Ice Shards by Yasmine Galenorn

Finnish house sprite Iris Kuusi has fallen in love again. But she is carrying a dark secret. Now, she must journey to the frozen Northlands to confront the shadow of her former lover who haunts her dreams, and to discover, once and for all, whether she actually committed the horrible crime for which she was cast out. Only by breaking a curse she's been under since her youth, can she free herself to embrace the love waiting for her at home.

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Hexed by: Yasmine Galenorn, Ilona Andrews, Allyson James, & Jeanne C. Stein
Berkley/Jove: June 7, 2011
Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0425241769

Four of the bestselling names in romance and fantasy come together in this collection of thrilling novellas featuring powerful women who know how to handle a hex or two...

Story by Yasmine Galenorn: Ice Shards

Finnish house sprite Iris Kuusi has fallen in love again. But she is carrying a dark secret. Now, she must journey to the frozen Northlands to confront the shadow of her former lover who haunts her dreams, and to discover, once and for all, whether she actually committed the horrible crime for which she was cast out. Only by breaking a curse she's been under since her youth, can she free herself to embrace the love waiting for her at home.

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Etched in Silver: E-novella by Yasmine Galenorn
Berkley eSpecial
January 12, 2012

Camille D'Artigo, an agent for the Y'Elestrial Intelligence Agency, is on the hunt for a sadistic serial killer.  Trouble is: her boss is betting on her failure.  She must find the killer by the deadline, or her only choices will be to either resign from her job or succumb to her boss's lecherous intentions.  But she didn't count on help from an unexpected source.  Trillian, a Svartan--one of the dark, Charming Fae, comes into her life.  Everyone warns her against him but as her search for the killer intensifies, Trillian becomes her only ally--and potentially, a man who could break her heart as a magnetic, passionate force draws them together.

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Playlist

3 Doors Down: Kryptonite

Aerosmith: Dream On

Blue Oyster Cult: Don't Fear the Reaper
Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
The Bravery: Believe
Brother Noland: Coconut Girl

Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dead Can Dance: The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove, Yulunga, Indus

Depeche Mode: If You Want

Finger Eleven: Paralyzer
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain, Gold Dust Woman

Gary Numan: Bridge? What Bridge?, War Songs, Sleep By Windows
Gorillaz: Every Planet We Reach Is Dead

Heart: Magic Man

Lenny Kravitz: American Woman

NIN: Closer
Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box, You Know You're Right

Orgy: Blue Monday

Police: Every Breath You Take, King of Pain, Invisible Sun
PCD: Buttons, Don't Cha

Rob Zombie: Never Gonna Stop
Rolling Stones: Play With Fire, Gimme Shelter

Seether: Remedy
Simple Minds: Don't You

Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
Thompson Twins: The Gap, Watching, Love on Your Side, Sister of Mercy
Toadies: Possum Kingdom

U2: Elevation, Vertigo

Ween: The Golden Eel

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Inked Anthology
by: Marjorie Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, Elaine Wilks, & Karen Chance
Berkley/Jove: January 5, 2010
Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 9780425231975

Etched in Silver by Yasmine Galenorn:

Camille D'Artigo, an agent for the Y'Elestrial Intelligence Agency, is on the hunt for a sadistic serial killer.  Trouble is: her boss is betting on her failure.  She must find the killer by the deadline, or her only choices will be to either resign from her job or succumb to her boss's lecherous intentions.  But she didn't count on help from an unexpected source.  Trillian, a Svartan--one of the dark, Charming Fae, comes into her life.  Everyone warns her against him but as her search for the killer intensifies, Trillian becomes her only ally--and potentially, a man who could break her heart as a magnetic, passionate force draws them together.

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Playlist

3 Doors Down: Kryptonite

Aerosmith: Dream On

Blue Oyster Cult: Don't Fear the Reaper
Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
The Bravery: Believe
Brother Noland: Coconut Girl

Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dead Can Dance: The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove, Yulunga, Indus
Depeche Mode: If You Want

Finger Eleven: Paralyzer
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain, Gold Dust Woman

Heart: Magic Man

Gary Numan: Bridge? What Bridge?, War Songs, Sleep By Windows
Gorillaz: Every Planet We Reach Is Dead

Lenny Kravitz: American Woman

NIN: Closer
Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box, You Know You're Right

Orgy: Blue Monday

Police: Every Breath You Take, King of Pain, Invisible Sun
PCD: Buttons, Don't Cha

Rob Zombie: Never Gonna Stop
Rolling Stones: Play With Fire, Gimme Shelter

Seether: Remedy
Simple Minds: Don't You

Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
Thompson Twins: The Gap, Watching, Love on Your Side, Sister of Mercy
Toadies: Possum Kingdom

U2: Elevation, Vertigo

Ween: The Golden Eel

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Never After, by: Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie Liu, Sharon Shinn
Berkley/Jove: October 27, 2009
Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0515147285

Written by Yasmine Galenorn: The Shadow of Mist

Siobhan Morgan, a friend of the D'Artigo sisters, has a hidden past.  A selkie, Siobhan has told everyone she was sent to the United States because inbreeding was wiping out her people.  What she didn't tell anyone was that a dark presence from her past who has been stalking her for a hundred years, since she first left the shores of Ireland.  A man who will stop at nothing to possess her. With the help of the D'Artigo sisters, Siobhan must stop him before he destroys everything she loves and everything she's built in her new life.

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The Shadow of Mist
Berkley/Jove, October 19, 2013
Urban Fantasy
AISN: B008EXK0UU

Siobhan Morgan, a friend of the D'Artigo sisters, has a hidden past.  A selkie, Siobhan has told everyone she was sent to the United States because inbreeding was wiping out her people.  What she didn't tell anyone was that a dark presence from her past who has been stalking her for a hundred years, since she first left the shores of Ireland.  A man who will stop at nothing to possess her. With the help of the D'Artigo sisters, Siobhan must stop him before he destroys everything she loves and everything she's built in her new life.

Note: This is the e-version of novella The Shadow of Mist, first printed in the Never After anthology, Contains a bonus story of Vanished. Maggie's gone missing. Can the sisters find her before danger overtakes the baby gargoyle?

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Playlist

Al Stewart: Life in Dark Water, Song on the Radio
Alan Parsons: Eye in the Sky, The Raven

The Battlefield Band: The Gallant Grahams
Beck: Think I'm in Love, Broken Train

Cat Stevens: Katmandu
Clannad: Banba Oir, I See Red, Newgrange
Crosby, Stills & Nash: Guinnevere

Dead Can Dance: Tell Me About the Forest, I Can See Clearly Now
Donovan: Sunshine Superman

Enya: Orinoco Flow, Cursum Perficio

Gabrielle Roth: Oceana, Dolphin, Rest Your Tears Here
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Gypsy: Magick

Heather Alexander: Voices of the Sea, Animals All the Same
Howard Shore: The Steward of Gondor, Many Meetings

Jethro Tull: Jack-A-Lynn, Dun Ringill, Old Ghosts, Overhang, Mountain Men, Rare and Precious Chain, Wounded, Old & Treacherous

Led Zeppelin: When the Levee Breaks

Neil Young: Cinnamon Girl

Nirvana: You Know You're Right, Oh Me

Rolling Stones: Miss You, Gimme Shelter

Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Steppenwolf: Jupiter's Child
Suzanne Vega: Calypso

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Darkness Raging by Yasmine Galenorn (book 18 of the New York Times Bestselling Otherworld Series)

Berkley (Mass Market); February 2, 2016
Urban Fantasy

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae ex-operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Camille is a wicked good witch with three gorgeous husbands. Delilah is a two-faced werecat and a Death Maiden. And me? I'm a vampire, married to a gorgeous werepuma. As the war in Otherworld arrives on our doorstep, Blood Wyne, Queen of the Vampires, summons me. Apparently, my position as Roman's consort entails far more than I ever imagined...

Telazhar has discovered a portal over to Earthside, and he's leading an assault right into the streets of Seattle. Shadow Wing manages to create his own sinister version of the Keraastar Knights, intent on destroying the portals that keep him imprisoned. And my sisters and I are caught dead central. As we stand on the eve of war, my wife Nerissa is captured, carried off to the Sub-Realms. The enemy demands we surrender the rest of the spirit seals, or they'll kill her, slowly and painfully. And me? I'll do anything I need to in order to save her. Even if it means leading an army of vampires into the very depths of the Subterranean Realms...

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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

"Any activity so far?" Nerissa hustled through the kitchen door and made for the table, where Camille, Delilah, and I were sitting. We were listlessly toying with whatever we could find to keep our minds occupied. All our phones were on the table, waiting. The minute one of them rang, we'd spring into action-and we knew there would be a call. Until then, Camille was reading, Delilah was working a crossword puzzle, and I was trying to unknot a jumble of thin gold chains that had gotten tangled up when I tossed them in the jewelry box without thinking.

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Dropping into the chair next to me, Nerissa used the towel hanging around her neck to wipe the sweat off her brow. She had just returned from her workout with Jason Binds, a mechanic-cum-martial-arts-instructor. He was attempting to turn her into a lean, mean shredding machine. Her face was clear of makeup, her workout top was soaked through with perspiration, and her tawny mane of hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, although a few wisps had escaped to straggle out. But to me, my wife was the most beautiful sight in the world.

"No, but it's only a matter of time. We haven't had a quiet night in several weeks." I pushed the chains aside. I had doused them in oil and was trying to use a straight pin to separate the tangle. I wiped my oily fingers on a napkin and reached for her hand.

Camille and Delilah had been awake since around five p.m. I, of course, rose at sunset, which was-in early May-running closer to eight thirty. I longed for autumn and winter, when the nights were longer and I could rise earlier and stay up longer. Sometimes I thought I should move to Alaska for half the year, when the darkness held sway over the land. My sisters had switched over to a nocturnal schedule because, so far, all of the attacks had come during the night-usually around two or three a.m.

Everything had snowballed so quickly that we gave up waiting around, and now-instead of simply responding to the danger, we had gone on the offensive. At the first sign of dusk, the guys headed out, hunting for any signs of trouble as they scoured the city. My sisters and I waited at home for their call.

If they found a problem before someone reported a skirmish to the Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation Unit, the men called us and we headed out to put out the fire. If the FH-CSI got the call first, they transferred it over to us. Either way, we were front on the line. So far, we had managed to keep this nightmare under wraps, but we were barely holding on. All it would take would be one misstep or overlooked incursion and everything would blow sky high. Once news of what had been going on hit the papers, the ensuing panic would take over from there. We were trying to prevent that panic from happening in the first place.

Earlier, the three of us had pored over a map of the city, trying to figure out if there was some pattern to the attacks. Never mind that we'd already gone over it a dozen times-the activity kept us busy, and right now, busy was good because waiting around like this was getting on all of our nerves.

"I need to shower and change." Nerissa pushed back her chair and stood.

"Hurry up and I'll have your dinner waiting." Iris set a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches on the table in front of Camille and Delilah. She handed them mugs of hot tomato soup. "I'm not cooking anything extravagant because right now, fancy takes too much time. I want to make certain you all get good, solid food into you."

Nerissa nodded. "I won't be long. I'm so sweaty from working out, and I need to rinse off, but I'll be quick. Thank gods there's been a lull tonight."

I glanced over up at her. "So, how did it go at Jason's?"

"Good. He says that I'm learning extremely fast." She shrugged. "I wish I could make more progress, but he seems satisfied so I guess I should take what I can get." With a glance at the clock, she added, "I'd better get moving. We really don't have the luxury of just hanging out anymore, I guess." Sounding sad, she leaned down to meet my lips.

The proximity to her body and her hot breath on my cheek made me ache. I wanted nothing more than to curl up with her in the living room. I wanted to cuddle with her and Maggie while we watched the Demon Twins play video games and listened to Iris and Hanna argue over who made the best pie. Basically, I wanted to just go about my daily routine and forget that all of this was happening. But reality was biting us on the ass, hard and fast and with sharp teeth. As Chase was fond of saying, If wishes were pennies, we'd all be rich.

"Don't be too long. We haven't had a call yet tonight and you know it's going to come."

As she headed toward the bath near the laundry room, a high-pitched note sounded from a ring of crystals sitting on an end table in the kitchen. Nerissa froze as Camille ran over to the wards. Delilah and I immediately shifted into prep-for-battle mode. Nobody had broken through to our land lately, but with everything going on, we didn't dare ignore the rogue portal out in the backyard. Even though it had been tuned to the realm of the Elder Fae, the very fact that it was a portal still made our home a dangerous target. And not five miles away was Grandmother Coyote's portal to Otherworld. Though, I thought with a silent grin, I would hate to see what she would do to anybody who tried to mess with her.

Camille ran her hands over the crystals, which had calmed down. "Nothing to worry about. I think it's just some ghost or something passing through. But, Delilah, can you run and ask the guards to make a sweep around the land? Just to be on the safe side."

"On it." Kitten was up and out the door before Camille could say another word.

"Okay, I'm getting my shower in." Nerissa planted another kiss on my lips. I lingered in her embrace, wanting to stay there forever. I loved her more than I thought I ever could love anybody.

I slapped her on the ass. "Get moving, wife."

As she darted into the bathroom, I thought about how close I had come to losing her. Only a few months back, we were having serious problems. But I had finally listened to my sisters, and I had quit being so pigheaded. Especially after Vanzir dragged me off to one side to inform me of what an ass I had become. When he wanted to be, he could be extremely blunt and unflattering. But I appreciated his warning because he was right.

I finally I started talking to Nerissa instead of talking over her. But mostly, I started listening to her worries and complaints, and taking them seriously. Turns out, shutting up and paying attention? Actually works. Now, though we weren't perfect and never would be, it felt like we were finally on the same page. And honesty and clarity were a whole lot better than the illusion of perfection.

As the sound of the shower started up, I went back to the chains, my thoughts still lingering over the dangers. We'd done our best to mitigate the hazards. Hanna and Maggie were sleeping in my lair during the night because we never knew when we'd be called out, and we didn't want them in any sort of danger.

Because of their proximity to the rogue portal out back, Iris's husband Bruce had taken the babies-including Chase's daughter, Astrid-and moved into Nerissa's old condo. His mother had come to help out, along with a nanny and a guard. We needed Iris here with us, so she spent her days with her family and her nights with us. And Tanne Baum, the Woodland Fae from the Black Forest, was on twenty-four-hour call, only a speed dial away.

The doorbell rang. I answered it, surprised to see Chase there, a tray of drinks in his hand.

"I stopped at Starbucks before I came over. I thought it might make a buffer for what I have to say." He forced a pale smile, looking as stretched thin as we all felt.

"Uh-oh, that sounds bad." I took the tray from him and led him into the kitchen.

Camille put her marker in her book. Chase had brought a grande chai latte for Delilah. Camille got the iced venti quad shot mocha. And Chase, the venti black coffee with cream. I foraged in the refrigerator for a bottle of blood, enchanted to a chocolate flavor. Thanks to Morio, I had a wide variety of choices.

Chase settled down at the table beside me, but before the detective could say a word, Camille's phone rang. She stared at it, a dark wave steeling her gaze, then answered.

"Yes? How many? Okay, we're on the way. Text us the directions." She punched the Off button and texted Delilah to get her ass around front ASAP, then yanked the top off her iced mocha to gulp down as much as she could. "We have to book. That was Morio. A raiding party's breaking through a rogue portal in Vanderson Park. At least a dozen goblins and twice that many bone-walkers. There may be more-they just started coming through the portal when Morio called me. He and Vanzir will hold them off as best as they can until everybody gets there."

"We'll have to talk later, Chase. Wait here for us? When Nerissa gets out of the shower, tell her where we went, if you would." I grabbed my keys, then jammed my wallet in the pocket of my jeans.

