Wednesday, July 31, 2019

#Review - Fight To Survive by Alan McDermott #Thrillers

Series: Eva Driscoll (#3)
Format: E-Galley, 268 pages
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers

She’s working for her enemies. Or so they think…

Ex-CIA assassin Eva Driscoll has found a new life in Australia and believes she’s outrun the Executive Security Office, the most powerful and secretive organization on the planet. But the ESO has been watching her every move and when they approach her with a high-risk mission in North Korea, Eva is forced to co-operate with the organization she once vowed to destroy.

But releasing a high-ranking defector proves costly, and Driscoll is captured and imprisoned in a secret camp on the Chinese border. What she witnesses there will haunt her forever . . . so she decides to take matters into her own hands. But how long can she keep the ESO thinking she’s working in their interests rather than her own?

When her handlers become suspicious, Eva knows time is not on her side. Can she defeat the evil at the heart of the camp and get out alive—or will this final installment really be her last?

Fight to Survive is the third installment in author Alan McDermott's Eva Driscoll series. It has been 2 years since Eva Driscoll thought she had gotten out from under the constant surveillance of ESO (Executive Security Office) which basically controls the highest levels of government agencies around the world. Eva is living off the grid in Melbourne, Australia trying to avoiding attachments as she mourns the loss of her lover Carl.

But, when she steps into a domestic situation, ESO is quick to remind her that she hasn't gotten away from them and her safety has been all but an illusion. But, this time, they don't want to kill her, they want to employ her. They need her special skill set for a very high risk operation to extract a valued defector from North Korea. As if this was going to be anything but easy, Eva is quickly captured, tortured, and sent to a political prisoner camp where she witnesses some really horrible things before escaping.

Not only does she need to escape and fulfill her mission, what she discovers going on in the prison shocks her to her core and it becomes her personal mission to do something about it and bring justice to the victims. She collects Sonny Barnes, who is now living in New Zealand, as well as Farooq Naser, an exceptional encrypted software expert, in order to take down the prison that appears to be selling organs to rich Chinese and others who need a transplant quickly. Sonny, like Eva, is mourning the loss of his best friend Len who died on their last mission.

I will say this again, this is a series in which you need to suspend reality and all logic in order to enjoy the book. There are some emotional moments in this book. How can there not be after what Eva, Sonny, and Farooq experienced in the previous installment? Is it too soon for Eva to move on after she put her heart into loving Carl? I absolutely believe that you should read the books in order. Yes, the author does a good job of explaining what ESO is, and why they are so damn intent on taking Eva out, but to understand what has happened to drive Eva vs ESO is definitely necessary.

There are two things that really itched my crawl. Why in any Gods name would you travel to North Korea? What would drive a person to put their lives on the line in order to believe that you won't be spied on, bugged, and arrested if you step one foot over the line? The second part is the human organ trafficking that is a real thing folks. It is scary. You can blame countries like China and Pakistan, but there are rich people all over the world who are just as guilty for not wanting to wait on a donor list for a new organ. 

The ending is a bit on the curious side. Will there be a fourth installment? Do we, as readers, really need a fourth book in order to be satisfied? Or, do we want one final Eva vs ESO battle royal in which anything can happen?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

#Review - Descendant of the Crane by Joan He #YALIT #Fantasy

Series: Standalone?
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: April 9, 2019
Publisher: AW Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Epic

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she's thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. 

Determined to find her father's killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who's also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. 

With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

Descendant of the Crane is Joan He's young adult debut. The story is about Princess Hesina of Yan whose father just died. As his oldest child, she is to become queen of their kingdom. Which is something she does not really want, but will still do because as queen, she will be able to open up a trial to find out who killed her father. In this case, she is the only one who honestly believes he was murdered since she found him. This includes her own mother as well as nearly everyone around her. 

Hesina of has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But, when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her. Her court is filled with dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. 

Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago. If you haven’t guessed, sooths main power is predicting the future. Hesina is told to beware of the devil of lies, and that her only hope may lie in the hands of a convict. Akira is said convict and he is as brilliant as he is secretive. Akira is your typical mysterious “dangerous” boy who ticks all the misunderstood bad boy boxes that are seen in nearly all young adult tropes these days.

Thus, the start of her reign as queen becomes filled with a murder investigation. You never know who to trust, or what anyone’s motives are until revelations happen too fast to do anything about them. Hesina was a bit too trusting of everyone. She's got a good heart, and means what she says about making sure her people are taken care of, but there are those close to her that are eager to see her fall. Hesina has four siblings: a brother a year younger who is a general (Yan Sanjing), two adopted siblings (a twin brother Caiyan and sister Lilian who Hesina is very close too), and a younger half-brother (Rou) who Hesina’s hardly speaks to since it is a daily reminder of her father’s infidelity.

Unfortunately, Hesina's relationship with Yan was so very strained which was pretty sad considering he was one of the few who could have been a steady presence for her when she is confronted by backstabbing and betrayal. My one major complaint in this entire book just happens to be the ending. There is nothing on the authors web page, nor on Goodreads, or anywhere else about a possible sequel. For me, there absolutely needs to be a sequel. You can't just leave things hanging in perpetuity forever without giving readers like me an answer. 

