My Novels

Dec 1, 2015

Out Today: House of the Rising Sun, Ornaments of Death, etc

Out Today:
House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke - 
After a violent encounter that leaves four Mexican soldiers dead, Hackberry escapes the country in possession of a stolen artifact, earning the ire of a bloodthirsty Austrian arms dealer who then places Hack’s son Ishmael squarely in the cross hairs of a plot to recapture his prize, believed to be the mythic cup of Christ.
Along the way, we meet three extraordinary women: Ruby Dansen, the Danish immigrant who is Ishmael’s mother and Hackberry’s one true love; Beatrice DeMolay, a brothel madam descended from the crusader knight who brought the shroud of Turin back from the Holy Land; and Maggie Bassett, one-time lover of the Sundance Kid, whose wiles rival those of Lady Macbeth. In her own way, each woman will aid Hackberry in his quest to reconcile with Ishmael, to vanquish their enemies, and to return the Grail to its rightful place.

Ornaments of Death Jane K Cleland - 
Christmas lights twinkle throughout the cozy coastal town of Rocky Point, New Hampshire, and Prescott’s Antiques auction venue has been transformed into a winter wonderland for Josie Prescott’s annual holiday party. Josie is especially excited this year—Ian Bennington, a recently discovered distant relative, will be joining the fun. Both Ian and Josie are, it seems, descended from Arabella Churchill, a 17th century royal mistress. The party is a success and Ian is a hit. It gives Josie an unexpected thrill to have family—and unexpected dread when he vanishes.

Ian doesn’t keep his dinner date with Josie’s good friend, Lavinia, or his lunch date with her. Surely, he would have done so—if he could. Ian has given his daughter two priceless 17th century watercolor miniature portraits, one of Arabella and one of her lover, King James II, and they’ve gone missing, too. Knowing that after her nasty divorce, Lavinia is facing financial ruin, Josie can’t help wondering if her friend is behind the theft—and Ian’s disappearance.

Determined to find Ian, Josie uses her knowledge of antiques to track the miniatures. In doing so, she learns the true meaning of Christmas—and the true meaning of family. 

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina - 
DI Alex Morrow and her team have been shadowing a woman suspected of being involved in a large drug-smuggling and money-laundering operation. Roxanna Fuentecilla recently moved from London to Glasgow under suspicious circumstances, and Morrow's bosses want all the glory when she's finally arrested. But then Roxanna disappears. She's left her partner and her two children, and something about the situation, and the children's evasive attitude, leads Morrow to question what's really going on.

In the nearby picturesque town of Helensburgh, Iain Fraser is struggling to live with his overwhelming guilt. Under orders from the infamous Mark Barratt, he's just killed a woman, and now he's left with blood on his hands. Meanwhile, Miss Grierson, a former scout leader who left the sleepy seaside town decades ago, has returned. Allegedly she's back to sort out her recently deceased mother's estate, but Iain suspects she has an ulterior motive.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton - 
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?
Precious Gifts by Danielle Steel - 
One act of love will change one family’s destiny

As a devoted mother, Veronique Parker has dedicated herself to her three daughters, before and since her divorce.

Her world is turned upside down when her former husband dies suddenly, leaving her and their daughters astonishing inheritances: a painting of mysterious provenance, a ch√Ęteau in the south of France, the freedom to pursue their dreams, and a shocking revelation from the past.

The precious gifts he left will lead them on a journey certain to change Veronique and her daughters’ destinies in the most surprising of ways . . .

Commander in Chief by Tom Clancy - 
When Russian President Valeri Volodin’s ambitions are foiled in Dagestan, he faces a difficult choice. The oligarchs who support him expect a constant flow of graft, but with energy prices cratering, the Russian economy sputters to a virtual halt. Unable to grow the Russian market at home, his hold on power relies on expansion abroad—a plan that has been thwarted by the United States in the past.
But this time Volodin has determined that an indirect approach is the best. A floating natural gas facility in Lithuania is blown up. A Venezuelan prosecutor is assassinated. A devastating attack on a Russian troop train kills dozens. A chaotic world is the best camouflage for a series of seemingly unrelated attacks.
Only one man recognizes an ominous pattern in the reports of terror from around the globe. U.S. President Jack Ryan sees a guiding hand in the worldwide chaos, but before he can act he needs proof.
While his intelligence agencies race to uncover the truth behind the attacks, the President struggles to unite a fractious and distrustful coalition of Western nations against the schemes of the Russian dictator.

