Excerpt from Darkness Clashes and giveaway

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

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 Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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.
 
 

First two chapters of Chained by Darkness

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

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

This is an example of what the bookmarks look like:

Darkness Haunts bookmark singleDarkness Taunts bookmark singleChained by Darkness bookmark single

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

*****

Chapter One

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

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

Total sensory deprivation.

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

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

A loud screeching noise broke the monotony of silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stay the fuck out of my head.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For what?”

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

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

Chapter Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thousands,” Remiel interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

First two chapters of Darkness Taunts

As promised, I’m posting the first two chapters of Darkness Taunts below.  If you missed my post yesterday, I’ve had to make the difficult choice to delay publishing the novel for a week to finish edits.  You can read more on that here.  Thanks to those who have already sent some really sweet emails to me and requested the PDF file for the first four chapters.  I’ll be sending it out to you all shortly.

Anyone else who would like the file is welcome to send me a message via the contact form (click here).  Later today I’ll email out the next batch (email addresses will be kept private).  I’d post all four of the chapters, but with them adding up to over 14k words it would become ridiculously long.  Any fans of Jeaniene Frost know how lengthy it gets when she puts up the first twenty percent of her novels.  Though if you’re like me, you’ll read it all on her site anyway.

Note- This novel is more explicit than Darkness Haunts, though you’ll only start to see that in the early chapters.

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Chapter One

Sometimes doing the right thing can have unintended consequences.  It can turn your life upside down and alter it in ways you never imagined.  For me, the decision to save a friend came at a cost I might never stop paying.  I’d been hiding amongst humans for most of my life, but now the supernaturals had me in their clutches.  Whether I could survive in their world remained to be seen.

I stiffened when my latest customer came through the door.  She had long orange-red hair pulled back in a braid and a pudgy nose that flared every time she breathed.  Surprise reflected in her brown eyes when they met mine.  I’d only worked here for a few months but not all the supernaturals, or sups as I preferred to call them, in the area had seen me yet.  Their reactions made me wonder if they pictured me as some kind of monster.  I could say the same of them.

This woman was from a particularly nasty race that had my instincts screaming to run.  Trolls were carnivores and not picky about their meat sources.  My unusual abilities allowed me to recognize a sup’s race as well as pick up on their emotions.  They were a sort of warning system that gave me the chance to see danger coming, but these days they did little good when I couldn’t get away from it.  I didn’t sense anything hostile coming from the troll, but for all I knew she could kill me as easily as licking a lollipop.

Working in a shop that catered to supernatural needs didn’t make things any easier, but my funds were starting to run low and jobs weren’t easy to come by in this economy.  Felisha, a fairy and sort-of friend, had offered the position after her business picked up.  Many sups had returned to the area after we’d rid it of a vampire-witch hybrid with maniacal tendencies five months ago.  I couldn’t throw a tombstone without hitting one these days, and that was saying something, considering I wasn’t stronger than any regular human.

I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet, wanting nothing more than to run.  Troll or not, though, I couldn’t go.  My former military training wouldn’t allow me to leave my post unattended—or herb shop in this case.  I glanced below the counter in front of me.  My fully-loaded gun rested safe and within easy reaching distance.  One wrong move and I’d blow the troll’s head off.  Felisha could yell at me later for the blood stains on the floor.

I pasted a smile on my face.  “Can I help you?”

In a sort of waddle, she made her way toward me.  Herbal fragrances permeated the room, but the troll over-powered them with a scent comparable to a sewer line.  My fingers twitched.  How offended would the customer get if I kept my nose plugged until she left?   I’d probably end up in a roasting pit by nightfall if I tried it.

She stopped a couple of steps from the counter.  I could barely see her head over the top.  Her eyes shifted to the doorway leading to the back storage area before returning to me.

“Where’s the fairy?”

I braced my hands on the counter.  “Gone until tomorrow.”

“Just as well,” she said.  “I came to see you anyway.”

“Me?”  Nothing good ever came from sups looking for me.

She nodded.  “Ain’t none of us fans of you bein’ here, but it’s about time you proved your worth.”

I crossed my arms.  “I got Nikolas back for you all didn’t I?  That’s more than any of you managed to do for him.”

“Hmph, I ain’t sayin’ you didn’t never prove useful.”  She paused to look around—probably to make sure the master vampire in question wasn’t going to pop out and punish her for harassing me.  “But we don’t like you stickin’ around here.”

“Well that makes two of us.”  I leaned forward.  “If you’ve got a problem with it, by all means go talk to Nikolas because I’m all for leaving.”

Most of them didn’t know I’d tried to escape and failed.  The vampire hadn’t dragged me back—he didn’t have the ability to find me that fast.  One of his powerful friends, and my greatest nemesis, handled the job.  Between the two of them I couldn’t get free of Fairbanks.

