Fatal Ties – Chapter 1

Ready for a sneak peek at Lillim 7?

**

Chapter 1

Waking up to find my father standing over me with three days of stubble on his cheeks was almost as shocking as finding myself lying in a bed in the abandoned city of Lot because my father shaved every day. You could set a clock by it. Only he hadn’t shaved and by the way his eyes snapped to my face the moment I’d moved made it pretty obvious I was the cause. Damn.

“Lillim!” My father, Sabastin Callina, cried as he rushed forward and gathered me into a tight hug that caused my bones to creak. “Thank the gods you’re okay.” He swallowed hard, tears rimming his eyes as he buried his face in my neck. He smelled like stale sweat and loneliness, which I hadn’t even known was a scent until that moment. Gone was his normal smell, like pine trees and springtime. It was sort of sad because I missed the smell of him. Wow, that was a weird thing to miss.

“Dad, I’m glad to see you too,” I replied, unable to help the sudden rush of emotion brought on by his display. Truth be told, while I’d been locked away in the prison of my mind, I’d missed him. He’d always been my rock, my anchor, and to see him breaking down because of me, well, it broke something inside me too. Tears filled my eyes as I latched onto him and cried.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he replied, hugging me tighter. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you and your mother.”

A wave of guilt swept over me because, well, I’d wasted the last day or so hanging out in my prison of illusions so I could pretend my mom was still alive for one last day. It was sort of pathetic, I know, but trust me. Sometimes, even a fake reality is good enough, at least for a little while. Even still, that’d meant my dad had been sitting here waiting for me to wake up, and I hadn’t been prepared for the wave of guilt that crashed into me.

“Sorry,” I replied, and I meant it. This wasn’t like the fake “uh huh’s,” “okay’s,” and “I’m sorry’s” I’d said over the years. I actually felt bad for putting him through it for that last day. Hell, I felt bad I’d let myself get tricked by the Nordic deity Jormungand and gotten myself locked away in my own mind.

Normally, I was pretty good at beating the tar out of supernatural jackasses, but this guy had jumped into my brain and kicked the doors open. Getting him out had been one of the toughest things I’d ever done because the sweet nothings he’d whispered in my ears were everything I’d ever wished for. I’d wanted my mom to be alive and happy with every ounce of my being.

“It’s okay.” My father shook his head as he pulled away and wiped his eyes with the back of one scarred hand. “Amy told me you would wake up, so I didn’t worry that much.”

“Amy?” I asked, shaking my head in confusion. “Who the F is Amy, and how did she know I’d wake up? I barely survived.”

He quirked his eyebrow at me. “Language, Lillim.”

I blushed. “Sorry.” See, that was a fake apology.

“Amy is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. War to be exact.” As he sat on the bed beside me and patted my thigh, he rolled his eyes at me as if he knew how ridiculous that statement sounded out loud. “She knew you’d wake up because Jormungand was dead.” He took a deep breath. “Said you had some things to work through first.” He sighed. “I just didn’t think it’d take you months to do it.”

“Months?” I asked as a horrible feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. Surely, I hadn’t been trapped that long… “I was only in there a day after I punched Jormungand in the face.”

“No, sweetie. Maybe it felt like a day, but it wasn’t.” Emotion swam across his face, and he looked away from me. “But it makes me feel better you only think it was a day.” He left the whole “It’s good to know you didn’t abandon me to sit here and wait for months on end” part of his statement unsaid, but I almost wished he had said it because at that moment, I almost wanted him to lash out. Then I could get mad at him and drown the sudden shame I felt under a wall of rage. Guess I wasn’t getting off that easily.

“How could I have been gone for months?! What about Thes and Connor, and oh my god, what about Fenris? He was trying to break free and devour the sun and moon when I was unconscious!” I said, nearly leaping to my feet. The only thing that stopped me were the sheets tucked around my legs with hospital-like precision. My muscles had atrophied to the point where I couldn’t budge them, especially with the weight of my father pinning them to the bed. Oh man was that a bad sign.

“Fenris is dead. Thes came back home. He and Connor are busy battling trying to keep Loki’s forces at bay while the Horsemen confront Loki and Bel.” My father looked at me in a way that suggested he wasn’t talking crazy, but that was impossible because it sounded abso-freaking-lutely crazy.

“Wait, time out, flag on the play,” I replied, holding my hands out in front of me. “None of that makes any sense.”

He rubbed his temples wearily with one hand. “I forgot. You’ve been unconscious since Ragnarok started.”

“What do you mean Ragnarok started!” I cried and this time I managed to leap to my feet, atrophied muscles be damned. I tottered unsteadily on the cold steel floor before flopping onto my butt, which was pretty embarrassing since I only appeared to be wearing a very short hospital gown, and oh my god, had my father been changing me this whole time…?

He stood and offered me his hand. I didn’t take it because I was too busy feeling indignant. Instead, I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him like this was his fault, even though it wasn’t. If I hadn’t spent that day with my mom, I’d have woken up in time to stop all this. I mean, okay, I wasn’t big-headed enough to believe I could have stopped Ragnarok by myself, but I could have done something. Hell, anything would have been better than lying if a goddamned bed while the world tried to spin itself off its axis. Stupid world. Stupid Norse Gods.

“Ragnarok, the Nordic apocalypse, began when Jormungand died.” He pointed at my head as if to say, “You were there for that, sweetie.” It was weird because the sound of his voice in my head was strangely patronizing. “Fenris rose soon after, but the Horsemen stopped him.”

“Well, at least we have that going for us. What are the others doing?” I asked, glancing down at the IV taped to my arm. It wasn’t attached to anything thankfully, or I might have torn it out when I fell. “And by others, I don’t mean Thes and Connor or the Horsemen you keep talking about.” I took a deep breath and shut my eyes as the absurdity of my situation settled around me. I was this close to just going back to bed. “This is not how you deal with people who’ve been in a coma for months. What happened to taking things slowly?”

“Time will not allow for that,” my father replied, kneeling down next to me and touching my shoulder. “If it did, I’d give you all you require, but as it stands, you must rise and fight, my daughter. It is the only way.”

