Tag Archive: multicultural


But What Does It Mean?

Let’s Do It Again is rapidly becoming one of my most popular books of all time. I can’t thank y’all enough. I’ve always loved that story and am thrilled that you love it too. I think it means that y’all really like stories with older characters. The hubbie, of course, thinks it’s the sexy new cover. Brunch and a lovely bloody mary is riding on this one…is it the grown folk or the sex?

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Acts of Wars Preview

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For those of you who loved Rumors of Wars, the next book, Acts of Wars will be out next spring. Here’s a preview:

Acts of Wars

Coming Spring 2015 from

Lisa G. Riley and Roslyn Hardy Holcomb!


 

 

“Good morning Sleeping Beauty.”

The perfectly balanced custom made throwing knife left Perish’s hand with an absence of motion so subtle it was almost zen. As though controlled by nothing more than thought itself the blade pierced the pitch-black darkness of her bedroom toward the one foolish enough to disturb her much-needed rest.

The laughter that followed her attempt at homicide gave Perish all the information she needed to know. Wolf. Only a wolf had the reflexes and instincts to sidestep her best blade. Even worse, she knew which wolf. Audacious Pride, Pride’s brat of a baby sister. Seriously, she should’ve smothered the kid at birth. Perish flopped back down on her bed. Telling Audacious to get the fuck out of her house would be a waste of time. So she just waited to find out what the little monster wanted. It had been two days since her return from Nazi-era Germany. While she’d slept for most of the first day, she’d expected to see Pride on the next so they could decide what to do with the information they’d gained about the Amber Room. Gregor had been surprisingly patient, but she didn’t expect that to last much longer. Pride had been a no-show, now she wondered if Audacious was the reason. Keeping his brother from killing his sister would require all the beta wolf’s considerable diplomatic skills.

Audacious walked over to the bed from the shadows where she’d retreated to avoid Perish’s deadly missile.

“Someone is getting soft in their old age,” Audacious said in a sing-song voice more suitable to a adolescent on a playground.

“You do know that’s not my only knife?” Perish felt compelled to point out.

Audacious laughed again. “See that’s what I’ve always loved about you Perish. Lethal as hell and twice as pretty. I’m sure you have an arsenal in this house, and if my brother didn’t already have prior claim…”

“Your brother does not have prior claim. I’m not a piece of meat. Something tells me neither of us would’ve survived the encounter.” Audacious laughed again. “Seriously, Audie, what the hell are you doing in my house at,” she glanced at the clock and wanted to groan out loud. “Three o’clock in the goddamned morning?”

Audacious perched her lithe frame on the edge of Perish’s bed. “I thought my brother would have enough sense to be here with his woman.”

“You haven’t been gone that long. Why would Pride be here? He has his own house. And I am not his woman.”

“Yep. A house he’s currently not occupying. So where else would big brother be, but in your bed?”

Despite her best efforts Perish couldn’t ignore the concern niggling at the back of her mind. Where the hell was Pride at this hour? For that matter, where the hell had he been all day? Usually he at least returned her calls, if for no other reason but to tell her he was busy and would get in touch later. But today had been total silence. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone a twenty-four hour period without hearing from him. Of course, Pride was a good-looking healthy man. It would be crazy to think he wasn’t in somebody’s bed. But it was something Perish deliberately didn’t think about. And she grew even more annoyed at Audacious for forcing her to do so.

“Oh ho! For someone who is not my brother’s woman you certainly look concerned about his whereabouts at this time of the morning. Has some pretty little wolf been sniffing around your piece of ass?” The other woman laughed again, the bright whiteness of her teeth clearly visible in the dark room.

Mainly for time to collect her thoughts Perish sat up on the bed to turn on the light. It was unnecessary, her night vision was more than adequate for the occasion. It had been two years since she’d seen the other woman. Audacious was around average height for a woman; 5’4” or so, but she maintained a dancer’s erect posture that made her seem considerably taller. She also looked enough like Pride to be his female twin. If it were not for her ultra-long hair which hung down her back in a raven-black swathe, and a certain feminine roundness to her chin and jaw it would be hard to tell them apart.

“I’m not worried about where Pride is, I’m far more concerned about where you are. You know, in my house. What are you doing here? Didn’t Trick banish you from the pack?”

“Yes my lord and master banished me two years ago.”

The usage of the honorific had to be sarcasm. Her lack of obedience to the alpha was the main reason she’d been kicked out. “Aren’t you concerned about the consequences of coming back?”

“I need Pride’s help.”

“You know he’s not going to do anything without Trick’s permission. Dragging him into your problems will only cause a rift between them.” Perish cautioned, partially out of guilt. After all she’d been the cause of conflicts between the brothers most of her life.

“You mean like the rift you’ve been causing since forever?”

“Your brothers are grown men. Unlike you I’m not in your family or even your pack, so it’s pretty much irrelevant. You on the other hand are doubly bound to them, but you know this. Look Audie, Pride’s not here. I have no idea where he is, and I want to be able to say the same thing about you.”

