Cover & Excerpt Reveal
The Veil Book Two
“He should be dead. I thought I’d killed him. I was wrong.”
Three dead Enforcers in three weeks, their bodies butchered. Muse has seen it before, and when she reads the metal memories in the murder weapon, she sees it all again. Her owner, Damien, is back, and he wants what is rightfully his.
Muse escaped him and the netherworld, once before. This time, she’s stronger, smarter. This time she knows she has the fires of hell at her fingertips, but so does Damien, and he’s not the only one. Akil is weak. No longer a Prince, he needs Muse’s limitless power to regain his title. How fortuitous then, that Akil’s fate is tied to the one man she cares the most for.
As Muse, Stefan, and Akil battle their own demons, not all will come away victorious. Some choices can never be forgiven. Some lies are never forgotten. Some wounds will never heal.
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I handed my Enforcer ID card to the police officer guarding the entrance to the apartment complex. Rainwater dripped into my eyes. I swept my wet hair back from my face and winced as a camera flashed somewhere to my right. Behind me, the press jostled against the black and yellow crime scene tape. I kept my head down, my collar up, and avoided eye contact. In the last six months, I’d escaped press attention, but other Enforcers hadn’t been as lucky. They’d been consigned to desk jobs as a result. Officially, Enforcers didn’t exist. Neither did demons. Unofficially, there was no smoke without fire, and the public knew it.
The cop shone his flashlight over my ID, highlighting the entwined scorpion motif. He flicked the beam into my face. I flinched away too late to prevent the tight white beam from bleaching my night vision.
“Enforcer, huh.” The cop sniffed. Water dripped from his cap. “Your buddy’s inside.” He held out the card. As I reached for it, his grip lingered. “You must be tougher than you look.”
I smiled and plucked my ID from his fingers, saluting him with it before ducking under another strip of tape and walking through the gates. I felt his gaze on me and resisted the urge to give him a single finger salute over my shoulder. He wasn’t the first to underestimate me and wouldn’t be the last. Flipping off an officer of the law was the sort of behavior my boss had recently suggested I refrain from. Again.
Inside the apartment building, a sprinkling of uniformed cops peppered the crowd and half a dozen forensic investigators suited up in protective coveralls. I recognized the hushed ambiance of most murders scenes—quiet respect. Nothing reminds us of our mortality quite like witnessing the aftermath of death. This was my day job.
I flashed my card at the officer at the bottom of the stairs and received a disinterested nod.
“Miss Henderson...” Detective Coleman wove his way through the crowd. “I’ll take you up.” The briefest tick of a smile fled across his lips.
“How you doin’, Detective?” I struggled to warm my own smile. It takes a lot to earn my trust, and Coleman was no exception. He had noted my frosty demeanor when we’d first met, a few months before, but he hadn’t taken offense. Unlike me, he was a professional.
“I’m good, Miss Henderson,” he said flatly. He jogged ahead, ash-gray jacket rippling open, revealing a glimpse of his sidearm. He was lean in the way people are when they skip meals and survive on black coffee, but what he lost in body mass, he made up for in tenacity. We passed a few of the forensic team carrying bagged and tagged items. “Detective Hill is already on scene. Have you been briefed?” Small-talk was apparently off the agenda.
He had gained a few more worry lines around his eyes since I’d last seen him. “Only in so much as there’s been a murder, and you believe it to be demon related. I was... indisposed when the call came in.” We paused on the steps to let some cops pass.
Coleman’s fingers instinctively twisted the wedding band on his left hand. I thought he’d make a terrible poker player. Coleman had seen more demon kills than I’d had hot dinners, and I’d lived much of my life among demons. The Boston PD’s go-to guy for demon related incidents, he handled the collateral damage until the Institute bulldozed in and covered it up with misinformation and distraction tactics. Tonight though, he was twitchy as hell.
We reached the third floor and emerged into a narrow wood-paneled corridor with numbered apartments either side. I saw Ryder— my partner-handler-sometime-babysitter—standing outside an apartment, thumbs hooked into the pockets of his faded black jeans. His scuffed leather jacket glistened from the rain. His wet hair had darkened to a hazelnut color and clung to his cheeks in places. He scratched at his stubble-dashed chin and nodded at something Detective Amanda Hill said.