The troll’s face hardened.  “Trouble is brewin’. Some think you caused it, but me—I’m hopin’ you’ll be the one to fix it.”

“What trouble?” I asked.

“Demons.”  Her voice grew ominous.  “They’re comin’ for us if someone don’t stop ‘em.  That someone should be you.”

These people never gave up.  She was the third person to come in talking about them in the last couple of days.  It had to be another ridiculous attempt to force Nik to get rid of me.  Only him and his inner circle wanted me here.

“There are no demons in Fairbanks,” I said.  “What makes you think they’re coming?”

“I hear things,” she said in a low voice.  “I got friends who tell me they’re close and it’s just a matter of time afore they make their way here.”

“Are you sure they said demons?” I asked.  She might believe what she said, but that didn’t make it true.  I’d never run into one in my life and I felt confident my senses would have picked them up if I had.  So far, nothing out of the ordinary had come around Fairbanks.  Well, nothing weirder than usual.

She huffed.  “What are ya, deaf?  I said demons and I meant it.  Don’t be looking at me like I’m the crazy one.”

My lips thinned.  I grabbed a container of non-iodized salt from the shelf behind me and set it on the counter in front of her.  Felisha had told me what to do if more people came in asking about a supposed demon threat.  “Here’s some salt.  Put it across all the openings in your home.  That will keep them out.”

“What if I leave me house?  How am I supposed ta protect myself then?”

“If you follow some kind of religion, I’d suggest you do whatever it instructs.  Demons hate dealing with anything based on a ‘higher power’ and tend to shy away from religious symbols if your belief is strong enough.”  Another piece of advice from Felisha.  I believed in God, but avoided organized religion.  If a demon came around, I’d have to hope the higher power of my gun scared them off.

She frowned.  “That’s it?”

“Yep.”  I held out my hand.  “That’ll be five dollars.”  The salt would be cheaper if she went to a grocery store, but we’d had to rush the shipment and raise prices to cover it.

She scrunched up her nose and dug into her purse.  I couldn’t see what was inside but she started pulling stuff out in what I assumed was a search for her wallet.  First came a sealed Tupperware bowl she set on the counter.  Worms moved around inside it.  I didn’t want to know why she carried those around with her.  A brush filled with her orangish hair came next.  A carving knife—I took a step back for that one.  Finally, more odds and ends she stacked up in front of me in one big heap.  How much could that purse hold?

“Ah hah!”  She smiled and pulled a coin purse from the depths of her bag.

Her gnarled hands snapped it open and took out a wad of bills—all of them wrinkled and stained with faint brown spots.  She had enough to make me wonder what trolls did to get their money.  Then again, maybe I didn’t want to know.  One by one she began to count them out.  I made a mental note to spray them with sanitizer after she left.  Maybe use some gloves too.

More customers headed toward the shop at the same time as the troll pushed the money across the counter.  I sensed the two pixies before I saw them through the front windows.    The couple walked through the door and surveyed their surroundings.  Thankfully the troll had finished putting all her stuff back into her purse, including the salt, before their gazes reached the counter.  They weren’t much taller than my first customer, but they were much easier to look at.  The man and woman had fair skin, small builds, and green hair.  All pixies had a thing for bright colors.

A family of about twenty of them had moved to the Fairbanks area a few weeks ago.  The town had never had any before.  They reminded me of my former best friend, Lisette, who lived back in California.  She wouldn’t speak to me anymore.  I’d pissed her off when I had Nik compel her to leave Fairbanks after she’d refused to go on her own.  It had been for her safety, but she didn’t see it that way.  A lot of things had gone wrong in my life since coming to Alaska.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

They took a few small steps closer.  I could tell they didn’t want to get near the stinky female troll any more than I did.  At least, I thought that was the case until the female pixie met my eyes.  Pure hate filled them.  Great.  They hadn’t even been here long and they were already full-fledged members of my anti-fan club.

“What do you know about the demon problem?” she asked.

I lifted my brows.  “There is no demon problem.  If any had come to Fairbanks, I would have sensed them.”

“They may not be here yet, but we know they’re close.”  She braved another step forward.  “We have children to worry about.  If you’ve brought them here you can be sure you’ll be paying for it.”

“Who’s telling you this?” I asked.  Was there some demon warning hotline I didn’t know about?  Why did they think I had anything to do with it?

She sneered.  “As if I’d tell you.  You’d probably send the demons after them next.”

I made myself count to ten before replying.  “I’ve never met a demon and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to control it.  Whatever you’re hearing, it’s not true.”

The pixie’s husband pointed a finger at me.  “Everyone knows your kind once had the angels at your beck and call.  Maybe you’re doing the same with demons now.”

