The Second Coming: Chapter Seven

Memories cascaded within Elise as she stood over the sanctuary.

Rylie was good.

That statement hadn’t been enough.

As Alpha, Rylie Gresham had been a mess of contrasts: a knobby-kneed, innocent-looking blond girl with a shy smile who bit her bottom lip and stared at her feet a lot; a sleek golden werewolf as deadly as a flaming sword who had attacked Aquiel, a demon the size of a mountain, without even a moment’s hesitation.

She had been at Elise’s side when shit had hit the fan with James. They had faced the end of the world together.

Good was far from adequate.

Rylie had been fucking great.

She’d have been proud to see how big the sanctuary had grown in the decades after her death. Hell, Elise was proud of her.


Elise hadn’t dreamed she’d show up at the sanctuary to find Rylie dead.

Now Elise stood side-by-side with Nashriel Adamson, waiting to feel the stir of familiarity within her. She’d carried the soul of his mother, Eve, for many years. Their encounters had always been tainted by her presence.

He was staring at her as though waiting for it to arise again.

“She’s gone,” Elise said. “There’s nothing here but me.”

“And barely that,” Nash said, as though it were an insult. She’d have expected that to be a good thing. From what little she remembered of their history, flitting over the surface of her mind, there had been considerable conflict.

A squeak drew Elise’s gaze to her feet.

Something scraggly and skeletal was rubbing between her ankles.

A cat?

It turned its face up to her, revealing a skull with empty eye sockets and sharp teeth uncovered by lips or whiskers.

A zombie cat.

“The fuck?” Elise asked.

The feline should have been dead. She could count its ribs and the number of joints in its tail. Yet its spine arched as it stroked along her thighs, and the wisps of dusty fur on its flank were layered over chunks of tough, dry fat, like beef jerky.

“Sir Lumpy.” Nash stooped and picked the cat up. It sank its claws into his sleeve to climb onto his shoulders, coiling around his neck. Sir Lumpy was wearing a collar with a tiny skull dangling from it, like a bell. “He’ll outlive us all.”

Elise never would have called the hideously flat-faced skeleton alive, even if it did look content nuzzling Nash’s jaw with its exposed cheekbones.

“Waste of magic,” Elise said.

Hatred flitted through Nash’s eyes. “You’ve been busy. Let me see it.” He extended his hands toward Elise.

Elise didn’t want to surrender the baby to him. It seemed that something hormonal was teaming up with her natural hatred of angels, turning the muscles in her arms to iron.

Nash continued to hold his hands out. He waited.

Elise shoved aside the natural instincts that rode her like a parasite and delivered Victoria to him. It was awkward trying to pass an infant between people, even when one of them was a skilled demon hunter and the other was an angel with preternatural grace.

Warmth smoldered within Nash’s eyes as he surveyed the baby, lifting her with long fingers curved around her soft skull and underneath her padded butt. Sir Lumpy leaned forward to sniff Victoria’s head. The cat didn’t seem to approve. He leaped off of Nash’s shoulders and vanished into the bush’s again.

“Humans and angels can breed,” Nash said. “The resulting creatures are called mages.”

Elise folded her arms. She knew that.

“Theoretically, werewolves and angels would be able to breed as well. Werewolves who had the curse bestowed upon them by a bite are still human—possessed by the spirit of the wolf, rather than a different species. The children of werewolves are not possessed. Shapeshifters are a completely different species.”

She understood now where Nash was going with this line of thought.

Summer Gresham was a shapeshifter born of two Alpha werewolves: a woman as much wolf as she was human, not possessed, but a true preternatural.

Nashriel was an ancient angel, older than time, once a loyal soldier of Adam.

They were not close enough genetically to reproduce.

“We’ve been married for a hundred years,” Nashriel said, “and I have never gotten the opportunity to hold a child who looks as much like myself and Summer as this child looks like you and James Faulkner.” Now his fingers were not so gentle on the back of Victoria’s skull. His knuckles tensed. “And you said that preserving my wife’s beloved pet is a waste of magic.”

“I’ll skin your wife and crush her beloved pet if you hurt my offspring.” Elise was surprised by how strongly she meant that.

“You are guilty of a thousand-thousand evils, yet you get to experience this bliss,” Nashriel said. “I’ve suffered for eons, and what do I get? I watch my wife die of age, as beautiful as the day we met, yet too frail for her heart to beat of its own volition.” His eyes fell shut as his nose dropped to Victoria’s soft hair. He inhaled. “Your daughter is beautiful, Elise, and one day, you too will watch her die.”

“I’m mortal,” Elise said.

“In this form. You’ll live on. She won’t.”

“Give her back.”

Nash did, much to Elise’s overwhelming relief. The baby slept through it all. No survival instincts at this age. “I’ve heard rumors of an angel who has seized Reno, Nevada, and is operating a crime ring out of its casinos. If you want to find James Faulkner, you should begin there.”

Worms writhed unpleasantly within Elise’s gut. “Are you certain of that information?”

“I’ve heard of no sightings of James there, but angels are few, even in these days, and none are in the Western Americas.”

Elise stared at the wrinkled face resting on her chest, which so closely resembled James’s.

In their new life as Danäe and Daniel, there had been minimal conflict between the two of them—only as much conflict as naturally occurred between, say, an overheated pregnant woman and the husband she considered responsible for fixing their air conditioning.

It hadn’t always been that way.

The warm memories of a great Alpha who had passed on came with other familiar feelings, which were far less pleasant.

This idea that James could be in the world, hiding somewhere, running a crime ring…

Not only did it stir disgusting emotions, it sounded revoltingly plausible.

“Give me crime details,” Elise said.

“I haven’t had time to investigate deeply. I’ve been distracted with caretaking duties in years of late.” Nash cast his pale gaze upon the earthen mound. “What I know is this: there is black market trade in pre-Genesis artifacts. Rumor has it that some retain old power, such that hasn’t been seen since the Treaty of Dis.”

“I don’t understand the implications.”

“You brought back the possibility of mages and warlocks when you entered the Origin in 2015. You didn’t restore the knowledge. Mages have made significant progress rediscovering what they can do—infernal warlocks have not. There aren’t warlocks left to communicate. Think of what they could learn from the original warlocks predating the Treaty by studying those artifacts.”

It didn’t make sense. James wouldn’t benefit directly from demon magic. In his avatar form, he was a man; in his god form, he was an angel. Warlock magic was another thing entirely.

But Elise had changed a lot of rules during Genesis.

It was like a light flickering to life in the fiber of her being.

Hadn’t magic begun to mix together during the Breaking? Infernal, ethereal, gaean. She’d wielded power in its many forms. So had James.

What would James want to do with all that?

Assuming it was even him.

“I’ll need money,” Elise said. “Weapons. Transportation.”

Nash’s eyes narrowed. “Why should I help you, when you’ve done so little for me?”

“Rylie would want you to.”

“What will you do if you find James up to his old tricks in Reno?”

Elise wasn’t sure. Kill him, maybe. It would be the fastest way to terminate his avatar and send him back to eternity as a god.

She’d have to raise Victoria alone.

“I’ll figure it out,” Elise said.

Hatred flashed through Nash’s eyes again. “You’ll have all the support you need, Godslayer.”

Her shoulders tightened at the sound of the old name. She managed to say, “Thank you,” but didn’t manage to make it sound authentic.

Nash returned to the earthen mound.

Before the door shut, she saw Nash lowering to his knees beside Abel and the woman in bed. He gazed at her with intensity that Elise recognized, since it was the same way that James looked at Elise, sometimes.

That was Summer Gresham, the woman that Nash had loved for years, now on the brink of death. He looked at her as though she were still the vibrant young thing that he’d sacrificed everything to be with.

The door closed, and Elise was alone with Victoria.

Elise spent the night in the sanctuary, her wounds knitting.

The guest cottage she was given had changed little since the Breaking. The furniture had been updated, but was clearly meant to harken back to the styles that the werewolf pack had used in the early twenty-first century. The furniture looked inexpensive, but it was sturdy underneath Elise when she laid down with Victoria—stuff that was meant to last in the generations to come, now that the sanctuary had enough money to afford finer materials.

She’d been given a crib for Victoria, and Elise looked forward to sleeping on her own without the baby on her chest. But the baby screeched when set down. Elise wanted sleep more than she wanted space.

Victoria settled when Elise curled around her.

Elise couldn’t.

Part of the problem was that the zombie cat had followed her into the cottage. For reasons Elise couldn’t understand, Sir Lumpy seemed equally attracted to and repulsed by the presence of a baby. As soon as Elise put Victoria on the twin bed, the cat leaped onto the headboard to affix its eyeless gaze upon the newborn. Elise flicked her fingers at it to encourage it to go away. Her fingernails connected with Sir Lumpy’s breastbone, and he didn’t move.

So there was a dead cat staring at them.

That wasn’t restful.

Even if Sir Lumpy hadn’t been glaring his fury at them, Elise doubted she’d have been able to sleep. The room was chilly. The sounds of life and movement outside of her cottage made her feel paranoid, even though it was still quieter than the OPA shelter where she’d stayed with Hailey.

For hours, she remained lying on her side, gazing out the parted curtains through the window at the shape of dark mountains against the sky, and her mind raced.

It was James’s fault that Elise was there. He had wanted to have a baby. Elise had only agreed to carry it for him.

