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 🙂

*********************

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

Stalked by Flames update and excerpt

I’m still working through edits on Stalked by Flames.  The book is coming together nicely, but still has a few kinks to work out and a round of proofreading.  Thanks to the eight beta readers who volunteered last month to read the first quarter of the novel.  You were all a tremendous help!  My current expectation is to have the novel out by July 27th.  As soon as it is available on Amazon I’ll post the link here, through social media, and my newsletter/email alerts.

For those who’d like a taste of the novel, I’m posting the first three chapters below.  There may be some minor tweaks made during the final proofread, but otherwise this is the version I’ll be publishing soon.  Hope you enjoy!


 

 Chapter 1

 

Bailey

I should have known the day was going to be bad when I stepped outside and saw vivid purple and red northern lights in the sky—at nine in the morning, in Oklahoma.  Checking my water bottle, I didn’t find anything suspicious in the clear liquid.  Then I caught other people staring upward, too, gawking.  Thank God.  I’d begun to wonder if the hit of acid I’d dropped two years ago had come back to haunt me.

The lights faded and the sky turned dark and ominous shortly after that, which should have been my next clue to stay inside and wait it out.  Not to mention it was a Monday and doomed by default.  But I didn’t, so I only had myself to blame when the clouds unleashed bucket loads of rain on me while I loaded all my personal possessions into the backseat of my truck.

That wasn’t the end of the troubles, though.  Not even close.

Right after turning in the keys to my apartment I discovered my truck had a flat tire on the front.  Someone had slashed it, leaving the poor thing to look like an undercooked soufflé.  I spent the rest of the morning at the shop getting it replaced.

Then right as I was about to escape Norman city limits, my friend Trish called to remind me I hadn’t turned in my library books yet.  It was almost as if fate itself intervened so I couldn’t leave Oklahoma anytime soon, though I suspected she’d wanted to say goodbye one last time.

Another storm approached from the west as I balanced a high stack of books in my arms, heading for Bizzell Library.  With the semester over and graduation just two days ago, there weren’t many people lingering on campus.  Just a few students lounging on the grass and a guy feeding the squirrels.  Most people had gone home for the summer.  Much like I hoped to do.

The ground shook and two of my books tumbled to the sidewalk.  Damn earthquakes.  They were getting more frequent with every passing month, and the experts couldn’t explain them.  Oklahoma had a reputation for tornadoes—not earthquakes.

A few dozen other places in the world were experiencing similar problems.  Extreme weather, earthquakes, and an unsettling sense of doom that left everyone feeling the end was nigh.  Of course, I didn’t buy what those crazy guys on street corners shouted.

I leaned down and grabbed the fallen books and put them back on top of the others before resuming my walk toward the library.  Now that the tremor had passed there wouldn’t be another one for at least thirty minutes.  At least, that’s how it usually went.  None were on the scale of the big California earthquakes, but they were strong enough that you felt them when they struck.  The constant shaking was beginning to take its toll on structures.  I kept waiting for a building to come crumbling down.

A student exiting the library held the doors open when I reached them.  I mumbled my thanks to the guy and kept going.  Five minutes, tops, and I’d be out of there by noon.  Texas wasn’t having all these problems.  I couldn’t wait to get home to my parents’ working ranch where I could put my shiny new business degree to use.  The paperwork alone had become a mess since I’d left, and I had a lot of plans to help increase profits.

Trish, my best friend, stood behind the checkout counter.  We’d been roommates during our freshman year.  I’d never been good with people except those closest to me, but she’d poked and prodded until I let her into my inner circle.  If not for her forcing me out of my reclusiveness, my college experience might have been limited to classes and my dorm room.  I still didn’t like interacting with people much, but she’d helped me improve my social skills a lot.

Trish had graduated on Saturday too, but she planned to stay on for her master’s program.  Her boyfriend, Justin, was chatting with her.  I wasn’t surprised to see him there.

If you looked at them, you wouldn’t think they were a good match.  She had wild curly red hair, pale skin, and a curvy figure.  He had brown hair in a military cut, tanned skin from a lot of time spent outdoors, and a toned physique.  She wore bright, colorful clothing to match her personality, he stuck with earth tones.  He never joked and took everything seriously.  Even their interests weren’t the same.  From the time they’d started dating two years ago until now I’d never understood how they stayed together.

Neither of them noticed me walking up.  Not even when I cleared my throat.

“I’m telling you, it’s fracking causing the earthquakes,” Justin said, his tone serious.

She rolled her eyes.  “Maybe we should frack later and really shake things up.”

“You’re just trying to change the subject.”  He gave her an exasperated look.  “The way they’re drilling these days—it’s important we do something about it.”

Justin was an environmental science major who really got into his studies.  Before college he’d served in the army for six years in the infantry and had done two tours overseas. Now he was enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program with only one year left to go.  The guy was all about serving his country in whatever way he could.  Now he thought he could do more as an officer.

It made him an interesting choice for Trish, considering she took life a lot less seriously than he did, unless you counted books.  Whether they were fiction or non-fiction she practically lived in them.  Probably the reason she’d chosen to major in library science.

I dropped my stack of books on the counter in front of her.  “Am I interrupting something?”

“Oh, look what the earthquake shook up,” she said, giving me a once-over.  “Bailey, you look like crap.”

I tucked a stray strand of my black hair behind my ear.  Whenever it rained, it fell limp and lifeless.  Cutting it to shoulder-length for the summer hadn’t given it any of the body the stylist had promised.  I suspected my make-up was ruined, too.  It was definitely one of those days.

“There’s another storm approaching,” I explained.

Trish sighed.  “Great.  It’ll probably strike the moment I head home.”

“Not to worry.  I brought an umbrella,” Justin reassured her, patting his backpack.

He was always prepared for anything.

“So you’re really out of here?” Trish asked, drawing my attention back to her.

“The truck is packed and the tank is full.”  I’d even loaded up on water and snacks so I wouldn’t have to stop before the state border.

She scanned the books into the system.  “Make sure you call me when you get home.”

