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26 August 2009 @ 12:44 pm
Trick of the Light excerpt (Chapter One)  
For my faithful, loving, rabidly devoted fans <grin>, an excerpt from TOTL. It doesn't have enough of Zeke, my fav, in it to suit me...but he has more than plenty of face time and ass kicking time. Trust me. My second fav, Eli--if Robin Goodfellow went to the Dark Side, doesn't come along until later in the book, but he's more than worth the wait. Being bad is so very good.

Trick of the Light

 

Chapter One

 

 

          To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. I’d read that in a book once, a fairly famous one. Right now I was going with the time of reaping. Fire had been sown and fire would be reaped. Now. By me, personally. Why?

        One: fire burns. Fire destroys. Fire cleanses.

        Two: fire also drives up your insurance rates like crazy.

        Three: it was deserved. Oh yes, it was very much deserved.

        And how do I know this? A lot of ways, but mainly because I know there are demons in the world. Monsters. Creatures that would steal and eat your soul. Devils that would….

Wait. You’ve heard this before, right? Seen the movies. Read the books. You might hide under your covers at night or avoid the deepest shadows of the darkest alleys and pretend all’s right with the world, but you know. I don’t need to tell you. I don’t need to show you the light…or the dark.

You know.

Like me, you know. Even if you don’t want to admit it.

Chicken shit.

But that’s okay. Since I knew, I could personally pitch a Molotov cocktail with grim glee at a nightclub that sat halfway between the University and the strip, an area otherwise and ironically called Paradise. No hiding under the covers for me. I knew about what hid in the dark all right and there was nothing I enjoyed more, at least tonight, than watching some son of a bitch demon’s club burn to the ground. Demons in Paradise, could they be more smug?

It was six in the morning and empty. The last drunk had staggered out twenty minutes ago into the November dark morning. Frying patrons wasn’t part of the agenda and it wouldn’t do the demon or his demon employees much harm even if they were standing in the middle of it, not if they changed from human form back to the genuine article fast enough, but I still enjoyed it. Girls, you get your kicks where you can.

And this was a kick. I inhaled the fragrance of burning gasoline, felt the hot wind lift my hair, and the thud of the ground under my sneakers…my normal high heeled boots were out for this one. I also felt the adrenaline squeeze my heart, pump my blood faster and faster. Damn, I loved that feeling. I looked up at the faintly orange sky because Vegas was never dark, fire or not. We were a sun all our own. The smell of smoke and alcohol, the sound of shattering glass as the bottles smashed through windows, and the glorious red and yellow of leaping flames.

“Beautiful,” I murmured, feeling the sear of heat against my face. It didn’t touch the heat of satisfaction inside me.

“Not without its charm,” Griffin commented dryly next to me before turning and following me. “You and your hobbies, Trixa.”

“Yeah, great. I’m hungry. Let’s go.” That would be Zeke. Griffin Reese and Zeke Hawkins, quite the pair. I wouldn’t say Zeke had a short attention span; he didn’t. But when a task was done, it was done and what was the point of hanging around? Zeke was a born soldier at heart. I came. I saw. I kicked ass. What’s next? But it was a little more than that. Zeke was special, in more ways than one, which is why there was a Griffin. The Universe saw a need and filled it. Saw an imbalance and stabilized it. The Universe was good at that. Unless you wanted to get laid…then you were on your own. It was the downside of putting business before pleasure.

But this was a pleasure, too, and I was cheered as I stood at the side of two boys I’d watch grown to men to watch the smoke billow. Family came in all shapes and sizes. It even sometimes showed up Dumpster diving outside your bar. Family also shared hobbies, but this little excursion was close to being over. Time to go. I turned and ran, vaulting over a low chain-link fence that surrounded the dirt and gravel vacant lot with the metal biting into my palm. Running across the street, I hopped over the door to Griffin’s car and into the back seat. He had an old convertible something. I’d no idea what. It was old, big as a tank, and with an engine that would’ve been better suited in a jet. It was great for fast getaways and even better for mowing down what unholy thing playing crossing guard that might stand in the way of your escape.

As the sirens began far away, I turned and pillowed my arms on the back of the seat, ignored the dig of a slight rip in the upholstery under my skin, and watched the fire recede into the distance. I didn’t ask them to put the top up in the fifty-degree weather. I loved the bite of it against my skin. And I didn’t need to look up front to know Griffin was driving. Zeke didn’t take to driving too well. If he wanted to go, he went. Red light? Stop sign? What did that have to do with anything when you were following a demon? Hell spawn trumped traffic codes. Between his absolute attention on his goal versus his black and white judgement, things…such as driving into a bus with painted strippers cavorting on the side…tended to not work out so well.