“The Hell?” I asked, and as I reached out toward him, I realized he hadn’t answered my question. “Dad, Where’s the rest of the Dioscuri?”

“Not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking.” He shook his head. “Most are with Thes and Connor, but there are none who can truly stand against the forces rising above us. They need a champion, someone who can avenge the fallen.” He looked hard at me. “They need you, Lillim.”

Of course they did. Everyone always seemed to need me when the chips were down, when they needed someone to go in and get dirty. They wanted me to be the hero they needed, just like Dirge had been. They needed someone to make the ultimate sacrifice, and like always, that was my goddamned legacy. It was complete bullshit, but at the same time, this wasn’t just anyone asking me. No, this was my father, and if he wanted me to do this, if he wanted me to strap on my swords and wade into battle, I would.

“And what about you?” I asked as the gizmo on his wrist started to beep. He glanced at it and sighed.

“I have not killed a god in battle. You have. You need to stand tall and show them we can do it. I cannot do that. Besides, if we hope to win this battle, I need to stay here and help properly deploy our forces across the battlefield.”

“Oceans would boil, the world would fall in the sun, yadda, yadda, yadda,” I growled, getting to my feet, and as I did, I realized it was a bit easier to do than I expected. I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly, but either way, I understood what he wanted, and as much as I hated the idea, I knew he was right.

With him stuck here playing commander and my mother dead, the family business of kicking ass and taking names would fall to me. It was almost worse because Masataka had decimated the high ranking Dioscuri forces with his coup, and Warthor and Kishi were stuck in Fairy.

Even Caleb wasn’t really a Dioscuri anymore. As that thought flitted across my brain, a surge of anger filled me.

“Dad, where’s Caleb?” I asked, already moving toward the door. I guess it was a good thing there was a war going on because if I stayed here and thought about how I’d been in a coma for months and my God of Time boyfriend hadn’t been here when I woke up, I’d scream. I mean, I know he probably had a good reason, but still. Coma!

“With the Horsemen,” he replied, getting to his feet and coming toward me. It wasn’t hard for him to catch me since my legs were already tired, and I’d made it all of ten feet. Some champion I was.

“Awesome,” I grumbled, shaking my head to ward off the sudden pang of hurt that caused me. Caleb was doing his duty, sure, and it made sense for him to be doing that, but I’d have liked to have been important enough to merit a visit.

“Where are you going?” he asked as his watch beeped again, this time eliciting shrill angry noises.

“To Dirge’s crater. I think I recovered Isis when I was in the dream world.” I took a deep breath. “If that’s true, the sword will be in the crater, and if you want me kicking asses like I just ran out of bubblegum, I’ll need her.”

Heart of Gold is Here!

So my collaboration with JB Garner is finally here. The early reviews are coming in, and it looks like this will definitely be a fan favorite! Feel free to pick up a copy on Amazon US or Amazon UK. It will be just $0.99 until 8/2/16!

HeartOfGold

My name is Frank Butcher, and when I got out of my truck to deliver the last package of the day, I never expected to get blown up by anti-magic zealots.

Yeah, you heard me right. I said magic. I didn’t know it was a thing either.

Now, an ancient artifact is the only thing keeping me alive, and to make matters worse, that artifact is what those cultists wanted.

Still, I could have made a run for it, disappeared down into South America and spent the rest of my life on a beach. I nearly did it, but I didn’t.

Why? Because the cultists have offered me a trade. Come to them or they start killing kids.

Read the first chapter here.

Worker Bee

I feel like I’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now, and to be perfectly honest, it sort of feels like too many balls in the air.

Claimed just came out last week, and I finished the final draft on Monday. I mean, that’s crazy, especially considering I’m already twenty percent of the way through a new Lillim book.

Heart of Gold is coming out next week, and the sequel Feet of Clay, is well under way.

The Magic & Mayhem Boxed set comes out in early August.

It’s almost too much.

So what did I do? I penned a deal with USA Today Bestselling author Conner Kressley. We’re going to do a trilogy together, the first of which will be out in October. We’re getting pretty into it now, and it’s pretty good if I do say so myself.

In even bigger news, I and some pretty sweet other authors are putting together a boxed set filled with original fiction. (My story will feature Mac Brennan.) We’re still in talks, but I’ll have more information soon.

I also got the cover for a stand alone Danton novel.

Guh. Just guh.

Claimed – Chapter 1

Interested in the first chapter of Claimed, the fifth book in the Thrice Cursed Mage series? I thought you might be =D

**

Chapter 1

When I opened my eyes, the first thing I noticed was the sheet covering my face, leaving me in pitch-black darkness. As my vision started to adjust, I found myself unable to make out more than cursory details, and as I tried to move, I found I couldn’t. At least not really. The frigid, frozen walls surrounding me were so close, they restricted movement to only a few inches.

I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten here. The last thing I remembered was being wheeled into surgery after Jenna, my ex-girlfriend, put a couple .45 caliber bullets in my gut. Now that I thought about it, my stomach didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. Curious, I explored my belly with one numb hand. What I found was especially disconcerting because I could feel two distinct flaps of scabbed over flesh. Only that made no sense. Shouldn’t there have been stitches and a bandage at the very least?

Then again, I wasn’t a doctor. Maybe this was normal. At least, I tried to tell myself that, but if fifteen seasons of ER had taught me anything, it was that people recovering from surgery usually woke up in bed, not shivering in an icy tomb.

Okay. I needed to figure out what was going on. I sucked in a breath that tasted of formaldehyde and called on my power, but as I tried, twenty sticks of dynamite exploded in my head. A cry I barely bit down threatened to leap from me as I shook with agony. Sweat trickled down my forehead as I sucked in a huge gulp of air that tore down my throat like a radioactive chainsaw.

“What the fuck?” I tried to say aloud, but the words caught in my throat and came out in an indecipherable rasp. It was probably for the better since I had no idea what was going on. I needed to calm down. I was lying in a pitch black coffin, it was cold as balls, and near as I could tell, I’d been stitched up by Dr. Frankenstein himself. Those were all bad signs to be sure, but on the other hand, I was alive.

Besides, I was Mac Brennan, and I never let a little thing like whatever the hell this was stop me.

