-crystal/save-the-world routine.
“You may find this concept hard to grasp,” Caden asserted, “but some men are capable of admiring more about a woman than what’s in her knickers.”
Jamie scoffed. “If he’s a nancy boy.”
Sydney smothered a laugh. Caden was definitely not gay. Despite that, she felt certain he’d never considered what went in her knickers. “Stop it, both of you! This is a birthday party, not a brawl.”
“What’s your wish?” asked Leslie from Circulation, trying to smooth the tension.
A romping shag with Caden, but since that wasn’t likely to happen… head reporter had a lovely ring to it. Sure, she worked for a paranormal tabloid that few took seriously, but it paid the bills. Soon, she hoped to make a name for herself writing stories that traditional journalists eschewed. And people everywhere would recognize her once she found proof of the supernatural. Until then she would write about the world she believed must exist—and her parents had utterly rejected. Besides, Out Of This Realm was a scream to work at. Where else could she collect a salary for chasing Ripper ghosts and conducting interviews at the London Psychic Centre?
Her personal life, on the other hand? Disaster. How did one manage to become a sad spinster at twenty-eight? The endless string of dates from her uni days had been replaced with deadlines and staff meetings. Her last boyfriend… His pretty face had failed to compensate for the fact he had the IQ of a dead houseplant and the emotional range of a pea. Perhaps she should wish for a man.
For Caden.
Yummy waves of chocolate hair with caramel streaks, fathomless blue eyes, a body that belonged in magazines—and a reserved exterior that made her long to know the man beneath. Too bad the attraction didn’t run both ways. She sighed.
“She can’t tell us her wish or it won’t come true,” Holly, her editor, pointed out, then faced Sydney. “Now stop fannying about and open your gifts.”
Sydney looked at the gifts on the table, but her gaze strayed to Caden, who continued glaring at Jamie.
He was a puzzle, that one.
From the moment Caden had walked in the door, he’d been fixated on that battle in the South London tunnel a few weeks back. He’d said her story about the magical war was utter rubbish…but asked a load of questions, especially about her source. Not that Sydney would tell him—or anyone else—the woman’s name. Impossible, anyway. She didn’t know it.
Aquarius distracted the tense crowd by shoving a bright pink floral-wrapped box into Sydney’s hands. From the number of packages stacked on the small round table in the conference room, it looked as if everyone had brought her something.
“You shouldn’t have gone to such trouble.”
“We want to show you how much we appreciate you,” said Leslie.
Aquarius started pouring cups of her infamous home-blended herbal tea as Sydney unwrapped gifts. A pair of delicate silver earrings, a relaxing massage at a local day spa, and a sumptuous Italian silk scarf trimmed in blue crushed velvet. Jamie gave her a gift certificate for a large pizza and a Blockbuster card—both of which he’d likely insist on sharing. Caden had given her a somewhat impersonal card and a small box of nice chocolates. She would have preferred a hungry kiss.
Wrapping paper and greeting cards littered the table when Sydney at last got to Aquarius’s package. The young woman was practically vibrating with excitement. “Open this! It’s from me.”
“You baked and organized and still got me something? You shouldn’t have.”
With the butterfly tattoo on her shoulder and her mesh and lace top, Aquarius didn’t dress like a normal assistant and refused to make coffee—too full of chemicals and caffeine. She wasn’t good with a computer…yet. But Aquarius had a knack for stories, for juggling Sydney’s hectic schedule, fielding the editor-in-chief, soothing paranoid readers and keeping internal chaos at a minimum. And despite being total opposites, she and Aquarius had become good friends. Sydney smiled at the thought.
“Are you two going to start snogging or are you going to open that?” Jamie hollered.
After tossing another glare at Jamie, Sydney turned to the gift. It was square and slightly heavy, wrapped in buttery yellow linen.
“Open it. Go on,” she whispered.
An odd anticipation revved through Sydney as she plucked at the silky white bow and tore open the wrapping to reveal…a book. An old-fashioned book. A red leather cover with gilt framing and some sort of scripty-looking symbol on the front. Sydney tried to hide her confusion.
Caden elbowed in and gave the book a very hard stare.
Aquarius laughed and urged her, “Read the card inside.”
With a shrug, she opened the cover to reveal. Hmm… An empty book with ever-so-slightly yellowed pages and a little white square of paper with a formal-looking script that read:
On these magical pages, spill your sensual fantasy,In a mere day’s time, your wishes will become reality.A kiss, a touch, a whisper, whatever you most desire,In the arms of your lover, pleasure will burn hotter than fire.
What? Aquarius believed this book could make sexual fantasies a reality? Sydney would love that, and she believed in magic, but this little unassuming book? In her hands?
Caden prowled close beside her, elbowing in for yet a closer look. He stared at the little journal, and she could smell that musky, woodsy scent of his that drove her mad.
“May I see that?” he demanded more than asked, reaching for the book.
“Certainly,” Sydney murmured, handing it over. The low-cut black jumper she’d worn yesterday had done nothing to snag his attention. This book? He was enraptured.
Aquarius sent her a secretive smile. “Syd, do you understand? It’s—”
“An old book,” Jamie hollered, edging in behind her. “What good is that?”
“I appreciate each gift. Thank you, everyone,” Sydney said through clenched teeth. “I suspect we should get back to work now.” Maybe that would make Jamie shove off.
Around her, the small crowd began to file out. Unfortunately, Jamie lingered. Sydney, her assistant, and Caden, still studying the book, also occupied the dusk-shadowed room.
“If you want something special for your birthday, I’ll make time for you this weekend,” Jamie offered with a leer as he dropped a hand on her hip and slid it toward her backside.
Sydney eased away and opened her mouth to defer to the mountain of work on her desk when Caden grabbed Jamie’s wrist and squeezed—hard.
“Bloody hell!” He jerked away and glared at Caden.
