Saturday, October 8, 2022

"Ruinous" Sneak Peek: Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2

Playing With the Big Boys


I’m not sure what’s more embarrassing: the fact I was stupid enough to be drugged and kidnapped or the fact that it takes waaaay too fucking long for me to comprehend what is happening.

The last thing I remember was standing on the street with the Forsaken holding a knife to my throat. He didn’t slice me open—thank Christ—but the alternative didn’t feel much better.

Don’t believe what the movies tell you, because when you see people like Tom Cruise slamming bad guys in the head with guns and elbows and fists, they always drop to the ground, unconscious.

When the Forsaken hit me, my skull felt like I’d been bludgeoned by a brick. The impact did have me dropping to the ground, but it wasn’t enough to knock me out. No, that would have been too nice. Instead, I just lay there on the asphalt, so certain the asshole had knocked my fucking brain loose. Black peppered my vision, and tiny flashes of white exploded all over my periphery, even when my eyes were closed. There was the sharp prick to my neck, and then—


Until now.

Enough time has passed for the pain in my head to have subsided enough that it doesn’t feel like my brain might explode, the pain registers no less. And it’s not just in my head.

I feel like I’ve been plowed over by a semi, and I’m surprised I can flex the fingers on my left hand because it feels like my arm has been ripped off by the shoulder.

Everything around me sounds distorted and loud all at once, which should have been my first clue that something’s wrong. I want to tell everyone to shut the fuck up, but when I try to speak, my tongue feels too large for my mouth and I can’t get my lips to part. The muscles in the back of my neck are pulled as tight as bowstrings, and it’s only then that I realize I’m already sitting up. My head is slumped forward, and I find it’s the only part of me that can move.

Chains lock me into place—around the chest, around the abdomen, around the legs—and of course, each wrist is bound to the chair’s armrest. The metal feels like its fresh from the fire as it sears any exposed skin.


Just perfect.

I try to pry open my eyelids, but there may as well be ten-pound weights attached to them. 

Though it’s muffled, I can detect laughter somewhere in front of me. The sounds grow louder, accompanied by footsteps as I try and fail to lift my head.

“Looks like Sleeping Beauty’s finally coming around.”

When I don’t respond, fingers dig into the back of my hair, yanking my head up. If muscles could cry, the ones in my neck would be weeping with relief, but any good fortune vanishes as a fist slams into the side of my face.

Well, that seems gratuitous, is all my drug-addled brain can conjure up. And maybe it’s the tranquilizer’s effects or just the sheer stupidity in that thought, but I want to laugh.

Yeah, I’m apparently not “awake enough” for my captors, because any humor vanishes at the sound of a very distinct, very sharp crackle that ignites in front of me just as something presses to my chest.

Let me tell you, kids, avoid being tased at all costs, because, as you can imagine, fifty-thousand volts of electricity hurts like a motherfucker.

Ever had a Charlie Horse in your leg? Well, imagine that sensation all over your body. It doesn’t even last six seconds, but the feeling isn’t my idea of a pleasant wakeup call. And boy, does it get the job done. 

Again, I’m not sure why you see people being rendered unconscious all the time by tasers in movies because there’s nothing but sheer and total awareness of my body as any lethargy is jolted clear out of me. Every muscle cramps up, and the full-body spasm begs for my limbs to straighten out, despite my chains.

The moment the metal prongs are lifted from my chest, the sensation thankfully goes with it, but the relief doesn’t last long. Meaty fingers grip my jaw, and with one swift yank, the duct tape I didn’t even realize was on my mouth is ripped away.

“Son of a bitch!” It may not be my most eloquent line, but that shit must have been glued on. I’m pretty sure it ripped out half my facial hair in the process.

That’s easily the least of my problems though, because one look around the room tells me I’m fucked.

Concrete walls surround me, the space entirely open and empty, save for the crates, stocked artillery, and a few bed cots up against the far wall. Everything’s cold and gray and lit by those hanging industrial bulbs protected inside tiny cages.

Stripped of any other content, the space looks suspiciously like an army barrack.

Because it is.

Because I’ve been here before.

Westmoreland Penitentiary closed its doors back in the nineties and—with the exception of an occasional television or film crew—it had remained unused for decades until Nathan Reynolds’s security firm purchased the property. The whole place had undergone massive renovations to make it into something more akin to a military compound for Reapers.   

And it had served such a purpose, until now, apparently.

Because not one of the assholes occupying the room is of the angelic variety. That much is clear.

Half a dozen bruisers stand at the only entrance to the room, all easily twice my size. That wouldn’t mean much if my runes were working, but so long as I’m locked in silver, magic won’t be on my side. Even if it was, I doubt their companions would let me get far. 

Several Hellhounds circle the perimeter, their sulfuric stench strong enough to smother me from here. Even with their matted black fur concealing the fullest extent of their injuries, it’s clear they’ve all been recently put through the wringer. One is outright leaving continuous tracks of blood across the floor as it paces, and another is missing a huge chunk of its left ear. Still, they’re licking their chops, and that is most definitely blood staining their teeth, so I’m not feeling particularly keen on ruffling their metaphorical feathers. 

And then there’s the matter of Carly, or rather the three-hundred-year-old bitch currently renting out her body. She had clearly showered since I last saw her on the street covered in blood, soot, and God only knows what else, because she’s pristine from the top of her blonde head all the way down to her bare feet. She’s also ditched the red carpet look Carly had been sporting for the gala, opting for a dress right out of the Elvira collection. And I don’t mean the Mistress of Darkness. I mean full-on Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface. 

This little red number looks to be silk and shows off a plethora of skin with a slit that nearly reaches the outside of her hip and a neckline cut low enough that she’s one wrong move away from a wardrobe malfunction. And she’s barefoot. Even if I couldn’t see that her eyes are entirely black, this detail would have been enough to clue me in that she’s possessed. 

The girl is rather…neurotic when it comes to her feet. The sight of someone walking barefoot in public is enough to make her dry heave, and at school, she talked Daniel’s ears off about how it’s an “open invitation for fungi and parasites” when she heard that he didn’t wear flip-flops in the locker room showers. I kid you not, she broke up with him until he agreed to.

All of the walls and ceilings and even the floor have a damp look to them, and I can imagine the real Carly would be screaming bloody murder if she witnessed herself like this.

And let’s not forget Daddy Dearest brooding in the corner.

It’s quite fortunate that Kat doesn’t resemble her father, seeing as how the Angel of Death is about as intimidating as you might imagine. The guy’s got to be at least six-three and built like an MMA fighter. For the life of me, I can’t wrap my head around what Kat’s birth mother ever saw in him. I mean, he’s got that whole “tall, dark, and handsome” thing down to a T, but the severity in his features makes it look like his face could crack in half if he dared to smile. Not exactly what you would call “come hither.” Anger radiates off him like heat from the sun. It’s that palpable. The way he’s eyeing me, you’d think he wants to snap my spine in half.

Hell, he probably does, though I can’t say it’s warranted.

The only thing I’m guilty of is being mated to his daughter, and he’s made it quite clear he couldn’t give any less of a shit about Kat.

But the real prize is the motherfucker standing directly in front of me.

Next to this fallen angel, Kat’s old man may as well be a kitten.