I slowly released a breath that came out in a burst of icy fog and pulled one foot back as far as I could. I wasn’t sure which direction would lead me out, but I wanted to try using my legs before I went all “Hulk Smash!” on the solid steel three inches from my face. Just as I was about to try kicking my way out, I heard voices.

“Look, Doc, I believe you when you say he’s dead, but why don’t you just let me check to make sure, okay? I’d hate to have things get messy because if he isn’t actually dead, things will get messy real fast.” The voice had a weird sort of Texas drawl that reminded me of moneyed oil tycoons and cigars.

His words chilled me in a way that was completely unlike the cold surrounding me. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to me, but something told me if I was in an icy, pitch-black box, whoever was out there thought someone in here might be dead.

Still, that didn’t make sense. I’d been in surgery. So how could I have wound up in a morgue? Hadn’t Ricky gotten the vampire blood in time to save me? Evidently not, otherwise the doctors would have stitched my wound shut and I wouldn’t be locked in a freezer. Goddammit.

As that horrible realization settled over me, another thought surged to the forefront of my mind. Why hadn’t Ricky come back? Was she okay? I had to find out. Now.

“The victim suffered two GSWs to the stomach. As they attempted to surgically remove the bullets, a gas line explosion leveled the goddamned building. Rescue crews dug him out of the rubble three days later. He had no pulse. Trust me, Mr. Sargent, he’s dead.”

Holy fuck, did they think I was dead? No, that couldn’t be. Surely I’d just been put on ice for some reason. I just needed to find out what was going on.

“Look, it’s just a matter of protocol. The people I work for won’t accept he’s dead if I don’t have a look at him myself.”

“I sliced him open without anesthesia and he didn’t so much as peep. If he were somehow alive, he’d have felt it, trust me. People tend to notice when I root around in their guts.” I heard something rattle as the girl who I assumed was the doctor spoke. “I pulled these .45 caliber rounds out of his stomach. Trust me. He’s dead.”

What she described sounded an awful lot like what happened to me. I took a long, slow breath, and strained to listen harder. I wasn’t sure who Sargent was, but I had a bad feeling about him. Only someone who wanted to make sure I was dead would go through this much trouble.

“Like I said, Doc. I believe you.” He rapped on the metal next to my feet. “Just open her up and let me have a look-see. I’ll be out of your hair before you can say Bananas Foster.”

“Bananas Foster,” the doctor deadpanned, but I could already hear the defeat in her voice. She was going to let him look if he kept needling, and while I didn’t know who the Texan was, I was starting to think him finding me alive wouldn’t end well for me. No, he had to think I was dead long enough for me to escape.

And I had to escape. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. There was no way Ricky would let them stick me in a morgue unless something had happened. No, she’d be dragging me all over this godforsaken planet in an effort to bring me back. At least, I thought she would. It’s what I’d have done if our situations were reversed.

“Doc, my friend Benjamin thinks it’s fine.” I heard a wad of cash slap against a metal counter. “All his buddies want you to open her up too. Don’t be a party pooper.”

“Fine,” the doctor replied with a heavy sigh, her resolve broken under the onslaught of money.

A moment later, I heard metal scraping against metal beside my feet, and I hastily pulled the sheet back up over my face and lay perfectly still. Why? Because it was pitch black in here, and chances were good that the moment I was exposed to the light, I’d be blind as a bat. If I was about to fight for my life while naked and sliced open, I wanted to be able to see. It probably wouldn’t help, but it damned sure wouldn’t hurt.

I shut my eyes and tried to calm myself as the door at my feet opened, spilling cool, antiseptic light into my tiny coffin. The sound of a thousand ball bearings sliding beneath my body filled my ears as my tray was wheeled out. I kept my eyes narrowed into thin slits and held my breath as light spilled over my face. It was blindingly bright, and it took everything in me not to cringe away from the light.

“See, dead,” the doctor said, pulling back my sheet. She was a tiny woman and old enough to be my grandmother. Her hand shook with a very slight tremor as she gripped the sheet in one paper-thin fist. “Now leave.”

“Well, hold on a second, Doc,” the Texan said, studying me with his cold gray eyes. He had reddish blonde hair that fell to his neck and a bushy handlebar mustache straight out of a John Wayne movie. He tipped his white Stetson back and leaned in close to me. His nostrils flared as he inhaled next to my face. “Just as I thought.”

“What did you think, Mr. Sargent?” the doctor asked as the Texan reached back very slowly with his left hand.

“This son of a bitch isn’t dead. Don’t be sour about it, Doc. I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with one of those mean sons of bitches, but they’re damned hard to kill.” He brought up a Colt Anaconda with a six-inch barrel, and I had a pretty good idea of what he planned to do with it.

Before he could put a .44 Magnum round in my skull, I reached out with my right hand and grabbed his wrist. Agony unlike I’d ever felt before raged through every ounce of my being. My abdomen felt like it was on fire as I strained against him, barely slowing the gun on its path toward my head.

“Zombie!” the doctor screamed as I tried to keep the Texan from blowing my brains out.

“Not quite, darlin’,” Sargent replied as a grin spread across his lips. The gun leveled against my forehead despite my best effort to push him away. “But I’ll send him back to Hell, anyway.”

“Sorbeo,” I whispered, and a surge of energy leapt from the man and into me in a crazy, wild gush as he pulled the trigger.

Heart of Gold – Chapter 1

I thought you all might want to take a look at Heart of Gold. The first chapter of the Urban fantasy novel by J.B. Garner & myself.

**

Chapter 1

My name is Frank Butcher and when my mother looks up ‘underachiever’ in the dictionary, I swear she sees my picture. I’m not sure that’s quite fair since I was in the military. Sure, I work as a delivery boy for APD (That’s American Parcel Delivery) now, but that was after I fought for my country.

At the time, it offered me the cash to pursue my true passions: music and movies. Well, listening and watching them anyway. I mean, okay, technically you’re not supposed to watch movies while driving around on the clock, but who’s gonna know?

Besides, I look damned handsome in those green shorts.

And this good-looking SOB was about to do his favorite delivery of the day. The last delivery.

