Today it is my great privilege to introduce one of the nicest women I have ever met-- and an incredible writer, to boot: S.J. Day. I've known of S.J. since she had mercy on a brand new writer/RWA convention attendee and handed me a totebag for all my signed books seconds before they tumbled to the ground, but it wasn't until this past September that I really got a chance to meet her. She's the best and her books (which I've been reading since that long ago conference) are incredible as well. Comment away for a chance to win-- get this-- autographed copiees of all three of her Marked books!!!!!
Cursed by God, hunted by demons, desired by Cain and Abel... All in a day's work. For Evangeline Hollis, a long ago fling with a bad boy from the wrong sideof the tracks just became a disaster of biblical proportions. One night with a leather-clad man of mystery has led to a divine punishment: the Mark of Cain.
Thrust into a world where sinners are drafted into service to kill demons,Eve's learning curve is short. A longtime agnostic, she begrudgingly maneuvers through a celestial bureaucracy where she is a valuable but ill-treated pawn. She's also become the latest point of contention in the oldest case of sibling rivalry in history...
But she'll worry about all that later. Right now she's more concerned with learning to kill while staying alive. And saving the soul she'd neverbelieved she had.
The Devil is in the details. Evangeline Hollis understood the true gist of that saying now, surrounded as she was by thousands of Satan's minions. Some wore Seattle Seahawks baseball caps, others wore San Diego Chargers jerseys. All bore detailed designs similar to tribal tattoos on their skin that betrayed both what species of cursed being they were and what their rank in Hell's hierarchy was.
To her enhanced eyes, it looked like a damn festival for sinners. They were drinking beer, devouring nachos, and waving giant foam fingers. In reality, the event was a football game in Qualcomm Stadium.
The day was classic Southern California perfection-sunny and warm, the eighty-degreetemperature balanced by a delightfully cool breeze. Mortals mingled with Infernal beings in blissful ignorance, simply enjoying a bit of afternoon spectator sport. To Eve, the scene was macabre; like watching hungry wolves sunning themselves alongside lambs.
Gore, violence, and death were theinevitable result of any interaction between the two.
"Stop thinking about them." Alec Cain's deep, sensual voice made her shiver inside, but outwardly she shot him a rueful glance over the top of her sunglasses. He was always telling her to ignore their prey when they weren't on the hunt. As if rogue fae, demons, mages, werewolves, dragons, and thousands of variants of the same were easily disregarded.
"There's a woman breastfeeding her child next to an incubus," she muttered.
"Angel." His nickname for her moved over her skin like a tangible caress. Alec's voice could turn driving directions into foreplay. "We're taking the day off, remember?"
She blew out her breath and looked away. At a few inches over six feet, Alec was blessed with a powerful chest and tautly ridged abdomen that were noticeable even through his fitted white tank. He had long, muscular legs presently showcased in knee-length Dickies shorts and biceps so beautifullydefined they were coveted by both men and women. He was her lover. occasionally.
Like all sweets, Alec was delicious and satisfying, but too much of him caused a sugar crash that left her dazed and reeling. He'd also ruined life as she had known it. Her career aspiration had been interior design, not Infernal bounty hunting.
"If only it was that simple," Eve groused. "How can I go on vacation when I'm surrounded by work? Besides, they stink even when I'm ignoring them."
"All I smell is you," he purred, leaning over to nuzzle his nose against her cheek. "Yum."
"It creeps me out that they're everywhere. I went to McDonald's yesterdayand the person serving me at the window was a faery. I couldn't even eat myBig Mac."
"Betcha ate the fries." Pulling down his shades, Alec looked at her with somber eyes. "There's a difference between staying on your toes andparanoia."
"I'm cautious, not a basket case. Until I find a way out of this mark business, I'm making the best of it."
"I'm proud of you." Eve sighed. Having Alec for a mentor was such a bad idea, and not just because it was the equivalent of a Hollywood casting couch in most Marks'eyes. Never mind that the true "casting couch" was the exchange of sexual favors in return for a position you wanted. No one ever wanted the Mark of Cain.
The Marks' hierarchy started at the bottom with the newbies and topped off with Alec, the original and most badass Mark of them all. There was no way to surpass him. There was also no way to work with him. He was the quintessential loner, the very definition of the word. Yet here was Eve, a six-week newbie in the field, perched solidly at the top because he didn't trust anyone else to watch her back. She was important to him.