I thankfully had the pleasure up until now of seeing the Forsaken only with a mask on. Without it? Well, the sight is enough to want to scrub my mind’s eye out with bleach, because oh holy hell is it terrifying. 

Since I didn’t die in the ritual that brought him back from the pits of Hell, the Forsaken didn’t come back quite “whole.” He’s inhumanly good-looking…for the half of his face that actually has skin. The right side of his body is perfectly preserved, while the left is literally that of a living skeleton. And witnessing both halves draw themselves into a smile isn’t helping the nightmare permanently cementing itself in my head.

“Hello, prince,” he croons, his voice almost lyrical as he admires the taser still in his hand. “I don’t believe we’ve had the chance to be properly introduced, but I assume you know who I am.”

I take a long, purposeful look at his face. “Harvey Dent?”

Clearly, he isn’t a Batman enthusiast, because his one functioning eyebrow furrows, and he seems genuinely confused. It’s not until a soft snicker comes from somewhere behind me that he realizes I’m taking the piss out of him.

And I’m promptly rewarded with a fist to the face.

I’ve taken more than my fair share of punches, but holy fucking shit, I was not prepared for that. Seeing as how the asshole didn’t even bother using the hand with skin on it, you’d think that might lessen the impact.

And you would be wrong.

Seriously, is the guy made of marble? Because it feels like someone literally just slammed a large rock into my cheekbone, hard enough that I hear a crack. 

“Care to venture another guess?”

I try to smile and instantly regret it as pain radiates up my cheek and even into my eye. “Given your warm welcome? I’d rather not.”

The asshole flexes his hand, all too ready to deliver another strike. “Oh, come now. Dazzle us with that silver tongue and quick wit.”

I’m really not in the mood to have my face quite literally bashed in, so I offer what little I do know. “You’re a member of the Forsaken. You fought in Lucifer’s rebellion.”


And what?

That’s seriously the bottom of the very shallow well of information I have on him.

When all I can provide him is a blank expression, he sighs and rolls his eyes over-dramatically. 

“Aide-de-camp to the Heir of Babylon, Michael’s greatest adversary in the Book of Daniel…” He’s looking at me more expectantly now, and—


Seriously, I’m not trying to be a dick, but I have no idea what the fuck he’s going on about.

“The Prince of Persia,” he iterates, like that should clear everything up.

It doesn’t. The only metaphorical light bulb turning on has to do with some video games and a Jake Gyllenhaal movie, and I don’t think he’ll appreciate another smartass remark.

When I don’t answer again, he pinches the bridge of his nose…or at least what he has of it. The cartilage is still there, but it looks terribly thin on the damaged side, barely held together by skin that blends right into the exposed bones of his cheek. “I expected as much from these humans. Fuck, they can barely remember what they ate for breakfast last week. But to discover that the Underworld’s own crown prince is this dimwitted?”

“Well, my apologies, but I haven’t taken Bible Study classes since I was little, and I had a painfully short attention span as a child.” And maybe you just weren’t worth remembering. It takes everything in me not to voice that last bit.

“Dagon, of Gehenna.” He says this, again, like this should be a revelation, but it still means shit-nothing to me.

Kat’s old man can’t seem to take anymore, because he rolls his eyes so far I’m surprised he didn’t detach his corneas in the process. “As much as we all appreciate your dick measuring here, can we please move on to business?”

I’m grateful for the subject change…until I catch a glimpse of the dagger he’s unsheathed from behind his back. Although, calling it a mere dagger seems to be underselling it. The sucker’s long and broad enough to fall into the short sword territory. And he just so happens to be bringing it with him as he heads over to me.

“Look familiar?” He turns the blade over, showcasing the all-too-familiar symbols forged into the steel. “Word has it that you stole its cousin from a descendant of mine, after you slayed him.”

Ah, yes. The Sanctus blade.

The not-so-lovely angelic sword that just so happens to destroy the soul of anyone killed by it. There are only seven of its kind in the world, and one may or may not have fallen into my possession.

Unsurprisingly, Samael isn’t in the mood for my bitching, because he stops me before I even start. “Katrina already confessed to Nick Holloway several weeks ago that you stole it.”

“In my defense, your ‘descendant’ was trying to kill your daughter and me, so I’d call it the spoils of war, if anything. Not to mention, the guy was a grade-A dick.” Yeah, not helping, Ryder.

Samael doesn’t even blink at the remark. “Be that as it may, I’d like it back.”

“Yeah, and I would really like a vacation in Hawaii right about now. Sadly, I don’t see either of us getting what we want.” 

Dagon steps forward again, all too willing and eager to crush every bone in my body, but Samael just lifts his hand. The gesture is enough to fend him off, albeit reluctantly.

“Even if by some unfathomable reason I wanted to give it back, the only person who can retrieve your precious sword was deep-fried by your friend here with Hellfire last night, so he’s not exactly in the condition to go get it,” I say, motioning to Carly, or rather Angélique.

A flicker of confusion registers in those green eyes, but before Samael can ask further, the witch is all too happy to take the reins. 

“Speaking of stolen things,” she purrs, “I’d like my grimoire back.”

“Come again?”

“My spell book,” Angélique clarifies.

“I know what it is, but why would you think I have anything of yours?” I ask.

“Perhaps this will jog your memory.” She heads over to the table and grabs a piece of paper. It’s a fresh white sheet with a photocopy image of aged parchment.

I’ve spent the past two years looking through at least a hundred different grimoires, and nothing about this looks remarkable. I say as much, earning a frown.

“My grimoire was said to have been destroyed after my untimely death, and this was clearly written by another’s hand, but the spell is the same,” she says, “which means there’s a replica floating around.”

“And what makes you so certain I would have it?” 

Angélique’s smile only broadens as she practically pushes the printout into my face. “This was leaked by a demon who just so happened to get it from your boss. And word has it that this was taken from a grimoire your brother delivered, on your orders.”

The only book I gave to Raelynd was that old journal Kat found at an abandoned church outside of Greenpoint Cemetery, where Angélique’s body had been laid to rest…

“Any witch worth her salt knows her own spells, so why would you care if someone else has the book?” I ask.

She gives me a saccharine smile. “As you can imagine, opening a portal into Hell isn’t exactly a process you want to play fast and loose with. Its complexity leaves a lot of room for error, something you don’t want to risk when resurrecting a body. If the ritual isn’t completed and performed by the book, a person can easily be brought back missing some limbs, or in some cases—” she nods over to Dagon “—your skin. I pride myself in knowing I will bring us all back intact.”

“Well, most of us,” Dagon mutters, making a point to look at Angélique, whose expression is suddenly caught between confusion and pure rage as they seem to share a silent exchange.

“You said I would get my body, that I wouldn’t have to keep possessing people—”

He holds his hands up as if to placate her, but his words certainly don’t match his actions. “I said you would get a body. You choose any fetching creature you wish, and we’ll use the energy from the portal to make you its sole occupant.”

“I want my body!”

“Your body comes back in the condition you died in, lovely. Seeing as how we all drowned, the worst thing that will happen is that we come back a little damp. You, on the other hand, will look like a melted candle if you’re lucky.” 

