Excerpt from Destined for Dreams

I know you all have been waiting patiently for the next installment in the Dark Destiny Series. In a few days, I’ll be doing the official cover reveal and announcing the release date (which is very soon, I promise!).  For now, I thought I’d go ahead and share the first two chapters of the novel.  Hope you enjoy!

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Chapter 1

 Bartol

When a man has too much time on his hands, and he’s trying his best not to think of a certain troublesome woman in his life, he must find some sort of distraction.  Over the last few weeks, while avoiding the aforementioned woman, Bartol had turned to an old hobby—one that came from a time before electricity and modern machinery—back in the days when a man used his bare hands and simple tools for crafting his work.  And if he did a reasonably good job, he might even make a little money for his efforts.  Carpentry had been his trade off and on for many centuries whenever he had the spare time or needed a little extra cash.

When Bartol had gotten the brilliant idea to start up his old hobby again, it had seemed simple enough.  Build a table, some chairs, perhaps a desk—easy.  Of course, he’d had to construct a workshop first since there was hardly enough space in his cabin, but that hadn’t been too difficult despite the cold Alaskan weather.  And as a nephilim—half angel and half human—who’d lived more than eighteen-hundred years, Bartol had the strength of dozens of humans to speed up the process.  It had kept him busy and helped keep Cori from his mind—the woman who’d become his bonded mate and then rejected him.

Bartol sighed deeply and ran a brush over the chair, staining the wood a deep russet color.  It would be beautiful when it was done, maybe his best work yet. Working his way over the high back, similar to the Victorian style, he recalled what had first driven him to learn such a trade.  It was, ironically, to impress women.  He didn’t impress them now, most especially his mate, with his scars and reclusive behavior, but at least the work served a more important purpose.

He’d discovered how much humans would pay for unique pieces, and he’d found someone in Fairbanks willing to sell the furniture for him to local customers as well as others across the country.  The first piece he’d put on the market, a desk, had netted him over a thousand dollars.  It was a start to rebuilding the fortune he’d lost while locked away in Purgatory for more than a century.  If one must be confined as a prisoner for a long period, it was a bad idea to do it just before the economy went into shambles and a recession started.  Most of his investments were lost, and he’d had no idea it was happening until it was too late.

So now Bartol was starting over and taking whatever jobs he could.  The archangels were paying him a fair wage for his assistance in training a young nerou crossbreed—Tormod—who had both angel and demon blood, as well as a little something else, but that job would run out in a few months.  He needed to have something else in place before then.

Plus, Bartol didn’t want to rely on the archangels any more than necessary, especially since they were the ones who’d confined him to Purgatory in the first place and caused him to lose nearly everything.  They might regret the severity of their punishment now that they knew he wasn’t as guilty as they’d thought, but it didn’t undo the damage.  Bartol had been tortured both physically and psychologically during that time and scarred for life.  He would never be the same man again, which was likely why Cori had rejected him.  She had to see he wasn’t worth her time or energy.

A shuffling noise came from just outside the workshop.  He’d almost missed it with the blowing wind hitting the walls and windows as yet another snow storm passed through.  If not for a wood-burning stove nearby, it would have been freezing inside.

Bartol stiffened and slowly turned on his stool.  Only a few people knew about this private escape deep in the woods, and none of them were expected.  Tormod had the day off to spend with his mother, no friends had mentioned dropping by for a visit, and Cori had yet to discover his shop since he’d constructed the building well out of sight from his cabin, and he hadn’t spoken to her since before it was built anyway.

As the door slid open, a large, muscular figure appeared with snow swirling around him.  His body blocked what little light was available on such a gloomy day as he entered the workshop.  It took a moment for Bartol’s eyes to make out the chiseled features of his oldest rival and closest friend.

“Caius,” he said, standing.  “It’s been a long time.”  More than two centuries, in fact.

The older nephilim chuckled and moved forward to stand under the solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  “Too long.”

