Throne to the Wolves – Chapter 1


Chapter 1

I sucked in a breath, drawing on my magic to slow the world around me down to ten frames per second. My target was up ahead, just coming out of the alley. He hadn’t seen me yet, and with any luck he never would. I sighted my sniper rifle on him and exhaled as I fired.

His head exploded into a cloud of red mist as what remained of his life splattered across the cinderblock wall behind him. As his body slid lifelessly to the pavement, a smile creased my lips, and I leapt to my feet in triumph.

“Boom! Headshot!” I cried, pumping my controller in the air as I did a little booty dance of victory.

Blair, my boss and the closest thing I had to a friend since I’d narrowly escaped getting brutally murdered a few years ago, glanced up at me from behind her D&D sourcebook and narrowed her eyes. She was sitting amid a plethora of dungeon guides, maps, and meticulously painted miniature figurines preparing for our nightly game. Evidently, she’d been too engrossed to pay attention to my stunning display of skill because if she had been watching, she’d be booty dancing in triumph too.

“This is a quiet space, Annie.” She gestured at the Do Not Disturb sign hanging beside her patched brown leather chair with one green-nailed hand.  She’d permanently borrowed the sign from our local library, which struck me as a bit horrible on the scale of things, but I’d learned to stop arguing about it with her. Every time I did, I got a lesson in taxes. Still, pointing at it while referring to me had become something of a pastime.

“Yeah, no one likes a braggart!” Badger said from his seat at the station next to mine. That wasn’t his real name of course, but ever since he’d perfected the voice of the guy from the honey badger video, that’s what we’d called him. He was a pretty normal looking guy with shaggy surfer-boy blond hair and a toothy smile. His brown eyes were perpetually dulled by something he’d neither confirm nor deny, but judging from his preference for stoner T-shirts, I was pretty sure I could figure it out on a timed exam. Hell, I wouldn’t even need multiple choice.

“You’re just mad because I’ve killed you ten times in a row, and now you have to buy me lunch,” I said, smirking at him as I gestured to his screen where his headless body was sprawled across the front of the alley. “Stop being such a scrub!”

I’ll be honest, I was about to taunt him some more, but the door at the front of our store chimed, signaling we had a customer. Actually, it probably wasn’t a customer. I mean, sure, Blair owned Wendigo’s Restoration Emporium, but no one ever came in here, and not just because it was tucked away on Magic Alley.

I mean, okay, technically we were in Los Angeles and normal people had stumbled in here on occasion, but chances were good anyone coming in had at least a little bit of magical chutzpah or they’d never wind up on our street.

Even though you didn’t have to tap a brick in the wall of a pub three times to enter Magic Alley, normal people tended to walk by our little street full of magical, mystical, and otherwise otherworldly shops like it didn’t exist. Hell, I’d had to stand at the corner more than once to physically direct a client down our street before they walked by it another hundred times. We didn’t even show up on the Los Angeles city maps.

The only reason Badger was able to even find the place was because he was a sensitive, which meant he’d drawn the short straw on the evolutionary scale. He had no magic of his own to speak of, but he could sort of sense it. Not enough to actually see magic per se, but enough to know Magic Alley was here. An enterprising artist, he’d wound up wandering in here a couple months ago looking for work because his Master’s in Fine Arts hadn’t opened many pathways for him, and he was buried under mountains of debt.

Thankfully, people like Badger were pretty rare, which was probably for the best since our shop was located next to the Black Arts Superstore. Non-mages buying bulk curses at discount prices? Not pretty.

To be honest, Blair put her shop here because she liked the way the other supernatural businesses kept the riffraff out. That was her rule number one: live around the rich and powerful, it might rub off. Or maybe that was rule two because I was pretty sure rule one was “if you can’t avoid paying taxes, at least make some creative deductions.”

Then again, while she might not have been powerful in the whole “blow up a building with a fireball” sort of way, since her powers practically made money grow on trees, she was really, really rich. That’s what happens when you get to be a couple hundred years old and have the ability to magically restore comics, artwork, and baseball cards to pristine condition.

Let’s just say, she’s on good terms with compound interest and collectors. So yeah, Blair didn’t need customers, but she loved writing off all her nerdy obsessions. See, more tax talk. Ugh. And I had to deal with said customers since it was technically my job. Double ugh.

“Annie, you better hurry up. Someone made an appointment to speak with our resident reader about now,” Blair said, glancing at her watch. “You don’t want to keep them waiting. Time is money, you know.”

