The Second Coming: Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human. So very human.

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

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

Victoria was done crying by the time Elise emerged.

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

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

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

“Port Angeles,” said the driver.

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

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

There would be assassins.

“Keep driving,” she said.

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

Elise was not.

“Keep driving.”

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

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

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

The baby started crying.

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

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

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

Hungry. Time for more breastfeeding.

“Fuck me,” Elise said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One by one, the bodies dropped.

“Of course,” Elise muttered.

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

She hesitated in the doorway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be a problem.

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

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

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

These ones were speedy.

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

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

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

One at a time.

It was still the only way to fight.

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

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

She didn’t hear Victoria crying anymore.

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

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

She was snoring very quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was gone before the police arrived.

Coming Soon: Cast in Angelfire and Cast in Hellfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

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The Second Coming: Chapter Two

Her name was Elise Kavanagh, and that was all she possessed: an iron knife taken from the demon who had made an unimpressive effort to assassinate her, a squirming newborn that couldn’t even lift her own head, and a name that seldom crossed the lips of the people who had once known her. Her name was taboo. The idea of her had been elevated to near-mythological status. She was rich in reputation and nothing else.

She didn’t have clothes. She didn’t have money. She didn’t even have anywhere to take her baby after the hospital.

She’d had worse days than that one, but not many.

There was no birth certificate, but if there had been, Elise would have put the name Victoria Elizabeth Faulkner on it. Elise wasn’t the type of person who felt it necessary to take a man’s name as hers, but she didn’t want to damn her daughter with the name of her father Isaac, forcing Victoria to bear the patronymic that had haunted Elise throughout her life.

The history of the Faulkners was no less violent, but it was James’s surname, and Elise was fond of James even if his family was filled with cretins. And Faulkner meant falconer, the person who controlled the bird of prey, the mind and intent and training behind death.

Better to be falconer than falcon. Better Faulkner than Kavanagh.

Anyway, Elise picked “Victoria” even though James had been pushing for “Rosalind,” so one concession to the man seemed fair enough.

It wasn’t like he could complain about it.

Elise staggered into a campsite ravaged by the unexpected storm, clutching an hour-old newborn to her shoulder, wrinkled feet draped over her bare breast.

It was cold. She was wet and miserable. Victoria, however, was asleep. Motionless. Still making those irritating wheezing noises against Elise’s neck.

Branches whipped cabins, most of which were occupied. All of them were dark. None had power. Elise moved from window to window, squinting through the glass to determine which were currently in use, and which were empty. There was one with a broken lock, its door held shut with a chain, and that was where Elise took her newborn.

The wind shrieked through the cracks in the walls. Rain pattered against the roof. It was wet, moldy, and drafty—far less comfortable than the hospital had been, even without power. But if one assassin had found Elise and Victoria in the hospital, then more would be able to find them, and she was exhausted from labor. She needed somewhere safe to rest for a few hours. Even Elise, who could run ultra marathons without pause, needed to recuperate after the drain on her physical resources that was childbirth.

She set the baby on the floor. The bed was bare, but there were sheets in the closet that were stiff with starch and smelled like mothballs. Elise wiped between her legs with one of them, cleaned most of the fluid off of the baby with the second, and then tossed the remaining sheet onto the hard mattress. The baby seemed fine on the floor. Elise left her there as she crawled into bed.

Shivers overtook her. Hormones spiked and dropped. She bled, clutched the hem of the sheet, and tried to rest.

This wasn’t how it had been supposed to happen.

It was meant to be a happy event, making a baby together. Elise had envisioned pushing the thing out of her body, handing it to James, and going about her business. He was the one who had wanted the baby. He had wanted a chance to be there for their offspring, to enjoy fatherhood, to have the family experience that they couldn’t have enjoyed in the great immortal nothingness where they’d dwelled outside of time and space.

But he wasn’t there.

She was in bed, alone and cold and tired, and there was a baby on the floor, and Elise couldn’t pass Victoria off to James because he wasn’t there.


How had the assassins found her so quickly?

Elise rolled between her fingers the strips of skin that she had cut off of the assassin’s body before leaving the hospital. They were branded. Demons used to be branded by their masters all the time. The marks were distinct, like a fingerprint, indicating who controlled them and the demon’s characteristics. Elise used to know the common marks almost like her alphabet. She didn’t recognize these ones.