I glanced at the clock.  Emily would be getting out of school in ten minutes.  She’d come straight to the shop afterward and I didn’t want her walking into the middle of this.  They had no idea the fifteen-year-old girl was a sensor as well, but she might slip and say something in defense of me.  If these sups found out, they wouldn’t care that she’d had her abilities for less than a year.  They’d attack her, too.  Racist bastards.

Somehow, I had to channel my inner diplomacy and get these people out of here.

“Look, there are no demons here.  If they do come to Fairbanks, though, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.  For now…”  I grabbed another canister of salt and set it on the counter.  “You can pour this in your doorways and window sills.  It will keep them out of your homes.”

I went on to explain the religious angle.  Thanks to Lisette, I knew most pixies were Catholic.  They had loads of stuff they could use to help them combat demons.

“Why should we trust anything you have to say?” the man asked.

“Because,” I said.  “This is my home and I have people I care about here, too.  I don’t want demons here any more than you guys.”

The troll and the pixies stared me down.  Great, they were starting to form a mob mentality.  I put a placating hand up.  “I’m serious.  Use the salt and take my advice.  If demons do show up in Fairbanks, I’ll do my best to help get rid of them.”

“You sure about that?” the troll asked.  She’d started to inch closer to the pixie couple in an odd form of solidarity.  At least I had the power to make two races who didn’t like each other join forces.

I nodded.  “I helped Nik get back into power, didn’t I?  If the town is in danger, I’ll find a way to deal with it.”  Not that I had the first clue how to get rid of demons, but they didn’t need to know that.  I’d learned in the army that making people think you knew what you were doing was half the battle.

They each looked at each other.  A tension-filled minute passed before their glares looked a little less severe.  The pain developing in my head went down a few notches as well.

The female pixie came forward and took the salt.  “How much for this?”

I told her the same amount as the troll.

“But that’s too much!”

“I don’t set the prices.”  I shrugged.  Let Felisha take the heat for it.  I’d had more than my fair share for the day.

She grumbled, but she paid for it.  A lot of people will pick convenience over price, especially if they thought they needed something right away.  After I bagged it for her, she grabbed her husband and headed for the entrance.  At the door she paused and turned around.  “You better be right about this or we’ll be back—with friends.”

The troll still stood by the counter.  She turned from watching the others and grinned.  I could see her sharp tiny teeth and had to hold back a shudder.

“If it turns out you lied,” she said.  “I promise I’ll be comin’ back with them.  Even Master Nikolas can’t stop us if we all go after ya!”

With those cheery words, she waddled out.  I breathed a sigh of relief when she drove her beat-up truck from the parking lot.  It back-fired and kicked out a billow of smoke as it made its way onto the street.  Emily arrived soon after that.

She came bustling in with a heavy coat and no cap over her shoulder length brown hair.  It had warmed up to almost zero degrees so she didn’t need it at this point in the day.  At least, that’s what she always told me when I made a case about it.

She wasn’t from around here either, but she’d moved to Fairbanks a year and a half ago, giving her more time to adjust to the freezing weather.  The six months I’d been in the area hadn’t been enough.  I plotted my next escape attempt every morning when I stepped outside into the icy-cold air.  At least it was February now.  January had almost killed me.

“Wipe your feet before you come any further,” I said.

She forgot every time if I didn’t tell her.  It probably stemmed from her mother never really caring for her.  Five months of staying with me hadn’t been long enough to break her bad habits.  I’d been a single 26-year-old who’d never dealt with kids when I took her in.  I had to admit my skills weren’t that great either, but at least I made sure Emily’s basic needs were met.

She stomped a few times on the welcome mat before making her way to the counter.  “Do you think we could take a vacation to someplace warm sometime soon?”

I’d take her in a heartbeat if I could.  Unfortunately, there were forces far more powerful than us keeping us here.  “We tried that twice already.  Remember?”

Her shoulders slumped.  “Yeah, I know.”

“Why don’t you go in the back and do your homework?”  I was really starting to sound like a mom.  Six months ago I wouldn’t have considered having children of my own, much less adopting any.  Now I had a teenager with abilities we had to hide.

“I will, but um…I have something to ask first.”  She stuffed her hands in her pockets.  There was a pleading look in her blue eyes that put me on guard.  You didn’t have to raise a teenager for long to learn some telling signs.

“What is it?”

“You see,” she said, looking anywhere but at me.  “Valentine’s Day is coming up.  I really want to have a party and invite all my friends.”

I crossed my arms.  “After what happened with your birthday last month?”

“But that wasn’t my fault!”  She stomped her foot.

