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

Jack

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.”

Serena

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.

“Fine.”

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.

“Hilarious.”

“I—“

“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

Serena

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?

Jack

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.
“Marissa?”

“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.

New, super-motivational desktop wallpaper!

I’m trying to get back into the habit of taking at least a couple walks during the day. I spend way too much time sitting, and it shows and even more, I hate the sluggish, lethargic feeling that’s suffused my recent days… weeks… okay, months.

To make myself walk, I’m pairing walking with podcast time. (I’ve also been reading Gretchen Rubin’s “Better than Before,” which is all about habit building and dealing with your shitty habits. She talks about this idea of pairing, to make less-exciting or pleasant tasks more enjoyable by pairing them with something you like. I love podcasts, but I’m behind on many of my favorites because writing and listening to people talk just don’t work together for me. So: I’m pairing the two.)

ANYWAY. I listened to an old podcast of Tim Ferriss’s, where he interviewed Cheryl Strayed. And their conversation reminded me of one of my favorite quotes about writing. Anyone who knows me at all will immediately understand why I love it so much:

Perfect. And very, very me. And I have no design skills whatsoever, so I popped over to Canva to use one of their templates to make this perfect little desktop wallpaper, and now it graces my work computer. (As opposed to my other computer, which is for scrolling Twitter and playing Warcraft. I can’t have those distractions available to me when I’m supposed to be working.)

I love it. And it makes me happy. If you want it, you can either save, then right-click the image above, or I made the file public on Canva (to download, click “use as a template” and then click “download” at the top of the screen) so you can download it and use it on your computer and be motivated, too. 🙂

Enjoy!

June: New Month, New Goals

Hello, lovelies!

It’s cool and sunny here. My garden is just starting to take off and I’m loving seeing all of the flowers blooming. The huge lilac bushes here are in full bloom, and the irises and lupines are blooming as well, along with lily-of-the-valley and lots of wildflowers I cant identify yet in the meadow.

Last month’s release for Ace of Wands went even better than I hoped it would and I was so encouraged to hear that many of you love Moira as much as I do. There will definitely be more books out (the next one, Two of Swords, will be out in July!) and I have had a blast writing her.

I revealed the cover for my next Ella Linden Paradise Bay book over on FB today — Waiting Game will be out on June 20th! (Why yes I have been writing my little heart out. And it has been so much fun!)

As I said, the next Moira Chase book will be coming in mid-July or so, and then August is…

Godbreaker!

So I have a busy summer ahead of me, plus a few editing projects as well. So much fun! The first part of Hades’ story will be in Sunday’s newsletter, so if you’re interested in receiving a chapter each week of that, you can sign up here. Also, over on Patreon I’m finally getting back into the swing of things and the next Haunted (StrikeForce #5) chapter will be up on Friday.

So that’s what’s going on in my little world right now. I’ll be back later this week with a look at what I’ve been reading lately.

Thank you, as always, for reading 🙂

A Long Overdue Update!

I am a bad blogger.

But hopefully a good writer?

So maybe it balances out. Anyway, I figured it would be a good time to share what my plans are for the rest of 2018 in regard to ongoing series and the one new series I’m launching this year (this month, in fact!)

We’ll take it series-by-series and then I’ll wrap it all up at the end of this post. Buckle up. It’s going to be a busy year.

Current Ongoing Series

The Hidden Series

I published Faithless, which is a sidestory novel for the Hidden series and takes place during Godkiller, at the end of March. The rest of the Godkiller trilogy will be released this year.

  • Godbreaker: August 2018
  • Godborn: November 2018

StrikeForce

As you know if you’ve kept up with this series, the first major arc of Jolene’s story ended with Day’s End, and now we’re moving onto the Ghost arc. There will be two StrikeForce books out this year:

  • Haunted: July 2018
  • Untitled: October 2018

Paradise Bay (contemporary romance written as Ella Linden)

Books five and six will both be out by the end of the year, and I’m not sure whether that will be it for this series or if I’ll keep going. I have plans through book 6, but I could keep the series going if it’s something I feel like doing. I’ll see how I feel at the end of the year.

  • Waiting Game (Lauren and Jack’s book):  June 2018
  • Untitled (Holly and Scott’s book): November 2018

And Now, the NEW SERIES!

My new series, the Moira Chase Series, is about a kitchen witch (which is a witch whose magic is focused around food) who takes over the family bakery in a small town in northern Michigan. In addition to kitchen witchery, Moira can also sense spirits, and this leads to chaos in her life when she buys a haunted item at a local consignment shop.

So the kitchen witch turned bakery owner ends up finding herself also fulfilling the role of amateur sleuth, trying to solve the mystery that comes along with this ghost who now won’t leave her alone. Add in a bit of small-town quirkiness, a sexy and somewhat mysterious police chief, a lot of food, and a bakery haunted by generations of Moira’s foremothers (also witches) and you get the Moira Chase series!

I have already had so much fun working on this and I can’t wait for you guys to read it. I’ll have an excerpt of the first chapter up on the blog this weekend.

  • Ace of Wands: May 15, 2018
  • Two of Swords: July 2018
  • Untitled: October 2018

Whew. I’m tired just looking at that! But excited too. Last year was… blergh. I wrote and published some fun books in the first half of the year but that last half of the  year and early 2018 were rough. I feel like I’ve been back on my game the last couple of months and having so much fun writing again. I can’t wait to share all of these books with you!

What are you looking forward to most?

September Reading Wrap-Up

September was a month full of good reads. You know how you’ll go through a period in which nothing you read really seems to hold your interest? And you’re just not sure  what you’re really in the mood to read? I hate periods like that. September was the exact opposite — it seemed like almost everything I read was so good I had to force myself to stop reading and do other things.

