Friday Reads: Contemporary Romance Obsession Edition

It was a very good reading week for me. I read two novels and started two more. Both of those I finished were 5-star reads for me…

Which leads me to a bit of a tangent. Looking through my GoodReads shelves, I have lots of four and five star ratings for the books I’ve read. At a glance, this makes it look like, wow, she likes everything she reads! The truth is I start WAY more books than I finish. I can usually tell within a chapter or two if something is going to do it for me, and in the cases in which a book isn’t working for me, I have ZERO guilt about setting it aside and starting something else.
Because I have a TBR list that I’m never going to finish anyway, and it keeps getting longer, and life is too short for books that don’t grab you.
So yes, I start reading plenty of duds. But I don’t finish reading them and I don’t bother reviewing them, because I’d much rather highlight things I loved.
Now, on to this week’s reads.

Grit: A Love Story on 7th and Main by Elizabeth Hunter

Full disclaimer up front, Elizabeth Hunter is a friend of mine and one of the people who encouraged me most when I started publishing. That said, I was a reader of her books before I was her friend, and I would have loved this book regardless of who wrote it. It had everything: a strong, independent heroine; a grumpy, gorgeous, competent, loving farmer hero; an adorable, goat-obsessed pre-teen daughter; and a town full of people I wish I knew in real life. I was able to read an ARC of this, but you can pre-order it now. Grit will be out on September 3rd, but if you simply can’t wait that long, the first two books in her Love Stories on 7th and Main small town romance series are also amazing, and you can read them now!
I’ll be interviewing Elizabeth here on the blog during Grit’s release week, and I’ll have a longer, more in-depth review post up so that should be a lot of fun, as well!

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I want to kick past me’s ass for not reading this book immediately upon hearing about it. Another smart, vibrant contemporary romance, The Kiss Quotient is about a heroine with Aspberger’s Syndrome. She’s an economics wiz and very, very successful in her career. However, her Aspberger’s makes it hard for her to relate to people on a personal level, and that’s even more true when it comes to romance. She doesn’t know how to interact with people, she feels like she always says the wrong thing, and she simply can’t relax or enjoy sex. Her mother starts pushing her for grandchildren and threatens matchmaking. Stella (the heroine) decides to hire an escort so she can get used to sex. The escort she hires ends up being much, much more than just someone to have sex with, and she and the hero, Michael, find themselves drawn together and growing as people, taking brave steps neither of them would have thought possible before. I devoured this book, and immediately put a hold on book two, The Bride Test, on my Libby app. Unfortunately for me, I have to wait 14 weeks for my turn. Cue sad trombone.

Currently Reading:

I’m reading The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, which I checked out of the library. It’s about an eccentric bookseller and a literary mystery, which seems to be one of my reading obsessions of late. So far, I’m enjoying it.
I’m also reading Zoe York’s Love on a Summer Night (yes, another small town contemporary!) and am already having a hard time putting it down. I’ve never read a Zoe York book that didn’t pull me in, and this is definitely doing it for me so far. Hopefully I’ll be reviewing it for next week’s Friday Reads!
That’s it for me. What have you read this week? Help me add to the ever-growing TBR list!

Cover Reveal: Two of Swords


Two of Swords is almost here, and the second it’s live on Amazon, I will be shouting it from the rooftops. This book had so many false starts, so many scrapped drafts… a year’s worth of them! But I have a book now that I’m proud of and I’m so excited to share it with you.

Two of Swords

Moira Chase, Book Two

All she wanted was a quiet life. A bakery, a new life focusing on nothing more exciting than kitchen magic. Moira paid her dues during her time as a supernatural bounty hunter in Detroit. She’s retired and more than ready to leave the chaos of her past behind.

With her bakery, wonderful friends, and the beginning of the kind of love she’s only thought was possible in dreams, it feels like her life is finally starting to come together.

That is, until an old contact from her bounty hunting days insists on her help with a case that’s right up her alley. And until the man she loves finds himself in the middle of a turf war he never asked for.

Moira has a choice to make, and the lives of those she loves most hangs in the balance.

It’s almost here! I cannot wait to share the next part of Moira’s story with you, and unlike the LOOOOONG wait between books 1 and 2, book three will be out later this summer!

Things I Loved This Month

May was a whirlwind. But I’m trying to keep track of the things I enjoyed each month, both the big and the small, because it’s so easy to lose sight of those things when life is crazy. Which mine is. All the time…

So in no particular order, here are the things that made me happy in May.

  1. Finishing Two of Swords. You heard me. It’s done! Expect a cover reveal this week, and a new book available on Amazon during the first week of June.
  2. Strength training. I’ve been slowly but surely getting my shit together health-wise as well. I did a Whole30 during Lent, and am about to start one again, and I’ve felt my energy levels improving. I took up strength training again this month and remembered how much I loved it. It’s so rewarding to feel myself getting stronger, improving my balance and energy. Excited to keep going with this.
  3. My Crusaders reader group on Facebook. This group is just the best. Even during my long silences of late, the group keeps going, sharing talk and memes about comics and superheroes and books, and I just adore them. We’re actually going to be starting a group read of one of my books, which the group is voting on now, so it’s a good time to join us!
  4. Good books! I’m currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Elizabeth Haydon’s Rhapsody. Definitely in more of a fantasy mood of late. I’m thinking of re-reading Sara Douglass’ Troy Game series, which has long been one of my favorites. Curious to see if I’ll love it as much now as I did before.
  5. Spring blooms, finally.

So there we go! Five things I loved in May. I’ll be back later this week with a cover reveal and blurb for Two of Swords. Thanks for reading — I love you guys.

Writing Update: Two of Swords (and a snippet!)

This is the first of my weekly writing updates, and I’m happy to report that Two of Swords is moving along pretty well! I struggled with it a bit and came to realize that the problem was my outline. I was trying to force Moira and company into a script that was starting to feel unnatural, and it was showing.

I’m a huge proponent of outlining. I love my outlines and character sketches and charts and all that fun stuff. But with this book I’ve once again learned that the outline is supposed to serve me, not the other way around. So once I realized where the problem was, I tossed the outline and wrote what felt natural for these characters at this particular time in their story arc. And it’s been much easier since I allowed myself to do that.

