Monday, May 20, 2019

An Excerpt from Master of Fate

Dear Reader -- The newest Mageverse novella will be out at the end of the month from Changeling Press. Here's a little taste...

Keeping Mad Alys sane has never been harder -- and neither has loving her.
Davon Fredericks is on a self-appointed mission to keep Mad Alys sane. And that job’s never been harder.
Alys Hawkwood is the most powerful seer among the witches of the Magekind. She’s seen a lot of horrors in her visions, but this is the worst: the destruction of the Magekind. The only way to prevent the deaths of everyone she cares about is to allow their worst enemy to kidnap her. Her only hope of rescue is her vampire partner, Davon -- the man she loves -- and the one she can never have.
To carry out her plan and save them all, Davon must pull off the impossible: take on a dragon and countless alien enemies alone. But his most deadly opponent is Alys herself…
      Davon Fredericks watched the rich crimson liquid swirl in the cut crystal glass as he rotated his wrist. The roots of his fangs ached.
 He took a sip, and the taste exploded on his tongue, sending a jolt of magic lancing the length of his spine. Heat streamed into his groin at the flavor, the scent, the sheer, erotic essence of Alys Hawkwood’s blood. His gaze slid over to her as she sat next to him on the dark tufted leather of the couch, watching Netflix on an enchanted tablet.
 Alys looked barely twenty -- quite a trick for someone born when Shakespeare was writing Hamlet.
 Twelve years ago, if someone had told Davon he’d be partners with an Elizabethan, he’d have put that idiot on a psych hold. He'd considered himself a thoroughly rational man, a believer in science and logic. He'd had to be. He was a twenty-first century African American trauma surgeon in Chicago, a city where it wasn't easy to be either black or a doctor. He hadn't had time for woo-woo crap.
 Until a witch offered him the chance to become a vampire and save humanity. Now here he was, immortal partner to another beautiful witch.
And Alys was beautiful.
 Her skin was a couple of shades lighter than his own deep bronze, since she was the daughter of an African vampire father and a Caucasian witch. Her lean, muscled body was a product of centuries of fighting for the survival of humanity -- and a tendency to forget to eat unless Davon nagged her.
 A riot of gleaming midnight curls sprang from her elegant head, framing a delicate, angular face. Huge eyes of a deep cinnamon brown balanced the swoop of her wide nose and the lush curve of her mouth. Soft, vulnerable lips parted as she laughed at something on her screen, showing the white edges of her teeth.
      God, Davon hungered for that mouth. He’d wanted to kiss her the first time he met her, and he still wanted it ten years later. And he wanted to taste a lot more than her mouth, starting with the smooth length of those golden thighs, revealed by a tiny pair of yellow shorts. A matching silk tank bloused over her pretty breasts, drawing his attention to the hard nipples tenting the thin fabric.
      Davon’s fangs gave another throbbing pulse as his cock hardened. Yeah, no.
      He dragged his gaze away by sheer force of will, focusing his attention on the oak wainscoting that ran around the house’s library. That section of paneling was intricately carved with magical symbols designed to amplify Alys’s magic. Though they’d shared the big Tudor-style mansion for ten years, he was still finding new flourishes in the decor.
      Whenever Alys felt anxious, she conjured something beautiful. The unicorn tapestry that covered one of the library walls had appeared following the last battle with King Bres. Davon’s near death at the hands of a troll resulted in a stained-glass portrait of Merlin. He suspected every statue, rug, and carved ceiling beam in the house owed its existence to post-battle anxiety.
      The whole place was the three-dimensional equivalent of Pinterest page therapy: lovely, whimsical — and ever so slightly OCD.
      Aaand his erection had finally deflated, thank God.
      He blew out a breath in relief. He and Alys didn’t have that kind of fuckbuddy partnership.
      Damn it.
      Mostly to keep his mind off his dick, he asked, “Any word on what Bres is up to?” Nothing could kill an erotic mood quite like a magic-using psychotic who wanted all humans dead.
      Alys looked up, intelligence burning like flame in cinnamon eyes. “The Fomorians have gone quiet. I have a feeling he’s up to som…” Her voice trailed off.
      What looked like a wave of ink flooded Alys’s sclera and irises, drowning her eyes in black. Points of light burst against the darkness, stars igniting in the eternal night. Oh, hell. She was having a vision.
      Though his heart had begun to pound, Davon didn’t move, didn’t do anything to interrupt. Alys was the most powerful seer among the Magekind’s witches. They all got flashes of the future, but no one else saw as clearly. More importantly, she could often predict how to avoid a horrific future, a talent not even Morgana Le Fay had.
      So no, you didn’t interrupt one of Alys’s visions.
      Not that what she learned was always welcome. Sometimes preventing one ugly future would trigger something even worse, so they couldn’t do a damn thing.
