Wild Hunt Book 16

Raven faces a difficult choice when the her other Ante-Fae friends insist that she sever her friendship with Ember. But then Raven's grandfather comes to visit, and she finds herself facing a truly staggering choice. She must decide between taking an assigned place with her ancient Ante-Fae family or staying with her Exosan family-of-choice. She must sort out her loyalties on all sides, even as she attempts to help her friend Trinity deal with his own demons.

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cover of Midnight Web
Part of the Moonshadow Bay series:

Be careful what you wish for...

January Jaxson’s settling into her life in Moonshadow Bay, and her new relationship with wolf shifter Killian O’Connell. Her job with Conjure Ink is proving both fascinating as well as dangerous. But little does January realize that she's about to let the actual genie out of the proverbial bottle.

When she bought an old bottle in a thrift shop, January didn’t expect to be purchasing a guest for her home. Now, with a djinn on her hands, she finds herself promising to track down something for her unexpected houseguest so he can finally gain his freedom.

At the same time, she’s thrown into one of the spookiest hauntings she’s ever experienced when a local restaurant suddenly falls prey to ghosts seeking revenge. Will she be able to get rid of her houseguest and keep the ghosts from killing their latest target, or will this job prove too much for January as she faces the big 4-1?

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” I leaned on the back of the sofa, staring at the coffee table. Ari and I had turned it into a makeshift altar for a ritual, but now I was seriously rethinking the wisdom of what we were about to do.

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Ari snorted, shaking her red hair that was cut in a euro-bob. She was petite, so slight she looked like a gust of wind could have swept her away, but she had an imposing personality and it was hard to say no to her. So when she had suggested a pre-birthday ritual to ring in my new year, I had finally agreed. I wasn’t too sure about turning forty-one, but it had to be better than forty. Forty had been hard. Forty had been hell. Forty had been the worst year in my life. My parents had died, my marriage had broken up when I found my ex with his tongue between another woman’s legs, and I had been bilked out of half the business I built up from scratch. Forty-one promised to be a breeze compared to all that. I had a new boyfriend, I was living in my hometown again, which I loved, and I had a new job that I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Oh come on, you keep complaining that you need to get back into practice with your magic. This is a fun way to do it!” She nodded to the tray of cupcakes on the coffee table. “Plus…cupcakes.”

Cupcakes changed everything.

“Well, when you put it that way…” I shook off the feeling that this might not be the best idea. The Ladies hadn’t warned me off of it and I trusted that they’d keep me out of trouble. “All right, let’s do it.”

“Good…now you just need three things to represent the wishes you’re making,” Ari said. “I haven’t done a wishcraft ritual in a while, so this should be fun. Especially with this to wash everything down!” She held up a bottle of spiced rum, our drink of choice when we were kicking back. It was dark, sweet, and went down with a kick. “And don’t forget to dress the part,” she added as I turned to go upstairs. “Also, put Xi and Klaus in your bedroom. We don’t want them inadvertently getting hit by anything we conjure up.”

Once again, I hesitated, trying to swat away the feeling this might not be for the best. But the fact was, even though Ari was braver than I was, she hadn’t spent eighteen years coping with an ex who constantly gaslighted her. I decided that I was tired of being a worrywart.

“All right, let’s do it. Let’s see…what can I use?”

Since my birthday was the next day, we wanted to hold the ritual before I technically turned forty-one. Also, I was having an actual party the next night, so tonight it was just Ari and me. I had thought about inviting my aunt Teran, but she had a date tonight.

I headed upstairs to my bedroom, thinking about the three wishes I was going to summon into my life, and the best way to set the mood.

Wishcraft rituals were different than actual magical circles. Wishcraft was lighter and usually didn’t work as well, but it was a good way to spend some magical energy without being too worried about screwing up. You could perform a wishcraft ritual while tipsy and it was a pretty good bet the roof wouldn’t cave in.

My gaze fell on the nightgown I had recently bought. Killian, my neighbor and new boyfriend, had been with me when I found it, and I’d fallen in love with the midnight blue gown. A halter top, the skirt was sheer and sequins glimmered like stars across the material. Swarovski crystals sparkled around the plunging neckline. It would be perfect, I thought, quickly changing out of my skirt and blouse. I slid on the nightgown and then re-did my makeup. Immediately, I felt more glamorous.

Looking over the items on my vanity, I caught sight of the bottle I had recently purchased at an antique store. It was an old perfume bottle with a crystal stopper. Unfortunately, the stopper was stuck and I hadn’t been able to use it yet. The bottle reminded me of mercury glass and was the color of lavender smoke.

I picked it up, holding it carefully. There was something about the energy that made me wistful, like a promise trapped away behind a veil, and I kept feeling that if I could just get the stopper unstuck, it would let out a flood of possibilities.

“This will work,” I said, carefully tucking it into a basket that was sitting on my nightstand. Now, I just needed two more items. For the second, I hesitated, then picked up a book that I had been reading titled Ghosts Around Puget Sound and tucked that in the basket, along with a crystal that Killian had given me.

That left one last item, and one last wish. Frowning, I sat down on the bed for a moment, wondering if I should be wishing what I was about to wish for.

Esmara, can you hear me? Am I doing the right thing?

I waited for a moment. My great-aunt Esmara belonged to the Ladies of our family. A group of women who had once ruled the roost, in death the Ladies continued to hold sway over the living. My aunt Teran’s guardian was great-great-aunt Prue, who had been Esmara’s mother. Both were firecrackers, even after death. Both doled out advice when they saw fit, and woe be to the sorry sap who didn’t listen. My mother had recently joined the Ladies after a car crash took both my parents’ lives, but she was getting acclimated to the spirit world and not ready yet to take her place as a guide.

I cleared my throat, waiting, but if Esmara was listening, she didn’t feel the need to answer. I decided to take her silence as tacit approval and dug through my jewelry box until I found a matchbook labeled “Gunther’s.” Gunther’s had been a bar that my ex and I had frequented, but to me it would forever symbolize the memory of Ellison telling me he was bored with our marriage, bored with me, and he planned on marrying someone else. That was the day after I caught him with his head between the thighs of his mistress—now his fiancée.

I flipped open the lid and, finding a pen in the drawer of the rolltop desk that been my mother’s, I wrote Ellison’s name inside the matchbook, and tossed that into the basket along with the bottle and the book on ghosts.

Ready for action, I headed for the stairs. Xi and Klaus were tussling in the hallway so I scooped them up and tucked them into the guest room, making certain they had water. They had already eaten dinner and there was a litter box in the guest room so they would be fine for the evening. Gently shutting the door, smiling, I clambered down the stairs.

In less than a month, I had come to love the cats more than I had thought possible, and I was grateful that Killian was a vet. It had been a long time since I’d been able to share my home with an animal. I was constantly calling him to make certain they were okay, and he’d rest my worries with a smile and infinite patience.

Ari was finishing the setup for the ritual. She glanced up as I came through the door, her eyes widening. “You’re gorgeous,” she said, staring at me. “Too bad I’ve got a girlfriend,” she added, but I knew she was joking.

We had been best friends since childhood, and I had always known she was gay, but it never made a difference and we were as comfortable as two old shoes. I was mostly straight—I had never met a woman who had triggered my interest sexually, but I wasn’t averse to the idea.

“You wish,” I said, grinning.

“Hey, I—” She stopped, snorting. “Never mind. You’re just baiting me.”

“It’s fun to watch you get your feathers ruffled,” I said. “I found the three items.” I set them out on the table.

Ari stared at the collection with raised eyebrows. “I’m not going to ask you what those are for, but…that’s an odd assortment of goodies,” she said. “Are you sure about them?”

I nodded. “About as sure as I can get.” I glanced around. “Are we ready? The cats are in the guest room, and we’ve got cupcakes and rum.” Traditionally, cakes and wine were appropriate for a ritual, but whatever worked was fine, in my opinion. There was a difference between ritual theater, which was best reserved for large groups, and working magic, which could get down and dirty and often called for substitutions.

“Okay, let’s get this party started,” Ari said, dimming the lights.

I lit the candles and stood back, staring at the table.

It was beautiful in the flickering light, with a shimmering black and silver cloth over it, and the crystal ball that sat in the center. To either side of the quartz sphere stood a gold and silver candle, and a double-edged dagger rested in front of the crystal. It was Ari’s blade. I had my mother’s athame—her ritual dagger—but I really needed to buy one of my own. I had spent too long among those who were squeamish about Otherkin, including those of us who had witchblood. I had buried my magic for too long. Now I was letting it out. Like a butterfly, I was coming out of my chrysalis, shaking the dew off my wings, ready to fly.

As Ari picked up the dagger and began to draw the circle, a slow flicker of joy began to spread through my heart. I was home, and I was learning what it meant to be me again.

***

My name is January Jaxson, and I’ll be forty-one years old tomorrow. I’m a witch by birth, born into one of the families known for witchblood. My great-grandfather, Brian Fletcher, and his wife Colleen moved over from England. Our family powers descended through her, and together, they helped to found Moonshadow Bay, a quirky town that welcomed Otherkin of all persuasions, be they shifter, vampire, witch, or something else. And those something elses could be both interesting and dangerous.

I had been married for eighteen years before I realized it had been one long lie from beginning to end. I walked away after torching my wedding dress and Ellison’s tux, and trashing his convertible. He was downright lucky I didn’t cast a spell to make his dick shrivel up for good. Even though I still wanted to see him go down, I had stopped at filling his convertible with water.

Now, a little over a month since I moved home, I have an unexpected new boyfriend who likes the fact that I’m not bone-thin, I’m back in Moonshadow Bay and out of Seattle, and I have a new job that is shaping up to be a crackerjack career. So yeah, forty-one promised to be far less scary than I had first feared.

***

We were a third of the way through the rum when we decided to officially start the circle. Oh, Ari had already cast it, but then we got distracted by the cupcakes and booze. I didn’t drink a lot, but Ari and I had pulled a few all-nighters back in the day, and my birthday seemed like the perfect excuse to let loose and just relax.

“So, how’s work going?” she asked, pouring another shot of rum for us. She held up her glass. “Here’s to you and your new life!”

“I’ll drink to that!” I clinked her glass with mine and we downed the shots, then took another bite of one of the pineapple cupcakes with coconut icing that she had picked up on the way over. Together, the combination was absolutely scrumptious. Piña colada cupcakes for the win!

I settled back against the sofa—we had opted to sit on the floor—and let out a long, contented sigh. “I like work, but I feel like I’m ready for another challenge. The past few weeks I’ve been researching Bigfoot sightings around the area. I have yet to meet Mr. B., but after talking to some of the people who have seen him, I think I’m a believer.”

Of course he exists,” Ari said. “Shifters exist, and vampires, and we’re both witches. Why wouldn’t Bigfoot exist? But I’m not sure I want to meet one. The sasquatch are dangerous and unpredictable, from what I’ve heard.”