My goal is to have Two of Swords available on Amazon before the end of the month. It’ll probably be sometime during the last week of February, fingers crossed that the revision and editing all goes well.

One of my Two of Swords mood/inspiration boards.

What Else Am I Working On?

Aside from Two of Swords, I have been trying to figure out a serial for my Patreon supporters. For a while I was planning on writing and releasing Haunted that way, but it’s just too hard for me at this point to write part of an ongoing series that way and release it a week at a time. I’d rather release Haunted when it’s all finished, because I know where I want to go with that.

It struck me that secondary characters work really well for serials. I get to tell the story of characters that you guys love but maybe don’t know as much about as you’d like. So I polled my Crusaders group and it looks like I’m going to be telling a Jenson (from StrikeForce) prequel story for the Patreon serial. The first episode will be up on Patreon on Friday, and supporters who pledge $1 or more per month get to read it as it comes out. Once Jenson’s story is told, I’ll release it as a novella, much as I did with the Hidden side story novellas.

That Snippet I Promised You…

He smiled at me as he started the truck, and within moments we were driving out of town, the highway taking us out to the countryside. The windows were open, and I breathed deeply, taking in the scent of sun-drenched pine forest, the late strong afternoon sunlight warming my arm as I rested it on the passenger side door. We pulled up at the last stop light at the edge of town, and I turned my head to see Michael watching me, warmth like honey in his dark eyes.

“What?” I asked, feeling a blush rise to my face.

He shook his head and smiled. “I wish you could see yourself at moments like that. You looked so peaceful, so whole. Powerful, really,” he added quietly, hitting the gas as the light changed.

“Yes, my pies and I are very powerful,” I quipped, and he smirked and shook his head.

“It’s this place. And you. My grandma always said the Chase witches were the lifeblood of this place. But maybe this place is your lifeblood, too.”

I didn’t answer. There was no need to. I felt the truth of it deep in my bones. And he saw it. Saw me. Not all of me, of course. Not the parts I worked so hard to hide. But he saw the me I most wanted to be, and there were no words for the magic in that one simple fact.

I reached over and rested my hand on his thigh, and he immediately let go of the wheel and placed his hand over mine, twining our fingers together as if this, us, was the most natural thing in the world.

“How was your thing yesterday that you had to deal with?” I asked. He gave my hand a light squeeze and sighed.

“Not as good as I could have hoped.”

I waited for him to go on, but he didn’t.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

The corner of his mouth quirked up and he glanced at me. “Do you want to talk about what you were doing for Director Jones yesterday?” he asked in response.

I smiled. And then, to my surprise, I started talking. Because damn, yes I did want to talk about it, and talk about it with him. This, he could be a part of. This, I didn’t have to keep from him the way I kept my dhampira hidden.

So I talked. I told him about all of the ghosts at the resort, and about Ethan Edwards, and about feeling like he knew more than he was telling me. I told him I’d have to go back.

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

I shook my head. “I’m not. If I go back, I’m probably going to have to talk to the ghosts. Which isn’t usually a problem, now that I have the amulet, but the amulet has its limits. It broke up on me when I was there yesterday. It’s not meant to handle more than a ghost or maybe a few at a time. The amount of spirit energy is just too much.”

He was quiet for a moment. “So you’ll have to use your necromancy,” he said quietly, and I nodded. “Which you don’t really want to do.”

“Yeah. I had to use it a little yesterday when the amulet started fritzing on me. My kitchen magic hasn’t been right since that thing a couple months back, and it feels even weaker now.” I didn’t have to tell him what “thing” I meant. We both knew, and we both still knew he had questions about it all.

He didn’t respond for a few moments. “What is that like, though? I mean you can clearly still cook,” he said, nodding toward the tray of pies on my lap.

“I guess.. The only description I can give is a kinda weird one.”

“Hit me. You’ve met my family.”

I chuckled. “It’s like being blocked. All you want is to use that magic, and you know it’s there and it wants to be used so bad it hurts. But you can’t, and the longer it goes on, the more it hurts, and you start thinking, ‘damn, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I do something so basic?’” I glanced up. “I’m bad at analogies.”

He shook his head. “Nah. I get it.”

“You do?”

A nod. “That’s how it feels when my wolf wants to run, and I can’t let him. Usually when I’m working or something. And then if I go too long before I’m finally able to shift, sometimes the shift comes hard and it hurts so bad I can hardly breathe.”

“It does sound similar.”

“Except that I don’t have something else wanting to rush in and take the place of my wolf. That’s what it sounds like the issue is with your necromancy, that it wants to be used.”

“Exactly. And the more I use it, the more I feel my kitchen magic slipping away.”

“Then don’t.”

I turned to look at him. “It’s not that simple.”

“Sure it is.”

“It’s really not.”

“You’ve been blessed, or cursed, if you want to look at it that way, with talents in two very different types of magic. It sounds like you have to choose one, whether you want to or not.”


“So choose the one that makes you happy. If it’s kitchen magic, then do that.”

“Believe me, that’s all I want.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Kitchen magic isn’t saving anyone, you know? Necromancy… I’ve saved lives with it. Moira the Great is always on me about how I’m spitting in the face of what the Universe has given me, that someone as strong as I am in necromancy has a duty to use it… and I mean, she’s not wrong. Necromancy comes to me like breathing. Kitchen magic, I have to work at. I have to finesse it, focus on it. And Jamie seems to agree with Moira the Great. I’m good at necromancy and I’ve done good things with it. No one’s life is being saved by eating a scone imbued with calming magic.”

He turned and pulled into the driveway in front of the white clapboard farmhouse his family lived in. I could hear the shouts of children playing in the yard, smell the scent of meat roasting over the large grills the family used frequently on warmer evenings. Michael turned the engine off and looked into my eyes.

“What do you want, though?” he asked.

I looked down at our hands on his lap, shivered as he lightly brushed his thumb over mine. This. This was what I wanted. But I was too much of a coward to tell him that.

“What I want and what I should do aren’t always the same thing,” I finally said. “You can’t tell me you don’t deal with that sometimes too. You’re the alpha. I’d imagine that your own wants and needs get put on the back burner from time to time for the good of the pack.” I shrugged. “Not that I’m anything like that. Just… I don’t think they’re wrong, when they say that it might be selfish of me to pick my happy magic over the life-saving magic I’m good at.”