She honestly looks like she may very well stab Dagon, but that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, because he still reaches out, taking hold of her waist. “Come now. At least you’ll have a body. And might I say, this one is particularly fetching.”

Does he have a death wish? Because the venom in her eyes could take down any lesser man. 

The girl is pissed. 

“She doesn’t look anything like me! And she’s cumbersome at best.” Angélique shakes her head as if it’s an Etch-A-Sketch. “The brat is already trying to claw her way up, and it’s barely been three hours.”

“Just do a shot,” one of the guards suggests, lifting a flask in his hand. “It’ll quiet her down, at least for a little while.”

She rolls her eyes, indignant. “You don’t think I’ve already tried that? If I do anymore, I’ll be the one drunk. How much longer do we have to wait?” 

“Not long, I reckon.” Dagon motions over her shoulder as footsteps staggered down the hall in our direction. Applause breaks out for a whopping ten seconds before the room goes quiet enough that you can hear a raindrop fall.

“What the fuck happened?” Kat’s father demands.

 Only once Angélique steps aside do I see the new arrival is Reese. The last I saw of him, Nick had put a bullet into his leg. And it appears he’s had an eventful few hours, because Reese is looking an awful lot like a horror movie victim. His clothes are torn and frayed, and there isn’t an inch of skin that doesn’t appear to have blood on it. Not to mention the dozens of scratch marks running down the length of his face. You’d think a rabid cat had been set loose on him.

“Why don’t you ask his boss?” Reese seethes, looking at me of all people. “Raelynd and his cronies ambushed the site. Wiped out the coven and freed Kat.”

“And Miss Monroe?”

Reese doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t need to. The fury brewing in his eyes speaks volumes.

I don’t believe it. 

Kat and Daisy got away.

It takes everything in me not to laugh.

Kat’s father continues interrogating Reese, but the latter doesn’t bother even looking in Samael’s direction. His eyes are wholly focused on me.

“Well, you look worse for wear,” I taunt.

“You’ve looked better yourself,” Reese growls.

“Ah, yes, but I’ve looked far worse.” My face begs to differ, because the mere act of smiling activates every muscle and its corresponding pain. The effort is enough that black spots dance in the outer edges of my vision, but holy hell, is it worth it. “Seems someone has found out my little kitten has claws.”

As expected, Reese only seethes further, enough that I’m surprised he isn’t foaming at the mouth. “She’s not yours!”

“You might want to tell that to your face.”

Further yelling and questions ensue, but Reese doesn’t acknowledge them. He charges over—well, as best as he can, given the limp—slamming his fist into my left cheek.

I welcome the hit, spitting out the blood pooling in my mouth with a laugh.

I don’t care that I’m egging him on. The fucker didn’t strip Kat of her runes, because he couldn’t. Because my girl fought with the ferocity he’s been trying to smother, even before he was hexed. Reese wants some sweet, timid “Damsel in Distress,” and only now is he realizing what should have been painfully obvious. Kat ain’t Princess Buttercup. She’s pried his claws out of her, and even better? She’s turned those claws on him. Kat sees Reese for what he is under all the boy-next-door bullshit. 

That hex doesn’t turn you into a different person. It brings out the worst in you. Everything he’s done, he’s more than capable of it if push comes to shove. And at long last, she sees this. She sees him without any masks on, and she’s not liking what’s underneath. Kat would sooner claw off Blackburn’s face, literally, than be with him.

And he knows it.

But as that old phrase would tell us, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

Reese gets in three solid punches before Dagon finally pulls him back, and that last one definitely does its damage. I hear rather than feel the break of bone. Everything already hurts too fucking much to tell, but either he’s broken my jaw or cracked a couple of teeth.

I’m given my answer when I spit out a molar with my next mouthful of blood.

As expected, Reese tries wrestling out of Dagon’s grip, but it doesn’t do any good.

Not having my face bashed in should be a relief. And it would be, if not for the look Angélique sends my way.

“Now, now,” she simpers, patting Reese on the shoulder. “Don’t go breaking our dear Prince. Not before I’ve had my fun with him.”

And just like that, I know I’m fucked.

Chapter 3



It’s not exactly something that should give you the warm and fuzzies—recognizing your foreseeable prison—but I can’t help feeling the slightest sense of relief knowing that I am, in fact, at Reynolds’s Reaper compound. It took a shit-ton of pain and some good old-fashioned dumb luck, but I was able to cut my last visit short. I can only pray that Lady Luck is again on my side tonight as I’m escorted past the same barred cells of the compound’s basement.

Nathan Reynolds obviously hadn’t been anticipating keeping too many guests here, seeing as how he had only left this section of the original prison untouched. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It reeks of mold and mildew, and half the iron bars on the cells have rusted. The other half, however, gleams in only the way fresh silver can.

And oh, look.

Five cells down, I find my old stomping grounds. Chains are still fixed into the wall mounts, and the door sits ajar, in invitation. It also seems hygiene isn’t a priority, with the dark carmine stains coating the floor and cuffs. I can only hope that the blood is solely my remnants, but it’s wish fulfillment at best.

I expect to be led into the cell or at least one of its identical companions, but the two bruisers flanking each side of me continue dragging me down the hall. We round a bend to an unfamiliar section of the basement, and we only stop once we reach a steel door at the very end. The damned thing looks like something that belongs to a bank vault, offering plenty of noise reduction. That still didn’t seem to be enough to whoever had installed a ward just outside its surface, because I’m hit with a wave of magic before the door is even hauled open.

When Angélique had announced where I would be going, I safely assumed she would be playing escort. So color me relieved when she instead left with her half-faced companion. I didn’t want to imagine what exactly she would be doing with Carly’s body, but picturing her playing Operation on me wasn’t much better.

My two snarling companions had apparently taken the long way to get here, because we find Angélique already waiting on the other side of the door. And let me tell you, the sight isn’t a pretty one.

Evidently, dowsing me in holy water and filleting my skin with silver just won’t do.

Five occupied cells line the right wall, and the insides speak for themselves. The first contains a man who appears to have kissed a buckshot. At least, that’s what it looks like from what’s left of his face. The body lays slumped against the far wall where blood and other unmentionables have splattered. I’d call it a small mercy, given the state of his neighbor in the following cell. 

Blood pools the entire floor around a sprawled corpse, the severed arm lying beside him the obvious cause of death. And he couldn’t have died too long ago. The blood hasn’t even dried. Hell, the edges still look to be fanning out. I know I shouldn’t feel too bad, given what these assholes put me through here, but it doesn’t squelch my nausea as recognition hits. 

He’s one of Nathan Reynolds’s men, as I suspect the others are—likely whoever was occupying the compound when Dagon and Samael seized it.

I don’t even bother cataloging the carnage of the next two cells. Not like I could really tell. It’s just a mess of limbs and torsos tossed on top of one another. I can see a couple of heads, but it’s clear most of the bodies don’t even have that. There have to be at least eight victims here, all bloodied beyond identification.

The same cannot be said about the particular person positioned by the back wall.

From what I gathered during my own time here, Nathan Reynolds had preferred blades and scalpels when it came to his “interrogation” methods. Angélique, on the other hand, appears to admire the Spanish Inquisition. And not the Monty Python version. We may as well have entered the set of Hostel or Saw.

