Excerpt from Darkness Clashes and giveaway

I’ve got the first four chapters of Darkness Clashes for you all below.  It comes to almost 12k words and should help tide you over until the novel releases.  At the end, you’ll also get the details for a giveaway of new series promo items.

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 Chapter One

 The werewolf had been staring at me for the last twenty minutes.  His relentless gaze sent chills along my spine and made it hard for me not to turn and face him.  Even from twenty feet away I could sense his growing desire.  What was he waiting for?  The right moment to pounce?

The dozens of humans surrounding us might have had something to do with it.  This was Spokane, Washington.  Not a lot of vampires around to compel the mortals into forgetting if the werewolf made a big scene.  With the full moon just passed, he’d still be on edge and have to watch himself.

People from one end of the rectangular bar to the other drank, danced, and played pool games as they enjoyed their Saturday night.  Music blared from the nearby speakers and it didn’t take a sensitive nose to catch the conflicting scents of sweat, stale beer, and cheap perfume.  It was the picture of normalcy and proved how utterly oblivious these people were to the dark underbelly of the supernatural world rubbing shoulders with them.

A world I’d once avoided and pretended not to see.

The werewolf couldn’t know I wasn’t human—at least not anymore—but some sixth sense must have registered that I wasn’t easy prey.  Not even close.  I was more like a spider weaving an alluring web and waiting for him to step into it.  The one enigmatic smile I’d given him when I arrived started the game.  My loose auburn hair and blue halter dress with its short skirt kept it going.

Playing the role of a shy and vulnerable woman wore on me, but I wanted him to make the first move.  For him to think he was in control—until he wasn’t.  I didn’t get away from Fairbanks, Alaska that often.  I had to get my kicks when I could.

I took a sip of my fruity drink.  A husband and wife sat on the left side of me, drinking beer and complaining about their kids.  I’d adopted a teenager myself and understood their difficulties.  The barstool on my right side was empty, but an older man with a long gray beard sat just beyond it.  He studied his beer bottle as if the answers to the universe might be revealed on the label.  I’d tried that once.  The words turn cryptic if you stare too long.

Toward the back of the place, a chair scraped against the tile floor.  The werewolf had finally decided to make his move.  My unique abilities as a sensor allowed me to track his movements without looking, but I also had the mirror behind the bar to help.  He had to weave around a handful of high tables filled with patrons before he could reach me.

My belly churned at the thought of him getting close, but I had to do this.  He was the first potential contact I’d found in Spokane and I only had one night to get what I needed.  Lucas wouldn’t care for my methods, but I was doing this for his brother—who’d been missing for four months.  We had to do whatever it took to find him.

The werewolf put a hand against the bar to my right, filling my peripheral vision.  His tanned arm was covered with curly dark hair.  My gaze trailed up to a bulging bicep and farther, to a thick chest covered loosely with a white t-shirt.  It had a Coors Light logo on it.

He leaned down until his face couldn’t have been more than a foot from mine.  His hair was shaved off, emphasizing a round head and full cheeks.  A day’s growth of beard dusted his chin and jaw.

“Hey, sweetheart.  What’s a pretty lady like you doin’ here all alone?” he asked, letting out a whiff of beer breath.

Take one for the team, Melena. You need this guy.

Continue Reading →

Cover Reveal for Darkness Clashes plus a giveaway

Hey, everyone.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the cover for Darkness Clashes is being revealed exclusively today over at Bitten by Books.  There’s also a giveaway for a $50 Amazon gift card.  Stop by and check it out for your chance to win.  Here’s the link:

http://bittenbybooks.com/exclusive-cover-reveal-and-50-00-amazon-gift-card-contest-darkness-clashes-by-susan-illene/

I also got bookmarks in yesterday to go with the new cover, plus a few other goodies.  Expect some giveaways for those either here or on Facebook in the near future.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Series Updates…

First off, thanks to everyone who has bought/read/reviewed Darkness Divides so far.  Release day was a busy one, but really awesome.  I truly appreciate it!

Next, those of you who follow me on Facebook or have visited the book page on this site have probably noticed I’ll be releasing a short story at the end of May.  I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here for anyone who hasn’t read Darkness Divides yet, but if you’ve finished the book you’ll get what I mean despite my vagueness.