“Well, that’s the problem. I need somewhere to lay low…”

Oh hell no. Perish grabbed her phone from the bedside table. She quickly punched the code for Pride’s number. For a moment she almost panicked thinking he wouldn’t answer. He finally did. On the fifth ring.

“Good morning Perish. I’ll be over there later today,” Pride snapped, irritation evident in his tone.

Where the hell are you? It took a total act of will not to ask the question. “Your sister is here,” she said baldly, her mind was totally occupied with the question she couldn’t ask.

“Which one?” he asked, a bit of humor creeping into his tone.

Pride had four sisters. “The only one who would show up at my goddamned house at this hour.”

“Audie? What in the world is she doing back here?” he asked in evident astonishment and not a small amount of horror.

“You might want to ask her that, right when you pick her up and take her away from here before I introduce her to the business end of my other knife.”

“See now…Tell you what, I can be there in a couple of hours.”

A couple of hours? What in the hell was he doing?

“I’ve got business to take care of, you hold tight, and I’ll be there.”

Perish sighed. “Fine Pride, just get here as soon as you can, or you will have a body to clean up.” Without waiting for his response she tossed the phone back down on her bedside table.

“Is there some place I can crash?” Audacious asked.

“Sure, Pride’s house,” Perish said then turned sharply as the door of her bedroom opened.

“I thought I heard someone in here. I didn’t want to interrupt…Audacious!”

The squeal was high-pitched enough to shatter crystal. Now Perish really did regret missing Audacious with the knife. For reasons she’d never understood, PB and Audacious adored one another. At one point she’d thought their bond might be romantic, but PB had never shown a sexual interest in anyone of any gender. No, their relationship was strictly platonic, but annoyingly girly. They embraced, jumping up and down like a couple of sorority girls.

“Are you hungry? How long are you in town? Come on downstairs I’ll fix you something to eat and then you can rest in the guest bedroom.”

As the two women bustled out of the room Perish flopped back onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. Clearly she needed more knives.

 

Pride looked tired. That was unusual because usually the man bristled with the energy of a new puppy. She’d probably be better off not mentioning that though, since she had been instrumental in his being turned into a puppy…er…cub. Even so he did look tired. His swarthy complexion didn’t handle sleepless nights well, and not only were there dark circles under his eyes, they were red-rimmed as well. She knew she was responsible for at least some of his exhaustion, but he had to have brought some of it on himself.

“Good grief Audie, what on earth are you doing back?”

“Did you expect me to stay gone forever, just because our tyrant of a brother told me to go?”

“Trick is no tyrant. If he were you’d be deader than hell. You know the penalty for disobeying the alpha.”

“I had to come back, I need your help.”

“Oh for God’s sake what have you gotten into now?”

“It’s not me. It’s my girlfriend, Honeybun.”

Before he could ask another question P.B. interrupted to direct them to the kitchen where she’d laid out breakfast. Though it was too early for her to have much of an appetite, Perish poured a cup of coffee and nibbled on a slice of toast.

“And where is she?”

“She’s at the Water.”

“The Water?” PB interjected. “I thought it was myth.”

“Oh no, I’ve been there. It’s no myth,” Audacious said around a mouthful of P.B.’s vegan muffins. The girl must have been starved, she’d done nothing but eat since she arrived, and Perish knew from experience those muffins tasted like butt and more butt. It had been a couple of years since Perish saw her and she’d definitely lost weight, but something about the way she looked made it clear that the weight loss was very recent.

“Where the Water Came In is a big gaping hole in the land and it’s all swampy and unstable because the water keeps coming. Folks working there drown all the time.”

“Working there? What kind of work are they doing? I thought it was evacuated and abandoned years ago?” P.B. asked.

“I don’t think they ever totally abandoned the Gulf,” Pride said. “But it’s harder and more expensive to get the oil out now. And there are no roads or anything.”

“Well, that’s what they’re working on, putting in roads, but there’s so much water they have to build these big dams and dikes first. Nobody will work there because it’s so dangerous so they use slaves.”

“Slaves?” Perish asked.

“Well, as good as. Anyone who gets arrested, and has no money and that could be anyone. They ship them down there, most don’t come back,” Audacious said.

Pride took a long sip from his coffee cup. Perish tried to read his expression, but he gave nothing away.

Finally he sighed and carefully placed the coffee cup back on the table at his elbow.

“Since we’re all here now Audie, would you be so kind as to tell us what’s going on and what you’re doing back here?”

“It’s Honeybun, my girlfriend…”

“Yeah, I got that much, why don’t you start at the beginning. When you left here where did you go? After you left the Middle.”

“You knew about that?”

“Do you really think I would let my sister leave the pack and have no idea where she went? I lost track of you after you left the Middle, though. I assumed you knew I was having you followed.”

“No, I had no idea. That’s where I met Honeybun. She was living there with her daughter, hiding from her husband.”