Especially when the bus is full of German tourists in shorts so short that they required a Brazilian wax for the men as well as the women. There had been thighs as bountiful as baking bread, as wobbly as Jello, and as pitted as the surface of the moon. I still had PTSD flashbacks over that one and all thanks to one of Zeke’s few attempt at taking the wheel.   

Zeke with his dark copper hair pulled back into a short three-inch braid; eyes, startlingly pale, that were the green of the first leaf to bloom in the Garden of Eden, a scar on his neck that looked like someone had tried to cut his throat and half succeeded…No, Zeke wasn’t right. Not that he was wrong…different. He was different. It wasn’t his fault. No damn way it was his fault. Whoever Zeke had been born of had done him serious damage. I think he knew right from wrong, but sometimes in doing right he went so far that wrong was just a kiss away. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time was more than Zeke’s philosophy. It was his very reason for being. And if the punishment far outweighed the cause, well, that was Zeke. Black and white and gray was a color he simply couldn’t see.

And if he did slip into doing wrong while trying to do the opposite, he was sorry. Extremely sorry. Unlike most, he didn’t count himself exempt from his own code. So far Griffin had kept him from doing anything that would make him so sorry that he’d throw himself off a building. Then again, I didn’t know the story behind the scar on Zeke’s throat.

Maybe I didn’t want to know. Maybe that’s why I’d never asked.

Griffin. Griffin was a good guy, much better than I was sure he knew. He wasn’t so much modest as…well, he simply didn’t know. The patience he had with Zeke, it would’ve put Mother Teresa to shame.

He had a thick top layer of straight pale blonde hair that fell just past the bottom of his ears. He kept it parted in the middle and when he bowed his head, it hung like a curtain hiding blue eyes. Pacific blue, calm without a single wave to disturb the surface. He looked like a trashy romance novel’s version of an angel. Funny, considering what we’d just done. Funny considering a lot of things.

Griffin the angel. I smiled to myself. Griffin the angel was Zeke’s guide dog so to speak. Where Zeke was blind, Griffin could see just fine. You want to do this, but should you? No. And Zeke listened and Zeke rarely ever listened to anyone. Griffin, always. Me…mostly. Leo…sometimes.

Zeke listened to Griffin because they’d grown up in the same foster home. I doubted there were any picket fences or puppies or cupcakes. I doubted they had anyone but themselves and when that’s the case you bond. Sometimes forever. They’d needed each other, they’d gotten each other, because things do work out for the best.

Sometimes.

I turned around and wrapped arms around them as we passed stucco buildings with red roofs, my left arm along Griff’s shoulder and my right along Zeke’s. “You owe the Universe big.”

Both snorted, but it was Griffin who asked why. I ignored the question and added, “You also owe me lots and lots of money for all those empty bottles you filled with gasoline.”

He sputtered, “They were empty. You were just going to throw them away anyway.”

“Not so,” I smiled, the flash of my teeth bright in the rearview mirror. “I recycle.”

*                    *                *

We went back to my tiny bar, Trixsta, which was located on Boulder Highway along with a few older rickety casinos and car lots. The FSE, the Fremont Street Experience—Vegas’s way of redoing the ailing and progressively sleazier and sleazier casinos, strip clubs, and trademark Vegas neon signs of “Glitter Gulch” into a high end pedestrian mall with light and sound shows, concerts, the works—was still far down the Highway yet. It hadn’t made it close to my place. That was fine by me. I loved my little neck of the woods, so to speak. A tad rundown and tight with the locals. It kept overhead to a minimum and random lost tourists that were accidentally exposed to exploding demons to only one or two a year. My regulars were either passed out, had gotten on meds, or found a new bar when that sort of thing happened. They were happy. I was happy. What more could you want?

Privacy in the bathroom maybe.

As I checked the mirror for smoke smudges on my face, a big hand opened the Ladies door—a bit rickety, but it still worked—and took in my reflection. Dark gold skin, hair that fell in an outrageous mass of uncontrollable curls just past my shoulders. It was nowhere near elegant or perfectly styled. It was wild and untamed and who was I to tell it to behave? It was also black with the occasional streak of dark bronze and rusty red. My eyes, with their Asian tilt, were an amber that was a shade lighter than the streaks in my hair. My nose, a little long, was pierced with a small ruby. I liked red…it tended to be the theme in my life. Neon was Vegas’s trademark and red was mine.

With my hair, my eyes, my skin, I’d seen people squint in confusion as they tried to slap a label on me. People, my mama had once said, will be idiots. Not can be or might be, but will be. Sooner or later, every person alive will be an idiot about one thing or another. Trying to take the mystery out of something for sheer ‘had to know’ obsession was one of those things.

