My Blog

Back to Business

So, I’m back from our trip to New York and Canada. I’ve gotten all the required research I need for an upcoming book and am super excited to get busy on my next project. There was just one snaffu. Delta lost my laptop with about 40% of Flesh and Blood (Roy Morgan #2) so I’m a bit behind, but fear not, I will make it up.

Unfortunately, it looks like Flesh and Blood will come out toward the end of December instead of this week like it was supposed to. You can blame Delta who assure me they are doing everything they can even though they’ve already archived my ticket and told me I probably won’t get the laptop back.

Still, Annie 2 is with the editor and will be out December 12th and I’ll have the first in a new series in January. I’m so excited, I’m going to go write now!

Hellbound – Chapter 1


Chapter 1

“Well, Mac. What’s it going to be?” Mammon, the demonic Prince of Greed asked as he loomed over me, one hand holding his glowing pimp staff like he was trying to decide whether or not he wanted to brain me with it. “Are you going to kill her?”

I glanced from him to Jenna. My ex-girlfriend lay unconscious on the ground a few feet away, and as much as I wanted to kill her and make good on my promise to end her, now that I was standing here in front of Mammon, I knew I couldn’t. Even after she’d shot me in the gut a couple times and left me for dead. I just couldn’t.

I’m not sure if that made me sad and pathetic or just plain stupid, but there was no way I was going to kill my ex because deep down, I knew it was my fault she was in her situation. If I’d been a bit better, I could have kept her from getting involved in all this. I could have saved her.

So no, I couldn’t kill her. I had to make things right between us if it was the last thing I did. Killing her while she lay unconscious on the rooftop of a crappy building in Hell was just not in the cards. Yeah, that’s right, I said Hell.

When she’d fallen into Hell, I’d gone after her, and no sooner had we landed on what looked like the demonic version of Las Vegas, Mammon had reared his ugly demonic face and demanded I make good on our deal. That wasn’t going to happen, but I didn’t want him to know that just yet.

For one, I wasn’t sure if there was a way out of Hell, nor if I could actually take on Mammon while in Hell. I mean, I’d gone into Hell before when I’d faced Beleth and Baphomet, but I’d had an entire team of bad asses with me then, one of which was currently unconscious next to me. I’m sure I’d faced worse odds before, I just wasn’t quite sure when.

I was also pretty sure I wasn’t getting out of here alive without her help. Mammon might say he’d honor our deal and let me go home once I axed Asmodai, the demonic Prince of Lust and Mammon’s rival, but I was pretty sure Mammon was a lying sack of shit. No, I couldn’t off my own ally. There had to be another way.

“I need her help, Mammon. I cannot kill Asmodai without her.” I stepped closer to the demon and glared up at him. He was tall and gangly, and he towered over me like a basketball player at a midget convention, but I ignored his awe inspiring height as I curled my black as soot right hand into a fist. The demonic tattoos scrawled across my flesh began to glow with crimson energy, sparking to life like I’d called upon my power, only I hadn’t done that. Weird, definitely, but I didn’t have time to worry about it now.

“I don’t believe you.” Mammon replied, staring down at me. His face had settled into a scowl that made the blood run cold in my veins, but I ignored it. Power rose off of him in waves that fell all around me, but I wasn’t worried about that either. He might be able to incinerate me with a touch, but I had ways of dealing with psychic mojo. What I couldn’t deal with was getting my skull caved in by his stupid magically-enhanced cane.

Cotton candy pink sparks leapt from the diamond tip as he stepped back, probably to give him more room to swing his pimp staff, which was one of the reasons I’d moved closer. Call me crazy, but I wanted as much advantage as possible if we threw down.

“Why would I lie?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at the demon. “It makes sense if you think about it.”

“I am the Prince of Greed,” Mammon replied and his voice brought with it the chill that proceeded the bleak night. “You will do what I ask or you will pay the consequences. We had a deal. You were to kill Asmodai, Prince of Lust and his Council of Seven. She is the last of the Seven. ”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said as I decked him in the face. Well, sort of. I threw an uppercut at him like I was Mike fucking Tyson. My right fist lanced upward through the air, catching him under the chin and snapping his head backward with a sickening crack.

He wobbled, his hands going out in front of him in shock as I stepped into him, grabbed his wrist and twisted. He cried out as the bones in his hands snapped and the cane toppled free of his grip. I snatched it as it fell and whirled as he started to recover. The glowing end of the staff hit him square in the side of the temple and the sound was like a cannon going off. Mammon’s head exploded in a fountain of gore as he toppled sideways under the force of the magic.

Unfortunately, the blow hadn’t killed him and that was bad. Very, very bad. It meant he could get back up and kill me. Call me crazy, but pissing off an all-powerful Prince of Hell seemed like a bad fucking idea while in Hell. I just wished I had a better option. That was part of the problem. Lately, it felt like I’d been dragged from one situation to another with no time to rest, and every time I tried to get out of it, more shit just fell on me.

Now I was literally trapped in Hell and had no idea which way to swim to even get to the surface. I mean, I was going to try, and by try, I meant kill the fuck out of everyone in my way, but at the same time, I was kind of getting over this. I mean, fuck, I had a girlfriend, and I hadn’t even taken her on a real date. Let’s just say if Lucifer himself came to me right now and offered me a chance to walk away from all of this, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, I seriously doubted that was going to happen, so I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

“Watch your step,” I said, kicking him in the center of the chest as blood dripped down from the caved in side of his head. He flew backward, the air rushing out of him with a whoosh. I knew the kick wouldn’t hurt him much, but as he stumbled backward under the force of the blow, his heel slipped off of the roof and he toppled from view. “That last one’s a doozy.”

Adrenaline pounded in my veins as I spun on my heel and raced toward Jenna. She was breathing, but wasn’t otherwise moving. I’d have to be quick. I snatched her up under the arms, and as I did, I shut my eyes, calling upon the cat demon residing in my skull. Only, instead of being able to contact her like normal, I got static. I could feel her there, sort of like I was alone in a dark closet and had the feeling something monstrous was in there with me, but no matter how I flailed mentally, I couldn’t contact her. Fuck.

“Okay…” I whispered as the sounds on the street below stopped. No one was screaming which was sort of sad even if we were in Hell. I mean, okay, for whatever reason, this part of Hell sort of looked like Las Vegas and there were dozens, if not hundreds, of people on the boulevard below. Surely someone would think it odd the Prince of Greed had just done a swan dive off the top of a casino.

Then again, maybe he did it for fun. How the fuck was I to know? The one thing I did know was I did not want to be here when he came back. I wasn’t sure on how good his ability to find me in Hell would be, but I wanted to at least try to evade him if I could.

“Jenna, wake up,” I growled, hauling her to her feet and throwing her over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry. I didn’t have a gun, but I had the pimp staff. Hopefully, it would be enough. Then again, I was sure that unlike the two of us, most of the people here were already dead, and I wasn’t sure how to kill them if I needed to.

Still, bridges and crossing. Or water and bridges. Who the hell knows?

I turned my attention toward the door at the far end of the roof and scrambled toward it. Jenna wasn’t exactly a swimsuit model by any stretch. She wasn’t fat, rather she was all dense muscle, and moving across the roof was harder than I expected. I was breathing hard by the time I reached the door.

Thankfully it didn’t have a handle, just a piece of rectangular silver metal with the word push stenciled vertically across it where a knob should have been. I shouldered the door open and was met with a stairwell filled with what seemed like miles of fucking stairs. Low light emitted from emergency lights set into the stairs, but it was otherwise dark. Awesome.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” I grumbled, hoisting the unconscious Jenna up as I began making my way down into the depths of the stairwell.

Pound of Flesh – Chapter 1


Chapter 1

I didn’t stop the guy as he pushed his way into the convenience store. Why would I?

Blowing a hole into the back of this son-of-a-bitch’s skull would let him know something was up. And I didn’t want him to know that. At least not yet.

So instead, I flipped a packet of Sugar Babies around in my hand, pretending I was one of those douches who read the nutritional information on the back of candy wrappers as though it could have possibly said anything other than “awesome sugary poison.”

