Iron Bones, book 3 in the Wild Hunt Series
Release Date: August 6, 2018
Light and Dark Fae are both dying, caught in the grip of a plague that threatens to sweep through both courts. The deadly disease is spreading, and no one can pinpoint the origins, nor can an antidote be formulated until the details of the contagion are understood. As Cernunnos sets Ferosyn—his best healer—on the task, he also instructs the Wild Hunt to take on the investigation.
Now, Ember and Herne must race against time, seeking an answer before both Fae courts are decimated. Their search leads them deep into the mountains, to a hidden burial site where they discover a terrifying secret that could mean the extinction of the entire Fae race.
I STARED AT the stack of papers in front of me, my pen hesitating over the last signatory line. This was it. There was no backing out. I had made the promises, handed over the money, gone through all the documents, and this was the final step. Once I signed my name, the house was mine. I glanced over at Angel, whom I had brought along for support, and she gave me an encouraging nod.
Ember Sabina Kearney.
I wrote it with a flourish. Might as well embellish things a little. After all, this was an event that celebrations were made for. This was also one of the biggest purchases I’d ever make in my life. My condo had felt like a major step, but buying a house eclipsed it. I had already sold the condo, with the stipulation that we had until August 31 to move out. One month from today and it would be history, a part of my past.READ MORE
“Congratulations! You now own a house. I’ll walk this over to records and have this filed within the hour. Everything else has been taken care of.” The escrow agent shuffled the pages, glancing through them, then tapped them into a tidy bundle, clipped them together, and slid them into a file folder.
Rachel Madison, my real estate agent, was thrilled. “I have your keys for you. The seller was so relieved she said to give them to you right now, given everything has gone so smoothly.”
She slid them across the table, positively glowing. The house had been an albatross around her neck. It had been on the market for over a year by the time Angel and I had stumbled across it. The place had been a murder house, and nobody had wanted to buy the lovely upgraded home with two large lots, given its grisly history. Until I decided we could make it work.
I glanced at the escrow agent. “Good to go?”
She nodded. “It’s not typical form to give you the keys on signing, but I foresee no problem, and that’s the owner’s choice. Enjoy your new home!” She swept out of the room, leaving the three of us sitting there.
I stared at Angel. “We did it. We have a house.”
Well, actually, I had a house. I had bought it, but Angel would pay me rent. Right now, the condo was far too small for the two of us. The house was twice the size, with a massive lot, and we had been spending a lot of time mulling over colors and options for the garden. The house itself didn’t need many renovations, but the paint job…well…it might not be the ugly “Bellevue beige” that was so popular around here, but neither did I want every room to be white. And the yard and fence needed major work.
“We have a month, but I’d like to get started right away. Why don’t we take over supplies tonight so we can start painting tomorrow after work?” I was excited. I wanted in by mid-month because I really didn’t like waiting till the last minute. Plus, we had already packed most of our things and the condo was in total chaos.
“Sounds good,” Angel said, grinning. “I can feel the excitement bouncing off you like a frog on steroids.” Her smile lit up her face. Angel was one of the few people I knew who could shift the energy of the room without saying a word. She was human, an empath, and she had been my best friend since grade school when she shoved me into a mud puddle. I had dragged her down with me, and after a brief tussle, we had become BFFs. Best friends forever.
“Well, it’s not every day I take on a half-million dollars of debt.” That wasn’t entirely accurate. I had put down thirty thousand dollars on the house, and once I closed on the condo, I’d be filtering most of that money—about three hundred thousand—into the loan. But still, I was going to end up owing over two hundred thousand dollars on the mortgage.
“I suggest we celebrate. Why don’t you let me buy dinner?” Angel asked, looping her arm through mine.
On that note, I pocketed the keys to the house, and we headed out for our favorite fast food joint, Anton’s Fish Shack.
