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Despite the dark glasses, I blink against the sunlight as it stings my skin. But I keep my eyes firmly on my mark. The girl is easy to track. Inexperienced. Naive. Thinks she isn’t being followed. It’s there in the false confidence of the way she walks, the way she holds her shoulders. Maybe it’s because I’m good at my job. Good enough that my target will never know how long I’ve tracked them, or how much time I spent watching them. I’m hoping it’s because I’m better than most at my job.
Otherwise the girl is a danger to herself.
I’m standing beneath a tree, amidst the bustle of midday sidewalk traffic, the shadows of the branches and sparse leaves providing meager cover in the baking sun. I’m watching as Sara Roshkov hurries across the busy road toward the entrance to the San Francisco Public Library. I have little idea what she’s come to the library for, which makes me more than curious. I can’t imagine she’d be loaning out a book; not now, when her life is in such turmoil. That leaves the option I don’t like – meeting someone.
The thought spurs me to move and I wait only until she’d reaches the top step before I jog across Larkin and enter the building after her. The cool air is a shock against my sweat-covered skin and I’m momentarily blinded going from bright sun to shaded interior. I keep my sunglasses on, habit and protection. She’s hurrying up the marble stairs and I pause to watch her, pretending to admire the high, glass ceiling of the atrium. I follow her up the stairs and watch her enter General Fiction. My shoes don’t make any sound on the stairs and I know she has no idea she’s being followed.
Her hair is short and black today, a wig she’s been using since she arrived in San Francisco. She keeps her neck straight and stiff. Seems she knows not to appear as if she’s looking over her shoulder. I’m not sure what she’s learned from her father but she sure has to learn a lot more about running and hiding so the likes of me won’t find her.
I’ve been tracking her for a while now and I feel a pull of something as I watch her. There is a fragile air to her and she’s lost weight, the hollows of her cheeks proof that life on the run doesn’t exactly involve luxuries like three square meals a day. And Sara Roshkov is used to a life of luxury considering the family she belongs to.
I follow, grabbing a book from the bestseller shelf beside me, keeping sufficient distance between us that she’d see nothing suspicious should she turn around. What she would see is a young guy, black jeans, black tee, black sneakers, much like her own dark clothing. The hoodie I’m wearing is equally nondescript, the ball cap plain too. Nothing I wore would stand out in a person’s memory should they spot me. My black hair is short, the style efficient and easy to maintain. Again nothing to remember me by.
She sneaks a look over her shoulder as she enters an aisle up ahead but her eyes graze my face and her gaze seeks further beyond me. I flip through the book and then enter the aisle next to her. She’s facing me and I can watch her through the stacks without her seeing me. She’s already halfway down her row, finger running along the covers as she searches for her book.
It feels a little voyeuristic but hell, the full scope of my job is inherently voyeuristic. I keep my attention on her as her finger stops on one particular book. Her expression is satisfied; she’s found the book she wants but before she takes it off the shelf her eyes cloud, the gray darkening to dark metal; a moment of doubt that shows on her face as if she battles the monsters within.
As much as I can read people, their eyes, their body language, it’s what goes on inside their heads that eludes even the best of us. Nobody can train you for that.
She straightens her back and then tilts the book toward her. taking it down from the shelf with extra care.
She flips to the back of the book and slowly the pieces fall into place. Someone has left something for her in that particular book. There are a number of possibilities but it’s clear that someone is helping her. Is it someone within her family? Roshkov had always kept his personal life totally private. Not that our surveillance hadn’t picked up on his many mistresses or his other extracurricular activities. The man was involved in everything from human trafficking to drug-running. No wonder his wife, having left for St. Petersburg a year ago, is still to return. Something is rotten in the Roshkov paradise perhaps?
Now, as I study his daughter I wonder if her mother is the wife in Russia or is she the offspring of one of Roshkov many affairs? There is too much we still need to know about Sara and perhaps we will get our break soon. One thing I do know is that she has a heart, that there is a goodness in her.
There is no way for me to tell what the book hides and any attempt to find out will likely jeopardize the mission. I could pass her by and steal the book from her without her even realizing it happened. But that won’t help the case.
She has what she wants, so now she heads out, and her shoulders relax a little. She thinks the coast is clear. I allow her that misconception. I hang back as she leaves the library, keeping my distance as she exits the building and heads back into the sunshine.
I’m her shadow as she hurries to a fast food joint where she buys a couple burgers and then keeps moving. I follow, my awareness turned on to full blast.
She heads further west, into the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. It didn’t surprise me that she’d chosen one of the most dangerous parts of the city to hide out in. What does surprise me is that she’s had the guts to stay there this long, hiding among the homeless and the drug dealers. People get killed every night in this area and so far she’s survived. If anything she is resourceful.
