Cover Reveal: Bitter Thirst

bitter thirstComing 2016: Bitter Thirst, Preternatural Affairs #8


I’ve been debating with myself about how long I want to keep telling Cèsar Hawke’s story. Unlike with Elise or Deirdre, I don’t have a single story in mind for him that I tell across several books; with Cèsar, his books are case files that offer glimpses into the universe from the perspective of the Office of Preternatural Affairs. I could keep writing such case files into infinity if I wanted to. I have so many other story ideas, though – I know I need to end things with Cèsar at some point.

That said, I had to reread The Descent Series and Preternatural Affairs in order to prepare to write the next Cèsar book (Once Darkness Falls, PA #7). When I did, I realized there were still cases of Cèsar’s that we absolutely needed to see return – particularly ones that were seeded throughout Silver Bullet and Darkmoon.

The plot for Bitter Thirst emerged from my mind fully formed, much like Athena. It’ll be a bit of a leap forward in the timeline after Once Darkness Falls, which takes place during the events of Dire Blood.

I don’t know if it will be the last Cèsar book. It’s the last one I have planned…for the moment. I have a feeling that Cèsar will continue demanding to be written for several more books, even if I only write one or two a year. (I need to make time for The Mage Craft Series, after all…)

I’m looking forward to this book and I hope you are too!


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Available Now: Winter Court

Winter CourtCEO Pierce Hardwick is testing a cure for lycanthropy.

Jaycee Hardwick, witch and executive assistant, wants to help. But she can’t risk getting too close to her irresistible boss.

Too bad destiny has other plans for both of them.

Winter Court is available now. Find it on your favorite vendor here.

German translation of Caged Wolf available now!

Wolf im KäfigGuten tag again! With the help of my trusty translator Benjamin Schmitt, we have published Caged Wolf in German, entitled “Wolf im Käfig: Ein Werwolf-Romanze (Tarothexen-Liebesroman 1)“.

I’m very excited to bring this book to German-reading audiences. It’s a dark, sexy, twisted book, and it remains one of my favorites that I’ve ever written!

It’s available exclusively on Amazon at the moment, though it will be coming to Tolino, Kobo, and other international retailers in a few months. You can find more information about the book on its page as well.

Happy reading!

Preorders available now

Preorders are now available for Winter Court and Once Darkness Falls!

Winter Court

CEO Pierce Hardwick is testing a cure for lycanthropy. Jaycee Hardwick, witch and executive assistant, wants to help. But she can’t risk getting too close to her irresistible boss. Ever since that one hot night they shared in the break room—the night before Jaycee realized Pierce would be her new employer—Jaycee has been struggling with her entirely unprofessional attraction toward him.

Then Jaycee receives a magical tarot card, and the message is clear: destiny has plans for her. No matter that Jaycee only wants to achieve professional domination with Hardwick Medical Research. She’s got a bigger job.

And that job might have to do with mating to Pierce Hardwick…

Preorder Winter Court on the following websites:

iBooks (for your iPhone or iPad)

Barnes & Noble (for reading on your nook)

odf-web The worst case scenario has happened: Reno NV has fallen to demons.odf-web

Someone at the Office of Preternatural Affairs fucked up.

As the lead of a secret internal investigations team, Agent Cesar Hawke needs to discover who is responsible.

And then he needs to kill them.

iBooks (for your iPhone or iPad)

Barnes & Noble (for your nook)

Coming Soon: Once Darkness Falls

The worst case scenario has happened: Reno NV has fallen to demons.

Someone at the Office of Preternatural Affairs fucked up.

As the lead of a secret internal investigations team, Agent Cesar Hawke needs to discover who is responsible.

And then he needs to kill them.

Coming December 2015. Get an email when it’s available:

The Descent Series Prequels: Dying Night

Kopis: Adying night Greek word meaning “sword.” A kopis is a demon-hunting human born with better-than-average strength, reflexes, and healing. Though physically strong, a kopis is vulnerable to magical attack.

Aspis: A Greek word meaning “shield.” An aspis is a witch who binds with a kopis to shield them from magical assault. A kopis can only have one aspis. The bond is for life: closer than friendship, stronger than family, and more permanent than marriage.

It was inevitable that someone would eventually use the Grand Canyon for evil. That was why it had been made in the first place, after all.

Sometime in the dark early years of existence, primitive demons cracked Earth in an attempt to route directly to the boiling river of hell-blood known as Phlegethon.

Many hundreds of years later, that crack would be known by mortals as the Grand Canyon.

The natural juncture between Earth and Hell occurred at a point in the south rim of the eventual Grand Canyon, below a rock formation later known as the Tower of Set. The ancient warlocks who created the canyon failed to burrow to that natural juncture despite many years of magical labor. They progressed to within a thousand feet of the fissure before angels, annoyed by all the commotion on Earth, slaughtered the warlocks and let their bodies rot in the sun.

That was why the Grand Canyon existed, and such inauspicious origins had a way of leaving a mark for millennia into the future.

Furthermore, the boiling blood of Phlegethon sensed the nearness of Earth’s air. It sensed light and mortals and food.

Those warlocks had failed to free it, but that didn’t mean that Phlegethon forgot how close it was to being unleashed.

It never forgot.

That lurking evil spent more than six thousand years building enough resentment, strength, and pressure to snap.

Anything twisted up with that much tension will always snap sooner or later.


September 8th, 2000 — The Grand Canyon, Arizona

In a stone vault under the earth, a portal opened.

The rocks shifted, groaned, cracked.

A fissure the width of an arm spread in the darkness.

Hot blood sprayed from it as if from an artery sheared by a razor. Fluid gushed over the opposite wall, splattered the cave floor, and instantly steamed the air near to boiling.

A hand thrust through the fissure. Unharmed by the blood, the arm stretched across dimensions to claw at Earth, feeling the freshness of the atmosphere and the waiting prey.

Then that hand began tearing the fissure wider.

On the surface, approximately a mile away, Elise Kavanagh was in a gift shop filled with many incredibly tacky keepsakes—slightly less horrible than the blood gushing from Phlegethon, but only slightly.

The knickknacks intended to look like they were Native American were the worst, with “Made in China” stickers plastered under totem faces. She sneered at the flimsy arrowheads that couldn’t have cut through paper. The XXL tourist clothing in garish colors were almost as bad as those inauthentic artifacts, though. Nothing in the store verged on displaying the slightest sense of taste.

“Ooh,” said Malcolm Gallagher, lifting a pair of fringed leather chaps to measure them visually against Elise’s hips. “Very cowgirl.” He affected an imitation American accent, which he was not getting better at despite traveling with Americans for several months. “I’d like you to ride my bucking bronco with these on, partner.”

Elise trailed her gloved fingers over leather satchels, looking for one pouch just large enough for a wallet or makeup.

“What do you think?” Malcolm asked, resuming his usual Irish accent. He swapped out the chaps for a smaller size and lifted them in front of Elise again. He seemed to find this size more satisfactory than the first one. “Should I buy them? You’d look great in these things. In just these things. Eh?” He thrust his hips against the hanger of the chaps, which was probably meant to indicate bending Elise over something.

Elise picked a leather satchel with turquoise fastenings. They looked genuine. The turquoise was a must; it would help cancel out the effects of the moonstone artifact they would soon carry into the depths of the Grand Canyon. The thick leather flap would allow a protection rune to be imprinted into it, too.

“Whoa doggy,” Malcolm said, now miming swinging a lasso over his head.

The corner of Elise’s mouth tugged into something that was the distant cousin of a smile.

Over Malcolm’s shoulder, she realized that there was another man standing in the doorway to the gift shop. He leaned his arm against the doorway. He was so tall that the top of his head nearly brushed the upper frame, and the harsh sunlight cast a yellow halo over his charcoal-black hair.

Even with his face shadowed, Elise could feel the chilly weight of his pale gaze.

James Faulkner was watching Elise shop with her boyfriend.

“Fine,” Elise said. “Buy the chaps.”

Malcolm cackled and slapped her ass. “Yee haw!”

She pointedly did not look for James’s reaction.


September 9th, 2000 — The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The demon hunters were staying at a campsite to the north of the canyon. It was one of many similar campsites, and they inhabited one of many motorhomes similar to those occupied by other tourists. The mundanity of it all rendered Elise and James anonymous among the crowd. Who would expect to find the world’s greatest kopis in a puke-colored Winnebago from the 80s?

That Winnebago was currently groaning on its springs.

Inside, in the double bed in the back, Malcolm reclined while Elise rode him.

Her motions were less like the cowgirl he’d requested and more like she was wrestling him into submission. Elise wasn’t stronger than Malcolm, physically speaking; despite the fact that they had equally impressive muscle from similar myostatin deficiencies, she was still female, with lower body mass, and therefore at a disadvantage.

He allowed her to top him, though. He liked it when she got rough with him. The more their sex verged on the scary and potentially murderous, the harder he got off.

To be honest, Elise liked it that way too.

She was always kind of pissed. Always on the brink of snapping.

Killing demons wasn’t enough to get it all out.

In the moments when she reached climax, in the brilliant white light of orgasm, Elise felt relaxed. Just for a moment.

She appreciated that release.

If she got to choke Malcolm while reaching that release—well, that was just part of the fun.

If there was one thing to be said for her relationship with Malcolm, it was that they always had fun.

Six months. It was easily Elise’s longest relationship to date, if one didn’t count her relationship with James.

James didn’t count their relationship as a relationship. Why should Elise?

Her aspis was down in the canyon, drawing on her energy as he cast a spell. Their bond was open in what was colloquially known as a “piggyback.” That meant that they were sharing their thoughts, feelings, and strength, as well as all of the sensations that went along with that. Being able to piggyback off of one another was one of the primary benefits to joining as kopis and aspis.

Separately, neither of them were as strong as they were together—or at least, that was how it worked when the bond was going well.

The bond hadn’t been going very well lately.

As Elise’s hips rocked atop Malcolm’s, she felt James’s hands sifting through salt and crystal as surely as he felt Malcolm’s ribs pressed between her knees.

James was taking extra care to shield his thoughts from her. She got no sense of his reaction.

He must have known what she was doing. He should have felt every moment of it.

Elise had no idea what James thought of the way she occupied her time while he cast a boring, lengthy ritual. But she could imagine it.

He’d be disgusted.

James barely tolerated Malcolm’s presence, the way that the demon hunter called him “Jimmy,” the constant sex Elise and Malcolm had—even when they were in a demon hive, fresh off of a dozen kills.

And that was fine.

Elise must have disgusted James long before Malcolm entered the picture.

At least she was giving her aspis good reason to hate her now.

Let him see her gloved hands clamped on the muscles of Malcolm’s neck. Let him watch the male kopis’s face contort with pleasure even as his cheeks purpled from asphyxiation. Let James hear the playful, laughing whoops of an Irishman who was pretending to be a cowboy, or whatever the hell those noises were supposed to mean.

Six months since they’d left Copenhagen.

Six months since James had stopped managing to conceal his distaste from Elise.

Malcolm flipped Elise over on the bed, shoving her hard enough that her head hung over the edge of the mattress. The fact that he’d managed to do that, when Elise usually thwarted his wrestling maneuvers, meant she was truly distracted.

It was hard to concentrate on sex when she was also mentally nestled near the Tower of Set, casting advanced magic.

James was speaking Latin. His words flowed through her.

Malcolm withdrew from Elise’s body and spent himself across her belly, as he always did in a lazy attempt at birth control. She hadn’t bothered telling him that it was impossible for her to get pregnant. She just preferred to clean him off of her skin rather than from her innards.

He was done. Finally.

Malcolm rolled onto the bed beside her with a sigh.

Elise remained sprawled on the bed. Eyes open, unfocused, she watched the candles flickering around James’s circle of power.

She could see every detail of the canyon as though she were the one standing in it. Elise could even feel the heat from the flames and the tingle of power flowing through both of them.

Yet she couldn’t pick up a single one of James’s thoughts.

He was so carefully shielded.

She filled in the blanks of his unreadable mind with her expectations, though. Elise had more than enough tumultuous thoughts for the both of them.

“You didn’t come.” Malcolm opened the drawer beside the bed, grabbed the whiskey, and took a swig. “Want me to finish you off, cowgirl?” He flicked his tongue out in a lewd imitation of snake.

Elise took a drink when he offered the whiskey bottle to her. “No.”

“How’s Jimmy?” he asked.

She was surprised that he asked. Elise hadn’t thought Malcolm realized that she had an open bond with James.

It wasn’t surprising that he would have had sex with her anyway, though. Malcolm got bored whenever they weren’t actively screwing or killing, so annoying James was high on his list of pastimes. Forcing James to watch them have sex probably only helped Malcolm get his rocks off.

“James is casting,” Elise said. Roughly a mile away, her aspis rolled the moonstone artifact between his palms. It was unsettling to feel rock against bare skin like that, when Elise took such care to never remove her gloves. She had to remind herself that it was only James’s hands that were unprotected, not hers.

Malcolm took the bottle back, and then another drink. “Is he jealous? Wishing he were here, eh? I know he wants my body.”

Actually, James hated Malcolm so much that even his carefully guarded emotions couldn’t conceal it.

“He’s almost done with the spell.” Elise climbed out of bed. Her gloves were stained with bodily fluid. Luckily, she always had spares.

She swapped her gloves out one at a time. Left hand first, and then right. She was careful not to let Malcolm see her palms. Even when she was lost in James’s thoughts, she was aware enough to hide her palms.

The moonstone glimmered in her mind’s eye. It was an impressive artifact—a magical padlock that could block dimensions. It had cost a good half of Elise and James’s stolen fortune to buy it in Lebanon, but they considered the artifact a worthwhile investment.

Once that padlock was placed on the fissure to Phlegethon, they could be confident that it the passage between dimensions would never open, sparing them the effort of confronting tens of thousands of demons and saving even more mortal lives.

James just needed to entrap that moonstone within the turquoise-and-leather bag first so that the fissure to Phlegethon wouldn’t feel it approaching. Hell had a way of reacting violently when it sensed something that could defeat it nearby, and Elise’s presence was warning enough that they were up to danger.

“Did Jimmy come when I did?” Malcolm was still lounging naked on the mattress, unselfconscious with all of his rippling muscle, shiny scars, and chest matted with brown hair. “Should I take him a clean pair of pants?”

Elise was about to drain the last of the whiskey when the Winnebago shivered around them.

Cabinets rattled. The wardrobe door swung open.

Then the floor jerked under Elise’s feet.

Surprised, she steadied herself with a hand on the counter.

“Earthquake,” Malcolm said. “Shit. We’re out of time.” He checked the clock on the bedside table. “The apocalypse isn’t due for a few more hours. I hate it when people show up early for a party.”

The earth shook harder for a few more seconds before subsiding. Not a big deal. Just a little quake.

When the next one came, it wouldn’t be little.

Elise wiped Malcolm’s fluids off of her skin with tissues, then put her wrist sheaths back on. She also donned her spine scabbard with the twin falchions that she always carried—presents from her kopis father.

She stepped outside.

Two people cut through the gloom of night, moving toward Elise with purposefulness unlike the confused tourists who wandered the campground.

One of the newcomers was as close to a friend as Elise had: Lucas McIntyre, a third kopis to complete their trifecta.

McIntyre had always resembled a bear fatted for winter. Ever since he had married his girlfriend, Leticia, he had only grown fatter still. He was broader than Elise and Malcolm combined. His hair was thinning on top of his head as it grew in fine curls on his pimply shoulders. He currently had a shotgun propped against one of those shoulders.

“Fuck, Kavanagh,” he said, rolling his eyes to the sky when he realized she was half-naked. “I don’t wanna see your…whatever you got going on there. I’m blind.” He pointedly didn’t look at her tits.

Elise held out a hand. Malcolm placed a shirt in her waiting grip as he emerged from the trailer. He tucked himself into his jeans and zipped the fly.

“The Traveler,” she said after a moment of studying McIntyre’s companion.

The Traveler was neither he nor she—a human witch who preferred to identify itself by its sole and unique power, which was a very special kind of traveling. Even James couldn’t imitate its abilities.

They would need the Traveler to apply the moonstone artifact to the fissure.

The Traveler had no breasts under its tank top, but its full lips were feminine. Long eyelashes framed pale eyes. Its mohawk flopped over one forehead, and tattoo sleeves covered it from knuckles to slender biceps.

Elise couldn’t tell if the Traveler had been born male or female. It was the Traveler, and that was all.

“At your service,” said the Traveler, inclining its head in greeting to Elise. “And not a moment too late.”

Another earthquake punctuated its sentence.

Elise could actually see the RVs in the campground rippling, tossed by the rolling ground. The suspension on her vehicle groaned.

She surfed the earthquake even as she pulled the shirt on to cover her breasts and protect McIntyre’s modesty. Elise was still trying to maintain her footing when she realized that Malcolm had given her a Hooters tee. It was short enough to expose the holsters on her arms and her scarred midriff.

Malcolm was grinning when she shot a look at him.

“What?” he asked innocently, side-stepping a trash can as it rolled past him.

Elise rolled her eyes.

Hooters. Hell of a way to face the apocalypse.

The earthquake slowed, but didn’t stop. Somewhere beyond the RV park, humans were screaming. Those screams weren’t because of the earthquake. Elise recognized the sounds of dismemberment when she heard them.

“Traveler, let’s travel,” Elise said.

McIntyre pumped his shotgun. “Before this campground turns into a graveyard.”


Demons flooded out of the depths of the Grand Canyon.

They clambered up the cliff, scrambling to reach James where he had constructed his circle of power within the Tower of Set’s crook.

The black tide of demons crashed against rock, unhindered by gravity. They slavered. They shrieked.

They came to kill James.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Good Lord.”

James lifted his hand in front of the slavering mass of demons just before they reached his plateau, and they crashed into an invisible barrier of magic.

Inches from James’s face, teeth snapped, claws raked against his circle of power, and boiling blood gushed through the air.

James had had ample time to prepare the wards before the demons arrived, since the spell to shield that leather satchel had been long and boring. His magic was sturdy enough that Ba’al himself wouldn’t have been able to punch through—at least, not for ten minutes.

Ten minutes would be more than enough time for Elise to rescue him.

The demons shrieked as they smashed against his wards. They were black-skinned in the way that hardened lava was black. Boiling blood oozed from the cracks. James didn’t need to pull out his copy of Hume’s Almanac to identify these beasts. They were creatures from Phlegethon.

The fissure was opening.

“Damn,” James said.

He reached toward Elise through their bond. They’re here, he told her silently, and then he shut her out before she could respond. He blocked every iota of information emanating from his kopis: the sight of Malcolm’s grin, her muscle strain as she raced toward the canyon, the sound of McIntyre lumbering behind her.

James tucked the moonstone artifact into the leather satchel, closing it with turquoise buttons.

Magic hummed as his protections fell into place.

Demon claws skittered over the invisible dome of wards, filling the air with brimstone sparks.

James slung the satchel across his chest. It fit well. Elise had picked the perfect tool for his use. She had good taste—in some things.

Allowing Elise to graze the surface of his thoughts opened a hole in their bond again. She was making good use of their shared strength. Her heel snapped into the face of a demon that had been trying to claw open a motorhome. In the same motion, she leaped over its head and came up to plunge both falchions into the jaw of an attacking demon.

He saw through Elise’s eyes when she fought like this. He felt her strength as though it were his. His heart sped, pushing blood hard enough to dizzy him.

