Madison Fox Urban Fantasy Series
A Fistful of Evil, Book 1
Madison’s new job would be perfect, if not for all the creatures trying to eat her soul…
Madison Fox just learned that her ability to see souls is more than a sight: It’s a weapon for fighting evil. The only problem is she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing. On the positive side, her money problems are over, she’s possibly discovered her purpose in life, and her coworker is smoking hot. On the negative side, evil creatures now actively hunt her, and deadly experiences are becoming the norm.
When she thinks it couldn’t get worse, a powerful evil sets up shop at a local hotel’s video game convention, and it’s got its eye on more than the gaming geeks: it is hungry for Madison’s soul. Madison needs to become an expert illuminant enforcer overnight to save her job, her region . . . and her life.
Series Reading Order
1. Don’t Follow Me: I’m Lost, Too
The interview was a catastrophe. It started out fine—better than fine. Kyle, the sales manager for the bumper sticker company Illumination Studios met me in the warm confines of a nearby Starbucks, purchased me a grande green tea, and selected a table in the corner, away from the door and the cold blast of November air every customer brought in with them. Soft music, cappuccino-machine clacks and whirs, and the murmur of conversation created a cocoon of privacy.
I handed Kyle a copy of my résumé, determined to prove myself to be the mandatory employee for the boring junior sales associate position. I wasn’t particularly qualified and I would normally have rather peeled hangnails than perform cold calls—which is what I strongly suspected the position entailed—but four weeks of unemployment, seven failed interviews, and escalating credit card bills proved very strong motivators.
Strong enough for me to ignore the desperate reason I’d applied for the job in the first place. Never trust your soul-sight, I told myself for the thousandth time. But my imminent eviction trumped mistrust of my bizarre, mutant vision.
Kyle dropped my résumé to the table without glancing at it. He scrutinized me over the top of his dry cappuccino. Kyle exuded salesman, from his maroon button-up shirt and khaki trousers to his thinning brown hair with its frosted tips. His face was pinched, as if someone had pressed his baby flesh between their hands and pulled, extending his nose and pulling his lips and eyes in tight. He couldn’t have been much older than me, despite the sullen brackets around his mouth and deep grooves between his eyebrows. Maybe his expression fell into disapproving lines naturally.
“How many years’ experience do you have, Madison?” Kyle asked.
“Specifically in the bumper sticker business, none, but I believe my time at Catchall Advertising will—”
“I don’t care about the bumper sticker crap. I care about your experience in the field.”
My weirdo radar, dulled by the overpowering mix of desperation and determination, flickered to life now.
“I honed my sales skills while working as a saleswoman at Sundage Cars. My experience there taught me how to connect with people from all walks of life.” Though it hadn’t taught me how to sell a car. In the six months of my employment as a used-car saleswoman, I sold a grand total of zero cars, which is why David Sundage, my cousin-in-law and owner of Sundage Cars, had fired me at the beginning of September. But I wasn’t going to concern Kyle with that minor detail.
Kyle set his cappuccino down on the table and leaned back in his chair. “How old are you?” he asked.
“I’m not sure I understand the relevance—”
“What regions have you worked in before this?”
Regions? “I’ve worked mainly in Roseville since I—”
“With who? Not with Brad or Isabel.” Kyle leaned forward, his dark eyes intense.
Who? I eased my tea to the table and ran my palms down the sides of my black knee-length skirt, telling myself it was only nerves that were making Kyle seem so volatile.
“Um, most recently with David Sundage,” I said.
“Where are his headquarters?”
Headquarters? What is this, the FBI? Hadn’t he bothered to read my résumé?
“Down Douglas,” I answered, pointing vaguely west toward Douglas Boulevard and the car lot.
“Also in Roseville, at Catchall—”
“Look, we can both stop playing this game. I don’t care about what jobs you’ve had to take between IE positions.” Kyle deflated into his chair with a gusty sigh. “To be honest, you’re the only qualified person to apply for the job—my job. I’ve been ready to transfer for months now, so I’m not going to make this interview hard on you. I want you to take this job as much as you want it. I just need to make this interview look good so Brad signs my walking papers, okay?”
I nodded and tried to look like I understood more than the English words he used. I didn’t know what he meant by “IE positions,” and I knew I wasn’t qualified for his sales manager position. I wasn’t even qualified to be a junior sales associate, but who was I to argue? Managers probably didn’t have to make cold calls, which automatically made the job more appealing. Plus, a management position would pay better, and I was pretty sure I could fake it until I got caught up on my bills. By then, I could find a more suitable job. Something more Indiana Jones and less Bridget Jones.
“Okay, let me make this perfectly clear,” Kyle continued. “Which wardens have you worked with?”
“Wardens?” As in prison?
Kyle leaned forward, placing his hands on the table. “What’s the largest evil you’ve ever tackled? A wraith? A pissed-off dryad?”
I cast a quick glance around for a candid camera, noting the nearest exit in case I needed to make a run for it. I’d been nervous on interviews before, but never because of a mentally unstable interviewer. Was that why Kyle had insisted we meet away from the company office? Did he even work for Illumination Studios?
I eased my hand through the strap of my purse and slid it onto my shoulder, careful not to make any sudden movements that might spook the deranged man. “I don’t think I’m the right person for the job, after all,” I said, and pushed away from the table.
This is why I never used my soul-sight, never followed its false leads. I shouldn’t have made an exception for this job. To the marrow of my bones, I knew soul-sight was untrustworthy.
“Hang on, Madison,” Kyle said, grabbing my arm as I started to stand. I froze. “You’re definitely the right person for the job. You’re the first enforcer to walk through that door in nearly two weeks.”
“I don’t even know what that means. I’m going to save us both some time and leave now.” I tugged to free my arm.
“Holy crap! You’re a rogue.” Kyle jerked away from me, shaking his hand like I’d given him cooties. Unbalanced, I fell back into my chair.
“That explains your age,” Kyle said, speaking more to himself than me. “And your job history. You haven’t been playing games with me—you really don’t know . . .”
I stood again as he trailed off, and his gaze snapped to focus on my face. “It was nice to meet you,” I said by rote. “Good luck with—”
“One question.” Kyle stood, cutting off my escape. He towered over my five-foot-ten frame by a good eight inches. Despite his wiry build, the odds weren’t in my favor that I could knock him down before he could grab me.
Taking a deep breath, and reminding myself that I was in a safe public place filled with people, I said, “Okay. One more.”
“Did you apply because you thought you could pretend to be qualified for a sales position or because the ad glowed?”
My breath caught. The fact that the job description in the “Help Wanted” section had glowed in soul-sight had been an inexplicable anomaly. Dead, mashed pulp couldn’t glow. It wasn’t alive. It didn’t have a soul. But hearing that Kyle knew about the glow set my arm hairs on end. No one knew about soul-sight except my best friend, and that was only because I’d told her. Soul-sight was my own personal aberration.
Seeing my hesitation, Kyle plowed on.
“Three decades as a rogue has got to be a new record. I’m not sure why you chose to come out of hiding, but I’m not letting you get away now, not when I’m this close”—he pinched his forefinger and thumb together—“to escaping this puny region for some real action.”