“You think?” I asked, taking another bite of my cupcake.

“Oh, I know so. I had a cousin who was chased through a graveyard by one. He almost ended up falling into an open grave awaiting a burial the next day. If he had tripped into it, he’d never have made it out alive. He wouldn’t have been able to escape.” She shifted, crossing her legs into the lotus position.

While I was limber, I had not yet mastered that asana. I had taken up yoga again, wanting to be a little more flexible now that Killian and I were doing the hot-and-heavy several times a week. He was an ardent lover, and I had no complaints. He seemed to be enjoying himself as much as I was, but I wanted to spice it up, and that meant stretching some muscles that hadn’t been used for a while.

“How did he finally manage to get away?” I asked, thinking I should interview Ari’s cousin.

“He ran out onto the freeway. He said he’d rather dodge cars than try to hide from Bigfoot. He was convinced he was on the dinner menu. A police car saw him. He told them what happened and they thought he was drunk and took him into the station. When they found out he wasn’t, and saw how scared he was, they sent a car out to investigate but by then, of course, the creature was gone.” Ari pressed a napkin to her lips and poured two more shots of rum. “All right, let’s get this down and then start your ritual!”

I laughingly clinked glasses again and slammed the rum back, not even wincing at the warm spice anymore. We were both drunk, and it wasn’t the best idea to work magic from an inebriated state, but I was in that headspace where bad ideas often made perfect sense. And I wanted to make sparklies happen.

“All right, how do we do this?” When I turned sixteen, my mother had held a wishcraft ritual for me, but that had been long ago and far away, and fairly tame compared to what I was planning for tonight.

“Lemme think,” Ari said, wincing. “Well, you make three wishes—like the genie in the bottle type of wishes—we seal the energy after each one, and then go back to cupcakes and rum.” She grinned. “I think the ritual’s mainly an excuse to eat and drink, but it seems like the perfect way to cement your focus for the coming year.”

“That’s true,” I said, musing on the thought that I was actually turning forty-one. “I don’t know what I was so nervous about, you know? Right now, I’m having a lot of fun, I’m actually glad to see my thirties behind me, and the coming years are going to be so much more comfortable now that I’m away from Ellison.”

“Okay, then let’s start…what’s your first wish? Hold up the object you found to represent it, then state it aloud while focusing on the energy.” She set down her shot glass and straightened.

I followed suit. Immediately, the old energy that used to rise between us flared up. We had not only been best friends, but there had always been a magical spark between Ari and me. The magic we had crafted together always worked, and we had always achieved so much more together than separate. Ari was my attueind and we had known it since the first day we played together as children. Our mothers had recognized it, too.

There was a theory among the witchblood families that every witch had an attueind—a magical partner—somewhere, kind of like the soulmates theory, except the attueind usually wasn’t a lover. But the attueind was someone with whom the magic worked better, faster, and stronger. Your attueind’s energy would mesh so well with your own that you formed a whole. This wasn’t to say that witches couldn’t be powerful on their own. Some of the most powerful witches in history had been solitary, but sometimes, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

I inhaled deeply, then slowly exhaled as I lowered myself into a warm, fuzzy trance. The rum was definitely affecting me, but in that slightly drunken haze, it seemed to make things clearer. I could see the energy rising around the circle, like a pale purple mist. The color of my magic ran blue, and the color of Ari’s ran red. Together, our energies blended into a violet hue.

I lifted up the book of ghost tales. “I want to tackle a case that truly keeps me on my toes. I want a challenge—I want to be put to the test.” As I set the book back down, I focused on my desire and whispered, “So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” Ari said, adding her own energy to the spell.

The room seemed to darken a little as the energy thickened. I shook my head, feeling something rumble around me, like thunder, only without the sound. I picked up the matchbook.

“I want everything Ellison touches to burn. I want him to know what it’s like to lose what he loves. I want him to feel the pain that he caused me. I want payback! So mote it be.” I cackled as I set the matchbook back on the table .

Ari stared at me for a moment, then snorted. “So mote it be, hell yes!” She had been badgering me to cast a spell on him since I called her the day I found out he was cheating on me. But I had held off, wanting to gain some distance first. Now I had the distance and I felt I could afford to ask for a little karmic justice.

I picked up the bottle, frowning as I tugged on the stopper. It had been stuck when I bought it, but for some reason I really wanted to open it now. I worked the stopper, trying to rock it back and forth.

“And third, I want to know what’s like to be a sex goddess. I want to know what it feels like to walk down the street and turn heads—”

“You already do,” Ari said. “You’re gorgeous! You just don’t feel that way so you don’t notice it. I swear, you pull a poor-me attitude and I’ll—”

“Stop right there,” I said. “Ari, I know you think I’m pretty, and I know Killian tells me I’m pretty. But let’s face it—I’ve never known what it’s like to be the one people turn and look at…to be the bombshell that nobody forgets. For once, I just want to know what it feels like,” I added, shrugging. “So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” Ari said, then she held out her hand toward the bottle—which I was still struggling to open. I whispered, “Open, damn it.”

A spark flew from her fingers to mine and boom, the stopper came loose so quickly I almost fell back. A heady floral scent rose from the bottle, rich and not the least bit stale like you would expect from a perfume bottle that had been closed up for years.

Feeling relieved, I set the bottle down, smiling at it. “It’s really beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is. Do you know how old it is?”

I shook my head. “I think it’s mercury glass, but I’m not sure. But it feels old. Anyway, so those are my three wishes. Excitement on the job and a test of my talents, Ellison to suffer as much as I did, and I want to be a hot, sexy, mama.” I laughed, realizing that none of my wishes had been in any way generous. “I almost feel selfish for not wishing for world peace, or something like that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We all want world peace but one little wishcraft ceremony won’t ever bring that about, and it’s okay to focus on yourself. Especially when it’s your birthday.” She poured us another round of shots and handed me my glass. “Here’s to you, January, and here’s to the best year you’ve ever had. Hell, I’ll be asking you to throw me a wishcraft ritual for my birthday in May.” Ari was five months younger than I was—she would turn forty-one on May 7.

We tossed back the rum and I reached for another cupcake. As my fingers closed around the paisley cupcake liner, there was a sudden noise—like the hissing of wind—as a plume of smoke began to rise out of the bottle. I stared at it, a little too tipsy to comprehend just what was happening, but then the smoke began to form into a figure over the bottle, a figure that was very large and very muscled and…

“Oh good gods,” I whispered, staring up at the man who was grinning at me. “I didn’t wish for a genie.”

“You may not have wished for one, but that’s what you have,” he said, winking at me. “Your wishes are granted, January Jaxson.” And then he began to laugh.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

I often write to music, and MIDNIGHT WEB was no exception. Here’s the playlist I used for this book.

Adele: Rumour Has It
Android Lust: Here And Now; Saint Over
The Animals: The House Of The Rising Sun; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Bury My Body
Arch Leaves: Nowhere To Go
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: The Sun Ain’t Shining No More; Sunshine Coolin’; Major; Heart Attack
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
Beastie Boys: She’s Crafty
Beck: Qué Onda Guero; Farewell Ride; Emergency Exit; Think I’m In Love; Cellphone’s Dead; Nausea; Broken Train; Where It’s At
The Black Angels: Don’t Play With Guns; Love Me Forever; You’re Mine
Black Pumas: Sweet Conversations
Blind Melon: No Rain
Bret Michaels: Love Sucks
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Cake: The Distance; Never There
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
The Cars: Candy-O; Good Times Roll; Moving In Stereo; All Mixed Up
Chris Isaak: Wicked Games
The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Crazy Town: Butterfly
David Bowie: Fame; Golden Years; China Girl; Let’s Dance
Dead or Alive: You Spin Me ’Round
Donovan: Season Of The Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eels: Souljacker Part 1
Fats Domino: I Want To Walk You Home
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain; Gold Dust Woman
Gary Numan: Cars; Are Friends Electric?; Down In The Park; War Songs; I, Assassin; Bridge? What Bridge?; My Shadow In Vain
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Dare; Demon Days; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know
Grand Funk Railroad: We’re An American Band
The Guess Who: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
Heart: Magic Man; White Lightning & Wine
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer
Jay Price: Dark-Hearted Man; The Devil’s Bride; Coming For You Baby
Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A.
John Fogerty: The Old Man Down The Road
Johnny Otis: Willy & The Hand Jive
The Kills: Nail In My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Sour Cherry
Kirsty MacColl: In These Shoes?
Lady Gaga: Born This Way; Paparazzi; Poker Face; Paper Gangsta; I Like It Rough
Ladytron: Paco!; I’m Not Scared
Low: Witches; Plastic Cup; Half Light
Mai Lan: Pumper
Mark Lanegan: Phantasmagoria Blues; Wedding Dress
Matt Corby: Breathe
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance
Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand
Nirvana: Lithium; Heart Shaped Box; Come As You Are; Something In The Way; Plateau; Lake Of Fire
Orgy: Blue Monday
Outasight: The Boogie; Fire It Up; The Bounce
Pearl Jam: Even Flow; Black; Jeremy
Radiohead: Creep
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Ricky Martin: She Bangs
Ringo Starr: It Don’t Come Easy
Robin Schulz: Sugar
The Rolling Stones: Gimmer Shelter; Little Red Rooster; The Spider And The Fly; 19th Nervous Breakdown; Paint It Black; Mother’s Little Helper; Lady Jane; Miss You
Saliva: Ladies And Gentlemen
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Seether: Remedy
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; Intoxication; Over the Wire; New Man; Go Bang; Big Fun; Dust And A Shadow; Agony Box; Putting All the Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us; And The Rain; Wiggle And Drone; Church Of The Louder Light; Now These Days Are Gone; The King In The Tree
Simple Minds: Don’t You
Spiderbait: Shazam
Stealers Wheel: Stuck In The Middle With You
Steppenwolf: Born To Be Wild; Your Wall’s Too High; Magic Carpet Ride
Strawberry Alarm Clock: Incense And Peppermints
Susan Enan: Bring On The Wonder
Suzanne Vega: Blood Makes Noise; 99.9F°; Bad Wisdom; Solitude Standing; Straight Lines
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Syntax: Pride
Talking Heads: Life During Wartime; Take Me To The River; Burning Down The House; Moon Rocks; Psycho Killer
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s In A Pool
The Temptations: Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
Thompson Twins: The Gap
Toadies: The Gap
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
U2: Vertigo; Elevation
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are The Wilderness
Warrant: Cherry Pie
Wild Cherry: Play That Funky Music
Zero 7: In The Waiting Line
The Zombies: Time Of The Season

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A Paranormal Women's Fiction Novel

Starlight Web
Part of the Moonshadow Bay series:

Moonshadow Bay…where magic lurks in the moonlight, and danger hides in the shadows.