He nodded. "I'll call the Supe militia and put them on standby. One word from you and they'll be on the way." He pulled out his phone. "Text me directions the minute you get them. I'll have Frank and the boys ready to roll if need be."

Without another word, we grabbed our jackets and headed into the cool, clear evening. I glanced up at the stars that hung over us like an icy canopy, wondering how long we could keep this up. But we couldn't falter. If we did, Telazhar would win, and Earthside would turn into a vast battleground.

* * *

Vanderson Park was about fifteen minutes out from our house in the Belles-Faire district of Seattle. Thank the gods, traffic was scarce, so we made good time. I reached the parking lot first, but Camille and Delilah were close on my heels, and they swerved into the parking lot behind me. As we slipped out of our cars, we could hear shouts coming from beyond a nearby copse of trees.

"Fuck, let's hope that there aren't any joggers out here braving the chill for a late- night run. And speaking of weather, the calendar says it's May, but it feels like March tonight. Where are the temps in the seventies that the weather guys promised us?" Camille neatly slid her dagger into the sheath strapped to her thigh, over the leg of her catsuit. She started jogging toward the shouts.

"News report said the warm front is stalled off the coast but should move in by tomorrow afternoon." Delilah joined her.

I caught up to them. We followed the curve of the sidewalk, twisting around the bend to see Morio and Vanzir in the middle of a copse of maple trees, caught in midbattle.

A host of bone-walkers swarmed around them, magically animated skeletons that were dangerous and hard to kill. Hack them to pieces and the bones would still skitter until the spell wore itself out. The goblins hung back, shouting encouragement to the bone-walkers. They were using the skeletons as cannon fodder to take the brunt of the damage, which made total sense. Wearing out the enemy before you have to face them was never a losing proposition. Just then, a shout from the other direction told us Shade and Trillian had arrived. Smoky and Rozurial would be on the way.

"We have to prevent the goblins from getting out of the park." I moved toward a pair of the ugly brutes, but they dodged behind a big boulder.

Camille headed toward Morio. The two of them could do far more damage working together than separately-their death magic was growing stronger every day, it seemed. Delilah unsheathed Lysanthra-her sentient dagger. The blade hummed with a shrill growl of hunger as it smelled goblin blood. As she jockeyed into position with a bone-walker, I sped into a run, then, using the boulder that was standing between us as a springboard, launched myself into the fight, landing square in front of two of the goblins. Their eyes lit up until I smiled, my fangs descending. A sudden lack of enthusiasm flashed across their faces and I smiled, satisfied.

"The oh-shit-it's-a-vampire look works for you, boys." I darted in, ignoring their blades. Unless they clipped me in the heart or cut off my head, they couldn't do anything to me that couldn't be repaired.

One of them managed to dance out of my way, but the other was within easy reach. I barreled into him, knocking him down and landing on his chest. Throwing my head back, I bared my fangs and lunged at his throat, savagely tearing into the flesh. As muscle was severed from muscle, veins ripping, the blood stained my lips, sending me into a frenzy. I'd been doing a lot of this lately, and each time, it seemed to get easier. I caught a mouthful of the fountaining liquid, hot and coppery and fresh on my tongue and gulped it down. Ignoring the aftertaste-goblin blood was nasty at best-I staved off the desire to stay and drink deep. I rolled to the side and came to my feet. The goblin gurgled with one last burbling noise and collapsed.

His buddy took one look at his dead comrade and raised his sword. I recognized the look in his eye. Vengeance mixed with stupidity did not for sanity or safety make. He tossed the sword from hand to hand, showing off, a shit-eating grin on his face.

"Oh, sugar, you really don't want to waste your last minutes trying to impress me." I sauntered toward him. "I've taken down creatures far bigger and badder than you. And maybe you should remember what just happened to your buddy. After all, a vampire's gotta do what a vampire's gotta do."

I bent my knees slightly and launched myself into the air, flipping over his head to land in back of him, very Bruce Lee. As the goblin let out a surprised grunt and struggled to turn around, I slammed against his back, knocking him forward onto his own sword. He shouted "Oh crap!" in Calouk-the common tongue of Otherworld-but I cut him off. I grabbed his head and wrenched his neck to the side, the resounding crack putting a stop to anything else he might have to say.

On my feet again, I turned, staring at the host of creatures surrounding us.

Camille and Morio had joined hands and were taking down a circle of bone-walkers with their death magic. The purple lightning from the circle of power surrounding them crackled, destroying every skeleton it touched as they walked forward, driving the magic in front of them. Delilah was slashing her way through the goblins, her blade singing every time it bit deep into the flesh of one of the creatures.

A glance toward the parking lot announced the arrival of Smoky and Roz. They asked no questions, merely joined Shade and Trillian, who were knee deep in battle, driving their swords through the chaos that spilled out from the portal.

Vanzir was guarding the vortex, attacking as more goblins poured through the opening. He couldn't prevent them from coming through, but he was making a dent in the incoming tide. And, thank the gods, only a handful of goblins could come through at a time. We were lucky in that regard.

The energy vortex spread between two of the tallest trees like a spider's web, overshadowing the brilliant green of early-summer leaves. The energy fluctuated enough to signify that it was a rogue portal-not one that had been opened and stabilized when Otherworld decided to reconnect with Earthside. That alone was cause for concern. There were too many rogue portals showing up lately, and we knew why, even if we couldn't do anything about it right now. And their numbers would only increase until we found a way to stabilize the time-space continuum through which they worked.

I grabbed out my phone and put in a conference call to Iris and Tanne Baum. The Woodland Fae from the Black Forest had been working hand in hand with us over the past few weeks. In December, we had discovered that-if they worked in tandem-Iris and Tanne could shut down rogue portals.

"We've got another one." I gave them directions. Tanne said he would swing by and pick up Iris, and they'd be here in fifteen minutes.

As I returned to the battle, the others were just finishing up the last of the bone-walkers. The goblins were all dead. And Smoky had taken Vanzir's place, guarding against anything else that might take a notion to emerge from the portal.

"Iris and Tanne are on the way." I stared at the blood saturating the ground and the field of broken bones. "Anybody call the FH-CSI to send out a cleanup crew?"

"I did." Delilah shook her head. "How many this time?" She pulled out a notebook and pen.

"Twenty-four goblins and forty-two bone-walkers. The raiding parties are getting bigger." Camille cast a dark look at the portal. "Either Telazhar has managed to figure out how to find rogue portals or he's creating new ones. I have no idea how he might be able to do that, but we have to take him out. Eventually, he's going to figure out how to rip open the portals from the Sub-Realms even without the spirit seals, and then we're going to have demons coming through instead of goblins."

Delilah let out a long sigh. "That makes . . ." She stopped to calculate for a moment. "Over two hundred goblins, three hundred bone-walkers, forty-five ogres, and two trolls since this started. A drop in the bucket compared to the thousands under Telazhar's command, according to Trenyth. And do we even know if he's opened up rogue portals to other countries over here? Are there goblins overrunning small towns in Norway or Russia that we haven't heard about, simply because they're cut off? Camille's right. We have to kill him."

Trillian stared somberly at the carnage. "Last we talked to Trenyth, he said Telazhar is bearing down heavily on Ceredream. His armies are pounding at the gates. The City of the East is beleaguered, but luckily they've managed to stave off the assault, but you know that's not going to last unless somebody intervenes. But for now, that gives us an advantage because with most of Telazhar's resources tied up trying to invade Ceredream, he can't focus too much on Earthside."

"Maybe. But I wouldn't bet on that lasting for long." I stared at the bleak remains of the goblins and the twitching parts of the bone-walkers. A hand skittered past me on the ground-finger bones clutching at the grass to pull itself along. Without thinking, I stomped on it, hard, crushing the bones. "Why do you think he only sends his recruits during the night?"

"Perhaps he thinks it's the best way to get one up on us. Who knows?" Shade wiped his blade on the grass. The half-dragon had adjusted to the lack of his Stradolan powers remarkably well, but then none of us had been given much of a choice in how we reacted to changes in our lives. It had become adapt or die, and we were all feeling the strain of too much change, too much chaos, lately. The fact that his shadow-walker self had vanished due to a freak show energy-sucker was harsh, but right now it wasn't our biggest problem. Luckily, Shade seemed to understand that.

Camille sucked in a deep breath. "I wanted to save this card for when Shadow Wing made his big move, but I think we have to use it now. It's time for me to call on the dragons for help. They've pledged to me they would work on our side during the war. We can set them after Telazhar, over in Otherworld. That might be enough to give us a respite." Her expression grew dark, sweeping across her face like a thundercloud. She had paid dearly for the promise of help from the Dragonkin. Their offer had been given as reparations for a wound that she would never fully be able to leave behind her.

"I think you're right, my wife. It's time." Smoky smiled faintly. "We need help in Otherworld, and so does every free country over there. We'll talk to my people in the morning."

As Morio and Vanzir poked among the dead, searching for any information that might help us, my sisters and I headed over to a nearby bench to wait. We were all covered with blood-except for Smoky, who was his usual pristine self. It occurred to me that Shade didn't share the same trait. Maybe it was because he was only half dragon. But the good news was, we had managed to avoid any damage to ourselves except for a few bruises here and there.

"You really think it's time to summon the dragons?" Delilah's eyes were wide. She had lost her naïveté over the past years, but she still could look the part of the little Kitten.

"You're marrying a half-dragon and I'm married to a prince of the realm. Don't sound so surprised." Camille laughed, breaking the tension. "It's not like we don't know any."

I chimed in. "Cut her some slack." But I was smiling. "After all, we are talking about dragons, and anybody in their right mind knows better than to be blasé about Dragonkin."

Delilah wrinkled her nose. "I just meant...are we at that point? Has it really come to this?"

"Yeah, I think we're really all in." Camille smiled grimly. "It came sooner than I expected, but right now, I'd say we're beyond the point of no return. There will be no more demon generals...no more Mr. Nice Guy. Shadow Wing is on the move, and Telazhar is his angel of death, leading the brigade. I feel it in my bones." She shivered, crossing her arms. Then, softly, she added, "Let's face it-life is changing all around us. We can't avoid the future."

"Destiny's a bitch." I let out a short grunt.

Camille entwined her fingers, staring at her hands. "Destiny will out. We can't stop the future from coming. Once I move out to Talamh Lonrach Oll after my coronation on Samhain, nothing will ever be the same. Unless you two come with me, this will be the first time in our lives we've lived apart." Her eyes were misty, her voice quivering just enough to reveal a hint of fear. "I'm going to be a queen...and I'm not sure I know how."

And none of us could give her advice. We sat silent for a moment, and then Delilah let out a long sigh.

She straightened her shoulders. "We were waiting to tell you, but I think we need some good news now. Shade and I have decided that we want to get married this year. We don't want to wait any longer. I don't want to wait any longer."

Camille forced a smile and kissed her on the cheek. "Yay, another wedding to plan! I love weddings."

I wrapped an arm around Delilah's shoulder. "Whenever you want, love. Tell us and we'll make it happen. You want a white gown and a Cinderella wedding, you've got it. You want a quiet garden wedding-you've got that, too. Just promise me you'll marry at night so I can be there."

"Oh, there's no doubt about that. A nighttime wedding for sure."

As I stared at the darkening sky, I thought about everything that was happening. Finally, after a few minutes of silence, I said, "Will you and Smoky go to the Dragon Reaches tomorrow?"

Camille stared up at the stars, then slowly nodded. "Yeah. We will."

I pursed my lips. "War has sneaked in to land on our doorstep and there's no way to turn back the clock. It would be a good idea if we could establish whether Telazhar is filtering his recruits through other portals around the world. Delilah, can you ask the Supe Community Council to put out feelers, to see if there's been an increase in activity? And I'll ask Roman to check through the Vampire Nation."

Camille let out a long sigh. "And I'll ask Aeval and Titania to check with the Earthside Fae. Maybe we can figure out just how wide a swath Telazhar is managing to cut."

And with that, we saw Chase's cleanup crew coming up the walkway. They headed over to the carnage. They would clear up all signs of what had happened here. And behind them, Iris and Tanne Baum came striding up the sidewalk. Shelving further discussion, we wearily met the pair and led them to the portal.

"We're getting all too much practice at this." Iris stared at the shimmering energy. "It's so beautiful, and so deadly."

Tanne said nothing, simply waited for Iris to ready herself. She cast a spell and a layer of ice began to form across the surface of the crackling vortex. As soon as it had frozen solid, Tanne began to sing, his voice resonating deeply through the air. He placed his hands on one side of the ice and Iris placed her hands on the other, joining him in song, weaving a contrabeat with her voice as they drove their magic through the portal, fracturing it from within its core.

We knew enough to stand clear as cracks began to race through the ice covering the opening. Iris and Tanne held their song steady. It undulated through the portal like an earthquake rippling through the ground. Nearby trees began to shake as a shrill hum filled the air. The cracks widened, light pouring between them. Iris dropped the beat, then found a single alto note and held it-her voice trilling with a rich wave of power. Tanne followed suit, and the vibrations of their voices blended together to force their way through the fractures. Another moment, and the vortex began to blink in and out of phase, rapidly rotating through a whirl of colors. Then, with one last groan, the frozen web of lightning shattered-splintering into a shower of hailstones, destroying the magic as it did so. Fragments of ice pelted everything in the area, including us, the rock-hard pellets striking like sharp pebbles.

Iris glanced at Tanne, a tight smile on her pretty face. Together, they had destroyed five new portals over the past two weeks, and each one was a strain. The magic required to rip apart a vortex that joined two worlds was immense, and it was taking a toll on both of them.

"You okay?" She held her hand out to Tanne, who allowed her to lead him over to another bench. They both looked bone-weary.

"Yeah, but this is getting old. I've got the clan looking out for more activity, by the way. We've taken out three groups of psy-demons lately. They are Earthside-based, but rare, so I figure something must be riling them up." He paused. "Would you like to meet the Hunters Glen clan? I'd be happy to introduce you." Demon hunters from the Black Forest, they were a group of Woodland Fae who had sent a select faction of their members to establish a new colony over here in the United States.

I glanced at Delilah and Camille, then nodded. "We should, at some point. We need as many allies as we can get. We'll call you and set up a time. Meanwhile, we had better get back home and clean up before another call comes through. You want to come with us, Tanne?"

He shook his head. "I'm all right. I'll go hunting with the guys-they can always use another hand."

And so after a brief discussion, we split up again, the men heading back out on reconnaissance, and the four of us women back to the house. As I sped through the silent night, my jeans covered with goblin blood, I wondered just how long we could hold out under this schedule.

* * *

Chase was still there when we got home. He had fixed a plate of sandwiches and a potato salad with Hanna's help. As we trailed in, he began serving up plates for Camille, Delilah, and Iris. They all looked tired, and so was I. The continual fighting from the past couple of weeks felt like it was seeping into my bones, like a chill that would not go away. As Chase carried the tray into the living room, complete with another bottle of blood for me, he seemed even more sober than when we had left.

"Nerissa went downstairs to sleep. She's going to need it for tomorrow. A situation has cropped up and I'm afraid the ramifications aren't going to be good. Maybe we'll luck out and nothing will come of it, but I'm not hedging any bets on that outcome."

"What's going on?" Kitten settled onto the sofa with her plate.

Chase let out a long breath. "This afternoon, I got a call from a friend of mine. John's an investigator with Scotland Yard, over in England. He told me that early morning, there was some unauthorized activity within Stonehenge. He was sent out to check on it. He said a great host of creatures were pouring out of the center of the ring. Now, he's well aware of what the Fae are, and he said they looked like no Fae he'd ever encountered. Instead, they were large, burly men with massive weapons, along with a group of creatures that, when he described them, I can pretty much guarantee are bloatworgles."