With five thousand Russian troops poised to invade a NATO nation, can Jack Ryan move swiftly enough to stop Volodin’s grand plan of global conflict and conquest? Or will he succeed in changing the balance of world power forever?

Gateway to Fourline by Pam Brondos - 
Years before, a gateway opened between their world and ours. Sending one young woman through may be the key to survival for the kingdom of Fourline.

Strapped for cash, college student Natalie Barns agrees to take a job at a costume shop. Sure, Estos—her classmate who works in the shop—is a little odd, but Nat needs the money for her tuition.

Then she stumbles through the mysterious door behind the shop—and her entire universe transforms.

Discovering there’s far more to Estos than she ever imagined, Nat gets swept up in an adventure to save his homeland, an incredible world filled with decaying magic, deadly creatures, and a noble resistance of exiled warriors battling dark forces. As she struggles with her role in an epic conflict and wrestles with her growing affection for a young rebel, Soris, Nat quickly learns that nothing may go as planned…and her biggest challenge may be surviving long enough to make it home.

Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker - 
When Zenobia takes control of her own fate, will the gods punish her audacity?

Zenobia, the proud daughter of a Syrian sheikh, refuses to marry against her will. She won’t submit to a lifetime of subservience. When her father dies, she sets out on her own, pursuing the power she believes to be her birthright, dreaming of the Roman Empire’s downfall and her ascendance to the throne.

Defying her family, Zenobia arranges her own marriage to the most influential man in the city of Palmyra. But their union is anything but peaceful—his other wife begrudges the marriage and the birth of Zenobia’s son, and Zenobia finds herself ever more drawn to her guardsman, Zabdas. As war breaks out, she’s faced with terrible choices.

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Nov 30, 2015

7 Searches you'll have to explain

First off, Mom, these baby-name sites are for naming my CHARACTERS! You're not going to be a grandma within the next 9 months. I'm sure we've all been there. Stumped for a name, we meander over to a baby-name site and most of the time, no one's the wiser. But when someone sees it... then you have to start fielding questions. Luckily, you should only have to do this once per person.

Hypnosis techniques for brainwashing isn't actually something you want to put into practice. I'm not saying it wouldn't have useful applications in the real world, I'm just saying I personally will only use my powers for good.... or in situations that are morally ambiguous.

Dear FBI, this ordered list of how to keep a torture victim alive as long as possible is not what you think it is. If you're writing the next best-selling thriller, this may be something that puts you on a watch list. But let's be honest... being on that list isn't a bad thing. You'll gain some serious street cred... or you would, if anyone knew with any certainty that you were.

She's not a porn star, she's a contortionist... but I guess I could see how - at a glance - there could be some confusion. That position is quite... odd. If you're writing a murder mystery set in the 20s that revolves around a circus, or a modern day cirque du solelei romance... this search isn't going to seem at all odd to you, but others may get concerned about your extracurricular activities.

Whether or not someone can live without their eyelids is an idle curiosity, I swear. Okay, I'll admit, sometimes, when you're a writer, you explore some very odd... trials for your characters. I often think "what's the worst thing I can do to this character and let them live/not be so emotionally or physically damaged that they can continue on?" Often times, I have to work backward until I hit reality again. But seriously... can you live without your eyelids? how long? and how many bottles of eyedrops would you need to buy per day?

We're not really trying to bury a body in the ravine behind our house. I grew up with a ravine behind my house (it separated us from the hospital) and my step-dad was a cop. I watched way too much Law & Order SVU and then CSI. That ravine seemed like a great place to dispose of unwanted things.... So if I'm writing a murderer with a body to ditch, I might start scouring google maps for places like that ravine in the area around the crime.