In retrospect, she should have made him substantiate as a female avatar and carry his own damn fetus.

That hadn’t occurred to her in the expanse of eternity, and it wouldn’t have seemed as important at the time anyway, since Elise had expected to be able to offload the baby on him once born.

She’d been so certain that James would have only missed the birth if he’d been abducted.

Now she felt certain of nothing.

One of the sanctuary’s leaders had informed Elise of what would happen the next morning. She would be given access to a bank account and supplied an income—how much had yet to be determined. The sanctuary’s private jet would take her to Reno and provide her with a car, which would have a variety of helpful weapons in the trunk.

What happened after that was up to Elise.

No certainties in life.

Victoria began whimpering in her sleep, which quickly escalated to whining, and then crying. Sir Lumpy finally jumped down and vanished underneath the bed. The exposed bones of his paws clicked against the floor.

“Well, that’s one certainty,” Elise muttered. A baby at rest will only stay at rest until her mother tries to get some sleep.

The Second Coming: Chapter Six

Once the adrenaline wore off, it came to Elise’s attention that her femur had a hairline fracture. The pain nearly made her collapse immediately after meeting Deirdre Tombs. She was informed of the pain’s origin by a healer in a cottage at the bottom of the hill, who made a lot of aghast noises as he looked over Elise’s body.

“No prenatal care?” he asked. “No postpartum care? And what about seeing a pediatrician?”

“The newborn didn’t get hit with a shifter’s hammer,” Elise said.

The healer set spells to work fixing before looking over Victoria. He said that the baby’s hip joints were good. He felt no issues when palpating Victoria’s abdomen, though Victoria didn’t appreciate the cold fingers on her naked belly and yelled about it quite a bit. He traced his fingers over the soft spots on her skull and announced those were fine, too.

“Does the baby seem to be reacting to sight and sound normally, as far as you can tell?” he asked.

“As normal as a fucking potato that feeds on bodily fluids,” Elise muttered.

“She’ll need to be scanned,” he said, shining a light into Victoria’s eyes.

Elise had been instructed not to get off the table while the spell was repairing her thigh—and the healing wound where the placenta used to be attached to her uterus, which was, the healer scornfully informed her, the reason she was gushing blood every time she moved too much. Having a healer poking her crying baby and announce something was wrong made her want to stand very badly.

“Give her to me,” Elise said.

Something in her tone was very convincing. He spilled the baby into her arms. Victoria stopped crying once held by Elise.

“Her eyes look a little strange,” he said.

“Strange how?” They were that flat gray color that Marion’s had been when she’d been a baby. Elise thought all babies were supposed to look like that.

“They’re not reacting to stimulus properly,” he said. “So we’ll need to run tests.”

“Is she human?” Elise asked.

The healer looked startled. “Are you?”

That was a good question. Elise wasn’t sure if she and James had decided to bestow any powers on her in this life, and she hadn’t thought to experiment.

The door opened, preventing her from having to come up with a satisfactory answer. Deirdre Tombs reentered, flanked by more armed guards than were meant to fit into the little medical cottage.

“Out,” she snapped.

The healer scurried for the door. “Your femur needs five more minutes before it can handle weight!” he called before leaving.

Deirdre glared at Elise.

Elise glared back.

“You do look kinda like the Godslayer,” Deirdre finally said grudgingly.

“I don’t know you,” Elise said.

“Looks don’t mean a lot.” Deirdre shrugged it off, as if deciding it didn’t matter who Elise was. “You killed a lot of people. Bad people, though. So I’ll let that slide. I’ve been working my way through so-called ‘Alphas’ like Corina for months, and you just knocked one off of my list for me. I owe you thanks for that.”

“Where’s Rylie Gresham?”

“Get in the wheelchair,” Deirdre said. One of her guards brought it to the side of the table.

There was no way Elise was going to get in that.

She moved to stand from the table.

“If you don’t want to have O’Shea in here working on you again, you’ll get in the fucking chair,” Deirdre said.

Elise limped for the door.

The magic hurt significantly, but she’d been through worse.

Deirdre didn’t bother arguing with Elise once she got out of the cottage. Rock and hard place had met and decided they didn’t give any fucks about one another’s attitudes.

Elise was shamefully slow following Deirdre down the road, though.

They didn’t have far to go.

“Rylie Gresham,” Deirdre said, jerking her thumb.

There was a statue at the crossroads. It depicted a woman in her fifties, perhaps her sixties, with long straight hair and a serene expression. There was a wolf coiled around her body that was three or four times larger than her. Elise remembered the sleek, almost feline wolf that Rylie had been capable of shapeshifting into. The statue was meant to represent Rylie in both of her forms.

“She’s been dead for twenty years,” Deirdre said. “And you look like you’re not much older than that. So we’ve got three options as I see it: you’re delirious, you’re telling the truth about who you are, or you were besties with Rylie when you were a toddler and she was old as fuck. Which is possible. That’s something Rylie would have done. She did have eight children, after all.”

Rylie Gresham was dead.

The woman that Elise had been hoping to pass Victoria off to…gone.

The years stamped on the placard at Rylie’s stone feet were significantly higher than Elise expected, too.

When Elise shut her eyes and focused hard, she remembered a few dates from her previous life. She knew that she’d settled in Reno, Nevada with James the first time in…what had that been, 2009? And the world had undergone the Breaking—a terrible time when Hell had leaked onto Earth—in something like 2014.

This said that Rylie Gresham had died in the year 2062.

“What year is it now?” Elise asked.

Deirdre gave her a strange look and said, “It’s 2125.”

Time was such a strange thing as a god.

Elise could have sworn that she and James had returned to Earth, substantiating into avatar forms, at a time shortly following their previous lives. She’d intended to see what had become of the world they had made. They should have appeared no later than 2016, maybe 2017.

Instead, they were seeing a world that had lived a century with minimal interference from them.

How was it that she’d lived something like twenty-five years in this body without realizing she’d lost a hundred years?

Everything felt so foggy.

Time marched on for the pack, though.

“The Elder Wolf will see you now,” Deirdre said, stopping in front of a pile of dirt at the top of the waterfall. They’d gotten back to walking once Elise’s femur had finished healing, which she’d allowed to happen while sitting at the stone feet of Rylie Gresham’s statue. Elise was much faster now that her legs were working.

“Elder Wolf?” Elise asked. “The hell is an Elder Wolf?” There had been no such thing in her day and age, and the thought merely crossing her mind made her feel like an ancient curmudgeon.

“Just get in there. He’s expecting you.” Deirdre folded her arms, stood aside, and waited.

Elise shifted her grip on Victoria and ducked into the dirt mound.

She’d expected to find something magical inside. Witches could cast glamours that cloaked the most extraordinary things in ordinary exteriors, and anywhere a supposed Elder Wolf lived must have been pretty extraordinary.

Nope. Pile of dirt on the outside, pile of dirt on the inside.

It had been smoothed out by lots of people walking around it. There were two mattresses piled with comfortable pillows against opposite walls. There was a stone slab in the middle. And a fire pit in front of that.

The Elder Wolf was sitting in front of the fire pit.

Elise laughed when she recognized him.

“Fuck,” she said. “You’re old.”

“You’re not,” said Abel Wilder.

The man was truly ancient, and he was sitting on a tree stump turned stool more like a frog than a wolf. There was strength in his muscles and smoothness in the way he stood, but he was diminished with age, at least an inch shorter from spine compression without the biceps and shoulders that had once made him intimidating.

He was dark-skinned and heavily scarred on one side of his body. What hair remained was white. His gold eyes remained sharp as ever as he studied Elise, though.

“Shit,” he grunted. “I didn’t believe them. Shouldn’t have put anything past you, but there you go. Get older and stupider every day.” His gaze dropped to the squirming bundle in Elise’s arms, and he laughed. “Ha! You made a baby.”

“You made eight, apparently,” Elise said.

“And twenty-four grandbabies, and sixteen great-grandbabies, and a few great-greats that I’ve lost count of. Whole baseball teams worth of them. Babies are great. Love the little shitheads. Rylie would have been so fucking happy.”

Elise’s jaw clenched. “What happened?”

“A fight,” Abel said. “She sacrificed herself to stop enemies who would have killed the whole pack, grandbabies included. What else would you expect from her? She was too young.”

Dying in one’s late seventies didn’t seem “too young” to Elise, but then, she wasn’t a werewolf man who clearly had reached infirmity of age in his hundred thirties or forties, wherever he was.

He’d lived a long time without his mate.

“Is Deirdre one of those offspring of yours?” Elise asked. “She doesn’t look anything like either of you.”

“She’s not ours. She’s a phoenix. Keeps on coming back at random ages and times whenever she dies—little bit like you, I guess, without the god parts. She’ll get to be Alpha a long time. As far as I know, she’ll get to be Alpha forever unless someone figures out how to scrub her off the planet. She’s welcome to do it. I’m too old to worry about this crap.”

“I didn’t know werewolves could live this long,” Elise admitted.

“Neither did we. Surprise, surprise. Did you do it to us?”

That was another painful confession she had to make. “I don’t know.”

“Fucking avatars,” Abel muttered.

“You have experience with us? Have you seen James around?”

He eyed her suspiciously. “I’m surprised you don’t already know how I’ve run across avatars before. But, I mean, you always come back all scrambled up in the brains like this. Gods aren’t supposed to go mortal.” He added that part very pointedly, with no attempt to hide his judgment.