Overall, this Chinese-inspired fantasy combines two elements politics and a murder mystery. If there were to be a sequel, I would have hopes that I could find time to read it to see what happens next for Hesina.

Monday, July 29, 2019

#Review - Vow of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Dance of Thieves (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Henry Holt
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

The thrilling sequel to Dance of Thieves, featuring danger, deception, and romance.

Kazi and Jase have survived, stronger and more in love than ever. Their new life now lies before them—the Ballengers will be outlaws no longer, Tor's Watch will be a kingdom, and the two of them will meet all challenges side by side, together at last.

But an ominous warning mars their journey back, and in their rush to return to Tor's Watch, just outside the fortress walls, they are violently attacked and torn apart—and each is thrust into their own new hell.

Unsure whether the other is alive or dead, Kazi and Jase must keep their wits among their greatest enemies and unlikeliest allies. And all the while, Death watches and waits.

Vow of Thieves, by author Mary E. Pearson, is the finale to the Dance of Thieves duology. This series takes place in the same universe as the authors Remnant Chronicles. The story start off few weeks after Dance of Thieves ended with Kazimyrah of Brightmist/Rahtan, and Jase Ballenger, Patrei of Tor's Watch, returning to Tor's Watch with wonderful news from Lia, the Queen of Venda. Jase once her prisoner, is now her lover. Kazi is worried about earning his family's acceptance after she kidnapped him to bring him to justice for harboring fugitives from her kingdom. 

But, everything is about to head further into chaos and danger when they are ambushed. Separated, they must face their own individual battles for survival, not sure if the other has even survived, but hoping against hope to be reunited. Kazi, who was given the title of ambassador, is taken to Tor’s Watch where she sees the destruction wrought by their unseen enemy who is very familiar to readers. The cathedral is in ruins. Soldiers are everywhere and Jase’s family is in hiding. 

Kazi intends to honor her vow to protect his family and her directive to the queen to find the missing papers that produced the horrible weapons now being used against them by a King with no morals who needs mercenaries to carry out his dirty work. Meanwhile, Jase finds allies in Caemus, Kerry of Fogswallow, as well as Kazi's friends Wren & Synove. He will eventually discover the truth about who is responsible for attacking his watch, as well as learning what his family has been doing since Tor was sacked by King Montegue of Eislandia who claims he was saving the city from raiders.

You do need to remember what happened in the first book in order to understand key characters and what has happened to get Kazi and Jase to this point in the series. Kazi and Jase spend most of the book separated. Each has their own adventures while hoping that they will find each other again. When they do, they are unstoppable as a team. The ending really wraps up things nicely as well as bringing back some characters from the authors Remnant Chronicles including Lia, Kaden, Rhys, Griz, Nash, and Paulie. It also closes a chapter in Kazi's life that has been left unfilled since her mother was stolen away from her when she was just a child. 

I think it's fair to say that the author will come back to this world at some point. In fact, she really leaves the door opened for a return with a curious final page.

Friday, July 26, 2019

#Review - Wherever She Goes by Kelley Armstrong #Thrillers #Psychological

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Galley, 304 pages
Release Date: June 25, 2019
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Psychological

From New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong comes a brand new psychological thriller about the lengths one woman will go to in order to save a child.

“Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid.”

That’s what the officer tells single mother Aubrey Finch after she reports a kidnapping. So why hasn’t anyone reported the little boy missing? Aubrey knows what she saw: a boy being taken against his will from the park. It doesn’t matter that the mother can’t be found. It doesn’t matter if no one reported it. Aubrey knows he’s missing.

Instead, people question her sanity. Aubrey hears the whispers. She’s a former stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have primary custody of her daughter, so there must be something wrong with her, right? Others may not understand her decision to walk away from her safe life at home, but years of hiding her past – even from the people she loves – were taking their toll, and Aubrey knows she can’t be the mother or wife she envisions until she learns to leave her secrets behind.

When the police refuse to believe her, she realizes that rescuing the boy is up to her alone. But after all the secrets, how far is she willing to go? Even to protect a child.

Kelley Armstrong's Wherever She Goes asks the question, how far would you go to save a child? 6 months after separating from her husband Paul and voluntarily giving up primary responsibility for her daughter Charlotte, Aubrey Finch witnesses a boy being taken in an SUV. As a mother of a young daughter with lots of regrets, Aubrey's instinct's kick into high gear. She calls the police who claim that there is no reports of a young boy missing. Since there's no reports of a missing child, they consider the case closed.

Her husband, as well as certain police officers, believe that she might be hallucinating the entire episode. What's even worse, Aubrey is told that she makes people nervous and some consider her to be a threat. Aubrey is also keeping a secret from Paul which could have implications on any visitation rights that she might receive in the divorce settlement. Aubrey blames herself for the disintegration of her marriage and refuses all monetary offers from Jack while working at a local library and living in a dumpy apartment.