 It probably doesn’t reflect well on my character, but I recognize more than a handful of devices right off the bat. Your typical fanfare is front and center: thumbscrews, a wooden horse, a waterboarding station, and even a rack. What turns the bile in my throat volcanic, however, can be found in the corner.

A God’s honest Strappado.

For those of you unfamiliar with medieval torture devices, it’s a rigging used to tie a person’s hands behind their back in what historians might call a Palestinian Hanging. The method uses its victim’s weight against itself, the way it does in a crucifixion. If you’re lucky and the torture only lasts for a short while, you might be able to get out alive with dislocated shoulders, but the odds aren’t in your favor.

Without the use of your arms, you’d have no choice but to bear the weight of your entire body on your chest, forcing your rib cage into a position of perpetual inhalation. And without the ability to get the air out of your lungs, you’ll get to enjoy the excruciatingly slow process of suffocating. The lack of oxygen also forces fluid into the area around your heart. If you’re lucky enough not to suffocate to death first, you can get the lovely experience of having your heart literally rupturing in your chest. 

The heavier you are, the quicker the death.

Dominic Rafferty isn’t the Hulk by any means, but he definitely isn’t a featherweight, standing about as tall as me with roughly the same muscle mass.

I had only crossed paths with the Irishman once, and considering he was hexed with the order to deliver Kat and me to our deaths, I wouldn’t say it was a pleasure. But my brother had known him to some degree…and he had come with Kat to face off against Dagon after the hotel blew up, so it’s safe to say I don’t have the full scope of what’s going on here.

I can confirm as much when he lifts his head enough to see who is approaching.

His entire neck had been covered in an assortment of hexes, the tattoos varying from elaborate to downright macabre. Now? His neck looks like an overused dry-erase board, the white of his skin smeared with what appears to be blotches and streaks of grayish marker, as if the extensive brandings had been nothing more than cheap henna now scrubbed away.

Honestly, what the fuck is going on?

Dominic is supposed to be a Light Mage, which means silver shouldn’t affect him. Yet, steam rises from the manacles his wrists are strapped to as the metal sears the exposed flesh. And that’s not the only thing sizzling. One of Angélique’s lackeys presses some kind of flat stone into the side of Dominic’s neck. The rock burns bright orange the second it makes contact, as if it’s a hot fire poker.

The sound that comes from Dominic is muffled by the gag in his mouth, but it’s still unmistakably a…laugh.


I already gathered that the guy’s a bit of an odd duck, considering he’s dressed like a cross between Stuart Townsend in Queen of the Damned and Jack Sparrow. But quite literally laughing in the face of torture is a whole new level of peculiar. 

Angélique doesn’t take too kindly to his less-than-desired reaction either, because she runs a finger along the length of his arm before pressing down when she reaches the top. His shoulder bows, looking all but ready to dislocate—

But she abruptly lets up, taking notice to the back of his neck. Angélique begins tugging at the fabric concealing his chest, shoulder blades, and other arm. “What is the meaning of this?” she hisses.

I can easily see at least six burn marks in various stages of healing on his skin, all the same size as the stone that was just pressed to his neck.

It’s apparently what she doesn’t see that’s the problem, because the guard has to swallow down the lump in his throat, his voice unsteady. “We did as you said. We’ve tried every variation of firestone on supply, but none of the sigils will brand to his skin.”

I get a better look at the flat rock the guard places on the nearby table, and sure enough, there’s an intricate design carved into it.

It’s the stones used to sear hexes into a person’s flesh.

Sure, Dominic’s skin is burnt, but there isn’t so much as a speckle of ink there either.

“Take him up to Dagon, see if he doesn’t have another method,” she orders. The witch looks increasingly agitated as two of the guards ease the gears to the Strappado’s rigging and drag him from the room…

But then her attention returns to me. 

The black inky substance that accompanies possessions fills Carly’s eyes in time to the witch’s flare of emotion. “You know, I never understood why these Reapers prefer escalation. They think that breaking a man slowly is somehow more effective. If anything, I find it promotes resistance. Considering your own impressive collection of scars, I can assume you understand. Give the body a chance to adapt, and it’ll build up the necessary pain threshold. That’s why I don’t bother with foreplay.”

Before I can so much as breathe, I’m slammed into the wall beside me. Only then do I see the blackened metal fixed to the equally blackened cement. It’s about ten inches tall and raised a good seven feet off the ground. The metal is only an inch thick, but it expands at least eight feet wide. One of the guards grabs my hand and pins it at an angle to the metal. I anticipate the contact to burn my skin, certain it’s coated in silver. 

To my surprise… nothing happens. 

I attempt to pull my hand back, only for the other guard to level his fist into my solar plexus. I can’t help it. My diaphragm contracts, and all I’m fit to do is double over. Or at least I try. The back of my hand is still firmly pinned by the one bruiser’s grip, leaving my body practically hanging by the effort.

I barely get the chance to lift my head in time to see Angélique removing something from a liquid-filled jar. 

At first, I think it’s a blade, the glint to the damp material unmistakably silver. The metal is at least nine inches long, fashioned to a fine needlepoint. Only when she brings it closer does the pungent smell of rubbing alcohol sting my nose.

“Can’t let you get sepsis now, can we?” She purrs, flashing that forged metal in front of my face.

It’s not a blade. It looks more like a goddamn railroad spike. And it’s the last thing I can process before she hammers it right through my hand! 

Tendons sever as she twists it oh so slightly, and a soft click can be heard, as if it’s been locked into place within the metal frame. 

There’s no breathing through the pain.

The contractions in my diaphragm are the only things keeping me from screaming, because all I can see is black as my entire awareness centers on that singular point of impact. The guard releases my hand, and as I attempt to crumple to the floor, I’m rewarded with further tearing as that metal pinches deeper against the median nerve running through my wrist and palm. I’m not going to lie; lesser pain has sent me into shock. That glorious numbness is all I can pray for, but the initial trauma isn’t ebbing. 

With every second the pain is only doubling, tripling on itself as my insides react to the silver, not to mention the alcohol soaking the nail. I could have gotten my hand run over by a fucking car, and it would have hurt less.

My effort to wrestle my other hand away is laughable. At least to Angélique. She regards me with the kind of amusement a demented child shows an ant frying under a magnifying glass. 

Fuck, I’d take death by fire at this point. It would be a hell of a lot faster. I’m barely able to breathe through the pain enough to draw in the air, to fuel my scream, as that second nail finds its home. 

My vision doesn’t just go black. My whole world does. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Sneak Peak - "Ruinous: Book 4 of the Marked Mage Chronicles"


Take Me To Church

Mystic Harbor during the holidays was nothing short of breathtaking. The cobblestone streets in the Old Port historic district could easily be mistaken for an English village. Christmas decorations covered every last storefront, wreaths hung from the gaslight lampposts, and the undisturbed sheet of snow that settled across the sidewalks made it look like a Thomas Kinkaid painting come to life. 

