Undead Chaos, page 1
By Joshua Roots
The job was simple: decapitate the zombie, get paid, get out. Warlock Marcus Shifter followed the plan perfectly.
The corpse, however, did not.
Now there’s a body on the loose, accusations of illegal necromancy are flying, and the answers are waiting in the perilous alleys between the mortal and paranormal worlds. They’re no place for someone who mostly gave up magic after a childhood accident. And given his tendency to shoot off his mouth and his Glock, Marcus is having a hell of a time digging up more than just bodies.
When an apocalypse-minded megalomaniac threatens Marcus’s family, things get personal. Marcus will have to embrace the magic he’s been avoiding for years—and even that might not be enough to save the world from a hellish demise.
It’s possible I say this every year, but I love October. To me, this is the month that signals the start of a season of hot apple cider, evenings by the fire, and curling up on the sofa with a good book, dressed warmly in sweatpants and a comfy shirt and snuggled under my favorite fuzzy blanket. We at Carina Press can’t provide most of those things, but we can provide the good books, and this month we have more than a few good books!
In Running Back, the highly anticipated sequel to Allison Parr’s new-adult contemporary romance Rush Me, Natalie Sullivan is on the verge of a breakthrough most archaeology grad students only dream of: discovering a lost city. Her research points to a farm in Ireland, but to excavate she needs permission from the new owner: the Michael O’Connor, popular NFL running back.
If you’re like me, there are certain tropes in romance that you fall for every time. One of mine is the main theme of Christi Barth’s newest book, Friends to Lovers. (Gee, can you guess what it is?) Daphne struggles with revealing her longtime lust for Gib, sparking it all off with a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve—only Gib doesn’t know it’s Daphne he’s kissed! Also in the contemporary romance category is First and Again by Jana Richards, which has a special place in my heart because this emotional story takes place in my home state of North Dakota.
For months, this Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into the neutral Netherlands. It’s only a matter of time until she’s caught in Aiding the Enemy, a historical romance by Julie Rowe. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, be sure to check out the rest of Julie’s historical romances.
We have two mysteries for readers to solve this month. British crime author Shirley Wells returns to the sleepy northern town of Dawson’s Clough with her popular Dylan Scott Mystery series in the next book, Deadly Shadows. And in Julie Anne Lindsey’s Murder by the Seaside, counseling is murder, but it’s never been this much fun.
Erotic romance author Christine d’Abo brings us the story of Alice’s obsession with a brooding lawyer at her firm, which takes Alice on a journey of self-discovery through the rabbit hole and into the world of BDSM in Club Wonderland. Also this month, the Love Letters ladies, Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily Cale and Maggie Wells, round up five sizzling-hot stories to finish off their sexy stampede through the alphabet with Love Letters Volume 6: Cowboy’s Command.
Edgar Mason is losing Agamemnon Frost despite everything they’ve been through—the passion, the torture, the heat. Frost’s fiancée Theodora is back, and Mason can feel his lover gravitating toward her. Every day he sees them together, it tears at his heart. Don’t miss Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers, the conclusion to Kim Knox’s male/male historical science fiction trilogy.
Because October is the perfect month for the paranormal, we have a wide selection of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal to share with you. In Jeffe Kennedy’s fantasy romance, Rogue’s Possession, neuroscientist Gwynn’s adventures in Faerie continue in the long-awaited sequel to Rogue’s Pawn. And in the sequel to Soul Sucker, a powerful magic user is stealing people’s faces in San Francisco, and empath Ella Walsh and shifter Vadim Morosov have been called in to investigate in Death Bringer by Kate Pearce. Also returning with another book in her Blood of the Pride series is Sheryl Nantus, with her paranormal romance Battle Scars.
Combining futuristic fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy, Trancehack by Sonya Clark is a compelling cross-genre romance. In a dystopian future where magic is out in the open and witches are segregated, a high-profile murder case brings together a police detective and a witch with unusual powers that combine magic and technology. But dangerous secrets, a political cover-up, and the law itself stand between them. Don’t miss this exciting new world of witchpunk!
Carina Press is pleased to introduce three debut authors this October. Science fiction erotic romance author Renae Jones gives us a Taste of Passion when lust strikes hard for Fedni, an empath who can taste emotion, but her off-worlder neighbor is horrified by the caste system that the former courtesan holds dear.