More months like this, please. 🙂

Here are the books that kept me up past my bedtime last month:

The Handmaid’s Tale

91LKGqgWzYL._SL1500_This book. Holy shit, this book. I am actually annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner. I was pretty sure I had read it, and maybe I did pick it up in college at some point but I know for sure now that I definitely did not read it back then. This is the kind of book you just don’t forget. A future dystopia in which everything is neat and orderly and all the more haunting for it, because this dystopia is built fully on the backs of women. And now every time I see some asshat talking about regulating women’s bodies, I find myself thinking “do you want The Handmaid’s Tale? Because this is how we get The Handmaid’s Tale.

And then I realize that in many cases, they kind of do and then I want to hit things. And when it’s a woman saying it, I can only ever think of her afterward as a Serena Joy fuckwit.

Don’t read it if you are looking for something uplifting, is all I’m saying. But everyone should read it. Yes, everyone.

 

The Girl with All the Gifts

careyI never really got into the whole zombie thing. I think the only zombie book I read before this was Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland, so when I originally heard that this one was about zombies, I wasn’t interested. Then, people I know who have really good taste in books started talking about it. And then it was on sale pretty cheap on Amazon, so I decided to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. This book is full of action, characters you both love and hate (sometimes at the same time) and the kind of attention to detail that makes you feel like you’re living it. And now, even though I’ve never had any interest in zombie movies, either, I want to see the movie. Amazing book, but again… not at all a “gee, this makes me happy!” kind of read. Sometimes, those are just what you need, though. Highly recommended.

 

Trickster’s Choice

pierceTamora Pierce has been on my “why the hell haven’t I read any books by her yet?” list for a while now (what, you don’t have lists like that? Interesting.) so when I saw this one at my library, I grabbed it.

And now I will read everything I can find by Tamora Pierce. This is a YA fantasy novel about a smart, shrewd young woman who knows what she wants, and, maybe even more importantly, what she does NOT want. Her life is thrown into chaos when she finds herself captured by slavers and ends up in service of a household of royals. Where she goes from there is a tale full of twists and turns, gods and warriors, politics and betrayal. I have the second book (Trickster’s Queen) and am reading it now. Loved this book, and if you’re looking for a fantasy with a really well-written heroine and very little romance subplot, this is a good one to check out. (I was surprised how little the lack of romance bothered me. I usually love that stuff, but this book did just fine without a major romance plot.) Highly recommended.

Daughter of the Forest

forestI loved this book for the deep characterization and worldbuilding, and for the nearly impossible task the book’s heroine, Sorcha, undertook. Everyone loves an underdog, and Sorcha is most definitely that. You spend most of the book wondering how in the hell she’s going to manage what she has to do, especially when her life seems to never stop twisting and turning long enough for her to breathe, let alone try to save the people she loves most in the world. This was another book with a strong, intelligent heroine. As much as I loved it, I found myself frustrated at times because it felt like things could have moved along faster, but I also recognize that I prefer books with a fast pace, while others are perfectly happy with a book with a more sedate plot. The combination of mysticism and romance in this book was beautifully done, and I will definitely be reading more by Marillier. Definitely recommended.

Shadow and Bone

bardugoI picked this up because I was trying to distract myself during the long wait for the second of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows books, Crooked Kingdom. It was SO MUCH MORE than a distraction, though. I absolutely fell in love with this book and its heroine, Alina, who is intelligent, devoted, and love that about her. To me, there is nothing more unrealistic than a hero or heroine who always knows, for sure, that his or her path is the right one. I love that she doubted, and I loved that sometimes, she was wrong. I loved the Russian-inspired setting, the magic, the relationships that developed between the characters. I’m stuck waiting to read the second book in the Grisha series becuse my daughter is currently reading it. Said daughter is also reading Crooked Kingdom right now (she seems to inherited my tendency to read more than one book at a time) and so I am sitting here, utterly Bardugo-less.Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

 

Heartless

renshawThis was the only romance I read this month (weird) and it was a really, really good one. Winter Renshaw did an amazing job bulding the realationship between her heroine, Aidy, who is a makeup artist, and her hero, Ace, a former baseball star who was forced to retire due to injury. It’s definitely an opposites attract, enemies-to-lovers type of story, both of which are among my favorite romance tropes.

While Ace was definitely a swoon-worthy hero, it was Aidy who made this book. Aidy had the kind of strong personality that, in less-skilled hands, might have come off as annoying, but the way Renshaw wrote her was absolute perfection. Aidy’s strong, free-wheeling, adventurous personality was the perfect foil for Ace’s more cynical, taciturn nature. I absolutely loved them together and I need to read more by Renshaw. Definitely recommended for lovers of contemporary romance.

That was it. I read a few nonfiction books in September as well, but these were the highlights. Have you read something amazing lately? Tell me about it, please, so I can have more months like September!

Darkest Day is Available Now! (Plus, a Playlist)

Darkest DayDarkestDayCover_320h was one of those books that I really had fun writing. Don’t get me wrong, this is me we’re talking about, so there were weeks worth of angst and “oh my god I’m the worst ever,” but for the most part, this was a blast. I was able to write plenty of butt-kicking, more than a few lines that made me grin, and (yes!) a little bit of romance. When I started talking about this series with you guys, I said that what I was going for was the experience of reading a great comic book in the form of a novel. I wanted the excitement, the quips, the sense of “oh, crap” when things go badly. I wanted to capture the interpersonal dynamic of a team of different personalities thrown together and expected to save the world — the friendships, the rivalries, the romances. I felt like I did that with Darkest Day, and I’m pretty excited about the way it all came together.

I hope you grab a copy, and please let me know what you think! You can always email me, or give me a shout on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you’re comfortable with leaving reviews, please know that I most definitely appreciate them.

And now… a new release means a new playlist. Here are the top five songs I listened to during the writing of Darkest Day, in no particular order.

 

Darkest Day Playlist

X Gon Give It to Ya – DMX

This song is absolutely perfect for writing fight scenes to. Thank you to the creators of the Deadpool trailers for making me see that. I listened to this one A LOT.

