It's been a long time coming, but Angel Assassin is almost upon us! If you're a reader of my Zodiac books, I've got great news. Angel Assassin is book 1 of a new series called the Rev Carver Series which is a spinoff of Zeke's adventures, and is coming out this month!
If you're looking for these types of things in your next read, you can pre-order the ebook or get your paperback or hardback by clicking here:
Mythology, lore, legends
I am so excited for everyone to check out this story. I had so much fun writing this book (and the second, Angel's Creed, which will come out in March) that it was some of the fastest writing I've ever done. No joke, I was on a writing retreat while working on book 2 and wrote nearly 24,000 words in a single day (that's a third of a modestly-sized novel!). The story simply fell out of my head. Rev has a strong personality, I guess.
Instead of just talking about it, allow me to share the first chapter with you. Enjoy!
1 – A Hell Of A Ride
“Can angels actually die?”
I chuckled at my beer at the question that pulled me away from my job. I was supposed to be keeping a demon under surveillance, not discussing immortality. My beer didn’t return my joy. Such was the way of things.
“Sure,” I answered too quickly. “Well, no. But, yes.”
Billee shook her head, the mass of black and tan curls swaying like a floating device caught in the corner of a wave pool. Back and forth. Back and forth. Moving with the unseen forces working against it. Her smooth brown cheeks cracked when she smiled. “I don’t get you, Rev.”
“Trust me, most don’t.”
“Fewer than you’d believe.”
“Can you blame them?” She turned on the bar stool, crossing a blue jean-covered leg over the other. Her foot dangled, and she bounced it in time to the music from the digital jukebox piped through the entire bar at an annoying volume. It made me miss the old days when jukeboxes played a handful of records and the sound came from the device itself. That way, if you didn’t want to have horrible tunes plow into your ear holes, you just had to sit farther away and talk louder. No amount of volume could drown out the terrible song about Alabama and ‘sweet homes.’
“God, I hate that fucking song,” I grumbled. If I was alone in the bar, away from mortal witnesses, I would have pulled out my .327, who I named Maggie, pushed some Angelfire into the chamber, and put the digital jukebox out of my misery.
I shook my head. “Nothing.” Hunched over, I directed my question at Billee but aimed it at my half-empty mug of the Pacific Northwest’s finest stout. “Blame them?”
Billee’s face scrunched. “Well, you’re a hard guy to get, Rev.”
“We haven’t known each other long, and yet I’ve got a good sense of who you are.”
“Oh? And who am I?”
“You keep things too close to the vest,” Billee said, still tapping her foot to the annoying song’s beat. I swear, it’s the longest song ever written. “You don’t open up, not even to your partner.”
“I open up.” I wagged my pinky, not wrapped around my beer mug, at her. “And we haven’t been partners long.”
As a mortal, Billee didn’t possess any magic. Still, she wiped all life from her dark eyes, going as flat as the Kansas landscape. “Well, we’re going to agree to disagree on that one.” I thought her flat eyes were unsettling until she narrowed them and quietly analyzed me.
I turned back to my beer, her scrutiny hovering.
The annoying song went on and on about blue skies. If my bosses ever wanted to punish me, they didn’t need to kick me out of Heaven—which we call the Upperworld. All they had to do was lock me in a room and play this song on repeat. No worse hell existed.
I’m sure you picked up on it by now, but I’m not mortal. I’m an angel. Literally. Trust me, if you saw the way I drank and smoked, or pried into my brain to see some things I thought, you’d see I’m far from angelic.
I’m also a Reaper. The Reaper, many would say. A grim one, at least according to a few of my peers.
A monster hunter.
A killer of demons.
An immortal mop bucket, cleaning up everyone’s mess.
Manager-extraordinaire of the crew who accompany mortals across the divide between the mortal and immortal planes and into their eternity.
Jack-of-all-trades kind of guy.
And right now, I was miserable. On assignment with Billee, my mortal familiar, we sat in a not-so-corporate-feeling bar, keeping tabs on my newest target. One of the most important targets I’d been assigned in decades, if not longer. I stopped keeping track a long time ago. We weren’t supposed to be talking about whether angels could die, especially not in public, but Billee could be determined when she set her mind to something. An excellent familiar, one of the better ones I’d had in a few centuries, she was skilled at prying open my skull and peeking inside. Almost too good.