One month before January Jaxson turns 41, her husband ditches her for a trophy wife. Adding insult to injury, he steals the business she helped build, and kicks her out during the holidays. So when her best friend Ari suggests she move back to Moonshadow Bay—a quirky, magical town near Bellingham WA—January decides to take the plunge.

Born into a family of witches, January accepts a job at Conjure Ink, a paranormal investigations website. The job’s right up her alley but she doubts that everything reported to Conjure Ink really exists. That is, until she’s sent out on her first case.

An abandoned asylum once housed a murderer, who killed an entire family one Yuletide Eve. It’s rumored that every December he returns to haunt the woodland around the asylum, seeking to add new members to his supernatural family. January’s sure it’s an urban legend, but when new victims show up with no logical explanation for their deaths, Conjure Ink sends her in to investigate. Suddenly January finds herself in over her head, staring directly into the shadowed world of the Veil.

Now, January must not only navigate the new life she’s trying to build, but the paranormal beasties she’s sent out to explore, as well as a hot new neighbor, who seems to be hiding a shadowed past of his own.

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

I leaned in my car window to crank the stereo, then returned to the sidewalk, staring at the house. Warren Zevon was on the radio, singing “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” The lawyers I had, for all the good they did me. Fortunately for Ellison, I wasn’t carrying a gun. But the money part? Not quite so flush, especially after Ellison took me to the cleaners.

As I stood in the driveway, I paused, jamming my thumbs in the pockets of my jeans.

Eighteen freaking years I’d spent with my scumbag of an ex-husband. For eighteen years I’d done things his way, followed his traditions instead of mine, kept my mouth shut while he made one mistake after another because I didn’t want to field yet another argument.

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I’d decorated the house to his tastes, I’d worn polite, prim clothing because he couldn’t stand for anything to be too “weird” or “garish.” I’d played the good little wife and muted my magic when I was around his friends, who were oh so disdainful of anybody born outside of a human suit. I had put my life on hold to work for his dream, and I’d made his dream happen.

I’d done everything he asked, and what was the end result?

The end result was that I was now standing outside my house for the last time. I had been dumped for a twenty-year-old bimbo, I’d been blacklisted from any job in publishing in the area, and I had been bilked out of both the magazine that I had started almost single-handedly and the house I’d helped to buy.

Sure, I had been awarded half our known assets, but I knew that we had accumulated far more money. Ellison had just managed to squirrel it away from the judge’s eye, a judge who should have recused himself from our divorce proceedings because he was Ellison’s good buddy. But he hadn’t, and I’d gotten screwed without even an orgasm to seal the deal.

“Fuck you, Ellison Reilly. And your uptight prig of a mother, too.” I flipped the house the bird, but that didn’t feel like enough of a parting statement.

Then it hit me. I knew what to do.

I marched back inside and dug through the closets until I found his tuxedo—the one he had worn when we got married. The thousand-dollar stand-in for a honeymoon. I’m sorry, January, but I can’t afford a honeymoon, even though I promised you one. I had to buy my tux. We’ll take one later. Only later had never come.

I added my wedding dress—a modest white sheath dress, because I had stuck to the budget we had originally set for our wedding—and carried both the tux and dress outside.

My next act was to toss the thousand-dollar tux into the fire pit, then drop my wedding dress on top of it. After they were firmly inside, I poured lighter fluid over the whole shebang. I stepped back, then lit a match and flicked it into the pile of clothing. Whoosh! The flames roared up into the cloudy sky, filling the air with the acrid stench of dry-cleaning chemicals. The flames weren’t bright enough to attract undue attention, and Ellison was out with his floozy, so he wouldn’t find the charred remains until tomorrow.

I thought about dancing around the fire but I wasn’t in a celebrating mood and it wasn’t a full moon. And I still didn’t feel like I had payback—at least, not enough. I wanted to say good-bye on a big note. One he couldn’t ignore.

A snowflake landed on my cheek and I glanced at the sky. It was only the first week of December and already the weather had taken a turn toward winter. We didn’t always have snow in Seattle, but this year, it looked like we were about to break the odds.

Ellison was out for the evening with Ana—one “n”—his trophy bride-to-be. He’d spent a year trying to gaslight me that he wasn’t having an affair with her, but I could sense her residue energy on him every time he came home late. Finally, I called Ari and asked her to cast a spell, asking that the affair be brought into the open if it was really happening. I was too close to the situation and didn’t trust my magic not to backfire. The next day, I came home to find his head between Ana’s legs and boom, that took care of that.

I looked around for one last way to signal my departure. I really didn’t want to destroy the house—I had loved that house. But then I caught sight of his convertible and I knew how to sign my good-bye note. He had bought a $55,000 car that we could barely afford, while I was still driving a fifteen-year-old Subaru that was in the shop more often than it was out.

“Can you get any more midlife crisis?” I said, shaking my head. A convertible in Seattle made as much sense as a bikini in the Antarctic, but men who thought with their penises usually made idiotic decisions. Dashing back in the house, I found the spare car key he kept in his desk.

Back outside, I opened the car door, fit the key in the ignition, and rolled down the window just wide enough to fit the hose. One more trip back to the side yard and I found the hose and dragged it around to the driveway. I stuck it through the crack, then returned to the faucet.

“Okay, January, think,” I said aloud. “Do you really want to do this? Is he even worth the effort?”

But my heart answered for me. He had used me to build something wonderful, then cut me out of it as thoroughly as he had cut out my heart. The pain of losing him? I was over that, but I wasn’t over the anger that he had taken everything away from me and then blacklisted me with all his buddies in the publishing industry. I had lost my marriage, my career, the magazine…all in one fell swoop.

I turned the faucet on, turning it all the way. The water began to fill the car.

Feeling a grim sense of satisfaction, I stood back, my hands on my hips. “Okay. This…this is closure. Good-bye, Ellison. We’re done.”

I tossed his car key and my house key into the flames still flickering in the firepit, then turned away. The movers were gone, hours ago. The last of my suitcases were in the back of my Subaru. I settled into the driver’s seat, fastened my seat belt, and turned the ignition.

“Come on, Cookie,” I whispered to my car. “Let’s get a move on.”

Smiling for the first time in weeks, I turned up the music as the track switched over to the Talking Heads, and rolled out of the neighborhood with “Burning Down the House” echoing in my ears.

***

Moonshadow Bay was a town on the coast of Washington, about ten miles south of Bellingham. With a population of around five thousand, it also happened to be the town I was born in. And though I had lost my parents to a plane crash five months ago, the town was filled with happy memories, and even though they wouldn’t be there to greet me, my aunt was waiting for me and that was enough to make me smile.

As I drove through the quiet streets, a life that had felt a world away when I was in Seattle came rushing back. Some of the shops had changed, but the town square was still set up for get-togethers and meetings, and the City Central building, which housed the police station, courthouse, jail, town hall, the main fire station, public works department, and the library, still stood in the center of town, as stoic as ever, with the clock in the tower that was always and forever ten minutes slow, watching over the center of Moonshadow Bay.

The snow had already cloaked the town. Moonshadow Bay was close to the Canadian border, and the town was on the lower end of Bellingham Bay, overlooking the Salish Sea. The storms came in past the islands. The farther north I got from Seattle, the heavier the snow had become. I had been driving for almost two hours, given the slippery roads. The weather added thirty minutes to the usual time, as well as me slowing down to thirty-five on some parts of the freeway. I wasn’t afraid of driving, but I wasn’t stupid, either, and when the snow was falling so heavily it was hard to see through, I took my time.

As I pulled into town, I began to breathe easier. I was finally here, almost home. As I passed the city limits sign, I felt something shift, and the anger I had still been carrying seemed to fall away.

Welcome home, the town whispered. We’ve missed you.

Moonshadow Bay was beautiful, with more parks and woodland areas than it had buildings. The centralized downtown district was fairly dense and compact, and from that inner core, the residential area sprawled out, feathering through the trees and the streams that flowed down to the Salish Sea. While it didn’t have all the amenities of a large city, Bellingham was close enough to make up for that.

The streets were coated with a light dusting of snow and everywhere faerie lights shone, sparkling as they wove around the trees and lampposts and shop windows. Every store seemed decorated and ready for the holidays, and I suddenly felt the tension draining away, out of my shoulders. There was magic in the air—I could smell it as sure as I could smell the snow. It crackled, darting like shifting sparks, and it too whispered, Welcome home. Moonshadow Bay is where you belong.

And it truly was, in a way.

My great-grandfather, Brian Fletcher, and his wife Colleen had come over from England. The family powers had descended through her—we were Fam-Trads, a family of witches—and even though I didn’t know a great deal about Colleen’s heritage other than she had been born in Ireland, I knew that the magic came down through her, through the women in my family. My mother and my grandmother had been witch women, too, and so was my aunt Teran, who was a few years younger than my mother had been. And all of them had passed on their knowledge to me. And what had I done? Turned away from it because Ellison was too spooked by Otherkin.

I passed through the main strip, watching the pedestrians strolling along the sidewalks. The stores were open late due to the holidays, and while the streets had been plowed, they were still slippery. I eased along, making sure not to slam on the brakes.

As I left the town square and turned the corner on Maple Street, my eyes grew misty. I was only a few blocks away from my house. My parents had left me the house I’d grown up in, but I hadn’t been home since they had died, and then I had been so distracted by my grief that I had barely noticed my surroundings.

But now, the realization that I was coming home, and my mother and father wouldn’t be around to greet me ever again hit hard. It didn’t matter whether you were fourteen or forty, losing your parents cut a deep hole.

One more turn and I was on Fern Street, and there, up ahead on the left, was a beautiful two-story farmhouse, with a wide front porch that was supported by intricately carved newel posts. The driveway was clear, except for one truck, which I recognized as my aunt’s. Teran had driven an old beater for years now, and how the thing held together, I didn’t know. It ran on a whisper of magic, for sure.

I parked next to the truck, then turned off the ignition and sat in the silence for a moment, taking it all in.

The house came with a half-acre acre of land, so the yard was wide and private, surrounded by trees on all sides. Fern Street was a dead-end road, ending at one of the many pathways leading into Mystic Wood State Park. I lived right up against the park. I finally opened the door and hauled myself out of the car, wincing as I stretched.

Even though I worked out on my exercise bike every day and did yoga, the years were beginning to tap on my shoulder, reminding me that I wasn’t anywhere near the shape I wanted to be in. But given that I had held down a full-time job and cleaned the house and took care of everything so Ellison wouldn’t complain, I decided to cut myself some slack.

I slung my purse over my shoulder and clattered up the front stairs. As I reached for the bell, the door opened and there she was—Aunt Teran.

“Thank heaven you’re here. It’s setting in to blow up a gale out there,” she said. “The movers made it here and I did my best to direct them where to put the boxes.”