“How did you find me?”  Bartol hadn’t exactly advertised his current whereabouts to the supernatural world, considering all he wanted was solitude since returning to Earth.

“Word travels, my friend, especially after what you did to get yourself thrown in Purgatory.  People pay attention. Continue reading

Excerpt from Destined for Shadows

Those of you who are in Facebook fan group have gotten a couple of snippets already, but today I’m posting the first two chapters of Destined for Shadows.  I thought I’d hold off until now so you wouldn’t have long to wait until the rest of the novel came out.  Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 1

 Cori

Cori used to have a cranky old lady for a neighbor who nagged her incessantly about her numerous faults, but Ms. Callahan had recently been replaced by a cranky immortal with a lack of social skills who rarely made an appearance outside of his cabin.  She should have appreciated the change.  Truly, she should have been happy that her one and only neighbor for miles in the Alaskan wilderness kept to himself.  Except the immortal was half angel—also known as a nephilim—who’d just come from a hundred-year prison sentence in Purgatory.  And yeah, it was the same Purgatory from religious texts that most people thought was only a myth.  A place in some other plane of existence where souls were tortured for their crimes on Earth.

Bartol, the nephilim, needed someone to bring him out of his shell and show him how to live again.  Cori believed she was the right woman for the job.  Not that she was looking to get into a relationship or anything.  Neither of them was in a place where they were ready for that, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t give Bartol the kick-start he needed to get going again, and they could have a little fun along the way.  She liked focusing on other people’s problems, rather than her own.  Especially since her problems were in the past and not exactly fixable.

Cori headed for the kitchen, entering the only part of her two-bedroom cabin she’d remodeled since moving into the place a few years ago.  It had black marble counters, dark wood cabinets, and stainless steel appliances.  A window was set over the sink so she could view the forest behind her place and a bit of the blue sky above.  She loved cooking in the kitchen even if she had to eat alone most of the time.  Her regular customers at the tattoo studio would have never guessed she enjoyed preparing meals as much as permanently marking people’s skin with artwork.

The lasagna she’d baked sat cooling on the stovetop.  The aroma wafted from the dish, overwhelming her senses and making her stomach growl.  She grabbed a spatula, cut through the pasta, and scooped out a large chunk to put in a plastic container.  Then she took a few slices of the garlic bread she’d also made and put them into a plastic baggy.  Bartol would eat at least a couple of decent meals a week if she had anything to say about it.  Left to his own devices, he only ate baked potatoes or canned soup.  As a man who was born when the Roman Empire was still around, and who’d missed out on the biggest technological changes in modern history, he had a lot of catching up to do if he wanted to survive in this era.

After grabbing a pre-made bowl of salad from the fridge as the final piece of the meal, Cori put everything into a plastic bag and left the house.  Cool air touched her face as she stepped outside.  Though it was mid-September and the days were still long, autumn had already arrived to the Alaskan interior.  She had lived in the state her whole life and was used to the weather being colder than most other places.  Forty degrees might seem a bit cool to southern folks, but she had no problem wearing jeans and a tank top until it hit below freezing.

She carried the food bag as she walked down a narrow dirt road lined with evergreen trees.  The rutted path ran for about half a mile until it reached the highway.  Bartol’s cabin—a smaller one-bedroom place—wasn’t quite as deep in the woods as hers, but it only took a few minutes to reach.  She caught the smoke from the chimney before she saw the actual home.  Only during the warmest days of summer had she not seen it going.

According to Cori’s friend, Melena, the bowels of Purgatory where Bartol had been imprisoned were freezing cold.  The ice set into the bones of whoever stayed there, so that the inhabitants could never truly feel warm.  Melena had gotten over her stay fairly quickly, but she’d only been confined there a few months.  Bartol, whose stay was longer than most people’s life spans, acted as if anything below seventy degrees was too cold for him and kept his fireplace blazing day and night.  The poor guy probably should have moved to Florida, but his friends had talked him into living in Alaska instead.  He had a lot of catching up to do in the modern world, and at least here he could ease into it a little slower.