“Yes,” I said after a while.
“Yes, you agree we will disagree?”
“Yes, angels can die. Demons can. Gods can.” I heard a sharp intake of breath come from my partner. Squinting my eyes shut at my brashness, I craned my head to look at her, reminding myself that Billee was intelligent and insightful, but she was still mortal. Twenty-eight, or was it twenty-nine? I couldn’t remember. Either way, she wasn’t yet thirty. I had boxers older than her. Sometimes, in that context, it’s best to slow-roll information. Even if it’s background stuff. Especially when it’s a mortal asking about the nature of immortals. She hadn’t been a familiar for long. It took most years, sometimes decades, to grasp the responsibilities of the job. She was picking up quickly, but it would be some time before she accepted the reality I’d slowly reveal to her. “Sorry, that was a little heavy-handed.”
“You don’t say?” At least that was delivered with a wink.
“Everything dies, Billee,” I said before straightening my back and barking, “except for this song, apparently.”
That drew curious glances from two old men who sat as far apart at a table as possible. Not the real friendly type by first looks. But since we were in a relatively upscale bar, at least for Olympia, Washington, I didn’t have to worry about southern pride and the need to defend isolationist cultures precipitating a bar fight. Those rarely ended well. Plus, the patrons were safe. At least from me. My third eye saw their individual futures. None of them had to worry about crossing paths with me. All but one old guy in a corduroy jacket, drinking alone in the corner, would outlive this bar, which was sad. I dug the place. The staff was clean and professional, quick to serve drinks—which was always a plus. My third eye saw the owner had nearly bankrupted herself to secure the business through downtimes. All for nothing, because she was going to contract an illness in about five years that would take her attention away from business. Without her running the show, it would begin a slow decay and finally become insolvent. What a shame.
Billee chuckled. “It’s a long one.”
I slapped my thighs with the flats of both hands and shot her a playful look. “So, if you feel like I’m holding out on you, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to. I’ve been doing this for a long time.” As smart as Billee was, asking her to wrap her head around the fact that I’d been a Reaper for the past eight thousand years might be a step too far in the ‘let’s see how much Billee is ready for’ game. “Do me a favor if you think I am holding anything back.”
“Call me on it.”
She rubbed her hands together. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy this.”
I smirked, raising my finger to get the bartender’s attention, circling it at my beer when I had it. “Want another?” I asked Billee. She shook her head. I gave the bartender a thumbs up and he moved off to his task.
“You don’t have to go into specifics,” she said, casually glancing toward our young target, sitting alone at a table in the middle of the bar. “But how can you tell?”
“Tell what?” In front of our guy sat a pile of small bones, the remains of two orders of chicken wings that made the ultimate sacrifice. Dark sauce smeared the wax paper-lined basket, looking like the blood of his victims, if I was to play up to demonic stereotypes. His mug of beer was still full. Scrolling through his phone, he wasn’t aware of our attention.
“That he’s a demon,” she said matter-of-factly, as if asking how I could tell a truck was indeed a truck. “I don’t see ‘666’ tattooed on his head. He’s as pasty as any white person living in the Pacific Northwest. No red scales. Don’t see horns, even with that terrible haircut. So, how can you tell?”
I laughed and didn’t temper it.
At my outburst, Billee looked away from the target, probably hoping he hadn’t caught her looking. “What’s so funny?”
“It doesn’t work like that.” I gave a nod, complete with a goofy grin, to the bartender when he delivered my newest mug and waited for me to polish off the one sitting in front of me. No experienced bar patron ever goes drink-less, and I’m definitely not a rookie. When the bartender moved away, I clarified. “That whole red skin and horns thing is a recent creation. Well, recent for immortals. For you mortals, it’s a tale as old as time, but trust me, that’s far from the truth. Just made-up shit to scare ignorant people into compliance.” I shifted my back toward her. “I mean, do you see any wings on me?”
“No. But that’s because you’re always wearing that stupid leather duster,” she said with a smirk. “And I didn’t mean literally. I wasn’t expecting him to look like something from an eighth-century Roman painting, but… that? He’s so young.”
