Some evils will not stay buried…
An ancient evil is hunting her best friend…
Evil exists. It lives. It breathes. It hunts. And it has a body count.
A dangerous secret haunts her dearest ally…
War changes people. Life changes them. Sometimes, they become something else entirely.
An internal investigation threatens her lover…
Life is about the choices made, the decisions reached, and the actions taken. What Jack did to protect her could cost them everything.
Betrayal lurks around every corner…
When one of their own turns on them, this earth witch will dig deep to become the rock holding them together—and the hammer to split the darkness. For Chance Monroe, this will be a long summer…
Dead bodies erupting from the earth was so not the way I wanted to start a Tuesday, or any day for that matter. The knees of my jeans soaked up morning dew as I knelt on the grassy, northwest corner of the field, my fingers buried into the damp, spring-soaked earth. My blood rushed in my ears and my heart throbbed with the pulse of so many bodies straining against their internment. Kneeling in the opposite corner, a little over a hundred yards away, waited my guardian and friend, Jaime.
His bowed head mirrored my own posture. Like me, his fingers pushed into the earth. Power arced between us, a wavering, effervescent line of force. It vibrated with energy, reverberating in ping-pong fashion.
The earth burbled, muddy puddles of fester burping into the air as bony arms clawed for purchase. I tried not to think of the dead. They were dead. The animated corpses were not ensouled. They weren’t people anymore. No matter how desperately the hands clawed at the air and the land, fighting for purchase.
They are dead. D. E. D. Dead. Focus!
I shook off the distracting thoughts. So much twisted and abused land remained where Ava Thorndon—an insane, broken hedge witch—tried to sever my connection to the earth. She’d attacked the whole area, disrupting the balance and leaving it vulnerable to infestations and corruption.
I’d spent months traveling the length and breadth of the land I was bonded to, desperate to reconnect with the broken landscape. Some places, like this cemetery, still rejected my attempts. The Culpepper National Cemetery was the final resting place of many different generations, some dated back to the early days of the 19th century.
Needless to say, the damaged earth added a putrid odor to the musty bodies and rancid air shoving upwards. Focus, Chance!
Jaime’s admonishment echoed through me and I forced my eyes down, away from the restless dead. The land, bruised and abandoned, wanted nothing more to do with Jaime or me. It rejected the link we struggled to maintain. It fought by throwing the dead at us. It fought us as though we were the invaders.
Bony fingers scraped across my arm. I shuddered and slammed my eyes shut. It was just a revenant.
Just a revenant, ha!
The thought did little to ease the quavering queasiness wobbling through my stomach and the sour, acrid burning in my mouth. The smell gagged me and the fingers dug grooves of ice into my flesh.
“Chance, I need you here.” Jaime’s voice carried patiently across the waving field of bone with their flaking bits of flesh and cloth.
“I’m here, Jaime.”
I pushed deeper into the earth as my mind fell into sync with our burgeoning connection. Power pulsed, beating for two heartbeats, as Jaime inhaled. It flared as he exhaled before rushing back to me. The land’s churlishness receded allowing the sluggish pulses of power to arc back and forth between us.
I grinned as the land gasped open and fell into sync with me. The lethargic response gave way to damn near purring for attention and I poured everything into the cracked and splintered land. Like a balm on a damaged skin, the earth began to knit back together. Energy poured out of me. Healing the land required a great deal of giving not taking. Though bruised and abused, the land gentled.
Halfway across the field, Jaime’s energy continued to twine with mine. The arcs of power ebbed and flowed as though pumped by our hearts. Where the lines crossed, puddles of healing balm burbled. The smell of rot—the stain of Ava’s madness—curled away on the breeze pushed aside by wreaths of flowers bursting into vibrant bloom.
The masculine warmth of Jaime’s energy rushed in to fill the emptiness, buffeting me against the tide as I gave the rest of myself to the land. One by one, even the chattering swish of bone on bone quieted, sinking back into the now loamy earth.
A bird called overhead, piercing the blue sky with her cry.
Softer, the earth gentled and I sank back onto my haunches, hands still buried up to my wrists in the land.
“Chance?” The scent of wood smoke, peat, and forest rolled up next to me. Jaime squatted close, near enough to touch, but kept his hands to himself.
“Hmmm?” I loved this part of the healing, the sensation of basking in the comforting grasp of cooing land. Not that it actually cooed like a baby, but desultory temper tantrum aside, the area radiated gratitude. Even the ancient stems of flowers, long dead in their iron urns, burst into life.
“We’re done, you know?”
Party pooper. “I’m enjoying myself.” I cracked an eyelid and peered at him. The sunlight formed a corona around his visage, casting half his face in shadows and making his deep brown eyes glow. Damn, if Jaime wasn’t a good-looking man.