Aubrey takes matters into her own hands. She's not about to forget about the little boy who was taken. She becomes an amateur detective, investigating the crime and the people who she learns are involved. She uses parts of her former life before she met Paul to dig up things about the child's life as well as any acquaintances. As Audrey works through assimilating her past to her present, she also gets closer to the truth of what happened to the child on the playground no one seemed to notice or care is missing.

Overall, I actually liked Aubrey and understood her struggles after learning about what happened to not only her parents, but also while she was working a rather dangerous job that left a mark on her, literally. Aubrey isn’t confident in her parenting skills but she loves her daughter. She hasn’t always made the best decisions, but she was a relatable character.  There are really only 2 other characters who need to be mentioned. The first is the husband who gets involved in Aubrey's drama, and Police Officer Laila Jackson who thought Aubrey was a drama queen, only to discover she has an entire different layer.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

#Review - Containment by Caryn Lix #YALit #SyFy

Series: Sanctuary #2
Format: E-Galley, 496 pages
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

In the thrilling second book in a series best described as Alien meets The Darkest Minds, Kenzie and her friends find themselves on the run and up against another alien invasion headed towards Earth.

They may have escaped Sanctuary, but Kenzie and her friends are far from safe.
Ex-Omnistellar prison guard Kenzie and her superpowered friends barely made it off Sanctuary alive. Now they’re stuck in a stolen alien ship with nowhere to go and no one to help them. Kenzie is desperate for a plan, but she doesn’t know who to trust anymore. Everyone has their own dark secrets: Omnistellar, her parents, even Cage. Worse still, she’s haunted by memories of the aliens who nearly tore her to shreds—and forced her to accidentally kill one of the Sanctuary prisoners, Matt.

When Kenzie intercepts a radio communication suggesting that more aliens are on their way, she knows there’s only one choice: They must destroy the ship before the aliens follow the signal straight to them. Because if the monstrous creatures who attacked Sanctuary reach Earth, then it’s game over for humanity.

What Kenzie doesn’t know is that the aliens aren’t the only ones on the hunt. Omnistellar has put a bounty on Kenzie’s head—and the question is whether the aliens or Omnistellar get to her first.

Containment, by author Caryn Lix, is the second installment in the authors Sanctuary series. It has been nearly a month since Kenzie Cord and her anomaly allies escaped the prison known as Sanctuary after it was attacked by an unknown alien race that left only several dozen people alive and living aboard a strange alien spaceship. There's a feeling among the crew of not only hurt, but anger, and loss as well.  The loss of Matt and Tyler. The loss of Imani's sister while she somehow managed to survive. 

Then there is the secret that Kenzie and Cage are keeping from everyone about how Matt really died, and how heavily it weighs on Kenzie's mind. She wants so badly to open her mouth and tell everyone, including Rune, what happened, but she's just now getting to the point where the anomalies trust her. Even though her own mother threw her under the bus, her loss weighs heavily on her mind. It is rare for an author to use PTSD to explain what Kenzie is going through. I'm glad she did because it adds a bit of death and realism to the story. 

Things really get moving when he crew realizes that the ship is sending a signal back to the aliens home. As they approach Mars, they decide that the ship must be destroyed and Omnistellar must not be allowed to get their hands on the ship and its technology. Unfortunately, nobody wants to believe them. It's up to Kenzie and the others to try and find a way to destroy the alien ship, while also evading capture by Omnistellar - or anyone else who wants them to hand them over to the corporation. 

The group is assisted, in his own obnoxious way, by Liam Kidd who claims he knows all about the alien race he calls Zemdyut. The aliens are fast, unpredictable, adaptable, and very clever. Kenzie has more than enough issues all of her own when it's learned that she has a high bounty on her head from her former employer. What's really interesting about this story is Kenzie herself. She's gone from a new anomaly who couldn't be trusted, to someone whose powers are growing by leaps and bounds. 

The others like Reed, Cage, Rune, Mia, Alexei, Jasper, and Imani are also having an upgrade of their abilities. But, Kenzie seems to have the most to gain. The latest trend is that we need more diversity in young adult novels. In this book, the cast of characters is diverse, they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they all have issues, and they have to learn to trust each other when the author decides that the characters haven't been tortured enough.  

Overall, this isn't a bridge or a let down from the first installment. There are plenty of action, surprises, twists, and horror to make everyone happy. There is, however, a really wild cliffhanger ending that left me stunned. I can't wait until the third installment is released.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

#Review - T-Minus by Shannon Greenland #YALIT #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Galley, 320 pages
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller, Suspense

The president’s daughter has only twenty-four hours to save the country in this 24 for teens thriller.

24 hours. That’s all the domestic terrorist cell has given Sophie to stop the assassination of the president of the United States—her mother—and to save the country. But with her father and brother missing, too, she knows this goes deeper than anyone thinks. Only someone on the inside would know how to make the entire First Family disappear.