These conspiracy forums I'm on are... well, I don't really think the president's brain is taken over by a parasitic alien after he's sworn in, and even if I did, I wouldn't think it's been happening since Andrew Jackson's inauguration. This one is probably going to get someone in an official looking suit with sunglasses and a scowl stopping by your house. Congratulations! You don't get a big check, but you probably won't need a cavity search either. Just hope you didn't type any search queries in that sound like threats!

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Nov 29, 2015

Article Round-up: 11/29

It's thanksgiving weekend and I'm tied up with all sorts of things, so I don't have much to point you towards, so! Here's some free reading options, go enjoy yourself. It's Sunday!

Breton by Jamie Wyman
Black Friday by me
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irvine (via
The Plausibility of Dragons by Kenneth Schneyer (via Lightspeed Magazine)

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Nov 28, 2015

Social Media Shout Out: Rachael Aaron

So! Most Saturdays, the blog is going to be dedicated to social media shout out. These are people I follow and enjoy, and think you might too. Let me tell you why:

Rachal Aaron/Bach

Check out her blog "Pretentious Title"

Who They Are:
Author of The Legend of Eli Monpress, Heartstriker series, and (as Rachel Bach) the Paradox Series.

Why you should follow them if you’re not already:
Every wednesday (barring some holidays, etc) she writes a post about writing/marketing or other aspects of her journey through publishing. And if the many that I have read are a clue to the whole, they're more than worthwhile.

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Nov 27, 2015

Black Friday - Free Flash

Happy day after thanksgiving. As an early Christmas present, have this free story from me too you. 

