Shadow Shifter – Chapter One

Chapter 1

“I spent two weeks perfecting that spell. Now I wish I hadn’t.”

Velma didn’t respond—not so much as a meow. I glanced at her where she sat on the corner of my kitchen counter, watching the wooden spoon as it rotated around and around in the bowl by itself. I flicked my fingers and the spoon stopped. Velma looked at me, eyes accusing. Her ear twitched and I bit back a smile.

The spell had been a special request from Katherine Quinn, a cougar shifter and one of Chicago’s elite. Katherine and her family came from old money, so when she rang requesting that you cater an informal soirée for her son, Wes, and that you also infuse the dessert cupcakes with something extra special, you didn’t argue. Katherine had wanted her guests infused with love and acceptance. A tough one. Too much love, and it would tip into lust, and then you’d have people making out with random strangers. I knew because I’d tested the first batch in my shop, with disastrous results. I’d had to counteract the spell, settling instead for happiness and acceptance, and then tweak it to find the right level of both.

What I hadn’t expected was for one of Katherine’s guests to choke on a cupcake. Ted McNeil had been Wes’s best friend. He’d been wolfing down one of my creations when he turned blue in the face, clutched his throat, and keeled over. Even my magic couldn’t save him. Katherine and Wes had proceeded to call the authorities and soothe their spooked guests, keeping them calm. I couldn’t say I would have acted the same if I had been in their shoes. If someone dropped dead at my party, I’d be freaking out big time. I shrugged—just went to show I was totally out of their league.

Ruffling Velma behind the ears, I set the wooden spoon to stirring again. I needed more good luck brownies for my coffee shop, Jam, along with another two dozen confidence cookies that were now baking in the oven.

“Meow.”

“What is it, girl?”

The doorbell chimed. Velma had the uncanny ability to predict whenever someone was about to ring the damn thing. She hated interruptions as much as I did. She jumped down from the counter as I wiped my flour-covered hands on my jeans and headed for the front door. I waited until Velma had disappeared upstairs before opening it.

“Yes?” Before me towered a god. Or as near as. Over six feet of very well put-together male stood on my front step, dark hair tousled as if he’d run his fingers through it countless times, five o’clock shadow dusting his chiseled jaw. I mean, he was a cliché on legs, and I didn’t mind admitting that just the sight of him did funny things to my insides.

“Kristina Gates?” One dark brow arched over eyes as black as night.

“Who’s asking?” I leaned against the door frame, folding my arms across my chest to stop myself from reaching out and running my fingers over his pecs. And abs. He had to have rock-hard abs under that black T-shirt he wore, right?

I blinked at the badge he suddenly thrust in my face. A Watcher from the Council. Well, that was unexpected.

“Watcher Ben Hoffman. Can I have a word?”

“Sure.”

“Can I come in?”

I heaved a sigh, turning inside. “I guess.”

I heard the front door close and could feel the heat of his body as he followed close behind. I turned into the living area, sending a quick flick of magic to halt the spoon stirring in the kitchen.

“Have a seat.” I indicated the sofa while I perched on one of the mismatched armchairs. “So what does the Council want with little old me?”

“I’m investigating the death of Ted McNeil. Know him?” he asked.

“I do.” The guy who’d choked on my cupcake. I guess I should have expected some sort of investigation, but after I’d given my statement to the police yesterday, I’d been free to go, and I hadn’t expected any further questioning, let alone from a Watcher.

“But…he was human, right? Why is a Watcher investigating?” I clutched a hand to my throat. “Is it because of me? My cupcakes had magic, is that why?”

“I’ll ask the questions if you don’t mind.” His face was impassive as he pulled out his phone and flicked through the screen. He scanned the contents, then looked back at me.

“You were hired by Katherine Quinn to cater the party she held yesterday in Lincoln Park?”

“She hired me to cater the dessert buffet, yes. The savory side of things was handled by another caterer.”

“Yes, right, I have that here.” Ben scrolled through his screen again. “Jodi O’Flannigan of Flans and Things.”

I snickered. I’d always thought Jodi had chosen an atrocious name for her business, a play on her surname, but hey, to each her own.

“Why didn’t Mrs. Quinn contract Jodi to do the dessert buffet as well?”

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask her,” I lied.

