Friday, September 29, 2017

Preorder Dying Day and receive FREE stuff #freebiefriday #fridayreads



Hi everyone,

For those of you who have been following Jesse Sullivan's epic journey, you know that Dying Day (the last installment of this urban fantasy series) is scheduled to be released in just 32 days...


THIRTY-TWO DAYS

As we gear up for the launch, I want to make sure you haven't missed the special preorder offer I have going for this book.

First of all there will be a ton of content included in the back of Dying Day that will not be available after the release. This includes:


- a free copy of Life's a Gas, a Jesse Sullivan short story about how her pug Winston came into her life
- a free copy of Death or Something Like it, a Jesse Sullivan- Lana Harvey cross over short that I wrote with the fabulous Angela Roquet...answering what happens while Jesse is dead between replacements
- deleted scenes from Dying Day that didn't make it into the final copy of the novel
- The original query letter and first fifty pages of Dying for a Living (as it existed in 2009, years before it's final publication in 2014) - for those fans curious about the evolution of Jesse's tale!
-a special BOGO offer 
- and more!

So if any or all of the above interests you, please preorder at your preferred retailer today! (This offer ends 11:59PM EST October 30).

Amazon Kindle
Barnes and Noble Nook
Kobo
iTunes

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Buy a Book, Get a Book #BOGO #Tuesdaybookblog


As we close in on the release of Dying Day (Dying for a Living Book 7), I want to make sure that you are aware of my BOGO offer.

If you preorder Dying Day, you will receive ONE FREE ebook. It's very easy to redeem. You simply go to this Google Form, provide your proof of purchase and I will send you all the details you need to retrieve the Dying for a Living book of your choice.

And as if a free book wasn't incentive enough to preorder, I put together tons of goodies to be included in the back of the preorder edition that WILL NOT be included after release day.  (More on this my upcoming Friday blog post). 

If you've read all the books and are "dying" for Book 7, you will want this bonus content. I promise you!

So no matter where you are in the Dying for a Living series, preorder today! Because I simply cannot wait to share this epic conclusion with you!

Amazon Kindle
Barnes and Noble Nook
Kobo
iTunes

Friday, September 22, 2017

A #Fridayread for your #freebiefriday

Did you see this beauty?

I recently upgraded the covers of my Dying for a Living series in preparation for the release of its conclusion (Book 7, Dying Day). And I could not be more happy with it! Look at this beauty!










Ermergerrrrd! I love it so much! It's so freakin' pretty....!

If you aren't familiar with this novel, it's the first installment in an award-winning urban fantasy series by an USA TODAY bestselling author (me!) and best of all - it's FREE as an ebook!  


Visit your preferred retailer via the link below to read the description or see what any of the hundreds of reviewers are saying.

Kindle
Nook
Kobo
iTunes

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Preorder Blood in the Water! #Tuesdaybookblog @AngelaRoquet


Jenna Skye and her blood harem are off to boot camp in Denver. If she can survive the three long months at the bat cave (the Blood Authority Training Center), she’ll become an official Blood Vice agent. But not everyone is thrilled about the duke allowing a baby vampling to train with the big fangs, and the undead have some pretty rotten ideas when it comes to hazing. 

The training program also opens Jenna’s eyes to House Lilith politics, and she’s soon swept away into the dark current of warring vampire families and an empire on the verge of collapse—an empire no one can know she’s an heir to.



This is an awesome series for fans of Chloe Neill and Charlaine Harris. I've already preordered my copy - have you? 

Get yours here.
Want to know more? You can also read my review of Blood and Thunder here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

$0.99 through September 19! #kindledeal

Get this limited edition dystopian anthology (my short story, Blind is in there!) for just $0.99 for through Tuesday! Or if you have kindle unlimited, I think it's free!


Dictators. Devices. Destruction.

With worlds fallen and tyrants rising in their wake, can these heroes and heroines survive the End of Days?

Uncover secrets and flirt with death when you immerse yourself in these 16 all-new, exclusive stories of economic collapse, war, disease, and disaster from today’s New York Times, USA Today, and award-winning authors.