Sure, I was a bit late when I approached Doctor Gabriela Perez’s oncology (that’s the ten-dollar word for ‘cancer medicine’) clinic, but it was summer, and I’d spent the whole day sweating through deliveries. To top it off, I’d stopped to help an old lady with her breakdown on the interstate. No big deal, just a stall-out caused by some corroded battery contacts. Anyone could have handled that, right? Anyway, the ladies at the Doc’s office could cut me some slack. If they didn’t, well, happy hour was only a few minutes away.

This particular package looked like someone who shall remain nameless had drop kicked it into the truck, which was fine. If it was expensive, it’d be insured. Either way, it wasn’t my problem. It was just a hop, skip, and jump up the steps to the front door, which was good because it was hot and Inigo Montoya was about to avenge his father.

As I stepped up to the reception desk, the late afternoon sun streamed through the glass doors behind me. The front room was packed, which was pretty much the case every day I stopped by.

The Doc’s practice was one of the most successful on the West Coast, and I don’t mean in the ‘raking in the cash’ sort of way. She had the highest success rate on cancer treatment around. I wasn’t sure what she did exactly, but it was interesting enough to have made the news a time or two, not that the Doc ever rubbed it in anyone’s face. Yessir, the Doc was a real Mother Teresa type.

Cutting through the crowd, I made my way to the front desk and leaned across it. “Afternoon, Kit.” I smiled at the middle-aged receptionist wearing a simple grey cardigan with a cat shaped button above her left breast.

“Frank.” She nodded her frizzy head at me while taking in my tanned face and manly cleft chin before returning to her jumble of paperwork. “You’re late.”

“Hey, I got here, right?” I said, placing the package on the edge of her desk and flashing her my most conciliatory smile. Like always, she completely ignored it. You might say she’d been to this particular rodeo before. “Any pickups today?”

Kit rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. “I think so. Give me a second. I’m a bit overwhelmed here!” As if on cue, a guy with a massive bald spot dumped a clipboard full of forms onto the desk next to me and walked off without a word. Kit shot an angry glare at the guy’s back before turning her attention back to me. “Besides, you made me wait. Now you can wait.”

I turned, leaning against the desk and scanned the waiting room while trying to ignore the sea of sick and worried filling the chairs in front of me. “Good thing you guys are last on my route. Otherwise I’d just have to leave. We’re not allowed to wait, you know. Regulations.” I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but I was betting Kit didn’t know either. I hated waiting here. It stirred up way too many feelings. None of them good.

I shut my eyes, trying to picture something more interesting, like the triple beef burrito I’d had for lunch. Well, the half of it I ate, anyway. Half had gone to Pablo, one of the rugrats who lived on the corner. Kid’s only got his mom, and she has trouble making ends meet sometimes. Still, that’d been a couple hours ago, and my belly was already starting to rumble. Those half price hot wings couldn’t get in my stomach fast enough.

The loud rap of a clipboard on the Bakelite counter snapped me back to reality. “Mr. Butcher, please don’t fall asleep in my waiting room again,” the Doc said in her clear, concise, “I will gut you with my scalpel” tone of voice. “Last time, you fell over on Mrs. Guterres!”

“Sorry, Doc,” I said through a muffled yawn. Normally, the Doc was a lot nicer than this. Maybe I was finally wearing thin on her. I was good at that. Better be a good boy for a bit. “Won’t happen again.”

I turned to my right and nearly forgot how to speak. It happened every time I saw the Doc, because, frankly, Dr. Gabriela Perez was the highlight of my day. Dark skin, sharp green eyes, real easy to look at despite the conservative slacks, blouses, and doctor’s coats.

Not that I had any real romantic aspirations. Sure, I could charm her (I was a handsome devil, after all), but I respected her too much to try. She was both smart and dedicated, and judging by the patients I saw here every day, I was pretty sure the Doc wasn’t making any money here. Bring me your poor, your huddled masses, real “Statue of Liberty” shit. A real class act, I’m telling you.

“Long day?” she asked, and I got the impression she might actually be curious about what I did all day. I couldn’t tell her, and not just because I spent eighty percent of my time goofing off. No, as my manager had once told me over a particularly revealing beer, talking about the inner workings of the APD would kill the mystique.

“Well, we working men work, uh, hard.” That didn’t come out right. “Uh, anyway, Doc, pickups?”

“Here you go.” She unceremoniously shoved a small pile of boxes into my waiting arms. “Some of these things are extremely time-sensitive, Mr. Butcher. Would it be possible to maybe get them back in time for them to get sent out sometime today?” She flashed me a smile that made my heart beat so hard she must have heard it. “Please?”

I took a long hard look at the Doc. If I agreed to help her out, those hot wings would have to wait. Still, I was pretty fond of the Doc, and it wasn’t like she’d ever asked me to do this before. Besides, the other regulars would hold my place at the bar if I was a little late. Man, was I ever a sucker for a pretty face.

“You got it, Doc.” I winked. “Frank Butcher, delivery boy extraordinaire, is on the case.” I warded off the frown spreading across her face with what I hoped was a genuine-looking smile. “Seriously, Dr. Perez, I won’t screw this one up. I’ve got a super-secret route back to the office that will get me there well before closing.” I cocked a cheeky grin at her. “I’ll tell you about it over dinner sometime.”

The Doc’s frown quirked into a nervous smile. “All right, Frank, thank–” her voice seemed to trail off as her eyes looked past me “–you.” I should have caught on quicker. I’d been trained for this sort of thing, after all, but my head was still stuck up my ass. That head would have been taken off if not for Gabriela throwing us both to the ground.

The flash of heat and light almost blinded me outright as a fireball blew debris and broken glass across the room. I’d seen a surprising amount of explosions in my thirty-some-odd years, but this one was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My head smacked the tile floor with a wet crack, and a cry of pain tore from my lips as the Doc pushed herself off of me and looked around, eyes narrow and angry.

“Kit, the wards are down!” Gabriela commanded, her kindly inflections gone, her voice loud over the strange chants and the echoes of gunfire. “Get everybody out of here and call the White!”

