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Back to Black Chapter 1 (Excerpt)

Cover art by Marginean Anca of Brose Designz

Guess what? The all-new Black Parade novella Back to Black is out in just one month! Time to get you all frothing at the mouth for it, so here’s Chapter One. Please remember: if you haven’t read The Black Parade, She Who Fights Monsters, and The Holy Dark, you will run into spoilers here. Back to Black takes place between She Who Fights Monsters and The Holy Dark: the second and third novels in the series. With that in mind, please enjoy. Purchase info below the cut.

Gaze no more in the bitter glass

The demons, with their subtle guile,

Lift up before us when they pass,

Or only gaze a little while;

For there a fatal image grows,

With broken boughs, and blackened leaves,

And roots half hidden under snows

Driven by a storm that ever grieves.

For all things turn to barrenness

In the dim glass of outer weariness,

Made when God slept in times of old.

-The Two Trees, W.B. Yeats

 

CHAPTER ONE

Dying’s a bitch, and I would know.

To be fair, I didn’t actually remember what happened when I died. It was over a year ago, and the soul is a radically different entity from the mind. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is an afterlife, and no, I can’t tell you what it looks like. Sorry. Life is full of disappointments.

How then, Ms. Jordan Amador, you ask, can you say dying is a bitch if you don’t remember your own death? Well, I remember everything up until my death, and that was certainly a bitch. The archdemon Belial had kidnapped me with the intent of sacrificing me so that he could open a portal into the body of the archangel Michael, therefore allowing him unlimited power and access to influencing the innocent people of the world to do his bidding. Long story short, we stopped him, but I died in the process, and in excruciating pain, I might add.

Much like right now.

Ever had one of those out-of-body experiences? Not the kind that you’d see in the movie Ghost, but a true case of an otherworldly viewing of your own self. Detachment. Like someone plucked away the strings that connected you to yourself, and the byproduct was that you almost felt like the consequences of the world didn’t directly affect you.

That was me.

I was hanging from two thick, nasty braided ropes: one at each of my wrists, cutting off circulation. A spotlight illuminated my body and its myriad of problems: broken ribs, fractured eye-socket, busted lip, cracked teeth, and what felt like severe internal bleeding. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to exist, really.

My current predicament came at the hands of a short brunette with matted curly hair, a pug nose, and pale skin courtesy of her father, Lamont Brooks. Mr. Brooks was a loan shark from Detroit who had swindled my estranged father and then tried to kill him. I took issue with that. My pseudo-brother, the archangel Gabriel—long story—and I busted Lamont and his whole operation several months ago, and sent her old man up the river.

And she took issue with that.

In my defense, these clowns got lucky. It was late at night, I was exhausted, alone, and under-prepared for six hulking guys in masks jumping me in the parking lot, beating me senseless, and dragging me into a van. I had no idea where we were, but I knew that no one was going to save me if I didn’t save myself.

I’d tried. The ropes were too tight and I had no use of my hands. Brooks’ daughter, Bridgett as I overheard one of the mooks call her, worked me over for hours, and I had no energy left. Figures. I’d saved the world twice now and yet I was going to be delivered to fate by some snot-nosed bitch with Daddy issues. Life had a cruel sense of humor.

She wanted to break me, and in some ways, she had. I couldn’t pretend like there was a one-liner to get me out of this hellhole. No backup. No literal Deus Ex Machina. I had lost everyone in my life—my husband, my best friend, my adoptive brother, even my deadbeat dad, and my mother long before any of them—and now I would lose my life.

The deranged, laughably short daughter of a Detroit mobster stepped back into the spotlight surrounding me, and I could barely see her through my working eye. She looked smug. Joke’s on her. Amador women always go out the way God intended.

“Any last words?”

I summoned one last reedy breath and smiled at her through my ruined mouth.

“Your daddy hit like a little bitch.”

Snarling, Bridgett lifted the tire iron and swung it at my head.

