Monday, June 18, 2012

Hi, folks. The ninth book of my Mageverse novel will be out August 7, 2012. So I thought I'd give you a sample of the first chapter.

Chapter One
William Justice arched against the mattress like a man being tortured on a rack, his hips rolling upward as he braced his big feet on the bed. Breathing in pumping pants, he ground his head back into the pillow and growled. The low rumble didn’t sound human.
An erection curved high over his taut abdomen, hard as a blade, flushed dark and thick with need. A single bead of pre-come clung to the curving tip of his velvet glans. He sucked in a deeper breath, making the long shaft dance. The drop broke free, hit his belly, and rolled into his navel.
Dropping his hips to the bed, he went still, dark lashes fanning his cheeks as his eyes flicked behind his closed lids, tracking the dream that tormented him.
One big hand fell into the sheets, curled into a fist around a handful of twisted cotton, and gripped hard. A bead of sweat rolled down the thick curve of his biceps, drawing a shining trail as it worked its way along the contours of muscle.
As always, he dreamed of Miranda Drake. Miranda, with eyes the vivid gold of sunlight-shot amber, and a mane of hair as red as fox fur. Her breasts looked intriguingly full beneath the soft cotton T-shirts she favored, usually with some snarky phrase scrawled across the front. Snug blue jeans drew attention to her long runner’s legs and delightfully curvy ass.
Justice had never seen her naked anywhere except his dreams. These days, that was damned near every time he fell asleep. Sometimes he dreamed her nipples were the color of peaches on the sweet cream curves of her breasts, or candy pink, or soft, dusky rose. But in every single dream, her scent intoxicated him with its rich, erotic promise as she reached for him with a wicked, witchy smile.
Never mind that the real Miranda treated him with a cool, distant professionalism that made it plain he was her bodyguard. And that was all.
All he was. All he’d ever be.
“Dammit, Miranda.” Lips peeling off his teeth, Justice growled, the sound deepening to become a bestial rumble. “Miranda!”
Magic flashed. Blazing sparks engulfed him in azure energy. The glowing outline of Justice’s big body grew even bigger, muscles bulging thicker, swelling along lengthening bones. Fingernails curved into claws, shredding the sheet he still gripped. A silken tide of sable fur raced across his body, thickening over chest and groin just as his short hair lengthened into a thick, black mane that extended halfway down his back.
Justice woke with a jerk, pointed ears flattening against his skull. “Fuck,” he growled through the sharp teeth filling his long muzzle. With a disgusted growl, he rolled out of the king bed that was now too short for him, leaving behind shredded navy sheets.
Third time this week he’d wrecked the bed. That damned witch was driving him insane.
Justice stalked on clawed toes to the stained glass window, jerked the latch up, and swung the window wide. Fall air gusted into his face, cool and damp with the woody smell of decaying leaves. Judging by the angle of the sun, it was early afternoon. They’d started keeping Magekind hours, he and Miranda, sleeping during the day and going on missions at night.
You did that when you worked with vampires.
Bracing his hands on the window frame, he stared out across the elegant cityscape of castles, chateaus, and villas that surrounded Miranda’s cottage. Towering walls of marble and granite shone in the afternoon sun, surrounded by trees gone orange and gold with autumn. Topiary knights and ladies danced and jousted between the gilded oaks, swaying in the afternoon breeze.
An enchanted city built by witches on a world that was the other-dimensional twin to Earth, Avalon inhabited a universe where magic was a natural force, like magnetism or gravity. You could use that power to build a house—or turn into a werewolf.
Two months ago, Justice had agreed to serve as the bodyguard Miranda desperately needed. Her father had sworn to kill her, and he was more than capable of carrying out the threat. Even King Arthur and his vampire Knights of the Round Table weren’t enough protection.
Not against Warlock, immortal wizard, werewolf, and all-around son-of-a-bitch.
Justice wasn’t sure he was good enough protection either, especially given this damned sexual obsession he’d developed. Bodyguards did not become obsessed with the bodies they guarded. Not and keep their clients alive.
Yeah, that did it. Looking down, Justice saw that the thought of Miranda in danger had indeed killed his hard-on. He swung the window closed, turned to brace his back against the cool wall, and tried not to remember the dream.