This gutter trash bastard had hit up six convenience stores in the last four weeks, and his MO was always the same. Pull a gun, rob the place and, just as the sobbing guy or girl behind the counter thinks he’s going to take the cash and run, he guns them down along with anybody else in the store who might have been unlucky enough to be going on a beer run.

I had seen his type before, tangled with them on more than one occasion.

They never won. They wouldn’t start tonight.

Charlie made his way to the freezer, pretending he was trying to decide between a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew and a six-pack of Bud Light.

It was patently ridiculous. One, because anybody who cared to look could see the crease in the back of his jeans where he’d shoved his pistol, and two, because everybody knows that when faced with that decision, the only correct answer is both.

I guess, in the end it wouldn’t matter which one good old Charlie chose. He was about to meet a fate I reserved for only the sickest, most depraved individuals.

Which was to say, I was going to eat him.

Now, before anybody starts getting the wrong idea, I wasn’t actually going to eat him. At least, not in the traditional “fork and knife” sense of the word.

What I do, what I’ve always done since I was a little half demon kid trying to come to terms with the hunger inside of me, is a little more sophisticated than that.

No, what I do is much more humane. At least, as humane as someone who’s batting .500 on the demon scale can be.

Charlie settled on the two liter and started toward the counter.

There was a cute little blonde girl behind the desk. She was chomping on gum, eyes glued to her cell phone, with a nametag on that read “Staci.”

“Staci with an I,” I muttered.

She wasn’t paying attention, but she would be shortly.

Charlie Whitmore was planning on making “Staci with an I” his seventh victim in the Atlanta area in two months.

It was business as usual for him, old hat.

But it wasn’t going to be old hat.

And not just because I was a cop.

I shoved the packet of Sugar Babies into my pocket and headed for the counter behind Charlie.

No, I wasn’t going to steal the candy. What kind of cop would that make me? I’d toss the money on the counter after I made short work of Charlie. Though honestly, if Staci accepted it, I’d be a little pissed off. I mean, come on, saving somebody’s life is totally worth some sugary goodness.

Power welled up inside of me as I neared Charlie boy, causing me to sweat and giving me a touch of the shakes. It wasn’t my warlock half. Nah, that sort of energy was easy to control. At least in contrast to the other half.

This was the dark part of me, the demon part, the impolite part I wasn’t supposed to talk about at dinner parties, the part that absolutely, under no circumstances would shut up unless I fed it.

Well, put your lobster bib on, demon part. We’re about to dine.

Charles Whitmore settled in front of the register with his two-liter soda. Staci with an I paid him about as much attention as you might a buzzing fly that decided to keep its distance, which was to say she threw up an index finger, head still planted firmly in her phone’s screen and chomped, “One second, mkay?” through a mouth full of pink bubble gum.

But Charles Whitmore had no intention of waiting one second. As I said before, for him, this was old hat. While he might have been more cautious before, well, let’s just say he’d gotten cocky.

“Put the phone on the counter and open the register,” he said flatly, his eyes betraying the sort of hardness that could only come from having done this many times before.

And there it was.

I needed to wait, not because I needed proof. No. I just needed to be able to live with myself.

Sure, I had done my research. I was a good detective. I knew Charles Whitmore was the person responsible for all of this death, even if the rest of the department hadn’t quite figured it out yet. But I needed to see it happen. I needed to watch the offense taking place. In my experience, that sort of proof was the only thing that helped me sleep at night.

“What?” Staci with an I asked, finally looking up from her phone. What she found was a tall, blond, reasonably handsome man with a crooked grin on his face and pistol in his hand.

Things just got real.

“On the counter,” he repeated.

She did as he asked, her entire body shaking with fear. This had not been what she’d been expecting.

He smashed the butt of his pistol down on the phone hard, nearly snapping the cheap plastic in half.

“And you,” he said, equally calm, gesturing at me with the two-liter to let me know he was speaking to me. ”You’ll stop right there if you know what’s good for you.”

I wasn’t sure why, but the phrasing tickled me a little, and I couldn’t help but chuckle.


If someone getting pissed off was something you could hear, I’d have been able to hear it coming off of Charles Whitmore like a marching band at 2 AM.

“Is something funny, prick?” he asked, his mouth twisting into an angry scowl. Oh, look at that. I could hear it. He stepped back and turned his body halfway between me and the girl so he could see both of us, and eventually shoot both of us.

Not that I was going to let that happen.

“There’s a lot of funny things, man,” I said, still walking toward him. ”Kevin Hart, Modern Family, when a guy slips on a banana peel.” I settled in front of him, still far enough away so he’d think I didn’t pose any real danger. “You know, I wouldn’t normally admit this, but I’m a fan of those Kate Hudson movies too. You know, the ones where she gets the guy at the end. Those things are funny as hell. But do you know what’s the funniest thing in the world to me? The thing that just puts me in stitches? It’s when some douchebag loser is in way over his head and he doesn’t even know it.”

Charlie boy narrowed his eyes at me, like he couldn’t believe someone was actually saying this stuff to him.

“Big words for a guy with a gun pointed at his head,” Charlie said, moving the barrel of the pistol toward me.

And why wouldn’t he? One look at the way Staci was shaking was enough to tell him she wasn’t going to try anything.

“Oh, you’re looking for a gunfight,” I said, smiling and opening my jacket just enough for him to see both my newly issued APD badge and the gun holstered at my waist.

“You’re a cop?” he said, grinning. “That’s awesome. I never killed a pig before.”

“I’m a detective,” I clarified. “Detective Roy Morgan. And don’t get too excited, scumbag. You never will.”

“Tell it to the angels,” he muttered, and I could see his finger twitch on the trigger.

There was no time to pull my gun, and certainly no time to conjure up an incantation.

Instead, I went right to business.

I lunged for the waste of space.

Grabbing the barrel of the gun, I jerked it upward as he fired.

A bullet whizzed right past my head, lodging itself into the market’s ceiling.

Staci screamed, but I didn’t have time to comfort her.

My hand was on fire. The jerk and heat of the firing gun caused me to stumble backward, but as I did, I reached for my gun.

Falling, I fired twice, but the angle threw me off and all I ended up doing was taking out one of those disgusting hot dog spinners.

I leapt up as Charlie ducked behind one of the store aisles.

“Get out of here,” I muttered to Staci with an I. My hand burned and my head was starting to pound. Both were signs my demon half was getting ready to play.

“He’ll shoot me,” Staci replied, her voice shaky.

“He’ll shoot you if you don’t,” I answered, trying my best to sound confident. “Now go. I’ll cover you.”

She didn’t move.

“Go dammit!” I yelled, frustration filling my words.

Yelping, Staci darted from behind the counter.

Because he was a sadistic bastard, Charlie Whitmore started to shoot at her. He didn’t care that it gave up his position, or that it wasted valuable ammo he was going to need if he wanted to get out of here alive. All he cared about was his prize, killing another innocent person.

“Shit like this, Charlie,” I muttered, shielding her with my body as I fired back at him. “Shit like this is why I’m going to eat you.”

Staci made it out the door as one of Charlie’s stray bullets found its way into my shoulder. I pulled back, wincing in pain.

A lot of movies lead people to believe demons are bulletproof. Those same movies might say something similar about warlocks. As a half-breed from both those communities, I’d like to set the record straight and call bullshit. Getting shot sucks.

As pain shot up my shoulder, I ducked behind a display of beer cases and shrugged my jacket off. I placed a hand to my shoulder and muttered some of the Latin I had learned while being taught the ways of the warlock.

It was a simple spell and wouldn’t do much to actually heal me. It would take a proper doctor for that, but it would ease the pain enough for me to get the job done. And that was what mattered.

“Charles Whitmore,” I said, letting him know I knew his name. “Charles Whitmore of 1537 South Hampton Street. Apartment 4D. You can’t hide from me.”

“Then I guess I’ll just have to kill you,” he answered back. Which, to be fair, was a reasonable answer.

That’s right, you son of a bitch. Remind me how much you suck. Make it easy for me.

I muttered more Latin, this time to lock the doors and disable the security systems. There was no need for this to spill out into the street, and God knows, I couldn’t explain myself should a video of what was about to go down ever found its way to the public eye.

“You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that, Charlie boy,” I said, steadying myself.

Now for the big one.

I used to think that growing up as only half warlock would mean I would only be half as strong. What it actually meant was I would have to work twice as hard to be half as strong.