This story will cover Melena returning the device she was still holding onto at the end of book 3.  Naturally, she’ll have her new “tag along” with her (as we like to refer to this person on Facebook to avoid spoilers) and that will cause some problems.  Sable, the shape-shifter kitty, will also be joining Melena for different reasons.

I’ve said this is going to be a short story, but as I began plotting it out recently a few more characters insisted on taking part so it may be closer to the length of my story in the New Year’s anthology.  That one was a little over 10k words.  It’s not going to be as action-packed as the books, but you can expect a decent bit of humor and some adventure.

What is the title?  I have no idea at this point, but I’m open to suggestions.

At this stage my plan is to provide free PDF copies of the story to anyone who emails me.  I may also add it to Goodreads and make it available for download there.  If by some crazy set of circumstances my muse makes me write something that goes beyond 15k words I may also put it up on the retailer sites for 99 cents.  The main reason I’d charge even that much is because Amazon won’t let me set it at free and because if I publish it with the retailers I’m going to have to have a cover designed.  That would at least help me recoup my costs with it.  Since I’d promised to provide it for free, though, I will still offer it at no charge if you contact me (the same as the New Year’s story).  You’ll be able to grab it whichever way you prefer and I’ll be happy so long as you enjoy it 🙂

For Goodreads users, I have added Darkness Clashes (book 4) onto the site.  No cover or blurb yet, but I’ll release those sometime in late July.  If you’d like to add it to your shelf this is the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21963515-darkness-clashes

Also, I’ve started a paperback giveaway for the first novel in the series, Darkness Haunts.  Members of Goodreads can go there to enter.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Darkness Haunts by Susan Illene

Darkness Haunts

by Susan Illene

Giveaway ends May 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


I will have at least one other giveaway for series paperbacks here on my blog, and several on Facebook during the month of May.  If you’re interested, be sure to be on the lookout!

If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask them below.

 

Winners for paperback giveaway

Thanks to all the wonderful comments everyone wrote on the Darkness Divides release day announcement.  I put all your names into a random name picker site to select three.  This was more than I originally planned, but I wanted to increase everyone’s chances of getting a copy.  The following names are the winners:

 

place #1:  Chantal
place #2:  Rachael B
place #3:  Rosemary

 

I will be emailing everyone who commented on the previous post to get your addresses to send bookmarks, but the three names listed above can also expect to receive a signed paperback copy of Darkness Haunts (new version) in the mail as well.  If you don’t hear from me by tomorrow (April 24th…or 25th for Aussies), check your spam folder or use the contact page to message me.

For those still wanting to win a paperback copy you will have another chance.  I’m setting up a giveaway on Goodreads for three more of Darkness Haunts.  As soon as it is approved, I’ll post the link here and on Facebook for where you can enter.

In the coming weeks I will also do random giveaways for paperback copies of Darkness Taunts and Chained by Darkness on Facebook.  For those you will have to be the first to answer a story question derived from Darkness Divides.  Be on the lookout for those.  I will wait until after this coming weekend to allow time for readers to get through the book.

Hope everyone has a wonderful day!

First two chapters of Chained by Darkness

As promised, I’m posting the first two chapters from Chained by Darkness for you all.  I also want to announce that I’m going to be giving away prizes during the month of October for fans.  Most of the contests for them will be held on my Facebook page (found here), but I’ll go ahead and start the first one on my blog.

Anyone who comments on this post (not on Goodreads) between now and October 10th at midnight (Eastern Daylight Time-US) will get a set of bookmarks and postcards for the sensor series.  International participants are welcome.  Just be sure to leave a valid email address in the appropriate field so I’ll be able to contact you for address information.  If your comment doesn’t go through right away, not to worry, I’ll come along shortly and approve it.

This is an example of what the bookmarks look like:

Darkness Haunts bookmark singleDarkness Taunts bookmark singleChained by Darkness bookmark single

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now for the chapters (beware there is explicit content in them).

*****

Chapter One

There comes a time in a man’s life when he looks back and wonders what he might have done differently.  When he realizes a series of events brought him to a point where he can no longer alter his course.  Death is easy.  It’s the waiting to die that proves difficult.  Endless weeks spent in a black hole, deprived of every sensation, and Lucas still didn’t know how he could have changed anything.  He wasn’t a man to wallow in regret, but they’d left him with far too much time to think.