His snort broke the illusion and I sighed, rushing back to myself all at once. Tugging my hands free of the land, I accepted the hand towel he offered and worked to wipe away the loose, sticky dirt from my fingers.
“We’ve got at least three more hot spots on our list today. You up for it?” Jaime’s long, black hair hung from a ponytail tied at his nape with leather hair bands. James Ian Smith was full-blooded Native American and, despite his generic moniker, could be mistaken for nothing else.
We were related somewhere on my mother’s side, but so distantly as to be only remarkable in small talk around a fire with s’mores in the middle of a summer camp out. He tugged at my unruly mass of hair.
“Hello? Earth to Chance. Come in Chance.”
I rolled to my feet in a graceful motion. “You could let a girl bask in the glory, you know.”
“I could. Of course then I’d have to be talking to a girl and not a witch.”
I listened for the insult, but only heard the teasing. I’d worried the hell out of Jaime last autumn, but since Ava’s destruction, we’d fallen into a pattern of working together. He definitely made my life a lot easier. I still had spring plantings to tend, gardens to clear out, and fairies to relocate, but the pockmarked remnants of Ava’s illness would have left me crawling with exhaustion without him.
“Mean! Mean. Mean. Mean.”
We laughed. My phone buzzed in my back pocket and I made a face at him while answering. “Hi, Jack.” My heart did a puppy dog shake. Jaime rolled his eyes and started gathering up our supplies.
“Hey, sweetheart, staying out of trouble?” Jack’s smooth voice rolled through the line like a caress, strong, and sexy. Yes, I said sexy. I did a mental fist pump because he’s my Jack.
And damn if it didn’t feel good.
“Absolutely not. In fact, I’m staring at trouble right now.” I know Jaime heard, but he ignored me. Grinning at my private joke, I rolled my head around, stretching my neck and back muscles.
“Tell Runs with Beer I said hi.” Humor flashed in between the words.
“I’ll do that. Speaking of saying hi, you didn’t tell me where we were going tonight. Care to drop any hints so I don’t show up in dungarees and mudders?”
Jack’s bark of laughter cut shorter than it should have. Jaime had our gear together and jerked his head toward the gate. He’d parked about fifty yards down from the cemetery, well away from any potential fallout zone. I fell into step behind him, phone tucked against my ear.”
“Sorry, sweetheart. Part of why I’m calling. I have to cancel.”
All the air whooshed out of my happy balloon. “Work?” Jack worked for the FBI and we’d had to cancel a lot of dates between his job and mine.
“Unfortunately. I might be late getting back out the house tonight, if I even get out of here.” Regret hung off the last word.
I may not have Jack’s bullshit radar, but I knew him well enough to hear the unspoken threads dragging along the back of the words.
“S’okay.” I comforted automatically, but the ‘he’s-not- saying-something’ sensation lingered. I tried to decipher the meaning, waiting by the open door of the truck as Jaime loaded the gear. “I can head out to Sydney’s tonight. We’ve been meaning to do the girl thing for a while.”
I ignored Jaime’s pointed eyebrow raise. I hadn’t been meaning to at all, which he well knew.
“Well, she’s been meaning to,” I said as much to Jaime as to Jack. “You know, life’s been crazy.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I do want a rain check, say Friday night?” It was Tuesday. What the heck did he have to do that would keep him busy for three days?
“Sure.” I didn’t voice the question. I know he didn’t act cagey on purpose. Jaime leaned on the side of the truck, waiting patiently.
“I hate to cut this short, but I need to go.”
“Jack?” Not so fast.
“Everything all right?” With us? With you? With work?
“Just another day at the office. Paperwork and bureaucracy in action.” The light words were right, but the pause at the beginning rang an alarm bell. My bullshit meter ticked. “Chance, I gotta go, okay?”
“Okay. I love you.” I poured the thumps of my heart, the passionate ripple of pleasure tugging at my belly, and the security he gave me into every word. It seemed important. More important than a casual check-in required.
“I love you, too.” His response, relieved and decadent, ranged far from perfunctory. He’d needed to hear me say it.
It was the right call.
I thumbed the phone off as he hung up. Three days till Friday. I could only hope the job didn’t drag him out of town.
“Hey, Juliet, get the hell off the balcony and into the truck. You can moon about the Feeb on the way to the next site.” Jaime’s brisk words splashed ice water on my ardor.
I took the high road and stuck my tongue out at him. Jaime’s chuckle shoved me into the truck. I slammed the door and leaned my head back, eyes closed, as he reversed into traffic.
“Chance?” The tired, tight note in Jaime’s voice dragged me away from images of Jack and our bedroom.
“Do me a favor and moon about something not involving the Feeb naked.”
“Absolutely. The Feeb is hot.” Laughter.
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