The Devil’s in the Details and other stories—three paranormal Dark Romances featuring characters with shaky moral compasses as they get their Happily Ever Afters.
The Devil’s in the Details
James is on the run from the Key West Coven and the job he never wanted: enforcer. Portland, Oregon, is as far away as he could get and still be in the US, and since he doesn’t have a passport or a way to get one, that’s where he stopped. James knows his freedom is anything but secure, so he’s not surprised when his proximity alarm alerts him that he’s being followed. He’s jumped under the Burnside Bridge and wakes in iron shackles that prevent him from using magic.
Marshall knows too much about his father’s business dealings with the supernatural underworld. He never would have guessed that knowledge could get him kidnapped. When a witch in iron shackles is tossed into his cell, his life changes forever.
The pair will have to work together if they’re to escape with their lives.
Warnings / Temptations: violence, inappropriate flirting, tattoos of dead languages, and sexy spellwork.
Riley MacIntyre can’t write, and it’s driving him mad. A serious head injury silenced the voices of characters in his head, and nothing he’s done has helped. After 440 days of silence and insomnia, Riley receives an invitation from the proprietor of a local business, whose pitch is that he can fix anything. Riley needs to resume his career writing mystery novels, but having a man on a late-night commercial set an appointment is, to say the least, unexpected.
Don Cross is a fixer. He’s also a lonely crossroads demon. When Riley visits him hoping to have his writer’s block fixed, Don makes him an unusual deal.
Warnings / Temptations: off-page murders and violence, depictions of descent into both figurative and literal Hell, a dapper crossroads demon, and an asexual man who expresses his romantic feelings using baked goods.
The Haunting of Elkins House
Dave Lehman lost his partner to cancer seven years ago and is still grieving. He’s jogging with a neighbor’s dog on the winter solstice when he receives a life-changing invitation.
Elkins House has been abandoned for over a century. So who is inviting Dave inside?
Warnings / Temptations: suicidal ideation, a disobedient dog, and a few drops of blood.
Here’s an excerpt from the first story, The Devil’s in the Details!
As he strolled through Ankeny Square near dusk, enjoying snippets of the last songs from the Saturday Market street musicians, James had to remind himself that this wasn’t his home. He didn’t have backup around every corner, and the whole idea of being there was to remain hidden.
He dropped the cockiness of his walk a notch or two. It wasn’t easy to blend in when you were over six feet and built like a tough leather strap. Add to that a full-body suit of tattoos, and James frequently received more attention than he desired. Even if that was usually positive attention, it unnerved him to think of what would happen were he to be discovered by the wrong people.
Even though his pockets were empty, it was hard not to feel as though he owned every one of these streets. He’d done the impossible and escaped his old life. And after nearly a year, he was still free.
Autumn in the Pacific Northwest surprised James. He’d expected more of the same rain that greeted him when he’d arrived in June, more cool weeks punctuated by one or two days of what Portlanders called heat—mid-80s to low 90s. Instead he found a “heatwave,” days and days in the upper-80s, which still left him feeling the tiniest bit cold in the shade.
His belly rumbled, again, and he dipped his right hand into the pocket of his black low-rise jeans. Rubbing his index and middle fingers together to activate the spell written there, he concentrated for a moment and a few tattered twenty-dollar bills materialized through the friction. He pondered his choices—see what the falafel vendor had left or head deeper into Portland’s Old Town Chinatown neighborhood to catch a band along with his dinner. Before he’d made the choice, James felt the man following him.
The proximity spell on the back of his neck barely peeked through his thick braid, but that was enough to detect anyone following too closely, or for too long. Without breaking stride, James headed for the alleyway that ran beneath the Burnside Bridge. Whoever tailed him would probably think that was a foolish move, but James couldn’t afford to risk anyone seeing the spell he had planned to ditch this guy. Because his alarm hadn’t just blipped—it had clanged inside his head.
Hoping his alert hadn’t meant there were two or three—one large assailant would be easier to handle, even a supernatural one—James ducked behind the first bridge support he came to.
And the world went black.
Marshall sat on the thin mattress with his back against the cold damp wall, watching the double metal doors that separated him from everything else in the entire world. He’d often wished for similar circumstances—being off on his own, free from the expectations of others. Those daydreams helped pass the time while he was supposed to be working. Crunching numbers had never been his idea of a good life, but his father had had other plans. Marshall’s greatest wish was to finish fixing-up the tiny house on his property outside of Hood River and move there. Without leaving a forwarding address.