Glancing up at the block-construction edifice, I inhale the cold crisp air. Tomorrow night this store will be a buffet and I’ll glut myself. The signs in the window scream like menu specials. Garish colors and hefty mark-downs. My mouth is watering.
Someone behind me is running, I’d heard the quick steps and ignored them. Until I couldn’t. I’m standing there, drooling like a wolf watching a flock of sheep when she hits me. Literally.
If I’d been paying attention, she wouldn’t have gotten near me. I wasn’t.
She stumbles, bouncing off me. Her momentum carries her toward the ground. I catch her.  Her skin sears my hand but I don’t let go until she’s steady again. The cross at her throat gives me a hint.
But she’s not a nun. The relentlessly red shirt and the nametag tell me why she’s here. She’s a store employee.
Her eyes crinkle at the edges and for half a moment I expect her to glare at me, but what I see on her face isn’t annoyance, it’s confusion. It’s like she thinks she knows me.
Her watch beeps and her eyes widen in panic. Muttering a curse, she casts one more wary glance at me. Then she’s gone.
There’s something off about her. Something that makes me want to shed my skin after touching her.
That’s a new reaction.
Her name rolls around in my mouth, threatening to choke me until I spit it out. “Mary.”
Nametags should never have been put into common practice.
Distractions disgust me. I hurry away, less certain I’ve made the right choice with this store, but there’s no time to change plans now.
Mortals’ Ex-mas doesn’t hold a candle to the holiday I’m waiting for. Hell, I can’t even say the right name without my throat burning something awful.
Humans throw fits when Ex-mas decorations start filling stores in October. It’s been getting earlier and earlier each year. But their ever-increasing chagrin is in equal measure with the hunger it sends slithering through me. It signals the most delicious holiday for a lesser demon like me.
I shiver and it’s not the cold. It’s the ravenous greed I feel wrapping around me like a warm embrace. God, I love the holiday sales season. You’d think I was a pumpkin spice latte addict.
Inhaling the scent of this particular holiday spirit is that special kind of seduction. It makes me miss a step and in the heavy foot traffic that floods out of the downtown office buildings at five o’clock, I trample over a brown oxford.
“What are you doing, dude?” A man carrying a shivering Chihuahua asks.
At the same moment a stockbroker in a deep blue pinstriped suit traces his eyes up and down me, his gaze a promise and threat wound in an intricate knot.
Another step and a homeless man shouts to me “Hey lady, got any change?”
People look at me and see what they want to see. It’s the essence of my appeal. It’s what makes my life—finding sustenance and surviving—easy.
I ignore them all. There’s no time for a long game of greed gathering.
The end of the year is supposedly filled with holiday spirit. It’s the day before Thanksgiving, a mere thirty-one hours before these shmucks will go from giving thanks in the tradition of their conquering, pillaging, raping ancestors… well, not that they’d ever admit to that. There will be football and family arguments, the carcasses of birds whose butts have been stuffed with breadcrumbs and root vegetables, and schnitzel with noodles. And then, to prove they truly have been thankful, they will line up on sidewalks. They’ll camp out with chairs and thermoses. Bundled up in thick layers, they’ll test their patience.
Then they’ll trample one another for an item that will be dead or obsolete in a matter of years. It’s going to be delicious.
Amazing how finite one’s existence becomes when your years are limited to no more than a century. And that’s only if one is lucky.
Turning an alley corner I see the most annoying part of my day.
“It’s almost time, Cortland.”
Nashville calls me that for the same reason I call her the country music capital of the US. It’s where she came into this world. Granted, neither of us was born.
Nash says she was summoned.
I tend to go with ripped agonizingly from my plane in the middle of devouring a damned politician’s throat. The only upside was that I got to eat the foolish bastard that thought a circle of salt would save him.
Salt is seasoning. He was dinner.
I realize I’ve ignored Nash for too long as she grabs hold of my arm. I don’t know what she wants from me. I do know she insists on being thought of as female. Some of us are weird like that, demanding a gender assignment; I’ve never felt the bother. Call me what you want.
“It’s the best time of the year, Court, why do you look like an angel reached down your throat and snatched a tasty bit of soul from your belly?”
“What if I told you it was because I had a pesky little underling clawing at my arm asking me why I’m not beaming with happiness
 We’re lesser demons, who gives a shit if we’re happy.”
I push through the door of The Gutter and inhale a heady cloud of sulfur and despair. In the corner I see Boise balancing a whole pack of lit cigarettes in her hand. They’ve been banded together and make one smoking log. She stares at their red-ember tips as the hot ash piles in her palm and I can imagine the memories fire provokes. We all miss brimstone.
Behind the bar, I hear the gruff voice of the only lesser demon I’ll do anything to keep on the right side of.
Tuck—or Nantucket if you’ve really pissed the bastard off—takes one look at Nash and she scuttles out the door with her tail tucked between all six of her legs. She’d be persona non grata… if she was a person.
Tuck is an oddity even amongst us. Summoned by a novice who didn’t understand that any demon from the second circle wouldn’t be there to fulfill his depraved desires. Tuck had been unleashed on the world in the early seventeen hundreds. Unlike others of our ilk, Tuck’s illusion worked on human or lesser demon alike. Tuck’s appearance was always a toss-up. Tonight, he was that human girl. Mary.
It’s an odd thing knowing you see something no one else does. Not even Tuck would recognize her if she walked into this dive. Not that she would. This many lesser demons gave off a thick aura. Any human who considered walking down this alley would immediately feel like they were going to throw up. It was a delightful side effect of congregation.
What can I say, we’ve got our individual appeals. But as a whole, we’re pretty disgusting.
But Mary, that girl with the cross around her neck and the skin that burned like fire, was on Tuck’s skin for some inexplicable reason. Okay, maybe not inexplicable. Maybe I was in denial.
Tuck leans against the bar and slides me something new. “You’re looking at me like you can’t decide if I’m a cat you want to strangle, or a soul you want to steal.”
I smile. We both know souls can’t be stolen, just sampled. It’s like taking a drink from a river… you’ll never run it dry.
To keep from answering, I shoot whatever he’s given me. It’s an eye and cerebral fluid suspended in embalming liquid. For half a second, I see the last thing the poor bastard saw before he died. This soul hasn’t decayed as far as I’d expected. It might only be a taste, but it’s potent and the sensation leaves my own eyelids drooping.
“Some days, I’d rather be back in the fourth circle.”
Laughing, Tuck hands the lesser demon next to me a pint of piss-colored soul. “Don’t say that, it makes it sound like you don’t like us.”
I keep my mouth shut. Everyone seated around me knows I don’t like them. They don’t like me. It’s an easy and unspoken agreement.
I throw back the glass, the drink is more embalming fluid than soul at this point. Choking on the staleness, I hand over the only thing worth a damn to a lesser demon from the second circle.
Like catching up a spider web’s silk, I peel off the lingering lust from the man in the blue pinstriped suit. I tangle up the wisps of his lusty aura as they try to slip away and stuff the slowly fading feeling into a bottle Tuck quickly corks.
The bottle’s contents writhe, black and silver.
I can see Tuck begin to drool.
It will be my turn soon enough.
When I step out of the bar, it’s full daylight and I shrink away from the brightness, slouching as I leave the alley. The streets are all but deserted and I imagine the majority of the human populace are tied up with their families.
I pass by a lesser demon I don’t know well… I think they came from Phoenix, though which one, they’ve never told. Standing on the street corner with their eyes closed, I see the veil of soul straining through a cracked window two stories above. It’s connected to Phoenix like a filament of ribbon. A smile cracks the red grotesqueness of their face and I hear something shatter from above.
Trust a lesser demon from the seventh circle to find a ready source of domestic abuse on a holiday the humans claim is all about peace, love and togetherness.
If I had the capacity to care, I’d be disgusted. Instead, I walk past them. No point in acknowledging Phoenix. At the rate they’re sucking in that man’s soul, they’ll be wrath-drunk before the hour’s over.