I’ve watched the building in which she’d found a place to sleep, cased the place once when she’d left for a soup kitchen a few blocks away. Other than that, I just watch and report back on her activities. Despite my impatience that we were too slow in getting info, despite my need for us to reacher the next level of this investigation in which we take Roshkov down, despite all my personal feeling I must remain clearheaded, keep my head in the game.
Now I watch her enter the deserted building as I lean against a light pole and pretend to light a cigarette.
I hear the buzz in my earwig that indicates someone is being patched through.
“Eagle, come in, over.”
I press the button on the comms. “Eagle here, over.” My eyes don’t move from the mark.
“This is HQ, do you have a situation report, over.”
“All quiet here, over.”
Release Day 10th December 2014
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Despite everything I’ve experienced in my life I have never expected to know what it feels like to be hunted.
Now I know what the deer feels like when the hunter has her in his sights, has the barrel of his rifle aimed at her head, finger slowly pressing down on the trigger. Every step, every breath I take feels like it’s on borrowed time and I hate it with such a passion that it makes that iron fist that always holds onto my gut, tighten with vicious enjoyment.
My muscles in my throat are taut as I turn my head and allow my eyes to travel up and down the busy street. I squint against the sun streaming down on my head. It’s cheerful brightness mocks me. The oversize sunglasses help against the glare, and maybe it helps to hide me a little too. I don’t know. If someone is watching me right now I’ll never be able to tell. I plan to get better at it soon.
Or else I’m going to be the one looking down the barrel of a gun.
My heart thuds as I cross Larkin and enter the cool hall of San Francisco’s main public library. I push the sunglasses up onto my head and scan the hall as I keep moving. The atrium is enough to stop any visitor in their tracks, high and airy and all glass, but I don’t stop to stare because I have a purpose. I’m not here to sight-see. I follow the signs to the first floor, worn sneakers silent on the marble floor tiles.
As I move I tug the leather cuff on my right wrist, ensuring it stays in place. The leather hides a truth that I’d rather not see. Call it denial, but I haven’t fallen apart yet so out of sight, out of mind has helped me this far.
I enter General Fiction and inhale the unique scent of books; ink and dust and paper. I hurry along the silent aisles, reading off the spine labels under my breath, in search of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. I smile, thinking how strange that Alexei would even know who Blake was.
But maybe I am being naive. How would I know what kind of life Alexei had led when I’d known him for only the briefest time. I hadn’t seen the old man in weeks and a few times I’d wondered how smart it was to have contacted him in the first place. He’d given me his card, yes, but that didn’t mean I should have used it. It didn’t mean I should have made him part of my problem.
My heels squeak on the polished wood floor, and the sound echoes around me. Too loud. I look around from beneath nondescript black bangs that skim my eyebrows, the edge jagged much like the rest of my short wig.
I look around. The room was far from empty, with the nearest person being a young guy his nose in a book as he stands beside a showcase of the latest bestsellers. He’s harmless.
My heart thumps and I try to calm my nerves. I’m careful, I’m aware. Nothing’s going to happen. And yet . . . I’m still nervous. I slip into a row and immediately I’m hemmed in by shelves that rise a foot higher than the top of my head. If I’ve disturbed anyone or drawn attention from the wrong sort, I can’t tell now.
I lift my weight onto the balls of my feet, and hurry down the aisle. Moving quickly, I find the B’s, and run a finger along the spines until I reach Blake. It takes seconds to find Songs, and I feel a sudden stab of fear. What if someone’s loaned out the copy I need? What then? Keep coming back for that particular copy? How would I explain why I want that specific book? Why hadn’t I thought this through?
I stiffen with fear.
Get a grip, Gray. Don’t borrow trouble. That’s what Dad used to say. Don’t go worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, Gray. If you want to worry, just let the crap happen first. You never know, you just might have nothing to worry about in the end.
Taking a deep breath, I tilt the book toward me. A fine layer of dust coats the tops of the surrounding books and only my copy is clean. I slide it out and I hold its weight in my hand, then flip open the back cover.
My heart slams against my ribs. Please be the right one, I pray even when I know praying is stupid. What use are prayers when nobody hears them. I run my fingers over the paper that covers the hard surface of the inside cover. There. A small bump beneath the surface. Just where Alexei had said it would be.
I shut the cover and exit the stacks, forcing my gait to remain relaxed, my neck to stay calm. Anyone watching would see a girl with short cropped dark hair, long bangs, sloppy jeans and sneakers, off to the tables to read a book or to study. Not a girl so scared out of her wits, that the hands holding the book have a slight tremor to them.
I force myself to stroll to a desk at the far end of the library, one that’s hidden from prying eyes. I sit and try hard not to look around. Nonchalant. I have to act like I have no care in the world. It has taken weeks to learn to stop looking behind me all the time, to learn that even from a distance a person could notice the small things like the tightness in your neck or shoulder that indicates awareness and the desire to flee, that indicates fear. Sure, I’d learned not to look like I was running from something, but that didn’t mean I’d stopped completely. So, I can’t afford to get careless.