Delilah paled. "Tregarts. The men. You know they have to be Tregarts."

Tregarts were humanlike demons who were incredibly strong and brutish. They often paired with other lower-level demons as the brawn-in this case, the bloatworgles, demons who could breathe fire. We had fought both types far more than we cared to remember. Chase had nearly lost his life to them. Only the Nectar of Life had saved him, extending his life to well over a thousand years if he wasn't murdered or didn't meet with an accident before then.

"Demons at Stonehenge? But are they coming from the Sub-Realms? Or were they sent from Otherworld? And if so, how did they get over into Otherworld to begin with? The vortex at Stonehenge hasn't been opened in hundreds of years." Camille frowned. "You're right, this is a serious problem."

"Yes, and possibly worse than you think. The papers caught wind of it. London-all of the UK-is buzzing with rumors. And thanks to the Internet, that news has reached our shores. You can't do anything anymore without it being instantly broadcast worldwide." Chase looked a little green around the gills. "If the governments find out about this and actually give it credibility?"

"That would be bad. Very bad." I shuddered to think about what could all too easily happen.

The governments of the world liked their nuclear bombs. What they did not realize-because they didn't know about the demons yet-was that uranium and radioactivity only made Demonkin stronger. If the president got it into his head to go on the attack, chances were he was going to plunge us into a dark hole so deep that you'd have to look up to see bottom.

"Bad doesn't begin to encompass the danger." Chase shifted in his chair. "I've got a call in to a few of the guys I know. They're higher up in the Department of Defense. In fact, I worked directly with them when we were creating the FH-CSI. I'll try to explain it to them. How they'll take it, I can't even begin to guess. But I'll do my best to make them understand that we absolutely have to keep this under wraps, that we cannot let the politicians take control of this situation, and above all-no nukes."

He let out a long sigh. "The day we feared was coming has arrived, girls. The world is about to find out that the demons exist. Given the hate groups that sprang up against you, I dread to think what's going to happen."

I closed my eyes, envisioning the potential for disaster. Human supremacist groups were already on the rampage. And we all knew they wouldn't differentiate between the demons and any other Supe. This was just the extra fuel they needed to blow their campaigns sky high, turning the sparks of a wildfire into a massive conflagration.

"What can we do?" Delilah's voice was hushed, almost reverently afraid.

"Stop Telazhar. That's the only way. Take him down, wipe him out, drink his blood. I don't care what method you choose, but he has to be destroyed. Then we worry about Shadow Wing." And with that, Chase stood. "I need to get back to the office. I've been working eighteen-hour days the past few weeks." He turned to Iris. "Thank you for watching Astrid while I'm there. I haven't heard from Sharah in a few weeks. Sometimes I feel like taking my daughter and heading over to Otherworld to be with her mother, and leaving all of this behind."

Iris nodded, her eyes wet with tears. "I understand. Bruce was talking about heading back to Ireland, but as I told him-it doesn't matter where we go. Shadow Wing is determined to burn everything to the ground and it won't matter what country we're in. Or even what world. We're all in danger until he's destroyed."

With that, we saw Chase to the door.

Camille turned to us as we returned to the living room. "I'll head out to Talamh Lonrach Oll tonight. I'm tired, but I think we should ask the Merlin to go to the UK. He might be able to quash the mess over there."

Delilah nodded, her expression fading from worried to dark and beautiful. She had changed a lot since her last round of training with the Death Maidens. Now she routinely saw ghosts and spirits, but they couldn't touch her unless she chose to allow it. And she was transforming even still.

"I'll talk to the Supe Community Council." She stretched, yawning. "We have the militia here, but it's time to call up reinforcements everywhere."

I let out a long sigh. "I've got time before sunrise to go talk to Roman. We can marshal the vampires. It's time we all pulled together and walked into the fires of war united."

And with that, we were off, doing what needed to be done even as the clock seemed to tick away all too fast.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

3 Doors Down: Kryptonite

A.J. Roach: Devil May Dance
AC/DC: Hells Bells; Back in Black
Adam Lambert: Mad World
Adele: Rumour Has It
Air: Playground Love
Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare; Wish You Were Here
Android Lust: Here and Now; Saint Over; Dragonfly; Stained

Beck: Farewell Ride; Emergency Exit
Black Angels, The: Evil Things; Holland; Broken Soldier; Young Men Dead; You're Mine
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Feel It Now
Bob Seger: Turn the Page
Bon Jovi: Wanted Dead or Alive
Bravery, The: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Bryan Adams: Run To You
Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth

Cat Power: I Don't Blame You
Celtic Woman: Scarborough Fair
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game

David Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans
Depeche Mode: Blasphemous Rumors

Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eels: Souljacker Part I

FC Kahuna: Hayling
Feeling, The: Sewn
Fluke: Absurd

Garbage: Queer; #1 Crush; Bleed Like Me
Gary Numan: When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come; Dominion Day; The Angel Wars; Hybrid; Melt; My Shadow In Vain; Petals; Walking with Shadows; Down in the Park; I Am Dust; Here In The Black; Everything Comes Down To This; My Breathing
Gorillaz: Demon Days; Kids With Guns; Clint Eastwood; Stylo

Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree

Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat

M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Marilyn Manson: Personal Jesus; Tainted Love; Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddin
Mark Lanegan: The Gravedigger's Song; Phantasmagoria Blues; Methamphetamine Blues
Matt Corby: Breathe
Motherdrum: Big Stomp

Nine Inch Nails: Head Like a Hole; Deep; Down in It
Nirvana: You Know You're Right; Rape Me; Heart Shaped Box

Orgy: Blue Monday; Social Enemies

A Pale Horse Named Death: As Black As My Heart; Bathe In My Blood; When Crows Descend Upon You
People In Planes: Vampire
Puddle of Mudd: Famous; Psycho

R.E.M.: Drive
Rachel Diggs: Hands of Time
Rammstein: Wollt Ihr das Bett in Flammen Sehen; Rammstein; Ich Will; Sensucht
Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl; Never Gonna Stop; Mars Needs Women

Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; Dime Western; Gospel Plow
Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Soundgarden: Fell on Black Days; Superunknown; Black Hole Sun
Stone Temple Pilots: Atlanta; Sour Girl
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down

Tamaryn: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming
Tina Turner: One of the Living
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance

Verve, The: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are the Wilderness

Warchild: Ash
Wumpscut: The March of the Dead

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Panther Prowling by Yasmine Galenorn (Book 17 of the New York Times Bestselling Otherworld Series)

Berkley (Mass Market); January 27, 2015
Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0515154764

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae ex-operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Camille is a wicked good witch with three gorgeous husbands. Menolly is a vampire married to a werepuma. And me? I'm Delilah, a two-faced werecat and a Death Maiden. While the war in Otherworld is expanding, so is my newly-renamed PI business. And when our cousin Daniel gets himself in trouble stealing an ancient artifact from the wrong person, he also puts us in deadly danger...

We have to do something while waiting for Shadow Wing's next move, so I've renamed my ragtag PI Agency-Cat's Eye Investigations-and have opened my doors again. Leave it to fate that my first client is our cousin Daniel, a topnotch cat burglar. He's stolen a rare and valuable weapon, and now finds himself pursued by an elusive enemy. My investigation uncovers a ring of ghostly warriors dedicated to protecting the sword, and the soul that is trapped within it. As my sisters and I try to elude these deadly shades, we begin to realize that the soul trapped within the sword is a far more dangerous enemy-and that he's about to break free from his prison...

Published:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

"Do you think she knows what we're up to?" Menolly fretted.

She hiked herself up onto the counter of the newly renovated Wayfarer Bar & Grill and leaned back on her hands, swinging her legs. The bar had been rebuilt, revamped, and revitalized, and tonight we were going to rock the block with a grand reopening party, welcoming back-we hoped-all the regulars who had made the Wayfarer their local watering hole. The doors opened in twenty minutes and we were just killing time as the staff finished last-minute touches, which included sorting out a massive number of balloons for Camille's birthday, which also happened to be today.

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I sat on one of barstools, absently flipping through a book I'd picked up at the pet store: How to Take Care of Your Mouse. I had no plans on raising pet mice anytime soon-that idea could too easily turn into a disaster. No, my friend Misha, a mouse who had helped me out in a sticky situation, had just died. I wanted to look after her children . . . and her children's children. The micelings were still frightened of me, but I'd managed to keep my promise to her and never once had chased after her extended family when I shifted into cat form.

"Probably. Camille makes it her business to know everything about everybody. She can't help it. It's the control freak in her. You know that by now. So, did you have any luck finding a new guard?" The portal to Otherworld downstairs needed constant watching, but Menolly had recently gone through a turnover in staff and now was shy not only an evening bouncer, but someone to watch over the portal during the morning shift.

She grumbled. "Not yet, and it worries me. I don't like leaving just one person on duty-not after what happened to the bar. But there's nothing I can do. At least Derrick and I can take care of tossing out the troublemakers during the evening shift until we find someone, though."

Hunger pangs hit my stomach and I ran my tongue over my teeth. I'd just had them polished and the dentist had been a nervous wreck the entire time. Even though he was Supe-friendly, my fangs were sharp, and while not overly large, they didn't retract like a vampire's. Slicing a finger open would be all too easy. I could feel him tense up the entire time he was checking through my mouth.

Occasionally I cut my tongue on them, but I figured that was all part of being a werecat. What was really dicey were blow jobs. Shade and I had worked out a system where I managed not to hurt him most of the time, but in the end, it was easier to focus our attentions on other forms of love play, given the risks.

"I'm hungry, you have any snacks in this joint?"

Menolly leaned over and flicked my nose. "Doofus. I'm surprised you aren't packing a candy bar. Go check near the birthday cake in the kitchen-we have plenty of cupcakes and one or two won't be missed. We won't be firing up the grill till it's officially opening time, so if you want, grab yourself one . . . or some nuts from the bar." She smiled and let out a satisfied laugh. "Kitten, I can't tell you what a relief it is to actually have a decent grill to go with the name."

Before an arsonist had torched it, the Wayfarer Bar & Grill's kitchen had been barely passable. The cook had managed a few simple things like fries and burgers, or grilled cheese, or cold sandwiches. Standard dive food: filling, but nothing to write home about.

During renovations, Menolly had consulted with the architect and they'd redesigned the entire joint. She had commandeered the upper floor and ditched her attempts to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. Instead, they'd relocated the kitchen upstairs, added an elevator, and revamped the staircase to make it user-friendly. A dumbwaiter and intercom system completed the cooking arrangements. They'd gutted two of the bedrooms in order to create a large private meeting room, to be rented out as needed.

"Are you going to miss having a bed-and-breakfast?" I glanced around. While the outside of the building looked the same-red brick, old, and historic-inside, the Wayfarer had a far different feel than when we'd first come Earthside and Menolly had started working as a bartender for her cover job.

"No, I don't think so. I barely had one anyway. The bar had its charms, but now it's my vision, through and through." She glanced around, a satisfied look on her face. "As painful as the fire was, at least I was able to rebuild and put my own stamp on it."

She bit her lip, drawing a drop of blood with her fangs. That they were showing told me she was stressed. Vampires had retractable fangs and they only came down during hunger, arousal, or stress. I knew she was thinking about the lives that had been lost during the fire but I said nothing. No use in scraping an open wound.

The walls were covered with postcards and wine labels, and the bar itself was polished to a high sheen, as were the bar stools. Two large tables, each seating up to ten people, took center stage. The booths had been rebuilt, their upholstery now a supple black leather. All the tables on the floor were new, the wood was a deep mahogany, rich and warm.

Menolly had asked the contractor to build a dance floor, and to replace the antiquated jukebox, she'd installed satellite radio. Large-screen televisions were mounted on the side wall of the bar for the sports freaks who occasionally came in-she kept the sound off, but they were continually running different games.

But despite all the Earthside trappings, everywhere I looked, I could see touches from Otherworld, giving the Wayfarer an exotic feel. Star crystals from the mines of the Nebulveori Mountains. Woven lattice tapestries from the shores of Terial, the Eastern Port on the Mirami Ocean. And sand-cast urns holding dried flowers, potted from the dunes of the Sandwhistle Desert. The Wayfarer Bar & Grill had become a beautiful hybrid between the two worlds.

"Well, I approve of the kitchen. I approve of anything to do with food." I reached out and ran my hand along the red brick of the wall. There was a lot of brick in this building, and together with the warm wood and muted lighting, it gave the bar a cave-like feeling, but in a cozy, protected manner.

Menolly sobered. "To tell you the truth, I don't think that I could rebuild as a bed-and-breakfast. No matter how much people say the deaths weren't my fault, I'll never be able to forget." She gave a quick nod toward the new waitress. "I just hope she works out."

I followed her gaze. Jenny was an FBH-full-blooded human. Camille had met her at Broom Stix, a magic shop, and Jenny had taken Chrysandra's place as head waitress. She was a good worker, eager to learn, and just as eager to be out of her stepmother's store.

"She'll do a good job. She's sincere. But I'm surprised you hired another FBH, given Chrysandra . . ." I stopped at the stricken look on my sister's face. "I'm sorry . . . I didn't think." Great, I was just making things worse. I had a knack for opening mouth, inserting foot.

After a moment, Menolly shrugged. "What can I say? Her death will always weigh heavy on my shoulders. Especially at the end." She flinched. "But you're right, Jenny will do a good job. She's smart, personable, and sassy enough to handle the customers. The vamp crowd will love her." She glanced at the clock. "So when does the birthday girl arrive?"

"Camille and Smoky are supposed to be here in about ten minutes. Smoky said he'd have her here right before the opening. They'll come in the back, so the crowd out front doesn't swarm in behind them. You have a fan club waiting, you know." I jerked my finger toward the front of the building.
"I'm surprised anybody's showing up. The final count was twenty-five deaths, you know. Including vampires." Again, the haunted look.

I wanted to wipe away the memory, to wipe away the guilt Menolly felt, but there was nothing I could do. Only time would help her sort out everything that had happened. So instead, I forced a bright smile. "Well, I'm not surprised. People love this place. And they love you." I reached out, patted her hand. The coldness of her skin had ceased to bother me. She was my sister, even if she was a vampire. I wasn't lying. There was a crowd out front. A number of vamps-I assumed they were vampires by their pallor-had shown up to show their support for the Wayfarer. There were also a number of Weres and Fae. All in all, there must have been fifty people outside, waiting in the rain-soaked January evening.

But tonight was more than the reopening. Tonight, we'd planned a special surprise. Since it was also Camille's birthday, Smoky had volunteered to keep her occupied while the rest of us decked out the bar for both the reopening and her party.

"I'm not so sure about this, Delilah. You know Camille isn't much on surprises. You think we can pull this off without a hitch, given our track record?"

I wrinkled my nose. "Our parties always suck. Why should this time be any different? At least this time nobody's hired a stripper."

It was sadly true that we seldom had people begging us to throw another shindig. But it was also true that there was no stripper in a fringed G-string for me to attack as my fluffy-butt tabby self. Although the balloons were mesmerizing, I could keep a handle on myself unless the ribbons were left dangling. Then all bets were off. Candy in front of the baby time.

Shade sidled up to me and slid one arm around my waist. He nuzzled my neck and I planted a kiss on his cheek. We were officially beyond the honeymoon stage, and had been together almost a year and a half. But as I leaned my head against his side, the warmth of his musky scent quickened my pulse. I'd never experienced this kind of love before we met. He was sweet and funny, and sexy in that easy, comfortable way. And I could be myself around him.

Shade reached into his pocket for something, but at that moment, Jenny came scurrying out from the back.

"Your sister is here." Her eyes were wide. Camille had cowed her at one point, and Jenny still seemed to be scared of her.