Two urban fantasy authors debut with us this month. In Kathleen Collins’s Realm Walker, a realm walker hunts a demon intent on destroying both her and the mate who left her seven years ago. Also debuting in urban fantasy is Joshua Roots with his book Undead Chaos. When warlock Marcus Shifter performs a simple zombie beheading, he soon finds that the accidental framing of an innocent necromancer, falling in lust, and burning down a bar are just the beginning of his troubles.
Regardless of whether you’re discovering these books in October or in the middle of summer, any time is the perfect time for reading, and I hope you enjoy all these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on them.
We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to email@example.com. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.
Executive Editor, Carina Press
To Mom, the embodiment of love and support, and who, through her own struggles with cancer, always made me feel as if nothing, not even the challenge of becoming an author, was impossible. This is absolutely for you.
It’s cliché, but it’s no less true that this story would not have been possible without an army of supporters.
First off, thank you to my agent, Eric Ruben, for actually enjoying my words and for being a source of knowledge and humor in the murky waters of publishing. And who was kind enough to be the pack mule for Suz when she and her readers sent my squadron books. You’re a good man, Eric.
Thanks also to Carina Press for their wonderful feedback event, without which this manuscript would still be gathering dust in a drawer.
A huge round of thanks for two of my favorite girls: Tiffany Allee and Regan Summers. Both are not only amazing and accomplished writers, but also very good friends. Thank you to the ends of the earth for beta reading this and for kicking me in the britches when I needed it. Your advice, encouragement and laughter made climbing the Big Hill of publishing all the more enjoyable.
To all my Cantina friends at Absolute Write, thanks for making our day-to-day escapades both bizarre and hilarious.
Thank you to my editor, Mallory Braus, who is one of the most patient and understanding people I know. The fact that you don’t pull your hair out when I tell instead of show or abuse adverbs is a testament to your professionalism and enormous heart. You’re the one who deserves pie. (Long story.)
To Suzanne Brockmann, there are no wo
And finally, to Amy, who was the one that got away and has been my partner in crime since we re-met. Thank you for putting up with my outlandish story ideas, for reading this, and for making each day together both an adventure and a memory. I love you, babe. And no, you can’t say “ditto.”
About the Author
Never Wrestle the Undead
In all my years of squashing paranormal creepy crawlies, I’d learned two very important lessons. First, always keep a round chambered in your gun. Trust me, when you really need it, you don’t have time to load it. Second, never ignore your business phone. Mortgages are expensive and freelancer jobs hard to come by, so whenever that line rings, you answer it.
“I’m looking for Marcus Shifter,” the lady on the other end said in a hushed, hurried voice.
I paused Stripes and sat up. “You got him.”
“My name is Carly Banks, and my husband died a month ago.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. Another Normal hoping to resurrect a loved one.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Banks, but I’m a Warlock, not a Necromancer. I can’t raise the dead.”
“You don’t have to,” she said, quickly. “He’s on my front lawn with a shotgun.”
I arrived at her neighborhood twenty minutes later.
The Banks lived in one of the posh suburbs outside of Washington, DC, that catered to people with too much money and not enough imagination. Carly’s place was a clone of the others—a three-story McMansion with perfectly manicured landscaping and a neon-green lawn. The four-car garage was larger than my townhouse, and a fountain bubbled noisily in the middle of the circular drive. Huge iron gates stood at the entrance to prevent we common folk from walking up the driveway.
How the husband got in was anyone’s guess.
I parked a block down the road to ensure I didn’t anger the territorial undead, then gave my equipment a final check. The .45 caliber Glock rested comfortably in my thigh holster with three spare magazines strapped next to it. I drew the gun and slid the rack backward, loading a round into the chamber. I grinned as I re-holstered the gun, then I pulled a dented scabbard off the passenger seat and closed the door.
There was nothing fancy about my sword. It was almost two feet in length with a nondescript handle that I’d wrapped with athletic tape for extra grip. As plain as the sword was, it had a very special attribute.
It was sharp.
I tossed the sword on my back, tightened the straps, and headed toward the Banks’s gate. A bee zipped past my head, and I paused just long enough to smile at it before stepping up to the metal entrance. The late Anthony Banks, illuminated in all his glory by bright floodlights, stood on the front porch at the far end of the drive.
Carly’s description of her philandering husband was spot on. Early forties, overweight and balding, Tony was equally unpleasant in death as he’d been in life. His skin was gray and hung loosely around the legs and arms. Yet despite his month vacation underground, he still had a massive beer belly. His flab shook as he banged on the front door.
I just wish she’d told me he was naked.
I allowed myself a moment of childish snickering before getting serious about the job. Since there was no good way to initiate contact with the undead, especially one that was armed, I opted for the buddy approach.
