Saturday, October 21, 2023

Ruinous: The Epic Finale of the Marked Mage Chronicles is Here!

 Available Now!!

The epic finale to the Amazon bestselling Marked Mage Chronicles series awaits you.

To those who stare into the darkness and love who stares back.
I fell in love with a devil, and now it will take everything I have to save him. The gates to the Realm of the Damned have been cracked open, and the only thing preventing them from being flung wide apart is my mate. Killing him will unleash Hell itself. Revelations will bring about unlikely allies, but will it be enough?
Return to The Marked Mage Chronicles for the breathtaking finale told from the perspectives of Kat, Reese, the Crown Prince, and more. This book contains strong language, violence, and sexual content.

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.