When Elise whirled to stab another demon, Malcolm got there first. He shot it in the face. Elise was close enough to watch skull fragments go flying.

Then Malcolm kissed Elise, and James felt the scrape of the male kopis’s stubble.


He slammed his protective walls down on their bond again.

James destroyed his altar with a few swift kicks. He was usually more respectful when removing his work—he was an incredibly powerful witch, after all, and there were covens who would drain their collective life savings for a glimpse of his ritual spaces—but the kicking thing was far more satisfying after feeling like he’d kissed Malcolm. And fucked Malcolm. And…

He smashed his heel into the altar a few more times.

Demons continued to punch at the walls of his circle.

Dammit, James was better at hiding his feelings than this. All this time with Elise, and he hadn’t lashed out over his frustration once. Not once! Not even when he was alone, seemingly unobserved, and it should have been safe to scream his fury at the injustice of the universe.

That was because nobody was better at lying than him.

But today, he didn’t have the strength in him to lie.

Six months since Copenhagen.

Six months of knowing what Elise felt, being unable to respond, and watching her with that abortion of a human being.

James ground glass into the earth with his loafer.

The Traveler came over the ridge above first. James had never seen the Traveler before, but he still recognized it instantly, as there was only one Traveler.

Even if it had been wearing a paper bag over its head to conceal its identity, James’s inner wellspring of magic would have reacted to its presence.

All of existence bowed around the Traveler.

It beckoned to someone James couldn’t see.

“Found him!”

Elise launched over the Traveler’s head.

She was momentarily weightless, knees lifted, blades glinting in the moonlight.

Then she plummeted into the mass of demons, a flash of muscles veiled in freckled flesh. Metal sang as her falchions tasted blood.

James was safe.

She was here, and he was safe.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t irritated at her.

“We’re almost out of time,” he called, tapping his wrist as though he were wearing a watch.

Elise surfaced from among the bodies. She was wearing those stupid leather chaps, which were now slashed in several places and blistered from boiling demon blood. “I know!”

“The fissure’s going to finish opening within the hour.”

“I know!”

Elise came up with her swords swinging. Heads bounced, rolled, hit the border of his circle of power.

The strength of his wards waned.

Malcolm and Lucas McIntyre came down the slope more slowly, moving as a unit. The Irishman took the left, and Lucas took the right. They plugged bullets into demons methodically. Calmly. Nothing new about what they were doing here—just clearing a path so that the Traveler could approach.

They cleared the rear half of the plateau. Elise rose from among the demons at the front half, shoulders heaving, a curl plastered to her forehead by a thumbprint of blood.

Her eyes connected with James’s over the mass of bodies.

The bond between a kopis and aspis was strong when they couldn’t see one another.

Once they could, the floodgates opened.

Elise was spattered in blisters from the heat of the demons’ blood, her knuckles sore from repeated impact, her adrenaline high.

Yet she was thinking about Copenhagen.

That icy beach. The steely ocean waters.

Her attempt to kiss James, and the way that he hadn’t responded.

Elise had kissed James, and he had simply stepped away from her.

They hadn’t talked about it since.

If James hadn’t tortured himself thinking about it every night for the last six months, he could have convinced himself that it had never happened at all.

Self-loathing slicked Elise’s memory in oily disgust. She hated herself for struggling to make her one and only ever gesture of affection—or at least, attraction.

Worse, Elise truly believed that James hated her for it, too.

“No,” James said aloud, startled by the realization. “I would never.”

She didn’t hear him. They were too physically distant, and Elise had  broken the piggyback the instant that she realized they were sharing thoughts again. She was trying to hide the fact that she had been thinking about the kiss—constantly—ever since it had happened.

James ran a hand through his hair, mind whirling in the absence of Elise’s.

It hadn’t just been self-loathing in that memory. There had been other wisps of ugliness: an urge for revenge and punishment and endless flagellation.

Elise had begun dating Malcolm, if that was what it could be called, right after their kiss.

James felt like an idiot for failing to realize what that meant earlier.

He had pushed her toward that idiot. And she had been using Malcolm to punish both of them ever since.

“Lord, no,” he said, quiet under the shrieking of a new wave of demons cascading up the slope.

Elise moved into the battle again.

The swift dance of demon slaying was graceful, even on her stocky form. James had been teaching her to dance, and Elise had absorbed that knowledge into her already terrifying ability to kill.

Twin falchions flashed through the night. Blood sprayed.

She leaped, she ducked, she spun.

Malcolm and McIntyre were both stronger than Elise, but that didn’t matter. She was the greatest kopis for a reason.

Elise didn’t need to be the strongest when she was utterly untouchable.

Yet she didn’t realize how beautiful she was.

James was so distracted watching her fight that he didn’t realize his protective circle was weakening until a second wave of demons struck.

Lava black bodies crashed into his circle of power.

James’s warding magic broke.

The demons flooded in.

“Look out!” Malcolm shouted.

The male kopis smashed into James, pushing him out of the way just before a half-dozen hellspawn managed to strike.

Tangled together, the men tumbled into the canyon.


All things considered, falling was a much faster way to get down the canyon than the way James and Elise had done it last time, which had been on the back of flea-riddled donkeys.

It was a hell of a lot more painful, though.

“Good Lord,” James groaned, rolling onto all fours to look around.

They had landed conveniently near the cave underneath the Tower of Set.

Convenient because it meant they wouldn’t have to walk far to reach the fissure.

Slightly less convenient because it meant they were surrounded by demons.

Malcolm had taken the brunt of the tumble. Regardless of his feelings toward James, he still had a kopis’s protective instinct, and James was a mortal with all the associated weaknesses; Malcolm had shielded the aspis automatically. He had been cut open by the rocks in several places. Blood cascaded down the side of his face.

He was on his feet again, drawing a handgun from the small of his back and firing into a mass of demons that emerged from the cave.

Malcolm’s aim was precise. Each bullet planted into a fiend’s forehead. But he didn’t merely shoot them in the heads—he shot them in a place their stony flesh was cracked and oozing blood, indicating weakness.

Each bullet killed one demon.

Not as impressive as Elise, but close.

Still, his handgun could only hold twelve bullets at best, when he started with one chambered. Twelve demons died at Malcolm’s feet and that was it.

Then he yanked James to his feet.

“Still got the moonstone artifact?” Malcolm asked.

James patted himself down. He did. It was safely swaddled in the leather-and-turquoise satchel. “Yes, but we need the Traveler because—”

“Good enough for now!” Malcolm shoved his emptied handgun at James along with a fresh magazine he’d been carrying in one of his pockets. “Reload and follow me.”

More demons were squeezing out through the tunnel leading to the cave.

Another earthquake struck.

The canyon around them groaned, rocks grinding, debris falling. The ground heaved under James. It was even more powerful than the last earthquakes, as though the fissure to Phlegethon was starting to get really angry, and he couldn’t remain standing through it.

Malcolm clamped a hand on James’s collar and dragged him toward the tunnel, unperturbed by the fact that the walls of the canyon were swaying around them.

The Tower of Set was wiggling, for the love of God.

It looked like the rocks would collapse on them.

The hidden cave wasn’t so hidden now. Each successive earthquake was grinding it open wider. The demons pushing through were helping it widen on their way, too. They were preparing a path to allow the forces of Phlegethon to invade Earth.

Malcolm cleared a path of his own with a second handgun.

“Reloading?” he asked James cheerfully.

Oh, right. James’s hands shook as he removed the first magazine and replaced it with a full one.

As soon as he popped it into place, Malcolm took it from him, swung the gun over James’s shoulder, and fired again. It exploded directly to the left of James’s ear.

There had been demons coming up on them from behind.

If the fiends were heading back this way, it could only mean that Elise and Lucas were pushing them. They wouldn’t be far. And they would have the Traveler with them.

Malcolm shoved James inside the cave. The damp air stunk of melted copper.

“What an ugly situation,” Malcolm said, reloading his second gun. “Apocalypse showing up early, just when I was getting my rocks off. Barely even had time to empty that whiskey bottle. We did, mind you, but barely. And we could have easily started on another one.”

When he shot at the demons to clear the tunnel, it was a thousand times louder than when he had been shooting in the relatively open air of the canyon. James clapped his hands over his ears.

“Don’t you have melee weapons?” he shouted.

Malcolm’s mouth moved. “Where’s the fun in that?” James could barely hear him.

James stumbled over the felled body of a demon. Its magma flesh crunched under his heel. “It’s not all about having fun! Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s about saving lives!”

“Try to be more boring, please, Jimmy.” Malcolm unloaded the clip into a string of demons, and then whipped a high kick into the jaw of a survivor. “Elise isn’t boring. Even she thought it was funny when I handed her the Hooters shirt to fight in tonight.”

Frustration clawed at James.

Hooters? He hadn’t noticed what she was wearing up on the cliff. He’d only noticed how much pain she was in.

And Malcolm had stuck her in a Hooters shirt.

“I suppose you think that’s funny,” he hissed at Malcolm.

“You better believe I do, doggy.” That pretend Western drawl was even more irritating than the words coming out of his idiot mouth.

“Of all the disrespectful—”

“You think I could make her wear it if she didn’t want to? It seems to me like one of us has an issue respecting Elise’s choices and it’s not me.” There was a spark of possessive jealousy in Malcolm’s words.

James gathered himself to his full height, which was at least half a foot taller than Malcolm. “I’m her aspis. More fatal than friends, closer than family—”

“Whinier than an incy wincy baby,” Malcolm said. “Oi. Duck.”

After a few months of casual warnings from the kopis, James knew to duck immediately. He ate dirt.

Malcolm fired over James’s head.

The bullet embedded in a demon’s throat.

“You’re a pig,” James said.

“A pig who just saved your life,” Malcolm said. He blew imagined smoke away from the muzzle of his gun. “Again. You’re welcome.”

And he was running down the tunnel again.

James had no choice but to follow or get eaten by demons.

They were on both sides: ahead of them, emerging from the juncture between Earth and Phlegethon; behind them, pushed into Malcolm and James’s retreating backs by Elise. James felt as though he were trapped within the closing maw of Ba’al. He was about to be devoured.

The only escape was getting the moonstone artifact to the juncture.

He followed Malcolm.

The tunnel soon widened into the cave where ancient demons had once attempted to burrow between the dimensions. The marks of infernal carving were everywhere. At another time, James would have enjoyed analyzing the specific shapes of the scorch marks on the crimson stone walls.

“There it is!” Malcolm crowed. “The fissure! Gorgeous!”

James didn’t see it at first. There were too many black-skinned boiling-blooded demons between where he stood and the fissure.

But the fiends shifted, and then it became visible.

A gash in the stone.

That sliver was so narrow, barely wider than the width of a fingernail, that it would have been utterly invisible if not for the blood it gushed—and if not for the demons somehow, impossibly, twisting to extrude themselves into a mortal dimension where they didn’t belong.

That was where the moonstone artifact needed to go.

James wedged himself between two rocks while Malcolm fought, fumbling the Book of Shadows out of his back pocket. He had known he would need offensive spells for this battle, and James had prepared a few special tricks.

He ripped the first page out of his Book of Shadows. Paper dust puffed through the air.

Demons rushed him.

He opened his mouth to speak a word of power.

It rocked the entire cavern in a silent boom, as though the entire canyon were a gong and his magic were the mallet. The demons within ten feet simply turned to a spray of blood so hot that they scorched the earth where they touched. Fragments of flesh and bone flopped to James’s feet.

Malcolm rounded on James. Demons had splattered onto his shins. “Damn it, Jimmy! Be careful! You got close to me with that!”

“Not close enough,” James muttered. He ripped the next spell free and held it between forefinger and thumb, trying to decide if it was safe to cast it back toward the tunnel that led to the surface. Elise had severed their bond. He couldn’t tell where she was.

He shoved the rune back into his pocket and scrambled to the top of a rock, trying to escape the reach of the nearest demons.

Malcolm cleared the space in front of the fissure. “Easy!” He spun his handgun end over end and holstered it. “See, there’s advantages to being the kind of bloke who shoots things instead of blows things up with magic. Nice and clean! Toss me the moonstone artifact.”

“Not a chance in all the hells,” James said. He slithered down the opposite side of the boulder and hit the ground just a few feet from the fissure. The air rippling from it was hot enough to make his hair curl.

Malcolm stepped into his path. “Come on, give it here. I’ll take care of everything.”

“I can handle it, thanks,” James bit out.

“Like you handle Elise?”

That was an open challenge if James had ever heard one.

Not the first from Malcolm, certainly. Nor the most blatant.

But James didn’t ignore it this time.

He didn’t want to.

“I’m better than you are in every way possible,” James said.

“That’s not what she seems to think,” Malcolm said. “I’m the one who she wears the Hooters shirt for, after all. All you do is follow her around the world like a pathetic puppy.”

James swung first.

Unfortunately, Malcolm was still a kopis, and his reflexes were far faster.

He ducked under James’s fist and came up with a blow of his own.

It was like taking a baseball bat to the face.

James flattened on the ground.

Sweeping a leg out, James hooked his foot behind Malcolm’s knee. He jerked hard. Brought Malcolm to the ground. Jumped on top of him before his vision could clear.

James snapped his fist across Malcolm’s face.

It was impossible to tell if the brown smears on the ground beside his head belonged to the kopis or came from the earlier fight against demons.

He was pretty certain he’d broken Malcolm’s nose, though.

Malcolm tossed James off of him, leaping to his feet. “Seems I struck a nerve in old Jimmy boy! And I do mean old. Bet you couldn’t keep it up for her even if you tried!”

James hurled the second rune into the air.

Magic thudded. The cave shook.

A ripple of air thumped into Malcolm’s chest and kept going. It bowled down the kopis and the half-dozen demons beyond him who had begun scrambling into the cave.

Just behind those demons, Elise was escorting the Traveler to the fissure.

That was what she saw.

Not Malcolm’s taunts. Not James’s attempt to hold back the demon horde.

Just James attacking her boyfriend.

And judging by her expression, she was not at all impressed.


Considering that the Traveler was only a witch—which meant that it had average strength and reflexes, similar to those any other human might have—it was a useful asset to have against the demons. It didn’t need the runic paper magic that James used. It had a quick tongue and incredible powers of observation unlike any Elise had ever seen.

“Three coming over the hill,” the Traveler said, and it was right: there were three demons cresting over the hill to Elise’s left, where she wouldn’t have noticed them without help.

McIntyre swiveled. He fired his shotgun. The demons fell.

The Traveler spoke again. “Behind you.”

Elise spun, slashing her swords in an arc that reflected moonlight on the blades like blazing cerulean fire.

Blood sprayed from the throats of two demons.

That was how they reached the floor of the canyon. The Traveler barked instructions without needing to look. It always knew where the demons were coming from. Always knew what to say. It was as though it had lived this deadly night a dozen times before.

It walked calmly between the two kopides, side-stepping attacks from the fiends, and was never touched by an enemy. Not once.

“What is it?” Elise grunted to McIntyre when their paths of battle drew one them close to each other. They had worked together frequently enough now that he understood what she was asking: why the Traveler was so strange, separate from the reality surrounding it.

“It’s a witch,” he said.

“Yeah, but what?”

“Just a witch,” McIntyre said. “For real.”

But it was a witch who had clearly traveled this path before, because it never drew a weapon yet still never was injured.

They reached the floor of the canyon. Malcolm and James weren’t dead on the ground, though she had already known that would be the case. If James had been dead, she would have felt him cleaved out of her soul and spent the rest of her life aching for the absence.

She never should have bound to him. She never should have let anyone matter to her that much.

When she heard the echoes of fighting within the tunnel under the Tower of Set, she was afraid. Truly afraid that there would be one more cry, and then her heart would shatter with James’s death.

Elise never used to fear for anyone like that.

Now she feared for him, and all he had in return for her was disdain.

She hesitated at the mouth of the tunnel—her only hesitation throughout the entire fight. Her fists were clenched around the hilts of her falchions. Blood sizzled on the blade, sending plumes of steam spiraling toward the heights of the canyon. Her gloves were soaked. The H in Hooters on her right breast was stained.

James and Malcolm were in the cavern somewhere.

“Don’t bother second guessing yourself,” the Traveler said. “You won’t remember anyway.”

She frowned at it, brow creasing.

“Don’t bother asking what it’s talking about,” McIntyre said, breaking the shotgun over his arm to reload. “Ain’t no point in that.”

Elise would take his word for that.

She leaped into the cavern.

Killing the demons was an easy thing, and if she’d had a choice, she never would have done anything else. Going through the instinctive motions of murder was easy. It warmed her muscles and made her blood flow and touched her forehead with sweat. It was the good parts of sex without any of the complications.

A blade in the chest, a demon’s wail. Knuckles connecting with Elise’s ribs. Teeth sinking into her wrist.

It was good. Very good.

“Step to the left,” the Traveler said peacefully behind her.

Elise leaped behind an outcropping in the wall. She reached cover an instant before James’s magic pulsed within the cavern, exploding from one of his runes.

She watched through the crack as his magic bowled over the demons like pins.

The demons, and Malcolm.

Hatred filled James’s pale eyes. The fissure to Phlegethon gashed the wall behind him, twice as tall as the witch but narrower than a hair.

He was still holding the page from his Book of Shadows that had knocked down Malcolm.

The way that James was looking, it was clear that the kopis had been his target—not the demons.

“Check him,” Elise barked to McIntyre.

The other kopis kneeled beside Malcolm. “He ain’t dead.”

That was something.

Elise stalked toward James, the Traveler in her wake. She didn’t need to ask James what the fuck do you think you’re doing because she communicated it in every angry line of her body.

Even without an open bond between them, James would know she was pissed.

He was pissed, too.

“We’re done with him,” James said. Rage radiated from him. It glowed within his irises. “If we survive this, Malcolm’s not coming with us to our next destination. And that is final. No debate! Don’t even try!”

Elise wasn’t debating. She stood inches from James, glaring, breathing hard through her nostrils.

God, but she shouldn’t have been happy to see him alive and barely injured.

He hated her.

Hated her so much that he was using magic to kick her boyfriend’s ass.

“The artifact,” the Traveler said.

James ripped the satchel off over his head and tossed it to the Traveler without looking. Elise had the entirety of her aspis’s focus.

“He disrespects me,” James said. “He disrespects you. And whenever he’s awake, he’s drunk! I don’t care how useful he is as an ally. I won’t tolerate him anymore!”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” Malcolm groaned from the back of the cavern.

The Traveler glided toward the fissure, holding the leather satchel and its moonstone prize.

The earth shook harder as it approached.

Phlegethon knew its death was coming.

Fresh blood sprayed from the fissure, sloshing over Elise’s feet, staining James’s khakis.

“I’ll leave with Malcolm,” Elise finally said. “We won’t bother you again.”

Disbelief made James’s face sag. “I’m your aspis.”

“Yeah, and you hate me,” she said. “I’ll get out of your life. You can go back to Colorado. You’re welcome.”

Saying that hurt more than any single blow the fiends had landed, more than every cracked bone in her ribcage attempting to rapidly knit itself back together.

The Traveler was only a dozen feet from the fissure now.

James grabbed Elise’s wrist to maintain his balance, fingers sliding on her blood-slicked skin. An earthquake jolted the entire cavern.

His touch hurt her in a way that the demons’ claws hadn’t.

“Shit’s about to go down,” McIntyre said helpfully. He had helped Malcolm to his feet, but the other kopis still looked woozy, like he wasn’t quite sure if all the shaking was in his head or in the earth.

