cover of Midnight Web
Part of the Moonshadow Bay series:

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 an additional guest for her home. Now, with a distraught, drunken djinn on her hands, she finds herself promising to untangle an long-lost love story for her unexpected houseguest.

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 a ghost seeking revenge. Will she be able to get rid of her houseguest and keep the ghost from killing his target, or will this job prove too much for January as she faces the big 4-1?

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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. The Dragonni have risen up and panic runs rampant. And now, an old enemy reappears--stronger and more dangerous than before. Once again, the Hippocampi call for the Wild Hunt's help when Straff, the son of Blackthorn, returns to his old haunts. Herne and Ember concoct a desperate plan to stop the psychotic Ante-Fae, but thanks to a miscommunication, Ember finds herself in the hands of the enemy. It's a race against time as the Wild Hunt tries to rescue Ember before the King of Thorns takes out his revenge on her.

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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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Book 13 in the Wild Hunt Series
Release date: August 2020

The Father of Dragons has returned to the world and all hell is breaking loose. A group of vrykos is running loose, threatening to spread plague through Seattle. A shadow dragon has his sights set on destroying the Wild Hunt. And in the midst of the chaos, Ember’s facing a major decision brought on by a twist in her status with the Queen of Dark Fae.

But when the shadow dragon attacks her friend Viktor and drags the half-ogre into the world of the dead, Ember must set aside her personal drama and journey to the Phantom Kingdom to rescue him. Will she be able to save Viktor before it’s too late? Or will she lose her own soul to the armies of the dead?

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

The afternoon sun splashed through the windows overlooking the alleyway, the blinding glare so bright that I squinted, tilting the blinds to block out the light. I was in the break room, foraging through the refrigerator, looking for lunch. I had forgotten to bring anything, and Angel was away from her desk so she hadn’t remembered to order in. I finally chose a frozen fried chicken dinner and popped it in the microwave, turning as Viktor entered the room.

“She said yes!” He bounced into the break room, rattling the floorboards like a troupe of dancers on a rickety stage. “She said yes, she said yes, she said—”

“Let me guess,” I interrupted, grinning. “She said yes!”

The half-ogre nodded, beaming. “I can’t believe I’m getting married!” He looked around. “Where is everybody?”

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The break room was empty except for me, surprising given it was one p.m. on Friday afternoon. We normally all ate lunch together, but today was different.

“Herne’s in his office, talking to the mayor. Angel’s downstairs at urgent care.”

“Urgent care? Is she all right?” Viktor’s smile slid off his face.

I hurried to reassure him. “She’s fine, or she will be. She got into a fight with a splinter. She rammed it right under her nail this morning.”

“Ouch. How’d she do that?”

“She was out in the garden, trying to prune one of the bushes. One thing led to another. She tried to coax the splinter out, but half an hour ago she gave up and Herne told her to go down and get it looked at. As for the others, Talia took the afternoon off. She’s got a headache. Kipa’s not coming in today, and Yutani is in his office, talking to ComputaGeek. We need an upgrade to the computer system, apparently, and he’s giving them the specs. Rafé won’t be in till later, of course. Charlie, either.”

Rafé was our new company clerk, and he came to work in the evenings, so that he could do all the filing and organizing needed after we were all gone. It also prevented him and Angel from getting tired of working together, although it did cut down on how many dates they went on. But Angel said it had been good for their relationship, and they both seemed happy. Rafé working evenings served another purpose. He was able to work with Charlie Darren, our resident vampire, on the evenings Charlie came in, and they got more done together than apart.

“Oh. All right.” Viktor sounded a little dejected.

I took one look at him and realized he was disappointed. He was bursting to tell his good news, and I could tell that he wanted everybody in the office to know. I settled back in my chair, fork and TV dinner in hand.

“So tell me, was she surprised?” I had planned on eating at my desk, but Viktor needed to celebrate and I was determined to make him smile.

He thrust his hands in the pockets of his jacket, sitting down beside me.