“I haven’t been hiding. I think you’re mistaken—”
“Come on. We both know you’re not qualified for a sales position even if it did exist,” Kyle said, flicking my résumé. The crisp white paper skittered off the table to the floor. “But if you could see the glow, you are qualified to be an enforcer. Hmm, let’s see, how to explain this to a thirty-year-old rogue?”
“I’m twenty-five,” I corrected softly, wondering why I was still standing there, why I hadn’t stepped around Kyle and walked out the door.
“You have the ability to see the world differently than this ‘real world,’ right? Black and white? Plants and animals glow all pretty and clean. People look like they’re wearing snowy-weather camouflage. Is this ringing any bells?”
There was definitely a ringing in my ears. He’d just described soul-sight. My knees wobbled and I sank disjointedly into my chair.
Kyle sat across from me, shaking his head with amazement. “I can’t believe you’ve maintained a rogue status for so long. I mean, I understand the appeal of not having a boss, but you’re also not on anyone’s payroll. Why not become a real enforcer and get paid for it?”
Paid to use soul-sight? Has he infected me with his insanity?
“Trust me, this region’s not hard at all. It’s a good place to cut your teeth, but it gets monotonous real fast. Still, let’s see what you’ve got. Tell me what you see here.”
“A coffee shop,” I said, not quite willing to believe he and I were talking about the same thing.
“Fine. I’ll go first.” He twitched his long, pointy nose and grinned at me. “You’ve got great color. Very pure. Which is how I knew you were an enforcer. No atrum in sight.”
I shifted in my chair, irrationally pulling my suit jacket tighter to cover myself, but Kyle had already turned away.
“Now, that guy behind the counter, he’s not the honest type. Look at the way atrum coats his fingertips and wrists. Disgusting.”
Kyle grinned at me. I tried to remember to breathe. He was truly talking about soul-sight. I wasn’t the only person with the ability. All brain activity got jammed up between that thought and his statement that people—he—got paid to use soul-sight. Once I could formulate a complete thought, I was going to have a lot of questions.
“Go ahead, look around in Primordium. I’m going to see if I can attract us a little fun,” Kyle said.
For the first time in ten years, I intentionally blinked in public.
I gripped the edges of the table for support against the wave of dizziness that broadsided me whenever I switched between visions; then I purposely examined my surroundings. The coffee shop was slate gray, all color nonexistent in this vision. From the floor (which I knew was tiled white) to the wooden tables to the chrome espresso machine, every inanimate object was shades of charcoal. The overhead lighting didn’t exist in soul-sight—in Primordium, I corrected myself. Shadows didn’t exist in Primordium, either, not traditional light-created shadows. Something worked in this vision to give depth to objects, but trying to focus on it was a recipe for a migraine. The only bright spots in the room were the people.
I forced myself to examine the man behind the cash register to verify Kyle’s description, fighting against soul-sight-avoidance instincts honed over the last ten years. My fingers tightened on the table. The barista’s fingertips and wrists were smeared black, like he’d had a run-in with a dirty chimney. The rest of his arms were pale gray, as was his face. I knew from experience, those dark patches represented some immoral choices and actions. Light gray was normal for a human; black was pure evil. Only animals and plants were pure white in Primordium. The barista’s smudged wrists meant he’d made some bad choices, but I couldn’t tell what. That was only one of the flaws of soul-sight.
The only person’s soul I’d ever seen that was as pure as an animal’s was my own. Since I was far from perfect, I figured I couldn’t see my own flaws. That was fine by me. Seeing my soul felt like looking inside myself, and it was a sure way to induce stomach-churning vertigo.
I swiveled my head to look at my companion, fully expecting him to look like a variation of every other human I’d ever seen.
Kyle, the plain-looking salesman, glowed brighter than most searchlights. I lifted my hand to shield my eyes, but it was as impractical as shining a flashlight in my eyes to shield them from the brightness of the sun.
“Aha! There are a few curious imps. Figured there would be with the traffic in here,” Kyle said. He was too bright to see his facial features, almost too bright to see a solid outline. When he talked, I couldn’t tell if his lips moved. It was one of the creepiest things I’d ever seen.
I had a thousand questions for this man—why had we never met before? Why did he refer to me as a rogue? Could he please dim himself?—but what came out was, “A curious what?”
“Imp.” His glowing head swiveled toward me. “You have killed evil creatures before, right?”
I shook my head. “What evil creatures?”
“Amazing. Truly amazing. It’s like you’ve been hiding under a rock, invisible to both sides.” He shook his head in wonder. “You’ve not imploded a single imp? Not even a small one?”
“Maybe I have,” I said, belatedly offended and not sure why. “What do they look like?”
Kyle laughed loud enough to draw several stares. “No shit. A rogue with zero experience.” He chuckled again. “The best Brad can attract to his puny region is an untrained nobody with no clue. I’d love to see his face when—” He raised his hand to forestall my next question. “Never mind. You’ve got the ability; you’re trainable. Brad won’t turn you away, not when he’s so desperate for an IE. Ah, that stands for illuminant enforcer, which is the job I’m leaving to you. So let me give you your first demonstration of what a true enforcer does. Watch carefully.”
I tore my eyes from his shining aura. There was no after-image like with real light, which was a good thing, because I’d have been blind for a half hour after staring so hard. Logic said the bright light of Kyle should have cast shadows all over the room, but in this strange sight, logic didn’t apply.
I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to look, so I scanned other customers.
The coffee shop was busy but not full, with groups of two and three people scattered around the free-floating tables—mostly college students or businesspeople escaping the office. People firmly rooted in reality, not looking at dirty souls and talking about illumi-something enforcers and Primordium.
I focused on the group of four people to my right. Like everyone else in the room, they had gray dollops peeking through the V-necks of their shirts and flecks of black soot defiling their hands and wrists. I could see their features faintly through their bodies’ natural light, and I flushed with embarrassment when all four turned to stare back at me. I rarely let myself use my soul-sight around people; despite my discomfort, it was heady to use it so blatantly now. Of course, to them it just looked like I was staring rudely.
“Do you see the imps?”
I swiveled back to Kyle and blinked against his brightness. Unobtrusively, I leaned against the table while the world spun back into color.
“They’re the smallest of the evil creatures, little blobs of pure evil. Hardly enough brain matter to function. Just enough to recognize food and attack it.”
Not good. This is so not good. I wished I were back at home with my cat, Mr. Bond, and a good book or a TV show. Something ordinary. I did not want to be talking with the only other known person with soul-sight who kept insisting there were evil creatures visible to only us. I felt like a character in a horror movie right before they slowly turn around and come face-to-face with a monster. Seeing evil on people’s souls was bad enough. I didn’t want to see—let alone come into contact with—something purely evil.
And yet, how could I not look?
I blinked, carefully focusing away from Kyle first.
I scanned the room again. Baristas. Customers. Books and CDs. Coffee bags. “What am I looking for?” Kyle didn’t answer me. Movement under the nearest table caught my attention. An inky black chinchilla-like blob sat on the table’s base, its glowing eyes watching me.
