I’ve got two ARCs of my November release to give away! These are ARCs that are printed before the final copies, complete with a few typos and a plain yellow cover. And, as usual, I ask that if you win the ARC, to please write a review somewhere within two weeks or so of the release date (Amazon, B&N, a blog, anywhere you feel comfortable posting.)
What is Demon Bound? It’s the fourth full length book in the Guardian series, and it features Jake, a sixty-year-old novice Guardian, and Alice, a creepy Guardian known as the Black Widow. She’s got a terrible secret; he’s got a Gift he can’t control. So, of course, they’re headed for plenty of trouble.
Among the Guardians, Alice Grey is known as the Black Widow–a woman trapped in a web spun by the demon Teqon. To save her soul, she agreed to deliver to Teqon the heart of the oldest and most powerful Guardian of all, or else be damned for eternity. After more than a hundred years, Teqon is calling in his debt.
Jake Hawkins is a novice Guardian whose gift of teleportation could be invaluable to Alice in determining her next move. But in aligning himself with her he never expected to fall in love. Now, their passionate flight to escape Alice’s damnable bargain is threatening both their souls. For they’re about to discover a hellish secret about the Guardians–something that will change their universe forever.
So, here’s what you have to do to win: leave a comment telling me what you think the creepiest superpower would be. On September 20th, I’ll pick two winners in a random drawing. It’s that easy!
Just how creepy is Alice? Well, I’ll spare everyone and not repost that picture of a black widow spider … so how about a long excerpt from Chapter Two (if you haven’t already read the first taste of Alice’s creepiness, most of Chapter One is on the main Demon Bound page.)
Folding her arms over her chest, Alice watched the novice from the temple–Jake, she reminded herself–perform an odd, hip- and knee-twisting dance beneath the tree. Drusilla had doubled over, holding her sides and begging him to stop. Next to her, Pim had bent as well; but instead of laughing, the novice had her hands braced on her knees. Her sleek bowl of black hair slanted forward across her cheeks, and her psychic scent billowed with nausea.
Nausea? Guardians didn’t need to eat, and were never sickened by it. So Jake’s queer dance probably celebrated a successful teleportation, Alice decided. Drusilla, older and more accustomed to the disorientation that accompanied the jump, wasn’t as affected as the novice she mentored.
Only Michael, Selah, and Jake could teleport, so Alice rarely used that method to travel between realms. But although the Gates were not as convenient—they were spaced great distances apart on Earth—she enjoyed flying. It was far better, she mused, than wobbling.
Pim lifted her head, met Alice’s eyes, and the sallow color that had been ebbing from the novice’s face oozed back in.
How easily unsettled these novices were. A cackle would have been just the thing—but now that Drusilla’s laughter had faded into a smile of greeting, much too heavy-handed.
Drusilla vanished her physician’s coat, called in a sword, and used it to wave. “Good afternoon, Alice darling!”
Alice’s lips curved. The salutation was as light and bubbly as soda water—and so was Drusilla.
She stepped from beneath the portico roof, brushing her hand across the web and scooping up Romulus. “You must be coming from San Francisco if it was afternoon.”
Several Guardians and all of the novices were connected to a law enforcement facility headquartered in that city, where they received their assignments and training. Alice hadn’t bothered to see it yet. Aside from the occasional task that Michael gave her when he was in Caelum, Alice was still largely self-directed.
“Pim and I decided to practice in Caelum; the gym at the warehouse was packed. And that tree is marvelous!” Drusilla’s smile widened, and she bobbed back and forth on cherry red athletic shoes. “I’d totally forgotten it was here. But if the noise will disturb you, we can head down to Zephyrus Quarter in a jiffy.”
“Of course not,” Alice murmured. Movement near the tree caught Romulus’s attention, and she glanced past Drusilla to see Jake collecting a small carton from the ground. Through the holes in the lid came a chorus of squeaks.
An early delivery, but perhaps Selah had been unable to bring them to her. Or Jake intended to mollify her for the kiss.
If so, Alice wouldn’t tell him she’d only thought of that kiss two or three times since—and never with anger.
But she might tell him that she hadn’t thought of it with pleasure, either.
“Great!” Drusilla gave another little bob, then turned to Pim.
Alice wasn’t certain how Drusilla remained so effervescent when, as a Healer, she saw more carnage than most Guardians. Perhaps it was because Drusilla rarely failed the tasks given her; her Gift could instantly heal everything but decapitation and a severed heart.
Alice frowned, her eyes narrowing. “Drusilla—do you suppose a Guardian might survive having his heart removed in a surgical manner, so long as it was not cut in two?”