It would only take a little over four hours to drive to my stepfather’s ranch southwest of Dallas.  I’d arrive well before dark and maybe even in time for one of my mother’s home-cooked meals.  After eating like a bum since Christmas break, I was ready for some real food.

A rumble of thunder sounded above our heads.

“Yeah, I will,” I said, glaring up at the ceiling.

Trish came around the counter and gave me a hug.  I had to admit I was going to miss her and all the fun we’d had together in the last four years.  We planned to meet again at the end of the summer, but that seemed a long time away.  Too bad she couldn’t come live on the ranch with me.  I could use a buffer against my brothers.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait until the storm passes?” she asked, pulling away.

“It’s not raining yet and the radar showed it clear to the south.  I’ll be fine.”

The ground jerked beneath our feet.  Our eyes widened and we grabbed each other for balance.  Then it started shaking faster, sending us tumbling down.  Screams rose up around us and books spilled from nearby shelves, crashing to the floor.  Was this it?  Was this the earthquake that would finally do us in?  Maybe those folks preaching on street corners had been right after all.

Trish and I huddled against the counter as more than a minute went by with no sign of it letting up.  Justin kneeled next to us muttering about fracking, but unlike his usual bravado he looked worried this time.  We’d had some earthquakes recently, but nothing bad enough to send my heart racing into overdrive.  It had to be at least a 6.0 on the Richter scale.  Maybe higher.

About the time I thought the roof would surely come down on top of us, the shaking stopped.  A moment later a loud roar came from somewhere outside.  I’d never heard anything like it, but the angry sound sent chills down my spine.  What the hell was wrong with this place?  It had been fairly normal when I’d first arrived on campus.  Now a day couldn’t go by without something weird happening.

I stood, dusting myself off.  The ceiling had cracked and bits of plaster had spilled down, but the library didn’t look too bad.  After all that shaking it should have appeared a lot worse.

“I’ve got to go,” I said.

A few other students had the same idea and were already heading for the doors.

Trish gripped the counter as she rose up.  “Are you sure this is a good time to leave?”

“Uh, yeah.  This place is falling apart.  You should go, too.”

She shook her head.  “The library was built to last.  It’ll be fine.”

Trish was the one who worked here.  I had to hope she was right.  A part of me wanted to grab her and force her to leave with me.  With everything that kept happening, it couldn’t be safe to stay here.  She was stubborn, though.  I could see it in the tilt of her chin that she wouldn’t go anywhere.  Crazy woman.

“Just be careful,” I warned.  “The next earthquake could be bigger.”

“I will,” she promised.

We hugged one last time and I hurried toward the doors.  Outside a cool blast of wind hit my face and more thunder rumbled to the west.  There were a handful of people grouped together in front of the clock tower.  I was in such a hurry to get to my truck I didn’t think anything of it until one of them pointed at the sky.

“Holy shit, is that for real?” a guy asked.

I swung my head in the direction of the football stadium and nearly stumbled.

“Are those…”  I couldn’t bring myself to finish.

“Dragons,” a young woman next to me breathed out. Continue reading

First three chapters of Darkness Shatters

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m giving you all an early peek at the first three chapters for Darkness Shatters.  Please keep in mind that this is not the final version and that there may be some minor changes before the novel releases.  Hope you enjoy!

************

  

Chapter One

 

There was no price I wouldn’t have paid for one night of peace and quiet, but unfortunately even the brief illusion of peace couldn’t be bought.  Not by me, anyway.  It was a squeaking noise that woke me.

Coming from inside my house.

I cracked my eyes open and ran my gaze about the dark bedroom, searching for the source.  Nothing stirred.  My hand crept over to the other side of the bed and found cold, empty sheets.  Lucas hadn’t returned during the night.  Not that I’d expected him to since he’d called the previous evening to say he’d arrived in Portland—still searching for his missing twin brother.

Faint giggling floated down the hallway, coming from another bedroom.  I sent my senses out.  Emily’s boyfriend, Hunter, had snuck in sometime after I’d gone to sleep.  He was over at the house often enough that I’d almost forgotten he shouldn’t have been there.  Emily came up on my radar as warm and familiar, whereas his presence sent light claws raking against my mind.

Damn teenagers.

I shoved my warm blankets away and got up.  It was time to do my duty as a parent and put a stop to this.  Padding across the room, I grabbed a robe and pulled it on.   No need to give Hunter, an eighteen-year-old werewolf, an eyeful since I only slept in a skimpy tank top and underwear.

The wood floor didn’t creak as I crept down the hallway, but that wasn’t my real concern.  Emily was a sensor, like me.  If she was paying attention she’d know I was coming toward her room, but the emotions I picked up from her revealed no panic.  Instead all I sensed was lust and excitement.  Those sort of feelings could distract our kind from picking up any trouble coming our way.

The door wasn’t locked.  I pushed it wide open and got an eyeful of the teenagers in bed.  Hunter didn’t have his shirt on and Emily’s was pulled up to her neck.  His body blocked my view of her chest.

“Hunter, get off of her right now.”

Their heads swung in my direction.  Emily’s face was flushed and her shoulder-length brown hair was tousled.  She shoved Hunter to the side and pulled the blanket over herself.  I caught just enough before that to be sure they hadn’t gone all the way.  Both of them still had their pants on.  I could give small thanks for that.

“But we weren’t doing anything wrong,” Emily argued.  “Just kissing.”

Like it wouldn’t have gone further.

“On a Sunday night when you have to be up for school in a few hours?  He’s leaving.”

“It snowing outside.”  She pulled the blanket tightly against her chest and scooted up.  “You can’t make him leave now.”

Hunter sat next to her on the bed and stared at me with frozen horror.  He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and there was a bit of dark scruff on his face.  Emily might not care about getting caught, but he did.  The dread in his brown eyes said it all.

“Not my problem.  He has to go.”

I moved toward the bed, grabbed his arm, and hauled him onto the floor.  He had to weigh about a hundred and eighty with all the muscle on him, but it didn’t bother me since I’d become immortal and increased my strength.  I did make a point of not looking at his pale, naked chest too closely.  It was awkward enough that I’d walked in on them making out.