But where holiday shoppers should have been milling around were nothing but cold, empty streets. Every last shop was pitch-black inside, and not one light—from the decorations to the abandoned cars to the streetlights—was working. The only thing illuminating the desolate boulevard was the continuous strikes of lightning that doubled in frequency with every passing minute, its accompanying thunder clashing with the sirens wailing in the distance. Smoke and flames rose from the decimated hotel several streets north as creatures from the Realm of the Damned ran rampant out front. The world was falling down around me…

But all I could focus on was my world. The Forsaken—an ancient, indestructible fallen angel resurrected from the pits of Hell—held a blade to my mate’s throat.

And yet, that wasn’t the worst of it. 

All I could do was scream and sob as Val’s weight fell into me, dragging us both to the ground no matter how hard he tried to stay on his feet. The gunshot still echoed in my ear, Blaine and Dominic roared in anguish, and the Forsaken was still gloating, but I couldn’t focus on any of it.

All I could see were Val’s eyes. The incomprehension. The pain. The inevitable, horrible understanding of what was happening, why he couldn’t drag in a breath, why there was blood coming from his mouth as he tried to force the words out, why blood pooled out between the fingers pressed to his chest. 

“Tsk, tsk, my pretty pet,” she purred. 

I knew those words…


The three-hundred-year-old witch’s melodic voice had been haunting me in every waking moment and even followed me into my dreams, despite the fact that she was dead.

But it wasn’t her who said it.

The cadence was dead right, but…  

I lifted my eyes just enough to see over Val’s shoulder. Not ten feet from me lay Dominic, his body practically convulsing as he clutched his head. And behind him…


Blood ran down both sides of her neck from her ears, her elegant black and silver ball gown was torn and tattered, and her once-flawless makeup now bled beneath her eyes in tear-streaked black lines.

And yet she was smiling oh-so sweetly down at us, Dominic’s handgun still aimed at Val’s back…where she had shot him.

“Valor, Valor, Valor. A cold, heartless bastard of legend reduced to a simpering, sentimental fool,” she purred again in that horribly beautiful cadence. “What a pity.”

With no more than a blink of the eyes, the brown and white in them turned black, confirming exactly as I feared.

She was possessed. But not just by a demon.

By Angélique.

She clicked her tongue, eyeing Val as if he were nothing more than a pinned butterfly. “It really would be the humane thing to do to put you out of your misery, but where would the fun be in that?”

Val’s entire body spasmed in my hold at the sound of her voice, silver lining his eyes as he tried so desperately to speak.

“Oh, I’m sure I can find some.” There was nothing pleasing to the voice that cut in as black smoke materialized right behind him. Only the vaguest outline of a man took form inside of it when Val hawked on the air forced from his body.

A massive blade tore so deep into the center of Val’s back, its fine tip exited through the front of his chest. The impact and sheer force sent warm, red liquid spraying into my face before the sword was promptly pried back out, Val’s body carelessly discarded to the pavement.

Meaty fists grabbed the back of my hair, jerking my head up as that black smoke petered away to reveal its host.

My father.

“Shall we begin?”

I couldn’t do anything more than seethe as that black smoke manifested once more. But it wasn’t around him. It blanketed my body, and just like that, the ground gave out from under me.

I fell,

and fell,

and fell…

before slamming into the earth.

Mystic Harbor’s downtown was long gone, replaced by the cold barren expanse of a field. At the sight of trees lining the frozen grasslands, I mistook it for Jameson Battlefield, but the terrain was far too hilly and lanterns didn’t line the property.

What little comfort I should have taken in the fact that I wasn’t sent to the place I was destined to die vanished almost instantly. Because there were torches, over a dozen positioned atop posts to form a circle at least twenty feet in diameter.

And in the middle of the circle…

A star-encrusted pentagram had just been scorched into the frozen grass, smoke still simmering from the charcoaled blades. And just as I’d seen once before, pale rocks and strange, bone-white branches were arranged at its very center to make a misshapen diamond. Looking closer, I realized those weren’t all just branches. 

It was bone.

Actual bone!

This was the very same sacrificial ceremony used to break the Anastasis Seal, the portal that could unleash Hell’s worst nightmares onto Earth. Six of the seven necessary victims had already been killed. All that remained was Daisy, a Seer that Reese had abducted from the hospital.

At least a dozen people closed in around me, but none had her distinctive brunette hair streaked in purple.

The one person I did recognize:


The boy who I had fallen for not so long ago. The boy who stood by my side when it seemed like no one else would. The boy who had promised to never give up on me. The boy who now towered above my sprawled body, the Sanctus blade unsheathed in his right hand. The boy who grinned down at me with the predatory gleam of a wolf. 

This wasn’t my Reese, even if this monster wore his face. “Hello, Princess.”

A taunt.

A taunt to the nickname he’d gifted me with once, to the title that I may very well have bore if given the chance.

He was still dressed in the sleek black suit he had worn to the gala, a far cry from the gothic Steampunk fashion he was notorious for. But this wasn’t Reese. Not really. Not as long as that hideous branding on his neck glowed with its sickly, pale yellow light. The hex that had warped his mind into something unfathomable.

And blood.

There was blood everywhere. Across the frozen grass, on Reese’s hands, on me.

The air bit with the kind of unrelenting cold that burned my skin. The white chiffon fabric, high slits, and low cuts of my gown offered the protection of tissue paper against it. The only thing warm was the slick red stains marring every part of me.

Instinct overrode my comprehension long enough that I looked down at my runes, expecting them to flare to life, the pale blue lights and vibrations granting me the energy I needed to blast this imposter across the field.

But as I should have already known, nothing happened.

And nothing would…so long as my father’s sword was anywhere near me. 

Up until a minute ago, I’d been under a plethora of misassumptions, mostly concerning that particular individual. My father, the Angel of Death, was supposed to be working to keep the Anástasis seal from falling. It was his job to keep Hell’s gates closed.

But lo and behold, the asshole had been at the helm of this little endeavor the whole goddamn time. 

He was in control of Reese’s hex. He had made the coven of witches betray the Reapers when they used Blaine’s blood to weaken the Anástasis seal after Mr. Reynolds slit his throat.

My father didn’t want me dead in order to prevent Hell from opening its gates…

He wanted me dead so that he could tear it down himself.

“Well, look who just caught up.” Reese tssked, running a finger along the Sanctus blade’s fuller. “It really is a shame about Val. But let’s be honest, we already have enough assholes roaming around here. What’s one less?” 

That was all it took.

I didn’t care what Reese held in his hands. I didn’t care that my magic lay dormant. I didn’t care that my entire body stung with the constant bombardment I’d taken tonight.

Reese saw what rested behind my eyes, only amusing him further. He lifted the blade, as if that would deter me. It would, with anyone else. A single slash from that steel could kill you, even if not initially. It cauterized wounds in a way that made it nearly impossible to staunch the bleeding. 

So, color Reese surprised when I shot up to my feet and launched myself at him.

He had admitted back in October that he wasn’t much of a swordsman, and it showed. Reese wasn’t weak by any means, but I knew how heavy that sword was. It also didn’t help that his movements were clumsy. As soon as he’d taken a step, it was evident he was favoring his left leg, and there was a dark, damp splotch pooling on the front of his thigh. 

Reese was bleeding. 

He staggered back, and a sickening wave of satisfaction rolled through me as I tackled him with every ounce I had behind me. My upper body leveled right into his stomach, and I hooked my arms around his uninjured thigh. 

