A Fatal Femme Fatale

COkNHBYWcAAaWjaTo wind up a week of excerpts, I give you Cindy Eden’s FEMME FATALE. Can you guess what her secret is?

You can read the other excerpts at the following links:

Rachel Caine

Megan Hart

Suzanne Johnson

Jeffe Kennedy

Mina Khan

 

The Excerpt

“I’m very glad that I found you.”

He was starting to wonder if the blonde was crazy. Such a pity. To be that gorgeous and insane. Waste. But he kept his expression blank and asked her, “Want to tell me just why you came to my office today?” Why you were looking for me?

“Murder.”

His shoulders tensed.

“Murder is such a nasty business.” Her gaze seemed to turn distant, almost as if she were seeing right through him. “There is no need for the kills to go this way. Certainly not in my town.”

He was leaning more and more toward the insanity idea with her. Unfortunately. “Have you…committed murder?” Mick asked her carefully.

She gave a little laugh, one that slid right over his skin like a caress. “I’m not here about my crimes.”

Oh, shit. That hadn’t exactly been a reassuring answer.

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Consorting with The Consort

dark-secrets-box-set-1More in the continuing series this week of excerpts from the upcoming collection, DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY. Other excerpts can be found here, here, here and here. For today we have a peek at Suzanne Johnson’s story, THE CONSORT.

Faulkner Hearne, the captain of the ruthless Fae Hunters, finds his duty at odds with his heart when he’s ordered to capture the consort of Faerie’s cruel Prince of Summer when she flees across the veil into modern New Orleans. Can Faulk turn Liandra over to a certain death at the hands of the prince, or will he risk a war with Faerie in order to save her?

An all-new novella set in the Sentinels of New Orleans multiverse.

The Excerpt

“Let her go, Romy.”

            At the sound of the deep, quiet voice, both Lia and Romany stopped struggling.

            “Faulk, let me take her to Florian.” Romy gave her a look of disgust. “Anything else is going to bring trouble on our heads like we can’t imagine.”

            Lia’s gaze met the stern amber eyes of the man who would decide her fate. “Please, Faulk. Just a few moments alone.”

            Faulk walked toward them. “Romy, monitor the alley to make sure we don’t get another unexpected visit. I’ve got this.”

            “But…” Romy clenched his jaw shut and shook his head. “Fine. I’ll look forward to saying ‘I told you so.’”

            Faulk gave his friend a small smile. “I’m sure you will.”

            “Thank you.” Lia waited until Romy had closed the door behind him and she and Faulk were alone. Once they’d taken chairs at the table nearest the stairwell, he took a sip of beer, leaned back, and crossed his arms over his chest. Even his forearms were muscled, his hands strong and capable of wielding much magic. Lia wanted to touch him, but her seduction skills were nonexistent. She needed to seduce him, but didn’t know where to start. Instead, she kept her hands on her wine glass, fidgeting.

            “Well?” Faulk cocked his head and studied her far too closely. “I assume you wouldn’t seek out the home of the Captain of the Fae Hunters if you didn’t have a plan.”

            “This is your home?” Lia glanced at the stairwell, then at the doors along the hallway.

            “Don’t change the subject, Liandra. Tell me why I should not return you to Prince Florian immediately and save myself a hell of a lot of trouble.”

            Lia took another gulp of wine.

            “I heard you last night,” she said softly. “You asked yourself how you could ever send me back to him. I…” She finished the glass of wine, its warmth burning along her throat and reminding her how long it had been since she ate anything of substance. “I thought of something that might keep Florian from wanting me back.”

            “Did you now.” It was more statement than question, and Faulk motioned for her to stay as he went to retrieve the bottle of wine and pour more into her glass. “Don’t drink that too fast. So tell me, Lia. What do you think would make Florian back off?”

            She took a fortifying sip and raised her gaze to meet his. “I want you to take me, to be my lover. If I’m no longer a virgin, Florian won’t want me.”

            “Ah, my sweet Liandra.” Faulk reached across the table and took her hand. “I’m afraid that won’t work.”

            “Why not?” She twined her fingers through his—a bold move, she thought.

            He pulled his hand away, leaving hers lying alone and vulnerable on the dark wood. “Because Florian’s original deal for you is off the table, Lia. He will see you ruined physically and emotionally, and then he will see you dead.”

