As promised yesterday, here is a sneaky peeky (it is so hard to type “sneak peek” without typing “sneak peak,” it really is, but the whole “peak/peek” thing really fills me with pique) at my upcoming novel MADE FOR SIN!
A lot of bad hands get dealt in Vegas, but E. L. Speare may be holding one of the worst: He’s cursed with the need to commit sins, and if he misses his daily quota, there’s hell to pay—literally. Fortunately, his hometown affords him plenty of chances to behave badly.
But Speare’s newest case really has him going out on a limb. The right-hand man of a notorious crime boss has been found dead in a Dumpster—minus his right hand, not to mention the rest of his arm. What catches Speare’s attention, however, is that the missing appendage was severed clean by a demon-sword, a frighteningly powerful tool of the underworld.
Speare’s out of his element, so he turns to a specialist: Ardeth Coyle, master thief, dealer in occult artifacts, and bona fide temptress. Ardeth’s hotter than a Las Vegas sidewalk on the Fourth of July, but she’s one sin Speare has to resist.
The dismembered corpses are piling up, unimaginable evil lurks in the shadows, and if this odd couple hopes to beat the odds, Speare needs to keep his hands off Ardeth, and his head in the game.
Excerpt under the cut…
(Note: This version has not been copyedited; there may be slight differences in the final published version.)
She came into view as he reached the table. Long wavy hair, parted on the side, flowing down her back. Its darkness emphasized how pale she was and made her eyes look huge.
Those eyes followed him as he sat down. She’d given him the seat facing the door; a courtesy, he guessed, because he couldn’t imagine anyone who did what she did for a living would choose to sit with their back to the door for some other reason. “Miss Coyle,” he said. “I’m—”
“I know who you are, Mr. Speare.” The slightly mocking tone in her voice as she matched his formality grated on him. Her faint smirk, enhanced with lipstick the color of blood, didn’t help. Nor did what she said next. “E.L. Speare, private investigator. Thirty-two years old. You worked in security, high-level stuff, before becoming a P.I., you’ve never been married, you live in Winchester, you have definite ties to Lazaro Doretti, and—”
”I get it.” He didn’t bother to hide the fact that she was pissing him off. Maybe next she’d start talking about the high school football team he’d been forced to quit when the beast in his head decided it wanted to hurt other players, or the month he’d spent in juvenile detention for stealing a car when he was sixteen because the beast was about to take over his body if he didn’t sin right that minute—those records were supposed to be sealed, but it didn’t sound like that would be much of a problem for her. “You asked a few people about me. So what.”
“I just like to know who I’m talking to,” she said, still smiling. Her hair was red, he realized; the contrast between the deep cherry-toned glints of light and the paleness of her skin was striking. “Only, nobody seems to know what the E is for. The L, they know, but the E… I got like four different answers for that one, and nobody could say for sure they had it right. What’s your first name, Speare?”
Oh, fuck this. “Are you going to help me or not?”
“See, that’s the thing, right there.” Her smile didn’t fade, even when she took a long drink from the beer bottle on the table next to her. “Am I going to help you. I have a choice. I don’t work for anybody but me. I agreed to meet you here as a favor to Felix, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to help you. Because I don’t help people I don’t know.”
He drained his own beer, eyeing her as he did. A delaying tactic, and she probably knew it, but he didn’t really care. Even though the black t-shirt she wore clung to her upper body in a way that made him think about peeling it off, and the quick, graceful movements of her hands made him wonder what they would feel like on his skin. The thing in his head squirmed a little. So did other parts of him.
All of which he ignored, because he didn’t take bitches to bed with him. At least he tried not to. “Look, Miss Coyle—”
“Ardeth. My first name is Ardeth.” Her smile widened, turned teasing. “There, I showed you mine.”
“Look, Ardeth.” Demon-sword, demon-sword. Demon-swords were bad news and more people could die, and if this woman could help him track down the one used to kill Theodore she’d be helping him save some lives. “I appreciate that you’re having a good time here, but this is actually important. Felix says you’re a serious woman. Is he wrong?”
“If it’s that important, you should answer my question,” she said. Her eyes twinkled in the dim light. “I’m just trying to get to know you. I don’t—”
“Yeah. You don’t like to help people you don’t know. So here’s what you need to know about me.” He folded his hands on the table and leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. “I think that when lives are at stake, it’s not the best time to fuck around and act cute. I also think you probably get pretty far with this shit with most guys, and that’s made you think you can flash those big blue eyes and simper and get whatever you want from any man on the planet, but that is not the case with me. I couldn’t be less interested in getting into your pants, and I can’t think of anything I have that you’d want, so you can quit playing this little game you’re playing.”
He gave that a second, then continued. “Now, what I am interested in is the murderer I’m looking for. One who cuts up his victims. He used a demon-sword to kill someone and I figure maybe that’s a way to track him down. Felix says you might be able to help me with that, so let’s either get started, or go our separate ways.”