Those practices had ended, hadn’t they? Elise had shattered the old demon hierarchies. Nobody got branded anymore…right?

That was a mystery that she would need to solve, just like the mystery of how she had been found so quickly, after only twenty-five years on the Earth. Hardly even a wink in the grand scheme of things.

“Betrayal,” she said, lips forming the word silently in the raging storm.

Someone knew, someone had betrayed her, and someone was going to have to die.

That someone was probably the same person who had abducted James while Elise was nine months pregnant.

Yes, they would have to die.

At another time, it would have been an easy fix. Elise had killed her fair share of people by merely willing it to happen. But that had been before this body, before her new life, before diving headlong back into mortality so she could procreate. She was human again. And there were no easy fixes now that she was human.

Another problem with being human was that humans had needs. Humans could get cold and hungry. They could become tired. They couldn’t simply imagine themselves in another part of the universe and appear there. They needed a way to reach the places they intended to go, and they required money to make these things happen.

It was sort of nice, in a way. Elise would get to kill someone with her bare hands again. Aside from the clumsy assassin, she hadn’t gotten to do that in…oh, it must have been millennia, or something like that.

Her eyes drifted closed. She was lulled to sleep by the storm, drifting on pleasant thoughts of violence.

Before she could fall asleep, Victoria began screaming.

Elise’s eyes popped open.

“Fuck me,” she said.

It was a very long night.

They had met in their current lives like this:

James had been a young teacher’s assistant at Marut University. He had been twenty-one at the time, they’d decided. Elise had been an eighteen year old freshman. It felt more natural for him to be older than her, even a little bit, but there was less of a disparity than it used to be.

She called herself Danaë. He called himself Daniel.

Both of them knew their real names, but they didn’t want to risk discovery. Not so soon. They never once uttered “Elise Kavanagh” or “James Faulkner” even while the names skimmed the surfaces of their freshly mortal minds.

So there they were, Danaë and Daniel, on the first day of the fall semester, in some lecture about archaeology. He was very handsome. She was probably best described as handsome, too. Her features were too square to be beautiful. But she was very striking, with that Aquiline nose and prominent lips, and he’d noticed her immediately among the other students.

James’s smile had betrayed their history together. It hadn’t been the smile of a twenty-one year old teacher’s assistant noticing a particularly attractive student. It was the smile of a husband to a wife, the smile of partners who had shared a life together, a thousand lives, a million years.

After class, Elise had pulled him aside to ask for more details about something boring the professor had said. James asked for her email so that he could send her extra notes, which he did. And then she emailed him with questions that grew increasingly personal. They had smiled at each other in class, pretending to flirt, as though that was something they needed to do with one another.

They had even kept their growing relationship a secret so that James wouldn’t get in trouble with the university.

He asked her for coffee once the semester ended.

Things progressed from there in as natural and boring a fashion as one could imagine.

That was seven years earlier.

These things may or may not have occurred in reality, but those were the vague memories that Elise had, and that was the version of events they had agreed upon.

Elise was caught stealing food from a neighboring campsite the next morning.

The mundane humans in their RV with its generator and functioning toilet and satellite dish had heard Victoria squalling. The wrinkly little thing hadn’t shut up all night, and she hadn’t cared at all that Elise was trying to be covert, so they caught her.

Elise had been trying to steal some unattended breakfast rolls. The humans came out of their RV to find her juggling a screaming infant and a cinnamon bun.

“Oh my,” the matriarch of the family had said.

Her husband pushed her back inside. “I’ll take care of it.”

Elise still had the knife, but she had left it at her cabin. She was prepared to kill him bare-handed if he attempted to hurt her.

But the man was surprisingly kind.

“Are you okay?” he asked, stepping toward her slowly, hands extended, as though trying to soothe a bird of prey with a broken wing. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”

She didn’t have anything to say to him.

He continued. “We have more food inside. You can take whatever you need.”

Elise could barely hear him over Victoria.

She tensed as he approached, but there was no need to defend against this person. Elise was as fluent in the language of aggression as in English, and there was nothing aggressive in the old man’s posture. He moved with a slight limp. Probably scoliosis. He wouldn’t have been a danger to her even if he did attack.

He offered her a loaf of bread off of the table.

“Take it,” he said.