That was okay, because it meant while other witches and warlocks were out popping each other’s cherries and disappointing their parents, I got to learn crap like this.

Throwing my hands out in front of me, I muttered some ancient shit the Druids used when their enemies hid from them.

The aisles separating me from Charles Whitmore disappeared, leaving a charred wasteland in their place and opening up a clear path to this bastard.

The world went red for me, which meant my eyes had gone red a demon party trick that usually caused anyone in viewing distance to wet themselves.

Charlie was no exception.

As he brought his gun up, hands shaking so hard he couldn’t have hit the side of a barn let alone me, all the blood drained from his face, leaving him pale as a ghost. He didn’t fire. He should have, but he didn’t. That was the weird thing about people. Show them a monster and they become as useless as a wet parachute on a skydive.

“What-what the fuck are you, man?” His voice cracked mid-sentence, and for a moment, I almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“What you deserve, Charles Whitmore,” I said, feeling the heat of my body preparing for what was about to happen.

My hands began to glow, red to match my eyes.

As soon as I laid them on Charlie, I’d suck the energy right out of him. I’d take it all, hollowing him out and leaving him a literal husk of a person.

It was harsh, sure. But no harsher than what he wanted to do tonight, than what he had done to countless people before.

It was why I saved it for people like him.

Besides, it had been too long since I’d “fed.” It was starting to make me antsy. Starting to find its way into my head. If I let that happen, if I let the demon side of me go too long without getting its “lunch” on, I’d find myself losing control to it. My inhibitions, my sense of right and wrong, all of it would be skewed by the monster inside.

Charlie froze there, the gun slipping from his hands to clatter across the cheap laminate floor as I neared him.

I didn’t feel death around him, which was odd. Another of my demon perks was that I could sense whenever death was about raise his hooded head and stick his hooded sickle into somebody’s ass. It usually found its way to my victims by now.

Maybe it was the bullet. Maybe it was throwing me off.

Either way, this was almost over.

“Calm down, Charlie. It’ll only hurt for a second, but it’ll hurt a lot.” I tried to sound comforting although I didn’t know why I bothered.

He screamed as I laid my hand on him.

I felt him start to pour into me, the connection that would soon end his life as well as his reign of terror on Atlanta’s poorest district.

Then the doors flew open. I cursed. All of my energy had went to feeding, using up the energy from the spell I’d previously used to lock the doors. Oops.

Police poured in, guns at the ready.

Dammit. Staci with an I must have gotten help.

I figured she would, but didn’t think reinforcements would come this quickly. Atlanta was faster than Boston. Good to know.

I pulled myself off of Charles Whitmore, feeling like a kid pulled away from dessert as I severed the connection.

Damn. This was worse than if I hadn’t started at all.

Like blue balls for the soul.

“You have the right to remain silent,” I said, tossing him on his back and placing cuffs on his worthless wrists. I leaned in closer, so that only he could hear me. I suggest you use it, asshole.”


An interesting few days…

Well, it’s certainly been an interesting few days. Let me just say, I’m halfway through my release a book every week this month thing and man is it draining. In retrospect, NEVER AGAIN!

The new one comes out tomorrow, but it’s already up and you could grab it on Amazon if you liked, I suppose. It’s called Full Metal Magic and is an anthology put together by me and eight other fantastic authors featuring all new tales. Mine features Mac Brennan.

I’ve also just wrapped up the new Mac Brennan novel and that means I’ve written twelve novels this year. That seems insane to me.

I also finished up the outline for Annie 2. It’s tentatively called Blood and Thunder, and I am going to start writing that today. I’m hoping for a December release on this one. Let me just say, the reviews on Throne to the Wolves are just blowing me away! I’m so glad you guys like it!

If you have any ideas for items you’d like to see Annie use in book 2, please drop me a line. I’m totally open to suggestions!

Finally (and the most exciting thing for me anyway) is I’ve started research on the book that will follow Annie 2. I’m not ready to reveal many details, but know I am excited! You should see it sometime around January if all goes according to plan.

Throne to the Wolves – Chapter 1


Chapter 1

I sucked in a breath, drawing on my magic to slow the world around me down to ten frames per second. My target was up ahead, just coming out of the alley. He hadn’t seen me yet, and with any luck he never would. I sighted my sniper rifle on him and exhaled as I fired.

His head exploded into a cloud of red mist as what remained of his life splattered across the cinderblock wall behind him. As his body slid lifelessly to the pavement, a smile creased my lips, and I leapt to my feet in triumph.

“Boom! Headshot!” I cried, pumping my controller in the air as I did a little booty dance of victory.

Blair, my boss and the closest thing I had to a friend since I’d narrowly escaped getting brutally murdered a few years ago, glanced up at me from behind her D&D sourcebook and narrowed her eyes. She was sitting amid a plethora of dungeon guides, maps, and meticulously painted miniature figurines preparing for our nightly game. Evidently, she’d been too engrossed to pay attention to my stunning display of skill because if she had been watching, she’d be booty dancing in triumph too.

“This is a quiet space, Annie.” She gestured at the Do Not Disturb sign hanging beside her patched brown leather chair with one green-nailed hand.  She’d permanently borrowed the sign from our local library, which struck me as a bit horrible on the scale of things, but I’d learned to stop arguing about it with her. Every time I did, I got a lesson in taxes. Still, pointing at it while referring to me had become something of a pastime.

“Yeah, no one likes a braggart!” Badger said from his seat at the station next to mine. That wasn’t his real name of course, but ever since he’d perfected the voice of the guy from the honey badger video, that’s what we’d called him. He was a pretty normal looking guy with shaggy surfer-boy blond hair and a toothy smile. His brown eyes were perpetually dulled by something he’d neither confirm nor deny, but judging from his preference for stoner T-shirts, I was pretty sure I could figure it out on a timed exam. Hell, I wouldn’t even need multiple choice.

“You’re just mad because I’ve killed you ten times in a row, and now you have to buy me lunch,” I said, smirking at him as I gestured to his screen where his headless body was sprawled across the front of the alley. “Stop being such a scrub!”

I’ll be honest, I was about to taunt him some more, but the door at the front of our store chimed, signaling we had a customer. Actually, it probably wasn’t a customer. I mean, sure, Blair owned Wendigo’s Restoration Emporium, but no one ever came in here, and not just because it was tucked away on Magic Alley.

I mean, okay, technically we were in Los Angeles and normal people had stumbled in here on occasion, but chances were good anyone coming in had at least a little bit of magical chutzpah or they’d never wind up on our street.

Even though you didn’t have to tap a brick in the wall of a pub three times to enter Magic Alley, normal people tended to walk by our little street full of magical, mystical, and otherwise otherworldly shops like it didn’t exist. Hell, I’d had to stand at the corner more than once to physically direct a client down our street before they walked by it another hundred times. We didn’t even show up on the Los Angeles city maps.

The only reason Badger was able to even find the place was because he was a sensitive, which meant he’d drawn the short straw on the evolutionary scale. He had no magic of his own to speak of, but he could sort of sense it. Not enough to actually see magic per se, but enough to know Magic Alley was here. An enterprising artist, he’d wound up wandering in here a couple months ago looking for work because his Master’s in Fine Arts hadn’t opened many pathways for him, and he was buried under mountains of debt.

Thankfully, people like Badger were pretty rare, which was probably for the best since our shop was located next to the Black Arts Superstore. Non-mages buying bulk curses at discount prices? Not pretty.

To be honest, Blair put her shop here because she liked the way the other supernatural businesses kept the riffraff out. That was her rule number one: live around the rich and powerful, it might rub off. Or maybe that was rule two because I was pretty sure rule one was “if you can’t avoid paying taxes, at least make some creative deductions.”

Then again, while she might not have been powerful in the whole “blow up a building with a fireball” sort of way, since her powers practically made money grow on trees, she was really, really rich. That’s what happens when you get to be a couple hundred years old and have the ability to magically restore comics, artwork, and baseball cards to pristine condition.

Let’s just say, she’s on good terms with compound interest and collectors. So yeah, Blair didn’t need customers, but she loved writing off all her nerdy obsessions. See, more tax talk. Ugh. And I had to deal with said customers since it was technically my job. Double ugh.