“I had plans,” Elise said. “James and I had plans, together.” Their main plan was starting to whine in the exact shrill pitch that made Elise want to drop the baby on the floor and walk out of the dirt mound. “Someone’s taken him. I have to find him. If you’ve seen him, now’s the time to mention it.”

“Naw, I haven’t,” Abel said. “I wouldn’t hide that from you. Got no interest in keeping people from their mates.”

Standing up seemed to be too exhausting for him suddenly. He sank onto the tree stump again, back leaning against the stone slab.

It was a sarcophagus, Elise realized.

The statue was the public memorial for Rylie Gresham, but Abel was living in a dirt mound with her body.


But understandable.

“I’d hoped to die of a broken hip or some shit right after Rylie, but instead I’ve had to watch generations carry on without her. Lots of mornings without her. Lots of nights without too. Lots of years,” Abel said. “Fucked up stuff. That’s life, though. Mortal life.”

Elise would never have to deal with mornings, nights, or years without James—once she found him again.

She had an eternity to be with the man she’d chosen. Who destiny had chosen for her.

Motion from one of the beds against the wall startled Elise. She hadn’t realized there was a body among all those pillows. Her senses truly were dulled. It was hard to hear, see, and feel anything except Victoria as she worked up a fuss. She couldn’t have been hungry again. She was just crying to cry.

Elise swung the baby in her arms as she walked over to the mattress.

The woman in bed was a woman with hair and skin similar to Abel’s. Elise hadn’t spent enough time with the pack to recognize who it was, especially with so many years wrinkling her face, etching canyons into features that surely had been beautiful in youth, and making her limbs weak and shriveled.

She was asleep, curled into the fetal position. Probably older than Abel. Probably weaker.

The woman practically reeked of death.

“Who’s this?” Elise asked.

“Like you care,” Abel said.

An angel glided into the room, escorted by Deirdre Tombs. All the age that had twisted Abel’s once-strong body didn’t touch Nashriel Adamson. He was as strong as he had always been, with the lofty height of the entire ethereal breed, the effortless grace, and the flawless skin. Eternally ageless. Perhaps forty-five at the oldest, twenty-five at the youngest. Impossible to tell.

In reality, Nash was thousands of years old.

Millions by some calculations.

He looked unsurprised to see Elise—unsurprised and unhappy.

“Elise,” he said.

“Nash,” she replied.

“You mean this really is her?” Deirdre asked. “Oh shit.” The Alpha kid looked angry all of a sudden, overwhelmed by anger, and her body seethed with flame. Literal flame—it leaped down her arms, ruffled her spongy curls, and turned golden eyes crimson.

“Walk it off,” Nash suggested.

“Don’t talk to me,” she said.

But she did leave.

Nash stared at Elise hard, as though waiting for something to happen. When they glared at one another in total silence for several minutes, he finally said, “I think we need to talk.”

“Be my guest,” Abel said. “I’ve said all I’ve got.” He shuffled over to the mattress with the woman and sat beside her. There was something possessive about his hand on her shoulder.

That possessiveness reminded Elise of the way she squeezed Victoria to her chest, even when she wanted the baby to go away.

Elise followed Nash to the door, but didn’t go outside. She caught herself staring at the stone sarcophagus.

Now that she was in the presence of Rylie’s remains, Elise felt some kind of old consciousness flickering within the shadowy fog of her mind. She remembered sitting beside Rylie in a shower as the girl tried to wash blood off of her body. She remembered exchanging kind words in Rylie’s home. She remembered riding a motorcycle through the forest while Rylie raced alongside her in the form of a wolf, free and wind-whipped and graceful.

They had been friends once.

She needed to say something, but she didn’t know what.

“Rylie was good,” Elise said. It wasn’t enough, but it was the most genuine thing she could pull out of those memories.

Abel looked a thousand years old all of a sudden. “I know,” he said. “I know.”

Available now: Cast in Hellfire

Hey guys! I’m thrilled to announce that my new book is out. Cast in Hellfire was a blast to write, so I hope you guys have as much fun reading it 🙂

Links are below, scroll down! \/\/\/\/\/

As a more general update: I’ve got a finished (HUGE) outline for Cast in Faefire and I’ve started writing it. The outline itself is a whopping 10,000 words, and the book will probably end up about 80,000 words, so it actually shouldn’t take too long to write now that I know everything that happens in the story. It’ll be out in early July at the latest.

Happy reading!

book2Marion Garin is the teenage daughter of Metaraon, the former Voice of God. Now she’s also the steward of the Winter Court, which has been in anarchy since a revolution five years earlier.

Problem: Marion still doesn’t remember anything that happened before two weeks ago.

Seth Wilder has a lead on her memories. Whoever stole them and sold Marion’s essence to a demon lord in Sheol. Marion wants to help steal them back, even though that means abandoning the Winter Court to war. And Seth can’t seem to tell Marion no…

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The Second Coming: Chapter Five

In fact, it turned out that Elise couldn’t get silver knives in Yesler Terrace.

She couldn’t get silver anything in Yesler Terrace.

“Illegal?” Elise echoed dully. “Since when?”

“Since Genesis,” said Hailey. She was obviously struggling to be patient with Elise, as though it could possibly be more difficult to put up with her roommate than with her hideous litter of children.


“Are you just repeating everything I say now?” asked Hailey.

“Tell me what Genesis is,” Elise said.

Hailey stared.

“You know,” she said slowly, “when everyone in the entire world fucking died? Because of the gods?”

Elise stared back.

I killed everyone?

She must have had good reason for it.

Maybe it was James’s fault. It seemed like the kind of asshole move James would have pulled.

Hard to imagine Elise wouldn’t have considered killing everyone in the “entire world” (according to Hailey) important enough to remember once she substantiated into an avatar, even though she did remember what it felt like to kiss James when he hadn’t shaved in a week.

“Genesis got rid of silver?” Elise said.

“The laws after Genesis did,” Hailey said.

That was incredibly inconvenient.

If silver was unavailable, Elise would have to inflict a wound that a shifter simply could not heal.

Elise jerked a knife from the block on the counter. It was cheap but sturdy, with a full tang; it would require only a little sharpening and a smidge of patience to become deadly. “Shifters can’t regrow heads, can they?”

“Oh my gods,” Hailey said. “I’m going to call the cops.”

“Yeah, do that,” Elise said, swiping the knife repeatedly over the sharpening stone from the drawer. “Give me an hour and then call. Tell them I’ve murdered a thug screwing with one of Seattle’s neighborhood, along with many of her friends.”

“An hour? Why should I give you an hour?”

“Because if I get arrested before Corina dies, she will come for your children.”

Hailey hesitated. Two of her wild little kittens were growling from the next room while decapitating Barbies.

“I’ll watch Victoria for you,” she said softly.

That wouldn’t be necessary. It would be easier, of course, to murder without the burden of a useless seven pound weight hanging from her body, but that would require trusting someone—anyone—to watch her daughter. And Elise felt strangely panicky about the idea. Much more panicky than she felt about the idea of slaughtering shifters.

Victoria was presently lying on a blanket on the floor and staring at nothing in particular.

“Laptop,” Elise said.

Hailey pointed.

The panther stood by while Elise ran a quick internet search. She gave a tiny gasp when Elise used the knife to cut a cotton bed sheet into a long strip, but she did help Elise situate the shrieking Victoria on her back while she strapped her into position. The instructions on the internet were helpful. Superior to getting help from an old woman in an RV.

Once Victoria was strapped down, resting high enough on Elise’s back that the baby’s ruddy cheek was pressed on mom’s shoulder blade, Elise jammed the knife into her belt.

“So you aren’t going to kill Corina?” Hailey asked.

“One hour,” Elise said. “Then call the cops. Tell them Elise Kavanagh is going to kill a lot of people.”

She was halfway to the door before Hailey remembered how to speak.

“But the baby!”

Elise slammed out of the apartment.

Victoria slept.

The last night that Elise and James had spent together had been north of Reno, Nevada.

They’d bought a house there after concluding their archaeological dig. Danäe McCollum and Daniel Hawker (a very uninspired choice of pseudonymous surname on his part) had purchased a tract of land in Palomino Valley containing a well with water rights, a stables, and a house from the 1960’s stranded among the endless planes of sagebrush. They had taken care to get a mortgage, and planned to spend the next thirty mortal years paying off that mortgage, allowing cash to trickle into their accounts in order to cover it.

The amounts of money concerned were so small that they’d believed they should go unnoticed. Perhaps they’d gotten a bit neglectful about it—after all, they’d navigated Marut University and the early years of their careers without being caught.

At that point, it almost felt like nobody was looking for them.

Elise had been sitting on the porch on that hot summer night hating her life. Her belly had been irrationally large. There had been inadequate breeze to cool her, and James had been trying to fix the air conditioning unit, and the fact that he hadn’t done that yet had definitely been his fault.

“Where the fuck is my cold air?” she’d shouted at him.

He’d called back cheerfully from the other side of the house, “Think I might have figured it out this time!”

His response had been punctuated by something very heavy falling. Judging by the sound, it had broken.

James was very bad at using his hands to accomplish things rather than magic. They’d been avoiding anything resembling preternatural powers while on Earth, though. It was a challenge that James had risen to meet with enthusiasm.