      Which didn’t do a lot for her mental state. There was a reason they called her Mad Alys. Davon’s mission in life was making sure that shitty nickname didn’t become a reality.
      He watched her expression, trying to determine whether this one was going to be another one of those situations. At least there were no flickers of terror and despair on her face, though the tightening line of her jaw suggested growing anger.
      A kid must be involved in this. Nothing pissed Alys off like some asshole hurting a child. Often the asshole in question ended up very, very dead by the time she and Davon finished teaching him the error of his ways.
      The blackness drained from Alys’s eyes as if someone had pulled a stopper in her skull, revealing her normal irises. She blinked at him, her gaze a little confused.
      “Alys?” he asked.
      The vague air vanished as her eyes snapped into focus.
“We’ve got a mission.” Surging off the couch as if she’d been launched from a catapult, the Maja flung her arms wide.
      Magic flooded the room in response to her will, rolling over Davon’s body. The foaming wave of sparks condensed into the new suit of armor she’d conjured last week. Its gleaming chest plate, groin protector, gauntlets and boots were intricately engraved with protective spells. Fine scale mail, as light and flexible as his own skin, covered everything the plate didn’t. The suit’s helm looked more futuristic than medieval, with a transparent faceplate designed to allow maximum peripheral vision.
      Davon thoroughly approved. It was much lighter than the old armor, easier to move in, more resistant to magical blasts. Unlike the previous kit, nothing would be able to penetrate it with fang, claw or blade. Not without a hell of a lot of work, anyway.
      A familiar weight hung against his back. He turned his head to see the hilt of his sword protruding over his left shoulder, the blade sheathed in a diagonal scabbard.
      When Davon glanced back, armor had replaced Alys’s shorts and shirt, covering her lean, elegant body in gold plate and scale mail.
      She drew her longsword from its back scabbard and tossed it onto the couch with a soft thump. “I’m going to need something with a little bit more buzz for this job.” She raised both hands, and light blazed between her palms, solidifying into a weapon.
      The two-handed great sword shone with an unearthly blue light, magic spiraling in hair-thin lightning forks from pommel to point and back again. The blade smoked as she held it, filling the air with the smell of ozone.
      “Oh, shit!” Davon took an instinctive step back. “Reaver? We need Reaver for this?”
      She shrugged. “It’s going to get a little dicey.”
      “How dicey? What’s going on?”
      “King Llyr’s kid has been snatched by his own bodyguard. The traitor’s going to hand the boy over to the Fomorians, who are meeting him for the handoff.”
      “Fucking Bres.” She’d been right about the enemy king being up to something.
      “Exactly. Your job is to grab Prince Dearg. I’ll be the big, loud distraction with a side order of flaming death.”
      Davon grinned. “You do play to your strengths.”
      “Yep. I’ll call King Llyr and Arthur, but the vision says it’ll take our backup eight minutes to arrive. If we don’t have Dearg in four, he’s dead. We’ve got zero wiggle room on this mission, ‘Von.” Her gaze burned into his, fierce and level. “Do not leave that boy. Even if I go down, you are to protect him above everything else.”
      He gave her a crisp nod. “I’ll take care of it.”
      Alys smiled. “I know.” She flicked her long fingers, and he felt the communication spell sizzle through the air, off to alert Arthur and the child’s father. “I’ll take this gate, you take the next.”
      She gestured, and a white-hot point appeared in midair. Normally it took a moment for a dimensional gate to stabilize, but this one expanded to human-sizes in a heartbeat. She wasn’t fooling around.
      “Avaaaaalonnnnn!” Howling the Magekind’s battle cry, Alys leaped through the gate, tossing a spell over her shoulder as she went.
      Another blazing spark ignited before Davon’s face, swelling out into the wavering oval that was his own magical doorway. Drawing his sword, he slipped through like a shadow.
      Magic rolled over his skin as his booted feet came down on a thick carpet of leaves. Massive oaks and maples the size of redwoods loomed around him, branches so thickly intertwined, they blocked the star-flecked Mageverse sky.
      A mortal wouldn’t have been able to see a damn thing. Luckily, Davon hadn’t been mortal in eleven years.
      A clearing lay ten yards away, illuminated by Reaver’s blue fire. High, feminine laughter rang out over the sword’s menacing crackle. His partner was giving the Fomos the full Mad Alys floorshow.
      The Fomorians cursed, and something that sounded like a troll roared as hooves thumped on the loamy forest floor.
      Where the hell was Dearg?
Davon edged closer until he glimpsed Alys charging the band of armored warriors, swinging Reaver in crackling arcs. The Fomorians wisely recoiled. He scanned the group, but there was no sign of the Sidhe traitor and his captive. Aside from a centaur and a troll, the other twelve warriors were Fomo, judging by the blue skin, three-fingered hands and the way they walked on their toes like dogs.