My aunt had a smile a mile wide for me. She held out her arms and then it hit me. Her eyes—they were same as my mother’s eyes. The same depth, the same love, the same color even. And in that moment, the dam broke and I leaned into her embrace, bursting into tears for the first time since my parents’ funeral.

***

Twenty minutes later, I was snuggled under a throw, curled on the sofa with a peppermint schnapps mocha and a plate of cookies. They were oatmeal raisin, with just the right amount of cinnamon.

“So you’re back to stay,” my aunt said. She was sitting in the rocking chair. My parents had updated the house shortly before they died, with new paint throughout, a new kitchen and a new master bath. It felt like home and yet, oddly different. The living room had a new sofa in it, and I had to admit it was comfortable, but it felt out of place.

I let out a sigh. “Yeah. I’m back to stay.” I paused, then said, “I guess that chapter of my life is over.”

“Was it bad? The divorce?” Teran sipped her mocha. “I don’t know if I spiked this enough.”

“It’s got plenty of kick to it,” I said, rolling up to a sitting position. “The divorce? Well, it wasn’t good. I know I should have ended it years ago, but I was…”

“Comfortable?”

I thought about it for a moment. “No, not comfortable. I was in a rut. I had no clue what to do if I left, and back then I didn’t want to think about the fight we’d have dividing the magazine. I guess Ellison took care of that for me.”

“Tell me what happened with that.” Aunt Teran folded her legs under her in the chair. She was tall and sturdy, and she had hair down to her butt. It had been salt and pepper when I last saw her, but now it was black, streaked with electric blue, and it looked amazing. She was wearing jeans, a rainbow-pride top, and her throw-back granny glasses. Teran had never married, and she had never told me why.

“I did something everybody always warns you not to do. I signed a document—a notarized one at that—without reading it. We were in a hurry, Ellison assured me that what I was signing were articles of incorporation. But the notary was actually a friend of Ellison’s who was helping him. The articles of incorporation turned out to be a prenup. They got my signature but actually managed to change the date, pre-dating it to before our wedding. I gave Ellison full control over the magazine, as well as giving him full ownership of the house, but I can’t prove anything.” I groaned, bringing my knees up to lean against them.

“I feel like such a fool. I trusted him and he screwed me over so bad my lawyer couldn’t untangle it. We told the judge what happened, but it was useless. It was my word against Ellison’s, and he has some powerful friends in the Seattle law community, including that judge. So he basically conned me out of the magazine I started and any interest in the house.”

I winced, glancing at her. Teran could be mighty blunt, but I really needed some TLC now, not a lecture.

She stared at me for a moment, then the next, she was by my side, scooching me toward the center of the sofa. She slid in behind me and began to rub my shoulders.

Sighing, she said, “You know, sometimes the con artists of the world catch us by surprise. Ellison was good at hiding his true nature, although I never liked him very much. He was such a pompous ass. I’m not going to scold you about this. But…”

That “but” hung in the air, and I dreaded hearing what was attached to it.

“But what?” I finally asked.

“The thing I can’t excuse is the fact that you spent eighteen years sublimating yourself for a man who wasn’t worth a fraction of what you bring to the table. How the hell did everything we taught you go sliding out the window?” She slid her arms around my shoulders, hugging me from behind. “What happened, child?”

I shrugged, scooting to the side and turning around. I couldn’t face her.

“I don’t know, to be honest. At first I fought. I fought to celebrate my holidays. I fought to practice our traditions. I argued about the clothes he wanted me to wear. I made excuses for his rudeness, especially around other Otherkin. Basically, I tried to hold my own, but after a while, he wore me down.”

“Why didn’t you leave him?”

Again, I had no good answer. “I don’t know. You’d think I would have, right? But…somewhere along the way, I guess I lost my confidence.” I glanced over my shoulder at her. “I gave up. When someone tells you you’re stupid time after time, you begin to believe it.”

Teran gave me a hug. “Well, that ends now. That ends tonight.”

I ducked my head, smiling. “I’ve missed you.”

“And I’ve missed you, too. But I knew that you weren’t ready to see me, child. I remind you too much of your mama.” She stroked my hair, pulling it back. “As wavy as it ever was.”

I laughed. “We’re always going to envy each other’s hair.”

Teran had straight hair, down to her ass. Mine was dark brown and wavy. Not corkscrew curly, but long and wavy and just rough enough to never take a good shine.

“And yours is as smooth and silky as ever. I love the blue, by the way.” I sighed, then said, “You’re right, though. I wasn’t ready to face their deaths yet. But I guess…now I have to. It feels good to be back in Moonshadow Bay, though. I’ll see Ari a lot more. Ellison didn’t like her and he almost broke up our friendship.”

“You two were always thick as thieves,” Teran said. “All right, I’d better get on home. Ree and Roo are probably hungry.” My aunt had two hound dogs. They were as old as the hills—or at least, as old as most dogs get—and they showed no sign of slowing down. But her familiar was a great horned owl that lived out in the trees near her house. They had a deep connection that crossed the species barrier.

I walked her to the door and she gave me a hug, then handed me a key. She had taken care of the house after my parents died. “Here, you’ll want this back.”

I shook my head, folding her fingers over the key. “No, you keep it. Just in case.” I pressed my lips together, thinking of my mother and father. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

“Too true, love,” she said, hugging me. “That’s why you have a key to my house, too. For the same reason.” As she headed down the sidewalk to her car, it occurred to me that I was really, truly, starting over. For the first time in eighteen years, I was embarking on a new stage in my life.

I walked out on the porch, watching the snow fall. It drifted down, the flakes larger, like thick wisps of cotton candy. There was a softness to the night, and all around the neighborhood, lights twinkled on the windows around the houses.

I glanced over at the house next door, only to see a “Sold” sign on the front lawn. When I was little, the Hart family had lived there, and I’d played with Sallie Hart, though we weren’t best friends. Now, it looked like her parents were off to greener pastures.

Slowly descending the steps, I walked out toward the front of the yard. The streetlights cast a muted glow in the winter night, and I closed my eyes as I crossed my arms, jamming my hands deep beneath my armpits to keep warm. My breath hung in the air, vaporous—like a miniature cloud. It was cold, but I just wanted to let the peace that came with the snowfall encompass me.

“Hello…” The voice came from over my shoulder, but when I jerked around, I couldn’t see anybody there. It was a woman’s voice, clear and familiar though, and I was sure that I had heard it. I glanced around, suddenly realizing I was going to be alone in the house. While Ellison hadn’t been much comfort, at least he’d been a warm body.

“Can you hear me?” The voice echoed again, this time from the other side. I whirled around, but still, there was no one in sight.

Holding my breath, I turned and ran back up the sidewalk and took the steps two at a time. Once inside, I slammed the door behind me. I didn’t have the energy to deal with ghosts tonight, and since there hadn’t been any stranger lurking in the bushes, that’s all I could assume the woman’s voice had been. There were certainly enough of them hanging around.

Shaking, I locked the door. Tomorrow I would dig out my mother’s herbs and make a protection charm, but for tonight, I decided to sleep on the sofa. In the kitchen, I found the biggest, meanest-looking knife my mother had owned. Clutching the hilt, I returned to the living room. I placed the knife on the coffee table within easy reach and then, exhausted, I curled up under the afghan on the sofa and promptly fell into a dreamless sleep.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

I often write to music, and STARLIGHT WEB was no exception. Here’s the playlist I used for this book.

Adele: Rumour Has It
Android Lust: Here And Now; Saint Over
The Animals: The House of the Rising Sun; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Bury My Body
Arch Leaves: Nowhere To Go
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: The Sun Ain’t Shining No More; Sunshine Coolin’; Major; Heart Attack
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
Beastie Boys: She’s Crafty
Beck: Qué Onda Guero; Farewell Ride; Emergency Exit; Think I’m In Love; Cellphone’s Dead; Nausea; Broken Train; Where It’s At
The Black Angels: Don’t Play With Guns; Love Me Forever; You’re Mine
Black Pumas: Sweet Conversations
Blind Melon: No Rain
Bret Michaels: Love Sucks
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Cake: The Distance; Never There
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
The Cars: Candy-O; Good Times Roll; Moving In Stereo; All Mixed Up
Chris Isaak: Wicked Games
The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Crazy Town: Butterfly
David Bowie: Fame; Golden Years; China Girl; Let’s Dance
Dead or Alive: You Spin Me ‘Round
Donovan: Season Of The Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eels: Souljacker Part 1
Fats Domino: I Want To Walk You Home
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain; Gold Dust Woman
Gary Numan: Cars; Are Friends Electric?; Down In The Park; War Songs; I, Assassin; Bridge? What Bridge?; My Shadow In Vain
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Dare; Demon Days; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know
Grand Funk Railroad: We’re An American Band
The Guess Who: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
Heart: Magic Man; White Lightning & Wine
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer
Jay Price: Dark-Hearted Man; The Devil’s Bride; Coming For You Baby
Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A.
John Fogerty: The Old Man Down The Road
Johnny Otis: Willy & The Hand Jive
The Kills: Nail In My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Sour Cherry
Kirsty MacColl: In These Shoes?
Lady Gaga: Born This Way; Paparazzi; Poker Face; Paper Gangsta; I Like It Rough
Ladytron: Paco!; I’m Not Scared
Low: Witches; Plastic Cup; Half Light
Mai Lan: Pumper
Mark Lanegan: Phantasmagoria Blues; Wedding Dress
Matt Corby: Breathe
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance
Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand
Nirvana: Lithium; Heart Shaped Box; Come As You Are; Something In The Way; Plateau; Lake Of Fire
Orgy: Blue Monday
Outasight: The Boogie; Fire It Up; The Bounce
Pearl Jam: Even Flow; Black; Jeremy
Radiohead: Creep
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Ricky Martin: She Bangs
Ringo Starr: It Don’t Come Easy
Robin Schulz: Sugar
The Rolling Stones: Gimmer Shelter; Little Red Rooster; The Spider And The Fly; 19th Nervous Breakdown; Paint It Black; Mother’s Little Helper; Lady Jane; Miss You
Saliva: Ladies And Gentlemen
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Seether: Remedy
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; Intoxication; Over the Wire; New Man; Go Bang; Big Fun; Dust And A Shadow; Agony Box; Putting All the Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us; And The Rain; Wiggle And Drone; Church Of The Louder Light; Now These Days Are Gone; The King In The Tree
Simple Minds: Don’t You
Spiderbait: Shazam
Stealers Wheel: Stuck In The Middle With You
Steppenwolf: Born To Be Wild; Your Wall’s Too High; Magic Carpet Ride
Strawberry Alarm Clock: Incense And Peppermints
Susan Enan: Bring On The Wonder
Suzanne Vega: Blood Makes Noise; 99.9F°; Bad Wisdom; Solitude Standing; Straight Lines
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Syntax: Pride
Talking Heads: Life During Wartime; Take Me To The River; Burning Down The House; Moon Rocks; Psycho Killer
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s In A Pool
The Temptations: Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
Thompson Twins: The Gap
Toadies: The Gap
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
U2: Vertigo; Elevation
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are The Wilderness
Warrant: Cherry Pie
Wild Cherry: Play That Funky Music
Zero 7: In The Waiting Line
The Zombies: Time Of The Season

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Everything is in turmoil as Herne and Ember struggle to keep up with the collateral damage caused by the war against Typhon. But now, an old enemy reappears--stronger and more dangerous than before. Once again, the Hippocampi call for the Wild Hunt's help. Not only has Straff, the son of Blackthorn, returned to his old haunts, but several teens have gone missing from the Foam Born Encampment. Herne and Ember tread a delicate balance, searching both for the kidnapper, and the psychotic Ante-Fae. But when Ember makes a misstep, she falls into the hands of the King of Thorns. Will she be able to escape before he takes out his revenge on her?