Before it could land, a long, terrifying wolf’s howl echoed through the room.

Bridgett stopped dead and whirled around. I heard the rustle of clothing as if her hired goons had done the same. “What the hell was that?”

“I dunno,” one Einstein replied.

“Go check it out, asshole. I’m not paying you to stand there!” she hissed, her back to me. I thought about spitting another gob of blood into her hair, but I didn’t have enough saliva. Bummer.

I couldn’t see through the veil of darkness thanks to the stupid spotlight, but I could still hear relatively well. Footsteps on concrete. Muttered curses as the goons filtered outside to see what had made that eerie noise. I couldn’t keep my eye open anymore and let it drop closed. The pain had given way to blessed numbness not long ago, but it wasn’t a good thing. The creeping blackness tugging at my mind wasn’t sleep, but death. It curled a long forefinger at me, promising an escape from the wretched state of my life.

In death, I would see my beloved archangel one more time.

Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t such a bad idea.

A man’s scream ripped through the night.

I jerked awake, fresh adrenaline pumping through my weary veins, forcing my working eye open again. Gunshots, but not concentrated ones. Panic fire. Something growled in the distance and then I heard doors slamming as some of the men ran back inside.

“What is it?” Bridgett demanded, and the anger had given way to panic as well. Serves her right, the little cunt.

“S-Some kind of, I don’t know, rabid dog!” one of her men sputtered, metal clicking as he reloaded a magazine in his gun. “It’s out there tearing them to shreds!”

“Then shoot it, you moron!”

“No, you don’t get it. The bullets didn’t work. It just…shrugged them off or something. I don’t know what the hell it is, but it can’t get through the door. If we just stay in here, we’ll—”

Another gunshot, but not from a pistol. Louder, as if it had come from a rifle. The man who had been speaking hit the concrete, dead as a doornail.

Crack!

Another man hit the deck, and then I heard sneakers on the concrete as the other four fled towards the outside, deciding to face whatever terror lay out there rather than be shot in the head. Screams greeted them. A thick, tearing sound, like fangs through flesh. Then eerie silence.

Bridgett screamed and fired into the rafters blindly, until her gun clicked empty.

She threw the gun to the floor and bellowed, “What do you want?”

Her frenzied pants were all I could hear.

Then a woman’s voice—hard as a diamond—spoke from the shadows.

“Die confused.”

Crack!

Bridgette tumbled to the floor, her doll eyes open, a perfect round exit wound through her wide forehead.

My last breath came out a vindictive wheeze.

Vaya con dios, bitch.”

 

 

I had never been in a hedge maze before.

Sure, I had seen them on TV, but I’d never had the chance to visit one. Before my life went to shit, I’d lived in Albany, New York working as a waitress by day, Seer by night, and though my married life had been quite lovely, the opportunity never presented itself to go inside a hedge maze.

And yet, here I stood, surrounded by eight-foot-high, neatly trimmed greenery with occasional crimson roses poking out, and flat grass beneath my black Reeboks. It wasn’t bright out, though. I examined the darkening sky and realized it was probably sunset. All this green would turn navy with the shadows in no time at all. I had to get out of here soon, and yet didn’t know why I knew that.

“You know exactly why, my pet.”

I froze. Oh no. Not him.

I swallowed hard and forced my rigid body to turn around.

The archdemon Belial stood four feet away, smiling sweetly, a red rose clutched in his hand.

Shit.

If one didn’t know him, Belial would actually be a feast for the eyes. He regularly changed his appearance based on whatever he needed to do on earth, but being a Prince of Hell had its own habits. White privilege practically dripped off of his personality, and so his appearance followed suit: alabaster skin, long, jet-black hair, icy blue eyes, a narrow nose, elegantly thin but sensual lips, and an almost insultingly luscious, hard, contoured body. Said luscious body was currently encased in all-black attire: a dress shirt, slacks, and shoes, except for his tie, which was a shimmering blue-silver hue. The only thing that offset it were his wings—enormous things that arched up over either side of his shoulders and swept against the back of his knees. Each feather was pitch-black and glowed orange-red at the edges as if it were on fire, as a sign of his fall from grace. He wasn’t unusually tall—perhaps right at six feet—but the way he held himself, like a tiger whose domain knew no limits—always made him seem bigger than he actually was.