His body had long since gone numb.  The bite of the chains, holding him suspended in four directions, were the only reminder that he still lived.  Not even oxygen reached this hellish place.  He’d have killed for a breath of air, but his lungs had caved in as soon as his captors sealed him inside the dark tomb.

Total sensory deprivation.

His enhanced vision couldn’t see a damned thing and the manacles were spelled with magic to suppress every one of his powers.  The frigidity of the place kept his naked body uncomfortable, but he could handle that.  It was the endless waiting that was getting to him.  He fought to hang on, to not lose his sanity—for however long it took.

He felt certain this was his longest stay in the hole yet.  Remiel and his angelic cohorts should have killed him already, but Lucas suspected they wanted to make him suffer before the end came.  The fools seemed to forget he’d been a regular guest in Purgatory for centuries.  He could endure it, so long as he didn’t think of her.  The memories might have helped keep his mind occupied during the endless hours, but they also reminded him of everything he’d lost. He needed to stay focused if he was to get out of this current predicament.

A loud screeching noise broke the monotony of silence.

Lucas lifted his head as the heavy door sealing him inside opened.  A rush of air surged into the room and he sucked it in, savoring every bit as it entered his lungs.  It took several short breaths before he could fill them completely.  He squinted against the light filtering in through the doorway.  Even with the shadowy figure blocking much of it, he still needed a moment to adjust from the darkness.

The first thing he noticed was the man’s swirling gray eyes.  They glowed with an eerie light common to his kind.  Then he saw the wild mane of silvery hair that ran past his shoulders—a less frequent trait.  Lucas knew exactly whose hulking form stood there.  Kerbasi.  The man in charge of all living prisoners in Purgatory.

Fucking bastard.  If ever there was a man that needed killing, it was him.

“I do hope you’ve calmed that temper of yours down.  I’ve never seen you quite this…out of control upon arrival,” Kerbasi mused.

There may have been a minor altercation when they brought him in—he’d definitely not gone gently into this good night.  Before, they’d always sentenced him first and then taken him to a prison cell before anything else happened.  He’d hoped for a chance to argue his way out of confinement and hadn’t been too pleased when that opportunity got shoved into the dark.  They’d changed the order of things this time around.

“Free me from these chains and I’ll show you control,” Lucas growled.

Kerbasi stepped forward.  “Something about you has changed since your last visit.  What could it be?”

Lucas cleared his mind of any telling thoughts.  They would only be used against him.

“The only thing that has changed is my tolerance for you, guardian.  It now ranks somewhere between mosquitoes and YouTube commercials—annoying and practically unavoidable.”

Kerbasi shook his head.  “You say the strangest things, nephilim.”

The guardian pressed his cold hand to Lucas’ forehead.  It felt as if hundreds of needles pierced his skull as Kerbasi worked to penetrate his mind.  Lucas gritted his teeth and focused on food.  Not a difficult thing to do.  He was hungry enough to rip a cow open just to get a chunk of steak out of it.  Too bad this place didn’t have livestock—or any native animals for that matter.  On the rare occasions they did serve food, he couldn’t identify it.

“You never cease to amuse, nephilim.  Is our hospitality not up to your expectations?  Not to worry, I’ll provide an opportunity for you to win a meal soon enough.”

“I’m sure you will.” Lucas knew what the guardian had in mind, but he didn’t care.  Anything would be better than sitting in this black hole for much longer.

Kerbasi pressed into Lucas’ mind with more force.  “I have been informed you’re here because you failed to protect your sensor.  Did you finally give up on your duty after all this time?”

Images of Melena flashed through his mind before he could stop them.  The look on her face just before he’d been taken away.  How she’d tried to argue with the archangel, Remiel.  Lucas had wanted to resist leaving, but she would have joined him in the fight if he had.  Watching her die once had been enough.

She’d become important to him and seeing her lifeless body after the demon attacked her had almost driven him insane.  Willingly going with Remiel had been the only way to keep her safe, especially since he and his brother had used forbidden methods to resuscitate her.

“How very intriguing,” Kerbasi said.  His eyes scrunched closed as he continued to penetrate Lucas’ innermost thoughts.  “After centuries of hatred for sensors, you’ve grown feelings for this one.  I never thought I’d see such a thing happen.”

“Get out of my head.”  He tried to think of something else—anything else.