Cori skipped up the wooden steps to his front porch and knocked on the door.

No answer.

“Bartol!” she yelled.  “I’ve got dinner for you.”

Curses and grunts came from inside.  A minute later, the door flew open and an annoyed man with golden eyes filled the opening.  Cori couldn’t help dropping her gaze to his bare chest where he’d filled out over the past few months—mostly thanks to her cooking.  A healthy nephilim tended to be large and strong due to the angelic half of their DNA, but years of wasting away in Purgatory had left Bartol unnaturally lean.  He’d grown to a healthier weight recently, and his muscles were more defined now.  Black sweatpants covered his long legs, and he had a pair of thick socks on his feet.  For all that he complained about the cold, he didn’t like wearing shirts for some reason.  Cori didn’t mind that little quirk at all.

“Here.” She shoved the bag of food at him.  If she wasn’t brusque and demanding about it, he’d try to refuse her.  “I cooked more than I can eat again.”

Bartol took hold of the bag, sparing it a brief glance.  “Then why don’t you try cooking less?”

And the game resumed with him pretending a complete lack of interest in her food, but she wasn’t fooled.  The containers always appeared on her porch the next morning empty and freshly washed.  He liked her cooking, but he’d never admit it.

“Because most of my recipes were designed to feed a family.”  She didn’t dare admit she’d had a family once and that was how she’d picked up her love of cooking.  It wasn’t something she ever wanted to discuss, not even with her closest friends.

He narrowed his eyes.  “If you knew what was good for you, you’d stay away from me.”

“About the only thing I do that might be considered good for me is take long walks through the woods.”  With a rifle, just in case a bear or other wild animal made an appearance.  “Bringing food to you doesn’t even rate on my list of bad.”

He set the bag on a side table next to the entryway and braced his hands on the door frame, leaning closer to her.  “Look at me.  Do I look friendly or nice to you?”

Cori swallowed.  She had a knack for pretending not to notice the burn scars on the left side of his face.  If she ignored that half, he was stunningly beautiful, but if she stared at the part where a guardian from Purgatory had burned Bartol from his hairline down to his chin—only leaving the area around his eye intact—then his skin bordered on grotesque.  Everything from next to his nose to just before his ear appeared to have melted, begun to heal, and then got locked in place by some sort of magical spell.

That was the story she’d been told by others, anyway, since Bartol would never talk about it.  Nephilim could normally recover from any injury, but what happened to him was an exception to the rule.  His wounds couldn’t be fixed, and he would have to live with the scars for the rest of his life.  He didn’t even have the glamour capabilities some of his kind had to cover it up.  At best, he could make himself invisible, but then no one would notice him at all.  It was kind of sad since she had a feeling there was so much more to him that he kept hidden away.

“I see you,” Cori said, forcing herself to stare at the damaged half of his face.  He’d grown a light beard that obscured some of the scarring, but not all of it.  “So what?” Continue reading

Christmas with Dragons update

I just wanted to let everyone know I’m working hard to finish edits on Christmas with Dragons and expect to have it out by the end of the weekend (the 18th).  In the meantime, I wanted to go ahead and post the first chapter for you all to get started.

Hope you enjoy and that everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!

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Chapter 1

 Bailey

 

I inched my way out of the bed, trying not to disturb the sleeping dragon lying next to me.  Even in his human form, he took up a lot of space with his legs sprawled across the mattress.  It made it that much more difficult to get around him, though I had to admit the sight of his toned, muscular body tempted me to stay.  Who knew a fire-breathing dragon could turn into a sexy man with olive skin, spiky black hair, and high cheekbones that gave his features a chiseled edge?  I might be genetically programmed to kill both shifter and pure dragons, but Aidan had somehow found a way around that problem and into my heart.

I touched my toes to the cool wood floor and expelled a light breath.  Almost there.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Aidan snaked his arm around my waist, dragging me back across the bed.