“Your girlfriend is married?” Perish struggled to keep her tone neutral.

“She was done with him before she even met me. I know you think I make a habit of poaching…”

“Actually I don’t,” Pride said.

“So why did you let Trick banish me, then?”

“You weren’t banished for sleeping with Henri’s wife. You were banished for not following Trick’s orders. You were told that at the time.”

“I didn’t sleep with her.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t stay away from her either. Because you didn’t obey orders something that should’ve been a minor issue turned into a big deal and resulted in Trick having to kill a member of the pack.”

Audacious lowered her head. “I know. I told you I was sorry. She was just a friend.”

Pride raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Back to Honeybun and the Middle.”

“Yeah, well her husband tracked us there, so we ran, but we got caught. I got away, but Honeybun wouldn’t leave because they have her daughter. She doesn’t know where she is. I stayed at the Edge to try to help her, but I had too many near misses. They would’ve eventually caught me.”

“Tell us more about the slave labor,” P.B. said. “Are you sure that’s what’s going on?”

“Of course I’m sure. They work from sunup to sunset. The area is swampy and all kinds of bugs and disease. People are sick all the time from shit like yellow fever.”

“Yellow fever?” P.B. asked.

“T.B. and dengue fever too and a bunch of other crap I’ve never heard of. I know, right? Sounds like something from the nineteenth century. They’re trying to get to oil, and they’re trying to build canals to get water to the Middle so they can grow crops again.”

“Water is not the only reason they can’t grow anything in the Middle of the country anymore. All the soil is gone. And the climate fluctuates too much,” Pride said. “People left because there’s no food and they can’t make money.”

Audacious shrugged and bit into another muffin. “I don’t know, it could be a cover story, but that’s where they sent Honey.”

“But what was your crime?” P.B. asked. Even Perish was astonished by P.B.’s naiveté at times. P.B. knew better, she just stubbornly refused to deal with the reality of the world they lived in. Pride and Audacious both were staring at her as though she’d grown antlers. Audacious eventually answered her.

“Since when do you have to commit a crime to go to jail? They had some trumped up charges that we were committing a crime against the state.”

“Because you’re lesbians?” P.B. asked. She actually whispered the last word. Technically speaking being gay was not illegal, but that didn’t mean a person couldn’t be arrested for it as a crime against the state. Population levels were so low since the Die Off any sex act that couldn’t produce offspring was frowned on.

“Yeah. But what they really are trying to do is break the Resistance.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake please tell me you’re not involved in the Resistance?” Pride said.

“Of course I am. Aren’t you?”

“Hell no. I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of dying of some ancient disease in a goddamned swamp in the middle of nowhere.”

“But that’s just the thing. They had no right to send us there. We can’t continue to live this way. Afraid of our own government. Hiding who and what we are,” Audacious said her voice rising in her excitement.

“I swear to God Audie, we could send your ass to Paradise and you’d find a way to get tangled up in mess. Unfortunately, Perish and I have our own mess to clean up at the moment. You and your girlfriend will have to wait,” Pride said.

“But…”

“Where are you staying?” Pride asked.

“I don’t know I just got back into town tonight. I thought I might stay with you. At least that was my plan.”

“Not a good one. You know how the pack hangs out at my place. You can’t stay with the sisters either. Their husbands are all pack.”

“January got married?” Audacious asked raising troubled eyes to Pride.

“Yeah, late last year,” Pride said.

“I’ll bet she’s pissed I missed it.”

“She understood.”

“Did she marry Handel?”

“Yeah she did. You definitely can’t stay there.” He didn’t have to explain any member of the pack would kill her on sight for having disobeyed Trick once again. And that would probably tear the pack apart and undermine Trick’s power.

“Of course she’ll stay here,” P.B. said and Perish would’ve swallowed her tongue had she been able to catch her breath. When she finally managed to open her mouth P.B. spoke right over her. “Come on Perish, you know it’s the right thing to do. Just until you guys work out this situation with that damned wizard. What do you plan to do about that anyway? And what about that creepy ass vampire?”

“Wizard? Vampire? For fuck’s sake, you guys really have got a mess on your hands,” Audacious said. “I don’t expect any less from you Perish, but Pride it’s not like you to step in it.”

“Shut up Audie.” Perish and Pride said in unison automatically falling into a long-established pattern for dealing with his sister. Pride continued. “The last thing we need is for you to get involved in this Audie. You have a way of making a bad situation awful.”

“I don’t know why you always say that.”

“Because it’s true.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll stay out of your situation. What is your situation, anyway?” Pride gave her a very brief overview of the situation. Perish could tell he didn’t want to, but if she was going to be staying at Perish’s house for any length of time it wouldn’t do for her to be ignorant of the shenanigans that might be going down.

Audacious listened to the whole story, her eyes widening almost comically with each sentence. “Does Trick know about this?” she asked when Pride finally wound down.

“Not everything, no,” Pride said.

“Well, you’d damn well better tell him.”

“We know that,” Pride said.