Emily grabbed her phone off the nightstand and pressed her finger to the screen.  She lifted it up for me to see. “It’s like, negative forty degrees outside.  Let him stay until morning.”

I moved to the window and peered out.  It was dark, but the porch light lit up the yard.  Only my Jeep sat in the driveway with a thin layer of snow covering it.  No other cars were out there, but there was a faint hint of recent tracks leading to the side of the house.

“He should have thought of that before coming here.  He’s a werewolf.  I’m sure he’ll survive getting home.”

We might live out in the bush of Alaska where houses were few and far between, but there were only so many places to leave a car in January with all the snow that had accumulated over the last few months.  I was willing to bet he’d parked it around the side of the house where he could plug the vehicle into an electrical outlet to keep it warm.  That’s where it was the last time I’d caught him in Emily’s room.  With winter set in the temperatures were too low to risk a cold start.  It could ruin the engine.

“Fine.”  She shot me an annoyed look before hopping out of bed to give Hunter a quick kiss, blanket still wrapped around her.  “Just come by tomorrow night.”

He gave her a rueful smile.

“You know the rules, Emily.”  I pointed a finger at her.  “You two got caught in the act and can’t visit each other for a week.”

There was nothing I could do about school, but since they tried to spend every possible moment with each other I could take nights and weekends away.

“That’s such bullshit.”  She plopped herself onto the bed.

Sometimes I missed the old Emily who was sweet and didn’t argue with me so much.  She’d been an easy teenager to take care of until she’d gotten a head injury the previous spring and her personality had altered drastically.  Now we fought more than we got along.

“Sorry, Melena,” Hunter said as he pulled on his sweater.

“You need to stop letting her talk you into this…”  I stopped.

A scratching noise came from downstairs.  Sable had just come through the cat door and was making her way toward us at a fast pace.  She skidded to a halt at my feet, currently in the form of a reddish-brown lynx with black markings, and growled at me.  Then she sunk her teeth into my robe and tugged until I almost fell over.  It was the sign she’d been taught to give me in case there was an emergency and I needed to follow her somewhere.  Probably into the woods since that’s where she typically roamed and there wasn’t much else this far outside Fairbanks.

“Is it really that important?” I asked her.

She ran to the doorway and then looked back.  I could sense the urgency in her emotions.  She was definitely upset about something and wanted me to see it.  Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to have to check it out.

“Finish getting dressed and meet me at the front door,” I ordered Hunter. Continue reading

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.

_______________________________________

 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

Sneak peek at Darkness Divides

I promised you all I’d post the first two chapters of Darkness Divides. You can check them out below. Keep in mind this is not the final version and some minor changes may be made before publication. Also, this does feed on events from Chained by Darkness and the short story, Tempting the Moon, that I released in The Stroke of Midnight New Year’s anthology. There are brief recaps to help those who didn’t read them, though. Hope you enjoy!

 
 

Chapter One

 

