Monday, June 25, 2012

Chapter 1 of Enforcer, Take 2

Based on the feedback you folks were kind enough to give me on the original version of ENFORCER'S chapter one, I did a major rewrite. I was told the chapter was too slow, and had a lot of info dumps. And when I read it here, I couldn't help but agree. So I spent the last few days completely retooling the chapter. Would you nice people take a look at it for me? Let me know what you think!

Dona Astryr paused on the dark, hot stairs that were scarcely wider than her shoulders, and listened for killers. A fist-sized evidence bot zipped past her shoulder, riding the glowing blue cushion of an antigrav field as it searched for murder victims.
In a blur of cyborg speed, Dona snatched the ‘bot out of the air. If there was a killer on the second floor, she didn’t want the device to give her away. The ‘bot started to beep a protest, but she thumbed a button to mute it. Drawing her shard pistol, she cocked her head, sensor implants scanning.
In the town square just outside the two-story house, a crier read the American Declaration of Independence in a fine, rolling baritone. The Philadelphia crowd hooted and stomped for the more inflammatory lines, bellowing support for the Continental Congress. If there were any Tories among them, they had the good sense to keep their snarls to themselves.
Dona, a time-travel veteran, barely even registered the words. She was a lot more interested in the soft female voice whimpering, a hopeless sound of agony coming from somewhere upstairs.
Fuck, somebody was still alive.
Victim’s condition? She started up the stairs in a soundless rush.
Extremely serious, her computer implant told her. Sensors detect multiple stab wounds and extensive blood loss. She must have medical attention in the next 3.2 minutes, or she will die.
Which wouldn’t necessarily end the victim’s existence. If Dona could get her into Regen within seven minutes of the time her heart stopped beating, she could be brought back. After that, brain death would be too extensive, and she would be dead in truth.
Where is the victim? Reaching the top step, Dona paused.
First bedroom on the left.
Any sign of attackers?
Which meant nothing. He could be sensor shielded; invisible to Dona’s eyes and implants.
The evidence bot jerked in her hand, trying to escape. She stuffed it into one of the pouches on her armor belt and headed for the bedroom door.
Damn, I wish I had backup, Dona thought. Unfortunately, every Enforcer on her team was busy searching the house’s first floor, while dealing with the thirteen victims they’d found. Two of them were still alive, including one fourteen-year-old with multiple stab wounds.
Dona braced in front of the closed door, pointed her shard pistol, and kicked the door down with her armored boot. Propelled by cyborg muscle, the door crashed open and banged against the wall. “Enforcer!” She entered low and fast.
Oh, fuck.
An arch of bright scarlet blood splatter marked the wall on her right. A small round rug squelched under her boots.
The source of all that blood lay on the canopied bed in front of her. The woman was naked, wrists and ankles bound to the bed’s tall posts. Blood rolled sluggishly from the dozens of wounds marking her breasts, her belly, her thighs – even her face.
One eye opened, rolled with terror until it fixed on Dona. The other appeared glued shut by dried blood. A tear spilled, and her crusted lips moved soundlessly.
“I’m Temporal Enforcement agent Dona Astryr,” Dona told her, giving the room a quick scan. Bed, armoire, wash stand with a china pitcher and a bowl. No attacker, at least none visibl. “I’m here to help you.”
Send a message to Doctor Chogan, Dona told her implant. We’ve got another survivor, condition critical.
The woman’s lips moved again, but the only sound she made was a low wheeze.
Where the fuck is Chogan? Dona wondered, moving closer to the bed. Maybe I should just pick her up and Jump back to the Outpost. Would she survive a temporal warp in her current condition?
Negative. Given her wounds, an unprotected Jump would probably cause systemic organ failure and brain death. It would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan and a Regeneration Tube.
Dona frowned, watching the woman’s bloody lips move. Her one eye looked desperate. What the hell was she trying to say? Dona leaned closer and told her comp to amplify audio. “What did you say?”
The words emerged as if with superhuman effort, in a painful, wheezing hiss. “He’s…still…here!”
Dona spun, bringing her shard pistol up just as a towering figure in red and black temporal armor appeared out of thin air, having evidently dropped his sensor shield. She fired, sending a spray of need-sharp tritium shards hissing toward him. The shards hit the Xeran’s armor and bounced in a series of musical pings.
Damn, Dona thought. The fucking Xerans have upgraded their armor.
The Xeran hit her in a furious bull rush that rolled them both across the victim’s body. Dona’s sensors picked up her moan of pain as they crashed to the floor.
“Bastard!” Dona snarled into the Xeran’s black faceplate as they rolled across the blood-soaked rug. He grabbed her gun hand with crushing force. She ignored the pain, fighting to twist the weapon around and aim it at his faceplate. Backup! Goddammit, I need backup!
Requesting backup…No response. It appears the agents downstairs are also under attack.
Her comp was right. Dona could hear the hiss of shard pistols downstairs, the thump of armored fists hitting armored bodies, the snarled curses in Xeran and Galactic Standard.
Her opponent’s polarized faceplate turned gray, went transparent.
And revealed Ivar Terje’s face smirking into her own. “Hello, baby. Miss me?”
Dona stared at him for one suspended instant of disbelief. Which quickly morphed into howling rage. “You botfucking traitor!” She rammed her left fist into his throat, aiming for the larynx, meaning to crush it right through his armor. It would have been a killing blow, especially propelled by genetically engineered strength amplified even more by her nano-implants.
She had the pleasure of hearing him gag. His hand lost its vicious grip on her gun hand, and she wrenched free, rolling on top of him. And promptly slammed the pistol into his faceplate so hard it cracked. “You almost killed me, you son of a bitch,” Dona snarled. “You ruined my life, my reputation!” She rammed the gun into his faceplate again, sending more cracks radiating across the reinforced plastium. “They thought I was a traitor because of you!” Her third blow had every last erg of her cyborg strength behind it.
His faceplate shattered, jagged fragments flying. Ivar snarled, knocking her weapon away from his face. “You’re worse than a traitor. You’re a fucking fool.”
Bracing his booted feet against her gut, he kicked her off him with brutal power. She sailed over the bed and crashed into the wash stand, pottery shattering, wood splintering around her body as she hit the floor.
Ivar rolled to his feet with astonishing grace for a man so massively built. “Every lie I told you, you believed. Love you?” He laughed, a hoarse, ugly bark. “Why in the fuck would I love you?”
Short horns glinted on his forehead among red hair cropped short and tight against his skull. A priest’s horns.
He’s a Xeran priest now? Dona thought in sickened horror as she rose from the wreckage of the wash stand. Her back ached in protest as she sank into a combat crouch and drew a knife from her boot. The blade chimed, the sound low and menacing.
The techs of Temporal Enforcement had improved the quantum axes they’d invented six months ago. The new weapons were smaller, lighter, but just as capable of cutting through temporal armor.
A deep voice roared from somewhere downstairs in a familiar male bellow. Something crashed. For a split second, Dona felt comforted.
Chief Alerio Dyami was in the fight.
Dona’s quantum dagger hummed a higher note as she circled with Ivar, their boots crunching through broken crockery.
She studied her foe with grim attention. Blood flowed sluggishly from a cut under Ivar’s eye as he glared at her from the ruins of his helmet.
“You still fucking Dyami?” Misinterpreting her shocked expression for surprise, he sneered. “Did you think I didn’t know you were betraying me with that sanctimonious Warlord prick?” He lunged, crossing the distance between them in a blur of battleborg speed, an enormous fist flying at her face. “I always knew what a whore you are!”