He nodded, still grazing my hand with his thumb.

“So when do you get to be happy, Moira?”


That’s it for today! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed that little tease of Moira and Michael. I love writing them so much!

Sunday Truths: “Tell us what you’re writing”

It was a well-meaning comment. I know it was, because my readers tend to be lovely people.

I wrote a post about what I’ve been reading/listening to/watching, and the first comment I received was just this: please tell us what you’re writing. Meant in excitement, I know, but yet it made me feel small. And that’s on me, not the person who commented.

I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to get myself right. Self-publishing success came out of nowhere with Hidden. I had readers! A lot of them! Authors I loved were talking to me and considered me to be one of them. Authors I loved also accused me of being a hack, which was super fun.

And then life stuff happened. We moved. We lost a loved one. I had health scares. Book publishing slowed to a halt, and because I never planned for this, never learned the business side of things and how to market my back catalog, sales ground to a halt as well.

A funny thing had happened in those few years when things were going well. I’d started aligning my self-worth as a human being with how many books I was selling and how good my reviews were. The fact that I have an amazing marriage and four wonderful kids and that I’d met so many writing goals I never could have dreamed of began to pale in comparison to those numbers.

And when the numbers started going down, my sense of self worth plummeted with them.

I’ve spent the past several months trying to get myself back, learning to see myself as a whole person again and not just one thing. That thing, the writing thing, is an integral part of who I am and always has been. But I’ve had to find a way to see it as one part, one thread of an intricate tapestry that makes up Colleen, intertwined with everything else to create the whole picture. And I needed to ensure that if that thread was pulled again, the whole thing would not unravel as it did before.

And this well-meaning comment that I know came from a place of love had that little voice that every one of us has, that vile little voice that insists that we are not enough, just chortling with mirth.

My inner critic looks an awful lot like this bitch…

“See. You’re nothing. No one cares about you, silly girl.”

And this made me see that I have more work to do. I’m in a place now where I was able to get past that stupid little voice and recognize the comment for what it was: excitement and curiosity. But the fact that I had that reaction at all, that my inner Critic got even a tiny foothold, tells me that there is more work to be done.

So I picked up my old copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ve had the book for years and for whatever reason, only made it through the twelve week study once, a very long time ago. But it’s time now. All of those little pieces of me, the ones I’ve hidden or lied to myself about or tried to deny, need to be dealt with.

Writing still makes me happy. I love falling into the worlds of my stories, making my characters live and breathe. But there’s still some block there, something that is preventing me from feeling the complete joy I want to feel when I’m writing. When I wrote Lost Girl, and Broken, and Shadow Witch Rising, and Between the Lines, I felt like I was flying. I want to feel that way again, without all the bullshit that’s been holding me back.

This Blog, and Why It Exists

This blog is a little bit of everything. Part journal, part day-in-the-life, part promo when I have something to promote. At this point in time, it’s another way for me to get words out of my brain and out to those who might want to read them. I’m a firm believer that writing begets writing, that the more time I spend in a place of creation, the easier creating becomes. I promise that when I have a book coming out, if you follow me here, or on social media, or you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll know about it. And I recognize too that some people just want to know about the writing side of me.

For those lovely people, I invite you to check out the blog on Mondays, when I’ll focus on my current work in progress and share snippets.

The rest of the time, I’ll be writing about everything from books to Warcraft to crafting, because I’m trying to get back to a place where I recognize that all of those weird little parts of me are what make up Colleen Vanderlinden, writer. I’ve ignored the other parts too long, determined to be a SERIOUS AUTHOR.

But, I’m just me. Falling apart and putting myself back together, over and over and over again. After all, there’s nothing wrong with breaking every once in a while and remaking ourselves, becoming what we want to be. It’s never-ending. It’s life. As someone who dislikes change, this pisses me off mightily. But breaking is sometimes essential, and I’m embracing that fact, along with the rest of me.

January: What I Read, Watched, and Listened To

Is it just me, or did everyone else feel like they aged about 5 years during January too? Such a loooooong month. But we’ve made it through. It’s a new month, and we’re that much closer to spring in my neck of the woods (she says as she sits two feet away from the woodstove, permanently encamped there until this cold snap lifts.)

I thought it would be fun to keep a monthly log of what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to each month. It’ll be interesting for me to see how this changes with the seasons and then I can easily look back at the end of the year and remember what I loved and what I maybe didn’t love so much.

What I Read

I read 8 books in January, three comics trade paperbacks (Rat Queens volume 1, All-New Wolverine volumes 1 and 2), one writing-related book, one self-help book, and three novels.

The comics are something I’m letting myself count toward my challenge again. It’s stupid to try to pretend they don’t count as reading just because they’re shorter. My only parameter is that I’m only counting graphic novels or trade paperback collections, not single issues.

James Scott Bell’s The Mental Game of Writing is a book I’ve read before and it was a good, inspiring kick in the pants to start my writing year off right. I highly recommend his books — I’ve read several of them and have always learned something or been inspired.

My self-help read for January was Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face. I think sometimes the right book finds you at just the right time, and that was the case with this book. I have to admit that I put off reading it because it seemed very… EVERYWHERE. It felt like everybody and their grandma was reading this book and there’s some weird little part of me that rebels against doing what everyone else is doing. I don’t know. But I put it on hold via the Libby app a while back and it was available to me in early January, so I read it, and I’m glad I did. It made me take an honest look at some aspects of my personality and gave me some clarity I wasn’t even sure I was looking for.

The fiction I read was fabulous this month. Naomi Novik’s Uprooted lived up to the hype, and I read the final two books in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which I started reading because my teenage daughters love them and I am going to listen to their book recommendations from now on, because that whole series was fabulous. I was sorry to see it end when I turned the final page of Winter.

What I Watched/Listened To in January: Super Quickie Reviews


  • Chocolat — loved
  • Kill Bill — despised

TV Shows

  • The Punisher (season 2) — meh
  • Supernatural (season 12/13) — loved
  • Once Upon a Time (season 1) — it’s growing on me
  • Tidying Up with Marie Kondo — loved. I have KonMari-ed most of my house and I’m so glad I did.