She didn’t really believe that.  As sensors, we could detect lies—even between each other.  She’d stolen some liquor from Nik’s house, the master vampire of the area and our protector-warden.  Since it took a lot for him to get drunk, he didn’t carry much of the light stuff.  Emily could have grabbed one of the other bottles he kept stocked for non-immortal guests, but she went for his private stock.  Not that I agreed with either option, but if you’re going to break the rules you should be smart about it.

She used the liquor to spike the punch and one of her friends drank more than her fair share.  We found her barely alive outside where she’d wandered off and passed out in a snow bank.  I’d had to call Nik over to our house for help.  It had taken a dose of his blood to fix her and his compulsion to make sure she didn’t report it back to her parents.  She’d been unsurprisingly shocked when she woke up with his bleeding wrist pressed to her mouth.

Even in a haven like Fairbanks, sups hid their real identities.  We couldn’t let the secret get out through a teenage drinking incident.  I should have been paying closer attention, but parenting stuff was still new to me and I’d had to learn the lesson the hard way.

“No more parties.  It was too crowded the last time and I couldn’t keep up with all your friends.”

“But Mel,” she whined.  “There’s nothing to do around here in the winter and Nik says he’ll help you supervise.  I went and asked him about it last night.”

She’d talked to him before coming to me.  Great.  I rubbed my face.  Today kept getting better and better.

“You should have discussed it with me first,” I said.  “And what were you doing at his house?”

A guilty flush rose up her cheeks.  “Well, I was bored.  You went to get the pizza so I went over to his place for a few minutes.”

We didn’t live close to town.  I’d been gone for over an hour to pick up dinner and a few things from the store.  “I told you not to go over there without me.  It’s not safe with all the vamps and werewolves running around there.”

“Most of them don’t know what I am and they all like me anyway.  It’s you they aren’t so hot about.”  She frowned.  It bothered her that they didn’t accept me, but I tried to keep that problem from her as much as I could—today being a good example.

“The point is you’re not having a party,” I said.

Better to get her back to the original topic before this conversation devolved.  I braced myself when her eyes turned pleading again.

“Come on, Mel.  It’ll be fine this time.  I promise.”

“No.”  I shook my head.  “With my luck, it will be even worse than the last time.  Not to mention you’ve got Nik wrapped around your little finger.  You’ll probably get him to look the other way for any stunts you try to pull.”

She gave me a pouty lip.  “I won’t do anything bad.  Please.”

I stared up at the ceiling and resisted the temptation to give in.  She reminded me of myself at that age.  I’d been orphaned and did anything I could to make myself forget the loneliness—including drinking and partying.  Emily hid it well, but I knew her mother leaving her hurt.  Stephanie had been a newly turned vamp, but she should have cared more.

She didn’t even try to take her daughter away with her when we ordered her to leave the area.  She took off as soon as she found out we killed her vampire-witch boss and most of her sup friends.  A few got away, but we’d let Stephanie live for Emily’s sake.  Since then, the teenager refused to talk about her mom no matter how much I tried to get her to open up.

I sighed.  Life hadn’t been easy for her and I didn’t like playing the bad guy.  Letting her have a party so soon after the disaster with the last one would be pushing it, though.  We’d have to find something else for her to do.  Chick flicks and popcorn would be much safer.

“I’m sorry, Emily.”  I shook my head.  “There’s not going to be a party.  Maybe this summer after you’ve had more time to learn your lesson.”

Her eyes widened.  “This summer?  But that’s too far away!”

“You’ll survive.  Trust me.”  Why couldn’t she go to someone else’s party?  At least then I wouldn’t be responsible.  For some reason she didn’t like being away from home that much.  Her friends always came to our place rather than the other way around.

“Fine,” she said, giving me the kicked puppy look.

This wouldn’t be the last of it.  She’d bring the party topic up again, but at least for now I was off the hook.

“Oh, I almost forgot.”  She dropped her backpack by the counter.  “I heard Nik talking on the phone about some demon problem or something going on in Juneau.  He said your name too, but he got real quiet when he saw me coming.”

I furrowed my brows.  If Nik was talking about it, there had to be something to it.  He wouldn’t bother with unsubstantiated rumors.

“You were eavesdropping on him, weren’t you?”  I asked.  Not that I didn’t want to know what Nik said, but I had to at least make a show of disapproval.  I’d read that in one of those parenting advice guides.

“Well, it’s not my fault if he talks loud enough for me to hear him from outside his office.”

Uh huh.  She wasn’t lying, but she wasn’t telling the whole story either.  “What did he say?”

She shrugged.  “All I caught was that they might need your help to deal with it.”

“I’m not going to Juneau,” I said.  “If they come here, that’s a different story, but I’m not going out of my way to help them.”

“That’s what I thought.”  She smiled.  “They shouldn’t be making you do dangerous stuff like that anyways.”