Let them be confused. I was everything. No one could pin me down, name me, or put me in a box and I liked that, too, even more than I liked red.

“Iktomi, stop your primping and get out here.”

“Problem, Leo?” I tucked a curl behind my ear. It promptly fought its way to freedom.

There was a problem, I knew, otherwise Leo wouldn’t have stuck his nose, a nice hawk-like nose it was too, into the bathroom.

“Your demon is here,” he said gruffly.

“Already?” I fished my lipstick from the pocket of my black pants and applied, red with just a hint of copper. It’d barely been twenty minutes. His place still had to be on fire. Couldn’t he stand around and make nice with the firemen? That was not to mention the arson inspector, whom I felt rather bad for. We were giving him some long working days, the poor guy. We’d burned the place down four times now. Maybe I’d send him a fruit basket and a nice card. Sorry for the overtime.

“Okay, okay. I’ll be out in a sec.” As the door shut, I touched the pendant around my neck. It was a teardrop of polished black stone on a gold chain. It cried when I couldn’t. “A long time, little brother. A long time gone. I miss you.” I raised it, kissed it lightly, then let it fall back in place and went back into the main bar.

What there was of it.

I was in the bar business, but I wasn’t into the bar business. It was temporary, like most things in my life. There’s always some place else to go if you have to. Always something else to do. Although, this particular temporary had gone on for ten years now. I think that was an all time record for me.

It was small, a few pool tables, a couple of dartboards, some tables and chairs, old paneled walls, one TV above the bar…definitely not big screen, and alcohol. That’s all I wanted or needed. I had this place, my apartment above, and I had purpose. What else would I need?

Solomon stood at the bar. I’d always thought it was pretty ballsy of him to choose the name Solomon. There were rumors floating around in ye olden times that King Solomon had imprisoned demons to build his temple. How’d I know that? It sure as hell wasn’t Bible School—not that I didn’t know the Bible, several versions in fact, including the books a cranky Pope had decided not worthy to be included—which happened to be ninety-eight percent of the ones written by women in addition to some others. But it didn’t matter where I picked up the information; in this business it paid to pick up little scraps of factoids here and there, most in the non-Biblical realm. It kept a roof over my head, selling information just as I sold alcohol. And to keep me busy while I wasn’t doing the first two, I dabbled in my hobby. I might not officially be in the demon destroying business, but I dipped in a toe now and again. A toe, a shotgun—whatever it took. I liked to help my boys out.

Zeke and Griffin, stood on either side of Solomon but were motionless. Griffin’s face was blank. Zeke’s was not…it would’ve been better had it been. They did know not to cause trouble in my place if they could help it. They were welcome, always, but fights and cops and ambulances weren’t. Besides, the general public was standing around. You couldn’t kill a demon right here in front of You-Know-Who and everyone…not unless you absolutely had to.

My boys, and they were my boys since I’d given them their first jobs at fifteen and seventeen sweeping up the place and taking out the trash, knew the rules and stepped back as I walked up. They were twenty-five and twenty-seven now, all grown up and a demon’s worst nightmare. Me? I’d come to Las Vegas ten years ago when I was twenty-one. Griff and Zeke had wondered back when I’d hired them how I’d been able to afford to buy a bar at that age. I could’ve told them I inherited it from my father or mother or Great Uncle Joe, but I told them the truth.

Lying and cheating.

I wasn’t ashamed. Far from it. It worked for me—but only with those that deserved it though. You’d be amazed how many did. Then again, if you were smart and kept your eyes open, you might not be so surprised after all. And that held true for everywhere, not just in Sin City. Bad guys were fair game and the one in front of me was rumored to be the worst in town. Bit of an occupational hazard when you’re a demon, being bad. Like a steering wheel on a car, you didn’t have to pay extra for it—part of the package.

“Trixa Iktomi,” Solomon said with the warmest of smiles—Solomon, who’d I’d made it my business to know had been in Vegas as long as if not longer than me, knew how to sling the bullshit or to charm if you preferred the more elegant term. Whichever you called it, it had the same result—a woman hanging off his every word. Almost every woman at least. “My sweet Trixa. Do I detect the faintest smell of smoke? A new scented shampoo perhaps?”

I could’ve said something like, yes, it’s a new perfume. Everyone’s dying for it.

Please.