She heard Jake’s step falter slightly, and Pim’s indrawn breath. If the answer hadn’t been so important, Alice would have cackled merrily.
Drusilla bounced back around. “I don’t know. I’ve never encountered an injury like that. When a demon or a nosferatu gets to a heart, that’s usually all she wrote.” A crease formed between her brows as she considered it. “Removed whole, and then healed?”
“I doubt it,” Drusilla said. “But I’m not sure.”
“I am.” Jake stopped a few feet in front of Alice, his wary gaze on her mouth. He seemed relieved not to see any spiders there until Romulus crawled up to her shoulder for a better look, raising his two front legs.
To his credit, Jake did not blink or vanish. Nor did he do anything else, until Drusilla prompted, “Jake?”
“Yeah. All right.” He grinned and shook his head, as if silently laughing at an inner joke. His fingers tapped against the white box, and he was answered by curious squeak. He grimaced and stilled his hands. “I’ve been specializing with Alejandro—for my blade work—most nights when Drifter’s with Charlie. So two months ago, Alejandro and I went back to Philadelphia, because we’d heard one of Lucifer’s demons moved in after the nephil was gone.”
Alice nodded. Earlier in the year, the nephilim had massacred the vampire communities in Rome, Berlin, and Washington, D.C. Alejandro and Jake had slain one in Philadelphia, but not before hundreds of vampires had died.
Though the nephilim usually lived in the bodies of the humans they possessed, not much stronger than vampires, they were almost unstoppable in their own form. And although they both originated from Hell, the nephilim wouldn’t hesitate to kill a demon.
Any intelligent demon would flee a city a nephil inhabited.
“I caught it with a bullet,” Jake said, rapping his knuckle against his temple to show where he’d shot the demon, “and Alejandro got him through the chest.”
Jake jabbed the air in front of him, miming a sword and drawing a protest from the mice as they were jostled. “But he missed the heart.”
“Alejandro had a sword and he missed?” Alice said, and held out her hand for the box. When Jake ignored her outstretched palm, she lowered it again.
“Unheard of, right? I was like this.” Jake’s eyes widened, and Alice had to firm her lips against a laugh. He’d had the same expression after kissing her. “But the assho— Er, the demon dodged at the last second. So Alejandro got him right here instead.” He tapped his sternum. “And the demon had ahold of him, so Alejandro couldn’t back up for another strike. So he just…”
Jake twisted his wrist, as if carving a tight circle with his blade, then yanked his arm back. “And the heart popped right out. Along with some ribs and lungs and sh— stuff.”
“And Alejandro calls Irena barbaric,” Alice murmured. An upward slice would have sufficed.
“Does he?” Jake shrugged, and his arm dropped to his side. “So the heart was whole, but the demon was dead. Instantly.”
A Guardian and a demon had similar powers—and similar weaknesses. What had killed a demon would likely kill a Guardian, too.
Disappointment swept through her, stronger than she’d expected. She hadn’t truly believed removing the heart whole might be a solution, but however tiny the spark of hope had been, it was still a hope extinguished.
And she needed to go, or soon there would be some histrionic scene, after all. Alice signed a thank-you to Drusilla and set off for her apartment at a brisk walk.
“Hey!” Jake jogged up beside her, kept pace. Blades rang behind them as Drusilla and Pim began their fencing practice. “Hey. Uh, Alice—”
Blast and bother! She’d forgotten the box. “You’re terrifying the mice,” she observed tightly.
“And being eaten by a giant spider won’t?” But he steadied the carton. “Does he use your shoulder as a table?”
“Romulus is an adult, and doesn’t feed,” she said, and paused to return him to his web. “Nefertari eats the mice.”
“Nef—” He gave his head a shake. “And the vampire blood?”
“Is for the young and the females.” She faced the novice. “Did Selah ask you to bring that as well?”
“No, I’d just heard that you used it.” He glanced over her shoulder, into her quarters. Searching for Nefertari? He was looking too high. “But if you want it, I carry some in case I need to heal or transform a human. Or if I run into the nephilim.”
Vampire blood weakened the nephilim, and might save a human. Her spiders did not have priority over that. “Keep it.”
Alice began to turn away, but stopped when he said, “Well, it’s Mackenzie’s, so I can get more tomorrow night when I’m in San Francisco. I have two units, anyway.”
A plastic bag appeared in his hand. Alice took it, and regretfully vanished the liquid. Blood would spoil if not stored in her cache, but it left a distinctly unpleasant taste in her mind and on her tongue.