  • Hamilton the Musical soundtrack — never, ever gets old
  • Nirvana: Live and Loud — amazing
  • Supernatural soundtrack on Spotify — all the classic rock you could ever want!

I think that does it for this month! It was a good month overall. What did you absolutely love reading/watching/listening to in January? Tell me about it!

Five Things I Learned in January

One of the things I look forward to at the end of every month is reading Anne Bogel’s “what I learned this month” posts, an idea that she got from Emily P. Freeman, whose blog I also enjoy reading. I’ve wanted to start doing the same for a while, and it seems like a good time to start.

Here’s what I learned in January — the big, the small, the serious, and the silly:

  1. I can easily make my own chocolate-flavored coffee creamer from a couple of simple pantry ingredients. We try to avoid leaving our house as much as possible during the winter (we live about ten miles out of town, down a very hilly highway — not ideal for slippery winter travel!) We’ve found that if we stock up as much as possible on meat and dairy and produce, we can go about three weeks without having to shop again, thanks in part to the miracle of grocery delivery from Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Anyway, I ran out of the chocolate Coffee-Mate I like to add to my coffee from time to time (hey, you have your vices, and I have mine, okay?) and I found that I can easily make my own. One part cocoa powder, two parts sugar, and it’s actually more chocolaty and less sweet than the store-bought version. Win!
  2. Twitch isn’t just for game streamers. I know this might be old news to some of you, but it’s opened up a whole new world for me! Aside from the usual video game streamers, there’s a whole category of crafty streamers making everything from intricately carved clocks to amigurumi stuffies. I found several that I love and I have them on while I’m cooking or dealing with email or whatever. As a bonus, they’ve gotten me back into crafting again!
  3. I spent too much time planning and not enough time doing. I got obsessively into using a paper planner last year, and decorating it with stickers and washi and color coding and making all of these lovely lists and goals and… not getting shit done. Turns out, spending a bunch of time writing or talking about your goals flips a little psychological switch that gives you a sense of accomplishment as if you’ve ALREADY done the thing. False satisfaction. Stupid brain. Anyway, I’ve super pared back my planning and the time I spent making lists and schedules, and my productivity so far has shot through the roof. As with any habit/lifestyle thing, your mileage may vary, but for me, cutting back on the planning really helped a lot.
  4. I’m super picky about books. I looked back at last year’s GoodReads challenge, and I didn’t even come close to meeting my goal of reading 75 books. But comparing it to my journal, in which I listed every book I started reading… I ended up tossing aside about two-thirds of the books I started reading. I’ve finally gotten over my old English major need to finish EVERY book because I just might learn something, damn it, and it shows. If something isn’t grabbing me, I don’t stick with it. As a result, I read fewer books last year, but also a lot less crap, which was awesome. I’m planning to keep that up this year.
  5. Warcraft challenges provide a whole new way to enjoy the game. I’ve been playing WoW for a long time (going on ten years now, I think) and you get to a point, especially if you’re like me and not super into raiding or dungeons, that you feel like you’ve done everything. Enter WoW Challenges, specifically the Iron Man challenge. Simply put: crappy gear, no potions, and if you die, you lose. It, along with our family’s Friday night PvP, has given me a whole new love for the game.
January saw the birth of Team DeathGnome. My husband, teenage daughters, brother-in-law, and I all made death knight gnomes to quest with. We’re super serious players, guys.

So that’s it: five things I’ve learned this past month, from the deep to the slightly silly.

November Goals

I can’t believe it’s November already! Halloween has come and gone, and all that’s left is pumpkin carcasses and my children jumping around the house like small junkies strung out on Starbursts and M&Ms.

The troops, pre-candy.

I feel like I’ve turned a corner. Those of you who have been with me from the beginning of my publishing adventure know that  I usually publish 6 to 8 books per year. This year, we’ve only seen two releases, but the good news is that the last two months of the year will have not one, not two, but FOUR new releases from yours truly!

So what’s on tap? Three of the books are a new project I’m working on, which I’ll talk about in a minute. The fourth is book 2 of the Moira Chase series, Two of Swords, which will be out in early December!

New Adventures

So this new series. It’s a little different for me, but I can tell you that it’s helped me get my writing chops back, so I love it. I described it to my beta team for the project as “Supernatural meets paranormal romance.” The books are short, novella-length adventures, each focused on one couple, with a paranormal mystery that needs to be solved and plenty of sexytimes as the hero and heroine work together to figure it out. It has been a BLAST working on and it was just what I needed.

If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know that usually, there’s some big, earth-shattering stake involved. Hidden, Copper Falls, Exile, even StrikeForce, to some extent, have heroines with the world on their shoulders. At this point in time, with our reality in this country… the way it is (let’s just go with that before I start ranting).. I just can’t find any joy in writing death and anguish. I can’t. Moira was a good move toward a more light-hearted series, and I’ve loved writing her too, but I know that when I want to escape, I want to read something fun and sexy and unapologetic in the fact that it’s pure entertainment. So that’s what this upcoming series is all about!

With all of that in mind, here are my goals for November:

  1. Release the first two Tameless books.
  2. Finish revising Two of Swords
  3. Get at least one short story out for my newsletter subscribers.
  4. Decide what to do with Wraith & Ruin. Whether to continue it or just set it aside indefinitely.
  5. Start writing here more often and sending newsletters more regularly.

I feel like I’ve been numb for the last year or so, and I’m at a place where I’m starting to get back together again. It feels good to be moving forward, and I’m grateful for all of you who are with me along the way. <3

Wraith and Ruin: Chapter Three

Happy Friday, lovelies! I hope you enjoy this week’s installment of Wraith and Ruin!

If you missed the previous chapters, you can find them here:

Chapter Three


She didn’t accept phone calls. When I called the number Jay Donnelly had given me, it was to hear a recording of a waspish voice tell me to fucking email like a normal person. That was followed by an email address, and the message had come to an abrupt stop. It was like being hung up on. By voicemail. Which was really a whole new level of shade and I was starting to get why he’d called her a hardass.

So I’d emailed. Told her I had a client who needed to get out of her deal.

Waited a day and didn’t get a response.

Emailed again.

And then she’d emailed me back.

Unless you have $100,000 for me to even look at your case, and another $400,000 if I get her off, you’re wasting your time. And from what I’ve seen about you, you don’t have that kind of cash, hunter.