“What the hell is that?” Anything with life was always a version of white. Even the sullied souls of the sadistic still glowed with light undertones. Nothing living was all black—it was life that made everything glow. Furthermore, animals were never tainted by ambiguous moral choices like humans; animals were always white. The tiny fluff ball of blackness was darker than the inanimate objects around it. It was black—solid black. Impossibly black. Either there were varying degrees of life I’d never encountered and this was the zombie equivalent of life, or this creature—this pile of dust with bright eyes—was pure evil.
“Madison, meet your first imps,” Kyle said.
The imp cocked its head at me, clearly curious. Curious meant it could think. Curious meant it was trying to puzzle me out. A thinking evil creature was interested in me. Abandoning my job hunt and moving back in with my parents suddenly seemed like a great idea.
The imp hopped toward me.
I lurched to my feet, sending my chair careening into the people behind me. Scrambling around the table, I put distance between myself and the creature. Its eyes tracked me. It hopped out from under the table until it was less than two feet away from me. I tensed to flee.
Kyle waved his radiant hand in front of the imp the way a matador waves a cape for a bull. Like a bull, the imp charged. I squealed. The imp disappeared.
He’d said imps, right? With an s? I spun around, looking for more.
I spied three behind Kyle’s chair. Like the first one, the dark creatures were fixated on him. In a group they lunged. I jumped back, tripping over a chair. Windmilling my arms, I fought for balance while trying to keep the evil creatures in my sight, but gravity won. In a cacophony of wood and metal and flesh, I crashed to the floor. When I looked back at Kyle, the imps were gone.
“Miss? Are you okay?”
Reality popped like my ears had just unplugged. I blinked. The world swam. I rolled to my side. From my position on the gritty floor, I could see a circle of black-clad feet, and more approaching. Baristas. Everyone in the coffee shop had gone deafeningly quiet, making the cheerful jazz sound like it was blaring. I realized three things simultaneously: (1) everyone—from the patrons to the dishwasher—was staring at me; (2) I must look like I had gone absolutely, start-raving mad; and (3) my skirt was hiked up to my hips. Shit. Can you die from embarrassment? Please?
I untangled myself from the rungs of the chair I’d tripped over; stood faster than I should have, assisted by the adrenaline of embarrassment; and yanked my skirt down so that it covered me to my knees. I patted at my hair, pulling a bit of muffin out of a clump and wiping my hand on a napkin. And I assured everyone that I was fine, convincing no one.
How could I be fine? I’d just learned that I wasn’t the only person with soul-sight—or the ability to see in Primordium. Worse, there were evil creatures that lived alongside us, visible only in Primordium. Creatures that gazed upon me and Kyle with the same loving look I reserved for triple chocolate fudge cake. Somehow Kyle had made them disappear, but for all I could tell, it was magic, because how did you use a sight to make something vanish? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t just seen it. It was the equivalent of a person using their normal sight to move an object; it just didn’t happen.
Only it had.
To continue reading, pick up your copy of A Fistful of Evil today!
“If you enjoy paranormal, urban fantasy, I highly recommend it.”
“I was kept enthralled wondering at each new (and often funny) predicament Madison encountered. I am really looking forward to the next book in this imaginative series.”
“fans of books like the Darynda Jones Grave series will LOVE this”
“The amount of laughs, adventure, world building, and mishaps made this story totally worth reading. I recommend this to Urban Fantasy fans everywhere.”
—The Reader’s Hollow ★★★★★
“It’s definitely one of those books that you sit down to read and then it’s suddenly two in the morning and you’re greedily downloading the sample for book two…trust me, I speak from experience.”
—Common Book Sense ★★★★★
“loads of comedic moments”
“It was exciting, and suspenseful and kept me wanting for more.”
“a well-written paranormal urban fantasy”
“A Fistful of Evil is a promising start to a new fun and light hearted urban fantasy series.”
“incredible world building and a plot that sucks a reader in. The characters are unique and fresh…This book was full of action, possible love interests, monsters and crazy sleuthing. I highly recommend it if you want a good laugh, a great read and enter a whole new world.”
“A FISTFUL OF EVIL is an urban fantasy novel featuring a character who is definitely the Stephanie Plum of the supernatural world.”
“a quick, imaginative read that left me eager to read the next one!”
“Rebecca Chastain has a hit series here, one full of humor, danger and amazingly awesome characters! …Well-written, captivatingly charming, downright hysterical at times, this journey into Madison’s mind and the new life she is living is a must read!”
—Tome Tender ★★★★★
“This is a really fun book and I laughed my way through the adventure…The writing’s very clever and you’re sucked into Madison’s world and all of her crazy. And there’s a lot of crazy!”
—Lunaloo’s Book Review ★★★★★
“Chastain skillfully writes fantasy into ordinary life. A Fistful of Evil would be a great addition to the adventure-lover’s library.”
“this is a very fun new series that I plan to get a whole lot more of, ASAP…The writing is fantastic. The plot worked well and kept me on my toes, and had me turning the pages…I look forward to so much more!”
—Happy Tails and Tales ★★★★★
“You know those books, the ones that you start, and immediately know you are going to love? That’s what happened to me with this book. It was such a fun, laugh out loud at times, read, and I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. Even the names of the chapters were funny. At the same time, it was full of action, and life or death moments…I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this book. If we still rated with stars, it would be a 5 star one for sure.”
“fresh concept, excellent imagery, humor, and characterization. I will definitely be recommending A Fistful of Evil to anyone who likes lighter urban fantasy.”
A Fistful of Fire, Book 2
Madison Fox is back in hot water…
Madison Fox survived her first week as California’s newest illuminant enforcer, but if her grumpy boss, Mr. Pitt, was impressed, he hasn’t told Madison. In fact, there’s a lot her boss has been closemouthed about, like the dark secret haunting his past.
But Madison’s problems are just igniting. Neighboring regions report an uncharacteristic flare-up of evil, fire-breathing salamanders blaze unchecked across the city, and Black Friday looms. Trapped doing cleanup amid mobs of holiday shoppers, Madison watches from the sidelines as dubious allies insinuate themselves in her region.
As suspicions kindle and the mysterious evil gains strength, Madison must determine who she can trust—and whose rules to follow—before her region and career go up in flames.
Sizzling with adventure and sparking with magic, A Fistful of Fire is fused with Madison Fox’s trademark blend of humor and ass-kicking action.
Series Reading Order
1. A Man Can Work from Sun to Sun, but a Woman’s Work Is Never Done
An inky puddle of atrum pooled in front of a storage closet beside the hotel elevators. Six fist-size imps bopped around in the atrum, their primordial ooze. In the time it took me to pull my collapsible wand of petrified wood from my back pocket and extend it, a chinchilla-shaped bubble swelled in the atrum, growing glassy ebony eyes, a mouthful of needle-like teeth, and tiny feet. Soundlessly, it sprang an inch into the air, disconnecting from the puddle and becoming a seventh fully formed imp.
I pushed lux lucis into the wand, filling the entire length with the white energy. The imps turned, attention snagged by the bright waving light. As one, they opened jaws as tall as their bodies, revealing rows of sharp black teeth and proving they were little more than brainless mouths. I slashed the thin wood through their insubstantial bodies, and the imps exploded into harmless black glitter. By the time the disintegrated atrum sifted to the floor, the flecks were as gray as the carpet.