Readers who love everything from The Maze Runner to The Handmaid's Tale will revel in the tension of sixteen underdogs fighting to beat the odds in their own gritty worlds.

Get your 1984 fix in this scorched earth dystopian collection sprinkled with romance and heavy with turmoil when you 


One-click today!


Thursday, September 14, 2017

#Fridayreads: FREE chapters from Shadows in the Water


So this is the last chapter share for Shadows in the Water. If you've just found this page, you may want to read the first two blog posts where I shared the Prologue and Chapter 1 and then Chapters 2 and 3. Then you'll be prepared to read Chapter 4 and 5 which begin now...


4


King found Lucy Thorne stretched on his red leather sofa, an icy glass of sweet tea balanced on her pale knee. Her body was ethereal in the moonlight coming through the open terrace door. It was if she’d never left him. In twelve years, the only discernible change was her hair. She wore it longer now. It fell over her shoulders and hung halfway down her back like a curtain. It had been pixie short, a cleaner version of Piper’s style when he met her.
“Nice place you have here, Robert.” Lucy put the glass of ice tea on a coaster, one of the many mismatched rounds of cardboard King had stolen from local bars. He had quite the collection. He worried she might notice how many bars. Or he would have worried if the top of her red sundress hadn’t stretched across her chest, showcasing hard nipples. It was difficult to worry when faced with hard nipples.
She caught him staring and grinned. “The pension must be good.”
“I’m a kept man,” he joked, heat filling his face. “I hooked up with the rich widow downstairs, and as long as I pleasure her when she calls, all my expenses are paid.”
Lucy barked a short, sharp laugh. “I’m glad to hear you’re putting your talents to good use.”
Your talents. The words were like a cold hand on the back of his neck. If anyone knew anything about his skills, it would be Lucy. He’d never worked so hard to please a woman in his life.
It hadn’t been enough to keep her.
Lucy ran a thumb down the side of her thigh, wiping up a glistening trail of moisture left by her tea glass.
He realized he was standing in his apartment staring down at her like an idiot and not because she was beautiful but because he wasn’t sure what to do with the file. If he set it down, there was the chance she’d scoop it up. And while he didn’t think Lucy had any connection to the Venetti case, and wasn’t sent to steal the file from him, he also didn’t know why she was here.
“Were you in the neighborhood?” Or feeling horny? Please god, say horny. He didn’t mind being used for a night. He would brush his teeth first. If he could squeeze one last dollop out of his crushed tube.
Lucy’s coquettish face tightened around the mouth and eyes. “Right to the chase. I like that about you. Who has time for banter?”
“We can banter,” he said, trying to recover the ground he’d apparently lost. Her tone had changed the way a woman’s tone always changed when he said the wrong thing. Was it because he kept standing over her? Did he seem hurried?
He went to the leather armchair in the corner and sat down. He tucked the folder between the rolled arm and the cushion wedging it there.
“No,” she said, not bothering to hide her curiosity. She tilted her head as if in question at the folder. Was he giving the game away like a first-year rookie?
She looked away. “You’re in the middle of something. So I won’t keep you.”
Keep me, he thought. I don’t mind.
His aging and pitifully nostalgic mind accosted him with bright images of Lucy the last time he’d seen her. The way her long body had looked in the morning sunlight. She was naked, tangled in his sheets. When she smiled, he knew she’d caught him staring. She’d rolled over, exposing her breasts. On the small side but perfectly sized with dainty nipples the color of cotton candy. And Lord, what a carnival ride their lovemaking had been.
“You’re less reputable than I remember,” she said, her elbows balanced on her knees.
King blinked away his thoughts. “What?”
She took a drink of tea, crunching a piece of ice between her teeth.
“I—”
“Nothing damning,” she said. “But you had such a hard stance on drugs sixteen years ago.”
Her eyes slid to the Bob Dylan vinyl lying beside a record player. That’s where he kept his weed and a half-used pack of rolling papers. How had she known about that?
“You searched my place?”
“A little snooping,” she admitted with a coy smile. “I wanted to make sure you were still an okay guy.”
“Okay is a low standard.” She’d hurt his feelings. When was the last time someone had been able to hurt his feelings? “I haven’t turned into a drug dealer or pimp. I don’t torture animals.”
His buzz was gone.
She frowned. “I’m not criticizing you. I’m only saying you seem less self-righteous than I remember. It’s a good thing, Robert. I always thought you needed to relax more.”
Says the tofu-eating yoga teacher, he thought. He said, “Only young men can afford to be self-righteous. At my age, you realize we’re all equally fucked.”