I’m not that woman and I never will be. I wasn’t that trite, and I wasn’t playing his games. Any I played would be my own. “Actually it’s the smell of an asshole’s burning nightclub,” I smiled pleasantly. “Thanks for noticing.” Clever, but not the cleanest mouth. I blamed it on Zeke, but I was working on it. Self-improvement was one of my many goals. Someday I planned on getting around to a few of them. I motioned to Leo to pour me and the asshole two shots of tequila with beer backs.

Solomon, as I’d very clear now, was an asshole, but a sexy one. Short black hair with a faint widow’s peak, lightly cleft chin, broad shouldered, tall, and with full Latin lips which gets me every time. He was dressed in a simple gray shirt, black slacks, and black leather jacket.

Demons, in human form, are almost always good looking—too good looking really—and why wouldn’t they be? They’re hot, loaded with charisma, deeply fascinated by you and everything you say or do, and are everything nature designed to make you want to jump their bones. It’s how it works. They want your soul. They have to make you want to give them your soul. Looking like a plumber with a gut, man-breasts, and a tasteful butt-crack showing isn’t going to get the job done. You have to want them…enough to give them anything—and the soul is pretty up there in the anything department.

But if that’s all it was: smart demons getting stupid humans to hand over their souls—I couldn’t care less. If you’re stupid enough to sell it, then that’s your vacation pit of agony and despair to worry about, not mine. But that’s not all there is. That would be too easy. No, demons like to kill, too—all demons—no matter what Solomon said about himself. If there’s a serial killer uncaught or a random massacre with no clues as to why or someone that just disappears, drops off the face of the earth—chances are it’s a demon behind it. They tortured their victims, mutilated them, and killed them. Why?

As one dying demon had once said to me as black blood gushed out of his grinning mouth, “It beats reruns.”

“Why, Trixa?” He examined the shot glass for fingerprints then looked down at the tequila as if the pedestrian drink were so far beneath him that he could barely see the pale gold glitter. Sighing, he tossed it back and then rolled the beer bottle between his two palms. “You know I don’t kill. I’m not a murderer. I take souls, but only those freely given.” His temper turned immediately and drastically. “So why, Trixa, loving bitch of my life, do you keep burning down my goddamn nightclub?”

There was a dangerous glitter in his eyes, velvet grey, as his dark thick brows slashed downward in an anger that almost shimmered in the air. The slightly olive skin even whitened over his jaw. It was well done—I had to give him that.

“Bravo.” I tossed back my own tequila then clapped politely. “Anger, domination, an almost sexual rage. Give props to the gentleman, please, for one helluva show.”

The warm smile reappeared, rueful and just the tiniest bit sheepish. “Too much? Too little? Where was I off?”

I touched the red of my long sleeve silk sweater. “This is what I see when a demon really gets pissed. Red. Blood. Then there might some pinkish gray of lungs and intestines.” Horrific, but true. “And when things get really interesting, really in-depth, there will be….”

He held up a hand. “Enough. I get your point. You should’ve met Shakespeare. He said I could act.”

The smile never changed. Sexy, warm, and sheepish. I’m a bad boy and you’ve caught me in it. But under every bad boy is a good one waiting to be redeemed, right? Wrong. Which was how so many naïve high school girls became pregnant before they could drive. Redemption doesn’t come from without. It comes from within. Leo, my bartender, could give a lecture series on the subject.

As for the situation at hand, Solomon was a bad boy, no matter how attractive or charming. I wasn’t about to forget that for a moment, no matter the smile, the lips, the eyes or the challenging give and take between us. Demons are liars by nature, killers by choice, and forgetting that was a mistake I couldn’t afford to make.

“Pay for the drinks and get the hell out of here, Solomon. Go tell some other girl how you only take souls and what a great guy that makes you. What an honest monster, because, frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. And,” I added with emphasis, “I’m insulted you think I’m that gullible.”

“No. You’re not gullible. You’re cynical in fact and that blinds you. You can’t see the truth when it’s right before you. And caveat emptor doesn’t even apply here, you know,” he said softly, hand once again reaching out for mine. “They pay and I deliver. Whatever they ask for, they get. Without fail. How can you hold me in contempt for being an honest tradesman?”

I shook him off …not instantly, but I did shake him off and tried not to count the seconds that it took me to make my hand move beneath his. His touch was warm, the same exact warmth of human flesh. The same give. The same electric touch of life. I looked away from him as I said flatly, “Never even touched the hair of an innocent. Never so much as scratched a child, woman, man. Never cut a driver off on the interstate. Go tell it to someone who doesn’t know demons like I do.”

“What if I could prove it?” he challenged.

“You can’t,” I dismissed, but I did look back, surprised he’d even pretend that he could. Demons were all about pretense, but Solomon usually knew better than to try that with me.