She snatched it from his hand. It dangled from her fingers as Victoria arched against Elise and complained loudly about the coldness of the air.

“My wife had three children,” he said. “Two of them were mine. I raised all of them from tiny babies.” He came closer and stroked his finger down Victoria’s cheek, eyes filled with the remembered love of new fatherhood. She had no idea how he could look so adoring while that newborn was making such noise. “You’ll miss these moments.”

Elise highly doubted that.

“I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but I think she’s hungry.” His tone was gentle, that of a man who thought she was stupid from trauma, or stupid from drugs, and needed to have things spelled out to her very carefully. “Have you put her on the breast yet?”

Put her on the breast. The words alone made her lip curl.

“I could get you formula from the general store,” he offered.

That was a charity Elise didn’t want to accept. Besides, her nipples were dripping something yellow, and the baby was slamming her face into the breast. Those uncoordinated motions looked like a baby who was enjoying a Black Death concert—or, likelier, a baby who wanted to eat.

“I don’t know how,” Elise said stiffly. Breastfeeding was supposedly natural, but not instinctive. She didn’t know how to make the baby eat.

“Here,” the man said, pulling a folding chair out of the cargo hold on his RV.

Grudgingly, Elise allowed him to sit her in the folding chair. She supported the baby’s butt one-handed while he pushed the head toward her breast, guiding the baby with the patient hands of a man who had helped his wife feed several babies of their own. Victoria did the rest; she closed her mouth around the nipple and began to suck.

It hurt.

Elise frowned.

“Three babies,” the man said fondly, thumb stroking over the soft spots on the back of the baby’s skull. “You really will miss this.”

She still doubted that.

But at least Victoria had shut up.

The Second Coming: Chapter One

The conversation started like this:

“No,” she said. “Never.”

And he said, “Okay.”

The second time it came up, it was much the same, as well as the third time.

When he brought that conversation up a few centuries later, she told him, “If you mention that one more time, I will never speak to you again.”

And he said, “Okay.”

He didn’t bring it up again. He loved her enough for that.

The idea of it never left her, though. The conversation unfolded in her mind in the millennia to come. She looped around the subject, at first offended that he’d had the nerve to bring it up so often in the first place, and then angry that she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Eventually, her internal conversation changed. She stopped wondering why. Instead, she caught herself looking at him sometimes and wondering, “Why not?”

After all, she loved him enough for that.

“Okay,” she finally said after some indeterminate length of time. They were watching stars whirl around a black hole and idly kicking their feet in a puddle of tepid water. The void smelled like rotting apples. “We can do it.”

“Are you certain?” he asked. If he’d had a face, he probably would have been smiling.

“Yes. I’m sure.”

She wasn’t, but he knew better than to push.

That was how it ended.

That was how everything ended, eventually.

She knew that the fallout was going to be bad, but she figured that they were owed one selfish decision after all that time, no matter how many people died for it.

The assassin turned off the power to the hospital before slipping in through the back door. The backup generator kicked on, but it only addressed essential life support systems. Lights were not essential. It was dark in the depths of night. There was thunder and rain outside and a sort of low-level panic inside.

The nurses wouldn’t show that they were afraid, but they were. It would take a long time for the electricians to arrive on such a stormy night. They muttered to each other about the last time the generator had been serviced and whether it could last long enough to keep their patients alive.

Nobody was worried about the maternity ward in such a small, remote hospital.

There was only one patient in labor that night. She was young and healthy, and she had been pushing for an hour. It wouldn’t be long before she was done. There was no reason to expect an obstetric emergency.

They also wouldn’t have expected the assassin to make a beeline for the lone laboring mother-to-be.

But why would there have been an assassin at a rural hospital in the middle of a stormy night anyway?

“What if it’s an angel?” muttered one nurse to another, unaware that an assassin was slipping past them in the shadows.

“None of the equipment would work if it were an angel,” the other nurse replied. “Their aura doesn’t turn off power. They disable all electronics just by standing nearby. I saw a piece about it on the Vince and Kelly show.”

“What do Vince and Kelly know? Their bit on child beauty pageants was unresearched crap.”

“They had an interview with an actual angel. I think the angel knows how his stuff works.”