* * *
AN HOUR LATER, full of fish and chips, we stopped at HomeTown Central—a mega store with everything you could hope to find for home repair and renovation—and picked up the paint order I had put in the day before. Angel wanted her room to be an early-morning blue, while I wanted mine in forest green and pale lilac. We had decided on a warm apricot for the kitchen, and a watercress green for the living room. I chose the same sky blue Angel wanted for her bedroom to paint the office. We were starting there, and would tackle the rest of the painting after we finished the primary areas. As we carted all the supplies out to our cars, my personal phone rang.
I glanced at the Caller ID. Crap. My grandfather again. I sent the call to voice mail.
“Who is it?” Angel shaded her eyes as she watched me ignore the call.
“Who else? Farthing. My grandfather.”
She nodded without comment. None was needed. My paternal grandparents had never once contacted me during the time I was growing up. They hadn’t contacted me when my parents had been murdered, nor when I moved in with Angel’s family. They hadn’t reached out when I took on freelance investigating. Only now, after I went to work for the Wild Hunt Agency, had my grandfather decided to get in touch with me. I wasn’t much interested in talking to him and hadn’t bothered to answer any of his calls after we spoke the first time.
“I’ll meet you at the house.” I gave her a wave as I slipped into my car and eased my way out of the parking lot. For better or worse, I owned a house, and it was time to make it my own.
* * *
WHEN WE GOT to the house, we had a surprise waiting for us. Herne was there, along with the rest of the Wild Hunt Agency. Talia, Yutani—fresh out of his cast—and Viktor were standing beside him. Viktor was holding a big basket stuffed to the gills with sandwiches, pastries, and a couple six-packs of dark stout.
“We thought we’d help with the painting party,” Herne said with a grin. He held out his arms and I slid into them, meeting his lips with my own.
He was a tall man, though the word “man” was misleading. Herne was as much of a human as I was. Meaning not at all. He was the son of Cernunnos, Lord of the Forest, and Morgana, Goddess of the Fae and the Sea. And he was my boyfriend. Gorgeous, with wheat-colored hair that hit the back of his shoulder blades, and muscled to just the right degree, Herne and I had been drawn to each other from the start.
“How did you know we were going to be here?” I asked, resting my head on his shoulder.
“A little bird told me.” He glanced over at Angel, who grinned. “I know you planned to wait till tomorrow night to start painting, but we decided to make the job a little easier.”
They stood back, lining the path to the door. Angel and I glanced at each other.
“This is it. We own a murder house,” I said, a shiver running up my back. I couldn’t tell if it was excitement or nerves, or a combination of the two. But I loved the house, and I was determined to make it into a safe haven.
I marched up the sidewalk. The path was broken in places with grass and weeds popping through the cracks. Rhododendron bushes crowded in on both sides, overgrown, and at least eight garden spiders had made a tunnel of webs between the massive plants.
I paused, looking around for a stick. I found a small twig on the ground and used it to bring down the striped arachnids that wove their massive webs between the branches. The orb weavers were fat and all shades of green and brown, and they quickly scuttled off as I broke through the anchor lines of their webs.
“Sorry, guys, but you need to find a new home,” I said, watching as they hurried away. They’d be back within the hour, though. The critters were nothing if not tenacious. “I have the feeling we’ll need to either keep a spider-stick at either end of the walkway, or cut back the rhododendrons quite a bit. Maybe even take them out.” I didn’t like removing plants and trees willy-nilly, though.
“You can move the sidewalk to skirt around them,” Yutani said. The coyote shifter glanced around the yard. “Although that would look a little odd, with two rows of rhodies sitting smack in the middle of the yard.”
I shrugged. “We’ll figure it out.”
I dashed up the porch. The steps and porch were in good condition, as were spindles of the railing that flanked the sides and front of the porch. I had already ordered a porch swing to be installed. The house was painted a navy blue with white trim, and the paint job was still relatively new. Angel and I both liked the color so we decided to spend our time and money elsewhere.