Hill spoke quietly with her back to me. Her hands gestured around her like pale hummingbirds. She was petite, like me, but that’s where our similarities ended. Hill was red-headed with a volatile temper to boot. Ryder referred to her as Scully in private, referencing a ten year old TV show. Ten years before, I’d been yanked from the netherworld, the only world I knew, and was learning how to talk like an American teen without growling my consonants.
Coleman greeted Ryder with a broad grin and eager handshake. He acknowledged Hill with an appreciative nod.
“Detective Coleman,” Ryder drawled. “How’s the Missus?” He leaned a shoulder against the doorframe.
Mention of Coleman’s wife had the Detective twisting his ring again. “Julia is fine. Thanks for asking.” He noticed his nervous gesture and tucked his hands into his pockets. “Have you been inside?”
“Nope, been waitin’ for Miss Henderson.” Ryder’s sharp eyes fixed on me. His eyes gave him away. He might’ve looked like something washed up on a beach, but his eyes sparkled with an intelligence reserved for those who cared to look deeper. “You owe me a beer,” he said, referring to our ‘last-on-scene-buys-the-beers’ ritual. I always lost.
I shrugged. “Got held up.” When the call had come in, I’d been in the midst of a Progress Report with our head of department, Adam Harper, a man I detested with every part of my half-blood body.
Coleman reached for the closed door. “Let’s get this done. Forensics will be finishing up. There’s some evidence Miss Henderson will need to examine. Ready?” He opened the door.
I could smell the blood from the hallway. The metallic odor hung in the air and set my teeth on edge. Inside, the apartment wasn’t anything special: framed pastel artwork, cream walls, a few rugs scattered over painted wooden floors, and an ultra-thin TV. No photos. The window blinds were closed, possibly to keep out the prying eyes of the press. A demon killing was front page material, much to chagrin of the Institute, who continued to try and sweep these events under a burgeoning rug.
As we neared a bedroom doorway, the pungent eye-watering odor of blood, excrement, and something worse clogged my nose and lodged in my throat. Something I knew well... burned flesh. My stomach rolled.
I followed the detectives inside, and my overwhelmed senses struggled to piece together a cohesive image of the scene. Papers, pictures, fragments of broken furniture had all been tossed about the room like the aftermath of a burglary. The forensic photographer on the opposite side of the room took a picture, and the resulting flash burned the room into my memory. Coleman was talking to Ryder, saying something about excessive violence, but their voices trailed off behind the silent scream bubbling inside my head. I wasn’t going to freak out. Not yet.
I moved forward and felt my boot sink into something pliable. I glanced down and realized the shriveled strips of what looked like bacon belonged to what remained of the body on the bed. My stomach flipped over again, and I gulped back excess saliva. The body on the bed had been flash-burned; beneath the blackened skin, the flesh blushed pink. Whatever had burned him or her, had done so too quickly to scorch below the surface of the skin. Nothing else in the room had been touched by fire. Nothing quite points the finger at a demon perpetrator like the roasted pork smell of charred flesh.
“We initially thought perhaps a minor explosion,” Coleman explained. Hill stood bolt upright beside him, lips pinched into a thin line. “But the splatter pattern rules that out. See how the arc of blood behind the bed indicates the victim had time to struggle?”
I followed the detective’s gaze up the wall and wished I hadn’t. I didn’t sign up for this. Come to think of it, I didn’t sign up at all.
“Torture?” Ryder asked.
“In all likelihood.”
I coughed, attracting a few concerned glances, and lifted a hand, indicating I was not about to empty the contents of my stomach all over a crime scene. Tentatively stepping forward, boots crushing paper and glass with each step, I approached the bed. Blood had dried to rust-red on the sheets. Papers and what looked like the pages from a book had fallen into a sticky pool of blood beside a bedside cabinet. So much blood...
I followed a dangling arm to where it hung from what remained of a shoulder. I saw the charred ghost of a tattoo and recognized it instantly as the scorpion motif on my ID card.
“He’s an Enforcer?”
None of the three faces looking back at me appeared surprised.
“She is. Newly qualified,” Ryder said. “A sleeper.”