“No we don’t. Your brother is such a hothead…” Perish began.

“Look who’s talking,” Pride said with a derisive eye roll.

“Yeah, but my fuckery doesn’t involve the whole pack and a war with every talent in the country.”

“Perish, I’m his beta. Even if I didn’t think it was the best plan, I would still have to tell him. We don’t know what the hell the wizards want with the Amber Room, but I guarantee it can’t be good. Trick needs to know about this.”

“I know that Pride, but the truth is we still don’t know where the Amber Room is. We just know who had it last.”

“I think we can make an educated guess,” P.B. said.

“Maybe you can make an educated guess P.B., but I have no idea,” Perish said.

“Eichmann was captured by the Israelis and taken to trial in Israel. He was convicted and hanged in the early 1960s. Not long after that the Israelis won a spectacular war. They beat a combined Arab force in six days. It was a world wonder.”

Pride frowned, as he rubbed his chin. Then he let out a long slow whistle. “So you think the Amber Room is some type of power source?” Pride asked.

“Something like that. It’s always been known to attract spiritual forces. I would guess that a whole room full of it, especially really old amber would be even more powerful. And don’t forget it was made by a powerful wizard. Who knows what he put in it.”

“I knew that love offering story was pure bullshit,” Perish said.

“Not necessarily. If it’s a power source, I could see giving it to a royal lover,” P.B. said.

Perish shrugged. “Whatever. We still have to tell him what we know.”

“We can’t do that,” Pride said with a forceful shake of his head.

“What?” Perish said. “If we don’t there will be war. They’ll kill you and you know what Trick will do.”

“You know how important the balance of power is amongst the talents. We can’t give the wizards anything that will make them more powerful. They would dominate everyone. Maybe even the wolves.”

“So you’re saying…” Perish began knowing exactly where this conversation was going and not liking it one damned bit.

“We’ve got to talk to Trick.”

“Fuck.”

The Reed Files Bondage Stock

 

This is one of my favorite books and I’m re-releasing on my own. It’s live now at Smashwords and ARe, both have the formats you’ll need for Kindle and Nook. As soon as it’s available at Amazon and B&N I’ll let you know.

I like their sons a lot and plan to pair them up in a New Adult story with Callie’s sisters from Rock Star.

Image from Taria Reed, and cover design by my fabulously talented husband, Whit Holcomb.

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Looks like I’ve got a GENUINE bestseller on my hands. Thanks so much to all my readers. Y’all are the best.

There seems to be yet another bit of fuckery going on in my genre these days. Authors have been putting books with white characters in the IR/MC category on Amazon. And I’m here to say, if you do that you will be called on it. Readers will post reviews warning other readers about your deceitful bullshit, so it would behoove you not to do it. You always know that something has become popular and profitable when white folk show up to take it over. When folk like Suzanne Brockmann start claiming to have created t. Again, hell no. And don’t step to me about your tender fee-fees. Y’all didn’t give a shit about our feelings when you were claiming black folk don’t read. And it’s most recent iteration; black writers can’t write. Don’t bring any white women’s tears up in here. You will regret it.

And before some other kumbayah idiot comes along I know that white people have culture. I have advanced degrees in sociology, but I also know that for the purpose of the romance genre there’s never been a separate category for books about white people regardless of what countries or cultures they come from. White folk aren’t claiming not to be able to relate to books about white people, even when they’re fucking aliens or trees. Yet somehow they can’t relate to books by black authors. So, please, if you post some crap like that on my blog I will drag you like a dead body on The Walking Dead. You have been warned.

This genre was created by, and nurtured primarily by black women. We grew it from nothing. We have the best fans in the world. Fans who have gone through hell and back with us, and no you WILL NOT disrespect them. If left up to me I would absolutely ban anyone who isn’t black or brown from writing in the genre. However, if you insist on coming to our house, you will respect it. Period. Failure to do so will result in you being summarily dismissed.

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I know I say this every time, but this is my favorite cover. I told Whit I wanted Gabriel to look as though he was literally stepping off the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and damned if he didn’t nail it. I love my talented hubby so much.

Here’s the blurb and an excerpt for those who don’t remember it from before.

When Ryannon shows up on Gabriel’s doorstep claiming that he is an archangel with the power to trigger the Apocalypse and that he’s in danger from an End of Days cult he thinks she’s crazy — crazy hot — but still crazy. Despite being a trumpet player named Gabriel, the life he’s led has been anything but angelic, however he has no choice but to believe her especially since the cult is already in hot pursuit. He and Ryannon must go on the run to save themselves and dozens of others from the cult leader’s diabolical schemes. Even the desperate circumstances are not enough to dampen the fiery lust that pulls them together. Gabriel knows that Ryannon is the one for him, but he’s a player and always has been and Ryannon has no intention of being just another woman in his bed. Will they survive long enough to develop trust and find love, and somehow avoid inadvertently setting off the Apocalypse?