The Traveler began to glow.

It was preparing to travel.

“Let me go, James,” Elise said, eyes narrowed. She could have broken free without effort, but she didn’t. She didn’t really want James to let go. Not if this would be the last fight she had with him—the last battle fought against him, and beside him.

No matter how cruel the loathing that churned in her belly, she liked the feeling of steadying him against the shaking earth, and the curl of his fingers around her arm.

“I don’t hate you,” he said. “I would never hate you.”

The fissure widened.

Blood slopped across the room, hot enough that James felt it through his shoes. He could also see into the dimension on the other side: the hideous, darkest depths of inhospitable Hell, filled with flame, evil, and the creatures that flourished on such things.

Demons scrambled out of Phlegethon, illuminated by the Traveler’s glow.

The witch lifted the moonstone artifact in one hand. It gestured with the other hand, as though parting invisible curtains.

Time distorted.

“Don’t lie to me,” Elise said.

Even caught in this moment with James, she was hyper-aware of the tide of demons flowing around them, parting around their bodies. Most of those fiends recognized the greatest kopis. They didn’t attack her. They went for the easier targets—the mouth of the cave, and the helpless mortals beyond.

But one demon plunged toward her. She thrust a falchion under her arm, skewering a demon that rushed from behind her without looking back.

The earth bucked harder.

The Traveler reached the moonstone artifact toward the fissure.

“I’m not lying,” James said.

McIntyre started shooting again. There was screaming.

Elise turned to see what was wrong, prepared to help. But James didn’t release her wrist.

He yanked her back against his chest.

And he kissed her.


Of all the inadvisable things James had ever done—and there were many—deciding to kiss Elise when they should have been protecting the Traveler at the mouth of Phlegethon was probably one of the most inadvisable.

But dammit, he didn’t want to see her thinking like that.

And he wanted to do it once. Just once.

Even if they were going to forget about it as soon as the Traveler reached the fissure.

James used his grip on her wrist to snap her back against his chest. His other hand clutched the back of her head. And he kissed her with the utter desperation of a man who knew that the kiss would never be remembered, not by either of them, when he wanted to communicate a thousand fraught emotions despite the fact there was no time for words.

For an instant, Elise was stiff against him.

They kissed.

She shoved him away.

For once, James’s desperation was enough to make him almost as strong as she was. He held her to him with his fingers digging into her biceps.

Elise stared at him in wide-eyed confusion.

He could see her mind attempting to reboot.

They didn’t have a piggyback going anymore, but they had shared consciousness often enough in the last six months that James knew what she was thinking.

He rejected me in Copenhagen.

But he’s kissing me now.

Is it because he thinks we’re going to die?

Is he taking pity on me?

Is he mocking me?

“No,” James said. He had been holding onto his thoughts for so long that the one kiss had broken him, and now all of those emotions were spilling out at once. “Because everything you think that I think about you is wrong. You have no idea, Elise, you can’t even begin to imagine—”

The cavern shook hard enough to throw them against the wall. Rocks smashed to the ground around their feet.

Shotgun shells plugged holes into the wall about three yards away. McIntyre splattered a handful of demons before they could reach Elise and James.

“You deserve better!” James shouted over the echoing death. “I’m not going to watch you with Malcolm anymore!”

She finally managed to speak. “Why not tell me sooner?”

“Because of all the things you don’t know, Elise. Because you have two marks, and I am a living mark, and if we were to do anything—if we were to be together—then Eden would open, and He would find you, and it would all end, and I can’t let you—”

Her knuckles connected with his jaw.

Being punched by Malcolm was nothing like being punched by Elise when she was furious and heartbroken.

James hit the wall of the cave. He ragdolled to the ground. Standing seemed to be impossible.

He wasn’t sure that she hadn’t broken his neck.

“Because you think that it would mean I’d be dead?” She was shaking with rage. Her voice was ragged. “That should be my choice. Fuck you, Faulkner!”

A gong resounded through the cavern.

The Traveler had reached the fissure.

Its journey began.

This was the Traveler’s one magical power: The ability to shift time, to step back into the past after time’s natural flow had already compelled it forward.

There was no way to sneak up on Phlegethon, after all. It had sensed Elise coming days earlier. And a fissure, once opened, is nearly impossible to shut down, moonstone artifact or not.

But as the Traveler stepped forward in the cave, it also stepped backward in time.

It leaped back to a point before Phlegethon realized Elise or the moonstone artifact were anywhere nearby.

And once it traveled to lock the fissure, everything that happened in the timeline since it jumped back a few days would be forgotten.

Time would be rewritten. Elise and Malcolm fucking in the RV, the fall down the canyon, and even James kissing Elise—all gone, evaporated, erased as though it had never happened, because it wouldn’t have happened. The Traveler was folding time in on itself and cutting away the parts that endangered their mission.

Elise quickly realized that she was about to forget James’s kiss.

She bolted toward the Traveler to stop it.

“Wait!” James shouted, scrambling to his feet. It was hard. Every bone in his body cried out with pain.

She couldn’t even understand the enormity of what James was trying to tell her.

It wasn’t merely that James did care about her—that he cared about her far too much for someone who had been taking care of her since she was a teenager, someone who she should have been able to trust without thinking that he wanted love, or sex, or anything like that.

There was no way she could grasp the enormity of his betrayal.

If she did, James would never see her again.

“You crazy bastards!” Malcolm roared from the rear of the cave. His voice was distorted by slowing time.

James hurtled after Elise.

She struggled to reach the Traveler first.

Time and air were thicker around the glowing witch. It had already stepped out of the current timeline, and now it was little more than a ghost with the moonstone artifact held aloft in that enchanted leather satchel.

It smirked when it saw Elise struggling to reach it.

“I told you that you wouldn’t remember anyway,” the Traveler said.

She reached out. “Don’t close the fissure!”

“No, I don’t think so,” it said.

James smashed into Elise from behind. They hit the ground together.

“I’m sorry,” he said, hugging his arms tightly around her ribs. He buried his face against the nape of her neck. He inhaled the scent of her sweat. “I’m so sorry.”

And she said, “No!”

The Traveler lobbed the moonstone artifact, satchel and all, into the fissure.

Time stopped.


September 8th, 2000 — The Grand Canyon, Arizona

In a stone vault under the earth north of the Colorado River, a portal opened.

The rocks shifted, groaned, cracked.

A fissure the width of an arm spread in the darkness.

“No, I don’t think so,” said the Traveler.

It lobbed the moonstone artifact into the newly opened hole between Hell and Earth.

In a blink, the crack was gone.

In the canyon, approximately five hundred yards away, Elise Kavanagh was very confused.

She was currently being bear-hugged by James, both of them on the dusty ground in the hot sunlight. Malcolm and McIntyre were on a nearby ridge with their guns aimed at nothing. All four of them were sweaty and exhausted and bleeding, but there were no demons in sight.

For an instant, nobody moved.

James was spooned against Elise’s back. His breath was warm on her neck.

She was a little too comfortable.

James released Elise quickly.

“Sorry,” he said. He sat up, looking very confused. “Sorry, I don’t know what…” He coughed. “Sorry.”

Elise stood and looked around.

They were in the Grand Canyon near the rock formation known as the Tower of Set. Elise didn’t remember climbing down there. She had just been in some tacky tourist shop trying to find an appropriate vessel for James to hide the moonstone artifact in. Malcolm had been shopping for leather chaps. That was almost a mile away.

Yet here they were, indisputably at the bottom of the canyon, and it felt like they’d been in a fight.

“Well,” James said. “I suppose the Traveler did its job, then. We’ve clearly gone back a day.” He dusted himself off.

“Yeah,” Elise said.

She dusted herself off too.

It was unsettling to know they had suddenly lost a day like that, with no recollection of what events had gone missing. They had known that would happen, and it was still very strange.

Elise touched her lips. She looked at James. She frowned.

“Huh,” she said.

She felt like she was angry at him, but she couldn’t think of why.

James frowned back at her. “Hmm.” He rubbed a hand over his jaw. “Well.”

“Incoming!” Malcolm shouted from the nearby ridge.

Elise turned to see a few hundred demons flooding up the canyon, coming from the opposite direction as the cave.

That was one unfortunate side effect of using the Traveler to go on a short journey through time. The Traveler had sent Elise, James, Malcolm, and McIntyre back a day, before the fissure to Phlegethon would have had a chance to open. The tension that had been building for centuries had gotten a chance to erupt, and the Traveler had erased it.

Unfortunately, the Traveler had also sent back any demons who had already crossed over to Earth after that eruption, too.

Its only power was traveling, after all.

Elise’s eyes swept over the incoming horde, their black-fleshed bodies glimmering in the harsh Arizona sunlight. She estimated at least two hundred demons coming their way. And there were more scrambling up the ridge to attack the RV park.

“At least you aren’t deprived of a good fight,” James said dryly, plucking the Book of Shadows out of his back pocket. “Can’t ever have that.”

She rolled out her shoulders to loosen them, adjusted her grip on the falchions, and nodded.

“Yup,” she said.

“Dibs on the ugly ones!” Malcolm called, leaping into the canyon.

And they fought.


September 13th, 2000 — The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Elise and James ate breakfast at sunrise. He had made coffee and scrambled eggs over a campfire. He could cook far better food than that, but the simplicity was fine. It seemed right to keep things simple after yet another near-apocalypse.

The RV park was in shambles around them. Demon bodies had been turned to jerky after a few days in the sunlight. Everything stunk of rot and was brown with dried blood. But the eggs and coffee were still just eggs and coffee, and that was fine.

At least it was quiet.

“I’m done with Malcolm,” Elise said suddenly. Her head was bowed over her plate. She had drained her cup of coffee but barely touched the scrambled eggs.

James frowned. It seemed significant that she was deciding to be done with Malcolm, though he wasn’t sure why. He was glad, certainly. If he never had to suffer being called “Jimmy boy” again in his entire life, it would be too soon.

Even so, there was more weight to that declaration than there should have been.

He squinted at the rising sun. Even when it was only halfway over the canyon, it was bright enough to make his eyes water.

“Yeah?” James asked.

Elise picked up a chunk of egg. She glared at it. Her hair looked far redder than usual, as though she were Icarus flying too close to the sun, and she had caught fire. “Yeah.”

It was odd that Elise would be done with Malcolm so abruptly. Six months together—shouldn’t she have decided to get rid of him sooner if she cared for him so little? It wasn’t as though the stress of battle could have done it. They’d fought a lot of battles in the last few months.

Well, James wasn’t going to question it. He didn’t like Malcolm anyway.

Distant engines echoed over the RV park. McIntyre’s cleanup crew was on the way to sweep up all the demon bodies. Malcolm was waiting to meet them at the far end of the trail, and probably nursing a hangover because he had drunk quite a lot of whiskey to celebrate their victory against the demons of Phlegethon.

“All right,” James said. “Probably for the best. Our money will last longer with just the two of us anyway.”

Elise set her fork down. “McIntyre says there’s a nest of demons in Tampa.”

“Tampa.” He swirled his coffee in the mug. It was sludgy and black and strong enough to make hair grow on a frog’s forehead. Just the way Elise liked it. “Long drive to Tampa.”

“Mmm,” she said.

They ate together, and drank their coffee, and that was it.

One more apocalypse averted.

The Descent Series Prequels: Death Scream


Dublin, Ireland — February 2001

Castle O’Reilly was the most boring castle in Ireland, which meant that Gregg McNamara, as the resident tour guide, had the most boring job in Ireland.

The castle hadn’t been involved in any cool battles. It had never hosted any political prisoners the average tourist would recognize. It also wasn’t haunted, unlike many other local castles. Gregg had been at Castle O’Reilly at all hours of the day and never heard so much as a disembodied footstep.

“Crazy bastards,” Gregg muttered to himself.

“What’s that you said?” asked Billie. She staffed the desk where tickets for their incredibly boring tours were sold.

“Look at them.” He gestured at the tour group entering from the other side of the foyer. “A dozen people wasting their vacations at our castle. There are a million more interesting things to do in Dublin. Literally, a million.”

“They’re probably here to see the ghost,” Billie said brightly.

Yes, “the ghost.”

The fictional ghost that didn’t haunt Castle O’Reilly.

Gregg had to admit that it was a pretty good marketing idea from Old Man O’Reilly, who owned the castle and signed Gregg’s paychecks. O’Reilly had been circulating stories about a spirit flinging objects around the grounds at night. The so-called ghost had also broken several antiques that had been insured. The old bloke had probably collected some decent money from that.

Aside from the insurance fraud, O’Reilly’s stupid stories had also gotten tourists to start visiting in larger groups. Too bad for Gregg, who got paid whether or not tourists showed up, but only had to endure retelling boring stories when they did.

“Best get started.” Gregg donned a Castle O’Reilly polo over the t-shirt he’d already been wearing.

“Just stay out of the dungeons today,” Billie said. “That’s where the ghost was rampaging last night.”

“Don’t tell me you believe that crap.”

“Well, Old Man O’Reilly—”

“He’s insane,” Gregg said quietly enough that the tourists wouldn’t hear. “Don’t listen to a damn thing he says.”

Billie sighed. “Just stay out of the dungeons, all right?”

He ignored her and met the tour group in the center of the room. A second headcount showed him that he’d been wrong about the attendance—there were fifteen people there, not a dozen.

Fifteen people wanted to look at this terrible castle.

Lord almighty.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to Castle O’Reilly,” Gregg said, unable to muster any enthusiasm.

Most of the group muttered various greetings back at him. Four lads in the front, however, cheered loudly and started punching each other in the arms. It was only nine in the morning and they smelled like they’d been drinking. Probably on vacation from uni.

Well, at least they’d be entertained by anything he told them.

Gregg wished he could have been drunk.

He led the tour group through the usual routine. They began on the first floor, admiring tapestries that hadn’t been woven by anyone remarkable. They also hadn’t withstood the test of time very well. The threads were discolored from sunlight and one had a stain from a previous lord wiping himself with it.

Then they moved on to the so-called museum, which was a tiny, boring room with a few placards about the castle’s tiny, boring history.

After exploring the “museum,” they moved into the gardens, which were probably the nicest part of the castle. The flowers were lovely and the hedges were very pleasant in that hedge-y sort of way, Gregg thought.

Unfortunately, the sky decided to start pouring rain right about then, so they had to cut that segment short.

The only segment Gregg actually enjoyed.

He really wished he could have been drunk.

“All right, come inside,” Gregg said. “We’ll take a walk up the tower.”

Most of the group didn’t argue with him. They headed right inside.

One man lingered, though. All of the tourists had been given name badges when they checked in, and this bloke was named James.

He was quite tall—almost a foot taller than Gregg—with lean muscles and a shock of dark hair. He was so interested in studying the foundations of the castle that he didn’t seem to notice he was getting drenched.

“All right, come inside,” Gregg said again, louder and more pointedly than before.

James finally looked up. “I’m sorry, did you say we were going to the dungeons?” His accent was American, like the way people in movies talked. No wonder he didn’t care about the rain. Americans were insane.

“No, the dungeons are closed today. We’re going up the tower.”

“I was really hoping to see the dungeons on this tour,” James said.

Gregg’s eyes narrowed as he studied the tourist. “You here because of the rumors?”

“I’m just fascinated by dungeons,” he said lamely, which meant he was definitely there because of the ghost stories Old Man O’Reilly had gotten on the news.

Oh, what the hell? Billie didn’t want them downstairs, but they’d missed most of the gardens because of the rain and there wasn’t much else to the tour after that. They might as well have a little fun. “We’ll see if we have time.” Gregg ushered the man inside.

Now that the tourists were soaking wet and tracking mud everywhere, there was really no choice but to take them downstairs anyway. Gregg couldn’t have them messing up the non-priceless, rather unimpressive rugs woven by Great-Great-Grandmother O’Reilly.

“This way,” he said loudly, leading the group out of sight of Billie’s desk before heading into the dungeons. What Billie and Old Man O’Reilly didn’t know couldn’t hurt them.

The mood of the entire tour group brightened when they realized where Gregg was taking them. Everyone loved a good dungeon.

Gregg decided to forget his usual speech for the dungeon area and roll with the new story.

“I have to ask you all to stick close together for this portion of our tour,” he said. “We’ve had trouble in the dungeons and I don’t want anyone wandering off.”

“Because of the ghosts?” asked one of the uni students, whose name tag said “Seamus AKA the Machine.” All of the students had gotten creative with their identification like that. Gregg didn’t know why Seamus would want to be called “the Machine,” but he suspected it was a story best left untold.

Lowering his voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper, Gregg said, “I’m not supposed to talk about the ghost.”

He was rewarded with excited murmurs.

Except from the American tourist, James. He didn’t look excited. He looked like he genuinely expected them to be attacked on the narrow stairs down to the dungeon. Maybe he was claustrophobic.

“I’ve heard about these hauntings,” said an old lady. “Apparently the ghost is quite violent!”

“Oh yes. It’s the, ah, ghost of Lord McNamara,” Gregg said. “He was a real beast. But I shouldn’t talk about that.”

“Come on,” urged Walker, whose real name was written in tiny letters above his nickname, “CUNTPUNCHER.” All capital letters, just like that. Lovely. “Tell us all about the beast!”

Gregg scratched the back of his neck, pretending to vacillate. “I don’t know. The dungeons are scary enough without hearing about the villagers who died there.”

The students all laughed.

Nothing more hilarious than the fictitious slaughter of villagers.

They reached the dungeon, which was really just a narrow tunnel underneath the castle. It led through about a dozen cells, each of which was walled off by rusty iron bars—probably a relatively recent addition to the castle, though Gregg didn’t care enough to find out.

They’d wired a few electric lights throughout the tunnel, but it was still cramped and dark in the dungeon. The roof was too low for the tall American tourist to stand up straight.

Gregg weaved an increasingly ridiculous story of mayhem and murder as the tourists examined the first pair of cells. The unreal Lord McNamara was a villain on par with Vlad the Impaler or Countess Bathory, luring hapless people to his castle to devour their flesh. He’d speared hundreds of living men and watched them die while dancing a jig.

It was so stupid that Gregg didn’t think anyone would ever believe him, but the tour group hung onto his every word.  It was spooky and quiet down there, and easy to imagine Lord McNamara could have been real.

“And then his wife murdered him for all he’d done,” Gregg finished. He was out of creatively horrible sins to attribute to Lord McNamara. Might as well kill him off.

“Women,” scoffed a middle-aged man.

His spouse elbowed him. “I’ll murder you if you’re not quiet, dear.” Then she turned to Gregg. “That was a fascinating story, but I thought you said the ghost was a lord.”

Gregg nodded gravely. “That I did.”

“Then who is she? Is that the wife?”

The tourist was pointing behind him.

Gregg whirled in time to see a feminine figure at the end of the tunnel before she slipped into one of the cells. It was too dark to make out any details of her appearance. The tour didn’t usually go down that far, so they hadn’t wired that end of the hallway for light.

He was probably imagining the fact that it looked like she had no legs.

His heart leaped.

“Hey!” he shouted. “You’re not allowed down here without a guide!”

Nobody emerged from the cell.

But he heard a loud crash—the sound of something large shattering against a wall.

“Wait here,” Gregg said.

He raced down to the cell where the woman had disappeared, flinging the iron bars open.

There was nobody inside.

He immediately spotted what had caused the noise, though. Somehow, Billie’s computer had been dragged downstairs and hurled against the wall. The case was split open. Components were strewn across the stone floor.