Ben met my eyes, his gaze drilling into me with laser precision. I got the feeling he knew I was lying. The truth was, my desserts rocked, thanks to my touch of magic. Jodi had been trying to replicate my desserts for months with no success. And that was why Katherine had hired me—because my cupcakes were magical.

“She told me the cupcakes were a special request,” he continued, without calling me on the lie, which got my attention. Why would a Watcher let a lie slide? Interesting.

Velma padded into the room, winding herself around Ben’s legs. He absently stroked her and she purred. My mouth fell open. Velma hated strangers and most definitely didn’t allow them to stroke her, let alone offer up a purr. I frowned, examining him closely.

He noticed my scrutiny, the corner of his lip turned up in a smirk.

“Worked it out yet?” he asked.

I shook my head. Nope. He was something, all right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not a shifter. Definitely not a vamp. But something. The Council appointed different species as Watchers, similar to the police in human terms, so it was a given that he was some sort of paranormal. I just couldn’t put my finger on what he was exactly.

“This might help.” With the slightest of hand gestures, his whole body shimmered, and I saw him. The real him. Physically, he looked the same, but now I could see his magic.

“You’re a witch! Or a wizard, or warlock, or whatever you guys call yourselves.”

“Witch is fine.”

As his words sank in, my thoughts returned to why he was here. “Why did the Council send you? While Ted’s death is tragic and I feel terrible, I don’t understand why choking warrants an investigation by a Watcher.” The Council ruled over all paranormals. If we broke any rules, we had them to answer to. If they were looking into a human death, it could only mean one thing. Trouble.

“He didn’t choke.” Ben leaned back against the sofa, his sharp gaze never leaving me.

“He didn’t?”

“He was poisoned.”

I bit my lip. “Oh, shit.”

“Exactly,” he said, nodding.

“You think I did it.”

“Not necessarily. But I need to ask you some questions.”

 My breath puffed out and I sank back into my chair, stunned. My cupcake had been poisoned. Implicating me! I bristled, on the defensive.

“I can assure you, Watcher, I did not poison my own cupcakes. I would never wish to harm another person, nor would I risk my reputation, my business.”

Ignoring my passionate outburst, Ben said, “Take me through the afternoon. Step by step.”

“Well…okay. The event was an afternoon tea type affair, due to start at four. I arrived at two to begin setting up. It actually didn’t take me that long. I was all done by three, so I chatted with some of the wait staff—I’d met some of them before on other catering jobs. Like the Corosoes’ wedding anniversary last month. That was a cracker of a night…” I trailed off, lost in the memory until he cleared his throat, bringing my attention back.

“You stay—you attend the events you cater?”

“Yes. It’s good networking for my business. Once people taste my desserts, they usually have questions, and I like to inform them firsthand. Plus, I supply my own trays and cake stands, so I can pack them up and bring them home with me when we’re done and not risk having them disappear into the back of another caterer’s truck.”

“McNeil died just after six. What were you doing between four and six, once the event started?”

“I pretty much stayed by the buffet table. It didn’t get much attention until around five, five-thirty. Most people go for the savory first, then move on to dessert, but a few people who know me skipped the savory buffet and came straight to me. I spent a few minutes chatting with them, introducing them to new cupcakes they may not have tried before. Plus, I kept the cake trays well stocked and fresh. If someone swiped their finger through the icing on a cupcake, for a sneaky taste, I’d swap it out for a fresh one, that type of thing.”

“People do that?”

“All the time.”

“And you stayed at the dessert buffet table the entire time?” he pressed.

“I went for a toilet break at about a quarter to six or thereabouts.” I shrugged. Who could remember intricate details of potty breaks?

“How long were you gone?”

“I don’t know. How long does it take to pee and wash your hands? Not long.”

“Did you know Ted McNeil?” He switched tack and it took me a second to catch up.

“In passing. He’s been in my shop a time or two, but usually, he sends his assistant in to get his coffee.” I shrugged. Ted was a big deal in the business world, but from what I’d seen, he was also a bit of a jerk.

“You haven’t catered any events for him?”

“No. I believe Jodi has a catering contract with him.”

“What magic did you infuse the cupcakes with? Specifically, the cupcakes with the blue butterfly icing.” This time he showed me his phone, the image of my blue cupcake on the screen.

“Happiness and acceptance. All of the desserts were infused with happiness and acceptance, not just the blue butterflies.”

“Why did you choose that?”

“I didn’t. Katherine requested it.”