"Thanks, we'll take it from here. You go ahead and finish checking all the booths and tables to make sure everything is ready." Menolly jumped off the bar. She glanced around. "Everybody here?"

I counted. Trillian and Morio were in the corner-Camille's other husbands. She had three of them and they were all very happy together, if at times a little loud.

Vanzir and Roz were playing darts together. We called them the demon twins because Vanzir was a dream-chaser demon and Roz was an incubus, and they liked to hang out together, like a couple of slightly demented frat boys. Hanna, our housekeeper from the Northlands, and Maggie, our baby calico gargoyle, sat at a table with Iris and Bruce.

Nerissa-Menolly's wife-carried the cake down from the kitchen. She placed it on one of the large tables. Everybody was here tonight, including Erin, Menolly's middle-aged "daughter"; Roman, the son of the vampire queen; and Chase, the FBH detective who had become part of our extended family. Even Mistletoe and Feddrah-Dahns had traveled over from Otherworld for the party, though having a unicorn at any function was always problematic.

"Everybody's here and we're good to go." I motioned to Jenny. "Will you ask Smoky to bring her in?"

Whatever excuse the dragon had made for keeping our sister out of the way appeared to have worked. Menolly doused the lights, and a moment later, a rustle told us they'd entered the room. But as she flicked the lights on again and we all yelled "Surprise," we found ourselves shouting and throwing confetti at one very nervous toadsquatter.

"Ah, hell!" Menolly launched herself forward, but just then Camille and Smoky followed the creature through the door.

"Stop!" Camille grabbed the arm of the toadsquatter, yanking him out of the way. The squat goblin-like figure let out a shriek and hissed at her. "Shut up, you little weasel." She swatted his nose as Smoky loomed up behind her, all six-foot-four of him.

"What the fuck?" Menolly pulled back. "What's that doing in my bar?"

A whiff of the toadsquatter's stench hit me and I gagged. Lovely. Cross a patch of skunk cabbage with a lumberjack who's gone a week without showering and that's pretty much what the creature smelled like. My stomach lurched.

Derrick Means, one of the bartenders and a werebadger, stared at the thing with a horrified look on his face. He leaned over to me and asked, "What the hell is that? It looks like a goblin that's been squashed and deformed."

"Toadsquatter. From Otherworld. A mutant version of a goblin. Goblins use them as slaves, and the toadsquatters hate them as much as we do. The little creeps aren't blameless, though. They can be nasty tempered, fickle, and they're all a pack of thieves." Which begged the question: Why was one of them standing in the bar, and why had Camille protected him?

Derrick, whose ponytail was black streaked with white, shook his head. "Guess it's no worse than some of the things we have over here. I bet you have no clue how many strange beasties we have running around the woods."

"I'll bet you're right." I grinned at him. Derrick was usually pretty grumpy, but he was fair, honest, and respectful. And that was more than we got from a lot of the Earthside crowd, FBHs or Supes.

Camille was trying to calm the toadsquatter, who was disturbingly close to tears. And trust me, a crying toadsquatter wasn't any more appealing than a happy one. "Don't upset him any more. He has important information for me, or so he says."

Menolly paused. "Information?"

"We think he may know the name of the sorcerer who is tracking Camille." Smoky glared at the toadsquatter, obviously not thrilled with this turn of events. Camille knelt down by the creature. Toadsquatters were about four feet high, and squat. And butt-ugly. "Listen, calm down. I warned you people would react this way, so chill out. I promised you that if your info was worth it, I'd give you a reward, didn't I?"

He nodded and, in a halting variant of the common tongue from Otherworld, said, "Yes, yes . . . You promised. You also have to promise they won't kill me, though." He jerked his finger toward us. I'd say thumb, but since he had six or seven digits I wasn't sure which stood in for what finger.

"I promise." Camille stared at the rest of us, and we slowly nodded our heads. Nobody seemed too enthusiastic, though. While toadsquatters weren't inherently evil like their brother race of goblins, they were sneaky and reminiscent of cockroaches. They might not do anything to you, but they were so nasty you just kind of wanted to squash them on principle.

She straightened up and looked around, her gaze falling on the cake. "Oh, hell-birthday party? For me?"

"Yeah, but you kind of blew that one out of the water." Menolly laughed. "Let's get drinks started, Derrick. Camille, take that . . . thing . . . to my office. I don't want my customers coming in here and finding him."

Camille grabbed the toadsquatter by the hand and started for the back.

Menolly turned back to us. "Delilah, carry the presents to my office, please. We don't want them to get stolen. It's time for me to unlock the doors. Luckily, I ordered a gigantic cake. One big enough to include my patrons. But Jenny, would you move it out of sight till we're done talking to that creature?"

And with that flurry of orders, Menolly headed over to unlock the doors. I gathered up the presents, then paused, watching as she inserted the key to open the Wayfarer to the public for the first time in over two months.

The crowds flooded in, swamping the staff. Once it appeared everything was going off without a hitch, I headed for the back, presents safely in my arms. Menolly motioned
that she'd join us in a bit.

The office had been expanded during renos, and we all managed to fit in, albeit a little snugly. I set the gifts on the desk, and Camille walked over, looking at them. She seemed preoccupied.

"Anything wrong?" I glanced over at the toadsquatter but he was ignoring us.

She frowned. "There was someone in the bookstore today who made me uneasy. He was looking for a rare grimoire and was very pushy about it. He acted as though he thought I was hiding a copy from him, when I told him I didn't have it and didn't know where I could get one."

"What's his name? Did he have a demonic feel?" The fact that that question was always one of our first considerations now saddened me, but we always had to take it into account, given what we were facing.

She paused, considering. "No, he didn't-I think he was FBH, but he did have a lot of magical energy, and there was something off about him. I think . . . he introduced himself as Jay. And he said he'd heard about my store from a friend . . . but that could be anybody."

I sighed, leaning against the desk. "Has he been in before?"

"I don't think so. But I don't trust him."

"Keep an eye out." I leaned against the counter. "If I'm upstairs in my office, you can always call me down next time he comes in. And tell Giselle to do the same."

A garbled grunt interrupted us. We looked over to see Smoky holding the toadsquatter in place, his hand firmly on the creature's head. The toadsquatter wasn't moving, but neither did he look like he wanted to be here and I didn't blame him. He was in the middle of a group of hostile people who could easily make mincemeat out of him without so much as a blink. His gaze flickered toward the door.

"Easy, boy. You're not going anywhere. Not yet. So what's your name?" Smoky asked.

Shifty-Eyes thought for a moment, then sighed. "Rataam."

"Well, Rataam, give us the information we're looking for and you get to leave here alive. However, if I discover that you've gone back to whoever you've been snooping for and ratted us out, I'll personally track down your family and there will be no more little Rataam babies in the world. Do I make myself clear?" When Smoky played hardball, he didn't hesitate to break heads.

The toadsquatter seemed to realize this was no idle threat. He gulped and nodded.

Smoky let go of his head. "Tell us what you know, then. If it's worth it, we'll pay you for your knowledge."

Rataam ducked his squat head. He really did look very toad-like, and for a moment I felt sorry for him. It was a scary thing to be surrounded by people who could pull you apart. I'd been there. But then he let out a noise-I didn't know what it was and didn't want to-and a vile stench filled the room.

"Oh, dude, that's nasty. Do you have to do that?" I blurted out the words before I could stop myself.

Rataam scowled, but ignored me. Instead, he turned to Camille. "The sorcerer following you is named Iyonah."

Iyonah? We'd had a run-in with the woman recently. Or rather, Camille had. But none of us realized she was anything other than a blip on the radar of "potential issues." That she was following Camille and potentially out to kill her was a step up in the game.

Camille blanched. "Oh, fuck. I knew there was something about her! But how do you know this? How do you even know about me?"

"I only know about her because I was paid to find out. I never heard of you before my employer paid me to look into the matter." Rataam shifted, obviously uncomfortable.

I blinked. Someone had paid the toadsquatter to snoop into Camille's life? That alone was unnerving. Apparently, Camille thought so, too, because she knelt beside him, pale and looking worried.

"And who is your employer?" She took his hand in hers, unleashing her glamour, which immediately seemed to have a calming effect on the creature.

He let out a long breath. "Promise you won't tell them I told you?"

She held up her hand. "On the Moon Mother's honor."

Rataam scuffed his foot on the floor, then shrugged. "Raven Mother. She asked me to find out who was following you, and to warn you."

Startled, Camille withdrew her hand and stood up. Raven Mother could be bad news when she wanted to be, but for some reason, she'd decided to help us out. That didn't mean we could trust her, though. Raven Mother was wily and cunning, and she had so many hidden agendas that our enemies looked like simpletons compared to her.

Camille had been getting to know more about the Elemental than she had ever wanted to know-she had no choice given the way events had been turning. As a result, Menolly and I'd been privy to a number of late-night conversations. Intrigue seemed to run rampant in the whole Raven Mother-Triple Threat-Moon Mother triangle that was going on.

"Did Raven Mother tell you why she wanted you to spy on me?" Camille's eyes flashed-they were a vivid shade of violet, and now silver flecks appeared. No, she wasn't happy, and her magic was rising.

Rataam shook his head. "No, but she made it clear it was important. She threatened to destroy my family if I didn't do what she asked." He sounded so disheartened that I instantly felt guilty for feeling so uncharitable toward him.

Smoky and Camille looked at each other, and she slowly nodded. There was no real way of telling if he was lying, but odds were, Raven Mother hadn't told him what Iyonah wanted. Her motives might be questionable, but she wasn't stupid by any means.

Smoky let out a grumpy sigh. "All right, we will pay you well, but only if you vow on your family's life to keep your mouth shut about everything that's happened. As long as you keep your bargain, we won't tell Raven Mother that you told us it was she who hired you." Smoky nodded to the door. "Come, I'll take you to a portal, pay you, and you can return to Otherworld immediately."

Camille kept her mouth shut until Smoky escorted the creature out. Then she let out a slow whistle. "I should have known Iyonah was up to no good. I think I did, I just didn't realize she was after me."

Irritated that we had to focus on enemies, even on our birthdays, I shook my head and gave her a hug. "Well, we should be able to take care of the matter as long as she remains clueless to the fact that you know about her. We'll go over there tomorrow." I pointed to her presents. "Meanwhile, birthday party."

"You didn't hire a stripper, did you?" She stared at me pointedly.

I blushed, but then swatted her playfully. "No, and I'm not going to turn into a cat and go lunging after the customers tonight either. But can you imagine Smoky walking into the room to find a guy jiggling his junk in your face?"

Trillian meandered over, laughing. "Oh, I'd pay to see that." He, Smoky, and Morio had a good-natured rivalry going on. While they were all married to Camille and she loved each of them with a passion, they still sparred at times. But when push came to shove, they had one another's backs, and together they surrounded her with a ring of protection that sometimes chafed at her.

Feddrah-Dahns spoke up. For a unicorn, his voice was simultaneously melodic and authoritative. "This Iyonah-I will send Mistletoe home right now to do research on her. Don't take her on until we've dug up everything we can. I don't want you in any more danger than you already are. If she's truly a sorcerer, chances are she's fairly powerful. And powerful sorcerers are danger incarnate."

Before Camille could say a word, I interrupted. "She promises. She'll be good and wait. Now, can we go join the party? This is Menolly's special night, and it's also special for Camille. We don't get many celebrations. Please, let's enjoy the ones we can." I pushed Camille toward the door, and for the moment, the issue was shelved.

The party was rocking, the music loud, and the bar crowded. The two large center tables were reserved for our party, but most of the booths were full, as were the counter stools. People had packed the joint, showing their support for Menolly.

In one corner, Marion Vespa-the owner of the Supe-Urban Café-and her husband were ordering drinks. Jonas and his werebear buddies had crowded into a booth and were eating burgers and fries, along with giant steins of beer. At a table near the door, Frank Willows, the leader of the Supe Militia, was holding court with three other werewolves.

And, of course, Roman, the son of the Vampire Queen, sat in the most luxurious booth, along with several of the higher-ups from the Seattle Vampire Nexus. Menolly was his official consort, and boy, did she walk a tight wire between her wife and Roman. All in all, the bar was crowded. The look on Menolly's face made me happy. She'd expected people to ostracize her after what happened, but truth was: none of it was her fault. Maybe tonight would drive that through her thick skull.

As we gathered around the tables, Jenny brought over the cake. Camille winked at her, and the girl, flustered, stuttered out a "Happy Birthday" and immediately left.

"Hey, I wanted to order-" Camille laughed. "I'm going to have to do something to put Jenny at ease, it seems." She stood up, looking over at the bar.

I motioned for her to sit down. "You're the birthday girl. I'll get a waitress. What do you want to drink? Do you want anything to eat?"

"I want a Goblin Blaster and can you order me a grilled cheese and fries? We'll cut the cake while we're waiting for the food." She was eyeing the massive sheet cake like I eyed catnip. Normally Camille didn't go for sweets but Earthside store-bought birthday cake had proven to be a weakness for her.

I motioned to a different waitress and gave her Camille's order, and my own. Grilled cheese sounded good, so I asked for two. As the others ordered their food, I pushed my way up to the bar. Derrick, along with Digger-the assistant bartender, who was a vamp-were mixing drinks as fast as they could.

Derrick winked at me. "What do you need?"

"Camille wants a Goblin Blaster. For me? A Kahlúa and cream, please." I didn't drink a lot, but when I did, I preferred my booze with something to soften the impact.

He raised an eyebrow. "She wants a Goblin Blaster? We don't get much call for those. They're an acquired taste, that's for sure." As he began mixing up the basil liqueur with orange juice and both light and dark rum, the drink took on an earthy, pungent smell. The drink almost glowed green, and I grimaced. I preferred my drinks sweet. Derrick added a twist of orange to the glass, then whipped
up my Kahlúa and cream, and slid both drinks across the counter. I started to thank him but he had already moved on to his next order.

I picked up the drinks and carried them back to the table, handing Camille's to her. She took a long sip and closed her eyes. Something about the basil and orange really appealed to her. Like me, she wasn't much of a drinker, but ever since Menolly had concocted the recipe, Camille had, for the most part, stuck to a standing order.

Over the past few weeks, Menolly had gotten so irritable without the Wayfarer to distract her that she'd turned her lair into a makeshift bar and had managed to get just about everyone in the house drunk at one point or another, experimenting with new recipes. The upside was, the drink menu at the Wayfarer had increased by at least fifty percent.

While we waited for the food, Camille cut the cake. The frosting was an inch thick and my taste buds were doing a happy dance on my tongue. Camille's favorite flavors were strawberry and lemon, so the cake was strawberry with lemon icing. There were chocolate cupcakes for those whose tastes ran to the more traditional, but I wasn't picky. If it was cake, I'd eat it. And I did. Two pieces of cake and three cupcakes.

Menolly climbed on the counter and whistled to the bar. "Listen up! Tonight's not just the reopening of the Wayfarer, but it's also my sister Camille's birthday, as you may have surmised. We have a lot of cake here, so feel free to drop by our table for a slice. It's free till it's gone."

A general round of applause and a chorus of "Happy Birthday"s rang through the bar as I settled in beside Camille and Menolly with a sigh of satisfaction. Despite the toadsquatter, everything had gone off without a hitch.

A little voice in the back of my head kept whispering, Don't let down your guard, but I was tired of always being on alert. I decided, what the hell, for once I'd ignore the warning and let down my hair. That was more than a cliché. I actually could let down my hair more than usual, because I'd started growing it back in. I was sporting a chin-length shag. Shade liked it, and while I wasn't sure I'd ever grow it long again, it was fun for a change.

I downed the Kahlúa and cream and got a second, then a third round of drinks for Camille and myself. A fourth followed shortly.