Kerbasi latched onto a thread Lucas had worked to hide more than any of the others.  The guardian used his considerable power to pull it loose.  Lucas had grown strong over the past two and a half millennia, but in his weakened state he couldn’t protect his mental barriers against an attack like this.  It was undoubtedly one of the reasons he’d been kept in this black hole for so long.  It took a lot to weaken him to the point he couldn’t defend his mind.

“Her name is…Melena,” Kerbasi said, shifting closer. His robe brushed against Lucas’ bare chest.

Hot and raw images poured out so clearly they had both men sucking in their breath.  The mind-meld must have amplified their intensity.  Lucas could feel his hands gripping Melena’s hips as he buried himself deep inside her body.  He could hear her screams of pleasure and see the look of rapture on her face.  She’d been tight and wet, wrapping herself around him until he couldn’t tell the two of them apart.  He’d never felt sparks flare between him and another woman, but with her it was like an explosion of fireworks.  In a way he couldn’t quite explain, it was as if she was made for him.

If he’d known it would be that way between them, he wouldn’t have been able to resist her for over eight years.  It was those images of her that had helped him get through the past weeks.  They’d only begun to put aside their differences before he left, but those last days with her had changed him.  All the burning hatred they’d had for each other had turned into passion.  He’d spent much of his time in the black hole examining their time together and wondering where it might have led.  Would things still be the same for them if he ever got out?

“You enjoyed her body very much,” the guardian mused.  “I can almost feel the immense pleasure you had from mating with her.  These physical desires…they are strange to me, but I must admit she does have a certain appeal.”  The guardian’s hold loosened ever so slightly.

There wouldn’t be a better opportunity to strike.  Lucas jerked his neck forward and smashed his head into Kerbasi’s face.  The man leapt back and swiped at his nose where an outpouring of blood ran down.  It only took moments for him to heal, but even giving the guardian a brief taste of pain satisfied Lucas.  Not many prisoners got a chance to hurt Kerbasi.

“Touchy about her, are you?” he asked, rubbing his bloody hand on his dark robe.  Amusement reflected in his swirling gray eyes.

“Stay the fuck out of my head.”

Lucas had no shame when it came to Melena, but that didn’t mean he wanted to share his memories of her with a man who’d only use them as a weapon.  Especially a man who’d never even had sex.  Who knew what he might dream up at night with those images in his head now.

The guardian’s gaze ran down his naked form, still stretched out by chains.  Lucas had inadvertently grown hard while he’d relived the memories of Melena.  He refused to feel any embarrassment about that either.  Let the dickless man before him look.

Kerbasi shook his head.  “You have it all wrong.  I’m no more impotent than you are.  The difference between us is that I do not feel the need to succumb to pleasures of the flesh.”

And that was exactly why Kerbasi was such a tight ass.  Too many millennia without getting laid would do that to a man.

Lucas lifted his lips in a feral grin.  “Are you sure it isn’t the lack of available females around this place that curbs your appetite?  Perhaps it’s just as well—I can’t imagine any woman would willingly touch you anyway.”

The guardian frowned.  “I will not allow you to draw me into these pointless conversations.  We have more pressing matters to attend.”

“Found a new method of torture you wish to try on me?” Lucas asked.  It wouldn’t be the first time he’d pulled him from the black hole for that.

Kerbasi’s lips curled up.  “Oh, no.  We must get you ready.”

“For what?”

The guardian stepped out of the room and came back with a large cauldron.  Lugging it closer, he swung it out at Lucas.  Ice cold water splashed over him and ran down his body.  It couldn’t have been more freezing if it had come from an Alaskan river in the winter.  He had to fight the urge to shiver.

“Today marks the beginning of your trial.  They tell me you have a strong chance of being executed after it’s over.  I am most interested to see if you can talk your way out of it this time.”

Chapter Two

Bright light blazed ahead as they rounded a bend in the tunnel.  It shone like a beacon of hope and freedom—a mockery Lucas didn’t find amusing.  The chains binding his hands at his back prevented him from reaching up to shield his eyes.  He bowed his head instead and kept his attention on the ground as he made his way past the loose rocks and chunks of ice that kept cutting into his bare feet.

It had been a long journey to the topside of Purgatory through frigid tunnels carved into the earth long ago.  Fissures in the ceiling allowed rivulets of water to fall into a light stream along the path before sliding away.  Steam swirled around his legs.  He had the uncomfortable sensation of being hot and cold at the same time.