“Do you know why?”

“You’ll have to ask her Watcher.” I shrugged. I’d thought it an unusual request, but it’s not up to me to question my clients. I simply do as they ask.

“She knows you’re a witch?”

“I would assume so, just as I know she’s a shifter. I follow the Council rules, Watcher. I don’t reveal my powers to humans.”

“Yet you use magic in your cakes.”

“I have permission from the Council, as long as I don’t use anything that takes away free will, such as love potions. I stick to things like good luck, adrenaline, confidence, inspiration, that sort of thing.” I paused. “Can I ask a question?”

“Sure.”

“What was the poison?”

“Abatwa poison.” He watched me, waited while recognition kicked in.

“We have Abatwa? In Chicago?” The Abatwa were a tiny race, so small they could hide beneath a blade of grass, but you’d be a fool to underestimate them. They were voracious eaters; a tribe of them could strip a large animal in a day. And they were very, very, sensitive about their size. Insult them, and you could find yourself on the wrong end of a poison arrow. If you were to accidentally tread on one, it would be futile to make any long term plans, because that little poison arrow would pierce the sole of your shoe, delivering the deadly toxin.

“Wait!” I held up a hand. “I’m confused. Are you telling me Abatwa poison was in my cupcake, or that Ted was shot by an Abatwa arrow?” There was a big difference. One could clear my name, while the other would implicate me big time.

“We found trace amounts in the icing of the cupcake.”

“And it was just that one cupcake?”

“We’re still testing them, but yes, it appears it was only in that one cupcake.”

I thought for a moment, my mind a jumble. Besides someone being able to get their hands on Abatwa poison, why poison Ted? Was he even the target, or had there been a mistake? Good question.

“Do you think Ted was the target, or…?”

“Most likely. For someone to go to the trouble of procuring Abatwa poison, they wouldn’t waste it on a random person. This was specific and undetectable by humans. The coroner will find nothing and most likely rule his death a heart attack—he didn’t choke and no food was found in his throat or airway. There were just remnants in his mouth.”

“So if it wasn’t some random thing and anyone could have taken that specific cake, whoever did it had to know he’d pick that one. And they probably planted the poison just beforehand, otherwise they would have risked not only someone else taking it, but me moving things around. I often rotate the cakes. The ones that have been out for a while get moved to the front and the fresh ones go to the back.”

“Are these your cupcakes?” Ben held out his phone, an image glowing on the screen. I leaned forward and squinted at the picture. Sure enough, it showed a cake stand full of cupcakes neatly arranged. Each cake featured a different-colored butterfly, creating a rainbow of pink, blue, green, purple, and yellow.

“Yeah, they look like mine.”

“It looks like a lot of work to individually decorate each cupcake like that.”

“It is. But it’s what I do, Watcher. I don’t just bake, I create.”

Ben rose, sliding the phone into the back pocket of his jeans. I stood facing him.

“So. What now?” I asked.

“I find out who did this.” He grinned, holding out a card to me. “Here’s my number. If you think of anything, call me. Oh, and don’t leave town.”

I took the card, glancing at it. “So I’m really a suspect?” The very idea set my teeth on edge.

“Everyone who attended the party is a suspect. That poison didn’t get into the cupcake on its own.”

“Right. That don’t leave town thing—that’s just a line right? A bit of a joke because that’s what they say in the TV shows?”

“No joke. Why, did you have plans to be somewhere?” He cocked his head.

“Nah. Just curious. I have no plans. I’m usually here or at my shop.”

He nodded. “Thanks for your time, Miss Gates.”

“Call me Kristina. If you’re going to be interrogating me on a regular basis, we may as well use first names. Ben.” I grinned, feeling cheeky. Thankfully, he smiled back instead of slapping me in cuffs and dragging me to the Council.

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I hope you enjoyed this free chapter from Shadow Shifter, my novella in the Midnight Magic Boxed Set. Learn more here

Returned – Chapter One

Jane HIncheyChapter 1

Isn’t it funny how life can change on the basis of one small, inconsequential decision? For me, it was deciding to stop for coffee at the café on the corner of Myrtle and Kain, a bustling little place catering to the local crowd. I stood in line waiting to order while my partner snagged a table by the window. I glanced at him as I shuffled forward in the line. He was gazing out the window, his dark uniform pulling tight across his expansive girth, his face a little too full from the extra weight.