“Maybe not,” he admitted with a shrug and slow, serious curve of his lips. “But what if I could? Think about that, Trixa. What if I could?”

“No demon can because all demons are killers.” I pointed at the door. “No exceptions.” 

“Maybe, just maybe, you don’t know them at all,” he whispered at my ear. “Or maybe it’s just that you don’t know this one.”

Then he was gone. Paid for the beer and tequila and left. To give him credit, he paid for his and mine. The gentleman demon. 

“Why the hell do you screw around with him?” Zeke came up after Solomon disappeared out the front door and hissed at my elbow.

I raised my eyebrows sharply. Griffin grabbed Zeke’s wrist and squeezed lightly. It was his guiding signal. Think. What do we say, this or that? What do we do, this or that? What are the consequences of each choice? Think.

Zeke blinked at me, considered for a second, then said, “Shit…I meant, why the hell do you put up with him? Messing with you?”

I smiled and leaned to kiss his jaw, a whisper of copper stubble against my lips. I wanted to say he’d done well, very well, but he would’ve hated that…attention brought to his problem. He was proud, stubborn, and temperamental—add that to the all or nothing hard-wiring of his brain and he was a handful. More of a hellraiser than any demon.

“Because Solomon is big or he wouldn’t stick around Vegas.” But they knew that already. The minor demons never stay in one place too long and they definitely don’t own and operate nightclubs…when they’re not burnt to the ground. “You know that. Your organization knows that. Everyone who knows demons exist knows that. Solomon has useful information. And you know how I like information.” As I’d said, it kept the roof over my head just as much as the bar did. I sold information. It didn’t have to be demon related, especially since ninety-nine point nine percent of the people out there refused to believe in them, but it didn’t necessarily mean it couldn’t be demon related either. Lucky horse? High stakes illegal poker game? Jewelry store robbery? Who stole your gorgeous gold Cadillac? You heard a lot of things in a bar and I’d tell any one of them for a price. As long as no one was hurt…no one who didn’t deserve it anyway.

Leo interrupted, disgruntled—no more a fan of demons than the rest of us, and jerked a thumb towards the back exit. “There’s another one in the alley trying to eat a homeless guy. This is one bitch of a night.”

Zeke grinned and when Zeke grinned that was a never good thing, at least for the person or nonperson that grin was meant for. It was the grin of a hungry wolf in mid-leap on something tasty and slow—damn happy and utterly without remorse. He headed immediately for the back door. Griffin looked at me. “Yeah, yeah,” I sighed. “I’ll get the shotgun out of your car. Go. ” Right now Zeke had his objective in sights…kill the demon. The homeless guy—let’s hope he was out of the way when Zeke went into action. Which is why Griffin was going with him and I was going after the shotgun. Zeke was white, the demon was black and the homeless guy was that shade of gray Zeke had so much difficulty seeing.

Being saved from a demon didn’t do you much good if you were accidentally between the shotgun and your attacker when rescue came.

God had supposedly given man free will—so it was debated anyway, but without a good deal of practice or an inborn instruction manual, free will…well, it could be more a nightmare than blessing. We all saw it and we all knew it, but Griffin knew it most of all. The House had apparently tried psychotherapy and every medication known to the field, but nothing had improved Zeke’s condition, nothing had worked. Only Griffin worked…to a certain degree. “How many damn drugs did his bitch of a mother take while she was pregnant to make him this way?” he’d asked once over a drink after a particular mission had gone sideways because of Zeke and his inability to stop once in motion, to exercise that will. “How could someone do that? To their own baby?”

Who indeed?

But that had been last year that Griffin had spilled his frustration over whiskey. Last year and this was now. And now required a shotgun, so let’s concentrate on that. I had it out of the car and in the alley in seconds. A dirty, disheveled man went tearing past me, so it was safe to say Zeke hadn’t trampled over the top of him to get to the demon—or shot through him. Either that or it was one tough homeless guy, and he was gone so fast I didn’t have a chance to look for footprints on his back or a hole in the middle of him.

Zeke was still grinning in the gloom of the ill-lit alley. He was never happier than when he had a job to do, a task to perform, a demon to kill. A strand of hair had fallen free from his short braid as he wrestled the demon to keep him on the ground. He had one arm and Griffin had the other and both had buried knives in the man’s chest.

Because he looked like a man now. Actually he looked like Elvis…the very best Elvis impersonator in the city thanks to a demon’s chameleon abilities. If you didn’t know better, you would’ve thought the King himself was spitting foul curses at us. Zeke did know better because like several other local demon-chasers he was telepathic. He could sense a demon’s surface thoughts if he was close enough. I once asked if he’d ever rummaged around in my thoughts. He’d said no and with Zeke honesty, admitted only because he hadn’t thought of it. Good, I’d said, pointing the knife I was using to cut lemons at the bar. If you do, I’ll rummage around inside you with this. Zeke definitely comprehended that consequence. Whether he could only sense surface thoughts or not, my thoughts no matter how shallow or deep were my own. I made sure of that.