I whisper the words under my breath, like a prayer, over and over again. ‘Get careless, get dead.’ It’s kept me alive so far.
I calmly set the book on the table before me. I can see the age of the paper, yellow with ragged edges. I reach for the knife inside my bag, it’s nothing more than a letter-opener but it will do the job. I slide the sharp edge beneath the overlying paper glued to the hard back cover. The glue stretches, like strings of a stubborn cobweb. The knife slips through them, snapping the threads and releasing the paper to reveal what hides beneath.
A slim brown envelope.
Alexei had come through for me. I slide the envelope out of the space and close the book softly. With a sigh of relief, I shove the envelope into my stained backpack before throwing it over my shoulder. I grab the book and saunter back to the stacks to return it to its place. Then, my heart thudding, I head out of the library and down the stairs slowly, as if I have no place to be.
Emerging into the sunlight, I slide my sunglasses onto my face and skip down the steps. I scan the street, the cars, the bus that slows down at the stop, the trees across the street. So many faces but none seem interested in me. I don’t give myself the chance to enjoy any sense of relief. I turn and head home.
Or what I consider home for the next five minutes. I used to hear people say ‘Home is where the heart is’ but what about when you don’t have a heart or if you have no place in the world that you care to be in? What then? Well, then even a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere will do. Nobody even looks at the homeless anymore. And it saddens me that I must take advantage of the cold heart and the blind eye of society.
I have to make one stop before I am on my way. Hiding isn’t easy when you can’t cook yourself a meal, when food must be stolen or begged for, or the cheapest takeout available.
I walk in the direction of the nearest burger place. It doesn’t matter which one, as long as I can grab a couple of dirt-cheap burgers. I stand waiting for my order, head down, scanning faces beneath my lashes. I’m always watching, always searching.
The boy in the black jeans, skateboard in hand, could be anyone. FBI, undercover cop, killer for hire. Or maybe he’s just a kid with a skateboard. I sigh to myself, the ‘always on edge’ feeling rests against my chest like a tangible thing. Like one of those round weights that fit on the end of a barbell, maybe a fifty pound weight will be appropriate for what hangs around my heart.
My order is called and I grab the bag and head out into the fresh air, breathing deeply of sunshine and suspicion as I walk faster and faster. When I look behind me, skater boy is watching me, bag in hand. Then he crosses the street and rips his paper bag open, his eyes only for his burger.
I suppress the sigh of relief, then snap my gaze back to my route, the roundabout way I use so as to lose anyone who may be on my trail. I’m always careful, doubling back, watching out for anyone suspicious, eyes always peeled, bones always tense, jaw always tight. So much tension, but my life depends on it.
Chapter 2 to be posted Monday 8th Dec
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I haven’t spoken much about this book as I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, especially since I couldn’t place this novel into a neat NA category. All I can say is it’s dark, sexy, and suspenseful with just the right amount of romance. Hopefully you love Gray & Thane’s Beautiful Collision as much as I do.
NA Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Release Date 10th December
Eighteen year old Gray Beaumann is on the run. Leaving her dangerous past behind her is easier said than done, even when she finds herself at last able to forge a new life for herself.
But then the planets align and Gray finds herself bumping into super-hot Thane Blackwell. Drooling over him from afar is safe but that’s only until she is forced to look after Thane while he recovers from surgery.
Being holed up in her apartment is a bad bad idea. Can Gray control the fire that Thane seems light inside her, or will she give in to her deepest desires. Can Thane achieve his goal without hurting Gray in the process?
So, with Dead Wrath in edits, to be released 26th November, here is Chapter 1 for you to enjoy:
DEAD WRATH (a Valkyrie Novel #4)
Ragnarok was here.
But it certainly didn’t feel like we were at war. The worn brown leather of my sandals made little sound on the stone floor of the palace hallway. I went in search of solace and my feet already knew the way. An Ulfr strode past me, high cheekbones and forehead so distinctive in the race of the wolf shape-shifter. He met my eyes and nodded, a polite respectful greeting. I gave him a lukewarm smile and kept walking, my feet moving me toward the balcony.
The halls were empty and chilled at this time of morning, when the light of the day gently awakens the land, when the shadows of night depart with slow reluctance. In recent days I’d found myself seeking as little company as possible.
It was so early that the torches hanging on the walls were still smoldering from the night’s light, sending smoky streams trailing along the air, the smell musty and acrid. I pulled my cloak closer and hurried along the hall, praying I’d avoid any further curious gazes.
Hidden by thick, velvet drapes, the balcony was the very same one I’d stood in so long ago when Thor had told me the lengths I’d need to go to kill the Dwarf Queen. It seemed a lifetime ago when, Aidan’s life had been all that mattered and I’d naively thought the god had been exaggerating a little. Only when I’d been faced with the wrath of the evil queen did I truly know that when he said I’d need to bring back her head, he’d really meant it.