Normally, such high-handed tactics would annoy Sydney. She was a grown woman and knew how to fend off male octopi like Jamie. But if Caden’s unexpected caveman impression put the lazy sod off until she found a more private moment to tell him to get lost, splendid. If Caden was just the slightest bit jealous, even better.
“What the devil?” Jamie cried. “Let go!”
“As soon as you do.” Caden tightened his grip.
Jamie released her immediately. “Ring me this weekend if you want company.”
As Caden watched Jamie’s retreating back, he scowled. The waves of his silent disapproval towered over Sydney like a tsunami. She bit her lip.
“Would you mind speaking to me in your office for a few minutes?” he said.
As always, the tone was polite. She wondered if he thought to warn her about the evils of Jamie. Like an overprotective brother lecturing his adolescent sister?Depressing thought. Did she have to jump on Caden while naked before he understood?
“Fine.” Might as well get it over with.
Caden raised a dark brow at her sharp tone and gestured to the door. “After you.”
“Wait!” Aquarius snatched the book from Caden and gave it to Sydney. “Your gift! I should tell you about it.”
Oh, the “magical diary”. She couldn’t leave without hurting Aquarius’s feelings. Her confrontation with Caden would have to wait.
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
After a long glance at her, then the book, Caden nodded and slipped from the room.
Sydney dug her fingernails out of her palms, so frustrated she feared she would draw blood. Being a petite redhead, she didn’t have a centerfold’s breasts and wasn’t one of those model-like creatures men got all in a froth about. But Caden treated her almost asexually.
“You want him,” Aquarius whispered. It wasn’t a question.
“I couldn’t want him any more than if I’d shot myself with Cupid’s arrow.” She tossed her hands up in the air. “He doesn’t reciprocate.”
“You don’t know that,” Aquarius argued.
“Perhaps. He’s impossible to read. So bloody private.”
“I don’t think he’s as immune to you as you imagine.”
She shook her head glumly. “I’d love to believe that. No, I’d love to experience it.”
“You can.” Aquarius tapped the cover of the old book. “He can be yours for the night.”
Caden could have his pick of women. Besides being good-looking, intelligent, and polite, he had proven dependable thus far. He wasn’t lazy and seemed to truly listen. What woman wouldn’t want a total package? Yesterday’s snug shirt had outlined a positively yummy chest. And he was probably devastatingly good in bed—not that she’d ever know personally.
Or could she?
Sydney frowned. The idea tempted her. Could this journal possibly be magical? It sounded awfully fantastical—not that such a book existed, but that it had dropped into her lap. Supposing it had…would Caden truly be hers for the night after she jotted down a few ideas that involved scented massage oil, a big bed and his naked body?
She cast a gentle glance at her assistant. “You believe this book is real?”
“It made one of my fantasies come true,” Aquarius blurted. “Remember Alex, that yummy neighbor I told you about? He asked me out when I wrote down exactly what I wanted.”
“Aquarius, he had an itch for you, so when his calendar opened up, he rang.”
“And read my mind?” Aquarius challenged. “Until last week, I never knew making love under a waterfall would be so…invigorating.”
“A waterfall? Where did you find—”
“I’ll never tell.” She smiled coyly.
“Let me get this straight: This hunky bloke suddenly appeared and whisked you away to fulfill your fantasy, exactly as you wrote it?”
Dreamy didn’t begin to describe Aquarius’s faraway expression. “It was fantastic.”
Sydney groped around for a chair. “Maybe you need a holiday. You’re past due.”
“I’m completely sane. Though I enjoyed Alex, he wasn’t right for me—”
“No man ever is.”
Aquarius frowned. “There’s a man out there. Somewhere. I’ll know when I meet him.”
Sydney had heard this before.
“Point is, I don’t need this journal.” Aquarius shoved it at to her. “But you…”
“But me…what?” Sydney fisted her hands on her hips.
“Well, if you want Caden, write your fantasy in here.”
The idea was tempting. With her luck, Caden would find the fantasy she’d written. Since she didn’t think he wanted her, mortified wouldn’t begin to cover how bad she’d want to crawl into a hole and wait for a new millennium.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Neither is pining away. Look,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “take the diary with you this weekend and write your deepest desire about Caden. Wait a day or two. If it doesn’t come true, what have you lost? When I return from holiday, I’m sure you’ll have loads to tell me…”
#
Caden marched into Sydney’s office and barely refrained from slamming the door. The fiery sun setting over the jagged London skyline matched his mood. The Doomsday Diary, here? In human hands? He must steal it from Sydney, remove her from danger. He needed a plan. Now.
But he was besieged by an equally strong urge to punch both Bram Rion and Jamie What’s-his-name.
Wanting to beat Bram to a pulp? Caden understood that well. Bram embodied so much of what he despised about magic: the blithe assumption of supremacy, unpredictability, the utter inability to compromise, and the total lack of awareness that it might be required. Magic’s inequality chafed as well. In a human world, anyone could learn to defend themselves and grow stronger each day—or buy a better weapon. In the magical world, a witch or wizard never had more power than they were born with, and if they found themselves at the mercy of someone more evil and powerful than themselves… God help them.
But Caden’s reaction to Jamie he didn’t understand. Nor could he grasp his own drive to possess Sydney so completely that she was unaware another male even existed. He’d done his best to ignore it, hide it, but she’d become a fever in his blood. The urge defied logic. He was on a mission. He was good at those, thanks to the U.S. Marine Corps. Focus. Get in, get out, get the job done, end of story. Don’t do anything stupid.
Falling in life-altering lust with Sydney, particularly now, fell into the stupid category. Yet he couldn’t stop. His assignment was to prevent Sydney from revealing more about magickind—a move that would protect her too—and discover if Anka was her source of information. Unfortunately, he was finding it difficult to focus on more than pushing the saucy reporter against a wall, kissing her senseless, then shagging her into sighing bliss.