Lucy’s smile tightened, and her gaze slid away toward the balcony. They’re in the dark and yet he couldn’t bring himself to turn on a light. He believed she would disappear if he did. He wasn’t ready.
“You didn’t come here to listen to an old man rant.” His chest clenched. “Tell me what you need. You know I’ll do it.”
She looked up at him through her lashes. “What makes you think I want something from you?”
“The fact that you’re here,” he said. “And you’re not the begging type. It’s important.”
“Or maybe I do plenty of begging these days.”
He said nothing.
Lucy looked toward the balcony, her gaze growing distant. “Jack worshiped you, you know.”
It was like she’d slapped him across the face.
Jack Thorne.
When King broke three ribs during a drug bust, he’d been asked to do a term teaching at Quantico while he healed up. Jack Thorne, with sandy hair and big brown eyes that made him look like a goddamn doe in an evening field, was one of his first students. But Jack was brilliant. Smart as a whip. A damn hard worker. And sharp instincts. When Jack graduated from his DEA training, King himself put in the request to have Thorne transferred to his department in St. Louis.
The years he spent mentoring Thorne were the best in his life. King had his balls back post-divorce and he’d thrown himself into his work without apology for the first time in his life. He’d always loved his job, but now the work had been great because he had this bright, smart-ass kid at his side. Pushing him. Challenging him. King had never felt so alive, and they had the success stories to prove it.
They were the golden years. Until Thorne and his attractive, if uppity, young wife got killed by the Martinelli family. Their deaths were on King. He was the one who’d given Thorne the bust. Asked him to do the press. Put his fucking face all over the goddamn media.
He wanted Thorne to take the credit, him and his pudgy partner Gus Johnson. Hoped the recognition would give him the promotion he deserved.
It got Thorne a medal and six bullets to the chest.
The worst of it: Jack Thorne’s name was trashed, dragged through the mud by anyone who could get their hands on it. Overnight, he went from hero and family man to master manipulator. The media found a more sensational, better-selling tale. The murder of Jack Thorne and his wife wasn’t a revenge killing for Thorne’s arrest of Angelo Martinelli’s brother. It was gang shit gone wrong. Thorne had been aiding the Martinelli clan all along. He was a mole. A snitch. He betrayed his comrades and closest friends. And it hadn’t been enough to play both sides. When he’d gotten too greedy, the infamous crime family lit him up like flashing Christmas lights.
It was all bullshit. The press and the department slandered a good man to save their own asses.
Lucy was talking again. “He said you got through to him in a way no one ever could. And you may have changed, but you’re still a good teacher. Your students say so.”
So she even knew about the occasional adjuncting for LSU’s criminal justice department. She’d been digging. For what? “If you’re looking for my references, there’s a job. What’s the job?”
Lucy worried her lip.
“Spit it out while I’m still riding the tail of my buzz. You know I’m very open to suggestion when inebriated.” It was a joke meant to put her at ease, even if he couldn’t ease his own dark thoughts.
In his mind, he bent down beside a black body bag. His shaking hand pulled the zipper tab to reveal Thorne’s face. So young. So goddamn young.
A fly landed on the dead man’s face, twitching its wings.
“Lou is just like him. Tough. Smart. Too smart.” She barked another laugh. “Stubborn. Determined. Focused. A complete disregard for authority.”
King grinned. “Quite a combination.”
“She’s a challenge, but she is an achiever.”
A letter of recommendation, maybe. King did the math in his head. Thorne’s kid would be 25? 26? Too old for college so it would be for the force then. Perhaps she wanted him to pull some strings and get her a job in one of the safer departments. But if she were even half as good as Thorne, she’d be wasted on a desk job. “You want me to put in a good word with someone? That’s no problem. I’m happy to help.”
And he was. It didn’t matter that the minute Lucy learned her brother was dead, she’d dropped King like panties on prom night and assumed the mantle of guardian to the girl. It hurt. He’d missed her like hell for a long time too. Looking at her on his red leather sofa in the moonlight coming from the terrace he wondered if he’d ever stopped missing her.
He didn’t blame the kid.
He’d lost Lucy, and it was his own fault. He hadn’t gone after her because his guilt wouldn’t let him. It was his responsibility for getting Jack killed and for not working harder to salvage the man’s reputation when the whole fucking ship started to sink. Everyone took hits when Jack’s loyalty had been pulled up and examined. He saved his own ass, and he knew it.
Louie would face her own problems in the force. Overcoming her father’s reputation was only the beginning.