“Nooo,” I protested.  “I’ve got things to do.  It’s bad enough you made me sleep past noon!”

He’d gotten me to the point where I kept dragon hours, which meant I didn’t go to bed until almost dawn.  It was putting a cramp in my slaying activities since I liked to catch the beasts while they slept in their dens.  Aidan should have appreciated my strategy, considering I was killing his clan’s enemies, but our relationship was still new and he didn’t like letting me out of his sight very often.  At least, not since we started living together a couple of weeks ago.

“More important than me?”  He nuzzled my neck.

The spicy scent wafting from his hot skin was familiar and comforting, weakening my resolve.  I turned my head to find him staring at me with intense, yellow eyes.  “I’ve got to meet Trish in a little over an hour to go Christmas shopping.”

“Christmas shopping?” He lifted a brow.

“Well, yeah.”  I paused to search for the right words, considering we’d actually be looting stuff out of stores that hadn’t been open since the dragon apocalypse seven months ago.  Food, medicine, and products people used on a daily basis were mostly gone, but plenty of other stuff was still out there.  Norman—a suburb of Oklahoma City—was down to maybe forty percent of the population it once had, and among those left, people generally only took what they needed.  Traveling to get stuff and transporting it all home was too dangerous to grab many luxury items, especially since we didn’t have trash service anymore to get rid of the old stuff.  “It’s more like searching for gifts.”

He nodded.  “I have heard of this holiday called Christmas.  The humans at the fortress celebrate it each year after Dragomas, and our merchants enjoy great profits from both occasions.”

“What is Dragomas exactly?” I asked.  I’d heard him mention it to his sister recently when she came by our house—or lair as Aidan referred to it—but I hadn’t had a chance to ask more since I was on my way out at the time. Continue reading

First three chapters of Forged by Flames and a publishing update

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m running a little behind on getting through final edits.  It’s likely that I won’t be uploading Forged by Flames onto the retailers until sometime on Saturday (October 29th).  My apologies for the delay! For anyone who would like an alert once the novel is available, you can sign up for my release alert list here.  You are able to select which retailer/format you use so you’ll only get an email when the book is available with your preferences.

In the meantime, I’m providing the first three chapters of the novel for you to read while you wait.  Hope this helps 🙂

 

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Chapter 1

 Bailey

I clutched the steering wheel and searched for a threat, any threat. The last gasps of autumn were approaching now that November was almost over, which meant dragons on the west side of Norman, Oklahoma had been out in force searching for enough food to get them through the coldest days of winter when they’d be stuck in their dens semi-hibernating. Though there were still plenty of cows and wildlife in the nearby countryside outside of town, some of them had developed a taste for humans.

“Where in the hell are they?” I glanced over at my slaying partner, Conrad, who sat in the passenger seat of the truck. He held a loaded crossbow with the front aimed at the floorboard, ready to lift and shoot out the window if we came across danger. Conrad wasn’t flame-proof like me, but he could do some damage from a distance while I went after the dragons up close with my trusty sword. He’d been working out more too and building up his already toned muscles to give him that much more of an edge. The extra strength came in handy if he had to release a rapid succession of bolts or carry me to safety if I got badly injured during the fight.

The dark-skinned nineteen-year-old—wait, that’d be twenty since his birthday was two weeks ago—gave me a grim look. “You’ve killed so many of them, I’m willin’ to bet they’re hiding from you.”

I ground my jaw. “Only three this week and it’s Wednesday. I need to kill more.”

Conrad had no idea how much I needed it, considering the dark and deadly side of me was something I tried to keep well-hidden from my friends. Slaying was the only way to bring relief to the irrepressible instincts that drove me to attack dragons wherever I could find them. To a certain extent, I’d learned to control myself, but lately I hadn’t found many reasons to bother. The motivation to curb my killing desires had been for the sake of the red shifter dragons—some of whom I’d become allies with since they weren’t a threat to humans. I hadn’t seen much of them lately, though.