Griffin knew the man was a demon because he was an empath. Which is why Eden House had recruited Zeke and him both. They had the abilities Eden House prized above all, a mirror of the Above and Below.

Angels had telepathy, which was useful for impressing an uneducated shepherd by pushing God’s word directly into his primitive mind, and demons had empathy—very good for feeling out what a human would trade for his soul. A human empath could feel a demon’s emotions, which were similar to a human’s emotions—if he was one helluva bad human—only multiplied ten times over. And the telepathy helped as well—hearing a demon’s recruitment plan forming in its head or its murdering intent. Unless you were a high level angel or demon and then it all went out the window. No one could tell what you were up to. It was a peculiar balance the universe had come up with—if angels and demons had those powers, then so did the humans.

It gave Eden House and its demon hunters an extra edge. To destroy demons and bring Eden back to Earth…as if demons were the only thing keeping that from happening. But men were men. Try telling them anything, especially as the occasional angel reinforced the belief by showing up and giving an order or two. Free labor, not even angels would turn that down.

Now me? How did I know a demon in human form? Griffin and Zeke had asked me that when they became aware what they’d found out regarding the world around them when they were eventually recruited by Eden House wasn’t precisely news to me.

Demons were real. They were here. For once movies and TV hadn’t lied.

I told them the truth. My family had been gypsies and travelers since…since before anyone could remember. We’d seen a lot in our travels and we passed on our stories to relatives when the reunions came around. And then I told them a lie, but a small one. I also told them that my family, my ancestors had been pagans before a Druid had ever danced naked under the moon. I said we’d worshipped the gods of nature when they were the only gods known to man. Honestly, I, personally, wasn’t into worship. Respect and reverence, yes, but not worship.

But regardless, hear about and see enough demons over the years and you knew one when you saw it. You didn’t need any fancy psychic empath abilities. You just knew. The blinding good looks, the waves of unnatural charm they put off, the sly glint in their eye…the scales and tail tended to tip you off as well, when they were caught.

Like now. 

Suddenly the human form changed under their hands flickered. It was trying to go back to Hell, but it couldn’t. When a demon was physically anchored to this world, it was stuck and it couldn’t take you to Hell with it unless you’d consented, sold your soul. At least Heaven had given that one advantage when it had tossed the rebels to the pit. That and an age limit on selling what God gave you. More of a maturity level really. One didn’t want little Billy selling his soul to go to Disney World.

When escaping didn’t work, the demon shifted to its true form. Serpentine with thrashing wings and tail, it was patterned like a rattlesnake, but in swamp green and dull black. It opened its mouth and hissed, showing uneven jagged teeth of dirty glass, but nowhere as brittle. “Pathetic, motherfucking humans,” it snarled. “Death is what….”

I stuck the single-barreled shotgun, a Remington and a beauty, under its pointed jaw and pulled the trigger. The slug changed a snake skull into something a little more avant-garde. Black blood flew splattering Zeke and Griffin on their faces, necks, and chests. “Trixa,” Griffin groaned. I had ruined his gray-blue silk shirt and fawn colored ostrich skin jacket. When Eden House had hired him away from sweeping my floors, there’d been a definite upgrade in salary. And it showed. The man liked his clothes.

“Sorry,” I said with utter insincerity as I pumped another slug into place. You never knew. Demons were tough but they could be killed in their physical form, human or demon, if you used the proper tools and aimed at the vulnerable area, the head—the brain or whatever passed for it in a demon. You could rip the rest of them to pieces, but they’d keep coming. “But that’s my mama he was talking about. And that I will not put up with.” Not that my mother wouldn’t laugh at the thought of me protecting her ‘good’ name.” And you know Elvis wouldn’t talk about his mama that way either,” I finished.

“That was too quick. Let’s go find another,” Zeke said, wiping black blood from his face as the body by his knees melted away to the next best thing to an oil slick. It spread across the cracked gray asphalt, staining it a permanent black.

“Think again, workaholic. Time to go home.” Griffin stood, spread his arms to take in the mess and frowned. “Safety on.” It was Griffin’s way of telling Zeke he was serious. Zeke could go literally forever once he started something—at least until he keeled over from exhaustion or dehydration. And if he started on a demon hunt in an unsatisfied state of mind, he would do it. He was a gun that would fire until the ammunition ran out.