Dona jerked aside, avoiding the blow by millimeters, and slashed the blade at his belly. He knocked her arm aside before the blade could rip into his guts. She danced back and spat, “I never betrayed you, Ivar. You were the one who betrayed everything you ever claimed to believe in. Me. Chief Dyami. Your Enforcer’s oath.”
“My oath?” Nobody but an idiot would buy that beefershit." He curled a lip. “Unlike you, I’m not that stupid.”
He’s so busy sneering, he’s forgetting to keep his guard up. Dona’s eyes narrowed, focusing on the left hand he’d dropped.
Ivar was a hell of a lot stronger than Dona – easily a foot taller and twenty kilos heavier.
But Dona was faster.
She struck in a blur, driving the quantum dagger at her foe’s massive chest.
He hit her wrist so fast, she didn’t even see the blow. Her arm went numb to the elbow, and the blade cartwheeled from her hand. Ivar twisted, slamming a backhanded punch into the side of her face. The blow knocked her off her feet, sending her skidding into a corner.
He was on her before she could scramble away. Dona threw up one arm in a block and counterpunched, trying to force him back so she could make it to her feet. He only snarled and began to pound at her, driving punch after punch, sending her reeling against the wall. Starburst of pain thundered through her skull, but she kept fighting, throwing punches and kicks into his big body. He didn’t even react to the blows at all, as though he didn’t even feel them.
Then his fist arched into her face, and her skull seemed to detonate.
The next thing she knew, she was flat on her back with no memory of how she’d gotten there. Ivar loomed over her, a savage grin on his face.
Frantic, desperate, Dona drove kicks against his armored ribs. He snarled into her face, his eyes glittering with a rage that was not quite sane.
He’s going to kill me, she thought through the spinning confusion of her battered brain.
Warning! Her comp blared. You have sustained a severe concussion. You cannot continue to take blows to the head without severe brain injury.
She could only snarl.
Ivar shot to his feet, hauling Dona upright with a hand clamped around her throat. He rammed her into the wall, sending plaster raining around her shoulders. Dona cried out as pain bust through her abused back. Blood ran hot down her chin as she watched him draw back his fist for a blow that would likely shatter her skull.
Gods curse him, I am not going to let this bastard butcher me. I will fight him to my last breath.
Drawing on the last of her strength, she drove a fist toward Ivar’s hated smirk. He swatted her fist aside. “Is that the best you can do, you little cunt?” He laughed, eyes glittering hot. “Then I guess you’ll die.”
And he cocked his fist for that final blow.
Then Ivar simply…disappeared.
Deprived of his support, Dona felt her knees give way, dumping her into a heap on the floor. Dazed, barely conscious, she lifted her aching head to look around.
And saw Alerio Dyami’s broad, powerful back, arms swinging in pistoning punches as he drove Ivar against the wall.
Safe, she thought in dazed relief. I’m safe. Alerio won’t let him kill me.
Darkness rolled over her in a black flood, and her head thumped to the floor.
“You’re a dead man,” Alerio snarled through set teeth as she stalked Ivar Terje around the scene of his latest crime.
A nude woman lay bound to the bed, blood smearing her body from multiple stab wounds. Even worse, Alerio’s sensors told him Ivar’s sperm slicked the poor woman’s thighs.
But even as that crime filled him with a cold, righteous fury, what really made him burn was the sight of Dona Astryr lying in a bloody heap.
If Alerio hadn’t been forced to fight his way through all those Xeran priests downstairs, he could have spared Dona the beating she’d just suffered.
Instead he’d found her backed into a corner, bruised and bloody. Beaten by the man who’d once called himself her lover.
Knowing he faced a fight, Alerio had gone to riaat on his way up the stairs. His computer implant had pumped biochemical into his bloodstream, throwing him into the berserker state that increased his considerable strength by a factor of ten.
More than enough to pound a traitor who richly deserved it.
“You’re not fighting a woman now,” Alerio growled, as his enemy scrambled away from his advance.
One of Terje’s eyes was already swollen closed from the impact of Alerio’s fists. “You’re such a fucking hero, aren’t you?” His bloody lip curled in a sneer. “But you didn’t save the bitch on the bed, did you? Or the ones downstairs, including the kid. We butchered them all, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it. You can’t change history. No matter what you do, no matter when you Jump, they’ll die because we killed them. You failed, Chief.” He laughed. “Some hero. Some Enforcer.”
For a moment, rage choked Alerio, but he dragged that violent emotion under control. Ivar wanted him to lose control, get sloppy. Make mistakes.
“You’re right,” Alerio said in a low, deadly voice. “I failed to save the fourteen people you raped and murdered.”
Ivar’s gaze flickered.
Alerio whipped into a spinning kick. Ivar ducked, tried to block, but neither effort was enough to keep the Chief’s boot from slamming into his jaw.
Ivar crashed into the wall behind him and almost went down. Alerio, still balanced on one leg, reversed the kick and snapped the toe of his boot into Ivar’s jaw.
The battleborg staggered, crashed into the wall with one shoulder, then managed to keep his feet.
Alerio, both feet now planted, punched him squarely in the face in a left right combination that rocked Ivar’s head on his shoulders.
“I’m going to make you pay for every stab wound, every punch, every kick.” Alerio bared his teeth. “I’m going to pound you into a red smear. And you’ll never rape another woman again.”
Ivar staggered, then braced himself, glaring into Alerio’s face. “It’s not going to be that easy.”
The punch came out of nowhere, a blur of knuckles and bone. Ivar’s fist hit him squarely in the mouth, rocking his head hard. Ivar bulled past him, almost knocking him on his ass.
Shit, Alerio thought. He’s a hell of a lot stronger than he used to be. He’s upgraded his tech. Shaking off the moment’s disorientation, Alerio went after Ivar.
The battleborg retreated, his lip curling. “You talk big, Chief,” Terje snarled. “But we’ve got T-suits. That makes the whole fucking time stream our playground. We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s…justice. You. Your little whore Dona. Those abominations, Nick Wyatt, his Warfem bitch Rianne, and Jessica and Galar Arvid. All of them.” His one eye narrowed. “And most of all, we want the T’Lir. So be a hero, Chief. Or watch me kill.”
Alerio bellowed and lunged toward Ivar, but he was too late. A deafening sonic boom and a blinding flash of light staggered him. When he could see again, Ivar was gone. He’d Jumped.
Alerio swore viciously, then spun and headed for Dona. He dropped to his knees by her side as boom after boom sounded from downstairs. The priests following Ivar’s lead, Jumping for home.
Her face was battered, both eyes blackened, her pretty lips cut and swollen. Bruises distorted the clean lines of her chiseled cheekbones and delicate jaw.
Com Dr. Chogan, Alerio told his comp.
The doctor responded a heartbeat later. “What is it, Chief? I’ve got my hands full with Rianne. She took a gut wound.”
“Enforcer Astryr got the worst of it in a fight with Ivar Terje,” Alerio told her shortly. “She has a pretty serious concussion.”
“Okay. Let me get Rianne into a regen tube, and I’ll head up there.”
Dona moaned, a breathy sound of pain that made Alerio’s chest clench. It was more than the ache he’d normally feel over an injured agent.
“Terje,” she gasped. “He’s…here!”
“I took care of him,” Alerio told her roughly. “Send him Jumping back to the Crystal Fortress with the rest of the fucking priests.”
"The woman….” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody contents. “She was aive when I…came in. Is she…?”
Alerio cursed himself silently. It had not even occurred to him that Harden could have survived those wounds. He ordered his comp to scan the woman.