So of course he remembered it anyway. Miranda, naked on her knees, offering him the smooth, perfect peach of her ass. Her witchy eyes shimmered as she smiled at him over one slim, pale shoulder. Her oval face reminded him of an Art Decco goddess, with its delicate strength and long Roman nose. Dusky rose lips curved in a white and wicked smile, seductive as Eve’s. Her gleaming hair cascaded around her shoulders in a thousand shades, from fox-fur to antique gold, and her round, pretty tits danced as she moved. Her pink nipples seemed to beg for the swirl of his tongue and the rake of his teeth. Her slick sex pouted at him from the soft, fiery curls between her spread thighs. Ready for his aching cock . . .
Which promptly stirred and began to rise again, unfurling with the hot flood of arousal through his veins.
“You’re killing me,” Justice told the dream, raking both hands through his thick werewolf mane in pure frustration.
Dammit, it wasn’t as if she were in her Burning Moon. The Dire Wolf equivalent of heat struck fertile werewolf females once a year. During that month, their bodies produced clouds of pheromones that drove every male around insane with need. Justice’s obsession would be understandable if he’d spent weeks drinking that seductive scent. Only Miranda wasn’t in her Moon. The crazed heat he felt was purely his own creation. Meanwhile, she treated him with the unwavering good manners of a lady of the Chosen, a werewolf aristocrat who could trace her lineage back fifteen centuries. God knew what had inspired the erotic nymph of his dreams. It certainly had nothing to do with reality.
Dammit, he shouldn’t even be thinking about this. If he didn’t stay on his clawed toes, she didn’t have a prayer against Warlock.
Protecting people was what Justice did. It was what he was. Even becoming a werewolf hadn’t changed that. He damned well wouldn’t let it.
I am not going to let Miranda’s luscious peach ass distract me from keeping her alive.

Miranda Drake dreamed of her mother’s death.
On some level, she knew it was a dream; she’d had this particular nightmare so many times, even her unconscious mind recognized it. Yet repetition hadn’t blunted its power to suck her into horror.
She screamed at herself not to open the door, but the dream Miranda did it anyway. Just as on that night three months ago, Gerald Drake stood on the other side—seven and a half feet of enraged, fully transformed werewolf. Snarling, her stepfather stormed into the house, slamming the door behind him.
Miranda backed away, her heart in her throat. He’d been beating her and her mother ever since she could remember. She knew this one was going to be bad.
“You utter fool!” Baring the knife length of his fangs, Gerald backhanded her before she could block the blow. She slammed into the wall with a crash that rattled the foyer paintings as she fell flat on her ass. “You betrayed your people.” His voice rose to a roar. “You betrayed your god!”
Miranda shook her ringing head as she fought to scramble to her feet. She had to get away before he hit her again.
“Gerald, wait!” Joelle Drake darted between them, raising her hands in supplication. “Miranda has done nothing to betray anyone, much less Warlock!”
He seemed to swell in his rage, towering over the fragile figure of his wife. “Don’t you dare lie to me, you stupid cunt! Calista Norman called—she told me all about what you did. How could you let Miranda anywhere near a Knight of the Round Table? You knew she’d talk!”
Calista, you bitch, Miranda thought, steadying herself against the wall as the room rotated slowly around her. Stars flashed in her vision. He’d given her a concussion.
“We had no idea the knight would be there.” Joelle spoke in a desperate rush, trying to get through to him before he killed them both. “The ladies were holding a Grieving for Joan Devon, and . . .”
“Joan Devon!” Gerald mocked her in a high, singsong voice. “Why do you think Joan’s husband is dead, moron? She gave him up to the knights! Just like she”—he pointed a curving talon at Miranda— “gave up Warlock!”
“No, no, you’re wrong!” Joelle wrung her hands and darted a frantic glance at Miranda. “She told them nothing. Did you, darling?”
“Not a damn thing.” Miranda forced herself to meet her stepfather’s furious yellow gaze without flinching. “The woman tried to give me a communication spell, but Mother knocked it out of my hand and told her to stay away from me. So we left.”
Gerald’s long muzzle twitched, drawing in her scent.
Oh, shit, Miranda thought. I should have talked around it. He’ll know I’m going to contact . . .
“You lie!” He sprang at her, knocking Joelle aside with a sweep of one furry arm. Miranda skittered back, calling her magic as she retreated from his snapping jaws. The Shift raced over her body in a wave of fur as muscle and bone contorted like soft clay in the grip of her power.
“You dare change?” As she met his frenzied gaze, she realized he’d lost control completely. Gerald intended to kill her this time. “You dare fight me? You dare?”