      The troll towered over them all, eight feet of massive green shoulders corded with muscle beneath chain mail and enchanted leather armor. Tusks distorted his snarling mouth, thrusting up from his jutting bulldog jaw. He carried a battleax in one huge hand and a kite-shaped shield in the other.
      “Great,” Davon muttered. “She’s picked a fight with the Incredible Hulk and a team of psychotic Smurfs.” 

Thanks so much for checking this out. Hope you'll enjoy it!

Angela Knight

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Christmas Carole is out from Changeling Press!

You’ll want a visit from these Ghosts of Christmas Yummy…
Carole Elzer is no Scrooge -- she loves Christmas. But when she’s visited by the ghost of her best friend and business partner, Marley, Carole learns she must make amends for something she hasn’t done -- otherwise, Marley warns, she’ll spend the rest of her life in anguish and guilt.
She’s guided on her voyage into Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come by three sexy spirits, all of whom look just like her partner, Bob Crockett. Bob is still grieving for the wife he loved and lost years ago, but Carole nurses a guilty love for him.
As Carole explores her past, present and future with her handsome spirits, she realizes just how high the stakes are. Bob’s young son Tim’s life hangs in the balance. If she doesn’t learn how to save the child, none of them will ever again know a merry Christmas -- and she and Bob will have no future together.
Changeling Press    Amazon      Barnes and Noble    Kobo      Apple

I turned to continue up the stairs -- and gasped.

Parked on the stairs ahead of me -- stairs that had been empty a heartbeat before -- a hearse stood, its back hatch swung wide to reveal the coffin inside.

Lurching backward with a yelp, I barely saved myself from falling with a frantic grab for the banister. I spun and raced back down the steps so fast, it was a miracle I didn't break my neck. At the bottom, I wheeled to peer back the way I'd come.

The stairs were empty.

Dumbass, what did you expect? No way in hell could a set of hundred-and-forty-year-old steps support a couple tons of hearse.

It hadn't been cannabis that cake had been laced with. It had been LSD.

Bob. I needed to call Bob. Six-foot-four with a broad, muscular build, Bob Crockett could handle anything. One call and he'd be here in ten minutes. Back in his hard news days, Bob had covered everything from shotgun murders to high-speed chases, and nothing shook his cool. Not even his business partner's overactive imagination.

But it was Christmas Eve, and we'd spent all day working that wedding because the bride's family had written us a check with a lot of zeros. I wasn't about to drag him out of bed now. For one thing, he shouldn't leave his twelve-year-old son home alone just to calm me down.

Tim had gone along on today's shoot, just as he'd been doing from the age of five. He'd always been a laughing, bright-eyed boy, but his mother's death had left him pale and quiet. He'd seemed particularly withdrawn today.

Damned if I was going to bother them because visions of serial killers danced in my head. Instead I stood at the foot of the stairs, concentrating on getting my racing heartbeat under control.

I kept a Lady Smith .38 in my upstairs closet. Bob had bought it for me one Christmas, then dragged me to the range to practice until he was sure I could hit what I aimed at. "I've covered too many fucking murders," he'd told me. "If you're going to live alone, you're damned well going to be able to defend yourself."

Now I took back every time I'd teased him about his paranoia.

Pulling my cell out of my pocket, I started up the stairs almost as fast as I'd come down them. If I heard so much as a floorboard creak, I was calling 911.

And tell them what? demanded the voice of common sense. That your doorknocker turned into your dead partner's face and you saw a hearse parked on the stairs? The cops'll search the house for drugs.
Damn it. No cops.

I hurried up the steps and down the hallway to the master bedroom, flipping on lights as I went. 

Pausing, I gave the room a once-over. The brass bed was neatly made under a beautiful heirloom quilt I'd inherited, like the house, from my grandmother. An antique cherry armoire and bureau stood along opposite walls. Next to the bow window, the Christmas tree was draped in twinkle lights, swags of gold tinsel, and wooden replicas of Victorian toys.

I closed the door behind me and hurried to the antique cherry armoire, where the Lady Smith resided in a top shelf gun safe. Fingers flying, I punched in the code and pulled out the matte black automatic.

Yep, fully loaded, safety on.