“What the hell is going on?” I tried to ignore my wooziness and pushed up to my elbows. The floor beneath me vibrated with a deep shudder that accompanied breaching charges on the front wall. As the front wall crumbled to ash in a whirlwind of smoke, I found myself staring at the sunlight streaming into the room. The explosion should have thrown more debris across the lobby, but it hadn’t. Why?

Even through the growing cloud of dust and debris, I could see the Doc’s arms and fingers dancing through the air. Somehow, the entire building was more or less intact, and even more amazingly, while a few people looked battered and bleeding, only a couple people had been killed.

It was crazy because I’d been around explosions before and usually they rendered people into puddles. No, even though the windows and doors had been blown out, spraying broken glass and debris across the floor, there should have been more death and destruction. Sure, there was even a chair embedded in the far wall, but the rest of the furniture had fallen to the ground in front of most patrons like it’d hit an invisible wall.

I wasn’t sure how most everyone had survived with so little damage, but I was pretty sure it had to do with whatever the Doc was doing. I just wasn’t sure how she was doing it.

“Doc, what’s going on?” I asked as my heart thudded in my chest and my old instinct came surging forward. Cover. I had to find cover.

“You’re not involved, Frank, so you’re safe. Just keep down and get out through the back.” She said, glancing at me as I turned toward her in confusion. “Please.”

At the time, I was sure it was the ringing in my skull that added the glowing trails from her fingers as she spoke. Purple sparks from what had to be some crazy new munitions leapt from the counter beside us as bullets pinged off its surface. I ducked away, fearing ricochets, but thankfully none hit me.

The thing about the military is they ingrain in you the importance of keeping your head down and following orders. Taking that to heart, I slid myself out of the immediate line of fire. Guys who looked like a combination of fantasy cosplayers and survivalist nut jobs flooded through the ravaged opening in the hospital. They ignored the bleeding and wounded patrons as they moved to secure the room with military-like precision.

Black hooded tunics, fatigues, and an unhealthy amount of guns seemed universal, though the sizes and shapes under all that black were very different. Whoever they were, they didn’t seem to give two shits about the fact their initial volley had injured more than a few innocent cancer patients just minding their own business and blown the hospital waiting room to smithereens.

Sure, I’d seen crazy things during my time in the service, things I’d wished hadn’t happen, but that had been in a battlefield, not in a cancer hospital in the good old US of A. I wasn’t sure what their deal was, but I didn’t care either. It was time someone taught them a lesson.

As I found cover behind the counter, the Doc shouted something in what sounded like Latin while the rest of the people in the waiting room made a blind rush deeper into the clinic.

Another burst of gunfire seemed oddly muffled as if there was suddenly a foot of padded walls between us and them. My first instinct was to follow after everyone else. That’s what the Doc wanted me to do, and she seemed to have half a clue as to what was going on. Besides, I couldn’t afford to take a bullet for some lady I barely knew when I had my mom at home to worry about. There was one big problem though, a problem that made me curse what a damned idiot I was.

You see, at the end of the day, I’m not a guy who cuts and runs, not on people worth a damn. Now I know what you must be saying, “Frank, you may be the manliest and most handsome delivery man to ever grace a APD truck, but you sure as hell aren’t a hero. You aren’t the guy who runs toward the burning building. You sound like the guy who stuffs his hands in his pockets and walks away.” Well, you’d be right, I’m a lot of things, but one of them is definitely not that kind of hero.

Most folks will say a hero is the guy who runs toward the fire. Well, they’re idiots. Guys who run toward fires just want to see shit burn. The real hero is the guy who walks straight into where some lady is getting mugged, and just can’t walk away. Sure, that guy gets stabbed, but at least the lady is okay, right?

Me, I’m the guy who couldn’t walk away from a doctor who had the guts to stand her ground in order to give her patients and some piece-of-crap jerk who was always late with his deliveries a chance to get away. If you want to call me a hero for that, feel free. Or don’t. After all, heroes don’t wear green shorts.

So yeah, I popped back up, wishing I hadn’t left my pistol in my gun safe at home that morning. Then again, it was probably better that way since being a G.I. couldn’t have prepared me for what I saw.

A half-dome of force extended to the back wall of reception sprang forth from Gabriela’s outstretched hand, forming a translucent, glowing barrier that wavered in the air like a soap bubble. Bullets and honest-to-God fireballs bounced off of it like it was the shield on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Sweat poured down the Doc’s face, and while I wasn’t sure how she was doing what she was doing, it was obvious whatever juice she was running on was fading fast.

The black robes continued pouring lead into the shield, causing concentric circles of color to flow outward from the impact points while others chanted more fantasy mumbo-jumbo and waved their hands, conjuring balls of fire and light from thin air before hurling them at the glowing wall.

Two big dudes lumbered up from the back, each one as tall and wide as a pro-linebacker. Their black robes strained under the force of their muscles as they moved. That would’ve been manageable, but the real kicker was their heads. Now that their hoods and masks had been torn away. I saw them for what they were. Monsters.

One had the head of a bull complete with horns, flaring nostrils, and huge crimson eyes. The other’s head looked like Clayface from Batman, you know, if Clayface was the color of blood had some strange geometric symbols engraved on his forehead.

There’s a point where you push from stressed to mental shock and straight on through to crazy fight-or-flight, no-fucks-given mode, and thanks to all the crazy shit going on in front of my eyes, I was right fucking there. As the clay guy effortlessly shoved his hands through the Doc’s magic dome and peeled it apart like tissue paper, the entire room shrieked with a sound like nails on a chalkboard. Thankfully, most everyone was gone so it was just pretty much the Doc and me now. It made me glad I didn’t have to worry about getting any cancer patients past the minotaur and his clay-faced friend.

The Doc let out a small cry, stumbled back half a step, and glared at the monster. Another surge of light pulsed from her hands as the walking side of beef barreled through her shield like it was a soap bubble. Well, time for plan B. Get the fuck out of here.

I leaned over the counter and grabbed Dr. Gabriela Perez under both arms and managed to heave us both to the relative safety behind the sturdy counter. It was harder than it should have been, and I secretly promised any and all deities that if I survived this, I would stop skipping workouts and start skipping Taco Tuesdays instead.