“Annie, you better hurry up. Someone made an appointment to speak with our resident reader about now,” Blair said, glancing at her watch. “You don’t want to keep them waiting. Time is money, you know.”

“You mean, you booked me an appointment and didn’t tell me?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at her. “You hired me to read your merchandise, not for customer service.” I wasn’t exactly a people person, but if there was one thing I was good at, it was reading inventory in a magical sort of way, and Blair had need of a good reader, even if I wasn’t one in the way she thought I was since readers could do little more than talk to objects. I could do that, and a little more. Unfortunately, it was the little more that always got me in trouble. “Now you’re pimping me out?”

Blair raised one eyebrow at me. “I’m your boss, Annie. Pimping you out is my job.”

“What about my feelings?” I said, smacking my chest with my hand as I headed toward the front room. “I am more than the sum of my powers.”

“Not when we have a paying customer, you aren’t.” Blair was already looking back at her sourcebook. “Now get out there and make me some cheddar.”

I sighed and decided to get this over with. The sooner I read whatever object the person had brought in, the sooner I could get back to pwning newbs like nobody’s business. Besides, Badger wouldn’t be able to buy me lunch until after this was over, and I’d skipped breakfast. I know, most important meal of the day, but come on, who’s got time for that?

Still, I was a fan of money and having an otherwise cool boss so I sidled out of the alcove, intent on being as unfriendly as possible to said customer. As I made my way through the silver, beaded curtain that hung between the back room and the actual storefront, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Standing before me was an Adonis. His broad chest was covered by a Captain America T-shirt so tight it was more of an idea than actual clothing. I’d say it left little to the imagination, but combined with his deep blue eyes and wavy blond hair, it made a whole bunch of things run through my mind.

My cheeks reddened as he caught sight of me and flashed me a smile that made my heart speed up in my chest. And, I’ll be honest, my next several thoughts were a mixture of “OMIGOD he has to talk to me because he’s in our store!?” “What am I gonna do?” “Does my breath smell?” “How long have I been wearing this hoodie?” So, yeah, I found him hot. What of it?

Part of me wanted to sniff at both my hoodie and my breath, but I decided it’d look weird. Instead, I swallowed hard, trying to think of something interesting to say as two hundred pounds of muscle poured into skin-tight black jeans came toward me. Yummy.

“I know you guys usually do restorations, but I heard you might have a secret stash.” He cocked a grin at me. His voice was strangely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Besides, I’d have remembered someone like him. “I was told it may or may not contain a CGC 9.9 Hulk #181.” When I didn’t immediately respond, he stopped mid-step and narrowed his eyes so his blond eyebrows made a cute little v. “You know, the first appearance of Wolverine?”

“Actually, he first appeared in Hulk #180. It’s a common oversight,” I replied before I could stop myself. My hands shot to my mouth in an effort to catch the words and shove them back inside, but it was too late, they were out, and like the rotten little bastards they were, they hit him full force. I know, I should have been totally cool with correcting a hot guy, but he wasn’t just any hot guy, he was a customer, and as Blair had told me a million times before, while the customer is always a jackass, he is always right.

“I know.” He shrugged, brushing off my unwitting jab with a sweep of his perfect hand. “But I already have 180 and 182. I’m just missing the crown jewel.” He was cute and had an awesome comic collection? God, would he just marry me already?

He took a step closer, still friendly. God, why was he so friendly, and so, so hot. I mean, jeez Louise. He was supposed to be someone I could kick out without a second thought. Instead, I was wondering how good he was at video games and if our future children would like StarCraft more than League of Legends. This was not going to end well.

“Do you think you can help me out?” he asked, flashing me a smile that made my knees shake.

“Yeah,” I said, swallowing hard. “It’s in the back, but it isn’t what I’d call cheap. It’s expensive. Like in the way buying a congressman is expensive.” I tried to smile. Usually when customers asked us about stuff like this, they didn’t expect our prices to be, well, astronomical. As I said before, Blair’s talent was as good as coining money. It wasn’t like she needed more, so it took an exorbitant amount of cash to get her to go through the hassle of selling from her private collection.

He made a show of checking his wrist. It had one of those blue fitness bands designed to capture your heart rate, steps, and stuff. “Pftt, I bought six of those in the time it took me to walk through the door.” He held his hand out to me. “Name’s Justin.”

His name sparked a surge of recognition that nearly knocked me from my feet. I stopped mid-movement, my hand halfway out on its way to meet his. No, it couldn’t be, but as I looked at him and pictured him with a goatee and eyepatch, I knew I was right. Holy fucksticks!

“Justin Bailey?” I asked, hoping I was wrong even though I totally wasn’t. Still, I was somewhat proud I managed to keep my squee locked inside. It was a near thing, let me tell you.

“Guilty,” he replied, that same grin on his face as he gestured at me in a way I didn’t quite follow. “You might remember me from such films as Werewolf Ninja and Vampire Undercover: Outlaw.” I’ll be honest, his Troy McClure was off the chain.

“But…” I said as he closed the distance between us and shook my hand. The moment he did, he went from being just some hot B-movie actor to something far, far worse. Because the cloying, tingling sensation that rippled up my arm and struck deep into the heart of my soul told me one thing.

Justin Bailey was a werewolf, and no werewolf would ever come into a shop owned by a mage like Blair, let alone step foot into Magic Alley. Not even for a CGC 9.9 Hulk 181. No, he was here for something else, and as much as I wanted to know what it was, I wanted to get out of here more. See, there was one thing I’d forgotten to mention about myself.

I’m a mage, but not just any kind of mage. No, I’m an animator, which meant I could take a model of anything fictional and make it work like it did in said fiction which was why I always carried around a toy lightsaber. As long as I had a good enough replica, knew what it was supposed to do, and had enough power, which was consequently why I had never managed to make Blair’s replica DeLorean real. Yes, I’d tried when she wasn’t looking. Unfortunately, way too much power was required for things like time machines.

In real life, shooting a werewolf with silver bullets wouldn’t do diddly squat to them, but I could shoot them with silver bullets and they would die.

Which is also why, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been hunted by werewolves because even though my power could be used to make any monster equally dead, the werewolves had been affronted by it to the point of killing pretty much every animator that dared to breathe the same air as them.

In the end, it’s a convoluted story about blood feuds and such, but suffice to say, I was about half a second from sprinting into the back room. I wasn’t sure if Blair had any silver back there, but if she did, it’d be more than enough to stop this guy. The only thing that stopped me was cold logic. Werewolves were super predators so if I ran, he might chase me. After all, predators chased prey, and I was definitely werewolf prey.

His eyes flickered like he sensed what I was, and my gut tightened in fear. He was onto me. His nostrils flared as he unconsciously inhaled my scent, and as they did, amber colored in his blue eyes. Frak. Double frak!

Yes, okay, let me just say this right now. I’d never actually seen Battlestar Galactica, but my brother had loved the hell out of the show, and since he was dead at the hands of werewolves, I’d taken to saying it as a way to remember him by.

“Animator,” he whispered in a low, guttural tone that made the knife of fear stabbing into my guts twist violently. “I had hoped to find someone like you.” His lips curved into a grin that was downright predatory.

Well, screw logic.

As his grip tightened on my hand, I drove my knee into his crotch as hard as I could and sprinted for the door as he collapsed to the ground clutching his nethers.

Get a copy here!

Fists of Iron – Chapter 1

Here we are with chapter one of Fists of Iron, the exciting conclusion to the Frank Butcher saga!


Chapter 1


“Thank you all for being here,” John Perez, the last and most annoying Peacekeeper in the world, began, “especially considering the troubles that have come down around us in the past day.”

I didn’t want to be there, not even a little bit. I especially didn’t want to be stuffed in Tabitha Marlowe’s office atop the Pendleton Building just for the honor of listening to John, the formerly deceased (though technically he was never actually dead) husband of the lady I was in love with.

It just rubbed me the wrong way, what can I say? Still, I’d put on my big boy pants and shown up along with the rest of the magical folks who had survived the mess that had gone down thirty-six hours ago.