Charlotte – Kittie


There is so much rage in this throwback from the 90s, along with a thread of delicacy flowing through it. I’d forgotten about how much I loved this song, but then it came up in a Spotify playlist and I realized how perfect it was. Some of the lyrics:

So, I’m nothing.
You took something from me, now you’ve disappeared.
You’re right where I want you.
You said you wanted it, alright.
No! It’s not alright–
No…
Now I’m something, and your head is in my closet.
Dead forever, they’ll never search it.
Out of sight. No! It’s not alright…

 I mean, really. It was pretty much perfect for this book. Angsty, violent. Yeah.

Hard Out Here – Lily Allen

Yet another song that was absolutely perfect for this book. We’ll just let the lyrics speak for themselves. They’re very Jolene (except for the sex life thing. I can’t even count how many times you guys have asked me if poor Jo is ever going to get lucky…)

I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking
You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen
I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain

If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut
When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss
There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh-huh, there’s money to make
And now it’s time to speed it up ’cause I can’t move at this pace

[Bridge:]
Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say
I’ll go ahead and say them anyway
Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits

[Chorus:]
It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard out here for a bitch.

Doll Parts – Hole

Another ragey, angsty 90s throwback. In case it wasn’t obvious already, I adored the 90s.

Dark Horse – Katy Perry

And, finally… a non-ragey, non-angsty song that doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest. There’s one of these on every one of my playlists. 🙂

Thanks for reading! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Darkest Day!

Cover Reveal! Darkest Day: StrikeForce #3

We are just a bit over two weeks away from the release of DARKEST DAY, the third book in my StrikeForce series. Are you guys ready to see how Jolene reacts to the events of One More Day? One hint: it’s probably going to be violent.

First, let’s take a look at the synopsis:

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Nietzsche

One moment, one mistake, changed Jolene Faraday’s life forever. Devoted entirely now to bringing down the super villain known as Killjoy, she spends nearly every waking moment working toward his downfall — and the rest of the time trying to come to terms with what her life has become.

Somebody’s about to have a bad day…

Nightmares, guilt, and questions of her own morality notwithstanding, Jolene, A.K.A. Daystar, is becoming the hero she swore she’d be, and StrikeForce, under Portia’s leadership, is earning a measure of respectability from friend and foe alike. That is, until questions about Jolene’s involvement in a certain super villain’s death come to light, along with increasing pressure for her to answer questions about her shadowy past.

All of it is background noise, a distraction from her hunt for Killjoy and his team. And when they threaten yet another person she cares for, Jolene becomes nothing less than Killjoy and company’s worst nightmare.

And, the COVER!!

DarkestDay_Cover

I’ll have an excerpt for you later this week.  I cannot wait for you guys to read this one! If you’d like to add it to your shelf on GoodReads (I’d love you forever) you can do that here. 

Valentine’s Day Story: “Have a Little Faith”

You guys voted for it, and here it is: a little visit with Brennan and Eunomia. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Have a Little Faith

I stood, my soulblades ready, and watched Brennan questioning the undead we’d chased and then finally caught not too far from Westminster.

“A name. Who do you work for?” Brennan repeated, holding the undead by its throat up against the brick wall nearby. He’d been in his cat form when we’d caught him, which meant he was now standing there in all of his glorious nakedness under the yellowish streetlights. After all of this time, after all of the times I’d seen his body both in our bed and out of it it should not have affected me the way it did.

And yet, I continued to have to force my focus back to the business at hand, watching and waiting, ready to destroy the undead should it make a single move against Brennan.

“We know you’re not one of the mindless ones,” Brennan was saying. “You are leading that group who’s been causing trouble around Westminster. You’re organized. Who’s calling the shots?”

The undead laughed in its weird, raspy, phlegmy voice. And then it spat at Brennan, a disgusting splatter of grayish phlegm landing on his face.

“Okay,” Brennan said, wiping it away with his free arm. “We tried to do this the nice way.” An instant later, the air kind of seemed to shimmer around Brennan, and instead of a man standing there imprisoning the undead. an enormous black cat knocked the undead down and sat solidly on its chest. The cat looked at me with slate-blue eyes that I recognized very well, and I gave him a small smile.

I walked slowly toward the undead and looked down at him. “He did give you a chance,” I said softly. “And he’s much nicer than I am.” I held up my soulblade, and the undead tried, unsuccessfully, to get out from beneath Brennan’s massive cat form.

“Let me up, and I’ll talk,” the undead whined, staring up at me with its sunken eyes, the sickly pallor of its flesh making my skin crawl. The undead never failed to unsettle me, if for no other reason than that they simply should not be. And now that they were here, turning others, growing their ranks through crazed hunger and violence, getting rid of them would be a task that would be nearly impossible to keep up with, especially with only myself and my small band of new Guardians able to destroy them.

I exchanged a glance with Brennan, and he heaved a sigh and stepped off of the undead, then started shifting back to his human form. It was then that the undead launched himself at Brennan, who was vulnerable during the shift, his body changing his mind neither cat nor man.

There was no thought on my part; my response was automatic. I launched toward the undead and sank my soulblade into the back of his neck, feeling black metal meet bone and sinew and watching as the last of its life force dissipated. The undead crumbled to dust in the same moment that Brennan completed the shift. It had all taken fractions of a second.

Brennan looked at me, his jaw set, his blue eyes flashing just a little.

“We needed that one alive, Eunomia,” he said quietly. “He had answers.”

“We will find another. It is not as if there is any shortage of undead here.”

“Yeah, but none that we knew of that were in any kid of organized leadership…” he trailed off, shaking his head and then he walked over to where his clothing lay. He started pulling his pants on, then his shirt, his posture tense.

“This is more my problem than yours. I do not see what you’re so angry about,” I muttered, wiping the black remains of the undead off of my soulblade on some nearby grass then putting it back in the sheath across my chest. He finished getting dressed wordlessly, then he walked toward me and leaned down, his mouth close to my ear.

“Your problems are my problems, Tink,” he said. It was not the same teasing, light tone he usually used with me. There was an edge to it that made me look questioningly at him. He met my eyes for a moment and then started walking toward where we’d parked the car, a few blocks away. We’d spotted our prey and ended up chasing him on foot.