There was a time when I loved the thrill of danger.  I’d grown out of it.  I had Emily to think about now and keeping up with her kept me busy enough.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll just refuse.  They can’t make me do it.”

 

Chapter Two

I needed a hot shower.  The temperature had begun to drop by the time Emily and I got home.  Cold weather had a way of chilling my skin and seeping into my bones until I could hardly think.  With the exception of my six year stint in the army, I’d always lived in sunny California where most of the time people could wear shorts in the winter and keep their tans looking great while they were at it.  Not in Alaska.

After letting the water run long enough to get hot, I stepped into the spray.  It was the one time of day I truly felt warm.  For a little while I could close my eyes and let myself relax where no one could see me or bother me. No judgment or accusing glares.  Just peace and quiet.

Nik owned the house where Emily and I currently lived.  He’d intended to fix it up after he bought it, but a sleep spell put on him delayed his plans.  Variola, a four hundred-year-old vampire-witch hybrid, had been behind that little setback.

After I woke him from the spell, we’d worked together against Variola.  He’d been the only chance I had for getting my best friend back and he needed my help to get around the vamp-witch’s magic.  Once it was over, I wasn’t allowed to leave town, but I’d been adamant about getting my own place.  He’d insisted on getting a crew of his minions to do what was probably the fastest remodel in history.  The house was about a quarter of a mile away from his, putting it within easy reaching distance if trouble came our way.

I had enemies out there who wanted me dead and he took his job as protector seriously.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t want his help.  I’d hoped to go somewhere far from all supernaturals where Emily and I could live a normal life.  Nik and his powerful friends had different ideas.

The water from the hot shower soaked into my skin.  I scrubbed away the lingering scent from the troll who’d been at the shop earlier.  My poor nose would never be the same.  Her ickiness was probably in my hair, too.

I grabbed the shampoo bottle.  It was a fancy brand that helped keep my dark auburn hair shiny.  I had to order it off the Internet because no store in town carried it.  There were very few things I splurged on these days, but my bath products were among them.  They would be the last thing to be sacrificed if my financial situation got worse.  Starting a new life in Fairbanks had eaten away at my savings and my job at Felisha’s shop didn’t make up for it all.  It would help if I didn’t insist on paying rent to Nik, but I had enough supernatural debt without having to tack on more.

Shampoo ran into my eyes when I bunched up my hair to scrub it.  I started to duck my head under to rinse when an all too familiar presence flashed in behind me.  Speaking of enemies lurking out there ready to take me down—this one couldn’t decide whether to kill me or keep me alive.

I turned to confront him, but he pulled me back into his chest.  His arms slid around my wet body and everything began to spin.  I couldn’t think, couldn’t react.  We traveled through what felt like a vortex.  I couldn’t see anything with my eyes scrunched up tight, but the strong wind buffeting my skin gave me the sensation of moving at warp speed.  Long seconds dragged by when, without warning, the dizzying sensation stopped.  Only the grip of his arms kept me from falling forward.  The tile underneath my feet returned and the spray of hot water replaced the wind.

My stomach roiled and my knees threatened to buckle.  I had to slump against his chest to keep from losing my balance.  It killed me to show any kind of weakness in front of him, but he had to have known the effect his little trick would have on me.  I wanted to struggle—to knock him senseless for whatever he’d done, but my body wouldn’t cooperate.  My muddled mind couldn’t even process what kind of spell he’d done or how.

“Lucas, dammit.”  The shampoo had run down my face even worse than before.  It burned my eyes.  “What did you do to me?”

“Finish your shower, sensor,” he said close to my ear.  His arms pulled away, but he left a steadying hand.  “We’ll talk soon.”

He let his warm fingers slide off my shoulder before flashing away.  Wherever he’d gone, it was too far for me to sense.  My head still spun too much to do more than concentrate on staying on my feet.

It took a couple more minutes for the disorientation to pass.  As soon as it did, I ducked my head under the water only to realize the pressure was higher than before.  The direction of the water didn’t feel right either.  Backing away, I opened my eyes only to close them again.  No, this could not be happening.  One lid at a time I reopened them.

Black tile etched with golden swirls surrounded me on three sides with frosted glass making up the fourth.  Triple shower heads jutted from the wall and a large seat took up the opposite one.  It was far more extravagant than anything I’d ever been in before and large enough to fit at least three people.  How had he brought me here?  Lucas could move long distances by “flashing” himself wherever he wanted to go, but I was immune to magic.  He shouldn’t have been able to take me anywhere.

Focusing my senses, I sent them out to search for anyone nearby.  Not a single supernatural registered.  Humans had to be much closer for me to pick them up, and they had to be feeling strong emotions for me to do even that much.  If any of them were around now, I couldn’t detect them.