Jealousy wasn’t the only reason for my attitude, of course. Frankly, I was sick to death of all the bullshit, betrayals, and backstabbing from all sides. The last straw had been Rabbi Joseph Krakowski. He had seemed like one of the few pure souls I’d run into ever since Dr. Gabriela Perez had put this ancient Aztec stone into my chest. He’d saved our asses right before sticking a dagger into our ribs in one swift motion.

Still, I was leaning against the wall, all nice and pretty with my scrapes, bumps, and bruises from the past week bound to listen. See, despite my misgivings, there were a couple of things I cared about here. Exactly two, as a matter of fact.

First, Joseph had taken off with Max Perez, Gabby’s son, as insurance that we wouldn’t go after him. Say what you want about me, but I don’t take kindly to people fucking with children.

Second, I still owed Gabriela my life. She’d saved my life with her magical surgery, and la Corazon’s power. Sure, if she hadn’t been a wizard, I might not have needed my life saved, but at the same time, she hadn’t been the one who cast the spell that blew the place up. Besides, she was now the only straight shooter I knew among all these mystical assholes.

All that navel-gazing had pulled me out of the moment. No big loss, it was some back-and-forth drabble between Tabitha Marlowe, the head honcho here in the building and former higher up in the End Society, one of the two clans of wizards I knew about, and John. More political garbage from what little trickled through. Certainly none of my business.

It was Gabby’s voice that brought me back into the conversation. “We don’t need to worry about the formalities, John. The clans are gone now and both of the elders are dead. All that matters is where our son is and what Joseph has done.”

“There is still a right way and a wrong way to go about this.” John glanced around the room, looking from her to every other face in the room. “In the face of this primal chaos, keeping order is of the utmost importance.”

Bluto a.k.a. Tyrone, the building’s head of security, and sweet Molly, ex-soldier for the Whites, the other clan of wizards that was currently falling apart, and full-time Irish spitfire, shared a grumble at that. Maybe they thought John was full of it or maybe they were as sick of the endless layers of bullshittery as I was.

Molly stole a glance at me from across the room, something I decided to ignore for now because even though John’s return had basically axed the slowly blossoming relationship between Gabby and I, well, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on it just yet. Yes, I’m aware that makes me a horrible person, but at the same time… I held out hope, for what, I’m not exactly sure. This was the end after all, maybe he’d go out in a blaze of glory and I’d still get to ride off into the sunset with Gabby. The thought almost made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. That was never going to happen.

Abner, my favorite walking lump of clay, was the first one to say something and his deep, hollow voice rumbled through the room.

“This I understand, Peacekeeper, but we do not know the extent of my father’s plans nor the motivations behind them. Rabbi Krakowski is not a man of ill intent or of impulsive action.” I knew the big guy was attached to the Littlest Rabbi, the guy did create him after all, but it was hard to see how releasing the Lovecraftian monstrosities I had seen in that cube into our world was in anyway positive. “I cannot abide his taking of your son, Max, but we cannot be quick to judge his shattering of the cube. There must be a reason, we just don’t know what.”

“Abner, we have laws in place for a reason.” John’s brow wrinkled, and his face hardened. “If there’s something else afoot, and the evidence shows he had good reason for what he did, things won’t go badly for him.” He glanced in Gabby’s direction. “Kidnapping a teenager, even if he wasn’t my son, will be hard to justify.”

I finally gave enough of a shit to throw in my two cents. Pushing off the wall I’d been leaning against, I said, “Then why the hell are we all gathered up for debate club? Shouldn’t you people be doing something by now? Fuck the rest of it, get the kid back.”

Gabby gave me a warm look which I tried my best to ignore because there was no use salting my own wounds.

“Right on, boyo. I might still be a bit ragged around the edges, but I sure as hell think we oughta be out there doing some damage instead of twiddling our thumbs,” Molly chimed in, pumping her fist excitedly in the air.

“We aren’t going to ‘do some damage,’ Ms. O’Shaughnessy,” Tabitha announced, pushing her glasses up on her nose. “We are going to go about this in an intelligent manner. We need to not only find Krakowski and Maximilian and devise the best, safest way to retrieve the boy, but we also need to determine the exact damage and danger the destruction of the Cube poses to our world.”

“There’s no need for that, Director.” The Peacekeeper folded his arms over his chest. “We sealed off direct access for all the divinities for a reason, something both of the clans agreed on. We don’t need to do research. We need to bring the rabbi in, lock him up, and restore the seals.” Gabriela had turned her attention back to him, which John seemed to pick up on, causing him to tack on, “And rescue Max, of course. As for debate, this is called planning and organization.” He glanced at me before continuing. “I am going to deputize some of you and we’ll enact a plan to do exactly what I said.”

“So who’s on the team, Coach?” I wanted to give no shits at all, but I couldn’t pull away entirely. After all, I didn’t want the Old Ones or whatever to kill us all.

If John noticed my attitude, he ignored it. “In addition to the deputies I’ll be taking into the field, the rest of you will remain here with the director to look into and deal with the extra-dimensional incursions that are going to follow. The Great Old Ones might be eternal, and they’ve been waiting for this opportunity for eons. As we speak, they are enacting their plans. We’ve got no time left.” His tone was grim and rightly so. “Frank, you might be a bit ignorant about the mystical world, but you’ve seen these things first hand. You understand the threat.”

Gabriela stood up, those green eyes I so wasn’t looking at flashing. “I’m going with you.”

“Aye, me too.” Molly was giving me an expectant look as she threw her chips into the pot. I patently ignored it as she continued on. “Ye certainly ain’t leavin’ me behind when there’s nasty work to be done.”

John folded his arms over his chest. “No. I have a very specific list of people in mind and neither of you are on it.” His jaw set in preparation of the barrage he had to know was heading his way. I certainly did!

Molly fired off a knuckles-out V-sign (a European equivalent of a middle finger, for the uneducated out there) while Gabby’s reaction was more volcanic. She took a step toward her husband and half-shouted, “No, John. While you stuck yourself in a cube, I’ve been trying desperately to get our son back! There’s no way I am going to stay home and twiddle my thumbs when Max is still out there!”

I couldn’t help myself as I leaned back and grinned like a shark. It was amusing as hell to watch Johnny Boy flinch a bit under the doc’s tongue lashing, but I had to give the guy credit for holding his ground even though I really, really didn’t want to. “It’s a simple matter of priorities and effectiveness, Gabriela, not passion.”

Tabitha tried to hide the sigh between her teeth, but I sure as hell caught it. “Let’s not let this drag down into a mire of personal conflicts. We know how this always plays out between the two of you.” She focused her gaze on Gabriela. “I’ve already discussed this to some degree with John. The Peacekeeper is calling on my expertise in combat magic for this situation, so I need someone with an extensive background in magical research and academia to lead the investigations here.” She glanced at Gabriela. “You are the ideal person to lead that effort.”

I might not have cared much about this shit at the time, but I had to stir the pot when I saw one needing to be stirred. “So far, Tabby, all I’ve seen you do is direct people, figure shit out, and splash us with a ton of cold water. Not that I doubt your abilities in the field, but Gabby’s walked through fire and brimstone, and come out the other side with nary a scratch.”

Tyrone saw his own opening and took a shot. “On top of that, Director, we’re in a jam and a half here. Our defenses are screwed, we’ve got a list of casualties that ain’t going away anytime soon, and we barely have a clue as to how the Whites are handling having their leadership turned into salt pillars.” He pointed a meaty finger at Tabitha. “We need you here fixin’ things so these people don’t get completely fucked.”

We both had made some stellar points, but the nightstick I suspected was shoved up John’s ass was inflexible. Before Tabitha could make her own counterpoint, John raised his voice just a hair, but it was an effective hair. “That’s enough now.”

He had that presence that a seasoned cop has, that commanding voice that reminded you he had the full force of the law behind him. Of course, that was kind of a bluff. He was the last one of his kind after all, but it was still enough authority to shut the traps of all the magic types in the room. I was tempted to keep on coming, but I decided not to push all his buttons quite yet.

Shifting his posture to a more diplomatic one, he leaned forward as he grasped his hands behind his back and paced. He made eye contact with each and every one of us as he began to talk. “The Peacekeepers were destroyed to engender just this kind of chaos in the world. We need to stop this kind of squabbling to move forward, which means all of you need to listen and do as I ask.” He stopped and did a slow pan of the room. “We’ve dealt with this threat in the past, and we did it together. We can do it again.”