I’d been assigned to Sergeant Bob O’Flanagan since graduating from Redmeadows Police Academy. Bob was an okay guy, if a little sexist and severely lacking in career motivation. In Bob’s world, it was get in, get the job done, get out. In other words, clock in, clock out, and more of the same the next day. It explained why he hadn’t received a promotion in the last ten years, yet Bob was exactly where he wanted to be. Patrolling the streets. I envied him that, for I had enough drive for the both of us. I was coming up to my one-year anniversary, which meant that, now I’d clocked twelve months with wonderful, plodding Bob, I could request a transfer. My goal? Detective in homicide.

“What’ll it be, officer?” The petite brunette behind the counter eyed me nervously, waiting to take my order. Interesting. People who were nervous around police officers usually had something to hide.

“One double shot latte, one long black, to go.”

“Name?”

“Sierra.”

I moved off to the side, waiting for our order and observing the people in the café. A guy at a nearby table was ogling me, his eyes narrowing in on my breasts and lingering there. Pervert.

Our drinks were ready in record time; I was pretty sure the brunette had jumped our order to the front of the line to get rid of us. Some people loved cops, others hated us. Frankly, I didn’t give a shit what anyone thought.

Carrying our drinks back to the table, I slid in opposite Bob, already sipping my steaming latte, closing my eyes on a silent sigh. We were almost at the end of our shift, it’d been a long day, and the caffeine jolt was welcome.

“Whatcha looking at, Sarge?”

His gaze hadn’t left the window since I joined him, although what he could see through the gloom outside was beyond me.

“That guy.” Sarge nodded toward a man leaning against the wall of an alley diagonally opposite, one leg drawn up with his boot against the bricks, dragging deeply on a cigarette, coat pulled tight around him. He did an excellent job of blending in with his surroundings. I hadn’t noticed him until Sarge pointed him out.

But now that I had, he looked as suspicious as shit. With a storm rolling in, a mist-like rain falling, it wasn’t the type of weather you just stood around in.

My eyes met Bob’s. We were thinking the same thing. A deal was about to go down. Possibly drugs. With a small movement of his hand, Bob indicated we should stay put and observe.

I knew Bob was right, but still I itched to take action. It was my downfall, one Bob had warned me about on more than one occasion, a rookie mistake he’d seen before. Apparently us new recruits were incredibly impatient. We had to learn to sit back and wait, allow the scene to unfold before charging in, guns blazing. Well, not literally. I’d never shot anyone and I hoped to God I never would.

The bell above the cafe door chimed and I glanced up to see a blonde woman pulling on her coat as she stepped outside. Juggling her coffee, she flipped open an umbrella and positioned it over her head before crossing the street and making a beeline for the guy in the alley.

Sure enough, she dug into her pocket, pulling out folded notes while balancing the coffee and umbrella in the other hand. The guy straightened and dug around inside his jacket, producing … damn it, I couldn’t see, but it looked like a small bag. My bet was pills.

Bob nodded and we rose, drinks abandoned as we hustled out the door. I kept my eyes on the couple exchanging cash for drugs across the road, cursing when the dealer spotted us and sprinted off into the alley. Shit, shit, shit. Without a second’s thought, I took off in pursuit. He looked scrawny, but he was damn fast on his feet.

Chasing him down a urine-soaked, stink-tank of an alley as nightfall approached was not my idea of fun, but a spark of anger at Bob ignited me, gave me an extra jolt of adrenaline. We’d waited too long and now the bastard was getting away. I bet Bob had collared the blonde, though; she wouldn’t have gotten far in the high-heeled boots she was wearing.

My comms unit crackled at my shoulder. “Got him yet, Walker?”

“In my sights,” I said, puffing, spotting the guy scaling the chain link fence at the end of the alley. “Stop! Police!”

He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes widening as I rested my hand on the firearm at my hip. Instead of stopping, he scrambled faster. Crap.

Overhead, thunder rumbled. The storm that’d been circling all afternoon was closing in now. Although a light rain drifted down, settling upon the ground like mist, I hardly noticed getting wet. The thunder indicated heavy rainfall was almost upon us, and I didn’t relish being out in it. A gust of wind ran down the alley, swirling up rubbish and tossing it through the air. The cold breeze sent a bitter chill down the back of my neck.