Elise’s enthusiasm had vanished around the same time as her ability to shave her vulva around the giant-ass basketball of her stomach.

She’d pushed herself off of the bench on their stoop, waddled down the stairs, and glared at James.

The fact that he’d been pleasingly sweaty while working shirtless on their air conditioning unit hadn’t done a thing for Elise’s mood. The last trimester of pregnancy had sucked away her sex drive along with her sense of humor—or so Elise had been convinced at that particular instant. When she didn’t want sex, she was convinced she had never wanted it before, never in her life, and especially not with that James asshole who had inseminated her. When she did want sex…well, James hadn’t needed a cast on his ankle for very long.

“Fix the fucking air conditioner,” Elise had ordered, biting out each word. “Fix it right this fucking second or I will fucking murder you.”

“You look radiant,” he’d said.

She loathed James. “Fix it. Whatever it takes, fix it.” She glowered at him with all the impassioned might of a woman wronged. “I mean it. Whatever it takes.”

And Elise had waddled back inside to abuse the punching bag.

She’d maintained her workout routine throughout pregnancy. That had included jogging up until that week, when jogging had begun to make her ankles balloon to elephant-like proportions, and lifting heavy weights until the horrified obstetrician at St. Mary’s Hospital had begged her to stop.

Nobody could take punching from her, though.


Elise had been obsessed with knocking the stuffing out of the punching bag on that particular night, heat or not. She’d shortly been drenched in sweat, heart pounding, and fists aching.

Why did her fists ache? She’d punched thousands of demons hard enough to break their stupid ugly faces in, resulting in fists tough as steel. But now she was pregnant, and everything hurt, all of the goddamn time.

Eight months down. One more to go.

It wasn’t a comforting thought.

“James!” she’d shouted through the cracked window. “I need cold air!”

At that point, the air conditioning unit had finally clicked on.

He came inside to stand below the vent. Or at least, he’d tried to stand below the vent, but Elise had elbowed him away because she wasn’t sharing.

“Took you long enough,” she’d muttered. Belatedly, she added, “Thanks.”

“I resorted to magic,” James had said.

Elise should have taken that as a bad sign—a huge red flag warning her that it would be their last night together on Earth for quite some time.

It was probably the magic that had led their enemies to them.

Later, she preferred to think that it had been the mortgage. The weird cashflow out of nowhere.

Not the holy, blessed magic that had given an eight months pregnant demon hunter air conditioning on a ninety degree desert evening.

Elise had tipped her face back, eyes closed, to bask in the coolness. She fanned the neck of her shirt and sighed.

A hand had rubbed the small of her back.

“I meant it when I said you look radiant,” James had murmured into her ear. He’d swept her hair over her right shoulder to expose her sweaty neck to the air conditioning.

“I meant it when I said I’d murder you,” Elise had replied.

He’d kissed her shoulder. “I love you.”

“Whatever.” But she’d tilted her face toward his and kissed him back. “I love you, too.” Those were words that neither of them had quite grown tired of saying or hearing. After all they’d suffered to reach that point, it had become holy ritual to verbalize that which shouldn’t have needed to be spoken—a reminder that it was all worth it.

Once his hands had rested on her hips, Elise had suddenly remembered that she did, in fact, still have a sex drive. And she’d been able to think of nothing except yanking James’s belt off and shoving him to the floor next to the stuffing that she had knocked out of the punching bag.

“Gentle,” he’d admonished, catching her on the way down.

“I’m not glass.” She’d ripped his jeans open.

“But this…” James had curved his hands over her belly.

The fetus within had kicked his palms. Delight had spread over his face.

Elise would have been lying if she’d said she wasn’t at least amused, if not exactly delighted as he was.

The baby kicked him again.

“Sweet little love,” James had said. “Darling Mercutio.”

She’d reared back, resting her full weight on his hips. “Mercutio? No. No fucking way.”

“Rosalind if it’s a girl,” he’d said, like that was supposed to make her feel better.

“Cut the Shakespeare bullshit, Daniel. You’re not calling our baby anything that stupid.”

James pulled her down to kiss her. “I like it when you call this thing ‘our’ baby.”

The baby’d kicked again, even harder. It seemed to approve of the conversation.

“Quiet, you,” Elise had ordered the baby. “You’re a mood killer.” Her tone was fractionally softer than it had been when addressing James. Only fractionally.

It had turned out the baby wasn’t really a mood killer. Nothing was a mood killer once Elise had made up her mind.

They’d made love that night under the blissful chill of the vent. The curtains had been open to let them see the glassy evening sky, the wild horses roaming the hillside, the streaks of falling stars vanishing on the horizon.

James hadn’t held Elise like she was glass. He knew her better than that.

And then…

Well. That had been the last of the idyllic moments.

Elise wasn’t sure if she’d forgotten the moment James was abducted or if she’d deliberately purged it from memory. She wasn’t aching to recall it, that was for certain. She wished that she could remember who had come into their house—their home, goddammit—so that she could more easily find her enemy and kill the shit out of them, but Elise didn’t need those particular details.

She was going to find James. He was going to have that baby he’d so desperately wanted.

They would have vengeance.

In her younger days—before the world had ended, before Elise had borne a uterus,  before she’d needed to shave her vulva because androgen insensitivity meant no pubic hair—she had been a traveling fighter, roaming the world to hunt demons. She’d lived out of a backpack.

Her belongings had been few, so what she considered worthy of carrying had been valuable. Oftentimes her backpack had held priceless artifacts. Other times it had held delicate spellwork that her husband had created—though that had been before they were married, of course.

Fighting with a baby on her back would not be all that different, she decided.

Elise had little trouble finding Corina. That mindless minion, Bruce, hadn’t gotten far; he’d joined with another minion to whine about how much he hurt on the street outside the shelter. Elise tracked their rust-pocked van through the streets of Seattle.

Corina worked out of a print shop four blocks away. It was on the street level underneath ten floors of condemned condominiums. Bruce circled the building twice before taking the van into a below-ground parking garage, likely thinking that it would be clever and somehow prevent him from being tailed.

Victoria drooled on Elise’s back as she climbed a fire escape to the roof.

Elise crouched behind a greenhouse, peering around the corner to examine Corina’s guards. The stairs into the condo were protected by a lone, bored-looking shifter who didn’t even have a gun. Corina most likely believed the gold eyes would be deterrent enough. And against average humans, it would have been.

She eased the knife out of her belt.

The shifter wouldn’t even see her coming.

That was the plan, at least.

Victoria chose that moment to squirm, produce a very wet fart, and then begin to wail.

So maybe fighting with a baby on her back wasn’t quite the same as with a backpack.

The shifter guard, to his credit, was on top of Elise within moments; incompetent as he may have been, he was nevertheless a shifter, with all of the preternatural speed that implied.

Elise had the presence of mind to twist herself so that he struck her left side, most distant from the baby, and allowed the momentum of the impact to carry her several yards. It put necessary space between herself and her assailant.

She didn’t plan to let him get that close again.

“Who are you?” he snarled. He wavered when his only response was Victoria’s screaming. Confusion flashed over his golden eyes.

Elise hurled the knife at him.

Even sharpened enough to penetrate bone, it was not silver. He didn’t die on impact. He was properly startled to find a knife jutting from his breastbone, though, and he fell to the rooftop.

Shock held him still enough for Elise to jump on his stomach. She wrenched the knife free. The blood that gushed forth pulsed in time with his heart.

Elise tested her theory that a decapitated shifter wouldn’t regenerate.

Her theory proved good.

A few violent minutes later she stood, panting and blood-soaked, and kicked the shifter’s head across the rooftop to ensure it wouldn’t heal. The eyes blinked at her for another minute. At least he couldn’t keep screaming like that.

Victoria took care of the crying on his behalf, though.

“Fuck me,” Elise muttered.

She wiped most of the blood off of her hands.

She carefully removed Victoria from the sling.

Then she sat against the corner of the roof to nurse that damn baby.


Murdering thugs had been so much faster before motherhood.

Sirens began wailing ten minutes later. Hailey hadn’t waited the full hour to call the police. She must have been worried on Victoria’s behalf.

“I don’t know why,” Elise said to the pug-like squished face of her offspring, who had fallen asleep immediately after one letdown of milk and seemed happy to suckle for the rest of eternity. “You’re obviously just fucking fine.”

The sirens grew closer.

Again, Elise said, “Fuck me.”

Time to kill Corina.

It was much more difficult to get Victoria on her back a second time. The newborn didn’t appreciate having the nipple removed from her mouth and immediately flung herself into a back-arched, red-faced, hysterical fit. And Elise didn’t have Hailey’s assistance in mounting her where she belonged at the apex of the spine. The howling sirens motivated Elise adequately. She got Victoria both secure and bounced to silence before the first of the cops rounded the corner.

Elise kicked open the door to the stairwell and leaped onto the top level of the condominiums.

The penthouse suite, if it could be called such a thing, was empty of furniture, though the pile of blankets on the floor held enough spoons and empty OJ bottles to indicate a dozen heroin users had lived there for months. The mushroom-edged water stains and shattered drywall suggested nobody reputable had lived there since Genesis. Corina did little to care for her territory.

Elise paused to glance through the window. Cop cars were forming a crescent near the entrance to the print shop. There was at least one black SUV among them, suggesting that Hailey had tipped off the Office of Preternatural Affairs as well.