Maybe it was the simple fact my love life had been carpet-bombed by his return, but there was something that rang a bit hollow in what would otherwise have been a rousing performance worthy of any action movie hero. It was a little twitch of the eye, probably nothing, probably blown out of all proportion in my attempt to find the barest crack in what seemed to be an absolutely perfect shell. If it had really happened, no one else seemed to notice or mention it.

Instead, the audience was silent and at attention. Even the quiet grumbles from Molly and Tyrone had ceased.

Johnny Boy lowered his head, a gesture of respect. “Thank you. Now, as I said, we will have two teams. Going with me to apprehend Krakowski and free my son will be Director Marlowe and Abner. Our first move will be to go to the White’s enclave on the outskirts of San Diego to recruit more deputies.” As if to preempt any criticism, he raised his hands. “We need to do this as a unified front, White and Ender alike, so I need to go to them.”

Gabriela put out the point I was tempted to make myself. “John, the longer we wait, the more danger Max is in. We need to do this swiftly and in force!”

That was enough to bring me back into things. “Amen, sister. All this pussy footing around and playing all nicey-nice with everyone is only going to move our asses from the frying pan into the fire.”

Call me a sucker, which I certainly was, to fall into line behind Gabby. That ship had sailed, and while I was still spinning my oars in its wake, one thing was certain. Max was still in trouble. If John wasn’t concerned with him because of the bigger picture, that was his prerogative, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to get the boy back anyway.

John ignored Gabriela, going for the convenient scapegoat, me. “Butcher, I appreciate all you’ve done, not just for my family but for the world at large.” Yeah, there was a ‘but’ coming. “But despite the crash course you’ve had about magic and our society and all the things that were hidden from you for most of your life, you’re still vastly ignorant of what’s going on here. I’ve been doing this a long time, I know what I’m doing.”

While I might not have given two shits about how these wizards were going to fuck each other over again, Magic Cop had struck a nerve. I’d always hated guys who thought they knew better than everyone else. After all, that was pretty much what had started this whole mess.

From the Enders to the Rabbi, every one of them had thought they’d known best and plunged forward no matter how many people got fucked in the process. John may have been right, but at the same time, maybe he wasn’t. Either way, I was pissed.

I straightened up to my full height, an effective gesture because I was a couple of inches taller than John.

“Yeah, and doing things the way you guys did worked out really well,” I grinned, allowing my words to hang in the air for a moment. “Was getting locked up in a living acid trip part of the master plan too?”

That had probably been uncalled for and a bit too soon, but it was the damned truth. Most of the room, Gabriela included, was shocked by that little pipe bomb, but Molly was trying her damnedest not to break out into laughter.

John’s jaw set as he tried to keep his anger hidden under a cool façade. “Well, Frank, if you’re not going to be part of a positive solution, I suggest you leave the meeting. We have a lot of planning left to do, and we don’t need your kind of disruption interfering with it.”

Well, if that’s how he wanted to play it, fine. I didn’t need him anyway. I’d gotten us this far by myself, and all he’d goddamned done was sit in a glass box.

“Sure thing, big guy.” I turned on my heels and headed toward the office door. “Good luck with that. When you actually decide to do something for real and get Max back, you know where I’ll be.”

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or at least it broke Molly’s control over her laughter. She started giggling like mad as I stalked out of the room, ignoring Gabriela’s belated attempt to defuse the situation. I stalked out of the room, more than happy to slam the door behind me as I left the office.

Coming soon

So, I haven’t made a post in a while, and I’ll tell you why. Busyness!

See, I was working on a new book. The first in a new series called Throne to the Wolves, and I just finished the final editing this week. It’s now with the proof reader. I think you’ll really like it.

I just gave Fists of Iron, the third collaboration between JB and I, to the editor, and I have to say, this book is really good. It’s probably one of the most epic books I’ve ever worked on, and I think it’s easily the best of the three.

In addition to that, Pound of Flesh, my collaboration with Conner Kressley, is finally ready to see the light of day. We’re just waiting on a cover now, but will have one in time for the end of October. Seriously, you guys are going to love this.

Finally, I’ve also written a new Mac Brennan story that will come out toward the end of October. I’ll be sharing more about this in a week or so.

To that end, you’ll be subject to a release every week next month.

That’s right. Every week.

10/4 – Fists of Iron

10/11 – Throne to the Wolves

10/18 – Super Secret Project

10/25 – Pound of Flesh


Now back to work on the new Mac Brennan novel.

Feet of Clay – Chapter 1

Here’s the first chapter of Feet of Clay. Sorry it’s a bit late.


Chapter 1

“You know, Frank,” Gabriela said, trailing one hand down my chest and letting it linger over my thumping heart. “I think I have feelings for you.” She smiled sheepishly, color filling her cheeks. “I haven’t felt like this about anyone ever before.”

I stared at her in shock as she drew closer to me, pressing her lithe body against mine. Gabriela Perez was everything I’d ever wanted in a woman, and as she leaned in close to me, lips slightly parted, the only thing I could think was that I was never letting go of her. Not ever.

“I have feelings for you too,” I replied, wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her into me. Part of me couldn’t believe this was happening after everything. Still, she was right there in front of me.

“Kiss me, Frank,” she whispered, tilting her head toward me. My heart started pounding like crazy in my chest as I tilted my head toward her and leaned in. Her lips were so close to mine, I could practically feel them. “Please.”

The touch of her breath on my lips sent little shivers tingling across my skin as I closed my eyes and pressed my lips to hers. The hunk of Aztec gold-and-turquoise taking the place of my flesh-and-blood heart went absolutely bonkers as I pressed into her.

Pain unlike anything I’d ever felt before tore at my chest, and for a second, it felt like my ribs were going to burst out of my skin. My eyes shot open to find Gabriela gone, her presence fading away into the last traces of a dream that seemed particularly unfair. Especially since the last time I’d woken up like this, I’d gotten assaulted by all sorts of supernatural nut jobs, and judging by the fact I’d last been knocked unconscious by a goddamned golem, I was betting this time would be no different.

The heart had been one the things that had seen me through the shadowy world of magicians and wizards and golems and general bullshit kept secret from us normal Joes and Josephines. It had allowed me to save the world (no, really!) from a bunch of cultists who wanted to rid the world of magic by tearing apart space and time. And this time, evidently, it was trying to save me again.

Still, waking up to find myself laid out on a stone slab in the middle of a torture room that would make Pinhead or Freddy Kruger lick their lips in delight, didn’t exactly seem fair given I’d saved the world. Okay, torture chamber might have been a bit of an exaggeration. The room was made of plain, grey stone, slick with condensation, plucked right out of any generic fantasy movie’s castle dungeon.

Still, for all that, the place was as clean as a whistle, and the air was filled with a medicine-y antiseptic scent. How much of that smell was because of the oxygen mask strapped over my mouth and nose, I couldn’t be sure. Oh, did I forget to mention that and the IV line stuck in my arm?

It almost made me think they were trying to revive me, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case because as I blinked away the haze, I found myself staring at a creepy-as-fuck guy hovering over me with a scalpel in hand. Maybe it was a girl. It was hard to tell because whoever it was had dressed up like a plague doctor out of a medieval history book, including the long nosed mask and goggles.

Assisting the good doctor were a pair of disembodied arms made out of what looked like a knight’s plate armor, each one floating around with no respect to physics or gravity. That might not have bothered me so much if each one wasn’t wielding equally archaic but strangely shiny surgeon’s tools in hand. Racks and shelves lined the walls with an assortment of cutting implements, bone saws, spreaders, and other tools I couldn’t begin to describe other than by saying they would be voted “Most Likely To Cleanly Dismember A Corpse” by a panel of their peers.

The sluggishness in my limbs and the fog in my brain were pretty damned familiar from those unfortunate times in my life I’ve had surgery done. Fuck it all, I hated going under then, and I hated it even more now. I mean, it didn’t take a rocket scientist (one of my early childhood dreams unrealized, just to have it said) to know what Dr. Plague and the Arm Boys were about to do to me.