A sigh drifted from my lips as I slipped through the parting in the drapes and walked onto the balcony. It overlooked the valley of Asgard, with the lake far to north, just a sliver of silver gleaming sadly at the edge of the realm. My arms wrapped themselves around my body as if it could prevent the cold from seeping into my bones. But I knew there was nothing that would take the ice away.
I suppressed another sigh, then figured what the hell, and sighed anyway.
In the pale grey light of morning, the green valley, bordered by a snow-covered mountain range, lay blanketed in a light mist. It matched my mood.
The light sheen of moisture lay over the land like a shimmering veil and it felt very much like the veil that seemed to bind my feelings this last week.
Ragnarok was upon us, the events of the end of the world, predicted so long ago, were finally coming to pass. And the warriors of Asgard, Valkyries, einherjar and Ulfr alike were revving things up, but as much as I tried I couldn’t summon even a hint of anticipation for the final showdown with Loki and his creepy band of Jotunn. Loki the Trickster, and the bane of my life since I’d entered Asgard. His skill at manipulation seemed unbeatable, and now after all these centuries he’d finally risen to challenge his father, Odin.
Rage rose within me, surging through my veins and although I felt my nails dig into my arms I did nothing. Felt nothing.
I gave a wry grin.
A feeling kept tapping away at the edge of my consciousness, like a determined woodpecker, bugging me endlessly, incessantly. I recognized it as the other, more stubborn part of my nature. The one that I’d heard only as a whisper through the days that I’d mourned the death of my closest friend. I knew I had to pull myself out of this funk. Something Sigrun would have said was typical of me and was what made me different.
I snorted. Unique was the last thing I felt. Broken was a way better description. Tears burned my eyes and my heart twisted in my chest. She was always there, a flimsy ethereal ghost walking with me, smiling as she sat beside me, her soft voice echoing in my memory, her grey wings fluttering at her back as she blushed at the mere mention of Fenrir’s name. But what hurt more than anything else was something I barely wanted to admit to myself.
She was slowly fading.
And just the thought made my stomach ache as if it was slowly turning to stone. The memory of her face was slowly disappearing, making me so desperately afraid. What if I forgot what she looked like? What kind of friend did it make me that it took so little time for me to lose the one connection I had left with Sigrun. The best friend I’d ever had. She’d been my guide and my mentor, my friend and my confidante.
And she had died on my watch.
I gritted my teeth. I was supposed to watch over my team and no matter how much anyone tried to convince me that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t see it that way. There must have been something I could have done that I didn’t do. Something I’d missed that could have gotten us out of Jotunnheim without killing Sigrun.
The land of the frost giants, where we’d gone to save a god and ended up finding one friend and losing another. I still heard the whirring of the arrow as it flew through the air. I still felt the stabbing pain in my heart when I heard the thwack as the arrow embedded itself into her flesh. And I still felt the hollow emptiness in my soul, an absence of all feeling that resonated within me long after I’d avenged her and killed the frost giant who had taken her from us.
When I’d heard the arrow and turned around, I’d been so sure it would have landed somewhere in the ground in front of me. The last place I expected to see it was inside Sigrun. My hands unlaced themselves and and shook as they grabbed onto the thick stone balustrade, my knuckles white and stiff, my knees trembling. I’d had to break the end of the spear off so we could move her to safety, but by then we had already lost her.
A bitter laugh escaped from my throat, the sound caught on an errant breeze and swept away as if it had never existed.
How much loss was a person supposed to endure?
I’d gotten careless. That was it. Didn’t remember that in Jotunnheim a pile of stones could be anything but what it looked like. That pile of stones had taken a Valkyrie’s life so quickly.
People say you should look on the bright side, see the positives in your life, but I couldn’t see a bright side. Just Odin, stuck in a strange inter-dimensional plane, put there by his Trickster son. And Aidan, once loved and loving, but now distant and unreachable, and Sigrun gone forever. Sure I could count the positives; Joshua giving me the love I needed, and Aimee so steadfast and fierce in her protectiveness, were birth still by my side. And, not forgetting the fact that the whole of the Nine Realms now knew who I really was.
Daughter of Odin.
If that could be seen as a positive, I thought wryly.
I wasn’t as convinced as everyone else seemed to be. What did a couple of stolen genes matter in the greater scheme of things? I was part of Odin, part of Dr. Halbrook, part of Irene, a mother who didn’t want me? What was I really? Just a mutated, bastardized version of the real warrior Brunhilde. Nothing more.
Drawing my cloak closer, I exhaled, my breath creating a white puffy cloud. A breeze took it, tearing it into smoky strands then stealing it away. Now a hint of orange bled into the sky. Orange streaked with a blood red. It will not be a good day today. And from the ache in my bones I wondered if my body was agreeing with me
I left the balcony and the view, deciding it was time to be a little practical.
I had a patient to visit.
I knocked lightly at the door and entered, cracking it open and peering inside. Brody had not been sent to the infirmary at Valhalla in the manner of all the other Warriors when healing. He was of course a special case considering everything he’d been through.