Kerbasi had given him a dark robe to wear and nothing else.  Even the permanent residents of this hellish place didn’t wear much more—the fools.  If they spent even one day in the mortal realm, they’d never want to come back.  Heaven would lose its ignorant minions in a New York minute.  Now there was a thought that deserved exploring.  Then again, even the humans didn’t deserve to have the natives around here thrust on them.

A stoic guardian with wavy black hair stood at the tunnel exit, holding a spear upright in his left hand.  He wore his dark gray wings out and visible, though he was smart enough to keep them folded at his back.  Kerbasi usually kept his hidden.  Lucas’ lips twitched in memory of the time he’d nearly ripped one of the guard’s wings off.  Over three centuries later the damage could still be seen in the jagged line where the feathers didn’t grow properly.  That particular guardian served below, but he’d learned to keep his distance and rarely exposed his plumage anymore.

Kerbasi and Lucas stepped through an invisible shield.  It fizzled over him, reminding him he’d only made it through because they allowed it.   The heat wave that came next scorched his skin.  It would burn a human body and leave them dead in minutes.  As it was, his normally golden tone turned red quickly since he didn’t have the strength to fully protect himself.

His eyes and body adjusted after a few concentrated moments.  He swept his gaze around his surroundings and saw nothing had changed since his last trip through.  Ethereal forms, representing human souls, moved at a sedate pace on the towering mountains behind him.  They had a soft glow and were shaped similar to their former bodies.  Lucas knew they were up there cleansing themselves of misdeeds too minor for Hell, but too immoral for a direct trip to heaven.

He’d never been allowed near them.  The guardians must have suspected he’d be quick to inform the souls they were wasting their time trying to please divine beings who had no concept of how to live a real life.  Why bother?  It was nothing more than a ridiculous game as far as Lucas was concerned.

A crunch of sand drew his attention.  The archangel, Remiel, landed a short distance away on the beach that stretched between the mountains and sea.  His pearly white wings tipped with gold flared out as he took a few steps to slow his momentum.  They gleamed in the bright light before he folded them behind him.  If Lucas ever got a chance to fight that one, he wouldn’t bother with the wings.  He’d go straight for his chest to test the theory on whether he had a heart or not.

Remiel’s eyes reflected the same golden light that could be seen on a nephilim—except the archangel’s were more intense.  The other features of the two races varied, but that one characteristic was always the same.  Such as where Lucas had blond hair, this particular archangel had auburn.  He’d started cutting it closer to the head.  Lucas assumed he liked the orderly appearance it gave him.  When he’d worn it loose and down to his shoulders it had looked wild and disorderly.

Melena had a similar shade of hair to Remiel’s, but hers was glossier and had darker undertones.  It had always felt silky when he’d run his fingers through it.  He missed taking her hair into his hands and watching her eyes turn soft when she’d normally kept them distant.  It’d been his own fault she’d been reserved around him.  He’d put her on guard since the moment they met.

Lucas shook his head.  He needed to stop thinking of her if he wanted to keep his mind on the matters before him.  She had a way of distracting him even when she wasn’t around.

He and the guardian closed the distance from the archangel and stopped a handful of paces in front of him.  If a human could observe them, they’d see three large men—all close to six and a half feet tall wearing robes that did little to hide their muscular bodies.  Power radiated in waves from the two unshackled males so that any supernatural could feel it. Lucas knew that though he’d been weakened for the moment, he could still scare the piss out of a mortal if the urge struck him.  The wary looks Remiel and the guardian kept shooting his way told him that much.  He preferred to choose his moments of rebellion carefully.  This wasn’t one of them, but they didn’t know that.

Kerbasi nodded at the archangel.  “He’s all yours.  I’ve weakened him sufficiently so that you shouldn’t have too much trouble.”

Lucas fisted his chains in his hands.  The guardian was a fool if he thought he’d truly subdued him.  Kerbasi shot him a look that said he’d caught that thought.  It didn’t matter.  Lucas could shield his mind from him at a distance if he needed to, but it was a waste of energy for the moment.

“I’m not concerned,” Remiel said, grabbing Lucas’ arm.  “We have our own method for keeping him under control.”

Perhaps they did, but without their special powers they’d be nothing against him.  The fools rarely fought against real adversaries.  Their lack of experience made them weak as far as he was concerned.  Even now, Lucas had to struggle against the urge to pull away from Remiel’s hold.  He needed to be compliant around the angels until he could come up with a plan.