 

“No. No. Gabriel. I’m not a psychic, I’m a knower.”

“What the fuck is a… Wait. How did you know my name?”

She raised her hands, which caused the armload of bracelets she wore to jingle attractively. “Could we sit down? You don’t look so good, and…”

Gabriel gestured toward his battered sofa while he sat down in one of the mismatched chairs that flanked it. After ensuring the safety was engaged, he carefully placed the gun on the coffee table.

She nodded at the gun. “I’m glad you’ve got that. They’ll be back.”

“They who? Could you please tell me what you’re talking about?”

“The Redeemers are a cult.”

“You mean of the grape Kool-Aid, purple Nike variety?”

“I probably wouldn’t put it that way, but yeah, they’re a cult,” she said.

“And this pertains to me how?”

Ryannon leaned back on the sofa and crossed her legs, bringing Gabriel’s attention, which had been focused on the gamine beauty of her face, to her legs, and then he found he couldn’t look away. For such a tiny thing, her legs were surprisingly long and shapely, and set off by denim capris and wedge-heeled sandals, they all but made his mouth water. The light cotton blouse she wore over the capris was belted, emphasizing a tiny waist and small breasts.

“I suppose you could call the Redeemers a doomsday or End of Days cult. Their name is The Church of Jesus Christ With Redemption to Come.”

Gabriel sighed. “Ryannon, as much as I’m enjoying this conversation, not to mention the opportunity to check you out, I had a less than stellar night last night, and I had really looked forward to spending my day in bed making love to my ice pack. Now unless you want to take its place, could we please just get to the point?”

“They think you’re an apocalyptic trigger.”

Gabriel closed his eyes. No way in hell did he want to hear the rest of this bizarre story. She was batshit crazy, but also crazy-hot. He sighed. Why was that always the way? The hotter they were, the crazier they were. After a moment, he opened his eyes again. It wouldn’t be the first time his cock got him into trouble. If worse came to worst, he could always duct-tape her mouth.

“Do I want to know what the hell an apocalyptic trigger is?”

“They think you will signal the End of Days.”

Gabriel laid his head back on his chair. “See, you name a trumpet player Gabriel, and folks get all kinds of crazy ideas.”

“They want you to bring on the final battle of Armageddon.”

He couldn’t help but laugh. “So my mom is right. I am the Antichrist.”

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Rumors of Wars

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Lisa and I released this book back in January. We wrote it pseudonymously because it’s a genre change for us. It’s a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. Those of you who’ve read our book Stolen, will recognize Grace and Parker as Perish, is Eshu, a time traveling, bounty hunting shape shifter. This is the first book in a series, the next book, Acts of Wars will be out early next year. We’re going to keep the original blog (www.cravenofwars.wordpress.com) for now, and park everything regarding the book there and on our own blogs.  Here’s the first chapter:

Chapter One
“Look son, it’s colder than a motherfucker out here, so I’m going to make this nice and simple.” Perish Blackburn paused and looked down at the terrified man she was dangling over the balcony thirty floors up. She tightened her grip when it went slack and the sudden quick rough movement against the waist-high stone barrier had chunks of the decrepit building falling off like so much rubble. She shook her head. It was the curse of most buildings in the city. Her victim let out a terrified yelp, and Perish tightened her hold some more. “Not to worry,” she said, making her voice as carefree as a breeze, “I won’t drop you.” She jiggled him a bit. “Yet.”

She took a sip of the vanilla soy chai latte she held in her other hand, and her mouth twisted in disgust. “Fuck. Now my tea’s gone cold. All right. It’s time to wrap this shit up. Post. Haste.” She shook him hard once in warning.

“You’re going to tell me what you did with Connie’s access codes or you’re going to have an unfortunate accident.” The man mumbled something but the late December wind swirling around the balcony made his words indecipherable. Her patience gone, Perish began bouncing him up and down yo-yo fashion. After just a few moments of this treatment, he began screaming at the top of his lungs. Satisfied, Perish placed her now-undrinkable beverage on the ledge and used both hands to pull him back onto the balcony.
He stood before her, literally shaking in his boots, too terrified to even piss his pants. He certainly wouldn’t be the first. God I love my work, she thought.

“You’re that crazy bounty hunter, aren’t you?” the man whined, still shivering more from fear than the cold. “I can’t believe Connie sent you after me.”

“Then clearly you don’t know your former business associate very well. Connie doesn’t tolerate thieves. Unless, of course, you were stealing for him. Now speak up. What the hell did you do with his codes?”

“I’ve got them!” Voice still quivering, the man quickly held his hands up to forestall her when she moved a step closer. “I’ve got them right here.” He hurried into the hotel room through the French doors and ran over to a small overnight case that was sitting on a chair. After opening the case he carefully pulled back the lining. “Here! Here it is,” he said, handing the flash drive to her.