With a running leap, I launched myself at the fence, missing the dealer’s foot by inches. I was halfway up when he landed with a thump on the other side, scrambling away without looking back. A deafening clap of thunder, followed by a flash of lightning, froze me for a second. Shit, that was close! The lightning had been so bright it momentarily blinded me.  Time to get out of here.

I didn’t see the second strike coming. But I felt it. A surge of pain rocketed through my body, and then there was darkness.

 

 

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I hope you enjoyed this free chapter from Returned. Read more here.

First Witch – Chapter One

Chapter 1

 

A wave of energy flooded the air, warping, twisting, turning, an invisible tsunami ripping through time and space. Around the globe it travelled, never losing pace, undetected by some. Others felt it pass through them. It left them reeling in its wake, shaken, energized…aware.

His eyes flickered open.

“Finally.” His voice was hoarse from disuse. Slowly he rose, muscles stiff, blood pooled unmoving in his veins. Each movement was excruciating, the only sound in the dark room his breath as he sucked air into disused lungs.

It took an age, but eventually he was on his feet, shuffling to the cupboard across the room. Dust covered the floor, motes rising up and dancing in the air as he dragged himself forward. With a slight groan, he leaned and opened the cupboard, pulling a metal flask from its depths, twisting the lid and raising it to his lips, gulping. The contents spilled over his chin and down his bare chest, the liquid cutting through the layer of grime covering him to reveal a glimpse of the symbols that marked his skin.

“Aaaah. Better.” Already he could feel the ambrosia reviving him—his dried flesh became supple once more, the blood circulating through his veins, sluggish at first, soon picking up speed, bringing color and life to his body. Moving easier now, he crossed the room and flicked the light switch. A single bulb dangled from the ceiling, casting the room in a yellow glow. His tattoos itched and he absently brushed his palm over them, soothing the ache. Soon, he promised them. Soon.

A door stood ajar, its paint peeling. With renewed vigor, he pushed the door open, reaching in a hand to flick on that light too. The bathroom was old, tiles falling from the walls, rust winning the battle with enamel in the old tub. The shower curtain had long since rotted away; now flakes of plastic scattered across the floor, crumbling into dust beneath his feet.

With fingers that trembled ever so slightly he turned on the tap, a grunt of satisfaction when hot water coughed and spluttered through the shower, settling into a steady stream. Stepping beneath the spray, he sucked in a breath as the water pummeled his skin like fine needles. It was always like this. The awakening.

Clean, naked, and dripping, he stood in front of the bathroom mirror, watching as his sunken face continued to fill out, his cheeks no longer hollow, his eyes no longer deep in their sockets. He raised a hand, traced his jaw with fingers that were no longer old and wrinkled. He was back. It was time.

Out in the street he stopped a young boy no more than thirteen years old.

“What time is it?” he demanded, gripping the boy’s wrist, as he would have moved on past.

“Hey. Let go,” the boy protested, tugging on his arm. Then he looked into the man’s eyes and froze, unblinking.

“What time is it?” the man asked again.

“Two o’clock.” the boy replied.

“Date?”

“The first of October.”

“Year?”

“Two thousand and sixteen.”

“Go. Remember nothing.”

The boy continued on his way, unaware of what had just transpired, a grin on his face and a spring in his step as he spied his friends waiting for him in front of the cinema.

The man continued to stand on the sidewalk, raising his face to the sky as dark clouds began to gather overhead. A boom of thunder rattled windows. The man smiled.

“I’m coming for you, witch.”

* * *

She should have been prepping Zak’s dining table. It was ready for its first coat of stain. Yet here she stood, the figurine she’d just carved clasped tightly in her hand, breath heaving in her lungs, horror creeping up and tapping her on the shoulder. What had she done?

Something was wrong. Georgia knew it, on a deep, intrinsic level. What it was, exactly, she couldn’t put her finger on, but she could feel it, like a darkness creeping into her soul, slithering through her veins, darkening her, changing her. And it scared the absolute shit out of her.

Ever since the showdown with Marius, where she’d ripped Veronica’s heart from her chest, it had niggled at her. The guilt. The knowledge that when she’d become a vampire she’d changed in ways she’d never anticipated. To take the life of another? The idea was abhorrent to her, yet she’d launched at Veronica, and, fueled by rage she’d sunk her hand into the woman’s chest, unrepentant in her actions, no hesitation. Veronica had never physically harmed her. Oh yes, the woman had been a first-class bitch and had been involved in the torture she’d suffered at the hands of Marius. Did she deserve to die? At the time, Georgia had thought so. Now, weeks later, she wasn’t so sure.