“I’ve got you, Doc!” I tried not to sound too strained or out of breath, but it was hard.

“Frank, what are you doing?” She didn’t sound very appreciative of me saving her life. “I told you to run! Let me go so I can –”

I pulled us up from a crouch, ready to push us both into the clinic, my back to the front. “Thank me later and run!”

In hindsight, if I could do it all over again, I’d have let her arms go, let her do whatever mojo she’d been about to do. Instead, I carried through with my plan and pushed off, shielding her with my body.

Before we managed two steps, a big hand that smelled distinctly like musty fur and repressed rage clamped over my head and yanked me backward. As its fingers crushed my skull like it was made of eggshell, agony exploded inside my brain.

The Minotaur snorted derisively and threw me through the air like a sack of dirty laundry. As I smacked into the side wall and slid down in the most macho way possible, my vision went blurry, and I flopped onto the tile broken and bleeding.

Another ball of flame slammed into the wall not two feet from where I was crumpled into a heap. My bones shrieked in pain as I instinctively covered my head with my hands. Another wave of heat and sound crashed over me, and as I tried to cringe away from it, the only thought running through my brain was that I should have called in sick to work that day.

The Doc’s cry rippled through the room, and even though I could barely move, I tried to push myself toward that sound. I mean, I’m no hero, but how could I ignore that? I forced away the darkness encroaching on my vision and flopped forward on the tile in a desperate attempt to try to drag myself over to her. I wasn’t on my feet yet, but I’d solve that problem when I got to the two monsters. Then I’d give them a piece of my mind.

“Frank, watch out!” the Doc shouted, and I could just barely make out her gesturing to my left. I turned my head just in time to see a fizzy ball of golden doom explode. The blast threw me backward in a hail of agony, fire, and blood. Darkness encroached upon my vision so quickly that by the time my head thumped wetly onto the tile, I didn’t even feel it.

So, how are things?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a status update. I figured now was as good of a time as any. Heart of Gold, the secret project with JB Garner, is now with the editor and the cover I just got from Lou Harper is amazing. Expect to see it end of July, with Heart of Gold 2 coming end of August and Heart of Gold 3 coming in September. At least, that’s the plan now. We’re already writing book 2, so hitting the deadline shouldn’t be an issue. I hope.

I’m about 65% of the way done writing Cursed 5. It’s taking longer than I expected for a couple reasons. One was Heart of Gold took more time than I expected. The other was I’ve been juggling a lot of different balls. I expected to be done with the first draft by now, but man… Day jobs, right?

In other news, I just saw the mockups for the new covers for the Lillim Callina Chronicles, including Ghost World and Fatal Ties (I guess that makes them real, right?) and they’re simply amazing. Like, I seriously can’t wait to show them off. If you’re in the street team, you saw Pursuit, eh? The rest are even better. I mean, OMG Wardbreaker!

After I finish Cursed 5, which is titled Claimed, I’m going to start on the seventh Lillim book, Fatal Ties. I’m hoping for an August release. If not, September for sure. Either way, you’re getting a new Lillim book, and the tentative plan is for Thes from Under Wraps to play a major part in the book. I mean, we all read the ending to Unwrapped. If you haven’t you’re missing out.

The book after Fatal Ties is where I’m stuck. I’m working on a book featuring Danton from the Cursed series. I think I’m going to do that next and follow with Cursed 6. Or maybe I’ll do Cursed 6 and then the Danton book. Either way, that’s where I’m at.

Maybe I’ll do Dirge. I mean, it’s almost done. So much to do. Man, at this rate, I’m never getting to The Last Necromancer.

Once more with feeling!

Yep, we’re at it again. Ten New York Times, USA Today, and Internationally Bestselling Authors have have teamed up to bring you a SPECTACULAR prize — a full year of Kindle Unlimited, for FREE! Even better, this contest doesn’t just have one winner, but TWO! We’ll be giving this amazing one-year subscription to TWO lucky readers, PLUS you can earn unlimited extra entries!

Scroll down to learn more about the prizes and the fantasy book sponsoring this giveaway, or click here to enter:

Fantasy Readers Kindle Unlimited Subscription Giveaway

THE PRIZES:

TWO One-Year *Kindle Unlimited Subscriptions! (One Per Winner)

*For those of you who don’t know, Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service Amazon offers that is basically a Netflix for books. For less than $10 per month, you can read as many books as you want so long as they’re enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s a popular program amongst both authors and readers, so there are THOUSANDS of books to choose from!

Not sure whether or not this prize is as cool as we’re saying? You can try Kindle Unlimited for FREE for a full 30 days. Click the image below to get started!

Amazon-introduces-Kindle-Unlimited

THE SPONSORS:

Check out the awesome fantasy books sponsoring this giveaway! Many of these titles are FREE or free with kindle unlimited. Click any of the book cover images below to learn more:

Burned by Magic Cursed2

AscendancyTheArena-Final GretelCover

TheGhostsOfTheConqueredFinal TheDarkAbility2-Full

Betrayal's Price_Master_Large War of the Black Tower-1

Dead Man 13396907_10107692747199820_1846935394_o War of the Black Tower-1

Remember, there are TWO chances to win, plus you can earn unlimited entries. So what are you waiting for? Click here to enter the giveaway.

Seized is finally out!

Seized is finally out and you can get it on Amazon US and Amazon UK!

Seized

My name is Mac Brennan, and in order to save my family, I made a deal with a devil. Now, that demon has come to collect his due. If I want to get back to my family, I’ll have to pull off one last job.

It sounds simple enough. Save a kidnapped girl from the succubus who runs New York City. I’ll be honest, he had me at rescue a kidnapped kid because I’ll be damned if I let some poor girl get taken from her family when I have the power to save her.

My name is Mac Brennan, and apparently, I’m a sucker who risks his life to save children.

Read the first chapter here!

Seized – Chapter 1

Here’s the first chapter of Cursed 4, Seized! Enjoy!