And that felt like being hung up on too, and I wondered how the hell she managed that with email. 

The days were slipping by, each one bringing us closer to the end of Marissa Laurence’s time on Earth, the end of her time free from the clutches of a particularly nasty-ass demon who was going to make her his personal pet.

And the lawyer, Serena Hawkins… she was right. I didn’t have that kind of cash. Marissa’s friends didn’t either, even if I did feel okay telling them that demons are real and the reason their friend had been numbing herself with drugs and alcohol for the past few years was that one owned her soul, and her time was almost up. How do you tell people something like that? I mean, if they’re calling me, they at least are open to the idea that bad shit exists, beyond the realms of possibility. But being open to that and hearing that one of your friends are in danger from it… no. They thought Marissa had been freaked out by the hauntings at the market and had taken off because of that. For the time being, I was fine letting them think that.

I sat on my bed in my crappy little hotel room in Detroit. I’d emailed Serena again, with no response. So I sent another one an hour ago, and as cleaned my guns, I heard my email alert ping. I set the gun down on the nightstand and picked up my laptop. 

Message from Serena. I took a deep breath and opened it.

Are you stupid or just masochistic? You can’t pay. We both know it. Stop wasting my time.

I chuckled and emailed back.

Stupid, no. Masochistic, sometimes. Depends on the girl, though.

Anyway. Look. I know I don’t have the money. I won’t even lie and try to tell you I can get it. I can’t. And I know you don’t give a rat’s ass about helping. But I think we can form a beneficial partnership. You know what I do for a living. I come across all sorts of weird shit. Know a few demons personally, and there are lots of people out there who don’t know about you, wouldn’t know to look for you. You have a very niche practice. I can steer business your way. Hell, I can even help researching your cases if you want me to. Plus I’m a damn delight to work with. Ask anyone.

A few minutes later, my email pinged again.

I don’t need your help.

I rolled my eyes and started typing.

You know, we could at least text like people from this century if we’re gonna do this. Who the hell emails anymore? I know you don’t need my help. But you’re a businesswoman, and a smart one from what I hear. We both have the kind of jobs no one else understands. I’m just saying. Could benefit both of us.

Seconds later, another ping.

Nice try, trying to weasel my personal number out of me. Email is just fine. 

Meet me at Jumbo’s in the Corridor. We’ll talk. One hour.

I nodded, grinning as I typed my response.

I’ll be there.

I got up, took a quick shower, and threw on a clean pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, my black Carhartt jacket over it. When I got into my truck, I let the Detroit classic rock station blare, cranked the windows down so I could feel the cool fall air as I drove through the city.

She’d done her research, I thought. She knew exactly who I was, what I did. Which wasn’t hard to find, but she’d done some digging. Enough to know that I wasn’t rolling in the dough. Enough to not even question why I was trying to save someone I didn’t even know. I guess it was to be expected. From the research I’d done on her, she was meticulous, cool, calculating, and confident. She wasn’t going into this, even a discussion with me, unless she was pretty sure she had a possibility of getting the better end of our deal.

She could have it. I didn’t give a shit. Helping her meant I’d be helping others, so I was fine with it. And in the end, the joke was on her because I didn’t have much time left anyway. But she didn’t need to know that. No one’s business but my own.

I pulled into the parking lot of the old dive bar and parked, then blew out a breath.

“You know what to do, Carl,” I told my truck ghost.

“Anytime, man,” the ghost replied in his slow Mississippi drawl. He was my truck’s former owner. Loved the sturdy black 87 Silverado more than he’d loved anything else in life. When I’d bought it, I’d ended up with a haunted truck, and I had no problem with that. I mean. I could have banished him. But Carl is pretty chill and he’s the best damn truck theft deterrent in the world. I can park anywhere and no one messes with my shit. He’s pretty quiet, content to just be in the truck and ride along with me. It works.

I got out and walked toward the entrance, pulling the steel door open and immediately was enveloped by the darkness, the scent of stale beer and whiskey. Ray Charles was playing on the jukebox, and the sound of people playing pool and chatting, laughing surrounded me. I looked around, my eyes immediately drawn to a redhead at the bar. Her long hair was a mass of wild curls down her back, reaching nearly to her shapely ass as she sat on the bar stool. She wore jeans that clung to every curve and a gray v-neck top that somehow managed to cover everything while also revealing a whole hell of a lot.

She turned and looked me over, her eyes narrowing. I kept walking, sliding into the barstool next to hers.

“Whatever’s on tap, thanks,” I said to the bartender, looking back at the redhead as she studied me. “Serena. Nice to meet you.”

She just kept looking at me, hazel eyes narrowing more.

“What?” The bartender set my beer down and I handed him some bills. He walked away after checking to see if Serena needed anything. She waved him off and he left.

“Why are you worrying about some random woman’s soul when your own is equally claimed?” she asked. I was just raising my beer glass to my lips and froze, just for a second. I gave a small shake of my head and then took a gulp of beer.

“We’re not here to talk about me.”

She rested her elbows on the bar and kept studying me. “But we are. This changes things.”

“Yeah and you weren’t supposed to know that. So how did you know?” My words came out shorter than I intended, but it wasn’t something anyone else knew about, other than Namaloth and me. And I liked it that way.

“I can see it,” she said, still studying me. “There’s a sense of emptiness about you, one that every one of my clients has. I understand now that it means someone has claimed your soul… it isn’t really yours anymore.”

“Not something you’d know much about, huh?”

She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Nope. Lucky me.”

I nodded. I could feel it from her too, even if Donnelly hadn’t told me. Supernatural beings have an aura. All of them. And I can see them. An ordinary woman shouldn’t have had one, but she did. And it was gray and bleak, like staring into nothing. Just like the other Wraith I’d known once.

“Look. Like I said, this isn’t about me. I made a deal, and I knew better than anyone what kind of shit I was getting into. I’m fine with it.”

“Are you?” she asked in a low smooth voice, watching me. It was like being watched by a tigress who was waiting to pounce.

I blew out a breath. “Doesn’t matter,” I said, as close as I could get to admitting that I definitely wasn’t fine with it. “We’re not talking about me.”