“Maybe we could address the big elephant in the room,” he said, arching a brow.

I stopped at an intersection and leaned forward in my seat, taking the opportunity to get a better look around for any fire-breathing beasts. “We’re in a truck—not a room.”

“You know what I mean, Bailey.”

I didn’t look at him or say anything. It was a topic I’d been avoiding for a while now.

“Ever since we rescued those kids you’ve been actin’ different. You’re all weird and cagey and shit. About the only time I see you smile is right after you kill a dragon.” Conrad ran a hand over his short tufts of hair that he’d started growing out recently. “Don’t think I didn’t notice this all started about the time Aidan stopped comin’ around.”

I stiffened. He wasn’t wrong, though Conrad wasn’t aware of the full story. No one knew that after we fought a major battle against the pure dragons at the Norman airport—to rescue a group of children and push the clan out of town—Aidan and I had met again later that night.

Fresh from battle and our blood still pumping, the attraction between us had been higher than ever. Aidan had also been working through his feelings because he lost his father—the pendragon—during the fight. They hadn’t been on the best of terms, which only made him feel worse. Alone in Aidan’s lair, we’d taken comfort in each other’s arms. It had been one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and the scariest.

Considering he was a shape-shifter, a rare breed among dragon-kind compared to the pure beasts that outnumbered them ten-to-one in the world, and I was a slayer born to slaughter all fire-breathing creatures, it probably wasn’t the smartest move on our part. Still, it was one of those moments I’d remember forever.

We’d grown close over the months he’d been training me to slay his enemies—the pure dragons—and I’d learned to trust Aidan despite my instincts. In his human form, he could be more civilized than half the people I’d met since D-day (the arrival of the dragons) six months ago. Despite that, a relationship between us couldn’t work. I’d been doing my best to accept that the same way I had to accept fighting dragons for the rest of my life. Slayers didn’t get sick or age. They always died in battle and usually before they reached thirty. Every day I survived was a gift. I had to do everything I could to get back to my family in Texas before my slayer heritage got me killed. Aidan was the key to doing that, and I needed to stop thinking of him as anything more.

“The new pendragon is keeping him away,” I said, pressing on the gas pedal. The truck jerked forward, and we continued our way north on 36th Avenue.

“Yeah, I bet he did after he found out about you.” Conrad paused and narrowed his eyes at me. “But do you think the pendragon suspects you and Aidan are getting a little too close?”

I jerked the wheel, almost sending us off the road. It took a moment to get the truck under control again. “What are you talking about?”

“You ain’t foolin’ me, girl. You’ve got that whole angry and bitter vibe goin’ on. That’s the real reason you started spending almost every day out here huntin’ dragons—to avoid thinking about what you can’t have.”

I tensed, realizing Conrad was right. For those first few weeks, after I last saw Aidan, I stayed at his lair most of the time until the need to hunt dragons overwhelmed me. It hurt not being able to see him. Then Aidan’s sister, Phoebe, came by and told me her brother had been sent far away to patrol their clan’s borders. I’d realized I needed to stop fantasizing that there could ever be anything serious between us. My family needed me, and I’d nearly allowed my emotions for a dragon shifter to make me forget about the people I loved. If not for the giant chasm running parallel to the Oklahoma border with Texas, separating me from my mother and step-father, plus a huge clan of pure dragons who wouldn’t be easy to get past, I’d have gone home already.

“I know it can’t ever work,” I said, shooting Conrad a look. “So I don’t want to hear another lecture.”

His eyebrow raised in disbelief. “But do you really accept it?”

“It doesn’t matter what I accept. What matters is I know what I have to do,” my voice came out clipped.