Even with his thin build, Reese easily outweighed me. Between my momentum and the fact I left him with nothing but a disabled leg to stand on, however, he crashed down onto the frozen grass.

And I made no move to get off of him.

With just how many people were around, I didn’t delude myself into thinking I could run away. But this?

This I could do.

It seemed his coconspirators were more invested in the Sanctus’s ownership rather than Reese’s wellbeing, because they all scrambled to pull it as far from me as possible, leaving Reese at my mercy.

And I was feeling far from charitable.

He had manipulated us into going to the Christmas gala. 

He had lured us into a trap. 

He planned to strip me of my runes, of my mating bond. 

He was the reason I was covered in Val’s blood.

The scream that tore from my lungs was nothing short of savage as I slammed my fists into anywhere I could connect to Reese’s body. He deflected several punches and managed to catch hold of my wrist, but I rewarded the effort by tearing my nails into his flesh, shredding through the back of his hands, his cheek, his eyelid— 

Reese bucked his hips, knocking me off balance, but I drove my foot down onto his leg. The heel of my shoe dug right into what I could only assume was a bullet wound as the stiletto gained purchase in the hole. I wrenched my foot backward, splitting the wound further, carving into muscle and bone.


A sharp jab registered in my jaw from his fist, but I didn’t care, even as blood filled my mouth. Something primitive had been awakened in me, thirsting for his pain, demanding an inkling of repayment for what he had done.

Even after multiple sets of hands grabbed at me, I continued thrashing, clawing, and swinging with everything I had until I was at last pried off of him.

He scrambled back in a daze, his face a roadmap of claw marks and swelling. Any satisfaction drained from me as Reese’s chest began shaking. He lay there in the dirt, bloodied, beaten, and…laughing. The muscles in his face split the slashes further, but it only seemed to amuse him. Reese dragged a finger along one of the deeper scratches, catching and smearing the blood that now blossomed from the cut. “Well now, look who finally decided to grow a backbone.”

Reese could still feel pain, made evident by his grimace and the hand that gripped his injured leg as he pulled himself back up. But the predatory gleam in those once-beautiful amber eyes spoke for itself. 

“I was beginning to think you didn’t have it in you, to attack me. But let’s be honest, darling, when you point your finger at someone, there’s always three pointing back. All anybody needs from you to break the Anastasis Seal is some of your blood, but instead of just lying low—like any rational person would—you’re out and about, waving a neon sign in everybody’s face.” Reese let out a theatrical sigh, flicking a hand to the branding on his neck. “Even when you knew the hex was about to enact, you still went running into the fray to try and ‘save’ me. And then you were willing to make an even bigger public spectacle going after Daisy at the gala.”

He snickered, prowling closer.

“Your parents really did a number on you, didn’t they? I mean, honestly, how low does your self-worth have to be? Fallen angels are going to come pouring out of that portal when the seal’s broken, but you’re willing to risk it all for a girl you’ve spoken to for…what? A whole five minutes? And not only did you think this was a good idea, but so did Blaine, when you had the resources to send how many other Underworld lackeys to go and fetch her. Clearly, Pride isn’t your greatest sin, because time and time again, all you both prove to be are pawns.” Reese ran a finger over one of the larger gashes I’d torn into his face. “Tell me, Princess. Would you be able to do the same if the roles were reversed? Would you be able to carve into your mate’s flesh?”

 Every muscle, bone, and cell in my body stilled at that—at his words, at that knowing look, at the sheer delight he found in the prospect.

Reese removed what appeared to be a river rock from his pocket. It was smooth and gray, save for the engraved black symbol carved into the top. “Seems we’ll just have to wait and see.”

My runes may not have worked in the Sanctus’s presence, but the sight of that stone sent me reeling back, or at least, I tried to. The hands pinning me into place only fortified their grips.

The design may not have been the serpent branded to Reese’s neck, but I recognized the rock for what it was.

A hex.

“Sadly, it doesn’t work on Underworlders with Enochian magic,” he crooned, nodding down at the tattooed runes decorating my left forearm and hand. “But no worries. We’ll be correcting that as well.”

He motioned to someone over my shoulder, but before I could look, another person kicked the back of my legs out, forcing me to the ground. The impact of my knees hitting what had to be frozen stone sent pain shooting all the way down to my feet. It still paled in comparison to the searing hot manacles suddenly clamped around both of my wrists.


The cuffs were linked by a thick, three-foot-long chain.

This wasn’t the first time I’d found myself wearing such a thing, but the modification to this particular one was definitely new.

At the center of the chain was a giant chunk of bone-white flint, misshapen and yet oddly beautiful, like a demented, excessively large paperweight. There was a hole in the middle of the rock, allowing the manacle chain to run right through it. As soon as its owner set the slab on the grass, everyone released me and backed off.


Despite the added weight slowing me down slightly, it wouldn’t do much to secure my captivity.

At least, that’s what I thought.

The moment I tried rising to my feet, I found I could only get as far as the chain would allow. No matter whether I attempted to lift the slab by the chains or pick it up with my own two hands, I couldn’t get the damn thing to budge. The rock couldn’t have weighed more than fifteen pounds…

Yet, I tried every which way to move it, unable to get the slab to shift so much as a millimeter. 

Seriously, it was like Thor’s hammer.

“Adder stone,” Reese mused, admiring its glassy surface. “Otherwise known as a serpent’s egg. By itself, it isn’t harmful to Underworlders, but what most people don’t know is that the stone is a conduit. With the help of a skillful practitioner, it can manipulate Enochian energy. Every pound of this rock will feel like two hundred.”

And it did.

Based on its size, I’d probably have better luck trying to move a dead car.

“It’s rather perfect, isn’t it? The holes here form naturally,” he said, tapping to where the chain fed through the rock. “Rumor has it that one of Hell’s princes was buried alive beneath hundreds of small adder stones some centuries ago. The weight didn’t crush him, as he would have likely preferred. It just felt like it.”

Reese’s grin turned into a horrifically beautiful smile.

“Imagine, your body slowly wasting away from dehydration and hunger as it felt like the weight of several elephants pinned you down, pulverizing your insides.” He clicked his tongue. “Rough way to go, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps something you should keep in mind for your own prince.”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you it isn’t polite to play with your food?” I jeered. “If you plan to kill us both, then grow a pair and do it yourself.”

Taunting him may not have been the best strategy, but the idea of him playing puppeteer with my body so that I’d kill Blaine?

It didn’t get much worse than that.

Reese stopped just shy of my reach, that grin spreading into an all-out smile. He knelt down, resting on his haunches to meet me at eye level. “You really have no idea what’s going on here, do you?”

“Enlighten me then.”

He clicked his tongue. “Oh, but what fun would that be? The whole villain monologue is rather cliché.”

I gave him my own chilly smile. “So you admit you’re the villain?”

“As long as Blaine’s claws are in you? That I am.”

“I believe we already established he didn’t hex me.”

“No, he just forced a mating bond on you…that just so happens to let him crawl around inside your head.” 

“He didn’t force anything on me—”

Reese snickered. “Come on, Kitty Kat. You can’t be that naïve.”

The most aberrant laugh escaped me, somehow lovely and yet malicious. “‘Equals in heart and mind.’”