Not that the property has an official address, but that’s really the point.
But none of those daydreams of solitude included being a prisoner. None included being jumped from behind in a dark parking lot and waking up on a dirty mattress without a soul in sight. He didn’t even have his phone, so he couldn’t read a book. All he could do was sit there and think, mainly about how his father would never pay any ransom on a son he barely tolerated and about what that would mean for said son once the kidnappers figured it out.
Whoever they were. He’d only seen one person, and they’d been wearing a ski mask—which was so unoriginal it had been amusing at first. But as the days passed and he sat alone in the cell, he had to admit the amusement factor had been borne of fear in the first place. So he’d tried to figure out who he was dealing with. Maybe if he could do that, he could offer them something to let him go.
But Marshall had never had much of a head for business—especially not the kind of business his father ran. A high-level accounting firm by day, and money laundering by night.
His captors could be anyone. Or anything.
Marshall wasn’t supposed to know that witches and werewolves and vampires were real. And his father was involved in shady business dealings with some of them.
He had been ransacking his father’s desk, searching for the flask the old man usually kept in the top left drawer, when he found the file that sent him digging into things he had been better off not knowing. The file with all the info dear old Dad had gathered on a few of his “business partners” he’d called witches—the spells they’d used on his competition and the way they’d charmed the books while their werewolf muscle got their hands dirty erasing any physical or…legal threats.
Fascinated, Marshall had spent more time investigating the supernatural beings his father worked with than doing his job. Which hadn’t scored him any points with the old man but had fueled his work sessions on his property. After spending every weekend there for the six months before he was taken, Marshall had had a custom-built off-grid cylindrical home delivered from Italy. The two-hundred and ninety square-foot home wasn’t large or luxurious but came equipped with a rainwater collection system, a teensy electrical room that stored the power collected by solar panels, and a lovely rooftop deck.
The home had been designed by cutting-edge Italian architects with outer walls that rolled aside to enjoy the mountain views and interior walls that could be rolled up to change the configuration of the rooms in the house. Those Italian architects had included a table that disappeared into the floor—the house had come with everything except a bed! He had built the wraparound porch himself. Marshall could have hired the work out, but it was a point of pride. In doing that, he’d finally silenced the voices of his childhood bullies taunting him for being the shortest kid in class or having everything handed to him by people courting his father’s favor. Marshall’s plans included building a deck between the house and his half-acre vegetable garden and making the interior more comfortable. Eventually.
The house sat in the middle of five acres—on its highest point—and if he did say so himself, it was pretty sweet. Actually, he’d have to say so himself because as far as he knew nobody else had ever seen it. Except the crew that had delivered and assembled the house. But they were from Los Angeles, and no one involved with that company had any ties to his father. And he’d investigated them thoroughly and taken precautions on moving day that had made him feel like a doomsday prepper. Where his father was concerned there was no such thing as being too careful.
Marshall was daydreaming about being there—reading on his rooftop deck after a hard day’s work building a pen for the goats or chickens he planned to keep—when one of the metal doors scraped open. The hinges squealed dramatically. Before the sound had finished echoing in the otherwise-empty room, Marshall was on high alert. What he would—or even could—do was a mystery. He was strong but didn’t have any training or experience in fighting, not to mention his captor probably had fifty pounds of muscle on him. All those facts did was to spike the adrenaline rushing through his veins.
Three large people—who weren’t exactly shaped like humans but close enough—entered. Two carried the limp form of a person, arms and legs shackled with chains and wearing a black bag over their head, and the other strode toward Marshall’s cell. He wasn’t proud of it, but Marshall pressed his back into the corner as tightly as he could even knowing it probably wouldn’t do any good if one of the hulking figures wanted to grab him. When they got closer, the light from the small, grimy window high over Marshall’s head illuminated the rough features of the man in the lead. The largest of the three, he sported an abundance of facial hair. In another circumstance, Marshall might have wanted to get to know him, but as things were, any sort of relationship beyond captor and prisoner was highly improbable. The man pulled a comically-large antique key from his coat pocket and unlocked the cell door.
“Here’s some water,” he said, standing in the open doorway to the cell. The enormous man tossed a reusable grocery bag onto the foot of the mattress and might have looked a little sad. “Your father has another day, and then…”
Marshall cleared his throat. He hadn’t spoken aloud in three days, not since he’d given up yelling for help. Obviously, nobody could hear him, wherever he was, so that was futile. After the first day, food and water had just been inside the cell when he woke up. He would have thought he had been made for something like this, but the isolation had worn on him. As much as he wanted to deny it, hearing that he probably only had another day to live inched something inside him a little closer to snapping.