“Thank you, Jake.” She saw his surprise and sighed. She was not incapable of niceties, and she performed one more—though only because she was certain he’d refuse. “Would you like to come in?”
His grin surprised her, and his “Hell, yes” left her on the verge of incomprehension again. He winced and ran his hand over the dark stubble of his hair. “Sh— I mean, ‘Heck, yes.’”
Alice stared at him. At least, she mused, her histrionics no longer threatened. “Come, then. Mind your step.”
She walked past the threshold, but didn’t hear him follow. She turned and found him with an odd expression shading his eyes. Realization or amusement—she couldn’t tell.
“What is it?”
“The way you move. I couldn’t work it out before. But it’s—” He strode forward, his joints working as if he was fashioned of pistons and pulleys. “You don’t slow down or speed up by making your muscles move slower or faster. No, your muscles are moving fast all of the time—so your speed depends on how long you wait between movements. Like a pendulum that hangs in the air before swinging back down. When you go slow, the wait is long, even though the actual movement is fast.” He stopped in the center of the room and nodded, looking pleased with himself. “And that was why when you moved quickly, fighting the demon, it was smoother. Not so jerky.”
Alice squelched her sudden self-consciousness. What did she care of his opinion? “It’s efficient.”
“Maybe, but it’s also creepy as— Never mind.” He set the box of mice next to her laptop. “Drifter won about fifty dollars from me last month because I keep saying stuff like this. I don’t know what happens when women are around. There’s a filter between my head and my mouth—but it only lets the stupid shit out.” His mouth twisted, then he smiled with wry humor. “Obviously.”
So they were both uncomfortable. That suited her. He would probably soon leave. And until he did, she’d take pleasure in his discomfort as retribution for causing hers.
His gaze began to sweep the large room, curiosity leaking from his psychic scent. Alice crossed her arms, wishing that she’d vanished the contents of her quarters into her cache. The sketches and photographs filling the white marble walls, the painted vases, the bronze and stone figures were not just artifacts—they recorded the past twenty years of her research. The past twenty years of her life. They were not meant to be put on display in this intimate context.
Jake moved closer to a Minoan vase, crouching to examine it.
Alice’s fingers twitched. Where was Nefertari? Likely sleeping upstairs. Oh, if only the novice could not detect the use of her Gift, she would rouse the spider.
She’d use other means, then. Utterly conscious of the motion of her body now, resenting it, Alice crossed to the arch leading from the main room. “Come. Learning how I use the vampire blood will be more stimulating than that vase.”
He glanced at her in a distracted manner. “Actually, I’d rather—”
“Come,” Alice repeated, and walked into the next chamber. Square and high-ceilinged, the room was empty but for the tall wooden frames she’d constructed, and the giant orb webs filling them like silk screens.
Jake’s reluctance didn’t turn into fear when he saw the webs and the large spiders weaving them, but more of that maddening curiosity.
Alice found it difficult to wish him gone when he took such genuine interest.
“Holy mama,” he said softly, tilting his head to study the spotted brown spider.
“These are the Nephila,” Alice said, plucking the gossamer threads. Nero raced along the strands toward her fingers. “And though their names are similar, they have no relation to the nephilim.”
Jake glanced at her sharply, as if trying to determine whether she was joking or lecturing. “And does she have a name?”
“He. It is Nero,” Alice said, and with a small push of her Gift, she urged him onto her palm. It would confuse and disturb him to remain in his web while she gave her demonstration.
“A male? Aren’t they usually—” He lifted his hand, thumb and forefinger a short distance apart.
“Smaller than females? Yes. Shall I introduce you to his mother?” When he gave her another of those sharp glances, she relented. “It is the vampire blood.”
“You’ve made vampire spiders?”
Now it was her turn to wonder if he was serious. He should know that wasn’t a possibility. “They don’t transform, just as animals and insects don’t if they drink vampire blood.”
“Can you imagine vampire mosquitoes? Or immortal, bloodsucking ants who make you feel all sexy when they bite?”
“No. I can’t.”
He was undeterred. “Picnics would never be the same.”
“But rather popular, one would think.”
Self-reproach instantly followed the thoughtless response. Her dismay was compounded when Jake’s blank expression of surprise broke into a grin.
That would simply not do.
And if humor put him at ease, then she would be ponderous. “The blood offers these spiders strength and longevity. Furthermore, the male and female offspring are of equal size—though both male and female are larger than natural spiders. And there is also this.”
She hooked her forefinger around a thread near the center of the orb and pulled. The web bowed slightly—then it held. She applied more pressure, and the silk threatened to bite into her finger.
It sprang back into place when she let go.