I didn’t want to talk about this with him or anyone else. The more I discussed it, the more it bothered me—and not just because of Aidan. There were still days where I woke up surprised the world was filled with dragons, and that I was expected to slay them. Never mind that I might have begun to fall in love with one of the damn beasts. My future was never supposed to be like this. I’d just finished college when the apocalypse began and had meant to return home to my parents’ ranch to help them run it. Then my whole life spiraled out of control on that fateful day back in May. The only thing I could do now was keep slaying the beasts that were ruining the world and work on getting back to my family.

Conrad was quiet for a minute. “Alright. I’ll let it go, but only cuz you look miserable enough without me making it worse.”

I snorted. “At least you’ve got someone you can care about openly.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” he said, smiling at the mention of Christine. We’d rescued her and her daughter after a tornado struck Norman shortly after D-day. That was the beginning of her and Conrad’s relationship, though they’d gotten even closer after we rescued Christine’s daughter, Lacy, from a dragon that had kidnapped her and a few other human children in town.

“It’s good you have somebody,” I said, truly happy for him.

“Thanks,” he replied, then frowned and looked away.

“What is it?”

He shook his head. “Nothin’. Let’s just find some dragons for you to kill.”

That was strange. Conrad usually didn’t keep anything from me, but I wouldn’t push him for now. The tone of his voice made it clear he wasn’t ready to open up about whatever was bothering him.

“Okay, but I’m here if you need to talk.”

He glanced at me. “Yeah, I know.”

In the middle of the road ahead, a middle-aged woman with long, brown hair streaked with gray appeared out of nowhere. I slammed on the brakes, jerking us forward in our seats as the tires screeched across the pavement. The truck came to a stop about twenty feet from where she stood.

“I’m going to kill her,” I swore, rubbing the side of my neck where the seatbelt had dug into my skin.

Conrad slowly removed his clenched fingers from the dashboard. “Not if I get to her first.” Continue reading

Darkness Wanes sneak preview

Progress on Darkness Wanes is coming along well.  I want to once again apologize for the lengthy delay in getting this novel out due to personal setbacks.  I finally got back into my writing groove last month and I’ve been working like mad on it ever since.  My poor family may have forgotten what I look like since I barricade myself behind a closed door most of the time.  Not to worry, though, they make me come out to eat occasionally.

The first half of the book is in good shape and I’m just revising the final chapters now before sending them off to my editor.  By the looks of things, this novel is going to end up being about 120k words.  As a comparison, Darkness Shatters was 96k and Stalked by Flames was 101k.  Darkness Wanes will definitely be the longest book I’ve ever written by quite a bit, but there is a lot to wrap up and I want to be sure to do the characters (and story) justice.  Special thanks to all the beta readers who’ve helped out along the way.  You all are awesome!

I have high hopes I will be able to release this novel by the end of the month.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  Below are the first three chapters of Darkness Wanes (about 10k words).  Hope you enjoy 🙂

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Chapter One

Melena

Some places should be avoided at all costs.  Troll villages, the woods on a full moon, and retailers on Black Friday topped my personal list, but above them all—Purgatory.  It was an inhospitable island set outside of time and space where human souls went after death when they weren’t quite good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell.  One might consider it a sort of way station—though it was probably closer to a prison.  Unless you had a very good reason, you didn’t come here voluntarily.

The sandy beaches at the island’s edge could fry eggs or blister bare feet.  A prisoner couldn’t swim away, assuming they made it through all the guards first.  The ocean surrounding the land extended forever, an infinite mass of water with no apparent end.  Not that you’d want to be outside in Purgatory.  Blinding light shone down from a sun that appeared twice as large as Earth’s, and it generated more heat than any mortal could survive for more than a few minutes.  That is, assuming the low oxygen levels didn’t suffocate them first.

Jagged mountains rose in the middle, raw and intimidating.  All along them, human souls relived the crimes they’d committed in their past life.  These were people who weren’t good enough to enter Heaven yet, but neither were they terrible enough for Hell.  Purgatory served as a place for them to learn from their evil deeds before they went on to their final destination.