Darkness descends as I watch a rerun of a reality show that usually slakes my hunger. The family in question is so vapid and money hungry, I can almost taste their greed through the screen. I could almost imagine stalking to Calabasas. I could feed off the mother for years and never be sated.
At eleven, I turn them off and head out the door. I don’t need to worry about waiting in line. Those shivering masses would barely notice me.
Most people only saw the sins of others. Funny that I’m so full of their sin and they’re so full of denial that we cancel each other out.
I’d chosen this particular store because it was within walking distance of the apartment I’ve appropriated. Because I knew it would draw a crowd. There were too many self-touted “ridiculous” sales to keep this crowd at home in their toasty beds.
When I turned the corner, I knew immediately: I wasn’t alone.
I stopped on the curb across from the store and surveyed the line before glancing to my left. Three others of my ilk ignore me. Luckily for us, there’s enough greed to go around tonight.
I have no heart. There’s nothing to beat in rhythm to the slow countdown before the doors open and I can glut myself. Still, I feel every second as though it’s a raindrop, tapping on my head.
The doors open. Those in front run. I slip in with a weary woman who looks as though she might fall asleep halfway through the hour. She doesn’t belong here. Maybe that’s why she shrinks away from me instead of trying to shove.
It doesn’t matter. I’m in and I can taste the greed on the air.
Licking my lips, I inhale and wisps of greedy souls pull away from the worst of the humans around me, like sand on the wind.
They drain. I drink.
There is nothing so delicious as Black Friday.
It should be perfect. It would be perfect.
Except that a burning sensation hits my chest and shoves me backward. My concentration breaks as I stumble into the hard cylindrical length of a fire extinguisher.
At first, all I can see is red, then her face….
Mary glares at me, her eyes full of accusation. “What are you?”
She doesn’t ask who…. I’d distinctly heard her say “what.”
She knows. And I can’t fathom how.
I let out a tiny huff of breath and tendrils of the greed I’d just consumed curl away from my mouth. She sees that, too.
Her shoulders drop and her head twists to the side as she grumbles some unintelligible words of disappointment.
Then, she grabs my arm.
Burning though the contact was, I’m too confused by her action to stop her, even following her when she drags me through a door marked “employees only.”
The hallway is empty. Clearly all hands are “on deck” so to speak. She shoves me through a doorway into a room that looks like the typical idea of a break room.
“What. Are. You.” Mary says again.
I notice her words have lost their question, and now, as she stares at me, waiting for an answer, I imagine she already knows. She can see through me somehow. And worse, she isn’t afraid.
It would be easy to leave, she is a human who can’t keep me here. But something compels me to stay.
She mutters something under her breath and for a moment I think it’s latin. Then I hear the final word, pain sears through my chest, wrapping around me like an incendiary cord and I know I was wrong.  She speaks the divine language. Impossible. It had been lost to humans when Adam and Eve were cast from Eden.
All she needs is my name and she could send me straight back to hell.
Even if I want to tell her, I can’t. Not with the binding of angels strangling me.
I only realize I’ve dropped to the floor when my knees—all four of them—bang against the tiles, adding to the pain I already feel. A strangled sound escapes my throat and I see the flash of understanding in her eyes a moment before Mary barks out the three words that stop my pain. Who knew she was a sadist.
“What is your name?”
“Holy Mary, mother of” I gasp a breath to avoid from saying His name, “pray for us sinners—” she grabs me by the throat, and keeps me on the floor.
Burning against me, she says, “Do you think this is a joke, demon?”
When she shoves me away again, I can’t stop myself from correcting her. “It’s lesser demon, if you don’t mind. You wouldn’t be here if you tried that with one of the jerks who were made to stay in Hell.”
Mary’s scowl softens, though I don’t have a clue why. “Which circle?”
“Fourth.” I roll onto my back and stare at the glaring fluorescent lights overhead, breathing hard as the recently consumed soul fragments escape from my still smoldering skin. “Why do you think I’m here tonight? This place is a greed buffet and you’re starving me.”
“How long have you been here?” Mary asks.
“In this room, in this city, or on this plane? There’s a lot of vague leeway with the word ‘here.’” I say, coughing as the full feeling comes back to my numb throat. I roll back to my feet, but stay down.
“This plane.”
“I’ve been sucking down souls for… twenty-three Black Fridays?” Shrugging I push up from my crouch. “If you want to know in the timescale of Hell… I couldn’t begin to explain.”
She curses… or she meant to. It’s so mild an expletive only her tone gives her intent away.