When I entered he looked up and smiled, his teeth a white flash against his caramel skin. He still had those chocolate dark eyes and that mop of unruly curls. But that was all that was left of my little foster brother Brody. When I’d know him he was ten, just a sapling of a kid, skinny and laughing all the time, forever playing tricks on me. I remembered one time when I’d been sitting on Ms Custer’s porch, my nose buried in a book. Something tiny hit me on the neck and I brushed it away. Again and again I kept swatting at nothing until I heard a soft giggle and rustling in the bushed beside the balustrade.
The last bug that hit me wasn’t going down without a fight. It grabbed onto my skin with all its might but thankfully the prankster’s aim was sadly off by an arms-length. As soon as I felt the pinch and saw the insect, I flew off the seat and began frantically dusting my shirt out, pulling the tails from my jeans and slapping at my bare waist, almost hysterical. And also furious. I remember yelling at him that he was a little brat and that I planned to spank him into next Tuesday but his cute giggles were what got me.
He’d always been able to make me laugh and he’d made that short stay in Ms Custer’s foster home in Craven so very special.
Now he sat on his bed and leaned against the dark, polished wood backrest, his face and body all grown to a young man who looked eighteen. A tray of breakfast sat on his lap, half-eaten.
I frowned. “I’m sorry to walk in on your breakfast.” I hesitated as I stood just inside the door.
He snorted, his eyes sparkling. “You can walk in anytime. I’m about to go crazy in this room. The only company I’ve had in the last day have been the four walls, and Greta the Huldra.”
“At least she’s cheerful,” I offered with a smirk.
“There is that,” he said, shrugging as he grinned back at me.
“I’m sorry. It’s probably my fault that everyones been neglecting you.”
He frowned and shook his head. “You know, Bryn, not everything that goes wrong around here is your fault.”
“Umm, thats debatable,” I winked and continued, “but what I meant was the warriors have preparations to make for our next mission. Joshua’s out with a scout team, and Aimee is training a group of Ulfr warriors. So they pretty much have their hands full.”
“And you? Don’t you have your own hands filled with work?” he asked as he picked up a half-eaten pastry.
I nodded and sat beside his knee. “Yup, which is why this has to be a short visit.”
He made a face but he didn’t push it.
“So tell me how you’ve been doing?”
His head bobbed a little too enthusiastically but I let him speak. “I’d doing very well, got some meat back on my bones, not so undernourished anymore, you can barely tell I have ribs anymore.”
I laughed although the memory of his emaciated body still gave me a chill. The frost giants certainly didn’t care for their prisoners. “Getting fat are we?” I asked stabbing a finger at his belly.
“Hey, get off. I’m still ticklish,” he whined and it reminded me so much of the old Brody that my expression faded to nothing. He turned his head studied my face. Seemed he’d noticed the change in my mood. “Hey, you okay Bryn?”
I nodded, vaguely aware he’d be waiting for some explanation. I went with the truth. “Just now, you reminded me so much of the boy I once knew.”
“That boy is still here Bryn.” He tapped his chest. “My body may have been changed but I don’t think the soul forgets the people you love.”
My throat tight as I swallowed back the emotion that seemed to envelop me. “I know but it’s a little strange to see you look so much older. I suppose I’ll get used to it.” Then I tilted my head and looked at him. “How much do you remember of being Brody in Craven?”
“All my memories seem to be intact. Just like with Joshua and the rest. But, it gets a little sketchy after I reached Valhalla.”
I frowned watching him pick at the flakes of pastry. “So you don’t recall being taken from here?”
“Nope.” He shook his head sadly. “I wish I could remember something.”
“I wonder how he managed to pull that off?” I asked myself softly.
“I don’t really think that matters much right now does it?” he asked, assuming I was talking to him. “I’m alive and I’m not going anywhere. I’ll soon be well enough to fight.”
I laughed. “No. What I meant was we need to investigate how he abducted you so we can find out how he entered and who in Asgard is working with him. He couldn’t have acted alone to take you right from under our noses. Someone must have helped him.”
Brody leaned against his pillows, his plate now covered in shredded bits of pastry. I got to my feet and said, “I’d better get moving. Morning meetings.”
As I turned to leave, Brody called out, “Bryn? Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” I turned to face him with a ready smile.
“When will I be able to fight?”
A shadow passed over my soul at the question but he deserved an answer, and an honest one at that. “As soon as you are strong enough you will begin your training. Then when Fenrir or your instructors say you’re ready then you’ll join a scout team and begin your missions.” Secretly I hoped it would be all over before he set foot out of the bed.
Now he beamed happily. “I can’t wait.”
“What’s the rush?” I asked laughing at his anticipation.
“Because Loki needs his head removed from his neck and I plan on fulfilling that task.”
I snorted. “Then you better get in line kiddo.”
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So LAST CHANCE is live and you can get it here:
LAST CHANCE book 3 in the DarkWorld SkinWalker series is now live!