Kerbasi’s gray eyes swirled lazily.  “Ah, yes.  You prefer to freeze them so there is no struggle at all.  It takes the fun out of things.”

Lucas had to admit, the guardian at least had a sense of adventure.  The angels were pathetically boring.

“It’s expedient,” Remiel said.  “Some of us have more important duties than torturing nephilim.  I’ll leave the fun you describe in your capable hands.”

Kerbasi’s body tensed.  He’d never handled the insults the angels threw his way very well.  It hadn’t resulted in a physical fight yet, but Lucas held out hope.

“Good luck,” Kerbasi said before turning away and heading back toward the mountains.

Lucas gritted his teeth, knowing what was coming next.  Remiel froze him—the only power that could keep a nephilim like him controlled—and pulled him close.  They thrust up into the sky, with the archangel’s wings beating hard, toward a portal linking heaven and Purgatory.  Lucas hated the feeling of vulnerability that came with not being able to move.  Worse than that, he loathed being in close proximity to anything angelic.

He breathed an inward sigh of relief when they touched ground after crossing through the glowing portal.  Remiel let go of him and released the “freeze” spell, though he stayed within arm’s reach.  The archangel wouldn’t want a despised nephilim getting loose this close to heaven’s gates.  Lucas knew they were around here somewhere, but with all the thick clouds distorting the landscape he didn’t know exactly where.  Old St. Peter sure would get a surprise if he ever found him.

The spongy ground squished under his feet as they walked across an open area toward a pearly white building reminiscent of Roman architecture.  It stood by itself with nothing around it.  He knew the structure was far older than those similar to it on earth.  Lucas had wondered more than once if the angels had exerted their influence on the human version of the design.  It didn’t appear very large on the outside, but his previous visits had revealed it would open up disproportionately once they went inside.

They walked up the front steps and crossed under an arched opening.  There were no doors.  He supposed robbery and vandalism weren’t a concern here.  Lucas had never been a fan of graffiti, but the endless white walls, both inside and out, had his hand itching for a can of red spray paint.  The sheer lack of color and radiating light (with no apparent source) had him missing the dark hole he’d been pulled out of earlier.  If Kerbasi ever discovered this bothered him more, he’d be stuck in glowing white rooms for the rest of his stay in Purgatory—however long that lasted.

Remiel guided him to a marble bench set in the middle of the cavernous room.  Then he grabbed a set of shackles bolted to the floor and began attaching them to Lucas’ ankles.  They were made of the same metal as the ones holding his wrists.  He could feel what little power he’d reserved dwindle even further.  His chest tightened, as if that could somehow keep it inside.

They always took extra precautionary measures since an incident at one of his trials many centuries ago where he’d lost patience and kicked one of the archangels in the face.  They hadn’t expected him to leap across the room to pull off the move.  There’s something to be said for the satisfying crunch that comes with a broken nose when it’s directed at an archangel.  Too bad the bastard healed from it as fast as he did.

They’d tacked on another five years to Lucas’ sentence as punishment and Kerbasi had put the extra time to good use.  Having his flesh peeled from his body every week made it difficult to decide whether it had been worth it.  He tried not to think of that period of his life too much.

Lucas glared at the four archangels, three men and one woman, assembled at the marble table before him.  They had no expression on their faces and sat as still as statues in their white robes.  The urge to do something to make them react gripped him, but he kept still.  For the first time in his life he had someone more important to consider than himself.  Every day they kept him from Melena was one more day she could be attacked or killed.  She’d amassed too many enemies since moving to Alaska and he didn’t know if those left behind to protect her would be enough.

Even worse, he could no longer feel her life force anymore.  Lucas had never paid much attention to the emptiness that came every time they severed his soul from a sensor, but it’d almost gutted him to be separated from Melena.

Before, he’d always known if she was in grave danger.  He could even track her whereabouts and “see” her in his mind.  It wasn’t something he did more often than necessary, but he did it enough to ensure she wasn’t planning something too dangerous.  If she’d died permanently, he would have as well—one of the reasons their souls had been tied together.  It’d been insurance that he’d keep his end of the deal with the angels, though after a while it had turned into a whole lot more.  She was the one sensor he’d begun to want to protect.