The volume of noise had risen to a steady buzz now as more people crowded into the bar, and I blinked, realizing that I wasn't following any particular conversation, but instead, I just sat back, taking it all in.

Menolly was beaming. Another round of drinks later, and the party was growing louder.

Wild Cherry came over the speakers, singing "Play That Funky Music." Nerissa grabbed Menolly's hand and dragged her up to dance. Nerissa towered over Menolly in her tawny, werepuma glory, but the two could boogie it up good. In a skintight hot pink minidress, with golden hair and gold sparkling heels that sent her over six feet tall, Nerissa was a striking sight.

Camille and Trillian followed, spinning onto the dance floor in all their fetish goth-glory. Dark and vampy, they made one hell of a pair. I blinked. Trillian cut a damn fine figure, now that I looked at him through my Kahlúa-colored eyes. The song shifted to "Super Freak" by Rick James, then it was fully into retro city with "Electric Avenue," followed by "She Blinded Me with Science," then "Whip It," and of course, "Safety Dance."

I polished off my drink and grabbed Shade's hand. "Dance with me."

He blinked. I danced, but it wasn't a common request, considering I preferred curling up on the sofa with television and junk food.

"Are you sure, babe? You look a little flushed." His voice sounded huskier than usual and I wanted nothing more than to press up against him.

I glanced down at the glasses on the table, counting them. Apparently, I'd had seven rounds, not four like I thought. But though my mind was a little fuzzy, more than anything, I wanted to dance with my lover.

"Dance. Now!"

We whirled out on the dance floor, but I whirled a little too enthusiastically and would have gone toppling over except that Shade had a tight grip on my hand. He pulled me back into his arms and we began shaking it up to "Elevator Man" by Oingo Boingo.

But as Shade spun me around, I began to realize that maybe I was really was a tad drunk. Booze hit my system overly fast and I hadn't planned on having seven drinks-that was for sure. Not entirely certain what I was doing, I just attempted to stay on my feet. I probably should have asked Shade to take me back to the table, but I was so light-headed I couldn't seem to form the words.

The next minute, none of that mattered.

The door burst open and Daniel, our Earthside FBH cousin, darted inside, followed by what looked like a very angry Viking. The muscle-bound man wearing the leather breeches and tunic grabbed Daniel by the collar and lifted him over his head.

Shade let go of my hand and I was so startled that I tripped back into the crowd, taking down a couple of vampires who were dancing. We hit the floor as Daniel sailed across the room, the Viking tossing him like a Scotsman tossing a log in the Highland Games.

As Daniel landed in a shuddering heap by my side, Camille darted toward the northern intruder, but the man took one look at her, then at the rest of the bar, and vanished from sight, as if he'd never existed.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

AJ Roach: Devil May Dance

Android Lust: Saint Over, Here and Now, God in the Hole,

Awolnation: Sail

Black Angels, The: The Return, You on the Run, Evil Things, Black isn't Black, Young Men Dead, Manipulation, Phosphene Dream

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Feel it Now

Bravery, The: Believe

Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside, The Hight Road

Crazy Town: Butterfly

Cure, The: From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea; The Hanging Garden

Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart

Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being

Eels: Souljacker Part 1

Faun: Iduna, Hymn to Pan, Arcadia, Sieben, Rad

Feeling, The: Sewn

Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks

Garbage: Queer, #1 Crush, I Think I'm Paranoid,

Gary Numan: I Am Dust; Here in the Black; Everything Comes Down To This; A Shadow Falls on Me, Splinter, Haunted, Melt, Cars (re-mix), Petals

Godsmack: Voodoo

In Strict Confidence: Silver Bullets, Snow White, Tiefer, Silver Tongues

Kyuss: Space Cadet

Lady Gaga: Teeth, I Like it Rough, Paparazzi

Ladytron: Destroy Everything You Touch, I'm Not Scared, Ghosts, Black Cat

Mark Lanegan: Methamphetamine Blues; Phantasmagoria Blues; Gravedigger's Song; Riot in My House, Black Pudding, Pentacostal

Morcheeba: Even Though

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand, Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore

REM: Drive

Screaming Trees: Where The Twain Shall Meet, Dime Western, Gospel Plow

Stone Temple Pilots: Sour Girl, Atlanta

Tamaryn: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming, Violet's in a Pool, The Waves, Afterlight, Transcendent Blue

Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance

Verve, The: Bitter Sweet Symphony

Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are the Wilderness

Warchild: Ash

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Priestess Dreaming by Yasmine Galenorn (book 16 of the New York Times Bestselling Otherworld Series)

Berkley (Mass Market); Release Date:  September 30, 2014
Urban Fantasy

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Delilah is a two-faced werecat and a Death Maiden. Menolly is a vampire married to a gorgeous werepuma. And me? I'm a Moon witch married to three gorgeous husbands, and I'm about to journey through the veils to search for a long lost legend...

With the war in Otherworld raging, the Queen of Shadow and Night summons me to her court. Aeval orders me to embark on a hunt through the mists to find an ancient ally she once knew. I must seek out The Merlin and wake him from his long sleep. But Morgaine and Bran are along for the journey, and the pair pose a threat to both me and my quest. Now, surrounded by danger on all sides, I must pray they are allies rather than enemies, as we undertake a perilous search through the labyrinth of time...

Published:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

I contemplated going back into the house, purse over my shoulder. Should I, or shouldn't I? Utter mayhem lay within. Absolute chaos in a kitchen, complete with spilled food, a huffy dragon, one very pissed-off house sprite, and my sister, the wide-eyed, catch-da-giant-bird turkey-chaser. Add to that the rest of the milling-and by now, thoroughly confused- throng that made up our extended family, and it was a no-brainer. Not a chance. Nope. Not gonna happen.

I was perfectly fine out here in the pouring rain, getting soaked. Let Smoky take his lumps from Iris. This was all his fault, not mine. The only part they could blame me for was that I had assigned him the chore of bringing home a twenty-five- pound turkey for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner. Was it really my responsibility to remind him to make certain it was already dead?

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Not. My. Fault. And neither was the Three Stooges after- math that followed. Now, with Iris and Hanna both on the warpath, I had no desire to go back in there and subject myself to their outrage.

As my gaze wandered over to the turkey pecking around our backyard, it occurred to me that the bird was giving me the evil eye. He reminded me of a big fat demon bird, gloating like some demented vulture. The fat old Tom was closer to the woods than our back door, and I wondered if he realized just how lucky he was.

I stamped my foot in his direction. "Go on, you dumb bird. Make a break for it while you can, before Smoky comes looking for you." As if he understood me, the turkey turned toward the tree line back of the yard and slowly began to waddle off into the sunset. Or as the case actually was, the pitch darkness. It was only around five thirty, but by this time of year, the Seattle area was swathed in night. Sunset had come and gone about an hour ago.

I snorted. "Have a happy Thanksgiving, bird. You lucked out, so say a prayer to the Great Turkey."

As I watched him vanish into the woods, I wondered where the hell Smoky had found him. No doubt he'd stolen him from some turkey farm or something. Wild turkeys generally didn't go running around the streets of Seattle. But I wasn't going to ask. After this fiasco, I had a feeling that my dragon-shifting husband wouldn't be in any mood to discuss turkey-napping.

Thanks to sheer dumb luck, the bird had managed to escape from the kitchen. He'd left behind a trail of walking wounded, though-including me. That beak was nasty sharp and I had the scratch to prove it, but at least I didn't have a hole in my hand like Roz did. Yeah, in the great dinner war, the bird deserved his freedom. He'd earned it. As the last of his tail feathers vanished from sight on the path leading to Birchwater Pond, I saluted him.

"You've got what it takes to make it, soldier. Carry on."

With one last look at the house, I straightened my shoulders and headed toward my car. We still needed a turkey for Thanksgiving tomorrow, so I might as well head out to buy one. On the up side, by the time I got back, things should have smoothed over and the mess should be cleaned up.

Families. One thing was for certain: Mine was loopy, batty, and all around, a freakshow crew. But I wouldn't trade them for all the glitter and glitz in Otherworld or Earthside.

I slid into the driver's seat, but as I inserted the key into the ignition, a shiver ran down my back. A shadow passed through me, cold and dark and incredibly ancient.

Suddenly nervous, I hit the button to lock the doors. Maybe it was the wind that rattled the trees that had spooked me. Or maybe it was the driving rain. Or perhaps the darkness and perpetual gloom had finally managed to suck the smile off my face. Whatever the case, I glanced back at the house, anxious.

PTSD, maybe? We had recently come through a horrible stretch, what with the war raging in Otherworld and losing our father. We were all still a little shell-shocked. I had been coping with a lot of nightmares and flashbacks the past few weeks, but this didn't feel like it originated from the same place.

Trying to quiet my mind, I listened, breathing slowly.

Inhale.
Exhale.
Inhale.
Exhale.
Listen...

At first, I could sense only the wind and rain that lashed the yard, but then . . . below that . . . There it was. Something was on the move. Something big. I searched my feelings, examining the sensation. Was it fear? Yes, I was definitely afraid, but there was more to it than that. Anticipation? Anxiety? A tingling at the base of my neck told me that deep magic was afoot, and would soon be knocking on my door.

Magic rode the currents, on the wings of a flock of birds. They were there, in the astral, black as coal and shrieking warnings from an ancient wood filled with extraordinary beasts. The rolling mists of time poured past as the ravens cried, their song echoing with magic. Dark magic, deep wood- land magic. Death coming in on waves of flame and smoke.

As if in synch with my thoughts, a shriek cut through the darkness, startling me out of my trance. I recognized the cry. Raven. Raven was calling. And where raven flew, Raven Mother couldn't be far behind.

And behind Raven Mother, chasing her, was a dragon. At first I flashed back to Hyto, but then caught hold of myself. Hyto was dead and gone. I forced myself to focus, to examine the energy that rushed past. This dragon was ancient-not a dragon from the Dragon Reaches, but even older. This creature rose from the depths of the earth, come awake after eons of time asleep in its lair.

As he roared to life, chasing the flock of ravens, he suddenly vanished from my sight.

I found myself sitting in the car, my hand on the keys.

What the hell was that all about?

Almost afraid to examine the vision, I shuddered and started the ignition. As the engine warmed up, I stared into the darkness, my thoughts far distant from Thanksgiving.

Something big was headed my way, and there was no use trying to avoid it. I might as well just open my arms and brace for whatever it was. Trying to hide from trouble had ceased to be an effective defense mechanism a few years ago when the demons had first shown up.

With a grimace, I pulled out my phone and texted Menolly that I was heading for the store to replace the turkey. As I eased out of the driveway, I whispered, "Bring it on, Raven Mother. Bring it on. I'm waiting for you."

A faint laughter echoed over the howling of the wind. She'd heard me. And she was waiting.

*

"Give me that!" Delilah's voice rang out, and I turned, scanning the mob for her face. Somebody was bound to get hurt in this mess. People were shoving in every direction, trying to push their way through the mass of churning bodies. To my left, a woman tripped and fell. I tried to maneuver through the crowd to reach her, but a man stopped to help her back to her feet and she dusted herself off, looking no worse for the wear, and then, a glint in her eye, she vanished into the seething throng.

Still unable to locate Delilah, I glanced over my shoulder. Smoky and Trillian were standing at attention, waiting for my orders, both looking resigned and rather frightened. Their arms full, they threaded their way through the chaos as they tried to follow me. With Delilah still nowhere to be seen, I made a unilateral decision. She'd just have to catch up to us later.

"Over to the pet section, pronto!"?

Pointing toward the opposite end of the store, I began to traverse the aisles. Wordlessly, they filed along behind me. I gauged the easiest, quickest route, then began to wind through the rows of merchandise, narrowly skirting a table of precariously stacked crystal dishes. Motioning for the guys to be cautious, I held my breath until we were past the display.

Once we were out of housewares, the crowd began to thin out as we maneuvered our way over to the pet toy aisle. Along the way, I caught sight of an insulated lunch bag in fuchsia, with a cat appliqué splashed across the front. It really was cute. Another woman was eyeing it and I had a split second to make up my mind.

"Nerissa would love that." I snatched it up seconds before my opponent could grab it and, once again, we were on the move, leaving her sputtering in the dust. A few moments later, we reached our destination: the pet care section. We had the department to ourselves. Most of the crowds were over in electronics and toys. Chase and Iris were forging their way through the latter and I silently wished them luck.

"Are we done yet?" Smoky grumbled. "Haven't you found enough loot? It's four thirty in the morning, woman." He didn't sound that angry, though. In fact, the twinkle in his eye told me he was putting on a show because he thought it was required. Just like a man.

Trillian, also my husband, snorted. "You really think that's going to work? Dude, you should know your wife and her sisters by now. We've got at least another hour to go. Remember last year?"

Trillian's obsidian skin glistened under the florescent lights. He'd braided his hair to keep it out of the way. The silver strands rested smooth against his back, shimmering with the faintest of cerulean highlights. He had worn a sleek black turtleneck and black jeans, but left his jacket in the car, claiming it made him more aerodynamic in the crowds. A Svartan, one of the Dark and Charming Fae, he usually man- aged to get what he wanted by smooth-talking whoever was in his way. But on Black Friday, all bets were off. My sisters and I overruled all opinions in the household.

Smoky, on the other hand, was attired in his usual get up: white jeans, V-neck pale blue sweater, and long white trench.

At six-four, my dragon towered over the crowds. Though I kept him near, even his imposing nature didn't offer us much protection during the early hours of the most terrifying shopping day of the year. He, too, had braided his hair, though it was ankle length instead of mid-shoulder like Trillian's. Luckily, his hair moved all on its lonesome. If it hadn't, his braid would have gotten trampled several times tonight.

"Don't remind me." Smoky rolled his eyes. "Last year was worse than this, I'll give you that."

"The others aren't done yet, so just hold your horses. Remember? Hanna promised leftover turkey soup along with fresh baked homemade bread if you guys play nice." I picked up a catnip mouse and shook it, frowning at the squeaky-squeaky sound. Delilah would love it.

Her toys were constantly ragged, she played with them so much. And then, the thought occurred to me that we should get her panther form a toy, too. One that could withstand a good mauling. Also-why not one for Nerissa? Her puma liked to play and, on occasion, Delilah and our sister-in-law went hunting together in the forest behind our house. They never really caught anything, but the big cats liked to prowl through the trees.

"After we're done here, we're heading over to the stuffed toys. So gird your loins, or whatever it is you boys do in order to stay sane."

Oblivious to their groans, I began tossing toy mice in my cart, before we pushed onward.

We had not only brought Delilah's Jeep, Menolly's Mustang, and my Lexus, but also Morio's SUV, which gave us room for everybody who had wanted to come, and all the packages as well.

Hanna had stayed home to watch Maggie, our baby calico gargoyle. Vanzir and Rozurial had begged off. They were planning some secret surprise and had shooed us out of the house, instructing us not to return till early morning. I wasn't sure what they were up to, but could only pray it wasn't something stupid like turning the house into a giant video game or something.

It was nearing 6 A.M. as we pulled into the driveway of our lovely old three-story Victorian with basement. Menolly still had some time before she had to be in her lair to sleep. Vampires and sunrise? Not such a good mix, so we always made sure she was home in time to get to bed. But we still had nearly ninety minutes before the sun crawled over the horizon. Or up behind the clouds, as was more often the norm here in Seattle.

As we piled out of our cars, the men gathering all our loot for us, I glanced at Trillian and Smoky and wearily smiled. "You do realize how much I love the pair of you, don't you? And Morio, too." Morio was my third husband. I was one hell of a lucky woman.

His hands full, Smoky winked at me as a strand of his hair unbraided itself, slowly reaching over to caress my cheek. A smile creased his face. Dragon smiles were always a little sly, a little coy.