Taking another sip of beer, he studied her with an expression she couldn’t read. “My orders aren’t just to catch you. They are to take you as hard and as often as I want, then share you with any other Hunters who care to partake.”

“Oh.” Lia had no answer for that, and the horror of her fate sank on her like the heaviest anchor at sea. Her face burned so fiercely, she thought it might spark flames.

“He doesn’t want you physically marked when I return you to him.” Faulk leaned across the table, his eyes unreadable. “But he does want you broken.”

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A Little Dance with the Devil – and with Megan Hart

Dark Secrets No AuthorsSame thing? Hee hee hee.

Seriously – you all likely know I have mad love for Megan Hart, both for her as a friend and for her excellent books. She did a super cool thing with her contribution to DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY. She’d written a deal-with-the-devil story called RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, then she turned that story on its ear and told us what we couldn’t know in that story.

People – it’s SO good. And, because I’m running excerpts this week of everyone’s stories, such as here, here and here, you get a glimpse of this one, too!

DANCE WITH THE DEVIL by Megan Hart

When the devil starts the music, you’d better get ready to dance.

Kathleen Murphy has sold her soul to the devil. Fame, fortune, success…everything she’s ever dreamed of is hers, and all she has to do is the devil’s bidding. When love comes knocking, the last thing in the world she wants to do is involve Jake in her twisted world, but the devil’s started up the jukebox and Kathleen has no choice but to learn the steps.

The Excerpt

It was not going to be all right. 

The two weeks had come and gone and her editor had emailed politely to ask when Kathleen might be sending in the project. Kathleen generally preferred to talk one-on-one with her editors about things like that, but this time she’d sent her agent a message telling him to handle it. That she’d encountered some personal problems and the book was going to be a couple weeks late.

That message had sent her stumbling to the bathroom to hover over the toilet, dry heaving. It should not have been a big deal. Authors, especially big name authors who had the clout to get away with it, were late on deadlines all the time. Still, she had never been, and because it had been the devil’s doing, she knew there had to be more to it than she could begin to guess. 

There were other books to write, of course. Even if she hadn’t had another deadline looming and another after that, there were projects she’d planned for her own sake. She had plenty of work, but when she sat down at her desk or took her laptop to her comfortable and ugly vintage recliner, all she could manage to do was stare at a blank screen for hours at a time. She couldn’t even rouse the interest to post stupid memes on her Connex page. Her emails were piling up, unanswered. 

Perhaps this had been Lucifer’s purpose she thought as she stood in the shower, head bent beneath the spray. To paralyze her for some reason. To keep her from creating? To make her fail?

A drink helped. So did a pill. But nothing took away the rising sense of paranoia and anxiety. She stopped herself from calling Callie, just to hear her sweet babble. Derek would know Kathleen was drunk and a little stoned. He would condemn her, and rightly so. She was a useless mother. She’d been a worthless wife. 

In her kitchen, she pulled open the junk drawer in search of a bottle opener and found the note that guy had left. Jake. The one from the pub, the one who’d seduced her.

She called him.

 

* * *

 

By the time he got to her apartment, she’d managed to get herself under control. She had another drink her hand, but was only sipping it for show. She wasn’t quite sober, but she was far from shithammered, which was where she’d have been if he hadn’t answered the phone with a slow and pleasantly surprised, “It’s Kathleen, isn’t it?”

He’d brought dinner. Sandwiches and pasta salad from the deli on the corner. Soft drinks. She’d put out plates and silverware at her dining room table.

“This is some setup,” Jake said.

Kathleen laughed, embarrassed. “It came with the apartment. It’s supposed to be for people who give big dinner parties, I guess.”

“Do you like to give dinner parties, Kathleen?”

She paused in dishing out the pasta salad, an action she’d took without effort as naturally as though they’d been sharing meals together for years. “I don’t, really. I used to love to cook for the holidays. We’d have big parties, invite all the neighbors. I’d make platters of cookies and this lasagna dish my grandmother had taught me…”

“It sounds nice.” Jake smiled.

She nodded after a second. “It was. But it was a lot of work, and it all fell on me, always. The cooking, the cleanup. The decorating. Taking care of my house and child. It didn’t leave much room for writing.”

“You could have a dinner party catered,” Jake said. “That’s what most people around here would do.”

“I’d need people to invite,” she said lightly.