I smiled and pressed the tip of the wand into my palm, collapsing the hollow segments like an old radio antenna until it was short enough to return to the back pocket of my jeans.
A few days ago, this hotel had been coated top to bottom with atrum, thanks to a video game convention and the mobs of gamer geeks overflowing the event floor. Okay, technically, the nerd herd hadn’t been responsible for the evil, but they’d disseminated it as unwitting hosts. The real evil had been a demon camping in their midst, taking advantage of my newbie enforcer status and weak control of my region. Besting it had nearly killed me, but survival had firmed my resolve to stick to my new career path.
I’d been running cleanup here at ground zero and throughout my region ever since. Eventually I’d catch up and catch my breath.
I crouched next to the empty black puddle. Atrum was the insidious source from which basic evil creatures spawned and on which more complex evil creatures thrived. I found it repulsive and took great delight in destroying it. Though this patch was only two feet across, left alone, the atrum would continue to spawn imps and taint any people who stepped through it.
I gathered lux lucis in my palm. My soul glowed a soft butter white, but as the lux luciscollected in my hand, it brightened like a fluorescent light warming up. If I were using normal sight, a light as bright as my hand would have left a stain on my retina and cast shadows around my feet. But I wasn’t using normal sight; I was viewing the world in Primordium, and no matter how bright the lux lucis, it never cast a shadow. I liked to think of Primordium as soul sight, because Primordium afforded me a black-and-white morality-based view of the world. Living things fell in two categories: white and good, like plants and animals, and black and bad, like imps and their more intelligent cohorts, vervet. It sounded simplistic until humans were thrown into the mix. Normal people’s souls were a patchwork of stains representing a gray scale of unethical decisions.
The pure white souls of enforcers, mine included, were an exception and a necessity. My job was to fight evil, and my soul was my weapon.
I focused on my hand. Moving my body’s lux lucis was a relatively new experience for me. Shoving my soul’s energy into my pet wood wand or straight into an evil creature I could do without thinking, but manipulating the energy took more concentration.
I pushed lux lucis along the top of my hand to my fingertips, then pulled it back down my palm to my wrist, repeating the loop again and again until a seamless cycle of light zipped around my hand. I waited until the crest of lux lucis reached my fingertips, then gave it a flip. Lux lucis jumped from my fingers to the carpet and rolled through the smear of black atrum. White energy ate through dark, leaving the carpet a clean, inanimate gray.
Standing, I brushed my hands together with satisfaction and examined the hallway. Though I knew the carpet’s floral print swirled with pastel colors and the paintings nailed to the beige walls displayed jarringly colorful interpretations of the Sacramento Valley, in Primordium the walls, paintings, and carpet were all the same inanimate charcoal gray. Indirect illumination gave depth to the hall, but trying to determine the light’s source would give me a headache.
I mentally checked the floor off my list of areas to clean and turned to the elevator. An onyx shadow oozed through the seam between the door and the floor, fleshing out into a monkey’s paw tipped with lion claws. A second arm joined the first. Claws sank into the carpet and heaved, pulling the entire body through the paper-thin opening. It puffed into the shape of a vervet, and I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet.
Black as a demon’s soul from the tip of its scorpion tail to the crown of its spiked primate head and coated with the scales of a diseased fish, the vervet was a compact nightmare. I preferred imps. Both creatures spawned from atrum, but at least imps looked like chinchilla fluff balls. Plus, imps lacked any semblance of a brain.
The vervet spotted me and grinned, exposing jagged teeth long enough to spear my arm clean through. I lunged for it, missing when it sprang to the wall.
A door halfway down the hall opened, and a trio of middle-aged women exited their room, laughing and chatting. The vervet swung to look at them, hunger sparking in its dark eyes. I made another grab for it, but it leapt to the ceiling, then the opposite wall. A few more jumps widened the gap between us, then it galloped along the vertical surface as if gravity didn’t exist, its long black talons leaving no marks in the plaster. While I was still reaching for my wand, the vervet pounced on the nylon-clad calf of the lead lady, sinking a mouthful of fangs into her soul. Flecks of atrum replaced her soul’s lux lucis, one swallow at a time. Oblivious, the woman rifled through her purse.
The vervet clawed up her body to her stomach, each talon depositing a prick of atrum to tarnish her soul. Twisting, it took a bite from her companion’s chest. Whatever the host said made the women toss their heads back with fresh mirth. The vervet clambered over them, eating up the joy brightening their souls.
The juxtaposition of the women’s clueless happiness with the spawn of evil snacking on them twisted my stomach. Narrowing my sights on the vervet, I charged.
When the trio spotted me barreling toward them, they finally reacted, first with scowls at my audacity to run in the hallway, then with widening eyes when they spied the petrified wood I brandished fully extended. My badass enforcer vibe, which came across as loony-bin crazy to norms, plastered them against the wall.
When I was within arm’s reach of the vervet—and the woman it clung to—I made a grab for it. The vervet rocketed into the air and swung down the hallway, teeth wide in a silent laugh. The woman jerked and yelled, thinking I’d tried to punch her.
“Sorry!” I stumbled but didn’t slow.
“I’m reporting you to the manager!” one of the women shouted after me.
My shoulders hunched. This was exactly the kind of attention I was supposed to avoid. My job was strictly undercover. Getting arrested tended to hamper an enforcer’s ability to defend her region.
Finding the balance between doing my job and keeping a low profile was a struggle. I couldn’t let the vervet feast on the women. Atrum corrupted. In people who earned their atrumthrough immoral acts, it created a feedback loop, maintaining a person’s immoral nature—or enhancing it. For innocents like those women, it was possible they might shrug off planted atrum and restore their souls to their natural states, but it was just as likely the atrum would take root, influencing the women to make vile decisions that would spread evil further. Leaving the vervet on the trio could have resulted in a cascade of larger problems.
Plus, it galled me to see good people corrupted. If my tactics had been less than circumspect, so be it.
The hallway cut left at ninety degrees, and the vervet hurled out of sight. I slowed, clutching a cramp in my side. I’d been over this hotel a hundred times in the last two and a half days, and I knew that only ten or fifteen rooms lay beyond the bend before the hallway dead-ended. The vervet was trapped.
I rounded the corner at a jog. A maid’s cart cozied up to a doorway near the end of the hall, the maid absent. The vervet cannonballed into a stack of towels, then collapsed on its back. Lifting one arm, it extended a single dark digit—the middle one of three—sitting up enough to bare a cluttered row of sharp ebony teeth in a grin.
I lowered the pet wood to my side but held myself ready to strike.
“Back at you.” I flipped it off with a sweet smile of my own.
A young maid stepped out of the adjacent room into the crosshairs of my crude gesture. She gasped, crossed herself, and scuttled backward into the room, slamming the door before the vervet could react. A good thing, too. With her light gray soul, she was prime vervet-snack material.
Abashed, I tucked my offending hand behind my back. Frightening the staff would win me no points with my boss. I needed to finish this quickly before she called her manager.
“Hold still and let me kill you, you stupid little bugger.”
The lock slammed home against the other side of the door. Okay. Time to disappear before she called the cops.