“I think you need to watch fewer morning TV talk shows…”

Their conversation faded as the assassin turned a corner, ducked into a staff room, grabbed scrubs sitting on the table. He removed his leather armor. There were weapons strapped to his shriveled limbs: a knife on each of his hips, one iron and one silver; an enchanted handgun at his ankle; a sword as long as his calf on the opposite leg.

He crumpled the scrubs in his fist, shut his eyes, and absorbed their essence.

When he opened his eyes, he was dressed. He looked like a surgeon. His name badge said that he was Dr. Driscoll. All of his weapons were hidden.

The new Dr. Driscoll kicked his armor behind a trash can and returned to the hallway.

Now he didn’t need to hide as he sought out his target. It was too dark for any nurses to realize they had never seen a doctor like him in the hospital before. He was a short man-like creature with a stocky body and arms like twigs. The scrubs made him look human. His confidence made sure that nobody looked at him twice.

Leather straps creaked softly under his scrubs as he entered the maternity ward. The secured double doors didn’t function on generator power. A male at the nurses station glanced at Dr. Driscoll, then returned to trying to sort through his files.

A woman was screaming elsewhere in the ward.

He followed that sound as it rattled off of the linoleum, bounced off of the walls, slithered through his brain.

She was here. She was really here.

This was the end.

The assassin checked the chart on her door. He was unsurprised to find that the patient was registered under a pseudonym: Danaë McCollum. She would never have used her real name. She was far too notorious, even in this time and place.

Using her real name would have triggered flags in the government’s databases. It would have led to the deployment of agents from the Office of Preternatural Affairs, who were specially trained to handle inhuman threats. They wouldn’t have known what to do with her. They wouldn’t have been capable of doing anything but die. But it might have slowed Dr. Driscoll’s approach, and he was grateful to have his entrance unobstructed.

Through the window in the door, he studied the laboring mother. A nurse was trying to talk to her. Trying to calm her down. But the mother was crouching beside the bed, gripping the railing in both hands, naked except for a pair of surgical gloves. Amniotic fluid was puddled between her feet.

Dr. Driscoll studied the severe lines of muscle in her straining back and thighs. Her jaw was clenched, shoulders taut as she shrieked her fury through a contraction. Auburn curls were plastered to her sweaty forehead. She had burst a vessel in her eye.

The nurse was trying to tell her to get into bed.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” the mother said. “Don’t fucking touch a fucking thing!”

“Deep breaths,” the nurse said.

The mother-to-be would never be more distracted than in this moment.

Dr. Driscoll entered.

He remained in the shadows near the wall, holding the chart to conceal his motions as he drew the iron knife from within his scrubs. It was not merely iron, but stamped with runes for a quick death. The importance of a quick death had been impressed upon Dr. Driscoll. He wasn’t to enjoy her suffering. He was to make sure that she was dead as quickly as possible and then slaughter the fetus as well.

Once the mother was dead, he could murder the others in the hospital at his leisure.

Soon, soon.

“Thank God you’re here, doctor,” the nurse said. She must have thought he was the obstetrician. “I was sure you wouldn’t be able to make it through the storm.”

He didn’t reply. His growling voice would have betrayed his identity.

Another contraction struck the mother. She reached between her legs with one hand, feeling her vagina, her bulging perineum, her swollen labia.

Words spilled from her, angry and harsh, almost as guttural as the assassin’s voice would have been. “It’s coming,” she said, “it’s coming, get away from me, don’t fucking touch me—”

“What do I do? She won’t get in the bed and this baby is coming fast,” the nurse said to Dr. Driscoll. Her name tag identified her as Nurse Caraway. Today was going to be a bad day for Nurse Caraway.

He lunged for the laboring mother.

It would be a swift death. Dr. Driscoll’s knife was sharp. His aim was flawless. It was easy to pick out the woman’s shoulder blades, the ridges of her spine under her peach skin, and know where the heart would be waiting within the cage of her ribs.

But he only made it two steps before she twisted.

Her eyes fell on him.

“For fuck’s sake,” she said.

His hand snapped forward, driving the knife toward her heart.

The bitch dodged. He had no idea how it was possible—she was contracting, bleeding, forcing a baby through her cunt—but she dodged and seized his arm. Her grip was incredible. Even more incredible was how easily her teeth sank into his wrist, drawing blood that sizzled like magma and severing the tendons in his fragile fingers.