And it had come to nothing.

He was right, I thought, heaving a sigh as I followed him. We rarely got any kind of a lead. The undead in London were organizing, and it was a very bad sign, to put it mildly. It was one thing to deal with random crazed undead beings. It was something else entirely to deal with an organized, disciplined force of them, focused on causing the most damage and carnage in a minimal amount of time. We probably could have gotten answers from that one, but I’d destroyed him.

But, I’d protected the man I loved. I would take that trade, and he could be annoyed with me if he wanted to be. What else would have have expected me to do? I thought irritably as I followed him.

We drove back to our flat and caught up with Artemis, who had spent the day with Brennan’s son, Sean. The four of us went out to dinner together, and then I parted ways with the rest of them; Brennan had things to attend to in terms of getting Sean settled and in to bed, and I had more undead to hunt.

When I got back home, he was still clearly irritated with me. We sat wordlessly, and we made love as we always did, but there was that edge of tension, irritation through it all. I dozed off, somewhere between angry and happily sated, and it was only a while later that I heard Sean begin his night-time crying, his nightmares getting the better of him, and Brennan got up and pulled on his pajama pants and t-shirts with a sigh, patting my hip before leaving the room to take care of his son.

I watched him go, and thought about our argument that day. It wasn’t the first time we’d had it, and we were having the same arguments over and over lately. And I knew it was beginning to wear on both of us. And I started feeling that creeping worry that seemed to have seeped into my psyche. We’d moved quickly, and he had followed me here. Had it been a mistake? I knew I loved him, completely, and I knew he loved me. But sometimes, you can love someone and still not be right together. And our personalities were very different.

The truth of it was, he was driving me crazy. The beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent, soulful man I was now sharing my life with was a good example of why, I think, Athena has chosen to remain celibate for so long.

At the same time, he is the embodiment of everything Aphrodite was supposed to symbolize.

I lay in our rumpled bed in the flat we were staying in in London and listened to the floorboards creaking as he walked back and forth in the next room, talking softly to his son, Sean, after the boy woke, screaming, from yet another nightmare. My body still ached pleasantly from the way he’d loved me before we’d drifted off to sleep. Falling asleep wrapped in Brennan’s warm, strong embrace was one of the absolute pleasures in my life. We had no issues at all in that department. Physically, we were a match made in heaven, his warm body a complement to my naturally cold one, his large body a counterpoint to my diminutive one. HIs passion the other side of my more even-headed outlook.

It was everything else we had to do together that was the problem. When it came to fighting the undead, dealing with the local supernatural community, and trying to solve who was behind the kidnapping of Brennan’s child, along with Molly’s son and Hephaestus’s son, we were always at odds. He was ever the diplomat, the former federal agent, the investigator.

I tended to be more of the “stab with my soulblade first, ask questions later, or not” philosophy. He focused on looking for answers, teasing details from those we chased, trying to get to the bottom of why everything was such a mess. And it was a point of view I definitely appreciated and would have welcomed in any other being.

But him? All I saw when I watched him patiently trying to get answers from an undead or a minor god was the possibility of losing him. Of his life being cut short. And I was starting to realize that this was exactly why my kind, the Guardians, were supposed to be celibate and cloistered. Loving someone the way I love Brennan changes things. It changes simple things, like how you wake up in the morning and how you fall asleep at night, and it changes big things, like having to choose between doing the things you’ve been sworn to do and selfishly trying to protect the one thing you cannot live without, no matter what it costs otherwise.

It is entirely possible that I spend too much time overthinking things. All of this, this having of friends, this being out in the world, this caring about others at all — all of it is new to me. Loving Brennan is the newest thing of all. I was unprepared for how much it would change my life. Unprepared for the way my heart seems to quite literally ache sometimes at how much I love him, or the way just seeing him smile that slightly cocky, lopsided smile can turn my whole day around, even if I am coming home covered with undead guts and other filth.

I heard the steady creaking from the next room stop, which meant that Brennan was settling Sean back into bed. The boy would likely sleep through the rest of the night now. We’d settled into this routine, because Sean’s nightmares were so steady you could practically set a clock by them. We’d rescued him a little over three months ago, and it did not seem to be getting any better. He could tell us little of what had happened to him, other than some incoherent mumbles about scary ladies.

It was one of the few times I was actually glad I no longer had my wings. If I had them, he would have seen the “bad ladies” every time he looked at me. All of the Guardians, myself included, looked very much alike. Luckily, even though I looked like them in almost every way, all he saw when he looked at me was the lady who’d saved him. I would take that.

Brennan walked back into our bedroom, closed the door and started walking back toward our bed,  shedding his shirt and pajama pants as he did. I turned over onto my side and leaned my head on my hand, watching with appreciation. Good Hades, he was a beautiful male. He caught me watching and gave me that cocky grin.

“I love it when you look at me like that,” he said as he climbed beneath the covers.

“Well, I rather enjoy it as well,” i said, and he pulled me into his arms. We fit together as if we’d been in one another’s arms for an eternity, settling against one another, limbs tangling, my body pressed to his as he rested his face at the side of my neck and my arms went around his shoulders, his arms holding me tightly around my waist, pulling me closer, always closer.

“You were pissed at me earlier,” he said, his voice muffled, his breath hot against my flesh.

“That is nothing new,” I said lightly, and he laughed.

“You know we’re not going to get any answers unless we do some digging. I mean, that’s how this works, Eunomia. WE can’t just keep stabbing them and expect to get to the bottom of why all this shit is happening. Why the kids were taken, why the undead started appearing now… all of it. We need answers.”

“We need to destroy them,” I said.

“Of course. But we need answers, too.” He pulled back a little. “And I know what you’re doing.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you go all stabby. You just want them gone. You hate them being anywhere near me.”

“Obviously.”

“Except that you’re forgetting a few things. One, I’m actually really well-trained in the art of killing whoever I need to kill if it comes to that—“

“I know that,” I said irritably.