A cloud passed over the moon, and Lucy’s face was hidden in shadow. Only her mouth shown, her teeth glowing in the light as she let go of her bottom lip.
He realized what she wasn’t saying. No, thank you. No that would be great.
Not a recommendation then. “Is she in trouble?”
King’s mind ran wild with the possibilities. Drugs. Prostitution. Kidnapping. She’d been kidnapped by a new drug lord, and he would have 32 hours to bring her back alive. He sure as hell hoped not. He was no Liam Neeson.
Lucy shook her head. “She’s not a victim.”
“I’m a piss poor guesser.” And it’s been a long night for cloak and dagger meetings. He ran a hand over his head. He moved from the chair to the coffee table so he could be closer to her. Right across from her. The wood groaned but didn’t break. He was close enough to smell her lotion now. She still smelled like sandalwood and peonies. He prayed she couldn’t smell his pickle-booze breath. “This is going to take all night if you make me guess, Lucy. If you want to stay the night, I can think of better things we could be doing.”
She flashed him a weak smile. “I want you to promise that you won’t go to the police with this. Hear me out and if you don’t like what I tell you then forget I said anything.”
“Kids make mistakes.” He immediately drew up a list of twenty or thirty of his own fuckups. Some of them committed in the last few months.
“Do you remember Gus Johnson?”
“He disappeared.”
Lucy gave him a look. “And the crime family who killed Jack and Courtney.”
“Wiped out one by one,” King said. “But they never found a body. Or a weapon.”
Lucy’s hard look lingered.
A pinpoint of surprise dilated in his mind, expanding into full-blown awe. “You’re saying Louie’s working with a team? She fell in with some mercenary group or gang—”
“No.” Lucy shook her head. “Lou works alone. She’s not…a people person.”
“Lou.” He laughed. “A girl named Lou single-handedly destroyed an entire crime family? You’re fucking with me.”
Lucy’s face was disturbingly calm.
“When you took her in, did you send her to ninja school?” He couldn’t believe this. There’s no way she pulled off those jobs alone. When King himself had heard about the Martinelli’s destruction, he assumed it was a rival crime family. There were enough of them out there, vying for supremacy. And he knew some thought Martinelli’s iron-clad rule had gone on for too long.
If Lou killed even one of the Martinellis, she had combat skills. Intel gathering skills. Espionage. A fuck ton of guns. Not to mention balls, or in this case ovaries, the size of Texas.
How did she come by that training? Certainly not from her Buddhist aunt who wouldn’t even eat a bacon cheeseburger for fear of the animals’ suffering. Lucy wouldn’t have even let the girl kill the flies in her house, he was sure of it. Unless she was carting the girl off to some shaolin temple on the weekends…which begged a lot of questions.
So how was she trained? How did she pull it off?
No one person had it all. It’s the reason mercenaries often worked in teams. “Logistically, what you’re saying is impossible.”
Lucy’s face hardened. “She’s Jack Thorne in miniature, with Courtney’s cold heart. And she got a little something from me too.”
His humor dried up like a creek bed in July.
She placed the empty glass on the table and leveled her gaze on him. “Do you remember?”
“No,” he said. Doors in his mind began to slam shut. Memories tried to surface, and he shoved them down with a rough hand.
“The night those men came for you…?” she probed gently. As if she knew he was lying to himself as well as her. “She’s hurt. She’s angry. I think Lou hunts these men as a way to pay homage to Jack.”
“I don’t know what you think I can do.” He grabbed her glass off the coffee table and dumped the rest of the ice into his mouth.
“Give her a case, anything that’ll help her see there’s another way to use her abilities.” Lucy slid off the couch and knelt in front of him. She took his free hand in hers and squeezed it. “Please, Robert. Please. I’ve tried everything. I’ve lectured. I’ve chanted. I tried to get her into yoga.”
“Yes, that’s how we tame all the would-be assassins.” The empty tea glass grew warm in his hand. “Down dog.”
It was Lucy’s turn to pull at her face in exasperation. “If she keeps going on like this, she’s going to end up dead, and she’s all I have left.”
You could have me.
“I promised Jack.”
We all made promises to Jack we couldn’t keep.
“It’s too much to expect her to stop…” Lucy searched for a word. “…hunting. I can accept her nature but she needs guidance. Please.”
So will you do it?
He knew his answer. He would do it. For Jack. For Lucy. And tomorrow he knew he’d tell Brasso the same thing. I’ll do it.
And just like that King found himself with not one but two jobs in less than twenty-four hours. Two faces from his past surfacing. What was it his mother loved to say? Some old proverb?
Trouble travels in threes.
What could he expect next?
King took Lucy’s hand and squeezed it. It was as cold as a corpse’s hand, sending a chill through his body. “When do I meet her?”