The other Marks thought working with God's primary enforcer had to be avacation. While it was true that Infernals didn't mess with Alec unless they had a death wish, it didn't make things any easier. Demons now targeted her as a way to get to him. To make things worse, Alec had been marked so long that he'd forgotten what it was like to be new and confused. There were things he expected her to simply "know," and he became frustrated when he realized she didn't.
He squeezed her hand. "What happened to the girl who just wanted to forget about everything for a couple of hours?"
"That was before she was kidnapped and nearly blown to smithereens." Eve stood. "I'll be back. I need to use the little girls' room."
As she stood, Alec caught her wrist. Her brows rose in silent inquiry."Angel." He kissed the back of her hand. "When I tell you to stop thinking about them, it's not because I want you to live in a fantasy world. I just want you to see the good stuff around you. You saw a mother nursing her baby, but you didn't see the miracle of it. You were too busy looking at the demon next to her. Don't give them the power to ruin your day."
Frowning, Eve absorbed his words, then nodded her acceptance. Alec had lived with the mark since the dawn of time and could still see miracles; she could try."I'll be right back," she said.
He released her. After inching her way past the other spectators in their aisle, Eve sprinted up the wide cement steps. She still marveled over the speed, strength, and agility that came with the mark burned into her upperarm. She'd always been athletic, but now she was Supergirl. Well. she couldn't fly. But she could jump really damn high. She could also see in the dark and bust through dead-bolted doors, talents she'd never anticipatedneeding or appreciating.
Eve reached the concourse and followed the signs to the nearest restroom. The line protruded just outside the entrance. Luckily, she wasn't desperate. More than anything, she'd just needed to get out of her seat. So she waited patiently, rocking in her flip-flops with her hands in her pockets. An occasional breeze passed by, ruffling through her ponytail. It carried the mingled scent of evil and rotting souls, a pungent stench that made her stomach roil. It fell somewhere between decomposition and fresh shit, and it amazed her that the Unmarked couldn't smell it.
How had she lived twenty-eight years of her life in complete ignorance?
How had Alec lived centuries in complete awareness?
"Mom!" The young boy in front of her was holding his crotch, crossing his legs, and wiggling madly. "I have to go!"Although the woman looked as if she could be the child's sister, Eve wasn't unduly surprised. Many women in Southern California didn't age. They just became plasticized caricatures of their youthful selves. This one was bleached blonde with a perfect tan, breasts a size too large for her slender frame, and plumped, glossy lips.The mother looked around."Let me go in the boys' bathroom," he begged."I can't go in there with you."
"I'll be done in a minute!"
Eve guessed the boy was around six years old. Old enough to pee by himself,but she understood the mother's concern. A child had been killed in a public restroom in nearby Oceanside while his aunt waited outside. The demon who orchestrated that horror had used the oldest trick in the book-pretending tobe God.
The harried mother hesitated for a long moment, then gave a jerky nod."Hurry. You can wash your hands here in the girls' bathroom."
The boy ran past the drinking fountains and ducked into the men's room. Eveoffered a commiserating smile to his mom. The line moved incrementallyforward. Two teenagers joined in behind her. They were dressed in thepredominant fashion of layered tank tops paired with low-rise jeans.Expensive perfume saturated the air around them, which created a welcome relief from the odor of decay.
In the stadium, the crowd roared. One of theChargers' outside linebackers was a werewolf. From the high-frequency praise of the Infernals in the crowd, he'd done something worth cheering about.
"Why is the line so long?" the girl behind her asked.Eve shrugged, but the woman in front of her replied, "The bathrooms downthere-" she pointed to the left with a French manicured nail "-are closedfor repairs."
As if on cue, the mark seared into Eve's deltoid began to tingle, then burn.She sighed and abandoned her place. "You can take my spot. I don't have to go that bad."
"Thanks," the teenager replied.
Eve headed to the left, muttering to herself, "Some vacation."
"You were bored anyway, babe," purred a familiar voice.Glancing to the side, Eve watched as Reed Abel fell into step with her, his mouth curved in a devilish smile that belied the wings and halo he occasionally sported for shock value. He was a mal'akh, but there wasn't much angelic about Alec's brother.
"That doesn't mean I wanted to be put to work." Reed was the handler in charge of her assignments, which was just a nasty trick in her opinion. Why God allowed and encouraged dissension between the two brothers was beyond her comprehension.