“You mean, you booked me an appointment and didn’t tell me?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at her. “You hired me to read your merchandise, not for customer service.” I wasn’t exactly a people person, but if there was one thing I was good at, it was reading inventory in a magical sort of way, and Blair had need of a good reader, even if I wasn’t one in the way she thought I was since readers could do little more than talk to objects. I could do that, and a little more. Unfortunately, it was the little more that always got me in trouble. “Now you’re pimping me out?”

Blair raised one eyebrow at me. “I’m your boss, Annie. Pimping you out is my job.”

“What about my feelings?” I said, smacking my chest with my hand as I headed toward the front room. “I am more than the sum of my powers.”

“Not when we have a paying customer, you aren’t.” Blair was already looking back at her sourcebook. “Now get out there and make me some cheddar.”

I sighed and decided to get this over with. The sooner I read whatever object the person had brought in, the sooner I could get back to pwning newbs like nobody’s business. Besides, Badger wouldn’t be able to buy me lunch until after this was over, and I’d skipped breakfast. I know, most important meal of the day, but come on, who’s got time for that?

Still, I was a fan of money and having an otherwise cool boss so I sidled out of the alcove, intent on being as unfriendly as possible to said customer. As I made my way through the silver, beaded curtain that hung between the back room and the actual storefront, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Standing before me was an Adonis. His broad chest was covered by a Captain America T-shirt so tight it was more of an idea than actual clothing. I’d say it left little to the imagination, but combined with his deep blue eyes and wavy blond hair, it made a whole bunch of things run through my mind.

My cheeks reddened as he caught sight of me and flashed me a smile that made my heart speed up in my chest. And, I’ll be honest, my next several thoughts were a mixture of “OMIGOD he has to talk to me because he’s in our store!?” “What am I gonna do?” “Does my breath smell?” “How long have I been wearing this hoodie?” So, yeah, I found him hot. What of it?

Part of me wanted to sniff at both my hoodie and my breath, but I decided it’d look weird. Instead, I swallowed hard, trying to think of something interesting to say as two hundred pounds of muscle poured into skin-tight black jeans came toward me. Yummy.

“I know you guys usually do restorations, but I heard you might have a secret stash.” He cocked a grin at me. His voice was strangely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Besides, I’d have remembered someone like him. “I was told it may or may not contain a CGC 9.9 Hulk #181.” When I didn’t immediately respond, he stopped mid-step and narrowed his eyes so his blond eyebrows made a cute little v. “You know, the first appearance of Wolverine?”

“Actually, he first appeared in Hulk #180. It’s a common oversight,” I replied before I could stop myself. My hands shot to my mouth in an effort to catch the words and shove them back inside, but it was too late, they were out, and like the rotten little bastards they were, they hit him full force. I know, I should have been totally cool with correcting a hot guy, but he wasn’t just any hot guy, he was a customer, and as Blair had told me a million times before, while the customer is always a jackass, he is always right.

“I know.” He shrugged, brushing off my unwitting jab with a sweep of his perfect hand. “But I already have 180 and 182. I’m just missing the crown jewel.” He was cute and had an awesome comic collection? God, would he just marry me already?

He took a step closer, still friendly. God, why was he so friendly, and so, so hot. I mean, jeez Louise. He was supposed to be someone I could kick out without a second thought. Instead, I was wondering how good he was at video games and if our future children would like StarCraft more than League of Legends. This was not going to end well.

“Do you think you can help me out?” he asked, flashing me a smile that made my knees shake.

“Yeah,” I said, swallowing hard. “It’s in the back, but it isn’t what I’d call cheap. It’s expensive. Like in the way buying a congressman is expensive.” I tried to smile. Usually when customers asked us about stuff like this, they didn’t expect our prices to be, well, astronomical. As I said before, Blair’s talent was as good as coining money. It wasn’t like she needed more, so it took an exorbitant amount of cash to get her to go through the hassle of selling from her private collection.

He made a show of checking his wrist. It had one of those blue fitness bands designed to capture your heart rate, steps, and stuff. “Pftt, I bought six of those in the time it took me to walk through the door.” He held his hand out to me. “Name’s Justin.”

His name sparked a surge of recognition that nearly knocked me from my feet. I stopped mid-movement, my hand halfway out on its way to meet his. No, it couldn’t be, but as I looked at him and pictured him with a goatee and eyepatch, I knew I was right. Holy fucksticks!

“Justin Bailey?” I asked, hoping I was wrong even though I totally wasn’t. Still, I was somewhat proud I managed to keep my squee locked inside. It was a near thing, let me tell you.

“Guilty,” he replied, that same grin on his face as he gestured at me in a way I didn’t quite follow. “You might remember me from such films as Werewolf Ninja and Vampire Undercover: Outlaw.” I’ll be honest, his Troy McClure was off the chain.