I charged the vervet. It bounced to the ceiling at the last minute, but I anticipated the move. Slicing through the air with the wand, I cleaved the vervet in two, pulsing lux lucis into the mutated creature. It exploded. Harmless graying particles floated around my head and shoulders. Grimacing, I ducked aside, surreptitiously wiping my hair. I waited until I reached the empty stairwell before doing a heebie-jeebies dance. When my phone belted out “Hail to the Chief” from my back pocket, I jumped and swallowed a startled shriek.
I pulled my metallic-green cell phone from my pocket. It was my first cell phone ever, newly purchased for this job, and I’d named it Medusa. A week of being on call twenty-four-seven combined with a job that had no defined work hours, and my ardor for the new technology had cooled considerably. I swiped the screen and said hello to my boss.
“Come to the office,” Mr. Pitt said instead of a greeting.
“I’ve got the top two floors left.”
“They’ll wait.” The line went dead.
“Keep up the good work, Madison,” I said on his behalf, pocketing Medusa. “You’re the best.”
Grumpy was Mr. Pitt’s default, or it had been since he’d hired me. He’d wanted a fully trained illuminant enforcer. When my predecessor transferred to another region and no experienced enforcers applied for the job, he’d been forced to accept me. Since I’d spent the first twenty-five years of my life unaware that my ability to see souls was a weapon for fighting evil, I had a lot of catching up to do.
Mr. Pitt had hired Doris, a retired enforcer, to give me some last-minute training, and we squeezed in one packed night of lessons before she left for a family vacation. My boss and I both would have preferred I spend more time learning the ropes before jumping into field work, but the appearance of a demon in our region had necessitated immediate action. A week later, demon vanquished and region almost clean, I felt I deserved a pat on the back, if not a Medal of Valor. Apparently Mr. Pitt needed more proof of my competence than mere survival.
I clattered down the stairs and exited through the quiet lobby. With luck, whatever Mr. Pitt wanted wouldn’t take too much time. I was on a deadline. Tonight I had a date with Dr. Alex Love, the hottest vet in the state.
My stomach flip-flopped as I slid behind the wheel of my Civic and started the car. I’d lusted after the man for three years, and tonight I’d see if reality lived up to my fantasies. And I had plenty of fantasies, several of which I indulged in during the short drive to my office.
Cold November air slapped me back to the present when I slid out of my car a few minutes later. I tried to box up my excitement, but I ruined it by checking the time. Only six hours and fourteen minutes until my date.
I jogged across the parking lot and darted through the glass doors into the heated interior of the two-story office building. Rubbing the chill out of my arms, I walked through the building’s lobby, past the restrooms and elevator, and down a hushed hall. As always, murmured confidential conversations and muted keyboard clacks emanated from the mortgage company, but the temp agency bustled with a louder, no-nonsense air. Passing thatdoor made me smile. My aimless temp days had ended when Mr. Pitt offered me this job. Now I saved the world—or my portion of it—and got paid to do it.
Tucked at the end of the hallway, my region’s headquarters were humble and serene. No one would suspect Illumination Studios was anything other than the tiny bumper sticker company it claimed to be. If my job had entailed working within its confines, I would have been fitted for a straitjacket after three days.
Of course, the fact that I liked sprinting through the suburban neighborhoods of Roseville, California, engaging in skirmishes with evil creatures others couldn’t see, might mean I was already insane.
“Good morning, Sharon,” I sang.
The receptionist tracked my entrance with hard brown eyes, the rest of her body statue still at her tall wooden desk. Behind her, soft white lights glistened on the metallic letters of our fake company, but the same warm glow fell flat across Sharon’s shoulders, shadowing her eyes and thin mouth. I’d met tortoises with more expressive faces—and who were more cheerful.
Focusing on keeping my shoulders relaxed under the receptionist’s inscrutable stare, I strode past the glass-walled conference room—and stuttered to a halt.
Rows of empty, slender spray-topped glass vials lined the long conference table. Rose stood near one end, clutching a bottle in her hands, eyes closed. The Latina’s long dark hair was slicked back in a simple ponytail and she was barefoot. More shocking, she wore jeans and a men’s T-shirt two sizes too big. Since when did Rose swap out her figure-flattering dresses for clothes that could have come from my closet?
I backpedaled to the open doorway, waiting until she opened her eyes before I stepped in.
She squinted at me, then gestured me to her side. “I could use some of that bounce right now.”
“Bounce?” I eased closer, keeping myself and my purse well clear of the table. I wasn’t a complete klutz, but I didn’t want to take any chances with vials set up like fragile dominoes.
“Perky morning cheer. You’ve got it in spades.”
“It’s date day.” I tried not to picture Alex topless, but the image refused to be ignored. Only six hours and eleven minutes.
“Honey, I can’t wait until you finally jump his bones.” She fanned herself. “I’m getting dizzy off your horny fumes.”
“Excuse me for getting a little excited.”
“Excited? Don’t try to lie to an empath. That’s lust, plain and simple. I felt you coming from the parking lot.”
I blushed. She had to be exaggerating. “Fine. I’m lusty. But it’s Dr. Love. Even his name sounds sexy.”
“So does Dr. Bigdick.”
“Hmm, that doesn’t have quite the same ring. Dr. Love is a name you could marry into.”
“Madison Love? It sounds like a Playboy Bunny’s name.”
“A happily married Playboy Bunny’s name, and better than Madison Bigdick.”
Rose snorted. “It can’t be just a name thing. How long’s it been?”
“Since I’ve had a date? Not long.”
Rose let one sculpted eyebrow call me on my lie.
“Okay, okay. Maybe it’s been a while.”
Rose crossed her arms.
“Fine. It’s been a long time. Ages. Forever. I can’t even remember what a penis looks like.”
Rose burst out laughing, and I grinned.
“Hang on. This is good stuff.” She set down the vial she’d been holding, then picked up the next one and closed her eyes. I waited, curiosity growing. Rose cracked an eye to glare at me. “No fidgeting.”
“What are you doing?”
“Making sure we stay in business another season. Now hush.”
I closed my mouth. What was that supposed to mean?
Rose sighed. “Think about that date or get out of the room. Anticipation and lust I can work with; curiosity is just mucking things up.”
“Irritation doesn’t work for me, either. Shoo.” Rose waved a hand at me without opening her eyes. I backed carefully out of the room, waiting until safely outside the glass before sticking my tongue out at her. She smiled without looking.
“That’s a load of carob chips, and you know it!” Mr. Pitt bellowed from his office. I ducked into my cubicle. The blinds on the glass front of Mr. Pitt’s office were drawn, making it impossible to see who received his reaming. For once, it wasn’t me.
“Of course Isabel would prefer—” Pause. “This is damn high and—” Pause. No other voices came from his office. He was on the phone. “Don’t quote me the rules, Liam,” Mr. Pitt shouted. “Fine. No, that won’t work— Fine. Tonight.”
The bang of the phone slamming into the cradle made me jump, and I dropped into my chair.
“MadiSON!” Mr. Pitt bellowed.
Oh joy. What have I done now?
To continue reading, pick up your copy of A Fistful of Fire today!