5


Konstantine stood in the alley with blood drying in the hairs on his arms. His chest heaved as he struggled to catch his breath. A wind rolling through the narrow alley hit the back of his neck and the sweat beading there. It itched, and when he reached back and raked his nails along his occipital bone, his fingers came away wet.
Now that the excitement was over, the .357 in his hand doubled its weight.
He pulled a purple rag from his back pocket and wiped his face and neck. Then he tucked the gun into the waistband beneath his black shirt and the cloth back into his pocket.
Konstantine turned away from the body and searched the alley. A gray cat with white paws washed its ears on a stone stoop. Otherwise, no witnesses. No allies either.
The bells of the Duomo began to ring, loud clangs vibrating through the city center.
Where the fuck are they? Konstantine looked up between the buildings but saw only the clear blue sky. Then a sound caught his attention. Speak of the devil, and he appears.
A red Fiat 500 rolled past the alley and then the brakes squealed. The car whined as it reversed, backing into the tight space between the two stone buildings where Konstantine stood over a dead man.
It backed over the cobblestones, tires bumping as Konstantine used his hands to direct the driver. Left, a little to the right, and then a fist. Stop. The brake lights flared red.
The doors on both sides popped open, and two men climbed out, one with obvious difficulty. The passenger had to grip the roof and haul his massive body out of the small seat. Once he’d cleared the door, his enormous belly flattened against the wall, causing him to sharply inhale until he could squeeze through. Calzone was what they called him, at least amongst the Ravengers. His mother, whom he still lived with, called him Marcello.
Vincenzo, the driver, was rail thin and his limbs twitchy like a rat’s. He jerked himself from the car, stopped toe-to-toe with the body bleeding out on the stone walk.
“O Signore, what a mess,” he whined and turned his head away, puffing his cheeks. He grabbed a cigarette from behind his ear and a white plastic lighter from his front pocket. He didn’t look at the body as he lit the cigarette, indulged in a slow drag, and blew the smoke skyward in a long dramatic exhalation. Then Vincenzo’s eyes slid to the corpse again. “A fucking mess.”
“You bitch like a woman,” Calzone said. His fingers disappeared into one of his many chins, and the fat jiggled as he scratched himself. “Hurry up, I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” Konstantine said, but he tempered the words with a good-natured smile. Now that they were here, filling the alleyway with meaningless prattle, the knot in his chest loosened.
Another squeaking sound caused all three men to freeze and turn toward the opposite end of the alley. An old man with a shopping cart full of plants shuffled past. He wore an enormous hat and round spectacles with thick lenses magnifying his surprise. The old man froze under their gaze and his mouth opened in question.
Then he saw the purple rags hanging from back pockets. The old man howled like a theatrical ghost and threw his cart into traffic.
Calzone started after him, but Konstantine reached out and barred his path with a straight arm. Let the old man get away. What could he do?
Konstantine nodded toward the corpse. “You’ll never get lunch if you waste any more time.”
“You’ve got to be heading out too,” Vincenzo said. He pushed a button on the Fiat’s fob, and the trunk popped open. The interior was lined with a thick plastic, not unlike the kind one might place along the floor before painting. “Padre’s asking for you.”
Vincenzo’s black hair fell into his eyes as he squatted down to grab the dead man’s arms. Still stooped, he looked up at Calzone. “You gonna help me or stand there looking pretty?”
Calzone grunted and bent to grab the dead man’s legs. The jeans slid up revealing cotton socks. One shoe, an American sneaker, wobbled, threatening to fall off. Then it did.