Fear iced her veins, but she made herself sneer. She was tired of cowering before the bastard Warlock had appointed her guardian. “Oh, I dare. And if I get a chance to talk to Belle again, I’m going to tell her everything.”
“Then I’ll have to see you don’t get that chance, you traitorous bitch!” He drew back a clawed hand, obviously intending to rip out her throat.
Joelle threw herself between her daughter and the blow. “Ger—”
His claws ripped into Joelle’s face before she could get the rest of the word out of her mouth. She flew sideways, her body slamming into the base of the stairs with a crash. Something snapped with a crack that seemed to echo in Miranda’s skull. “Mother!” Forgetting her stepfather, she crossed the room in one leap, landing beside her mother in a coiling crouch. It was even worse than she’d feared. Joelle’s head lay at an impossible angle, the life draining from her eyes.
Oh, God. I finally got my mother killed, Miranda thought numbly. She started to snatch Joelle into her arms, only to hesitate, afraid she’d somehow hurt her mother even worse. “Call 911!”
“It’s too late.” Gerald sounded utterly indifferent. It was no pose, either; he really didn’t give a damn. “She broke her neck. She’s dead.” He bared his teeth, stalking toward Miranda on clawed feet. Grabbing a fistful of her mane, he hauled her away from Joelle’s body as he drew back for another open-handed swipe of his claws. “And I’m not done with you.”
He didn’t notice the short sword his stepdaughter conjured into the hand held down by her side. He damned well did notice when she rammed it into his chest.
Miranda’s lips peeled off her teeth. “Well, I’m done with you!”
“Miranda?” The female voice breathed into her mind.
She jerked the blade out of Gerald’s chest, and her stepfather fell onto his knees, gagging in agony. Emotionless as an executioner, Miranda took his head with one swing of her sword.
“Miranda?” The voice called again.
He won’t be healing that, she thought.

Miranda jolted awake, sweating, her body trembling in waves. She sat up and buried her head in her hands as tears rolled hot and fat down her cheeks.
“Miranda? Dammit, girl, answer your cell! We need you now!”
Jolted from her misery, she looked up. She’d thought the feminine voice was some new wrinkle in that god-awful dream, but now she realized it was Belle, using magic to touch her mind.
Miranda grabbed for the enchanted cell phone on the cherry nightstand. Reaching into another witch’s consciousness took a hell of a lot of power, especially when one witch was on Mortal Earth and the other was in the Mageverse city of Avalon. It was much more efficient to use a cell spelled for inter-dimensional communication. “Belle? I’m here.”
“Finally,” her friend said, sounding relieved. “I need you and Justice. Now.”
A minute and a half later, Miranda strode down the hall to Justice’s door. He was already up; she could hear him pacing. Must be in wolf form, she thought, listening to the click of claws on the bedroom’s hardwood floor.
Breathing in, Miranda caught the seductive male scent of an aroused Alpha Dire wolf. And remembered his size, his strength, the tempting power of his hard warrior’s body.
Which was exactly why she needed to stay the hell away from him, no matter how sexy he was. The very last thing she needed in her life was another Alpha werewolf. Just look what happened to Mom, she told the nipples that stood in tight peaks behind the lace of her bra. Besides, Belle needs us. It was night in Pakistan, and Dad’s pet monsters had come out to play.
Miranda gave the door a businesslike rap of her knuckles. “Justice?”
After an instant of startled silence, he laughed. “Ah, sorry. I didn’t even know you were out there. Some bodyguard, huh?”
Actually, he was a pretty damned good bodyguard. He’d killed the werewolf assassins that had jumped them in Paris last month, along with the other assorted killers before and after that. She’d be dead a dozen times over if not for Justice.
Miranda cleared her throat. “Belle just called me. She needs us. Apparently the Knights of the Round Table got in a fight with some monster Warlock dreamed up.”
“But it’s still daylight.” Being vampires, the knights slept during the day.
“Not in Pakistan.”
“What the hell is going on in Pakistan?”
“One of the witches is dying. Belle said she’s trying to hold on long enough to tell us about a vision she’s had about us. I gather it’s pretty damned important.”
“She had a vision about us? Crap. Why?”
“Don’t know, but we’d better haul ass. And Belle says we need full armor, so I’ve got to conjure yours.” Miranda already wore her own suit of interlocking plate. The bulletproof steel was engraved with spells that made it feel as weightless as silk, though it could protect against damn near any impact and most magical blasts. A silhouette of a dragon’s head was enameled in red across the breastplate. Arthur Pendragon had ordered Miranda and Justice to wear his personal heraldic symbol as protection against friendly fire. Magekind warriors had a tendency to think any werewolf was the enemy. All too often, they were right.