“one hell of a book”
“A FISTFUL OF FIRE is a raging inferno of action, adventure and humor”
—Tome Tender ★★★★★
“there is both hope and humour which is why I love following Madison’s life so much”
“A Fistful of Fire is a more-than-worthy successor to A Fistful of Evil and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Madison.”
“Madison has done it again, she’s made me adore the snot out of her. The growing world was also interesting and kept me on my toes. I’m really becoming a fan of this series and look forward to book #3!”
—The Reader’s Hollow ★★★★★
“I honestly cannot wait to get my hands on the next book…the book was over 400 pages long, but it just wasn’t enough! I need more Madison and Niko!”
“plenty of humor, action and suspense…If you are fan if Urban Fantasy you should give this series a try.”
“The book is fast paced, full of mystery, meddlesome demons, devious humans, lots of enforcing and maybe a naked man….the story matures well, alongside Madison and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.”
—Book Passion for Life ★★★★★
“a masterfully plotted urban fantasy…Fans of Jim Butcher, Ivan Amberlake, and such, will feel quite at home within the confines of the urban fantasy setting, and its sheer power of the novel would pull in the hardiest of mystery lovers. It’s also a playful read, and one well worth it.”
—Open Book Society ★★★★★
“I really enjoy the humor in these novels…Madison Fox is one of the top awesome new series I’ve discovered in 2015.”
“Lots of moments in this story made me smile and giggle. It’s a lot of action, humor, and luck combined into one that keeps you turning the page for more.”
“great read, with memorable characters, surrounded with all sorts of new supernatural types. Highly recommended to UF readers that like humor mixed with the paranormal.”
“A Fistful of Fire was everything I’d hoped for and then some, this series has definitely found it’s legs now…I’ll definitely be looking out for more from Rebecca Chastain in the future.”
“I highly recommend this series…I could NOT put this down. A fun world and characters that entertain me. Too be honest, this was better than the first book which is rare!”
“This series has been a rare treat with its vivid and unique world…I seriously enjoy this series. The writing is fabulous.”
“It almost felt like I was reading one of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novel, the way events unfolded one after the other in the novel, barely giving Madison a chance to breathe…I continue to be in awe of Chastain’s world building and her cast of characters, both magical and otherwise.”
“I enjoyed reading this book so much because it was a great mixture of action, danger, fantasy, and humor. Also, the descriptions were great and the scenes played in my mind like a movie…I loved reading A Fistful of Fire, and I think other people who are tired of the basic werewolves, vampires, and dragons (and so on) would enjoy this breath of fresh air with so many different kinds of new creatures to learn about as Madison learns about them herself.”
—Books That Hook ★★★★★
“I love when a series gets better as it grows…There is still a lot left to be done in this series and I look forward to the ride.”
“I like Madison. She’s quirky and fun, and really wants to prove she can do some good in the world…Definitely recommend this series, but start with book one.”
“The author has created [the] most amazing world of imagination here and I am absolutely sold on this series. It’s become a must have after this one!! …if you missed out on book one— just go get it now. It’s an excellent start to a series that will have you wanting more more more!!!!”
—Happy Tails and Tales ★★★★★
“It was another awesome time in Madison’s world. She is a great character, and I can’t wait to read more! Rebecca has some cool writing skills!”
—Lovely Reads ★★★★★
A Fistful of Frost, Book 3
Madison’s job—and soul—are on thin ice.
Madison Fox is determined to reform Jamie, her half-evil pooka, but the bond linking her to Jamie works both ways. Already, it has manipulated her into bending the rules. If she continues down this path, she could doom her soul. Since her judgment can’t be trusted, a high-ranking inspector now dictates Madison’s every interaction with Jamie, and each directive drives them further apart.
Unfortunately, Madison has bigger issues than the potential degradation of her soul. Winter has struck with a vengeance. Frost moths plague the entire state, reinforcing the artificially frigid temperature. Worse, cold-blooded, soul-stealing enemies are flocking into her region from the north—creatures Madison has little defense against.
With the inspector scrutinizing her every misstep, Madison is in for the battle of her life. If she hopes to survive, she must make an impossible choice: save herself and her region or save Jamie.
An imaginative urban fantasy filled with heart, humor, and plenty of butt-kicking action—A Fistful of Frost is an adventure you won’t want to miss!
Series Reading Order
1. Sometimes I Question My Sanity; Sometimes It Replies
Inspector Pamela Hennessey leaned close, shouting to be heard above the enthusiastic marching band pounding its way across the football field. “Remember what I said, Madison: Show me you’re in control of the pooka. Take charge. You’re not helping Jamie by being soft.”
Avoiding her eyes, I nodded, keenly aware of Jamie standing less than three feet from us. With luck, he hadn’t heard her over the bleating trumpets.
We stood against a retaining wall on the outer rim of the track wrapping Oakmont High’s football field. A flailing, cheering quilt of bundled and blanketed people packed the bleachers, and a steady string of teenagers and their parents filed past on their way to and from the concession stand amidst waves of popcorn and hot dog fumes. Normally Jamie would have been at my elbow, begging for a bowl of nachos, and I would have indulged him, but not with the inspector present. I’d met her less than an hour ago, and I’d already lost track of how many times I’d made a fool of myself in front of her. From here on out, I needed to be a shining example of a perfect pooka-bonded enforcer if I stood a chance of saving face—and saving my region.
Jamie edged closer, his shoulders hunched in a dejected curl, his dichotomous soul churning in agitated waves of black atrum and white lux lucis. I strangled the impulse to comfort him. Like Pamela said, I needed to be firm. Authoritative.
Even if it was my fault Jamie looked lost.
I flexed frozen fingers, encouraging blood and heat back into the digits. A freak cold snap had struck Roseville, California, plummeting the temperature below freezing, and local meteorologists threatened we’d see snow before morning. The novel phenomenon would have been a lot easier to appreciate if I were holed up inside my apartment like a normal person. Normal, however, had hopscotched right over me when I’d been born with the ability to use my soul as a weapon.
A dark shape zipped overhead, and I ducked, my free hand spasming around the clunky necklace resting on my chest. My jerky reaction drew stares, but I pretended not to notice. Quick reflexes could make the difference between living and dying in my line of work. Besides, if the norms could see the swarm of tyv drones buzzing above the stadium, they’d do more than duck; they’d run in terror.
Pretending fear didn’t stretch taut across my nerves, I examined the latest enemy to invade my region. The drones bore an uncanny resemblance to mosquitoes—if mosquitoes grew to the size of pterodactyls. They possessed spiky legs, multifaceted ebony eyes wrapped around triangular heads, and two-foot-long, needle-sharp proboscises for mouths. Where mosquitoes drank blood, the drones devoured lux lucis, the white energy of good people’s souls. This bright, undigested energy in the drones’ translucent abdomens made it possible to track the otherwise black creatures against the obsidian sky, and I told myself it was a blessing. But since I was Roseville’s illuminant enforcer and the person responsible for defending the citizens inside my small region from pernicious, soul-snacking creatures, each glowing drone served as neon-white proof of all the people I’d failed to protect.
An entire sky lit with evidence of my inadequacies as an enforcer, and me standing next to an inspector here to assess my competence. Could this night get any worse?
Pamela gestured to the other enforcer accompanying us and then pointed toward the stands. “Summer, take point but stay close.”