He released the knife. He couldn’t help it. She had mangled his hand swiftly, just like that.

With his knife in hand, the laboring mother hurled herself away from him. The contraction made her slower. She struck the slick linoleum on her side, mouth wide in an endless scream. She clutched his knife in one fist. The other hand dropped between her legs to check the position of the bloody head emerging from her vagina.

“Oh my God!” Nurse Caraway was shrill. She would attract attention.

Dr. Driscoll flung his second knife. It sliced through the air and embedded into her throat, instantly drowning her in bubbling blood, silencing those screams.

“Rise,” he said, and she did. The nurse got to her feet almost as quickly as she had fallen, eyes rolled into the back of her skull, head lolling on her neck.

She was dead. She was animated.

She attacked the mother.

Nurse Caraway’s body flung itself over Dr. Driscoll’s intended victim, who lifted both of her knees in defense, kicking hard enough to send the nurse flying. She smashed into the wall. But she was dead and nothing hurt. She quickly righted herself, arm hanging from her shoulder at a strange angle, and seized an IV pole with her remaining hand.

She brought the pole swinging down on the mother, who kicked it away before it could land. Even now, she was fast. Every blow the zombie brought upon her was deflected. Her abs clenched, her spine arched, she screamed in pain, and she directed all that fury into seizing Nurse Caraway by the head.

The mother wrenched her to the floor. She climbed onto Nurse Caraway, punched her in the face with the hilt of the iron knife. Blood sprayed.

Dr. Driscoll fumbled for his gun.

“Fuck,” the mother said, reaching down to turn the baby’s shoulders, allowing it to emerge fully.

A wet slap. A cry.

The fetus had emerged from the woman’s vagina, slipping to the floor while tangled in its cord. It was a hideous thing: swollen and white, pale like death, smeared all over in jelly. Little more than larvae.

For an instant, the mother was limp on the floor beside Nurse Caraway, shivering. Her face was screwed with pain. Her vagina gaped. There was a minor tear on her perineum and Dr. Driscoll smelled fresh blood.

Then she was on her knees.

He lunged again, knowing it would be too late. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to kill her now that she had warning that he’d come for her life.

The mother scooped the infant into one arm, tucking it against her ribcage like a football. She shifted her grip on the knife. Brought it down on Dr. Driscoll’s arm when he tried to lift the gun, hacking through the joint cleanly. She was so strong. She knew just how to angle the cutting edge so that it would go between the bones and amputate him.

And then the knife was under his chin, through his brain.

He clawed at the hilt of the knife sticking out of his jaw, even as his vision faded. Even as his acid blood spilled across the floor.

The naked mother stood over him, frowning in a way that made her look more annoyed than fearful. In fact, there was no hint of fear in her eyes. He hadn’t even surprised her.

“Give me a name,” she said, breasts swaying as she panted, knife dangling loosely between forefinger and thumb. “Tell me who sent you.”

He would have given it to her. Oblivion was coming, and he didn’t want to deal with her anger on the other side.

Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to speak.

She probably shouldn’t have killed him so quickly.

Oh well. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and she’d been distracted.

The mother checked Nurse Caraway for signs of life, but she, too, was dead, and unable to provide any form of assistance.

“Fuck me,” the mother said.

She looked down at the squirming infant draped over her arm, slicked with blood and amniotic fluid, connected by a long umbilical cord that still led into her body. Another contraction rolled through her abdomen. The placenta would be delivered shortly.

The baby was coughing wetly, cheek pressed to her forearm, fists flailing.

The woman tilted her head to look between the baby’s legs. Even in the darkness of the emergency lights, she could make out the shape of a vulva swollen by hormones, caked with that sticky white stuff that had come from the womb.

“A girl,” she said aloud, because it seemed like the kind of thing she should do. “It’s a girl.”

Her uterus contracted. She grunted.

The placenta oozed from her vagina and splattered to the floor beside the assassin. She severed the umbilical cord with a knife. It was tougher than she expected, more like tendon than mere flesh, but it was no more difficult than killing someone.

And just like that, the baby was forever separated from her body, no longer merely carried within her womb and easily forgotten.

Now she had to do something with it.

She shifted her grip. The baby nuzzled her breasts, making angry wheezing sounds. The mother’s upper lip curled in distaste.

“What the hell am I going to do now?”

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!


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)

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