The roses were in bloom, crowding the porch on either side of the steps. We needed to cut them back, but for now, their heady scent filled the air as the deep burgundy blooms spread wide. Talia stopped to smell one of them.
“I love roses,” she said, smiling. “They remind me of someone I knew once. He was a gardener, and he took care of his flowers like most people take care of their children.”
As I inserted the key into the lock, Herne gave a quick drum roll on the side of the house, and then, the door was open and we spilled through the entryway. I glanced over at Angel.
“Honey, we’re home.”
She giggled. “Let’s just hope we don’t have any squatters of the ghostly kind.”
I nodded, my smile fading. Chances were good we’d have something to contend with. The energy of the house was heavy, but we hadn’t been able to ascertain whether it was because the house was haunted by actual spirits, or simply by the energy trapped in the walls. The murders had been gruesome. Murder-suicides usually were. A freakshow stalker had barged in and axed his ex-girlfriend and her grandmother in the kitchen, then shot himself. We needed to cleanse the energy of the house, but whether or not we would have to call in a professional, we weren’t yet sure. Either way, we had some serious psychic housecleaning to do.
“Where do we start?” Herne asked. “Put us to work.”
“Paint first, then we do the psychic cleansing. Why don’t you set the food in the kitchen?” I motioned Viktor off to the right. “Bring all the supplies in to the living room.”
The others made several trips carrying in the paint and supplies, while Angel and I did a quick run-through of the house to make certain everything was as it should be. I had already called a locksmith, asking him to meet us here, and he showed up as we were carrying in the last of the paint.
“Please, change all the locks in the house,” I told him. “Even the internal doors. I don’t want the same locks anywhere.”
As he went to work, we gathered in the living room to sort out the paint cans. Viktor and Angel carried the various colors into their respective rooms while Herne and I spread out tarps. Talia and Yutani began the laborious process of taping off the windows and taking off the switch plates. As I knelt on the floor, evening out the tarp beneath me, I felt something pass by. I thought it was Herne, but when I glanced up, he was standing across the room, focused on taking down one of the light fixtures. I blinked, deciding it must have been my imagination.
“Hey, we didn’t buy any ladders.” I realized that we had forgotten to add stepladders to our list of necessary supplies.
“I have two in my truck.” Herne stood, dusting his hands on his jeans. “I’ll get them.” As he headed out of the room, Talia laughed.
“You really didn’t think that we were going to let you two cope with this on your own? You’re part of our family now.” Her long silver hair was pulled back in a braid, and this was the first time I had ever seen her in jeans. She was wearing a tank top that showed off her well-defined arms. Talia might look like a woman in her early to mid-sixties, but she was still a harpy under the permanent glamour, even if she didn’t have most of her native powers.
I sat cross-legged on the floor. “You know, even though neither one of the Fae Courts will accept me because of my mixed blood, I consider myself lucky. I have had three families in my life. My parents, then Angel and Mama J., and now—you guys.”
The sting of being rejected by my own people hurt less and less with each year, which was why the request to meet with my paternal grandparents weighed so heavily on my mind. They were Dark Fae, while my mother had been Light Fae. My parents had been brutally murdered for daring to fall in love. I had come home after school to find my mother and father butchered, the floors soaked in their blood. I knew my grandparents were behind it, though I never could prove it. If I had been home that day, I probably would have been killed, too. The Fae weren’t squeamish about killing those who crossed their rules. And my very existence was enough reason for them to consider me a rule-breaker.
Talia put down her roll of painters tape and sat down beside me. In a show of affection, she reached out and took my hand. “Seriously, we’re glad you and Angel came to work for the agency. You two brought a much-needed spark into the company. And you make Herne happy. He’s been a friend of mine for hundreds of years, since long before we brought the Wild Hunt over from the UK. I’ve never seen him seem so at ease.”