Like a perfect little suck-up, Summer Potts jumped to obey, rushing to kneel in front of the stuffed bleachers, out of sight of the crowds but still able to target the soul-hungry creatures dining on them.
“Here they come. Hold your ground, Madison, and aim for the thorax.”
Five drones tore themselves from the smorgasbord and whipped toward us on blurred wings. If it’d been just me and the inspector, I would have said the drones were attracted to the pure white shimmer of our souls. I’d yet to meet an evil creature who could resist our untainted lux lucis, not even those smart enough to know they gambled with their lives when they snacked on an enforcer. But with the pooka at my side, his soul surging with restrained power, I might as well have been invisible to the drones.
I reached blindly for Jamie’s arm with my left hand, pushing him behind me without taking my eyes off the incoming drones. “Stay close and don’t feed them.”
Here goes nothing. I yanked my palmquell from my pocket, fumbling with the unfamiliar weapon. Painted in eye-watering shades of mustard, the palmquell resembled a gun, which meant I couldn’t use it with impunity. People tended to frown upon guns—real or fake—being brandished at crowded high school events. Improvising, I pretended to blow on my gloves as if to warm my hands, disguising the palmquell in my fists. With luck, holding it closer to my eyes would improve my atrocious aim.
The drones dove for us, dropping into range before I had steeled my nerves. I shoved a dollop of my soul’s energy into the palmquell, the transfer of lux lucis passing through my wool glove and disappearing into the balsa wood gun’s bone chamber. When I jerked the trigger, a bright white slug of lux lucis arced through the air . . . missing all five drones by several feet. They didn’t slow. I pushed more energy into the gun and fired, missing again. The drones closed the distance between us too fast, and I backed up, jostling Jamie. The urge to flee flooded my body with adrenaline. Giving up on accuracy, I shot nonstop, hoping the sheer quantity of lux lucis in the air would deter the drones or—if I was extremely lucky—hit at least one.
The drones dodged around the scatter of bullets.
I sucked in a sharp breath, fear coiling in my chest. They’d dodged. Not a lot of evil creatures were smart enough for such a simple act of self-preservation. Imps practically killed themselves. Vervet might taunt me first, but ultimately their appetites ruled their actions, making them easy prey. Hounds couldn’t stop themselves from attacking, which made them as predictable as they were dangerous. But drones were the lower caste of a more evolved and terrifying creature called sjel tyver. According to my boss, sjel tyver were the brains of the species, which is why I’d assumed that as their scouts, the drones would fall squarely in the “I think with my stomach, so let me help you kill me” category.
Dodging proved that the drones were not stupid and that they might actually be intelligent.
I expected to hear a buzz when the drones zoomed past, but if their wings made such a prosaic sound, the marching band drowned them out. Without slowing, they swept back over the crowded bleachers, blending in with the rest of the swarm. It should have upset me to watch them revert to attacking defenseless norms; instead, I breathed a sigh of relief for my reprieve.
Stomping my chilly feet in my boots, I shook tension from my limbs and monitored the nearest drones swooping along the rim of the stands. They speared their sharp mouths into people’s shoulders, necks, and most disturbingly, their faces, feeding without slowing. With bodies constructed not from sinew and blood but from atrum, evil energy coalesced into shape and form, the drones existed exclusively in the metaphysical plane of Primordium. In other words, only people like myself and the inspector could see them. The norms should have been equally oblivious to the sharp jabs of the drones’ insubstantial needle snouts, but every single person acted out immediately after being struck: a girl in skintight jeans jumped to her feet and boldly picked her underwear from her crack; an elderly man pelted a woman a few rows in front of him with popcorn, temporarily silencing the woman’s obnoxious noisemaker while she looked around for the culprit; a mom in so many layers of coats that she looked like a walking sleeping bag grabbed her purse and shoved toward the aisle, only to stop, confused, on the stairs. It was as if the drones’ bites prompted people into action, and the action itself didn’t matter.
The deafening performance of the band died for three blissful seconds, and in the relative silence, I heard Jamie laughing. My heart warmed until I realized the source of his humor was the peculiar actions of the helpless victims. Pamela sliced her disapproving glare from Jamie to me, and I flinched, mentally adding another mark against us. Then the band launched into Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” and the crowd went wild, drowning out any chance I had of remedying the moment. Pamela’s attention jerked to the air above my head, and I spun back toward the stands. A trio of drones had split from the swarm, pulled to us by the siren song of my pooka’s soul.
Raising my palmquell, I fired a blast of lux lucis bullets into their midst and pivoted to track two that darted in the same direction. The turn faced me toward the field, Jamie, and—
The inspector was missing.
Wild-eyed, I searched for Pamela, finding her hugging the retaining wall more than twenty feet down the track, almost back to the stadium entrance. Without lifting her hand from her hip, she fired on the attacking drones, and her white bullets streaked through the air as if drawn to their targets.
Panic receded and I sucked in a breath. She hadn’t abandoned me.
Shame chased the thought. I shouldn’t need Pamela to do my job, especially since the inspector hadn’t distanced herself to assist me; she’d backed off so she could dissect my skills—or lack thereof—from a better perspective.
Shunting lux lucis into the palmquell, I sighted on the zigzagging drones. A detached part of me considered how ridiculous I looked to the norms, seemingly staring into the halogen lights, my gloved hands cupped a few inches from my face and my eyes darting back and forth as I tracked drones they couldn’t see. The rest of me didn’t care. In Primordium, the blinding light of the halogens didn’t exist, and I’d work on my covert drone-killing techniques some other time, when we weren’t under attack.
The lead drone faltered—no thanks to any of my shots—and then exploded in a puff of harmless atrum glitter that faded to lifeless gray as it settled on the gravel. I squinted at the next-closest drone, pulsing lux lucis into the palmquell and firing so rapidly it looked as if a single white beam of light extended from the palmquell’s tip.
“Hold still, you stupid inflated mosquito,” I growled.
The drone took two shots from Pamela before I aligned on it; it died with the inspector’s fourth slug of lux lucis before I landed a single hit.
I whirled, hunting for the third drone. It had circled wide, approaching from the hill. I brought my palmquell to bear but hesitated, catching Jamie’s rapt expression. The pooka raised a hand to the drone, a hint of a smile tipping the corners of his mouth, his posture completely at odds with the threat.
He looked like a person caught in a spell.
The sounds of the marching band receded. The crowd ceased to exist. My world narrowed to Jamie and the drone. I pumped lux lucis through the palmquell, but my shots were too slow, and the slender drone flitted through them untouched. No streaks of white bullets came from Pamela’s direction either.
What is she doing? Why did she stop shooting?
The drone bore down on us, zipping wide around my lux lucis stream to strike Jamie. Not going to happen. I shouldered the pooka out of the way, and the drone’s barbed proboscis flicked through my chest as painful as a whip crack. I screamed, short and sharp, clutching my breastbone with my free hand.
Incorporeal creatures weren’t supposed to hurt when they fed!
The drone spun back toward us, angling for Jamie again. Screw this. No way was I going to let a drone inflict that pain on my pooka. I tossed the useless palmquell aside and yanked my pet wood from my pocket. A flick of the wrist extended the telescoping petrified wood weapon into a three-foot wand, every inch of it glistening bright white with as much lux lucis as it could hold. Planting my feet, I raised the wand in front of me like a sword.