It’s up to Sophie and the few friends she trusts to uncover the conspiracy and stop the terrorists—because they want something from her, she has no idea what it is, and they’ll kill her brother if she goes to anyone else…

Shannon Greenland's T-Minus is being sold as 24 for teens. Pretty good description. This espionage thriller sets a tight ticking clock and high personal stakes that will keep readers turning pages until the end. 17-year old Sophie Washington's mother is the first female President of the USA. One night, there is a legitimate threat against her mother which protocol dictates that the Secret Service separate all four members of Sophie's family to secure locations. Her father leaves her with a curious message, "Do Not Trust Anyone." Anyone could be a threat.

Over the course of the next 24 + hours, Sophie's life will turn into a nightmare and secrets will be revealed that will upturn her life. Sophie and her friends Jackson, Callie, and Zeke are all members of the CIA's teen program. (There is no such program. It's a figment of the author's imagination). They attend a school that trains them in all areas of covert missions including hand-to-hand, martial arts, simulations, and obstacle courses. 

While trying to discover what happened to her brother Erik, and attempting to save her family, Sophie discovers the truth about an incident that happened 15 years ago but was covered up by the people she knows very well including the Vice President. As for Sophie's character, there were times that I questioned the thought process to some of her choices and decisions. I felt as though there were certain instances that were unrealistic and problematic. But, it is fair to say her choices in the end were courageous and heroic. 

Recommendation: If you can honestly and truly suspended all reality for the entire time you read this book, you should enjoy the action packed scenes and the daring escapes that Sophie manages while staying alive and attempting to uncover who the terrorists are. If you are a fan of shows like 24, or even Designated Survivor, you might actually enjoy this story since you already know that fiction is not real life and it is pretty much impossible for what happens in this book to actually take place.