"We could blow this taco stand," he suggested. "Go have some hot, sweaty fun."
She wasn't touching that invitation with a ten-foot pole. Like his brother,Reed scorched a girl in both good and bad ways. "Are you kidding about the assignment? Do you need me for something more substantial or what?"
"You thought it was substantial enough before." He winked mischievously.
Eve smacked him. "Don't be crude. I refuse to be the latest toy you and your brother fight over. Go find something else to play with."
"I'm not playing with you." There was something sincere in his tone.
She ignored it by necessity, although less circumspect parts of her perked up."The bathroom?" she asked instead, when the yellow Out of Service sign came into view.
"Yeah." He caught her arm and tugged her closer. "Raguel suggested it was time for an extension of your classroom training. I'll go get Cain."
Raguel was the archangel whose jurisdiction she fell under. He was the bailbondsman, Reed was the dispatcher, and she was the bounty hunter. It was a well-oiled system for most, but her road had been bumpy from the very beginning.
She sniffed the air. The acrid stench of Infernal wrinkled her nose. "You know. this is like sending a medical student into brain surgery the day she first reads about it."
"You don't know your own strengths, babe."
She glared. "I know when I'm getting my ass kicked."
"You're batting a thousand so far. This one's a wolf and you're good with them. But be careful anyway."
"Easy for you to say. You're not the one risking your hide."
His lips pressed to her temple in a quick, hard kiss. "Risking yours is enough, trust me."
Skirting the Out-of-Order sign, Eve entered the men's restroom, lamenting the fact that she was wearing her favorite flirty sandals. Due to the rigors of her "job," she'd taken to wearing combat boots whenever she left home,but Alec had coaxed her into going casual today. She should have known better.
The harsh ammonia smell of stale urine assaulted her nostrils. Finding her target was easy. He stood in the center of the room, alone. A teenage werewolf who was eerily familiar.
"Remember me?" he asked, smiling. The boy was tall and thin, his face long and unremarkable. He wore a dirty gray hooded sweatshirt and jeans so low his ass was hanging out. A dark spot moved across his cheek and came to rest on his left cheekbone. His detail-swirls around a diamond shape. Like the mark on her arm, it served asimilar purpose to military insignia.
Recognition hit her hard, followed by an immediate chill down her spine."Shouldn't you be in Northern California with your pack?"
"The Alpha sent me down here to even the score. He thinks Cain needs to learn what it's like to lose someone he loves."
"There was no way to save the Alpha's son," she argued. "Cain doesn't pick and choose his hunts. He follows orders."
"He made a deal. For you. And he broke his promise."
Eve frowned. Alec had never mentioned a deal to her. But that was something she would explore later. There was a more immediate question. "You think you can take me by yourself?"
His smirk turned into a grin. "I brought a friend."
"Great." That was never good. The large handicapped stall in the back slammed open and something absolutely horrific thundered out. Holy shit. An Infernal that large should have reeked for yards. Instead, the only thing Eve smelled was wolf. The dragon hadn't fully shifted. He still wore his pants and shoes, and dark hair still covered his head.
But his mouth was a protruding muzzle of razor-sharp teeth, his eyes were those of a lizard, and all of his visible flesh was covered in gorgeous multihued scales."You smell tasty," he rumbled.
She'd heard that Marks smelled sickly sweet to Infernals, which made her laugh inwardly. There was no such thing as a sweet Mark. They were all bitter.
"You don't smell like anything."
We failed, she realized with a sinking feeling in her gut. Infernals still had the means to hide themselves in crowds.
"Brilliant, isn't it?" the wolf asked. "Obviously, you didn't wipe out our operation completely."
The dragon roared and it was a fearsome, deafening sound that echoed in the confined space of the bathroom. The mortals couldn't hear it, though, and Eve's eardrums were invincible despite their celestial sensitivity. Another boon granted by the mark.
The dragon shoved the wolf aside and stomped closer."Guess that's my cue to leave," the kid said. "I'll give the Alpha your regards."
Eve's gaze remained riveted on her opponent. "Yeah, tell him he screwed with the wrong chick."
The wolf laughed and departed. Eve wanted to do the same. For all her bravado, she was out of her league. If she had been capable of physical reactions to stress, her heart would be hammering and she'd be short of breath.
No doubt about it, she was going to be suffering when this confrontation was over, if she was still alive.
Makes you want to run out and buy the book right now, doesn't it? Leave a comment for a chance to win.