The drone’s skittish flight brought it into range, and I burst into motion. Channeling an extra blast of lux lucis down the length of the pet wood, I slashed through the drone’s wings and thorax. The drone exploded. Black glitter rained down on Jamie and me, temporarily obscuring the world.
“We’re leaving. Now.” I grabbed Jamie’s hand before he had a chance to adjust his soul, and his atrum slid cold across my palm. I slapped it back with lux lucis. Jamie flinched and shoved all his soul’s atrum to the far side of his body.
“No. It’s too dangerous.” So long as Jamie was present, the drones wouldn’t stop attacking. Despite looking like a teenage boy, the pooka was still a child, having taken physical form for the first time less than a week ago when he’d imprinted on me, tethering us together for the foreseeable future. He needed protection from so many dangers, not the least of which were evil creatures mesmerized by his power.
I hauled Jamie across the track and shoved through the crowd milling between me and the exit. Jamie stumbled behind me, and I squeezed his hand tighter, afraid I’d lose him. Monitoring the skies for drones, I used the pet wood to poke my way past people who lollygagged in front of us.
“Where are you going?” Pamela demanded.
I hadn’t heard her approach, and I spun, bringing the wand up between us.
“I’m getting Jamie to safety.”
She crossed her arms. “Just Jamie?”
“I can’t protect him out in the open like that.”
Between one breath and the next, all the urgency bled from me. I blinked, confused, and frowned at Jamie’s hand imprisoned in mine. He’d been in danger. The drone had been about to hurt him, and it’d made sense to get him out of the stadium. But—
But I’d killed the drone, and I should have stayed to kill the rest. Furthermore, Jamie had never been in real danger. As a half-evil creature who possessed a frightening amount of atrum himself, the pooka didn’t have anything to fear from a drone. Even if it had taken a bite from him, the drone wouldn’t have gotten anything for its efforts; unlike me, Jamie could prevent creatures from consuming his soul.
Where had that rationality been a moment ago?
Rubbing my chest where the sting of the drone’s bite had already faded, I checked Jamie’s expression, surprised to see wariness pinching his brows. The twin energies of his soul sloshed with agitation on the far side of his body, but his hand in mine—and his entire arm and side—were draped in safe, white energy.
Oh! I’d used my lux lucis against him. I’d hurt him.
What the hell was going on?
Scowling, I turned back to Pamela. The shorter woman stood just beyond reach of my—extended! blazing!—wand. It’d been the most natural thing in the world to draw the weapon in front of the entire stadium. I hadn’t given one thought to the attention I might attract. And how many people had I stabbed with its sharp tip as I’d fled the stadium?
“The first time is the worst,” Pamela said.
Jamie and I shook the ache from our hands when I released him. I collapsed the pet wood and tucked it into my pocket, dismayed when I realized I’d lost the palmquell. I had a vague memory of chucking it . . .
Pamela extended her hand, holding my palmquell out to me. Feeling like I was moving in a dream, I accepted it.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Come here. You need to recharge.”
Pamela led the way to a clump of pines, and I removed a glove and examined my soul. The lux lucis capacity of a palmquell bullet was negligible, but given the quantity of shots I’d fired, it was little wonder my normally cotton-white soul flickered faintly. I planted my hand on the nearest tree, and a cool wash of lux lucis flowed into me from the bark as the pine selflessly replenished my reserves.
“Why did I—” I stopped myself, not sure how to complete the question. Why did I forget all my training? Why did I believe it was imperative to get Jamie away from the drones? Why did I feel like I’d been a different person a few minutes ago? I settled for repeating my original question. “What happened?”
“Drones feed off pieces of souls and inhibitions. They take away your restraint, so whatever it is you want to do in that moment, you do it. The effect tends to last about ten seconds, give or take; then you’re back to normal.”
The anomalies clicked into place: the woman picking her underwear from her butt, the old man chucking popcorn like a child in a food fight—the drones hadn’t evoked action so much as freed people to act. Whatever impulse they’d had the moment the drone fed, they’d acted upon it.
When the drone took a bite from my soul, I’d been concerned with protecting Jamie. After it had fed, nothing else had mattered. I hadn’t thought about the people watching, about my goal to prove myself to Pamela, or even about securing my weapons. My top priority—my only priority—had been Jamie’s safety.
Like a person hypnotized, I’d made the decisions and experienced the emotions, but I hadn’t been in control. Not fully. Which left me playing catch-up even though I’d lived through the events.
“That last drone, why didn’t you shoot it before it struck me?”
“I thought it’d be more informative to see how you reacted.”
Of course. What better way to test an enforcer than to have something strip away her inhibitions to see how she reacted? I released a slow, deliberate breath, telling myself it was the inspector’s job to evaluate my proficiency. Using the drone to do so had simply been pragmatic.
Nevertheless, irritation sharpened my tone when I asked, “And?”
“You confirmed my earlier assessment. You need serious target practice, and you coddle the pooka when you should lead. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Behind Jamie’s back, she gestured to the dark energy pulsing in his soul, her not-so-subtle use of the cliché coming through loud and clear.
As a newly risen pooka, Jamie’s powerful soul encapsulated a fluid, perfect balance of lux lucis and atrum, but his energies wouldn’t stay harmonized for long; he’d gravitate toward one side or the other, and it was my job to ensure Jamie made the kinds of decisions that would transform him into a pure lux lucis creature like myself—only vastly more powerful.
If I failed, he’d turn dark, and because of the bond linking us, I’d be altered in the process, too.
I couldn’t afford to ignore Pamela’s advice.
Still . . .
“Protecting Jamie from harm is not coddling.”
“Between the two of you, you need protection more than the pooka.”
“The drones wouldn’t hurt me,” Jamie said softly.
“Wouldn’t the drone have taken away your inhibitions?” Surely Pamela would agree that an inhibition-free pooka should be avoided.
Jamie shrugged. “I’m not human.”
Pamela gave me a pointed look.
“Well, good.” I sounded petulant even to myself. The drones can’t hurt Jamie, so why aren’t I ecstatic?
“Indeed,” Pamela agreed. “With the drones drawn to him, we can use the pooka to lure them away from the crowds.”
Bingo. “You want to use Jamie as bait?”
“Is there a problem?”
I held my body stiff, wanting to look away from the challenge in the inspector’s eyes, wanting to check Jamie’s face. Hell yes, there was a problem. Jamie was my pooka, bonded to me and under my protection, even if he claimed he didn’t need it. The idea of using him made my stomach knot. But Pamela was an inspector. She outranked me and my boss. More important, she had actual experience in dealing with pookas. If she said I needed to be firmer with Jamie, then I needed to stiffen my backbone. I couldn’t let the bond manipulate me into spoiling him.
“No, no problem here.”
How had this evening gone to Sucksville so fast?
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A FISTFUL OF FLIRTATION: Madison finally gets her date with Dr. Love—and if they had picked any other restaurant, she might have had a chance of enjoying it, too…
(Read after A Fistful of Fire to avoid spoilers.)
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