“Mmm, relatively speaking. The report says he’s about six thousand years old in human years. A pup. To you? He’s been around—”
“He’s older than the pyramids at Giza?” Billee’s disbelief made her voice raise a little too loudly.
“Settle yourself, Sparky. Don’t want to grab attention. These other mortals aren’t as equipped as you. Our conversation would make their brains implode.”
Her gaze swiveled side to side as she checked her surroundings. I already knew no one noticed her comment—one benefit of being very good, and very experienced, at my job. She leaned closer. “I know, I know. But to be the next Lucifer? That can’t be true. Is it?”
I shrugged, constantly checking on the target. He was still fixated by his phone. Stupid younger generation. “That’s what they say.”
“Our spies’ reports.”
Billee sat up straight again, her eyes threatening to go flat again.
“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”
Her crossed arms told me I was. “Yes, Rev. Don’t make me pry. I’m a clinical social worker. I’m good at asking questions and getting to the root of things. Unless you enjoy me searching through your gray matter, it would behoove you to willfully answer instead of making me inquire.”
“‘Behoove,’ huh? Fancy.”
“Comes with higher education and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition debt I’ll never pay off. Now, out with it.” She poked my elbow.
“We get reports about the goings-on in the Underworld. I barely see them. Need-to-know basis. Keeps things safe. But even what I’m privy to amounts to a good bit of information, so I can only imagine how much the Upperworld really knows about demonic politics.”
“How? I’m sure demons don’t just hand over sensitive documents.”
“Spies. Lots and lots of spies.”
She leaned forward again, planting her hands on her legs, which made her narrow shoulders rise to ear level. “You have spies in Hell?”
I nodded. “And they have spies in the Upperworld too. See? We’re not that much different from you. Well, you’re not that different from us, I should say, since we’ve been around a lot longer. But yes, our spies operate in the Underworld. We know about their politics, problems, and advantages. You name it.” I turned to the bar, grabbed my mug, and put it to my lips as I rotated the stool outward and faced the tables. Most were empty, but enough patrons were looking for an afternoon meal or secret flirty rendezvous that I wouldn’t draw any attention from the target. If he caught me looking, which I doubted because his tiny screen had him so transfixed, he would have seen nothing but a guy looking around a bar. “We’ve learned he is a very promising young demon. Though we have conflicting reports, I’m told he is being positioned to become the next Lucifer.”
Billee shook her head, her black and tan curls swaying. “In all my life, I didn’t know Lucifer could be replaced.”
“Want your mind blown?”
“Yahweh can be too. Has been, actually. Unlike Lucifer. That fucker is still hanging on somehow.”
Billee slapped my elbow this time. “Wait. God… He is. He’s not…”
The struggle was charming, but this was serious shit. You can’t just drop news like that in a mortal’s lap, not after the past two thousand years of conditioning committed by their various churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. “Not the same one as time immemorial? No. Remember when I said everything dies? Yeah, Yahweh falls into that too. So does Lucifer. And that’s what’s supposedly going on with this young ‘un over there. Someone is setting him up to be the first in line when that title is vacated.”
“Is that a bad thing? I mean, hasn’t the current Lucifer given Heaven enough problems?”
“Sure. But better the enemy you know, right? At least we can deal with the current one. He’s pretty lame. Word is he’s exhausted, which I can absolutely relate to.” Subtly, I tipped my mug at the demon with jet-black hair, a firm jaw, and the problematic weapon he kept hidden under his table. “But someone that young? With energy and ambitions?”
“Could cause a lot of problems.”
I nodded. “Plus, he supposedly doesn’t have an Ability.”
“You’d call it magic. We call them Abilities.”
The skin between Billee’s eyes bulged as she scrunched her brows. “Why is that a problem? Seems like it’d be an advantage?”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” I said as honestly as I could. In the Upperworld, there was no such thing as an angel without magic. The way I understood it, the same was true of the Underworld. With one exception. And that made this Ezekial Sunstone, possible future leader of that realm, a dangerous demon. “Can’t know for sure. But we know he’s done incredible things already, and he’s not someone we can take lightly.” I turned and set the mug on the bar with a thunk before I faced my partner. “This is a dangerous task, Billee. It’s my fault you aren’t better prepared.” I stopped, focused on the rim of my mug as dark thoughts swirled. “I’ve been going through some shit, and that’s why the Order hasn’t assigned harder cases in the time we’ve been working together. But they know my record. This spry fellow, special as he may be, isn’t my first demon and he won’t be my last. But he’s yours, and I won’t put you at risk. Not if I can help it.”