*Cover Reveal* Unearthed (Death Seeker #1) By Cecy Robson

Today I am excited to join Cecy Robson in unveiling the cover for Unearthed, the first book in her Death Seeker urban fantasy series.  To celebrate Cecy is sharing chapter one with you and offering five winners an eBook copy of Sealed with a Curse. Enjoy!
Now Feast your eyes on .... 
Unearthed (Death Seeker #1) *cover designed by Rebecca Weeks @ Dark Wish Designs
September 24, 2019
Add to Goodreads
Pre-order your Copy: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo 
Fae was once a flourishing paradise. Until Death turned greedy and destroyed it, targeting the creatures who inhabited it. Those who survived escaped to Earth’s realm, but Death wasn’t far behind . . . Olivia Finn is just another pixie trying to blend in among humans and hide from the death hounds who devoured her family. Clinging to the talisman that keeps her veiled from those who hunt her, she believes she is safe. . .. Until Death finds her and discovers she’s immune to its grip. Now that Olivia’s power is unearthed, she is sought by Fae who see her as their savior and stalked by dark entities compelled to destroy her. Can she trust the King of the Dead who has sworn to train and protect her? Or should she obey her instincts that warn he desires more? Olivia can no longer hide from Death. To survive, she must seek it.
Chapter One
Ryker Scott, MacGregor and Santonelli’s newest associate, prowls past my cubicle wearing a tailored black suit that hugs his broad shoulders. I swear he’s not human. In the year he’s worked here, he’s represented a talk show host charged with having sex with multiple minors, a senator’s son accused of sexually assaulting a young boy, and a Wall Street executive snagged in a cocaine smuggling ring. All were acquitted under his watch, despite the odds and endless charges. His latest victory was mere days ago when his client, a Broadway star one blow shy of beating his wife to death, was found not guilty. Ryker’s military haircut fits his serious persona. The guy doesn’t smile, ever. I suppose when you represent walking pieces of filth, it’s hard to pretend you’d skip through a field of daisies. I’d ask him how he sleeps at night, saving all those horrible people and releasing them back into society, but I don’t know him, and I don’t care to. Ryker’s ice blue eyes dart in my direction when I glare. He knows I hate every inch of his hulking form. If I could flip him off, I would. Instead, I give him my back and return to my work, wishing he’d stay on his side of the office. I sense him stalk around the corner to speak quietly to another paralegal. She’s likely falling all over herself to please him. He has that effect on the staff, unlike my boss, who everyone avoids like shingles. Speaking of the most irate man to ever wear a suit, Marco slams down the receiver to the phone, his booming voice loud enough to rattle the glass of his fishbowl office. “Olivia! Where the hell are my notes?” My fingers fly across my keyboard, finishing the deposition Marco needs before that vein on his forehead finally pops. “In your briefcase, along with copies of the court documents,” I reply. My sensitive hearing picks up the click, click of the briefcase locks snapping open before the mad sound of rustling papers ensues. “I don’t have—” “You have three pens and two highlighters in the small zippered compartment and a new legal pad in the side pocket,” I call out. “My—” “Your cell phone is charging on the table behind you,” I remind him. I hit print and swivel in my high back office chair, working quickly to stack the copies neatly into a folder. After taking one last sip of tea, I lift the folder and an extra-large cup of coffee and hurry into my boss’s office. Marco welcomes me with a scowl, the motion joining his crazy caterpillar eyebrows. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you?” he asks. “Yup. Happy Monday.” I place the deposition on his desk and hand him the cup of coffee the new administrative assistant dropped off. So far, Marco is the only attorney she hasn’t hit on. “Drink up,” I tell him. “You’re due in court in an hour.” I play with the talisman around my neck, reassuring myself that Death can’t find me while I wear it. I examine my boss and shake my head. Marco is roughly five feet, six inches tall, three hundred pounds and balding, and about as cuddly as a rabid raccoon living in a sewer. And here he sits, partner of the most prestigious law firm in the region and the best defense attorney in Jersey. “What are you looking at?” I motion to his face. “I told you to do something about your eyebrows.” “There’s nothing wrong with my eyebrows.” He tries to smooth them, but the motion only ruffles them further. “Marco, they look ready to sprout teeth and bite.” I push off the desk. “Let me trim them.” Marco is one second away from releasing the brows like Zeus did the Kraken. “Do I strike you as someone who manscapes?” “No. That’s part of the problem.” I sigh when the vein on his forehead pulsates. “You need to take pride in your appearance. If I didn’t have your suits and shirts dry-cleaned, you’d resemble a serial killer walking into court.” My voice trails when I take in the creases lining his gray suit. It’s my turn to scowl. “Isn’t this the suit you wore Friday?” He doesn’t answer. “Marco!” “You’re one to talk. Look at you. Your hair is one pot of gold shy of a leprechaun.” I point a nasty finger at him. “Don’t make fun of the hair.” As a pixie, I look human, the exception being my rainbow-colored locks. That’s right, blond hair intermixed with strands of pink, lavender, and blue. It’s not on purpose. My hair was this color from birth, long before we crossed over from the dying realm of Fae. Many PTA moms scolded my mother for “doing this” to me. Mama tried to change the color, so I’d blend in better among humans, but nothing worked. Hair dyes dried my hair and faded in mere hours, and organic products made my hair shimmer like fairy dust. Between my hair and the Celtic cross tat on the base of my skull, everyone in school assumed I was Goth. Truthfully, I prefer pretty clothes and music I can dance to without risking an elbow to the face. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Marco snaps. “This suit cost two grand.” “It might as well cost two dollars by the way you take care of yourself.” I stomp in my pink kitten heels toward Marco’s closet and whip out a fresh suit, tie, and set of underclothes. After taking a good whiff, I also grab a stick of Right Guard. I set everything neatly in his private bathroom and poke my head out. “You still have time to shower before court. Do you want me to turn on the water—” The scuff of expensive shoes along the marble tile floor alert me we’re no longer alone. Damn it. It’s Ryker. Doesn’t he have puppy kickers to defend? Rock hard muscles bulge against his designer suit. When he’s not freeing predators back into society, he must spend his time in the gym. Ryker squares his jaw hard enough to smooth the dimple on his chin. He’s not pleased to see me or the glare I peg him with. Still, he tilts his head in polite acknowledgment. “Olivia.” I smooth the skirt of my long white sundress and walk toward Marco, ignoring Ryker. “Do you need anything else?” Marco’s features soften as he addresses Ryker. “Sorry you had to wait, son. I was negotiating the Andrews case with opposing counsel when you first stopped in.” That explains Marco’s prior screaming and swearing. Marco is the type who prefers coercion to tact, which makes his interactions with Ryker odd. Marco smiles at him, as in, genuinely smiles. “Congratulations on the acquittal, boy,” Marco says to Ryker. “That was a hell of a job you did. Keep this up, and you’ll make junior partner within a year.” “Thank you, sir. It was a challenging case, and I was grateful for the help.” “You can have all the help you want, anytime you want it.” Marco’s smile fades. “Is something wrong? You seem upset.” “I’m fine, sir,” the leech answers. “You don’t seem fine. Would you like some coffee? Olivia would be happy to bring you a cup.” “No, she wouldn’t,” I mutter, walking toward the door. “You have fifty minutes, Marco. Take a shower.” I shut the door behind me, muffling their conversation. The glass offices may allow a full view in, but they’re soundproof, except to my sensitive ears. Marco and Ryker glance in my direction before resuming their conversation. I was rude in there, and I’m embarrassed about my behavior. There’s just something about Ryker that fires me up and puts me in a hideous mood… I freeze when I glance toward Bill MacGregor’s office. Bill is the other partner and a Fae like me. Right now, he’s in serious trouble. The very slutty and very human admin is slinking closer to him. She leans over his desk, her tiny black skirt rising and exposing her butt cheeks. Bill’s eyes widen, and he tries to scramble away. The admin doesn’t let him. She yanks him to her by his tie and stamps her lips to his. Thunder booms, shaking the thirty-story building. Lightning blankets Bill’s office in a painful blare of white light. As the light fades, so does Bill’s glamour, revealing his true form. Glistening mocha-colored skin envelops the boulder-sized muscles of the seven-foot-tall gargoyle. Dagger-length fangs, sleek and deadly, protrude from his terrifying maw as glider-sized wings expand, shadowing the terrified woman in darkness. She screams, loudly, the thick glass mercifully silencing her terror. I leap from my chair when she face-plants on Bill’s mahogany desk and call to the administrative assistant in the cubicle beside mine. “Jane, clean up in aisle five.” Jane and I are both Fae and the only staff with a front and center view of Bill’s office. We don’t get a lot of traffic on this side of the building. Everyone avoids Marco, and no one wants to risk accidentally killing Jane. Humans only see Jane’s chosen glamor, that of a ninety-year-old woman with severe osteoporosis and one awkward step shy of a broken hip. For an eight-hundred-year-old druid priestess, Jane looks damn good. Unfortunately, she is ancient, and her hearing reflects it. “Jane? Jane!” I round back when she doesn’t hear me and shake her shoulder. “Jane!” She stops her two-finger typing and blinks her tiny black eyes at me, speaking in her two-pack-a-day smoker voice. “Whhhat?” “Clean up in aisle five,” I repeat. I bolt to Bill’s office, making quick work of drawing the privacy shades. Bill is freaking out. His mammoth wings snap irritably, and his clawed hands wave in distress. “Why dith thee havvvv to kitth meeth? Goth. Damnth ith!” he hisses through his fangs. “Your glamour form is smoking hot,” I remind him. He scowls, his forked tongue dangling from his mouth. “Did you have to pick that glamour?” I ask. I motion to the picture of him standing with the governor. “You resemble a young Laurence Fishburne with a goatee.” “I lithe Lawrenth Fishburth,” he replies. I pat his arm. “Try to relax and call it back.” I draw the last shade that blocks the view into his office and stick my head out the door to check on Jane. She’s resumed her two-finger typing. On a good day, Jane can type ten words a minute. This doesn’t appear to be a good day. “Jane!” “Whhhat?” she croaks. “You’re needed in Bill’s office!” I holler. “Bring the big guns—the big guns, Jane!” The slutty admin slides off Bill’s desk and falls to the floor with a thump. She groans, her forehead crinkling. “Sheeth wakingth,” Bill says, panicking. There’s no way he can recall his glamour in this state. “Jane, haul ass, sister girl!” Jane glances over her shoulder and adjusts the black veil on her head. With the speed of molasses, she reaches for the candy cane striped wand she keeps in her pencil holder and shuffles toward us. Her black dress, two sizes too big, drags behind her tiny form. The wand looks ridiculous clutched in her spotted hand. It’s not just the red and white stripes, it’s the red plastic heart complete with ribbons decorating the tip. Still, I wouldn’t mess with Jane’s wand. Our last temp tried to take it as a joke. Following a severe case of genital herpes and a beard so thick she looked ready to swing an ax, she was never heard from again. Jane reaches Bill’s office with all the grace and speed of a snail. Unlike Bill, Jane isn’t panicked. She merely passes her wand over the admin, chanting in ancient Irish. I try to make out the spell through her deep mumbles. It rings similar to the one she used to try to restore my magic. Unlike the Fae who occupy this world, I don’t possess magic. My power and wings were ripped from me when my family and I crossed dimensions and into Earth’s realm. Although I was young, I remember the pain. The last time Jane attempted to resurrect my magic, I cried with frustration. Jane wiped my tears, speaking slowly. “You have something, Livvie,” she insisted. She smiled softly and pointed at my heart with her long, crooked finger. “What you seek is in there.” I want to believe her. My family comes from a powerful line of pixies. It’s devastating to not possess even a wisp of their strength. It’s not that I think I need magic to feel more Fae. I just want something—anything—to strike back at those who robbed me of my family. Until then, all I can do is hide beneath