No life signs, the implant reported. Based on the cellular decay she has been dead too long for successful revival.
Alerio’s shoulders slumped. “She’s gone, Dona.”
“Dammit.” A tear slipped down her bruised cheek. “I was hoping I could save her. But Ivar… He wouldn’t let me Jump her out.” Her scraped lower lip trembled. “They all died, didn’t they? Ivar and the priests killed every tourist here.”
“Yeah,” Alerio said roughly. “But they’re going to pay for it, Dona.” He picked up her chilly hand, wrapping his fingers around it. “I’m going to make the bastard’s pay.”
She gave him an unsteady smile. “I know. You always get justice for the…victims.” Her voice weakened, and her bruised eyes closed.
“Dona!” Alerrio ordered his comp to scan her with his full array of biological sensors. If she was too badly injured, he’d just pick her up and Jump with her to the Outpost Infirmary. But if her injuries weren’t that severe, it would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan and one of her field regeneration units.
She has a concussion, the comp reported, and there is swelling that must be addressed before it becomes serious. Fortunately, her computer implant is compensating. But her other injuries are minor. She would be best served if you don’t move her and let Dr. Chogan treat her here.
Alerio grunted, studying the young agent as she lay in the wreckage of the wash stand. She was tall and lean in her dark blue Temporal Enforcement armor. Like most enforcers, she was cybernetically enhanced. A network of biocrystals grew throughout her brain like a second nervous system. The computer implant that fed her brain sensor information and data, and gave her control of most bodily functions. A lacy sensor net lay beneath her skin – more biocrystal implants designed to detect everything from DNA to tachyon streams.
But those weren’t the only implants. More biocrystal was embedded in her bones and muscles, reinforcing them and making her ten times stronger than a normal human woman her size and build.
Yet even with her upgrade, she was no match for a battleborg like Ivar Terje. His implants consisted of thicker fibers that exerted three times the force Dona’s did.
“Make way,” Dr. Sakari Chogan said. She looked pale beneath the untidy topknot of her iridescent green hair, dressed in bright red medical armor as she horsed a regen tube through the doorway. Alerio rose to help the doctor guide the tube over Dona’s unconscious form until it could scoop her inside.
Once Dona was safely enclosed, Chogan ran a series of scans, watching the results appear in glowing green three-dimensional schematics of the human body.
“He banged her brain around pretty good,” Chogan grunted. I never liked that bastard.” She shot Alerio a look from the corner of one vivid green eye. “There was just something so fucking mean about him. He hurt people and liked it. Including Dona, lover or not.”
Pink mist flooded the tube and began healing her injuries.
Chogan sighed. “At least now we know what lies under that slick surface.”
“Yes – a traitor,” Alerio growled. “And he and his false god are going down for what happened here today.”
Alerio watched as Chogan, Lolai Harden’s body tube, and the regenerator containing Dona made the Jump back to the Outpost. Then he turned and headed back downstairs to check on the other members of his team.
They started Jumping from the house's great room in teams of two, accompanied by body tubes loaded with corpses.
Alerio kept watch as was his habit, covering his team's retreat. As much as he could, anyway, having gone half-blind and deaf from the temporal flares and their accompanying sonic booms. Luckily the suits' dampening field kept anyone more than ten meters away from feeling the effects. No temporal natives would wonder why there was a thunderstorm inside the house next door.
By the time it was his turn to Jump, Alerio’s ears were ringing as his comp started reciting the familiar string of coordinates back to the Outpost.
Coordinates confirmed. Engage temporal warp, he told it.
Engaging temporal warp in
It felt like being hit by lightning. His mind blinked out…
…And… he was back again.
Temporal warp to the Outpost successful, his comp announced.
Alerio made no answer, half-blind, stomach knotting in violent rebellion, his muscles jerking from the temporal warp. Bracing his knees, he stayed upright by will alone until his comp could compensate. My team?
All members of the investigation team present and accounted for.
Alerio breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Vardonese goddess happened to be listening.
He'd lost a Jumper once. Riane Arvid's sabotaged T-suit had bounced her back and forth across Terran temporal space before finally dumping her in the twentieth century. Her suit was dead as a stone by then, unable to Jump at all. Unfortunately, a team of Xeran assassins appeared minutes later. She’d have died then and there if not for a timely rescue by Nick Wyatt, half-breed Xeran and superhuman guardian of an alien race called the Sela.
Nick and Riane had returned to the Outpost desperately in love.
Still, almost losing an Enforcer was an experience Alerio had no desire to repeat. Especially considering Ivar's threats.
We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s…justice.
Like hell, ‘botfucker.
Blinking the spots from his eyes, Alerio glanced around the cavernous room that was Mission Staging. Heavily shielded for Jump traffic, it was lined with evidence and equipment lockers as well as regeneration tubes for treating the injured. Most temporal missions began and ended here, especially those featuring a large Jump team.
He ached to head for the Infirmary and check on Dona, but he managed to control the impulse. If they managed to bring any of those bastards to justice, he was damned if any of them would get off because one of his agents had broken the chain of evidence.
“All right, let's get the physical evidence stowed,” Alerio said in a command bark that had every Enforcer jumping. Apparently inured to his growls, Chogan’s medical techs strode out, accompanied by a pitiful parade of body tubes. He ignored them as he rapped out instructions. “The evidence bots are to be logged in and their contents transferred into evi-stasis. And make damned sure they're all our 'bots. Last thing we need is to give the Xerans another opportunity to sabotage our central computer."
Within minutes, the Enforcers were scanning and decanting each ‘bot. After sealing the biological evidence in stasis tubes to prevent further decomposition, they logged everything in with the Outpost's main computer. That done, the agents slid the tubes into wall slots that shot them into the Outpost’s evidence safe. If the Enforcers—or the Galactic Union’s Temporal Court—decided they needed any of the evidence later, it would be instantly available.
The procedure was one his people had done hundreds of times before. They didn't need Alerio hovering over them like a Soji Dragon with one egg. Especially since he was only putting off a job even more onerous than the one they were doing.
Somehow he was going to have to persuade Colonel Genoa Ceres to order a moratorium on temporal tourist visas. At least until Ivar was captured--or Alerio twisted the traitor’s head off his shoulders.
That action would not be legal under Galactic Union law, his comp informed him primly.
I do not give a stinking pile of Soji shit. Especially if he even thinks about going after my team.
Particularly Dona, who'd become Alerio's obsession over the past two years. As Ivar damned well knew. The battleborg had been violently jealous of her even when he was still pretending to be a loyal Enforcer.
It had driven Alerio into a frigid fury, watching Ivar watch Dona's every move while shooting little verbal barbs her way. There’d been times Alerio had ached to kick his subordinate's ass from one end of the Outpost to the other.
Unfortunately, being Ivar's commanding officer made that impulse impossible to carry out. Especially since Dona never reported her lover for his conduct. Alerio wasn't sure whether she just didn't notice--which strained belief, Dona being pretty damned observant--or whether she just had a very thick skin.
Even though it looked so incredibly soft...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chapter two of Master of Dragons