She stirred her drink. Rum and coke, it looked like. The ice clinked against the sides of her glass as she lazily swirled it with the thin straw. “The only reason I’m here is because you claim you can be of help to me. I’m starting to doubt that.”

I took a long swallow of my beer and watched her. She didn’t look away, and I knew I’d lose any foothold I’d gained with her if I looked away now. “You do your research. I know you checked me out. Which was why you decided this might be worth your time. Cut the shit, lady. My personal shit hasn’t impacted any of my work, and it won’t now.”


Ooh. A strong one.

I was woman enough to admit it: at least part of why I’d agreed to meet with him was because I was intrigued by the hunter. And from the few pics I’ve seen, mostly on his Facebook page, he was worth a closer look.

And oh, he was.

Broad shoulders. Dark stubble. Short, dark hair, and deep brown eyes. He had the kind of confident swagger that only a man who has faced the most dangerous creatures in existence, and won, could ever achieve.

And he didn’t give an inch. Not in emails, not when I stared him down. I was good at making men cower. Not this one. I had no intention of working with him. His proposal was a joke and one born of desperation, from a man who wasn’t used to losing. I could appreciate that even if I thought it was ridiculous.

“You really believe that,” I said, my lips curving a little in amusement. “You’ve tried to make a ridiculous, nonsensical deal with me to save a woman you don’t even know from a fate you share. And you don’t think your ‘personal shit’ has any hold on what you’re doing?”

“Does yours impact what you do?” he shot back.

“Of course. I know I’m in no danger when I do what I do. I summon them, hold them captive until the deal is done. The only time I’m in danger is if I happen to visit Hell.”

He watched me closely. “Which you never do… right?”

“On occasion,” I said with a shrug. His gaze sharpened a bit as he looked at me, then he gave a small shake of his head.

“Do you have a death wish?” he asked.

I smiled. “I’m young, hot, and rich as sin. I’m fine sticking around for a while.”

“If you say so,” he said in response, taking another gulp of his beer. “You know there’s nothing to keep them from killing you when you enter their domain.”

My mind flashed back to the other night. I’d gone farther, given myself over to their dominance more than I ever have before, and it was so unlike me. And I was pushing it more and more lately, preferring the thrill of fear to the boredom and nothingness that filled most of my emotional life. 

“Not your concern,” I said, keeping my eyes on his.


I wanted him. I’d have to be both blind and dead not to. I smiled. “I’d like to alter our deal a little.”

He shrugged. “Since we haven’t made a deal yet, let’s hear what you’ve got.”

“One night in my bed. Plus the other stuff you offered.”

He’d been raising his glass to his lips and paused.

And then the bastard laughed.

“Something’s funny?” I asked, hearing the iciness in my own voice. Which only made him laugh harder, then he gulped down the rest of his beer and signaled the bartender for another.



“I’m a half-million dollar screw. I’m so putting that on my resume,” he said.

“It’s not— I…” I spluttered, and he chuckled more. “It’s the other things you offered too. I admit that you have contacts I don’t,” I said smoothly, knowing it was a lie. I didn’t give a shit about his contacts.  “And while I’m not really looking for more clients it wouldn’t be a bad thing to hear when something interesting comes up.” I sipped my drink. “That just sweetens the deal.”

He sighed, giving the bartender a few more bills when he brought his beer. 

“You know you want to,” I said, regaining some of my composure.

“Crazily enough, not every man you meet is going to want to sleep with you,” he said, meeting my gaze before taking another gulp of beer.

“That’s a lie. The straight ones always want me. And you do too,” I said.

He set his glass down and looked me dead in the eyes. “Do I? Do I really? Look real close, Serena.”

And I did. He was calm. Cool. Not even a little bit flustered or unsure around me. No sign that he was trying not to stare. He hadn’t even tried to touch me.

What the fuck.

I looked at him in stony silence, and he kept his eyes on mine, taking another drink of his beer. 

“So?” he asked.

I didn’t answer. 

“So it’s clear: I don’t want you. I tend to like my women to have a soul. I want to get this woman out of her deal so she can have her life back. In return, I’ll steer good clients your way and help you research their cases whenever you ask. I know you only want the ones who can pay. Those types never hire me, because they think I’m a joke. But I hear things. And I’m good at my job.”

“So I have heard,” I finally said, knocking back the rest of my drink. The truth was, I didn’t give a fuck about his client or his supposed help in any future jobs I took.

I just knew that he made me feel something. Irritation, mostly. Curiosity. I knew I was grasping at straws, desperate for something new in my life.

“Fine. Bring her to my office on Monday,” I said, giving him another look. I took one of my cards out of my purse and wrote my personal number on the back, the one no one other than my mother and a couple of my cousins had. I tossed the card in front of him and slipped off the barstool, then walked out of the bar.

The bastard didn’t even watch me go. I got a little giddy at how irritated I felt knowing that. For now, it was enough. It was something in the vast nothingness, and that was more than I’d had an hour ago.

Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden. All rights reserved.

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Wraith and Ruin: Chapter Two

It’s time for another chapter of Wraith and Ruin! Thanks for your patience — last week was bananas. I’ll have another chapter for you on Friday. Enjoy! (If you missed the first chapter, you can read it here.)

Chapter Two


It’s hard to describe Hell to someone who’s never been here. Most people should be grateful for that, really, that they will never have any idea what it’s like.

The mast majority of Hell is dominated by what’s commonly referred to as “The Pits.” It’s the endless, gray, filthy area beneath Hell proper, which sits on a rise above it. It’s not the fiery place it’s usually depicted as. The doomed souls in the Pits live a cold, gray, eternity each trapped in a hell of their own making. They stand, motionless in the pits, while their minds torment them forever.

I have never been so glad to not have a soul as I am when I see those lifeless fuckers.

But Hell proper… well, that’s something entirely different. Set above the filth and chilliness, it’s like a vast futuristic city, divided into seven districts, each representing one of the 7 deadly sins.

Greed is full of sprawling mansions, gold-plated everything, glass and steel high-rises filled with demons who can just never seem to get enough of whatever it is they desire. Greed is notoriously suspicious of outsiders, each resident demon jealously guarding its hoard against anyone who might be eyeing it. And every single one of its neighbors is, of course, because: greed.