Jake had made no move yet to eat, though he’d lifted the top of the sandwich to look inside with a murmur of approval. Now he looked at her in kind of the same way. Like he was considering how good she would taste.

“You invited me.”

She laughed. “This is hardly a dinner party.”

“Play some music,” he said and got up to take her hand to pull her from the chair. “Dancing makes the party.”

“I don’t dance,” she demurred with a shake of her head, tugging her hand from his. She didn’t move away from him, though. Not far enough.

There was a reason she’d invited him here, after all, and it had nothing to do with pasta salad.

She wanted him to kiss her, to take her breath away, to pull her close and put his hands all over her. She wanted Jake to make her forget about anything but how good it felt to touch and be touched, at least for as long as it lasted. It wouldn’t last long, of course, nothing ever did. But maybe it could last long enough.

He didn’t kiss her.

“Are you hungry?” Jake asked. “I’m starving.”

She was hungry, Kathleen realized suddenly. She hadn’t eaten more than a handful of pretzels or saltines in the past week or so, but now she fell upon the deli food as though it were the last meal she might ever eat. Because you never knew, did you? What would be the last of anything?

She’d have expected their conversation during dinner to be stilted, or awkwardly flirty, but Jake made her laugh so hard she had to cover her face with a napkin until she could compose herself. He asked her questions, not the ones everyone asked about where she found her inspiration or what her writing schedule was like. He asked about her childhood. Her favorite flower. Whether she liked the forest or the ocean best.

“Trees,” she said without hesitation. “There are times I’ll take the subway all the way out to Coney Island to get a look at the beach, and that’s fine, I guess, though to be honest I don’t love the sand. And I can take a stroll through Central Park, but for some reason it’s not the same. I miss the trees a lot. I used to live in the woods.”

“You could live anywhere you wanted, couldn’t you?”

She nodded. They’d moved from the dining room into the living room, where she’d put on soft music in the background and poured them both glasses of very good red wine — to savor and appreciate, not to get them drunk. Jake was looking in the large glass curio cabinet lining one wall where she kept souvenirs from her travels.

“I could. But I love New York.” The lie slipped out of her so easily she barely knew she wasn’t telling the truth.

He glanced over his shoulder. “Everyone loves New York.”

“It’s a great place to live, if you have the money,” she told him. “If you can afford to go and do everything the city has to offer.”

“What’s your favorite thing to do?” He turned and sipped the wine.

A hundred answers rose to her lips. Interview answers, she thought of them. What people expected and wanted to hear, not necessarily the truth.

“Stay home.”

Jake smiled. After a moment, so did she. The music changed to a waltz, and this time when he took her hand and pulled her close, Kathleen let him dance with her. Minutes passed as they moved in the simple but elegant steps she’d have fumbled if he hadn’t been there to guide her.

He kissed her.

It was better than she’d expected. His hand slid up her back to cup the base of her skull, tugging at her hair, tipping her head so he could draw his mouth along the curve of her throat. She shivered, and against her skin, she felt the curve of his smile.

She’d called him here for this, but now faced with the idea of getting naked with this guy, Kathleen started to withdraw. His hand on her hip kept her still. She looked into his face.

If he was going to kill her, she thought, it wouldn’t be the worst way to die.

She took his hand and led him to the bedroom, where she pushed him gently until he sat on the edge of the bed. She undressed herself in front of him until she stood naked. Jake said nothing, but he didn’t have to. All he had to do was look at her.

“You have no idea who I am,” she whispered, “so why do I feel like you’re looking right into me?”

If he had an answer for her, he kept it to himself. At least with words. He replied with his touch. The stroke of his tongue against hers as they kissed. The movement of his lips and teeth all over her, making her sigh and tremble and finally, after a long, long, time, so long she’d almost begun to fear it wouldn’t happen, he made her shatter.

Later, quietly, she pulled the sheets up over both of them to keep the chill from settling on their bare skin. He slept, or she thought he did, which was the only reason why Kathleen turned on the pillow to allow her fingertips to trace the edges of his dark hair. 

“Who are you,” she whispered, not expecting an answer.

“Who do you want me to be?”

Caught, embarrassed, she withdrew her hand. He pulled her closer, tucking her against him so that her face pressed the side of his neck. He stroked her hair. When she tipped her face to look up at him, certain that in the dark all she would find was shadows, she saw instead the gleam of his gaze as he took her in. As he had that first night in the pub, Jake looked at Kathleen as though she were something precious to him. A treasure. 