Damn it all! He hadn’t been naïve enough to believe that his assignment at Out Of This Realm would be easy, but he’d had little success tracking down Sydney’s source of information while stifling her stories. She was infuriatingly and admirably determined. Throw in the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Doomsday Diary? This had become what his platoon buddies called a cluster-fuck.
Cursing, he pulled his mobile phone from his belt and dialed an increasingly familiar number.
Bram answered immediately. “You have news?”
Did he ever, but first things first. “How is my brother?”
Bram hesitated. “Weak. We’re doing our best, but we’re running out of options.”
The wizard’s words were a stab in the chest. “Don’t you dare let him die while I’m in London doing your dirty work.”
“Believe me, if I had anyone else suited to this task, you would still be gnashing your teeth here at Lucan’s bedside. Matters are too critical for me to be there. Duke can pass as a human, but who would believe that the Duke of Hurstgrove wants a job at a tabloid? That leaves a fifteen-hundred year-old warrior, an attitude-challenged wizard, and you. You alone have both experience in photography and the human world.”
“Your problem is mine only as long as my brother is alive. If he dies, I cease to care. Are you clear?”
“As if you’d drawn me a picture.” Bram shot back. “Believe me, as desperately as we need wizards for this fight, I’ll happily release you when I can. I want only those committed to the cause.”
Bram’s intimation that he wasn’t good enough annoyed Caden. He shrugged it off. What did he care if Bram didn’t see him as a member of the team he hadn’t wished to join?
He’d wanted nothing to do with magic since his younger brother’s death—by his own mother’s magic. An accident, yes. But he’d been just twelve when Westin, barely toddling, had been stricken.
Since leaving home at eighteen, he’d lived happily among humanity. Their ways seemed normal, comfortable. Being back among magickind now merely reminded Caden of all the reasons he loathed it. This gut-wrenching madness of Lucan’s merely underscored everything.
“Rion, do you honestly believe that you and a handful of wizards can defeat the most powerful magical creature in a millennium and his growing army?”
“Perhaps not, but we’ll certainly fail if we don’t try. Why do you care as long as Lucan stays alive?”
“He’d better.”
“I’m against this, but Sabelle insists on being his surrogate. Or attempting.”
Brilliant! Though Bram’s protective attitude was hardly a surprise. But Sabelle was a tough, courageous witch with the unusual ability to make others feel whatever she wanted with a touch. If anyone besides Anka could provide Lucan energy, it was Sabelle.
“Tell your sister I appreciate her more than she can know.”
“No guarantee it will work.”
It had to. “Thank her anyway.”
“All right, then. What news have you to report?”
“I’ve learned little about Sydney’s source of information. She’s guarding the name like a national secret.”
“Seduce her. Charm her.”
Bram’s suggestion made Caden grit his teeth. He didn’t have Bram’s easy way—and he was completely enthralled with the woman he was supposed to bamboozle. He wanted her more than his next breath—and was desperate to bury the feeling.
“Her secret is the least of our issues at the moment. I’m having a devil of a time stalling her next story. Before the bodies were removed from the tunnel, Sydney’s previous photographer took a few pictures. Grainy and fuzzy, which works in our favor, but we know of no one else who arrived in time to snap any, so she’s still scooped every other news source. People will pick up Out Of This Realm in droves, I fear, if she prints it with a proposed story that these men comprise Mathias’s unwilling Anarki army, out to dissolve the Social Order and eradicate the Doomsday Brethren.”
Bram sounded ready to hit the ceiling. “She knows about us? Where is she getting this information?”
“I’d like to know that myself and have no clue. Unfortunately, it gets worse.”
“Worse?”
“Indeed. I found the Doomsday Diary. Sydney Blair acquired it fifteen minutes ago.”
Bram cursed a stream of loud, ugly words.
“On that, we’re agreed,” Caden supplied.
“You’re absolutely certain?”
“There can’t be many old red books bearing Morganna le Fay’s symbol.”
“Send me a picture.”
Bram didn’t trust him. Whatever.
“Bloody hell. Better yet, steal it from her.”
“She won’t let it loose soon. It was a birthday gift from a dear friend.”
“Who?” Bram snapped.
“Aquarius.”
“The astrological sign?”
“Sydney’s assistant,” Caden corrected. “Is she your mate?”
“That wasn’t the name— describe her. Perhaps my missing ‘wife’ uses aliases.”
“Short, almost fey looking. Brown wavy hair to her waist, green eyes—”
“Not even close. Which raises the question, if Sydney acquired the book from this woman who is definitely not my mate, how did she get her hands on it?”
“I was hoping you could shed some light.”
“None. Ask her. Maybe she’ll know how to locate my mate.” Frustration oozed from every syllable. “But we must recover that diary. Now.”
“I have good news and bad news about that. The bad news is that Sydney is a smart, tenacious reporter who’s determined to keep writing ‘fresh paranormal stories,’ in her words.”
“Which means she may choose to write about the diary.” He groaned. “How can there possibly be good news?”
“She doesn’t know its purpose. Yet. She’s been told that writing in the book will grant her sexual fantasies. And I’m not sure she’s convinced it’s real.”
“Pray it stays that way, at least long enough for you to do whatever you must—steal, sweet talk, or seduce her away from that book.”
“I’ll work on that while determining the name of her source. You’re coming to help, right? Use a bit of magic and…”
“Can’t. There was another Anarki attack two hours ago. I’ve just left what was the Pullmans’ estate. Burned to the ground. Their newly transitioned daughter is missing. Everyone else is dead. I have to report to the Council.”
That wasn’t good news. If the Anarki were attacking again, that meant Mathias was on the mend and his power rising once more. Caden didn’t want to care, but… he rubbed his tired eyes with his fingers. After seeing so much war and death in his life, attacks on families, on women, troubled him.
“What will you do next?”
Bram sighed. “What we have been: keep searching for Mathias, not to mention Shock and his brother, Zain, who appears to be the evil bastard’s right-hand lackey.”