“But…” I said as he closed the distance between us and shook my hand. The moment he did, he went from being just some hot B-movie actor to something far, far worse. Because the cloying, tingling sensation that rippled up my arm and struck deep into the heart of my soul told me one thing.

Justin Bailey was a werewolf, and no werewolf would ever come into a shop owned by a mage like Blair, let alone step foot into Magic Alley. Not even for a CGC 9.9 Hulk 181. No, he was here for something else, and as much as I wanted to know what it was, I wanted to get out of here more. See, there was one thing I’d forgotten to mention about myself.

I’m a mage, but not just any kind of mage. No, I’m an animator, which meant I could take a model of anything fictional and make it work like it did in said fiction which was why I always carried around a toy lightsaber. As long as I had a good enough replica, knew what it was supposed to do, and had enough power, which was consequently why I had never managed to make Blair’s replica DeLorean real. Yes, I’d tried when she wasn’t looking. Unfortunately, way too much power was required for things like time machines.

In real life, shooting a werewolf with silver bullets wouldn’t do diddly squat to them, but I could shoot them with silver bullets and they would die.

Which is also why, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been hunted by werewolves because even though my power could be used to make any monster equally dead, the werewolves had been affronted by it to the point of killing pretty much every animator that dared to breathe the same air as them.

In the end, it’s a convoluted story about blood feuds and such, but suffice to say, I was about half a second from sprinting into the back room. I wasn’t sure if Blair had any silver back there, but if she did, it’d be more than enough to stop this guy. The only thing that stopped me was cold logic. Werewolves were super predators so if I ran, he might chase me. After all, predators chased prey, and I was definitely werewolf prey.

His eyes flickered like he sensed what I was, and my gut tightened in fear. He was onto me. His nostrils flared as he unconsciously inhaled my scent, and as they did, amber colored in his blue eyes. Frak. Double frak!

Yes, okay, let me just say this right now. I’d never actually seen Battlestar Galactica, but my brother had loved the hell out of the show, and since he was dead at the hands of werewolves, I’d taken to saying it as a way to remember him by.

“Animator,” he whispered in a low, guttural tone that made the knife of fear stabbing into my guts twist violently. “I had hoped to find someone like you.” His lips curved into a grin that was downright predatory.

Well, screw logic.

As his grip tightened on my hand, I drove my knee into his crotch as hard as I could and sprinted for the door as he collapsed to the ground clutching his nethers.

Get a copy here!

Fists of Iron – Chapter 1

Here we are with chapter one of Fists of Iron, the exciting conclusion to the Frank Butcher saga!


Chapter 1


“Thank you all for being here,” John Perez, the last and most annoying Peacekeeper in the world, began, “especially considering the troubles that have come down around us in the past day.”

I didn’t want to be there, not even a little bit. I especially didn’t want to be stuffed in Tabitha Marlowe’s office atop the Pendleton Building just for the honor of listening to John, the formerly deceased (though technically he was never actually dead) husband of the lady I was in love with.

It just rubbed me the wrong way, what can I say? Still, I’d put on my big boy pants and shown up along with the rest of the magical folks who had survived the mess that had gone down thirty-six hours ago.

Jealousy wasn’t the only reason for my attitude, of course. Frankly, I was sick to death of all the bullshit, betrayals, and backstabbing from all sides. The last straw had been Rabbi Joseph Krakowski. He had seemed like one of the few pure souls I’d run into ever since Dr. Gabriela Perez had put this ancient Aztec stone into my chest. He’d saved our asses right before sticking a dagger into our ribs in one swift motion.

Still, I was leaning against the wall, all nice and pretty with my scrapes, bumps, and bruises from the past week bound to listen. See, despite my misgivings, there were a couple of things I cared about here. Exactly two, as a matter of fact.

First, Joseph had taken off with Max Perez, Gabby’s son, as insurance that we wouldn’t go after him. Say what you want about me, but I don’t take kindly to people fucking with children.

Second, I still owed Gabriela my life. She’d saved my life with her magical surgery, and la Corazon’s power. Sure, if she hadn’t been a wizard, I might not have needed my life saved, but at the same time, she hadn’t been the one who cast the spell that blew the place up. Besides, she was now the only straight shooter I knew among all these mystical assholes.

All that navel-gazing had pulled me out of the moment. No big loss, it was some back-and-forth drabble between Tabitha Marlowe, the head honcho here in the building and former higher up in the End Society, one of the two clans of wizards I knew about, and John. More political garbage from what little trickled through. Certainly none of my business.

It was Gabby’s voice that brought me back into the conversation. “We don’t need to worry about the formalities, John. The clans are gone now and both of the elders are dead. All that matters is where our son is and what Joseph has done.”