“Billie?” he whispered, feeling stupid. She wasn’t the one who had thrown her computer against the wall. For one, she wasn’t strong enough. For another, she wasn’t capable of walking through walls, so she couldn’t have vanished that quickly.

The only way in and out of the cell was through the door and he hadn’t taken his eyes off of it since the woman had gone inside.

So how had she escaped?

Acid fear flowed through Gregg’s veins. He wanted to get out of that dungeon. Now.

Despite his instructions, the tour group had joined him by the cell, and now they were all straining to see over his shoulder. He blocked the cell with his body. “Why don’t we go upstairs?” Gregg asked.

One of the young women broke away from the tour and tried to elbow past him. Gregg’s first ungenerous thought was that she wasn’t a girl blessed by genetics; her features were too strong to be pretty, her build too stocky to be feminine.

His second thought, which came to him embarrassingly slowly, was that she was carrying a golden chain of charms in one gloved hand and a very large knife in the other.

Or was that a short sword? It was hard to tell.

She has a knife, Gregg thought.

And then, Mother of God, she has a fucking knife!

He didn’t think. He just reacted.

Gregg stepped in front of her to protect the tour group. “What in the flaming hell are you doing?” His eyes flicked down to her name tag. She’d written her name in crude, blocky letters that looked as vicious and un-feminine as the rest of her. “Elise?”

“Move,” Elise said, lifting the sword. Yes, it was definitely a sword. He’d never seen a knife longer than a woman’s forearm before. Its blade was curved, single-edged, and looked viciously sharp. There were strange marks engraved in the metal.

“Are you fucking crazy?” he asked.

Elise only repeated herself: “Move.” She was another American. Further proof that Americans were all nuts.

“You’ll move if you want to live,” added James, stepping up to join her. He didn’t have a weapon, but there was something decidedly threatening about a man that tall who spoke with so much conviction.

Gregg decided that the couple was definitely threatening him, and the Americans were definitely both crazy.

“Run!” he shouted over his shoulder at the tour group. “I’ll hold them off!”

Some of the tourists ran—or waddled, rather, because it was all of the older people escaping up the stairs. They were the smart ones. But the students didn’t move except to flank Gregg protectively. “What’s the problem here?” asked Seamus, also known as the Machine.

“You’re not haunted; you have a demonic infestation,” James said. He was flipping through a notebook with a five-pointed star on the cover. “My companion here is an exorcist and about to save your life.”

Elise strode into the dungeon with her sword uplifted and glared around the cell as though expecting to see something in the shadows.

“Show yourself.” Her voice boomed.

A pale woman materialized in the corner. That was the only word for it—“materialized.” She didn’t walk through walls or emerge through a hidden door. She just appeared.

It was the figure Gregg had glimpsed from down the hall.

“That’s a bloody ghost,” Seamus the Machine said.

Gregg was not paid enough to deal with this. “Fucking hell.”

He stripped the Castle O’Reilly shirt off, flung it to the floor, and bolted.


The tour guide made it three steps before the demon killed him.

As Elise watched, the demon flashed across the dungeon cell, crossing from the corner to the door in the time it took a heart to beat. She twisted Gregg McNamara’s head from his neck, sliced her claws from belly to throat, and dropped his eviscerated body on the stone floor.

The demon could teleport. And she was fast. Fast enough that even Elise didn’t have time to save Gregg.

Going up against that kind of speed was going to be fun.

Elise launched herself at the demon, raising her sword in both hands. Elise had to jump high in order to reach the demon’s head—it was floating near the ceiling.

When Elise tried to plunge her sword into the demon’s skull, her foe simply wasn’t there.

Her knees cracked against the floor, splattering Gregg’s blood onto her jeans. The point of her falchion skittered against the stone without ever connecting with flesh. The demon had vanished and reappeared two feet away.

The demon’s head tipped back, her mouth opened, and she screamed.

That sound could have woken the dead. It was so shrill, so loud, that Elise’s entire skull vibrated. Hammers smashing into her temples would have hurt less.

James clapped his hands over his ears. He looked like he was screaming too, but Elise couldn’t hear anything over the preternatural shrieking.

The demon continued to wail as she rushed toward James.

Elise hurled the falchion. It spiraled through the air and connected with the demon’s back, sinking right into her spine. She went rigid. Collapsed to the floor of the dungeon.

But even as she fell, she kept screaming.

Damn. Elise had been aiming for a lung. She must have missed.

“Kill it!”

The shout was so quiet compared to the demon’s wail that Elise thought she’d imagined it at first. But then the students from the tour group rushed through the door and attacked. They swarmed the demon, stomping and punching and shouting like their favorite team had just lost a football match.

“Get back!” Elise yelled. She couldn’t even hear herself—the men wouldn’t be able to, either. She jerked the second falchion out of the back sheath hidden underneath her raincoat and prepared to intervene. She’d have to save those dumbasses, too. They were seriously outmatched.

The demon’s pale hand lashed out at the man whose name tag said “Seamus.” Elise yanked him out of range just in time, bringing the falchion hacking down where he had been standing.

Its blade was sharp. It cleaved the demon’s entire hand clean off.

Demons tended to bleed black or red, but the fluid that gushed from this creature’s arm was jewel-bright, almost green in hue. Elise was so shocked to see green blood that she nearly dropped the sword.

The demon took the opportunity to leap free of the men attacking her and seize Elise. She screamed into Elise’s face, breath cold as the wind over the moors, the force like a fist through her forehead. Her vision blurred.

James grabbed the demon by the shoulders and tried to pry her off of Elise. Blood trickled out of his right ear, tracing a line to the stubble on his jaw.

During the struggle, Elise caught sight of motion out the corner of her eye.

One of the men was pointing wildly at Gregg’s body, shouting in silent horror as though the victim were somehow more horrifying than the demon itself.

Gregg was decaying rapidly. His skin bubbled, swelled, peeled away from his body. His exposed intestines were shriveling.

The demon screamed and screamed with no need to draw a breath.

His death was fueling her.

“James!” Elise shouted, delivering a swift uppercut to the demon’s jaw. The blow was hard enough that it would have taken the head off of a human. The demon only slammed into the dungeon wall behind her.

James mouthed a word back. “What?”

Elise thrust a finger toward Gregg’s body. James understood instantly. He nodded.

Something hard struck Elise in the back of the knees. She hadn’t seen the demon coming, so she smashed into the ground face-first.

Flipping to her feet, Elise picked up her fallen falchions and drove both into the demon’s gut. She aimed up, hoping to hit the lungs.

Either she’d missed or the demon didn’t have lungs. The blades entered underneath the ribs and exited somewhere near the shoulder blades. And the demon kept fucking screaming.

But only for another moment.

Elise felt the faintest tug of James’s magic, and then the demon cut off.

“Mary mother of God,” said Walker, one of the other students. He was crowded in a back corner with the other men, staring as Gregg’s body burned under the force of James’s spell. The tour guide went from rotting to ash within seconds.

Without the death to feed her, the demon couldn’t scream anymore.

She clawed at her own throat. Dry rasps rattled in her chest.

“Some things really are better seen than heard.” James sounded like he was talking from the other side of a wall. It was going to be a long time before Elise could hear properly again.

She wrapped her fingers around the demon’s throat, pressing the golden chain against her flesh. The charms glowed with trapped fire.

Crux sacra sit mihi lux,” she said, drawing deep on the strength within, the glory of God’s unwanted grace, and pushing it through the charms. “Non draco sit mihi dux.” The phrase meant, “let the Holy Cross be my light, let the dragon not lead me astray.” The English verse would probably have worked as well for the ritual, but Elise preferred the Latin matching the words on her pendant of St. Benedict.

The Latin words resonated with a power that was somewhere beyond magic. They were usually enough to wrack any demon with pain.

This creature didn’t react.

Her eyes connected with Elise’s. A strange light filled the sparkling jewels of the demon’s irises and her flesh shimmered.

She didn’t look like a creature that had crawled from Hell.

In fact, Elise had never seen anything that looked like her before—and she had seen many, many strange things throughout her life.

She continued the exorcism anyway.

Vade retro, Satana, nunquam suade mihi vana.

The blaze within the demon’s eyes brightened with fresh fury. It was a storm roiling over the ocean, an oncoming typhoon of energy. Her hands locked on Elise’s wrists, trying to pry the grip off of her throat. The charms burned hotter at the effort. Elise’s strength of will clashed with the demon’s.

“Elise!” James shouted. “Something is wrong!”

She set her jaw and pushed harder. “Sunt mala quae libas.”

The demon’s hair was a hurricane around them, lashing their flesh, leaving red welts where it contacted. Elise’s bones ached. Her teeth felt like they were going to rip free of her jaw.

Ipse venena bibas!” Elise finished with a roar. She closed her hand around the demon’s throat, crushing with all of the force her muscles could muster. The demon finally cried out, whether under the weight of the ritual or Elise’s sheer grip. “Return to the Hell from which you came. Begone!”

With a thunder crack, energy lashed through the dungeon. For an instant, Elise could see nothing but vast white light, filled with the sway of reeds, the calm of a murky pool, the whisper of wind.

And the demon vanished, leaving Elise ankle-deep in the tour guide’s remains with a half a dozen students gaping at her.


Even though one of his employees had died, Joseph O’Reilly was a very happy man. His cheeks were flushed with excitement as he counted euros into Elise’s hand. “Four twenty…four forty…four sixty…ah, here we go. Five hundred pounds for a job well done.” She could barely hear him talking. Her skull still vibrated from the demon’s scream.

She didn’t close her hand on the money. “Someone died before I could save him.”

“Aye, that’s unfortunate,” O’Reilly said. “But you did your best. I won’t blame you for that.”

James didn’t pay much attention to their exchange. Normally, he was the one who handled client interactions, since Elise was too much of a loose cannon—though cannons tended to be more personable. James was better at talking to people. Or even being in the same room as them, really.

But James didn’t feel capable of keeping up with the conversation that day. He’d watched a man gutted by a demon and done nothing to save him.

Elise was quiet as she considered the money in her hand. Through their bond, James could feel that she was weighing whether or not she wanted to take that money. A pleasant surprise. He’d always assumed Elise would have happily led a life as a mercenary, taking payment for jobs regardless of ethics.

Finally, she separated the money into two stacks. “I didn’t perform the exorcism in time. You get a discount. Here.”

O’Reilly wouldn’t take what she offered to him. “The lad died because he didn’t run fast enough. That’s not your fault.”

Elise’s hand remained outstretched.

There were few tools of persuasion more powerful than awkward silence. After a few long moments, O’Reilly took back some of the money.

“Call me if you have any other problems,” Elise said, and she left.

James tore himself away from the window and hurried to catch up with her.

She strode downstairs, hand hooked in her pocket. Probably discreetly holding a knife. At least she was being subtle about it for once. She’d even taken the time to conceal the hilts of her falchions underneath her scarf.

He trailed a few steps behind her, watching her curls bounce as she descended. He wanted to praise her for her kindness. Wanted to tell her she’d done the right thing. They didn’t need the money, as they still had more than enough stolen jewelry to fence—enough to last them for years, if they were careful. And it was right not to make O’Reilly pay when they hadn’t done their job properly.

But that praise would unintentionally double as criticism of Elise’s performance as exorcist.

She didn’t need to hear that.

They stepped out into the drizzly afternoon. The rain was cruel and cold, pelting them with hard fingers. Elise jerked a hood over her hair. Tilted her head back to look at the tower. James stood close enough that their shoulders brushed. “Does this job feel complete to you?”

“No,” Elise said.

He flicked the lapels of his peacoat, shielding his jaw from the bite of the ocean breeze. “I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of the castle.”

She turned to leave, but he knew that she was thinking the same thing.

They would be back soon.


James and Elise had been traveling for so long that the apartment they’d rented in Dublin almost looked like home. He barely remembered what it felt like to return to the same house every day after working. He wasn’t even sure that he’d preferred it.

This apartment was on the first floor of an old house. Elise preferred to rent rooms on the second floor, where they were safer from outside attack but could jump out a window without breaking any bones, but their rental options had been limited. They hadn’t even planned on coming to Ireland. O’Reilly had contacted them through a friend of a friend two days earlier while they were in Spain, so most rentals had already been occupied.

Elise had done her best to fortify their ground-floor apartment anyway. She’d caulked the bedroom windows shut—which James dreaded explaining to the owner—planted weapons near every entrance, and laid simple traps around the back garden.

She’d made herself at home in the only way she knew how.

James had made himself at home in a different way. He’d claimed the desk in the living room, and now it was covered in books and papers. Everything he’d needed to research the possession of Castle O’Reilly.

The fall of evening found James working at the desk while Elise changed clothes in the bedroom. She’d accidentally left the door cracked; he could hear the rustle of her arms threading through sleeves and the creak of leather as she slipped her feet into boots as clearly as though she were in the room with him.

He lifted the book to look at the classifieds hiding underneath. James wasn’t certain they’d be in Ireland much longer, but if they were, they’d need to find another apartment to rent.

Two bedrooms next time. He desperately needed two bedrooms. James needed to be able to put more doors between himself and Elise.

Hinges creaked. He dropped the book over the newspaper again, sliding his reading glasses back into place, grabbing the pen so he could take notes. He carefully didn’t look at his kopis. He didn’t want her to know that he’d been listening to her change.

“I’m going out,” Elise said.

James highlighted a line in the book about legions, which were demons that followed violence. It was reasonable to think legions might possess a castle dungeon. “What are you going to do?”

“Pub. Seamus invited me.”

Seamus. That redheaded boy who fancied himself a “Machine.” Handsome young man. James wouldn’t have expected Elise to notice, though.

Legions. Demons that follow violence.

He wrote the page number in his notebook and continued trying not to look at Elise.

She was silent moving across the room. She had a way of occupying space without seeming to touch the world around her. If James hadn’t known any better, he would have thought she walked an inch above the ground.

The window groaned open under her hands. Rainfall pattered on the lifted pane, drizzled off the edge of the roof. Raised voices echoed in the street. The students from the tour group must have walked by to pick Elise up on the way to the pub.

Dungeons. Legions. James was writing essentially the same note over and over, but Elise still hadn’t left.

“Your new friends have already arrived,” he said. “You’d better get going.”

She sat on the edge of the desk. Even when James was focusing on the notebook, he couldn’t help but see her legs in the corner of his vision. She was wearing an A-line skirt—unusual for the girl who defaulted to jeans when she was on a job. When she balanced her toes on the leg of his chair, the hem of the skirt inched up her thighs, exposing the tops of her freckled kneecaps.

“I don’t have to go out,” Elise said. “I wouldn’t mind helping you.”

The tip of James’s pen was still touching the page. He wasn’t writing anymore. “It’ll be rather dull here.”

She swung her feet, kicking the chair lightly. “That’s fine.”

James set down the pen with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. “If there’s one demon around here, there’s likely to be more. Demons are rare outside of North America. This suggests some kind of open portal to Hell, or someone deliberately bringing them into the area. A master of some kind.”

The people outside were shouting louder now. There was one voice in particular that was clearer than the others, a male voice, and he was calling Elise’s name.

Probably Seamus.

Elise said nothing. She also didn’t move.

It was impossible to have a conversation with Elise without making eye contact. She spoke so little that James relied on visual cues for half of their communication. Sometimes he thought that she often didn’t speak exactly for that reason—forcing James to give her the attention she wanted.

Finally, he relented. She was wearing a knitted sweater over the skirt with a leather jacket the color of butterscotch draped over one arm. A normal outfit like anything a normal young woman would have worn. She hadn’t picked it because it was good to fight in; she’d picked it because it accentuated the sharp lines of her collarbone, her slender waist, her muscular legs. Elise even wore her hair down, though the curls were a couple inches longer than she liked. Longer hair suited Elise. She looked lovely.

Aside from the injuries.

Though she wore long sleeves, there was no hiding the mottled bruising on her upper chest, cheekbone, and jaw. Doubtlessly, she’d a fractured bone or two. Were she anybody but Elise, she wouldn’t have been in any condition for drinking at a pub. She probably wouldn’t have been in any condition for leaving a hospital, in fact.

But this was Elise, and those bruises were already yellowing around the edges. The cracked bones would mend within days. She would be restored to her usual condition in no time, stronger than she had been before she was broken.

“They’re waiting for you,” James said.

Her lips thinned. That could have meant anything from agreement to annoyance.

He drummed the pen on his thigh. “Nothing’s going to happen here tonight. Just research. I’m fully capable of researching without you.”

“Yes,” Elise said.

What she didn’t say was that she would stay anyway.

It was tempting to tell Elise to stay with him. It was always tempting.

“They’re getting loud out there,” James said, returning his attention to Hume’s Almanac. “You should join them before someone reports the noise to the cops.”

There was a conspicuous emptiness to Elise’s expression—a look that James had come to recognize as a shield, a way for her to keep her thoughts private. She always used to look like that. He thought their friendship had matured to the point where she didn’t need to wall herself off with him anymore, but apparently he’d set her off.

She opened the desk drawer, took out a knife, and tucked it into a wrist sheath. Once she pulled the butterscotch-colored leather jacket over it, the weapon was invisible.

Elise didn’t say goodbye. Arming herself was its own kind of goodbye.

She stepped out the door and the voices changed from shouts to cheers of greeting.

As soon as the door shut behind her, James rose from the desk and went to the window.

He watched his kopis join the others in the street through the rain drizzling down the glass. Seamus and his friends looked like they’d already been drinking. Elise would have trouble catching up with them. Kopides had impressively high alcohol tolerance. James could only hope that Seamus would knock himself out in another couple of hours so that his mates could drag him away and leave Elise alone.

James felt suddenly drained, as though he and Elise had been arguing before she left rather than having a short, quiet conversation. He couldn’t find the energy to return to his desk and focus.

He could only watch as Elise retreated down the street, carried along by the tide of happy university students. At that distance, she looked like one of them. Like she was living the life a nineteen-year-old girl should have gotten to live rather than the one Elise had been given.

They turned the corner and were gone.


The pub Seamus led the group to was a kopis’s nightmare—or her dream, depending on the perspective.

It was dark, crowded, and small. Ideal for anonymity. Had Elise been searching for information, she would have looked for a pub just like this one, as it was obviously frequented by locals and dim enough that demons wouldn’t shy to visit.

However, there was only one public entrance. There was probably an exit through the kitchen as well, but that wasn’t easily accessible. One way in, one way out. If she were attacked, there would be a lot of collateral damage before she could reach safer ground.

Nightmare or dream—it was too early in the night to tell.

Elise tolerated the violation of her personal space as the boys pulled her up to the bar. They were already telling the bartender about what she’d done at the castle. The woman behind the bar laughed and kept polishing glasses. She wasn’t impressed with the story. Clearly, she’d heard more than her fair share of bullshit from young men just like these.

“She’s not to buy a single drink tonight,” Seamus said, slinging an arm around Elise’s shoulders. “She’s a goddamn hero, you hear?”

“Heroine!” corrected a blond girl who sidled up to the bar. She kissed one of Seamus’s friends, named Ryan. “You didn’t tell me you were coming here tonight! I didn’t even know you were in town!”

Other girls quickly emerged to talk to the men. They all clustered with Elise at the center, forced into a tight group by the weight of the crowd.

Even in the middle of it all, Elise felt detached, as though watching them socialize from a distance. She watched their lips move, the way their bodies tilted, the language of motion. There was no hint of menace in any of them. Elise was the only one thinking of violence. She was always thinking of violence.