They dumped the body onto the plastic without ceremony, and the Fiat bounced under the weight before the rubber tires settled. Vincenzo was forced to pretzel the dead man’s limbs into the trunk. Calzone had one enormous hand on the trunk lid, waiting.
“Hold up,” Vincenzo said and scooped up the sneaker. “What do you think this is, an 8 or 9? I bet I could wear these.”
Konstantine turned in the direction of the fleeing man. He didn’t want to watch Vincenzo strip the dead man of his shoes. And he wanted to wash his hands and face before seeing Padre.
“Well arrivederci to you too,” Vincenzo called after him.
Konstantine didn’t stop. He marched to the Piazza six blocks away. There had not been much blood spray from the gunshot, and what little there had been was hidden by his dark clothes and shoes. A thin mist of blood had dried on his forearms, but no one in the streets looked too closely at him. It could be the purple rag in his pocket. Or it could be the way he walked the streets as a man who was not to be deterred in any way. Shoulders high. Chin tucked and eyes hidden behind dark shades.
Three guys lingered on the cathedral steps, smoking. Only one, Michele, greeted him before he ducked into the church. At the nave, he went right and stepped into a modern bathroom with a faucet. He’d seen no one in the church at this hour. No one on their knees asking for forgiveness.
He washed up without looking in the mirror. If he could help it, he went weeks without looking at himself in the polished glass, afraid of what he might see.
He would find Padre Leo in the basement.
In the chapel, the urge to kneel before the Blessed Mother overwhelmed him like a rising choir. He kneeled, crossed himself, and kept his eyes lowered. He had no problems worshipping Mother Mary. The idea of a mother goddess rang true. Mothers were love. Peace. Fierce protection. It was the heavenly Father he could not believe in. There was no such man in his world worthy of such reverence. Except perhaps Padre Leo. But Padre Leo was only a man as flawed as the rest of them.
Konstantine ducked into a stone stairway leading to the basement. Unlit torches hung on the wall, long ago rendered obsolete with the installation of electricity. His boots scuffed along the steps until the narrow passageway opened to the lowest level.
Men stood in groups of three or four. Some were laughing, oblivious to Konstantine’s presence. Others had placed their hands on their guns, eyes sharp.
He waved a hand, and they relaxed. Shoulders slumped. Breath exhaled.
“He’s in there,” said Francesco. His new buzzed haircut made his ears look twice as large.
Konstantine fell on heavy doors made of redwood and stained-glass windows. The brass handles turned, and the hinges creaked open under the weight of his body. Slowly, an inner sanctum was revealed. Straight ahead, a desk sat with high bookcases behind it. The wood of the bureau, doors, and furniture was all the same rich wood. Cherry perhaps. Or oak with a sangria finish. The room was messy, looking more like the enclave of a professor than the head of one of the most notorious gangs in the world.
But Konstantine’s lord and master was not at his desk.
A deep, whooping cough echoed from the bathroom. The door stood ajar. From Konstantine’s place on the dusty rug, an outline of a man hunched over the sink was clear enough.
“Padre?”
Leo opened the bathroom door, and his lips pulled back in a grimace. “Close the door.”
Konstantine leaned on the heavy doors again, sealing them up in the enclave.
Padre Leo shuffled across the dim room toward the desk and collapsed in the high-back chair, a hacking cough shaking his thin frame. He held a purple, silk handkerchief over his pockmarked face.
It was a long time before Padre caught his breath. Konstantine kept looking to the bathroom, wondering if he should fetch a drink or wet rag.
“Should I—?” Konstantine began.