“Yes and no, actually. Sheila told me that she thought I might be about to propose, but she hadn’t wanted to get her hopes up, just in case she was wrong. However, she didn’t expect a diamond. My mother gave me my grandma’s ring to give to her,” he added, suddenly somber and staring at the ground.

“Oh, that sounds lovely. Your grandmother, is she still alive?”

“No, I’m talking about my mother’s mother, who was human. My maternal grandmother. Besides my mother, Nanna was the only one who fully accepted me for who I was. I still remember her telling me, ‘I love you because of who you are, and everything you are goes into making up your nature, Viktor. Both your human side and your ogre blood.’ Nanna never once tried to deny my ogre heritage, nor did she praise my human side more.”

Viktor had told us many times that he was estranged from his father and his father’s people, but I hadn’t realized that his mother’s side hadn’t accepted him either.

“I’m sure she’s watching over you,” I said. “When did she die?”

Viktor shrugged. “Long ago. My father had traveled to Russia and that’s where he met my mother, back in 1767. He married her and brought her home on a sailing ship, back in 1768. Her parents and her two little sisters came along with her. They settled up on Mount Rainier in the ogre compound. The ogres accepted Tatiana—my mother. She and her family were among the first settlers in this territory, but they lived in the village Keyren, the ogres’ village. It was hidden deep in the mountain, though now it’s moved to the area surrounding the national park.”

“I knew your father’s people had first lived up there, but once Mount Rainier was turned into a national park, I wasn’t sure what had happened.”

“After my parents split, we moved down into what’s now the Puyallup area. My grandpa Viktor was strong and with me to help him, we made our homestead thrive. I’m named after him. He wasn’t all that fond of me, but he didn’t mistreat me.”

“I wondered about your name.”

“Right. At first my name was Yalt. In Ogrísh—the language of the ogres—it means Blessed Between Worlds. My father named me. But when the clan leader instructed him to disown me, my father formally reclaimed my name and gave me to my mother. Among my father’s people, if you’re turned out from the community, they steal your name and you’re no longer allowed to use it, under pain of death. So Mother renamed me after my grandpa.”

That seemed harsh, but then, ogres weren’t a gentle people. They could be brutish and crude, although you’d never know it by how Viktor acted. “How did the local natives feel about you and your family?”

“They were friendly enough. They didn’t care for the ogres, which was understandable given my father’s people are given to thievery and loutish ways, but they didn’t hold my blood against me. We farmed and my mother kept the cows and chickens. We traded with the local tribes for what we needed. I think my grandparents longed for their days in Russia, but they never blamed my mother or me.”

“They never went back, then?”

He shook his head. “How could they? If they took me along with them, there would be so many questions and no one would accept me back home. If they left me and my mother, we would have died in the wilderness. No, my grandmother swore up and down we’d make a comfortable home, and we did.”

“She sounds like a strong woman.” I wondered if Viktor had any living relatives besides his ogre family. I had heard him speak of his mother, but she was human. “Your mother…”

“Tatiana is still alive. She remarried when I was eighteen. I don’t often talk about it, because my stepfather died twenty years after they married and he’s long gone. He fell into a river and drowned before anyone could save him.”

“But she’s alive?”

“Yes, Pierre was one of the magic-born. On their wedding day, he offered her a potion that would extend her life by some three hundred years and she decided to accept it. He offered it to the rest of her family as well, but no one else wanted it. The only problem is, longevity potions and spells don’t guard against accidents and murder. So my mother lost him in 1817, and decided that she’d live out the rest of her life, but she wouldn’t seek to extend it further. She told me she’s seen and done more than most people ever get the chance to.” He suddenly blushed. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be so chatty today. I’m sure this is all very boring.”

“On the contrary. I’m fascinated.” I finished my meal and crossed to the counter, where I poured myself a cup of coffee. Viktor was usually reticent about his family, so him opening up made me feel like he trusted me a little more. “Coffee?”

“Thanks, with cream.”

I handed him the mug and set the dish of creamers in front of him. “What about your grandmother? You said you miss her?”

“Oh, I do. Grandmother Anna used to call me her ‘big boy’ and she’d hold me on her lap. By the time I was four, I was the size of a ten-year-old human, but she never said anything bad about my size. My grandmother’s hair smelled like apples and hay, and she always had a cookie in her pocket for me.”