“Two,” he continued, “this is kind of the whole reason we’re here. Molly needs us here to find answers and yeah, put down the undead, but answers are important.”

“Yes, but—“

“And three,” he said, pulling back so he could meet my eyes. “I need you to believe in me, just a little bit.”

I stared at him, mouth agape. “I do believe in you,” I finally said.

“No,” he said, pulling me close again and settling his face against my neck. “You’re always expecting me to get my ass kicked.”

“It is not your skills I’m concerned about. We’re dealing with—“

“Supernatural beings. Who I’ve been fighting since I was twelve years old. Nice try,” he said, running his hands up and down my back. “I know you’re worried about me. I’m just saying, you know, no man wants his woman to constantly be watching him, waiting for the moment he’s gong to screw up.”

“That is not what I am doing,” I argued. He kissed his way down my neck, my collarbone, my sternum, resting his face between my breasts for a moment before tilting his head and gently nipping the underside of one of them. I bit back a small groan. I knew what he was doing. He knew this conversation would make me tense and he was trying to distract me from getting worried and irritated.

“That’s exactly what you’re doing. Do you have any idea how much it pisses me off?” he asked. And then, as if to soften the effect of his words, he started doing very interesting things involving his mouth and my breast. This time, I couldn’t hide the helpless moan that escaped me, and I knew it was exactly what he wanted. After a moment, he released my nipple with an audible “pop” and I gasped.

“You need to stop” he said, meeting my eyes. He kissed his way over to my other breast and lavished it with the same attention, making my toes curl, my body heat. I fought the pleasant fuzziness forming over my thoughts. This was the way we did things. We did our best arguing in bed. So far, it seemed to be working for us.

“I am not waiting for you to get your ass kicked, you insufferable man,” I said, though the effect may have been ruined by the cry he drew out of me at the end. “I know you are more than capable.”

He kissed, licked, and nibbled his way back up to my neck, along my jawline, then claimed my lips. I dug my nails into his strong shoulders, trying to keep myself centered and focused. Gods, this man. He brought me to the brink of insanity over and over again, made me want to scream in frustration at times, and yet, there was always this between us. He knew me the way no one else ever had. He understood me, honored me. And I wanted to do the same for him.

Damn it all. And I hadn’t been. Not really. Not if he had the sense that I was waiting for him to fail. Not when my faith in him meant so much to him.

I kissed him back, then gently tugged his hair as I pulled away. I met his eyes. “I do not intend to make you feel that way,” I said softly. I ran my fingers through his hair, gently scraping my fingernails along his scalp, which I knew he loved. He closed his eyes languidly, and I ran my fingertips over his scalp a few more times. Moments like this, even in his human form, he was very much the giant cat he took as his favorite form. Touch was important to him, more so than I ever would have realized.

A few more strokes through his hair, and I let my fingertips trail down the sides of his face, through his short beard, then down the sides of his neck. He slowly opened is eyes and watched my face.

“I love you,” I murmured. “It still frightens me sometimes, how much you make me feel. Please understand that I am not expecting you to fail. I am just terrified of that one unlucky moment, that instant that could happen to any of us, in which your opponent gets lucky. Because that is what it would take for you to be bested. A slip, a distraction, and my world could be torn apart. Because the fact remains that while we are fairly sure you are as immortal as the rest of us, there is the tiniest chance that you are not. That chance haunts me,” I finished in a whisper. He continued watching me. “I have spent eternity without feeling the things you make me feel. There is no way I could go back to the way things were, if you were ever taken from me.”

Brennan pulled me close again, capturing my lips with his, and I let myself fall into the tangle of sensations that accosted me with every touch, every kiss, every time his eyes met mine.

He rolled me onto my back and settled his muscular body on top of mine, his gaze intense as he kept it locked onto mine.

“Eunomia, have a little faith, all right? They’d have to move heaven, Earth, and everything in between to ever get me away from you,” he promised in a low voice. He nudged my thighs apart, and then there was no more need for words.

* *

When I woke the next morning, it was to find Brennan’s side of the bed empty and the blankets tucked closely around my body. I rolled over onto my stomach, burying my face in his pillow. He woke well before sunrise most days, often to touch base with his friends back home in Detroit, then start his day. Sean was an early riser, so most days, I woke up to the sounds of laughter and running footsteps through our flat. This morning, it was silent. I was confused for a moment, but then I remembered that Artemis was taking Sean to Greece this week to show him some of the old temples. I smiled to myself, then burrowed deeper beneath the covers. A whole week without Sean. I liked the child, maybe even spoiled him a little, mostly because he reminded me so much of his father. But I had no maternal feelings at all, and I doubted I ever would. I had to admit that an entire week of having Brennan to myself, just the two of us in the flat sounded like paradise.

I should probably get up, I thought to myself. And then I closed my eyes and pulled the blankets up over my head and let myself doze for a while longer.

I was awakened a while later by the feel of the mattress shifting, the familiar feel of Brennan’s arms pulling me up against him as he delved beneath the blankets with me.

“You’re back early,” I said sleepily.

“I made it clear to the packs that I wasn’t in the mood to spend all day listening to them bitching,” he said, pressing a series of warm kisses across my upper back, over the scars that remained from the day Asclepius had had to remove what was left of my wings. They’d become too damaged, and I’d become too weakened. Removing them and giving me an infusion of Mollis’s blood had given me a chance to recover. Brennan kissed the scars often, as if he hoped it would somehow comfort me after the devastating loss.

And the crazy thing was, it kind of did.

He kissed his way up my spine, the back of my neck, and then I tuned my head so he could kiss my lips. He kissed me, then pulled back just enough so I could turn around and hold him. He’d shed his clothing, and I was delighted to rest this way, skin to skin with him, completely, utterly, and blissfully alone.

“I’m glad you finished your meetings quickly,” I said, nuzzling his jawline. “Did you talk to Nain this morning?”

“I ended up talking to Ada. Nain was out dealing with some undead mess or something.”

“How is she?”

He didn’t answer for a moment, and I pulled back so I could see his face.