I jerked open the glass door to find myself in a luxurious bathroom.  It had double sinks and a fancy toilet that would make me feel guilty for sullying it.  Black towels hung from a golden bar attached to the wall.  I grabbed one and dried my hair off before taking another to wrap around my body.  It covered me from my chest to my knees.

A comb laid by the sink, but I didn’t touch it.  Instead I ran my fingers through my long hair until it didn’t stick out all over the place.  A bottle of lotion sat on the counter as well.  I rubbed that into my arms while thinking furiously.  Lucas wouldn’t grab me and dump me here unless he wanted something.  What that could be, I didn’t know.

I decided to do a little exploring to see if I could at least figure out where he’d taken me.  Maybe find a weapon while I was at it.  He might have finally decided to kill me and just wanted me to sweat it out a little.  I wouldn’t put it past him.

The bathroom turned out to be attached to a bedroom.  It was decorated in a completely different style.  The bed was large and looked comfortable, but it had a brass frame and a patchwork quilt on it.  The armoire and nightstand were antiques with tall legs and hand painted designs.  Doilies and floral vases sat on top of them.  Not Lucas’ taste at all.

I sifted through a few dresser drawers and a walk-in closet. They had silk shirts, suits, slacks and other clothes reminiscent of his style, but it didn’t add up.  His belongings with this furniture clashed.  I walked out the bedroom door and onto a second floor landing.  It overlooked the living room.

The high walls across from me were constructed of logs.  A cabin, maybe?  I checked the other room upstairs and found an office.  No important papers or mail sat on the desk and the drawers were locked.  A floor to ceiling shelf ran along the length of one wall.  It had an assortment of history books and classic novels, but nothing of interest.  He either didn’t use the room much or he’d cleaned up before my arrival.  I looked for a phone, or at least a phone book, but didn’t find anything.

There were two bedrooms on the first floor.  They had thick quilts on the beds, plaid curtains covering the windows, and more antique wood furniture.  A full bathroom with a large tub was situated between the rooms.  It’d been remodeled in a similar fashion to the first one upstairs.  Cozy chairs and couches filled the living room.  An unvarnished table sat in the open dining area with floral placemats set on it.  The kitchen beyond it had all white cabinets with green marble counters.

I slowly spun around, looking at the open spaces of the first floor in confusion.  Whose home was this?  I expected sleek and modern from Lucas or at least some darker colors and leather furniture.  This looked like a place an older couple had decorated.

What did he want and why bring me here?

I paced back and forth.  He could come back at any minute.  When he did, I’d be ready for him.  Well, as ready as I could be without clothes.  I was tempted to grab one of his shirts from the closet, but decided I wasn’t that desperate yet.  Not to mention he’d been alive for twenty-five hundred years.  He must have seen thousands of naked women during that time—including me.  I didn’t care what he thought of my body and refused to act like it mattered.

Goosebumps started to pop up on my arms, despite my moving around.  I went to the living room where a fire burned in the fireplace—he’d definitely planned this out.  Everything was a little too staged for my liking.

I settled down on a bear rug in front of the hearth.  How stereotypical.  What had he done?  Stolen the cabin from some innocent couple?  Maybe he’d killed them and left their bodies out in the woods for the wolves to eat.  Assuming this area had wolves.  It would be useful to know where he’d taken me.

A large bay window shared part of the same wall as the fireplace.  It had heavy green drapes hanging from it, but they’d been left open.  I could see tiny flakes of snow falling in the moonlight—other than that, nothing but trees.

It had been a long time since my senses had a total break from supernaturals and magic.  They bombarded me so often in Fairbanks my head ached most of the time unless I took something for it.  The unexpected peace and silence lulled me.  I dozed off without realizing it until a flash of light penetrated my eyelids.

Lucas appeared across the room with his back to me.  I knitted my brows.  What had happened to his hair?  He always kept it cropped close to his head at maybe half an inch long.  Now the wavy blond locks reached down to his shoulders.  I hadn’t actually seen him in the shower, but he’d been over at Nik’s a few weeks ago and it was short.  Could he have grown it out that fast?  I didn’t think nephilim could alter their natural appearance in that short of time.  At least, not without glamour, but I’d see through that and he wasn’t using it anyway.

He still hadn’t noticed me.  He held a phone in his hands and appeared to be tapping on the screen.  I saw that much before he shifted his feet and blocked my view.  I needed to take advantage while his attention was diverted.  The fire crackling in the hearth would help cover the sounds of my movement.  A nephilim’s hearing was better than a human’s, but not by much.

I stood up and grabbed an iron poker from next to the fireplace.  Lucas could heal fast, and only an archangel could kill him, but he could still feel pain.  I gripped my weapon and crept up behind him.  My bare feet didn’t make a sound on the sturdy wood floor.  Swinging as hard as I could, I slammed him over the head.