 

Reading Order for the Wild Hunt Series:

Book 1: The Silver Stag

Book 2: Oak & Thorns

Book 3: Iron Bones

Book 4: A Shadow of Crows

Book 5: The Hallowed Hunt

Book 6: The Silver Mist

Book 7: Witching Hour

Book 8: Witching Bones

Book 9: A Sacred Magic

Book 10: The Eternal Return

Book 11: Sun Broken

Book 12: Witching Moon

Book 13: Autumn’s Bane

Book 14: Witching Time

Book 15: Hunter’s Moon

Book 16: Witching Season (forthcoming)

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

I searched my desk frantically. “Where the hell are they? I’m going to kick Herne’s ass for this.” I couldn’t find a file we needed for a meeting, and it was all Herne’s fault.

My desk was one massive pile of papers and folders, and to top things off, I had spilled my latte all over everything, making even more of a mess. The wastepaper basket was full of wadded-up paper towels saturated with the stains of coffee and milk and sugar, and the half-used roll was on the floor, next to my boot. I kicked it out of the way as I scooped up an armful of the files and dumped them on the seat of my chair.

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The next moment, I let out a long sigh when I finally saw the file with the name “Cleandra” on the label. I fished it out from the stack of folders it was sitting in, managing to knock over another pile in the process. Ignoring the mess for now, I hurried out the door. I jogged back to Herne’s office, pausing by the door to collect myself. Then, and only then, did I turn the knob and let myself in.

“Welcome back,” Herne said, smiling pleasantly from behind the desk. But his gaze fastened on me and I knew that—inside—he was cringing. He knew exactly what kind of a mood I was in. I said nothing as I held up the file. “You found it, thank you,” he said. “Let’s get back to business then.”

I slid into the chair next to his desk. Our client—a very wealthy dwarf named Keri Cleandra—gave me a long look, then smiled. I had the feeling she knew that I was about to smack Herne, because she gave me a secret smile that women have when it comes to dealing with men. Dwarf or Fae, human or god, we all had those times when the men in our lives were this close to sleeping on the sofa.

“Yes, I found it,” I said, gritting my teeth. But I was a professional, so I shook off my mood for the moment and turned to Herne. “So, what’s our next step?”

“The next step,” Herne said, “would be to visit Keri’s property. We need to figure out how the thief is getting into her house.”

“I don’t understand why my alarm system isn’t working,” Keri said. “I had it checked out.”

Herne nodded. “Given you have an alarm system and a guard dog, and neither one reacted to the break-in, yet you keep losing property is pushing me to think you might have a poltergeist or something of the sort. But we can’t make that determination until we’ve actually examined the house.” He held out his hand for the file.

I slapped it into his hand, harder than necessary. As I did so, I noticed the blueberry stain on the cover from my blueberry jam and peanut butter sandwich. I tried to ignore it, but Herne caught sight of the mess and gave me a long, meaningful look. I glared back at him and he hastily turned back to the file, opening it and placing it on his desk.

“When would be good for you, Keri? We can come out either tomorrow or Wednesday morning.” Herne pulled out his tablet and brought up his schedule.

Keri, who was around four-two—she was tall for a dwarf—and golden blond, smiled. Like almost all dwarves, she was sturdy, and muscled, but she was also stunning. She ran a mechanic’s garage, specializing in foreign engines. Even though she had a thorough grasp of domestic models, she preferred working on Porsches and Jags.

“Tomorrow morning would be best. Around ten?”

Herne nodded and tapped away with his stylus. A moment later, the appointment came through to my phone and tablet as well. “Ember and Yutani will look around and ascertain what we need to do next.” He stood, and I took my cue from him, also standing.

Keri Cleandra slid out of the chair and gave us a formal nod, then turned. “Thank you,” she said over her shoulder. “I’ll see you then.”

As soon as Herne closed the door behind her, he turned back to me. “What the hell? The file folder is covered in peanut butter and jam?”

“You’re lucky I even found it! And it’s not covered in jam, so chill out. I’ll have Angel make up a new folder. But Herne, if you ever dump a mess like that on my desk again without asking, I’m going to kick your ass. And I know Yutani and Talia feel the same way. What the hell were you thinking, having Rafé stack all those files on my desk? I have an office full of papers that have to be sorted out now. You think I can go through them easier when they’re one big jumble?”

Herne and I didn’t fight often, but the past few days had been one nightmare after another and we were all on edge.

Herne paused, closing his eyes for a moment. He smiled, looking for all the world like a cute but lovable naughty little boy. “Okay, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

“No, it’s not that simple. You can’t just mutter ‘I’m sorry’ and expect it all to be okay. First, if we had lost the file, we have all the information in the computer and Angel could just print it out for us again. And second, panic will do you no good. We can find the mistakes easier if we go through the files one by one. You don’t need to dump everything on our desks at once. That’s not helping matters any.” I dropped into the chair next to his desk, leaning back as I stretched my legs out in front of me.

We were facing a war with the dragons, the dead were flooding the graveyards, and worst of all, the United Coalition was considering letting the dragons have a seat in government. And on top of all of that, we had discovered a big mistake in the firm. Or rather, Charlie, our vampire accountant-in-training, had. That mistake meant that the Wild Hunt had overcharged at least eighty clients over the past few years.

Herne would have no trouble paying them back. The real problem came in ascertaining just how much each client was owed, and convincing them not to sue us for fraud. While the Wild Hunt never meant to overcharge clients, a court might not see it that way, given how big of a mistake it ended up being and how many people had been affected.

All of that meant that we had to go through every single file and review the hours listed for each client, run the figures through our new software, and note the difference between what our records showed they had paid, and what they should have actually paid. This would also impact taxes for that year, so we were hip-deep in overtime until we took care of the issue. Yeah, it had been an extremely rocky past few weeks, and we were all tired.

I knew that this weighed on Herne’s shoulders more than it did on mine—he was responsible for the entire agency and I was just an employee, but his frantic desire to be done with it and make sure everyone was paid back had resulted in chaos.

“So…talk to me,” I said.

He jerked his head toward the daybed in his office. Herne kept his office organized and clean. The desk and other furniture was heavy walnut, old gleaming wood. The walls of the office were painted a robin’s-egg blue, and the ceiling was white. Over Herne’s desk sat a rack of antlers, massive and heavy, mounted on the wall. Two pair of wingback chairs offered plenty of seating, and a locked case displayed a number of various weapons. The daybed was for when Herne needed to spend the night in the office.

In the year and a half that I had worked for the Wild Hunt Agency, I had never once seen his office untidy. Even now, in the midst of a crisis, it was calm, with plenty of plants to offer fresh oxygen and serenity. Mine had been tidy, too, until this morning.

I followed Herne to the daybed. He curled up against one end and held out his arm. I snuggled up into the niche he offered, resting my head on his shoulder. My long raven hair mixed with the sprawling strands of wheat-colored hair that fell below his shoulders.

“You’re right,” he said after a moment. “I’m sorry. We’re all on edge, I know that. I thought that by dividing the files, we’d be able to get through them faster.”

“Well, it would be faster except that the stacks of files tipped over and they’re now all over the floor of my office. We should’ve just started out taking four or five at a time and worked our way through that way.” I frowned, my anger easing as we talked. I tried to suppress a smile. One thing I had learned during my time at the Wild Hunt: the men who worked here had very little sense of organization. Although Herne’s decisions were being influenced by his focus on the dragon menace. That was a hard reality to avoid or push out of mind.

“Speaking of dragons,” I said.

“Were we speaking of dragons?” Herne asked.

I shrugged. “Well, I was thinking about them. Even though the dead are still on the move, and people are pissed over the curfew, have you noticed how quiet it’s been lately? Regarding the dragons, that is? Gyell is out there, targeting us, but he hasn’t done a single thing to retaliate. When I think of the look on his face the last time I saw him…” I shuddered. “He’d kill us all if he had the chance.”

“I think that’s what’s worrying me most. We haven’t had any reports about the dragons in days. So, what are they doing? We know they’re not just going to give up and go away. Maybe you should contact Ashera to see if she knows anything?”

“I can do that,” I said. “Have you heard from Cernunnos or Morgana regarding Echidna?”

Herne shook his head. “Ever since they transferred her to Annwn, there’s been radio silence. And I don’t feel like I have the right to ask at this point. Morgana and Cernunnos will tell us what they want us to know when the time is right.”

Herne’s parents—Cernunnos, the Lord of the Forest, and Morgana, the goddess of the Sea—had created the Wild Hunt Agency, to deal with the twin courts of Fae.

When we had discovered that Echidna, the mother of all dragons, was still alive, they had swept her away before Typhon discovered she was still alive. Echidna was our one hope in defeating the Father of Dragons, and she was sequestered away in Annwn, discussing strategies with the gods.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Part of me wanted to urge him to contact them. After all, we were in this war, too. But reality was: the less we knew, the better. We were all careful, but should one of us be captured, what we didn’t know, we couldn’t tell.

The phone rang, interrupting us. It was Herne’s landline, so it was probably Angel on the intercom. I shifted so that he could stand up, and he hurried over to his desk to answer. He listened for a moment, then said, “Meet us in the break room.”

He motioned for me to join him and, gathering my tablet and files, I followed him down the hallway. Viktor was already there, along with Angel. Talia and Yutani were almost to the break room when we got there. Rafé wasn’t in yet—he often came in during the evenings, along with Charlie.

When we had gathered, Angel cleared her throat. “I just got a call from Rhiannon. You know, from the Foam Born Encampment?”

We nodded. Rhiannon was the matriarch of the Foam Born Encampment, a Pod of water-horse shifters who lived over on Whidbey Island.

“She’s coming in for an appointment this afternoon. She says it’s urgent and can’t wait.”

A shiver raced down my spine. Shortly after Angel—my best friend—and I started working for the Wild Hunt, we had investigated a case over on Whidbey Island for the water-horse shifters. We thought we had managed to close it, but as time went on, we found out that it wasn’t quite as closed as we had hoped.