Ryan bought a round and Elise drank her first Guinness in a few long gulps. The beer was pleasantly frothy and rich and she was thirsty.

When she set the glass down, she became aware that Seamus had stopped talking. He was staring.

“Careful, Elise,” he said. “The night’s barely started! You don’t want to get trashed before we’ve had any fun.”

“I can hold my alcohol,” she said.

“How many Irishmen have you tried to drink with?” He was standing very close, his whole body pressed against her side. Elise decided not to tell him that he was hardly the first—or most charming—Irishman she’d visited pubs with before. “You’d be surprised what a real alcohol tolerance is like.”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “I can outdrink you.”

You? Tiny little thing?” Seamus laughed. “You barely even come up to my chest.”

She was actually only three inches shorter than him. She suspected that he had at least eighteen percent body fat, too—hardly an athlete—whereas she was pure muscle and much heavier than she looked. There were no standards by which Elise could be called “tiny.”

Even if she hadn’t been a kopis, she would have bet that she could outdrink Seamus.

Since she was a kopis, with the amazing metabolism that went along with that, she thought she could do even better.

“I’ll outdrink all of you,” she said, raising her voice so the other students could hear her. “Consecutively.”

Now all the men were laughing, and the girls, too. Elise couldn’t tell if they were meant to be laughing along with her or if they were laughing at her. It was impossible to tell the difference.

Either way, they weren’t taking her seriously.

She pulled out her wallet. Then she pulled out a few hundred euros and set them on the table. “I’ll give this to anyone who can keep drinking after I stop.”

That made the laughter stop.

And then one of the girls was ordering a round, and Seamus was shoving her into a chair, and the others were clustering around to watch. Elise slipped her jacket off, hung it on the corner of her chair.

“Outdrinking almost a dozen Irishmen is a tall order,” Seamus said, giving her a kind of look she had come to recognize as sexual. He planned to have sex with Elise that night. The fact that she could tell meant that he wasn’t being subtle about it at all.

Her ex-boyfriend, Malcolm, had gotten the same expression when he thought he was about to get laid. He’d usually been right. There had been something exhilarating about his sexual adventurousness, his willingness to fuck against the wall of demon hives after burning them to the ground, and Elise felt a tingle of that similar exhilaration as Ryan’s girlfriend set a tray of drinks on the table between them. If Seamus remained conscious long enough, he’d definitely be getting lucky.

The girl had gotten enough Guinnesses to go around the entire group. Elise stopped the others from grabbing any. “I said I’d drink you all under the table consecutively.”

“You mean you want to split these between the two of us,” Seamus said.

She responded by taking one glass.

James would never have approved of this game for multiple reasons. It was never wise to advertise the presence of a kopis, especially a female kopis. Her ability to demolish that much alcohol would be like advertising her presence to any local preternatural creatures. And once they started talking about her, rumors had a way of getting carried to dangerous ears on the wind.

Beyond that, James would warn her that this game could hurt the mundanes she was drinking against. Men were stupid when they got challenged. Elise might not be able to get drunk easily, but they could, and alcohol poisoning was a very real risk.

And Elise also thought James probably just didn’t want her to have fun.

That was the most irritating of all the reasons he would have tried to discourage her if he were there, controlling bastard that he was.

Seamus lifted the first glass in a silent toast.

Fuck James.

Elise clinked glasses with Seamus and knocked back the first Guinness.

Everyone cheered.


Night fell. The hours inched past. Elise remained at the pub, and James worked in the dark without her.

Books were ordinarily all the company he needed. Research was his hobby—what his ex-fiancée had called “a pretty lame hobby, James, have you thought about taking up stamp collection?”—and it was easy to lose himself in his favorite Books of Shadows, demoniacal hierarchies, and old diaries.

Now he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the clock.

It was approaching eight o’clock. Elise would probably still be out drinking for a long time. But he wanted to speak with her more than he wanted to figure out what kind of demon they had exorcised, and it made focusing difficult.

“Focus,” James muttered, shuffling through the newspapers he’d collected from a neighbor’s over-full garbage can. He had been poring over the local news ever since Elise left, searching for any indication of how a demon could have ended up in the city.

He hadn’t found anything.

Also, the clock said it was now nine minutes to eight.

James sat back, raking a hand through his hair.

It simply didn’t make sense for a demon to inhabit Castle O’Reilly. There was no other indicator of infernal activity in Ireland. Europe was nothing like North America, with all of the weak spots in the walls separating Earth from Hell; it took real effort—obvious effort—to bring demons over to the mortal worlds. There were also no undercities in Western Europe where demons could breed in secret.

If a witch had been summoning demons, there surely would have been news about it.

But there wasn’t.

“There must be something else,” James said aloud, gazing at the ceiling. “Something I’m missing.”

If demons were geographically unlikely, then what kinds of creatures were likely?

He slammed his books shut, went into the bedroom, opened his suitcase. He traveled with very little of his library on hand, so most of his texts lived in Las Vegas with McIntyre, one of the few kopides that James and Elise considered to be a friend. When James needed something, he simply had McIntyre ship it to the nearest post office.

McIntyre had shipped a bestiary specific to Ireland to James at his request, and it had arrived just that morning. Ireland’s Secret Life was very rare, perhaps priceless; it had been written by a kopis in the 1960s, and fewer than a hundred copies were ever printed.

James’s copy was yellowed with age, its spine soft. It was butter in his hands when he opened it to the index.

Ireland wasn’t a big island, but the variety of creatures that had been sighted there over the years was impressive. The preternatural diversity easily rivaled that in America.

However, Ireland didn’t have demons. It had Earth spirits instead.

The kopis had logged sightings of some basandere that had traveled from northeastern Spain. He’d also noted a handful of brownies, which had been exterminated in the 1920s. He’d found one selkie the year prior to the book’s publication. The kopis who had written the book even claimed to have come across some kind of avian shapeshifter, although James thought that was probably a fish story since he’d only ever heard of wolf shifters before.

There was an entire chapter on a creature called the beansidhe, though. It was a rare subspecies of the sidhe spirits that was known for announcing death by shrieking.

Chills rolled down James’s spine when he read the word “shrieking.” He recalled the unearthly noise that creature had made as clearly as though it were still in the room beside him.

He was probably going to be nursing a migraine from that sound for the next month.

“But that can’t be right,” he murmured.

The creature haunting Castle O’Reilly had vanished when Elise finished the exorcism rite. It had to be a demon—nothing else would have responded to the prayer of St. Benedict.

Unless it had been hiding deliberately, which would mean that the sidhe was still lurking at the castle.

And James and Elise had left it alive.

Considering how swiftly the sidhe had gutted Gregg McNamara, he could only imagine what else it might do now that it had been provoked. There was a chance it would do nothing at all—according to Joshua O’Reilly, it had been dormant at the castle for years.

James didn’t want to take that chance.

The Castle O’Reilly’s pamphlet said the ground would be open until nine o’clock that night.

The time was seven fifty-seven.

James drummed his fingertips on the spine of the bestiary. Elise was at the pub with her new friends. He could always find her—it wouldn’t take long, as there could only be so many pubs within walking distance. And she would probably leave a social event to make sure their job had been resolved neatly.

Elise’s reluctance to leave earlier nagged at him.

No, it was better if she stayed out having fun. He could check into the castle on his own.

James donned his peacoat, tucked the bestiary into his jacket beside the Book of Shadows, and went jogging into the rainy night.


Elise started feeling strange after the fifth of Seamus’s friends tapped out within two hours.

She had only managed to get drunk a handful of times in her life, and never to a point where it was dangerous. It required truly vast amounts of alcohol to make her feel fuzzy. Now her vision was doubled, her fingers were tingling, and all the voices sounded distant.

People were still cheering her on. Their faces swirled around the table.

Seamus was slumped in a chair beside her, unconscious and incapable of keeping the promise his leers had made. She didn’t care at this point. Elise couldn’t even focus her eyes on him.

Nausea. That’s what Elise was feeling.

She thought she might throw up.

Still, she took the next Guinness, staring into its murky depths and running her thumb through the condensation on the outside. “Who’s next?” Her tongue fumbled on the simple words.

Two of the students got in a minor slap fight over it, punching each other in the shoulders, shoving back and forth until one finally sat. He was already red-cheeked and swaying. Halfway to blackout drunk. He wouldn’t remain conscious long enough to concede to Elise.

Of course, her chair was feeling pretty unstable underneath her. She wasn’t entirely certain she could outlast this one.

No. I’ve got this. I’m the fucking Godslayer. I can outdrink the whole bar.

Elise lifted the Guinness. It slopped over the rim and she sucked the beer off her wrist.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Let’s do this!” said her new opponent.

The bartender put a hand over Elise’s glass before she could drink.

She must have been ever drunker than she realized. She hadn’t noticed the bartender approaching. Her senses were dulling—if someone attacked her, she would be fucked.

“I think you’ve had enough,” Haley said. “You’re going to kill yourself at this rate.”

Elise stood up on unsteady legs. Haley was taller than her, with exceptionally broad shoulders for a woman. She wasn’t threatening, though. Elise had taken down entire hordes of demons on her own. Hordes. And they hadn’t tried to get between her and a good Guinness. “You don’t tell me what to do.”

The bartender’s face, duplicated in Elise’s vision, looked entirely unimpressed. “You’re not having another drink.”

“Who’s going to stop me?” Elise asked.

“Someone get her out of here,” Haley called. “Walker? You want to grab her?”

He backed away with his hands lifted. “I’ve seen her with a sword. I’m not touching her.”

“Come on.” Haley grabbed her by the elbow.

Elise swung a hard punch.

She had to guess which of Haley’s doubled heads was the real one, and Elise picked wrong. Her fist swooped right through the double vision of the bartender and connected with the man behind her. He was named Rocky, a friendly young guy, and Elise probably would have felt guilty about punching him if she’d had anything resembling a clear head.

The laughter swirled around her. The floor flipped upside down as Haley dragged Elise to the door, tossing her outside none too gently.

Elise hit cobblestone. Blood splattered down her chin.

She fingered her teeth. They were intact, but she’d bitten her lip when she fell. That was Haley’s fault. The bartender would pay.

It took two tries to get to her feet. Elise’s jacket was soaked from the puddle, so she shed it, baring muscular arms. Haley was standing in the doorway, dishrag tucked in her apron, still looking bored.

The boys were spilling out of the pub now. Seamus had regained consciousness, though Walker had to hold him upright. Several of her new friends were holding beers as they cheered her on. They looked delicious.

Haley wasn’t going to let her keep drinking, though.

Wavering, Elise lifted her fists in front of her face, squaring off against the bartender. “Come at me.”

Haley snorted. “You couldn’t punch the wall right now.”

That sounded like a challenge.

Elise lunged.

Haley wasn’t standing where she expected. Instead, Elise ran face-first into the door frame.

The bartender started laughing. She hadn’t magically teleported. She’d just stepped aside, which normally would not have made Elise miss.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Elise swung another blow, and Haley sidestepped that too. Then she planted her boot in Elise’s ass.

The legendary Godslayer landed in the muddy gutter.

“Don’t come back,” Haley said, heading into the pub. She landed a few high-fives on the way. At least, Elise thought she did. It was hard to tell when everything was upside down and split into double and spinning in circles.

She had just lost against a human bartender. Not even a witch.

James could never, ever know what had happened.

The students made appropriately consoling noises as they helped Elise to her feet—consoling, teasing, and admiring noises. They couldn’t seem to decide if she was awesome or pitiable. At the moment, she felt a bit like both. “I just wanted more beer,” Elise grumbled, leaning heavily on Seamus, who leaned heavily on her too.

“Haley’s not any fun. She tosses people out all the time,” Walker said. “Lucky for you, I’ve still got another drink.” He practically poured the Guinness down Elise’s throat, laughing the whole time. It was a party trick now. The woman who could take any amount of alcohol and keep standing.

Except Elise suddenly couldn’t keep standing.

Her stomach lurched. She vomited all over Seamus’s shoes.

Then she hit the ground and didn’t get up again.


Joseph O’Reilly always enjoyed a little orange pekoe tea before bed, but he relished it even more than usual that night. His castle had been exorcised. It was safe once more for tourists. And nobody would ever know what had happened to Gregg McNamara.

It was a shame that Gregg had died. Not that much of a shame—he wasn’t that good of a tour guide—but it was too bad for a man so young to have lost his life, even if he had been whiny, lazy, and terrible at making sales in the gift shop.

O’Reilly had rung a friend who owned a mortuary, who’d picked up the ashes and tossed them into the incinerator with the next body to be cremated. They’d swapped a fair share of favors over the years. Patrick wouldn’t tell anyone what he’d done.

It was impossible to explain a murderous haunt to the police. O’Reilly didn’t feel at all guilty about hiding the death.

Everything had ended as tidily as he could have hoped, and the orange pekoe tasted especially rich.

He sat in a wingback chair beside his window as he sipped it, all lights off in his room at the top of the castle’s tower. There were less drafty places he could have put a bedroom, but the tower was his favorite. It had a great view of Dublin’s lights on the horizon.

The reflection of a pale figure flashed across his window.

“I told you to go home, Billie,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve no mind for company tonight.”

Billie didn’t reply.

He glanced at the door. It was closed and nobody was in the room with him. The clock said it wasn’t even closing time yet; Billie would still be staffing the front desk.

But O’Reilly hadn’t imagined the reflection. He was old, not delusional.

The teacup clinked as he set it on the saucer. “Billie?” he called, softer than before, as he plucked the rosary off of the lamp where it dangled. The beads felt cold against his fingers.

The temperature in the room was dropping. It could have been the wind through the cracks in the stones, but O’Reilly didn’t think so. Not with the way he felt it in his marrow.

That damn exorcist.

She’d taken his money without actually exorcising the haunt.

O’Reilly strode toward the door, fingers tight on the rosary.

And then the ghost appeared in front of him.

He didn’t even feel her claws sinking into his gut, nor was he conscious long enough to watch his intestines splattering the rug. The attack was mercifully swift, and so was his death.

The ghost’s scream shattered the night.


Elise woke up in the hospital with saline dripping into her vein, a throbbing headache, and a sticky mouth. She heard someone shuffling beside her but was too groggy to turn her head. Judging by how slow and heavy the footfalls were, she was certain it was a short, heavy human—probably not a threat.

“What am I doing here?” Elise asked, smacking her tongue to loosen it.

A nurse stepped into view. He was barely five feet tall, very round, and not a threat, as Elise had suspected. “You have alcohol poisoning,” Nurse Leigh said. The picture on his ID badge was very unflattering. Made his head look like a basketball. “Don’t feel too bad. American tourists often drink too much here, especially ladies your age.”

She tried to focus on the wall clock. There were haloes around the hospital lights and trying to look at anything bright hurt. “What time is it?”

“Almost ten o’clock in the evening.”

Elise had gone on nights-long benders with Malcolm without getting alcohol poisoning, but she’d succumbed in a matter of hours that night. Of course, she’d never attempted to knock back that much beer all at once, either. And she didn’t plan on doing it again. She felt like hell.

“I need to make a call.” Elise lifted her hands to make sure they were still gloved. They weren’t. But she’d sliced one of her palms open when she’d fallen outside the pub, so her left hand was bandaged, shielding the mark on her palm. Small mercy. She clenched her other fist around the exposed mark to hide it.

“Here you go.” The nurse moved the phone within her reach. “You’ll be out in the morning, if you want to schedule a cab for your pickup. Your friends abandoned you at the emergency room. I doubt you’ll be seeing them again.”

So much for hooking up with Seamus later.

Shading her eyes with a hand, Elise tried to relax into the bed. She didn’t want to wait until morning to leave. She’d walked out of hospitals right after they finished repairing internal hemorrhages, and Elise certainly didn’t need an entire night of intravenous fluid to get back on her feet this time.

But she wasn’t sure where she was, and she didn’t know how to get back to the apartment James had rented.

Elise was going to have to call him and ask for directions. Which meant she’d also have to admit to how she’d spent her evening.

She waited until Nurse Leigh shuffled out of the room before grabbing the phone. She squeezed her eyes shut as she dialed the number and pressed the receiver to her ear. As long as she didn’t move too much or open her eyes, her head was bearably painful.

The phone rang.

It rang ten times before the answering machine picked up, delivering a generic message in a robotic voice.

She’d memorized the number for the apartment days ago. She was certain she still had it right. Elise forced herself to look at the keypad as she dialed again, ensuring her fingers hadn’t slipped.

The phone rang another ten times and kicked over to the answering machine.

Slowly, Elise set down the receiver.

James wouldn’t have left the apartment at night, especially not when he was alone. He was much too smart—and much too boring—to go into the darkness of night on his own unless he needed to. There was no reason for him not to answer the phone unless he’d been attacked. Or kidnapped. Or killed.

Elise sat up. Her head pulsed hard, like her skull was going to crack in half.

She couldn’t see her clothes anywhere. There was no sign of her knife, either. Someone had taken it from her—probably Walker or one of those other idiots. There was no time to search, though. James was in danger. Elise knew it as surely as she knew she was never going to drink Guinness again.

She ripped the IV needle out of her arm, stole a pair of latex gloves, and climbed out of bed.


It took James about thirty seconds to realize he’d walked through a puddle of blood. Normally, he wasn’t so oblivious to the signs of violence; where Elise was numbed to bodies, blood, and pain, James remained excruciatingly sensitive. He could never watch a human being die and think of it as an unavoidable casualty, simply an addition to the grisly statistics surrounding demon hunting. Likewise, he’d never become nose-blind to the scents of death: rot and perforated intestines and bile.

But he walked through a puddle of blood and didn’t notice it for half a minute, which was more than slightly unusual.

The surrounding circumstances could never have been described as usual, though.

“My God,” James whispered.

There were three dead tourists on the path leading to Castle O’Reilly, clearly identifiable by their novelty Stonehenge sweaters and expensive SLR cameras. All three had been gutted. Their intestines were strewn through the grass, rather like the remnants of a deer’s carcass after the wolves were done with it.

He covered his nose with a hand and stumbled through the front doors of Castle O’Reilly.

Only then did he notice that he was tracking blood behind him.

His first instinct was to grab the desk, trying to half-sit on it to get his feet off the ground. James wasn’t certain what he hoped to accomplish with that. Getting away from his own footprints? Wiping off his shoes?

While he was on the desk, another body hidden behind it caught his eye. It was Billie, the young lady who had sold tickets to them earlier. Her ginger hair was black with blood. Glassy eyes stared at the ceiling. Her large intestine was piled on her chest.

James fumbled in his jacket’s inner pocket, extracting the Book of Shadows. He’d rearranged the pages on the bus to the castle so that more fire spells were on top just in case he needed to burn more bodies.

Wind gusted through the castle’s entryway. It smelled like rain and copper.

The Book of Shadows slipped from his fingers and landed open-faced on the floor. Wind flipped through the pages, ripping them from their rings.

“Damn it all!”

James lunged, stepping on a cluster of pages as they whipped past him. He left a bloody shoe print on the runes. Damn again. Muddying the runes rendered most of them useless, or unreliable at the very least. Human blood did strange things to magic.

He grabbed as many as he could. Some had already blown through the doorway and now fluttered on the wet lawn outside.

James raced to pick them up, too—and nearly ran into the so-called ghost of Castle O’Reilly.