Those five single words strung together landed their blow, ripping that impish façade from Reese’s face. “That’s bullshit.”

“Is it?” Now I was the one clicking my tongue. “Don’t tell me you never suspected it.”

“That’s bullshit!”

I laughed, even as Reese lashed out, his hand seizing my throat. “Tell me, what bothers you more? Losing me, or losing me to him?”

It was no secret that Reese couldn’t stand Blaine, even before any of this started. He made that perfectly clear when he did nothing but badmouth my mate at his own funeral service.

“You’re not his,” Reese snarled.

“And if you’re what a Twin Flame is supposed to be, then all that tells me is that such a relationship is toxic.” Another laugh tore from my lungs. “You can cover every inch of my body in hexes. I wouldn’t willingly touch you with a ten-foot pole.”

By the fury brewing in those amber eyes, I was sure he would crush my larynx as his grip tightened…

Only, that fiendish grin returned as Reese abruptly let go of me, his gaze fixed somewhere over my shoulder. “Well, if it isn’t the girl of the hour.”

I caught sight of the brunette as she was quite literally dragged across the frozen grass. 

The purple streaks in her hair weren’t discernible in the torchlight, but the moment Reese brushed the front strands from her face, I recognized who the young woman was.


As Reese said, I’d only met this Seer once, but even if I hadn’t, I couldn’t just let her die.

And it didn’t seem Daisy was too keen on the idea either. Her hands were cuffed behind her back, and two men who were easily twice her size held the girl by each of her arms. That didn’t stop her from thrashing and bucking with everything she had. 

I pulled at my own handcuffs, trying to study the lock mechanism in the limited light. As my horrible luck would have it, I didn’t have any pins in my hair that I could use to pick it. At this point, I wasn’t past dislocating my thumb to slip out of at least one of the cuffs…

But they were too tight.

Each was adjusted to the smallest part of my wrist, so unless I somehow managed to all-out crush my hand, these cuffs weren’t going anywhere.

And neither was I.

Reese tore the duct tape covering Daisy’s mouth, and the girl let out the kind of scream that  could rival a banshee’s. He just laughed. 

“Make all the noise you want, my dear. We’re in the middle of a forest preserve, during a polar vortex. There isn’t a soul around here for miles.” Reese gave a cursory glance over his shoulder at his audience. “At least, not one that’ll help you, anyway.”   

He nodded to the men stationed at her side and headed back towards me. Again, Daisy was hauled along, her feet slipping uselessly over the frozen ground as she desperately tried to gain traction. The backs of her knees were kicked out, forcing her legs to buckle under her. All she could do was cry out as her captors quite literally dragged her across the field.

The men had no other choice but to lift her up when they reached the makeshift symbol of debris and bone, as to not disturb it, and they dropped her into the center with a harsh thwack. Something in her snapped upon impact, likely her shoulder dislocating by the looks of it. 

Daisy’s entire body trembled, and the sight only invited another horrible thought.

We were in the middle of a polar vortex.

Everybody, apart from Daisy in her hospital gown and me in a literal one, was at least dressed in somewhat appropriate clothing. And yet, I didn’t feel nearly as cold as I should have.

Seeing as how I just barely recovered from hypothermia, this didn’t inspire much confidence. If my body was in shock from prolonged exposure, it could easily give me the hot flash currently warming me. The best I could do was pray this was merely a side effect from adrenaline instead. If it wasn’t, I likely wouldn’t be in the mental or physical state to do much of anything if the opportunity arose.

Everyone around me—save for the hulk of a man likely meant to serve as a guard—moved forward, coming to stand just outside the perimeter of the symbol as they all began to chant. Daisy tried rising to her feet, but she barely managed to get to her knees when Reese gripped her hair from behind and wrenched her head back hard enough to make her cry.

He whispered something to her, but I couldn’t hear it. Whatever it was proved to be enough though to make her go still, because every muscle inside Daisy went as taut as a bowstring.

The group guarding the symbol spread out to form a circle, blocking Daisy and Reese from my view just as white-hot flames burst free from the ground. It took a moment to realize…

No, it wasn’t the ground.

It was the material used to create the outline of the symbol, even the bones. 

The utter wrongness of it all prickled at every inch of my skin. 

Bones didn’t burn. At least, they shouldn’t have. Not by an ordinary flame.

But these did. The fires soared higher and higher, until they became an outright fence of flames. Reese and Daisy couldn’t be seen, even as the people who had been obstructing my view stepped back. 

I didn’t need nor want to see what was happening in there. I witnessed it myself a couple of months back, when I’d entered into an astral projective dream state. Hellhounds had slashed open a girl’s throat and left her to bleed there, all done to break another of the Anastasis’s locks. 

And same as last time, there was nothing I could do.

A sound—sharp but guttural—came from behind that wall of flame, and I could only imagine it was Daisy as she choked on her own blood, the way Blaine had. I wanted to scream…

But something else followed.

A grunt.

Blatantly male.

Any chanting abruptly ended just as another sound followed. Only, it didn’t come from inside their creepy cult inferno.

It came from behind me.

Though it had to be at least twenty yards back, the single blast was harsh, loud, and propagated with the very distinctive energy that could only come from a rifle.

It was immediately accompanied by a sharp slap! that sounded…wet. Before I could even think to drop flat to the ground, warm liquid painted my back.

Two hundred pounds of literal dead weight collapsed on top of me with a definitive thud, stripping the air from my lungs.

Instinctively, I attempted to climb out from under him, but the impulse drained as quickly as it came when more and more shots rang out.

Bodies fell, people scattered, and the flames from the ritual were instantly snuffed out. Fear rang through me at the sight of Reese and Daisy crumpled on the ground, but from what I could tell, the latter wasn’t hurt. Reese, however, gripped the side of his head with one hand while trying to make a grab at Daisy with the other. She bucked her hips, drew up her foot, and drove the heel into his cheek.

The impact was enough for her to escape his grip, and taking low to the ground, she took off for the nearest tree line. 

Everybody else was rewarded with gunfire, but a distant voice barked an order, the words inaudible over the clamor. In just a few swift seconds, a young man emerged from the forest, running at an all-out sprint in Daisy’s direction.


He was moving far faster than she was, so I could only hope that she could lose him in the confusion of the woods. Daisy managed to disappear into the thicket, leaving only Reese and me from what I could gather. No one who had attempted to run was left standing, the field a mess of bodies and blood.

With my wrists still trapped, the best I could do was play dead, which wouldn’t be too hard. I was covered in enough blood to rival Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie. 

But that only would get me so far. 

Several voices were calling out from somewhere behind me, at least four from what I could distinguish, and either they were yelling louder or they were getting closer. If someone checked for a pulse, I was obviously fucked. And if not, then I’d likely freeze to death out here amid my charade.

The adrenaline was wearing off, and rather quickly, because any warmth in me was the wrong kind. My skin burned, but only from the sheer chill of the ground as I was forced to lay pinned down upon it.

I expected Reese to try army crawling or something out of view, especially with the subtle hills in the terrain. From where he was, he stood a chance of making it out of here without taking a bullet to the back like his cohorts. 

But the idiot rose to his feet!