“There is still a right way and a wrong way to go about this.” John glanced around the room, looking from her to every other face in the room. “In the face of this primal chaos, keeping order is of the utmost importance.”

Bluto a.k.a. Tyrone, the building’s head of security, and sweet Molly, ex-soldier for the Whites, the other clan of wizards that was currently falling apart, and full-time Irish spitfire, shared a grumble at that. Maybe they thought John was full of it or maybe they were as sick of the endless layers of bullshittery as I was.

Molly stole a glance at me from across the room, something I decided to ignore for now because even though John’s return had basically axed the slowly blossoming relationship between Gabby and I, well, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on it just yet. Yes, I’m aware that makes me a horrible person, but at the same time… I held out hope, for what, I’m not exactly sure. This was the end after all, maybe he’d go out in a blaze of glory and I’d still get to ride off into the sunset with Gabby. The thought almost made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. That was never going to happen.

Abner, my favorite walking lump of clay, was the first one to say something and his deep, hollow voice rumbled through the room.

“This I understand, Peacekeeper, but we do not know the extent of my father’s plans nor the motivations behind them. Rabbi Krakowski is not a man of ill intent or of impulsive action.” I knew the big guy was attached to the Littlest Rabbi, the guy did create him after all, but it was hard to see how releasing the Lovecraftian monstrosities I had seen in that cube into our world was in anyway positive. “I cannot abide his taking of your son, Max, but we cannot be quick to judge his shattering of the cube. There must be a reason, we just don’t know what.”

“Abner, we have laws in place for a reason.” John’s brow wrinkled, and his face hardened. “If there’s something else afoot, and the evidence shows he had good reason for what he did, things won’t go badly for him.” He glanced in Gabby’s direction. “Kidnapping a teenager, even if he wasn’t my son, will be hard to justify.”

I finally gave enough of a shit to throw in my two cents. Pushing off the wall I’d been leaning against, I said, “Then why the hell are we all gathered up for debate club? Shouldn’t you people be doing something by now? Fuck the rest of it, get the kid back.”

Gabby gave me a warm look which I tried my best to ignore because there was no use salting my own wounds.

“Right on, boyo. I might still be a bit ragged around the edges, but I sure as hell think we oughta be out there doing some damage instead of twiddling our thumbs,” Molly chimed in, pumping her fist excitedly in the air.

“We aren’t going to ‘do some damage,’ Ms. O’Shaughnessy,” Tabitha announced, pushing her glasses up on her nose. “We are going to go about this in an intelligent manner. We need to not only find Krakowski and Maximilian and devise the best, safest way to retrieve the boy, but we also need to determine the exact damage and danger the destruction of the Cube poses to our world.”

“There’s no need for that, Director.” The Peacekeeper folded his arms over his chest. “We sealed off direct access for all the divinities for a reason, something both of the clans agreed on. We don’t need to do research. We need to bring the rabbi in, lock him up, and restore the seals.” Gabriela had turned her attention back to him, which John seemed to pick up on, causing him to tack on, “And rescue Max, of course. As for debate, this is called planning and organization.” He glanced at me before continuing. “I am going to deputize some of you and we’ll enact a plan to do exactly what I said.”

“So who’s on the team, Coach?” I wanted to give no shits at all, but I couldn’t pull away entirely. After all, I didn’t want the Old Ones or whatever to kill us all.

If John noticed my attitude, he ignored it. “In addition to the deputies I’ll be taking into the field, the rest of you will remain here with the director to look into and deal with the extra-dimensional incursions that are going to follow. The Great Old Ones might be eternal, and they’ve been waiting for this opportunity for eons. As we speak, they are enacting their plans. We’ve got no time left.” His tone was grim and rightly so. “Frank, you might be a bit ignorant about the mystical world, but you’ve seen these things first hand. You understand the threat.”

Gabriela stood up, those green eyes I so wasn’t looking at flashing. “I’m going with you.”

“Aye, me too.” Molly was giving me an expectant look as she threw her chips into the pot. I patently ignored it as she continued on. “Ye certainly ain’t leavin’ me behind when there’s nasty work to be done.”

John folded his arms over his chest. “No. I have a very specific list of people in mind and neither of you are on it.” His jaw set in preparation of the barrage he had to know was heading his way. I certainly did!

Molly fired off a knuckles-out V-sign (a European equivalent of a middle finger, for the uneducated out there) while Gabby’s reaction was more volcanic. She took a step toward her husband and half-shouted, “No, John. While you stuck yourself in a cube, I’ve been trying desperately to get our son back! There’s no way I am going to stay home and twiddle my thumbs when Max is still out there!”