Pride is full of self-important asshole demons, all telling anyone who will listen, willingly or not, about how fucking amazing they are. The demons there love showing off their shit, which makes them very different from the ones in Greed. Lots of statues and monuments in Pride. Usually erected by individual demons to celebrate him or herself.

Envy is a lot like Greed, except that the residents just seethe over what everyone else has, thinking their own individual belongings are shit. It’s a fucked up place. Of course, it’s not just material belongings. Lots of stalkers and shit in Envy.

Sloth is a fucking mess. Trash is piled in the streets around houses that reek of who knows what. The demons who live there can often be found sprawling wherever they happen to be when they don’t feel like moving anymore. Nobody goes to sloth, except the assholes from Greed who sometimes decide to steal shit from the residents of Sloth just because they can.

Gluttony is full of all you can eat restaurants, all you can drink bars, and every type of junk food or drink vendor you can imagine. The assholes in Greed usually make a killing setting up businesses in Gluttony and getting even richer. The demons there, to be honest, aren’t too bad. They’re actually kind of fun and I’ve hung out there a time or two.

Anger. Anger is a war zone. Constant fights, everything from fist fights to duels with fucking pistols, to outright war complete with machine guns and tanks. There’s always the sound of demons shouting at the top of their lungs, and everyone who passes you on the street glares at you like they want to kill you. In that way, it’s like some of the big cities I’ve visited, I guess.

And then there’s Lust.

Lust is like Vegas on steroids. Neon and flashing lights everywhere, every type of club and brothel, offering whatever you can possibly imagine. And that was where I found myself, dressed in a little black dress and the sexiest pair of heels I owned. I stepped into my favorite club and was immediately encompassed by the crowd, beautiful demons all dancing, gripping each other, grinding and kissing and sometimes outright fucking right there on the dance floor in time to the nearly deafening thump of the music. Pink neon and strobe lights illuminated the crowd, and the center of the club was taken up by a huge stage where exotic dancers of all shapes, sizes, and genders danced to the whistles and shouts of the crowd gathered around the stage.

A beautiful waitress handed me a pink drink with a juicy cherry stuck into it, and I grinned and sipped it as I started moving along with the crowd, alternately drinking and raising my arms in the air, letting the music and the feel of the beautiful demons around me take me over, all of us one throbbing, bouncing mass of lust. More than a few demons touched me, knowing me, knowing that I welcomed it, and their touch had me feeling even hotter and more ready than I had when I’d arrived. I shook my head as a few invited me to the various booths and rooms around the club and kept dancing, loving the sinuous feel of my body as I moved along to the music. I finished one drink and another one was immediately placed in my hands.

I fucking loved it in Lust.

“Wraith,” a smooth voice said in my ear, and I opened my eyes to see Namaloth. He started to dance behind me, moving with me, his hands on my hips, his mouth near my ear. “I’ve been hoping you’d stop by.”

“I told you I would,” I said with a smirk.

“That was days ago,” he said, kissing my neck. “Cruel, making a demon wait so long.”

I laughed and kept dancing, Namaloth dancing behind me, caressing my body, pressing against me. When his hands reached for the straps of my dress and pushed them down, exposing my chest, I didn’t protest. I’d made my intentions to him clear, and demons… they did as they wanted. Hell isn’t a nice place, and things like consent and respect… they have no place here. The second I’d indicated an interest, I’d given him all the permission he needed to do as he wanted. I was nothing in Hell. A human who, by some accident of magic, was able to be here among them. I had none of the demons’ power and they could do anything they wanted. This one had enough empathy to wait for the bare minimum of assent on my part, but that was all I could expect.

It sounds like a fucking nightmare, doesn’t it? Not having control, knowing you’re nothing. And how sick is it that I craved this, that I visited Lust a few times a year for exactly that reason?

“Keep dancing,” he said in my ear, and I did, aware of the other demons looking at me, at the spectacle Namaloth had made of me. Part of me knew I should hate this, should rail against it. But for the most part, I just didn’t give a shit. I felt something, which was more than I could usually say. I was afraid, and turned on, and it was the closest I came to feeling much of anything at all.

Namaloth continued having his fun, teasing me, taking his time knowing he was the one in control now. Demons are like cats in that way. Some of them enjoy toying with their prey. Most of them do, really.

“Fuck,” he snarled, and I glanced over my shoulder at him. “Some dickhead is summoning me. Do you want to stay and let them have you?” he asked, nodding toward the hungry looking demons around us.

I shook my head.

“Go. Now.”

I nodded, and focused, seamlessly shifting between dimensions, reappearing in my bedroom, my dress still shoved down. I took a deep breath and pulled it back up again, looking in the mirror.

He’d saved me by asking. If he’d left me there, like that, they would have killed me with their attentions. Literally. And I’d known that going in, just as I had every other time I’d visited Lust and come out alive.

What the fuck was wrong with me?


The summoning wasn’t hard. I’d created the circle, spoken the words, and now had one pissed-off looking demon standing in front of me.

“Namaloth!” I said in greeting. He glared at me more, snarling, his eyes flashing red. “Long time no summon.”

“Not long enough,” he snarled.

I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest. We were in the market I’d come to Detroit to investigate. It was just after midnight, and the place had an almost unreal silence around it. It was hard to believe this was in a big city. Some of it was the emptiness of the neighborhood around it, but most of it was because of the entities that had taken over the market. They made the whole thing feel like death.

“How are things in Hell?” I asked genially. They hate it when I’m chipper.

“Fuck you.”

“I don’t swing that way, but thanks for the offer.”

“I wasn’t—“

“Tell me about your arrangement with Marissa Laurence.”

Namaloth clamped his mouth shut. if looks could kill… well if looks could kill I would have been dead a long time ago. I waited, leaning back against the support pillar behind me, arms still crossed over my chest. “I have all night,” I told him. “Took a nap earlier and everything. Thermos of coffee, plenty of snacks.”

He continued to glare at me, and I noticed his leather pants and skin-tight shirt.

“Out clubbing, were we? Were you having fun?”

“Was about to,” he growled.

I grinned and poured myself a cup of coffee, then took a sip, sighing in contentment, which I knew only pissed him off more. “Damn, that’s good.”

He continued glaring at me, and I had my coffee and one of the brownies from my dwindling stash.

“You eat like a pig,” Namaloth said.