“What is it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “She had a little bit of a health scare the other day, I guess.”

“What kind of health scare?”

“She thought she was having a heart attack. So Nain and Stone took her to the hospital, and it turns out that it was indigestion, but when she was there, I guess they told her that her blood pressure was way too high and her sugar was too high and they put her on a  bunch of meds. Which you know Ada hates.”

“Yes. I’m glad she is all right, though.”

“Me too.” He held me close, rubbing my back. “It was just a kind of sudden reminder that Ada and Stone aren’t like the rest of us,” he said quietly.

Not immortal, or very close to it, was what he meant. And while the witch and the strongman had already lived much longer than many humans, and aged much more slowly, the fact was that neither of them were exactly young anymore. I knew that Ada was the primary mother figure in Brennan’s life since his own mother had died when he was a boy.

“You miss them,” I said softly, and he shrugged. He’d followed me here. Mollis had sent me here to London, as the center of the undead uprising, to get things under control and find answers, and I’d gone without a second thought, because I have lived everywhere and I am honored to go where my Queen and friend needs me to be. But he’d followed me, leaving behind not just the city he’d always called home, but also the friends and family he’d loved for almost his entire life. True, he had his son and his grandmother, Artemis here. And he had me. But Nain was father figure, best friend, and like a brother to Brennan, even after their strained relationship of the past several years. Stone and Ada were like another set of parents. And all of the shifters that Brennan had led and considered an extended family had given him a community he’d felt at home in. He hadn’t even considered staying behind, and I knew that if I asked him now, he would insist he was where he wanted to be.

But he missed his home and his family. That much, I could understand. Detroit had become home to me as well, and I found that I missed the gritty yet oddly beautiful streets of my adopted hometown. Not to mention those we’d left behind.

A plan started to form, just barely, before Brennan murmured, “I like finding you naked in bed. Very convenient, Tink,” and distracted me completely.

A while later, Brennan left for some meeting he had scheduled with the local supernatural affairs people, which he’d been working with more and more since we’d arrived in London. I went out hunting as usual. I was missing my New Guardians. They were scattered around in pairs, cleaning up their assigned cities. Europe had been hit most badly y the arrival of the undead, but parts of North America and Asia were starting to see the effects as well. It was a mess, and there were not nearly enough of us to contain it. I held out hope that one day, the number of Guardians would reach its original, thirteen. At this point, we were trying to quell the undead and escort souls to the Nether for Mollis to judge with half that amount.

So I hunted, and I thought and planned and daydreamed. When I returned to our flat that night, covered, as usual, in the remains of those I’d hunted, it was to find Brennan asleep on the sofa in the living room, his laptop open on the cushion beside him, several files and other folders spread out on the coffee table. He’d given up his role as director of the Detroit branch of the federal supernatural affairs division, but h’d found himself, slowly but surely over the past weeks, settling into a position of leadership in the international supernatural affairs bureau, which was headquartered in London. They’d already been practically courting him, wanting him to take up a leadership position. For his part, Brennan preferred to consult and help as needed, but I could see that he thrived on being needed.

Just as it was between the two of us. He needed to be needed. And it worked well, because he is, quite possibly, the one thing I have ever actually required to be happy and whole.

I approached him and he opened his eyes.

“Hey,” he said in a hoarse, sleepy voice.

“Hey, yourself. You should go to bed,” I said, leaning down and kissing him. I was about to pull back, but he reached up and tangled his fingers in my hair, held me close and captured my lips again. I smiled against his mouth.

“I will go to bed,” he said, letting me go. “Are you coming?”

“Right after I clean up,” I promised. I showered, dried off, and made my way into our room. I could already hear Brennan’s faint snores from the bed, and I smiled. I climbed in beside him and he reached for me in his sleep. I stayed in his arms for a while, until he was solidly, heavily asleep beside me, and then I got up and crept silently around our room. I pulled a duffel bag from the closet and packed a few changes of clothing for him and for myself, then carried the bag out into the living room. I pulled on a t-shirt and pajama pants and booted up my laptop, then logged into FaceTime. I had arranged to talk to Ada tonight, and sure enough, she was online.

I logged in and the older witch and I spoke for a little while. When I told her my plan, she let out such a loud whoop that both Nain and Stone came running from other parts of the loft.

“Brennan and E are coming home for a couple of days!” she told them excitedly. Stone grinned, his white mustache pulling up at both sides, and he let out a happy guffaw. “It’s about goddamn time!” he said gruffly, then bent to kiss Ada’s cheek and sauntered away.

Even Nain looked happy. At least, inasmuch as Nain ever seems expressive at all. But I could tell he was pleased.

I finished talking to Ada, glad that they would all know to expect us. Two days and nights back home. The world would not fall apart if I took two days off from hunting the undead in London. If I felt overly guilty, I could hunt some in Detroit. But he needed this, and it was my turn to try to give him something he needed after all of the little arguments we’d been having of late.

When I woke in the morning, the bed was empty beside me yet again, and I frowned. He’d had no appointments today, I’d made sure of it so we could leave fairly early to spend as much time as possible in Detroit. I glanced at the alarm clock on my bedside table in irritation.

Maybe he’d stepped out to grab something to eat. I got up and dressed, and then I picked up my phone. No messages. I dialed him and it went immediately to voicemail.

I frowned. That was very unlike him. I was caught between being worried and annoyed. Mostly, I leaned toward being worried because that seems to be my natural tendency when it comes to Brennan. But I was irritated as well. The one day I had something planned, and he’d decided to choose now to deviate from his usual routine.

I sighed and dialed again, and got voicemail. I hung up and called Ada to tell her we were running late. After another half hour, I left to go out and look for him.