Perfect. The more attention Elise got at this point, the better.

It would have been better in another twenty minutes.

But still.

The condominium’s hallways were equally wrecked but unoccupied. Elise found no signs of life until she reached the rooms directly above the print shop. Then she heard voices emanating from beyond the door labeled “2B.”

“Fuck,” said a woman. “What the fuck are those assholes doing, fucking around in my shit?”

“Did you pay your tithes?” asked a man, whose voice was muffled even though Elise pressed her ear to 2B’s door.

“Of course I fucking paid the fucking tithes!” That was shrieked by the same woman who had spoken first.

The whole building shook. Someone had knocked in the door downstairs.

“What the fuck?”

From behind, Corina didn’t look like much. She was short and wiry. Her hair was like yellow grass.

But she was surrounded by a lot of very big, adoring shifters who were wearing intake bracelets—the favored way of taking lethe, a powerful drug—and she was clearly the one who’d been administering the product. She had the drugs, the money, the power.

Victoria had the sense to be silent up until the moment that Elise came up behind one of Corina’s guards and slit his throat.

He cried, the baby cried, blood splashed on the ground.

Elise’s muscles flexed as she severed his head. She did it faster the second time. She was almost as strong as she used to be again.

“Catch,” she said, kicking him to the ground.

She lobbed the guard’s head at Corina when the shifter turned.

“Who the fuck are you?” Corina asked.

“I’m friends with Hailey,” Elise said, which was not strictly true, but it had the desired impact.

Which was to say, none at all.

Corina just looked confused. She didn’t know who Hailey was. Corina was happy to take money from the local preternaturals, but she hadn’t a clue who any of them were.

She’d earned this death.

Boots pounded through the print shop downstairs.

Elise swung into motion.

Four surviving shifters guarding Corina, and Corina herself. By the time she’d plunged the knife into the next man, Elise had already decided how each of them was going to die.

It helped that Corina was carrying a silver hammer on her belt.

That would make things much easier.

Elise skewered a third guard, and he fell atop the second. Both of them shook with the healing fever. Shifters should have been able to recover from a non-silver wound near instantaneously, but the lethe had weakened them; the seizures indicated that it would be quite some time before they got up again.

She was moving toward the fourth when her hip crumpled.

Corina had swung the hammer. Smashed it into Elise’s thigh. There was enough force that it felt like her pelvis might have broken.

Her pelvis still wasn’t in great shape from giving birth. It hurt a lot.

“You crazy bitch,” Corina spit.

She swung again.

Elise caught the shifter’s wrist, redirecting it so that the hammer smashed a hole into the floor instead of her baby’s head.

Corina had aimed for the baby.

The woman had tried to kill Victoria.

Elise jerked the hammer out of her hand, and she swung it with less force than Corina had. She didn’t have shifter muscles, after all.

But she had enough anger to make up for it.

She swung and she kept swinging through the warm white buzz of rage.

Elise was splattered. Things cracked. Bodies thudded.

And when the Office of Preternatural Affairs finally kicked down the door of Corina’s condominium, they found Elise standing among a collection of bodies that looked like they’d been through a meat tenderizer, while she herself was drenched in blood. A lot of flashlights shined on her, blinding Elise.

She dropped the hammer and lifted her hands.

“Take me to the Alpha,” Elise said. “Tell her that Elise Kavanagh wants to see her.”

There were rumblings about taking the baby away from Elise after she was arrested. Nobody seemed that serious about the threat, because nobody attempted it.

However, they did zip tie her hands together. And there were a lot of guns aimed at her as she was escorted onto a helicopter.

Elise remained standing in the chopper as it cut through the rainy clouds. From above, Yesler Terrace looked as much a shithole as it had on the ground level, but it was a shithole sans one douchebag shifter who had been bullying the likes of Hailey, so it was better than when she’d come in.

She’d forgotten how good it felt to fix things. To be a hero.

Elise licked her lips. There was blood on them. Even though she wasn’t a demon anymore, she still sort of enjoyed the taste. It tasted like victory.

She’d forgotten that too.

Victoria seemed to enjoy the sound of the helicopter’s engine and the gentle swaying motion. She only woke up when Elise was transferred to a private jet at an airstrip—still continually surrounded by terrified looking OPA agents, who must have been warned who Elise Kavanagh was, or at least how much damage she could do—but Elise quickly put the baby back to sleep with the help of a brave female agent who removed Victoria from the sling and placed her in Elise’s arms so that they could breastfeed.

It was becoming natural to nurse the baby every time she made a noise, even if the act remained unpleasant. Elise did, however, enjoy the way that the agents stared at her as she performed that biological maternal act, as though they were equal parts disgusted and confused by the blood-drenched monster with a whelp nestled against her chest.

Elise stared back at them. She kept staring as the jet cut through the night.

They landed at a shapeshifter sanctuary after many hours.

Even in the night, Elise recognized the location from her last lifetime. Not the giant wolves who encircled the jet—she’d never gotten good at identifying werewolves in their animal forms—but the waterfall, the steep valley, the trees.

Elise had very violent memories of the shapeshifter sanctuary outside of Northgate, and that was as close to fond memories as she could come.

She was starting to get excited when the agents escorted her off of the plane. It wasn’t necessarily that she was excited to see Rylie Gresham, the werewolf Alpha, for social reasons—Rylie was a nice kid, but that was about it.

No, Elise was excited because Rylie had at least three children already, and she’d know what to do with Victoria.

Elise would be able to ditch the newborn with someone trustworthy—someone who could eat any and all attackers—and go about the business of finding who had kidnapped James.

But when she set foot on the airstrip, it was not Rylie Gresham who emerged from the mass of furred wolf bodies.

Rylie was a petite blond woman with knobby knees.

This was a cute, scrawny black girl with kinky hair and well-fitted leather trousers. She must have been about twelve years old. She wore spiked boots with silver buckles and so much attitude that the air shivered around her.

“Where is the Alpha?” Elise asked. “I’m supposed to see the Alpha.”

The black girl said, “My name is Deirdre Tombs. I am the Alpha. The question is, who are you, and why are you claiming to be god?”

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Available Now: Cast in Angelfire

Cast in Angelfire is available now!

Cast in Angelfire 4bNineteen-year-old Marion can’t remember anything before waking up at Mercy Hospital. All she knows that a lot of people want to kill her. And her would-be assassins are not human…

Faeries are real. So are vampires and angels.

They all want Marion dead.

Surrounded by enemies, Marion turns to Lucas Flynn: a mysterious doctor as good with a gun as he is with a scalpel. He fights like a demon but claims that he’s human. And he’s hellbent on protecting Marion.

Lucas claims that Marion is a half-witch, half-angel mage with terrifying powers that could crack the world. But Marion can’t remember how to cast magic any more than she can remember where she comes from.

Marion must find her identity and her power…before the forgotten sins of her past catch up with her.

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Available Now: Schatten Des Alpha

The German language edition of Beta, titled Schatten Des Alpha, is available now!Schatten-des-Alpha-Kindle

This is the third book that translator Benjamin Schmitt and I have collaborated on so far, and it’s a really good one! 😉

Schatten Des Alpha is currently available exclusively on Amazon. Whip out your Kindle Unlimited membership and enjoy!

Happy reading!

The Second Coming: Chapter Four

Roughly six and a half months before the massacre at the gas station, Elise—still known, at the time, as Danaë McCollum—had been on a lengthy trip with James. They were excavating a pre-Genesis archaeology site, or something like that. The details had quickly become hazy. Elise didn’t remember things like graduating from college, the career path she had chosen, or the places she had visited.

All that mattered to Elise at that point were the moments with James.

The long, quiet moments in bed, right before the sun rose, when she had woken up but he was still sleeping.

The times that they read books together at sundown, after dinner but before they grew fatigued.

When they slow-danced to staticky music played over a radio, alone in the wilderness except for the birds and a few dirty trowels.

Those were the moments that had eventually driven her agreement to substantiate, after all.

As a result, Elise didn’t remember most of the excavation that they had worked on. Those memories had been dismissed as insignificant. Her memories resumed around the time that she had realized that she hadn’t menstruated in several weeks.

She’d gotten accustomed to a body with a uterus, accepting it as an inevitable unpleasantry of reproduction. She detested but tolerated the clockwork arrival of menses, rich and bloody and always accompanied by cramps. Yet it had been more than two months since she’d last needed to buy pads.

Additionally, the smell of eggs made her queasy, and she vomited as soon as she crawled out of the sleeping bag she’d shared with James.

That, more than anything else, had sealed it for Elise.

The trip into town to buy pregnancy tests was long, even with James handling the driving. They bought three tests to be sure. Elise waited until they got back to the dig site before peeing on one, then sat on a bucket to watch the pink lines develop.

“Pink,” she’d said. The word was almost drowned out by the rain drumming on the canvas roof of the tent. “Of all the infantilizing colors to subject an adult woman to.”

“That’s because the adult woman is possibly having an infant,” James said.

“I won’t be babied.”

“I didn’t say anything about you.” But he was starting to smile broadly. Elise was best described as surly, but she’d lately been downright brittle. Both of them knew what her worsening mood implied.

James was the one who picked up the home pregnancy test, undisturbed by the drops of urine lingering on the tip. They had been neck-deep in mud, worms, and mildew for months so his wife’s bodily fluids were nothing in comparison.