the veil and protection of my talisman, just like the rest of my kind. Glitter sprinkles from Jane’s wand as she shakes it over the admin’s face, freezing her in place when she abruptly wakes and tries to scream. I scoot around them and toward the large windows. “Please alter her memory, Jane, and kindly tell her to stop being such a skank— Oh, and if you could, help Bill recall his glamour. He’s having a tough time settling.” My voice trails as I peer through the window. Across the Hudson River, dark clouds crawl along the New York skyline, expanding quickly and morphing day into night. My blood chills to ice, threatening to snap my bones. Death has found us. It’s coming. It’s coming now. But why? The growing cluster of ominous clouds inks the sky. Jane stops her chanting, training her beady eyes toward the ceiling when the lights flicker. “Livvie,” she warns. My fingers find my Celtic sister knot—the talisman that hides me from Death. It’s still there. I look at Jane. Her talisman dangles from her neck. So then… Bill whirls left and right, knocking books from the shelves and sending the paperwork on his desk flying with the bat of his powerful wings. He falls to his knees when something on the floor catches his eye, the tips of his wings leaving deeps scrapes along the walls. Like a frantic cat, he scratches at the floor, trying to retrieve his broken watch. I dive for the watch, Bill’s talisman. The links snapped from his wrist when he resumed his true form, damaging the magical charge that gives the veiling spell its power. In the distance, I hear them, the cavernous roars of the Cù-Sìth death hounds, the form of Death that devoured my family. I drop the watch into his hand and cover it with my palm. It doesn’t work. With each crash of encroaching thunder, the growls intensify. The Cù-Sìth are hungry. They need a soul, and it’s Bill’s they hunt. The fluorescent bulbs explode, encasing the room in darkness. “Livvie…” Jane’s throaty voice carries fear I’ve never seen in her. “Ma-gic” My pixie eyes adjust to the darkness, only to widen when I realize what Jane is asking. She wants me to call my lost mojo. Is she crazy? Now? We’ve spent countless hours trying to summon it only to fail each time. Lightning flashes against the windows, illuminating the room. “Hurry,” Jane urges. The talisman can’t conceal Bill from Death. It knows he’s here. With sweat-soaked hands, I anchor the links around Bill’s giant fingers, searching deep within me and attempting what feels impossible. I scrunch my face, concentrating cocooning us in my aura. Emptiness is all that greets me. I hold my breath, focusing harder. The emptiness grows more pronounced. I open my eyes. Bill shakes his head, his pointy ears drooping as he motions for me to leave. Tears blur my vision. “No, Bill.” Magic or not, I won’t leave him alone to die. Thunder rattles the building, and the chorus of howls reach a mind-numbing crescendo. My eyes scan the office for something I can use to connect the links. I find a discarded roll of tape on the floor and lead Bill to it, both of us crouching low when we reach it. I snap the roll from the dispenser, careful not to lose the end. With more speed than grace, I wind the tape around the watch and secure it to Bill’s wrist. I run out of tape just as the first Cù-Sìth arrives. Tendrils of dark green smoke slink through the window and snake their way around the desk, widening and solidifying into a bear-sized hound with shaggy green fur and glowing red eyes. His long-braided tail snaps like a whip, cracking the tension-filled air while paws as big as my head scrape their long claws against the tile. Jane doesn’t move. I don’t even think she breathes. I can’t stop trembling, pleading for the good in the world to banish the hound from my sight. Like the time I was ten, my pleas go unanswered. The hound shoves his box-shaped head between Bill and me, his nose twitching until he latches onto a scent. A hungry growl vibrates through the hound’s immense chest. Slowly, he turns toward Bill, meeting him square in his eyes. Drool drips from his needle-length fangs, falling against Bill’s shoulder and sizzling like acid. He licks the air near Bill’s throat. My trembles turn into full out convulsions. He sniffs again. He’s almost on top of us. The hound’s gaze cuts to me when a small cry breaks through my quivering lips. He pauses, drawing in a deep breath and trailing his scorching ember eyes down my body. I’m certain he can sense me, until he looks past me toward the metal door where claws scrape again, and again, and again. More death hounds have arrived. The hound between us returns his attention to where Bill kneels, curling the lips of his long snout into a hideous snarl. He senses Bill’s soul and wants it for himself. He sniffs again. He knows Bill is here. Like the strike of a cobra, the hound snaps at the air, puncturing through Bill’s face. The cords of Bill’s neck strain as he struggles to contain his moans. I’m certain Bill is done for. But the magic from his talisman holds strong, veiling Bill’s presence and masking the taste of his blood. Dark blood dribbles from the hound’s fangs, staining his dark green fur. I cup my hand over my mouth as the hound withdraws and I see what remains of my friend’s face. Mangled skin dangles in flaps against Bill’s neck. It’s all I can do to keep from screaming. Talismans muffle sounds, but they have their limits, and nothing on earth will be able to silence the horror shredding my insides if I let loose. Bill’s heavy hand encases my small one. He’s trying to comfort me and encouraging me to be strong. But how can I be strong when Death has arrived to tear him apart? I jump when roars bellow behind the door. The pack of Cù-Sìth lingering outside is growing more insistent. I press my hand tighter against my mouth to stifle my sobs. It’s not right for Bill to die this way. He’s good and kind. It’s not his time. Two more hounds materialize like smoke through the door jamb, silencing my cries. These are swathed in matted white fur. They stalk around the office, growling and frantic to eat. One of them knocks into the green one as if demanding food. The green one barrels her over, perceiving her actions as a challenge. They fight like hungry beasts over a piece of meat, clawing, biting, and snarling. More hounds arrive. They prowl restlessly, sniffing for prey and ignoring the fight. The white hound never stood a chance against the green. He dominates her, driving her into the opposite wall of the large office. In one fierce move, the green hound flips over the female. He pins her to the floor and digs his fangs into