We had captured one of the Ante-Fae—one of the ancient Fae. He had been killing people and siphoning off both their life force and their blood. When we delivered him to Cernunnos, Herne’s father had thrown him deep into a dungeon, planning to leave him there for the rest of his life. But then, one of the guards set to watch over him had vanished, and Straff vanished along with her. We had no idea where he was, but we suspected that he was on the prowl again because reports of similar murders had cropped up recently.

“Crap, you know what that means,” I said.

“Don’t assume,” Talia said. “We don’t know yet—”

“Well, I’m not sure,” Angel said. “She did mention that two teens from the Pod have gone missing. One was a young woman named Lecada, and Lecada has a twin. They’re bonded. You know how human twins bond? Well, apparently among the hippocampi, twin-bonds are even stronger and if one of a set of identical twins dies, then the other will feel it.”

“Oh no,” I said, closing my eyes. “Tell me she didn’t feel the pain—because if Straff is involved—”

“Oh, there was pain,” Angel said, a grim look on her face. “But not the way you might be thinking. Aja said her connection to Lecada was abruptly severed. It wasn’t the same as if her sister had been killed or even hurt, but she described it as if she and Lecada had never been connected. It traumatized Aja, because it was like cutting off something in one of her senses.”

Talia paled. “That’s odd. Perhaps the girl was taken through a portal?”

“That’s possible, but Rhiannon didn’t say anything about that.” Angel consulted her notes. “The other girl vanished a month or so ago—her name was Twinkle. She vanished without a trace.”

“We need to talk to the twin, obviously, but I don’t want to scare her. What do the parents have to say? Were the girls prone to running away?” Herne asked.

Angel shrugged. “You’ll have to ask her when she gets here.”

“So, she’s not coming because of Straff?” Talia asked.

“I don’t think so, but again, we’ll have to ask her when she gets here.” Angel glanced at her notes. “She’ll be here in an hour or so.”

“One thing I don’t understand is why Straff returned to Whidbey Island. Surely he has to know that we’ll be hunting him down again?” Yutani was the son of the Great Coyote, and he was a brilliant man, if a tad volatile. He was also our IT guy, and had managed to find a way onto the Dark Web without being traced, which opened up a well of knowledge for us.

“You say that as though we’re dealing with someone sane,” Viktor said. The half-ogre shook his head. “Straff is about as far from sane as I am from being a pygmy.”

I repressed a snicker. “True that,” I said. “But Yutani raises a good point. If Straff’s on the island again, he has to know that we’ll be seeking him out. He can’t think that Cernunnos hasn’t found out that he escaped, can he?”

It seemed ludicrous to think that Straff would be that oblivious, unless he was listening to the guard who had sprung him out of the dungeon. If she was still alive. There was a distinct possibility he had killed her. A sudden thought hit me, one that made my stomach lurch.

“Do we have to contact Blackthorn again?”

“Oh, yes. We’ll need to consult the King of Thorns again,” Herne said. “I don’t relish the thought, either.”

The last time we had met, Blackthorn had shown too much of an interest in me, and I hadn’t forgotten the sleazy, creepy way he had tried to insinuate himself between Herne and me. Blackthorn, the King of Thorns, was Straff’s father, and to me, he had been more frightening than Straff himself.

Angel’s cell phone rang and she glanced at it. “I set the reception phone to forward to my phone.” She moved away from the table to answer, while the rest of us continued to discuss Straff. But less than a minute later, Angel hurried over and turned on the TV.

“Guys, that was Maria Serenades, the deputy mayor. She has what she calls some disturbing news and she wants to talk to us today. She’ll be here around three o’clock. She told me to turn on the television and watch the breaking news.”

We quieted down as the newscaster came on. Marcy Winters—a ditzy bleached blonde for whom the song “Dirty Laundry” might have been written—faced the camera with a blisteringly cheerful smile.

“Today, history was made when Frassáire—the spokesman for the Dakkar Mountain Dragon Clan—bought the entire town of Remington, a small mining town last occupied in the early 1920s by prospectors. Located near Monroe, the town has sat empty since 1941, when the last residents moved away, and has been up for sale the past ten years. Frassáire told our reporters that the Dakkar Mountain Dragon Clan plans to renovate it into a tourist village, with rides and vendors, where families can come to meet and interact with the Dragonkin. They plan to open by early April.”

I stared at the screen. “What the everloving fuck?”

Herne swore, hitting the table with his fist. “I talked to the governor a few weeks ago. I warned him this was going to happen.”

At first, we had been worried that the dragons were going to take over by force, but as the weeks wore on and the dragons made themselves known but backed down in actual attacks, we began to suspect a more devious plot. Though the dead were walking—and they would as long as Typhon was around—we began to realize he was aiming to gain trust. He was a treacherous wyrm, and we had begun to suspect that Typhon and his dragons were going to try to insinuate themselves into society and then demand a seat on the United Coalition, much like the Fomorians had. Now, it looked like we were right.

“What are we going to do?” I asked. “Can’t we stop them from buying up land?”

“No, we can’t,” Herne said. “When I talked to the governor he assured me that his office would keep an eye on the dragons. And when I told him that the gods were looking for a way to drive Typhon out of this realm, he assured me that the state has our back. That the country has our back. The dragons are here on a worldwide basis, and pretty soon the countries will have to come together to decide what to do about this, and that’s just going to end up in one big clusterfuck. Pardon my language, but…we all know it. That’s one reason the gods have taken the reins of this battle.”

I stared at the table. We knew for a fact that Typhon’s end goal was to enslave humanity as both servants and food, but we didn’t dare let that information loose to the general public or panic would ensue. Unfortunately, dragons were both crafty and charming, and they were quite happy to use whatever means possible to bring about their desired results.

“Basically, they’re creating an amusement park and making themselves into a spectacle. On the surface, it seems so undignified,” Yutani said. “But they’ll be able to disarm people. Can you imagine the children begging to ‘go see the dragons’? We’re talking Jurassic Park all over again, except this isn’t fiction, and we aren’t the ones setting up the disaster.”

“Yes, we are,” I said. “We aren’t stopping them from building it.”

“What can we do to stop them?” Angel said. “It’s not like the old days when you could scream ‘illegal immigrant’ about somebody coming over the border and slam the door shut on them. The world is more interconnected, and that’s a good thing. Generally. But it also makes it easier for a group like the dragons to wedge themselves in.”

Herne shook his head. “My guess is that there are laws in place about this, but they’re being overlooked because dragons have money. You can bet that every dragon on this planet has amassed a fortune, and the moment someone who’s both greedy and powerful gets wind of that, the kickbacks are going to be enormous—” he paused as my phone rang.

I glanced at the caller ID and groaned. “It’s Saílle.”

The Queen of the Dark Fae seldom contacted me unless she wanted something, or something so serious had happened that she had to bring me in on it. I was half–Light Fae, half–Dark Fae, and on my way to becoming a goddess.

When I first arrived at the agency, both the Queens of Light and Dark had ignored me. In fact, I had been pariah, a stain on their heritages. Half-breeds, whether the other half was human, Fae, or other Crypto, were excommunicated. But the moment they found out I was engaged to Herne and that I would take my place as one of the Fae goddesses, both Névé and Saílle had done their best to woo me over. I walked a delicate tightrope between the two and felt like I was one step away from tumbling to the rocks below, because with those two, there was no safety net involved.

“Hello?” I had neither the energy nor desire to play their games today.

“Ember, we need to talk to you and your agency about this dragon news. Those beasts cannot be allowed to have a foothold in the land. They’ll—”

Before she could finish, I cut her off. “Queen Saílle, we just heard about it and we’re discussing what to do now. Trust me, we aren’t happy about it either. If you have any ideas beyond taking a nuclear bomb to them, please let us know.”

“Don’t you shush me, girl!” Saílle’s voice thundered over the phone so loud that everybody in the room heard and turned to stare.

I stifled a laugh. We were probably going to need their help and I couldn’t afford to alienate her. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long morning.”

She let out a sigh. “I realize that you’re probably busy and I’m interrupting a meeting, but please tell Herne that we—we being Névé and me—want to meet with him at the first available opportunity to discuss this travesty.” And then, she abruptly ended the call.

I turned back to the others. “That was Saílle. Guess who’s not happy over the announcement about the dragons and wants to meet to discuss strategy?”

Herne groaned. “Wonderful, just wonderful. That’s all we need.”

I sank back into my seat as the others continued to speculate over both Straff and the dragons. Some days, it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Hunter's Moon

Air: Moon Fever; Playground Love; Napalm Love
Airstream: Electra (Religion Cut)
Alexandros: Milk (Bleach Version); Mosquito Bite
Alice in Chains: Sunshine; Man in the Box; Bleed the Freak
Android Lust: Here & Now; Saint Over
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
The Black Angels: Currency; Hunt Me Down; Death March; Indigo Meadow; Don’t Play With Guns; Always Maybe; Black Isn’t Black
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blind Melon: No Rain
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Brandon & Derek Fiechter: Night Fairies; Toll Bridge; Will-O’-Wisps; Black Wolf’s Inn; Naiad River; Mushroom Woods
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Danny Cudd: Double D; Remind; Once Again; Timelessly Free; To the Mirage
David Bowie: Golden Years; Let’s Dance; Sister Midnight; I’m Afraid of Americans; Jean Jeanie
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
Don Henley: Dirty Laundry; Sunset Grill; The Garden of Allah; Everybody Knows
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Love of the Loveless; Souljacker Part 1
Elektrisk Gonnar: Uknowhatiwant
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Filter: Hey Man Nice Shot
Finger Eleven: Paralyzer
Flora Cash: You’re Somebody Else
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Only Happy When It Rains; #1Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Hybrid; Cars; Petals; Ghost Nation; My Name Is Ruin; Pray for the Pain You Serve; I Am Dust
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whisky Runners: Muddy Waters
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St. Chartier
Hang Massive: Omat Odat; Released Upon Inception; Thingless Things; Boat Ride; Transition to Dreams; End of Sky; Warmth of the Sun’s Rays; Luminous Emptiness
The Hu: The Gereg; Wolf Totem
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer; Silver Bullets; Forbidden Fruit
J Rokka: Marine Migration
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Korn: Freak on a Leash; Make Me Bad
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low: Witches; Nightingale; Plastic Cup; Monkey; Half-Light
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Many Rivers Ensemble: Blood Moon; Oasis; Upwelling; Emergence
Marconi Union: First Light; Alone Together; Flying (In Crimson Skies); Always Numb; Time Lapse; On Reflection; Broken Colours; We Travel; Weightless
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon
Matt Corby: Breathe
NIN: Closer; Head Like a Hole; Terrible Lie; Sin (Long); Deep
Nirvana: Lithium; About a Girl; Come As You Are; Lake of Fire; You Know You’re Right
Orgy: Social Enemies; Orgy
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
Puddle of Mudd: Famous; Psycho
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Rob Zombie: American Witch; Living Dead Girl; Never Gonna Stop
Rue du Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Shriekback: Underwater Boys; Over the Wire; This Big Hush; Agony Box; Bollo Rex; Putting All The Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us Together; Shovelheads; And the Rain; Wiggle & Drone; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Spiderbait: Shazam!
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s in a Pool
Thomas Newman: Dead Already
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow
Yoshi Flower: Brown Paper Bag

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Book Cover: Blood Dreams
Part of the Blood Queen series:

THE BLOOD QUEEN SERIES IS BEING DELAYED TILL NEXT YEAR AND PREORDERS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED. IF YOU PREORDERED THE BOOKS YOU WILL NOT BE CHARGED FOR THEM.