Billee’s arms crossed. Damn. Thousands of years of interacting with mortals and I still had a knack for pissing them off. “Are you saying I’m not up for the job?” she said in a tone that was clearly hinted—no, this was no hint, this was a message blared over a megaphone—that I had better answer carefully.
I tried not to smile. “You’re more than capable. What I meant to say is that I won’t ask anything of you I’m not willing to do myself. That’s why we’re here, enjoying this beer. You’re really missing out, by the way. This is recon, nothing more. If this Ezekial is as powerful as reports say, I’m not moving on him until I’m ready.”
“Won’t you get in trouble with your superiors if you wait?”
I bobbed my shoulders, truly not caring. “On my terms. If they don’t like it, they can fire me and fight this startup on their own.”
“I’ll support you how I can, Rev.”
I looked at Billee. So damned young. A full life to live. Tasked with being a familiar before her thirtieth birthday, before she had the chance to marry and understand what the antonym of ‘bliss’ was, or even before she held her own child in her hands.
Damn the Order for doing this to her. To any mortal. Damn the agreement between angels and demons that forced us to be escorted around this realm, being babysat.
Almost as if they were spying on our conversation, I heard a faint tinkling.
“What's wrong?” Billee asked, even as I spun and hunkered over the spot of the bar that I’d claimed as my real estate for the past hour.
I ringed the area around my mug with my arms and lowered my head, allowing my long hair to fall and hide the supernatural event about to occur in this very natural setting.
“I’m getting a scroll,” I mumbled, ready for it to materialize.
Small sparks of white light formed in the restricted space between my face and the polished wood. They danced and swirled, accompanied by the pleasant sound of faint chimes, almost inaudible. Faster and faster, the white sparks swirled until coalescing into a scroll no longer than a hoagie roll, just much thinner. As soon as the scroll materialized, I swiped it off the bar and dropped my hands to my lap.
Billee slid off her stool to stand beside me.
“This is why I wear the duster, by the way. Helps eliminate awkward questions when my bosses send missives at the worst time,” I said as I looked at the seal and groaned.
“It’s from Jericho.”
“Isn’t he the one you don’t like?”
“Few members of the Order get Christmas cards from me, but yes, he’s the worst.” I tapped the scroll against my palm.
Jericho Judas was a spoiled brat. Not even thirty-thousand years old, he was already an influential member of the Order of Thirteen—the governing body responsible for overseeing Reaper operations, among other things. Politicians, all of them. Too many Order members were barely sufferable for more than a staff meeting at a time. Then there was Jericho. Obnoxious. Entitled. A benefactor of nepotism. A dude with such a limited range of emotion, you honestly had to wonder how many bodies he had hidden in his basement.
I unrolled the scroll, read the missive, and sighed.
“What is it?”
“Another task,” I said. At least Jericho wasn’t so much of an ass that he waxed poetic when giving me yet one more assignment. I read the details before handing it to Billee.
A new familiar she might be, Billee knew how to be a good teammate. The scroll pinched against her body, she unrolled it enough to read the message, shielding it from any stray gaze. Her head snapped up. “A runaway demon?”
“But we already have a target. A demon target.”
My beer was getting warm. No sense in abusing alcohol like that. I took a long swig. “The Order doesn’t give a damn. The sooner you realize that about them, the better off you’ll be. Don’t be surprised if they add a third demon to the mix just to entertain themselves. Especially if Jericho is the one in charge of dishing out assignments to the Reapers now.”
“They’d give us a third case?”
“Wouldn’t put it past them.”
“But if—” She caught herself, lowered her voice, and slid closer. “If Ezekial really is in line to become the next Lucifer, and if we have to find a runaway, how are we also going to investigate these disappearances?” She smacked the partially opened scroll with a finger. “Plus, this traitor, whatever that means?”
“Welcome to the job, kid. It’s a hell of a ride.”