“Have you considered telling other magical families about this attack? They have to start protecting themselves.”
“So you’re going to pretend you care about magickind now?”
Caden restrained a growl. “I would not wish what’s happened to my family on another.”
“Rumors are beginning to spread about Mathias’s return, but the decision to officially tell magickind falls with the Council. They approve transcasts and issue edicts.”
“Certainly a few words on how best to defend yourself—”
“Which is why no such edict will be created any time soon. No one knows how to defend against Mathias, and the Council would rather err on the side of silence than inaccuracy. Bloody stupid bastards.”
“You’re one of them,” Caden pointed out.
“The lone voice of reason, I assure you. I’ve long argued that we should communicate magical news via transcasts or the like frequently. But by the time the Council agrees to the verbiage…” Bram scoffed. “It’s old news.”
That didn’t surprise Caden. Dawdling old fools, Lucan had long said, even their Uncle Sterling at times.
Caden was curious why Bram stayed on the Council, likely enduring one frustration after another. But it was none of Caden’s affair. He didn’t want to become more entangled in the magical world. Already, he was in too deep.
“You’ll come to assist with the diary once you’ve helped the victims of the latest attack?”
“As soon as I can,” Bram said. “Keep working on Sydney Blair.”
Caden could think of any number of ways in which he’d like to work on Sydney. Completely naked with her on her back, came immediately to mind. But that couldn’t happen. Now he needed to focus on his brother. “I will.”

7/10/2009

Eve Of Chaos

Posted by Munk



The third book in the Marked series and S.J. Day pulls out all the stops. This series is action packed so hold on to your hat and enjoy the ride.
The hunt is on and Eve is the prey. She is being bombarded with infernals and will have to use all her training to survive.
S.J.Day has built a solid world with strong characters and heavy emotion. Alec Cain and Reed Able are still fighting for position in Eve's life and on the job. The passion and emotion that these three generate leave you with a visual that is simply breathtaking.
We meet several new charcters in Eve of Chaos. Most notably Adam and Eve. They were a great new addition and allowed us a peek of Cain and Able's past. I truly hope to hear more about them in the coming books.
Being an Urban Fantasy novel in it's true form S.J. Day gives a cliffhanger that will bring you to your knees. All I can say is well done S.J., well done.....
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How do you tell Satan that you ran over his hellhound?
Evangeline Hollis has no idea and she doesn't want to find out. Living with the Mark of Cain—and the two sexy brothers who come with it—is trouble enough. She doesn't need to borrow more. Too bad Satan is too pissed to oblige her.

Incensed at the loss of his pet, Satan has put a bounty on Eve's head, and Hell's denizens are converging en masse. The proliferation of Infernals is complicating Eve's hunts and creating chaos in her once orderly life. They've also brought her to the attention of an overzealous reverend who is certain she's Jezebel reincarnate.
How can a Mark drafted by God strike a bargain with the Devil? Eve's about to find out...

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A Marked Novel, Book #3Genre: Urban Fantasy
Mass Market PaperbackTor Books - June 30, 2009ISBN-10: 0765360438
ISBN-13: 978-0765360434



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Excerpt
Chapter 1

Evangeline Hollis watched with clenched jaw as a kappa demon served yakisoba—Japanese pan-fried noodles—to her mother with a broad smile. Eve guessed that the ratio of mortals to demons at the Orange County Buddhist Church’s annual Obon Festival was about fifty-fifty.
After three months of living with the Mark of Cain and her new “job” as celestial bounty hunter, Eve was resigned to the reality of Infernals mingling undetected among mortals. However, she was still surprised by the number of transplanted Japanese demons who had come out to play at the festival. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of them present.
“You want some?” her mother asked, holding out the plate. Miyoko had lived a mostly quintessential American life in the United States for thirty years. She was a naturalized citizen, a converted Baptist, and her husband, Darrel Hollis, was a good ol’ boy from Alabama. But she appreciated her roots and made an effort to share the Japanese culture with her two daughters.
Eve shook her head. “I want yakidango.”
“Me, too. It’s over there.” Miyoko set off, leading the way.
The festival was contained within the gated parking lot of the temple. To the right was a large gymnasium. To the left, the temple and school complex. The area was small, but still managed to hold a variety of food and game booths. A taiko drum was elevated in a yagura tower overlooking a space that would later showcase Bon Odori dancers. Children competed to win prizes ranging from live goldfish to stuffed animals. Adults hovered over displays of trinkets and homemade desserts.
The Southern California weather was perfect, as usual. A balmy seventy-eight degrees with plenty of sunshine and very few clouds. Adjusting her sunglasses, Eve relished the kiss of the sun on her skin and breathed in the scents of her favorite foods.
Then a foul stench wafted by on the afternoon breeze, assaulting her nose and ruining her rare moment of peace.
The putrid smell of rotting soul; it was unmistakable. It was a cross between decaying flesh and fresh shit, and it amazed Eve that the Unmarked—mortals lacking the Mark of Cain—couldn’t smell it. She turned her head, seeking out the source.
Her searching gaze halted on a lovely Asian woman standing across the aisle from her. A yuki-onna—a Japanese snow demon. Eve noted the Infernal’s white kimono with its delicate sukura embroidery and the detail on her cheekbone that resembled a tribal tattoo. In truth, the design was the demon’s rank and it was invisible to mortals. Like the Mark of Cain on Eve’s arm, it was similar to mortal military insignia. All Infernals had them. The details betrayed both which species of damned being they were and what their rank in Hell’s hierarchy was.
Contrary to what most theologians believed, the Mark of the Beast wasn’t something to be feared as the start of the Apocalypse; it was a caste system that had been in place for centuries.
Eve’s mark began to tingle, then burn. A call to arms.
Now? she asked with a mental query, exasperation clear in her dry tone. She was a Mark, one of thousands of “sinners” around the world who’d been drafted into service exterminating demons for God. She was expected to kill at the drop of a hat, but her mother was with her and they were at a house of worship.