“Give me a minute,” Justice said through the door. “I’ve got to change.”
Miranda felt the explosion of magic as he Shifted. Clothing rustled, then the door swung wide.
Oh, my.
Working to keep her expression cool, she took in Justice’s broad, bare chest, faded jeans, and big bare feet. The way he held the door open made his biceps bunch until they looked the size of grapefruit. Sparks of werewolf magic still flickered in his black eyes, a remnant of his transformation.
Miranda liked to tell herself that William Justice had a thug’s face, between his broad cheekbones, square jaw, and aggressive nose. Thick black brows slashed over deep-set ebony eyes. Cop’s eyes, watchful, assessing, maybe even a little paranoid.
She could resist all that. Really. She’d be just fine if it weren’t for his mouth. Wide, curled in a wicked grin more often than not, with a full lower lip she really wanted to bite. Just hard enough to make those obsidian eyes go all hot.
Then she’d run her hands down the powerful lines of his chest, exploring every thick contour, tracing her fingers through the soft curls that covered that chest, following the tempting line of sable hair that dove behind his zipper, pointing the way to . . .
Alpha werewolf, Miranda reminded herself sternly, jerking her eyes away.
“Uh, Miranda?” he asked in that velvet rumble of his.
Licking her dry lips, she forced herself to meet Justice’s night-dark gaze without letting her eyes drift downward. She was not going to follow that maddening line of hair . . . “Yeah?”
“I need that armor. You did say we’ve got to hurry.”
“Oh. Uh, right.” Reaching for the energy of the Mageverse roiling invisibly around them, Miranda concentrated and began to spin magic into steel.
Seconds later, Justice’s jeans had been replaced by armor that matched her own. Somehow all that ornate gleaming metal only emphasized his strength, drawing attention to the elegant V of his torso as it swept down to narrow hips and long runner’s legs.
There was nothing muscle-bound about him; he fought with speed and agility, as ruthless and loyal in her defense as the wolf he was. If he were human, I’d be in love with him by now. She instantly banished the thought, afraid it would show on her face.
Luckily, Justice didn’t notice her preoccupation. He was too intent on the sword she’d conjured for him, a length of steel designed for magical combat, its enchanted edge as sharp as a straight razor.
Eying the weapon’s broad blade, Justice swung it with a skillful rotation of his wrist, testing its weight and balance. He gave her a brisk, approving nod through the open visor of his helm. “This looks good. Let’s gate.”
“Miranda?” Belle’s communication spell reverberated in her mind. “Daliya won’t last much longer. If you don’t get here in the next five minutes . . .”
“We’re on the way.” Miranda shot a laser-thin stream of magic into the air. The point flared blue and bright, expanding as she fed it more power, until it became a rippling opening in the air. The magical portal cut across the dimensions to Mortal Earth—the home of six billion humans with no idea thirty thousand werewolves lived among them.
Justice led the way through the gate, wary and protective as always. Miranda drew her own sword and stepped after him. At least with his delightful ass covered in steel, she was less likely to drool at it.
He stopped so suddenly on the other side of the gate, she had to sidestep to avoid running him through. “Dammit, Justice, what the . . .” Then she got a good look at what had stopped him in his tracks.
The blasted ruins of a city square lay before them, buildings blazing against the night sky. Tumbled bricks lay in piles between chunks of broken cement spiked with rebar, as blackened wooden beams jutted like the fingers of charred skeletons.
Magekind agents moved fearlessly among the burning wreckage. Witches cast spells to snuff the flames as vampires dug survivors free of the rubble, then handed them off to healers for treatment of their injuries.
“Jesus, Dad has been busy.” Miranda’s feet were planted in something sticky. Flipping her helm’s visor up, she glanced down to discover she stood in a puddle of drying blood. Grimacing, she stepped out of it and sent out a mental call. “Belle?”
“Behind you,” the witch called.
Turning, she and Justice found they’d gated into the mouth of a filthy alley. Belle and Tristan knelt on the trash-littered ground, a woman in armor lying between them. Moving closer, Miranda realized the witch was curled protectively around a man’s decapitated head, one hand stroking its bloody cheek. Her despairing grief was so intense, it filled Miranda’s Direkind nose with the scent of sweetness gone acrid, like burning roses.
Miranda hurried toward them, armored boots sending gravel bouncing across the alley. Justice followed more slowly, checking the alley for whatever had felled the woman and her lover.