I wanted to share the second chapter of MASTER OF DARKNESS because it gives a preview of the next trilogy, THE FAMILIARS series. Let me know what you think of my critter and my new heroine...

Silence fell with Daliya’s death, heavy as a lead weight.
“Belle. God, Belle . . .” Tristan leaned across the fallen couple and kissed his lover with sudden, desperate hunger. She kissed him back just as fiercely, a single tear trickling down her face, her armored fingers stroking his face.
The naked love in that kiss made Miranda’s chest ache. She tried to pull her gaze away and give them some privacy, but there was something about all that raw emotion that was hypnotic. She’d never seen a kiss so ferocious with pain and need, born not in desire, but in the awareness that death could strip them from each other.
Belle and Tristan were Truebonded just like Daliya and Kadir; the death of one would kill the other. Yet watching that kiss, Miranda realized neither would want it any other way.
Envy struck like a punch in the stomach. She’d never known that kind of love. Her mother had chased chimeras of it, only to find abuse and death.
Miranda glanced across Daliya’s body at Justice. He, too, watched the couple kiss, the same helpless longing she felt in his ebony eyes. She jerked her burning gaze away and dragged an armored hand across her face to wipe away the tears. She had no idea if she was crying for Daliya . . . or herself. “Dammit. Dammit, what was that about? Who’s the Mother of Fairies?”
Justice lowered the woman’s limp hand to ground, giving it an oddly tender pat before settling back on his booted heels. He slid one arm around Miranda’s shoulders, drawing her closer. Astonished, she looked up at him.
As if realizing the intimacy of the gesture, he straightened away so quickly his gauntlet scraped against her armored back. Clearing his throat, he looked over at Tristan, who’d finally broken the kiss. “And what the hell is Merlin’s Blade?”
“Damned if we know.” The vampire’s deep voice sounded gruff, and his eyes shone as if he’d shed a tear or two himself. “Neither of us has ever heard of the Mother of Fairies or Merlin’s Blade. I’d think she was talking about Excalibur, but Arthur never lets that sword out of his sight.” A smile twitched the corners of Tristan’s lips. “I think he sleeps with it.”
Miranda and Justice exchanged a frown. Tristan had been a vampire Knight of the Round Table for fifteen hundred years, while Belle had been a Maja for more than a thousand. Between the two of them, they knew damn near everything there was to know about magic. Anything or anyone they’d never heard of was going to be a bitch to find.
“What happened to them?” Justice turned his attention to the two Magekind corpses. His intense, professional gaze reminded Miranda he’d been a homicide cop before somebody bit him. “Who took that vampire’s head? And where’s the rest of his body?”
Belle sat back on her heels and sighed. “Warlock’s got himself a couple of new Beasts.”
Two of them?” Miranda demanded, appalled. It had been all they could do to kill the last one.
Justice winced. “Oh, fuck.”
“Fuck is right.” Tristan picked up the vampire’s head, cradling it in a big, surprisingly gentle hand. “Kadir was one of our best agents. He worked deep cover for five years gaining the trust of those Sword of Allah assholes . . .”
Justice frowned. “Those are the terrorists who tried to buy the Russian nuke last year, right?”
“Yeah, same bunch. Kadir’s the reason they didn’t succeed. He had them thinking he was God’s gift to jihad, even as he sabotaged every plot they put together. Whenever they’d start catching on, Daliya would cast a spell to make them forget their suspicions.”
“Too bad she couldn’t make the fuckers quit trying to blow up the planet.” Belle opened her mouth, and Justice waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Doesn’t work like that.”
Once a belief became deeply engrained in someone’s brain—particularly a religion-based obsession like jihad—you couldn’t erase it no matter how you tried. Too many associations with other memories that would eventually bring it back to the surface. You had to either change the mortal’s mind by old-fashioned persuasion. Or kill him.
Arthur and his Magekind didn’t believe in killing any mortal unless there was no choice at all. Even terrorists.
“So how did Kadir die?” Miranda asked.
The knight looked up, the curl of his upper lip revealing one fang. “Warlock’s pet fucker ate him. Literally ate him. Poor bastard was halfway down the snake’s throat when we got here. We were only able to save his head.”
Justice stared at his friend, his stomach knotting in revulsion. “Warlock must have recruited himself a pair of bugfuck crazy serial killers. Sane werewolves don’t eat people.” When you became Direkind, you kept whatever moral compass you had to begin with. You might take a bite out of someone who pissed you off, but you didn’t actually eat them. “And did you say ‘snake’?” He’d loathed snakes since he’d damn near stepped on a copperhead when he was nine.
“Yeah. Some kind of cobra, but sure as hell not anything you’d see in nature. Had to be sixty, maybe seventy feet long, three feet around. The other Beast was a werewolf centaur the size of a truck. Built like a Clydesdale, armored from head to tail. Carried the biggest damned battle-axe I have ever seen.”
“Damn,” Miranda muttered. “That sounds nastier than the first one.” Warlock’s original monster had looked like a cross between a wolf and a grizzly bear. The creature also sucked down magical blasts like a kid guzzling Red Bull.
“These bastards were definitely nastier,” Tristan agreed. “They ambushed Kadir—I think he was on his way to some terrorist planning session. Daliya was back at the couple’s home, but she sensed the attack through their Truebond. She alerted Gwen and gated to help, but by then the snake was already swallowing Kadir. We arrived a minute or two later, but there was nothing any of us could do.”
“Christ.” Justice winced, remembering some of the homicides he’d worked. The anguish of the victim’s wives had haunted him worse than the murders themselves. At least the dead had stopped suffering by the time he arrived. “I hope you made those bastards pay.”
“We gave it our best shot.” Tristan’s brooding green eyes dropped down to Kadir’s face, and he returned the head to the protective circle of Daliya’s body. “The entire Round Table tore into them with everything we had. Our blade attacks bounced right off their shields . . .”
“And our blasts were worse than useless,” Belle said grimly. “Just like Warlock’s first monster, they drank our magic and got stronger.”
“We trashed six blocks of Mirpur City before we finally made them gate for home.” Tristan pulled off his helm and raked his hand through his hair, pulling it from its tight warrior’s queue to fall in disordered, sweaty strands. He looked tired, his face smeared with dirt and blood. “Had to bring in a hundred extra witches for crowd control when the fight brought the Pakistanis out to investigate. That damned centaur trampled six people and cut a three-year-old girl in two.”
“Oh, my God.” Miranda recoiled, her expression sick. “Why?”
“I think he was just pissed off. He killed that kid the way you’d swat a fly.” Tristan’s green eyes narrowed in fury, a muscle jerking in his jaw as he ground his teeth. “But it backfired on him, because Arthur lost his mind. You know how he gets whenever a child is hurt. Tore into the bastard so hard, he actually beat his way through the fucker’s magical shield. Excalibur must have just overwhelmed the spell. Bloodied the centaur badly.”
Justice grinned in genuine pleasure. “Good for him.”
“We all cut lose then, whaling away until the sons of bitches lost their nerve and gated for home.” He curled his lip. “Apparently they can dish it out, but they don’t like taking it.”
“The civilians still paid the price.” Belle dragged her shoulders back and winced, putting a hand on her arm as if it ached. If anything, she looked dirtier and more exhausted than her partner. “We’ve had our hands full putting out fires and healing the wounded ever since.”
Miranda glanced up. “I gather the Beasts kept you from tracking where their dimensional gate went.” The Majae had been trying to locate Warlock’s lair for months now, with no luck at all.
“Per usual. We have got to figure out how to punch through that jamming spell of theirs.”
“How did you explain all this to the Pakistanis?” Justice asked.
“The usual suspects.” Belle shrugged. “Team of suicide bombers hit the neighborhood. We changed everybody’s memories to match the story. And made damned sure we wiped every camera phone for blocks around.”
“Sure as hell don’t want that little fight going viral,” Tristan agreed. “All we need is for something like that to hit CNN, and we’re all fucked.”
“Why didn’t Arthur call me in to help?” Justice asked in frustration. “Immune to magic, remember?” One of the joys of being a werewolf.
Unfortunately, that immunity meant his magic was limited to shape-shifting. Miranda and her psychotic father, Warlock, were the only Dire Wolves who could cast spells, which meant they were also vulnerable to magical attacks.
And now there were these new Beasts. Out there among the humans, eating people and blowing shit up. A snake, for God’s sake.
“You’re more useful making sure nothing happens to Miranda.” Displaying a forearm, Tristan gave Miranda a tired smile. A set of bloody fang marks punctured his gauntlet. “The centaur got its teeth into me, but your vaccine really works. Otherwise I’d be dead now.”
“My pleasure.” Her voice dropped to a mutter. “I just wish I knew how long that spell is going to last. I don’t want somebody dying because it took me too long to make more vaccine.”
“Miranda, we don’t know when—or even if—it’s going to wear off,” Belle told her. “You need to let your psychic batteries recharge a little longer before you start working on a new batch.”
As usual, the witch was right. Preparing enough of the magical drug to vaccinate the city had left Miranda frighteningly weak. She’d barely been able to move for days. Justice had ended up waiting on her hand and foot.
Not that he’d minded. God, he was such a sucker.
“Then I shouldn’t have wasted all that magic on building my new house last week.” Miranda chewed her ridiculously tempting lower lip. Justice dragged his gaze away. “That was stupid.”
“Well, I don’t consider it a waste.” Tristan’s grin suggested he was trying to distract her from her obvious guilt trip. “It did get you and Justice out of our house.” They’d been Belle’s guests for three weeks, until Miranda had finished conjuring the cottage. “Don’t get me wrong, I like you two, but once in a while I’d really like to have sex on the . . .”
Belle looked up at her lover. She didn’t say a word, but he carefully shut his mouth without finishing the sentence.
“I didn’t notice you held back all that much.” Justice grinned, just as willing to play Let’s distract Miranda. “I felt like a contestant on Knights of the Round Table Gone Wild.”
Tristan hit him lightly on one armored shoulder. It clanked. “You’re just jealous, furball.”
Jealous, me? Watching Tris and Belle flirt, kiss and steal surreptitious little caresses? While he hadn’t dared lay one fuzzy finger on Miranda? Like the Big Bad Wolf at a barbecue festival.
Justice glanced over at Miranda, to find her watching him wearing an odd expression, part longing, part fear. Of me? Why the hell would she be afraid of me? And why longing, for God’s sake . . . ?
Before Justice could consider that puzzle, an empty soft drink can bounced and rattled its way across the alley. He glanced around, instantly wary.
The woman who’d kicked the Coke can strolled toward them, a big video camera balanced on one shoulder. Yet none of the others seemed to notice.