“Good evening, Mr. Banks!” I hollered with the friendliest smile I could muster.
The corpse swung his head around and peered at me. His jaw hung open, and his tongue flopped out of his mouth. He groaned and brandished the gun awkwardly before shuffling toward me.
I tapped my foot and checked my watch several times while he covered the distance. When he finally stopped, he was close enough that I could touch him through the bars of the gate if I wanted. Which I didn’t.
But boy could I smell him.
“Nice evening, eh?” I asked.
“My thoughts exactly,” I said, thankful that he was responding. “Listen, Mr. Banks, my name is Marcus Shifter, and your wife hired me to deal with this haunting thing you’re up to. I’d like to talk to you about it if that’s okay.”
“Any chance I can come through the gate?” It was always best to ask permission first. Forcing your way in was dangerous, both physically and magically.
Banks cocked his head and squinted.
“Anthony Banks,” I said firmly, “as a licensed Combat Warlock for the Delwinn Council, I swear that I am here at the behest of your wife and will act only to protect her or to defend myself. Do you accept my Word?”
Generally, my people don’t make binding oaths because of the potential blowback if they are broken. Betray your Word and you’re out of magical juice for a long time. Because of this, Soul Oaths are one of the most reliable treaties my kind can offer. Most magical creatures, and a lot of non-magical ones for that matter, understand that.
Thankfully, Banks was one of them. He paused, then nodded. I entered the code Carly had provided, stepping back as the gates swung open.
As I moved forward, I felt the barrier of the Banks’s property meet me. Thanks to the power of the oath, crossing the perimeter was like pushing through a wall of molasses. The magic sealed itself around me as I completed the transition, binding me to the laws of our deal.
“You know,” I kept my voice as soothing as possible, “you’re supposed to stay dead. Coming back isn’t kosher, especially in this neighborhood.”
Banks swung his head from side to side, gazing at the houses in both directions. His chest gurgled with decaying laughter.
“Yeah, property value may not mean anything to you now, but I’m betting the neighbors aren’t too thrilled. Plus, you’re making it hard for your wife to move on.”
Banks bared his yellow teeth.
“Okay, touchy subject. Point is, you shouldn’t be here. Besides, the Afterlife is supposed to be one long party. Why bother coming back?”
Banks waved the gun toward the house and grunted a few more times. The syncopation sounded like “boyfriend.” Or maybe “whore.”
“Really?” I chided. “Didn’t you have a mistress yourself?”
He lowered his head and nodded. As much as I hated to admit it, a part of me felt sorry for the guy.
“Tony, you and I both know that the time to make amends is while you’re alive. Once you’re dead, it’s game over. I’m sorry, but you need to return to resting in peace.”
Banks stared longingly at the house, then turned back to me. Tears filled h
I frowned and took a step closer. “What the hell?” I whispered.
The door to the house slammed open. A woman who I assumed was Carly stamped out with a martini glass in one hand, bottle of clear liquid in the other. She wore a short, silky blue nightgown that didn’t leave much to the imagination. Her dyed black hair was teased into a high poof and her makeup was caked on in a vain attempt to fill the lines and crow’s feet. She must have been pretty in her youth, but a life of booze, food, and cigarettes had left a rounder, unhappier version in its wake.
“Tony, you fat, cheating bastard!” she slurred, waving the martini glass in our direction. “You listen to that man! I hired him, so do as he says!”
Banks turned and moaned softly at his wife, leaving me with an unpleasant visual of his backside.
“Please go back inside, Mrs. Banks,” I called, trying to ignore the massive mounds of rotting meat before me. “Your husband and I are getting along famously at the moment. Isn’t that right, Tony?”
Banks whimpered and took several slow steps forward.
“You sonnabish!” Carly screeched, her eyes widening. “You don’t get to have me anymore. You’re dead, and I’ll do whatever or whoever I want. Maybe even him!” she added, slopping what was left of her drink toward me.
“That’s right.” Carly said, “I may just add a little something extra to his paycheck for getting rid of you. I’ve been dying to break in the leather of my new Bentley.”
Banks roared and spun around. His face contorted with rage as he bellowed at me, and his hot, rancid breath turned my stomach. He snarled, then worked the pump on the shotgun.
The blast shattered the relative calm of the neighborhood, and the recoil threw Banks onto his back. Thankfully his aim sucked. I’m not sure he could have hit his house from ten feet away.
“Dammit, Banks,” I shouted, ears ringing with pain. “It doesn’t have to be like this!”