The poker hit with an audible crack and his cell phone hit the floor.

“Ow, what the…?” He spun around, gripping his head.

I inched away.  Maybe I should have gone for the knee cap.  His skull was even harder than I thought.  I’d hoped it would at least temporarily knock him out.  Most sups couldn’t have taken a hit like that without going down.

Lucas’ angry gaze locked on mine as he took a step toward me.  No way did I want to find out what he’d do next.  I swung at him again.  He caught the end before it hit him and wrenched me forward.  Grinding my teeth, I held on.  He twisted it around until my fingers couldn’t take the pressure and let go.

The poker went flying across the room.  I flinched when it slammed into the wall with a loud bang.  Shit.  He was really going to kill me this time.

We stood inches apart.  There was only one way to take down a man as big and strong as him with no weapons.  I kneed him in the groin.  He doubled over and I ran straight for the front door.  I’d rather take my chances in the snow wearing only a towel than find out what he’d do next.  My bare feet skidded across the wood floor, past the dining area, and toward the entryway.

A heavy weight slammed me from behind. Our forward momentum sent us flying before we came crashing down.  My shoulder smacked into the floor.  I yelped when ribbons of pain shot through me.  Lucas gripped my arm and twisted me to face him.  Somewhere in our scuffle, the towel got lost.  It didn’t matter.  I wasn’t going to lie there like a lamb for slaughter just because I was naked.

I twisted my body around until my legs could get free.  Keeping my left leg lying flat on one side of him, I bent my right and pushed off the floor.  He tilted to the side and almost rolled over onto his back, but he caught himself and put his arms out wide.  It played right into what I’d wanted him to do.  I grabbed his right wrist and yanked it across my chest.  Then I pivoted underneath him so one of my legs locked over his neck and the other over the top of his shoulders.

With his arms stuck between my thighs and his head shoved down toward my crotch, I squeezed as hard as I could in a straight armbar.  No mercy.  If he’d been human, he’d have been screaming by now.  His elbow should have felt as if it was about to snap, but his bones were too strong for me to break.  All I could do was hold on tight.

Some men might have gotten distracted by my nakedness and the compromising position, which might have worked to my advantage in this case, but he didn’t.  He pulled on his arm and I grunted at the effort to keep holding him.  It took every ounce of strength I had and still my grip slipped on his wrist.  This was the first time I’d ever gotten the best of him, but it might be my last.  He couldn’t die, but I sure as hell could.

Lucas tried to use “power” to freeze me, but the magic slithered past my body and snuffed out.  At least not all of his abilities worked on me.  With another strong yank, he pulled free.  I didn’t even get a chance to blink before he had my arms pinned above my head and my legs locked under his.  No chance of wiggling out of this one.  The entire length of his body covered mine with not an inch of space between us.  I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the killing blow.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked.

My eyes popped back open.  “You know who the hell I am.  Why did you bring me here?”

“I didn’t bring you here and I don’t know who you are.”

He wasn’t lying, and something strange about him was niggling at me.  The usual tingles I felt when Lucas and I touched weren’t there.  He looked just like him with his broad shoulders, golden skin, and strong jaw.  Only his blond hair was different because of the length.  Plus he was wearing jeans, which Lucas almost never wore.

“Could you get off of me?” I gasped out.  “You weigh a ton.”

Hey, if he was in the talking mood it couldn’t hurt to negotiate.

He shook his head.  “Not until you tell me who you are.”

I turned my face away from him.  He was so close I could feel his breath on my cheek.  “I’m not telling you anything until you let me go.”

“Answer me.”  He shoved enough compulsion into his voice that only a very powerful sup, or someone like me, could resist him.  Confusion emanated from him after a few moments of silence.  “A better question might be what are you?”

I groaned.  “Lucas, you know what I am.  God knows you remind me of it often enough.”

He said something in a language I couldn’t understand.  It sounded like a curse of some kind.  “You’re a damned sensor.  I should have known.”

I swung my head back to look at him.  His face was still close.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If you’re who I think you are, it means I can’t hurt you.  No matter how much I’d love to right about now.”  His hands tightened on my wrists.

“Ow,” I cried out.  “I am breakable, you know.”  That feeling of offness was growing.

A flash of light came from a few feet away.  I looked over to see a more familiar version of Lucas standing with his arms crossed and an angry expression on his face.

“Micah, let her go.  Now.”

Cover Reveal for Darkness Taunts

I am super excited to reveal the cover for the second book of the Sensor Series, Darkness Taunts, to you all today.  Below is all the latest information on the book, plus the excerpt I promised.  You can also find two other excerpts from the novel at my friend Angela Wallace’s blog (she snagged the one with Lucas) and at Bookish Brunette’s site (she has the most action-packed one).  Their posts will be up this morning (May 15th).  If you are a member of Goodreads, you can add the novel to your TBR list here.