"You can show us just how much you love us after we haul all this stuff inside." His voice was husky, and I caught my breath as the touch of his hair sparked off an ache that rose between my legs. I wanted him and I wanted him now. It had been two days since I'd had sex-we'd all been busy. But that was two days too long.

Trillian brushed past me, arching an eyebrow. "That's the best idea I've heard all night."

"I wish." Shaking my head, I forced my attention away from my nether regions, which were now up in arms, demanding attention. "Go on, the pair of you. You know what waits for us inside there. An early morning brunch, and then Iris and Hanna are going to put us all to work. Except Menolly, of course. Honestly, how Iris manages to have as much energy as she does after having the twins, I have no clue. It's been less than a month and she's raring to go."
As much as the thought of an early A.M. tryst with my men appealed to me, the morning was given over to homely duties. Today we'd all be decking out the house for Yuletide, from bottom to top. With Iris and Hanna in charge, it meant we'd fill every nook and cranny with some sort of decoration. But I didn't begrudge the time spent, especially this year.

With Father dead and so much upheaval in our lives, it was important to keep our traditions alive. We needed these touchstones to ground us and keep us on track. My premonitions of the other night had faded, and I had put them down to skittishness. So far, nothing had happened, and I hadn't bothered telling anybody about them.

Trillian laughed. "Fine. We'll avoid facing the wrath of the house-maidens. But that means we're on for this evening, though frankly, I'm going to need a nap before then. The few hours we got after Thanksgiving dinner were helpful, but not enough."

But as we approached the porch I lost track of what he was saying, because the front door burst open and Vanzir came racing out, the look on his face somewhere between guilty and terrified. He scrambled down the stairs, leaping to take the last few.

"Run! Get out of the way!" The dream-chaser demon pushed past us looking like hell itself was on his heels.

Confused, I glanced back at the door. Holy. Fuck. It couldn't be-no, no . . . I couldn't be seeing what my brain thought it was seeing. Could I?

But there, on the porch, with gleaming yellow eyes, stood a very large, very burly creature with bluish-white fur covering its body. It was bipedal . . .

"Yeti! There's a freaking yeti on our porch!" I dropped my purse and backed away from the steps, never letting my gaze waver from the creature. Trillian and Smoky were doing the same.

Yetis were unpredictable. Like their cousins, the Sasquatch, they are large and muscular, but their hair runs from white to a dusky silvery-blue, compared to the deep brown of the Sasquatch's fur. Camouflage, no doubt. But what the hell was a yeti from the mountains of Tibet doing here, on our front porch? And more importantly-at least for the moment-what was it going to do?

The creatures were wild, almost alien in nature. In fact, back in Otherworld, there were rumors that the entire Sasquatch-Yeti family were originally from another planet, though nobody knew if this was true. It could have just been an urban legend. They belonged to the Crypto family, but they weren't found in Otherworld and they sure didn't mingle with the Cryptos over here, Earthside. Or with the Fae. Pretty much everybody but monster-hunters gave the primate-like creatures a wide berth.

I searched my memory, trying to calculate our options. Attempting to communicate wouldn't do any good, not unless the creature was willing to talk. And so far, nobody I knew had gotten close enough to one to invite it to tea, at least not without getting mauled. Usually, approaching beyond a certain range triggered their defense mechanisms, and the creatures would attack. And an eight- to nine-foot-tall agitated primate who was feeling hemmed in wasn't the safest of critters to be around.

"Anybody have any suggestions about what we do with the big white giant on the porch?" I tried to keep my voice even and neutral. No use setting it off with any loud noises.

"My babies!" Heedless of the danger, Iris broke into a run, heading around the left side of the house. Her home was in back of ours, and her twins were there, waiting for her with their grandma and their daddy. I pitied any fool who tried to get between her and the babies, that was for sure. The house sprite might be a gorgeous, buxom hottie, milkmaid-pretty with golden hair down to her ankles and cornflower blue eyes, but she could turn a grown man inside out if she got mad enough. Literally.

"Astrid!" Chase followed Iris at a dead run. He and his daughter Astrid lived with Iris and Bruce. No doubt, he was just as freaked.

Startled by the sudden movement, the yeti let out a roar and bounded down the steps. My men moved immediately to intercept-Smoky, Trillian, and Morio dropped their parcels and darted to cut off the path so it couldn't follow Iris and Chase.

I backed up, looking at the sky. The clouds were thick. It was almost cold enough to snow, and there should be enough energy around to summon the lightning. I raised my arms and called on the Moon Mother. She was huge tonight-not quite full but nearly there, and I could feel her shining down even though she was obscured by the boiling clouds.

As I drew the energy into me, a crackle of silver racing through my arms, I began to feel giddy. What the hell? Her magic made me drunk at times, but never like this, and never this fast.

I wanted to dance, to spin and cackle and laugh. Trying to focus, I forced my attention back to the tingling moon-fire, but it was no use. The next moment, I heard music. Faint at first, the melody quickly swept up to surround me. Reverberating with a rhythm as deep as the soil, the singer enticing me to join the dance, his voice deep and guttural.

I began to whirl, laughing as I looked toward the sky. The Moon Mother, she was up there, and I could hear her singing along. But whatever the words were, I could not understand. Weaving in and out like a sinuous chain of dancers, the words sang of adventure.

The sky shimmered, a thin veil of sparkling lights flitting around me. Enchanted, I reached out, trying to capture the twinkles in my hands.

A low growl startled me. To my left, Delilah, in her panther form, bounded by, chasing a translucent figure with wings. Tiny, it was barely a foot tall. Oh hell! Some semblance of coherency broke through. I knew what that creature was! A pixie. A freaking pixie.

We were friends with a pixie, but the majority of them were annoying pests and worse. They liked to lead people astray, and they had it in for witches like myself. And this one was darting around, sprinkling dust right and left.

No wonder I wanted to dance. But then, reason escaped me as once again the music lured me in. I whirled, holding my arms out, and the energy I had drawn down from the Moon Mother suddenly cut loose in a volley of bolts as I became a spinning wheel of silver fire, sparks flying from my fingers.

Delilah snarled and lumbered out of reach. I heard Nerissa curse as I hit her with one of the mini-bolts. I wanted to stop, but my feet kept moving, I kept twirling, and the sparks kept flying.

"Stop me! Somebody stop me! Pixie dust!" I managed to shout between the violent fits of laughter that were erupting from my core. I had no clue what was so funny, but I couldn't stop that either.

By now, it occurred to me that if I had to be shooting out sparks, why not move to where they'd do some good? I tried to catch sight of the yeti in my dizzying spin and realized that if I shifted in a northwestern direction, I'd end up near the creature, who was now fully engaged with Smoky and the boys.

As I danced closer, still spinning like a crazed top, Smoky let out a shout, and then Trillian. The next thing I knew, the smell of burning fur filled my nostrils, and with each spin I found myself facing one very pissed-off and scorched yeti.

One circle around and I caught sight of him gazing at me with those glowing, angry, topaz eyes. A second circle, and a large fuzzy white arm came flying out. The third and I staggered to the ground as his big ole fist met my crazed body.

I landed on the frozen driveway. Apparently the temperature had dropped enough for frost to form. The fucking dirt was hard and cold. But even getting smacked by Mr. Abominable Snowman couldn't shake the pixie dust off me, because I began to struggle to my feet, still needing to dance. The next moment, Smoky had grabbed me under his arm, dragging me behind him as we raced through the yard toward the studio that had originally been a shed.

The minute we hit the door, he swept me up and barreled into the bathroom, where he shoved me-clothes and all- into the shower. One more second and he'd turned it on full blast. The water was cold, and shocked me into silence. As the spray warmed up, it began to wash off the pixie dust and my foggy thoughts began to lift. My body was still jazzed higher than a kite by all the energy I'd drawn in, but at least I didn't feel the need to go gallivanting in a crazed polka around the room. I stood there, mutely, under pounding water. Yeah, this outfit is a goner.

After a moment, Smoky turned off the spray. "Pixie dust gone?"

I searched for the dazed feelings brought on by the dust, but the only thing I felt was wired and bedraggled. After a moment, I nodded.

"Yeah, I think so. I'm pissed, but I'm thinking clearly and I don't feel quite so possessed to go frolicking with Mr. Yeti. The yeti! Where the hell did it come from, and more importantly, what are we going to do about it?"

"I don't know. When I saw it attack you, all I could think about was to get you out of the way. You were in no shape to protect yourself." He held out a towel. I stripped and, leaving my wet clothes in the shower stall, I stepped out and wrapped the thick terrycloth around me. The soft cloth against my skin felt good, and I suddenly realized that I was rapidly growing tired-another side effect of too much pixie dust.

"I need to find something to wear and then we have to get the hell back to the house. The fact that pixies are having a field day in our yard is bad enough, but a yeti bounding out of our front door? More than a little scary." A sudden thought hit me. "Maggie! We have to make sure Maggie is okay!" Pushing past him, I rushed out of the bathroom.

"You can't go racing out there in a bathrobe." Smoky motioned toward Rozurial's room. "Grab something from the incubus's closet and I'll go check on Maggie. I'll let you know the minute I find her and Hanna." And he was out the door before I could touch the knob.

Wanting to run after him, but realizing that dashing naked through the storm wasn't exactly the brightest idea, I hurried into Roz's room and tossed my way through his dresser. I found a tunic that fit over my Double-Ds, and a pair of drawstring pajama bottoms. Cinching them firmly, I realized I'd have to go barefoot. My shoes were ruined, and I couldn't wear any of Roz's boots-they were far too big. Sopping hair and all, I headed out of the studio, back toward the house, my feet freezing. The frozen soil and frosty grass made for a slippery mix, and I struggled to keep my footing as I jogged back toward the house.

All hell had broken loose. Trillian and Morio were still fighting the yeti and from what I could see, the damned thing seemed tougher than a dubba-troll. But that was only the half of it. Glimmers flickered from all over the yard- and every glimmer seemed to have some sort of creature attached to it.

The pixie was still flying around like a crazed maniac, and to my dismay, I spotted a couple more nearby. Hell. They were bad news, in general. Mistletoe was the exception to the rule and that's only because he was our friend.

Beneath a huckleberry bush near my herb garden, I could see some sort of frosty hedgehog-like creature. Not certain what it was, I decided I had better get dressed before investigating.

Trampled shopping bags were scattered all over the yard, and I scanned the area, trying to locate everyone. I finally spotted Nerissa, in her werepuma form, and Delilah, who was still in panther form. They'd treed something, and both big cats were standing up against the trunk staring at whatever it was they'd managed to trap in the branches.

Menolly was up on top of the roof. She was after-what the hell? It looked like some sort of gremlin. She was climbing along the shingles, but the creature scampered over the tiles as if it were running on flat ground.

Rozurial was nowhere in sight, and Iris and Chase had taken off for Iris's house. Vanzir was struggling with a figure beneath a cedar. They were rolling around on the ground, locked in a wrestling match, and I heard Vanzir utter a string of curses. Shade was chasing another glimmer around toward the backyard.

Motherfucking son of a bitch, what the hell was going on?

Just then, one of the Fae guards who patrolled our land ran over to my side, panting. "Camille-we're overrun. Four of the men are out back fighting a group of barbegazi. And two of the men are chasing a couple of ice wolves."

"Barbegazi? Ice wolves? What the hell are they?" I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but then again, there was a lot I'd learned the hard way that I wished I didn't have to know about.

"Barbegazi are creatures from the Northlands. They're very much like dwarves only smaller and hardier. Usually they're kindly natured but this batch appears to be a particularly surly lot. As for the ice wolves, they are also known as amaroks, at least to one Earthside tribal group. They're wolf demons, dangerous and hungry for human flesh." The guard glanced around, shaking his head. "I don't know what happened, or where all of these creatures came from. The wards suddenly went off and we were swarming with them."

"The rogue portal out back? Could they have come through there?" I motioned toward the porch steps, which were surprisingly clear. "I need to get dressed and get back out here."

He followed me up the stairs. "No, the portal hasn't been active at all. I-"

As we entered the house, he fell silent. First of all, the foyer was filled with snow. White, cold, sticky wet snow. And it was snowing up a storm. Inside the house. Second, a loud humming emanated from the living room.

"Well . . . this is a new look. Ice palace décor, for the win." But my sarcasm fell flat, even to my own ears, as I stared at snow on the floor. All twelve to fourteen inches of snow. My feet were beginning to freeze.

"Wait here, Lady Camille." The guard plowed his way into the living room, then within moments returned. "There's a portal in your living room. The snow's coming through there. Ten to one, that's where all of these creatures came from, too."

A portal? In the living room?

"Okay, then, well. I don't know what to say to that." I wanted to
go prowling around, looking for Maggie, but Smoky had promised he would let me know the moment he found them and truth was, I was starting to chill. "Come with me, please. I need to change and I don't know what else might be rampaging through the house. I'd rather not be surprised while I'm getting dressed." I darted through the snow, wincing as the sting of the frozen water hit my feet. The guard- whose name was Dez-followed me, sword out and ready.

The snow was beginning to drift up the living room walls and out into the foyer and the parlor. But even more alarming, the room was also decked out in the most garish holiday décor I had ever seen. In one corner stood a ten-foot-tall tree, blazing with neon flashing blue and green lights that made my eyes hurt. The lights also ran the length of the room, following the ceiling around to form a terrifyingly bright border. Huge, ugly, acrylic ornaments bedecked the tree, catching and reflecting the lights like crazed prisms.

"What the fuck...it looks like Crack Santa and his methed-out elves descended on our living room."

"I don't know, Lady Camille." Sheepishly, he said, "I thought perhaps you decorated before you left for your shop- ping trip."

"Oh, hell no. This mess? I have better taste than that. And you know Iris...yeah..."

The thought of Iris allowing such a tawdry show in our living room almost made me laugh. Thoroughly confused, I turned to the portal, which was shimmering in the opposite corner near the window. It was swirling with icy blue sparkles. I had no clue to where it led, and I sure as hell wasn't going to dive through to find out.

"Okay, upstairs, to my rooms."

As we headed up to the second story, the chill followed. It was still snowing when we reached my suite of rooms and by the time we entered my bedroom, I could see my breath and my toes were numb.

Dez made a quick survey around the room and ascertained that nothing was amok-or at least, nothing was running amok.

I stripped down as he kept watch. The Fae-including half-Fae like myself-generally weren't modest or embarrassed by nudity, and he stood by the door, guarding me, without so much as blinking an eye.

Slipping into my ready-to-rumble catsuit that I wore when I knew we had a fight on our hands, I zipped it up and slid on a pair of kitten-heel granny boots. Then, slinging a belt around my hips, I fastened on the sheath containing my silver dagger.

After dressing, I made certain my unicorn horn was still safely hidden away in the secret compartment in my closet. For what we seemed to be facing, I didn't think we'd need to use it. I wasn't about to deplete its power this far from the new moon unless it was absolutely necessary.

Once I was finished, I slipped a capelet over my shoulders for extra warmth and quickly scrubbed the streaked makeup off my face. My eyeliner and mascara had survived-they were waterproof-but everything else was a lost cause. Less than ten minutes after we hit my bedroom, I was finished and ready to rock.

"Okay, back down to the first floor."

But as we reached the landing, I paused. Someone was coming up the steps. I pulled out my dagger as Dez held his sword at the ready.

As the sound of footsteps rounded the turn, I held my breath, but then let it out in one big exhale as I saw it was Smoky, looking grim. My heart skidded to a halt.

"Maggie-?"

"Maggie's safe and sound," he said before I could burst into tears. "Hanna took her down to Menolly's lair when the shit hit the fan. I told her to stay there for now. But that portal in the living room? I know where it goes. I hopped through to find out what the hell was going on."

"Where does it lead? And can you close it?" We followed him as he turned, heading back down the stairs.