Remiel finished locking Lucas’ leg shackles and moved toward the other archangels at the table.  The room only had benches for seating—most likely because all of the others present had wings and needed the space.  It was the one thing he envied about them, that they could fly.  Even master vampires could develop the ability to levitate far off the ground.  The gift had skipped nephilim altogether.

With the flick of Remiel’s wrist, a scroll appeared on the table.  The archangel picked it up and unwound it.  He scanned the contents for a moment before he spoke.

“Lucas of Pistiros, you have been brought before divine authority today for breach of contract—an agreement you signed three hundred and twenty-five years ago and consented to uphold without benefit of a termination date.  Eight weeks ago you failed to protect your assigned sensor and allowed her to die, albeit temporarily.  This is a grave violation of the terms and one that cannot be ignored.”

Remiel looked up from the scroll.  “How do you plead?”

Lucas ground his jaw.  “As you know, there were extenuating circumstances.”

“The circumstances you speak of are the primary reason your trial has been delayed until now.  After careful consideration, we’ve decided the evidence is strong enough to move forward with the proceedings.”

How convenient that he was left to rot in a black hole while they sat on their angelic arses twiddling their thumbs over what to do with him.  The whole thing was a joke.

“Let’s not pretend this trial is modeled after the American court system, or some variation thereof.  This is nothing more than a superficial attempt to make yourselves feel as if you’ve acted in a fair and just manner.  I don’t know why you haven’t skipped straight to the execution that we all know will inevitably come at the end of this, but I’m not going to pander to what you most likely consider an excellent idea for entertainment.  If that’s what you want, I’d suggest hiring a rock band or renting a movie.”

Remiel set the scroll down and strode forward to stand before Lucas.  He clasped his hands in front of him.  “You may not wish to believe me, but we are seeking to do what is best for you.  Centuries ago you wouldn’t have been given this opportunity.  Now we are attempting a different method in dealing with your kind in the hopes that you, and the other remaining nephilim, can contribute to the mortal societies in which you live.”

“Hope for me?  For the humans?”  Lucas leaned back on the bench.  “Aiding the humans is a waste of energy.  Give them a little more time and they’ll destroy themselves.  I’ve merely helped them along in their endeavors.”

“That is the point.” Remiel narrowed his eyes.  “They don’t need your violent contributions to what is already a growing problem.  This is exactly why we were forced to rid the earth of so many of your kind in the past.  Nephilim have abused their powers and made matters worse.  You must be held accountable for your actions, regardless of your personal opinions.”

Lucas stretched his legs as far as the chains would allow.  “I’ve most likely killed hundreds of humans in my life…”

“Thousands,” Remiel interrupted.

“At least someone is keeping count.”  Lucas muttered.  “What I fail to understand is how you could be less concerned over the thousands of deaths I’ve caused while focusing so diligently on this one incident.  Let us not even get into the other violations of the contract that I’ve made over the years.  Most of those didn’t even warrant a trial and only merited a brief stay in Purgatory.  Why is this near-death so much more important?”

Ironic that he was being prosecuted because of Melena when she was the one mortal he didn’t want to see die.

Remiel narrowed his eyes.  “You failed to hold your end of the bargain with the most important element of your contract.  All the other stipulations were merely there as guidelines for your behavior, but none of them were as critical as keeping your assigned sensor alive.  By not protecting her, you crossed the red line.”

The archangel’s hands shook as he said the last part.  Lucas had finally managed to crack his stoic facade.  Under different circumstances, it might have amused him.

“You’ve been watching too much of the human media, archangel.  This isn’t about weapons of mass destruction.”

“Lucas of Pistiros, you are a weapon of mass destruction.  Whether you choose to see yourself that way or not, it is my duty to keep you contained.”

“For the humans’ sake,” Lucas drawled, “let us hope you’re more effective at it than the United Nations.”

Remiel glared.  “Your lackadaisical attitude toward death is what makes you even more problematic.  Your presence in Melena Sanders life has been less than positive.  Are you aware she has a higher kill rate than you did at her age?”

Lucas smiled.  “I’ve found that to be one of her more endearing qualities.”

If he didn’t know better, he could have sworn the archangel had steam coming from his ears.  The ivory skin of his face had certainly turned an unbecoming shade of red.  Remiel paced back and forth several times before he relaxed his shoulders and reclaimed his normal veneer of stoicism.