Sorry, babe. Reed Abel sounded anything but. You’re in the wrong place at the right time. Her number’s up, and you’re closest.
You’ve been singing that tune all week, she retorted. I’m not buying it anymore.
She’d been vanquishing a demon a day—sometimes two—for the last several days. A girl needed more than just Sundays off when her job was killing demons. Why am I always closest?
Because you’re a disaster magnet?
And you’re a riot.
Reed—aka Abel of biblical fame—was a malakh, an angel. He was a handler, a position that meant he was responsible for assigning hunts to a small group of Marks. It was a lot like skip tracing. The seven earthbound archangels acted as bail bondsmen. Reed was a dispatcher. Eve was a bounty hunter. It was a well-oiled system for most Marks, but to say she was a squeaky wheel would be an understatement.
Dinner tonight? he asked.
After that wisecrack, cocky bastard?
I’ll cook.
She followed her mom, keeping an eye on her quarry. If I’m still alive, sure.
In the back of her mind, she heard and felt Alec Cain—Reed’s brother—growl his disapproval. Alec was her mentor. Once known as Cain of Infamy, he was now Cain the Archangel. She and Alec had a history together, starting ten years ago when she’d given him her virginity. Nowadays, his position as archangel had stripped him of the ability to have an emotional attachment to anything other than God, but Alec held on to her anyway.
What means more? he had asked her. When someone wants you because he can’t help it? Because of hormones or some chemical reaction in the brain? Or when he wants you because he chooses to want you? Because he makes the conscious decision to want you?
Eve didn’t know, so she was drifting along with him, trying to figure it out.
She was certifiably insane for stepping in the middle of the oldest case of sibling rivalry in history, especially since the three of them shared a unique bond that allowed a free flow of thought between them. Eve often asked herself why she played with fire. The only answer she came up with was that she just couldn’t help herself.I’m calling dibs on breakfast tomorrow, Alec insisted gruffly.
One-Eyed Jacks? No one cooked them like Alec. Grilled pieces of bread with a hole in the middle to hold a fried egg. Buttery and crispy, and served with syrup. He also toasted the centers and sprinkled them with cinnamon-sugar to serve on the side. Delicious.
Whatever you want, angel.
It was a given that Reed wouldn’t be around for breakfast, since dating two men at once meant that all three of them were sleeping alone at night.
The yuki-onna excused herself from her handsome companion and moved toward the gymnasium, taking the tiny steps dictated by the tight fit of her kimono and the geta wooden clogs on her feet. Eve was at an advantage with her attire. Her stretchy capris and ribbed cotton tank top didn’t impede her range of movement at all. Her Army-issue “jungle boots” were breathable and functional. She was ready to rock. But that didn’t mean she wanted to.
“I have to wash my hands,” Eve said to her mother, knowing that as a retired registered nurse, Miyoko would appreciate the need for cleanliness.
“I have antibacterial gel in my purse.”
Eve wrinkled her nose. “Yuck. That stuff makes my hands sticky.”
“You’re too fussy. How many dangos you want?”
“Three sticks.” The rice cake dumplings were grilled on wooden skewers and coated with sweet syrup. They were a childhood favorite that Eve enjoyed too rarely, which aggravated her disgruntlement. If the demon ruined her appetite, there would be Hell to pay. Seriously.
Eve handed over a twenty-dollar bill, then set off in pursuit of her prey.
She overtook the demon and entered the gym where picnic tables had been arranged to provide seating for diners. Dozens of festival-goers filled the vast space with echoing revelry—laughing, conversing in both English and Japanese, and eating. Mortals mingled with Infernal beings in blissful ignorance, but Eve noted every one of Hell’s denizens. In return, they knew what she was and they eyed her with wary hatred. The mark on her deltoid betrayed her, as did her scent. As rotten as they stunk to her, she smelled sickly sweet to them. Ridiculous really, since there was no such thing as a sweet Mark. They were all bitter.
Tucking herself against the wall, she watched through the tinted glass doors as the yuki-onna approached. From the forward vantage, Eve could see the demon’s feet hovering just above the ground. Backing up slowly, Eve rounded the corner to stay out of sight. A glass case was mounted to the wall at her shoulder, displaying trophies and a lone katana within its lighted interior.
Eve glanced around quickly, noting the distraction of the rest of the gym’s occupants. With superhuman speed, she pinched off the round metal lock with thumb and forefinger, and withdrew the sheathed blade. She held it tucked between her thigh and the wall, hoping it was more than a decoration. If not, she could always summon the classic flame-covered sword. But she’d rather not. Buildings had a nasty habit of catching fire around her, and she had greater proficiency with the sleeker, moderately curved “samurai sword” than she did with the heavier glaive.
Her prey entered the gym and turned in the opposite direction, heading toward the restrooms just as Eve had guessed she would. Closing the women’s bathroom while food and drink were present in copious quantities was always a bad idea, but Eve didn’t have a choice. Her mother was waiting, and she couldn’t risk losing her target.
Her present dilemma was one of the many reasons why Marks weren’t supposed to have family ties. The sinners who were chosen were usually loners easily transplanted to foreign soil. Relatives were a liability. Eve was the sole exception to the rule. Alec had fought to keep her close to home because he knew how much her parents meant to her. He was also motivated by guilt, since their indiscretion ten years ago was the reason she was marked today.
The wheels of justice didn’t turn any faster in Heaven than they did on Earth.
When the bathroom door swung shut behind the demon, Eve followed. The mark throbbed hot and heavy within the skin covering her deltoid, pumping aggression and fury through her veins. Her muscles thickened and her stride altered. Her body’s reaction was base and animalistic, the surge of bloodlust brutal and addicting. She had come to crave it like a drug. Too much time between kills, and she became short-tempered and twitchy.