I couldn’t help myself as I leaned back and grinned like a shark. It was amusing as hell to watch Johnny Boy flinch a bit under the doc’s tongue lashing, but I had to give the guy credit for holding his ground even though I really, really didn’t want to. “It’s a simple matter of priorities and effectiveness, Gabriela, not passion.”

Tabitha tried to hide the sigh between her teeth, but I sure as hell caught it. “Let’s not let this drag down into a mire of personal conflicts. We know how this always plays out between the two of you.” She focused her gaze on Gabriela. “I’ve already discussed this to some degree with John. The Peacekeeper is calling on my expertise in combat magic for this situation, so I need someone with an extensive background in magical research and academia to lead the investigations here.” She glanced at Gabriela. “You are the ideal person to lead that effort.”

I might not have cared much about this shit at the time, but I had to stir the pot when I saw one needing to be stirred. “So far, Tabby, all I’ve seen you do is direct people, figure shit out, and splash us with a ton of cold water. Not that I doubt your abilities in the field, but Gabby’s walked through fire and brimstone, and come out the other side with nary a scratch.”

Tyrone saw his own opening and took a shot. “On top of that, Director, we’re in a jam and a half here. Our defenses are screwed, we’ve got a list of casualties that ain’t going away anytime soon, and we barely have a clue as to how the Whites are handling having their leadership turned into salt pillars.” He pointed a meaty finger at Tabitha. “We need you here fixin’ things so these people don’t get completely fucked.”

We both had made some stellar points, but the nightstick I suspected was shoved up John’s ass was inflexible. Before Tabitha could make her own counterpoint, John raised his voice just a hair, but it was an effective hair. “That’s enough now.”

He had that presence that a seasoned cop has, that commanding voice that reminded you he had the full force of the law behind him. Of course, that was kind of a bluff. He was the last one of his kind after all, but it was still enough authority to shut the traps of all the magic types in the room. I was tempted to keep on coming, but I decided not to push all his buttons quite yet.

Shifting his posture to a more diplomatic one, he leaned forward as he grasped his hands behind his back and paced. He made eye contact with each and every one of us as he began to talk. “The Peacekeepers were destroyed to engender just this kind of chaos in the world. We need to stop this kind of squabbling to move forward, which means all of you need to listen and do as I ask.” He stopped and did a slow pan of the room. “We’ve dealt with this threat in the past, and we did it together. We can do it again.”

Maybe it was the simple fact my love life had been carpet-bombed by his return, but there was something that rang a bit hollow in what would otherwise have been a rousing performance worthy of any action movie hero. It was a little twitch of the eye, probably nothing, probably blown out of all proportion in my attempt to find the barest crack in what seemed to be an absolutely perfect shell. If it had really happened, no one else seemed to notice or mention it.

Instead, the audience was silent and at attention. Even the quiet grumbles from Molly and Tyrone had ceased.

Johnny Boy lowered his head, a gesture of respect. “Thank you. Now, as I said, we will have two teams. Going with me to apprehend Krakowski and free my son will be Director Marlowe and Abner. Our first move will be to go to the White’s enclave on the outskirts of San Diego to recruit more deputies.” As if to preempt any criticism, he raised his hands. “We need to do this as a unified front, White and Ender alike, so I need to go to them.”

Gabriela put out the point I was tempted to make myself. “John, the longer we wait, the more danger Max is in. We need to do this swiftly and in force!”

That was enough to bring me back into things. “Amen, sister. All this pussy footing around and playing all nicey-nice with everyone is only going to move our asses from the frying pan into the fire.”

Call me a sucker, which I certainly was, to fall into line behind Gabby. That ship had sailed, and while I was still spinning my oars in its wake, one thing was certain. Max was still in trouble. If John wasn’t concerned with him because of the bigger picture, that was his prerogative, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to get the boy back anyway.

John ignored Gabriela, going for the convenient scapegoat, me. “Butcher, I appreciate all you’ve done, not just for my family but for the world at large.” Yeah, there was a ‘but’ coming. “But despite the crash course you’ve had about magic and our society and all the things that were hidden from you for most of your life, you’re still vastly ignorant of what’s going on here. I’ve been doing this a long time, I know what I’m doing.”

While I might not have given two shits about how these wizards were going to fuck each other over again, Magic Cop had struck a nerve. I’d always hated guys who thought they knew better than everyone else. After all, that was pretty much what had started this whole mess.

From the Enders to the Rabbi, every one of them had thought they’d known best and plunged forward no matter how many people got fucked in the process. John may have been right, but at the same time, maybe he wasn’t. Either way, I was pissed.