Then again, it wasn’t like I was some looming giant. I was average height and sleight of frame. People tended to underestimate me since I wasn’t strikingly beautiful or really memorable-looking in general: dark shoulder-length hair, brown eyes, morena skin. While I was agile, I could only hit so hard. He knew that, and constantly delighted in it every time we interacted.

Belial brought the rose up to his nose and took a sniff, sighing. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

I balled my hands into fists and aimed a glare at him. “So I’m dead, then? This is Hell? Why else would you be standing in front of me since I stabbed you in the heart the last time we were together?”

Belial clucked his tongue. “So melodramatic, Jordan, dear. You’re not dead, but you are…”

He licked those pretty lips of his. “…in rather bad shape, I’ll say. Your defenses lie in tatters around you. That’s how I am here.”

I eyed him. “So…this is a dream?”

He nodded once. A long breath escaped me. “Oh. Well, that’s nice. I’m going to wake up now, so fuck off.”

I shut my eyes and concentrated. I wasn’t great at lucid dreaming, but in the past, it always worked if I chanted ‘wake up’ in rapid succession with utter commitment to it. Silence. Nothing happened. I was still in the middle of a maze with my mortal enemy. Great.

“I’m afraid it won’t be quite that easy,” the demon said patiently. “You almost died, from what I can tell. You’re stuck here until your spiritual energy is restored.”

I crossed my arms. “And you just conveniently showed up, huh?”

He smiled. “I thought you might miss me.”

“Yes,” I deadpanned. “I always miss people who murder me and completely rip my life apart. Get out of my head or I’ll make you.”

“Oh, it’s not quite that simple, my pet,” he said, casually strolling towards me, spinning the red rose between his long fingers. I tensed, staying put, but ready to fight at a moment’s notice. “It’s not just your head. This is a shared space. You are a talented Seer, but you don’t know everything. Tell me what you remember about dreams.”

“Why should I?”

“Humor me.”

I took a deep breath and restrained myself from punching him. “Dreams allow long distance contact between Seers, angels, and demons. It’s like a form of telepathy between the spiritual community, but it requires dedication and concentration. Obviously, I have neither since you wormed your way in here.”

“That’s rudimentary, but correct. However, you’re missing some details. You’ve been to the void where souls pass through to Judgment, and that is its own separate plane of existence. Dreams exist in a similar state. All those anointed or damned connect to this space whether we realize it or not during slumber. If one has the wherewithal, they can find a person of interest at any time when they are asleep and unguarded.”

He held the rose out to me, his smile suddenly quite sharp. “Hence our reunion.”

I took the rose, snapped the stem in half, and threw it away. “Get to the point, asshole. What do you want?”

Belial breathed in, as if summoning more of his patience, and fixed me with a steady stare. The five archdemons of Hell had the same mark of royalty—slitted pupils instead of round ones. He reminded me of a snake when he stared at me like that, and it wasn’t far from the truth. There was nothing he wanted more than to devour me whole. I suppressed a small shudder at the thought.

“To chase you.”

I stared at him. “What?”

He grinned. “You heard me, Seer. Run.”

“What are you, nine? I’m not playing Hide-and-Seek with you, especially since you just said I’m mostly dead right now.”

“It’s less of Hide-and-Go-Seek,” he said, folding his arms behind him. “More Hide-and-Go-Freak, if that is still the colloquialism.”

It took me several seconds to speak, and the response came through my clenched teeth. “You have exactly three seconds to get away from me before I strangle you to death.”