I walked through the area of the city immediately around our flat. He hadn’t taken the car or his motorcycle, which meant he hadn’t gone far. The longer I walked, the bigger the knot forming in my gut felt. What if something had happened to him? What if he’d run into one of the many, many beings who wanted a shot at any of Mollis’s allies? What if—

I shook my head. This was exactly what he’d been talking about other day. I immediately leapt to the conclusion that he needed to be saved, when logically, I knew very well that anyone who intended to give Brennan any trouble would be in for a world of hurt. I took a deep breath and forced myself to slow down. I decided to head back to our apartment. Things seemed fairly calm out in the city today, and I hoped that would hold during the next couple of days. Maybe we’d finally gotten rid of enough undead to make a difference.

I doubted it, but one could hope.

I was a couple of blocks away from our flat when my phone rang. My heart leapt when I saw Brennan’s number. I answered before it had a chance to ring a second time.

“Eunomia, where are you?” he asked when I answered.

“One could ask you the same thing,” I said wryly.

“I’m at home. Looking for you,” he told me.

“And I am out roaming the streets looking for you.”

Brennan let out a short laugh. “You were worried about me, huh?”

“Not at all.”

“Uh huh,” he said, doubt in his voice. “Well, I’m home now. And I have a surprise for you.”

“Is this like that time I arrived home to find you waiting with a bag of goodies from that one particular shop that makes me blush every time we walk past it?”

“Not this time,” he said, still laughing.

“Damn,” I said wistfully.

“But I think you’ll like this, too. And we can play with that other stuff anytime,” he added.

I laughed. “Very well. I’m almost there now.”

It only took me a few minutes to get home and take the stairs up to our flat. I could have rematerialized, but I did not like to do that in our own neighborhood, where one of our neighbors could look out a window and notice something amiss if I suddenly disappeared. They had enough to worry about with the undead in the city.

When I walked into our apartment, it was to find Brennan sitting there with Hephaestus. Both men stood up, and Hephaestus came to me and pulled me into a bone-crushing hug.

“How are you, my wee nightmare?” Hephaestus asked as he hugged me, and I laughed.

“Fine, you big lout,” I said, laughing and hugging him back. “What in the Nether are you doing here?”

“Aren’t you happy to see me?” he asked, grinning.

“Of course! I’m just surprised. I know you’re busy with your wife and son and all of the work you do for Mollis.”

He nodded. “Well. Every once in a while, I find the time to do a little something else. And Brennan contacted me a while back with an idea, and it sounded like a good one. It just took some time to figure out.”

I looked at Brennan questioningly and he just smiled at me, that small, secretive smile that never failed to make my heart pound a little harder.

“What is it?”

“Shall we take this elsewhere, then?” Hephaestus asked Brennan, and Brennan nodded. Hephaestus took my hand, and I took Brennan’s. I noticed that Hephaestus carried a large black bag but before I could give it much thought, we were falling apart, and then coming together again, rematerializing elsewhere.

The next time I opened my eyes, we were standing on the roof of an old manor-type house in the countryside. I glanced at Hephaestus.

“It’s abandoned,” he said, as if that answered anything at all. He set the bag down and started unzipping it. “You’re gonna have to take the jacket off, E,” he said, not bothering to look up.

I glanced at Brennan and all he did was give me that smile again and hold his hand out, waiting to take my jacket from me. I unzipped it, shrugged it off, and handed it over. Hephaestus looked up and grinned.

“I recognize that one. I was with Molly when she found it.”

I glanced down at my t-shirt, a vintage 1980s Def Leppard concert shirt. “Again, I don’t like this band at all, but I love the shirt.” Mollis had started doing this, sending me concert shirts from bands I probably didn’t know anything about as a way to help me adapt to living in this world. She’d kept it up, partially as a joke between us and partially as a way to stay connected even when I was away.

Hephaestus lifted what looked like some kind of black metal contraption out of the bag.

“Lift your arms,” he said, and I obeyed, watching him with confusion. “Strap that around her chest,” he told Brennan. Brennan came over to me and buckled a black leather strap under my breasts, and another above. I looked up at him, and he met my eyes and winked.

“You’re sure this will work,” he asked Hephaestus, keeping his eyes locked on mine.

“Positive. Tested them myself. If it worked for me, it’ll definitely work for her. Have a little faith,” Hephaestus huffed.

“Do all immortal men feel the need to say that?” I asked irritably, remembering Brennan saying the same thing to me after the recent incident with the undead and my immediate need to “rescue” him.

“Gods, faith. We can’t help ourselves,” Hephaestus said, and Brennan laughed, nodding in agreement.

“Annoying,” I said, though I couldn’t help myself from smiling. “And what are we doing, exactly? What are these for?” I asked, plucking at the leather straps Brennan had fastened.

“This,” Hephaestus said, pulling something out of the bag with a flourish. I squinted at them, and he laughed. “Hold on a minute. You’ll get the idea.”

He went behind me and attached it to whatever was on the back side of the straps, and my heart started pounding. If this was what I was beginning to think it was…

“Yeah, I think she’s getting the idea,” Brennan said, grinning. Hephaestus finished what he was doing and stepped in front of me, beside Brennan.

“Okay. Do whatever you’d normally do to open your wings,” he said, and I almost started crying right then and there. Instead, I pulled myself together and flexed my shoulder blades, using the same motion I had used my entire existence when the time had come to spread my wings. The moment I did it, whatever he’d put on my back opened as well. I gasped, then looked to one side, then the other. They were roughly the same size and shape as my old wings, bat-like, but they seemed to be made of some kind of very thin, very light metal. They shimmered, just a little bit, in the overcast light.

“All you have to do is act like you’re flying, and they’ll work. I designed them to pick up on your muscle movements and kind of act as an extension of that. So, if you start moving like you’re gonna fly, then—“

His voice drifted away as I rose into the air, high, the metallic wings beating strongly. I maneuvered, twisted, soared. I mostly tried to make sure I didn’t get near any other houses or roads, not wanting to be seen, but all that really mattered was that I was where I’d longed to be for so long, flying among the clouds, Earth’s beauty sprawled below like some kind of crazy quilt. I twisted and turned, looped around. I beat the wings and stayed in place, just hovering and looking around, the only sound the regular, rhythmic beating of my wings.