Pain. Sometimes it pierces so deeply that you don’t know if you’ll ever find a way to escape it. Or you try replacing it with another kind of pain. A distraction. Anything to keep you from thinking about the things that hurt the most.
Needles had been piercing my skin for hours, giving me that needed distraction. This type of pain was immediate and physical. It took my mind off everything else that troubled me in my life—but it wouldn’t last. Three grueling sessions were all I’d bought myself. This made the final one. The dark-haired woman leaning over my stomach would finish soon and I’d have to go back to facing my real problems.
Cori straightened as she moved away from me, setting the tattoo gun down on a small foldout table she’d brought with her. She tightened her ponytail and tucked a few loose strands behind her ears. Her thick, black hair was silky and straight. She didn’t keep it very long, but if she ever bothered to wear it down it would probably reach just past her shoulders. It contrasted well with her clear, pale skin.
She’d opened up her tattoo studio about six months ago. It was a couple doors down from the herb shop where I worked. Sometimes, when I stepped outside to get some air I’d catch her out there smoking. She seemed so utterly normal compared to most people in my life. Her biggest worries were figuring out her taxes and deciding whether a guy she liked was a douche bag or someone worth giving a chance. I liked having someone to talk to who had no ties to the supernatural world. It was refreshing.
Cori didn’t have any visible tattoos and the only piercings she had other than her ears was one diamond stud in her nose. I asked her about it not long after we met, considering her profession, and she’d told me she had a large piece covering her back. For sentimental reasons, she wouldn’t put another one on her body because she didn’t want anything to compete with it. What it was I didn’t know, since she refused to say. I could respect that. We all had our secrets.
I lifted my head and gazed at the ceiling, waiting for her to start working on my tattoo again, but a flash of light drew my attention to the living room. An uninvited guest had just arrived. Couldn’t he have just left me in peace?
“What are you doing, Melena?” Micah asked, stalking across the room to hover over me.
The golden-haired nephilim frowned as he stared down at my tattoo. To say it was a little awkward having him loom over me while I was lying half-naked on my dining room table would be an understatement. It was just the easiest place to get the job done in my house.
“What does it look like?” I nodded at the tattoo artist, whose jaw couldn’t have dropped any farther. “You might want to say something to Cori. She’s human and you’re freaking her out.”
He gave me an annoyed look before turning his attention to her. His golden eyes glowed as they caught Cori’s. “Do not be disturbed by anything you see or hear. Just continue your work. When you leave this place you’ll forget any conversations we have and my presence here. Do you understand?”
She tried to shake her head, but couldn’t break her gaze. I could sense a maelstrom of emotions coming from her as she tried to fight Micah’s compulsion. He hadn’t pushed it on her too hard, but with every passing second he ramped it up. Eventually a shudder ran through her body. I had to give her credit for not giving in immediately. Most humans would have broken right away.
The buzz of the tattoo gun resumed once she got hold of herself. I gritted my teeth as multiple needles pierced me once again. She was down to the last part of the design. I didn’t think it would take that much longer, but it still irked me to have Micah here. The whole point of doing this in my home during the day was to immerse myself in the pain without any distractions. I didn’t want him here ruining it. This was my chance to do something for me—just me—that didn’t have to involve anyone else. Of course, the tattoo artist didn’t count.
The nephilim cocked his head as he examined the design more closely. “I hadn’t considered you a snake and chains kind of girl.”
Great. Now we were going to have to talk about it. The conversation was inevitable, but I’d hoped to keep the tattoo to myself for awhile.
“It fits what I wanted.”
He couldn’t see all of it, but he could see enough. The snake’s tail was under my right thigh. The body consisted of a series of silver chain links interlocked tightly together. It coiled around my upper leg in a loop before moving to my hip, across my back, and around to my stomach. The head, and last portion to be finished, was a couple of inches below my belly button. Its jaws were wide open, with sharp fangs protruding. The tattoo artist had done a good job of making it look intimidating.
Micah leaned a little closer. “Is that chain what I think it is?”
He wasn’t going to leave it alone. He always had to know what I was up to and the reasons behind it. I wished I had a frying pan to bash into his head.
“Yep, it is.”
There was no denying it. I’d never seen the chain in person like Micah had, but I’d seen enough of it in my nightmares to be familiar with the design. The one on my body was meant to replicate the one Lucas wore in Purgatory—except for some creative license to make it work with the snake’s body. I’d managed to get Cori to match the color exactly, though.
Micah’s brows furrowed. “Why?”
I adjusted the sheet covering the lower portion of me. It hid my most intimate parts, but I had to leave a lot exposed for the tattoo artist to work. At least my sports bra covered my breasts well enough. No one ever showed up at my home mid-morning during the weekdays so I hadn’t been too concerned with my modesty.
“I have to find a way to take control of my problems,” I said, ignoring Micah’s twitching lips.
My subtle moving of the sheet had apparently not been subtle enough. He wasn’t looking at me in a sexual way. I was mated to his twin brother and he respected that, but it amused him when I got embarrassed over my nudity. The first time we met, I’d been naked and attacked him. Needless to say, he’d seen everything and we’d gotten off to a bad start.
I glared at him until he lost the twinkle in his eyes.
“Everything else I’ve tried hasn’t been enough.” I rested my head back on the table. “The chain isn’t just something that can bind an immortal’s strength. It’s also a symbol of what holds your brother hostage and keeps him from us. This is a way to own it—to make it mine. That’s what I’m doing with the tattoo.”
There was actually more to it, but I wouldn’t voice the other reasons out loud. A group of men from my race, sensors, wanted to use me as a tool for breeding more of our kind. There weren’t many of us left and they believed it was their job to increase the population. They’d threatened to rape me if I didn’t cooperate, but I’d managed to escape before they could act on the threat. The snake would serve as a warning to anyone stupid enough to ever try it again.
Micah pulled out a dining room chair and sat down. “I’ll be interested to hear what my brother thinks of this.”
“I’ll explain it to him. Don’t worry about that.” I waved a hand.
Lucas could be a pain in the ass, but he could be reasonable too. I had to believe he’d understand the tattoo once I explained it to him. I refused to feel bad about it regardless of what he thought. It was my body and my decision what I did with it.
“If he’s worth a damn,” Cori said, pausing to dab some blood from the spot where she was working, “he won’t care what you put on your skin and will love you anyway.”
Micah’s eyes glowed. “I could snap your neck, little human.”
The tattoo gun froze an inch above my skin. Cori’s eyes shifted between me and the nephilim. It wasn’t her fault she didn’t know the story behind Lucas. She just had a habit of speaking her mind.
I grabbed Micah’s arm. “Stop it. You know she’s right.”
His golden eyes bored into me, but I didn’t flinch. Eventually, he let his anger go and his shoulders relaxed. I let my hand drop, releasing the breath I’d been holding. Something was up with him. Micah would never win any awards for cheerfulness, but he usually kept a tighter rein on his temper.
I turned my head toward Cori and gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about him. Someone must have peed in his cereal this morning.”
“No one urinated in my—” He stopped speaking when I shot him a warning look.
Cori missed our silent battle with facial expressions and began working on my tattoo again.
“He wouldn’t be the first man I’ve met with that problem,” she said. “I think they get PMS just like we do.”
Micah started to say something again, but he shut his mouth when I gave him another glare. After twenty-five hundred years on earth, you’d think he’d know how to handle women a little better.
“Lucas is a tough case,” I said, getting back to the main conversation. Usually I didn’t talk about him much with her, but since she wouldn’t remember anything I said anyway, it didn’t matter. “I’m never really sure how he’ll react to the things I do.”