Taking a deep breath, Justice recognized the ozone reek of magic. She’s protected by some kind of spell. Probably an invisibility shield.
Magic didn’t affect Justice, so he saw right through the shield, but the others had no idea she was there. He looked away as if he hadn’t seen her either, his mind working furiously. Since when do TV reporters work spells?
There was no question she was a reporter, given the camera. While you could shoot video with a cell phone these days, professional equipment was a lot bigger and more elaborate. Just like the camera she was carrying.
Plus, she had the kind of stunning looks typical of female cable news reporters: a heart-shaped face, striking violet eyes, and curling hair the gleaming black of a raven’s wing. Snatching another glance, he decided he recognized her. Brenda? Brenna? Something like that.
But he’d thought TV news reporters traveled with an entourage, especially in this part of the world. A cameraman, a sound guy, a producer, a translator, and at least a couple of bodyguards. This girl appeared to be alone. Which was dangerous as hell in fundamentalist Pakistan, especially for a woman who looked like that.
What is she, nuts?
Justice’s protective instincts stirred. You’ve already got your hands full with one beautiful, endangered woman, dumbass, he reminded himself. You sure as hell don’t need another one. Besides, with her power, the reporter could probably twitch her nose and make jihadis compose sonnets to her eyebrows.
Yet despite her admittedly stunning beauty, she didn’t make him feel anything like the kind of elemental lust Miranda inspired. It was like comparing a firecracker to a lightning bolt.
Anyway, this chick is a reporter. Even as a human cop, Justice had never liked reporters. In his former-cop’s experience, they lived to stir shit up. Lacking actual shit to stir, they’d create imaginary shit and stir that. Now that he was one of the world’s tiniest minorities—Magical Americans—he really didn’t like reporters. And that little spell-casting bimbo intended to put them all on CNN?
I don’t think so, baby. But what am I going to do about you?
Justice watched from the corner of one eye as the reporter moved around them with her camera, shooting away. She turned to say something to her left shoulder and absently pushed a black curl behind one ear. One pointed ear. Justice put the ear together with the invisibility spell. Holy hell, the reporter’s Sidhe.
The Sidhe were basically mankind’s cousins, an ancient race of magic-using humans who inhabited Mageverse Earth. Their kingdom lay on the other side of the planet from Avalon; their king, Llyr Galatyn, was one of Arthur’s more important allies.
What the hell is a fairy doing in Pakistan? We’re broadcasting the news to Neverland now?
And what was that moving around on her other shoulder, the one not occupied by the camera? He couldn’t quite make it out, since its bottom half was the same green as her silk blouse, while the rest matched the building behind her. In fact, he could see the pattern of the brick slide across the whatsit as it moved. Had to be alive.
A quick inward breath brought him the scaly aroma of reptile blended with the ozone tang of magic and the woman’s natural feminine scent. Some kind of enchanted lizard? Like a magical chameleon, maybe?
“Do you recognize these guys?” she asked it. She was talking to a lizard?
“The big fella is Tristan, one of the Knights of the Round Table,” the chameleon said in an Irish accent as thick as mud—and about that clear. “The blond one is La Belle Coeur, what they call a Court Seducer. Don’t know who the redhead is, or the other fella, but . . . He’s starin’ at us.”
Her head jerked around so fast she should have given herself whiplash. The CNN Fairy met Justice’s gaze, her violet eyes going round with horror. The camera vanished from her shoulder in an explosion of sparks as she whirled to run.
Justice grabbed for his own magic and leaped, shifting to Dire Wolf as he dove over Tristan’s head. He was distantly aware of his companions’ astounded shouts, but he didn’t stop to explain.
He grabbed the Sidhe woman by one arm as his clawed feet hit the pavement. Jerking her to a halt, Justice glowered down at her from seven feet of muscle, fur, and fangs. “Oh, no you don’t, News Fairy. Where the hell did the camera go? Bring it back now, or . . .”
“Let her go!” The leprechaun lizard Shifted into a dead ring for a Gila monster, its body short and muscular, with a stubby tail and short ’gator legs. It was obviously a hell of a lot more agile than the real reptile, because it launched itself through the air like a flying squirrel. Landing on Justice’s astonished head, it started ripping at him with claws like box cutters. “Get your hands off her or you’ll be diggin’ me out of your face!”
Justice barely grabbed the little beast in time to save his eyes. It screamed incomprehensible Irish curses as he dragged it off his head. It was surprisingly strong for something that weighed less than a house cat.
Justice had to fight to hang on as the lizard lashed back and forth in his grip, all four stubby legs clawing the air, tailbeating his forearm hard enough to bruise. “Leave my Branwyn alone, gobshite!”
He jerked the little beast close enough to get a good look at his much, much longer teeth. “Stop it, or we’ll find out if you really are magically delicious.”
“Cac ar oineach!” The lizard snarled, its eyes narrowed to vicious, glowing slits.
“Don’t hurt him!” the girl yelled, leaping up to grab Justice’s arm, trying to wrench his lizard-gripping hand away from his jaws. “You can have the camera, just don’t eat Fin!” Her eyes were wide with pleading, her lip trembling as she hung from his massive forearm, booted feet kicking a foot from the ground.
Justice’s rage faded in the face of her genuine fear. “I’m not going to eat your lizard, all right? Just tell him to quit . . .”
A fireball splashed against the side of his head. Astonished, he turned just as Fin huffed another green flame baseball into his eyes. “Get away from her, or you’ll get seconds!” the lizard howled.
“I don’t care,” Justice snarled, “because I am immune to magic.”
“Are your balls immune to teeth then? Because I’ll bite the bleeding bollix off you!”
“Try it, you scaly little shit, and you’ll end up a pair of boots!”
Please don’t hurt him!” Tears spilled down the girl’s face as she braced both feet against his ribs and hauled on his arm for all she was worth. Being Sidhe, she was much stronger than she looked.
“Then tell him to keep his teeth to himself,” Justice snapped, though he was starting to feel like a bully, “or I swear to God, I’ll dropkick his scaly little ass right over the rainbow.”
Téigh trasna ort féin,” the lizard spat.
Justice decided it was just as well he didn’t speak Gaelic.
“Fin, you’re not helping!” Branwyn cried, and started to sob. “Please, mister, please!”
“All right!” He lowered his arm until her feet touched the ground. When he handed her the lizard, Fin promptly Shifted back to his original form—he looked a bit like a miniature Chinese dragon—and shot up her arm to wrap his long, limber body around her neck.
The creature glared at him from the shelter of long black curls. “Lay one hand on my girl, you hairy skanger, and you’ll be spitting teeth.” No longer camouflaged, Fin’s scales shone green in the illumination cast by the burning square beyond the alley. They had an iridescent sheen, streaks of violet and gold rippling as he moved. A bright red frill ran the length of his back from his golden eyes to the tip of his long tail. More frills adorned the tail tip, as long and delicate as feathers.
“All right, I gave back your scaly leprechaun,” Justice told the fairy, ignoring Fin’s dire Gaelic curses. “Now, where’s the camera?”
She clutched her friend protectively close and glared at him. “Oh, all . . .”
“Justice,” Miranda interrupted, edging closer as she spoke in the careful tone people use with schizophrenics, “who are you talking to?”
“This sneaking little fairy reporter and her pet reptile . . .” He winced as realization hit. “Both of whom are still hidden behind an invisibility spell.”
Which meant Miranda, Tristan, and Belle just saw him have a screaming row with empty air. No wonder they were looking at him like a candidate for electroshock.
He glowered down at the reporter. “Drop the shield, Tinker Bell. And give me that damned camera before I forget I’m one of the good guys.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re just a fuzzy Prince Charming, you are!” The reporter’s voice dripped sarcasm—along with a sudden brogue almost as thick as the lizard’s. “Picking on poor Finvarra. You ought to be ashamed of . . .”
He stuck out a palm and snapped his clawed fingers. “Camera and spell. Now, Tink.”
The scent of magic disappeared, then flared again as the video camera popped back into view. She handed it over with visible reluctance and a growled “And don’t call me Tinker Bell!”
“Think you’re a hard man now?” The lizard sneered. His frilled tail snapped in contempt. “Tosser.”
“Bite me, Lucky Charms.”
“I tried, Scooby Doo, but the fleas beat me to it.”
“That’s Branwyn Donovan.” Miranda stared at the reporter before turning an outraged glare on Justice. “You threatened to eat Branwyn Donovan? What next, Anderson Cooper à la mode? What’s wrong with you?”
“I didn’t threaten to eat the damned reporter,” Justice gritted. “I threatened to eat her lizard. Which I gave back, despite being seriously provoked. Look, Miranda, she’s been shooting video of us from behind an invisibility spell. Do you want to be on CNN?”
“I don’t work for CNN,” Branwyn announced with icy dignity. “I report for DCN. We have better ratings.”
“Wipe that camera’s memory card,” Tristan told Belle in a cold voice. The Magekind were damned serious about making sure video of their activities never hit the air.
“It’s as good as wiped.” But before she cast the spell, Belle gave Justice an approving nod. “Good work spotting her before she outted every one of us.”
“I’m not going to out you, dammit!” Branwyn planted her fists on her hips and glared at the witch. “I’m Sidhe. I don’t want the mortals to know magic exists any more than you do. They’d either burn me at the stake or dissect me like a frog.”
“So why shoot video of us if you weren’t going to run it?” Tristan lifted a skeptical blond brow. “How stupid do you think we are?”
Branwyn transferred her glare to him, not in the least intimidated by fifteen hundred years’ worth of legendary, pissed-off knight. “I was going to show it to my brother. I wanted him to see what those . . . creatures are doing to those who don’t have a prayer of defending themselves.”
Conal Donovan was the owner of DCN, as well as one of the richest men on the planet. He had fingers in so many pies, he should own his own bakery—and probably did. Figures he’d be magic, Justice thought.
Tristan looked her over, frowning. “What creatures are we talking about?”
She looked impatient. “You know perfectly well. That Budweiser Clydesdale thing and the giant snake that ate that poor vampire.” Her voice dropped to a mutter, and a tear rolled down her face. “And I liked Kadir, dammit. He didn’t deserve to die like that.”
“How do you know Kadir?” Belle eyed her. “And why do you care?”
“How could I not care? Those bastards killed half a dozen people and a three-year-old. They’ve got to be stopped. Kadir tried. God, he gave it everything he had. He blasted the hell out of that snake with his AK-47, but the bullets just bounced off it. Then it bit him and . . .” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “I’m going to hear that scream in my nightmares until the day I die.”
And if I don’t get my hands on that axe of Daliya’s, Justice thought grimly, Kadir won’t be the only one Warlock and his bastards kill.