I chewed louder in response, then slurped my coffee.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he snarled.

“Simple question, and then you can go,” I said, eating more.

We sat there for a couple more hours, him glaring silently at me while I ate and drank and played around on my phone.

It was the singing that finally did it. I turned on Spotify and started singing along with the Dixie Chicks, and he looked at me in utter horror.

“The fuck?” he asked. I pointed at him and kept singing.

“Come on. You know the words. I can tell you’re a big country music fan.”

His jaw dropped open. “You are a nut job.”

I kept singing, pacing back and forth. Worked my way through “Wide Open Spaces,” “Not Ready to Make Nice,” and “Goodbye Earl.”

“Cowboy Take Me Away” was clearly too much for him.

“Stop. Just… just fucking stop,” he said, holding his hands up.

“Marissa Laurence?” I said, then picked up singing again.

“She wanted artistic talent,” he said quickly, and I stopped singing, hitting pause on Spotify. “Thirteen years ago she summoned me, made a deal that if I gave her artistic talent, I could have her soul in thirteen years. My own personal pet. And she’s cute as hell, so I did it.”

“Yeah. ‘Cept she hasn’t been able to paint in years because she’s been so terrified of her term being up.” Marissa was the artist who had gone in with three of her friends to buy and re-open the market. And she’d been missing for months now. Likely trying to hide from the demon who held her contract, which was pointless. When Namaloth came for her, he’d be able to find her anywhere.

“Not my problem. She made the deal. She wanted it, and I gave her talent. What she does with that talent isn’t my problem.”

“Hm. And the spirits infesting this place? I know you called them.”

He smiled. “A reminder that her payment is almost due.”

“Except that she’s not here, so that’s bullshit. Why are they here, Namaloth?”

He went back to glaring at me, so I went back to singing. After a while, I reached in my bag and got out the shaker of holy water.

“I’ve been nice up until this point, only because we have history, you and me,” I said, unscrewing the cap.

“You haven’t been nice, you miserable rat.”

I grinned and brandished the flask, and he hissed as I came close to splashing him. “Oh, I love this one!” I said, singing along as the Dixie Chicks and Beyonce started on “Daddy Lessons.”

“I fucking hate you.”

I brandished the bottle again, singing along, bobbing my head, getting a little closer to splashing him every time, watching him inch away from the droplets of holy water as I kept humming and singing and pacing around his circle.

“A favor for another demon,” he finally blurted. “Okay, you little fucker? Someone higher up on the ladder than I am. He has an interest in this area. This whole neighborhood… he’s had it out for this place for centuries. I don’t know why,” he said, glaring at me, anticipating my next question. “I just know he didn’t like what they were doing here. He wanted a few wrenches thrown into the works. So, poltergeists.”

I nodded. “All right. So I can assume he’ll keep calling in favors for anyone who tries to revitalize this area?”

“Yes,” he hissed.

“If not you then someone else, I guess?”

He nodded, eyes glowing deep red as he glared at me. I didn’t know why demons have a rep for being pretty. There was nothing pretty about the malevolence they all wore like a crown. Though maybe it was safe to say that I knew them better than most.

“She made a deal. You know how that works, right, boy?”

I kept my expression placid.

“She has a month left. I hope she’s enjoying it,” he said, and he almost sounded sincere. “Because I know I’ll enjoy the time after.”

I rolled my eyes. “Come on, man. We go way back. Do a brother a solid.”

“Fuck yourself.”

I smiled. “If only I could.” I spread my arms out, displaying the clearly magnificent specimen of maleness I am.

“You are ridiculous.”

“So I’ve been told,” I said.

“She has one month. She made the deal. That’s it,” he said, his voice hard as his eyes glowed a deeper, bloodier red.

“Understood. You’ll understand if I banish your playthings, right?”

“I’ll just summon more. Or someone else will.”

“And I’ll banish them, too,” I said with a grin.

There was no missing the malevolence in his eyes when he glared at me. When I’d said that Namaloth and I have a history, I wasn’t kidding. And it wasn’t all Dixie Chick and my sweet dance moves, either.

“I will be glad when your time is up. You’re down to a matter of months now. And then,” he said, a cold, cruel grin spreading across his lips. “Then, you will know pain. And fear. You will pay for every single moment of shit you’ve given me.”

“Looking at your face every day will be torture,” I said, determined not to show fear in front of him. I’d deal with that later. Much later.

“Release me,” he hissed. “Or little Marissa will pay a little extra because you pissed me off.”

I met his gaze, slowly and deliberately chanted the words to release him back to his own dimension. Only after he was gone did I take a deep, shaky breath.

I shook my head. Couldn’t deal with that now, so there wasn’t any point in getting all shaky about it. I started packing up my stuff.

Okay. So Namaloth was a dead end. I’d figured, but it never hurt to try, and at least now I knew more about the poltergeists infesting this place.

I hit a number in my contacts. “Tell me about this lawyer of yours,” I said, and then listened as one of my old contacts babbled on about some hotshot lawyer who’d gotten him out of his deal with the devil.

“She’s a real hardass,” he said, after telling me how this lawyer got him off.

“Hardasses, I can deal with,” I said, getting in my truck and starting it up.

“There’s something else, Jack.”

“Yeah? What is it?” I asked, turning onto the street.

“She’s a Wraith.”

I blinked. “I didn’t know there were any of those left.”

“Yeah, well. She’s the real thing.”

“Send me her contact info.”

“Will do, man.”

“And don’t make any more deals with the devil. Why didn’t you tell me you did that?”

“Would you have been able to do anything? Could you for that woman you tried to get off tonight?” he answered.

Fine. Fair enough. But now I had the means to maybe get her clear of her deal. “Just send the info. Be safe,” I said before I hung up. I rolled my shoulders as I drove back to my motel.

A Wraith. It had been a long, long time since I’d had any dealings with one of them. They were rare. The ones that did exist, for whatever reason, didn’t tend to live long. Trying to fill that emptiness deep inside them usually led to them doing stupid shit. Shit that usually led to them ending up dead. I knew that all too well. I’d stood by helpless and watched it happen once before.

I shook my head. One thing at a time. For the moment, all I knew was that to save Marissa Laurence, I needed to get myself a lawyer.


Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden 2018. All rights reserved.