Despite the rush, her heartbeat and hands remained steady. Her body was a temple now, and it ran like a machine. As she entered the bathroom, Eve was calm and focused. When had she become so at ease with her murderous secondary life? She would have to ponder that later, when she had some privacy and time to cry.
All of the stall doors were slightly ajar, except for the handicapped one at the far end of the room. The stench of decaying soul permeated the space. Affixed to the wall near the door was a tube that held a collapsible Wet Floor sign. She tugged it free and set it outside in the hallway, then closed the door and turned the lock. It wasn’t quite as useful as an Out of Order cone, but it would have to do.
There was no way to stave off the sudden deluge of memories of another bathroom, one in which she had fought a dragon and paid with her life. She’d been resurrected to kill another day because of a deal Alec had made with someone, somewhere. She didn’t know the details, but she knew the cost had to be steep. If she hadn’t been in love with him already, his willingness to make that kind of sacrifice would have sealed the deal. She wasn’t ready to die just yet, despite demon killing and a crazy love life.
One day she hoped to marry and have children, enjoy a successful career and family vacations. But she would have to shed the mark first—either by manipulating someone in power or by collecting enough indulgences to work off her penance.
Of course, there were loopholes in the indulgence system. She’d killed the teenage son of the Black Diamond Pack Alpha werewolf twice, but had only been given credit for the second kill. Bullshit like that really got under her skin. What was a girl supposed to do when even God didn’t play fair?
A soft whimper arrested Eve midstride. The sound had a high, trembling note that sounded childlike. She rolled her shoulders back and waited. Hunting was less about the pounce than it was about positioning. She stood dead center in the most open space in the room. The exit was at her back. The Infernal had no way out but through her. Damned if she would move just to hurry things up a bit.
The mark continued to flood her with adrenaline and hostility. Her senses honed in on her prey, flooding her mind with information. Her stance widened.
“Come out, come out wherever you are . . .” she crooned.
The lock on the handicapped stall turned. The door pulled inward. A child’s face appeared, wan and tear streaked. A pretty girl of Asian heritage in a light summer dress with a watermelon design around the hem. Maybe six or seven years old. Shaking with fear. A moment later, the lovely visage of the yuki-onna appeared above the girl’s head.
Eve growled. “A hostage was a bad idea.”
When she had kids of her own, she wasn’t letting them out of her sight.
“I will walk out of here with the child,” the Infernal said in her lilting, accented voice. She stepped out of the stall with her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Then I will release her.”
The child’s teeth began to chatter and her lips took on a blue tinge. Gooseflesh spread from the point where the demon clutched her.
“You’re going to die,” Eve said matter-of-factly. The yuki-onna had been targeted. Marks would hunt her until she was dead.
“So are you,” the demon retorted. “Do you really want to waste your last moments killing me?”
There’s a hostage, she told Reed, ignoring the standard demon intimidation and bargaining tactics. A little girl. I need you to get her out of here.
A warm breeze moved over her skin, tangible proof that her handler was always with her. He was forbidden to assist his charges in their hunts, but clearing mortals out of the way fell under his purview. On your cue, he murmured.
Eve had no idea where in the world he was, but as a malakh, he could shift—or teleport—in and out of a location faster than the blink of an eye.
“I was going to take you down fair and square,” she told the demon, holding the sheathed katana aloft. “I should have known you would want to fight dirty.”
“I have no weapon.” A lie. Demons all had certain gifts, like the yuki-onna’s ability to create extreme weather. Marks had only their own wits and strength. They were celestially enhanced physically—able to heal and react quickly—but lacked any supernatural “powers”.
“I’ll give you mine,” Eve offered grimly, “if you let the kid go.” She ripped the katana free of its sheath and hurled the lacquered wood at the demon’s head.
She reached out to Reed. Now!
The demon’s arms rose to ward off the projectile. The child was snatched by Reed before the yuki-onna caught it.
The Infernal’s cry of rage was accompanied by an icy gust that burst through the room like an explosion. Eve was thrust backward into a heated-air hand dryer with enough force to hammer it flush to the wall. She held onto the hilt of the katana by stubbornness alone. Her booted feet dropped to the floor with a dull thud, and she hit the ground running.
Arm raised and blade at the ready, Eve rushed forward with a battle cry that curdled her own blood. The child’s fear lingered in the air, the acrid scent mingling with the stench of decaying Infernal soul. The combination sent her mark into overdrive. She leaped, slashing down on the diagonal, but the demon spun away in a flurry of snow. The temperature dropped drastically. The mirrors fogged around the edges, and her breath puffed visibly in the chilled air.
Eve pursued her, feinting and parrying against the sharp icicles the demon threw at her. They shattered like glass against her flashing katana, sprinkling the tile with slippery shards.
Crunching across the hazardous floor, she advanced with precision. The beautiful kimono fluttered with the Infernal’s retreat, the thick silk shredded by Eve’s calculated attacks. Once the sorriest swordswoman in her class, Eve had practiced exhaustively until she stopped embarrassing herself. She still wasn’t much beyond passably proficient with the weapon, but she no longer felt hopelessly inept.
She began to hum a merry tune.
As she’d hoped, the demon floundered, caught off guard by the implied boredom. The yuki-onna’s next salvo lacked the speed of the previous ones. Eve caught it with her fist, hissing as the ice splintered its way across her palm. Blood flowed, its scent goading the demon into roaring in triumph, a sound audible only to those with enhanced hearing.
Eve lobbed the icicle back, followed immediately with the katana. The Infernal deflected the first projectile with an icy blast, but was left vulnerable to the second. The blade sliced along the demon’s right triceps, drawing blood before impaling the wall behind her. A crimson stain began to spread through the pristine white of the kimono.“Checkmate,” Eve taunted. “Your blood for mine.”
The Infernal retaliated with an icicle that pierced straight through Eve’s right thigh. She cried out and dropped to one knee. Agonized, she sent up a silent request for a sword. She held her palm open to receive the gift . . .
. . . which didn’t come.