Tearing her unseeing eyes from the table back to the figurine in her hand, she trembled, a shudder ripping through her. It was a monster. Jaws open wide, long teeth protruding from the mouth, face contorted, clawed hands clutching…a heart. The face was almost unrecognizable. Almost. But Georgia knew who it was. Her. It was her. She was the monster. With a curse, she hurled it at the wall where it fell, rolling to a stop next to the two other identical figurines. She hadn’t meant to carve them; she’d returned to her workshop with the intention of working on Zak’s dining table. It was long overdue, yet here she was, a third carving that she didn’t remember making.

She glanced outside the open doors. Dawn wasn’t far off; she’d best head back. That was another thing that took getting used to. No more daylight. Switching off the lights and locking up the workshop, she checked her beloved farmhouse was secure before jumping in her truck and spinning the tires down the driveway. She arrived at Zak’s house within minutes, skidding to a halt with a cloud of dust, killing the engine and the boom of the stereo. Climbing out of the truck, she strode around the back of the house, following the sound of voices. It was Skye practicing knife throwing, being cheered on by Zak and his warriors.

“Hey.” Noticing her, Zak tugged her in close to his side, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. His warmth reached out and embraced her, weaving around her, making her feel safe…protected.

“How’s it going?” She nodded at Skye, who was throwing knives through the air and embedding them in the wooden bull’s-eye with amazing precision.

“She’s good. A natural.” Georgia eyed her sweet little sister, noting the change in her too. Gone was the cute, preppy look of pencil skirts, polka dots and high ponytails, in its place skin tight black jeans, a black tank and shit kicker boots. All that remained of the old Skye was the ponytail.

She rubbed at her head, a headache beginning to pound just behind her eyes. Zak frowned down at her.

“Everything okay?”

“Just a headache. I’ll be fine.” She pulled out of his embrace, giving him a wan smile. “I’m going to head inside, get some sustenance. That should fix me right up.” She couldn’t bring herself to say blood, that she needed to drink blood. She’d been hiding from him her wavering thoughts on becoming a vampire. It was too late now anyway. There was nothing she could do about it. Once you turned vampire there was no going back.

“Georgia?” His head tilted to the side, his dark eyes zeroing in on her with laser precision.

“I’m fine,” she grumbled, hurrying inside. Heating her mug of blood in the microwave, she stood at the kitchen sink, gazing unseeing into the darkness outside as she sipped. As much as her mind protested her new species status, her body embraced it, the blood reviving her, bringing a flush to her cheeks and a sparkle to her eyes. Yet still the throbbing in her head continued.

“Better?” Zak pressed in behind her, his arms sliding around her waist, his mouth at her ear. She nodded, letting her head drop back against his shoulder. Best he didn’t know that she was changing, that something bad was happening in her. Pulling herself together she plastered on a smile, turning in his embrace and wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Much.” She tugged his head down until his mouth was on hers. This was still the same. The electricity, the thrumming of her body, the weakness in her knees, the way she came completely undone when he touched her. Breath hitching, she pressed herself closer, shuddering when he growled, the deep rumble vibrating through her. She didn’t protest when he teleported them upstairs to the bedroom they shared, smiled in sultry delight when he tossed her on the bed and followed her down. Oh yes, this, she didn’t mind at all.

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I hope you enjoyed this free chapter from First Witch, book two in the Awakening Series. Read more about First Witch here.

First Blade – Chapter One

Chapter 1

With his hands dripping in blood and the severed head of the demon lying at his feet, Zak took no time in savoring the victory – he’d never seen demons in these numbers before and if he and his men intended to get out of this alive, they needed to stay focused. The putrid sulfur of their stench assaulted his senses, making his eyes burn.

Across the room Aston was battling two demons, a sword in one hand, dagger in the other. Dainton was at his back, lunging at an already wounded demon, slashing deeply across his torso revealing flesh and bone.

Cole, Kyan and Heath were knee deep in bloody corpses, ripping off heads and tossing them, wading their way through the gore, eyes burning red with the thrill of the fight. He’d taught his team well, and they hadn’t disappointed him.