She spoke softly, but I noticed Yutani glance over at us. I still hadn’t fully forgiven him for the backhanded compliment that he had given me over a month before, when he had implied that he was surprised I was good at my job. But I was trying to let it go. He caught my gaze and nodded, a rare smile crossing his lips. He was altogether too serious, more than was good for him.
“Thanks,” I said, looking around the empty room. I suddenly felt exhausted, and I lay down on the tarp, crossing my hands behind my head and bending my knees. I crossed one leg over the other as I stared at the ceiling.
“Feeling a twinge of buyer’s remorse?” Yutani asked.
“Maybe. No. I think it’s actually weariness. The whole process is tiring and right now, I just want one of those beers that you brought, but I feel too tired to get it.” As I spoke, Herne entered the room, carrying both stepladders, one on each shoulder. I stared at him. “Good gods, you’re strong. Anybody ever tell you that?”
He snorted as Yutani took one of the ladders from him and leaned it up against the wall.
“All the time, babe. All the time. Hey, the locksmith finished and I paid him. He’s gone. I put the receipt on the counter. Now, get up, woman.” He strode over to me and reached out for my hand. I gave it to him and he pulled me to my feet. “We’re about to paint your living room and you aren’t going to lie there and play supervisor.”
I laughed, dusting my hands on my jeans. “Fine, then. I’ll just be too tired for any nook-nook tonight.”
“Nook-nook? Is that what we’re calling it now?” he asked. He handed me a paint roller. “What color is the ceiling going to be? We need to paint it first.” He glanced up at the top of the walls, frowning. “Why didn’t you tape it off?”
“Ceiling’s the same color as the walls, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, my love, but you have crown molding, and that does need to be taped off on both sides unless you plan on painting it.”
I blushed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Viktor and Angel reemerged from the upstairs. Viktor was half-ogre, and he was tall enough to almost reach the ceiling with his arms outstretched.
“I’ll do it. Give me a roll of tape.” He shouldered one of the stepladders and carried it over to the wall. As we watched, he made quick work of taping off the crown molding, and I stared, open-mouthed, startled by how quickly the half-ogre could move. He was burly, and with his bald head, looked like a rough-and-tumble biker. Or bouncer. Or maybe thug.
Angel motioned for me to join her in the foyer.
“I might be imagining it, but I think I felt something upstairs. Something jostled my elbow, like when you’re walking down the street in a crowd. I looked around, but there wasn’t anybody close by, but I definitely felt a presence and it wasn’t just a cat spirit or anything like that.” A worried light shone in her eyes.
“I felt something too,” I said. “But I wasn’t sure. Did you get a sense of what they wanted? Whoever they are?”
She bit her lip, shaking her head. “No, but I did feel a sensation of antagonism. Whoever it is, they aren’t happy the house is full.”
So we had visitors after all. I had learned over the years to rely on Angel’s premonitions and intuition. She was accurate most of the time. I took a deep breath and motioned to the stairs.
“Show me where you felt it.”
She led me upstairs to my bedroom.
Just peachy. We had an uninvited visitor and they decided to park themselves in my room. I walked over to the window and gazed down at the side yard. We considered our backyard to be the lot next door. I had a master bath, and there was a Jack-and-Jill between Angel’s room and the third bedroom, then another half-bath downstairs. We also had a sparsely finished basement, which wasn’t included in the square footage but which we could fix up and make livable.
As I leaned against the window frame, looking down at the side yard, which was overgrown with all sorts of bushes and plants, a sharp slap between my shoulders jolted me forward and I managed to catch myself before slamming into the window. I whirled to see Angel’s horrified face as she stood across the room.
“What the hell?”
“I saw a blur behind you, and then you went hurtling forward.” She held out her hands, closing her eyes. “Whoever did that, knock it off.” Her tone shifted from concerned to pissed. It took a lot to make Angel angry, but when something triggered her, it was best to be downwind.
I glanced around, trying to pinpoint anything that stood out in the room. “Listen, we own this house now, and you’re not welcome to stick around unless you play nice. Whoever you are.”