Shock froze Eve. She’d gambled with the loss of the katana and rolled snake eyes. She always feared this day would come. Formerly agnostic, she didn’t show the deference to the Almighty that others did. She wasn’t disrespectful per se, but she might be too forthright in voicing her inability to understand the way God handled things.
She asked again, throwing in a “please” for good measure. The result was the same. Nada. Eve growled, furious that she would be denied the tool required to complete the task she was forced to perform.
The yuki-onna quickly deduced what had failed to happen. She giggled, a lovely melodic sound. “Perhaps he realizes that saving you is hopeless and not worth the effort.”
“Fuck you.”
“It is rare that Sammael sets a bounty so high or allows everyone in Hell a chance to claim it.” The demon grinned. “But then, this is the first time someone has run over one of his pets.”
“What bounty?” Eve hoped she hid the sudden fear she felt. “Is Satan upset that I ran over his dog? That’s hysterical.”
I’m not laughing, Alec snapped.
I know. Eve sighed. My life sucks.
She struggled to her feet, favoring her impaled leg. Reaching down, she yanked the ice dagger free and tossed it aside. Blood spurted from the gaping wound, then gushed. She ignored it for now. She had bigger problems.
“What is funny,” the yuki-onna retorted, “is how you will be ripped apart by everyone in Hell.”
“Everyone, huh?” Eve shrugged. “He’ll have to do better than that, if he hopes to take me out.”
That’s my girl, Alec praised. Never let ‘em see you sweat.
But she heard the unease in his voice. She also felt him poised to leap to her rescue.
I’ve got this, she said, staying him. She wasn’t sure how, but she would figure it out on her own. Damned if some ice bitch in clogs would kick her ass.
“Sammael wants you,” the demon taunted. Her disheveled hair and wide eyes only made her more beautiful. “And I will be rewarded for bringing you in.”
Laughing through her growing panic, Eve made a third request—not quite a prayer—for a sword. Again, she was ignored.
She deflected the demon’s next icicle with her forearm, then darted to the left to catch another. She threw it back. It was knocked off course by a burst of frosty air. All the while, she closed the distance between herself and the wall that held the katana.
“You can take hostages,” Eve taunted, “but you can’t take me.”
Bravado. Sometimes it was all a Mark had.
“I am beginning to think otherwise,” the demon retorted with a malicious gleam in her dark eyes.
Pounding came to the locked door, followed by a string of anxious-sounding Japanese. Not for the first time, Eve wished her mother had taught her the language. All she knew was that someone wanted to come in, and the demon she was fighting was no longer eager to get out. In fact, the yuki-onna seemed energized by the intrusion.Eve took another step closer. Her boot slipped on an ice shard and she skidded, her balance compromised by her injured leg. She was inspired by the near fall, her mind seizing on a possible means to the end.
Dependant upon God’s willingness to cooperate and give her a damn break, of course.
Kicking hard, she sent up a spray of water and ice. As the yuki-onna retaliated with a rapid volley of icicles, Eve shot forward, using the slush on the tile to drop to the floor in a careening, feet-first slide into home plate.
“I could really use that sword now,” she yelled skyward, as the white tile rushed past her in a blur. “Please!”
Nothing.
Time slowed to a trickle . . .
The demon leaped gracefully and was held aloft by icy air currents. Levitating into a prone position, the Infernal’s facade of beauty fell away, revealing the true evil beneath—eyes of blood red, a gaping maw of blackened teeth, and grayish skin with a network of inky veins that spread into her hairline. With arms splayed wide, spears of ice appeared in her hands like ski poles.
Alec and Reed roared in unison, their shouts reverberating in Eve’s skull with such volume they drowned out everything else. In slow motion, she watched the demon hovering like a ghostly apparition, her white robes in tatters, her hair a sinuously writhing mane. Eve raised her arms to ward off the coming attack, then jerked in surprise as a heavy weight forced her forearm to drop to her chest. . .
. . . weighted by the miraculous appearance of a glaive in her hand.
Her grip tightened on the hilt and her back arched up. Hurling the blade forward like a javelin, she struck the yuki-onna straight in the chest. The glaive pierced deep with a sickening thud.
The demon exploded in a burst of ash.
Eve continued to slide until she slammed into the wall. At impact, the katana dislodged from its mooring, twisting to fall point down toward her head. She jerked to the side, rolling to avoid the blade. It pierced the floor where she’d been an instant before. Behind her, the glaive—no longer embedded in the demon’s body—clattered to the tile.
“Holy shit,” she breathed.
A pair of steel-toed boots appeared next to her head, then a hand extended into her line of sight. Looking up, her gaze met eyes of rich chocolate brown. Once, Alec had looked at her with a heat so scorching it burned her skin. She missed that look. Then again, she got hot enough for the both of them just checking him out.
At a few inches over six feet, Alec was as ripped as one would expect a skilled predator to be. He was God’s most revered and trusted enforcer, and his body reflected that calling. His hair, as always, was slightly overlong, but she would fight off anyone who approached him with shears.
“Could God have waited any longer to bail me out of the mess he put me in?” she groused.
“Did you note the lack of fire?” His voice—dark and slightly raspy—was pure seduction, even when laced with the resonance unique to archangels. It didn’t sound that way when he spoke to her telepathically, which was sadly appropriate. Who he was in reality was far different from who he was in her mind.
She blinked up at him. “You bailed me out? What the hell? Was he just going to let me die? Again?”
“Obviously not, since you’re not dead. It was a lesson in faith.”
“More like a lesson in ‘I am God, see me fuck with you.’”
“Watch it,” he admonished.
Eve accepted his proffered hand. As he pulled her upright, his powerful chest and tautly ridged abdomen flexed noticeably beneath his fitted white T-shirt. She couldn’t help noticing stuff like that, even though she couldn’t touch what she was looking at.
“What is it with demons and bathrooms?” she asked. “Grimshaw started a trend when he sent that dragon to kill me. I swear I’ve vanquished at least half a dozen Infernals in bathrooms since then.”