“How old were you when your parents split?”

“I was…oh…ten? Eleven? Somewhere around there. As it became apparent I wasn’t going to reach the expected size of an ogre male, my father started acting out against my mother. He blamed her and wanted nothing to do with me. The leader of the ogres ordered him to either cast me out into the wilderness, or for her and me to leave. My father told my mother she had to choose.

“I overheard that fight. It isn’t a pleasant memory,” he said, closing his eyes. “In the end, Mother chose me. She told my father to go to hell. The next day, we gathered our things, and my father relented enough to give us the supplies to last through the summer while my grandpa and I built a little cabin. We left the mountain and moved down into the Puyallup valley. Grandpa died of a heart attack five years later, but my grandmother and my mother kept the homestead going. Pierre came along a year or so later and he did wonders adding on to it.”

I pressed my lips together, thinking that all of us at the Wild Hunt had been through one form of hell or another. Well, maybe not Herne, and probably not Kipa, but we had all faced our demons as we grew up.

“I’m sorry it was so hard. Your mother has always supported you, hasn’t she?”

He nodded, his voice softening. “She’s never stopped being my cheerleader. She loves Sheila, and while we’ll never have children of our own—Sheila really doesn’t want to go through pregnancy—we thought we’d adopt. My mother likes the idea. You’ll meet her at the wedding, which will be on Imbolc. Sheila honors the goddess Brighid, though she’s not a priestess. So we thought it would be nice to get married then.”

“I’ll be there with bells on, Viktor. Congratulations again.” I reached up on tiptoe and threw my arms around his neck, giving him a long hug. “You deserve happiness, and so does Sheila.”

At that moment, Herne entered the room. I spun around, poking Viktor on the arm as I did so. “Tell him before I do.”

Herne glanced from me to Viktor and a slow smile spread across his face. “You did it! You asked her?” He tossed his file folders on the table and hurried over to Viktor’s side, grabbing the half-ogre’s hand and shaking it as Viktor nodded, grinning.

“Yes, I did—we’re engaged! The wedding will be on Imbolc. We were wondering if you would mind hosting the wedding at your house, Ember? We want a garden wedding—we’re hoping for snow, but that’s something we can’t control.”

“Of course you can! We’d be thrilled to host it. I know Angel will agree.”

“Thank you. And…Herne, I have a special request. If the answer’s no, that’s fine, but I don’t want Sheila to know until our wedding day.”

“What is it? You know you can ask me for anything, man.” Herne pumped Viktor’s hand again, his voice cracking just a little.

One look at Herne’s cornflower blue eyes and I knew that he was putting on a good show, but behind the smile was a trace of worry.

I hadn’t answered his proposal yet. I was close to an answer, but the ramifications of what it meant to be the wife of a god had set in, and I wanted to be fully aware of what I was promising before I gave my word. But Herne was struggling with my hesitation and I knew I had to give him an answer soon.

“I was wondering if you might ask the Lady Brighid if… You see, Sheila reveres her, and I know—I just know if Brighid were to oversee the service or even send her blessing…” Viktor faltered, wincing. “I just realized what I’m asking.”

“No, good gods, man, it’s not a problem for me to ask her. She might say yes. The Lady Brighid can be extremely generous about things like this.” Herne turned to me. “I have to go visit my father in Annwn tomorrow. I’ll drop by Brighid’s palace then and see what she says. Do you want to go with me?”

I shook my head. “Actually, your mother’s coming to dinner at my house tomorrow around six.”

Morgana had been to my home once or twice, but always with Herne, and sometimes with Cernunnos. It felt awkward asking her to come solo, but I wanted to have a heart-to-heart chat with her, and I didn’t want Herne listening in.

Herne cocked his head, squinting at me. “All right, then. Well, you are pledged to her.”

That was another thing. How would that work once Herne and I were married? If I became a goddess—a thought that freaked me out—what the heck did that mean for my interactions with Morgana? It was too much to think about right now.