I felt tears falling down my cheeks. I was completely overcome by being there, by the scene in front of me, by the knowledge that Brennan, and Hephaestus as well, had cared enough to give me this moment. I let out a crazed-sounding whoop of joy and flew some more, basking in the weak sunlight and the cool sky.

When I finally came in for a landing on the roof a while later, Brennan and Hephaestus were sitting side by side, grinning. They stood up, and I pulled Brennan by the front of his shirt and kissed him hard, hungrily, trying to let him know exactly what it had meant for me, what it had done for me, to be in the sky again. He kissed me back just as passionately, until Hephaestus cleared his throat and we broke apart, both of us flushed and breathless.

I hugged Hephaestus, and he laughed. “Thank you!” I told him.

“Now, listen,” he said, holding his hands up when I let him go. “They’re not a replacement. You can’t use them out fighting or patrolling. They run on a battery and it won’t last much longer than you were out there. Okay? So you can’t expect to use them the way you ordinarily would have used your wings before.” I nodded. “But Brennan came to me and he said that he wanted us to figure out a way to get you back up in the sky. He said you missed it and you needed it. And I think he was probably right. So it’s not a replacement,” he repeated. “But every once in a while, you can get back up there and get yourself right again. Right?” he asked.

I nodded. “Right. It’s more than I ever imagined. I’d thought the sky was lost to me, completely. There are no words…” I shook my head, and then grabbed both immortal men and pulled them into my arms. They each laughed, and Brennan pressed a kiss to the side of my neck. They helped me out of the wings, and they were just about finished when I looked at Brennan, remembering that I had a surprise of my own.

“Hephaestus, did you see a bag in our living room?” I asked him, and he winked.

“Yep. I’ll take care of it. Go ahead and do your thing, my little nightmare,” he said. I kissed his cheek, and Hephaestus blushed.

“What’s going on?” Brennan asked. I smiled at him and pulled my jacket back on. Then I took his hands, and in the next moment, we were standing in the loft in Detroit, and all of our family and friends were talking at once, coming and pulling us into their arms.

We spent the day sitting and talking and eating with Nain, Ada, Stone, Hephaestus and his wife Meghan, and Shanti and Zero, as well as all of the children that seemed to have sprung up all at once. Mollis was stuck in the Nether, dealing with another attempt by some of the souls to break out. Nain promised she expected to be back by the following morning, and, after a while, he left to join her in the Nether.

That night, Brennan and I curled up together on the bed in Brennan’s room at the loft, and he held me, kissing me as if he could live an eternity and never, ever get enough.

“This was an amazing surprise, Eunomia,” he said when he finally broke our kiss. “How did you know I needed this?”

I smiled. “How did you know how badly I needed the skies?”

He pulled me close again. “This is amazing. You know, though, that no matter how much I love the people here, home for me is wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s London, or Detroit, or the-middle-of-nowhere, Iowa, or the Nether itself. If you’re there, I’m home.”

I ran my fingertips through his hair. “I know. And you should know that every moment with you makes me feel like I can fly,” I paused. “And that I believe in you. There are very few beings I have absolute faith in, but you are one of them, my love.”

He smiled, and then he kissed me, and I remembered how much I believed in one more thing: us.

The End

Release day traditions (and gratitude!)

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The day after a book release always feels like a holiday to me. The week or so leading up to a release tends to be stressful, so the day after it’s out there in the world usually feels as if there’s a weight that’s been lifted. This release day was less stressful for me than many others, mostly, I think, because the StrikeForce series is a project I’m working on because I find it fun. It’s like play. It’s certainly my hope that at least some of you guys will love it as much as I do, but there wasn’t the overwhelming “oh my god everyone is going to hate this!” obsessive worry that I usually have before my books come out. A New Day, even though it required a complete rewrite after I had the first draft mostly done, and then a second complete rewrite, was a joy to work on. I hope that comes across in the reading of it.

Anyway. What I’m taking a while to get around to saying, aside from the fact that I have my 15th book out in the world,  is that the book did much better, sales-wise, on release day than I was expecting it to. You guys amaze me, over and over again, by continuing to come with me on these weird little trips I take us on. There really are no words, in any language, that could explain how much that means to me. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

How I Spent Release Day

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We saw a lone swan at the pond. He ignored us entirely.

It’s a release day tradition now for my husband and kids to get me out of the house so I don’t just sit, staring at Amazon rankings all day. Yesterday, (after stopping by Starbucks and grabbing coffee in those much-maligned red cups… the horror!) we went to one of our nearby Metroparks. We hiked through the woods and the kids played on the playground. I think that fall, even after most of the trees have shed their leaves, may be my favorite time to be in the woods. There’s a kind of quiet, haunting, whispery feeling to it all. You can see the latticework of bare branches overhead, the bright scarlet stalks of red twig dogwoods. You can hear the breeze rattling through the rushes in the swampier areas, and, of course, there’s the ever-satisfying crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet. Not great for actually seeing much wildlife, but we did startle a deer, who bounded away from us in that ballerina-like way deer have.

After that, we stopped by one of my favorite thrift shops, then the craft store where I found some awesome fabric remnants featuring sunflowers and roosters. I think I’ll turn it into a valance for the window over the kitchen sink at our house up north. And we stopped for an early dinner, and then came home and I read and played Warcraft and hung out with the kids. All in all, it was a great day.

What’s Next?

It's still warm enough here that we have a few dragonflies hanging around. Apparently, this one is named Maria.

It’s still warm enough here that we have a few dragonflies hanging around. Apparently, this one is named Maria.

So, what’s coming up next? I’m a good bit of the way through the second StrikeForce book, which should be out in January. I’m trying to make more progress on Shifted Fate, which is the Hidden side-story I’m working on for my newsletter subscribers. (Yes, lovely subscribers… I haven’t forgotten about it! We’ll get back on track, hopefully this week.) And then there is the new serial here on the blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I may also have a little surprise up my sleeve for the holidays. We’ll see.

Thanks, as always, for reading and for being so supportive. Have a great day!