Again, she tried to pull away, but he didn’t let her go.

“How would she live without him? With dreams all gone black and white, with bruised knees and bloody palms, with an open space in the puzzle of her life that only one piece would ever fit.”

Her own words, spoken aloud, always sound so strange even when she was reading them. Jake had spoken from memory. Kathleen drew in a long, shivering breath.

“You’ve read my book,” she said.

Jake breathed into her hair and was silent for a second or so, before he said, “I’ve read all of them.”

*****************************************************

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A Djinn in the Mirror

dark-secrets-box-set-1I’m continuing the Sneak Peek Party, revealing little glimpses of our dark secrets. That is, of our collection, DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY

Six award-winning authors bring you this spellbinding collection of stories about dark desires, mysterious worlds, and danger that lurks in the shadows of the night. Where nothing is black and white; where things might not be as they seem; where magic and mayhem rule.

Yesterday I featured an excerpt from Rachel Caine’s contribution and had one from my own at Here Be Magic.

Today, I’ve got one from Mina Khan’s story, A DJINN IN THE MIRROR.

A paranormal Cinderella story with a young witch as the heroine and a wicked, sexy djinn instead of a fairy godmother.

Dahlia, the step-daughter of a power hungry wizard, promises to free a djinn trapped in a mirror if he rescues her from impending death. But Ashmael the djinn has his own agenda: to trick & seduce his way to freedom. The only problem is he ends up falling for Dahlia. Can he win his freedom and save the girl?

The Excerpt

Goosebumps raced across Dahlia. Her breathing grew hoarse as the smoke gathered in dark storm clouds above the dusty attic floor a few feet from her. Instead of the acrid stink of fire she expected, the air held the sharp electric scent of rain. Anticipation tightened her chest as the cluster of clouds solidified and reformed into a male figure, into Ashmael. Thankfully, with the robe on.

Dahlia met his gaze. It still held cool contempt that made her want to shrivel and disappear. She didn’t deserve this…judgment. She had a good heart and good intentions. “Once I’m safe, I will free you.”

“When will that be?”

“After I survive my twenty first birthday and I own this house, you will be free. Completely free in about five days from today,” she said. Not even a full week. Her words loosened the tension inside her, filled her with warm hope. Once she owned the house, she’d be free too. Free to live as she pleased. She could roam and explore the world, but then always return home. “I promise.”

A cynical smile quirked his lips. “Forgive me, but experience has taught me not to trust humans. They have a tendency to forget promises.”

Anger shot through her. The djinn was impossible. Hell bent on seeing the worst in her. “Feel free to remind me. Though I plan to keep my word.”

“So you won’t mind if I give you a reminder?”

“What do you mean?”

“In my time, some people tied a thread to a finger as a reminder, others exchanged promise rings.”

Rasputin brushed against her, grounding her. She sneaked a glance at Ashmael’s sharp, handsome face. Dangerous territory. Rings seemed a bit too romantic. “I could do something like a string.”

“You’d have to wear it all the time.”

She figured this was a safe request to give in to. “That’s fine.”

He reached up with one hand, grasped something from the air with a twist and a mutter. Then, smiling, he stepped closer. A black satin ribbon dangled from his fingers. “I get to choose where, or are you going to say no again?”

Dahlia held up her left index finger. “I thought you were going to tie it around a finger.”

“You thought wrong,” he said. “This is way too much ribbon for a finger.”

He trailed the ribbon around her wrist. The soft, shimmery black material slid like a snake on her skin.

“Perhaps not.” He whisked the ribbon away. “Lift up your hair.”

At her glare, he laughed. “Are you regretting your pretty little speech about us being equals?”

The stupid djinn was testing her. She bit her tongue and grasped handfuls of her thick, dark hair and lifted it up. Cool air kissed her bared neck. He stepped close, too close. Heat from his body washed over her, made her dizzy and lightheaded. She almost swooned, but firmed her stance.

His nostrils flared, his breath came fast and ragged. Good, he wasn’t as cool as he pretended to be.

A shiver escaped her when the ribbon dragged across her collarbone as he slipped it around her neck. Would he try to choke her with it? Dahlia’s breath stopped as his warm knuckles brushed against her skin. Warm, not cold like marble. He stepped back. “You can let your hair down now.”