After all, I had la Corazon, reputedly the most powerful anti-magical artifact known to the magical cults that lurked in the shadows, beating in my chest. When the White Alliance, my frenemies before advancing to full-on enemy, nabbed us, I guess la Corazon was too tempting to leave stuck in little old me. I’ll admit, that made me feel a touch used, especially since I’d helped the White save the world, but then again, they were probably worried I’d shit all over their parade too. After all, I’d taken on one cult full of psychos, what was one more in the grand scheme of things?

“It would appear traditional anesthetics have a reduced effect on the Bearer,” the doctor muttered to himself (the deep voice edged me toward that gender assumption), muffled a bit by the long-nosed mask. “While this might complicate the surgery, I must admit to a degree of fascination as how you might react to this, Mr. Butcher. I may very well leave you awake to get your direct input.”

My eyes came into full focus and I tried to give Dr. Plague a withering stare. “I don’t know you, but you’re a sadistic fuck, aren’t you?”

He shook his head, hat flopping crazily. “You misunderstand me. You are, after all, a unique thing, the first known host of such a powerful artifact. Your reactions, both rational and physiological, are of intense interest to me.” The doctor shrugged. “Besides, these are likely to be your last words, Bearer. Surely someone as talkative as you would want to leave a message behind for Dr. Perez?”

My limbs were still numb and rubbery, but I tried to get them to move so I could throttle the prick. “Where the fuck is she, Dr. Schnozz?!” Life was starting to return to every part of me, but all I managed that second was a flop that would make a dying fish proud.

“Spirits below, you have a lot of fight in you.” The surgeon clicked his tongue, the sound muffled by his plague mask. “A bit too much fight for this to be successful. Let us put you back to sleep, Mr. Butcher.”

He gestured off-handedly at the animated arm opposite of him, which diligently put its utensil, an unusually polished bone saw, next to me and floating out of my sight. Whatever it was going to do couldn’t be good. I had better do something, even though I was bare-assed-naked and still woozy from whatever they had pumping into this mask.

The thing was, I wasn’t nearly as woozy as I felt I should be, but I was willing to overlook that as I realized something important. They hadn’t tied me up, chained me to the table, or restrained me in any way. I wasn’t sure who was running this amateur hour, but I was instantly thankful for their oversight as I snapped the saw up in my good right arm and rolled, bringing the nasty blade around with my left arm. Now, I’m a rightie, but surprise was on my side as I cut a jagged slash through cloak and robes of Mr. Beak’s arm. The sleepy-time mask ripped clean in that same motion, yanked back by its tubing. Still hurt as it snapped over my broken nose, though.

The doctor grabbed his arm as he staggered back, blood pulsing through his fingers. Though he was somewhere in the middle of Shock Street and Surprise Avenue, the Hotel Transylvania extras weren’t. The unarmed one flew past my shoulder as I rolled unsteadily to my feet, while the other, a surgical rib spreader in its metal grip, tried to blindside me. I got a good crack upside the head from Lefty, which hurt like the dickens.

Fear that I wasn’t going to show to anyone mixed with raw adrenaline to keep my ass standing. Biting back that fear, I tried to shout a good one-liner, but what came out was a garbled mess from my mush-mouth.

As I feigned a slash at the doctor to keep him off balance and, if I was right, from casting spells. Yeah, I assumed he was a sorcerer like the rest of the Whites, but it was a damned good assumption.

My main focus was the armed, er, arm, though. As Righty zipped in the way of my feint, I tried to focus through the fuzz in my brain, to think about the hunk of ancient mojo I had for a heart now. Calling on la Corazon, the heart snapped to action quicker and easier than it ever had, as if all the action we had been through had been a warm-up to this moment, dropping a gold filter over my eyes and laying bare the tapestry of magic hidden to normal eyes.

You’ve never really seen the world properly until you’ve seen that majestic sight. Yeah, I know, Frank Butcher waxing poetic, but I’m fucking serious here. Everything in the world, from bricks to trees to people to bees, are all woven together by threads of magic, pulsing and glowing in a Technicolor light show, very Force-like to be quite honest. More importantly at this particular moment, magic spells, the ‘patches’ to reality wizards wove into those threads to bend reality to their wills, were visible plain as day to me.

What magic I could see, I could rip apart. I put that power into action right then with my right hand, sweeping a clawed hand through the stitches holding the magic animating the spreader-wielding sleeve in place. The stitches tore like the pants of a fat kid doing the splits, dropping the armor to the ground with the resounding clatter of metal on stone.

I think that’s when the Plague Knight decided he was truly fucked. He turned toward the thick wooden door, which as far as I could tell, was the only way out of Torture Central. He no doubt hoped Lefty would keep me busy long enough to get help. Fat chance.

As Lefty came at me with a big haymaker, dumb luck decided to step in. I was already moving to slip the punch, but a bit too slowly. As I was about to eat a knuckle-sandwich loaded with way more than my daily requirement of iron, my leading foot hit the puddle of blood left by the doctor’s arm wound.

My foot slipped forward and what had started as an elegant-but-tardy dodge turned into a klutzy fall. The steel fist caught nothing but air as I did a rather painful split. Back in my Army days, I could have pulled it off just fine, sans the stone floor of course, but I wasn’t in my prime anymore, thanks in no small part to all the delicious Mexican food out there and my own lack of inhibitions. Of course, yeah, stone floor, family jewels, no pants. You do the math.

Still, it was preferable to having a super-strong magic arm punch you in the brain. Maybe. I mean, I haven’t compared the two. Muffled mutterings of magic hit my ear. No doubt, the doctor was trying to heal his arm before he bled out. Well, that wasn’t happening. As I tried to ignore the urge to throw up from the groin trauma, I snatched the bit of magic animating Lefty out of the air as it reared back to punch me in the head.

As I said, it got easier each and every time I did it, so it wasn’t a surprise that the stone heart hammering away in my chest was up to the challenge, even with my current distraction. I dropped the saw as I clawed at the weave of magic with my free hand. The results were immediate, adding Lefty to the pile of discarded Ren Faire gear on the ground.

My caregiver had managed to finish his incantation, and as he did, a white glow stitched his gashed arm back together. He looked up just as I grabbed the edge of the stone slab and pulled myself to my feet. Back still to the door, he searched for the door handle with one blood-stained hand as the other held up in a defensive panic.

“Stay back,” he squeaked. I wasn’t sure if he was trying not to sound like he was about to drop a deuce in his pantaloons, but either way, I didn’t believe him. “Stay back or I’ll–”

If he called for help, I was fucked. Since I couldn’t have that, I tried to look my most badass, which is hard to do when you’ve got the whole show on display. The blood and such did help though.

“You’ll do what? I’m the Bearer and you’re just one of Rollie’s goons, aren’t you?” I growled while looking him over and almost couldn’t keep the smirk off my face when I realized that, under the cloak, his robes were red. “You’ve even got a red shirt on.” With each word, I stalked forward another step.

He realized too late how close I had gotten. He didn’t answer me, instead turning to slam on the door to get help. His hand was raised and his mouth opened just enough to get a sound out when I grabbed him, locking one hand onto his upraised hand and clamping the other over his mouth.

I leaned in close to listen for sounds of alarm. The only things I heard were a few drips of water and a cough, but no immediate rushing or cries of alarm. For the moment, I had progressed from “Up Shit Creek Without A Paddle” to “Flying Blind on a Rocket Cycle.” It wasn’t much of an improvement really.

“Now, buddy,” I whispered harshly, going for my best Clint Eastwood impression. It was pretty good if I do say so myself. “If you want to live through this, you’re going to do exactly what I say. Nod if you understand.”

He nodded like crazy. I pulled my hand back to let him stammer, “Y-Yes, B-Bearer, whatever you say.”

“Groovy.” I turned him so he could face me, while shifting a hand to his throat. “First things first.” I bopped the beaked mask right on its nose. “I need you to strip.”

Fatal Ties – Chapter 1

Ready for a sneak peek at Lillim 7?


Chapter 1

Waking up to find my father standing over me with three days of stubble on his cheeks was almost as shocking as finding myself lying in a bed in the abandoned city of Lot because my father shaved every day. You could set a clock by it. Only he hadn’t shaved and by the way his eyes snapped to my face the moment I’d moved made it pretty obvious I was the cause. Damn.