Follow Kailin on her next adventure as she travels to the demon plane in search of her mother.
From Wraiths to Shapeshifters, rebel causes to fraying family ties, to inexplicable new powers, Kai must fight her darkest demons while entering the blackest pits of Wrythiin to save her mother.
If you wish to start the series, then the omnibus is an excellent choice.
***$6.99 for Pre-Release until a week after release only. Normally $7.99**
In the DarkWorld the things that go bump in the night are most likely true. And the problem is they are probably not sticking to bumping around in the night. They are everywhere. Your work colleagues, your teachers, even your friends. They’ve been living that way for a long time. And you haven’t noticed because they don’t want you to.
You’re much better off not asking any questions.
The Omnibus contains: Skin Deep, Lost Soul, Last Chance PLUS a Free Novella Pyros
Don’t forget to enter the LAST CHANCE Mega Release Day Giveaway.
Click here to enter
Just dropping a note to you for the following:
If you haven’t yet subscribed to my Newsletter you are missing out :)
This months Newsletter contains the following:
Chapters One to Four of LAST CHANCE
Bloggers interested in participating in the tour:
That’s all from me folks, back to the land of the Valkyries :)
Okay so- I’ve been emailed/messaged/Pm’d numerous time regarding sample chapters of Last Chance and as always – I hear ya!
So here is Chapter One and I just may put chapter Two up next week. Depends … ya know … if you want it that is :)
Oh and one commenter will receive an ARC of Last Chance, so don’t forget to leave a comment ;)
Releases end October 2014
A Walker funeral isn’t that different from the funerals of any other species. Flowers, coffins, mourners. Tears, grief. Regret.
The subtle difference lies in the species itself, and maybe in particular religious preference. Most Walkers regard the goddess Ailuros, cat god of the Greek pantheon, as their deity of choice. Worship isn’t in any way similar to most other EarthWorld religions.
Ailuros just is.
She is a constant, like the air in your lungs or the rain falling from a moody sky. The goddess is nature personified. She gives no gifts, answers no bargains. She is merely the god of all things.
Ailuros has no temples, not in the modern world. Not after the tsunami that was the annihilation of ‘witches’. Call a Walker or a Mage a witch and it was a laughably simple feat to eradicate entire clans. Places of worship were and always will be an open invitation to the religious zealots.
Now, the temple must exist inside your soul. Or else you were truly lost.
I often wonder how different life would be if humans knew we existed. What would they think if their son or daughter brought home a werewolf or a Fae for dinner? Cross-species reproduction? I shook my head, the movement jerky and short as I swallowed a bitter laugh. I walked, past faces some familiar, many not, to the front row of white aluminum foldout chairs. My father’s lawn, and the weather had cooperated in my sisters honor. The ground was firm, the grass a bright, cheery green. The sun streamed down, not so warm that we’d have to shed our coats, but with enough head that an afternoon outside was a pleasant experience.
Seems Mother Nature had remembered to pull out all the stops for Greer’s farewell.
I’d already said my goodbye to my sister. I sighed, my thoughts taking back a few weeks. We’d had our last conversation in a way I’d never expected. How many people get to talk to the dead?
I recalled Greer’s last words.
“So many times I pushed you away and yet you still came to help me. I didn’t deserve you. I don’t deserve you… Thank you, Kai.”
Words I never expected to hear, not from a sister who had always remained just that bit out of reach, just that bit colder than necessary.
I recalled the expression on her face, the sincerity in her eyes, and even the love as she spoke. So unexpected. Those words. Tears blurred my vision as I sat blindly on the nearest seat. I wished we’d had more time, I wished we’d been able to be close. But fate didn’t want it that way. I sighed and felt the lead weight in my stomach settle deeper into place.
I should be happy that Greer and I had made our peace but the harsher, more awful truth hung over me a dark, accusing cloud threatening to loose a storm of emotions. I’d failed my mother. I’d failed to save her daughter. What mother could forgive me? I didn’t deserve forgiving. I’d failed her.
Failed them both.
Murmuring from the back of the seated crowd drew my thoughts away from the cesspit of my self-pity. I shifted in my seat and glanced behind me. My father Corin, brother Iain and four other men I didn’t recognize, walked steadily along the center aisle bearing the weight of Greer’s coffin between them.
Made of molded concrete, shaped to fit the curves of Greer’s figure, the coffin was finished with exquisitely fine detail. The sculptor had paid close attention to Greer’s aquiline features, replicating them so closely that I would have sworn that Greer herself lay there. The rest of her body was sculpted wearing a peplos, an ancient toga-like garment draped elegantly around her body in the style of the Greek goddesses. Within the carved casket, Greer was dressed in a similar fashion.