“So, are we on for Lughnasadh tomorrow night? Marilee’s leading the ritual, if we’re still all good for it.” I leaned back in my chair, thinking about marriage and holidays and all the celebrations that made up our lives.

Milestones were important. They were reminders of crossroads in our lives, and the touchstones that kept us connected to the cycles of the earth. We called it the Wheel of the Year, and the Fae and other Cryptos weren’t the only ones who celebrated the Sabbats—the name for the eight great festivals that marked the quarters and cross-quarters of the year. Human pagans also celebrated the holy days, and together, we bridged gaps in age and race and even species, coming together to mark the tides of life in joy and in sorrow.

“We’ll be there with bells on. Or, corn tassels. Marilee has done wonders for you, and for Angel.” Herne gave me a quick peck on the forehead. “I’ve got to run. Will I see you tonight?”

I shook my head. “No, Angel and I decided we need a girls’ night. It’s been too long since we’ve just climbed into our PJs and binge-watched some of our favorite shows with a big bowl of popcorn and a tub of ice cream.”

Snickering, he merely nodded. “I get it. No boys allowed.”

“Right.” And because I wanted to set him somewhat at ease, I added, “You know before too long I won’t have that option. Not if you and I are…” I paused, biting my lip. Was I really ready to say yes? But then I caught a glimpse of Viktor over at the refrigerator. This was his night and I didn’t want to spoil it for him.

Herne leaned in and gazed into my eyes. “Are you saying…”

“Not yet.” I gave a covert nod toward Viktor. “But soon. I promise you, before the week is up, I’ll have an answer for you. I just have a couple more things to decide.” I kept my voice low, not wanting Viktor to overhear. “Meanwhile, why don’t you take Viktor out tonight, to celebrate his engagement? Get Yutani to go as well, although he doesn’t drink much.”

Yutani, our IT guy and a coyote shifter whose father was the Great Coyote himself, was a borderline alcoholic. He kept himself sober and when he did drink, he never had more than one or two drinks. He was tightly wound, and a Dom, and altogether, a good man who walked on the freaky side of life. But then again, weren’t we all a little freaky?

“Good idea. We don’t have to go to a bar. I think I could persuade Yutani to go bowling.” He glanced over at Viktor. “Hey, want to go bowling to celebrate your engagement? We can take Yutani and Rafé with us as well.”

At that moment, my phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID. It was Angel. Frowning, I answered. “Hey, what’s up? How are you? When are you getting your butt back up here?”

She didn’t bother to answer. “Ember, turn on the TV. Channel 8 KPOZ. Hurry.”

I grabbed the remote from the counter and pointed it toward the break room television and switched it on to channel 8.

“This just in,” the newscaster said from behind the desk. “The town of Klarkson, on Highway 2, has been overrun by creatures that no one has yet been able to identify. They’re attacking the townsfolk. Several people have been seriously injured, including five children. Right now, police are swarming the graveyard from where the creatures are believed to have originated, but officers have been forced to fall back twice. Bullets are proving useless, and the creatures are inhumanly strong and appear entirely uncommunicative. Mayor Willis of Klarkson has appealed to the National Guard for help, and there’s so much chaos that no one seems to know what course of action to follow.”

The news anchor held her hand to her ear, pausing, then looked bleakly at the camera. “I have a report from the Klarkson Hospital. They are reporting the admittance of four adults in critical condition, along with three children who are also critical. If you are in Klarkson, police ask that you please stay in your houses and lock your doors and windows.”

I turned down the volume, looking at Herne. “What the hell?”

He was staring at the screen, a solemn look on his face. “This started in the graveyard? You know what I’m thinking.”

“Yeah, me too. Typhon.” I returned to my phone call with Angel. “How did you find out about this?”

“Urgent care has a TV in the waiting room and I’m waiting to pay my bill. You think it’s Typhon?” She paused, then added, “I have a feeling in my stomach, Ember—it’s not good.”