Feeling a lot more secure -- and a bit stupid at my freak-out -- I put the gun down on the cherry nightstand and started undressing. We always dressed up for weddings, but shooting video requires stringing cable on your hands and knees. Not the kind of thing you do in a dress and hose. Today I'd worn a black wool pantsuit and an ice-blue silk blouse. For a moment, I distracted myself with the memory of Bob in a suit. The jacket had needed no padding to call attention to his broad shoulders, narrow waist, and long legs. Not to mention that perfectly muscled ass...

Cut it out, Carole. No lusting after Marley's husband.

Still, I loved the intent look he got in those gray eyes whenever he was setting up a shot. There was something sensual in the way his powerful hands gripped one of our commercial-grade video cameras, balancing it effortlessly on one strong shoulder.

Thinking about Bob drained the last of my anxiety. I pulled on flannel pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, then crawled into bed. Settling back on the pile of fat pillows, I picked up my phone and opened my Kindle app, meaning to read until I got sleepy.

I did a search on the word "Christmas," meaning to pull up one of the holiday romances I'd collected over the years. The first thing that popped up was A Christmas Carol, one of Marley's favorite books. Every single year, we'd ended up watching one of the many TV or film versions of the classic. She'd told me once the book had fascinated her when she was a child because Scrooge's ghostly partner, Jacob Marley, shared her name.

I suddenly remembered a scene from the book that hadn't been in any of the movies. On the way up the stairs to his bedroom, Scrooge had seen a steam-powered hearse on the steps. My subconscious must have dredged up the memory and produced the modern-day version.


I clicked on a promising historical and settled back against the pillows to read. I'd just begun to sink into the lush world of Regency England when a sudden sound jolted me.

Thump clatter rattle thunk clatter.

My head snapped up as my skin went cold, my heart beginning to pound. That was not the house settling. Something was coming up the stairs.

"Shit!" I snatched the gun off the nightstand and flicked the safety off, pointing it toward the door. The clatter grew louder. My terror spiraled until I had to clamp a scream behind my teeth.
Marley floated through the bedroom door.

She wore the dress she'd been buried in, the same bright yellow chiffon tea-length gown she'd worn to marry Bob thirteen years ago. Her skin glowed with an eerie, pearlescent sheen, her long sable hair floating around her face as if she were underwater. Thin cords wrapped her body, each hung with glowing rectangles. One of them spun toward me, and I realized it was an iPhone.

"I guess that's better than chains and iron account books." My voice sounded so high, you'd think I was five. "What... What the fuck, M... Marley? You weren't a miser, and you..."

She shot at me like a comet, USB cables and phones whipping around her. She stopped, her face an inch from mine, her features contorted with a rage I'd never seen there when she was alive.

I recoiled against the pillows so hard, I felt the press of the bed's brass spindles through the fabric. 
"Marley, what the..."

"This isn't about me!" she shrieked. "It's about everything else you've ignored!"

I jerked, nerveless fingers losing their grip on the gun. It tumbled off the bed and hit the rug with a thump. Not that it would've done me any good. She was already dead.

Part of my mind was gibbering, This is not real this is not real this is not real! But it felt entirely too fucking real. She smelled of decaying leaves and wilting lilies, the smell so strong I almost gagged. And the air around her was so cold, breathing seemed to freeze my lungs.

"I... I never ignored C-Christmas!" I babbled. "Bob and Tim are coming for Christmas dinner tomorrow, and I've got him an iPhone..."

Marley's eyes blazed red. "You think all my child needs is a meal and toys?"

Instinctively, I thrust out an arm to push her away, but my hand sank to the wrist into her glowing, insubstantial body. It felt like I'd plunged it into a half-frozen pond. As my skin began to burn, I jerked back, cradling my hand against my chest. "What... what do you need me to do?"

"I don't need a damned thing," she hissed. "I'm dead. You need to be worried about the living. You need to care about someone other than yourself and your own pain!"

That stung. "I care about Bob and Tim! I've done everything for them I can think of, anything they've needed..."

The rage on her face was terrifying, and not just because she was dead. "Right, you care," she sneered. "But do you care enough to actually pay attention?"

"Pay attention to what? If you'd just tell me..."

"It wouldn't do any fucking good! It would end the same, in darkness and anguish. You'll have to learn the hard way." She floated backward a little, and I managed to drag in a breath that didn't sear my nose with cold. "Three spirits will visit you. You'd better learn what they teach, or you'll wish to God you had!"

Somewhere on the first floor, the antique grandfather clock began to chime, bonging its way to midnight. Marley floated backward, her eyes never leaving mine as she stared at me with such fury and betrayal, it felt like an ice pick to the heart.

"I'm sorry," I gasped as she began to sink into the door as if she were submerging in a pool of water. "I never intended... Marley, whatever I did wrong, I'm going to fix!"

"Prove it!" she snapped, and vanished from sight.