Her body had been gently bathed, perfumed oils rubbed into her skin. Her long ash-blond hair, was washed, brushed and draped over her shoulders and allowed to fall off her body at the waist. Her hands had been positioned at the center of her chest, her fingers entwined around the feet of a stone statue of Ailuros, The statue stood straight up, its feminine curves enhanced by the fall of the fabric of her simple peplos. With the head of a panther the statue hearkened back to the days before Ailuros had evolved into the external manifestation of a cat, the days when the goddess bore the head of a lioness. Today, each walker tribe saw Ailuros with a head that signified their own species.
Only the cats, of course. Wolf walkers bowed to the feet of Anubis.
With a start I recognized Byron Teague, the local wolf alpha, and Justin Lake, alpha of the cougars behind my brother and father. Again, I was reminded that attendance at the funeral would be more a show of support of those grieving her death rather than an actual payment of respect to Greer herself. The lynx and jaguar alphas brought up the rear of the pallbearers. I turned and faced the stone bier at the front; a simple table constructed from white marble, and surrounded with vases of white roses.
From somewhere around me a lone violin sang sweet sad notes. A song I didn’t recognize but which brought tears to my eyes anyway. I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked away the moisture. I’d just regained my composure when a tap on my shoulder pulled my attending from the pallbearers who were setting the casket onto the bier. Behind me sat Lily, Logan, Saleem and Tara. Logan’s hand felt warm and comforting on my shoulder and I held tightly onto it. I drew strength just from the touch of the man.
Tara leaned forward, her dark hair glinting in the sun. “Mother couldn’t make it but she does send her apologies and her condolences,” she whispered in my ear before giving me a small encouraging smile.
I nodded. “Thanks,” was all I could think to say. I was overwhelmed by their support. Even more so when I caught a glimpse of Storm and Chief Murdoch sitting in the back row. Proof that I managed to gather my own little band of friends over the last few years. The one person I didn’t see was Clancy. Clancy McBride, my best friend, my supervisor at the rehab center, taken from me by the same Walker who, in the end, had killed my sister too.
The chair beside me squawked and I twisted around as Grams sat down. I took her hands and she squeezed them back. We were both dressed in white, me in a skirt suit, and Grams in a pants and matching jacket. Walkers shunned the nothingness of black. We saw death as another step in out journey, not a marking of the end, the beginning of nothing.
Gram’s and I had long supported each other in our grief, and I then guilt clawed at me, ripping open old wounds. When my uncle Niko had died we’d had no body to bury. They’d had a small memorial service but with everything that had happened, and everything Niko had done I couldn’t bring myself to attend. Grams and everyone else had understood. I’d been weak from the Wraith-sword poison, grieving for Clancy, terrified for Mom and Anjelo and Greer, all innocents sucked into Niko’s crazy schemes.
I tried to banish those thoughts, bring my attention back onto the ceremony. With the casket in place, the pallbearers dispersed and my father and brother came to sit beside us.
The light glinted off the carved face of the coffin as a woman glided slowly toward a lectern. The white podium stood beside the bier, covered in white fabric and decorated with a swag of white roses and baby’s breath. Etina was our equivalent to a pastor or a priest. The priestesses of Ailuros presided over deaths and births and marriages within the walker communities. Etina, her red hair held away from her face by a band of matching braids, came to a graceful stop behind the flowers and to to smile at the gathering.
I listened with half an ear as she spoke a little about Greer, an extolling of virtues that steered clear from her leaving home without so much as a goodbye, from her involvement with Pariah walkers Niko and Brand, and from any references to how she finally met her end. I swallowed a sob. Everywhere I looked I saw the image of my mother’s face, superimposed on everyone, saw the look of disappointment in her eyes everywhere I turned. A look I would need to face soon. My heart thudded as Etina motioned for my father to come forward to speak.
I didn’t hear his words, my mind still on my mother and the promises I’d broken. Fingers slipped in against mine and I looked at Iain as he held my hand, squeezing it in silent comfort. I’d refused to speak, not wanting to be a hypocrite. As sisters, we’d never been close. No point in pretending now.
Soon my father returned to his seat, and Etina resumed her duties. Movement around me brought me back to the present as the small gathering began to rise. The service was over and the coffin would be transferred to a special cart, whose dark gleaming wheels were almost as tall as I was. The cart would draw the coffin and the mourners along the edge of the town and deep into the mountains.
All walkers have a special place to bury their dead. Living in the world of humans the only safety we had against prying eyes is the ownership of private land. As such every Walker town would have a special burial ground. Whether they be within mountains or beneath the ground they were all lead lined to hide the contents and the entrances were all so well hidden you’d only know of its existence if you’d been shown it. And as a rule no human was ever shown the entrance to our Mausoleums.
And now, for the first time, I wondered how that rule applied to Mom.
When the gathering moved to the roadside, only immediate family, elders and the priestess completed the procession. The cart rolled back and forth on spindly wheels, then began to move, drawn by my father and brother. I followed, giving Logan and my friends a weak wave.
“We’ll wait for you at the house,” Lily whispered as my heels scraped the hard packed soil of the path.