And again, here's the link to order MASTER OF DARKNESS from Amazon..

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:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The first chapter of my new book, Enforcer

If you haven't seen much of me lately, it's because I'm hard at work on my new novella, "Enforcer," which will be published in March by Berkley.

Enforcer is the long-awaited climax of the TIME HUNTERS series that so many of you have been demanding. I hope you find it worth the wait. In the meantime, I'd like to share the following chapter, just to give you a little taste of my futuristic world.


Chapter One

The one thing Dona had always hated about time travel was the smell. All those romantic temporal trids never mentioned the reek of horse manure and non-existent sanitation. But after three years as a Temporal Enforcer, Dona barely noticed the stench anymore.

This odor was an order of magnitude worse, a nauseating sensory assault blended with an overlay of human waste and the copper reek of blood. It seemed to coat the back of her throat until every breath, every swallow made her stomach roil.

Decomp was a smell you never got used to, no matter how many murders you worked.

Some of the bodies had spent hours ripening in the July heat of this dark, silent house before a courier bot had arrived at the North American Temporal Outpost. The bots report of a tour group under attack had every available agent scrambling.

Two and a half minutes after the bot left eighteenth century Philadelphia, a team of ten Enforcers Jumped into the houses parlor, weapons drawn. The smell told them they were too late.

It was soon obvious no frantic temporal tourist had sent the courier. Every one of the poor bastards was already dead when it made its initial Jump through time.

The killers themselves had sent the bot. The question, of course, was why.

Now reasonably sure she had her rebellious stomach under control, Dona stepped through the open bedroom door. Her Enforcers gaze automatically tracked the arching patterns of blood-splatter across the wall to her left. The small oval rug felt sticky under her booted feet, saturated with drying blood.

She scanned the room warily. There wasnt a hell of a lot to see, since there was barely enough space for the oak four-poster bed canopied in rose-patterned fabric, an armoire, and a wash stand. A china pitcher stood beside a matching washbowl on the stand, both painted with a delicate pattern of twining red roses that matched the canopy.

Beyond the beds canopy curtains lay a still lump so covered with dried blood, it appeared to have been dipped in brown paint.

Scan and identify victim, Dona ordered her internal computer.

She was perfectly suited to this kind of computer forensics. A nanocrystal computer wound through her brain, its artificial synapses linked to her neurons. More nanocrystal formed a lacy network of sensors just beneath her skin, designed to detect everything from DNA structure to the presence of tachyon weaponry. Deep within her bones and muscles lay still more nanobot filaments, making her far stronger than her long, lean build would suggest. All of which made her ideally suited for her job as a Temporal Enforcer.

DNA scan confirms there is a ninety-eight-point-five percent chance the victim in Lolai Hardin, the comp announced a moment later in its light, androgynous voice.

Dona muttered, “Yeah, that’s what I figured you’d say.”

Lolai had been the licensed temporal guide who owned Hardin's Independence Tours; this house was her Philadelphia base of operations. Shed been playing host to a group of tourists here to watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Until a gang of murderers gave them all a guided tour of hell.

Since the Enforcers had already determined Lolai wasnt one of the victims downstairs, odds were she was this one.

But you couldnt make assumptions. Not with these bastards; they were fully capable of killing a temporal native and putting her in Lolais bed. Though it was hard to imagine that dark lump had ever been human...

Play the file of Lolai's commercial trid again. Sometimes looking into the victim's face helped Dona see her as a human being. Helped her see evidence that wouldn't come into focus as long as she kept seeing the victim as a chunk of meat.

The comp made that little mental chirp that said it was acting on her last order. An instant later, the woman's three-dimensional image faded into view like a ghost.

The trid appeared perfectly solid, though Lolai seemed to be standing hip-deep in the bed, roughly where the corpses legs should be. There was a bit of nauseating irony Dona could have done without.

The temporal guide had been delicately beautiful, despite the fine lines that radiated from the corner of her blue eyes. According to her dossier, she was eighty-two, though someone from this time would have believed her no older than twenty.

Hardin wore an eighteenth-century walking dress in deep green silk, with a delicate lace apron and a matching kerchief tucked in the gown's low square neckline. A jaunty hat decorated with flowers tilted rakishly over one eye. She looked as comfortable in the historical garb as if she wore it every day.

Which she probably did. When not ferrying tour groups back and forth through time, most guides lived wherever they conducted their tours. It helped them blend in with the temporal natives and build relationships they could use to create more interesting historical trips for their clients.