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Blood Ashes cover
Part of the Blood Queen series:

THE BLOOD QUEEN SERIES IS BEING DELAYED TILL NEXT YEAR AND PREORDERS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED. IF YOU PREORDERED THE BOOKS YOU WILL NOT BE CHARGED FOR THEM.

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Blood Roses Cover
Part of the Blood Queen series:

THE BLOOD QUEEN SERIES IS BEING DELAYED TILL NEXT YEAR AND PREORDERS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED. IF YOU PREORDERED THE BOOKS YOU WILL NOT BE CHARGED FOR THEM.

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An Ante-Fae Adventure

Witching Time: An Ante-Fae Adventure
Book 14 in the Wild Hunt Series
Release date: October 2020

It’s Mabon, and Llewellyn’s friends—Marigold and Rain—are running a harvest festival on their farm. Llewellyn and Raven open a vendor’s booth to join in the fun. But Raven soon discovers the farm has a deadly past. When she encounters the spirit of a teenaged girl who was thought to have been a runaway, she quickly discovers the girl was killed.

As she attempts to prove the girl was the victim of a deadly ritual gone awry, a series of terrifying paranormal events begins to occur. Raven soon realizes that the spirit of the killer is still lurking on the land, and the race is on. Raven must prove that the girl was murdered before the killer’s ghost strikes again, because he’s willing to sacrifice anyone and anything who threatens to reveal the secrets of his past.

Series Reading Order:
1. The Silver Stag
2. Oak & Thorns
3. Iron Bones
4. A Shadow of Crows
5. The Hallowed Hunt
6. The Silver Mist
7. Witching Hour
8. Witching Bones
9. A Sacred Magic
10. The Eternal Return
11. Sun Broken
12. Witching Moon
13. Autumn's Bane
14. Witching Time
15. Hunter's Moon (forthcoming)

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

I stared at Kipa. “Why do you have a box of cigars? You don’t smoke.”

He was holding a box of cigars in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other, looking all too wide-eyed. The past couple of days he had been too bristly for comfort, and I wondered what was going on. Right now, he just looked uncomfortable.

“I thought your father might like them. If he doesn’t, I can always give him the chocolates.” If he had been wearing a dress shirt, I swear, he would have been tugging on the collar by now. As it was, he was wearing a dark green V-neck sweater, a pair of tan cargo pants with a leather belt, and a pair of Fluevog ankle boots with a harness strap on them. They were very rock ‘n roll, and fit his style perfectly. His hair, a deep brown, was brushed, but hanging loose to mid-back, and he had trimmed his beard and mustache. He was gorgeous no matter what he wore, but today he had really spiffed himself up.

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His eyes were shining, as brown as my own, and it dawned on me that he was trying to present a good appearance for when my father arrived. I let out a soft sigh. “Dude, thank you. I know what you’re doing and I wish you’d stop worrying. Curikan’s going to love you.”

“In my experience, very few fathers want to meet the man who’s fucking their daughter.” Kipa laughed nervously and set the cigars and the chocolates on the table. “Seriously, I know I shouldn’t be nervous, but I am. What if he doesn’t like me? What if he wants you to stop seeing me?”

I tried not to roll my eyes. We had played out this scene every single day the past week. It had never occurred to me that Kipa might actually have insecurities, but they had been presenting themselves loud and clear ever since my father called to say he would arrive shortly after the equinox.

“Kipa, I’m young for my people, but I’m still an adult. I see who I want to see. And trust me, if either one of my parents was going to hate you, it would have been Phasmoria. My mother’s far harder to win over than my father, and she thinks the world of you.” I leaned up on my toes to give him a kiss. The metal hoops of his dolphin-bite piercing were cool against my lower lip, but his embrace was warm and I wanted to scramble into his arms and rub myself against him. Kipa had that effect on me.

My recent time spent in therapy had helped immensely and I almost felt back to my old self, and that included my libido. “You want to do me before he gets here?” Even though we’d had sex the night before, I was more than ready to go again.

Kipa pressed closer to me, kissing me on the nose. “I want to do you all the time. If we could be in bed twenty-four/seven, I’d be happy about it. But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen because I promised Herne I’d show up at the Wild Hunt this morning. He’s got news from the Spiral Web about Gyell and the white-dragon twins.”

The Spiral Web was a secret organization of dragon shifters who were on our side, intent on helping us take down Typhon, the Father of Dragons, and the Luminous Warriors—the dragons who followed him.

That took the oomph out of my sails. Reluctantly, I gave him another kiss.

“Well, that puts a crimp in things, but I understand. Go and be careful.” That phrase—Go and be careful—had become a running refrain between us. We were facing a deadly enemy and everyone at the Wild Hunt Agency had a target on their back. As did I.

“I promise. Remember to lock the door, set the wards, and wand your car if you go out,” Kipa said, stretching and yawning.

“I’ll be going out. I’m reading cards down at the Sun and Moon Apothecary this morning, then I need to shop for groceries, so yeah, I’ll remember.”

Because of the dangers we were facing, Yutani—a coyote shifter from the Wild Hunt—had created wands for everybody at the agency that could detect bugs, bombs, and other such devices. He had made one for me, too, since I worked with them on occasion. When we ran them up one side of the car and down the other, they would emit a high-pitched beep if there was something amiss. The wands weren’t a guarantee of safety, but they could still catch a wide variety of monitoring and explosive devices.

Kipa shrugged into his leather jacket as I walked over to the sliding glass doors leading out into the side yard, off the kitchen. It was raining out, the clouds crowding thickly over the Puget Sound area. The leaves were still covering the boughs but they were in mid-change, turning brilliant shades of copper and rust and yellow as the autumn days began to deepen. While they weren’t ready to go spiraling off the trees, summer was definitely long gone.

As I opened the sliding door, letting fresh air filter in, I noticed a tang to the morning—that chill that foretold nights filled with woodsmoke and the heady scent of petrichor. This was the first hard rain of the season, and from now on, sunny days would be few and far between.

“I think the season’s going to be rainier than usual,” I said, staring at the downpour.

“I think you’re right,” Kipa said, coming up behind me to wrap his arm around my shoulders. “How are you doing, love?”

“I’m better,” I said, leaning back against his chest. “Sejun has managed to remove most of the triggering emotions. The memories I can deal with, as long as the emotional triggers aren’t there. But I tell you this. If I ever see Pandora again, I will do as much damage to that bitch as I can. I may not be able to kill her, but she’ll never put her hands on me again.”

Pandora, the daughter of Zeus, had kidnapped and tortured me. With the help of an Elven counselor—Sejun—I had come to terms with the memories and I actually felt stronger than before. He had helped me turn the panic into determination. Add to that, I wasn’t nearly as naïve as I had been a few months back, and I felt more capable of facing the world. But I was holding a long, dark grudge against Pandora. One day I wanted to meet her on the battlefield and best her. I wanted her to think twice before ever again trying her tricks on another person.

“I know, love. That’s why the extra wards—she’s still out there. I know. And so are Gyell, Aso, and Variance.”

The latter three were dragons determined to bring down the Wild Hunt agency. But all four of them, including Pandora, weren’t as frightening as the force behind them.

Typhon, the Father of Dragons, had set his sights on enslaving the world, on turning it into a dragon free-for-all buffet. Which was why Kipa and I were helping at the Wild Hunt—they were on the frontlines of this battle. The gods were tackling Typhon, who was a Titan, and Herne’s agency was out to stop his emissaries.

I glanced up at Kipa. “I think it’s going to be a cold and dangerous winter.”

“I agree,” he murmured softly. “But we’re together, and that’s what matters.” And once again, the Lord of the Wolves turned me to face him and pressed his lips against mine.

***

After Kipa left, I wandered into the kitchen to rinse our breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Raj joined me. A gargoyle, he was my best friend, and I took care of his every need. He was about the size of a large rottweiler, with leathery gray skin and puppy-dog eyes. His wings had been cut off by a demon when he was a baby, and I had managed to rescue him via a winning hand in a poker game. I’d paid a powerful witch to wipe Raj’s memory so he wouldn’t remember the pain the demon had inflicted on him. He had lived with me ever since.

“Raven seems quiet today. Is Raven okay?” Raj asked. He walked on his back feet and his front knuckles, a lot like an orangutan. Now, he sat down on his haunches, leaning forward with his hands against the floor.

“Raven’s fine, Raj. Raven is good. She’s just thinking about the autumn.” I tried not to worry Raj. I wanted him to have as carefree a life as he could.

Gargoyles were intelligent, but their intelligence came through in a different way than human or Fae, or—like me—Ante-Fae. They seemed childlike because they perceived the world in a vastly different way.

“Autumn’s fun. Raj likes to go chasing leaves.” He looked glum. “It’s raining. Will Raven still take Raj for a walk later?”

I winced. “Raven’s sorry, Raj. She needs to stop at Llew’s shop and then go grocery shopping. But when she gets home, she’ll bake chocolate chip bars! How about tomorrow?”

Raj thought for a moment, then nodded. “Raj can wait. Raj will watch Acrobert and the Alphas.” He paused. “Raven’s father comes tonight, right?”

“That’s right,” I said.

Sometimes it was hard to describe family relationships to gargoyles. In the wild, they lived in extended family units and sometimes they never knew who their birth parents were. Everyone within each generation was considered a mother, father, sister, or brother. I wasn’t sure how the dynamics worked, but I had been doing some research on the subject and it seemed to be the norm among the various gargoyle clans.

I paused, turning to kneel by him. “Would Raj like some potato chips while he watches his show?”

Raj nodded, his eyes practically glowing. “Raven usually won’t let Raj eat potato chips this early!”

“It’s a special day,” I said, pulling a bag of chips out of the cupboard and shaking out a small bowl of them. “Just wipe the crumbs off if you spill any.” I carried the bowl to the sofa, waiting till Raj got himself situated with the remote. Handing him the bowl, I returned to the kitchen, relieved to hear the television blaring. I had a lot on my mind and really didn’t feel like trying to talk to Raj while I worked.