When Angel had a gut reaction to something, we paid attention. She was human, mostly—and I say mostly because we suspected that she had some degree of magic-born blood in her system—and she was an empath. She was also my best friend and had been since we were eight years old and got in a mud-wrestling battle that netted us both a trip to the principal’s office. After that less-than-auspicious start to our friendship, we bonded instantly.

“Not good, how? Not good as in, gee this sounds nasty, or not good as in, we’d better get ready or get our asses kicked?” I wasn’t sure where Klarkson was, but I knew that I didn’t want to go there.

“Not good as in, we’d better get prepared because there’s something much bigger on the horizon.” Her voice drifted off and after a moment she said, “I’ll be up shortly.”

I shoved my phone back in my pocket and turned to Herne. Both Viktor and he were watching the footage out of Klarkson. There wasn’t much yet, and they were running the same clips over and over, along with video taken by the townsfolk using their cell phones. A lot of it was fuzzy and indistinct, but after a few moments, a clip came on that was clear as a bell.

The creature looked a lot like a zombie in many ways, but there was a brightness to the eyes that whispered “cunning” to me. But zombies weren’t cunning. They had some form of sentience, but they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the socket. These creatures were corpses in varying stages of decay, but they crouched low, skulking along, and there was a malevolence to them that felt like more than the feeding frenzy of zombies. Nor were they ghouls. Given I’d spent most of my adult life cleaning up messes with sub-Fae and the undead, I could spot the differences.

“What do you think they are?” I asked Herne.

He shook his head, his gaze fixed on the screen. “I don’t know, but we’d better find out.”

“Angel thinks we’re in for something big.”

As we watched the report spinning out, I could feel the hair standing up on my arms. Angel was right. Typhon was sending something new at us and, whatever it was, we weren’t going up against a mere batch of skeletal warriors.

I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. All the joy that I had felt over Viktor’s announcement had drained away. We were truly entering the war against the Father of Dragons, and life wasn’t going to let us forget what we were facing. After a moment, I turned and headed down the hall, poking my head into Yutani and Talia’s office. Yutani glanced up and I saw that he was watching the news on his tablet.

“You saw?”

He nodded. “Yeah. But it’s worse than that. The local channel just came out with a report. Something similar is happening in the Worchester District. We’d better get ready to rumble.”

As he stood, I cursed under my breath. Just what we needed right now. Angry that we couldn’t have one day to celebrate—just one day to breathe—I gave him an abrupt nod and headed for my office. It was time to get suited up and ready to go.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Autumn's Bane

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
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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Twenty dark and ghostly faerie tale retellings from the NYT, USA Today and internationally bestselling authors in the award-winning Once Upon Anthologies series! Push open the creaky cellar door and prepare for chilling re-imaginings of Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, Rapunzel, and Bloody Mary. Or breathe a sigh of relief with brighter twists on The Little Match Girl, Hansel & Gretel, and The Bremen Town Musicians.

But beware! Blood and revenge, creepy haunted houses, and evil magic lurk within the pages. Are you brave enough to enter?

INCLUDES:

A HUNTER’S MEMORY OF WINTER - Annie Bellet
HAUNTED - Kay McSpadden
FAERIE SONG - Anthea Sharp
FORGIVEN: A Djinn Wars Story - Christine Pope
WHAT MAGIC LIES BENEATH - Shawntelle Madison
THE GHOST OF BEILSTEIN CASTLE - Alethea Kontis
SNOW WHITE BETWEEN TIME - Julia Crane
QUEEN JOANNA.- Kate Danley
RAPUNZEL DREAMING - Yasmine Galenorn
WHAT TALES SPECTERS TELL - Kasey Mackenzie
THE DEVIL’S DUE - Melissa Marr
THE BREMEN SHIFTER BAND - Debra Dunbar
THE BANSHEE OF LIATH WOOD - Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
THE GHOST QUEEN – Nikki Jefford
IMMORTAL PORTRAIT - Colleen Gleason
TO BE REMEMBERED - Jamie Ferguson
THE SOUL CAGES - Phaedra Weldon
ELLA AND THE HAUNTED HOUSE - Sarra Cannon
THE THORN KING - Alexia Purdy
LITTLE FLAME - Devon Monk

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