I straightened up to my full height, an effective gesture because I was a couple of inches taller than John.

“Yeah, and doing things the way you guys did worked out really well,” I grinned, allowing my words to hang in the air for a moment. “Was getting locked up in a living acid trip part of the master plan too?”

That had probably been uncalled for and a bit too soon, but it was the damned truth. Most of the room, Gabriela included, was shocked by that little pipe bomb, but Molly was trying her damnedest not to break out into laughter.

John’s jaw set as he tried to keep his anger hidden under a cool façade. “Well, Frank, if you’re not going to be part of a positive solution, I suggest you leave the meeting. We have a lot of planning left to do, and we don’t need your kind of disruption interfering with it.”

Well, if that’s how he wanted to play it, fine. I didn’t need him anyway. I’d gotten us this far by myself, and all he’d goddamned done was sit in a glass box.

“Sure thing, big guy.” I turned on my heels and headed toward the office door. “Good luck with that. When you actually decide to do something for real and get Max back, you know where I’ll be.”

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or at least it broke Molly’s control over her laughter. She started giggling like mad as I stalked out of the room, ignoring Gabriela’s belated attempt to defuse the situation. I stalked out of the room, more than happy to slam the door behind me as I left the office.

Coming soon

So, I haven’t made a post in a while, and I’ll tell you why. Busyness!

See, I was working on a new book. The first in a new series called Throne to the Wolves, and I just finished the final editing this week. It’s now with the proof reader. I think you’ll really like it.

I just gave Fists of Iron, the third collaboration between JB and I, to the editor, and I have to say, this book is really good. It’s probably one of the most epic books I’ve ever worked on, and I think it’s easily the best of the three.

In addition to that, Pound of Flesh, my collaboration with Conner Kressley, is finally ready to see the light of day. We’re just waiting on a cover now, but will have one in time for the end of October. Seriously, you guys are going to love this.

Finally, I’ve also written a new Mac Brennan story that will come out toward the end of October. I’ll be sharing more about this in a week or so.

To that end, you’ll be subject to a release every week next month.

That’s right. Every week.

10/4 – Fists of Iron

10/11 – Throne to the Wolves

10/18 – Super Secret Project

10/25 – Pound of Flesh


Now back to work on the new Mac Brennan novel.

Feet of Clay – Chapter 1

Here’s the first chapter of Feet of Clay. Sorry it’s a bit late.


Chapter 1

“You know, Frank,” Gabriela said, trailing one hand down my chest and letting it linger over my thumping heart. “I think I have feelings for you.” She smiled sheepishly, color filling her cheeks. “I haven’t felt like this about anyone ever before.”

I stared at her in shock as she drew closer to me, pressing her lithe body against mine. Gabriela Perez was everything I’d ever wanted in a woman, and as she leaned in close to me, lips slightly parted, the only thing I could think was that I was never letting go of her. Not ever.

“I have feelings for you too,” I replied, wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her into me. Part of me couldn’t believe this was happening after everything. Still, she was right there in front of me.

“Kiss me, Frank,” she whispered, tilting her head toward me. My heart started pounding like crazy in my chest as I tilted my head toward her and leaned in. Her lips were so close to mine, I could practically feel them. “Please.”

The touch of her breath on my lips sent little shivers tingling across my skin as I closed my eyes and pressed my lips to hers. The hunk of Aztec gold-and-turquoise taking the place of my flesh-and-blood heart went absolutely bonkers as I pressed into her.

Pain unlike anything I’d ever felt before tore at my chest, and for a second, it felt like my ribs were going to burst out of my skin. My eyes shot open to find Gabriela gone, her presence fading away into the last traces of a dream that seemed particularly unfair. Especially since the last time I’d woken up like this, I’d gotten assaulted by all sorts of supernatural nut jobs, and judging by the fact I’d last been knocked unconscious by a goddamned golem, I was betting this time would be no different.

The heart had been one the things that had seen me through the shadowy world of magicians and wizards and golems and general bullshit kept secret from us normal Joes and Josephines. It had allowed me to save the world (no, really!) from a bunch of cultists who wanted to rid the world of magic by tearing apart space and time. And this time, evidently, it was trying to save me again.

Still, waking up to find myself laid out on a stone slab in the middle of a torture room that would make Pinhead or Freddy Kruger lick their lips in delight, didn’t exactly seem fair given I’d saved the world. Okay, torture chamber might have been a bit of an exaggeration. The room was made of plain, grey stone, slick with condensation, plucked right out of any generic fantasy movie’s castle dungeon.