Loud explosions could be heard from outside, rattling the building. A flash of lightning erupted from a demon’s hand and snaked across the room toward him. Fucking demons. Zak snatched the demon by its neck. He lifted it over his shoulders and snapped its body over his knee, then flung the demon aside. Frank was tangling with three other demons, wincing when one sent him smashing into a wall. Zak was there in an instant, pulling Frank to his feet, pausing for a moment. Frank’s shoulder healed instantly at Zak’s touch. Frank slapped him on the back in thanks before jumping back into the fray.

Heath was throwing demons across the room, bodies flying. Zak caught another, this time tearing out its throat with his fangs before tossing the body. Another flew past and he grabbed, twisting off its head and throwing it like a soccer ball.

Another explosion, louder than the first, rocked the building. The ground bucked, throwing them down and toppling demons.

Veronica appeared in the doorway, hands against the frame as she struggled to remain on her feet with the building trembling and buckling around them.

“Zak!” she shouted, “we have to get out. Now! The house is collapsing. The fuckers have rigged explosives.”

“Everyone out!” Zak bellowed, eyes scanning the room for his warriors. Frank, his head of security, was on the far side, shoving the body of a demon off of himself as he surged back to his feet. Aston, Dainton, Cole, Kyan and Heath made up his team of warriors, and what a team they were. Elite fighting machines, they were highly skilled at what they did – and not a bad bunch of blokes in the bargain. The five of them headed toward the door, flinging demons as they went.

Parts of the ceiling were starting to collapse as they hurried down the hallway. The lights flickered, then went off, but none of them needed light to see. Demons still came at them, but the warriors flicked them off as if they were nothing more bothersome than a fly.

Crashing through the back door of the house they tumbled out onto the lawn. Veronica had already evacuated the domestic staff, a group of four humans who stood huddled behind her, dazed and afraid.

Zak stood on the lawn and watched as his house collapsed with a roar, the center caving in first, the roof buckling inwards like it was being sucked into a black hole. Within minutes the house was razed, nothing remaining but a plume of dust.

His warriors stood in formation around him, watching, as he did, with no emotion as their home was destroyed. While the loss of his home pissed him off, it wasn’t the end of the world. He had plenty of resources; finding shelter for them was not an issue. What had his blood boiling was the fifty or more demons who were facing them from the other side of the pile of rubble that used to be his house.

Zak’s control slipped and power coursed through him. He’d forgotten what it felt like to just let go and let his magic absorb him.

Frank glanced at him; he could feel the power in the air that was now filled with electricity. He ordered the warriors back, away from Zak. They didn’t want to be close to him when he unleashed the full potential of his power.

Zak raised his hands, the air bent around him as his power unfurled in a red haze. The demons were bounding like hellhounds across the debris, intent on getting to him and ripping him to pieces. They had no chance.

Releasing his magic, a pulse of raw energy swept from his open hands in a wide arc before him, blasting the demons into oblivion before they even got close. They disintegrated in front of him, no blood, no bones, simply piles of ash. Felled in one swoop, the air was now still and eerily silent.

“Holy Fuck!” Heath muttered behind him. “That was some red hot shit right there.”

Zak turned to face his warriors, his eyes still glowing red.

“You are well?” His gaze swept across them, searching for injury. They nodded in reassurance, a few minor scrapes, clothing torn and covered in blood, but unhurt. He pulled in several deep breaths, quieting his magic, letting it settle back inside of him. Now that it’d had a taste of action, it wanted to come out and play. Zak had no intentions of letting that happen – his house may have been destroyed, but he’d be damned if he would allow himself to cut loose and destroy the rest of the world, for that was what would happen if he truly allowed his magic to take over.

Frank stepped up to him and murmured quietly “Your ring.” He nodded at Zak’s hand.

The ring was understated in design, a pattern of three ribbons intertwined with different shades of platinum and gold that adorned the ring finger on his right hand. Only now, one of the rivers was no longer platinum, but glowed red as blood now flowed through the design. A beautiful, but chilling effect as the thin red ribbon twisted and wove around his finger as if alive.

“It has been activated.” His words were calm, belying the anxiety that suddenly rushed through him. For the ring to be activated, the dagger had not only been found, but that too had been awakened. With blood. This wasn’t good, wasn’t good at all.

* * *

I hope you enjoyed this free chapter from First Blade, book one in the Awakening Series. Read more about First Blade here.