He only looked at it for a moment. He set it down.

“What?” Elise asked.

He’d helped her stand from the bucket, held her very tightly, and kissed her.

“Thank you,” James had said.

“Yeah, right,” Elise agreed. “You better fucking be thankful for this.”

And that was how they’d learned that they were to bring Victoria Faulkner into this universe.

Roughly six and a half months after the pregnancy test, Elise was fleeing the gas station massacre and the law enforcement personnel who had arrived to sort through the bodies.

She didn’t stop driving again until the RV ran out of fuel, which happened west of Seattle. She searched the vehicle for money and found nothing. She must have burned Chris and Tina’s wallets with their bodies.

Stupid mistake.

She normally wouldn’t have made such an error, but it felt like someone had stuffed her skull with cobwebs. The exhaustion of new motherhood had rendered Elise stupid. She felt nothing like the woman who had once dispatched gods with a mixture of violence and cleverness. She’d have been lucky to walk a straight line without falling over at that point.

Elise parked the vehicle off the road, deep in a ditch concealed by trees. Victoria wouldn’t sleep without being held, so Elise crawled into bed and held that useless thing while trying to rest. She kept the damn baby on her chest while she caught a few moments of fraught, restless sleep, jolted awake by every little sound that she heard outside of the RV.

In her moments of consciousness, Elise’s thoughts drifted while her hand rested on Victoria’s back, rising and falling steadily as she snored.

It wasn’t the first time that Elise had slept with a baby on her chest.

She had frequently visited her mother, Ariane Garin, in the years after the birth of Marion. The baby had only been Elise’s half-sister: the product of Ariane’s infidelity with an angel. Elise had no responsibility for Marion. Yet she had cared for Marion when she had been as useless as Victoria was now, rocked her when she squalled, and even watched her sleep once or twice.

Ariane’s mothering experience had been vastly different from Elise’s, though. She had bottle fed Marion, for one. Breastfeeding was simply not something Ariane was interested in doing. “It makes your breasts sag,” Ariane had announced while mixing baby formula out of goat’s milk and witch’s brew.

Bottle feeding meant that it had been easy to prop breakfast in Marion’s hungry little mouth and walk away to do other things.

Elise had no such luxury.

Furthermore, Victoria was a much whinier baby than Marion. She wriggled and grunted loudly even when she was asleep. The amount of feces she could blast out of her wrinkled ass was almost enough to disgust even Elise.

That was how Elise was finally roused from the RV’s uncomfortable bed before dawn: by a very noisy, very wet bomb dropped in Victoria’s diaper.

She changed the baby, nose wrinkled at the mustardy slime coating Victoria’s vulva and butt.

James had not mentioned that this would be a necessary part of parenthood.

Elise wouldn’t have taken it as a deterrent if he had, though. She just would have assumed that he’d change all the diapers.

Dammit, he should have been changing all the diapers.

Once Victoria was clean, Elise ate what little food remained, abandoned the RV, and started walking to Seattle.

She didn’t walk the entire way. Only the first twenty miles or so. There had been a time that Elise would have been able to jog twenty miles without difficulty, but it was so much harder with blood sluicing from between her legs, and it only flowed harder the faster she walked.

The seven pound weight strapped to her chest didn’t help either, especially when that weight screamed to be fed every hour.

As a result, Elise took those twenty miles as slow as she could tolerate.

Once she found a bus stop, it wasn’t difficult to convince a driver to give her a lift for free. Not once he saw how stained she was, the misery on her squalling baby’s face, the exhaustion creating bags under Elise’s eyes.

“What do you need—OPA shelter or just a general woman’s type shelter?” the driver asked.

Elise clung to the yellow pole set into the floor behind him, swaying with the motion of the bus. She thought she’d have passed out if she sat down for even a moment, even while Victoria was squirming and fussing. She couldn’t risk sleeping, especially on a populated bus.

“What’s an OPA shelter?” Elise asked.

The driver exchanged looks with another passenger.

“OPA shelter,” the passenger said.

Elise couldn’t argue. She could barely focus her eyes.

The shelter was in a remodeled hotel. Elise realized that “OPA” must have meant “Office of Preternatural Affairs” once she saw that the sign was white letters on a black background, but by then it was too late; the bus was pulling away, and rain was dumping on Victoria’s ruddy-cheeked face.

Elise trudged inside the lobby.

“Scan your thumbprint, please,” said the desk clerk without looking up.

Elise’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“So that we can check your benefits.”

What harm could there be in that? Elise had changed all details of her life when creating a substantiated body, and that had included minute details, like the shape of the whorls on her fingertips and even the arrangement of follicles on her head. Nobody would be able to associate her identity with the marks of this body.

She swiped her thumbprint. The system gave a sharp blat.

“Doesn’t look like you’re registered,” said the clerk, pushing her glasses up her nose as she squinted at the screen.

“Registered with what?”

“Are you even preternatural?”

Elise hated it when people answered questions with questions. “If I tell you no, are you going to make me leave?”

The clerk finally looked at Elise. She noted Victoria, and the blood stains on Elise’s legs. She saw the heavy bag slung over Elise’s shoulder with a busted zipper that revealed rain-sodden diapers.

And she said, “Goodness, no. You’re not going anywhere. Come with me.” The desk clerk leaped to her feet and hustled Elise down a hallway.

Elise was not so exhausted that she didn’t notice all the cameras. The OPA was still irritatingly fond of surveillance. Black electronic eyes tracked Elise to a back room, where the clerk filled out paperwork and procured a room key, and then tracked them up to a higher floor.

If Elise was going to be found, it would be there, at that shelter, where her every move was being recorded.

That was good. The thing was, Elise did want to be found.

But she wanted to be found by the right person.

Right now, she didn’t know where James was. She trusted that he had good reason for missing the birth of his daughter. Good reason for leaving her to fend for herself when she felt far weaker than she ever had before, even when she’d been gutted by the claws of her enemies.

She knew he’d been abducted. She didn’t know what his excuse was for failing to escape by that point.

Perhaps he had escaped their unknown enemy. In that case, he would be looking for her.

Elise only needed to wait until he located her.

Unfortunately, making herself available to James meant that she was making herself available to the ones who wanted to kill her as well. More fights were coming. It likely wouldn’t take long.

She needed to rest before they descended.

The clerk, who identified herself as Ruby, led Elise to room number thirty-nine, down at the end of the hall on the third floor. She knocked. A woman answered it.

“Yes?” asked the woman, a young but haggard Latina with thin lips and narrow shoulders.

“You have a new roommate,” Ruby said. “Danaë, meet Hailey.”

A roommate. No. This would not work. “I need my own room,” Elise said. “And a locked door.”

“We don’t have space for everyone to get their own rooms. You can have a locked door. You just won’t be the only one behind it.” Ruby’s voice and eyes had become gentler. “Hailey can help you.”

Elise studied the Latina woman with fresh eyes. She had disproportionately wide hips and a belly as loose as Elise’s. The shape of her abdomen underneath her rucked-up tank top indicated diastasis recti, a condition where the muscles separated during pregnancy. Her arms were flabby. She was weak and generally non-threatening.

It was also very likely that Hailey had an infant close in age to Victoria.

Elise relented, stepping into the room. She had little other choice. Victoria was beginning to thrash again, indicating a need to eat.

“You know how to reach me if you need help,” Ruby said. That was mostly directed toward Hailey.

She shut the door, leaving Elise with her new roommate.

Hailey did have a baby Victoria’s age—a week older, Hailey explained with delight. She also had a three year old son and a five year old daughter. There was no father in sight.

“We have so much in common,” Hailey said.

Elise strongly doubted that.

Hailey pushed the three year old’s toys off of one bed, leaving Elise to collapse on the twin mattress with Victoria. There were child-sized fingerprints on the fitted sheet which were the exact color of strawberry jelly. Hailey must have allowed her children to eat in that bed, and they were disgusting. No more disgusting than the infant that Elise nursed in that bed, to be fair.

She slept while the rain poured.

Children played in the next room.

James didn’t appear that day, or the next.

Elise’s understanding of parenthood was limited. It wasn’t something she’d ever personally desired, though she might have if she’d had a spare moment to consider the scenario before learning she was infertile.

In Elise’s last life—the one where she’d had a half-sister named Marion, the one where she had slain gods—she had been born without a uterus because of a condition called complete androgen insensitivity. That meant she was genetically male, but unresponsive to the hormones that should have made her develop as a male in her mother’s womb.

As a result, Elise had been born female, but unable to bear children.

And that was fine with her.

If she’d been designing a new body for reasons other than to procreate with James, she wouldn’t have chosen to give herself a uterus. Elise had hated a lot of things about her last life. Having an intersex condition wasn’t one of them. The lack of menstruation had been incredibly convenient, in retrospect.

Now she was female genetically. She had lived over twenty years knowing that she bore a womb and that the womb would eventually bear a child.

Still, the urge to procreate was limited to humoring James.

Elise was fairly certain she didn’t have parents in this life. She’d appeared on the Earth fully-formed and prepared to live in the way she chose. Why make parents when she didn’t need them to exist?

In her last life, her parents had been terrible. Her father had trained her from toddlerhood to kill. He’d only ever given her attention when it was to punish her or beat her into shape. And even though Ariane’s relationship with Elise had improved in their latter years, Ariane had remained a slutty idiot who opened her legs for every abusive jackass in the universe, with absolutely no regard for the needs of her eldest daughter.