Unless….

“Safety on,” Zeke echoed with a sigh, dissatisfied but cooperative. Then he took in Griffin who looked as if a bucket of black paint had been tossed on him. This grin was different from the one for the demon. This one was genuine and rare. It softened the too lean face, lightened the green of his eyes and relaxed the scowl of dark red-brown brows. “That’s gonna cost you.”

Griffin gave a scowl of his own, but it wasn’t a serious one. Zeke’s smiles were rare and had taken him so long to actually learn how that not me, not Leo, and especially not Griffin could give him hell for it. Just couldn’t.

Griffin turned to look at me and I tossed him his shotgun and waved my fingers. “Better get out of here in case someone actually calls the cops this time.”

“You’re not paying for this, I take it,” he said, resigned.

“Sugar, you’re so cute when you joke around like that.” I patted his cheek.

The night was more or less over anyway. I let Leo close up and went up to my apartment above the bar. It was basic as they came: one room--a bedroom and a bathroom combined with a big bed and a huge clawfoot tub. But basic is good. I don’t cook…not I don’t like to cook…I flat out do not cook, so I didn’t need a kitchen. Food was meant to be bought already prepared. That was the single highest accomplishment of modern civilization. Take-out.

I had my bed, the headboard carved in Mexico. Animals prowled back and forth: leopards, foxes, wolves, coyotes, birds—all painted as bright and bold as you could get. In the sink by the tub, I brushed my teeth, stripped off my make up, then touched the teardrop around my neck, and finally I cried. I cried every day for my brother. My overall family wasn’t that big, and the immediate family was even smaller. With my brother gone, a third of my family had went with him. When he had been killed and left in the bloody sand, he’d taken a third of my world with him.

I gave it only a few minutes: there was mourning and there was wallowing. And wallowing wasn’t going to help do what had to be done, was it?

Dressed in my Rugby shirt and panties, it didn’t feel like a silk night, I climbed under the red bedspread and turned off the bedside light. I’d only dozed off when I had a feeling, smelt spice, and then the springs of the mattress gave under a warm weight that straddled my hips. I heard the soft, dark words, “I want to touch you so badly. Your bare skin, the silk of your hair…,” as I reached down, pulled my shotgun from beneath the mattress and had it jammed under Solomon’s jaw in less than three seconds. I could see his shadowed eyes in the street light that seeped through the blinds.

This is why I’d kept my favored silk sleepwear in the drawer tonight. Solomon and his games. I’d suspected he wasn’t done when he’d left the bar.

“I don’t know what chick flick you stole that from, but you deserve your money back,” I said as I pulled back the hammer.

“Not a good time then, I take it?” he asked with amused gravity.

The steel of the trigger was as cool against my finger as the sheets were against my skin. “An absolutely perfect time,” I disagreed with dark cheer. He was shirtless but at least was wearing pants. If he hadn’t been, I think he knew I would’ve blown his head off right then and there.

“So stubborn. Pity.” The corner of his mouth quirked up and although he didn’t move, the weight of him seemed even heavier and far more intimate. Then he shimmered out of existence.

His chest had been as lightly furred as I thought it’d be and broad. Did demons have some sort of Hot Male Body Catalogue to choose from? Snorting at myself, I replaced the gun after easing the hammer back down and turned over on my stomach. Solomon could put on any face or body he wanted—I’d never forget what was on the inside. I wouldn’t let myself. This time I went instantly to sleep. And I had dreams….

Not the kind you’d think

I dreamed of blue-green water, black sand, and blood.

So much blood.

More than anyone could hope to live without.

 

 
 
 
(Anonymous) on August 26th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
TOTL
I can't wait to read the rest of the book. I had to admit, I was hesitant at first because I so love the style of the Cal books, but this one has that same, snarky kickass tude.
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 26th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Re: TOTL
As if I'd write something without at least *some* snark-i-tude.
Angelserenitysangel on August 26th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! I want this book RIGHT NOW! Have it on pre-order and cannot wait for it to arrive. That was a tantalisingly delicious taster. Thank you!
rae666: Impalarae666 on August 26th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
You spoil us :D Definitely can't wait to get my hands on this book - and I don't normally read female protagonists. Damn, is it not time yet?
ladyofthetideladyofthetide on August 26th, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! I can't wait!
(Anonymous) on August 26th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
Your faithful, loving, rabidly devoted fans thank you.