“You’re kidding.” Jake looked from the web to Nero combing his tufted legs on her right hand. “Can I?”
“You may,” she said, then caught his wrist when he reached for a radial thread. “Not there. See how it’s flat? They’re like razors. Try the spirals. They’re thicker—and round.”
“Here?” At her nod, he slipped two fingers around a strand. The muscles in his forearms flexed as he pulled. His teeth set, and his brows lowered in concentration. The frame creaked and listed toward them.
Men were such strange creatures. “You are strong enough to break it,” Alice said when she smelled blood. “But lacking protection, not without damage to yourself. A blade will cut through, however.”
Jake released the thread, and righted the frame with a push of his hand.
“Okay,” he admitted as Alice returned Nero to his web. “That was worth coming in to see.”
“Very good then.” Alice injected as much dismissal into her tone as she could, satisfied that it hid the delight his acknowledgment had wrought. “It was kind of you to—”
“But,” he interrupted with a smile and enough charm to set her teeth on edge, “I’m here about the temple in Tunisia.”
Of course. “An apology isn’t necessary.”
“Well, no. I’m—”
“Then we agree.” She strode toward the main chamber.
“Agree about what?” Jake came after her. “Oh, I get you. Sure, I’m sorry for kissing you, but I’m not sorry for… And there’s no flippin’ chance this will come out right.”
She frowned and faced him again.
Though his laughter never escaped, his amusement rolled through his psychic scent with the subtlety of a boulder. He flattened his lips and leaned his shoulder against the archway. He glanced up at the ceiling, then back at the webs. A wooden toothpick appeared in his hand, and he twirled it between his fingers.
Finally, he looked at her. “So, spiders are safe to discuss, right? And everything else is off-limits.”
Alice lifted her brows.
“All right. I can do that.” Jake looked toward the spiders again, then his gaze shifted to the room beyond. “So, do you have any… Okay, I probably shouldn’t ask if you have—”
He slipped the toothpick into the corner of his mouth and dug his hands into his pockets. “Yeah.”
“Thirty in the upper levels of this building.” She paused. “You must have a dog.”
His forehead creased in puzzlement. “No.”
“But I have heard that in San Francisco, the woman who doles out your assignments calls you Ethan’s puppy.”
His short laugh was not the abashed response she’d anticipated. Her frown deepened.
“That’s true,” he said. “But coming from Lilith, ‘puppy’ is practically a declaration of love.”
“Well, there are two things in the world she loves more than any other: her hellhound, and Hugh Castleford. Hugh mentored you, didn’t he?” At her nod, he said, “Me, too. Until Drifter took over.”
“Ethan is a brave man. And patient.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed, and he regarded her steadily before shrugging. “Yeah, he’s a hero. Anyway, Lilith named both Hugh and her hellhound ‘Sir Pup’—and she also calls her hellhound ‘puppy.’ So I see it as a compliment.”
“How very optimistic you are.”
With an easy grin, he strolled into the room. “I am. And you called Lilith ‘woman’ instead of ‘Lucifer’s hellspawn.’ So you don’t have a problem with her heading Special Investigations? Some other Guardians do.”
“In truth, I hardly know of her.” Except that, through trickery and lies, Lilith had convinced Lucifer to release her—Lilith—from a bargain. Alice had taken particular notice of that. “Michael approves. As does Hugh, who knows her best. I will defer to their judgment.”
“And she’s human now, so you couldn’t kill her without breaking the Rules, anyway.”
Alice smiled thinly. “That is also true.”
Jake stopped in front of her, and Alice decided she did not like that he stood over her by several inches. Why had she never shape-shifted into an immense height? But doing so now would be too obvious.
“You shouldn’t have shown me your spiders,” he said. “Now that I’ve seen you with them, you don’t freak me out anymore. If you’d bitten their heads off, maybe. But being so careful with them? Nope.”
What a terrible miscalculation. “That is unfortunate,” she said. “What if you need to teleport?”
“I’ll manage. If it helps, you’re still creepy. Thirty black widows—and you’re feeding them vampire blood? Weirdsville.”
She would not be amused. “I also have a tarantula.”
“I think I’ve seen it.” His gaze dropped to her mouth. “All right, aside from Daddy Longlegs, that taps out my knowledge of different spider species. How about we move on to the temple in Tunisia?”
“Well, I would, but here’s the thing: I already went back earlier today—and it’s gone.” He spread his hands, shook his head in disbelief, and repeated, “Just, gone. There’s a cliff, but no temple.”
Alice looked away from him, fought the ache again. Her gaze slipped over the sketches on the walls, the photographs.
“It is such a bother when that happens,” she said quietly.