“Lillim!” My father, Sabastin Callina, cried as he rushed forward and gathered me into a tight hug that caused my bones to creak. “Thank the gods you’re okay.” He swallowed hard, tears rimming his eyes as he buried his face in my neck. He smelled like stale sweat and loneliness, which I hadn’t even known was a scent until that moment. Gone was his normal smell, like pine trees and springtime. It was sort of sad because I missed the smell of him. Wow, that was a weird thing to miss.

“Dad, I’m glad to see you too,” I replied, unable to help the sudden rush of emotion brought on by his display. Truth be told, while I’d been locked away in the prison of my mind, I’d missed him. He’d always been my rock, my anchor, and to see him breaking down because of me, well, it broke something inside me too. Tears filled my eyes as I latched onto him and cried.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he replied, hugging me tighter. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you and your mother.”

A wave of guilt swept over me because, well, I’d wasted the last day or so hanging out in my prison of illusions so I could pretend my mom was still alive for one last day. It was sort of pathetic, I know, but trust me. Sometimes, even a fake reality is good enough, at least for a little while. Even still, that’d meant my dad had been sitting here waiting for me to wake up, and I hadn’t been prepared for the wave of guilt that crashed into me.

“Sorry,” I replied, and I meant it. This wasn’t like the fake “uh huh’s,” “okay’s,” and “I’m sorry’s” I’d said over the years. I actually felt bad for putting him through it for that last day. Hell, I felt bad I’d let myself get tricked by the Nordic deity Jormungand and gotten myself locked away in my own mind.

Normally, I was pretty good at beating the tar out of supernatural jackasses, but this guy had jumped into my brain and kicked the doors open. Getting him out had been one of the toughest things I’d ever done because the sweet nothings he’d whispered in my ears were everything I’d ever wished for. I’d wanted my mom to be alive and happy with every ounce of my being.

“It’s okay.” My father shook his head as he pulled away and wiped his eyes with the back of one scarred hand. “Amy told me you would wake up, so I didn’t worry that much.”

“Amy?” I asked, shaking my head in confusion. “Who the F is Amy, and how did she know I’d wake up? I barely survived.”

He quirked his eyebrow at me. “Language, Lillim.”

I blushed. “Sorry.” See, that was a fake apology.

“Amy is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. War to be exact.” As he sat on the bed beside me and patted my thigh, he rolled his eyes at me as if he knew how ridiculous that statement sounded out loud. “She knew you’d wake up because Jormungand was dead.” He took a deep breath. “Said you had some things to work through first.” He sighed. “I just didn’t think it’d take you months to do it.”

“Months?” I asked as a horrible feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. Surely, I hadn’t been trapped that long… “I was only in there a day after I punched Jormungand in the face.”

“No, sweetie. Maybe it felt like a day, but it wasn’t.” Emotion swam across his face, and he looked away from me. “But it makes me feel better you only think it was a day.” He left the whole “It’s good to know you didn’t abandon me to sit here and wait for months on end” part of his statement unsaid, but I almost wished he had said it because at that moment, I almost wanted him to lash out. Then I could get mad at him and drown the sudden shame I felt under a wall of rage. Guess I wasn’t getting off that easily.

“How could I have been gone for months?! What about Thes and Connor, and oh my god, what about Fenris? He was trying to break free and devour the sun and moon when I was unconscious!” I said, nearly leaping to my feet. The only thing that stopped me were the sheets tucked around my legs with hospital-like precision. My muscles had atrophied to the point where I couldn’t budge them, especially with the weight of my father pinning them to the bed. Oh man was that a bad sign.

“Fenris is dead. Thes came back home. He and Connor are busy battling trying to keep Loki’s forces at bay while the Horsemen confront Loki and Bel.” My father looked at me in a way that suggested he wasn’t talking crazy, but that was impossible because it sounded abso-freaking-lutely crazy.

“Wait, time out, flag on the play,” I replied, holding my hands out in front of me. “None of that makes any sense.”

He rubbed his temples wearily with one hand. “I forgot. You’ve been unconscious since Ragnarok started.”

“What do you mean Ragnarok started!” I cried and this time I managed to leap to my feet, atrophied muscles be damned. I tottered unsteadily on the cold steel floor before flopping onto my butt, which was pretty embarrassing since I only appeared to be wearing a very short hospital gown, and oh my god, had my father been changing me this whole time…?

He stood and offered me his hand. I didn’t take it because I was too busy feeling indignant. Instead, I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him like this was his fault, even though it wasn’t. If I hadn’t spent that day with my mom, I’d have woken up in time to stop all this. I mean, okay, I wasn’t big-headed enough to believe I could have stopped Ragnarok by myself, but I could have done something. Hell, anything would have been better than lying if a goddamned bed while the world tried to spin itself off its axis. Stupid world. Stupid Norse Gods.

“Ragnarok, the Nordic apocalypse, began when Jormungand died.” He pointed at my head as if to say, “You were there for that, sweetie.” It was weird because the sound of his voice in my head was strangely patronizing. “Fenris rose soon after, but the Horsemen stopped him.”

“Well, at least we have that going for us. What are the others doing?” I asked, glancing down at the IV taped to my arm. It wasn’t attached to anything thankfully, or I might have torn it out when I fell. “And by others, I don’t mean Thes and Connor or the Horsemen you keep talking about.” I took a deep breath and shut my eyes as the absurdity of my situation settled around me. I was this close to just going back to bed. “This is not how you deal with people who’ve been in a coma for months. What happened to taking things slowly?”

“Time will not allow for that,” my father replied, kneeling down next to me and touching my shoulder. “If it did, I’d give you all you require, but as it stands, you must rise and fight, my daughter. It is the only way.”

“The Hell?” I asked, and as I reached out toward him, I realized he hadn’t answered my question. “Dad, Where’s the rest of the Dioscuri?”

“Not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking.” He shook his head. “Most are with Thes and Connor, but there are none who can truly stand against the forces rising above us. They need a champion, someone who can avenge the fallen.” He looked hard at me. “They need you, Lillim.”

Of course they did. Everyone always seemed to need me when the chips were down, when they needed someone to go in and get dirty. They wanted me to be the hero they needed, just like Dirge had been. They needed someone to make the ultimate sacrifice, and like always, that was my goddamned legacy. It was complete bullshit, but at the same time, this wasn’t just anyone asking me. No, this was my father, and if he wanted me to do this, if he wanted me to strap on my swords and wade into battle, I would.

“And what about you?” I asked as the gizmo on his wrist started to beep. He glanced at it and sighed.

“I have not killed a god in battle. You have. You need to stand tall and show them we can do it. I cannot do that. Besides, if we hope to win this battle, I need to stay here and help properly deploy our forces across the battlefield.”

“Oceans would boil, the world would fall in the sun, yadda, yadda, yadda,” I growled, getting to my feet, and as I did, I realized it was a bit easier to do than I expected. I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly, but either way, I understood what he wanted, and as much as I hated the idea, I knew he was right.

With him stuck here playing commander and my mother dead, the family business of kicking ass and taking names would fall to me. It was almost worse because Masataka had decimated the high ranking Dioscuri forces with his coup, and Warthor and Kishi were stuck in Fairy.

Even Caleb wasn’t really a Dioscuri anymore. As that thought flitted across my brain, a surge of anger filled me.

“Dad, where’s Caleb?” I asked, already moving toward the door. I guess it was a good thing there was a war going on because if I stayed here and thought about how I’d been in a coma for months and my God of Time boyfriend hadn’t been here when I woke up, I’d scream. I mean, I know he probably had a good reason, but still. Coma!

“With the Horsemen,” he replied, getting to his feet and coming toward me. It wasn’t hard for him to catch me since my legs were already tired, and I’d made it all of ten feet. Some champion I was.

“Awesome,” I grumbled, shaking my head to ward off the sudden pang of hurt that caused me. Caleb was doing his duty, sure, and it made sense for him to be doing that, but I’d have liked to have been important enough to merit a visit.

“Where are you going?” he asked as his watch beeped again, this time eliciting shrill angry noises.

“To Dirge’s crater. I think I recovered Isis when I was in the dream world.” I took a deep breath. “If that’s true, the sword will be in the crater, and if you want me kicking asses like I just ran out of bubblegum, I’ll need her.”