Darkness Taunts - medium size

Cover design by Claudia at Phat Puppy Art

w/typography by Ashley at Bookish Brunette

Blurb:

Melena Sanders has managed to avoid all things inhuman for most of her life, but after coming to Fairbanks, Alaska to rescue her best friend from supernaturals she hasn’t been allowed to leave.  That is, until her long-time nemesis comes to collect a favor she owes him.  Lucas might be half angel, but he’s all bad as far as she’s concerned.

Paying him back might get her out of town for a while, but her new destination will be anything but enjoyable.  Mel’s got to help the nephilim take care of a demon possession outbreak in Juneau.  Although something like this hasn’t happened for thousands of years, Lucas is certain Melena’s rare abilities are the key to solving the problem.

With violence in the capital city growing, she’s going to have to figure out how to stop it fast before the trouble spreads to other places.  Not only that, but working closely with Lucas is changing the dynamics of their hate-hate relationship—worrying her even more than the demons.  Getting back to her captivity in Fairbanks never looked so good.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

EXCERPT:

Kariann was kicking my ass and it sucked even more than all the other times she’d done it.  To be fair, the six centuries she’d had to build her strength and experience gave her an unfair advantage.  She’d smacked me with the flat of her sword at least a dozen times already.  I was going to end up meeting Lucas tonight looking like a worn out punching bag—not that he’d care so long as I got the job done.

“Thinking about pretty boy isn’t going to help you fight any better, little sensor,” Kariann derided.

“What makes you think I’m thinking about Lucas?”  I asked.  Damn that last sword strike made my arm numb.

She laughed.  “You just gave yourself away.  I had no idea who you were thinking about, but figured you’d tell me.”

“Whatever,” I said.  “I’m just pissed at him right now and not thinking clearly.”

She struck at me again.  “Sure you are.”

I blocked and slammed her kneecap with the heel of my boot.

She stumbled back and flashed her teeth—fangs included.  “I’ll be damned.  Maybe thinking of him does help your fighting skills.”

My shoulders sagged.  “Are we done yet?”

“Hmmm, when was the last time you hit the gym?” she asked.

“A couple days ago, but I don’t have time for it now.”  My body felt like hammered shit.  Working out in the gym would have to wait.

“You’re about to go up against demons and they won’t be as nice as I am.”  The innocent look she attempted did not work at all.

I sheathed my sword and gathered my things.  “They aren’t demons.  They are humans possessed by demons, which makes them not quite as strong and a lot easier to take down.”

“Not that easy.”  She grabbed my arm.  “If you aren’t going to work out, then you’re at least going to get your injuries healed.”

“Oh, no.”  I dragged my feet as she pulled me along.  “You can’t make me do it.”

My struggles didn’t slow her down.  “Wanna bet?”

I should have kept my mouth shut.  She tossed me over her shoulder and moved at super vamp speed through the house.  As his second in command, Kariann was one of the few keyed to the magic protection barrier surrounding Nik’s bedroom—wouldn’t want just anybody to interrupt the unholy acts that took place in there.  She could pass through it without his permission.

As soon as we entered, she dumped me on the floor.  I glared at her and got up as gracefully as I could manage.  Too bad she insisted I keep my gun put away when we trained.  It’d be interesting to see how her brains looked with a big hole in them.

The master vampire stood a few feet away with his hands on his hips.  At least he had clothes on this time and no women wrapped around his appendages.  That’d make this visit slightly easier to handle.

“I see she came without too much fuss,” he said, grinning at the Amazon of a woman who’d brought me.

She is not drinking your blood,” I said, backing away.  “You can forget about it.”  I swiveled on my heels and moved for the door.  Kariann stepped right in front of me.

“Melena.”  She gripped my shoulders.  “You have cuts and bruises all over your body.  You could hardly keep your sword up when we fought for reasons you refuse to explain.  We aren’t going to let you go to Juneau without at least getting you healthy again.  Stop being such a baby and just suck his blood.”

That didn’t come off as sounding dirty or anything.  Vamps always had their minds in the gutter.  I crossed my arms.  “No.”

Nik motioned Kariann aside.  “Remember what we talked about last night?  If you want to deal with the demon problem, you’re going to have to do it the smart way.  Keeping yourself strong and healthy is part of that.  Is your stubbornness and pride really worth risking people’s lives over?”

I exhaled a deep breath.  He had a point—even if I didn’t have to like it.  “Fine, but it has to be from the wrist.”

He bit into his arm and held it out to me.  No look of triumph.  At least he had the decency not to gloat this time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Expect the eBook to release on June 30th.  It should be available on Amazon right away followed by Kobo and Nook.   If you have any questions, feel free to ask!