The dragon had been a courtier in Asmodeus’s court, but he’d killed her for Charles Grimshaw—former Alpha of the Northern California Black Diamond Pack and father of the wolf she’d had to kill twice. Demon retaliation was a bitch.
Alec cursed at the sight of her thigh. Her toes were squishing in the blood soaking her sock and puddling along the sole. She would need a new pair of boots.
He bent to examine her wound more closely. “I would have gotten here sooner, but I had to scare off the crowd of Infernals in the hall first.”
“Crowd?”
“I don’t think the ice bitch was kidding about the bounty.”
“What do you know that I don’t? You wouldn’t believe an Infernal without some sort of proof.”
Alec had assumed control over the day-to-day operation of Gadara Enterprises—the secular front for the North American firm of Marks—since the archangel Raguel had been taken prisoner by Satan a couple of months back. That meant Alec was privy to almost every hellacious and celestial happening that occurred between the top of Alaska to the end of Mexico.
“The number of Infernals in Orange County has tripled in the last two weeks.”
Which was when she’d graduated from training. As she was often reminded, nothing was a coincidence. “No wonder it’s been so busy around here.”
He gave her a resigned look. “It will get busier, if Sammael’s set his sights on you.”
“With a free-for-all bounty open to all classes of demons? Jeez, you’d think I kicked his puppy or something. Oh wait . . . I did.” Eve put weight on her wounded leg and winced at the immediate throb of agony.
Alec tucked his shoulder under her arm to support her. “We need to bandage that leg, smart ass.”
“You like my ass, and not because of its IQ.”
“Love it.” He gave her butt an affectionate squeeze. Alec might be restricted from feeling emotional love for her, but lust wasn’t a problem. “But I love the rest of your hot body, too, and I’d like to keep it in one piece.”
The mark enabled her to heal super fast. In an hour or two, only a pink scar would remain, and by nightfall, the injury would be nothing but a memory. But she could help move things along in the recovery department by closing the hole with some butterfly bandages. She’d have to hurry; her mom was still waiting for her.
I’ll take care of Miyoko, he assured her.
“I’ll take Eve back to her place to change,” a deep voice intruded.
They turned their heads to find Reed by the door. The men’s features were similar enough to betray them as siblings, but they were otherwise polar opposites. Reed favored Armani suits and faultless haircuts. Today he wore black slacks and a lavender dress shirt open at the throat and rolled at the wrists. It was a testament to how completely, robustly male he was that he could look so damn fine in such a soft color.
Alec’s arm at her waist tightened. The two brothers were like oil and kerosene together. Dangerously flammable. They refused to tell her what started their lifelong feud, and they kept the memory so repressed in the darkest corners of their minds that she hadn’t yet been able to find it. Whatever the sore spot was, the murderous rage it incited was easily goaded. They’d been killing each other for years—Cain more so than Abel—but were always resurrected by God to fight some more.
Which was just nasty in her opinion. Why God enabled the two brothers to keep fighting was beyond her comprehension.
“What are we going to do about this mess?” She offered a soothing smile to Alec before stepping away from him. A trail of blood marked her recent kamikaze slide across the floor. The rapidly melting ice was spreading the crimson stain along the grout lines, creating an oddly compelling map.
Stepping into the water, Alec snapped his fingers and the liquid and blood filled the nearest sink, transferred so quickly she hadn’t caught the movement even with her enhanced senses. She would go home with Reed in similar fashion.
Thankfully, Marks had handlers to pick up after them. She was luckier than most in that she had Cain, too, although that created some friction with many of the other Marks who thought she had an advantage. They didn’t take into consideration how many demons wanted to use her to get to the deadliest Mark of them all. She might as well wear a bull’s-eye for cocky and rash Infernals to aim for.
Then again, it looked like Satan had taped the target on for her.
“Come on,” Reed said, extending a hand to her. “Before your mother calls in the cavalry.”
“Forget the cavalry.” Alec winked at Eve. “Miyoko would charge in herself.”
She was halted midlaugh by the stench of a sewer. Looking for the demon whose proximity had to be the cause, she found herself staring into an inexplicably lingering puddle at her feet . . . and familiar eyes of malevolent, crystalline blue. A face in the liquid. She stomped instinctively, destroying the visage of the water demon in an explosion of spraying droplets.
“What the hell?” Reed barked, catching her as her wounded thigh caused her to stumble.
In the literal blink of an eye, Eve found herself in the kitchen of her third-floor condo in Huntington Beach. “Did you see him?” she gasped, leaning heavily into his hard body.
Reed’s arms tightened around her. “Yeah, I saw him.”
He’s gone. Alec’s tone was grim. I’m heading out to hold off your mom, but we need to address this when we’re done here.
The demon was a Nix—a Germanic shape-shifting water spirit. He’d targeted her almost from the moment she had been marked, then made a nuisance of himself until she killed him. Correction: She’d thought she killed him.
She would kill him. This particular Nix had taken the life of her neighbor Mrs. Basso. Sweet, forthright, widowed Mrs. Basso who had been a beloved friend. Eve’s need for vengeance was what motivated her when the damned Infernal bounty hunting got tough.
Pulling away from Reed, she limped down the hallway to her master bedroom. The crash of the waves against the shore pulsed in through the living room balcony’s open sliding glass door. In her premarked life, she’d been an interior designer. Her condo had been one of her first projects, and the space remained one of her favorites. Even the mistakes she’d made in the layout were fond ones. She wouldn’t change a thing. She felt safe here, less like a demon killer and more like herself.
Eve absorbed the calm she found in her home with deep, even breaths.
Reed called after her, his tone both seductive and challenging. “Need help getting naked?”
She sighed inwardly. Outside these walls, the worst of Hell’s denizens were converging en masse. She would need to be ready when she ventured out again.
As if her love life wasn’t dangerous enough.