This might get me through the next week. ;)
XanDutchxandutch on August 26th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
*goes back to staking out the mailbox*
Lenni: Librarians Rule the Worldshackledangel on August 26th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
I love it! Can't wait for more! :D
(Anonymous) on August 26th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
I'm about half way through, now. I'm much enjoying Trixa and the HPOH - or is it the (un)HPOH? Very hot. *fans self*

Eli is very, very bad news, but fun to watch from a safe distance (if there is such a thing.) Zeke is still my fave. He does things that would make even Cal scream "Do you ever think before you act??!!"

-Julia
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 26th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
Yesssssss, Zeke is bucket-loads of fun, and he's one of the *good* guys, yet the only thing safe in this world from him is...Griffin and puppies. You'll see that at the end. Poor Cal...downgraded as most crazy in my universe. He'll have to turn in his trophy.
apolla_savre: Dean IMTODapolla_savre on August 27th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
This is awesome!!

And I got the book today!!! It's amazing (as usual)!

Thank God for something to take my mind off of freaking out, can I take Niko's brain to college with me??
arachne_17: Angry Applearachne_17 on August 27th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
I really should have waited to read this, until Friday or something (so I could go to BN and preorder it at the store the next day).

That being said, I cannot wait for the 1st.
Legolas McGeeseveredscythe on August 27th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
aaah DO WANT PLZ.
SHE'S INFECTIOUS HUMAN WASTE: that hatsmokexscribbles on August 27th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
Good lord, do want. I don't have any great love for female protagonists, but Trixa comes across as a fabulously unchickified, one-liner-enabled, heat-seeking badass. I love her already...

And oh, man, Zeke and Griffin, I just... I love all your boys, I think. plus I am a shippy little fanbrat
thesparki: Nikathesparki on August 27th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
I'm totally a lurker but I have to stop by and say that I always love your characters! Like, all of them! (Yes, even the bad guys have a place in my heart.)
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 27th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Loving the pup! And bad guys are every bit as fun as the good guys.
purple_alicornpurple_alicorn on August 27th, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
I got the book yesterday - and couldn't put it down!

Is there any chance of Cal & Co making a trip to Vegas - I would love to see the two groups meet!
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 27th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)
Well, Cal and Zeke meeting might rip a hole in the time/space continuum, but Ishiah does visit Vegas in book two...and Robin has his phone cameos in Trick of the Light.
Summercalisun on August 27th, 2009 05:41 am (UTC)
I am so bummed..my B&N doesn't have the book out yet. and I have yet to make it by the Boarders in town. Looking forward to reading it!
Pretty Arbitraryprettyarbitrary on August 27th, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, I have gotta get my hands on that. Zeke's just a bucket o'crazy, isn't he? But I do love the crazy.
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 27th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, indeed. There might not be a bucket big enough for his crazy, but wait until you see glimpses of his marshmallow inside. Awww. And when you see Eli....ahhhh
(Deleted comment)
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 28th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Snakes Eyes. Ah, I remember him.
Well, get out there and buy it and take a look/buy the Cal books as well. If the first two pages of Nightlife don't pull you in...you're in a coma. Support your local starving author!
inkycloud: Over the Shoulderinkycloud on August 28th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
Awesome! Now I get to read more than one kick-ass book a year! (Seriously, I don't look forward to reading any other author's books as much as I do yours. They have everything I love in a good book.) As soon as I see this at the store I'm snatching it off the shelf.
lorelalorela on August 30th, 2009 01:39 pm (UTC)
I bow to your greatness. I got the book, I devoured the book, and now I want more. Cal, Niko, and Robin are still my favorites, but these boys sure have given them a money for their money. Can't wait for next year for the next installments of both (already have Roadkill on pre-order at amazon.com) and for Chimera.
robgoodfellarobgoodfella on August 30th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
Zeke and Eli are entertaining, aren't they? I'm glad you enjoyed it and I didn't totally screw up a female pov (and me being a woman, too.)Do me a favor and leave a review on Borders to off-set the one there that said it was nothing special. Nothing special, damn it.
lorelalorela on September 1st, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
Zeke...there aren't enough words to describe him. I will admit to being a little afraid of how Trixa would sound since you do the boys pov so well, but she more than holds her own. Put her and Robin in a room together and she will definitely come out on top (and not in the way Robin would like). Now I'm off to leave reviews on both Borders and Amazon.
caytlynrosecaytlynrose on August 31st, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
"Being saved from a demon didn’t do you much good if you were accidentally between the shotgun and your attacker when rescue came."

I LOVE this line! Anxiously waiting for the shops over here to start stocking - I can't afford Amazon with exchange rates the way they are.... definitely a getter, this one.
kuro_tori3kuro_tori3 on September 4th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)
Yes! I finally get to comment.

And I am going to get this book. Once I get a ride... so hold on there! Sustenance coming your way!