**

Chapter 1

“Send me back, jackass,” I growled, glaring at Vassago. I could hardly believe the demon had trapped me in his interdimensional game room the moment I’d succeeded in rescuing my family. I mean, Jesus tap-dancing Christ, I’d fought my way through werewolves, vampires, and killed a demonic king of Hell to rescue my sister and my nephew. I was running on fumes as it was, and now, just when I had them in my sights, he picked now to call in his favor? Seriously? He couldn’t have given me even five minutes with my sister and nephew? What bullshit.

“I will gladly send you home if you beat me,” Vassago said, gesturing toward the dartboard on the wall. “Play me for it? Double or nothing? What do you say?” His lilting voice had a hungry, interested edge as he licked his lips and eyed me up and down in a way that made me feel like a piece of meat on a butcher’s counter.

I glared at the demon and gritted my teeth. Part of me wanted to play him. I’d won the last time we’d played at darts, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it again. I doubted he’d fall for the same trick he had last time, and I didn’t want to be further indebted to the slime ball. Besides, I had no idea what he wanted me to do. Maybe it was something simple. For all I knew, I’d be back with my family by dinner. Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

“Maybe another time,” I replied, waving his offer away with my black as pitch arm. My crimson tattoos glinted in the sterile light of his bar as a satisfied smile spread across the demon’s face.

“Pity, I was hoping to get more use out of you, Mac Brennan,” Vassago said, looking more pleased than a cat with cream. “Well, there’s always time for that. Maybe you’ll find you don’t want this to be a one-night stand after all.”

I had half a mind to grab my revolver out of my belt and put a bullet in his forehead just for the fun of it, but unfortunately, the gun was out of bullets. Instead, I turned on my heel and made my way behind his stocked bar.

Without bothering to ask his permission, I grabbed the most expensive thing I could find, a bottle of Dalmore 64 Trinitas, off of his shelf. I was partially surprised he had the whiskey since only three bottles had ever been made, and the last one had sold for over one-hundred-sixty-thousand dollars. Then again, he was a Prince of Hell. Knowing him, he’d gotten it to mix with Coke just to show he could. After all, what was money to a demon?

“You know how to pick ‘em,” Vassago said in his syrupy sweet drawl while sidling up beside me. He jerked the bottle from my grip with one hand and set it lightly on the counter in front of us. He pulled two glasses down off the shelf and plunked a huge chunk of ice in one. He opened the Trinitas and filled both glasses with three fingers worth. “You seem like the type who would like it neat.” He slid the iceless drink to me. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks,” I said, not even able to fathom how lucky I was to be holding a glass of Trinitas. I mean I still hated Vassago from the core of my black heart for stealing me away from my moment of triumph, but at the same time, I’d only heard about this whiskey in hushed whispers. I never in a million years thought I’d be able to drink it.

I wasn’t sure what his play was, but giving me thirty thousand dollars’ worth of whiskey was a pretty good way of calming me down after stealing me away, especially since my family was safe. Still, there had to be better ways to say “I’d like a minute of your time.”

“I was never really a fan of whiskey.” He swirled his glass for a moment and took a tentative sip. He made a face like someone had poisoned him. He shook his head and pushed the glass aside like he was content to let the ice melt until the perfect amber liquid turned into undrinkable sludge. “Or really anything that comes out of a wooden barrel. It just doesn’t do it for me.” He shrugged and reached into the fridge under the bar. He pulled out a forty ounce Mickey, popped the top, and took a huge swig. “That’s right, I own a bottle of Trinitas, and I still drink Mickey Four O’s.”

“Whatever floats your boat,” I said, understanding why he was a demon. Only a creature from the depths of Hell would trade a glass of Trinitas for a forty of Mickeys.

“Glad you’re not one of those judgmental types. You have no idea how much that’d upset me.” He took another gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of one hand.

“So what do you need me to do?” I asked before taking another sip of the Trinitas. I savored the sweet burn of the whiskey on my tongue. It was like a bunch of big-titted pixies pillow-fighting in my mouth. It was almost enough for me to ignore the sudden lump of guilt rising in the back of my throat. Almost.

Part of me couldn’t believe I was going to hear the demon out when I should be trying to get back home as soon as possible. Still, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice. There was no way out of this bar without Vassago’s say so, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to butter me up just to let me go.

Still, as fear for my family’s safety threatened to overwhelm my thoughts, the logical part of my brain reassured me my family was safe. After all, Ricky was with them, and she was the most powerful werewolf in the state.

Besides, if I wasn’t back home soon, I was pretty sure the devil who had given me my very own cursed arm would be more than happy to help me get back there if only to rub Vassago’s nose in it. She seemed antagonistic that way. Listening to the demon still didn’t sit quite right, mind you, but it sat well enough that another sip of whiskey was nearly enough to make me believe I’d get back to them alive.

“How do you feel about children?” Vassago asked, moving around the bar and seating himself at a stool. He patted the spot next to him before fishing a pretzel out of a bowl that resembled a skull that had been cut vertically in half. He popped it in his mouth as I sat down next to him. “Do you like them?”

“In what way?” I asked, hoping I would be able to finish my whiskey. I’d really hate to have to throw it in his face and smash the glass into his throat. If he was implying anything untoward, him and I were going to have a serious problem.

“In the way that you don’t like them being kidnapped so they can be ritualistically murdered to resurrect some two-bit nobody?” he deadpanned while eyeing me carefully. There wasn’t even a trace of humor in his voice, and something about that combined with the way he looked at me, made a snake of fear twist in my guts. “How did you think I mean it?” He raised an eyebrow at me.

“I’m not a huge fan of kids being ritually murdered,” I said very carefully. My mouth was suddenly so dry, even another sip of whiskey barely helped me get the words out of my mouth. I hate to say it, but I have a certain soft spot for kids in general, and the idea that kids plural were in danger of getting killed made me so angry, I could barely see straight. “Why do you ask?”

“Good. That’s what I’d hoped,” Vassago said, clapping me on the shoulder with one hand. “I’ve been recruiting a team to rescue said children. I need you on it.”