"Im Lolai Hardin, Hardin said in Galactic Standard with a faint Colonial Philadelphia accent. I have thirty-four years of experience as a temporal guide specializing in Colonial America, particularly Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Before that, I was a guide in Civil War Charleston, South Carolina. Hardins smile was bright, her manner calm and confident. Dona tried not to wonder how shed looked when shed realized she was about to die. Had she sensed the horror her last hours would be? If you'd like to experience life as our ancestors did, Hardin's Independence Tours will give you a taste of the past you'll never forget."

"I certainly wont be forgetting this any time soon -- whether I like it or not," Dona muttered. Shed be having nightmares about this one.

She desperately wanted a bath.

"Goddess Mother, this is worse than the butchery downstairs," Chief Alerio Dyami rumbled as he strode into the room. Dona's far-too vulnerable heart leaped in reaction, though she managed to keep the pleasure off her face.

You weren't supposed to be that damned happy to see your commanding officer walk in.

He was a big man, tall and broad in his dark blue temporal jump armor. A Vardonese tattoo swirled down the left side of his face in vivid shades of green and gold, emphasizing the angular strength of his features. As he scanned Lolais pitiful corpse, glacial rage burned in those dark pupils, flecking them with crimson light.

Dyami wasnt just Chief Temporal Enforcer for the North America Temporal Outpost -- he was a Vardonese Warlord. A genetically engineered warrior born and bred to protect civilians, Dyami had the superhuman strength and speed to do the job. His eyes glowed whenever his emotions grew especially strong, probably as a warning to the unwary. Everyone assigned to the Outpost soon learned that when the chiefs eyes went red, youd better duck.

Fourteen people dead, he growled, looming at her shoulder, eyes blazing like laser sights. And theres not a single fucking thing we can do about it. Sometimes it drives me insane. God, I'd love to go back in time and just slaughter those bastards. Except it wouldn't do any fucking good because...

...You cant change history, Dona echoed his snarl.

Lolai would die because she had died. Somewhere she was still dying. Thirty years of time travel had proved that all time is simultaneous. Past, present and future were an illusion, which made the concepts of predestination and time paradoxes equally meaningless.

So well just damned well make sure we catch the bastards before they kill anyone else. A muscle jerked in his broad, square jaw.

Dona rocked back on one booted heel. With Lolai, that makes all fourteen victims accounted for. Hardin, the ten tourists downstairs -- one of whom is a fourteen-year-old boy -- and the three support staff who posed as Hardin's house servants."

The chief grunted, his brooding gaze drifting to what was left of the tour guide. "At least the bastards didn't kidnap anybody."

No, you definitely wouldnt want to be a victim they could take their time with. Dona grimaced. It was bad enough as it is.

The woman's wrists were bound to the canopy posts with mag cables. Loops of the metallic rope-like restraints circled the posts at the foot of the bed, but the ankles they'd bound had vanished.

Dona's comp helpfully informed her that Hardins right leg was that red lump under the bed, while the left one had somehow ended up beside the washstand. She swallowed hard and told her comp, Do not let me toss in front of the Chief.

Beginning anti-nausea treatment. Her stomach stopped bucking. You think the killers were priests?

He shrugged. "Hard to say, though they were definitely Xeran, based on the DNA scans." Several of them had gang-raped one of the staff and a female tourist, leaving plenty of DNA behind in the process. They hadnt even bothered to destroy the genetic evidence, as if theyd wanted the Enforcers to know who they were.

Dona didnt much care for the implications. "This isn't normal behavior even for Xerans. I had my comp run a simulation based on the scene downstairs. The comp says the killers hacked at those people in some kind of frenzy. Maybe religious, maybe sexual. Either way, it was ugly.

He nodded, only to stiffen abruptly, his head whipping around toward the form on the bed. "Seven hells!"

"What?" Her hand dropped to the shard pistol on her hip. He'd gone so pale, his facial tatt looked almost gaudy against his pallor.

What the hell could be bad enough to make Alerio Dyami go white?

"I just had my comp run a DNA scan on this woman's rapist. It says he was human. He actually looked sick, an expression that looked utterly alien on a man who was usually so coolly professional.

Dona stared at him, feeling her stomach drop to her boots as she instantly realized why he'd reacted so strongly.

Technically the Xerans were human, being descended from the human colonists of Xer. But over the past couple of centuries, genetic engineering had changed them into somethingelse. Something faster and stronger and light-years meaner.

To the Xerans, humans were inferior primitives, heretics who refused to worship their "god," a lunatic they called the Victor. Dona could think of only one human theyd trust to help them slaughter a houseful of human civilians. Ivar Terje.

Yeah, Ivar. Again. The chief curled a lip. I told my comp to rerun the scan. It got the same results. There's a ninety-nine-point-eight percent chance Terje raped and murdered Lolai Hardin.

Gods. Donas eyes slid back to the dismembered torso. How could he have done something like this? And why in the name of all the hells didnt I know he was capable of it? "I slept with him. Oh, Gods...."

"I didn't know what he was either. Dyami shook his head, the beads of his combat decorations clicking among his long black braids. I still cant believe he sold us out for a handful of galactors."

Well, it was hardly a handful. The chiefs own investigation of Ivars finances had determined the Xerans paid him 1.3 million galactors. But Dyami wasn't the kind of man to turn traitor for any amount of money.

Ironically, it was that bedrock honor that had made Dona turn to Ivar to begin with. If Dyami hadn't been so relentlessly honorable--not to mention inhumanly handsome in that Vardonese way of his, all height and muscle and hard black eyes--she wouldn't have felt driven to seek a lover in self-defense. Shed known Alerio was every bit as attracted to her as she was to him. If hed made a concentrated attempt to seduce her, shed never be able to resist. And she was damned if shed get involved with another CO.

So instead shed become lover to a traitor and a murderer.

Oh, beefershit, Dona thought, suddenly impatient with herself. I wanted to believe I was in love with the sociopathic bastard because he knew just how to play me. I was willfully stupid.

Her sensors had warned her Ivar used his comp almost continuously, controlling his body's normal emotional reactions at all times. If he'd been a suspect, she'd have recognized that elaborate control as an indication he was lying every time he opened his mouth. But because he was her partner and her shield against the temptation Alerio posed --she'd ignored the warning signs.

She hadn't seen the truth until his fist hit her face.

Her gaze slid back to his victim. And apparently I got off lucky. The thought of what hed done to Lolai tied her guts in rolling acidic knots.

"Would these people be dead if we'd managed to capture Ivar six months ago?" She caught herself rubbing her belly. With an effort, she forced her hand to drop.

Dyami snorted. "I hate to interrupt your wallow in guilt, but Ivar is nothing to the Xerans." Despite his tart words, there was sympathy in his dark gaze. "They don't think much of traitors. These poor bastards would be dead whether or not theyd let the fucker come along for the ride."

"I'm not very fond of the dickhole myself," Dona muttered.

Dyami suddenly lifted his head and half turned away. Probably listening to a private com message. The dim light from the evidence bot rolled over the dark blue scales of his armored T-suit, making its silver piping gleam. Her eyes helplessly followed the rolling line of light as it played over powerful muscle barely concealed by the tight-fitting suit.

"Dr. Chogan just commed me. Theyve completed the evidence collection. Lets take care of this poor fem and Jump for home." Turning his head, he caught her staring at his ass. One black brow rose.

If not for her computer, her cheeks would be blazing beet red. "Uh, yes sir."

"Good." He gave her a decisive nod, beads clinking. "We need to finish the cleanup before one of the temporals decides to investigate."

No, they definitely didn't want some eighteenth century good Samaritan walking in on an Enforcer team in all its armored glory. "I checked before we left the Outpost, but I didn't see any record of a mass slaying on this date, Dona told him. If somebodyd found this mess, theyd have talked about it.

Dyami snorted. "Assuming any reports survived the ensuing five hundred years."

That was the trouble with time travel. You might think you knew what happened, but you really didn't. Records were lost, to fire or mold or other ravages of time. Those who reported the events at the time could have lied to protect their reputations, to make a political point, or just for the hell of it. Ever since temporal exploration began thirty years ago, humanity had been shocked to learn how much "history" was pure beefershit.