Perish pulled a small tablet computer out of her backpack. With smoothly efficient movements she plugged the drive into the port and quickly pulled up the document. As she’d expected, the document contained a series of numbers that meant nothing to her and she quickly e-mailed it to her client to check its validity. While she waited for a response she continued to eye the man who’d been stupid enough to try to steal from Constantine Drakos. He was pale with dull brown eyes and matching hair. Not particularly large, he was of average height and build and somewhat shorter than her own six feet.

He was studying her as well, a look of incredulity on his face as his eyes roamed her thin frame. His gaze strayed back to her face. “How the hell does some skinny chick like you pick me up like that? What kinda shit is that?”

Perish’s smirk was self-directed. “Must be I got me some super powers, or some shit like that,” she said mockingly. Her good mood suddenly dim, she scowled at the computer screen, wishing Connie would hurry the hell up and get back to her with an answer.

The man spoke up again. “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?” he squeaked.

Perish smiled, the fierceness of her expression making his eyes go wide with fear. “Unlike you, I always follow my client’s orders to the letter. As long as you give it up and haven’t tried to access the accounts…” She raised a brow in inquiry. He shook his head rapidly. “Then Connie said to let you go, and that’s what I’ll do.”

“But Connie owes me that money. By rights it should be mine.” The whine was back in his voice, but now there was a look of timid hope as well. “Hey. What’s say you let me go and I cut you in?”

Perish let her smile broaden. Why did they all think she was stupid? “Now why on earth would I want to do that? Connie’s a good client. Pays well and in cash. I never double-cross a client, especially one with such a vengeful streak.” She glanced down at her computer when it beeped to indicate she’d received an e-mail. She checked it to confirm that she had the desired information then slipped the device back into her backpack.

“You got off easy this time. If Connie has to send me after you again I’ll stomp you into a lovely inkblot. I hate do-overs.”
The man nodded his agreement as Perish turned to exit the hotel room. He flinched when she turned back.

Perish’s new smirk was smug and satisfied. “Relax. I just forgot about the message Connie told me to give you. He said for you to say hello to his sister. And don’t forget about his New Year’s Eve party.”

*****

Constantine Drakos looked like a Minoan bull, or at least how the mythological beast would look if someone tailored a five thousand dollar suit to fit him. A stocky man, he nonetheless had a certain elegance about him. If Perish didn’t know he was one of the most notorious arms dealers in the world she would have thought he was a wealthy financier — not that there was all that much difference between the two.

“So how is my esteemed brother-in-law?” he asked, rising from behind his desk as she entered his mahogany-paneled office.

“Still alive when I left him. More’s the pity,” Perish said and slid the flash drive across the massive heavily carved desk.

With reflexes that would have made him a frightening opponent in the boxing ring, Drakos caught the device before it slid off the edge of the desk. Then he laughed. “Oh, Perish. I had quite forgotten how much I enjoy your sense of humor.”

“It’s the only reason people keep me around.” She dropped down uninvited into the plush office chair and unceremoniously propped her jack-booted feet up on his desk.

“Had he used the codes to access my accounts?”

“Would he still be alive if he had? I guarantee satisfaction and your instructions were clear.”

“You know, Perish, you’re a woman after my own heart. Honestly if I had a few more of you—”

“You’d be fucked beyond all recognition. I don’t play well with others, Connie. I’ve told you that before. I’m not part of your crew and never will be.” Connie had been trying to recruit her forever. She’d heard his shtick so many times she could recite it verbatim. Now he’d start complaining about having to hire muscle. Of course, he still had plenty of knee-cappers on his payroll. He only called her in when a situation called for a certain…delicacy. That almost made her laugh out loud, so she focused her gaze on her steel-toed boots. Delicate was hardly an adjective she would normally associate with herself.

Drakos exhaled a heavy sigh then resumed sitting at the desk. “A man can always hope. I don’t understand this generation. In my day a young gun was happy to join an organization like mine. Now, Omerta is a joke. Hell, it might as well not even exist. Everybody talks when they shouldn’t, there’s no loyalty and every swinging Richard wants to be a freelancer. And there’s the damn barter system that seems to be gaining momentum…” He shook his head as if confused by the improbability of it all. “What the fuck? Do you know some guy actually asked for a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner in exchange for a job the other day? Where in the hell am I supposed to get my hands on something like that? And with gas costing almost as much as it does to educate a child, what does he think he’d run it on? What the fuck?” he exclaimed again with a confused look at Perish.

She shrugged tiredly. Connie was getting old and was always talking about the good old days. The time before the Die Off when things still made sense. Perish was too young to remember those days and was starting to think they were a figment of people’s imagination.

“What are you talking about, Connie? Half the people you have working for you are sharecroppers working for nothing but a roof over their heads.” she said.

Connie looked away as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “That’s not the same thing. I take care of my people,” he said indignantly.

Much as she wanted to Perish didn’t roll her eyes. She had to get paid, after all. “It’s not just you. Anyone who has money is fucking over poor and uneducated people. And since pretty much everybody is poor and uneducated, that’s a lot of fucking over.”