“Why?” I asked even though my first impulse was to agree to help on the spot. The last thing I wanted was for kids to be kidnapped and murdered. If I could save them, I was pretty much in, but there was one tiny problem. I didn’t trust Vassago even slightly. If he wanted me to save some kids, there had to be an ulterior motive the size of Kansas lurking around in the shadows. That was how guys like him operated. It wasn’t enough to watch the right hand while the left moves because if you were watching him move, it was already too late.

“Because you killed Van, and now the rescue is one Cursed short. Normally, I’d reschedule, but the cultists are sort of on a timetable. They’ll be going through with their dastardly plan despite the time being very inconvenient to me.” He spread his hands on the bar. “You see my dilemma.”

“Uh, huh,” I said, looking into my whiskey so I’d have somewhere to look that wasn’t at him. I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm even though I was on the cusp of freaking out. I didn’t want to do that, at least not with the demon eyeing me like the last candy in the bag. Everything inside me screamed “BAD IDEA!!!” and yes, there were that many exclamation points.

“What’s in it for you?” I asked because there was no way I was going to save a bunch of kids just to hand them over to him if he had something equally nefarious planned. I might owe him, but I’d never owe him that much.

“You know what the problem is with our world today?” Vassago said with a shrug before popping another pretzel in his mouth. “No one drinks from the skulls of their enemies anymore. It’s important because it shows those around you that you are not to be fucked with. Someone has forgotten that lesson and is trying to fuck with me. So yes, I need you to save some kids. Can you do that for me?”

“I can be down with rescuing kids, but I don’t understand why you care. Make me believe delivering them to you isn’t worse. Give me a reason to not pull a John Constantine and let you all burn,” I said even though I knew I ought to hightail it home, but kids. Kids. Goddammit, was I ever a sucker.

“Mac, do you think I want to harm children once you rescue them?” Vassago put a hand to his chest in mock horror. “That makes no sense. Why would I go to all the trouble of having you rescue them just to have them killed? No, no, no.” He shook his head. “If I wanted them dead, there’d just be a little accident– like a plane falling out of the sky or a gas line explosion. You know, something easy.”

The way he said those words made me think he’d actually done that before, and worse, that it was a perfectly natural thing for him to do. Part of me was surprised, although I didn’t know why. Vassago gave off an appearance of someone normal, so I kept thinking he was human, but he wasn’t just some fucked up human. He was a demon.

“Easy?” I had no choice. I took another sip of whiskey to calm myself. “I think the word you were looking for is evil.”

“You really are an innocent pup,” Vassago replied, pushing the pretzel-filled skull toward me. I ignored it.

“You wanted to cut John’s finger off when I missed a shot,” I said, gesturing at the dartboard with my whiskey. John was Sera and Danton’s eight-year-old son. Vassago and his Cursed, Van, had used John as a bargaining chip in a dart game that had almost ended very badly for both of us.

“Okay, you know what? I was being nice, but I need you to remember something since you seem to think you have a choice,” Vassago said, sliding off the stool and taking a step toward me. As he did, a ball of emerald flame leapt across the distance between us and hovered in front of my face like a miniature sun. “I don’t actually have to tell you anything. I don’t have to do anything in particular to get you to help me. I merely have to tell you what I want. You owe me, Mac.” Something dark and sinister flashed through his emerald eyes. A sudden surge of panic made the whiskey in my mouth turn acrid. Swallowing it was nearly impossible, but I managed to do it without choking.

“I know,” I whispered, surprised I could speak coherently.

“Good.” Something about the way he looked at me let me know refusing to help him would end very badly for me. I mean, I was going to do the job anyway, because of the kids, but I hadn’t wanted him to know that. Apparently, I’d been coming at this the wrong way. I couldn’t refuse. I was a slave. Well, fuck him then.

“Okay, I’m in. tell me what’s going on,” I said before throwing back twenty K worth of whiskey in a single gulp. I slammed the glass down on the bar and reached for his glass. I picked it up, eyeing the whiskey and trying to decide whether or not too much ice had melted. “Please.”

“Well, since you asked me so nicely, I’ll have you know that one of the children is the daughter of Douglas A. Prescott,” he paused and looked at me like I was supposed to know who that was, but I didn’t because I had lost all my memories. In fact, I couldn’t remember anything that’d happened more than a couple days ago, not even how I’d gotten my very own demonic arm. Unfortunately, Mr. Prescott hadn’t come up during that time period. “You don’t know who that is, do you?”

“No.” I shook my head and sipped his whiskey. The faintest hint of char touched the liquid. Was that because the demon had sipped it? I stared down at the drink, wondering if it was still safe to drink. It was so expensive I’d hate to waste it, but who knew what kind of diseases could be living inside Vassago’s mouth.

“I guess it doesn’t matter.” Vassago waved his hand like it was an unimportant point. “What does matter is Mr. Prescott and his wife will trade their souls to me in exchange for rescuing their daughter. It’s a very human thing if you think about it. Risking your eternal soul to save someone in this fleeting blip of an existence, but what can I say, getting souls from chumps pays the mortgage.” He grinned, showing his teeth, and as he did, the parallels to my own life were not lost on me. “I plan to collect both of them. You’re going to help me do it.”

“By saving the kids?” I asked, and he nodded very slightly. “Well, that makes sense.” Danton had told me who Vassago liked to prey upon. Parents with no hope left. Well, I’d make sure these parents hadn’t sacrificed their souls in vain, and with any luck, maybe I’d get them out of it too. “I hadn’t pegged you for the altruistic type.”

“You know what happened to the last guy who came to help humanity?” Vassago asked, getting up and snatching his drink from my hand. “You guys nailed him onto a wooden cross. If that isn’t a lesson in how undeserving humanity is, I don’t know what is.” He tossed the nearly full glass in the sink, and I watched in horror as the whiskey circled the drain. “I resolved on that day to never ever do anything for free.”

“Good to know,” I said as he put his arm around my shoulder and led me to toward the only door in the room. Apparently, there was no more whiskey in my immediate future. It was almost enough to break my heart. Still, the sooner this job was done, the sooner I could go home.

“By the way, Mac.” The demon gestured at the bottle of Dalmore 64 Trinitas. “If you ever touch one of my bottles without asking, you’ll spend the next decade cleaning the floor of a truck stop bathroom with your tongue.”

1 2 3 19