They hadn’t been good role models.

So yes, Elise’s understanding of parenthood was limited.

She’d heard a bit about other peoples’ understanding of parenthood, though. It had been impossible to escape the opinions once she’d become visibly pregnant. Random strangers had told Elise that she would instantly fall in love with her baby. That it would be exhausting, but worth it—whatever that meant. They’d said that she didn’t truly know love, and wouldn’t know it until she held her baby in her arms.

Clearly, these random assholes didn’t know what Elise had gone through in order to be with James. And they had been wrong about everything else, too.

She didn’t love Victoria.

It would have been wrong to say she hated the infant. Resentment was probably the correct word for the feeling. Elise resented having to shove her nipple into the baby’s mouth every time Victoria freaked out. She resented having to carry her, lest Victoria spend hours shrieking—a noise that Elise definitely hated. She resented being forced to eat enough food for her body to produce milk while healing from the violence of a draining labor.

But how was Elise to love this thing? This burden, this chore? A seven pound deadweight that James had requested and should have been caring for.

Parenthood was not what Elise had expected, and she had expected very little out of the experience.

This is how Elise’s week in the shelter unfolded:

On Monday, Hailey showed Elise “the ropes.” Hailey was a tiger shifter, which meant that her understanding of such ropes largely involved wringing adequate protein out of the dining room in order to survive, as well as feeding her whiny children. She showed Elise which parts of the OPA shelter to avoid because they were filled with vampires. And she showed Elise where to find the free diapers.

On Tuesday, Victoria screamed every moment she was awake.

On Wednesday, she slept so much that Elise thought she might have died, and she stared at the baby’s chest for about six hours to make sure it continued to move. Elise was stupid enough to think she missed the screaming.

The screaming came back on Thursday, and Elise wished Victoria’s corpselike state of the previous day would return.

Friday was rent day.

“Rent day?” Elise asked, frowning at Hailey as she bounced Victoria vigorously in the crook of her arm. “This is a government funded shelter.”

“Get down from the gods-damned counter, Gregorio!” Hailey snapped at her three year old. Gregorio ignored her, stretching onto his toes to try to reach the box of teething crackers on top of the refrigerator. She hooked his arm around his waist and dropped him on the floor. “We don’t pay rent to the shelter itself. We pay rent to the Alpha.”

Elise dredged a name out of the cobwebby depths of memory. “Rylie Gresham?” When she said the name, she vaguely remembered a cute blond girl with a big smile who had turned into a man-eating werewolf.

Hailey gave Elise a funny look. “Uh, no. Corina.”

Corina, it turned out, was a panther shifter who claimed to own Yesler Terrace, the neighborhood that the shelter was located in. She sent thugs around to collect rent from all other shifters who dared to live within those boundaries.

This was what Elise learned when someone pounded on the door moments later.

Hailey shoved her kids into the bedroom, handed the infant to the five year old, and then shut the door before answering it.

Corina’s thug was a glowering man with no neck.

“Here, take it,” Hailey said, shoving an envelope at him. “It’s all there. Now get out of here, Bruce.”

Bruce hung out, opening the envelope and counting the money slowly.

“You don’t trust me?” Hailey asked.

He stuffed the money back into the envelope. His eyes flicked to Elise, scanning her slowly, up and down, baby included.

“You’re new,” he said.

Elise studied him as he had studied her. He easily weighed three hundred pounds, most of it muscle. He wasn’t quite six feet tall, but still taller than her. His lips were like purple sausages. The scarring on his forehead suggested abuse from a silver weapon, though he’d clearly survived.

She could take him.

“What about it?” Elise asked.

Bruce sauntered into the apartment. Hailey’s baby started whining on the other side of the wall.

He smelled Elise with the same languor he’d counted the money, nose skimming inches from her shoulder. “What are you?” he asked.

She just looked at him.

“You better register with Corina,” he said.

Elise continued to look at him. She wasn’t going to talk. Victoria had finally fallen asleep.

“Are you stupid?” he asked.

“Come on, Bruce,” Hailey said. “She’s new. And I don’t think she’s all there, if you know what I mean. Not a shifter, though.”

“But preternatural,” Bruce said. “All preternaturals in Yesler Terrace gotta register with Corina. You learned that the hard way.”

There was a standing lamp about two feet from Elise. It would serve as an excellent makeshift weapon if Bruce attacked. Not silver, which meant it wouldn’t permanently injure Bruce, but she could knock him with it hard enough to make him regret bothering her. And even a shifter probably wouldn’t regenerate if she ripped his head off while he was down.

But then stories would get around about a woman who could kill shifters bare-handed.

Elise would get attention all right, but not the kind she’d wanted. She had probably slept six hours total that week, and none of those hours consecutive. She wasn’t ready for more assassination attempts.

So she didn’t plan to attack Bruce.

Not until he reached down to jab Victoria in the back with a knuckle, anyway.

“What the fuck is this?” he asked.

At least, that was what Elise assumed he’d planned on saying. She didn’t let him get the last word out.

She pushed forward. Snapped her head toward his. Drove the bony ridge of her forehead into the bridge of his nose, which broke with the sound of celery cut by a butcher knife.

Elise pivoted, keeping the baby behind her as she slammed her hand into Bruce’s mouth. She wrapped her fingers around his tongue and dug them in.

With her fist blocking his throat, he couldn’t breathe. He gagged. His eyes watered as she dug her fingernails in, bringing him to his knees. He tried to bite down on her forearm, but she pulled hard enough on his tongue that the frenulum began to tear, and he reconsidered.

Bruce wasn’t a very intimidating thug.

“Hailey doesn’t pay rent anymore,” Elise said. “Take your money back, Hailey.”

But the other woman was shaking, panicking, immobile.

“Give Hailey’s money back,” Elise said.

Bruce tossed the envelope aside.

Elise contemplated taking his tongue. She surveyed his teary eyes and considered the choking sounds in his chest. He was going red very quickly.

Would a shifter recover from suffocation?

“Go away,” Elise said.

She released Bruce. He scrambled to the door, gagging for air.

“You’re going to regret this,” he said, which was one of the least creative threats Elise had heard in a long time.

He bolted, leaving the door open to the hallway.

“Why?” Hailey asked tearfully. “Why did you do that?”

“He’s nothing,” Elise said.

“Bruce isn’t, but Corina is! You don’t defy her. She’ll make an example of you. She’ll come after my children!” The children who were now all crying in the bedroom, because they wanted to come out. Spoiled monsters. “We’ll have to run, and gods dammit, where will we go? How will we get there? Why, Danaë?”

Victoria screeched. She’d woken up.

Elise didn’t have to look down this time. She lifted the hem of her shirt and attached the baby to the breast, which silenced her instantly.

A week in the shelter, stuck with Hailey and her litter of kittens. James still hadn’t made an appearance to change his baby’s diapers and let Elise get a few solid hours of sleep.

Her patience had gone the way of Adam.

Elise was ready to get attention. If she happened to fix a few minor problems while she got that attention—well, there were worse things.

“I’ll take care of Corina,” Elise said. “Where in Yesler Terrace can I get silver knives?”

And that was how Elise’s first and last week at the shelter ended.

The Second Coming: Chapter Three

Elise quickly realized that people were more trusting of a woman with a baby than a woman with a sword, and she thought they were idiots for it. She was no less deadly while carrying either. She could have killed them all before they saw it coming and without waking her sleeping infant.

Regardless, she accepted the man’s offer for a ride into the next town.

Victoria remained unconscious the whole way. She seemed satisfied by the few drops she had vacuumed out of Elise with her tiny, desperate mouth, and now her arms were loose at her sides, lips parted as she wheezed in sleep.

The old woman—who said her name was Tina—held Victoria as she slept, occasionally cooing and petting the tufts of black hair on her forehead. Tina didn’t seem to mind that the baby’s bladder released tablespoons of urine every so often even though they still didn’t have diapers. Whenever Victoria pissed, Tina just laughed and shared another moronic anecdote about her own babies.

But Victoria was sleeping. That was all that mattered at the moment.

The baby didn’t look very much like her mother, although it was difficult to tell with those smashed features. Victoria was barely a day old. She was still vaguely egg-shaped and wrinkled. Still, Elise could almost imagine that if James had been soaked in a vat of lye for nine months while jammed into a too-small sarcophagus and fed through a tube in his navel, he might resemble the proto-human Tina held. There was something similar around the eyes.

Elise hoped that the baby’s eyes wouldn’t turn out to be blue.

While Tina held Victoria, Elise fitted her body into a borrowed outfit. She threaded her arms through three-quarters sleeves intended for a frail old woman rather than Elise’s well-developed biceps. She sucked in her loose stomach—which still looked almost three months pregnant—and tried to button khaki high waters over wide hips. The inseam strained at the musculature of her thighs.

Once dressed, Elise did a few squats and stretches in the tiny RV bathroom, stretching the cloth out enough to give her full mobility. And then she rapidly braided her thick curls over one shoulder, ensuring that it wouldn’t get in her eyes if she needed to fight again.

Elise studied herself in the mirror. She looked younger than she should have. That was most likely some side-effect of substantiating into human shape. James had helped guide their bodies, so he might have thought it would be a kindness to give her smooth skin more reminiscent of her former demon form than the rough, scar-pocked freckles that she’d had as a human the first time around. He certainly had influenced the size of her breasts. No matter how omnipotent he was, he was still a man.