For most of the nine years I’d known Lucas, he’d pretty much hated me for even breathing, but while working together during a demon outbreak in Juneau last year things had changed. We weren’t able to ignore the attraction between us anymore.
It didn’t last long. Lucas was taken away before we got a chance to really explore our relationship further. The last time I’d seen him he’d told me he loved me, but that had been almost a year ago. I didn’t know what to expect the next time I saw him. It was another one of those things that kept me awake at night.
“My ex was complicated like that.” Cori continued buzzing away at my skin. Whatever fear she’d had of Micah had gone away. “The idiot beat up a guy for asking me to do a tattoo on his ass. I didn’t mind it, but my man was the jealous type. If he’d had his way, I would have only worked on straight women.”
Lucas was possessive like that too. I was pretty sure he would have locked me away in some remote cabin in Siberia if he thought he could get away with it.
“So what happened with your ex?” I asked.
Cori snorted. “He’s locked up in the state pen because he couldn’t control his temper. Probably won’t get out for at least twenty years.”
I flinched. That hit a little too close to home.
“So where is this infamous Lucas, anyway? I thought I would have met him by now, but instead all I get is his brother.” She shot Micah a nasty look. Guess she hadn’t really moved past his rude behavior yet.
“He’s locked up out of state.” If Purgatory counted as out of state.
Micah snorted.
It wasn’t as if I could tell her his real location. There were a lot of things I couldn’t tell anyone if I wanted to keep the veil of protection over Emily and me. An archangel had promised this particular brand of magic would keep our enemies from finding us, but only as long as we didn’t talk about certain things with anyone not on an approved list. Aside from Lucas, only Emily, Micah, and a local shaman named Charlie knew the truth.
“Oh, that sucks.” She gave me a sympathetic look. “Hope he gets out early on good behavior.”
I almost choked and Micah looked like he was having trouble breathing. He had to avert his face when Cori glanced up in concern. Yeah, that was about as likely as Lucas growing wings and a halo.
A silence fell over the room. Cori was finishing up the last bit of shading inside the snake’s eye. The head was sideways so only one eye showed and it was a metallic blue—the same color as mine. I let the last bit of pain wash over me. For the moment, even Micah’s presence couldn’t put a damper on it.
All too soon, Cori finished. She started cleaning her equipment and putting it away.
“It’s the oddest thing,” she said, glancing back at my leg. “The rest of your tattoo is already healed. I’ve never seen it happen that fast before. It looks great.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, I have a special skin treatment I use.”
Her expression turned skeptical. “What is it?”
“It’s a…”
Micah flashed around the table and jerked Cori’s head toward him.
“You did your job. You will not concern yourself with how fast Melena heals or anything else strange about her.” He paused to look at me. “Have you paid her for her time?”
I sat up. “Yeah, but you know this is my friend. You can’t just manhandle her and treat her like crap.”
“Be that as it may, it is necessary to deter her from getting suspicious.” He didn’t let go of Cori, but he did ease his grip as he met her eyes again. “You may take your things and go.”
She wasted no time finishing her packing.
I sighed and got off the table, wrapping the sheet around me as I moved. My clothes were on a chair in the corner of the dining room. I went over to them and pulled on a pair of old sweatpants. By the time I had them on, Cori had everything together and was racing out the door without even looking back.
“You could have been a little nicer about it,” I grumbled at Micah.
“You might have considered the ramifications of getting a tattoo. If I’d not come along to compel her, she might have grown suspicious of your healing abilities. That is something you need to avoid at all costs.”
He had a point, but I was still annoyed. Cori hadn’t deserved to be treated that way by him.
“I was actually in a decent mood for once, until you came along.” I headed for the kitchen. “There haven’t been any new nightmares with your brother for the past few days and I got my first tattoo. Couldn’t you have let me have my moment?”
Micah followed me into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. He was in the same spot where Lucas and I’d had mind-blowing sex last June when he’d showed up for a brief visit from Purgatory. Almost a year had gone by since then. I still couldn’t look at my kitchen the same and wished his twin brother didn’t have to make the reminder even more poignant.
I averted my face and dug into the fridge for some orange juice. Micah watched me pour it into a glass, saying nothing. He suffered the same nightmares I did. It was one of the few things we had in common.
“Want some?” I asked, holding the jug up.
“No.”
I put it back in the fridge. “What are you doing here?”
“Apparently, I’ve come to ruin your good mood.”
He did that every time he showed up, but I’d gotten used to it.
I took a sip from my orange juice. “This isn’t about the tattoo, is it?”
“Unfortunately, no. Theirn called this morning and informed me Zoe showed up in New Orleans recently. She was looking for Emily’s mother.”
“Dammit.” I set the orange juice down. “She’s trying to figure out where we are.”
Micah glanced at my tattoo—the part of it he could see above my sweatpants, anyway. “She’ll succeed if you’re not careful.”
Since Lucas had given me a second dose of his blood back in June my body had undergone many changes. I healed almost as fast as a newly-turned werewolf now. My strength and speed were about three times greater than they’d been before. Even my hearing and night vision had improved. All incredible advantages that I couldn’t reveal to anyone.
Soon Lucas would come back to give me a third dose and make me immortal. I had no idea what it had cost him to make that deal with the archangel, Remiel, since he’d refused to tell me. Micah had to know, but he wasn’t talking either.
“Cori would have believed my excuse if you’d let me tell it to her. That’s why I picked a human tattoo artist. She had no reason to think anything supernatural was involved and she didn’t question the use of the chain.” Plus, I just liked her and knew she’d do a good job.
Micah gave me a stern look. “You still need to be more careful. I’ve got enough to deal with in Juneau without worrying about you.”
Like I wanted him protecting me. If I had my way, he’d stay gone. It didn’t help that he looked and sounded so much like his brother. It was painful to be around him.
“Is that witch coven still giving you trouble?” I asked, preferring a change of topic.
“Yes.” He raked his hands through his long blond hair. “Their fool of a leader wants to take Aeson’s place, and there’s no one stronger in the city who can hold the position.”
“He might have the power, but he’s worthless.” I grabbed my orange juice again and took another drink. Maybe I should have spiked it with Vodka. “Can’t you find someone from out of town who might want their own territory?”
He nodded. “That’s what I’m working on now. The difficulty is finding a strong candidate who doesn’t mind living in Alaska year-round. For now, Fallon and Sayer are handling things when I’m not there.”
Micah didn’t want the position. Most nephilim didn’t like tying themselves to one place and preferred to move about more freely. I suspected he only stayed in Juneau because of regret over what happened with Aeson—the previous leader. We’d all failed to protect the cambion from an attack by a demon prince. I hadn’t known him well, but I still felt bad about it. Supposedly, there’d been a way for me to get rid of the demon. I’d just never figured out how to do it.
“Well, if anyone could hold the city in your absence, it would be those two.”
Fallon and Sayer were fifteen-hundred-year-old vampires. Rarities since most of the older vamps had been killed off during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, which coincided with a supernatural war. They were very powerful, but they were also totally loyal to Lucas and would never take control of a territory for themselves. They’d sworn to serve the nephilim for life. Right now their service extended to Micah and me since their leader was away, but their first priority was to Lucas.
“I have a couple of possibilities I’m hoping will pan out,” he said. “It is a matter of them getting released from their current leadership. Masters don’t like giving up their most powerful subordinates.”
“So who are you thinking of—” I clutched my head as a sharp pain ran through it.
“What’s wrong?” He took a step toward me.
“Something’s coming,” I whispered.
“What’s coming?” He looked around as if he could spot a threat, but this wasn’t something he could see with his eyes.
“Magic.” I gasped out. “A whole lot of it.”
It hit like an explosion in my head. A kaleidoscope of colors and sensations racing past me at lightning speed. I couldn’t process it all. A scream tore from my lips as I fell to my knees. It just kept coming, wave after wave of piercing agony.
 