A sleeper was an Enforcer who was not yet on active duty, likely fresh out of training. My lip curled. Ryder’s clinical choice of words grated on my already sensitive nerves. “Anything else you’d like to tell me, or shall I continue to stumble in the dark?”
Detective Hill coughed into her gloved hand. “Actually, we were hoping you could tell us something.” Her voice pitched higher than her normal, authoritative monotone.
The forensic photographer shuffled past me, muttering an apology. The distraction allowed me to move back from the corpse and return to Ryder’s side. Hill glanced at Coleman, who glanced at Ryder. They would have been comical if not for the grim circumstances.
“What?” I sensed their reluctance.
Ryder scratched his forehead. He pinched his lips closed and then met my gaze. “They want you to read something.”
Here came the truth and the reason why I was here: not for my questionable talents as a newbie Enforcer, but for my unique skill when it came to ‘reading’ metals. Hill looked apologetic, her porcelain face cut in a frown, while Coleman wouldn’t meet my eyes. I knew why. Someone had told the two detectives what I could do, and with it came the knowledge of what I was. A half-demon Enforcer didn’t sit well with Coleman. On another night, I might have been able to sympathize with his short-sighted prejudice, but the evening appeared to be getting worse, and I was in no mood to pussyfoot around his feelings.
I gave them an overly eager grin. “Let’s get on with it.”
We filed out of the room. Hill conferred with one of the forensic team, and I tucked my hands deep inside my jacket pockets. Ryder tried to catch my eye while Coleman had decided to put as much distance between him and me as possible. So this was how it was going to be: use the half-blood for her peculiar party tricks. I should have expected it. I’d been used to it most of my life. Why should things change now?
Ryder approached just as Hill collected a large, clear garbage bag from one of the forensic team and turned toward me. Inside the bag I could make out a metal chain with links as thick as my forearm.
“You okay with this?” Ryder asked, not quite meeting my eyes.
“Sure thing.” My gaze locked on the bag. Something about the chain... It tugged on buried memories. Smears of blood on the inside of the bag obscured the contents, but I couldn’t shake the sensation of familiarity.
“I know you’ve not done this since—”
I glared at Ryder, silently daring him to mention the events of six months ago when I’d been foolish enough to read a sword and witness the metal-memory of my ex-demon-lover killing a good friend. Before Ryder could elaborate, Hill unceremoniously dumped the bag on the floor at my feet.
She straightened and flicked her hair out of her face. “Work your magic.” She gestured absently and stole a few hasty steps back, as though my half-demon nature might be contagious.
It wouldn’t take long, and the quicker I could get it over with, the better. I’d learned that dragging these things out didn’t lessen the impact of whatever secrets lay hidden.
“Do you need anything to help with the...y’know?” Hill asked.
I ignored her and crouched down, knees cracking. I opened the seal on the bag. The smell of wet metal burned my nose and laced my throat. I turned my head away and steeled myself against a few wayward memories. Snippets from my past tugged at my carefully placed mental restraints. The chain, the blood. They meant something on a personal level, but I couldn’t allow the thought to surface. Not here. My memories were dangerous territory, best kept hidden, especially in the company of others.
“I’m sorry,” Hill said.
I looked up at the detective and snorted. “Sorry that you’re making me do this, or sorry that I’m half demon?” She pulled back with a frown. I could have been kinder, but that would’ve meant admitting how afraid I was. “I’m going to have to get my blood on this for it to work...”
“Go ahead.” Hill locked her arms across her chest, her face impassive. She wouldn’t make the mistake of offering me insincere niceties again.
Ryder handed me a Leatherman. I used the knife to cut my finger and watched the blood swell until it dripped into the palm of my hand. Make her bleed. Make her read.. I hissed as the memory bubbled up through my efforts to keep them all submerged in the dark pool of my subconscious. I’d not heard that little nugget for a long time. I blinked rapidly and steadied my breathing. I had a job to do, and refusing to read the chain didn’t even cross my mind.
I smeared blood over my hands and held them over the bag.
“Muse...” My real name slipped from Ryder’s lips as I plunged my hands into the bag and wrapped my fingers around the links.