Still, for all that, the place was as clean as a whistle, and the air was filled with a medicine-y antiseptic scent. How much of that smell was because of the oxygen mask strapped over my mouth and nose, I couldn’t be sure. Oh, did I forget to mention that and the IV line stuck in my arm?

It almost made me think they were trying to revive me, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case because as I blinked away the haze, I found myself staring at a creepy-as-fuck guy hovering over me with a scalpel in hand. Maybe it was a girl. It was hard to tell because whoever it was had dressed up like a plague doctor out of a medieval history book, including the long nosed mask and goggles.

Assisting the good doctor were a pair of disembodied arms made out of what looked like a knight’s plate armor, each one floating around with no respect to physics or gravity. That might not have bothered me so much if each one wasn’t wielding equally archaic but strangely shiny surgeon’s tools in hand. Racks and shelves lined the walls with an assortment of cutting implements, bone saws, spreaders, and other tools I couldn’t begin to describe other than by saying they would be voted “Most Likely To Cleanly Dismember A Corpse” by a panel of their peers.

The sluggishness in my limbs and the fog in my brain were pretty damned familiar from those unfortunate times in my life I’ve had surgery done. Fuck it all, I hated going under then, and I hated it even more now. I mean, it didn’t take a rocket scientist (one of my early childhood dreams unrealized, just to have it said) to know what Dr. Plague and the Arm Boys were about to do to me.

After all, I had la Corazon, reputedly the most powerful anti-magical artifact known to the magical cults that lurked in the shadows, beating in my chest. When the White Alliance, my frenemies before advancing to full-on enemy, nabbed us, I guess la Corazon was too tempting to leave stuck in little old me. I’ll admit, that made me feel a touch used, especially since I’d helped the White save the world, but then again, they were probably worried I’d shit all over their parade too. After all, I’d taken on one cult full of psychos, what was one more in the grand scheme of things?

“It would appear traditional anesthetics have a reduced effect on the Bearer,” the doctor muttered to himself (the deep voice edged me toward that gender assumption), muffled a bit by the long-nosed mask. “While this might complicate the surgery, I must admit to a degree of fascination as how you might react to this, Mr. Butcher. I may very well leave you awake to get your direct input.”

My eyes came into full focus and I tried to give Dr. Plague a withering stare. “I don’t know you, but you’re a sadistic fuck, aren’t you?”

He shook his head, hat flopping crazily. “You misunderstand me. You are, after all, a unique thing, the first known host of such a powerful artifact. Your reactions, both rational and physiological, are of intense interest to me.” The doctor shrugged. “Besides, these are likely to be your last words, Bearer. Surely someone as talkative as you would want to leave a message behind for Dr. Perez?”

My limbs were still numb and rubbery, but I tried to get them to move so I could throttle the prick. “Where the fuck is she, Dr. Schnozz?!” Life was starting to return to every part of me, but all I managed that second was a flop that would make a dying fish proud.

“Spirits below, you have a lot of fight in you.” The surgeon clicked his tongue, the sound muffled by his plague mask. “A bit too much fight for this to be successful. Let us put you back to sleep, Mr. Butcher.”

He gestured off-handedly at the animated arm opposite of him, which diligently put its utensil, an unusually polished bone saw, next to me and floating out of my sight. Whatever it was going to do couldn’t be good. I had better do something, even though I was bare-assed-naked and still woozy from whatever they had pumping into this mask.

The thing was, I wasn’t nearly as woozy as I felt I should be, but I was willing to overlook that as I realized something important. They hadn’t tied me up, chained me to the table, or restrained me in any way. I wasn’t sure who was running this amateur hour, but I was instantly thankful for their oversight as I snapped the saw up in my good right arm and rolled, bringing the nasty blade around with my left arm. Now, I’m a rightie, but surprise was on my side as I cut a jagged slash through cloak and robes of Mr. Beak’s arm. The sleepy-time mask ripped clean in that same motion, yanked back by its tubing. Still hurt as it snapped over my broken nose, though.

The doctor grabbed his arm as he staggered back, blood pulsing through his fingers. Though he was somewhere in the middle of Shock Street and Surprise Avenue, the Hotel Transylvania extras weren’t. The unarmed one flew past my shoulder as I rolled unsteadily to my feet, while the other, a surgical rib spreader in its metal grip, tried to blindside me. I got a good crack upside the head from Lefty, which hurt like the dickens.

Fear that I wasn’t going to show to anyone mixed with raw adrenaline to keep my ass standing. Biting back that fear, I tried to shout a good one-liner, but what came out was a garbled mess from my mush-mouth.

As I feigned a slash at the doctor to keep him off balance and, if I was right, from casting spells. Yeah, I assumed he was a sorcerer like the rest of the Whites, but it was a damned good assumption.