 

Chapter Two

 
The earth shook hard as I gripped the floor on my hands and knees. Something leaked from my eyes, ears and nose. Every one of my senses shut down until neither sight nor sound could reach me. Even my extra senses didn’t work. Micah might have still been standing close to me, but I didn’t have any way of knowing.
The shaking stopped almost as fast as it started. I forced myself to remain calm. The magic had passed. My body just needed a moment to recover. A few more deep breaths and I cracked my eyes open. I saw red. Nothing but red.
A wet cloth touched my cheek and I jerked back. A strong hand gripped my shoulder.
“Hold still.” It was Micah’s voice. At least my hearing had returned.
“What happened?” I croaked out.
He dabbed at my face again, concentrating on the area around my eyes.
“You warned me something was coming and then you fell to the floor just before the earthquake hit.”
This time when I lifted my lids, I could see. Micah kneeled directly in front of me.
“That was no earthquake,” I said, my voice coming out a little stronger. “At least, not the natural kind.”
Sensors were extremely sensitive to magic—far more than any other race on earth. Whatever had rolled over us had been the most powerful force I’d ever felt.
“Then what was it?” he asked.
“An explosion of magic.” I rubbed my head.
It had been awhile since I’d felt this kind of pain. The changes from Lucas’ blood had made me a lot more resilient, but to a sensor this was the equivalent of a nuclear explosion. The magic had roared through me, tearing my mind to shreds.
Micah frowned. “Could you sense the source?”
I worked past the migraine, filtering through the details of what I’d felt when the blast hit. My memories were foggy and my sensor abilities still weren’t working. Micah was right next to me and I couldn’t pick up his signature. Normally, he popped up as a bright white charge of power on my radar. Right now—nothing.
“No idea on the source, except it came from the east. It felt like I was being hit with every strain of magic that has ever existed.”
“That shouldn’t be possible.” He dabbed at one of my ears with the cloth. “Are you sure it was something you haven’t encountered before?”
I nodded. “I’m sure.”
“How are you feeling?” His brows knitted.
“Something’s wrong with me, Micah.”
“I’ve never doubted that.”
“Very funny,” I muttered. “I mean my senses aren’t working. Whatever that blast did, it hit me hard enough to damage them.”
He put a hand on my head. “Can you feel me trying to heal you?”
“No, nothing.” It scared me to think I couldn’t feel his magic like I usually did—even if it couldn’t work on me. “It’s like I’m back to the way I was before my abilities started.”
They’d hit at puberty and stayed with me ever since. I’d gotten used to them. Now after this explosion I couldn’t track any supernaturals nearby. I could normally pick them up on my radar from half a mile away. My ability to sense emotion wasn’t working either. Micah looked disturbed enough that I should have been able to feel his worry emanating from him.
“Well, your immunity to magic is still fine. I tried a few things and nothing worked on you.”
Sable chose that moment to come running in through the cat door. She’d been outside all morning and usually didn’t come back this soon, but the explosion—or whatever it was—must have sent her fleeing home sooner.
“See?” I waved my hand at her. “I didn’t even know she was coming until she got inside.”
The shape-shifter kitty came and licked at my hands before running off upstairs. Her safe spot—when she was a small enough breed of feline—was under my bed. She wasn’t afraid of opponents she could see and fight, but the invisible stuff bothered her. That and lightning.
Micah started rinsing the washcloth out in the kitchen sink. “It’ll come back. Your brain hemorrhaged enough that it might have killed you without Lucas’ blood in your system. The damage has probably disabled your abilities until your body can heal itself…”
Panic almost closed my throat.
“Wait.” I put my hand up. “If I’m feeling this badly with nephilim blood making me stronger, how would it have affected Emily?”
Micah dropped the washcloth and twisted around. “Where’s your phone?”
“On the dining room table.” I nodded in that direction.
He raced over to it, moving back to me quickly to hand it over. I had the school number programmed just in case of emergencies. It seemed to ring forever before someone answered.
I didn’t even let the secretary finish her greeting. “Yes, this is Melena Sanders. I’m calling to check on my foster daughter, Emily Druthers. I’m worried about her after the earthquake and need to make sure she’s okay.”
I couldn’t say it was a magical explosion. Almost no one would know that but me, and humans wouldn’t believe it anyway.
“We’re still working on accounting for everyone. Please give me a moment,” the woman said, putting me on hold.
My fingers clutched the phone tightly until I remembered my strength. I eased off it a bit and closed my eyes. Please let her be okay. Maybe it didn’t hit her as badly since the school was over ten miles southwest of our home. It was a stretch, but I needed to tell myself something to keep from panicking.
A click sounded when the woman came back on the line a few minutes later. “Ms. Sanders, I’m sorry to tell you this. The students were changing classes when the earthquake hit and Emily took a spill down the stairs. A senior boy insisted on taking her to the hospital himself. A few members of our staff tried to stop him, but he had friends help him get away.”
Micah gripped my arm as I stood up. “Do you know the name of the boy who took her?”
The woman hesitated. “I’m told it was Hunter Maccormac. I don’t know the names of the others who went with him.”
I hung up.
“You have to go check on Emily and make sure she got to the hospital. The only person she has with her right now is that damned werewolf.” With Micah’s abilities, he could get there in the blink of an eye and make sure she was okay. “I’ll drive and meet you there.”
He shook his head. “You’re in no condition to operate a vehicle.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Someone pounded on the front door.
“Melena, let me in,” Derrick shouted.
Micah cursed. “Speaking of damned werewolves.”
I started to move for the door, but a wave of dizziness overtook me. Micah barely caught me before I hit the floor. He settled me on a dining room chair before heading over to get the door.
Derrick came barreling past him. The alpha werewolf was more rugged than handsome and had his long brown hair pulled back from a square face. He was several inches shorter than Micah, who stood at almost six and a half feet tall, but he made up for that in stockiness. His size had women turning their heads and most men backing away. It was amusing to go out with him in public.
Derrick came straight over to me and kneeled down to examine my face. “Charlie was over at Nik’s place and said the earthquake was some kind of magical explosion. He sent me to check on you.”
Charlie was a Shaman. If anyone other than me could have picked up on what it was, it would be him.
“Don’t worry about me.” I pushed his probing hands away. “We need to get to the hospital to check on Emily.”
“You’re sure she’s there?” he asked.
“She better be. Will you take me or not?”
“Sure thing, sensor girl.” He helped me up. Geez, but I hated being weak during a crisis.
“Will you go now?” I gave Micah a pleading look.
The nephilim set his cold eyes on Derrick. He didn’t like the werewolf much and didn’t bother to hide his feelings.
“You better get her there safely,” he warned.
“Course I will.” Derrick grunted.
Micah worked his jaw. I didn’t need my senses to guess what emotions he was feeling.
“I’ll see you soon,” he said, flashing away.
I let out a sigh of relief. If anyone could take care of Emily, it would be him.
Derrick gave me a full once-over. His eyes caught on the part of my snake tattoo sticking out above my sweatpants, but he just shook his head and looked away. “Let’s get some more clothes on you. Then we can go.”
I grabbed my keys off the table and handed them to him. “We’re taking my Jeep. I’m not sure my head can handle your rickety truck.”
His lips twitched. “Whatever you want, sensor girl.”
 