“Skipping the foreplay, are we?”

“Look, if you’re going to try to kill me or assault me, we’re going to square off. I’m not a coward. I don’t run. I’ve killed you before and I’ll do it again, with or without my body.”

He arched a thin eyebrow. “You will, will you? Go ahead. Summon a weapon. Kill me, Seer. I dare you.”

I lowered my right hand and focused all my energy into forming a Smith & Wesson .9mm semiautomatic. It materialized in my hand—heavy, formidable, and reliable.

I raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Belial lifted his hand and caught the fucking bullet.

I stared at the barrel of the gun in disbelief and then emptied the clip.

I couldn’t follow the motion, but I knew that I’d seen his arm and shoulder move. He opened his hand and all of the slugs clinked together on his palm.

Well, shit.

Belial tipped his hand over and let the bullets hit the grass. He looked up at me again and the serpentine smile on his lips made me shiver.

“Run.”

I threw the gun at him.

It whacked him dead in the forehead and he snarled in pained surprise. That was my only victory before I turned and ran at a dead sprint into the maze.

Right. Left. Right. Left. Left, left, left, right, right, left, right.

I didn’t think about it. No time to think. Act. Flee. Survive.

I’d been running for what felt like eons before my weary body forced me to stop. I found a corner and knelt in the cold, dark leaves of one of the maze shrubs, panting for air. This didn’t make any sense. Why had he brought me here? What was the point? And how was I going to get out of here?

I strained to listen for footsteps, but knew there wouldn’t be any. Belial was a hunter. He’d had my scent in his nose ever since he stumbled across me over a year ago. Once upon a time, I’d been confused about why he became so obsessed with me, until I discovered that he’d had a servant named Zora—a Seer, like me—who also shared her soul with the angel Uriel. She’d been his informer until they were caught and Heaven banished her to Purgatory, leaving both Belial and Uriel half of a whole until Judgment Day. In any other case, that sounded like a Shakespearean tragedy, but it wasn’t. He wanted me to take her place, to spend eternity kneeling at his feet, licking his boots and whatever else he wanted to put in front of me.

I suppressed yet another shudder and thought hard about what I’d been taught by the angels. There had to be a way to get out of this nightmare. Some kind of trick.

I ran through what Belial had told me so far. Energy. My spiritual reserves were at zero. How could I replenish them? Sleep was usually the easiest option, but clearly that wouldn’t be fast enough. Sooner or later, he’d find me.

I flinched as the rose bush dug into my arm, batting it away. My skin tingled where a thorn had pricked me. I glanced down to see that I wasn’t actually bleeding, but there was a phantom sensation over my brown skin. Something familiar.

I checked the corner of the maze again and plucked one of the roses, smelling it. Coolness breathed through me. Comforting. Almost like when the archangel Gabriel had healed me before.

“Son of a bitch,” I muttered, plucking one of the rose petals. The base of the petal had some kind of soft white glow to it, like dewdrops in sunlight. I let it sit in my palm and felt it absorb into my skin, travel down my arm, and settle in the center of my chest.

I snatched rose after rose from the bush and plucked their petals, eventually creating a bed of them beneath my knees. I flattened my hands over them and concentrated, absorbing it all into me as fast as I could.

“Well,” Belial said dryly from directly behind me. “It took you long enough.”

I didn’t offer another scathing remark. Instead, I whipped my right leg around at his head as hard as I possibly could.

Belial brought up his forearm and blocked it. I didn’t want him to grab my leg, so I curled my leg in and landed in a crouch. I pounced up towards his smirking face, launching into a flurry of jabs and straight shots. My fists breezed past his cheeks by mere millimeters, so close that I felt the flutter of his black hair over my knuckles. I tried to knee him in the groin, but he blocked it. Truth be told, I knew he was toying with me, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of surrendering. I’d go out fighting. After all, I had before.