Clearly she wasn’t looking for me. If I wasn’t still reeling from that nasty little spell, I would turn and walk right back out to the party.
“You’re going to help me,” she says, “or I’ll send you back to the fourth circle.”
So she’s an exorcist. Smiling, I lean toward her. “Go right ahead. I miss the old homestead. I could feast on greed for eternity there… here I have to siphon off the souls of random passersby.”
Her scowl at that changes her entire face and for a moment, I don’t really care what she wants. She’s beautiful when she’s angry. I get to back feed off of my own greed. It’s marvelous.
“Then I’ll bind you and leave you to the agony of a thousand years’ torture.”
I consider it for a moment, if only to keep ingesting my own greed. “What do you want?”
I see the flicker of triumph in her eyes, and don’t let her know she hasn’t yet won, not quite.
“There is a demon I need you to help me locate.”
My skepticism flies right through the ceiling at that.
“They’ve been on this plane since sixteen ninety-eight and they’ve made it their personal mission to torture my family.”
“Then your family must have done a great deal of sinning. Maybe it’s why you’re so devout. Maybe it’s why I burn whenever you touch me.” In spite of the pain, I reach out and touch her. She doesn’t move.
“Flirting isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
“I was being literal.”
She pauses, staring at me blankly for half a second. “That’s probably because I bathe in holy water.”
“That’d do it.”
“Now, you will find me the demon from Nantucket and you will get me close to it.”
And that’s when the steel trap shuts.
“No,” I say without pausing. “I won’t take you to Tuck. You can bind me and I’ll burn for the rest of your life. Spells like that don’t outlive their caster, and if you’re going after Tuck in this ham-fisted approach, you’ll be dead before Ex-mas.”
“How should I go after… Tuck?” She leans back against the break room table and glares at me.
“You shouldn’t. Tuck’s old and he’s mean. That bastard has killed more exorcists than any lesser demon I’ve met. You’d be dead in a matter of minutes.”
“Would I?”
It should have sounded cocky. She should have been challenging me. But her question is honest, and hell knows why, but I feel the need to keep her from walking unknowingly to her death.
Tuck never leaves The Gutter as far as I know. If she could stand the darkness that surrounds that place long enough to get inside, she’d probably die from exposure.
When I don’t respond, she crosses her arms over her chest and says, “How about you let me be the judge of what will or won’t kill me?”
 So I decide, what’s the harm. We’ll turn into the alley, the wall of demon feels will smack her in the face, and she’ll run like hell.
Shrugging, I push to my full height and stretch against the pain that sluices down my spine. “You can try. But if you die, don’t complain to Him about me.” I point to the ceiling and push out through the doors.
The greed has dissipated. It’s enough that I can ignore it, though my mouth is watering as I step out into the frigid night air.
Mary follows in silence. She doesn’t shiver at the cold, even though I can see gooseflesh on her arms when I turn back to make sure she’s still with me.
I turn down the alley and pause, expecting her to balk. She doesn’t. There’s no outward sign she’s affected.
Nash peeks out at us from behind a trash can and I wonder why she’s hanging around. She’s always been a little afraid of humans, so I know she’s not going to jump out and get herself hurt, but I can’t help feeling like the expression on her face is more than the usual scared. When we pass by, Nash scurries away, turning over the metal can with a loud clatter.
I keep waiting for Mary to balk—for her to turn around and run. She hasn’t yet, and I’m not sure she’s going to.  Now I can’t tell what scares me more, the fact that Tuck will make sure I spend the rest of my time on this plane in pain… or that she might be able to pull this off.
The Gutter goes completely silent when we walk in. And I can tell I’m in heaps of shit. The only one who doesn’t seem to notice or care is Tuck—a mirror image of the woman standing beside me.
She looks from Tuck to me with an odd, questioning glance and then steps forward.
That’s when Tuck notices her… that’s when I realize how bad things are. Tuck looks ready to bolt for the door.
“You’ve been hiding too long.” She says his name then, the demon-speak rolls off her tongue in dark and slithering tones and everyone in the bar freezes. Their focus has shifted. It remains on her, but the intent has changed. They’re no longer curious and hungry. They’re scared.
Hell, I’m terrified too. I’ve condemned us all.
She glows like the sun and just looking at her burns my eyes.
She’s alight with angel fire.
She doesn’t bathe in holy water, it damn well runs through her veins, and I’ve led her right into the heart of the city’s demon population.
Light flows off her like vapor from dry ice and I hear the beginning of the incantation that will end us all.
My last thought is: Oh fuck. What have I done?