***

 
“She needs emergency surgery.” The doctor’s voice was grave.
“What?” My hands shook and a wave of dizziness threatened to overtake me again.
“Emily is suffering from massive hemorrhaging in her right temporal lobe. We’re fortunate that one of our neurosurgeons is here on rotation at the moment to do the surgery. We just need your permission to operate.”
The doctor didn’t try to sugarcoat it. The urgency in his voice was enough to tell me we had little time. I looked at Micah.
“But if we could get…” I couldn’t say it with a human doctor standing there.
Micah shook his head at me before turning to the doctor. “Give us a moment.”
He ushered me to a set of chairs and we sat down. Derrick hovered over us, glaring at anyone who got too close. In his wolf form, he would have made a great guard dog.
“Melena.” Micah’s eyes were as serious as the doctor’s. “There’s no way we can get a vampire here in time to give her blood and save her. It’s not quite noon yet and the sun won’t set for over ten hours. Surgery is the only option we have right now.”
Vampire blood had to be fresh to work. We might not be able to bring one to the hospital, but there had to be another way. “Can’t you collect some from one of them and bring it back?”
“You know the effectiveness of vampire blood begins to deteriorate the moment it leaves their body. Flashing it back here will erode it even further. I tried that once before under a similar situation and it didn’t work.”
I took a shaky breath. My head pounded fiercely and the noise from the busy emergency room didn’t help. The place was crowded with people who’d been injured in the earthquake/blast. More of them continued to pour in every minute.
“Isn’t it dangerous? What if she doesn’t survive?” The idea of sending Emily to the operating room didn’t sit well with me. And allowing them to operate on her brain? So many things could go wrong. They could cause more damage or kill her.
I’d gone most of my life avoiding supernaturals. Even their faster healing methods hadn’t appealed to me, but now—when I needed their help—they couldn’t do anything.
Micah’s eyes filled with sympathy. “It is dangerous, but we have no other choice. Emily is a strong girl and if anyone can make it through this, she can. You’re going to have to trust her to do that.”
My mind raced to think of anything else we could do to save her, but nothing came to me. As a sensor, Emily was immune to magic just like I was. Micah couldn’t help her with his healing powers. We were going to have to handle this the mortal way.
“Will you be there? Make sure they do it right?” I knew I couldn’t go into the surgery room. Even if I got Micah to compel the medical staff into ignoring my presence, it wasn’t something I could watch. It was one thing to cut an enemy’s head off; it was another to watch the girl I cared about have hers cut open.
Micah nodded. “I’ll be there from start to finish.”
I rubbed my face. “Okay, tell the doctor to do it.”
“Good.” He reluctantly turned to Derrick. “Keep an eye on her. The magic blast didn’t injure her as badly as Emily, and she should recover on her own, but she needs to take it easy.”
The werewolf jerked his head. “Will do.”
For the sake of current circumstances, it appeared these two had made a truce.
Micah moved away to talk to the doctor. Even without my senses, I could tell the poor man was intimidated. He took a step back as soon as Micah reached him. His tension didn’t last after the nephilim caught his eyes. His face relaxed and I knew he had to be under compulsion. Good. I didn’t want any nervous medical staff working on Emily.
Derrick settled down next to me. “She’s going to make it, sensor girl. Just have a little faith.”
I bowed my head and closed my eyes. “I’m trying.”
A few minutes later a nurse came over with some paperwork. I did my best to read it over and listen to what she was saying, but between worrying about Emily and the pain in my head it was hard to concentrate. My signature looked sloppier than normal as I scrawled it out multiple times.
Micah returned to let me know they were prepping Emily for surgery and that he’d be going in to observe. I watched him as he headed through the double doors and disappeared. Please let it go okay. I’d already lost too many people I cared about to lose one more.
Hunter wandered over to us. He’d been sitting with some other teenagers across the waiting room who looked like they’d been injured in the blast. There were a few spots of blood on the sleeve of his shirt, but I didn’t see any wounds on him. Had they come from Emily? I shuddered to think of what she must have looked like when he’d brought her into the hospital.
The young werewolf had changed since the last time we’d met. He’d shaved his black hair so it was only about half an inch long and packed on more muscle in recent months. Of course, he’d been in bad shape the last time I’d seen him thanks to a prank Emily had pulled on him. He’d nearly died as a result of it, but we’d managed to save him with Micah’s help. I was amazed he didn’t hold it against her and instead asked her out on a date. She’d refused, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to try.
He nodded at Derrick in deference to the alpha before sitting down next to me. “How’s Emily doing?”
My ability to sense emotions hadn’t returned, but I could hear the concern in his voice and see it in his brown eyes. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken her from the school the way he did, but after finding out how bad she was I was glad he did. He might have saved her life.
I swallowed a lump in my throat. “She’s going into surgery. It’ll be awhile before we know anything more.”
“I don’t understand.” His brows furrowed. “Wasn’t that Micah I just saw? Why can’t he take care of her?”
I stiffened. Since Hunter had been healed by Micah before, it gave him firsthand experience with the nephilim’s abilities.
“It’s a little more complicated than that.” I rubbed my forehead. This was not a time where I could come up with plausible lies. “He’s going to help as much as he can, but she has to have surgery to stop the hemorrhaging.”
Hunter reached out and grazed my ear with his finger before I could stop him. When he drew back, there was blood on the tip.
“Emily was bleeding from her ears too,” he said, his voice laced with suspicion. He looked around once before leaning in close. “She’s a sensor like you, isn’t she? That’s why Micah can’t heal her.”