“No need,” Leo said, his face red with exertion. “This will not take long.”
Konstantine felt as if he had been slapped across the face. The man owed him nothing. If he had decided Konstantine should stand on one foot from dawn until midnight, it was expected he would do so without question or protest.
The muscles in Konstantine’s back twitched. “I am not in a hurry, Padre.”
The man wiped at his mouth with his purple silk, and it came away wet with blood.
“Are you okay?” Konstantine’s heart hammered at the sight of blood. It always did.
The man smoothed bony fingers over his gray hair and gave a snide snort. “I am not. Or so the doctors tell me.”
“Is it serious?” Konstantine asked. Then seemed to catch himself and the absurdity of the question. “It’s none of my business.”
Leo waved him off. “Drop the ass-kissing. Frankly, we don’t have time for it. I need to make my wishes clear while I still have the breath to do so.”
As if to emphasize this, he began coughing again. The sound was wretched, shaking the man like a toy in the jaws of a great dog. The cords in his neck stood out. Sweat gleamed on his forehead even in the chilled basement of the old church. The purple rag was darker still with his bloody spittle by the time he caught his breath.
As Padre drew in a few shaky breaths, he motioned for Konstantine to sit in the leather armchair beside the desk. Konstantine understood and obeyed. He pulled the .357 from behind his back when he sat and laid it on the desk, pointing away from his boss.
“As you can see,” Leo said at last. “It is challenging for me to talk. In truth, it’s difficult to do anything. I’ve stopped eating. I’ve stopped sleeping. It is too painful to lay down. Even my mattress hurts my chest. The doctors say I have a month at most.”
“What could act so quickly?” Konstantine asked. A red-hot flood of shame washed over him, but per Padre’s wishes, he didn’t apologize again.
“It wasn’t fast. It’s only I can’t hide my illness any longer.” He snorted, threatened a laugh but then pressed one hand hard on his diaphragm to stop himself, as if the cost of laughing was too high a price to pay now.
Padre fell back against the chair. He slumped like a child at the dinner table. Konstantine sat up straighter as if to compensate.
“This organization is my lifeblood, Konstantine. I believe you understand.”
“Yes, sir.” Konstantine expected some important task. Some last command or dying wish. He would honor it as he had every other request from Padre Leo since he joined the Ravengers fifteen years before.
Leo’s breath remained shallow. “I have bled and dreamed and built this empire from the ground up.”
“I know.”
“When I am no longer in this world, I want to know my legacy is preserved, my ambitions honored. Change of power is a turbulent time for any group, but the right man can make the transition easy. A steady hand can take the ship’s wheel and steer her fine.”
Konstantine’s heart sped up. “I will support whomever you choose. If others object—” because Konstantine knew that no matter who was selected, someone would object. The most ambitious would see themselves supreme. Others would consider their loyalty to the Ravengers finished, their contracts terminated upon the death of the man who had recruited them. “If others object I will persuade them.”
Padre wiped at his brow with his bloody rag, seemingly unaware of the blood he smeared across his forehead. Konstantine leaped up, wet his own cloth with fresh water from the sink and offered it to the man. Leo’s fingers trembled when he took it.
“I will name you as my successor, Konstantine.”
“Me? Why in god’s name? I am no one.”
“You want my reasons?”
He knew he had no right to ask them. And already the older man’s face was burning red, his breath shortening again. Padre spoke anyway.
“You understand this new age in a way most Ravengers do not. You are strategic. You are futuristic. You are adaptable. Who better to leave my empire to? You do things with computers most of my men cannot even fathom.”