She looked at him for a long moment, sitting perfectly still as she did so. Her smile didn’t fade, either, but the playfulness left her eyes. It felt like being examined by an adding machine; something mercenary, all business, looked at him from behind those thick black lashes and that inviting red smile.
She finished her beer. “Come on. Let’s talk outside.”
Without waiting for a reply, she stood up and reached over the table. For one mad second he thought she was going to climb into his lap or something, but she didn’t. She reached out toward the wall behind him—toward the corner itself, actually—and tugged at something. A small silvery light flashed, collapsing on itself as it flew into her hand.
“You set up a shabriri,” he said, impressed in spite of himself.
She gave him a quick glance, her eyebrow raised. “Did you think I’m stupid?”
“No, I just—”
“Nobody sneaks up on me,” she said, turning and heading for the exit near the bathrooms. She moved a lot faster than he’d expected her to, so fast he could barely hear her next sentence. “I sit with my back to the door, they think I don’t see them. But I do. Is that serious enough for you?”
“It’s better.” He managed to edge past her enough to push open the exit door and let her pass through it, into the alley beyond. “It’s a good idea.”
“I’m so glad you approve. Now. It’s my turn to make a speech.” She spun to face him again, with her arms folded. That snug t-shirt was paired with equally snug jeans and a pair of flat-heeled shoes that made no sound on the cement beneath their feet. His burgeoning, reluctant admiration went up another notch. She was ready to go, if she needed to.
“I appreciate that you’re worried about your mob cronies getting killed,” she said. “But they’re not my cronies. I have to worry about me, first and foremost, because if I don’t do it, nobody else will. My business is risky and all that risk is mine—I don’t have powerful people backing me up the way you do. Just admitting I might know of somebody who recently acquired a demon-sword could get me put on a lot of lists I don’t want to be on, you know? So you’re asking me to risk my life, and you won’t tell me your Goddamn first name. That makes me wonder what the hell else you’re hiding, and why. It makes me wonder why I should trust you.”
It had cost him a lot of money, and a lot of time, to hire ritualists to erase that information from the memories of everyone who’d ever known it, and to get it removed from every public record he could find. Now he was supposed to hand it over to this woman, just because she wanted it? “You know what some people could do with my first name?”
“I do.” The streetlights and the lights from the Strip meant it was never really dark anywhere, but the alley in which they stood was angled so they were covered with shadows. He could barely make out her form, weight shifted on one leg, finger tapping against her upper arm as she spoke. “You know what could happen to me if the wrong person finds out I led you to them? Violated the trust of another person who does what I do, or someone who might be a client?”
She had him there. Damn it, she really did have him there. If she was involved in the sale of a demon-sword, and she fed him information about it…she could find herself dead, and fast. He guessed it was fair, then, for her to want a little insurance.
He sighed. “My mother was a showgirl—”
“I know. Va-va-voom-Vera, best legs in Vegas. Rumored to have spent time with the most powerful men in the city—I assume your middle name is evidence of that—up until she suddenly quit to have you. She made guest appearances after that, taught dance classes, make-up classes, how to—”
“Yes. She was a showgirl. She loved being a showgirl. She loved everything about it.” She still did, in fact. Visiting her house was like visiting a Polynesian disco decorated by Liberace. “Every gold-spangled, sequin-covered, feathered-and-tasseled thing about it. And about this city. So you tell me, Ardeth. You have a woman who spent her whole life worshipping neon while dressing like an alcoholic flamingo. What does that woman name her only son—what name that starts with E does she give him?”
He hadn’t even finished the sentence when he heard the gasp, the half-choked laugh, that told him she’d figured it out. Faster than most of the people he’d told—which wasn’t many, but still. “Really?”
“Really,” he said. “You can see why I prefer to keep it private.”
“I can.” For the first time she sounded relaxed; not overly cheerful, not cold and hard. But normal. It was kind of nice. It was kind of nice to stand there talking to her, actually, to someone who knew things about him and didn’t seem to care one way or the other.
Unfortunately, he’d barely finished noticing it when his head went on high alert. He didn’t know what prompted it. A footstep, maybe, a faint rustle or the sound of metal against metal in the distance? A scent that the beast picked up but he didn’t? No way to tell. All he knew was something set it off, loud and sharp.
“We should go back—” he started to say, but he didn’t finish. It was too late. The alarm inside his skull started screaming, drowning out the distant sounds of traffic and the muffled music from inside the Wheel. Whatever was going to happen, he couldn’t stop it and he couldn’t avoid it. All he could do was hope he survived it.
Have you pre-ordered it yet? Because, y’know, it would be pretty cool if you did that.
(BTW, speaking of iTunes–which we weren’t, but it’s there, so I’m gonna bitch anyway–iTunes Radio isn’t free anymore!! It was all I listened to for like the last year and a half, and I finally had all my stations basically the way I wanted them, and now I am bereft.)
So…I hope you guys liked the excerpt!