“It’s not the same thing. People are happy with what I’m giving them. This bartering shit is a joke.”

“You can say that because you have money. You might want to start getting with the program on that one, Connie. Nobody has cash anymore. You know that saying, ‘my money is funny’? Well, it’s not just a common phrase for people nowadays; money isn’t funny, it’s nonexistent. So they’re trying to take control of the chaos. It’s not rocket science. Hell, I barter myself sometimes.” Perish closed her mouth with a snap. She was starting to sound like Princess Buttercup. Clearly, she was more tired than she realized.

Connie leaned forward and stared at her with a narrow-eyed gaze. “What’s with you, huh? You’re starting to sound like one of those goddamned revolutionaries. You haven’t taken up with those fruitcakes, have you?”

Now she did roll her eyes. “What are you talking about? You’ve known me for ten years. The only thing I revolt against are people who don’t pay me. Otherwise, I’ve got too much shit to do.”

Connie sighed and with a wave of his hand, dismissing the familiar conversation. “Anyway, I’ve made the usual arrangements for your payment. I trust that will be satisfactory. I have another small project for you—”

“I’m taking a break for a minute. I need a vacation. If it’s something that can wait, I’ll be happy to take care of it when I get back. Otherwise I can recommend someone for you.”

Drakos shook his head once. “No. I don’t want anyone else. I think it will wait. How long will you be gone?”

“About a month, but that’s not definite.” She lowered her feet from the desk and stood to leave the office.

“Oh, did my brother-in-law say whether they would be attending my New Year’s Eve party? I’d hate for this recent unpleasantness to put a damper on the holidays.”

Perish snorted softly. Family dynamics: she totally didn’t get them. Made her glad she didn’t have one, unless you counted Princess Buttercup. And she didn’t. Suddenly, her energy was gone and all she could think about was finding her bed. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’ll be there, but do me a favor, keep your important stuff locked up. Killing stupid people is warm weather work.”

*****

Aaron Hall had known it was going to be a bad day the moment he’d awakened that morning. He hadn’t wanted this particular job, but Gregor had insisted, and when Gregor insisted, you did what you were told, no questions asked. He shook his head. I’m just a simple telepath, he thought. There’s no way I should be on this job. This Perish Blackburn bitch sounded scary as hell. He sighed and looked at the young hothead sitting next to him in the driver’s seat. Gary, a new recruit and a clairvoyant with a bad attitude and an unfounded need to prove himself, had somehow gotten the cockeyed idea that they could bring the girl in themselves.

“I’m big, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I’m superman and willing to take stupid and unnecessary risks,” Aaron said suddenly, and smirked when Gary looked at him in surprise. “Forget I could read your mind?”

Gary scowled, but flushed guiltily. “I just don’t see why we have to sit out here freezing our asses off with no pay-off, that’s all. I mean, you saw her picture just like I did. She’s just some skinny chick who they think might have some talents. It would be easy to handle her.”

Aaron looked across the street at Perish’s house. The old two-story brick structure sat surrounded by at least a half-acre of city land and looked like a loner in the sparse urban landscape. The house and grounds were surrounded by a seven-foot black iron fence safeguarded with a coded lock and intercom. And he’d already counted at least four cameras. To his way of thinking, none of that information boded well for Gary and him.

“Oh, she’s got talents all right,” he murmured, his mind still on the security precautions taken for the house. “You can bet on that.” He shook his head again. “You just don’t get it, do you? It’s what the boss didn’t say that should make you worry. All he told us was to watch her because she could be useful to us.”

“Exactly. She could be.”

“Listen, kid. I’ve been with the Confederacy long enough to know that they aren’t going to send us out to watch a subject unless they already know just how useful that subject will be. It’s a waste of time. Hell, you’re clairvoyant. Can’t you just look and see what’s going to –”

“It only works if I have physical contact.”

Aaron suddenly chuckled. “Yes, I heard what you didn’t say,” he confirmed when Gary frowned at him again. “What? Shit, kid, you’re broadcasting like a radio frequency. I can’t help but hear,” he said and busted a gut laughing when he heard the words son of a bitch without Gary saying a word. “All right, all right, no need to get upset. And you can forget about kicking my ass. I might be older, but better men than you have tried to take me out, and lost the battle.”

“Whatever,” Gary muttered and went back to staring at the house.

After a few minutes of brooding silence, Aaron said, “So the old gift is wonky, huh? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t? Shit, no wonder you’ve got such a big chip on your shoulder.”

“It’s not wonky.”

“Sounds like it is to me. But anyway, you’ll just have to trust me on this. We sit here and we wait and we watch. That’s all we do.”

“Fuck that,” Gary muttered.

“No! Fuck you, asshole!” Aaron said, his patience totally gone because he knew that Gary was planning to try and snatch the girl despite orders to the contrary. “I’m not going to let you screw up this op. I’m too fucking old to be letting some snot-nosed kid get me killed. Gregor has a reason for us being here, so just give me the damned camera and settle the fuck down.”