A gasping breath and Mary’s eyes fly open. Awake again –though she’s certain she wasn’t sleeping—she chokes on the charred air around her and freezes. The burnt husk of a basement bar surrounds her.
The acrid smell invades her nose and she glances at the walls, stained with shadows of… people? She’s killed again. Turning away, she empties her stomach onto the blackened floor.  At the feet of the solitary woman lying on the ground a foot from her.
Hands shaking, she looks down at the ugly red shirt. What the hell was she wearing?
It’s always like this. Black out, wake up, wonder how long she’s been out, see the horrible things she’s done… flee. The woman is the only change. Mary doesn’t know what she would tell the police when they show up. It’s why she never sticks around.
She considers checking the woman for a pulse, but something about her sends a dark shiver down Mary’s spine and she backs away.
The unconscious woman—somehow void of burns or black marks, shifts—curling sharply in on herself as though she’s just been kicked in the stomach. Mary can’t be here. She can’t be seen.
She bolts, shoes dragging in ash.
Her foot breaks through the first step, but she doesn’t stop, clawing her way out of the bar and as soon as she’s out in the cold daylight of morning, she breaks into a run.
She doesn’t even know what city she’s in. Skidding to a stop, she glances up and down the street. Nothing is familiar.
Her priest calls them episodes. She thinks of them as living nightmares. What they are is a one-way ticket to the electric chair. Then again, maybe this state doesn’t have capital punishment. The buildings are too tall to see a skyline.
She runs, picking her direction at random, letting fate or God’s will tug her toward the only safe place she knows. Five blocks later, she sees the spires of a cathedral and feels a twinge of relief.
Her shoes leave sooty footprints on the concrete steps and she stumbles through the doors to the empty church, passes through the pews. She doesn’t bother finding a priest. They’ll find her. Father Michael always finds her.
Falling to her knees, she curls into a ball on the thin carpet of the vestry floor. She breathes hard, that run was more exercise than she’s gotten in a month. Colored light filters down to her. The stories in the stained glass soothe and scare her at the same time.
A sob wracks through her.
The faint whisper in the back of her mind—the voice of the demon or angel that threatens to drive her insane—whispers and the words send a shiver down Mary’s spine. The movement scrapes her cheek across the rough fibers of the floor. Only God can help you now.
It’s a fitting thought on a Friday as black as her soul.
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