You never really knew what had happened during historical events until you went back and watched them occur. Otherwise, the past might as well be the surface of an alien planet.

"Make way. Body tube coming in." The stasis cylinder floated through the door, the blue glow of its antigrav field lighting up the room. Dr. Sakuri Chogan followed, her face grim and pale under her topknot of iridescent green hair. A swarm of evidence bots trailed her, ready to process the scene.

Chogan stopped in the doorway and stared around at the arching patterns of blood splatter. "Seven hells!"

Dona automatically took a step closer, concerned by her friends sickened expression.

"Oh, back off." The Outposts doctor shot her an impatient glower. "I do autopsies for a living. Then, as if against her will, her gaze drifted around the room again. Though judging by the scene, I can already tell you this bastards crystal is seriously cracked."

DNA scans say it was Ivar, Dona told her.

Oh. Wincing on her behalf, Chogan promptly changed the subject. "Wed better get this poor woman tubed." Revulsion crossed the humans expressive face. "As soon as we can find all of her…”


Grim, unspeaking, Dona, Chogan and Dyami went to work at the gory task. Luckily temporal armor was as effective at blocking biological contaminants as it was at protecting the body from time travel.

As they worked, faint slurps and thumps signaled that the evidence bots were equally busy, removing every last blood cell from the plastered walls, every hair and bone fragment and stray bit of tissue from the bed and floor. Every last alien anything that didn't belong in the eighteenth century. By the time they were through, youd never know anyone had died here.

Dona lifted the stiff brown pillow that had lain under Hardins head. A courier bot popped out from beneath it, darting into the air in a blaze of blue anti-grav light. She jumped, barely managing to bite back a startled yelp.

"Alerio Dyami!" the bot thundered in a surprisingly deep voice. "I seek Alerio Dyami, Chief Temporal Enforcer of the North American Outpost."

"I'm Dyami." Alerio studied the device with narrow-eyed intensity. My sensors say its a Xeran bot, he murmured to Dona.

She backed off, one hand falling to the shard pistol holstered at her hip. Luckily, the fact that the courier had traveled in time meant it was unlikely to be armed with any really interesting energy weapons. Anybody or anything attempting a temporal jump armed with a tachyon beamer would blow itself straight to the seven hells.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of other ways to kill, even a target as formidable as Alerio Dyami. Dona locked her sensors on the bot, ready to fire if it tried to power up a weapon.

"I have a message for you," the courier announced. "Would you like to take it privately?"

"Chief, don't!" Chogan began urgently.

Dyami shot her a cool look. "Give me a little credit, Doctor. I'm not stupid enough to smear anything from that thing on my skin." To the bot, he said, "I'm not concerned with privacy. If you've got a message, play it."

"As you wish," the bot said cheerfully.

And just like that, Ivar Terje stood in the middle of the room.

Dona damned near drew her pistol before logic kicked in. Its just a trid, idiot.

"Don't shoot the 'bot, Dyami," the three-dimensional recording said with a smirk. Being genetically engineered, Ivar was inhumanly handsomeat least until you realized his eyes were as cold and gray as the ice on a frozen planet.

And why didnt I notice that when it could have done me some good?

Hed cut his hair since shed seen him last, buzzing it so short it covered his head in a red bristle. The style was apparently designed to call attention to the silver implants jutting from his skull.

"Look who's wearing horns!" Chogan curled a lip. "Terjes pretending to be a priest of the Victor now."

"What do you think of my handiwork, Chief?" Ivar's image flashed a vicious white grin. "Hells, that Lolai was a squealer. If not for the mute field, every primitive for miles would have come running." The grin widened still more. "It'll take a lot more work to get a scream out of Dona, but I'll manage--eventually."

To Donas surprise, Dyami stiffened, his eyes going solid red, his lips pulling back in a snarl. "You won't get the chance, botfucker. He took a gliding step closer, as if hed forgotten it was only a recording.

Ivar chuckled, almost as if he'd heard the chief. "I'm sure you're growling manly Warlord threats right now. I'd be impressed if I were there. Instead I'll just give you a choice. Surrender yourself to the Victors...justice. Along with Dona, Galar Arvid, Jessica, Nick Wyatt, and his whore Riane."

Every trace of humor vanished from his face, leaving nothing but vicious intent. "Otherwise, my team and I are going to butcher every temporal historian, every trid crew, every tourist and guide we can get our hands on. And that's a long list. Your choice, Dyami. Surrender now like the hero you are, or let innocents pay for your cowardice."

The image winked out.

Dyami lunged for the 'bot in a blurring surge of Warlord muscle, but before his fingers could close over it, the thing darted away. A flare of blinding light and a thunderclap sonic boom signaled the bots Jump back to the Xeran home world.

When Dona's ears quit ringing, Alerio was still pacing and cursing. "Courier probably recorded our reactions to Ivar's little ultimatum. He'll want to gloat." He bared his teeth in something light years from a smile. "Glaciers will claim the Seven Hells before I surrender any of my people to those Xeran dickholes."

That reaction didn't surprise Dona in the least. "He meant it about the civilians, sir. They'll slaughter every tourist and historian they can."

"Then we'll just have to make sure they dont get the chance." His eyes were solid sheets of flame now, damn near bright enough to cast a shadow.

And she was staring at him again. Her longing was probably written all over her face. Fool, Dona thought, dragging her eyes away. Never mind what happened with Ivar what about Kagan? Wasnt it enough getting your heart ripped out by one commanding officer? Do you really need Dyami to repeat the lesson?


The temporal journey back to the North American Outpost was as grueling as always. The Enforcers Jumped from the house's great room in teams of two, accompanied by body tubes.

Alerio kept watch as was his habit, covering his team's retreat. As much as he could, anyway, having gone half-blind and deaf from the temporal flares and their accompanying sonic booms. Luckily the suits' dampening field kept anyone more than ten meters away from feeling the effects. No temporal natives would wonder why there was a thunderstorm inside the house next door.

Finally only he and Dona were left. For a moment, Alerio let his gaze linger on the cool purity of her profile, with its high cheekbones, striking violet eyes, and the mouth that seemed gene-gineered for sin.

He looked away just before she Jumped. His ears were still ringing as his comp started reciting the familiar string of coordinates back to the Outpost.

Coordinates confirmed. Engage temporal warp, he told it.

Engaging temporal warp in

It felt like being hit by lightning. His mind blinked out

And he was back again.

Temporal warp to the Outpost successful, his comp announced.

Alerio made no answer, half-blind, stomach knotting in violent rebellion, his muscles jerking from the temporal warp. Bracing his knees, he stayed upright by will alone until his comp could compensate. My team?

All members of the investigation team present and accounted for.

Alerio breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Vardonese goddess happened to be listening.

He'd lost a Jumper once. Riane Arvid's sabotaged T-suit had bounced her back and forth across Terran temporal space before finally dumping her in the twentieth century. Her suit was dead as a stone by then, unable to Jump at all. Unfortunately, a team of Xeran assassins appeared minutes later. Shed have died then and there if not for a timely rescue by Nick Wyatt, half-breed Xeran and superhuman guardian of an alien race called the Sela

Nick and Riane had returned to the Outpost desperately in love.

Still, almost losing an Enforcer was an experience Alerio had no desire to repeat. Especially considering Ivar's threats.

It'll take a lot more work to get a scream out of Dona, but I'll manageeventually.

Like hell, botfucker.

Blinking the spots from his eyes, Alerio glanced around the cavernous room that was Mission Staging. Heavily shielded for Jump traffic, it was lined evidence and equipment lockers as well as regeneration tubes for treating the injured. Most temporal missions began and ended here, especially those featuring a large Jump team.

Alerio spotted Dona deep in an animated conversation with Riane. The young Warfem and her cyborg wolf partner had been with the crew working the house's ground floor. His gaze drifted slowly down Donas clean, lovely profile, then along the curving contours of her body. There was something about her that had the power to stop him in his tracks every time.

Enough mooning, Alerio thought. Ive got killers to catch.