“Her one saving grace is she is more particular about who she kills.  You, on the other hand, are less discriminating.  We have considered that there may be a reason for that.  Your destructive tendencies began quite early in life, which gives us a clue as to what might have set you on the wrong course.  It is possible you developed a case of what the humans call PTSD due to traumatic events during your childhood and that this condition may have contributed to your path of destruction as an adult.”

Brilliant.  Heaven was moving toward becoming more politically correct.  Hell must have frozen over and they needed an excuse to “save” him.

Lucas leaned forward.  “Do not attribute human weaknesses to me.  I can assure you I have enjoyed every moment of my so-called path of destruction and do not believe my childhood has had anything to do with it.”

Now it was the archangel’s turn to smile.  “Nevertheless, we have ordered a psychological evaluation to determine whether or not this is the case.  I’d suggest you cooperate to the fullest extent because his findings will help us decide if you will be allowed to live and perhaps one day return to the mortal realm.”

Remiel looked over to his left toward a doorway Lucas hadn’t paid attention to before.  A man who could only be described as a younger version of Denzel Washington stepped through, wearing a tailored gray suit.  He had somewhat broader shoulders than the actor, but the dark skin tone and height were about the same.  The look in his eyes made Lucas think he could see right through a person to the parts they didn’t want observed too closely.

“To make the evaluation more palatable for you,” Remiel said, turning back to him, “we called upon another nephilim who specializes in psychology to speak with you.  Eli is an excellent example of someone who does well performing his civic duty to the mortal race, rather than harming it.  You’d do well to cooperate with him during your sessions.”

They’d clearly been planning this while he’d been stuck in the black hole.  The arrogant bastards really thought he’d go along with this?

“Your own lack of a childhood must be clouding your judgment, archangel.  I understand.  No Easter Bunny or Santa Claus or even a friendly little Tooth Fairy to collect your baby teeth.”  Not that those things had existed when Lucas was a child, but that wasn’t the point. “It must be traumatic for you that you missed out, but drawing attention to my life isn’t going to solve anything.  I DO NOT need a psychologist.”

Eli closed the distance between them.  He walked with a slight swagger that didn’t match the professional appearance he was trying to convey.  Who was this guy?  Lucas hadn’t met him before, which was surprising, considering there couldn’t have been more than four dozen nephilim left alive.

“Tell me, Lucas.” Eli cocked his head.  “What is it you really want right now?”

Whoever this guy was, he couldn’t be very old.  Lucas wasn’t a sensor like Melena, but supernaturals could still pick up on the power levels of each other.  It felt like a static charge and Eli didn’t have much.  He probably wasn’t more than a few centuries old.

“That’s none of your business, collaborator,” Lucas growled.

The psychologist didn’t even blink.  “Perhaps I should ask Melena if she can provide any valuable insight about you.  It’s early evening in Alaska right now.  I imagine she should be home.”

Lucas leapt to his feet and took a menacing step.  The chains kept him from moving any farther, but he was close enough he could have grabbed the younger nephilim’s neck if his arms had been free.  “Stay the fuck away from her.”

Triumph lit Eli’s eyes.  He turned to the archangels.  “And that, my friends, is the Achilles’ heel you’ve been looking for.”

Visions of ripping the man’s head off swam before his eyes.  Lucas had never wanted to kill anyone more than this guy right now.  His arms strained against the manacles binding him until they bled and began dripping on the floor.  There was nothing he could do.  The cocky man had him.  Lucas needed to find a way to protect Melena and cooperating with the psychologist would buy him time to figure that out.

“You want to ask your ridiculous questions, collaborator, then go ahead.  I’ll play your little game, but go anywhere near the sensor and I’ll find a way to kill you.  Do not doubt it.”

Eli put his hands up.  “All I’m asking for is a little cooperation.  You can keep up the tough guy act as long as you talk.”

Remiel put his hand on the psychologist’s shoulder.  “We’ll adjourn for now and you can meet with him again in a few days.  I believe he needs some time to cool off.”

Lucas gritted his teeth.  What the archangel really meant was he could look forward to visiting Kerbasi in his torture chamber.  They’d want to make sure any time he spent with Eli would be preferable to what he faced in the depths of Purgatory.  It didn’t matter.  Lucas could handle it for as long as it took to get what he needed.  After that, he’d face whatever punishment they meted out.