The dying witch lifted her head at their approach. Her eyes met Miranda’s, glazed with suffering and approaching death. Had she been a victim of a werewolf bite? Miranda sheathed her sword and dropped to her knees beside Belle.
Justice moved to hover protectively over them, eyes scanning from one end of the alley to the other. Nothing would sneak up on them with him on guard. Miranda could concentrate on the victim. Sending a wave of magic rolling over the woman, she searched for lethal punctures. The magic in werewolf bites sent Magekind victims into fatal anaphylactic shock; only Miranda’s Direkind healing spells could save them. But since she couldn’t be everywhere at once, she’d concocted a vaccine a couple of weeks ago and administered it to every fighter in Avalon.
Frowning, Miranda glanced at Belle. The blond witch’s pretty face looked soot-smeared and exhausted in the frame of her open visor, and she smelled of blood, smoke, and grief. “What happened? I thought I vaccinated everybody. Did it wear off?”
Without answering, Belle bent closer to the fallen woman. “They’re here, Daliya. You can tell them what you saw.”
“Good . . . Good.” The Maja lifted a shaking gauntleted hand.
Miranda took it automatically. “Are you bitten anywhere? My magic . . .”
“You cannot heal what kills me.” The woman sucked in a rattling breath, obviously struggling for strength. They’d taken off her helmet, exposing lovely Pakistani features and huge dark eyes. Her black hair pooled around her head in a lake of ebony silk that gleamed in the firelight. “And I don’t . . . want you to.” She stopped to pant.
“That’s her husband,” Tristan explained gruffly, nodding to the head. “They were Truebonded.”
Miranda grimaced, understanding at last. The Truebond psychic link was pulling the Maja into death after her mate. Actually, it was surprising she was still alive at all. Truebonded couples usually died within minutes of each other.
“Daliya fought to survive long enough to see you,” Belle explained, a rasp to her normally musical French accent, as if she’d breathed in too much smoke -- or fought back tears. “She’s had a vision involving you and Justice, and she says she has to tell you about it.”
“Wolf.” The dying Maja lifted her free hand toward Justice as if it took all her strength. “Wolf, I must speak . . . to you, too.”
He hesitated, obviously surprised, then sheathed his sword and dropped to his knees to take the witch’s hand.
The moment he touched her, light exploded in the depths of Daliya’s black pupils. Feeble fingers clamped around Miranda’s so hard, she almost yelped in surprise.
The witch began to chant in a feverish cadence, her musical voice much louder than it should be, as if an alien power had taken over her dying vocal chords. “Listen! Seek the Mother of Fairies as she folds enchanted steel into blades she fills with the souls of lost gods.”
Daliya’s black eyes flicked from Miranda’s face to Justice’s, magic sparking in her pupils like fireworks. “She waits in her forge for the hero wolf to come for Merlin’s Blade. Then will the Hunter Prince be free—then will he rule in bloody vengeance or bend his knee to his spirit’s feral king.”
Her fingers tightened on Miranda’s until the steel of both their gauntlets creaked under the strain. “It will take the daughter of evil and a master of darkness to lead the night world into the light. If they do fail, humanity will drown in blood under the white wolf’s heel, and the crows will feast.”
The Maja fell silent, panting as if she’d run a marathon, her last desperate strength visibly draining like water from a broken pitcher. Her dark eyes began to cloud in death. “Find the Mother at her forge, or Avalon . . . dies. Warlock will kill the . . . world. Magekind. Humans. Direkind. All will feed the ravens. All will die.”
Her gaze slid away from Miranda’s to seek her husband’s head. She released Miranda’s hand to touch pale, bloody lips with fingers that shook. “Wait for me, Kadir. Now I come.” Daliya’s lips twitched as if to smile, despite the tear that rolled down one dark cheek. “Yes, yes . . . I’m always . . . late.”
Her hand dropped to the pavement as her magic swirled away with her life, escaping back to its source in the Mageverse.
As I said, the book will be out August 7. If you'd like to preorder it from Amazon, you'll find it here:
At Barnes and Noble, the link is:


Adaiah said...

What a great ride this has been. Sorry to see the Mageverse series end but I know you have another great series for your fans in the future. Great job!

midnight rainbow said...

Can't wait for my copy to arrive. Sad though that the series is ending - loved every word of it.
Love the Mageverse books and the short stories to go with it in anthologies. So glad i discovered the series.