“You’ve gotten better since we last fought,” the archdemon mused, twisting to one side as I aimed a kick at his knee. “Faster, more confident. To a less able demon, you’d actually present a threat.”

He was lecturing me in the middle of a fight. Pure fury filled me. My limbs felt like bars of white-hot lead. I swung harder and swifter, fueled by the need to make the bastard bleed. He slapped my arms aside and smoothly dodged everything else without even the slightest effort. Screw it. If I was going out, I’d take him with me.

I stepped back and concentrated what little energy I’d been able to absorb into something huge, metal, and unmistakably deadly. My right shoulder ached from the weight as it materialized in both hands.

I’d summoned an RPG.

Belial’s eyes went wide, and then narrowed to slits. “You wouldn’t dare.”

I smiled. “Watch me.”

Just as I pulled the trigger, Belial grabbed the barrel and tipped it straight up. The rocket sparked out of the barrel and exploded several hundred feet up in the cool, dark night sky like a lone, neglected firework.

I fell on my ass in the grass and the launcher flopped right behind me out of reach. I tried to scramble to my feet, but by then, it was too late. Belial slammed me down onto the grass and pinned my wrists, straddling my waist so I couldn’t shove myself back up. My heart thudded against my chest, in my throat as I struggled in vain. Not enough energy. I was caught. Prey.

“You know,” he said slowly, his snake eyes roving over my face and neck. “I almost forgot how cute it is when you try to resist me. I know you won’t believe me, but I have missed you, pet. I missed that fire. No one else on earth has your kind of fire.”

“Save it,” I spat. “I don’t care how powerful you are; you’re not getting into my pants. I’ll die first.”

Something predatory skittered through those pale eyes. “Is that so? Why do I seem to recall a very different reaction to my advances in recent history?”

Hot blood rushed up through my cheeks. I tried not to conjure up images, but they crashed against the surface of my mind anyway. A hotel in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, Georgia. Cheap bed, ugly sheets, ratty carpet. I’d punched him over and over, screaming how much I hated him, seconds before he rolled us over on the bed and kissed me senseless. I wanted to forget that moment, erase it, delete it, but it wouldn’t happen no matter how hard I tried.

“Doesn’t matter,” I growled. “It won’t happen again.”

“I think you know better,” the demon whispered. He stretched my arms out above my head, nestling them in the rose petals, and leaned over my neck. His lips brushed the side of my throat, lightly, over my pulse, so delicate it could have been a gentle breeze.

“Admit it, Seer. Some part of you has missed me.”

“The part that wants to kill you, maybe.”

He chuckled, and hearing that deep, velvet voice from so close sent a buzzing sensation rushing down the front of my body, awakening parts of me that it shouldn’t have. “That is the part I have missed most of all. Why else do we keep finding ourselves in this same position, playing this same game over and over?”

He lifted up enough to brush those plush lips against the shell of my ear. “How long can you resist me, Jordan?”

I met his gaze as he rose over me. “Forever, demon.”

Belial tilted his head until his lips hovered over mine, his silken hair sweeping over my cheeks, his long lashes brushing mine.

“Nothing lasts forever, my pet.”

I woke up screaming.

TO BE CONTINUED

Available in paperback August 15, 2017! See details below for eBook.

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Including stories from…

New York Times bestselling author A K Michaels
USA Today bestselling authors Gina Kincade and Kimberly Gould
USA Today bestselling author Bianca D’Arc
USA Today bestselling author Heather Marie Adkins

Boone Brux
Morgan Wylie
Felicia Beasley
Kyoko M
Jules Barnard
Monica La Porta
Aoife Marie Sheridan
Alex Owens
Juliana Haygert
E. M. Moore
Skye Knizley
Shelique Lize
Lydia Sherrer
Wendy Owens
S.M. Blooding
Stephanie Marks
J & L Wells writing with Laura Greenwood
USA Today bestselling author Erzabet Bishop
Don’t miss out!

 

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