At that point, a sound to the side alerted me and I ducked as the lid from one of the paint cans flew off and sailed across the room like a Frisbee. It passed by me, right where my neck would have been.
“Mother pus bucket!” Whatever freakshow ghost this was, it meant business.
Angel shouted as the paint can suddenly rose in the air and lurched across the room at me, spilling paint everywhere on the floors. I ducked again, and while the can missed me, the paint did not. A wide splash of lilac splattered across me.
“Fuck you, too.” I was pissed now. Annoying us in our own home was rude, but we could deal with it. Trying to behead me, then covering me with paint? Not so forgivable.
There was a noise on the stairs as Viktor came racing into the room, followed by Herne and Talia. Yutani was hot on their heels.
“What the hell happened?” Herne looked around, staring at the paint can and lid and the paint that was splattered everywhere.
“We seem to have a visitor. Or rather, a temper tantrum–throwing spirit who seems highly incensed that we are in this house.” I finished on a shout as I tried to wipe a glob of paint off my face, but all I succeeded in doing was smearing it into my hair and down my chin. “Fuck.”
Herne was staring at me, his eyes glittering.
“Don’t you laugh,” I warned him.
“I’m trying not to.” But he wasn’t trying very hard.
“Hey, that damned ghost tried to behead me.” I told them about being pushed toward the window and the flying lid and can, and that seemed to sober him right up.
“You’re right, it’s not a laughing matter. Paint is one thing, but when you’re being attacked, that’s quite another.” The smile vanished off his face and he glanced around the room. “We need someone who can deal with ghosts, and we need them pronto.”
“What about Kamaria?” Talia asked.
Yutani groaned. “Can’t you think of somebody else?”
“Not if you want top of the line.” She crossed her arms, then turned to Viktor. “Can you grab a roll of paper towels for Ember?”
He raced off, looking relieved to be out of the conversation.
“Who’s Kamaria?” Angel asked.
Herne let out a sigh. “Kamaria is a medium. She’s really good, but she’s arrogant, and she can be annoying as hell. But we’ve had to call her in a few times to take care of matters for us and she’s the best, if you need serious help. All right, give her a call, Talia.”
“We were planning on cleansing this place after we painted,” I started to say but Talia shook her head as she pulled out her cell phone.
“Nope. You don’t want to wait. Not with a hostile spirit situation. For one thing, these events can escalate quickly. For another, do you really want to try to paint the house with something waiting to mess up everything you do, if not outright harm you?”
“Good point.” I accepted the paper towels from Viktor as he returned. I headed into the master bath to try to clean up. As I ran the water, I stared in the mirror. I was absently thinking that the lilac color actually went well with my black hair, and that it was a good thing we hadn’t opened the can of green yet, when the mirror fogged up. My stomach lurched. I didn’t have the water running hot enough to steam up the glass.
The fog covered the mirror and I blinked, suddenly finding myself standing in a forest clearing. A circle about ten feet in diameter, the meadow was shrouded by a quickly growing mist.
How did I get here?
But my curiosity vanished, replacing by a growing sense of dread, as I felt something staring at me from the depths of the trees. Whatever it was, it was old and angry, and it was creeping around the perimeter of the clearing.
I looked around, trying to find my way back to the bathroom and the mirror, but all I could see were the trees. The sounds of the forest grew louder as night quickly approached. As stars began to appear overhead, I realized that I wasn’t sure what to do.
I approached the edge of the circle, only to see that it actually was a circle created out of stones. Outside the stones was a ring of brightly colored fly agaric, and outside of the mushroom ring, another ring of a finely ground powder glittered on the ground. I squinted, for the fading light made it hard to tell what it was.
I leaned across the stones and mushrooms to touch the powder and as I did, it felt like I was sliding my hand into a vat of pea soup. As my fingers touched the fine grains, a shock resonated through my body and I shouted, pulling my hand back. The tips of my fingers were blistered, and I stared at the rising welts, a quick burn rushing through my body.