A rush of images flooded through me, over me, and spilled into my mind. The apartment, Ryder, Hill, the dead Enforcer—all of it vanished beneath a stream of information. Unable to look away or block the torrent, I saw a face in profile, male by the set of the jaw and the solid rise of the cheekbone. Dark hair, too long, past his shoulders. Something inside my subconscious chimed alarm bells, but the image swept away before I could focus. More pictures rushed me. Calloused gray fingers tipped with razor-edged claws curled around the chain. The links rattled. I saw the victim. Her eyes bulged, and her mouth gaped. She clawed at the chain around her throat. Her killer responded by tightening it. Her face contorted, lips blue, cheeks swollen, and then he tugged the chain free, twisting her head at an unnatural angle. Those claw-tipped fingers dragged down her face, furrowing her cheek. The demon straddling her leaned in and nuzzled his taut face against hers. He breathed in her scent. His body quivered, and a moan dragged from between his lips.
You are mine, Muse. His words chewed up inside a growl, and he spat them out.
Wrenched from the vision and back into real-time, I fell back onto my arms. Ragged gasps came hard and fast. My heart drummed against my ribs. Tremors wracked me, memories of agony and shame manifesting in my muscles. A scream clawed up my throat in a bid for freedom. I couldn’t control any of it. If I’d had access to my demon, she’d have come barreling forward, but she was gone. I was alone with the horror. Ryder reached for me, but I batted his hand away. If he touched me, I didn’t trust myself not to lash out at him.
Before he could ask me what was wrong, I was on my feet and running. I shoved though the doorway and past Coleman, ignoring his shouts of alarm. My boots hammered on the stairs as I stumbled down them. I staggered down the last few steps, barged between some uniformed officers, and burst through the front doors into the courtyard.
Rain pattered gently against my face. The cool night air nipped at my flushed cheeks. The chill grounded my thoughts back where they belonged, in the here and now. I stumbled a few more steps and reached for the wall. My stomach dry-heaved as my body tried to rid itself of the ghastly sensations. Coughing, spluttering, I waited for the violent urge to vomit to pass.
It wasn’t long before I noticed Coleman loitering in my peripheral vision. He glanced over at the gate where the press hounded any passing cop. I kept my head low and focused on subduing my tremors. The physical effects of terror would eventually subside. The same couldn’t be said for the images or the memories.
“What did you see?” He moved closer. I winced at the sound of his shoes crunching on gravel. It all seemed too loud, too abrasive, too acute.
Ryder jogged into sight. “Hey.” He jerked his chin at Coleman. “Back off.”
Coleman swept an arm at me. “She obviously saw what happened. We need answers. The Institute is sitting on this, Ryder. I need answers before the demon who’s doing this starts targeting the public.”
“I know that. Charlie’ll give you answers. Just give her a second.” Ryder stepped into Coleman’s personal space, deliberately squaring up to him. They were matched in height, but that was where the similarity ended. If it came to blows, Ryder would fight dirty, and Coleman wouldn’t see it coming.
A camera flash blanched the front of the apartment complex, capturing the three of us in the midst of our heated discussion. Coleman finally backed down. He turned away from Ryder and approached the entrance. “May I remind you leeches we’re in the middle of an investigation here and do not need—” The press came alive like hungry chicks squabbling in a nest.
“Is it true this is the third Enforcer killed in the last three weeks?”
“What’s the victim’s name?”
“Is it linked to last week’s attacks?”
My labored breathing drowned out the cacophony of squawking reporters. I bowed my head. My stomach and throat worked to undermine my efforts at suppressing my gag reflex. Rainwater streamed through my hair and down my face, masking my tears. If I let them, the memories would chew me up and spit me out a shivering muttering mess. I couldn’t allow them purchase. The feeling would pass, the horror would fade, and I could go back to pretending I was perfectly fine.
I sniffed and dabbed at my nose. When my hand came away, a smear of blood stood out in stark contrast against my pale skin. I quickly wiped it away and checked that Ryder hadn’t seen. He hadn’t. He was still scowling after Coleman. If he suspected I was unfit to continue my training, I’d soon find myself locked away like a lab rat. Again.
Ryder noticed me watching him and gave me a nod. I bobbed my head in response. He never had been one for personal chats, preferring actions to words, but he cared, and in what remained of my world, he was the only one who did.
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