Smoky shook his head, glancing over his shoulder. "No, I can't close it. The gate was opened by powerful magic, and I can't do anything about it. But as I said, I crossed over to see where it led. I'm not sure who the hell did this, but the portal? It leads into the Northlands, as far as I can tell."

My heart began to beat faster. The Northlands could be reached via Otherworld, and through perilous routes up in the higher reaches over here, Earthside. I had a lot of bad associations with the lands at the top of the world. A lot of harsh, volatile creatures made their homes there, including dragons like Smoky's father, who had imprisoned and tortured me.

"So the question is, who opened this portal, and why?"

"Right now, I think the more important question is: Just what all has come through so far? And what else can we expect before we manage to close it down?" Smoky's grim smile deepened. "Let's get back outside, woman. We need to do something to stop that yeti from trampling the yard."

I turned to the guard. "Dez, stay here, please, and guard the portal. Don't put your life in danger, but if something else comes through, do your best to stop it if you can. And if you can't, get the hell outside so we know what we're facing next."

With that, Smoky and I headed back outside, into the fray.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

AJ Roach: Devil May Dance
Air: Moon Fever, Napalm Love, Surfing on a Rocket, Playground Love
Amethystium: Shadow to Light, Enchantment, Fairyland
Android Lust: Saint Over, Here and Now, God in the Hole,
Awolnation: Sail

Black Angels, The: The Return, You on the Run, Evil Things, Black isn't Black, Young Men Dead, Manipulation, Phosphene Dream
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Feel it Now
Bravery, The: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside, The Hight Road
Bryan Adams: Run To You, Heat of the Night

Crazy Town: Butterfly
Cure, the: From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea; The Hanging Garden

Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart

Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Souljacker Part 1

Faun: Iduna, Hymn to Pan, Arcadia, Sieben, Rad
Feeling, the: Sewn
Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks

Garbage: Queer, #1 Crush, I Think I'm Paranoid,
Gary Numan: I Am Dust; Here in the Black; Everything Comes Down To This; A Shadow Falls on Me, Splinter, Haunted, Melt, Cars (re-mix), Petals
Godsmack: Voodoo

Hanni El Khatib: Come Alive

In Strict Confidence: Silver Bullets, Snow White, Tiefer, Silver Tongues

Kyuss: Space Cadet

Lady Gaga: Teeth, I Like it Rough, Paparazzi
Ladytron: Destroy Everything You Touch, I'm Not Scared, Ghosts
Lord of the Lost: Sex on Legs
Loreena McKennitt: The Mummer's Dance

Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon, Tainted Love, Personal Jesus
Mark Lanegan: Methamphetamine Blues; Phantasmagoria Blues; Gravedigger's Song; Riot in My House, Black Pudding, Pentacostal
Morcheeba: Even Though

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand, Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore

Orgy: Blue Monday, Social Enemies

Peaches: Boys Wanna Be Her
PCD: Buttons, Don't Cha

REM: Drive
Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl, American Witch, Mars Needs Women, Never gonna Stop

Scorpions: The Zoo
Screaming Trees: Where The Twain Shall Meet, Dime Western, Gospel Plow
Stone Temple Pilots: Sour Girl, Atlanta

Tamaryn: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming, Violet's in a Pool, The Waves, Afterlight, Transcendent Blue
Thompson Twins: The Gap, Love on Your Side, All Fall Out, Watching, Doctor! Doctor!
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance
Transplants: Diamonds and Guns

Verve, The: Bitter Sweet Symphony

Warchild: Ash

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Crimson Veil by Yasmine Galenorn (book 15 of the New York Times Bestselling Otherworld Series)

Berkley (Mass Market);
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Urban Fantasy

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae ex-operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Camille is a wicked good witch with three gorgeous husbands. Delilah is a two-faced werecat and a Death Maiden. And me? I'm Menolly, a vampire married to a scorching hot werepuma. And right now, we're facing enemies on all sides...

It's been a long and devastating week. Back in Otherworld, war has decimated the elfin city of Elqaneve, our father has gone missing, and Shadow Wing has managed to obtain another spirit seal. On the home front, somebody burned down my bar--the Wayfarer--killing eight people, including a friend.

To make matters worse, we still haven't found a way to stop Lowestar Radcliff--the daemon in charge of a supernatural corporate power grab. He's attempting to awaken Suvika, the lord of vice and corrupt businessmen, and we have to stop him. Our enemies are closing in on all sides, and this time, there's no place to hide...

Published:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

The sky was clear for once, though rain was forecast before morning. The moon glimmered, her faint sliver shining down over the cemetery. Soon she would be new, dark, and hiding her face. A steady flurry of gusts rocked the trees, the silhouettes of their boughs shaking like tall sentinels sounding the alarm. It was the perfect night for a funeral. A funeral none of us wanted to be at.

We were gathered at the Seryph Point Cemetery, around the open grave. A small group we were, not many there to send off our friend to the afterlife. There was me, Menolly, and my wife Nerissa. My sisters Camille and Delilah stood beside us. Derrick Means was here-my bartender. And Tavah, Digger, and Kendra-all from the Wayfarer. Chase had joined us, as did Mallen. We had asked our men to stay home, to watch over the house. As I said, we were just a small group, but everyone here had cared, everyone was here because they wanted to be.

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Chrysandra's casket rested in front of us, over the grave on the lowering device. Her body would fade back to the earth, even as we consigned her soul to the long nights of eternity. At the service-which we'd held in our house-Morio and Shade had worked their magic to seal her body in her grave. Nothing save the most powerful necromancer could ever raise Chrysandra's remains. She'd be free from the threat of being turned to a zombie. She'd never come back as one of the undead. Her soul was long gone and her body would be free to undergo its natural breakdown, undisturbed from the machinations of sorcery.

We had said our good-byes at the house. We had bid her farewell. Now we were here simply to stand witness to the final act. To the last chapter in our friend's life. Chrysandra Reece had been a waitress at the Wayfarer since I first came Earthside. She'd stayed on as I moved from bartender to owner. She'd helped me out, done her job and then some. But Chrysandra had been a private person. We still knew nothing of her family. It was like she'd left every trace of her past behind her, put it in a safe box and buried it somewhere to keep it hidden. Even now, in death, all we had left of her were these-her mortal remains.

I'd gone through her effects, helped Chase clear out her apartment after the fire that had destroyed my bar and the lives of eight people caught in the flames, including Chrysandra. We'd torn the place apart, but there had been nothing to indicate that she'd had any life before she first came to the bar. I was beginning to suspect she'd been in the Witness Protection Program, but if so, they seem to have left her unsupervised. Whatever the case, Chrysandra had died as she had lived-a private person, a loyal employee, and a woman I considered my friend.

As Gage, the funeral tech, lowered the casket into the ground, I closed my eyes. I'd cried myself out. I'd cried when I realized she was dying, in such horrible pain that she couldn't even scream at the hospital. I'd cried as I sucked the life out of her burned and crisped body, ending that pain. And I'd cried till my bloody tears left irremovable stains on my sheets. Now, the tears were gone, and I just wanted to find the arsonist responsible for Chrysandra's death, and the deaths of the others who had perished in the flames.

Gage glanced at me. He might as well be nameless and faceless, for all I knew him, though I knew he was a werewolf. He worked for the funeral home where we'd made Chrysandra's arrangements. We'd limited our transactions with them to buying her casket and paying for her care. She had told me once she wanted to be buried in a simple pine box, unprotected from the elements. She didn't want her body to outlast time. So we'd ordered a hand-carved coffin that was untreated, that would give her up to the earth as it broke down. We'd arranged for Gage to be there, to lower the casket, but we'd taken care of the service ourselves. The funeral director was a Supe, and he understood. He didn't try to push us into buying an armored casket that would last forever.

Silence hung heavy, like fog soup, as we watched the casket descend into the waiting grave. Delilah and Nerissa tossed roses on it. Derrick stared straight ahead, trying not to let anything crack his gruff demeanor, but I knew the werebadger was taking it hard. He and Chrysandra had gotten on, and I suspected they'd been on their way to a romance. Tavah and Digger might be vampires, but they had also been friends, and now watched the proceedings bleakly. Camille stepped forward and gave me a nod. I took hold of her hand as we recited our prayer for the dead.

"What was life has crumbled. What was form, now falls away. Mortal chains unbind and the soul is lifted free. May you find your way to the ancestors. May you find your path to the gods. May your bravery and courage be remembered in song and story. May your parents be proud, and may your children carry your birthright. Sleep, and wander no more."

The words echoed in the night, punctuated only by the sound of the casket as it disappeared from sight. We stepped back and formed a circle around the grave, holding hands. And then, as a cloud passed over the face of the moon, Gage pushed the button on the portable stereo, and "Shuffle Your Feet," by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, echoed into the night. It was Chrysandra's favorite song, and it was the last time it would ever play for her in this world.

#

I recognized the strains of the Stone Temple Pilots echoing out from the crowded club. As much as I'd wanted to hole up with my sisters and wife at home after the funeral, I had an appointment to keep. Roman was waiting for me, and with what had gone on this past week, there would be no downtime for any of us-not for the foreseeable future.

As I threaded my way through the room, the scent of blood hung heavy in the air. The Utopia was a new vampire club. Shikra, the owner, managed to keep on the right side of the Roman's rules, albeit by a narrow margin, so all was good. No bloodwhores on the premises, but contracted private pets were allowed, and feeding on them was acceptable. I still was squicked out by the thought of owning someone just to drink off of them, but since the contract was a two-way street and nobody was here against their will, I couldn't very well impose my morals on the vamps frequenting the joint. Hell, I fed on people-although they were the dregs of society. Life was full of gray areas, and black and white had ceased to exist for me the day Dredge took my life and turned me.

Roman was waiting for me, looking gorgeous as usual. He was wearing black leather pants, a shirt open to the naval, and a burgundy smoking jacket. His long dark hair was pulled back in a smooth ponytail, and his eyes were almost frosted over, he'd been a vampire so long. The Lord of the Vampire Nation, son of Blood Wyne- the Queen of Vampires-Roman had chosen me for his official consort, and he had also re-sired me, taking over as my sire to break a blood bond of which I had needed to divest myself. So, while I was married to Nerissa and in love with her, I was bound to Roman in an unbreakable fashion. And to be honest, I didn't mind so much. He was ancient and dangerous, but seductive and passionate and though I didn't love him, I was able to fully be myself with him.

He stood as I approached, holding out one hand. I took his fingers lightly as he guided me to the booth. Every move he made was smooth and deliberate. Roman did nothing lightly, nothing without a reason.

"Menolly, love. Sit." He used the word casually, but every time it still set off an uneasy feeling. I'd warned Roman not to fall in love with me-I could sleep with him but I couldn't return his love. Nerissa held my heart, and I held hers.

Roman motioned to the waitress. Only vamps worked at the Utopia; it was too dangerous to have living, breathing staff at a vamp club. But the fang girls and boys were out in droves tonight-FBHs who wanted to walk on the wild side. Full-blood humans here-Earthside-loved vampires as much as they feared us, just like they loved the Fae. We were all dangerous and held the promise of sex and passion, with an intensity that was sadly lacking in a lot of peoples' lives.

"Two bottles of your best, warm." Roman normally disdained bottled blood, but when we were out together, he drank it to appease me. I objected to his bringing members of his stable along on our dates. It wasn't that the other women bothered me-in fact, I wanted him to focus on other women. It was the whole bloodwhores thing again.

I slid into the booth, leaning my head back and closing my eyes for a moment. The silence of my pulse, the silence of my body echoed through me. I had gotten used to having no breath over the years, but there were times I missed the involuntary sigh, the rush of air flowing out as I let go of the stress.

"Was it so hard?" Roman's voice brought me back to the present.

I opened my eyes and gazed at him. "Rough enough."

He gave me a little nod. "I've seen so many people die over the centuries, so I suppose I'm used to it. But each time a friend vanishes into time, into the past, it still hurts." With a soft murmur, he reached out and stroked my face, leaning in for a gentle kiss. "Poor Menolly . . . it has been a harsh week for you."

I stared at the table. Harsh was an understatement. My bar had burned down and eight people had died in the fire. We were trying to break a daemon-run white-slavery ring specializing in Supes, but were having a hard time figuring out how. We'd just met relatives of our mother's, blood relatives at that, and had no clue how they were going to figure into our lives.

And that wasn't the half of it. Back in Otherworld, the Elfin city-Elqaneve-had been destroyed by the sorcerers and we'd been there for the direct hit. Delilah and Camille had struggled to make it out of the war zone. I counted myself lucky that I'd been trapped and rescued without having to run the gauntlet of fire and destruction that the sentient storm that had rained down on the Elfin City. And now, Queen Asteria was dead, our father was dead and presumed missing, and the spirit seals were in jeopardy.

"Yeah, harsh is the word for it, all right. So, did you draw up a list?"

The waitress brought our blood. It was bottled like beer, only the bottles were red to mask the color for squeamish bar patrons, and to differentiate it from the alcoholic beverage. Couldn't have a mix-up.

I cradled the bottle in my hands, then took a long swig. A wave of hunger ran through me as I tasted the blood. If that hunger gnawed too much, I'd want to go out hunting, and right now, I didn't have the heart for it. Too much death, too much anger and fear running rampant in my life.

Roman pulled out his tablet. He'd gone high tech when high tech was still a baby and his ease with the computer world confounded me the more I saw it in action. I hadn't known that little fact about him, not at first, but slowly had begun to realize just how savvy he was. He tapped an icon, then another, and a document sprang up. As he scooted close to me, my skin tingled. He was old-one of the older vampires, son of the queen. And his very presence exuded a magnetism hard to ignore. It made me want to run my hands over his chest, to slam him down on the ground and tear into him, fucking his brains out. That was one thing about being Roman's consort-it gave me the outlet I couldn't have with Nerissa. Roman and I could play rough without hurting each other. In a way, it let me keep my love and passion for my wife safe and secure, keeping her safe from my inner predator.

"Later," he murmured, feeling it too. "We'll play very soon."

"Count on it." I gazed into his eyes, the crackle of energy almost palpable between us. But then, bringing myself back to the task at hand, I took the tablet from him and scanned the document. We really had no clue how many vamps frequented the Wayfarer, but there were some known regulars who had loved hanging out there since I'd become Roman's official consort. And that list ran to over forty names.

As I looked it over , I recognized a number of them. Roman had rushed to pull this together, putting his best men on it. The names had been highlighted with two colors. Green meant the vampire had been accounted for. Yellow meant they were missing and nobody had been able to get in touch with them. Out of the forty-two names, thirteen were highlighted in yellow. Their last known contact was listed, as well. I winced. That meant we potentially had thirteen more victims.

"Can you sort these out from the others and e-mail them to my phone?" I'd given in and accepted that I needed an e-mail address, as much as I hadn't wanted to go that route. Delilah had embraced her laptop. Camille had embraced her iPhone. I hadn't fallen in love with either one yet, though I had to admit, I loved my iPod, especially since I could plug it into my car.

"Hand it over." He tapped away while I sipped the rest of my blood.

"Should I track them down?" I didn't relish the legwork. It wasn't that I was lazy, but we had so much going on that tracking missing vamps who might already be dead seemed like a colossal time suck.

"I've already got my men on it." He punched one final button and I heard a little swoosh sound. The next moment, my phone pinged and the list was in my e-mail inbox.

I played with the bottle, sliding it around on the table. "Thanks. By the way, in addition to trying to figure out who burned down the Wayfarer-they're pretty sure it's arson by now-I have the lovely privilege of having been served with a lawsuit. Don't know if I told you that. Add yet another thing to the week-from-hell list."

"What are you talking about?" Roman set down his tablet.