I took a last look through the fridge and cupboards, jotting down what we were low on, then set the dishwasher to run while I was out. Heading to my bedroom, I stopped to peek in on the ferrets. I had already fed them and changed their bedding, and now they were tuckered out, asleep in their cages. They had several active play sessions a day between which they were out like a light. Finally, I slipped out of my robe and shimmied into black transparent tights. I dressed in a black full skirt, a black mesh turtleneck, and a purple underbust corset. Sitting on the bed, I pulled on a pair of ankle boots covered with buckles and hardware. It wasn’t terribly chilly, but I added a black and plum bolero jacket. I brushed my hair again—I already had my makeup on—and grabbed my purse.

Raj was fully engrossed in his show, so I kissed him on the forehead, made certain all the wards and the alarm system were set, grabbed the wand that Yutani had given me, and took off for my car.

***

The Sun & Moon Apothecary was owned by my friend Llewellyn Roberts, one of the magic-born. He was a fairly powerful witch, married to Jordan Roberts, a tiger shifter who owned the coffee shop right next door—A Taste of Latte. I stopped there first, and ordered a triple-shot caramel mocha with extra whipped cream, then made my way through the bustling streets over to the magic shop.

Herne had helped the United Coalition—the government council—to hold a press conference, warning the nation about the dragons. It had been a move nobody wanted to take, given the possible panic that might ensue. But when the shadow dragons preceding their father’s return had spread out, bringing the dead back to life to attack the living, warning the public had become a necessity. Typhon’s father was Tartarus—the Titan who ruled in the Underworld—and so Typhon and the shadow dragons were keenly in tune with the world of the dead.

I didn’t think any of the other dragons could bring the dead back. Some were in league with Typhon, while others were on our side. When push finally came to shove, nobody on this planet would be able to ignore the fireworks. Dragons weren’t subtle.

I darted into Llew’s shop just as a deluge of rain drenched everyone who was caught outside. The raindrops pounded down, beating a rhythm on the sidewalk. I paused in the door as the wind picked up, driving the rain sideways.

“Boy, if this is the first rain of the season, I dread thinking what it will be like when we’re into the thick of autumn,” I said, hustling over to my table by the window. I set down my cup and then shrugged out of the jacket. Shivering, I scooted over to one of the heating vents on the floor and stood directly over the heat that radiated up.

“Hey, Raven,” Llew said from behind the counter. He had a perplexed look on his face. “What should I take to the farm this weekend? What do you think would sell best at the fair?”

Llewellyn had booked a booth at his friends’ harvest fair that weekend, and I was going along to read the cards. Llew and I had agreed to a twenty-eighty split on my readings, and that was fine with me.

Rain and Marigold Childs, who owned Dream Circle Farms, were a human pagan couple who lived on the outskirts of Woodinville. Rain had taken Marigold’s last name when they married, even though people kept making jokes about how she was a “rain child.”

They sold eggs, flowers, jams, jellies, and honey that they harvested off their farm, and in the autumn, they sold pumpkins and corn during their harvest fair. Come November, they shifted focus and sold vendor spots to local artisans for the winter holidays.

“Potpourri for the autumn, cinnamon sticks, pumpkin pie spice, garlic braids for magical protection. Actually, any protection oils and charms you take will probably fly off the table given everybody knows about the dragons. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more panic.”

Shortly after the announcement there had been an initial surge in hoarding, but people seemed to have gotten comfortable again, and while visits to graveyards were limited to certain hours during which the cemeteries had protection, the majority of people didn’t seem to have made any adjustments to their lives.

“Good idea. I’ll pack up everything for protection and cleansing that I have.”

Llew was a handsome man, lean and lanky with a perpetual smile. His hair was silken smooth, braided back to keep it out of his way. He had grown out his goatee into a neatly trimmed beard and mustache and was wearing a pair of purple jeans, an autumn-leaf print shirt, and a pair of sneakers. He was eclectic, for sure. He was also one of the best friends I had.

“You might want to take some autumn-themed candles,” I added. “You know, spiritual visitation, venerating the ancestors, house cleansing, that sort of thing.”

“I’ll add those into the mix, along with some orange, yellow, and green tapers.” He glanced over at me. “You have two clients this morning, but I kept this afternoon free as you asked.”

I read the cards at Llew’s shop a couple days a week and I had a steady clientele. I was accurate and to the point, and I took the time to help my clients decipher how the readings fit into their lives. It led to repeat customers, which was always a bonus.

My first client was a young woman who wanted to know how her freshman year in college was going to go. The cards predicted she would be a big hit with the geek crowd and ace her studies, and she seemed satisfied by the time we finished.

The second client was a regular, and he asked the same question he always asked. I was running out of advice to give him. I was also running out of patience.

Gary was a nervous man who lived alone. In his mid-thirties, he was a homebody and afraid to put himself out there. His idea of a wild time was to have a beer with his pizza. He also worked the night shift as a security guard in a big office building. In other words, the dude barely knew anybody, worked a cockeyed schedule, and desperately wanted to meet a nice woman with whom he could settle down.

The cards told me pretty much what I could have surmised on my own: If he didn’t get his ass out in public, he wasn’t going to meet anybody. But the thought of going to a bar made him cringe, and when I suggested he join a group that pertained to his side interests, which were birdwatching, reading, and toy poodles, he kept making excuse after excuse as to why it wouldn’t work.

“Gary, you’re never going to meet anyone if you lock yourself in your house all day. The universe doesn’t just toss women like Mardi Gras beads.” I shuffled the cards and put them aside. The reading had said the same thing the last three readings did.

“But why won’t the cards tell me what to do?”

“They have. Three times in a row. They’re telling you the same thing each time because you haven’t got the message through your head yet. I don’t have a different answer for you because there isn’t one.”

He stared at the table, a glum expression on his face. “But I don’t like going out.”

“Do you want to find a date?” I leaned back and folded my arms across my chest. “Either you get your ass out of your house or you sign up for an online dating service and go out with someone the computer matches you with. Hey, that might be the ticket. Why not give it a try?”

He frowned. “What if we don’t get along? What if we have nothing in common? What if I just don’t like her—or she doesn’t like me?”

He was starting to spiral. “Gary, listen to me. Focus.” I held his gaze. “If you don’t like her, you don’t have to go out with her again. If she doesn’t like you, she’ll just refuse a second date. What can you lose, except one evening?” I stared at him, waiting.

Fidgeting, he finally looked me in the eye. “All right. But I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” I was getting irritated. I had cut off clients before when they kept coming back, wanting a different answer without doing the actual work.

He shifted in his seat and finally leaned across the table and whispered, “I’ve only gone out with three women in my life. I’m just…” He blushed and stared at the table.

I reached across the table and patted his hand. “You’re shy. There’s no crime in that. A lot of people are. But you have a lot of wonderful qualities, Gary. You’re smart, you have a good job, you actually want a relationship instead of just somebody to fu—” As he blushed even deeper I quickly shifted to, “sleep with.”

“Thanks, Raven. I suppose you’re right. Unless I put myself out there, how am I ever going to find someone? I’m just not sure what to do.”

I thought quickly. “Let’s get Llew involved. He’ll set you up with a spell to meet someone who’s right for you.”

As the blush on Gary’s cheeks faded, he gave me a genuine smile.

I motioned to Llew. “Gary needs a love spell to attract a good match for him. Could you get him set up with something? I’ve got to run. My father’s coming in tonight and I have to go grocery shopping and get home before he meets Kipa without me.”

While I was certain my father was going to like Kipa, I had a sudden vision of my boyfriend stumbling over his words and blurting out something the wrong way. If I was there, I could smooth the introductions.

Llew motioned for Gary to follow him. “Come on, let’s go get you situated. Have you ever done any magic at all?”

Gary shook his head as Llew led him over to the counter. Feeling a little guilty about foisting Gary off on Llew, I gathered my things and slung my purse over my shoulder. Dropping my cup in the recycling can that Llew kept in the shop, I glanced outside. The rain was still thrashing the streets. No matter what, I was going to get soaked on my way back to my car.

Steeling myself, I pushed open the door and made a run for it.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Witching Time

Air: Moon Fever; Playground Love; Napalm Love
Airstream: Electra (Religion Cut)
Alexandros: Milk (Bleach Version); Mosquito Bite
Alice in Chains: Sunshine; Man in the Box; Bleed the Freak
Android Lust: Here & Now; Saint Over
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
The Black Angels: Currency; Hunt Me Down; Death March; Indigo Meadow; Don’t Play With Guns; Always Maybe; Black Isn’t Black
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blind Melon: No Rain
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Brandon & Derek Fiechter: Night Fairies; Toll Bridge; Will-O’-Wisps; Black Wolf’s Inn; Naiad River; Mushroom Woods
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Danny Cudd: Double D; Remind; Once Again; Timelessly Free; To The Mirage
David Bowie: Golden Years; Let’s Dance; Sister Midnight; I’m Afraid of Americans; Jean Jeanie
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
Don Henley: Dirty Laundry; Sunset Grill; The Garden of Allah; Everybody Knows
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Love of the Loveless; Souljacker Part 1
Elektrisk Gonnar: Uknowhatiwant
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Filter: Hey Man Nice Shot
Finger Eleven: Paralyzer
Flora Cash: You’re Somebody Else
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Only Happy When It Rains; #1Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Hybrid; Cars; Petals; Ghost Nation; My Name Is Ruin; Pray For The Pain You Serve; I Am Dust
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whisky Runners: Muddy Waters
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St. Chartier
Hang Massive: Omat Odat; Released Upon Inception; Thingless Things; Boat Ride; Transition to Dreams: End of Sky; Warmth of the Sun’s Rays; Luminous Emptiness
The Hu: The Gereg; Wolf Totem
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer; Silver Bullets; Forbidden Fruit
J Rokka: Marine Migration
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Korn: Freak on a Leash; Make Me Bad
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low: Witches; Nightingale; Plastic Cup; Monkey; Half-Light
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Many Rivers Ensemble: Blood Moon; Oasis; Upwelling; Emergence
Marconi Union: First Light; Alone Together; Flying (In Crimson Skies); Always Numb; Time Lapse; On Reflection; Broken Colours; We Travel; Weightless
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon
Matt Corby: Breathe
NIN: Closer; Head Like A Hole; Terrible Lie; Sin (Long); Deep
Nirvana: Lithium; About A Girl; Come As You Are; Lake of Fire; You Know You’re Right
Orgy: Social Enemies; Orgy
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
Puddle of Mudd: Famous; Psycho
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Rob Zombie: American Witch; Living Dead Girl; Never Gonna Stop
Rue du Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Screaming Trees: Where The Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Shriekback: Underwater Boys; Over the Wire; This Big Hush; Agony Box; Bollo Rex; Putting All The Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us Together; Shovelheads; And the Rain; Wiggle & Drone; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Spiderbait: Shazam!
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s In A Pool
Thomas Newman: Dead Already
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow
Yoshi Flower: Brown Paper Bag

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