her belly, tearing it open like rotting flesh. Souls spill from her gut in waves of translucent images. I recognize the faint forms of dwarves and fairies, their agonized faces pleading with me to help them. Tears spill down my face. I wish I could help. But like the rest of my kind, there’s nothing I can do except hide. The dead try to flee, except the remaining Cù-Sìth are too fast. The pack sweeps through the door like a raging fog of white and green, mauling the already damaged souls. Bill and I wrench our faces away, unable to stand the terror-filled cries and slurping noises of the feasting hounds. I steal a glance as the last of the shrieks die out, hoping they’re done. The hounds remain, raking their claws and scavenging for more. The spirits all are gone… except for one little Fae. A sprite hides trembling in the corner of Bill’s Juris Doctorate diploma. But just as I see her, so do the hounds. The Alpha who bit Bill’s face spots her first. He lunges, trampling over the others who try to intercept him. The little sprite shoots through the window, screaming in pain and fear. In streams of white and dark green smoke, the hounds give chase. I want to race after her and help. But I no longer have wings to fly nor magic to save her. My pathetic attempts to summon my power proved as much. I sniff meekly. The little sprite needs someone stronger than me. I weep in silence for the souls that will never find peace and curse all forms of Death for filling their bellies instead of carrying their charge to eternal rest. Bill and I rise carefully when the roars of the Cù-Sìth grow too faint to hear. He keeps his hand over mine until my trembling subsides and my tears stop falling, speaking kind words while his body mends his ravaged face and Jane’s enchantments repair the damage to the office. With Jane’s help, Bill recalls his glamour. The moment his resemblance of Laurence Fishburne returns, Jane goes to work on repairing his talisman as only an Ancient can. It takes time and an endless well of power to recharge damaged magic. Time Jane wouldn’t have without the makeshift band the tape provided. Forged from rare copper, gold, and silver found only in Fae and triggered by rare gemstones and diamonds from Fae mountains, talismans are a wonder. They serve to hide us and open the portals between our homeland and earth. Yet to open the portal, you must remove your talisman and risk a direct call to Death. My father took that risk, and it cost him his soul. Jane nods to Bill and lifts her wand when she finishes. He walks naked to the opposite wall tugging on links to test her work. It’s only when her magic seems to hold that the tension surrounding him eases. Bill punches a small indiscriminate button hidden in the dark mahogany paneling. Two sets of doors part, unveiling a hidden bar. He pours a large helping of Irish whiskey into a glass and downs it, and another. He then removes a pair of pants and a fresh shirt from his closet. As soon as he dresses, he pours another drink and offers it to me. “No, thank you, Bill.” “Cathasach,” Jane spits through her teeth. Bill nods. “I know.” My gaze dances between them. “What?” “The green Cù-Sìth,” he says. “The Alpha.” Bill tips back the glass, this time only taking a small hesitant sip. His hand is quivering. I didn’t notice it before. I see it now despite the shots of courage he poured down his throat. “Cathasach is the father of all the death hounds and the first to taste Life. It was he who convinced the other forms of Death to feed on the souls of the living.” He knocks back the glass, draining it of its amber fluid. “The Cù-Sìth originally carried the souls of mountain Fae into the Afterlife,” I say, my tears close to the surface. “They were peaceful. I don’t understand how they became what we saw.” Bill’s eyebrows knit tight, his anger momentarily shoving aside his fear. “It doesn’t matter what they were, only what they are, creatures who lack souls of their own with no conscience or respect for the Fae they consume. Did you see their size? They’re enormous from the plethora of spirits trapped within them. There’s no rationale. No pity. No pardon. No loyalty. Like all forms of Death, they’re selfish and their appetites insatiable. Look at how easily they turned on their own.” He pours a fresh shot and brings it to Jane. She takes a few gulps and resumes her wand waving over the admin. “Tell her she’s fired,” Bill says, his deep voice laced with resentment. Jane nods and tosses the rest of the liquor down her throat. I retrieve her glass and return it to the bar. It seems wrong to end our conversation this way, without hope or gentle words to remind us we’re safe. But this sense of safety is a momentary luxury, nothing that’s guaranteed. Even with our talismans, Death is never far away. I try to leave the office and this experience behind. Bill’s deep baritone halts my sluggish steps, keeping me in place. “Olivia, Cathasach knew you were here. The way he took you in, somehow he knew.” My response is almost robotic. “We’ve met before. I just didn’t know his name.” Jane stops chanting. Bill chokes on his next sip of whiskey. He rushes to me and grips my arms. “You met him before today?” I nod, shaking from the force of his trembles. “Twice,” I admit. The color drains from his face. “Listen to me, Olivia. Do not remove your talisman, ever,” he whispers tightly. “If you escape a hound more than once, you become more than prey, you become an obsession. He’ll want you and not stop until he finds you.” This is the last thing I need to hear. I break free and run from the room. In my haste, I slam into Ryker. I bounce off his broad torso and land hard on my ass. Shock parts my lips. Considering I’m the one sprawled on the marble tile, he seems plenty pissed. Perspiration feathers his forehead and his chest rises and falls in furious bursts. He clenches his fists, his blue eyes searing as he looms over me. By the way his imposing form takes me in, I should be terrified. Mostly, I’m baffled by his rage. I try to stand, feeling vulnerable. Before I can make it to my feet, Ryker storms away. ©Unearthed, Death Seeker #1, Cecy Robson, LLC 2019
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About Cecy Robson
Cecy Robson is an author of contemporary and new adult romance, young adult adventure, and award-winning urban fantasy. A double-nominated RITA® Finalist, Winner of the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and published author of more than twenty titles, you can typically find Cecy on her laptop or stumbling blindly in search of caffeine.
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