My main focus was the armed, er, arm, though. As Righty zipped in the way of my feint, I tried to focus through the fuzz in my brain, to think about the hunk of ancient mojo I had for a heart now. Calling on la Corazon, the heart snapped to action quicker and easier than it ever had, as if all the action we had been through had been a warm-up to this moment, dropping a gold filter over my eyes and laying bare the tapestry of magic hidden to normal eyes.

You’ve never really seen the world properly until you’ve seen that majestic sight. Yeah, I know, Frank Butcher waxing poetic, but I’m fucking serious here. Everything in the world, from bricks to trees to people to bees, are all woven together by threads of magic, pulsing and glowing in a Technicolor light show, very Force-like to be quite honest. More importantly at this particular moment, magic spells, the ‘patches’ to reality wizards wove into those threads to bend reality to their wills, were visible plain as day to me.

What magic I could see, I could rip apart. I put that power into action right then with my right hand, sweeping a clawed hand through the stitches holding the magic animating the spreader-wielding sleeve in place. The stitches tore like the pants of a fat kid doing the splits, dropping the armor to the ground with the resounding clatter of metal on stone.

I think that’s when the Plague Knight decided he was truly fucked. He turned toward the thick wooden door, which as far as I could tell, was the only way out of Torture Central. He no doubt hoped Lefty would keep me busy long enough to get help. Fat chance.

As Lefty came at me with a big haymaker, dumb luck decided to step in. I was already moving to slip the punch, but a bit too slowly. As I was about to eat a knuckle-sandwich loaded with way more than my daily requirement of iron, my leading foot hit the puddle of blood left by the doctor’s arm wound.

My foot slipped forward and what had started as an elegant-but-tardy dodge turned into a klutzy fall. The steel fist caught nothing but air as I did a rather painful split. Back in my Army days, I could have pulled it off just fine, sans the stone floor of course, but I wasn’t in my prime anymore, thanks in no small part to all the delicious Mexican food out there and my own lack of inhibitions. Of course, yeah, stone floor, family jewels, no pants. You do the math.

Still, it was preferable to having a super-strong magic arm punch you in the brain. Maybe. I mean, I haven’t compared the two. Muffled mutterings of magic hit my ear. No doubt, the doctor was trying to heal his arm before he bled out. Well, that wasn’t happening. As I tried to ignore the urge to throw up from the groin trauma, I snatched the bit of magic animating Lefty out of the air as it reared back to punch me in the head.

As I said, it got easier each and every time I did it, so it wasn’t a surprise that the stone heart hammering away in my chest was up to the challenge, even with my current distraction. I dropped the saw as I clawed at the weave of magic with my free hand. The results were immediate, adding Lefty to the pile of discarded Ren Faire gear on the ground.

My caregiver had managed to finish his incantation, and as he did, a white glow stitched his gashed arm back together. He looked up just as I grabbed the edge of the stone slab and pulled myself to my feet. Back still to the door, he searched for the door handle with one blood-stained hand as the other held up in a defensive panic.

“Stay back,” he squeaked. I wasn’t sure if he was trying not to sound like he was about to drop a deuce in his pantaloons, but either way, I didn’t believe him. “Stay back or I’ll–”

If he called for help, I was fucked. Since I couldn’t have that, I tried to look my most badass, which is hard to do when you’ve got the whole show on display. The blood and such did help though.

“You’ll do what? I’m the Bearer and you’re just one of Rollie’s goons, aren’t you?” I growled while looking him over and almost couldn’t keep the smirk off my face when I realized that, under the cloak, his robes were red. “You’ve even got a red shirt on.” With each word, I stalked forward another step.

He realized too late how close I had gotten. He didn’t answer me, instead turning to slam on the door to get help. His hand was raised and his mouth opened just enough to get a sound out when I grabbed him, locking one hand onto his upraised hand and clamping the other over his mouth.

I leaned in close to listen for sounds of alarm. The only things I heard were a few drips of water and a cough, but no immediate rushing or cries of alarm. For the moment, I had progressed from “Up Shit Creek Without A Paddle” to “Flying Blind on a Rocket Cycle.” It wasn’t much of an improvement really.

“Now, buddy,” I whispered harshly, going for my best Clint Eastwood impression. It was pretty good if I do say so myself. “If you want to live through this, you’re going to do exactly what I say. Nod if you understand.”

He nodded like crazy. I pulled my hand back to let him stammer, “Y-Yes, B-Bearer, whatever you say.”

“Groovy.” I turned him so he could face me, while shifting a hand to his throat. “First things first.” I bopped the beaked mask right on its nose. “I need you to strip.”

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!


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.

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