He skidded to a stop before he crashed into her. She was taller than he remembered, her skin glowing brighter, raven-black hair floating around her shoulders. The semi-translucent legs of the spirit hovered just a few inches away from him. Being so close to the sidhe was like standing in waist-deep ice water.

The hand that Elise had severed earlier had grown back. This creature obviously had accelerated healing and regeneration, which were characteristic of some sidhe subspecies. His mind catalogued the attributes by habit as fear clawed at his chest.

Before he could flee, the spirit spoke.

Stop, human thing.

She didn’t open her mouth to speak. The words entered his mind directly.

James froze where he stood.

He was in a wildly terrible situation as the last person living in Castle O’Reilly. He was surrounded by death—three bodies outside, at least one behind the desk—and he’d already seen how intolerable the creature’s shrieking was when feeding off of a single body. With that many dead people around, she would be exponentially more powerful.

James really should have tracked Elise down at the pub before returning to the castle.

“Please,” he said, hands extended, notebook in one hand and stray spells clutched in the other. “Let’s not fight, and—and no screaming. Let’s just talk about what you want.”

She swayed in the doorway. What I want? What makes you think I want anything? Her voice was pleasant. It reminded him of the patter of raindrops on leaves, the stirring of wind through damp tree branches.

“Everyone wants something,” James said.

And what if I were to tell you that I want to kill you?

He stiffened. “I would be forced to burn this entire damn castle to the ground with you inside of it.”

Your kind are so cold, she said to him.

“My kind? Humans? Witches?”

Do you think I don’t recognize you? It hasn’t been so very long since I faced down with creatures from above and below in the wars that came before. Her countenance shivered with fury. I remember the half-bloods. She drifted nearer and it took all of James’s strength to hold still. He’d seen how quickly she moved; trying to run away would do him no good at all.

“I’m only a man,” he said carefully.

You’re a half-blood bound to the exorcist who would have killed me today. Her ghostly figure darkened around the edges, like a thunderstorm skimming over her flesh. This is my home. I’ve been here for millennia—well before your forefathers thought to rut with mortal women and plant their seeds in mortal wombs. And that girl, that product of mass genocide and the sins of your conspiring ancestors—she would kill me after all that!

“You’ve been here how long, exactly?” he asked, diverting the conversation from revenge.

Since the Treaty. She massaged her temples as though she had a headache. It’s been so long. So many years to be trapped and alone… I once lived in a kingdom of a light with thousands like myself.

“Other sidhe, you mean.” She must have truly gone insane from all her time alone. Sidhe had always been rare, a species of few.

Her eyes brightened to a vicious shade of green. I’m one of the last.

“But there are others. Not many, but some. If company is what you want, we can find company for you.”

That was a lie. A terrible, painful lie. James’s shoes were coated in the blood of people this spirit had killed. Even if there had been millions of other sidhe to keep her company, this one was going to have to die sooner or later—preferably sooner.

But as long as she was talking to him, she wasn’t screaming. He needed to keep her talking.

“If you’ll stay here, I can bring them to you,” James said, edging toward the door.

You’re not going anywhere. The exorcist will come for you.

He focused his energy on the papers in his hand. “I don’t think so.”

He flung several runes toward her at the same time, igniting them with a word of power that boomed through the walls, made the floor shiver, sent a bookshelf crashing to the blood-stained rug. The magic drew strength from inside of him. It sucked energy from the earth below, the sky above, and the circle of power he’d cast back at the apartment.

But before the magic could strike the sidhe, she opened her mouth and blasted a short scream at him.

The force of it knocked him off of his feet.

For an instant, he was without gravity or orientation. All he knew was that he was flying.

Then his back smashed into the admissions desk. The wood buckled under him. The desk flipped over backward, dumping James on top of Billie’s body.

Even as dazed as he was, he struggled to get up, hands slipping in the puddles of her blood. He fell twice before regaining his footing.

The sidhe had dodged his fire spells, which had gone awry with the taint of human blood. She floated in front of a wall of fire. All those antique tapestries—they were smoldering to ash, and the flames climbed the rafters.

She opened her mouth to scream again, so James dived behind the wreckage of the desk, shielding himself with its bulk. The force of the blast struck the wood. It shuddered against his back. But even though his head throbbed from the sheer volume of her attack, he didn’t go flying again.

He shuffled through the remnants of his Book of Shadows. Come on, come on…

Another scream.

The desk shattered. James gathered his papers and tried to run, but the sidhe was on him before he could escape. She spun him around, curving icy fingers around his throat. Her luminous eyes loomed in his vision. You’re burning my castle, she hissed into his mind.

Great, James had made her angrier.

Her mouth opened. From that close, he could see that she didn’t have an ordinary set of teeth and tongue inside her maw. There was nothing but a vast pit filled with fog and darkness, as though her mouth opened to another world.

He flinched in anticipation of the strike.

But then she jerked, her hands released him, and she dropped to the ground with a tiny wail of pain.

Behind her stood Elise, knuckles stained green with blood.

James was pleased—and relieved—to see his kopis at first. Bafflement followed quickly. Elise was wearing a hospital gown, a pair of latex gloves, and nothing else. The cold wind tugged the hem of her paper dress, exposing the freckled kneecaps he’d been trying not to stare at earlier that night. Her bare feet were caked in mud. She looked beautiful, exasperated, and ridiculous all at once.

It was enough that he momentarily forgot about the beansidhe. “What in the world happened to you?”

Elise shrugged.

The sidhe sat up from where she had struck the floor, touching her fingers to the back of her head. The fingertips came away green. She glared her fury at Elise. I knew you would come back. I’m ready for you. In a flash, the damage was healed.

Rapid healing, regeneration, and weaponized screams.

James was glad that the sidhe were near extinction.

Elise had noted the same characteristics. She turned to James. “How do I kill her?”

“I haven’t read that far in the bestiary yet,” he said, showing her the book he’d brought.

“Get reading, James.”

The spirit opened her mouth and began to scream again.

As James had drawn energy from the surrounding earth for his magic, the sidhe drew energy from the dead. Billie’s body rapidly began to rot. The skin bubbled as though there were maggots underneath the surface, twitching as it was drained of matter.

The sidhe blasted all of that at Elise.

It was no short blow, like the spirit had been using against James. It was the full force of her bitter hatred for kopides.

Elise seized James by the collar and dived out of the way, dragging him behind her. The sidhe’s scream struck a display case against the wall. The panels shattered and showered glass to the floor.

They ran past the flaming tapestries and ducked into one of the bathrooms just in time for the sidhe to direct the force of her shriek at them again. Elise slammed the door shut. The bathroom walls groaned and dust showered onto the dirty stone tiles, dislodged from the aging ceiling.

“She’s a beansidhe,” James said. “That’s why the exorcism didn’t work earlier.” The walls didn’t muffle the sidhe very well, so he couldn’t hear himself speak and wasn’t sure if Elise heard him, either.

She ducked into the stall, grabbed clean toilet paper, twisted it into plugs. “Take this,” she mouthed at him. She crammed the toilet paper into James’s ear canals.

Now he was even deafer. But the pain from the spirit’s cries alleviated fractionally, which was an improvement compared to the bleeding he’d experienced earlier.

He flipped to the page on the beansidhe and showed it to Elise as she fashioned earplugs for herself.

She poked a finger at the page. “Go find rowan. I’ll distract her.”  When she spoke, he noticed that her breath smelled strongly of beer.

“Rowan?” He wasn’t certain he’d read Elise’s lips properly. He turned the book to read it. Indeed, the text said that all subspecies of the sidhe were vulnerable to rowan. James had seen some trees on the property, but he wasn’t sure if they were the right kind. If that land had been housing a sidhe for centuries, then probably not.

Elise turned to leave, but the sidhe materialized in front of the door before she could open it. She phased into the bathroom just as effortlessly as she had into the dungeons that morning.

James shouted a warning at Elise.

The sidhe shouted back.

Waves of force slammed into them. Elise was knocked off her feet, striking James hard enough that they both crashed into the wall of the stall. It was an old, rickety installation, poorly anchored in the ancient stone walls, and it broke underneath their weight. James’s elbow slipped into the toilet. The chilly water soaking through his sleeve was only fractionally less horrifying than walking through a blood puddle.

His kopis was on her feet again in an instant, snapping a high kick at the sidhe. Her foot went right through the creature’s face.

I won’t let you touch me again, hissed the sidhe. She could talk and scream at the same time. Impressive. And painful. The toilet paper earplugs were pathetic against the volume of her wailing.

James flipped through the bestiary as Elise ducked around the sidhe, moving the fight back into the foyer. Elise was doing a great job of distracting the sidhe, dodging every one of her attacks with the kind of reflexes only a kopis possessed. But they wouldn’t be able to kill her until James figured out how.

Unfortunately, the section on the beansidhe only said that they were vulnerable to rowan.

There had to be something else. James didn’t have time to go outside, figure out what the hell a rowan looked like, and fashion a weapon out of its branches.

He walked out of the bathroom as he continued flipping through the pages—and nearly walked right into flames.

James leaped away from the fire with a cry. “Good Lord!”

His magicked fire had spread, though not of its own volition. Elise was wielding a half-burned tapestry, swinging it at the sidhe and flinging embers everywhere in the process.

He flapped his arms at her, trying to catch her attention. “Stop that! This place is full of antiques!” She was too distracted whipping the fire at the sidhe to notice his flailing.

The shattered admission desk, peppered with sparks, began to smolder. It was resting on a very old, probably priceless rug. James nearly had a heart attack at the sight of it. They were going to immolate the entire damn castle at this rate.

He ducked under the sidhe as she soared over him, clutching the book tightly to his chest. Once he was safely beyond the range of her claws again—she was fighting Elise and the burning tapestry on the staircase—he flipped back to the index, looking for other sidhe species. There were several. James picked one at random and went to that section, skimming for vulnerabilities. The book stated only one.

“Rowan,” James said. “Goddamn rowan.”

But the next chapter—which was about brownies—listed a second vulnerability.


Elise went flying and smashed into the wall beside him, hard enough that he could actually hear her skull cracking against stone, even though the screaming hadn’t waned. The sidhe had thrown her again. There was no sign of the burning tapestry now.

She staggered, dazed, and James grabbed her arm to steady her.

“Iron!” he shouted over the sidhe’s wailing, shoving the book in Elise face.

She blinked repeatedly, trying to focus on the page. Her eyes were nearly crossed. “What?”

“Iron might kill her. Try iron!”

Elise shoved James to the floor. The sidhe’s claws swiped over his head as she rushed at them again. This time, their attacker had been anticipating that James would dodge; her blow came a lot closer to disemboweling him. Only Elise’s reflexes saved him. But those razor-sharp claws gave James a bit of a haircut in the process.

He touched the skin above his ear. He was going to have a bald patch for a while.

“I really don’t like the sidhe,” he said to nobody in particular.

Even though he couldn’t hear himself, apparently the spirit could. Her eyes sparked with cold hatred. James could practically see her fantasizing about gutting him.

She didn’t make it two inches in his direction before Elise leaped between them. The kopis waved her arms over her head, attracting the spirit’s attention as she backed toward the dungeon’s stairs. The dungeon would be a terrible place to fight, narrow and dark with no alternative escape routes. It made no sense that Elise would try to lead the sidhe down there.

Unless she’d heard him telling her about iron after all.

There was iron in the dungeon, and plenty of it. The bars on the cells were made of iron.

Dropping the bestiary, James chased Elise and the sidhe into the dungeon. He almost tripped on more dead bodies at the bottom of the stairs. Another tour group had been killed by the sidhe on the same day that Gregg had been killed. Apparently Joseph O’Reilly didn’t consider an employee’s death good reason to shut down part of his castle.

The sidhe grinned at the sight of the bodies—fuel for her screams.

She had Elise cornered and she knew it.

Her smile vanished when Elise jerked a piece of iron bar off of one of the cell doors.

Elise swung the bar at the sidhe. It connected with sickeningly wet crunch. Greenish blood sprayed over the wall.

This time, the sidhe’s scream was one of pain, not one of fury. The iron left a shining welt across her face. It had burned on the briefest of contact, melting a layer of semi-corporeal flesh away.

Elise flinched away at the sound of that scream, pressing the heel of her hand to her temple. One of her makeshift earplugs had fallen out. She was vulnerable.

James ignited one of his few remaining fire spells and dropped it on the bodies at the bottom of the stairs. He focused all his frustration at the magic, fueling it with his anger—especially the anger at his mangled haircut.

The bodies were incinerated within seconds.

When the sidhe tried to scream again, nothing came out but a dry rasp.

“Let’s banish you permanently this time,” Elise growled.

She jumped on the sidhe.

James didn’t watch his kopis beat her to death. It was as brutal as it was necessary, but that wasn’t his favorite part of the job.

It only took a minute.

By the time Elise was done, the bodies of the tour group were ash, the dungeon was slicked with green blood, and the rare and deadly creature known as the beansidhe was dead.


James found Elise sitting on a cluster of rocks outside the back door of Castle O’Reilly. The storm must have been dumping gallons of water directly on her head, but she didn’t look to be aware of the rain. She was picking at the residue that medical tape had left on her arm. Her bare back was exposed by the gapping hospital gown.

He shucked his jacket and settled it over her shoulders. Elise reacted to that as much as she did the rain. “What are you thinking about?” he asked, folding his arms tightly across his chest. It wasn’t much shield against the chill.

“Guinness,” Elise said.

She wasn’t thinking about the exquisite rarity of the creature they had just killed, nor the ancient castle that was burning behind them.

She was thinking about Guinness.

“Ah.” James tried to blink the rain out of his eyes. It didn’t help. “Should I ask why you’re in a hospital gown?”

Again, she said, “Guinness.”

Elise must have gotten in a drunken brawl and landed in the hospital. It wouldn’t have been the first time, either. “How many people are dead, how many of them are human, and how quickly should we plan on leaving the country?”

“None, not applicable, whenever we feel like it.”

James hesitated before sitting on the rocks beside her. The chill of the stones seeped through his slacks.

If nobody had died, then it hadn’t been one of Elise’s usual scuffles. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

“You didn’t get in another bar fight?”


She was being unusually uncommunicative, even for Elise. Sometimes it felt like they would have had better conversations if they’d performed them via physical gestures like a game of charades. James could mimic punching people, Elise would tell him he was getting colder, then he could mimic wielding a pair of falchions…

“If you want to talk about it, you know I’m available,” James said. He didn’t expect her to take him up on the offer. She seldom did.

But Elise sighed and tipped her head back to glare up at the sky. Only then did he realize that her cheeks were pink, and not because of the fight they’d been in. “I drank too much. I blacked out.”

She’d gotten alcohol poisoning.

That was new.

James started to run the mental calculations on how much alcohol it would take to defeat her kopis metabolism. The numbers were scary, so he stopped immediately. “Well,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “it sounds like you must have had a lot of fun.”

She shot a sideways look at him. “Is that all?”

“Do I need to say anything else?”

She shook her head and then groaned as though the gesture had hurt. She rested her forehead on the heels of her palms. “You were right. I shouldn’t have gone drinking. If I’d been with you, we’d have gone to the castle at the same time. The sidhe wouldn’t have almost gotten you.”

“As I seem to recall, you were the one who offered to stay at the apartment. I was the one who told you to go on.”

“Yeah, but you wanted me to stick around.”

When had Elise become psychic? Lord, he hoped she wasn’t psychic. “I didn’t say that.”

She went back to picking at the tape residue on her arm. “You could have been hurt without me.”

“I survived almost thirty years without you, Elise. You’re hardly responsible for my sidhe-chasing whims.” She gazed sullenly at the needle mark left behind, presumably, by an IV. Elise was hunched over, diminishing herself in her shame, hair hanging over her face. She was one tucked tail away from whimpering. “We’re equally responsible for the deaths at Castle O’Reilly tonight. We knew your exorcism hadn’t worked and left anyway.”

“She’d only killed once before,” Elise said. “We couldn’t have known what she’d do to everyone else.”

“Exactly. We’re equally responsible in the sense that we’re not responsible at all. Don’t guilt yourself over it.” He stood up, scuffed his bloody shoes on the grass to clean them. “All right? No more guilt. Today’s over, so let’s move on and think about tomorrow.” James offered a hand to Elise to help her stand.

She gave it a leery look. “No more alcohol, James.”

“That’s a shame,” he said, “because I’ve heard the best way to relieve a hangover is to drink more.”

The corner of Elise’s mouth twitched. It was almost a smile.

She took his hand, letting him pull her to her feet. “I stashed some tequila from our last visit to Mexico in my suitcase.”

“Is that so?”

“Let’s drink it all and get out of the country before the cops find our fingerprints on something,” Elise said.

James thought that sounded like an excellent plan, especially since the high-pitched wail of police sirens were approaching from the distance. Someone had heard the sidhe’s death screams and alerted the authorities. Or maybe they’d noticed the smoke pouring out of the castle windows. Either way, they were about to have company.

They slipped across the grassy moors in the darkness, avoiding the road. Trying to hurry on uneven ground without any light, James nearly broke his ankle twice. Elise laughed out loud during their clumsy escape. It was a very lovely sound—much lovelier than a screaming sidhe—and James enjoyed the exhilaration of it all.

Getting caught with multiple dead bodies and a burning castle would be awkward, to say the least.

Tequila would be far preferable.

The Descent Series Prequels: Deadly Hearts

dhnLas Vegas, Nevada – February 2003

The house represented everything wonderful about the American Dream: a split-level deal with yellow paneling, a stretch of pristine grass bordered by plump red flowers, and white picket fencing. The two-car garage was open, and a minivan was parked in the driveway with a bucket of soapy water by the trunk. A garden hose dribbled white froth into the gutter.

All of it was so very ordinary. There was no way to tell that the house was damned from the outside.

The gate squealed as Rich Harris stepped through and let it swing shut behind him. The man of the house emerged with a newspaper tucked under one arm and reading glasses on the end of his nose. He was likewise the ideal American husband—black hair sweeping over his forehead, pale blue eyes, friendly smile, button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows.

Rich Harris set down his patched leather suitcase so that he could shake the man’s hand. He had a good grip and callused palms. Rich trusted a guy with strong hands.

“James Faulkner?” Rich Harris asked, tucking his car keys in his pocket. He had parked his seventies sedan in front of a house down the street so that it wouldn’t make a bad impression.

James tipped his head in greeting. “You must be the exorcist. Richard, is it?”

“Rich, please. At your service.” He gave a small bow, only half-ironically. “Priest with the Church of Radiance and soldier of God. I hear you have a dire issue, Mr. Faulkner.”

The corner of James’s mouth twitched. “Oh yes. Dire indeed. Would you like to come inside?”

“In a minute.” Rich couldn’t rush the job. From the moment he arrived to the moment he left, cash in hand, he had to establish a mood, put the client in the right mindset. Make them associate feelings of safety with his presence.

He mounted the stairs to the patio with one hand extended and his eyes half-closed. He “felt” through the air, traced his hand over the doorframe, and ran his fingers down an invisible wall.

The husband stood back with a hand over his mouth, but Rich could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. Sure, buddy. Laugh now, but I’m just warming up.

“Do you mind…?” Rich gestured at the patio set.

“Please, be my guest,” James said.

Rich set his suitcase on the table and opened it. Everything inside was aged to the same degree as the outside of the case—he had a few papers with burned edges tucked into the pockets, a heavy brass crucifix, a wooden stake, some holy water in a glass vial. He used to have bullets that looked silver, too, but his assistant had stolen them when she quit.