I let out a growl, startled and in pain.
The next moment, something came rushing through the trees, on a direct line toward me. I looked around, frantic to hide. I didn’t know what was coming, but whatever it was, my instincts told me I didn’t want to be around to meet it. But there was no cover in the meadow. As I started to step over the circle, a shock reverberated through my body equally as unpleasant as when I had touched the powder and I pulled back.
Whatever was on the way was big. So big that the trees were beginning to sway. I rubbed my head as a wave of dizziness washed over me. My face felt flushed and my head hurt. With a moan, I fell to my knees and leaned forward, trying to cushion my head. I couldn’t escape. All I could do was huddle on the ground, smelling the pungent soil through the verdant grass.
The creature was nearly on top of me now, the nearest trees were beginning to shake, and I tried to force myself to look but every instinct in me screamed Don’t and so I closed my eyes tightly, waiting for the end.
The ground rumbled and I drew in a deep breath, the smell of mold and decay filling my nostrils. Everywhere, the scent of death surrounded me, and I whispered a prayer to Morgana.
Lady, if it’s my time, please make it quick.
As if in answer, the world around me began to spin as I hunched low, waiting for the end.COLLAPSE
I often write to music, so here’s the playlist for IRON BONES. I consider two songs to be ‘theme songs’ for Oak & Thorns: King in the Tree by Shriekback, and Hymn to Herne, by S.J. Tucker.
AC/DC: Back in Black
AJ Roach: Devil May Dance
Alice Cooper: Go To Hell; Welcome to My Nightmare
Alice in Chains: Man in the Box; Sunshine
Android Lust: Here and Now; Dragonfly; Stained; Saint Over
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
The Black Angels: You on the Run; Never/Ever; Indigo Meadow; Don’t Play With Guns; Holland; Black isn’t Black; Young Men Dead; Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play; Roller Coaster
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Feel It Now; Fault Line
Black Sabbath: Lady Evil; Paranoid
Blue Oyster Cult: Godzilla; Don’t Fear the Reaper
Bon Jovi: Wanted Dead or Alive
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
Colin Foulke: Emergence, Caravella
Corvus Corax: Filii Neidhardi; Ballade de Mercy
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River; Run Through the Jungle
Damh the Bard: The January Man; Spirit of Albion; Land, Sky and Sea; The Cauldron Born; Obsession; The Wicker Man; Spirit of Albion; Iron From Stone
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Faun: Hymn to Pan
FC Kahuna: Hayling
Gabrielle Roth: The Calling; Raven; Mother Night; Rest Your Tears Here
Gary Numan: Ghost Nation; My Name is Ruin; The Angel Wars; Hybrid; Petals; I Am Dust; Everything Comes Down To This; When the Sky Bleeds, He Will come
John Fogerty: The Old Man Down the Road
Led Zeppelin: Ramble On; Immigrant Song
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
King Black Acid: Rolling Under
Metallica: Enter Sandman
Nirvana: You Know You’re Right; Come As You Are; Lake of Fire; Something in the Way; Heart Shaped Box; Plateau
The Notwist: Hands on Us
Orgy: Social Enemies; Blue Monday
A Pale Horse Named Death: meet the wolf
S. J. Tucker: Hymn to Herne
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Shriekback: Over the Wire; Night Town; Dust and a Shadow; Underwaterboys; This Big Hush; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Spiral Dance: Boys of Bedlam; Burning Times; Rise Up; Asgard’s Chase
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Tori Amos: Caught a Lite Sneeze; Blood Roses; Mohammad My Friend
Traffic: Rainmaker; The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Tuatha Dea: The Landing/Tuatha De Danaan; Wisp of A Thing (Part 1); The Hum and the Shiver; Long Black Curl
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow; Elemental Chant; The Circle Song
Woodland: Blood of the Moon; The Grove; Witch’s Cross; First Melt; The Dragon; Secrets Told
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line