The procession moved slowly- far too slowly for my liking. To be honest I just wanted it over and done with so I could get back to my normal life. Grams moved silently beside me sending waves of Jasmine in my direction. When she glanced at me, she threw me a soft smile, her blue eyes darker than the clear azure sky above us. But behind that comforting smile I could see a hint of resignation with a touch of determination added in for good measure. I sighed and trudges alone. If Grams could see it through, then I bloody well could too.
We walked together, following the rugged road deep into the forest of birch and ash whose branches rose high above us, but blessed us with ragged patches of golden light every few meters. I had to admit, no matter how much I wasn’t enjoying the walk, the trail through the forest was utterly beautiful. The very nature of it made my panther purr inside me. I pushed her back down and walked on until eventually we moved off the dirt track and into a clearing that seemed to appear out of the forest like magic. We’d reached the base of the mountain at last. My feet thanked them. Someone please remind me why in Ailuros’ name did I think heels were a good idea?
Someone up ahead would have pressed his hand against the plate hidden behind a fall of creeping ivy, because suddenly stone ground and scraped, and a large rock shifted aside to reveal the entrance to the burial cave. The threshold was wide enough to accommodate the wheeled carriage, allowing it to pass through comfortably. We followed it inside, and still none spoke. The last of the group stepped farther into the cool interior and the door grunted and groaned shut.
For the briefest moment we were plunged into a solid darkness so thick it felt like I was breathing shadows into my lungs. Seconds later, lights began to pop and flicker. Small electric lanterns, strung high up on the stone walls, lit the whole entrance cave up in its stark light.
The Tukats burial grounds was made up of a warren of caves leading off a long central corridor, and organized according to age of family. Each individual room backed onto solid stone, allowing the family to dig deeper into the mountain to expand their space should they expand their families. Many of the older family’s had caves within caves allocated to them. It all tended to get a little complicated so I’d only ever concentrated on the Odel tomb. The carriage wheels turned as it traveled to the furthest end of the passage, the thin wheels rolling along the stone floor. As the solemn procession moved into the shadowed depths, I followed, my heart thudding against my ribs.
Ours was the very last of the caves, as befitting of the oldest family in Tukats. The men prepared to remove the coffin from the carriage and the priestess fussed around them, wanting to ensure they didn’t damage the fragile carvings. She needn’t have bothered. The men, two others including my father and brother, were accustomed enough to funeral preparations as to take the required care with the coffin. Etina was just a fusser.
They slid the coffin off the wooden base of the carriage, then lifted it by the carved metal handles. The pallbearers hefted their burden through the entrance to the Odel burial chamber, finding the empty spot beside my uncle Niko’s coffin. Despite the deeds of his troubled lifetime they had accorded him the position in death that had always been allocated to him. He lay beside his father, my grandfather, late husband to Grams who stood silently beside me. Everyone within the community had access to the burial caves, many coming and going as they pleased, but I knew Grams hardly ever visited. I’d never understood her reluctance until now.
The walls exuded a deep cold that did nothing to counter the icy fingers of grief. Although I was not mired deeply within the grip of mourning for Greer I could understand the need to have someone make you feel better. And this cold, underground mausoleum certainly did nothing to help a me feel better. If anything it made me feel a little too closer to death than I old have liked. I moved toward Grams, happy to feel the warmth of her arm as she drew me closer.
In that moment I missed Mom so badly that I felt the stab of longing deep in my gut. It hurt and hot tears filmed my eyes. I blinked them away and just in time as Iain and my father joined Grams and me. The rest of the townspeople who’d accompanied us to the burial grounds moved to position themselves behind us. Etina walked silently to the head of the coffin, a censer swinging from her hand, her skirts rustling. Ribbons of white smoke streaming from the gleaming brass container, curling and spiraling upward until they dissipated above our heads.
The scent of incense softened the icy air, and I felt the tight fist in my gut release its hold on me.
Etina spoke about the eternal quality of the soul and how the ones we lose are never truly gone. I almost believed her.
I recalled the way Greer had retreated into the light, how it had felt so right, as if she was returning home, Or was it perhaps the expression on my sister’s face. One I’d never seen before.
Disclaimer: Please remember this excerpt is unedited :)
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I’m Happy to announce that REQUIEM, the second book in the Chronicles of Irin Series, is now live!
Her name is Evangeline and she is Nephilim.
Evie is stuck in the Underworld until she can find a way to be released from her new-found role as Hades. And the longer she remains in Hades the more secrets are revealed about her true origins. A confrontation with a Dark Angel brings two revelations to the Evie – the true identity of Daniel, the Master of the Irin’s assistant, and who is he to Evie herself.
While a trip into the depths of Hades leads Evie into the fiery depths of Tartarus and eventually to the eternal peace of Elysium, will Evie find the peace she seeks? And what about the smoking hot Julian, god of Hades? How far is he willing to go to keep Evie at his side?