I wanted to scream at him, though it wouldn’t serve any good. More gunshots rang out, but to my odd sense of relief, nothing struck him. Every bullet came within feet of him, only to hit an invisible barrier. Each impact against the wall sent sparks ricocheting off it, and in the brief illumination, I could see subtle cracks growing.

Whatever magic shield he’d thrown up wouldn’t last, and he knew it.

With one last look towards me, he snarled, slid the Sanctus blade into a sheath strapped to his side, and ran (or rather limped) towards the same tree line Daisy had disappeared into.


Half of my body was being crushed beneath someone twice my size, I was turning into a human icicle for the second time tonight, and this asshole—who still in his deluded state swore that he loved me—was ditching me!

Really, what the fuck, universe? Do you hate me that much?

Before I could wallow too much in pity, the gunfire ceased, bringing clarity to the voices.

And one in particular.


What little energy I had left rose at the sound of that British accent as I bucked and barely managed to pitch the dead man off of me. “Raelynd!”

Never had I been so happy to see my mate’s boss in all my life.

The guy, as always, was sporting a three-piece designer suit, but like the rest of us tonight, he looked rather worse for wear.  There were tears everywhere in his clothing, the left sleeve clinging on by nothing more than a thread…which just so happened to be covered in blood. And he was in full-demon mode. The entirety of his eyes was black, matching the pronounced, inky veins that pulsed all along his face.

I could imagine how I looked in comparison.

His expression gave me a pretty good idea the second he spotted me.

Slinging his rifle over his back, he screamed for a medic before he even charged over to me. It was only a greater relief to see that there were over a dozen of his men behind him. 

Raelynd dropped to his knees and was about to put his hands on me…but seemed to think better of it. Scoping the extent of blood on my body, it was clear he didn’t know where was safe to touch.

I tried to answer his questions, but it suddenly felt like a clamp was on my throat. I didn’t even realize I was crying until I felt the warm streak of tears rolling down my cheeks. All I could manage was a shake of the head.

Raelynd understood it wasn’t my blood, but it did little to comfort him. “Blaine?”

Another shake. I mouthed Val’s name, the single syllable leaving me to choke on a sob.

The demon peeled off his blazer and draped it over my shoulders, offering what warmth it could as he studied my handcuffs and the stone I was chained to. “Fucking hell.”

Rae called out to someone named Maddox, demanding a kit of some kind, only…he never got a response. The demon rose to his feet, muttering a plethora of obscenities—

Until he looked behind me at the tree line.

A thick fog rolled out of the forest, the powdery white pallor and composition unnatural at best. It didn’t move like natural fog. It billowed out in an ever-thickening wave, the way it might when produced by a dry ice machine. But its expanse was too great, and the color only further clarified its wrongness. Red particles akin to glitter hung in the air, appearing to melt when the fog fully enveloped them. The effect made it look like the fog was outright bleeding.

“Ventus Cicuta, aquilo!” someone screamed.

I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant, but I had a feeling it wasn’t anything to do with cuddly puppies and magical rainbows as everyone started fleeing across the field. My suspicions were confirmed when the men who were too close to outrun the billowing mass all collapsed to the ground not five seconds after it reached them.

Raelynd tried and failed miserably to break my handcuff chain with the bud of his rifle, leaving me with one horrible option. The risk was apparently worth it, because he had me pull the chain as taut as it could go, allowing what little space I had to help shield myself from any potential shrapnel.

Keeping my head low, I tried to make myself as small as possible as Raelynd fell back to take aim. He didn’t bother counting down, charging the air once again with gunfire as a single blast detonated. 

Before I could brace myself, gravity sent me hurtling sideways as the chain snapped. It would have been a relief, if not for the white-hot pain that lanced up my right arm.

But I didn’t get the chance to look at the damage.

Raelynd had his arms hooked around me, hauling my frozen, agonized body back up to its feet and forcing me into a run.

The handcuffs still singed my wrists, and the two halves of the broken chain dangled from each end. That, too, was made of silver, acting as fire-hot whips. They swung with the force of my momentum as I ran, lashing my exposed skin. The pain in my arm was only intensifying, barely eclipsing the sharp stabbing sensations reverberating through both my knees—

But Raelynd refused to let up. Even as my bare feet slid between patches of dead grass and frozen snow, he didn’t slow down, resorting to damn near carrying me around my underarms.

We made it within ten yards of the furthest tree line when he cursed.

“Hold your breath!”

The effort left me with the sensation that my lungs might burst, but I managed one last inhale before that fog bank rolled over us.

Raelynd hauled me just over the border of the forest, and we both spotted a pair of headlights through the thicket, not thirty feet ahead.

But even without breathing, something felt wrong.

My legs suddenly felt leaden, my feet may as well have been made of cement, and my arms could have weighed a hundred pounds each for how heavy they seemed to be.

And I wasn’t the only one feeling it.

Raelynd stumbled at the same time I did, and neither of us could muster the strength to recover. We both collapsed to the ground with an ungainly thud.

Even the men who had gotten a head-start all buckled under their own weight, staggering and crumpling to the earth just shy of the headlights that punctured the blanketing fog.

I anticipated the air to burn my lungs as I, at last, had to inhale…

But nothing happened.

There wasn’t even the noxious sting of chemicals I expected to breathe in. If anything, it smelled like burnt syrup or cookies that had been left too long in the oven.

Raelynd and I still tried crawling over the dead foliage and snapped twigs, but it took us more than a minute to trek a couple of feet. 

The weight of my body was too much.

My arms gave out, and I didn’t have it in me to move.

Hell, it was too much effort to even talk.

Thankfully, that weight didn’t settle onto my lungs, because breathing was the only thing I could do. We just lay there, hearts thundering, lungs heaving, and bodies inundated by what may as well have been adder stone.

My left cheek was mashed into the dirt, giving me a clear view of Raelynd’s sprawled body beside me…as well as my right forearm.

A hooked piece of metal protruded from the inside of the appendage as blood still leaked from the top…which I realized was the entry point.

The shrapnel had cut straight through my arm, but had apparently gotten stuck before it could fully exit.

After several minutes, the fog thinned out to wisps before vanishing entirely. Some foolish part of me thought I would be able to move again, but that pressure didn’t let up.

A chill that had nothing to do with the weather raked down my back like spiny fingernails as I heard what sounded an awful lot like a car door opening and closing somewhere up ahead.

Fallen branches and dead leaves broke and crinkled under several pairs of footsteps, striding right for me.

I didn’t know how Raelynd still had it in him to move so much as a finger, but he managed to drag a handgun out from somewhere strapped to his body. He struggled to lift his head, aiming as best as he could. The demon squeezed the trigger, but just as he did, an invisible force wrenched both the gun and his hand sideways, slamming them into the trunk of a tree with a nauseating crack. 

A pair of heeled boots stepped between Raelynd and me, their owner’s feet not six inches from my face. Another set of hands grabbed me from my other side and rolled me onto my back.

The sight was…unsettling, to say the least, as I was forced to look up at whoever loomed over me.

A heart-shaped face, two-toned eyes, and long, pale blonde hair just shy of being silver.

It was me.

Or someone who looked an awful lot like me.

“Hello, daughter,” she sighed.

The sentiment could have been a comforting one…if not for the needle that accompanied it as she knelt down and stabbed a sedative into my neck.