But she basically looked like herself. A tired version of herself, with a weird figure from motherhood, but those were the same angry hazel eyes and hooked nose she used to have.

Human. So very human.

The baby started crying. The piercing shriek penetrated the thin walls of the RV.

“Where are you, James?” Elise asked her reflection, which swayed as the old man steered the RV around a curve in the road. The shadows tracked across Elise’s angular features. “You’re supposed to be here.”

Victoria was done crying by the time Elise emerged.

“I’ve got her,” the old woman said cheerfully, bouncing the baby against her shoulder, swaddled tightly in the blanket. “Babies like to be upright and close to our hearts. The sound is soothing. It reminds them of before they were born. What a wide and scary world to come into!”

Elise’s lips pinched into a frown. The baby might have temporarily silenced, but Elise’s breasts indicated with a painful tingling that they were ready to breastfeed again. Victoria had only eaten three hours earlier. How much could one tiny human consume?

“Where are we?” Elise asked. The view outside the RV was unfamiliar.

“Port Angeles,” said the driver.

The name didn’t sound familiar, nor did the rain-dampened trees look familiar. Elise wasn’t sure she’d ever been there before.

It wasn’t a big city, but it also wasn’t a particularly small town. There were stoplights. Hotels. It was populated.

There would be assassins.

“Keep driving,” she said.

“We’ll stop for gas and diapers,” he said. “Maybe a few little onesies for the baby!” He sounded gleeful at the idea.

Elise was not.

“Keep driving.”

“We need gas anyway,” the old woman said kindly. “I’m sorry. We have no choice but to stop.”

There was little Elise could do to prevent them from halting at the Shell station. The man climbed out to get fuel. The woman indicated to Elise that she should come nearer.

“Let me show you something. You’ve seen those Baby Bjorn carriers, right? They’re so expensive, and they’re not necessary. You can use any cotton cloth to fashion a sling for your sweet little one and keep her near to your heart.” The woman quickly demonstrated using a sheet from the bed, wrapping it around her body and arms in a complicated, origami-like fashion. Then she nestled Victoria inside. “See how comfortable she looks?”

The baby started crying.

“Well, she’d be comfortable if she wasn’t hungry,” the woman said.

She handed Victoria to Elise, who held the baby awkwardly under the arms. The baby’s knees were curled to her chest, head slumped to the side, fists smashed against her mouth.

Elise attempted to hold the baby to her heart. That didn’t stop the crying. It just made Victoria start slobbering on her shirt.

Hungry. Time for more breastfeeding.

“Fuck me,” Elise said.

“I’m sure the gas station has diapers,” the old woman said. “I’ll see about formula, too.”

She stepped out, leaving Elise to take the passenger’s seat with the baby. It was difficult to pull her breasts out of the too-tight shirt, but she managed somehow, and with much clumsy maneuvering got the baby to eat.

That was probably why she didn’t see the demons coming.

Elise’s senses had always been so good, heightened by years on the run, that it never occurred to her that she might miss an incoming attack. Whether it was fatigue or hormones, she was too distracted by grimacing at Victoria to notice that Tina was yanked behind the gas station by disembodies hands, and she certainly didn’t hear the muffled scream.

She did, however, notice the blood splatter on the windshield of the RV.

Without releasing Victoria, she stood to look over the dashboard. The old man, Chris, was dead. It had been fast and messy. A demon stood among his entrails. Elise quickly catalogued the features of the demon: its slender limbs, its ashen skin, its bald pate. Some kind of evolved fiend.

It skittered away, sniffing at the ground. There was no doubt in her mind that it was searching for her.

Other fiends ripped open nearby cars, wrenching the doors off the hinges and dragging people out.

One by one, the bodies dropped.

“Of course,” Elise muttered.

She located a hunting rifle in a cabinet near the oven. Chris had put his gun in there before departing camp that morning. She broke the lock, loaded the ammunition, and prepared to fight the fiends.

She hesitated in the doorway.

A gun would be very loud near a baby’s ears, and Victoria had just fallen asleep.

Elise set the baby on the bottom bunk. Victoria didn’t appreciate being put down. She immediately started fussing.

“Wait here,” Elise said, as though there were any alternative.

Taking a moment to set her baby aside meant that the demons met her at the door to the RV.

She flew through the opening feet first, slamming Tina’s borrowed shoes into the jaw of a fiend.

By the time Elise landed on its supine body, she had raised the rifle. She aimed. She fired.

Guns had never been her preferred weapon, but she was still surprised when the first shot pulled high and to the left. She blew off a fiend’s cheek when she had intended to discharge it into the center mass.

Elise had the knowledge of a fighter, but not the muscle memory.

That would be a problem.

A fiend attempted to climb into the RV. She seized it by the throat and hurled it into another pair of fiends, bowling them over.

At least Elise had thought to give herself supernatural strength when making her human form.

Her speed was not quite what she expected, though. Strength could only make up for so much when the demons moved as quickly as the fiends did. In her previous life, when fighting fiends, they had been strong but slow, little muscle-packed tanks with leathery skin.

These ones were speedy.

They pulled at her hair. Shredded the too-tight shirt with stubby nails. Bit at her hands.

Elise set her jaw and worked through them one by one.

She shot until the rifle ran out of ammunition. Then she smashed the butt into the gut of an attacking fiend, collapsing several ribs. She whirled with it in both hands like a baseball bat and sent another fiend flying.

One at a time.

It was still the only way to fight.

Slow or not, Elise slaughtered them all. She left none to report her location back to their master. And there would be a master: fiends were stupid, mindless creatures who only executed the commands given to them.

When she was done, she stood in a pile of slick blood, puddled gasoline, and intestines.

She didn’t hear Victoria crying anymore.

Elise’s heart thudded in her throat. She flung the RV door open, jumped up the steps, and prepared to kill whatever had killed her baby.

But there were no demons in the RV. There was only Victoria resting on the bed in a haphazard bundle of blankets.

She was snoring very quietly.

Elise suspected that she should have left Victoria sleeping where she rested, but the momentary fear she’d felt for her offspring’s safety left an impression. She scooped the baby into her arms before searching for survivors of the fiend attack, whether human or demon.

It only took a minute to realize that everyone was dead.

The good people as well as the bad demons, unfortunately.

Tina had died by the trash cans. A fiend had taken several opportunistic bites out of her chest. Elise kneeled to thumb Tina’s eyes closed.

The baby flopped when Elise stooped in such a fashion, unable to support her head, though Victoria was making efforts that were impressive for such a newborn. She would be a strong baby eventually, but Elise had no clue how long it would take Victoria to stop being dead weight.

Carrying Victoria in arms was simply not going to be practical in the long term, especially if Elise needed to fight again.

She searched the gas station for supplies to help. There were diapers, which Elise stole, but nothing else.

Elise retrieved a blanket from the RV. It wasn’t easy to fashion a sling the way Tina had, but Elise managed through sheer stubbornness. She cinched it very tight and then slid the baby in, and Elise was satisfied to discover that Victoria couldn’t move very much.

Victoria fussed at being held so snugly. “Stop that,” Elise said. The baby rested her cheek against Elise’s heart and fell silent. She gazed at nothing in particular as Elise dragged the bodies into a pile in front of the gas station. Elise didn’t sort out human from demon. They would all end up ash in the end.

Police sirens were whining by the time she poured accelerant onto the pyre and lit it. For good measure, Elise tossed the hunting rifle into the pile to burn away her fingerprints.

She stood close enough to feel the heat singing her eyebrows.

Victoria was asleep. She had somehow gotten a tiny smudge of blood on her temple, which Elise wiped away with her thumb.

Elise found herself smiling. It was not a happy smile, but a satisfied smile.

She was gone before the police arrived.

Coming Soon: Cast in Angelfire and Cast in Hellfire

Cast in Angelfire 4bRelease dates have been selected for the first two books in The Mage Craft Series.

Book one, Cast in Angelfire, will be available on March 13th.

Book two, Cast in Hellfire, will be available on April 3rd.

These books are starring Marion Garin and Seth Wilder. You’ll probably recognize Marion most readily because she’s Elise’s half-sister: daughter of Ariane, a witch, and Metaraon, the angel who served as the Voice of God when Adam still wandered the garden. She’s incredibly powerful and neck-deep in preternatural politics. That means she’s got a bullseye painted on her back.

Ordinarily, Marion would be up for handling that kind of danger…but someone’s taken her memories away, and she’s suddenly about as useful as a piglet wearing rain boots.

All she knows is that Seth Wilder can help her. You probably recognize Seth, too. He’s Rylie’s ex-fiancee, brother to the current werewolf Alpha mate. He used to hunt werewolves. He might have died a little bit at some point. But the guy’s hard to keep down, and he came back. Unfortunately, nobody knows where he is at the beginning of Cast in Angelfire, which puts a weensy bit of a cramp in Marion’s whole “get my memories back, save the world” plan.

You shouldn’t need to read any of my other books to enjoy this series, but as usual, you’ll get the most out of it if you’re caught up on the whole universe. Especially because I freely spoil my other books. 🙂 This takes place five years after War of the Alphas, for instance.

You can read an (unedited) excerpt from Cast in Angelfire on the book page right now.

Happy reading!

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