A chill swept over my body. It was bad enough that all the sups in this town knew I was a sensor. Other than a few trusted individuals, no one knew about her. I grabbed Hunter by the throat and shoved his head back into the wall. “You just turned eighteen recently, didn’t you? Keep making guesses like that and you won’t see another birthday.”
He tried breaking my hold, and technically should have been able to, but I was too angry to hide my abnormal strength. Amazing how rage could make me forget everything.
“I…already…suspected,” he said through wheezing breaths.
Derrick grabbed my shoulders. “Melena, let go of him. I’m his alpha and I’ll deal with this.”
“Back off,” I said, glaring at him over my shoulder.
He gave me a warning look, but took his hands off of me.
I returned my attention to Hunter, loosening my grip a fraction. “What do you mean you already suspected?”
Hunter gulped in air. “Sometimes, I go up to talk to her at her locker and she says things to me before turning around to see I’m there. How else would she be able to do that? Your taking her in was another clue.”
I gritted my teeth. I’d warned Emily numerous times to not give herself away like that. We’d known her living with me might make some people suspicious, but most of them believed I’d only taken her in because her vampire mother ran off. She was supposed to keep up the image of a normal human girl with a dysfunctional background. That was sadly common enough to be believable.
Now she had to mess it up with this damned werewolf. Not that I could get that mad with her in surgery and fighting for her life, but something in Hunter’s eyes told me he wasn’t going to buy any other story I gave him. The next best thing was damage control.
“Have you told anyone about your suspicions?” I asked.
He shook his head. At least, as much as he could with my hand still around his throat. “No, I wouldn’t do that to her. I get why you’re hiding it from everyone and it makes sense.”
“If you’re lying, I will kill you.”
His brows furrowed. “Don’t you have the ability to tell if I’m lying?”
My fingers tightened on him. This kid was a little too smart for his own good. I could normally tell if someone was lying, but the blast had knocked out all my inborn abilities. It was a lot like being blind.
“Melena,” Derrick said, grabbing my shoulder again. “This isn’t the place for this.”
He was right. People were starting to stare at us and I’d been too upset to pay any attention to it. I let go of Hunter’s throat, but leaned in close to his ear.
“We’ll finish this conversation later, but don’t even think of talking to anyone else about Emily,” I warned.
If other people put all the pieces together like he did, they might come to the same conclusion. I didn’t see any other supernaturals near us, so at least there weren’t any witnesses to handle. Once Micah came back, I’d have him compel Hunter not to talk. He couldn’t make him forget what he knew—that was only possible with humans—but he could make him keep quiet about it.
“I won’t tell anyone. I swear.” Even without my abilities, I was fairly certain he spoke the truth. The look in his eyes said he meant it and I had a lot of experience reading people’s expressions.
I relaxed in my seat and closed my eyes. Now that my rage had passed, the side effects from my head injury came back in full force. My body felt drained. Maybe I’d expended a little too much energy threatening Hunter.
Over an hour passed as we sat there waiting for news. My head continued to throb, but some of my senses started to return. Just a small trickle, giving me a faint vibe from the werewolves sitting next to me.
At least that was a positive sign. I was glad to discover they weren’t gone for good, but worry for Emily kept me from celebrating. How long would this surgery take? It was already the middle of the afternoon and no one had come out to give us an update yet.
“I’m going to take a walk,” I announced, standing up slowly. Only a slight wave of dizziness hit me this time. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
“Melena, be careful,” Derrick warned. A trace of his concern reached me—another one of my abilities coming back. Good.
I gave him a weak smile. “We’re in a hospital. If I start to feel worse, I won’t have far to go for help.”
He studied me for a moment before nodding.
Trusting Derrick to keep an eye on Hunter, I wandered down the hall. I wanted to go somewhere quiet and away from people. My body was still weak, but as long as I kept a hand on the walls I managed to keep myself upright. It wasn’t long before I stumbled across the hospital chapel. A peek inside and I discovered it was empty. Perfect.
Despite my experiences—which included meeting an archangel—I wasn’t really a religious person. So many bad things had happened to me that it was hard to keep any kind of faith. If a higher power could allow an evil person like Zoe to roam free after only one year of imprisonment, yet keep Lucas for six decades, how could I take it seriously? They knew she wanted to kill me and they still let her out of Purgatory. The whole deal was crap.
The farther I wandered into the chapel, though, the more weighed down I felt by everything that had happened. Worry for Emily. Worry for the future. Worry about everything in my life. Without thinking about it, I found myself sinking to a kneeling position at the front of the room.
I bowed my head and let myself take in the silence. It was peaceful. The pain in my head eased, allowing me to focus my thoughts. Maybe a small prayer wouldn’t hurt. At this point I had to try something and there weren’t exactly a lot of options left.
“Please, God…let her live,” I whispered out.
It wasn’t much of a prayer, but it was all I could manage.
The door behind me creaked. “Sensor, tell me you’ve not been reduced to this in my absence. I fear the next time I come back you’ll have become a nun.”
That voice.
I swung around so fast I ended up sprawled on my ass. Two imposing men stood at the chapel entrance—an archangel and a nephilim. Only one of them sent my heart racing. His golden hair had grown out over the last ten months and his body had thinned, but there was no mistaking him for anyone else.
“Lucas.”
He gave me an ironic smile. “Melena.”
If I’d known prayer would be this effective, I might have used it sooner.