Leo pulled up his dress shirt and revealed his left forearm. He placed the arm, belly up on the desk so Konstantine could see the tattoo clearly. Not that he needed to see it. Konstantine bore the same mark on his own skin. A crow and crossbones. The crow, wings spread as if in flight and the two bones crossed beneath.
“The raven is a symbol of longevity. Of intelligence and stealth. It is why I chose it as my emblem.”
Only Konstantine did not see a raven. He saw a crow with blunt and splayed wings rather than a raven’s pointed tips. He saw the small flat bill without its tuft. They called themselves Ravengers—a poetic condensation of raven and ravager. But Konstantine alone seemed to see the difference between the cousin birds. He knew that while a raven could live for thirty years or more, a crow was lucky to see eight.
“You have the global perspective and technological comprehension to take us into the new age. Furthermore, I trust no one else.”
“Padre—”
“Would you reject me?”
“No.” He did not hesitate. “Never.”
“Because I have already contacted those people whom I believe will be most beneficial to you during the transition. I will give you their names, and I want you to reach out to them immediately and make your intentions clear. Despite your reservations, sound sure of yourself and your plans for the Ravengers. It is easier to support a man who is sure of himself.”
Your plans for the Ravengers. Konstantine had none. His heart pounded. He wet his lips with his tongue but still found no way to express his thoughts.
“And here is where I ask something truly difficult of you,” the man said, and he extended his open palm to Konstantine. Konstantine had not held the man’s hand since he was ten and Padre Leo had invited him into the fold in exchange for his mother’s immunity and protection.
Konstantine could only look at the open palm.
Padre Leo smiled. “Indulge a silly old man.”
Konstantine took his hand.
“Be a Martinelli,” Leo said, and when Konstantine tried to jerk his hand away as if burned, Leo clamped down on it. Surprising power pulsed through the old man’s grip as if Death itself lent him his indomitable strength. “You have rejected your father’s name, but I ask you to embrace it now.”
“You ask too much,” Konstantine said, yanking the way an animal might jerk if caught in a trap, ready to rip off its own paw to be free.
Leo did not let go. “The only flaw the Ravengers bear is their youth. They wait for us to be foolish in the ways young ones always are. We are democrats, not aristocrats. New money, not old. But you can bridge that gap, Konstantine, with the Martinelli name alone.”
Be a Martinelli. But he could never. How could he bear the name of a man he despised?
“I know you hold no love in your heart for your father, but others do. And I have heard the loyalists are desperate for any link to the family they’ve lost. With Angelo’s death, you are the last. Use it. For all they know, he groomed you himself. A bastard son is still a son. Be a Ravenger, my boy, but also be a Martinelli. There is no one to oppose you! And taking up the mantel of an old, distinguished line will offer opportunities for expansion and unification. I am sure of it.”
Angelo’s death. He had not heard. So it was done then. She had her revenge. Good.
“No one will oppose you,” Padre Leo said as if trying to read his silence. Konstantine knew he was wrong, but he let the man hold his arm and make his demands.
“Power comes with benefits,” Padre said, eyeing Konstantine in his stillness, measuring his silence. “With my money and your father’s name, you could have whatever you desire. Is there nothing you can think of having for yourself?”
Yes.
He wanted her. The girl who’d appeared one night, curled in his bed like a kitten by a fire.

With Padre Leo’s resources, he could find her. As a Martinelli, she might find him.


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