With another glance at James, who was still trying to hide a smile, he decided to extract the electromagnetic frequency detector. This was a man who would be impressed by data and beeping electronics, not by hoodoo.

“This is an EMF detector,” Rich explained, showing the handheld device to James. One part was a heavy box with a jittering dial on the top, and the other appendage was a wand, which he started to wave over the door.

“And what’s it for, exactly?” James asked.

“It detects unusual electromagnetic frequencies,” Rich said, passing the wand over the windows. The curtains had a tiny flower pattern sewn into them. Very Better Homes and Gardens. “The sort of electromagnetic frequencies left behind by powerful spirits.”

“Ah,” James said.

Time to get more impressive.

Rich stopped in front of the window and opened his eyes wide. “Has the trouble been originating from the second story? The room just above this?”

“Yes,” James said with a small cough. “The master bedroom, in fact. Goodness, how could you have possibly known?”

“Science, sir,” Rich said, waving the EMF detector at him. He quickly packed it up before James could get too close of a look. “Is the wife home? I’ll need to interview both of you.”

“Yes, of course.”

James held the door open, and Rich entered the foyer. Central air conditioning, tile floors, carefully-arranged desert flora, a few native arrowheads mounted on the wall. All hallmarks of a wealthy family.


Rich held his hand out again, feeling through the empty air in the foyer. Stepping forward, he peeked through the living room—fireplace with glass stones, steer skull over the mantle, leather couches—and then the guest bathroom.

There were no family photos anywhere. Marital strife? Just as he expected.

“Honey,” James called.

A woman stepped through the other doorway. The swinging doors gusted the warm, chocolatey smell of baking cookies into the foyer.

Rich tipped back his fedora to appraise Mrs. Faulkner. She wore a baggy pink t-shirt with a glittery heart on the chest, and it was long enough to conceal all but the bottommost hem of her denim shorts. It made her legs look very long and very bare. Her pillowy blue oven mitts had flowers on the thumbs.

It took him a moment to get from the curve of her thighs up to her face, and he realized with a jolt that she had seen him staring. And he also realized, much too late, that she was not the kind of woman that men should stare at. Her right eyebrow was split by a scar, the bridge of her nose was bent as though it had healed badly after a break, and her frizzy curls were barely contained in a thick ponytail hanging over one shoulder. Her narrowed eyes looked unsettlingly like those of an angry hawk.

“This is my wife, Elise,” James said, and her gaze flicked to him instead, much to Rich’s relief. Her brow furrowed. Rich was sensitive to these tiny gestures; being able to read his customers’ moods was integral to separating them from their money. And Elise Faulkner was not a happy lady.

“Pleasure to meet you, Elise,” Rich said, extending a hand to shake. “I’m the exorcist.”

The wife’s responding smile was very thin. She remained silent until James nudged her.

“Pleasure to meet you.” She offered an oven mitt to him. He hesitated, and then shook it delicately.

Brushing his fingers over the material sent a shock through his arm. Pain cramped in his heart, and Rich grimaced and gripped his chest.

Elise was still staring at him.

“Are you all right?” she asked, a little too intently.

He gave a small laugh. “Must be the heat,” he said, taking off his fedora and swiping a sleeve over his forehead. “It’s almost eighty today.”

The couple exchanged significant looks. “Have a seat,” James said, sweeping a hand toward the living room.

Rich settled into one of the couches. The leather sighed around him. The cool material was a relief on his burning skin, and he fanned himself with the fedora as he gasped for air. Even with the pain, he wouldn’t let himself be distracted from his goal, and he watched Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner closely as they entered.

They were both extremely athletic, healthy people. Probably yuppies imported from SoCal for government employment. Or maybe performers—they were graceful and approached him almost like they were preparing to dance.

If there was trouble in the marital bed, it didn’t show when they sat on the opposite couch. Their knees and shoulders touched, and they were angled toward each other, showing a clear attraction. That was weird. All of his clients had been having marriage issues. There must have been something he wasn’t seeing.

Rich definitely didn’t like the way the wife was looking at him. It wasn’t normal for a girl to stare like that.

He blew out a breath, mopped his forehead down again, and opened the notebook. It was already getting easier to breathe. Must have been a blip.

“What was the first indication of a problem?” he asked, clicking the pen.

James clasped his hands together. “Well, probably the pictures falling off of the walls. When was that, darling?”

Elise gave him a cold look.

“Christmas,” she said, voice flat. “Darling.”

He gave a small laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Right. That started around Christmas. We tried to hang the photos again, but they fell two more times that week. We gave up after a couple of frames broke.”

Rich made a note.

“And when did you start to think it might be something supernatural?”

“The voices,” James said. Voices? That was a new one. Rich wrote it in the margin. “We hear them every night, usually around two, after an hour of heavy footsteps. We can never find the origin. We’ve even called the police once or twice, and they never find anything, either. It’s deeply unsettling, isn’t it, honey?”

Elise glared.

“What do the voices say?” Rich asked.

“They tell me to kill,” the wife said. Considering that she was still wearing the oven mitts, she managed to make that sound extremely menacing.

It couldn’t have been warmer than seventy degrees in the house, but Rich felt like he was going to sweat through his coat. He shrugged it off. “What else have you observed?”

“One of our mirrors shattered,” James said. “The one in the upstairs bathroom.”

“I’d like to look at it.”

The couple led him to the stairs, and Rich kept scanning the walls as they ascended. No photos on the second floor, either, but there were a lot of tiny holes in the drywall.

“And when did you two start having problems?” Rich asked, waving the pen between them.

James and Elise were two steps above him on the stairs, but at the question, the man stopped. “Pardon?” he asked as Elise continued to ascend.

Rich gave him a pitying smile. “I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I’ve seen this kind of activity in a dozen homes now. Breaking mirrors, falling pictures, footsteps. All of it began with marital strife.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” James said, joining his wife on the landing.

“Yeah,” Elise said. “Never been better. Honey.”

She slapped him on the butt.

James’s head whipped around, and he fixed a hard stare on her. The very first hint of a smirk showed at the corner of Elise’s lips.

There was something wrong here, but Rich just couldn’t figure out what. Were they afraid to admit they might be on the brink of divorce to a stranger? Maybe they just hadn’t admitted it to themselves yet.

The instant his foot touched the top of the stairs, pain spiked through his chest again, and he forgot everything else.

This time, the pain was blinding. Stars flashed in the corners of his vision, and he had to hang onto the banister to keep from slipping down the stairs. He was distantly aware of someone touching his shoulder, James and Elise speaking above him, cold ceramic underneath his hand. But all he could feel was the fist in his heart.

A deep voice rolled through him.

Kill them.

He blinked, and his vision cleared. The ringing in his skull faded.

Elise was staring at him again. It was her hand on his shoulder, oven mitt and all, and her hazel eyes pierced him like shards of glass. “You all right?” she asked.

Pushing her arm off, he stood. “Altitude,” Rich said, even though he knew that wasn’t any kind of explanation. Something rattled in his chest when he breathed. His heartbeat fluttered. “I’m sorry, but did one of you say something a second ago? Something about…” He trailed off, unwilling to finish the sentence.

“No, sorry,” James said. “Maybe your investigation should wait. You seem under the weather.”

And lose next week’s rent? Not a chance.

“Let’s just look at the mirror so I can begin deducing what vengeful spirit is plaguing your life,” Rich said. He couldn’t seem to work up the usual amount of pomp for that declaration, but he didn’t care anymore. He needed to get his money from these people and get out before the wife stabbed him or something.

Elise slipped into what must have been the master bedroom, leaving James to show Rich the bathroom. The mirror wasn’t just shattered—it had been pulverized. Fragments covered the counter, filled the sink, sparkled on the leaves of their decorative cactus.

“Step carefully,” James said, holding the door open. “We’ve left everything the way that we found it.”

Rich wasn’t sure where to set down his case when everything was such a mess. He settled for putting it on the corner of the tub. “And this happened last night?” he asked, leaning forward to peer at one of the few pieces remaining in the wall.

“Three in the morning, approximately.”

His reflection looked to be warped in the mirror fragment. How was that possible? It almost looked like there was something bulging on the other side.

He leaned forward until his eye filled the triangle of glass.

A red light flashed in his pupil.

Rich gasped and stepped back, almost tripping on the bath mat. Only James’s hand kept him from falling into the tub.

“Careful, there,” he said.

Rich opened the top button of his shirt and fanned himself. “I’ll test for unusual EMF readings in here. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. Think you could turn up the air conditioner? I’m sweltering.”

James patted him on the shoulder. “Of course.”

He stepped away, and Rich waited until he heard the man’s footsteps retreat down the stairs before slipping into the hall again. He wanted to be as far from that mirror as possible.

There were a lot of haunting symptoms Rich could handle. Falling pictures? Big deal. Footsteps? Yawn. But voices, shattering mirrors, everything about the Faulkner woman—that was all outside Rich’s realm of experience. He didn’t even know how to begin.

He tried to loosen his collar, only to realize that he had already unbuttoned it.

Where were the photos? Rich couldn’t get that out of his head.

He pushed open a door and peered into what looked like a guest bedroom. Queen bed, dresser, silk flowers. It looked more like a hotel than anywhere someone actually lived—there wasn’t a single personal item in sight.

Rich pushed the closet open, and boxes nearly tumbled onto his head. So thatwas where they had shoved everything. He pushed it back with his shoulder and shut the door again.

The air conditioning clicked, and cool air swirled from the vent. Not cool enough.

“Colder,” he rasped, running a hand over the vent. It didn’t relieve his fevered skin at all.

He staggered into the hall again and checked the other room. It was an office. The gold wallpaper had pale squares where photos should have been. Bare circles on dusty shelves marked where knickknacks used to stand.

The Faulkners hadn’t mentioned any problems aside from the photos. So why hide all of their personal effects?

He shut the door and stood in the darkened hall with the heels of his palms pressed to his temples. Someone was moving downstairs, and it sounded like thunder rolling through the house.

Rich didn’t need to pretend he felt something anymore. Energy vibrated over him.

Kill them, the voice whispered. He knew that voice. It was as familiar as his own.

A single item of furniture sharpened to crystalline clarity in his vision: an antique bureau standing against the wall opposite the stairs. One of the drawers was ajar.

Look inside.

Rich pulled the drawer open. All of the photos that had been removed from the walls were facedown among the napkins and spare cutlery.

He turned one of the frames over. It depicted an older couple, tanned and healthy and smiling. Grandparents?


He turned over another picture, and another. Most of the photos were of the same couple—just ordinary studio portraits of two old people hugging each other. They also had a few photos of a teenage girl, kind of a lardass with a pig nose, and that girl with what looked like a boyfriend.

Not a single photo of the so-called Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner.

His knuckles were white as he gripped the side of the bureau, fighting to remain on his feet.

It didn’t make any sense. There was no reason for people to try to fool him like that. He was just a two-bit magician, a guy whose show in front of the Mermaids had been terminated by city police, someone who wanted to wiggle his way into the good graces of rich couples having trouble.

It’s a trap, the voice hissed, and Rich knew it to be true, even if he didn’t understand why.

The door to the master bedroom at the end of the hall was ajar.

That was where Elise Faulkner had disappeared.

Kill her first.

Rich could imagine closing his hands around the woman’s throat and squeezing as clearly as though it were a memory. The bulging eyes, the frothing saliva. He could imagine the way her body would thrash underneath him.

Kill her.

He pushed the door open and stepped inside as though in a dream.

The door slammed shut behind him.

He whirled and banged his fist into the door, but it didn’t yield to his touch. The handle wouldn’t even jiggle.

Rich flattened his back to the wall and stared around the bedroom. Except it wasn’t a bedroom at all—there was no bed, no dresser, no clothes piled on the floor. The windows were blacked out by heavy drapes. A huge circle had been drawn on the ceramic floor in chalk, and candles burned at each of the four cardinal corners. They were the only light in the entire room.

Elise stood in the center of the circle beside a chair. The oven mitts were gone, baring the kind of black gloves a biker might wear. As he watched, she stripped the pink shirt off over her head. Underneath, she wore a white tank top so tight it might have been painted on, revealing every line of her muscular abs. And her biceps made it look like she could snap him in half with a pinkie.

Without the baggy clothes or oven mitts, she looked less like a cute young housewife and more like something that had crawled out of Hell.

Elise reached back, drew a sword from a spine sheath, and then spun the chair around to face him. “Sit down,” she said, and her tone left no room for argument.

“What’s going on?” He was proud of the fact that his voice only trembled a little bit, even though he felt like he might faint.

“Sit down,” she said, biting out each word.

He was prepared to obey her—shit, with a sword like that, she could tell him to jump off a bridge and he would obey—but his body didn’t budge an inch. His leg warmed and something trickled down his ankle. Rich looked down. His slacks were wet.

Oh, fuck.

“I think I just—”

Elise kicked the chair forward an inch. “You’ll sit down, and you’ll do it fast if you know what’s good for you.” But still, his feet didn’t move. Impatience drew her eyebrows low over her eyes. “You’ll die if I don’t take care of you now. Both of you. So let him sit down.”

Every inch of Rich trembled. “Who are you—I don’t know—I mean, I can’t—”

“Shut up, Rich. I’m not talking to you anymore,” Elise said. She unclasped the chains at her waist and wound them around her wrist, like brass knuckles made of crucifixes and pentacles. “In the name of God, I’m ordering you to sit the fuck down.”

A growl rose from deep within his chest. It was an inhuman sound, like the roaring of a furnace, and it burned in his throat. Sulfur stung his nose. His eyes watered.

Another flash of blinding pain. Rich pressed his fists to his chest as his ribs groaned. Pressure from the inside made them bow outward, straining against his ligaments, and the tension in his sternum was too much.

And then he spoke.

Fuck you, exorcist.

It wasn’t his voice. He hadn’t even meant to say anything.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Elise said, passing the sword to the fist that was wrapped with chains. The blade was short, only about two feet, but the curved side looked terrifyingly sharp.

Rich wrapped his arms around himself, and he shook with the effort it took for him to hold his ribs together.

“It hurts,” he gasped in a normal, human voice.

“Yeah, possession’s not meant to feel like tender bunny kisses,” she said, clapping a hand on the back of his collar and jerking him away from the wall. Elise tossed him into the circle.

The room whirled around him, and his face smacked into the tile.

His flesh enflamed instantly. Something popped. A ragged scream tore from him, shaking his skull, and it wasn’t the scream of a single man—it was the scream of a thousand damned souls writhing in fire.

Rich caught a glimpse of flame licking in front of his face.

Then he didn’t see anything at all.

One week earlier.

Elise realized she had walked through the pool of blood, and she grimaced. “You owe me a new pair of shoes,” she said, stepping over the arm flopped in front of the TV stand. It was lacerated with a deep gouge from elbow to wrist and perpendicular slices that looked more like tooth marks in the middle.

Lucas McIntyre smiled weakly. “Shoes, huh? How about an IOU on that?”

She bit back a sharp reply. Elise and James were already doing him a favor by stepping in on his investigation in Vegas, so it only seemed fair that he’d be responsible for damages she incurred while on the job. But it wasn’t worth arguing over. Not only did the McIntyres have zero money, but after the Grand Canyon, she was going to owe the guy favors until she died.

When she looked down to see her Doc Martens stained with blood and ichor, it was easy to forget that she was so deep in his debt that she couldn’t see sunlight anymore.

“Don’t worry about it,” Elise said.

James circled the room, studying the murder scene with that look he always got at the sight of dead humans. It was a mix of academic interest and detached horror. Human bodies still bothered him, even after all this time.

Elise nudged the woman’s head over with the toe of her bloodied boot. Looked like she was forty, maybe forty-five years old, with pearl bobs in her ears. There were no bruises at her throat—she had died too soon after the trauma for those to properly develop. But there were burns down her skin, dipping behind her hair, underneath her shirt.

The man, conversely, had been stabbed with a kitchen knife at least six or seven times. His chest and stomach were hamburger meat. One of his hands was still closed over the handle.

“Hell of a domestic disturbance,” Elise said, patting down the woman’s pockets. They were empty. “Why did you call me here for this, exactly?”

McIntyre shrugged. “Does it matter? You were in the neighborhood anyway.”

“San Francisco is the neighborhood?”

“Close enough,” he said. He flipped his knife open and scraped at the crusty material on the woman’s neck. “This isn’t skin. This is sulfur.”

“That’s not normal for domestic violence,” she said as she searched the husband’s clothes. She came up with a business card. Rich Harris, Priest of the Church of Light. There was a website and a phone number. Interesting.

“But sulfur residue is typical of demonic possession,” James said.

“So you called me here to do an exorcism,” Elise said, tucking the card into her own pocket.

McIntyre grinned. “You’re the best I know.”

“I’m the only one you know.”

“Either way, I need you for this. It’s over my head. The demon’s got a funny pattern—it’s wandering all over Vegas and Boulder, and I have no clue how.”

“Incorporeal demons don’t wander,” Elise said.

James put on his reading glasses and gently moved the woman’s chin so he could see the burn marks at her collar. “They don’t wander without vessels.”

Which meant that there had to be a human culprit. Someone like a priest with the Church of Light.

“We need security footage,” Elise said.

She washed her hands in the sink, dried them using the dead couples’ towels, and left with McIntyre to find the security office.

It was nighttime, and nobody was monitoring the cameras that watched the community’s gates. They broke in and stole video files off of the server, which showed the victims in question meeting with someone earlier in the day.

“So he’s got to be our perp,” McIntyre said. “What do you think? Nightmare?”

Elise squinted at his laptop screen. She was seated on a battered couch in his trailer going over hours of boring footage while James flirted with McIntyre’s girlfriend, Leticia. Her giggles drifted from the kitchen. He just couldn’t help himself.

Forcing herself to focus on the screen, Elise played it back one more time. The probable attacker didn’t look like a demon of any persuasion to her. More like some random asshole who fancied himself an exorcist. “How did you find those bodies, exactly?” she asked, rolling Rich Harris’s card between her fingers. She had already looked up his website, but he didn’t have a photo to help her identify him.

“Surge of power,” McIntyre said. “I’m surprised you didn’t feel it. Lots of noise. Whatever’s happening, this thing is getting powerful.”

Elise drummed her fingers on her chin as the video looped back and played again. The man was wearing a fedora and some kind of trench coat—overkill in Las Vegas winter. He looked like an old-school detective. Or someone who wanted to look like that, anyway.

“And you said that there have been other bodies,” Elise said. A purring cat wrapped itself around her ankles, and she reached down to stroke its back.

“Got the articles here.” McIntyre grabbed a box that had been sitting next to the couch. The outside advertised a “family pack” of potato chips, but the inside was all newspaper clippings and printouts. “Counting the folks tonight, that’s twelve dead.”

“Six couples,” Elise said.

“Twelve bodies, six couples. Does that matter?” He tried to hand the box to her. She pushed it away.

“I don’t need to see that. I know what we’re after.” Elise sighed. “We’re going to need to borrow someone’s house. A nice house.”

“Tish’s parents have a place in the suburbs, but I don’t understand why…?”

“Because I’m going to do an exorcism there,” she said.

And that was how Elise ended up playing housewife, of all the goddamn things she could be doing on her visit to Vegas.

Rich Harris crumbled in front of her, breathing fire and stinking of piss, and the only thing Elise could think was, I could be in San Francisco right now.