"I'm being sued for wrongful death or some such crap. One of the victim's families wasted no time in snagging a lawyer and slapping me with a lawsuit. Makes me wonder just how much they actually gave a damn for their daughter." Feeling terribly grumpy, I reached in my purse and pulled out the summons I'd received the night before and tossed it on the table. "Lovely, huh?"

Roman silently opened it, scanned it through-he read incredibly fast and I guessed his intelligence to be genius level-and then thoughtfully folded it back up and set it on the table.

"Bullshit. I'll have my lawyer contact you and we'll put a stop to this folly." He shook his head. "Money grubbing bastards."

"Chase said he'd find me a lawyer-"

"Nonsense. I have the best money can buy. You are my consort. That's all there is to it." He frowned, worrying his lower lip with his fangs. Then he placed his hand over mine. "I want to talk to you about something-two things actually. First, I want to pay for the rebuilding of your establishment."

Roman, pay for rebuilding the Wayfarer? As much as I cared for him and was bound to him, I still didn't fully trust him. I knew that Camille and Delilah assumed that I'd given myself fully over, and it was true, now that he was my sire I had to answer to him. But that didn't stop me from keeping my eyes open.

I shook my head. "Thank you, but no. Smoky and Shade have already offered and I've accepted. Dragons horde treasure beyond even ancient vamps. They want to do this and I'd like to let them." It was, I thought, the most tactful way around saying, "Thanks but I don't want you having a stake in my bar." Of course, Roman was smart enough to know what I was up to, but decorum had been observed and I knew him well enough to figure he'd accept my wishes.

He just laughed. "I know what you're pulling. Fine, then. Refuse my help. But if you need it, all you have to do is ask. I truly do not have a hidden agenda in helping you, you know. But Menolly, we'll find out who did this. I promise you all the help I can give to finding out who torched your bar. And when we do . . . they'd better pray to whatever gods they follow."

His voice was soft, low, and curled around me, inviting me in. I leaned closer to him and he wrapped his arm around me, pressing his lips to mine. I leisurely let his tongue dart between my lips and returned the kiss, melting into his embrace. It was long and slow, without pressure. We both knew that tonight was a no-go and that I needed to head home, so we left it at that. But it stoked my fire, and I knew that once I reached home, I'd be dragging Nerissa down to our lair, to fuck her brains out.

Finally, I pulled away. "What's the other thing you wanted to ask me?"

He cocked his head, the frost of his eyes glittering. "It's about your daughter, Erin."

I'd turned exactly one person: Erin Mathews. Former owner of the Scarlet Harlot lingerie boutique, she'd been captured when my former sire came looking for me to finish the job he'd started. Erin was almost dead when we got to her, and I'd given her the option of letting me turn her into a vampire. Otherwise, she would have died. She'd chosen eternal life, and, just like that, I'd birthed a middleaged daughter. Erin was smart, and she was learning quickly how to adapt.

"What about her?" Erin had been working as secretary for Vampires Anonymous, a self-help club for newly minted vamps. Run by a friend-Wade Stevens, a vampire and former psychologist who had taken it upon himself to help the newly turned-the VA provided a place where the undead could bridge the gap with their living family and friends and learn how to coexist without giving in to their inner predators.

"I want to take her out of the VA. She's got the nature I'm looking for. I'd like to train her for my security department. She could rise quickly in the ranks." The tone of Roman's voice told me that he wasn't going to give up on this one without a fight.

I thought about the offer. Truthfully, Erin would probably love it. She wanted to be useful. Erin wasn't a woman who was happy sitting around. She'd hated the inactivity that Sassy had forced on her when I had left her with the socialite vamp. Sassy Branson had been a dear friend, but her inner predator had finally won out. I'd had to take her out-a promise I'd made when she was still in control of herself. Erin's job she had now made her happy, but I knew she was itching for more to do, and she had too much talent and know-how to waste.

"I'll stop on the way home and offer her the opportunity. If she's up for it, no problem. Might do her a lot of good. If not, then you'll let her be."

He nodded. "Fair enough."

I paused, then decided to approach a subject that had been bugging me for a week or two. I hadn't even told my sisters about it yet. "You know . . . lately, I've had the feeling I'm being watched."

Roman cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

"For the past week or so, I have felt that somebody has been watching over my shoulder. But I haven't been able to pinpoint who it might be. Or, maybe . . . maybe it's just my imagination. Anyway, I'd better head out. They're waiting for me at home." I slugged back the last drops of blood and shook my head to clear my thoughts.

Before I could slide out of the booth, the owner of the Utopia-Shikra-glided up to our table. She was silent, like most vamps, and absolutely gorgeous. Her hair was full and thick, shoulder length and a tawny wheat color that reminded me of my Nerissa. Her eyes were icy blue-she had only been a vampire for five years, if I remembered right, but she had adapted quickly. She was wearing a PVC dress, with a zipper pulled down around her navel. She'd had implants before she died and her breasts were two glorious globes but they looked fake as hell. I wondered how being a vampire affected having implants, but decided to keep my mouth shut for now.

"I trust the service was good? And your drinks?" She gave a little dip, curtseying to Roman. Which was smart, considering his status.

He glanced at me and I nodded. It had become my place to answer the niceties such as questions like this when we were out. It was part of my job, and considered beneath Roman's stature.

"Wonderful, and great service." I gave her a toothy smile.

"I wondered . . ." Shikra paused.

"Yes?" Again, my place to answer. It was also my job to field queries coming at Roman when we were out together unless his bodyguard intervened.

"I need to ask Lord Roman's advice, if I may. Something has come up and I don't quite know what to do. I thought about approaching the police, but something just . . . is warning me not to."

She looked so worried that I motioned for her to sit down without asking Roman if he was willing to listen. But he simply waited for her to join us.

"What seems to be the problem?" Roman leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table, his gaze locking hers. That was one thing that made him so popular-when he turned his attention to someone or something, he gave it total focus with an intensity that was almost frightening.

Shikra pulled out a letter and put it on the table. "I received this the other day. It was followed up by two anonymous phone calls. I think there's a connection but I can't prove it. I'll let you read the letter first."

The minute I picked up the paper, I recognized what it was. I'd seen the same thing come through my office-on the same letterhead. From some company called Vistar-Tashdey Enterprises, it was an offer to buy the Utopia Club from Shikra. Strongly worded, it was almost a demand, when I read through it again. There were no names listed, no signature other than that of the lawyer representing VT Enterprises. Same as the one I'd received.

On edge-the letter was as off-putting and self-important as the one I'd received had been-I held up the paper. "Can I have a copy of this? Do you have a copy machine on the premises?"

She took it. "Yes, I'll have one made. But this isn't the only problem. Last night, and then about an hour ago, I received two phone calls. Someone threatened to burn down the club. No reasoning, no blackmail demands. Just a gruff voice, making a death threat. I have no idea if the caller was male or female-the voice sounded disguised."

A shiver ran through me. "Roman . . . "

He seemed to be thinking along the same wavelength. "You're thinking there may be a connection?"

I nodded. "Could be. As far as the letter, can you think of some reason anyone would want to buy your club? No offense, but . . . are you making a ton of money?"

Shikra shook her head. "That puzzles me, too. Oh, I'm getting by-business isn't bad. But it's not the best, either. There's no real reason to buy me out unless they want the land the building is on."

I didn't want to tell her about my experience-not yet. Not until we knew what was going on. "Make us a copy of the letter, please Do you happen to have a recording of the messages that came through?" I knew it was a slim chance, but thought I'd ask anyway.

As I thought, she didn't. "No, I took the calls when they came in. The voice was the same both times, and it sounded muffled, like whoever it was, was trying to disguise it. And both times, the calls were short. I asked questions-or tried to, but they didn't answer."

"What did they say, exactly?" Roman glanced around the club and I followed his gaze.

The Utopia was unlike most vamp clubs, decked out in vivid crimson, green, gold, and black. The setup reminded me of a tropical lounge, with lush ferns and sprawling ivies spilling over the edge of built-in flower boxes. Booths, a muted crimson, were smooth and rounded, curving around dark walnut tables polished to a high sheen. The floor was a tiled linoleum, a black and white speckled pattern. There were no overwhelming drapes anywhere like in some vamp clubs, no highly sexual statues, or macabre images. For the most part, it could have been any upscale chic bar.

Shikra squinted. "Let me try to remember the exact words." After a moment, she shrugged. "He-or she, I have no clue why but I want to say it was a he . . . he said 'Better count your hours, blood sucker, because I'm going to send your fucking club up into flames.' And then he paused. That's when I asked what the hell was going on. He hung up." She shivered, rubbing her arms. Vamps didn't feel the cold much, but I knew it wasn't a chill hitting her.

I closed my eyes. That almost mirrored to the exact word what my caller had said. The only difference had been, "Better count your hours, blood sucker, because I'm going to take you and your fucking bar down so hard you'll never get up."

That was all she could remember. Roman told her to put a recorder on the club phone and see if she could capture the message if the freak called back, and then she went to print out a copy of the letter for me.

As we headed out, I glanced back at the Utopia. "I hope it's just somebody's bad idea of a practical joke." But as I stared at the neon sign, I kept seeing the flames engulfing the Wayfarer. "I hope to hell that's all it is."

Roman walked me to my car.

I stood by the Jag, staring into the night. "I'll drop by Erin's and ask her about the job opportunity. I'll call or have her call you tomorrow night."

And then, Roman drew me in for a quick kiss. His bodyguards were in the background, studiously ignoring us as his hands slipped over my body, cupping my butt. I moaned into his mouth, then pulled away.

"Night doll," he whispered, then ushered me into my car, shutting the door when I was in. As I drove off, he stood there, one hand raised, watching me go.

#

I stopped by Sassy Branson's old mansion-which was now both the headquarters for the Seattle Vampire Nexus, and Vampires Anonymous. Located on two acres, the estate was gorgeous and the mansion spacious. I stopped at the gate to show my idea. When Sassy had been alive, there had been a simple intercom system, but back then, nobody outside the vampire community knew she was a vamp, and she hadn't been all that nervous. Now, there was good reason to post armed guards around the perimeter, given the hate groups that were alive and thriving.

The guards told me that Erin was out for the evening-she was off to a movie with friends, so I left a message for her to call me when she got home, and pulled out of the driveway.

I glanced at the clock. Ten o'clock. It felt odd not be down at the Wayfarer at this time. I told myself not to, but I couldn't help it. I drove by the ruins of my bar and parked outside the burned out shell. Slowly, after a moment, I got out of the car and picked my way through the rubble, which still hadn't been cleaned up, and entered the hollow husk of the building. The sky had clouded over and the scent of rain hung heavy.

As I stood on the threshold of what had been my bar, my stomach lurched. The Wayfarer had become more than a business to me. It had become a friend. And now, that friend was as dead as Chrysandra. I started to turn away when I thought I saw something in the corner. I spun around, ready to defend myself, but there, in the murky pile of sodden wood and plaster, hovered a faint white light. I could swear a face stared at me from the mist, but then it vanished as lightning crashed overhead and the rain began to pound down in a steady stream. I gave one last glance in the corner, but now there was nothing there. Heading back to my car, I wondered if it had been Chrysandra's spirit-was she out wandering? Or one of the others who had died?

Feeling numb again, and weary, I climbed back in my Jag and headed for home.

The road out to Belles-Faire was slick, the water beading across it as the steady rain became a downpour. My wipers were going full steam and I was doing my best to see between the streams of water racing down my windshield. As I neared the turn that would take me to our house, a blur emerged at top speed from one of the driveways.

Fuck! Another car!

I slammed on the brakes and the Jag began to spin. As I drove into the skid, trying to regain control, the other car loomed large and I realized I was headed straight for it.

Holy fuck, this was bad-this was so bad. I considered jumping from the car-I could do it and live, but then my Jag would become a missile bearing down on the incoming vehicle without any constraint.

So I did what I could. Muscles and reflexes took over as I attempted to gain control of the spinning car. Closer . . .closer, the other car was in front of me now and also skidding into circles. And then, everything blurred as my Jag carried me into a crazy dance directly into the other car's embrace.

The crash was surprisingly muffled, but then a loud shriek filled the air as metal slid along metal and my airbag deployed. It was like being hit with a sledge hammer. As my Jag rolled to a stop, I realized that I was still sitting there, still intact. Instinct took over-and I forced my hands to unbuckle my seatbelt, then struggled to open the door. I half climbed, half fell out of my car, stumbling out of the way. I'd seen too many movies where the cars went up in flames, but so far that didn't seem to be happening.

After a moment when there didn't seem to be any flames, I patted myself down. I was okay. Jarred but all right. I turned my attention to the other car. The heel on my boot was broken, so I limped over and yanked open the driver door, which was a mangled mess. My strength allowed me to pry it loose, though. With growing relief, I saw that the only occupant in the car seemed to be the driver-a youngish woman. But she looked unconscious, and I could only pray that she wasn't dead.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

3 Doors Down: Loser

AC/DC: Back in Black
Adam Lambert: Mad World
Adele: Rumour Has It
Agnes Obel: Close Watch
Air: Napalm Love; Moon Fever; Playground Love;
AJ Roach: Devil May Dance
Alice Cooper: Go to Hell; I'm the Coolest
Amanda Blank: Something Bigger, Something Better; Shame on Me
Android Lust: Saint Over; Here and Now; When the Rains Came; Dragonfly;
Arcade Fire: Abraham's Daughter
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Out of Frequency; Sunshine Coolin'; The Sun Ain't Shining No More; Bad Fever
Awolnation: SAIL

Bangles: Walk Like An Egyptian
Black Angels, The: You On the Run; Manipulation; Vikings; Indigo Meadow; Twisted Light; Phosphorene Dream; Haunting at 1300 McKinley
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Shuffle Your Feet
Blondie: I Know But I Don't Know
Bravery, The: Believe
Bret Michaels: Love Sucks
Broken Bells: October; The High Road; The Ghost Inside
Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth

Cat Power: I Don't Blame You
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game
Commodores: Brick House
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Cul de Sac: The Invisible Worm
Cure, The: Charlotte Sometimes, The Hanging Garden;

David Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans; Without You; Let's Dance; Sister Midnight; Rebel Rebel; Golden Years
Depeche Mode: Blasphemous Rumours

Eagles: Life in the Fast Lane
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being

Fatboy Slim: Praise You
Feeling, The: Sewn
Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks

Garbage: Queer; I Think I'm Paranoid; Bleed Like Me; Sex Is Not The Enemy; Blood For Poppies; I Hate Love
Gary Numan: Down in the Park; Are Friends Electric; I, Assassin; Metal; Stories; War Songs; My Shadow In Vain; My Breathing
Gotye: Heart's A Mess

Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne

King Black Acid: Rolling Under; One and Only
Kinks, The: Destroyer
Kraftwerk: Pocket Calculator
Kyuss: Thong Song; Thumb; Space Cadet

Lady Gaga: Poker Face; I Like it Rough;
Ladytron: Predict the Day; Black Cat
Larry Tee & Princess Superstar: Licky (Vandalism Remix)
Low: Half Light
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Sweet Home Alabama; Saturday Night Special

Mark Lanegan: Bleeding Muddy Water; Phatasmagoria Blues; Miracle; Pentacostal (with Duke Garwood)
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance

Oingo Boingo: Weird Science

People In Planes: Vampire

Screaming Trees: Gospel Plow; Where the Twain Shall Meet; Dime Western
Scorpions, The: The Zoo; Send Me An Angel
Shriekback: New Man; Dust and a Shadow;
Stone Temple Pilots: No Way Out; Glide;

Talking Heads: I Zimbra; Slippery People
Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
Thompson Twins: Watching; Love On Your Side

Wang Chung: Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Verve, The: Bittersweet Symphony

Yoko Kanno: Lithium Flower

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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