They had no bodies, only the light of their inner beings, but that didn’t reduce their suffering.  On the rare occasion I came close enough to them, I felt their pain and remorse in every fiber of my being.  Nothing could be worse than facing one’s past mistakes over and over again with no relief.  This place couldn’t be mistaken for an island vacation spot.  It was real, and it was only one step above Hell.

It wasn’t that much better for me, either.  The only difference being I wasn’t dead yet.  Purgatory also served as an immortal penitentiary, though supernatural inmates didn’t stay up top with the human souls.  The guardians of the place—sort of an offshoot breed of angels—kept us confined deep inside the mountains in a vast network of tunnels and carved-out prison cells.  Of all the inmates here, they hated me the most.  I’d broken into Purgatory twice, using modern firepower against them, to free others who didn’t deserve to be here.  Those people were now free, which made it worth it, but I had no way of escaping without assistance.  I was trapped here for my full three-month sentence.

In the caves we inhabited, it dropped to bone-numbing temperatures and the stone walls wept with the icy tears of its denizens.  That wasn’t meant to be poetic.  Purgatory had a way of torturing you with both your darkest memories and your most cherished.  I’d had a lot of time to think since arriving.  One moment I’d feel the pain of my worst mistakes, including those that led to the loss of good friends, and in the next moment I’d remember my lover, Lucas, or adopted daughter, Emily.  They were part of the good things in my life, but the longer I stayed in Purgatory, the more I wished I didn’t think of them.  It would have made my time easier that way.

This was an ugly place where nothing good belonged, especially in the bowels where I’d been confined.  The walkways were frozen except for the occasional numbing cold stream running along the path.  Sharp icicles hung from the ceilings, often falling on hapless victims.  I’d had my head struck more than once—made worse by the fact it took considerably longer to heal in Purgatory than on Earth.  It was also eerily dark.  If not for the greenish-blue glow emanating from cracks in the stone, even those with the best night vision wouldn’t have been able to see anything.  Then again, it didn’t seem to bother the guardians who lorded over their prisoners.  They moved around just fine.

Clink. Clink. Clink.  The sound of pickaxes droned on in an annoyingly familiar rhythm.  I suspected I’d hear them in my head long after I left this place.  I blew a strand of my auburn hair from my cheek where it had come loose from its braid and continued chipping away at the blue-gray stone in front of me.

This section of the tunnel and I had become well acquainted since the archangel, Remiel, dropped me off here two and a half months ago.  In that time, I’d managed to extract about five pounds of ore.  The older and stronger supernaturals working alongside me gathered much higher amounts.  Not that it really mattered.  A cavern several levels above us had at least a dozen piles of it wasting away.  The guardians had long since gotten enough to make all the chains and weapons they needed.  They just wanted us to continue adding to the heap.

I rubbed at my aching lower back.  Even an immortal body couldn’t handle fourteen hours of crouching in mines every day without getting sore.  By the end of my shift, my spine always became so bowed out of shape that I could hardly stand up straight without a lot of effort and pain.  If I never saw an underground tunnel again it wouldn’t be long enough.

The clinking of the axes slowed and whispers rose among the other prisoners.  I took a surreptitious gaze around to find our guards had wandered down the tunnel out of earshot.  It happened so rarely I had to seize the opportunity while it lasted.

“Eli,” I called softly to the dark-skinned nephilim hunched ten feet away.

He turned his head toward me.  “What?”

Eli wore the same basic uniform as me—buckskin trousers, a matching sleeveless top and leather boots.  We hadn’t gotten utilitarian clothing when we first arrived in Purgatory.  They’d given us long robes that chaffed at our skin and no footwear.  It made it difficult to navigate the treacherous tunnels.  After a few days, I’d had enough and went on strike.

No one else joined me at first.  I was a sensor, and the rest of the prisoners were nephilim.  Our races were eternal enemies, but I was trying to change that.  I’d mated with a nephilim, Lucas, and he’d made me immortal.  Most of the supernatural world knew about us and how we’d found common ground.  Some of them had grown to accept me, mostly in Alaska where we lived, but we had a long way to go before our races got along entirely.  The majority of the sensors and sups still didn’t trust each other.