“Hey, don’t tell me—”

“Shut up.” Aaron’s eyes were on the rearview mirror. He watched as a car slowly approached. “What kind of car did Gregor say she drives? A black GTO, right? This is her. Look at the finish on that thing. It don’t even shine. That’s a bad-ass car,” he said admiringly. “It looks vintage. I’m thinking she’s had it converted to fuel cell. Nobody’s dumb enough to be driving expensive ass gasoline.”

“Be cool,” he warned softly when Gary tensed.

Perish pulled up in front of the house the woman she’d called grandmother had left her. The house, a small trust and a letter that had completely turned her life upside down comprised the entire inheritance Abigail Blackburn had left her when she’d died. And Abigail was the last damn thing she wanted to tax her brain with after such a trying day, so Perish decided to concentrate on the two idiots in the black van. What the hell do they want?

Letting her vehicle idle, she decided to get out and punch in the code instead of speaking into the intercom. As she leisurely strolled to the gate, she kept her ears attuned. She’d noticed the van right away and her suspicions had instantly been raised. No one parked on her street. If they did, they didn’t stay for long. The look of her house, and the rumors about her usually kept them away.

“Back unknown, two in front, male, largest no taller than five eleven, two hundred, two hundred and twenty, both up to no fucking good,” she mumbled to herself. A feral anticipatory smile broke across her face, and suddenly she wasn’t tired anymore. “Come on boys, what d’ya say? Gonna give it a go?”

Head cocked, Aaron watched Perish, a frown of confusion on his face. And then comprehension dawned. Dismayed, he closed his eyes and threw his head back against the seat in resignation. “Shit,” he mumbled forlornly. “Not only is this chick not broadcasting, she’s blocking me from reading her.”

Gary looked at him impatiently. “So?”

“So, if she’s able to block me — and I’m not bragging mind you, but that’s a tough thing to do — then she’s a talent, a damned good one. It doesn’t even feel like she’s trying. I think it’s just automatic for her.”

Unimpressed, Gary just snorted and went back to watching Perish. “I still think I can take her, and now is the perfect time,” he said as he started the van.

“What? No, don’t be an idiot!” But it was too late, and an obedient observer of the Confederacy’s code of always having your partner’s back, Aaron prepared to engage in what he just knew was going to be sheer folly.

Perish heard tires screech and even smelled the rubber burn as the van hurtled across the street towards her. The running feet were no surprise and she was braced when two pairs of heavy hands fell on her shoulders. “Hello, boys,” she said. Quick as a snake, she whipped around, breaking the hold of the larger one, snatching the wrist of the other as in one continuous motion she bent her body into it and flipped him over her shoulder.

And so quickly that the bigger man still standing blinked and missed it, she had a fistful of his shirt, lifting him onto his toes. She pushed her face in his and smiled so that he saw her suddenly elongated canines. When he blinked again and stared at them, she gave him a smug look, pursed her lips and made a kissing sound. “Wanna play?” she purred. Tiger, I think. She concentrated, felt her face contorting and grinned when the man’s eyes went wide with shock as he watched her shifting bones flow underneath and make ripples in her smooth skin.

Her eyes turned yellow with black pinpoints. They began to glow. “Surprise, asshole.”

“Ohhhh, fuck…” Aaron’s heart rate accelerated and he felt slick, scared-shitless sweat roll down his back. He groaned in shock and dismay. Thick tufts of orange and black fur had begun to sprout out all over the woman’s face and his mind went blank with fright. I didn’t sign up for this. He tried to lock his knees, but they began to buckle anyway. He felt her hold tighten and she gave him a fierce shake so that he had no choice but to watch in terror. Her face was completely covered in fur now and whiskers were shooting out on either side of…oh, shit…now she had a muzzle! Fuck you, Gary! Aaron thought as he fought to hold his bladder in check.

Perish growled low in her throat and he heard the satisfaction in the sound. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, but she shook him again, driving them forward once more.

“Jesus,” he breathed just as she gave a mighty roar, the force of it blowing his head full of hair back, forcing him to close his eyes against the power of it and making it difficult for him to breathe. He felt as if he were walking into a windstorm. Tiger drool flew into his face, and finally, Aaron gave up the fight. He fainted.

Pussy. He heard her thought, heavy with disgust, just before he sank gratefully into unconsciousness.

Perish felt the power of the change crash through her and she roared again. Her grip was the only thing keeping the man from crumpling to the ground, so she let him go, tossing him a few feet so that he landed right in front of her car. Before his head hit snow-covered concrete, she was once again fully human. From start to finish, the change had taken less than a minute.

She looked over at the man she’d earlier tossed over her shoulder. The smell of urine and feces wafted from the ball he’d rolled himself into and she chuckled huskily and licked her lips. “Tell whoever sent you that next time I won’t play so nice.” She angrily punched in the code that opened the gates leading to her home. “Get your friend and get off my property.” The words were tossed carelessly over her shoulder as she strode back to her car.

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