She met his gaze and, even though her arms ached, she continued to hold her hair up. “How does it look?”

Something flared in his eyes, but he blinked it away too fast for her to catch. “Beautiful.”

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Add DARK SECRETS to your TBR!
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Heart’s Blood with a Side of Whiskey Dick

Dark Secrets No AuthorsI’m offering a little peek into HEART’S BLOOD, my contribution to the soon-to-be-released DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY, over at Here Be Magic today.

This excerpt is especially special because it contains the phrase “whiskey dick,” which Megan Hart called out as entirely my fault that it appears in her story. In fact, it appears in all six stories.

Which is… well, fair enough. *How* did this happen?? Because of my smart-ass, riffing ways.

See, I learned the term from P!nk (as one does). In her song Blow Me (One Last Kiss), she has this line:

No more sick whiskey dick, no more battles for me

I asked on Twitter if it meant what I thought it meant and people assured me that, yes, it mainly refers to when a guy can’t get it up as a result of overindulging. (Though I understand that Cindy Eden used it a bit differently!)

As I was writing, the phrase popped into my head. Unusual for me when writing a fantasy story, and yet it fit the gritty, noir feel we were going for. Because it was fun for me to have a group to talk to while I was writing my story – we have a private Facebook group, for kitten-herding- I announced that I’d used this phrase. Then I threw out the semi-serious gauntlet, challenging them all to use “whiskey dick” in their stories.

To my surprise – they did!

Can’t wait to read everyone’s and find this little Easter egg.

So you can read the excerpt from mine over at Here Be Magic today and I thought I’d share excerpts from the others all this week here. Let’s start with Rachel Caine‘s!

The overall blurb:

Six award-winning authors bring you this spellbinding collection of stories about dark desires, mysterious worlds, and danger that lurks in the shadows of the night. Where nothing is black and white; where things might not be as they seem; where magic and mayhem rule.

MARION, MISSING by Rachel Caine

Valentine is a detective with two major problems: he’s been offered a kidnapping case that will probably get him killed, and his partner won’t let him turn it down. He owes her that much … since his partner’s a ghost, and he’s the one who killed her. A dark, haunting noir mystery of love, hate and loss.

The Excerpt

“Tell you what,” he said. “I can’t give you any guarantees I can make much progress. I’ll take twenty as a retainer. We’ll settle up once I report back.”

“We don’t want no favors, young man,” Carlyle said. He looked like what he was—an upright, dignified man in the last quarter of his life. A man who’d probably never taken a dime he didn’t earn by the sweat of his brow. A man who’d never bought on credit. A church-going voter who pulled the lever every election, faithfully, even when others lost that faith.

Val looked at pulling the lever like playing a broken slot machine. But he wasn’t Carlyle. Not even close.

“It isn’t a favor,” he said. “I work for a living. Tilde would have told you that.”

Carlyle frowned, but he nodded and passed over the bill. Val wrote him out a receipt on a corner of his notepad, tore it off, and passed it over. “Sorry. All the receipt pads are packed up.”

“This’ll do. We trust you.”

Carlyle stood up. Mrs. Carlyle—he’d never heard either of their first names, and likely they hardly ever used them anyway—stayed seated with her knees primly together, and her purse on her lap like a dog that might run away. She stared right at Val’s face and said, “You believe in spirits, Mr. Valentine?”

“No.”

Tilde’s whispering laugh came to him from the file room. “Liar.”

“I do,” she said. “I believe my niece wants you to find our little Marion. You find her. For Tilde.”

He stood up and offered his hand to her. He meant to help her up, but she shook it, firm as a man, before she got up all on her own, took her husband’s arm, and walked out.

The door closed softly behind them, and the closed blinds swayed. He went and locked it, after. No sense letting more trouble come in.

Barn door, and the horse already bolted, he thought, and before he could turn, he knew she was there. He smelled that light, floral perfume again.

This time, he felt a cold hand stroke gently over the back of his neck. He didn’t turn. He was afraid that if he did, he might see the wrong Tilde. The one from his nightmares.

“Thanks,” she whispered in his ear, and then she was gone.

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Add DARK SECRETS to your TBR!
We are now on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26135577-dark-secrets-a-paranormal-noir-anthology

Preorder here!

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Amazon