For three days, my prison mates watched me get whipped every morning because I refused to leave my cell for work in the mines.  On the fourth day, Eli was the first to join me.  We’d met a couple of times before, and he’d seemed more open than most.  Eventually, all twelve nephilim participated in my little strike.

It wasn’t just the poor clothing choices I’d protested, but also the awful gruel they fed us every day.  The lack of oxygen and stronger gravity of Purgatory drained us too much already.  Poor nutrition made things worse.  Immortals might not be able to die, but they could become severely weakened if their basic needs weren’t met.  We needed humane treatment if we were going to have the energy to work.

The rest of my companions were centuries or even thousands of years old.  They’d lived during times when the weaker always submitted to the stronger.  It didn’t occur to them to demand more for themselves.

I was a modern woman and military veteran who believed in standing up for my rights.  The ancient guardians running Purgatory had no idea how to handle me, but I had experience dealing with their kind before.  In fact, I’d helped rehabilitate one of the worst among them.  I just had to suffer through their punishments for a while before I got my way.  Though it wasn’t easy—they nearly broke me more than once.

“How do you call on an archangel without a summoning stone?” I asked Eli.  There was a bit of Denzel Washington’s features in him that always struck me, especially in the eyes and chin.

He frowned at me.  “Why?”

He was constantly telling me to keep my head down and stay out of trouble.  Not that I did, and more often than not he got caught up in my battles with the guardians.  It wasn’t like I forced him to do my bidding.  Eli just had a need to help people no matter what it cost.  We had that in common, which was why we were both stuck here.

“Because I need to know.”  Working in the mines gave you a lot of time to plot.  I estimated that in about two or three weeks—they wouldn’t give an exact date—I’d be out of here.  I had things to do as soon as I got back home.

“Melena,” he said in a warning tone.  “I’m not helping you again.”

I glared.  “It’s important.”

“Let it go until we return to Earth.”  He turned away and began swinging his pickaxe again.

“Come on,” I said in a pleading tone.  “I just need to know how to summon an archangel.”

He ignored me.  I considered throwing my pickaxe at him, but I couldn’t risk drawing the attention of the guardians.  Not to mention the chain stretching between my ankle and a hook in the floor would keep me from getting the tool back.  All the prisoners were restricted so that we couldn’t move more than a few feet.

“Eli,” I growled when he still wouldn’t answer me.

A female nephilim with shoulder-length blond hair turned toward me.  “Be quiet!”

Sabelle’s golden eyes were filled with hatred.  It never ceased to amaze me how a woman with such a sweet nature could become that hostile toward someone she hardly knew.  When I’d first met her, her heart-shaped face had seemed welcoming and kind.  That only lasted until she discovered I was a sensor.

“What is your problem?” I asked her.  Not that I expected a logical reply.

Sabelle’s nostrils flared.  “You! Your kind are nothing but…”

“I can tell you how to do it,” Bartol interrupted, putting a stop to the hate speech.  He worked on the wall to my right and spoke so rarely that I was startled to hear his voice now.

I turned toward him.  Bartol’s long brownish-gold hair fell past his shoulders in light waves.  The oily strands didn’t quite hide the horrific scars on the left side of his face.  The burns marred what had once been handsome features.  Nephilim could usually heal from anything, but a magic spell had been infused with the damage so that he’d never be whole again.  Not even my ability to nullify magic could do anything to help him now.

Bartol had been in Purgatory for nearly a century as his penalty for seducing an angel.  Not long after arriving an overzealous guardian, Kerbasi, burned him as part of his own personal brand of punishment.  Bartol had faced many horrors since arriving here, but that was probably among the worst.  By my estimates, his sentence would finish around the same time as mine.  He was a friend of Lucas’ and we planned to help him as much as we could when he got out.

“You know?  How?” I asked. Continue reading