Before he could work up the nerve even to stand, let alone rush the open door of the cell, the huge man stepped back to let his two companions bring the limp person—the unconscious man—into the cell. They dropped him in the corner farthest from where Marshall sat and hurried back out. As though they had something to fear from a scared human man. Even if Marshall had been taller, his strength was probably no match for whatever his captors were.
The cell door clanged shut and the three walked out, the riveted metal door closing with a finality that sent a shiver up Marshall’s spine.
A few feet away, whoever—or whatever—was chained and hooded in the cell with him began to stir.
Slowly, James opened his eyes only to find himself in total darkness. For a moment—a surprisingly long moment—he thought he must have passed out in an alley behind a bar after drinking his dinner. His cheek rested on wet fabric but beneath that felt like cold concrete. A familiar sensation for someone living completely off-grid and for whom a hotel room was an infrequent luxury. Only, when he passed out in alleys he usually didn’t wake up with the tang of blood in his mouth. Or the sting of iron chains around his wrists and ankles.
He tried to assess the situation, figure out where he was and just how bad things truly were, and soon it all came back to him.
James recalled going under the bridge and thinking about ducking behind a support so he could grab whoever was following him. He ground his teeth together in frustration as he tried to remember something else—anything else—but came up blank. Nothing else about how they had gotten the drop on him, nothing about who they might be, and nothing about where he currently was.
There weren’t even any sounds to help him with a location. Until he heard a soft rustling nearby. James held his breath, but the noise didn’t come again.
“Um…” said a male voice, very close to James’ head. “I know you’re awake, so you might as well sit up and get more comfortable.”
James pondered his choices: stay on the floor with his cheek resting on a drool-soaked hood, or sit up and take his chances. Doing something was always better than doing nothing, so he rolled onto his back and crunched himself up into a sitting position.
“Wow, that’s impressive. You must work out a lot.”
James grunted in response. He didn’t feel like chit-chatting but supposed he’d catch this fly with honey rather than vinegar. “Not really. Lucky shot. Say…do you think you could pull this…whatever this is over my head, off?”
It was the other guy’s turn to hold his breath for a moment. James hadn’t realized until then how loudly the guy had been breathing. Maybe he was afraid. Maybe he was a potential ally and not someone playing with his head until the real action started.
“Um, okay. Just…I’m human, so, you know…”
The sack flew up off James’s head, and he squinted. The light hurt his eyes, which didn’t make him any happier than he’d been the moment before. “You might not want to advertise that.”
“Human.” James’s eyes slowly adapted to the meager light in the room—dungeon? A cell. They were in a cell out of an old cowboy movie. Judging by the coolness of the air compared to when he’d been taken, probably underground or on the river. Or maybe both.
“Oh. Well, I figured you could probably tell anyway. I mean, if you’re not human. I’m Marshall.”
James looked Marshall over, from his tangled mass of blond hair, most of which had escaped from a ponytail or a man-bun, and wide blue eyes, to his compact physique and dirty hands. Almost pretty. James couldn’t keep a sigh to himself. It really sucked to wake up behind bars in iron chains, but it sucked extra hard to find himself with a hot human dude and not be able to do anything about it.
“What’s your name?” Marshall asked. When James didn’t answer right away, Marshall licked his lips.
James wished he hadn’t been wearing such tight jeans, or at least had the power to make an adjustment or two. “James. How long have you been here?”
Marshall looked down at his lap for a second, then scooted back into the corner and pulled his knees up to his chest. “A few days. Maybe a week. It’s hard to tell with only the one tiny window.”
He pointed up over his right shoulder, at a single rectangular pane that might never have been clear. “But you won’t have to share the accommodations long. After today…”
“So we’re in a basement?”
“I don’t know.”
James didn’t think Marshall posed much of a threat, even with the iron chains, so he looked around at the concrete floor, empty except for their cell and two others like it along the same wall. And the door about ten feet away, at the far end of a clean swath of floor. Where they dragged me.
“What do you mean, after today?”
“My father isn’t going to pay the ransom.”
“So, this is a kidnapping?” James laughed bitterly. Before he could answer the question in Marshall’s eyes, the heavy door burst open and three burly men poured into the room.