Only a few seconds until the prick woke up again. She hauled his limp body into the chair, pulled a face at the wet spot on his pants, and tied his wrists and ankles down.

James slipped through the door and locked it behind him. “I see our trap worked,” he said, pulling the notebook out of his back pocket and flipping to a page in the back.

“It wasn’t exactly a challenge. He really had no clue what’s been wrong with him,” Elise said, cinching the rope tight around his right ankle. God, it was wet there, too. Utterly foul. “You should have seen him when he opened the door.”

He ripped a page out of the notebook and stepped over the line. “I can’t imagine an exorcist as reputable as the great Rich Harris would be surprised to see the accoutrements of the occult. I’m shocked, just shocked.”

James flicked the paper into the air. His lips moved with a silent syllable. The candles flamed higher, stretching in long fingers toward the ceiling, and the radiant heat warmed Elise’s skin.

Closing the circle of power must have caused some jolt of energy that Elise couldn’t feel, because Rich’s eyes shot open. The whites were bloodshot. Veins corded his face and neck. The sweat beading on his skin swirled with black fog.

“Hey there, sleeping beauty,” Elise said. She nudged him in the chest with the point of her falchion. Not hard enough to pierce skin. Just enough to make him pay attention.

His eyes dropped to the blade. It was carved with religious symbols. Most of them wouldn’t mean anything to the average demon, but there was enough variety that at least one was guaranteed to bother any creature ending up at the point of her blade. His eyes widened and face paled, so obviously something worked.

“You got six couples and failed on the seventh,” Elise said, swinging her sword like a cane as she rounded his chair. “Sloppy work. You should have done them all at once if you wanted to avoid getting caught. What are you building energy for? You’re not big enough to manage an ascension, but it’s got to be pretty good, if you need seven pairs of hearts.”

I will copulate with you and tear through your organs with my phallus,” he said.

James took a step forward, but Elise stopped him with a hard look. She leaned on the chair and got close to Rich’s ear.

“I think you’re trying to work up the energy to breed,” she said in a low voice.

He jerked and tried to bite her. His teeth snapped harmlessly at the air.

“Piggyback?” James asked, moving to Elise’s side.

“No,” she said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

James frowned. “What? Why?” Because this demon feeds on broken hearts. She bit the inside of her cheek and just shook her head. “Well, do you have some idea what this thing is?”

Oh, Elise had ideas, all right. She’d had ideas about which demon it had to be when she first heard that he was targeting divorcing couples.

She cast a sideways glance at Rich and sighed.

Of all the things she didn’t want to have to talk about with her aspis…

“I know exactly what it is,” she finally said. She reached under the chair to press the button on her tape recorder. The gears started moving with a gentle hiss. “This is Elise Kavanagh. It’s February fourteenth, two thousand and three, and I’m exorcising Rich Harris.”

The demon hissed, spitting saliva that looked and smelled like magma.

“Elise?” James asked in a low voice, quiet enough that the recorder wouldn’t pick it up.

She started looping the chains around Rich’s neck, and he thrashed, throwing his head from side to side. “Courevore,” she said, addressing the demon directly. “You’re breaking about a thousand laws by walking this Earth.”

Rich Harris’s lips widened in a painful grin. A black tongue snaked between his teeth. “I go where I please.”

James mouthed the name silently. Courevore. Recognition illuminated his features.

“Sure, you can go wherever you want,” Elise said. “As long as you don’t mind volunteering yourself for a death sentence. I saw a bounty for your life not even a month ago. You’ve moved fast.”

Release me, or this man dies.”

Did he mean Rich Harris, or James? Elise couldn’t take that risk.

She took James aside. “Why don’t you give me some space?” she whispered.

“But you need the help.”

“Having you around can only make me vulnerable to this thing,” Elise said.

“He can’t have any effect on us,” James said, but he didn’t sound very convincing. He raked a hand through his hair and blew a breath out. He wouldn’t look at Elise. “It’s not like we’re…”

“Yeah, right,” she said. “You better wait outside.”

“I don’t think…”

Elise put a hand on his arm. “Please,” she said.

James’s shoulders slumped. “All right.” Another sigh, and then he added, “I’m sorry.”

He made a hand gesture like parting a curtain and stepped out of the circle of power.

As soon as he was gone, Elise faced Rich again. Now the tips of his hair were smoking. She wasn’t exactly hung up on saving this guy—nobody would be heartbroken over a lost grifter scamming money from broken hearts. But James was watching. She couldn’t just kill Rich and save herself the effort, either.

“I’ll give you one chance to be honest with me and return safely to Hell. Where are your offspring?” Elise asked, drawing her other sword.

You will never find them. Not if you lived a thousand lifetimes.

Elise had been wearing a pink shirt and oven mitts all day. She had no patience for this bullshit.

“Courevore, devourer of broken hearts, lover of the shattered spirit, lord of the seventh dominion,” she said, “I hereby sentence you to death.”

Under whose authority?”

“Mine.” She aimed her sword at his breast again. “I exorcise you, impious demon. In vain do you boast of this deed. I command you to restore this man as proof you no longer have any rule over his soul.”

Rich threw his head back and cackled. His arm muscles bulged as he fought against the bindings.

Elise hooked the tip of her falchion in the charms. “I abjure you, stripping you of the arms with which you fight. I revoke the powers by which this man became bound to your service.”

His laughter turned to a shriek. His ribs rippled underneath his shirt like limbs twisting underneath a bed sheet.

Even as he screamed, a guttural voice rolled through the room. “He doesn’t love you,” Courevore said. “He will never love you.”

Elise’s sword wavered. She tightened her grip on the hilt.

“This creature is restored, rejecting your influence, and granted divine mercy for defense against your assaults. Now get the fuck out.”

His ribs rippled again, and Elise heard a crack. Blood spread over his chest.

She dropped one of the swords and ripped his shirt open. His sternum had snapped. Jagged shards of bone ripped through the skin.

A red eye stared from the place his heart should have been.

“Huh,” she said.

It rolled around to focus the gaping maw of its pupil on her face, and it lookedthrough her. “He rejected you because you’re broken,” the demon said, and this time, it spoke directly into her skull. Her eardrums throbbed. “The women I killed have all failed as wives, but you’ll never even be good enough to marry, much less fuck. Malformed hermaphrodite with a wasted soul.”

The other sword slipped from her fingers, and Elise tried to cover her ears, but it wasn’t good enough. The voice came from within.

James shouted, and it sounded like he was a thousand miles away. “Elise!”

Useless, ugly, broken,” Courevore said.

She wanted to slap the smugness off Rich’s twisted face.

Crux sacra sit mihi lux,” Elise said. The words were unsteady. There was no power behind them. “Non draco sit—

A rope snapped. Rich’s hand shot out and clenched on her throat.

A gurgle escaped her lips.

He only pretends to like you,” Courevore hissed into her mind.

It was hard to speak without any air. Her head swam.

“You are so full of shit,” she grunted, and then she punched her hand through his chest and grabbed the eyeball.

It pulsed in her hand, hot and slippery and flailing wildly against her fingers, like a bird trapped in a net. His fingers tightened on her throat, and she responded by tightening her grip, too. “Let me go or I’ll kill you,” Courevore said.

She couldn’t speak anymore, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t give him a last, well-deserved “fuck you.”

Flexing her biceps, she ripped at the muscle, trying to wrench it free of his chest cavity. Bone scraped against her wrist. Fingernails dug into her throat.

And then James was between them, and he forced the hand off of Elise, pushed her away. She fell onto her ass. Her lungs ached with the sudden rush of oxygen.

She’ll hate you once she finds out,” Courevore said, focusing the eyeball on James. Your heart is blacker than hers.”

James whispered something into Rich’s ear—something too quiet for Elise to hear. But the eye within his chest rolled with shock, his lungs wheezed in a gasp, and James stepped away apparently unperturbed by the demon.

He helped Elise stand and gave her one of the falchions.

“Let’s finish this,” he said, voice hard.

Elise couldn’t agree more.

Crux sacra sit mihi dux,” she said, stronger this time. “Non draco sit mihi lux. Vade retro, Satana. Nunquam suade mihi vana.

Rich screamed again, tearing at his own face with the free hand.

Elise gathered her strength for a final push. She placed the flat of the blade against the exposed eyeball.

Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas!

His cries reached a pitch. His ribs rippled, danced, shivered.

And then his chest exploded.

Blood showered over the room, and Elise couldn’t duck fast enough to avoid the geyser. It was hot and sulfurous and it sprayed down her side.

James’s reaction time had been much better. He peered at her from behind the chair as a steady stream of blood drip-dripped from the seat to the floor. “Well,” he said. “That was a first.”

Elise wiped a chunk of slippery flesh out of her hair. “And hopefully a last.”

Rich Harris, priest of the Church of Light and soldier of God, had been split in half by the exploding demon. His pelvis was an open mess of intestine. Organs dangled from underneath the remnants of his breastbone. The rest was gone—including a couple segments of his spine.

Elise muttered a thousand curses under her breath as she tried to wipe the blood off of her face and hands, but there was just too much of it. Her skin was slick.

“Okay,” she said, squeegeeing blood out of her tank top. “McIntyre really owes me new clothes now.”

James laughed as he stood. Of course he could laugh. He only had blood on his right shoe. He plucked something off of her shoulder and flung it aside. “Are you all right? Any problems breathing?”

“I’m fine,” she said, and it was mostly true. Even though Courevore was dead, she could still hear his voice echoing through her skull.

He will never love you.

She didn’t look at James as she peeled off her shoes and socks.

“I think I saw clothes in Leticia’s size in the other bedroom,” James said. “Maybe a shower’s in order.”

Elise was grateful not to have to discuss the destroyed body, or anything the demon had said. She ducked out of the room, leaving her shoes behind, and tried not to drip blood on her way to the shower.

Five minutes and a lot of hot water later, she was dressed again in shorts and a tube top that belonged to McIntyre’s girlfriend. James was waiting for her on the top of the stairs. She sat beside him to comb out her hair.

He was flipping through his notebook again, but he closed it to give her his full attention.

“Breeding,” he said.

Elise’s comb stilled. “What?”

“You said that you thought Courevore was trying to breed.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Courevore is one-of-a-kind. He could only breed by impregnating a human woman—which obviously doesn’t work in cases of incorporeal possession—or by some other asexual method. Like eggs, maybe.”

“Eggs,” James echoed.

“Well, I hope not, but I think that’s how his type usually make minions. If that’s the case, they could be anywhere.”

Elise continued to drag the comb through her hair, thinking back on everything that McIntyre had told her about the case.

Rich Harris lived in a pay-by-the-week motel—hardly somewhere safe and secure to keep one’s offspring. The former victims’ houses had all been swept by the cops and completely cleaned out. Where could that kind of guy keep a demon’s eggs? A storage unit, maybe?

James interrupted her thoughts by leaning forward and sniffing the air. “What is that?”

She lifted her arms and smelled herself. “Is there still blood on me?”

“No, it’s more like…burning chocolate?”

Elise almost dropped the comb. “Shit!”

She leaped to her feet and shot downstairs.

One could never tell what might go wrong in the aftermath of an exorcism. Powerful demons had a way of leaving nasty tricks behind—booby traps, extra minions, things that could explode. When James smelled the smoke, he was certain that Courevore must have set the house on fire on his way out. What he found was a lot more shocking.

A black haze filled the kitchen. James rushed to open the back door and turn on the ceiling fan. Elise ripped a towel off the rack and pulled the oven open, and smoke spewed into the room. It was acrid and bitter, almost as bad as the sulfur pouring from a demon’s mouth, and tears sprung to James’s eyes.

“The hell is that?” he asked, flapping his hands in front of his face to clear a precious few inches of air.

Elise’s lack of response was even more worrying than the smoke itself.

She reached inside the oven and tossed a cookie sheet on the counter. Pieces of charcoal slid over the aluminum—pieces of charcoal that smelled suspiciously like Nutella. “Shit,” she said. “I ruined them.”

They were cookies.

His mind flashed back to Elise emerging from the kitchen with oven mitts. He had assumed that she was just trying to hide her gloves, which were a necessary but unsettling feature of her wardrobe. But she hadn’t been trying to hide anything. She had been baking.

“You baked cookies. You actually baked cookies,” James said.

She shifted uncomfortably on her feet and glared in silent fury at the cookie sheet.

“The Packards left the ingredients out and the cookbook was open on the counter. I thought…I don’t know. I’ve never tried to bake before.”

Elise didn’t hesitate to punch her hand into a man’s chest to pulverize a demon eyeball, but a batch of burned cookies could bring her to her knees. Kind of cute, really—not that James would ever tell her that.

He tried to smother his laugh. She wasn’t fooled.

“You don’t have to pick on me,” she said.

Oh, and now she was pouting. That just made it harder not to laugh. He finally gave up the ghost and slung an arm around her shoulders as he chuckled. It didn’t brighten her mood at all. “I would never dream of picking on you. Look, they’re not that bad. I can just break off the burned portion.” Which was the entire cookie. But he had to make up for laughing at her somehow.

“Wait,” she protested, holding out an arm, but James was tall and her efforts to fend him off were halfhearted at best. He snagged a cookie off the sheet and bounced it between his hands while it cooled. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Of course I don’t,” James said.

The center of the cookie wasn’t quite as destroyed as the edges, so he crumbled off the blackest parts and popped it into his mouth.

He tried not to make a face. He really did. But Elise knew him too well, and whatever minute change in expression sneaked through was too much. Disappointment crashed over her features.

“I told you they were bad,” she said, stomping the trash can lever to lift the lid. She tossed the entire sheet in. As soon as her back was turned, James spit the cookie into the sink and wiped off his tongue.

She turned back, and he composed himself again.

“It’s really not that bad,” James said, fishing the cookie sheet out of the trash. The Packards were going to be distressed enough to see what had happened to their bedroom. They didn’t need to lose kitchenware to Elise’s bad mood, too.

“Screw it,” Elise said. “I don’t even like cookies.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone likes cookies.” James’s lips spread in a devilish smile. “There are more ingredients, you know. We could try again.”

“Try to…what, bake another batch? Seriously? The Packards are going to want their house back eventually.”

“They’re in a hotel for the night, and Lucas will have to clean up the bedroom before they can return anyway,” he said. “Come on, let me teach you. Your cookies spread out too much and were a bit, uh, salty. Those are both easy fixes.”

Elise rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t keep from smiling. There wasn’t much James wouldn’t do to make her smile like that.

“Fine,” she said.

By the time they stuck the third batch of cookies in the oven, the jar of Nutella had been licked clean, the sun was falling toward the horizon, and the issue of Courevore’s offspring still hadn’t been resolved.

“He would have to be keeping his eggs nearby,” Elise said, sitting on the counter by the sink while James leaned at her side. “It takes a lot for his ilk to breed. Good thing it’s easier for humans.” Elise toyed with one of the cookies from the second batch. They hadn’t spread as much as the ones she had burned, but she had no appetite for them.

Malformed hermaphrodite, Courevore had said.

“Most humans,” she added, tossing the cookie back onto the pan.

She could feel James watching her, but she didn’t want to see his pity. She pushed the cookies around the pan with a spatula like it was the most interesting thing in the world. “You can’t take anything he said to heart,” James said. “Everything that comes from a demon’s mouth is a lie.”

She stabbed a cookie with the end of the spatula. “What did you say to him?”


“You whispered something to Courevore when he tried to talk to you. It looked like it surprised him. What was it?”

“Oh, I can’t even remember now. Just an idle threat,” James said.

“Must have been pretty good to mess with his head.”

An engine rumbled up the street, then stopped by the window. She pushed one of the flowered curtains aside and peered outside. The noise had been McIntyre’s pickup arriving—not the cops—but his car wasn’t the only one on the street. Rich’s beater was parked at the opposite sidewalk. There was a ticket flapping underneath his windshield wiper.

“I might have an idea about Courevore’s offspring,” Elise said.

The front door opened, and McIntyre and his girlfriend walked in carrying duffel bags. Leticia wore rubber gloves that covered her to the elbow. It was hardly the first time they had cleaned up such a scene, and they came well-prepared.

“How did everything go?” McIntyre asked.

“Perfect,” Elise said, popping the last of a cookie in her mouth. James was right. Even she liked Nutella cookies. “The Packards are going to need new flooring in the master bedroom.”

“And groceries,” James added helpfully.

Leticia laughed and headed upstairs.

“This is going to take a while,” McIntyre said. He tossed his keys to Elise. “Why don’t you guys go get some grub?”

“An excellent idea, but I think I’m full on cookie dough now,” James said.

Elise hopped off the counter anyway. “No, dinner’s a good idea. There’s still one more batch in the oven, and they’ll be done in five minutes. Don’t forget to grab them when the buzzer goes off, McIntyre.”

He threw an ironic salute at her.

But when James and Elise stepped outside, she didn’t head for McIntyre’s truck. She went to Rich Harris’s car instead.

The pavement was hot under her bare feet as she crossed the street, even though the light of day was fading rapidly. The driver’s side window was open a crack. Elise wiggled her arm inside. It was hard fitting her bicep in deep enough to reach the lock, but she managed to flick it with her middle finger.

She opened the door, and the smell of sulfur seeped out—along with the distinct odor of blood.

Elise pulled the lever for the trunk. James waited until she was at his side, swords at the ready, before swinging the trunk open the rest of the way.

The smell that had been faint in the passenger compartment slapped her in the face, so bad that she nearly gagged. Elise stepped back with a hand over her mouth.

“He nested in his trunk,” James said, voice weak with disgust. “He nested. In his trunk.”

There were seven eggs nestled among the blankets. They were each the size of Elise’s fists pressed together, and the first six of them were drenched in blood; the one on the far left was even beginning to crack, like it was trying to hatch. They shivered with internal motion.

Elise was about as touched by the sight of the eggs as she was by the sight of human infants, which was to say, not at all. “Baby hellspawn,” she said. “How sweet.”

“Good thing you killed him before he, er, fertilized that last one,” James said.

“Yeah,” she said. “I bet Rich Harris had fun shitting these out.”

Elise smashed her sword into the first egg. Blood and ichor spilled over the trunk. James didn’t watch as she destroyed each of them in turn, hitting them again and again until they were thoroughly pulverized.

So much for Courevore’s baby army.

She slammed the trunk shut. “Have fun with that one, McIntyre,” she muttered, wiping her hands off on the butt of her skirt. She had been splashed with ichor, and it left behind tiny burn marks on her skin.

“You know what today is?” James asked as Elise walked back to the McIntyre’s truck with him.

“Saturday,” she said.

“The fourteenth. Valentine’s Day. Seems appropriate for a demon that feeds on broken hearts to make his last move today, doesn’t it?”

“Sure,” Elise said. “And demonic infanticide is an equally good way to spend a romantic holiday.”

James laughed. “Do you want dinner? Let’s get dinner.”

He opened the passenger door on McIntyre’s truck for her, and Elise gave him a rare smile before slipping inside.

They drove into the sunset, leaving the bodies, eggs, and burned cookies behind them.

Alpha & Omega: German language version of “Omega”

omega germanHi readers! Or should I say Guten Tag?

Omega has been translated into German! I worked with professional translator Benjamin Schmitt to bring Omega to German-reading audiences, and I’m really pleased with the results.

It’s available exclusively on Amazon’s regional websites for the time being, though it will be coming to worldwide vendors soon. You can find more information and links on the book page!

Happy reading! Auf Wiedersehen!